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IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 08:07:48 +0000

We are delighted to announce that the United Nations Correspondents Association has recognised IRIN’s outstanding reporting on Asia, awarding a joint silver medal to former Asia Editor Jared Ferrie for the Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for written media. From the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to the forgotten conflict in the Philippines, to the deepening migration crisis in Afghanistan, Jared Ferrie’s excellent reporting from the region is well deserving of recognition - recently earning an honourable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia. His award-winning entries include: Myanmar says Rohingya rape and abuse allegations “made-up”, despite mounting evidence In the face of outright denials by Myanmar’s government, Jared Ferrie uncovered strong evidence that the military was committing atrocities against the country’s persecuted ethnic Rohingya Muslim community. His story juxtaposes the experiences of survivors against government statements, providing a historical record of both the atrocities and the attempts to cover them up. As Myanmar refused to allow journalists near the police border posts where the accounts were emerging, Ferrie travelled to neighbouring Bangladesh. His vital reporting there revealed that the number of people who fled across the border was far higher than previously reported, and the facts he uncovered directly challenged the government’s narrative. A spokeswoman for Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, insisted that military operations had been conducted “with very much restraint”. And allegations of rape and ethnic cleansing? “Completely false.” With the evidence presented in Ferrie's story, such denials became impossible to believe. EXCLUSIVE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar In an exclusive interview, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told Jared Ferrie her plan to push member states to sponsor a resolution for a commission of inquiry into military abuses of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims. “I never said in the past to a reporter what I plan to put in my report,” she said. “This time I am making this point: I will certainly be pushing for an inquiry, definitely, on the Rohingya situation.” With Myanmar unwilling or unable to carry out a credible investigation, pressure was mounting for a UN-backed inquiry. Jared Ferrie’s analysis outlined the challenges to forming such an inquiry. It would require that a Human Rights Council member put forward a resolution, and it would need cooperation from the Myanmar government, which is civilian-led but has no control over the military. Indeed, the Council in the end choose to form a “fact finding mission”, which carries less weight than a commission of inquiry. To date, Myanmar has refused to allow members of the mission access to the country. For more on the denied oppression of Myanmar’s Rohingya people, please see our in-depth coverage here. (TOP PHOTO: A Rohingya family shelter in the village of Hazi Para, Bangladesh, after fleeing Myanmar. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IRIN) bangladesh_5.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award IRIN Asia Global [...]



IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:05:17 +0000

Over the last decade, we've awoken to the fact that junk food hurts us. It's time for a similar revolution in our news consumption. 

In this new TEDx Talk, IRIN Director Heba Aly takes on the role of ‘chief news nutritionist’. Fake news is one thing but Heba explains why we must stop consuming the more insidious, less obvious variety of junk news: “If classical junk news is your greasy double bacon cheeseburger, junk coverage of important news is the low fat blueberry muffin that looks healthy but is actually loaded with calories.”

A journalist covering humanitarian crises for the past 10 years, Heba highlights through personal experiences and powerful examples the dangers of simplistic narratives that can warp our views of conflicts and crises, affect realities on the ground and even impact peace negotiations.

“It has never been more important to understand our ever-complex world because we cannot prevent, respond to or resolve these crises if we do not properly understand them,” she says. 

“This isn’t just about a failure to understand the world around us. Junk news erodes our democracies because it fails to give us the information we need to be responsible, active citizens and to make informed decisions about our own lives.” 

IRIN’s mission is to put quality, independent journalism at the service of the most vulnerable people on earth. As Heba explains, “reliable journalism does exist - you just have to seek it out and consume it, and where possible support the journalists producing it.”

Food is fuel; knowledge is power. Better diets make us healthier. High quality news helps change the world for the better. Support IRIN’s journalism here.

Stop eating junk news | Heba Aly | TEDxChamonix

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TEDx Talks
(image) HebaTEDx.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news IRIN Global



EU fails to identify and protect gay, lesbian, and transgender asylum seekers

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000

Daar* was scared to tell anyone he was gay, let alone the foreign officials who held his future in their hands.   So when the 28-year-old Syrian from Damascus had his first interview for European asylum on the Aegean island of Lesvos, he kept mum, even though revealing his identity would have helped him start a new life away from the island’s squalid camps.   “I was afraid,” he told IRIN. “I didn’t know how to say that [I am gay], and didn’t want to talk about that with the official interpreter who was present during the interview. He is from the Arab community and I didn’t know how he would react.”   In his second interview, Daar decided to tell the asylum office he was gay, helping him gain asylum in a European country and leave the island.   What Daar may not have known at first is that under EU law, people who have been persecuted or face persecution in their home countries due to their sexual orientation and gender identity qualify for refugee status and potentially asylum.   But a weeks-long IRIN investigation has found that EU governments are often failing to even identify gay, bisexual, and transgender asylum seekers, much less afford them special protections that, as a vulnerable group, many desperately need.   Ignorance and fear   Joey*, a volunteer from the UK who came to Greece to help LGBTQI individuals through their immigration and asylum procedures, understands why many people share Daar’s original instinct to hold back.   The onus is on asylum seekers to raise issues of sexuality and gender in the interviews that are a required part of the asylum process, and only then can officials ask questions on the topic. In some countries, like Finland, France, or Sweden, questions around sexual orientation aren’t allowed at all as they’re considered a personal intrusion.   “Why would you, if you come from a country where you can’t really be open about who you are, why would you go to an official, policeman, or representative of the asylum service and say, ‘and by the way, I am lesbian or transgender’, or anything?” questioned Joey.   Katherine Reilly, an activist for LGBTQI rights who has advised asylum seekers on the interview process, agrees: “You have to carry on your shoulders two stigmas at the same time, and I understand why many people are not ready to deal with it,” she told IRIN. Some people cross the hurdle of telling officials they are gay or transgender and claim asylum because of it, only to find their applications have been rejected. Last year Eliana, a trans woman from Lebanon, was rejected in Germany on the grounds that she crossed from Turkey to Greece as a man and therefore couldn’t be considered trans. In 2014, the European Court of Justice concluded that asylum seekers couldn’t be asked to present proof of their sexual orientation “in a way that violates their privacy and dignity”. But some asylum offices, in Hungary for example, still ask for proof that is humiliating and/or impossible to provide. Your browser does not support the video tag.   Unsure   Only a handful of EU member states have specific guidelines for interviewing LGBTQI individuals. A UNHCR survey revealed that only one in five asylum offices have formal or informal procedures dedicated to handling these issues.   A number of grassroots groups and NGOs in Greece and across Europe are trying to find ways to help, not just by encouraging people to come out during the asylum interview, but also by demanding that interviewers ask the right questions and address the situation appropriately.   IRIN met Abtin*, a 17-year-old from Iran who has set up a campaign group in Greece that aims to reach Iranians before they leave home to encourage them to talk about their sexuality on arrival in Europe.   That’s all well and good for those who are certain about their sexual orientation, but it doesn’t help M*, a 23-year-old from Iran, who is still questioning if he might be bisexual.   “When I was 14, I started thinkin[...]



Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:27:22 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Plus ça change in Zimbabwe   It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).   Libya’s descent   Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.   Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps   Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 611 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 49,000 reported cases as of mid-November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 12 November, the system recorded 199 deaths since the most recent influx began. For more, read some of IRIN’s recent reporting looking at the mon[...]



Where are Burundi’s missing witnesses to crimes against humanity?

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 16:22:41 +0000

In Burundi, it’s not just witnesses to the politically motivated string of murders, torture, and rapes who are going missing, it’s also the perpetrators, underscoring the enormous scale of the challenge now facing the International Criminal Court. So great are the risks to the “life and wellbeing” of potential witnesses to alleged crimes against humanity committed by state agents here that ICC judges agreed for the first time to deliberate in secret before deciding the tribunal’s chief prosecutor could step up her enquiries. Fears of a Kenya-style witness tampering campaign appear well-founded: Several people with first-hand knowledge of crimes implicating police, soldiers, and militia members have disappeared or been killed in Burundi, according to relatives and rights groups. An ICC judges’ ruling has authorised Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to elevate her “preliminary examination” to an “investigation”, paving the way for eventual arrest warrants, criminal charges, and trials. The judges cited Bensouda’s affirmation: “[The] Government of Burundi has not merely been uncooperative but has actively sought to target, both in Burundi and abroad, persons who it perceives could implicate it in the crimes alleged, as established by additional sources.” And, in another unprecedented decision, the judges allowed Bensouda to wait a full 10 days before informing the Burundian government that such permission had been granted. In so doing, they granted time for witness protection measures to be put in place and lent credence to Bensouda’s view that the “concrete possibility of an investigation [was] likely to affect the calculations of those implicated by the crimes”. The alleged crimes in question include: murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, and persecution. According to the prosecutor, high-ranking officials of the Burundian government, the police, the intelligence service, the military, and also the Imbonerakure (the ruling party’s youth wing), appear to be those most responsible for the most serious crimes. “The Chamber considers that multiple sources indicate that the Government of Burundi has interfered with, intimidated, or harmed victims and witnesses,” the judges’ decision read. 30 months of hell Such a campaign appears to have begun soon after the country was plunged into a violent crisis in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term in office (widely deemed unconstitutional) prompted street protests, a heavy-handed response from security forces, and an attempted coup. A list of dozens of Burundians “forcibly disappeared” over the past two-and-a-half years has been published on a dedicated website called Ndondeza, which is the Kirundi for “Help me to find him”. Names on the list include those of activists and politicians from various parties, journalists, state intelligence agents, police and army officers, Imbonerakure members, and would-be refugees detained while trying to leave Burundi. “People implicated in crimes are often eliminated in the same way as their victims,” explaned Pacifique Nininahazwe, who is president of the Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (the organisation behind the Ndondeza campaign) as well as a leading opponent of Nkurunziza’s third term in office. Speaking to IRIN by phone from Europe where he is living in exile, Nininahazwe said there were already several cases of Imbonerakure members being eliminated after having been “implicated in odious crimes”, including those who attempted to assassinate Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the country’s leading human rights activist. Missing perpetrators Among this category of missing is Aimé Aloys Manirakiza, who has not been seen since May 2017. “He was one of the Imbonerakure in Musaga zone,” Manirakiza’s wife, Allaine Vanessa Kaneza, said i[...]



A shot across the bows from The Hague as ICC investigates Burundi

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 15:23:59 +0000

By authorising a full-scale investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by state actors in Burundi, judges of the International Criminal Court want to send a clear message to perpetrators of such crimes across the world: If you think pulling out of this tribunal will let you off the hook, think again. On 27 October, Burundi became the first party to withdraw from the Rome Statue, the ICC’s legal foundation. But in response to an unpublicised 5 September request from the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber III ruled that the court still “has jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed while Burundi was a state party to the ICC Rome Statute”. The judges handed down the ruling on 25 October but kept it under seal in order to protect witnesses until a redacted version was released on Thursday. In a crucial interpretation of the statue, which sets an important precedent, they determined that the ICC’s jurisdiction “remains unaffected by a withdrawal of a State Party from the Statute”. “It was a surprise move for everyone, including the government of Burundi,” international law expert Benjamin Dürr told IRIN. Step forward By elevating its engagement with Burundi from the “preliminary examination” started in March 2016 – a process that simply determines issues of jurisdiction and admissibility – to an “investigation”, the judges have now opened the door to indictments and arrest warrants being issued. This is precisely what a UN Commission of Enquiry urged the court to do in a September report that detailed crimes allegedly committed by people at “the highest level of the state” and within the security services in Burundi since April 2015, when protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office prompted protests met with a very harsh response. Crimes allegedly include “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances”. In their ruling, the judges referred to estimates that “at least 1,200 persons were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured and hundreds disappeared”. Roadblocks However, the ruling doesn’t mean international prosecutions of these crimes are now inevitable, let alone imminent. Burundi has the right to ask the ICC prosecutor to defer the investigation on the grounds that the crimes in question are being investigated by domestic courts. Even if this claim lacks much foundation (the ICC judges deemed Burundian authorities “inactive” in this regard), such a move would oblige the prosecutor to issue a fresh request to the judges to open an investigation. Both Burundi and the prosecutor would then be allowed to appeal the judges’ response to such a request. This process could take years. Another caveat: The collapse of ICC cases against prominent Kenyans, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the moribund state of the case against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, illustrate how hard it is to prosecute incumbent leaders. The judges also ruled that Burundi is still obliged to cooperate with the ICC despite its withdrawal. If it fails do so, the UN Security Council could in theory impose sanctions, as it already threatened to do in August amid worsening security. Those in power unmoved The response from the country’s government and Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party was vitriolic. The country’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, tweeted that the judges’ ruling was a “non-event” and described it as “another attempt to destabilise Burundi that will fail as its previous [attempts did]”. Government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe was equally strident, saying on Twitter: “As usual, the @IntlCrimCourt plunges into outrageous lies to implement Westerners’ hidden agenda to destabilise #Africa.[...]



Refugees warn of looming civil war in Cameroon

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 17:31:10 +0000

As Patrick Ndong was getting ready to leave home for his poultry farm in the Cameroonian commune of Akwaya, a group of soldiers stormed into his compound and began shooting in the air.   Ndong took to his heels, but as he did so he could see soldiers dragging young boys from the village into a waiting van.   “They [the boys] were shouting for help,” Ndong told IRIN. “One woman was crying and rolling on the floor because her son had been shot.”   Like many others who fled Akwaya in English-speaking southwest Cameroon, Ndong spent three days in the bush before crossing the border into the tiny Nigerian village of Utanga, in Cross River State.   “I had to eat leaves to survive,” said Ndong, a livestock breeder. “I’ll never forget the day soldiers totally destroyed my life.”   That was on 1 October, the day when thousands of Cameroonians in the two English-speaking regions took to the streets demanding secession from the rest of the majority Francophone country.   The security forces responded with violence. Just in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region, Amnesty International said 17 people were killed. There is now mounting concern that Cameroon’s “anglophone crisis” is spinning out of control.   Fleeing refugees   The refugee flow from Akwaya - a collection of villages sandwiched between Nigeria and Cameroon - and other locations in western Cameroon, is just one example.   At least 20,000 people are currently sheltering in a string of communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state, according to state government officials.   “The influx of people has not ceased yet,” John Inaku, the director-general of the State Emergency Managing Authority told IRIN. “They are still coming in, even up till this morning.”   The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week that 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria.   “Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.   Tensions are indeed increasing. On Tuesday, two Cameroonian gendarmes were killed in Bamenda in an overnight raid on a security checkpoint, reportedly by English-speaking separatists. A third officer was killed in an ambush on a patrol an hour later.   No one yet knows how many people died in Akwaya, but “the government has forced our people into carrying arms,” said 39-year-old Solomon Ode, who fled to Utanga last month. “This is going to turn into a full-blown war.”   Activists of the Southern Cameroonian United Front had warned for months that they would symbolically declare Northwest and Southwest Cameroon the so-called independent Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October.   There were large protests in support across the regions’ major towns, but it was in places like Akwaya where some of the worst violence was committed by the security forces, and which went largely unreported.   “We wanted to tell the world that we are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” said John Tita, who marched with protesters in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region, before returning to Akwaya later in the day to find his house destroyed, allegedly by the army.   One woman told IRIN her 14-year-old son was shot by soldiers inside her compound in Akwaya and was then taken away. “I don't know if he's dead or alive,” she said. “There was blood all over his body.” Mbom Sixtus/IRIN Protesters in Bamenda burn the Cameroon flag Chronology of crisis   Anglophones make up roughly one fifth of Cameroon's population of 23 million. Originally part of British-administered Cameroon, the previously separate region voted to join the rest of the country in 1961. But t[...]



US ramps up military strikes in Somalia

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 10:45:30 +0000

When Ali Osman Diblawe arrived in Bariire he was barefoot and winded. He had sprinted the 2.5 kilometres from his farm to the southern Somali town after hearing a barrage of gunfire tear through his small village soon after the early morning prayer. That was on 25 August. In the days prior, he and at least two others on the farm had seen what they thought was an odd-looking black bird in the sky. “There was something small and dark that was flying high over the town in the morning when we went to our farms and in the evening when we came home,” Diblawe told IRIN over a phone. “It was far away, but I thought that’s a drone, that looks like a drone.” Anxious, he approached the local Somali National Army commander to voice his concerns over what he suspected was US surveillance of the village. He explained that although the farmers had small arms – as many do in rural Somalia, where there are ongoing clan conflicts – they were not members of the jihadist group al-Shabab. He returned to his village on 24 August hoping he had been listened to. The next morning the shooting started and Diblawe ran. When he plucked up the courage to return home he saw the bodies of 10 of his neighbours sprawled on the ground. Standing over them were the SNA soldiers who had killed them, and the handful of US Special Operators who had orchestrated the operation. Diblawe’s warning had fallen on deaf ears. Local media first misreported the incident as a US drone strike. They later clarified that the 10 people had been killed in a joint US-Somali ground operation – confirmed in a statement issued by the US Africa Command, known as AFRICOM. The raid came six months after President Donald Trump had loosened regulations restricting operations in Somalia, and five months after the first US soldier was killed in the country since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993. The Bariire raid exemplifies what has been a gradual ramping-up of US military activity in Somalia over the last three years, one in which drones – both armed and for surveillance – have played a central role. This includes the first air strike against so-called Islamic State in Somalia on 3 November.  According to an AFRICOM statement, the drone attack killed “several terrorists” near Qandala, a small port town in northeastern Puntland that IS briefly occupied late last year. “In 2011 there were four or five maybe six [air] strikes and US ground operations, and that trend continued up until 2015,” said Jack Serle, a specialist investigator with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s drone warfare team. “But in 2015 the pace of strikes really accelerated and we’re now tracking at least 20 airstrikes and ground operations this year, which is the highest we’ve ever recorded.” Christina Goldbaum/IRIN Somali soldier with Ugandan AMISOM troops Relaxed rules of engagement In March, the Trump administration designated parts of southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities”, a move which gives commanders in the field greater autonomy over the use of force. Prior to the policy change, US forces in Somalia had been operating under the more restrictive Barrack Obama-era guidelines known as the Presidential Policy Guidance. Implemented in May 2013 in an effort to reduce the number of civilian casualties in counter-terrorism operations, the guidelines require high-level deliberations among cabinet officials to confirm that targets outside of traditional war zones pose a threat to Americans, and that there is near certainty no civilians will be killed. The undoing of these regulations came after significant lobbying from the Pentagon and General Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander. Yet in the initial three months after the new policy was implemented, there was no change in the nu[...]



Who owns Kenya?

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 16:04:08 +0000

Two elections in two months have not settled Kenya’s political crisis. But the impasse is not really about who will sit in State House. It’s a deeper question: it’s about who owns Kenya – its citizens or a historically entrenched political elite. Kenya went back to the polls on 26 October after the Supreme Court annulled the first attempt in August. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won easily after his main opponent, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the race alleging the inability of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to carry out a credible poll. Some have proposed that the political crisis is nothing more than a dispute between two of Kenya’s famously power-hungry politicians, each accusing the other of trying to vault into office by fraudulent means. Others blame the ethnicisation of Kenya’s politics and the deep tribal fault lines within Kenyan society. Still others maintain that the country’s winner-take-all political system, which does not allow those rejected by voters a cushy and safe landing. All these diagnoses fail to identify the central conflict that connects all these issues – the struggle to bend the country’s post-colonial extractive state to the will of a new and progressive constitution. It is a war that has been silently waged for at least 55 years. Colonial constitution In 1962, Kenyan representatives to the Lancaster Constitutional Conference agreed on a constitution broadly similar to the one the country finally adopted in 2010. It established a Bill of Rights. It created regional assemblies and local government in an effort to devolve power from the centre. It even had a Supreme Court. Yet in less than a decade, it would be so mangled through amendments that in 1969 it was officially recognised as a different document. Kenya’s current attorney-general, Githu Muigai, noted way back in 1992 that the independence constitution was incompatible with the inherited authoritarian colonial administrative structure. “Unhappily, instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter, with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded,” Muigai wrote. In short, under the ruling KANU party, the colonial state and its logic of extraction of resources from the many to enrich the few – initially British colonials, but now a similarly tiny African political elite – prevailed and undid the constitution. What followed was an “eating” binge as politicians and senior officials and their families and friends grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on. By the late 1980s, the looting and oppression sparked a reaction from citizen groups, media, and churchmen who pushed hard for a new constitution, even in the face of violent government crackdowns as well as state-led attempts to co-opt and hollow out their demands. The popular agitation came to fruition in August 2010 when the current constitution was finally promulgated. Yet the colonial state did not just fade away. Its more egregious aspects were simply renamed and allowed to hide in plain sight. The hated provincial administrators became county commissioners; the police, though nominally independent, still remained “a citizen containment squad”, as an official report into police reforms had labelled them. Under Kenyatta, the state retained its authoritarian character but with a fresh, likable face. Its violence, however, was never far below the surface, as was witnessed in the aftermath of its bungled responses to extremist attacks such as the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, when the government scapegoated entire communities to cover up its failures. And, more recently, in the brutal crackdown on people protesting the two elections in which nearly 70 people have died. Where to now? The Supreme Court annulment of the August poll ca[...]



‘I have to help my family’

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 01:58:16 +0000

The boy took a deep breath before lifting up two bags full of red bricks, balancing the load on his shoulders. The sun burned his bare feet as he walked through the refugee camp, his back hunched under the weight. A 10-year-old Rohingya, Mohammed has been working non-stop for the past two weeks, helping his struggling family earn a living in the world’s fastest growing refugee camp.  Leaving their former lives in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to set up homes in the teeming camps of southern Bangladesh cost the family hundreds of dollars – money that must now be recouped, one brick at a time. “We had to pay for the boat ride to Bangladesh and the material to build a house here,” Mohammed told IRIN as he set about earning his day’s wages – about $0.04 a brick. “I’m helping my parents earn money.” There is a severe shortage of safe spaces for kids in the camps, more than two months after a new wave of violence in Rakhine began pushing more than 600,000 Rohingya across the border. With desperate Rohingya families like Mohammed’s arriving with nothing, advocates say children are at high risk of exploitation and abuse. “It’s a child protection disaster waiting to happen,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who heads Save the Children. Stefanie Glinski/IRIN Mohammed, 10, is a brick collector. He earns three Taka, or about $0.04, for each brick he carries. Safe spaces  While official data and numbers of Rohingya child labourers have yet to be collected, experts worry the situation could get out of hand. More than half the new arrivals are children. Yousuf Ali, who works with local non-profit YPSA, said it’s clear many children have already started working. Most are employed by Bangladeshi businesses and earn the equivalent of between $1.20 and $1.80 a day. “Most families are open to having their children employed, as they have no other means to survive,” Ali said. Conditions in the refugee camps are chaotic. Heavy rain continues to turn the area into deep mud fields and families are scrambling to establish a living. An army of aid groups and volunteers has rushed in to help, but the sheer numbers are immense.   Families say it costs $120 to buy bamboo and plastic sheeting from local vendors – a significant portion of their savings. Aid groups estimate more than 400,000 children, including girls and boys who arrived before the latest wave of refugees, can’t access schools or other learning places.  With so few safe spots for children, it raises real risks of trafficking and child labour, said Torgeir Lind, an expert on psychosocial support with the Norwegian Red Cross. “The needs in the camps are huge,” Lind said. “There are lots of children, but not enough schooling. That means that there are no daytime activities for children.” The supply chain Child labour is a problem in refugee emergencies around the world, as it often is in host communities.  A study in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, for example, estimated 13.3 percent of children aged seven to 17 were working. “If this is the overarching situation around the world, then we need to look at the Rohingya camps,” said Sheema Sen Gupta, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Bangladesh. “Families arrive here with nothing. What happens once they have pitched their tents? They have a meal a day or don’t eat for days. Instead of sitting around, children go and find work.”  Gupta said it’s repeatedly host communities that exploit children. Often, they don’t look at it as a form of exploitation, but see children as part of the available workforce.  Kashan, a local Bangladeshi who didn’t want to share his full name, owns several ice cream businesses in the Rohingya camps. Weeks ago he quit his job as a cons[...]