KATHMANDU, Aug 4 2022 (IPS) – The largest ever settlement in Canadian legal history, 40 billion Canadian dollars, occurred in 2022, but it didn’t come from a court – it followed a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In 2016 the Tribunal affirmed a complaint that the Government of Canada’s child welfare system discriminated against First Nations children. (First Nations are one of three groups of Indigenous people in Canada).
When I heard about that amount and subsequently how the government was negotiating the details of that settlement, I was astounded. Although I’ve had an interest in and reported regularly about human rights in the past three decades, my most intense experience has been here in Nepal, where for a couple of years I worked at the United Nations human rights office.
Nepal’s Human Rights Commission has a long history of having its recommendations virtually ignored by the government of the day. In fact, since 2000, only 12% of the NHRC’s 810 recommendations have been fully implemented. So when I compared the situation in Nepal to the tribunal’s decision and aftermath in Canada, my first question was ‘how’? How could the human rights situation in the two countries be so different that one government was compelled to pay out $40 billion for discrimination while another could virtually ignore recommendations?
First, I have to confess that my understanding of the human rights framework in Canada and Nepal was lacking. As today’s guest, Professor Anne Levesque from the University of Ottawa, explains, Canada, like Nepal, has a federal human rights commission (as well as commissions in its provinces). But Canada also has the tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that hears complaints and can issue orders. Nepal however, lacks a human rights body that has legal teeth.
But is that the whole story, or are there other reasons why the Government of Canada must – and does – pay up when it loses a human rights case while the Government of Nepal basically files away the NHRC’s recommendations for some later date? Nepal, by the way, is not a human rights pariah. It is serving its second consecutive term on the UN Human Rights Council and the NHRC has been given an ‘A’ rating by an independent organization for conforming to international standards.
BANGKOK, Thailand, May 23 2022 (IPS) – The Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads today – to further breakdown or breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future.
Since the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was established in 1947, the region has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a pacesetter of global economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty.
Yet, as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we find ourselves facing our biggest shared test on the back of cascading and overlapping impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflicts and the climate crisis.
Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic, with 85 million people pushed back into extreme poverty, millions more losing their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people missing precious time for education and training.
As the pandemic surges and ebbs across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of failing to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C – and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. Throughout 2021 and 2022, countries across Asia and the Pacific were again battered by a relentless sequence of natural disasters, with climate change increasing their frequency and intensity.
More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts, with higher prices for fuel and food increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.
Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has come at a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises have exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, those hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardship. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable is deepening and widening inequalities in both income and opportunities.
The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points beyond which it will be impossible to recover. But it is not too late.
The region is dynamic and adaptable.
In this richer yet riskier world, we need more crisis-prepared policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and shift the Asia-Pacific region back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as the target year of 2030 comes closer — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will only attain the Goals in 2065.
To do so, we must protect people and the planet, exploit digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise financial resources and manage our debt.
The first task for governments must be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector should be acting to conserve our precious planet and mitigate and adapt to climate change while defending people from the devastation of natural disasters.
For many measures, governments can exploit technological innovations. Human activities are steadily becoming “digital by default.” To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments should encourage more robust and extensive digital infrastructure and improve access along with the necessary education and training to enhance knowledge-intensive internet use.
Much of the investment for services will rely on sustainable economic growth, fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.
While trade links have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further lower trade and investment transaction costs through simplified procedures, digitalization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes are proving to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could cut average trade costs by more than 13 per cent.
Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to allow for greater investment in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be raised through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing instruments and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging debt swaps for development, could have the highest impacts on inclusivity and sustainability.
Significant efforts need to be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and work with both young and old, fostering intergenerational solidarity. And women must be at the centre of crisis-prepared policy action.
This week the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, pinning the aspirations of the region on moving forward together by learning from and working with each other.
In the past seven-and-a-half decades, ESCAP has been a vital source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.
To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the choices we make, or fail to make today, will shape our future. We will not have this chance again.”
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
During one of the hearings in Buenos Aires, the court trying a 1924 indigenous massacre in the Chaco heard the testimony of historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera, from the University of Buenos Aires, who has been studying indigenous history in Argentina for decades. The expert witness described in detail the conditions in the Napalpí indigenous “reducción” or camp where the massacre took place. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS
BUENOS AIRES, May 13 2022 (IPS) – It’s a strange trial, with no defendants. The purpose is not to hand down a conviction, but to bring visibility to an atrocious event that occurred almost a hundred years ago in northern Argentina and was concealed by the State for decades with singular success: the massacre by security forces of hundreds of indigenous people who were protesting labor mistreatment and discrimination.
“We are seeking to heal the wounds and vindicate the memory of the (indigenous) peoples,” explained federal judge Zunilda Niremperger, as she opened the first hearing in Buenos Aires on May 10 in the trial for the truth of the so-called Napalpí Massacre, in which an undetermined number of indigenous people were shot to death on the morning of Jul. 19, 1924.
The trial began on Apr. 19 in the northern province of Chaco, one of the country’s poorest, near the border with Paraguay. But it was moved momentarily to the capital, home to approximately one third of the 45 million inhabitants of this South American country, to give it greater visibility.
In a highly symbolic decision, the venue chosen in Buenos Aires was the Space for Memory and Human Rights, created in the former Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), where the most notorious clandestine torture and extermination center operated during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which kidnapped and murdered as many as 30,000 people for political reasons.
“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina. People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.” — Duilio Ramírez
The hearings in Buenos Aires ended Thursday May 12, and the court will reconvene in Resistencia, the capital of Chaco, on May 19, when the prosecutor’s office and the plaintiffs are to present their arguments before the sentence is handed down at an unspecified date.
“This trial is aimed at bringing out the truth that we need, and that I come to support, in the place where they brought my daughter when they kidnapped her. This shows that genocides are repeated in history,” Vera Vigevani de Jarach, seated in the front row of the courtroom, her head covered by the white scarf that identifies the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, told IPS.
Vera, 94, is Jewish and emigrated with her family to Argentina when she was 11 years old from Italy, due to the racial persecution unleashed by fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1939. In 1976 her only daughter, Franca Jarach, then 18 years old, was forcibly disappeared.
“Truth trials” are not a novelty in Argentina. The term was used to refer to investigations of the crimes committed by the dictatorship, carried out after 1999, when amnesty laws passed after the conviction of the military regime’s top leaders blocked the prosecution of the rest of the perpetrators.
A petition filed by a member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (made up of mothers of victims of forced disappearance) before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) led later to an agreement with the Argentine State, which recognized the woman’s right to have the judiciary investigate the fate of her disappeared daughter, even though the amnesty laws made it impossible to punish those responsible.
Eventually, the amnesty laws were repealed, the trials resumed, and defendants were convicted and sent to prison.
Indigenous communities and human rights organizations held an Apr. 19, 2022 demonstration in Resistencia, capital of the Argentine province of Chaco, at the beginning of the trial for the truth about the Napalpí massacre. CREDIT: Chaco Secretariat of Human Rights and Gender
“My grandmother was a survivor of the massacre and I grew up listening to the stories of labor exploitation in Napalpí and about what happened that day. For us this trial is a historic reparation,” Miguel Iya Gómez, a bilingual multicultural teacher who today presides over the Chaco Aboriginal Institute, a provincial agency whose mission is to improve the living conditions of native communities, told IPS.
The trial is built on the basis of official documents and journalistic coverage of the time and the videotaped testimonies of survivors of the massacre and their descendants, and of researchers of indigenous history in the Chaco.
The Argentine province of Chaco forms part of the ecoregion from which it takes its name: a vast, hot, dry, sparsely forested plain that was largely unsettled during the Spanish Conquest. Only at the end of the 19th century did the modern Argentine State launch military campaigns to subdue the indigenous people in the Chaco and impose its authority there.
Once the Chaco was conquered, many indigenous families were forced to settle in camps called “reducciones”, where they had to carry out agricultural work.
“When indigenous people entered the ‘reducción’, they were given clothes and farming tools, and this generated a debt that put them under great pressure. And they were not allowed to make purchases outside the stores of the ‘reducción’,” he explained.
David García, a member of the Napalpí Foundation, created in 2006 to gather information about and bring visibility to the 1924 massacre, took part in the trial in Buenos Aires. His organization was one of the driving forces behind the historic trial in Argentina. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS
Invaded by cotton
Historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera said it was common for indigenous people in the Chaco to go to work temporarily in sugar mills in the neighboring provinces of Salta and Jujuy, but the scenario changed in the 1920s, when the Argentine government introduced cotton in the Chaco, to tap into the textile industry’s growing global demand.
“Then the criollo (white) settlers, who often had no laborers, demanded the guaranteed availability of indigenous labor to harvest the cotton crop, and in 1924 the government prohibited indigenous people, who refused to work on the cotton plantations, from leaving the Chaco, declaring any who left subversives,” Carrera said.
Anthropologist Lena Dávila Da Rosa said the Jul. 19, 1924 protest involved between 800 and 1000 indigenous people from Napalpí, and some 130 police officers who opened fired on them, with the support of an airplane that dropped candy so the children would go out to look for it and thus reveal the location of the protesters they were tracking down.
“It’s impossible to know exactly how many indigenous people were killed, but there were several hundred victims,” Alejandro Jasinski, a researcher with the Truth and Justice Program of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, told IPS.
“The official report mentioned four people killed in confrontations among themselves, and there was a judicial investigation that was quickly closed. All that was left were the buried memories of the communities,” he added.
The memories were revived and made public in recent years thanks in large part to the efforts of Juan Chico, an indigenous writer and researcher from the Chaco who died of COVID-19 in 2021.
“Juan started collecting oral accounts almost 20 years ago,” David García, a translator and interpreter of the language of the Qom, one of the main indigenous nations of the Chaco, told IPS. “I worked alongside him to bring the indigenous genocide to light, and in 2006 we founded an NGO that today is the Napalpí Foundation. It was a long struggle to reach this trial.”
Vera Vigevani de Jarach, a member of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, attended the hearing in Buenos Aires for the Napalpí indigenous massacre, held in the most notorious clandestine detention and torture center used by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. CREDIT: National Secretariat of Human Rights
Indigenous people in the Chaco today
Of the population of Chaco province, 3.9 percent, or 41,304 people, identified as indigenous in the last national census conducted in Argentina in 2010, which is higher than the national average of 2.4 percent.
Census data reflects the harsh living conditions of indigenous people in the Chaco and the disadvantages they face in relation to the rest of the population. More than 80 percent live in deficient housing while more than 25 percent live in critically overcrowded conditions, with more than three people per room. In addition, more than half of the households cook with firewood or charcoal.
Today, the site of the Napalpí massacre is called Colonia Aborigen Chaco and is a 20,000-hectare plot of land owned by the indigenous community where, according to official data, some 1,300 indigenous people live, from the Qom and Moqoit communities, the most numerous native groups in the Chaco along with the Wichi.
In 2019, mass graves were found there by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, a prestigious organization that emerged in 1984 to identify remains of victims of the military dictatorship and that has worked all over the world.
“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina,” Duilio Ramírez, a lawyer with the Chaco government’s Human Rights Secretariat, which is acting as plaintiff, told IPS. “People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.”
“We hope that with the ruling, the Argentine State will take responsibility for what happened and that this will translate into public policies of reparations for the indigenous communities,” he said.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 29 2022 (IPS) – The 10th edition of the World Happiness Report was recently published and once again the findings raised an array of mixed emotions with many questioning the real foundations underpinning the most discussed aspect of the Report, the World Happiness Ranking,
For example, according to the ranking, Nepal appears to be the happiest place in the South Asia but is it really the case? Many experts from the country doubt about it as it was reported by The Kathmandu Post on the 22nd of March.
In the article, Dambar Chemjong, head of the Central Department of Anthropology at Tribhuvan University simply asks “What actually constitutes happiness?”
This is a complex question to answer but certainly it is fair to wonder how come each time this report gets published, it is inevitable that the richest nations, especially the Nordic ones come up on the top while the poorest and more fragile ones instead are hopelessly at the bottom.
There is no doubt that material prosperity determines a person’s quality of life and the World Happiness Report looks at GDP and life expectancy. In addition, the report also explores other factors like generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.
These six variables, put together, are central to depict what the report calls “life evaluations” that “provide the most informative measure for international comparisons because they capture quality of life in a more complete and stable way than emotional reports based on daily experiences”.
The ranking is based on the Gallup World Poll, that asks “respondents to evaluate their current life as a whole using the mental image of a ladder, with the best possible life for them as a 10 and worst possible as a 0”.
One of the key findings is that social connections in dire times, especially if we think about what the entire world had to endure following the pandemic, do make the difference.
“Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever. And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being” says Jeffrey Sachs, one of the major “architects” behind the entire concept of measuring happiness worldwide.
This statement further validates the need to further think more broadly about the importance these social relationships and social bonds have in developing nations.
That’s why analyzing happiness across nations should be considered as a working progress and the goal should be to better picture the complex situations on the ground in many parts of the developing world.
These are all nations that have been experiencing hardships consistently, even before the Covid pandemic outbreak and, therefore, they should be acknowledged for having developed unique forms of social bonds and solidarity.
Instead, these social factors, these connectors and the levels of reliance stemming from them in these “unhappy” nations”, are overshadowed by some of the variables determining the life evaluations.
People in developing nations have less access to public services and they are more exposed to corruption and bad governance. Lack of health infrastructures or unequal job market do have a strong incidence in determining a person’s human development and quality of life.
Yet does the fact that their lives are tougher automatically means people are there are unhappy?
Moreover, should not we consider the stress and mental health often affecting the “prosperous” lives of the citizens living in the north of the world?
Probably the problem is the idea of having a ranking itself. Though desirable and useful, measuring real happiness is a daunting and complex job.
Trust, benevolence, real generosity (not just the extrapolated, like in the report, based on donations during the last month) are all key determinants of happiness.
Yet these same factors have always been strong in developing societies where people rely on mutuality and self-help rather than depending on governments unable to fulfill their duties.
As it is now, the World Happiness Ranking risks to become just a “plus” version of the Human Development Index.
There is still a long way to better decipher and understand the meaning of happiness in the so called South of the World.
There is also a great need for the authors to better explain in simpler terms their methodology of calculating the ranking especially the relationships between the six key variables analyzed and positive and negative emotions that are also taken into consideration.
The fact that the ranking and the science behind the report is still a working process, it is recognized in the report itself.
An option would be to re-consider the variables of “life evaluations” that, by default, underscore the concept of wellbeing from a western perspective.
On the positive side, it is encouraging to see how the report includes also a part on “cross-Cultural Perspectives on Balance/Harmony”, central if we want to have a less westernized approach to happiness.
The 2022 edition of the Report devotes also considerable space to the biological basis of happiness, the relationships between genes and environment, what the report calls “Gene-Environment Interplay”.
Such nexus, affecting a person’s feelings and emotions and all the intricacies coming from these interactions, should make us reflect if it is really worthy to continue pursuing the goal of having an annual global ranking on happiness.
The idea of a ranking on happiness risks defeating the purpose of the gigantic and noble effort of better understanding how we can be happier and how public policies can have a role or not in these unfolding dynamics.
Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal.
NEW DELHI and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 2022 (IPS) – A recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study shows the largest farms cultivate a high and increasing share of agricultural land in much of the world.
Farm size concentration World Agricultural Census data for 129 countries show about 40% of the world’s farmland is operated by farms over 1000 hectares (ha) in size. About 70% is operated by the top 1% of farms, all bigger than 50 ha each.
A rising share of farmland is in larger farms. But farm sizes in developed and developing countries seem quite different. Farms smaller than 5 ha accounted for 63% of land in low and lower middle-income countries. But such farms covered only 8% of farmland in upper middle and high-income countries.
The “share of farmland farmed on the largest holdings has increased in … several European countries (France, Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and in the United States of America.” Similarly, in recent decades, more land in many Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries is in larger farms.
Data coverage uneven Most agricultural censuses in developing countries do not cover large scale farms well. Official agricultural statistics in many developing countries focus on farm households, often ignoring corporate farms.
Agricultural censuses typically rely on land records, usually neither up to date nor complete. Large farms often have land registered to different persons and entities, typically to avoid taxes and bypass land ownership ceilings and regulations.
Even where large farms are legally recognized as commercial entities, land is often held via subsidiaries in complex arrangements. For such reasons, the extent of concentration is probably greater than what the study suggests.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram
Ominous trends Despite its limitations, the study findings are ominous. Changing inequalities in farmland ownership and cultivation have reduced the smallholder or peasant share of food production.
The study suggests that ‘land grabs’, new laws and policies have enabled large (capitalist) farmers, agribusiness corporations and other commercial entities to control most of the world’s farmland.
Disparities in government support allowed by World Trade Organization and other trade agreements have enabled large farms in developed countries, like the US, to gain more advantages over relatively uninfluential peasants in the South.
More advantages to big farm capital in recent decades, particularly to large-scale commercial agriculture in the global North, have enhanced their edge. More peasant distress has pushed many deeper into debt. Many of the most vulnerable have had to migrate, seeking precarious employment elsewhere.
Under various pressures not to protect food agriculture, developing countries have cut support for peasants. Withdrawal of such assistance has forced farmers to buy inputs at commercial prices. Meanwhile, many have to sell their produce cheap to those providing credit or other facilities.
By enabling easier land takeovers, commercial farming has quickly spread in ecologically fragile areas such as the Brazilian Cerrado, various parts of sub-Saharan Africa and steep slopes subject to deforestation.
Small farms, world food The study has triggered a controversy by asserting that ‘family farms’ is a broader category than smallholdings. These would include large family-owned or run farms.
Hence, family farms account for 80% of the total value of food produced in the world, while smallholdings account for only 35%. These estimates have been contested by several civil society organizations who have protested to the FAO Director General.
Most agricultural censuses do not provide data on production by farm size. Instead, the study divides the total market value of a country’s food output by its total farmland. It then assumes a constant food output value per hectare. But this ignores significant differences in crop output among farms of different types.
Commercial bias In many countries, large farms produce more commercial crops, not necessarily food. These may be for manufacturing (e.g., rubber, cotton), animal feed, or to be industrially processed for consumption (e.g., sugar, palm oil, coffee).
Many smallholder peasants consume significant shares of their own farm outputs. They typically work on limited land and need to meet their own food needs, rather than maximize cash incomes. Hence, their priorities may be rather different from those of commercial farms.
More fertile regions (e.g., river deltas) tend to have greater population densities, smaller farm sizes and higher productivity. Such smaller farms often grow multiple crops yearly, while larger farms with harsher agro-climatic conditions (e.g., higher temperatures, more snow or less water availability) often only have a single crop annually.
Although not universal, and often overstated, there is evidence of smallholders having higher land productivity, inversely related to farm size, owing to differences in the way factor inputs are used by various types of farms.
By assuming constant food output value per hectare, the study ignores many important variations, and probably under-estimates the contributions of small farms to world food supply.
Peasants marginalized The study shows how various systemic advantages and biases have enabled big capitalist farms to control more of the world’s farmland and food supplies. But the share of food supply produced by smallholder producers is far from settled.
While more pronounced in rich countries, large corporate farms have also been growing in many developing countries. Even where family farming is predominant, increasing farm sizes have been apparent.
The study rightly notes the need to consider different types of farms in making appropriate policies for family farms of various sizes. This is necessary to better formulate policies to address poverty and livelihoods, especially for smallholder producers in distress.
It even suggests the need to “hold large scale and corporate agriculture accountable for the negative externalities of their production (for example on the environment)”. Besides better farming data, farmland concentration and its many implications in various parts of the world should be more appropriately addressed.
Vikas Rawal is Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has conducted field research on agrarian relations in different parts of India for three decades, and works on global agricultural development challenges. Inter alia, he was lead author of The Global Economy of Pulses (FAO).