Local Development, the Key to Legitimising Amazon Hydropower Dams

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

In the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil, the projects aimed at mitigating the social impacts have been delayed. But in other cases, infrastructure such as hospitals and water and sewage pipes could improve the image of the hydropower plants on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rivers, turning them into a factor of effective local development.

Under construction since 2011 on the Xingú river, Belo Monte has dedicated an unprecedented amount of funds to compensating for the impacts of the dam, through its Basic Environmental Project (PBA), which has a budget of 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

To that is added a novel 140-million-dollar Sustainable Regional Development Plan (PDRS), aimed at driving public policies and improving the lives of the population of the dam’s area of influence, made up of 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará.

These funds amount to 12.8 percent of the cost of the giant dam on the middle stretch of the Xingú river, one of the Amazon river’s major tributaries. If distributed per person, each one of the slightly more than 400,000 inhabitants of these 11 municipalities would receive 2,500 dollars.

But the funds invested by the company building the Belo Monte hydropower plant, Norte Energía, have not silenced the complaints and protests which, although they have come from small groups, undermine the claim that hydropower dams are the best energy solution for this electricity-hungry country.

“The slow pace at which the company carries out its compensatory actions is inverse to the speed at which it is building the hydropower plant,” complained the Altamira Defence Forum, an umbrella group of 22 organisations opposed to the dam.

The most visible delay has involved sanitation works in Altamira, the main city in the area surrounding the dam, home to one-third of the local population. Installed 10 months ago, the sewage and water pipes are not yet functioning, leaving the water and wastewater treatment plants partially idle.

The problem is that the pipes were not connected to the local homes and businesses, a task that has been caught up in stalled negotiations between Norte Energía, the city government and the Pará sanitation company, even after the company expressed a willingness to shoulder the costs.

“In addition, the storm drainage system was left out of the plans; the city government didn’t include it in the requirements and conditions set for the company,” the head of the Live, Produce and Preserve Foundation, João Batista Pereira, told IPS.

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The lack of storm drains is especially destructive for cities in the Amazon rainforest, where torrential rains are frequent.

The works and services included in the PBA respond to requirements of the Brazilian Environment Institute, the national environmental authority. Incompliance with these requisites could supposedly bring work on the dam to a halt. But the rules are subject to flexible interpretations, as recent experience has shown.

Pereira is one of the leaders of the PDRS, a “democratic and participative” programme where decisions on investments are reached by an administrative committee made up of 15 members of society and 15 representatives of the municipal, state and national governments.

The projects can be proposed by any local organisation that operates in the four areas covered by the plan: land tenure regularisation and environmental affairs, infrastructure, sustainable production, and social inclusion.

In these areas and some projects that the company finances, such as the Cacauway chocolate factory that processes the growing local production of cacao, the PDRS is distinct from the PBA, which addresses the immediate needs of people affected by the dam, such as indigenous people, fisherpersons or families displaced by the reservoirs.

The PBA’s activities were defined by the environmental impact study produced by researchers prior to the dam concession tender. Hospitals and clinics were built or refurbished to compensate the municipalities for the rise in demand for health services, while 4,100 housing units were built for relocated families.

These are responses to the immediate needs of affected individuals, groups or institutions, without integral or lasting planning. The only one responsible for implementation is the company holding the concession, even though they involve tasks that pertain to the public sector.

“The confusion between public and private is natural,” José Anchieta, the director of socioenvironmental affairs in Norte Energía, told IPS.

The delay in compensatory programmes generated chaos, the Altamira Defence Forum complains. Many of the initiatives were supposed to be carried out prior to construction of the hydropower plant.

The hospitals and health clinics were not delivered by Norte Energía until now, when construction of the dam is winding down. But they were most needed two years ago, when the floating migrant worker population in the region peaked as a result of work on the dam. The same is true for schools and urban development works.

This mistiming led to serious problems for the local indigenous population. The institutions protecting this segment of the population were not strengthened. On the contrary, the local presence of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs, was weakened during the construction of the dam, and the overall absence of the state was accentuated.

From 2010 to 2012 an “emergency plan” distributed processed foods and other goods to indigenous villages. This led to an abrupt change in habits, driving up child malnutrition and infant mortality among indigenous communities, which only recently began to be provided with housing, schools and equipment and inputs to enable them to return to agricultural production.

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The PBA and PDRS also have different timeframes. The former is to end before the reservoirs are filled, which is to be completed by the end of this year. The latter, meanwhile, involves a 20-year action plan.

The company’s social programmes are also “an important sphere of debate, definition of projects and redefinition of public policies, which should become permanent by being transformed into an institute or foundation,” said Pereira, defending “the adoption of their democratic administration by other development agencies.”

The question is of concern to Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which has financed 78 percent of the cost of the construction of Belo Monte.

Besides providing a team to accompany the PDRS, it promoted a study to organise its projects and ideas in an “initiatives file” and a Territorial Development Agenda (TDA) in the Xingú basin.

But this planning and promotion effort to bring about real development has come late, when it is difficult to neutralise the negative effects, which will stand in the way of the construction of new hydropower dams in the Amazon, even with the promise of a TDA.

Belo Monte has also highlighted the dilemmas and challenges of power generation, currently dramatised by severe drought in much of Brazil.

Belo Monte, which will be the second-largest hydropower plant in Brazil and the third-largest in the world, producing 11,233 MW, will aggravate the seasonal drop in hydropower in the second half of each year, once it becomes fully operational in 2019.

That is because the Xingú has the biggest seasonal variation in flow. From 19,816 cubic metres per second in April, the month with the strongest flow, it plummets to 1,065 cubic metres in September, the height of the dry season. This was the average between 1931 and 2003, according to the state-run Eletrobras, Latin America’s biggest power utility company.

There is probably no worse choice of river for building a run-of-the-river power station, whose reservoirs do not accumulate water for the dry months. Belo Monte will represent 12 percent of the country’s total hydropower generation, which means the effect of the plunge in electricity will be enormous, fuelling demand for energy from the dirtier and most costly thermal plants.

One alternative would have been a reservoir 2.5 times bigger, which would have flooded two indigenous territories – something that is banned by the constitution.

Another would have been the construction of four to six dams upstream, to regularise the water flow in the river, as projected by the original plan in the 1980s which was ruled out due to the outcry against it.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

Stop Food Waste – Cook It and Eat It

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
LEEDS, England, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

A new grassroots initiative born in the northern England city of Leeds has set itself the ambitious goal of ending food waste, once and for all.

Founded in December 2013, ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP), is the brainchild of chef Adam Smith.

It consists of a network of ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafés where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals that people can enjoy and give back what they can and wish, be it money, time or surplus food.

TRJFP is run on a volunteer basis through customers’, crowdfunding and private donations and with only a handful of paid positions at living wage level.

Sitting at a table in the first café opened by TRJFP, The Armley Junk-Tion in the struggling suburb of Armley, Leeds, 29-year-old Smith is still infectiously enthusiastic about it all.

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s something that has a positive impact,” he told IPS. “We believe that we can empower people and communities and inspire change across the whole system through the organic growth of these cafés.”

In under two years, TRJFP has grown into a worldwide network of 110 cafés: 14 in Leeds, one of which in a primary school, 40 across the United Kingdom and the rest in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, South Africa or France.

“So far,” explained Smith, “the Armley Junk-Tion alone has cooked 12,000 meals for 10,000 people using food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.” As a network, in 18 months it has fed 90,000 people 60,000 meals and saved 107,000 tonnes of food from needless destruction.

TRJFP volunteers are out every day and at all hours intercepting food from households, food businesses, allotments, food banks, wholesalers, supermarkets and supermarket bins.“The [U.K.] government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people. We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money“ – Adam Smith, founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’

TRJFP has also been able to secure surplus chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain and part of the food ”waste” generated by local Morrisons supermarket branches.

“We ignore expiry dates or damage and use our own judgment on whether we think the food is fit or safe for human consumption,” said Smith.

The number of tonnes of food intercepted, though, pales in comparison with the amount of food that is still wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food wastage globally at one-third of all food produced – that is 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This means that one in four calories produced is never consumed. On the other hand, FAO also reports that 795 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.

‘Food waste’ is often described as a “scandal” and yet top-down actions seeking to put an end to it still treat the above statistics as two separate problems requiring two separate solutions – recycle more in rich countries and produce more food in and for developing countries – that effectively leave a faulty system intact and the interests of a multi-billion dollar industry unchallenged.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’, “all the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  

But our short-sightedness and unwillingness to change our habits are laid bare in laws such as the one approved last May by the French parliament. In France, large supermarkets will be forbidden from throwing away unsold food and forced to give it to charity or farmers.

Although hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against food waste, critics such as food waste activists ‘Les Gars’pilleurs’ say that such laws only circle around the problem, offering a quick fix. For starters, supermarkets are hardly the only culprits. For example, as the U.K. charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, they produce less than two percent of U.K. food waste, while private households are responsible for roughly 47 percent of it and producers 27 percent.

“The government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people,” Smith cut short. “We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money.“

As a grassroots and independent initiative, TRJFP does not categorise food waste as an environmental, economic or social malaise. It tackles it holistically and works to educate the public but also lobbies ministers and parliamentarians to develop relevant policies.

“We have been to Westminster (seat of the U.K. parliament) a few times already to talk about this problem. There are many interests at stake but we will keep working until there is no more waste,” Smith said, adding that he hopes to prepare a waste-food lunch for members of parliament.

In Armley, the café fills up for lunch. On the menu are delicacies such as meat stew, steak and lentil soup. The clientele represents a cross-section of society that normally travels on parallel paths. Hipsters, homeless, professionals or unemployed all eat the same food, sit at the same tables and enjoy the same service. No referrals needed, no stigma attached, as often happens with other such services.

Richard, a recovering alcoholic, has been having lunch at The Armley Junk-Tion for a few months. “The café has been a real focus point for the community to come and eat together irrespective of background,” he told IPS. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat. There’s always something on the menu for everybody.”

For 36-year-old Paul, with a history of mental illness, TRJFP offers an important safety net not guaranteed by social services. “Where I stay, my cooking facilities are restricted to a microwave. Due to cut backs and lack of support services, the only help I get is coming to places like this,” he told IPS.

Nigel Stone, one of the café’s volunteer co-directors, had no doubt the idea would catch on. “It is such an unbelievably common sense solution and the best part of it is how it brings the community together, especially in times of need.”

Slowly but steadily, TRJFP is changing norms around food waste and hopes to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to waste food. First off, though, they are proving that we must stop calling it waste, it just isn’t, it’s perfectly good food that every day we decide to throw away.

Edited by Phil Harris   

Faith Leaders Call for Debt Relief to Puerto Rico

By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

Puerto Rico’s religious leaders have called for debt relief of the Caribbean U.S. territory in the face of the 72 billion dollar liability that represents 20,000 dollars of debt for every man, woman and child.

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the clergy called on the U.S. Federal Reserve to intervene if Congress fails to pass bankruptcy protection to the financially-strapped island.

“This debt crisis threatens to push more of our people into poverty and put people out of work,” said San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of Puerto Rico’s mostly Catholic population.

“The religious community stands with vulnerable people and we call for the crisis to be resolved in a way that protects the poor and grows our economy,” he added.

At a press conference in San Juan, leaders of the major religious groups laid out six principles to resolve the crisis.

“Puerto Rico’s religious leaders are fighting for the lives of their people,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based development coalition Jubilee USA Network.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee’s mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable.

LeCompte visited Puerto Rico in mid-August to advise religious and political leaders on solutions to the crisis.  “We need to get Puerto Rico’s debt back to sustainable levels and ensure that the island has a path for economic growth,” he said

Some of the hedge funds, arguing for cuts in Puerto Rico’s economic growth, were or are currently involved in debt disputes in Greece, Argentina and Detroit, Michigan.

Two recent reports, one commissioned by a group of hedge funds which purchased the island’s distressed debt and the other authorised by Puerto Rico’s own government, suggest new austerity plans to pay off portions of the debt.

The reports note a range of “fiscal adjustments”, including reducing the minimum wage, education resources and healthcare costs. One of the principles promoted by the coalition of religious leaders is that any resolution to the financial crisis prevents further austerity plans.

The religious leaders raised concern over predatory hedge fund activity in their statement. Beyond the Catholic Church, other religious groups signing the statement include Methodists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the Disciples.

“As religious leaders, we see how desperate the situation is for Puerto Rico’s people,” said Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, secretary-general of Puerto Rico’s Biblical Society and the leader of the religious coalition confronting the debt crisis.

“Too many of our people are already suffering from austerity policies and many brothers and sisters have left for the United States hungry for work and a better quality of life,” he added.

Beyond calling for debt relief and criticising austerity policies, the religious leaders’ statement asserts the need for greater Puerto Rican budget transparency and participation in future debt negotiations by people negatively affected by the crisis.

Edited by Phil Harris   

Activists Criticise Offshore Drilling as Obama Prepares for Arctic Summit

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

A one-day summit taking place here on Aug. 31 hopes to bring Arctic nations together in support of climate action against a backdrop of criticism of offshore oil drilling in the region.

The meeting on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, is being organised by the U.S. State Department and will be attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to address the conference.

The conference comes at a time of significant changes to the ever-shifting Arctic: this year’s forest fires in Alaska reached record highs, blazing so rapidly that many were left unmanaged. Last week, thousands of walruses hauled up on Alaskan shores as the ice they depend on as habitat disappeared.“Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities” – Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska

“The evidence for climate change in the Arctic is visible from space as we observed declining sea ice and melting glaciers, and in the lived lives of Arctic residents who see coastlines eroding from sea level rise and reduced access to traditional foods from the land and sea,” said Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College and co-lead scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“These changes will be more evident to the rest of us,” he added. “The challenge is to learn from the Arctic and to work with the Arctic to adapt and prevent further climate change.”

The GLACIER summit is also taking place at a time of great public focus on the issue of climate change. Critiques of Arctic drilling, as well as the upcoming United Nations climate change negotiations in December in Paris, have helped bring global warming to the political forefront.

“In visiting the U.S. Arctic, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that the United States is an Arctic nation with a stake in the region’s future,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of U.S. Arctic Programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This trip provides the President with the perfect opportunity to define his vision of how all nations should work in unison to manage and conserve our shared Arctic resources.”

The conference has drawn the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which both praise the conference’s potential for ambitious leadership but also criticise Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

“The President needs to align his energy policy with his climate policy and put an end to Shell’s drilling for unburnable oil in the Arctic,” Turnbull said.

Dan Ritzman, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stressed that the drilling decision “went against science, common sense, and the will of the people.” Many environmental groups pointed to the irresponsibility of drilling in the Arctic, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

A senior State Department official responded to this criticism on Aug. 28 by stating that many “citizens of Alaska, and in particular, Alaskan natives” desire more drilling in an effort to develop their communities.

However, indigenous activists rejected the official statement. Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska, said: “Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities. Obama needs to start listening to the peoples of the Arctic who oppose Arctic drilling.”

One of the aims of the GLACIER conference is to be a stepping stone towards COP21, the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Paris in December. COP21 hopes to usher in a binding, ambitious agreement on climate change.

Observers said that GLACIER may be an important moment on the road to Paris because it hopes to bring together a small subset of countries – including China, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and many European nations – which together account for the overwhelming majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some suggested that the conference could be a moment for these polluting countries to step up their carbon emission reduction commitments.

“On climate change, President Obama has been good, but not good enough,” according to marine biologist Richard Steiner. “The U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent in the next 15 years is about half of what is urgently needed.”

Steiner said: “It is like we are on a sinking boat, taking on two gallons of water a minute, and we are bailing 1 gallon a minute. We are still sinking. We urgently need a U.S. and global commitment at the Paris climate summit of at least 60 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Otherwise, we’re sunk.”

With these challenges ahead, the GLACIER summit has high expectations for international cooperation on climate change. Among the diversity of opinions, one clear message has rung out – the need to engage young people in Arctic climate change discussions

“A real priority should be engaging youth at all aspects of the climate problem – education, research, leadership and activism,” said Virginia. “It is vital that they are ‘at the table’ and that they help shape the questions to be addressed by policy-makers. After all, they have the most at stake.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

Will New Sri Lankan Government Prioritize Resettlement of War-Displaced?

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka’s war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

The new Sri Lankan government that was voted in on Aug. 17 certainly didn’t inherit as much baggage as its predecessors did during the nearly 30 years of conflict that gripped this South Asian island nation.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider. I am getting old […]. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.” — Siva Ariyarathnam, an IDP in northern Sri Lanka
But six years into ‘peacetime’, the second parliament of President Maithripala Sirisena will need to prioritize some of the most painful, unhealed wounds of war – among them, the fate of over 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have not been home in over two decades.

Though the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009, closing a 28-year-long chapter of violence, Siva Ariyarathnam is still waiting for a government official to tell him when he can go home.

Like tens of thousands of others, Ariyarathnam fled with his family when the military took over his land in the country’s Northern Province in the 1990s as part of a strategy to defeat the LTTE, who launched an armed campaign for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamil population in 1983.

The outgoing government says it plans to give the land back to 50,000 people, but has not indicated when that will happen, and Ariyarathnam says he is running out of time.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider,” Ariyarathnam told IPS. “I am getting old and I want to live under my own roof with my family. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.”

A decades-old problem

Ariyarathnam’s tale is heard too frequently in the former war-zone, a large swath of land in the country’s north comprising the Vanni region, the Jaffna Peninsula and parts of the Eastern Province, which the LTTE ran as a de facto state after riots in 1983 drove thousands of Tamils out of the Sinhala-majority south.

During the war years, displacement was the order of the day, with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government forcing massive population shifts that would shape ethnic- and communal-based electoral politics.

For ordinary people it meant that the notion of ‘home’ was a luxury that few could maintain.

The cost of the conflict that finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers by government armed forces was enormous.

By conservative accounts over 100,000 perished in the fighting, while a report by the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died during the last bouts of fighting between 2008 and 2009.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Sri Lanka’s post-war IDP returnees stood at an impressive 796,081 by the end of June.

But the same data also reveal that an additional 50,000 were still living with host families and in the Thellippali IDP Centre, unable to return to villages still under military occupation.

These militarized zones date back to the 1990s, when the army began appropriating civilian land as a means of thwarting the steadily advancing LTTE.

By 2009, the military had confiscated 11,629 acres of land in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna – located on the northern tip of the island, over 300 km from the capital, Colombo – in order to create the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ).

This was the area Ariyarathnam and his family, like thousands of others, had once called home.

New government, new policies?

Many hoped that the war’s end would see a return to their ancestral lands, but the war-victorious government, helmed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was slow to release civilian areas, prioritizing national security and continued deployment of troops in the North over resettlement of the displaced.

A new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister who took power in a surprise January election, promised to accelerate land release, and turned over a 1,000-acre area from the Palaly HSZ in April.

But top officials tell IPS that genuine government efforts are stymied by the lack of public land onto which to move military camps in order to make way for returning civilians.

“The return of the IDPs is our number one priority,” Ranjini Nadarajapillai, the outgoing secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement, explained to IPS. “There is no timetable right now, everything depends on how the remaining high security zones are removed.”

The slow pace of land reform has kept IDPs mired in poverty, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an arm of the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The main reasons why there are higher poverty levels among IDPs include the lack of access to land during displacement to carry out livelihood activities, [and] the lack of compensation for lost or destroyed land and property during the war, which was acquired by the military or government as security or economic zones,” Marita Swain, an analyst with IDMC, told IPS.

An IDMC report released in July put the number of IDPs at 73,700, far higher than the government statistic. Most of them are living with host families, while 4,700 are housed in a long-term welfare center in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The lingering effects of the policies of the previous administration led by Rajapaksa, which prioritized infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population, has compounded the IDPs’ plight, according to the IDMC.

Despite the Sirisena government taking office in January, it has been hamstrung over issues like resettlement for the past eight months as it prepared to face parliamentary elections that pitted Rajapaksa-era policies against those of the new president.

Nadarajapillai of the Ministry of Resettlement said the new government is taking a different approach and reaching out to international agencies and donors to resolve the issue.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the government devise a plan to resolve the IDP crisis, added Dushanthi Fernando, a UNHCR official in Colombo.

Still, these promises mean little to people like Ariyarathnam, whose displacement is now entering its third decade with no firm signs of ending anytime soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Europe Squabbles While Refugees Die

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care.” — Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

OECD Urges Further Reforms for an Inclusive South Africa

By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Aug 29 2015 (IPS)

While lauding South Africa for impressive social progress over the past two decades, a new study has asked the country to build on the successes achieved and reduce inequality further.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of South Africa by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says: “South Africa has made impressive social progress over the past two decades, lifting millions of people out of poverty and broadening access to essential services like water, electricity and sanitation. Now is the time to build on these successes to reduce inequality further, create badly needed jobs and ensure stronger, sustainable and more inclusive growth for all.”

The survey, released in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, notes that prudent macroeconomic policies have secured the confidence of financial markets.

However, economic growth has been too slow and further measures are needed to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks, strengthen the business environment, improve labour markets and ensure future spending needs can be financed.

“The National Development Plan sets the direction for reforms needed for a strong and inclusive country. Our survey provides targeted recommendations to reach these objectives,” said Gurría.

“Millions of young South Africans are eager to work, and their potential must not be wasted. Their future is precious enough to justify tough reforms and hard spending choices,” he added.

According to the survey, improving infrastructure will be essential for boosting future growth and living standards while, given the large needs, prioritisation and cost effectiveness will be crucial.

The OECD noted out that the most immediate priority is to secure additional electricity generation capacity by opening the market to independent producers. Opening electricity and transport will require strong and independent regulators to protect households and firms.

The organisation pointed out that improving the regulatory environment would promote entrepreneurship and growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which offer the greatest potential for creating jobs and future growth. Reducing barriers to entry, cutting red tape and promoting competition, will be essential.

According to the survey, labour market reforms can raise employment and incomes. Establishing a public employment service as a one-stop shop for job seekers would make it easier for people to find jobs, and for employers to find the right workers.

Costly industrial actions have held back the economy without delivering major gains to workers. The OECD suggests an increased role for mediation and arbitration in order to reduce conflict and provide better outcomes for workers and employers.

The survey pleads for “a high degree of public sector efficiency, prioritisation of spending and a strong revenue base” with a view to meeting public spending needs for infrastructure and the social safety net.

It argues that the South African tax system “is well designed and well administered, but there is scope to broaden key tax bases by reducing deductions, credits and exemptions.  Such tax reform would solidify public finances and make the tax system fairer.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

Latin America Lagging in ICT Sustainable Development Goal

Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

Map of broadband speed in Latin America in late 2014, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ECLAC

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will include targets for information and communication technologies, such as strengthening the Internet. And Latin America will be behind from the start in aspects that are key to increasing its educational and medical uses, bolster security and expand bandwidth.

That lag is especially visible in the construction of Internet exchange points (IXPs) and the upgrade of the Internet protocol from IP version 4 (IPv4) to IP version 6 (IPv6).

In the first case, the construction of neutral IXPs allows faster handling of greater data flows, because they circulate in the national territory without the need for access outside the country. This reduces costs and improves the quality of service.

And IPv6 provides virtually infinite address space, better security, mobile computing, better quality service, and an improved design for real-time multimedia traffic. That represents enormous potential for social applications in areas like health and education.

But Lacier Dias, a professor with the Brazilian consultancy VLSM, said the advances made in his country have fallen short.

“Investment and infrastructure are lacking,” he told IPS. “It’s a challenge to expand it to the entire country, because of the size of the territory and the distance. Another challenge is offering broadband to all users.”

In the region, Brazil has the highest number of IXPs: 31, according to the 2014 study “Expansion of regional infrastructure for the interconnection of Internet traffic in Latin America”, drawn up by the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF), a regional development bank.

The progress made in Brazil is due to a public policy that foments this infrastructure, combined with an effective multisectoral agency, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI), which administers the country’s network with the participation of the government, companies, academia and civil society.

In 2004, the CGI launched the “traffic exchange points” initiative to open more IXPs to connect universities and telecommunications and internet service providers.

The 31 IXPs cover at least 16 of Brazil’s 26 states, with a peak period aggregate traffic of 250 GB. An additional 16 potential IXP points have been identified, while at least 47 are under evaluation.

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

Growth of Internet users in Latin America, country by country, between 2006 and 2013. Credit: ECLAC

In Argentina, the first IXP was opened in 1998 and 11 now operate in five provinces. They connect more than 80 network operators through a hub in Buenos Aires. Total traffic is over eight GB per second.

The hub is managed by the Argentine Chamber of Databases and Online Services, which represents Internet, telephony and online content providers.

Mexico opened its only IXP in 2014, administered by the Consortium for Internet Traffic Exchange, made up of the University Corporation for Internet Development and Internet service providers.

The users of these sites include Internet providers, educational systems and state governments.

The 17 SDGs will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with 169 specific targets to be reached by 2030.

The ninth SDG is “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation”.

And target 9c is “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

In Latin America, unlike in Europe, regional IXPs do not yet operate to aggregate traffic between countries.

According to the “State of broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean 2015″ report launched in July by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), nearly half of the region’s population uses Internet.

Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, in that order, are the countries with the highest proportion of Internet users, while Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have the lowest, in a region marked by an enormous gap in access between rural and urban areas.

With respect to broadband, or high-speed Internet access according to U.S. Federal Communications Commission standards, the ECLAC study indicates that Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Mexico report the largest number of connections over 10 MB per second, while Peru, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Bolivia have the smallest number.

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected  In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Broadband speed in fixed and mobile connections in several countries of Latin America, compared to selected In the industrialised North. Credit: ECLAC

Meanwhile, the highest level of consumption of mobile broadband devices is found in Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, and the lowest in Paraguay, Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua.

“The region must become more interconnected, and in order for that to happen, regional traffic and IXPs must be fomented,” David Ocampos, Paraguay’s national secretary of Information and Communication Technologies, told IPS. “There is a lot to be done in terms of traffic exchange. There are no hubs. Infrastructure has to be built, with regional rings.”

Paraguay is now opening its first IXP.

Only 30 percent of the content consumed in Latin America is produced in one of the countries in the region, which can be attributed to the availability of broadband and to infrastructure like IXPs and IPv6, according to the study “The ecosystem and digital economy in Latin America” by the Telecommunications Studies Center of Latin America (CET.LA).

Of the 100 most popular sites in Latin America, only 26 were created in the region, although consumption of cyber traffic per user rose 62 percent in the last few years, higher than the global increase.

In the countries of Latin America, 150 billion dollars have been invested in telecoms in the past seven years, but another 400 billion are needed over the next seven years to close the digital gap.

CAF proposes the construction of three inter-regional IXPs, in Brazil, Panama and Peru, as well as three kinds of national connections in the rest of the region, to be included in the inter-regional ones.

With respect to IPv6, which was launched globally in 2012, Latin America and the Caribbean are slowly moving towards that standard.

In June 2014 the region officially ran out of the IPv4 address space it had been assigned.

Last year, Brazil had nearly 54 percent of the assigned regional space; Mexico 10 percent; Argentina 10 percent; Chile nearly six percent; and Colombia nearly four percent, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC).

In the IPv6 protocol, Brazil leads the list, with 70 percent, followed by Argentina with nine percent; Colombia three percent; Chile 2.5 percent; and Mexico 2.3 percent.

“With IPv6 all Internet users can be covered, with third generation mobile networks. As of this year, Brazil is only buying technological equipment that supports IPv6,” said Dias of Brazil.

“Everyone is looking to IPv6; it’s the natural Internet upgrade. With more IXPs comes the step to IPv6. Broadband drives adoption of IPv6 and allows an increase in users,” said Campos of Paraguay.

ECLAC indicates that in 2013, fixed broadband penetration stood at nine percent in the region, and mobile at 30 percent. In 16 of the 18 countries studied there is more mobile broadband penetration than fixed.

The Union of South American Nations, which brings together 12 countries, is building a ring of more than 10,000 km of fiber optic to link the members of the bloc.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Disarmament Conference Ends with Ambitious Goal – But How to Get There?

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

By Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

A three-day landmark U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues has ended here – one day ahead of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests – stressing the need for ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons, but without a consensus on how to move towards that goal.

The Aug. 26-28 conference, organised by the Bangkok-based United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan and the city and Prefecture of Hiroshima, was attended by more than 80 government officials and experts, also from beyond the region.

It was the twenty-fifth annual meeting of its kind held in Japan, which acquired a particular importance against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the United Nations.“In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons” – Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Summing up the deliberations, UNRCPD Director Yuriy Kryvonos said the discussions on “the opportunities and challenges in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” had been “candid and dynamic”.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from Apr. 27 to May 22 at the U.N. headquarters drew the focus in presentations and panel discussions.

Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, who presided over the NPT Review Conference, explained at length why the gathering had failed to agree on a universally acceptable draft final text, despite a far-reaching consensus on a wide range of crucial issues: refusal of the United States, Britain and Canada to accept the proposal for convening a conference by Mar. 1, 2016, for a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

Addressing the issue, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida joined several government officials and experts in expressing his regrets that the draft final document was not adopted due to the issue of WMDs.

Kishida noted that the failure to establish a new Action Plan at the Review Conference had led to a debate over the viability of the NPT. “However,” he added, “I would like to make one thing crystal clear. The NPT regime has played an extremely important role for peace and stability in the international community; a role that remains unchanged even today.”

The Hiroshima conference not only discussed divergent views on measures to preserve the effective implementation of the NPT, but also the role of the yet-to-be finalised Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in achieving the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic weapons, and the significance of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament.

Speakers attached particular attention to the increasing role of local municipalities, civil society and nuclear disarmament education, including testimonies from ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings mostly in their 80s and above) in consolidating common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear weapons for people from all countries around the world regardless whether or not their governments possess nuclear weapons.

UNRCPD Director Kryvonos said the Hiroshima conference had given “a good start for searching new fresh ideas on how we should move towards our goal – protecting our planet from a risk of using nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, the city’s Mayor Karzumi Matsui – son of a ‘hibakusha’ father and president of the Mayors for Peace organisation comprising 6,779 cities in 161 countries and regions – as well as his counterpart from Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, pleaded for strengthening a concerted campaign for a nuclear free world. Taue is also the president of the National Council of Japan’s Nuclear-Free Local Authorities.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki city leaders welcomed suggestions for a nuclear disarmament summit next year in Hiroshima, which they said would lend added thrust to awareness raising for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Though foreign ministry officials refused to identify themselves publicly with the proposal, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, emphasised the need for nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states to “work together in steadily advancing practical and concrete measures in order to make real progress in nuclear disarmament.”

Kishida said that Japan will submit a “new draft resolution on the total elimination of nuclear weapons” to the forthcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Such a resolution, he said, was “appropriate to the 70th year since the atomic bombings and could serve as guidelines for the international community for the next five years, on the basis of the Review Conference”.

The next NPT Review Conference is expected to be held in 2020.

Mayors for Peace has launched a 2020 Vision Campaign as the main vehicle for advancing their agenda – a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020.

The campaign was initiated on a provisional basis by the Executive Cities of Mayors for Peace at their meeting in Manchester, Britain, in October 2003. It was launched under the name ‘Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons’ in November of that year at the 2nd Citizens Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki, Japan.

In August 2005, the World Conference endorsed continuation of the campaign under the title of the ‘2020 Vision Campaign’.

Foreign Minister Kishida expressed the views of the inhabitants of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he pointed out in a message to the UNRCPD conference: “… the reality of atomic bombings is far from being sufficiently understood worldwide.”

He added: “In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

Call for Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons Testing

A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Katsuhiro Asagiri and Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

As the international community gears up to commemorate the 20th anniversary next year of the opening up of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) for signature, a group of eminent persons (GEM) has launched a concerted campaign for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon testing.

GEM, which was set up by Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the September 2013 Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) at the United Nations headquarters in New York, met on Aug. 24-25 in Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, which was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during the Second World War in 1945.

“Multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century” – CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only two cities in the world which have suffered the devastating and brutal atomic bombs that brought profound suffering to innocent children, women and men, the tales of which continue to be told by the ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings).

“There is nowhere other than this region where the urgency of achieving the Treaty’s entry into force is more evident, and there is no group better equipped with the experience and expertise to help further this cause than the Group of Eminent Persons,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo told participants.

The GEM is a high-level group comprising eminent personalities and internationally recognised experts whose aim is to promote the global ban on nuclear weapons testing, support and complement efforts to promote the entry into force of the Treaty, as well as reinvigorate international endeavours to achieve this goal.

The two-day meeting was hosted by the government of Japan and the city of Hiroshima, where CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo participated in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing early August.

On the eve of the meeting, Zerbo joined former United States Secretary of Defence and GEM Member William Perry and Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki as a panellist in a public lecture on nuclear disarmament which was attended by around 100 persons, including many students.

In an opening statement, Zerbo urged global leaders to use the momentum created by the recently reached agreement between the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran to inject a much needed dose of hope and positivity in the current discussions on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

“What the Iran deal teaches us is that multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century. [It] also teaches us that the measure of worth in any security agreement or arms control treaty is in the credibility of its verification provisions. As with the Iran deal, the utility of the CTBT must be judged on the effectiveness of its verification and enforcement mechanisms. In this area, there can be no question,” Zerbo said.

Also speaking at the opening session, Perry expressed his firm belief that ratification of the CTBT served U.S. national interests, not only at the international level but also at the strictly domestic level for national security measures. He considered that the current geopolitical climate constituted a risk for the prospects of entry into force and reiterated the importance of maintaining the moratoria on nuclear testing.

Participating GEM members included Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Japan; Des Browne, former Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom; Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; Sérgio Duarte, former U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Brazil; Michel Duclos, Senior Counsellor to the Policy Planning Department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wolfgang Hoffmann, former Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Germany; Ho-Jin Lee, Ambassador, Republic of Korea; and William Perry, former Secretary of Defence, United States.

István Mikola, Minister of State, Hungary; Yusron Ihza Mahendra, Ambassador of Indonesia to Japan; Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative, Ambassador of Japan to the International Organisations in Vienna; and Yerzhan N. Ashikbayev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan, participated as ex-officio members.

The GEM took stock of the Plan of Action agreed in its meetings in New York (Sep. 2013), Stockholm (Apr. 2014) and Seoul (Jun. 2015). The Group considered the current international climate and determined that, with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, there was an urgency to unite the international community in support of preventing the proliferation and further development of nuclear weapons with the aim of their total elimination.

Participants in the meeting discussed a wide range of relevant issues and debated practical measures that could be undertaken to further advance the entry into force of the Treaty, especially in the run-up to the Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the CTBT, which will take place at the end of September in New York, with Japan and Kazakhstan as co-chairs.

One hundred and eighty-three countries have signed the Treaty, of which 163 have also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon states: France, Russia and the United Kingdom. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

The GEM adopted the Hiroshima Declaration, which reaffirmed the group’s commitment to achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons and, in particular, to the entry into force of the CTBT as “one of the most essential practical measures for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation”, and, among others, called for “a multilateral approach to engage the leadership of the remaining . . . eight States with the aim of facilitating their respective ratification processes.”

The GEM called on “political leaders, governments, civil society and the international scientific community to raise awareness of the essential role of the CTBT in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and in the prevention of the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons for humankind.”

Edited by Phil Harris