Slavery is Not a Thing of the Past, It Still Exists Today Affecting Millions

Hassan Hussein, a refugee from Syria, pleads with police to allow his family into a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Preševo, southern Serbia. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

By Shannon Scribner
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 2019 (IPS)

While natural hazards like hurricanes, exacerbated by climate change, are causing people to migrate, it’s conflict, violence and persecution that have forced more than 68.5 million people from their homes today, exposing them to higher risks and increased vulnerability, especially women and children.

Vulnerable people on the move face massive risks and uncertainty to find safety and opportunity for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, in many cases they are taken advantage of and their rights ignored, forced to work in terrible conditions for little, or in some cases, no money.

Elsewhere, 120,000 people crossed the Central Mediterranean in 2017 – the migrant route with most deaths recorded in the world, and nearly 2,900 migrants recorded killed or missing on that route in the same year.

Most of them traveled on smugglers’ boats departing from Libya, Tunisia or Egypt, risking their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Italy and beyond.

The reality of the harrowing journey in search of safety in Europe came into sharp focus when three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s [initially reported as Aylan Kurdi] image made headlines when he drowned in the Mediterranean after fleeing Syria with his family.

Recently, a little refugee boy from Mali also drowned in the Mediterranean. In preparation for the ill-fated trip, he had stitched a school report to his clothes to show European authorities what a good student he was.

In the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, thousands of Central Americans are arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border, fleeing domestic and gang violence, state corruption and impunity, climate induced droughts, and economic hardship in their home countries.

We see women bearing the brunt of violence and poverty with high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, and alarming levels of femicide. It is not uncommon for a girl and her family to be targeted and even killed by gangs if she refuses to become a gang member’s sex slave.

And once at the border, children have died due to the difficult journey they are taking and as a result of medical care not being available on time.

In the US, there are countless examples of workers being exploited, many of whom are migrants. Oxfam published a report detailing how the poultry industry exploits vulnerable people who have few other options to take on the most dangerous and thankless jobs in the poultry plants.

Because of their precarious situations, most workers are afraid to speak out or do anything that might jeopardize their jobs. Oxfam reported that some workers were forced to wear adult diapers because they did not have adequate bathroom breaks.

As part of Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign, Oxfam has also worked with laborers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere for more rights and protections. In the seafood industry, workers find themselves in conditions akin to modern slavery.

Female migrant workers especially, who perform jobs like peeling the shrimps for cheap shrimp cocktail you can buy at your grocery store, are often subjected to illegal recruitment and have their travel documents and wages confiscated.

The UN and the international community do acknowledge the plight of modern slavery and the challenges migrant workers face around the world, but more needs to be done.

Unfortunately, instead of helping address and resolve the displacement crisis with thoughtful, humane policies, and a genuine sense of shared responsibility,too many leaders are using scare tactics and depicting migrants and refugees as violent criminals and terrorists, when they are in fact the ones fleeing violence and also have much to offer to their new communities.

These leaders around the globe are doing this with a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law, human rights and global norms that are meant to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.

This was demonstrated in the Trump Administration’s inhumane policies separating children from their families and in trying to deny women who are victims of domestic violence from seeking asylum in the United States.

There has been some progress to help migrants and refugees from the UN. In 2016, President Obama hosted a UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The Summit led to countries committing to a $4.5 billion increase in global humanitarian funding. Following the Summit at the UN General Assembly, 193 UN member states agreed to coordinate and cooperate to improve the global response to the migration crisis.

They agreed to do such things as ease pressures on countries that host most refugees, like Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They committed to building refugees’ self-reliance through access to education and livelihoods, expanding access to resettlement and other complementary pathways, and fostering conditions for refugees to voluntarily return home.

They also agreed to start working on a Global Compact for Refugees and a Global Compact for Migration that was recently endorsed at the end of last year.

The compacts include such things as recognition of the need for meaningful participation by refugees and host communities in decision making and commitments to uphold the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

On the downside, the compacts aren’t binding so there is no way to legally hold endorsers accountable. And, the United States retreated from its leadership role in protecting refugees and withdrew from the Global Compact on Migration.

Overall, the mass migration taking place globally presents opportunities but also huge risks for those who aren’t protected along the way or when they arrive.

Many think of slavery as a thing of the past, but it still exists today, affecting millions around the world, as people make desperate decisions for a better life.

We need more protections and more implementation of the systems we have in place to achieve a more safe and just world for everyone.

Mauritius Scores Win over Britain in Diego Garcia Decolonisation

Diego Garcia island, which hosts a United States military base in the Indian Ocean. (Photo: NASA)

By Arul Louis
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2019 (IPS)

Mauritius has scored a victory over Britain at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a case involving the decolonisation of the strategically important island of Diego Garcia that is home to a United States military base.

The ICJ said on Monday that Britain must give up to Mauritius control of the Chagos Archipelago where the Indian Ocean military base is located on the Diego Garcia island.

The opinion issued in The Hague by the court’s majority that included Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India said that the decolonisation of Mauritius “was not lawfully completed” when it attained independence because Britain carved away the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and retained control of it.

The opinion handed down by the majority of 13 judges said Britain “is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The sole dissenter was American Judge Joan E. Donoghue. Britain is not represented on the bench after it withdrew the nomination of Judge Christopher Greenwood for re-election in 2017 when he could not get a majority of the votes in the General Assembly against Bhandari.

The court gave the opinion, which is non-binding, at the request the United Nations General Assembly made in a 2017 resolution.

Vehemently opposed by the US and Britain, the resolution received the vote of 94 countries while 15 voted against it and 65 abstained.

Britain has opposed the referral to the court saying it was a bilateral matter with Mauritius and indicated it would reject it.

There is unlikely to be any challenges to the US Diego Garcia base from Mauritius, either.

“We are not asking for the dismantling of the base”, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth Mauritian said after the ICJ opinion, according the Mauritian newspaper L’Express.

It reported that he did not want to reveal the next step that his country was going to take but said he wanted Britain “to recognise the unity of Mauritius”.

Britain cut off the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 before granting it independence in 1968.

The people living on Diego Garcia were forcibly removed from there by the colonial administration and it was leased to the US, which set up its strategic Indian Ocean military base on the island.

About 50 countries gave the court written statements, some against Britain and other in support of it.

Vishnu Dutt Sharma, the Legal Adviser of the External Affairs Ministry submitted India’s statement that said that the process of decolonisation was not completed because Britain had not complied with UN resolutions for it.

In the 1970s and 1980s India had vehemently opposed the US base in Diego Garcia.

Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called the base 2,000 kilometres from India as a threat to India.

Since then the strategic environment and India’s interests have changed due the rise of China and the threats to navigation from piracy. India is now developing close defence ties with the US and toned down its rhetoric.

When the resolution to refer matter to the court was taken up at the UN in 2017, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said that while supporting the position of Mauritius as “a matter of principle” to uphold the process of decolonisation and the respect for sovereignty of nations, “India shares with the international community, security concerns relating to the Indian Ocean”.

“A Year of Shame” for Middle East and North Africa

In a new report, Amnesty International reviewed the state of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and found a bleak landscape of repression. UN Photo/Iason Foounten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2019 (IPS)

Human rights violations are at an all-time high in the Middle East and North Africa, and global indifference is only making it worse.

In a new report, Amnesty International reviewed the state of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and found a bleak landscape of repression.

“Across MENA throughout 2018, thousands of dissidents and peaceful critics have been victims of shameless government violations on a shocking scale, amid deafening silence from the international community,” said Amnesty International’s Regional Director for MENA Heba Morayef.

“The international community’s chilling complacency…has emboldened governments to commit appalling violations during 2018 by giving them the sense that they need never fear facing justice,” Amnesty International added.

Since crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman took power, Saudi Arabia has seen mass detention of government critics and human rights defenders (HRDs).

By the end of 2018, all Saudi Arabian HRDs were in detention or serving prison terms, or had been forced to flee the country, Amnesty International found.

In February, Issa al-Nukheifi and Essam Koshak were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively for their twitter posts criticising authorities and calling for human rights reforms.

The government also launched a wave of arrests targeting many prominent women’s human rights defenders including Loujain al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Yousef who campaigned against the ban on women driving and the male guardianship system.

Others even faced death for their work including Jamal Khashoggi whose brutal death prompted a global outcry.

Human rights violations committed by Saudi Arabia also extends past their borders to Yemen where the coalition forces indiscriminately target civilian areas, committing serious violations of international human rights law.

In one case, the Saudi Arabia coalition attacked a bus in Sa’da governorate, killing 29 children and injuring 30 others.

Despite the many violations in international law and human rights, the United States, United Kingdom, and France continue to export weapons, enabling the Middle Eastern nation to commit even more violations.

While some countries such as Denmark and Finland suspended their arms sales, the action was only prompted by the killing of Khashoggi which still has not resulted in justice.

“Time and again, allies of governments in the region have put lucrative business deals, security co-operation or billions of dollars’ wroth of arms sales before human rights, fueling abuses and creating a climate where MENA governments feel ‘untouchable’ and above the law,” said Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for MENA Philip Luther.

“It’s time the world followed in the footsteps of states such as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway which have announced suspensions…sending a clear message that flouting human rights has clear consequences,” he added.

Similarly, France and the U.S. continue to supply Egypt with weapons which have been used in the country’s widespread repression and crackdown on human rights.

According to Amnesty International, Egyptian authorities have arbitrarily arrested at least 113 people for peacefully expressing critical opinions, making it the most dangerous time and place in the country’s recent history.

Among those arrested were many senior political figures including the military’s former chief of staff Sami Anan who was arrested after he announced his candidacy in the presidential elections.

After speaking out against sexual harassment on social media, HRD Amal Fathy was sentenced to two years in prison and faces further charges including “membership of a terrorist group.”

Some have also been subject to enforced disappearances.

Human rights lawyers Ezzat Ghoniem and Azzoz Mahgoub were detained in March for their role in supporting families of forcibly disappeared individuals.

Though they were released six months later, they were forcibly disappeared and did not resurface until February when Ghoniem was brought to court wearing the same clothes he had on in trial in September. He told the court that he was kept in a hidden place and prevented from contacting his lawyers and family.

Amnesty International highlighted the need for international accountability and an end to human rights violations.

“For too long, the lack of international pressure to ensure that warring parties committing war crimes and other violations of international law are held to account has allowed perpetrators of atrocities across MENA to escape unpunished,” Luther said.

“Accountability is essential—not only to secure justice for victims of these crimes, but to help prevent an endless cycle of violations and yet more victims,” he added.

There have been some limited positive developments including the a lift on the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia but more needs to be done, said Morayef.

“These improvements are a tribute to courageous human rights defenders across MENA and serve as a reminder to those who regularly risk their freedom to stand up against tyranny and speak truth to power that they are planting true seeds of change for the years to come,” she continued.

Bangladesh Needs Intensive Surveys to Gauge Potential of Its ‘Blue Economy’

This report is produced by UNB United News of Bangladesh and IPS Inter Press Service.

By Muhammad Syfullah
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 27 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(UNB/IPS) – Bangladesh needs intensive surveys in the Bay of Bengal, complemented by proper interpretation of the findings and appropriate research to gauge the potential of its ‘blue economy’ as the country largely depends on the stocks of living and non-living marine resources falling within its Exclusive Economic Zone, experts said.

In case of marine fisheries, they stressed the need for effective management to ensure the sustainability of marine fisheries resources by avoiding overfishing and fishing during breeding period, otherwise fish stock might severely decline here like the Gulf of Thailand.

The newly formed Awami League government also pledged in its 2018 election manifesto that oil and gas exploration will be intensified as part of its plans for ensuring optimum utilisation of the blue economy or marine resources.

In 2016, Bangladesh procured a research vessel, equipped with the latest technology for fisheries and other oceanographic research, from Malaysia to assess the country’s marine living resources, having obtained a vast tract of the northern Indian Ocean following the disposal of longstanding disputes with two neighboring countries.

The 37.8-meter-long multipurpose research vessel started its assessment in the Bay in November, 2016.

Though the survey vessel has so far completed 16 cruises, it will take more time to gain a complete picture of fisheries resources in Bangladeshi waters in the Bay of Bengal.

Prof Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries at Chittagong University said the fisheries resources in the Bay of Bengal have long been showing several indications of decline for lack of effective fisheries management in the past decades, particularly resulting in overfishing.

He said different data indicate that many large fish species like Lakkha (Indian Salmon) and Coral fish, which were available in past years, are hardly found in the country’s waters now.

“If this trend continues, the marine areas are likely to be turned into an almost barren zone for fish within 10 years or so. So, immediate measures are required for effective fisheries management,” he said adding that the Gulf of Thailand had lost all its fish in the space of just 40 years.

Prof Chowdhury said Bangladesh may focus on producing highly skilled maritime human resources, including marine engineers, navigators and in other highly technical trades, targeting the international employment market to boost remittances.

Besides, a lot of foreign currency goes outside the country against container transports as more than 90 percent carriers used in this sector are owned by foreign companies.

Prof Chowdhury said the sheer size of the fishing fleet consisting of more than 50,000 boats and some 270 industrial trawlers, is possibly contributing to the long-term overfishing in Bangladeshi waters.

He said Bangladesh should concentrate more on tapping marine fish as there is a better potential of sustained supply of fish, if managed properly, than that of other mineral resources—petroleum and non-petroleum ones—in the Bay of Bengal, which will eventually dry up no matter how carefully we extract those resources.

Dr Kawser Ahmed, a professor at the Oceanography Department of Dhaka University, said Bangladesh is yet to fix the level of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of marine fisheries resources.

“We need proper coastal and ocean governance for the sustainability of marine resources,” he said adding that overfishing is dangerous for the sustainability of marine fisheries as the fish productivity is comparatively low in the northern Bay of Bengal. The coast is also being used indiscriminately, he added.

Mentioning that there are now 16-18 ministries related to the blue economy, he said Bangladesh needs to form a separate ocean or marine resources ministry and bring all wings and cells of the ministries under it for unlocking the potential of the blue economy.

Prof Kawser emphasised procurement of an oil-gas survey vessel to explore hydrocarbon deposits in the Bay of Bengal saying that it will be cost effective alongside helping create skilled manpower by facilitating students to conduct research in this area.

Fisheries and Livestock Secretary Md Raisul Alam Mondal said they have taken various initiatives to enhance harvesting fisheries in a sustainable way for implementing the government’s plan.

The initiatives include installation of effective communication tools to communicate with sea fishing vessels, ensuring fishing monitoring system and purchasing longline fishing boats and purse seine fishing boats for enhancing the harvesting capacity of the private sector.

Purse-seine fishing in open water is generally considered to be an efficient form of fishing. It has no contact with the seabed and can have low levels of bycatch (accidental catch of unwanted species).

The secretary said the contribution of marine fish in the country’s total fish production is now around 9-10 percent, which needs to be increased.

The survey vessel, purchased from Malaysia, in its 16 cruises so far detected 300-350 fish species in the Bay of Bengal. But more time is needed to get a complete picture of the stock of marine fisheries resources there, he said.

Secretary Mondal said it is important to know the breeding period of each fish species for the sake of sustainable fishing in the sea. Now the government keeps fishing banned for 65 specific days every year in Bangladesh’s exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh won a total of 131,098 square kilometers of sea areas –111,631sq km against Myanmar in 2012 and 19,467sq km against India in 2014 — following the disposal of longstanding disputes with the two neighbouring countries — India and Myanmar — by two international courts.

Muslim women between stereotypes and reality: an objective narrative

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Feb 27 2019 (IPS-Partners)

On the occasion of the launch of two new publications on topics related to women’s rights and gender equality, and in order to mark International Women’s Day, the Geneva Centre will organize a panel discussion and book presentation. The discussion will expand on the themes of the two publication, namely the status of women’s rights and gender equality in the Arab region, but also more generally, across the world, and the history and the true symbolism of the headscarf in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the stereotypes and controversy surrounding this topic, and the recent developments in Western societies with regard to the headscarf.

Moderator and Opening remarks
Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

Speakers

    • HE Ms Nassima Baghli, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva;
    • Dr. Elisa Banfi, Research Assistant at the Institute of Citizenship Studies (ICite) at the Department of Political Science, University of Geneva;
    • Dr. Amir Dziri, Director of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

For further information on the event, please see the attached concept note.

Register by email: info@gchragd.org

Developing Agriprenuers to Save Nigeria’s Youth from Crime

Although has over 80 million hectares of good fertile soil to grow any kind of crop, it is a net importer of food. Credit: Sam Olukoya/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Feb 27 2019 (IPS)

When Lawrence Afere told his parents he was going into farming rather than getting a job in Nigeria’s lucrative oil and gas sector, they swore he was bewitched.

“After saving to put me through the top university in Nigeria with an eye for a job in oil and gas, my parents had no explanation for my career choice. They were convinced I had been bewitched,” says the 35-year-old Afere who started a group that brings together unemployed youth to grow, sell and add value to agricultural produce in Nigeria.

Given the entrenched beliefs across Africa about sorcery, the idea that Afere was bewitched seemed a plausible one to his parents. In fact, Afere’s parents had it on the advice of a traditional herbalist that he was going to be rich. But his parents didn’t believe that he could ever become wealthy through agriculture.

Nigeria, a net food importer, has the double challenge of providing enough food and jobs for its bulging population, especially the youth.  It spends 22 billion dollars in food imports, almost 60 percent of Africa’s 35 billion dollar annual food import bill, according to the African Development Bank.

The country is Africa’s largest producer and consumer of rice. However, it also one of the largest importers of the cereal in the world buying about two million tonnes annually to offset local consumption of five million tonnes against a production of three million tonnes.

The West African nation also has over 80 million hectares of good fertile soil to grow any kind of crop.

Afere had a solution: get the youth to start farming and to make agriculture a profitable and appetising career prospect for young people aged 15-24. This demographic makes up about 26 percent of 20.9 million unemployed Nigerians.

“I read an article that every year in Nigeria we will graduate one million young people with a high school qualification but with no prospects to go university,” said Afere.

“This is one million highly frustrated youth and by 2030 Nigeria will have over 30 million highly skilled – not doctors, not lawyers, farmers or entrepreneurs – but skilled criminals that could devour the entire country. At that moment I had mindset shift.” So he founded Springboard, a social enterprise growing organic produce through a social media network of farmers. It also aims to create jobs for women and youth in Nigeria.

To date, Springboard Nigeria has over 3,000 members in its network of organic farmers and village women entrepreneurs who grow plantain, banana, beans, rice, vegetables, pepper, cocoa, corn, pineapple and pawpaw. The agriprenuers also add value to the produce with emphasis on producing healthy food accessible to rural communities.

Fighting unemployment and malnutrition with food production 

Springboard uses social media to raise awareness about opportunities in agriculture. It has over 5,000 followers on its Facebook page, which it uses to create a market and to supply produce to vendors and customers. This is how it brings together farmers and consumers.

“We also use it to provide continuous mentoring and extension services to our farmers, youth farmers especially,” Afere told IPS. 

The social enterprise is currently developing a farmer’s helpline that will give farmers access to agricultural information via a toll-free number in four of Nigeria’s major languages.

Springboard has sought to stop young people emigrating from rural areas to urban centres in search of jobs, which are hard to get, Afere said. 

“We know young people want to be successful and rich, the idea is how do we help them to be successful by identifying livelihood opportunities in the agriculture sector where they live,” said Afere.

Through the social enterprise, youth and women work across the agriculture value chain in production, processing, value addition, storage, distribution and marketing. They are trained in agriculture production and management and given inputs to kick start their own farming enterprises.

“Small scale farmers often make the hard choice of not consuming most of what they grow but sell it to pay for school fees and other needs and eat what is left. Their nutrition suffers and families are sick because they do not have healthy and quality food, our programme focuses on production and raising nutrition,” said Afere. “That way the youth and young women, see agriculture as having multiple benefits and not just providing them a job.”

Recently, the social enterprise started a Farm to School programme, which is supported by the Mitsubishi Foundation for Africa and Europe. Through the programme, Springboard partners with schools to establish school farms where students learn to grow their own food within their communities, thereby raising their interest agriculture.  

“When we project farming as a viable economic opportunity for the youth, we also tell them that farming is a process, which comes with a lot of hard work,” he said. “I tell young people to start with what they have and bootstrapping themselves into business. Gradually customers, investors and donors take notice and support your farming business.”

So has he become wealthy? As his parents had pictured?

Afere laughs about it now. He is rich, he feels in other ways other than monetary. “I”m not wealthy with money in the bank. I’m wealthy in fulfilment of purpose. Helping farmers become prosperous and real youth and women start farm enterprises brings me fulfilment. In the process I am able to take care of my family and their basic needs. That is wealth for me.”

Technology transforming farming business

While Afere has combined the lure of technology and the economic prospects in agriculture, training and mentorship are important in fostering the adoption of farming as a business by young people.  

One Nigerian technology hub is helping groom and support entrepreneurs tackle development challenges across Africa, but specifically in Nigeria.

“That agriculture, which employs most of our parents, does not provide [enough] money is something that worries a lot of young entrepreneurs,” says Wole Odetayo, executive director of Wennovation Hub.

Wennovation Hub is a pioneer technology accelerator and incubation programme that helps start-ups develop and validate their ideas and innovations using basic business tools in the social impact sectors in agriculture, healthcare, clean energy and social infrastructure.

“We are leveraging on their interests, ideas and background of young people to help them think through the process of making the most out of agriculture through technology to solve different challenges across the agriculture value chain,” Odetayo told IPS. He urged governments to support incubators and accelerators by including start up and small business in the procurement policies.

To date, Wennovation Hub has supported over 300 startup teams and more than 6,000 youths running startsups valued up to 2.5 million dollars through its network across Nigeria. 

The digitalisation of agriculture offers young entrepreneurs the opportunity to create disruptive business models that accelerate modernisation of the sector, says Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union based in the Netherlands.  

“Achieving this kind of transformation requires that young people engage in agriculture; we need their capacity for innovation, for doing things differently, for harnessing the exciting developments we are seeing within and outside the realms of agribusiness,” Hailu told IPS.

UN Accused of Failing to Move Aggressively Against Sexual Abuse

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2019 (IPS)

The United Nations, which prides itself with a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, has come under relentless fire for failing to match its words with deeds—specifically in relation to some of the high-profile cases that have jolted the Organization.

There have been several cases where no action has been taken either to investigate abuses -– or even release the results of in-house investigations – including accusations against three senior officials holding the rank of Under-Secretary-General (USG).

And one of them, who headed the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), abruptly resigned last December—described as “the one that got away” — following the results of an internal report which is still under wraps and hidden from public view.

Asked whether women staffers would get a more positive response if the UN was headed by a female Secretary-General, Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS there are plenty of reasons for the next Secretary-General to be a woman.

Women make up half the world’s population but so far they have been kept out of the top UN job, he pointed out.

“But on your question: if we go back to 2016, when the elections for Secretary-General were being run, I don’t recall, sadly, any of the candidates, some of whom had run large organizations, distinguishing themselves in the fight against sexual harassment and abuse.”

In some cases, it was quite the opposite, he added.

“Nor have I seen a difference in how female and male managers deal with complaints, nor how female and male directors react in meetings when allegations of sexual harassment cannot be ignored,” said Richards, whose staff unions and associations represent over 60,000 staffers worldwide.

Again, sexual harassment is a form of abuse of power and stopping it means sticking your neck out, taking a stand and tackling entrenched interests, argued Richards.

“There are only a few women and men who will do that, and we need more of them,” he added.

Paula Donovan, a women’s rights activist and co-Director of AIDS-Free World and Code Blue Campaign, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced, back in April 2018, that he was initiating a new investigation, through UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), into sexual assault and harassment charges lodged against the former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Luiz Loures.

“Nothing has been announced since about this “new investigation’ she said in an interview last January.

She said the Secretary-General has also never commented on any of the recent public reports of sexual misconduct in several other UN organizations —including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) while the Secretary-General’s senior-level Task Force is headed by Jan Beagle, who was promoted to Under-Secretary-General by Guterres while she herself was under investigation for workplace harassment at UNAIDS.

Meanwhile, Guterres last week announced a new advisory board of civil society leaders who’ll recommend fresh solutions to the UN’s long-running crisis of sexual abuse by its own personnel.

“After two years, an advisory board has been formed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the group Guterres has assembled is not the one he promised”, said Code Blue, a civil society organization protective of women’s rights, in a statement released last week.

A “civil society” advisory board, especially on a matter as complex as sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, must be made up of bona fide representatives of civil society, said Code Blue.

But a board of six legal academics and a medical doctor, each with UN pedigrees, should be given a different name and assigned to work under a mandate that fits.

“We await a Civil Society Advisory Board that truly deserves its name—and fulfills Mr. Guterres’ two years’ worth of promises”.

Richards told IPS that civil society has been quite active in calling the UN out when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse.

“I presume Guterres now wants to put the ball in their court. Of course, being an advisory board, it can only offer advice. I hope that in providing advice it will consider the bigger problem of abuse of power at the UN, of which sexual harassment constitutes according to our survey just 16 percent. If the board can support Guterres in tackling this, then I think we might get somewhere,” he added.

Excerpts from the interview with Richards:

IPS: Has the UN taken action against some of the high-profile cases of sexual abuse and harassment in the UN system? Or are the accused still in the employ of the UN?

RICHARDS: Once the cases become high profile, it’s hard not to take action. The media starts asking questions and donors threaten to pull the plug. The question should really be about the many low-profile cases where managers are made aware of harassment but are afraid to take action. Crossing the wrong person or nationality could end their career, and some who have tried to take action have suffered retaliation.

We should also remember that the UN is made up of many different organizations. Guterres can’t do that much about the specialized agencies such as UNAIDS or FAO as they don’t report to him.

But this isn’t just about action at the top. I was recently at a big UN meeting. One of the speakers was a staff member who has been accused multiple times of sexual harassment but had not yet been investigated. There were many senior managers there, men and women.

None of them spoke out against his presence and appeared to take it in their stride. This goes to show that policies in themselves don’t stop sexual harassment. Guterres needs to work on changing attitudes, perhaps by actively promoting staff who have stuck their necks out to fight harassment and abuse in the workplace. Then only can we start getting to zero tolerance.

IPS: Are there any UN staffers who have been fired following investigations on sexual abuse?

RICHARDS: Yes. And this is documented in a report on disciplinary practices that is sent every year to the General Assembly. But the investigation process remains extremely slow, and with a shortage of professional investigators, some harassment complaints are reviewed by panels of lay staff members, who have to juggle this task with their normal jobs. And of course, in peer review panels there is plenty of scope for conflicts of interest.

IPS: Has the UN at any time co-opted your 60,000 strong staff union — the CCISUA– to solicit your views on the protection of staffers from sexual abuse? Or are staff unions being treated as bystanders?

RICHARDS: We’ve been involved in reviewing the policy on preventing harassment, discrimination and abuse of authority, and we are keen to analyse the findings of both the survey that staff unions conducted on harassment in general and the survey that the organization contracted Deloitte to conduct on sexual harassment in particular.

The surveys showed that staff don’t trust the investigation system and some suffered retaliation when they reported harassment. These are shocking findings and we hope that the administration will give us the necessary time to get to the bottom of these problems and get through the individual comments that were made in the surveys.

However, as I mentioned, a policy doesn’t amount to much if there isn’t a will to implement it and managers turn a blind eye.

IPS: Do you think the UN should have acted against a USG who abruptly resigned — weeks ahead of his retirement — following a report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) probing allegations of sexual abuse by him? And should the OIOS make this report public?

RICHARDS: I understand that Guterres manoeuvred behind the scenes to hasten the investigation process so that the report could be issued before the USG reached retirement.

However, once the report was out, the USG resigned, and there was not much the UN could do. Of course, in a private company there would be the possibility for the case to be taken through the national criminal system, which would lead to greater public scrutiny, and is perhaps an area that the advisory board should look at.

A bigger concern is the way the complainants were allowed to be treated over the many months that the case was investigated. They had work taken away from them and a group of women where they worked published a letter disowning their complaints.

Last summer, one of them was publicly humiliated by the USG at a meeting in front of human resources directors, women and men, from across the system. I told the USG that this behavior was wrong. I hope others did the same. At the same time, an investigation into how the case was handled, with lessons drawn for the future, would be a good idea.

IPS: Is there a role for member states and the General Assembly to pressure the Secretary-General to take more drastic action — beyond the much-publicized “zero tolerance” policy– against sexual harassment?

RICHARDS: Yes, they could ask for reports of investigations, where harassment and abuse are proven. These would of course have to be suitably redacted in order to protect the identities of the complainants and witnesses. It could bring much-needed transparency to the process and create a push to change attitudes.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Sexual Assault Survivors March to End Gender Violence in India

By Divya Srinivasan
NEW DELHI, Feb 26 2019 (IPS)

In an historic first, thousands of people participated in a 10,000-kilometre long Dignity March across India to raise awareness about sexual violence, bring an end to stigma faced by survivors, and highlight the barriers women and children face in accessing justice.

Covering 200 districts in 24 states, the March began in Mumbai on December 20 and ended on Feb 22, with around 5000 gathering at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, a ground famous for hosting protests and political rallies. On this warm February afternoon, they were present for a momentous gathering of sexual assault survivors, many of whom had travelled across India to attend.

The ambitious idea was originated and organized by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (National Campaign for Dignity), an Indian human rights group which explained, “The Dignity March is a call for women and children to speak out their experiences of sexual abuse without shame. It is also an appeal for the stakeholders and the larger community to create a healthy, non-judgmental and a safe environment to support the voices of the survivors and to take the fight for justice forward.”

“It is time to speak up, condemn the act of sexual violence and to end the culture of victim shaming/blaming and shift the blame. Collectively, we must hold the state actors accountable to ensure justice to survivors.”

Numerous community events were held along the route, with survivors of sexual violence joined by family members, activists, lawyers, police, actors and politicians, who have come forward in support.

Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan estimates that during the Dignity March – also called the ‘Garima Yatra’ or ‘journey’ – they interacted with 25,000 survivors of sexual violence, 2000 lawyers, 3000 journalists and 200 policy makers and government officials.

It has attracted widespread media coverage, with sexual assault survivors welcoming the opportunity to come together and share their stories. Many are from communities that are marginalized because of caste, class and religion, and their experiences have previously been largely ignored by mainstream women’s movements.

One of the numerous survivors who participated in the March is Bhanwari Devi, a social worker who was gang raped in 1992 by “upper” caste men for attempting to stop a child marriage.

Her fight for justice was a pivotal moment in India’s women’s rights movement as her case prompted the Supreme Court to issue the Vishakha Guidelines for combating sexual harassment at the workplace, and it eventually led to the introduction of a national law in 2013 prohibiting it.

Despite this, in her own gang rape case, Bhanwari Devi is still fighting for justice 26 years later, as her appeal languishes in the Rajasthan High Court.

Bhanwari Devi’s case is representative of the problems survivors of sexual violence in India face in accessing justice. The first-hand accounts shared by women participating in the March demonstrate that every day, survivors are silenced, threatened and intimidated.

They face discrimination and inaction from the police and other legal authorities, and are often coerced into settling or compromising their cases even though this is not permitted under Indian law.

Survivors are even being harmed instead of helped by doctors. The two-finger test continues to be widely practiced today despite being unscientific, traumatizing, illegal, and a violation of human rights. It involves a medical practitioner inserting two fingers into the vagina in an attempt to determine if the hymen is broken and to test laxity.

As the WHO states, the two-finger test has no scientific or clinical basis, and there is no examination that can prove a girl or woman has had sex or is sexually active.

The procedure was banned by India’s Supreme Court and guidelines were released by the Government clarifying that it has no bearing on cases of sexual violence.

Despite this, it is still being performed to assert whether sexual assault survivors are “habituated to sex”, although sexual history is irrelevant in a rape trial.

These are just some of the many reasons why rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in India, which has a population of over 1.33 billion. Some estimates indicating that over 90% of rape cases in the country remain unreported.

To make matters worse, the conviction rate for crimes against women in India remain abysmally low – only 18.9% according to statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau from 2016 (the lowest percentage in a decade). Comparatively, the average conviction rate for all crimes is around 47%.

The result is that perpetrators of sexual assault are in the main able to act with impunity as they are not held to account for their actions, and are therefore able to reoffend without fear of consequence.

In contrast, the women and children being harmed are denied the justice they deserve and remain at risk. This is totally unacceptable and change is urgently needed.

The Dignity March has attempted to address some of these issues by calling upon stakeholders and the community in general to provide a healthy and supportive environment for survivors of sexual violence.

Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and activists working alongside are aiming to create a national network of survivors in order to ensure their voices are heard in policymaking.

They have also interacted with the police and other officials to advocate for better implementation of laws, and allocation of more financial resources towards supporting survivors, included equipping One Stop Crisis Centers.

Their efforts are already bearing fruit. Ashif Shaikh, founder of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, told the crowd at Ramlila Maidan: “The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, after hearing the survivors and our demands, has committed to taking steps to set up a special police force to investigate crimes against women, as well as fast-track courts to try such crimes.”

Another key aim of the Dignity March has been to end the culture of victim shaming and blaming, which has enabled perpetrators to go unpunished.

As a survivor from Raipur noted, “When we are in our villages, and something happens, we feel alone. Who is going to listen to our experiences, who will consider it important? But in this yatra, we have met others who have gone through the same experience. We understand each other’s pain and sorrow. I am leaving this yatra feeling less alone.”

The thousands of people who came out to support survivors during the March have only taken the first, important step. There is a lot more work to be done to change societal and national attitudes, and to ensure that survivors receive support instead of shame and blame when they break the silence and speak out. It is now time for others to listen and take positive action.

 

 

 

 
*Divya Srinivasan is a qualified attorney with a background in women’s rights, including work on sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence against women. You can follow her on Twitter @sdivya91.

**Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. It’s international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sexual trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and “child” marriage. For details of current campaigns, go to www.equalitynow.org, Facebook @equalitynoworg, and Twitter @equalitynow.

Photo Credit: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan.

Repression Stands in the Way of Political Solution to Crisis in Venezuela

A young man wounded by a bullet during protests in Santa Elena de Uairén is transported on a motorcycle by other young opposition demonstrators during protests after food and medical aid was prevented on Feb. 23 from entering the country from nearby Brazil, 1,260 kilometers southeast of Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of local residents of Santa Elena de Uairén

A young man wounded by a bullet during protests in Santa Elena de Uairén is transported on a motorcycle by other young opposition demonstrators during protests after food and medical aid was prevented on Feb. 23 from entering the country from nearby Brazil, 1,260 kilometers southeast of Caracas. Credit: Courtesy of local residents of Santa Elena de Uairén

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Feb 26 2019 (IPS)

The violent repression that prevented food and medical aid from crossing into Venezuela, which left at least four people dead and 58 with gunshot wounds, has distanced solutions to what is today Latin America’s biggest political crisis, although 10 countries in the hemisphere are stepping up the pressure while at the same time ruling out the use of force.

But for the United States, “all options are on the table,” including the use of military force, according to President Donald Trump, and as his Vice President Mike Pence reminded the 10 governments of the Lima Group that met on Feb. 25 in Bogotá to discuss the situation in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s neighbors “don’t want war but continue to struggle for a political solution that would involve the departure from power of President Nicolás Maduro. By repressing the entry of humanitarian aid trucks, we have an excuse to increase political, economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime,” said Carlos Romero, a postgraduate professor of political science at two public universities in Caracas.

The international aid accumulated in border areas of Colombia, Brazil and the neighboring Dutch island of Curacao consisted of a few hundred tons of medical supplies, some emergency medicines and food supplements that opposition Juan Guaidó ordered across the border on Feb. 23.

Venezuela, with a population of 32 million people, more than three million of whom have left the country in the last five years, according to United Nations sources, is in the grip of an economic and social crisis marked by hyperinflation measured in millions of percent annually, as well as the collapse of its public health system and of other essential public services.

Figures from a study by the three main universities in Caracas indicate – in the absence of official figures over the past three years – that poverty affects 80 percent of the population, and GDP has plunged 56 percent in the last five years.

The Maduro administration militarised and closed the borders, arguing that the aid was a pretext for foreign military intervention supported by the opposition led by Guaidó, the president of the parliament, who declared himself “acting president” on Jan. 23.

Two trucks that made it partly across one of the bridges on the border with Colombia, some 860 kilometers from Caracas, caught fire as Venezuelan security forces repelled young men advancing next to the vehicles, while in the neighboring cities of Ureña and San Antonio members of the security forces and armed civilians used gunfire to disperse opposition marches aimed at receiving the aid.

In the extreme southeast of the country, where the Pemón indigenous people live, hundreds of native people have been trying since Feb. 22 to keep out military personnel attempting to prevent the entrance of trucks carrying aid from Brazil.

Alfredo Romero, director of the human rights group Foro Penal, said the military shot their way through, according to indigenous leaders, leaving four dead and 25 with bullet wounds.

Indigenous groups seized and held several of the commanding officers for more than 24 hours, but then “some 70 vehicles, including buses full of members of the security forces, secured their release on their way to Santa Elena de Uairén,” a local resident of that city near the border with Brazil, 1,260 km from Caracas, told IPS.

Indigenous leaders are hiding in the countryside and in Santa Elena there is a de facto curfew, according to local residents who provided IPS with harsh photos and videos showing what happened there, while the opposition leadership and the media were focusing on the events on the border with Colombia.

Opposition leaders denounced the murders of at least 15 people in the area and the Foro Penal recorded nine cases of missing persons since Feb. 23.

In Ureña and San Antonio, in southwest Venezuela on the border with Colombia, more than 20 people were wounded by bullets fired by members of the security forces or armed civilians wearing ski masks, according to reports from journalists in the area. Several opposition demonstrations in support of the entry of international aid were also cracked down on heavily in the country’s hinterland.

Meanwhile, at least 326 members of Venezuela’s military and police, including several mid-level officers, have deserted since Feb. 23, fleeing mainly to Colombia.

The Lima Group – ad-hoc, this time made up of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela-Guaidó- and the United States urged the military to stop supporting Maduro and to recognise and obey Guaidó as their commander.

The Lima Group stated that “the transition to democracy must be conducted by Venezuelans themselves peacefully and within the framework of the Constitution and international law, supported by political and diplomatic means, without the use of force.”

That renunciation for now of the use of force “runs counter to radical people in the Venezuelan opposition who are desperate because they have not found a quick solution,” Romero said.

The call for the use of force “has gained ground, because of the way the government has dug in its heels and refused to consider any alternative path that would involve giving up power, in a kind of existential struggle,” Luis Salamanca, also a postgraduate professor of political science at the Central University, told IPS.

He quoted Maduro’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, who said, hours after the violent events at the borders, that the government’s determination “is a small part of what we are willing to do.”

Washington increased the financial and asset blockade against the Venezuelan State, as well as measures on visas and assets of its authorities, while the Lima Group decided to increase international denunciations and tighten the diplomatic and political noose around Maduro.

Romero warned, however, that in the acceleration of the crisis so far in 2019 “no element of moderation has worked: the compromise initiative set forth by Mexico and Uruguay, the European Union contact group and some countries of the Americas died at birth, as did Pope Francis’s insinuation that he would mediate if requested by the parties.”

While the government digs in its heels, the Venezuelan opposition “has to imagine and develop actions that keep people’s hope alive, to fight the discouragement that set in after the goal of bringing trucks in with aid was not achieved,” Félix Seijas, director of the pollster Delphos, told IPS.

The experts who spoke to IPS agreed that the opposition led by Guaidó made a mistake in making the entrance of aid on Feb. 23 a decisive battle, arguing instead that the call for the re-establishment of democracy is a gradual process with many steps.

Salamanca stressed that “the government seems firm, but with each passing hour new pieces are moved, and there is an underground current that is crumbling the bases on which it is sustained. The desertion of the members of the military is a very striking sign in this regard.”

But for now, the leadership of Venezuela’s armed forces remains completely loyal to Maduro.

Meanwhile, on the international stage, the United States, the country with the greatest capacity to exert pressure in the hemisphere, requested a new meeting on Venezuela at the United Nations Security Council, this time with the backing of the Lima Group, which described the crisis in the oil-producing country as “an unprecedented threat to security, peace, freedom and prosperity throughout the region.”

Hate Speech Threatens Our Humanity

By M. Nadarajah and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
BHUBANESWAR, India and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 2019 (IPS)

Do politicians’ words matter? Since becoming US President, Donald J Trump has dismissed his opponents and others he does not like as evil, stupid or both. He has referred to undocumented immigrants as animals, and to poor countries as shitholes.

Fostering culture of hate
Around the world, such harsh words have become normalized as part of the rhetoric of leaders, against perceived and manufactured enemies, to mobilize the intended ‘imagined community’ against ‘ the other’.

M. Nadarajah

Such rhetoric, increasingly emulated by political, religious and community leaders the world over, has contributed greatly to the growing climate of resentment and hatred of the ‘other’, the ‘outsider’, the ‘stranger’.

Hate words and speech have become widespread globally. They have become part of dominant cultures, spreading meanings, worldviews and beliefs, all with considerable impact. When dominant, they are amplified by authority and power – political, economic, social, and cultural, increasingly recognised as ‘soft’ power.

The rhetoric of hatred has been echoed and thus amplified by traditional as well as social media, including the increasingly vicious culture online, as rivals compete to outdo one another, vying for attention.

But often, even more aggressive and vicious is the hate rhetoric of the rising cultural populists, as they manufacture new language to outdo one another and the incumbents, while trying to unify their ‘imagined communities’ behind them.

Cultural populism for imagined communities
Ethno-populists, jingoist nationalists, other chauvinists and their enablers try to convince their followers that they are victims facing threats from exaggerated or even imagined dangers, such as conspiracies by enemy ‘others’ of which they are ignorant due to obfuscation by fake news.

Around the world, they use cultural ignorance, unfamiliarity, suspicions, prejudices, animosity and fear-mongering to mobilize their followings, typically with ‘half-truths’, rather than less credible, outright fabrications.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

In the era of fake news, fake alerts and ‘post-truth’, such half-truths have become more effective, and hence, more dangerous in abetting the power to demean, displace and destroy, especially when driven by ambition seeking greater influence and power.

The recent popularity, mainstreaming and legitimization of ethno-populism and jingoism in the West as well as other parts of the world, demand attention to how cultural analysis, social psychology and neuroscience can help us better understand the effects of such rhetoric.

Normalizing hate speech
Unsurprisingly, continuous or frequent exposure to hate speech is known to increase prejudice, resentment and animosity. Such influences desensitize people to verbal and even other forms of aggression, by ‘normalizing’ actions and behaviour which might otherwise be socially condemned. The culture of hate seems to thrive in the human ‘ecosystem’.

Leaders inspiring prejudice, anger and fear among their supporters, stimulate surges of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol, affecting the amygdala, the brain centre for threat. Threatening language directly stimulates the amygdala, making it difficult for humans to ‘wind down’ their passions and emotions in order to ‘think’ before acting.

One does not have to be mentally defective or unstable to be ‘inspired’ to aggression and violence by such rhetoric. Most of us are susceptible to such ‘motivational’ speeches, especially when conditions are conducive.

Legitimizing violence against others
A study, led by Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, has linked anger and violent impulses to distrust of ‘outsiders’ or ‘others’, especially when economic difficulties encourage viewing them as competing ‘unfairly’ for better opportunities.

By inducing or exaggerating a sense of external threat by the ‘other’, they can be thought of as not only different, but even as threatening. It is generally easier to think of outsiders as less than human, and hence, undeserving of empathy or compassion; both are cultural and socio-psychological conditions conducive to hate, aggression and violence.

A Harvard psychologist co-author of the study reportedly noted, “when a group is put on the defensive and made to feel threatened, they begin to believe that anything, including violence, is justified.”

Dehumanizing others
Cultural chauvinists also encourage antagonism to and violence against others by demonizing and dehumanizing them as sub-human or even non-human, so that they are not deemed worthy of treatment and consideration as fellow humans.

Earlier, Fiske and a colleague had found that their study subjects were so unempathetic to images of drug addicts and the homeless that they could not imagine how they felt or thought; the brain regions required to empathize with them as human beings deserving of ‘moral treatment’ could not be activated.

Instead, the brain region associated with feelings of disgust were activated. As Fiske has argued, “Both science and history suggest that people will nurture and act on their prejudices in the worst ways when these people are put under stress, pressured by peers, or receive approval from authority figures to do so.”

Thus, when a politician or some other socially influential person dehumanizes others, they are being put beyond the range of empathy, depriving them of moral protection and legitimizing inhuman treatment against them.

In another famous 1960s’ study by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, not knowing that the shocks were fake, most study subjects were willing to obey an authority figure’s instructions to give electric shocks to other participants.

Sixty-five per cent – almost two out of three — did as told, delivering the maximum shock, which could have been fatal, if real. Clearly, people can easily be influenced by authority to terribly harm others. Followers thus follow the leader in dehumanising others.

Positive agenda needed too
People are being continuously influenced by hate speech. But as dehumanisation becomes the norm, tolerated and sustained, not only by individual actions, but also by a socioeconomic culture promoting, even needing dehumanisation, then the culture of hatred, including hate speech, becomes normalized.

Hence, it is necessary to take measures to deter, delegitimize and even disallow hate speech in view of its likely consequences and the normalization of hate it thrives on and contributes to.

These threaten not only to undermine social solidarity, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, but also to do far more damage, not only for international relations, but also for social peace, especially in multicultural societies.

As hate becomes part and parcel of our ‘way of life’, it becomes increasingly difficult to reverse these processes to recapture our lost ability to build reason, empathy and compassion.

While difficult but necessary, this is hardly sufficient as we revisit, mobilize and augment our remaining cultural resources for a positive agenda to rediscover the best in our common humanity, drawing on mutual respect and the universal ethos underlying our rich cultural diversity.

While the current culture of hate has a supportive ‘ecosystem’ of sorts in some aspects of neuroscience, human biology and social psychology also recognise our ‘compassion instinct’, an orientation of mind that recognises pain, the universality of pain and suffering, and the ‘instinctive’ need, indeed desire to help others.

M. Nadarajah is Chair Professor, Xavier Centre for New Humanities and Compassion Studies, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, was a member of the new Malaysian Government’s Council of Eminent Persons.