In Nicaragua Marriage Is Only for ‘Him’ and ‘Her’

One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

A new Family Code that went into effect in Nicaragua this month represents an overall improvement in terms of the rights of Nicaraguans. However, it has one major gap: it fails to recognise same-sex marriage, and as a result it closes the doors to adoption by gay couples.

Organisations that defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons (LGBTI) fought to the end without success to get the new Code – Law 870 – to include the right of gay couples to marry and adopt children.

Marvin Mayorga, an activist with the Urgent Actions Against Discrimination for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project in Nicaragua, told IPS that the law is discriminatory.

“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family,” he said.“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family.” — Marvin Mayorga

“And outside the family there are more barriers to achieving minimal guarantees and benefits like decent work, social security coverage, education, healthcare and housing,” he complained.

The activist stressed that “families in Nicaragua are diverse, but they want to impose one single model of what a family is.”

The new Code, approved by the legislature in 2014, finally entered into force on Apr. 8.

Its aim is to protect the rights of each member of the family as well as enforce the collective rights and obligations of families.

The driving force behind the drafting of the new Code, lawmaker Carlos Emilio López of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), told IPS that the 674-article Code updates and brings together in one legal instrument what was previously dispersed in 47 different laws and regulations.

The new Code addresses questions such as marriage, property rights, adoption, retirement, the rights of mothers, fathers and children, divorce, alimony and paternal and maternal responsibility.

Up to now, family questions were mainly included in the 1904 Civil Code, which according to López regulated these issues with a strongly conservative and Catholic tint, which subordinated women and children to the father as the breadwinner of the family.

“A careful analysis was made so that each member of society, as individuals that form part of families, had clear rights, obligations and duties in keeping with the country’s constitution and laws, so that there would be no discrimination against anyone for any reason,” he said.

López argued that there is no discrimination against the LGBTI community because the Nicaraguan constitution, which is above the new Code, protects the right of all Nicaraguans, and provides guarantees against inequality.

But Luis Torres, head of the local NGO Nicaraguan Sexual Diversity Alternative, told IPS that the new Code does discriminate against LGBTI persons by excluding them from the right to marry and forcing the state to provide social benefits only to family units recognised as such by the new Code.

“It’s a step backwards,” he complained. “Through the Code, the state excludes cohabiting same-sex couples from social security coverage. Neither marriage nor civil union between people of the same sex are recognised.”

That means in practice that “LGBTI couples do not have access to related rights like the right to a family loan, to adopt children, or to obtain social security coverage in case of the death or injury of a spouse, among other rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples,” Torres said.

The advances made by the new Code include recognition for the first time in this Central American country that civil unions – but only between a man and a woman – have the same rights and obligations as traditional married couples.

Ramón Rodríguez, a professor of criminal law and human rights law at the Central American University and the American University, said that because the Code “establishes that marriage and stable civil unions are only between a man and a women, a significant segment of the population, which forms part of the sexual diversity spectrum, is the direct victim of the violation of the universal principals of equality and non-discrimination.”

But Samira Montiel, Nicaragua’s ombudswoman for sexual diversity, disagreed with the criticism by human rights activists and LGBTI rights organisations.

“I would also have liked the Code to allow me to marry and adopt, but the constitution does not permit that and the Code cannot be above the constitution,” she told IPS.

Montiel said that although “for now” same-sex marriage has not been recognised, “the individual rights of each member of the lesbian-gay community are protected because they have equal rights as siblings, children, parents, relatives and citizens.”

“No lesbian woman or gay man who has a child will lose their right to parenthood, and they won’t be denied any benefits. So far I haven’t received a single formal complaint about the Code, no one has appealed it, there isn’t a single request for adoption of a child by a gay couple, and healthcare has not been denied to any lesbian or bisexual,” she told IPS.

One of the positive aspects of the Code is the fact that it accelerates the legal process for suing for alimony in divorce cases. Instead of dragging on for up to five years, the process can now take no longer than 150 days.

It also sets child support for sons and daughters under 18 to up to half of the income of the parent who is being sued, and creates fines for incompliance.

In addition, it creates a process for elderly parents to sue their children for abandonment, and gives sons and daughters up to the age of 24 the right to receive from their families money to buy food, in the case of proven need.

Furthermore, it addresses matters related to divorce, the division of assets, child protection, parental leave and other areas.

It also prohibits physical punishment or other humiliating treatment of children in any setting, and sets the age of marriage at 18 – the age of majority for both sexes, in terms of legal obligations.

The Nicaraguan federation of non-governmental organisations that work on behalf of children and adolescents had demanded that the age of marriage be raised, in order to put an end to marriages between girls aged 14 or even younger to adult men.

These marriages are often the so-called “family remedy” in cases of sexual abuse or pregnancy of girls and adolescents by adult men.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Deadline Looms for NGOs to Apply for ECOSOC Status

A wide view of the conference room as Vladimir Drobnjak (shown on screens), Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), addresses the 2015 ECOSOC Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A wide view of the conference room as Vladimir Drobnjak (shown on screens), Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), addresses the 2015 ECOSOC Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

The NGO Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations is calling on non-governmental organisations to apply for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status in order to be considered by the 2016 NGO Committee.

The deadline for the application is Jun. 1, 2015.

ECOSOC consultative status relates to ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 – based on article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations, which regulates the relationship between the U.N. and NGOs.

Resolution 1996/31 sets the rules NGOs should abide to – rights and obligations – in order to participate in international conferences convened by the U.N., and it develops strategies to improve the work on the Committee on NGOs and the NGOs Section of the Secretariat.

Consultative status is granted by ECOSOC upon recommendation of the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs – made up of 19 Member States.

According to NGO Branch, any international, regional, sub-regional and national non-governmental organisation can be eligible for ECOSOC consultative status, as long as it follows the subsequent criteria:

“An NGO must have been in existence (officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO/non-profit) for at least two years, must have an established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution, authority to speak for its members, a representative structure, appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making processes. The basic resources of the organization must be derived mainly from contributions of the national affiliates or other components or from individual members.”

On the NGO Branch website, it says that NGOs which are granted consultative status by ECOSOC are able to attend official meetings, submit written statements prior to sessions, make oral statements, meet official government delegations and other NGOs representatives.

NGOs with consultative status can also benefit from organising and attending parallel events aside from main sessions, and participating in debates and interactive dialogues, such as panel discussions and informal meetings.

In 1945, when the U.N. was created in the aftermath of World War II, 41 NGOs were granted consultative status by the council, and in 1992 more than 700 NGOs received  consultative status. According to the 2014 list of the non-governmental organisations in consultative status with ECOSOC the number has increased to about 3,900 organisations.

To apply for ECOSOC consultative status, follow this link to the NGO Branch website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Pledge Resonates in Far-Off Zambia

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

Nigeria’s president-elect is already making waves with his pledge to attack corruption, starting with the missing 20 billion dollars allegedly swiped from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation during the previous administration.

Muhammadu Buhari pledged to pursue the claim of former Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, who was suspended last year by former president Goodluck Jonathan after he warned of massive mismanagement by the oil corporation. His claim was never investigated by the ex-president.

“This issue is not over yet,” declared Buhari, who will be sworn in on May 29. “Once we assume office we will order a fresh probe into the matter… We will not allow people to steal money meant for Nigerians to buy shares and stash (them) away in foreign lands.”

Buhari’s warning to those who pocketed national funds thrilled Africans as far away as Zambia and prompted an editorial in The Post newspaper.

“Nigerian President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari’s message on corruption brings some hope for that country and our continent,” wrote The Post’s editor in a piece viewed 1,294 times.

The editorial continued: “We wish this was the message we were getting from our own President, Edgar Lungu. But it is not. If there is anything Edgar hardly talks about, it is corruption.

“What we have in Zambia today is a corrupt government… This is a government where those in leadership are the ones getting government contracts. They are the suppliers of government. Leaders and cadres of the ruling party are the ones doing business with government.

“If one scrutinises all government contracts, it will not be difficult to discover that almost all of them have been given to people connected to the ruling party and its leadership…. When one criticises such practices, he is seen to be hurtful, frustrated.

“Look at how quickly those in the leadership of government, from president to the lowest cadre, become rich! What is the magic? Where is the money coming from? It is from corruption, from bribes, from selling government policy. There is no other source of that money other than corruption.”

Africans surveyed by the group Afrobarometer in 2013 expressed similar views and many believe the situation has deteriorated in the last decade.

In the survey of 34 countries, 56 percent of the 51,000 people surveyed thought their governments were doing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in the fight against corruption. Only 35 percent said their governments were doing “fairly well” or “very well”.

Among those most dissatisfied by official efforts to end corruption were Nigerians and Egyptians at the top, followed by Zimbabweans, Ugandans and Sudanese, Kenyans, Malians, Tunisians, Togolese, Tanzanians and South Africans.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

U.N. Staffers Secure at Home, Moving Targets Overseas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs a book of condolences at UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) headquarters, on the death of the agency’s staff members killed in the 20 April attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Garowe, Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs a book of condolences at UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) headquarters, on the death of the agency’s staff members killed in the 20 April attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Garowe, Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

When the United Nations spent over 2.2 billion dollars refurbishing its ageing 65-year-old Secretariat building, one of its primary goals was to strengthen security to prevent any violent attacks on the glass house by New York city’s East River.

With a voluntary donation of nearly 100 million dollars from the United States as host country (in addition to its assessed contribution for the renovations), the United Nations has installed bollards and other security devices enhancing the entrances and perimeters of the campus where more than 3,000 staffers now work in a modernised and energy-efficient 39-storeyed high-rise building.”We hope [Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] will recognise the fact that the U.N. has to start making some tougher choices about whether it actually has the means to be able to operate in dangerous locations and protect its staff.” — Ian Richards

The new security measures are expected to be in place by next year while the refurbishment that began in 2008 – financed by the 193 member states with assessed contributions based on “capacity to pay” – is virtually complete.

Acutely conscious of its security, the United Nations is also planning to empty and shut down its historic Dag Hammarskjold library building, keeping it permanently vacant, because of possible terrorist attacks from an adjacent roadway and an exit ramp from the highway – both of which the U.S. government is refusing to close down because it is “not feasible” to do so in a traffic-clogged city.

Still, say U.N. staffers, while they appreciate the protective measures in home territory, the world body has not placed as high a priority on their safety and security in emergency operations in conflict zones.

As international aid workers increasingly come under violent attack overseas, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos provided a candid assessment last week when she said “respect for the U.N. flag and the Red Cross and Red Crescent flag is disappearing.”

According to the latest statistics, attacks on U.N. staffers have continued to increase over the last decade – with a record high of 264 attacks, affecting 474 aid workers, in 2013 alone.

In early April, four staffers working for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were killed in “a horrific attack” in Somalia as a result of a roadside bomb destroying their minivan.

The increasing deaths and the continued attacks have prompted the U.N. staff union to call for the establishment of an independent high-level panel to review U.N. security.

Asked if the establishment of such a panel is at the discretion of member states or a decision by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staffers, told IPS the staff union is requesting Ban to set up the panel.

“So it is entirely his discretion. But we hope he will recognise the fact that the U.N. has to start making some tougher choices about whether it actually has the means to be able to operate in dangerous locations and protect its staff,” he said.

In a statement released here, the CCISUA said it has been 10 years since the United Nations Department of Safety and Security was created in the aftermath of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad.

Employees at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, search through the rubble after an explosion in 2003 that killed at least 17 people including the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Credit: UN Photo/AP Photo

Employees at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, search through the rubble after an explosion in 2003 that killed at least 17 people including the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Credit: UN Photo/AP Photo

Since that time, the United Nations has been the target of numerous attacks.

The Staff Union says is time to call for an independent high-level panel, modelled on two earlier U.N. panels, the Ahtisaari panel (2003, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisari) and the Brahimi panel (2008, headed by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi), to review security policies and procedures.

The panel should find answers to questions such as: Is the United Nations doing enough to protect its staff? Is the world body better off today in protecting its staff with the Department of Safety and Security? Is it subjecting staff to unnecessary risks with the “stay and deliver” policy?

The CCISUA has also sought answers to several other questions: What were the circumstances of the latest attack (in Somalia), and should anyone be held accountable for the gaps in security leaving staff vulnerable to those types of attacks?

Have politics taken precedence over proper security concerns, since stricter measures were not in place in Puntland, an area that has suffered deadly attacks and repeated threats by the Al Qaeda-linked al Shaabab, a terrorist group that has threatened and repeatedly attacked United Nations staff in Somalia in the past?

The 2008 Report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of U.N. Personnel and Premises Worldwide (Brahimi Report) noted that “Member States are not equally well-equipped to provide that security. Indeed, it is quite often in those countries where capacity is modest or lacking all together that the most serious risks exist. All the United Nations can and should expect from the host government is that it provides security to the best of its ability.”

“It is incumbent to the Organization in particular the Secretary-General, and the Department of Safety and Security, to fill in this void, including by ensuring that proper policies, procedures and standards are established and always followed – which in the instance of the latest attack would have born no monetary cost to the Organization,” the statement said.

The Staff Union thinks the secretary-general’s policy of “stay and deliver”, combined with “do more with less”, has shown its limits and has placed staff in more of a high-risk situation than at any time before.

Thus, the Staff Union calls on the secretary-general to immediately initiate a review of security policies worldwide and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the latest attack on the organisation, so that future such attacks may be prevented.

“The Staff Union believes we owe this to all staff and the families of the victims. The Secretary-General, as chief administrative officer of the United Nations, has an inherent responsibility to seek to ensure the safety of staff,” the statement said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free World

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D’Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

“Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries […].” — Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp