Italy and the Dubious Honor of Chairing the G20

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Opinion

ROME, Jan 11 2021 (IPS) – For 2021, Italy has been given chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the world’s 20 most important countries. On paper, they represent 60% of the world’s population and 80% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the shaky Italian government will somehow perform this task (in the general indifference of the political system), the fact remains that this apparently prestigious position is in fact very deceiving: the G20 is now a very weak institution that brings no kudos to the rotating chairman. Besides, it is actually the institution which bears the greatest part of responsibility for the decline of the UN as the body responsible for global governance, a task that the G20 has very seldom been able to face up to.


Roberto Savio

Let us reconstruct how we arrive at the creation of the G20. It is a long story, that begins in 1975, when France invited the representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, leading to the name Group of Six, or G6. The idea was to create a space where to discuss the international situation, not for decision making. Then it became the Group of Seven, with the addition of Canada in 1997. Russia was added in 1998, so the summit became known as the G8. And then, in 1980, the European Union was invited as a “nonenumerated participant”. In 2005 the UK government initiated the practice of inviting five leading emergency markets – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Finally, in Washington, in 2005, the world leaders from the group recognized the growth of more emerging countries, and they decided that a meeting of the 20 most important countries of the world would replace the G8 and become the G20.

At the meetings the United Nations, the European Union, and the major international monetary and financial institutions are also invited. Spain is a permanent invitee, together with leaders of the Asian, African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Financial Stability Board, the International Labor Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.

Plus. The host country can invite some countries that it feels particularly associated with its foreign policy, at its year of presidency. Until now, 38 countries have been invited, from Azerbaijan to Chad, from Denmark to Laos, from Sweden to Zimbabwe. To complete, it is important to mention that Russia was suspended by the G8 in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea. And was never readmitted. Trump, in his inexplicable deference to Putin, asked for its readmission to the G8, and this was refused by the other countries. The G7 has kept meeting, as “a steering group of the West”. At the same time, the G20 meets regularly, with Russia as part of his members.

So, Italy has the task to invite all those different actors, establish the agenda and planning and hosting a series of ministerial-level meetings, leading up to summit of head of governments. Italy has decided as agenda “The three P”: People, Planet and Prosperity. This imaginative and original agenda will be structured in 10 specialized meetings, like Finance (Venice July 9-10th); Innovation and Research (Trieste Aug. 5-8th); Environment, Climate, Energy (Naples, July 22nd), just to give a few examples. Beside these 10 specialized meetings, there will be 8 “engagement’s groups”, which will go from business to civil society, youth, etc.

The G20 is formed by countries that are involved in different and often contradictory groups. For instance, after Trump killed the TTP, (the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership), that Obama was able to put together excluding China, with a vast range of counters going from Australia to Mexico, from Canada to Malaysia, China was able to reciprocate, and crate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which puts together the same countries plus some others and leave outside completely the United States. This commercial bloc is the largest ever created and has 30% of the world’s population, and 30% of the world GDP. But the European Union, (to which Italy belongs) has explicitly taken a path of European nationalism, to make the EU able to survive in the coming competition between China and the United States. European Union (and therefore Italy) are also members of NATO, where the United States is the indispensable and fundamental partner. And in the G20 China seats with India, which is the only country that has refused to join RCEP, and who is clearly taking an alternative path to China’s expansion in Asia. But this is also Japan’s policy, who is very active in G7, in the G20, and has entered RCEP, and considers, like South Korea, a priority to limit the Chinese expansionism.

Of course, there are a number of other pacts, agreements, treaties and alliances, that would be now boring and useless to enumerate. One country, like Italy, would therefore wear several hats at the same time. The point to make is, that since the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the multilateral system started to be under attack. Reagan, in Cancun’s Summit for the North-South dialogue, a few months after his election, questioned the idea of democracy and participation as the basis for international relations. Until then, the General Assembly resolutions were considered the basis for global governance. In 1973, the GA passed unanimously a resolution, calling for the reduction of the economic gap between the North and the South of the world, calling rich countries to their duties to establish a New International Economic Order, more just and based on the faster development of the poorer countries. Reagan denounced this as an anti-American maneuver. The US is not the same as Montecarlo, as he famously said (probably he intended Monaco, as Montecarlo is no state), and yet they have a vote each. So, this democracy coming from the UN, was in fact a straitjacket, and the US would proceed on the basis of bilateral relations, and not to be strained by multilateral mechanisms. Reagan was the first to talk of America first, He, together with Margaret Thatcher in Europe, dismantled all the social progress made in the world after the end of the Second World War. The market, with his invisible hand, would be the sole engine of society (that Thatcher said does not exist, only individuals). The State, that he called “the beast”, was the first enemy of the citizen. He declared: the most terrifying words in English are: I am from the Government, and I am here to help”. Any public or social cost was just a brake to the market. Reagan wanted to privatize even the ministry of Education: he and Thatcher left UNESCO, as a symbol of disengagement from the UN. Both he and Thatcher curtailed trade unions, privatized whatever possible, and started the era of neoliberal globalization, whose effect is now widely evident, and that Trump, Bolsonaro and Co. bless every day, because it has created a very large swath of disaffected citizens, who believe they will readdress their destiny.

Is important to note that Reagan did not have any real opposition, from the other rich countries. So, all this fragmentation of the world, with the creation of G7, G8, G20, and other exclusive clubs, was not an exclusive responsibility of Reagan and Thatcher. For forty years, the process of divesting the UN from its responsibility for the world’s peace, development, and democracy went on. Neoliberal globalization was based on finance and trade. Even before the end of the war, finance was delegated to the System of Bretton Wood, by the name of the site where it was founded. Let us just constate a fact: the Financial System was established in a such way, that Finance is the only sector of human activity that has no regulatory body. Today it has clearly separated by the general economy when its original function was to be at its service. And political institutions are not able to control its global structure.

The other engine of globalization was trading. United Nations had the UN Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, which looked to trade as an instrument of development. The creation in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, as an independent organization, envisaging trade as an economic engine, divested the UN from trade too. And more the UN weakens, the easier is to decry its shortcomings.

The stroke of grace to multilateralism has been the arrival of Trump, the heir and an updated version of Ronald Reagan. But with a totally different agenda and vision. His basic idea is not “America First”, but “America Alone”. He pushes Regan’s idea of bilateralism versus multilateralism to the extreme of ignoring the concept of alliances. So, he declared, Europe is even worse than China. But there is a fundamental difference between them: Trump never pretended to be the President of all Americans. On the contrary, he tried immediately to divide and polarize the United States, and he leaves as a legacy the US that will take a very long time to become again a united and pacified country. And his strategy has been taken by several other leaders, from Bolsonaro to Orban, from Erdogan to Salvini.

It will be, therefore, difficult, for the UN to recover its function of the meeting place, to express plans of global governance, based on democracy and participation. It was a vision based on the lessons learned in the Second World War: let us avoid millions of deaths, terrible destruction, and to do so we need to work together. That lesson has been now forgotten. Just compare the kind of political leaders from that time, and the present one, to see the enormous change. Therefore, the expression of national egoisms will continue, with the richest countries in exclusives clubs, like OECD or the G20.

But there is a problem: those clubs are not efficient, because they gather together countries with very different agendas and priorities. Let us take a good example from the last G20, held last November under the very discredited chairmanship of Saudi Arabia. One of the points was the cancellation of the debt from poor countries, evidently urgent, because of the additional burden of the pandemic that is going to bring disproportionate damage. The Pope, the Secretary-General of the UN, Gutierres, pressed for that decision. All that the G20 was able to do, was to freeze the payment of the interest of the debt, for six months. And here, let us divagate for a useful learning exercise of the Third World Debt, and on the nobility of the rich countries.

If you take a loan that you repay over 20 years at 5%, or a mortgage, of 100, at the end you will have repaid 200. And during the first ten years, all you pay are the interest, and only in the second decade, you start to pay back, progressively, the capital. The result is that the poor countries several times renegotiated their debt and every time what they paid where the interest, to start again. And those interests were cumulative. During that process, they paid several times the amount of the capital that they received. But all that they paid went to the interests… At the university, you learn one good example of the perversity of cumulative interests. The old story is that a Dutch settler, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin tribe. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pairs of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. If that amount was put in a loan at 5%with composite interest, it would be by now more than the estimated value of all of Manhattan, which exceeds three trillion dollars. So, the decision of the G20 to freeze interests for six months, amount to nothing. It is interesting to listen to insiders’ voices. The loans of the rich countries are computed in the DAC, Development Assistance Committee, established by OECD (the organizations that gathers all rich countries). The OECD engaged itself, in the old good day of multilateralism, to dedicated 1% of the members’ GDP to the development of the underdeveloped countries. This engagement was never kept, except for the Nordic Countries and Nederland. The US never went over 0,3%. Anyhow, any debt condonation goes into the official statistics of the DAC committee. But new loans are made, by countries that are not in the DAC committee, like China, which has made a very extensive number of loans, especially in Asia and Africa in not public conditions. For the OECD countries (basically the West), to cancel their loans could mean to unleash resources that could go to pay China loans, becoming so China funders. This is a good example of how competing interests, block the G20 from concerted actions.

Decisions on this issue are now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before, the Global Health Summit, called from the G20 together with the EU in May, will be the occasion to verify what will happen. with vaccinations. But in the same month, Portugal has called for the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilized country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the 80s. And is the only credible country on the issue of immigration. In the Social Summit Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, made also possible by the blessed departure of England, and its anti-European historical bias. The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, is great progress in term of vaccination. And if it will continue on the same path, on the issue of climate control, and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt Brussels an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities. Now the EU deals with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought by the virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German Presidency was unable to conclude.

But if we look to the obvious need for a world’s vaccination, the reality is much dimmer. Until now the rich countries have bought as many as possible vaccines. f. Europe, with 13% of the world population, has bought 51% of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organized in the health system, Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost but is fast reaching all the population. Certainly, this cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive system of health… Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are a member of the G20), have asked the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, that have financed at the tune of 10 billion dollars the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which now they buy at market prices, several times higher than those of AstraZeneca… And then those two vaccines use a new technology, whose side effects are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well-experimented technique.

But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic, patents and money can be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked? The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, which have been existing for hundreds of years, and those new peasants cannot use them without paying a royalty to the company who patented them. And then the pharmaceuticals tried to patent, parts of the human body… Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up an association, Agorà for Humankind, that is conducting a campaign, for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, as they belong to humankind. Also, an international alliance has been set up between the public and private sectors, the General Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, GAVI, which has the task to finance vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30% of humankind will be vaccinated, basically from rich countries.

Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, is this pandemic. Until at least 70% of all humans will be vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example. The country with more cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But it went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the South of Spain. And from there spread to the surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realization that viruses does not know borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads the virus…

So, after this long ride among different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Would Trump, Johnson and Putin be at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organizations. Just think that the US, to push for the creation of the UN, agreed in its founding engagement, to pay 25% of its costs.

Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, a profound change came. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism, cooperation, went under attack, and so the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation. Other organizations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions. From the spirit of the fall if the Berlin’ Wall, in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We are now in a third phase, whose symbol abounds: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered the betrayal of civism and democracy: exploit and exasperate the divides of a country, racial, cultural, gender, and run without any compliance to rules and traditions. He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist, and narcists kind of new political generation: Bolsonaro, Orban, Kacynski, Putin, Modi, Sissi, Nehayanu, Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Salvini, are poised to take the power. The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the mask, is a left-wing declaration, like to worry about the climate, which is a survival’ concern. Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they have reached an unprecedented amount of 1917 billion dollars. Enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organization able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of the military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip services, to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generations of politicians are under general scrutiny, and it is not positive at all… I would say that is representative of our crisis, books still get published on a world of conspiracy, like that the virus is used by Bill Gates to inoculate nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, Or myths like the one on Bilderberg Club, one of the private’s clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world. This, when more than ever is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the tragedy of climate and soon two million deaths are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism… but the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy…

So, Italy enters now the chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight, with the task to realize a coming Summit, of the head of States, from which nobody expects much. If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union, could come to a halt. Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was to be a steward at Naples’ stadium. On the Health Summit, he does not look particularly commanding respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, which include India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in those times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts… Anyhow, if 2021 will not be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible slipping decline… time is running out…

But it looks now like the solution to the problems is beyond the reach of the system…

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

 

Mining giant Rio Tinto Face Environmental, Human Rights Complaint in Papua New Guinea

Active Citizens, Asia-Pacific, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Contamination of rivers and streams by mine waste in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 4 2021 (IPS) – Local communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Panguna copper mine, have taken decisive action to hold the global mining multinational, Rio Tinto, accountable for alleged environmental and human rights violations during the mine’s operations between 1972 and 1989.


The mine operated in the mountains of central Bougainville in Papua New Guinea until 1989.

The complaint by 156 residents was lodged with the Australian Government in September by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre and subsequently accepted in November, paving the way for a non-judicial mediation process.

“We and the communities we are working with have now entered into a formal conciliation process with Rio Tinto facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point and talks with the company will begin very shortly,” Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne told IPS.

Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the Panguna mine through its operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd, with a 53.8 percent stake. However, 17 years after it began production in 1972, anger among indigenous landowners about contaminated rivers and streams, the devastation of customary land and inequity in distributing the extractive venture’s profits and benefits triggered an armed rebellion in 1989. After the mine’s power supply was destroyed by sabotage, Rio Tinto fled Bougainville Island and the site became derelict during the decade long civil war which followed.

The mine area, which is still controlled by the tribal Mekamui Government of Unity, comprising former rebel leaders, hasn’t been decommissioned and the environmental legacy of its former operations never addressed.

Now, according to the complaint, “copper pollution from the mine pit and tailings continues to flow into local rivers … The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40 km downstream to the coast. Levees constructed at the time of the mine’s operation are now collapsing, threatening nearby villages.”

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

There are further claims that contamination of waterways and land is causing long-term health problems amongst the indigenous population, such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, and pregnancy complications.

Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville’s main town of Buka, fully supports the action taken by her fellow islanders.

“It is long overdue. It is going to be very important because it was the big issue which caused the Bougainville conflict. It will lay to rest the grievances which caused so much suffering for our people,” Hakena told IPS.

The Bougainville civil war, triggered by the uprising at the mine, led to a death toll of 15,000-20,000 people.

The people of Bougainville believe that Rio Tinto has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by failing both to take action to mitigate foreseeable environmental, health and safety-related impacts at the mine and respect the human rights of the communities affected by its extractive activities. The Human Rights Law Centre claims that “the mine pollution continues to infringe nearly all the economic, social and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, including their rights to food, water, health, housing and an adequate standard of living.”

“While we do not wholly accept the claims in the complaint, we are aware of deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations,” Rio Tinto responded in a public statement.

“Accepting the AusNCP’s ‘good offices’ shows that we take this complaint seriously and remain ready to enter into discussions with the communities that have filed the complaint, along with other relevant communities around the Panguna mine site, and other relevant parties, such as Bougainville Copper Ltd, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and PNG Government,” the statement continued.

In 2016, Rio Tinto divested its interest in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operating company, and its shares were acquired by the PNG and Bougainville governments. Simultaneously, the corporate giant announced that it rejected corporate responsibility for any environmental impacts or damage.

Panguna mine’s copper and gold await political settlement before extraction can resume. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Mineral exploration in Bougainville in the 1960s, followed by the construction of the Panguna open-cut copper mine, occurred when the island region was under Australian administration. It would subsequently become a massive source of internal revenue Papua New Guinea, which was granted Independence in 1975. During its lifetime, the Panguna mine generated about US$2 billion in revenue and accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s exports.

The mining agreement negotiated between the Australian Government and Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia in the 1960s didn’t include any significant environmental regulations or liability of the company for rehabilitation of areas affected by mining.

There has been no definitive environmental assessment of the Panguna site since it was forced to shut down. However, about 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated at the mine every day. In 1989, an independent report by Applied Geology Associates in New Zealand noted that significant amounts of copper and other heavy metals were leaching from the mine and waste rock dumps and flowing into the Kawerong River. Today, the water in some rivers and streams in the mine area is a luminescent blue, a sign of copper contamination.

Bougainville residents’ action comes at the end of a challenging year for Rio Tinto. It is still reeling from revelations earlier this year that its operations destroyed historically significant Aboriginal sacred sites, estimated to be 46,000 years old, in the vicinity of its iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company’s CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, has subsequently resigned.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic about the corporate giant’s willingness to engage with Bougainville and PNG stakeholders.

“In the first instance, we hope that this non-judicial process will help to facilitate discussions to explore whether Rio Tinto will make these commitments to address the impacts of its operations. If not, then the communities will be asking the Australian OECD National Contact Point to investigate the complaint and make findings about whether Rio Tinto has breached its human rights and environmental obligations,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Legal Director said. A full investigation, if required, could take up to a year.

Ultimately, the islanders are seeking specific outcomes. These include Rio Tinto’s serious engagement with them to identify solutions to the urgent environmental and human rights issues; funding for an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine; and contributions to a substantial independently managed fund to enable long term rehabilitation programs.

Otherwise, Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre predicts that “given the limited resources of the PNG and Bougainville governments, it is almost inevitable that if no action is taken by Rio Tinto, the environmental damage currently being caused by the tailings waste will continue and worsen.”

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Empowering Women through Wisdom

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Opinion

Caryll Tozer* is engaged in social upliftment of women headed-households, and advocates conservation and women and child rights. She is a co-founder of Women In Need crisis center providing refuge for abused women.
 
Soraya M. Deen* is a lawyer, interfaith consultant and award-winning international activist and community organizer. She divides her time between Sri Lanka and Los Angeles and has written extensively on the plight of minorities and minority women.

Credit: Oxfam.org

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec 22 2020 (IPS) – During the COVID 19 lockdown in Sri Lanka, seven women from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds came together to deliver Wisdom and their message that women must be empowered and their voices for national unity must be heard through this movement.


We called ourselves the Wisdom Women and named the online program we created, “Wisdom Wednesdays”. The program airs every fortnight and since its inception in March 2020, we have hosted 21 stimulating shows, with thousands of people watching from across the world.

https://youtube.com/channel/UC28pnsQlhE1Y5BtYOSU6ZMQ

As co-founders, a Muslim and a Christian, we are determined to continue with the show until enough number of women stand up and say, “our country and the next generations deserve better and therefore we must speak up as a movement of women and work for national unity and reconciliation.”

A thirty-year bloody war has left Sri Lanka divided. One might expect our governments to move forward with a robust agenda for peace building. But nothing has improved, not even a tourniquet to arrest the bleeding. Successive governments have not spelt a serious agenda,

As conservation and environmental activists, we have worked to co-found an organization to support and eradicate abuse through the organization: One Home at a Time, which has built 17 homes for women-led households and wells for villages that need water. We believe that each individual can make a difference, and we have raised money, built homes, for these women and their family that lack basic housing. We have seen what happens when you support a woman who then can raise her family.

Whether we show up in NE Nigeria, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, women have been dealt a raw hand. Patriarchy and misogyny are institutionalized, structural, interpersonal and intra personal.

An incredible team of powerful women, each one more powerful in their experience and individual body of work comprise the team. The group represents the various ethnicities, religions and gains strength from each other. We have an incredible team.

Along with us there is Selvi Sachithanandam who through her foundation helps peace building and social transformation through spirituality; Kamani Jinadasa who is the founder of a center for troubled youth and works extensively against gender-based violence.

We also have Farzana J. Khan who helps through her foundation supporting education, and works on small and medium enterprise; Ven. Tenzin Leckdron a Bikkuni who belongs to a monastery in Tibetan Buddhism and currently works in remote areas in Australia; and, Ameena Hussein who is engaged in various social work and is a publisher and writer.

All power houses in their own field. Having gone through life’s tremendous challenges and hardships, we know very well what it takes to uplift women and give them the skills to thrive.

Our mission is to educate and inspire women. Teach women some basic skills, but first to let them know they are POWERFUL. The work at Wisdom Wednesdays has just begun.

We are taking our show and our gifts on the road. We have structured workshops to suit one day and residential programs for women. We want to bring them together; inspire them to build power, and organize the community.

Sri Lanka has a female population of 52%, with an abysmal parliamentary representation. Less than 12 % of the representatives are women. COVID has sent a powerful message to the strong-willed women of Sri Lanka. It is a time for reflection and for change.

Women have risen to the challenge to keep their home fires burning, care for their children, face abuse and violence undeterred. Our goal is to tap into that strength and resilience.

We also believe that at a national level, a woman’s voice must be heard at every negotiating table in order to bring in a balanced and cohesive response to issues.

We are subtle activists, not armchair program designers. When we get to the river if we find the water muddy and dirty, we get into the river and clean the water. Our deepest concern now is funding to take this movement to the next level.

Bringing together 35 women to a residential workshop from Friday afternoon to Sunday is costly. But we see something beyond, that when love, expertise and commitment come together, magic can happen. There will be enablers, and there will be minority rights and women’s rights which are in great jeopardy.

The UN has established gender equality as both a stand-alone goal and a central tenet to achieving an inclusive and sustainable development agenda by 2030. We must promote participation. Promoting participation – means recognising we each have something unique and important to contribute to society.

We want to promote two more concepts through our work. Subsidiarity, and ending future conflict. We have not witnessed subsidiarity in the context of social theory, premised upon empowering individuals to resolve issues that affect them without interference from larger, and often more centralised, social, private, religious or government bodies.

Currently, Wisdom Wednesdays is being watched in over 8,000 homes across the world. We receive encouraging comments from diverse audiences. In a divided world hearing a positive message is like a drop of water in the ocean.

There is no good news anymore. People who watch TV know this. Feeding the spiritual is as important as feeding the hungry. People are hungry for hope and a new way forward.

Individual transformation, focused and committed action leads to community transformation. This time we want to mobilize women to take that action. We need women to speak out against divisiveness and bring a stop to racism and bigotry. We want to address these issues through experiences and wisdom of the women. Unified we will be that much stronger.

*Caryll Tozer is a committee member of The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, the third oldest conservation organization in the world. She lives by the premise that “to remain silent when there is injustice makes one culpable”.

*Soraya M. Deen travels across Sri Lanka mobilizing women, men and interfaith groups to understand and explore contextual realities for the problems they face by bringing together like-minded community members to solve – urgent, relevant, winnable action. She is the Founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, inspiring voices of change. Soraya serves as a resource person and women’s outreach coordinator for the Omnia Institute of Contextual Leadership, a think tank in Chicago that addresses religious based oppression, dominance and violence.

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Here are some of the key events of the year 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic cast a long pall over 2020 but it also saw President Donald Trump beaten by Joe Biden in a tumultuous US election and the Black Lives Matter movement shake the world.

Here are some of the key events of the year:

– Rampaging virus – 

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This photo taken on November 24, 2020 shows Liu Pei’en praying in front of a portrait of his father, who died after having symptoms of Covid-19, in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province. The year 2020 saw the virus claim more than 1.6Million people worldwide. PHOTO/AFP

On January 11, less than two weeks after it alerts a cluster of pneumonia cases “of unknown cause”, Beijing announces its first death from an illness which will become known as Covid-19.

By March a pandemic has been declared and a month later half of humanity is in lockdown as governments scramble to halt its spread.

Massive state aid programmes are rolled out to save jobs as the International Monetary Fund predicts recession, with the global economy shrinking by 4.4 percent.

In November, drug companies announce positive results for several vaccines as a second wave of cases lashes the planet.

Within a month, the first shots are being given but by then some 1.6 million people are dead, with the US the worst hit.

– Iranian roulette –
The world holds its breath after top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani is killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on January 3, days after pro-Iranian protesters storm the US embassy in Baghdad.

Iran retaliates by launching a volley of missiles at bases in Iraq housing US troops. The same day, it shoots down a Ukrainian passenger plane “in error” shortly after take off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

Tensions mount again at the end of November when top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is assassinated, with Tehran blaming Israel.

– Brexit endgame –
Britain becomes the first country to leave the European Union on January 31 following its 2016 Brexit referendum.

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Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost arrives at the UK Representation to the EU-British Consulate-British Embassy after a meeting with European Commission’s head of Task Force for Relations with Britain in Brussels on December 7, 2020. UK ponders it’s post-Brexit era. PHOTO/AFP.

But crucial talks on future ties and trade with the bloc drag on for months, breaking deadline after deadline as negotiators try to avert a hard Brexit on December 31.

– US-Taliban accord –
The US and the Taliban sign a deal in Doha on February 29, with all foreign forces to quit Afghanistan by May 2021 after nearly two decades of war.

Talks between the Afghan government and insurgents start in September, but fighting rages on as the Taliban launch attack after attack.

The Pentagon is due to pull 2,000 of 4,500 US soldiers out of the country by January 15, 2021.

– George Floyd killed –

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Derek Chauvin, the white officer filmed kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed and unarmed George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, was charged with one count of third-degree murder. PHOTO/AFP.

The killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, by white police officers on May 25 in Minneapolis sparks protests across the US and inspires anti-racism rallies across the world.

The Black Lives Matter movement leads to a major debate about race and the toppling of statues of figures linked to slavery or colonisation.

– Hong Kong clampdown –
In June, a year after a massive wave of demonstrations, China imposes a sweeping new security law on Hong Kong that opponents say undermines the semi-autonomous city’s liberties, promised under its handover from Britain in 1997.

Pro-democracy lawmakers are ousted, harassed and arrested. In December, three prominent Hong Kong activists are jailed including Joshua Wong.

– Thais rise up –
Students spark pro-democracy protests in July that roll on for the rest of the year calling for a new constitution, reform of the untouchable monarchy, and for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to resign.

– Beirut blast –

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Police and forensic officers work at the scene of an explosion that took place at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020. Rescuers worked through the night after two enormous explosions ripped through Beirut’s port, killing over 100 people and injuring thousands, as they wrecked buildings across the Lebanese capital. PHOTO/AFP.

A massive explosion on August 4 destroys much of Beirut’s port and devastates swathes of the capital, killing more than 200 and injuring at least 6,500.

The blast from a vast stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser devastates an already teetering Lebanese economy and the credibility of its governing elite.

– Fires and hurricanes –
Enormous bushfires rage across Australia in what becomes known as its “Black Summer” while in September San Francisco and other regions of the American West Coast wake to orange skies as the state’s largest ever inferno breaks out.

In November, two hurricanes devastate Central America, leaving more than 200 dead.

– The Navalny affair –
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is flown to Berlin in a medically induced coma after becoming violently ill from tea he drank as he boarded an internal flight to Moscow.

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A poster with a picture of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (L) with the headline “poisoned” is seen near an effigy of President Vladimir Putin outside the Russian embassy on Unter den Linden in Berlin during an anti-government protest on September 23, 2020. PHOTO / AFP

Tests reveal he was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Navalny accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to kill him.

– Crisis in Belarus –
Belarus strongman President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed victory in August 9 elections sparks four months of anti-government protests, centred on his main rival, political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Opposition leaders are jailed or driven into exile.

– Israel’s new friends –
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalise ties with Israel on September 15 as Palestinians condemn the move as a “stab in the back”.

The next month Donald Trump announces that Sudan is joining them, while in November unconfirmed reports of a secret trip to Saudi Arabia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparks speculation that the kingdom is set to follow.

In another twist, Morocco “resumed relations” with Israel on December 10 in return for the US recognising its claim to Western Sahara.

– China-US tensions – 
2020 sees US-China relations nosedive, with Trump calling Covid-19 the “China virus” and saying Beijing is responsible for “a mass worldwide killing”.

They also clash over the repression of Turkic speaking Uighur minority in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, as well as the national security law imposed on Hong Kong.

– Biden beats Trump –

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US President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden. PHOTO/AFP.

Deeply-divided Americans vote in record numbers in the November presidential election between outgoing Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

After four days of nail biting, Biden takes the White House by seven million votes. Trump cries fraud without evidence and has yet to concede defeat.

– Nagorno-Karabakh –
Heavy fighting for the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan after a war in the 1990s, goes on for 45 days.

Several thousand die before a Kremlin-brokered peace deal on November 9, with Armenians losing swathes of territory to Azerbaijan forces.

– Ethiopia: Tigray conflict –
Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed orders a military response to attacks on federal army camps in the dissident northern Tigray region.

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On November 4, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (pictured) announced a military offensive against the leaders of the dissident northern region of Tigray.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front — which has dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades — denies responsibility and says the reported attacks are a pretext for an “invasion”.

Federal forces take the Tigrayan capital on November 28.

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Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict receive food at the Border Reception Centre in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, on December 8, 2020. PHOTO/YASUYOCHI CHIBA / AFP

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USA Downgraded as Civil Liberties Deteriorate Across the Americas

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Débora Leão is a Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. She has a Master of Public Policy degree. Prior to joining CIVICUS, Débora worked on advocacy and research related to civic participation, urban development and climate justice.

 
Suraj K. Sazawal serves on the board to Defending Rights & Dissent and is co-author of ‘Civil Society Under Strain’, the first book to explore how the War on Terror impacted civil society and hurt humanitarian aid.

Protests in New York City against racism and police violence, following the death of George Floyd. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

São Paulo/ Washington DC, Dec 15 2020 (IPS) – Few images better illustrate the recent decline in civil liberties in the United States than that of peaceful protesters near the White House being violently dispersed so Donald Trump could stage a photo-op.


Moments before the president emerged from his bunker on June 1 to hold a bible outside a boarded-up church, federal officers indiscriminately fired tear gas at people who had gathered in Lafayette Park to protest about the police killing of George Floyd. This was far from an isolated incident: nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with widespread police violence.

Since May, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks fundamental freedoms across 196 countries, documented dozens of incidents where law enforcement officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with military grade-equipment, responded to Black Lives Matter protests with excessive force. These include officers driving vehicles at crowds of protesters and firing tear gas canisters and other projectiles at unarmed people, leaving at least 20 people partially blinded.

Throughout the year, journalists and health workers, clearly marked as such while covering the protests, have been harassed and assaulted. In one incident caught on live TV, a news reporter and camera operator from Louisville, Kentucky were shot by police with pepper balls while covering protests over the police killing of Breona Taylor.

This sustained repression of protests and an increased crackdown on fundamental freedoms led to the USA’s civic space rating being downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in our new report, People Power Under Attack 2020.

This disproportionate response by law enforcement officers to protesters goes beyond what is acceptable practice when policing protests, even during an emergency. Under international law, people have a right to assemble freely. Any restrictions to this right must be proportionate and necessary to address an emergency or reestablish public order.

The systematic use of excessive force and tactics such as kettling and mass arrests to enforce curfews raise troubling questions about the role of law enforcement agencies in responding to mass protests. The use of such tactics is contradictory to the alleged goal of maintaining public safety and health as they escalated tensions and prevented people from dispersing in a peaceful manner.

Even more concerning, they relocated protesters from open, outdoor spaces to police stations and other indoor facilities that often lack adequate space to allow for distancing, placing people at heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19.

Black Lives Matter Protest June 2020 Washington, DC. Credit: Geoff Livingston // creative commons

While recent brutality against protests for racial justice is concerning, the decline in basic freedoms in the USA began before this crackdown. The repression seen in 2020 was preceded by a wave of legislation limiting people’s rights to protest.

In recent years, several states enacted restrictive laws which, for example, criminalise protests near so-called critical infrastructure like oil pipelines, or limit demonstrations on school and university campuses. Increased penalties for trespassing and property damage are designed to intimidate and punish climate justice activists and organisations that speak out against fossil fuels.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, some of the ‘anti-protest’ bills introduced this year seem particularly cruel, for instance, by proposing to make people convicted of minor federal offences during protests ineligible for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Growing disregard for protest rights underscores wider intolerance for dissent. In parallel with restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly, the USA also saw an increase in attacks against the media, even before Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted. Over the past three years, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented the frequent harassment of journalists by the authorities and civilians while covering political rallies or when conducting interviews.

Correspondents critical of the Trump administration or reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the USA/Mexico border region sometimes faced retaliation; documents obtained by ‘NBC 7 Investigates’ in 2019 showed the US government created a database of journalists who covered the migrant caravan and activists who were part of it, in some cases placing alerts on their passports.

In January 2020 a journalist was barred from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an official trip to Europe after Pompeo objected to the questions by another reporter from the same outlet.

The harsh treatment of people wanting to express themselves and the decline of civil liberties is part of a broader global decline in fundamental freedoms. Our new report shows less than four percent of the world’s population live in countries that respect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories: ‘open, ‘narrowed, ‘obstructed,’ ‘restricted,’ or ‘closed’. The USA was one of 11 countries downgraded from its previous rating.

In the Americas, three other countries showed significant declines: Chile and Ecuador were downgraded to ‘obstructed’ and Costa Rica’s rating changed to ‘narrowed’. In the first two countries, as with the USA, rating changes reflected unnecessary and disproportionate crackdowns on mass protest movements.

Violations of protest rights were common across the region, with detention of protesters and excessive use of force among the top five violations of civic freedoms recorded this year. In addition, the Americas continue to be a dangerous place for those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights: across the world, 60 percent of human rights defenders killed in 2020 came from this region.

Stopping the erosion of fundamental freedoms requires a robust response. Governments must take steps to repeal legislation restricting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and make sure those who violate these freedoms are held accountable.

In the USA, the incoming Biden administration must actively work to reverse the narrowing of civic space. To rebuild trust between people and law enforcement, for instance, the Department of Justice should investigate misconduct and discriminatory practices at local police departments.

The authorities must engage with civil society and human rights defenders to create an environment where they are able to fulfil their vital roles and hold officials accountable.

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Intellectual Property Monopolies Block Vaccine Access

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2020 (IPS) – Just before the World Health Assembly (WHA), an 18 May open letter by world leaders and experts urged governments to ensure that all COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are patent-free, fairly distributed and available to all, free of charge.


Pious promises
Leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Norway and the European Commission called for the vaccine to be “produced by the world, for the whole world” as a “global public good of the 21st century”, while China’s President Xi promised a vaccine developed by China would be a “global public good”.

Anis Chowdhury

The United Nations Secretary-General also insisted on access to all when available. The WHA unanimously agreed that vaccines, treatments and tests are global public goods, but was vague on the implications.

As COVID vaccines have become available, nearly 70 poor countries are left out. Many more people will be infected and may die without vaccinations, warns the People’s Vaccine Alliance, advocating equitable and low-cost access.

As the rich and powerful secure access, poor countries will leave out most people as only one in ten can be vaccinated in 2021, making a mockery of the Sustainable Development Goals’ over-arching principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

Waiving WTO rules
The authors of “Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) argue that IPR are the main stumbling block. Meanwhile, South Africa and India have proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO) temporarily waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules limiting access to COVID-19 medicines, tools, equipment and vaccines.

The proposal – welcomed by the WHO Director-General and supported by nearly 100 governments and many civil society organisations around the world – goes beyond the Doha Declaration’s limited flexibilities for national emergencies and circumstances of extreme urgency.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

But Brazil, one of the worst hit countries, opposes the proposal, together with the US, the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Australia and Japan, insisting the Doha Declaration is sufficient.

The empire fights back
The US insists that IP protection is best to ensure “swift delivery” while the EU claims there is “no indication that IPR issues have been a genuine barrier … to COVID-19-related medicines and technologies” as the UK dismisses the proposal as “an extreme measure to address an unproven problem”.

The Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Director-General claims it “would jeopardize future medical innovation, making us more vulnerable to other diseases”, while The Wall Street Journal denounced it as “A Global Covid Vaccine Heist”, warning “their effort would harm everyone, including the poor”.

Citing AstraZeneca’s agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Brazilian companies, other opponents assert that voluntary mechanisms should suffice, insisting the public-private COVAX initiative ensures fair and equitable access.

But the US has refused to join COVAX, part of the WHO-blessed, donor-funded Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), ostensibly committed to “equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all”.

Intellectual property fraud
The Doha Declaration only covers patents, ignoring proprietary technology to safely manufacture vaccines. Meanwhile, there is not enough interest, let alone capacity among leading pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccines, safely and affordably, for everyone before 2024.

Despite the Doha Declaration, developing countries are still under great pressure from the EU and the US. The rules allowing ‘compulsory licensing’ are very restrictive, with countries required to separately negotiate contracts with companies for specific amounts, periods and purposes, deterring and thus often bypassing those with limited financial and legal capacities.

South Africa cited the examples of Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which have already committed most of their COVID-19 antibody cocktail drugs to the US. In India, Pfizer has legally blocked alternative pneumococcal vaccines from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In South Korea, Pfizer has forced SK Bioscience to stop producing its pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV).

To be sure, patents are not necessary for innovation, with the Harvard Business Review showing IPR law actually stifling it. Meanwhile, The Economist has condemned patent trolling, which has reduced venture capital investment in start-ups and R&D spending, especially by small firms.

Public subsidies
Like most other life-saving drugs and vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines and treatment technologies owe much to public investment. Even the Trump administration provided US$10.5 billion to vaccine development companies.

Moderna’s vaccine emerged from a partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH). Research at the NIH, Defence Department and federally funded university laboratories have been crucial for rapid US vaccine development.

Pfizer has received a US$455 million German government grant and nearly US$6 billion in US and EU purchase commitments. AstraZeneca received more than £84 million (US$111 million) from the UK government, and more than US$2 billion from the US and EU for research and via purchase orders.

But although public funding for most medicine and vaccine development is the norm, Big Pharma typically keeps the monopoly profits they enjoy from the IPR they retain.

Voluntary mechanisms inadequate
COVAX seeks to procure two billion vaccine doses, to be shared “equally” between rich and poor countries, but has only reserved 700,000 vaccine doses so far, while the poorest countries, with 1.7 billion people, cannot afford a single deal. Meanwhile, rich countries have secured six billion doses for themselves.

Thus, even if and when COVAX procures its targeted two billion vaccine doses, less than a billion will go to poor countries. If the vaccine requires two doses, as many – including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – assume, this will only be enough for less than half a billion people.

Meanwhile, ACT-A’s diagnostics work seeks to procure 500 million tests, only a small fraction of what is required. Even if fully financed, which is not the case, this is only a partial solution at best.

But with the massive funding shortfall, even these modest targets will not be reached. To date, only US$5 billion of the US$43 billion needed for poor countries in 2021 has been raised.

Profitable philanthropy
As of mid-October, while 18 generic pharmaceutical companies had signed up, not a single major drug company had joined WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to encourage industry contributions of IP, technologies and data to scale up worldwide sharing and production of all such needs.

Meanwhile, a few companies have ‘voluntarily’ given up some IPR, if only temporarily. Moderna has promised to license its COVID-19 related patents to other vaccine manufacturers, and not enforce its own patents. But their pledge is limited, allowing it to enforce its patents “post pandemic”, as defined by Moderna.

Besides profiting from licensing in the longer term, Moderna’s pledge will enable it to grow the new mRNA market its business is based on, by establishing and promoting a transformational drug therapy platform, yielding gains for years to come.

AstraZeneca has announced that its vaccine, researched at Oxford University, will be available at cost in some locations, but only until July 2021. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly has agreed, with the Gates Foundation, to supply – without demanding royalties from low- and middle-income countries – its (still experimental) COVID-19 antibody treatment, but did not specify how many doses.

Indeed, as Proudhon warned almost two centuries ago, ‘property is theft’.

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