All Africa (Thomas Reuters Foundation)
By Stefanie Glinski
11 July 2017: Juba — A growing number of women deminers are clearing up bomb and unexploded ordnance – most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families
Margret has decided that South Sudan is not a place to raise children, but she is changing this for future generations.
That’s why – 10 years ago – the mother of two joined the country’s 400 to 500 deminers, digging up remnants of past and present wars – bombs, unexploded ordnances and landmines.
She’s one of a growing number of women to take up the risky business, most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families.
“It’s my way of contributing and making this country better,” she said. “I sent my children to Uganda, but I want them to come back one day. It’s a sacrifice for me, but a gain for those returning when the war is over.”
Landmines have a long history in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation that won independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and violent liberation struggle. After just two years, a political squabble escalated into renewed civil war in late 2013, fracturing the new nation along ethnic lines.
More than four million mines and explosive devices have been found and destroyed in South Sudan over the last decade, says the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). While some accidents are recorded, UNMAS believes that at least 90 percent go unreported.
WAR REMNANTS Margret currently works around Kolye village, a 30 minute drive on unpaved bumpy roads from the South Sudanese capital Juba in a lush setting of green fields and mango trees.
The area saw heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and southern rebels during Sudan’s long civil war which ended in 2005, paving the way for the South’s independence.
Deadly anti-personnel fragmentation mines were laid by Khartoum’s forces to protect their barracks.
More than a decade later, they are still killing civilians.
“Soldiers placing mines think carefully about how humans behave, where they go and what they do. That is why mines are found alongside roads, in market places or by water points,” said Jan Møller Hansen of DanChurchAid’s demining project, the organisation that also employs Margret.
While mines are easy to place, they are hard to remove. After an eight-week training course, Margret has dug out hundreds of them throughout her career and – on a good day – she can cover up to 30 square metres (320 square feet).
“We can use the safe land to build roads, hospitals and schools and that’s what excites me the most,” she smiled.
According to UNMAS’s demining chief, Tim Lardner, it will take at least another 10 years to clear up the whole country that is roughly the size of France.
South Sudan signed the Mine Ban Treaty less than six months after independence in 2011, deeming anti-personnel mines illegal and their removal mandatory.
Renewed war has complicated efforts to remove mines from previous conflicts, while rebel forces, without providing evidence, have accused the government of laying new explosives in violation of the treaty, a charge it denies.
Jens Martens is Executive Director of Global Policy Forum and coordinates the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
BONN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS) – At the High-Level Political Forum which currently takes place at the United Nations in New York several events, for instance a SDG Business Forum, are devoted to the critical role of business and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
But many civil society organizations and trade unions warn in their joint report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 that the various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its goals.
Weakening the State: A vicious circle The trend towards partnerships with the private sector is based on a number of assumptions, not least the belief that global problems are too big and the public sector is too weak to solve them alone.
But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
In fact, the lack of capacity and financial resources is not an inevitable phenomenon but has been caused by deliberate political decisions. To give just one example, over the past three decades corporate income tax rates have declined in both countries of the global North and South by 15 to 20 percent. Hundreds of billions of US dollars are lost every year through corporate tax incentives and various forms of tax avoidance.
Through their business-friendly fiscal policies and the lack of effective global tax cooperation, governments have weakened their revenue base substantially. This has been driven not least by corporate lobbying.
A recent analysis by Oxfam America estimates that between 2009 and 2015, the USA’s 50 largest companies spent approximately US$ 2.5 billion on lobbying, with approximately US$ 352 million lobbying on tax issues. In the same period, they received over US$ 423 billion in tax breaks.
What we see is a vicious circle of weakening the State: the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to the massive weakening of the public sector and its ability to provide essential goods and services.
These failures have been used by the proponents of privatization and PPPs to present the private sector as the better alternative and to demand its further strengthening. This in turn further weakened the public sector – and so on….
In parallel, the same corporate strategies and fiscal and regulatory policies that led to the weakening of the public sector enabled an unprecedented accumulation of individual wealth and increasing market concentration, often at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Concentrated power According to various statistics of the largest national economies, transnational corporations, banks and asset management firms, among the 50 largest global economic entities are more private corporations than countries. The assets under management by the world’s largest asset management company BlackRock are US$ 5.12 trillion (end of 2016), thus higher than the GDP of Japan or Germany.
Large institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are also the drivers of a new generation of PPPs in infrastructure, forcing governments to offer ‘bankable’ projects that meet the needs of these investors rather than the needs of the affected population.
Particularly alarming for the implementation of SDG 2 on food security and sustainable agriculture are the announced mega-mergers in the food and agriculture sector, especially the acquisition of Syngenta by China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina), the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont and the takeover of Monsanto by Bayer.
If all of these mergers are allowed, the new corporate giants will together control at least 60 percent of global commercial seed sales and 71 percent of global pesticide sales.
Devastating impacts The Spotlight Report 2017 clearly shows, that privatization, PPPs and the rise of corporate power affect all areas and goals of the 2030 Agenda. One example is the mushrooming of private, fee-charging, profit-making schools in Africa and Asia.
Detrimental corporate influence occurs in the energy sector with the still dominant role of coal and fossil fuel industries, undermining effective measures against climate change and the transformation towards sustainable energy systems.
Studies by scholars, CSOs and trade unions like Public Services International (PSI) have shown that the privatization of public infrastructure and services and various forms of PPPs involve disproportionate risks for the affected people and costs for the public sector. They can even exacerbate inequalities, decrease equitable access to essential services, and thus jeopardize the fulfilment of human rights, particularly the rights of women.
Counter-movements and breaking ranks Responding to the experiences and testimonies from the ground about the devastating impacts of privatization and PPPs, counter-movements emerged in many parts of the world. Over the past 15 years there has been a significant rise in the number of communities that have taken privatized services back into public hands – a phenomenon called “remunicipalization.” Remunicipalization refers particularly to the return of water supply and sanitation services to public service delivery. Between March 2000 and March 2015 researchers documented 235 cases of water remunicipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.
Furthermore, some pioneering companies are already on the path towards – at least environmentally – sustainable development solutions, for instance in the area of renewable energies.
The private sector is in no way a monolithic bloc. Firms in the social and solidarity economy, social impact investors and small and medium-sized businesses are already making a positive difference, challenging the proponents of global techno-fix solutions and the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel lobby.
Even the firm opposition to international corporate regulation in the field of business and human rights by those pretending to represent business interests is showing cracks. A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that 20 percent of business representatives who responded to the survey said that a binding international treaty would help them with their responsibilities to respect human rights.
What has to be done? To be sure, the business sector certainly has an important role to play in the implementation process of the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development will require large-scale changes in business practices.
However, acknowledging corporations’ role should not mean promoting the accumulation of wealth and economic power, giving them undue influence on policy-making and ignoring their responsibility in creating and exacerbating many of the problems that the 2030 Agenda is supposed to tackle.
Instead of further promoting the misleading discourse of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ and partnerships between inherently unequal partners a fundamental change of course is necessary. In order to achieve the SDGs and to turn the vision of the transformation of our world, as proclaimed in the title of the 2030 Agenda, into reality, we have to reclaim the public policy space.
Governments should strengthen public finance at all levels, fundamentally rethink their approach towards trade and investment liberalization, reconsider PPPs, create binding rules on business and human rights, take effective measures to dismantle corporate power and prevent the further existence of corporate ‘too big to fail’ entities.
But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2017 (IPS) – A former French judge has been appointed as the head of an independent team tasked with investigating war crimes in Syria.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lead a panel known as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which aims to gather, preserve, and analyze potential evidence of serious violations of international law committed in Syria since 2011 for use by courts or an international tribunal.
The legal team, established in Geneva, was created by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 after facing longstanding resistance from Russia which has used its veto power eight times in the Security Council to block investigations and action on the conflict.
Marchi-Uhel is the first head of the panel and has extensive experience in international criminal law, previously serving as an international judge with the UN mission in Kosovo and in Cambodian courts prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. She was the Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and worked in various legal positions at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with UN peacekeeping missions.
Most recently, Marchi-Uhel has been serving as the ombudsperson for the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
Many applauded the move, including Human Rights Watch who noted that the team is “critical” for the “long march to justice,” stating: “For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair, and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.”
Though the exact figure is uncertain, estimates of casualties from the 7-year long war range from 320,000 to over 400,000.
A UN International Commission of Inquiry has comprehensively documented atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, including systematic attacks on hospitals and schools.
One of the deadliest attacks in Syria came in October 2016 when a series of airstrikes hit a complex of schools in Haas, killing a total of 36 civilians, 21 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 17. Another 114 people were injured in the attack including 61 children. Afraid of future attacks, the school was closed.
“A Syrian Air Force attack on a complex of schools in Haas (Idlib), amounting to war crimes, is a painful reminder that instead of serving as sanctuaries for children, schools are ruthlessly bombed and children’s lives senselessly robbed from them,” the commission stated.
Such attacks in Syria are estimated to account for half of global attacks on schools from 2011 to 2015.
Several countries have already begun their own investigations into war crimes in Syria including Sweden which prosecuted a former Syrian opposition fighter for war crimes in December 2016.
The International Mechanism headed by Marchi-Uhel is expected to further these efforts around the world.
However, the team, funded by voluntary contributions, has only received half of the $13 million that its work is estimated to cost in its first year with 26 contributing countries as of June.
Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar are among the group’s top donors.
7 July 2017 – Countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years.
“The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres said following its adoption.
“The Secretary-General hopes that this new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament,” Stéphane Dujarric added.
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
“We feel emotional because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference that negotiated the treaty in response to a mandate given by the UN General Assembly.
She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that with the treaty the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on 20 September 2017, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.
However, a number of countries stayed out of the negotiations, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear-weapon States, as well as many of their allies. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not join the talks either.
In a joint press statement issued today, the delegations of the United States, United Kingdom and France said they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
“This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” they said. “Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”
In response to questions on the joint statement, Ms. Whyte Gómez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted decades ago, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. Then in 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States that are the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the beginning, it was unimaginable that those States would be parties to the NPT, she noted. “But the world changes and the circumstances change.”
She added that the hibakusha, survivors of nuclear bombs, have been the driving force in the creation of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. The experiences they have been sharing “touch the human soul,” she said, adding that the negotiations were a “combination of reason and heart.”
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2017 (IPS) – More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Although significant progress to ensure access to drinking water has been achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure its quality—deemed free from pollutants and safe for drinking.
“Clean water and sanitation is central to other outcomes, for example, nutrition among children. While many countries like India have made it a top priority, many others haven’t been able to emphasise the issue yet,” Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, told IPS.
As many as 400 million people still rely on distant water sources—travelling to and fro from their homes to pick it up. Some 159 million people, according to the report, rely on untreated water from lakes and streams. This puts lives, especially of young children, at great risk.
“Every day, 800 children under the age of five die from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. In fact, diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death in the world.” Wijesekera added.
A lack of access to clean drinking water is also bad news for hygiene and sanitary levels. In many countries, open defecation due to the lack of in-house toilets poses a significant challenge.
“The sheer indignity of openly defecating, especially among young girls, takes a toll on other aspects of their lives—such as their poor attendance in school where there aren’t toilets,” Wijesekera explained.
This is especially true in rural areas. While the global drop in open defecation from 20 to 12 percent between 2000 and 2015 is a welcome fact, the rate of decline, at just .7 percent every year, puts pressure on governments to do more. To eliminate open defecation by 2030, for example, the rate of decline has to double.
Still, some countries like Ethiopia have combatted the issue of open defecation successfully.
“In Ethiopia, the percentage has dropped from 80 to 27 percent between 2000 and 2015. Critical building blocks like stronger policies at the government levels and dutiful allocation of funds can go a long way,” Wijesekera said.
These issues—from access to safe drinking water to sanitation supplies—mostly affect the poorest families. For example, Angola, which has performed better than other sub-Saharan African countries and achieved overall basic access to water for its citizens, still shows a gap of 40 percent between people who live in urban and rural areas.
Similarly, Panama’s capital city has achieved universal access to clean drinking water, but other sub regions in the country remain marginalized.
Meanwhile, the report has drawn criticism from other NGOs for being incomplete.
“The report is a good starting point but the current data only reflects 35 percent of the global population across 92 countries. Big countries like China and India have been left out,” Al-Hassan Adam, the international coordinator at End Water Poverty, a coalition organisation that campaigns for water rights and sanitation, told IPS.
“Bigger industries have to do more to protect water resources. In countries like Mexico, water is still contaminated. In other poorer countries, infrastructure to ensure safely managed water is missing in the first place,” he added.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN strongly focus on reducing inequality between and within countries, and commit member states to “leave no one behind.”
Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says.
A relatively small number of fossil fuel producers and their investors could hold the key to tackling climate change
Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a new report.
The Carbon Majors Report (pdf) “pinpoints how a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” says Pedro Faria, technical director at environmental non-profit CDP, which published the report in collaboration with the Climate Accountability Institute.
Traditionally, large scale greenhouse gas emissions data is collected at a national level but this report focuses on fossil fuel producers. Compiled from a database of publicly available emissions figures, it is intended as the first in a series of publications to highlight the role companies and their investors could play in tackling climate change.
The report found that more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 – the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established – can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities. The scale of historical emissions associated with these fossil fuel producers is large enough to have contributed significantly to climate change, according to the report.
ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. If fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, says the report, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4C by the end of the century. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks.
While companies have a huge role to play in driving climate change, says Faria, the barrier is the “absolute tension” between short-term profitability and the urgent need to reduce emissions.
A Carbon Tracker study in 2015 found that fossil fuel companies risked wasting more than $2tn over the coming decade by pursuing coal, oil and gas projects that could be worthless in the face of international action on climate change and advances in renewables – in turn posing substantial threats to investor returns.
CDP says its aims with the carbon majors project are both to improve transparency among fossil fuel producers and to help investors understand the emissions associated with their fossil fuel holdings.
A fifth of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions are backed by public investment, according to the report. “That puts a significant responsibility on those investors to engage with carbon majors and urge them to disclose climate risk,” says Faria.
Investors should move out of fossil fuels, says Michael Brune, executive director of US environmental organisation the Sierra Club. “Not only is it morally risky, it’s economically risky. The world is moving away from fossil fuels towards clean energy and is doing so at an accelerated pace. Those left holding investments in fossil fuel companies will find their investments becoming more and more risky over time.”
There is a “growing wave of companies that are acting in the opposite manner to the companies in this report,” says Brune. Nearly 100 companies including Apple, Facebook, Google and Ikea have committed to 100% renewable power under the RE100 initiative. Volvo recently announced that all its cars would be electric or hybrid from 2019.
And oil and gas companies are also embarking on green investments. Shell set up a renewables arm in 2015 with a $1.7bn investment attached and a spokesperson for Chevron says it’s “committed to managing its [greenhouse gas] emissions” and is investing in two of the world’s largest carbon dioxide injection projects to capture and store carbon. A BP spokesperson says its “determined to be part of the solution” for climate change and is “investing in renewables and low-carbon innovation.” And ExxonMobil, which has faced heavy criticism for its environmental record, has been exploring carbon capture and storage.
But for many the sums involved and pace of change are nowhere near enough. A research paper published last year by Paul Stevens, an academic at think tank Chatham House, said international oil companies were no longer fit for purpose and warned these multinationals that they faced a “nasty, brutish and short” end within the next 10 years if they did not completely change their business models.
Investors now have a choice, according to Charlie Kronick, senior programme advisor at Greenpeace UK. “The future of the oil industry has already been written: the choice is will its decline be managed, returning capital to shareholders to be reinvested in the genuine industries of the future, or will they hold on, hoping not be the last one standing when the music stops?”
A list of the world’s Top 100 Polluters is available on line at The Guardian.
ATLANTA (CNS) — Black women desiring to serve a life devoted to the Catholic faith were not welcomed by religious communities with anti-black acceptance requirements from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, said historian Shannen Dee Williams.
Those who could gain admittance faced discrimination from their fellow sisters, she added.
“Black sisters matter, but they constitute a dangerous memory for the church,” said Williams, assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
She was joined by Sister Anita Baird, a Daughter of the Heart of Mary, and Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, on an Aug. 12 panel discussing racism in religious life at the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta.
Williams upcoming book is called “Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America.” It was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University.
Later, scores of sisters walked from the LCWR assembly being held in the Hilton Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park to pray on the plaza outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is dedicated to the achievements of the U.S. civil rights and worldwide human rights movements.
Earlier, the participants wrote on slips of paper when they and their religious communities have not welcomed people of color. The slips became a “chain of bondage,” which was later broken after prayers of lamentation and a blessing.
Williams’ presentation was titled “Shattering the Silence: Black Women and the Challenge of History.”