On Brutality of Violence Against Women

Horrific violence against women is unabated and rising in South Asia.

By Farhana Haque Rahman and Raghav Gaiha
ROME and NEW DELHI, Aug 6 2019 – On a cold night in December 2012, a ghastly crime was committed in New Delhi which stunned the world. Six men dragged helpless Nirbhaya-a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern- to the back of the bus and raped her one by one. As she kept fighting off her assailants by biting them, one of the attackers inserted a rusted rod in her private part, ripping her genital organs and insides apart. She died a few days later. One of the accused died in police custody in the Tihar Jail. The juvenile was convicted of rape and murder and given the maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment in a reform facility, and subsequently released. The Supreme Court awarded the death penalty but legal complications have prevented its execution.

Farhana Haque Rahman

A gruesome case occurred in Rohtak, a town in the northern state of Haryana (India). In 2017, a 23-year-old woman was gang raped by seven men, killed and smashed in the face with stones to conceal her identity. Her mangled body was found with stray dogs picking at the remains.

In January, 2019, a 16-year-old girl had simply decided to go to her boyfriend’s birthday party. A week later, her body was found along a highway, her head and one of her arms chopped off. Her face may have been burned with acid. In her small town in eastern India, it is forbidden for a teenage girl to date, and the police believe the girl’s father arranged for her to be killed — supposedly to protect the family’s honour.

Just as gruesome is the story of the 30-year-old Fatima who reported to UNFPA in Cox’s Bazar in southeast coast of Bangladesh in 2017, “My sister was killed after gang rape in front of me, and they threw hot water on my body. I can’t sleep, my life is a nightmare, I can’t bear the pain of losing my sister.”

Worse, minor girls remain highly vulnerable to brutal rapes and murder. In May, the same year, a ten-month-old baby girl was allegedly raped by a family member in Jamnagar district of the western state of Gujarat. Cases of brutal rapes of minor girls abound in Bangladesh too. The rape and murder of 13-year-old Ayesha Siddiqua Sumaiya, living in Rangpur, is a case in point. A student of Class VII, she was alone in her home – her parents were at a religious function – when a gang swooped on the minor, raping and then strangling her to death.

Raghav Gaiha

Rapes reported to the police as sexual violence surged from 39 per day to 93 per day in India in 2013. In Uttar Pradesh alone, five rapes occurred in 36 hours. Even these are underestimations, for two reasons. One is the exclusion of marital rapes, which are not a prosecutable crime. No less important is the fact that barely 1 per cent of victims of sexual violence report the crime to the police.

Report on Violence Against Women (VAW) Survey 2015, Bangladesh, paints in vivid detail high incidence of different forms of violence against women. During 2014, the most common form of partner violence was controlling behaviour, experienced by more than one third (38.8%) of ever-married women, followed by emotional violence (24.2%), physical violence (20.8%), sexual violence (13.3%) and economic violence (6.7%). Rates of lifetime partner violence (any form) were highest in rural areas (74.8% of ever-married women) and lowest in city corporation areas (54.4%). Rates in urban areas outside of city corporation areas were 71.1%, slightly lower than in rural areas.

More than one quarter (27.8%) of women reported lifetime physical violence by someone other than the husband (non-partner) and 6.2% reported experiencing such violence during the last 12 months. Rates were highest among adolescents for both lifetime (30.9%) and last 12 months (11.2%) non-partner physical violence.

Most sexual violence in India occurs in marriage; 10 percent of married women report sexual violence from husbands. The reporting percentage is low in part because marital rape is not a crime in India. Adolescent wives (13–19 years) are most vulnerable, reporting the highest rates of marital sexual violence of any age group. Adolescent girls also account for 24 percent of rape cases in the country, although they represent only 9 percent of the total female population.

Barely 1 percent of victims of sexual violence report the crime to the police in India. Similar evidence is found for Bangladesh. Notions of honour are central to the discourse on rape. The rape of a daughter, sister or wife is a source of dishonour to males within the family structure. This deters the reporting of rape to the police, reinforced by a belief in the impunity of perpetrators, the fear of retaliation, and humiliation by the police through physical and verbal abuse.

The consequences of domestic violence are grave and intergenerational: physical trauma, repeated physical assaults result in chronic disease (e.g. chronic pain); acute neurological (e.g. fainting) and cardiopulmonary (hypertension) symptoms; life-style risk behaviours (substance misuse); psychiatric disorders (depression); and children and adolescents adversely affected by witnessing domestic violence (post-traumatic stress disorder). Besides, domestic violence also results in malnutrition among women and children.

One major problem with anti-rape laws is that their enforcement is feeble and painfully slow, and thus largely inconsequential as a deterrent to sexual violence.

Dominance and control over women are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal. Violence is not necessarily a part of masculinity, but the two are often closely linked, mediated by class, caste and region.

Interventions that address masculinity seem to be more effective than those that ignore the powerful influence of gender norms and systems of inequality. Effective women-focused initiatives strengthen resilience against violence by combining economic empowerment with greater awareness of rights and women’s relationship skills. Behavioural changes are, however, slower than changes in male attitudes.

In conclusion, although rise in sexual violence against women and girls is scary and abhorrent, there are grounds for optimism.

(Farhana Haque Rahman is Director General of IPS Inter Press Service; she is a communications expert and former senior United Nations official. Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Visiting Scholar, Population Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania, USA).

Spiralling anger and nuclear dangers

Japanese troops rest in the Hiroshima railway station after the atomic bomb explosion. Photo: Us national archives

By Ramisa Rob
Aug 6 2019 (IPS-Partners)

In the summer of 1945, a jittery premonition marked the lives of the citizens of Hiroshima, as B-29 super fortresses—planes that the Japanese locals called B-San or Mr.B—had been stationed in the northeast corner of the fan-shaped city. Americans had been bombing Japan for months except in two key cities: Kyoto and Hiroshima. A rumour was lurking around, however, that the Americans were saving something special for Hiroshima. The prefectural government, sensing impending attacks, had ordered completion of wide fire lanes, hoping it would contain fire caused by raids. The depraved radioactivity of the fire to come was something that no one had comprehended.

August 6 started out as a tranquil day until at exactly five minutes past eight, a titanic flash of light cut through the sky: the Enola Gay. The rumour now manifested a deafening reality of hell on earth: a lethal “Little Boy” that killed 100,000 people. For Hatsuyo Nakamuro, a Hiroshima resident, the atomic bomb reflected that unlucky split second that buried her children in debris, and somewhere nearby, her mother, brother and sister too. The horrid aftermath unfolding around her reached so far behind human mind that it was impossible to think it was caused by human beings, like the scientists who designed the disaster, the pilot of Enola Gay, or President Truman, or even Japanese militarists who had helped to fill her surviving lungs with the aftermath of radiation, who had brought the spoils of war to her weak and destitute bones.

“The bombing almost seemed a natural disaster—one that it had simply been her bad luck, her fate (which must be accepted), to suffer,” wrote the New Yorker journalist John Hersey in his article “Hiroshima: The Aftermath” in July 1985, narrating Nakamuro and other survivors’ stories four decades after the nuclear nightmare. Almost 39 years earlier, in August 1946, a year after Japan’s surrender, Hersey had published his first coverage of Hiroshima––a 30,000-word account of six survivors. Ominously titled “Hiroshima”, it birthed a new kind of journalism—non-fiction story-telling with the elements of fiction—and changed the construction of historical narratives by extrapolating from underneath the cataclysmic mesh of politics and militarisation in war, the simplest yet omniscient cost and witness to it all: human lives.

Today, 74 years after the worst apocalyptic human actions, Hersey’s Hiroshima seems more relevant than ever, as possession of nuclear weapons has become a modicum of economic superiority, and global and regional domination.

On February 2, 2019, first the United States and then Russia announced a formal suspension of their obligations to their Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which forbade the US and the then Soviet Union from producing, testing or deploying mid-ranged, ground-launched weapons. The exit is to officially take place on Friday, August 10. One of the reasons stated by President Trump included his frustration that China was not involved in the treaty. Arms control advocates have been warning that the termination of the INF along with trade tensions can provoke a nuclear arms race. And that seems to be a very near reality: on August 3, 2019, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that the US was considering deploying new missiles in Asia, a move likely to anger their Chinese competitors, which also have been known to conceal and manoeuvre production of ballistic missiles.

There are plenty of other examples of nuclearisation in today’s world, painted all across world politics this year, such as the Iran-US relations that teetered on the knife edge of an imminent nuclear war, after the US imposed sanctions on Iran in May 2018. While the turbulence has subdued, it is nowhere near over. Last Wednesday, the US imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and according to the parliamentary news agency Iceana, Zarif said this Saturday that Iran will take further steps to reduce its compliance with the landmark nuclear deal from 2016. On the other hand, following President Trump’s historic visit to North Korea, Wall Street Journal’s intelligence analysts concluded that “the secretive state is accelerating its production of long-range missiles and fissile materials, both key components in nuclear weapons.”

Despite these ongoing issues between the nuclear states, India and Pakistan—closely backed by the US and China, and with 140 and 150 nuclear weapons that each possesses respectively—are the only two nuclear powers to have “bombed” each other in history, earlier this year in February, after a Kashmiri suicide-bomber, allegedly belonging to the Pakistani-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, killed 40 Indian troops. India’s subsequent launch of airstrikes—and as long as the diplomatic negotiations were being eschewed and threats of “all eventualities” were being fired, the threats of the age-old border conflict spiralling towards a flashpoint for a future nuclear war—was certainly real and deadly. The current global situation reflects the proliferation risks of nuclear power, which arguably reconstructs the chances of history repeating itself, in the midst of a regional or international crisis.

That’s precisely why revisiting the destructive birth of the nuclear age is crucial. But this commonly means fixating ourselves on the planned Hiroshima attacks, and narratives that stress the overbearing power of science that ended hundreds of thousands of human lives in a matter of minutes. But the massive human cost was rendered boundless and innumerable not only by the atomic chemicals, but the war-numbed heartlessness of those who, three days after Enola Gay wiped out Hiroshima, continued on the second mission of Operation Centerbomb II to bomb the urban and industrialised Japanese city, Kokura. The atomic payload used this time, called Fat Man, was signed by the pit crew who had assembled it, some had even written messages—“Here’s to you” and “a second kiss for Hirohito.” (Similar distasteful nationalism at the expense of war undergirded people’s reactions on social media to the Kashmir turmoil this year.)

For reasons still debated upon by historians, the visual bombing of Kokura couldn’t be managed, and in forty-five minutes or so, a secondary target was decided and destroyed: Nagasaki, where nearly twice as many were killed and injured. President Truman himself had been surprised by the second bombing, coming as it did so soon after the mass destruction of the first. The day after Nagasaki, Truman issued his first affirmative command regarding the bomb: no more strikes without his express authorisation, one he failed to give earlier. Even if Hiroshima—as the first devastating planned nuclear attack in human history—remains the most prominent deterrent example, Nagasaki, with greater consequences, saw the first use of a nuclear weapon to wage raw anger. Nations today must ensure it will be the last.

Ramisa Rob is a master’s candidate in New York University.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Communication is Key to Overhauling Safeguarding

Marian Casey-Maslen is the Executive Director of CDAC Network, a platform of more than 30 humanitarian, media development, social innovation, technology, and telecommunication organisations, dedicated to saving lives and making aid more effective through communication, information exchange and community engagement.

By Marian Casey-Maslen
LONDON, Aug 6 2019 (IPS)

The term ‘safeguarding’ has been squarely in the spotlight in recent times and is now used to refer to all areas relating to prevention of and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, harassment and bullying. Heightened use of the word is a direct result of the abuses that came to light in the last few years, which shook the sector and prompted an overhaul of systems, policies, procedures and entire organisations.

In the past month, 30 donors met to agree on a new safeguarding standard put forward by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee, which, although not legally binding, does put in place a formal peer review process. According to the Committee’s chair, Susanna Moorehead, this represents a “first critically important step”.

Marian Casey-Maslen, Executive Director, CDAC Network

While change is slow at the global level, groups, individuals and whistleblowers have been pushing for some time for a victim- or survivor-centred approach to support people to report abuses without fear of reprisals, cover-up or inaction and for open, robust mechanisms for this to happen. Last year, DFID organised a global summit in London and introduced enhanced standards. Since then a lot has changed within aid organisations and in the public arena where powerful movements such #Aidtoo and #Metoo are prompting action and driving frank discussion.

But for many, the word ‘safeguarding’ does not mean very much. It does not necessarily capture people’s experience or understanding of these issues. This word, coined in the UK, is hard to translate into other languages. So what’s being done to communicate all that safeguarding has now come to mean to these audiences? Are we doing enough to get vital information across for people to understand what needs to be done to put adequate measures in place, and, importantly, how to report abuses?

Upgrading policies and procedures is only half the battle. More needs to be done to communicate what all this means to different audiences with different information needs in different contexts. Humanitarian action is evolving in technological advancement and in its realisation people should have a say in decisions that affect their lives. Such developments mean new actors from outside the sector or indeed local partners are taking the lead but have not necessarily had adequate training to understand how to create ‘safe’ programme  environments or promote and support the right behaviours.

Along with experts, Safer Edge, and DEPP Innovation Labs, the CDAC Network identified a big gap in resources to put in place basic building blocks for good safeguarding practice, based on the principle it is everyone’s responsibility.

Download and test these tools to guide good safeguarding practice. Let us know what you think!

To Silence a Poet, and a Nation: What Stella Nyanzi’s Conviction Means for Uganda

Dr. Stella Nyanzi (seated with glasses), a lecturer and researcher at Makerere University and feminist and activist, was convicted on Aug. 2 for publishing a poem critical of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. She is pictured here in the dock, surrounded by prison warders. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 6 2019 – The conviction of Ugandan feminist and activist Dr. Stella Nyanzi for publishing a metaphorical poem about President Yoweri Museveni could have a chilling effect of freedom of expression, according to Dr. Peter Mwesige, co-founder of the Kampala-based African Centre For Media Excellence. 

“There are very many people who are going to think twice before they can express themselves in certain terms. I think it narrows the frontiers of the right to free expression. Absolutely it does,” Mwesige, who is also a former group training editor of the Nation Media Group, East Africa’s biggest multi-media company, told IPS.

Mwesige said that going forward those who did not have Nyanzi’s courage would not be able to say certain things in public for fear of being sent to prison.

On Friday, Aug. 2, Nyanzi was found guilty of “cyber harassment” for  posting a poem on Facebook on Museveni’s birthday on Sept. 16, criticising his 33-year rule and his birth. She was given 18 months imprisonment for writing the strongly-worded verse that spoke about oppression, unemployment and the country’s absence of good governance and rule of law.

The post has received over 1,800 likes and 2,000 comments. At the time some people reached out stating that they prayed for her safety as the post was so heavily critical of the government, others criticised her mention of Museveni’s late mother, asking her to allow the woman to rest in peace, and many others praised her poetry, agreeing with her vivid description of the oppression they also felt, and calling her a courageous woman.

One user messaged Nyanzi, who is a lecturer and researcher at Makerere University, saying: “Well, at the end of the day. All your wishes are in vain. None came true”, to which the poet responded, “Wishes are yearnings, desires, aspirations. Words are seeds! Watch my poem grow”. 

The poem took on a new dimension a month later when Nyanzi was charged with violating the Computer Misuse Act 2011 sections on cyber harassment and “obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent” content production. The prosecution had argued that she intentionally harassed and humiliated the president through her post. The academic was also charged with “offensive communication”, but she was found not guilty. 

The Computer Misuse Act 2011 has provisions for offensive communication, which is defined as where a person “disturbs or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication”. It also has provisions for cyber harassment, which is defined as the use of a computer for “making any request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent”. A person can also be charged for cyber harassment if they knowingly allow someone to use their computer for the defined purpose.

Nyanzi has used Facebook as a platform to critique Museveni’s regime. Nyanzi’s poetic non-fiction posts on Facebook have won her admiration among some local writers and the academia and she has emerged as the regime’s most serious and profane adversary.  She has also defended her writing stating she pays for her posts on social media and can write what she wishes. Ugandans have to pay a tax to the government for their social media usage under the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, paying about 5 U.S. cents a day. 

“For me, I don’t have guns, I don’t have money, I don’t have clout, I have Facebook and I have language. And I think we can continue be polite and continue suffering,” Nyanzi told journalists at court before her conviction.

Her trial attracted huge numbers of supporters and sympathisers, with the magistrate’s court in Kampala usually being filled to capacity for each appearance. She would occasionally plead with her supporters to calm down in court as she continued to speak out against Museveni’s rule while in the dock.

Nyanzi’s lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, told IPS that an 18-month jail sentence for an allegedly obscene post that was allegedly uploaded by Nyanzi is irreconcilable with not only the principals in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—an international human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations of which Uganda is a signatory of—but also Uganda’s bill of rights.  

“The conviction is based on computer misuse admittedly through circumstantial evidence that is what I heard the magistrate say…. It was processed only through political interference,” said Semakadde.

Nyanzi, who was arrested in November and has remained behind bars since then after she refused to apply for bail, will serve out the remaining nine months of the sentence. 

Meanwhile, her lawyer vowed to fight for the repeal of the Computer Misuse Law. 

Responding to the guilty verdict, Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement: “Stella Nyanzi has been criminalised solely for her creative flair of using metaphors and what may be considered insulting language to criticise President Museveni’s leadership. The mere fact that forms of expression are considered insulting to a public figure is not sufficient ground to penalise anyone. Public officials, including those exercising the highest political authority, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.” 

Amnesty International said that Ugandan authorities must scrap the Computer Misuse Act 2011 which has been used systematically to harass, intimidate and stifle government critics.

Freedom of speech and expression have been increasingly under attack in Uganda. United States Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah R. Malac, had cited Nyanzi’s arrest as one of those attacks on World Press Freedom Day.  

She said Nyanzi’s trial showed that constitutional rights and freedoms apparently had limits, particularly when those opinions were critical of the country’s leaders. “And when a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country suffer as well,” Malac had stated. 

Nyanzi’s case is just the latest in a series of growing constraints that the media here faces.  

In mid-July, a journalist-turned preacher, Joseph Kabuleta, was arrested and detained for four days after calling Museveni as a gambler, thief and liar in his Facebook postings. 

Media professionals have had their houses broken into, their possessions stolen, their phones monitored, and their lives routinely threatened. The Observer newspaper has on several occasions been attacked by suspected government operatives.

Dr. Danson Sylvester Kahyana, a Ugandan poet and lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Literature, told IPS that Nyanzi’s arrest and conviction will have a gaging effect on writers with a critical mind and could see more Ugandans withdraw from social media as a medium for free expression. 

Ugandans have recently turned to social media to express their views and opinions, which are not published in mainstream media because of self-censorship. 

Kayhana, who is also the President of PEN Uganda chapter, an activist group pushing for rights of writers and journalists, defended the jailed poet’s erotic, non-fiction style of writing that has caused trouble with the Kampala regime.

 “Most people have said Stella Nyanzi is vulgar, rude and so on. But one thing that they have missed out in is that it is this rudeness, this vulgarity that makes her be heard. If you write in a civil way or in a way that care about your image, chances are that you will be silenced,” said Kahyana.

He made reference to Uganda’s world-renowned associate professor of Literature at Makerere University, and one-time judge for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Dr. Susan Kiguli, and Professor Timothy Wangusa, a Ugandan poet and novelist who also served as Dean of Arts at Makerere University and Minister of Education for the country.

 “There is nothing new that Stella Nyanzi [has said] that these two writers have not said. Because they have engaged in issues of dictatorship, misrule, corruption in their works.

“But how come the nation knows more about Stella Nyanzi than them? It is because they have chosen to use civil language. That kind of language ends up in the library.”

Canada Effectively Addresses Children in Armed Conflict

By Lakshi De Vass Gunawardena
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2019 – More than 24,000 violations have been committed against children across the globe, including recruitment into armed forces, abduction, sexual violence, deprivation of basic needs, attacks on schools and hospitals– and even murder.

To tackle this, Canada has launched a set of 17 principles focusing on child protection in peacekeeping, incorporating all stages of a conflict.

“These principles are motivated by an understanding that preventing the use and recruitment of child soldiers is not peripheral to UN peacekeeping, but rather it is critical to achieving overall mission success and setting the conditions for lasting peace,”
said Richard Arbeiter, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations.

He was speaking at an event last week, organized by the Permanent Mission of Canada, and included guest speakers from Watchlist, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Canadian Defense Academy (CDA), and the Department of Peace Operations (DPO).

“In June, Canada’s Minister of National Defence announced the establishment of the Roméo Dallaire Centre of Excellence for Peace and Security, within the Canadian Defence Academy,” Dr. Simon Collard- Wexler, First Secretary, Political Affairs, at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, told IPS.

The Centre’s initial focus, he said, “will be to support our forces’ implementation of the Vancouver Principles”.

Canada will also be providing the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative with a contribution of over $1 million over five years “to conduct research and identify lessons learned and best practices regarding the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers.”

Over 40% of the worlds armed forces use children and are known to be fighting in at least 14 countries around the world. Children are vulnerable because they are easier to manipulate than adults, do not require pay, and their cognitive sense of danger is low.
They also might become soldiers due to societal pressure and are led to believe that volunteering will provide security.

“The Vancouver principles identify key ways that peacekeeping can contribute to and enhance efforts to end child recruitment,” said Adrianne Lapar, Program Director at Watchlist.

When asked what role Watchlist will have, going forward, Lapar told IPS: “Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, which represents a network of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), will continue to push governments and the United Nations to improve programs and policies to protect children in armed conflict.”

“We would like to see more governments endorse the Vancouver Principles, along with the Paris Principles and Commitments and the Safe Schools Declaration, as a mutually enforcing package of commitments to protect the rights of children in war,” she added, but noted that “commitments mean nothing until they are put into practice”.

“For that, we urge governments to integrate these principles into their military doctrine, trainings, and operating procedures. They need to ensure accountability of their forces for any violations of children’s rights; this includes investigating any allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, holding those responsible to account, and providing reparations and support services to survivors.”

So far, over 89 countries have endorsed the Vancouver principles. With that in mind, peacekeeping workers need to be equipped and trained appropriately as well.

“Peacekeepers have an important role in ending and preventing child recruitment, as well as other grave violations against children in armed conflict” Lapar said at the panel discussion, adding that “often times, they may be the first to identify children associated with armed forces or those at risk of being recruited.”

Thus, peacekeeping forces are extremely beneficial, coupled with the principles. However, to do that, Lapar noted “they need to mandate directives and appropriate training to do so effectively.”

She pointed out that the Vancouver principles illustrate this very sentiment. However, there are other tools than can be used to help combat child recruitment.

“The first Vancouver principle highlights the importance of integrating child protection provisions including the prevention of child recruitment into all peacekeeping mandates.” Lapar stated.

“By clearly articulating appropriate child protection tasks into peacekeeping mandates, the security council can bolster the protection of the children and enable efforts to end and prevent recruitment and other grave violations,” she elaborated.

She pointed out Principle 15 which examines the use of sanctions against those that use and recruit children. That said, sanctions are a tricky maze to maneuver.

When asked about ensuring that the sanctions would harm the targeted parties and not the civilians, Lapar said: “I want to reiterate that sanctions are just one of many tools available to the Security Council and UN Member States, to put pressure on perpetrators who commit child rights violations and to deter future violators.”

“They should be used as a last resort, after other measures have failed, and carefully considered, with attention to the context and potential impacts on civilian populations, to avoid causing greater harm,” she added, pointing out that “there are a number of Security Council sanctions regimes in place already, but only some of these include among their designation criteria grave violations against children, including the recruitment and use of children, targeting children, and attacks on schools and hospitals.”

“And yet we need to do more as children continue to be excluded from most peace discussions around the world,” Lapar pointed out.

Indeed, as since 2016, children have been used in hostilities by both armed and non-armed groups in at least 18 conflicts, and 27 countries operating “military schools, where children, as young as 15 are deemed members of the armed forces and thus are compelled to enlist upon graduation.

“Children should be protected and never recruited and used in war,” Lapar concluded.

U.S. Sanctions Imperil Aid to Iran’s Flood Victims

This week, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) complained that U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran is also stopping key assistance to flood victims and refugees there. Courtesy: Iranian Red Crescent Society

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2019 – Two major humanitarian groups have warned that United States sanctions on Iran are stopping cash flows for vital humanitarian work in the country, adding another complication to the growing rift between Washington and Tehran.

This week, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) complained that U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran is also stopping key assistance to flood victims and refugees there.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the NRC and a former United Nations official, warned that support to some 82,000 people in Iran could be cut off by mid-August because his group cannot get funds in to the Islamic Republic.

“We have now, for a full year, tried to find banks that are able and willing to transfer money from Western donors to support our work for Afghan refugees and disaster victims in Iran, but we are hitting brick walls on every side,” said Egeland.

“The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran are so comprehensive that banks are unwilling to facilitate transfers for humanitarian work. If all bank channels are blocked, then so is the delivery of critical aid to vulnerable people.”

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has collected funds from a global flood appeal that it cannot transfer to its local outfit, the IRCS.

“Due to the U.S. sanctions, IRCS has not been able to receive three million euro cash contributions that the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, governments and organisations have donated to Iran’s flood-hit people through the IFRC emergency appeal,” it said in a statement Sunday.

Last year, Trump pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal with Iran and key world powers that had been agreed in 2015, and then ramped up sanctions to pressure Tehran and to lock it out of the global economy.

Trump said the landmark accord negotiated by his predecessor did not go far enough in preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons or do anything to halt its support for foreign militias and ballistic missile development.

White House officials say the sanctions are aimed at Iran’s energy sector and regime hardliners, and do not apply to essential items like food, medicine and humanitarian relief, even while these may have been indirectly affected.

The United Kingdom, Germany and France have taken steps to resist Washington, including setting up a barter-based trade scheme called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) to allow business between Iran and Europe that is beyond the U.S. financial system.

However, reports indicate that fears over U.S. sanctions have caused western financiers to shy away from Instex and just a trickle of money has flowed in from European firms, leaving Iran scrabbling for revenue. 

According to Egeland, Europe’s bankers are just too scared to move money to Iran despite carve-outs to the sanctions regime.  

“Norwegian, European and other banks are too afraid of U.S. sanctions to transfer the money that European governments have given for our vital aid work,” Egeland said in a statement that was released Monday.

“We will run out of cash in two weeks and will no longer be able to provide relief to poor Afghan families,” he added, referencing the more than three million Afghans who fled conflict, poverty and natural disasters at home to neighbouring Iran. 

The potential shutdown of aid operations in Iran is just the latest spill-over from an escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran, amid widespread fears that it could spiral into a military showdown.

At the peak of the crisis, Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic republic’s forces shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile.

Trump has said publicly several times that he is willing to hold talks with the Iranians even as he bashes the cleric-run government as incompetent, graft-ridden, dangerous and a threat to Israel, regional security and U.S. interests.

Environmental Migration a Global Challenge

By Dina Ionesco
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2019 – The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.

However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will extensively change the patterns of human settlement.

Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s lives and homes.

The climate crisis is already having an effect: according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year, because of disasters that negatively affected their lives.

Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification, desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their places of origin.

There is a strong possibility that more people will migrate in search of better opportunities, as living conditions get worse in their places of origin:

There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of these adverse climate impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main UN authority on climate science, has repeatedly said that the changes brought on by the climate crisis will influence migration patterns.

The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.

However, our level of awareness and understanding of how environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge, there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and respond.

The Global Compact for Migration: a roadmap for governments

In the past decade, there has been a growing political awareness of the issues around environmental migration, and increasing acceptance that this is a global challenge.

Herders take their animals to drink water in Niger., by FAO/Giulio Napolitano

As a result, many states have signed up to landmark agreements, such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Global Compact for Migration, which marks a clear way forward for governments to address the issue of climate and migration.

The Compact contains many references to environmental migration including a whole section on measures to address environmental and climate challenges: it is the first time that a comprehensive vision has been laid out, showing how states can handle – now and in the future – the impacts of climate change, disasters and environmental degradation on international migration.

Our analysis of the Compact highlights the priorities of states, when it comes to addressing environmental migration. Their primary concern is to “minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin”, in particular the “natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation”.

In other words, the main priority is to find solutions that allow people to stay in their homes and give them the means to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This approach aims to avoid instances of desperate migration and its associated tragedies.

Rohingya refugees make their way down a footpath during a heavy monsoon downpour in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Cox’s Bazar district. 2018. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

However, where climate change impacts are too intense, another priority put forward in the Compact is to “enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration. States are thus looking at solutions for people to be able to migrate safely and through regular channels, and at solutions for those already on the move.

A last resort measure is to conduct planned relocations of population – this means organizing the relocation of entire villages and communities away from areas bearing the brunt of climate change impacts.

Humanitarian assistance and protection for those on the move already, are also tools states can use. Finally, states highlight that relevant data and knowledge are key to guide the decision-making process. Without knowing more and analyzing better, policies run the risk of missing their targets and fade into irrelevance.

A range of solutions to a complex problem

Responding to the challenges of environmental migration in a way that benefits both countries and communities, including migrants and refugees, is a complex process involving many different actors.

Solutions can range from tweaking migration practices, such as visa regimes, to developing human rights-based protection measures. Most importantly, they involve a coordinated approach from national governments, bringing together experts from different walks of life:

There is no one single solution to respond to the challenge of environmental migration, but there are many solutions that tackle different aspects of this complex equation. Nothing meaningful can ever be achieved without the strong involvement of civil society actors and the communities themselves who very often know what is best for them and their ways of life.

I also think that we need to stop discourses that focus only on migrants as victims of tragedy. The bigger picture is certainly bleak at times, but we need to remember that migrants demonstrate everyday their resilience and capacity to survive and thrive in difficult situations.

Producing Clean Energy from Pigsties in Brazil

Claudinei Stein is a farmer who produces biogas using the manure of his 7,300 pigs, which he breeds and sells to a pork processing plant in southern Brazil when they reach 23 kilos of weight. To his right is the biofertiliser pond, with the manure used to produce biogas in a biodigester. At the far left are the pigsties. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Claudinei Stein is a farmer who produces biogas using the manure of his 7,300 pigs, which he breeds and sells to a pork processing plant in southern Brazil when they reach 23 kilos of weight. To his right is the biofertiliser pond, with the manure used to produce biogas in a biodigester. At the far left are the pigsties. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ENTRE RIOS DO OESTE, Brazil, Aug 6 2019 – Pigs, already the main source of income in this small municipality in southwestern Brazil, now have even more value as a source of electricity.

The mini-thermal power plant of Entre Rios do Oeste, inaugurated on Jul. 24, uses the biogas provided by 18 farms, in a pioneering technical-commercial agreement in Brazil involving pig farmers, the city government, the Paraná Energy Company (Copel), the Itaipu Technological Park (PTI) and the International Center for Renewable Energies-Biogas (CIBiogas).

The project was executed by PTI – the Brazilian-Paraguayan hydroelectric power plant Itaipu‘s centre for teaching and development research – and CIBiogás, a non-profit association of 27 international, national and local institutions, which operates at the PTI headquarters.

The Entre Rios city government will benefit by generating electricity with the biogas it buys from the pig farmers. The electricity is injected into Copel’s distribution network, reducing the energy costs paid by 72 municipal office buildings and schools.

“It will produce savings that we will invest in health and education,” said Mayor Jones Heiden.

His municipality, in the western part of the southern state of Paraná and on the shores of the Itaipú reservoir that separates Brazil from Paraguay, was a natural choice for the project, as there are some 155,000 pigs, or 35 animals for each of the 4,400 local inhabitants.

Rafael González, CIBiogás’ director of technological development, told IPS in his offices that the city government also took an interest in the project and offered the area for the plant to be installed, resources for its operation and support for the pig farmers.

Of the more than 100 pig farmers in the municipality, only 18 who are located where the 20-km network of gas pipelines was installed are participating, after accepting the conditions for financing the biodigester, which converts the waste into biofertiliser while extracting the biogas.

“Some didn’t want to because it would take them more than 10 years to pay off the loan. There were 19 who were going to take part, but one pulled out after deciding to build his own biodigester and generator” in an individual business, taking advantage of the abundant manure produced by his 4,000 pigs, one of the participants, Claudinei Stein, told IPS.

The Mini-Thermoelectric Plant of Entre Rios do Oeste will generate 250 megawatt-hours, 43 percent more than the top consumption of all municipal government facilities. The plant will reduce their energy bill to almost zero in this municipality in southern Brazil, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Mini-Thermoelectric Plant of Entre Rios do Oeste will generate 250 megawatt-hours, 43 percent more than the top consumption of all municipal government facilities. The plant will reduce their energy bill to almost zero in this municipality in southern Brazil, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“That was the beginning, the second step will be public lighting,” opening up opportunities for other producers, said the mayor.

The mini-thermal power plant, with a capacity of 480 kilowatts, can generate 250 megawatts/hour per month, 43 percent more than the city government’s maximum consumption. It involves 215 tons of manure and 4,600 cubic metres of biogas produced daily by 39,000 pigs.

Stein has 7,300 feeder pigs which he receives from the Friella company when they weigh about seven kilos, fattens them, and returns them when they reach 22 or 23 kilos.

Friella is the main company in town, with three meat-packing plants where pork is processed and sold fresh or industrially processed, as well as an animal feed factory and its own hogpens.

But it outsources the breeding and fattening of most of the pigs. Stein explained that while it entails transportation costs, the company saves on installations, space and labour power.

Specialising in the second stage, in which each animal produces less than half of the manure from the entire fattening process, Stein estimates that he will earn an income of 1,800 to 2,000 reais (375 to 430 dollars) a month, enough to pay off the credit for the biodigester, which cost him 75,000 reais (19,800 dollars), in eight years.

The Mini-Thermoelectric Plant of Entre Rios do Oeste will generate 250 megawatt-hours, 43 percent more than the top consumption of all municipal government facilities. The plant will reduce their energy bill to almost zero in this municipality in southern Brazil, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Mini-Thermoelectric Plant of Entre Rios do Oeste will generate 250 megawatt-hours, 43 percent more than the top consumption of all municipal government facilities. The plant will reduce their energy bill to almost zero in this municipality in southern Brazil, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But he joined the project for other reasons: to produce biofertiliser and improve the environment. Biodigestion eliminates odors, mosquitoes and contamination of groundwater on his 13-hectare property and improves manure as fertiliser for planting corn and soybeans.

“This way I save money on chemical fertilisers,” he explained. “I also like bold initiatives,” said the 39-year-old farmer, who learned about the benefits of biodigesters at a young age, because there was one on a cousin’s farm where he worked.

But the installation of the Entre Rios plant was plagued by delays, despite the recognised advantages of biogas and its potential for expansion in the western part of the state, due to the heavy presence of pig and poultry farming.

The idea emerged in 2008, Mayor Heiden told IPS.

But the opportunity to bring it to fruition arose in 2012, when the National Electric Energy Agency – the regulator of the sector – outlined strategies and criteria for biogas projects, calling for proposals to be presented.

The projects for Paraná depend on funds that the Copel distributor must allocate to research and development projects, equivalent to 0.5 percent of its turnover.

“We registered the Entre Rios do Oeste project,” but the contract with Copel was not signed until 2016, Gonzalez said.

Difficulties then arose with energy and tax regulations, which blocked the city government from purchasing the biogas, defined as a processed industrial good produced by farmers, the director of CIBiogas explained.

View of a row of gas holders, large containers for storing the biogas that will fuel the mini-thermal power plant of Entre Rios do Oeste, which generates electricity using the gas extracted from the manure of part of the 155,000 pigs raised in this municipality in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of a row of gas holders, large containers for storing the biogas that will fuel the mini-thermal power plant of Entre Rios do Oeste, which generates electricity using the gas extracted from the manure of part of the 155,000 pigs raised in this municipality in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, on the border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

New regulations were necessary, with a different interpretation, that recognises biogas as an unprocessed agricultural product, in order to design the business model for the mini-thermoelectric plant fueled by biogas, which is in the category of distributed generation by consumers.

The project then took on its definitive shape, with the city government buying biogas from the pig farmers who installed the biodigester.

But opening up credit lines to finance the equipment required more lengthy negotiations, to come up with a model replicable in other municipalities and regions and with different arrangements.

There was a precedent for the construction of a mini biogas power plant in the municipality of Marechal Cândido Rondon, 34 km northeast of Entre Rios. The Agroenergy Condominium for Family Farming of the Ajuricaba River Basin, later called Coperbiogas, emerged there in 2009.

In 2014 it began to generate electricity, as part of another CIBiogas project. But it didn’t last long. Today, only 15 of the 33 members remain in the cooperative, the mini thermoelectric plant was closed down, and the biogas is sold to a neighbouring poultry plant belonging to the Rondon Limited Mixed Agroindustrial Cooperative (Copagril).

“It was a successful project” and not a failure as some people saw it, according to González. “Its objective was not to become economically profitable, but to clean up the environment, clean up the river,” he argued.

In fact, it was part of Itaipu’s Cultivating Good Water Programme, which sought to prevent pollution of rivers from sewage that would end up in the reservoir created by the hydroelectric dam.

The project remains active: 250 cubic metres of biogas are transported daily through the 25-km network of pipelines to three gasometers, while a filtering system removes the hydrogen sulfide that causes corrosion.

The families continue to use gas in their homes and some use the gas for milking, thanks to which at least one of the farms has improved the quality of their milk, using biogas in the pasteurisation process, Daiana Martinez, a biogas information analyst at CIBiogás, told IPS.

In Ajuricaba, unlike Entre Rios, biogas is made from both cattle and pig manure. But the scale of production and the biodigesters are much smaller, which makes electricity generation economically unfeasible, said Pedro Kohler, owner of a local biodigester factory.

What a Little Pigeon Could Teach Our World

By Greg Benchwick
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 6 2019 – Over 100 years ago a little brown passenger pigeon named Martha died in the Cincinnati Zoo. She was the last of her breed. Just like that, in an instant, a bird species that had once numbered in the billions was wiped out forever.

I’ve been researching Martha and other endangered species for the past five years in my efforts to write a book that children can relate to on the importance of conservation and environmental protection.

Greg Benchwick

What’s become perfectly clear to me as I wrote and rewrote my new book, is that if we don’t educate our children on the importance of conservation today, we are likely to experience a catastrophic loss of biodiversity that will alter the course of human and natural history forever.

Think about how the lessons of Martha connect with our current disastrous state of affairs. Martha lived through a seminal time in American history that included the expansion West, industrialization, the Gilded Age (an age of decadent consumption), huge population growth, several wars (nothing new there), and the heady legacy of Manifest Destiny.

In the US, we burned coal, we raped the land, we expanded our economies, and we became, before long, the greatest industrial empire the world had ever seen. “Martha is a remarkable tale set against a vibrant historic backdrop. The story masterfully weaves together true historic elements and parables on conservation and environmentalism in a magical world that young readers will love exploring. Truly a must read for children and adults alike, this book is a wake up call. If we don’t act now, we risk losing close to half of our global biodiversity by 2050. Our planet is in crisis. In the tradition of Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Lorax,’ this new book by Greg Benchwick should be taught the world over. We can only hope it’s not too late.” – Alan Miller, RT World Bank Principal Climate Change Specialist and globally recognized expert on environmentalism, climate change and conservation.

But at what cost?

Facing habitat loss and other environmental impacts, passenger pigeons began to drop like flies. In just a few short decades, the bird flocks that had once stretched for miles across the American Heartland as they made their northern migration, were no more.

Our children need to know the story of Martha. They need to know the story of George the Snail, who died in Hawaii at the ripe old age of 14 earlier this year, and was the last Achatinella apexfulva snail on the planet. They need to know the story of the Dodo and how scientists are working today to restore coral reefs and protect natural habitats in its native Mauritius.

Children need to learn about the dire consequences of Planet Earth’s sixth mass extinction. At our current unchecked and unbridled rates of conspicuous consumption, pollution, habitat loss, population growth, heating oceans, rising temperatures and melting ice-caps, an estimated 1 million species could follow Martha into the history books.

An entire generation will miss out on the majesty, power and grace of wild gorillas, sea turtles, Bengal tigers and polar bears. They will miss out on swimming in the technicolor wonderlands of the Great Barrier Reef. They will miss out on the endless possibilities that our world’s insects, birds and plant life could bring to science and humanity.

In the developing world, they will miss out on much more. Climate change, species loss and environmental degradation is already triggering violent conflict and mass migration. It’s pushing children and their families to leave their homelands. It’s disrupting entire economies. This means more children go hungry, more children are forced out of an education, and more children will never get the chance to learn and grow and one day be the change we need to save planet earth.

Yes, children need to learn about these dangerous and inconvenient truths. And they need to learn about our history so we don’t repeat our mistakes.

Failing to do so puts our very existence at risk.

Think about it this way. More than 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs will die by 2050.

This is certainly bad for people that rely on fish for food. But it’s also really, really bad for our economy. With violent storms and rising sea levels, entire communities could be wiped out without the protection barrier reefs provide. Oceanic ecosystems will fall apart and coastal peoples will be forced to move.

So what does true environmental education look like?

First and foremost, we need to stop talking about the possibilities of climate and environmental disaster. We are in it!

Everyday we lose a dozen or more species, and we are still fretting about teaching subjects like climate change and conservation in public schools. In fact, more than half of US teachers do not teach climate change in their schools. I thought we had gotten past that with the Scopes Monkey Trail, but apparently not.

Second, we need teach children about history, and we need to include lessons on conservation in our art, science, reading and even mathematics lessons. Think what understanding the real social and economic facts behind Martha could teach a child about our current situation?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to get children out in nature. This means putting the iPad down (you’re probably reading one right now), and going out for a hike in any local park or preserve. Along the way, you will probably spot dozens of species with your son or daughter, niece, nephew, or favorite student. One of these animals will probably go extinct in that child’s lifetime. Don’t they deserve better?

1 – https://youtu.be/6BndONsPY38

2 – https://youtu.be/UQD0Nl4o_nE

About the Author

Greg Benchwick is the author of the new children’s book Martha. The new mid-grade chapter book is available for pre-sales today on Publishizer. When he’s not writing stories about passenger pigeons, Greg works for the United Nations Development Programme to tell the story of climate change and environmental protection, shares stories on sustainable travel for Lonely Planet, and writes about the pressing need to fund education for children living in crisis at Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in emergencies hosted by UNICEF.