Indigenous Rights Approach a Solution to Climate Change Crisis

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) was held in Bonn, Germany and focused on how to give land rights the visibility needed to showcase that a rights approach, particularly when it comes to indigenous people, is a solution to the climate change crisis. Courtesy: Pilar Valbuena/GLF

By Friday Phiri
Jun 29 2019 – The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) was held in Bonn, Germany to rally behind a new approach to achieving a future that is more inclusive and sustainable than the present – through the establishment of secure and proper rights for all.

On Jun. 22 and 23, experts, political leaders, NGOs and indigenous peoples and communities gathered to deliberate on a methodology that emphasises rights for indigenous peoples and local communities in the management and perseveration of landscapes. The forum took place alongside the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Bonn Climate Change Conference.

The forum focused giving land rights the visibility needed to showcase that a rights approach is a solution to the climate change crisis, and to develop a ‘gold standard’ for rights.

Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth, are believed to be the world’s most important environmental stewards but they are also among the most threatened and criminalised groups with little access to rights.

“We’re defending the world, for every single one of us,” said Geovaldis Gonzalez Jimenez, an indigenous peasant leader from Montes de María, Colombia.

But industries such as fossil fuels, large-scale agriculture, mining and others are not only endangering landscapes but also the lives of the people therein.

Already this year, said Gonzalez, his region witnessed 135 murders, adding that the day before the start of the GLF a local leader was killed in front of a 9-year-old boy.

According to the United Nations, the land belonging to the 350 million indigenous peoples across the globe is one of the most powerful shields against climate change as it holds 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and sequesters nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon

It is for this reason that amid the urgency to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under pressure from the climate threat, dialogues about the global future have begun to wake up to the fact that indigenous peoples’ relationships with the natural world are not only crucial to preserve for their own sakes, but for everyone’s.

The drafting of the document of rights was led by Indigenous Peoples Major Group (IPMG) for Sustainable Development and the Rights and Resources Initiative in the months leading up to the GLF.

Wider discussions and workshops over the two days served as a consultation on the draft (which is expected to be finalised by the end of the year) as a concrete guide for organisations, institutions, governments and the private sector on how to apply different principles of rights. This includes the rights to free, prior and informed consent; gender equality; respect to cultural heritage; and education.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz said lands managed by indigenous peoples with secure rights have lower deforestation rates, higher biodiversity levels and higher carbon storage than lands in government-protected areas.

But Diel Mochire Mwenge, who leads the Initiative Programme for the Development of the Pygme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest indigenous forest communities in Central Africa, said he has witnessed more than one million people being evicted from the national parkland where they have long lived. He explained that they had not been given benefits from the ecotourism industries brought in to replace them and were left struggling to find new income sources.

“Our identity is being threatened, and we need to avoid being completely eradicated,” said Mwenge.

In Jharkhand, India, activist Gladson Dungdung, whose parents were murdered in 1990 for attending a court case over a local land dispute, said an amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court could see 7.5 million indigenous peoples evicted from their native forest landscapes. The act can impact a further 90 million people who depend on these forests’ resources for their survival, he said.

The amendment, Dungdung said, would also give absolute power to the national forest guard; if a guard were to see someone using the forest for hunting or timber collection, they could legally shoot the person on-sight.

“Indigenous peoples are right on the frontline of the very real and dangerous fight for the world’s forests,” said actor and indigenous rights activist Alec Baldwin in a video address.

“Granted that indigenous peoples are the superheroes of the environmental movement,” Jennifer Morris, president of Conservation International wondered why they are not heard until they become victims. “Why do we not hear about these leaders until they’ve become martyrs for this cause?”

The examples of intimidation, criminalisation, eviction and hardship shared throughout the first day clearly showcased what indigenous peoples and local communities go through to preserve the forests or ‘lungs of the earth’.

The rights approach, according to conveners of the GLF, aims to strengthen respect, recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as stewards and bearers of solutions to landscape restoration, conservation, and sustainable use. It also aims to end persecution of land and environment defenders; build partnerships to enhance engagement and support for rights-based approaches to sustainable landscapes across scales and sectors; and, scale up efforts to legally recognise and secure collective land and resource rights across landscapes.

“By implementing a gold standard, we can both uphold and protect human rights and develop conservation, restoration and sustainable development initiatives that embrace the key role Indigenous peoples and local communities are already playing to protect our planet,” said Joan Carling, co-convener of IPMG.

IPMG recognises that indigenous and local communities are bearers of rights and solutions to common challenges.

“This will enable the partnership that we need to pave the way for a more sustainable, equitable and just future,” added Carling.

And the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Director General, Robert Nasi, said when rights of local communities and indigenous peoples are recognised, there are significant benefits for the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

“Whoever controls the rights over these landscapes has a very important part to play in fighting climate change,” he said.

In the climate and development arenas, the most current alarm being sounded is for rights–securing the land rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples, local communities and the marginalised members therein.

How can these custodians of a quarter of the world’s terrestrial surface be expected to care for their traditional lands if the lands don’t, in fact, belong to them? Or, worse, if they’re criminalised and endangered for doing so?

The basic principles of a ‘gold standard’ already exist, such as free, prior and informed consent, according to Alain Frechette of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). What has been lacking, he said, is the application of principles that could be boosted by high-level statements that could “spur a race to the top”.

“Unimaginable Horrors” in Libya’s Migrant Detention Centers

By Daniel Yang
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28 2019 – For over 10,000 migrants fleeing to Libya from war and violence, their fate often comes down to the mercy of human traffickers or the dark unknown awaiting in detention centers.

The northern shores of Libya – the largest departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe – is a hotbed for modern-day slavery. Captured on land, intercepted at sea, cuffed and injured by militias and human traffickers, migrants are sent to detention centers and exposed to every abuse possible.

“From the moment [migrants] step onto Libyan soil, they become vulnerable to unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, unlawful deprivation of liberty and rape,” according to a report by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

However, not only has Libyan authority taken no measures to systematically address the issue, it has expanded its migrant detention capability with the aid of European governments.

‘Serious Health Threat’

The detention centers, controlled by Libya’s Ministry of Interior and guarded by the militias of the Government of National Accord (GNA), often hold hundreds of migrants in overcrowded spaces without proper ventilation or drinkable water.

“In some parts of the centre, toilets are overflowing and are in urgent need of repair. As a result, solid waste and garbage has piled up inside the cell for days and presents a serious health threat,” a spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency said in a statement.

Poor sanitation has led to deteriorating health conditions inside the detention centers, causing multiple disease outbreaks.

The medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called the situation “a disaster,” noting that hundreds of detained migrants use “four barely functioning toilets, no shower and only sporadic access to water” in a visit to Zintan detention center.

Dr. Hussein Hassan, emergency coordinator from the World Health Organization (WHO) Libya office, told IPS: “TB with other respiratory infections, HIV and skin diseases are some of the conditions that migrants in more than 34 centers are suffering from.”

Although a TB screening campaign was done in January, those tested positive for TB were kept in the same room with the rest. According to Dr. Hassan, 16 migrants contracted with TB are in worse condition due to interruptions in medical treatment and lack of proper referral system.

An internal UN report leaked to the Irish Times said that more than 80 percent of migrants in Zintan detention center may have been infected with TB.

But TB is not the only disease present in the health crisis, according to MSF.

“Many of them suffer from malnutrition, skin infections, acute diarrhea, respiratory tract-infections and other ailments, as well as inadequate medical treatment,” MSF said in a statement. “Children are held with adults in same squalid conditions.”

However, help is not on the way. Libyan law forbids non-citizens access to public health services, effectively denying migrants proper medical care. Humanitarian organizations are often restricted entry into the centers, causing delays in treatment.

“We have been abandoned here, I cannot go back and no one wants us anywhere,” an Eritrean refugee told MSF. “I don’t know where my place on earth is.”

‘We’re dying’

Exploited by human traffickers and traded as commodities, migrants fear for their daily survival.

“Migrants held in the centers are systematically subjected to starvation and severe beatings, burned with hot metal objects, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment with the aim of extorting money from their families through a complex system of money transfers,” the UNSMIL report said.

Following the bloody civil war in 2011 that brought down military dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya fell in the hands of rival factions and Islamist groups. Two forces in the west and north fought to control the country’s oil fields. The period of lawlessness gave rise to smuggling and trafficking along Libya’s borders and coastlines.

Most migrants enter through the country’s southern border. But the warfare between the Libyan National Army and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has left southern Libya lawless and unpatrolled.

Human traffickers and well-armed militias intercept migrants enroute to Tripoli, buying off government officials to sell migrant labor at prices as cheap as a few hundred dollars.

Traffickers have created an online market for illegal weapons despite the arms embargo posed by the UN Security Council, adding further uncertainty to the political situation.

“Seemingly unlimited arms supply fuels the erroneous belief in a military solution to the conflict and contributes to the unwillingness of actors on the ground to agree to a ceasefire,” said Jürgen Schulz, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN.

Amid the chaos, migrants are left helpless.

“Countless migrants and refugees lost their lives during captivity by smugglers, after being shot, tortured to death, or simply left to die from starvation or medical neglect,” the UNSMIL report added. “Across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert.”

“We are dying,” detainees told the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “We live like animals; they beat us everyday.”

‘Complicit in Tragedy’

Libyan law groups migrants, political refugees and asylum seekers in the same category under the supervision of the Interior Ministry of Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).

Even if migrants manage to escape from human traffickers and the DCIM’s search and capture along the northern coastline, European patrol ships in the Mediterranean Sea intercept and return migrant boats to Libya.

The European Union (EU) has invested millions of euros in the Libyan Coast Guard in the name of “efficient border management,” fully aware that those returned can only expect indefinite servitude and abuse.

Oxfam, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and dozens other international organizations condemned the EU’s move, calling the policy “complicit,” in an open letter in January.

“The actions of European governments have made it extremely difficult for search and rescue organizations to continue their life-saving work,” the letter said, calling an end to returning migrants to Libya.

Italy – where most migrants land after a journey across the Mediterranean – has been intercepting migrant boats and assisting to transfer migrants back to Libya since 2009. Although deemed a violation by the European Court of Human Rights’ in 2012, Italy’s effort to guard off African migrants has only intensified since then.

In 2017, the Italian parliament signed a legislation that deploys Italy’s Navy to Libyan waters, aiming to assist the Libyan Coast Guard to “fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking.”

More than 10,000 have died crossing the Mediterranean since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Yet for migrants fleeing from the insufferable, that stretch of water still represents hope.

India’s Criminal Justice System is Failing Victims of Sexual Violence

By Divya Srinivasan
NEW DELHI, Jun 28 2019 – Early in 2018, India was shaken by the horrific details surrounding the abduction, gang rape, and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua, a district in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The case is one of a string of brutal rapes to attract widespread media attention in a country where sexual violence against women and girls is commonplace.

According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, around 100 sexual assaults are reported to police every day. Shocking though that is, the actual number of attacks is far higher, with a government survey finding that 99.1% of sexual violence cases go unreported, often due to pressure from family members.

Even in cases that do that make it into the criminal court system, justice for victims is often hard to obtain. In the Kathua case, the young victim was a Muslim from the poor nomadic Bakarwal tribe and the eight accused are part of the local majority Hindu community.

In many areas across India, political tensions run high between Muslims and Hindus and the public reaction to the murder investigation soon became embroiled in bitter sectarian divisions.

Widespread protests were held across the country with supporters alleging the men were innocent targets in an anti-Hindu plot instigated by biased Muslim investigators.

Numerous attempts were made to disrupt the police investigation and thwart legal processes. Some even resorted to death threats and attacks against the prosecution lawyers, witnesses, and victim’s family.

The Bakarwal community which they were members of came under sustained attack and the family was forced to flee the village where the assault occurred.

The situation became so dangerous that the Supreme Court decreed that a fair trial could not take place in Jammu and the case was moved to Pathankot in the neighboring state of Punjab to ensure impartiality in the legal process.

Against this backdrop, the judgment of the Special Court on 10 June 2019 came as a relief to many. Six out of the seven men charged were found guilty, with three sentenced to life in prison for gang-rape and murder, and three given five years for destroying evidence in order to protect the perpetrators. A seventh man was acquitted and an adolescent is yet to stand trial.

On a positive note, the Special Court pronounced judgment within a year of starting the trial, which is a rare achievement in India’s overburdened criminal justice system. While this is definitely laudable, the fact that justice was finally delivered (subject to appeal) in the Kathua case must not overshadow the many obstacles that had to be surmounted in reaching this acceptable conclusion.

Rather, it should be seen as an illustration of the many impediments faced by thousands of survivors of sexual violence across India, especially those from marginalized communities including Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis.

Unfortunately, the speedy and effective justice delivered by the Special Court in Pathankot does not represent the experiences of the vast majority of survivors, and a fair and swift trial in cases of sexual violence remains the exception, rather than the norm.

In 2016 – the last year for which official statistics are available – there were 133,000 cases of sexual violence pending trial and conviction rates remain abysmally low.

The Unnao rape case is another recent high profile example in which a victim from a marginalized group is pitted against those who are more powerful. In this instance, an elected official from the ruling government party stands accused, alongside others including his driver, of raping a girl from the Dalit community.

The rape survivor attempted to set herself on fire in front of the state Chief Minister’s residence merely to get her criminal complaint registered. Her legal battle is ongoing and a criminal complaint for fraud has been filed against her by the parent of one of the men charged with rape in the case.

Meanwhile, her father was taken into police custody, allegedly after he was assaulted by supporters of the accused, and died shortly after, with a medical examination finding injuries consistent with him having been beaten.

So whilst we celebrate the verdict in the Kathua case, we must remember that every day in India, women and girls who have experienced sexual violence and assault are confronted with intimidation, threats, and coercion that inhibits them from reporting their violation or forces them into settling or dropping their cases.

Facing even greater obstacles to accessing justice are those who are subjected to additional discrimination on the grounds of class, caste, religion, or disability.

In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern about the escalation of rapes against women and girls in India, particularly on the basis of caste, and the downplaying by key state officials of the grave criminal nature of gender-based sexual violence.

The situation has, however, failed to improve. In April 2018, over 600 academics from India and abroad joined together to write an open letter to the Indian government, pointing out the rapes and lynchings appeared to be a targeted campaign against minorities and expressing anguish over the lack of action by the Indian government.

India’s criminal justice system remains inaccessible and insensitive to most survivors of sexual violence. These survivors face barriers in getting their cases registered with the police, have inadequate legal support, and are forced to wait years to have their cases heard.

Immediate, systemic change is needed to ensure expeditious trials and day-to-day hearing of cases, such as took place in the Kathua trial. Justice needs to be done and be seen to be done so that all survivors of sexual violence can place their faith in the legal system, safe in the knowledge that they will be heard and their claims treated seriously.

The onus is now on the Indian government to move beyond token action and ensure that the criminal justice system is responsive to survivors needs and is equipped to handle the high volume of sexual violence cases that are currently pending.

To achieve positive systemic change, state officials should work in close cooperation with civil society organizations, activists, and survivors who can provide invaluable insight and expertise.

Better implementation of existing laws, the introduction of much needed procedural reforms, and clearing the large backlog of cases pending in criminal courts, are all key. So is handling sexual violence cases with greater sensitivity, a more accountable police force, and bigger budgetary allocation by the government to end gender-based violence.

This includes giving sufficient funding to women’s rights organizations that are delivering vital support services at the grassroots to women and girls.

There is much to be done but if these important and long overdue improvements can be implemented, it means something positive can come from the tragedy of the Kathua case.

For media enquiries and interview requests please contact Equality Now Sr. Media Manager Tara Carey at tcarey@equalitynow.org; +44 (0)20 7304 6902; +44 (0)7971 556 340.

About Equality Now: 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, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. For more information go to www.equalitynow.org.

We Cannot Save the World from Climate Catastrophe if Largest Emitters of CO2 Don’t Step up Now

Frank Bainimarama is Prime Minister of Fiji

By Frank Bainimarama
SUVA, Fiji, Jun 27 2019 – SUVA, Fiji, 27 June 2019 (IPS) — Are the most climate-vulnerable nations of the world right to demand that developed and major economies commit to carbon neutrality by 2050?

Should the poorest nations of the world insist that the “haves” put their significant economic and political resources behind aggressive efforts to combat climate change?

Frank Bainimarama

Do we have the right to expect political leaders to show the courage, vision and will to lead their citizens to responsible action to stem the growth of global warming?

The answer is yes, of course, and the reason is simple: We cannot save the world from climate catastrophe if the largest emitters of CO2 don’t step up now.

And the most vulnerable countries of the world cannot adequately reduce our emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change without economic support from the developed world that is flexible and accessible. Governments, private financial institutions, international financial institutions and foundations must be a part of the solution.

Last week, European Union leaders missed a critical opportunity to develop a more aggressive collective mitigation target by 2020 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Perhaps more importantly, they had a chance to lead the world to carbon neutrality, but they failed to step up at the critical moment.

Their failure was a bitter disappointment to countries, like Fiji, that are doing everything within our means to achieve those same results. Island nations are determined to lead by example.

We have laid the ground work, but unfortunately, our efforts, strenuous though they may be, will not be enough alone. We need developed economies—and advanced developing economies—to make the same strenuous effort.

We are at a critical juncture in this fight, at a point where we know we can still act globally to change the course of human-made climate change or fail to act and face the reverberations of climate, environmental and biodiversity crises for generations to come.

The political and scientific ground has shifted under our feet since we signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. Governments have changed, and populists and climate sceptics have gained ascendancy in some countries.

Then, last October, the IPCC released its Special Report on 1.5 Degrees, which made it clear that time is closing in on us; we simply don’t have the time to turn the tide that we thought we had in Paris.

It was a struggle then for small island states and members of the High Ambition Coalition to win the inclusion in the Paris Agreement of an aspiration to limit global warming to of 1.5 degrees, when the official goal of the agreement was 2 degrees.

Now we find that we are less than 12 years away from dramatic, far-reaching, and possibly irreversible consequences of surpassing 1.5 degrees of warming if we keep going the way we’re going. We simply cannot miss opportunities like the one the EU missed last week, and we must embrace all possible solutions.

There are three things we need to focus on now. First, we need to reduce the amount of carbon we are releasing into the atmosphere. This means that countries need to set much more ambitious targets in their national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement that lead to rapid decarbonisation of high-emitting industries and sectors.

I am encouraged to see that the number of countries that are stepping up to the 2020 deadline is growing, but I’m both proud and concerned that most of these are from the developing world. The names of many developed and major economies are still notably absent from this list.

Second, we need to remove more of the carbon that has already been emitted into the atmosphere and this means massively increasing our investment in nature — developing and implementing natural climate solutions that can be implemented worldwide.

Nature has the incredible power to remove carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere, but we are currently failing to protect this vital resource. We will not be able to achieve 1.5 degrees without dramatically recalibrating how we look after and restore our natural landscapes. Under the leadership of China and New Zealand, we are expecting a big step forward on this front at the upcoming UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit (in New York on September 23 this year).

And, third, developed and major economies should increase the amount — and rapidly deploy — climate finance for developing countries to allow us to achieve and increase our mitigation targets, as well as urgently build our resilience to the impacts of climate change. This means at least $100 billion a year by 2020.

The irony of the EU’s failure of will is that so many European leaders understand fully what is at stake, and many individual European countries—and non-European countries—are beginning to take responsible action.

Still, it is a sad fact that the Marshall Islands and Fiji—two of the most marginal carbon emitters in the world—are the only two countries to have officially submitted long-term plans to the UN for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Paris Agreement committed signatories to achieving net carbon neutrality by the second half of the 21st century, but it was unclear what was intended by the term “second half.”

We know now that the deadline must be the beginning of the second half, not the end. Fifty years of ambiguous wiggle room, 50 years of hesitancy, and 50 years of procrastination will lead us to the catastrophe we fear.

Setting a date for achieving net-zero, matched with boosting short-term action, is critical and that’s where national leadership comes in. It gives all the relevant stakeholders, government departments, businesses and citizens the signal they need to start making concerted changes.

If developing countries can develop robust emissions-reduction targets that truly drive us toward the goals we agreed to in Paris, then other nations can, too.

The EU, and the rest of the developed world, can still change course. The UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September will provide a forum for every country to lay out their climate ambitions before the world and be judged.

I urge developed countries to come to New York with the most aggressive and most ambitious plans they can devise. In Paris, the small island states used our moral weight to push the world to accept the aspiration of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. In New York, vulnerable developing countries must do the same.

We cannot accept that countries with the means to do more will sit on the sidelines and do less.

Beyond Saudi Arabia: The World Is Failing Journalists

United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard determined that Saudi Arabia is “responsible” for the “extrajudicial” murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. Courtesy: United Nations Photo/Manuel Elias

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 27 2019 – Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was deliberately killed at the hands of state actors and journalists around the world are increasingly seeing the same fate, said a United Nations expert.

After a six-month investigation, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard determined that Saudi Arabia is “responsible” for the “extrajudicial” murder of Washington Post writer Khashoggi.

“This killing was a result of an elaborate mission involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned, and endorsed by high level officials and it was premeditated,” she said to the Human Rights Council.

“The right to life is a right at the core of international human rights protection. If the international community ignores targeted killing designed to silence peaceful expression, it puts at risk the protection on which all human rights depend,” Callamard added.

Since it occurred at a consulate in Turkey, the killing cannot be considered a “domestic matter” and violates the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as well as the prohibition against extraterritorial use of force in times of peace, making it an international crime.

Callamard pointed to the need to establish a U.N. criminal investigation to ensure the delivery of justice, noting that the inquiry undertaken by the Saudi authorities was woefully inadequate.

“The investigation carried out by the Saudi authorities has failed to address the chain of command. It is not only a question of who ordered the killing—criminal responsibility can be derived from direct or indirect incitement or from the failure to prevent and protect,” she said.

The government of Saudi Arabia continues to deny its involvement and rejected the new report, stating that it is based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas.”

While the killing of Khashoggi was brutal, his story is just one of many cases of targeting journalists around the world.

“This execution is emblematic of a global pattern of targeted killings of journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists,” Callamard said.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 80 journalists were killed, 348 imprisoned, and 60 held hostage in 2018, reflecting an unprecedented level of violence against journalists.

Javier Valdez Cárdenas, a Mexican journalist who investigated cartels, was killed in May 2017.

Just days after, Valdez’s colleagues and widow began receiving messages infected with a spyware known as Pegasus, which was bought by the Mexican government from Israeli cyber warfare company NSO Group.

According to the NSO Group, Pegasus is only sold to governments for the purposes of fighting terror and investigating crime. However, digital watchdog Citizen Lab found 24 questionable targets, including some of Mexico’s most prominent journalists.

The programme has also been used elsewhere by repressive governments such as the United Arab Emirates which targeted and imprisoned human rights defender Ahmed Manor for his social media posts. In Canada, critic of the Saudi regime and friend of Khashoggi, Omar Abdulaziz, was also infected with the spyware by a Saudi Arabia-linked operator.

While a suspect was arrested in 2018 for the murder of Valdez, it is unclear if they are the main culprit.

“The arrest of a suspect in the murder of Javier Valdez Cárdenas is a welcome step, but we urge the Mexican authorities to identify all those responsible for the killing, including the mastermind,” said Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen.

“Too often, investigations into the murders of Mexican journalists stall after low-level suspects have been arrested, which allows impunity to thrive,” he added.

The Mexican government also launched an investigation into the misuse of such surveillance technology, but as yet no one has been punished.

Callamard urged Saudi Arabia to release those imprisoned for their opinion or belief and to undertake an in-depth assessment of the institutions “that made the crime against Mr. Khashoggi possible.”

She also stressed the need to strengthen laws to protect individuals against targeted killings, including the sharing of information if an individual is at risk.

“There are clear signs of increasingly aggressive tactics by States and non-State actors to permanently silence those who criticise them. The international community must take stock of these hostile environments, it must take stock of the findings of my investigation into the killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” Callamard told the Human Rights Council.

“Denunciations are important, but they are no longer sufficient. The international community must demand accountability and non repetition. It must strengthen protections and prevention urgently. Silence and inaction will only cause further injustice and global instability,” she added.

Virgin Hyperloop One Zooms Into Washington D.C. to Present Pioneering Transit Technology, Government Partnerships & Viable Routes Across the United States

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), the only hyperloop company in the world to successfully test its technology at scale, was on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. today to showcase its industry–leading technology to members of Congress and federal stakeholders at its event "Hyperloop On The Hill," as the company continues to broaden support of its revolutionary transportation technology.

Building off of the momentum of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao's newly–formed Non–Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to support new and innovative transportation projects like hyperloops and self–driving cars, Virgin Hyperloop One's demonstration on Capitol Hill focused on this new mode of transportation that will change the way we move passengers and cargo in a safe, sustainable, and efficient way.

Virgin Hyperloop One has been working with the Directorate–General for Mobility and Transport in Europe and the Consultative Group on Future Transportation (CGFT), under the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, as there has been significant interest from regulatory agencies in those regions to coordinate and prepare a global framework that would regulate hyperloop technology and systems.

Now, there is a serious movement in the United States to accelerate the regulatory process. The vision of the NETT Council is to develop and establish department–wide processes, solutions, and best practices to identify and manage non–traditional and emerging transportation technologies and projects, to provide assistance to local and state governments, and to conduct research to better understand the safety and regulatory needs of these technologies.

"We are seeing a rapidly growing global interest in Virgin Hyperloop One's technology," said Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World and Virgin Hyperloop One. "The progress in the United States accelerates our vision for a globally certified system, allowing us to bring this transformative technology all over the world, and specifically to the GCC, in years not decades."

"It is time to seize the opportunity that hyperloop technology presents to bring people and economies closer together through more efficient, affordable, and seamless travel," said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One. "We are now seeing the groundswell of support that's needed to realize the hyperloop revolution with the formation of the NETT Council and support from lawmakers across the world. As hyperloop moves toward reality it's becoming clear that it will not only transform how we travel but also create an entirely new industry with thousands of new jobs."

XP–1 Hits the Road
As cities across the country face increasing transportation challenges, such as extreme traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, long commute times and more, today's event also kicked–off Virgin Hyperloop One's roadshow. This summer, Virgin Hyperloop One will be travelling across the United States to showcase their XP–1 vehicle, connect with communities, and educate local and state governments on the tangible benefits of hyperloop. Virgin Hyperloop One's technology would transport passengers and goods three times as fast as high–speed rail and enable regional cities to connect just as local city subways connect neighborhoods.

After Washington D.C., Ohio will be the next stop on the tour, taking place later this summer. Over the next few months, Virgin Hyperloop One will make stops across America in Missouri, Texas, Ohio, and more to showcase its technology and competitive advantage when it comes to advancing America's transportation technology capabilities.

About Virgin Hyperloop One
Virgin Hyperloop One is the only company in the world that has successfully tested its hyperloop technology at scale, launching the first new mode of mass transportation in over 100 years. The company successfully operated a full–scale hyperloop vehicle using electric propulsion and electromagnetic levitation under near–vacuum conditions, realizing a fundamentally new form of transportation that is faster, safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than existing modes. The company is now working with governments, partners, and investors around the world to make hyperloop a reality in years, not decades. Learn more about Virgin Hyperloop One's technology, vision, and ongoing projects here.

Media Assets
To download high–resolution route maps and visuals of VHO technology, please click here.

Media Contact
Ryan Kelly
Head of Marketing and Communications
Virgin Hyperloop One
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10 digital solutions for women entrepreneurs win support from United Nations’ FinTech Innovation Fund

By PRESS RELEASE
Jun 27 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(ESCAP) – A crowdfunding platform for women farmers, online marketplaces for women-produced goods and services, and e-wallet enabled lending were among ten of the winning business models which will be co-funded by the United Nations to improve access to finance for women-owned, managed or led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region.

Launched by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in March 2019, the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will support the implementation of the winning private sector FinTech and digital business solutions for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

“We received over 100 innovative proposals from businesses registered in more than 20 countries around the region. The breadth of proposals received was impressive. It is encouraging to see how digital finance and digital solutions can be used to address some of the barriers women-led MSMEs face in accessing finance and advancing their business. ESCAP is grateful to the Government of Canada for their support to this initiative,” shared ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Hongjoo Hahm.

MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to the GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific experience financial access constraints. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.

“To address the issues that female business owners face, we need entrepreneur-centric solutions that will allow her to grow her business and reach her full potential,” said Andrew Shaw, Senior Advisor, Fintech and Financial Inclusion at the Dutch development Bank (FMO).

The Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund provides risk capital and technical assistance to pilot technology enabled financial service solutions for women-led enterprises. Out of the 110 applications received, the top 30 proposals were asked to pitch their ideas to an independent investment committee made up of industry experts and regulators.

Over the next year, ESCAP and UNCDF will provide financial and technical support to the ten winning companies as they develop and pilot their business initiatives. In the short-term, the initiatives aim to support more than 9,000 women led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam. The winning companies include the following:

iFarmer (Bangladesh)
Romoni Services (Bangladesh)
BanhJi FinTech (Cambodia)
SHE Investments (Cambodia)
HFC Bank (Fiji)
InfoCorp (Myanmar)
Aeloi Technologies (Nepal)
SparrowPay (Nepal)
SkyEye (Samoa)
Tinh Thuong Microfinance Institution (Viet Nam)

“Transforming towards digital economy requires inclusive partnerships and concerted effort towards enhancing MSMEs competitiveness. We thank ESCAP, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Canada, FMO and Visa for their collaboration and support for bringing in the much-needed synergy on advancing women MSMEs through use of the UNCDF SHIFT Innovation Fund mechanism,” said Rajeev Kumar Gupta, SHIFT ASEAN and SAARC Programme Manager, UNCDF.

Similarly, Mr. Arif Qayyum, Senior Director of Social Impact in Asia Pacific, Visa, stated: “We believe that given the right opportunities and support, women owned-business and entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on economic growth. Partnerships such as the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will give FinTechs the support they need to implement locally-relevant solutions to help more women-owned MSMEs thrive with access to formal financial services.”

The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP in partnership with UNCDF. The programme aims to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region through addressing the challenges faced at three levels: enabling policy environment, access to finance and use of ICT for entrepreneurship. Funding support is also provided by FMO and Visa Inc.

For more information about the winning business models and how they plan to support women entrepreneurs, please visit: https://adobe.ly/2X6jWb5.

For media enquiries, please contact:
Ms. Kavita Sukanandan, Public Information Officer, Strategic Communications and Advocacy Section, ESCAP, T: (66) 2 288 1869 / E: sukanandan@un.org

Myanmar must give Rohingya ‘pathway to citizenship’: UN investigator

Amir Ali, 75, plays a violin in front of his house in Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters file photo

By Thomson Reuters Foundation, London
Jun 27 2019 (IPS-Partners)

Myanmar must grant citizenship to stateless Rohingya with roots in the country, a senior UN investigator said yesterday, as she urged the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi to “be the democrat she once told us she was”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognise the Muslim Rohingya as citizens despite a long history in the country.

Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a 2017 crackdown by the military, which UN investigators say was executed with “genocidal intent”.

“I have seen much brutality in the different parts of my career but the rape and forced eviction of the Rohingya shook me to my core,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a member of the UN fact-finding mission that gathered evidence on the violence.

Coomaraswamy said statelessness was at the root of the “horrific” Rohingya crisis, which was among the worst she had seen, second only to the Rwandan genocide.

He told how soldiers shot at fleeing villagers, gang raped women and burned down houses with children inside.

Myanmar has rejected a report by the United Nations investigators calling for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide, saying the international community is making “false allegations”.

Coomaraswamy was speaking after addressing a global conference on statelessness in The Hague where the plight of the Rohingya is in the spotlight.

The Rohingya are among an estimated 10 to 15 million stateless people in the world who are not recognized as citizens of any country.

Sometimes called “legal ghosts”, stateless people are deprived of basic rights from education to employment and vulnerable to exploitation, violence and arbitrary detention.

“These are heartbreaking issues and one is never quite the same after … seeing the impact that forced statelessness has,” Coomaraswamy told delegates.

Bulldozed villages

The Rohingya are the world’s largest stateless population. About 900,000 are in Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands remain in Myanmar and others are scattered throughout Asia.

Coomaraswamy said she was struck by one elderly refugee she met who showed her a dirty plastic bag of papers.

These included the citizenship document her grandparents had received at independence, a paper from 1982 denying her citizenship, and a card she had just received stating she was a “Bengali Muslim” which gave her access to some services.

“She was holding it like this was her life. She had left everything behind (when she fled) including even her jewellery. She said she sleeps with this bag under her pillow,” Coomaraswamy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Myanmar has said it will take back some Rohingya who can show they have a long history in the country. But many fled to Bangladesh with nothing, and many do not want to return without full citizenship.

Coomaraswamy urged the international community to stop pressuring Rohingya to return and ensure those behind the violence are brought to justice.

“Before you force people to go back into Myanmar you must make sure the conditions are right and the Rohingyas will have … a clear pathway to citizenship,” she said.

“The problem is their villages have been bulldozed — without a tree standing.”

She said those still in Myanmar were in decrepit camps with severe restrictions on their movement, limited access to food and healthcare and sky-high malnutrition rates.

Subterranean world

The mission will hand its evidence to a new prosecutorial authority in September so that it can build cases against the generals behind the atrocities, she said.

Coomaraswamy said the desperation and sadness was overwhelming when investigators met refugees immediately after the August 2017 violence.

When the team returned to Bangladesh last month the Rohingya were “much more organized, much clearer on what they want and deeply disappointed in the international community,” she said.

“They would like to see justice and citizenship.”

She said the continued defence of the military by Myanmar’s civilian leader and Nobel peace prize winner Suu Kyi posed serious concern.

“We would hope she would change and be the democrat she once told us she was and have … the Rohingyas (who lived there) come back … with a guarantee of full rights.”

Coomaraswamy told the conference that increasing numbers of people globally were ending up stateless after “falling between the cracks”.

They lived in a “subterranean world” without formal rights, documents or sense of belonging, at risk of violence and easy prey to traffickers.

“Statelessness is no longer the exception in the world – it has become endemic,” she said.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Will “UN@75” Revive Multilateralism?

By Fergus Watt and Richard Ponzio
WASHINGTON DC, Jun 27 2019 – Despite the polarization and stasis that characterizes so much of the present politics at the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres is betting that the 75th anniversary of the organization, in 2020, will provide an opportunity for the international community to begin to address the “crisis in multilateralism,” and to shape a more robust and effective organization.

On 14 June, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a “modalities resolution” (A/RES/73/299, titled “Commemoration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations”) setting out the framework and practical arrangements for actions by various UN stakeholders to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary.

A growing civil society network, the “UN2020 Initiative,” has campaigned since early 2017 for using this anniversary as an opportunity to involve governments and other UN stakeholders in a process of stocktaking, review and consideration of measures to strengthen the organization.

And prospects for a stand-alone resolution for UN75 gained momentum earlier this year with the active encouragement from the President of the General Assembly, Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador.

The resolution identifies the theme for the 75th anniversary (which is meant to guide all activities, meetings and conferences organized by the United Nations in 2020) as “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism.”

A Leaders Summit is scheduled for 21 September 2020, while “meaningful observance ceremonies” took place on June 26 (the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Charter) and October 24 (UN Day). A youth plenary will also be organized in the spring of 2020.

An outcome document will be adopted at the Leaders’ Summit. Arrangements for the negotiation of this political declaration are to be determined by the President of the 74th session of the General Assembly, Ambassador Tijani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria.

Against this backdrop, the Secretary-General has appointed a Special Adviser for 75th Anniversary Preparations, highly-regarded Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond of Chile, who had previously served in the S-G’s Executive Office as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination.

At a meeting June 5-7 hosted by the Washington-based Stimson Center, along with the Global Challenges Foundation, One Earth Future Foundation, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Office, Hochschild shared with civil society representatives a draft of the Secretary-General’s ambitious plans for a “UN@75” program of activities.

The Secretariat aims to stimulate a “global dialogue” at the local, national and international levels on “The future we want, the United Nations we need.”

From “classrooms to board rooms, village houses to houses of parliament,” the intention is to employ a mix of intellectual, communications, media, and engagement tools in order to catalyze widespread public engagement on the role of the UN system in addressing global challenges.

All 130 UN Resident Coordinators will be involved, as will UN regional commissions and many UN agencies and programmes. Young people in particular are expected to be drivers of this worldwide dialogue.

The planning document for UN@75 recognizes that an unprecedented confluence of existential threats, systems changes and new actors, including the role of mega-corporations and tech giants, present new governance challenges.

These changes “are occurring faster than public institutions ability to adapt or regulate.” The document calls for “a reflection on successes as well as failures, inviting transformational thinking about the potentially momentous paradigm shifts for how the multilateral system as a whole confronts global challenges.”

More than a simple commemoration, these proposals go far beyond what was organized for the UN’s 70th anniversary in 2015.

Considering the current levels of international hostility and indifference to the very idea of international cooperation and a rules-based world order, the commitment of Mr. Guterres to an ambitious UN@75 program, though commendable, surely faces long odds. Many public officials in similar circumstances would be more risk-averse.

Is there a public appetite for such a far-reaching worldwide dialogue about the United Nations and global governance? We shall see.

Fighting Food Insecurity in Africa – Lessons from the United States

Finding sustainable pathways to self-reliance, especially for many African countries whose citizens continue to be affected by hunger and food insecurity, is indeed important. Presently, over 257 million African citizens are hungry. In addition, according to a recent report titled For Lack of Will – Child Hunger in Africa, over 50 percent of all child deaths in Africa are caused by hunger.

Credit: Bigstock.

By Esther Ngumbi
ILLINOIS, United States, Jun 26 2019 – The U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green recently concluded a one-week visit to USAID-funded programs at several African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya and Mozambique. His goal was to promote sustainable paths to self-reliance, including in the context of food security programs.

Finding sustainable pathways to self-reliance, especially for many African countries whose citizens continue to be affected by hunger and food insecurity, is indeed important. Presently, over 257 million African citizens are hungry. In addition, according to a recent report titled For Lack of Will – Child Hunger in Africa, over 50 percent of all child deaths in Africa are caused by hunger.

Importantly, achieving food security will set the stage and pave way for African citizens to meet their food needs, create surpluses for export and tap on the opportunities that come with urbanization and transition from developing to emerging economies.

There are many strategies and pathways that African countries must implement to attain food security, and this includes learning from countries that have made remarkable progress in this area, including the U.S.

Of course, no country is perfect and hunger and food insecurity is still an issue that affects close to 40 million people in the U.S., (around 12 percent of the population). Still, the U.S. has made remarkable progress and great strides in achieving food security for all its citizens.

As a result, there are lessons African governments can learn from them as they work to attain food security and improve childhood nutrition.

The frameworks that have propelled the U.S. to become food secure encompass a multitude of several interlinked targeted strategies and initiatives, including prioritizing the agricultural sector, investing in innovative agricultural initiatives that are resilient and responsive to new challenges such as climate change, and building safety nets that can be tapped upon by citizens who need the help.

The frameworks that have propelled the U.S. to become food secure encompass a multitude of several interlinked targeted strategies and initiatives, including prioritizing the agricultural sector, investing in innovative agricultural initiatives that are resilient and responsive to new challenges such as climate change, and building safety nets that can be tapped upon by citizens who need the help

Further, many of the initiatives have clear goals, targets, benchmarks and indicators of success. In addition, these initiatives have built-in monitoring and evaluations systems to ensure they achieve the intended outcomes.

Take California, for example, also referred to as the agricultural powerhouse of the U.S. Despite facing drought, one of the extremities that comes with a changing climate, recent Agricultural Statistics Review shows that investing in innovative agricultural initiatives has allowed the State to maintain sustainable agricultural crop production, and, consequently become food secure.

The State of Illinois ranks nationally and internationally in maize and soybean output, and has maintained these rankings despite the many challenges farmers face including a changing climate. By using all the available and recent agricultural technologies and tools such as improved seed varieties, farmers have been to maintain crop yields, translating into food security. Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture continuously supports all states and provides detailed reports and resources that farmers can consult.

Importantly, the frameworks that have allowed the U.S. to be food secure have a common backbone — the land-grant university system. Through it, many Land-Grant Universities in the U.S. such as University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Cornell University, Purdue University, consistently carry agricultural research coupled with a functioning extension service arm that delivers discoveries and recent science-based information to farmers and rural communities.

For example, Purdue and University of Kentucky recently collaborated with USDA in an effort to provide research, extension and other assistance to rural communities.  Cornell University has Small Farms program dedicated to supporting farmers.  Other Land-Grant universities with similar programs include Penn State University, Virginia State University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Complimenting these efforts have been investments by both the State and Federal governments agencies such as the USDA and advancements in new technologies and equipment, irrigation systems, soil health building systems, access to water and electricity, improved production systems and production practices, infrastructure like roads, and sound policies as well as risk management.

The USDA, for example, recently announced that it would support all U.S. farmers impacted by recent trade disruption. This is in addition to several other programs for farmers that are impacted by other extremities that come with a changing climate.

At the same time, the U.S. also invested in improving its phytosanitary standards, further allowing it to trade commodities, allowing for export-led economy. In addition, U.S. citizens have access to food they cannot produce all the times.

A recent technical brief showed that many African countries phytosanitary standards are not up to date, further limiting African countries from benefiting from exporting and importing food.

Countries in Africa that are the most food secure such as Tunisia, Mauritius, Morocco, Algeria, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa and those which are making progress toward being more food secure such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya have achieved their progress by using some of the same strategies as the U.S, through USAID Feed the Future Initiative, and other USAID funded programs and initiatives such as  USAID Feed the Future Innovation labs .

Other African countries can follow suit. Of course, other foundational frameworks these countries have are stable democracies and export-driven economies.

Building a food secure future can be achieved when countries are open to weighing in on proven strategies.  Time is now.

 

Esther Ngumbi is Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow, Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador