Interpress News Service

Norwegian Trade Union Boycott Israel

22 May 2017 - 7:23am

Israel's separation barrier as seen from Al Ram. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS

By Linda Flood
STOCKHOLM, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has voted in favour of a boycott against Israel, which is expected to affect cultural, economical and academic ties. Condemnation has come from Isreali politicians, diplomats and unions.

By a vote of 197 for and 117 against, the LO congress passed the motion even though the representative General Council has not been in support of such a step.

According to Norwegian media organisation NRK, the newly elected president of LO, Hans-Christian Gabrielson, had warned delegates that a boycott could have negative consequences for Palestinian workers and trade unions.

Hans-Christian Gabrielsen. Photo: LO Norge

Histadrut, Israel’s largest federation of trade unions, reacted with great disappointment.

In correspondence with Arbetet Global, the Director of international relations,  Avital Shapira-Shabirow, expressed:

”It would have been better for the organization to concentrate on promoting positive agendas between the parties rather than to adopt this miserable resolution, which is in utter contradiction to the cooperation of the Histadrut and PGFTU”.

She continues:

”Once again this emphasizes the unbalanced and discriminatory policy of LO-Norway towards the Histadrut and its workers.”

LO has also encouraged the Norwegian government to recognize a Palestinian state within the borderlines of 1967.

”Precisely at this time when there is another attempt to renew the negotiations between the parties, it would have been appropriate to show more responsibility and avoid adopting a unilateral resolution that does not contribute at all to promoting a possible solution to the conflict”, Avital Shapira-Shabirow writes to Arbetet Global. 

”Norwegian government strongly opposes Norwegian Labour Union’s decision” stated Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs on Twitter, adding:  ”We need more cooperation and dialogue, not boycott”

LO’s close political ally, the social democratic Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) were also critical to the result of the vote. Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre told news agency NTB:

”I am against the boycott. I do not believe it will move us closer to a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians, with the establishment of a Palestinian state and a strengthening of human rights”

The Israel embassy in Oslo condemned the decision. Ambassador Raphael Schutz wrote in an e-mail to news agency AFP:

”This immoral resolution reflects deeply rooted attitudes of bias, discrimination and double standard towards the Jewish state”

Swedish LO though have no plans to follow suit. ILO expert Oscar Ernerot explains their position:

”In Sweden we actively support a two state solution and that Israel will cease to occupy Palestine.  That is why we collaborate with the Isreali labour union Histadrut”

The Norwegian LO has 900 000 members which is about one-fourth of the national workforce.

Linda Flood

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

22 May 2017 - 1:38am

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglers

22 May 2017 - 1:20am

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 22 2017 (IPS)

Don’t read this story if you are a parent or have children relatives. It is the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a new UN report has just found that children account for around 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. “I’m a child, not a criminal, not a threat, not an outcast” – UNICEF

The new report, issued by the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), also informs that the number of children travelling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which was released on May 18, and presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” commented UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi


First and foremost, children need protection, the UN agency reminded, while highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.”

One of World’s Deadliest Routes for Children

Few weeks earlier, a senior UNICEF official called the routes from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Europe one of the “world’s deadliest and most dangerous for children and women,” as the UN agency informed that nearly half of the women and children interviewed after making the voyage were raped.

On this, its report A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route, warned that “refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy,”

At the time of the report, which was issued end of February, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including about 54,000 included women and children. “This is a low count with actual numbers at least three times higher.”

The UN agency believes that at least 181,000 people –including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children –used smugglers in 2016 to try to reach Italy. “At the most dangerous portion– from southern Libya to Sicily – one in every 40 people is killed.”

Raped, Exploited, Left in Debt

Here, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women. “The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo


“Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence at crossings and checkpoints.

“In addition, about three-quarters of all the children interviewed said that they had “experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults” including beatings, verbal and emotional abuse.”

In Western Libya, women were often held in detention centres were they reported “harsh conditions, such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance,” the UN Children Fund informed.

What the Most Powerful Should – and Can Do

Included in the report is a six-point agenda calling for “safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children.” UNICEF urged the European Union to adopt this agenda ahead of the Summit of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful countries) in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May.

The six-point agenda stresses the need to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.

It recommends, as well, to keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; to press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Such commitments would obviously be easy to take and implement by the G7 governments. The point is: will the political leaders of the world’s richest countries consider, seriously, this inhuman tragedy?

Are they aware that the number of children left alone has been soaring? UNICEF –which they created to assist millions of European refugee children, victims of their Wold War II– has just reported that 92 per cent of children who arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

Do these mandatories know that 75 per cent of children who arrived in Italy—the very same country hosting their Summit—have reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay?

Let alone the case of hundreds of children who are abducted to sell their organs, to be recruited by terrorist organisations as child soldiers, or are exploited in harsh “modern” slavery work.

Will these political leaders mostly talk big finance and big business–including the 20 May US-Saudi Arabia weapons deal amounting to 110 billion dollars? Who knows…they might also have some spare time to read US president Donald Trump’s latest tweets.

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Somewhere along the Way, Something Went Terribly Wrong

21 May 2017 - 4:07pm

By Aamer Mostaque Ahmed
May 21 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Misogyny is not a new phenomenon in our country. It is an age-old trait that has somehow become a part of our national psyche. I knew that though; I have known that for a long time now. But what I failed to recognise was the extent of it. I never for once realised how deeply enrooted this trait had become in our country; it is the dark side of our culture.

Illustration: Alberto Ruggieri

Can a culture possibly have a dark side? The short answer is, yes. Deeply ingrained social behaviours and norms, born out of hatred, malice and arrogance, can lead to the creation of a darker side of culture. And unfortunately, or rather tragically, misogyny has become such a part.

“She is a woman and thus she should be subjugated.” “She is a woman. Why would she need a promotion?” “She is a woman. So, how can she be this successful?” “How can ‘SHE’ achieve such glory?” And lastly, “She was raped? She must have done something wrong. She must have done something to deserve this!”

These utterances, mentioned above (because most the people in our country utter these lines in their minds) have taken the lead among all opinions. Rational thoughts and legitimate claims have taken a back seat. Rights, equality and even social justice are fading into the background.

The realisation about the deeply entrenched misogyny hit me hard very recently as I got embroiled in arguments regarding rape victims. I was astonished to find many people pointing the finger at the victims rather than the rapists. In most of those arguments, I was the sole voice, one against many, arguing for something for which there should not have been any argument in the first place. I felt cornered. I felt alone. I felt enraged. Don’t they understand what a heinous crime rape is? Don’t they realise that rape in our society means condemning the victim to a living death?

This country of ours was born through the sacrifices of many. Hundreds of thousands of women suffered at the hand of the invading army. They raped the women. They maimed them. They killed them. Some of those stories are so horrifying that it defies reality. With such horrible experiences, we as a nation should have had a united front against such an atrocious crime. Yet somehow that is sadly not the case. People here still try to find faults with the rape victim and not with the actual culprit. A sick standard has been developed over the years for women in our country, and the majority of the people in this country still measure women with that same sick standard. It is being used to measure the “character flaws” of the rape victims even today in order to shift the blame on them. One would have thought that things should have improved with the current reach of education in our society, yet it feels like things have got worse somehow.

What went wrong then? Does it mean that our families are failing to instil good values and a sense of ethics in the minds of the next generation? That does not seem to be the case – most of the people I have argued against have a good sense of ethics and good values instilled in them and many of them practice those values and norms in their lives. But it is this one thing where they cross the limit and enter the chasm of despicable thinking, and they do not even realise what thoughts they are putting forward. That women have rights (to mobility or professional success for example) and deserve respect never had a place in our brand of “values and ethics” in the first place. Our edition of “values and norms” has encouraged misogyny through its complete aloofness to these ideas. The prevalent norm was always about the subjugation of women. Sadly, the trend never changed and has led to the birth of a sordid and convoluted thought process which fails to make a distinction between a rape victim and the rapist. Misogyny has always gone unchecked in our country and now it has grown into a monstrous predicament.

There are also those who find pleasure in subjugating a woman. They find pleasure in disrespecting a woman. Those are vile creatures and many of their stooges have found voice through the spread of information technology. Many of those, whose dirty thoughts once prowled in their own minds only, are now finding comrades whose thoughts are equally vile. They are becoming a united front and the presence of misogyny in society is providing fuel to their agendas.

Something somewhere went terribly wrong along the way in our society and we have started to pay a high price for that. We cannot ensure that women in this country and this society will enjoy safety, security, equality and equal opportunity. There are very few people who believe in those ideas, and unfortunately, it is people with the opposite views that rule.

But, what went wrong can always be amended. A new beginning can always be initiated. Now the question is, are we ready to bring about changes? Are we ready to welcome a new dawn?

The writer works in a Financial Institution and has co-authored the Elza Octavella comics series.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Sri Lanka and New Economic World Order

21 May 2017 - 3:54pm

By the Sunday Times editorial team
May 21 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

China hosting a mega event this week not only announced that it has arrived on the world scene as a major economic power-house, but telegraphed its vision for the next 30 years and more. With the US now on reverse gear advocating nationalism and protectionism, China has become the new face of internationalism. How the roles have reversed.

In an article on Page 8 (ST 2), a Sri Lankan-born UN diplomat lucidly explains China’s ambitious US$ 124 billion plans aimed at linking Asia with Europe and Africa, by road, rail and sea. The ‘One Road; One Belt’ initiative was attended by leaders of 29 countries, including Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, 1,500 delegates from 130 nations, NGOs, the IMF, World Bank and the UN Secretary General.

To calm any unease that this was the Chinese dragon romping through the world stage, China’s President said; “We will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more, will not impose our views on others”.

India was not impressed. For one, the road link cuts across disputed Kashmir. India boycotted the forum while the US and several European nations sent low-level representation, clearly smarting that they are being slowly, but surely upstaged by China.

The world is witnessing the re-emergence of two former Communist giants of the past — Russia and China which split on dialectic Marxism only to re-emerge as economic superpowers through free market policies they once derided as “Capitalist pigs”.

For the new Chinese initiative to be altruistic, is too good to be true. Those dealing with the Chinese negotiators on the Port City project and the Hambantota harbour know only too well how they drive a hard bargain and exploit the weaknesses of corrupt local politicians in developing countries when doing business.

Parallel to the ‘One Road; One Belt’ initiative, China has invested US$ 100 billion in an Investment Bank and the BRICS Development Bank to break the monopoly of the West-dominated IMF and World Bank and their grip over countries like Sri Lanka.

With the anticipated inflow of funds not forthcoming from the West despite a new Government more amenable to it here in Sri Lanka, it is becoming clearer that this country’s economic future rests on the broad shoulders of India and China. By accident or design, the previous Government recognised this fact, but played its cards wrong.

This Government will need to learn from past mistakes and look to the future as this ‘New Economic World Order’ unfolds.

Plantation workers are Sri Lankan citizens of recent origin
Indian scribes accompanying their Prime Minister last week to Sri Lanka were only half-joking when they said that their leader of over a billion people at home also loves to meet their diaspora overseas when he travels. This might have been after he got a rock-star reception in the United States.

And so, the story goes, that his office must have contacted the High Commission in Colombo and asked it to organise a similar event here; except that that there’s no real Indian diaspora in this country. The next best thing was to arrange a mass meeting in the central highlands where a sizeable crowd could be mustered of those categorised as “Tamils of recent Indian origin”.

No wonder, the Indian PM told the cheering crowd at Norwood estate in Dickoya last week; “We rejoice at the success of the Indian origin diaspora as they leave a mark across the world, near and far”.

The ancestors of these plantation workers were brought to this island from southern India as indentured labour by the British planters because the Kandyan peasantry whose lands were plundered under a Waste Lands Ordinance refused to work for the colonisers. It was an age when Africans were taken as slave labour to the cotton fields of America, but they have no allegiance any more to their country of origin.

The plantation workers here are now fully-fledged Sri Lankan citizens with voting rights. Their long struggle for citizenship has its roots in the Citizenship Act of 1948 which made them “stateless”, but that Act was modelled on the Indian Citizens Act which debarred Nepalis from citizenship in India.

If their line-rooms had portraits of Mahatma Gandhi it is understandable. And the Indian tri-colour displayed at Dickoya would have prompted the visiting dignitary to say; “India beats in your heart”, but it also raised concerns whether India was stirring the pot for a permanent fifth column here.

In an era of dual-citizenship, and a foreign citizen signing local currency notes, having allegiance to two countries may — or may not — be an issue as it was before. Parliaments still insist on allegiance to one country, but even Ambassadors are now allowed to represent a country while also being a citizen of another.

Minister Mano Ganesan, a frontline leader of the plantation workers sidelining the traditional ‘hereditary mafia’ that led them for decades, put things in perspective while addressing the crowd, “Our loyalty to our Motherland Sri Lanka is not a divided loyalty — we are only a bridge between the two countries”.

They were classed as ‘Tamils of recent Indian origin’ to distinguish them from the North and East Tamils whose ancestry dates further back to India, and who, in fact, looked all along at the plantation workers as people of a lesser god. To the eternal credit of the plantation Tamils, they had no truck with the North/East separatist movement of recent times.

It is, therefore, the bounden duty of the Government to embrace these Tamils not as those of recent Indian origin, but of recent Sri Lankan citizenship. They are the ‘natural increase’ of those people who opted to remain in Sri Lanka under the Sirima-Shastri Repatriation Pact. Young people in the plantations do not want to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ anymore and prefer city jobs with technical skills or in supermarkets and foot massage centres. Labour is going to be an issue in the plantations unless the industry ventures into some form of mechanisation. Importing indented labour once again, as is feared with new Economic agreements repeating colonial history, is not an option.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

Ph Needs to Build, Build, Build – Not Burn – Bridges

21 May 2017 - 1:49am

By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
May 21 2017 (Manila Times)

Like it or not, the Philippines needs to have more friends in the global community, real friends who will offer real support in times of trouble, like a threat of war from China. And building bridges to other countries, instead of burning well-established foreign relationships, resonates well with the “Build, Build, Build” program of Dutertenomics.

Duterte has made it clear that he is not a war-time President and has no intentions of going to war with China, which makes building bridges and cementing ties with other countries the right path to pursue.

Strengthening ties with other world leaders, as the President has done with Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, and making friends with the legitimate global economic powers is a wiser thing to do than to burn bridges with America, the United Nations and the European Union.

China must stop its bullying tactics and show the world its actions speak louder than words by not threatening its smaller neighbors in the region with armed confrontation, considering that the supposed objective of its recently launched One Belt, One Road initiative is peace and prosperity for the global community. Yet it is threatening the Philippines—its avowed friend—with a military response if Manila starts digging for oil within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

The situation highlights the need for President Duterte to be building bridges and creating avenues to the global community by maximizing his six-year term to strengthen foreign relations. By taking this path, the President is also paving the way for the country to grow in its role in the global market. Another plus factor in this approach is the support of other nations that could rally the global community against any threat of war.

This year is a window of opportunity for the Philippines to do just that as host and chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of the 2017 annual meetings as the regional bloc grows in economic scale and influence. Singapore will take over the rotating chairmanship of Asean next year, and Australia is hosting a special Asean-Australia summit in Sydney in March 2018.

Maybe it’s time other Asean member states—Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam—started rethinking their position regarding overlapping claims in the South China Sea, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in mind. It seems a wise and proper thing to do to have the dispute settled in court.

In July 2014, China opposed a Philippine attempt at offshore exploration in the Reed Bank, which forms part of the continental shelf of Palawan, as invalid and illegal, claiming the area was part of Chinese jurisdiction. The Philippines ignored the opposition as the area, also called Recto Bank, was 85 miles offshore and fell within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The Department of Energy also extended the service contract of Forum Energy and Philex Petroleum Corp. to continue drilling in the Reed Bank until August 2016.

The government eventually stopped the drilling activity in February 2015. In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, giving the country sovereign rights to its 200-mile exclusive economic zone and invalidating China’s claim to most of the South China Sea.

When threats of war are raised by one nation against another, other nations usually make public statements of support for one or the other, or that they are against any armed conflict as happened when the US threatened to bring war to the Korean Peninsula. China and Japan made their respective declarations of support. Asean, with the Philippines at the helm, even issued an official statement calling for peace.

Keeping old friends and making new ones would serve the Philippines well, making the path to building bridges to other nations not only the right way but also an important, significant and urgent thing to pursue.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Kashmir: Hard Choices Only

20 May 2017 - 3:48pm

By Pervez Hoodbhoy
May 20 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

I recently received an extraordinary email from a troubled young Kashmiri in Srinagar. Days before the Indian authorities turned off the internet, Saif (not his real name) had watched on YouTube the 45-minute video documentary Crossing the Lines — Kashmir, Pakistan, India that I had helped make in 2004 and mostly agreed with its non-partisan narrative. A nationalist boy turned stone thrower, Saif is outraged by the brutality of Indian occupation. He is fortunate, he says. His 14-year-old second cousin lost his left eye to pellets.

Pervez Hoodbhoy

Read: What pellet guns have done to protesters in Kashmir

Saif continues to fight India but is worried. Protesters of his father’s generation were largely nationalist, but today’s are a mixed bunch. IS and Pakistani flags are often unfurled after Friday prayers, azadi demonstrations resound with calls for an Islamic state in Kashmir, and Nasim Hijazi’s cartoon history of Muslim rule in India Aur Talwar Toot Gayee is serialised by local Urdu papers. Significantly, Burhan Wani was laid in the grave by a crowd of thousands, wrapped in a Pakistani flag, and celebrated as a martyr rather than Kashmiri freedom fighter.

Why this change? The present government — Narendra Modi’s — surely stands guilty. By reducing space for democratic discourse, it promotes radicalisation. Unlike Vajpayee’s accommodative politics, India offers little beyond the iron fist and draconian laws such as AFSPA. The BJP-PDP alliance — shaky to start with — is almost over as each blames the other for the two per cent voter turnout in last month’s by-elections. Hindutva’s religiosity is displacing Nehru’s secularism all across India, and Indian democracy is yielding to Hindu majoritarian rule.

Kashmiri nationalists must realise the grave dangers of giving more space to religious extremists.

But blaming Modi is half an explanation, perhaps even less. In Palestine, after decades of struggle against Israeli occupation, the secular PLO lost out to the religious radicalism of Hamas. In Arab countries, young Muslims dream of fighting infidels and dying as martyrs. In Pakistan, the celebrated army operations Raddul

Fasaad and Zarb-i-Azb target armed militants fighting for a Sharia state. Last week, the Higher Education Commission showed its concern by convening a meeting of 60 university vice chancellors in Islamabad on rising extremism in Pakistani campuses.

Extremism has further complicated an already complicated Kashmir situation. What now? For long, Kashmiris, Pakistanis, and Indians have wagged fingers at the other for the 100,000 lives lost over three decades. Where lies the future? Does any solution exist?

Read: Diary of a Kashmir curfew

A short retreat into mathematics: some equations indeed have solutions even if they need much effort. But other equations can logically be shown to have no solution – nothing will ever work for them. There is still a third type: that where solutions are possible but only under very specific conditions.

Kashmir is not of the first category. Everything has been tried. Delhi and Islamabad have created clients among the Valley’s leaders and political parties, and subversion is a widely used instrument. But they too have turned out to be useless. Elections and inducements have also failed to produce a decisive outcome, as have three Pakistan-India wars. A fourth war would likely be nuclear.

All parties stand guilty. India, under various Congress governments, had once projected itself as a secularist democracy distinct from an Islamic, military-dominated Pakistan. It appeared for that reason to be preferable, but in practice its unconscionable manipulation of Kashmiri politics led to the 1989 popular uprising, sparking an insurgency lasting into the early 2000s. When it ended 90,000 civilians, militants, police, and soldiers had been killed. Remembered by Kashmiri Muslims for his role in the 1990 Gawkadal bridge massacre, Governor Jagmohan received the Padma Vibhushan last year.

Pakistan tried to translate India’s losses into its gains but failed. It soon hijacked the indigenous uprising but the excesses committed by Pakistan-based mujahideen eclipsed those of Indian security forces. The massacres of Kashmiri Pandits, targeting of civilians accused of collaborating with India, destruction of cinema houses and liquor shops, forcing of women into the veil, and revival of Shia-Sunni disputes, severely undermined the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom movement.

Pakistan’s ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’ policy is in a shambles today and jihad is an ugly word in the world’s political lexicon. Say what you will about ‘Dawn Leaks’, but Pakistani diplomats who represent Pakistan’s position in the world’s capitals know the world doesn’t care about Kashmir. How else to explain Prime Minister Modi receiving Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award from King Salman bin Abdul Aziz?

If Kashmir is ever to have a solution — ie belong to the third type of math problem — then all three contenders will need to rethink their present positions.

Thoughtful Indians must understand that cooling Kashmir lies in India’s hands, not Pakistan’s. By formally acknowledging Kashmir as a problem that needs a political solution, using humane methods of crowd control, and releasing political prisoners from Kashmiri jails, India could move sensibly towards a lessening of internal tensions. Surely, if India considers Kashmiris to be its citizens then it must treat them as such, not as traitors deserving bullets. Else it should hand Kashmir over to Kashmiris — or Pakistan.

Thoughtful Pakistanis must realise that their country’s Kashmir-first policy has brought nothing but misery all around. Using proxies has proven disastrous. A partial realisation has led to detaining of LeT and JeM leaders, but Pakistan’s army must crack down upon all Kashmir-oriented militant groups that still have a presence on Pakistani soil. Such groups are a menace to Pakistan’s society and armed forces, apart from taking legitimacy away from those fighting Indian rule.

Thoughtful Kashmiri nationalists — like Saif — must recognise the grave dangers of giving more space to religious extremists. Their struggle should be for some form of pluralistic entity – whether independent or under nominal Indian or Pakistani control. That entity must assure personal and religious freedoms. An ISIS type state with its cruel practices makes mockery of the very idea of azadi and would pave the way for Kashmir’s descent into hell.

Such rethinking would clear the road to peace through negotiations which, though narrowed, still remains open. Every conflict in history, no matter how bitter, has ultimately been resolved. In Kashmir’s case whether this happens peacefully, or after some apocalypse, cannot be predicted.

The author teaches mathematics and physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

Unique Sandbar Coastal Ecosystem in Cuba Calls for Climate Solutions

19 May 2017 - 7:03pm

Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, May 19 2017 (IPS)

A battered bridge connects the centre of Baracoa, Cuba´s oldest city, with a singular dark-sand sandbar, known as Tibaracón, that forms on one of the banks of the Macaguaní River where it flows into the Caribbean Sea in northeastern Cuba.

Just 13 wooden houses with lightweight roofs shield the few families that still live on one of the six coastal sandbars exclusive to Baracoa, a mountainous coastal municipality with striking nature reserves, whose First City, as it is locally known, was founded 505 years ago by Spanish colonialists.

These long and narrow sandbars between the river mouths and the sea have a name from the language of the Araucan people, the native people who once populated Cuba. The sandbars are the result of a combination of various rare natural conditions: short, steep rivers, narrow coastal plains, heavy seasonal rainfall and the coral reef crest near the coast.

Local experts are calling for special treatment for these sandbars exclusive to islands in the Caribbean, in the current coastal regulation, which is gaining momentum with Tarea Vida (Life Task), Cuba´s first plan to tackle climate change, approved on April 27 by the Council of Ministers.

Baracoa, with a population of 81,700, is among the municipalities prioritised by the new programme due to its elevation. Authorities point out that the plan, with its 11 specific tasks, has a more far-reaching scope than previous policies focused on climate change, and includes gradually increasing investments up to 2100.
“I was born here. I moved away when I got married, and returned seven years ago after I got divorced,” dentist María Teresa Martín, a local resident who belongs to the Popular Council of La Playa, a peri-urban settlement that includes the Macaguaní tibaracón or sandbar, told IPS.

The sandbar is the smallest in Baracoa, the rainiest municipality in Cuba, while the largest – three km in length – is at the mouth of the Duaba River.

“It’s not easy to live here,” said Martín. “The tide goes out and all day long you smell this stench, because the neighbours throw all their garbage and rubble into the river and the sea, onto the sand,” she lamented, while pointing out at the rubbish that covers the dunes and is caught in the roots of coconut palm trees and on stranded fishing boats.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Macaguaní River runs down from the mountains and across the city, along Baracoa bay, which it flows into. It stinks and is clogged up from the trash and human waste dumped into it, one of the causes of the accelerated shrinking of the tibaracón.

“We even used to have a street, and there were many more houses,” said Martín.The Greater Caribbean launches a project

The 25 members of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) approved on Mar. 8 in Havana a regional project to curb erosion on the sandy coastlines, promote alternatives to control the phenomenon, and drive sustainable tourism.

The initiative, set forth by Cuba during the first ACS Cooperation Conference, in which governments of the bloc participated along with donor agencies and countries, including the Netherlands and South Korea, was incorporated into the ACS´ 2016-2018 Action Plan, which will extend until 2020.

The project, currently in the dissemination phase to raise funds, already has a commitment from the Netherlands to contribute one billion dollars, while South Korea has initially offered three million dollars.

The initiative will at first focus on 10 island countries, althoug others plan to join in, since the problem of erosion of sandy coastlines affects local economies that depend on tourism and fishing.

“We have lost other communication routes with the city. We have to evacuate whenever there is a cyclone or tsunami warning,” said the local resident, who is waiting to be resettled to a safer place in the city.

Local fisherman Abel Estévez, who lives across from Martín, would also like to move inland, but he is worried that he will be offered a house too far from the city. “I live near the sea and live off it. If they send us far from here, how am I going to support my daughter? How will my wife get to her job at the hospital?” he remarked.

Such as is happening with La Playa, the
Coastal regulations establish that municipal authorities must relocate to safer places 21 communities – including La Playa – along the municipality’s 82.5 km of coastline, of which 13.9 are sandy.

“We have exclusive and very vulnerable natural resources, such as the tibaracones,” explained Ricardo Suárez, municipal representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. “They are a sandy strip between the river and the sea, which makes them fragile ecosystems at risk of being damaged by the river and the sea.”

The disappearance of the tibaracones would change the “coastal dynamics”, explained the geographer. “Where today there is sand, tomorrow there could be a bay, and that brings greater exposure to penetration by the sea, which puts urban areas at risk and salinises the soil and inland waters,” he told IPS.

He said that these sandbars are affected by poor management and human activities, such as sand extraction, pollution and indiscriminate logging, in addition to climate change and the resulting elevation of the sea level. He also pointed out natural causes such as geological changes in the area.

In his opinion, the actions to protect the sandbars are band-aid measures, since they are destined to disappear. He said this can be slowed down unless natural disasters occur, like Hurricane Matthew, which hit the city on Oct. 4-5, 2016.

Suárez is the author of a study that shows the gradual shrinking of the tibaracones located in Baracoa, which serve as “natural barriers protecting the city”. He also showed how the population has been migrating from the sandbars, due to their vulnerability.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In the shrinking community where Martín and Estévez live, between the mouth of the Macaguaní River and the sea, there were 122 houses in 1958. And on the Miel River tibaracón, at the eastern end of the city, there were 45 houses in 1978, while today there are only a few shops and businesses.

The unique Miel River delta used to be 70 metres wide in the middle of the last century, while today the narrowest portion is just 30 metres wide. In Macaguaní, meanwhile, the shrinking has been more abrupt, from 80 metres back then, to just six metres in one segment, the study found.

The expert recommends differentiated treatment for these ecosystems, which are not specifically contemplated under Decree Law 212 for the Management of Coastal Areas, in force since 2000, which is the main legal foundation for the current land-use regulation which requires the removal of buildings that are harmful to the coasts.

Suárez said the removal of structures on sandy soil surrounded by water must be followed with preventive measures to preserve the sand, such as reforestation with native species.

In the study, he notes that the government’s Marine Studies Agency, a subsidiary of the Geocuba company in the neighbouring province of Santiago de Cuba, proposes the construction of a seawall and embankment to protect the Miel River delta. And he emphasised the importance of carrying out similar research in the case of Macaguaní.

Cuba´s Institute of Physical Planning (IPF) inspected the 5,746 km of coastline in the Cuban archipelago, and found 5,167 illegalities committed by individuals, and another 1,482 by legal entities. The institute reported that up to February 2015, 489 of the infractions committed by legal entities had been eradicated.

When the authorities approved the Life Task plan, the IPF assured the official media that the main progress in coastal management has been achieved so far on the 414 Cuban beaches at 36 major tourist areas. Tourism is Cuba´s second-biggest source of foreign exchange, after the export of medical services.

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Bizarre Excuse to Not Stop Child Marriages

19 May 2017 - 1:29pm

By Editor, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
May 19 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Child marriage – despite the caveat in the new amendment of the law – remains illegal in the country. Last Friday, as eight under-age girls were about to be married off in Dinajpur, locals informed the local administration. But no action was taken by the UNO. In Narayanganj, an underage girl was married off on Sunday, but despite locals protesting, the upazila administration refused to intervene. A report by this paper yesterday cited more similar cases.

We know that the Act makes it mandatory for local administration to take action to stop child marriage. Section 4 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017 states that it is the duty of the UNO and other local government officials to prevent child marriages. Yet, with the most bizarre farce of an excuse, officials are now saying that they cannot take any action despite being informed of them, because the court has declared mobile courts illegal.

It is clear that either the UNOs are using this as an excuse to not act, lamenting the loss of judicial powers that mobile courts gave them, or they are simply ignorant of the difference between administrative and judicial functions. Stopping the marriage in question is an administrative function. Sentences and punishment are the domain of the judiciary.

There is no logic to their claim: preventing a crime from taking place using the power vested in their office by the law does not require judicial power. We cannot but wonder if these local government officials are allowing child marriages knowingly as leverage to demand reinstatement of mobile courts. We must urge that top level administration not only clarify the situation but also investigate why these officials refused to comply with the law and prevent the child marriages.

Enhancing Equal Citizenship Rights in Education

19 May 2017 - 12:08pm

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, May 19 2017 (Geneva Centre)

International experts on education and democratic citizenship rights emphasized that education is a key driver in building inclusive and peaceful societies and in enhancing equal citizenship rights especially in countries affected by inter-communal strife.

These observations were made during a panel debate held earlier this week at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights in education.” This meeting was co-arranged by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”), a think-thank on human rights, the UNESCO Liaison Office in Geneva, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) – UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

The goal of the panel debate was to assess the impact of education in rebuilding societies affected by inter-communal violence in the broader context of human rights.

It also aimed at exploring the role of education in promoting democratic citizenship. Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Colombia – countries previously affected by inter-communal stress or conflict – were resorted to as case studies. The panel discussion was guided by the achievements of Finland in promoting equal citizenship rights through education.

The Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Bahrain H. E. Dr. Majid bin Ali Al-Nuaimi presented a video message explaining Bahrain’s vision of using education as a catalyst for promoting peace, tolerance and dialogue within the Bahraini society.

Interventions that were made by the panel members during the event (19 videos).

Agony of Mother Earth (II) World’s Forests Depleted for Fuel

19 May 2017 - 7:13am

Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources. Just take the case of forests, the real lungs of Mother Earth, and learn that every 60 seconds humans cut down 15 hectares of trees primarily for food or energy production. And that as much as 45,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared for every million kilos of beef exported from South America.

Should these figures not be enough, Monique Barbut, the executive-secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), also drew world’s attention to the fact that “when we take away the forest it is not just the trees that go… The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart… with dire consequences for us all…”

Barbut, who provided these and other figures on the occasion of this year’s International Day of Forests –marked under the theme “Forestry and Energy”— also reminded that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for over 17 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UNCCD’s chief is far from the only expert to sound the alarm–the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuel-wood and charcoal.

This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuel-wood combustion, according to The Charcoal Transition report published on the Day (March 21).

Right – but the other relevant fact is that for more than two billion people worldwide, wood fuel means a cooked meal, boiled water for safe drinking, and a warm dwelling, as this specialised body’s director-general José Graziano da Silva timely recalled.

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Poor People in Rural Areas

This is especially important for poor people in rural areas of developing countries, where wood is often the only energy source available.

Regions with the greatest incidence of poverty, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and low income households in Asia, are also the most dependent on fuel-wood: “Nearly 90 per cent of all fuel wood and charcoal use takes place in developing countries, where forests are often the only energy source available to the rural poor,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

However, much of the current production of wood fuel is “unsustainable,” contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Graziano da Silva. “In many regions the conversion to charcoal is often done using rudimentary and polluting methods.”

He urged countries to reverse these negative trends in wood energy production and use. “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.” Currently the organisation he leads while is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa.

In conflict and famine-struck South Sudan, the organisation and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves.

For his part, Fiji’s president, Jioji Konousi Konrote, stressed, “We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner.”

The government of Fiji is poised to assume the presidency of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Agreement scheduled to take place in in Bonn, Germany, in November.

1 in 3 People Wood-Fuel Dependent

The challenge is huge knowing that more than 2.4 billion people –about one-third of the world’s population– still rely on the traditional use of wood-fuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuel-wood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking.

Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to The Charcoal Transition report. The point is when charcoal is produced using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gases can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.

The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.

Changing the way wood is sourced and charcoal is made offers a high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it says, adding that a shift from traditional ovens or stoves to highly efficient modern kilns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. At the end-use level, a transition from traditional stoves to improved state-of-the-art stoves could reduce emissions by around 60 per cent.

“Wood based energy accounts for 27 per cent of the total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania,” according to FAO estimates.

Forests continue to be under threat from unsustainable use, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation, population growth, and the impacts of climate change. Between 2010 and 2015, global forest area saw a net decrease of 3.3 million hectares per year.

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Africa and India – Sharing the Development Journey

19 May 2017 - 2:40am

Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Akinwumi Adesina
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Africa, like India, is a continent of rich and compelling diversity. Both continents share a similar landscape, a shared colonial history, and similar economic and demographic challenges. This helps both India and Africa work especially well with each other.

This cooperation is both a mutual privilege and priority. At the end of the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced very substantial credits and grant assistance which benefitted our relationship. In addition to an India-Africa Development Fund, an India-Africa Health Fund and 50,000 scholarships for African students in India were established.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018. This is attributed largely to initiatives by India’s private sector, and here again we are on the same wave length. We understand and appreciate that the private sector will be the critical element in Africa’s transformation.

African countries are targeted by Indian investors due to their high-growth markets and mineral rich reserves. India is the fifth largest country investing in Africa, with investments over the past 20 years amounting to $54 billion, 19.2% of all its total Foreign Direct Investment.

Akinwumi Adesina

At the same time a transformed Africa is taking shape. Despite a tough global economic environment, African countries continue to be resilient. Their economies, on average, grew by 2.2% in 2016, and are expected to rise to 3.4% this year. But the average does not tell the true picture. Indeed, 14 African countries grew by over 5% in 2016 and 18 countries grew between 3-5%. That’s a remarkable performance in a period when the global environment has been impeded by recession.

By 2050, Africa will have roughly the same population as China and India combined today, with high consumer demand from a growing middle class and nearly a billion ambitious and hard-working young people. The cities will be booming, as the populations (and economic expectations) rise exponentially around the continent.

This is the busy and bustling future that Africa and India must shape together in a strategic partnership. And nowhere is this partnership more needed than on the issue of infrastructure.

At the top of the list is power and electricity. Some 645 million Africans do not have access to electricity. It’s why the African Development Bank launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa in 2016. Our goal is to help achieve universal access to electricity within ten years. We will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years and leverage $45-50 billion from the private sector. We plan to connect 130 million people to the grid system, 75 million people through off grid systems and provide 150 million people with access to clean cooking energy.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018.
The African Development Bank is also in the vanguard of renewable energy development and the remarkable “off-grid revolution” in Africa. We host the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, jointly developed with the African Union, which has already attracted $10 billion in investment commitments from G7 countries.

Universal access requires large financial investments. By some estimates, Africa needs $43-$55 billion per year until the 2030s, compared to current energy investments of about $8-$9.2 billion.

We must close this gap. And to do so, the mobilization of domestic resources will play a major role. Pension funds in Africa will reach $1.3 trillion by 2025. Already tax revenues have exceeded $500 billion per year. Sovereign wealth funds in Africa stand at $164 billion.

To attract significant investment by institutional investors, infrastructure should become an asset class. The African Development Bank has launched Africa50, a new infrastructure entity, now capitalized by African countries at over $865 million, to help accelerate infrastructure project development and project finance. Also, later this year, the African Development Bank will be launching the ‘Africa Investment Forum’ to leverage African and global pension and sovereign wealth funds into investments in Africa.

Moreover, the African business environment keeps improving, with easier regulations and more conducive government policies to attract the global investors. In 2015, Africa alone accounted for more than 30% of the business regulatory reforms in the world.

The fact is, we have already started to transform Africa. This is the territory of the High 5s: Light up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialize Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the Quality of life of Africans.

We can forge winning partnerships investing in power generation, energy, agro-aligned industrialisation and food processing. In doing so we can work on the synergies that exist between infrastructure, regional integration, the regulation of enterprises, employment, health and innovation.

In each of these areas I see the prospect for cooperation and collaboration with Indian partners. For example, we are partnering with the EXIM Bank of India and others to establish the Kukuza, a company based in Mauritius, to help develop and support public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure project development and finance.

India is already one of the top bidders for Bank projects. This is a reflection of its immense expertise in a diverse range of areas from engineering to education; from ICT to railway development; skills development to regional integration; and from manufacturing to industrialisation.

It is our pleasure to partner with such an inveterate and committed investor in Africa. And may this investment be lucrative and justified, and may our mutual interest and cooperation continue for many years to come.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. The 2017 AfDB Annual Meetings will be held in Ahmedabad, India, 22-26 May.

904 words

An Untold Economic Success Story in Syria

18 May 2017 - 5:17pm

Hanan, UNRWA microfinance recipient, Jaramana camp, Damascus, Syria © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Wasim al Masri

By Pierre Pierre Krähenbühl
AMMAN, Jordan, May 18 2017 (IPS)

Hidden almost literally under the rubble of the civil war in Syria is an economic success story that is rarely told. Hanan Odah is a thirty-year-old Palestine refugee living in Jaramana refugee camp in Damascus. She supports her multiply displaced family of three from a thriving micro-enterprise venture. Her husband was killed in the conflict, but she refused to submit to despair and dependency on her parents.

Hanan founded a stationery and perfume business, which she runs from the family house that was badly damaged and which she rebuilt. Young, innovative and courageous, she is living proof that as large businesses have collapsed, small scale enterprises can survive and even thrive in the markets opening up at the grassroots.

As senior leaders and key business figures gather at the World Economic Forum in Jordan this week a thought should be spared for Hanan who lives the ideals they champion. Her work should resonate at their meeting which seeks to “stimulate entrepreneurship” and map out a path to an “inclusive economic transformation”.

Pierre Krähenbühl UNRWA CG. Credit: © UNRWA Photo

In July 2014, violence engulfed Hanan’s home and business. She fled in fear of her life and after two years of living hand to mouth with her family moved back into her house which had been damaged and completely looted. Hanan immediately set to work rebuilding and obtained her first loan from UNRWA in 2016. That added to Hanan’s working capital; she expanded her product base increasing income and is now looking to take her business to another level of expansion and brand recognition.

According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, de-industrialization has inflicted USD 254.7 billion in economic damage on Syria. In 2015 alone GDP loss was USD 163.3 billion. As a result of the economic collapse, more than 85 per cent of Syrians were living in poverty by the end of 2015, with more than 69 per cent of the population barely surviving in extreme poverty. Nearly three million jobs have been lost and unemployment is now over fifty per cent.

With recent donor funding, in particular USD 1 million from the European Union, we have expanded our micro finance outreach. Always searching for new openings, we have been actively mapping new locations of internally displaced people to reach the Palestine refugees we serve and to deliver loan products where market opportunities open up. Al Huseniya near Damascus is a good illustration.

The town’s inhabitants fled when armed groups seized it but in the second half of 2015 people began to return after insurgents were driven out. With the improved security situation and the return of Palestine refugees UNRWA dispatched two micro finance specialists to Al Huseniya.

Within a year, dozens of business plans were vetted, market risks were assessed and one hundred loans were issued, helping to secure a better standard of living for returning refugees; enabling them to generate income, repair and furnish their homes, lifting themselves and their families out of the poverty trap and away from aid dependency.

Across Syria, UNRWA’s Micro Finance Department disbursed a staggering 9,520 loans in 2016, worth nearly two million dollars. We can build on this track record and expand with the support of donors and partners.

I pay tribute to UNRWA staff who have achieved this against the odds. During the Syria conflict, the majority of UNRWA’s microfinance offices have been damaged. Moreover, the war has significantly affected our microfinance staff and their families. Prior to the conflict we had 130 staff in six offices across the country. The majority were from the now devastated Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, where our largest microfinance office had been situated.

Over half of our microfinance staff have fled the country and a third have been displaced. Against the odds, we seek to retain staff as circumstances allow and have reassigned personnel to new branches as opportunities have been found.

Our loans have also developed flexibly in response to the evolving conflict. There are currently five products that respond to the deepening emergency situations in Syria and help Palestine refugees re-build their houses and maintain stable incomes for themselves and extended families; no small achievement as war rages relentlessly in the country.

UNRWA’s micro finance work is a rare but significant example of hope in the country. As leaders at the World Economic Forum strive to shape innovative, flexible, and inclusive responses to the most traumatic conflict of our age, I hope they might find Hanan’s story revealing, instructive and perhaps even inspiring. She is an extraordinary young woman who in the face of untold adversity is bravely transforming her community from within, one business plan at a time, which is what the World Economic Forum, at its best, is striving to achieve.

At the UN Oceans Forum in June, Will the US Play a Bit Part?

18 May 2017 - 2:54pm

Oceans contribute substantially to US wealth, but it’s unclear how much the government will participate in the UN’s first oceans conference. Lucena, Philippines, above. JOE PENNEY

By Lori Silberman Brauner
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2017 (IPS)

In just a few weeks, the United Nations is convening a world gathering to discuss the health of the world’s oceans and seas, with member states, government and nongovernmental organizations, corporations and members of the scientific community and academia signed up to take part.

Yet while representatives from America’s private sector and academic community — even the state of California — will be participating, so far it is not clear what role, if any, the United States government, the UN’s most important member, will take in the conference.

To be held June 5 to 9 at UN headquarters in New York City, the main objective of the conference is to support the implementation of sustainable development goal No. 14, which calls to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The predecessor to the SDGs, as they are called, did not reference the ocean or seas in a single goal. The conference agenda is wide ranging, with panel discussions on financing the “blue economy” for small island developing nations to “women and girls in science for ocean.”

“If the cycle of decline that accumulated human activity has brought upon the ocean is not reversed, the implications for us all cannot be good,” said UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson in a newsletter from the conference’s co-chairs, Sweden and Fiji. (Thomson is Fijian.) “Anyone who cares about the health of the ocean can and should get involved.”

While the US has agreed to participate in the conference — showing up, at a minimum — a State Department press officer said that planning for the meeting, which is the first to focus on a single development goal, was “ongoing.” The office added that it had nothing else to offer at this time.

Another State Department official, who also asked not to be named, told PassBlue that the US was finalizing its delegation, including who would serve as the delegation’s head, and that “we intend to be actively engaged in the June Conference.”

Press officers at the US mission to the UN, which is still in a period of transition since Trump took office, did not respond to emails for comment.

Low-ranking US mission employees have been attending negotiations on the conference’s summary statement, or “call for action.” Moreover, the State Department maintains a Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; its acting assistant secretary is Judith Garber.

While the conference will attract governments and other major representatives from across the world — as every nation has a connection to the ocean — a UN organizer said that the hope was that a powerful country or individual would initiate actions to get the world to pay closer attention to SDG 14 and the state of the oceans, which cover 75 percent of the planet.

That could mean the US, the person said. After all, Trump owns many resorts located on oceanfront property, deriving profit from such views, access and cooling effects. Mar-a-Lago, his private home and private golf club in Palm Beach, Fla., is minutes from the Atlantic.

“Oceans contributed more than 3 million jobs and $300 billion to the U.S. GDP,” Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice president for U.S. Oceans and Global Fishing Watch at Oceana, an advocacy group, noted. “Much of that depends on ocean health, which in turn depends on international action. That’s why the U.S. simply can’t afford not to lead on ocean protection, so we hope to see a continuation of U.S. leadership at the UN Oceans Conference.”

The conference comes on the heels of the Arctic Council ministerial-level meeting held earlier this month in Fairbanks, Alaska, offering a window as to how the US may approach the UN event. The Council, comprised of eight Arctic nations that include the US, completed its two-year chairmanship at the gathering.

The ministers issued a final statement, the Fairbanks Declaration 2017, reaffirming the Council’s commitment to maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation, among other crucial aspects to the future of the Arctic Circle.

Climate change was on the Fairbanks agenda. “Noting with concern that the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average,” the declaration also recognized “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the conference as chairman of the Council and signed the declaration, despite the Trump administration’s wavering over whether to remain a party to the Paris Agreement. (Garber of the Oceans bureau in the State Department also attended.)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting of the Arctic Council as chairman, May 11, 2017.

The Council meeting also follows an executive order issued by Trump directing a review of offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, reversing Obama’s Arctic leasing ban. (A question by this reporter to Garber’s office about the order was directed to the White House.)

Negotiators on the Oceans Conference call for action are also wrestling with references to the Paris Agreement. The latest version of the document said it recognized “the particular importance of the Paris Agreement,” but discussions continue from May 22 to 25 at the UN, so that language could be dropped or changed.

Many environmental challenges hurt the ocean, as a background note for the conference said: “Marine pollution and litter, 80 percent of which come from land-based sources, compromise ocean health.”

A quarter of all carbon dioxide released through human activity is absorbed by the oceans and raises the seawaters’ acidity, and nearly one-third of all fish stocks are below sustainable levels, up from 10 percent in 1974. The note also stated that the deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats has a more severe and immediate impact on vulnerable groups, such as small island developing states like Fiji.

The conference will feature plenary meetings, partnership “dialogues” in which less-developed nations will chair events with richer countries, and a commemoration of World Oceans Day on June 8.

In February, when negotiations began on the call for action and the partnership-dialogue themes, the US participated in both segments.

“The United States views the Conference as an opportunity to focus on tangible areas for cooperation, without developing a new or amended UN ocean agenda,” its official meeting statement read.

It added, more critically, “While we remain flexible on the content of the Call for Action at this time, we would not want to see inclusion in the document of the creation of new bodies or high-level positions, language that would pre-judge the outcomes of any ongoing negotiations, nor do we believe the Call for Action should call for additional, follow-on conferences for SDG 14 considering the overlap and synergies among the various SDGs.”

A key focus of the conference is the presenting of voluntary commitments by governments, companies and others pledging action on conservation. With 189 commitments so far, these pledges represent governments that include France, Spain, Nigeria, Indonesia, Belgium, Grenada, Fiji, Palau and Sweden.

California, with its long Pacific Ocean border, has seven commitments registered, such as a plan to preserve its coastal ecosystems and prepare for rising sea levels.

University involvements include Arizona State’s Biogeography, Conservation and Modeling Laboratory, which researches fishery policies; and Northeastern University, which has created a Coastal Sustainability Institute to respond to environmental threats facing marine habitats.

In the private sector, Envision Plastics, from North Carolina, has announced a goal of removing up to 10 million pounds of plastic that could pollute the oceans over the next two years. Dell has committed to processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coasts to incorporate in new packaging of its computers.

The following countries will be paired for the partnership dialogues, emphasizing the rich state-developed state theme: Australia-Kenya, Iceland-Peru, Canada-Senegal, Estonia-Grenada, Italy-Palau, Monaco-Mozambique and Norway-Indonesia.

The US, notably, is not among them.

An annual Our Oceans global conference — not focused on SDG 14 — has been held for the last three years at different locations; this year, it is to be hosted in Malta in October.

Our Oceans is meant to enlist specific steps by nations to protect and mitigate climate effects on the world’s vast waters. Last year, the forum convened in Washington, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, an ocean lover cultivated through a family-owned island off Massachusetts, called Naushon, and a house on Nantucket (recently sold for a move by Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, to Martha’s Vineyard).

“We have to keep the momentum going so that we can come together and protect our ocean,” Kerry said at the conference. “Why? Because our ocean is absolutely essential for life itself — not just the food, but the oxygen and weather cycles of the planet all depend on the ocean.”

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

Star Wars

18 May 2017 - 1:15pm

By F. S. Aijazuddin
May 18 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

On Sept 11, 2001, I was in Washington DC when the Pentagon was attacked, while in New York, the Twin Towers were destroyed. This May, I found myself again in Washington DC, watching the White House being demolished from within by its latest tenant, President Donald Trump.

F.S. Aijazuddin

It was a tragic sight, not only for millions of rational Americans but for billions of citizens of the Free World whose freedom post-war America pledged to defend and then neglected to protect.

In many ways, President Trump sees himself as an elected Captain Han Solo, determined to fight Star Wars in every galaxy. He is confident of his supreme authority and invincible prowess. Doesn’t he have the force of the presidency behind him?

Only someone with limitless confidence would have dared dismiss the head of the FBI, James Comey. Was it because Comey had made an unprecedented disclosure about Hillary Clinton’s emails? Now even her Republican adversaries concede it cost her the presidency. Was it because Comey had been ‘grandstanding’ before a congressional intelligence committee, out-trumping even Trump? Was it because Comey refused to pledge personal loyalty to him during a private dinner for two in the White House? Or was it because Comey tunnelled too close to the sensitive vein of Trump’s relationship with Russia and refused to call off his hounds?

Trump sees himself as an elected Han Solo.

Trump’s brazenness knows no bounds. He has ‘threatened’ Comey against leaking tapes of their conversations which both know exist. Trump has derided North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions, and then tweeted that he would be ‘honoured’ to meet him. And only Trump would, the day after firing the head of FBI (which for generations had scared Americans with the warning: ‘Reds are under your beds’), receive in the sanctum of his Oval Office the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his ‘spymaster’ Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The US press corps bristled at being excluded from the meeting. They were apoplectic after the Russian news agency TASS which had been permitted entry released photographs of the three beaming ‘conspirators’. “They tricked us,” one White House centurion complained. “That’s the problem with the Russians — they lie.” President Putin could not have asked for more from his Manchurian candidate.

Russians, though, are not the only masters of this sleight of hand. Pakistanis will remember a similar coup in January 2015, when our DG ISPR instantly uploaded a picture taken in 10 Downing Street when COAS Gen Raheel Sharif met an unsuspecting Prime Minister David Cameron.

In today’s world, optics is king. No one knows this better than the media-savvy Donald Trump. “He who reigns within himself,” Milton wrote, “and rules passions, desires, and fears is more than a king.” Trump’s “passions, desires and fears” are citizens in his realm, the TV remote his sceptre, the mobile phone his Twitter orb.

If the denizens of Washington’s ‘swamp’ had their way, President Trump would be facing impeachment proceedings already. That is still a possibility. The ongoing investigation by the FBI — graded internally as ‘significant’ — into Trump’s subterranean dealings with the Russians (which his lawyers admit spread over a decade) may well become Trump’s Watergate. Though, like Nixon, Trump will not concede without a fight. He will battle to his last pawn. Trump has no intention of being told: ‘You are fired!’

Meanwhile, Trump could do worse than consult Nawaz Sharif on the art of survival. Nawaz Sharif, now into the home stretch of his third tenure as prime minister, has positioned himself so that his re-election in 2018 seems inevitable. By taking a team of senior ministers and all four chief ministers with him to China to laud President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road initiative, he has assured himself of continuing Chinese support. His entertainment at Murree of Jindal (an emissary from his Indian counterpart Modi), could not have been done without a discreet nod from the army brass. Does this mean that the two men in Pakistan’s civil-military kayak have at last realised that they must paddle in the same direction?

It is a pity that neither Nawaz Sharif nor army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa was in New York to attend the Lahore Literary Festival, held at the Asia Society on May 6. There, on one concentrated Saturday, the LLF organisers compressed Pakistan’s culture, literary, musical and artistic talent into one glorious cornucopia, from which flowed mellifluous sessions on ‘Fake News’, on Lahore’s heritage, on ‘Populism and the Global Rise of Strongmen’, ‘Satire and Escapism in Fiction and Beyond’, and a memorable finale titled ‘Notes from a Raga’ featuring two US-based, musically obsessed cancer specialists.

That unforgettable day ended with a qawwali, proving that Pakistanis can not only sing in harmony but work in unison. The LLF NY revealed a glimpse, a tantalising vision of that grace and peace which diminishes Star Wars into petty squabbles.

The writer is an art historian.
www.fsaijazuddin.pk
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

“Seeing Progress, Though Still Not Enough” on Tax Justice

18 May 2017 - 10:21am

Guillaume Long

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2017 (IPS/G77)

The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.

Ecuador, which has long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens and to create an intergovernmental body to help regulate taxation and financial flows.

In an interview with IPS, Long explains the issues, challenges, and goals towards tax justice.

Q: The President of the General Assembly said that SDG financing is going to take 6$ trillion annually and then $30 trillion through 2030. Do you think much-needed finances will be made available if the current rate of illicit financial flows is curbed?

A: I think it’s huge what you can get from curbing illicit flows and basically from tax dodging or tax evasion. In the case of Ecuador, we calculated that an approximate amount of $30 billion is held in tax havens. Just so you get a general idea of what that means, Ecuador’s GDP is roughly around $100 billion, so $30 billion means almost 1/3rd of our GDP. Most countries struggle to grow, but here you’ve got 30 percent of GDP hidden away, literally being robbed from us in tax havens.

That means less investment, less dynamism in the economy, less creation of jobs but also less taxes and it’s those taxes that are used for public policies to reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and create much needed infrastructure.

There are lots of statistics that we can throw around but there are have been estimates that public infrastructure that is needed right now in the developing world is roughly $1.5 trillion. This is hospitals, schools—the kind of infrastructure that the developing world needs to reduce huge rates of inequality, poverty, and some of the things we are trying to amend through, for example, the SDGs. And that’s only probably about 15% of illegal assets held abroad in tax havens and various offshore accounts.

It could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development, which is the big thing. Now that we have come to an agreement on the 2030 Goals and what it is that we want to do, the next question is how do we do this? And we have to do this with resources.

Some resources are available to us, but many others aren’t and this is basically through tax dodging. This is also fundamentally a practice that is carried out by elites and therefore it also means that you get greater rates of inequality.

In a continent or a region like Latin America—if you do a per capita average then it is the middle class, but we know that averages hide huge disparities, and Latin America is actually the most unequal region in the world and a lot of that has to do with elites not being a willing part of the social contract.

And a major aspect of the social contract is taxation and not participating in tax dodging.

Q: How much does the developing world, particularly Africa, Asia, and Latin America, lose to illicit financial flows?

A: There are huge numbers that are being reported. Oxfam talks of $7.6 trillion in tax dodging—I’m not even talking about illicit financial flows, not even talking about offshore accounts, I’m talking about $7.6 trillion in tax dodging. That’s Oxfam’s number.

In the case of Ecuador, we are talking about $30 billion that we believe are held currently in secret accounts offshore. This is why Ecuador has taken this issue so seriously. We’ve been talking about tax havens and tax avoidance for years, particularly in this government in the last ten years with the Presidency of Rafael Correa. But after the Panama Papers scandal last year, President Correa really launched this as his priority and as a major crusade. He even launched what he called an “Ethical Pact” which included a referendum in Ecuador to ban civil servants and elected officials from holding assets in tax havens. If you are found to hold assets in tax havens, you can be removed from office automatically.

I really think Ecuador is one of the countries, if not the only country in the world, that’s done the most. This referendum, which was successful in terms of its results, is an example to the world. And I think Ecuador has been the most proactive country in the year that’s transpired since the revelations of the Panama Papers in taking concrete and bold steps.

Another major thing that we have been doing on the international front is from our presidency of the G77 which we currently chair. We have pushed for the creation of an intergovernmental body on tax justice. We had a workshop this morning which was co-chaired by Ecuador, India, and South Africa with huge participation exactly on this issue.

There is an opportunity—now that the issue is back at the forefront of the media, it means that we have to maximize that opportunity to try and create mechanisms, particularly inside the United Nations, that fight tax dodging. Those things we can deal with if we have the right tools and institutions to fight that.

Q: What are your thoughts on public disclosures on tax havens like the Panama Papers? Is that something that is needed more in order to increase transparency and action on tax havens?

A: Whistle blowing plays an important role. When information is public and people find out about these things if their politicians have been hiding money and fog them—most politicians have a very patriotic discourse saying they’re going to create jobs and economic activity and bring foreign investment. But surely there is a paradox and a contradiction if you are saying ‘vote for me because I’ll bring loads of foreign investment into the country’ and then on the other hand you’ve got all your personal assets hidden away somewhere without paying taxes. I think when those contradictions and lies and I would use the world ‘robbery’ especially if you are dodging taxes, are exposed then that’s a good thing. It creates greater consciousness.

In fact, I would say that I think this is a time of great opportunity because since the Panama Papers scandal, a lot of countries that could be considered to be tax havens are starting to take measures because they are under increasing pressure by people and by countries like Ecuador and also other countries to do something about it. The fact that we are having this debate today and the fact that I am talking to you is not necessarily in the tax haven’s interest, because it brings the spotlight onto their activities so, generally speaking, those kinds of public disclosures are a very important part of creating a general awareness that this must stop.

There are a lot of double standards too. On the one hand, developing countries are under pressure for all sorts of things. They’ve got to grow, they’ve got to be good economically, they’ve got to guarantee human rights—all of these things which we absolutely abide by and are very committed to, but surely there is a contradiction with having to do that and then on the other hand, all of these countries that are kind of sermonizing the rest of the world from their kind of civilizational pedestal are reaping the benefits of all the crony and corrupt elites of the developing countries depositing their money in these bank accounts without paying taxes.

So there’s a hypocrisy there that has to be exposed. And if these public disclosures can help to do that, then so be it.

Q: Has there been any progress since the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) adoption of the ‘UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion’?

A: That was a very important step. It was the first piece of important legislation and regulatory result that came out of the Committee of Experts in a long time. So we are seeing progress, though still not enough, but still progress. And that has to do with what we’re talking about, that it is back on the agenda.

Now there is a new step, which I think is very important, that the Secretary-General from June onwards is going to be naming the members of the Committee of Experts. So that’s also a positive development because it obviously raises the stakes and gives it more political clout.

However, Ecuador’s position is that we celebrate that the Committee of Experts was created with largely the fruit of debate that goes back to Monterrey in 2002. But now we think that the Committee of Experts is insufficient and that we need something else. We need something with more clout, with more accountability, with more relation with the United Nations system itself and the governmental nature of this organization.

You have it in other spheres—if you look at trade, the World Trade Organization is a regulatory body at the highest level for trade; the Intellectual Property Organization is a regulatory body for intellectual property at the highest level.

Those institutions exist because it is the interest of big capital that they should exist. Big capital is in favor of free trade, and if a country stands in the way of free trade, then you get reprimanded. But it’s not necessarily in the interest of big capital to have the equivalent in the field of taxation. This is an important concept that we should bear in mind. A lot of the institutions of global governance that we have inherited also respond to specific interests and not always to the interests of the most powerless in society. They respond to the interests of the most powerful in society.

And why should trade be more important than taxation? Probably in terms of redistribution, taxation is more important than trade. Although, nobody is saying that trade isn’t important for the overall accumulation of wealth of different countries, but in terms of redistribution and in terms of capacity of the state to work towards the 2030 Agenda, then surely [taxation] plays a huge role. And yet, we are fighting here for what? Not even for the outcome of what this body might decide, we are fighting for the creation of a body, we are fighting for the debate to exist, we are fighting for the rights of states to be a part of the debate, including tax havens, because if we do get an intergovernmental body, then any country can be a part of the intergovernmental body, including obviously tax havens.

It is great that we are getting closer, but it is frustrating that we are still talking about a fight in order to create an institution that will then dedicate itself to fighting for a greater outcome, which is tax justice. We are not even fighting for tax justice; we are fighting for the right to have the corresponding institutions just like you have them in the fields of trade and intellectual property and others.

Q: Are you proposing a new UN tax body or are you hoping to transform the Committee of Experts into an intergovernmental body that you have proposed?

A: We are looking to transform the Committee of Experts but we are very open to different kinds of formats. We are trying to create consensus and if you are trying to create consensus—I mean, we preside over the G77, that’s 134 nations so creating consensus between 134 nations is already a tall order—but at the end of the day, we are actually trying to create consensus between 193 nations of the United Nations and that includes tax havens, countries that have been a little pro-status quo particularly in the OECD, and a lot of countries that are not in the G77.

So we are open to all sorts of different outcomes. We just want to raise the hierarchy, the political clout, the visibility, the strength of the body. There are a number of initiatives. Some people have talked about keeping it within the ECOSOC while others want to elevate it to the General Assembly—there’s a huge debate within the G77 about it. But there is consensus among 134 nations of the G77 that it should be an intergovernmental body. And that’s something that we are trying to do, through our presidency, to express the will of the nations that are members of our group.

Q: How feasible is the proposal for an intergovernmental body for approval by the General Assembly?

A: I think multilateralism is a slow process always. I think we are getting closer, significantly closer. And I think that the big conference on financing for development in the next few weeks should make significant progress. I think we will find that there is much more consensus than there was in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Most countries from the Global South have these discussions about tax justice and the right to development. But a number of countries from the G20 or OECD or more industrialized countries have also started to be flexible in their position. We are seeing changes. In the workshop we had today, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, we had loads of tax havens present. Not just tax havens that are blacklisted in the Global South by the Global North but tax havens from Europe and from other parts of the world. And they were there because they want to listen in on the debate, which shows that at least they are concerned or interested and some of them actually spoke out and said they are making changes and showing a greater commitment.

There is another major thing which is the securitization of the issue. For some countries, the issue of terrorism is a big thing. Where do terrorists hide their money? Well, increasingly in constituencies that enjoy banking secrecy and those tend to be tax havens. If we can all at least agree on the outcome which is greater accountability and greater regulations on that matter, even if it is for different reasons, it’s about consensus building and that’s what multilateralism is about.

Q: So would this proposed UN tax body help bring such international cooperation in tackling illicit financial flows?

A: That’s exactly right. It’s not just about naming and shaming tax havens. It’s just like how commercial dumping, just to use an example, is frowned upon and you can have regulations to stop that. You can have the same in taxation. If suddenly you have two neighboring countries in a European setting, even if they are developed countries, and they start this kind of taxation war by lowering their taxes in order to try to suck capital and investment out of each other in this kind of race to the bottom, then a [UN tax] body like that should be able to intervene and should be able to make at least the right recommendations. Whether those recommendations become compulsory then that’s another debate. But it should be a body, like you have in other fields, that has the capacity to make clear recommendations.

Q: Have you faced or expect to face opposition for this proposal, especially from the Global North?

A: For sure. The G77 has been facing—basically with the same position I am presenting to you is not a new position, the position has been going on for decades and there has been clear language on behalf of the G77.

It is interesting because within the G77, you actually have tax havens as well. But even those tax havens have accepted that an intergovernmental body, which doesn’t exclude them, is quite a good measure if you want to have a serious debate and discussion between member States on this issue. This has been the position of the G77 which has been resisted for decades. There has been loads of opposition.

We saw it in Addis Ababa, particularly members of the G7 or the G20 and lots of opposition from the OECD countries and opposition from countries that are not always considered to be tax havens in the kind of stereotypical manner. Countries like the United Kingdom, which has been opposed to this very much, not only because of its own policies but also because of what is euphemistically called non-autonomous territories.

The five biggest tax havens in relative terms of the offshore assets per GDP index are non-autonomous territories and four of the five are British, while one is a U.S. territory. They are not sovereign nations and they are not members of the United Nations. That’s an important issue and it’s not surprising that there is opposition when we are trying to move away from this.

The Panama Papers singled out Panama and actually Panama is making quite significant efforts to move away from that image. And we have been critical of Panama because of its tax system and we are very happy to see them move away from such practices. But actually, Panama is not necessarily in the top five in terms of the GDP index. The very people who even write up the black lists are not free of tax malpractice themselves.

Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests

18 May 2017 - 9:13am

The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 18 2017 (IPS)

The world’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.

Asia

Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.

While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action, says the assessment, adding that through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land. And the government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent.

Latin America

Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis–a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”

Believe it or not, these estimates are anything but new or even recent—they were advanced around 9 years ago by a major independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

In fact, Greenpeace had already on 30 January 2008 reported that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests.

Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”

According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina


Amazon Deforestation Now

Barely six months ago, the very same global campaigning organisation reported that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.

“Brazil is losing control over the destruction of its forests because of poor policy decisions and may now have difficulty reaching its climate agreement targets, “ Greenpeace said on Dec. 1, 2016.

Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.

“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, warned that the increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon.

“In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”

According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”

The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.

Africa

For his part, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.

“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.

In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.

Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.

In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.

The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011.

Part II and last of this series on the Agony of Mother Earth focuses on forests depletion for fuel.

Related Articles

Mapping and Responding to Climate-Induced Migration

18 May 2017 - 8:38am

Migrants arrive daily at New Delhi railway stations from across India fleeing floods and a debilitating drought. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2017 (IPS)

As the world focuses on conflict-related migration and displacement, with an unprecedented 60 million fleeing from war and persecution, others are pointing to a less discussed trigger of population movements: climate change.

As part of a panel series, UN University (UNU) brought together academics and researchers to discuss the importance of the links between climate change, migration, and displacement.

“This three-sided nexus…gives the possibility to not discuss climate change without referring to migration and human rights and vice versa—the ties are so strong, the interlinkages are very present in all the case studies we are researching,” UNU-Environment and Human Security’s (EHS) legal expert Cosmin Corendea told IPS.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced each year by climate or weather-related disasters in the last seven years, equivalent to 62,000 people every day.

Climate change, which causes more frequent extreme weather events, is only expected to make such trends worse in the coming decades. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that between 25 million and 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change.

Niger is one such country experiencing the effects of climate change from recurrent droughts to the slow disappearance of Lake Chad.

Tamir Afifi from the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) told participants that communities lost their livestock and thus their primary source of livelihoods as a result of the diminishing lake.

“They completely lost their identity,” he said, adding that migration became a strategy to cope with food insecurity and climate change.

“Since the environment stresses have become so strong… that when people move, they actually don’t come back or they don’t come back for a while. It is not associated anymore to the seasonal events as it used to be,” Afifi continued.

In the U.S., one Native American tribe is being forced off their home on Isle de Jean Charles off the coast of Louisiana due to rising sea levels, law professor Maxine Burkett told attendees. The island has lost 98 percent of its land since 1955.

Generally speaking, climate change alone does not trigger migration, but rather a combination of economic, educational, and cultural factors, panelists said.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) found that 37 percent and 26 percent of people in Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu cited economic and educational reasons for migration, respectively, while only 18 percent cited climate change.

Bishawjit Mallick from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) noted that in Bangladesh, it was those with less resources who moved after the devastating Cyclone Aila in 2009.

However, this complex multi-causal nature of migration may not be the case for much longer, said Burkett.

“Climate change is not a static phenomenon, it is a change…so what may seem today a deeply entangled, thorny, and multi-causal event may soon have an undeniable climate signal,” she told attendees.

Corendea stressed the need to create language around environmental migration which could help create the corresponding migration policies.

Though IOM has a working definition of an environmental migrant, there is still no internationally accepted definition.

As a result, language around climate change is still absent from the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, an intergovernmental document comprehensively addressing international migration currently under negotiation.

Panelists also highlighted the need for bottom-up approaches to address the complex issue.

Afifi stressed that such problems cannot be solved without involving the communities themselves.

Mallick echoed similar comments, stating: “People in New York City will never understand the lives of people in Bangladesh.”

Correndea suggested a regional approach in which nations share resources and information, helping create a migration framework and a preemptive measure in the case of displacement or relocation.

“Individually you can’t do it, internationally is too slow—so you have to meet in the middle in order to move the process forward,” he told IPS.

“Before becoming a humanitarian affair, [regions] can create a preemptive measure in order to assist people in case an extreme climate event happens. And the science shows that this will happen,” Corendea concluded.

Defence of Right to Water Drives Call for Land Reform in Chile

17 May 2017 - 11:04pm

Small-scale farmers from Samo Alto, in northern Chile, are forced to share the scarce water of the Hurtado River with large agro-exporters, who benefit from a dam built downstream. In this country, water is a private good, granted in perpetuity to the concessionaires. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 18 2017 (IPS)

Water at high prices, sold as a market good, and small farmers almost a species in extinction, replaced by seasonal workers, are the visible effects of the crisis in rural Chile, 50 years after a land reform which postulated that “the land is for those who work it.”

To tackle the crisis, environmental and social activists are proposing a new land reform to reclaim water as a public good, at a time when a persistent drought is affecting much of Chile, making it necessary to use tanker trucks to distribute water in some low-income neighbourhoods in cities around the country.

Last year the number of villages, small towns and neighbourhoods that were left without water and were supplied by tanker trucks also doubled in relation to 2015, said water department director Carlos Estévez.

“In Chile, water has become a capital good, left to the discretion of speculators and separated from the land, while international jurisprudence indicates that it should be available for the preservation of life and food production, and only after that, for other economic activities,” expert and activist Rodrigo Mundaca told IPS.“The green revolution is a model that does not preserve natural assets. Our export model is associated with monoculture and we need to promote a new development paradigm based on a harmonious relationship with nature.” -- Rodrigo Mundaca

Mundaca, the secretary-general of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and the Protection of the Environment (Modatima), said that “a second land reform is key to recovering water,” after the one carried out in the 1970s.
“The green revolution is a model that does not preserve natural assets. Our export model is associated with monoculture and we need to promote a new development paradigm based on a harmonious relationship with nature,” he said.

This South American country is a major producer and exporter of food products, thanks to the production of major companies and consortiums that own the land and water.

The mining industry still accounts for half of Chile’s exports, which amounted to over 60 billion dollars in 2016. But this is also one of the 10 top countries in the world in food exports, ranking first for several products. The food industry represents a total of 20 billion dollars in exports.

Meanwhile, the current regulation of the right to water in Chile, after it was privatised in 1981 during the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, is threatening small-scale family farmers, who are fighting for at least partial restoration of public control.

The 1980 constitution states that water is a private good. The use of hydric resources, according to the laws of the market, is regulated by the Water Code, which gives the state the power to grant usage rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water usage rights to be bought, sold or leased without taking into consideration priorities of use. In Chile, there are 110,000 water-use rights contracts in force under the Water Code.

The government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet introduced a proposed amendment to the Code in Congress, although its final approval will take several months.

The amendment would make water usage rights temporary rather than perpetual. But it would only apply to future concessions, and would not be retroactive, which has drawn criticism from environmentalists and social activists in rural areas.

Fifty years after the land reform launched by the Christian Democrat government of Eduardo Frei (1964-1970) and expanded by socialist president Salvador Allende (1970-1973), support for a second land reform plan that would make water a social good once again is growing.

A group of young people who attended the release this month in Santiago of the study “The grandchildren of the land reform: employment, reality and dreams of rural youth in Chile,” by FAO consultant Sergio Faiguenbaum, who found that young people in rural areas in the country have three times as much formal schooling as their parents. Credit: INDAP

Between the cities of Petorca and Antofagasta, in arid northern Chile, 200 and 1,340 km from the country’s capital Santiago, respectively, the prices for a year’s water rights for a liter of water per second – the amount needed to irrigate one hectare of vineyard – range from 7,670 dollars to 76,700 dollars, said Mundaca, referring to cases that make the reform necessary.

The rest of Latin America

Luiz Beduschi, a Territorial Development Policies officer at the Santiago-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that “historically, Latin America has been one of the regions with the highest levels of inequality in the distribution and use of natural resources.”

“This phenomenon has among its causes an increasing concentration in the value chains, the establishment and growth of companies that exploit resources at an industrial scale, backed by public policy approaches that foster an increase in the participation of these countries in export markets,” he said.

Beduschi stressed that “the expansion of investment in the region through sowing pools (speculative investment funds), annual leases or purchases of large extensions of land, among others, has contributed to a higher concentration of land than before the land reforms that were carried out in several countries in the region.”

“Conflicts over access to natural resources have been on the rise around the world and the situation is no different in this region,” said the FAO expert.

“The historical processes of agricultural reform, strongly promoted in different countries in the region, which in the case of Mexico was carried out 100 years ago, and 50 years ago in Chile, allow us today to once again discuss the widespread question of inequality, which arises from the global concentration of the ownership and use of natural resources, historically reflected in land ownership,” he said.

Impacts of the model to be reformed

Agronomist Jacques Chonchol, minister of agriculture during Allende’s government and a promoter of the land reform process, told IPS that the new reform made sense because the counter-reform carried out by the dictatorship “practically privatized water, an increasingly scarce resource.”

“We have very little arable land: less than ten per cent of Chile’s 757 million square kilometres, and part of that is being lost” to the phenomenon of the selling off of parcels of land in rural areas as second properties of city dwellers, he warned.

Chonchol also expressed the need for “a forestry policy that excludes agricultural lands. That was prohibited, but during the dictatorship, it began to happen again. Forestry plantations should be banned on farmland, and these companies should plant native trees, since pines and eucalyptus absorb a lot of water.”

He believes that the counter-reform “gave rise to a new capitalist agriculture, much more efficient from an economic point of view, although not always in social terms,” in a model that “perpetuates inequality”, which the democratic governments have maintained.

On the social level, historian José Bengoa told IPS that until the land reform, there were three kinds of farmers in Chile: “small landholders grouped in towns and villages; tenant farmers and their families, on the big estates; and ‘outsiders’ who wandered between the towns and estates.”

“That structure changed dramatically and today a great majority are non-permanent agricultural workers, who live in towns and cities near agricultural areas,” Bengoa said.

“There is a small sector of small-scale farmers, who could be called peasants, who are the majority in some regions and sectors, and then there is an increasing proportion of seasonal workers,” he said.

For Bengoa, “Chilean agriculture is nowadays, due to the land reform carried out 50 years ago, a highly capitalist and productive sector.”

“This activity, without any controls, leads to an unprecedented level of exploitation of human resources, workers and natural resources, such as water. In the next few years there will be serious problems, both in terms of the need for manpower and of the need for resources such as water and land, as well as environmental problems,” he predicted.

According to Bengoa, these problems cannot be easily solved, because “the agricultural sector will pressure the state to increase the flow of migrant workers, and for more infrastructure works, in particular in water reserves.”

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Developing Nations Call for Strengthening South-South Cooperation

17 May 2017 - 3:16pm

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2017 (IPS/G77)

The Group of 77 has reiterated the urgent need for strengthening South-South cooperation for the successful implementation of one of the UN’s key objectives targeted over the next 13 years: the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Speaking on behalf of the G77, joined by China, Ambassador Horacio Sevilla Borja of Ecuador, chair of the G77, welcomed the progress, and reaffirmed the importance, of further strengthening South-South cooperation projects and initiatives, especially in the current international economic environment.

“The Group reaffirms that South-South cooperation is a collective endeavor of developing countries, based on the principle of solidarity. However, the Group reiterates its position that South-South cooperation is a complement, rather than a substitute for North-South cooperation,” he noted.

Addressing a recent meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the G77 chair said there is an urgent need to channel effective and sustainable support in accordance with specific needs and constraints of developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as well as countries and peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, and countries in situation of conflict and post-conflict.

At the same time, he underlined the importance of “a robust, effective, transparent, and long term Global Partnership of public and private sectors to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.”

But this, he said, should take into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development, respecting national policies and priorities, through the delivery of the means of implementation, as contained in Sustainable Development Goal 17, as well as in each specific Sustainable Development Goal.

The ECOSOC debate was titled “Partnerships for Promoting Opportunities, Increased Prosperity and Sustainable Development For All.”

The G77 encourages the transfer of technologies to developing countries on favorable terms, as well as capacity-building and a rule-based and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, the G77 chair added.

“While we fully support United Nations multi-stakeholder partnerships, we also emphasize the importance of coordination in engaging potential partners between entities within the UN System, according to their respective mandates. ECOSOC as the main coordinating organ for partnerships has a significant role in this regard, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) could lead in undertaking a mapping exercise of UN partnership initiatives,” he declared.

He pointed out that UN multi-stakeholder partnerships must be based on transparency and accountability.

“It would be highly appreciated if information could be made available regarding the partners, their contributions and matching funds and projects for all partnerships with the UN, including at the country level. It would also be helpful if systematic reporting on such partnerships to the relevant Executive Boards could be strengthened.”

He said it was especially timely that ECOSOC discuss the issue of guidelines and principles for UN-associated partnerships, as it is important to debate on ways to enhance Member States’ oversight of partnerships involving the United Nations.

This will enable Member States to examine and adopt guidelines to improve transparency, coherence, impact, accountability and due diligence in partnerships between the United Nations and the private sector, philanthropic organizations, academia and other related stakeholders.

“In the light of the continued imbalance of funding structure for the UN development system, we highlight that partnerships between entities of the UN development system and other stakeholders should aim to prevent further imbalance between core and non-core resources, while giving priority to the former,” he noted

Finally, to enhance global partnership for development, “we reiterate the need for developed countries to fulfill their commitments regarding Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries and to provide genuine debt relief to LDCs.”

The Group of 77 and China reassures its readiness to work with all stakeholders to encourage effective partnerships, including public, public-private and with civil society, to enhance synergies on our joint efforts for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the ambassador added.

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