Men Start to Make Women’s Struggles Their Own in Argentina

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The meeting was about gender equality, but for once there were more men than women. It marked a watershed in the struggle in Argentina to make the commitment to equality more than just “a women’s thing.”

The Buenos Aires meeting was organised by the Men for Equality (HxI) network, which emerged a year ago to “generate a space to incorporate all men who promote gender equality and the prevention of violence against women, and achieve the commitment to carry out actions to that end in their areas of influence and/or workplaces.”

Behind the initiative are the United Nations in Argentina and the government’s National Women’s Council, along with two private organisations: the Avon Foundation and the local branch of the French multinational retailer Carrefour.

The president of the National Women’s Council, Mariana Gras, was surprised that women were in the minority at the meeting.“There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.” — René Mauricio Valdés

“The meetings are always made up of women,” she said in an interview with IPS. “When we talk to different authorities or leaders and say we’re planning a meeting on gender equality, they say: ‘I’ll send the girls’. Men feel uncomfortable, they make jokes, and prefer not to go to these meetings.”

The U.N. resident coordinator in Argentina, René Mauricio Valdés, told IPS: “This has been gaining momentum among a group of us men who often ran into each other at events of this kind, where we shared specific concerns. Almost all the events that we organised on women’s rights were attended virtually by women only.”

Representatives of the government, the judicial system, the business community, academia and social movements took part in the Sep. 22 meeting.

Several participants signed the “commitment to equality” – one of the HxI network’s initiatives.[

The document, whose signatories include Labour Minister Carlos Tomada, states: “I commit to making a daily personal evaluation of my behavior and attitudes, to avoid reproducing the prejudices and stereotypes that sustain systematic discrimination towards women and keep them from enjoying their rights in equal conditions with men.”

Gras said sexist and ‘machista’ stereotypes also affect men in this South American country of 43 million people.

“’Machismo’ is something we all experience in this society, because it forms part of our cultural norms, and marks us all. And it also works the other way: if a man goes to the police station to report that a woman beat him, they tell him ‘don’t be a fag, go and take care of it yourself’,” she told the audience at the meeting.

Valdés said, “There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.”

The challenge is for this commitment to come from a group of influential leaders and intellectuals, and to be reflected in all provinces, in urban and rural areas, in every neighbourhood.

“We aren’t inviting ‘pure’ men to join in; we want everyone to join and to assume a personal commitment so that in the very first place in our own lives we won’t tolerate or permit these things in the places where we live, study, go to church, have fun,” Valdés explained.

This is the aim of organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign in Argentina, which has been organising mixed workshops for young men and women in football clubs in the central province of Córdoba.

Hugo Huberman, the national coordinator of the Campaign, told IPS, “We are working with football club youth teams about how the process of male socialisation and sports, especially football, generates masculine stereotypes normally linked to violence, not respecting others, and other things.”

The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men working to end male violence against women. It emerged in Canada in 1991.

But machismo also manifests itself in simple day-to-day things like visiting the doctor.

“We’re working on men’s health, to carry out small campaigns to get men to go to the doctor more often,” said the activist. “We don’t go to the doctor because of an identity thing: guys who visit the doctor are weak and vulnerable; we don’t follow treatment plans, we don’t watch our diet.”

Carrefour, the French corporation, is also making an effort in its chain of supermarkets in Argentina. For example, it allows men as well as women to take time off for their child’s birthday or to attend important meetings at school.

The company also tries to schedule work meetings in the mornings, or by 4:00 PM at the latest, so employees won’t get home late.

The company’s director of corporate affairs, Leonardo Scarone, told IPS, “It’s true that society today still sees men as breadwinners and that women assume – in quotes – the role of taking care of the family, running the home, etc. If you don’t give men the opportunity to do these things, at the same time you’re taking away the possibility for women to work and develop their career.”

To promote women’s professional development, the company also established the rule that there must be at least one woman on each list of candidates for managerial positions, and the company’s career committees have been instructed to make an effort to promote women.

“At a managerial level we have 20 percent women; the hard thing was breaking through that famous glass ceiling, so women could reach the position of senior managers,” Scarone said.

Today, three years after its diversity programme began to be implemented, the company has six women senior managers – around 15 percent of the total, up from zero.

Gras said, “To combat gender violence, everyone is needed, because if one part of society is affected and we think the solution only lies in those who suffer the problem, first of all what we have is a society absolutely lacking in solidarity, and second, we´re not understanding the effects that ‘the other’ has in our society. We are all actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Learning from Korea’s ‘Saemaul Undong’ to Achieve SDGs

By Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

More than 3.3 billion people live in rural areas around the world. Rural development is therefore of vital significance if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” – is to become reality.

cq5dam.web.220.124A day after world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Sep. 25 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Development Centre of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) co-hosted a landmark event to discuss ways for reaching SDGs across developing countries.

The focus was on the New Rural Development Paradigm and the Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities Model, which is inspired by the successful Saemaul Undong in Korea.

Addressing the gathering, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who was the foreign minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006, said: “Leaders have pledged to create a life of dignity for all people. We have promised to leave no one behind, including families in rural areas. There will be no progress on global movement without local development.”

Ban welcomed the Korean model to the U.N. and hoped that its principles could inspire other developing countries. “The Korean countryside went from poverty to prosperity,” said Ban, adding that the Saemaul Undong shares the ultimate targets of the SDGs. Based on the key principles of education, diligence, self-help and mutual cooperation, Saemaul Undong can be the new rural development paradigm for the sustainable prosperity of the world, said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Taking part in the event was also Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, who explained how Korea is now cooperating with the UNDP and OECD to tailor the New Village Movement model in accordance with the specific conditions in other countries.

“Saemaul Undong,” said President Park, “uplifted Korea and has transformed our society. We were among the poorest countries in the world […] Now we are among the top 50 economies globally, and we are in the top ranks of major international aid donors.”

Although most attribute South Korea’s history of development to the country’s booming industry, the Permanent Representative of the Mission of South Korea to the U.N., Ambassador Choonghee Hahn, believes that Saemaul Undong was the critical factor which led to success in the 1970’s, and it is an inspiration for future environmentally sustainable development in today’s era of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

“This movement is needed in order for every person to change their vision from hopeless to hopeful, and from poverty to prosperity,” Hahn told IPS in an interview. “Korea would like to share this development experience with every country in the world.”

Hahn told IPS that the prominent aspects setting Saemaul Undong apart from mainstream development strategies, have been or are in the process of being incorporated into development projects in 30 countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They include strategies such as promoting a can-do spirit, an enlightening perception of gender equality, and human rights.

Park Chung-hee, the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye, initiated the Saemaul Undong movement in 1970 by giving cement and steel to each village, ranking each village according to how well the villagers put the resources to use. The state then gave the top ranking villages more resources, thus creating an incentive as well as a sense of unity to work hard together in order to compete with neighbouring villages.

Consequently, the programme encouraged a sense of unity and belief in citizens that they can be a part of making their community and their country a better place to live. Motivational tools such as flags, songs, and spiritual testimonials raised people’s enthusiasm.

“This is why music is a big part of the development process,” Hahn said. The two most popular songs sung by communities were composed by President Hee. The song “Jal Sala Boseh” sent a message of being rich and prosperous, and “Saebyuck Jong-i Ulryutneh” said “a new day is beginning, let’s get together to build a new village”, Hahn recalled.

A strong belief in self-reliance, through local agencies, the idea of making the country less dependent on foreign aid, and eventually less dependent on government, were key growth strategies, according to Hahn. They also led to more sustainable projects, which by the early 1980’s, were funded more by community resources and financing instead of the government budget.

The Korean government policy led to the building of Saemaul training centres which linked the central government to local officials and residents implementing projects, which include leadership training for women at provincial and central training institutes. From each village, there would be 12 elected delegates and the government made it mandatory for at least one woman delegate to be included among the 12, leading to empowerment of women.

Can the Saemaul Undong experience be replicated successfully somewhere else? Yes, says Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre.

92 percent of the global rural population of 3.3 billion lives in developing countries, and it is projected to grow further till 2028. Therefore, using “rural lenses” is indispensable for the implementation and success of the SDGs, Pezzini said in an interview with IPS.

The majority of the poor are concentrated in rural areas, struggling with rising inequalities, and constraint by the inability of urban areas to absorb them.

Because these people face environmental, social and economic instability, they cannot be left behind. “We need to keep in mind that rural development is not synonymous of agriculture nor with decline,” explained Pezzini.

Agriculture represents a crucial part of rural economies. Any increase in agricultural productivity will produce further rural population redundancy, which is not necessarily employed by agriculture, added the OECD Development Centre’s director from Italy.

When discussing rural development, it is important to refer to an economy that is local, which includes agriculture, but it also goes far beyond including non-farming jobs as well, he insisted. Therefore, rural development will not necessarily coincide with agricultural development, nor will it necessarily coincide only with industrial development.

This, in turn, will bring a revolutionary approach to policy-making.

What the new rural paradigm, based on the Saemaul Undong movement, should imply is a new “type of local and regional development, a multi-sectoral, multi-agent and multi-dimensional development, which needs to take into account different activities,” said Pezzini.

New government agendas should concentrate on diverse assets of rural areas, which require different types of designed interventions. When central governments act on general schemes, putting input policies and without taking local population and local knowledge into account, very often they fail, he added.

“One actor cannot make it happen alone. But if the public sector wants to be effective it needs to involve the private sector, unions and citizens. The crucial point here is how to valorise assets that have not yet been used,” declared Pezzini.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

Iran’s commitments under the Nuclear Treaty are just short of total surrender

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 25 2015 (IPS)

Speaking about the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached between Iran, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States­ plus Germany) and the European Union, Joseph Cirincione, a leading nuclear expert and president of Ploughshares Fund, said:

“We have just achieved what may be the biggest diplomatic triumph in a generation. We have reached an agreement that not only stops Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, but it prevents a new war in the Middle East. It has profound implications for the security of America, for the security of Israel, for the security of the world. It sets a new gold standard for nuclear agreements. Every state that wants even a token enrichment capability now will have to agree to the same intrusive verification measures Iran has just agreed to…”

Contrary to the extensive propaganda about it being good for Iran and bad for the United States, the deal – also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – has achieved something that no one thought was possible. Speaking at the American University shortly after the agreement was signed, President Barack Obama said:

“After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”

After 13 years of intensive talks and a fast-developing nuclear enrichment program, Iran has agreed to the most intrusive, restrictive and comprehensive set of demands to which any member state of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has ever been subjected. In reality, as some Iranian commentators have argued, Iran has relinquished most of her rights as an NPT member, short of total surrender.

In order to understand the magnitude of what Iran has given up and what she is required to do in return for the lifting of the sanctions, one has to look at some of the main provisions of the JCPOA. All the following actions must be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as complete before the implementation day, which comes 90 days after the unanimous approval on 20 July of the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 endorsing the JCPOA, assuming that Iran provides the IAEA with the required information.

The Security Council requested that the IAEA undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s compliance, and it reaffirmed that Iran should cooperate fully with the agency to resolve all outstanding issues. Upon receipt of a positive report from the IAEA, the Council would terminate the sanctions set out in resolutions adopted between 2006 and 2015.

Iran must disassemble, remove and store under IAEA seal more than 13,000 excess centrifuges, including excess advanced centrifuge machines.

Out of more than 15,651.4 kg of uranium enriched to 3.6[DSJ1] , and 337.2 kg to 20 percent, Iran must reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to no more than 300 kg.

Iran had built its Fordow uranium enrichment facility deep in the mountains in order to have a more secure site for enrichment in case Israel or America bombed its main facility at Natanz. However, according to the agreement, Iran must convert the Fordow site to a research & development facility with no fissile material.

Iran had built a heavy water plant in Arak to have a different route to nuclear fuel, but she must remove and disable the core of the Arak heavy-water reactor.

Although Iran had not officially signed the Additional Protocol, an expanded set of requirements for information and access adopted in 1997 to assist the IAEA in its verification work, she must allow and make the necessary arrangements for additional IAEA access and monitoring in keeping with its requirements.

Key restrictions that will last significantly more than a decade include:

Iran may retain no more than 5,060 of the 19,000 centrifuges that Iran had installed.

She is not allowed to install more advanced centrifuges than she has already developed, and is allowed to carry out only limited research & development on advanced centrifuges for the next 15 years.

She is allowed only limited development of advanced centrifuges so that enrichment capacity remains the same.

Testing of centrifuges with uranium may carried out only at Natanz.

IAEA access to the site must be provided within 24 hours.

No new heavy-water reactors, no reprocessing or R & D allowed.

Iran makes a commitment not to process spent fuel.

There will be continuous surveillance of centrifuge production areas.

There will even be continuous surveillance of uranium mines and mills. Thus, the IAEA will have access to all Iranian activities from the mining of uranium to the construction of mills and centrifuges.

Even after all those initial restrictions, the NPT will remain in force banning the pursuit of nuclear weapons. This restriction has no time limit and will remain in force for as long as Iran remains a member of the NPT. Leaving the NPT would of course constitute a grave violation of the rules, and strong action would be taken against Iran.

In order to sabotage the talks, some critics of the nuclear deal, supported by fabricated documents, had raised the issue of Iran’s alleged military experimentations (the so-called previous military dimension, or PMD). Nevertheless, Iran must provide the IAEA with all the information necessary to complete its PMD investigation by October 15.

Another excuse that the opponents of the deal have used to undermine it was the issue of “the breakout period.” There is no provision in the NPT for any such limitation. The member states will be able to have any amount of enrichment to any level of purity, so long as they do not manufacture a nuclear weapon. However, an exception is made in the case of Iran regarding how long it would take her to have enough enriched uranium sufficient for a single bomb.

This is despite the fact that Iran does not possess any reprocessing facilities and that even if she enriches uranium to the more than 90 percent purity needed for a bomb, she still has to weaponise[DSJ2] it, test it and find the necessary means of delivery, none of which Iran possesses at the moment and which would be easily detected by the IAEA. Nevertheless, the agreement has required that Iran should have a breakout period of at least one year.

In addition to all the nuclear-related restrictions, the Security Council still prohibits Iran from importing or exporting weapons for five years and missile parts for eight years. In other words, the fuss was not only about Iran’s nuclear program, but her military capabilities as well.

As the result of this agreement, the P5+1 have re-written the rules and have gone completely beyond the requirements of the NPT and even the Additional Protocol. Nevertheless, all Republican and some Democratic senators in the U.S. still oppose it and are trying to legislate amendments that would undermine its implementation, despite the fact that this international agreement has been endorsed by more than 100 U.S. former ambassadors, 60 former top national leaders, 75 nuclear non-proliferation experts and another 29 top U.S. nuclear scientists, as well as by all the other five leading countries of the world.

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

Brazil and Germany Take Lead in Tackling Climate Change

By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

Brazil and Germany, the two largest national economies within their respective continents, are taking the lead in tackling climate change through outstanding policies and bilateral relations, according to experts.

In a joint statement on Aug. 20 in Brasilia, during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit, the two countries vowed to work together for a successful outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference later this year.

The statement said: “Mindful of the positive impacts of a strong Brazil-Germany cooperation on climate change for the two countries’ bilateral relations and for the multilateral regime under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), President Rousseff and Federal Chancellor Merkel decided to strengthen the bilateral partnership on climate change, by working together towards a successful outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference later this year and by expanding bilateral cooperation on areas of common interest.”

Such an agreement is part of a new model of international cooperation that is emerging, according to experts.

“International cooperation on climate change needs to occur at many levels; on the multi-lateral level we need a new international agreement under the UNFCCC; smaller groups of countries can come together that wish to go further faster than the UNFCCC allows and bi-lateral relations can build upon the strengths of individual countries and focus in efforts where they have particular interests,” Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told IPS.

Brazil and Germany “both […] very much value their forests and both have vast potential for renewable energy,” Morgan said.

In the Brazilian-German joint statement, the two countries discuss the details of their cooperation in areas of common interest, including environment, trade and investment in the Latin American country. The focus is clearly on combating climate change, especially by way of reforestation in Brazilian’s Amazon rain forest, climate finance and exchange of knowledge and technologies.

While experts underline that bilateral climate talks are a step in the right direction, they express criticism in respect of the scope of climate efforts.

“It would have […] been helpful to have more details from Brazil on its national climate plan, but it will likely announce that later. Having a mixture of negotiation issues and national implementation is helpful,” Morgan said.

“A lot of the content is positive, but we would call it rather timid,” Mark Lutes, Global Climate Policy Advisor at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Brazil, told IPS.

“It falls short of what is required and it falls short of what the potentials of the two countries are to contribute to the problem, to contribute to the solution. We would have liked to see Brazil announce their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions).”

One of the main commitments of the 22 point joint statement is maintaining the global average temperature below 2.0 °C (35.6 °F) above preindustrial levels.

Brazil and Germany have vast potential for renewable energy and have already made great progress in that field. They use different approaches, while both are quite successful.

By 2030, Brazil wants to restore and reforest 12 million hectares of forest land and reduce deforestation to zero. So far, the country has reduced deforestation in the Amazon biome by 82 percent since 2004, more than any other country.

According to a study conducted by the Californian Earth Innovation Institute, in 2014, the Latin American country achieved remarkable success through public policies, monitoring systems and beef and soy supply chain interventions.

“Brazil has already made excellent progress by dramatically slowing deforestation and protecting land in the Amazon region. Brazil’s commitment to restore 12 million hectares of forests by 2030 will also help reduce emissions and generate economic opportunities,” Nigel Sizer, Global Director Forest Program of the WRI, said in a statement.

Germany has also taken important steps against global warming. The term ‘Energiewende’ describes Germany’s goal to achieve an energy transition from the use of coal and other non-renewable sources to renewable sources only. By 2025, 40 percent to 45 percent of Germany’s energy should come from renewable source.

The current share of renewable sources in Germany’s electricity mix is 27 percent, whereas the country aims at gaining at least 80 percent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2050.

Brazil and Germany are both keen to make COP21 a success. For instance, Germany’s ambitions to reduce emissions are higher than those of the European Union.

“Until now, Brazil is one of the first large developing countries that supports a target like a de-carbonization target or zero emissions […] and we hope this will be precedent for other larger countries to get behind that and have an ambitious long-term target, that can be included in the Paris agreement,” WWF’s Lutes told IPS.

“We hope that as more countries get on board, they can be more ambitious and talk about decarbonizing or zero emissions or 100 percent renewables […], targets like that, that are all necessary, but they’re necessary by around mid-century, not the end of the century,” Lutes pointed out.

“Now is when true leadership is needed from the highest levels,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement at the Opening of the General Assembly High-Level Event on Climate Change on Jun. 29.

“I pledge to you that I will spare no effort to ensure that the world leaders who are responsible for an ambitious agreement in Paris – and the financing needed to implement it – are directly engaged.” (END)

Shakira Urges World Leaders to Invest in Early Childhood Education

By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

“Investing in ECD boosts economic growth, it offsets inequality and it helps eliminate crime and violence,” UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and world famous singer Shakira said at a press conference Tuesday.

“It is, without a doubt, the most effective way to guarantee a more stable world, peaceful world and a more prosperous world. But we need more commitment and that’s why we’re here this week.”

ECD (early childhood development) is based on four pillars: safety and protection, health and nutrition, early childhood education and stimulation and care.

Shakira eagerly supports UNICEF’s ECD program because she knows about the importance of the first five years in the life of a child. She has been working on education programs since she was 18 years old and was stunned when she first learned about ECD and the effect it has on producing responsible adults. Therefore, she shifted her focus from working with children who are already in school to children under the age of five.

“If the child does not get proper nutrition, then the brain will not develop properly,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake told journalists.

Scientific findings show that brain development is most intense during the first five years when almost 1,000 neural cells connect every second.

“When a child is subjected to violence or abuse, whether in the family or from living in conflict situations, … the brain does not develop as well as it could have,” Lake said.

According to UNICEF, almost 160 million children or one-fourth of all children in the world under the age of five are cognitively and physically stunted due to malnutrition, lack of education, unstable conditions in their countries or domestic violence.

“It doesn’t cost very much for families to give children the stimulation they need so their brains will develop and the return on those investments are huge,” Lake said.

“We know that toxic stress literally creates a weak foundation,” Harvard scientist Dr. Jack Shonkoff told journalists. “It means that we have to work harder, we have to spend more money, it’s more complicated.”

To support her good cause Shakira even sang two lines of the famous John Lennon song Imagine to the journalists.

“It’s a matter of putting children at the centre of the social, economic and political debate,” Shakira said. “Children’s basic needs […] need to become a priority over any other human investment.”

Speaking on the migrant crisis, Lake said “A generation from now, those same hatreds and that same conflict can be with us unless we do more to intervene in the lives of those children, including the very youngest for the sake of their future and for the sake of Syria.” (End)

Report Accuses Sudan’s ‘Merciless Men’ Going on a Rampage in Darfur

Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 2015 (IPS)

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a Sudanese government force formed in mid-2013 and aimed at fighting rebel factions across Sudan, has allegedly not only committed war crimes, but serious crimes against humanity in Darfur.

A comprehensive report on the true magnitude of RSF attacks can hardly be provided, due to the inaccessibility of the region and lack of reliable data. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has managed to interview 212 eyewitnesses who were either victims of RSF attacks or could otherwise testify the brutality of this government force.

“When an attack happens I call the people I know in that area and see if they can help locate people who were displaced by that attack and then try to get a phone to them or, how we got most of the people, was going and talking to the people in refugee camps,” Jonathan Loeb, Fellow at the Africa Division of HRW, told IPS.

In ‘Men With No Mercy’, HRW provides evidence that RSF attacks against civilians carried out between May 2014 and July 2015 were widespread and systematic, resulting in forced displacements, torture, extra-juridical killings, mass rapes and destruction of infrastructure crimes of universal jurisdiction, for which all states are responsible.

A mother from Bardani describes how she was raped by RSF soldiers: “They separated out the girls. When they finished raping the girls they raped all of us. [Each of us was raped] by two people. About 100 of us were raped. My daughters are 18, 12 and 8. They beat all the men.”

“Everything was destroyed. There were just bodies and burned houses left. We, the women, we started burying the bodies. Sometimes we found one arm or one leg. We just buried them. I buried five complete bodies and many incomplete bodies. […] After the burial we gathered children and we left in groups. We put the children on donkeys and walked for five days to [the town of] Um Baru,” Zeinab, a 25-year-old woman from Birdik, told HRW.

According to the report, the vast majority of attacked villages had no rebel presence before the RSF arrived.

Omar, a defector from a Sudanese state force, told HRW: “What I saw the army doing, I did not accept it. They raped women and killed civilians. They said that we were fighting the movements but we never went to the movement areas.”

RSF members told HRW that they were ordered to commit crimes like mass rapes and Sudan’s vice president Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman ordered RSF personnel to kill everyone living in the rebel areas near Jebel Marra.

“They asked us where the rebels were. We said we didn’t know. [I saw two men get] killed. They were shot by small boys,” a herder from Um Daraba told HRW: “

Most RSF members are Darfurians recruited by Hemeti, a former Border Guard commander and Janjaweed militia leader. Many soldiers were drawn from the Border Guards. The RSF is considered a well-equipped force of at least 5,000 to 6,000 troops with 600 to 750 vehicles. Eyewitnesses told HRW that RSF troops can be recognized by the colour of their vehicles and RSF logos.

Collective Responsibility

The conflict in Sudan has been going on for 12 years and is one of the most serious of its kind the world over. Darfur, located in Western Sudan near the border to Chad, is among the poorest and most inaccessible regions in the world. The denial of access through the Sudanese government makes it difficult for U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers to reach affected villages in Darfur.

“The Mission has repeatedly called to grant immediate and unfettered access in areas of on-going or recently concluded hostilities between government forces and rebel factions, including to the Jebel Marra area,” U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement with regard to the UNAMID mission.

“The work of UNAMID’s human rights component has also been seriously curtailed ever since the Mission called on the Government of Sudan to grant it access to Thabit, in North Darfur, to investigate allegations of rape.”

4.4 million people in Darfur need humanitarian assistance, while inaccessibility makes it hard to monitor the conflict and to prevent further attacks.

“From January 2015 till the present, the Mission has attempted to reach troubled areas in Central Darfur, including Golo, nine times – eight access denials and one patrol restriction were imposed by both parties [government forces and rebel factions] to the on-going conflict. As of now, UNAMID has not been able to obtain access to Golo and, therefore, is unable to verify, first-hand, the content of any such reports on the area,” UNAMID Spokesperson Ashraf Eissa told IPS.

Due to the systematic nature of attacks against civilians, governments and institutions that fail to take action have a responsibility when it comes to solving the conflict. HRW provides specific recommendations on how to prevent new abuses by the RSF during the upcoming dry period, which will start around the turn of the year 2015/16 to the Sudanese government, the U.N., UNAMID, the EU and its member states, as well as other institutions.

“This force is a creation of the government of Sudan, they have been armed, they have been trained, they are fully part of the Sudanese military. And like any part of the military, they can be disarmed and disbanded, if senior government and military officials decide to do so,” Loeb said.

The Sudanese ambassador on the other hand criticizes HRW for accusing the RSF, which is considered as one of the best tools to fight rebels from Sudan’s point of view.

China and Russia have blocked possible action on this issue at the Security Council so far, but knowledgeable sources consider a unified Security Council essential for solving this conflict and building political pressure on the government of Sudan. Governments and international organizations, they say, should be more vocal about convincing the two countries to enable action, push Sudan to conduct the important step of banning the RSF and to investigate any form of abuse pro-actively.

The Sudanese government, they say, has the power to disband this force, which was created by them in the first place. However, there is a collective responsibility when it comes to solving this conflict.

Edited by Ramesh Jaura

Opinion: Iran and Nuclear Weapons, a Dangerous Delusion

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite all the propaganda about the Iranian leaders’ rush to acquire nuclear weapons, ever since the start of the country’s nuclear programme, Iranian leaders have been adamant that they only wish to make peaceful use of the nuclear energy to which they are entitled as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

This was true under the former government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who started Iran’s nuclear programme, and it has continued to be true under the Islamic Republic.

Shortly after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed on Jul. 14, 2015, a number of documents belonging to the U.S. Department of Defence were declassified. Among them was a confidential cable dated Jun. 24, 1974, in which the then ruler of Iran Mohammad Reza Shah is quoted as saying:

“I am ready to repeat what I have proposed several times, that is, to declare our zone – a geographic zone whose borders could clearly be delimited – non-nuclear. Because, honestly, I believe that this nuclear armaments race is ridiculous. What would one do with them? Use them against the great powers? One could never have parity. Use them to kill each other? A country which would procure this means to attack would not wait long before being crushed by another country which also would be in the avant-garde. But if there is not enough vision, if in this region each little country tries to arm itself with armaments that are precarious, even elementary, but nuclear, then perhaps the national interests of any country at all would demand that it do the same. But I would find that completely ridiculous.”

So, contrary to some claims that the Shah was after a bomb, it is clear that he had a very rational attitude towards nuclear weapons.

The Shah once said that Iran too would develop nuclear weapons if other countries in the region did so, but his remarks were partially in response to the 1974 Indian test of a nuclear weapon and Pakistan’s efforts to do the same. He also knew that Israel already possessed nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, he repeatedly insisted that he was not looking for nuclear weapons. At the same time, he was adamant that Iran should not be treated as a second-class citizen in the region. The Shah’s common-sense attitude has been borne out by facts.

Nuclear weapons can have a deterrent effect only if the country that possesses them has the capability to respond in kind and sustain and survive the initial attacks. They can only work to serve as a deterrent in the context of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) between superpowers, but even that is a very foolish proposition, because it works until it fails, and if it fails once deliberately or by accident it would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

Pakistan has been a nuclear power for many decades, yet shortly after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage went to see President Pervez Musharraf and allegedly threatened him that the United States would bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if he did not cooperate against the Taliban, and Musharraf had no option but to comply.

Israel has long possessed nuclear weapons, but this has not stopped it fighting a number of wars against weaker neighbours which do not possess them. It would be a dangerous delusion for a country such as Israel to believe that its possession of nuclear weapons would ensure its safety, instead of resolving its differences with its Arab neighbours and reaching a fair agreement with millions of dispossessed and stateless Palestinians. The only use for nuclear weapons is that of suicide.

This is a lesson that even post-revolutionary Iranian leaders have learned. During the past few decades, Iranian leaders have turned towards the West many times to resolve their nuclear issue only to be rebuffed.

The most audacious offer was the one that was made by President Mohammad Khatami’s government to the U.S. Administration under George W. Bush in May 2003. Iran offered a “grand bargain”, including strict limits on enrichment. The Bush administration ignored the offer, and instead included Iran in the ‘Axis of Evil’.

The current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He reached an agreement with the European “Troika” (United Kingdom, France and Germany) for a very limited enrichment programme in Iran, and he even suspended enrichment for two years as a confidence-building measure, but President Bush rejected the deal.

In a letter published by TIME on May 9, 2006, Rouhani wrote: “A nuclear weaponized Iran destabilizes the region, prompts a regional arms race, and wastes the scarce resources in the region. And taking account of U.S. nuclear arsenal and its policy of ensuring a strategic edge for Israel, an Iranian bomb will accord Iran no security dividends. There are also some Islamic and developmental reasons why Iran as an Islamic and developing state must not develop and use weapons of mass destruction.”

He went on to say: “Three years of robust inspection of Iranian nuclear and non-nuclear facilities by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors led [IAEA Director-General] Dr. El-Baradi to conclude and certify that to date there are no indications of any diversion of nuclear material and activities toward making a bomb.”

In the same letter, he said that Iran would ratify the NPT’s Additional Protocol and would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on the enrichment limit of reactor grade uranium. Stressing Iran’s intention to produce nuclear fuel domestically for both historic and long-term economic reasons, he pointed out that Iran’s offer “to welcome other countries to partner with Iran in a consortium provides additional assurance about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

He could not have been clearer about Iran’s intention to be open in its nuclear intentions, to cooperate with the IAEA and even partner with the West in pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been equally emphatic about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. Delivering the inaugural address at the 16th Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran on Aug. 30, 2012, he said:

“Nuclear weapons neither ensure security, nor do they consolidate political power, rather they are a threat to both security and political power. The events that took place in the 1990s showed that the possession of such weapons could not even safeguard a regime like the former Soviet Union. And today we see certain countries which are exposed to waves of deadly insecurity despite possessing atomic bombs.

The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin. We proposed the idea of ‘Middle East free of nuclear weapons’ and we are committed to it. This does not mean forgoing our right to peaceful use of nuclear power and production of nuclear fuel. On the basis of international laws, peaceful use of nuclear energy is a right of every country.”

He even issued a fatwa stressing that the production, storage and use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction were religiously forbidden (haram).

Even when he was president, Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, whose inflammatory rhetoric made him a bête noire of the West and who was accused of wanting to gain access to nuclear weapons, said: “The period and era of using nuclear weapons is over… Nuclear bombs are not anymore helpful and those who are stockpiling nuclear weapons, politically they are backward, and they are mentally retarded.”

He stated that if Iran wanted to manufacture a nuclear bomb, it would not be afraid of saying so, but he rightly asked what use would a single Iranian bomb be against Israel’s hundreds and the West’s thousands of nuclear weapons.

From all the statements by Iranian leaders and 12 years of intrusive inspection of Iranian nuclear installations by the IAEA, it is clear that, contrary to the incessant propaganda about Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”, there is no shred of evidence that Iran has ever been trying to manufacture nuclear weapons.

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

The Recent Stages of Iran’s Nuclear Programme

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 12 2015 (IPS)

When negotiations between Iran and the European “Troika” broke down, the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami was discredited in the eyes of the Iranian electorate which had seen the futility of negotiating with the West.

Despite Iran’s support for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and its help in persuading the Northern Alliance leaders in Afghanistan to join talks in Bonn, Iran was rewarded with U.S. President George Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech.

Right-wing candidate Mahmud Ahmadinezhad won the 2005 presidential election, with the massive support of hardliners, including the paramilitary Basij forces and some sections of the Revolution Guards. His new government was dubbed “the government of the barracks” because it included many former and serving Revolution Guards officers and veterans of the Iran-Iraq war.

Having seen the futility of negotiations with the West, Ahmadinezhad resumed Iran’s nuclear programme. During a large, carefully staged and nationally televised celebration in Mashhad on Apr. 11, 2006, Ahmadinezhad announced that Iran had enriched uranium to 3.6 percent and proudly declared: “The nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level has been completed, and uranium with the desired enrichment for nuclear power plants was achieved … Iran has joined the nuclear countries of the world.”

After a great deal of pressure by the West, on Feb. 4, 2006, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council if it did not stop enrichment within a month. In response, Iran ended snap U.N. nuclear checks the following day.

In subsequent months and years, the Security Council passed eight resolutions demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment-related activities, and imposed some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed on a country. Iran declared all those resolutions illegal, maintaining that it had not violated any provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Instead of complying with those resolutions, Iran intensified its enrichment activities.

When Ahmadinezhad came to power, Iran had suspended all its nuclear activities. By the time he left office in 2013, Iran had installed more than 15,000 centrifuges, more than 9,000 of them being fed with UF6, as well as installing over 1,000 more advanced IR-2 centrifuges, despite all the sanctions that had been imposed.

After the West refused to provide Iran with uranium fuel of 20 percent purity required for the Tehran research reactor that is used for producing medical isotopes, Iran proceeded to produce enough uranium fuel of this purity. Altogether, Iran produced 15,651.4 kg of uranium enriched to 3.6, and 337.2 kg to 20 percent, some of which was used to produce fuel for the Tehran research reactor.

In 2004, the U.S. government came into possession of a laptop that contained a large number of documents purporting to be from an Iranian research program on nuclear weapons. It allegedly contained studies on high explosives testing for a nuclear detonation, and a uranium conversion system, all of which were purportedly done from 2001 through 2003.

From the start, there was uncertainty about how the documents had been obtained from Iran, if indeed they had originated in that country. While the material gave rise to a great deal of publicity in the media, the U.S. intelligence community remained sceptical about the document.

Without allowing either the IAEA or Iran to have access to the laptop, the United States called on IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei to issue a report on the basis of the alleged document.

El Baradei passed the material to a team of experts who soon concluded that the material was fraudulent and in an interview with The Hindu on Oct. 1, 2009, El Baradei declared: “The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents.”

A second alleged clandestine nuclear research project involved a “process flow chart” for a bench-scale system for conversion of uranium ore for enrichment. However, when Iranian officials were shown the flow chart, they immediately spotted multiple technical errors and these were so clear that the head of the IAEA Safeguards Department, Olli Heinonen, acknowledged in his 2008 briefing that the diagram had “technical inconsistencies.”

It has now been established, almost without a shadow of doubt, that both documents were forgeries, allegedly the work of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.

Meanwhile, as some Israeli leaders and their supporters in the United States were pushing for an invasion of Iran on the excuse of its nuclear programme, the U.S Intelligence Community (a federation of 17 separate intelligence agencies) assessed in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had ended all “nuclear weapon design and weaponisation work” in 2003.

Yet, instead of welcoming that positive report, the then Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud Barak said that it was a kick to the gut, and many neo-conservatives in the United States also dismissed its findings.

On May 17, 2010, in talks held in Tehran, the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Brazil announced a major breakthrough in Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West. In a joint declaration, they reported that Iran had agreed to send 1240 kg of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey for safe keeping under IAEA supervision as part of a swap for nuclear fuel for a research reactor in Tehran, thus preventing any possibility of using it for any eventual bomb.

However, with indecent haste, a day after that important agreement, the then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved by the major powers and would be sent to the U.N. Security Council later in the day, resulting in Resolution 1929 which imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran.

The move angered both Turkey and Brazil which thought that they had acted in keeping with U.S. President Barack Obama’s wishes to take most of Iran’s enriched uranium out of the country. In her statement to the U.N. Security Council meeting, the Brazilian envoy said: “As Brazil repeatedly stated, the Tehran Declaration adopted 17 May is a unique opportunity that should not be missed. It was approved by the highest levels of the Iranian leadership and endorsed by its Parliament.”

In an interview with the Brazilian press, El Baradei supported the Tehran Declaration and said that the deal “should be perceived as a first good confidence-building measure, a first effort by Iran to stretch its hand and say [they] are ready to negotiate”.

He also argued that “if you remove around half of the material that Iran has to Turkey, that is clearly a confidence-building measure regarding concerns about Iran’s future intentions. The material that will remain in Iran is under IAEA safeguards and seals. There is absolutely no imminent threat that Iran is going to develop the bomb tomorrow with the material that they have in Iran.”

In July 2009, Yukiya Amano was elected Director-General of the IAEA to succeed El Baradei. In November 2010, the Guardian published a diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks originating a year earlier in Vienna by the then U.S. envoy to the IAEA Board of Governors Geoffrey Pyatt.

According to that cable, Amano said that he was “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme.” Amano published the alleged contents of the laptop, which have been seized upon by the opponents of Iran’s nuclear programme as evidence of Iran’s military intentions.

Finally, in the June 2013 presidential election, tired by their isolation in the world and suffering under the weight of sanctions, Iranians elected Hassan Rouhani who had vowed to resolve the nuclear dispute with the West as their next president. Rouhani had been the chief nuclear negotiator under President Khatami who reached the nuclear deal with the European “Troika”.

Rouhani chose the former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had also been involved in earlier negotiations, as Iran’s foreign minister and head of the Iranian negotiating team. After two years of talks with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States; plus Germany), the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was eventually reached.
(END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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

In and Behind the Trenches Against ISIS

A PKK fighter holds his position in Nouafel, an Arab village west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A PKK fighter holds his position in Nouafel, an Arab village west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KIRKUK, Iraq, Sep 9 2015 (IPS)

Reminders of the last occupants of camp K1 in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk are only visible on the murals at the main gate leading into the compound: Iraqi soldiers saluting the flag, pointing their weapons or being cheered on by grateful families.

But Iraq’s 12th Infantry Division fled, leaving everything behind, after the arrival of fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 2014.

“We have a very good relationship with the PKK and we’re fighting together not only for the Kurds, but also because ISIS is the enemy of mankind as a whole.” — Peshmerga Colonel Jamal Masim Jafar
Today, the military garrison hosts a joint Kurdish force of Peshmerga units – Kurdish army soldiers – and guerillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK and the Peshmerga fought each other back in the 1990s, but a powerful common enemy – ISIS – brought them together last summer.

A visit to the trenches where the united front is still holding back the Jihadi militants offers a glimpse into the region’s complex ethnic and ideological dynamics, as well insight into the relationship between armed groups and the local population.

After a brief introduction, Heval Rebar – Kurdish for ‘Comrade Rebar’ – offers to accompany this IPS reporter on a drive south alongside an earthen wall.

A chain of checkpoints gives us access to military posts or villages recovered from ISIS, some of which have been completely destroyed by air strikes led by the U.S. and its allies.

Peshmerga Colonel Jamal Masim Jafar welcomes IPS from inside a bunker standing close to a 15-meter-high promontory, which has its replica every thousand meters along the wall.

Jafar talks of “constant” fighting: “We get sniper fire from two houses and a tower the enemy has raised but they also hit us with an improvised device made of gas canisters,” explains the official, adding that the last fire exchange was “just an hour ago”.

Despite the hardships, he appears satisfied with his PKK counterparts.

“We have a very good relationship with the PKK and we’re fighting together not only for the Kurds, but also because ISIS is the enemy of mankind as a whole,” he stresses.

Sitting to his right, Comrade Rebar nods.

After the mandatory cup of tea, Jafar invites us to the promontory, which overlooks Al Noor, one of the many villages built by Saddam Hussein – Iraq’s ousted ruler – to host Arab settlers on Kurdish land.

Al Noor remains under ISIS control, but last week Kurdish forces launched a major offensive southwest of Kirkuk, taking back nine villages like this one plus a 24-square-km swathe of land.

“These gains are only possible thanks to international aid, both supplies and air strikes,” Jafar notes while he walks towards one of the armed pick-up trucks.

“We have just installed machine guns on the back of the vehicles. They are French and we got them recently. We are also getting night vision goggles, which are essential in this environment and MILAN guided missiles from Germany. Regarding air cover, we get it every time we need it,” explained the Kurdish officer.

He said he had spent seven years with American troops in Iraq, and that he would welcome western foreign troops in the region.

Female PKK fighters are also present in the combat line against ISIS in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Female PKK fighters are also present in the combat line against ISIS in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

No man’s land

Coordination between Kurdish factions is more than evident but that has not been the trend in this part of Iraq over the last decade.

Historically claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, oil-rich Kirkuk is among the so-called “disputed territories” by Baghdad and the north-western Kurdish city of Erbil, very much one of Iraq’s thorniest issues even years before the emergence and advance of ISIS.

Ethnic and sectarian clashes have been rife in this part of the country, with the local population being constantly targeted from every side.

Our next stop on our way south is Nouafel, an Arab village next to the wall where PKK fighters keep their positions. From their makeshift headquarters in one of the houses, Comrade Selim prefers not to disclose the exact number of his fighters deployed here.

“We have enough to fight ISIS,” he tells IPS, settling the question with a smile. From the little hill where they hold their positions, another fighter, Comrade Farashin uses a pair of binoculars to monitor Wastaniya – the closest village under ISIS control.

Relying on light assault, snipers and a couple of machine guns, the PKK guerrillas don’t look as heavily armed as their Peshmerga counterparts. However, Comrade Aso’s testimony stands as proof that the PKK fighters are far from neglected:

“In the spring we received a course in urban warfare for two months conducted by two Italian instructors. I learned many things they had not taught me during my training in Qandil [the Kurdish mountain stronghold],” recalls this fighter, a young man in his early 20s hailing from the nearby town of Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Turkmen district located 170 km north of Baghdad.

“They were very professional,” he added. “They never let us take their picture and we were never told which organisation they were working for.”

Peshmerga Colonel Jamal Masim Jafar says he’s satisfied with the support his forces are receiving from the PKK. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Peshmerga Colonel Jamal Masim Jafar says he’s satisfied with the support his forces are receiving from the PKK. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

What makes this combat post particularly interesting is not only the fact the village remained under ISIS control for seven months, but also that the majority of the local villagers have not left the area.

At the request of Comrade Rebar, a dozen locals agree to meet this IPS reporter in a house just a few metres away from the one occupied by the guerrillas.

At first glance, the relationship between civilians and fighters looks cordial. Greetings are exchanged and some of the fighters try a few words in Arabic to break the ice. Meanwhile, our host, Arkan Ali Bader, serves Arabic coffee, which everyone drinks from the same cup.

The sound of incoming fire from the other side hardly provokes any visible emotion among the villagers. That’s been part of their daily life for over a year. However, Ali Bader says he regrets that his land, and that of most of the villagers, lies today in “no man’s land” – between the Kurds and ISIS.

Also dressed in the traditional lose garments, Juma Hussein Toma claims that during the seven months the village was under Jihadi control, life for ordinary people did not undergo significant changes.

“When ISIS came they announced through the mosque’s loudspeakers that they had freed our village from infidels, and that it was the victory of the revolution, but no one here suffered threats of any kind,” explains Toma.

“There are a few who left because they had no work here, but not because of the war,” adds the peasant.

“ISIS killed a few [people] in Al Noor because they had been members of the Awakening Councils [a US-backed Iraqi militia that fought against Al Qaeda] but none of us was hurt,” stressed Mohamed al Ubeid.

Locals in Nouafel said they were happy about the arrival of the PKK fighters. However, such statements were made in the presence of those very fighters, making it impossible to ascertain whether or not they were coerced.

After the expected polite farewell, a PKK fighter points to the deep ditch surrounding their headquarters in the village.

“We had to dig it because we do not trust the villagers,” he admits, just before returning to his guard shift by the earthen wall.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Investigators Dismiss Mexican Government’s Official Story on Missing Students

A protester at a rally against the disappearance of 43 students in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero holds a sign that reads: ‘We Are Ayotzinapa. We Demand Justice.’ Credit: Montecruz Foto/CC-BY-SA-2.0

A protester at a rally against the disappearance of 43 students in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero holds a sign that reads: ‘We Are Ayotzinapa. We Demand Justice.’ Credit: Montecruz Foto/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D’Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

A group of independent investigators has roundly dismissed the Mexican government’s claims that the 43 students who went missing in the southwestern city of Iguala last fall were burned to ashes in a garbage dump, reigniting an international outcry against the disappearance and heaping pressure on the government to provide answers to families of the victims.

The 500-page report released this past weekend by an expert group appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) refutes key aspects of the government’s official story, concluding in no uncertain terms that there is “no evidence” to support the Attorney General’s findings that the college students were executed and burned by a drug gang.

“This report provides an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a Sep. 6 statement.

“Even with the world watching and with substantial resources at hand, the authorities proved unable or unwilling to conduct a serious investigation,” he added.

HRW is calling on the government to urgently address its own flawed investigation, which was declared ‘closed’ this past January, and bring those responsible to justice.

The students, all members of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state, disappeared on Sep. 26, 2014.

Amid massive protests across the country and around the world, the government concluded that the students had commandeered several buses and traveled in them to a protest in Iguala. Following clashes with local police, the students were allegedly detained and then handed over to a criminal gang, who presumably executed them before burning their bodies in a municipal dump.

But the IACHR investigators say those “conclusions hinge on allegedly coerced witness testimony that is contradicted by physical evidence,” HRW said Sunday.

Negligence, mishandling of evidence and long delays marked the government’s official investigation, the expert panel found, adding that federal prosecutors failed to review footage from security cameras or interview key eyewitnesses.

HRW points out that “crucial pieces of evidence, such as blood and hair” were vulnerable to contamination and manipulation during the investigation, and “in July 2015, more than nine months into the investigation, the group discovered that multiple articles of clothing belonging to the victims had been collected but never examined.”

Perhaps the most damning revelation involves the government’s claim that the drug gang responsible for the students’ deaths built a pyre and fed it over a 16-hour period with scrap material like wood and tires, as well as small amounts of fuel.

Quoting the IACHR study, the Guardian reported Sunday: “It would have required 30,000 kg of wood or 13,330 kg of rubber tyres and burned for 60 hours in order to consume the bodies. [The report] adds that feeding the pyre would have been impossible, and that a conflagration of those dimensions would have left obvious evidence in the surrounding area, which an inspection of the site failed to find.”

Other major flaws in the government’s official version of events include so-called ‘confessions’ extracted from suspects under conditions likely amounting to torture and authorities’ failure to inspect the offices of members of municipal police identified by eyewitnesses.

The expert panel spent six months on the investigation, reviewing existing government evidence, conducting in-depth inspections of the crime scene and interviewing surviving witnesses and family members of the deceased.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearance highlighted shortcomings in the government’s investigation of the Ayotzinapa case, and called on the government to do more to tackle impunity.

HRW estimates that there are currently 300 open investigations relating to enforced disappearances in Iguala alone, and over 25,000 people reported as ‘missing’ nationwide.

“As of April 2014, no one had been convicted of an enforced disappearance committed after 2006, according to official statistics,” the rights group concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp