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Tanzania’s wife beaters: Ward tribunals have made it easy for survivors to report cases of gender based violence

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

In Tanzania, most cases of domestic violence are never reported

DAR ES SALAAM, – Aisha*, a 35-year-old mother of six endured repeated, painful and humiliating violence from her husband until she reported the matter to the local village court, or ward tribunal.

The husband was fined and warned he would be taken to the police if he continued the abuse.

Ward tribunals were set up in the mid-1980s as part of efforts to devolve governance. They have a legal mandate to “secure peace and harmony… by mediating and endeavoring to obtain just and amicable settlement of disputes.”

Aisha, who lives with her family in Kijitonyama in the outskirts of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, said she was satisfied with this form of restorative justice.

“I think I won because the beatings not only ended, but he was ordered to pay me money [the equivalent of US$100] to treat my injuries. We are a happy family now.”

It was not always so.

“It was bad because he would beat me anytime he came home drunk. He was jobless and I was providing for the family from my small business earnings.

“I decided to report him to these people because I feared the police,” Aisha told IRIN.

“As a woman, you feel helpless when you have nowhere to seek help when battered by a husband or you are raped,” Aisha said.

Ward tribunals are not proper courts: their members are drawn from the local community and need no special training, and there are no rules of evidence or procedure. Their priority is to see litigants resolve their own differences, but if that fails, they can impose measures such as public censures, fines, community work and even detention, although this has to be endorsed by a local magistrate.

“Most people fear the police but feel comfortable reporting to us because we are known to them and we have a legal backing because we are mandated by the government to do what we do. For cases that really need to proceed to the police, we provide the link”

“We don’t go looking for cases, but people come and report to us and we record those cases and carry out our own investigations to ascertain the truth. In cases where we feel the courts should be involved, we report to the police and we help push them forward,” Oscar Meck, chairman of one such ward in Dar es Salaam, told IRIN.

“Most people fear the police but feel comfortable reporting to us because we are known to them and we have a legal backing because we are mandated by the government to do what we do. For cases that really need to proceed to the police, we provide the link,” he added.

“However, we treat rape cases as an emergency and report them straight to the police so that victims can receive adequate and immediate medical attention.”

Reluctance to report to the police

Gender-based violence (GBV) is widespread in Tanzania, and it is seen as socially acceptable in most rural regions of the country.

Just over half of the 10,000 polled for the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey, said their husband would be justified in beating them if they did just one of the following: went out without telling him, neglected the children, argued, refused sex, or burnt the food.

According to the same survey, 44 percent of married women have experienced GBV from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Such spousal abuse is rarely reported to the police.

“We have desks where women and girls can report cases of abuse and we even give the option of them being handled by a female police officer. I can’t say things are bad like before, but many women still think the police are not friendly,” Jumbe Makoye, a senior police officer, told IRIN.

There is no legislation in Tanzania which specifically outlaws domestic violence.

“Many women still feel the police will dismiss cases of domestic violence as private or some will ask for a bribe to even open a file,” Juniata Joseph, 27, told IRIN from her tailoring shop in Kariokor in downtown Dar es Salaam.

When the police are involved, cases “frequently follow a circuitous pathway,” according to the International Centre for Research on Women.

Ward tribunals have made it easy for survivors to report cases of gender based violence

“The result is an exceedingly slow, cumbersome process that neither prioritizes a survivor’s needs nor responds to violence as an emergency situation.”

A success?

Experts like Jovither Barongo, a GBV programme officer at Pathfinder International, a sexual and reproductive health NGO, told IRIN that ward tribunals provided an acceptable source of justice for domestic violence.

“I think the success of such tribunals have been aided by the ease with which they give the victims the opportunity to report. The fact people know they can summon perpetrators is in itself an effective deterrence,” Barongo said.

GBV perpetrators at times do so because they do not adequately understand the legal consequences of their actions, she added.

“If people are able to comprehend the legal repercussions of meting sexual and physical violence against women, they would stop. These committees have the opportunity to explain to perpetrators the consequences of their actions.”

A 2012 survey by the Legal Facility Services says: “Ward tribunals and village committees have limited resources and technical capacity to perform their functions, despite a strong commitment and a willingness on the part of community members to seek settlement of disputes outside the court system.”

Organizations like Pathfinder International have partnered with the government to build the capacity of the tribunals to effectively handle issues related sexual and gender-based violence.

A senior government official in the Ministry of Youth, Children, and Women, agreed.

“They need more support than they are receiving now. The members are there on a voluntary basis and receive no compensation at all. They need training on the relevant laws,” he said.

For some activists, cases such as Aisha’s should not be concluded at the village level.

“I think they [tribunals] should act as an avenue to receive people early enough before they go through the legal machinery. [But] serious cases like wife-battering should automatically be referred to the courts of law if victims are to receive fair justice,” Teodosia Muholo, executive director of the Women’s Legal Aid Centre, a local legal aid services NGO, told IRIN.

*not her real name

ko/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Sri Lanka: Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

COLOMBO/BATTICALOA,  – Years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka – up to more than 20 years for some – tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes, a situation researchers say is unlikely to change soon.

recent report by the Colombo-based advocacy body Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013 estimated that at least 94,400 “protracted” internally displaced persons (IDPs) who come mostly from minority Tamil and Muslim communities displaced by conflict, have not been able to return in a “meaningful” and “sustainable” way to their home villages.

Report author Mirak Raheem said the number may be higher due to the complex nature of protracted displacement where family members born in displacement have swelled the numbers of original IDPs.

The northwestern district of Puttalam is home to some 75,000 Muslims forced out of the Northern Province in 1990 by ethnic Tamil rebels who feared their rising political power.

Despite their large numbers, long-term IDPs – and their families – have received less attention than more recent displacements, Raheem said.

“There were and still are strong perceptions that the issue of protracted IDPs was not urgent and that they had found a solution… through settling in their place of displacement,” he told IRIN.

According to Raheem and researchers who worked on a report about the expulsion of Muslims published in November 2011, despite years of living with host communities, protracted IDPs still find themselves marginalized and bereft of assistance.

“Most of us still find it difficult to get a proper job, a proper government document, even 25 years since coming here,” said Abdul Matheen, a community leader working with Muslim IDPs in Puttalam. He fled his native Jaffna in October 1990.

Empty villages

In the eastern town of Valechchenei, Batticaloa District, Nahoor Lebbe Subair, a 36-year-old day labourer, said he struggles to provide for his family of six, including four school-aged children.

Displaced from his village, Vakaneri, in 1990 – just 4km from where he now lives – Subair said he and 25 other families cannot return because of lack of infrastructure back home.

“There is no water, schools or electricity there. Here we eat once to twice daily. Sometimes we just go hungry,” Subair said. He makes US$4-$4.50 on days he can find work, but says he needs $4.50 for food alone. To make ends meet he has borrowed heavily from relatives and neighbours.

“The only collateral we have is trust,” he said.

The nearby village of Jabbar Thidaval (Vakaneri Division) is largely empty of the 1,500 families (Tamils and Muslims) who fled violence in the late 1990s.

Former resident Islama Lebbe Mohamed Musthafa, 50, told IRIN residents’ land deeds were not honoured.

“We went back in 2002 and by 2004 had eviction notices on our doors.” Two families have unofficially resettled.

Government response

Piencia Charles, the top government official in Batticaloa District, which includes the above villages, told IRIN she has instructed village level officials to collect all relevant data on the displaced who are still unable to return.

She acknowledged there have been “complications” in recognizing returnees’ land deeds. “Some don’t have deeds, but have voter registrations. In other cases there is a deed, but someone else is living on the land and registered as a voter,” Charles said.

“Once we collect the data [on the displaced], maybe by early next year, then we will decide what we can do to resettle these people. We might have to set up a special land unit to [examine and settle disagreements over] the deeds and other documentation,” she added.

Government officials in Northern Province said there are no “special” plans for protracted IDPs, but that anyone returning to their villages can apply for housing and other assistance once they prove displacement, said Rupvathi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in the northern district of Kilinochchi.

Up until late 2012 IDPs received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. This has been discontinued, since officially there are no more IDPs. For housing, the maximum grant financed by the Indian government is 550,000 rupees ($4,200) for full construction and Rs 225,000 for repair ($1,700).

With donor funding in the north and northeast dwindling, Raheem said, the situation for those like Subair may worsen.

“Donor financial support has played a crucial role in humanitarian work and now it will be incumbent on the government to fill the gap.”

Three successive appeals by the UN and Sri Lankan government for reconstruction work in the former conflict zone have run into shortfalls of over $430 million since 2010. The next appeal is expected in early 2014.

A survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in June conducted in six northern districts found that over a quarter of the 990 families interviewed said they were still not able to access their own land, primarily due to military occupation, a grievance the military has questioned.

“The Armed Forces are very sensitive to the issue of land as we understand very clearly that it is a matter that affects the population sentiments. We will not hold on to any land that is not required to safeguard national security interests,” military spokesperson Ruwan Wanigasooriya wrote in a recent note sent to journalists.

UNHCR also reported 32 percent of surveyed people living in their pre-war homes, 57 percent in transitional or emergency shelters, while the remainder were with host families.

Report author Raheem said the government can ease difficulties for the still-displaced by streamlining the issuance of new legal documents, to help them prove land ownership, for example.

The national government maintains there are no longer any IDPs since the country’s largest IDP camp closed in September 2012, a claim community workers – and the 1983-2009 war-affected themselves – strongly dispute.

“It’s a lie. Who are we?” asked Subair, speaking from Valechchenei.

ap/pt/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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A city in the making? Refugee governance presents ethical dilemmas

Posted by African Press International on November 4, 2013

A city in the making?

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Camp to be divided into 12 districts
  • Traditional leaders to take the helm
  • Opposition to UNHCR governance plans
  • Refugee governance presents ethical dilemmas

ZA’ATARI,  – “It has become very quiet”, says Kilian Kleinschmidt about recent months in Jordan’s Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees.

As the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) manager for the camp, which has now become the fourth largest population centre in Jordan, he has been tasked with bringing order to life here.

More than a year after the camp’s founding in July 2012, Kleinschmidt describes it as a settlement slowly transforming into something much more permanent.

But this transformation has consequences. One of the demands of an increasingly long-term operation is a greater focus by UNHCR on the camp’s governance – a sensitive area at the crossroads of politics and humanitarian relief.

Kleinschmidt has extensive plans for a governance structure: 12 districts with a variety of committees, assigned administration and humanitarian personnel per district, and a central administration headed by a Jordanian deputy governor.

“Traditional leaders” who have emerged from within the camp and are trusted by UNHCR and the Jordanian authorities may be integrated into some sort of representative camp committee.

But these plans have been met with fierce opposition by various self-appointed street leaders in Za’atari, who have long profited from the disorder and built their own power bases.

The clash highlights the challenge of trying to introduce governance structures to a refugee camp from above when there has already been something – unhealthy as it may be – forming at the grassroots.

Putting down roots

Size and time can present major challenges to UNHCR in managing camps, French anthropologist Michel Agier suggests in his critical book Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government. As soon as the camps last beyond the emergency phase, they transform into spaces with which people begin to identify.

“In effect, while developing in material terms, and to a degree also economically, the refugee camps form themselves into social and political milieus,” Agier writes. He describes the “permanent paradox”, a life of refugees in camps “between an indefinite temporality and a space that is transformed because its occupants necessarily appropriate it in order to live in it.”

This is certainly the case in Za’atari.

“Some time ago, we had no idea who is who in the camp. There were protests and fights all the time,” Kleinschmidt explains, leaning back in his chair in the shadow of an awning between the containers of the so-called base camp, where humanitarian agencies have set up their offices. Now his focus is more on long-term administration and his plans to establish an all-encompassing electric grid in the camp, as well as a network of public transportation.

“In the end, what we see here is a temporary city in the making,” he says.

In the Sham-Élysées – the shopping street in the camp, named after the Champs-Élysées in Paris and a pun on the popular name for Syria: `al-Sham’ – businesses run into the wee hours of the night.

A young Syrian named Qassem proudly presents the construction site of his “shopping center”, comprising five white pre-fabricated containers, or “pre-fabs”. Soon it should be selling imported goods from Syria, he explains.

Some refugees have built themselves “mansions” by grouping together several pre-fabs, while one has even opened an improvised swimming pool to which he asks entry fees.

As Za’atari transforms from a hasty emergency response into a more permanent settlement, with no clear end on the horizon, many new challenges are surfacing for the camp’s management, among them politics and crime-control. The need for sustainable governance has become all the more clear.

Good and bad leaders

According to Liisa Malkki, an expert on refugee camps and an associate professor of anthropology at Stanford University, while old power structures often remain relevant, refugee settings also create opportunities for new people to become influential.

Some so-called street leaders have used the smuggling of humanitarian goods, and even amphetamines, to build their power base.

Some achieved authority as rebel leaders in the conflict in Syria, others established themselves by being among the first to arrive in Za’atari. “They came with their men and controlled local business and other things in the camp, often making a profit,” said Kleinschmidt.

Bulldozers are currently digging a deep ditch around the whole camp to clamp down on smuggling, which Kleinschmidt hopes will reduce the influence of some of the street leaders.

“The new leaders will be traditional Syrian authorities, sheikhs, who bring wisdom with them. They don’t need to scream in order to earn the people’s respect.”

Each of Za’tari’s planned 12 districts will accommodate around 10,000 residents. Leaders from each district should be represented in a yet-to-be finalized political structure. In addition, a new initiative funded by the US government will create a neighbourhood watch: out of 1,000 voluntary candidates, about 600 will be chosen in consultation with the “traditional” refugee leadership to patrol the streets, after background checks by the Jordanian police. They will work hand in hand with community police units, supported by Jordanian law, customary rules and camp rules.

These new security forces should “neutralize” and “isolate” the groups that have become instruments of corrupt and criminal structures dominating parts of the camp, whom Kleinschmidt accuses of extortion, theft and smuggling.

“The new leaders will be traditional Syrian authorities, sheikhs, who bring wisdom with them. They don’t need to scream in order to earn the people’s respect.”

One of them is an elderly man named Abu Wael, dressed in an ankle-long white garment, a `thawb’. “I don’t have time today; a delegation from the Jordanian prince is coming,” he said, passing by the base camp, rushing to the important meeting.

According to Kleinschmidt, just the day before, Abu Wael and some other elders sat together in one of the “mansions” in the camp and engaged in traditional conflict resolution, after an unmarried couple was caught sleeping together. They negotiated the matter between the families.

These new leaders should support UNHCR to build up a reliable structure of governance in the camp, while also helping to cut down on crime and delegitimizing the self-made leaders.

But the “old leaders” promise resistance. One of the more powerful leaders among them is Abu Hussein, 49, from the southern Syrian city of Dera’a and a former commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). For most in the camp he is known simply as `Aqed’, the “Colonel”.

The Colonel

From a side street just off Sham-Élysées, a metal door leads to an improvised garden with patches of artificial lawn spread over the sandy ground. It is surrounded by several inter-connected pre-fabs that form the space where Abu Hussein lives with his wife and children.

“I am against everything going wrong here in the camp,” he says, as his wife serves a plate of self-cooked mlehi (meat with yogurt sauce and bread). “Nothing inside this dish is from UNHCR, that’s for sure,” he says. “We don’t want to put anything from them in our pocket.”

The Colonel

Abu Hussein is respected by many in the district he rules. He is often seen walking into the main street at night, where groups of young men are waiting for him. He sends them to patrol side streets in pairs, organizes female guards in community kitchens and keeps everyone “safe”, he boasts. One of his self-assigned duties is to organize workers in the camp. For the few positions available with humanitarian organizations for camp residents, he determines how shifts rotate and who is allowed to fill the positions.

However, Kleinschmidt says many of these “bosses” in the camp are already on their way down.

“They have a chance if they cooperate. Otherwise the Jordanian authorities will deal with them accordingly,” he said.

The new system of governance should decrease the influence of people like Abu Hussein by giving other people in the camp a stronger voice.

Street politics

Abu Hussein oversees an entire district. One notch below him are “street-leaders” who deal with the everyday problems in the camp.

One of them is Abu Asim from the Syrian village of al-Sanamen, in Dera’a Governorate, from where he fled with his family after what he says was a massacre last May. His own house was destroyed by a bomb, he recalls.

Sitting on cushions between two containers, Abu Asim pours sticky tea into his cup and lights a cigarette.

“To be respected in this camp,” he said, “you need to be wise and politically strong.” Via phone calls and personal visits, he solves “all kinds of problems”, like quarrels, water disputes, distribution issues, or broken toilets.

He too has heard about the newly planned committees in the camp. “I think UNHCR has to keep its hands away from politics,” he cautioned.

Humanitarian governance

The power struggles in Za’atari reflect the ethical dilemmas involved in the transformation from humanitarian emergency response to long-term refugee crisis. In his book, Agier writes that refugee camps – and humanitarianism more broadly – have become part of a global system to “manage” what are often seen as “undesirable” refugee populations and separate them from the general public.

“Humanitarian intervention borders on policing,” he writes. “There is no care without control.” This “humanitarian government”, as he calls it, deprives refugees of the practice of citizenship.

Although refugee self-governance always occurs when people live in settlements long enough, the official position of the humanitarian community has long been that such politics do not take place, Malkki, the Stanford researcher, told IRIN.

But Kleinschmidt is different. He has long advocated treating Za’atari like any other city in Jordan. “The humanitarian practice has long been to manage a camp for 20-30 years in more or less the same [short-term] way, instead of building up sustainable service delivery and governance.”

The Ministry of Interior’s Syrian Refugee Camp Directorate did not respond to IRIN’s request for an interview.

However, according to Oraib Rantwai, head of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in the capital Amman, the Jordanian government has been cautious in accepting any permanent structures being built in Za’atari for fear of angering its local population, which is suffering from strained services as a result of the refugee presence.

“People in Jordan ask themselves: how long will these refugees stay?”

ah/ha/cb/oa  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Hard economic times have encouraged women to enter the previously male dominated artisanal mining sector

Posted by African Press International on November 3, 2013

Hard economic times have encouraged women to enter the previously male dominated artisanal mining sector

MAZOWE,  – The face of Lydia Madhoro, 25, is dusted red from soil as she and her three female colleagues take a brief lunch break. They have been working since dawn on their gold mine in Zimbabwe‘s Mashonaland Central Province.

Their hand-dug shaft has reached about 10m in depth, and their conversation revolves around estimates of how much they will make from a pile of gold-bearing excavated rocks. The ore still has to be taken to a miller about 15km away to be crushed, after which it will be mixed with water and mercury to separate out the gold.

Truck operators who transport the ore charge them US$50 a ton, and casual labour used for the loading demand $10 for the same quantity. The millers charge a fifth of the gold obtained.

“We are at work almost every day of the week, going underground for the ore. This is extremely hard work that has been associated with men for a long time, but we are now used to it. We have to do it because, as single mothers, we must feed our families,” Madhoro told IRIN.

The four women formed a syndicate in 2011 to acquire their 0.8-hectare claim near Mazowe, about 50km northeast of the capital, Harare. Madhoro and her partners are certified gold miners and sellers from the mining town of Bindura, about 40km away. They paid about US$1,200 for the registration, prospecting licences from local administrators and surveyor’s fees.

In a good month, they make as much as $2,500 from the mineral, which they sell to the government-owned Fidelity Printers at $50 a gram. The money is divided among the partners in equal shares after paying the millers’ fees and transport costs; the proceeds have so far been used to build basic housing.

“Even though we are not yet making that much money, the good thing is that we have stood up as women to fend for ourselves. We are actually doing better than some men, and I am proud of the fact that I singlehandedly feed my twin daughters and can afford money for their primary education, clothes and other basic needs,” Madhoro said.

Breaking barriers

Zimbabwe’s economic malaise, now more than a decade old, is seeing women take on work that has traditionally been deemed the domain of men. Madhoro and her colleagues’ mining enterprise is far from unique, she says. She is aware of numerous women-owned and operated mining syndicates in the province, in districts like Bindura, Shamva and Madziwa.

“Women are breaking the barriers by venturing into mining, an industry that is dominated by men”

Eveline Musharu, president of the 50,000-strong NGO Women in Mining, which helps women start mining ventures, told IRIN: “Women are breaking the barriers by venturing into mining, an industry that is dominated by men. There are tangible gains for women who have joined the sector as small-scale miners, especially in gold and chrome, as they can afford household nutritional needs, pay school and medical fees, and even afford some modest luxuries.”

The national NGO was established in 2003, and its members are mainly drawn from the ranks of the rural poor, the disabled, widows, single mothers and those living with HIV/AIDS. Musharu said women are turning to mining as an economic lifeline because, given the vagaries of the climate, subsistence farming is no longer a guarantee of putting food on the table.

Madhoro’s route to mining began when she became pregnant by a teacher, dropped out of school and gave birth to twins. Her parents disowned her, and she went to live with her grandmother. When her children were six months old, she became an illegal miner. One night, after digging for gold along the Mazowe River, she was nearly raped by a group of other illegal miners; after that, she tried to make a living as a hawker. Then she learned about Women in Mining.

When she approached the NGO for advice on how to enter the mining sector, the organization suggested she form a women’s syndicate before applying for a prospecting licence. She chose her three partners because they were already friends and stayed in the same suburb in Bindura.

Boosting incomes

The six-year-old Zimbabwe Women Rural Development Trust (ZWRDT), which has more than 500 members and operates mainly in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces, also helps women get a foothold in the mining sector. More than 100 members of the organization are miners.

ZWRDT director Sarudzai Washaya said 35 of the members, all of whom had previously worked as illegal miners, had been coached to enter the sector legally, and have seen their incomes grow as a result. According to Washaya, mining legally has several advantages, including eliminating the risk of being arrested and having one’s minerals confiscated. Legal miners are also guaranteed of a formal market where they are safe from thieves.

“There is a lot of keenness on the part of rural women to get into mining as they realize the opportunities that the sector offers. Chiefs and district administrators help our members identify and obtain mining claims, and ZWRDT facilitates the acquisition of prospecting licences, and prospective miners pay a joining fee of $20,” Washaya told IRIN.

“We have realized that it is important to build confidence in women, [showing them] that they can perform just as well as, if not better than, the men who dominate the mining sector. In some cases, the women are now employing men, and a few have even managed to buy luxury cars,” she said.

Capital often out of reach

Accessing capital for mining ventures remains one the biggest obstacles for women. Mining equipment, such as compressors for milling ore and pumps to drain water from mine shafts, are generally unaffordable, and women miners have to resort to renting equipment at high costs, eroding their profit margins.

“If well supported, women can use their involvement in mining to fight the many livelihood vulnerabilities they face”

Virginia Muwanigwa of the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe, a national NGO for the advancement of women, told IRIN: “Because our society is dominated by men, it is difficult for women to produce collateral when approaching banks. They don’t have title deeds to land, especially in rural areas.”

She said, “If well supported, women can use their involvement in mining to fight the many livelihood vulnerabilities they face. Women miners can benefit a lot from a revolving fund that the government and donors can help establish and from which they can borrow, as banks are unwilling to lend them money.”

The lack of equipment makes mining an even more arduous occupation. “Some of the women have given up on mining because of its high demands and gone back to face poverty in the villages. There is need for the government to give us support because, currently, we are struggling to sustain ourselves in mining,” Washaya said.

fm/go/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Donors react: Government corruption killing development in Malawi

Posted by African Press International on October 30, 2013

LILONGWE, – Extensive looting of public funds by government officials in Malawi has dangerously undermined the country’s public health sector, with hundreds of public health workers striking in recent weeks to protest late payments of their September salaries.

The delays were the result of a financial scandal involving government officials who exploited loopholes in a government payment system to make fraudulent deposits into the accounts of companies that did not have government contracts. Up to 20 billion kwacha (US$5.3 million) was siphoned from public funds, according to the Financial Intelligence Unit, a government organ.

The health worker strike, which started in early October, crippled operations at public hospitals, which are also experiencing depleted budgets for essential medical equipment and drugs.

“My three-year-old daughter had a fever, and I went to our district hospital to seek medical attention, but I came back without any. I found the staff at the hospital just lying around,” said Laurine Mwangupili of Karonga District, in Malawi’s Northern Region. “They told us that they could not attend to patients because they had not been paid their salaries.”

A health worker at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, said all the facility’s technical staff – including nurses, clinical officers and medical assistants – participated in the strike.

Workers at the country’s two largest referral hospitals – Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre – and at Dedza and Salima district hospitals also went on strike after the salary delays. They said they would be willing to strike again if this month’s salaries are delayed.

Striking workers who IRIN spoke to said that they had been threatened with eviction from their homes because they could not pay their rent. Some teachers also experienced delays in their September salaries as a result of the scandal.

“Crippled” because of corruption

Martha Kwataine, executive director of the NGO Malawi Health Equity Network, raised the alarm over the effect of corruption on the already underfunded health sector earlier this year.

“We have been saying that the health sector in this country is being crippled because of corruption,” Kwataine told IRIN. “As a country, we cannot retain specialist medical personnel because we lose our money this way. As a result, we keep sending patients to countries like Tanzania to receive specialized treatment” for diseases like cancer.

She added that the issue of corruption went beyond the late payment of salaries, and that it was exacerbating shortages of essential medical supplies, including drugs, which are “currently lacking in a number of hospitals.”

The Medical Doctors Union of Malawi also protested the looting in a statement, noting: “It is disheartening and utterly frustrating that while government is struggling to ensure constant availability of essential medicines and supplies in public hospitals, largely due to inadequate funds, some individuals within the same public service are finding it so easy to access the same inadequate funds for their own personal benefits.”

In September, IRIN witnessed patients at Nkhata Bay District Hospital being served a thin porridge instead of the usual meals of ‘nsima’ (a thick maize-meal porridge) or rice. Hospital authorities said the change was a result of poor funding to the facility, which had worsened since August.

Donors react

The impacts of the high-level fraud, which local media are calling “Cashgate”, are likely to be felt for months to come as international donors, who make up 40 percent of Malawi’s national budget and are particularly important to the health sector, threaten to pull out of the country.

Norway has already suspended its aid, while Germany has urged the government to track down those responsible, and the European Union (EU) has threatened to withhold $39 million of aid in December unless the corruption allegations are dealt with. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced on Monday that it is withholding $20 million in extended credit facility to Malawi until December.

Since Malawi’s Anti- Corruption Bureau uncovered the scam in early September, the government has shut down the payment system used to carry out the fraud, and 10 government officials have been arrested on charges of money laundering. On 10 October, President Joyce Banda dissolved her entire cabinet. Most of her 32-member cabinet was reappointed, with the exception of the ministers of finance, justice, and industry and trade.

History of corruption

Corruption has been a chronic problem in Malawi, with each of the country’s previous presidents pledging to root it out only to be connected to corruption after leaving office.

The first president elected in multiparty polls in 1994, Bakili Muluzi, is currently answering charges of diverting 1.7 billion kwacha ($4.5 million) of donor money into his own pocket. His successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, has been posthumously accused of building a 61 billion kwacha ($163 million) estate during the eight years he ruled the country. Most of that money is suspected to have been looted from state coffers, as he declared just 136 million kwacha ($363,000) in assets when he assumed office in 2004.

Under Mutharika, Malawi also had an uneasy relationship with its donors. In 2011, the UK froze its aid to the country after a diplomatic spat.

Since assuming office in April 2012, Banda has worked hard to mend relations with donors, but these gains may now have been lost.

sm/ks/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

Posted by African Press International on October 24, 2013

Tomás Ojea Quintana

BUENOS AIRES,  – Myanmar’s government has signed individual ceasefire agreements with 14 main non-state armed groups since 2011, and is pressing ahead with plans for a national ceasefire agreement, originally scheduled for the end of October, but now delayed. The most recent round of negotiations with northern Myanmar’s Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) brought further hope of nationwide reconciliation.

But the government faces ongoing tension in western Rakhine State between ethnic Rakhines (primarily Buddhist) and Rohingyas (mostly Muslims), continued fighting in Kachin State which in the past year has left more than 83,000 people displaced in 42 camps, and allegations of human rights abuses against the country’s ethnic minorities.

Following his most recent mission to Myanmar in August 2013, IRIN met Tomás Ojea Quintana , the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in his home city of Buenos Aires, to discuss the prospects for a nationwide ceasefire; segregation in Rakhine State, and allegations of army or police brutality against Rohingyas, as well as the implications of the transition to democracy for the country’s ethnic minorities.

IRIN: Given the history of broken ceasefires between non-state armed groups and the Myanmar government, what assurance is there of lasting peace with the latest round of peace talks?

Quintana: Now what is totally different is that it is a civilian government in transition to a democracy. As a human rights rapporteur, I would not say that it is a democracy yet. Democracy will take a long time. But it is a civilian government that is progressively gaining respect, particularly from Western countries.

This respect has given the civilian government some kind of [room for] manoeuvre to have this discussion with the ethnic armed groups [to disarm], which is of course very important [for the peace process].

The ethnic groups, all of them, have reservations about where this might go in terms of lasting peace, in terms of receiving the benefits from development, and in terms of their participation in the exploitation of natural resources.

They have reservations in terms of the political structure of the country, which currently does not [allow] ethnic groups the participation they would like to have [in governing themselves], and regarding their [own political autonomy].

Nonetheless the government has signed [peace deals] with most of the NSA [non-state actor] groups. There is only one group, the Kachin, the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], which is still holding conversations. They have recently signed an agreement… which is not exactly a ceasefire… but it goes in that direction.

And now, after my last mission [in August 2013]… I talked to the president and [his] advisers who are in charge of the peace process and they are planning to hold a national ceasefire agreement by October 2013.

IRIN: How would a national ceasefire differ from individual ceasefires?

Quintana: It will be a very important message to the international community that all [of] Myanmar is united towards the very important objective of peace. A lot of pressure is being put on the KIA [to sign].

The problem… is how these ceasefires will be implemented on the ground and how they will reflect the interests of all the villagers living in remote areas. We don’t see a comprehensive plan to implement these decisions. For example, one of the issues is what will happen to the [Burmese] refugees in Thailand? If you were a refugee would you want to go back?

There is no transparency, no plans [for implementation]. Nobody knows about the problem of the landmines, the problems with the land. There is a lot of land confiscation. It is a really serious problem how to move from a ceasefire – from stopping the bullets from flying – to something different, to build a united country. That is still very difficult and will take a long time.

IRIN: What are the barriers in Kachin State, the only place where the government has not reached an agreement with rebels?

Quintana: It is not clear. The KIA allegations are that the military is not actually following the decisions of the civilian president and there is still a militarization in the area, which they won’t accept. The Kachin community in particular has a strong stance on the possibility for [it] to run [its] own businesses in Kachin State [instead of competing with the military for business and income].

The government, though, is not opening up any spaces for these kinds of issues to be included in the dialogue so far. That is why it has been quite difficult to reach an agreement.

IRIN: How representative are non-state armed groups of people in their communities?

Quintana: That’s a difficult question because there is not a formal democracy and no formal electoral process, so how do you say to what extent they are representative.

What I have seen…is that ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem. The leaders of ethnic groups need to have better connections with their own people.

“Ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem”

And the same with the refugees. When you talk to the refugees about returning and the information they have in respect to what is going on in Myanmar, they don’t know. They don’t trust. They still fear a lot. It seems that the ethnic leaders need more work in this respect.

At the same time, the people and the ethnic army leaders have faced oppression from the military regime for decades and that is very, very tough to lead, and to recover from that, and to try to [be] more organized with your communities is not easy.

IRIN: What can be done to engage communities more in peace talks?

Quintana: The government and the ethnic leaders are doing a lot… to settle the problems at the top, at the highest levels. But they need to involve the communities in a more widespread and comprehensive plan of action. You don’t see the communities being involved. And that has been the practice in Myanmar for decades. I mean that is how the military operated… giving instructions and expecting instructions to be implemented – period – without consulting. It’s part of a historical problem in Myanmar. It is still there.

IRIN: And what about the Rakhine commission established by the Myanmar government? What are your thoughts on its recommendations on ways to prevent violence?

Quintana: They [the commission] never addressed what happened – the human rights abuses. This is a clear shortcoming and it is one of my concerns. And I am calling for the [UN Human Rights Council] to continue to address this. The allegations of what happened are very serious. Widespread human rights abuses, torture of hundreds of prisoners in Buthidaung [a prison in Rakhine State holding an estimated 1,000 Rohingyas], a place I have visited, and the government has not done anything about that. The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical.

“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

IRIN: What is the potential of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help mitigate what is now a regional crisis?

Quintana: ASEAN countries don’t want to get involved. Based on the non-interference provision of ASEAN charter, they do not want to interfere. There is no potential [for ASEAN] as a regional mechanism [to pressure the Myanmar government to resolve the conflict]. I tried many times to address ASEAN, to let them know they have an important role to play… It is becoming a regional, not a national problem.

IRIN: Is the government putting any foundation in place to allow Rohingyas to return to their homes in northern Rakhine State?

Quintana: No… The original places of the Rohingyas are being used for some other purposes by the government.

IRIN: How can the humanitarian community support shelter for the displaced?

Quintana: There is a dilemma because the [displaced] people still need access to humanitarian aid. So if you do not provide that because you say you do not agree with [the government’s] policies of making settlements permanent, then you are not delivering the aid. So you have a problem there. And the humanitarian agencies or donors try not to get involved in the political arena of a country.

IRIN: What are the risks of long-term segregation of Buddhists and Rohingyas, where government- monitored encampment have cut displaced Rohingyas from their land and livelihoods?

Quintana: It’s going to be a disaster because many of the areas that you can look into in respect to the Rohingyas, how Rohingyas are treated, you always see obstacles, limitations, and intentions to not help them at all.

IRIN: What role can civil society play in reconciliation?

Quintana: I hope they are included as participants in the implementation of the [ceasefire] agreement. That is the role they need to play but that is the role that their own leaders need to address with them [ethnic communities]. The[se communities’] leaders need to say that they want their own people to be involved.

My job as a rapporteur is to say, ‘You are an ethnic general of armed forces. I understand… you have been fighting for years against your army. But now you need to play some other role and let your people participate.’ It will take time…

[During my] last mission my convoy was attacked by Buddhist mobs [where I was addressing the issue of communal violence]. And the police stood by so it was kind of planned somehow… It was more than tense. I was frightened. But I am still holding the mandate [as Myanmar’s special rapporteur on human rights].

dm/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Markets in smaller countries could be under threat: Need to reopen talks on subsidies at WTO

Posted by African Press International on October 24, 2013

Markets in smaller countries could be under threat

JOHANNESBURG,  – The combined effects of the global economic slowdown and increasing climatic shocks are threatening food security in developing countries, prompting many to re-open World Trade Organization (WTO) discussions on limits to support for farmers.

A group of developing countries – known as G33 – is asking to exceed their agreed domestic support limits when they buy, stock and supply cereals and other food to boost food security among the poor; they want these changes to be exempt from any legal challenge.

Essentially, these countries want the freedom to buy grains at set prices from producers and to use that grain to build stockpiles for distribution. The WTO rules do not prescribe limits on the amount of food that can be bought at market prices for food stocks, and it does not limit the amount of food that can be provided as domestic food aid at subsidized prices. The WTO only disciplines buying cereals at administered prices.

The proposal will be discussed at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

Developed countries and some developing countries are concerned that the G33 proposal – which is backed by India, China and Indonesia – could affect food security in neighbouring countries. They fear these measures could lead to surpluses in stocks, which the G33 members might dump in the global market, disrupting global prices.

Ashok Gulati, chairman of India’s Commission for Agriculture Cost and Prices (CACP), reckons India wants more leeway to provide support for its farmers and consumers because the government is launching a massive subsidized food scheme through a public distribution system that will reach two-thirds of its population – nearly 800 million people. He told IRIN that a situation where India would be in a position to dump excess stocks could arise “once in 10 years.” He added, “the larger distortion will be domestic,” referring to disruptions to local markets.

A representative from one of the G33 countries at the WTO, who did not want to be named, said not all the members of the group were supportive of the proposal. “India is already the largest exporter of rice in the world… Small exporters will lose their competitiveness because of Indian subsidies… Rice prices are already going down, and with further subsidies it can lead to a price crash,” the representative said.

The delegate estimated that support for rice production in India – both in the form of agricultural inputs and procurement – ran into billions of dollars. Even more support could “ruin” agriculture sustainability and “create food insecurity instead of food security” in the region.

“Although agricultural markets have evolved dramatically since 2007, global trade rules have not”

Gulati has publicly come out against the government’s plan to stockpile staple grains because of the effect it would have on prices in the local markets, according to interviews with the Indian daily theEconomic Times and news agency DNA.

He maintains that dispensing subsidized food will not address malnutrition, a significant problem in India, where almost half the population of children are malnourished. Gulati believes this problem can only be addressed by comprehensively tackling the various dimensions of food insecurity, such as by increasing access to clean water and improving the status of women.

But a new paper, produced jointly by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), takes a sympathetic view of positions on both sides, and uses the proposal to flag the need to reform global agricultural trade rules. The paper contends there has been minimal reform to agricultural trade rules since the Uruguay Round of multilateral negotiations that led to the formation of the WTO two decades ago.

“The G33 proposal can more broadly be seen as symptomatic of the challenges many countries face in designing policies to achieve food security goals in the new price environment,” the paper notes.

“Although agricultural markets have evolved dramatically since 2007, global trade rules have not,” it adds.

To subsidize or not

Agricultural subsidies have been a contentious issue for years. The WTO has placed ceilings on how much the US and the European Union (EU) can spend on agricultural subsidies that distort trade, but these are still rather high, food rights groups say.

A drought in the US in 2012 and fluctuating food prices have led policy-makers there and in the EU to rethink protection and support for their farmers, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) pointed out.

The US’s agriculture policy is governed by the Farm Bill, which is updated every four years, but the 2008 legislation was extended to September 2013, when the two parties – the Democrats and the Republicans – were unable to come to an agreement on subsidized food for the country’s poor. The new proposed bill recommends an expanded insurance programme with new crop insurance subsidies, which would see farmers receive money when income from certain crops falls below a targeted level. It also sets higher target prices for crops that trigger payments when revenues fall for several consecutive years. The bill is likely to come up for negotiations in the coming weeks.

The EU has largely done away with export subsidies that support the disposal of surplus production abroad, but the EU Common Agriculture Policy still ensures high levels of direct support to farmers and protects EU markets. The EU has substantially reformed farm support over the years to reduce its impacts on trade and production, but some still question whether the support provided continues to give European producers an advantage over competitors elsewhere.

On the other hand, the economic slowdown and its impact on local currencies have forced developing countries like Zambia to remove subsidiesfor farmers and millers because the expenditure is perceived as draining the country’s limited resources.

More imbalances?

If richer nations are strengthening support to their farmers while the poorer countries cut back, could global imbalances grow?

Jamie Morrison, a senior economist with FAO and a co-author of the ICTSD/FAO paper, says that, generally, when considering support to farmers in times of disasters, countries should take into account the kind of support they have to fall back on. In rich countries, farmers have access to insurance and other safety nets, which might not be the case in developing countries.

He says rich countries use public funding to “underwrite potential losses [for farmers] which private sector insurance institutions may be less willing to cover. This type of support is considered to be less distortive of markets and trade.”

But developing countries tend to intervene directly in the market to stabilize prices for their producers while providing their consumers “with some level of protection against high food prices”, Morrison said. This generally leads to buying grains at prices above the market value and managing cross-border trade. This support not only drains the country’s coffers but “is considered to be distortive of markets and trade.”

Often these subsidies, whether in the form of cheaper agricultural inputs or higher prices for produce, do not get to the intended poorest farmers, and they are often driven by political opportunism – appeasing the majority of the people in developing countries who depend on agriculture for income and food.

“…for many countries, direct support for farmers ‘may be essential in facilitating agricultural transformation’ and the ‘only practical option available given weaknesses’ in other public institutions that could have supported production”

CACP’s Gulati, who formerly headed IFPRI’s Asia office, said, “Subsidies on fertilizer, power and irrigation are not targeted. Subsidies have risen much faster than public investments in agriculture [in India]. The marginal return on subsidies is less than one-fourth of that from investments. Yet subsidies multiply due to higher political returns. So India wants more leverage on subsidies.”

Yet Morrison adds that, for many countries, direct support for farmers “may be essential in facilitating agricultural transformation” and the “only practical option available given weaknesses” in other public institutions that could have supported production. “Greater use of a system more reliant on market-based instruments may make a more efficient use of resources, but may be impractical at the current time”.

Jonathan Hepburn, agriculture programme manager with ICTSD says, “WTO rules need to take into account the reality that countries are in different situations, and that some have fewer resources at their disposal to achieve public policy objectives. “

Negotiating

In the recent past, negotiating groups at the WTO have sought preferential treatment. The least developed countries (LDCs), for instance, are negotiating to enjoy some flexibility in their implementation of import tariffs on agricultural products. However, even the LDCs face limits on the amounts and kinds of subsidies they provide – although many lack the resources to provide the amount of farm support that would be capped by WTO rules, points out ICTSD’s Hepburn.

Part of the problem in creating new rules on trade, Hepburn said, has “been striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of different groups of countries – especially as the global economic landscape has evolved dramatically over the last decade or so.”

In December, according to the WTO, countries might decide on a “temporary “waiver” (a formal legal exemption allowing some member states to exceed their limits), a non-binding political statement by the conference’s chairperson or some option in between. Flexibility along these lines has sometimes been called a “peace clause” or “due restraint”, because members would avoid bringing legal disputes against developing countries in these circumstances.”

jk/rz

 

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Marginalization and sexual abuse of women: Who is to blame for their pain, And who can fix it?

Posted by African Press International on October 23, 2013

Who is to blame for their pain? And who can fix it?

COLOMBO,  – A UK-rights group has accused the Sri Lankan government of failing to address the marginalization and sexual abuse of women living in the country’s former war zones in the north and east, an allegation officials dismiss as coming from a “diaspora-led false propaganda machinery”.

report recently published by the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) said rape and sexual harassment of women in former war zones in the north and east are continuing even after the end of a 26-year civil war in 2009, and that 89,000 widows (based on a 2010 government estimate) – including some 40,000 female-headed households – are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and assault by army personnel, domestic tourists and others due to the women’s poverty.

In a general culture of impunity, MRG authors wrote, Tamil and Muslim women (the two largest ethnic minorities in the former war zones, 12 and 8 percent of the general population, respectively) have feared reporting crimes to police.

The report cited data from Jaffna Hospital in the north of 102 reported cases of rape and “severe violence” against women and girls from Northern Province in 2010, 182 in 2011 and 56 in just February and March of 2012.

MRG’s South Asia expert, Farah Mihlar, wrote: “Tamil and Muslim women are especially concerned for their safety and freedom, and yet have little course for redress since they fear reporting attacks against them to the authorities.”

The island’s military spokesman, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, told IRIN that of 125 people found guilty in civil courts of perpetrating sexual violence in the north between January 2007 and May 2009, seven were security forces personnel.

After fighting ended, from May 2009-2012, of 307 people found guilty in civil courts of committing crimes of sexual violence, 10 were soldiers, based on a military assessment.

He added: “We deny in the strongest terms that there is a prevailing culture of silence and impunity for sexual violence crimes,” noting that the government has taken “legal action” and that convicted soldiers are referred to the military tribunal for court martial.

Citing the army assessment, Wanigasooriya wrote in a statement recently sent to journalists: “It is worthwhile to notice that only 11 incidents out of a total 375 reported incidents [from January 2007-May 2012] can be attributed to security forces. Therefore the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous.”

Demographic changes

The demographic shift following the civil war – from a largely homogenous Tamil community to one that includes more ethnic groups, including Muslim returnees who had been forced out by Tamils in the late 1990’s, domestic tourists and, the authors wrote, the government-sponsored relocation of workers and households from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, has heightened the threat of women being sexually exploited by armed forces and other men (sometimes from their own ethnic community) due to poverty.

“With the increasing presence of Tamil diaspora in their home towns (places of origin), community women have told us that their daughters are often being viewed as sexual objects and in some cases, been sexually assaulted,” a leading woman’s activist working in the north told IRIN in an e-mail.

For almost three decades, separatist rebels known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for an independent state in the north carved along Tamil ethnic lines. Fighting ended in May 2009 with the crushing of rebels by government forces.

“After the conflict the situation has got a lot worse. People are less disciplined. There are outsiders who have come from other areas. There are lot of army people; they are in buses, everywhere,” said a Tamil woman from Mannar District, as cited in the MRG report.

The report explained how during the war, LTTE fighters (mostly followers of Hinduism) maintained a rigid code of conduct in areas it controlled, with sexual relations monitored and restricted to married couples. “While women do not necessarily approve of what the LTTE did, nor any similar regulation of their personal lives, the current context has left many feeling disoriented and insecure,” MRG wrote.

The current commissioner of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission(appointed by the president), Prathiba Lamanmahewa, told IRIN the island is committed to investigating all rights violations but will not be “bulldozed” by groups with vested interests.

“We have come a long way in post-war recovery. Most recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the blueprint for reconciliation, have been implemented.

Adequate steps have been taken to restore civil administration in the north and now there is a provincial council there. It is a process and Sri Lanka has fared better than many other conflict-ridden countries,” he said.

But local activists and residents continue calling for more.

In interviews with some 1,800 households, a citizen group published a reportin March this year concluding “little progress” had been made on the recommendations.

For allegations of sexual abuse, the MRG report called on the police to create Tamil-speaking desks in all police stations in former conflict zones, boost female representation among government officials in the north and east, as well as prosecute perpetrators.

dh/pt/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Forced or servile marriage – Debt bondage

Posted by African Press International on October 22, 2013

A young boy works as a labourer near Kathmandu (file photo)

NAIROBI,  – More than two centuries after slavery was outlawed, 29.8 million people globally continue to be subjected to new and diverse forms of servitude, a new index ranking 162 countries shows.

Haiti, India, Nepal, Mauritania and Pakistan have the highest prevalence of modern-day slavery, according to the first edition of the Global Slavery Index(compiled by Australian-based rights organization Walk Free Foundation), while in absolute numbers, China, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the most people enslaved. In India, almost 14 million people are believed to be victims of modern slavery.

Contemporary servitude, however, is “poorly understood, so it remains hidden within houses, communities and worksites”, it stated.

According to Gulnara Shahinian, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, “contemporary slavery… often occurs in hard to reach areas of the country or what is perceived as the `private realm’, such as in the case of domestic servitude…

“In today’s world, slavery takes many different forms: human trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, servitude… These people are controlled and forced to work against their will and their dignity and rights are denied.”

IRIN looks at some of the major forms of modern-day slavery.

Forced labour: The International Labour Organization (ILO) considerscompulsory or forced labour any “work or service exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.”

Common forms of forced labour can be found in under-regulated or labour-intensive industries, such as agriculture and fisheries, construction, manufacturing, domestic work, and the sex industry. A 2013 ILO report, highlighted some of the brutal conditions under which people are made to work in the fisheries industry. This category can apply to multiple forms of slavery, with people being forced to work in a variety of ways, often including the threat of violence or debt bondage.

ILO estimates that around 21 million people are victims of forced labour.

Debt bondage: This is the most common form of contemporary slavery, according to the London-based NGO Anti-Slavery International, which says “a person becomes a bonded labourer when their labour is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan. The person is then tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week.”

In Pakistan, the Asian Development Bank estimates that 1.8 million people are bonded labourers, primarily working in brick kilns as well as in agriculture, fisheries and mining. In Brazil’s rural sector, a 2010 UN report found that many poor workers were enticed to distant areas by intermediaries, who charged an advance on their salaries, promising high wages. The workers found themselves paying hefty off loans for the cost of their transport and food, without any clear indication of how their debt or wages were being calculated.

Similar practices occur in Bangladesh.

Human trafficking: The UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons”, through the threat or use of force or other means of coercion “for the purpose of exploitation”.

In Benin, the International Office for Migration estimates that more than 40,000 children are the victims of trafficking. The Global Slavery Index notes that many of these children are trafficked to countries within the region, as well as from rural to urban areas within one country.

Forced or servile marriage: This occurs when an individual does not enter into a marriage with full and free consent. The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery considers illegal any practice where “a woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group”. Transfer of a woman by her husband in return for payment, as well as inheritance of a woman following the death of her husband, is also outlawed. While the definition only applies to women and girls (who bear the brunt of forced marriages) there have been calls for it to cover boys and men too.

Child slavery: Child slavery and exploitation, including the use of children in armed conflict, is another common form of contemporary slavery. The Worst Forms of Child Labour, defined by ILO include the sale and trafficking of children, compulsory labour, serfdom, and the compulsory use of children in armed conflict. In Haiti, children from rural households are sent to urban areas to work as domestic house helps for wealthier families and can then be exploited. Around 1 in 10 children in Haiti are exploited, according to the Global Slavery Index.

While child slavery remains a significant problem, the number in child labour around the world reduced to 168 million in 2012 from 246 million in 2000, according to ILO.

Chattel slavery: A situation where a person or group of people is considered the property of a slave-owner, and can be traded, is the least common form of slavery today. Slave-owners in these situations control victims and their descendants, and therefore individuals are often born enslaved.

Although slavery was finally criminalized in Mauritania in 2007, leading to the freeing of many people, few slave-owners have been convicted of the practice, and chattel slavery remains a serious problem. The Global Slavery Index estimates there are 140,000-160,000 slaves in Mauritania.

aps/aw/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Disasters and conflicts hinder girls’ access to education

Posted by African Press International on October 16, 2013

Disasters and conflicts hinder girls’ access to education

NAIROBI, 16 October 2013 (IRIN) – During disasters, girls fare worse than the rest of the population, according to a new report released on 11 October by child rights NGO Plan International.

“Men, women, boys and girls experience disasters in different ways. Pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities will be exacerbated in disasters and will affect girls and women more,” said Plan International regional director Gezahegn Kebede at an event for the launch of the report.

“In emergencies, given their gender, age, and humanitarian status [girls] experience triple disadvantage,” said Kebede. However, education can be a powerful mitigating tool, and can significantly improve their livelihoods.

The report entitled The State of the World’s Girls 2013: In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls and Disasters argues that a combination of political, economic, social and cultural attitudes can lead to discrimination of girls during disasters.

“Three of the four main categories of rights that are most relevant to adolescent girls – rights to protection; development through education; and participation – are also among the lowest priorities and often receive the least funding in the humanitarian community. This is because these rights are not seen as immediately life-saving – like food, water and shelter,” the authors noted.

“In general, when times are tough and there are less household resources for school fees, school uniforms, then there is a son preference. If families have to make a choice, they would rather continue education for boys than girls,” said Plan’s Kebede.

Research conducted by the report’s authors in Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Mozambique indicated that boys are more likely to attend school after a disaster than are girls.

“Girls in the developing world tend to draw the short straw in life. They are intrinsically vulnerable, and face everything from the threat of early marriage and violence to the simple fact that their parents do not think girls important enough to go to school,” said Rose Odhiambo, CEO of the Gender and Equality Commission of Kenya.

More child marriage in emergencies 

According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one third of girls are married before the age of 18, and one in nine do so before they turn 15, globally.

Child marriage often increases in emergencies, for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with income for parents,” said Kebede.

Earlier research shows that fear of gender-based violence and pregnancy out-of-wedlock can motivate families in fragile states to marry-off girls at very young ages as a protective measure.

“Child marriage often increases in emergencies, for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with income for parents”

Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth compared to those that give birth in their twenties, and those married before the age of 18 were also twice as likely to be physically abused or threatened by their spouses when compared to those who married later.

In Mozambique for instance, roughly 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared with just 10 percent of those who have completed secondary school, according to the ICRW.

Gender-based violence during disasters 

Poorly thought-out humanitarian programmes, too, increase the dangers girls face in disaster situations. “We are all aware of the risk of exacerbated gender-based violence based on WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] programming that doesn’t take into account how latrines and water points are established, for example,” said Kebede.

“Gender-based violence in and around school is a major issue that needs to be addressed and teachers are often exploiting rather than protecting girls, according to various studies,” said Elke Wisch, deputy regional director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Eastern and South Africa

In fragile countries like Somalia, lax or non-existent regulatory frameworks coupled with cultural attitudes can increase violence against women and girls.

“The issue in Somalia is that, to many, gender-based violence still only means rape. Denial to education, denial to resources, female-genital mutilation, forced early marriage – none of these are considered gender-based violence,” said Ilwad Elman, programme director at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Mogadishu.

Somalia is yet to ratify the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). “Innovative strategies to actually support Somalia women and girls are paramount,” Elman added.

Education as the solution

“There is overwhelming evidence that girls’ education is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves,” UNICEF’S Wisch noted. “It is the one consistent positive determinants of practically every desired development outcome, from reductions in mortality to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to enhanced participation and democratization.”

“A girl who has completed her education is less likely to marry and have children whilst she is still a child herself. She is more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children,” said Kebede.

Needed: Policies to address girls’ vulnerabilities during disasters

But conflict hinders girls’ access to education. Plan International believes that half of the estimated 57 million primary-school children out of school reside in countries affected by conflict.

“When we include cyclical or protracted disasters this figure is of course even higher,” Kebede said.

Research conducted looking at disasters over a 20-year period in 141 countries shows that boys generally received preferential treatment over girls in rescue efforts.

The use of new technology, as well as innovative partnerships and policies, can help improve access to education, particularly for girls in disasters.

In Bangladesh, solar powered floating schools enable communities affected by seasonal rains and rising sea levels to continue with their educationdespite flooding.

By prioritizing education during emergency responses, disaster situations provide an opportunity to get more girls into school. “Education in emergencies provide safe spaces for girls and boys, provide psycho-social support and peer support spaces and are often used to communicate life-saving messages throughout the first phases of a disaster,” said Kebede.

The report calls for, among other things, greater gender-disaggregated data to better inform policy, and specific initiatives to address the vulnerabilities exacerbated by gender, especially in disaster prevention and response.

aps/ko/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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In May 2003 Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh to flush out the fighters, leading to a period of “extrajudicial executions

Posted by African Press International on October 11, 2013

Mohammed Jafar – still waiting on peace returns

ACEH/JIJIEM,  – Joining a rebellion is not a typical career move. Yet up to 26,000 people in Indonesia spent years working for a separatist rebellion that lasted nearly 30 years in northern Sumatra. Children followed their parents into battlefields and war rooms. Sons went abroad for training. Upon leaving the force, a number received payment.

But any similarities with gainful employment end there.

In May 2003 Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh to flush out the fighters, leading to a period of “extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement”, according to Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 15,000 lives (from both sides) were lost during the war, which caused nearly US$10 billion in damage – roughly twice that of the 2004 tsunami.

Shortly after the tsunami hit the archipelago (the epicentre of the earthquake causing the tsunami was just west of the conflict zone, which bore the heaviest death and damage toll from the tsunami in the region), the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) declared a ceasefire.

IRIN met four former rebels to learn where they are eight years after GAM signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government that granted Aceh (now “Special Region of Aceh”) control over most areas of governance, excluding defence, foreign affairs and justice, among others.

The region is entitled to 70 percent of revenues from natural resources (land and sea). The peace deal pledged new local elections and identity cards. It was hailed as a success internationally, and eight years later, delegations are still coming from Sudan, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka to learn how to broker peace after protracted fighting.

As part of the 2005 deal, 3,000 fighters (the number according to the pact) turned in 840 weapons and were each paid US$2,500 (at the December 2005 exchange rate).

In addition, the government paid another near $1,000 to 10,000 fighters who surrendered before the MOU signing. Research conducted for the European Union (EU)-led Aceh Monitoring Mission [ http://www.aceh-mm.org/ ] that followed the implementation of the peace pact calculated a total of 14,000 front-line fighters in 17 districts under GAM control, and another 12,000 people who played supporting roles in fighting.

The university spy
Eliyani binti Wahid, 29

Eliyani binti Wahid

Where she is now: A married stay-at-home mother of three, occasional small business shopkeeper and tutor for a programme to help other former rebels pass secondary-school certification exams.

Where she was then: Shortly before her father, a rebel commander, was killed in a government crackdown that started in May 2003, he sent her to the University of Medan in north Sumatra where she studied political science, while gathering sensitive information from military and police officers who did not suspect her GAM ties.

“I married in 2004. My husband [not affiliated with GAM] had no idea. There were lots of women in my [mountain village of Tangse] who joined the rebellion. Some fought, but most of us carried out intelligence work. I had weapons training from my father’s friends, but I never fought…

“Was it worth it? We did not get 100 percent of what my father was fighting to get. I would say we got about 30 percent. Even though we don’t have independence, our lives have improved. It is good enough. His death was not in vain.”

The child soldier
Irwansyah, 39 (nom de guerre: Teungku Machsalmina)

Irwansyah, a former commander of Free Aceh Movement, with his family in Banda Aceh

Where he was then: Joined GAM at the age of 10, rising through the ranks to become a central commander and, after the 2005 ceasefire, a rebel representative in the 2005-06 EU-led monitoring mission.

Where he is now: Founder of a breakaway political party in Aceh (National Aceh party) and law student.

“The 2005 peace deal has worked militarily. We all disarmed and the military pulled out of Aceh – but still there is no justice. The 70/30 split in revenues does not identify what types of revenue qualify. There is not yet truth and reconciliation, or any accountability for human rights abuses…

“When other governments ask me why we were willing to disarm, I tell them that we trusted our political leaders, and that it’s important to involve people from civil society in the peace deal discussions rather than just rebels and the government…

“We did not achieve independence, but that does not only mean statehood, but also freedom of press and speech as well as justice. That is also independence. And we are still fighting for it, just through different means. I am not tempted to take up arms again. With democracy, we don’t need to. But if we don’t get things right, it is imaginable that our children will need to take up arms again.”

The low-ranking fighter
Mohamed Jafar, 32

Where he was then: Dropping out of his final year of secondary school, he joined GAM at age 17 because he “admired the fighters”.

Where he is now: A farmer living in the Acehnese village of Jijiem, which was GAM’s headquarters. He earns $100-$200 monthly from selling rice and nuts in his village, where he lives with his parents and five siblings.

“Roads have not improved, but our livelihoods have, because farmers can go to paddies without fear of fighting. But there still is not much development here even though it is the heart of GAM’s [former] command centre.

“I fought for independence and though things did not turn out as I had hoped, I am not sure where to turn to demand change. The commanders don’t care. I am upset, but I am just a low-ranking fighter, so I accept. Life would be better if we won independence. It would be easier to get work, and revenue earned here would be for the Acehnese.

“I never received any money as part of the peace deal or any job training. Maybe my commander kept my money. I tried to get it from him, but he does not care. That’s just how things are. I can’t demand what I wasn’t given.”

The deputy
Kamaruddin Abubakar, 47 (nom de guerre: Abu Razak)

Kamaruddin Abubaka

Where he was then: A second-generation rebel, he was sent to Libya in 1988 for weapons training for 15 months where he stayed on as a personal guard to then President Muammar Gaddafi before returning to Aceh to recruit and train fighters. He moved up to deputy commander when the top field leader, Abdullah Syafi’ie, was killed in 2002.

Where he is now: Following the peace deal signing, he farmed cocoa and palm sugar for two years, before joining politics as deputy chief of Aceh Party, comprised mostly of former rebels. He still manages his farm and has a business distributing sugar and fertilizer in Aceh, for which he earns from $90 up to $9,000 monthly.

“When the government declared martial law [in 2003] the army hunted for me, even tracking down my wife to her classroom where she taught. I went into hiding in the jungle and sent my family [wife and three children] to the city for safety. When the tsunami hit [in 2004] all my family was killed…

“It is hard to believe any fighters did not receive money. Some people claimed to be former GAM on the day after the agreement was signed. We call them ‘GAM 16’ [agreement signed on 15 August]…

“Criticism is free for all parties and government. This is what a democracy is. It is not true we ignore former fighters. The military structure exists even though we are not at war. They still follow us.”

pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Most slum dwellers lack titles to the land they live on

Posted by African Press International on October 8, 2013

Most slum dwellers lack titles to the land they live on and, are often faced with the risk of forced evictions

NAIROBI,  – Development projects such as new roads, or dams to boost electricity production, must ensure that the human rights of those evicted are not trampled, say campaigners, who are urging international donors to do more to insist that those affected receive adequate compensation and protection.

Population growth, urbanization and pressure on the land could make such evictions more common in Africa in the future, hence the need for a strictly implemented legal code, they say.

In a report released today, Amnesty International (AI) estimates that a quarter of the 12,000 residents of Deep Sea, an informal settlement in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, face eviction without compensation over the construction of a link road.

“Our families have lived in Deep Sea for years, but recently, we just saw government surveyors come here and they told us a road will pass through our residences. We are living in fear because we haven’t been consulted, and we don’t know when they will come to do the evictions,” Diana Angaya, who has lived in Deep Sea for the past 25 years, told IRIN.

“We are not against the road, but we are asking that those who are affected are provided with alternative land to settle.”

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority is in the process of finding a firm to build the 17km road, which will cost 27 million euros. It is hoped the European Union (EU) will fund 65 percent of the project.

In a separate incident in Nairobi in May some 400 families were evicted from the Carton City informal settlement near Wilson Airport, after a private educational institution laid claim to the land on which they were living. The eviction was carried out by hired youths under the supervision of the police.

“Development organizations like the EU which is funding the bypass expected to pass through the Deep Sea settlement in Nairobi where poor people face evictions must ensure that they pressure the government to respect human rights and uphold the basic standards on evictions as is enshrined in international laws,” Iain Byrne, head of AI’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, told IRIN.

“They have the leverage to ensure governments which they fund, including that of Kenya, uphold human rights including when doing evictions for development projects.”

“Amnesty International is concerned that the EU is not sufficiently engaged with the process for mitigating potential negative impacts of the road construction project and ensuring that the project is implemented in a manner that respects and protects human rights,” said the AI report.

“The absence of explicit policy guidelines for ensuring that projects such as Missing Link 15B do not result in human rights violations is a serious shortcoming and further heightens the organization’s concern. The EU and its member states have a responsibility to ensure that they do not support projects that cause or contribute to human rights violations,” it added.

In a statement the EU said: “Kenyan authorities will implement a comprehensive and transparent Resettlement Action Plan for people currently living or operating businesses within the project area, and that this will include `fair and legally compliant compensation’.”

Kenya’s Resettlement Action Plan, which documents how those affected will be resettled, only stipulates that transport away from the area where they currently reside will be free. Deep Sea residents appear not to have been consulted.

In Ethiopia, a World Bank inspection panel called for investigations into a World Bank funded villagization project after reports that it had violated the bank’s policies regarding respect for human rights. The project involved the forced relocation of some 1.5 million Ethiopians, including indigenous and other marginalized peoples, and has been marred by violence.

Corruption, weak laws

Experts like Aggrey Nyange, an urban planning lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IRIN that while it is incumbent upon donors and/or governments to protect the poor against forced evictions, there is a need for countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia to enact laws that protect evictees.

International development organizations could be reluctant to call for respect for rights in evictions because they might be expected to go out of their way to pay the compensation money,” said Nyange, adding that even in cases where there are agreements between the funding organization and the recipient government on the need to follow due process, many African governments might not be honest in their dealings.

“At times a donor agency will say, you have to consult the affected community, but governments will simply send officials in the area to bulldoze the poor and claim full consultations happened. The only sure way is to enact laws to outlaw forced evictions,” he said.

According to Justus Nyangaya, head of AI in Kenya, while certain evictions are legally justified, forced evictions required legal frameworks setting out how they should be carried out.

“Some of those evictions happen following a court order and such orders have to be obeyed, but the police must do them according to the law. Such a law guiding them must be in place and put into consideration internationally accepted standards of carrying out evictions,” Nyangaya, said.

In past evictions in Kenya only those with title deeds to the land they lived on received any government compensation.

ko/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

Posted by African Press International on October 6, 2013

School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

KANO, 4 October 2013 (IRIN) – Thousands of students and teachers across northern Nigeria have been forced to abandon their schools due to increasingly brazen attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram (BH), officials say.

In the latest school attack, on 29 September, BH gunmen on four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorbikes stormed student dormitories at a college of agriculture in the town of Gujba, in the northern Yobe State, opening fire on sleeping students and killing 40, according to police and government officials.

“They just opened fire indiscriminately on students in their hostels. They all wore army uniforms and were heavily armed. One of them stood by the door, shooting at students who made for the door to escape,” Musa Bade, who works at the college, told IRIN.

Officials are unable to give the exact number of students forced out of school by the attacks, due to lack of access to remote parts of Yobe and Borno states where BH insurgents are active.

However, Abdullahi Bego, Yobe governor’s spokesman, told IRIN that BH has destroyed 209 schools in Yobe. In Borno, governor Kashim Shettima said in August that the Islamist rebels had destroyed 825 classrooms. A Bono education official told IRIN in May that some 15,000 were out of school in that state alone.

In a 4 October report, Amnesty International said that at least 70 teachers and more than 100 school children and students have been killed or wounded.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home. We know of a case where a teacher was killed at home before his children,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria.

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school because they fear that their children may not return home,” Kamara told IRIN. “If these attacks continue, they will further cripple the education system in that part of the country.”

Rising toll

BH began attacking schools in February 2012, when its gunmen burned down three schools in Maiduguri town using home-made bombs. Abul Qaqa, the group’s spokesman at the time, claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for the indiscriminate arrests of students in Islamic schools by government forces.

Initially, the gunmen carried out attacks on schools at night or in the early morning hours before classes so as to not “kill innocent pupils,” according to Qaqa.

But the strategy changed this year. In March, BH killed four teachers and gravely injured three students in three separate attacks on schools in Maiduguri.

On 6 July, the Islamists opened fire and threw explosives into dormitories in a boarding secondary school in Mamudo Village in Yobe, killing 41 students and a teacher. In a 16 June attack on another boarding school, also in Yobe, BH gunmen shot dead seven students and two teachers, according to Lt Lazarus Eli, the state’s military spokesman.

BH also carried out attacks on schools in Kano City, including arson in at least three schools and the targeted shooting of teachers in two others. But the Kano attacks stopped following a heavy security crackdown that drove the rebels from the city, according to security sources.

Security measures

Bego said the Yobe government would not be intimidated into closing schools following the Gujba student killings, as it did following the July slaughter in Mamudo.

“These terrorists want to intimidate us into closing schools and stopping children from attending school. We will not be intimidated, and Yobe State will not be defined by criminals, insurgents or terrorists,” the governor’s spokesman said.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home.”

The government deployed soldiers to all boarding schools in the state to guard against BH attacks.

But Musa Idrissa, a school teacher in Damaturu, told IRIN the troop deployment to schools could not effectively counter the BH attacks or its emotional and psychological effects on students.

“The presence of soldiers in schools only heightens fear among teachers and students because it is a constant reminder of the danger they are in, which affects them psychologically and emotionally and negatively affects teaching and learning. No effective learning takes place in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety,” Idrissa said.

Idrissa noted that BH gunmen dress in military uniforms, which makes it difficult distinguish them from troops. “How can the students differentiate between BH and soldiers in the event of an attack on their school?” he asked.

“We are fighting an unconventional war and an unconventional enemy, which shifts form and strategy and is very mobile. We need public support in reporting any suspicious movement in the community to effectively tackle the terrorists,” Eli said.

Why attacks on schools?

In a video message on 12 August 2013, BH leader Abubakar Shekau said he backed the Mamudo school attack, but fell short of claiming responsibility.

“We did say we were going to burn down schools offering Western education because they are not Islamic schools. They are schools primarily established to wage war on Islam. We fight teachers who teach Western education. We will kill them before their students, and we will tell the students to henceforth go and study the Koran. This is what we do. We will continue carrying out such school attacks till we breathe our last breath,” he said.

However, military authorities say that BH resorted to attacking schools as soft targets following military operations launched in May of this year that they say have weakened the group. The school attacks are also an attempt to scare off youth vigilante groups fighting the Islamists, particularly in Borno State, which BH considers its stronghold and birthplace, says the military.

New military strategy

President Goodluck Jonathan said in 1 October national broadcast that the government would employ new strategies against BH following the deadly school attacks, but did not divulge details. Nigerian troops responded to the latest school raid with aerial bombardments and a ground offensive against a BH camp near Gujba where the gunmen retreated to, military spokesman Eli told IRIN.

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in northeastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on 14 May and heavily deployed troops to neutralize BH and dislodge them from areas they had taken over, especially in northern Borno on the border with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The strategy has failed to stop the attacks, which have become more frequent and deadlier despite the shut-down of telephone signals to prevent BH from coordinating attacks.

“Although there is increase in troop movement and military hardware deployment in the northeast, people were yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorists activities in the bud,” Bego said in a 29 September statement.

Amnesty International’s Kamara called on the Islamists to unconditionally halt school attacks and urged the government to provide better protection for schools. “Attacking schools and killing teachers and pupils is a crime against humanity. The government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect the right to life and to education.”

aa/ob/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Nigeria: Boko Haram – like the Al Shabaab target innocent people

Posted by African Press International on October 5, 2013

School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

KANO, 4 October 2013 (IRIN) – Thousands of students and teachers across northern Nigeria have been forced to abandon their schools due to increasingly brazen attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram (BH), officials say.

In the latest school attack, on 29 September, BH gunmen on four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorbikes stormed student dormitories at a college of agriculture in the town of Gujba, in the northern Yobe State, opening fire on sleeping students and killing 40, according to police and government officials.

“They just opened fire indiscriminately on students in their hostels. They all wore army uniforms and were heavily armed. One of them stood by the door, shooting at students who made for the door to escape,” Musa Bade, who works at the college, told IRIN.

Officials are unable to give the exact number of students forced out of school by the attacks, due to lack of access to remote parts of Yobe and Borno states where BH insurgents are active.

However, Abdullahi Bego, Yobe governor’s spokesman, told IRIN that BH has destroyed 209 schools in Yobe. In Borno, governor Kashim Shettima said in August that the Islamist rebels had destroyed 825 classrooms. A Bono education official told IRIN in May that some 15,000 were out of school in that state alone.

In a 4 October report, Amnesty International said that at least 70 teachers and more than 100 school children and students have been killed or wounded.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home. We know of a case where a teacher was killed at home before his children,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria.

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school because they fear that their children may not return home,” Kamara told IRIN. “If these attacks continue, they will further cripple the education system in that part of the country.”

Rising toll

BH began attacking schools in February 2012, when its gunmen burned down three schools in Maiduguri town using home-made bombs. Abul Qaqa, the group’s spokesman at the time, claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for the indiscriminate arrests of students in Islamic schools by government forces.

Initially, the gunmen carried out attacks on schools at night or in the early morning hours before classes so as to not “kill innocent pupils,” according to Qaqa.

But the strategy changed this year. In March, BH killed four teachers and gravely injured three students in three separate attacks on schools in Maiduguri.

On 6 July, the Islamists opened fire and threw explosives into dormitories in a boarding secondary school in Mamudo Village in Yobe, killing 41 students and a teacher. In a 16 June attack on another boarding school, also in Yobe, BH gunmen shot dead seven students and two teachers, according to Lt Lazarus Eli, the state’s military spokesman.

BH also carried out attacks on schools in Kano City, including arson in at least three schools and the targeted shooting of teachers in two others. But the Kano attacks stopped following a heavy security crackdown that drove the rebels from the city, according to security sources.

Security measures

Bego said the Yobe government would not be intimidated into closing schools following the Gujba student killings, as it did following the July slaughter in Mamudo.

“These terrorists want to intimidate us into closing schools and stopping children from attending school. We will not be intimidated, and Yobe State will not be defined by criminals, insurgents or terrorists,” the governor’s spokesman said.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home.”

The government deployed soldiers to all boarding schools in the state to guard against BH attacks.

But Musa Idrissa, a school teacher in Damaturu, told IRIN the troop deployment to schools could not effectively counter the BH attacks or its emotional and psychological effects on students.

“The presence of soldiers in schools only heightens fear among teachers and students because it is a constant reminder of the danger they are in, which affects them psychologically and emotionally and negatively affects teaching and learning. No effective learning takes place in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety,” Idrissa said.

Idrissa noted that BH gunmen dress in military uniforms, which makes it difficult distinguish them from troops. “How can the students differentiate between BH and soldiers in the event of an attack on their school?” he asked.

“We are fighting an unconventional war and an unconventional enemy, which shifts form and strategy and is very mobile. We need public support in reporting any suspicious movement in the community to effectively tackle the terrorists,” Eli said.

Why attacks on schools?

In a video message on 12 August 2013, BH leader Abubakar Shekau said he backed the Mamudo school attack, but fell short of claiming responsibility.

“We did say we were going to burn down schools offering Western education because they are not Islamic schools. They are schools primarily established to wage war on Islam. We fight teachers who teach Western education. We will kill them before their students, and we will tell the students to henceforth go and study the Koran. This is what we do. We will continue carrying out such school attacks till we breathe our last breath,” he said.

However, military authorities say that BH resorted to attacking schools as soft targets following military operations launched in May of this year that they say have weakened the group. The school attacks are also an attempt to scare off youth vigilante groups fighting the Islamists, particularly in Borno State, which BH considers its stronghold and birthplace, says the military.

New military strategy

President Goodluck Jonathan said in 1 October national broadcast that the government would employ new strategies against BH following the deadly school attacks, but did not divulge details. Nigerian troops responded to the latest school raid with aerial bombardments and a ground offensive against a BH camp near Gujba where the gunmen retreated to, military spokesman Eli told IRIN.

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in northeastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on 14 May and heavily deployed troops to neutralize BH and dislodge them from areas they had taken over, especially in northern Borno on the border with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The strategy has failed to stop the attacks, which have become more frequent and deadlier despite the shut-down of telephone signals to prevent BH from coordinating attacks.

“Although there is increase in troop movement and military hardware deployment in the northeast, people were yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorists activities in the bud,” Bego said in a 29 September statement.

Amnesty International’s Kamara called on the Islamists to unconditionally halt school attacks and urged the government to provide better protection for schools. “Attacking schools and killing teachers and pupils is a crime against humanity. The government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect the right to life and to education.”

aa/ob/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

end

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Crop failure would have been a national disaster with global consequences.

Posted by African Press International on September 24, 2013

Droughts seem to be increasing, but so are methods to survive them

STOCKHOLM,  – Droughts are rarely seen as a positive development. Historically equated with divine punishment, they can be fatal to local economies and human lives alike.

But they can also provide a crucial test for water management systems, which – when they function effectively – may allow regions to shake off severe droughts that would have otherwise led to widespread loss of life.

“Droughts provide an opportunity for action as well as learning lessons. There is often a sense of community, a greater political will and a heightened awareness of conservation issues,” said Roberto Lenton, from the University of Nebraska’s Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in the US.

“We have been experiencing, over the last couple of years, some major droughts around the world that have reinforced the growing recognition that we are going to be facing more climate extremes – droughts and floods – and we need to learn how to deal with them more effectively.”

Statistics on natural catastrophic events collected by insurers Munich Re show that the “number of major weather-related natural catastrophes has almost tripled since 1980.” They report “an increase in the length, frequency or intensity of warm-weather periods” and predict that droughts are “likely to become more frequent”.

In a globalized food market, droughts – even those in the developed world – can quickly impact the world’s poorest, as in the 2007-2008 food price crisis, which was aggravated in part by drought in Australia.

So what have we learned from current and recent water shortages?

Water storage and risk management 

The current drought in northeastern Brazil is the most severe water shortage the area has seen in last 100 years. Last year, it caused the deaths of five million cattle.

The federal government has responded with some relief actions, including trucking in water, providing agricultural schemes for farmers, and investing in water infrastructure like dams and reservoirs.

“Whenever you have droughts, over the last 100 years, you see a rapid rise in water stocks and reservoirs,” said Francisco de Assis de Souza Filho, director of the Brazil office of the Columbia Water Center, who added that politicians are often short-sighted when it comes to risk management because they “are only focused on the four years of their mandate”.

Droughts – in Brazil and many other parts of the world – can be a key spur for politicians to invest in dams, water management and resilience, even if prevention strategies would have be more cost-effective.

“Brazil needs to change from reactive drought crisis management to proactive drought risk management. We have a good institutional approach to water research management, but we don’t have a focus on drought management,” said de Souza Filho.

Michael Hayes, director of the US-based National Drought Mitigation Center, says investment in mitigation, planning, monitoring and early warning pays-off when drought strikes.

“If our only focus is on crisis management, we don’t take any steps to reduce our risk to future events.”

As destructive as droughts can be, they can provide the catalyst for better preventive action:

“Droughts provide windows of opportunity to engage the stakeholders,” said Hayes.

Motivating farmers and decision makers is key to making change happen.

“Political will is the foundation of drought management policy,” said Thierry Facon, senior regional management officer for the Asia and Pacific region at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Groundwater

Like Brazil, the US state of Nebraska also suffered a severe drought in 2012, though with a rather different outcome. Nebraska is the country’s biggest producer of red meat, number two for ethanol production, and fourth nationally for the value of its crops.

Crop failure would have been a national disaster with global consequences.

“Droughts provide windows of opportunity to engage the stakeholders”

But the last major drought in the state, in the 1950s, had spurred massive investment in irrigation, and the state’s irrigated land now covers a similar surface area to irrigated farms in entire countries, like Turkey, Egypt and Spain.

By tapping into the groundwater held in the High Plains aquifer, US farmers were able to see through the drought. In fact, production of irrigated corn – thanks to the increased sunshine and longer growing season – actually increased by 5.6 percent.

But while groundwater can provide a useful water supply during drought, the global norm is for unsustainable use of groundwater, prompted by inadequate systems of water management.

In Gujarat, India, the only way to stop farmers from using too much groundwater has been to ration electricity supplies to farmers in an attempt to limit overuse of pumps.

Technology

Recent droughts have shown the strength of technological developments in a variety of sectors, from soil moisture sensors that help boost the efficiency of irrigation to satellite imaging used to track global weather patterns.

“Through these kinds of [satellite] systems, we get a better understanding and learn how to predict, so there are ways to actually know when a drought is coming up,” Mats Eriksson, director of climate change and water at the Stockholm International Water Institute, told IRIN.

As a slow-onset hazard, droughts have often caught governments unawares – though as the 2011 drought in Somalia showed, awareness does not always lead to effective preventive action.

“I think the problem is more communicating this kind of knowledge in a tailor-made format, down to a more local context where people can actually utilize and benefit and plan based on these predictions,” said Eriksson.

Studying past droughts has helped scientists refine their predictive models, and it has helped build technology that can offer greater resilience.

“Technologies have played a great role in mitigating these shortages of water. Science and technology is going to play an increasing role in the future,” said Dilip Kulkarni, head of the Agri-food Division at India’s Jain Irrigation Systems, Ltd.

He stresses that in the developing world, water technologies can be extremely beneficial in helping farmers survive water scarcity – as long as the methods have been adapted to the smallholder farms that predominate in places like sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Biotechnology has helped provide drought-resistant plants, while adapted farming practices, like avoiding tillage in dry areas, helped farmers in Nebraska avoid a repeat of the ‘dustbowl years’ in the 1930s.

“Droughts spur technological innovation,” said Lenton. But greater water efficiency does not necessarily mean lower water use, something that is frequently forgotten in discussions about the wonders of drought-resistant technologies.

Learning lessons

In 1877, around half a million people died because of drought in northeastern Brazil, according to de Souza Filho. Economic development and technology have since helped reduce the human cost of drought in Brazil and many parts of the world, though as the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa showed, widespread loss of human life still occurs.

While well-resourced farmers in formal, well-governed water systems, like those in Nebraska, may have learned to survive even severe droughts, poverty continues to leave others exposed.

And the lessons learned in such formal water systems may not even be applicable in tropical informal governance areas, warns Facon.

Communities used to living in arid lands have, of course, knowledge about dealing with drought that has been passed down through generations – for example, mixing pastoral and agrarian ways of life to cope with times of water scarcity.

“In many parts of the world, drought is part of the natural environment. That means that people have developed means and methods to overcome drought,” said Eriksson.

But climate change poses new challenges, particularly with weather extremes that traditional systems, based on historic weather patterns, may not be adequate for.

“Maybe the old traditional systems don’t work anymore, so you have to find ways of maybe supporting them [the systems] if they’re good enough. Or in other cases, the kind of livelihood system that you relied on doesn’t really work anymore – and you have to add other things,” said Eriksson

Climate change maybe creating new lessons to learn.

jj/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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