UN Rethinks Failed Sanctions Policies
NEW YORK — UN attitudes concerning the use of comprehensive sanctions as a "big stick" diplomatic tool are beginning to change. "The humanitarian situation in Iraq poses a serious moral dilemma for this organization," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Security Council in March. "The UN has always been on the side of the weak and vulnerable, and has sought to relieve suffering. Yet, here we are accused of causing suffering to an entire population."
At last, sanctions that hurt civilians without damaging offending political regimes are being viewed as a failure. Protest resignations by senior UN officials in Iraq have deepened the doubts. Annan expressed special concern about the young. Half a million children have died from malnutrition and disease as a result of the 10-year Iraq embargo, according to the UN Children’s Fund. But it’s done little to weaken Saddam Hussein.
The UN Human Rights Commission studied the impact of economic sanctions on eight countries under UN embargoes during the 1990s — Angola, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Yugoslavia. Its 1997 report said that the most serious effects fell on the weak and poor. Existing imbalances in income distribution increased, yet businessmen close to governments benefited from smuggling. There are exceptions, like South Africa, where sanctions helped to produce political change. Boycotts there mainly affected the White minority.
"While some UN members wish to retain sanctions as an instruments of international policy, they are increasingly demanding more clearly defined goals and a more targeted approach," says Sarah Graham-Brown, a Middle East specialist with British aid agencies in Iraq. "They [the UN] wish to avoid the examples of Iraq and Yugoslavia where the populations rather than the regimes have been the main victims."
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Support Grows for Transaction Tax
ARCATA, CA — The Tobin Tax, designed to calm global markets and alleviate poverty by taxing foreign exchange transactions (TF, May 2000), received a boost in April when a resolution supporting the initiative was introduced into the US House and Senate. Sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Paul Wellstone, both Democrats, it asks the US government to "show leadership by enacting, in concert with the international community, transaction taxes on short-term, cross-border foreign exchange transactions to deter speculation … with the revenue dedicated to urgent global needs."
Members of legislatures around the world have released an International Parliamentary Call to Action on the tax plan, and established an online sign-up. The effort is led by Harlem Desir, French member of the European Parliament; Yann Galut of the French National Assembly; DeFazio; and Harry Barnes of the UK House of Commons. Hundreds of MPs have already signed up.
Campaigns are underway in several countries. It will take at least five major currency nations to trigger adoption. More information is available at the Tobin Tax Initiative-USA Website (www.tobintax.org), a project of the California-based Center for Environmental Economic Development.
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Tanzanian Sex Capers Fill "Sinful" Papers
DAR ES SALAMM — With sex magazines doing big business, once-sober newspapers in Tanzania have begun lacing their pages with provocative stories and photos. A serious weekly can reach 10,000 readers, but publications pushing sex sometimes hit 80,000, with reprints spurred by nude pinups or celebrity scandals.
Tanzania’s new brand of journalism is supposedly modeled on the British tabloid, The Sun. As a result, the Tanzania Media Council has been flooded with complaints of media excess. Although the fines often run high, more people are choosing to sue. Publications even fabricate photos, publishing them with concocted stories.
The media’s "moral decay" has become a subject of parliamentary debate and clerical outrage. One Catholic bishop warns, "Satanism is rearing its ugly head." Some blame the problem on falling standards of training. In the 1980s, the country had 200 trained journalists. "Now there are over 4000," notes the Association of Journalists and Media Workers, "and 60 percent of them are not trained." Others point to changing mores promoted by economic liberalization.
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No Welcome Mat for SA Immigrants
JOHANNESBURG — A survey of South African attitudes toward immigrants and migration reveals that most citizens oppose policies that welcome newcomers. Conducted by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP), the survey found that about 25 percent want a total ban on immigration, and 45 percent support strict limits on the numbers allowed in. Only 17 percent support a more flexible policy tied to the availability of jobs, and a mere six percent support a totally open immigration policy.
"This is the highest level of opposition to immigration recorded by any country in the world where comparable questions have been asked," noted SAMP. Both Whites and Blacks are opposed, while Blacks and Asians have the most restrictive attitudes. Those views cut across income and age groups.
Public opinion has become more hostile over the past two years. "Preference for a flexible policy tied to the availability of jobs has decreased from 27 percent to 19 percent and support for total prohibition has increased from 16 percent to 25 percent," the survey said. Public sentiment hasn’t been helped by the government’s aggressive campaign to deport foreigners living in the country "illegally." Since 1990, over one million people have been removed, over 99 percent of them to Southern African Development Community (SADC) states and 82 percent to Mozambique. Carried out every week, the deportations are conducted under the provisions of the apartheid-era Aliens Control Act.
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NEW YORK — East Timorese refugees are being prevented from returning home by militia leaders and members of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), according to a delegation that visited West Timor camps in late April. The group included congressional staffers, human rights advocates, journalists, and filmmaker John Sayles.
"Intimidation and tension created by militia leaders was palpable," reports Karen Orenstein of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN). TNI-backed militias are promoting a widespread disinformation campaign, alleging horrific conditions and abuse by international forces.
Over 200 refugee sites are scattered throughout West Timor, with more than 100,000 refugees in the province and up to 30,000 elsewhere in Indonesia. "While food distribution to large camps is basic, access to food is sub-standard at the many smaller sites, some of which consist of only five or six families," noted Indonesia specialist Loren Ryter. "We also noticed many children with reddish hair - a sign of malnutrition."
"The health care situation is extremely troubling," she notes. "Continuous damp and muddy conditions in the camps due to an unusually long rainy season have exacerbated health problems. A malaria catastrophe looms once the rains stop." Cuts in government support and the withdrawal of the Indonesian Red Cross have worsened the impacts. Until April, the government was sending newly graduated medical students to work in rural areas.
The best solution is repatriation, says Orenstein. But that means stopping militia intimidation and control of the camps. "Militia leaders must be arrested so people can feel safe to choose to return to their homes in East Timor.
"The US must maintain its current ban on military ties with Indonesia, and strengthen conditions for lifting it," she adds. "The ban is the most critical point of leverage for reform forces in Indonesia." For more information, contact the East Timor Action Network (www.etan.org).
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Ethiopia Foreshadows a New Famine Season
GODE — Much has changed in Ethiopia since the mid-1980s, when a million people died in one of the last century’s worst famines. Today, the ruling party is more open, early warning systems are in place, and more aid agencies operate in the country. Yet, the current food shortage was still allowed to reach the point where emaciated children again appeared on TV news.
One reason is a three-year drought. But blame is also shared by rich countries, for delaying donations, and Ethiopia’s government, for its two-year war with Eritrea. Beyond that, the main underlying cause remains poverty.
According to an Oxfam report, "The poverty underpinning Ethiopia’s recurrent crisis can only be tackled effectively by greater international support for development after Ethiopia and Eritrea are at peace." Nations like Britain and the Netherlands cut aid in response to the war.
On the UN’s human development index, Ethiopia ranks third from the bottom. Life expectancy is 45, Gross Domestic Product is $110 per person, and external debt is more than $10 billion, prompting calls for debt relief.
The country faces two food crises. One is in Solami, the southeastern pastoral region. About 1.3 million people there need food aid. The other, much discussed but not as visible, could affect six million people in the populous northern highlands. In February, the rainy season never came. Now it’s too late to plant before the cold arrives in July.
And this is just the tip of a looming humanitarian disaster throughout the region. Drought is already affecting 12 million people in Kenya, Sonalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
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Kenya to Test AIDS Vaccine
SIAYA — Despite allegations of unethical behavior by US medical students during an AIDS study in Uganda, at least 3000 people are expected to take part in Kenya’s first AIDS vaccine clinical trial. The first phase of the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI), launched by British scientists and a team at the University of Nairobi, will commence December 1, coinciding with World AIDS day.
According to TF correspondent William Onyango, 40 to 60 people will be recruited for the initial safety trials. In phase two, scientists will study whether the vaccine properly provokes the immune system, observing about 300 volunteers for a year. After that, the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing infection will be examined. "We will need about 2000 to 3000 people," says Dr. Omu Anzala, a team member. "And these are people of high risk, but who are HIV negative. They will be followed for about three to four years."
Dr. Tony Johnson, a leading local researcher, became concerned about the trials after the controversy surrounding Uganda’s study. According to a New York Times report, scientists didn’t tell subjects that their partners had HIV, and withheld anti-viral drugs. Harvard Medical School Professor Jerome Groopman charges that 90 more people were infected. In response, Johnson urges the new project to properly educate volunteers on the risks and purposes of the trials.
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Wherever They Go, There We Are
PRAGUE — In September, about 20,000 bankers, economists, and financiers will converge on Prague in the Czech Republic for the 55th annual summit of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Meeting for the first time in Central Europe, managers of the global economy will consider plans to re-define loan priorities and structural adjustment conditions.
But if the Initiative Against Economic Globalization (INPEG) has its way, the delegates will be greeted by the same sort of criticism and resistance that disrupted last year’s WTO meeting in Seattle and the April IMF/World Bank sessions in Washington, DC.
Formed in Prague last summer, INPEG is a loose coalition of Czech environmental, human rights, and "autonomist" groups. Their strategy includes protests long before the Sept. 25-28 official meetings, and a 10-day mobilization starting on September 20. This will include non-violent actions, a Festival of Art and Resistance, and a counter-summit.
"We will be exposing the links between the IMF/WB, the WTO and transnational corporations, and the ways they work to maximize private profits and limit the power of people to protect the environment, determine their economic destiny, and safeguard their human rights," the group says. Demanding suspension of practices leading to environmental destruction, inequality, and poverty, and violations of basic rights, the group will demonstrate "solidarity with the global resistance movement."