Interpress News Service

Fallout of a North Korea attack

28 April 2017 - 5:21pm

Type 001A, China's first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, is seen during a launch ceremony at Dalian shipyard in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, yesterday. Photo: AFP

By Editor, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Apr 28 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Amidst all the show of force and sabre-rattling by North Korea and the United States, has anyone bothered to ask what would happen if push comes to shove? No matter how tyrannical the leadership in North Korea may seem to the outside world, we are not dealing merely with a country that has operational nuclear arms, but fields significant conventional firepower in the field and will, in all probability (if attacked) launch all of its weapons, nuclear or otherwise at neighbouring South Korea and beyond. Those are the ground realities. It is not without reason that Beijing is sufficiently worried about the potential consequences of any attack on North Korea, which will be both immediate and long-term. Even if the nuclear weapons programme is neutralised on Korean soil, the radiation fallout will be significant and it has everyone worried.

The only country which has any influence over the North Korean leadership is China and Beijing must be entrusted by Washington to deal with the situation. Already, it is reported that China has stopped buying North Korean coal, which happens to be one of the few commodities that the country exports legally and this squeeze can be broadened to curb trade across the border if Pyongyang continues to act irresponsibly with its nuclear arsenal. The last time the world came this close to a potential atomic war was during the Cuban missile crisis and even there cooler heads prevailed. We are sure there are a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations going on over the tense issue prevailing in the Korean peninsula today, and we hope, for the sake of humanity, pragmatism will win over belligerence.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Caribbean Scientists Work to Limit Climate Impact on Marine Environment

28 April 2017 - 4:50pm

In the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean scientists say fishermen are already seeing the effects of climate change, so for a dozen or so years they’ve been designing systems and strategies to reduce the impacts on the industry.

While some work on reef gardens and strategies to repopulate over fished areas, others crunch the data and develop tools designed to prepare the region, raise awareness of climate change issues and provide the information to help leaders make decisions.As the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further.

In December 2017, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) secretariat, with funding from the UK government, announced a Climate Report Card to help formulate strategies to lessen the impact of climate change on regional fisheries.

“The CRFM is trying to ensure that the issue of climate change as it relates to the fisheries sector comes to the fore… because the CARICOM Heads of Government have put fish and fishery products among the priority commodities for CARICOM. It means that things that affect that development are important to us and so climate change is of primary importance,” said Peter Murray, the CRFM’s Programme Manager for Fisheries and Development.

The grouping of small, developing states are ‘fortifying’ the sectors that rely on the marine environment, or the Blue Economy, to withstand the expected ravages of climate change which scientists say will increase the intensity of hurricanes, droughts, coastal sea level rise and coral bleaching.

In its last report AR5, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported: “Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change,” patterns that are already being noted by Caribbean fishers.

In an email to IPS, Murray outlined several initiatives across the Caribbean that ,he says are crucial to regional efforts. The Report Card, which has been available since March, will provide the in-depth data governments need to make critical decisions on mitigation and adaptation. It provides information covering ocean processes such as ocean acidification; extreme events like storms, surges and sea temperature; biodiversity and civil society including fisheries, tourism and settlements.

In addition, the 17-members of the CRFM agreed to incorporate the management of fisheries into their national disaster plans, and signed off on the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy for the fisheries sector. 


“It means that anything looking at climate change and potential impacts is important to us,” Murray says.

The IPCC’s gloomy projections for world fisheries has been confirmed by a 2015 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report indicating that for the last 30 years, world fisheries have been in decline due to climate change. In the Caribbean, reduced catches are directly impacting the stability of entire communities and the diets and livelihoods of some of the region’s poorest. Further decline could devastate the economies of some islands.

But even as climate change is expected to intensify the effects of warming ocean waters, pelagic species could avoid the Caribbean altogether, bringing even more hardships. So the regional plan is centred on a Common Fisheries Policy that includes effective management, monitoring and enforcement systems and tools to improve risk planning.

In addition to the disaster plan and its other activities, the Community has over time installed a Coral Reef Early Warning System; new data collection protocols; improved computing capacity to crunch climate data; an insurance scheme to increase the resilience of fishing communities and stakeholders; as well as several tools to predict drought and excessive rainfall.

Worldwide, three billion people rely on fish as their major source of protein. The industry provides a livelihood for about 12 per cent of the world’s population and earns approximately 2.9 trillion dollars per year, the WWF reports. With regional production barely registering internationally, the Caribbean is putting all its efforts into preserving the Blue Economy, which the World Bank said earned the region 407 billion dollars in 2012.

In the coming weeks the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, known regionally as the 5Cs, has coordinated and implemented a raft of programmes aimed at building systems that will help the region cope the effects of climate change.

Through collaboration with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 5Cs has been setting up an integrated network of climate and biological monitoring stations to strengthen the region’s early warning mechanism.

And as the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further. In addition, warming sea water is expected to shift migration routes for pelagic fish further north, reducing the supply of available deep sea fish even more. Added to that, competition for the dwindling resources could cause negative impacts of one industry over another.

But while scientists seek options, age-old traditions are sometimes still pitted against conservation projects. Take an incident that played out in the waters around St. Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks ago when whale watchers witnessed the harpooning of two orcas by Vincentian fishermen.

The incident forced Prime Minister Ralph Gonsavles to announce the end of what was, until then, a thriving whaling industry in the village of Barouille. For years, government turned a blind eye as fishermen breached regional and international agreements on the preservation of marine species. The continued breaches are also against the Caribbean Community’s Common Fisheries Policy that legally binds countries to a series of actions to protect and preserve the marine environment and its creatures.

On April 2, five days after the incident, Gonsalves took to the airwaves to denounce the whaling caused by “greed” and announce pending regulations to end fishing for the mammals. The incident also tarnished the island’s otherwise excellent track record at climate proofing its fishing industry.

Murray’s email on regional activities outlines SVG activities including the incorporation of the regional strategy and action plan and its partnership with several regional and international agencies and organisations to build resilience in the marine sector.

Over in the northern Caribbean, traditions are also testing regulations and international agreements. In Jamaica, the Sandals Foundation in association with major supermarket chains has launched a campaign to stop the capture and sale of parrotfish for consumption.

Scientists say that protecting the parrot is synonymous with saving the reefs and mitigating the effects of climate change. And further north in the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. While trade is regulated, household use of both, sea turtles, and some sharks remain unregulated; and residents are resistant to any restrictions.

And while many continue to puzzle about the reasons behind the region’s climate readiness, scientists caution that there is no time to ease up. This week they rolled out, among other things, a coastal adaptation project and a public education and awareness (PAE) programme launched on April 26 in Belize City.

The PAE project, named Feel the Change, is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Project (J-CCCP) public awareness programme. Speaking at the launch, project development specialist at 5Cs Keith Nichols pointed to the extreme weather events from severe droughts to changes in crop cycles, which have cost the region billions.

“Climate change is not just sea level rise and global warming; climate change and climate variability is all around us,” he said.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture – From Tanzania to Vietnam

28 April 2017 - 12:52pm

Farmers clear weeds from a trench, which retains water and prevents soil erosion during rains, as part of the FAO project to strengthen capacity of farms for climate change in Kiroka, Tanzania. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

As part of efforts to move towards “climate-smart” agriculture, several countries have shared In a meeting in Rome new experiences on how to produce food in ways that help farmers cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

The exchange took place at a special 26 April side-event during a session of the UN Food and Agriculture OrganizationFAO’s executive Council.

While countries are embarking on the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions –the actions nations are taking under the Paris Agreement– the event provided an opportunity to learn from countries that have championed climate-smart agriculture in different regions, FAO informed.

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach aimed at transforming food systems. It involves pursuing sustainable productivity increases while implementing climate adaptation strategies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions where possible, to achieve food security in the face of increasing climate change.

Tanzania

In Tanzania, the UN specialised body reports, estimated loss in the agriculture sector due to climate change is about 200 million dollars per year.

To tackle this problem the government has brought the climate agenda in line with agriculture development and food security policies, and climate change considerations are now mainstreamed into national development planning and budget allocations, it added.

Tanzania also intends to invest more in research on climate-smart agriculture to inform decision-making and involve private partners to catalyse additional investment in the sector.

The national policy focus in Tanzania has hence shifted towards building resilience of agricultural and food production systems in the face of climate change and fostering adoption of climate smart agriculture, particularly among vulnerable, smallholder farmers, according to FAO.

For example, rice-farming techniques that use less water were introduced several years ago in five Tanzanian regions –Morogoro, Iringa, Lake Zone, Shinyanga and Mbeya– are used now by around 30 per cent of all rice producers in those areas.

The farmers have already seen their yields increase while using less water resources – which is particularly important for these drought-prone areas – and are eager to switch to new varieties of rice seeds.

Conservation agriculture practices, implemented in the Lake Zone, have also shown their efficiency, the UN agency said.

These have included the use of improved seed varieties of cassava, maize, sorghum and cotton, which are tolerant to droughts and water scarcity, and the use of organic fertilizers such as manure to increase soil fertility. As a result, the productivity in the areas practicing conservation agriculture has increased by about four times compared to the traditionally cultivated areas.

National researchers have also developed special breeds of high-yielding dairy cows and introduced them to livestock farmers in the field enabling them to cut down the number of cattle while increasing their income. This in turn has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock production and prevent grazing damage to crops.

Vietnam

In Vietnam, about 700 000 hectares of rice and other food crops were heavily damaged by climate-induced natural disasters in 2016. As a result, rice production fell by 800 000 tons, and about 1.1 million people in affected areas were put at a greater risk of food insecurity.

To reverse the dire situation, numerous climate change adaptation and disaster-risk management measures have been implemented at national, subnational and local levels.

For example, rice cultivation area in several Central provinces has been converted to other crops such as fruit trees and grapes, which require less water for raising and can serve as an alternative source of income for farmers. When weather permits, the land can be easily switched back to rice production.

On sloping land areas of Vietnam’s Northern mountainous regions and Central provinces, annual food crops are intercropped with forests, fruit or industrial trees, reported FAO.

Such agro-forestry systems help farmers diversify their income, control soil erosion, and improve ecosystems and the environment. In addition, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon.

Integrating crops or forests with aquaculture is also widely practiced in Vietnam. For example, the ecological shrimp-mangrove forests in the country’s coastal provinces provide sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable coastal communities while protecting natural resources.

“Furthermore, organic farming products can fetch premium prices due to the high food safety standards employed in their production. With more than 180 000 hectares of the shrimp-mangrove forests having been cultivated to date, farmers are receiving a stable income of 1 600 dollars per hectare per year. Meanwhile, the coastal protection value is estimated at about 800 dollars per hectare per year.”

In household pig production, livestock farmers are being encouraged to use bio-digesters, which allow them to convert wastes into biogas used for daily cooking and lighting. They also create nutrient-rich slurry for fertilizing paddy rice fields. More than 35 000 bio-digesters have already been installed, which resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

During the FAO-hosted event, the participants also highlighted the importance of embedding climate-smart agriculture in national policies and programmes, and promoting climate-smart practices in the field through trainings and farmer field schools in various ecological zones.

They also stressed the need to provide accurate climate information to farmers, and investing in evidence-based research on climate-smart agriculture.

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The UN Needs to Bring Parliamentarians on Board

28 April 2017 - 12:24pm

Evo Morales Ayma (shown on screens), President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Andreas Bummel
BERLIN, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

In pursuit of the Agenda 2030 the UN is playing an increasingly important role. Its Charter was declared in the name of “We, the Peoples.“ Elected representatives, however, who are interested in the affairs of the UN and its entities will discover that there are hardly any arrangements in place that would allow them to be involved.

In 1992, governments agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that public participation in decision-making is important and defined nine major groups that should be engaged, including, for example, indigenous peoples, local authorities, business and industry, women or non-governmental organizations.

In consequence, many UN entities and UN-driven negotiations such as the climate talks give those groups an opportunity to be included. It’s one of many symptoms for the neglect of parliamentarians in intergovernmental affairs that they are not among them.

In 2004 the Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations suggested the creation of an Elected Representatives Liaison Unit at the UN but nothing happend.

In any case, much more is needed. It is no longer acceptable that UN decision-making primarily, if not exclusively, represents only the executive branch of national governments. It is now widely recognized that representative parliaments are an indispensable element of good and democratic governance.

Why should this insight not apply to the UN as well?

There has been a growing trend towards stronger interaction of parliamentarians across national borders. Today, there are more than 100 international parliamentary institutions such as Parliamentarians for Global Action, the OECD Global Parliamentary Network or the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The oldest of them is the Inter-Parliamentary Union that was created more than a century ago in 1889.

The group of formal parliamentary organs is the most developed. Examples are the European Union’s European Parliament or the African Union‘s Pan-African Parliament. In the UN system, however, no such body exists.

Although the IPU and other networks have slowly managed to establish a relationship with the UN, their formal status and political influence in the world organization are marginal at best.

The UN and its General Assembly, the most universal body in the international order, must seriously begin to add a parliamentary dimension to its formal structure.

A group of lawmakers and representatives of civil society organizations, encouraged by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, concluded ten years ago that there needs to be a parliamentary organ formally embedded into the UN’s structure, a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

To advance this goal, they launched the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly as an informal international platform that brings together all like-minded forces, and coordinates their efforts at all levels.

No question, a UNPA is a complex undertaking which necessarily means that there are differing opinions if it comes to details. Nonetheless, the campaign’s international appeal, a political statement that is endorsed by all campaign supporters, has proven to create focus and unity.

Since its publication in 2007, around 1,500 members of parliament signed the document, in addition to thousands of other individuals from over 150 countries, among them innumerous distinguished personalities from public administration, science, civil society and culture.

Since the campaign’s launch pro-UNPA resolutions were adopted, for instance, by the Canadian House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the Pan-African Parliament, the Latin-American Parliament, the Senate of Argentina, the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Parliament of Mercosur. The foreign ministers of Malta and Italy voiced support.

Through a UNPA, elected representatives who are directly accountable to their constituents would be able to play a role in the world organization. They could provide oversight of international decision-making and serve as a link between the world’s citizens, civil society, and the UN.

The assembly would allow for participation of parliamentarians who do not belong to governing parties. Giving the opposition a voice at the world level could strengthen democratic forces in countries in transition. The assembly could provide additional international accountability and oversight for government action on the Sustainable Development Goals.

A UNPA can provide innovative means of multi stakeholder inclusion in the UN’s work through public hearings, leveraging its convening capacity, or co-option of independent experts, rapporteurs, investigative bodies or advisory members in addition to collaborating with civil society organizations.

The campaign’s policy is that a UNPA could be of a hybrid nature, composed of members who are either sitting members of national or regional parliaments or directly elected for this purpose.

Starting as an advisory body, it should be incrementally provided with genuine rights of information, participation and control vis-à-vis the UN and the organizations of the UN system, including the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization. A UNPA could provide the UN and the wider system of global governance with unprecedented democratic legitimacy.

In a first step the campaign advocates the establishment of a UNPA by means which do not require a change of the UN’s Charter, which is either by a decision of the UN General Assembly according to Article 22 of the UN’s Charter, or by a new international treaty.

Along similar lines, two years ago the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance, which is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Gambari, recommended the creation of a UN Parliamentary Network as a step towards “the creation of a standing, formally constituted UN second chamber.”

It is crucial to recognize that in our times democratic deliberation, participation and decision-making can no longer be confined to the nation-state. If we want to save and strengthen democracy, we cannot ignore the interconnections between national and global democratization.

As the late Boutros Boutros Ghali said: “We need to promote the democratization of globalization, before globalization destroys the foundations of national and international democracy. The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations has become an indispensable step to achieve democratic control of globalization.”

Multilateralism, Key Element in Promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

28 April 2017 - 11:55am

Alicia Bárcena in the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, in Mexico City. Credit: ECLAC

By Alicia Bárcena
MEXICO CITY, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

The end of last year and the start of the current one were marked by major changes and enormous uncertainties, although there were also some notable advances and great opportunities, both at the global level and for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, offer an important road map for the construction of a new and ambitious international consensus regarding the need for greater cooperation to correct asymmetries and set the foundations for an open, sustainable and stable multilateral system.

The civilizing, universal and indivisible 2030 Agenda places human dignity and equality at its centre and, consequently, demands the broadest participation by all actors, including States, civil society and the private sector.

The current context, characterized by a weakening of multilateralism, the return of protectionism and the rise of extremist political movements, undermines the advancement of that global consensus, poses a grave challenge to the world economy and threatens the attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The current context, characterized by a weakening of multilateralism, the return of protectionism and the rise of extremist political movements, undermines the advancement of that global consensus, poses a grave challenge to the world economy and threatens the attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In our region, we face a complex scenario of lower economic growth, with notable steps forward such as the peace process in Colombia, and also great uncertainties in the political and economic future of the region, in a year of key elections and electoral preparations.

The unfavourable economic climate and low levels of investment impacting productivity and restricting the structural change necessary to progress towards a new development model threaten the social achievements attained by our region’s countries in recent decades, in particular the reduction of poverty and inequality. That is a cause for concern since, even today, poverty still affects 175 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, 75 million of whom face the day-to-day challenges of extreme poverty.

For that reason, it is a matter of urgency for the civilizing agenda for equality offered by the 2030 Agenda to acquire an identity and a home in Latin America and the Caribbean. For us to give it a Latin American and Caribbean face and institutions, in accordance with our history and our circumstances and with our rich diversity and shared hopes, and to shape it according to the urgent demands that our reality imposes.

ECLAC has stressed that social issues cannot be addressed in the social arena alone, and that macroeconomic management and industrial policies, innovation and technology are crucial in resolving social problems. Neither can productivity and structural change be addressed solely in the economic arena. The fact of the matter is that social investment increases productivity and generates positive externalities throughout the system, whereas its absence raises costs and leads to lost income.

As regards the environment, the region’s countries must gear their efforts towards increasing investment and strengthening technological capacities in the developing countries, in order to decouple rising gross domestic products from increased emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants through a big environmental push.

In this context, understanding the urgency of the challenges they face in the present circumstances and the need to bolster the region’s voice in global sustainable development forums, the countries of our region created the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development which seeks, through exchanges of experiences, good practices and shared learning, to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration and to bring about a comprehensive, coherent and more efficient implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The Forum, which held its first meeting in Mexico City on 26 to 28 April, is an annual mechanism that will launch a new methodology for multi-actor engagement, and its results will be used for the region’s submissions to the High-level Political Forum that meets in New York every July.

It provides a space for the region’s countries to reflect on what their medium- and long-term development strategies and priorities will be, and it also strengthens regional integration as an essential tool for meeting the challenges of the global context.

Today more than ever, we must promote and expand cooperation and integration on a multilateral basis. The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs are universal not only in that they aspire to include all the world’s countries and that their attainment only makes sense at the planetary level. They are also universal in that national efforts can be bolstered by the presence of global and regional cooperation or severely compromised by its absence.

 

20 Million People Could ‘Starve to Death’ in Next Six Months

28 April 2017 - 11:49am

A livestock owner in Yemen tends her goats. Livestock production fell by more than 35 per cent in 2016 compared to the pre-crisis period. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

Urgent action is needed to save the lives of people facing famine in North Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN leading food and agriculture agency’s chief on April 28 warned. “If nothing is done, some 20 million people could starve to death in the next six months.”

“Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva added.

At a media briefing ahead of the conclusive session of the this UN specialised agency’s executive arm—the FAO Council, he launched a new appeal for voluntary contributions, that are “of vital importance to FAO, now more than ever.”

“I will be always committed to finding more savings and promoting more efficiency, as I have done over the last five years. But I have already cut to the bone. There is no more fat left.”

On this, Graziano da Silva emphasised the need to work with everyone on the basis of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development –“Leaving No One Behind”, in order to save all the affected people.

He also announced that agreement will be signed among FAO and the other two Rome-based UN agencies: the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on how to tackle the current famine in those 4 countries– Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

The FAO Council, which has met in FAO-headquarters in Rome on 24 – 28 April, convenes between sessions of the main Conference to provide advice and oversight related to programmatic and budgetary matters.

The Council’s 49 elected members have been briefed on the extent of the hunger crises, and the steps required to preventing catastrophe.

Making Funds Go Further

The organisation’s executive body has also approved FAO‘s Programme of Work and Budget 2018-2019, which prioritises areas where FAO can deliver the greatest impact to member countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agriculture production, water scarcity management, and building the resilience of poor family farmers.

Famine has officially been declared by the South Sudanese government for some parts of the country. Credit: FAO

Food and agriculture are central to the sustainable development agenda, and FAO’s work is projected to contribute to the achievement of 40 targets across 15 of the 17 goals.

Ahead of the FAO Council’s meeting, Graziano da Silva had on 25 April stated in Geneva that a combination of food assistance and food production assistance is the only way to avoid famine in conflict-ridden Yemen where two-thirds of the population –17 million people– are suffering from severe food insecurity.

“As the conflict continues, food security and nutrition will also continue to deteriorate,” he stressed in his address to a United Nations High-Level Pledging conference for Yemen organised in Geneva and co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden.

“To put these figures into perspective, we are talking about the double of Switzerland’s population being unable to meet their basic daily food needs.”

He stressed how livelihoods support, especially for agriculture and fishing, must be an integral part of the international community’s response to the crisis in Yemen.

Over 17 Million Yemenis, Acutely Food Insecure

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the on-going conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food, Graziano da Silva wrote on IPS.

“More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.”

According to Graziano da Silva, only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

In 2016, agriculture production in Yemen and the area under cultivation shrank by 38 per cent due to the lack of inputs and investments. Livestock production fell by 35 per cent.

“Agricultural assistance in a humanitarian crisis can no longer be an afterthought,” the FAO Director-General said. “We need to seize every opportunity to support communities in Yemen to continue producing food, even under difficult circumstances.”

In Geneva, Graziano da Silva met Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghr, for talks on FAO’s support to the country to deliver emergency livelihood assistance and kick-start food production, especially when resources pledged to tackle the crisis are concretely made available.

The Geneva pledging conference on April 25 mobilised half of the 2,1 billion dollars urgently required to rescue the starving Yemeni population.

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G77 Underlines Key Role for Digital Technology & Social Media

28 April 2017 - 11:21am

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2017 (IPS/G77)

Underlining the key role to be played by digital technology in helping implement the UN’s 2030 development agenda, the Group of 77 has said it recognizes the importance of information and communications technologies (ICTs), including social media, and their positive potential to significantly amplify the UN’s messages to the widest possible audiences and to enhance greater interaction with the United Nations, in particular among the global youth population.

However, it cautioned, that the use of traditional media, including television and radio broadcast as well as print, must continue, since they still remain the primary means of public communications in many developing countries.

Speaking on behalf of the G77, joined by China, Ambassador Horacio Sevilla Borja of Ecuador and chair of the G77, told the UN Committee on Information the Group would encourage the Department of Public Information (DPI) to continue to promote, through its public campaigns, key decisions and agreements reached by the international community.

These, he pointed out, include agreements on sustainable development, decolonization, the New Urban Agenda, dialogue among civilizations and the culture of peace, the initiative on a world against violence and violent extremism, peacekeeping, disarmament, poverty eradication and climate change.

“The importance of the Department’s work cannot be stressed enough, amid increasing calls for the United Nations to better communicate to and connect with the global public, in order to be better understood and remain relevant,” he added.

Ambassador Borja said the General Assembly resolution 69/324 recognizes that multilingualism promotes unity in diversity and international understanding.

The Group fully supports its integration into all activities of the United Nations.

“While we recognize that there has been progress in this issue, the Group continues to be concerned at the disparity in the use of all official languages in United Nations public information materials and platforms, including various social media campaigns,” he noted.

“In this regard, we encourage the Department to reinforce its efforts to continue narrowing the gap among the official languages on United Nations websites and, as a matter of priority, we reiterate the request to design a strategy to deliver daily press releases in all six official languages, in accordance with the relevant General Assembly resolutions.”

In addition, the Group also reiterated its full support for the work of UN Information Centers (UNICs) worldwide in disseminating information about the work of the United Nations in local languages.

“This will not only help overcome the language barrier faced by a large portion of the world population, but also enable them to participate in the discourse on global issues. We therefore encourage the Department to continue supporting them and strengthening their structure regarding both staffing and equipment.”

The G77 chair also warned against the misuse of information technologies. Despite their numerous benefits, information and communications technologies, including social media, can pose a risk of misuse and abuse.

Inaccurate and distorted information can have a negative impact on nations and their citizens.

The Group strongly rejects such practices and reiterates “our position that the use of such technologies should be fully compatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law, in particular the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of States, and internationally recognized rules of civil coexistence among States.”

The use of information and communications technologies with declared or covert purposes to subvert the legal and political order of States is a violation of the recognized international norms in this field, whose effects could generate tensions and conflicts which could also affect international peace and security, he declared.

Meanwhile, the Group also said the Question of Palestine and the Middle East peace process deserve special attention.

The Group underscores the importance of the Special Information Program on the Question of Palestine in raising international awareness on this important issue and in supporting the political process to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

“We commend the Department’s efforts in this regard, including the annual training program for Palestinian journalists, aimed at strengthening skills and capacities of young Palestinian journalists, and call for their continuation and enhancement.”

The G77 also emphasized the importance of the continued implementation by DPI of the ongoing Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries as mandated by the General Assembly, and requests the Department to consider how best to maximize the benefits derived from the Programme by extending, inter alia, its duration and the number of its participants.

“We also emphasize the importance of the educational outreach activities of the United Nations and this regard commends “the United Nations Academic Impact” (UNAI) for its engagement with the global academic, research and scientific communities in realizing the objectives of the Organization.”

The Group encourages promoting this initiative, by inviting more institutions of higher education in all regions, especially from developing countries, to contribute actively to, and support the common principles and purposes of the Organization.

Marching for a Green and Just Future

28 April 2017 - 11:20am

A climate march for the people. Credit IPS/Roger Hamilton-Martin

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

People around the world will be banding together to fight one of the world’s most pressing problems: climate change.

Thousands are set to gather at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. on 29 April to mark the 100th day of President Donald Trump’s administration and push for solutions to the climate crisis.

“The climate crisis has gotten so bad globally that we need much bolder and faster policy changes to really try and address that,” the coordinator of the People’s Climate Movement New York Leslie Cagan told IPS.

A group have scientists recently found that CO2 is being released into the atmosphere at much faster rates and in a shorter period, and that even a two degree Celsius rise of the average temperature will have disastrous effects on the climate.

“We’re really against a ticking clock,” Cagan said.

Cagan was one of the co-coordinators of the 2014 People’s Climate March. However, new challenges have arisen since then.

“This march has the added challenge of having an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Executive Director of UPROSE and member of the Climate Justice Alliance steering committee Elizabeth Yeampierre told IPS.

Among those in the U.S. government that are skeptical of climate change is former Exxon Mobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

This has led not only to threats to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and cut funds to the EPA, but the U.S. government has already taken steps to dismantle environmental protections including slashing the Clean Power Plan and approving fossil fuel-related projects such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Though dubbed the “People’s Climate March,” the march is in fact for climate, jobs, and justice, intersections that are crucial in order to create a sustainable future.

“We don’t want to and can’t isolate the climate issue from the other pressing issues…part of the reason why the globe is experiencing this extreme climate crisis has to do with the kind of economic structures and dynamics that have been played out for many years,” Cagan told IPS.

Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Organiser Kandi Mossett echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating the argument against climate action often used is that it takes away jobs.

“The point is that we are not against jobs at all, we are against the type of jobs that are poisoning and killing the planet and the people in those jobs,” she said.

In order to move away from fossil fuels to a green economy, activists are advocating for a “just transition,” a framework which helps transition workers currently employed by the fossil fuel industry to jobs created by renewable energy sources.

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates approximately 3 million Americans are directly employed by the fossil fuel industry while the American Petroleum Institute estimated 9.8 million full-time and part-time jobs in the country’s oil and natural gas industry.

Fracking wells are often located in poor, rural communities including Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, which are are reliant on the jobs they provide. Workers in such communities therefore need resources such as access to training in order to transition into green jobs.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also found that all 378 coal plants are located near poor and minority communities, exposing residents to high levels of toxins.

“[Communities of color] shouldn’t have to say, ‘well the only job I can take is a job that is going to affect my health and the health of my family. The option of having a job that is renewable and that honors mother earth and our health should exist, and the technology exists to do it,” said Yeampierre told IPS.

According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow.

However, the fossil fuel industry has been resisting the transition with just five fossil fuel companies spending over 115 million dollars per year to oppose climate action.

“[Fossil fuel companies] control the destiny of literally billions on the planet,” said Cagan.

These issues are not unique to the U.S. From Nigerian residents suffering from oil pollution of the Niger River Delta to coal miners in the second largest coal producing country India, the fossil fuel industry and its impacts are felt in virtually every corner of the world.

Mossett noted that even U.S. pollution is not static and that we are all being impacted regardless of where it occurs.

“Our future is connected, their struggle is our struggle,” said Yeampierre, noting that the climate movement is aligned with the Global South.

However, since the U.S. is among the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, efforts to combat global climate change may be undermined.

Cagan noted that the movement will only succeed if the links between climate, justice, and jobs are made.

“Now is the time for those movements to work together into one more unified movement. We need to find ways to work with each other and at times to literally march together,” she told IPS.

Yeampierre similarly stressed the importance of this new vision, stating that a different kind of leadership and unity that is built on just relationships is essential. Mossett told IPS that the march allows people to show such solidarity and strength to President Trump.

However, though such mass movements are important, it does not solve the problem, the organisers said.

“We hope very much is that the march will be inspiring and powerful enough that people are reenergized to keep doing the work when they go back home. It’s the long term struggle that makes the difference,” said Cagan.

Beyond the necessity to move away from fossil fuels, she highlighted the need to encourage and strengthen work at the local level which, once added up, could create a different national picture.

Yeampierre noted that solutions must be designed based on context and in order to do so, local communities must be meaningfully engaged.

“If we don’t all collectively learn that we need to fight together, then we are all collectively going to die together. There is no escaping that,” Mossett said.

Over 300 sister marches on climate, justice, and jobs have been planned across the world.

Kenya Is Doing Its Part to Battle Drought, We Must Too

28 April 2017 - 8:11am

Mother and son wait outside health centre in Bandarero, Marsabit County, Kenya. 3 March 2017. Credit: OCHA/FARAH DAKHLALLAH

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Aida Mengistu
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

After three years of drought and failed harvests, Kenya is in the grip of a national crisis.

All eyes are on neighbouring Somalia and South Sudan – where the needs are indeed greater and more acute – but we must not forget the nearly 3 million Kenyans whose lives have been blighted by these extreme conditions.

Kenya has allocated US$128 million towards the national drought response effort, expanded social safety nets, and is working with the international community to mitigate the impacts of the drought on the most vulnerable.

But the US$166 million appeal launched by the UN and partners in March 2017 has raised a mere 18 per cent of its funding target, US$10.3 million of which from the UN’s own Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien speaks to a mother at a UN-supported health centre in Marsabit County, Kenya. 3 March 2017. Credit: UN/@SIDCHAT1


If donors don’t step up funding immediately, millions of families in dire need will be left to fend for themselves. Half of all Kenyan counties have been directly affected by the drought.

Governments that respond to humanitarian needs must be rewarded with support, not penalised by an international community that looks the other way. This will only deepen the Horn of Africa’s humanitarian crisis.

Thousands of Kenyans are on the move – escaping thirst, hunger and disease. The number of people facing severe food insecurity – 2.6 million – has tripled in less than a year. Even more have trouble accessing clean water. Children are suffering from acute malnutrition and preventable diseases like diarrhoea, measles and cholera.

Consider this, as many as 19,000 children’s lives are lost each year in Kenya due to malnutrition.

Children queue for a school meal in Marsabit County, Kenya. 3 March 2017. Credit: OCHA/FARAH DAKHLALLAH


The situation would have been far worse had the Kenyan Government, the Kenyan Red Cross, the private sector, and the humanitarian community not stepped in earlier this year – declaring a national drought disaster and tapping into early warning and emergency preparedness systems, public-private partnerships and social safety nets.

The Kenya Food Security Steering Group who have been monitoring food insecurity trends across the country. Its data and analysis helps to alert to growing needs and inform the response, which is coordinated through the National Drought Management Authority.

The Government is financing livestock insurance from private companies to sustain thousands of vulnerable pastoralists whose herds have been decimated by drought.

Supported by Equity Bank, the Kenya Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) oversees cash transfers to thousands of vulnerable residents in the country’s arid northern counties.

Here is a Government that is doing its part, but the rest of the world is not.

Without assistance, Kenya’s severely food insecure population could surge to 4 million during the second quarter of 2017. Thousands more children will drop out of school and more herders will cross borders in search of pastures. Tensions will rise and diseases will spread.

The international community can stop this from happening by getting behind Kenya’s drought response effort, which is so critical to the security and stability of the Horn of Africa.

With US$20 million we could stem the spread of cholera and diarrhoea by providing access to clean water and sanitation. An additional US$30 million would finance supplementary feeding for 545,000 children over six months in areas that have exceeded emergency thresholds for acute malnutrition by 200 per cent like Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera.

With US$166 million, we would enable nearly 3 million people to get through this devastating crisis.

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable,” says an African proverb. Let’s put our sticks in a bundle to make Kenya’s drought response – and its communities – unbreakable.

Asean declaration skirts China issue

27 April 2017 - 6:06pm

By Catherine S. Valente
Apr 27 2017 (Manila Times)

Southeast Asian leaders are likely to avoid any official mention at their Manila summit this week of an arbitration ruling that had nullified China’s massive claims on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), according to a draft of their final declaration.

But the draft also expresses “serious concerns” over the “escalation of activities” in the disputed waters, which Southeast Asian countries fear could destabilize the region.

LAST INSTRUCTIONS National Capital Region Police Office chief Oscar Albayalde gives final instructions to Manila policemen who will be part of the security force to guard delegates to the Association of Southeast Asian Summit. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN


The draft, obtained on Wednesday by reporters, is being fine-tuned by senior officials for the leaders to approve during the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit this week in Manila.

The final version is to be released on Saturday, but major points including those concerning the South China Sea are expected to remain largely unchanged.

“We shared the serious concern expressed by some Leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region,” the draft statement said.

“We reaffirmed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursuing peaceful resolution of disputes, including through full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” it added.

Issue of concern
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday maintained that the South China Sea remains to be an issue of concern but the government expects discussions of Asean leaders to be on a positive tone.

DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said that President Rodrigo Duterte, as chairman of Asean, plays a bigger role in steering discussions.

“Of course he can raise more issues, speak more. But definitely it is one of our interests as a country, definitely the president will speak on this,” Bolivar said.

‘Progress’ in code of conduct
The Philippines is hosting this year’s Asean summit, as Duterte seeks closer ties with China while distancing the country from the United States, Beijing’s rival for influence in the Pacific.

Asean leaders, according to the draft, will also reaffirm “the importance of freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea.”

They will also underscore “the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety.”

“We were pleased with the progress to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct (COC), in order to facilitate the early adoption of the COC within the Asean-China process,” the regional bloc’s 10 leaders will say.

The Asean member-states are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand and Vietnam. Four of Asean members – Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam – are claiming parts of the disputed island, while China and Taiwan are claiming most of its features.

In a landmark ruling in July last year, a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal invalidated China’s expansive claims, including in areas where Beijing had reclaimed islands, and admonished China for blocking Filipino fishermen at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a traditional fishing ground.
China refuses to recognize the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

The case was filed by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd, who challenged Beijing through legal and diplomatic avenues including Asean events. This led to a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations.

Duterte, who assumed the presidency shortly before the ruling was issued, has chosen to pursue friendly ties with China to try to win billions of dollars’ worth of trade and aid.

As part of that, he has said he will not use the ruling to pressure China.

The draft follows a similar statement at an Asean summit in Laos last year when intensive Chinese lobbying helped to ensure there was no mention of the ruling.

Philippine diplomats have said the “framework” code of conduct for South China Sea might be completed by June, with China expressing optimism about the talks.

But negotiations for an actual code have already taken 15 years, after Asean and China adopted a non-binding agreement in 2002 to discourage hostile acts.

Meanwhile, China has built its artificial islands, which are capable of serving as military bases.

“What’s the point of having a code of conduct if China has successfully militarized the South China Sea?” Renato de Castro, international studies professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, told AFP.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Indigenous Women: The Frontline Protectors of the Environment

27 April 2017 - 9:23am

The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2017 (IPS)

Indigenous women, while experiencing the first and worst effects of climate change globally, are often in the frontline in struggles to protect the environment.

A forum organized by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) brought together indigenous women from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change in their communities and their work towards sustainable solutions.

“This forum is very much dedicated to frontline communities around climate change issues…we really wanted to take the time to visibilise women’s leadership and their calls for action,” said WECAN’s Executive Director Osprey Orielle Lake.

She added that indigenous women are “drawing a red line to protect and defend mother earth, all species, and the very web of life itself.”

Among the forum’s participants was Executive Director of the Indigenous Information Network Lucy Mulenkei who works with indigenous communities in Kenya on sustainable Development.

She told told IPS how Kenyan indigenous women are bearing the brunt of climate change, stating: “We have been experiencing a lot of prolonged droughts…so it leaves women with added workload [because] getting water is a problem, you have to go father.”

In February, the Kenyan Government declared a national drought emergency which has doubled the number of food-insecure people, increased the rate of malnutrition to emergency levels, and left millions without access to safe water.

Because of climate change, the country also experiences heavy rains which lead to floods, impacting indigenous communities as a whole, Mulenkei said.

Such extreme weather is largely attributed to the fossil fuel industry whose greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming. The United States is responsible for almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the top emitters.

Despite being over 8,000 miles away from Kenya, Mulenkei told IPS that “whatever you do from far away impacts us here.”

The fossil fuel industry is also impacting indigenous communities within the U.S. through its mega infrastructure projects.

“You cannot imagine how much things changed when the oil came,” Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Organiser, said in reference to the discovery of oil in the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota.

“The air is being poisoned, the water is being destroyed,” she continued.

Mossett is among the frontline indigenous women in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which garnered international attention in 2016 after thousands of protestors were met with violence by security forces.

She told IPS that indigenous communities are disproportionately targeted for such projects. “You don’t see a frack well in Hollywood or in the White House lawn. You see it in low-income, minority populations.”

Women return from fetching water after the water in their homes was cut off during the water rationing. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Mossett highlighted the importance of consent prior to the approval of such development projects as cited in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adding that neither the company or government officials did as such in the case of DAPL.

“Consultation is not consent,” she told attendees.

Indigenous communities are facing similar issues as the economy and companies shift to renewable energy.

In Kenya, indigenous communities are seeing the construction of renewable energy projects on their land and without their consent, including the Ngong Hills and Kipeto wind power projects on Maasai territory.

“I feel neglected, I feel marginalized, I feel isolated,” Mulenkei told IPS regarding the lack of consent and consultation of indigenous groups on such projects, adding that the projects would be beneficial if only they were participatory.

Indigenous peoples at times face more extreme violations in the increasingly green economy including the displacement of Maasai communities following the expansion of geothermal energy production in Kenya. In Honduras, indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceres was shot and killed in her home in March 2016 after opposing the development of a hydroelectric dam.

According to a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, five out of 50 renewable energy companies reported that they are committed to following UNDRIP.

Both Mossett and Mulenkei stressed the need to respect indigenous rights as a whole and urged for human rights-based collective actions to protect the environment.

“We have to do nonviolent direct actions on the ground and we have to take back the power in our communities because nobody is going to do it for us,” Mossett stated.

The Indigenous Women Protecting Earth, Rights, and Communities forum was hosted in parallel to the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII) being held from 24 April to 5 May at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Informal Labour, Another Wall Faced by Migrants in Latin America

27 April 2017 - 3:14am

A migrant from an Andean country, carrying her daughter on her back, demonstrates for her rights along with other migrant women, in Buenos Aires, during a Mar. 24 march marking the anniversary of the 1976 military coup that ushered in seven years of dictatorship. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LIMA, Apr 27 2017 (IPS)

A large proportion of the 4.3 million migrant workers in Latin America and the Caribbean survive by working in the informal economy or in irregular conditions. An invisible wall that is necessary to bring down, together with discrimination and xenophobia.

“Looking for work is just one of the causes, but not the only one, or even a decisive one,” said Julio Fuentes, president of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Public Sector Workers (CLATE). “I believe the determining factors driving migration are poverty, low wages, lack of access to health and education services, and the unfair distribution of wealth in our countries.”

The study “Labour migration in Latin America and the Caribbean,” released in August 2016 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), identifies 11 main migration corridors used by workers throughout this region, including nine intra-regional, South-South corridors that connect countries in the region, and two extra-regional South-North corridors connecting with the United States and Spain.

According to the report, this network is constantly evolving due to changes in economic interdependence and labour markets, and has been expanding in volume, dynamism and complexity, growing from 3.2 million migrants in 2011 to 4.3 million at the start of 2016.

Denis Rojas, a Colombian sociologist with the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), mentioned from Buenos Aires other intra-regional migratory causes based on the experience of her compatriots in Argentina.

“It is necessary to bear in mind that the migration to Argentina seen in the past few decades is of different types: one well-identified group is that of generally middle-class professionals, who in view of the high costs and the constraints of access to postgraduate education in Colombia, decide to look for other options abroad, with Argentina being a country of interest due to its wide educational offer and accessible costs in comparison with Colombia,” she told IPS.

Moreover, “several years ago, the number of families sending their children to study in Argentina started increasing due to the high tuition costs in Colombian universities and extensive structural limitations to access education. It is similar to the case of Chile,” she said.

But although the main driver of this current of migration is access to education, Rojas doesn’t rule out labour causes.

“It responds fundamentally to Colombians’ need to enter the labour market. Due to the unemployment and a pervasive flexibilisation of labour standards, people believe that a higher level of education will give them a chance for a better income and better jobs,” she said.

Another group of migrants, she said, are those who were driven out of their homes by Colombia’s armed conflict. They range from poor peasant families and labourers to students and better-off activists.

“Insertion into the labour market depends in this case on the existing support networks,” she stressed.

The ILO points to several common labour-related aspects in these migration flows, which are important to note on International Workers’ Day, celebrated on May 1st.

 

Map of the 11 main migration corridors in Latin America and the Caribbean: nine South-South intra-regional and two North-South towards the US and Europe. Credit: ILO

It mentions the “feminisation” of labour migration, with women accounting for more than 50 percent of migrants; the high proportion of irregular and informal migrant workers and the low access to social protection; and the frequently deficient work conditions as well as the abuse, exploitation and discrimination faced by many migrant workers.

This is the case of a 35-year-old Peruvian migrant to Argentina, identified as Juliana, who was originally from the department of Arequipa in southern Peru.

To pay for her university studies, she worked five years as an unregistered domestic worker.

“At that time it was the only kind of work we could aspire to as foreigners with no contacts and often without the necessary papers. Back then, there was no immigration law as we have today, and it was very difficult to find something better. It took me three years to get my national identity document,” recalls Juliana, who is about to become a lawyer.

Pilar, a 34-year-old Colombian who has been in Brazil for eight years, mentioned a problem faced by many other migrants: they can only get jobs for which they are overqualified. Although she has a university degree, she had to work in a hostel without a contract or labour rights.

She chose Brazil because in her country higher education is expensive and “Brazil, with its free public education, is like a kind of paradise for many Colombians.”

“Many of the young Latin American migrants in Río de Janeiro end up being absorbed by the tourist market. I had no working permit the first few years and I would take whatever work cropped up. I would work over eight hours, with barely one day off a week, and they paid me less than minimum wage,” she said.

In Brazil as well as Argentina, Bolivians work in large clandestine textile sweatshops in near-slavery conditions, a reality that is repeated among migrants in different sectors and countries.
The ILO study points out that there are also migration corridors to other regions. Of a total 45 million migrants in the United States, more than 21 million are Latin American. In Spain, nearly 1.3 million foreigners living in the country are South American.

“The exploitation of Latin American and Caribbean immigrant labour by the central powers is another side of our dependence; they not only plunder our natural resources, but we also provide them labour, which is overexploited. Generating poverty conditions in our region, or in others such as Africa, allows the central powers and their multinationals double benefits: natural resources and cheap labour,” CLATE’s  Fuentes told IPS.

He is worried about the tightening of US immigration policies and the threat of building a wall along the border with Mexico.

“No wall can keep out people seeking to leave behind the poverty to which they have been condemned,” Fuentes said.

“Latin Americans seeking a better life in the US undertake a terrifying journey, which costs the lives of many, and those who reach their destination take the worst jobs, with low wages and more precarious working conditions,” he said.

“They make an enormous contribution to the US economy, but never get to become citizens and are forced to always live as undocumented immigrants,” he said.

This year the annual International Labour Conference, which sets the ILO’s broad policies, will meet June 5-17 in Geneva, Switzerland, with a focus on migrant worker’s rights. CLATE will launch a campaign targeting public employees working in government agencies linked to immigration, to “put a human face on border posts”.

“As unions, we also have to represent those migrant workers whose irregular migratory situation is used by employers to get around labour legislation, subjecting migrants to more precarious conditions, and abusing the possibility of temporary employment,” said Fuentes.

“Those who don’t have a right to citizenship will always be victims of abuse. As trade unions, we must combat the idea that migrants compete with local workers. We have to accept that we are all part of the same class, which knows no borders,” he said.

Locked Away

26 April 2017 - 5:33pm

By Rukhsana Shah
Apr 26 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Mendez Report compiled by UN special rapporteur on torture in 2015 indicates there are at least eight to 10 million children living in orphanages, residential homes, psychiatric hospitals and other institutions around the world who need to be protected against torture and ill treatment.

Rukhsana Shah

Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the highest numbers of children living in institutionalised settings, as the socialist system provides collective services to unwanted children despite the fact that most of them have parents. At the same time, effects of industrialisation, breakup of families due to migrant labour and adherence to eugenics in capitalist economies resulted in the same kind of incarceration of children in rich countries.

In recent years, much information on the plight of children in these institutions has emerged. Human Rights Watch reported physical beating, tying children to cribs or wheelchairs, verbal abuse and humiliation at state institutions for children with disabilities in Russia, sexual violence against girls in India, shackling of children in Ghana, inappropriate use of psychotropic medications in Serbia, and use of electroconvulsive therapy without anaesthesia in Indonesia.

________________________________________
Disturbing reports have emerged of children in institutions.

________________________________________
In the US at the Judge Rotenberg Centre, Massachusetts, children with autism are still meted out barbaric treatments of electric shocks and other ‘aversives’ for behaviour modification, such as pinching, spatula spanking, forced inhalation of ammonia and chemical and mechanical restraints, enumerated in a report presented in 2010 to the special rapporteur on torture.

Institutions are often overcrowded, with regimentation, fixed timetables, lack of stimulation and neglect. According to Disability Rights International (DRI), “Children with disabilities around the world are locked away in institutions and forgotten — many from birth … We have seen children left permanently tied into cribs and beds where many die. Some die from intentional lack of medical care as their lives are not deemed worthy”. It found autistic children locked in cages in Paraguay and Uruguay, child trafficking, forced labour and sex slavery in Mexico, and starvation in Romania. In other places, children had developed muscular atrophy because of being tied to their beds, while food deprivation was common.

Even more harmful is the impact of institutionalisation on the emotional and physical health of children. DRI reported that separation from families and the larger community affects brain development and cognitive function, leading to a higher prevalence of mental and behavioural problems. Lack of human affection and attachment causes irreversible psychological and emotional damage, including severe developmental delays, depression, and increased rates of suicide and criminal activity.

“In almost all institutions with children, we find them rocking back and forth, chewing their fingers or hands or gouging at their eyes or hitting themselves — a reaction to total sensory deprivation and a lack of human love or contact.” The death rate of institutionalised children with disabilities is far higher than the rate among other children.

In developing countries, poverty, ill health and disability are the primary reasons for placement of children in institutions, followed by abuse and abandonment. A Delhi shelter home has thrice the number of children than its capacity; even the caretakers admit that once children are brought in, they quickly lose their social and learning skills.

In Lahore, the Chaman Centre for Mentally Challenged Children has 22 children, ages seven to 14, with just two supervisors whereas there should be at least five qualified caretakers at all times. There is not a single psychologist, therapist or educationist, no CCTV cameras, and no manuals or guidelines for the employees. There are many such institutions in Pakistan where physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and other offences are rampant because of weak oversight by senior administrators and government functionaries.

The Mendez Report posits a much-needed examination of national and international laws and practices for children’s protection. It emphasises that institutions are inherently dangerous where children with disabilities are especially liable to be tortured. Unicef and WHO have also called for an end to institutionalisation and a moratorium on fresh placements so that governments can initiate the process of de-institutionalisation through legislation, legal aid, family support, community integration and inclusion.

It has become a serious human rights issue, not only because the conventions on child rights and rights of persons with disabilities clearly mandate that children should live with their families or in home-like environments within the community, but also because these findings have a direct bearing on implementation of the convention against torture in Pakistan. The government and the National Commission for Human Rights must introduce wide-ranging reforms relating to these conventions to improve child care in the country.

The writer is a former federal secretary.
rukhsana.hassan@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

New Generation Rallies to Climate Cause in Trinidad

26 April 2017 - 4:28pm

Marchers form a heart shape at the 2015 climate marc, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, organised by youth activists from IAMovement. Credit: IAMovement

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

As two environmental activist groups in Trinidad and Tobago powered by young volunteers prepare to ramp up their climate change and sustainability activism, they are also contemplating their own sustainability and how they can become viable over the long-term.

IAMovement and New Fire Festival both began their environmental activism in earnest less than three years ago.“Young people are really inspired by the festival and they got involved willingly, just to be a part of it because there is a feeling that it is needed.” --Gerry Williams

IAMovement captured the Trinidadian public’s imagination with its climate change march in 2014 and the iconic heart shape formed by 150 marchers who joined them, an emblem reprised by the 450 who joined IAMovement in 2015 in the country’s capital city of Port-of-Spain for the march that coincided with COP21 in Paris.

For the group’s first event in 2014, timed to coincide with the rallies being held worldwide during UN climate talks in New York, “people came, interested, but not sure what to expect. But from the beginning the conversation was very positive about what we can do and the solutions available to us,” said IAMovement’s Managing Director Jonathan Barcant.

New Fire Festival, run by the NGO T&T Bridge Initiative, began its engagement with climate change activism in 2016 with the launch of an ecologically sustainable music festival that emphasises reducing, reusing, and sustaining. This followed a successful run as organisers of an underground music festival designed to give more exposure to talented but marginalised artists and musicians.

Founder of New Fire Festival, Gerry Williams said, “We decided we needed to do something a bit more impactful…It’s more than just an entertainment event. It is based on the transformational festival model.”

Since their launch, both organisations are seeing more and more young people rallying to their side and offering to work as volunteers. “We have had about 50 volunteers over the last three years, and we have a growing list of people who are interested [in volunteering],” Barcant said.

Williams likewise said, “It’s really a small team of people who came together to make it happen. This generation is basically expecting, hoping, longing for something new to happen on our landscape. Many people said they had always dreamed of doing something like this or being part of it. A lot of it is volunteer work.

“Young people are really inspired by the festival and they got involved willingly, just to be a part of it because there is a feeling that it is needed.”

This groundswell of support has incited New Fire Festival and IAMovement to want to move their organisations to another level, as they make ever more ambitious plans to engage with climate change activism and environmental sustainability issues. But to ensure the long-term viability of their organisations and their plans, they are interested in providing proper remuneration to those who work on their projects.

“One reason we are restructuring is because we got so many requests to volunteer now, that I can finally say we have the capacity to do so,” Barcant said. IAMovement operates “as a full grassroots non-profit. This is the first year we are getting real funding where we can pay a project coordinator.

“As young people giving more and more of ourselves we need to look at sustainable growth if we are going to keep growing. As the demands grow, as more and more work is required of us, we need to be paid as well.” He said the plan was to “have people with full salaries to coordinate projects. Up to now it has been totally voluntary.”

In similar vein, Williams of New Fire Festival observed, “I do not get a salary from the organisation or from New Fire Festival. This year we have only managed to break even to cover our costs. Last year, we had to dip into our pockets.

“Because it is a non-profit, even when the festival is eventually earning profits we will have an obligation to treat with that money a certain way. It’s not that we can pocket it or give to shareholders,” he said. For this reason, the NGO behind New Fire Festival is preparing to launch a for-profit enterprise using discarded shipping pallets to make fine furniture.

IAMovement is raising revenue through donations on its Web site, funding from European embassies operating in Trinidad and Tobago, grants from multinational agencies, as well as crowdfunding to cover the cost of its environmental projects. The organisers of New Fire Festival are also interested in launching a business that would green events for event organisers.

The year has begun on a high note for both organisations. IAMovement is in the process of hosting a series of 40 climate talks at schools and other venues, where their low-budget film on climate change, entitled “Small Change”, will be shown.

The film was shown at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival last year and will be screened at other festivals, including the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, described as “one of the world’s largest and most influential festivals for emerging filmmakers.” It was created by IAMovement member, 23-year-old Dylon Quesnel.

The film presents IAMovement’s argument that Trinidad and Tobago can derive major social and economic benefits by moving away from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy and care of the environment.

IAMovement will also be planting the country’s first edible roof on the Ministry of Education building, which was designed to accommodate such a project.

New Fire Festival concluded the second edition of its annual festival early in April. The festival was held in the lush surroundings of Santa Cruz in Trinidad’s famous Northern Range and attracted approximately 2,000 paying visitors, nearly three times the attendance in 2016, its first year.

At the festival, visitors were given access to workshops on eco-sustainability topics. They were also discouraged from entering the festival with disposable water bottles. “We do our best to avoid disposables. Even where we use disposable items they are compost-type items,” Williams said.

“Consumption is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. We have to alter our consumption habits,” he said. “We hope that the festival will be an inspiring experience to all…that outside of the festival and having fun they will incorporate some of it into their lives.”

Thirty-two-year-old Sasha Belton, who attended IAMovement’s climate talk and film showing at MovieTowne in March, said, “It definitely raised awareness, made you realise how much you take for granted…It inspired me to be more aware of my own actions and how you should be [environmentally responsible] recycling and sharing information with others.”

Related Articles

World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competition

26 April 2017 - 10:33am

Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

One of the 11 areas that the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) report includes in ranking a country’s business environment is paying taxes. The background study for DB 2017, Paying Taxes 2016 claims that its emphasis is “on efficient tax compliance and straightforward tax regimes”.

The World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. As a result, tax revenues in developing countries continue to fall. Credit: IPS

Its ostensible aim is to aid developing countries in enhancing the administrative capacities of tax authorities as well as reducing informal economic activities and corruption, while promoting growth and investment. All well and good, until we get into the details.

Tax less
First, the Report advocates not only administrative efficiency, but also lower tax rates. Any country that reduces tax rates, or raises the threshold for taxable income, or provides exemptions, gets approval.

Second, it exaggerates the tax burden by including, for example, employees’ health insurance and pensions and charges for public services like waste collection and infrastructure or environmental levies that the businesses must pay. The IMF’s Government Financial Statistics Manual correctly treats these separately from general tax revenues.

Third, by favourably viewing countries that lower corporate tax rates (or increase threshold and exemptions) and negatively considering those that introduce new taxes, DB is essentially encouraging tax competition among developing countries.

Thus, the Bank is ignoring research at the OECD and IMF which has not found any convincing evidence that lower corporate tax rates or other fiscal concessions have any positive impact on foreign direct investment.

Instead, they found net adverse impacts of tax concessions and fiscal incentives on government revenues. According to the research, factors such as the availability and quality of infrastructure and human resources were more important for investment decisions than taxes.

The World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys also do not find paying taxes to be high on the list of factors that enterprise owners perceive as important barriers to investment. For example, the Enterprise Survey for the Middle East and North Africa found political instability, corruption, unreliable electricity supply, and inadequate access to finance to be important considerations; paying taxes or tax rates were not.

Yet, the World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. Not surprisingly, thanks to its still considerable influence, tax revenues in developing countries are not rising enough, or worse, continue to fall. According to some estimates, between 1990 and 2001, reduction in corporate taxes lowered countries’ tax revenue by nearly 20%.

Instead of encouraging tax competition, therefore, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, “developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid”.

Global Financial Integrity has estimated that illicit financial flows of potentially taxable resources out of developing countries was US$7.85 trillion during 2004-2013 and US$1.1 trillion in 2013 alone!

Conflicts of interest

However, the Bank’s Paying Taxes and DB reports do little to strengthen developing countries’ tax revenues. This should come as no surprise as its partner for the former study is Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the ‘Big Four’ leading international accounting and consultancy firms. PwC competes with KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte for the lucrative business of helping clients minimize their tax liabilities. PwC assisted its clients in obtaining at least 548 tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010, enabling them to avoid corporate income tax elsewhere.

How are developing countries expected to finance their infrastructure investment needs, increase social protection coverage, or repair their damaged environments? Instead of helping, the Bank’s most influential report urges them to cut corporate tax rates and social contributions to improve their DB ranking, contrary to what then Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu observed: “Raising [tax] allows developing countries to invest in education, health and infrastructure, and, hence, in promoting growth.”

How are they supposed to achieve the internationally agreed Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of dwindling foreign aid. After all, only a few donor countries have fulfilled their aid commitment of 0.7% of GNI, agreed to almost half a century ago. Since the 2008 financial crisis, overseas development assistance has been hard hit by fiscal austerity cuts in OECD economies except in the UK under Cameron.

The Bank would probably recommend public-private partnerships (PPPs) and borrowing from it. Countries starved of their own funds would have to borrow from the Bank, but loans need to be repaid. Governments lacking their own resources are being advised to rely on PPPs, despite predictable welfare outcomes – e.g., reduced equity and access due to higher user fees – and higher government contingent fiscal liabilities due to revenue guarantees and implicit subsidies.

Financially starved governments boost Bank lending while PPPs increase the role of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) in promoting private sector business. Realizing the Bank’s conflict of interest, many middle-income countries ignore Bank advice and seek to finance their investments and other activities by other means. Thus, there are now growing demands that the Bank stop promoting tax competition, deregulation and the rest of the Washington Consensus agenda.

Bank must support SDGs
However, nothing guarantees that the Bank will act accordingly. It has already ignored the recommendation of its independent panel to stop its misleading DB country rankings. While giving lip service to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others who have asked it to stop ranking countries by labour market flexibility, the Bank continues to promote labour market deregulation by other means.

If the Bank is serious about being a partner in achieving Agenda 2030, it should align its work accordingly, and support UN leadership on international tax cooperation besides enhancing governments’ ability to tax adequately, efficiently, and equitably. In the meantime, the best option for developing countries is to ignore the Bank’s DB and Paying Taxes reports.

IPS Journalists Who Perished in the Line of Duty

26 April 2017 - 7:44am

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

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

In the politically-risky world of professional journalism, news reporters are fast becoming an endangered species.

The numbers are staggering: some 1,236 journalists have been killed since 1992, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In 2016 alone, 48 journalists were killed worldwide – and in the first few months in 2017 there have been 8 deaths. The “deadliest countries” for journalists include Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Mexico, where international news organizations took the heaviest toll.

But Inter Press Service (IPS) was not spared the agony either.

The news agency, which has relentlessly covered the developing world for over 53 years, has suffered both under repressive authoritative regimes and also in war-ravaged countries where IPS journalists have either been detained, tortured or beaten to death in the line of duty in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Richard de Zoysa

But for most surviving families, the tragedy has been doubly devastating because the killer or killers have never been apprehended, prosecuted or convicted in any court of law in their respective home countries—or in some cases their bodies never recovered.

The most glaring example was the fate of 30-year-old Richard de Zoysa, the IPS Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka, who was abducted, tortured, killed and dropped from a helicopter into the ocean – a crime reportedly perpetrated by “death squads”. His bloated body was washed ashore in the suburbs of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

The horrendous politically-motivated crime, which took place in February 1990, is still one of the unresolved murders after 27 long years.

In 2006, Alla Hassan, the IPS correspondent in Iraq, was shot and killed while driving to work in a war zone where killings were routine with little or no rule of law.

And in Argentina in the mid-1970s, two IPS journalists, Luis Guagnini and Roberto Carri, were both abducted at the end of their working day in the IPS Bureau in Buenos Aires – and their dead bodies were never recovered.

In a February 2013 piece titled “Censorship by Murder Will Not Silence Truth”, IPS Regional Editor for Asia Kanya d’Almeida wrote that even though Sri Lanka experienced a “reign of terror” battling two insurgencies in the South and the North in the 1990s, “no one expected that one of its victims would be Richard de Zoysa.”

She described him as “the progeny of two powerful Colombo families, star of the English-language stage, a well-known newscaster and bureau chief of the Rome-based Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, whose dispatches on Sri Lanka throughout the 1980s earned him a reputation at home and abroad as an exceptionally prolific writer.”

Juan Gelman, Director of the Latin American Bureau of IPS, based first in Buenos Aires between 1974 and 1977 and then in Rome, recounts the disappearance of two IPS journalists – Luis Guagnini and Roberto Carri—in the mid 1970s.

“Just days after the funeral, the media received a directive from the government: no more mention of Richard de Zoysa — not in print, not in pictures, not on the radio. If murder would not suffice to silence him, then censorship would have to be the next best thing.”
The kidnappings, like most such kidnappings at that time, were attributed to para-military groups, such as the self-styled Triple A comprising the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance —  which was largely held responsible for the murder of over 2,000 trade union leaders, students and leftist intellectuals.

Writing in “The Journalists Who Turned the World Upside Down”, a publication recounting the history of IPS, Gelman says the result was striking: 30,000 “desaparecidos”–  a term which encompasses four concepts: the kidnapping of unarmed citizens, their torture, their murder and the disappearance of their bodies.

“At the beginning of 1975, the Triple A had IPS in its sights, and the difficulties of obtaining information were multiplying,” says Gelman.

In an act of solidarity, then IPS Director General Roberto Savio decided to relocate the Latin American network to Rome, a task shared by four colleagues.

Every day, news arrived from the southern part of South America about killings and “disappearances” that the agency would punctually distribute. Several IPS journalists had to flee and rebuild their personal and professional lives in exile. This was not easy, but many managed, says Gelman.

In the case of de Zoysa, he was murdered on the eve of his relocation from Colombo to Lisbon as the new IPS Bureau Chief in Europe.

As de Almeida recounted: “On the third day after de Zoysa had been bundled into a jeep by six armed men (one of whom his mother Dr. Manorani Saravanamuththu, would identify as a high-ranking police officer in the president’s detail), wearing nothing but a sarong around his waist, a fisherman bobbing about on the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Moratuwa, a seaside suburb south of Colombo, hauled a floating corpse into his narrow boat and rowed it ashore.”

And although bullet wounds and three days in salt water had eaten away at the handsome 30-year-old, his mother, called in by a magistrate defying government orders to “dispose” of bodies without due process, recognised him.

The news sparked a massive public outcry among Colombo’s elite: louder, even, than the collective fury over the roughly 40,000 deaths that had preceded de Zoysa’s in that black decade, wrote de Almeida.

“Just days after the funeral, the media received a directive from the government: no more mention of Richard de Zoysa — not in print, not in pictures, not on the radio. If murder would not suffice to silence him, then censorship would have to be the next best thing.”

His last dispatch from Colombo was titled “Sri Lanka: Nearing a Human Rights Apocalypse.”

In late 1990, at a ceremony held at the United Nations, IPS posthumously bestowed its annual “International Achievement Award” on de Zoysa for his excellence in journalistic reporting and his news accounts of the killings of students by death squads in Sri Lanka.

But Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations was instructed by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo to reject the invitation and boycott the ceremony — even though more than a hundred diplomats turned out for the event.

 

The killings of journalists have been mostly in war ravaged or conflict-ridden countries. But Sri Lanka was neither– although successive governments were battling insurgencies both in the country’s South and North.

After de Zoysa’s killing, the most prominent journalist to be murdered in Colombo was Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader, in January 2009.

Both were unfortunate deaths in the “fog of bloody insurgencies and Sri Lankan politics”, Sinha Ratnatunga, editor in chief of the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, told IPS.

But there was more to follow, including the abduction of editor Keith Noyar and Poddala Jayantha, and the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.

As a tribute to the missing journalist, the US State Department named Sandhya Ekneligoda, wife of the slain journalist, for one of its “International Women of Courage” Awards.

Ekneligoda was nominated by the US Embassy in Colombo, for her work “pursuing justice in her own husband’s case, as well as on behalf of missing families from both Sinhalese and Tamil communities, as a profound symbol in Sri Lanka’s efforts towards justice and reconciliation.”

Asked about state of press freedom in Sri Lanka since the killings of de Zoysa and Wickrematunge, Ratnatunga told IPS the danger to media freedom in Sri Lanka is when one compares the environment today to what it was– rather than what it should be.

Clearly, media practitioners faced trying times in the bad old days, beginning with serial indictments against editors and publishers on archaic criminal defamation charges around 1995, followed by censorships on military news as a separatist insurgency gathered momentum.

Emergency regulations promulgated to combat terrorism saw the press caught in the crossfire and suffer collateral damage, said Ratnatunga, a former President of the Editors’ Guild.

By the early 2000s, he pointed out, the military had the upper-hand in a civilian Government desperate to end the blood-letting in the country.

The dreaded ‘white van’ (the mode of transport for those abducted) syndrome emerged.

“Journalists who were critical of the military were targeted; some were killed, others abducted and tortured. The LTTE guerrillas (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fighting for a separate state on the island were equally merciless with those who critiqued them on their turf.”

With the end of the ‘war’ resulting in the capitulation of the guerrillas, the ‘white van’ syndrome began to fade away, but the bitter after-taste remained and political opponents of the then-Government flogged the issue to its advantage, he added.

As all new Governments do, said Ratnatunga, the 2015 Government that replaced the old regime promised the sun and the moon to the media. Sceptical were those who have seen it all before.

Not too long after, ensconced in power and place, the new Government began to lose patience with the vastly expanding media. They began a “Them” versus “Us” labeling policy but the cohabitation Government of the country’s two major political parties, operating under the euphemism ‘National Unity Government’, became a victim of its own intrigue.

He said the Media Ministry, the official Government newspaper group and state television were, on the surface, supporting the Unity Government against the Opposition, but within, tug-of-wars were taking place; so much so, the President appointed a committee of his party loyalists to ascertain why he was not getting due prominence in the state media – a not-so-thinly veiled message to those backing the Prime Minister.

The Sri Lankan media keeps growing; the print media retains its influence, new publications keep sprouting up and television stations vie for ratings with politics and entertainment as their staple diet while social media adds the spice – usually by not allowing facts to get in the way of a good gossipy story, Ratnatunga added.

To have a say in this vast labyrinth, powerful politicians egg on businessmen they have helped amass wealth to start up newspapers, TV and radio stations; and to control this growing ‘monster’ the Government is regulating the issue of frequencies to who they think are politically ‘questionable’ applicants, also embarking on a new initiative to have a Media (Standards) Commission.

Like their predecessors in office, he said, the new Government uses the ‘carrot and stick’ policy. Journalists, given houses, motorbikes and computers are now being offered compensation for political victimization and physical harassment of the past years.

The Sri Lankan media does live in interesting times, Ratnatunga declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

 

Double standards: Do all journalist lives matter?

26 April 2017 - 5:48am

Rescue workers move the body of Taimur Abbas, a cameraman of Pakistan's Samaa TV who was killed by gunmen in Karachi in February [Shahzaib Akber/EPA]

By Shafik Mandhai
Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

Taha avoids giving his last name to journalists, but not out fear of the Sudanese government, whose harassment he fled in 2015.

“I don’t want any of the people I worked with to know I’m here,” he tells Al Jazeera, writing by instant messaging from a temporary residence for refugees in the French city of Calais.

“I want to avoid causing any embarrassment or awkwardness,” he adds.

The colleagues Taha refers to are journalists who covered the ongoing war in Sudan’s western province of Darfur.

The father-of-two worked as a stringer, fixer, and translator there for a number of major broadcasters based in the UK and South Africa.

However, as the conflict dragged on, coverage dried up because of restrictions placed on foreign media by the Sudanese government and as editorial agendas shifted to other wars in the region.

Even in death, there is apparently a double standard in the newspaper world: one yardstick to measure the killing or abduction of, say, a reporter from the New York Times or the Washington Post and another yardstick to measure the kidnapping and murder, for example, of a journalist in Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka.

Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service

Taha says his track record as a journalist was enough to attract unwanted attention from the Sudanese authorities, but it was his next move that sealed his fate.

“I helped to set up a school for IDP (internally displaced) children in Khartoum, which was very successful and had about 800 students.”

Most of the pupils at the school were from the two conflict-stricken regions of Darfur and South Kordofan.

The Sudanese government, in an apparent bid to punish him for his journalistic work, eventually accused Taha of receiving money from foreign organisations.

After a cycle of harassment, arrests and releases, he decided to flee.

His first port of call was the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, from where he set sail with scores of others on a poorly maintained vessel headed for Europe.

The overcrowded boat capsized in the Mediterranean, but Taha was among the survivors after Greek rescuers plucked him from the waters.

After time in a Greek holding facility, Taha made his way across Europe eventually reaching northern France, from where he hoped to cross the English Channel and reach the UK, where his brother lived.

With one final hurdle left to overcome, however, Taha became ill with a benign tumour growing on his spine.

In the year since the diagnosis, his attempts to enter Britain have been put on hold while he undergoes treatment.

Taha hopes to join his brother who lives in the English city of Liverpool, but is resigned to the idea his appeals to the British Home Office for asylum will not succeed.

His story is just one of many that highlights the struggle of journalists from the Global South when western media outlets pack up and go.

Double standards

The work of stringers, in particular, is crucial in ensuring good coverage in difficult reporting environments, but when the story dies down, they are often left to deal alone with hostile governments or non-state actors.

Taha’s experiences are far from unique or limited to Sudan, which is ranked 140 of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

According to UNESCO, at least 929 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2016.

Of those killed, 94 percent, or at least 869 were local reporters. Sixty were foreign correspondents.

Most were killed in the Middle East and North Africa and Asia and the Pacific.

UNESCO recorded at least 12 killings of local journalists in Afghanistan in 2016, making it the deadliest country for reporters last year.

“Local Afghan journalists have experienced large numbers of threats against them,” Rachael Jolley of the Index on Censorship told Al Jazeera.

“Many Afghan journalists have stopped reporting and some have fled the country after threats against their lives.”

Jolley noted a surge in threats towards journalists in that country from around 2014, further blaming armed groups and gangs for harassing those in the media.

Journalists in Afghanistan face threats from armed groups and criminal gangs [File: Reuters]


In other countries, journalists face the risk of kidnap and murder, while those who work with international media outlets face particular suspicion as potential spies, Jolley said.

“In Yemen, for instance, local journalists are threatened, kidnapped and released. The same tactics have been used in Syria to close down reporting.

“In some cases, the international media and those that work with it are also in massive danger, they are seen as traitors or spies.”

But despite the threats they face, journalists in the Global South receive little attention from their fellow colleagues around the world when targeted.

Lack of coverage

In March alone this year, in Mexico, for instance, at least three journalists have been killed – Miroslava Breach who chronicled murder, columnist Ricardo Monlui and Cecilio Pineda Birto.

Their stories were covered by local and regional media, but largely ignored by international newspapers, websites and television channels. Their names did not trend worldwide as hashtags on social media.

In 2016, of the 100 journalists who were killed, 93 were citizens from the Global South, according to UNESCO.

Farhana Haque Rahman, the director general of the Inter Press Service, said that the level of coverage and outcry each case received depends on where journalists are from and whether or not they are affiliated with western outlets.

“Even in death, there is apparently a double standard in the newspaper world: one yardstick to measure the killing or abduction of, say, a reporter from the New York Times or the Washington Post and another yardstick to measure the kidnapping and murder, for example, of a journalist in Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka,” she told Al Jazeera.

Rahman put the double standard down to a “mindset” in Western newsrooms that reflected the interests of their audience, but added journalists have a responsibility to change that.

“Change in perspective has to come from the inside, not from the outside.”

But according to City University Department of Journalism academic Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, differing responses were more closely related to whether journalists were members of staff or contractors for media outlets.

“The double standard involves full-time (staff) correspondents and freelancers…that’s a more clear demarcation in terms of how it’s treated,” he said, adding “mainstream media tend to treat their full-time reporters with more care and concern than freelancers”.

Abubakar explained that as the main market for stringers, fixers, and freelancers was in the Global South, it meant they were most affected by the differing standards of treatment.Mainstream media tend to treat their full-time reporters with more care and concern than freelancers.

Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, academic at City University Department of Journalism

He said there was also a disparity in information flow from the Global South and Global North that translated into uneven levels of coverage for events depending on where they were happening.

This is, he said, was not exclusive to journalists but a wider reflection of which societies in the West prioritised.

Abubakar, himself a former reporter in Nigeria and producer for the BBC World Service, told Al Jazeera that media organisations should take on further responsibilities for their stringers, including the provision of adequate hostile environment training.

“Media organisations in the West have a massive responsibility to protect the journalist who work with them and in cases where their freelancers are being persecuted, they should put pressure on their governments to act against the offending government.”

In a similar vein, the Index on Censorship’s Jolley said that the risks journalists faced are not limited to threats from other people or government; she said inadequate training for local journalists also puts them in danger.

“[Index] has reported on freelance Iraqi journalists who had been reporting from the battlefield without any special training or equipment … Safety and security training is vital in these situations.

“We’ve been told that mainstream media channels in the UK, at least, are now refusing to use freelancers from locations that they would consider too dangerous for a staffer.”

For Taha in Calais, those decisions have come too late; such prospects make very little difference to his current situation.

His treatment has gone well and he now plans his days planning how he will reach the UK.

Despite his experience and reluctant acceptance things could have been different if he had a different ethnic background, Taha is grateful to be in Europe and harbours no ill will towards those he worked with.

Like many journalists, his interest in current affairs is difficult to shake off, and his days are spent discussing politics with his fellow refugees.

A recent round of deportation of Sudanese asylum seekers by the French authorities has rattled his optimism but he is careful not to dwell on it.

“God willing, I will be in the UK by Ramadan.”

This story was originally published by Al Jazeera.

Worrying about Fake News Has Become All the Rage

26 April 2017 - 1:10am

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

Rogue interests, perhaps even foreign, are said to be trying to interfere with the electoral process in the U.S. and European Union members. Senior government officials glibly endorse what they themselves call “alternative facts” and even openly describe the media as their enemy.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Social media platforms, seen as the primary distribution vector for this plague, are under pressure to police their content.

However, the history of journalism is full of stories of distortions, many of them in prestigious publications. Benjamin Franklin once produced – in wartime – a fake newspaper to distribute a fake story.

At root, the current fake-news epidemic is a symptom of growing distrust in media. It also reflects a widespread contempt for expertise, which poses a special challenge for organizations like IPS, where for decades we have sought to chronicle the complex and often slow-moving travails of development in the global South.

The press, which should by nature be profoundly aware of the tactics of all kinds of propaganda, has no choice but to see this crisis as an opportunity.

A vibrant media ecosystem requires readers who are able to discern trustworthy news from “alternative” versions. Indeed, the relative absence of such readers may be a guide to what kind of policy response is needed. Enabling such readers to thrive is analogous to the goals of development efforts aimed at lifting people out of poverty and hunger.

That goal must include safeguards against againts violence directed at reporters, including civic journalists and bloggers, who are frequently targeted for abuse and often physically attacked, even hacked to death as evidenced by a string of grisly crimes in Bangladesh. Last year’s high-profile “Pizzagate” episode in the United States’ capital, in which a man fired an assault rifle in a popular restaurant he had been told by right-wing online sites was linked to an elite paedophilia ring, is a reminder that such attacks may themselves be based on fake news as well as ideological beliefs or factional interests.

Yet in the end, just as “more speech, not less,” was a rallying call for advocates of freedom of speech, today’s response should be real news, and more of it.

No Trace of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal

25 April 2017 - 7:40pm

In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

By José Adán Silva
PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.

IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.

In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned." -- Anonymous indigenous leader

There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.

According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.

The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.

Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.

But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.

“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.

The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.

Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.

María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.

A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.

The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.

According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.

The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.

It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.

The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.

The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.

The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.

It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.

There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.

No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.

Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.

“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.

In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”

However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.

One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.

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How to Undermine Democracy – Curtail Civil Society Rights

25 April 2017 - 10:07am

By Cathal Gilbert, Dom Perera, and Marianna Belalba, CIVICUS
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Recent elections and referendums in a growing number of countries from Turkey to the USA and beyond are producing leaders and policies, which directly threaten some of the core principles of democracy.  In an increasing number of established and fledgling democracies, we see ruling parties violating the fundamental freedoms to speak-out, rally behind a cause and get involved in a social movement.

New research shows that these key conditions for a vibrant and open civil society are being violated to varying degrees in over 106 countries. A new online tool, the CIVICUS Monitor, finds that in many of these countries, governments are denying their citizens safe space to voice dissent, most often by detaining activists, using excessive force during protests and persecuting journalists.

The CIVICUS Monitor provides ratings on fundamental civic freedoms in all UN Member States, plus Palestine and Kosovo, and is designed to track and evaluate the state of civil society rights, in as close to real time as possible.  The online tool shows how almost six billion people live in countries where civic space – in other words the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – are obstructed, repressed or closed.

 

Civic space rating categories# countries with ratingDescription of ratingOpen26  (Examples: New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal)The state both enables and safeguards the enjoyment of civic space for all people. Levels of fear are low as citizens are free to form associations, demonstrate in public places and receive and impart information without restrictions in law or practice.Narrowed63 (Examples: USA, Argentina, South Africa)While the state allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, violations of these rights also take place. These rights are impeded by occasional harassment, arrest or assault of people deemed critical of those in power.Obstructed51 (Examples: Nigeria, Kuwait, Armenia)Civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights. Although civil society organisations exist, state authorities undermine them, including through the use of illegal surveillance, bureaucratic harassment and demeaning public statements.Repressed35 (Examples: Russia, China, Mexico)Civic space is heavily constrained. Active individuals and civil society members who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Although some civil society organisations exist, their advocacy work is regularly impeded and they face threats of de-registration and closure by the authorities.Closed20 (Examples: Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Ethiopia)There is complete closure – in law and in practice – of civic space. An atmosphere of fear and violence prevails, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity for attempting to exercise their rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves.

 

To provide meaningful assessments and ratings on the state of civil society in 195 countries, analysis is based on a coherent set of qualitative inputs on legislative developments, judicial outcomes, intelligence from activists and research partners on the ground and civil society consultations. By collating and cross-checking a variety of data sources, the CIVICUS Monitor, is able to assess and compare the conditions for citizens and civil society groups across the world.

Each ratings category represents a group of countries in which there is a diversity of nuanced yet comparable civic space conditions. For instance, North Korea and Ethiopia both receive a closed rating, but the exact nature and number of human rights violations differ between countries. By looking at all violations collectively on a per country basis, we are able to see the different degrees of civil society persecution on a macro level. Detailed narratives on individual country pages also allow us to describe which groups are being targeted, and examine the obstacles and opportunities for civic activism.

Evidence on national, regional and global trends related to civic space are critical for intergovernmental bodies and human rights mechanisms to monitor the state of civil society and hold governments accountable. Monitoring civic space also provides a useful proxy indicator for countries´ levels of development, democracy and ability to reduce inequality – on average, countries towards the better end of our civic space scale also rate highly on human development, equality and electoral democracy indices.

In 2017, we are facing no shortage of grand challenges ― humanitarian crises on scales unseen since World War II, rising global temperatures, spiraling economic inequality, the spread of populist politics. The solution to these is more democracy and respect for human rights, not less. We simply cannot hope to solve these global problems if governments and other non-state actors, continue to suffocate the one thing that can provide lasting solutions ― people’s innate sense of creativity, resilience and justice, qualities which emerge time and time again when civil society is set free to play its role in a democratic society.

 

 

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