Lending a hand
Big banks fund arms deals
Early last year the Co-operative Bank launched an advertising campaign targeted at the arms trade. The advert pictured a Valmara 69 mine and stated: ‘Between 1981 and 1990 certain banks used hundreds of millions of pounds of their customers’ money to finance the supply of arms to both Iran and Iraq.’ The mine was built by the Italian company, Valsella, and shipped to Iraq via Singapore before being defused by the Mines Advisory Group in Northern Iraq.
The problems began for the Co-operative Bank when the Midland Bank, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, objected to ‘the implication that the four largest high-street banks financed the supply of these landmines and other weapons’. The complaint went to the Advertising Standards Authority for adjudication.
The Co-op Bank used the 1996 Scott Report, which investigated allegations that UK businesses had sold arms to Iraq during an arms embargo, to substantiate their claim that international banks are deeply involved in funding the arms business. The Co-op Bank also made some investigations of its own, which momentarily exposed an international web of financial intrigue.
Two of the Midland Bank’s most prominent customers were found to be the arms companies Allivane International Limited and Astra Holdings. Both supplied munitions to Iraq. The Scott Report described Allivane as a company that ‘between 1985 and 1989 was engaged in very substantial exports of munitions from its place of business in Scotland to a number of countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Austria’.
Lloyds Bank provided a letter of credit to Rexon Technologies Corporation, which supplied ammunition and manufacturing technologies to Iraq.
The funding of landmines was found to extend beyond British high-street banks. The Co-op Bank told the Advertising Standards Authority that the largest landmine deal ever completed involved the Italian-based Banco Nacional de Lavoro (BNL). In 1986 Valsella shipped nine million anti-personnel mines to Iraq. The landmines were manufactured with a loan from BNL.
In the end the ethical stance of the Co-operative Bank paid off. The complaint was rejected and the favourable adjudication allowed the Co-op to turn the tables on their rivals. The Managing Director of the Co-operative Bank, Terry Thomas, wrote to all the rival international banks requesting that they ‘put commercial rivalry to one side in the name of humanity and sign a declaration to help end the worldwide financing of landmines’.
BETTY PRESS / PANOS
Donations of useless drugs are blighting international aid and disaster-relief efforts, says a report by the Dutch group Health Action International. Most of these donations, often made by the manufacturers, are not requested. In many cases the drugs are obsolete or of no use in the recipient country, which is then saddled with the cost of disposing of them. For instance, appetite stimulants have turned up in famine-hit Sudan and indigestion tablets have been shipped to Rwanda. In the former Yugoslavia incinerators are now being built to destroy useless drugs that accumulated during the four-year conflict. One important reason for the persistence of inappropriate drug donations is that governments offer tax incentives to companies donating medicines.
Source: New Scientist No 2064
A government anti-pollution campaign along the Huaihe river in China has forced the closure of 1,000 small paper mills. Explosives and oxy-acetylene torches are used to dismantle the mills and prevent reassembly elsewhere.
Source: Pan Xiaoying, Gemini
PETER BARKER / PANOS
Malawi, the largest country in the world with no television service, has finally decided to launch its own station. There are few television sets in Malawi. Those wealthy enough to own televisions use them to watch satellite TV from South Africa, or imported videos. The Thomson Foundation, a media-training organization, is currently training the new station’s staff. The Commonwealth Media Development Fund will provide the initial finance for the project.
Source: Newslink Africa
‘For showing excessive joy at the birth of your ninth child, you are sentenced to six months’ imprisonment,’ ruled Judge Alhaji Garba Tanko. With this extraordinary judgement, civil servant Malam Sadiq Umar became the first victim of a controversial new by-law in Birnin Kebbi, north-eastern Nigeria. The law limits the value and number of gifts that can be exchanged at births and weddings. Council chairman Alhaji Muhammadu Nata’ala Dandare hopes it will prevent eligible men and women from being priced out of the marriage market: ‘We are worried by the number of marriageable boys and girls who are scared of marriage because of the ostentatious display of wealth associated with such ceremonies.’ Besides stiff penalties for over-celebrating, a fine or three months’ imprisonment can be imposed for failing to report an offender.
Source: Celestine Okonkwo, Gemini
Van Gujar people protect lifestyle in India
Despite the setbacks suffered by many pastoral nomads in India in recent years, one nomadic community has achieved some significant gains. The Van Gujars are a nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoral people who spend the winter months in forests near the cities of Dehradun and Hardwar. In the summer they move to the Himalayas in search of green pastures for their buffaloes, returning to the plains only with the onset of winter.
Forest officials have frequently complained that the Van Gujar lifestyle is injurious to forests and wildlife. The Van Gujars disagree, arguing that their lopping and grazing practices take adequate care of forests.
When the government decided to turn their winter forest home into the Rajaji National Park, they were told to leave the park area and move to a specified resettlement place. Predictably this failed to provide for any of their needs. In fact the aim seemed to be to make the Van Gujars give up their nomadic habits.
The situation came to a head four years ago when the Van Gujars, returning from their summer migration to the hills, were prevented from entering the forests by police. Their buffaloes, unable to forage for food in the forests, perished in large numbers.
At this stage Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) stepped in to help the Van Gujars. There were several protest demonstrations, which were supported by the media, and the Van Gujars managed to hang on precariously to their forest abodes.
Then RLEK launched an ambitious literacy programme – in the past the Van Gujars had been almost entirely left out of adult-literacy initiatives. Impressed by RLEK’s plan, the education ministry extended its full support to the programme. Soon it gained recognition as one of the most innovative and colourful literacy programmes in the country. Teachers stayed in the forests, and some even travelled to the Himalayan heights with their pupils in the summer. Conversely, some teachers were selected from the mountains and accompanied the Van Gujars down to the plains in the winter. Special literacy melas (fairs) were organized where colourfully dressed Van Gujar men and women came in large numbers to demonstrate their newly acquired skills.
The literacy programme was followed by health and veterinary-care programmes and a project to help the Van Gujars obtain a better price for their buffalo milk. They began to vote for the first time, and now some of them are standing for – even winning – village-council elections. Their biggest victory will come when a plan to give the management of a part of the park to them is accepted. Forest officials have praised the plan and have even offered to provide training.
Avdhesh Kaushal, Chairperson of RLEK, says: ‘Now the real challenge is to show at ground level that the Van Gujars are able to manage the park in such a way that protects their livelihood, but is in harmony with the forest and wildlife. We feel confident that it can be done.’
When Augustin Linares was shot in November in a small town near Mexico City, he became the 148th member of Mexico’s opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to be murdered in the last two years. Since 1988, 447 PRD activists have been killed – proof that political opposition is a matter of life and death in Mexico.
Source: World Press Review
Don’t drink me
Talking pesticide containers may soon alert users to important safety information. So far, two prototypes have been developed for the US Environmental Protection Agency, one for household and one for agricultural use. In the design for household use, a round chip is inserted in the lid of the container. For agricultural pesticides, a chip the size of a playing card is attached to the product’s instruction booklet. The chips are not intended to replace written instructions, but to warn the user to read the label carefully.
Source: New Scientist No 2066
Spirit of forgiveness
Malagasy people mark uprising
ALAIN LE GARSMEUR / PANOS
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of an uprising in Madagascar in which 100,000 people died. There is little record of these events in the history books of the North, but the Malagasy people remember well enough. With the help of the charity Azafady they are planting one tree for each of the dead. An album, Son Egal by the Malagasy band Tarika, is being released to promote reconciliation with the Senegalese people whose troops were pitted by the French against the Malagasy.
The story that culminated in the uprising of 1947 began many years earlier with a colonial deal. In 1890 France recognized British claims to Zanzibar in return for British recognition of Madagascar as a French protectorate. During the French occupation that followed there were many casualties on both sides until finally, in February 1897, Queen Ranavalona III was exiled to the French island-colony of Réunion.
By 1947 Malagasy nationalist resistance had grown into open rebellion. On the evening of 29 March thousands of rebels, armed with a few guns and spears, attacked military posts, government headquarters and the French population throughout the country. They cut rail links and created havoc as best they could. The French used troops from Senegal, west Africa, to suppress the uprising. Fighting continued for two years until, in March 1949, the last of the rebels surrendered.
The fact that there had been white deaths in the early part of this uprising meant that the reprisals by the French were harsh. Many thousands of people fled into the forests and died from starvation or disease. Twenty of the military chiefs who led the revolt were executed by firing squad. Six civilians were sentenced to death, eight to forced labour for life and two to life imprisonment. The death sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.
Madagascar remained a French colony until 1960 when after fighting, strikes and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, France finally gave back their county to the Malagasy people.
On 29 March the Malagasy people stay at home, usually listening to songs and poems of commemoration on the radio. My friend Hanitra told me: ‘There has been talk amongst the old fighters of doing some sort of getting together [this year] and telling the truth... You know, every year we take a day off and we mourn. Nothing else...’
Long live the spirit of forgiveness.
A.MCNAUGHTON / PANOS
Aboriginal children in Western Australia and Queensland are about 30 times more likely to be imprisoned than others. In some states in Australia, between 50 and 60 per cent of all children in custody are aboriginal, although they represent less than 4 per cent of the juvenile population. Aboriginal communities across Australia have repeatedly complained about continuing instances of juveniles being harassed, intimidated and ill-treated by police patrols for no apparent reason, particularly on weekend nights.
Source: Amnesty International Focus Vol 27 No 1
RON GILING / PANOS
The Indian Supreme Court has ordered 292 coal-based industries near the Taj Mahal to close down, pull out or switch to gas-based fuel by 30 April. In a strictly worded verdict, the court ruled that in the case of the Taj ‘not even a one per cent chance can be taken... as there is no doubt that the coal polluting industries have a dangerous effect on the heritage monument.’
Source: Down to Earth Vol 5 No 17
DAVID REED / PANOS
The Okavango River Delta in Botswana, a wildlife sanctuary that has so far been able to protect itself from the ravages of human intrusion, is currently under threat from the surrounding regions’ growing need for water. The river, which rises in the Angolan highlands and flows through the deserts of south-west Africa, forms the 16,000 square kilometres of the Okavango swamps. Now neighbouring Namibia, suffering from four years of continuous drought, wants to build a 250-kilometre-long aqueduct from the Okavango to the Namibian capital of Windhoek. The aqueduct would divert 17 million cubic metres of water a year from the river’s annual flow.
Source: Down to Earth Vol 5 No 17
‘We have conquered three-quarters of the country,
we have captured the capital, and we haven’t received
even a single message of congratulation!’
Mullah Mohammed Hassan, Taliban leader in Afghanistan.