Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 Aug 2016 19:56:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 UN Negotiations Focus on What Lies Beneath the High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:12:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146719 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/feed/ 0 Migrant Labour Fuels Tensions in Mauritiushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:44:35 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146714 Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

They come from Bangladesh, China, India and Madagascar, mainly to run the machines in the textile industry here. But they do all kinds of other jobs too, from masons to bakers, house cleaners and gardeners.

For the eight consecutive year in 2016, the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report ranked Mauritius first among African economies, and its GDP per capita was over 16,820 dollars, one of the highest in Africa. But there is a darker side to the success of this upper middle income island nation in the Indian Ocean, situated about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent.“The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector." -- Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo

“Living like animals”

Local enterprises rely on foreign workers because Mauritians are increasingly reluctant to work long hours under difficult conditions. But these foreigners live in very poor conditions and in many cases, in human indignity.

Thirty-six-year-old Bangladeshi Maqbool* left his wife and two children back home in Dhaka two years ago and came to work in the manufacturing sector in Mauritius, hoping to earn enough money to offer a decent life to his family.

“I paid 150,000 takkas (about 2,000 dollars) to an agent who got me this job. I was supposed to get 675 dollars a month, which represents a huge amount in my country, and I was ready for any sacrifice to earn it,” he said. To his bitter disappointment, he earns only about half of that.

Foreign workers all have such stories to tell. They take loans or sell the family’s lands or jewelry to pay for their travel to Mauritius. “The island is very beautiful but there is no money here. I run short of money every month after paying for my own expenses. I send some to the family every three months and I save nothing,” adds Massood*.

Both men are frustrated as they have to leave the island in a couple of months and they have yet to save any money to take back home.

Running away from poverty

Poverty, unemployment and the rising costs of living in their home countries force thousands of Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians and also Malagasy people to look for jobs abroad. About 40,000 of them already work in the manufacturing sector, the construction industry, hotels, transport and also in the seafood hub. They start work very early in the morning and finish up very late at night. They are forced to do overtime and do not earn more than a 150 dollars a month.

A local welfare officer from a well-known textile enterprise confirms under condition of anonymity that the foreigners work night and day with little time for rest and live and sleep in unhygienic dormitories with just a cupboard and a thin mattress full of fleas and bugs.

“I feel sorry for them. They live like animals and are helpless. They accept things as they are,” he told IPS.

Those who resist or cause trouble on their worksites are sent back home. Hundreds of them faced this fate last year after they took to the streets demanding better wages and protesting against their working conditions. Even though, says trade unionist Feisal Ally Beegun, these migrants are exemplary workers.

Still, some of them claim they are happy. “Please sir, tell them to give me more work and more money, no fuss about it,” one Bangladeshi worker pleaded with IPS, while others working at the Compagnie Mauricienne du Textile (CMT), which employs a few thousand expatriates, ran away upon seeing journalists.

A security guard posted at the gate of this factory in Phoenix, in the centre of the island, revealed that the foreigners have had so many problems with their employer and the police last year that they now refuse to talk to the media.

Source of irritation

The antipathy of the locals for the textile and manufacturing sector and for low-paid jobs has resulted in the import of labour to keep the wheels of the island’s industry turning. They were first brought in 1992 as a temporary measure as the industry moved from labour-intensive to capital-intensive manufacture.

Twenty-five years later, they are still here and the government believes they add value to the island’s economy by helping the factories deliver on time and also help in keeping the locals’ jobs.

Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo begs to disagree. “The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector, which the Mauritians refuse. In the seafood hub, foreigners are hired only for the night shift because no local does it.

“So the locals prefer to hawk cheap imported goods on the street rather than working long and late hours, even if they have to run from the police,” he says.

Chuttoo warns that a social explosion is in the making, with high unemployment, too many foreign workers and not enough jobs for the locals. “Mauritius is already invaded by a feeling of xenophobia and racism towards foreign workers,” he adds.

Jaynarain Mathurah, director at the Special Expatriate Unit of the Labour and Industrial Relations Ministry, brushes aside these allegations, arguing that foreign workers enjoy the same working conditions as the locals.

“We do not discriminate between them. The free zone manufacturing sector is governed by a remuneration order that is applied to all. Above this, there is a Special Migrant Workers Unit that take care of these migrants and it intervenes very fast with the employers when a problem arises,” he told IPS.

He believes the foreigners are well treated but agrees that “seeing their number, it happens that we are unable to visit them as often as we would have liked.”

“We believe they are well-off regarding their wages and their working and living conditions. Apart from their wages, they also get accommodation, food and transport,” he added.

According to him, low-paid jobs are common in developing countries where the free zone manufacturing sector has been introduced in a bid to create jobs. Investors are always looking for cheap and skilled labour and right now many enterprises in Mauritius plan to expand their activities and they need skilled labour.

“Where do I get them?” shouts a manager at Firemount Textiles in northern Mauritius.

Foreign workers will not stop coming to this island anytime soon, as they are needed to support its economic development in the absence of locals. They are now expected to increase in the agriculture and the ICT sectors.

*Names changed to protect their identities.

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UN Chief Laments Nuclear Dead Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:13:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146710 The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

As Ban Ki-moon readies to step down after completing his two term, 10-year tenure as UN Secretary-General on December 31, he regrets that one of his biggest single disappointments is the “lack of progress on eliminating nuclear weapons.”

A strong advocate of a “world without nuclear weapons,” Ban told a Security Council meeting on August 23 “the disarmament agenda has stalled in several areas,” including continued nuclear testing by North Korea and a proposed multi-billion dollar nuclear modernization programme in the United States.

It was disappointing that progress in eliminating nuclear weapons “had descended into a fractious deadlock, with the return of some of the discredited arguments used to justify nuclear weapons during the Cold War,” he complained.

Historically, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was a founding principle of the United Nations, and the subject of the first General Assembly resolution over 70 years ago.

Still, the UN continues its relentless campaign against nuclear weapons, including proliferation and testing, spearheaded by the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

On August 29, the world body commemorated its annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the result of a resolutioninitiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan to mark the voluntary closure of its Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

The global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests.

“When the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the UN and opened for signature in September 1996, it put a lid on over 2,000 nuclear tests.” said Dr Rebecca Johnson, author of “Unfinished Business”, the definitive analysis on the CTBT’s negotiations, published by the UN in 2009.

In many ways, she told IPS, the CTBT has been extremely successful, as only a handful of tests have occurred since, with India and Pakistan testing in May 1998 and North Korea conducting four tests since 2006.

Moreover the global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests by North Korea, said Dr. Johnson, who is also Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

John Hallam, a UN Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner with the Human Survival Project and also People for Nuclear Disarmament, told IPS the provisions for the Entry into Force of the CTBT specify that the Treaty can only enter into force if 44 (named) governments including those of the US, India, Pakistan, and China ratify it. But even 20 years after its initial signing in 1996, it has yet to officially enter into force.

This is in spite of the fact that the powerful network of monitoring stations that the CTBT sets up for the verification of the norm against nuclear testing is in full or almost full operation, he said. It has proved its worth by picking up even the smallest of the tests of the DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,(North Korea).

The US, though one of its original signers, has failed to ratify the CTBT because of Congressional opposition, largely from the Republican party, Hallam said.

China, as well as a number of other important countries, say they will ratify the CTBT as soon as the US does so, he added.

Hallam said a proposed UN Security Council resolution, to be initiated by the US, on banning nuclear tests has already provoked a furious reaction from Senate Republican  hardliners such as Senator Bob Corker (of Tennessee), who accuses the Obama administration of exceeding its powers and “going around the back” of the US Senate.

Corker also seems to believe that the 1999 US failure to ratify constitutes some kind of ‘unsigning’ of the CTBT, though it is nothing of the sort, he argued.

“As a signatory, the US continues to be bound by the CTBT’s provisions, and to benefit from the CTBT monitoring network,” Hallam noted.

Tariq Rauf, Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS the first nuclear explosive device was detonated on 16 July 1945 at the Alamogordo Test Range in the desert of New Mexico (USA).

In the intervening seven decades, nine different States have carried out 2,061 nuclear explosions polluting the world’s oceans, the atmosphere and the land with devastating health effects on many millions of people and the environment.

The Vienna-based United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have published scientific studies on the effects of ionizing radiation from nuclear test explosions.

Suffering from the radiological effects on human health and the environment, in 2009 Kazakhstan took the initiative in promoting the adoption of 29 August as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 December 2009 through Resolution 64/35.

The Soviet Union had detonated 456 nuclear explosions at the Semipalatinsk Polygon nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, between 1949 and 1989, that led to lasting major genetic damage to the nearby population and contaminated thousands of hectares of land rendering it unusable for generations, said Rauf, who previously served as Expert Trainer at the CTBTO (2013) and Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination the International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011).

The other nuclear testing countries are: USA 1030; France 210, China and UK 45 each, India and Pakistan 6 each, the DPRK 4, and Israel 1 test (very likely).

Of the 2061 nuclear tests, 530 were detonated in the atmosphere resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactive materials, such as Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90.

North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in this century. Before declaring unilateral testing moratoria, the last nuclear explosive tests carried out were: by the USSR in 1990, the UK in 1991, the USA in 1992, China and France in 1996, and India and Pakistan in 1998 – North Korea has not yet announced an end to its nuclear testing.

Dr Johnson told IPS the test ban treaty lacks the final stamp of legal force because of diplomatic mistakes made in 1996, which set the barrier to entry into force far higher than any comparable treaty in history.

Any other agreement with the CTBT’s record, signed by over 180 countries and ratified by over 160, would be considered very successful.

To all legal, political and diplomatic intents and purposes, nuclear tests are completely banned, she noted.

“In context, we see treaties as legal and normative steps, not 100 percent guarantees, and so they all require constant political vigilance,” said Dr Johnson, who is also the UK Green Party Spokesperson on Security, Peace and Defence.

“With or without the final entry into force, we have to fully implement and enforce that ban, which also means putting pressure on the US, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and a couple of other hold-outs to join and ratify the treaty,” she declared.

The CTBT was an important step, and it will be greatly reinforced now the majority of states are recommending that negotiations start in 2017 on a more comprehensive legal instrument to prohibit all nuclear weapons.

That’s the next step, building on the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and CTBT, while also learning lessons from gaps left when those treaties were negotiated, Dr Johnson added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Can the Middle East Make Economic and Social Progress?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/can-the-middle-east-make-economic-and-social-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-the-middle-east-make-economic-and-social-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/can-the-middle-east-make-economic-and-social-progress/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:06:03 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146709 Cairo, aerial view with Nile river - Credit: Bigstock

Cairo, aerial view with Nile river - Credit: Bigstock

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov
Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

Why do some countries grow faster than others? How do we engineer an economic miracle? Some economists believe that manufacturing growth is like cooking a good dish—all  the needed ingredients should be in the right proportion; if only one is under- or overrepresented, the ‘chemistry of growth’ will be sub-optimal. Rapid economic growth can only happen if several necessary conditions are met at the same time.

Rapid growth is a complicated process requiring a number of crucial inputs— infrastructure, human resources, relatively low economic inequalities, effective state institutions and economic stimuli among others. As ‘binding constraints’ may hold back economic growth, ‘growth diagnostics’ seek to identify the most binding constraints in order to accelerate growth. In some cases, these constraints are associated with the absence of markets; in others, with weak state capacities or capabilities, or even critical human resources or infrastructure.

Contrary to popular prejudice, the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries have quite a number of ingredients needed for growth. Inequalities in the region are lower than in other countries at similar levels of economic development. Controlling for size, population density, per capita income, urbanization, democracy, transition from a ‘communist’ past and government effectiveness, on average, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Muslim countries had income distribution Gini coefficients five percentage points lower than other countries.

Murders bad for growth

But an important advantage of many MENA countries often lacking in other parts of the developing world may be the strength of their state institutions – crucial for stable and strong economic growth. State institutional capacity refers to the state’s ability to enforce rules and regulations. Subjective measures of state capacity – indices of government effectiveness, rule of law, corruption, etc. – have many shortcomings, but some objective indicators – such as the crime rate, murder rate, share of the unregistered ‘shadow’ economy – reflect a state’s ability to enforce monopolies on violence and taxation.

Unexpectedly for many, the murder rate and the share of the shadow economy – both objective indicators of the institutional capacity of the state – seem to be among the best institutional predictors of long term growth rates of GDP per capita. Poor state institutional capacity is reflected in the murder rate and the share of the shadow economy, negatively correlating with the growth rate. And countries with high income and wealth inequalities usually also have higher murder rates and larger shadow economies. Strong institutional capacity reflects, but also contributes to economic performance, more rapid increases in life expectancy and educational attainment, especially without war or civil conflict.

Variations in long term growth among countries correlate strongly, but negatively with the murder rate and the shadow economy, i.e., the higher the murder rate and the shadow economy share, the lower is growth. East Asia is ahead in terms of growth, followed by South Asia and MENA, while Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union are falling behind.

MENA, East Asian, South Asian and developed countries generally have murder rates of 1-10 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and shadow economies of less than 30 per cent of GDP. In MENA countries, peacetime murder rates were ordinarily between one to five for every 100,000 inhabitants, and below 1.5 in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. However, the murder rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and some former Soviet republics (the Baltics, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine) are higher (10-100 murders per 100,000), with the shadow economy accounting for well over 30 per cent of GDP.

In the postwar period, for over half a century before the Arab Spring, per capita GDP growth rates in MENA countries were certainly well below those in East Asia, and a little below South Asia, but higher than in other regions of the global South – Sub- Saharan Africa, Latin America, and former Soviet Union. Besides Israel, Oman and Tunisia in the region were among the twenty fastest growing countries in the world during 1950-2010.

Social progress

In terms of education and life expectancy, MENA achievements have been even more spectacular. Many MENA countries increased their life expectancy greatly in 1960-2010, with most of them now exceeding 70 years. The Human Development Index  (HDI) increased by 65% in Arab countries in 1970-2010, more than in any other region of the world except for East Asia (96%) and South Asia (72%). Increases in life expectancy in Arab countries during 1970-2010 were the highest in the world, whereas the increase in school enrolment and literacy was higher than in all other regions except for Sub-Saharan Africa that started at a very low base level.

Of the 22 countries that increased their HDI most in 1980-2010, six are Arab, seven are in MENA and 11 are considered Muslim. Among ten countries with the greatest HDI increase in 1970-2010, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are in MENA. Oman, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Iran are the six from MENA of the ten countries leading globally in improving non-income HDI (education and life expectancy).

Hence, MENA countries in 1950-2010 were not leaders in terms of economic progress, but also not laggards. They were somewhere between rapidly growing East and South Asia and more slowly growing Sub-Saharan African, Latin American, OECD and the former Soviet countries. But in terms of social progress, the MENA region did better than all other regions of the developing world over the four decades (1970-2010) before the Arab Spring.

Looking ahead, MENA countries definitely have many crucial ingredients for economic growth – natural resources, human resources, low inequalities and strong state institutions, ensuring low murder and shadow economy ratios. They made rapid economic and social progress in 1960-2010 and have many of the needed pre-conditions to accelerate growth in future, provided that ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts ends and peace prevails.

 

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Drought Deals Harsh Blow to Cameroon’s Cocoa Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146702 Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
KONYE, Cameroon, Aug 28 2016 (IPS)

Tanchenow Daniel fears he will lose more than half a tonne of his cocoa yield during the next harvest at the end of this month.

He usually harvests no less than 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans during the mid-crop season, but he says every farmer in the Manyu Division of Cameroon’s South West Region is witnessing a catastrophe this year because of a prolonged dry season.

“The effects of droughts were worse this year because people had been ignorantly cutting down trees which provided shade to cocoa. Many trees have been dried up this year while bush fires dealt us a heavy blow,” Tanchenow told IPS, adding that though he is a victim, others have it even worse, including a friend who lost an entire farm of five hectares.

Adding insult to injury, prices fell in August, ranging from 1,000 CFA francs (1.72 dollars) per kg of cocoa to 1,200 CFA francs – down from prices as high as 1,700 CFA in July – with producers saying buying was delayed because of the drought.

Chief Orock Mbi of Meme division in Cameroon’s South West region tells IPS that he and other cocoa growers in the division also witnessed “a drastic drop” in cocoa yields in the past few months. He hopes for new methods to protect this key crop from the effects of climate change.

The South West Region of Cameroon is among the major cocoa-producing regions of Cameroon, along with the Center, East and South regions.

Data from the National Cocoa and Coffee Board suggests the drop in cocoa production was nationwide. The data indicates 7,610 tonnes of cocoa were exported in March. In April, the country exported 5,780 tonnes and the figure further dropped to 3,205 tonnes by the end of June.

Farmers pin hopes on cooperatives, new varieties

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cocoa. It has exported 239.7 million kgs this year of which 97 percent was grade II, according to statistics published on Aug. 3 by the Cocoa and Coffee Board.

The country’s minister of trade believes for this position to be maintained, farmers burdened by the undesirable effects of climate change must join cooperative unions. It is through these cooperative societies that government distributes farm inputs such as pesticides and improved variety seeds to smallholder farmers.

Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana addressed hundreds of farmers in Konye municipality on Aug. 3 as he launched the 2016/2017 cocoa marketing season.

He told the farmers in Cameroon’s third-largest cocoa producing locality that cooperative unions would help to constantly improve on the quality of their cocoa and protect them from deceitful cross-border buyers from neighbouring countries that pay them less than the worth of their produce.

Clementine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says cooperatives would help farmers make the best of aid offered in their localities, boost their bargaining power and improve gains for the six million Cameroonians who depend on the cocoa sector for a living.

Besides distribution, cooperatives sensitise farmers on the use of new varieties and techniques.

Zachy Asek Ojong, manager of the Konye Area Farmers Cooperative, tells IPS they have provided immense support to local members. “Farmers can attest to the assistance they have had from the cooperative society,” says Ojong.

Esapa, president of South West Farmers’ Cooperative, says “cocoa farmers have never really witnessed the effects of climate change until this year. So now we are beginning to work with common initiative groups in sensitising farmers, especially cocoa and coffee growers.”

He tells IPS the cooperative is now, among other things, advising farmers who had cut down trees to replant them in order to shade their cocoa and coffee farms. “The sunshine this year was so wild that people who set fires on their farms ended up burning many other farms around them. We are reinforcing campaigns against bush fires,” he said.

Tanchenow says he has planted 4,000 cocoa trees of a new variety commonly called “Barombi,” a name coined from an organisation that introduced the variety in the division. He says that two years in, yields are better and “Barombi is the hope for our cocoa’s future.”

However, he does not trust cooperative societies and calls them unreliable and tainted by favoritism.

“People in my area who depended on them for pesticides were shocked to find out selected individuals were called up by a different organisation to receive farm inputs from the agriculture ministry,” Tanchenow complained.

Farmers fall ever deeper in debt

The National Cocoa and Coffee Board says Cameroon’s cocoa was exported to eight countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain –  with the Netherlands alone importing 76.30 percent.

Still, farmers in Konye live without roads and electricity and depend on solar energy and firewood for drying and processing their cocoa. Some of them prefer to hang onto old ways of financing and sales despite the advantages of adhering to cooperatives.

Edward Ekoko Bokoba tells IPS that many farmers still prefer “pledging” their farms as means of financing, while others operate outside the major buyers of cocoa.

“Climate change is impacting pledging negatively, but some farmers seem to trust the system more than the micro-loans from the cooperatives,” he says.

“Pledging” is a system where farmers sign agreements with individuals who pay for farm inputs or lend them money. At the end of the harvest and sales, the funder’s money is reimbursed with an agreed quantity of cocoa or cash in interest.

Bokoba, who currently is expecting profits from a “pledge,” says when the dry season is prolonged or when the weather is distorted, as was the case this year, farmers are forced to borrow more money and may end up handing over all their harvest to creditors.  Some creditors are cocoa merchants who claim exclusive rights to purchase all their debtor’s cocoa and by so doing, dictate the price.

Another farmer, Ako Kingsley Tanyi, says though government is condemning sales of cocoa to trans-border buyers, some farmers prefer to sell their cocoa to Nigerian buyers who pay better prices. “Cocoa sold to Nigerians does not go through the Douala seaport and government does not have the figures,” he explains.

The performance of Cameroon’s cocoa has been as unstable as weather conditions in recent years. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) forecasted in 2011 that climate change will lead to a global slump in cocoa production by the year 2030.

Many hope that relief might be forthcoming from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation once their country-based COP21 plans have been fine-tuned.

CIAT, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics, says the coffee and cocoa sectors could be the first to benefit from this fund.

In the same optimistic regard, Cameroon’s trade minister holds that government’s target to export 600,000 tonnes by 2020 would be met.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Addressing the Dangers of Freelance Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:38:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146694 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/feed/ 0 Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the Sustainable Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:05:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146686 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/feed/ 0 Kenya Has Made Impressive Gains Under New Constitution, but the Hard Work is Just Beginninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:24:16 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146680 Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

On August 27 Kenyans will be celebrating not just the promulgation of the new Constitution six years ago, but also the tangible gains made throughout the country.

The 2010 Constitution heralded a new era of open and inclusive governance best epitomised by devolution, which is helping to bridge the development gap between rich and poor regions.  This gap was first created by colonialists who zoned the country into high-potential and low-potential agricultural areas.

The Constitution created 47 county governments where resources and power have been devolved since 2013. Despite teething problems, allocations to counties have risen from $210 million in 2013 to $280 million this financial year, signaling increasing commitments by both levels of government to enhance public service delivery and ultimately making devolution a success for Kenya.

In the difficult process of entrenching devolution, Kenya has enjoyed technical and financial support from the international community and the United Nations.

There are inspiring success stories coming from the counties, like the subsidised seeds and tractor services bringing down production costs for farmers in the North Rift, and rural access roads that are making it easier for farmers in central Kenya to get produce to market in time.

In other areas, the transformation has been profound. The hitherto impoverished northern county of Mandera became the poster child of devolution when its first Caesarian section was performed in Takaba Sub-county Hospital in October 2014.  Neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir counties conducted their first Caesarians two months ago.

In these counties, these procedures mark the difference between life and death and signal higher chances of survival for women, children and men through access to basic medical services. A recent study by the United Nations estimates that this region has the highest number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Kenya.

These milestones were largely made possible by increased county allocations to the health sector, with health facilities undergoing renovations and having medical stocks that were unavailable under centralised governance.

Going forward, the new Constitution must bring the promise of prosperity to the underprivileged and “leave no one behind”. This will not happen if the greatest segment – the youth – is not participating. Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed and with few prospects.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. By 2050, Kenya’s population is expected to reach 85 million. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 per cent in the next three decades.

The mission therefore is to have a laser-like focus on those investments that enable Kenya to reap from its demographic dividend, which means working towards a time when there will be fewer dependents for every Kenyan in employment.

With the right investments helping to bring about 90 per cent of working age population into meaningful employment, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product could increase twelve-fold from current $1,377.

Improvements in education, health and nutrition, especially of girls, women and children, will contribute to a decrease in the number of children born to each family, as survival improves.

This calls for programmes to increase access to family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies. As women spend less time bearing and raising children, they can enter the workforce and contribute to economic production.

At the same time, we must not forget the fact that the Constitution recognises women as a special group deserving legal protection. That is why it directs that all public positions, including political office, shall not be occupied by more than two-thirds of either gender. This constitutional provision needs to be urgently and comprehensively implemented.

Even as Kenyans celebrate these achievements, it is not lost to all that a major test lies around the corner – that of remaining united in the countdown to the next general election, only one year away.

Preparations for the elections have started in earnest, with efforts to strengthen the institutions created by the Constitution to manage elections and resolve electoral disputes. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on matters relating to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has tabled proposals on electoral reforms. Kenyans are optimistic that the elections will be credible, free and fair, devoid of violence.

The new Constitution must guide Kenya towards being seen as a beacon of hope for democratic values, good governance, rule of law and social inclusion for all of Africa.

Towards this vision, the United Nations will remain a resolute partner of the Government and the people of Kenya.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

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Chatterjee, new Resident Coordinator, to lead 25 UN agencies in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 05:48:47 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146679 By an IPS Correspondent
NAIROBI, KENYA, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

Siddharth Chatterjee, the Representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kenya, has been appointed UN Resident Coordinator, where he will lead and coordinate 25 UN agencies in East Africa. At the same time, he will also serve as the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

At UNFPA, he and his team spearheaded efforts to reduce the unacceptably high maternal deaths in Kenya putting the spotlight on the challenges faced by adolescent girls, including child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sexual and gender based violence.

Before he joined UNFPA, Chatterjee served as the Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships and was also responsible for resource mobilization at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since 2011.

In 1997 he joined the UN in Bosnia and over the next two decades served in Iraq, South Sudan, Indonesia, Sudan (Darfur), Somalia, Denmark, and Kenya. He has worked in UN Peace Keeping, UNICEF, UNOPS, the Red Cross and UNFPA.

Welcoming the appointment, Ruth Kagia, Senior Advisor, International Relations and Social Sectors in the Office of the President of Kenya said, “Sid’s insightful understanding of clients’ needs as the UNFPA Representative in Kenya has translated into tangible gains in maternal, child and adolescent health. His relentless energy and focus on results has helped build relationships and networks of trust and confidence with the highest levels of Government, civil society, the private sector and development partners.”

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Dr Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa said, “Sid resolutely pushed UNFPA’s mandate in the hardest to reach counties and service of the most vulnerable.  He mobilized resources and partners in the private sector to join this drive to leapfrog maternal and new-born health. This bold initiative was highlighted by the World Economic Forum in Davos and Kigali”.

Among Chatterjee’s other career achievements include mobilizing the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement to join the eradication of polio initiative; negotiating access with rebel groups to undertake a successful polio immunization campaign in the rebel controlled areas of Darfur; leading UNICEF’s emergency response when conflict broke out in Indonesia’s Aceh and the Malukus provinces; and overseeing UNICEF’s largest demobilization of child soldiers in South Sudan in 2001.

A prolific writer, Chatterjee’s articles have featured on CNN, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Huffington Post, Reuters, the Guardian, Inter Press Service, as well as the major Kenyan newspapers.  He was recently profiled by Forbes magazine in an article titled, “Passionate Leader of UNFPA Kenya Battles Violence against Women, FGM and Child Marriage.” 

His early career was in a Special Forces unit of the Indian Army, where he was decorated in 1995 for bravery by the President of India. Chatterjee holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Princeton University, USA and a Bachelor’s degree from the National Defence Academy in India.

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Devastating Earthquake Demolishes Towns in Central Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146676 Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 25 2016 (IPS)

At 3.36am on  August 24, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc and destruction in central Italy.

The initial early morning earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.1 and 5.4 aftershocks, the tremors reported to have been felt by inhabitants in Rome, Rimini and as far south as Naples.

La Repubblica has reported the hamlets of Accumoli and the neighboring town of Amatrice to have been “razed to the ground.”

Not a single building has been spared, including schools and hospitals.

The current death toll has now reached 247 , in spite of 4’300 rescuers using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands in a strenuous bid to find the last remaining survivors.

“My village no longer exists”, the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, stated.

A high number of the fatalities have been of children, amongst them an 18-month-old child in critical condition who died in the now-demolished Ascoli Piceno hospital.

The child’s parents were no strangers to the devastating effects of natural disasters. They had relocated after experiencing the forceful earthquake to hit L’Aquila, a city in the region of Abruzzo, in 2009.

In fact, earthquakes have always been a threat to those who live along the Apennine mountain range in central Italy.

Through the centuries Italy has suffered from the destructive force of earthquakes. Over the years, thousands have died as a result of tremors equal to or stronger than those felt on Wednesday night, 24 August.

The “Messina” earthquake reduced Sicily’s second-largest city to rubble and took the lives of over 82’000 in 1908.

In 1980, the “Eboli” earthquake struck a huge area near the southern city of Naples, some 2’735 were killed and more than 7’500 injured.

The “Abruzzo” earthquake in 2009  resulted in the death of 300 and demolished the 13th century city of L’Aquila.

Italy’s geographical location makes it prone to the threat of powerful earthquakes.

“Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line, minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.” the Italian Foreign office told the Telegraph UK.

Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Perozzi  warned that roads in and out of the town were cut off. “There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he stated.

Italian authorities are currently warning the public of the risk of aftershocks in the areas affected.

On the same day the earthquake in central Italy struck, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar left at least 3 dead and damaged ancient cultural sites and temples in the centre of the country.

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners are ready to stand by in support of countries where humanitarian aid is most needed in the aftermath of natural disaster.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of  lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the Regular Daily.

Natural disasters, particularly in the form of earthquakes,  have quite literally “shaken” the world up this 2016.

The residents of Kunamato, Japan just marked the fourth month since  terrifying temblors left 72 dead in April.

The strongest quake to have hit Japan since March 2011 occurred on the evening of April 14, registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

This was followed by another earthquake of similar scale on April 16,  which was determined to be the “main quake”.

Of the 72 victims, 50 were killed instantly, while 17 died of poor health while seeking shelter at local emergency centers.

In the same month, a massive earthquake resulted in  the deaths of 650  and the displacement of over 30’000 people in Ecuador.

The aftermath of the deathly quake lingers on as the survivors now face the grave socio-economic implications of destructive natural disaster.

In addition to the quake costing an estimated 4 billion USD in structural damage, in a country already economically staggered by falling oil prices, the consequential setbacks it has left on the lives of thousands in terms of unemployment, homelessness, and emotional trauma has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Months later, many survivors of the earthquake in  Ecuador are still living in the grief-stricken aftermath of unprecedented calamity.

It is essential that sustainable solutions are set in place to all those left displaced and traumatised by natural disasters this 2016.

Although the rebuilding of demolished infrastructure and the generation of alternative housing is a priority,  the establishment of support clinics to help those most affected cope with the physiological consequences of an earthquake should also be considered of vital importance.

In light of ongoing natural disasters and the devastating effects they can leave on both the psyche and livelihoods on the victims that cross their forceful paths, we must place a strong focus not only on the restructuring of the cities and towns reduced to rubble, but also on the continuous psychological  support of the traumatised survivors.

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Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

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The Lesser Sexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-lesser-sex http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:22:39 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146672 The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

Sakina’s  glare is empty. Her defeated, glassy eyes scan the room passively. The subdued silence and withered frame expose her fragility.

As a young girl, she endured both the physical and emotional trauma that had aged her into a state of lifelessness.

Sakina’s childhood innocence had already been ruthlessly beaten away. She was only 12 years old.

Sakina’s expressionless stare showed indestructible detachment.

As hard as a rock, her inner turmoil had obligated her to push her emotions aside and live in a state of heartless survival.

However, once encouraged to voice the perils of her childhood, Sakina’s face softened.

The gushes of tears that flooded her eyes remind one of a  coursing river that has burst at its banks, wild, chaotic and finally free of limitations.

Sakina  articulated her experience of what can be considered years of irreversible trauma and abuse in her family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“I remember my mother’s crushing custom of spitting venom. Her vicious words wounded me more than the beatings.  Somehow, her malicious remarks  always seemed to cut deeper than the whip.”

However, the root of Sakina’s abuse is not founded in ignorance or poverty.

The cause of her mother’s fury stemmed in her being a “kalluni”, a dark-skinned girl. She would never fare well in  a marriage market  so focused on the South Asian standard of “fair” beauty.

In spite of having grown up in a privileged manner,  attended to by dozens of servants in a household  of plenty, violence was  rife within the four walls of what appeared to be “paradise” for those who could not look inside.

“I recall being locked in the bathroom for 2 days , deprived of food and water as a punishment for my disobedience. Most of the time, I felt like ending my life in that suffocating bathroom, I couldn’t take it any longer.” Sakina said.

The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me
When she was not being made to starve or dehydrate, she endured severe physical punishment under the wrath of both her mother and father, her younger brother never failing to report on the shame she brought on to the family  once he discovered Sakina’s exchange of love notes with a local boy.

“There is one nightmarish memory that refuses to leave my mind. I shudder in fear when I think  of it. It comes back to me in the form of a recurring dream, my mother’s snarling expression as she  takes out a one and a half metre long whip , freshly chiselled from the branch of a “kadam” tree, thrashing me with it mercilessly, for hours on end.”

She paused to compose herself.

“The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me” she stated.

Although  Sakina’s tragic story happened over five decades ago, has Bangladesh made any radical change for the better in terms of female security and development?

It appears the great lengths the local government has gone to eradicate violence against women and young girls have not stretched far enough.

Even today, cases of abuse and violence against women and girls are  commonplace  in male-dominated Bangladeshi society.

Recently, a woman was reported to have been caned 101 times in rural community in Bangladesh for what was considered to be a shameless “extramarital affair” by the local village arbitration committee.

In reality, the “affair” was a case of breaking and entering as the woman shamefully  labelled “adulteress” fought off a neighbor who entered her home by force.

In spite of this violation of privacy and act of male-perpetrated violence, the woman as the “weak” scapegoat was obligated to take the blame for the man’s reckless  behaviour.

As a direct consequence, she was relentlessly beaten in the presence of 400 villagers. The final court ruling obligated her husband to conduct the caning.

Readers  of the Daily Star Bangladesh report commented on the sheer barbarity and sexism of the caning as the  male perpetrator of the attack’s sole punishment was 20 lashes.

Young women and girls in Bangladesh are punished for the crime of being the “lesser sex” on a daily basis. They are pushed into child marriages, slain for dowry and subjected to severe familial and marital acts of  gender-based violence.

In many ways, young girls and women are seen as nothing more than “financial burdens” on the family.

There is far less investment in education and healthcare for young girls and women across Bangladesh and once they reach puberty, their mobility is heavily restricted.

As the high number of child marriage, gender-based acts of violence and adolescent motherhood soars, it is clear this growth surpasses the setbacks of social disparity and lack of education.

The UNICEF country programme document states that in spite of significant progress in the reduction of poverty and  gender equity in the education system up to secondary level, gender bias still exists.

The   document emphasises that “the low socio-economic status of women is reflected in the poor health services provided to them, their inadequate food intake and their limited decision-making authority. Early marriage, dowry practices and sexual harassment, as well as violence against children and women continue because of social acceptance and gender norms”.

In this sense, Sakina, in spite of her prestigious family name and affluent background, is just as much a victim of violent brutality as the isolated village woman who was mercilessly caned.

In South Asia and elsewhere, ruthless violence against young women knows no bounds, it unleashes itself in  all classes of society, from the marginalised to the elite, like a  threatening plague.

In most cases, the abuse is rooted in the home where girls decision-making power is most limited.  Women’s  “intrinsic role” relegates  them into a position of subservience.

Violence within the home perpetrated by women who target other vulnerable young women and girls, much like in the case of Sakina and her abusive mother, are by far the most difficult cases to tackle as few have the courage to condemn and speak out against the actions of their own families.

In a recent research study, more than half of women interviewed aged between 15-49 experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their homes.

Ironically, UNICEF has reported that even in the wealthiest quintile of society,  13 percent of girls are underweight, possibly due to food deprivation as a form of punishment.

Acid throwing, whipping, and sexual harassment are also common forms of violence perpetrated against women and young girls.

The rampant culture of violence and abuse has led many young women to contemplate suicide, as UNICEF reports suicide to be most common among girls aged between 14 and 17 in Bangladesh.

The need to implement gender-equal initiatives with the outcome of delimiting women and young girls mobility is vital. Through innovative education, the perpetrator of violence in Bangladesh will benefit just as much as the victim.

Through the widespread implementation of  anti-violence initiatives, those most affected by abuse will come to realise that brutal castigation is by no means embedded in the national culture, nor is it an acceptable manner of monitoring and “controlling” female behaviour.

It is time women in Bangladesh and elsewhere speak out in the face of violence and realise that the open condemnation of abuse is key to addressing the entrenched discrimination against women and girls that dominate the nation.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Breaking the Silence on Gender-Blind Transporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:34:58 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146634 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/feed/ 0 Refugees’ returnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/refugees-return/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-return http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/refugees-return/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 10:23:46 +0000 Omar Waraich http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146632 By Omar Waraich
Aug 22 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

UNTIL recently, Pakistan was home to the largest refugee population. For decades, the country won much praise for giving sanctuary to vulnerable people who had to flee their homes. When far wealthier countries showed a callous indifference towards those people seeking safety — tightening border controls while pleading lack of capacity — the example of Pakistan shamed them.

Now, however, the Pakistani government risks squandering that moral standing and courting notoriety, for planning what might be one of the largest forcible returns of refugees in modern history. Several times, it has imposed unfeasible deadlines for the Afghan refugees’ return, triggering fresh waves of harassment from the police and other officials. Each time, an extension has been reluctantly granted.

Omar Waraich

Omar Waraich

For Afghan refugees, these reprieves do not provide any relief. They merely serve to prolong their anxiety. Ever since the Soviet invasion of their homeland, their lives have hinged precariously on geopolitics in the region. An elusive peace in Afghanistan in the midst of an escalating conflict has stopped them returning voluntarily. In Pakistan, they still languish in the limbo of their camps, denied their rights in a country they know better than their own.

The latest attempts to send Afghan refugees back across the border speak to transparently political motives. As retired Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, the Minister for States and the Frontier Regions, admitted, clashes along the border and the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour further soured relations with Kabul and led to the latest push against Afghan refugees.

This is scarcely the first time that Afghan refugees are being punished for Islamabad’s anger at Kabul. As a Human Rights Watch report documented, after the massacre of more than 100 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, the police descended on Afghan refugee camps, harassing their occupants, even beating them and subjecting them to other ill treatment.

Long subject to routine harassment, including the solicitation of bribes, the refugees were made a focus for reprisals after the armed group that attacked the school was traced to Afghanistan.

In its haste to settle scores, the government appears to be forgetting is that it has a responsibility to protect and ensure the rights of all people living within its territory. Although it has agreed with its Afghan counterparts that voluntary repatriation — which has already seen nearly four million Afghans return since 2002 — should continue, refugees in Pakistan must have their human rights fully respected.

Attacking a group of refugees because they happen to be from the same country where armed groups that carry out vile atrocities are based is a cruel and discriminatory practice unworthy of any state.

Many refugees across the world say that they would choose repatriation — if it was safe. In the case of Pakistan’s 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, the situation is complicated by the fact that many of them have spent the majority of their lives in Pakistan. Many have married in Pakistan, and have children who know no other country.

For repatriation to be lawful, it must be truly voluntary — that is, people must have made a free and informed decision to return.

At the moment, the conflict in Afghanistan is widening, not winding down. Regular bomb attacks are punctuating the Afghan Taliban’s advances, even as more territory in both the north and the south of the country continues to slip out of the government’s control. Following the loss of a district in the north to the Taliban, Helmand province is now besieged.

As per an Amnesty Int­ernational report this year, the number of internally displaced people in Afg­hanis­tan has doubled over the past three years to more than a million. During the same period, international aid to the country has halved as donors have shifted their attentions elsewhere following the withdrawal of their troops.

In overcrowded and unsanitary camps, Afghanistan’s internally displaced fight for their survival. They are denied adequate supplies of food, medical aid, and opportunities to pursue education and employment. Some of them are returnees from Pakistan, seemingly condemned to spend their lives shuffling across borders, from camp to camp.

Forcibly expelling refugees from Pakistan would be a clear breach of the principle of non-refoulement: the right not to be sent back to a country where one might be at real risk of serious human rights violations.

For years, successive Pakistani leaders have rightly affirmed that their country’s security is contingent on the security of Afghanistan. But the current refugee policy could undermine not just Afghanistan’s security, but Pakistan’s as well.

Putting so many people in harm’s way, either at home or across the border, doesn’t make states safer. Indeed, it invites ruinous consequences that could be difficult to roll back, and damage to the country’s image that will be difficult to efface.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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