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Issue 323

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IRAQ
Can't stand it
Disgusted by the cost of sanctions, two more UN officials resign

The resignations by two senior United Nations officials over sanctions policy in Iraq should have come as no surprise.

Word corner
Coffee
Coffee is from the Arabic qahveh (wine). In thirteenth-century Yemen coffee was called qahveh, perhaps because coffee replaced forbidden wine in religious ceremonies. Until around 1700 most coffee beans came from Moka in Yemen. The French once called decaffeinated coffee mocca faux; this expression was Germanized as Muckefuck. Cappuccino coffee is named after the Capuchin friar: the frothy white milk was thought to look like a friar’s cowl.

Both the resignees — Hans von Sponeck, UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq and his German compatriot Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq — have been worried by the crippling effect of the trade embargo and the ‘hopelessness’ of the food-for-oil deal.

Von Sponeck, who has worked for the UN since 1968, took up his post in Iraq in October 1998. By last June, his frustration became clear when he told a delegation from Physicians for Social Responsibility that the oil-for-food programme provided just $180 a year per person ‘out of which everything has to be financed, from electrical services to water, sewerage, to food, health... the lot. We are setting the stage for depriving another generation of the opportunity to become responsible national and international citizens of tomorrow.’ Von Sponeck said that the oil-for-food programme had failed to meet even the ‘minimum requirements’ of Iraq’s 22 million people. Burghardt later commented: ‘I fully support what Mr von Sponeck was saying... and I believe any human being who looks at the facts and the impact of sanctions on the population will not deny that he is right.’

At a meeting at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in early February, a widely held perception was that sanctions had failed but that potential loss of face in Britain and the US would ensure that the issue remained a low priority. Denis Halliday, a former UN Assistant Under Secretary-General, who also resigned in protest over sanctions, is more outspoken: ‘This policy constitutes genocide and London and Washington are responsible. It has to change.’

Felicity Arbuthnot / Gemini News Service
See also NI 316 on Iraq

Chock full of patents
US corporation DuPont has patented an enzyme that could produce a substitute for cocoa butter — and leave many Southern cocoa farmers out of work. ‘Companies could use the patent laws and genetic engineering to make for themselves and their shareholders a lot more money and, at the same time, eliminate the need for reliance on developing countries,’ says Paul Collins, a spokesperson for ActionAid. Countries that could lose out include the big national producers such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Cocoa contributes up to 40 per cent of Ghana’s foreign-exchange earnings. About 600,000 farmers there depend on the crop — most of them smallholders — and each farm supports an average of 15 dependents.

Doug Alexander / Gemini News Service

King cannot rule cyberspace
The new laws in the US against ‘cyber-squatting’ have been challenged by a white supremacist group which registered the domain name www.martinlutherking.org and set it up to masquerade as a website from a legitimate civil-rights information group. Although this is a clear case of cyber-squatting, the new legislation appears to be powerless because it does not cover dead people. Hosted by Stormfront.org, an online white-supremacist organization, the website is ostensibly an ‘historical examination’ of the assassinated civil-rights leader’s life. The hosts used key words in the website’s meta-tag information, which is what search engines use to classify websites. So popular search engines often place Stormfront’s site high on their list of searches for ‘Martin Luther King’.

New Scientist Vol 165 No 2224

Deflecting attention
Nicaragua and Honduras are taking a territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The conflict began when the Honduran Congress ratified the 1986 Caribbean Sea Maritime Limits Treaty which grants Colombia sovereignty over 130,000 square kilometres of Caribbean waters, including the island of San Andrés. Colombia claims Nicaragua lost its right to the area under a 1928 treaty, but Nicaraguans argue that the treaty was signed under duress while US Marines occupied their country. Although the issue arouses nationalist sentiment in Nicaragua, some local journalists have speculated that President Alemán is using the court case to deflect attention from allegations of Government corruption and other domestic political controversies.

Paul Jeffrey / Latin America Press Vol 32 No 4

INTERNATIONAL LAW
Hired guns
Privatization of warfare continues, despite UN efforts

For more than a decade now, the United Nations has been trying without success to outlaw mercenaries. The International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries needs 22 ratifications by national governments to enter into force but as yet only 19 have been counted. Of those states that have acceded to the UN Convention, all but one (Italy) is a non-Western developing country. Ratification, says the human-rights organization International Alert, ‘comes from those that are affected by mercenaries rather than those that are responsible for supplying them’.

There are a few striking absentees in the list of ratifiers. Britain, which officially states the Convention would be ‘very difficult to apply in the UK courts’, is a major supplier of mercenaries. The Russian Federation, which has mercenaries fighting in Georgia, officially is ‘not able at this point’ to answer why it has not ratified. Then there is the US — which is tougher on mercenaries but believes the Convention uses a definition of them that is too broad (and possibly limits the business of their own security companies).

A large group of African states has never acceded. Many African governments are involved in conflicts through the use of mercenaries that officially do not concern them. But their refusal to join the Convention is still noteworthy, considering they lobbied for the Convention in the first place. UN Special Rapporteur Bernales Ballesteros says that more nations must come on board and ratify the Convention. ‘National security and public safety are not merchandise that can be freely sold,’ he insists. But what he really means is that they should not be.

Natasja Nossent

Inert danger
Protests continue in Puerto Rico against a Government agreement that will allow the US to resume military exercises on the island of Vieques involving inert bombs — despite a US Navy study last year which concluded that inert bombs are less accurate and therefore more dangerous to the general population. A referendum to be held within the next two years asks the Viequenses to ‘choose’ between letting the Navy resume practices on its ‘own terms’ or voting to end all Navy activities by 2003. Carlos Zenon, a leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, says: ‘The people of Vieques have already made a decision: get the US Navy out now and not one more bomb of any kind.’ For more information contact: International Action Center, 39 West 14th Street, Room 206, New York, NY 10011, US. Tel: +1 212 633 6646. Fax: +1 212 633 2889. Web: www.iacenter.org  E-mail: iacenter@iacenter.org

INDIA
Uprooted
Thousands are still homeless long after Orissa’s cyclone

Natural disasters can capture the world’s attention and aid, as with the floods in Mozambique. But the attention span of the media and the public is usually short, and once the immediate crisis is over the story gets dropped. The cyclone which devastated the Indian state of Orissa in October last year is a case in point: long forgotten by news teams, local people are still wrestling with the consequences.

The villagers of Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, once thought they lived in a wealthy area. By ‘wealthy’ they meant they had three meals a day and a mud-and-thatch house. They did not have electricity and the women fetched water in pots, which they carried on their heads. But they never starved. ‘We had everything we needed,’ a resident explains. ‘Cows, chickens, our own vegetables. And the money from fishing, farming and coconut trees and betel vines was more than enough. Now we have nothing.’

When I visited Orissa, I wanted to find out what people’s most urgent needs were. The answers came very quickly from every village I visited — houses.

In meetings I attended, people pleaded with the Government. One elder asked: ‘Building a house costs 30,000 to 40,000 rupiah ($689-919). You’re offering us 2,000 rupiah ($46) compensation. What can we do with that?’

Aid workers and volunteers are amazed by the courage of locals, despite the suffering. Doctor Steve Sircar recounted a particularly arduous journey wading through knee-deep water to reach one village. He was really fed up and exhausted. Then he met a widow who had been eight months pregnant. Her husband and kids were washed away but she survived by clinging to the top of a tree, where her baby was born the next day. The combination of hunger, thirst and exhaustion left her almost unconscious. The baby slipped out of her arms and fell into the water. ‘Her story left me stunned,’ Sircar says. ‘And there I was cribbing about a little bit of water. These things keep you going.’

Everywhere I went, the women wanted to talk, to make contact. Some of them grabbed my hands and wept. ‘What will happen to us? Make them give us a house.’

Of course I could not make anyone give them anything. But I promised to write about their needs. They were so valiant that it was the least I could do.

Housing is the first priority. ActionAid has promised that anyone who sends money for a house can be sure their money will be used solely for that purpose. Anyone wishing to help rebuild these people’s lives may send their cheque to: The Orissa House Fund, ActionAid, Hamlyn House, Archway, London N19 5PG, Britain.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Fertility rises in the East
Teenage pregnancy is much higher in East than West Europe. A cross-country study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute finds that teenage pregnancy in Russia is even higher than in the US. Some Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, have rates that are three times higher than in France or Germany. The rate of teenage pregnancy, which fell between 1970 and 1995 in all Western countries covered by the survey, rose by 54 per cent in Russia, 55 per cent in Ukraine and 99 per cent in Belarus.

Alan Guttmacher Institute

Prisons fuel profits
Powerful vested interests face campaigners who are working to change the trend towards prison sentencing in the US – which now has two million inmates, a higher proportion of citizens in jail than any other country in history. The prison industry employs more than 523,000 people. More than 100 prisons in 27 states are run entirely by private corporations. As well as being reluctant to consider other options to prison sentences, the Government has supported the rise of companies dealing with the building and maintenance of prisons – dishing out an average of $7 billion worth of prisons’ construction contracts alone each year for the past decade.

The Guardian Weekly Vol 162 No 8

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Big Bad World by Polyp

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