New Internationalist

Update

Issue 271

Update

NATIVE PEOPLES

Drilled and pulped
Canada's Lubicon still threatened

One of 500 oil drills on Lubicon land. The Lubicon Cree, native people in Canada to whom the NI donated part of the proceeds from its ‘Native American Cards’ in 1994 (see NI 258), are still fighting for their collective life. Based in northern Alberta, an area rich in oil, minerals and timber, the Lubicon world has been turned upside down since 1980.

Unlike some other nations, the Lubicon never signed away their land to the Canadian Government. But this has not stopped the exploitation of resources on their land. In 1980 the first road was built to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas. Almost immediately the Lubicon’s age-old self-sufficient lifestyle was destroyed. Between 1980 and 1984, 400 oil and gas wells were drilled within a 25-kilometre radius of the community, driving away the wildlife they depended on. By 1990, 95 per cent of the Lubicon were dependent on welfare.

The woman is drying moose meat by the traditional method - part of an endangered way of life. The Lubicon are now willing to give up 98 per cent of their land. In return they wish to move back to their traditional site at Lubicon Lake and to establish a reserve with a school, a health centre, a community centre and an elders’ home together with housing that meets federal standards. They also claim one per cent of the estimated seven billion dollars’ worth of oil and gas so far taken from their land.

In February 1994 Ron Irwin, the Minister of Indian Affairs, visited Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak and publicly declared that this was one of the top four aboriginal justice struggles and that the Government was committed to a speedy resolution of the problem. It then took him a year to appoint an ‘independent’ arbitrator for the land-rights dispute who in fact has long-term connections with the oil and gas industries in Alberta.

In 1988 the Albertan Government sold the rights to every tree in Lubicon territory to Daishowa, a Japanese multinational with a massive pulp mill on the Peace River. Up to now Daishowa has only taken salvage lumber – trees cut by the oil and gas companies in the course of their extraction. But the Lubicon fear that full-scale extraction will begin soon.

In 1994 Unocal, one of those oil-and-gas companies, built a gas processing plant less than three kilometres from Lubicon Lake. The Lubicon protested to the Energy Resources Conservation Board, which had ruled in 1986 that all oil-and-gas companies had to notify the local people and work with them. In February this year the Board gave Unocal permission to start processing gas – and formally overturned its own 1986 ruling.

In 1989 the UN Human Rights Committee found Canada to be in contravention of the convention on political and human rights. It found that it was impossible for the Lubicon to get redress through the Canadian legal system.

The Lubicon feel that the final push is on to eliminate them. There are only around 500 left. In recent weeks there has been an increased police presence and they are being told that they would do well to join the Woodland Cree or Loon River bands as there won’t be Lubicon around for much longer.

Article and photos by Neilian Glass

Desertification – no problem
The UN Environment Programme has called for $480 billion to be spent on anti-desertification projects over the next 20 years. Right-wing British thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs has countered with a new report which claims that the whole idea of desertification is a nonsense. Author Julian Morris claims that the Sahara is not growing and that rising agricultural productivity in arid lands proves that deserts in general are not expanding. He believes the greatest threat in this field is the ‘corrupting’ effect of anti-desertification aid. His report is part of a free-market fundamentalist slant on development which dismisses fears about population growth (which just increases human efficiency and ingenuity) and environmental pollution (carbon-dioxide emissions have a fertilizing effect). Morris’s solution to the world’s ills is typical: the complete elimination of aid to developing countries and a more complete free market. Hmm...

The rich get richer...
The GATT agreement arrived at in the Uruguay Round will certainly increase global trade – but the benefits from that will not be fairly distributed, as the chart above shows. While the European Union will rake in the winnings, Africa will actually lose under the new rules. The chart comes from Oxfam, who have launched a worldwide campaign against poverty founded on a charter asserting that every person has a basic right to a home, clean water, enough to eat, a safe environment, protection from violence, equality of opportunity, a say in their future, an education, a livelihood and healthcare.

Venuste Niyangabo.

Olympian
Burundi, despite its problems, boasts one of the best male middle-distance runners in the world: Venuste Niyangabo. Last year 21-year-old Niyangabo was second only to Algerian Noureddine Morceli in the 1,500m rankings. Burundi will be represented in the Olympics for the first time in 1996 and Niyangabo will be going for gold.

Phil Minshull, Gemini News Service

 

Copped by cops
In Brazil an élite police anti-kidnapping squad raided a Rio de Janeiro slum and freed 13-year-old Paula Zamboni, only to learn that her kidnappers were Rio military police. The ensuing scandal sparked a shakeup and the head of the anti-kidnapping squad was replaced by Hélio Luz, a no-nonsense cop reputed to be immune to corruption and keen to clear up the streets of Rio. However, hopes for this were not raised when less than 30 hours after Luz was sworn in, four heavily armed men abducted Sarah Maria Lambréia, the wife of a construction-company owner. Chief Luz and his kidnapping squad did not even learn of the incident until a full eight hours later.

Time, Vol 145, No 24

False religion
Nine board members of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights are taking one of Egypt’s top Muslim clerics to court over his pronouncement that ‘female circumcision’ – female genital mutilation – is a religious duty. The activists blame the edict by Sheik Gad al-Haq for the Egyptian Health Minister’s decision to allow genital mutilation to be performed in government hospitals and clinics. They are basing their case on the ‘doctrine that Islam does not sanction any practice that constitutes harm to society or human beings’.

World Press Review, Vol 42 No 7

Downtrodden to the top
Mayawati, India’s first-ever female chief minister from the Harijan or ‘un-touchable’ group – beneath the formal caste system – has assumed office in the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, or Downtrodden People’s Party) has formed a tactical alliance with the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh. The tactics seem to be an attempt to consolidate her position and win enough seats next time for her party to form a government on its own. Her government’s objective is to raise the living standards of Dalits (lower-caste people) and minorities.

Rahul Bedi,
Gemini News Service

 

MULTINATIONALS

Big Mac in the mire
Heroic battle against the fast-food giant continues

The international campaign against the McDonald’s corporation has for the last year been concentrating on the longest libel trial in British history. The case, which began on 28 June 1994 and looks set to run until March 1996, was brought by the $26-billion-a-year corporation against two unemployed activists for London Greenpeace, Helen Steel and Dave Morris.

The corporation has been notoriously ready to sue in the past but this time, thanks to the tenacity and determination of Steel and Morris, who have conducted their own defence, the tactic has completely backfired. The original allegations in the 1989 leaflet – which attacked the corporation’s record on nutrition, employment and the environment – have been publicized all over the world. McDonald’s has been forced to devote huge amounts of money (estimated at $8,000 a day) to maintaining its crack legal team and supplying a host of expert witnesses and senior executives. Yet the wounds to the corporate image grow deeper.

The court was told, for example, that a McDonald’s representative promised Japanese customers that eating the company’s food would make them tall, blond and pale. One of the corporation’s own expert witnesses admitted under cross-examination that a diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt, and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals is linked to heart disease and cancer – the allegation which has most alarmed McDonald’s. The corporation has stated in court that it does not object to its products being described as ‘junk food’.

The recent phase of the trial has focused on employment practices. The corporation’s British Vice- president, Sid Nicholson, has been forced to agree that for its employees over 21 they ‘couldn’t actually pay any lower wages without falling foul of the law’. He conceded that staff often mention pay as an area they would like to see improved, but said that no working person, including himself, ever felt they were paid enough. The corporation’s senior managers in Britain received £75,000 ($120,000) a year plus benefits in 1993.

McDonalds exploits workers. The case has become such a public-relations disaster that shareholders at the corporation’s AGM in Chicago in May called for it to be abandoned. McDonald’s has found itself in a no-win situation. The international bad publicity in the course of the trial will have far outweighed any judgement in its favour. Steel and Morris, meanwhile, despite the immense difficulties the case has caused them, will not settle out of court unless the corporation undertakes not to sue anyone making statements similar to those in the leaflet – effectively accepting the truth of their allegations.

The corporation is doing its best to contain the case ‘as a UK issue’. A leaked internal memo from McDonald’s Australia says ‘We want to keep it at arm’s length, not become guilty by association’.

International protest against McDonald’s is, however, growing as fast as the burger chain itself. On the corporation’s 40th anniversary in April there were protests in at least 20 countries, including Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, Spain and Sweden. Steel and Morris were flown out by US supporters to a demonstration outside the corporation’s first store, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is now a museum, while in June British protesters successfully forced the abandonment of filming for McDonald’s’ latest TV ad, at an estimated cost of $160,000.

Chris Brazier

Chlorophyll by Sacha

UNITED NATIONS

Outside history
Sanctions hit Iraqi doctors and teachers

Young Iraqis can watch Jurassic Park and The Lion King on home videos but doctors cannot get medical journals. The country’s professionals are incensed by the shortage of foreign books and scientific literature as a result of the UN embargo and point out that the ban is decimating human resources which, unlike bridges and electricity grids, cannot easily be rebuilt.

‘We are outside history now,’ exclaims sculptor Muhammad Ghani, who studied in Rome and has regularly exhibited in galleries in Europe and Asia. ‘We have always had contact with others – with Greece and India in the ancient past and in modern times with Europe, India and the US,’ he explains. ‘Now no-one knows about us and we don’t know what is going on in the world.’

Since the 1991 Gulf War news of hardships suffered by Iraqis have focused on health, price rises and shortages. Up to a million people have perished from infectious diseases and malnutrition exacerbated by lack of medicines and other effects of sanctions – though some goods, including US videos and luxury foods, find their way into the country, legally and illegally.

The ban on the export of books and journals to Iraq is a little-known feature of the embargo. Iraqi educationalists and scientists accuse Western professionals who were once their colleagues and teachers of betrayal. They say foreign academics are colluding with the military policy of the US and Britain.

‘I am not a military man, I am an artist. Why should they boycott me?’ asks a confused teacher.

Iraqis say that foreign post offices limit mail to Iraq to 10 grammes. Anything heavier is not sent on. The effect is to cut off more than 6,000 university teachers, 8,000 doctors, as well as architects, journalists, historians, translators, biologists and musicians from their Western colleagues.

‘This is unethical,’ says surgeon Dr Ali, who trained at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. ‘My teachers would never allow the medicine I must practise because of inadequate supplies.’

The passivity of the international medical community shocks these doctors. Deputy Health Minister Dr Showki Marcus, who trained in Holland, describes the boycott of information as a violation of human rights. Another foreign-trained scholar bewildered by the cut-off is Dr Huda Ammash, Dean of Baghdad University Women’s College and an environmental biologist. Ammash is researching the toxic effects of war radiation and is anxious to report her findings abroad. But, she notes, ‘I cannot secure invitations to academic conferences to report or publish my research.’

Iraqi professionals are generally pro-Western in outlook and in the past some took risks to report human-rights abuses. They say they are the moderates who could strengthen international ties and help move Iraq towards democracy. They conclude that the tough UN sanctions are not aimed at their leader or his military ambitions but at the skills, intelligence and pride represented by this modern and moderate community.

Barbara Nimri Aziz, Gemini News Service

Cheesed off
Eighteen people were hurt while taking part in an ancient ceremony on Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, England, in which people chase cheeses weighing more than four kilogrammes down the steep hillside. Cheese chasing is thought to have begun as a fertility rite in pre-Roman times.

The Economist, No. 7917

Legal euthanasia
Australia’s first legislation to make voluntary euthanasia legal was passed by the Northern Territory Parliament on 2 June after an emotional 14-hour debate. Dubbed ‘The Kill Bill’ by opponents, the new law means that terminally ill people who meet certain guidelines can end their lives with medical assistance – including those travelling from other states in search of voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia has become established in Holland and the US state of Oregon but this is the first time legislation has been passed to allow it. Many Aboriginal groups are opposed to the Bill, claiming it conflicts with traditional culture. Disability groups oppose it because they fear disabled people may opt for euthanasia to save relatives money and distress. ‘It is a precedent,’ said Jack Jones of the Auckland Voluntary Euthanasia Society, ‘which will be followed sooner or later by every country. It is a sign of the times. Obviously there will now be considerable pressure on the New Zealand Parliament to do something about it.’

Disability Awareness in Action, No 28

Cosmic visas
Russian cosmonauts who landed in Florida on board the US space shuttle forgot their visas. US space agency NASA had to ask the State Department to rustle up some papers otherwise they would have violated America’s golden rule that foreigners without visas are illegal aliens.

Independent, 27 June 1995

Bank blunder
A confidential World Bank report admits that its resettlement plans for a dam in Indonesia were ‘highly defective’ and that 72 per cent of the families affected by the dam are now worse off than they were before. The reservoir of the Kedung Ombo Dam in central Java, which was completed in 1989 with a $165-million loan from the Bank, displaced 5,390 families (almost 30,000 people) from 20 villages.

Bankcheck, No 11

Quote

‘The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.’

Anonymous 18th century English epigram

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995


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