Issue 28 - March 18, 2011

Bahraini Civil Society Asks for Help

The United Nations, the Arab League and the international community in general must intervene to stop the massacre that Bahrain demonstrators and activist are currently suffering, warned this Wednesday the local civil society organizations. The Bahraini opposition considers the Saudi and Emirates military contingents as occupation forces. Eurostep, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and Social Watch asked the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, to call Bahraini authorities for an immediate end to the violence.
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Revolution, the New Model for the Arab World
The transformations going on in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia need protection “from any kind of external intervention”, concluded the participants of a regional workshop in Tunisia convened by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND, focal point of Social Watch) and the Arab Institute for Human Rights.
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Every Country Needs to Anticipate Disasters
The catastrophic effects of last week’s earthquake in Japan has accentuated the need in every country to anticipate disaster, reaffirmed the dangers of tsunamis and brought back deep concerns about nuclear safety, writes Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre. Disaster preparedness must now be given the highest priority as more disasters appear likely, and it is difficult to predict in what form and in which country they will occur.
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The media ignore worldwide protests
Hundreds of thousands went out to the streets last weekend all over the planet to demonstrate for democracy, against nuclear power or to defend the right to collective bargaining of trade unions. But the international mass media showed very little of any of these popular expressions of discontent.
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Africa’s Commodity Dependency in the Spotlight
The impacts of the global crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is fundamentally shaped by the nature of this continent's systemic integration into the world economy as primary commodity exporter. The economy shaped under colonialism is perpetuated in different forms, says one of the theses that will be analyzed next week in a scholar’s conference in Accra.
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Nepalese Activist Awarded in South Korea
Arjun Karki, chairman of Rural Reconstruction Nepal and of LDC Watch, won this year’s Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award for his contribution to the protection of human rights and the development of impoverished and marginalized communities in his country.
Read more

New strategies for Old Human Rights Battles
The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) from Argentina and Conectas Human Rights from Brazil will co-host an international seminar in New York on March 23rd, to discuss strategies and key issues around addressing past and present human rights violations. This high-level event will also provide an opportunity to discuss innovative ways of South/South and North/South collaboration among civil society groups.
Read more



SOS Appeal from Bahrain

The following urgent appeal was received from trusted members of the local Social Watch coalition:

"The Civil Society Organizations in Bahrain appeal for international help to stop the systematic mass murder of unarmed demonstrators and activists, who are claiming for the founding of democratic institutions and for respect of their legitimate rights.

"Thousands of civilian persons have suffered a huge repression by the anti-riot police, armed militias and the military forces, including the Saudi-Gulf contingents, in the Shia areas of the capital Manama, in Muhraq, Sitra, Hamad Town, most of Northern and Middle Region along Budia Road.

"A mass attack against Sitra island, on Tuesday 15, left three dead persons and hundreds wounded. The dawn of Wednesday 16 witnessed a sweeping attack against Lulu Circle, where Bahraini and Saudi armed forces participated in the repression, along with the anti-riot police, with fire arms, while six Apache choppers roamed the skies to intimidate the demonstrators.

"In both days ambulances from central Salmanya hospital were prevented from assist the victims, and the paramedics were assaulted. In Sitra, a medical center was besieged and attacked by the militia. The Slamanya hospital was besieged and assaulted by the anti-riot police, in order to arrest the wounded. Electricity was cut off the Lulu Circle, all the surrounding area and the hospital. Mobile telephone service was cut off all northern region of Bahrain until 10 AM .

"The attacks against Shia residential areas continue.

"The Bahraini government, along with Saudi and Emirates governments, are responsible for these massacres, according to the Civil Society Organizations, which consider the Saudi-Emirates contingents as occupation forces.

"The Civil Society Organizations asked the UN, its Security Council, the Arab League and the international community in general to curb the attackers and to end this massacre. States with leverage to Bahrain government, they say, should intervene directly.

"Relief agencies such as International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Médecins Sans Frontières should intervene to break the siege of hospitals and assaults against medical staff.

The Bahraini Civil Society Organizations, Bahrain, 16th March. 2011

A Letter to Ban and Ashton
Eurostep, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and Social Watch send letters to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, asking their institutions to call Bahraini authorities for an immediate end to the violence.

The letters urge both international officers “to make representation to the King of Bahrain and Bahraini Prime Minister in the strongest possible terms calling for an immediate end to the violence being perpetrated by the security forces on peaceful citizens, to take immediate measures to protect civilians in accordance with international and humanitarian law, and to respond to the demands of people through a process of constructive dialogue”.

It also asked Ban and Ashton to “call on King Abdulla Ben Abdel Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Khalifa Ben Zayed of the United Arab Emirates to withdraw their troops from Bahrain and to refrain from any involvement in the repression of peaceful expressions by the Bahraini people”.

The letters were signed by Simon Stocker (Eurostep), Ziad Abdul Samad (ANND) and Roberto Bissio (Social Watch).



Lessons from the Tunisian Revolution

As an initiative of the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), a regional workshop was held on the 1st and the 2nd of March to discuss  “Human Rights under the Democratic Changes and Equitable Development: Questions and Prospects in the Light of the Popular Revolution Model in Tunisia and Egypt”.

The workshop came out with five principles to be considered in order to protect this democratic movement from any relapse and to steer it towards the completion of Arab people demands:

1) Responsibilities in the current phase
Different parties, CSOs, revolutionary activists and citizens are invited to raise the level of national responsibility, to be aware of the fast changes and to develop visions and missions for the future. This requires practical mechanisms to strengthen the revolutionary legitimacy with constitutional legitimacy.

2) The central role of human rights in rebuilding the political, economic, social and cultural system
Arab human rights organizations are committed to the principles and values of human rights while they face an unprecedented opportunity to make fundamental institutional legislative changes. They are invited to consider human rights and democracy as the heart of regional and international talks.

3) Inseparability of freedom and development justice demands 
Development justice is an essential aspect of the democratic process and a condition for its protection. It requires transparency and accountability in governance, and decentralising governance by encouraging local, rural and regional democracies and adopting development policies which people can participate in and benefit from.

4) Roles of civil society organizations 
Civil society organizations need to contribute in the provision of alternatives in the political, economic, social and cultural areas. They are invited to move from opposition organizations to become a power that makes suggestions and contributes positively to deepen the political discussions.

5) Regional solidarity to protect change
Arab civil society organizations are invited to take practical steps in solidarity with the transformations occurring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in order to protect them from any kind of external intervention.

*To read the full declaration, visit the following link:



Calamities Raise Global Concerns

By Martin Khor *

The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan last Friday have highlighted many important issues for every country.

First and foremost is the increased worldwide frequency and intensity of natural calamities and the need for countries to prepare and minimise the damage and properly manage disasters when they occur.

Indeed, disaster preparedness must now be given the highest priority as more disasters appear likely, and it is difficult to predict in what form and in which country they will occur.

If last year was bad enough, this year may see equally serious natural calamities, as indicated by last week’s events.

In 2010, there was the disastrous earthquake in Haiti which killed an estimated 223,000 people and made two million homeless.

Earthquakes also occurred in Chile and China (April), Sumatra (April and October, accompanied by a tsunami that killed hundreds) and Iran (December).

This year, earthquakes have already damaged Christchurch in New Zealand, and now in Japan.

Besides earthquakes, there have been extensive floods in many parts of the world, including Australia, Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Venezuela and Colombia.

Last year, worldwide economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters were estimated at US$222bil – more than triple the US$63bil in 2009 – and 260,000 people died, the highest since 1976.

Japan is reputed to be the world’s best prepared country to face earthquakes.

The buildings are built to withstand them, and there is coastal protection against tsunamis.

People are well trained on what to do when an earthquake occurs.

Even then, this earthquake of 8.9 magnitude had such a terrible effect, especially the tsunami that wiped out a few small towns entirely, while severely damaging many others.

The scale of damage and loss of lives is still being uncovered.

The possible occurrence and devastating effects of tsunamis is last week’s second lesson. Many countries, like Malaysia, may not be directly in an earthquake-prone zone, but are nevertheless in the pathway of tsunamis triggered by earthquakes originating in oceans.

Malaysia and other Asian countries were affected by the giant tsunami from the earthquake off northwest Sumatra six years ago.

The events in Japan last week showed that giant tsunamis are not rare.

South-East Asian countries should always be on the alert and have contingency plans because more earthquakes off Sumatra have been predicted.

Similarly, more earthquakes off the coast of Japan are expected, and the tsunamis they generate could have a bigger impact on other countries than the one last week.

The third issue may be the most important: the safety of nuclear power.

Even before Japan could rescue or take care of all the people trapped in the tsunami’s aftermath, attention quickly shifted to the effects on its nuclear power plants.

An emergency situation deve- loped in five reactors in two of the plants.

The earthquake caused electricity to shut down. Nevertheless, in 11 of the nuclear plants the emergency cooling systems worked.

But in some plants, the emergency diesel generators stopped working an hour after the earthquake, possibly because they were knocked out by the tsunami.

This affected the cooling system. If the cooling were sufficiently reduced and the water in a reactor heated up and boiled away, it could lead to a situation of nuclear fuel melting, releasing the uranium fragments inside.

So far, a meltdown has not happened, and the authorities have given an assurance that there is no unsafe release of radioactivity.

But an explosion on Saturday at one of the reactors heightened worldwide concerns.

According to reports, fortunately, this did not rupture the all-important containment unit.

Thousands of people living within 20km of the affected plant were evacuated as a precaution.

The full extent of the damage, and whether the cooling systems can be restored in time at all the nuclear plants to prevent the situation from worsening, will be better known this week as events continue to unfold.

But this brings back to the forefront the question of safety of nuclear power.

Safety concerns, especially after the nuclear accidents in Three Mile Island (United States) and Chernobyl (Russia), had caused a sharp decline in the building of new nuclear plants worldwide.

However, recent years saw a revival of interest in nuclear power because of the priority placed on alternatives to oil for energy security and for climate change mitigation.

Some countries that had planned to phase out nuclear power decided to extend its use, while other countries, including Malaysia, announced an intention to introduce nuclear power.

Japan relies heavily on nuclear power, which is the source for one-third of the country’s electricity.

Since earthquakes are common, Japanese nuclear plants are designed to withstand them, but last week’s events showed a major quake can cause an emergency situation.

Even if there is no catastrophic meltdown at the plants, there can be considerable risk of significant radio-active leakage into the environment.

The bad publicity from this incident is likely to cause public reaction and reassessment of the costs and benefits of nuclear power.

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of South Centre, an intergovernmental policy think-tank of developing countries.



A weekend of demonstrations

By Roberto Bissio

For hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people all over the world, last weekend was an excellent opportunity to … go out and demonstrate.

Last Saturday in Stuttgart, there was a long planned public protest against the government’s decision to extend the life of Germany’s nuclear power stations. The explosions at the atomic stations in Japan gave an unexpected boost to the protesters’ demands, and more than sixty thousand people formed a human chain from Stuttgart to the nuclear facility of Neckarwestheim. At the end of the day the Chancellor Angela Merkel said “Germany cannot act as if nothing has happened” and ordered safety inspections at the country’s seventeen atomic plants.

In addition, on Sunday thousands of demonstrators blocked the financial centre of Manama, continuining  several days of popular demands for democracy. Instead of initiating the “national dialogue” he had promised, the king Hamad Ben Issa Al-Khalifa opened the small country to the intervention of a contingent of over a thousand Saudi troops that came into the country to “help keep order”. They are operating under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the union of oil kingdoms in the region, which are all allies of the United States. The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.

The Saudi monarchy was also occupied with repressing the first “day of anger” in the capital city of Riyadh, a demonstration that was organized using Facebook and Twitter. There were hundreds of demonstrators, not thousands, but among them there were women, and this is very significant in a country where women are not citizens and are not even allowed to drive vehicles. The demonstrators were not demanding great democratic reforms but the release of nine people who have been detained for pro-democracy activities. All the roads leading into the area were blocked by security forces, the international press was excluded so they could not see what happened and shots were heard. The United States asked that “freedom of expression be respected”, although this does not feature in any Saudi law, and according to the latest human rights report from the State Department the people of the Saudi kingdom do not have “the right to change their government by peaceful means”.

Last Sunday there was also violent repression of demonstrators in Casablanca in Morocco. One journalist saw “dozens of people injured” and another noted that “four members of the security forces were hurt”. The demonstrators were from the Islamic movement Justice and Well-being, but when they fled they took refuge in the headquarters of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. To calm the protests that have united all opposition factions King Mohamed VI announced reforms to the constitution that involve a “separation of powers” including “an independent legal system” and an executive power under “a prime minister who is fully responsible” in the framework of a “guarantee of freedoms” and “the moralization in public life”.

With similar pronouncements Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, promised on Thursday 10 March that there would be a referendum before the end of 2011 about a new constitution that “clearly stipulates the separation of powers”. The opposition says this has come too late and they are demanding the president’s immediate resignation after thirty-two years in power. There were street demonstrations on Sunday 13th and the final balance was five people killed, including a twelve-year-old child. The doctors who treated the demonstrators afterwards said that some were suffering from convulsions, and they denounced the use of toxic gas. The chief of police replied that the security forces only used tear gas “supplied by exporting countries that respect human rights”.

Meanwhile in Beirut, tens of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets. They were not protesting against the government but expressing their disapproval of the Hezbollah Party which withdrew support for the Prime Minister Saad Hariri and thus precipitated a constitutional crisis. Hezbollah is the party of the Shiites in the south of the country; they have a militia that is perhaps more powerful and better organized than the country’s army and they justify this by pointing to the need to resist aggression from Israel. The Lebanese democratic factions maintain that the pressure of this armed force was used to bring down the government when it was going to bring the men who assassinated Saad Hariri’s father to trial, and these men are members of Hezbollah and of the Syrian secret service.

Meanwhile in the United States, Phil Neuenfeldt, the president of the AFL-CIO union confederation, speaking last Sunday 13th to a mass meeting of a hundred and fifty thousand people, said, “Look around you. We are winning. A battle is not a war”. He was referring to the battle that the public employees’ union in Wisconsin lost when they were deprived of the right to collective bargaining by a new law the Republican governor Scott Walker signed on Friday. After the biggest demonstration in the history of the state, the goal now is to revoke the mandate of eight Republican senators and perhaps that of the governor himself.

None of these demonstrations were reported on the big global television channels, which gave all their attention exclusively to the tragedy in Japan the civil war in Libya.

* Director of the Third World Institute (ITeM).



Scholar's Conference on Commodity Dependence and Global Crisis

Third World Network Africa (TWN Africa, focal point of Social Watch) announced a scholar’s conference on ‘Africa’s Commodity Dependency and the Global Crisis’ from 21-23 March 2011 in Accra, Ghana.

According to the official announcement, this conference aims to:

i) Contribute to the development of a comprehensive critical narrative of ‘Africa and the global financial and economic crisis’ as part of broader progressive critique of neo-liberalism and the development of alternative paradigms.

ii) Develop elements or outlines of alternative in response to crisis and neo-liberal hegemonic policies; and

iii) Develop a research agenda for renewed intellectual and policy output on challenges and strategies for Structural transformation of African production capacities, structures and economies.

Previous discussions among TWN-Africa shaped the following ‘theses’:

(a) The origins and course of the crisis were triggered by developments in the nature and role of finance and changes in its inter-relationship with production and accumulation at the global systemic level.

(b) However, the specific influence and impacts of the Crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is fundamentally shaped by the nature of Africa's systemic integration into the global economy as primary commodity export dependent economies; shaped under colonialism and perpetuated ever since in different forms.

(c) These structural-systemic fundamentals are ignored in the mainstream discussion of the crisis in Africa - either as an explanatory point of reference accounting for the nature of transmission mechanisms of Crisis to Africa; or of the long term structural character and anomalies that characterize the continent’s developmental failures. While the role of primary commodities in economic growth has been celebrated in the boom years this has been attributed to liberalisation and SAP, with its structural dimensions, anti-developmental limits and crisis tendencies obscured or overlooked;

(d) The effect is that ‘pro-cyclical’ and ‘more-of-the-same’ neo-liberal crisis-response policy proposals risk perpetuating Africa's vulnerability to similar crisis and to developmental paralysis.

(e) The nature of the policy responses and way of discussion of crisis reflects not simply hegemonic neo-liberal dogma, but also the material and social concerns of the class-and-gender configuration of the ruling elite; consolidated against the background of reversal of post-independence industrialization; neo-liberal reforms in agriculture, natural resource extraction, trade and finance; privatization of services and commoditization of social provision; all of which have rapidly intensified social differentiation and inequality.

(f) That alternative analysis and policy responses must aim at a Structural Transformation rooted in, derived and driven from the conditions, interests and agency of the subaltern majority and its class and gender configurations.

More information:

Source: Third World Network Africa



Justice and Peace Award Goes To Arjun Karki

Leading Nepalese social activist and this year’s Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award-winner, Arjun Karki, accepted his prize yesterday at a special presentation ceremony in Seoul, Korea.

Karki, chairman of Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN, focal point of Social Watch in this country), received a medal and a US$10,000 cash prize from Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Foundation chairman, Monsignor Philip Kim Byeong-sang.

The foundation said Karki won the prize for his contribution to the protection of human rights and the development of impoverished and marginalized communities in Nepal.

In his acceptance speech, Karki, who is also chairman of LDC Watch, said he wanted to share his award with his co-workers and pledged to “keep working to build a world which is based on justice, peace and humanity.”

LDC Watch is a global alliance of civil society organizations working in “Least Developed Countries’’ in Africa and Asia.

He also said he wished to donate his prize money to a worthy cause.

“I would like to draw your attention to the upcoming 4th UN conference on the least developed countries that is going to be held in Istanbul this year. I would like to hand over the prize money to a committee to ensure that it gets utilized for promoting the cause of peace and justice,” he said.

The Tji Hak-soon award was introduced to honor Bishop Tji, former bishop of Wonju, in 1997 to promote justice, peace and human rights, which the late bishop championed throughout his life.

Source: UCA



Voices from the South in the Global Human Rights Agenda

The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) from Argentina and Conectas Human Rights from Brazil will co-host an international seminar in New York on March 23rd to discuss strategies and key issues around addressing past and present human rights violations. This high-level event will also provide an opportunity to discuss innovative ways of South/South and North/South collaboration among civil society groups.

Forged primarily during the struggle against arbitrary rule, and strengthened throughout the democratization process, civil society organizations in the Global South have become key players in denouncing abuses, holding governments more accountable, and proposing alternative policies to alleviate major social problems. More recently, some of these organizations have begun to play a growing role in the international arena, monitoring the human rights foreign policy of their own countries and advocating for more responsible and rights-respecting international engagement.

This is the program:

Voices from the South in the Global Human Rights Agenda
Horacio Verbitsky (CELS, president), Oscar Vilhena Vieira (Conectas, legal director), Hadi Ghaemi (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, executive director).

New strategies for old human rights battles
Peggy Hicks (Human Rights Watch, Global Advocacy Director), Anthony Romero (American Civil Liberties Union-ACLU, executive director), Gastón Chillier (CELS, executive director), Lucia Nader (Conectas, international relations coordinator)

Closing Remarks
Aryeh Neier (Open Society Foundations-OSF, president)

Source: CELS



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