Selections from “The Fruit of Our Labor”will air on the TV show, WORLDDOCS, broadcast on Fairfax Public Access (cable channel 10 in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties and the towns of Falls Church, Leesburg, and Fredericksburg in Virginia) on Monday, Feb. 2nd at 10 AM, Thursday,Feb. 5th at 1 AM, and Sunday,Feb. 8th at 8:30 PM. Thank you for allowing us to show it.
WORLDDOCS airs on Fairfax Public Access (cable channel 10) in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia on
Mondays at 10:00 AM, Thursdays at 1:00 AM, and Sundays at 8:30 PM; on Montgomery Community Television (cable channel 19) in Montgomery and Prince
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Jan. 30, 2015, New York Times, The Saturday Profile, By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
GENEVA — IN a 20-year career at the United Nations, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein has had more than a few opportunities to witness the human capacity for cruelty, but nothing seared his memory quite like two scenes from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
In one, he is traveling in a United Nations convoy when the car of a Bosnian Serb paramilitary fighter pulls alongside, and on its hood is the severed head of a Bosnian Muslim child adorned with a United Nations peacekeeper’s blue helmet.
That episode and the plight of two young girls shot by a sniper in Sarajevo have left him decades later, as the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, still asking, “How can you comprehend this?”
“I mean there’s a degree of villainy that is so disturbing and so beyond our ability to process it mentally that it leaves you asking questions,” he said in a recent interview. “It leaves you with the feeling that you’ve got to try and do what you can at some stage to prevent this.”
A prince in Jordan’s reigning royal family, Mr. Zeid struck some human rights activists as an improbable choice for a job upholding the rights of the world’s downtrodden. It could be seen as an unusual outcome for someone who had started professional life as a policeman, with five years in Jordan’s desert police before joining the United Nations.
Yet those familiar with his career applauded the choice. “He had all the attributes we wanted,” Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch executive director, remarked of the prince, who has agreed to drop his royal title in his new post. “He is a man of stature and principle with a long and demonstrated commitment to human rights.”
“He’s someone who was seared by the experience of the U.N. in Bosnia,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, a close friend and former adviser to the former secretary general, Kofi Annan. “Zeid came out very much with a view that if the U.N. was to stand for anything, it would have to stand for the victims of aggression.”
He is also “an absolutely cool-blooded realist about what is politically possible,” added David Harland, a former United Nations colleague who now heads the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based conflict mediation organization, attributing some of Mr. Zeid’s achievements to “charm, clarity and a sharp knife.”
The question among human rights experts was whether Mr. Zeid would use his office as a pulpit to publicly criticize the misdeeds of nations, as did his predecessor, Navi Pillay, a doughty South African jurist, or opt for the more traditional approach of discreet back-room conversations.
Mr. Zeid’s answer, four months into the job, seems to be pragmatic use of all available levers. By working diplomatic channels, he will make his first official country visit next week to the United States, which, according to Ms. Pillay’s staff, never even replied to her repeated requests for a visit. He believes negotiations are making headway on a visit to China, another prominent country that never found a convenient date to receive Ms. Pillay during her six years in the office.
Still, Mr. Zeid saw the controversy stirred up by Ms. Pillay as a “telling signal that this was an office on the rise,” and living up to a pledge given in his first statement on the job, his public comments have been unflinching: condemning the “meanspirited house of blood” of the Islamic State’s extremists; denouncing Sri Lanka’s outgoing government for obstructing the work of an inquiry into war crimes allegations and bluntly reminding the United States of its obligation under international law to prosecute all those responsible for C.I.A. torture, including the policy makers and higher-ups who gave the orders as well as those who carried out the interrogations.
LIKE his predecessors in the office, Mr. Zeid has taken criticism for his stands, including personal attacks. “If it’s anything it’s childish, it’s a cheap shot and it’s not acceptable,” he said. “‘Deal with the substance’ is the message I would like to focus on.”
He resists the efforts of some nations to hold his office to a narrow interpretation of its mandate. “I think they don’t necessarily understand how the international system has come about and how it exists,” he said. “If all of us stuck rigidly to mandates given us by governments, there would be no peace on this planet.”
It’s a view shaped by his years of experience of multilateral negotiations in the United Nations and a conviction that individuals, not governments, have played the key part in creating the international order. “Everything we see in agreements across the spectrum comes from the space between where your instructions end and you as a thinking negotiator invest your own thought,” he said.
Mr. Zeid’s record at the United Nations illustrates the point. He spent years pushing it to account for its missteps in the Balkans, specifically its failure to avert the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica. “He was the one who absolutely didn’t let it go, who said we have to understand what happened and we have to understand what we can learn from this, that it doesn’t happen again,” recalled Mr. Harland, who worked with Mr. Zeid on the report that eventually was completed.
Later, Mr. Zeid led negotiations that would lead to creation of the International Criminal Court in 2002, and as president of the Assembly of States Parties — the court’s managing body — fended off the Bush administration’s effort to emasculate the fledgling court. “It’s not governments that brought this court about, it really was 60 individuals who decided they wanted this court,” he said. “I’m not sure if there had been 60 other individuals representing the same governments you would have had it.”
“I still look back and think it was the most intense, wonderful experience,” Mr. Zeid remarked. “One realized early on that this is what those who had established Nuremberg had aspired for,” he recalled, referring to the trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II. “This was going to be a permanent feature that would limit the excesses of humankind in war or peace, regarding the violence they visit on each other.”
THAT remains a work in progress, but in taking over the human rights portfolio, Mr. Zeid now has the task of holding countries to account across the full spectrum of economic and social rights.
Ending conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, stand out as human rights priorities, Mr. Zeid said, but so are the government failures that allow six million children under 5 years old to die of preventable diseases every year. “If ISIL killed six million people a year, you wouldn’t be able to talk about anything else,” he said, referring to the extremist Islamic State, “so why is it that we don’t look aggressively at the right to better health.”
One minor detail no one bothered to tell Mr. Zeid before he took up the job was that the office was running out of money. It depends on the voluntary contributions of member countries for 60 percent of its funding, and some see little merit in helping to bankroll a critic. So as one of his first actions, even before he could turn to the cause of defending rights, he had to cut 50 posts. “Not a great start. Mr. Popularity from Day 1,” he said.
This year he will find himself embroiled in budget battles, trying for a slice larger than the 3 percent, or $265 million, the United Nations now devotes to human rights and peacekeeping, despite their outsize role in the organization’s activities.
“It’s a trifle,” Mr. Zeid said. “You can hardly convince yourself that it’s a serious commitment by states, given the enormity of the task before us.”
This Monday, the UN General Assembly began its final phase of negotiations over the UN’s next set of global development goals, which will succeed the expiring Millennium Development Goals and guide international development priorities and aid funding for the next 15 years. The debates will continue in weekly sessions every month through July, with the new “Sustainable Development Goals” to be adopted in September.
These new goals could provide an unexpected long-term global boost to public access to what should be public information, from official and private sources alike.
Or they may not – but we’ll know within a few months.
The ‘SDGs’ differ from the MDGs in that they are intended to be universal, applying to the developed North as well as to the South, with goals ranging from poverty eradication and disease prevention to gender equity and environmental protection.
They also differ notably from the MDGs in that they include – as currently drafted, despite objections from many UN member states – several quite specific obligations intended to promote just and effective governance.
Among those proposals, to the surprise of many UN observers, is a commitment to public access to information, as one of the 169 proposed SDGs ‘targets,’ which still need to be backed up by agreed factual ‘indicators.’ Those yet-undetermined indicators could include legal guarantees and the actual observance of the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas, through any media and regardless of frontiers” – to cite the prescient but nonbinding language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
World leaders and development experts advising the UN on the post-2015 goals have stressed the need for freedom of expression and independent media in monitoring and ultimately achieving these goals. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his official recommendations to the General Assembly on the post-2015 agenda last month, pointed to “press freedom, access to information and freedom of expression” as essential “enablers of sustainable development.”
Yet as debate gets underway this week, it remains uncertain whether any clear commitment to the public’s right to all relevant information – from governments or elsewhere – will be included in the 2015-2030 “Sustainable Development Goals” that the UN General Assembly will adopt in September.
In the 18 months of UN negotiations over the 17 proposed “SDGs” that are now being debated, draft references to “independent media” and “freedom of expression” were deleted in response to objections from several influential UN members, including Security Council powers Russia and China. Yet surviving in the agreed final text, in the 16th of the 17 recommended goals, is a “target” requiring all countries to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”
As UN diplomats convened for the post-2015 negotiations Monday, there was clearly growing resistance to any major redrafting or reduction of the painfully achieved compromise proposal for 17 goals, out of concern that any gains in precision or practicality would be outweighed by losses in substance and impact.
But the 169 aptly named ‘targets’ remain very much in the crosshairs, vulnerable to rewriting or elimination for a variety of practical and substantive reasons. As an Austrian diplomat noted at the UN Friday, the current SDGs proposal would in effect obligate UN agencies to monitor 32,617 different data sets from 193 governments on 169 targets on an annual basis – a task that would be politically and technically daunting, if not impossible.
Technically, however, progress on access to information is not that hard to track, UN officials acknowledge. Moreover, many governments and civil society activists from North and South alike have strongly endorsed the proposed target on access to information, improving its chances of survival.
Leading international human rights groups, in a joint message to the UN Friday as civil society representatives met with UN officials in New York to discuss the post-2015 deliberations, stressed the need for “transparent monitoring and accountability mechanisms at the national level which are underpinned by a safe and free environment for civil society, and access to information.”
That’s a significant advance. The soberly phrased inputs of UN technocrats in this contentious area – showing that freedom of information and media is not only important but measurable, and in fact already measured by the UN in many ways – may overcome political and practical concerns in some wavering countries. But diplomats stressed to NGO representatives at the UN Friday that transparency and accountability provisions in the SDGs remain vulnerable without sustained public support from civic activists in coming months – and more active coverage of the issue by the journalists whose interests an access-to-information commitment would help protect.
The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2015 (IPS) – With Haiti’s Parliament having dissolved on Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.
Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.
The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.
“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.
“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”
Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.
Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.
“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.
“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”
An opaque process
The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.
On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.
The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.
Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.
The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.
“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.
“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”
The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.
Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.
Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.
“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”
A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.
Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.
Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.
Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.
Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.
That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.
“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.
“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2015 (IPS) – An overwhelming majority of citizens in the 28-member European Union (EU) – which has been hamstrung by a spreading economic recession, a fall in oil prices and a decline of its common currency, the Euro – has expressed strong support for development cooperation and increased aid to developing nations.
A new Eurobarometer survey to mark the beginning of the ‘European Year for Development,’released Monday, shows a significant increase in the number of people in favour of increasing international development aid.
The survey reveals that most Europeans continue to “feel very positively about development and cooperation”.
Additionally, the survey also indicates that 67 percent of respondents across Europe think development aid should be increased – a higher percentage than in recent years, despite the current economic situation in Europe.
And 85 percent believe it is important to help people in developing countries.
“Almost half of respondents would personally be prepared to pay more for groceries or products from those countries, and nearly two thirds say tackling poverty in developing countries should be a main priority for the EU.”
Presenting the results of the survey, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said, “I feel very encouraged to see that, despite economic uncertainty across the EU, our citizens continue to show great support for a strong European role in development.
“The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development, helping us to engage in a debate with them,” he added.
Jens Martens, director of the Bonn-based Global Policy Forum-Europe, told IPS the Eurobarometer demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of EU citizens support global solidarity and strengthened international cooperation.
“This is good news. Now, EU governments must follow their citizens,” he said.
EU positions in the U.N.’s upcoming post-2015 development agenda and Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations will become the litmus test for their global solidarity, said Martens, who is also a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch, a global network of several hundred non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning for poverty eradication and social justice.
EU governments must translate the increased citizens support for development now into an increase of offical development assistance (ODA), but also in fair trade and investment rules and strengthened international tax cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations, he declared.
According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85), United Kingdom (0.72) and the Netherlands (0.67) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.
In an interview with IPS last November, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the importance of the upcoming International Conference on FfD in Ethiopia next July.
He said the ICFD will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping the U.N.’s 17 proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs)” which will be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders next September.
Ban cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals.
“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.
Speaking of financing for development, Ban said ODA, from the rich to the poor, is “is necessary but not sufficient.”
Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the growing millions living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.
In a statement released Monday, the European Commission provided some of the results of the Eurobarometer on development: At 67 percent, the share of Europeans who agree on a significant increase in development aid has increased by six percentage points since 2013, and a level this high was last seen in 2010.
One in two Europeans sees a role for individuals in tackling poverty in developing countries (50 percent).
A third of EU citizens are personally active in tackling poverty (34 percent), mainly through giving money to charitable organisations (29 percent).
Most Europeans believe that Europe itself also benefits from giving aid to others: 69 percent say that tackling poverty in developing countries also has a positive influence on EU citizens.
Around three-quarters think it is in the EU’s interest (78 percent) and contributes to a more peaceful and equitable world (74 percent).
For Europeans, volunteering is the most effective way of helping to reduce poverty in developing countries (75 percent). But a large majority also believe that official aid from governments (66 percent) and donating to organisations (63 percent) have an impact.
The European Commission says 2015 promises to be “hugely significant for development, with a vast array of stakeholders involved in crucial decision-making in development, environmental and climate policies”.
2015 is the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the year in which the ongoing global post-2015 debate will converge into a single framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development.
2015 is also the year that a new international climate agreement will be decided in Paris.