Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more inhumane Greek refugee policies. The revelation by the New York Times that Greece has secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, abandoning many of them on inflatable life rafts in the Aegean Sea, is one example of this disturbing trend. Meanwhile, refugees are being locked inside Oinofyta refugee camp while Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely.

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is occurring in Yemen right now, and the world is still glossing over it. Five years of war, pitting the internationally-recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels – and civilians are the ones who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict.

The West Bank Annexation

The West Bank Annexation

On May 5 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for his fifth term as Prime Minister of Israel. Among his campaign pledges was the proposed annexation of the West Bank. This annexation poses a serious threat to the long-sought two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The West Bank, and more specifically the Jordan Valley, is considered pivotal to the survival of a future Palestinian state among Palestinians.

Period Poverty is an Unknown Consequence of Coronavirus Shutdowns

Period Poverty is an Unknown Consequence of Coronavirus Shutdowns

Covid-19 has aggravated existing societal inequalities. One issue which has been brought to light is that of period poverty. Period poverty exists and is exacerbated by Covid-19 and the virus has revealed the cracks in our system. One of these cracks is the lack of support and supplies for people who have periods.

Duterte’s Drug War in the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs in the Philippines has been called into question by human rights watchdogs. As pressure mounts, how has the ‘drug war’ been waged and is this a pragmatic manoeuvre for political gain or an earnest policy in the interest of the Filipino people?

Direct Provision and the Lasting Impact of COVID-19

Direct Provision and the Lasting Impact of COVID-19

Over the past few months, while immersed in the coronavirus pandemic, Ireland has successfully “flattened the curve”, with daily confirmed cases finally reaching below 50 consistently. As wider society marks this triumph with the gradual easing of restrictions, people on the margins continue to suffer greatly, with little recognition or action. Covid-19 infection has increased rapidly in Direct Provision centres around the country.

No, the Coronavirus Is Not Good For the World.

No, the Coronavirus Is Not Good For the World.

As of Friday 17th April 2020, Ireland is three weeks into official lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. While societies globally need optimism and hope to navigate this crisis, there are many whose lives have been changed forever, lives lost, mental health deteriorating, and much worse.

Reflecting on the Rwanda Genocide

Reflecting on the Rwanda Genocide

This week, on 7 April, the world marked the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. In Rwanda itself, the country celebrated a national holiday. What happened during those 100 days in 1994, and what is the political legacy of the genocide today?

The Irish Environment to Have its Day in Court

The Irish Environment to Have its Day in Court

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), an Irish charity committed to tackling climate change, have become significant players in Irish climate litigation. Now, they have been granted special permission to go straight to the Supreme Court, to demand that the government do better to protect our environment.

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.

43 People Die In Factory Fire In New Delhi

43 People Die In Factory Fire In New Delhi

At least 43 people were killed in a devastating fire that spread through a bag factory in the old quarter of the Indian capital New Delhi, trapping workers who were sleeping inside. Authorities say they do not yet know the cause of the blaze but it has been reported that the site had been operating without the required fire safety clearances.

The Leaderless Protest Series – Hong Kong

The Leaderless Protest Series – Hong Kong

2019 has witnessed the kindled spirit of the youth across the world. The one common factor is that young people have decided to stand up! Editor Deepthi Suresh gives her analysis largely focusing on the protests in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Bolivia and Iran in a new STAND series. This first piece focuses on the situation in Hong Kong.

A global prison problem

A global prison problem

 

“Imprisonment has become an almost automatic response rather than a last resort. Furthermore, the penitentiary system in most countries is no longer aimed at the reformation and social rehabilitation of convicts, but simply aims to punish by locking offenders away”. – Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture.

 

Prison systems across the globe are facing a crisis – the serious effects of which harm prisoners’ health and wellbeing as well as that of their families and society at large. The reality in many prisons today tends to be far from international standards and furthermore begs the question: are prisons across the world achieving their goal of protecting society from crime?

One of the main issues we are seeing globally is overcrowding. The Unite Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that over 10.2 million people were held in penal institutions worldwide in 2013 with an average imprisonment rate of 144 prisoners per 100,000 of the world population. In 2013, 114 national prison systems operated at an occupancy rate of over 100%, according to the report by the UNODC.

According to the UNODC: “When penitentiary systems are over stretched and poorly managed, prisons run the risk of degenerating into dangerous places for both prisoners and prison staff”.

The UNODC plans to tackle the issue in three ways:

  1. By reducing the scope of imprisonment
  2. Improving prison conditions
  3. Supporting the social reintegration of offenders upon release.

 

A report from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) issued in 2017 has shown that despite popular opinion, a country’s crime rate does not dictate how many people are in prison; it actually comes down to a broad range of political, economic and social factors which are different in every country.

The ICPR report looked at several countries in-depth and made some revealing discoveries showing the leaders and laggards in the global Prison system:

The United States has around one-fifth of the world’s prisoners. Its prison population more than quadrupled from around half a million in 1980 to a peak of over 2.3 million in 2008.

Brazil has seen prisoner numbers increase twenty-fold from around 30,000 in 1973 to over 600,000 today. Many prisons are under gang control. Riots, extreme violence and massacres are regularly reported.

England and Wales has seen its prison population more than double since 1975. Incidents of violence, suicide and self-harm are at a record high and there were four prison riots in 2016.

The Netherlands has achieved a sustained reduction in imprisonment: Dutch prisoner numbers have fallen steadily since 2005, when they were among the highest in Western Europe.

Thailand has seen its prison population surge, largely as a result of a highly punitive approach to drug offences. This has affected women in particular: over 80% of sentenced female prisoners are convicted of drug offences.

In Kenya, prisons are operating at over twice their capacity. Tuberculosis, scabies and other medical problems are common. Imprisonment for relatively minor crimes and excessive use of pre-trial detention contribute to overcrowding.

 

Several human rights issues are stemming from the inhumane treatment of prisoners, in particular with regards healthcare. In the United States and other prisons across the globe like those in Japan, solitary confinement still takes place, and prisoners with physical and mental health issues continue to be placed in these circumstances.

In Japan, the number of people in solitary confinement for over 10 years increased by 50% between 2012 and 2016, and almost half of these individuals were then mentally disabled. In Texas, 25% of all USA prison suicides occurred in segregation cells – this is a staggering figure as Texas only holds 2.7% of the USA prison population.

In 2017, many prisons saw outbreaks of disease including in Sana, Yemen, where a Cholera outbreak began. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimate the epidemic reached 1 million people by December 2017. A typhoid outbreak in early 2017 spread to two prisons in Zimbabwe and infected over 800 people.

There have been calls from the World Health Organization and many others for a re-evaluation of the global prison system.

Commenting on the ICPR report, Jago Russell, Chief Executive of Fair Trials, said:

‘’This report offers an intriguing insight into the very different approaches countries take in terms of whom they imprison and why. With incarceration levels rising rapidly, making prisons dangerous, inhumane places for inmates and staff alike, it matters that we understand the many and varied factors at work here. This report provides a roadmap towards understanding what drives the over-use of imprisonment – and where solutions might lie.’’

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of JosephB via Flickr

 

India vs Pakistan: Aggressive diplomacy to the rescue

India vs Pakistan: Aggressive diplomacy to the rescue

 

A suicide bombing which killed 46 Indian soldiers in the Pulwama District of Indian-administered Kashmir on 14 February. This brought the two nuclear powered neighbours India and Pakistan almost to the brink of war, following a dramatic military escalation over Kashmir – a divided territory both nations claim is theirs.

The the countries have endured a prolonged animosity since Muslim majority Pakistan was partitioned from Hindu dominated India in 1947 at the end of the British rule. The nations have engaged in a total of four wars over the disputed territory, and continue to suffer strained diplomatic and economic relations due to rising militant and insurgent activities in the Kashmiri valley.

The Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) suicide attack was conducted and claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a terrorist group that operates out of Pakistan. The group has resolved to continue its “Ghazwa-e-Hind” (Holy War against India) irrespective of Indo-Pak ties. JeM had close links to Osama bin Laden and was formed after the release of Masood Azhar from an Indian jail as part of a hostage exchange, following the hijack of an Indian Airlines flight in 1999.

The Pulwama bombing incident proved to be the deadliest attack undertaken by militants during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Following quick claims of Pakistan’s involvement, the initial reaction by the Indian administration was to take all possible diplomatic steps to isolate Pakistan from the international community. They began this by starting with the revocation of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status from Pakistan, a special trading privilege granted in 1996, thereby increasing the import duty by 200%.

Renewing their diplomatic stance against Pakistan’s state support for terrorism, India has once more rallied for Maulana Masood Azhar to be designated as a global terrorist, a move that has been repeatedly blocked by China, a close ally of Pakistan. India has also linked Pakistan to its partners’ security challenges relating to North Korea. In the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, three permanent members of the United Nations – US, UK, and France have moved a resolution supporting India’s claim, stating that not listing Azhar as a global terrorist would be a move against regional stability and peace. The UN Security Council has yet to make a decision on the matter.

The exploitation of the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty as a diplomatic weapon was also considered. No action has been taken in this regard, with the treaty deemed to be the most successful agreement of its kind, and speculation that any step towards violating it would be considered very aggressive by Islamabad.

Despite many diplomatic efforts, and with general elections around the corner, the Indian government was under pressure to respond. On 26 February, India carried out an intelligence-led, non-military, pre-emptive air strike on what it said was a JeM militant camp in Balakot, Pakistan.

This one-upped the alleged surgical strikes carried out by India in the aftermath of the Uri attack in September 2016, as this was the first intentional crossing of the Line of Control, beyond the disputed territory and into Pakistan, since the 1971 war.

Pakistan – which denies any involvement in the 14 February attack and India’s claim that it hit the JeM training camp – says it felt the need to placate its domestic constituencies and had no choice but to respond. The day after the strike, a dogfight between the sides led to an Indian fighter jet being shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Amidst fear and speculation of further retaliation and use of nuclear power, Pakistan returned Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India as a ‘peace gesture’ urging India to settle differences with peace talks.

Considering India’s boldness in the IAF strike, Pakistan’s unexpected and passive reaction is proof of the tactful diplomacy India engaged in. Through India’s stance against state supported terrorism, it hit the right nerve in the international community by associating JeM with global terrorist activity. This, along with the occupation of higher moral ground because of its “non-military” strike without any civilian casualties, resulted in its action gaining sympathy, while Pakistan continues to face a lot of pressure to crack down on the militancy.

While it is safe to say that India’s tactful alliances prevented the expected escalation, both the nuclear powers understand that an all-out-war would not have been in favour of any party involved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency via Wikicommons

 

Art

Calling all student artists, photographers, designers and writers! As well as the chance to win over €1,000 in prizes, STAND is giving 10 talented students the opportunity to have their art shown as part of our nationwide outdoor exhibition this autumn! STAND needs...
Update on the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories

Update on the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories

In recent weeks, media attention towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to have died down, after an upsurge following March 2018’s “Great March of Return” by Palestinians on the border between Gaza and Israel. Direct escalations have decreased in recent months and casualties are still comparatively low after a spike during the 2014 Gaza War. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the conflict seems to be simmering on, without an outright escalation but also no solution in sight. Despite some reprieve at the beginning of this year, the situation on the ground remains fragile.

In the West Bank, the main concern of Palestinians remains the expansion of Jewish settlements. According to the report by the United Nations Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov at the Security Council’s quarterly debate on the issue, during the last quarter 3,100 housing units were approved by the Israeli government in Area C settlements, with simultaneous moves to legalize outposts and apply Israeli law there, “raising concerns of annexation” among Palestinians. In the same vein, UNICEF reports that critical infrastructure in East Jerusalem, Hebron, and Area C of the West Bank are under threat of demolition, for which Palestinians are unable to claim compensation from the Israeli authorities. The ending of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), which was established in 1995 in line with the so-called Oslo II Accords, could raise further concerns from Palestinians.

In Gaza, meanwhile, the humanitarian situation came close to collapse in the beginning of the year, with the World Health Organization concerned about their ability to continue operations in Gaza’s hospitals due to electricity and fuel shortages. This comes in the midst of an escalation in the dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Early in January, the Palestinian Authority withdrew its personnel from the border crossing of Rafah between Gaza and Egypt, prompting Egypt to temporarily close it. Additionally, after already having reduced the pay for civil servants in Gaza since April 2017, the Palestinian Authority suspended them entirely in January 2019. This comes atop a spike in the unemployment rate of 54% during the second quarter of 2018, with women and youth especially hard hit.

Beginning in February, there has been a contemporary boost in the situation, with electricity provision rising from three to ten hours per day, and an increase in donor commitments creating 4,200 jobs in recent weeks – reducing the rate of reliance on humanitarian assistance by the United Nations by 40%. Yet the situation remains tense, as “we should have no illusions about the dangerous dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continue to unfold before our eyes”, according to the UN Special Coordinator. At the Gaza border, intermittent light fire by Israeli security forces targeting Palestinians continues, while incendiary devices, and sometimes rockets, continue to be launched into Israel.

 

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Image courtesy of Rene Schlaefer via Flickr

The hidden genocide of Sri Lanka

The hidden genocide of Sri Lanka

 

 

“It was terrible. Every day when I woke up, I didn’t know if I would still be alive when the sun went down. I remember the fires, everything burning, women, children. So many times I came close to death, a shell that dropped five metres away from me, 10 metres away. Why not me? Why did I survive?”
– Dr. Thangamuthu Sathiyamoorthy

 

A background of the Civil War in Sri Lanka
During colonial times, the British Crown believed that Sri Lanka was the rightful property of the Buddhist practicing Sinhalese people. Imperialist Britain, deeming their occupation to be a civilising mission, took it upon themselves to restore power in favour of the Sinhalese as a result.

Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. However, government policies continued to be put in place, which favoured the Sinhalese majority while marginalising the Muslim Tamil minority. In response, the revolutionary group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in 1976. The LTTE fought to create an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the north-east of the island. A bloody 26-year military campaign ensued, ending only in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan army.

 

Hidden Genocide
The Sri Lankan army killed thousands of Tamils during the two-decade long civil war, and the world looked away. The United Nations, which acknowledged its failures under the Responsibility to Protect Act, is still trying to tally the numbers. 40,000-70,000 civilians were killed over the five months of the final conflagration, though the number that the UN now accepts may be far higher. Despite repeated cries for an international investigation into war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan army, no public figure has been held to account.

Further still, lands belonging to Tamil people in the north-east were appropriated by the Sri Lankan army, forcing a large swath of the Tamil population to be landless wanderers.

A full session of the Rome based, Permanent Peoples Tribunal, held in Breman, considered evidence collected over three years and concluded that the state of Sri Lanka is guilty of the crime of genocide against the Tamil people.

The Sri Lankan government has continuously attempted to evade any investigations into its conduct.

 

 

The Facts of Climate Change Denialg

The Facts of Climate Change Denialg

 

 

Yale’s School of Law’s Cultural Cognition Project is a research project, carried out by a number of scholars from a variety of disciplines, with the aim of uncovering the ways in which cultural values determine for individuals what counts as fact.

 

An instance of this is their research into the phenomenon of climate change denial. In a study entitled- ‘The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of—and Progress in—the American Culture War of Fact’- they make a case for the thesis that specific societal value orientations contribute to the denial of climate change claims.

 

Individuals who deny climate change are broken down into one of two psychological profiles, those who subscribe to either a hierarchical worldview or an individualist worldview. Both have their own views on how society should be organised; the former “believe that rights, duties, goods, and offices should be distributed differentially and on the basis of clearly defined and stable social characteristics (e.g., gender, wealth, lineage, ethnicity).” The individualistic worldview advocates the notion that the individual is the condition of their own flourishing and that this should not be delimited by external interference.

 

Insofar as state policy regarding the curbing of conduct which endangers the climate is not conducive to the private enterprise spirit of the individualist, this group predominantly denies climate change. Hierarchs likewise tend to dismiss claims which suggest that climate change is a real and threatening risk. The experiment attempts to confirm that such denial is a consequence of the social values they hold.
The Hierarchs and Individualists are mixed into one group before being divided proportionally. They are given a document authoritatively delineating how climate change is a consequence of human conduct. Both groups are given the same document. However, one group’s document follows a proposal advocating anti-pollution regulation. The other group’s document follows a proposal for increased nuclear power investment.
Following their consideration of the documents, the group given the anti-pollution document insisted on their denial of climate change whereas the group given the nuclear investment document actually accepted the reality of human-induced climate change.

 

The researchers concluded from this that it was the threat to the way in which the participants believed society ought to operate which resulted in one group’s denying certain facts which the other group, unthreatened, proved willing to accept. What count as facts, the researchers concluded, is inextricably linked to the values individuals hold regarding how society should be organised.

 

Shedding light on the psychology of climate change denial, the experiments result is alarming, especially when we consider real-life instances of climate change denial. There is a contradiction between accepting human-induced and threatening climate change, and a celebration of practices which further increase this threat; and this is something we need to be mindful of, as political commentator George Monbiot has eloquently illustrated.

 

In his book ‘How Did We Get Into This Mess?’ Monbiot draws attention to the 2015 UK government’s acknowledgement of the fact that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the threat of climate change with their subsequently contradictory investments in fossil fuel production. Just like the Individualist and Hierarch, one can accept the reality of climate change and, at the same time, invest in fossil fuels, which increase the threat of climate change. Politicians, of course, proceed with caution. As Monbiot points out, they, therefore, propose policies that advocate constraints on the use of fossil fuels. However, the policy seems to amount to no more than how he characterised it as early as 2007: “extract every last drop of fossil fuel and then pray to God that no one uses it.” Of course, we must not let their pretensions to constrain fossil fuel use deter us from understanding that they are nevertheless extracting those fossil fuels and thereby ensuring their continued consumption.

 

As we can see, the contradiction illustrated by the Yale researchers has a troubling political reality. Their research takes on an important significance for those wishing to combat activities which exacerbate the threat of climate change.

 

Individuals who celebrate further investment in projects which exacerbate the threat of climate change occupy a seemingly impenetrable position. One the one hand, they have the luxury of denying the facts of climate change, resulting in the self-warranting of their continued and endangering practices; on the other hand, they can acquiesce with indifference, the consequences of climate change.

 

What one can gain from Yale’s School of Law’s Cultural Cognition analysis is a more sophisticated understanding of what the critic of environmentally unfriendly practices actually contests. What is at issue is not the facts of climate change, rather a self-serving culture for which the legitimacy of facts are actually of little importance.

 

5 ways to live sustainably

5 ways to live sustainably

Peanut butter and other healthy foods from around the globe that we have grown to know and love can contribute to poor sustainability.

Clean eating is a growing trend amongst the animal lovers and health fanatics of the world. However, choosing to consume only certain products can be just as detrimental to the environment. For example, peanut butter generally contains palm oil, a major contributing factor to deforestation and the destruction of countless wildlife habitats.

Food products such as peanut butter contain carbohydrates and nutrients useful to those who cut out meat from their diet. In order to still feel like you are making an ecological and environmental difference, here are five ways you can eat and live sustainably:

  1. Meal Prep:

Preparing your meals the night before in reusable containers cuts down on packaging waste, but it also allows you to know exactly what you’re going to eat the following day without having to rely on food which may contain harmful substances.

  1. Shop local:

Local produce from farmers markets is more traceable and reliable for quality and freshness. When you get to meet the person who grew or cared for your food, it is easier to inquire about things such as pesticides and whether your chicken is free range.

  1. Moon me:

The Moon Cup, a product for menstruating women, is becoming increasingly more mainstream. A Moon Cup can be inserted during a period and used instead of numerous tampons and sanitary towels, which are unfortunately not biodegradable and are in no way reusable.

  1. Keep Cups:

As the majority of the human race depends on caffeine to function at some point throughout the day, an investment in a reusable Keep Cup can prevent countless Starbucks cups contributing to waste.

  1. Public Transport or Walking:

Ireland is one of the worst offenders for greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Using public transport, walking or cycling, can be a personal contribution to lowering these emissions.

 

Image courtesy of Kimberley Nanney at Unsplash

Activism in literature

Activism in literature

Emily Daly looks at books that make us question the world around us and what we can do to change it.

Though best known for his epic whaling novel Moby-Dick, Herman Melville is also remembered for his short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. Published in 1853, the tale is narrated by a rather pompous but good natured lawyer who runs a small law firm on the most famous street in the world – Wall Street. His three employees are so predictable that they are given nicknames which summarise their personalities: the red-faced Turkey, the irritable Nippers, and the young messenger boy Ginger Nut. But the narrator’s smug insight into his employees’ eccentricities is deeply challenged upon the arrival of a fourth worker, Bartleby.

The worker
Bartleby is hired as a scrivener. Before the days of copy and paste it was the job of a scrivener to make copies of legal documents with pen and ink. The work was long, painstaking and dull. Sometimes documents of more than 500 pages had to be copied out multiple times. At first Bartleby is an enthusiastic worker, churning out documents in mechanical fashion. However, he quickly cuts down on his work until eventually he seems to do little more than stare out the viewless office window. Whenever he is asked to complete a task, Bartleby replies every time with a mild, “I would prefer not to”. The narrator is utterly unnerved by this response. Although he feels compassion for the enigmatic Bartleby he is eventually forced to abandon him. He moves his business to a different building when the scrivener takes to occupying his office day and night.

Occupy Wall Street
Over 150 years later, Occupy Wall Street (2011), a protest movement against global economic inequality picked up Bartleby’s signature phrase “I would prefer not to” as their tag-line. The movement was certainly indebted to Bartleby, the very first occupier of Wall Street, a street which has become synonymous with money, power, and ruthless capitalism. In Bartleby, Melville provides an interesting critique of early capitalist America in which Bartleby’s spiritual death occurs long before he physically dies. However, it is also impossible to imagine Bartleby joining in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m sure that if he was told to come along and wave a flag he “would prefer not to”.

Bartleby is the ultimate outsider who we will never fully understand. This sense of mystery is responsible for the enduring popularity of the story among scholars and casual readers alike. Perhaps Melville’s masterpiece not only reflects upon the dangers of capitalism but also totalitarianism of any kind.

 

Photo by Rafa Luque via Flickr. 

The hidden indigenous of Sakhalin Island

The hidden indigenous of Sakhalin Island

This is the first in a series on indigenous populations around the world and the difficulties they face.
Indigenous communities in Sakhalin have faced land wars and oil exploitation, but work is being done to change this.

Sakhalin Island lies between Russia and Japan in the North Pacific ocean. It’s rich and diverse groups of indigenous communities have often been overlooked, through years of occupation and minor land skirmishes. Indigenous communities still make up 0.7 per cent of Sakhalin’s population, and remain important stakeholders in the island’s cultural, social, and political development.

Demographics
Sakhalin’s indigenous community is made up of four different ethnic groups: the Nivkh (the most numerous), the Uilta, the Evenki, and the Nanai. The Evenki and Uilta are known for reindeer herding,  while the Nivkh were known for hunting and fishing, until the 1980s when they began to move into urban settlements.

While most of the indigenous communities have adopted the Russian-Japanese culture imposed upon the island, there are some cultural factors that tie the island to its indigenous past. The Nivkh language, for example, is spoken by about 10 percent of islanders, and is apparently unrelated to any other language on Earth. Additionally, revivalist movements are currently gathering steam, which seek to emphasise the island’s traditional shamanistic roots.

Problems
After centuries of being caught up in a land war between Russia and Japan, Sakhalin, which is now a formally Russian territory, still faces problems. After experiencing an oil-boom in the post-Soviet years, Sakhalin has seen an influx of oil companies developing pipelines on the island. This has posed issues for the island’s indigenous population, as their natural surroundings are damaged and polluted. As a result, indigenous islanders have begun protesting the actions of multinational oil conglomerates.

Development
There are, of course, more positive sides to the story. In recent years, the Sakhalin Indigenous Minorities Development Plan has been established, with the aim of further involving indigenous communities in the economic and social life of the island. This plan, supported by Sakhalin Energy, also aims to help reduce the negative impact of oil exploration on the islanders.

Sakhalin Island is the perfect example of the vivid, diverse cultural landscape that is often overlooked among discussion of more prominent geo-political forces. With the help of people working to prevent environmental disaster, this vibrant indigenous cultural will hopefully remain prosperous for years to come.

 

Above photo: Sakhalin Island by Vatslav via Wikicommons.
Below photo: map of Sakhalin Island via google maps.  

 

Football’s discrimination issue

Football’s discrimination issue

Forget VAR, Russia 2018 highlights the darker side of the world’s largest travelling festival.

For many, the World Cup is a travelling festival that brings excitement and entertainment, while for others, it is a dull season of analysis and discussion.  For some, however, the World Cup is a reflection of their nation’s place in the world, something that brings with it complex questions of national identity.

During the 2014 World Cup, analysis from British Future found that two thirds of players at the tournament lived and worked outside the countries they represented. This year, England is sending its most diverse squad in history to Russia in the hopes of a victory. Football, it’s clear, is becoming more open and inclusive. However, the reaction of fans to their teams’ cultural development can serve as an uneasy reminder of the insular nationalism that is so often associated with sporting achievements.

History of Racism
Football controversy is nothing new. In 2016, leader of the far right Alternative for Germany party, Alexander Gauland, was quoted as saying that while the German team’s star defender, Jérôme Boateng – whose father is from Ghana – was a skilled player, most Germans “don’t want to have a Boateng as their neighbour”. In the same year, questions were raised about the French national squad for the European Championships excluding players on racial grounds.  

Russia 2018
Incidents like these seem likely to continue this year. A joint report from anti-discrimination group the Fare Network and data analysis agency the Sova Center found that incidents of racist chants increased in games played in Russian Stadiums before the World Cup kicked off, amid an unprecedented spike in homophobic abuse.

As the World Cup kicks into full swing, there have already been incidents of discrimination directed at players. After conceding a winning goal to Germany on Saturday, Swedish midfielder Jimmy Durmaz,who was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents, faced a torrent of online abuse which, rather than critiquing his sporting ability, focused on his background as a second-generation immigrant.

Official reaction
Thankfully, steps are being taken to combat such discrimination at this year’s games. Referees, for example, will have the power to stop games if they witness incidents of racism or discrimination – from players or fans. It remains to be seen, however, whether policies like these will make much of a difference, as football has a history of introducing anti-discrimination policies that are more symbolic than effective.

Either way, the World Cup provides an opportunity for policymakers, players and fans alike to come to terms with discrimination and abuse. Amid the growing diversity of players, a frank analysis of football’s dark side is long overdue.

Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash

Beating Plastic Pollution

Beating Plastic Pollution

As India hosts celebrations for World Environment Day, Deepthi Suresh looks at their efforts in banning Plastic.

This week, despite significant efforts, a whale died in Thailand after swallowing nearly 80 plastic bags and not being able to eat. A recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum  predicts that by 2050, all the plastic in the ocean will weigh more than all the fish in the ocean. As the world’s plastic pollution reaches epidemic proportions, the international day against plastic celebrates efforts to reduce the amount of single use plastic.

Pollution
India ranks among the top polluters in the world. According to the assessment report of the Central Pollution Control board (CPCB) of India, every day Indian cities generate 15,000 tonnes of the plastic waste of which only 9000 tonnes are collected, processed or recycled. India’s capital city Delhi introduced a ban on disposable plastic waste in 2017 and this prohibits the use of plastic cutlery, disposable cups etc. Anyone caught with plastic after April 2018 will be forced to pay a fine and repeat offenders could even face prison.

Efforts to reduce
All public authorities and corporations are directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) of India to ensure the effective ban of plastic. This ban on plastic use was also followed by Maharashtra, India’s second most populous state.
India demonstrated global leadership on climate change and the role it played in the Paris Agreement. India is, therefore, chosen as the global host of the World Environment Day which will focus on the effective action against single-use plastic pollution on June 5 this year by the United Nations Environment Programme.

To see more about World Environment Day visit: http://worldenvironmentday.global/

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

Spotlight: representation of women in sport

Spotlight: representation of women in sport

When we think of ‘sport’, our minds are almost automatically drawn to male teams, players and athletes – whether they are internationally renowned stars, or those in our local communities. Nonetheless, women’s representation in sport is on the rise, with a growing number of young girls getting active and continuing sport into adulthood. We’ve taken a closer look at some of the progress that has been made to embrace and promote the representation of women in the sporting world.

New Zealand
The New Zealand women’s national soccer team triumphed earlier this month by closing the gender pay gap with their male counterparts. The women’s team rank 20th in the world, while the male team come in 133rd. The ‘Football Ferns’ will now receive the same pay, prize money, rights for image use, and travel budget as the men’s team. New Zealand is paving the way, becoming the first country to ever reach full financial parity between its male and female soccer teams.

England
On the other side of the world, the very opposite has been happening within the English Rugby Football Union. Prior to last summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, the 38 professional players on the English women’s rugby team were informed that only 17 players would have their contracts renewed after the tournament. According to the RFU, the step was made to prioritise the women’s sevens team, but it has received criticism from both players and members of the House of Commons, being described as a huge blow to women’s rugby in England.

Coverage
While female participation in sport has surged, media coverage of women’s sport has not. The media have huge potential to influence our perceptions of women in sport, particularly in comparison to our perceptions of male athletes. In the US, ESPN devotes 2 percent of airtime to women’s sport, a figure which has not changed since 1999.

In the UK, women’s sports makes up 7 percent of all sports media coverage. While TG4 and RTÉ have increased their coverage of ladies’ football, camogie, boxing, and rugby, broadcasters and advertisers are slow to fully embrace female sports. It’s worth bearing in mind how this may influence the wider public’s interest in women’s sport, especially for young girls – “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”.

 

Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

Race to Croatia: Jailbreak 2018

Race to Croatia: Jailbreak 2018

On March 12th, four teams from UCC sprinted across the finish line of the annual Jailbreak race, marking the end of a wild 36 hour adventure across Europe.

The student fundraiser is organized in conjunction with Amnesty International, SVP and An Cumann Gaelach. Now entering its 6th year, Jailbreak has helped to raise over €275,000 since its inception in 2013. During the competition, students compete in teams of 2 to race from Dublin towards a mystery location which is revealed through a series of clues throughout the course of the competition.

For many, the Jailbreak journey begins well before March 10th as each team raises awareness and, of course, funds in the lead up to the event. Some pairs held fundraisers such as table quizzes, concerts, waxathons and even a bush-tucker trial in order to raise the money. The most raised by an individual pair was an incredible €3,900 while overall the event this year raised over €58,000.

The race saw over 70 teams taking part from all over Ireland. After the event was kick-started from Dublin castle, the first clue led competitors to Liberty Hall in the heart of Dublin city. From there each team was given a clue to head towards continental Europe and so the crowds flocked to Dublin Airport armed with charity buckets and Irish flags. Competitors begged, borrowed and blagged to get on planes, buses, ferries and trains right through Europe as the clues were slowly revealed every 6 hours, eventually leading to the beautiful Croatian city of Pula. Teams could be sponsored by companies, family, friends but could not spend any of their own money.

The race also requires competitors to complete three charity challenges, one for each of the chosen charities. Amnesty’s challenge reflected their “Brave” campaign, requiring teams to sketch the hashtag “3500” outside an embassy in any country. The number 3500 represents the amount of Human Rights Defenders who have been killed around the world since the passing of the Human Rights Defenders’ Declaration in 1998. For SVP the challenge was to “Pay-it-forward” asking each team to do a nice deed for someone along the way and encourage them to pass on the goodwill. Finally An Cumman Gaelach set the “cúpla focail” challenge, requiring competitors to spread the Irish language by teaching a few short phrases to some unsuspecting Europeans.

Jailbreak is an amazing event which raises a huge amount of money and awareness for three very important charities. It also gives students an avenue to give back, while also taking part in an exciting adventure, all the while raising a huge amount of money and awareness for charity.

The resilience and courage of these women is humbling

The resilience and courage of these women is humbling

Emma O’Brien is currently volunteering with Samos Volunteers at a refugee camp near Vathy in Greece. This is the second in a series of pieces about her experience within the camp.

In addition to the inadequate shelter, lack of hygiene facilities, and basic hardships of life in a refugee camp, women face additional challenges.

The domestic burden of looking after a family involves a huge amount of time and effort. The majority of women are used to the machines and appliances associated with modern living, but here simple domestic tasks become ordeals which can occupy the entire day. Washing clothes, for example, is done by hand. The women must then wait with their clothes while they hang to dry on the barbed wire which surrounds the camp to prevent them being stolen. When you take into account the torrential rain, west-of-Ireland wind, and frequent thunderstorms, simply ensuring children have relatively clean clothes becomes a constant struggle.

The prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse in the camp means violence – including sexual assault and rape – is common. It is unsafe for women to venture anywhere alone, particularly after dark. One of the “stops” on the “camp tour” for new volunteers highlights the reality of the danger: a toilet facility in the extended area of camp has been decorated with feminine designs in bright colours in an effort to deter men from using the women’s facilities because of the rate of sexual assault. A lock which only women know the code to has been added for additional security but it is not enough. As we passed the facilities, we saw a woman escorting her young daughter to the toilet. Going alone is simply too much of a risk.

Although women make up 20-25% of the camp’s population, cultural norms mean Samos Volunteers’ Alpha Centre has become a largely male-dominated area and it is rare to see women enjoying the space or attending classes. To tackle this, Samos runs women-only English classes every morning in the basement. Every afternoon the basement provides a space for women to knit, crochet, and chat. Wool donated from all over the world is transformed into the most beautiful and innovative creations, including children’s clothes, baby blankets and nappy bags.

On Saturday afternoons, the centre is closed to men for Women’s Alpha. While the children are entertained in the basement, women enjoy activities such as baking, jewellery-making and make-up sessions. The highlight of Women’s Alpha is often a multicultural dancing session, with different groups of women vying for control of the speakers to play their dance music of choice.

I have met such interesting and inspiring women here, including the incredible Majida Ali, a former refugee who was awarded the Women’s Refugee Commission Voices of Courage Award 2018 just last week. The resilience and courage of these women is humbling, and with every story I hear I am more frustrated and ashamed by the EU’s reluctance to confront this crisis head-on.

To find out more about SV or to donate or volunteer, please go to https://samosvolunteers.org. You can read Emma’s previous update from Greece here

A humanitarian crisis right on our doorstep

A humanitarian crisis right on our doorstep

Emma O’Brien is currently volunteering with Samos Volunteers at a refugee camp near Vathy in Greece. This is the first in a series of pieces about her experience within the camp.

Samos is one of the Greek islands that have become the first port-of-call for those fleeing the Syrian conflict. Here, the constant influx of refugees has become part of the fabric of everyday life. A former military base in the town of Vathy has become a not-so-temporary home to hundreds of men, women and children. Initially designed to accommodate 700, the camp currently holds over 1,800 refugees. This overcrowding means the camp’s population has spilled over into what is known as the “extended area”, which is now packed with pop-up tents – more appropriate for summer music festivals than providing shelter to entire families from the bitter winds and torrential rain of a Greek winter.

The overcrowding in the camp creates serious risks to peoples’ safety and health, with limited access to proper toilet and hygiene facilities. Under the EU-Turkey deal agreed in March 2016 refugees cannot progress to the mainland until they have succeeded in applying for asylum. However, the lengthy – and often seemingly arbitrary – application process means people are forced to endure these unsanitary and inhospitable conditions for long periods, sometimes for more than a year.

Samos Volunteers has been providing an emergency response service on the island since autumn 2015 when it began distributing “new arrival kits” to people arriving off the boats from Turkey. As the organisation has become more established, it has developed programmes to cater to refugees’ educational and psychosocial needs. Refugees can attend language classes in English, French, German and Greek, as well as music, art and fitness classes. SV also organises daily kids’ activities and the group’s Alpha Centre provides a much-needed space away from the camp for people to read, chat and play chess over a cup of tea or coffee.

SV is the only voluntary organisation still present and active on the island. Up until recently, gaps left by inefficient government agencies and under-resourced camp authorities have been filled by NGOs like SV but many international actors have left in recent months. There is speculation that the failure to tackle the inhumane conditions in refugee “hot spots” like Samos is a deliberate EU policy, a response to increasingly hostile public opinion towards refugees. There is certainly no logical reason why the world’s most peaceful and prosperous continent is allowing individuals fleeing war and persecution to live in such conditions.

It is easy for issues which have persisted as long as the European refugee crisis to be overlooked in the daily flood of international catastrophes which dominate the news. However, we in Europe must not forget that there is a humanitarian crisis happening right on our doorstep which we have the capacity and resources to resolve, if only we can generate the necessary public and political will.

To find out more about SV or to donate or volunteer, please go to https://samosvolunteers.org

Environmental heroes: Which countries made the top three?

Environmental heroes: Which countries made the top three?

Climate change should be every country’s top concern. Preserving our earth for future generations is essential, and yet so many of us are just not making the necessary changes or difficult decisions. But there are certain countries who are taking strides and leaps to completely change the way we live and save our planet. Here are the top three.

Kenya ~ Kenya just made a monumental decision to reduce plastic pollution by implementing a complete ban on producing, selling or even using plastic bags. Committing this offence could land you in prison for four years or see you facing over €33,000 in fines. Read more at The Guardian.

India ~ Delhi have taken a step few have ever dared to take before, they banned all single use disposable plastic. Rejoice! This includes all cutlery, bags, and cups. The city will now try and reduce their pollution by pushing sustainable alternatives like edible cutlery, which can be consumed or composted. Find out more about a cleaner Delhi at The Independent.

Norway ~ Norway is at the forefront of environmental policy with their recent ban on deforestation. They are the first country ever to commit that they will not support any product in their supply chain that contributes to deforestation, such as palm oil. Other countries need to act soon and follow this example. Get more information at The Huffington Post.

Write to the government, TDs and your local businesses to try and make this change happen in Ireland. Let’s take action!

 

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

5 ways to be more green this festival season

5 ways to be more green this festival season

We all love festivals, but there’s no getting away from the amount of waste we create in muddy/sunny fields around the world each year. Here are some easy tips to make your festival season a little kinder to the planet.

1. Use bio glitter. All that glitters certainly is not gold – it is, in fact, tiny pieces of reflective plastic. The amount of glitter that ends up in the ocean everyday is equal to a whopping one bin lorry of plastic every minute. That’s 8 million tonnes daily! But you can still sparkle with eco friendly glitter! Order it online or try your local Lush (Dublin, Cork, Newry, Belfast) – they use bio glitter in all their products, including their Shimmy Shimmy body butter (€7.50).

2. Bring a reusable beer cup. Ditch disposable plastic cups in favour of a reusable stainless steel one from Eco Tots (€17.95 for a set of four) or, if it must be disposable, opt for something biodegradable, like these cornstarch cups from Klee Paper (only €5.90 for a pack of 50) – just remember to bin it in the compost!

3. Carpool/public transport. Reduce emissions released into the atmosphere by looking up public transport routes to your festival destination or car pooling. Three-quarters of all carbon emissions generated by festivals are from revellers travelling there and back. Electric Picnic have great suggestions for how to travel green to their festival. Check out their deal with official travel partner Marathon who offer a return ticket from Dublin costing just €20.

4. Reuse your camping equipment. Cheap disposable tents are a cash strapped student’s go-to item, but investing in the long term could save you a lot. Tents can be as cheap as €18, but if you attend one festival annually for the next ten years, you’ll have spent a whopping €180! For half this price you could have bought one good quality tent to reuse every time. For those who want to take action, Electric Picnic have a volunteer salvage team who collect all the perfectly usable camping equipment that has been left behind at the festival. Sign up here to join the green team!

5. Sort your rubbish. Save the clean up teams a lot of time, money and energy by sorting your rubbish into the correct bins before you leave. Why not also get involved in the clean up? Electric Picnic’s eco partners Friends of the Earth are now taking applications for this year’s Green Messengers. They are, for the third year in a row, striving to make it the most environmentally-friendly festival in Ireland! You also get a free festival pass to boot! So volunteer now, what are you waiting for?

 

The Olympics: an unsustainable, unequal celebration

The Olympics: an unsustainable, unequal celebration

The sporting celebration of the Olympic Games is marred by under-the-table deals and inhumane planning strategies, writes KEVIN KEANE

Everyone loves the Olympics. What’s not to love? Two weeks of world-class athletics, with unlikely backstories overcoming all the odds to represent their country. Two weeks of racing, shooting, jumping and fierce competition. Two weeks of ultimate sportsmanship. But what happens before the cameras arrive, and after they leave?

Potential hosts of the Olympics fight viciously for their opportunity to become an Olympic city. Salt Lake City bid for the Winter Olympics three times, between 1978 and 2002. Having failed on their first two attempts, the organising team took no chances in 2002; over $1 million dollars were spent on the International Olympic Committee in a successful attempt to court their votes. The ensuing scandal rocked the Olympic world, but does not stand alone in scandal; Olympic bids are regularly dogged with allegations of bribery.

The motivation for such bribery would, on the face of it, seem clear. The Olympics, one would assume, create a massive boost to economies, through tourism, sponsorship and modernisation of infrastructure. That infusion of building is not always positive, however. The recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are a prime example of Olympic building that benefits only the very rich, at the expense of both the poor and the environment. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course was built at great expense by Cyrela Real Estate, whose owners have close ties to government officials. The land was in the heart of a national park, and was re-designated for development amid widespread allegations of corruption and collusion.

Even worse than the environmental cost of the Rio Olympics was the human cost. Rio is not just a city of beach resorts and luxury apartments; 1.2 million people live in favelas dotted around the city. Favelas are working-class communities of families who have been in situ for generations; most houses in the favelas were built by the current occupants’ grandfathers, developed and cared for since. One such favela is Vila Autodromo, once home to over 800 families. It stood where the Olympic Park now stands – curled around a lagoon in the South of the city. As soon as Rio’s Olympic bid was confirmed, those families were ruthlessly bought out or simply relocated, most to the poorer, far more economically depressed north of the region. The north of Rio is a very different place to the southern beaches of Copacabana, Maracanã and Deodoro. It is a region dogged by violence, institutionalised poverty and discrimination.

Rather than attempt to address and alleviate these issues, as the true Olympic spirit would mandate, Rio officials made calculated efforts to simply plaster over them. Through the clever manipulation of public transport routes, the journey from the north to the heart of the south transformed from a simple bus journey to a long and arduous trip including three bus transfers and a metro, six months before the Games began.

The Olympics are a mirage – the spirit of fair play and camaraderie they embody encompasses the Athletes’ Village, and often no further. Too often, the Olympics are seen as a boon on emerging economies, a means by which to kick growth up a gear. In reality, the Games translate to crippling debt, cheap and unsafe labour, and increased marginalisation for minority communities.

The Olympic Games can be an extraordinary force for good – to bring the world together under the banner of sport is the oldest form of diplomacy. In order for that benefit to be enjoyed, however, we need to look very carefully behind the veil and to see the populations that are affected. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius- Faster, Higher, Stronger. I would propose a new motto more fitting to the 21st Century- Fairer, Clearer, More Responsible.

The Olympics: an unsustainable, unequal celebration

The Olympics: an unsustainable, unequal celebration

The sporting celebration of the Olympic Games is marred by under-the-table deals and inhumane planning strategies, writes KEVIN KEANE

Everyone loves the Olympics. What’s not to love? Two weeks of world-class athletics, with unlikely backstories overcoming all the odds to represent their country. Two weeks of racing, shooting, jumping and fierce competition. Two weeks of ultimate sportsmanship. But what happens before the cameras arrive, and after they leave?

Potential hosts of the Olympics fight viciously for their opportunity to become an Olympic city. Salt Lake City bid for the Winter Olympics three times, between 1978 and 2002. Having failed on their first two attempts, the organising team took no chances in 2002; over $1 million dollars were spent on the International Olympic Committee in a successful attempt to court their votes. The ensuing scandal rocked the Olympic world, but does not stand alone in scandal; Olympic bids are regularly dogged with allegations of bribery.

The motivation for such bribery would, on the face of it, seem clear. The Olympics, one would assume, create a massive boost to economies, through tourism, sponsorship and modernisation of infrastructure. That infusion of building is not always positive, however. The recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are a prime example of Olympic building that benefits only the very rich, at the expense of both the poor and the environment. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course was built at great expense by Cyrela Real Estate, whose owners have close ties to government officials. The land was in the heart of a national park, and was re-designated for development amid widespread allegations of corruption and collusion.

Even worse than the environmental cost of the Rio Olympics was the human cost. Rio is not just a city of beach resorts and luxury apartments; 1.2 million people live in favelas dotted around the city. Favelas are working-class communities of families who have been in situ for generations; most houses in the favelas were built by the current occupants’ grandfathers, developed and cared for since. One such favela is Vila Autodromo, once home to over 800 families. It stood where the Olympic Park now stands – curled around a lagoon in the South of the city. As soon as Rio’s Olympic bid was confirmed, those families were ruthlessly bought out or simply relocated, most to the poorer, far more economically depressed north of the region. The north of Rio is a very different place to the southern beaches of Copacabana, Maracanã and Deodoro. It is a region dogged by violence, institutionalised poverty and discrimination.

Rather than attempt to address and alleviate these issues, as the true Olympic spirit would mandate, Rio officials made calculated efforts to simply plaster over them. Through the clever manipulation of public transport routes, the journey from the north to the heart of the south transformed from a simple bus journey to a long and arduous trip including three bus transfers and a metro, six months before the Games began.

The Olympics are a mirage – the spirit of fair play and camaraderie they embody encompasses the Athletes’ Village, and often no further. Too often, the Olympics are seen as a boon on emerging economies, a means by which to kick growth up a gear. In reality, the Games translate to crippling debt, cheap and unsafe labour, and increased marginalisation for minority communities.

The Olympic Games can be an extraordinary force for good – to bring the world together under the banner of sport is the oldest form of diplomacy. In order for that benefit to be enjoyed, however, we need to look very carefully behind the veil and to see the populations that are affected. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius- Faster, Higher, Stronger. I would propose a new motto more fitting to the 21st Century- Fairer, Clearer, More Responsible.

Wave of global activism highlights need to break free from fossil fuels

Wave of global activism highlights need to break free from fossil fuels

Meaghan Carmody shares her experience of taking part in the largest ever globally coordinated wave of civil disobedience; BreakFree 2016.

FACT: 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Catastrophic means the end of civilization as we know it – millions of climate refugees, coastal cities submerged in water, a climactic tipping point which will set in motion terrifying feedback loops which once turned on, cannot be turned off.

So with this in mind; let me ask you a question. Which is more extreme – locking yourself to a coal digger in order to immobilise it, or digging up acres of perfect earth in order to find yet more coal to burn?

Reclaim the Power

Earlier this month, myself and 7 friends travelled via ferry and 3 trains to a little town called Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. We passed through a series of winding hills, with cows and lambs grazing on farmland on our right, and a series of coal heaps on our left, on our way to the Reclaim the Power campsite. Here we joined up with 300 other people who had all made the decision to travel to this secluded, unsheltered, freezing spot in the UK for the same reason.

We were there to take part in the largest ever globally coordinated wave of civil disobedience; BreakFree 2016. This was set in motion by 350.org in the wake of the COP21 Paris Agreement in December, a non-legally binding agreement which would at best bring us up to a 3.5 degree rise in temperature, not the 1.5 degrees that the inhabitants of sinking countries need to stay with their heads above water, literally.

BreakFree 2016

The action in Wales was the first of this 2-week period and involved occupying and shutting down Ffos-y-fran coal mine, the largest open-case coal mine in the UK. On the day of the action after donning our red jumpsuits, painting battle stripes on our faces and organising ourselves into ‘action blocks’, we headed up and across the hills towards the mine.

There were 4 actions blocks – 3 ‘arrestable’ blocks would enter the mine, and one would stay at the mining depot. As my block, block C, entered the mine, we passed a ‘lock-on’ – another smaller block of our comrades laying on the ground, their hands locked to their neighbours through a pipe so that the police could not remove it without harming them. The final block in the mine headed to the deepest part, aiming to scale the machinery and use their bodies to stop any vehicles from operating.

We passed miners along the way, workers who were rendered redundant for the day yet who waved at us nonetheless, videoing us as we chanted about the need for a ‘just transition’ from fossil fuels, a transition which leaves nobody behind, including those currently employed by the fossil fuel industry.

The people in our block who were tasked with keeping spirits high had brought a music player, and as it rained heavily, a group of people danced on the underside of a coal digger as another group played football on the rocky terrain.

Power out

The actions of 300 people ensured that the UK’s largest coal mine was shut for that entire day, and it illustrated to the local community who have been tirelessly campaigning against this injustice that there are people all over the world who are there to support them in their struggle.

From Canada to the Philippines, Turkey to Australia, South Africa to Brazil, people are risking arrest and conflict as a result of taking action. In New Zealand, two ANZ Bank Australia branches were closed by protesters in a statement against their $13.5 billion invested in fossil fuels. Hundreds of people in Albany, New York, camped on the railroad tracks which transport crude oil and endanger the local community.

Closer to home, 4,000 people taking part in Ende Gelände in Germany shut down one of Europe’s largest coal mines for 48 hours, and as if that wasn’t a powerful enough statement, they then forced entry into a power plant after blockading the coal railway transport routes.

Brave people have put their bodies on the line in order to send this message:

To the governments of this globalised world that has been forced upon us – enough is enough. You have sold the rights of citizens to power-hungry and financially-obsessed corporations who have ploughed our common home for the short-term benefit of the 1%, stripping us of our future. Your commitments are feeble and we will not accept them. Those at the bottom of this manufactured human hierarchy are the first to feel the effects of a planet ridden by a fossil-fuel dependent culture – but we are all on this same sinking boat. You will not act, so we have been forced to, and we will fight against this gross injustice.

Author: Meaghan Carmody

Meaghan graduated from NUIG with a BA in Psychology and has completed an Ethics of Eating course from Cornell University. She is Activism Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Ireland and Young FoE Ireland. You can follow her on twitter at @meaghancarmo.

Photo credit: Fields of Light Photography 

Video credit: Reclaim the Power

“1.5 to stay alive” – update from climate change talks in Paris

“1.5 to stay alive” – update from climate change talks in Paris

Meaghan Carmody shares her experience of activism at COP21 earlier this month.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt nervous before my trip to Paris. After all, less than a month after a horrific terrorist act left 130 innocent revellers dead in one of Europe’s most vibrant metropolitan hubs, I was voluntarily travelling to a city which was in a state of emergency for the first time since World War II.

Moreover, I was travelling for the sole purpose of taking part in an act of mass civil disobedience, at a time when a ‘group of more than 2 people with a political message’ was considered illegal. Was I crazy? Or stupid? If I got arrested, or worse, could I say I hadn’t known the risks…? These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as I made the journey from Dublin to Paris.

“It’s okay to feel that fear, but it’s not okay to let it paralyse us and prevent us from doing what we know is right”

Within minutes of disembarking the bus, my rucksack was checked as I entered a shopping mall. I felt more secure…yet also more on edge. The threat suddenly felt very real, a lot more so than from where I sat in my sitting room watching the news after the attacks.

Emerging from the metro at Place de la République, my gaze was immediately drawn to the centre monument. People circled it silently and solemnly amidst the hustle and bustle of the square, quietly reading the messages of support and solidarity in various languages which adorned the historic monument. The emotion in the square was palpable.

“1.5 to stay alive”

Alas, climate change does not alter its course or slow down when atrocious acts of terrorism are committed. COP21 (or the 21st Conference of Parties), which began on the 30th of November was nearing its final days, and so we were there to speak up and demand that world leaders enact major systematic changes so that our planet, our future, and our humanity is protected. We were there to tell them that we won’t accept anything less than what is needed – “1.5 to stay alive”. We need to change our destructive systems of dirty fuel consumption drastically and immediately if we want to have any chance of avoiding global catastrophe.

DSC_0202 (2)

Thousands of climate activists gathered in various locations around Paris in the 2 weeks of COP21. There were conferences, workshops, and film screenings to attend. There were venues providing free food (usually vegan) and drinks which were payed for by donation. An art space was erected where materials were provided to make placards and posters, and where the 106 metre banner was being painted until the evening of the 11th of December. If it weren’t for the intensive legal and medical briefings, it probably would have felt just like a festival.

The mass action in place before the attacks was called Red Lines, or D12. The idea was to surround Le Bourget (where the negotiations were taking place) with giant red inflatables and a human chain, to signify the red lines that we will not allow world leaders to cross in this fight for climate justice. However, after the attacks, this action was no longer sanctioned. Thus, a change of plan was needed.

Climate justice actions

 Geo-locate action

On the morning of the 12th, we set out to complete the first of 2 major actions. Firstly, there was the FOE International action, where we split into small (law-abiding) groups which would disperse around the city to ‘geo-locate’ in specified locations.

This effort resulted in a map of all locations where groups were tagged spelling out ‘climate justice peace’ on a map of Paris.

The 2nd action was the new Red Lines. A tense metro ride left us at Avenue de la Grande Armée, strectching from the Arc de Triomphe down to La Défense.

Arriving in pairs as per the new law, we flooded onto the street, merging with the throng of people already defiantly opposing the impingement on freedom of speech.

DSC_0145 (2)

The next 2 hours were spent marching, chanting and singing; from “We are unstoppable – another world is possible!”, to “What do we want? CLIMATE JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!”.

 

Overcoming fear

There is something very special about being part of a group with one common goal. Travelling to Paris in a state of emergency was scary, and I’m sure all 15,000 of us felt some element of that. It’s okay to feel that fear, but it’s not okay to let it paralyse us and prevent us from doing what we know is right. Big changes don’t happen without the push of people demanding change. By demanding change, we create that change.

I had expected to be greeted by a dark funereal atmosphere in Paris, perhaps a city plagued by fear, insecurity and hesitancy towards outsiders. However, I could not have been more wrong. I was overwhelmed by a sense of friendly welcoming from the moment I arrived in Paris, and a sense of hope that no matter what atrocities occur, we will stay positive and we will keep fighting for a better future for all of us. Vive la France. Vive la Terre. Et vive le Mouvement.

Author: Meaghan Carmody

Meaghan graduated from NUIG with a BA in Psychology and has completed an Ethics of Eating course from Cornell University. She is an active member of Suas and Young Friends of the Earth, and works in Dublin. You can follow her on twitter at @meaghancarmo.

Making the case for gender quotas

Making the case for gender quotas

Thamil  Ananthavinayagan  makes the case for using gender quotas in politics, but not stopping there.

The representation of women in politics can be seen as a measure of how progressive a society is. Only 22% of all national parliamentarians  in Ireland are female (a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995), while ten women have served as Head of State and fourteen as Head of Government.

Gender quota systems

Half the countries in the world today use some form of electoral gender quota system, either voluntary or legislative. These quotas are widely understood to be the best way to compensate for structural discrimination and barriers against women in politics. They are used as a short-term, temporary method of jump-starting the participation of women to dispel the effects of restrictive biases and create systematised change.

Countries that implement quotas are defining equality in terms of institutions and results, and not simply in terms of individuals and opportunity. These countries believe that if there are cultural, behavioral, political, and religious barriers to equality, then measures are needed to achieve true equality and compensate for gender imbalance. In this way, gender quotas do not discriminate against men, but instead compensate for biases that tilt the playing field.

Successful quota systems lead to:

1.       The active recruitment of women by political parties in order to have a sufficient number of qualified candidates to fulfil the quota;

2.       A larger minority of women, rather than a token few, who will be able to influence  political norms and culture; and

3.       Women having the possibility to influence the decision-making process as individuals or with specific points of view and concerns.

Successful gender quota systems

The United Nations has singled out certain channels to increase the participation of women in politics. This includes introduction of quotas and marshalling grassroots community organisations to empower women.

In Rwanda there are legislated quotas at every level of politics, resulting in a lower house in which women occupy 51 of the 80 seats. This puts Rwanda ahead of bastions of gender equality as Iceland and Finland in terms of women in politics.

Studies indicate that the increased presence of female candidates and elected representatives can help to mobilise women and stimulate their interest in politics. At a global level, Ireland ranks 89th for female political representation, boasting a poorer percentage of women in government than Uzbekistan, Iraq, Afghanistan. Within the EU, we’re 25th out of 27 countries.

However using quotas to enhance women’s representation are merely the first step, as quotas for women do not remove all barriers for women in politics. Stigmatisation  of  women  politicians  may  even  increase  in  quota systems. Difficulties combining family life, work life and politics still remain a severe obstacle to women’s full citizenship.

Political representation cannot stand alone, but must be complemented with necessary socio-economic changes in society at large. Soft tools need to be introduced accomplish change in minds, such as civic education, mentoring and training programmes coupled with financial supports and incentives.

Empowering women means to empower society in every aspect, as it generates ideas, stimulates debate and encourages to grow together.  Mary Robinson, former Irish President and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said once: “I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”

It is utmost time to keep rocking the system and trigger change.

Author: Thamil  Ananthavinayagan

Thamil is a PhD researcher at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Galway and research assistant to Prof. O’Flaherty, Director of the ICHR. His thesis concerns the UN Human Rights Council, using the case study of Sri Lanka. He did his undergraduate studies at the universities of Bonn and Marburg/Germany, followed by a LL.M. in Human Rights at the University of Maastricht/The Netherlands.

Photo credit: Celebration of 5 years achievements of Rwanda Women Parliamentarians in the Parliament of Rwanda

Refugee crisis – are the numbers really that big?

Refugee crisis – are the numbers really that big?

Gareth Walsh puts the figures of the refugee crisis in context. 

There has been much commentary on the toxic media and political discourse concerning the recent increase in refugees, fleeing violence, and economic migrants, fleeing poverty, arriving on Europe’s shores and at Europe’s frontiers. With honourable exceptions, there has been widespread talk of a migrant ‘crisis,’ ‘waves of migrants washing up,’ and even dehumanising and faux-catastrophic language such as ‘swarms of migrants’ or likening refugees to ‘cockroaches.’

“Migrant crisis adds 0.2% to total EU population in a year!”- doesn’t sound quite as alarming as “1 million on the shores of North Africa boarding boats to Europe!”

This media narrative is generally backed up by what seem like big numbers. The media is reporting that hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees will arrive in Europe this year, which is quite true.

Making numbers sound big feeds a narrative that a problem is big- but we rarely are presented with numbers in context—because in
context, big numbers can actually be small.

Numbers in context

For example, the figure of 1 million people waiting to cross from North Africa into Europe seems like a big number but in context, it really isn’t. The population of the European Union is 503 million. Even if one million cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year- 1 million people amounts to just 0.2% of the total 503 million person population of the EU.

“Migrant crisis adds 0.2% to total EU population in a year!”– doesn’t sounds quite as alarming as “1 million on the shores of North Africa boarding boats to Europe!” does it?

So let’s tackle the figures being bandied around and put them into context. In the total EU population of 503 million, there were 636,000 asylum applications in 2014. That’s 0.12% of the total EU population. A small number.

Irish response

Following the increased media pressure of the past fortnight, the Irish government committed to accepting an additional 2,900 refugees over the 2 and a half year period, on top of the 1,100 already committed to. The total 4,000 refugees over the 2 ½ year period still amounts to just 0.034% of the total population of Ireland per year. It is hard to spin that as a generous, large number.

“If Ireland were to accept refugees at the same rate Germany we would be accepting 40,000 refugees a year”

Ireland is the 12th richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita according to the IMF/World Bank. There is no refugee crisis in Ireland, only a critical lack of political will to offer some assistance to our fellow human beings.

If Ireland were to accept refugees at the same rate Germany we would be accepting 40,000 refugees a year, rather than 4000 over 2 ½ years.

Europe and Middle East
  • Germany is to accept 800,000 refugees and migrants this year. 800,000 certainly is a big number, however it still amounts to just 0.97% of the total 82.62 million population of Germany.
  • 110,000 people have arrived on the shores of Italy so far this year. While this has been described as a ‘biblical’ wave of migrants in scaremongering tabloid media, it amounts to just 0.18% of the total Italian population.
  • There are around 4,000 people living at the migrant camp at Calais, described sensationally by the media as thousands of migrants waiting to ‘storm’ Britain. This figure is just 0.006% of the total UK population of 64 million.
  • Although media suggestions claim that refugees and migrants are coming to Europe to benefit from European social welfare systems, the vast majority of refugees are travelling to other Middle Eastern countries.
  • Lebanon, with a population of 4.2 million people, is now home to 1.3 million refugees. That’s 30% of the total population, as opposed to the total 0.19%.
  • Jordan, with a population of 6.3 million, has 800,000 refugees, or 12% of its population.

At least 2,700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. In non-wartime marine disaster standards, this is a very big figure. After all, less people drowned when the Titanic sunk in 1912, when 1517 people lost their lives.

Europe needs migrants

It is important to note that in European countries such as Italy and Greece, the birth rate is lower than the death date so inward migrant is necessary in order to maintain a working population to look after the aging population. In the UK and Germany, job creation is very high, and migration is a necessary part of the economy in order to allow domestic companies to expand. The 800,000 refugees in Germany will come with skills, education and occupational experiences that will add to the growing Germany economy.

This article isn’t seeking to say that the crisis is actually small on the basis of the figures, or that the increase in refugees and impoverished migrants won’t cause strains for European countries. For the refugees and economic migrants fleeing poverty, this is a major crisis in their lives that they have no control over. However for Europe, it is a manufactured crisis, a direct result of political decisions that shy away from our most basic humanitarian commitments to each other as human beings. This crisis isn’t an accident, but the result of political choices made by European governments.

By understanding the actual scale of the numbers we can better be guided by our humanitarian instincts and duties, and not bunker down in a siege mentality, and pursue a ‘Fortress Europe.’

Europe really can do much, much more.

Take action: A public demonstration will take place at 2pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street on Saturday 12th September to call on the Irish government to take in more refugees.

Author: Gareth Walsh

Gareth Walsh volunteered on the Suas volunteer programme 2014 in Kolkata. He has just completed a degree in Law and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, and is now undertaking a Masters in Human Rights at the London School of Economics. In the past he was chairperson of the Voluntary Tuition Programme in Trinity College Dublin, which provides free one-to-one tuition by Trinity students and activities clubs for children and teenagers from disadvantaged areas in Dublin’s inner city around Trinity. He is also involved in St. Vincent De Paul’s Sunshine House, and hopes to continue volunteering in the field of education whilst in London.

Photo credit: Lampedusa in Hamburg, Demonstration for the right of refugees in Hamburg, Rasande Tyskar, Creative Commons license

Snapshot of Change Projects

Snapshot of Change Projects

To help you come up with an idea of your own, we’ve put together a list of some of the most inspiring projects for positive change taken on by young people from all over Ireland. With the support of The Ideas Collective, your ideas for change can become a reality. Take a look at these projects and have a think about the positive change you would like to achieve for your local/global community this summer.

TCD Green Week
Trinity Environmental Society organised a ‘Green Week’ on campus which aimed to raise awareness around climate change, the environment and sustainability. Events included talks, walks, debates, workshops and a ‘Green Week Challenge’.

Sustainable DCU
To reduce the impact on the environment one of the Sustainable DCU projects deals with reducing the use of disposable coffee cups. DCU staff and students have the option to purchase discounted reusable cups and in turn also pay less for their cup of tea/coffee.

Trinity Suas
Trinity Suas came up with the idea of piloting a series of workshops for secondary schools which aim to raise awareness about global development, human rights and equality. They have found that there is little access to this type of information for school students, and they want students to know about these issues so that they can take action on them.

 RAG – Raising and Giving
RAG was originally set up by students to help their peers organise fundraising events. RAG also encourages students to volunteer locally and empowers them to incorporate their own ideas into community-based social projects.

Love Leitrim
A community group committed to protecting the environment of Leitrim and supporting long-term sustainable economic development. They are currently raising awareness through non-violent action about the dangers of fracking and the impact it could have on the local community.

FLAC
FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centre is an umbrella organisation supporting student-run advice centres. For example the FLAC Society in UCC run free weekly clinics for students with legal issues or problems.

Hollaback
A smartphone app that allows users to anonymously report street harassment. A map allows you to see incidents of harassment mapped as well as bystander interventions. A resources section has also been developed to help users respond better to harassment.

The Gift of Healthy Feet
Podiatry students and staff offered podiatry services to homeless people in Galway during January 2015 in collaboration with local charities COPE Galway and Galway Simon Community. The service included foot screening and foot treatment, as well as foot care advice, and provision of new socks and shoes, where necessary.

UCD SVP Soup Run
This Soup Run provides an essential service to the homeless people of Dublin, one of the most marginalised groups in Irish society today. It provides homeless people with warm food and friendly company.

 LeftoverSwappers
An application developed to allow ‘leftovers’ to be swapped with anyone who wants to take them.. If you can’t finish that enormous portion of food, you can pass it on to a hungrier neighbour with the help of LeftoverSwap, in turn making a new friend and avoiding excess calories.

Challenging the Crisis: Young Global Advocates
A network of young people across six countries, including Ireland who have developed a project to build critical awareness amongst young adults, enabling them to see the unfolding European debt crises in a global, interdependent context.

Let’s Trade Cork
This Local Exchange Trading System is a community initiative run by volunteers who trade with each other using credits to boost the local economy. Regular meetings and trade events are a key part of the initiative.

Calculator Drive, Engineers without Borders UCC
As part of the Engineers Week, EWB hosted a calculator drive on campus. Students could drop off all their old “pre-loved” calculators at any of the collection boxes for them to be donated to charity at the end of the week – super simple stuff! Reducing waste and redistributing materials to where there is need.

Conflict-Free Campus Initiative
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative draws on the power of student leadership and activism to bring about peace in Congo. Students are voicing the demand for conflict-free products from Congo by encouraging university officials and stakeholders, both of whom are powerful spokespersons and large purchasers of electronics, to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to responsibly invest in Congo’s minerals sector.

Grand Canal Clean Up
A group of local residents comes together one Saturday each month to clean areas of the canal which most need it. The aim is to promote the use of Dublin’s canals to their fullest potential as amenities.

Society Awareness Raising Events
UCC Amnesty and UCC UCC International Development Society hosted a screening earlier this year of the documentary E-team to raise awareness about the work of Human Rights Watch in Emergencies, who document war crimes by dictatorial regimes.

 World Malaria Day Awareness
UCC Friends of Medicins Sans Frontières attempted to set the world record for the longest continuous line of people using stethoscopes to monitor hearts and lungs. The event aimed to raise awareness of the disease for World Malaria day. Over half the world’s population are at risk of contracting Malaria yet it is classed as a neglected disease.

Street Feast
A day of local lunches across Ireland on one day in the summer, hosted by you and your neighbours. They can be anywhere really — out on the street, in a local park or in your front garden. An excuse to eat great food, celebrate your local community and make new friends.

 

Inspired to make change happen? Bring your idea to life through The Ideas Collective

 

 

Selma is now – the continued inspiration of the civil rights movement

Selma is now – the continued inspiration of the civil rights movement

Thamil  Ananthavinayagan looks at the importance of Selma and the civil rights movement for continued inspiration to human rights movements today.

As we recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday of Selma, Alabama, it is worth reflecting upon the impact of the US civil rights movement on human rights movements today.

Selma march

On 7th March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made Selma the focal point to register African American voters in the southern states of the USA.

The group of approximately 600 people on the march aimed to challenge the status quo were met by the state and police authorities of Alabama with their wielding whips, nightsticks and tear gas at the Edmund Pettis Bridge (named after a high decorated Ku-Klux- Klan member). The group of protestors was severely beaten up back to Selma. The brutal images were captured on television, shocking and galvanizing many Americans; civil rights and religious leaders of all faiths rushed to Selma in protest in the following days.

“Dr. King’s insistence on avoiding violence gave the movement respect and legitimacy and put their oppressors to shame”

Realising rights

In the light of these events, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote to all African Americans.

On the way to further laws to come, the Civil Rights Movement took different steps to achieve the end of discrimination; be it the bus boycott 1955, the March to Washington 1963 or Memphis sanitation worker strike 1968. The movement took various forms and occasions of peaceful protest to underscore and highlight discrimination, leading to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Despite the current backlashes erupting on the surface of American society, these are remarkable achievements.

Legacy

At the heart of the Civil Rights Movement is the basic human dignity of all people. Dr. King’s utmost belief in non-violent protest in the form of sit-ins, boycotts and marches helped to set the tone of the movement which continues to infuse the discourses of civil and human rights today.

Peaceful protest was a main contribution for other civil rights movements to follow. The Civil Rights Movement was a David and Goliath struggle; human rights movements realised that the suppressed can overcome its oppressor. Even though their oppressors exercised force and brutality, Dr. King’s insistence on avoiding violence gave the movement respect and legitimacy and put their oppressors to shame.

The peaceful protests at that bridge in Selma continue inspire generations of human rights defenders to carry their struggle for human rights to the streets, from protests against the Vietnam War, the struggle against Apartheid regimes, the German Monday Demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Protests, the Australian Indigenous Movement and the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong.

“Despite the current backlashes erupting on the surface of American society, these are remarkable achievements”

International conventions

On the international plane, UN delegates from developing countries were stirred up in the concerted effort to combat racial injustice inspired through the civil rights movement.

This led to the ushering in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at the UN. The convention was the first major international human rights treaty adopted since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The CERD created momentum for adoption of the two major human rights treaties in 1966 – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Continued inspiration

In his Nobel lecture, Dr. King jr. summed up the impact on the human rights world back then – but it was a prophecy what we have witnessed in different parts of the world and still are witnessing:

“ (…) In one sense the civil rights movement in the United States is a special American phenomenon which must be understood in the light of American history and dealt with in terms of the American situation. But on another and more important level, what is happening in the United States today is a relatively small part of a world development…. What we are seeing now is a freedom explosion…. All over the world, like a fever, the freedom movement is spreading in the widest liberation in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and land. (…)”

The civil rights movement did not end in 1968. It shifted to a new phase, continuing to amaze and inspire generations to come to expand their freedoms.  The US musician Common in the Oscar-awarded film song Glory reminds us, “ (…) No one can win the war individually. It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. Welcome to the story we call victory (…)”

It will be the continuing story of the victory of human rights.

Author: Thamil  Ananthavinayagan

Thamil is a PhD researcher at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Galway and research assistant to Prof. O’Flaherty, Director of the ICHR. His thesis concerns the UN Human Rights Council, using the case study of Sri Lanka. He did his undergraduate studies at the universities of Bonn and Marburg/Germany, followed by a LL.M. in Human Rights at the University of Maastricht/The Netherlands.

Photo credit: Dr. Martin Luther King Day 2015, Σταύρος, Creative Commons Licence

7 steps to reduce plastic waste

7 steps to reduce plastic waste

Mary Coogan highlights how saturated our lives are in plastic and shares tips for reducing the amount of plastic we use.

After my third trip to India, I pledged to myself to reduce the amount of plastic I use. A visit to Dhapa dump in Kolkata and a few too many plastic bag choked rivers had brought it into very clear focus that some plastic doesn’t go anywhere; it stays exactly where you leave it. Forever.

Just because we in Ireland may not see the plastic pollution in our day to day lives doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. When I started to look around, I realised that daily life is saturated in plastic, so much so that we don’t even notice it most of the time. Even if you are a diligent recycler like me, not all plastic is recyclable.

Here are seven simple steps that everyone can take to reduce the amount of plastic that we use in our daily lives, and reduce the amount of plastic that will still be sitting in landfill long after we have moved on to the next life.

Seven steps
  1. Takeaway cups are lined with a plastic film that renders them unrecyclable. Why not buy a Keep Cup? That way, you can still enjoy your morning coffee but generate no additional waste in the process. There is enough plastic in 20 disposable cups and lids to make one small Keep Cup. Keep Cups are €12.50 and can be purchased in Stock, Arnotts and from various coffee shops. Some places, such as the Barista School, offer a discount when you use a Keep Cup.
  2. Think about how you drink your water. Is all of that bottled water really necessary? If your tap water has a funny taste or is of poor quality, consider buying a good water filter jug for your kitchen and a reusable water bottle for when you’re on the go. Bobble bottles filter water as you drink it and are available in similar shops to the Keep Cup.
  3. Buy a reusable shopping bag and keep it with you every day; you can buy handy fold away bags in Tiger for about €1.
  4. Leave out the small plastic bag when you’re buying  loose fruit and vegetables. You’re going to be washing and/or peeling them anyway!
  5. If there is an option between buying fruit or vegetable wrapped in cellophane and ones that aren’t, opt for the no cellophane. Visit the Dublin Food Co-Op or your local farmers’ market. Not only can you buy delicious locally grown organic produce, but you will find that there is generally a lot less packaging and plastic involved when you are buying directly from producers.
  6. Curious about ways to reduce the plastic usage on your campus? Check out the plastic free campus initiative.
  7. Finally, start looking out for the plastic saturated items in your home and in your daily life; is there any way to reduce or eliminate some of them? They might be small steps but every great journey begins with a single step!

Do you have any suggestions of simple and practical ways to reduce the amount of plastic that we use? Please share!

Author: Mary Coogan

Mary is originally from Co Wicklow and holds an MSC in International Development from UCD. She previously volunteered in Ghana and South Africa. Mary worked in overseas volunteering roles with Suas and VSO before joining the Trócaire team this year.

Photo credit: Mona Sfeir’s “Recycling Labyrinth.” This large scale installation art work was composed of 8,000 plastic bottles, the same number of bottles that go into landfills worldwide every second (and takes 450 years to break each bottle down). The exhibit was installed in the beautiful gardens of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Creative Commons license

To buy or not to buy, that is the question

To buy or not to buy, that is the question

Ahead of Buy Nothing Day, Laura Cashman reminds us of the importance of questioning the impacts of our consumerism.

On Saturday November the 29th 2014 consumers all over the UK and Ireland will come together to make a promise that is not often heard at this time of year. Those taking part in the international Buy Nothing Day will promise to “switch off from shopping and tune into life”.

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day was established by Adbusters, a Canadian-based not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment organisation, in the early 90s and according to their website has been getting bigger and better every year. Put simply, it is a day without spending. However, Buy Nothing Day is quick to confirm that it is neither anti-Christmas nor anti-independent shops; it is rather to spread the message about the growing problems caused by our consumerism.

“Can we, as global citizens, stand by as these violations of human rights and the environment continue for the sake of a bargain?”

The day represents more than just boycotting high street shops or putting your Christmas shopping on hold. It encourages participants to change their mindset about consumerism and global wealth distribution. By challenging our current mindset and approach to these problems, many have found the affect of our actions on the environment, global waste as well as independent shops and small businesses
shocking.

Cost of a bargain

The Buy Nothing Day movement has already challenged many companies and producers and have found that, “workers’ rights in developing countries are frequently violated, including payment of low wages and long working hours. The lives of workers may also be endangered by poor health and safety provision. Child labour is rife in developing countries, and forced labour still exists.” These factors are directly affected by how we shop and while the general population are vaguely aware of these statistics, it is not something that we often think of while trawling the shops.

But the facts stand alone. The latest report released by Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland and their partners have found, “bonded labour schemes targeting poverty stricken young girls as young as 15 in South India are supplying well known high-street retailers including Primark, Mothercare, C&A and Sainsbury’s among others.”

How we shop also affects the environment. Buy Nothing Day reminds us that, “the supermarket or shopping mall might offer great choice, but this shouldn’t be at the cost of the environment or developing countries.” A Friends of the Earth report considers local, wider and global impacts of supermarkets. It finds that from the traffic congestion caused by transporting produce to the large retailers to the inflexible packaging specifications supermarkets have that creates extra waste, the vast majority of supermarket retailers are neither environmentally nor community friendly.

“While ‘green consumerism’ is a step in the right direction, it is not the solution to a society that is becoming increasingly materialistic”

Can we, as global citizens, stand by as these violations of human rights and the environment continue for the sake of a bargain?   

Towards sustainable solutions

This has encouraged ‘Generation Y’ to seek more ethical and sustainable options and. In a Huffington Post article, Richard Wilk shows the increasing trend of, “drinking a few cups of fair-trade coffee, eating a rainforest crunch bar and instantly feeling better.” But Buy Nothing Day challenges this further by questioning a world where 20 percent of the world’s population consumes 80 percent of the world’s natural resources.

While ‘green consumerism’ as is explained by Wilk is a step in the right direction, it is not the solution to a society that is becoming increasingly materialistic. Buy Nothing Day offers a solution. It is celebrated in 50 countries annually where activists are encouraged to hold ‘party-like’ events and re-evaluate their own priorities in regards materialism.

The movement also encourages participants to hold companies accountable for their actions. The site states that, “as consumers we need to question our culture of shopping.” While shopping is a necessary part of modern life, Buy Nothing Day claims “this shouldn’t stop us from questioning the products we buy or challenging the companies, who produce them.”

Supporting small businesses

The campaign also introduces the debate regarding independent shops in to public discourse. Supermarkets are more inclined to create more waste and have negative environmental impacts. Small businesses produce less waste due to their flexibility and position to provide local produce. The Buy Nothing Day movement realises this and asks consumers to return to local, independent shops for their shopping needs.

“For every euro you spend in an independent shop 50 cent goes back into the local community, whereas only 5 cent goes back if you spend it in one of the super chains”

The website claims for every euro you spend in an independent shop 50 cent goes back into the local community, whereas only 5 cent goes back if you spend it in one of the super chains such as Tesco. Buy Nothing Day encourages consumers to see beyond the brands and make the commitment to shop locally in independent shops, cafes and businesses. The movement also promotes Small Business Saturday which takes place on
Saturday December 6th 2014.

The campaign is a non-confrontational one and is simply in place to escape consumerism for a day and changing your lifestyle in order to create a relationship with your consumer conscience. Buy Nothing Day has been celebrated in Ireland since the early 00s. The website offers those interested a toolkit of posters and flyers as well as event ideas. We’d love to hear how you plan to celebrate it!

Author: Laura Cashman

Laura is a recent graduate of University College Cork where she completed an MA in International Relations. She is currently pursuing a career in international development with a particular interest in human rights. She is the Suas Society Intern in the Suas office and in her free time she enjoys reading about gender issues and politics.

Image credit: Buy Nothing, Viv, Creative Commons License

Gaza vs Garth

Gaza vs Garth

In this opinion piece, Darragh Higgins raises questions about the disproportionate media coverage of the Garth Brooks concerts in relation to the current situation in Palestine.

According to news reports today (16th of July, 2014) Gaza medical officials say that 191 Palestinians, 150 of whom are civilians and 31 of whom are children, have been killed in Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza while hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israeli-held territories with a view to killing Israelis. I do not wish to deal with the substantive issues underpinning this most recent deterioration in the occupied territories nor do I wish to engage in moral equivocation. I think that the former is being dealt with comprehensively elsewhere and the latter is pointless. Something that is, however, worth discussing in relation to recent events is the incredible amount of nonsense and drivel that people are willing to engage with.

Garthgate

Yesterday I remarked to a colleague of mine that on the same day that two men were convicted of the high profile murder of a Limerick businessman and on a day where the death toll in Gaza was rising steadily, the lead story of the online version of the Irish Times was the Garth Brooks fiasco. Once again, I won’t be getting into a substantive discussion of Garthgate, this is not because it is being dealt with elsewhere but because it is a complete waste of my time and yours. It is what one might gently describe as a ridiculous mountain made out of an even more ridiculous molehill.

“I don’t think many could successfully argue that, objectively speaking, the conflict in Gaza is less important than the Garth Brooks concerts saga”

My views on this are not based in any snobbery or a willingness to look down on Garth Brooks fans themselves, some of my best friends are Garth Brooks fans, rather it is based in the belief that in the grand scheme of things it is of little significance to me and should be of little significance to anyone with a modicum of compassion, humanity or indeed intelligence. I don’t think many could successfully argue that, objectively speaking, the conflict in Gaza is less important than the Garth Brooks concerts saga. How could it be? In one instance a singer is being refused permission to perform some concerts and in the other people are being terrorised, losing their homes, being made refugees and dying.

Making headlines

My observation led me to ponder the following: Why did this story make the headline of the Irish Times while so many other important stories were pushed from the top spot? This question in turn lead me to wonder: who is controlling whom? Is the media controlling the people or are they merely responding to the perceived needs of the people? If the answer to this question is that the media is controlling the people then this is a worry, but at least it is something that can quite easily be exposed and dealt with should the will be there to do so. On the other hand, if the media is merely responding to the perceived needs of the people then this is a far more worrying situation.

“If the media is merely responding to the perceived needs of the people then this is a far more worrying situation”

If we as a people have an inbuilt apathy to the plight of our neighbours but are willing to get riled up about a country and western star then what does that say about us? Not a lot I would imagine. It really doesn’t say a lot about us at all. I am not suggesting for one minute that people should not be entitled to be passionate about what they want, what I am suggesting though is that where something as grave as the situation in Gaza is a pressing matter, we should be able to care about that too. I’m not expecting people to start marching down O’ Connell Street wearing daisy chains atop their heads in protest at all the ills of the world (although that would be a good start) but what I do want is for the national discussion to be about more. About more than trivial matters that affect only us, about more than NIMBYism if that is how you see the Brooks affair and about more than what footballer is marrying what model.

Priorities

And how do I know that the national discussion is not in fact about more? Well for a start, the lead story was about Garth Brooks and not about anything important. It is not as if there is a lack of important news out there, there were junior minister appointments, there were children being exploited in any number of places around the world and there were people dying, not just in Gaza, but in every conflict zone in the world. I know that this all sounds very subjective on my part but can we at least agree that where other humans are being killed, raped, tortured, degraded and exploited that these things should form the basis for a threshold of what is important and what is not?

Let’s start to prioritise what we care about, not what I think you should care about but what other people need us to care about.

Author: Darragh Higgins

Darragh attended Trinity College, Dublin where he obtained a BA in European Studies and subsequently attended King’s Inns after which he was called to the Bar of Ireland in 2012. He is currently a practising Barrister. Darragh took part in the Suas volunteer programme as a team co-ordinator in 2013 and is a member of the Stand editorial group. He has an interest in most things, but especially interesting things. Darragh also really enjoys laughing.

Photo credit: Crowd approaching Dail at protest march last Saturday in Dublin, Paul Reynolds, Rabble

Corruption scandal trumps human rights scandal in Qatar

Corruption scandal trumps human rights scandal in Qatar

Aoife O’Reilly questions why it is the corruption scandal and not the human rights abuses that have led to a re-think about Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.

On December 2nd 2010, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) announced that Russia and Qatar would host the two World Cups succeeding the 2014 games currently taking place in Brazil. In recent weeks the international spotlight has been on Qatar due to allegations of corruption in the bidding process and the ultimate awarding of the games to the Arab country.

Corruption scandal

When Qatar was announced as the winner of the 2022 bidding process, many eyebrows were raised. Football experts lamented the choice given Qatar’s poor footballing legacy and its summer climate which would create uncomfortable conditions for players. Rumours that FIFA had essentially awarded the games to the highest bidder circulated, spurred on by the suspension of two executive committee members for accepting bribes.

Leaked documents recently published by the UK’s Sunday Times allegedly containing proof of further bribery have once again put FIFA under pressure to fully investigate the claims, with German World Cup winner Franz Beckenbaur among the FIFA officials in hot water for failing to cooperate with inquiries.

While controversy surrounding the corruption accusations has reached fever pitch, Human Rights advocates have been left wondering why it is the bribery scandal, and not the countless reports of human rights abuses suffered by migrant labourers, that have led to serious calls for a re-think on whether the tournament should be held in Qatar.

Human rights abuses

The magnitude of an event like the FIFA World Cup requires most host nations to carry out extensive construction, both in terms of stadia and infrastructure. Qatar has opened its doors to an influx of migrant labours to meet the demands associated with welcoming the millions of football fans anticipated in 2022. The treatment of these workers has led to several damning reports by Amnesty International.

“These working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects”

Stories of forced labour and appalling working conditions are prevalent, with Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, likening the situation to modern day slavery, saying, “these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects.”  Given the twelve-hour working days in stifling heat, with little or no health and safety standard adherence, it is unsurprising that the International Trade Union Conference has estimated that 4,000 labourers will be killed before the tournament kicks off, with several reports of labourers not being supplied with construction helmets also emerging.

An Indian worker told Amnesty International, “There are many workers who do not know what their rights are. There are many workers who keep working like donkeys, without asking a question. They don’t understand what is legally our entitlements, what our rights are. The company has been causing a lot of trouble. The company doesn’t give them even the minimum facilities and treats them as sub-human beings. Sometimes they are not given drinking water and not given transport. If a worker falls ill and stays in his room for a day, they cut the salary for two days. If he remains absent for two or three days, then they cut salary for 10 days. If the workers work over time, they don’t pay for over time.”

A Nepalese construction worker reported, “As a painter, I have to climb quite high. People do fall and get hurt. If they get hurt they [the company] don’t treat them, they get sent back [to their home countries].”

According to a 2013 Amnesty International report, the lucrative recruitment promises made to an estimated 1.4 million workers from a host of countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka simply never materialise.

“As a painter, I have to climb quite high. People do fall and get hurt. If they get hurt they [the company] don’t treat them, they get sent back [to their home countries]”

Salaries are considerably less than expected and often withheld. A group of five Nepalese workers told Amnesty International in March 2013 that they had never been paid a proper salary by their company, which recruited them in July 2012 with promises of salaries of between 900 and 1,200 riyals (between US$247 and US$320) per month. They worked from July until December 2012 and say they only received small amounts of cash – around 200 riyals (US$55) – irregularly to buy food during this time.

The practice of employers failing to ‘document’ workers, leaving them susceptible to detention by the authorities, are widespread. Passport confiscation has been reported as a common occurrence, making it nearly impossible for migrants to return home. Workers are often completely reliant on their employers, causing understandable psychological trauma given the powerlessness of their situation.

Living conditions are also reported by Amnesty International to be deplorable. Many workers simply do not have enough food to sustain themselves, and accommodation is particularly poor, frequently without electricity or sanitation. Workers who had planned to send money back to families have told of their devastation at having nothing left once they have paid rent and satisfied moneylenders who engage in harassment techniques that amount to extortion.

FIFA response

FIFA were forced to confront the human rights abuse issue after a Guardian investigation into the death of dozens of Nepalese workers in September 2013 revealed the extent of the problem. While FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, admitted that FIFA could not turn a blind eye and committed to meeting Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, he was adamant that responsibility lay with Qatar and the companies, many of them European, who were employing these individuals. After his meeting with Qatari officials Blatter pronounced himself satisfied with the progress, though months later no visible reform has occurred.

Profit before people?

The fact that it is a corruption disgrace that is making the media headlines, and not the human exploitation scandal, indicates just how divorced from reality the World Cup has become. With riots in Brazil preceding the opening of the tournament as citizens protested at the public expenditure in the face of real poverty, and serious question marks over whether South Africa’s 2010 games has brought about any long term benefits for the lower income classes, there is some suggestion that the event acts as a poisoned chalice for ambitious governments who are left counting the costs of their extravagance. However in the case of oil-rich Qatar, it is the migrant labourers who are undoubtedly paying the price.

An apolitical game?

Political neutrality has long been a virtue of sporting events. Stories of North Koreans and South Koreans happily supporting each other when both qualified for the 2010 World Cup are just one example of how sport can act as a temporary release to serious tensions. While the sporting world did unite to oppose South African apartheid effectively, in general the approach has been to avoid comment on internal politics.

However surely it is time that powerful sporting bodies took the lead in highlighting all serious human rights abuses, which simply cannot be classified as mere political issues any more. Backed by powerful sponsors and with a global platform that few human rights organisations enjoy, the time has come for sporting chiefs to take advantage of their universal appeal to promote universal rights.

While FIFA corruption is a cause for worry, the migrant rights crisis is undoubtedly a far more alarming concern, and one that could be improved if FIFA was willing to atone for its inaction so far and oblige Qatari officials to remedy the plight of migrant labourers.

Author: Aoife O’Reilly

Aoife has just completed a degree in Law and Political Science in Trinity College Dublin. She has an interest in social justice and public policy and has taken part in Suas’s Acceleread Accelewrite Literacy Programme. She was also heavily involved with the Voluntary Tuition Programme, an education initiative catering for Dublin school children, during her time in Trinity College Dublin.

Photo credit: After a day’s work, Migrant workers in Qatar, Lubaib, Creative Commons’ Licence

Brazil: a decade of pro-poor policies

Brazil: a decade of pro-poor policies

As the World Cup takes place in Brazil, Rita Formolo looks at the difference a decade of pro-poor policies has made in reducing poverty and inequality in the country.

There is a stark urban divide between those who possess the means for a decent life and those who are completely destitute in Brazil, stemming from its historical roots.  The colonisation and legacy of slavery created a social segregation in the country that transformed itself into a cycle of poverty spanning generations.  Subsequent economic failures, political clientelism and weak governance have continuously collaborated to exclude Brazil’s poor.

Redressing the exclusion

An effective development model that fosters growth with income distribution and social inclusion was introduced in the last decade and kickstarted the repayment of the social debt.  A recent report shows that between 2003 and 2011 income inequality declined by 9.2%.  Extreme poverty – measured at $1.25 a day – dropped from 11.2% to just over 3%, and poverty fell from 16% to 6%.

“Extreme poverty – measured at $1.25 a day – dropped from 11.2% to just over 3%”

The core of the policies is a programme called ‘Bolsa Familia’ – a monthly cash transfer secured to poor families, based on income and the number of children. It reaches one quarter of the population (13.8 million households) at a cost of just 0.5% of the country’s GDP.  This programme has addressed hunger, housing and livelihoods of the poor.  One key aspect is that parents must comply with child attendance to school, vaccinations and other health check-ups to keep receiving the stipend.  This has improved education, health, social assistance, and empowered women – 93% of benefit holders – who are subsequently allowed more choices and greater control over their family’s life.

The role this programme is playing in fighting hunger and improving children’s health and education is unquestionable. This results in far greater potential to interrupt the cycle of poverty in their generation.

Supporting agriculture

Another aspect of the pro-poor policy that has been introduced is strong support for family agriculture which produces 70% of food consumed locally and has benefited 32 million farmers.  Credit for small farmers has grown by over 150% in a decade.  Public purchasing of their agricultural products to supply the national school feeding programme, hospitals and others, have given them guaranteed market access.  Coupled with agrarian reform, land tenure, increased technical assistance, insurance schemes, rural extension services, research and others – these policies have contributed to an increase in 52% the income of small farmers and a decrease in the migration from the rural to the marginalised urban areas.

Decent work

Brazil’s pro-poor policies have been effective in terms of improving social mobility as they have directly enhanced the purchasing power of poor workers. The minimum wage has increased by 75%, favouring millions of  workers. The Brazilian government is also working to increase employment opportunities, offering professional courses and labour intermediation, as well as stimulating micro-enterprises and solidarity economic initiatives. Informal employment has dropped from 43% to 22% in this period. Likewise, a law of quotas  is currently being introduced and includes a 50% reserve of enrollment in federal universities for poor, black and indigenous students, along with professional quotas in the public service.

These and other interconnected policies have started to pay back the historical social debt Brazil has with its poor people.  A lot has been achieved in a single decade and proved that commitment coupled with political will is a powerful tool in the promotion of necessary social changes.

Can these pro-poor policies be expanded and made sustainable in the long-run in case of economic failures or political transition?   This is a key point to be addressed for Brazil’s poor cannot afford to lose the priority of public policies ever again.

Author: Rita Formolo

Rita has engaged in social movements, political activism and government activities in South Brazil, and graduated with a masters in Development Practice from Trinity College Dublin. Follow Rita on Twitter, @ritaformolo.

Photo credit: The rich bairro of São Conrado as viewed from above in the Rocinha Favela, Kevin Jones, Creative Commons’ Licence.

The hidden ways we use water

The hidden ways we use water

With World Water day taking place today and the focus of this year’s campaign on the link between water and energy, Deirdre Kelly considers at the amount of water it takes to bring us some of our day-to-day products.

Why water?

As an essential and increasingly precious resource, water has been described as the oil of the 21st century. Globally 768 million people still lack access to improved water sources, and this figure is set to increase in the coming years.

Often when we’re trying to cut down the amount of water we use we think of ideas like not leaving the tap running while brushing our teeth (which saves up to 9 litres of water per minute or 26,000 litres per family per year). While these acts certainly help, some of the biggest water saving changes we could make come from our indirect use of water.

The Water Footprint of a product refers to the amount of water consumed and polluted along the different stages of its production.

Water footprint

  • One cup of coffee uses 132 litres of water to grow, produce, package and ship the beans.  (versus 27 litres of water for a cup of tea.)
  • To produce a 100g chocolate bar uses 1,700 litres of water.
  • Growing enough cotton for one t-shirt uses 2,495 litres of water.

Whose water?  

Of course we need water to make almost everything, however with global water use increasing at more than twice the rate of population growth, now is the time to re-think our consumption of water-intensive products.

In Ireland, over 70% of our water footprint comes from outside the country. This means the water sacrificed to make most of our products comes from commodity-producing countries, usually in the Global South. This decreases the amount of water available to the people in those countries, where water scarcity is often a problem.

While cotton itself isn’t necessarily a luxury item, our ‘fast fashion’ throwaway use of it can be considered indulgent. We dispose of 225,000 tonnes of textile waste in Ireland each year. Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, intensive water use for cotton farming has reduced the volume of the Aral Sea (the world’s 4th largest lake) by 80% in 40 years, as well as damaging the quality of the water for local people.

Supporting livelihoods

This system clearly isn’t working for the environment, but it’s not working for producers either. For a jar of coffee that costs €2.50 here, the producer in the Global South earns just 17 cents. The picture is similar for producers of other commodities too.

Would it be possible for us to reduce our consumption of water-intensive products and pay a little more for them instead? This way we could sustainably support the livelihoods of cotton, coffee and chocolate producers by providing them with a better income, while also causing less environmental damage.

Find out more about the amount of water behind other products and calculate your own water footprint at the Water Footprint Network.

Learn about the stories behind our products at storyofstuff.com

World Water Day takes place on 22nd March. Find out more at unwater.org/worldwaterday

Author: Deirdre Kelly

Image credit: Silent Killer, a woman carries water in Pune, India past sugercane fields, which use huge amounts of water and fertilizer, a hazard to health. Daniel Bachhuber (Creative commons license)

Rethinking war photography

Rethinking war photography

Gina Kelly reviews Richard Mosse’s exhibiton ‘The Enclave’, currently on display in the  Royal Hibernian Academy.

Over 5.4 million people have died of war-related causes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1988. The systematic cycles of violence, rape and murder which have prevailed in the region defy belief. The UN estimates that about 45,000 people die there each month due to violence or other indirect factors of the current conflict. A multitude of different rebel groups live within the Congo, many terrorizing the people and exploiting the country’s wealth of natural resources.

In Richard Mosse’s The Enclave exhibition, which represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale (a sort of world cup of contemporary art and photography) Richard Mosse, in his own words, has attempted to ‘rethink war photography’ and present the situation in the DRC in a different light.

Striking images

Certainly the first thing I noticed upon entering the Enclave multimedia installation is Mosse’s light and colour scheme, presenting everything in an intangible and alien hue of magenta and cobalt. On entering the first room of the exhibition I was greeted by four large prints depicting a landscape which would be at home in Stephen Spielberg’s ‘War of the worlds’. Fierce and beautiful pink landscapes devoid of violence were not what I had expected of war photography.

The photos and film for the exhibition were shot using Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, originally developed for military use to reveal camouflaged bases in dense vegetation. Infrared light, an invisible spectrum to human eyes, reflects most strongly from live vegetation. Mosse’s reasoning behind the use of this particular type of film was to reveal this hidden conflict in the Congo, in some ways analogous to its original use.

This attempt to make the familiar strange is certainly effective; while many of us are not directly familiar with war, much the photography of conflict we are exposed to can often be easily skimmed over and forgotten. The images I saw in the Enclave, in contrast, have stayed with me. The question I struggle with though is whether they are powerful and forceful for this difference, or whether they increase the distance between the viewer and the conflict through their surrealism.

Confusion and disorientation

On entering the second part of the exhibition, I was confronted with six double-sided screens hanging from the ceiling of a darkened room. The forty minute film that is presented is disjointed and split across the multiple screens, turning on and off seemingly at random. Again everything has a strange pink hue, and the accompanying composition by Ben Frost, is chilling to the extreme. The world that is presented is both sinister and beautiful, with different clips showing on multiple screens at once, mirroring the confusion and disorientation of a conflict situation.

Does this beauty undermine the gravity of the situation? Mosse has reacted to this perspective, stating that by making something terrible appear beautiful it “creates an ethical problem in the viewer’s mind…. They’re confused, and angry, and disoriented. And this is great! Because you’ve got them to actually think about the act of perception and how this imagery is produced and consumed.”

Controversy

While the exhibition as a whole has been critically acclaimed both at home and abroad, there has been some controversy over the ethics of the images presented, and whether they detract from the reality of the war-torn country. I certainly struggled with this. Mosse and his crew spent two years in Eastern Congo, gaining sufficient trust with rebel soldiers to photograph and record them.According to the Irish Arts Council, some of these rebel soldiers are under the command of leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court for their war crimes. These are juxtapositioned with quiet images of rippling water, victims of the conflict in a refugee camp, dancers watched by an eager audience and numerous Congolese children reacting to the camera.

How ethically sound is it to work with and display images of soldiers who have potentially committed war crimes for an art exhibition? I’m not sure, but I am no expert in either the realms of art or photojournalism. Overall I found the exhibition to be intriguing and thought-provoking.  I’d encourage you to go visit with an open mind and decide for yourself.

The exhibition is on display in the  the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin until 12th of March . It will be on display in Ormston House and 6a Rutland Street, Limerick from March 27th to May 5th  as part of the celebration of Limerick City of Culture. 

Author: Gina Kelly

Gina is a Masters student of Development Practice in TCD and UCD. She previously studied Earth Sciences and is interested in environmental issues, but also more broadly in development and economic inequality. Gina has been involved with Suas through the refugee football and English club in 2010 and the Volunteer Programme to India in 2012.

Image credit: Richard Mosse, Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012, Digital c-print, AP, 183 x 229 cm, copyright Richard Mosse, courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery

Humanitarian Needs and Response in Syria

Humanitarian Needs and Response in Syria

According to Antonio Gutteres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the situation in Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Cold War. It’s hard not to agree with him, when you consider the statistics. In less than 3 years of conflict, 100,000 people have been killed; more than 2 million have fled the country as refugees; almost 7 million are in desperate need of aid (more than half of them children); and 4.25 million are struggling to survive as internally displaced people (IDPs).

Much is made of the plight of those who have flocked to refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. As grave as their situation is, though, it must be said that those who have escaped Syria are relatively fortunate: they are now safe, and most have proper shelter and access to food, water and medicines. Unlike those who remain in Syria – mostly living in schools, mosques and deserted buildings (or even under clumps of trees) – without these basic essentials.

Recently, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the conflict had reached “unprecedented levels” and showed no signs of abating.

The Syrian government has added to the hardship by increasing restrictions on the delivery of supplies to opposition controlled areas, compounding the healthcare crisis in many areas. The water and sanitation situation remains of great concern throughout the country with reports of an increase in hygiene related diseases, especially in IDP camps. A July Ministry of Health report stated that up to 60% of public hospitals have limited or no capacity.

The new school year was due to begin on 15th September. As a large number of schools are either occupied by IDPs or damaged, some children – already having missed 2 years of education – will remain without proper schooling. According to Ministry of Education data, almost 2 million children have dropped out of school since the last academic year. That’s nearly 40% of all schoolchildren in grades 1 to 9. Many of these children have been put to work to support households because their fathers are disabled, missing or dead. This situation is all the more tragic for a country so close to reaching universal primary education before the start of the crisis. School gives children a degree of normality and pyscho-social support badly needed in times of conflict, and helps keep them safe from exploitation and forced conscription into armed groups.

Ireland has sought to continue its role as an ‘international good citizen’ with a total contribution to the crisis from the government of nearly €11 million. This makes Ireland’s per capita contribution to Syria one of the largest in the world. The €11 million includes contributions to various UN agencies, the ICRC and Irish NGOs, and supplies of non-food items. For GOAL, an allocation of €650,000 is funding one part of the agency’s humanitarian response programme in Syria, the largest intervention in its 36 year history.

Talk of an international intervention came after reports of the use of chemical weapons on three districts in the suburbs of Damascus had refocused the international community’s attention on Syria. However, the Syrian people cannot understand why they are getting this attention only now when in excess of 100,000 people have already been killed by rockets, bombs, gunfire and grenades. As one Syrian woman put it to a GOAL worker, as news of the attack and the West’s reaction to it filtered through to the part of Northern Syria he was visiting, “So it’s okay for the regime to butcher us in our tens of thousands, as long as they do it with the gun and the bomb?”

Commentators have also been critical of the West’s reluctance to commit to the humanitarian response in Syria. The UN’s request for $5.2 billion remains seriously underfunded. However, there are no clear ‘good guys’ in the conflict, with atrocities undeniably committed by both sides, and with the fractured nature of the opposition, it can be hard to identify who to help. Add to this the effects of Western conditioning by the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences and it may be a little easier to understand the reluctance to get involved. With natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake, it is also traditionally easier to motivate the international community for an emergency response.

Until the international community launches an adequate humanitarian response, Syrians will continue to die in their thousands.

Author Cian Doherty

Tír gan Teanga, Tír gan Anam?: The Ethics of Teaching English

Tír gan Teanga, Tír gan Anam?: The Ethics of Teaching English

Language is both our greatest tool, and our most insidious weapon. With language we can liberate, or we can subjugate.

The teaching of language, therefore, is a process that must be carefully considered. Through a combination of the global nature of the English language, saturated job markets in Western society, and the greater ease and cost efficiency of worldwide travel, the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) industry, both charitable and commercial, is booming. ‘Education First’, the largest global EFL body, postulate that the global international education market is worth approximately $50 billion.

Central to many development initiatives is a targeting of local educational systems. Underfunded, and lacking in basic infrastructure and utilities, schools in the developing world are, often in need of significant help, and a legitimate vehicle for charitable aims. While the debate about the merits of sending non-qualified Western volunteers to developing countries, when balanced against the cost (both carbon and monetary) of travel alone, will never truly be resolved, there is one indisputable benefit to their presence: their fluency in English. Since it is taken as a given that good spoken English is crucial to escaping the cycle of poverty, native English speakers are crucial to charities working in the educational development sector.

However, what is never really considered is if teaching English abroad really is such an unqualified necessity. By teaching English in developing nations are we actually doing more harm than good?
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the esteemed Kenyan playwright and social activist, would certainly agree. For Ngũgĩ, language is not just a means of communication; it is also a carrier of culture. As he elaborates:

“Language as culture is the collective memory bank of a people’s experience in history. Culture is almost indistinguishable from the language that makes possible its genesis.”

For Ngũgĩ, who has since ceased writing in English, his native language of Gikuyu communicates certain cultural truths that English, or indeed, any other foreign language, cannot. In its rhymes and tempos, its rhythms and sounds, it establishes a tangible and unique link between people, place and culture. It is a defining aspect of individual existence. To place English ahead of native tongues, be it through governmental administration, or academic examination, accounts to a charge of cultural warfare, and a profound method of imperial subjugation.
Ngũgĩ recounts his childhood growing up in a Kenyan peasant family, where at school, children were encouraged to tell on their peers if they were heard speaking anything other than English. In his adolescence, English was praised above all, a merit in English class necessary to go onto any further study, regardless of proficiency in any other subject. Exams were set in English, and anyone hoping to climb the professional ladder in later years had to have a perfect grasp of the English language. While English, as the language of governmental, and therefore institutional authority was praised above all else, native languages throughout Kenya were crushed. This scenario was repeated throughout the vast majority of colonised states in Africa and Asia, governmental languages of English, French, Portuguese and Dutch actively attempting to wipe out the indigenous vernacular that had come before them.

This is a scenario that is still in place today, the vast majority of the African continent still in thrall to the languages of their colonial past. Similarly, in India, English is still the language of administration, and is found throughout all the corridors of power, from the parliament to the judiciary. By teaching, therefore, a colonial tongue, are we, as Ngũgĩ suggests, continuing the process of neo-colonial servitude, enslaving, rather than enabling future generations?

While teaching English abroad may be philosophically, an evil, it is a necessary one. It is not just in the development sector where good verbal English is prized, it is an asset sought the world over, and a legitimate and effective way of tacking the cycle of poverty. However, this standpoint is only due to the compromised nature of global politics, where ideas of nationality and national identity are provisional and fleeting. While teaching English abroad is useful, that does not necessarily make it good. Rather it occupies a middle ground, a transient space between colonial domination and the fleeting beginnings of true independence. It is in this frame that we must always examine the ethics of teaching English.

Author: Sean Farrell