By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Nearly every day, violence breaks out in a Brazilian prison. In January the focus has been on the northeastern state of Maranhão, where orders issued from behind bars wreaked havoc in the streets of its capital city, illustrating the scope of national prison anarchy.
Even though public opinion is hardened to crime reports from Brazil’s 1,478 prisons, where 218 inmates were killed in 2013, people are shocked by what is happening in the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex in the city of São Luis, the state capital.
Several riots and mutinies have broken out during January in this prison, with a death toll of three inmates so far, and another fatality Monday Jan. 27 in a nearby prison. All the episodes of violence have been expressions of rejection of the presence of military police within the prison and the transfer of certain prisoners to maximum security facilities since Jan. 20.
It all began on the night of Jan. 3, when imprisoned gang leaders ordered their followers on the outside to burn buses and attack police stations in the city, causing the death of a girl who sustained burns on 95 percent of her body, and injuring five other people.
On Jan. 7, a gruesome video filmed in Pedrinhas by inmates, showing the corpses of three rival gang members decapitated during another mutiny on Dec. 17, shocked the country when it was disseminated by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, and galvanised regional and national authorities into action.
The crisis in Pedrinhas reflects the fragility of the Brazilian prison system, Mário Macieira, the president of the Maranhão chapter of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), told IPS. In his view the country’s prison crisis, far from improving, is becoming more acute.
“There is a constant repetition of the same picture in the Brazilian prison situation: overpopulation, appalling hygienic conditions and lack of food security. Unfortunately, the collapse of this system is no novelty. But the crisis has acquired the dimensions of a tragedy,” he said.
All the units in Pedrinha, except for the women’s prison, are overcrowded and are the scenes of violence between rival gangs, whose leaders provoke frequent riots. The prison was built for 1,700 prisoners but houses 2,500.
Brazil, the country with the fifth largest population in the world at nearly 200 million people, is the fourth country for the number of people deprived of liberty, 550,000, behind the United States, China and Russia. In terms of prison overcrowding it is placed 32nd, with an overpopulation of 172 percent, according to United Nations figures.
According to the OAB, 218 prisoners were killed in the country in 2013, 60 of them in Maranhão. Twenty-eight percent of the deaths occurred in Pedrinhas, Macieira said.
Since Jan. 3, the military police and national security forces have been regaining control of Pedrinhas, which is under de facto domination by bosses of criminal gangs on the inside, who use their mobile phones to direct many criminal activities on the outside as well.
The OAB’s human rights commission has not been able to enter the prison, for security reasons, they were told. The Senate Human Rights Commission was allowed in on Jan. 13, but has not been able to visit several sectors for the same reasons.
In late 2013 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Brazilian government to take immediate measures to prevent persistent abuses and unsanitary conditions in Pedrinhas and another prison in the south of the country.
The IACHR request was in response to the complaint lodged in October by the OAB and the Maranhão Human Rights Association about human rights violations in Pedrinhas and other prisons in the state.
Maranhão is a small state, and one of the poorest in the country. Its incarceration rate is 100.6 prisoners per 100,000 population, which is lower than the national average of 401.7 prisoners per 100,000 population.
Nationwide there is a shortage of 211,000 prison places, but in Maranhão the deficit is only 2,000 beds, in a scenario in which Pedrinhas has the worst overcrowding problem.
According to the Brazil’s 2013 Annual Report on Public Security, the states which most need to expand their prisons are São Paulo (which needs 88,500 additional prison places), Minas Gerais (18,500) and Pernambuco (17,900).
In Macieira’s view, the pacification of prisons in Maranhão requires new prisons to be opened urgently, but the regional authorities have said new units will only become available at the end of 2014.
Rodrigo de Azevedo, a sociologist, told IPS that the prisons crisis has worsened in the last 20 years because of increased institutional violence, overpopulation and criminal gangs operating within prison facilities.
“Brazil’s penal system targets the poor and the working classes,” he complained. Moreover, the prison system culture “encourages violent situations like those that have occurred in Maranhão or other states at other times,” he said.
Azevedo coordinates a research group on public policies for security and the administration of criminal justice at the Pontificia Universidade Católica in Rio Grande do Sul.
According to his analysis, the war on drugs and excessive use of provisional internment on remand, while criminal suspects are awaiting trial, contribute to increasing incarceration rates in Brazil.
Around 40 percent of Brazilian prisoners have not been sentenced, and in some states, like Maranhão, 70 percent of the prison population is interned on remand.
Another problem, Azevedo said, is that a large part of Brazilian society feels that criminals – or suspected criminals if they have not yet been tried – deserve to suffer vindictive torments over and above the punishment imposed by law. Consequently, abuses of prisoners’ human rights arouse few outcries.
Azevedo pointed out that aggression between inmates is frequent in Brazilian prisons and may also involve relatives, who are victims of extorsion and physical violence.
“There are denunciations that women (visitors) have been forced to have sex with leaders (of prisoners’ gangs) under threat of violence against their imprisoned relatives. This goes far beyond any legal punishment,” he said.
Azevedo is convinced that only a thorough reform of the Brazilian prison system will bring about positive changes in prison policy.
“If we want to prevent crime in Brazil and reduce violence, the issue of prisons must be addressed. What is happening in the prisons is reflected in urban violence,” he said.
But in spite of recurring alarms about mutinies and massacres among inmates, experts say that political will and social sensibility are lacking to tackle the drama of prisons in this emerging power.Related Articles
By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Advocacy groups and some legislators are calling on the U.S. government to mandate an increase in corporate supply chain transparency, with the aim of cutting down on the estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people trafficked into the United States each year and the tens of millions enslaved globally.
“Human trafficking is a 32-billion-dollar industry, second only to drug trafficking as an organised crime,” Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of human rights groups, told a briefing on Capitol Hill on Monday. “Between 21 and 30 million people are enslaved worldwide.” “We’ve seen kids work for 20 cents a day to buy a couple of potatoes when they go home after a full day of heavy manual labour." -- Karen Stauss
ATEST and its member organisations are working to address one of the underlying mechanisms in forced labour: global corporate supply chains. The coalition is urging lawmakers to adopt legislation that would require companies earning over 100 million dollars per year to file reports on their supply chain and labour management practices, both with U.S. regulators and on their websites.
Because of the complexity of global supply chains, companies are often unaware of coercive labour practices carried out by suppliers and subsidiaries.
“We’ve found that vulnerability to forced labour is pretty pervasive in a number of industries,” Quinn Kepes, the research programme manager for Verite, an NGO focused on labour issues in global supply chains, told IPS. “A large number of companies are at a high risk of having trafficking in their supply chains.”
Businesses often turn to labour brokers at all levels of the supply chain. These brokers, who face very little regulation, can charge workers exorbitant recruitment fees and have received widespread criticism for misrepresenting the work that the people they recruit will be doing.
“Labour recruitment has been a huge issue if you look at the construction of U.S. Army installations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Karen Stauss, the director of programmes for Free the Slaves, a Washington-based advocacy group, told IPS. “There’s been a lot of documentation of trafficking of workers from South Asia to the Middle East for low-cost construction.”
The U.S. mainland is also not immune to unethical labour recruiters.
In 2012, Omelyan Botsvynyuk, a Ukrainian, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for smuggling Ukrainian citizens to the United States under false pretences. Although Botsvynyuk and his brothers had promised the men that they would be paid 500 dollars a month, they were forced to clean major retail store chains, such as Target and Walmart, without pay.
Botsvynyuk reportedly told the men that they could not leave until they had worked off their debts, ranging to as high as 50,000 dollars.
Such debt bondage is a common tactic used by exploitative recruiters and businesses. Employers can directly levy debts on employees for the use of living facilities and tools needed for the job, such as mining equipment.
“In some cases, debt bondage is happening to people who are not literate and don’t understand how debt and interest accumulates,” said Stauss. “They’re not even aware themselves of how debt is illegally exploited.”
Stauss says that the extraction of so-called conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo has also been found to rely heavily on child labour. Such materials are key components in modern consumer goods.
“We’ve seen kids work there for 20 cents a day to buy a couple of potatoes when they go home after a full day of heavy manual labour,” Stauss said. “Those minerals connect to many different things like laptops, cell phones and electronics.”
Child labour is equally present in the manufacturing sector. A new report from Harvard University found 1,406 specific cases of child labour in the Indian carpet-making industry, which exports extensively to the United States and other industrialised countries.
The Harvard researchers estimate that forced labour makes up 45 percent of the industry’s work force, with child labour specifically accounting for around a fifth.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama named January the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. “As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage,” the president stated.
Although currently proposed legislation would not compel companies to take any actual action on questionable supply chain practices, the groups say public pressure is building.
“Right now we don’t have a piece of legislation introduced,” ATEST’s Sperber told IPS. “But [two representatives] in the House of Representatives are supportive of an introduction of legislation that has already been introduced in past Congresses.”
A House of Representatives bill that would require greater transparency for third parties bringing foreign workers to the U.S. is currently sitting in committee.
This proposal “would combat human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation by requiring that workers coming to the United States receive accurate information about the job, visa and working conditions,” Shandra Woworuntu, an anti-trafficking lobbyist, told Monday’s briefing. “The bill also ensures that no recruitment fee is charged to the workers and requires the recruitment agency to register with the Department of Labour.”
Woworuntu herself was flown to the U.S. by a third party agency promising her a job at a hotel in Chicago. After paying a recruitment fee and arriving in the United States, she says the man who picked her up confiscated her passport and forced her into sexual slavery until she was able to escape.
While Congress has not taken action on transparency legislation at the federal level, the state of California has already introduced similar legislation. Yet while that law, known as SB-657, was slated to take effect starting at the beginning of 2012, advocates note that the state has yet to fully implement the law.
“Two years later, [SB-657] hasn’t been implemented,” Ima Matul, a coordinator for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), told IPS. “We’ve been asking the California attorney-general for those corporations and businesses to release any trafficking or slavery involved in their supply chains.”
In the meantime, CAST has endorsed a website called Know the Chain, which catalogues corporations and their supply chains, allowing consumers to better ascertain whether or not forced labour is involved in the products they buy.
“While some companies have not yet posted disclosure statements, others have taken an important first step by posting a statement addressing the majority of SB-657 requirements,” Know the Chain states on its website.
Thus, while California’s state law lacks enforcement, some companies are voluntarily disclosing information on their supply chains and labour practices.
“Kmart, for example, just joined the movement and promised not to have slavery involved in their supply chain,” says Matul.Related Articles
The post Human Trafficking Survivors Urge U.S. to Take Action appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Despite having an abundance of wind and sunshine, Caribbean countries have found that going green is requiring significant shifts in policy, and most importantly, significant financing.
But despite these challenges, they are not daunted. Barbados, for instance, which spends an estimated 400 million dollars annually on fossil fuel imports, has announced plans for a wind, gas and solar energy programme that requires almost one billion dollars in investments.“The cost of renewables has fallen significantly and [they] are now for the most part cost competitive with traditional sources of energy." -- Selwin Hart
“Plans for the area include a 680-million-dollar waste-to-energy plant; a leachate treatment plant costing about 31.9 million dollars; a landfill gas-to-energy project to cost 9.4 million dollars; a solar project costing 120 million dollars; and a wind-to-energy facility projected to cost 24 million dollars,” said Environment Minister Dr. Denis Lowe.
The climate change financial adviser at the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Selwin Hart, said the region’s premiere financial institution has identified the promotion of renewable energy and increased energy efficiency as a strategic priority.
“The bank is in the process of developing an energy sector strategy and policy which will be finalised in 2014,” he told IPS.
“[But] we are not waiting until that policy is finalised for us to make the necessary interventions within borrowing member countries giving the priority and urgency attached to making these investments,” Hart noted.
“We will be supporting the policy and regulatory reforms that are necessary to ensure the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology.”
Citing the region’s “vulnerability to the negative effects of climate change”, Hart said the Caribbean must be in a position to secure some of the financing needed to help it cope, adapt and reduce vulnerabilities to the serious fall-out from the phenomenon.
“We are extremely vulnerable when it comes to the consequences of climate change and we must do everything to receive our fair share of the resources being made available,” he said.
Hart told IPS global investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency have quadrupled over the last decade and now stand at 244 billion dollars a year.
“The cost of renewables, and using solar, as an example, have fallen significantly and are now for the most part cost competitive with traditional sources of energy,” he said.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook 2013 conservatively estimated that by 2035, renewables will surpass coal as the main fuel for power generation.
In 2012, another Caribbean country, Belize, which currently generates 63 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, announced plans for a National Energy Policy and a Sustainable Energy Strategy.
“We have ambitious targets. We have set ourselves to change from fossil fuel to renewable energy and at the same time decrease our energy intensity,” Energy Minister Joy Grant told IPS.
“We are pursuing all types of renewable energy – hydro, bio energy, solar, ocean, thermal and wind and waste-to-energy,” Grant added.
But like all other small developing countries, Grant said Belize’s efforts in renewable energy were constrained by the high cost of renewable technologies; the lack of domestic capacity; inappropriate frameworks to incentivise the private sector to invest in renewable energy; and small population size.
Dominica’s Energy Minister Rayburn Blackmore said that 30 percent of his country’s energy consumption comes from hydro, and last year it spent 51.6 million dollars to import fuel for energy generation.
“The consumer pays over 30 percent of that in what is being called fuel surcharge. The consumer pays an average of 1.17 dollars per kilowatt hour,” he told IPS.
“From our standpoint in Dominica, we believe as a government and as a people that we must do something, once and for all,” he said.
Blackmore said Dominica was now moving into geothermal production with the hope of cutting the price of electricity to the consumer by 40 percent in the first instance when a 15MW power plant now being constructed is rolled out.
“Our ultimate goal of geothermal production we will also be contributing to the global effort to combat climate change,” he said.
The programme manager for Energy at the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Joseph Williams, agreed that the cost of energy is just too prohibitive to achieve the economic growth and poverty reduction needed in the region.
“When one looks at the problems currently faced by the Caribbean it is important to note that the cost of electricity is two to three times that of other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region,” Williams said, adding that this “represents a tremendous drag, not only on the ordinary household but on businesses and commercial activity within our region.”
Opposition legislator Gaston Browne told IPS Antigua and Barbuda presently has the highest cost of electricity in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), exclusive of taxes, even though it uses cheaper heavy fuel.
“We also have the worst ratio of fossil fuel generation versus renewables in the OECS,” he said.
Browne wants to see a diversification into renewable energy “with a view of having 25 percent renewable energy” within five years.
He told IPS his Antigua Labour Party would modernise the Antigua Public Utilities Authority “into a more efficient entity, thereby reducing the burden that unreasonably high cost of energy imposes on industry, commerce and residential consumers” when compared to Antigua’s OECS neighbours.
In August 2013, Antigua began the installation of solar-powered lights in the east of the island.
A government statement said the lights were intended to serve as a practical demonstration of the use of the nation’s renewable energy resources.
The CARICOM Energy Programme was established in April 2008 within the Directorate of Trade and Economic Integration to provide greater focus on energy matters in CARICOM towards development of the energy sector in the region.
Williams said the Caribbean is on the right track, putting in place a CARICOM Energy Policy and establishing targets for renewable energy in the electricity sector, while a number of the countries have advanced the whole question of policy at the national level.
“It has taken some time but we are making progress,” he told IPS.Related Articles
By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Before sunrise, a Moroccan woman waits her turn at the pedestrian border control separating her country from the Spanish city of Melilla. Hours later she crosses over, takes up an 80-kilo bundle of merchandise and carries it back to her country, for a payment of less than six dollars.
Every day thousands of women like her cross the border posts between Morocco and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish enclaves in the north of Africa, to pick up heavy loads of goods and carry them across the border on foot, a trade worth millions of euros that is profitable to business on both sides.“Humiliating treatment is meted out to the women, who are mistreated by the police on both sides of the border. You only have to be there for five minutes to realise this.” -- Amin Souissi
The business community in Melilla “lives off this contraband trade,” made possible by thousands of women porters who work “to survive and feed their children,” José Palazón, the founder of the Asociación Pro Derechos de la Infancia (Children’s Rights Association), who has lived in the city for 14 years, told IPS.
“They are single mothers, widows, abused women, with disabled husbands, women excluded by society, who turn to contraband in order to make ends meet,” union leader Abdelkader El-Founti of the Melilla General Workers’ Confederation (CGT) told IPS.
When the Barrio Chino border post in Melilla opens at 9:00 a.m., the woman porter shows her passport and walks to an esplanade where several vans have left bundles ready for carriage early in the day.
She ties the huge bundle to her back with ropes and walks back for over 200 metres, weaving through the crowds in the narrow pathway. She delivers her load on the Moroccan side and returns to carry more bundles across until the border post closes at 1:00 p.m.
In Ceuta and Melilla this activity is known as “atypical trade”, and Moroccans live with it as tolerated contraband.
White signs bearing black silhouettes of men and women porters hang high on the iron railings of the narrow passage in Barrio Chino to indicate the entrance.
The women are paid when they deliver their loads on the Moroccan side, where men with wheelbarrows or vans wait to collect them. The amount depends on the weight carried. “The maximum is 10 euros [13 dollars] a day. For each load they are paid three to five euros [four to six dollars] according to weight,” El-Founti said.
In addition to the physical exertion, the women must put up with “all kinds of abuse from the Spanish and Moroccan police,” he said.
“Humiliating treatment is meted out to the women, who are mistreated by the police on both sides of the border. You only have to be there for five minutes to realise this,” Amin Souissi, a Moroccan national belonging to the Andalusia Human Rights Association (Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía) in the southern Spanish city of Cadiz, told IPS.
Souissi recalled the death in September 2013 of a young porter from the Moroccan city of Tetouan who, “tired of so much humiliation,” set himself alight at the border post of El Tarajal in Ceuta, after his country’s authorities confiscated the goods he was carrying.
“We don’t want them to lose their livelihood, but we do want the human rights of these persons on the borders of Ceuta and Melilla to be respected,” said Souissi, who has seen police push women porters around with their truncheons.
Souissi complained about corruption among the Moroccan authorities, who take bribes, as well as the arbitrary way in which border crossings are handled, as permission “depends on the official on duty.”
The enormous loads contain all sorts of goods, such as blankets, used car tires, food and diapers. The vast majority of porters are women, but some are men, especially young men with limited resources.
Many women cross the border with smaller packages. Others work as domestic employees in homes in Melilla and Ceuta and go home to Morocco at the end of the day.
About 40,000 people cross daily between the Moroccan town of Beni Ansar and Melilla, but only 10 percent of them have visas, said El-Founti. Porters have to show their passports, and the rest have special permits, under an agreement between the Spanish and Moroccan governments, to work in Melilla during the day and return home at night.
“They are construction labourers, domestic employees and hotel workers who work a 10- or 12-hour day for less than 200 euros [270 dollars] a month, without any labour rights,” he said.
El-Founti complained that business owners in Melilla take advantage of the fears of “cross-border employees” of losing their jobs, and of their poverty. “Many Moroccan women who work as domestics in Melilla are illiterate and ignorant of their labour rights,” he said.
The traffic in goods carried by the porters “moves a great deal of money both sides of the border,” said Palazón, who believes it will be “very difficult” to stamp out this situation; however, he called for greater dignity for the workers and improved border facilities for their daily crossings.
“There is not even one drinking water tap,” said Souissi about the El Tarajal border crossing in Ceuta, which “is more like a cage than a pedestrian border crossing,” with narrow passages that the porters can barely squeeze through.
The border trade is worth 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) a year to both sides of the frontier, and contributes one-third of the economy of Ceuta and Melilla, the two autonomous Spanish cities.
Some 45,000 people depend directly for their livelihoods on this activity, and 400,000 are indirectly employed, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Casablanca, Morocco, quoted in the Declaration of Tetouan signed by almost 30 organisations in April 2012.
The declaration states that “an important quantity of money” is paid as bribes, totalling 90 million euros (121 million dollars) a year, according to the independent Moroccan weekly Al Ayam.
Conditions at the border crossings, where thousands of people crowd together, have already caused fatalities. In November 2008, Zafia Azizi was trampled to death in Melilla and on May 25, 2009, Busrha and Zhora, two Moroccan women, died in a human avalanche at the Ceutan border post of Biutz.
Activists consulted by IPS said the European Union (EU) is not paying proper attention to the human rights violations suffered by the Moroccan women porters.
Ceuta and Melilla enjoy a special fiscal regime with substantial tax rebates and are not part of the EU’s Customs Union. Both cities can import goods at lower tariffs than the rest of the EU and sell those products to Moroccan citizens, who send them to Morocco through the irregular cross-border transit system for re-sale.Related Articles
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By Jacey Fortin and Jason Warner
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
The issue of peace and security, particularly in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, are expected to dominate the discussions at the African Union’s (AU) semi-annual summit being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.
But AU Commission deputy chair Erastus Mwencha told IPS that this summit will be about much more than conflict. Sustainable development, economic integration and environmental concerns will also so be on the table, he said, and it would be a mistake to ignore the progress the AU has made over the past several years.
“It is instructive to note that 90 percent of Africa’s population lives in places which are peaceful. And we do have 10 percent of the continent still facing challenges of peace and security, but the 10 percent cannot define the continent,” he said. Mwencha added that governance has been embraced by the continent, “and so also democracy and human rights.”"We have places in Africa where there is conflict, there is war, there is famine – there are great challenges. But Africa has made tremendous progress in these areas." -- AU deputy chair Erastus Mwencha
“That’s not to say that we don’t have those challenges,” he added.
Q: For outsiders looking in, what is this AU summit about? What are the misconceptions about Africa that you hope to dispel?
As part of the AU’s 50th anniversary last year, we came up with a resolution that Africa must now try to tell its story: a story that should, first of all, acknowledge that we have places in Africa where there is conflict, there is war, there is famine – there are great challenges. But Africa has made tremendous progress in these areas too.
Secondly, Africa is a good home for investment and that the socio-economic conditions are getting better and better all the time.
Q: What do you anticipate will be the top three issues facing leaders during this summit?
A: Of course peace and security will continue to preoccupy our continent, because a determination that our leaders have made is that all guns must be silenced by 2020. That is being done within the framework of building an African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The main concern is with regards to the current situations that remain in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
A second aspect is integration. This is a real raison d’etre for the AU, and in that regard we will be looking at programmes that bring African countries together, whether they are infrastructure, whether they are trade or other economic programmes.
And number three, we’ll specifically be looking at the sector of agriculture, which is the theme of the summit.
Q: Can you give concrete examples of what the AU has done to improve agriculture in the past, and what it will focus on during this summit?
A: Look at the sector of agriculture, and what the leaders have been doing in the last 10 years. When the leaders announced the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), one of the decisions they made was to see increased investment in agriculture. And what we have now, the record shows, is that 70 percent of the countries have increased their investment in agriculture.
When you compare the previous decade, before CAADP was launched, in fact investment was on the decline. Now there is a positive trend. Of course agriculture affects close to 70 percent of the population… These are really concrete actions that demonstrate, through actions that have been taken in the past, that they did have an impact on the ground through collective action.
Q: You mentioned the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), and one major component of that is the African Standby Force (ASF), meant to be capable of responding quickly to conflict. How is that progressing?
A: There was a recent stock-taking of the ASF in the context of assessing whether it will be ready come 2015… It clearly indicated that three out of five regional brigades are well under way towards meeting their target. But it also identified a number of elements that we need to address and that might also be informed by trying to look at how we can optimise the ASF to address the challenge of rapid mobilisation – whether they are going to be on hand to make sure that we reduce the impact that conflicts have on the population.
Q: Intra-continental trade is very low in Africa as opposed to other regions, and the AU has long acknowledged this problem. Will this summit try to address it in a new way?
A: Trade has continued to pose a challenge to the continent; we always emphasise the supply-side constraints. Africa needs technology; Africa needs infrastructure; Africa needs capital to transform the raw materials to equip the human resource factor, so that we have entrepreneurs able to transform these resources and produce goods that can reach the market. And this is a process.
You get into an egg and chicken situation: do you create a market first before you produce, or do you produce then go to the market? To address this, we are integrating our markets. There is also a need for investment to take advantage of the growing market on the continent. There is a lot of progress being made by regional economic communities who are also partners in moving us towards establishing a continental free-trade area.
Q: Africa’s population is growing very quickly – how is the AU responding to the threat of overstretched resources?
A: The huge youth bulge is an opportunity, but also presents challenges, and this is where action is focused. We have to make sure these youth can produce enough by endowing them with education and access. So if you look at the actions that have already been undertaken, whether it’s the Millennium Development Goals or whether it’s post-2015, we are looking at sustainable development, how to take care of the environment, and resource exploitation so that we can be able to sustain development into the future.
We have specific programmes like maternal health, which would be addressing the population; we have specific programmes on water sanitation; we have specific programmes on education… these are all looking at the population of the continent as a major resource for Africa, trying to see how we can benefit from the population dividends without getting into the challenge of resource scarcity.Related Articles
The post Q&A: Africa’s Tremendous Progress Amid War and Famine appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.”
The favourite target of the vitriol spewed by the opposition-led agitation is Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first woman prime minister. The 46-year-old leader of the governing Pheu Thai Party has been called all sorts of abusive names by the opposition that has occupied five busy intersections here.“Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics."
It is such words that prompted reflection by Supaa, who is from Samut Sakhon, a province that borders the Thai capital. She was here to join tens of thousands of protestors on the streets and on Blue Sky, the television station that amplifies the views of the opposition Democrat Party.
“They are very emotional, the speeches,” she told IPS. “But it is not right to talk about sexual stuff.”
Many like her have been witness to how the original rallying cry – against government corruption, abuse of parliamentary majority and disrespect of the country’s revered monarch – has morphed into demagogy.
Those making the speeches are from Thailand’s educated class that is being tapped by Suthep Thaugsubana, former Democrat Party deputy chief and leader of the street agitators. The political veteran of over 30 years is eyeing them for his pool of “good people” to serve in his non-elected “People’s Councils” that, he believes, should govern the country for at least a year.
The open comments at the Bangkok rallies, and the rapturous applause they receive, have prompted some soul-searching in the Southeast Asian kingdom about the spectre of ugly sexism in the male-dominated political landscape.
It has taken a while, but Thailand’s mainstream women’s rights groups have finally broken their silence.
“When a network of women’s rights groups issued a statement denouncing a medical doctor for his ugly sexist attacks on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, I admit I felt quite relieved,” wrote Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist on social justice issues with the English language Bangkok Post. Going by her weekly commentaries, she is certainly no fan of the Yingluck administration.
“For a long time I’ve been wondering why women’s rights groups have remained silent about the slew of degrading, sexist tirades made against Ms. Yingluck by various detractors.”
Among the few groups that have raised the red flag are the Coalition of Democracy and Sexual Diversity Rights. It has berated the “use of sexist, misogynist and denigrating language” as a political weapon. “The continuation of this rhetoric of violence, discrimination and hate cannot be permitted,” it said in a statement.
Yingluck’s rise as the country’s first woman leader has served as a reality check for Thailand’s feminist and women’s rights advocates. The latter gave her a cold shoulder when she led the Phue Thai Party to a thumping win at the July 2011 general elections to become, at 44, the youngest prime minister in 60 years.
Her position, they argued, was not the result of her own doing but the machinations of her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the twice-elected former prime minister who was deposed in a military coup in September 2006. Statements by Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, did not help.
When he plucked Yingluck out of her career as a businesswoman and nominated her to head the Phue Thai weeks before the poll, he publicly declared that the younger Shinawatra was his “clone”.
The typical display of Thaksin’s arrogance was grabbed by the largely Bangkok-based women’s groups known for being closer to the Democrats, who have not won a parliamentary majority in 20 years.
“How can we be proud? The whole world knows it’s about Thaksin,” commented a leading figure at the Gender and Development Research Institute in a newspaper report, under the headline, “Thailand’s first female PM no victory for feminism”.
“It is worth noting that while many leading Thai feminists are lukewarm at best or dismissive at worst at Yingluck’s sudden rise to power, men seem more willing to withhold judgement at this early stage,” Kaewmala, a prolific Thai blogger who comments on social issues, wrote at the time. “As most observers are tentative of the kind of leadership Ms. Yingluck will offer, her current support comes more often from men.”
By August last year, when Yingluck marked her second anniversary as premier, she was receiving kudos for a non-confrontational and consultative style of leadership that had managed to usher a sense of normalcy on Bangkok’s streets. Comparisons were made between her elected administration and the two-and-a-half-year administration that preceded her – a coalition government led by the Democrats that came to power through a backroom deal hatched by the powerful military.
The Democrat administration was tainted by the bloody showdown on Bangkok’s streets in May 2010 during a clash between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military. It left 91 people dead, at least 80 of them civilians, and more than 2,000 injured.
Yingluck’s beleaguered administration has avoided a hawkish response, enabling the would-be revolutionaries rallying to topple her government to lay siege on many government buildings. Confrontations with the riot police, clashes between the agitators and pro-Thaksin sympathisers, sporadic shootings and grenades lobbed at rally sites have resulted in nine deaths, with over 550 injured since November.
But what is really different since the 2010 showdown on Bangkok’s streets is the “sexist war” – perhaps reflecting the growing frustration of the agitators and a new low in Thailand’s political turmoil that has steadily divided the country since the 2006 coup.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic at the Southeast Asian Centre at Kyoto University in Japan told IPS, “Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics. It has intensified since Yingluck become prime minister. I have never seen anything like this, on this scale.”Related Articles
By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)
Development activists and rights watchdogs are applauding a surprise strengthening of environmental and human rights policies governing U.S. development funding and overseas financial assistance.
Under the new provisions, the United States will be required to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydroelectric projects in developing countries, as well as push for redress of rights violations resulting from development initiatives by international financial institutions.“We’ve watched donor agencies such as USAID turning a blind eye to blatant human rights allegations in these areas." -- Anuradha Mittal
In addition, Washington will be barred from offering any bilateral assistance that could facilitate certain rights abuses, extractive industries or industrial logging in primary tropical forests.
The new mandates constitute just a tiny part of a massive bill, signed into law on Jan. 17, that funds the federal government through the end of this financial year. But supporters say the provisions could have both direct implications for specific situations and pending projects as well as longer-lasting impacts on development funding and approaches.
“The U.S. Congress has taken an important step toward bridging the gap between U.S. government policy on development finance and its human rights policy in requiring the U.S. government to press international financial institutions to provide compensation or otherwise remedy human right violations linked to their projects,” Jessica Evans, a Washington-based researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.
The new provisions, reportedly sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, will impact both on bilateral U.S. funding through agencies such as USAID, as well as on the significant contributions that the United States provides to multilateral development institutions, particularly the World Bank.
U.S. representatives will now be required to vote against multilateral funding for the construction of major hydroelectric projects, likely defined as anything over 15 metres high. Large dams have been criticised by development experts for decades, given their often inevitable impact on local communities and environmental systems.
However, the World Bank recently unveiled a new institutional strategy that may include a prominent focus on big dams. Thus, the Leahy provisions could prove to be an impediment to the Washington-based development funder’s vision.
“I applaud the U.S. Congress for directing the U.S. Treasury to oppose the financing of large dam projects through the World Bank and other financial institutions,” Deborah Moore, a former commissioner on the World Commission on Dams and current chair of the board of International Rivers, a global watchdog group, said in a statement.
“I think the message now is clear: there are better options for meeting communities’ needs for electricity that are cheaper and sustainable.”
International Rivers says the new law will require the United States to oppose current and pending hydro projects on the Indus and Congo rivers, as well as in Guyana, Laos and Togo.
The appropriations bill also requires that the U.S. push multilateral funders, particularly the World Bank, to incorporate new external oversight and evaluation mechanisms for each project they undertake, to ensure that stipulated safeguards are being followed.
According to a statement released to the media and published over the weekend, the World Bank is currently analysing the scope of the new provisions. Yet future U.S. funding for the bank could now be contingent on this new requirement.
“The overall sentiment in provisions calling for stricter oversight and urging [World Bank President Jim Kim] to look outside the World Bank walls to better address the issues plaguing the institution is at the core of civil society advocacy,” Josh Lichtenstein, director of campaigns for the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS.
“We welcome the use of the legislative process to send strong messages to the [international financial institutions], particularly in pushing them to adopt policies and procedures that are better in line with highest international standards and in implementing stricter oversight to ensure those standards are upheld.”
Other provisions within the new appropriations bill mandate actions regarding specific ongoing or pending projects that have garnered criticisms over rights abuses, particularly in Cambodia, Guatemala and Ethiopia.
In 2010 in Cambodia, families in northern Phnom Penh were illegally evicted from their lands for a major development project that included filling a large lake, Boeung Kak, with sand. Cambodia is a World Bank client, and the evictions directly contravened bank standards.
In Guatemala, the construction of a large hydroelectric dam on the ChixoyRiver during the early 1980s displaced 3,500 indigenous peoples, leading to tensions that resulted in the massacre or rights abuses of some 400 people. That project was partially funded by the World Bank.
Under the new legislation, the U.S. representative at the World Bank (and, in the case of the Chixoy dam, the Inter-American Development Bank) will now be required to offer regular updates on progress on reparations and redress surrounding both of these situations.
“We began to work for reparations in 1995 and today we heard the great news,” Carlos Chen Osorio, director for the Coordination of Affected Communities by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Plant, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “We feel that we are not alone and are very grateful to all those that have committed to work on this.”
In Ethiopia, meanwhile, the United States itself has come under criticism for helping to bankroll a major government development project that has included forcibly moving pastoralists from traditional lands in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions, to be settled in villages. The new law now disallows U.S. monies from either directly or indirectly funding forced displacement in these areas.
“We’ve watched donor agencies such as USAID turning a blind eye to blatant human rights allegations in these areas,” Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a watchdog group that has carried out multiple investigations on forced displacements in Ethiopia, told IPS. (USAID did not respond to request for comment by deadline.)
“It’s a real relief now to see the U.S. Congress offering true acknowledgement that these reports of forced evictions are not mere allegations,” she continues. “Now that they’ve taken a stand, however, we need to ensure that this is not just language but rather is fully implemented.”
Indeed, civil society interest will now focus on how U.S. and international agencies implement these new provisions. While U.S. law offers a new opportunity to mitigate adverse impacts of development funding, it is unclear the extent to which that tool will be used.
“While we celebrate this achievement, we are cautious in our expectations,” BIC’s Lichtenstein says, “as unscripted and unfunded mandates, at their best, often indicate the start of serious discussion and better coordination, rather than systematic change.Related Articles
By Busani Bafana
MASOPANE, South Africa, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)
On a family farm tucked between the rolling hills of Masopane, 40 km outside of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, 35-year-old Sophie Mabhena is dreaming big about her crop of genetically modified (GM) maize.
“This is my dream and I know that I am contributing to food security in South Africa,” she told IPS.
Debate is raging here over the government’s policy to promote the cultivation of GM crops.
This month, South Africa launched a new bio-economy strategy, which the government says will boost public access to food security, better health care, jobs and environmental protection.
The new policy promotes multi-sector partnerships and increased public awareness on the benefits of biotechnology – including the use of GM crops.
Mabhena is growing GM maize on part of her family’s 385-hectare Onverwaght Farm because she says the transgenic maize has saved her 218 dollars a season in dealing with pests and weeds.
“Growing stack maize has reduced my costs in terms of pesticides and labour, but the major benefits are the good yields and income from growing this improved variety of maize,” Mabhena said from Onverwaght Farm where, this season, she expects to harvest up to seven tonnes of maize per hectare.
In-built insect resistance (Bt) maize has been grown in South Africa for the last 15 years, but not without opposition from anti-GM activists.
The benefits of GM maize that Mabhena speaks of are not shared by Haidee Swanby, research and outreach officer at the Africa Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which has been on the forefront of spirited campaigns against GM food in South Africa.
Swanby said that GM technology fits into a concentrated farming system, which requires large volumes based on economies of scale, but does not provide livelihoods or healthy, accessible food for ordinary South Africans.
“We need to take a step back and look at our food system in its entirety and decide what system is equitable, environmentally sound and will provide nutritious food for all,” Swanby told IPS.
“The system in which genetically modified organisms [GMOs] fit can’t do that. Apart from the technological failure – for example, the development of resistant and super weeds – adopting this technology leads to the concentration of power, money, land in the hands of the very few and does not necessarily lead to food security.”
Swanby said it was deeply ironic that controversial research on GM maize by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini from France’s University of Caen was ripped apart by regulators, while approvals to allow GMOs in the South African food system have been based on what she calls “un-peer reviewed science that is very scant on detail.”
A 2012 study by Seralini and his research team linked GM maize to cancer. The study has since been dismissed for failing to meet scientific standards by the European Food Safety Authority, a body responsible for reviewing the use and authorisation of GMOs.
“Very rarely do we see information on how many animals were used, for how long, what they were fed and a full analysis of the results. Why has Monsanto’s [an agricultural company and manufacturer of GM maize] research not been submitted to the same kind of scrutiny as Seralini?”
ACB’s recent report, “Africa Bullied to Grow Defective Bt Maize: The Failure of Monsanto’s MON810 Maize in South Africa”, states that Monsanto’s Bt maize failed hopelessly in South Africa as a result of massive insect resistance only 15 years after its introduction into commercial agriculture.
“Today, 24 percent of South Africans go to bed hungry … but the biotech industry has habitually used yield as an indicator of success and this is too narrow and very misleading,” Swanby said.
The ACB argues that the safety of stacking genes is a new area of science whose long-term sustainability remained questionable and states that Bt technology was approved in South Africa before regulatory authorities had the capacity to properly regulate it.
But Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh, chief executive officer of AfricaBio, a biotechnology association based in Pretoria, told IPS that the GMO Act was passed in 1997 and before then GM crops were regulated under the Agricultural Pests Act.
“Farmers are business people. If it is so difficult or unprofitable to grow Bt maize why is almost 90 percent of our maize based on biotechnology? Surely, if South African farmers found GM maize so difficult to manage why haven’t they rushed back to the old maize varieties of the past?” asked Obokoh.
In 2011 and 2012, 2.3 million hectares and 2.9 million hectares, respectively, of GM crops were grown in South Africa by both small-scale and commercial farmers.
“Food security is a prime right and biotechnology offers one of the many available solutions,” Obokoh said. “While South Africa is without doubt food secure as a country, we still suffer from food insecurity at household level because of high costs of food and poor incomes. This is where biotechnology is complementing and not competing against conventional farming.”
Anti-GM activist and the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, Jeffrey Smith, told IPS via email that bundling herbicide-tolerant GM crops with herbicide use was in conflict with farming. He cited the diversion of much-needed research dollars into development of expensive GMOs and away from more appropriate technologies
“The GMO advocates have also promoted the myth that crop productivity, by itself, can eradicate hunger,” said Smith, arguing that key international reports over the last 15 years describe how economics and distribution are more fundamental to solving this problem.
However, in November the African Science Academies urged African governments to invest heavily on biotechnology, declaring that biotechnology-enhanced tools and products can help Africa break the cycle of hunger, malnutrition and underdevelopment.Related Articles
The post Resistance Over GMOs as South Africa Pushes Biotechnology appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Richard Heydarian
MANILA, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)
After two decades of aggressively privatising its public services, the Philippines is beginning to realise the cost of mindless market reforms.
Recent months have seen an explosion of public outrage over a proposed increase in electricity prices, which threatens the country’s economic trajectory and is undermining the interest of millions of ordinary consumers, who have long suffered from exorbitant costs of public services.
The Philippines already has among the world’s most expensive electricity rates, which in 2011, some estimates suggest, even surpassed those of post-Fukushima Japan – making electricity prices in the Philippines the most expensive in Asia.A growing number of Filipino citizens have come to realise the consequences of hasty privatisation of public services.
For many economists, this served as a major disincentive against desperately needed inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). No wonder, despite attaining “investment grade” status from the world’s leading credit rating agencies in 2013, the Philippines is still struggling to attract high-quality investments.
Things came to a head when the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s leading electricity distributor, announced a further increase in electricity costs in late 2013. Meralco tried to justify the proposed increase – the highest single price hike in the company’s history – on the grounds that it had to undertake emergency purchases in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) to cover for a maintenance shutdown in its principal source of energy, the Malampaya natural gas pipeline.
But once the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved the proposed price hike, there was an immediate explosion of public outcry, with leading legislators and public intellectuals raising suspicions of oligarchic collusion.
“I find it difficult to believe that at the very time that the Malampaya [pipeline] would go into a month-long hibernation for maintenance, about eight power suppliers to Meralco would [also] go offline unexpectedly, forcing Meralco to go to WESM, which was supplied by power companies that were controlled by the same interests that went offline,” legislator Walden Bello told IPS.
“With Meralco’s sudden demand, the electricity price per kilowatt hour tripled, resulting in these controlling interests making a killing. The only question unresolved for me is to what extent Meralco was involved in the collusion by its power suppliers.”
Given the quasi-monopolistic nature of the Philippine energy market, with overlapping cross-ownership between distributors and producers, critics claimed that Merlaco and other major producers allegedly “staged” an emergency shutdown to justify the purchase of “artificially high” emergency supply in the spot-market.
Given the limited capacity of the ERC, and separate ongoing corruption investigations against ERC chairperson Zenaida Ducut, an increasing number of people raised the possibility of regulatory capture.
Under growing public pressure, the Philippine legislature, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched parallel investigations into the matter, while the Supreme Court passed a temporary restraining order on the proposed price hike by Meralco.
Like many other developing countries, the Philippines underwent a series of sweeping market reforms in the 1990s. As far as the electricity sector was concerned, the process of market transition culminated in the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) in 2001.
It was a landmark piece of legislation, replacing the Rate of Return on Base (RORB) system with a Performance-Based Regulation (PBR) regime. Its advocates promised, among other things, lower power costs, efficient transmission of electricity, and expanded capacity for energy production.
But in reality, a privatised electricity sector meant its domination by influential business families, who transformed the electricity sector into one of the country’s most profitable businesses.
The cost of the bungled privatisation process was borne by the consumers and the economy. The manufacturing sector – relying on affordable and reliable sources of energy, and crucial to the provision of large-scale employment – suffered from increasingly exorbitant power costs, making the Philippines highly reliant on services and domestic consumption as its engines of growth.
The Ibon Foundation, a research and development NGO in the Philippines, says electricity costs rose more than 112 percent in the 2001-2011 period.
Three years into office, President Benigno Aquino III managed to bring about an unprecedented period of political stability and economic revival to the country. But his good governance initiatives ultimately fell short of overhauling the country’s power infrastructure. There was also minimal improvement in the creaking regulatory agencies.
“In not calling Meralco and the power generators to task, the President lost an opportunity to show he understands the plight of consumers that are now suffering power rates that are among the highest in Asia,” Bello told IPS, reflecting the growing demand among leading legislators and the general public for a more decisive intervention by the government.
“The administration will be remembered as being soft on big business if it continues its hands-off attitude in this matter.”
Although President Benigno Aquino initially refused to directly intervene in the matter, he eventually agreed to review the 2001 law, signaling his willingness to introduce crucial reforms in the energy sector.
“We are open [to review]…When it comes to court action or any legal remedy that is available to consumers or to anybody who has the legal standing to do so, they are free to do so,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
It seems that a growing number of Filipino citizens have come to realise the consequences of hasty privatisation of public services. As a result, more people are calling for decisive state participation in the economy and empowerment of regulatory agencies to ensure energy security and protection of consumer welfare.Related Articles
By Pierre Klochendler
KFAR QARA’, Northern Israel, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)
Welcome to Bridge Over the Wadi primary school, one of five bi-national schools under the “Hand-in-Hand” initiative of the Centre of Jewish-Arab Education in Israel. The centre strives to bring children from both communities to learn together in Hebrew and Arabic in the hope that they’ll bridge the divide between the two peoples.
All in all, there are only seven bi-national school establishments in Israel, amidst 3,000 or so separate Jewish and Arab schools.
But among the few, this one is unique. It’s the only such school established in a town populated by Israelis of Arab descent. Here, Jewish children are hosted by their Arab peers.Here, Jewish children are hosted by their Arab peers.
“It’s not an Arab school. Actually, we’re strangers in our own environment,” cautions principal Hassan Agbaria. “We have an offer: acceptance of the other, equality in rights, partnership. Peace is achievable by knowing each other and living together, at least at school.”
A Jewish-Arab school – let alone in an Arab town – is no trivial matter in a country where the Jewish majority is in conflict with the Palestinian people to whom the Arab minority belongs. One in five Israelis is an Arab of Palestinian descent.
Israel’s declaration of independence pledges to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex.”
In effect, the enduring conflict, persistent mistrust and charges of disloyalty to a state which defines itself essentially as Jewish, recurrent suspicions of unequal treatment, and discrimination based on religious-political identities have all left a deep mark on Israel’s Arabs.
“Children here see neither Arabs nor Jews but people,” stresses Uri Levror from the Jewish village Katzir.
The writing is on the school’s walls. “We must be the change that we wish to see in the world,” say Hebrew and Arabic translations of the adage attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Parents who send their kids to school here answer the call for change from the existing order of things.
“We mustn’t wait for someone to create change,” says Ofri Sadeh from Katzir.
In this area of Galilee, Arab-origin citizens of Israel are the overwhelming majority. About 150,000 Arabs and 20,000 Jews live side by side, and apart.
Arabs make up 60 percent of the school’s 238 pupils. The staff is equally balanced as each classroom is co-taught by Arab and Jewish teachers.
Nothing is simple or utopian on the school benches. The dichotomy lies in the parents’ expectations and motivation. Through their children, Jews aspire to realise the elusive dream of peace and harmony.
“It’s an opportunity for our children to be imbued with values that are important for me and my husband. I want them to become better persons than us,” says Noga Shitrit, a mother of three from Katzir, and an educator at the mixed kindergarten attached to the school.
Arabs, for their children, desire the fulfilment of a no less elusive social promotion. “The best school!” proclaims Kfar Qara’ resident Rania Yahiya.
Second graders pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, pondering on quoted words of wisdom: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
“People discriminate against others because of skin colour, language, gender, identity, Jewish or Arab,” stresses the teacher in Hebrew.
“And then comes Mandela,” another teacher chimes in, in Arabic. “He said, ‘We’re different, but equal.’ He had a dream. Which dream?” she asks, mixing up Mandela and African-American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King.
“May peace prevail,” comes a reply. “Stop the wars,” says another. The class dream their parents’ dream.
The teacher says, “Jews and Arabs are…” “Different!” the class answers in unison. “Different, but equal,” corrects the teacher.
“We instil these educational values so that threads of peace are woven into the fabric of their lives,” says vice-principal Masha Krasnitsky. “They’re fully conscious of bringing fresh ideas to the world. They’re caught in demanding and challenging situations, but they stand up to the test of courage.”
Under their teachers’ guidance, Arab and Jewish kids rejoice in each other’s holidays playfully.
But when national remembrance days are marked – Holocaust Day or the Day of the Fallen Soldiers – old passions are woken anew.
The school’s educators are in pursuit of a magical identity formula which will draw schoolchildren together around a collective experience untroubled by one seminal event’s memory – the creation of the State of Israel (1948) seen on the other side as the Great Palestinian Catastrophe, or Nakba.
“We’re a laboratory for the Israeli society,” says principal Agbaria. “We try to provide answers to questions which Israelis grapple with for over 60 years. Step by step, we come closer to the vision of living here with a declared identity, without fear.”
Playtime, announces the oriental music on the PA.
Hebrew almost naturally dominates kids talk. And though Arabic is, along with Hebrew, officially recognised and, at school, textbooks are in Hebrew and Arabic and kids learn in both languages, beyond the school’s perimeter Arabic is often perceived as the enemy’s language.
As rain falls, children huddle in a tiny corner, looking a lot alike. It’s been 10 years since this schools was set up. That’s also cause for celebration.Related Articles
By Lorraine Farquharson
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)
It was a long and hard 10 hours of labour.
“Don’t give up,” Carolina Pinheiro recalls her doula urging, as she provided both physical and emotional support.“If you feel safer in a hospital then do that, but there should not be an assumption that hospitals are safer than home. " -- Carolina Pinheiro
Pinheiro says she chose at-home birthing with midwife assistance because she wanted a safe environment, plus the gentle care the method provides, which included exercise stretches, a foot massage and aromatherapy.
Since Pinheiro could not sit up to eat during the 10 hours, yet still needed strength to push, the doula squeezed “fresh green [kale and fruit] juice” for her and constantly brought jugs of water.
“A doula is recommended if a mother chooses the at-home [birth], because she comes to your house and guides you through until the time is right for the midwife to come,” Pinheiro tells IPS.
Pinheiro’s baby was positioned feet-down, and it took three hours to turn him around. “Usually, pushing should last two to three hours,” she says.
“If I was in a hospital they would not allow me to push so long and suggest a C-section. I didn’t want that,” she adds. “My doula and I agreed to invite the midwife over only when the time felt right.”
In Pinheiro’s view, the midwife assumes the role of the doctor and replaces the more clinical hospital setting with holistic and homeopathic methods. “So there is no medication during pushing. She just guided me holistically in the positions that I could try,” Pinheiro says.
Even as women in the United States spend 98 billion dollars a year on hospitalisation for pregnancy and childbirth, the country’s maternal mortality rate has doubled in the past 25 years, to around 15 deaths per 100,000 births. Currently, the U.S. ranks 50th in the world in terms of maternal mortality, among the bottom of the most developed countries.
“My midwife took care of me through my entire pregnancy and was there by my side all along, so I knew I would feel safer,” said Pinheiro. She said that having the midwife carry out the delivery at home also made her feel more private. “If you are in a safe environment, you will be fine.”
Sandra Londino, a licensed midwife who runs a private practice in Ithaca, New York, says more than 90 percent of births with obstetricians occur in hospitals. For the most part, the use of modern technology proved effective in the early detection of complications and providing faster solutions, but there are drawbacks as well.
Londino says that when women ask questions about the birth and delivery, they are too often “brushed off” or they are not told the truth.
“Many just agree to an epidural [spinal anesthesia] or a quick C-section just because the doctor says so,” she adds. “Perhaps it is due to money and power, because we don’t see physiological births any more. There are hardly normal births in this country.”
Many women who first chose midwifery for pre-natal and birthing assistance are now opting for at-home birthing with therapeutic guidance from a doula, a phenomenon that grew 41 percent from 2004 to 2010, according to Londino.
Saraswathi Vedam, chair of Home Birth at the American College of Nurse-Midwives, says that this method is increasingly within the mainstream.
“One can always change their mind and go to the hospital,” Vedam says. “Women just enjoy the comfort and continuing care from someone who they feel a more personal relationship with, such as a midwife.”
Results of a survey show that expectant mothers chose an at-home birth in order to avoid unnecessary interventions and to have more control over her birthing decisions. Some said they trust in natural birth as a normal healthy process and did not want any separation from their newborn.
Others said that since they underwent a healthy pregnancy, having the baby at home would make them feel safer by decreasing the possibility of contracting an infection or being coaxed into a Caesarean.
Still, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argues that home births are unsafe and does not support them.
“It’s important to remember that home births don’t always go well, so as physicians, we have an obligation to provide families with information about risks, benefits, limitations and advantages,” said Richard N. Waldman, the group’s president.
Insurance companies have decided to follow ACOG’s advice by refusing to reimburse clients for at-home births. Londino says she doesn’t understand the logic from a financial perspective.
“Hospital births, without intervention or complication, cost roughly 9,500 dollars, which an insurance company is willing to pay,” she says. “Yet an at-home birth performed by a midwife, whose invoice includes regular pre-natal visits, all necessary tools and delivery, is only 3,500 dollars – which is refused reimbursement.”
Retired hospital midwife Ellen Cohen, who wrote a book about the effectiveness of pre-natal care in order to deliver safe babies without modern technology, says bearing a child is a vulnerable time in women’s lives where they try to do the best for themselves and their newborns.
“If one looks at childbirth as a pathological incident as opposed to something natural, then they will use a machine to help them feel safe – even something like the electrical fetal [heartbeat] monitoring,” Cohen added.
This method is not for everyone though, Pinheiro cautioned. “If you feel safer in a hospital then do that, but there should not be an assumption that hospitals are safer than home. One responds better when they are in their own environment. For me, it was a remarkable experience.”Related Articles
The post More Women Weigh Risks and Rewards of At-Home Birthing appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Jacey Fortin
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 26 2014 (IPS)
When representatives of the warring factions of South Sudan signed an agreement to end hostilities at a luxury hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday, Jan, 23, fervent applause and some high-pitched ululations erupted from the audience.
The cessation of hostilities called for both sides to lay down arms within 24 hours. But on Friday evening, at around the time the truce was supposed to take effect, Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for the opposition army, told IPS that the situation was far from calm.
“We are fighting almost everywhere,” he said, pointing to clashes that erupted in the Unity State towns of Dangdok and Duar, in Dolieb Hill of Upper Nile State, and Mathiang in Jonglei State. “The government violated the cessation of hostilities before it began. We have the right to defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal,” Koang added.A disconnect between the delegates and their compatriots on the ground could render the cessation of hostilities agreement ineffectual.
Political rivalries and ethnic tensions have long threatened stability in South Sudan, but the current conflict kicked off on Dec. 15 when animosity between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, who was sacked by the president in July, sparked a clash inside of a military barracks in Juba.
The ripple effect was devastating. Divisions between the country’s two largest ethnic groups – the Dinka, of which Kiir is a member; and the Nuer, largely loyal to Machar – spurred a worsening cycle of retaliatory attacks, murders, rapes, and looting.
The three-week negotiating phase that just wrapped up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, has been subject to cynicism. The talks were slow, held up first by matters of protocol – agreeing on terms of reference and setting the agenda – and then by mediators’ trips to South Sudan.
The talks were mediated by members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a bloc of eight East African countries. IGAD Envoy Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s former foreign minister, said during the ceremony that the signing was an “auspicious occasion,” but cautioned that “some settlements may only provide a temporary reprieve before violence escalates again.”
The final agreement is far from conclusive. The opposition was unable to secure a key concession from their counterparts: the release of 11 people who were detained by the government on allegations of attempting a coup. The prisoners include several high-ranking former officials who were instrumental in facilitating South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011, including former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) secretary-general Pagan Amum.
“We claim that on our side that the politicians have been framed, and they are political prisoners. If they were out, it would nullify the government argument that this is a Nuer-Dinka thing,” opposition delegate Mabior Garang, son of the late independence hero John Garang, told IPS. “This is an uprising of the people of South Sudan. Once these people are released it will show the true national character of the uprising.”
Representatives of the United Nations, the European Union and the United States have urged Kiir to release the prisoners as goodwill gesture. But government delegates deferred the issue to South Sudan’s Ministry of Justice, saying that the detainees will be released in accordance with due process.
The agreement notes that “IGAD and the Partners of IGAD are firmly committed to undertake every effort to expedite the release of the detainees,” but does not include any similar commitment from the South Sudanese administration.
The negotiations will now go on hiatus for two weeks, after which point both sides will come together once again to haggle over the thorniest issues: the detainees, long-term mechanisms for monitoring a ceasefire, and sustainable political reconciliation.
As the process drags on, hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan are struggling to cope with a grave humanitarian crisis. But they looked to the talks with a some optimism, Edmund Yakani, a South Sudanese activist who runs a Juba civil society group called the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, told IPS.
“There are hopes that the agreement will stop the military confrontation, and that a ceasefire will bring about dialogue. But the citizens have some critical questions. They are concerned about the issue of representation – whether these negotiations are only representative of people in power, who don’t understand the real challenges facing the people of the nation,” he said.
A disconnect between the delegates and their compatriots on the ground could render the cessation of hostilities agreement ineffectual. During the signing ceremony, Nhial Deng Nhial, who led the government delegation on behalf of Kiir, expressed doubts about the opposition’s ability to control the fighting.
“What really worries us in terms of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities is the capacity of the rebel group, given that the bulk of the rebel army is made up of civilians who are not subject to military discipline,” he said. “An order to stop fighting may not be obeyed, and this will certainly make a mockery of the agreement.”
Koang argues that the government is largely to blame for the clashes that took place on Friday, though the conflicts he cited occurred before the cessation was scheduled to begin.
“The government is on the offensive, trying to force us back,” he said. Asked whether the opposition would stick to a defensive role only, he said it depended on the situation. “Sometimes when you are attacked, you resist and you get the momentum, and to keep the momentum sometimes there is a need for us to push back.”
Currently the government is in control of three major towns in conflict zones: the Jonglei capital Bor, Unity capital Bentiu and Upper Nile capital Malakal. But the opposition says it controls most of the surrounding rural areas and maintains positions not far from the government-controlled cities. If the cessation of hostilities is adhered to, both sides will hang on to their territories while delegations work through the major issues.
But some argue that lasting peace will require the factions of South Sudan to dig deeper than the causes of the current crisis.
“I think it will work if they address the question of state-building,” said Yakani, adding that South Sudan has suffered under a one-party system that put ethnicity before democracy.
“Political institutions are based on ethnic backgrounds, and that compromises accountability and transparency. These conflicts are symptoms of a system where ethnicity has been politicised.”Another issue is the presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan, fighting on behalf of the government. Opposition delegates in Addis Ababa called for the forces to exit the country, but Thursday’s agreement made no direct mention of the their presence. Koang said on Saturday that Ugandan troops were still active on the government’s side. Related Articles
By Suvendrini Kakuchi
CHIRAN (Japan), Jan 26 2014 (IPS)
They were known as the Kamikaze who swooped down on enemy ships with their bomb-laden planes – with the pilots inside. A museum here is now planning to register the last letters of Japan’s famed World War II suicide bombers as a Unesco Memory of the World document. The museum is calling these records “symbolic” of the country’s commitment to peace.
The move comes amid continuing political tension between Japan and its former East Asian colonies, China and the Korean peninsula, over its war past.
The Kamikaze pilots were a special task force assigned to protect their country from Western Allied forces at the tail end of World War II. The official number of Kamikaze deaths is 1,036.“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness.”
Storytellers employed by the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots describe them as brave young men who sacrificed themselves to protect Japan from the invading Western colonial powers.
“The last letters written by the Kamikaze before they took off on their planes show that remarkably they did not hate their enemy but rather only wanted to serve their country and protect their families,” said Satoshi Yamaki, the curator.
“The registering of their messages as a world document is to recognise their courage and Japan’s pledge to never enter a war again. Their letters are symbolic of Japan’s commitment to peace.”
Yamaki heads the impressive Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots launched in 1988. It nestles among the quiet green hills of Chiran town in Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyushu.
Chiran was host to a former airstrip where the Kamikaze took off in 1944 to dive with their planes into American naval ships approaching Okinawa. The southernmost island is the site of the only land battle fought in Japan before surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.
“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness,” 23-year-old Capt Toshio Anazawa wrote to his sweetheart. “Forget the past. Live in the present,” Lieutenant Aihana Shoi Heart wrote in a letter.
Funded by the local Southern Kyushu government, the museum hosts more than 700,000 visitors annually.
The move to resurrect the Kamikaze stories, almost 70 years after Japan surrendered to U.S. forces and pledged to become a nation of peace, symbolises the mixed emotions and the continuous struggle of the Japanese to come to terms with their nation’s fractured war past, say analysts.
“The story of the Kamikaze is tragic and courageous and there is a national yearning for world recognition. But the Japanese mourning has become increasingly sinister against the [backdrop of] political exploitation of Japan’s war past,” said Yoshio Hotta, an expert on Japan-U.S. relations.
A prominent visit in December by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are enshrined among the dead, exposes vividly how the country remains mired in its difficult past.
While Abe declared he went “simply to pay respects to Japan’s war dead” and also to pledge not to wage war again, the visit provoked condemnation by Chinese and South Korean leaders who accuse Japan of continuing to be unrepentant of its past aggression in Asia.
Japan occupied northern China in the 1930s and is also held responsible for the infamous Nanking massacre in 1937 when the Japanese army was accused of raping and killing civilians and of pillage.
The Korean peninsula was invaded from 1910 to 1945. Japan imposed a brutal leadership, including a ban on the local language and culture. During World War II, tens of thousands of Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army and as forced labour for Japanese companies.
The controversial system of “comfort women” – mostly young Korean women and also others in Chinese Manchuria and other parts of Asia who had to provide sex to Japanese soldiers – remains a simmering bilateral issue.
Abe’s Yasukuni decision has led to greater volatility between Japan and China, which are already clashing over territorial claims. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are claimed by both countries. The Chinese name for the islands is Daiyou.
Reflecting historical bitterness, a scheduled meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Abe to discuss the comfort women issue was cancelled last month by Korea. The United States also took the unprecedented step of criticising the visit.
But old timers remember the Kamikaze with reverence.
Sho Horiyama, 91, a former Kamikaze who visits the Chiran museum every May to pay respects to his former colleagues, expresses frustration over the long unresolved clash with Japan’s neighbours over war history.
“When I heard Emperor Hirohito declare Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, I cried that I had not died for my country,” he told IPS. “Why cannot Japan be proud of the Kamikaze after their incredible sacrifice?”
Horiyama was 22 in 1945 and ready for his mission that was thwarted when his country was defeated. More than a million people died, including 250,000 Japanese soldiers, during the war, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Takeshi Kawatoko, 86, a storyteller at the Chiran museum, says, “Can we not respect their bravery and commitment to their country?”
He told IPS that the Kamikaze represent the Japanese samurai traits of putting loyalty over personal needs, a character that is deeply embedded in the national psyche.
“This is what I want the world to understand. It fills me with sadness when we cannot explain the past to Japan’s younger generation that has grown up hardly knowing the brave deeds of their ancestors.”Related Articles
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jan 25 2014 (IPS)
Iran’s pushback against statements by Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House that Tehran must “dismantle” some of its nuclear programme, and the resulting political uproar over it, indicates that tough U.S. rhetoric may be adding new obstacles to the search for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto Wednesday, “We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over five percent.”
When CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked President Hassan Rouhani, “So there would be no destruction of centrifuges?” Rouhani responded, “Not under any circumstances. Not under any circumstances.”
Those statements have been interpreted by U.S. news media, unaware of the basic technical issues in the negotiations, as indicating that Iran is refusing to negotiate seriously. In fact, Zarif has put on the table proposals for resolving the remaining enrichment issues that the Barack Obama administration has recognised as serious and realistic.
The Obama administration evidently views the rhetorical demand for “dismantling” as a minimum necessary response to Israel’s position that the Iranian nuclear programme should be shut down. But such rhetoric represents a serious provocation to a Tehran government facing accusations of surrender by its own domestic critics.
Zarif complained that the White House had been portraying the agreement “as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme. That is the word they use time and again.” Zarif observed that the actual agreement said nothing about “dismantling” any equipment.
The White House issued a “Fact Sheet” Nov. 23 with the title, “First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” that asserted that Iran had agreed to “dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”
That wording was not merely a slight overstatement of the text of the “Joint Plan of Action”. At the Fordow facility, which had been used exclusively for enrichment above five percent, Iran had operated four centrifuge cascades to enrich at above five percent alongside 12 cascades that had never been operational because they had never been connected after being installed, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had reported.
The text of the agreement was quite precise about what Iran would do: “At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades.”
So Iran was not required by the interim agreement to “dismantle” anything. What Zarif and Rouhani were even more upset about, however, is the fact that Kerry and Obama administration spokespersons have repeated that Iran will be required to “dismantle” parts of its nuclear programme in the comprehensive agreement to be negotiated beginning next month.
The use of the word “dismantle” in those statements appears to be largely rhetorical and aimed at fending off attacks by pro-Israel political figures characterising the administration’s negotiating posture as soft. But the consequence is almost certain to be a narrowing of diplomatic flexibility in the coming negotiations.
Kerry appears to have concluded that the administration had to use the “dismantle” language after a Nov. 24 encounter with George Stephanopoulos of NBC News.
Stephanopoulos pushed Kerry hard on the Congressional Israeli loyalist criticisms of the interim agreement. “Lindsey Graham says unless the deal requires dismantling centrifuges, we haven’t gained anything,” he said.
When Kerry boasted, “centrifuges will not be able to be installed in places that could otherwise be installed,” Stephanopoulos interjected, “But not dismantled.” Kerry responded, “That’s the next step.”
A moment later, Kerry declared, “And while we go through these next six months, we will be negotiating the dismantling, we will be negotiating the limitations.”
After that, Kerry made “dismantle” the objective in his prepared statement. In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Dec. 11, Kerry said the U.S. had been imposing sanctions on Iran “because we knew that [the sanctions] would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear programme.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed Zarif’s comment as “spin” on Iran’s commitments under the Joint Plan of Action “for their domestic political purposes”.
He refused to say whether that agreement involved any “dismantling” by Iran, but confirmed that, “as part of that comprehensive agreement, should it be reached, Iran will be required to agree to strict limits and constraints on all aspects of its nuclear programme to include the dismantlement of significant portions of its nuclear infrastructure in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the future.”
But the State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, was much less categorical in a press briefing Jan. 13: “We’ve said that in a comprehensive agreement, there will likely have to be some dismantling of some things.”
That remark suggests that the Kerry and Carney rhetoric of “dismantlement” serves to neutralise the Israel loyalists and secondarily to maximise U.S. leverage in the approaching negotiations.
Kerry and other U.S. officials involved in the negotiations know that Iran does not need to destroy any centrifuges in order to resolve the problem of “breakout” to weapons grade enrichment once the stockpile of 20- percent enriched uranium disappears under the terms of the interim agreement.
Zarif had proposed in his initial power point presentation in October a scheme under which Iran would convert its entire stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium into an oxide form that could only be used for fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.
U.S. officials who had previously been insistent that Iran would have to ship the stockpile out of the country were apparently convinced that there was another way to render it “unusable” for the higher-level enrichment necessary for nuclear weapons. That Iranian proposal became the central element in the interim agreement.
But there was another part of Zarif’s power point that is relevant to the remaining problem of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium: Iran’s planned conversion of that stockpile into the same oxide form for fuel rods for nuclear power plants as was used to solve the 20-percent stockpile problem.
And that plan was accepted by the United States as a way of dealing with additional low-enriched uranium that would be produced during the six-month period.
An element included in the Joint Plan of Action which has been ignored thus far states: “Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.”
The same mechanism – the conversion of all enriched uranium to oxide on an agreed time frame — could also be used to ensure that the entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium could no longer be used for “breakout” to weapons-grade enrichment without the need to destroy a single centrifuge. In fact, it would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a low level for a nuclear power programme.
The Obama administration’s rhetoric of “dismantlement”, however, has created a new political reality: the U.S. news media has accepted the idea that Iran must “dismantle” at least some of its nuclear programme to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo was shocked by the effrontery of Zarif and Rouhani. “That’s supposed to be the whole underpinning of moving forward from the United States perspective,” Cuomo declared, “is that they scale back, they dismantle, all this stuff we’ve been hearing.”
Yet another CNN anchor, Wolf Blitzer, who was an official of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee before becoming a network journalist, called Zarif’s statements “stunning and truly provocative,” adding that they would “give ammunition” to those in Congress pushing for a new sanctions bill that is clearly aimed at sabotaging the negotiations.
The Obama administration may be planning to exercise more diplomatic flexibility to agree to solutions other than demanding that Iran “dismantle” large parts of its “nuclear infrastructure”.
But using such rhetoric, rather than acknowledging the technical and diplomatic realities surrounding the talks, threatens to create a political dynamic that discourages reaching a reasonable agreement and leaves the conflict unresolved.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, will be published in February 2014.Related Articles
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By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORDOBA, Argentina, Jan 25 2014 (IPS)
Residents of a town in Argentina have won the first victory in their fight against biotech giant Monsanto, but they are still at battle stations, aware that winning the war is still a long way off.
For four months activists in Malvinas Argentinas, a town in the central province of Cordoba, have maintained a blockade of the construction site where the U.S. transnational company is building the world’s biggest maize seed treatment plant.
In this previously peaceful town, protestors continue to camp in front of the construction site and to block access to it, even after a provincial court order this month put a halt to the works.
The campaign against the plant, led by Asamblea Malvinas Lucha por la Vida (Malvinas Assembly Fighting for Life) and other social organisations, began Sept. 18 in this town 17 kilometres from the capital of Cordoba.
Tense situations ensued, with attempts by the provincial police to disperse the demonstrators and provocations by construction union envoys, but a provincial labour court ruling on Jan. 8 upheld the activists’ cause.
“The ruling shows that the residents’ arguments are just, because they are claiming basic rights that are recognised and established in the constitution and federal legislation,” Federico Macciocchi, the lawyer representing opponents of the plant, told IPS.
The court ruled that the municipal ordinance authorising construction of the plant in this mostly working class town of 15,000 people was unconstitutional.
It ordered a halt to construction work and banned the Malvinas Argentinas municipality from authorising the construction until two legal requirements are fulfilled: carrying out an environmental impact assessment and a public hearing.
“This is a big step forward in the struggle, achieved by working together on institutional demands, along with social activism on the streets,” Matías Marizza, a member of the Malvinas Assembly, told IPS.
“This struggle has resulted in guaranteeing respect for the law,” the activist said.
The Malvinas Assembly and other organisations have decided to continue to camp out at the site and block access until the project is abandoned for good.
Monsanto replied to IPS’s request for comment with a statement that describes local activists as “extremists” who are preventing their contractors and employees from “exercising the right to work.”
The court ruling arose from a legal appeal lodged by local residents and the Club de Derecho (Cordoba Law Club), presided by Macciocchi.
The labour court has ordered an environmental impact study and a public hearing, he emphasised.
The views expressed in the public hearing will be “highly relevant,” he said, although under the General Environment Law, participants’ objections and opinions “are not binding.”
However, the law does stipulate that if the opinions of the convening authorities differ from the results of the public hearing, “they must justify them and make them public,” he said.
Now the Malvinas Assembly also wants a public consultation with a secret ballot.
Such a ballot would comply with the environmental law and “guarantee citizens’ full rights to decide on which model of local development and what kind of social and economic activities they want for their daily life, and what environmental risks they are prepared to take,” Víctor Mazzalay, another resident, told IPS.
“It is the people who should have that information and decide whether or not to accept the costs and risks involved,” said Mazzalay, a social researcher funded by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) at the University of Cordoba.
“An environmental impact assessment should include a public consultation so that citizens can provide the ‘social licence’ necessary for developing any social, economic and productive activity that may affect their environment and health,” he said.
Monsanto’s statement said the company does not agree with the court ruling, but respects judicial decisions and will abide by the verdict.
The company stated that it had already conducted an environmental assessment, which is currently under review by the provincial Secretary of the Environment.
In Macciocchi’s view, the court’s ruling is definitive and “brings the legal conflict to an end.”
“The ruling arose from a legal appeal, so there is no further recourse in ordinary law,” he said.
Monsanto can still appeal to have the decision overturned by the provincial High Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia, TSJ).
The company has already said that it will appeal. “We consider our right to build legitimate since we have complied with all legal requirements and have obtained authorization to build according to the regulations, as confirmed by the ruling of the Court of First Instance of Oct. 7, 2013,” their statement said.
However, in Macciocchi’s view “this appeal will not overturn the labour court ruling.”
“If we consider how long the TSJ takes to process an appeal, by the time there is a decision, the Malvinas municipality and the Environment Secretariat will have complied with the laws they previously violated,” he said.
According to the lawyer, the high court takes up to two and a half years for appeals lodged by individuals under sentence, and five to seven years in labour or civil cases.
“It would create a real institutional scandal if the TSJ were to deal with this case by leap-frogging all the other cases that have lain dormant in its offices for years,” he said.
The Jan. 8 ruling cannot prevent the definitive installation of the plant, which Monsanto plans should become operational during 2014.
“But if the citizens’ demonstrations against the plant and the environmental impact assessment are unfavourable to the company, Monsanto will not be able to instal the plant in Malvinas Argentinas,” Macciocchi predicted.
Mazzalay emphasised that the “substance” of the arguments of opponents to Monsanto’s plant was “the defence of the people’s right to decide on the kind of productive activities and the type of environmental risks they wish to undertake.”
The company announced it was planning to build more than 200 maize silos, and to use agrochemical products to treat the seeds. Monsanto is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of herbicides and genetically modified seeds, and has operated in Argentina since 1956 when it established a plastics factory.
“It is frequently argued that there is a reasonable doubt that this productive activity is harmless to human health,” Mazzalay said.
In his view, “a multiplicity of scientific studies have shown negative effects on health from both seed transportation and handling of and exposure to different agrochemical products.”
“When there is a health risk related to environmental issues, reasonable doubt should bring the precautionary principle into play, that is, an activity should not be developed until it has definitely been proved to be harmless,” he said.Related Articles
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By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 25 2014 (IPS)
Groups battling one of the world’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemics say their task may get “catastrophically” harder following the introduction of controversial laws in Ukraine in response to months of anti-government protests.
Among legislation introduced this week – dubbed a “charter for oppression” by some international rights groups – is a new law forcing NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” or face hefty fines and closure.For many years Ukraine has had one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics.
Copied almost exactly from similar legislation introduced recently in Russia, the law not only puts a label with derogatory Cold War connotations on civil society groups, but, crucially for many, also forces them to pay tax on foreign income.
For organisations in the front line of response to the country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, this could spell disaster.
Pavel Skala, a senior policy manager at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, the largest NGO in the country working on tackling the disease, told IPS: “The new law will be catastrophic for local NGOs, making things harder for organisations working with HIV/AIDS sufferers and providing harm reduction services. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine would only get worse.”
For many years Ukraine has had one of the world’s fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, according to United Nations figures, and currently has the highest rate of HIV infection in Europe.
Successive governments have been criticised over their approach to the disease. Local and international health groups have highlighted poor and muddled policy and inadequate funding while there have also been accusations of corruption and incompetence leading to shortages of life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.
According to UNAIDS, the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS, less than 40 percent of people with HIV in Ukraine receive anti-retroviral drugs. For comparison, the rate in some sub-Saharan African countries is around 80 percent.
Meanwhile, despite the epidemic having been historically driven by injection drug use – there are an estimated 290,000 injecting drug users in the East European state – authorities have been either hostile to, or reluctant to adopt, harm reduction practices that have been hailed a success in helping halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in many Western states.
The government’s approach to the disease has already had consequences for how its spread is tackled. When it was discovered that the government in 2004 had paid more than 25 times the market price for anti-retroviral drugs, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria started to channel much of its funding to civil society groups.
This has led to the front line response to HIV/AIDS among high-risk groups such as drug addicts and sex workers being taken up by third sector groups.
These organisations have focused on prevention programmes, including harm prevention.
These services already seem to have had some success. In 2012, for the first time, the rate of new HIV infections in Ukraine dropped. This was put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.
But provision of these services may now be at risk.
Under current national legislation, Global Fund financing is exempt from any taxation. But there are doubts that this will continue to be the case following the introduction of the new “foreign agent” law.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine implements the largest HIV prevention programme in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, supporting 170,000 drug users in more than 300 cities through its own services and those of more than 170 partner organisations across the country it helps finance.
The organisation is registered as a charity and, as such, should be free of any tax on its own funding from the Global Fund. But many of its partners, which are sub-recipients of that money, are civil society groups and will be forced to register as foreign agents.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine has told IPS that under the new laws it will not be able to pass on Global Fund financing to its local partners as the subsequent taxes would force them to close.
UNAIDS country coordinator for Ukraine, Jacek Tyszko, told IPS: “We are very concerned about this [new legislation]. It is potentially a very negative development for the situation in the country because so much of the HIV/AIDS response is carried out by civil society in the Ukraine.
“The problem is that …money from the Global Fund should be tax free but the law is unclear and so there is now doubt. We have spoken to partners in the Ukrainian Health Ministry and they are all of the opinion that the Global Fund money will still be tax free. But they are not the only ones involved.”
Since September last year, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine has been battling tax and customs officials over duties it claims authorities are wrongly trying to impose on its import of syringes. It argues that it should be exempt under laws related to Global Fund financing and its activities as a specific healthcare provider.
As the dispute has dragged on, millions of syringes remain impounded and have to be stored at a special facility at the Alliance’s cost.
This does not bode well for certain state bodies’ approach to the group under the foreign agent law.
“There have already been problems with the tax authorities over taxes for the import of syringes and it looks like the Ukrainian tax authorities are unwilling to make any exceptions. Now we fear there may be further problems with this [Global Fund money],” said Tyszko.
But even if civil society groups working on the front line of the HIV/AIDS response in Ukraine find some way to carry on without vital foreign funding, the new law will still hinder their work, said Skala.
He told IPS: “Organisations will be marked out as foreign agents, seen as spies, and the legislation will give law, tax and other government authorities the opportunity to carry out checks on these organisations when they want and try and change what they do.
“Social workers may be targeted by authorities, there will be a hostile atmosphere for them to work in, and people at these organisations will be afraid. Everything would be harder for them.”
This appears to be the case already. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine told IPS its partners are already worried, with at least one having been contacted by the state security service and questioned about their funding.Related Articles
By Ray Smith
LUCERNE, Switzerland , Jan 25 2014 (IPS)
Switzerland facilitated family reunification for Syrians in September. So far, more than 1,100 Syrian refugees have benefited from the programme, while thousands are waiting at Swiss embassies in the region, hoping for a similar chance. Surprised by these numbers, Switzerland put an end to the programme.
Several European countries responded to an appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last summer to admit Syrian refugees. Switzerland announced it would accept 500 “especially vulnerable refugees” over three years.Either Swiss authorities were surprised by these numbers, or considered their humanitarian action short-lived.
Further, the country that hosts about 2,000 citizens of Syrian origin pledged to open its borders for their relatives. By the end of November, Swiss embassies in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan had granted 1,600 Syrians a three-month entry visa.
At least 1,100 of these have already travelled to Switzerland. A further 5,000 Syrians have applied for appointments at Swiss embassies to file similar visa requests.
Either Swiss authorities were surprised by these numbers, or considered their humanitarian action short-lived. Already in early November, they introduced bureaucratic hurdles: Swiss-based Syrians who had invited their relatives now needed to meet certain financial requirements.
“Looking at the size of an average Syrian family, these requirements constitute a killer criteria,” said Beat Meiner, secretary-general of the Swiss Refugee Council (SFH). “Few of the Swiss-based Syrians have enough money to clear these hurdles.”
Meiner’s warnings fell on deaf ears. Even worse, a month later Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga cancelled the family reunification programme entirely. “We assume that most of those Syrians who are entitled to apply for entry visas and face immediate distress have made use of our eased visa requirements,” she argued.
Ashti Amir, a Kurdish Syrian who fled to Switzerland for political reasons more than a decade ago and now runs the charity SyriAid, has a different perspective. Since September, he managed to get the families of one of his brothers and sisters to Switzerland. Amir told IPS that he still had two brothers and his parents back home in Aleppo and wanted to get them to Switzerland, too.
“Escaping from there and travelling to an embassy abroad is not only difficult, but very costly,” he said. Amir knows dozens of other compatriots who have relatives in danger in Syria whom they want to rescue.
Another sister of his as well as a sister-in-law are stranded in Istanbul with their families, waiting for an entry visa to Switzerland. They had applied for an appointment before Switzerland cancelled its reunification programme, and Amir is optimistic that they’ll finally be granted a visa.
“But if not: where should they go? Their long stay in Turkey has eaten up their savings.”
SFH’s Beat Meiner says that many Syrians have embarked on a dangerous trip to Swiss embassies in the Middle East, assuming they can successfully apply for an entry visa there. “Some of them are blocked now: they may neither come to Switzerland, nor return to Syria,” he says.
He’s convinced that Swiss humanitarian action could have been prolonged and that considerably more human lives could have been saved.
Besides that, Switzerland also hesitates to treat about 2,000 asylum requests by Syrians who had fled to the country individually rather than as families. Some of them have been waiting three to four years for a decision.
IPS met Ziad Ali and his family in central Switzerland. Originally from Malikiyah in the northeast of Syria, Ali moved to Damascus as a youth, where he earned his living as a taxi driver. “As a Kurd in Syria, you took any job you may get anywhere,” he says.
Before he fled the country, Ali worked in Idlib region as a gardener. He was arrested at a demonstration in Qamishli and then tortured in a prison in Deir az-Zour in Syria.
After his release, escaping the country appeared to him the only option. His wife and their two children reached Switzerland in June 2011, while Ali followed in January 2012.
Ali says the fate of his sister and his father, who were arrested by the Syrian regime in 2011, is constantly on his mind. He hasn’t heard from them since then.
His daughter Fatima and his son Mohamed go to school locally and already speak better German than Kurdish. A year ago, their youngest brother Azad was born. The family lives in a barracks established for asylum-seekers, occupying three rooms.
Their asylum request is still in limbo, leaving the family in constant insecurity about their destiny.
Moreno Casasola, secretary-general of the refugee rights organisation Solidarité sans Frontières, says that asylum requests of Syrians are mostly put aside by the Federal Office for Migration. Like any other European country, Switzerland fears that answering asylum requests positively would attract even more Syrian refugees.
Federal Office for Migration spokesperson Michael Glauser acknowledges that asylum requests of Syrians aren’t treated with priority. He denies, however, any decision moratorium. Glauser asserts that Syrian asylum-seekers enjoy Switzerland’s protection – and for the moment haven’t been sent back to Syria.
Ziad Ali and his family, along with other Syrian asylum-seekers, have protested in front of the Federal Office for Migration in Bern, demanding a speedy decision on their request. Getting at least temporary official admission would give them a perspective for the next few years and facilitate hunting for a job.
Despite his desperation, Ziad Ali hopes for a positive outcome. He says he wouldn’t mind returning to Syria once the war has ended, if Kurds were treated fairly. “But the longer my children live here, the more difficult it would be for them to return.”Related Articles
By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)
As the Egyptian revolution against Hosni Mubarak celebrates its third anniversary, the military junta under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is resurrecting dictatorship under the veneer of “constitutional” legitimacy and on the pretense of fighting “terrorism.”
Syria is still ablaze. Yemen has yet to sever the tentacles of the Saleh regime, and Libya remains in the chaotic throes of tribal fissures and militia violence. Tunisia is the only “Arab Spring” country that is transitioning to democracy wisely and pragmatically.Although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.
The uprisings in the past three years have rattled Arab dictators and forced Washington to reassess its relations with the region. Arab autocrats have fought the uprisings and resisted all efforts to redesign the decades-old social contract with their people. Four fell.
Those who are still in power continue to inflict destruction on their countries and repress their citizens.
Yet, some policymakers, talking heads, and academics in Washington and other Western capitals are myopically advocating reconciling with existing regimes, including the Syrian tyrant. Self-proclaimed regional experts are advising these policymakers that Gulf monarchies, for example, are stable and secure and should be embraced.
Likewise, some of these experts are calling on Washington to engage the Egyptian military junta because, they argue, Egypt is the centrepiece of U.S. policy and interests in the region. They maintain these interests should trump American values, which were trumpeted by President Barack Obama in his initial support of the anti-Mubarak revolt.
This “expert” advice reflects a shortsighted, shallow knowledge of the region and is devoid of any strategic analysis of future relations between Arab peoples and their rulers. If followed, it would harm long-term U.S. interests in the region.
Let us remember that three years ago, many of these experts missed the Arab Spring all together, as was pointed out in the 2011 Stimson Institute’s Seismic Shift report.
Many academics and journalists paid scant attention to endemic grievances in Arab societies and focused instead on the “deep state” narrative, which they bought from the regimes hook, line, and sinker.
A few distinguished U.S. journalists, such as the late Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, were aware of what was boiling below the surface in places like Egypt despite the glossy mask of stability that Mubarak and his fellow autocrats presented to the outside world.
It is unfortunately understandable that some policymakers and academics are leaning toward accepting this narrative now because they are becoming disgusted with the bloody tumult across the region and the rise of radicalism and terrorism.
Some academics similarly are trumpeting the “stability” narrative, especially in the Gulf. These “access academics” — who forego serious analysis of regimes’ repressive policies in order to be allowed into those countries and meet with officials — are repeating the same analysis they offered before the revolutions of 2011.
In the Gulf monarchies, as the British academic Christopher Davidson of Durham University has pointed out in his book “After the Sheiks,” the absence of legitimacy, continued repression, and sectarianism will hasten the collapse of these tribal regimes.
Professor Davidson maintains some academics, retired generals and sitting and former diplomats are peddling the “stability” fiction for potential access and economic gain.
Promising business deals, lucrative post-retirement jobs, country visits, and Gulf investment in European and American university buildings are even influencing the type of research, analysis, and academic conferences that are being conducted on the present and future of Gulf monarchies.
Fortunately, some scholars such as Toby Matthiesen of Cambridge University are seriously assessing the long-term destructive nature of bloody sectarianism across the region, which for the most part is being pushed by regimes.
Several factors are driving this pernicious phenomenon. First, although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.
The military junta’s harsh sentencing of Ahmad Maher, Ahmad Duma, and Muhammad Adel — key activists in the January 2011 revolution — and the espionage charges against two of Egypt’s most prominent intellectuals, Emad Shahin and Amr Hamzawy, signal that the deep security state is alive and well in Egypt.
The military’s harsh crackdown against all opposition–secular and Islamist–belies its claim that Egypt is on the road to democracy.
The recent branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organisation moves Egypt away from political reconciliation, the new “constitution” notwithstanding. In fact, the recently ratified document enshrines the power of the military as an institution impervious to any form of accountability.
The politically motivated capital crime charges against the deposed President Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders underpin the vengeful anti-democratic policies of General Sisi.
Despite flagrant human rights violations and sham trials, the Obama administration is tragically maintaining its military aid to the Egyptian military.
Furthermore, the U.S. State Department has withdrawn the name of Robert Ford as ambassador designate to Egypt from consideration in response to objections from the Egyptian military, according to media reports.
Second, the authoritarian regimes that are still in power are employing comprehensive hard and soft power tools, violently and viciously, in order to keep their rule. Bashar al-Assad has rendered his country a wasteland, killing over 130,000 Syrians and forcing millions to become refugees in an attempt to defeat the opposition.
Much like Egypt’s Sisi, he is feverishly trying to convince Washington and other Western capitals that he is the most effective force against terrorism and (Saudi) Wahhabi extremism. His foreign minister has repeatedly stated that if Western leaders hope to keep Salafi jihadists from overrunning Syria, Assad is their man.
It would be tragic if Washington falls for this ruse. It was Assad who worked closely with radical Salafis first in Iraq and then in Syria. He had hoped Salafis would discredit the moderate, secular opposition — a self-fulfilling prophecy he is happy to see come to pass.
Third, as these regimes fail to defeat their popular revolts and reject meaningful dialogue with the opposition, radical elements and Salafi jihadists begin to fill the power vacuum in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The ensuing stalemate is already producing more turbulence, anemic economies, debilitating uncertainty, and diminishing personal security.
No winner will emerge in the foreseeable future, which hopefully would force Washington to make hard choices. Simply put, these choices involve drawing a morally palatable balance between values and interests. If Washington hopes to be on the right side of history, interests should never be allowed to trump values of good governance, certainly not in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.
Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”Related Articles
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By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)
In the exclusive, rarified air of Davos, Thursday’s attendees at the World Economic Forum shared in a whiff of decriminalisation at a panel on drug policy in the Swiss alpine city that included former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Texas Governor Rick Perry and the head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth.
“I believe that drugs have destroyed many people, but wrong governmental policies have destroyed many more,” said Annan. ”When we realised [alcohol] prohibition wasn’t working, we had the courage to change it.”"How can I tell a farmer with half a hectare growing marijuana he will go to jail if in the [U.S.] states of Washington and Colorado it's legal?" -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
Santos echoed a common theme, complaining of half-baked policies and lip service paid to drug reforms. Colombia, for many years Washington’s staunchest ally in the so-called war on drugs, has recently made an about-face, joining much of Latin America in questioning the increasingly violent consequences of prohibition.
Perry served as a foil for the other three panelists, though he agreed that U.S. states had the right to decide on policies independently from the federal government.
“I am not for legalisation of drugs,” Perry said. “We certainly would never jump out in front of a parade because that’s where the public seems to be going.”
“I’ve long wondered what it would take to persuade the Davos organisers to put drug policy on the main stage of the forum,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “Drug policy reform as a global political movement has come of age.”
Davos comes a month after a leaked internal U.N. document showcased disagreement among member states over the future course of global drug policy. Shortly after, Uruguay became the first country to legalise possession of marijuana, flouting existing U.N. conventions.
The response from the U.N.’s quasi-judicial International Narcotics Control Board was tepid and left the door ajar for more countries to challenge a faltering consensus on interdiction.
“I don’t see any evidence of any political will at the U.N. to penalise states that are exploring these options,” said Sean Dunagan, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in Guatemala and current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
The U.S., which largely wrote the U.N. conventions that codified the war on drugs, has emerged Janus-faced on the world stage, with a president who admittedly inhaled, recent legalisation in two U.S. states – Colorado and Washington – and a populace increasingly unbothered by drug use among their friends and neighbours.
“How can I tell a farmer with half a hectare growing marijuana he will go to jail if in the states of Washington and Colorado it’s legal?” said Santos.
Despite increasingly viral coverage of the few that flout interdiction – next week’s Superbowl pits teams from Washington and Colorado and has been dubbed the “Marijuana Bowl” – nearly all countries still schedule and criminalise drugs based on guidelines codified in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
“I see the conventions as lagging indicators. I don’t think they will be changed any time soon,” Dunagan told IPS.
In the developing world, Nadelmann says countries tend to pull their punches and can at times feel obliged to follow the path of retrograde policies, even as the countries which authored them distance themselves from those laws.
“Policy innovation in this area doesn’t come easily or naturally in Africa,” Nadelmann told IPS. “I think the old moralistic notions have yet to really be challenged.”
But Nadelmann says Annan’s evolution on the issue is vital for the region and carries significant symbolic weight. In 1998, Annan oversaw a special session of the General Assembly that focused exclusively on eradication, much to the chagrin of activists. But by 2011, Annan had joined other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in encouraging “experimentation with models of legal regulation of drugs.”
“What’s most significant in many ways is the fact that Kofi Annan was willing to identify so publicly and boldly with the cause of drug policy reform. He’s been on the global commission since its inception, but it’s only in the last year that he’s begun to step out of it more,” said Nadelmann. “In recent months he’s decided to make a deeper commitment on the issue.”
In May, the Organisation of American States released a report that raised the prospect – long advocated by harm reduction activists – of decriminalisation, elevating the easing of interdiction policies that since the 1970s were accepted as gospel by countries when confronting drug use.
Though Colombia had successfully reined in its once seemingly-untouchable cartels, Santos said increased production elsewhere, particularly in Central America, was an example of the “balloon” effect, where eradication only displaces, rather than eliminates production and does nothing to reduce demand.
While the U.S. relaxes federal enforcement domestically, militarisation continues in Central America, where DEA agents silently accompany local forces on often violent missions in rural areas.
Perry’s Socratic responses seemed to at times befuddle other panelists, particularly when he attempted to draw links to the fight against Al Qaeda. “How long have we been in the War on Terror?” asked the governor to the bemusement of the crowd.
Dunagan said it was important that reform not forget those already incarcerated. In the U.S., half a million prisoners are currently serving terms for drug offences.
“There are declines in prosecutions in Colorado and Washington but people aren’t being led out of jail in those states,” said Dunagan.
“There’s certainly a willingness for world leaders to challenge that orthodoxy that is U.S.-driven, and is enforced by the U.S. via the U.N. The trend is clear but I don’t know if we are at a critical mass.”Related Articles
By Andrew Green
JUBA, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)
The overwhelming job of providing relief to the more than half a million displaced and wounded in South Sudan may have gotten a little easier with the signing of a ceasefire agreement last night in Addis Ababa, which is set to go into effect today.
The government and rebel groups, who have been locked in more than five weeks of fighting, agreed to freeze their positions and open corridors to humanitarian groups desperately trying to deliver food and medicine to those in need. Relief workers are warning that the scale of the crisis will prove to be even larger as they gain greater access. Meanwhile, doubts linger about whether the agreement will hold.
The fighting in South Sudan started late on Dec. 15 in military barracks in Juba and then spread quickly around the capital city. President Salva Kiir has accused his political rival and former deputy Riek Machar of launching a coup against the government – a charge Machar has denied. But the former vice president has acknowledged that he is now openly in rebellion against the government.Jonglei’s capital, Bor, which government forces reclaimed late last week, is decimated and bodies are still scattered in the streets.
In the weeks after the initial violence, clashes between the army and anti-government forces have been reported in at least seven states. Rebels seized three state capitals, though the government has since regained control of the towns.
Aid organisations report thousands of people are suspected to have been killed and wounded, though it is impossible to gather an accurate estimate at the moment, because access to many areas of the country is still limited. What is clear is that the five weeks of fighting have created a severe humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations reports that at least 494,000 people were internally displaced – nearly one-tenth of the population. Less than 220,000 of them have received any assistance so far. Another 86,000 people fled to neighbouring countries.
Jacob Kurtzer, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the known needs are massive.
“We’ve seen people displaced without any personal effects,” he told IPS. “Leaving their homes without basic shelter, very little food. We’re always concerned about sanitation. And the last would be the medical care, in particular, for the people who have been weapon wounded, to be able to respond to their medical needs. We’re trying to meet all of those needs simultaneously.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) flew in 70 tonnes of emergency supplies and medicines this week to distribute to women and children across the country.
At least 70,000 people have crowded into U.N. bases around the country to escape the fighting. But the cramped conditions and a shortage of toilets have created a high risk of disease transmission. UNICEF has warned of an outbreak of measles at some of the camps, which has prompted two emergency vaccination campaigns.
And that is only for those people the aid groups have been able to reach.
Dermot Carty, UNICEF’s deputy director for emergency operations, told IPS that the fluid nature of the fighting made it nearly impossible to predict where they could even maintain a sustained response.
UNICEF’s plans to reach 70,000 displaced people this week in Awerial County in northeastern Jonglei state had to be postponed at the last minute, he said, when unexpected fighting broke out.
“We were all ready to go and the security situation suddenly changed and we had to stand down.”
With a ceasefire now in place, the government, the U.N. and humanitarian groups are hopeful those interruptions will stop and they will be able to start reaching the hundreds of thousands of people who have gone without assistance so far. But better access is also likely to reveal an even bigger demand for assistance.
Paul Akol – a national lawmaker from Jonglei and a member of Kiir’s Crisis Management Committee – travelled with a team to Jonglei’s capital, Bor, which government forces reclaimed late last week. He said the town is decimated and bodies are still scattered in the streets.
“These towns are towns in name, but nothing exists on the ground,” he told IPS. “The houses are on the ground. The shops are on the ground. The little infrastructure that we built during the interim period has been completely destroyed.” He said it would take months, if not years, of assistance to help people start rebuilding their lives.
He suspects emergency response teams will encounter the same situation as they enter other areas that have been subject to intense fighting – when they are able to get there.
In a country that was already difficult to navigate – there are few paved roads and much of South Sudan is prone to floods during the months-long rainy season – the wide-scale destruction from the fighting has only made it more difficult and more expensive to get around.
The ICRC’s Kurtzer said his organisation already anticipates South Sudan “will be one of our most expensive responses in the next year. To a certain extent, that reflects the challenge of operating in this particular environment. But I think it also reflects the scale of the needs.”
The U.N. has already put out an emergency appeal for 209 dollars million just to respond to the immediate crisis and has said the country will require 1.14 billion dollars in assistance over the next year.
And that is only if the situation stays where it currently is. Oxfam Country Director Jose Barahona told IPS that this is not a guarantee.
“We don’t expect that the ceasefire means there’s no more shooting the following day. There are a lot of people with guns out there. All sorts of different groups armed. I think we cannot be naïve.”
It is also unclear whether the loose coalition of anti-government forces are all allied with Machar and feel bound by the agreement.
That could mean continued danger for hundreds of thousands of people across the country and ongoing difficulties for the aid agencies that are trying to help them.Related Articles
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