31 July 2002
In this issue:
Greed Is Good
China - WTO entry prompts flurry of new laws
Singapore - Muslim activist flees to Australia
Malaysia - Malaysia boots out illegal workers
Burma - Ethnic minorities suffer gross abuses
Indonesia - The scandal of Japanese aid to Indonesia
East Timor - Advice, Warnings Greet Newest IMF Member
India - Missile scientist becomes India's 12th president
Middle East Watch
- The Meaning of the Gaza Bombing
- Why the Palestinians don't want separation
India: Coca Cola Parches Indigenous Lands
International Symposium on New Ecumenism
|1. FEATURE - top|
Greed Is Good
by Kevin Watkins
Remember the summer of 1992? The Conservatives had just been re-elected, George Bush senior was in the White House, Nelson Mandela was negotiating the end of apartheid - and sustainable development hit the headlines. Meeting at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro, the world's governments pledged to avert an impending collision between Earth's ecology and the global economy.
As the world prepares for next month's world summit on social development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the Rio rhetoric is back on the airwaves. Northern governments are treating us to painful cover versions of the old sustainable development classics, and marketing them with more hype than that surrounding the launch of Will Young. Meanwhile, the US and the EU are desperately seeking to pre-empt any discussion of a global economic system that is perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.
The widening gap between rhetoric and reality that has transformed sustainable development into an irrelevant buzz phrase now threatens to turn the WSSD into tragic farce.
Nowhere is that gap more visible than in the UN-prepared statement for adoption in Johannesburg. Three-quarters of the text has already been agreed, most of it of such vacuous inanity as to make a trainspotter's diary look exciting by comparison. The remainder, dealing with issues such as trade and finance, has become the site of a pitched battle between southern governments, environmentalists and development agencies on the one side, and the EU and the US on the other.
The issue at the heart of the divide can be summarised in a single word - globalisation. When the Earth summit took place in 1992, surging flows of trade and finance were already transforming the world, but the "G" word was never even mentioned in Agenda 21, the call to action adopted at Rio. The WSSD now provides an opportunity to align the management of globalisation with the principles of sustainable development.
For the high priests of globalisation, the 10 years since Rio have been an unmitigated triumph - living proof of the benign power of markets. They point out that world output has risen by 50%, with trade and investment driving economic growth. The fact that 1 billion people are still living in poverty - the same number as a decade ago, despite the rising tide of prosperity - is treated as evidence of the need for more growth, and more open markets. Gross and widening disparities in wealth that leave 15% of the world's population controlling four-fifths of global GDP are viewed as a distributional irrelevance.
In this Panglossian bubble, ecological costs can be viewed in a different light. The crazed, carbon-based energy system fuelling globalisation is destroying our ecosystem, and current growth models are based on unsustainable production and consumption systems that are depleting forests, oceans and fresh water.
Nothing better illustrates the tensions between trade and sustainable development than the management of world trade. While the ink was drying on the 271 pages of broad principles outlined in Agenda 21, northern governments and corporate lobbies were shaping the Uruguay Round agreement, complete with the 26,000 pages of binding law overseen by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The provisions extended beyond tariffs to intellectual property, agriculture, the regulation of foreign investment and even basic services. Sustainable development was added to the preamble as an afterthought.
Many of the WTO's rules flatly contradict the Rio accords and conflict with multilateral environmental treaties. Moreover, the new system has institutionalised deep imbalances in power between rich and poor countries, skewing the benefits of trade towards the rich world. But the multilateral trade system highlights an imbalance in power at the heart of globalisation. The holy trinity overseeing globalisation - the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO - has teeth and muscle, sustainable development has the vague principles of Agenda 21.
For all the flamboyant rhetoric about a "development round", the current WTO talks are intensifying the tensions between trade and sustainable development. The EU is doing its bit for big business in the negotiations on services, demanding that poor countries privatise water systems under the auspices of transnational companies. It has not even bothered with an assessment of the consequences for public health, or the environment.
In the intellectual property negotiations (Trips), Europe and the US are shoulder to shoulder behind corporate self-interest. WTO-sponsored enforcement of patents is being used to extend corporate control over seeds (jeopardising the Convention on Bio-Diversity), to enable drugs companies to inflate the cost of life-saving medicines in poor countries, and to raise the cost of new technologies - including those needed to make the transition from inefficient carbon-based energy systems.
Of course, the WTO has rules against subsidies - well, some of them. The Bush administration can adopt with impunity a farm bill providing an $18bn-a-year top-up to the corporate welfare trough for assorted agribusiness interests, spelling social and ecological disaster for developing countries. Heavily subsidised exports will destroy the local and international markets on which millions of smallholders depend, with devastating consequences for poverty.
While rich countries use their control over IMF-World Bank loan conditions to frogmarch poor nations into rapid import liberalisation, the principles of free trade are applied more selectively at home. Industrialised countries impose import tariffs on developing countries that are four times higher than they apply to each other, denying the latter's citizens a fairer share of the benefits of globalisation.
Of course, increased export opportunities will create tensions. As with any production, there is a danger that ecological costs will be ignored in the rush to generate economic wealth. But this highlights the need to bring export prices into line with real ecological costs, and to adopt a global tax on aviation fuel as part of a strategy on global warming.
Last month, at a preparatory meeting in Bali, African governments insisted that the WSSD communiqué should include commitments by northern governments to improve market access, review current approaches to import liberalisation, and support market interventions to raise commodity prices. They also called for a commitment to increased aid to achieve agreed goals on poverty and the environment, recalling that Agenda 21 had included a promise by rich countries to increase their development assistance to the 0.7% GNP target set by the UN.
In the event, aid was cut by one-third over the next decade, to 0.2% of GNP. The EU and the US have responded in time-honoured fashion. They insist that the place to discuss trade is the WTO, rejecting any reassessment of current IMF-World Bank market liberalisation. On aid, the US maintains that the commitments made at the Monterrey summit of financing for development represent the last word, even though it remains at the bottom of the aid donor league table.
All of which raises an obvious question: namely, what is going to be discussed at the WSSD? Both economic superpowers appear to see the event as an opportunity to exchange vague generalities about unsustainable consumption, while admiring the transnational companies lining up to parade their green credentials on the Johannesburg catwalk.
In the age of globalisation, we cannot afford to tolerate such reckless irresponsibility.
[Kevin Watkins is senior policy adviser at Oxfam]
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
WTO entry prompts flurry of new laws
Legislation required under the mainland's entry to the World Trade Organisation is expected to be passed this year in stages, legislators said.
The National People's Congress is expected to debate laws on government licensing and enforcement as well as the revision of laws on administrative procedure and compensation, the China News Service reported.
Last month the NPC passed the Government Procurement Law, aimed at regulating government purchasing activities and stemming corruption.
This year would see "unprecedented efforts" in enacting laws on governance. "The drafting and revision of administrative laws comes about because the government is honouring its commitments made on entering the WTO," said Ying Songnian, an NPC legislator involved in drafting the laws following China's accession to the WTO last year. The aim is to establish a transparent, responsible, legal and honest government.
China began its legislation on government administration in 1989 by drafting the Administrative Procedure Law. The Government Procurement Law is the latest addition to the legislation.
Government departments at various levels have been among the biggest buyers on the mainland, with purchases amounting to 32.8 billion yuan (HK$30.8 billion) in 2000, up from 13 billion yuan in 1999 and 3.1 billion in 1998.
Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng expects the government's purchasing power to reach 100 billion yuan a year within the next few years.
[Source: SCMP 27.7.02]
Muslim activist flees to Australia
A prominent Muslim activist who has repeatedly challenged the Singapore government has fled to Australia, citing fears that he was set to become a "victim" of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff left for Kuala Lumpur on July 9 and headed to Melbourne recently after repeated clashes with the police, courts and PAP leaders. His family will join him in Melbourne.
Zulfikar was under investigation by police for alleged criminal defamation against three PAP leaders, including Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. If convicted, he would have faced up to two years in jail, a fine, or both. "If I am convinced that they [the Government and the judiciary] will act fairly, I will go back. But they will not act fairly, I will be prosecuted because of my views," Zulfikar said.
The former head of Fateha, a Muslim pressure group, said he had not yet approached Australian authorities for asylum, but added that he did not expect to go back to Singapore any time soon. "If this were any other country, I would go back and let due process take its course, but this is Singapore, the judiciary was not fully independent of its powerful executive," he said.
Zulfikar sprang to prominence early this year when he expressed sympathy for alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, and criticised Singapore's strong ties with Israel. Since then he has been the target of attacks by government ministers and the subject of scathing commentary in the country's state-influenced media.
"I would urge the entire Muslim community to reject and isolate him," Senior Parliamentary Secretary Yatiman Yusof said in January.
An editorial in the Straits Times labelled him "a dangerous mischief-maker skirting the fringe of racial incitement".
Zulfikar has campaigned against the recent decision to bar four Muslim schoolgirls from state schools for wearing Islamic headscarves. At the time of his departure, he was helping some of the girls' parents challenge the dress-code policy in the courts.
On May 1, he was arrested for trespassing in a police station, where he had gone seeking information on another opposition leader who had been arrested earlier for holding an illegal rally. He was later found guilty and fined S$600 (HK$2,676).
On July 3, the day after the fine was handed down, police announced that they were investigating Zulfikar for criminal defamation in three articles posted on the Fateha Web site in June. The articles discussed Yaacob Ibrahim, the minister in charge of Muslim affairs, and one of Fateha's fiercest critics; Ho Ching, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife; and the headscarf policy, which mentioned Senior Minister Lee.
In reply to the police investigation, Zulfikar petitioned the Attorney-General to investigate Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Deputy Prime Minister Lee and Mr Yatiman for criminal defamation.
"I do not want to be another victim of the PAP," Zulfikar said. PAP leaders have a long and successful history of using defamation lawsuits against political opponents, although these have normally been civil rather than criminal cases. Prime Minister Goh and his colleagues say the legal action is the best way to safeguard their reputations.
[source: MalaysiaKini 25.7.02]
Malaysia boots out illegal workers
These are traumatic times for undocumented migrant workers and illegal immigrants in Malaysia as tough amended immigration laws comes into effect on Thursday, 1 August 2002. If caught, illegal foreign workers and their employers are now staring at a mandatory six-month jail term and possibly up to six strokes of a thick rattan cane.
Not surprisingly, tens of thousands of desperate migrant workers swamped ports and exit points in an exodus of almost biblical proportions as the July 31 deadline for leaving the country approached.
Some 300,000 worried undocumented migrant workers have fled for home under an amnesty declared on March 22. Topping the list were Indonesians (244,000), Indians (19,000) and Bangladeshis (17,000). Authorities estimate that there are another 100,000-300,000 illegal migrant workers still in the country, though 50,000 more are expected to leave soon. Malaysia has some 750,000 legal foreign workers.
Taking a tough line, the immigration director general was reported in the Star national daily recently as saying that the government would not extend the July 31 deadline or offer another amnesty. Those without work permits, departure tickets or special passes to prove they are returning are likely to be arrested and charged under the tough new laws. But the Jakarta Post quoted the Indonesian manpower minister as saying he appreciated Malaysia's decision to extend the amnesty period from July 31 to August 30 for foreigners working illegally in Malaysia.
At a small terminal in Penang on the eve of the deadline, scores of Indonesians sat outside the offices of travel agents. Many of them, clutching passports and travel documents, looked forlorn or pensive. Trying to get inside any travel agent's office proved nearly impossible. Open the door and dozens more Indonesians were crowded inside, making it impossible to step indoors.
Inside the terminal, in the waiting area, many more Indonesians were slumped on rows of seats waiting for the long ride home to Medan in Sumatra. Over in Medan and its outskirts, many of the returning migrants are now housed in numerous dormitories waiting for the provincial administration's help. Jakarta is urging its regional governors to assist stranded migrant workers by providing accommodation and financial aid to enable them to return to their home towns.
Across the South China Sea, in Sabah, thousands of undocumented migrants are catching ferries back to the southern Philippines.
Ostensibly being sent back because they are deemed to be a security threat, illegal migrant workers now realize they are no longer wanted in Malaysia, whose economy they had helped to fuel during the boom years of the early 1990s.
Many had come from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines in search of better life, fleeing from the cycles of poverty and violence at home. Now they are once again staring at an uncertain future.
Others such as the Muslim Rohingyas of Burma and Acehnese asylum seekers could face persecution if they are sent back home.
Recently, police arrested 135 asylum-seekers, mostly Rohingyas, Acehnese and other Indonesians, outside the United Nations refugee agency here in a bid to escape the tough new laws. They are likely to be handed over to the Immigration Department, which will decide if they will face punishments under the new law. More arrests are expected.
Activists complain the new laws do not tackle the root of the problem: human trafficking and unscrupulous agents who prey on the desperation among the poor.
For undocumented migrant workers, the so-called borderless world that globalization envisaged is a myth. Mobility of labor is only for the rich and the corporations that cross borders in a blink; at the end of the day, the poor are unwelcome outside their home countries.
While it is true that only "illegal" workers are being sent back, for years their presence in Malaysia seemed to be overlooked as they toiled at menial jobs that Malaysians shunned.
Now the construction industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers, could face work disruptions after the exodus of migrant workers.
At construction sites, many migrant workers lived in poor surroundings that Malaysians knew nothing about. Perched precariously on scaffolding with loads on their shoulders, the foreign workers took huge risks daily. As long as they were needed to build the country's magnificent monuments, it seemed they were tolerated, but only barely.
Making up 5-10 percent of the country's population, they were scapegoats, blamed for everything from higher crime rates to outbreaks of disease to Islamic militancy. And when disturbances - the causes of which remain unclear - involving migrant workers erupted, it proved to be the last straw.
Others, however, wonder if the decision to send back undocumented migrant workers has anything to do with uncertain economic prospects. The US economy has shown a surprising weakness of late, other regional economies in Asia are slowing down and Malaysia is unlikely to be spared the turbulence. Jobs could be at stake.
But if Malaysia starts whipping illegal migrant workers, it could raise unease among its neighbors. Activists in Indonesia say the arguments used to justify the deportation of Indonesian workers are unacceptable because Malaysia is actually in need of a huge number of workers to run its industries and plantations.
They point to migrant workers' allegations of extortion as one of the reasons for their frustration in Malaysia. They are also calling on the Indonesian government to ratify the international convention on the protection and rights of all migrant workers and their families to help safeguard Indonesian migrants working overseas.
Ethnic minorities suffer gross abuses in Myanmar
Despite some human rights improvements in Myanmar, many impoverished villagers in eastern parts of the military-ruled country live in fear of forced labour, torture, executions and confiscation of their land, a human rights group said Wednesday. Abuses often occur when innocent villagers are caught up in operations by the Myanmar military against ethnic minority insurgents, said the London-based Amnesty International.
Amnesty interviewed some 100 migrants who had left their homes for neighboring Thailand because they could no longer survive or feared death. Most were from the Shan, Mon and Karen ethnic minorities. Many of the migrants had been subjected to unpaid forced labor, including construction of military camps and acting as porters for soldiers, in the last 18 months, the report said.
Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. In 1988, it brutally crushed a pro-democracy uprising led by Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
But Amnesty also noted several human rights improvements since the end of 2000. More than 300 political prisoners have been released including Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest in May. Several international delegations have been allowed to visit the country and the UN International Labor Organization was permitted to set up an office in Rangoon.
The government has outlawed forced labor but Amnesty said this was not adhered to in many areas. "The Burmese government needs to ensure that the order reaches all levels of the military," Amnesty said. One 66-year-old Shan man told Amnesty that he had been forced to work intermittently for the Burmese military for the past 50 years, the last time in February.
A partially sighted Lahu woman was kicked and beaten because she could not act as a guide for troops who had taken her money, chickens, pigs and other valuables. "I don't know where my husband is. I don't know where to go. I have nothing left," she said.
The report said civilians continued to be killed and tortured in government counter-insurgency operations against groups which have sought autonomy from the central government for decades. These include the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army.
One Shan villager described how her friend Aye Seng died in December 2001, a year after he had been severely tortured by soldiers:
The migrants also faced relentless demands for money and goods by the military. The army taxed the rice crop in kind, which often meant that subsistence farmers were required to give or sell at well below the market rate a fixed amount of their rice, regardless of yields, leaving them without enough to feed their families.
The situation for civilians in the east of Burma is cause for grave concern. The government needs to show it is serious about human rights improvements throughout the country by taking urgent steps to protect civilians from forced labour, extortion and land confiscation at the hands of its armed forces.
Civilians are also the targets of various armed groups who Amnesty said were likewise responsible for human rights abuses such as unlawful killings. "People were caught in the crossfire between three armed groups. Each group asks for money. So many forms of taxation - they just name it and you have to pay," said one Karen student.
Those who flee the country often face abuses at the hands of human smugglers and employers. In February, Thai police found 20 bodies of Karen migrants near the border that were blindfolded, had their wrists tied and their throats cut. The case is still under investigation.
[Source: AP 17.7.02]
The scandal of Japanese aid to Indonesia
Indonesia is inescapably tied to Japan, especially in economic relations. As of March 2001, official development assistance (ODA) by the Japanese government to Indonesia had accumulated to 4.34 trillion yen (about US$36 billion). Out of that total, 89 percent was yen loans. At the same time financial assistance provided by the Export-Import Bank of Japan (now merged with the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, or JBIC) mounted to 4.217 trillion yen.
And up to 2000, since then president Suharto allowed foreign investment in 1967, Japanese companies concentrated the largest amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indonesia with a share of 14.1 percent. As a result, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, products made by Japanese companies have dominated the Indonesian market, accounting for 65 percent of the refrigerators, 70 percent of the color TVs, 80 percent of the motorbikes and 90 percent of the cars in the country.
When the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997, Indonesia was hit hardest, a fact that eventually ended the long dictatorship of president Suharto. Under International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions of extremely tight fiscal policy, the Suharto administration was trapped between currency speculators and a national democracy movement fueled by the Indonesian people's accusations that Suharto himself was to blame for the crisis. By failing to implement IMF conditions he lost his source of financial rescue and expose the rupiah to devaluation, thereby expanding the country's indebtedness to Japan.
Japanese prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa advocated bilateral cooperation with Indonesia, but as Japan was in reality an integral part of the IMF-World Bank complex, Tokyo balked at resuming financial assistance before getting the green light from the IMF. Meanwhile in Indonesia, opposition to the Suharto family - accused of taking $15 billion in bribes during the regime - grew, exposing the Japanese government and corporations as the despised administration's biggest financial sponsor and economic partner for more than 30 years. Yet without developmental aid from Japan, the country cannot launch real reforms and emerge from the shadow of the Suharto era.
Public opinion in Japan requires structural reform of the Foreign Ministry and transparency of ODA toward Indonesia and other underdeveloped countries, since the huge amount of official money involved has lured general contractors and private companies into making connections with ministry officials. The criminal case against Suzuki Muneo, the former director general of Hokkaido Development Agency, is just the tip of the iceberg of the ailing structure of Japanese aid policy. Muneo, a former member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, raised a political contribution of 400 million yen in one year, nearly half of it from companies that won public tenders.
An example of the hardship caused by the relations between the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Suharto family is the Koto Panjang dam project on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, financed by 31.2 billion yen in Japanese ODA. The project, involving Hazama Corp and Tokyo Electric Power Group, forced 23,000 residents to live under harsh conditions for more than 10 years, with many of them evicted from their villages. Thousands of these people are now taking their complaint to the Japanese courts. On September 5, the first-ever lawsuit involving Japanese government ODA will take place in Tokyo District Court. There are already an unprecedented 3,200 plaintiffs in the case, a number expected to swell to more than 5,000 by September. They allege that while 30 billion yen went to Japanese contractors and the Suharto family, residents were deprived of their homes and means of making a living, and a huge amount of debt has been placed on the shoulders of Indonesian people.
The sad story began in the early 1980s, when Tokyo Electric Power Service Co Ltd conducted a feasibility study at the Koto Panjang dam construction site as requested by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), an affiliate of the Foreign Ministry. The study failed to confirm power demand to justify the project. However, in the late 1980s the Suharto administration announced a new plantation project in Sumatra to provide the needed justification for the power project. As a result, JICA and the Overseas Economic Corporation Fund (OECF), now merged into the JBIC, started initial funding and construction began in 1993.
Advice, Warnings Greet Newest IMF Member
Two very distinct welcomes have greeted the newest member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF): free-market advice from the Fund and World Bank and warnings from civil society groups about who controls its money.
The Democratic Republic of East Timor, the world's newest country, officially signed on with the two financial institutions this week, making it eligible for funds from the donor community and the Bank.
The former Portuguese colony - annexed by Indonesia in 1975 - became independent May 20.
Even before the signing, a controversy had emerged over who should control the hundreds of millions of dollars that donors have pledged to the island nation of less than one million people.
The money went to the World Bank, which collects and disburses aid to members, but leaders in the capital Dili say they want the United Nations to keep the funds because they fear the IMF and World Bank would only make it available with strings attached.
The leaders and anti-debt activists believe the U.N. is more likely to allow East Timor to take the money in the form of unconditional grants rather than loans. The Bank and the Fund, they charge, would favour loans that would saddle the fledgling government with long-term debt.
"East Timor's sovereignty was hard fought for and we hate to see it diminished," said John Miller, media coordinator with the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a U.S. rights group. A small country like that would have very little leverage against big institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. "They really do not want to mortgage their future", he added.
But IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler said the nascent South East Asian nation faces many economic difficulties and he saw only one path out of its hardship: working with the IMF.
"East Timor's transition to independence has been impressive, yet the future holds many challenges. East Timor begins its life as one of the world's poorest countries," he said.
To turn that around, the IMF chief said, the transitional government in Dili must follow "sound economic management, in order to establish the conditions for economic growth and stability, not least, by harnessing the benefits of future oil and gas revenues".
Donors agree that East Timor will receive money in the form of grants for the first three years of the new country's life. After that, if the government requests money it will most likely be given as concessional or 'soft' loans.
By 2004 the country is expected to be generating about 70 million dollars a year in oil and gas revenues form sizeable offshore reserves.
Anti-debt activists, distrustful of the records of the IMF and World Bank in debt-ridden nations, immediately warned that giving them greater control could land the country in debt, the fate of other poor nations.
At least for the next few years, the economy will need to rely on technical and financial assistance from the international community, making the country vulnerable to conditions imposed from outside, says East Timor-based 'La'o Hamutuk'.
The group says it has investigated several World Bank projects and found their planning and execution wanting. The role that the Bank and IMF played in Indonesia also does not bode well for the new country, it adds.
Relations between the IMF and Indonesia broke down after the 1997 Asian economic crisis, when the Fund insisted that the state sell its assets to attract private investment. But the IMF and the Bank say they are simply helping the country towards financial stability, "through an open and market-based economic system", and say that they have already helped shape the country's economy.
It was the IMF, for example, that led efforts to make the U.S. dollar East Timor's official currency during the reconstruction period, perhaps its most controversial public role thus far in the territory.
The Fund was also behind the establishment of the Central Fiscal Authority (CFA), which is designing the new government's overall fiscal strategy.
In addition, the IMF urged Dili to levy taxes on revenues from coffee, hotels, and restaurants and to fix low wages for East Timorese civil servants in order to keep spending in line.
After East Timor declared independence, donors met in Dili in May and pledged money to help meet a projected budget shortfall of around $90 million for the next three years. The Bank says it is best placed to manage the donor's money and set up safeguards to ensure that taxes are collected efficiently and the revenues and donations are used for their intended purposes.
But these are the very same conditions that civil society groups fear. East Timor is too poor for the world community to impose any kind of conditions even within concessional loans.
Half of the country's budget goes toward health and education and the IMF could later force cuts on that spending. "If you look at most countries that have suffered under IMF conditions, those are the first areas (health and education) that the Fund urges be cut so that some money can be freed up to pay off foreign lenders," Miller said.
Earlier this month, the impoverished nation suggested to the United Nations that it be designated a "least developed country" (LDC), a status given to the poorest countries in the world that provides some preferential trade and aid treatment.
In a study released in June, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) said that East Timor would be among the world's poorest nations. Its human development index - based on life expectancy, education and income per person - is on par with three LDCs: Angola, Bangladesh, and Haiti.
[Source: IPS 25.7.02]
Missile scientist takes over as India's 12th president
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a missile scientist who advocates nuclear weapons as a war deterrent, was sworn in as India's new president on 25 July 2002. Mr Kalam took the oath of office in India's circular pink sandstone Parliament building. The 20-minute ceremony was witnessed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his Cabinet members, lawmakers and diplomats.
Mr Kalam was elected recently with the backing of both the Hindu nationalist-led governing coalition and the major opposition Congress party. Mr Kalam, a 70-year-old military scientist, embodies India's multi-communal makeup as the son of a minority Muslim family who has embraced the Hindu beliefs of its majority.
The new president also symbolises his country's political and strategic ambitions. For more than four decades, Mr Kalam worked in India's defence laboratories, spearheading its space and nuclear-capable missile program. He was part of the team that conducted five underground nuclear tests in May 1998 that triggered a chain reaction of global criticism, economic sanctions and matching tests by neighbour and rival, Pakistan.
[Source: SCMP 25.7.02]
The Meaning of the Gaza Bombing
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
In trying to understand the bombing of the Gaza apartment house on Monday night July 22-23 that killed not only a Hamas leader but also 13 other people, mostly children and noncombatant women, it is important to know about events at the end of November/ beginning of December 2001. On Sunday, November 25, Yediot Achronot, Israel's largest mass-circulation newspaper, with right-of-center politics, carried a front-page article It appeared in a very conspicuous place, in a box on the paper's front page; and it was written by Yediot's veteran security commentator, Alex Fishman, who is known to have close contacts in the army and the security services.
On December 1 and 2, less than a week after this article appeared, came the mass-murder suicide bombing of Zion Square in Jerusalem and of a bus in Haifa, for which Hamas claimed responsibility.
Alex Fishman was reporting that (a) last October, Hamas had under pressure from the Palestinian Authority agreed to stop suicide bombings inside Israel proper; (b) the Israeli government knew this; (c) it discussed whether to kill a Hamas leader for his involvement in planning such terrorist bombings; (d) it knew if it did so the cease-fire agreement would lapse; (e) if so, there would be more suicide attacks against Israelis; and (f) the authorities probably could not prevent all such efforts, so at least one would succeed.
Fishman was right. Twenty-five Israelis died.
Why do I think it is important for us to know this history?
Because on MONDAY just this past week, according to a detailed report in the London Times of July 24 and a TWO-FULL-PAGE report by the same Alex Fishman in Yediot Achronot of July 24, the "militant" factions besides Hamas that have joined in terror attacks during the last few months had agreed to issue a formal statement abandoning all attacks against Israeli civilians. And as those discussions went forward, on Monday, the chief of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, announced publicly that Hamas was considering entering into a cease-fire if Israeli troops left the Palestinian cities and villages they have recently reoccupied.
These discussions, and the public announcement by Hamas, were known to the Israeli authorities.
THE VERY NIGHT OF THE DAY on which Hamas made its public statement and the broader discussions achieved agreement on a cease-fire by other groups, came the midnight bombing of the Gaza apartment complex that killed Sheikh Salah Shehada and 14 others, mainly children and women.
Since the bombing, Hamas has -- predictably -- announced that it will make every effort to attack any Israeli target, including the families of government officials.
THIS RESPONSE BY HAMAS IS ITSELF A DISGUSTING ONE, MORALLY AND ETHICALLY VILE.
But what do these two sequences of events say about the policies of the Sharon government?
Why did the Sharon government not explore the possibility of a cease-fire? Why did it choose this very moment to kiill a Hamas leader, when the possibility existed of ending the terrorist bombings that have cost so many Israeli lives, so deeply damaged the Israeli economy, and been the target of so many Israeli demands that Palestinians abandon this disgusting, vile, and immoral practice?
Why is this sequence so similar to the one reported by Yediot Achronot last fall? One possible answer is that the Israeli government thought it so important to kill these two leaders of Hamas that it did so DESPITE the consequences to be expected: that Palestinian civilians wouild die, that suicide bombings would continue, Israelis would die as a result of retaliataory attacks, negotiations would become impossible again, the Palestinian Authority's authority again be undermined and its painstaking efforts for a cease-fire go for nought. There is another, even more dreadful possibility: That the Sharon government took these actions not despite but BECAUSE it expects these consequences. That the Sharon government does not wish to achieve a peace settlement with a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, but intends to shatter every effort toward such a settlement, and wants to break every vestige of Palestinian nationhood and any kind of Palestinian national movement. That the Sharon government is ready not only to kill Palestinians, whether terrorists or civilians or two-month-old babies, to make sure this terrible pot of blood keeps boiling, but to expect and accept the likely result that Israelis also will be killed. Is there any evidence that the real intention of the Sharon government is to shatter all forms of Palestinian nationhood, not just the terrorist groups, and that it views a cease-fire as contradictory to that goal?
Two items: 1. Periodically in Israeli public life, the question is raised about bringing settlers safely home from the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, where fifty families of Israeli settlers have required the presence of thousands of Israeli troops and the deaths of more than a dozen in order to protect them. Asked in an interview with Ha'aretz in April 2001, only a few weeks after becoming Prime Minister, "Would you be ready to evacuate settlements as part of a non-belligerency agreement?", Sharon answered bluntly: "No. Absolutely not." "Not even isolated settlements like Netzarim in the Gaza Strip?", the interviewer followed up: "No. Not at any price," Sharon answered. "Why do we have to evacuate Netzarim? For what?" Later Prime Minister Sharon said that to him, this settlement is as precious as Tel Aviv. This may raise concern, but sometimes politicians use rhetoric beyond their real intentions. What follows, however, is not rhetoric.
2. After the Passover suicide bombing in Netanya, when Israeli troops reoccupied Ramallah and other towns, they destroyed educational, welfare, and similar civilian records of the Palestinian Authority -- for example, the records of school grades, etc., of two million Palestinian children. These records were not part of a terrorist infrastructure; they were the normal part of any government's ability to carry on normal civilian life. As you absorb these two items and reconsider the two killings of Hamas leaders -- in November 2001 and July 2002 -- what interpretation of the government's action strikes you as more likely? Was the goal to kill these two Hamas leaders despite the price in blood and in the impossibility of making peace?
Or was the goal to kill these two Hamas leaders to PREVENT the emergence of a successful peace negotiation resulting in a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel?
In either case, is the Sharon government a reliable trustee for hopes of peace? And what should be the policy of the US government?
[Source: tikkun 24.7.02]
|3. Urgent APPEAL - top|
Sri Lanka: Arbitrary arrest and detention / Torture / Death
Brief description of the situation
This Urgent Appeal was received from the Asian Human Rights Commission concerning the arbitrary arrest, torture and subsequent death of 33-year old Mr. Maldeni Kamkanamlage Piyaratne on July 3rd, 2002, in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
According to the information received, Mr. Piyaratne was a scientist specialised in zoology working on a research project conducted by the International Water Management Institute in collaboration with the University of Peradeniya. On June 29th 2002, Mr. Piyaratne fell ill and his wife, Mrs. Nilmina Herat, admitted him to JMO-Kandy Hospital.
According to the report, Mrs. Herat had visited her husband on July 3rd, 2002, and Mr. Piyaratne's condition had apparently improved. At about 10.30 a.m. later the same day, one of Mr. Piyaratne colleagues, Mr. Ranasinghe, informed Mrs. Herat that he had seen her husband being beaten by the police near the Gatabe Temple. Mr. Ranasinghe had been passing by in a bus when he saw the incident. Mr. Ranasinghe reportedly intervened and informed the police of his and Mr. Piyaratne's identity and pleaded them to stop beating him. Mr. Piyaratne was reportedly still wearing his hospital gown and medical equipment was still attached to his hand.
The policemen allegedly chased Mr. Ranasinghe away, and took Mr. Piyaratne to Peradeniya Police Station, where he was subjected to further physical abuse. Meanwhile, Mr. Ranasinghe contacted Professor Parakkrama Karunaratne at Peradeniya University in order to have him intervene in Mr. Piyaratne's case. They arrived at the Police Station 30 minutes after Mr. Piyaratne had been taken there. When they arrived, the police station was reportedly being cleaned to remove the blood that Mr. Piyaratne had lost during the beatings. Mrs. Herat also arrived at the police station and witnessed this cleaning operation. They were then informed by the police that Mr. Piyaratne had been taken to the hospital.
According to the report, Mrs. Herat went to the hospital and found her husband covered in bruises and wounds, notably with visible cuts to his hands and face, and was bleeding from his wounds. The doctors had allegedly tried to give him oxygen, but had been unable to do so, due to the iron cuffs that still bound his hands and feet together. The police allegedly went to get the keys to unlock the iron cuffs, but by the time they came back, Mr. Piyaratne had died.
Mrs. Herat immediately filed a complaint, stating that the Peradeniya police were responsible for her husband's death. According to the report, it is unknown how Mr. Piyaratne left the hospital soon after his wife's visit, given his condition, but it is thought that he may have had an injection the effects of which caused mental disorientation, although this remains to be confirmed.
The arbitrary arrest and physical assault Mr. Piyaratne was subjected to and his resulting death should be strongly condemned. We should be gravely concerned about yet another report of the Sri Lankan Police's use of arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture. The perpetrators of these human rights violations will continue to enjoy impunity and that Mr. Piyaratne's family will not be granted adequate reparation if no action is taken to stop torture and illegal detentions. Torture is a crime under Act No. 22 of Sri Lanka law with a minimum sentence of 7 years and is a grave violation of human rights. Unfortunately, there is a lack of a functioning system in Sri Lanka for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of such human rights violations and the lack of a working mechanism for compensating the victims of these acts.
Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka urging them to:
Her Excellency President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga,
Hon. Prime Minister
Mr. B.L.V. Kodituwakku
Honourable K.C. Kanalasabesan,
Mr. Theo C. van Boven
Please also write to the embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country. For more information on this case, please contact email@example.com
|4. ANNOUNCEMENT - top|
INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ECUMENISM
CCA will celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of Christian Conference of Asia with an international symposium in Hong Kong, August 6-8, 2002. The focus will be on learning from the history of ecumenism in Asia in order to chart new courses, discern the "signs of the times" and develop new direction for ecumenism, relevant for the new millenium. Keynote speakers will be world-famous American theologian Dr Harvey Cox, one of the ecumenical pioneers of Asia, Dr U Kyaw Than of Burma and feminist theologian and CCA President Dr Wong Wai Ching, from Hong Kong.
Invited to the seminar are some of those who have been closely involved in the ecumenical movement over many years, including some of the previous and present officers of CCA, NCC General Secretaries and previous General Secretaries, as well as those newer to the ecumenical movement.
Interest in the seminar has been strong. The thanksgiving church service at Ward Memorial Church, Waterloo Road, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, at 6pm on Wednesday 7th August will be an occasion for Christians in Hong Kong to share in the celebration and thanksgiving for the ecumenical movement over the last 45 years.
The Hong Kong Christian Council and member churches of CCA in Hong Kong, the Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican), Methodist Church, Hong Kong and Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China are together hosting a dinner as part of the gathering, to be held at the cultural centre.
A radio program prepared by the Hong Kong Christian Council and CCA staff will be broadcast on Radio RTHK on Sunday morning 4th August at 11am. Copies of the broadcast are available from CCA for re-broadcast in other countries.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):