Inter Press Service » Thoughts from Contemporary Thinkers News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 18:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is Hypocrisy The Silent Strategy of Western Democracy? Wed, 03 Aug 2016 15:12:55 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The official reasons for the US-led, UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003 were to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism, and free the Iraqi people.

However, immediately after the United States deposed and killed Iraq’s dictator and established a new authority to govern the country, a chaotic post-invasion environment surfaced, militias formed, inter-ethnic violence between Sunnis and Shias increased, and the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light.

In the following years, communities have been displaced, terror attacks have increased, and the Islamic State has emerged. Since the beginning of the invasion by the US and its allies until the present day, 180’000 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a database by the Iraq Body Count.

While it is undisputable that Saddam Hussein’s regime was brutal and appalling, the misery brought on by the war and endured by Iraqis until today is incomparable to the former dictator’s reign.

The Iraq War represents a catastrophe that could not have been more disastrous. It most certainly brought the calamitous failures of western powers to the fore.

On the 6th of July 2016, Sir John Chilcot delivered a crushing 6000-page verdict on the Iraq War and condemned former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in backing George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

In the document, Blair is accused of exaggerating the threat Saddam Hussein posed to British interests. The report states that peaceful alternatives to the war were not explored.

It further states that the information regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was presented in the media and named as one of the main causes of the war in spite of there being no proof of the existence of such weapons.

Chilcot writes that the United Kingdom and the United States have undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council by going ahead with the invasion, and concludes that the war in 2003 was indeed, unnecessary.

Although Blair openly acknowledged parts of the accusations, he also rejected others. Blair believes that it was essential to remove Hussein and that the war is not the cause for the terrorism of today in the region. In the midst of all these allegations, American officials so far have kept quiet.

The families of the 179 Britons killed so unnecessarily during the war will use Chilcot’s report to seek justice. The families of the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, however, may never receive it.

They never decided to be in a war. They were no soldiers. Yet their houses, their streets, their infrastructure, their way of making a living – everything has been destroyed, as life in the UK and America goes on as undisturbed as it has before the Iraqi war.

Saddam has gone, but in his place, we now have 1000 Saddams”, Kadhim al-Jabbouri, an Iraqi who used to repair Hussein’s motorcycles, told BBC news.

Blair and Bush have repeatedly insisted that Iraq and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein.

However, as the ringleaders behind the mass violence executed in Iraq, who are they to decide who deserves to live and die?

Blair and Bush are responsible for havoc and murder, and the galling question cannot be avoided: In the end, who killed more Iraqis?

The two democratically elected representatives of Western democracies, or the dictator who ruled Iraq before their arrival?

Wanting to bring freedom to the people in Iraq is an honourable endeavour, however, whether this was the genuine intention of the US and Great Britain remains doubtful.

In many ways, Blair and Bush’s decision to wage war on Iraq represents the notion that Western democracy can easily be turned into western hypocrisy

Broadcasting the inhumane violence conducted in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention and as “war on terror”, the whole invasion really seems to have been engineered as a means of gaining power for the US and the UK.

In the end, this power-hungry style of governance has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

It is thus deeply appalling that today, the entire Muslim population is held responsible by presidential candidate Donald Trump and other Islamophobes in the United States and Europe for the criminal group that calls itself the Islamic State – a group whom no one has elected, and maybe would not even exist if it were not for countless US interventions.

Why then should Western liberal democracies not be held accountable for mass murderers like Tony Blair and George Bush who were in fact fairly and freely elected?”, Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies at Colombia University, argues on Aljazeera.

In the process of writing the Chilcot report, the British government has prevented the release of specific documents. The exposure of extracts of a conversation between Bush and Blair recorded prior to the invasion of Iraq has been blocked.

The publishing of the Chilcot report had been postponed due to difficult negotiations with the United States, and now, certain content has been removed from the media with suspicious haste.

The manner in which the Iraq war is being dealt with thereby gives strength to the allegation that it was nothing less than an illegal war.

If this is truly a democratic world, should the initiators of the war not be prosecuted in the same way as previous African dictators and despots from the Middle East guilty of the same crime?

I will be with you, whatever”, Blair wrote in one of his secret letters to Bush, written exchanges wherein the two leaders shared the belief that the time had come to define post-cold war world order.

It is this kind of western incompetence and adoption of imperialistic war tendencies that have created a platform for years of strife and conflict in the Middle East.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Modern-day Slavery in Oman? Domestic Workers in Peril Mon, 25 Jul 2016 14:45:13 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr Domestic migrant workers from South and South-East Asia are now considered  Oman's "modern-day slaves". Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Domestic migrant workers from South and South-East Asia are now considered Oman's "modern-day slaves". Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Jul 25 2016 (IPS)

In order to escape poverty and support their families back home, thousands of domestic workers from South and South-East Asia migrate to Oman with the promise of stable employment in local households.

Once they arrive in Oman, new employers often seize their passports so that they cannot depart when they want, ultimately, denying them their freedom of movement.

They are made subject to excessive working hours, sleep deprivation and starvation. Many suffer from verbal or sexual abuse.

All too often, the money they work so hard for is denied to them. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, a great number of female migrant domestic workers fall prey to such abusive employment, and become Oman’s modern-day slaves.

The country’s visa sponsorship system, known as kafala, as well as the absence of labour law protections for domestic workers make migrant workers highly vulnerable to exploitation.

The kafala creates an “unbreakable” tie between the migrant worker and their employer, which means that the migrant worker’s visa is directly conditioned by the employer.

This prohibits migrant workers from switching jobs, even if they face abuse at their workplace. At least 130’000 migrant domestic workers are affected by the kafala system.

Families in Oman acquire their services through recruitment companies, employing them to take care of their children, cook meals, and clean their homes.

The recruitment companies typically ask for a fee to be paid for the mediation, and several migrant workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that their employers demanded they pay them back the recruitment fee in order to be released from their service.

Employers can force domestic workers to work without rest, pay, or food, knowing they can be punished if they escape, while the employers rarely face penalties for abuse”, Rothna Begum, a Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, confirms.

A report from Human Rights Watch also stated that women who decide to escape their abusive employment often face legal penalties.

Asma K., a domestic worker from Bangladesh, told Human Rights Watch that she was not only “sold” to a man, her passport had also been taken away from her, and she was forced to work 21 hours a day tending to the needs of 15 people.

Asma was both sexually and verbally abused, denied of her right to a fair wage in addition to being deprived of food. Many other female domestic workers share Asma K.’s story.

Once a migrant worker has escaped an abusive employer, very few options remain. If the women go back to the agencies that recruited them, the agents often beat them and forcefully place them into new families.

The Omani police offers little help, usually dismisses the domestic workers’ claim, and returns them to the family they came from, where in several cases, the workers are assaulted by their employers, Human Rights Watch says.

Some women risk getting reported as “absconded”, an offense which can lead to their deportation or even a criminal complaint against them.

While several Omani lawyers confirm that they have no confidence in Oman’s labour dispute settlement procedure or courts for redress for domestic workers, some embassy officials dissuade domestic workers from even fighting for their case, due to the lengthy process and the high probability of facing defeat.

This process eventually leads to workers returning to their home countries without pay, with the dream of providing for their families shattered and no hope for justice.

In order to protect its nationals from abusive employment, Indonesia has banned migration to Oman, as well as other countries with a similar history of migrant labour abuse.

However, such bans often have an opposite effect, leaving those most desperate for work vulnerable to traffickers or forced labour as they try to sidestep their own country’s restrictions.

Human Rights Watch states that several countries do not protect their nationals against abusive employment, nor do they provide help to those who fall victim to trafficking, abuse and mistreatment living abroad.

In 2012, Oman promised the United Nations Human Rights Council to look for alternatives to the kafala system, however, Human Rights Watch states that no concrete proposal has since been made, and up until now, Oman’s labour law does not protect domestic workers.

In April 2016, a Ministry of Manpower official stated in the Times of Oman that Oman is considering protecting domestic workers under its labour law, however, when requested for information on possible law reforms or other measures to protect domestic workers, the Omani government remained silent.

Human Rights Watch states that Oman was further criticized by the United States government for not demonstrating increased efforts to address human trafficking.

In 2015, there were only five prosecutions on sex trafficking, with no prosecutions on forced labour at all.

In order to provide protection for domestic workers, Human Rights Watch urges Oman to revise the kafala system, and advises it to cooperate with the countries of origin to help prevent exploitation.

Instead of punishing migrant domestic workers for escaping their appalling conditions, they should be granted justice by means of fair prosecutions against those who manipulated, scorned and abused them.

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The Pursuit of Global National Happiness Sun, 20 Mar 2016 08:32:06 +0000 Maddie Felts New-Intl-Day-Happiness

By Maddie Felts
ROME, Mar 20 2016 (IPS)

Should a country’s development be measured in smiles instead of dollars? Increasingly, governments and organizations are measuring social progress through happiness. This is in marked contrast to the long-accepted practice of using Gross Domestic Product to measure development, built upon the premise that a country’s success can largely be quantified by its economic activity. Though only recently gaining international attention, the push to pursue “gross national happiness” as a policy goal originated over 40 years ago in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

A country with very low GDP per capita but a high sense of general well-being, Bhutan developed the gross national happiness model to emphasize Buddhist spiritual values over a western focus on economic growth. Initially, the philosophy proved difficult to implement and quantify. Happiness is a quality ever-present in our lives yet difficult to identify as a policy goal. As a result, several decades passed before happiness came to the global stage as an ideal for development.

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly released its first World Happiness Report, reflecting its invitation to member countries “to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on ‘Happiness and Well-Being,’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon argued for “a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, happiness has become a fundamental goal of development.

Just days before this year’s International Day of Happiness on March 20, the fourth World Happiness Report was released. Developed by an international committee of economists, psychologists, and public health experts, the report includes a happiness ranking of over 150 nations.

Denmark holds the top spot, followed by Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. Rounding out the bottom of the rankings was Burundi, a country shaken by political violence in the past year. Also nearing the bottom of the list were Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

The happiest nations have thriving economies and the capacity to provide significant social services to citizens. By contrast, countries at the bottom of the list face widespread poverty. Environmental safety, healthcare infrastructure, and political stability in the countries where people are happiest contrasts with the economic inequality, devastating impact of disease, and institutionalized violence in countries at the bottom of the happiness index.

While the report notes that gross domestic product per capita is one of the variables explaining the variation across countries, it also found five additional constituents of national happiness, namely: healthy years of life expectancy; social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble); trust (as measured by perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (as measured by donations).

In their chapter on the distribution of happiness worldwide, economists John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, Haifang Huang of the University of Alberta and Shun Wang of the Korea Development Institute note that crises can elicit a wide range of responses depending on the sociopolitical landscape.

Greece experienced the largest drop in happiness of any country in the past decade, reflecting its crippling economic crisis that began in 2007. At the other end of the spectrum, Japan has developed such strong levels of trust and “social capital” that happiness increased in Fukushima, ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, as members of the community came together to rebuild and support one another.

European nations face a crisis that in its nature and scale are unlike any other in modern times, as over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, an influx that can only increase in 2016. The migrant crisis is proving to be a significant test of the capacities of individual European countries and of the European community to cope.

The influx of migrants should be seen not as devastation to a region, but rather, as an opportunity for nations to collaborate, seek creative solutions, and show generosity towards its neighbors and towards the individuals crossing European borders. The migrants and refugees are seeking more than just entry; they risk their livelihoods, their families, and their lives in search of relief from poverty, systematic oppression, and devastating violence. Above all, these people are seeking happiness. The International Day of Happiness reflects the hope that all states will collaborate and contribute to the pursuit of global happiness.


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A Question of Honour for a Nigerian Migrant Thu, 25 Feb 2016 14:31:34 +0000 Francesco Farne Migrants at Lampedusa island, Italy. The Island is the first land migrants' boats reach on their journey from Africa.  Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Migrants at Lampedusa island, Italy. The Island is the first land migrants' boats reach on their journey from Africa. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Francesco Farnè
Rome, Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

“In 2005 I left my home town in Eastern Nigeria by boat, landing in Athens, Greece along with my fellow companions – members of a football team. I decided to push my luck and moved to Italy in search of what I believed to be better opportunities to start a new life and get a decent job. Unfortunately, this may have just been an illusion.”

When James arrived in Italy, he was a 25 year old student. Faced with the harsh economic and political instability, he fled his home in the hopes of building a better life elsewhere, leaving behind his parents, seven brothers and three sisters, and a host of family members and friends.

Now 35, James’ sacrifice to leave so much behind is a testament to the difficult choices that most migrants and refugees have to make when venturing overseas. Such circumstances are made all the more tragic when faced with the limited prospects and a deep feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance migrants frequently encounter on their arrival in their host countries.

Initially surviving by selling socks on the streets, James also helped people carry shopping bags full of food to their vehicles in front of a supermarket for six years- a frequent sight around Italian super markets. Earning tips as wage, he lived in a very small apartment in the northern suburbs just outside Rome. He had to move four times always sharing a small space with at least seven other migrants or refugees.

“The second place I moved into actually had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a living room, which may sound cosy and quite comfortable, right? What if I tell you that there were fifteen of us living there and that a couch was my bed?” asked James.

“I do not want to complain”, he added, “the Nigerian community here is very inclusive and helpful. Additionally, people from other African countries I had the chance to meet and share rooms with during these years proved to be true friends. At least I’ve never felt alone.”

During his time in Italy, James also relied on financial help from his brother who lives in another country in Africa he did not want to disclose. “I know it may sound strange, migrants are known to send remittances home to help their families, but in my case it was the contrary. I am not proud of this.” While confident that he would be able to repay his brother one day, James pointed out that many others are having to endure similar difficult circumstances.

In 2013, eight years on from his arrival, James found a job at a grocery shop. While grateful for a better salary and greater independence, James states that the casual nature of his employment and his wage of €35 for a ten hour day are still a major cause for concern and in violation of labour rights on minimum wage, working hours and social protection.

“I am well aware this is a violation of workers’ rights, but I am forced to accept these conditions.” Still living with the painful memories of his earlier circumstances, James fears being forced to sell socks again in front of supermarkets.

After obtaining his “permesso di soggiorno” (residence permit), James is hoping to register at a public employment agency. However, he remains wary and somewhat disillusioned. He stated that many friends have had little luck when trying to find employment through this process. Whatever the difficulties, he says he cannot give up now.

When asked why he stayed in Italy for all these years despite the hardships he has had to endure isolated and far from his family and friends, James states that his choice to stay is a complex one.

“The truth is I do not want people in my home community, my family and friends to make fun of me and consider me a failure. Now that I have my residence permit, I feel like I have a chance to make it, get a decent job and go back home with something in my hands”, he concluded. This reasoning behind his decision to remain in Italy however is linked to the ongoing socio- political turmoil and human rights abuses in Nigeria.

The current state of affairs in Nigeria have recently been highlighted by Amnesty International in the 2014/15 report: The state of the world’s human rights, which stated: “[C]rimes under international law and serious human rights violations and abuses were committed by both sides in the conflict between the Nigerian military and the armed group Boko Haram […]. Torture and other ill-treatment by the police and security forces was widespread. Freedom of expression was restricted. The death penalty continued to be applied.”

According to 2015 estimates by the Italian Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), arrivals from Nigeria to Italy have dramatically increased in the last two years, with 11.000 new arrivals in 2014 (+13% compared to 2013). 63.5% of them are asylum seekers and refugees.

The European Union, as well as the international community must do more to ensure international peace and security, manage international migration and tackle the root causes of the mass exodus of peoples from the war torn regions of the world.

There are numerous issues facing host countries and the governments must be held accountable and address the issues that are at the centre of migration to Europe. They include the horrors of human trafficking, including bringing those responsible to justice.

National governments must do more to inform new migrants on what to expect once they arrive in Europe, in addition to effectively addressing the current humanitarian crisis faced by hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Additionally, both the media and national governments must put an end to scare-mongering tactics and xenophobic tirades, and instead, begin to promote campaigns that are focused on integration and empathy.

Governments must put forward and pass legislation that ensures that laws regarding employment regulations, equal pay, access to education and healthcare, to legal recourse are available to all those who have settled in their host countries. It is not a luxury for the migrants but a legitimate claim.


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“A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work?” Thu, 04 Feb 2016 14:45:42 +0000 Francesco Farne According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy estimates, three out of four Bangladeshi workers in Italy work in the tertiary sector. 23,3% of them are employed in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector.  Credit: Simba Shani Kamaria Russeau/IPS

According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy estimates, three out of four Bangladeshi workers in Italy work in the tertiary sector. 23,3% of them are employed in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector. Credit: Simba Shani Kamaria Russeau/IPS

By Francesco Farnè
Rome, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“During the first months in Italy, I always prayed for rain. I spent hours checking the weather forecast” said Roni, a 26 year old graduate from a middle-income family in Bangladesh. His father, a public servant and his mother a home maker, Roni had to sell umbrellas on the streets of Rome for more than a year before finding a summer job by the sea at a coffee shop, popularly known as a ‘bar’ in Italy.

In a recent interview with IPS, Roni explained that in 2012, he left his country, like many other Bangladeshis, in search of better opportunities in Europe. “I decided to leave for economic reasons; it was impossible to get a job in Bangladesh, even though I am a University graduate. I had heard that many friends and relatives made a fortune in Italy and wanted to be like them”, said Roni.

According to ISTAT 2015 (Italian National Institute of Statistics) estimates, there are more than 138.000 Bangladeshi nationals legally residing in Italy – a 9 % increase compared to 2014. Like Roni, many in the Bangladeshi community play a significant role in the Italian economy as part of the labour force. In particular, 75.6% of Bangladeshi workers in Italy are employed in the service sector.

Additionally, more than 20.000 Bangladeshi entrepreneurs were registered as business owners in 2013, according to the “Annual report on the presence of immigrants – The Bengali Community” issued by the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

Roni describes the process of getting a visa as very complex. “There are two kinds of visas, one for agricultural workers and one for all the others. The former is quite easy to obtain and costs less, about € 8.000, while for the latter, the one I obtained, a sponsor residing in Italy is required and the cost is over € 12.000.”

“I paid my sponsor directly, and he completed all the required documentation”, he continued, “and once he obtained the nullaosta (clearance), I could apply for my visa at the Embassy of Italy in Bangladesh. I was lucky as it took only three months for the documents to be ready. Many other people have to wait much longer and deal with and pay two or three in between agents to connect them with the sponsor.”

Although it is widely known that the Bangladeshi migrants look out for each other, Roni says that getting support from the established Bangladeshi community has been a challenge. “Since the day I arrived, I sensed a lack of solidarity, fraternity and belonging within my national community. [Those] now in a position to help others seem to forget that once they were the ones in need. It looks like they forget their immediate past and think they are not like this anymore and therefore don’t want to do anything with them”, said Roni.

“No one helped me with my job search nor gave me any indication on where to buy umbrellas to sell, nor helped me with the language, as I did not speak Italian. My sponsor just helped me find a place to sleep – a room shared with nine other strangers I had to pay for myself – and that’s it”, he continued.

After 18 months of search, Roni has now found a job in a restaurant and is much happier. In addition, he has a contract which will enable him to renew his residency permit.

He earns more than €1000 per month, enough to send some money home. Roni explained that remittances are an integral part of his “mission” here in order to help his family back home, since his father retired. As he needs over €400 per month for his own survival in Italy, he is able to send home between €400 and €600 per month. His family uses the money for subsistence and for rent.

Indeed, after China, Bangladesh is the second country of destination of remittances from Italy, amounting to €346.1 million in 2013 (7.9% of all remittances), according to the Annual report by the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

When asked for details of his contract, Roni revealed that even though he is contracted for six hours of work each day, he works for 10 hours or more for the same wage, and, days of leave or sickness do not count as working days.

Roni claims he is paid less than other workers with different nationalities. Although Roni’s terms of employment appeared to be better than those of other migrant workers, it nevertheless disregards many of the employment rights regarding remuneration, sick-leave, and weekly working hours outlined in the many directives set out by the EU Commission.

“This is not only about bad bosses exploiting migrants”, said Roni, “we, as migrant workers have to stand up for our rights and stop accepting these humiliating conditions. As long as there is another migrant willing to accept unfair conditions, my attempts to fight for a better contract and for workers’ rights will be in vain.”

“I think government policies to protect workers are good”, he continued. “It is not a matter of policies, it is how they are implemented to make sure that laws are respected. In fact, after government officials carried out an inspection at my workplace, we were immediately hired, gaining formal access to basic welfare and social protection measures.”

Roni concluded by making an appeal to his own people: “let’s help each other and put our strengths together. Do not forget to help the newcomers, as it will pay off! I myself had helped two Bangladeshi nationals hosting them at my place and paying the rent for them. They will repay me as soon as they get jobs. Solidarity will lead to a win-win situation and it is the only way to improve our condition.”

Roni is just one of the many faces representing the migration crisis Italy is facing today. With the weakest suffering the worst consequences of the crisis, from a policy perspective, there is no doubt that an integrated EU approach will be the only effective way to face the issue. This is especially true when attempting to ensure implementation and enforcement of the social welfare laws, human rights and labour rights laws.

At both the national and local level, Italian institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations, have a key role to play. They must raise awareness and enhance understanding of these issues. Workers must be aware of their “labour and employment rights, social and welfare rights, and where to seek assistance”, as stated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its publication “Protecting the rights of migrant workers: a shared responsibility”.

All of this can significantly help create long-lasting legislative changes that are needed in the employment sector to ensure that migrants rights are protected. Finally, Italian institutions and civil society organisations should demand stricter controls by the authorities to ensure that existing laws are actually enforced and implemented, as suggested by Roni.


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Spanish Member of Congress Causes Controversy after Breastfeeding in Parliament Mon, 25 Jan 2016 18:01:04 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

A member of the Spanish Congress, Carolina Bescana, of the anti-austerity Podemos Party, created a controversy last week when she took her six-month old baby to work and openly breastfed him during a session. The delegate was widely criticized by almost all parties for her action and the event has spurred a lively debate on the image of mothers who juggle motherhood with their jobs.

In 2006, socialist Manuel Martin established a kindergarden where congresswomen and men could leave their children while they attended congress sessions. It is a paying service, with the capacity to take 45 infants but that the congresswoman decided not to use, instead bringing her baby into a working session, and making the point for mothers generally about having children in the workplace:

“It is time to bring the reality that is on the streets into official institutions, so that this Chamber is more representative of our country,” Ms Bescansa declared. “We need to encourage that certain tasks stop being a private affair that women need to deal with confidentially in the invisibility of their homes.”

Podemos was condemned by all parties. Socialist Carme Chacón, who was criticized when she was the Minister of Defence for traveling to Afghanistan in the last months of her pregnancy, deprecated her colleague.

“Honestly, it was not necessary. I feel badly because there are many female workers in this country who cannot do this. It’s a bad example (for women) because there have been many efforts to allow women in Congress, who do not have maternity leave, to breastfeed their children, as I did, without everyone seeing”, said Chacón.

The idea, however, was to set an example of the difficulty that thousands of women face in juggling their private and professional lives and to highlight the need to share responsibilities and rights between both men and women.

“In this country, there are millions of mothers who unfortunately cannot raise their children as they would like, who cannot go to work with their children as if it was something normal,” Bescansa said to reporters ” I think that the fact that coming to parliament with a breastfed baby makes the news says a lot about this country. That means we need to give more visibility to this.”

It is not the first time a European politician has taken a stand by bringing their children into parliament. Iolanda Pineda, of the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia took her baby in 2012 into Spain’s upper house of parliament, and Licia Ronzulli, a former Italian member in the European Parliament, has frequently taken her daughter to sessions.

The issue has opened a debate on the role of women both professionally and privately. Breastfeeding, which is a natural part of childbearing and caring, is still seen in many places as obscene and something to be done in private.

It is important to mobilize at all levels of society in order to change the shame associated with breastfeeding and to incorporate it as part of the natural daily tasks of women both in public and in the workplace.


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Can Russia handle the flood of Ukrainian immigrants? Tue, 19 Jan 2016 16:51:21 +0000 Yulia Beret By Yulia Beret
Milan, IULM University, Jan 19 2016 (IPS)

According to official data released by the Russian Government, since April 2014 more than one million Ukrainian refugees have sought refuge in Russia. Despite these figures the Government has not acknowledged that there is a migrant crisis. Some Russian politicians have gone so far as to say that the international community should follow the Russian model in dealing with large numbers of refugees.

Initially, the large numbers of refugees arriving in the south of Russia let to discord with local groups unused to high levels of diversity and ignorant of the refugee protocols. Nevertheless, the communities have attempted to provide help and support to migrants who need assistance. Ukrainian refugees were either placed in fully equipped refugee camps, in sanatoriums and schools or were placed in local homes. Refugees were accepted in many cities in Russia, such as; Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Volgograd.

The government of the Russian Federation has implemented changes in the law regarding the time parameters for issuing refugee documents that includes allowing for different lengths of stay in the country. The documentation provides either the status of refugee or temporary asylum seeker. The latter group allows the refugees residence in the country for an extended period of time. Initially, all refugees receive financial help. Thereafter they are given a choice of the region in which they wish to settle, since the south of Russia cannot permanently host large numbers refugees. The government then assists in providing shelter and assistance and in helping refugees to find employment.

One of the regions where refugees can settle is the Khanty-Mansy Autonomous District or KhMAO in Western Siberia. Work has been easier to find in this region due mainly to the thriving oil industry. Local government has also been providing financial assistance that includes a maternity allowance and produces information for immigrants on local laws. While these reforms have gone some way to assisting refugees, still more needs to be done to help them integrate in a sometimes difficult transition.

In general, the refugees in KhMAO have been well received by many Russians given the many similarities between the two cultures. Easing the integration of migrants has thus been aided not only by financial support but also support from the Russian people. Interaction between the two populations is highly important given that refugees have lost their homes, social groups and local culture. Currently, most refugees in khMAO have jobs and decent living conditions, as well as other benefits, such as free university and school access. In other words they have the right to a safe and decent life.

As with every political crisis, however, opposition is present especially due to differences between regional attitudes on the assumption of migrants. There are limited systematic directives from the government and no clear documentation stating refugee rights, which increase bureaucratic stress and difficulties for the refugees themselves when trying to acquire legal documents and in understanding deadlines for presenting documentation. This has tended to intensify between refugees and the state.

An increasing issue are high levels of unemployment levels due to the intake of a largely unskilled labour force. Nevertheless, the regions which take-in refugees are typically those with the greatest ability to absorb unskilled labour. For example, jobs in construction and production are in high demand, the problem arises when the refugees are highly educated and demand better job opportunities. Instead of randomly allocating refugees to certain locations, a database with specialist skills needs to be created which would allow for the selection and allocation of refugees based on their skills and experience, thus helping local economies and more closely approaching the expectations of the immigrants.

Russia lacks a proper policy for supporting and utilising effectively its refugees. Current programmes provide support for no more than two years, too little time for many to integrate adquately. In addition, there are no associations protecting and promoting refugee rights, with the main impact borne therefore by the local population. Since there is no separate government budget for the refugee crisis, taxes for local residents increase thus allowing the national economy to support these new population. Taken together with essentially static salaries and the current financial crisis, including progressively falling international oil prices, the burden falls on the local community to absorb the costs they incur. Some of those that have welcomed refugees have been unable to sustain these expenses.

Nor is the situation helped by the existence of corruption – often present in the form of costs associated with processing and releasing refugee documents. According to representatives from multiple NGOs, the Promorsky Krai Federal State Unitary Enterprise demands 78 000 rubles (around €1000) for “fast and trouble-free” document processing.

Many issues have accumulated over a short period of time due to the refugee crisis. To improve the situation with Ukrainian refugees before the crisis deepens, administrative measures need to be replaced by economic incentives and relocation procedures have to be reviewed, allowing for an easier redistribution of refugees throughout the country, that takes into account both the needs of the incoming populations and those of local communities.


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Could a wall stop the Mexican people? Wed, 13 Jan 2016 21:35:44 +0000 Lara Liguori and Marco Fumagalli By Lara Liguori and Marco Fumagalli
Milan, IULM University, Jan 13 2016 (IPS)

“The truth is, immigrants tend to be more American than people born here” (Chuck Palahniuk, journalist and author of the best seller “Fight Club”). Currently migration has risen to the top of the international agenda, along with climate change and terrorism.

While the spotlight in the last two years has mainly been on illegal immigration mainly in Europe and the Near East and North Africa, flows of illegal immigrants have also been increasing between the USA and Mexico.

Why do individuals feel compelled to migrate to another land?

Border leading into the desert at the Mariposa port-of-entry. Credit: Jeb Sprague/IPS

Border leading into the desert at the Mariposa port-of-entry. Credit: Jeb Sprague/IPS

The issue of Mexican people who pursue the “American dream” has led to considerable debate in US politics. Migrants’ dreams to find better living and working conditions are so vivid that ; many are not afraid to risk their own lives. When you have nothing to lose, nobody will be able to stop your determination.

With the US Presidential elections scheduled for 16 November 2016 the campaign is already on fire.One US presidential hopeful candidate who has never been afraid to speak out is leading Repubblican candidate Donald Trump

The powerful tycoon doesn’t waste his xenophobic hyperbole in demonstrating his contempt of “Latinos”. One of his last ideas for his campaign was to state that “we are going to build a wall, and the Mexican government is going to pay for the wall”.

On the other side of the political spectrum is Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg who advocates for a pro-immigration campaign.

The republican billionaire attacks Zuckerberg saying that: “future employees’ applications should be applied to US citizens before those of foreigners”. While accusing Zuckerberg of taking-on immigrants just to save money”.

Immigration can be a serious problem but, at the same time, it can also be a problem solver. The immigrant workforce can be used to fill positions that many Americans wouldn’t consider.

That said, critical to the argument is that government needs to build a working social system that will be effective in helping immigrants to integrate successfully. Better to confront the problem head-on than to skirt around the issue half-heartedly.
Ilegal immigration can be dangerous because of all the hidden economic interests behind it, in an ideal democracy we should give more opportunity to all of those who want to contribute to the greatness of one Country.

In the words of one of the country’s biggest supporters of immigration, current US President, Barak Obama: “What makes someone American, isn’t just our blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and faith in the idea that anyone, from anywhere, can write the next chapter of our story.”


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Water, Water Everywhere but Too Much or Too Little Fri, 01 Jan 2016 15:43:52 +0000 Francesco Farne Water is at the core of Sustainable Development and it is crucial in Climate Change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Water is at the core of Sustainable Development and it is crucial in Climate Change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Francesco Farnè
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

“Water is at the core of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), but it is true that for a long time water and oceans issues have been marginalized in climate conferences, considering that 90 per cent of natural catastrophes are linked to water and 40 per cent of global population will face water scarcity from now to 2050,” stated Marie-Ségolène Royal, French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, during the press conference at the launch of the #ClimateIsWater initiative at COP21. “It is through water that it is possible to measure climate change impacts,” she said.

On 2 December, “Resilience Day,” the international water community gathered in Paris Le Bourget for the launch of the #ClimateIsWater initiative. A series of events and a press conference took place with the aim of increasing visibility and raising awareness on how water is key to addressing climate change. The initiative brought together several organizations representing civil society and stakeholders.

Sustainable water management is fundamental for addressing climate change. “Actors across all sectors should contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies integrating water into future climate architecture.” In order to meet this goal, financing is a crucial aspect, declared Torgny Holmgren, of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), during the press conference.

Water is at the base of all forms of life on earth, and its existence on the planet created the preconditions for the origin of life and the billion years of evolution. Through the history of humanity many civilizations flourished depending on a water source. Mesopotamia, (land between the rivers in ancient Greek), and known as the “cradle of civilization” depended on the Tigris and Euphrates. Ancient Egypt developed on the Nile, the Chinese empire prospered along the Yellow and Yangzi basins and developed a complex administrative machine based on water management for agricultural irrigation.

It is possible to say that human development is water-driven, and this crucial resource is vital to economic and social prosperity. Today in many countries water is a common good, underlining the importance of its universal access. On the other hand, especially in western countries, water is often taken for granted. But without being able to either control its abundance as in floods and bursting sea levels and extreme weather or its scarcity with drought and desertification, water can be catastrophic.

In 2015, the World Economic Forum ranked water as the highest risk affecting global society. According to World Water Council (WWC), one in eight people live without safe drinking water and two people in five do not have adequate sanitation globally. Moreover, nearly 3.5 million deaths from water related diseases are registered every year. Unfortunately, the most affected people live in the global south.

In addition to these shocking facts, directly linked to our so called “water crisis,” there are very strong connections between water and some of the core areas of sustainable development, such as agriculture and food security, demography and urbanization, as well as climate and the environment.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agricultural irrigation accounts for 70 per cent of global water withdrawals, an impressive ratio considering demographers’ preoccupations for population growth projections. Indeed, food demand is expected to increase by 60 per cent and energy by 100 per cent by 2050.

Water is inextricably connected to energy. It is necessary not only for hydropower, but also for cooling power plants, for oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and for biofuels. Some 1.3 billion people, mainly in Africa, have no access to electricity.

New urban development from 2010-30 is expected to equal what was built in all of human history. This will increase water withdrawals from municipalities, implying issues of access, infrastructure, sanitation and safety from extreme water hazards.

Surprisingly, in spite of all the above evidence, for a long time water has not been at the top of global agenda. It is not highlighted in climate issues, even though “the effects of climate change will be felt mainly in the water cycle, “ said Benedito Braga, President of WWC, during the press conference. Water management has a great potential for both Climate Change adaptation and mitigation, he said.

According to WWC estimates, there have already been 2.5 trillion dollar economic losses from disasters 70 per cent related to floods and droughts so far this century. And other key issues such as migration and infrastructure damage are connected to climate disasters related to water.

Even though water is not specifically mentioned in the final Paris Agreement, it is possible the international water community is gaining momentum. At the seventh World Water Council held in Daegu & Gyeongbuk last April, the Republic of Korea was a notable participant. This council also brought water into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a goal completely dedicated to water.

SDG 6 aims at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. SDG 6 covers the entire water cycle, including the management of water, wastewater and ecosystem resources, and have strong linkages to all of the other SDGs. In fact, its realization would mean a huge step towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

There is further evidence that civil society plays a crucial role in mainstreaming water in the Global Agenda. In fact, the LPAA that brought water at the centre of discussions in Paris, involves national governments, cities, regions and other sub national entities, international organizations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, as well as businesses. And over 300 organisations signed Paris pact on water and adaptation to climate change in river basins at COP21.

The Eighth Water Council will be held in Brasilia, Brazil in 2018. The fact that a developing country and one of the countries most affected by the water crisis will host the event puts once again the attention on the central role of emerging economies in addressing climate and water issues.


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Ettelaat—an Iranian Newspaper—condemns media censorship in Iran Mon, 28 Dec 2015 19:18:56 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Dec 28 2015 (IPS)

On Wednesday 9th of December, the Iranian Newspaper Ettelaat published a front page editorial urging President Rouhani to condemn the ban on publishing the name or images of the previous president and reformist, Mohammad Kathami.

Just one day prior, the editor, Mahmoud Doaei was indicted for defying the national ban on mentioning Mohammad Kathami in the media. Regardless of the ban and the indictment, the editor published a letter on the front page of the newspaper, addressed to the current President Hassan Rouhani, urging him to condemn the censorship and stating that the ban goes against Iran´s constitution.

The front-page editorial on Wednesday mentioned Khatami´s full name three times. Doeaei stated in his article: “The esteemed prosecutor of Tehran held a meeting with a number of managing editors including myself recently, in which he demanded us not to publish articles or images relating to Hojatoleslam [an Islamic honorific title] Khatami.” He then continued: “I told him in that very meeting that this decision is arbitrary; there is no legislation or law backing it and that Ettelaat would not accept it.”

The editor of Ettelaat tried to use a moderate language and avoided underlining sensitive political matters. In his Farsi translation, he first defied the imposed ban by printing on Saturday an interview Khatami had recently given to As-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper and printed along with it images of the reformist. On Tuesday Doaei was indicted for ignoring the Ban, and on Wednesay he again published another article naming Khatami and said he would keep doing so despite the threats of prosecution.

The ban in itself was not imposed by Rouhani or his government, but by the judiciary system in the country and its media, which act independently. Nonetheless the president is bound under the constitution to speak out and defend the freedom of press and his people’s rights, which he has not yet done.

Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005 and was a crucial supporter in the campaign for President Rouhani in 2013. When he was sworn into office in 1998 he expressed his respect for human rights and promoted freedom of expression. But starting in spring 2000, Iranian authorities started to shut down pro-reformist publications, TV and Radios and despise Khatami condemning the closures, he said he was powerless to prevent them.

Censorship in media in Iran is not new; the government has been actively shutting down reformist papers for years now, but what is new, is the recent shift of scrutiny from newspapers to internet sites and blogs. Although media control is something ongoing in Iran, Journalists, until recently, were able to find their voice through the internet—a source that has allowed them to reach mass audiences at low monetary costs. Now the conservative government has turned its repressive watch toward the internet and has blocked online reformist newspapers and websites.

The Iranian constitution has made explicit in that censorship is prohibited, but the country has one of the worst records of press freedom. Dozens of journalists and bloggers are behind bars. Journalists also suffer other forms of censorship that include harassment, confiscating their passports and summoning them for interrogation. Among the jailed reports, is Jason Razaian, an Iranian-American journalist from the Washington Post who has been held prisoner on charges of spying for more than a year. His fate is still ambiguous.


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Alaa Arsheed: A Refugee’s Sweet Sound of Success Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:12:55 +0000 Francesco Farne and Valentina Gasbarri Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician,  during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.  Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician, during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

By Francesco Farnè and Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

“In Beirut I was like a bird in a cage, I felt like a prisoner. Today, I have the chance to let my dreams come true, make a living with my music, realizing my dad’s project: open a new Alpha – my family’s cultural center, destroyed during the war- to share Syrian culture and help my people in Europe,” Alaa Arsheed, a Syrian refugee, told IPS.

Alaa, 29-year old and an accomplished violinist has become living proof of the positive effects migration can have on host countries, especially in countries like Italy where structural problems related both to the financial and migration crises have changed the course of present political history.

In the past century Italy has gone through mass emigration, internal migration and mass immigration. According to ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) almost 4 million non-EU migrants live in the country in 2015. The flimsy boats filled with human cargo and often sink in in the Mediterranean leaving many adrift in the cold sea, and some perish.

About 3 per cent of the world’s refugees arrive in Italy says the Report on International Protection in Italy 2015, released by The National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) , Caritas Italiana, Cittalia, Migrantes Fundation and the The SPRAR project (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The report says by the end of 2014 there were 33 on-going wars, 13 crisis situations and 16 UN missions. The humanitarian crises in the Middle-East pushed nearly 19.5 million refugees to flee their home country, 38,2 million were internally displaced people (IDPs) from war and persecution and 1.8 million were asylum seekers. As a consequence, the number of migrants reached 59.5 milion people.

According to the last figures from the Italian Ministry of Interior, in 2015 about 120,000 migrants arrived in Italy. The vast majority of people are refugees and migrants from Syria, followed by Afghanis, Pakistanis and Iraqis. The countries of origin for people crossing from Libya include Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. 2,900 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during their dangerous journey.

Alaa Arsheed says he was drawn by the magnetism of Italy and Italian people while he was looking for a better life and a place where he could have the “right of having rights.” He describes how music, and art in general, helped him overcome many of the difficulties he faced since he left Syria and why he is convinced that Italy is such an inspiring place where he loves to live. An Italian friend of his, Marta, a painter, put him in contact with Barnaba Fornasetti. Barnaba is the son of the internationally renowned Italian designer Piero Fornasetti, and CEO of the Fornasetti Design company. Barnaba, like his father, is an artist and also a skilled DJ.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

When Barnaba met Alaa, he immediately recognized talent and saw the potential for an artistic collaboration. He invited Alaa to play his violin during the inauguration of his exhibit in Milan. It was an artistic collaboration as the experimental electronic musician Gian Pietro Masa and Alaa, played together in a long session, coordinated by musician and composer Roberto Coppolecchia.

“Art can be a powerful tool for integration, and music, in particular, it is a language that speaks directly to your inner soul, no matter what your religion, nationality, political affiliation, sex or age is,” said Alaa.

“I was born in As-Suwayda, in the Daraa province in southern Syria, where the so called ‘Arab spring’ started in February 2011,” said Alaa. His family owned an art café called Alpha which was the only free cultural space where artists could gather in the city. Alpha’s motto was “Art for All,” he said and then quoted Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Since its foundation, more than 140 art exhibitions, music, and literary events took place in Alpha, bypassing government censorship. “That was our way to protest, peaceful, based on art and free from religious and political influences. Once, we revisited Voltaire’s quotations in a visual art exhibit,” he said.

Late in 2011, Alaa, like many other Syrians, was forced to leave his country in the face of the civil war. He was able to bring just his violin and a few things with him. He moved to Beirut, where he lived teaching and playing music. Six months ago, he had a meeting that changed his life forever. While teaching violin to Palestinian refugees in a camp, he met Italian actor and UNHCR ambassador Alessandro Gassman, while he was in Lebanon filming a documentary about “art in times of war” called “Torn – Strappati.”

Alaa was involved in the making of this documentary, which was presented at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, and he features playing his violin. For him, this instrument has become the symbol of how music can heal the pain of a generation of young Syrians.

His talent, and the visibility that Gassman and UNHCR gave to his him, the Fabrica Communication Research Group offered Alaa a music scholarship in Treviso, a city located in the North-East of Italy. “In Italy I found an inspiring, friendly atmosphere and I was also able to realize one of my professional dreams: publish my first album, sham, which means “Damascus” in the Aramaic language,” he said.

Eventually, he asked for asylum in Europe and today he lives in Italy. “I miss my family and my hometown,” and he said he still plays music with his brothers and sister who play the violin, viola and cello, via Skype. They want to play together as a string quartet in Italy someday.

Alaa is now working on a project, in partnership with Fabrica, that he says will make his parents happy and proud of him. As Alpha was destroyed during the war, he would like to rebuild this cultural space in Europe where it would be a landmark for plenty of refugees with the aim of preserving and spreading Syrian culture, as he said, “Art is stronger than everything.”


 From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

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Human Rights in Turkey: Is Turkish Press Freedom in Danger? Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:07:01 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

The last week of November marked another phase of an ongoing shift in the Turkish Government´s approach to human rights issues – Two important events highlighted the ongoing attack freedom of press is suffering in Turkey. First two prominent Turkish journalists were arrested after publishing a story claiming that members of the state intelligence agency had provided weapons to Syrian rebels; second, lawyer and leading human rights defender and Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association in south eastern Turkey, was killed in crossfire while making a press statement on Saturday 28th of November.

The Government´s reaction has fueled concerns about a sweeping media crackdown, which escalated just before the country´s national elections in November 1st. Since the Justice Development Party (AKP) was re-elected, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, conditions for media freedom have gradually deteriorated even further.

The present government has enacted laws expanding the state´s capacity to control independent media. The government has now an increased authority to block websites and the surveillance capacity of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been strengthened. Journalists are currently facing unprecedented legal obstacles, while courts´ capacity to persecute corruption is circumscribed by references to “national security.” To regulate various media outlets, authorities are making use of the Penal Code, criminal defamation laws and an antiterrorism law.

As a direct result of mass protests in the summer of 2013, the Turkish government tightened its control over media and the internet even further. Followed by corruption allegations in December the same year, the government intensified its control over the criminal justice system and reassigned judges, prosecutors, and police in order to exercise a greater control over the country´s already politicized freedom of the press.

In 2013, during a corruption scandal revealed through leaks to social media of phone calls implicating ministers and their family members, the Turkish government reacted by shutting down Twitter and YouTube for several weeks and introducing an even more restrictive Internet Law than the one already in existence. However, the internet sites were reopened after the Constitutional Court had ruled against the Government measures.

Cumhuriyet, “The Republic”, is Turkey´s oldest up-market daily newspaper. Since AKP´s rise to power it has distinguished itself for an impartial and occasionally courageous journalism. In 2015 the newspaper was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by the international NGO Reporters Without Borders for its stand against the Government’s mounting pressure on free speech. Shortly after that, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, and the newspaper’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül, were arrested and may face life imprisonment for a story claiming that Turkey´s secret services through convoys of trucks across the border were sending arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Detailed footage depicted trucks allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Despite its opposition to the Assad government the Turkish government has denied assisting Syrian rebels and by extension contributing to a consolidation of IS. Cumhuriyet’s accusation created a political storm in Turkey, enraging President Erdogan, who declared that the newspaper´s editor-in chief, would “pay a high price” for his “espionage.”

Dündar defended his paper´s action by stating: “We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold it accountable on behalf of the people.”
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, the convoys were actually carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community of neighboring Syria and the Cumhuriyet articles were accordingly politically motivated defamation. Right before appearing in court Dündar declared: “We come here to defend journalism. We come here to defend the right of the public to obtain news and their right to know whether their government is feeding them lies. We come here to demonstrate and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activities and defend such acts.”

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Christophe Deloire, stated that “if these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be further evidence that Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey.”

Reporters without Borders, ranks Turkey as the 149th nation out of 180 when it comes to freedom of press, denouncing that there is a “dangerous surge in censorship” in the country. Reporters without Borders has urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the two journalists as a case of “political persecution.”

The arrest of the two journalists has caused distress within the European Union. Europe is currently struggling with social problems and political crises due the influx of Syrian refugees and needs Ankara´s help to solve the crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish journalists have urged the EU to avoid making any compromises and in the name of freedom of speech, and as part of the efforts to combat the threat of IS totalitarianism, EU has to react to the Turkish Government´s intentions to control and manage independent information and reporting.

In the case of the lawyer, Tahir Elçi, was speaking to the press, pleading for an end of the violence between nationalist Kurds and the Turkish security forces. His death, considered an assassination by many, has f escalated tensions in Turkey´s Kurd dominated regions, where curfews have been imposed in several communities.

While Elçi, and other lawyers in the south eastern province of Diyarbakır were denouncing the damage caused to the historical patrimony during combat between the YDG-H Militants—a group related to the armed Kurdish group PKK—and the police. The incident was confusing. Video footage shows Elçi, hiding behind a man holding a pistol, as the sound of gunfire rings out from both ends of the street, a moment later the lawyer is seen lying face down on the ground. Officially it was claimed that Kurdish militants opened fire, which was returned by security men. Elçi´s last words before the attack had been: “We do not want guns, clashes or operations here.”

The HDP (People´s Democratic Party), an opposition party with Kurdish origins, declared that Elçi´s death was a planned attack and blamed the ruling AKP party. “This planned assassination targeted law and justice through Tahir Elci. … Tahir Elci was targeted by the AKP rule and its media and a lynching campaign was launched against him.” The HDP did not hesitate to remind that on October 19th, a warrant was issued against Elçi charging him with “propaganda for a terror organization.” The reason was that he during a CNN television program had stated that “PKK is not a terrorist organization… Although some of its actions have the nature of terror, the PKK is an armed political movement.”

Turkey´s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that it was unclear whether Elci was caught in a crossfire, or was assassinated, though he stated that: “The target is Turkey. It’s an attack on peace and harmony in Turkey.” On the same note Erdogan said the shooting was a clear indication that Turkey was right in “its determination to fight terrorism.”


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Terrorism Index Shows Nine-Fold Increase Since 2000 Wed, 25 Nov 2015 19:48:00 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

In 2014, the number of lives lost to terrorism around the world increased by 80 percent, the highest level ever. The majority of such terrorist activity occurred in the largest refugee-producing nations, a Global Terrorism Index (GTI) showed.

The GTI, developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), comprehensively studies the patterns and impacts of terrorism globally.

The 2015 GTI, released on 17 Nov, has recorded the rise in terrorism, with a nine-fold increase in terrorism-related deaths since 2000. In total, 32,658 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 67 countries in 2014.

Even in the wake of the 13 Nov Paris attacks, the majority of terrorism-related deaths do not occur in the West. Most of these deaths, over 78 percent, transpired in just five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

In Nigeria alone, deaths by terrorism increased over 300 percent to 7,512, the largest increase ever recorded by any country. This has allowed Boko Haram to surpass the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to become the deadliest terrorist group in the world. The index also highlighted the link between countries with terrorist activity and levels of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees.

“Ten of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism also have the highest rates of refugees and internal displacement,” said IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea. “This highlights the strong inter-connectedness between the current refugee crisis, terrorism and conflict,” he continued.

From just the five countries with the highest levels of terrorism, there were over 16 million refugees and IDPs in 2014. This includes Syria which has seen a surge in terrorism and conflict since 2011, displacing and forcing millions to escape.

There are currently over seven million IDPs and four million refugees from Syria. Syrians also constitute the majority of asylum applicants in the European Union (EU).

In response to Hungary’s border closure and violent reaction to refugees, Amnesty International’s (AI) Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik stated: “For refugees fleeing from terrifying conflict zones to be met by such an intimidating show of militarized force is shocking, and a woefully irresponsible response to people already traumatized by war and brutality.”

Most recently, Turkey has closed its borders to Syrian asylum seekers, pushing them back into the war-torn country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in some cases, Turkish border guards beat refugees before expelling them.

“The sheer exhaustion and desperation Syrian families go through after fleeing for their lives and literally scrambling their way to safety through the night across the Turkish border is written all over their faces,” said HRW’s Senior Refugee Researcher Gerry Simpson. “Turkey should not be putting people escaping war through such hardship,” he continued.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed similar concerns over the anti-refugee responses, stating that profiling asylum seekers on the basis of their nationality, collective expulsion and refoulement infringes on human rights and are prohibited under international law.

In the 2015 GTI, Khalid Koser and Amy Cunningham from the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) called for the rehabilitation of returning European foreign terrorist fighters and the sustainable integration of asylum seekers and refugees to deter the fueling of terrorism.

However, to tackle terrorism successfully, the underlying drivers of extremism must be addressed, the study underscored.

“This includes reducing state-sponsored violence, diffusing group grievances, and improving respect for human rights and religious freedoms, while considering cultural nuances,” stated Killelea.

Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) Christina Schori Liang also cautioned against the use of air strikes in defeating terrorist groups such as ISIL. In the GTI, she noted that air campaigns have contributed to civilian causalities and thus increased recruitment of fighters.

“Alternative solutions must be found,” Liang stated.

On 20 Nov, the Security Council stated that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and voted to take “all necessary measures” against the group. France’s parliament has since voted to extend air strikes in the country.


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