Tag Archives: South Asia

India: Activist Disha Ravi, 22, Arrested Over Toolkit, Faces Conspiracy Charge


An article from NDTV

A 22-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru, Disha Ravi, was the first person to be arrested by the Delhi Police in the case involving “Toolkit” tweeted earlier this month by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg to show support for protesting farmers. The police — which earlier said “Toolkit” was a Khalistani conspiracy — have accused her of being a key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination and alleged that she is trying to revive a Khalistani group.

Video about Disha Ravi arrest

“I did not make Toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on February 3,” Disha Ravi told the Delhi court where she was produced earlier on Sunday. She wasn’t accompanied by any lawyer and spoke in the court for herself. The court has sent her to police custody for five days for further questioning. Several opposition parties and activists have condemned the arrest.

Here are the Top 10 points in this big story:

* “Disha Ravi is an Editor of the Toolkit Google Doc & key conspirator in document’s formulation & dissemination,” the Delhi Police tweeted, adding that she started a WhatsApp Group and collaborated to make the Toolkit doc. “In this process, they all collaborated with pro Khalistani Poetic Justice Foundation to spread disaffection against the Indian State,” the police tweeted.

* “She was the one who shared the Toolkit Doc with Greta Thunberg. Later, she asked Greta to remove the main Doc after its incriminating details accidentally got into public domain. This is many times more than the 2 lines editing that she claims,” another tweet by the Delhi Police read.

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Questions related to this article:
Free flow of information, How is it important for a culture of peace?

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

Are we seeing the dawn of a global youth movement?

(Article continued from the column on the left)

* “Completely atrocious! This is unwarranted harassment and intimidation. I express my full solidarity with Disha Ravi,” tweeted Congress’s Jairam Ramesh.

* “Some serious charges applied against a 21 year old for sharing a ‘dangerous’ toolkit. As per BJP our nation is so weak that a written document about farmer agitation shared by an international celebrity will lead to its ‘breakup’ The nation is much stronger than this toolkit, BJP,” tweeted Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi.

* “Modi regime thinks by arresting a grand daughter of farmers, under Sedition, it can weaken the farmers’ struggles. In fact, it will awaken the youth of the country and strengthen the struggles for democracy, tweeted CPM’s Sitaram Yechury.

* “The question is when will those people be arrested who continue to issue a literal ‘toolkit’ to break the national and social unity of India morning and evening, giving rise to hatred and division among the masses,” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav posted in Hindi.

* The 22-year-old is a graduate of Mount Carmel College, one of Bengaluru’s top women’s colleges. The Delhi Police, which arrested Disha Ravi on Saturday evening, claimed she is influenced by terrorists like Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and Khalistani groups like Poetic Justice. Thousands of others are involved in the conspiracy and further investigation into the matter is in progress, the police said.

* According to the Delhi police, incidents similar to what was stated in the toolkit took place on the Republic Day, The police also claims that the Toolkit was made by M O Dhaliwal of Poetic Justice Foundation, which is a Khalistani organization. The Delhi Police called the toolkit a part of conspiracy against the Government of India and filed a case of sedition against its creators.

* On February 3, Greta Thunberg had tweeted the “toolkit” to show support for the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s farm laws that has been in progress at the borders of Delhi since November 26.  She later deleted the tweet, posting an updated one.

* The Delhi Police had asked Google and some social media platforms for help with the investigation. The police had sought email ids, URLs and social media accounts related to the creators of “toolkit”. Later, the Centre asked Twitter to remove 1,178 accounts, which it said were spreading misinformation and provocative content on the farmers’ agitation.

Irate farmers storm Delhi on tractors as tear gas deployed and internet cut off in scramble to defend Indian capital


An article from Russian television

Tens of thousands of farmers descended on the Indian capital and stormed the city’s iconic Red Fort complex in protest at new agricultural reforms which could imperil the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of citizens (See CPNN December 12, 2020).

Protesters cheer after overturning a trailer during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws near New Delhi on Tuesday. © REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Farmers mounted on horseback or driving tractors waved flags and brandished tools and swords as they breached police barricades and made their way to the heart of New Delhi.

Media reports  indicate that internet services have been suspended in parts of the capital at the behest of the government and law enforcement, which is struggling to bring the situation under control. 

“As per government instructions, internet services have been stopped in your area till further notice,” a message from local internet service providers read.

Internet services have also been suspended by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) at the Singhu border near Delhi, where thousands of farmers have made their camp for the past two months. 

Several splinter groups of protesters commandeered cranes and used tractors and ropes to breach police barricades on India’s Republic Day, which marks the country’s adoption of its constitution in 1950.

Riot police fired tear gas but were greatly outnumbered and eventually had to fall back, such were the overwhelming numbers of irate farmers and agricultural workers who eventually stormed the country’s historic Red Fort complex. 

Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

How effective are mass protest marches?

© REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Prime Minister Narendra Modi regularly addresses the nation from the walls of the Red Fort, highlighting its cultural significance. 

“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab.

Tens of millions of smaller producers feel the new government regulations undermine their position in the market and afford more power to larger, private buyers, threatening to upend a vast swath of the country’s economy.

Nine rounds of talks with farmers’ unions failed to end the protests and, though the government offered to delay the new legislation for 18 months, the farmers demanded a full repeal. 

The official number of arrests and injuries has yet to be released but state TV showed images of multiple bloodied protesters.

Somewhere in the region of half of India’s 1.3 billion population are employed in the agricultural sector, underscoring what’s at stake and why the protests were so furious as they swept through the capital. 

Leaders of the march have denounced outlier groups that splintered off from the main protest.

India’s Supreme Court puts controversial agricultural laws on hold amid farmers’ protests


An article from rt.com

The top court in India has decided to suspend implementation of new farm laws and form a panel to hold talks, as farmers demand that the legislation be repealed.

The court ordered the temporary stay on the controversial laws, which MPs passed in September, and is forming a committee to hear the farmers’ grievances and resolve the impasse, Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said at a hearing on Tuesday. “We have the power to make a committee and the committee can give us the report,” he said. “We will protect farmers.”

Police officers detain an activist of the youth wing of India’s main opposition Congress party during a protest against new farm laws in New Delhi, India, January 12, 2021. © Reuters / Adnan Abidi

Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

Farmers have been clashing with police and braving increasingly cold weather to protest. They are demanding the laws be repealed, because they say the new legislation will erode a longstanding mechanism that maintains a minimum support price for crops. The government insists the laws will help modernize India’s antiquated farming system. [See CPNN December 12.]

The court’s ruling came after it heard several petitions challenging the laws, and those regarding citizens’ rights to free movement amid the protest. “These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with lives and property of people affected by the agitation,” Bobde said. “We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation.”

An advocate for the protesters, ML Sharma, complained to the court that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not held any discussions with the farmers or their representatives, but Bobde explained: “We cannot ask the prime minister to go. He is not a party in the case.”

Farm unions reiterated their demand for the laws to be repealed and warned the protests could be intensified. They are to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the court’s decision.

India : ‘Delhi Chalo’ explainer: What the farmers’ protest is all about


An article from Mint

Thousands of farmers have reached the national capital [the Centre] on their tractor-trolleys and other vehicles, responding to the “Delhi Chalo” call against the agri-marketing laws enacted at the Centre in September.

Farmers having food at a Langar during ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest against farm laws, at Singhu Border in New Delhi. (ANI)

On Saturday morning, it wasn’t clear if they will agree to move to the Burari ground on the outskirts of the city, where police said they can continue with their protest. Many protesters were demanding a better venue in the centre of Delhi. Originally, the protest was meant to be on November 26 and 27.

A look at the protest so far: Day 1: On Thursday, thousands of farmers crossed from Punjab to Haryana. At border points, the Haryana Police tried to stop them, using water cannons and teargas. But later they were allowed through. There were skirmishes with police at other points as well on the highway to Delhi as it passed through BJP-run Haryana. A large group of protesters camped for the night near Panipat. Day 2: Protesters assembled at Delhi’s border at Tigri and Singhu. Police used teargas and water cannons to stop them from breaking through barricades, which included sand-laden trucks. In the evening, they offered to let them into the city and continue their protest at Burari ground. But many appeared reluctant. Day 3: The standoff continued on Saturday morning at Delhi’s border. More farmers were making their way from Punjab and Haryana.

What farmers fear: Farmer unions in Punjab and Haryana say the recent laws enacted at the Centre will dismantle the minimum support price (MSP) system. Over time big corporate houses will dictate terms and farmers will end up getting less for their crops, they argue. Farmers fear that with the virtual disbanding of the mandi system, they will not get an assured price for their crops and the “arthiyas” — commission agents who also pitch in with loans for them — will be out of business. Their demands: The key demand is the withdrawal of the three laws which deregulate the sale of their crops. The farmer unions could also settle for a legal assurance that the MSP system will continue, ideally through an amendment to the laws.

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Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

How effective are mass protest marches?

(This article is continued from the left side of the page)

They are also pressing for the withdrawal of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, fearing it will lead to an end to subsidised electricity. Farmers say rules against stubble burning should also not apply to them. Key players: The `Delhi Chalo” call was given by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. Several other organisations including Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) came out in support.

The march is being held under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha. The Rashtriya Kisan Mahasanghathan, Jai Kisan Andolan, All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, Krantikari Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), BKU (Rajewal), BKU (Ekta-Urgahan,) BKU (Chaduni) are among the participants.

Most protesters are from Punjab, but there is a substanial number from Haryana as well. There have been scattered support for the “Delhi Chalo” protest from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Earlier protests: Before “Delhi Chalo” farmers in Punjab and Haryana held sit-ins and blocked roads in sporardic protests. Punjab farmer unions then announced a “rail roko” agitation, which lasted for abour two months, leading to a suspension of trains to the state and shortages in critical areas, including coal for thermal power stations.

At one point, the unions relaxed the agitation to let goods trains through, but the Railways insisted that they will either run both freight and passengers trains or none. The contentious laws The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The Congress-majority Punjab Assembly reacted to these central laws by passing Bills meant to “negate” their effect in the state. The Punjab Bills, however, are still awaiting assent of the state Governor.

What the Centre says The Narendra Modi government says the new laws will give more options to the farmers to sell their crops and get them better prices. It has assured that there is no move to end the MSP system, and the new Acts do not refer to it.

Before the Delhi Chalo agitation began, the Centre had invited representatives from over 30 farmer unions for a meeting with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on December 3. An earlier meeting on November 15 had remained inconclusive.

India: Nagaland’s Rebecca Changkija Sema conferred with ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Award’


An article from The Sentinal of Assam

Filmmaker and social worker Rebecca Changkija Sema from Nagaland was conferred with the esteemed Mahatma Gandhi National Award during the 4th International Web Conference on Global Peace on July 25 by the Mahatma Gandhi Global Peace Forum.

Joining the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) who were previous awardees of the Mahatma Gandhi National Award, Rebecca Changkija Sema has broken the glass ceiling for female social workers in India.

Sema is an Advisory Panel Member at the Censor Board Mumbai and the founder of “Northeast Unsung Heroes”. She describes it as a non-profit organization, emphasizing that there are people from all walks of life, who choose to do good for the society and their country who have not received enough recognition.

Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

She reiterates that bringing recognition to these ‘heroes’ translates into them receiving better opportunities further ahead in life.

Sema promotes tourism as well and takes a keen interest in utilizing the talent that comes up from the Northeast region; primarily through social work and cinema. She reiterates that the award has “humbled” her.

“Words are not enough to describe how humbled am today to receive this prestigious award. this is extremely encouraging beyond any words. Thank you Human Rights Saviour to be considering me for @Nagaland #northeast_india #BlessedAndThankful #HumanRights”, she wrote on Twitter.

The Mahatma Gandhi Global Peace Forum is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to promote the culture of peace around the world through the medium of arts, culture and education.

A total of 14 personalities from various parts of the country working in the field of Human Rights were conferred with the award.

“Listening as governance”, by Amartya Sen


An article by Amartya Sen in Sixteens

We have reason to take pride in the fact that India is the largest democracy in the world, and also the oldest in the developing world. Aside from giving everyone a voice, democracy provides many practical benefits for us. We can, however, ask whether we are making good use of it now when the country, facing a gigantic health crisis, needs it most.

[Editor’s note: Click here for Professor Sen’s recent recognition by the peace prize of the German Book Trade..

Tackling a social calamity is not like fighting a war which works best when a leader can use top-down power to order everyone to do what the leader wants — with no need for consultation. In contrast, what is needed for dealing with a social calamity is participatory governance and alert public discussion. Famine victims may be socially distant from the relatively more affluent public, and so can be other sufferers in different social calamities, but listening to public discussion makes the policy-makers understand what needs to be done. Napoleon may have been much better at commanding rather than listening, but this did not hamper his military success (except perhaps in his Russian campaign). However, for overcoming a social calamity, listening is an ever-present necessity.

This applies also to the calamity caused by a pandemic, in which some — the more affluent — may be concerned only about not getting the disease, while others have to worry also about earning an income (which may be threatened by the disease or by an anti-disease policy, such as a lockdown), and — for those away from home as migrant workers — about finding the means of getting back home. The different types of hazards from which different groups suffer have to be addressed, and this is much aided by a participatory democracy, in particular when the press is free, public discussion is unrestrained, and when governmental commands are informed by listening and consultation.

(Article continued in the column on the right)

Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

How can we work together to overcome this medical and economic crisis?

(Article continued from the column on the left)  

In the sudden crisis in India arising from the spread of COVID-19, the government has obviously been right to be concerned with rapidly stopping the spread. Social distancing as a remedy is also important and has been rightly favoured in Indian policy-making. Problems, however, arise from the fact that a single-minded pursuit of slowing the spread of the disease does not discriminate between different paths that can be taken in that pursuit, some of which could bring disaster and havoc in the lives of many millions of poor people, while others could helpfully include policies in the package that prevent such suffering.
Employment and income are basic concerns of the poor, and taking special care for preserving them whenever they are threatened is an essential requirement of policy-making. It is worth noting in this context that even starvation and famines are causally connected with inadequacy of income and the inability of the impoverished to buy food (as extensive economic studies have brought out). If a sudden lockdown prevents millions of labourers from earning an income, starvation in some scale cannot be far off. Even the US, which is often taken to be a quintessential free enterprise economy (as in many ways it indeed is), has instituted income subsidies through massive federal spending for the unemployed and the poor. In the emergence and acceptance of such socially protective measures in America, a crucial part has been played by public discussion, including advocacy from the political opposition.

In India the institutional mechanism for keeping the poor away from deprivation and destitution will have to relate to its own economic conditions, but it is not hard to consider possible protective arrangements, such as devoting more public funds for helping the poor (which gets a comparatively small allocation in the central budget as things stand), including feeding arrangements in large national scale, and drawing on the 60 million tons of rice and wheat that remain unused in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. The ways and means of getting displaced migrant labourers back to their homes, and making arrangements for their resettlement, paying attention to their disease status and health care, are also challenging issues that call for careful listening rather than inflexible decisions without proper consultation.

Listening is central in the government’s task of preventing social calamity — hearing what the problems are, where exactly they have hit, and how they affect the victims. Rather than muzzling the media and threatening dissenters with punitive measures (and remaining politically unchallenged), governance can be greatly helped by informed public discussion. Overcoming a pandemic may look like fighting a war, but the real need is far from that.

People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty: Nine Demands for Food and Rights


An article from the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (see below) has formulated the following nine demands for food and rights that represent the aspirations of rural food producers to feed the world and pave the way for a just, equitable, and sustainable food system that guarantees the peoples’ right to food. This is the popular version of our policy recommendations  to ensure people’s right to food amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEMAND 1: Guarantee the right to food amid lockdown

A global hunger crisis looms unless states guarantee people’s right to food.

The number of people suffering from extreme hunger worldwide is expected to double due to the pandemic.

Last year, 130 million were in acute hunger. This will spike to 265 million by the end of 2020 if people’s right to food remains to be neglected.

Prior pandemic, more than 820 million people – one in every nine in the world – are already hungry. On the other hand, over 2 billion people – one in every four – do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

These numbers are also expected to rise due to movement restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus spread. The poor and the homeless are extremely vulnerable.

States therefore have a crucial role in ensuring that people have access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food at all times, as mandated by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. States “have a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger even in times of natural or other disasters.”

DEMAND 2: Prioritize local food production

Promoting local food production is key in any nation’s food security.

A robust and farmer-led domestic food production is the best safeguard against market shocks and price volatility.

A total of 14 countries have imposed export bans on 20 variants of foodstuffs to prioritize local markets amid the global pandemic. Poor countries which rely on food imports are struggling to keep up with the building food shortage.

Rice, a major food-crop especially in Asia, have hit a seven-year high price as major rice exporters Vietnam and Cambodia decided to ban their export of the food staple to ensure local supply.

Staple food crops must be prioritized in local food production in order to shield the economy from fluctuations in the global market. Subsidies and investments for inputs (eg. seeds and fertilizers), irrigation, soil conservation, and other subsidies should be broadened and given directly to small food producers.

Imports of staple food crops that countries can grow domestically must be progressively reduced to shield both producers and consumers from global market shocks.

In order to sustainably meet the demand for food, states must utilize and further develop their pool of smallholder farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, and other food producers who are within the communities vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Staple food crops that can be grown domestically should be encouraged by the governments through subsidies to reduce the dependency on importation.

DEMAND 3: Recognize and extend support to farmers as essential workers

Farmers and rural peoples are at the frontlines of producing food for the world. They are essential workers and should be recognized and supported as such.

The food in our tables, in grocery aisles, in markets and restaurants, come from the hands of landless and smallholder farmers, farmworkers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers in plantations, rural women and youth, indigenous peoples, Dalits and pastoralists. Without them, food supply will be decimated.

Ironically, they are the most vulnerable in this pandemic. Prior the pandemic, the rural sectors already suffer from extreme poverty. 80% of 736 million people in extreme poverty – subsisting on less than USD 1.90 a day – live in rural areas, where social services including healthcare are also often inaccessible.

States must ensure that they are given adequate support in form of unconditional cash assistance, social protection, and production aid as essential workers. This will not only ensure domestic food supply but also cushion the impact of the pandemic to the already at-risk communities.

However, some state measures to contain the pandemic have resulted in their loss of income and livelihood. Movement restrictions to enforce social distancing have prevented rural peoples to access their production areas – be it farms or seas – while others are forced to throw away their harvest that cannot be transported and sold to urban areas. Policies that curtail their right to produce and displace them from their areas of production should be discontinued immediately.

The recognition, support, and protection of farmers and rural peoples as essential workers amid the pandemic is a necessary guarantee to domestic food security.

DEMAND 4: Set up and support local markets

The disconnect between food supply and demand has never been this huge.

While almost a billion people around the world sleep hungry at night, tons of food are wasted across fields caused by transportation and market bottlenecks. Every year, a third of the world’s food – amounting to as much as USD 1.2 trillion – is lost or goes to waste. With today’s pandemic, lockdowns and supply chain failures have put this problem into overdrive.

This has caused avoidable price fluctuations and increased unevenness in access to food despite record high global grain output.

Countries can address this by setting up and backing decentralized local markets led by food producers. Not only does it bridge the gap between domestic food producers and consumers, but it also avoids wastage of food that are not able to reach markets. Farmers are able to sell their produce and earn while consumers are assured supply of and access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

States should give utmost support to local markets led by food producers and create frictionless links with urban and peri-urban consumers.

DEMAND 5: Strengthen strategic national reserves

The right to food also means it should be affordable.

Countries should strengthen strategic national grain and food reserves to support stable prices.

With lockdowns in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, countries are scrambling to have a stable supply of and access to staple food for domestic consumption.

Since its inception, the WTO impositions discouraged the “costly” public food reserves to prioritize trade commitments. Subsequent programs from the IMF-WB and other IFIs have pushed to dismantle and/or privatize national food agencies to liberalize trade.

While the WB in 2009 admitted that this has proven detrimental to poor and developing countries, the damage has been done.

Today, net food importing countries are left vulnerable to the volatility of global food prices.

Disruptions in the global food supply chain also prompted food price hikes of 5% to 9% average since February. Staple food crops, especially in the Global South, are also no exception – rice, grains, wheat, and flour have a rising price trend since January.

To deal with this, states must establish and/or strengthen substantially their strategic national reserves to ensure price control, notwithstanding the WTO commitments to ensure that vulnerable countries have the range of policy measures against market shocks. Priority should be given at all times to locally produced food for buffer stocks. Privatized grain buffer stock must be nationalized to protect public interest in food security.

States can also establish and/or strengthen national food purchasing agencies to ensure fair farmgate prices while stabilizing consumer prices.

DEMAND 6: Review and revise national land use policies

After the toiling farmers and rural people, land is the most important asset for food security.

National land use policies must be reconsidered to reflect the increasing need for domestic food production.

For so long, local elites and corporations dispossess rural peoples of land through privatization of public and customary lands, deceptive lease-type schemes and financing programs.

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Question for this article:
What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

How can we work together to overcome this medical and economic crisis?

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World Bank’s market-assisted land reform programs have only accelerated this. The rapid expansion of large-scale industrial farming has despoiled the Global South as rural communities are robbed of their right to food with the push of the World Bank for industrial agriculture for what they deemed as food security.

Several governments in the Global South are quick in opening up millions of agricultural land as collateral for loans. Underdeveloped countries are seen as production hubs for the increasing demand for biofuel as well as monocultures of sugar, palm oil, cotton, and maize. Much of the arable land once dedicated to local food production have been converted to export crop production under the liberalized economy. This caused poverty among millions who relied on these lands as they are displaced, forced into cheap labor, and repressed.

In the past 20 years alone, land sold and leased to foreign and domestic investors has reached a total of 160.77 million hectares. Ironically, only 8% of these are for domestic food production.

Unsurprisingly, these countries that have become import-dependent and export-oriented with the guidance of the World Trade Organization and World Bank have also the highest number of poor and hungry.

In these times when the world is threatened by COVID-19, the role of foreign agribusiness and large-scale export crop production in undermining food security is exceptionally apparent. With supply chain bottlenecks and trade barriers going up, farmers in high-value for-export crops are experiencing loss in livelihood. Subsidy allotted to export production should be realigned to support food crop production for the domestic market while introducing a moratorium for biofuel production and other non-food crops.

DEMAND 7: Provide unconditional food and cash aid

An estimated 265 million people will be in extreme hunger this year amid the current crisis – double of that from last year. They represent the most vulnerable among the 2 billion people in the planet experiencing food insecurity.

Immediate food aid must be provided to countries most at-risk of food supply shortage, including access to institutional support from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and South-South Cooperation mechanisms without conditions.

Africa (73 million people) and Asia (43 million people) are home to world’s most hungry. In particular, West Asia and North Africa (WANA) experience worsening famine as conflicts and protracted crises aggravated over the years. Conflicts have disrupted food and livestock production as well as access to food across the region. The pandemic only exacerbates the fragility of the war-ravaged countries like Libya and Yemen as they lack resources to contain the virus while Iran and Turkey have the highest acceleration of cases with tens and thousands of affected.

Over the years, humanitarian funding has dropped significantly. In fact, in 2018, it fell by 77% in crisis-affected countries. In context, COVID-19 affects many more countries in comparison to the past Ebola crisis. Overseas military spending of OECD countries have increased while humanitarian food aid has declined.

In order to curb the effects of the pandemic in the most affected regions, funding for food and cash aid must be prioritized in the Official Development Assistance in the form of grants, especially using the undelivered ODA fund (estimated to be around US$2 trillion) by donor countries over the last decade.

Donor countries must not take advantage of the deplorable situation and further deteriorate economies through neoliberal policy reforms that has caused poverty in these countries in the first place.

Conditionalities must be decoupled from aid to truly remedy the impacts of the crisis while strengthening the food and health systems, and not further chain the Global South by undermining public resources to creditors.

Although domestic needs must be prioritized, food export restrictions for humanitarian purposes must be dismantled.

DEMAND 8: Lift sanctions and cease all military aggressions

International sanctions that include food and agriculture trade are war crimes. Moreover, blanket economic sanctions decimate nation’s livelihoods and developing countries’ international trade relations.

Countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are suffering from sanctions initiated and backed by US and its G20 allies – severely limiting their policy options in facing a pandemic like the coronavirus.

In Venezuela and Bolivia, the US tried to put into power political allies using sanctions that created shortages and economic restrictions that the population suffered through within the script of the Hybrid War.

The economic and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba has impeded export of goods and services, procurement of resources, and trade since 1958. In particular, food trade, access to medicine and medical supplies, and exchange of scientific knowledge were greatly restricted, impacting the Cuban peoples for many decades.

Lifting these sanctions, especially today, is a humanitarian imperative and can potentially save countless lives.

People in extreme hunger heavily concentrate in Africa and Asia, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and West Asia. Around 65% of them are in 10 countries – Yemen (15.9M), Democratic Republic of Congo (15.6M), Afghanistan (11.3M), Venezuela (9.3M), Ethiopia (8M), South Sudan (7M), Syria (6.6M), Sudan (5.9M), Northern Nigeria (5M), and Haiti (3.7M).

Most of these countries, including Palestine, are ravaged by a combination of wars of aggression, internal conflict, and sanctions-induced famines.

Yemen alone, is made a victim of man-made starvation as Red Sea ports have been subject to recurring blockades, searches, and restrictions by Saudi-led coalition forces, essentially cutting the lines for imported food supplies.

War and conflict refugees and internally displaced people in many regions hung on a knife’s edge as occupying forces continue to advance despite a global call for ceasefire. Some 160,000 Kurds found themselves as refugees as US abandoned the fight against ISIS, go-signalling Turkish troops to lay siege on war-afflicted Syria.

The US supplies Israel USD 142.3B in bilateral assistance and missile defense vying for the control of West Asia. Zionist Israel continues its attacks against Palestinians who also suffer from the 10-year blockade from Israel and Egypt.

Ending all military aggression and the immediate lifting of sanctions, especially on international trade in food and agriculture, should be part of the global humanitarian response to combat COVID-19.

DEMAND 9: Increase transparency and accountability

To truly address the serious public health crisis of rising food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a human rights-based approach that will empower the hungry to fulfill their right to food should be adopted. The approach takes the principles of transparency, accountability, non–discrimination, equality and equity, rule of law and good governance.

States and public officials must be put accountable in addressing the urgent needs of the people amid the COVID-19 crisis. States are responsible in engineering appropriate plans and national goals to ‘flatten the curve’ and recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Participation of vulnerable sectors especially the rural poor, rural women, and indigenous peoples in crafting emergency response, relief, and rehabilitation should be guaranteed. Non-deliverance on that responsibility demands recourse from the people due to infringement of the fundamental rights to food and health.

Transparency and anti-corruption measures must be put into place alongside fast-tracked aid and relief programs to ensure the disbursement of funds for those in urgent need. Contracts must be made public to mitigate risks of overpricing, monopoly, and collusion.

Stringent policies should be placed against commercial activities that lead to price-gouging, hoarding, or the impediment of people’s right to food. To protect consumers, antitrust and similar laws need to work to ensure no single entity can dictate prices and control stocks of essential goods such as PPEs and food. Other than scammers and hoarders, price increase of high-demand goods can also be caused by disrupted supply chains, scarcity, or the underdeveloped capacity to produce essential goods. States need to prioritize providing supplies and facilities for frontliners, essential establishments and agencies, and poor communities and low-income individuals.

Tighter corporate control and accountability should be enacted to ensure that they are in line with the broader goals of food security and social justice. Agriculture, for instance, needs to be reexamined and refocused on domestic food production in comparison to the industrial agribusinesses that has deteriorated the environment and impoverished rural communities for decades, leaving them hungry and highly susceptible to infection.

* * * * *

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty is a growing network of various grassroots groups of small food producers particularly of peasant-farmer organizations and their support NGOs, working towards a People’s Convention on Food Sovereignty. It was established first as an Asian component of the global agri-trade network on People’s Food Sovereignty in 2001 then eventually resulted in the collaboration of those involved in the People’s Caravan 2004 process and those who participated in the Asia Pacific People’s Convention on Food Sovereignty in Dhaka, Bangladesh in November 2004. . . . During the People’s Convention in Dhaka, the name “People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty” was adopted due to the growing number of organisations beyond Asia who have been involved in the Food Sovereignty platform.

United Nations Alliance of Civilizations: Five Youth-Led Organizations Selected as Recipients of the Youth Solidarity Fund for 2019


Excerpts from the newsletter of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

UNAOC has announced the latest recipients of the Youth Solidarity Fund (YSF) [ announced in 2019]. More than 600 proposals were received from over 70 countries in response to the call for applications. Five organizations based in Africa and Asia were then selected to receive seed funding of up to USD 25,000 for the purpose of implementing projects with innovative and effective approaches to intercultural dialogue and interfaith harmony. These five recipients join a group of 63 other youth-led organizations that have been funded by UNAOC since 2008.

In addition to seed funding, YSF recipients will also receive technical support to strengthen the implementation of their projects. UNAOC has partnered with Search for Common Ground to facilitate a capacity-building programme called Youth 360, involving online workshops and ongoing support from mentors. YSF recipients will have access to this support until the end of their project implementation period in November 2020.

The current edition of YSF is implemented through financial contributions from the Governments of Finland, Malta and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Umoja Mashinani – Kenya

“Our project, Umoja Mashinani, can be loosely translated to mean Peace Ambassadors in the Grassroots. We aim to enhance the capacity of community radio journalists to promote messages on non-violence, religious respect and intercul- tural cohesion. With UNAOC, we hope to build a sustainable and impactful platform together, fostering a community of young people who work for peace.”

Bonface Ochieng Opany, 27 years old
Project Coordinator, Umoja Mashinani
Youth Solidarity Fund Recipient, Amani Centre (Kenya)

Theatre for Peace – Sri Lanka

“Our project will bring young people with diverse backgrounds together to connect, create and transform. Through theater, we will facilitate a process of introspection to explore and challenge our own identities, beliefs, biases and perspectives. With the resources and the solidarity shared through UNAOC we will be stronger to stand up and challenge the polarization and separation in our society.”
Sivatharsini Raveendran, 28 years old Project Coordinator, Theatre for Peace – Connect.Create. Transform

For Youth Solidarity Fund Recipient, Centre for Communication Training (Sri Lanka)

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Question related to this article:
Youth initiatives for a culture of peace, How can we ensure they get the attention and funding they deserve?

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We Play for Peace – Lebanon

“We are launching ‘We Play for Peace!’ which is a project funded by UNAOC to create a safe space for youth from different religions, nationalities and backgrounds. Through sports, young people from the North Bekaa region of Lebanon will get the opportunity to set their differences aside and play together in peace. Youth will erase the memory of conflict and be a source of positive change for the future.”

Mehdi Houssein Yehya, 31 years old
Project Coordinator, We Play for Peace! Youth Solidarity Fund Recipient, Peace of Art (Lebanon)

Dismantling Stereotypes – Kingdom of Eswatini

“We are curating interfaith and intercultural conversations amongst young people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. With the grant from UNAOC, we aim to inculcate a culture of mutual understanding, respect and tolerance for these young people. Our goal is to place youth in the center of pre- venting any religious and cultural differences from breaking out into violence or developing into mechanisms for excluding other people.”

Sicelo Christopher Gama, 29 years old Project Coordinator,
Dismantling Religious and Cultural Stereotypes for Social Cohesion and Sustainable Peac
Youth Solidarity Fund Recipient, Swaziland Intent Youth Organization (Kingdom of Eswatini)

Nurturing for Peace – Uganda

“We thank UNAOC for their support of our project that will engage youth from seven sects of Islam and Christianity to strengthen interfaith understanding and foster new friendships. The project aims to reduce support for religiously motivated recruitment and acts of violent extremism in Eastern Uganda. We are confident that our project will be a living symbol to the ideals of interfaith cooperation and friendship among faiths.”

Zulaika Nanfuka, 32 years old
Project Coordinator, Nurturing for Peace
Youth Solidarity Fund Recipient, Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (Uganda)

A crucial moment for women’s rights in Afghanistan


An article by Heather Barr in Human Rights Watch

This is a moment of both fear and hope for Afghan women — and an urgent time for the world to support their hard-won rights. The Feb. 29 deal between the US and the Taliban could pave the way for a peace that Afghans desperately seek. But there are huge risks for women’s rights in this process.

Women walk along a street in the old part of Kabul on February 29, 2020. Women across the country are nervous about losing their hard-won freedoms in the pursuit of peace.  © 2020 WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Women have suffered deeply during Afghanistan’s 40 years of war, and they desperately long for peace. They have also fought ferociously for equality in the years since the fall of the Taliban government and have made great progress. Today there are women ministers and governors and judges and police and soldiers, and Afghanistan’s parliament has a higher percentage of women than does the US Congress.

But Afghan women’s rights activists have faced resistance from the Afghan government — and lack of support from international donors — as they fought for their rightful place at the negotiating table for peace talks. This exclusion, combined with the Taliban’s relentless discrimination against women and girls, increases fears that women’s rights could easily be a casualty of this process.

The US-Taliban deal is focused on foreign troop withdrawal and preventing Taliban support for international terrorism attacks. It also triggers “intra-Afghan” talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other factions, which are slated to start March 10. But women’s rights were not included in the Feb. 29 deal. Zalmay Khalilzad, the lead US envoy to the talks, repeatedly said that women’s rights — and other issues relating to human rights, political structures and power sharing — should be resolved through the subsequent intra-Afghan talks. This has been a source of frustration to activists.

The Taliban remain deeply misogynistic. Their 1996 to 2001 regime was notorious for denying women and girls access to education, employment, freedom of movement and health care, and subjecting them to violence including public lashing or execution by stoning. Taliban rhetoric and conduct has moderated somewhat in subsequent years, with some Taliban commanders permitting girls to attend primary schools, typically in response to community pressure. But the Taliban also continue to carry out violent attacks against girls’ schools and block women and girls from exercising many of their basic rights, and remain deeply opposed to gender equality.

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Question for this article

Prospects for progress in women’s equality, what are the short and long term prospects?

Is peace possible in Afghanistan?

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In February, a Taliban leader wrote, “[W]e together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected.” Skeptics noted the comma separating women from equal rights, and that from 1996 to 2001 the Taliban also argued that women were enjoying all rights “granted by Islam.”

The Afghan government has been an unreliable supporter — and sometimes even an enemy — of women’s rights. The administrations of both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have frequently brushed aside women’s rights. Both have mostly rebuffed activists’ demands for women to have full participation in the peace process, as provided under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Foreign donors have been more willing to engage in photo ops and grant agreements than to expend political capital to press for Afghan women to be in the room, at the table, during negotiations.

Lack of clarity about the intra-Afghan talks and the designated negotiators has further heightened fears about the implications for women’s rights. Political infighting following the disputed Afghan presidential election has delayed the appointment of the government negotiation team. Pressure to divvy up these roles among power brokers threatens to squeeze women out. The absence of clear information about what country will host the talks and who will facilitate them prevents women’s rights activists from lobbying for including women.

A fight over whether a release of prisoners will move ahead is muddying the waters further and calling into question the timeline for the intra-Afghan talks. Meanwhile, violence, reduced ahead of the deal’s signing, threatens to escalate again.

Several years back it was common to hear Afghan feminists argue that there should be no negotiations with the Taliban — a group that refused to recognize women’s full humanity. Today those calls are all but gone. Even the staunchest women’s rights activists have mostly accepted that there is no path to peace in Afghanistan but through negotiations with the Taliban.

But protecting women’s rights needs to be one of the key objectives of this process, and for that to happen, women need to be at the negotiating table. Governments increasingly recognize that the role of women in peace processes is not just an afterthought, but critical to sustainable and implementable peace accords. The Afghan government and all its international partners need to back Afghan women, who are in the fight of their lives.

International Criminal Court Offers Hope to Afghanistan’s Victims


An article by Patricia Gossman from Human Rights Watch (reprinted according to Creative Commons License)

Afghans who are skeptical about whether the US-Taliban agreement  and planned intra-Afghan peace talks  can deliver a better future, now have reason to believe that justice might not be squandered in the process. Today, judges on the International Criminal Court  (ICC) authorized the court’s prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003. 

Afghan family leaves site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 22, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

It was a rocky road to get here. In November 2017, after a more than 10-year analysis of the Afghanistan situation, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to approve an investigation  into alleged crimes, including targeted attacks on civilians by the Taliban and other insurgents; torture, rape, and enforced disappearances by Afghan police and security forces; and torture by the United States military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

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Question related to this article:

Can the International Criminal Court provide justice?

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Despite acknowledging the court’s jurisdiction over the crimes and that Afghanistan was making no effort to seek accountability, an ICC pre-trial chamber rejected the investigation  as not being in the “interests of justice.” In the ruling, the judges noted that “changes within the relevant political landscape” – likely referring to the US-Taliban talks as well as the Trump administration’s public attacks  on the ICC – would make an investigation too difficult. 

But in today’s decision, the appeals chamber overruled the lower court’s interpretation of the court’s founding treaty – which had been widely criticized, including by Human Rights Watch  – and allowed the investigation to go ahead. 

Coming amidst genuine movement toward peace talks, the ruling is an important reminder of the costs of impunity. The Bonn Agreement, signed in December 2001 after the defeat of the Taliban government, failed to provide justice for rights violations by all sides and fueled further atrocities by allowing serious human rights abusers to maintain official and unofficial positions of power. 

Today’s decision reaffirms the ICC’s role as an institution that might change these dynamics by challenging entrenched impunity. It has offered Afghans who have long sought justice hope that they may one day see it realized.