Ireland, France set to block EU-Mercosur trade deal over Amazon

BED9A5E4-EE61-40A2-A8F5-85B8A0098FEBVast tracts of the Amazon jungle has burned and are being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao [Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

As wildfires rage through the Amazon, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron have said they will vote against a trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.

Varadkar said in a statement he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction, and said the Irish government would closely monitor Brazil’s environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal is ratified

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” he said.

Macron, meanwhile, believes his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro lied to him on Brazil’s stance on climate change, and France will now join Ireland in blocking the trade deal between the EU and South American nations.

“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka [G20] summit [in June],” a French presidential official said on Friday, as a public row flared between the two leaders over wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil’s comments and policies over the past few weeks showed the right-wing Bolsonaro did not intend to respect obligations on climate change and also did not want to commit on concrete proposals to maintain biodiversity, said the official.

“Under these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur (Free Trade Agreement with the EU) as it stands,” the French official added.

About 500 protesters, many from the Extinction Rebellion climate strike group, blocked the road outside Brazil’s embassy in London on Friday morning, incensed at Bolsonaro’s lack of environmental protections.

“When we destroy elements of biodiversity, we cut the threads that hold everything together,” Farnan Ellwood of the University of the West of England told Al Jazeera. “Biodiversity is nature’s protection mechanism, its insurance policy.

“We need to stop using hardwood furniture, stop eating beef – because it’s the beef farming which is driving deforestation. The second thing is to recognise the world has changed – we simply cannot go back. But there is some good news; scientists are trying to rebuild the biodiversity. If we can put the fire out – literally and figuratively – and stop the decline, then we can try to restore some of these complex networks of biodiversity.”

Macron had tweeted on Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G7 countries meet this weekend in France.
Bolsonaro then blasted Macron for having a “colonialist mentality”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Macron’s call on Friday, and it looks likely to be a topic for discussion.

Vast tracts of the Amazon – often described as the lungs of the world – are currently ablaze in what is known as the burning season. Environmentalists have blamed deforestation for an increase in fires and accuse Bolsonaro of cutting protection of an area deemed crucial in combating climate change.

Varadkar said Bolsonaro’s effort to blame non-government environmental organisations for the fires was “Orwellian”.

Ireland and France will need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if it wants to kill the deal which was reached in June after 20 years of negotiations between the EU and the Mercosur countries – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

But the Irish government is under pressure to defend its beef farmers, already suffering from Britain’s looming EU exit and low prices, by seeking to ensure Mercosur countries do not flood the market with cheaper beef.

Bolsonaro has rejected what he calls foreign interference in Brazil’s affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/ireland-block-eu-mercosur-trade-deal-amazon-fires-190823095908509.html

 

 

 

Malawi: 3 sentenced to death over killing of person with albinism

8E649CF2-1E1B-441B-B945-7503102E4F41People with albinism, of which there are up to 10,000 in the country, are often victims of brutal attacks in Malawi [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP]

A Malawi court has convicted and sentenced three people to death for killing a person with albinism.

The “three were found guilty of [murder and possessing human tissue] and have been sentenced to death,” judiciary spokeswoman Agness Patemba told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The court found Douglas Mwale, Fontino Folosani and Sophie Jere guilty of murdering Priscott Pepuzani in 2015 using a metal bar and a hoe handle. The trio chopped off Pepuzani’s limbs and buried the rest of the body in a garden.

The sentence was handed down in the western town of Mchinji on Tuesday.

This is the second death sentence handed down in the country in the past three months.

Another man was sentenced to death in May for murdering a teenager with albinism – the first time the death penalty had been handed down in such a case – though he has not been executed.

Malawi has not carried out any executions since 1994, with death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

‘Big step’

In March, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the spate of attacks on people with albinism, after coming under mounting criticism over his response to the attacks.

Overstone Kondowe, who heads the African Union for People with Albinism, said he hoped the sentence would curb the attacks.

“This is really a big step and we want to encourage the Malawi government to continue [with tough penalties],” said Kondowe.

“Whether they will really be hanged or not, it’s not significant. The public will still get the message.”

The Association of People Living with Albinism also welcomed the ruling, hoping it will deter attacks on their members.

“This ruling enhances our faith in the judiciary and solidifies our belief that we have them as an advocate in our fight to curb killings and abductions against people with albinism,” said Ian Simbota, leader of the association.

People with albinism, of which there are up to 10,000 in the country, are often victims of brutal attacks in Malawi – one of the world’s poorest and most aid-dependent nations.

This is because of their white skin resulting from a hereditary condition that causes a lack of pigmentation.

Other conditions associated with albinism include vulnerability to bright light, which can cause legal blindness.

Often, individuals with albinism are targeted in Malawi for their body parts to be used in witchcraft.

More than 160 cases have been reported in the country since November 2014, of which 22 have been murders, Amnesty International said in May 2019.

Just 30 percent of those attacks have been properly investigated, according to official statistics.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/malawi-3-sentenced-death-killing-person-albinism-190815084058460.html

 

 

 

A London college bans beef to fight climate change

8F8E5DC5-294D-404A-B92E-C595D904A71FUniversity of London’s Goldsmiths college is tackling climate change by introducing a small levy on bottled water and single-use plastics that are sold on its London campus [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

A London college said on Monday it has banned beef from its campus to combat climate change, becoming the first higher education institution in Britain to do so.

From next month onward, Goldsmiths, part of the University of London, will no longer sell beef anywhere on its campus. It will also introduce a small levy on bottled water and single-use plastics to discourage their use.

“The growing global call for organisations to take seriously their responsibilities for halting climate change is impossible to ignore,” said Frances Corner, head of Goldsmiths.

Staff and students were “determined to help deliver the step change we need to cut our carbon footprint drastically and as quickly as possible,” Corner said.

The college said it aimed to switch to clean energy and become carbon neutral – meaning it will produce no more carbon emissions than it can offset – by 2025.

Livestock farming is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes a tenth of the world’s freshwater and causes large-scale deforestation, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Forests soak up heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere and deforestation can amplify global warming due to the loss of vegetation and soil erosion, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said.

Plant-based foods and sustainable animal-sourced food could free up several million square kilometres of land by 2050 and cut 0.7 to 8.0 gigatonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent, the IPCC said in a major report last week.

“Declaring a climate emergency cannot be empty words … Goldsmiths now stands shoulder to shoulder with other organisations willing to call the alarm and take urgent action to cut carbon use,” said Corner.

Goldsmiths has joined a growing number of businesses and organisations to discourage meat consumption.

Last July, global office-sharing company WeWork, which operates in 22 countries, became one of the first international firms to ban staff from expensing meals that contain meat.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/london-college-bans-beef-fight-climate-change-190812172654478.html

 

The South Asian women trafficked to Kenya’s Bollywood-style bars

DanceLatest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Nepali beautician Sheela* did not think twice about ditching her salon job when she received a call offering seven times her salary to work as a cultural dancer at a nightclub in Kenya.

It did not matter that the 23-year-old woman from a village in the Himalayan foothills had never heard of the East African nation.

Or that she had no experience as a dancer, had never met the owner of the club and was not shown an employment contract.

With elderly parents to care for and medical bills to clear after her brother suffered a motorcycle accident, the offer of a monthly salary of $600, with food, housing and transport costs all covered, was a no-brainer for Sheela.

“[But] it was not what I expected,” said Sheela, who was rescued with 11 other Nepali women from a nightclub in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa in April where she danced on stage from 9pm to 4am getting tips from male clients.

“I was told that being escorted everywhere by the driver, not leaving the flat except for work, and not having my passport or phone, was for my safety,” added Sheela, who did not want to give her real name, at a safe house in Mombasa’s Shanzu suburb.

An increasing number of women and girls are leaving South Asian nations such as Nepal, India and Pakistan to work in Bollywood-style dance bars in Kenya’s adult entertainment industry – many illegally – according to anti-trafficking activists and police.

There is no official data on the numbers but the results of police raids, combined with figures on the repatriation of rescued women, suggest scores of women and underage girls are victims of organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya.

Latest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania in 2016-2017.

Spotlight on rising trend

The owner of the Mombasa club, Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha, was charged with three counts of human trafficking, accused of harbouring victims for the purpose of deception, using premises to promote trafficking and confiscation of passports.

The Canadian-British national denied the charges in court, pleading not guilty, saying the women were in Kenya of their own consent and legally employed as cultural dancers at a business with no erotic dancing or sexual exploitation.

He is currently on bail awaiting the next court hearing.

The so-called mujra dance bars are common in India. Here, young women dance to Bollywood music for money from male patrons. These bars have mushroomed in cities including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, where there are countless Kenyans of South Asian descent.

Police and anti-trafficking groups have repeatedly voiced concerns that some of these private clubs are used as a front to ensnare women and girls, some in sex slavery, with women forced to pay off loans by erotic dancing or having sex with clients.

Sheela and the other women rescued from the Mombasa club told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they were not forced to have sex with customers.

In Kenya, many local women and girls are promised good jobs only to be enslaved in domestic servitude or forced into prostitution – often in the sex tourism industry.

Kenya is home to about 328,000 modern-day slaves – about one in 143 of its population – according to the Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based rights group.

Police raids

In recent years, police raids on mujra bars uncovered organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya, a trend highlighted by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

“The raids have helped us understand the modus operandi of traffickers in Kenya who have agents overseas to recruit women for them,” an official from Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said on condition of anonymity.

“They are offered jobs as cultural dancers and given around one month’s salary in advance. But when they arrive, their movements are restricted and they have to do erotic and sexually explicit dancing – and often have to have sex with clients.”

Such victims enter Kenya either on a three-month tourist visa on arrival for South Asians or on a special temporary work permit for cultural performers, according to the DCI official.

Sheela and the other 11 women rescued in Mombasa said they came to Kenya separately over the past nine months on flights through India and Ethiopia arranged by the club owner.

In court testimonies, the women, aged 16 to 34, said they were told to carry hand luggage only and tell immigration officials they were visiting friends or family in Kenya.

The women worked every night, were given stage names, and were expected to earn about $4,000 each a month in tips.

“We didn’t get the tips as they were for the boss,” said Meena*, 20, who did not want to give her real name.

“But the top performing girls would get bonuses of 20,000 shillings [$200], 30,000 [$300], and 50,000 [$500] if they met their targets.”

The women told the court their passports were taken and they did not know the location of the club or their accommodation. They were repatriated to Nepal in July.

“This whole thing has been terrible,” said Sonia*, 24, who did not want to give her real name, the day before she left. “I should never have come – it was a mistake. All I want to do is go home. I never come to Kenya again.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/south-asian-women-trafficked-kenya-bollywood-style-bars-190808085054217.html

 

Amid extreme flooding in Pakistan, Catholic volunteers step up

CaritasResidents wade through flood waters in Karachi, Pakistan July 31, 2019. Credit: Asis Hassan / AFP / Getty Images.

.- A 52-year-old Caritas volunteer helped rescue more than two dozen families from a recent flood in Karachi, Pakistan.

Francis Javed, a father of six who works as a cobbler, told ucanews.com that he received a phone call from Caritas Pakistan Karachi at 11 a.m. on July 30. They warned him about an overflowing dam not far away.

“I shifted my family to a relative’s house, alerted the community members and made announcements in the local mosque requesting people to evacuate or climb on to their rooftops,” he said.

Javed’s announcement helped people prepare for the flood waters, which reached his district about three hours later. When the army arrived, Javed helped them rescue people trapped in their homes over the next five hours.

“We had four boats, but each could only transport up to 12 people. The strong water currents made it difficult to evacuate them,” he told ucanews.com. “We used bamboo sticks for support and scanned the surroundings for obstacles in the flooded areas.”

Javed has volunteered with Caritas Pakistan for more than a decade, when he received aid from the church after his home was destroyed in a 2008 flood. He heads a local Disaster Management Committee to prepare for potential disasters. The group prepares foods, secures documents, and discusses escape routes.

Caritas trains volunteers to assess and respond to flood threats, as well as other natural disasters.

Much of Pakistan has been affected by recent flooding, caused by heavy rainfalls in recent weeks. Government officials have confirmed 83 people dead from flooding in the last month, as well as more than 70 people injured and over 200 houses damaged, ucanews.com reported.

In other Pakistani dioceses, Caritas has helped distribute food aid, medical kits, and other emergency supplies to those affected by flooding.

Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, voiced gratitude for the work of volunteers, while warning that the danger has not yet passed.

“The situation is getting worse — more rain is predicted for the coming weeks,” Gulzar said, according to ucanews.com. We are planning a quick response.”

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/amid-extreme-flooding-in-pakistan-catholic-volunteers-step-up-66310

Paddling in plastic: meet the man swimming the Pacific garbage patch

Plastic Ben Lecomte holds a piece of plastic found in the Pacific Ocean that has become a home for small crabs. Photograph: @osleston

Ben Lecomte is spending his summer swimming in trash – literally. So far, he’s found toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates floating out in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The 52-year-old Frenchman is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. He will swim a total of 300 nautical miles, intermittently travelling by sailboat with a crew of 10 the rest of the way.

His swim will take him through a gyre known as the Pacific trash vortex, home to the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world. The distance is also a metaphorical journey for the 300m tons of plastic waste produced annually, of which an estimated 8m tons of plastic waste is pushed into the oceans.

Since starting the trip on 14 June in Hawaii, Lecomte and his crew – consisting of sailors, storytellers and scientists – have found everything from empty containers to children’s toys and abandoned fishing nets. Crew member and scientist Drew McWhirter even discovered microplastics in their dinner: upon slitting open a freshly caught mahi-mahi, he saw a piece of plastic lodged in the fish’s stomach.

“It was a very sobering experience,” Lecomte says. “Plastic trash coming back to our plates.”

The long-distance swim is the first of its kind ever to be attempted. Designed as a science-meets-adventure expedition, Lecomte and his team are collecting microplastic samples and placing GPS tags on larger floating plastic waste, so that researchers can better understand how plastics move through the oceans.

Lecomte is also on a mission to debunk the myth that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating pile of plastic. There is no “trash island”, he says, but rather an “underwater smog of microplastic”.

This is not Lecomte’s first long-distance swim. In 1998, he became the first man to cross the Atlantic without the aid of a kickboard – a feat that took him 73 days and even saw him followed by sharks. Last year he attempted to swim across the Pacific, launching from Japan. He completed 1,500 nautical miles (2,700 kilometers) before he was forced to abandon the effort due to stormy conditions, which damaged his support boat.

That support boat is crucial, giving Lecomte the rest and nourishment he needs to swim an average of eight hours every day. He stops during his swim to have some soup and bread and refuel but can go as long as five hours without stopping. After eight hours in the water he’ll get back on the boat for a carb-heavy meal, he says, followed by an evening nap and a second meal at night. Lecomte, who hopes to complete the crossing in September, swims seven days a week, taking breaks only when he’s severely fatigued or if the weather conditions are too risky.

Meanwhile, the crew is busy using nets to collect samples of plastic in the water, often thousands of pieces per day, which are meticulously laid out and counted. The team estimates that in the past three weeks they’ve collected more than 17,000 pieces of microplastics and spotted more than 1,200 larger pieces of floating trash.

Lecomte’s swimming route is dictated by scientists from the University of Hawaii, using satellite imagery and ocean modeling to locate the highest concentration of debris. “Our goal is to arrive in California with the first transpacific dataset on plastic pollution, and engage as many people as possible to be part of the solution,” Lecomte says.

This expedition is also sponsored by Icebreaker, a New Zealand-based outdoor brand that emphasizes the use of natural materials in its clothing. His swim is drawing attention to the increasing prevalence of synthetic microfibers in the planet’s water systems. Studies have estimated that between 700,000 and 1m synthetic fibers are unleashed by just one load of washing in a machine.

Dr Sarah-Jeanne Royer at the University of San Diego specializes in plastic and microfiber degradation, and has been supporting Lecomte’s mission from land. She says the boat crew has collected seawater samples at a variety of locations, and found microfibers in every sample. “These synthetic fibers are so lightweight, that they’re being carried everywhere,” she says. “We’re breathing them.”

Despite enormous public interest, scientists still know little about the pervasiveness of ocean plastic pollution, says Royer. The vastness of the oceans makes the movement of plastics difficult to study, while gyres such as the one Lecomte is swimming near can keep plastic waste in a restricted area for long periods of time, before unleashing them towards the Hawaiian shorelines.

“We only know where 1% of the plastic waste is in the ocean,” she says. Indeed, a 2014 study found that the overwhelming majority of all plastic known to have entered the oceans cannot be accounted for. “So the big question for us is where is this plastic going in the ocean?”

She hopes the findings by Lecomte and his team will help begin to answer that question.

“This data is priceless. [The crew] could have done a campaign without collecting data. But they realized how important it is to collect these samples,” she says. “Without science, it’s not possible to prove the claims about plastics and its damaging effect on the environment.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/30/paddling-in-plastic-meet-the-man-swimming-the-pacific-garbage-patch

The Chile school where pupils carry petrol bombs over pencils

ChilePupils have been involved in violent clashes with the police in the capital, Santiago.GETTY IMAGES

“No student throws a Molotov cocktail, just because they feel like it and think that it’s fun,” says Rodrigo Pérez.

The 17-year-old is president of the student association at the Instituto Nacional (National Institute) in Chile’s capital, Santiago. He is talking about the motivation behind his fellow students’ behaviour.

The boys’ state school is one of the country’s most prestigious. It has a stringent selection process and boasts a number of former presidents as alumni.

But over the past few months, the school has hit the headlines less for its academic achievements and more for the action of some of its pupils, who have thrown petrol bombs from the school’s roof and taken over classrooms.

Tear gas and water cannons were used to break up some of the most heated protests.

The school has installed security cameras and police search the bags of pupils as they enter the premises in order to prevent a repeat of the most destructive incidents, which were led by students who hid their identity behind masks.

A handful of other famous boys’ state schools have also taken part in protests, but the Instituto Nacional is the most extreme.

‘Fed up with labels’

“It’s like a pressure cooker which has finally exploded and led them to this kind of violence,” says Rodrigo of those who are protesting.

He may disagree with the methods the masked students are using, but he understands their motivation only too well: “My school reflects the state of education in Chile – a lack of resources and care for the students.”

There are complaints of rat infestations, blocked bathrooms with sewage leaking, cold showers, broken windows, leaking roofs and bullying teachers.

“We have been asking for the last six years for things to change. We are fed up with being labelled as terrorists and delinquents, when all we want is to be heard.” he explains.

The masked students – like many other pupils at the school – want more resources to be pumped into their school, including enough teachers and a reform to the national curriculum, which they say is too old fashioned and does not reflect 21st-Century thinking.

Some pupils think the only way to get people’s attention is to throw petrol bombs and take over classrooms.

Long-running problem

Critics say that the problem of state schools suffering from underfunding dates back to the rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 80s when they were put under the control of local authorities, which they accuse of siphoning off the money earmarked for the schools.

Felipe Alessandri, the mayor of the region where the school is located and who is in charge of the school’s finances, rejects this. “Since, I have been mayor, every peso that I have been given has been used for the infrastructure of the school,” he says.

He blames the students for the school’s ill state of repair. “Every time we repair something, the students damage it. We fixed some of the bathrooms over the holidays and by the first afternoon of the new term they had graffiti all over them and were damaged.”

He argues that the troublemakers are a small group of highly politicised students out to cause disruption.

Mayor Alessandri believes tough measures are needed to stop them. “We can’t have students pouring petrol on teachers and throwing bombs. We need to stop them,” he argues.

‘Heavy-handed policy’

His views are shared by the government of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera which has introduced a policy called “Aula Segura” (Safe Classroom) to contain the protests.

Under Aula Segura pupils suspected of taking part in violent protests can be excluded from school with immediate effect, even if their behaviour is still under investigation.

Rodrigo says this new measure – which sometimes results in pupils who have done no wrong being suspended – is heavy handed and has further antagonised already disgruntled students.

He says that it has also caused the number of masked protesters to swell from around 20 to 100 out of a total student body of 4,000.

“When the state dictates its policies by force, with police invading the school to remove students and using tear gas and water cannons, it’s showing us that violence is their answer to the situation and that generates resistance,” Rodrigo argues.

Deep divisions

Parents are divided about how to deal with the problem, with three parent associations taking different stands.

Judy Valdés leads one of them. “Even the students who throw Molotov cocktails have rights, because they are children who are still growing and that is what the mayor and the government don’t understand,” she says but stresses that she does not agree with their methods.

Ms Valdés wants to see more therapists in the school to help deal with the depression and other mental health problems many of the students are experiencing .

The pupils themselves say that attending class can sometimes resemble entering a war zone and that even those not actively taking part in the protests can get caught up in the melee.

Natalia Canales Riquelme’s 14-year-old son Santiago is one of them.

Santiago “wasn’t masked, he wasn’t throwing stones, he doesn’t even know how to turn on the gas cooker, let alone throw petrol bombs,” his mother says of the day he almost died when he got caught in the middle when police confronted the protesters with tear gas.

“I was nearly suffocating, I thought I was going to die. When we finally managed to get out of the courtyard I fell over and all the other students trampled me as they rushed to get away,” Santiago recalls.

Mayor Alessandri says that he is listening to the demands of the pupils and their parents and that he is trying to find the money needed to modernise the school.

But with emotions running high among the students it is not clear whether the mayor’s promise of improvements will be enough to convince them to stop the protests.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49117547