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Mexico’s Undead Rise Up

il y a 4 heures 21 min

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Inequality in Mexico Is All About Wages

il y a 9 heures 49 min

Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Sandra G. works Monday through Saturday in a beauty salon on the south side of Mexico City, where she earns slightly more than the minimum wage, which in this country is just five dollars a day.

The 30-year-old, who studied cosmetology and asked that her last name not be published, does beauty treatments and sells products like skin cream and lotions, which boost her income thanks to small commissions on her monthly sales.

But the pressure to reach the minimum sales target of 3,000 dollars a month makes the work “quite stressful,” she said.

“The owner told me that since she was just starting up her business she could only pay minimum wage, but that if I was good with sales, I could increase my income,” she told IPS.

Sandra said she and her husband, an engineer, get by but without anything left over for luxuries.“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages.” -- Alicia Puyana

“My husband was unemployed for a couple of months and things were really tight,” she said. “He found work and that gave us some breathing room, but we’re worried that the possibility of prospering is far off because wages are too low compared to the cost of living.”

Stories like Sandra’s are typical and illustrative of the inequality that reigns in this country of 118 million people. But the current debate over a rise in the minimum wage seems to ignore the reality of millions.

“The issue of wages is a question of inequality,” said Miguel López, a member of the Observatory of Wages at the private Iberoamerican University of Puebla, a city in central Mexico. “Wages can be a mechanism to mitigate inequality. But there are more workers and they get a smaller piece of the pie. It’s a problem of redistribution.”

In its 2014 report, published in April, the Observatory underlined that “the absolute impoverishment of the working class is reflected in the reduction of the cost of labour, the more intense exploitation of the working day, and the growing precariousness of working conditions, housing and living conditions in general.”

The current minimum wage of around five dollars a day is the lowest in Latin America, followed by Nicaragua, Haiti and Bolivia, according to the Observatory.

But the most worrisome aspect is the enormous wage gap, as reflected by a 2013 study by the global management consultancy, Hay Group, on the difference between the pay earned by senior employees and new workers.

According to the report, the base salary of an executive in Mexico City is 10,000 dollars a month, just 417 dollars less than what an executive in a similar company in New York earns. But in the United States, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 dollars an hour, compared to 5.05 dollars a day in the Mexican capital.

The Presidents’ Compensation Study by the international human resources consultancy Mercer found that in Mexico the CEO of a large company earned 121 times the minimum wage – the biggest gap in Latin America.
Article 123 of the Mexican constitution states that “the minimum wage in general should be sufficient to meet the normal needs of the head of the family, in material, social and cultural terms, and to provide obligatory education for the children.”

According to official figures, Mexico’s economically active population totals 52 million, of whom more than 29 million work in the informal sector. The official unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent and underemployment at seven percent.

“Factory of the poor”

A study by the Multidisciplinary Research Centre (CAM) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 4.4 million workers in Mexico earn from one to three times the minimum wage.

The report, “Factory of the Poor”, published in May, adds that just over two million workers earn from three to five times the minimum wage.

According to the report, the number of Mexicans who earn up to two times the minimum wage grew nearly three percent from 2007 to 2013, while the number of those who earned three to five times the minimum wage shrank 23 percent – a reflection of the impoverishment of the middle class.

Ernesto C. earns nearly 5,000 dollars a month, plus a productivity bonus, at one of the largest private banks in Mexico.

“The pay is good, it’s at the same level as other banks in the country and is similar to what is earned by colleagues from the United States who I deal with,” said the 34-year-old executive, who lives with his girlfriend in an upscale neighbourhood on the west side of the city.

Ernesto, who also asked that his last name not be used, and who drives the latest model SUV and spends nearly 300 dollars on an evening out, said he obtained financing to study abroad.

“When I came back, it wasn’t like I had expected – it was actually hard for me to find a good job. But I finally found one and I managed to climb up the ladder quickly,” he said.

The Federal District sets an example

On Sept. 25, Miguel Mancera, Mexico City’s left-wing mayor, presented a proposal to raise the minimum wage for city employees to six dollars a day as of June 2015, with the aim of extending the measure to the private sector.

The study “Policy for restoring the minimum wage in Mexico and the Federal District; Proposal for an accord”, drawn up by a group of experts, which forms the basis of Mancera’s offer, reported that the real value of wages has gone down 71 percent at a national level.

That reduction, the document says, pulls down other remunerations, just as “the minimum wage affects the entire income structure.”

Alicia Puyana, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico, says the fight against poverty has been given higher priority than efforts to reduce inequality.

“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages,” she said.

In Mexico, 53 million people are poor, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policies.

By contrast, the number of billionaires, and their fortunes, grew between 2013 and this year, says the report “Billionaire Census 2014”, produced by the Swiss bank UBS and the Singapore Wealth-X consultancy.

The number of billionaires in Mexico grew from 22 to 27 and their combined income increased from 137 billion to 169 billion dollars.

“We need a social pact and a real policy on wages. What better social policy could there be than one that directly tackles the distribution of income?” López said.

The Multidisciplinary Research Centre says the minimum wage needed to cover a basic diet would be 14 dollars a day, while the Mexico City Federal District government sets it at 13 dollars a day.

“Raising the minimum wage 15 or 20 percent is just a crumb. It doesn’t compensate the general decline, which could be remedied with a progressive fiscal policy, to capture part of the major income flows,” Puyana said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Israel’s Arabs – Marginalised, Angry and Defiant

il y a 11 heures 21 min

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kufr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.

Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.

As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.

In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.

The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.

The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.

The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.

In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.

Israeli Arab Spring?

Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”

Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.

For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.

Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.

Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.

In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.

Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.

Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.

Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.

In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.

The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”

Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.

Way forward

Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.

A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.

In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.

A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.

If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.

Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecution

il y a 12 heures 55 min

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OP-ED: True Gender Equality for Both Women and Men

il y a 20 heures 6 min

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can China’s Silk Road Vision Coexist with a Eurasian Union?

mer, 11/19/2014 - 19:03

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit: Russian Presidential Press Service

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Nov 20 2014 (EurasiaNet)

There is a good chance that economic jockeying between China and Russia in Central Asia will intensify in the coming months. For Russia, Chinese economic expansion could put a crimp in President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan for the Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin has turned to China in recent months, counting on Beijing to pick up a good portion of the trade slack created by the rapid deterioration of economic and political relations between Russia and the West. Beijing for the most part has obliged Putin, especially when it comes to energy imports. But the simmering economic rivalry in Central Asia could create a quandary for bilateral relations.At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship."

Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on Beijing’s expansion plans, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, prior to this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which concluded Nov. 12.

The plan calls for China to flood Central Asia with tens of billions of dollars in investment with the aim of opening up regional trade. Specifically, Xi announced the creation of a 40-billion-dollar fund to develop infrastructure in neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian states beyond China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province.

An interactive map published on Chinese state media outlet Xinhua shows Central Asia at the core of the proposed Silk Road belt, which beats a path from the Khorgos economic zone on the Chinese-Kazakhstani border, through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, before snaking into Uzbekistan and Iran. Turkmenistan, already linked to China by a web of pipelines, would not have a hub on the main route.

The fund’s aim is to “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity by building a financing platform,” Xi told journalists in Beijing on Nov. 8. Such development is badly needed in Central Asia, where decaying Soviet-era infrastructure has hampered trade among Central Asian states, and beyond.

No matter the need, Russia, which is busy promoting a more protectionist economic solution for the region in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), may not share Beijing’s enthusiasm for the Silk Road initiative.

At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship,” according to Bobo Lo, an associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is a case in point, explained Lo. The “mega project”, much like the original Silk Road, could eventually encompass several routes and benefit Russia’s own infrastructurally challenged east, he noted. But it might well dilute Russian influence in its traditional backyard of Central Asia.

“If you are sitting in Moscow, you are hoping that Russia will be the main trunk line [of the belt], but it seems likely it will be more of an offshoot,” said Lo. “[The belt’s] main thrust will be through Central and South Asia.”

Chinese leaders are intent on linking their Silk Road initiative to a broader project, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which they touted during the APEC gathering.

FTAAP and the Silk Road Economic Belt, along with a similar strategic plan called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, are pro-trade in the broadest sense, seeking to break “all sorts of shackles in the wider Asia-Pacific region to usher in a new round of higher level, deeper level of opening up,” according to Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Under the Chinese vision, its “grand idea” would seek to “absorb the Eurasian economic integration [project] led by Russia,” Li told EurasiaNet.org via email.

In contrast to the expansive Chinese vision for Eurasia, early evidence suggests a Russia-led union, with its tight border controls and levied tariffs, could end up stifling cross-border trade among members and non-members. Under such conditions, Central Asian states could experience a decline in their current level of trade with China. The existing Kremlin-dominated Customs Union is set to evolve into the Eurasian Economic Union on Jan. 1.

At least since the build-up to the 2013 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Central Asia-focused security organisation of which China and Russia are both members, Beijing has been very public about wielding its economic might in the region. Back then, Xi jetted across the region speaking of the belt for the first time as he signed deals worth tens of billions of dollars, most notably energy contracts with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Ever since, discussions of how to turn the belt into a reality have been uncomfortable. Moscow is reportedly steadfastly opposed to the idea of turning the SCO – which also comprises all four Central Asian countries positioned along the proposed belt’s route – into an economic organisation.

Uzbekistan has refused to join the Customs Union, which also excludes China. But the Kremlin expects Kyrgyzstan to join at the beginning of next year and Tajikistan to follow. Currently, the bloc’s only members other than Russia are Kazakhstan and Belarus.

For countries that have already been on the receiving end of Chinese largesse, the prospect of deeper economic integration with Russia may begin to seem like a limitation.

During a Nov. 7 meeting in Beijing ahead of the APEC summit, Xi and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed agreements securing Chinese credit for a railway to connect Tajikistan’s north and south, a new power plant and local agricultural projects. They also agreed on investments for the state-owned aluminium smelter Talco, an entity that once enjoyed close ties with the Russian conglomerate RusAl. Bilateral trade for the first eight months of this year increased by 40 percent compared with the same period last year, reaching 1.5 billion dollars.

“If we compare something like the Customs Union to the Silk Road Economic Belt, then of course the belt is preferable for Tajikistan,” Muzaffar Olimov, director of the Sharq analytical centre in Dushanbe, told EurasiaNet.org in a telephone interview. Tajikistan “has not decided” if it wants to join the economic bloc [the EEU], he added.

Editor’s note:  Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

IPS Honours Crusader for Nuclear Abolition

mer, 11/19/2014 - 15:02

From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

Jayantha Dhanapala was awarded the IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament Monday at the United Nations in New York.

Dhanapala, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs until 2003, has remained committed to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world since leaving his post, presiding since 2007 over the Nobel Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.“The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the U.N. at global level, and actors who would embody that action." - IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura

“A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime,” Dhanapala told attendees at an official ceremony sponsored by the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International.

“Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale. We the people have a ‘responsibility to protect’ the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed ‘R2P’ applications.”

The event was attended by U.N. ambassadors including the president of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, who said that “the work of organisations such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World  Affairs – which Mr. Dhanapala presides over – Inter Press Service, our host this evening, or Soka Gakkai International, the sponsor of this award, contributes to raising awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to advocating for their total elimination.”

Kutesa spoke of the importance of upcoming opportunities to make further inroads into global non-proliferation and disarmament. “The 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will present an opportunity to further strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

CTBTO support

Kutesa’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers including Dr Lassina Zerbo, executive director of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Zerbo noted that Dhanapala was born in the same month (December 1938) that German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission.

“In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.”

The result of this work was that the CTBT, which was being contested in Geneva, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1996. Dhanapala continues to support the CTBTO, as part of a group of experts who work to advance the CTBT’s entry into force.

Zerbo recalled Dhanapala’s criticism of India’s position in opposing the CTBT (India is one of eight countries yet to sign the treaty). Collectively known as the “Annex 2” states, they are required to sign before the treaty can enter into force. India’s criticism of the CTBT has been that it will not move disarmament sufficiently forward.

“Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely,” Dhanapala has pointed out.

Zerbo also noted the relevance of Dhanapala’s nationality in his advocacy for disarmament and non-proliferation, saying, “Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world.

“One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme. In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure.”

IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, who read a statement from IPS founder Roberto Savio, spoke of the origins and importance of the award.

“The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the U.N. at global level, and actors who would embody that action,” he said.

“The U.N. way is not to recognise individuals, so the award is a recognition of the bridge between ideals and practice. The award has been resurrected after a six-year hiatus, and will be in place next year, focused on the Sustainable Development Goals.”

There are several opportunities in the coming months for inroads to be made in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Notably, early next month’s Vienna Conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, Dhanapala called on groups to support the ICAN and PAX “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” divestment campaign, saying, “I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Clock Is Ticking for Nuclear Disarmament

mer, 11/19/2014 - 13:29

Jayantha Dhanapala is the recipient of the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament, and is a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime. This may seem a bold and wildly Pollyannaish statement for me to make after a lifetime of work in peace and disarmament.

But consider some of the key global threats facing us today, 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, symbolising the end of the Cold War and on the cusp of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations – this centre for harmonising the actions of 193 nations mandated by the Charter to maintain international peace and security.

Credit: cc by 2.0

There is the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), conveying the unambiguous message that climate change is caused by human action and that unchecked it will lead to catastrophe;

There is inequality of income as a feature throughout the world, where the poorest 1.2 billion consume just one percent while the richest billion consume 72 percent, causing increasing frustration and tension, especially among the youth who are 26 percent of the global population;

There is religious extremism, racism and the bestial violence of ISIS, Boko Haram and other anarchic groups which challenge our shared values and civilised societal norms;

There is the state terrorism of Israel waging unequal war against the Palestinians while occupying their territory and depriving them of their statehood in violation of international law;

There are more than 50 million who are currently displaced by war and violence – some 33.3 million in their own countries and approximately 16.7 million as refugees – the highest number since World War II;

And there are the problems of hunger, disease, poverty and violations of human rights that continue to disfigure the human condition.The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

Is the nuclear weapon ever going to be a deterrent to combat these threats, let alone be used to solve these problems? Or is it not more likely that in a skewed world of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” we are going to have increasing proliferation, including by terrorist non-state actors?

Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale.

We the people have a “responsibility to protect” the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed “R 2 P” applications.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the world has 16,300 nuclear warheads among nine nuclear weapon-armed countries, with the United States and the Russian Federation accounting for 93 percent of the weapons. Of this, about 4,000 warheads are on a deployed operational footing.

The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

At a time of declining resources for development, a huge amount – 1.7 trillion dollars – continues to be spent on arms in general and nuclear weapons modernisation. In the U.S. alone, in a glaring contradiction of President Obama’s promises, nuclear weapon modernisation will cost 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

A far-sighted military general twice-elected president of the U.S., Dwight Eisenhower, warned over 50 years ago about the insidious influence of the “military industrial complex” in his country. That influence, driven by an insatiable desire for profit, has spread globally, stoking the flames of war even as the United Nations and other peacemakers try to find peaceful solutions in terms of the Charter.

I am proud that the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead today, has campaigned assiduously for over five decades seeking the total elimination of nuclear weapons based on the 1955 London Manifesto co-signed by Albert Einstein and Lord Bertrand Russell.

Sir Joseph Rotblat, one of Pugwash’s founding fathers who walked out of the Manhattan Project as a conscientious objector, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Pugwash in 1995.

Pugwash is but one of the many citizen movements who have since 1945 urged the abolition of nuclear weapons. It was pressure from civil society that finally led to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other significant milestones on the road to outlawing nuclear weapons.

The world has already accomplished a ban on two other categories of weapons of mass destruction – biological and chemical weapons.

I salute the Marshall Islands for taking the nine nuclear weapon states to the International Court of Justice, accusing them of violating their legal obligations, and look forward to the outcome at next year’s hearings.

Two NGOs -ICAN and PAX – have painstakingly researched the money behind nuclear weapons and have revealed in their “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report that since January 2011, 411 different banks, insurance companies and pension funds have invested 402 billion dollars in 28 companies in the nuclear weapon industry.

The nuclear-armed nations spend a combined total of more than 100 billion dollars on their nuclear forces every year. Let me quote from the report:

“The top 10 investors alone provided more than 175 billion dollars to the 28 identified nuclear weapon producers. With the exception of French BNP Paribas, all financial institutions in the top 10 are based in the U.S. The top three – State Street, Capital Group and Blackrock – have a combined 80 billion dollars invested. In Europe, the most heavily invested are BNP Paribas (France), Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays (both United Kingdom).

“In Asia, the biggest investors are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial (both Japan) and the Life Insurance Corporation of India.”

I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon-free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.

The world has scaled many heights in my lifetime.

Colonialism which enslaved my country for 450 years was dismantled in my lifetime, liberating numerous countries, including mine;

The civil rights movement in the U.S. ended segregation, racial discrimination and other indignities imposed on black Americans;

I have seen the end of the odious apartheid regime and the peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa;

And, finally, we have witnessed the end of the Cold War with its global tension and rivalry.

These are inspirational achievements of which humankind can be proud. Through all these achievements we remember gratefully the exemplary leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It was their unswerving dedication to non-violence that ensured victory over evil and injustice.

Nuclear disarmament is likewise an achievable goal and not the mirage that the nuclear weapon states would have us believe. The successful conclusion of a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and the forthcoming NPT Review Conference in 2015 are opportunities for us all to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons by eliminating the weapons themselves.

I fear that the longer we wait for nuclear weapon states to act, the greater the risk that the anger of impotence may lead to extremist groups seizing control of nuclear weapons.

We are fortunate to have in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a global leader dedicated to the cause of nuclear disarmament and his Five-point Plan remains a lodestar for the global community.

The Inter Press Service (IPS), our hosts this evening, must be congratulated on their 50th anniversary. Serving the cause of the developing world, IPS has held aloft important principles of equity and justice in international relations calling for an end to unequal exchange in all its forms.

I am deeply grateful for the award conferred on me today. I have long believed in the dictum of Jean Monnet – the European Union’s architect and visionary – that “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions.”

Thus this award honours the organisations with which I have been associated in a long struggle to rid the world of the most inhumane and destructive weapon ever invented. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to this noble cause and its early fulfillment.

*Excerpts from an address by Jayantha Dhanapala when he received the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Missing in Child Rights Convention

mer, 11/19/2014 - 11:08

Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

On Nov. 20, the whole world will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sadly, the United States of America won’t be at the party or will simply be watching from the sidelines.

The U.S. remains the odd man – the odd country – out, accompanied only by Somalia and South Sudan in having failed to ratify this landmark instrument of international law.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The absence of Somalia and South Sudan is understandable as these are among the world’s most fragile, failed or failing states. But one would expect the U.S. which claims to be a great champion of human rights in the world to be at the front and centre of this celebration, not missing in action.

One hundred ninety-four nations – including all of America’s closest allies — have ratified the CRC. It baffles non-Americans, and even many Americans, as to why the U.S. is reluctant to ratify this Convention.

This example of negative “American exceptionalism” is illogical and perverse. The Convention upholds the very same principles that underpin American democracy. It says that all children, everywhere, have the same human rights to survive and thrive, to learn and contribute.

It obligates states that embrace it to do all that is humanly possible to ensure children’s wellbeing, dignity and protection. It is supportive of parents and respectful of cultures.

Many American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the U.S. government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most U.S. citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty which their country helped create.

The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future.The experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries - rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the U.S. Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America have argued that it would impose on this country all kinds of terrible obligations that may be harmful to America and its children and families.

These range from how possible U.N. interference might compromise the sovereignty of the U.S. and undermine its Constitution; to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children; how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography; and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance.

Such concerns are not unique to America. Many groups in other countries have expressed similar fears from time to time. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

Some Americans argue that as the U.S. has a great Constitution and laws that are already strong and often superior to what is contained in the CRC, it is unnecessary and undesirable to ratify the Convention as it might actually lower the standards of child protection rather than strengthening them.

But the experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries – rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

In its website, the U.S. Coalition for Ratification of CRC has listed some of the common myths and real truths regarding worries about the possible negative impact of CRC on American children and families.

America is, of course, a nation of extraordinary wealth. Most children in this country are beneficiaries of this affluence. They live in comfortable homes and safe neighbourhoods; have a decent standard of living, health, education and social welfare. But there is room for some humility.

Studies by the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and others show that compared to the wealth of the U.S., a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators.

The U.S. is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the U.S., it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty; how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance.

It is equally difficult to understand why a nation that can afford two billion dollars a day in military spending, and a trillion dollar bail-out package to huge Wall Street banks and corporate giants that brought its economy to its knees, cannot rescue its children from sickness, illiteracy, violent crimes and poverty.

Now, ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organisations, and individuals can use to shape policies and programmes to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance U.S. standing as a global leader in human rights. As a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

To many people in the world, the United States of America is not just a country, but it represents an ideal – the ideal of democracy, of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a certain global moral leadership.

That ideal image is often shattered and the reputation of the U.S. tarnished around the world whenever the U.S. government chooses to follow an arrogant, unilateralist approach; disparaging its allies and the United Nations; withdrawing its support for the International Criminal Court, abandoning its commitments under the Geneva Conventions, even condoning torture – all in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.

Still, many friends of America see these as aberrations and continue to be inspired by the ideals of democracy and human rights on which this country was founded.

On behalf of President Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright signed the CRC in 1995, signaling the U.S. government’s intention to move toward ratification. But the George W Bush administration took no further action.

Even President Obama, whose outlook and vision most closely match the spirit of the Convention, has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The global celebration of CRC@25 is a fitting opportunity for President Obama to make good on the promise he made as a presidential candidate in 2008 while speaking at Waldon University in Minnesota: “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. It is important that the U.S. return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. I will review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.”

One doesn’t have to be much of a political analyst to understand that following the recent elections to the U.S. Congress, ratification of the CRC doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in the current political climate in Washington.

But President Obama has often shown a willingness to surmount political deadlocks by taking what actions he is authorised by law to take on his own, when he deems the national interest to be at stake.

One such measure that is in the president’s power to enact would be to immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification as soon as the situation becomes more favourable.

Some 109 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organisations and faith-based groups have recently made an impassioned joint appeal to Obama to order such a review.

In this world where kids too often come last, the Convention serves as a reminder that they must come first. It is a moral compass, a framework of accountability against which all societies can assess their treatment of the new generations.

In many parts of the world, the 20th of November is celebrated as universal children’s day. Many faith-based organisations also celebrate it as a “World Day of Prayer and Action for Children”.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC this year, many of us will be praying and hoping that the world’s most powerful and influential state, the United States of America, will soon join the international community in embracing the CRC as a bulwark for the defence of children’s rights and a beacon of hope for the world’s children.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Depression Casts Cloak of Infertility Over Kashmir Valley

mer, 11/19/2014 - 07:02

Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shazia Yousuf
SRINAGAR, India, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

It was almost midnight when Mushtaq Margoob woke up to the incessant ringing of his phone. It was his patient, a young woman whom Margoob, a renowned Kashmiri psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the only psychiatric hospital in Kashmir, had been treating for depression for many years.

“See me now. I don’t have time till tomorrow,” the patient screamed down the phone. “I might have killed myself by then.”

The woman was educated, had a PhD in Bioscience and came from a rich family. After her marriage last year, the symptoms of her depression had begun to fade away, and she had started crawling back to a normal life.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter.” -- Shahzada Akhtar, a Kashmiri woman living with PTSD
But the day she made the hasty phone call to the doctor, she had learned something that shattered her life into fragments all over again.

“I have been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure [POF],” she said to Margoob at his home. “If I cannot have any children, what should I live my life for?”

Although Margoob was able to pacify her with timely counseling and medication, the diagnosis and the constant reminder of being infertile have taken his patient back into deep depression.

“The mental stress due to ongoing conflict has taken a toll on the physical health of young women, especially their maternal health,” explains Margoob.

Downward spiral of mental and maternal health

The conflict here, which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, has claimed some 60,000 lives as Indian armed forces, Pakistani troops and ordinary Kashmir citizens struggle to assert control over the bitterly contested region.

The “pro-freedom” uprising of 1989, launched by Kashmiris who resented the presence of Indian and Pakistani troops, morphed into a long-standing resistance movement that has left deep scars on Kashmiri society.

As a result, the area known as the Kashmir Valley, tucked in between towering mountain ranges in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, is witnessing an alarming increase in childlessness and infertility among local women.

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Physical and mental health experts cite conflict-related stress as the main cause of the health crisis among women, which has robbed thousands of their fertility.

The most recent Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) indicates that 61 percent of currently married Kashmiri women report one or more reproductive health problems.

This is significantly higher in comparison to the national average of 39 percent. The percentage of POF among infertile women below 40 years of age is also abnormally high – 20 to 50 percent – when compared to the nationwide rate of one to five percent.

“Stress causes structural changes in the brain and disturbs the secretion of various neurotransmitters. These changes lead to various physical ailments including thyroid malfunction, which in turn can cause infertility among women of childbearing age,” Margoob explains to IPS.

According to statistics available with the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, 800,000 Kashmiris are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and most of them are women. PTSD, like many other mental health disorders, directly affects women’s childbearing capacity.

Stress and stigma

In Kashmir, psychiatry OPDs are run at two hospitals – the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (S.M.H.S) facility in Srinagar, and the Government Psychiatric Diseases hospital – six days a week. Of almost 100 patients seen at each OPD every day, 75 are females.

One of the many women who frequents these facilities is 20-year-old Mir Afreen, who grew up watching her mother battling mental illness. In 1996, when Afreen was only two, her mother, Shahzada Akhtar, received a message about the death of her cousin brother in cross-fire.

“I had met him only a day before. I couldn’t believe he had died. I tried to cry out his name but had lost my voice,” recalls Akhtar.

Akhtar never recovered from the sudden, devastating news, and soon developed PTSD.

In consequence, her daughter’s childhood quickly slipped into darkness. Afreen often saw her mother sedated, sleeping for days at a time, going without food, and crying for no apparent reason.

She was always taken along to psychiatric clinics, hospitals and faith healers where her mother searched for a cure for her condition. Happiness was far, far away from their home.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter,” Akhtar tells IPS tearfully.

Her statement is not too far from the truth. For the last several years, Afreen has been complaining about chest pains and breathlessness. Akhtar first thought it was due to stress, or her daughter’s recent obesity.

But when Afreen developed facial hair and her monthly cycles became irregular, Akhtar took her to a gynecologist.

“The doctor uttered a long name which I couldn’t understand, so I asked her to explain the [condition] to me,” Akhtar says. “She told me if this is not treated, Afreen will never have children.”

Afreen was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Unknown and almost non-existent before the conflict, the syndrome now affects 10 percent of Kashmiri females including teenagers.

A major endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age and one of the leading causes of infertility across the world, PCOS has emerged as another major cause of infertility among Kashmiri women in recent years.

Medical experts have identified stress as one of the main reasons for the emergence of PCOS in Kashmir. A study conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the major tertiary healthcare facility in Kashmir, on 112 women with PCOS, found that 65 to 70 percent of them had psychiatric illnesses including PTSD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Akhtar feels helpless. Unlike other ailments, Afreen’s particular health issue is not up for discussion, not even with her own siblings. If the word spreads, she thinks, it will ruin her daughter’s marriage prospects and thus destroy her life.

“Even when I take her to the doctor, I make sure that no one sees us,” reveals Akhtar. “I first check the place and then let my daughter in.”

Afreen does the same. She has not revealed anything about her condition to her friends. When the girls talk about their grooms and life after marriage, she keeps mum. When it is the time for her medication, she secretly swallows the pills without water.

Current trends predict a bleak future

Nazir Ahmad Pala, an endocrinologist at SKIMS, says that more and more young females visit the endocrinology department for various disorders. A good number of disorders, he says, are born from depression.

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

“In the past, the department received mostly older patients but now around 20 percent of our patients are school and college going girls with endocrine abnormalities. This trend is disturbing,” Pala tells IPS.

The young girls mostly complain of obesity and ovulatory disturbances that bring a temporary halt in their menstrual cycles.

The condition is called Central Hypogonadism and is common in depressed women, explains the doctor. Another equally frequent ailment is galactorrhea, a spontaneous secretion of milk from the mammary glands due to an abnormal increase of prolactin levels in the body caused by antidepressant intake.

“Unfortunately most of the [conditions], in one way or the other, lead to infertility. And the root cause of all these [conditions] is the stressful life that women have been living in the post-conflict era,” Pala asserts.

Experts here are sounding warnings about the catastrophic shape that women’s health in the Valley is taking. A study conducted at SKIMS on maternal health indicates that 15.7 percent of Kashmiri women of childbearing age will never have an offspring without clinical intervention.

Another conflict-related cause of infertility among Kashmiri women is late marriages. Over the war years, the marital age has risen from an average of 18-21 to 27-35 years. Because of economic insecurity and anxiety over the prospect of losing male breadwinners, women are choosing education and employment over marriage.

“Economic instability and insecurity is eating our society like termites,” says Margoob.

The doctor reveals that cut-throat competition in schools and colleges to earn a secure future has hugely disturbed the mental health of young girls as well.

Dissociative Disorders (DD), marked by disruptions or breakdowns in identity, memory or perception, are rapidly increasing in young school- and college-going girls, along with conditions like Panic Disorder, all of which interrupt the “smooth journey to motherhood”, Margoob says.

*Patients’ names have been changed on request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Game-Changing Week on Climate Change

mar, 11/18/2014 - 19:55

UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

By Joel Jaeger
WASHINGTON, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

- In recent days, two major developments have injected new life into international action on climate change.

At the G20 summit in Australia, the United States pledged 3 billion dollars and Japan pledged 1.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), bringing total donations up to 7.5 billion so far. The GCF, established through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will distribute money to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change."While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies.” -- Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA

The new commitments to the GCF came on the heels of a landmark joint announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, creating ambitious new targets for domestic carbon emissions reduction.

The United States will aim to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China will aim to reach peak carbon emissions around the year 2030 and decrease its emissions thereafter.

The two surprising announcements “really send a strong signal that both developed and developing countries are serious about getting to an ambitious climate agreement in 2015,” said Alex Doukas, a climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC think tank.

The GCF aims to be the central hub for international climate finance in the coming years. At an October meeting in Barbados, the basic practices of the GCF were firmly established and it was opened to funding contributions.

The 7.5 billion dollars that have been committed by 13 countries to the GCF bring it three quarters of the way to its initial 10-billion-dollar goal, to be distributed over the next few years. The gap may be closed on Nov. 20 at a pledging conference in Berlin. Several more countries are expected to announce their contributions, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

While the fund is primarily designed to aid developing countries, it has “both developed and developing country contributors,” Doukas told IPS. “Mexico and South Korea have already pledged resources, and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, that are not necessarily traditional contributors have indicated that they are going to step up as well.”

The decision-making board of the GCF is split evenly between developed and developing country constituencies.

“For a major, multilateral climate fund, I would say that the governance is much more balanced than previously,” Doukas said. “That’s one of the reasons for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, especially from the perspective of developing countries.”

As IPS has previously noted, the redistributive nature of the GCF acknowledges that the developing countries least responsible for climate change will often face the most severe consequences.

Advocates hope that the United States’ and Japan’s recent contributions will pave the way for more pledges on November 20th and a more robust climate finance system in general.

According to Jan Kowalzig, a climate finance expert at Oxfam Germany, the unofficial 10-billion-dollar goal for the GCF was set by developed countries, but developing countries have asked for at least 15 billion dollars.

The 10-billion-dollar goal is “an absolute minimum floor for what is needed in this initial phase,” he told IPS.

Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA and one of two civil society representatives on the GCF Board, asserts that the climate finance efforts will soon need to be scaled up drastically.

“While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the US spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies,” he told IPS.

The GCF may run into problems if countries attach caveats to their contributions, specifying exactly what types of activities they can be used for.

“Such strings are highly problematic as they run against the consensual spirit of the GCF board operations,” Kowalzig said.

He also warned that some of the contributions may come in the form of loans which need to be paid back instead of from grants.

After the pledging phase, much work remains to be done to establish a global climate finance roadmap towards 2020.

“The Green Climate Fund can and should play a major role,” Kowalzig said, “but the pledges, as important and welcome as they are, are only one component of what developed countries have promised to deliver.”

The other major development of the past week, Obama and Xi’s carbon emissions reduction announcement, also deserves both praise and scrutiny.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the historic nature of the agreement.

“Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge,” he wrote.

While Barack Obama may be committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Congress has expressed reservations. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, has called the plan “unrealistic” and complained that it would increase electricity prices and eliminate jobs.

On the Chinese side, Xi’s willingness to act on climate change and peak carbon emissions by 2030 was a substantial transformation from only a few years ago.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a press release that China’s announcement was “a major development,” but noted that a few years difference in when peak emissions occur could have a huge impact on climate change.

“Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change,” he said.

Researchers have said that China’s emissions would have peaked in the 2030s anyway, and that a more ambitious goal of 2025 could have been possible.

Still, the agreement indicates a new willingness of the world’s number one and number two biggest carbon emitters to work together constructively, and raises hopes for successful negotiations in December’s COP20 climate change conference in Lima, Peru.

Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the GCF, was unapologetically enthusiastic about the new momentum built in recent days.

“This week’s announcements will be a legacy of U.S. President Obama,” she announced. “It will be seen by generations to come as the game-changing moment that started a scaling-up of global action on climate change, and that enabled the global agreement.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shale Oil Fuels Indigenous Conflict in Argentina

mar, 11/18/2014 - 11:57

Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CAMPO MARIPE, Argentina, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

The boom in unconventional fossil fuels has revived indigenous conflicts in southwest Argentina. Twenty-two Mapuche communities who live on top of Vaca Muerta, the geological formation where the reserves are located, complain that they were not consulted about the use of their ancestral lands, both “above and below ground.”

Albino Campo, ”logko” or chief of the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, is critical of the term “superficiary” – one to whom a right of surface occupation is granted – which was used in the oil contracts to describe the people living on the land, with whom the oil companies are negotiating.

“We are the owners of the surface, and of what is above and below as well. That is the ‘mapu’ (earth). It’s not hollow below ground; there is another people below,” he told IPS.

Nor is it hollow for the oil companies, although the two conceptions are very different.

Three thousand metres below Campo Maripe lies one of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas and oil.

The land that the community used for grazing is now part of the Loma Campana oilfield, operated by the state-run YPF oil company in partnership with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“More or less 160 wells have been drilled here,” Campo said. “When they reach 500 wells, we won’t have any land for our animals. They stole what is ours.”“The company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.” – Mapuche leader Jorge Nahuel

Because of the urgent need to boost production, YPF started a year ago to make roads and drill wells in the Campo Campana oilfield in the southern Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The Mapuche chief and his sister Mabel Campo showed IPS what their lands had turned into, with the intense noise and dust from the trucks continuously going back and forth to and from the oilfield.

They carry machinery, drill pipes and the products used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a highly criticised technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped in the underground rocks.

“They say fracking and everything aboveground doesn’t pollute…maybe it’ll be a while but we’ll start seeing cancer, skin cancer, because of all the pollution, and we’ll also die of thirst because there won’t be any water to drink,” said Mabel Campo.

YPF argues that it negotiated with the provincial government to open up the oilfield, because it is the government that holds title to the land.

However, “we try to have the best possible relations with any superficiary or pseudo superficiary or occupant, in the areas where we work, Mapuches or not,” YPF-Neuquén’s manager of institutional relations, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

The families of Campo Maripe have not obtained title to their land yet, but they did score one major victory.

After protests that included chaining themselves to oil derricks, they got the provincial government to recognise them legally as a community in October.

“Registration as a legal entity leaves behind the official stance of denying the Mapuche indigenous identity, and now the consultation process will have to be carried out for any activity that affects the territory,” Micaela Gomiz, with the Observatory of Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Patagonia (ODHPI), stated in a communiqué released by that organisation.

According to ODHIP, as of 2013 there were 347 Mapuche people charged with “usurpation” and trespassing on land, including 80 lawsuits filed in Neuquén and 60 cases in the neighbouring province of Río Negro.

In the case of Vaca Muerta, Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, told IPS that the local indigenous communities were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Argentina ratified 25 years ago.

Convention 169 requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

“What the state should do before granting concessions to land is to reach an agreement with the community over whether or not it is willing to accept such an enormous change of lifestyle,” he said.

Furthermore, said Nahuel, “the company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.”

The Mapuche leader said similar violations are committed in the soy and mining industries. “Indigenous people are seen as just another element of nature and as such they are trampled on,” he complained.

In this South American country of 42 million, nearly one million people identified themselves as indigenous in the last census, carried out in 2010. Most of them belong to the Mapuche and Colla communities, and live in Neuquén and two other provinces.

Nahuel noted that of nearly 70 Neuquén indigenous communities, only 10 percent hold legal title to their land.

“The logic followed by the state is that the weaker the documentation of land tenure, the greater the legal security enjoyed by the company,” he said. “It’s a perverse logic because what they basically believe is that by keeping us without land titles for decades, it will be easier for the companies to invade our territory.”

Some have cast doubt on the real interests of the Mapuche.

Luis Sapag, a lawmaker of the Neuquén Popular Movement, triggered the controversy last year when he remarked that “some of them have been doing good business…YPF didn’t go to the Mapuches’ land to set up shop….some Mapuches went to put their houses where YPF was operating, to get this movement started.”

“Until Loma Campana was developed, there were never any demands or complaints from a Mapuche community,” said YPF Neuquén’s manager of unconventional resources, Pablo Bizzotto, during a visit by IPS and correspondents from other international news outlets to the oilfield in the southwestern province of Neuquén.

Nahuel compared that reasoning to “the arguments used by the state when it invaded Mapuche territory, saying this was a desert, we got here, and then indigenous people showed up making demands and claims.

“They’re using the same logic here – first they raze a territory, and then they say: ‘But what is it that you’re demanding? We hadn’t even seen you people before’,” he said.

Nahuel said the production of shale gas and oil, an industry in which Argentina is becoming a global leader, poses “a much greater threat” than the production of conventional fossil fuels, which he said “already left pollution way down in the soil, and among all of the Mapuche families in the area.”

“It is an industry that has a major environmental and social – and even worse for us, cultural – impact, because it breaks down community life and destroys the collective relationship that we have with this territory, and has turned us into ‘superficiaries’ for the industry,” Nahuel said.

He added that as the drilling moves ahead, the conflicts will increase.

He said the country’s new law on fossil fuels, in effect since Oct. 31, will aggravate the problems because “it serves the corporations by ensuring them the right to produce for 50 years.”

The logko, Campo, said: “When YPF pulls out there will be no future left for the Mapuche people. What they are leaving us here is only pollution and death.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Iranians Keep Hope Alive for Final Nuclear Deal

mar, 11/18/2014 - 06:06

With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, the negotiations aimed at a final deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme—in a crucial phase this week—are far from the minds of average people. But for many Iranians, the talks hold the promise of a better future.

“I really hope for a fair agreement,” Ahoora Rostamian, a 30-year-old financial engineer living in the Iranian city of Isfahan, told IPS in a telephone interview.“I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.” -- Adnan Tabatabai

“It is very important both economically and politically…(A)lmost all sectors of industry are affected by the sanctions, and only the people, not the government, are paying the price,” he said.

From the capital city of Tehran, Mohammad Shirkavand, who expects a final deal to be signed by the Nov. 24 deadline, said it would “alleviate tensions and allow Westerners to get to know the real Iran.”

“Iran has been developing even under a massive sanctions regime, but when there is a final nuclear deal, the situation will be much better,” said the medical engineer and tour guide.

“People are indeed very hopeful,” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based analyst who regularly travels to Iran, told IPS. “I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) began a marathon round of meetings Nov. 18 in Vienna aimed at achieving a final deal by next Monday.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the signing in Geneva of the interim Joint Plan of Action, which halted Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief.

All of the officials involved in the negotiation have insisted that a comprehensive agreement remains possible by the self-imposed deadline.

But three days of talks last week in Oman—which hosted initially the secret U.S.-Iran meetings in March 2013 that paved the way for unprecedented levels of bilateral exchanges—concluded without a breakthrough.

“The Iranian team went back to Tehran with new ideas from Oman and will have a chance to respond to them in Vienna,” Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“There’s still a week left, and that’s a lot of time on the diplomatic clock,” said Davenport, who closely monitors Iran’s nuclear programme. “The negotiators are committed to reaching a deal by the deadline, and it’s still possible.”

The details of the negotiations remain secret, but leaked comments to the press suggest that while the negotiators are close to a deal, they remain stuck on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme as well as the terms of the sanctions relief that would result from a final deal.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach industrial-scale production for what they insist is a civil nuclear programme by 2021. But the U.S. and its allies want Iran to significantly scale back its current operations.

The failure to sign a deal so far has left some in Iran feeling hopeless—though not about their negotiating team’s ability to push for the best deal.

“I am not very optimistic about a final deal because if the P5+1 were seriously determined to reach a deal they could have achieved that by now,” said Sadeghi, a 29-year-old student also from Isfahan. “They have previously proven that what they’re seeking is halting Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, not a genuine deal.”

Back in Tehran, Sobhan Hassanvand, a journalist who closely monitors the talks for the Shargh News Agency, told IPS he expects at least a partial deal by the end of the month.

“On both sides there are rational people who want the deal… Both sides have shown some flexibility, and tried to fight hardliners,” he said.

“They have gotten this far, and the final steps can be breathtaking…I am hopeful and optimistic,” added Hassanvand.

The negotiating teams from both the U.S. and Iran, led by Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, respectively, face tough domestic opposition, with powerful adversaries working hard to get their demands onto the negotiating table.

Before the end of this week, committees in the U.S. House and Senate—both of which will be controlled by Republicans as of January—will hold a series of hearings focused on the alleged dangers of a “bad deal”.

Activist groups—both for and against diplomacy with Iran—have also scheduled briefings for Congressional staffers and reporters in the run-up to Nov. 24.

“There are some members of Congress who oppose a diplomatic solution with Iran,” Davenport told IPS. “Many of them are pushing for more stringent sanctions, but that will only drive Iran away from table and lead both sides down the path of escalation.

“But the majority of Congress needs to consider the alternative to a diplomatic resolution…if we don’t achieve a deal we could easily go down the path of another war in the Middle East,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also received strong criticism for allegedly sending a secret letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that “appeared aimed at buttressing the campaign against the Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal,” according to a Nov. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the content of the reported letter has not been officially revealed, some U.S. Republican and hawkish Democratic politicians, as well as Israeli officials, described it as evidence of Obama’s desperation for a deal, particularly in light of the need for Iran’s cooperation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s ultimate decision-maker, Ayatollah Khamenei, once again expressed support last week for the country’s negotiating team through speeches and his Twitter account.

But he has also consistently expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s sincerity and its ability to negotiate for a fair deal, insisting that Washington is ruled by the Israeli government, which has made no secret of its opposition to Obama’s approach.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also been the target of political grumblings by domestic powerbrokers for his handling of the nuclear issue. But last week saw many of his critics directing their distrust at the United States.

“In the nuclear debate, our key point is that we have complete trust with respect to the negotiating team, but this point must not be missed, that our opposing side is a fraud and a liar,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejatand, a commander of the revolutionary guards, on Nov. 14.

“Instead of writing letters, Obama should demonstrate his goodwill,” said Ayatollah Movahedi-Kermani during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Iranians meanwhile appear generally confident about their negotiating team’s strategy.

“They are doing a good job…The problem is (that) the other side is not looking for a “deal,” but for Iran to give up,” said Sadeghi.

Tabatabai said Iranians were more likely to blame the U.S. than their own government if no deal is concluded.

“In that case people may conclude that whether Iran’s foreign policy is provocative or reconciliatory, the isolation and demonisation of their country will prevail,” he said.

“This is exactly the main argument of opponents of a deal in Tehran,” he added. “In their view, hostility towards Iran is a given—and if it’s not channeled through the nuclear file, another issue will be used to maintain enmity with Iran.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Why Israel Opposes a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran and What to Do About It

lun, 11/17/2014 - 21:03

Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter administration and in 2011-12 was director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University. Read his work on IPS’s foreign policy blog, LobeLog.

By Robert E. Hunter
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Nov. 24 is the deadline for six world powers and Iran to reach a final deal over its nuclear programme. If there is no deal, then the talks are likely to be extended, not abandoned.

But as I learned from more than three decades’ work on Middle East issues, in and out of the U.S. government, success also depends on Israel no longer believing that it needs a regional enemy shared in common with the United States to ensure Washington’s commitment to its security.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

Much is at stake in the negotiations with Iran in Vienna, notably the potential removal of the risk of war over its nuclear programme and the removal of any legitimate basis for Israel’s fear that it could become the target of an Iranian bomb.

Success could also begin Iran’s reintegration into the international community, ending its lengthy quarantine. If President Barack Obama and his national security officials get their way, including the Pentagon—hardly a group of softies—a comprehensive final accord would be a good deal for U.S. national security and, in the American analysis, for Israel’s security as well.

Yet more is at issue for Israel, and for the Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. They want to keep Iran in purdah.

Indeed, since the Iranian Revolution ran out of steam outside its borders, the essential questions about the challenge Iran poses have been the following: Will it be able to compete for power and position in the region, and, how can Iran’s competition be dealt with?

The first response, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to decry whatever might be agreed to in the talks, no matter how objectively good the results would be for everyone’s security. He has the Saudis and other Arab states as silent partners.

Between them, the Israeli and oil lobbies command a lot of attention in the U.S. Congress, a large part of whose members would otherwise accept that President Obama’s standard for an agreement meets the tests of both U.S. security and the security of its partners in the Middle East.

But a large fraction of Congress is no more willing to take on these two potent lobbies than the National Rifle Association.

Netanyahu will also do all he can to prevent the relaxation of any of the sanctions imposed on Iran. But even if he and his U.S. supporters succeed on Capitol Hill, President Obama can on his own suspend some of those sanctions—though exactly how much is being debated.

The U.S. does not have the last word on sanctions, however. The moment there is a final agreement, the floodgates of economic trade and investment with Iran will open. Europeans, in particular, are lined up with their order books, like Americans in 1889 who awaited the starter’s pistol to begin the Oklahoma land rush.

In response, U.S. private industry will ride up Capitol Hill to demand the relaxation of U.S.-mandated sanctions. Meanwhile, the sighs of relief resounding throughout the world will begin changing the international political climate concerning Iran.

Yet America’s concerns will not cease. While the U.S. and Iran have similar interests in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and in wanting to see Afghanistan free from reconquest by of the Taliban, they are still far apart on other matters, notably the Assad regime in Syria, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas.

President Obama will also have an immediate problem in reassuring Israel and Gulf Arab states that American commitments to their security are sincere. To be sure, absent an Iranian nuclear weapon, there is no real Iranian military threat and all the Western weapons pumped into the Persian Gulf are thus essentially useless.

Iran’s real challenges emanate from its dynamic domestic economy, a highly educated, entrepreneurial culture that is matched in the region only by Israelis and Palestinians, and a good deal of cultural appeal even beyond Shi’a communities.

Obama thus faces a special problem in reassuring Israel, a problem that goes back decades. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979, the risks of a major Arab attack on Israel sank virtually to zero. So, too, did the risk of an Arab-Israeli conflict escalating to the level of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation. All at once, U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns were no longer obviously linked.

Thus as soon as Israel withdrew from the Sinai in May 1979, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin started searching for an alternative basis for linking American and Israeli strategic interests.

For him and for many other Israelis, then and now, it is not enough that the American people are firmly committed to Israel’s security for what could be called “sentimental” reasons: bonds of history (especially memories of the Holocaust), culture, religion, and the values of Western democracy.

But such “sentiment” is the strongest motivation for all U.S. commitments, a far stronger glue than strategic calculations that can and often do change, a fact that could be testified to by the people of South Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Yet for Begin and others, there had to be at least a strong similarity of strategic interests. Thus, in a meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance the day after Egypt retook possession of the Sinai, Begin complained that the US had cancelled its “strategic dialogue” with Israel. Vance tasked me, as the National Security Council staff representative on his travelling team, to find out “what the heck Begin is talking about.”

I phoned Washington and got the skinny: the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment had been conducting a low-level dialogue with some Israeli military officers. Proving to be of little value, it was stopped.

The reason for Begin’s outburst thus became clear: in the absence of the strategic tie with the United States that had been provided by the conflict with Egypt, Israel needed something else, in effect, a common enemy.

That’s why many Israeli political stakeholders were ambivalent about the George W. Bush administration’s ambitions to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: with his overthrow, a potential though remote threat to Israel would be removed, but so would the perception of a common enemy. Since Saddam’s ousting, Iran has gained even more importance for Israel as a means of linking Jerusalem’s strategic perceptions with those of Washington.

By the same political logic, Israel has always asserted that it is a strategic asset for the United States. As part of recognising Israel’s psychological needs, no U.S. official ever publicly challenges that Israeli assertion regardless of what they think in private or however much damage the U.S. might suffer politically in the region because of Israeli activities, including the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

So what must Obama do in order to eliminate the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while also reassuring Israel of US fealty? On one side, to be able to honour an agreement with Iran, Obama has to undercut Netanyahu’s efforts with Congress to prevent any sanctions relief.

On the other side, he could reassure Israel through the classic means of buttressing the flow of arms, including the anti-missile capabilities of the Iron Dome that were so useful to Israel during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel would want even closer strategic cooperation with the U.S., including consultations on the full range of U.S. thinking and planning on all relevant issues in the Middle East. Israel (at least Netanyahu) would also want any notion of further negotiations with the Palestinians, and the relaxation of economic pressures on Gaza, put into the deep freeze—where, in effect, they already are.

Israel has an inherent, sovereign right to defend itself and to make, for and by itself, calculations about what that means. (The country is not unified, however: a surprising number of former leaders of the Israeli military and security agencies have publicly differed with Netanyahu’s pessimistic assessments of the Iranian threat).

As Israel’s only real friend in the world, the United States continues to have an obligation, within reason, to reassure Israel about its security and safety.

For Obama, this reassurance to Israel is a price worth paying in the event of a deal, which would be at least one step in trying to build security and stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East. But that can only happen if Israel refrains from obstructing Obama’s effort to make everyone, including Israel, more secure.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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G20 Seeks to Streamline Private Investment in Infrastructure

lun, 11/17/2014 - 21:00

Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Industrialised countries have agreed to collaborate on a new programme aimed at funnelling significant private-sector investment into global infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries.

The Global Infrastructure Initiative, agreed to Sunday by governments of the Group of 20 (G20) countries, will not actually be funding new projects. But it will seek to create investment environments that are more conducive to major foreign investors, and to assist in connecting governments with financiers.In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

The initiative’s work will be overseen at a secretariat in Australia, the host of this weekend’s G20 summit and a government that has made infrastructure investment a key priority. This office, known as the Global Infrastructure Hub, will foster collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as multilateral banks.

“With a four-year mandate, the Hub will work internationally to help countries improve their general investment climates, reduce barriers to investment, grow their project pipelines and help match investors with projects,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey said Sunday in a joint statement. “This will help improve how infrastructure markets work.”

Some estimate the undertaking could mobilise some two trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment over the next decade and a half. This would be available to be put into electrical grids, roads and bridges, ports and other major projects.

The G20 has emerged as the leading multilateral grouping tasked with promoting economic collaboration. Together, its membership accounts for some 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

With the broad aim of prompting global economic growth, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will work to motivate major institutional investors – banks, pension funds and others – to provide long-term capital to the world’s mounting infrastructure deficits. In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

In recent years, the private sector has turned away from infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies. Between 2012 and last year alone, such investments declined by nearly 20 percent, to 150 billion dollars, according to the World Bank.

“This new initiative very positively reflects a clear-eyed reading of the evidence that there are infrastructure logjams and obstacles in both the developing and developed world,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, told IPS. “From a donor perspective, this indicates better listening to what these countries are actually asking for.”

Still, Morris notes, it remains unclear what exactly the Global Infrastructure Initiative’s outcomes will be.

“The G20 clearly intends to prioritise infrastructure investment,” he says, “but it’s hard to get a sense of where the priorities are.”

Lucrative opportunity

The Global Infrastructure Initiative is the latest in a string of major new infrastructure-related programmes announced at the multilateral level in recent weeks.

In early October, the World Bank announced a project called the Global Infrastructure Facility, which appears to have a mandate very similar to the new G20 initiative. At the end of the month, the Chinese government announced the creation of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Many have suggested that the World Bank and G20 announcements were motivated by China’s forceful entry onto this stage. As yet, however, there is little clarity on the G20 project’s strategy.

“With so many discreet initiatives suddenly underway, I wonder if the new G20 project doesn’t cause confusion,” Morris says.

“Right now it’s very difficult to see any division in responsibilities between the G20 and World Bank infrastructure projects. The striking difference between them both and the AIIB is that the Chinese are offering actual capital for investment.”

The idea for the new initiative reportedly came from a business advisory body to the G20, known as the Business 20 (B20). The B20 says it “fully supports” the new Global Infrastructure Initiative.

“The Global Infrastructure Initiative is a critical step in addressing the global growth and employment challenge, and the business community strongly endorses the commitments of the G20 to increase quality investment in infrastructure,” Richard Goyder, the B20 chair, said Monday.

“The B20 estimates that improving project preparation, structuring and delivery could increase infrastructure capacity by [roughly] 20 trillion dollars by 2030.”

Goyder pledged that the business sector would “look to be heavily involved in supporting” the new projects.

Poison pill?

Yet if global business is excited at the prospect of trillions of dollars’ worth of new investment opportunities, civil society is expressing concern that it remains unclear how, or whether, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will impose rules on the new projects to minimise their potential social or environmental impacts.

“Private investment in infrastructure is crucial for closing the infrastructure funding gap and meeting human needs, and the G20 initiative is an important move by governments to catalyse that private investment,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development, at Columbia University, told IPS.

“It is key, however, that the initiative and the infrastructure hub develop procedures and practices not only to promote development of infrastructure, but to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for host countries and communities.”

Prominent multilateral safeguards policies such as those used by the World Bank are typically not applied to public-private partnerships, which will likely make up a significant focus of the G20’s new infrastructure push. Further, regulatory constraints could be too politically thorny for the G20 to forge new agreement.

“In the 2013 assessment of the G20’s infrastructure initiative by the G20 Development Working Group, only one item of the whole infrastructure agenda ‘stalled’ – and that was the work on environmental safeguards,” Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a think tank, told IPS.

“I’ve always gotten the feedback from the G20 that such policies are matters of national sovereignty.”

The G20 is now hoping that trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending will create up to 10 million jobs over the next 15 years, spurring global economic growth. Yet Alexander questions whether this spending will be a “magic bullet” or a “poison pill”.

“Some of us are old enough to remember how recklessly the petrodollars of the 1970s and 1980s were spent – especially on infrastructure … Then, reckless lenders tried to turn a quick profit without regard to the social, environmental and financial consequences, including unpayable debts,” she says.

“Seeing the devastation wrought by poorly conceived infrastructure, many of us worked to create systems of transparency, safeguards and recourse at the multilateral development banks – systems that are now considered too time-consuming, expensive and imperialistic.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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U.N. Concerned Over Ebola Backlash

lun, 11/17/2014 - 13:36

Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is working on an emergency footing to battle the outbreak of Ebola, is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa.

“It’s a psychological fear,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told IPS. “And there has been a chain reaction.”

He cautioned there should be no action which is not based on science or medical evidence.

Ban said the fight against Ebola is a “top priority” of the United Nations and admitted he was conscious of the fact the disease has had a “heavy impact on all spectrum of our lives.”

The secretary-general’s warning resonated in North Africa last week when Morocco postponed hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations because of its own fears over the possible spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco’s Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine was quoted as saying: “This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that this virus would put on the health of our fellow Africans.”

The New York Times said “fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray.”

As a result, the Confederation of African Football last week removed Morocco as host of the biennial soccer championship, with Equatorial Guinea stepping in to take over as host of the 16-team games early next year.

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Geographically, Morocco is a North African country.

Last July, Seychelles forfeited a match after it refused to permit a team from Sierra Leone into the country because of concerns over Ebola.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Philippine peacekeepers who returned home from Liberia recently were to be temporarily settled either on an island off Luzon or put on board a ship.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that once peacekeepers have completed their missions, these soldiers come under the authority of their respective governments.

Ban told IPS he was thankful for the countries that have pledged “massive resources” to fight Ebola.

These include the United States, UK, China, Japan, France and several other European countries.

He singled out the United States for providing over 4,000 soldiers and Cuba for providing hundreds of medical personnel in the fight against Ebola.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve over six billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease and also protect U.S. nationals.

“I hope the lame duck Congress will approve it,” Ban said.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the overall financial requirements are estimated at about 988 million dollars, of which 60 percent has been funded.

Additionally, there is also a Trust Fund, with 58.7 million dollars as pledges.

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told the 193-member General Assembly last week that “Ebola is a fearsome enemy and we will not win the battle by chasing it.”

The death toll has exceeded “a grim milestone” of 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, “with the real number likely to be much higher,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported over 13,000 Ebola cases in eight countries: the three most affected nations in West Africa, plus the United States, Spain, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

As the crisis continues, about 3,300 children have become Ebola orphans while food prices have been rising in the three affected countries, schools have closed and traders have refused to bring their products to the market.

At the just-ended summit of G20 world leaders from both developed and developing nations, the secretary-general said, “The rate of new cases is showing signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But as rates decline in one area, they are rising in others.”

And transmission continues to outpace the response, he added at the conclusion of the summit Sunday in Brisbane, which was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He urged the G20 to step up “so that we can meet the 70/70 goal: isolating and treating 70 per cent of all Ebola cases and providing safe and dignified burials to 70 per cent of those who have died.”

He said the international community must also address the secondary impacts on healthcare, education and soaring food prices caused by a disruption in farming that could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region.

“It is important we do not further isolate these three countries by imposing travel restrictions. This will not impede the spread of the virus: it will simply hamper our efforts to mobilise support,” he argued.

According to the WHO, there is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Will There be Peace Between Iran and the West?

lun, 11/17/2014 - 13:08

In this column, Emma Bonino, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former European Commissioner, argues that the West and Iran would be well advised to take advantage of what may be their last similar opportunity to reach a definitive agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, because the costs of failure to do so are incalculable.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

In just a few days, a meeting is scheduled that will be decisive for the security of the Middle East and of the whole world.

Nov. 24 is the deadline for final negotiations between high representatives of six world powers and Iran seeking to reach a comprehensive agreement on the development of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Emma Bonino

The six powers include three European countries (Germany, United Kingdom and France) as well as China, the United States and Russia. This negotiating group is known in Europe as E3+3.

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme signed in November 2013 delivered the E3+3’s most substantial guarantees to date, instituting rigorous supervision of the Iranian nuclear programme while limiting and reducing its production of enriched uranium. Since then progress has been made at several talks and the deadline for their conclusion has been set for Nov. 24.

It is hoped that agreement will be reached on the remaining difficult issues and that the foundations for a final agreement will be laid. If this does not happen, it is feared that further postponement may provide more opportunities for those opposed to diplomatic means to derail the process.

This would be a serious reverse when so much progress has been made, creative technical solutions have been proposed, and an agreement is within reach that would peacefully and effectively address the concerns of the E3+3 about proliferation in regard to Iranian nuclear plans, as well as respect Iran’s legitimate aspirations to develop atomic energy for civilian use, and its sovereignty.“An agreement [on Iran’s nuclear programme] must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates”

The European countries have invested vast resources to attain this stage of the negotiations, enforcing unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran as well as shouldering the consequences on the regional scale of maintaining Tehran in isolation.

Europe must use the little time it has left to encourage the negotiating parties to resolve the pending issues by making reasonable concessions, while at the same time avoiding matters that are not essential to a good accord. The Europeans should also work alongside the U.S. government to allay the fears of regional allies sceptical about the long-term strategic benefits of a definitive nuclear pact.

The cost of failure, in economic and security terms, is incalculable.

Failure would probably result in an unrestricted or timidly supervised Iranian nuclear programme, without robust verification to prevent its possible diversion for military purposes.

A negative outcome would foreseeably lead to intensification of sanctions and the isolation of Iran, which could in turn be a stronger incentive for Tehran to try to develop nuclear weapons. This would further undermine Western interests and create an increasingly explosive dead-end situation in military terms.

The costs to Iran of failure, in economic and security terms, are incalculable.

Some of those opposed to an agreement, who can be found in either negotiating party, may wish for consequences of this nature. But responsible leaders should not share this attitude.

If a definitive pact is forged, the E3+3 will establish the truly historic precedent of safeguarding global security through containment of Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons. 

A final agreement would also strengthen trust and create the necessary political space for the European Union to engage Iran again in human rights dialogue of the kind that took place in the past, which makes so much sense and is so badly needed now.

Crucially, an agreement must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates and when cooperation on at least partially shared interests seems possible and necessary, without ignoring the many circumstances in which Iranian and Western interests continue to diverge.

Iran and the E3+3 are closer than ever to resolving the nuclear question.

Non-proliferation, global and regional security and the pacification of conflict hotspots in the Middle East, as well as the exemplary effect of multilateral diplomacy during these convulsed times, would without exception benefit significantly from a firm and fair agreement.

All the parties have the option of distancing themselves from a nuclear agreement, but if they do so it will be in the knowledge that the alternatives are far worse, and that they ought to pay heed to their own best strategic interests. They should all know, also, that there may never be another opportunity like this one to close a definitive nuclear deal. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Will New Climate Treaty Be a Thriller, or Shaggy Dog Story?

lun, 11/17/2014 - 08:28

The as-yet unfinished exhibit area which forms part of the temporary installations that the host country has built in Lima to hold the COP 20, which runs Dec. 1-12. Credit: COP20 Peru

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

This December, 195 nations plus the European Union will meet in Lima for two weeks for the crucial U.N. Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, known as COP 20. The hope in Lima is to produce the first complete draft of a new global climate agreement.
However, this is like writing a book with 195 authors. After five years of negotiations, there is only an outline of the agreement and a couple of ‘chapters’ in rough draft.

The deadline is looming: the new climate agreement to keep climate change to less than two degrees C is to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

“A tremendous amount of work has to be done in Lima,” said Erika Rosenthal, an attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law organisation and advisor to the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

“Time is short after Lima and Paris cannot fail,” said Rosenthal. “Paris is the key political moment when the world can decisively move to reap all the benefits of a clean, carbon-free economy.”

Success in Lima will depend in part on Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. As official president of COP 20, Pulgar-Vidal’s determination and energy will be crucial, most observers believe.

Climate change is a major issue in Peru, since Lima and many other parts of the country are dependent on freshwater from the Andes glaciers. Studies show they have lost 30 to 50 percent of their ice in 30 years and many will soon be gone.

Pulgar-Vidal has said he expects Lima to deliver a draft agreement, although it may not include all the chapters. The full draft with all the chapters needs to be completed by May 2015 to have time for final negotiations.

The future climate agreement, which could easily be book-length, will have three main sections or pillars: mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. The mitigation or emissions reduction pillar is divided into pre-2020 emission reductions and post-2020 sections.

Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, during one of the many events held to promote the COP 20. As chairman of the conference, his negotiating ability and energy will be crucial to the progress made towards a new draft climate agreement. Credit: COP20 Peru

Both remain contentious, in terms of how much each country should reduce and by when.

Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

However, emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever at 40 billion tonnes, compared to 32 billion in 2010. This year is also expected to be the warmest on record.

In 2009, at COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries agreed to make pre-2020 emission reductions under the Copenhagen Accord. However, those commitments fall far short of what’s needed and no country has since increased their “ambition”, as it is called.

Some – like Japan, Australia and Canada – have even backed away from their commitments.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a special summit with 125 heads of state on Sep. 24 in hopes countries’ would use the event to announce greater reductions. Instead, developed countries like the U.S. made general promises to do more while hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched to demand their leaders to take action.

The ambition deadlock was evident at the U.N. Bonn Climate Conference in October with developing nations pushing their developed counterparts for greater pre-2020 cuts.

However, the country bloc known as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) proposed a supplementary approach to reducing emissions that involves countries sharing their knowledge, technology and policy mechanisms.

Practical, useful and necessary, this may become a formal part of a new agreement, Rosenthal hopes.

“There were very good discussions around renewable energy and policies to reduce emissions in Bonn,” agrees Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, international policy advisor at CAN-Latin America, a network of NGOs.

“Developed countries need to make new reduction pledges in Lima,” Konstantinidis told TA.

This includes pledges for post-2020 cuts. Europe’s target of at least 40 percent cuts by 2030 is not large enough. Emerging countries like China, Brazil, India and others must also make major cuts since the long-term goal should be a global phase-out of fossil fuel use by 2050 to keep temperatures below 1.5C, he said.

This lower target is what many African and small island countries say is necessary for their long-term survival.

The mitigation pillar still needs agreement on how to measure and verify each country’s emission reductions. It will also need a mechanism to prevent countries from failing to meet their targets, Konstantinidis said.

Ironically, the most advanced mitigation chapter, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), is the most controversial outside of the COP process.

REDD is intended to provide compensation to countries for not exploiting their forests. Companies and countries failing to reduce emissions would pay this compensation.

The Peruvian government wants this finalised in Lima but many civil society and indigenous groups oppose it. Large protest marches against REDD and the idea of putting a price on nature are very likely in Lima, Konstantinidis said.
“Political actors appear totally disconnected from real solutions to tackle global warming,” said Nnimmo Bassey of the No Redd in Africa Network and former head of Friends of the Earth International.

REDD is a “financial conspiracy between rich nations and corporations” happy to trade cash for doing little to reduce their carbon emissions, Bassey said in an interview.

The only way to stop this “false solution” is for a broad alliance of social movements who take to the streets of Lima, he said.

The adaptation pillar is mainly about finance and technology transfer to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. A special Green Climate Fund was set up this year to channel money but is not yet operational.

At COP 15, rich countries said they would provide funding that would reach 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 in exchange for lower emissions reductions. Contributions in 2013 were only 110 million dollars.

Promises made by Germany and Sweden in 2014 amount to nearly two billion dollars, however, payments will be made over a number of years. It is also not clear how much will be new money rather than previously allocated foreign assistance funding.

“Countries need to make new financial commitments in Lima. This includes emerging economies like China and Brazil,” said Konstantinidis.

Loss and damage is the third pillar. It was only agreed to in the dying hours of COP 19 last year in Warsaw, Poland. This pillar is intended to help poor countries cope with current and future economic and non-economic losses resulting from the impacts of climate change.

This pillar is the least developed and will not be completed until after the Paris deadline.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Poverty

lun, 11/17/2014 - 05:51

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leone

lun, 11/17/2014 - 04:06

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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