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Archive for March 19th, 2013

Norway working for international arms trade treaty

Posted by African Press International on March 19, 2013

“Irresponsible and illegal trade in arms costs many lives and causes great suffering every year. When the international negotiations on an international arms trade treaty start up again in New York, Norway will be at the forefront of efforts to ensure a strong and robust agreement,” said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.

On Monday 18 March, a new round of negotiations on trade in conventional arms (the Arms Trade Treaty) starts at the UN headquarters in New York. The negotiations will continue until 28 March.

The previous round of negotiations in July 2012 stranded due to a failure to reach agreement and the request by some parties, for example the US, for more time.

“The new round of negotiations may be the last one on this treaty under the auspices of the UN. It is therefore vital that all parties do their utmost to move negotiations forward. A strong agreement will reduce the humanitarian consequences associated with irresponsible and illegal trade in weapons,” said Mr Eide.

The negotiations will build on the progress made during the July conference. Again, it will be necessary for all UN members to agree on the text of the treaty. Among the issues where agreement has not yet been reached are the types of weapons to be included, the extent to which ammunition should be included, and the criteria for assessing export licences.

“We will do all that we can to bring about a good agreement. However there is no doubt that negotiations this time too will be difficult, due to the requirement for full agreement and the many different interests at stake. Successful negotiations would be an important milestone in the efforts to reduce armed violence at the global level and for the UN’s reputation in the area of disarmament and arms control,” said Mr Eide.



source .mfa.norway

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Why land rights matter in Cambodia

Posted by African Press International on March 19, 2013

PHNOM PENH,  – Faced with widespread evictions and opaque private sector deals, activists in Cambodia are calling on the government to be more open and transparent about land concessions, beef up mechanisms for resolving land disputes, and abide by the rule of law. 

“Land security, land tenure, is not there,” Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), told IRIN in Phnom Penh.

“A handful [of people] will always be fearful that their land will be grabbed. I think that is an insecurity that needs to be addressed.”

Land rights remains a highly controversial issue in Cambodia, where the communist Khmer Rouge banned private property in the late 1970s in their effort to establish an agrarian society, destroying scores of land documents in the process.

It is estimated that at least two thirds of Cambodians, many of them poverty-stricken farmers, lack proper deeds to the property they live on. Over the past decade thousands have been forcibly evicted from their homes, while others have fallen victim to land-grabbing.

During this time of rapid economic growth, and with more growth forecast, there has been increasing demand for land in this largely agricultural country of about 15 million people, and rising land tenure insecurity, experts say.

In 2012, 232 people – including land activists, community representatives and those resisting forced eviction – were arrested in relation to land and housing issues – a 144 percent increase over 2011, when 95 people were arrested and 48 were detained, a report by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) said in February.

Since 2003 some 400,000 people have been affected by land grabbing and land disputes in Phnom Penh and 12 other provinces, says rights group Licadho which has been mapping one of the major sources of friction and disputes – economic land concessions (ELCs).

According to ADHOC, the government had designated at least 2,657,470 hectares as ELCs (concessions for agro-industrial development) to private companies as of late 2012 – a 16.7 percent increase on 2011.

In September 2012 the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in which he said ELCs were “benefiting a minority” in an investment climate where companies operate behind a “veil of secrecy”.

“Cambodia needs to open up its natural resource sector and stop conducting business behind closed doors….”

“It is often unclear who is benefiting financially from land used for urban development, economic and other land concessions, and large-scale development projects.”

Destabilizing effect

Land concessions have had a destabilizing effect. People living on land leased to private entities – including indigenous communities – have been nudged out of their localities, sometimes from nominally protected areas.

Moreover, community consultation and impact assessments are often deficient and kept confidential, if conducted at all, and inadequate compensation and resettlement has compounded the problem.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia, told IRIN there were cases of rural concession areas being logged for valuable wood and then left untouched, while other slated projects – such as the contentious development of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake – have stagnated after residents were evicted.

“When those developments take place they’ve got to be done properly,” he said, adding that Amnesty was concerned about the rights of those living in areas earmarked for development.

Rights groups have largely welcomed a moratorium on the granting of new ELCs, a review of existing concessions, and a nationwide land-titling programme announced by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in June 2012 to stem the number of disputes. According to ADHOC, official data states that by the end of 2012, more than 71,000 land titles had been issued through the programme.

CCHR’s Ou Virak said the government was paying attention as resistance to forced evictions had stiffened, but he feared recent initiatives would be short-lived. “They will probably go back to business as usual [after national elections in July],” he said, adding that the government’s land-titling scheme was currently only operating in non-disputed areas.

Land grabs

Josie Cohen, land campaigner for UK-based watchdog group Global Witness, told IRIN the political classes in Cambodia are complicit in land grabs.

“Senior Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) senator-tycoons are involved in many of the country’s most high-profile and controversial concessions,” she said.

Lawlessness around land deals prompted unscrupulous investors to take advantage of corruption and the weak rule of law, while responsible investors could not compete with those “cutting corners” and disregarding social and environmental concerns, she said.

“What we need is strong government regulation making it a requirement for investors to disclose [information to the public].”

Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan told IRIN allegations of government complicity in land-grabbing were “baseless” and, if necessary, people could take disputes to court.

“The CDC [Council for the Development of Cambodia] calculates the impact – economic impact, cultural impact and the other impacts – of land concessions,” he said, adding that the government was attempting to complete a public map detailing land ownership by the end of 2013.

Call for greater transparency

Despite welcoming government initiatives in 2012, observers remain concerned about the absence of freedom of information laws, weak implementation of legislation and the opacity of institutions ostensibly in place to deal with land disputes.

In his report, UN Rapporteur Subedi acknowledged the complexity of land rights, given the Khmer Rouge’s abolition of private property between 1975 and 1979 and internal migration, but said this did not justify continuing and often violent evictions.

Subedi recommended that the government release information about concessions – including proposals, bidding processes and lists of active concessions, state land and protected areas – to make the sector more transparent and participatory.

Impact assessments should be conducted and publicized before concessions are granted; people should be consulted on resettlement where eviction has been deemed legal; and analysis should be undertaken on the revenue and benefits flowing to the population from concessions, he said.

In a statement to the UNHRC in September 2012 Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, said the government was attempting to address land issues, and the premier’s land titling scheme would result in about 1.2 million hectares of land being demarcated and allocated to around 350,000 families.

A lack of transparency around land deals and scant access to information are roadblocks to reforming the land sector.

Global Witness’s Josie Cohen said crucial information was often inaccessible or incomprehensible to affected communities. She added that there was an incomplete list of ELCs on the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website.

“Cambodia needs to open up its natural resource sector and stop conducting business behind closed doors which allows a corrupt elite to capture supposedly state-owned resources,” she said.

Judicial reform needed

Amnesty’s Rupert Abbott said judicial reform was key to addressing impunity in the land sector and the government needed to explain to people the roles of various dispute mechanisms.

“We can see that the courts rarely do anything about perpetrators of human rights abuses and yet on the other hand are used to silence those communities calling for more equal development,” Abbott said.

A key issue with land management is a failure to properly implement the law, says Taryn Lesser, coordinator of the Land and Housing Rights Unit at OHCHR in Cambodia.

“Cambodia’s laws are relatively well developed: For example, they provide for a clear and transparent process for dealing with the reclassification of land, for handling disputes and for managing expropriation,” she said, adding, however, that a weak judiciary and ineffective implementation of the law contributed to the problem.

mk/ds/cb source


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Keeping pastoralist children in school

Posted by African Press International on March 19, 2013

ADDIS ABABA,  – Thousands of children in the pastoral regions of Ethiopia are dropping out of school despite government and donor efforts to bring scho ols closer to them. Recurrent natural disasters such as drought and flooding, as well as inter-ethnic clashes, are major factors in school dropouts.

In February, at least 17,000 primary school children in Ethiopia were reported to have dropped out since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, mainly due to drought-related migration.In the northeastern Afar Region, some 15 schools have closed down due to a lack of water during the current dry season, affecting some 1,899 children, 29 percent of whom are girls, according to an 11 March update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ongoing conflict between the Oromo and Somali communities is also affecting education. “In conflict-affected areas of Oromia’s East Hararghe zone, some 10,600 children (40 percent girls) from 35 primary schools in Kumbi, Gursum, Meyumuluke and Chenasken [districts have remained] without schooling for over three months,” the update said.

In the southeastern Somali Region, seasonal flooding, ethnic conflict between residents in border areas, and even internal conflicts within the Somali ethnic group often adversely affect schooling, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In 2012, for example, a flood emergency in the region severely affected schools in several districts. “During the flooding emergency that occurred in June 2012, around 3,196 girls dropped out of school. Most of the schools located in the seven woredas [districts] were flooded, with eventual destruction of all educational materials and school infrastructure,” said UNICEF.

During the emergency, UNICEF supported the creation of temporary learning spaces for the affected children.

Alternative schools

Children in pastoral regions often seasonally migrate with their families due to adverse weather or insecurity.

The Ethiopian government, through its Alternative Basic Education Center (ABEC) programme, has been taking schools closer to such children.

“It is to include the under-developed pastoralist regions that we needed to devise an inclusive and comprehensive strategy specifically for the areas. The regions and way of life there needed a different approach. We had to take the schools to the children, not the other way around,” Mohammed Abubeker, head of the special support and inclusive education department at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education, told IRIN.

“And now, after years of efforts, we have in the regions… formal and non-formal schools. A student would find at least one informal school in every kebele [an administrative unit under the district].”

The ABEC programme has helped at least a quarter of a million rural Ethiopians living beyond the reach of the formal education system to access basic schooling, according to a statement by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

But the alternative education ends at the fourth grade, and in some areas, children must walk two hours to the formal school to continue learning, notes USAID. “Not surprisingly, some still drop out, mainly for poverty-related reasons, including the families’ need for their children’s labour or their inability to pay for room and board near the schools.”

Pastoralists’ seasonal migration also means that, “learning spaces are closed, which results in [the] closure of more Alternative Basic Education Centres,” notes UNICEF.

‘Migrating’ education

In response to the pastoralists’ movements, education officials are seeking ways to ensure learning continues.

“In the pastoralist regions, people there often move either by choice or [are] forced due to conflicts or drought,” said Mohammed of the education ministry. “In such situations, we use mobile schools, which are really doing well. The teachers and education materials are made to move with the pastoralist[s], so the kids will continue to learn.”

“Also, we have recently started networking the schools so when kids leave one area, we alert schools in the areas they [are migrating to] so that they can take them in,” he added.

Jointly with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the education ministry is also running a school feeding system programme that is helping to attract pupils to schools.

UNICEF is also trucking water to drought-affected areas. “If kebeles are benefitting from water trucking, schools will not be closed since the communities are getting water,” notes UNICEF.

Despite the challenges, some success has been seen in educating children in pastoral regions, Mohammed told IRIN, adding that the Afar and Somali regions had gross enrolment rates of 75 and 83 percent, respectively.

“We have been doing well…but there are still many problems we need to solve. Our wish is that not a single child drops out permanently. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”

kt/aw/rz source

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