Thursday, October 23, 2014

Olympics: Host City Contracts Will Include Rights Protections

Source: Human Rights Watch

(Lausanne) – The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include human rights protections in future host city contracts is a positive step to combat a set of serious rights violations linked to Olympics in Beijing and Sochi, Human Rights Watch said today. Olympic Host city contracts have generally been secret, and have never before expressly included rights protections.

Human Rights Watch outlined the need for contract reforms in a formal submission to the “Olympic Agenda 2020” session to be held in Monaco in December, along with 40 colleague rights groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, AllOut, Human Rights Campaign, and Athlete Ally.

“For years repressive governments have brazenly broken the Olympic Charter and the promises they made to host the Olympics," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. "This reform should give teeth to the lofty Olympic language that sport can be 'a force for good.'"

This practical move to uphold the Olympic Charter's promises of "human dignity" and "non-discrimination" was presented in a meeting between IOC President Thomas Bach and Human Rights Watch at the IOC’s Lausanne headquarters. It follows a September IOC announcement that future host city contracts will include an anti-discrimination clause—a reform in response to Russia’s passing an anti-LGBT law in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Human Rights Watch said that the reform is an important step forward, but that implementation will be key, especially with repressive governments of China and Kazakhstan as finalists to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Making the host city contracts public and transparent is also an important step Human Rights Watch has long pressed for.

Before and during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Human Rights Watch documented serious rights violations that marred the Olympics. These included the abuse of migrant workers involved in constructing Olympic venues and other preparations for the Games, restrictions on media freedom, closing space for independent groups to operate, and jailing of activists. Human Rights Watch has also documented Saudi Arabia’s continuing discrimination against female athletes, which violates the Olympic Charter.

The changes to the host city contract will be included in a section titled “Sustainable Human and Environmental Development.” The new text requires the host city, National Olympic Committee (NOC) and Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (OCOG) to “take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”

This new language will signify that future Olympic host countries and cities are contractually required, for example, to respect the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights along with international labor, laws in relation to key freedoms.

Organizers of other international mega-sporting events such as the Asian Games, the new European Games, and the World Cup, administered by the soccer body FIFA, should take immediate steps to include human rights protections in their own host city contracts, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch will continue to provide the IOC and the public with updated research on rights conditions in host contenders.

“The International Olympic Committee’s decision to include human rights protections in future host city contracts raises the bar for all sports federations,” Worden said. “This is a sign of changing times in global sport. FIFA and other international sports federations should immediately follow the IOC's lead.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

India: Discriminating against their own in India

On The Stream: Reports of discrimination against Indians from the northeast.

Afghanistan: Afghan Women Hope for More Gains Under New Administration

Source: Voice of America

Spozhmai Maiwandi

New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signaled a new day for women in Afghanistan during his inauguration speech with a simple but emotional thank you to his wife for her support and a promise that she will have influence in his presidency.

Ghani’s public acknowledgement of his wife Rula sends a positive message to Afghan women but makes others throughout Afghanistan uneasy.

The most important issues facing Afghan women today are security, health, and education, as well as social and economic empowerment.

Although the country’s constitution guarantees women’s right to be educated and to work, making advances in these areas still means confronting and challenging the conservative nature of Afghan society and family.

If we gauge empowerment as a combination of granted rights and active participation, one area of major success for women has been in education. More women go to and graduate from Kabul University while millions of Afghan girls are being educated throughout the country.

With the constitutionally granted right to vote, Afghan women are also politically active—in record numbers as voters, as activists, and as politicians.

But despite advances in education and political empowerment, Afghan women face a consistent struggle against the fundamentally conservative nature of the country.

Afghanistan has historically been a nation of traditional tribal values and the rise of Islam in the 8th century introduced further conservative beliefs and customs.

‘Women, gold, land’

There is a saying in Afghanistan “zan, zar, zamin,” which translates to “women, gold, land.” It is a battle-cry of those who have opposed government reforms and it essentially means: “Don’t mess with my women, my money, or my land.”

Afghanistan’s modern history is littered with rulers who pushed for reforms that were rejected by the more conservative population.

The monarchy and ruling elite in Kabul have often been leagues ahead of the citizens in terms of progressive ideas and reforms. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Afghan rulers consistently attempted to lessen the restrictions put on women in the country. For the most part, these measures were unpopular and unsuccessful. However, some significant changes were made for the time period.

Considered the first modern ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901) was dubbed the “Iron Amir” for his ruthless methods of consolidating disparate tribes and other groups into what we now know as Afghanistan. But he was rather progressive for the time when it came to women’s rights.

Abdur Rahman abolished the tribal custom of forcing a woman to marry her deceased husband's brother and raised the age of marriage. He gave women the right to divorce in cases of cruelty and non-support and the right to inherit property from fathers and husbands. In her 1986 book “Women of Afghanistan,” Nancy Hatch Dupree wrote that Abdur Rahman’s wife influenced him, as she “was the first Afghan queen to appear in public in European dress without a veil.”

King Amanullah Khan (1919-29), in an effort to modernize the country, pushed for the first constitution in Afghanistan and also instituted greater freedoms for Afghan women. He discouraged polygamy, built schools for girls, and challenged the custom of women wearing veils. His wife, Queen Soraya, famously appeared unveiled in public ceremonies. The king’s reforms met with violent opposition, and he was eventually forced to abdicate the throne.

His successor, Nadir Shah (1929-33) bowed to the demands of the tribal leaders and rolled back many of the reforms King Amanullah had implemented. He also banned Jarideh Zanan, the only newspaper at the time published by Afghan women.

Slow progress

During King Zahir Shah’s relatively long rule (1933-73), Afghan women made gradual progress, although careful not to move too hastily in order to keep peace with the tribes. In 1941, the first secondary female school was established in Kabul. During the 1940s and 1950s, women started to enter the work force and were able to become teachers, nurses, and doctors.

With the reform efforts of King Shah’s cousin and Prime Minister, Daoud Khan, women were allowed to unveil. In 1959, the wives of the ruling family and senior government officials appeared unveiled at public functions. Other women soon followed. While Kabul remained calm over this change, Kandahar was not. A revolt, eventually suppressed by the government, left 60 people dead.

In 1964, the Afghan constitution granted women the right to vote and enter politics. Although these were huge advances for Afghan women, they were limited to women living in Kabul and other major cities. Most of the rural areas remained staunchly conservative, and women continued to be subject to traditional and religious codes.

Since the end of the monarchy in Afghanistan, the measures having to do with women’s role in Afghan society have ricocheted between aggressively liberal measures and oppressively reactionary ones.

In its slide toward Communist ideology, the People Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) assumed power in 1978, backed by the Soviet Union. The PDPA implemented massive social reforms, including compulsory education for girls, the marriage dowry was abolished, and the minimum legal age for marriage for girls was raised to 16-years-old.

The backlash against these reforms in the rural areas was intense, eventually forming the Mujahideen resistance to the Soviet-backed central government.

After fourteen years of war, the Mujahideen took Kabul in 1993. Afghanistan went from a Communist government to an Islamic State.

The ensuing four years of the civil war were arguably the most brutal time in modern Afghan history. Kabul was demolished and Afghans, including women, suffered intense abuse and gross human rights violations. Rape, torture, and murder were common. But women were allowed to work and go to school.

The Taliban rose to power as an antidote to the chaos and abuse of the civil war. They held the promise of security and a return to traditional values. But after they took Kabul in 1996, they immediately imposed stringent restrictions on all Afghans.

Women saw any advances rolled back. They were forbidden to work, go to school or leave the house unless accompanied by a man. They could not be treated by a male doctor and had to cover themselves from head to toe.

Members of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, established under the Taliban, would measure the length of men’s beards to make sure that they were long enough and would censure women whose shoes made too much noise while walking. Although it’s true that women were no longer being raped, tortured, and murdered by warring factions, they were nevertheless prisoners, either in their homes or under their head-to-toe veils.

Big improvements

Against this historical backdrop, the gains over the last thirteen years during the administration of former President Hamid Karzai have been immense in terms of the empowerment of Afghan women. Women have the constitutional right to work, to be educated, to vote, and to hold public office. Whether a woman wears a veil or not is up to her.

Both President Ghani and his former rival and now chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, made strong campaign promises to uphold and protect women’s constitutional rights going forward.

But what history shows us is that any progress in the empowerment of Afghan women has to be gradual and participatory. Many rulers have tried to push the countryside into reform, but all such attempts have been unsuccessful.

The full implementation of reform measures requires both time and education. Women in rural areas who are served and protected by these measures, who benefit most, must themselves understand and support these measures.

Social change in the West, whether women’s rights, civil rights, or marriage equality, have not happened top-down, by leaders forcefully instituting reform.

In order for Afghan women to create a future where they are free to learn, to work, and to participate in all facets of daily life, Afghan women themselves, in the cities and also in the villages, need to collectively and actively participate in the evolution of their culture and traditions.

Central Asia: Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinks

Originally published by
Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinks
by David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev 

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped 9 percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation. Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home. Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow 8 percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over $50 billion this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February. On October 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling. “They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarized compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On October 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about $650 million,” Halyk said in a note to investors. On October 20 a “large player” also sold about $600 million, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”
Editor's note: 
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. 

Tunisia: Tunisia’s Borders - Terrorism and Regional Polarisation

Source: International Crisis Group

The growing link between cartels and armed jihadi militants along Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and Libya, combined with heightened ideological polarisation, could form an explosive mix ahead of Tunisia’s legislative and presidential elections.

In its latest briefing, Tunisia’s Borders (II): Terrorism and Regional Polarisation, the International Crisis Group builds on its November 2013 report and analyses the alarming security threats at Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and Libya. It argues that, in order to address the growing link between terrorism and organised crime, Tunisia needs a consensual, balanced and depoliticised approach to facing growing security challenges. This means delinking security challenges from the polarised political environment through new socio-economic and development initiatives that would ensure border communities’ trust in and support for the state.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Whatever the results of the legislative and presidential elections, the Tunisian government needs to confront its critical security challenges by implementing a consensual, balanced and depoliticised approach to anti-terrorism. This means dealing with the economic, social and ideological dimensions of terrorism.
  • The security situation along the Tunisia-Algeria and Tunisia-Libya borders could become an alarming threat if Tunisia fails to initiate talks with certain contraband cartels, strengthen the state’s presence in the border regions through socio-economic and development policies, and win back the trust of local communities who otherwise could be tempted to join militant jihadi groups and indulge in lucrative transborder trafficking, including in dangerous goods.
  • The government should also increase security cooperation with neighbouring Algeria, and pursue the creation of a new National Intelligence Agency to merge intelligence and counter-terrorism.
“It is crucial for the main political, trade union and civil society forces – both Islamist and non-Islamist – to maintain a consensual approach to public security and for the authorities to adopt a calmer anti-terrorist discourse so as to prevent renewed polarisation” says Michael Béchir Ayari, Senior Tunisia Analyst.
“A deepening security crackdown, combined with reprisals by weakened jihadi groups, could form a vicious circle” says Issandr El Amrani, , North Africa Project Director. “The risk is that a major terrorist attack would deepen polarisation between Islamists and secularists”.