Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Obama Presidency: how will it be remembered?

Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 on a wave of optimism and high expectation.At home and abroad, the new president was seen as the man who would put an end to some of disastrous policy decisions of his predecessor. And restore the United State's image in the world.As the end of his second term approaches, many wonder how Obama will be judged by history. And whether he has fulfilled the grand promises he made early on.Under his watch, the US has begun to mend its ties with Cuba. A nuclear deal with Iran seems within reach. But covert drone operations have expanded. The prison at Gunatanamo Bay remains open. And the US is once again entangled in just the kind of conflicts Obama had pledged he would pull out from.So what will Obama's legacy look like? And does he have enough time to change it?Presenter: Martine DennisGuests:Phyllis Bennis - US journalist and political analyst who directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.James Hohmann - Senior political reporter for Politico that focuses on US national politics.Charlie Wolf - Former communications director of Republicans Abroad UK

Media: China - 'Gao Yu Was Just Doing Her Job'

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'Gao Yu Was Just Doing Her Job'
A commentary by Bao Tong

Journalist Gao Yu was secretly detained last April 24 by the police, and charged with "leaking state secrets overseas."

But they found it hard to bring the case, and so it dragged on for another six months. A trial was held on Nov. 21, but they still didn't reach a verdict, and things dragged on still further, past the legal time limit, until the court announced that it was unable to reach a verdict.

There have been two recent developments:

1. The Supreme People's Court has approved an application by the Intermediate People's Court to extend Gao's detention by three months longer than the legally stipulated time limit.

2. The Intermediate People's Court has rejected an application by Gao's defense lawyer for a "change in coercive measures" as allowed by law, and also an application for medical parole, with the result that this septuagenarian journalist and grandmother, who is highly respected both at home and overseas, is compelled to suffer further torture and torment, day in, day out, because the authorities can't make up their minds what her crime is.

Gao Yu recited a poem in prison by Qing dynasty scholar and reformer Weng Tonghe, changing only one word, that expresses her situation clearly:

"Seventy years of involvement in world affairs, and my life ends in desolation. But I won't show you my tears."

So Gao has come to terms with this. Of course, because you won't find nice words like "lucky" in the dictionary of martyrs who face fear and cold without flinching.

Test of 'rule of law'

Of course, these developments don't just concern Gao Yu. They are also a test of whether or not China's [ruling] Communist Party will genuinely implement the "rule of law" theme of the fourth plenum, and of whether or not there is such a thing as a People's "Republic" of China.

Speaking frankly, I'd say that this is precisely why this case has been so hard to judge, and why it has dragged on for so long and been so unpredictable.

Put bluntly, the case against Gao Yu for the so-called "leaking of state secrets overseas" is nothing more than a case of Gao Yu fulfilling the sacred duty of a journalist, by telling the public the facts about Document No. 9, which was issued by the office of the Communist Party central committee in 2013.

I hear that she is regarded as "smearing the name of the central committee," "vilifying the party," and "causing irreparable damage to the reputation of both party and country."

Do these charges really stand up?

If Gao Yu had spread disinformation; if she had forged Document No. 9, than of course it would be right to charge her with smearing the name of party and state.

The problem is that the government has already said quite truthfully that Gao leaked, rather than forged, Document No. 9, confirming that her reports about it were totally accurate.

She didn't deceive her readers, nor did she frame the central committee office for something it didn't do.

Judging Document No. 9

If Document No. 9 is a good government document, then Gao Yu's report was helping the party with its propaganda work. They should be thanking her for her meritorious service.

Rather, the central committee office should be in the dock for "irreparable damage to the reputation of party and state," and they should bear the burden of criminal responsibility. As a journalist, Gao Yu has committed no crime.

Fully aware of the facts, the central committee office, as plaintiffs, have set up a journalist to take the rap for them. Such chaos is utterly ridiculous and staggering.

An appraisal of Document No. 9 should be a prerequisite for any trial of Gao Yu or of the central committee office.

The Gao Yu case has naturally attracted great public interest, and the details of this invisible Document No. 9 should be closely read and widely disseminated.

The people are watching. They are concerned about the authenticity of the "rule of law" directive of the fourth party plenum, and about the "republic" part of the People's Republic of China. They want to know if there is any humanity left at all in this great civilization of ours.

We will all be watching.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

Iran: Commander categorically denies reports about Iranian flotilla

Source: IRNA

Tehran, March 31, IRNA – Commander of the Iranian Navy Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari categorically denied rumors about an Iranian flotilla alleged forced retreat from Bab Al-Mandab strait near the Port of Aden.

Speaking to IRNA on Tuesday, he dismissed reports by certain western and regional media claiming that an Iranian naval fleet was forced to abandon Gulf of Eden by the Egyptian navy.

He said that the Iranian Navy is completing its mission successfully in full compliance with the international regulations.

According to the rear admiral, the Iranian Navy has the mission of providing security for shipping routes and prevent probable pirate attacks.

He said the Iranian Navy would never allow any alien fleet to issue an irrelevent warning

Egypt: When witnesses become defendants: The murder trial of Egyptian protester Shaimaa El Sabbagh

IFEX

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

This statement was originally published on cihrs.org on 28 March 2015.

Due to the continuous crackdown on human rights defenders, the undersigning human rights organizations and individuals express their astonishment and shock regarding the accusations charged by the Qasr El Nile prosecution office in Egypt to a number of witnesses who willingly testified about the killing of Shaimaa El Sabbagh.

El Sabbagh, who is a member of the Socialist People's Alliance Party, was killed during the violent and brutal dispersal of a peaceful memorial event on 24 January 2015.

The event was organized by members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party to commemorate peaceful protestors who lost their lives during the 25 January 2011 revolution. The witnesses were accused of protesting illegally, breaching public order and infringing on public security according to the protest law.

Seventeen people were charged based on these alleged accusations, they are: Ms. Azza Soliman, a lawyer in the Cassation Court and President of Board of Trustees of Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) as well as one if its founding members, Mr. Mosatafa Abdel Al, a member of the Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment), Dr. Maher Shaker, and 14 members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party (Mr. Talaat Fahmy, Mr. Zohdi El Shami, Mr. Elhami El Merghani, Ms. Nagwa Abbas, Mr. Adel Meligi, Mr. Mohamed Salah, Mr. Khaled Mostafa, Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Mahmoud, and Mr. Ahmed Fathy Nasr) are also on trial based on the same charges. Charges pertaining to Shaimaa El Sabbagh were dropped due to her death. The first court session is to take place on 4 April 2015.

In a move rejected by the undersigning human rights organizations and individuals, the Prosecutor's Office decided to transfer Ms. Azza Soliman from the list of witnesses in Shaimaa El Sabbagh's case to the list of defendants.

Azza Soliman was in a restaurant close to where Sabbagh was murdered and she published her testimony on her Facebook account after providing it to the Prosecutor's office. Moreover, Mr. Mostafa Abdel Al and Dr. Maher Shaker who were also in a café nearby and tried to save El Sabbagh, were arrested and transferred to the defendants' list after testifying. This escalation is a direct violation of the Egyptian constitution, which grants immunity to witnesses and requires witness protection. The accusations reflect the continuing security lockdown on human rights defenders, who exercise their right to freedom of expression and expose grave human rights violations.

The undersigned organizations and individuals call upon the Egyptian government to abide by its national human rights obligations and immediately drop all charges against Ms. Azza Soliman and other witnesses.

The Egyptian government must also drop all charges against members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party as the Protest Law, with which they are charged, is constitutionally challenged. Participating in a peaceful demonstration is a fundamental human right which is guaranteed by international and regional human rights treaties. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to respect and protect the right to freedom of assembly and ensure protection of witnesses and human rights defenders.

Entities and organizations:

Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
New Woman foundation
El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Nazra for Feminist studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Women and Memory Forum
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development – ACT
Cairo Center for Development (CCD)
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies
The Egyptian Foundation for the societal engagement.
The Egyptian Coalition on Children's rights.
Egyptian Foundation For Advancement Of Childhood Conditions(EFACC)
Forum for Women in Development
Egyptian Women Union
United group
Fouada Watch
I saw harassment (ShoftTaharoush)
BaheyaYaMasr
Egyptian Popular Current
Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment)
Arab Office for Law (AOL)
The National NGOs Center for Population and Development (NCPD)
Forum of Dialogue and Partnership for Development (FDPD)
Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR)
Bashayer – Helwan foundation for societal development
One world foundation
Tawafuq Center for legal aid, training, and development
MalahHefniNasef foundation for humanitarian development
Al Mahrousa Center for economic and social development
Lawyers for Justice
Egyptian Center for justice and legal studies
Bent Al Ard foundation
Female Egyptian Lawyers initiative
Female Egyptian Lawyers and steps towards the future
The Nile Center for Studies and Researches
The National Union for legal independence
Egyptians against religious discrimination
The Egyptian foundation for family development
National Community for Human Rights and Law (NCHRL)
Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development (EACD)
The Arab Awareness Center for rights and law
Media personnel association
The legal foundation for family support and Human Rights
The Egyptian Foundation for Economic and Social Rights
Omy foundation for Rights and Development
Our Dream foundation for comprehensive development in Al Khosous
Female future leaders foundations in Al Saff
Female leaders foundation for development and environment in Qaliobya /Shubra Al Khaima
Feminist renaissance foundation in Dossami
Message of Light foundation for Women's Development in Minya
Al Dameer foundation for humanitarian rights in Mansoura
Women Center for legal support and awareness in Mansoura
Badr Al Tawayel Foundation for societal development in Sohag 

South Africa: National development starts in the cradle

Source: ISS
National development starts in the cradle

Sustained high levels of violence and crime fundamentally threaten South Africa’s development; not least because of the adverse effects on realising human potential. Both the National Development Plan (NDP) and the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF), which the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs released for comment last year, recognise that safety is fundamental to development.

However, the IUDF, much like the NDP, is so vague about what must be done to prevent violence in the medium to long term that it risks being inactionable. Both the NDP and the IUDF recognise the importance of investing in social protection, health care and education to realise human potential, which is needed for more South Africans to have access to jobs and live healthier, happier lives.

But it does not necessarily follow that improving access to job markets and services will increase safety. The experience of Latin America shows that job creation, particularly for young people, does not necessarily lead to social inclusion and social cohesion or an increase in safety. One reason for this is that for many young people who bear the burden of inter-generational deprivation and disadvantage, education followed by entry to the job market is not an obvious trajectory.

Our challenge as a country is to reduce entrenched inequality and violence, and improve safety. We can do these simultaneously, but it requires a radical shift of attention and investment into the very early years of children’s lives.

A significant number of children in low- and middle-income countries do not achieve their developmental potential because of the effects of poverty. Poverty can negatively affect physical growth (if coupled with inadequate nutrition), cognitive development, and social and emotional competence. Cognitive and socio-emotional development, and the ability to regulate our emotions, is critical to our ability to interact successfully with others. This, in turn, is critical to educational achievement. It is also necessary to succeed in the job market.

Nobel laureate and economist, James Heckman, has made a strong case for investing in children’s lives. He has shown that interventions which support the cognitive and socio-emotional development of disadvantaged children up to three years of age yields a significantly higher return in terms of human capital than investments at later stages, such as youth employment strategies.

The evidence shows that if we seek to increase human capital – which should not be our only goal, but which is necessary for realising the development goals of the NDP and the IUDF – our investments need to be made in infants and children, followed by skill building.

Ensuring that babies and infants get the right kind of care, nutrition and stimulation in the first 1 000 days of their lives is the best chance we have at breaking cycles of poverty and violence, increasing the number of people who complete school, reducing inequality and building a healthy future.

Between conception and two years of age, a baby’s brain grows to 80% of its adult weight. Also in this time, connections in the brain are created at a rate of a million per second; faster than at any other stage in our lives. The ability to regulate emotions is also learnt in these first few months.

If things go wrong in the first few years it can set a child back permanently. Abused or neglected children who don’t have a healthy bond with a caring adult are at risk of not coping at school and becoming the victim or perpetrator of violence. They are also likely to struggle later in life; as are babies who are exposed to ‘toxic stress’ – which includes exposure to alcohol and other drugs in the womb, violence in the home; or when a caregiver is depressed or mentally ill.

Children who are neglected, abused, or who are not cognitively stimulated in their infancy, are likely to repeat the cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. This is exacerbated by exposure to violence in the home, stressed parents, harsh corporal punishment at school and at home and bullying at school. The result is a toxic mix that massively reduces human potential and lays the basis for continuing cycles of violence.

The good news is that several programmes have been developed and tested in South Africa to address exactly this. These include the Thula Sana home visiting programme, which helps mothers to form healthy, warm bonds with their infants; a book-sharing programme to increase infants’ attention, focus and vocabulary; programmes that help parents to use positive discipline; in-school programmes that reduce sexual offending; and skill-building programmes that reduce risky behaviour in teens – including substance abuse.

Rolling out these programmes would not only prevent violence in the long term, but will also likely have a positive effect on productivity. To achieve the development outcomes envisaged by the NDP and IUDF, we therefore need to focus our investments on ensuring that babies can grow up to be healthy, motivated adults. If, on the other hand, we focus only on infrastructure and situational crime prevention, without paying attention to the people who will use it, we risk swimming against the tide of violence in perpetuity.

To make this shift, we need to ensure that budgets at national and provincial level are allocated for primary prevention programmes. Second, key performance indicators have to motivate and enable referral by primary health care providers to programmes. Further, local and provincial government need to be informed about and understand the value and importance of primary prevention, and safety plans must be developed to include primary prevention.

Safety plans need to recognise the reality that, as data from the National Income Dynamics Surveys show, most children (57%) in South Africa do not live with their fathers, and only 40% of fathers contribute towards their upbringing. Thus, when we think about transport routes, the location of health and educational services, early-childhood development centres and after-school care, and the opening hours of service providers, we need to consider the needs of single, working parents. We also need to ask whether community-policing forums are the right forums for discussing primary interventions to decrease violence, as knowledge of such programmes is unlikely to be found here.
This article was commissioned by GIZ and was published in its longer, original form on the Safer Spaces website.

Chandré Gould, Senior Research Fellow, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria