March 29, 2018 | RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Brazilian priest who risked his life campaigning for the landless has been arrested for sexual harassment and extortion but his lawyer said the charges are a ruse to stop his work.
Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, known as Padre Amaro, is regarded as the successor to American nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in 2005, an emblematic case for the many conflicts over land use in resource-rich Brazil.
A police statement said that Amaro was arrested on Tuesday in the city of Anapu in northern Para state, home to a vast Amazon rainforest reserve, following a court order and eight months of investigations.
“For us, there is no doubt that behind this investigation there is a ranchers’ conspiracy aiming to make Padre Amaro’s work unfeasible,” the priest’s lawyer, Jose Batista Afonso, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday.
“Padre Amaro personifies nun Dorothy’s work … He has been receiving death threats for a long time.”
Stang often criticized cattle ranchers for seizing land illegally and destroying the rainforest, highlighting tensions between farmers and environmentalists in the top global beef exporter. Local landowners were jailed for ordering her death.
The ranchers’ union in Anapu said they had nothing to do with Amaro’s arrest, adding that about 400 police reports, including videos and witness testimonies, support the charges.
“(Amaro) held meetings in the dead of night, encouraging people to invade land and then had an illegal trade in these invaded lands,” Silverio Albano Fernandes, head of Anapu’s ranchers union, said by phone.
“He was making profit from these sales as he kept a percentage. Everybody knows it here.”
London-based campaign group Global Witness said that Brazil was the world’s most dangerous nation for land rights activists in 2016, with about 50 people killed.
About a dozen land activists have been murdered since 2005 in Anapu, where Amaro is based, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), set up by the Catholic Church to combat violence against the rural poor.
Amaro’s opponents could not kill him because of the international outcry following Stang’s shooting, and because some are still in jail, said Afonso, who works for CPT.
“Of course, the way chosen to try to nullify the priest’s work would be different,” he said.
Afonso said he will file for habeas corpus, which requires Amaro be brought to court and released unless lawful grounds can be shown for his detention.
“We hope the arrest will be revoked,” he said.
Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.
As the year 2017 wound to a close, the world received ‘’the announcement’’ that the Democratic Republic of Congo was on the verge of entering a new phase of arms conflicts. It was more of a news report than a prediction. In no distant time, the news had assumed a distressing tone; the UN reported that the DR Congo was reaching a ‘breaking point’, violence had once again enveloped the resource-rich nation, and another humanitarian crisis was looming.Like many other African countries, the huge natural resources of this beautiful country have become a curse for her citizens. Their political elites have squandered their post-independence years, looting their resources instead of creating structures for nation-building. The perennial arms conflicts in Congo DR is a systematic struggle of her political elites to sustain their control the country’s vast natural resources and continue with the looting spree. Fortunately, there is a time when even the weakest rise in defence of life, even at the cost of life itself. Could it now be the time for the Congo DR?
The present impasse in Congo arose from the refusal of Joseph Kabila to keep to the ethos of democracy at the end of his mandate in 2016 and the decision of the Catholic Church to stand with the people to demand accountability from him. Indeed, the decision of the Church to stand with the voiceless people of Congo is truly encouraging. It is not only prophetic for the people of Congo; it is also an encouragement to the other Episcopal Conferences in Africa who remain silent in the face of injustices, exploitation and oppression of the people by their leaders. Probably, if the Church in Africa had embraced the Holy People of God as she has embraced the Holy Altar of God through the years, Africa would currently be singing sweet melodies.
Meanwhile, recall that the Congolese constitution was created only in 2006; thirty-two years after Mobutu Sese Seko had plundered the resources of the country. Joseph Kabila accidentally ascended to the throne, but he and his coterie appear ready to use all available means to crush, silence and eliminate any opposition to their effort to stay in power to protect their corrupt and ill-gotten wealth. It is on record that the Kabila family business empire alone includes 80 companies and businesses, 71,000 hectares of farmland, the largest diamond permits along 450 miles of Congo’s border with Angola and a 4.8% stake in one of the country’s largest mobile phone networks. Of course, unjustified acquisition of wealth makes such acquisitions vulnerable to the imperatives of democracy; it is therefore not surprising that Kabila is willing to mortgage the lives of the Congolese in defence of his loot.
While we stand aghast at the corruption, lack of vision and the desperation of the African leaders for ill-gotten wealth, we must point out the complicity of the global north in the crime of the African political elites against their people in providing the safe havens for their loot. It is not possible to speak about the looting of the Africa resources by their political elites without the shadow interest of the global north.
In April 2015, Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Director of the UN Environment program, stated that the estimated annual earnings from exploitation of natural resources in Congo by far exceeded USD1 billion. He noted with regret that about 98% of that earning ended up in the coffers of international concerns while the remaining 2% went into the funding of armed groups in Congo DR.
It is known that the link between the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources; and the proliferation of arms is one of the major factors fueling and exacerbating the conflicts in the Great Lakes. One then wonders why it is that the global north is reluctant to bring its gains in democratic principles to bear on their relations with Africa. In 2016, the European Union shied away from complete regulation of the supply chain of the 3TG (Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum and Gold) even in the presence of compelling evidence to the contrary. It is evident that the failure of Syria is not so much the corruption of President Assad as the shadow interests of some countries of the global north. Unfortunately, those picking up the pieces are not the champions of the interests. If the Congo DR fails, the European Union would surely have enormous challenges with which to grapple.
The EU must now rise above their shadow interests to mobilise the international community and pressurise Kabila to step down from power because Africa is her next-door neighbour. Botswana has shown that the African national governments will flow with the tide of international leadership. Not only that, the EU will need to go beyond mere words to reconsider her unproductive paternalistic economic relations with Africa. There are insinuations out there that the presence of Europe in Africa is the best thing that has happened to Africa irrespective of its shortcomings, pointing to the presence of the Chinese who have infested Africa with their ubiquitous presence. One wonders whether this is the theory of a messiah or a vampire. Although the Chinese – who are pushing on all fronts of the African economy – may not be the perfect economic collaborators, at least it is a wake-up call for the former colony owners that a new economic interest has entered the ‘market place’ that was originally their monopoly. What then is the take of the average African on the current multiple economic interests in the continent? In the interim, it provides alternatives; what it would be in the long run is a matter of speculation. While hoping for the best, the continent awaits the later outcomes with mixed feelings and a prayer that it may not become another veiled plundering that leaves the land and its people poorer.
For now, the Congo DR boils, and the poor people are dying in their hundreds. The international media carry the news of killings, maiming, incarcerations and other gory inhuman acts. Immediate and long-term responses are needed. There are also other pockets of state unrest in Africa. Dare we say that the input of the international community towards crisis resolution in Africa is one of the strongest differentiating coefficients between economic partners and plunderers?
LONDON, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From children being forced by gangs to carry illegal drugs, to migrants smuggled into Britain and trapped in exploitative work, reports of slavery in Britain have surged as authorities crack down on the crime, according to data released on Monday.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it received 5,145 reports of suspected slavery victims in 2017 across Britain, an increase of more than a third from 3,804 in 2016.
Those involved were commonly British, Albanian and Vietnamese, said the NCA, which is dubbed Britain’s FBI, warning that criminal networks were heading online to sexually exploit people, especially through adult services websites.
“What this report reinforces is that we are now dealing with an evolving threat,” NCA director Will Kerr said in a statement. “Particularly concerning to us is the rise in young people being exploited for sexual purposes or drug trafficking.”
The NCA said the jump in numbers was largely due to British children being reported to authorities as suspected victims of sexual exploitation or being used by gangs to carry illegal drugs in the so-called ‘county lines’ drug trade.
There were also increased crossovers between smuggling rings, that transport vulnerable migrants into Britain, and slavemasters, who force them into exploitative work, Kerr said.
Kerr said the figures “almost certainly” represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in Britain.
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery – trapped in forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude – but police say the true figure is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, with its 2015 Modern Slavery Act introducing life sentences for traffickers, forcing companies to address the risk of forced labour, and better protect people at risk.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said on Monday it held 568 police operations in February alone but despite more arrests, authorities are struggling to jail slavemasters.
Trafficking prosecutions rose to 295 in 2015/2016 from 187 in 2014/15, but have since levelled off, according to data from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith
HARARE, March 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Jimmy Gata, 19, recites an anti-drugs poem at “Theatre in the Park” in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, jumping and gesturing on the stage, as spectators clap and cheer on the former addict.
Before finding his passion for the spoken word, Gata regularly took BronCleer, a cough syrup often smuggled in from South Africa that contains codeine, a painkiller similar to morphine. If enough is drunk, it also intoxicates like alcohol.
“Since Ngoma Yorira Theatre Association took me in to learn about film-making and acting and poetry, I have had no time for (BronCleer),” said Gata, a trained motor mechanic.
There are no accurate figures on the number of drug users in Zimbabwe. The Ministry of Health and Child Care says about 3,000 people nationwide are suffering mental illness directly related to drug abuse.
For 19-year-old Innocent Ndaramashe, an emerging R&B and hip-hop music star who was addicted to substances like BronCleer, the performing arts came to his rescue just in time.
“My music encourages my peers not to consume drugs because they damage our health,” Ndaramashe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “As a young man who has been taking drugs, I decided to preach against the abuse of drugs through my music career.”
In a country where many people struggle to earn a living in the informal economy, the theatre association has also helped out the poor and hungry.
“(It) gives food parcels, groceries to the needy in my community of which I am also a beneficiary because I am very old,” said 73-year-old Tambudzai Mlambo, a resident of Mbare township in Harare.
As Zimbabwe battles drug abuse made worse by a shortage of jobs for young people, the government acknowledges the contribution of the community arts scene.
“Groups that have of late emerged have helped to keep former drug addicts focused on theatre or art. This diverts their attention from drugs to concentrate on something new and positive for their wellbeing,” said Dorcas Sithole, deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s mental health department.
The state is doing what it can to fight drug abuse in tough circumstances, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are trying to prevent drug users from turning into addicts,” she said, explaining how the government puts them on withdrawal programmes in hospital and is also planning to open rehabilitation centres.
In addition, anti-drugs activists say there is a need for occupational therapy such as theatre, which also helps young people build their self-esteem.
“Nurturing talent provides an avenue for accomplishment as opposed to helplessness which is associated with the onset of drug use,” said Hilton Nyamukapa, programme coordinator for the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network.
Established seven years ago, the national network advocates for strategies to address problems linked to drug use in Zimbabwe and across Southern Africa.
Former drug addict Innocent Ndaramashe, now an up-and-coming musician, works in a studio in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Feb. 14, 2018.
Former drug addict Innocent Ndaramashe, now an up-and-coming musician, works in a studio in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Feb. 14, 2018.
A pioneer of the idea of using theatre to tackle drug problems, Ernest Nyatanga, founder and president of the Ngoma Yorira Theatre Association, said his organisation pays former addicts for their acting.
“Rewarding former drug users for their performances in theatre helps to motivate them and cultivate in them a desire to work for themselves,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Recently the association shot films highlighting social and economic issues facing the country, such as “The Delinquent” which depicts a misled young man who takes drugs while in school. The films are shown at Harare’s “Theatre in The Park”.
Nyatanga said the association donates some of the proceeds from its performances – which it stages in townships in remote areas too – to local orphanages and poor widows.
And it has helped feed people going hungry when drought hit food supplies in rural and urban areas.
It also recruits community members to sell recordings of theatre productions on a commission basis by the roadside.
“We are an association that lives amongst ordinary people, and we care for their needs,” Nyatanga said.
So far, the theatre association has helped more than 340 individuals change their lives for the better, 30 percent of whom were hooked on drugs, he said.
Parents like Linda Masarira, 36, whose 18-year-old son was an addict but has now resumed his secondary-school studies, are grateful for its work.
“It is a miracle – my son is reforming; he is now an upcoming hip-hop star while he is also into theatre and as a result he has… stopped using drugs,” Masarira said.
FAITH AND FOOTBALL
Community religious groups like the Christian Youths Fellowship Association (CYFA) based in Chegutu, a farming town 100 km (62 miles) west of Harare in Mashonaland West Province, have also joined the fight against drugs.
Patrick Imbayago, founder and director of the CYFA, said his group has shown anti-drugs films in urban and rural townships.
“After seeing these kinds of films, few would return to drug abuse because… drug abusers are shown as eventually losing their marbles, going mad,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The CYFA also funds football training for young people. “The more we occupy them with social activities like soccer, the less our youths turn to drug abuse,” said Imbayago.
Reporting by Jeffrey Moyo; editing by Megan Rowling.
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/
“It’s clear if we want to face climate change, women and girls from all the world should be central actors”
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cities will be the battleground and women can be effective warriors on the frontlines in the fight against climate change, activists and leaders said on Monday.
Investing in the education and leadership of women and girls will provide a much-needed boost in efforts to slow global warming, said attendees at the Women4Climate conference organised by C40, a global alliance of cities, in Mexico City.
“For thousands of years we’ve been investing in the education of men, in the professional capacities of men, in their rise to positions of leadership and decisions,” Christiana Figueres, former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told the group.
“We haven’t done this investment with women,” said Figueres, who now leads “Mission 2020,” a global initiative to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The Women4Climate conference brought together mayors, business leaders and leaders working to curb climate change. It was the second such conference held since world leaders agreed in Paris in 2015 on a goal of slowing the rise in average global temperatures.
“It is clear the battle will be fought especially in urban areas,” said Patricia Espinosa, the current UNFCCC head.
“It’s clear if we want to face climate change, women and girls from all the world should be central actors,” she said. “We have little time left.”
Extreme weather related to climate change is hitting urban areas, said Salt Lake City, Utah Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
She said the western U.S. city is warming at double the global rate, affecting the snowfall it depends upon for water.
Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi said her city planned to ban diesel-fueled cars from its centre, plant thousands of trees and invest in zero-emissions buses.
“Cities can do a lot to make a difference on climate, but just like women, cities can’t be expected to change the world all by themselves,” said Andrea Reimer, a Vancouver, Canada city official.
(Reporting by Sophie Hares, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2018 (IPS) – It is not known exactly how many child soldiers there are in the world, but current estimates tell us that in 2018, the number is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Children have been used in hostilities – including as human bombs –by state and non-state groups in at least 18 conflicts since 2016 alone.
Today, a staggering 46 nations continue to attract and enlist people under 18 into their militaries.
These are some of the statistics from the Child Soldiers World Index – a newly released database that examines UN member states for their use of child soldiers in the armed forces and non-state groups.
The statistics are indeed concerning, with even the UN declaring that the number of at risk children is increasing at an “alarming rate.”
So what exactly is driving children to become involved with armed groups? And, what can be done to get a grip on the crisis?
These are the questions that the United Nations University (UNU), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Luxemburg and Switzerland have been working to answer by conducting field research on child recruitment practices in Mali, Iraq and Nigeria.
THE ROLE OF “RADICALISATION”
According to the report, entitled ‘Cradled by Conflict: Children in Contemporary Conflict’, a mistake that policy makers are making is focusing too much on the idea that child soldiers join armed groups because they have been ‘radicalised.’
“Currently there is a tendency to attribute child involvement in conflicts to them becoming radicalised and swept up in this violent ideology… but this is rarely the primary factor motivating child association in armed groups,” the project’s leader researcher Siobhan O’Neil told IPS.
For example, the report found that ideology was hardly a factor in Mali where child solider recruitment is often paired with a narrative of radicalisation.
“In Mali, the intercommunal conflicts over resources and cattle, issues made worse by climate change and state corruption– were far more likely to drive children to armed groups,” O’Neil said.
Even in cases where ideology does play a role in a child’s trajectory towards an armed group, it is usually only one of a number of motivating or facilitating factors.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram has conflated its religious ideology with a rejection of the Nigerian state, the latter of which, the report found “may be the greater driver of association with Boko Haram for Nigerians who have experienced state oppression and violence.”
“NO CHOICE BUT TO JOIN”
UNU’s research also challenges a re-occurring perception that children can simply avoid joining armed groups.
The report stressed that for many children, especially those living within an occupied territory, neutrality is not an option.
“That’s a fallacy. It’s virtually impossible for children to remain unaffiliated in a war zone,” Kato Van Broeckhoven, a co-author of the research, told IPS.
“When an armed group is the only employer – like they are in parts of Syria and Nigeria – and they have physical control of a region, joining may be the only realistic way to survive,” she continued.
“PRO-SOCIAL REASONS TO JOIN”
The report also found that for some children, armed groups are attractive because they offer a sense of ‘community’, a sense of ‘significance’, and a feeling of ‘order amid chaos’.
For example in both Mali and Nigeria, where strict hierarchical societies are the norm, armed groups can provide a way for young people to express themselves and attain a level of status beyond what society would usually allow someone of their age.
Addressing what this research means for policy makers and programs on the ground, O’Neil told IPS that “ultimately, what we see is that there is no mono-causal reason for children getting involved in armed groups.”
“It’s important any intervention programs geared towards preventing them becoming involved, assisting them with release and reintegration recognise that and take a holistic approach to addressing children’s needs and risks,” she continued.
The report argues that many current interventions aimed at assisting child soldiers have leaned towards an ‘ideological approach’ – one that aims to ‘prevent’ and ‘counter’ violent extremism.
In the absence of evidence that links radical ideology to children becoming involved in armed groups, O’Neil and her fellow researchers say that any ‘ideological approach’ to intervention should only be used when there is clear evidence that it would be preventative.
Otherwise, as the report noted, “it’s a one size, fits none’ approach.
In the report, researchers urged for more effective international efforts to prevent and respond to child recruitment and use by armed groups including:
(1) avoid programmes focused primarily on ideological factors; (2) only incorporate ideological components where individually necessary and where they can be embedded into larger, holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children; (3) ensure all interventions are empirically based; (4) rigorously assess interventions over the long term; and (5) engage children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners.
The ‘Cradled to Conflict’ report and the Child Soldiers World Index data was launched on the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, and the anniversary of the OPAC treaty – the world’s first international treaty wholly focused on ending the military exploitation of children.
NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Anti-trafficking activists on Wednesday welcomed a move in the U.S. Congress to fight the trade, saying the online world was rife with “how-to” videos for sex traffickers.
The bill – which passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday – would make it easier for states and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep exploitative material off their platforms.
“It’s a great first step,” Jerome Elam, head of the Trafficking in America Task Force, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We have been fighting for so long.”
The legislation is a result of years of law-enforcement lobbying for a crackdown on Backpage.com, a huge website which is used for sex advertising.
A spokeswoman for Backpage declined to comment on the videos or the legislation, which will head next to the Senate, where similar legislation has gained substantial support.
Backpage has said it is hosting content, not creating it, and is protected from liability by a federal law protecting free speech. The company has been hit by lawsuits saying it promotes trafficking in its ads.
Each year, some 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“I hope this bill gets us closer to survivor justice and ensuring traffickers and their business associates (looking at you, Backpage) are held accountable,” said Andrea Powell, head of FAIR Girls anti-trafficking group, in a statement.
“I know it will.”
Activists said videos were freely available online that help sex traffickers use cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to pay anonymously for online advertisements on Backpage.
Earlier this week The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain said that videos on the YouTube website showed how to buy Backpage.com ads with bitcoin and other credits.
YouTube was not immediately available for comment. The Times said the most-viewed of the videos had been taken down.
“These YouTube videos showing how to use bitcoin for Backpage are ‘how-tos’ for human traffickers,” Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
“Backpage makes it easier for traffickers and pimps to use their site by accepting payments through bitcoin and other means of payment, such as retail gift cards.”
Visa Inc , MasterCard Inc and American Express Co have banned their credit cards from being used to pay for ads on Backpage.
Absent credit cards, Backpage relies heavily on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
“Without cryptocurrencies, the site would be relegated to using unreliable processors as a last resort,” Vance testified last month before a Congressional subcommittee.
Some campaigners say while the videos are disturbing, they make little difference to criminals.
“That horse got out of the barn a long time ago,” Nita Belles, founder of the anti-trafficking group In Our Backyard, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I think the people that are doing trafficking … they probably already know.”
Last December, more than 7,000 prostitution advertisements were posted on Backpage for Manhattan alone, Vance said.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)