New Internationalist

Update

Issue 312

new internationalist
issue 312 - May 1999

Update

ARMS TRADE

Landmine ban thwarted
New weapons in an old story of US unaction

Clinton backs off : the US wants more landmines despite the ban.
WASHINGTON PHOTOS /
CAMERA PRESS

The Clinton administration is seeking nearly $50 million from Congress this year for a new type of artillery-fired landmine system designed to blow up both tanks and people. This would violate an international landmine ban treaty that the President had pledged to try to sign. Activists say the surprise budget request raises questions about whether President Clinton has given up trying to comply with the global ban.

The worldwide landmine ban went into effect on 1 March 1999 – participating nations are to destroy antipersonnel landmine stockpiles within four years and get them out of the field within ten years. But not the US, which has refused to sign the Ottawa accord adopted in 1997. Clinton says the Government will eliminate antipersonnel mines everywhere except on the Korean Peninsula by 2003, and then totally by 2006 if alternatives could be found. But the President’s new budget request casts doubt on even that conditional commitment to the treaty.

James Schear, a deputy assistant Secretary of Defense, says of the new landmine system (called RADAM, a merger of the acronyms of the two mines it would combine): ‘This system is a more humanitarian alternative to the existing suite of systems that we now have,’ in that it would eliminate mines targeted strictly at people.

Senator Patrick J Leahy, a Democrat who supports the landmine ban treaty, says: ‘An approach which simply repackages mines which are prohibited under Ottawa is not a solution.’ Stephen Goose, from Human Rights Watch, points out that the Pentagon’s contention that RADAM is a transitional device to a mine-free world nevertheless ‘creates the very odd situation where the Pentagon is saying we are going to get to a ban on antipersonnel mines by producing a new antipersonnel mine system’.

Other countries that have also refused to sign the treaty include Russia, China, India, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Of the 133 countries that have signed the treaty, 64 have ratified it and more are expected to do so before the signatories meet in May in Mozambique. Exports have almost stopped completely in the last four years and between 10 million and 15 million landmines have been destroyed from stockpiles, says Goose. Even countries that have not signed the accord, like the United States and Russia, have made substantial improvements to reduce them or eliminate certain types, Goose says. But RADAM may make the US’s positive action meaningless: ‘This move just sends the wrong signal,’ says Tom O’Donnell, an aide to US Representative Lane Evans. ‘To me, the mine system proposal is very inflammatory. You made a commitment. Let’s get on with it.’

Human Rights Watch/All quotes from The Times

Sexual abuse uncovered
STEPHEN GILL / PANOS

Sexual abuse uncovered
The first scientific study on child sexual abuse in Sri Lanka has concluded that 100 young people are sexually exploited or abused every day on the island. A local organization, Protecting Children and Environment Everywhere, found that while Sri Lankan boys were subject to commercial sexual exploitation involving foreign paedophiles, it was girls who suffered most from abuse within the community. Many of the girls only had one parent, usually the mother who was working abroad, and victims were easy prey because they were left unsupervised. Currently, sexually-abused children are sent to remand or detention homes where offenders and victims live side-by-side. One activist warned that without help victims often end up drug addicts, criminals or abusers themselves.

BBC World Service 9 February 1999

Going, going, gone....
KLEIN/HUBERT /
STILL PICTURES

Going, going, gone
Australia has failed to stop large-scale forest clearing of 500,000 hectares a year – a rate comparable to Amazon forest destruction. Under government policy local projects such as tree-planting are being encouraged. But the bigger environmental issues such as land clearance, loss of species diversity, greenhouse gases and urban pollution are left to fester. Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation Don Henry says: ‘The issue is not public awareness but political efforts to get it off the agenda because it is viewed as too hard.’

The Age 13 January 1999

AFRICA

Scandalous trade
Slavery continues in Sudan

A free man - slaves have been bought back from their masters.
MARK EDWARDS / STILL PICTURES

Pressure is mounting to stop the trade in slaves in Sudan – a practice which allegedly involves the connivance of the Sudanese authorities. Thousands of young Sudanese have become slaves who serve their masters under bondage and without any rewards.

In an attempt to stop the trade, many are trying to buy back the slaves. More than 1,000 Southern Sudanese slaves were redeemed recently and reunited with their families in Aweil district of northern Bahr El Ghazal. This is believed to be the highest number of slaves freed in one day on record and brings the total to 5,066 redeemed since 1995, according to Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a Swiss-based organization. But this is only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese believed to be held in bondage by Arab Tribes from Darfur and Kordofan.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of slavery unearthed through the endeavours of CSI, other non-governmental organizations and some UN bodies, the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime continues to deny its existence. The NIF has stonewalled demands for independent international investigation into the allegations of the regime’s own involvement in the slave trade. CSI has reissued its appeal to the UN and the international community to investigate and put an end to slavery in Sudan.

The Sudan Democratic Gazette reported that interviews conducted by CSI with the freed slaves revealed a catalogue of atrocities committed against them by their Arab masters. These included: throat slitting, death threats, female genital mutilation, forced conversion to Islam, rape, beatings, floggings and unpaid labour. The slaves revealed that they had been captured by the NIF regime’s armed forces and the Arab tribal militias allied to the regime.

Most of the slaves were women and children and a majority of them were Christians or animists. The armed forces of the Government of Sudan view Christian and animist black African slaves as one of the most potent instruments of its jihad (Islamic Holy War) against the communities that resist its totalitarian policies.

CSI’s International President, the Reverend Hans Stuckelberger, has again appealed to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to intervene urgently, launch an impartial investigation into slavery in Sudan and to call upon UNICEF to establish a slave-tracing and retrieval programme in Sudan. But so far the UN has only passed resolutions condemning the acts of slavery and has not taken concrete measures to end it.

Newslink Africa Vol 17 No 9

cartoon by POLYP cartoon by POLYP

MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS

Whispers behind closed doors
Corporate links with the UN are kept secret

United Nations Headquarters
HOWARD DAVIES / PANOS

A secret conference in Geneva has raised curiosity about business involvement with the United Nations. The Business Humanitarian Forum, held in a luxury hotel behind closed doors, involved aid organizations, the UN and corporations. The advance press release announced that the Forum would look at corporate co-operation in helping countries that have suffered conflicts or natural disasters.

But the impression that all was not quite right was reinforced by the secrecy of the gathering. Thérèse Gastaut, chief spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Geneva, knew nothing about the Forum in late January. And the invitation said all media would be strictly excluded to ‘facilitate open discussions’.

The list of participants suggested what there might be to hide. It included: the president of United Technologies Corporation, the world’s biggest military contractor; the vice-president of Nestlé, the company trying to destroy the World Health Organization (WHO) marketing code for infant formula – violations of which kill 1.5 million infants every year; the manager for international and government affairs of Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining conglomerate; and finally there was the manager of the Corporate Social Responsibility Programme of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – its working group on corporate responsibility was set up and run by Rio Tinto and Shell.

According to the final leaked statement of the day’s work, the Forum established itself as an association under Swiss law, with an initial annual budget of $250,000. The first item on the agenda is creating a data base on humanitarian works. For multinational corporations this information is useful as it means they can direct funds into areas where they do business. While the Forum was taking place, other events shed light on its purpose. One was the WHO executive board meeting, where the Director-General deplored governments’ refusal to raise his own budget to compensate for loss of purchasing power caused by inflation. This is part of a general trend: less and less government spending, especially for anything in the social sector. The WHO shortfall means looking to commerce for funding.

The next day the world’s business leaders met at Davos in the Swiss Alps to discuss Responsible Globality: Managing the Impact of Globalization. In an echo of the Business Humanitarian Forum, one working group concentrated on ‘What Does Corporate Social Responsibility Really Mean?’ The answer was already given in the programme description of the workshop: ‘Companies are legally responsible to shareholders.’ If the Business Humanitarian Forum has its way, the pursuit of shareholder profits will dictate aid allocations and minimum corporate responsibility.

Robert James Parsons/Gemini News Service

Looks matter in Iran
A British High Court case will decide whether homosexuals are a specific group under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and therefore can claim asylum. Mherdad Jawwdat is bringing the case to court after a special immigration adjudicator said he could return to Tehran so long as he changed his looks, wore his hair short and avoided wearing make-up on the street. Charles Bennett, the adjudicator, ruled that even if the police in Iran recognized him as someone they had accused of being gay, ‘they will see him with short hair and conclude (to their thinking) he has seen the error of his former ways, or turned from what they will consider his former wickedness, or that he has simply “grown up”’.

Jawwdat’s lawyer, Mark Henderson, told the High Court that the Iranian authorities regarded gays as ‘corrupt parasites’, a ‘tangible manifestation of Westernization’ and that homosexuals are punished by torture and even death. Mark Watson of Stonewall, the gay-rights lobby group, says: ‘ The Nazis thought gays were a separate social group and persecuted them. If the Nazis recognized them as a separate social group, then we should have no difficulty in recognizing them as such.’

CIS NEWS

Lost paradise
Alex Garland’s book, The Beach, is being made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in less than idyllic circumstances in Thailand. 20th Century Fox has bulldozed large portions of Maya beach and its surrounding vegetation on Phi Phi Leh island and replaced it with 100 non-native coconut palms. This has caused erosion and locals are worried about how much of the beach will be left after the oncoming monsoons. Phi Phi Leh island is a national park. But Thai activists say that the Royal Forestry Department has ignored national park regulations as it has been bought off by 20th Century Fox who paid the government 4 million baht ($149 million).

To take action write a letter to producer Andrew McDonald:
c/o Carol Sewell 10201 W Pico Blvd, Building 89 Room 224, Los Angeles CA 90035
or see: www.wildrockies.org/wve/beach.htm

No justice for women in jail
The US has been condemned for its treatment of female inmates. Among the information in a report by Amnesty International, Not part of my sentence: Violations of the Human Rights of Women in Custody, is the fact that in 13 states it is not illegal for prison guards to have sex with inmates; around 41 per cent of guards in women’s prisons are men; and men make up 72 per cent of guards in female prisons in Kansas, 66 per cent in California and Idaho but only 4 per cent in Louisiana. Legal contraband searches have been described by female inmates as ‘legalized sexual molestation’. But widespread sexual abuse is difficult to prosecute because female prisoners who make complaints are vulnerable to intimidation by male guards.

Only 25 per cent of women are incarcerated for violent crime and studies illustrate that women imprisoned for violence tend to have been responding to abuse.

For more information see Amnesty International’s website: www.amnesty.org.uk

Quote

"Oh,look. There are finally two people swimming in the Peninsula hotel’s pool.
It must be the barman and the waiter."

Kurt Wachtveitl, General Manager of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok,
commenting on the recession’s impact on tourism.

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