Ocean litter-pick off the Netherlands


Toxic Butts under a Creative Commons Licence

An ambitious project designed to rid the world’s oceans of plastic is due to begin its first test in open waters.

Over the coming months, researchers from the Ocean Clean Up will place a 100-kilometre-long floating barrier 23 kilometres off the Dutch coastline.

This method has the potential to revolutionize current clearance efforts of our seas, which are home to vast floating garbage dumps that cover several million kilometres.

Rather than seeking out the plastic, the floating barriers will allow ocean currents to deliver it.

During the test, the barrier, equipped with motion sensors and surveillance, will monitor the litter-pulling impact of rough seas and strong currents. If successful, a second trial will be launched in Japan towards the end of 2016.

The brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat, the project speaks to a long-running concern of environmentalists. Slat raised over $2 million for research in 2014 – the most successful non-profit crowdfunded project in history.


Beulah Maud Devaney

Environmentalists 1, Dutch Government 0

Climate change protest Amsterdam

A climate change protest in Amsterdam. Jos van Zetten under a Creative Commons Licence

At what point should judges, and not politicians, take control of a country’s political agenda? For many of us, the idea of unelected officials wrestling control from a democratically elected government is a sinister, unthinkable scenario. But what about when that government fails to protect its own citizens? And what about when lawmakers act as agents of the citizens themselves?

These questions are now up for debate in the Netherlands, where a landmark court case is causing ripples throughout the legal, political, and activist communities.

In June 2015, the Dutch government was successfully sued by environmental NGO Urgenda for failing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Representing 886 concerned Dutch citizens, Urgenda pitted one institutional powerhouse against another and used the law to chastise its own government. Eventually, a Hague judge ruled in the NGO’s favour and ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.

The Urgenda case has made history: it is the first time that human rights have been cited as a legal basis for protecting citizens from climate change. It has also, however, ignited a furious debate around who should be setting a country’s political agenda and what citizens can do when their own government fails to protect them.

In the short term, the Urgenda case has been cited as both an inspiration and a touchpaper by concerned citizens around the world. It was praised by Natalie Bennett (leader of the Britain’s Green Party) and it has become a source of inspiration for activists in Norway, Belgium and Australia, who are currently considering their own legal challenges.

However, the wider implications of the Urgenda case will take a while to be understood.

On 1 September, the Dutch government announced that it would appeal against the court’s ruling. In a letter to parliament, Deputy Minister for the Environment Wilma Mansveld explained that the government will comply with the court’s ruling until the case is reheard but: ‘The government is seeking to determine how much control judges can have over the future policies of the state.’

Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma immediately released a statement saying that the NGO was confident the appeal will not be upheld, concluding: ‘We have been waiting for political leadership on this topic for a very long time.’

The notion that time is running out on climate change, with governments dragging their feet on the issue, was revisited by parliament at a hearing on climate change on 10 September. The hearing asked a panel of 5 lawyers (including Urgenda’s lawyer) to examine the consequences of climate change and the legal and constitutional implications if a government failed to act on it.

Lucas Bergkamp, a professor of International Environmental Liability Law and a member of the panel, argued that allowing the courts to compel a government to create new legislation could open the door to a totalitarian state.

‘When you see this [the Urgenda case] as a serious ruling by a Dutch court, then the law is on its head, because then the judge determines the policy and not politicians.’

For theorists like Bergkamp, this entire debate begins and ends with the fact that, in a democracy, politicians and not judges should be deciding political legislation. <

But activists argue that this deliberately overlooks the issue of a government’s duty of care to its citizens. Analysts have suggested that Dutch politicians created a legal and moral trap for themselves when they recognized the climate change science of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A scientific investigative body, supported by the UN, the IPCC released a report in 2007 which claimed that a 2-degree-Celsius rise in global temperature would endanger the ecosystems humans depend on – meaning that between 25 and 40 per cent of emissions need to be cut by 2020. By accepting the findings of the IPCC, but failing to act upon them, the Dutch government was left vulnerable to a legal challenge by its citizens.<

Any government that acknowledges the science presented by the IPCC is also acknowledging the potential threat of climate change. As the IPCC has offered a quantifiable measure for tackling climate change, it has become easier for activists to identify whether their own governments are failing to take climate change seriously.

If the Dutch government loses its appeal, it will have to continue complying with the stipulations of the Urgenda case or risk international condemnation and a reduction in the perceived power of the Hague courts.

At an international level, politicians and environmental activists are well-advised to consider the bigger question at stake: other than the courts, what recourse do concerned citizens have when their own governments fails to appreciate the dangers of climate change?

Until this question is answered, activists will continue to take inspiration from the Urgenda case and the Dutch government will have to outline the steps it is taking to combat climate change. Given that the Netherlands has one of the worst track records in the developed world for reducing greenhouse emissions, this seems unlikely.

The forgotten victims of domestic violence


James Southorn under a Creative Commons Licence

When I was 10, I was very curious about what exactly my Aunt Liz’s job was. She seemed to always be very busy and have many interesting stories to tell, but when I asked what she actually did at work, she’d look a bit uncomfortable and change the subject.

Years later, I confessed my fascination and asked why she’d kept a secret of her work as the manager of a domestic violence shelter. Liz explained that a lot of her work involved helping the child survivors of domestic violence and that she didn’t want me to get upset thinking about them.

Why would I get upset? Because it was a very sad thing to be taken from your home, your friends, usually some of your family, your school, having to leave all your possessions behind and go and stay in a boring shelter with nothing much to do and no-one to explain what was going on.

Liz was right. It is upsetting to think about all the children currently living in domestic violence shelters. In fact, it’s terrifying, as the statistics around it prove. A new report released this week by Hestia, London’s largest provider of domestic violence refuges, claims that 950,000 children per year directly or indirectly experience domestic violence.

And if that wasn’t shocking enough: a quarter of the children living with domestic violence are under 3 years old.

Since the world’s first domestic violence federation, Women’s Aid, was established in 1973, activists have been trying to get the issue of children experiencing domestic violence onto the political agenda.

The last few years have seen an increased awareness but, as Hestia reports: ‘The concept of specialist support for children affected by domestic abuse is starting to gain traction within the sector, and yet very little progress has been made to put this into practice.’

So why has it taken a series of governments from across the political spectrum so long to realize that children need help?

1.The lack of understanding within British politics. According to Women’s Aid, women are more likely than men to experience prolonged domestic violence and, currently, only 29% of British MPs are women.

That isn’t to say that male politicians won’t experience domestic violence, just that they are less likely to, and that in turn will affect the decisions they make about funding. For example: the current government has pledged an extra £10 million ($15 million) of funding for domestic violence services. On the surface, this looks like a good thing, but the same government is currently pursuing an austerity agenda which is likely to bring about an increase in domestic violence.

2.Most refuges are not commissioned to support children. The effect of politicians’ lack of understanding means that not only is funding frequently inadequate, it is often distributed unevenly.

The majority of support workers are aware of the difficulties faced by children who have been exposed to domestic violence, but awareness is not enough. Refuges need some of their funding to be specifically allocated for supporting children, otherwise the support they do offer will be underfunded, unsupported and, frequently, unsustainable.

3.Crisis management-focused funding. Once the funding has been allocated and a family enters a refuge, the focus tends to be on crisis-management.

The majority of funding is, understandably, devoted to helping women out of immediate danger and the idea persists that helping the mother will automatically help her children. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account the fact that children are individuals with their own set of needs. Most refuges find that there is very little funding available for the psychological and physical issues many child survivors of domestic violence face.

Most funding goes to women. Despite the fact that 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, there are very few refuge places available for men and many survivors are forced to declare themselves homeless in order to find accommodation.

This means that a father fleeing an abusive home is usually unable to take his children with him. As most women’s refuges cannot accept boys over the age of 12 (the point at which many boys begin to ‘present’ as men), many women are forced to leave their pre-teen and teenage sons behind, either with family or, sometimes, the abuser.

This lack of support means that fewer children enter refuges than the numbers actually needing help, skewing figures on how much funding is needed and how widespread the problem is.

With this in mind, Hestia is launching a new campaign, Hidden Child, aimed at improving services for children and lobbying the government for more funding and acknowledgement of the problem. If you wish to support Hestia’s Hidden Child campaign please consider doing the following:

Making a donation and sign the Hidden Child petition, or emailing your MP, asking them to support the campaign here.

Twisting Amnesty’s proposal to decriminalize sex workers


Demonstration against criminalization of clients of sex workers in Glasgow in 2013. Organized by Sex Worker Open University. by Jannica Honey

Why are we still confused by the idea that sex workers have human rights? asks Beulah Devaney.

This week Amnesty International is holding its international council meeting in Dublin. On Friday it will discuss a proposal that has garnered headlines, editorials, counter-editorials, petitions, counter-petitions and the attention of Meryl Streep: should sex work be decriminalized?

In this case, ‘decriminalization’ is not the same as legalization and it does not mean that every aspect of the sex trade should be decriminalized. Amnesty is clear that it still believes that human trafficking, child rape and other harmful activities should remain illegal and offenders should be punished by the state. What Amnesty is calling for is that no person, adult or minor, should be punished for selling their own sexual services and that the state should not punish those who purchase sexual services.

This draft proposal has included 2 years of consultations with experts at various UN agencies, including the World Health Organization and, most importantly, actual sex workers. It has also included close examination of countries like Sweden where it is currently not illegal to sell sex, but it is illegal to buy or facilitate the buying of sex. Motivated by its findings, Amnesty is proposing that decriminalization is one of many ways the organization can advocate for sex workers’ human rights.

Unfortunately not everyone agrees that this human rights organization should concern itself with the human rights of sex workers. A recent editorial in the Guardian suggested that Amnesty is ‘poised to make a serious mistake’ and that the proposal is ‘a distraction from Amnesty’s core mission’. A number of high-profile feminists in the Britain and the US have spoken out against the proposal and Hollywood has entered into the fray, with celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep claiming that the proposal would ‘legalize pimping’.

The reasons for this deliberate misunderstanding and twisting of Amnesty’s proposals are difficult to unpick, especially as opposition to decriminalization has united some unlikely political bedfellows. There are relatively few issues on which the Daily Mail, Kate Winslet and shock-hack Julie Bindel stand shoulder to shoulder, but this is one of them.

Bindel claims responsibility for ‘exposing’ Amnesty’s plan in the Daily Mail, and in an article for the Guardian she details all the ways decriminalization will hurt women. It would be a very compelling and shocking argument if it were true, but Bindel goes down the now-familiar route of implying that supporting sex workers is the same as supporting the sex trade. While Amnesty remains focused on fighting for sex workers’ human rights, the story being told is that Amnesty believes that sex is a human right.

So why is this the story being told?

Among the many voices condemning the proposals, the Guardian has done what few other newspapers have bothered to do: give sex workers a voice. ‘In this prostitution debate, listen to sex workers, not Hollywood stars’ wrote Molly Smith, a Scottish sex worker who debunks many of the inaccuracies surrounding Amnesty’s proposals. But the fact that Smith’s article was placed between Bindel’s self-aggrandizing scaremongering and the Guardian’s dismissive editorial makes it difficult to avoid concluding that sex workers, the main focus of the Amnesty report, are a secondary concern to the media.

After the publication of that Guardian editorial, Smith took to Twitter to explain the sense of betrayal that she felt at the decision to label decriminalization ‘a distraction’. It is not an unusual experience for sex workers to have to fight for their voices to be heard on issues affecting them, only to be left feeling betrayed by the mainstream media. The fact that many have applauded Amnesty for consulting with sex workers shows that such inclusion is still relatively rare.

The consistent exclusion of sex workers by both the mainstream media and anti-sex worker activists is the reason that Amnesty’s proposals have been so deliberately misinterpreted. There is puritanism at the heart of most mainstream, Western feminism. High-profile feminists do a great deal to shape the discussion around women’s rights and they are currently showing their bias. For many, there is a sense that sex workers have somehow betrayed the sisterhood.

The same writers who claim that sex work victimizes women are apparently unable to see that the people they are so quick to label as ‘victims’ also have human rights that need protecting. In their proposals Amnesty highlighted that many sex workers sell their sexual services through economic necessity. This is a concept that many campaigns skim over when talking about the evils of sex work, preferring to see sex workers as either victims or in league with human traffickers and pimps.

For many followers of the debate around decriminalization, this wilful misreading of Amnesty’s intentions has not come as a surprise. Until we follow Amnesty’s lead and give sex workers the respect and the platforms they need to advocate for themselves, there will always be people willing to dismiss the concept of sex workers’ human rights as ‘a distraction’.

Why are NGOs so reluctant to help Greece?


Stefanie Eisenschenk under a Creative Commons Licence

‘She was in her 60s,’ Eric Kempson explains. ‘Her son had died in a house fire, he was a schoolteacher, and she had his wife with her, her elderly husband, and a baby. So I put them in my car and drove down to the refugee centre at Moira. Then I went back for the husband because there hadn’t been room for him in the car. And he told me the story again. “My son was a schoolteacher; he was killed in a house fire”.’

Kempson is a woodcarver living in the Molvos region of Lesvos, a Greek island currently inundated by refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. He has lived there since 1999 and explains that the island has always been a popular destination for refugees, ‘but they used to be young Afghan men; now they’re women and children, old people, mainly from Syria’.

Lesvos’ immigration problem cannot be overstated. A recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that Greece has more seaborne immigrants than any other EU country, with 68,000 new arrivals in the first half of 2015. On 9 July, a BBC report found that 15,000 of those immigrants entered Greece through Lesvos, with over 1,600 arrivals in one day.

Lesvos’ popularity is due to its location in the northeastern Aegean Sea, a relatively short sea voyage from Turkey. The UNHCR reports that 90% of the immigrants arriving in Greece have travelled through Turkey from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Once they arrive on Lesvos, the refugees must undertake a 40-kilometre walk across the island to Moira, the site of Lesvos’ only reception centre.

Here, the new arrivals receive papers that will allow them to stay in Greece for 1-6 months. They are also given shelter and food, although the centre is stretched so thin that the shelter is often a tent on an abandoned racetrack and the food is provided by the locals.

Lesvos has a population of only 86,000 and residents report feeling overwhelmed by the situation. Kempson is one of many locals who regularly travel up to the north of Lesvos to help those refugees who cannot undertake the 40-kilometre journey. He tries to prioritize the sick and the elderly but, after completing the deadly Mediterranean crossing, hardly anyone is in good shape.

There is a palpable anger among the residents of Lesvos.

This isn’t directed towards the refugees, whose presence on the island has done a certain amount of damage to its tourism trade, but towards the NGOs in charge of monitoring the island.

Giorgos Tirikos-Ergas is a co-founder of Angalia, a small Lesvos-based NGO that was founded to support the growing number of refugees.

‘I knew that things had got really bad when I realized that all the great, international NGOs were monitoring us,’ he explains, ‘but we [the island residents] were still the ones responsible for dealing with this mess.’

Kempson pulls even fewer punches when detailing the support that international aid agencies have offered: ‘The UNHCR disgust me,’ he growls. ‘They have watched people suffer and suffer and suffer and they have turned it into a publicity stunt.’

The UNHCR* has released numerous reports on the rising number of immigrants in Lesvos, but unfortunately, its concern does not appear to take the form of physical help.

Kempson works closely with the local Facebook group Help for refugees in Molyvos and he recounts a day spent cleaning out toilets at the Kara Tepe refugee camp.

The toilets had not been cleaned for two months and volunteers were doing what they could with wheelie bins and bleach. Kempson found UNHCR representatives taking selfies in front of the toilets; when asked if they were going to help with the cleaning, the representatives left.

One Syrian refugee has likened the smell of the camp to the smell of the dead bodies he saw in Syria, but there is still no official UNHCR presence and the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rapid response team took weeks to arrive.

A recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that Greece has more seaborne immigrants than any other EU country, with 68,000 new arrivals in the first half of 2015

Kempson’s anger at these organizations is palpable, but it would be easier to understand the UNHCR’s actions if its numerous reports, appeals and press conferences had had a positive impact on the support being offered to Lesvos.

Some international NGOs do have a presence on the island: MSF recently offered a bus to ferry vulnerable refugees down to Mytilene (close to the refugee centre) and Amnesty International has released a report on the crisis which urged the European Union (EU) to rethink its current refugee relocation strategy.

These exceptions notwithstanding, international NGOs appear to have followed UNHCR’s example and taken on the role of passive observers.

Of 12 international refugee NGOs I contacted for this article, only 8 responded: 4 issued blanket denials of responsibility and 3 stated, off the record, that they weren’t interested in helping Greece.

Oxfam alone agreed to be quoted, saying that ‘while we understand that many in Greece are in difficulty, the sort of financial support these people need is not within Oxfam’s remit. Therefore we do not currently have plans to operate in Greece.’ The ‘financial support’ mentioned here is currently being offered in Italy by Oxfam Italia.

Over 60% of the refugees on Lesvos come from Syria: a country embroiled in a civil war that has displaced over 7.6 million people, according to the United Nations.

Many NGOs have, understandably, concentrated their efforts on Syria, with further work being done in other source countries such as Iraq and Somalia. However, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, refugees have been migrating through Turkey towards Greece, and with the temporary axing of Italy’s Mediterranean search and rescue programme, the plunging Greek economy and the Syrian war entering its fifth year, it is unsurprising that the crisis has got worse.

Rather than adapt to this rapidly evolving crisis, the NGOs prefer to lay responsibility at the EU’s door: ‘The EU continues to bear collective responsibility for the welfare of migrants seeking entry and asylum in the EU via Greece,’ says Oxfam. ‘The EU must show solidarity for all people left more vulnerable by the Greek crisis, both Greek citizens in need of assistance and the migrants pushed to their borders by conflict, rights abuses and inequality.’

This seems to be the prevailing attitude. It is a form of bureaucratic buck-passing that does not account for the fact that the EU has failed to support the refugees of Lesvos and was recently called on by the UN to do more. Holding back and waiting for government intervention seems counterintuitive for a set of organizations that are, in theory, non-partisan. Still, despite this escalation of need in European countries bordering the Mediterranean, NGOs are still happy to use Greece’s EU membership as a reason to avoid offering aid.

Greece’s geography may be working against the citizens of Lesvos as well, but it is also acting as a screen for the difficulty many NGOs have when it comes to categorizing Greece.

‘Due to donor pressure they [NGOs] are increasingly forced to respond with a discrete project with x number of deliverable outcomes. They reach out to us, too, in this way – “your $50 will buy mosquito nets for a family of four”,’ writes Dinyar Godrej on NGOs’ antics.

NGOs working in Greece could quantify the help they offer, but the fact remains that for many potential donors, Greece is not a country in need. The general view appears to be that yes, refugees are living in tents, with limited medical assistance, reliant on Greek citizens for food, but at least they’re not in Syria any more.

This thinking is flawed and ignores issues around human trafficking, hygiene, post-traumatic stress and various other risk factors.

For now, it appears that the people of Lesvos are on their own. The island’s geography has made it a prime destination for refugees crossing the Mediterranean and Greece’s membership of the EU allows international NGOs to justify withholding aid.

Residents are left in the precarious position of attempting to support thousands of refugees while maintaining the island’s struggling infrastructure. Meanwhile, international observers are left wondering: how bad do conditions in Lesvos need to be before refugee aid agencies stop hiding behind the EU and start rolling up their sleeves?

*The UNHCR were asked to comment but declined.

For more information, read our December issue on NGOs.

Europe’s racist policing problem


Clouds cover the sky over Schilderswijk, in The Hague, where riots have been occuring since the death of Mitch Henriquez 27 June, 2015. Walter Watzpatzkowski under a Creative Commons Licence

On Saturday 27 June, police in The Hague arrested 42-year-old tourist Mitch Henriquez. Henriquez, who was born on the Dutch-Caribbean island of Aruba, was visiting the city’s Night at the Park festival. The statement released by the public prosecutor claimed that he told police he had a gun and then resisted arrest. This prompted 5 police officers to beat Henriquez until he was unconscious.

Henriquez did not have a gun, and he died in hospital on Sunday as a result of the injuries he sustained while being arrested. On Wednesday the preliminary autopsy results were announced: Henriquez died from lack of oxygen. The prosecutor, Kitty Nooy, stated that ‘it is likely that lack of oxygen is a result of the police action. No other explanation has been found... No natural causes were found for his death.’ Nooy went on to confirm that Henriquez had not been using drugs and was not drunk.

In the aftermath of Henriquez’ death the Dutch public prosecution department claimed that Henriquez had become ill once he was inside the van. This was contradicted by numerous videos filmed by passers-by. One video shows officers holding Henriquez down while he was clearly unconscious and then attempting to pull him into a sitting position when the van arrived. No efforts were made to check his vital signs and the police seemed more concerned with making it look like he was ok; dragging Henriquez to his feet at one point, only to see him collapse back towards the ground.

The news of Henriquez’s death and the subsequent attempts by the police to cover their tracks sparked widespread protests both on and offline. Monday and Tuesday saw hundreds of protesters marching through The Hague carrying signs demanding ‘Stop Police Brutality’. Eventually riot police were sent in to control the crowds, with 16 arrests on Monday and 11 more on Tuesday. This time they managed to avoid beating anyone to death.

Meanwhile, #MitchHenriquez was trending on Twitter and social networks were thick with eyewitnesses contradicting the public prosecutor’s statement and demanding justice for Henriquez. Henriquez’s death has, inevitably, been compared with racially-motivated police brutality in the US. Yet every Dutch media outlet reporting on the case is followed by comments vigorously denying comparisons between the holidaymaker’s death and similar deaths in the US. In Western Europe we do not like comparisons between our own police brutality and police brutality in the US. In the US, people of colour are regularly killed by police. In Western Europe, the suggestion is that we just have the occasional, unavoidable, tragedy. We are used to seeing our police officers held up as examples of what good policing can look like.

All of which makes this feel even more like a US crime. Henriquez’s death feels like the kind of police brutality that killed Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and many other African Americans over the last two years. Henriquez was not black but he was a man of colour in a country that historically has an uneasy relationship with race. He was unarmed. He was blamed for his own death, for saying he had a gun (there is no evidence he actually made this claim). There were inept attempts to disguise the reason for his death.

Experts have laid out the reasons why the US seems to be more susceptible to police brutality, but these conditions also exist in Europe; a continent with a long and troubled history of policing people of colour. Protests at racially-motivated police brutality have erupted in Sweden, France, Norway, the UK, and Germany in recent years. In short: every Western European country has blood on its hands but we’re still acting as if this is a US problem.

The police officers involved in Henriquez’s death have all been suspended and are official suspects in his death, while police chief Paul van Musscher heaps insult onto injury by saying that he assumes their intervention was well-intentioned, but ‘something went wrong’. The lack of international media interest in Henriquez’s death suggests that this will not be a defining moment in the way Western Europe, or even the Netherlands, views police brutality. It is, however, worth asking: will we remember Mitch Henriquez’s name in a few years’ time? Or will we still be talking about how racially-motivated police brutality is a US problem?

Why China should host the 2019 World Dog Show


yeowatzup under a Creative Commons Licence

The Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival has been attracting criticism ever since its inauguration in 2009, but this year, protests have been especially vocal.

Dog-lovers condemned the festival’s plan to eat up to 15,000 dogs in celebration of the summer solstice. Animal rights activists responded by pointing out that the dog lovers are hypocrites, as most of them eat factory-farmed animals every day.

In turn, this has led to accusations from other parties that the animal-rights activists are hypocrites for caring about factory-farmed animals, while wearing clothes made in sweatshops.

In fact, the only people who seem to have dodged the hypocrite label are the organizers of the actual festival, who have been fairly straightforward about their plans to eat, and keep eating, a lot of dogs.

The cruelty surrounding the Dog Meat Festival is undeniable. Activists report that the dogs eaten at the festival were often stolen family pets, shipped for hundreds of miles in cramped conditions and frequently skinned or boiled alive.

Despite the festival ending on Monday, 22 June, the outrage has not disappeared and a petition to stop China hosting the 2019 World Dog Show (WDS) gained 48,000 signatures in 3 days.

The International Canine Federation (FCI) has released a statement explaining that China will be hosting the show and that ‘the FCI sees it as an excellent opportunity to raise awareness among the Chinese population that the dog, our beloved friend, is a member of our families, a living entity and most of all, Man’s best Friend [sic]’.

If anything, this seems to have inflamed protesters further, with more than 10,000 signing the petition overnight and many claiming that it is hypocritical for China to host the festival. There’s that word again.

The FCI’s statement is patronizing at best and racist at worst (especially that suggestion that Chinese people need to be taught about compassion by enlightened Westerners), but they do make a valid point that China has as much right to host the WDS as any other country.

The protestors’ petition calls for a ‘more compassionate country’ to host the WDS, but where is this lovely sounding place?

Every single country capable of hosting the WDS has some record of animal cruelty: whether it’s the way stray cats and dogs are treated, lack of animal welfare laws or, yes, eating a lot of meat.

Between now and 2019, the countries due to host the WDS include Russia, a country without any animal welfare legislation and where the only form of dog control is mass poisonings by unqualified ‘dog hunters’, and Ecuador, where on the streets of its capital city Quito alone, there are estimated to be more than 190,000 stray dogs.

The Dog Meat Festival has helped fuel outrage over China’s successful bid but – wait for it –  it is hypocritical to condemn China while ignoring animal rights abuses in other host nations.

One thing noticeably missing from this debate has been proper acknowledgement of the fact that the Chinese authorities don’t condone the Dog Meat Festival, that Chinese animal rights activists were the first to protest the festival and that Chinese celebrities used their platforms to speak out against animal cruelty.

This was a local festival, confined to a relatively small part of China, but the majority of Western protesters have ignored all the support and solidarity they’ve received from Chinese people themselves.

In the West (and specifically in Britain, where this new petition originated) we are too quick to buy into the notion of China as a heartless, alien nation.

This blatant racism is reflected in the petition’s signatures: ‘We all know the cruel treatment dogs are given in China, absurd that a country like that is even considered!’; ‘After allowing the barbaric festival to carry on, we as a nation of dog lovers will not condone you hosting one of the biggest shows. Hypocrites, I think, is the word I am looking for’ and ‘U are a vile country full of vile people who ’ave no respect for animals.’

The above statements are taken from the top 5 most popular signatures on the petition, as voted for by other people who’ve signed it.

China should be allowed to host the 2019 World Dog Show.

They entered a successful bid, they have acknowledged their own failings when it comes to animal rights (both in the bid and since the festival), they are no better or worse than any other country lining up to host.

But, most importantly, we need to get over the idea that our racist misconceptions about China should be enough to take the WDS away from them. 

Who is Geert Wilders?

Who is Geert Wilders?

Geert Wilders (left), election debate circa 2006. Sebastiaan ter Burg, Netherlands under a Creative Commons Licence

Dutch rightwing politician Geert Wilders has announced his intention to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on television as part of a political broadcast in the Netherlands.

The cartoons are from a Prophet-drawing competition held in Texas, which Wilders attended and which was targeted by armed gunmen. Islamic tradition holds that any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous and many have read this as an attempt by Wilders to stir up religious tension in the Netherlands. The muted response here, however, gives an indication of how seriously (or not) Wilders is taken in his home country.

The terror threat to the Netherlands has not changed as a result of Wilders’ announcement, and the Dutch media has given relatively little column space to his latest stunt. Moderate Muslim groups have said that Wilders’ actions are a provocation but that, after over a decade of his political trolling, ‘we are no longer easy to offend.’

Wilders is a man with an image problem. While the rest of the world uneasily watches him attend anti-Islam rallies, form alliances with fascist rightwing groups and attempt to capitalize on European anti-Muslim rhetoric, his Dutch counterparts are still struggling to take him seriously.

As the founder and leader of the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid or PVV), Wilders is the parliamentary group leader of his party in the Dutch House of Representatives. Following the 2010 Dutch elections, PVV entered into an agreement to support the dominant parties in government but Wilders withdrew that support in 2012 after a disagreement over budget cuts.

This led to another House of Representatives election, in which Wilders and the PVV ran on a platform calling for the withdrawal of the Netherlands from the European Union (EU) and a return to the pre-Euro Dutch currency, the guilder. They won 10.1% of the vote and 15 seats in parliament, a loss of 9 seats from 2010. This loss was followed by another loss in the 2014 European Parliament elections, in which support for the PVV fell from 17% to 13% of the vote.

Wilders’ policies include a bid to record the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens; tracking the ethnicity of criminals; removal of resources from anti-climate change programmes, development aid and immigration services; closure of all Islamic schools; support for LGBT communities and women’s rights where he perceives that they are ‘challenged’ by Islam; withdrawal from the EU; binding assimilation contracts for immigrants; taxes on Islamic headscarves; and prohibition of the Qur’an.

This last, Wilders has been especially vocal about, comparing the holy text to Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf and calling it a ‘terrorist weapon’. This, and other inflammatory statements, have resulted in multiple death threats; since 2004 Wilders has had a 24-hours security detail.

Wilders has long styled himself as a champion of free speech and a fierce warrior against what he terms ‘the Islamification of the Netherlands’, but his reputation within his home country is that of a clown.

The PVV has lost votes in every election since 2010 and Wilders’ fellow politicians have denounced him as a ‘political coward’ and claimed he ‘lacks political will’ when it comes to handling the Dutch economy. Despite his extreme views, Wilders has attempted to cultivate a place in the middle ground, refusing to work with ‘the wrong fascist groups’ and describing himself as a rightwing liberal.

This definition has been largely ignored by the press, who have labelled him an extremist and a populist. Public support for his policies is also split, with 53% of the population dismissing them as ‘implausible’, a reaction similar to that of a parent kindly telling their son that he can’t fly to the moon in his sister’s Wendy House. Popularly known as ‘the most famous bleach blond since Marilyn Monroe’ because of his trademark peroxide haircut, the perception of Wilders is far removed from the image he craves as a crusader for free speech.

The parent/child analogy is a useful one for understanding Wilders’ motivations. Dutch society still retains affection for their blond bombshell. After Wilders’ recent trip to Texas, Dutch historian and highly respected opinion-maker Geert Mak, a member of the Dutch elite, spoke out against the way Dutch society has cosseted Wilders. Mak claimed that politicians and the media had allowed themselves to be bullied by anti-immigration rhetoric and that it was time to speak out against Wilders and the PVV.

As Wilders’ international profile grows, his reputation at home appears to be slipping even more. By showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on television Wilders runs the risk of reprisals from Islamic extremists, but he may also be able to improve his standing in the Netherlands.

For a man with Wilders’ white knight fantasies and victim complex (he has spoken out numerous times at the unfairness of the death threats against him) violent reprisals offer a fantastic opportunity to shore up support from his compatriots.

What can Mad Max tell us about water scarcity?

Death Valley National Park

Hollywood's location in drought-ridden California means water scarcity is an issue close to its heart. Fikret Onal under a Creative Commons Licence

The newly released Mad Max: Fury Road is the latest blockbuster to take place in a world without water.

Recent films about water scarcity include Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones, but Mad Max is a step further in Hollywood’s campaign to educate audiences about the world’s water crisis.

While much of the publicity around the film has focused on the fiercely feminist Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, or Tom Hardy’s ability to fill Mel Gibson’s dust-covered shoes, screenwriters George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris have clearly done their homework on how water scarcity will impact humankind.

NASA’s chief water expert Jay Famigletti has already declared that Mad Max offers a glimpse of our drought-stricken future and that the sweeping dust bowls of the film aren’t that far-removed from what California’s Death Valley will look like in 50 years’ time.

As California is far from the worst drought-afflicted area of the world (that honour goes to Somalia), let’s take a closer look at the film’s predictions.

Transnational companies will control the world’s water supply

In Mad Max, the water supply is controlled by an obsessive, violent despot named Imortan Joe, and it looks like he already has real-world counterparts.

As early as 2012, The Centre for Research on Globalization released a list of the world’s ‘Water Barons’, powerful men who were buying up water stocks.

Water is proving to be a good investment for transnational companies: water stocks have outperformed all other resource and commodities stocks over the last 15 years and a growing world population creates even more demand, especially with water scarcity already on the increase.

Investment companies in the Middle East have been encouraging clients to invest in water for decades and the recent outrage over Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water has done little to stop the company, which now owns 70 per cent of the world’s bottled water brands.

There will be a new class system

Just as Joe is able to pluck the best ‘breeding stock’ from his thirsty subjects and keep the crowd submissive via a massive tap in the side of his mountain fortress, those who control the water will be able to create a new power structure.

If a few transnational companies retain control of the world’s water, we will see a new class system emerge: those who have water and those who don’t. Which in turn leads to the fact that...

Water will become a way to demonstrate affluence

One of the most discussed scenes in Mad Max shows supermodels giving themselves a shower in the desert.

These are Imortan Joe’s best ‘breeding stock’ women, who have escaped and are the reason for the film’s multi-car, multi-mile desert chase. This, along with the first time Imortan Joe opens the tap, is a near-perfect encapsulation of the film’s ongoing narrative of water as wealth.

While in the current day money has traction for the things it can buy us, in a drought-stricken future, just having water, let alone being able to waste it, will be a symbol of affluence.

In a world without water our needs become limited to a very few basic things: hydration, nutrition, shelter.

Water will become a source of conflict

Famigletti points out that there are multiple ways drought may become a source of conflict in the future: from neighbours fighting over control of a well to businesses denying individuals access to water.

Water scarcity will also become a reason for migration: as large parts of the world are left without water, drought refugees will become increasingly common.

Drought-motivated migration is likely to become a source of conflict throughout the world, and the current situation in Yemen is evidence of that. Researchers estimate that 70-80 per cent of conflicts are a result of water shortages. A statistic which makes Max and Furiosa’s battles with Joe’s henchmen seem positively tame.

Hollywood will continue to play a role in the battle against water scarcity

Could humanity be saved by Hollywood’s location in the drought-ridden state of California?

Although its interest won’t save the world, there’s no doubt that having Hollywood on board helps activists battle water scarcity.

As Famigletti repeatedly mentions: the world of Mad Max was clearly inspired by California’s water-parched landscape. Awareness of the world’s water crisis is vital, especially in Western countries that may not, yet, be facing drought. By continuing to feature water as a coveted commodity, Hollywood has managed to bring the subject of drought to international attention.

Eight ways to help stop human trafficking in Nepal

Nepalese women and children

Nepalese women and children are vulnerable to human trafficking following the earthquakes. DFID under a Creative Commons Licence

Nepal has been struck by a second earthquake, just weeks after the Gorkha Earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and left 18,000 injured. This time, the earthquake reached 7.3 on the Richter scale, and was followed by 6 aftershocks. The Nepalese home ministry is reporting that at least another 900 people have been injured. As aid agencies renew their call for donations, the world’s media have swung into action with human interest stories and lists of the best charities to donate to. So far, however, little practical information has been made available on how to help prevent human trafficking, to which, in the wake of the earthquakes,  thousands of girls and young women are more vulnerable than ever. With this in mind, we have compiled 8 ways to help counteract human trafficking, both in Nepal and around the world:

1. Set up a small, regular donation, rather than a big one-off sum. In the aftermath of any natural disaster the human impulse is to donate to victims of the tragedy – but the impact of the Nepalese earthquakes will be felt long after donations dry up. Right now people are focusing on survival and it may take weeks or even months to realize the extent of the devastation. At this point the world’s attention will be elsewhere, along with relief efforts, and destitute families will be more vulnerable to traffickers wishing to buy children and pimp out women. Making a small, regular, donation can help counteract this.

2. If you are able to donate, keep an eye on where your money is going.
New Internationalist covered the problematic history of NGOs in its December 2014 issue and they are not always efficient in the way they distribute funding. You can keep an eye on how charities use your donations via websites like Charity Navigator, which already has a list of the best charities to donate re. Nepal.

3. Donate to anti-human trafficking charities already working within Nepal. Many charities have experience working with trafficked women and children but by donating to a charity already active in Nepal you ensure that local knowledge and skills are already in place. 3 Angels Nepal was started by Dr Rajendra Gautam. It is also active in campaigning to close the open borders between India and Nepal which leads us to...

4. Lobby the Indian government to tighten security along the India-Nepal border. Most of the women and children trafficked out of Nepal will be taken to India and without scrutiny their number is likely to increase dramatically. It’s not easy to police a 1,600-kilometre long border (especially as relief work leaves even fewer resources for patrols) but many charities working in the area are already lobbying the Indian government to do more.

5. Speaking of lobbying: make sure anti-trafficking measures are incorporated into future disaster plans. In 2014 The US Department of State identified Nepal as failing to meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act minimum standards for safeguarding potential trafficking victims. These are unlikely to be the only earthquakes Nepal experiences in 2015 and now, with the world’s eyes upon the country, is the time to start campaigning for safeguarding of potential victims to be written into all future disaster contingency plans.

6. Make sure sanitary products for women and girls are prioritized. According to the United Nations Population Fund at least 2 million girls and women of reproductive age were affected by the first Nepalese earthquake. Sanitary products are not always a high priority post-disaster but they are vital for ensuring that women can help with the relief efforts and are not left even more vulnerable to traffickers who will often use women’s sanitary needs as leverage to build a relationship. For more details on women’s charities supplying sanitary products take a look at the Global Fund for Women.

7. Scrutinize attempts to adopt orphaned children. In the wake of the first earthquake in Nepal the Israeli government evacuated 26 babies who had been recently born to Nepalese mothers, but left the mothers themselves behind. This has caused varying levels of outrage but setting aside the legal and ethical sides to this argument: adoption and removal of vulnerable children from a disaster zone should be discouraged. Traffickers will frequently use bogus adoption agencies to traffic children and a surge in Western adoption requests will help normalize the removal of children from Nepal.

8. Continue to raise awareness. Once the world’s attention is elsewhere the trafficking of vulnerable people will begin in earnest. To help create continued awareness of the situation in Nepal, build it into your local community. Have a regular fundraising drives at your school or office and support campaigns in the impacted country (in this case, tighter border control and closer monitoring of adoption procedures). Tiny Hands, an anti-trafficking charity working in Nepal, has further suggestions for how individuals can raise awareness and funds.


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