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
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‘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 identifRead More »
The Weinstein effect: The Global Scourge of Sexual Harassment & Exploitation
Crime & Justice, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health | Opinion NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 3 2017 (IPS) – When the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA’s) Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, detailed an incident involving the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for The New York Times in their eyepopping investigation into decades of alleged sexual harassment, it came as a shock to many. So now we know. What started as a Hollywood scandal featuring a powerful man and a string of young women whose lives he had the power to shape has turned into a global shockwave revealing a staggering scale of harassment, misogyny and violence. Frankly, though, the fact that this problem is too big to sweep under the frayed edges of the world’s carpet has come as a surprise to only half the population. The other half knows what it is to have to fend off inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances while fearing that doing so may jeopardise their careers. Consider this. One in three women has experienced sexual harassment, violence, assault or rape in their lifetime. These statistics have been out there for years, but it took the Weinstein story to bring them into public consciousness. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, with some national studies suggesting the figure may be as high as 70 per cent. Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at, with current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends being the most common perpetrators. Around 700 million women alive today were married as children. Of those women, more than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before the age of 15. Misogyny is deeply ingrained across the world. It feeds into a sense of entitlement by men that legitimises sexual harassment and sometimes violence. In some parts of the developing world the culture of entitlement and gender inequality is so pervasive that women themselves buy into it. The World Bank Gender Data Portal shows that 76.3 per cent of women in Mali and 92.1 per cent in Guinea believe a man is justified in beating his wife if she goes out without telling him, neglects the children, refuses sex, burns the food or argues with him. From Hollywood via the corridors of power in Westminster to New Delhi and Nairobi, we face a gender inequality crisis on an epic scale. Sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue. Sometimes the sheer size of a problem may engender a sense of hopelessness. Many people feel that climate change or poverty, for example, are just too big to solve; that the individual is powerless in the face of such scale and complexity. But this is not the case here. There are things we can and must do. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls. How? There are five key frontiers for behaviour change. The first is home. In too many families across the world boys are more valued than girls, and an attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ excuses much aggression, exploitation and injustice. Husbands must set an example of respect for their wives. Parents must raise their sons to value girls and to respect their rights and autonomy. A girl’s body is her own. A boy has no right to comment on it or touch it uninvited, no matter what a girl might be wearing, or where she is. The second front for action is education. Schools must teach respect and gender equality to both sexes. An organisation that does just this is No Means No Worldwide, which partners with local organisations in Kenya and Malawi to work in schools. Girls are taught assertiveness and boundary setting, which is backed up with physical self-defence training. But boys are a crucial part of the scheme too. Dramatic changes in boys’ attitudes to girls and sex have been seen after only six sessions, and rape cases have fallen by 50% in some areas of Nairobi after the training. The workplace is the third area for action. Victims of harassment or assault must be able to report their experiences without fear of retaliation on their careers. Workplace expectations and procedures must be clear and transparent, and action following a report of inappropriate behaviour must be equally clear and transparent. Impunity that has lingered too long, aided and abetted by patriarchy, must no longer prevail. Fourth, when inappropriate behaviour becomes criminal behaviour, women must feel confident that reporting sexual crime will not add to their trauma. Police forces in many parts of the world have no special training in dealing with victims of sexual abuse and assault, and many do not take it seriou
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Here’s What We Know About Russian Social Media Election Meddling
Lawyers for internet giants Facebook, Google and Twitter met with three congressional committees this week to answer questions about Russian efforts to use the platforms to spread disinformation in the 2016 presidential election, and what they are doing to stop it from happening again.
Lawmakers were clear in their position that Russian use of the platforms was unacceptable, and several even called it an act of war.
“Cyber is an attack against our country. When you use cyber in an affirmative way to compromise our democratic, free election system, that’s an attack against America,” Senator Ben Cardin said Wednesday. “It’s an act of war. It is an act of war.”
That Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — an allegation the country adamantly denies — has been the stated position of the U.S. intelligence community since last year.
The lawyers said the exact scope of the alleged Russian operation remains unknown, though, even as they released more details about what Russian operatives were posting online.
Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, told lawmakers the company studied all tweets posted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by accounts linked to Russia “was comparatively small.”
Edgett described the criteria used to identify “Russian-linked account[s]” as “expansive,” including any account that was created in Russia, any account linked to a Russian email address, or any account that “frequently tweets in Russian,” among other qualifications.
Using these extremely broad qualifications, Edgett said Twitter was able to identify around 36,000 automated “bot” accounts that could be linked to Russia.
Those Russian-linked accounts, according to Edgett, represented 0.012 percent of total Twitter accounts during the time period, and the 1.4 million election-related tweets emanating from those accounts represented less than 0.74 percent of all election-related tweets.
“Those 1.4 million tweets received only one-third of a percent [0.33 percent] of impressions on election-related tweets,” Edgett told lawmakers.
An “impression” is a metric used by social media companies to note how many times a specific post is served up to a user. An “impression” does not require any additional engagement by the user and doesn’t even guarantee a user actually read the post, Edgett said.
In addition to the bot accounts, Twitter identified around 2,700 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which has been described as a Russian troll farm.
“Of the roughly 131,000 tweets posted by those accounts during the relevant time period, approximately 9 percent were election-related, and many of their tweets — over 47 percent — were automated,” he said.
Edgett called the number of Russian-linked accounts “small in comparison to the total number of accounts” on Twitter and said tweets from those accounts “generated significantly fewer impressions as compared to a typical election-related tweet.”
Last week, the company said it would take the $1.9 million that Russian-backed media outlets spent on Twitter advertising since 2011, and spend it on external research into using Twitter in civic engagement, including efforts to root out malicious accounts and misinformation.
The Russian meddling campaign on Facebook was comprised of approximately $100,000 spent by “fake accounts associated with the IRA” on 3,000 ads between June 2015 and August 2017, according to Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch.
The ads, Stretch said, promoted around 120 Facebook pages set up by Russian actors and meant to focus on divisive social messages about racial issues, immigration and gun rights, among others.
In total, the Russian-linked Facebook pages produced around 80,000 pieces of content during the two-year time period. Stretch said approximately 150 million people may have been served up the IRA-created content, but it is impossible to know how many people actually saw the posts.
He said the content equaled about 0.004 percent of content of Facebook during the time and represented approximately 1 out of every 23,000 pieces of content on the platform.
“Though the volume of these posts was a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook, any amount is too much,” Stretch said, noting the social media company removed the accounts and pages linked to the IRA.
According to Stretch, more than half of all impressions of IRA-funded posts came after the election and 25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone.
“For 50 percent of the ads, less than $3 was spent. For 99 percent of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent,” he said.
Facebook has turned over all the Russian ads to Congress and says its review of the activity is ongoing.
Google lawyer Richard Salgado said the company reviewed all political ads from June 2015 through last year’s election, looking for “even the loosest connection to Russia,
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UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeeping
Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, TerraViva United Nations UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2017 (IPS) – A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented. But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Officer/International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, (GNWP) told IPS that despite all the ballyhoo following the resolution, the percentage of women in peacekeeping “is incredibly low”. In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. As of August 2017, women constituted only 3.7 % of military personnel; and 9.4 % of police personnel. “This is beyond shocking. If we are going to use this as an indicator to assess the achievements of UNSCR 1325, we are failing miserably,” she declared. Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told the Security Council last week although women’s absence from peace tables is no longer easily brushed off as normal, it is still commonplace. “Every year, we track women’s overall participation in peace processes that are led by the UN. We track the inclusion of gender expertise and gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements, and the requirement to consult with women’s civil society organizations. In all of these indicators, we performed slightly worse than a year ago.” At the Myanmar Union Peace Conference in 2016—before the current crisis—there were seven women and 68 men among the delegates. And recent peace talks on the Central African Republic hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio did not include a single woman. Six years into the Syrian civil war—and in spite of significant efforts by the UN and the Special Envoy—women’s participation in the peace talks is still inadequate, and often limited to an advisory role. This political marginalization extends beyond peace talks, she declared. Only 17 countries (out of 193 UN member states) have an elected woman Head of State or Government. This includes only one post-conflict conflict country, Liberia, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency has just ended after two terms, following democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power. “That is something to celebrate,” she added. Meanwhile, the proportion of women parliamentarians in conflict and post-conflict countries has stagnated at 16 per cent in the last two years. Focusing on another neglected aspect, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS there has to be some element of institutional or state responsibility for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in UN peacekeeping missions. She said it cannot just be “a soldier” — after all “a government” sent the soldier to the peacekeeping mission, so that government must bear responsibility for egregious behavior. Second, “we have to be more honest about the ‘grayness’ of exploitation. Poverty and the need for food and water can induce ‘consent’ – so it can be abusive and exploitative but technically not illegal, if it involves an adult.” Finally, for over 20 years we have heard the common refrain that “it is difficult to find women in militaries”. Why not have a radical re-think regarding the recruitment of women into peacekeeping forces? It is not only about equal opportunities for jobs that pay better than others, but also about deep personal empowerment, and of course prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. “How do we do it?”, she asked. “Why not have regional women’s peacekeeping institutes where women can come and get the basic military training needed, as well as skills specific to peacekeeping?”. There are plenty of countries that export women for domestic work, which entails poor pay and exposure to abuse. Why not support them to become peacekeepers? Their salaries would be higher and their skills could be useful once they return home, she argued. Cabrera Balleza told IPS the benefits of having more women in peacekeeping are numerous and very tangible. Female peacekeepers serve as role models, they inspire women and girls to assert their rights and to take on leadership and non-traditional positions, including as part of the security sector. “They are also more sensitive to the needs of female ex-combatants, women refugees, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. No doubt, women peacekeeping personnel are critical to the success of peace operations”, she noted. She also pointed out that it is easy to criticize the UN for this dismal failure to achieve gender parity in peace operations. “
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Mounting Illicit Financial Outflows from South
Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Financial Crisis, Global, Headlines, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment | Opinion Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Zera Zuryana Idris are Malaysian economic researchers. KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 2017 (IPS) – Although quite selective, targeted, edited and carefully managed, last year’s Panama Papers highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, such as tax evasion and avoidance. The latest Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report shows that illicit financial outflows (IFFs) from developing countries, already at alarming levels, continue to grow rapidly. Illicit financial flows growing rapidly With international financial liberalization enabling investments abroad, ‘legitimate outflows’ have also been growing rapidly, heightening macro-financial risks to countries. Many of today’s financial centres compete intensely to attract customers by offering lower tax rates and banking secrecy. It is generally presumed that IFFs are related to tax evasion and corruption. Such financial flows largely involve financial service providers, law offices and companies with transnational activities, often involving investments in real estate and other assets worth billions. Besides enabling governments and legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies have been crucial. The GFI report estimates that developing countries lost somewhere between $620 billion (bn) and $970 bn in illicit outflows in 2014. The Washington-based think tank found IFFs from the South to be 4.2-6.6% of total developing country trade for 2014, while inflows were 9.5-17.4%. Total IFFs of all developing countries in 2014 were estimated at $2,010-3,507 bn. Illicit financial flows of all developing countries, 2004-2013 During 2005-2014, IFFs from the South were 4.6-7.2% of developing countries’ total trade, while such inflows were 9.5-16.8%. GFI attributes about 3.3% of IFFs over this period to fraudulent trade mis-invoicing or ‘transfer pricing’. China, Russia, Mexico, India and Malaysia lead all countries in illicit capital flight. Since 2012, emerging and developing countries have lost over a trillion dollars yearly that could invested productively in industry, agriculture, healthcare, education, or infrastructure. Methodological doubts GFI estimates have been criticized, e.g., for making unrealistic assumptions about trade-related transport costs and ignoring other explanations for ‘errors’. For instance, estimated GFI outflows include IFFs and trade mis-invoicing estimated from inconsistencies in trade data. For GFI, ‘leakages’ (errors and omissions) in the balance of payments (BoP) are a type of IFFs. It assumes that all unreported leakages in inflows and outflows of a country are illicit. While long associated with capital flight, such BoP leakages may include legitimate reporting errors, as the report recognizes. But as such leakages only account for a small fraction of total IFFs estimated by GFI, they are not likely to appreciably affect overall estimates. Criminal activities IFFs in developing countries may also be due to transnational criminal activities, which GFI estimates globally for 2014 as follows: counterfeiting ($923-1,130 bn), drug trafficking ($426-652 bn), illegal logging, ($52-157 bn), human trafficking ($150.2 bn), illegal mining ($12-48 bn), illegal fishing ($15.5-36.4 bn), illegal wildlife trade ($5-23 bn), crude oil theft ($5.2-11.9 bn), small arms and light weapons trafficking ($1.7-3.5 bn), organ trafficking ($840m-1.7 bn), trafficking in cultural property ($1.2-1.6 bn), totalling $1.6-2.2 trillion. ‘Legitimate outflows’ have also increased rapidly in recent years. Besides the decades-old promotion of tax exemption for ‘free trade’ or export-processing zones, some emerging market economies have recently promoted and enabled outward foreign direct and portfolio investments. Such capital outflows are said to balance portfolio investment inflows increasing foreign ownership of emerging market economies’ corporate sectors. But such ‘balancing’ provides no protection in the event of financial panic and a rush to exit. The push for ever greater financial liberalization thus exposes them to greater fragility and vulnerability. Participating in such a ‘race to the bottom’ by offering tax loopholes typically involves making ever more concessions to the rich and powerful. Rich countries have been quite selective in administering anti-bribery rules, and rarely take effective action, e.g., to prevent anonymous companies being abused, as highlighted by last year’s Panama Papers revelations. International cooperation needed The nature and scale of illicit flows mean that international cooperation is urgently needed. While progress has been slow at the United Nations, the cooperation of the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions will be vital for progre
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The Roots of Exodus: Why Are People Compelled to Leave their Homes?
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, Oct 30 2017 (IPS) – Facts are facts, and one of them is that while everybody talks about the growing forced movement of people –be they migrants or refugees—decision-makers haven’t seriously acted on the root causes of why millions of humans are compelled to leave their homes. There has been a surge in international migration in recent years, reaching a total of 244 million individuals in 2015. Forced displacement has also reached a record high, with 65.3 million individuals displaced worldwide by the end of 2015 – including refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers. These figures have been repeated agin and again by the leading world specialised bodies and experts. Most importantly: they have also been explaining the major reasons behind such an unprecedented exodus. Climate ChangeKey Facts • In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, representing an increase of 40% since 2000. They included 150 million migrant workers. • About one-third of all international migrants are aged 15–34. Women account for almost half of all international migrants. • A large share of migrants originate from rural areas. Around 40% of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origins of a large share of migrants. • In many African countries, more than 50% of rural households report having at least one internal migrant. SOURCE: FAO Climate change migration is reaching crisis proportions, wrote Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and William Lacy Swing, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Over the last 18 months, some 20 countries have declared drought emergencies, forcing millions off their land, they added. “Often not for the first time and, for many, it may likely be the last time as they turn their backs on the countryside and try to make a life in urban slums and informal settlements.” For at least the last two years, Glasser and Lacy Swing remind, we have seen more people forced from their homes by extreme weather events than by conflict — according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 40 million people have been internally displaced by floods, storms, and, in some cases, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides, in 2015 and 2016. “And these numbers do not take into account the many people compelled to move every year as a result of slow-onset disasters, such as drought and environmental degradation. Nor do they factor in the millions affected by these disasters who are trapped and unable to flee their consequences.” Migration flows can be heavily influenced by extreme weather, geophysical and hydrological events, they said. “Part of ensuring that people move as a matter of choice rather than necessity is to strengthen synergies between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption, ensuring that both agendas take into consideration migration dimensions, including displacement risks.” Food Insecurity and Conflict Meanwhile, two other United Nations specialised agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), have been focusing on other major causes why people are forced to abandon their homes and even countries. Credit: UNICEF It is recent 2017 report “At the root of exodus: Food security, conflict and international migration,” WFP says that though the initial driver of migration may differ across populations, countries and contexts, migrants tend to seek the same fundamental objective: to provide security and adequate living conditions for their families and themselves. The study sought to answer some of the following questions: What is it that compels people to leave their homes? What role does food insecurity play in migration? Are these factors common across all international migrants, or do unique root causes spur specific migrant populations to move from their homes? One major conclusion is that countries with the “highest level of food insecurity, coupled with armed conflict, have the highest outward migration of refugees.” Additionally, when coupled with poverty, food insecurity increases the likelihood and intensity of armed conflicts; something that has clear implications for refugee outflows. Whenever the term migrant is used in the report, it refers to all migrants, including refugees. “Food insecurity was also shown as a significant determinant of the incidence and intensity of armed conflict.” And it was also found to be “a critical ‘push’ factor driving international mi
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Cuban Immigration in the Eye of the Storm
Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Regional Categories HAVANA, Oct 28 2017 (IPS) – Cuban migration to the United States is the great loser under Donald Trump’s hostile policy toward Cuba, and creates additional difficulties for citizens of this Caribbean island nation who were accustomed to benefits that their neighbors in the rest of Latin America never enjoyed. In a decision that keeps uncertainty hanging over thousands of people who wanted to travel to the U.S. by legal means, Washington suspended visas for residents of the island after ordering the removal of 60 percent of the staff in the Cuban embassy on Sept. 29. “I cried a lot after the closure of the consular procedures in Havana,” a private sector worker told IPS. A year and five months ago her husband requested that she be allowed to immigrate to the United States to join him, under the Family Reunification Programme, which Washington assured it will keep in place, but without providing details.Warning from the IOM Marcelo Pisani, regional director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, told IPS that “safe and orderly migration requires that the entry or exit requirements of a country not be based on factors such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual preferences or religious beliefs.” In his opinion, “when entry to a country is denied or preferred for these reasons, it promotes irregular migration, which puts migrants at risk.” And with regard to the particular case of Cuba and the United States, he said “the IOM calls for the two countries to work together to generate legal migration options.” This woman who lives in the capital, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she is less worried after receiving the new documents by mail this week to move forward with the application. “Look, until now all the documents I had received referred to my case with a number. Now these have my full name,” she said. “I still don’t have an appointment date and I don’t know where I will have to go for the visa interview, but my husband and I feel confident that everything will stay on track,” she said with a sigh of relief. For this step in the visa process she will probably have to travel to Colombia, where the U.S. embassy announced that it will attend cases in November. “We know that Cubans are worried about this, but we still do not have instructions on how to proceed,” a source at the Colombian diplomatic mission, who asked not to be identified because she was not authorised to talk about the question, told IPS on Monday. Like most countries, Colombia requires visas for Cuban travelers. The Washington delegation in Havana has reported on its website that Cubans who will be required to travel to Colombia include those who are applying for immigrant visas for fiancés, relatives of US citizens or people who have won one of the visas from the so-called “lottery”. Those who wish to obtain visitor, tourist or business visas will have to go to the U.S. embassy in any other country. It is still unclear how they will guarantee the continued operation of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP) and the processing of refugees. The bilateral climate has soured since the Trump administration cited alleged “acoustic attacks” at the U.S. embassy in Havana that reportedly affected the health of more than a score of its diplomats and their family members. Cuba insists that it had nothing to do with the incidents, which are still under investigation. The U.S. also warned its citizens to refrain from traveling to Cuba for security reasons and demanded the departure of 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington directly linked to consular and commercial matters, whose absence will hinder the relationship between people and companies from the two countries. Such measures can have a “very damaging” effect on the (1994 and 1995) migration agreements between the two countries, political analyst Carlos Alzugaray told IPS. In his opinion, the decision to process visas in a third country will raise the costs which are already high. It is possible that an increase in irregular immigration will occur, Emily Mendrala, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an organisation that promotes a policy based on reciprocity and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty, told IPS. “Even if the United States can live up to its commitment under the 1994 and 1995 Migration Agreements to admit 20,000 immigrants (per year), under current consular practices the number of non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans visiting the United States will drop drastically,” she said. The expert said that applicants for immigrant visas will undoubtedly have a sponsor in the United States willing to pa
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New Gadgets We May (or May Not) Need
The ever expanding field of consumer technology just got several dozen new specimens, showcased at the Netherlands’ first Consumer Electronics Show. None are expected to spectacularly change our lives … but at least some of them may prove to be truly useful. VOA’s George Putic reports.
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Tech Companies Ready to Face Congress Over Foreign Interference in US Election
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election nearly a year ago, there has been increasing scrutiny of how Russian-backed operatives used accounts on Facebook, Google and Twitter to try to influence its outcome. Executives from those companies appear before at least three congressional hearings starting Tuesday, facing questions from lawmakers about what happened and how they plan to respond. What happened on the internet companies’ services during the 2016 election “was the undermining of our political process,” said Ann Ravel, a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley’s law school and a former chair at the Federal Election Commission, the federal agency that enforces campaign finance law. The congressional spotlight on the internet marks a shift in how lawmakers and the public think of the global communications network, observers say. For years, the internet was viewed as “an egalitarian force, basically giving voice to the voiceless,” said Nate Persily, a Stanford University law professor. The 2016 election, with Russian-backed operatives reportedly placing political ads on social networks or posing as Americans talking about hot-button issues, changed that utopian view of the internet. “We realized that once you allow anyone to speak to as many people as they want no matter when they want, that enables certain types of speakers who hold undemocratic speech,” Persily said. On the streets of San Francisco, people interviewed echoed frustrations heard around the country that little is known yet about how and why Russian-backed actors used internet firms. But some say tech companies should take responsibility for what happens on their services and play more of a monitoring role than they have done. “Social media is accessible to everyone,” peer counselor Moinnette Harris said. “People can engage in it or put whatever they want on there, whether it’s true or false.” Lia McLoughlin, a stay-at-home parent, said, “I think Facebook has a responsibility. … If you know that there’s something that is affecting our democracy, and if you have any idea that it might be fake, there is a reason to stand in there. It’s our democracy.” Facebook and other companies share responsibility if their services were used by foreign agents, said Christian Simonetti, an administrative assistant. But any new rules or penalties the internet companies face should be done “without infringing on people’s democratic rights to express themselves,” he said. Law lecturer Ravel said that congressional leaders and regulators should require that internet companies be transparent about who is using their services for political ads, something that billboards, TV stations and newspapers have to do. In recent weeks, some of the companies have vowed to make changes in reaction to the scrutiny. Twitter and Facebook have said they will do more to make political advertisements more transparent. Twitter also banned RT and Sputnik, two Russian-backed media companies, from advertising on its site. But almost everyone agrees it would be harder to regulate — for the government and internet firms — so-called “issue-based ads,” which are about hot topics such as gun rights and gay marriage. Those ads may not be tied to a specific candidate or ballot measure. Even harder would be fake Facebook or Twitter accounts created overseas but purporting to have been created by people living in a targeted community. “There is currently no clear industry definition for issue-based ads,” Twitter said in a blog post. “It’s important for the United States to be a leader to balance innovation we want from the internet for people to speak openly on the internet,” Ravel said, “yet to do something to prevent the intervention in the election.”
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Hawaii: No Screen Time While Crossing a Street
Police in Hawaii will ticket people who get caught looking at digital devices while crossing a street in the state capital, Honolulu. The law, passed in July, came into effect this week, making Honolulu the first major city in the U.S. to pass such a law. The only exemption to the Distracted Walking Law is to use a device to call 911 to report an emergency. The fines for the offenses will range from $15 to up to $99 for repeat offenders. Pedestrians are still allowed to talk on their phones while crossing the streets, as long as they look at their surroundings. The National Safety Council added “distracted walking” to its annual list of injury risks in 2015. According to a study in the Journal of Safety Studies in 2015, some 400 pedestrians distracted by a phone were injured in the United States each year between the years 2000 and 2007. But after the introduction of the smartphone, the numbers have risen. The study found an estimated 1,300 pedestrians were injured in 2012….
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