Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte, computer science students, recently stared at a screen in their Berkeley apartment showing the Twitter account of someone called “Red Pilled Leah.” They suspected she was a “bot,” short for robot. Red Pilled Leah joined Twitter in 2011 and had 165,000 followers. The majority of her 250,000 tweets were retweets on political topics. Was she a human with strong opinions or an automated account that is part of a digital army focused on riling up Americans over divisive social and political issues? Internet companies are under pressure to do more to crack down on such automated accounts, following scrutiny over Russian-backed efforts to influence the last U.S. presidential election. But companies are struggling over how to identify the malicious bots from the merely opinionated human users. The two students at the University of California, Berkeley developed a software program called botcheck.me that looks for 100 characteristics in Twitter accounts that they say are common among bots. Among them, tweeting every few minutes, gaining a lot of followers in a short time span and retweeting other accounts that are likely bots. In addition, bot accounts typically endorse polarizing political positions and propagate fake news, they say. Twitter says that less than five percent of its 69 million monthly active users in the U.S. are automated, but some researchers have pegged the bots at closer to 15 percent. U.S. lawmakers say that bots on Twitter played a role in trying to upend the democratic process. “Bots generated one out of every five political messages posted on Twitter over the entire presidential campaign,” said Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. Facebook requires its users to prove their identity. To get an account on Twitter, on the other hand, a user needs a phone number. And Twitter allows automated accounts for legitimate purposes, such as for companies to provide customer service or for public safety officials to spread the word regarding a possible danger. But the company is also trying to crack down on bots and “other networks of manipulation,” the company said in a blog post. Bhat and Phadte have worked on other projects, such as developing technology to determine the political bias of a news article or to detect fake news on Facebook. They turned to Twitter after they noticed that many accounts tweeting about politics appeared to be “nonhuman,” Bhat said. These accounts gained a lot of followers fast and tweeted and retweeted frequently, about five times as much as a human account. They promoted polarizing views and fake news. Launched in October, Botcheck.me has a 93.5 percent accuracy rate, the students say. However, they have heard from real people complaining that their accounts have been falsely identified as “bots.” When the algorithm makes a mistake, the two students say they investigate what went wrong and improve the program. “People are seeing political, polarizing opinions that aren’t accurate,” Phadte said. “People are getting angry at each other about stereotypes that are not really true.” Bhat pressed a blue button next to Red Pilled Leah’s Twitter account. Botcheck.me scanned a person’s Twitter history and ran the tweets through an algorithm to predict if the account was actually a bot. Sure enough, Botcheck.me said Red Pilled Leah, who claims to be an entrepreneur with a master’s degree in psychology, exhibits “bot-like characteristics.” The students said they have contacted Twitter about their software, but haven’t heard back. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment from Voice of America. However, the company has said that it can’t share details of how it’s determining which accounts are bots. From their vantage point, the students say the bots are getting more sophisticated. A whole network of accounts will retweet a single tweet to spread a message quickly. And programmers can change bots’ behavior as detection methods improve. But the students say that only makes it more important to determine when messages are being spread by malicious actors. “The reason why this really matters is that we formulate our views based on the information we have available to us,” Bhat said of the social media content. “When certain views are propagated on the network that is very artificial, it tends to influence the way we think and act. We think it is very horrific.” To use botcheck.me, users can download a Google Chrome extension, which puts the blue button next to every Twitter account. Or users can run a Twitter account through the website botcheck.me….
See all stories on this topic
Students Fight Digital Robots and Fake Accounts on Twitter
Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte, computer science students, recently stared at a screen in their Berkeley apartment showing the Twitter account of someone called “Red Pilled Leah.” They suspected she was a “bot,” short for robot. Red Pilled Leah joined Twitter in 2011 and had 165,000 followers. The majority of her 250,000 tweets were retweets on political topics. Was she a human with strong opinions or an automated account that is part of a digital army focused on riling up Americans over divisive social and political issues? Internet companies are under pressure to do more to crack down on such automated accounts, following scrutiny over Russian-backed efforts to influence the last U.S. presidential election. But companies are struggling over how to identify the malicious bots from the merely opinionated human users. The two students at the University of California, Berkeley developed a software program called botcheck.me that looks for 100 characteristics in Twitter accounts that they say are common among bots. Among them, tweeting every few minutes, gaining a lot of followers in a short time span and retweeting other accounts that are likely bots. In addition, bot accounts typically endorse polarizing political positions and propagate fake news, they say. Twitter says that less than five percent of its 69 million monthly active users in the U.S. are automated, but some researchers have pegged the bots at closer to 15 percent. U.S. lawmakers say that bots on Twitter played a role in trying to upend the democratic process. “Bots generated one out of every five political messages posted on Twitter over the entire presidential campaign,” said Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. Facebook requires its users to prove their identity. To get an account on Twitter, on the other hand, a user needs a phone number. And Twitter allows automated accounts for legitimate purposes, such as for companies to provide customer service or for public safety officials to spread the word regarding a possible danger. But the company is also trying to crack down on bots and “other networks of manipulation,” the company said in a blog post. Bhat and Phadte have worked on other projects, such as developing technology to determine the political bias of a news article or to detect fake news on Facebook. They turned to Twitter after they noticed that many accounts tweeting about politics appeared to be “nonhuman,” Bhat said. These accounts gained a lot of followers fast and tweeted and retweeted frequently, about five times as much as a human account. They promoted polarizing views and fake news. Launched in October, Botcheck.me has a 93.5 percent accuracy rate, the students say. However, they have heard from real people complaining that their accounts have been falsely identified as “bots.” When the algorithm makes a mistake, the two students say they investigate what went wrong and improve the program. “People are seeing political, polarizing opinions that aren’t accurate,” Phadte said. “People are getting angry at each other about stereotypes that are not really true.” Bhat pressed a blue button next to Red Pilled Leah’s Twitter account. Botcheck.me scanned a person’s Twitter history and ran the tweets through an algorithm to predict if the account was actually a bot. Sure enough, Botcheck.me said Red Pilled Leah, who claims to be an entrepreneur with a master’s degree in psychology, exhibits “bot-like characteristics.” The students said they have contacted Twitter about their software, but haven’t heard back. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment from Voice of America. However, the company has said that it can’t share details of how it’s determining which accounts are bots. From their vantage point, the students say the bots are getting more sophisticated. A whole network of accounts will retweet a single tweet to spread a message quickly. And programmers can change bots’ behavior as detection methods improve. But the students say that only makes it more important to determine when messages are being spread by malicious actors. “The reason why this really matters is that we formulate our views based on the information we have available to us,” Bhat said of the social media content. “When certain views are propagated on the network that is very artificial, it tends to influence the way we think and act. We think it is very horrific.” To use botcheck.me, users can download a Google Chrome extension, which puts the blue button next to every Twitter account. Or users can run a Twitter account through the website botcheck.me….Read More »
ANYmal Has Four Legs, Good Balance, and Batteries Included
Prepare to be amazed … and possibly terrified. Engineers in Zurich have created a four-legged robot that may one day do labor that is dangerous for humans. It’s also equipped with thermal cameras, which means the “ANYmal” may one day keep an eye on you. Arash Arabasadi reports….
See all stories on this topicRead More »
Grammar-Proofing Startup by Ukrainian Techies Helps Foreign Students
Some foreign students in U.S. schools find it challenging to submit grammatically correct, idiomatically accurate papers. So two former Ukrainian graduate students launched an artificial intelligence-driven grammar-proofing program that goes well beyond spell-check. Today, their 8-year-old startup, Grammarly, whose first venture round netted $110 million in May, has offices in Ukraine and the U.S. VOA Ukrainian Service correspondent Tatiana Vorozhko has the story….
See all stories on this topicRead More »
UN to Host Talks on Use of ‘Killer Robots’
The United Nations is set to host talks on the use of autonomous weapons, but those hoping for a ban on the machines dubbed “killer robots” will be disappointed, the ambassador leading the discussions said Friday. More than 100 artificial intelligence entrepreneurs led by Tesla’s Elon Musk in August urged the U.N. to enforce a global ban on fully automated weapons, echoing calls from activists who have warned the machines will put civilians at enormous risk. A U.N. disarmament grouping known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will on Monday begin five days of talks on the issue in Geneva. But anything resembling a ban, or even a treaty, remains far off, said the Indian ambassador on disarmament, Amandeep Gill, who is chairing the meeting. “It would be very easy to just legislate a ban but I think … rushing ahead in a very complex subject is not wise,” he told reporters. “We are just at the starting line.” He said the discussion, which will also include civil society and technology companies, will be partly focused on understanding the types of weapons in the pipeline. Proponents of a ban, including the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots pressure group, insist that human beings must ultimately be responsible for the final decision to kill or destroy. They argue that any weapons system that delegates the decision on an individual strike to an algorithm is by definition illegal, because computers cannot be held accountable under international humanitarian law. Gill said there was agreement that “human beings have to remain responsible for decisions that involve life and death.” But, he added, there are varying opinions on the mechanics through which “human control” must govern deadly weapons. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is mandated to safeguard the laws of conflict, has not called for a ban, but has underscored the need to place limits on autonomous weapons. “Our bottom line is that machines can’t apply the law and you can’t transfer responsibility for legal decisions to machines,” Neil Davison of the ICRC’s arms unit told AFP. He highlighted the problematic nature of weapons that involve major variables in terms of the timing or location of an attack — for example, something that is deployed for multiple hours and programmed to strike whenever it detects an enemy target. “Where you have a degree of unpredictability or uncertainty in what’s going to happen when you activate this weapons system, then you are going to start to have problems for legal compliance,” he said. Next week’s U.N. meeting will also feature wide-ranging talks on artificial intelligence, triggering criticism that the CCW was drowning itself in discussions about new technologies instead of zeroing in on the urgent issue. “There is a risk in going too broad at this moment,” said Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, who is the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The open letter co-signed by Musk as well as Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of Google’s DeepMind, warned that killer robots could become “weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”
See all stories on this topicRead More »
The Illusion of Justice: When Will Reparations be Served to Iraq’s Victims?
Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations Miriam Puttick is Head of Middle East and North Africa Programs at the London-based Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and co-author of the report* TORONTO, Nov 9 2017 (IPS) – It is difficult to spend any time in Iraq without being struck by a sense of profound injustice. After successive decades of war and occupation, violence has become the rule rather than the exception in the country, with each phase of conflict outdoing the previous in terms of brutality and capacity to shock the conscience. Since the fall of Mosul in June 2014, the conflict with ISIS has occupied minds, hearts and television screens, unleashed unspeakable horrors, and created countless new victims. Now, more than three years later, and in the wake of victories in Hawija and Raqqa, ISIS may be on the brink of annihilation – but military defeat without justice raises the specter of further violence. The recent eruption of military confrontation between Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Kirkuk, which shattered a fragile status quo in place since the start of the conflict with ISIS, seems to confirm that peace is an elusive dream. When contemplating the prospects of reconciliation in Iraq, the idea of multiple layers of injustice, accumulated over time, always comes to mind. How can a society recover when new wounds are being inflicted before old scars have healed? For every thousand civilians who have been victimized by the conflict with ISIS and are waiting for answers, there are a thousand more widows of the American invasion, and a thousand survivors of Saddam Hussein’s genocides, many of whom have not been served justice to this day. In international human rights circles, planning for the post-ISIS phase is in full swing. Here, “accountability” is the word of the day, and many are spurred on by a September 2017 UN Security Council resolution that will see an international investigative team deployed to Iraq to support domestic prosecution of ISIS crimes. However, the resolution’s most obvious flaw is that it is limited in mandate to acts committed by ISIS, despite the fact that other parties to the conflict, including Iraqi and Kurdish forces, government-allied militias, and the US-led coalition, are all responsible for their fair share of violations. Moreover, while the emphasis on criminal accountability is justifiable given the severity of violations committed, it is questionable whether it is enough to prompt the type of reconciliation and healing desperately needed in Iraq. It was these types of questions that led my colleagues and I to first start exploring the potential of individual reparations as a path forward towards justice for victims in Iraq. A growing body of international best practices, from Colombia to South Africa, points to the significant material and symbolic impact that reparations can have on individuals and societies recovering from atrocities. Moreover, a lesser-known fact is that Iraq already has the domestic framework to support reparations – and has been quietly administering them for years. A visit to the Baghdad headquarters of the Central Compensation Committee, the government body responsible for administering compensation to victims of ‘military operations, military mistakes, and terrorist actions,’ was an unexpectedly humbling experience. The Committee, which draws its mandate from a law passed in 2009, delivers compensation packages to victims harmed since the 2003 invasion that include one-time grants, monthly pensions, and plots of land. In the midst of stiff political opposition, a spiraling economic crisis, and ongoing conflict that has paralyzed their operations in parts of the country, the members of the Committee have diligently gone on with their work. Between 2011 and 2016, they reached decisions on 183,940 cases, distributing more than $355 million in compensation to victims and their families. The compensation officials we met with seemed refreshingly principled as far as government officials go, and were keen to emphasize the sense of duty that guided their work with victims of violations. Yet, they receive very little recognition for their work either inside or outside of Iraq. Countless politicians and foreign diplomats we met with in Baghdad were quick to criticize the compensation process as bureaucratic, slow or inconsequential. Many dismissed the idea of reparations entirely, viewing it as unrealistic or financially untenable given the need to invest in stabilization and reconstruction. These arguments hardly stand up to scrutiny. Reparations cost money, yes, but not nearly as much as war. One of the findings released last year by the Chilcot Inquiry, mandated to investigate the UK’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was that the decision to invade was made almost entirely indepen
See all stories on this topicRead More »
Slave Labour, Another Setback for the Government of Brazil
Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 31 2017 (IPS) – The wave of conservativism is testing its limits in Brazil, as reflected by a Labour Ministry decree that seeks to block the fight against slavery-like working conditions, which has been provisionally revoked by the justice system. The powerful “ruralist” parliamentary bloc that represents agribusiness has been chalking up victories, such as keeping Michel Temer in the presidency, despite the disapproval of more than three-quarters of those interviewed in the latest polls, who see him as corrupt and are calling for his resignation. According to political commentators, the weakening of the fight against slave labour, by means of the Oct. 13 ministerial resolution, was aimed at ensuring the ruralist bloc’s support for the government in the lower house of Congress which, on Oct. 25, blocked by a vote of 251 to 233, the judicial process against Temer on charges of obstruction of justice and criminal organisation. The measure could be a fatal blow to the actions of the Mobile Inspection Group which has already freed more than 50,000 modern-day slave labourers, warned Xavier Plassat, a Dominican friar who coordinates the campaign against slave labour in the Catholic Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). The operations of the group, created in 1995 with Labour Ministry inspectors, federal police officers and prosecutors from the Labour Public Prosecutor (MPT), have already decreased sharply in recent years due to a shortage of budget and staff. “It used to have ten teams, today there are only eight,” Plassat lamented in a telephone interview with IPS. The ministerial decree modifies the concept of “work in slavery-like conditions,” limiting it to cases in which the worker is subjected to coercion and prevented from leaving the premises by armed guard and retention of documents, because supposedly the worker has “debts contracted with the employer.” Other situations are now excluded from the concept and defined separately as “forced labour”, “exhausting workday” and “degrading conditions”, when imposed without the worker’s consent, made “contrary to law” and violating the rights and dignity of the person. “The decree deconstructs the concept of slave labour, since between 70 and 80 percent of the cases recorded in the last 15 years were of degrading work, and the rest are a mixture of degradation, debt, physical control and confiscation of documents”, observed the friar who has won several awards in his fight for the eradication of modern-day slavery. “Excluding ‘exhausting workday’ and ‘degrading work’ means ignoring three-quarters of the problem; there will be no punishment,” he argued. The situations considered now by the Labour Ministry as modern-day slave labour were more frequently seen in activities such as deforestation, preparation of land for cattle and crops, production of charcoal and sugar-cane cutting, Plassat said. But almost all of these activities have been mechanised, the deforestation of the Amazon has been reduced, and the use of charcoal in the production of pig iron has dropped sharply, due to a fall in international demand. These were also some of the reasons for the decreasing number of workers freed in recent years. From 2003 – when the National Plan for the Eradication of Slave Labour was inaugurated – to April 2017, 34,940 workers were rescued, reaching a peakof 5,610 in 2007, followed by a sustained decrease down to 742 in 2016, according to CPT data on workers who received unemployment insurance after being released from slavery. Discovering workers enslaved in the most brutal conditions has become more difficult, because these situations have moved deeper into the Amazon, along with “the deforestation that is now selective, in smaller areas, invisible to satellites, clandestine,” said the French-born friar, who has lived in Brazil since 1989. Complaints from tax inspectors in the Labour Ministry and from public prosecutors, judges and human rights organisations, in addition to criticism from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), forced the government to agree to review the measure. But the temporary suspension of the ministerial decree, decided by Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Sustainability Network party, placed the final decision in the hands of the Supreme Court, which will deliberate on the validity of the decree. The Brazilian government’s decision to change the definition of slave labour “interrupts a successful trajectory that turned Brazil into a role model and a global
See all stories on this topicRead More »
In Silicon Valley, the Homeless Illustrate a Growing Divide
In the same affluent, suburban city where Google built its headquarters, Tes Saldana lives in a crowded but tidy camper she parks on the street.
She concedes it’s “not a very nice living situation,” but it also is not unusual. Until authorities told them to move, more than a dozen other RVs filled with people who can’t afford rent joined Saldana on a tree-lined street in Mountain View, parked between a Target and a luxury apartment complex.
Homeless advocates and city officials say it’s outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy – where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X – thousands of families can’t afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many.
Across the street from Saldana’s camper, for example, two-bedroom units in the apartment complex start at $3,840, including concierge service. That’s more than she brings home, even in a good month.
Saldana and her three adult sons, who live with her, have looked for less rustic accommodations, but rents are $3,000 a month or more, and most of the available housing is distant. She said it makes more sense to stay in the camper near their jobs and try to save for a brighter future, even if a recent city crackdown chased them from their parking spot.
“We still need to eat,” said Saldana, 51. “I still want to bring my kids, once in a while, to a movie, to eat out.”
She cooks and serves food at two hotels in nearby Palo Alto, jobs that keep her going most days from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. Two of her sons, all in their 20s, work at a bakery and pay $700 toward the RV each month. They’re all very much aware of the economic disparity in Silicon Valley.
“How about for us people who are serving these tech people?” Saldana said. “We don’t get the same paycheck that they do.”
It’s all part of a growing crisis along the West Coast, where many cities and counties have seen a surge in the number of people living on the streets over the past two years. Counts taken earlier this year show 168,000 homeless people in California, Oregon and Washington – 20,000 more than were counted just two years ago.
The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors – even teachers – who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower.
The surge in homelessness has prompted at least 10 local governments along the West Coast to declare states of emergency, and cities from San Diego to Seattle are struggling to come up with immediate and long-range solutions.
San Francisco is well-known for homeless tent encampments. But the homeless problem has now spread throughout Silicon Valley, where the disparity between the rich and everyone else is glaring.
There is no firm estimate on the number of people who live in vehicles in Silicon Valley, but the problem is pervasive and apparent to anyone who sees RVs lining thoroughfares; not as visible are the cars tucked away at night in parking lots. Advocates for the homeless say it will only get worse unless more affordable housing is built.
The median rent in the San Jose metro area is $3,500 a month, yet the median wage is $12 an hour in food service and $19 an hour in health care support, an amount that won’t even cover housing costs. The minimum annual salary needed to live comfortably in San Jose is $87,000, according to a study by personal finance website GoBankingRates.
So dilapidated RVs line the eastern edge of Stanford University in Palo Alto, and officials in neighboring Mountain View have mapped out more than a dozen areas where campers tend to cluster, some of them about a mile from Google headquarters.
On a recent evening, Benito Hernandez returned to a crammed RV in Mountain View after laying flagstones for a home in Atherton, where Zillow pegs the median value of a house at $6.5 million. He rents the RV for $1,000 a month and lives there with his pregnant wife and children.
The family was evicted two years ago from an apartment where the rent kept going up, nearing $3,000 a month.
“After that, I lost everything,” said Hernandez, 33, who works as a landscaper and roofer.
He says his wife “is a little bit sad because she says, ‘You’re working very hard but don’t have credit to get an apartment.’ I tell her, ‘Just wait, maybe a half-year more, and I’ll get my credit back.'”
The plight of the Hernandez family points out one of the confounding problems of the homeless surge along the West Coast.
“This is not a crisis of unemployment that’s leading to poverty around here,” said Tom Myers, executive director of Community S
See all stories on this topicRead More »
Climate Change Summit a Step Further, Yes… But Where To?
Africa, Asia-Pacific, Climate Change, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations ROME, Nov 6 2017 (IPS) – The UN Climate Change Summit in Bonn is a step further, most experts say. Fine, but towards what? On the one hand, the organisers – the UN, Fiji and Germany – express strong hopes that it will speed up the implementation of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. On the other, a giant contributor to global warming – the United States – decided to desert that milestone Agreement. Meanwhile, major European powers have been, again, prodigious in unmet promises. The UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn is the next step for governments to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate the transformation to sustainable, resilient and climate-safe development, said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on this major event, in the former German capital, on 6-17 November 2017. As such Convention, the Bonn-based UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent “dangerous human interference|” with the climate system. The Paris Climate Change Agreement entered into force on November 2017 and the era of implementation has begun, reminds Espinosa, emphasising that the Bonn conference will further clarify the enabling frameworks that will make the agreement fully operational and the support needed for all nations to achieve their climate change goals. “It is also an excellent example of the cooperation and collaboration between nations that will truly meet the global climate change challenge… This meeting is incredibly important.” The conference –known as the signatory countries or Contracting Parties 23 session (COP 23)– is presided over by the government of Fiji with support by Germany. Prior to its opening, Espinosa encouraged governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations to be ready to work together to “accelerate implementation and take the crucial next steps towards transformative change.” “We all have a role to play, and COP 23 will shine a light on both action underway and the many possible actions every individual and institution can take moving forward.” Although small island states contribute the least to climate change, they bear the brunt of its effects. Credit: FAO/Sue Price The Polluters Do (Not) Pay Principle This is on the one hand. On the other, the US administration announced that it would promote coal, natural gas, fossil oil and nuclear energy as an answer to the climate change challenge. And the US President Donald Trump spelled out in September this year his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. In spite of this negative development, the UNFCCC executive secretary expressed optimism ahead of the last Group of the seven more industrialised powers (G 7)–The Web of Paris Cannot Be Broken by One Missing Link, she said on July 7. The point is that is it is not about the US only. In fact, other major contributors to global warming and gas emissions, such as many European highly industrialised countries, have been heralding day after day their formal commitment to reduce gas emissions, expand the use of alternative sources of energy, and a long etcetera. So far, major car-makers have been very active promoting the sale of vehicles moved by electric and, hybrid engines. For now, China as a key source of pollution seems to be addressing the need to slow down the fast process of climate change in a serious manner. The Visible Dangers Meantime, the grave impacts of climate change are visible on almost all fronts. See: Floods, Hurricanes, Droughts… When Climate Sets the Agenda At the same time, the leaders of two top UN specialised organisations, have been warning that Climate change migration is reaching crisis proportions. See: Climate Migrants Might Reach One Billion by 2050 Another major UN organisation has recently explained the reasons of the massive displacement of people. See: The Roots of Exodus: Why Are People Compelled to Leave their Homes? In Barbuda, Secretary-General António Guterres walks through Codrington town and meets with returnees. Credit:UN Photo/Rick Bajornas One key cause of the growing, dangerous impact of climate change is the prevailing economic model consisting of voracious depletion of natural resources in both production and consumption patterns has proved to be one of the world’s main killers due to the huge pollution it causes for air, land and soil, marine and freshwater. See: Pollution or How the ‘Take-Make-Dispose’ Econo
See all stories on this topicRead More »
A New Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration
Development & Aid, Featured, Global, Headlines, Labour, Migration & Refugees, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations | Opinion Prasad Kariyawasam is a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Oct 31 2017 (IPS) – At this crucial juncture of international migration, where numerous push and pull factors have engendered unprecedented migration flows across the globe, the ongoing discussions at the United Nations must lead to meaningful and practical outcome. It is however, paramount that all stakeholders, especially global leaders, adopt a right based approach in seeking arrangements for safe and orderly migration, for both regular and irregular migrants and in particular, for preventing exploitation. The solutions offered, in particular, by States must recognize and take into account the following: (a) Contributions by migrants and refugees: The narratives on migration must emphasise the positive contributions by migrants and refugees towards diversity and for enriching societies, cultures and economies across the world. Population at large must reckon the contribution by the migrant workforce in support of the local economies. Efforts to counter misinformation and preconceived ideas should be developed and promoted with the help of the civil society and the involvement of migrants and refugees as well. The Media has a crucial role in promoting multiculturalism, mutual trust and understanding but also sensitizing the population at large to the principles of equality and non-discrimination as well as combating xenophobia and prejudice in daily life. (b) Combat xenophobia and racism: The international community must uphold their responsibility to combat all forms of hate speech, stigmatising discourses, scapegoating and measures must be taken to condemn xenophobia against migrants and refugees. Given the audience they can reach and the moral authority they carry, political leaders must condemn and counter all messages fuelling racism and xenophobia. A strong message against impunity is necessary to effectively tackle xenophobia and discriminations against refugees and migrants who mostly remain peripheral in the justice systems. States should ensure that those promoting discriminatory and xenophobic discourse and attitudes against refugees and migrants are held accountable. Refugees and migrants should be provided with effective judicial, administrative and other remedies, including the right to seek just and adequate reparation for any damage suffered as a result of a racist or xenophobic crime. A Syrian mother cries with relief as she embraces her three young children after a rough sea crossing. Credit: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett (c) Promoting Integration: Short and long term measures are needed to foster social and economic environments to ensure that migrants and refugees are not just tolerated but fully integrated with local populations. Reforms in the institutional, political, policy and social sectors should be implemented in ways that mutually reinforce the incentives for integration and solidarity rather than exclusion. Labour market access and mobility, pathways to citizenship, participation and social contact with the local populations are essential. (d) Border management: States must respect human rights obligations at all border crossings, including the right to due process for all migrants regardless of their status, in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary and collective expulsion. States must also ensure that border governance measures combat all forms of discrimination at international borders and that migrants have effective access to judicial remedies. States must also ensure that migrants in transit who are victims of violence, physical and mental abuse and exploitation are provided with appropriate services, including medical and psychosocial services, in particular for women and girls who have experienced sexual abuse and violence. (e) Irregular migration: States should ensure that all measures aimed at addressing irregular migration and smuggling of migrants do not adversely affect the human rights of migrants and that such migrants are provided with necessary assistance and are afforded due process guarantees. States should also develop rights based approach to overall migration and border management taking into account the needs of migrants, and must seek to establish regular, open and facilitated labour migration. (f) Exploitation and abuse: Measures must be taken to address all forms of labour exploitation and abuse, in particular child labour, and the situation of migrant workers who are victims of the Kafalah system. Action must be taken to enhance protection of specific categories of workers, in particular women, against exploitation and abuse, including sexual violence. In line with SDG (target 8.8), domestic work should be regulated by national legislation and domestic migrant workers should also enjoy ri
See all stories on this topicRead More »
‘Never Again’: Investing in Prevention and Early Action
Armed Conflicts, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Migration & Refugees, Religion, TerraViva United Nations UNITED NATIONS, Nov 2 2017 (IPS) – After the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations promised ‘never again.’ But has the international community kept their word? From Mexico to Myanmar, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied. Millions continue to be targeted for their religious, national, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and some are even forced to cross borders to escape violence committed simply because of their identity. IPS spoke to the UN Secretary-General’s Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng about these complex crises and efforts needed to avoid another Rwandan genocide. Q: As Special Advisor, what crises today are most concerning and should be paid attention to or acted on? A. The situations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan and Syria are some of the places that I have raised concern about recently, although there are many other countries that require attention, including Iraq. In Syria, the atrocities that have been reported by the Commission of Inquiry have truly shocked the conscience of humanity, from the intensive bombardment of Aleppo last year to the alleged use of chemical weapons, as well as the continued besieging of thousands of civilians in flagrant violation of international law. Despite this, the Security Council has largely failed to take action to protect civilians and provide accountability for victims. When I visited the Central African Republic earlier this month I was told of serious violations against the civilian population, particularly women and children, for allegedly belonging to certain ethnic or religious groups. Despite progress made towards peace, there are still worrying occurrences of manipulation and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred that needs to be addressed by the government, with the support of the international community, in order to sustain the country’s fragile peace. Q: What steps can and must be taken in order to prevent genocide? A. History has shown that genocide and other atrocity crimes take place on a large scale, and are not spontaneous or isolated events; they are processes, with histories, precursors and triggering factors which combined, enable their commission. If you look at all of these conflicts, whether it is the Central African Republic or Myanmar or Iraq, there is one common denominator: exclusion. People feel that they are not included, so they resort to some form of violence for their rights to be recognized. So we can link these crises to the lack of respect for human rights, of observance of the rule of law, and also a problem of governance. All of these elements therefore confirm the close link between development, peace, security, and human rights. This is also one of the reasons why the Secretary-General made prevention a key aspect of his mandate. Unless you invest in prevention, you may not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or achieve the aspiration of sustaining peace. There will be no development without peace, and no peace without development. Unless we manage to make everybody included in whatever we are doing, we are set to fail at the national, local, and international levels. Unless the member state invests in having strong judiciaries, a strong and courageous parliament, strong and outspoken civil society, it will be hard for those governments to achieve something that is really durable. And it has to start of course at the local and national levels. If you make sure young people, including women, are included in all of these projects, you have a better chance to win your aspiration for development and peace. Q: The motto “never again” continues to be used in reference to the Rwandan genocide. Has the international community become better at responding to or acting on atrocities around the world? A. One of the principal roles of my mandate is to act as an early warning mechanism and a catalyst to mobilize action for the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes at the national and international level. In line with these efforts my office has also developed a Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes that is used by the UN, member states and civil society alike to assess the risk of atrocity crimes and develop strategies to prevent these crimes. We are today able to identify the risk factors which lead to the commission of these atrocity crimes. We are able to identify those early signs, which is much easier today than it was in the past with new technology spreads information faster. What is required today more than ever is early action. For example, I have been calling for the last three years or more the attention of the international community on the situation of the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar but without much success. I identif
See all stories on this topicRead More »