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new internationalist
issue 257 - July 1994



Hidden hostage
Palestinian woman lost in Lebanese prison

Khiam prison does not exist. Despite the 200-odd prisoners and despite the fact that you can see it for yourself – or could if you were allowed into the occupied area of South Lebanon – it is not a prison and no-one is held there.

The myth must be particularly bitter to Kifah Subhi Afifi who has spent the last six years incarcerated in Khiam. She was 17 when she was captured along with members of a Palestinian commando group in the Israeli security zone. Three of her brothers had been killed and the family home destroyed in the Palestinian camp of Shatila in southern Beirut.

She was taken across the border for interrogation in Israel and spent two months in an Israeli prison before being transferred to Khiam.

She is denied visitors, letters, radio, newspapers – any access to the outside world, including the International Red Cross. The last news her mother had of her was from five Lebanese women who were released at the beginning of last year. No-one knows how she is or when she is likely to be freed. And yet she has never been tried or sentenced.

Kifah is one of the handful of women now held in Khiam. Amnesty International has documented the appalling conditions and routine torture that occur there. Children as young as 12 have been imprisoned. Close relatives are tortured in the hearing of prisoners to persuade them to confess. There is torture by electric shock treatment, beating with electric cables and deprivation of food and sleep.

The prison at Khiam is under the control of the South Lebanon Army, which in turn is controlled by the Israelis. Kifah was taken to an Israeli prison when she was first captured, then transferred to Khiam where she has been ever since. The Israeli Government has strongly hinted that prisoners will not be released until four Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon – two since 1982 and one, Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down in 1986 – have been released.

The recent raid into the heart of Lebanon to capture Mustafa Dirani, presumed to know the whereabouts of Ron Arad, show their determination to go to any lengths to secure the soldiers’ release.

Kifah is effectively a hostage with little hope of ever going home.

Nikki van der Gaag

If you would like to support Kifah and others in Khiam, contact Amnesty International, which has a report on the prison and is campaigning to get Israel and the South Lebanon Army to clarify the basis on which the prisoners are being held. Amnesty International’s address is 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ, UK. Tel: (0)71-413-5500.

Sick trade

Sick trade
When seven-year-old Rizwan in Pakistan developed swollen lips and a painful rash in his throat, a chocolate bar was identified as the cause. The allergic reaction came not from the chocolate itself but from ink on the wrapper. The chocolate had been locally manufactured but was wrapped in paper imported as scrap from Germany. Most European countries ban the export of such scrap and say it should be recycled or destroyed. But a change in Pakistan regulations two years ago to encourage free trade allows such sub-standard wrappers to be imported as scrap. The profits are high. A Pakistan importer can buy a tonne of plastic scrap for as little as $100 and sell it to local manufacturers for 10 times as much. The scrap is used to package not only food but also medicines. A businessman in Lahore said he recently sold five tonnes of scrap metallized paper to a local medicine factory to pack oral rehydration salts.

Utusan Konsumer, Malaysia, No 295



Ships of shame
Seafarers’ safety sacrificed

If airlines were operated as shamefully as shipping, aircraft would be dropping on cities every day.

But when ‘flag of convenience’ vessels sink with the loss of all hands there is barely a ripple of reaction unless pollution comes ashore or passengers are drowned. And then it is those seafarers who barely get a mention if a ship is lost who are made scapegoats for shortcomings that are beyond their control and for which they often pay with their lives.

Ships that fly ‘flags of convenience’ – which allow their owners to avoid international shipping regulations – now account for 34 per cent of the world fleet but 60 per cent of all accidents. Fleets sailing under the most ‘convenient’ flags have the worst safety record. Panama, one of the most convenient of all, has a record 10 times worse than the UK.

Human error accounts for about 80 per cent of all marine casualties. Yet for the past two decades cost cutting has been aimed at crews. Commercial shipping companies rely increasingly on cheapjack practices, regulation avoidance and the exploitation of poorly trained, poorly paid seafarers from poverty-stricken countries.

The benefits of technological aids to safety have been largely negated – the best ship in the world is not safe when in the hands of an ill-trained crew. Added to inadequate training, seafarers are expected to work excessive hours – government statistics show, for example, that UK seafarers work longer hours than any other group of workers.

The age of ships is also a growing problem, especially in the case of large bulk carriers. They have a structurally vulnerable design and many have sunk without trace, usually well away from land and scarcely noticed except by those closely involved. Even when lost with all hands a proper inquiry into the sinking of a ‘flag of convenience’ ship is unlikely.

If governments were genuinely concerned about safety they would take proper responsibility for their own ships and seafarers by flying their own flag. Quality crewing and good seamanship are undoubtedly the main factors in improving ship safety. But with a possible worldwide shortage of 750,000 seafarers by the end of the century it is highly unlikely that sufficient quality recruits will be available.

Why do governments not make mandatory a ‘black box’ recording device similar to that used in aircraft? Perhaps the truth about some mystery losses – especially of huge bulk carriers – would prove too shameful. It can only be a matter of time before the growing number of marine disasters and pollution incidents bring to light the disgraceful state of the world’s shipping policies.

Captain Tearre Scarrott



Airports vs drains
US business gets embargo lifted

Nineteen years have gone by since the Americans were defeated in Vietnam and helicopters ignominiously lifted those remaining off the roof of the Embassy in Saigon on 30 April 1975.

Ever since then the US Government has been having its revenge by maintaining its strict wartime blockade – no trade either way – and working in the corridors of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to stop Vietnam receiving any development loans.

President Clinton has now lifted the embargo – but not by reason of US repentance or out of charitable forgiveness. In the ruthless jungle of the international business world US-based multinational companies have been missing the boat while their Japanese and European rivals have set up offices and built factories in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – wages in Vietnam are even lower than in China.

So giant firms like Boeing, United Airlines, United Technologies, Chevron, Exxon and Philips Petroleum set up the US-Vietnam Trade Council to persuade President Clinton to end the blockade. There are now huge contracts to build offices, hotels and airports, to exploit offshore oilfields and set up communications systems. There are hopes, too, of loans from the World Bank to repair battered infrastructure though there is no decision yet on which will come first, motorways and airports or water supply and drains.

No doubt the crude statistics of ‘gross domestic product’ in Vietnam will increase. But will there be more artificial limbs for those who have lost theirs in a minefield, or adequate care for those born deformed by herbicides?

Will the multinationals snip something off their dividends to build schools and hospitals as well as offices and hotels? That remains to be seen.

David Pitt

Country count
How many countries are there in the world? The United Nations has 184 member states, but 185 are part of the international postal union. If you count telephone ‘country codes’ for international calls you find 182 countries. The International Olympic Committee, however, has 186 members. Meanwhile the British reference book Statesman’s Yearbook listed 194 countries and Coca-Cola claims that it is sold in 195.

Przelglad Tygodniowy, Poland, Jan 1994

East Timor – 200,000 crosses
A temporary mural by Joyce Changes, Michael Greenlaw and Paul Grimes of Artists for Justice and Peace was mounted outside St John’s Church on Princes Street in the centre of Edinburgh during April. It is the 50th in a series that spans 12 years. Paul Grimes writes: ‘The Church wanted a mural with a cross on it to coincide with Easter. I was resistant at first but Canon Neville Chamberlain pointed out that John Pilger’s article in the New Internationalist is titled “East Timor, land of crosses”, so we painted 200 small black crosses and added “x 1,000”.

My hope is that more exposure of this kind will help bring the issue under greater international scrutiny and the people of East Timor will receive the assistance that we would demand, given the grave circumstances.’

Canon Neville Chamberlain reports that between a quarter- and half-a-million people will have seen the poster and it has created considerable interest among passers-by. You can contact Artists for Justice and Peace on (31) 659 6754.



Si... but
Nicaraguan scheme falters

PLANS to create a model 'sustainable development' region along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border are in jeopardy because of an influx of refugees following the end of the Contra war in 1990 and signs that logging may restart in the area.

The SI-A-PAZ ('Yes to Peace') project was launched by governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 1988 to help marry the long-term economic needs of small farmers while at the same time protecting the area's rich tropical rainforest.

But six years later there is precious little to show for the plan. Evidence emerged in October 1993 that IRENA, Nicaragua's environment department, recommended a large-scale concession be granted to a Korean timber firm to operate within the project area. If this goes ahead efforts to achieve sustainable development might be undermined irrevocably.

The SI-A-PAZ project covers a total area of 12,700 square kilometres, most of it in south-east Nicaragua. It is divided into roughly three zones. There is an area of sparse human settlement mainly in the north and west. To the east near the Caribbean coast lies the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve - 2,500 square kilometres of virgin forest. The forested area in between has, until now, seen only limited settlement, farming and timber extraction and is designated a 'buffer zone' for the reserve under the SI-A-PAZ scheme.

The project aims to foster better farming methods on land that has already been cleared and to break the cycle by which farmers move to a new plot every few years because the cultivated soil is exhausted and eroded.

'We are trying to link traditional subsistence production methods with new agro-forestry techniques, so that at the same time as improving the environment, families can improve the quality and security of their diet,' explained Emilio Prado, regional director of CIPRES, a Nicaraguan NGO which is trying to win farmers over to using new cover crops and legumes that help conserve and enrich the soil.

Interest in the new techniques has grown among the small producers but unfortunately so has the scale of the problem.

Since the end of the war the forest has been overwhelmed by subsistence farmers driven into the region by poverty, un-employment and landlessness. They quickly cleared plots on unclaimed land and began cultivating in the old ways. Virtually all the remaining land in the eastern zone was taken up and by 1993 settlers had set fires all over the buffer zone.

Winning the trust of all these new settlers and persuading them of the value of the SI-A- PAZ project are daunting tasks for the NGOs. If the Nicaraguan Government now starts bowing to logging pressures NGOs fear it will have symbolic as well as practical significance. The forest will be further depleted and government commitment to SI-A-PAZ will be seen to diminish. If the state does not seem to value the project, how much harder will it become to gain the support of poor farmers?

Roger Few

Where there's smoke

Where there’s smoke...
Philip Morris, the giant food and tobacco corporation, has come under fire from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has found evidence that it has been spiking its cigarettes with nicotine to keep smokers addicted. A search by Ethical Consumer showed up other aberrations that were apparently of no concern to the FDA. These include: traces of the pesticide Lindane found in its chocolate bars – Lindane has been banned in at least six countries because of its health effects on plantation workers including rashes, vomiting, breathing difficulties and possibly cancer; using ‘clever gimmicks’ on Malaysian television which bans tobacco adverts, such as advertising trips to ‘Marlboro Country’ which are identical to adverts shown elsewhere minus the cigarettes; giving $124,650 to Republican and Democrat National Committees in 1991; conducting smoking tests on animals; owning shrimp ponds in Ecuador – an industry blamed for the decline of wild shrimp fisheries, polluting water and the destruction of mangrove forests worldwide; aiming tobacco advertising at children...The list goes on.

The Ethical Consumer, Issue 29


‘To sin by silence
When they should protest
Makes cowards
Out of consumers’

Abraham Lincoln

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New Internationalist issue 257 magazine cover This article is from the July 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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