Interpress News Service

Strong Dispute Resolution System Key to 2017 Kenya Elections

4 May 2017 - 12:50pm

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 4 2017 (IDLO)

As five countries in Africa, including Kenya, gear up for general elections later this year, a new report published today by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) highlights the need for a strong judicial electoral dispute resolution mechanism.

“As a contest for political power, elections by their nature invite disputes. Effective electoral dispute resolution is therefore key to preventing electoral violence and ensuring legitimacy of the results,” said Ms. Irene Khan, IDLO Director-General.

“It increases public confidence in the electoral system and creates an incentive for active political participation by citizens.”

In an environment marked by ethnic tensions and low public trust in political institutions, the successful management of election petitions by the judiciary was a key factor behind the relatively peaceful elections and transfer of power in Kenya in 2013. The report, Avoiding Violence and Enhancing Legitimacy: Judicial Preparedness for Handling Electoral Disputes in Kenya and Beyond, draws lessons from IDLO’s work supporting the judiciary in Kenya.

“IDLO’s report highlights practical lessons from Kenya and other countries of how electoral grievances can be resolved through judicial means, ultimately improving public confidence in democratic elections, reducing the risk of conflict and sustaining peace,” said Irene Khan.

In many emerging democracies, concerns about judicial independence deters candidates from using the courts to adjudicate electoral disputes. Weak and incoherent laws and opaque systems prevent the timely and fair handling of electoral complaints. Courts do not have the capacity, knowledge or means to effectively manage electoral disputes. Electoral cases cannot be treated in the same way as other matters that come before the judiciary because of the inherent political sensitivity, the high public interest in their outcomes, the intense bursts in which election petitions are filed, and the short time limits in which election matters must be dispensed.

IDLO’s report draws several lessons, including:

  • Critical importance of an independent judiciary;
  • Clear, consistent, transparent and comprehensive laws and regulations to be in place ahead of elections;
  • Ownership, leadership and coordination of the dispute resolution mechanism by the judiciary;
  • Comprehensive, tailored skills-building programs for judges and their support staff, and easily accessible guidance on the procedural and substantive aspects of electoral law (such as handbooks and checklists for election petitions);
  • Engagement and capacity-building of non-legal partners in the electoral process;
  • Public outreach to empower marginalized groups, political parties, candidates and lawyers to use the electoral dispute system.

“An electoral dispute resolution system has little value if it remains inaccessible or unknown to the public,” added Irene Khan.

“Electoral justice should not be restricted to elites or well-resourced petitioners but must be available to all those who feel disenfranchised and excluded.”

IDLO’s report calls for public outreach activities to reassure the electorate that the judiciary is prepared and able to manage electoral disputes fairly and transparently and, after the elections, share progress, promote transparency and counter any false perceptions of bias.

“At the end of the day, the most critical challenges are not always related to the law and the judiciary itself but derive from the attitudes and behavior of political and other actors and institutions. Alongside electoral dispute mechanisms of the judiciary, parallel measures must be taken to strengthen the electoral administration and electoral management bodies,” said Ms. Khan.

“It is about promoting a culture of democracy and justice among the political parties and the electorate.”

Read and download the report at

For more information or to arrange a media interview with Irene Khan please contact: Mburugu Gikunda,, mob +254 722521366

Isaac Okero Otieno, IDLO Kenya Country Director,

Judit Arenas, Director – External Relations,, mob +1-646-506-5996.

You can also follow the Nairobi report  launch on Twitter: @IreneKhan or @IDLO #ElectionsKE and on Facebook IDLOnews.


Notes to editors:

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is the only intergovernmental organization exclusively devoted to promoting the rule of law. IDLO works to enable governments and empower people to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, sustainable development and economic opportunity. Kenya is a Member Party of the organization.

IDLO has been active in Kenya since 2010, helping to build the capacity of the justice sector and the legal profession. It supported the design of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya and has been providing technical support to institutions mandated to implement or monitor the constitutional implementation process. More recently, IDLO has supported the government to mainstream gender at the national and country levels, including through legislative reforms to promote gender equality.

One of the critical areas of support by IDLO to the judiciary has been to strengthen its capacity for electoral dispute resolution. Between 2012 and 2014, IDLO worked with the Judiciary Working Committee on Election Preparations (JWCEP) to strengthen the judiciary’s capacity to manage the disputes arising out of the 2013 elections. Currently, it’s working with the Judiciary Committee on Elections (JCE) and the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal (PPDT) to ensure the judiciary will be able to better manage disputes that may arise from the 2017 election.

In 2016, IDLO and the Judicial Training Institute of Kenya published a book on emerging electoral jurisprudence and electoral dispute resolution mechanisms as prescribed in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.

For more information about IDLO’s work in Kenya please see:

Growing Inequality under Global Capitalism

4 May 2017 - 10:41am

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Income and wealth inequality has increased in recent decades, but recognition of the role of economic liberalization and globalization in exacerbating inequality has never been so widespread. The guardians of global capitalism are nervous, yet little has been done to check, let alone reverse the underlying forces.

Global elite alarmed by growing inequality
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. WEF founder Klaus Schwab has observed, ‘We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth and we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable.’

Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, told political and business leaders at the WEF, “in far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability”. Similarly, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned that failure to tackle inequality risked causing social unrest. “It’s going to erupt to a great extent because of these inequalities.”

In the same vein, the influential US Council of Foreign Relations’ journal, Foreign Affairs carried an article cautioning, “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the post-industrial capitalist world…. if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large.”

Much ado about nothing?

Increasingly, the main benefits of economic growth are being captured by a tiny elite. Despite global economic stagnation for almost a decade, the number of billionaires in the world has increased to a record 2,199. The richest one per cent of the world’s population now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. The world’s eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorer half.

In India, the number of billionaires has increased at least tenfold in the past decade. India now has 111 billionaires, third in the world by country. The largest number of the world’s abject poor also live in the same country — over 425 million, a third of the world’s poor, and well over a third of the country’s population.

Africa had a resource boom for a decade until 2014, but most people there still struggle daily for food, clean water and health care. Meanwhile, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, has grown substantially to at least 330 million from 280 million in 1990!

In Europe, poor people bore the brunt of draconian austerity policies while bank bailouts mainly benefited the moneyed. 122.3 million people, or 24.4 per cent of the population in the EU-28, are at risk of poverty. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of Europeans without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, i.e., living with ‘severe material deprivation’, rose by 7.5 million to 50 million people, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires!

In the United States, the income share of the top one per cent is at its highest level since the eve of the Great Depression, almost nine decades ago. The top 0.01 per cent, or 14,000 American families, own 22.2 per cent of its wealth, while the bottom 90 per cent, over 133 million families, own a meagre four per cent of the nation’s wealth. The top five per cent of households increased their share of US wealth, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the richest one per cent tripled their share of US income within a generation.

This unprecedented wealth concentration and the corresponding deprivation of others have generated backlashes, arguably contributing to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, the Brexit referendum, the strength of Marine Le Pen in France and the Alternative for Germany, and the ascendance of the Hindutva right in secular India.

‘Communist’ China and inequality
Meanwhile, China has increasingly participated in and grown rapidly as inequality has risen sharply in the ostensibly communist-ruled country. China has supplied cheaper consumer goods to the world, checking inflation and improving living standards for many. Part of its huge trade surplus — due to relatively low, albeit recently rising wages — has been recycled in financial markets, mainly in the US, which helped expand credit at low interest rates there.

Thus, cheap consumer products and cheap credit have enabled the slowly shrinking ‘middle class’ in the West to mitigate the downward pressure on their living standards despite stagnating or falling real wages and mounting personal and household debt.

China’s export-led development on the basis of low wages has sharply increased income inequality in the world’s largest country for more than three decades. Beijing is the new ‘billionaire capital of the world’, no longer New York. China now has 594 billionaires, 33 more than in the US!

Since the 1980s, income inequality in China has risen faster than most! China now has one of the world’s highest levels of income inequality, rising mainly in the last three decades. The richest one per cent of households own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest quarter own only one per cent. China’s Gini coefficient for income rose to 0.49 in 2012 from 0.3 over three decades before when it was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. Another survey put China’s income Gini at 0.61 in 2010, greatly exceeding the US’s 0.45!

Recognising Women Change-makers

4 May 2017 - 8:14am

Role models for us all

By Editor, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
May 4 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

On Tuesday, The Daily Star and IPDC Finance Limited jointly presented the “Unsung Women Nation Builders Awards” to seven exceptional women at the Krishibid Institution. These women were awarded for their courage, persistence, generosity and hard work and for their immense contributions to Bangladesh’s socio-economic development. The awards – a crest and a cheque of Tk 2 lakh – were given out to each of the awardees in the categories of child rights, agriculture, law enforcement, education, entrepreneurship and health.

Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, third from left, AKM Shahidul Hoque, inspector general of police, second from left, Parveen Mahmud, chairperson at the Micro Industries Development Assistance and Services (MIDAS), left, and Mominul Islam, IPDC Finance Ltd managing director and CEO, third from right, with the seven women who received The Daily Star-IPDC Unsung Women Nation Builders Awards at the Krishibid Institution Bangladesh on May 2, 2017. Photo: Amran Hossain

Each of these women has shown incredible resilience and braved all odds to fight for social justice. Some of these women have personal struggles of their own such as a physical disability or financial constraints despite which they were able to make a difference in their communities.

Irani Baroi, who has been paralysed from the waist down for two decades, is now a senior nurse at a general hospital in Madaripur. Rokeya Begum, despite being blind, is a successful educationist who teaches at a government primary school. Sonajan Akter has been serving as a midwife free of cost – despite hailing from a poor family – in her village and in fifteen others for the past 50 years. The stories of the four other women are just as awe-inspiring.

In a society where women face innumerable hurdles such as sexual harassment, discrimination and forced early marriage, the feats accomplished by these women are nothing short of remarkable. They serve as a role model for us all. We hope that more such people, whether it be a man or a woman, who are silently and selflessly serving their communities, are recognised for their contributions to build a better, more prosperous Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Calculated Cruelty over Dowry

4 May 2017 - 8:03am

By Sarah Anjum Bari
May 4 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The fact that 13 women have been killed and 17 physically abused over dowry in Bangladesh in January and February of 2017 does little to rattle us. Neither do the figures of 107 deaths, five suicides, and 94 physical abuse victims in all of 2016. These are, alas, just numbers that we forget soon after reading them online. But when you hear of a woman who, last week, was chained to a bed and beaten up with sticks and hot iron rods, almost forced to swallow poison, and salt and chilli powder rubbed on her wounds, it forces your eyes open to the horror thousands of women have faced and continue to do so.

This isn’t a vague commentary on the backward culture of human barter that somehow manages to prevail in our “progressive”, “developing” society. It’s a response to how a woman – a human being – was tortured almost to the end of her life in a cold, calculated way by her husband in her own home, with her in-laws as accomplices.

Thirty-five year old Taslima Begum had already paid a dowry of Tk 2 lakh, along with gold jewellery, at the time of her wedding to Badal Mridha some 16 years ago. Apparently dissatisfied even 16 years after the marriage, the husband had been asking for more money from his wife’s family. When they failed to comply, Badal Mridha and his family started torturing Taslima, to the point where she had to flee to Dhaka to get treatment. She came back home on April 25, and having returned without the additional dowry, she faced the worst form of physical abuse imaginable. She was fortunately rescued by her parents and taken to the hospital with severe bruises and burns all over her body.

Firstly, if this marriage had taken place 16 years ago in around 2001, under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980 that was applicable at the time, Badal Mridha would be punishable by an imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine, or both. Given that dowry-related torture is still a very stubborn part of our present, however, it’s no surprise that Badal was able to demand dowry without any repercussions nearly a decade ago. But the beginning of this year saw the establishment of the Dowry Prohibition Act 2017. Under this law, anyone who causes critical injuries to a woman over dowry will face 12 years’ imprisonment, along with an additional fine. Given that Badal Mridha has already been arrested after a case was filed against him on Friday, we hope that he and his family are dealt with the highest form of punishment for the horrors that they unleashed on Taslima.

But the question remains – will they comprehend the magnitude of their crimes even if they are punished? Will the punishment simply push them to regret their own fate at getting caught, or will they truly understand why their actions were wrong? If they were capable of that thought process, wouldn’t they have refrained from hurting Taslima in the first place?

The news reports available so far highlight not only the incident, but also the nature of the incident that took place. Taslima wasn’t tormented in one brief, impulsive moment of fury. She was abused over a long period of time – almost the entire length of her marriage from what has been reported. And on the night of the final incident, Badal Mridha went to the trouble of preparing his weapons by dousing them in fire and tortured his wife through a series of horrifying acts that left stamps of trauma and cruelty all over her body. It takes an extremely sadistic streak to cause this much pain to a person.

This brings back the same questions that were raised when the Dowry Prohibition Act 2017 was passed earlier this year. It isn’t enough to simply pass laws prohibiting such cruelty. Neither is it enough to enforce those laws once the crimes have been committed (although that is crucial). We must be in a position to prevent these crimes in the first place. We must shatter the sense of self-entitlement that allows husbands and in-laws to demand payment for marriage, and to inflict wounds – physical or mental – on their spouses when their demands aren’t met. We must cement the notion of women’s rights, and human rights, into the minds of those who still believe in the legitimacy of dowry and the superiority of husbands over wives. Girls and women must be made to understand that it is unacceptable when their husbands hit them and that they have every right to revolt against it. They must be informed of the laws and resources that are in place to protect them when they need help. The duty of informing them falls on the media as much as it does on the government.

Educational reform and social awareness must be strengthened and taken to the doorsteps of more and more people across the country, particularly in villages and low-income urban societies where archaic patriarchal cultures are practised the most. These are weapons that, had they been used effectively, might have stopped Taslima’s parents from agreeing to pay a dowry for their daughter’s marriage. It might even have stopped them from marrying Taslima into such a household. Most importantly, it might have discouraged Taslima from returning to her husband after every episode of torture that she experienced.

This incident is likely to leave a trail of repercussions. How long will it take until Taslima recovers from the mental trauma? Will she receive psychological help, and even financial help, to be able to move on from this marriage? Will she be protected from the social prejudice that women of broken marriages have to face in a resiliently backward society? And what impacts will these events leave on the minds of her children? Will her son, who it seems was the one who helped rescue Taslima through a phone call from Dhaka, grow up to reject his father’s ideologies?

We can hope that the answer to all of the above is “yes”. Reality, however, often falls far short of what should ideally happen.

We can hope that the culprits of this crime are served with due punishment under the purview of the law. But the responsibility of tackling this culture of dowry and domestic abuse falls upon the society – made up of each individual person who has the power to empower girls, to raise better men, and to speak out in the loudest of voices against injustice in any shape or form.

The writer is a member of the Editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Collective Amnesia in Famine Response and Resilience-Building

4 May 2017 - 7:37am

"Young girls line up at a feeding centre in Mogadishu, #Somalia, where a severe drought is threatening famine." Credit: UN instagram

By Suresh Babu

The emerging drought-induced humanitarian crisis—prevailing in countries from Niger in West Africa to Somalia in East Africa—and conflict-driven famine conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, and Northeast Nigeria, have become a regular phenomenon.

Even though these food crises can be prevented, they persistently arise due to the development community’s collective amnesia on what has worked and what has not in famine response, recovery, and resilience-building.

We know countries that have constructed robust policies, institutions, and food systems capable of withstanding natural and human-induced shocks fare better than those with weak systems, but approaches to development haven’t changed to reflect this knowledge.

A new approach to drought response and famine recovery must involve building durable systems at various levels. By creating strong systems for implementing policies, building institutions, and growing and delivering food, countries can prevent the most deleterious effects of frequent shocks, and also have the capability to bounce back quickly to a normal development process.

Suresh Babu

Currently a large segment of population—close to 20 million—faces starvation and possible death. Following the declaration of drought and national emergencies, country governments and international organizations have begun their usual response routine: identifying the vulnerable population, estimating the emergency aid needs, and planning the associated workshops and conferences.

While all these activities are a necessary part of famine response and recovery, it remains a puzzle as to why we keep “reinventing the wheel” to address a challenge that has long been part of the development process. Today, climate change is finally forcing policy makers to rethink their response paradigm: from “relief and development” to “relief to resilient food systems.”

The need for a paradigm shift is clear from the lessons from drought responses over the last 40 years. A key lesson is that unless national response systems are resilient to meet natural and manmade shocks, they will be continuously “firefighting.” Emergency resources will be repeatedly diverted to address annual cycles of drought, while countries lose ground on long-term development plans.

Policy systems resilience

The effectiveness of a country’s national policy system in identifying drought-related challenges and developing intervention strategies depends on the strength of the policy process. The actors in the policy process must develop common goals to address food emergencies and balance these goals with long-term development strategies.

Such balancing in Ethiopia over the past 20 years has built a policy system that is highly adaptable in managing drought while simultaneously investing in long-term development. For example, Ethiopia’s productive social safety nets for vulnerable communities also helped build local infrastructure for sustainable development.

Strengthening policy-making systems including safety nets and subsidies could simplify and shorten the decision-making process, allowing countries to focus their efforts on the most vulnerable groups without forgoing long-term development.

The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency is an example of linking long-term development with resilience-building initiatives. The Agency coordinates action plans to help provide and enable policy on the assessment, response, and financing of a drought-related crisis. A robust policy-making process under various circumstances can guide policy-making systems to ensure that they are responsive and accountable.

In this respect, the current drought-induced emergencies are an opportunity to strengthen national lawmaking for development and implementation of comprehensive policies and strategies to protect vulnerable populations both in the immediate and in the long run.

Institutional resilience

Existing institutions are inadequate for meeting emerging issues in the development process, let alone the complexity of challenges arising from drought and conflict. In the context of famine prevention and recovery, flexible institutions are essential.

For example, a well-equipped famine early warning system that quickly collects, processes, and analyzes data from around the country is fundamental. In countries where such systems exist, they can assess of the number of people affected and deploy the best responses more quickly than those without an effective system.

During conflict, however, key institutions such as agricultural research either function poorly or completely fall apart. Sustaining local institutions during the conflict period and using them effectively during response and recovery stages can help build their strength in the long run.

These institutions can be useful not only for aid distribution in emergencies but also implementation of social safety nets during normal periods. For example, during times of famine in Bangladesh, the government used schools as food distribution centers.

Developments in information and communications technology, such as mobile banking, provide opportunities for effective targeting and swift transfer of cash resources to vulnerable groups.

Cash transfers to remote areas can help promote trade and markets in those areas. This approach helps build sturdy local markets and creates demand for basic commodities that continue during normal times. Cash transfers through Brazil’s Bolsa Família program is a typical example of this approach.

Food system resilience

Resilient food systems can help reduce the impacts of drought on food and nutrition security. Countries that have built efficient food harvesting or distribution systems are better able to prevent famines even when faced with severe drought.

For example, the Ethiopian government invested in service delivery systems to share knowledge on innovations in farming and to provide modern inputs such as high-yielding seed varieties and chemical fertilizers. Strengthening the resources available for communities is a key factor in preventing famines.

Foreign aid assistance in drought-affected countries should focus on both emergency help and long-term building.

A successful example is India’s rural employment guarantee scheme, which uses natural resources to build rural infrastructure for vulnerable groups. Such approaches supply crop and animal inputs, rehabilitate land and water resources, and build micro-irrigation, all of which can help to fight future droughts in the short and long run.

In addition, famine prevention and drought responses need to go beyond country borders.

International and bilateral organizations have been effective in helping governments with famine early warning information and in coordinating food security and nutrition interventions, but in the long run have failed to build sustainable local institutions.

How the current emergency is handled has larger implications for the success of regional commitments such as the Malabo Declaration on agricultural transformation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A large population is currently under threat of famine across the African continent from Niger to Somalia. Although triggered by frequent droughts, the famine-like conditions are mostly preventable, except in war-ravaged areas.

Countries with adequate resilience have managed to reduce the adverse effects of drought on vulnerable populations, while others have not.

Even with political will and the current level of international support, the need for building local support as a fundamental part of the response is too often lost to collective amnesia. But if we build on policy, institutional and food capacities, lessons from past efforts and innovations can help achieve food security and prevent famines in the affected regions.

Flying Green in Bangladesh

3 May 2017 - 8:01pm

JAL747-400 bound for Tokyo leaves a contrail at dusk. Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
DHAKA, May 4 2017 (IPS)

New technology could be the answer to reducing negative climate impacts of aviation – one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases. And a recent quantitative research at North South University (NSU) of Bangladesh has found that upgrading the existing navigation system will reduce fuel use, hence decreasing carbon emissions as well as costs.

Currently, aviation in Bangladesh, like that in many countries, depends on fixed Ground-Based Navigation sensors that guide aircraft along pre-established routes via waypoints. These are often not available in direct paths between airports, hence aircrafts have to take an indirect, inefficient path, burning more fuel.“Although this is a small spoke in the big wheel of climate change, it will be great if the general people and the stakeholders can know about such findings." --Ahnaf Ahmed

A new system named Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) has been developed which depends on satellite signals and computerized on-board systems, allowing flexible and optimum routing. This not only reduces costs, flight duration and infrastructure needs, but also contributes to mitigating climate change.

Many countries are in various stages of implementing PBN, and USA’s implementation is called the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. According to Leighton Quon of NextGen Systems Analysis, Integration, and Evaluation at NASA’s Ames Research Center, it will allow more efficient routes hence faster travel with fewer delays. This video shows how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has started to use PBN for Super Bowl flights.

Bangladesh has drafted a PBN Implementation Roadmap following International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 2007 resolution on global implementation of PBN. A.K.M. Rezaul Karim, Public Relations Officer, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) said CAAB is seriously working on implementing Required Navigation Performance or RNP (a variety of PBN) and achievements have been made since the roadmap was prepared.

The team researching aviation emissions at North South University (NSU) of Bangladesh. (L-R) Research Assistant Sabrin Hossain, Principal Investigator Ahnaf Ahmed, Research Assistants Asiful Haque Latif Nobel and Md. Abdul Ahad Chowdhury pose for a photo while analyzing results. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A.K.M. Faizul Haque, Deputy Director (Air Transport), Flight Safety and Regulations Division, CAAB, said RNP approach procedures have already been introduced for Dhaka airport’s runway 14 but local carriers don’t use them, whereas Emirates – a foreign career – uses RNP approach for landing. He added that Emirates helped CAAB establish runway 14’s RNP approach through validation and even allowed CAAB to use Emirates’ flight simulator in Dubai.

“Implementing RNP requires significant, time consuming efforts such as transforming geographical coordinates, infrastructural development and validation,” Haque said. “Progress might seem little so far but it is getting implemented gradually.”

However, Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla – one of the leading domestic airlines of Bangladesh – expressed his reservations about the ability of CAAB to implement PBN.

“Our airports don’t even have the most basic of equipment and the controllers lack training. The surveillance radar has not been upgraded in 40 years,” he said.

Asif stated that the commercial airlines are willing to adapt to PBN, but for that the primary groundwork needs to be done. “Infrastructure and human resource needs to be developed and regulations put in place first then operators like us can insert the curriculum in our manual and train our crew,” he added.

While the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) wants to implement PBN, it has not carried out or published any analysis of PBN in the domestic setting. Thus, the local stakeholders do not know exactly how much improvement can be achieved through PBN, or if there will be any improvement at all.

Bangladeshi airports and existing flightpaths (established with Ground-Based Navigation Aids).

To address this issue, Ahnaf Ahmed, a faculty member at North South University (NSU) and the lead researcher of the project “Satellite-Based Navigation in Civil Aviation: Performance Evaluation in the Context of Bangladesh” is using simulation and mathematical optimization to compare the two navigation systems under identical conditions, and find their extent of differences regarding flight duration, fuel burn, engine emissions, cost etc.

So far he has found that for Dash 8-Q400 aircraft RNP on average reduces 2.8 minutes in each flight to and from Dhaka and the other three cities, which means fuel consumption reduces by approximately 123.2 pounds per flight. In a year, this equates approximately to total fuel savings of 1.8 million pounds and CO2 emission reduction by approximately 4.9 million pounds.

Ahmed believes his findings can help policy-makers and local industry stakeholders because they are now able to make decisions after precisely knowing how much improvement can happen through RNP regarding costs, fuel consumption and engine emissions. And Haque of CAAB echoed his thoughts, stating that quantitative analysis and comparison data will be very worthwhile for CAAB.

The NSU authority has recently approved the research grant in this regard for which Ahmed applied last year. The fund will compensate for the research expenses he has personally borne so far in covering Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar, and will also allow him to expand the research to other cities to make the results more comprehensive.

“Although this is a small spoke in the big wheel of climate change, it will be great if the general people and the stakeholders can know about such findings to efficiently combat climate change and be aware of the solutions,” he says.

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Social Forum Calls for Fight Against Corruption, to Defend the Amazon

3 May 2017 - 5:53pm
Corruption has penetrated the Amazon rainforest like an illness that infects everything, said Ruben Siqueira, coordinator of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), during the VIII Panamazonic Social Forum (FOSPA), which brought together in the Peruvian Amazon jungle representatives of civil society from eight Amazon basin countries. The forum, which drew more than 1,600 participants to […]

UAE tops Arab youth’s favourite countries

3 May 2017 - 10:57am

Photo: Wam

DUBAI, May 3 2017 (WAM)

The UAE has once again topped the world’s countries most young Arabs wish to live in, according to a recent international survey.

With a significant increase in the nation’s popularity compared to previous years, the findings of the ninth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2017, have kept the UAE for the sixth year on a row at the pinnacle of choices for young Arabs to live in, with 35 percent of young Arabs surveyed, citing the UAE as their first and foremost preference, a significant increase of 13 percent points over last year.

In another credit to the much-coveted living standard of the country, the UAE again topped other world nations when 36 percent of young Arabs said the UAE is their model country, when asked about which state they would like their country to emulate, compared to 23 percent last year. The US came in second place, with 15 percent, Saudi Arabia and Canada with 14 percent, and Germany on the fifth position with 13 percent.

Looking at the geopolitical situation, a third of young Arab surveyed across 16 countries said the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the top allies of their country, with 36 percent of them putting the UAE slightly ahead of Saudi Arabia, 34 percent, an increase of 8 percentage points from 2016.

Sunil John, Founder & CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, said that the survey has consistently reported the UAE as the most desired place for young Arabs to live in and to emulate.

This is a testament to the success of the nation’s model of economic diversification and its focus on creating job opportunities and driving the entrepreneurial skills of young people. Young Arabs see the UAE as a beacon of hope and by endorsing its development model, they are applauding the vision of the country’s wise leadership, he noted.

Media, Our Best Hope

3 May 2017 - 7:50am

By Andrew Heslop
May 3 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

THE 2016 media freedom report card makes for uncomfortable reading. Impunity for those who kill journalists continues to undermine attempts by legal systems worldwide to deliver justice and ensure the rule of law. Read alongside rising numbers of physical attacks and an increasingly hostile online space, we remain far from guaranteeing a safe environment for media professionals, across any domain.

Andrew Heslop

The persistent application of national security laws to punish media or further tighten limitations on freedom of expression has sent a chill through global newsrooms

According to CPJ’s annual prison census, the world’s jails were home to some 259 journalists in 2016, the highest number on record. Just how many stories never make it into the public record as a result we shall never know. The evidence we do have suggests silence is spreading, the imperative to think twice before publishing more commonplace than ever. With the intertwining complexity of commercial interests and the precarious financial situations of media houses, those red lines are becoming more like red boxes into which so much is dumped, labelled ‘off limits’ to journalism.

Media must be aware of the power of collective action.

As we mark another World Press Freedom Day and make the habitual — yet necessary — condemnations of all of the above, we must also acknowledge the efforts to counteract the slide. It is perhaps the one positive in an otherwise bleak 12 months for media freedom. Pressures on journalists and media organisations are designed to reduce transparency and accountability in society. Usu¬ally it means powerful interests have some¬thing to hide from public view. Ultimately, media need to do more to convince public opinion that such targeting is an attack on common values and will not be tolerated.

In the meantime, media are obliged to advocate on their own behalf. The organisations, institutions, NGOs and support agencies designed to help in this are vital, but they are not enough. They are not effective unless media themselves are actively participating in defining the issues, steering the agenda, implementing the goals, and mobilising together to tackle the issues that directly affect them.

Paradoxical as this may sound, we must own our faults — act to change the disproportionate lack of women in senior positions and address the way many newsrooms treat young people of both sexes; arrest the decline in desirability of taking a job in media; create the conditions and flexibility that attract — and retain — the best talent; make our editorial standards the most rigorous and our business operations worthy of the deepest trust.

It is common sense to suggest a strong profession has more chance of fighting off the epidemic it faces if first its own house is in order.

Simply knowing your rights and the legal limitations that have been placed on your freedom as a journalist is a vital starting point; educating ourselves, so that we may educate others to be stronger professionals, better informed of the options we have, of the support that is out there, is crucial. But most importantly, it is about being aware of the power of collective action, of mobilising as professionals, for professionals, on whatever issue is put in our path.

WAN-IFRA works directly with media organisations in over 20 countries to support these dual efforts. Beyond sensitisation of the importance of a free press, media in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are taking concrete steps to ensure they are at the forefront when it comes to advocating their own freedoms.

Our media freedom committees are empowering media to lead advocacy on each continent. Coor¬dinated and run by media professionals, they set their agenda and define what they as a collective body can achieve — in partnership with exis¬ting initiatives, or as a body unique unto themselves.

A year into the experiment, we’re already seeing how the strategy can provide a way forward. In Uganda, a network of over 250 journalists are connected countrywide to discuss safety, good practice, offer advice, and identify where colleagues need support and training.

In Egypt, our committee is conducting public research into just why society is turning away from media, offering suggestions as to how the profession can reverse this trend. In Indonesia, collaboration between nine leading news organisations brought the Jakarta-centric news industry to the outlying province of Papua to expose issues the local media felt received little or no coverage in the national agenda.

In Palestine, Botswana, Malaysia, Colombia, Zambia, Cambodia, Kenya and a dozen other countries, WAN-IFRA is ensuring media are in control of similar advocacy efforts that will impact the overall state of freedom of expression, so that maybe next year, or in five years, or beyond, the opinion pieces published on May 3 won’t make for such grim reading.

The writer is director, Media Freedom WAN-IFRA .

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

Mexican Newspaper Shuts Down to Protest Murder of Journalist

3 May 2017 - 6:48am

Oscar Cantú, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Norte de Ciudad Juárez, is invited by UNESCO to share his experience at the World Press Freedom Day 2017 gathering in Jakarta

By Oscar Cantú
May 3 2017 (UNESCO)

Hello my name is Oscar Cantú, I’m a lawyer and a business man in Ciudad Juarez. I founded Norte newspaper 27 years ago. As Norte newspaper CEO, I have experienced all kinds of emotions, but nothing like what brought me here. The tragic murder of our journalist Miroslava Breach.


Ciudad Juarez is located in the northern region of Mexico, in the State of Chihuahua, the largest in the country. Demographically, the Rio Bravo borders with the United States. Ciudad Juarez, besides being border with El Paso, Texas, is the most important border of Mexico.

The biggest economy at the border is the manufacturing industry, which generates about 300 thousand direct jobs and twice as many indirectly. It’s the main economic activity for a city with a population of 1 million 300 thousand people.

Norte newspaper inception

The inception of Norte newspaper began 27 years ago, but this trip started 40 years ago when I co founded the newspaper El Universal, in my hometown, which was part the most senior newspaper in Mexico City.

There were several motivations that led to its creation. At the beginning of my first year at law school, my father and I experienced a hard time at the hands of corruption, political power and abuses. My father, a hardworking and honest man who made his estate on a basis of work and effort was extorted by the governor, who used the entire judicial apparatus to strip him of property near to the border that with time acquired surplus value.

Since then I have understood how far public power can reach to achieve its objectives. I experienced in my own flesh, how our freedom was violated when arrested without order or reason. We were coerced and extorted, stripped of property.

“Such traumatic experiences, so unjust, a violation of human rights and of witnessing how the power that must protect its citizens through the impartation of justice, can become a factual power capable of killing. I realized the necessity to seek better living conditions, not only for my first unborn daughter, but to seek justice and equity for the community“.

Important Norte newspaper moral values

Norte Newspaper grew out of the need for a voice that told the truth. As a tool that counterbalanced the abuses, able to defend public opinion.

Norte newspaper was born with the promise of truth, fairness, critical journalism and counterweight, capable of exposing abuses and excess of power.

Since 1990, our publication has sought to open awareness and give voice to those who do not have it, promoting transparency and accountability.

Norte went through extreme situations where it had to face political power and fight to bring information to its readers.

Some examples:

Our building has been shoot at, our journalists have been threatened and some were kidnapped, constantly harassed and audited by governments  intimidating our advertisers, tried to put us in jail for denouncing corruption, abuse of power, injustice etc.

Contribution from research journalism to society

The premise of information, which must be true and accurate, the most important contribution of Norte, has been to inform the community in depth. To seek to open the conscience of people, so that they have the possibility to discern and choose, to reinforce the democratic system that Mexico boasts. Norte has become a counterweight, evidencing the corruption in different situations, not only of public power, but also of the private power. It has fought and joined the cause for human rights of people accused of crimes they did not commit.

Miroslava murder; break point

MB, was a professional woman in journalism, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a woman with very close family ties. A woman with a lot of vision, analytical and who always sought to expose the truth and courageus. Our work relationship generated a closeness with her, she was a woman with spark, witty, spontaneous and kind. One night we talked on the phone, next morning, I learned that she had been killed, shot eight times as she took her son to school in front of her house. Her family was and is still broken up, she did not deserve that. Her two children have now been orphaned.

The circumstance of her departure caused me a strong emotional impact, I felt a regret and a grief. I still feel it. Her cowardly murder made me aware of the risks we take with those who exercise or publish stories of high impact.


Why shutting down – an option

“I was ashamed of myself, because it made me reflect on the terrible mistakes the media owners have made that we did not initially demand justice for the deaths of journalists who have been killed, for many years in the past. It is our co-responsibility, to care and watch over their safety; I felt I had gone wrong. As an interminable synergy, the great corruption league of politics linked to drug trafficking and great impunity continue as It did when I started this trip”.

The result of doing the same thing that has been done, has not generated any result.

The closure of Norte newspaper is an act of protest to the government for not guaranteeing the security and respect that we, the media deserve. It is a cry to the society so that it is also conscious and demands better journalism. I decided to lower the curtain, because if we cannot be loyal to our integrity, giving the reader, what we consider must be of his or her knowledge, I cannot put at risk my collaborators, their families or my own.


Current State of journalism in Mexico / International ranking

Journalism in Mexico is worse now than ever. The absence of rule of law and ungovernability keeps journalism in a constantly dangerous scenario. The association Reporters Without Borders, places Mexico as one of the countries with the greatest risks for journalists, last year, just behind Syria and Afghanistan. According to “Reporters without borders”, Mexico is the most insecure country to practice journalism, in Latin America. In addition, in the last 15 years, the danger and risk for journalists in the country has doubled. According to the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) 97.1% of the cases of assault and murder of journalists have not been resolved.

In 51 months of the current government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, more than 92, thousand homicides related to organized crime have been reported in the country. As you can see, México is under a climate of total impunity, but the worst thing is that nothing is being done. Neither resolves nor protect journalists.

Another fact is that our government has been unable to repress or contain a “factic power” of the drug trafficking organization; – Mexico apparently is not at war, but reality shows us that in certain regions of our country it is a failed state. Organize crime controls. Corruption is out of control, as impunity.


Proposed message. 

The closure is an invitation to the population to join efforts and reconsider the importance and legacy of professional journalism, which promotes and guarantees a democratic system of government. The free press is undoubtedly a pillar for the development of any country, regardless of the continent, since freedom of expression is a value and a right of citizens. There is a need and a pending issue for media, civil organizations and journalists to develop strategies to ensure the exercise of journalism and information around the world. A free press will always bring a healthier and more democratic government.


We need to think of our future generations.

 According to PISA test (an international metric) Mexico’s average education level is of 8th grade, equivalent to second year of middle school, 43 per cent of the population is less than 15 years old, and do not have basic education complete, nore the skills to deal with global challenges.

How can we expect a population with such level of education to stand up for democracy, rule of law, and accountability?

We need to promote international public policies, to promote ethical, moral values and rules of law in a basic education levels.

We need to create international observatories to erradicate impunity on crimes commited against journalists.

We need mechanisms to fund investigative critical journalism. To be free of manipulation and control by governments. Independent local news organizations are most vulnerable.

In Mexico, investigative, critical and counterweight journalism is in danger of extinction

Crime and government are its main threat.

Journalists increasingly have little or no tools to deal with this reality.

Today our call to world nations is not to leave us alone, but to help us to preserve peace, freedom, democracy and life.


2017 World Press Freedom Day: Message by Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

3 May 2017 - 2:54am

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 3 2017 (IPS)

This year’s theme for the 2017 World Press Freedom DayCritical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is one of the most important days honouring press freedom.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Inevitably, the impact of media has the power to transform societies through enlightenment and active citizenry.

Observers occasionally refer to the media as the fourth estate owing to its influential role to further enhancing the plurality of opinions and ideas.

A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparency. It strengthens the accountability of governments as citizens can critically assess the activities of incumbents through information provided by the media.

Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends freedom of expression and the right to information. It enables press freedom to become a reality:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Some cite as a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

However, significant challenges lay ahead limiting the freedom of the press.

Firstly, journalists have had at times to pay a high toll for the expression of truth as they see it.

Thus according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992.

Among these victims, 65% were murdered, 22% perished owing to crossfire and combat, whereas 12% lost their lives owing to dangerous assignments.

Many of those murders remain unresolved and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice as “complete impunity” prevails in 86% of the cases.

The 2016 World Press Freedom report issued by Reporters Without Borders suggests that violent extremism has put significant constraints on the ability of the press to operate freely and carry out their duties.

The conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, the report underlines, have enabled insurgents to “create black holes for reporting.”

Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence and of fear in their capacity as transmitters of information to the public.

Their lives should not be put at stake for merely putting Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration into practice.

Secondly, the accountability of media needs to be strengthened so that it represents the public’s interests.

After the so-called “War on Terror”, hate speech and online bigotry have rapidly been on the rise targeting specifically religious minorities.

This has been followed by a misconceived conflation between terrorism, Islam and the Arab identity, which has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination.

At the same time losses of lives as a result of violence or military action may be reported selectively thus implying unacceptable differences in the value of human lives according to where the losses occur.

During the Geneva Centre’s panel debate on 15 March on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” that was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), it was suggested by the panellists to better harness the power of media by promoting positive stories about religion and culture.

It was also proposed that we, as global citizens, should never fear the stranger as differences enrichen our societies.

I believe that media can play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people.

Journalists need to refrain from the use of contemporary phobic language triggering social exclusion and religious intolerance.

Incitements to hatred, violence and bigotry should be condemned as it exacerbates religious divisions within communities.

The spread of fake news and fabricated stories in social media contradict the goals of freedom of opinion or of expression.

A return to the founding principles of press freedom and journalism – accountability, transparency and independence of news media – is the first step to stop the flow of misinformation that is on the rise.

When the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy – the founder of contemporary Algeria – visited a printing press in Paris in 1852, he made the following observation on the power of the press:

What comes out of it resembles a drop of water coming from the sky: if it falls into the half-opened shell, it produces the pearl; if it falls into the mouth of the viper, it produces venom.”

Media has a “moral and social responsibility” in “combating discrimination and in promoting intercultural understanding (…)” as stipulated in Principle 9 of the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality.

By reversing the trend of offering simplistic and misconceived generalizations not grounded in reality, media could become a catalyst for social inclusion by implanting a culture of peace, harmony and tolerance.

This would be in line with the objectives laid out in the 2002 “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and in UN HRC Resolution 16/18 entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

The Very Survival of Africa’s Indigenous Peoples ‘Seriously Threatened’

3 May 2017 - 2:19am

The Indigenous World 2017. Credit: IWGIA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 3 2017 (IPS)

The cultures and very survival of indigenous peoples in Africa are seriously threatened. They are ignored, neglected and fall victims of land grabbing and land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other forms of business operations.

These are some of the key findings of a major report “The Indigenous World 2017,” on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The report, launched on 25 April by the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGI) during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting (24 April—5 May), emphasises that in spite of progress, there are still major challenges facing indigenous peoples in Africa.

Africa is home to an estimated 50 million indigenous peoples, that’s around 13 per cent of the total of 270 million indigenous peoples worldwide. They live in all regions of Africa, with large concentrations in North Africa where the Amazigh people live. In West Africa, there are large pastoralist populations in countries like Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon etc.

There are also large concentrations of indigenous peoples in East Africa with big pastoralist populations in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Hunter-gatherers are found in many countries in central and Southern Africa, though they are smaller in numbers than the pastoralist groups.

In several African states, explains IWGIA, “indigenous peoples are yet to be recognised as such.” Arguments of all Africans being indigenous or that the concept “indigenous peoples” is divisive and unconstitutional are persistently expressed in political statements and continue to shape policies of a number of African countries.

Large-scale dispossessions of indigenous peoples’ lands remain a significant challenge in several African states, says the report, adding that the global drive for raw materials, agro-business and building major infrastructure projects are pushing indigenous peoples to their last boundaries.

A recent African Commission’s report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples reveals the negative impact several mining, agro business and logging projects are having on indigenous peoples’ land rights and access to natural resources, according to IWGIA.

In several cases, tensions with indigenous peoples have led to open conflicts, including loss of lives. In this regard, the African Commission has sent urgent appeals to a number of African governments on serious human rights violations affecting indigenous peoples.

Forced Evictions, Human Eights Violations

Marianne Wiben Jensen

Marianne Wiben Jensen, IWGIA’ senior advisor on Africa and Land Rights, told IPS that Africa’s indigenous peoples are victims of land grabbing and other forms of land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other business operations.

“This leads to forced evictions and other forms of serious human rights violations,“ she said, adding that indigenous peoples in Africa are “marginalised economically and politically and are only to a very limited extent participating in decision-making processes.”

“So they have very limited possibilities of voicing their perspectives and priorities and influencing their own futures,” Wiben Jensen warned, explaining that they typically live in marginalised and remote areas with very limited and bad social infrastructure.

The issue of extractive industries is once again a recurrent and overarching theme in the Indigenous world. Numerous examples show that both states and industries are repeatedly ignoring the key principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Mega infrastructure projects, investments in extractive industries and large-scale agriculture are increasingly posing a threat to the everyday life of indigenous peoples and their ability to maintain their land, livelihood and culture.

At the same time, Wiben Jensen added, indigenous peoples in Africa have proven to be very resilient, and despite the many problems they face and the lack of support they receive from their governments, they are still there and manage to survive in often very harsh environments based on their unique indigenous knowledge of the nature and the natural resources.

“All this is happening amidst an alarming rate of violence and discrimination of indigenous peoples and human rights defenders around the world.”

In the Ngorongoro district of Tanzania, indigenous women are getting organised. They don’t want to be kept out of decision-making processes – they want to be heard and respected. Credit: IWGIA

Violence against Indigenous Women, Girls

Wiben Jensen also warned that violence against indigenous women and girls continues to feature several indigenous communities in Africa, including harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early or forced marriage and inaccessibility of good standards on reproductive rights.

Overall, one could put African states into three categories as far as the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights is concerned.

First, some African states that have fully endorsed the concept “indigenous peoples in Africa” and have moved on to adopt legal or policy frameworks aimed at addressing the concerned communities’ particular human rights situation. “These states are still small in number but their potential impact is immense.”

Second, some African states recognise and are willing to redress the historical injustices and marginalisation suffered by certain sections of their national populations that self-identify as indigenous peoples, “but remain uncomfortable with the term “indigenous peoples” and therefore prefer using alternative concepts in their laws or policies.”

Third, there are African states that continue to contest the existence of indigenous peoples in the continent or the relevance of the concept in Africa. There are numerous reasons for this denial, including a misunderstanding of what the concept “indigenous peoples in Africa” means.

The Forgotten Peoples, Reported

The Indigenous World 2017 is IWGIA’s 30th report on the status of indigenous peoples and comes in a special edition on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide and a comprehensive overview of the main global trends and developments affecting indigenous peoples during 2016. It contains 59 detailed country reports and 12 articles on defining global processes in a total of 651 pages.

It also highlights that despite some encouraging national achievements, the country reports in this year’s edition continue to illustrate the great pressures facing indigenous communities at the local level.

Over 70 experts, indigenous activists and scholars have contributed to the Indigenous World 2017, which has been published with support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Danida, Denmark’s development cooperation.

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Journalist Killings in Sri Lanka Predicated on a Deadly Irony

2 May 2017 - 11:02am

This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

By Thalif Deen

The widespread belief in the politically-motivated killings of journalists in Sri Lanka is predicated on a deadly irony: the hidden hand has always been visible, but the fingerprints have gone missing.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sri Lankan journalist killed in 2009.

The two most widely publicized killings relate to IPS UN Bureau Chief in Colombo, Richard de Zoysa, 30, in February 1990, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, 51, in January 2009.

But both murders remain unsolved—due primarily to political coverups — despite several leads pointing to the killers.

As fate would have it, the politician who apparently ordered the killing of de Zoysa, and the police officer who executed that order both died in a suicide bomb blast in 1993, three years after de Zoysa’s murder.

But the rest of the conspirators are still on the loose and fugitives from justice.

And as the United Nations commemorated World Press Freedom Day, there were reports last week that one of the suspects in the Wickrematunge killing– far from being investigated or prosecuted — had been elevated to the rank of a diplomat and posted to a Sri Lanka embassy in an Asian capital years ago.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), which has an arresting headline on its website titled “Sri Lanka: Where Journalists are Killed with Impunity,” lists the killings of 25 Sri Lankan journalists since 1992, with 19 where “motives were confirmed” and six with “motives unconfirmed.”

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on ‘the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’, called on governments “to investigate and hold accountable all those responsible for attacks on journalists.”

In a statement released May 2, he said: “This past year has seen repeated attacks on journalists, leaving many dead or injured. Often terrorist groups carry out such attacks to silence opposition, secularists or atheists.”

Too often, he pointed out, threats are not met with effective protection by law enforcement or, in their aftermath, genuine investigation and prosecution.

“States need to make accountability a priority,” he declared.

In an interview with IPS, Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, confirmed that both high profile killings in Sri Lanka were meant to silence press criticism of political higher-ups.

Speaking strictly as a former journalist and widow of Lasantha Wickrematunge, she said “the authorities at the time wanted to silence Lasantha and cripple two newspapers — The Sunday Leader of which he was Editor-in-Chief and I was Consultant Editor– and The Morning Leader of which I was Editor in Chief.”

In Richard de Zoysa’s case, Samarasinghe said, he was the first Sri Lankan journalist to pay the ultimate price for his journalism.

Like Lasantha, Richard was beloved during his life, and like Lasantha, he has, since his death, become an icon in the media industry in Sri Lanka. Richard was a man of extraordinary talent and range who wrote haunting poetry and powerful plays, she noted.

There is no doubt in my mind that his killing was politically motivated as well, said Samarasinghe, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, an Edward R. Murrow Fellow in Washington DC, and an International Journalist-in-Residence at the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Since Lasantha’s killing, has there been any credible investigation to track down his killer or killers? Why has there been no trial or conviction for 8 long years?

SAMARASINGHE: Before January 2015, there had been virtually no serious investigation into this crime. There seems to have been a deliberate cover-up and stonewalling of the case. Such emblematic cases are not properly investigated for several reasons; among them, to hide the truth, to perpetuate a fear psychosis in the people and to create chaos. These assassinations affect not only the families of the victims but society as a whole. A break down in the rule of law and a lack of freedom of information leads to social divisiveness and generates mistrust between groups and in the institutions of the State. They send messages of fear, despondency and submission – and slavish/divisive societies are easier to manipulate.

However, since the change in administration in 2015, a special Criminal Investigations Team was established and there have been concrete steps taken not only in Lasantha’s case but in the cases of other journalists who were beaten, threatened or who disappeared during the previous administration. Lasantha’s body was exhumed late last year as part of this new investigation. These are extremely gut-wrenching circumstances and for me very difficult to endure as his wife. However, for the sake of the greater good and for the purposes of a thorough independent investigation, we have to go through this.

The proper conclusion of these investigations are important in order to re-establish Good Governance and the Rule of Law in our country, and halt the cyclical recurrence of violence in various forms. This is why the present administration has said it is deeply committed to these democratic principles.

IPS: How safe is the political environment for journalists now — as compared with 1990 or 2009?

SAMARASINGHE: As a nation that had suffered a dark period under the yoke of terrorism and an accompanying culture of impunity, this administration has demonstrated in several concrete ways that it is actively conscious of the value of a nation built on the principles of democracy and the Rule of Law. The cornerstone of any democracy is freedom of information. Without this there can be no meaningful advancement of peace, development or human rights. Among others, the proper handling of Lasantha’s case will become the symbol of a restored and renewed democracy where once again, the people of our country will have faith in our judiciary, and in our system of Justice. This is a slow and steady process.

Clearly the current administration has taken several steps in the right direction. For instance after years of civil society activism the Right to Information Act was signed into law in August 2016 and came into force on February 4, 2017. The government unanimously enacted the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Act. A Permanent Office for Missing Persons (OMP) has been established. These are all structures and mechanisms that serve to rebuild trust in the state. I would say that today we have an administration that understands the value of an independent fourth estate and the serious perils of lapdog journalism.

QUESTION: With the increasing attacks on journalists worldwide, is there a role for the UN to stem this onslaught?

SAMARASINGHE: There is definitely a leadership role for the United Nations. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 19 which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” to the unanimously adopted Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 16, to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” we see that member states fully realize the UN’s critical role in this regard.

Target 10 of Goal 16 recognizes that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are indispensable conditions to sustainable development. It reads, “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

IPS: Are most UN member states paying only lip service to the cause of press freedom?

: In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of individual member states to implement nationally the international agreements and UN resolutions in accordance with their own domestic laws and cultures and to establish Rule of Law and end impunity. The two indicators set by the United Nations Statistical Commission for tracking progress in the achievement of target 10 are pertinent as they relate (a) to the number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates, and (b) to the number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. Therefore SDG 16 is significant in mainstreaming safety of journalists in the international development agenda and for tracking progress in individual countries.

IPS: Do you think the UN should at least name and shame these countries where journalists are constantly in danger of losing their lives in the line of duty?

SAMARASINGHE: There is in fact a UN plan of action for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, with UNESCO taking the lead in developing and implementing the plan. This plan includes a number of actions including standard-setting, policy-making, monitoring, reporting, building capacity and awareness-raising.

And yet, according to the UN itself every five days a journalist is killed in pursuit of a story. So yes, clearly the international community must be more proactive in addressing this issue. The numbers from civil society are staggering as well, with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting that some 370 journalists were murdered between 2004 and 2013 in direct retaliation for their work, with 48 journalists killed in 2016 and 8 already killed in 2017.

However there are several soft approaches that the UN already explores, and awareness-raising through commemorative events or International Days (including World Press Freedom Day) is one. These soft approaches, if constant, can be very effective in shining a light on national situations, transporting incidents to the international stage and affording activists and family members an international platform to make their case.

IPS: Is there any role for journalists themselves to take up the fight at home or, more importantly, internationally?

One way to do this is to highlight or give prominence to the journalists who have been victimized in their own countries. For example, as an exiled journalist at the time, I was invited to speak at international events organized by UN agencies. During this period, I was also given the opportunity to speak at various other international venues, including on Capitol Hill, at the National Press Club, Universities and was also invited to serve as key note speaker at special events, including to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day. This kind of exposure helps keep the issues alive on the international stage.

Furthermore, UNESCO has the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded on 3 May that honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of press freedom. Lasantha was awarded this prize in 2009. He became only the second journalist to be honoured posthumously since this prize was created, and a testimony to the risk many journalists run in the pursuit of their calling. Again, this award, and the buzz it created, became a megaphone opportunity to highlight not only Lasantha’s case, but also the plight of all journalists persecuted everywhere for their work.

And in 2009 Mr Ban Ki Moon the then UN Secretary General highlighted Lasantha’s assassination during his remarks on Press Freedom Day. The world’s top diplomat giving prominence to Lasantha’s case was an important step in the right direction. Other UN agencies and diplomats expressed concern as well quite publicly, and these statements sent a message that the international community was watching. But yes, given the horrific numbers, it is important that the international community remains ever vigilant.

The writer can be contacted at

A Free and Diverse Media is Essential to Protecting Democracy in the 21st Century

2 May 2017 - 9:31am

Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
LONDON, May 2 2017 (IPS)

Images of protestors flooding the streets – whether in Caracas, Bucharest, Istanbul or Washington DC – send a powerful message to those in power, especially when they are plastered across newspaper front pages.

In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for citizens to organise and undermine the ability for dissent to be reported. Even in the most mature of democracies, the ability of citizens to organise and mobilise, and the freedom of journalists to report when they do, are being undermined. In an era of rising populism and spreading curbs on fundamental freedoms, we need to do more to protect civic rights and press freedom.

When people hit the streets to express dissent, headlines are not always guaranteed.

In some countries, journalists risk imprisonment, disappearance or death for reporting on voices of dissent. In other places, the few powerful interests that control mainstream media channels are in cahoots and play down the scale or importance of protest. And the world over, independent and smaller media outlets – that are critical to diverse media – are struggling to stay afloat.

The first, and most worrying reason why protests don’t make the nightly news is because in many countries around the world journalists who cover protests are putting themselves at risk. In countries where civic participation is restricted or closed, journalists, like activists, risk losing their jobs, their freedom and even their lives reporting on protests.

In countries where civic participation is restricted or closed, journalists, like activists, risk losing their jobs, their freedom and even their lives reporting on protests.
According to the CIVICUS Monitor attacks on journalists are one of the three most commonly reported violations of civic space, alongside the detention of human rights defenders and the use of excessive force during protests. The Monitor, which measures the openness of civic space in 195 countries, found that journalists are most often attacked as a result of their political reporting on protests, conflict reporting, and for exposing government corruption.

Civil society and media exist in an ecosystem where attacks on one are likely to have an impact on the other. Where human rights defenders and civil society organisations find their freedoms under threat, so to do journalists. Policing media coverage is just one of the ways that governments close or repress civic space.

While social media and citizen journalists and bloggers have made it more difficult for mainstream media outlets to ignore mass demonstrations, some media outlets actively seek to undermine the renewed interest they generate. Media Matters for America, a monitoring agency, has recorded repeated instances of corporate media in the United States making false claims, such as that protests are staged or protestors are paid. Instead of interviewing citizens participating in the marches, cable news programs turn to their usual group of pundits for comment. For example, after the recent Science March, some cable television shows hosted panels featuring climate change deniers and no actual scientists.

In some cases journalists have forgotten that the voices of ordinary citizens, are just as important, if not more important, than the voices of powerful politicians and wealthy elites. And even where journalists do seek to quote representatives from civil society they too often turn to the same narrow set of voices for comment, since smaller non-governmental organisations often lack the media resources of larger international organisations.

Another important reason why journalists do not cover protests is because they do not have the resources to do so. The economic pressures on commercial media are also harming press freedom. Independent, diverse media often lack the financial resources of media owned by wealthy corporations or governments with their own political agendas. Many media outlets now rely on donations or membership models to survive.

All of these restrictions have led many activists to turn to reporting on protests themselves. Some of the most powerful journalism now comes from citizen bloggers, often providing invaluable news from closed political spaces and behind the battle lines.

As the boundaries between citizen and professional journalists blur it is becoming increasingly important to protect the space for all of those people who seek to inform, expose and educate.

Whether it is protestors, journalists, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, or climate scientists we need to protect the ability for people to be able to express dissent. And we need to stand together.

Without journalists, scientists marching in the street, would not be able to be able to share their messages with the world. Without photojournalists, vast underestimates of crowd sizes from officials may continue to be used to undermine popular movements.

Asking questions, speaking truth to power, shining a light on corruption. These simple actions carry increased risks in 2017, as powerful elites seek to cement their positions of power. In this febrile political environment, civic space and press freedom feel more important than ever.


Repression 2.0: An Updated Global Censorship

2 May 2017 - 12:46am

In Minnesota, supporters gather at a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in November 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Censorship tactics have become more complex, posing new challenges for journalists and non-journalists alike, a new report finds.

In its annual “Attacks on the Press” report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented a range of censorship cases from around the world and revealed a new world of media repression.

“[Censorship] is definitely becoming more sophisticated and complex and is occurring at a variety of levels,” CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

CPJ’s Executive Director described these new strategies as “repression 2.0” in the report, stating; “Repression 2.0 is an update on the worst old-style tactics, from state censorship to the imprisonment of critics, with new information technologies including smartphones and social media producing a softening around the edges.”

At the end of 2016, there were almost 260 journalists in jail, the most CPJ has ever documented.

Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with over 145 imprisoned journalists, more than China, Egypt, and Iran combined.

The country’s media crackdown deepened following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent imposition of a state of emergency which the Turkish government allegedly used to shut down over 50 newspapers, 30 TV channels, and three news agencies.

The government also reportedly used anti-terror laws to imprison journalists, including the chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet Can Dündar who was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage, and aiding a terrorist group. Most recently, life sentences are being sought for 30 people with ties to Zaman newspaper, which is associated with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen whom the government accuses of organising the coup attempt. The newspaper has since been under government control.

In Kenya, authorities are increasingly using a new mechanism to control the media: money.

“As revenues drain away from traditional media due to the inroads of digital technologies, the use of financial-induced self-censorship, or ‘fiscing’, can also ensure that journalists are more ‘reasonable’ in their reporting,” said journalist Alan Rusbridger in the report.

“Murder is messy. Money is tidy,” he continues.

However, the control of information is not unique to developing countries, said Rasch.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has raised anti-media hostility to levels “previously unseen on a national scale,” said journalist Alan Huffman in the report.

President Trump has consistently described some media organizations as “fake news,” most recently reiterating the claim that media fabricate stories during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “They have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” he told attendees.

Trump’s rhetoric often emboldened his supporters who would boo journalists. Huffman described one case in the report where a Trump supporter wore a T-shirt that suggested the use of lynching, stating: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

The president has also restricted and even denied access for reporters perceived as unfriendly, including those from Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Post, and has threatened to change libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists and news agencies.

In one chapter, Christian Amanpour noted the similarities in such “poisonous” trends in the U.S. and around the world.

“The same dynamic has infected powerful segments of the American media, as it has in Egypt, Turkey, and Russia, where journalists have been pushed into political partisan corners, delegitimized, and accused of being enemies of the state. Journalism itself has become weaponized. We cannot allow that to happen,” she stated.

In Ecuador, the government has allegedly used social media as a way to suppress journalists.

After tweeting that Ecuador’s former Vice-President Lenin Moreno had not paid income taxes, journalist Bernardo Abad’s twitter account had been blocked for violating its terms of service. By the end of the week, nine accounts had been temporarily suspended after also tweeting about Moreno’s taxes.

Radsch told IPS that with the internet and social media, there are now “more outlets for repression and threats.”

China has taken this to the next level, making plans to link journalists’ online posts to their finances.

Under the country’s proposed social credit plan, journalists who write or speak critically of the government could face personal financial consequences including decreased credit score or a denied loan. Such censorship goes beyond the business as usual tactics of shutting down reporters’ social media accounts to affecting journalists’ daily activities.

Rasch highlighted the need to advocate for an open internet and the rights of journalists.

“[We must] remember the importance of the press that continues to help us make sense of all the information that we are bombarded with all the time,” she told IPS.

She also recommended journalists adopt secure communication practices in order to maintain their privacy and their sources’ privacy.

Most importantly, journalists must stand strong and commit to fact-based reporting.

“This is the best and most important way to fight back against the new censorship,” said Simon.

“Journalists cannot allow themselves to feel demoralized. They need to pursue their calling and to seek the truth with integrity, honestly believe that the setbacks, while real, are temporary,” he concluded.

Trolling of Women Journalists Threatens Free Press

1 May 2017 - 7:16pm

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger known as a courageous advocate for free expression and secularism, received death and rape threats. Credit: Center for Inquiry

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, May 1 2017 (IPS)

“It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it,” says Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classics professor about online trolling. “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients.”

Women professionals in many countries across Asia and the Pacific have increased their number in the newsrooms, according to a study, but they still represent only three out of ten news staff. Even with this low representation, they have now breezed into the male bastion of hard stories, among them politics, corruption, conflict, governance, environment with confidence and impact.“Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.” --Dilrukshi Handunnetti

They speak their mind, put forth their opinion and debate knowledgeably and vigorously with readers on matters of import on social media platforms.

Societal images of women have remained largely conservative.

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger, received death and rape threats and an email from an Islamic extremist group that claimed the killing of  six Bangladeshi bloggers which said,  “Since the Islamic  Sharia (law) views working of women outside their homes without purdah (head cover) as (a) punishable offense, their employers are guilty to the same degree. We are urging the media to release their women from their jobs.”

In India, as part of an anti-trolling campaign by national daily Hindustan Times, Harry Stevens and Piyush Aggarwal set out in April to demonstrate how hard it is to be an outspoken woman on Twitter. They gathered a week’s worth of tweets sent to four prominent Indian women journalists. Out of these Barkha Dutt, a television veteran, received 3,020 abusive tweets, and Rana Ayyub, a Muslim, received 2,580 hateful tweets, often coloured by Islamophobia.

Internet trolls have had a free run in the region for at least six years now. Women journalists who tackled trolling and abusive comments on social media by ignoring or blocking the persistent trolls, now find that stalking and direct threats of attack have increased, forcing them to seek legal recourse or police protection.

“Journalists’ safety is a precondition for free speech and free media,” says the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“Online media today allows for the fast flow of information and the public’s active par­ticipation in sharing ideas, news and insight. An open, free and safe Internet is essential for public debate and free flow of information and therefore should be duly protected.”

Female journalists, bloggers and other media actors are disproportionally experi­encing gender related threats, harassment and intimidation on the Internet, which has a direct impact on their safety and future online activities.

Twitter threats like “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it” have been directed even at the sexagenarian Mary Beard.

About the vitriolic abuse she faces, Dutt asks, “Why isn’t anyone discussing the marriages, divorces, and affairs of my male colleagues? Why the fixation with my private life? Because the public scrutiny of women – and especially those of us who are proudly ambitious and fiercely independent – is very different from the standards used to measure men. And the subtext is always sexual.”

“Cyber bullies are the same as goons who threaten in real life,” psychiatrist Samir Parikh says.

The personalized online abuse women journalists get for doing only what is expected by their professional job “can make them feel traumatized, helpless, angry and very frustrated,” says Parikh. “In some, it can even cause self-esteem issues, affect social life and lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. For women, the abuse and threats of violence are often openly sexist and sexual, which makes them tougher to deal with.”

“(Online) it is possible to cloak one’s identity and attack individuals in the most unethical and harmful manner,” says Dilrukshi Handunnetti, an editor in Colombo. “Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.”

It does little to ease the trauma for journalists to know that trolling correlates with psychopathy, sadism, and Machiavellianism, according to a 2014 empirical personality study. Other studies found boredom, attention seeking, revenge, pleasure, and a desire to cause damage to the community among motivations for trolling.

But some interviewed trolls viewed their online comments not as harassment, but as a needed counterweight to opinions and news items they believe are flawed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As threats get too dangerous to ignore, women journalists are being forced to seek recourse from the law, despite their misgivings about how the law is framed and doubts about whether law-enforcing agencies can ensure speedy and sensitive investigation.

An Online Harassment Social Media Policy drafted March 2016 by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) lays out a road map for media houses to protect journalistic voices, create safe online spaces for open and respectful debate, and deal with abuse and harassment faced in particular by female staff.

Among the mechanisms to ensure digital safety and freedom from harassment, the road map calls for a special cyber cell in media organizations that equip women journalists particularly, with legal awareness and resources. When the harassment is extreme, measures must also include physical security, legal hand-holding, and support to pursue police complaints and psychological support and trauma counseling.

Meanwhile, a Byte Back handbook for women journalists being cyber-bullied gives out handy advice – ignore, filter, block, report and if it gets worse, name-and-shame, shout it out, and don’t forget to save and document abuse.

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‘Fake News’ is not Journalism…

1 May 2017 - 5:56am

Irina Bokova is Director General of UNESCO.

By Irina Bokova
PARIS, May 1 2017 (IPS)

Would you trust your news from any source? How are we able to ensure that ‘fake’(d) news does not overtake the flow of information?

Journalism plays a vital role for society, bringing verifiable news and informed comment to the public. Every day, the news provides a basis for dialogue and debate, and to make informed decisions on the issues that affect us. It helps us build our identity and, as global citizens, better understand the world around us; it contributes to meaningful changes towards a better future.

Irina Bokova. © Yulian Donov

Today, however, news producers face many challenges. In-depth and fact-checked news is being overshadowed by shared media content that is all too often far from this standard. On social media in particular, collecting clicks and being first reign supreme over properly verified news and comment. All this further compounds long-existing problems of unjustifiable curbs on press freedom in many parts of the world.

In these circumstances, where does the responsibility lie for ensuring that fact-based debate is not stifled? Whose duty is it to strengthen the media’s potential to foster a better future for all? And how do we protect the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of information, which are the preconditions for independent and free journalism?

The answer is that we must look to ourselves as agents of change – whether we are Government actors, civil society members, business people, academics or members of the media. Each of us has a role to play, because each has a stake in press freedom, which facilitates our ability to seek, receive and impart information.

What happens to journalists and to journalism is a symbol of how society respects the fundamental freedoms of expression and access to information. Society suffers whenever a journalist falls victim, whether to threats, harassment or murder. It affects us all when press freedom is curbed by censorship or political interference, or is contaminated by manipulation and made-up content.

Society suffers whenever a journalist falls victim, whether to threats, harassment or murder. It affects us all when press freedom is curbed by censorship or political interference, or is contaminated by manipulation and made-up content.
When the free flow of information is hampered, the void is more easily filled by disinformation, undermining the ability of communities to make informed choices.

With this in mind, the global theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies. This refers to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious 15-year commitment of all UN Member States and stakeholders toward worldwide prosperity, peace and development. Journalism is central to achieving the agenda’s 16th goal, which aims for justice for all, peace, and inclusive institutions.

Free and independent journalism reinforces democracy, justice and the rule of law. It also serves as a prerequisite for combating gross economic inequalities, reversing climate change, and promoting women’s rights. But without audiences demanding well-researched and conflict-sensitive narratives, critical reporting will be increasingly side-lined. Every citizen has a direct stake in the quality of the information environment. ‘Fake’(d) news can only take root in the absence of critical thinking and the assumption that if it looks like news then in must be. Media and Information Literacy efforts have a central role in building the necessary defences in the minds of individuals to face these phenomena.

On World Press Freedom Day, let us all be reminded that fact-based journalism is the light that illuminates the pathway to a future where informed communities can work together, mindful of their responsibilities to each other and to the world we live in.


Caribbean Rolls Out Plans to Reduce Climate Change Hazards

30 April 2017 - 9:48am

Dr. Mark Bynoe, senior environment and resource economist with the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 30 2017 (IPS)

Climate change remains inextricably linked to the challenges of disaster risk reduction (DRR). And according to the head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Robert Glasser, the reduction of greenhouse gases is “the single most urgent global disaster risk treatment”.

Glasser was addressing the Fifth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in the Americas. Held recently in Montreal, the gathering included more than 1,000 delegates from 50 countries, including the Caribbean.“We see disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as two sides of the same coin." --Dr. Mark Bynoe

“We recognise that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is arguably the single most urgent global disaster risk treatment, because without those efforts our other efforts to reduce many hazards and the risks those pose to communities would be overwhelmed over the longer term,” Glasser said.

The conference, hosted by the Canadian government in cooperation with UNISDR marked the first opportunity for governments and stakeholders of the Americas to discuss and agree on a Regional Action Plan to support the implementation of the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030.

The Sendai Framework is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action. It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly following the 2015 Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). The Framework is a 15-year, voluntary non-binding agreement which recognises that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government, the private sector and other stakeholders.

“The regional plan of action you will adopt . . . will help and guide national and local governments in their efforts to strengthen the links between the 2030 agenda for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction as national and local DRR strategies are developed and further refined in line with the Sendai Framework priorities over the next four years,” Glasser said.

The Caribbean is a minute contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions but will be among the most severely impacted.

The region is already experiencing its impacts with more frequent extreme weather events such as the 2013 rain event in the Eastern Caribbean, extreme drought across the region with severe consequences in several countries; the 2005 flooding in Guyana and Belize in 2010.

Inaction for the Caribbean region is very costly. An economic analysis focused on three areas – increased hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure – revealed damages could cost the region 10.7 billion dollars by 2025. That’s more than the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

At the Montreal conference, Head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Ronald Jackson was a panelist in a forum discussing the linkages between disaster risk reduction, climate change and sustainable development. He said the region needs to marry its indigenous solutions to disaster risk management with modern technology.

“We’ve recognised that in the old days, our fore parents…had to deal with flood conditions and they survived them very well. There were simple things in terms of how they pulled their beds and other valuables out of the flood space in the house in particular. This contributed to their surviving the storms with minimal loss,” Jackson said.

“That knowledge of having to face those adverse conditions and surviving them and coping through them and being able to bounce back to where they were before, that was evident in our society in the past. It has subsequently disappeared.”

CDEMA is a regional inter-governmental agency for disaster management in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The Agency was established in 1991 with primary responsibility for the coordination of emergency response and relief efforts to participating states that require such assistance.

Another regional agency, the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) is collaborating with other agencies on the Caribbean Risk Management Initiative (CRMI).

The CRMI aims to provide a platform for sharing the experiences and lessons learned between different sectors across the Caribbean in order to facilitate improved disaster risk reduction.

“We see disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as two sides of the same coin because to the extent we are able to enhance disaster risk reduction we are also beginning to adapt to climate change,” Dr. Mark Bynoe, the CCCCC’s senior environment and resource economist said.

He explained that there are a range of activities carried out specifically in terms of climate adaptation that will also have a disaster risk reduction element.

“We are looking at enhancing water security within a number of our small island states. One of the things we are focusing on there is largely to produce quality water through the use of reverse osmosis systems but we’re utilizing a renewable energy source. So, on the one hand we are also addressing adaptation and mitigation.”

Meantime, CCCCC’s Deputy Executive Director Dr. Ulric Trotz said the agency is rolling out a series of training workshops in 10 countries to share training tools that were developed with the aim of assisting in the generation of scientific information and analysis to help in making informed decisions. These include the Weather Generator (WG), the Tropical Storm Model/ Simple Model for the Advection of Storms and Hurricanes (SMASH), and the Caribbean Drought Assessment Tool (CARiDRO).

The training will target key personnel whose focus are in areas of agriculture, water resources, coastal zone management, health, physical planning or disaster risk reduction.

“The CARIWIG [Caribbean Weather Impacts Group] tool is a critical tool in that it more or less localizes the projection so that for instance, you can actually look at climate projections for the future in a watershed in St. Kitts and Nevis. It localizes that information and it makes it much more relevant to the local circumstance,” said Dr. Trotz.

Training and application of the tools will allow decision-makers to better understand the potential impacts of drought, tropical storms, and rainfall and temperature changes. When combined with other data and information, they can help to build a picture of potential impacts to key economic sectors in the various countries.

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Protection of Journalists Fails in Latin America

29 April 2017 - 7:26pm

Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa places a plaque in honour of Regina Martínez, on Apr. 28, 2015, in the central square of Xalapa, the capital of the southern state of Veracruz, to commemorate the third anniversary of the journalist’s murder. On July 2015, Espinosa was also killed. Credit: Roger López/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 29 2017 (IPS)

Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Brito covered drug trafficking issues in a region of the southern state of Guerrero where criminal groups are extremely powerful.

In September 2015 he survived an attempt on his life, and because he was deemed at “very high risk” he became a beneficiary of the federal mechanism for protection for human right defenders and journalists created in December 2012.

The protection measures he was assigned consisted basically of police patrols. They offered him a place in a shelter in Mexico City, but he refused.

In October 2016, the protection measures were cancelled; five months later, Pineda Brito became the first journalist murdered in 2017 in the most dangerous country for reporters in Latin America.“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region.” -- Ricardo González

Pineda Brito’s Mar. 2 murder was followed by six weeks of terror in which three more journalists were killed and two others survived after being shot, in different parts of this country of 127 million people.

The highest-profile murder was that of Miroslava Breach, on Mar. 26, a veteran journalist who covered political news for the La Jornada newspaper in the northern state of Chihuahua along the U.S. border.

But Pineda Brito’s killing reflected the inefficacy of institutional mechanisms for protecting journalists in the region.

“Last year it became clear that the state’s protection model exported from Colombia to Mexico and recently to Honduras had failed,” said Ricardo González, Security and Protection Officer of the London-based international organisation Article 19, which defends freedom of expression.

“The cases of journalists murdered in Mexico, who were under the protection of different state mechanisms, as well as the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s refusal to take part in the assessment of cases under the Colombian mechanism are things that should be of concern,” he told IPS.

For González, the lack of a functioning justice system and redress makes the model “ineffective, apart from financially unsustainable.”

The numbers in Mexico prove him right: according to Article 19’s latest report, of the 427 assaults on the media and journalists registered in 2016, 99.7 per cent went unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression has only managed to secure a conviction in three cases.

Most of the attacks were against journalists who work for small media outlets outside the country’s capital, and at least half of them were committed by state agents.

The federal protection mechanism currently protects 509 people – 244 journalists and 265 human right defenders).

But even though the dangers are growing rather than decreasing, the government and the legislature cancelled the funds available for protection, and since January the mechanism has been operating with the remnants of a trust fund whose 9.5 million dollars in reserves will run out in September.

According to Article 19, violence against the press is still one of the main challenges faced in Latin America, and something to be reflected on when World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3.

“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region,” said González.

Map of the World Press Freedom Index, released Apr. 26 by Reporters Without Borders, where Cuba (173rd of 180 countries) and Mexico (147th) are the worst positioned in Latin America, while Uruguay (25th) and Chile (33rd) top the regional ranking. Credit: RWB

In the same vein, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday Apr. 26 warns about the political and economic instability seen in several countries of Latin America, where journalists who investigate questions that affect the interests of political leaders or organised crime are attacked, persecuted and murdered.

“RWB regrets the pernicious and continuous deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Latin America,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the RWB Latin America desk, presenting the Index.

“In the face of a multifaceted threat, journalists often have to practice self-censorship, and even go into exile, to survive. This is absolutely unacceptable in democratic countries,” he added.

The RWB report underscores the case of Nicaragua, the country that experienced the largest drop in the index because since the controversial re-election of President Daniel Ortega, the independent and opposition press has suffered numerous cases of censorship, intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrests. The country fell 17 spots, to 92nd among the 180 countries studied.

The report also describes Mexico as another worrisome case: in 15 years it dropped from 75th to 147th on the Index, putting it next to Syria and Afghanistan. Mexico is still torn apart by corruption and the violence of organised crime, says RWB.

In fact, it is the second worst ranked Latin American country, after Cuba, which is 173rd, after dropping two spots.

At a regional level, the countries best-positioned in the ranking are Uruguay (25th, after falling five), Chile (33rd, after dropping two) and Argentina (50th, after going up four).

Increasingly sophisticated means of control

Despite the threats and risks, independent journalism is making progress in the region. In 2016, the organisation Sembramedia created the first directory of native digital media in Latin America which has listed more than 500 independent platforms.

But at the same time, the means of control of the independent press are getting more sophisticated, said González.

Legal, labour and online harassment, as well as indirect censorship through the control of state advertising are tools that governments and political and economic groups use ever more frequently around the region.

In Mexico, the most emblematic case is that of journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was fired together with her investigative journalism team from the MVS radio station after publishing an investigation about corruption implicating President Enrique Peña Nieto.

But there are even more unbelievable cases, such as a judge’s order for psychological tests for political scientist Sergio Aguayo, after he published well-substantiated information about massacres in the Mexican state of Coahuila, connected to former governor Humberto Moreira.

The organisation FUNDAR Centre for Analysis and Research has documented that this country’s central government and 32 state governments spend an average of 800 million dollars a year on official advertising and announcements in the media.

Another Mexican organisation committed to the defence of digital rights, R3D, reported that various regional governments have bought programmes from Hacking Team, an Italian cybersecurity firm that sells intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments and companies on websites, social networks and email services.

According to R3D, online intimidation and monitoring have increased in Mexico during the Peña Nieto administration.

This pattern repeats itself in other Latin American countries, where attacks are increasing and presenting new challenges.

“In the last year, we have seen how the risks of violence which in the past were limited to questions such as drug trafficking are now faced by those who cover issues related to migration and human trafficking, the environment or community defense of lands against the extractive industries,” said González.

Another flashpoint is the coverage of border issues. “Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States has had quite a negative effect in terms of freedom of the press, both domestically and internationally, in the entire region,” he said.

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At UN, Rex Tillerson, Top US Diplomat, Delivers Stark Warnings to North Korea

29 April 2017 - 5:42pm

Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, right, who presided over the UN Security Council session on North Korea’s nuclear threats, with Yun Byung-se, his South Korean counterpart, April 28, 2017. Tillerson demanded that all UN member states must abide by UN sanctions on North Korea. Credit: RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council at a meeting on North Korea held at the foreign-minister level, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked member countries to join the United States in a strong campaign to enhance pressures on the Kim Jong-un regime, whose rapidly developing nuclear and missile programs have reached dangerous levels.

The high-level diplomatic session took place on April 28, the final day of the American presidency of the Security Council, a monthly rotating position. The atmosphere signaled that the US was back and needed partners after months of disparaging the UN and insulting various UN member countries.

All 15 Council members read statements at the session, in addition to South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se. North Korean diplomats did not participate in the Council session. But as if to underline the menacing if predictable behavior of the regime, it fired a missile, which apparently failed, not long after the Council’s meeting ended.

The tone of Tillerson’s address to the Council was much more measured than the freewheeling style of Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said on her first day in the job that she would “take names” and later threatened to use her high heels for kicking those who opposed American policies. (The heels reference was used when she was governor of South Carolina, referring to labor organizers.)

She also compared the UN with the South Carolina state legislature for its clubbiness when she was governor, yet she promoted a fellow state governor to become head of the UN’s World Food Program. PassBlue obtained the letter she wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Haley had promised to “fix” things at the UN as well. “I like to fix things,” she told the US Senate Foreign Relations committee at her confirmation hearing in January.

Hints that a new approach by the US toward world politics may be forming, perhaps led by Tillerson, followed a week of extraordinary chaos in an already chaotic White House. President Donald Trump, still lacking a coherent foreign policy of his own, flailed around for a single domestic success he could advertise on his 100th day in office.

He tried and failed again to get a new national health care bill and threw out an ill-considered American tax-reform outline that ran into a buzzsaw of criticism from experts who called it a gift to the rich.

The week of chaos began on April 24 with a White House lunch for all Security Council ambassadors and their spouses, in which the idea of a presidential “we need you” surfaced and praise for the UN Secretary-General Guterres was made by Trump, according to a diplomat at the meeting. Tillerson was not present at the lunch, but Haley sat at the president’s side.

Curiously, Trump tried to make a joke about her tenure in New York, thanking her for her “outstanding leadership” and then asking Council members: “Does everybody like Nikki? Because if you don’t she can easily be replaced. No, we won’t do that. I promise.”

Still, Trump inadvertently raised suspicions about whether Haley will be reined in by Tillerson, who is slowly but surely reorganizing his department and takes a cautious approach to his diplomacy so far. Reports soon emerged that Haley may be required to have her public statements pre-approved by the State Department, but whether she agrees remains to be seen.

Four days later, on April 28, Tillerson’s message in the Security Council session on North Korea was about partnership, stressing not only American fears — the stock rhetoric of the Trump White House — but also the anxieties of Asian nations and the wider world. “The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it,” Tillerson said to a chamber full of UN ambassadors, whom he thanked for their presence. “I urge this Council to act before North Korea does.”

Tillerson’s demand for action — beginning “today,” he said — included familiar complaints from Washington; for example, doing a better job of enforcing UN resolutions aimed at bringing North Korea to a nuclear stand-down. He called for new financial sanctions on anyone, individual or country, who is supporting or abetting North Korea in its nuclear and missile development — thus defying the sanctions regime, the strictest set imposed by the UN on a member country. No higher-level sanctions on, say, digital activities that violate UN penalties, were mentioned.

He also asked all 193 UN member nations to “suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea,” saying that the regime of Kim Jong-un was exploiting its diplomatic openings and privileges to fund its technology programs, particularly for its military. And he emphasized the importance of imposing bans on North Korean imports, especially coal. He called for suspending the guest-worker program that bring laborers into various countries who can become agents of the Kim Jong-un regime.

He singled out China. “We must all do our share, but with China accounting for 90 percent of North Korean trade, China alone has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique, and its role is therefore particularly important,” Tillerson said. “The US and China have held productive exchanges on this issue, and we look forward to further actions that build on what China has already done.”

Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, in his address to the Council, refused to accept that it was up to his country alone to solve the North Korea problem. “The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” he said. China has preferred to deal with the North Korea issue in multination talks, although these have gained little ground in the past.

The Chinese minister told the media before the Council session that his country’s priorities are denuclearization of North Korea, upholding the nonproliferation regime there, peace talks and not to allow “chaos or war to break out on the peninsula.”

Tillerson repeated the long-held position that “all options” were on the table in dealing with North Korea, as Vice President Mike Pence repeated throughout his trip to Northeast Asia.

“Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed by a willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary,” Tillerson said. But he did not repeat Trump’s recent offhand remark that he would meet with Kim Jong-un if the situation required it. Nor did he refer to the cyberwarfare powers that the US has at its disposal, which Washington does not confirm or deny have been used to abort or destroy North Korean missiles after their launchings.

Russia, for its part, emphasized the toll that sanctions took on ordinary North Koreans and said that although Russia was united in condemning in North Korea’s missile launchings, the government won’t give up its nuclear program as long as it feels threatened by US naval exercises in the region.

Speaking to the Council first, Guterres of the UN described North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile firings in recent years as “clear violations of Security Council resolutions.”

He pointed out that these actions have violated numerous international agreements, including maritime law and aviation regulations.

Moreover, Guterres said, “The International Atomic Energy Agency remains unable to access the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to verify the status of its nuclear program,” though it does have sophisticated satellite monitoring in place.

“The DPRK is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests in this century,” Guterres noted. “We must assume that, with each test or launch. The DPRK continues to make technological advances in its pursuit of a military nuclear capability. . . . The onus is on the DPRK to comply with its international obligations. At the same time, the international community must also step up its efforts to manage and reduce tensions.”

In his concluding remarks, speaking as the US representative and not the Council presiding officer, Tillerson re-emphasized the crucial importance of a truly international effort beyond the calls for more negotiations.

“We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea,” he said. “We will not reward their violations of past resolutions. We will not reward their bad behavior with talks. We will only engage in talks with North Korea when they exhibit a good-faith commitment to abiding by the Security Council resolutions and their past promises to end their nuclear programs.

“And that is why we must have full and complete compliance by every country to the resolutions that have been enacted by this body in the past — no relaxation in the vigorous implementation of sanctions. . . . Any failure to take action diminishes your vote for these resolutions of the past, and diminishes your vote for future resolutions, and it devalues your seat at this Council. We must have full, complete compliance by all members of the Council.”

Leaving the Council after the hourslong session and skirting the media throng outside the chamber, Tillerson walked with Haley to the US mission to the UN across the street, where Council members were treated to lunch.

(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)