Canada

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 8th-15th, 2012.

  • A key player in the 2011 Conservative party campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions, on the advice of his lawyer, from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding during the last election that allegedly misled voters. In an extremely rare move, the Conservative government publicly backtracked on Tuesday on their plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes, after many questioned the fact that the government didn’t bother soliciting bids from other manufactures.
  • New York’s Wall Street group warned it could run out of money by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Thousands of people marched across the state of Alabama in the United States on Saturday, to protest against new electoral laws that would require voters to show strict forms of photo ID that they say is unfair to millions of African-American and Latino voters. On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks, at times forcing the soldier to strip naked and endure freezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released plans for a “heat ray” weapon to be used for crowd control that would direct electromagnet waves at people that would deliver sudden, unbearable heat to targets up to a kilometre away.
  • The bodies of four youths were found cut to pieces and left in plastic bags in the central Mexico city of Cuernavaca on Thursday along with a threatening note from a drug gang. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that police departments in Nuevo Leon state will begin giving a series of lie detector tests and psychological exams in an effort to stop corruption on the force.
  • The left-wing party of the ousted President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya named his wife as its Presidential candidate in elections next year on Tuesday. The former first lady is a relative novice in politics.
  • Polls opened in El Salvador on Sunday, in a big test for the first leftist government since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. By Monday, the Nationalist Republican Alliance was ahead with slightly more than 40% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting.
  • A former Special Forces soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, in Guatemala was sentenced to a largely symbolic 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
  • With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fast approaching, authorities in Brazil’s Rio are racing to build new hotels to cope with the influx of thousands of tourist, leaving many behind in the wake of soaring prices and some 7 million shortfall of available homes. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced they would file charges against a retired colonel over the disappearance of five guerrillas during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the first such case to be brought against any military officers from that era.
  • Two Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison with hard labour after a trial found them guilty of sexual abuses and exploitation.
  • At least three protesters were killed and some 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru reportedly clashed with illegal miners opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 1st-8th, 2012.

  • President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina sought negotiations with the UK to establish several weekly flights from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands on Thursday, a move the Islands’ legislative chairman says is “about as likely as the Falklands Air Service landing flights on the moon”.
  • The independent federal elections agency in Canada announced on Friday that it is now investigating more than 31,000 complaints of voting irregularities related to automated telephone calls during the last election that allegedly sent voters to false voting stations. The irregularities have been linked to the ruling Conservative Party, though the party and the PM thoroughly deny any wrongdoing. On Monday, the Conservative parliamentary secretary refused to release its call records in the wake of the growing robo-call scandal, while at the same time calling upon the Liberal party to release their records and shifting blame to Election Canada, the independent election body. On Tuesday, PM Harper refused to explain why Conservative MPs rejected a request by Elections Canada for more power to verify campaign financial returns; while the Conservatives reportedly repaid taxpayers $230,198 for their previous “in-and-out” scandal from the 2006 elections. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Observer ran a report detailed a Conservative adjunct professor’s experience attending the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School where voter suppression tactics were allegedly discussed.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela announced that he will need radiation treatment for cancer in the run-up to the October Presidential elections; though he insisted there was no metastasis after the removal of another tumor. On Saturday, Al Jazeera ran a report on the country’s struggles to stop violent crimes. On Monday, the government and opposition traded blame with each other after a violent melee at a Presidential campaign stop where several people were injured by bullets in Caracas.
  • President Martelly of Haiti nominated his foreign minister and close advisor, Laurent Lamothe, as PM on Thursday, raising hopes of a swift end to the country’s political vacuum. On Sunday, the President asked government officials to find ways to clear several sites around the country being occupied by ex-members of the armed forces.  On Wednesday, a banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major US bribery investigation involving former government officials was shot and killed.
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to outline the legal framework for the use of lethal force in targeted killings of Americans overseas in a major speech at Northwestern University law school on Sunday, suggesting that lethal force is legal under a September 18, 2001 resolution. On Monday, a bill reportedly passed in the House of Representatives (passing in the Senate on Thursday) that would expand existing anti-protest laws that make it a felony to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted”, which is defined in extremely vague and broad terms and could include a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting. Tuesday was dubbed “Super Tuesday” as 10 states opened their primary and caucus contests for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination.  On Thursday, two people were killed and seven wounded in a shooting at a psychiatric institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre; while a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggested that the number of hate and anti-government groups continued to rise in the previous year, fueled by racial tensions, conspiracy theories and anger over economic inequality. Reports suggested that a state senator in Wisconsin introduced a bill aimed at penalizing single mothers by calling their unmarried status a contributing factor in child abuse and neglect.
  • Police in Peru announced that they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement on Saturday who was the apparent successor to “Comrade Artemio” who was captured last month.
  • Following the rebel group FARC in Colombia’s announcement that it intends to release the last of its captives and stop kidnapping for ransom, families of 10 people currently in FARC custody were provided with new hope. On Tuesday, the ELN guerrillas reportedly freed 11 oil workers who were kidnapped in late February.
  • President Correa of Ecuador rallied supporters on Thursday in a show of force against street protests by opponents who he said were trying to destabilize his government ahead of the 2013 election.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 23rd-March 1st, 2012.

  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article discussing whether Central America should legalize drugs or not, in an effort to reduce the drug related violence in the region. Al Jazeera also took a look at rising drug related violence in Central America in the wake of a recent UN report.
  • A bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday in the Virginia state Senate in the United States when lawmakers returned the bill to committee. On Friday, Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks was formally charged with 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy”, after declining to enter a plea in a military trial; while gay marriage was set to be legalized in Maryland after the state Senate gave its final approval to a bill that will now be sent to the Governor. The Pentagon notified lawmakers of plans to boost American strength in the Persian Gulf in response to alleged Iranian threats close to the Straits of Hormuz on Saturday. On Monday, it was reported that millions of dollars of White House money helped to pay for a New York Police Department program that put entire American Muslim neighbourhoods under surveillance since 9/11; while a student in a high school in Ohio opened fire in the cafeteria with a handgun, killing one student and wounding four others before giving himself up to authorities (the death toll rose to 3 the following day). WikiLeaks published more than five million emails stolen from an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor that is now being called the Enron of private intelligence. On Wednesday, a Pakistani national in Guantanamo Bay plead guilty to five charges related to terrorism, murder, conspiracy and spying, reaching a plea deal that he provide “full and truthful cooperation” with the US government that limits his prison sentence.
  • The Prime Minister of Haiti offered his resignation to the President on Saturday after days of political tension between the premier and government ministers over issues of dual nationality. On Wednesday, several thousands of supporters of former President Aristide filled the streets of Port-au-Prince on the eighth anniversary of his toppling, demanding that President Martelly prove he does not hold dual citizenship and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.
  • On Friday, five disabled protesters began a hunger strike in Bolivia in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people; while scores of disabled people fought police in La Paz after ending their 1,000 mile, 100-day trek through the country.
  • Police in Puerto Rico were alerted to a 6-foot-long military torpedo at a metal recycling centre along the north coast on Friday.
  • An American immigration judge ruled on Thursday that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former defense minister of El Salvador for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s.
  • Protesters in Bahrain are angered at riot weaponry from Brazil that has reportedly been used on them in recent months, killing some 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. Protesters allege that the Brazilian tear gas has more chemical substances that has made people foam at the mouth and caused other symptoms, even causing the death of babies.
  • The PM of Canada announced he was unaware of allegations that his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help them win by a narrow margin in last year’s federal election, after an Elections Canada investigation revealed that voters in several constituencies had received automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots. On Monday, it was revealed that all the calls weren’t robo, automated pre-recorded voice messages, but rather real-time calls made into ridings across the country; a move that Liberal leader Bob Rae said definitely affected the election results, specifically in 27 ridings that were hotly contested.
  • Two British cruise liners were reportedly turned away from a port in Argentina as tensions mounted over the future of the Falkland Islands. On Wednesday, the British government accused Argentina of pursuing a policy of confrontation over the Falklands, after reports suggested they were calling on companies to stop importing goods from the UK.
  • FARC rebels in Colombia vowed to free 10 remaining police and military hostages and end its practice of kidnapping civilians on Sunday, calling the practice “nothing but a disaster”. The government greeted the announced with caution, as an “important and necessary step” for peace and that they would like to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire. On Wednesday, at least 11 Colombian oil workers were reportedly seized by an unidentified armed group as they worked on a pipeline near the Venezuelan border.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 16th-23rd, 2012.

  • President Caledron of Mexico reportedly unveiled a large advertising board near the American border calling on the US to stop the flow of weapons into the country on Friday.  On Sunday, a fight between prison inmates inside a jail near Monterrey reportedly killed some 44 people. On Monday, reports suggested that some 30 members of the Zeta drug cartel plotted with prison guards to orchestrate an elaborate escape that resulted in Sunday’s prison deaths.
  • The Governor of New Jersey in the United States rejected a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state and called upon a ballot question to decide the issue a day after the state assembly passed it. On Friday, a 29 year-old Moroccan man was arrested in Washington DC as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, as he carried what he thought was explosives into the city. On Monday, the Obama administration’s plan to revamp the country’s nuclear weapons strategy and possibly reduce the number of warheads was leaked to the press, causing a major uproar among some conservatives who called the proposals “reckless lunacy”. On Tuesday, the US Marine corps discharged the long marine convicted in the 2005 killings of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha, but will not face jail time. On Wednesday, several members of the Congress received mail threatening biological attack and containing suspicious powder, later found to be harmless by law enforcement officials. On Thursday, at least seven US soldiers were reportedly killed after two helicopters collided during a training exercise along the Arizona-California border.
  • Authorities in Canada announced plans to toughen their refugee laws to filter out fake claims from “safe” countries like Hungary, which it says are clogging up the system and wasting taxpayer money. Critics say it is an attack on human rights, as it appears to target the large influx of claims from Roma “gypsies” coming from Hungary. The country has also allegedly threatened a trade war with the European Union over the bloc’s plan to label oil from the province of Alberta’s vast tar sands as highly polluting. An indigenous community has launched a lawsuit against the government and a petrochemical company SunCor for failing to prevent pollution that has taken a severe toll on their environment and health.
  • The top court in Ecuador upheld a jail sentence on Thursday against three newspaper publishers who were also ordered to pay damages for libelling President Correa. Rights groups claim the ruling puts freedom of expression under threat.
  • The President of Haiti was reportedly attacked as he walked in a Carnival procession in Port-au-Prince, but escaped unharmed on Friday. Witnesses say that “troublemakers” were throwing rocks at the President and his accompanying motorcade.
  • National police in Panama reportedly broke up protests over plans for a vast copper mine and hydroelectric schemes, killing three men, wounding dozens and detaining more than 100 others.
  • Flooding rivers in Peru and Chile displaced people and turned up old land mines from the 1970s, resulting in a closure of the border between the two countries on Monday.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela announced that he must receive another operation to remove a lesion on his pelvis where surgeons removed a large cancerous tumour last year, but denied rumours that there was any metastasis. Chavez’s imminent departure for his surgery has reportedly thrown his re-election campaign into uncertainty.
  • Hundreds of relatives of inmates who died in last week’s prison fire in Honduras reportedly forced their way into a morgue in the capital to demand the remains of loved ones on Tuesday. The government announced that a dropped cigarette may have set off the fire, going back on the original claims of a purposely set fire.
  • A group of 17 leading intellectuals in Argentina criticized the government for supporting the right to self-determination of Falkland Island inhabitants, questioning the country’s claims on the territory.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 2nd-9th, 2012.

  • A Pentagon legal official refused to extend an important deadline to file motions for defense lawyers of the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners charged in the September 11th attack on Friday. Dozens of riot police cleared the last remaining Occupy encampments in the United States on Saturday, saying they were banned under park rules; while members of the hacker group Anonymous made a statement on the website of the law firm Puckett and Faraj claiming to have published three GB of private email messages of the attorneys who defended the US Marine who faced charges in the 2005 killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the Haditha massacre and recently had his charges dropped. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down a California law that strips gay couples of the right to marry, stating it violated principles of due process and equal protection under the law. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington State voted to approve gay marriage; while the authorities agreed with Japan to proceed with plans to transfer thousands of American troops out of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, leaving behind a stalled discussion about closing a major US Marine base there. On Thursday, the Pentagon unveiled a new policy that intends to expand job opportunities for women in the military, but will shift them closer to combat fighting, in an effort to begin eliminating some of the gender-based discrimination in the military. Al Jazeera ran an interesting article asking whether democracy in the US is being bought and sold by corporations, unions and political action committees.
  • An article in the SF Chronicle discussed the recent mass evictions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in preparation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, with some 170,000 people reportedly facing threats to their housing or already removed. The army reportedly clashed with striking police officers in the city of Salvador over the weekend. The police officers are striking over pay and poor benefits amid rising crime rates, with some 78 people murdered in only 5 days. On Thursday, the striking police officers agreed to leave the state assembly house they had occupied for several days, but have not yet indicated that the strike was over.
  • An ageing peace activist in Ecuador has built a haven for young local gang members called the Barrio de Paz or the “Neighbourhood of Peace”, becoming a grandmotherly figure to the gang members and helping to guide them into a life of non-violence. The activist believes that gang organizations can be transformed to be used for good, as a support system for other members and has had some great successes in her process.
  • The ruling centre-right political party in Mexico announced that they had chosen a woman to run for the Presidency. Josefina Vazquez Mota, a former writer of self-help books, economist and former education minister, is currently around 20 percentage points behind Enrique Pena Nieto, the Institutional Revolutionary party candidate. A drug cartel in Ciudad Juarez threatened to kill an officer a day until the city’s police chief steps down, forcing officers into hiding around the city. On Wednesday, a suspected Zeta drug gang member led authorities to a mass grave site at two ranches in the state of Veracruz.
  • The United Kingdom dismissed Argentina’s new threat to complain to the UN over what Argentina called the “militarization” of the disputed Falkland Islands, although as a permanent member of the Security Council, they could veto any potential resolution. The British Foreign Office said that the people of the island are British citizens “out of choice”. On Wednesday, Britain ruled out the possibility of talks with Argentina.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela celebrated the 20th anniversary of the failed coup that helped launch his political career with a lavish military parade, angering opposition leaders who see the coup attempt as a blemish on the country’s democracy. Two brothers believed to be the leaders of a rightwing paramilitary group were arrested on Tuesday on crimes including murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. On Thursday, the Guardian ran an article about the opposition candidates joining together in coalition to oust Hugo Chavez in the upcoming Presidential elections.
  • The federal government of Canada is defending its recent decision to direct CSIS, the Canadian spy agency, to use information that may have been extracted through torture in cases where public safety is at stake.
  • The most important leader of the Shining Path insurgency has reportedly been wounded in a clash in Peru. President Humala has vowed to step up efforts to catch the group.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… January 23rd- February 2nd, 2012.

  • The Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council adopted proposals to strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday. Included in the non-binding proposals were three recommendations that threaten the reach and independence of the Special Rapporteurship.
  • Last Monday, security forces in Mexico reportedly arrested 11 alleged members of the most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa cartel, during a helicopter raid of a ranch in the north-west. On Tuesday, six people, five of them policemen, were killed in a failed attempt to free two detainees in the central region.  A new study released this week suggests that the Zetas cartel has become the biggest drug gang in the country, overtaking the Sinaloa cartel. This Monday, police in the northern region captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug gang who had confessed to killing at least 75 people.
  • The Mexican ambassador to Venezuela was briefly kidnapped on Sunday night after being seized from his car with his wife in Caracas. Kidnapping is reported soared in recent years.
  • Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary for Republican Presidential candidates in the United States on Sunday, overthrowing favorite Mitt Romney; while the Occupy Oakland protests were halted, resulting in nearly 400 arrests. On Monday, the UN human rights chief said the US government must close Guantanamo Bay prison as President Obama promised over a year ago. On Wednesday, the director of the documentary Gasland was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing for refusing to stop filming the hearing; the only US marine to face sentencing for the murder of 24 unarmed Iraqis was acquitted of all charges; while President Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech to launch his 2012 re-election campaign. On Thursday, prosecutors subpoenaed the Twitter records of an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested in October. On Friday, Pentagon leaders outlined a plan for absorbing $487 billion in defence cuts over the coming decade by shrinking US ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter jet and retiring older planes and ships; while Republican candidate Newt Gingrich promised to build a colony on the moon should he become President. On Saturday, Occupy Oakland protesters clashed with police as they tried to take over downtown buildings, including city hall, resulting in more than 300 arrests; while the Pentagon announced that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s heavily fortified underground facilities and that they are stepping up efforts to make them more powerful.  On Monday, Occupy protesters in Washington vowed to remain peacefully entrenched in two parks near the White House after a police order demanded they stop camping on federal land, defying the noon deadline to remove their camps. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican presidential primary, improving his chances of receiving his party’s nomination. An interesting report on a controversial project treating alcoholic homeless persons in Seattle caught my eye. Several discussions about drone strikes made the news this week, after many called Obama’s comments on them misleading.
  • President Rual Castro defended the one-party system in a speech this week at a conference of the ruling Communist Party, saying that allowing other political parties would threaten the independence of Cuba and the socialist system. He also reaffirmed plans to limit political terms to 10 years. Fidel Castro called the American Republican presidential race the greatest competition of “idiocy and ignorance” the world has ever seen and also criticised the news media.
  • On Wednesday, Argentina accused Britain of militarizing a sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, after they sent a warship and the country’s future king to the islands. British diplomats accused Argentina of plotting an economic blockade on the Falklands amid fears that Buenos Aires is attempting to stop all flights from Chile from reaching the islands.
  • Authorities in Peru said they are struggling to keep outsiders away from a previously “isolated” Amazon people, as the river has become more popular with environmental tourists, loggers and mining companies who are encroaching on their land.
  • A new study was released analyzing how Brazil has assumed the visible leadership of peacekeeping operations in Haiti and Timor in order to increase its international status in a bid to gain a permanent seat at the UNSC. Last Sunday, riot police in the country stormed an illegal settlement of landless workers in Sao Paulo state to reclaim the land for its private owners, evicting some 6,000 residents who had recently lost a legal battle and resulting in intense criticism.
  • Transgendered persons and supporters in Canada were outraged this week as new screening regulations for airlines went viral. The new regulations stipulate that an “air carrier shall not transport a passenger if… the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents”, effectively banning transgendered persons from boarding.
  • The Clingendael Institute and Impunity Watch released a new report entitled “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala.”  On Monday, at least 8 people were killed and at least 20 wounded in an attack at a nightclub in Villa Nueva. On Friday, former military leader Efrain Rios Montt appeared in court to face accusations of genocide and other human rights crimes allegedly committed during his 17 month long rule in the early 1980s.
  • Last Monday anti-government fighters in Colombia attacked a radar installation in Cauca province, killing a guard and delaying several flights. On Wednesday, the FARC rebels agreed to exchange 6 hostages for jailed guerrillas. On Friday, the UN warned that the country needs to do more to prosecute against forced displacement, after hundreds of thousands of people continue to be pushed from their homes each year by armed groups. On Wednesday, the FARC rebel group announced they would delay the release of six hostages due to military activity in the area. On Thursday, seven people were killed and more than 70 injured when a motorcycle packed with explosives was driven into a police station in the city of Tumaco.
  • Nine gold diggers were killed in a gunfight between rival gangs in French Guiana on Saturday. The two groups were allegedly fighting for control of the area.
  • A court in Ecuador suspended the appeal hearing lodged by newspaper editors facing charges for allegedly libelling President Correa. The suspension was reportedly the result of an ill judge.
  • The UN announced that it is investigating two alleged cases of sexual exploitation of children by UN staff in Haiti. The allegations come just four months after Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of rape. On Monday, a judge in the country announced that he is recommending that “Baby Doc” Duvalier face trial on corruption charges but not the more serious human rights violations during his brutal 15-year rule.
  • A wave of protests in Santiago, Chile forced the government to abandon its plans to force journalists to hand over images to police under a controversial new legislation. The bill would have granted new power for the law enforcement and security forces and criminalized expressions of opinion.
  • The President of El Salvador is being heavily criticized for naming an army general as the new head of police, with many calling the move “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 1992 peace accord.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… December 9th-15th, 2011.

Hello all! Hope all is well!

I would like to appeal to readers to direct me to any English news sites from Latin America to help make this section better. If you know of any good news sites, blogs or organizations that profile human rights, conflict or peace issues from South or Central America, please write to me at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com or leave me the details in the comments below.

Thanks in advance,

Rebecca

 

  • Occupy Wall Street protesters in the United States have issued a call for thousands of protesters across the country to reoccupy public spaces to mark the movement’s three-month anniversary on December 17th. On Friday morning, the Occupy Boston camp remained in place, despite the deadline to move passing; Defense Secretary Panetta announced he would begin to talk publicly about the results of a strategic review to guide the Pentagon as it cuts hundreds of billions in military spending some time next month; a gunman opened fire on motorists in the heart of Hollywood; and the identity of the Virginia Tech gunman was revealed—though no motivation for the shooting was yet revealed. On Saturday, police evicted the Occupy Boston protesters from Dewey Square and arrested around 40 people. A new report on rape in the military demonstrates the difficulty victims face in trying to seek justice, amid claims that it is estimated that a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire and that 37% of sexual trauma cases reported in the last year happened to men. On Monday, Occupy Wall Street protesters began a new “waterfront” campaign that aims to shut down ports up and down the west coast. On Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a part of a tough new immigration law in Alabama that would require residents to show proof of citizenship when registering mobile homes with the state; while a military drone used to monitor piracy off the East African coast crashed at an airport on the island nation of Seychelles. On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted in favour of a controversial legislation that would deny terror suspects, including US citizens, the right to trial and that could permit authorities to detain them indefinitely; while the US officially ended its war in Iraq with a ceremony at the Baghdad airport nearly nine years after it started; and the CDC issued a report that claimed that nearly 20% of all women in the US has been raped at least once.
  • On Wednesday, the body of a campaigner for indigenous rights was found the day after he was kidnapped in Mexico. On Sunday, one man was killed and nine others wounded after assailants tossed a bomb into a building where a cockfight was being held. On Monday, Mexican marines captured a founding member of the Zetas drug cartel, Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga in Cordoba, while a shootout just south of the Texas border killed 11 alleged gunmen and injured one soldier.
  • Cristina Kirchner was sworn in for a second four-year term as the President of Argentina on Saturday. Kirchner announced that she is intent on bolstering the country’s economy by promoting industry and consumer spending.
  • Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth which will grant nature the same rights and protections as humans intended to encourage a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions and reduce environmental destruction. The law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings.
  • On Saturday President Humala of Peru replaced his PM with a former army officer who was his instructor in the military amid fears that this could signal more authoritarian governing in the country. Some are concerned about the changes in the President’s political style, saying he went from a Chavista to a moderate leftist to a pro-business President and now a pro-military President.
  • Noriega has been returned to Panama following his extradition from France on Sunday. His critics have called upon the population to take to the streets to show their condemnation.
  • On Tuesday, Canada formally pulled out of the Kyoto protocol on climate change, only one day after an update was agreed upon amid international condemnation; while the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has decided to conduct an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls across the country over the past two decades that have faced a continued failure to take action by the Canadian government. A member of the opposition also expressed concern on Tuesday with the Conservative government’s agenda, warning that Canadians should worry that their rights will be trampled along with parliamentary democracy. On Wednesday, an MP in the House of Commons called the Environment Minister a “piece of sh*&” while he was responding to questions about the country’s withdraw from Kyoto– a sentiment I couldn’t agree more with at the moment—though he later apologized for his disrupting and unprofessional comment. A new report suggests that the dumping of sewage into a pumping station by De Beers helped to cause the recent housing crisis in the First Nations Attawapiskat community.
  • Brazil’s justice ministry submitted plans for a new disarmament drive to coincide with the 2014 World Cup football tournament. The government suggests swapping official footballs and shirts signed by World Cup teams, as well as free or discounted tickets for weapons handed into authorities, as well as possibly turning destroyed guns into goalposts. Many are less than satisfied, however, with FIFA’s entrance into the country, saying that their rights are being robbed by FIFA’s demands and massive public works projects that are tearing up their cities.
  • The President of Guatemala has reportedly apologized to the relatives of victims of the 1982 massacre committed during the civil conflict on Wednesday, in which Guatemalan soldiers killed more than 200 people.

Canadians unite. It’s time for accountable and transparent governing respectful of human rights.

I don’t usually delve too deeply into Canadian politics and legislation, but I’m starting to think that big change is in order in our system. It’s not a matter of removing Harper from office. Many aspects of our government are shameful but it lies not only with the one party. Separating into polarizing options is doing no one any good. We don’t need separation in politics, we need to come together to say that things must change. The whole system needs an overhaul for it is inequitable and flawed. It is undemocratic and that needs to change. We have an appointed representative of the British Monarchy overseeing and signing all our laws with enormous privileges. We have leaders who think they can all hijack politics to forward their own agenda. We have representatives who think they can hide their actions and be unresponsive to our inquiries even though they are there supposedly representing us. I’m sad to say that most of my letters to government go without response. Sometimes I do receive a stock form letter in return thanking me for my inquiry. I  try to always ask questions and to be respectful (it can be really difficult!), but in all my years of sending, I’ve received less than a handful of actual responses, and none that ever answered my inquiries.

Our government cannot continually ignore us if we do not let them. They are responsible to us and must hear our voices, even if they disagree with what is being said. They are supposed to answer to us, they are supposed to represent our interests– and how can they do that if they aren’t even listening to what we need and want. We are wasting money left, right and centre on personal power projects and padded bureaucracy. We are allowing corporations to take the reigns and whisper in the ears of our politicians with fantastic lures. This is not democracy people. My voice is not being heard, and I am not alone in this. I have yet to meet someone who I can say is truly confident in the government and not highly uncritical of at least parts of the political system. We do have to compromise and come up with a solution that works the best for everyone and we are not always going to like every aspect of it, but it should at the very least, be fair and open. We need to work together and open dialogue instead of shutting doors and walking away. There is a better system, but we will never know unless we make it happen ourselves.

The government reps talk of accountability and transparency– but I see none. I see sneaky manoeuvrings and a lot of cries of outrage from those who cry to cover up their own transgressions.

Now I’m nowhere close to being an expert in Canadian politics, but I know the system we have is undemocratic and unfair in many ways. No, I’m not a member of the Liberal Party. I’m not a Conservative. I’m not NDP or in the Green Party or Bloc Quebecois. I don’t subscribe to partisan politics mostly because I don’t like what any of them really have to say and find very few I’d ever fully put my name and confidence behind. I also believe that standing too firm on anything can quickly progress to fanaticism or hypocritical behaviour and I’m no fan of that either. I dread election time with petty attacking ads that skirt the candidate’s own goals, record or previous accountability. Didn’t their mothers ever teach them, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? To me, this attacking just shows they have probably have no moral ground to be running themselves and no real goals that they are going achieve other than their own personal agenda.

I want politicians to tell me what they are going to do for me, other Canadians and those abroad; how they are going to do it, with what money and then I want them to actually stick to it. Is that too much to ask for? What are they going to do to better my life and your life and everyone else’s lives? What are they going to do to represent my values that I care about in government? How are they going to better our international relations and increase all our well-being? How are they going better our human rights record and democracy?

I also want them to be held accountable for what they say.

If they make a promise– they had better follow through (or have an excellent, justifiable excuse for why it can no longer possibly happen!). If they don’t, then they deserve to be removed from office– immediately. Simple as that. Maybe massive turnover for a few sessions of those who faulted would set those who felt arrogant and power-hungry in place.

What I’m curious about is this, with all the wonders of technology that are now in existence– the massive connectivity of people that allows us to voice our opinions instantaneously with millions of people around the world in real time– do we really need these people to make all our decisions for us in the first place? Should they not be making more of an effort to reach out to us and discover what we want and need as Canadians? Is there not the possibility of real time discussions on issues initiated by the government to the people and polling that could be done continuously online in an open manner to have a better sense of real democracy ensuring the politicians must hear our voices? Could our politicians not actually engage with us about real issues and poll us on our feelings using different types of real-time systems? How much time do they spend each and every year actually working and listening to us and how much time do they spend scrambling trying to secure their own future positions? Why can we not use our own voices to make them listen to us. Use them to rally together and speak out against injustice? Find ways to connect and pressure governments to listen to our voice?

The voice of the people? Hardly. Sometimes I feel like our voices are lost. Or maybe there are only so few speaking.

I write letters and speak out, but do the powers that be actually listen? Do they actually track the number of responses and take notice? Does it get handed to them on a slip of paper by an aide and is then filed under “G” for “garbage”? Do they engage in conversation with those who they represent, or do they hide behind canned responses crafted and forwarded by aides?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. This means they are shutting down Parliament until March, dumping loads of Bills that are mid-progress and still in discussion and all committees that have been formed this session to discuss issues. Bills and committees that they have possibly spent months debating and working on and hammering out details that would make them more agreeable. They will now have to start over and all the Bills be re-introduced and discussed anew and they get paid for two months away from Parliament. This stands in our system as a legal political move so that if all business has been dealt with for the year, Parliament can rest early. It has happened an apparent 105 previous times as we are constantly told. It is now being used as a dodge so that the current government can give themselves time away from their shameful Afghan torture scandal and refresh the House with a crony Senate appointed so that they more likely to agree with the PM’s views and vote accordingly.

This government is not the first to do such. In fact, Stephen Harper himself shamed Chretien for using it years ago, saying “The government will prorogue the House so that it will not be held accountable for its shameful record”. The same is true now. Hide from torture Mr. Harper. Hide from possible international war crimes and take the time to hide the evidence and gain back public opinion with your lies. Stack your House full of cronies who will follow you down the rabbit hole dismantling our democratic rights. The people will not stand for it.

Or will they? Do they even care anymore? Is there even a responsible alternative to choose? It seems many politicians lie and do very little work, and the ones who do are lost in independence and discounted for going against the party-line. What’s worse is that we so often sit back while political atrocities occur. We let the MLAs work only 81 days since November of 2008 (must be nice!) and don’t seem to even notice or care. We ignore Bills and committees that are discussing our human rights and our futures and driving our Canadian values behind the voice of profit and corporate greed. We so often stay silent.

Why do we feel so apathetic? Why do we not speak up?

I think I know why. Because we are lost in it. There is so much going on around us and so many lies being told, we don’t know who to trust. We don’t understand how the system even works because it is so lost in legislative process that we can’t begin to comprehend or concentrate on it unless we are daily involved and we just don’t have the time or energy to care. We have no idea what’s really going on behind closed doors, what propaganda is being spouted, what back deals are happening, where endless budgets are really going, and whose friends stand to make great profits. There is little way to truly find out even if we wanted to. We have no idea even the political jargon behind the legislation when it sits in front of us in its pure form and have trouble understanding the point of some of the House debates we watch on tv. And so many newspaper articles barely touch on the full details of what’s happening preferring short slamming pieces that do not begin to really discuss the issues behind what’s going on or affected by legislation, and every channel spouts the same three lines instead of logically looking into arguments and doing real journalism. So instead of potentially looking foolish, or being called into a political argument we are afraid of losing, we stay silent. We sit back and not voice what we are really thinking and nothing changes. It’s not enough to vote. It’s not enough to write letters.

We need to not be afraid of our government. Our government needs to be afraid of us. If we do not understand what’s going on, we have the right ask our representatives about it and we deserve reasonable and clear answers that explains the details. We deserve the details of what’s going on with our money and our political power. We deserve the details of breaches of international law. We outnumber the politicians and our will and well-being should count. We need to act with non-participation if necessary and show them again that we have a voice that must be heard. Imagine if civil workers and unions all striked at outrages of democracy. Refused to work. They would need to listen or their economy would collapse. We have the capability of this power, and so often we forget, or can’t rally together enough to make that power felt. We let the status quo reign and stay silent while we lose more and more control over our own lives.

Why don’t we all take a prorogue from our own work until our government goes back to work. Shut down the system and tell them “no”. Be responsible and transparent.

Instead we attack each other with personal degradation and insults along party lines.

We need to engage in conversation and come together for all our futures. We are not that different, you and I. The more we talk, the more we can see this.

“You disagree, ok, well what part do you disagree with and why?”  If we logically break down the arguments and reveal real objections we can come to a compromise. We need to discuss alternatives. THERE ARE ALWAYS ALTERNATIVES! We need to compromise and discuss and come to reasonable solutions like adults.

Come on people! End rant. 🙂

Speak your voice:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

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Actions are taking place all over Canada. Check out http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227662474562 for details of rallies happening in your city or start your own!

The United Nations Human Development Report 2009: A Very Brief Look

Written by Heather Wilhelm

On Monday, the United Nations (UN) released their Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009, ranking 182 countries into their respective places based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Human Development Index (HDI) of these countries.  GDP is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.  In layman’s terms, it measures a country’s economic performance on a yearly basis.  Since its inception in 1990, the HDR has reached beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP and has created the HDI which measures three dimensions of human development:  life expectancy, literacy and gross enrolment in education, and having a decent standard of living.  While it is easy to argue that these measurements are not an effective way to gauge the success or failure of a country in a numbered ranking system (what of gender, social services, child welfare), for the purpose of this article, let’s just look at the gross difference between those living at the top (Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada ranked 1 through 4) and the bottom (Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Niger in spots 180-182).

While it should be noted that this Report was created using 2007 statistics before the current economic crisis, it is still very apparent that there are stark disparities between those countries at the top of the list, and those at the bottom.  For instance, the average life expectancy in Niger is 50 years, which is a full 30 years less than the life expectancy in 4th place Canada.  For every dollar earned in Niger, eighty-five (85) dollars is earned in 1st place Norway.  It is believed that more than half the population in the lowest ranking 24 countries are illiterate.  These kinds of statistics put on paper what most students of global studies already know – we do not live in a world of equality and justice.  These yearly reports simply reiterate that while the privileged can expect to enjoy a long life with education and excellent standards of living the poor seem to be destined to remain in a position of poverty, illiteracy and shortened life expectancies.  I’ve provided a very brief background on the UNHDR for you, and I encourage you to click the link that follows and read a bit more on your own…the results will hopefully shock you back into reality – I know it always does for me.

Click here to view the full Human Development Report 2009.

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A new Canadian army of peace?

Could it be possible?

Some current legislation could take serious steps towards the creation of a new more peaceful Canada. The Campaign to Establish a Canadian Department of Peace , MP Bill Siksay, many non-governmental organizations, academics and individuals have been proposing new ideas to help establish a more peaceful Canadian culture. How do we create a more peaceful society? A more peaceful image? A more peaceful value system in Canada? Some suggestions have been recently brought to the Canadian Parliament.

In May of this year, MP Bill Siksay introduced Bill C-390 to Parliament which would give conscientious objectors to war an opportunity to divert their tax funding away from military spending. Unfortunately, this Bill will never likely be incorporated into law, especially seeing as it has already been brought into Parliament four times and has not moved forward. It is more of a symbolic gesture and chance to open a dialogue on the issue of peace within the House.

On September 29th, Bill Siksay introduced Bill C-447, which would establish a Canadian Department of Peace to help to create a culture of peace in Canada instead of a culture of war. This department of peace would work in conjunction with the current structures and would dedicate itself to peacebuilding and the study of conditions conducive to peace both domestically and abroad. In essence it would work towards creating a culture of peace in Canada, expanding the scope of peace building, peace making and peace keeping missions of Canadians, and promoting education in peace.

There are many who think this is some huge joke and another pointless waste of taxpayer money, which to some extent I understand and agree with. Our current level of bureaucracy leaves many great ideas bound in discussion and paper-pushing, wasting money but producing few actual results. A Bill becoming a law doesn’t always ensure change– this I can agree on. What I don’t understand is the mentality that violence is the only way to meet violence and that it is not possible to change our culture (and other cultures) to become more peaceful.  I think it is important to entertain the reasons why some think this is impossible and I would love to hear thoughts on the matter who could enlighten me more towards this end.

I am not naive to violence and have experienced the world outside of Canadian safety. I have seen violence with my own eyes in many forms and have lived within cultures of fear and war. So it is not because I do not know about the realities of war that I suggest this is a positive thing.

I have read extensively over the last decade anthropological works that detail the changing cultural forms and structures of different populations over time. These have taught me that many things taken as innate in humanity are actually learned social behaviours. This includes the way we walk, the way we sleep, the way we give birth, everything we take for granted as natural and non-changeable (read Marcel Mauss “Techniques of the Body” if you’d like more insight into this). For example, while we here in North America tend to sleep in beds (on mattresses with pillows and blankets), some cultures actually sleep standing up, some cultures use neck benches, some sleep in hammocks. There is no one way to sleep. All of these “facts” that many of us take for granted as part of  humanity are not facts at all; rather they are culturally learned. The important lesson in this is that these natural “facts” can be changed if the culture itself changes because the people find the change somehow advantageous and worthy of passing on.

Violence is often thought to be an innate human trait. Much of violence, however, is culturally ingrained within us as learned social behaviour. Think about the cycle of domestic violence that we now see as a mostly a learned trait. A child that sees violence in a home thinks that this is normal and will grow up more likely to be violent as an adult. It works the same way on the national and international levels. If a society sees violence in their country, they begin to think that this is normal and will be more likely to be violent in their laws and actions. If the international community sees violence in the world, they begin to think that this is normal and will be more likely to be violent in their actions towards other countries and the international forums.

So can we lessen this massive cycle of violence in anyway? If so, how?

That’s what creating a Department of Peace could help to do. It’s not going to magically transform society into some beautiful utopia, but if we create a discussion on peace, an option for peace, education in peace; we help to create a culture of peace. The more we learn about peace, the more we accept it as culturally normal and find ways to interact with each other in non-violent ways.

The department of peace would not take away from the army. It would supplement it. It could allow for other solutions to be made so that we would not have to send our troops into dangerous situations in the first place and spare their families their loss of life in battle. How’s that for supporting our troops?

It could give another voice a chance to speak. The culture of war has taken over our country, even though the majority of Canadians (69%) consider peacekeeping a defining characteristic of Canada (p.5).  Our army has been given almost an endless budget in recent years to the detriment of our international image, and our national security. Instead of being seen as a neutral party in the world, we now are now classed among the world’s aggressors. This puts all of us in danger of retaliation. It also creates a culture of war and violence that will only be reproduced throughout our culture and among other cultures.

I for one, would like to thank Mr. Siksay for bringing this discussion to light and for trying to make Canada have more of a culture of peace. If you agree, you can thank him too at Siksay.B@parl.gc.ca. I urge you to please write to your MPs and tell them what you think of these Bills and if you would like to live in a culture of peace instead of a culture of war. If you need suggestions on what to write, please feel free to email me at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com.

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Cambodia’s Trouble with Landmines – is a Brighter Future Possible?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

For my birthday last week, my boyfriend bought me a beautiful necklace from a great fair trade store called Ten Thousand Villages.  The necklace is called a Peace Dove Bombshell Necklace, and upon reading the literature that came with it, I learned that this piece of jewellery was made in Cambodia by a group of artisans who had formed an organization called Rajana.  Rajana is completely owned and operated by the Khmer people of Cambodia, and offer fair salaries, education, interest-free loans and many other benefits to their workers.  They are working to create beautiful art by turning the ravages of decades of war and tragedy into prosperity for their people.  The Peace Dove Bombshell Necklaces are made from the remains of land mines that litter the land of Cambodia and have led the country to have one of the highest numbers of amputee populations in the world.  This birthday gift – as beautiful as it is – tells the story of a horrific past and the ever-present danger that face the people of Cambodia.

Between 1975 and 1979 the ruling party in Cambodia was a totalitarian government called the Khmer Rouge.  The party was led by Pol Pot and believed in extreme Communist principles including social engineering and agricultural reform.  Their radical social reform process was carried out by deporting all the inhabitants of major cities to the countryside where they combined populations with farmers and were forced into labour in the fields.  Anyone suspected of capitalism (a group that included teachers, professors, urban city dwellers, anyone connected to foreign governments, and even people who simply wore reading glasses) was arbitrarily executed, tortured or detained.  There is a large range of estimated deaths in the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, but most estimates but the death toll at 1.5 million people.  This included those executed by the government, as well as those who died of starvation from lack of experience growing food, and those who died of preventable diseases because of the government’s insistence that westernized medicine be kept out of the country.  Money was abolished; schools, hospitals, banks, industrial and service companies were closed; books were burned and as mentioned earlier, almost the entire intellectual population of the country was massacred.  Most notable in the long list of treacherous crimes performed by the Khmer Rouge was the separation of children from their parents (who were believed to be tainted by capitalism) and their subsequent brainwashing (children were often given leadership roles in torture and execution) into this dangerous form of socialism.  While the Khmer Rouge were toppled from government in 1979, the group itself survived as a group into the 1990s, causing death and destruction throughout these decades.

It is estimated that four to six million landmines were laid in Cambodia over the decades of war fought there, and every year hundreds of Cambodians fall victim to the lasting effect of these forgotten weapons.  In a population of approximately 12 million people, it is estimated that more than 40,000 amputees are living, or one in every 290 Cambodians.  These amputees are chastised by their peers and have been forgotten by their government, often having to try and make a living selling merchandise on the streets for small commissions.  There are many active mine removal organizations that work within Cambodia that are trying to clear mines in an effort to make the country safer, but this sizable job is nowhere near completion leaving the citizens of Cambodia in constant danger or death or amputation.

Organizations like Rajana are imperative to the turnaround of countries like Cambodia that are suffering the after effects of decades long war, as they play a role in creating job opportunities and education for its citizens.  By providing fair wages, health care, education and more to their employees Rajana is working to create a different future for Cambodia.  Aside from creating a better social welfare system, it is imperative that the international community become active in the banning of land mines and cluster bombs.  The Ottawa Treaty also known as the Mine Ban Treaty became effective on March 1, 1999, and as of early 2009 had 156 parties to the Treaty.  Once a country has signed, they are required to cease production of anti-personnel mines as well as destroy any stockpile of mines within four years (except for a small number they are allowed to retain for training purposes).  Thirty-seven countries have not signed the Treaty, including the People’s Republic of China, India, Russia and the United States of America, all of whom are some of the largest producers and carry some of the largest stockpile of anti-personnel landmines.  By refusing to sign this Treaty, some of the most powerful countries in the world, namely the United States and China, are perpetuating a problem that has caused countless deaths and produced mass destruction.

The Peace Dove Bombshell Necklace is just one small way that we can make a difference in the eradication of land mines while at the same time allowing us to contribute to the social development of a nation.  A portion from the proceeds of every necklace sold between the International Day of Peace (September 21) and Remembrance Day (November 11) goes to Mines Action Canada while the remainder goes to the artisans making a change through the Rajana organization.  While I hazard to use this site to advertise for companies, Ten Thousand Villages has spent decades providing international communities with a venue to sell fair trade items and I feel their work should be recognized.  If you’re interested in learning more about Ten Thousand Villages and their fair trade items, visit them at www.tenthousandvillages.ca.  To learn more about the work of Mines Action Canada, visit them at www.minesactioncanada.org.  While it is often hard to read about the horrors occurring in other countries, at times I feel our minds can be eased by trying to make any kind of difference, however small or insignificant it may seem.

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The Global Hunger Crisis – Why Haven’t We Made More Progress Towards the Millenium Development Goals?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

It is so easy to forget about the true state of the world when we live our day to day lives just going through the motions.  Here are some statistics to shock you back into reality:

~        1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

~        More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

~        Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; and

~        Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.

When I read statistics like these, I actually find it very hard to believe that they are real.  How is it possible that I’ve lived 28 years never going hungry, and yet somehow during my regular 8 hour work day more than 4,800 children die of hunger-related diseases?  Women and children the world over continue to be the most disenfranchised individuals on the planet, and even the most well-meaning organizations, like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), are unable to help effectively.  A recent report from Reuters states that world food aid is at an all-time low despite the fact that the number of hungry people in the world soared to its highest level ever, with more than 1 billion people classified as lacking food.  The WFP has barely enough funding this year to help a fraction of these people, which is made more horrifying by the fact that it would take a mere 0.01% of the global financial crisis bailout package from the United States to solve the hunger crisis.  Priorities need to shift in Washington and in neighbouring developed countries, with the eradication of poverty and starvation not only in “third world” countries, but also right in their own backyards moving to the top of the list.

As per the WFP’s website, one of the possible solutions to the world hunger crisis is the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which are:

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

These eight development goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The importance of the implementation of the MDG’s cannot be overlooked, but considering we are more than halfway through the fifteen year period that was allotted to make these development goals a reality, how much has really been accomplished?  If the WFP can say that 2009 saw more hungry people than ever before, clearly something is being done wrong.  In an attempt to look into progress reports, I found most sites to be sorely lacking (for instance, the United Nations Development Programme website’s section entitled “Implementation of the MDG’s” last shows an update in 2005), which is beyond discouraging.  The eight goals listed above are so basic, so simple and so easily achieved that is simply doesn’t make sense why there hasn’t been more progress reported.  As a society, we need to hold our government accountable for the commitments they made to the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken people of the world in 2000, and ensure that they are meeting the requirements set out for each country in helping to bring the Millennium Development Goals to fruition by the year 2015.  If you want to make sure they are held accountable, speak up, tell people what you’ve read here and make your voice heard.  Local government representatives aren’t just elected to sit around and look pretty – they are supposed to carry our voices and concerns up to Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If there’s one country in the world that exemplifies the spirit of helping others, it’s Canada, so let’s make sure when 2015 rolls around, our country has done everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

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Madagascar.

Depending on how involved you are in world affairs, you may or may not have heard about what’s currently going on in Madagascar. Unfortunately, the news has been pretty lax in covering this African island nation’s recent coup d’etat and political uprisings.

Since March 21st of this year, thirty-four year old former mayor, leftist politician and television station owner Andry Rajoelina has been sworn in as president of the Malagasy government (government of Madagascar). Rajoelina came to office after a coup toppled the elected president Marc Ravalomanana from his term, forcing his exile to Swaziland. Rajoelina plans to change the country’s constitutional requirement that a president be a minimum of 40 years old and has claimed that he will hold elections within 2 years time. He has spouted words of democracy, while dismissing the elected Ravalomanana’s calls for a referendum to test his support among the population to help stop the uprising.

In December of 2008, Rajoelina’s outspoken criticism of Ravalomanana led to the closure of Rajoelina’s Viva TV for “security” reasons after a 45 minute broadcast of former president Didier Ratsiraka called for a coup against Ravalomanana. This move was condemned by Reporters Without Borders and instigated massive protests and violence in the country. Rajoelina is said to have called for more anti-government protests after the worst day of street violence in years, only increasing the violence and anger.

Canada’s interests in Madagascar represent the largest category of foreign investment in the country, surpassing French interests with almost $3 billion dollars invested. Toronto’s Sherritt International holds the largest stake in the world’s biggest nickel mine in Ambatovy, as well as large stakes in the country’s cobalt mines. Rajoelina vows his new administration will review all foreign investment contracts to ensure Madagascar is receiving a fair share of the revenues. Somehow, despite the political violence that has been happening in 2009, Madagascar moved up 7 rankings in the World Bank’s 2009 “Doing Business Report” from 151st in 2008 to 144th out of 181 countries.

American Exxon Mobil has operations in Madagascar drilling for oil offshore. Several mining companies have been exploring Madagascar looking for gold, gemstones, nickel and bauxite. The British based mining company Rio Tinto has opened a $775 million ilmenite mine in the south of the country for the production of titanium. Huge investment has recently been poured into the country, almost all for extraction purposes.

Canada has responded to the current political crisis in Madagascar, not by condemning the actions as the European Union, African Union, South African Development Community, United States and many other organizations and countries have; but by appealing for calm and dialogue. Canada did not recognize the current political actions as a coup, nor have they stopped aid or suggested sanctions on the country. Perhaps this has to do with the high level of Canadian investment in Madagascar, but so far, Canada has remained rather tight-lipped on the situation. 70% of Malagasy government spending is currently funded by outside donors, meaning international sanctions have the possibility of going a long way.

Massive protests have left hundreds dead and thousands injured over the last couple of months. Many protesters have been killed by security forces who have fired upon them with tear gas and bullets. Riots and violence have been spurred by these actions. The future remains incredibly unstable for Madagascar.

Coups have been overtaking modern African democracies as of late, with Mauritania and Guinea joining Madagascar in this type of political unrest over the last year alone. The rush for democracy has left politically unstable governments, and corrupt powers vying to sell off their country’s natural resources through privatization schemes introduced with the push for “democracy”. The atrocities currently being committed in Madagascar are said by Rajoelina to be happening in the name of democracy. These atrocities must not go unnoticed, as they have little resemblance to any kind of democracy.

Madagascar remains an incredibly poor country despite its abundant natural resources and tremendous beauty. It is home to some of the most diverse species on the planet, many that cannot be found elsewhere. The lack of infrastructure and poor governance leaves the country unable to transcend its poverty. It is the people who suffer and it is the people (and not the profit to be had) who we should be directing our vision towards.

The normal news media has been vague on Madagascar, so I have taken to following the numerous blogs and tweets on the situation for more insight. Doing so has revealed a larger picture of devastation. Even children are protesting in the streets, throwing stones at their opposing protestors. Independent bloggers have been told to remove any pictures or material offensive to the new government, severely curtailing freedoms of speech. Thousands meet almost daily in the streets to protest. Civil war is not far off as the population divides itself further and further. The angry sentiments can be felt in many of the culturally violent comments. Divisions appear to be widening.

The destruction of several cyclones in the past few years has left thousands in the country homeless and many dead or injured. In fact, relief efforts were hindered for the January 2009 Cyclone Fanele because of the political uprisings, leaving those affected completely reliant on the World Food Programme and international assistance for survival. International assistance becomes more and more difficult to deliver as violence intensifies.

What will become of Madagascar? Only time will tell, but certainly, we in Canada will have an impact through our investments and we must be aware the effect this will have on the population. Our policies should reflect the concerns of the population and not just the profit to be had here. Our extraction of natural resources must not cause greater destruction and must be obtained legally and fairly. Canada must not have a hand in supporting warlords, dictators or despots and must stop contributing to war and destruction through our policies or investments.


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Madagascar

New Colonies of Death: despair, anarchy and plunder in the Congo.

This is an essay I wrote for a class last year that talked about the conflict in the DRC. It discusses the human rights abuses happening, the main parties involved, and the complicit governments and companies who have a hand in ensuring the abuses continue.

“The deadliest war since [WW2] is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo… the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you. …These resources were not being stolen for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered.” – Johan Hari, commentator at The Independent (Uhururadio.com, 2008)

 

The massive human rights violations happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being perpetuated by a variety of complex and inter-weaving actors both locally and internationally. Multiple militias, armies, and security forces roam the country, wreaking havoc on villages and innocents as they pass. Calculating the exact numbers of victims is currently nearly impossible as many people are simply missing, probably decomposing in the forest, or in mass graves, with no surviving family members left to miss them, and incomplete national registration processes that didn’t even know they existed in the first place. The continual conflict and insecurity also makes it next to impossible for monitoring missions or human rights observers to do their job. As many as 45,000 people are dying per month of war-related causes. These deaths include not only direct violence, but also disease, starvation, and malnutrition (among other things) brought upon by the violence.  These statistics do not even begin to address the psychological abuses, physical abuses, sexual violence, tortures, displacements and destruction of property, let alone the severe and lasting political, social and economic effects that the continued violence has on the country itself.

The DRC is in desperate need of intervention, security, regulation, mediation, negotiations, assistance and structures to help it to stabilize itself before more people are endangered. Too many of the population have been living in constant fear, terror and frustration, in the face of daily bloodshed, destruction and death. They have lived in a virtual hell for over a decade, mostly ignored by the outside world.  We as Canadians are helping to ensure this conflict continues, despite the outward veneer of philanthropy our government and our media would have us believe. The individuals of the world need to wake up and realize the connection that exists between their own lives and the rest of humanity. The media of the “global north” mostly ignore the cries of Africa, and most definitely ignore the connections Canadians have to the bloodshed. Resistance to these atrocities does exist, in the form of certain media, academic scholarship, human rights organizations, awareness campaigns, and individual actions. The possibility for peace in the DRC exists, but it will take an intense combined international and local acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, the complex institutions that reinforce it, and the support and effort necessary to stop it.

The Crimes

Several former militia leaders have been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in the DRC and have warrants out for their arrest (ICC, 2004). The charges include massacres of civilians, systematic rape, torture, murder of UN peacekeepers; along with multiple other war crimes and crimes against humanity including enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to actively participate in hostilities. Among those charged are Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former VP of the transitional government of the DRC), Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots), General Laurent Nkunda (former leader of the Rally for Congolese Democracy), Bosco Ntaganda (military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of People), Germain Katanga (leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri), and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu (of the National Integrationist Front). Many other regional parties, such as Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are also guilty of war crimes in the DRC (Faul, 2008). Many leaders of the LRA have also been charged by the ICC, but not in connection to crimes committed in the DRC. Although these parties are guilty of numerous atrocities and wanted by the international community, the lack of enforcement capabilities at the ICC means that many of these criminals may remain elusive for years to come (Allen, 2006; 4-9).

The government in the case of the DRC is also guilty, as is its army and its president Joseph Kabila. Although not yet (and probably never to be) charged by the ICC for mostly political reasons, Kabila, his army and his government have been accused of rampant human rights abuses. These include the presence of children in the ranks of the DRC armed forces, the new recruitment of child soldiers, abuses against street children, as well as sexual violence, torture, disappearances, mass murders, abuse of civilians, and the arbitrary arrest and detention without charge of children allegedly associated with armed opposition groups (HRW, August 22, 2008).  Many of these abuses are in strict contradiction to The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHCR, 1989) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948); and are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past 3 months alone, the government has been charged with the murder of at least 20 civilians, including 5 children (HRW, November 7, 2008), and wounding at least 50 civilians by direct violence (HRW, November 7, October 30, 2008). In this same time period, they have been accused of numerous rapes, robberies, as well as the arbitrary detention and subsequent torture of at least 40 Tutsi and other alleged sympathizers of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda (HRW, October 30, 2008). Roadblocks set up by the government have prevented many fleeing citizens from escaping the violence, often forcing them to pay a “tax” or bribe or give up their electoral (and identity) cards to pass through (HRW, September 25, 2008). The government has circumvented the Rome Statute and its obligations to arrest and surrender four leaders of the LRA, instead sending them into the Sudan (which refuses to cooperate with the ICC) where they are sure to evade justice (Clifford, 2007).  The government has also been accused of colluding with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda or FDLR (a rebel militia), most notably over the control of the lucrative mineral trade in North Kivu (The Economist, Oct 18, 2008; 57).

More than 20 militias roam the DRC, bringing with them intense violence and destruction. The Hutu Interhamwe militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda have mostly transformed into the FDLR now fighting in the northeastern DRC. The FDLR is guilty of mass human-rights violations, ranging from mass murder, to public gang raping and sexual violence, torture, disappearances, destruction of property (burning entire villages to the ground), and other abuses against the civilian population in the DRC. In only the past 3 months, at least 100 civilians have been killed and more than 200 have been wounded by the direct violence of rebel forces (HRW, November 7, 2008). Nkunda’s forces also encouraged the town of Rutshuru on October 28th, 2008 to dismantle displacement camps where more than 26,000 people had sought refuge (HRW, November 7, 2008). The FDLR was accused of deliberately killing at least 20 civilians and wounding another 33 in Kiwanja on November 4th, 2008 during a battle for the town and the “cleanup” operations that followed. The rebels ordered the population of some 30,000 inhabitants to leave the town, while systematically seeking out and killing particularly men, who they accused of supporting their enemies (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Congolese government was supposed to have disarmed the FDLR according to a 2008 peace agreement, but has made no effort to do so thus far (HRW, Oct, 30, 2008).

The Mai Mai, a group of traditional Congolese local security forces that operate inside the DRC, support the government by working as guerillas inside territory held by antigovernment forces. They have also been accused of similar atrocities on the civilian population (Ware, 2001), including recruiting at least 37 children into militias in the last week of October 2008 (HRW, November 7, 2008), and deliberately killing at least 6 civilians in Kiwanja on November 4-5, 2008 (HRW, November 6, 2008). Many of the neighboring African governments (including the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) are guilty of crimes within the borders of the DRC. They claim to be protecting their borders from invasion by DRC-based armed groups which legitimizes (in their minds) sending troops to these locations (Essick, 2001).  The list of atrocities committed by all parties is incredibly extensive and entirely incomplete, as the war has raged on for over a decade and the almost non-existent infrastructure makes proper investigating of crimes almost impossible. War-related deaths make it even harder to establish direct guilt of parties. If these numbers were included as specific crimes by individuals, as many as 45,000 people are dying each month because of direct violence, or disease, malnutrition, and starvation brought on by dislocation because of violence (Reuters, 2008). Reports come from a variety of sources including the millions of surviving victims who were first-hand witnesses; the UN’s monitoring mission, human rights organizations, official government reports, NGOs and other organizations, radio, blogs, and newspaper accounts.

The Conflict

            The DRC’s conflict is intimately connected to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda’s post-war Tutsi government invaded the Congo (then named Zaire) in 1996 to pursue extremist Hutu militias and helped to overthrow leader Mobutu Sese Seko from his thirty two year rule. The Rwandans installed rebel leader Laurent Kabilla, only to later turn against him when he was accused of stirring hatred towards Tutsis in the Congo. Rwanda intervened to try and remove him from power with the help of the Ugandans, and ignited a new regional conflict as Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe joined forces with Kabilla to fight off the Rwandans. Laurent Kabilla was assassinated in January of 2001, and replaced by his son Joseph Kabilla, who set up a power-sharing government and began “negotiating peace”[1] with some of the parties. He was eventually elected as President in 2006 (Reuters, 2008).

            The DRC’s infrastructure is in shambles. At least 5.4 million people are dead since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease, and at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped (although the actual number is probably significantly higher than this; Reuters, 2008). This conflict has been called the worst humanitarian crisis ever, with armies and militias increasingly recruiting children for their fighting. A January 2008 peace deal signed between the government and 22 of the rebel groups (but clearly excluding others such as the FDLR; The Economist, October 18th, 2008; 57) has not been able to contain the violence (Reuters, 2008).

Push for Democracy

            The first “post-war” elections in the DRC were delayed six times in two years, eventually happening in July of 2006 (Clark, 2007; 30). Much of the violence in North and South Kivu during that period was attributed to Nkunda’s rebel forces trying to increase military and political power. Nkunda represents the minority Tutsi (ethnic group) population in the DRC and his attacks have helped to increase anti-Tutsi sentiment while increasing support for Kabila across the country. The elections process was fraught with difficulty as over 26 million voters had to be registered, in an area with very little infrastructure[2] or government capability. The 2006 elections were the most expensive in history with the UN and the European Union (EU) providing almost 500 million US dollars for logistics. The voter turnout was around 75%, and international observers reported only isolated cases of voting irregularities and violence near polling stations. The elections were proclaimed an incredible success, despite the fact that many of the electoral candidates were rebel leaders still involved in violence across the country (Clark, 2007; 32). Joseph Kabila won the elections, but without the majority, requiring a runoff election in October. The runoff occurred between Kabila and his closest rival, Bemba, who was accused by the ICC a year later for crimes against humanity. Two days after the first round of elections, the forces of Bemba and Kabila fought in the streets (Clark, 2007; 33), as if nothing had changed. The war raged on, despite this new found “democracy”, even though the world subsequently forgot about the people of the Congo. The elections processes seem to have been more meaningful to the “western” world who still like to describe them as a “success” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57) than to local actors who know the truth.

Trade, Investment and Debt

The World Bank (WB) has classified the DRC under its Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), making it eligible (according to the WB) to reduce the constraints on economic growth and poverty reduction imposed by the DRC’s debt-services burdens (WB, 2006). In reality, the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are providing the human-rights abusing government of the Congo with a continual supply of funding that will eventually be extracted from the people (and not the borrowing government) through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One of the conditions of SAPs require the roll-back of state services, such as health care, education, etc. to generate funds to begin repaying debt. The continued financial support for a proven corrupt and human-rights abusing government by the WB and IMF is appalling, especially since it will be the poor and marginalized and not the borrowing government who will be the ones to suffer the effects. Stabilization and welfare spending targets required by the IMF were completely ignored by the Congolese government because of their need for increased military spending (EN, 2008). This internationally funded money then was used to finance the atrocities of the Congolese government instead of its proposed aim to help the people. The IMF and the WB have continued funding, despite receiving reports on the Congolese government’s misspending, and so are complicit in the crimes (EN, 2008). The effect of the WB and IMF’s policy has been said to be “legaliz(ing) the corporate looting of the Congo” with “foreign companies pay(ing) nothing to the government for lucrative mining concessions” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)

The Congo has fallen on the Inward FDI Potential Index, which ranks countries by how they do in attracting inward direct investment, from 73rd (out of 140 economies) in 1988 to 139th (out of 141 economies) in 2006 (UNCTAD, 2006). The lack of basic infrastructure such as roads or railways combined with continual conflict make investment and trades a difficult venture for many local and international corporations despite the fact that the DRC does have a major deep-water port that is currently not being utilized and is abundant in natural resources. The Congo was ranked 175th out of 178 countries on the Doing Business report of 2007. The institutional environment is not conducive to business, with the country’s financial sector completely underdeveloped. Real growth in trade of goods and services declined significantly in 2007 from 11.1% in 2005-6 to only 0.7% in 2007, giving the DRC the rank of 151st out of 160 countries in terms of real growth in trade (WB, 2008).

 

The Complicit

The governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are all accused of supporting rebel groups that fight within the DRC. The government of Rwanda refuses to allow the FDLR’s demands to return to Rwanda and transform themselves into a legitimate political party, and also refuses to negotiate or participate in peace talks with the group. The UN and other governments who backed a January 2008 peace deal addressed Nkunda’s rebellion, but offered no forum for talks with the FDLR, ignoring one of the key actors in the crisis and ensuring the conflict’s continuation (The Economist, October 18, 2008; 57).

The governments of Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan, Namibia, China, Canada, the United States and several other countries are complicit in their support for the human-rights abusing Congolese government.  The United States, along with supporting the human-rights abusing DRC government, paints the war in the Congo as a French issue, refusing to send troops or support the mission in the Congo until France does something about Iraq (Cowan, 2005). Owing over a billion dollars (or 68% of the regular budget arrears) to the UN, the United States’ lack of financial commitment means fewer troops and support for UN missions, which could help alleviate the suffering of the people of the DRC (Global Policy Forum, 2008). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2005 pleaded with member states for assistance to stop escalating violence in northeastern DRC. Only Uruguay responded, with 750 troops to replace over 5,000 departing Ugandans (Cowan, 2005). Departing a few years later, the Uruguayans were eventually replaced by an Indian contingent of 4,500, only after the Senegalese refused to move in (IANS, 2008).  The international community has failed to prevent these atrocities by their continual inaction and lack of full support for peace processes and so is complicit in the atrocities (Cowan, 2005).

Several other international governments are also guilty of complicity in the crimes of the DRC. The government of Libya provides arms and logistical support to Congolese government forces, while North Korea sent advisors to train government troops. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all have supported the government of DRC, financially, logistically and in arms (Ware, 2001). The government of China made a deal with the Congolese government worth $9 billion to get access to several of Congo’s minerals in return for building a highway and a railroad in the Congo (Faul, November 3, 2008). The international community has failed to properly respond to the crisis. International humanitarian aid to the Congo was $188 million or only $3.23 per person in 2004 (with a death toll of about 5.4 million people). Contrast this to the aid received for the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (with a death toll of about 150,000) which netted over $2 billion in humanitarian aid from the international community (IRC, 2004). International humanitarian aid has been controversial. In fact, the massive influx of humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in the Congo following the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been cited as actually strengthening or starting many militias who are now committing atrocities in the DRC (Clark, 2007)

Perhaps surprisingly, Canadians are among these guilty actors. Many Canadians are guilty for purchasing or using products[3] that have components that were possibly sourced in the war zones of the DRC and obtained through illegal or unethical means that support human-rights violating actors who are ensuring the war continues in this region. The retail companies which sell these products are guilty of complicity, along with the individual buyers, buyer companies, distributors and marketers who buy, sell, advertise or use these products. 

The DRC is home to 80% of the world’s supply of coltan (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore that is processed into tantalite and used in many electronic devices (Dizolele, 2007), and currently supplies at least 15% of the world’s coltan needs (Essick et al., 2001). The world’s largest supply of cobalt is also found and mined in the DRC (Cobalt Development Institute, 2008) along with wolframite, tungsten ore,  tin, and several other minerals (Nolen, 2008). Human Rights Watch researchers claim “there is a direct link between human rights abuses and the exploitation of resources in areas in the DRC occupied by Rwanda and Uganda” (Essick, 2001). Rebels strategically attack coltan-rich villages in the North, causing environmental destruction in the Congo’s protected national parks that have nearly decimated the gorilla populations, and whose profits fund rebel and government projects that are responsible for mass murder, rape, torture, and a plethora of other atrocities in the DRC (Essick, 2001).  

Many of these minerals are smuggled out of the Congo into neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to export onto the global market. This is indicated by the increase in official statistics on the export of coltan for these countries following their occupation in northeastern Congo (Essick, 2001), and their official export statistics which include minerals not found natively in these countries (Nolen, 2008). Profits from smuggling often go directly into the pockets of warring parties. Officials and miners would seem to corroborate these accounts, with statements such as, “The armed groups are all involved in mining – even our Congolese armed forces,” and “The FDLR are the ones controlling the coltan mines and they are very strong”. The mining ministry claims that the FDLR controls at least 20 percent of mining in the eastern area of the country (Nolen, 2008). Rebel groups often use forced labor, illegal monopolies and civilian murder to extract these resources, earning up to $20 million a month in profits, making continued war to ensure access to resources incredibly lucrative (Essick, 2001).

The Congolese government and armed forces also serve to profit.  Along with taking bribes at numerous military and police checkpoints that allow smuggled minerals through, the government has also been accused of using “taxation” of minerals to line their own pockets. The armed forces have even been accused of forcing the local population to mine its cassiterite mine at Bisie, as essentially slave labor (Nolen, 2008). This contravenes Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that no one shall be held in slavery (UN, 1948). The profits from mining, either through bribery or “taxation” of the trade means there is little incentive to move against the rebels and actually stop the war. The cost to bribe a border guard (who are rarely paid their official $40 a month salary) to smuggle a shipment of minerals across the borders is about $350, in contrast to the government’s “taxation” on minerals which makes legal exportation of minerals cost upwards of $17,000 per shipment. Occupation of land by the army is more “acceptable” under war, so mines are simply taken over and exploited. The governments then, along with individual soldiers often serve to profit from continuing conflict. Businesses dealing with the smuggled goods also have little incentive to stop, with statements such as, “it’s not as easy as, ‘get out of the business and wait.’ There’s a huge investment here: half a million dollars” (Nolen, 2008).

Although many of these companies claim to have “ethical business practices”, they are complicit in the war crimes in the DRC by not insisting on regulations that prevent using war-related minerals in their business practices. Tracing the supply chain for coltan is deemed by the mining industry as nearly impossible, as most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ends up in electronic devices (Essick, 2001). This is interesting considering the Kimberly process was able to overcome this to make regulations in the diamond industry to prevent many violence-related diamonds from entering the marketplace (Kimberly Process, 2008). Most mining in the DRC is done by peasants attracted to the possibility of making a few dollars a day, including children with estimates that suggest that 30 percent of schoolchildren in northeastern Congo have forgone schooling to dig for coltan. This ore is collected by local traders (often rebels), who sell to regional traders located in Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda alone, more than 20 international mineral trading companies have been reported by the UN as importing minerals from the Congo. These import companies sell to companies such as AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, Kemet, NEC and Vishay, which manufacture capacitors. These capacitors then go into products manufactured by Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia and Solectron, to name a few. Many of the companies claimed to have asked their suppliers whether the minerals supplied to them were mined in the DRC, but the CEO of AVX, Dick Rosen says they “don’t have an idea where (the metal) comes from. There’s no way to tell. I don’t know how to control it”. Epcos denies using conflict resources, despite the fact that their own suppliers A&M Minerals and Metals claim they “couldn’t tell you for 100 percent that this material (from Uganda) didn’t come from the Congo. It could have been smuggled across the border” (Essick, 2001).

At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the DRC by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo” (UNSC, 2002) and have yet to be further investigated or punished for these crimes. Anvil Mining, a Canadian copper mining company working in the DRC, was accused of providing logistics to troops in the massacre of close to 100 people; a charge that they vehemently argue was accidental, unknown at the time and forced upon them by local legalities (Anvil Mining, 2008). All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some were even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources. Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining business, is supplied by and partnered with Adastra mining, which received a one billion dollar deal for control of mines in the Congo at Kolwezi (for cobalt) and Kipushi (for zinc) from Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (ADFL) before they were officially in power and in legal control of said resources (Snow and Barouski, 2006).

The Canadian government is guilty for supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF. They are also guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws (NRC, 2008) and for not further investigating and punishing those implicated in the UN report. The Canadian government is also guilty of refusing the UN’s request for peacekeeping assistance and aid, and instead funneling these resources for the continued illegal war in Afghanistan. Canada has all but abandoned its peacekeeping missions (with less than 56 troops worldwide), despite the fact that peacekeeping was recognized as a strong defining Canadian value by 69% of Canadians in a national survey (Staples, 2006). Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo to help stop the human rights abuses, but the responsibilities to the international community are being ignored by the current Canadian government.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada’s lead agency for development assistance abroad, committed $33 million for projects and initiatives in the DRC in 2006-7. These projects focused mostly on political and economic governance and access to primary health care (CIDA, 2008), and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “(Reuters, 2008). The situation has gotten so bad in recent weeks that thousands of local Congolese demonstrators have taken to physically attacking the UN compound in Goma for what they say is the UN’s failure to protect them against rebel attacks and provide them with the basic necessities of life (AP, 2008). The UN says its first priority is re-supplying clinics that have been looted by retreating government troops. Unfortunately, this means that refugees who haven’t eaten for days are met with shipments of soap and jerry cans (to prevent disease) while they wait for death by starvation. These refugees have recently taken up with the demonstrators in violently attacking anything identified with the UN (Faul, November 3, 2008).

The Silence of the Media

              The mainstream media has largely ignored the Congolese conflict, instead favoring to spotlight more “popular” conflicts and issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur. Stories about the DRC are mostly relegated to a small column (of less than 1,000 words) in the middle of the paper, or a quick blurb on the news, that is shorter than the laptop commercial that follows it. None of the stories collected during the past 3 months about the Congo appeared on the front page of the paper, even though the Congo is arguably the most violent conflict and largest humanitarian crisis currently happening in the world. In three major Canadian newspapers (The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Toronto Star) the conflict in the Congo was reported only about half as much as the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq[4], despite the fact that the death tolls are considerably higher in the Congo (several hundred thousand in Afghanistan and Iraq versus the 5.4 million deaths in the DRC). The Congo has just recently started to become the “issue of the moment” and is receiving slightly more press than normal, but still nowhere near the amount that stories about Iraq or Afghanistan receive in the mainstream media. Most of this press focuses on the victims, projects, aid or organizations working to make a difference, or the “tribal” or “ethnic” components fueling the crimes and not the resource extraction or international complicity in the crimes. During the chaotic month of August 2008, the DRC began descending into the highest level of violence it had seen in many years. Despite this fact, the Economist, the Globe and Mail and the National Post did not even mention the fighting in the Congo once during this period, except to mention mineral extraction projects and the profits they were earning (Globe and Mail, August 12, 2008).

              The media keeps highlighting the “successful elections” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), talking about the DRC with almost surprise that peace has not yet been found despite its new “democracy”. The journalists predict that things will soon get worse “fear(ing) that huge, frightening massacres could start again…”. This despite the fact that hundreds of people had been slaughtered, assaulted or dislocated in singular events during that same month, which many would consider to be massacres (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Economist reported that more than one hundred thousand people were forced to flee their homes since mid-August of 2008 because of escalating violence (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), even though they themselves had not reported a single thing about this violence until October.

              Almost surprisingly, the Globe and Mail seems to portray rebel leader Nkunda as almost caring in contrast to incapable UN troops. Statements such as “(Nkunda) declared he was opening a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to get through and refugees to get home. To ease food shortages, rebels… allowed farmers to reach Goma in trucks packed with (food)” and “rebels seem to be holding a self-imposed ceasefire” (Faul, November 3, 2008) are found in the same article which criticizes the UN’s inability to secure food for refugees.  Nothing was mentioned of the UN member states’ lack of financial or troop support, the main reason for the food shortages among the refugees. Most of the Globe and Mail articles completely ignored the resource components to the war, or mentioned them only in passing, such as “(the peace process) threatened to cut off warlords and neighboring-country governments from their access to the illegal mineral trade” (Nolen, October 18, 2008). The majority of columns that did mention the resource component mentioned only the warlords or neighboring government’s role and not that of international companies or governments that are also guilty. One article was even titled “How Rebels Profit From Blood and Soil” (Nolen, October 29, 2008; emphasis added), entirely ignoring the international component. Often, the “festering hatreds left over from the 1994 Rwandan genocide” are cited as fueling the conflict (Faul, October 30, 2008), ignoring the intense structural or economic components that clearly play a role. Few editorials about the Congo have been written in the past year. For example, in the Toronto Star, only 2 op-eds that mention the Congo have been published in the past year; one in March, and one in November (Dallaire, 2008; Goar, 2008). Dallaire’s editorial mentioned the Congo only in passing, saying “We did not intervene to stop the slaughter in the Congo”, and even then only in the past tense, as if the fighting had already stopped.

Resistance

              Mfuni Kazadi, Secretary-General of the group the Coalition for the Cancellation of the Illegitimate Debts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, opposes the WB’s demand that the Congo pay debts accumulated by Mobutu. Kazadi has said,

“The Rwandans were used by the US as puppets to fight for American interests. When the war started, there were American ships that gathered all the communications for Rwanda’s and Uganda’s armies. US authorities said that the Congo is too big and must be divided into four countries. The resistance of the Congolese to this partition has led to the death of (more than) four million people.” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)     

The enduring resistance of the Congolese to the balkanization desired by the US is cited by Kazadi as the real reasons for the continued war (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007). Other local scholars, such as Felix Ulombe Kaputu who was wrongly jailed and tortured by the Congolese government, have also spoken out against the continuing violence (Anderson, 2007).  Local resistance seemed to be voiced only from afar, by refugees living in new countries and not by locals still enduring the conflict. Local resistance forces were incredibly difficult to locate, possibly because it is too dangerous for them to speak out in their current situation.

              Some international resistance has been incredibly vocal. Uhuru radio, an “online voice of international African revolution” has been one critic of the international role in the Congo’s conflict (Uhurunews.com, 2008). Many organizations exist with the intention of bringing awareness or support to the plight of the Congolese, most of them based in the “global North” (such as Friends of the Congo; Congo Global Action; Breaking the Silence; Congo Vision; Resistance Congo; Congo Church Association; Ambassador Girls Scholarship Program; among many others). It is in the “western” media, the Socialist Review, that the connection between the peace deals signed and rushed by international governments and the exploitation of resources from the Congo is mentioned. Third World Report reporter Leo Zeilig tells us that the peace deal “triggered two important processes (in the Congo). The first saw the return of some multinational companies…The second process… (saw) rebel commanders responsible for much of the killing and slaughter in the war were incorporated into the Congolese army” (Zeilig, 2006). Sixty-six international humanitarian agencies currently work in the Congo (Reuters, Who works where, 2008). These range from hunger programs to medical assistance, mostly based in the “global North”. The United Nations has sent in over 17,000 troops to help stop the violence (MONUC, 2008). They have also appointed a Special Rapporteur to do a report on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC (APIC, 1999). Resistance is mostly informal, in the form of blogs, or “leftist” newspapers.

Conclusions

              One of the most frustrating parts of the whole situation in the Congo is separating out those who claim to be helping from those who are complicit in the crimes; often one and the same group or individual. The contradiction of the international community, which on the one hand, sends aid and support to the Congo, and, on the other, exploits its resources and ensures continuing conflict, is staggering. Congo is very much a modern-day colony of the “western” world, used and abused for what it can offer the “west”, and regarded as a backwards place beyond assistance. The “west” will keep “helping”, as long as it serves their interests; and the conflict in the Congo will keep being painted as an indigenous problem in the heart of Africa. This conflict is not an issue of ethnicities, militias or rebellions. It is a continuation of the colonial project that was started by invading Europeans so long ago. It is about extracting resources, gaining profit and power. This war continues because the truth remains shrouded in propaganda, and because the international community is ignoring the underlying causes of the conflict. This conflict must stop, and justice must begin to emerge in the DRC. Too long have these people lived in hell, and too long has the international community ignored our fellow humans’ cries for help.

             

 

 

Sources:

1)      Allen, Tim. 2006. Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Zen Books. London and New York.

2)      Anderson, Stacy. September 23, 2007. Professor who survived persecution in Congo is teaching at Purchase. The Journal News. Scholars at Risk Network. http://scholarsatrisk.nyu.edu/News/Article_Detail.php?art_id=582.

3)      Anvil Mining. 2008. Sustainability. The DRC: Working in an Emerging Democracy. http://sustainability.anvilmining.com/go/sustainability/the-drc-working-in-an-emerging-democracy.

4)      APIC. April 30, 1999. Oral Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa Action. http://www.africaaction.org/docs99/con9904.htm.

5)      Associated Press (AP). October 27, 2008. Protestors attack UN building in eastern Congo. Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081027.wcongo1027/BNStory/International/.

6)      Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). 2008. Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/democraticrepublicofcongo.

7)      Clark, Phil. Winter 2007. In the Shadow of the Volcano: Democracy and Justice in Congo. Dissent. Foundation for the Study of Independent Social Ideas. P. 29-35.

8)      Clifford, Lisa. September 25, 2007. Plan to Flush LRA Out of DRC “Recipe for Impunity”/Military-Court Trials Worry Rights Activists. The Passion of the Present. http://platform.blogs.com/passionofthepresent/2007/09/plan-to-flush-l.html. (blog by reporter for The Hague).

9)      Cobalt Development Institute. 2008. Sources of Cobalt. http://www.thecdi.com/general.php?r=E6EM5BQBAL

10)  Cowan, Paul. 2005. The Peacekeepers. National Film Board of Canada, 13 Production, and ARTE France. (Film)

11)  Dallaire, Romeo. March 14, 2008. A Leading Middle Power Goes AWOL From Darfur. The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/345880.

12)  Dizolele, Mvemba Phezo. August 8, 2007. In Search of Congo’s Coltan. Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting. http://www.pulitzercenter.org/openitem.cfm?id=529

13)  Encyclopedia of the Nations. 2008. Congo, DRC. Foreign Investment. http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Africa/Congo-Democratic-Republic-of-the-DROC-FOREIGN-INVESTMENT.html.

14)  Essick, Kristi; Boslet, Mark; and Grondahl, Boris. June 11, 2001. A Call to Arms- demand for Coltan causes problems in Congo- Industry Trend or Event. The Industry Standard.  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HWW/is_23_4/ai_75669917/pg_2

15)  Essick, Krisit. June 11, 2001. Guns, Money and Cell Phones. The Industry Standard. http://www.globalissues.org/article/442/guns-money-and-cell-phones.

16)  Faul, Michelle. October 30, 2008. Congolese Soldiers Retreat from Rebels. The Globe and Mail. A18.

17)  Faul, Michelle. November 3, 2008. Hungry Congo refugees get soap but no food. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/v5/content/subscribe?user_URL=http://www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fservlet%2Fstory%2FRTGAM.20081103.wcongo1103%2FBNStory%2Fenergy%2F&ord=2735740&brand=theglobeandmail&force_login=true.

18)  Faul, Michelle. November 8, 2008. Angolans join Congolese soldiers to battle rebels. The Globe and Mail. A20.

19)  Goar, Carol. November 10, 2008. Familiar horror engulfs Congo. The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/533207.

20)  Global Policy Forum. 2008. UN Finance. http://www.globalpolicy.org/finance/index.htm.

21)  The Globe and Mail. August 12, 2008. First Quantum Profit Jumps. Report on Business.

22)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). August 22, 2008. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for Period Review of the DRC. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/22/congo19671.htm.

23)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 7, 2008. DR Congo: Civilians Under Attack Need Urgent Protection. Human Rigths News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/07/congo20158.htm.

24)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 6, 2008. DR Congo: New Attacks on Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/06/congo20150.htm.

25)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). October 30, 2008. DR Congo: International Leaders Should Act Now to Protect Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/30/congo20107.htm.

26)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). September 25, 2008. DR Congo: Humanitarian Crisis Deepens as Peace Process Falters. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/09/24/congo19881.htm.

27)  IANS. October 30, 2008. Army concerned at attacks on Indian peacekeepers in Congo. Thaindian News. http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/army-concerned-at-attacks-on-indian-peacekeepers-in-congo_100113201.html.

28)  International Criminal Court (ICC). January 2004. Situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo. http://www.icc-cpi.int/cases/RDC.html.

29)  International Rescue Committee (IRC). December 9, 2004. IRC Study Reveals 31,000 Die Monthly in Congo Conflict and 3.8 Million Died in Past Six Years. When Will the World Pay Attention? http://www.theirc.org/news/irc_study_reveals_31000_die_monthly_in_congo_conflict_and_38_million_died_in_past_six_years_when_will_the_world_pay_attention.html.

30)  Ismi, Asad and Schwartz, Kristin. April 2007. The World Social Forum in Nairobi: African Activists Lead Resistance to Western Plundering and Imperialism. CCPA Monitor. www.policyalternatives.ca.

31)  Kimberly Process. 2008. What is the Kimberly Process? http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/.

32)  MONUC. 2008. Democratic Republic of the Congo- MONUC-Facts and Figures. UN DPKO. http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/monuc/facts.html.

33)  Natural Resources Canada (NRC). 2008. Mining-Specific Tax Provisions. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/miningtax/d_inv_2d2_taxcredit2000.htm.

34)  Nolen, Stephanie. October 18, 2008. Rape again rampant in Congo. The Globe and Mail. A22.

35)  Nolen, Stephanie. October 29, 2008. How rebels profit from blood and soil. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081024.wcongo1025/BNStory/International/

36)  Reuters. 2008. Who works where. Thomson Reuters Foundation. Alert Net. http://www.alertnet.org/thepeople/whowhatwhere.htm?fb_emergencycodes=ZR_CON&fb_membnetcombocodes=all&fb_countrycodes=214383&x=37&y=11.

37)  Reuters. June 11, 2008. Congo (DR) Conflict. Thomson Reuters Foundation. AlertNet. http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/ZR_CON.htm.

38)  Snow, Keith Harmon and Barouski, David. March 1, 2006. Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Africa/Congo_BehindNumbers.html.

39)  Staples, Steven. October 2006. Marching Orders: How Canada abandoned peacekeeping- and why the UN needs us now more than ever. The Council of Canadians. http://www.canadians.org/peace/issues/Marching_Orders/index.html.

40)  Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (TIC). “Coltan”, 2007, found at: http://www.tanb.org/tantalum1.html.

41)  Transparency International. 2008. Corruption Perceptions Index. http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2008/cpi2008/cpi_2008_table.

42)  UhuruRadio.com. November 1, 2008. African Students Demand an End to Imperialst-Driven War in the Congo. Indymedia. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/11/01/18547873.php.

43)  Uhurunews.com. 2008. Online Voice of the International African Revolution. Burning Spear Publications. http://uhurunews.com/.

44)  UN. December 10, 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III). http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.

45)  UNHCR- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. November 20, 1989 .Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.

46)  United Nations Security Council. 2002. Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo. http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/DRC%20S%202002%201146.pdf.

47)  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2006. FDI Indices. http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=2468&lang=1.

48)  Ware, Natalie D. December, 2001. Congo War and the Role of Coltan. Inventory of Conflict and Environment (ICE) Case Studies. http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/congo-coltan.htm.

49)  World Bank (WB). March 9, 2006. Republic of Congo Reaches Decision Point Under the Enhanced HIPC Debt Relief Initiative. Press Release Number 2006/301/AFR. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTDEBTDEPT/0,,contentMDK:20847652~menuPK:64166657~pagePK:64166689~piPK:64166646~theSitePK:469043,00.html.

50)  World Bank (WB). April 2008. The Republic of Congo: Trade Brief. World Trade Indicators 2008. http://info.worldbank.org/etools/wti2008/docs/brief45.pdf.

51)  Winter, Mark. 2008. Uses of Cobalt. WebElements. http://www.webelements.com/cobalt/uses.html.

[1] I use this term lightly, since I believe Joseph Kabila was only trying to secure more voters and power for himself and not actually interested in peace. This is the term Reuters used to describe the events.

[2] For example there are less than 500 km of paved roads in the DRC (Clark, 2007; 32). The DRC is also home to an incredibly corrupt government and civil service, with a corruption perceptions index ranking of 171st out of 180 countries in the world (Transparency International, 2008).

[3] This includes laptop computers, cellular phones, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, X-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, game consoles such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, video cameras, digital still cameras, sputtering targets, chemical process equipment, cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks, prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer, suture clips, corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, high temperature furnace parts, high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines, gas turbine parts, and strong permanent magnets. It is also used as a pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paints, varnishes and printing inks, among other things. It also includes anything with the alloy alnico, or Cobalt 60, which is a commercial source of high energy radiation used to destroy cancerous tissue or detect flaws in metal parts (TIC, 2007; Winter, 2008).

 

[4] Over a 90 day period, there were 118 stories about the Congo and more than 200 stories each about Iraq and Afghanistan in the Globe and Mail. There were 87 stories about the Congo while there were more than 500 each for Iraq and Afghanistan in the National Post. There were 37 stories about the Congo, 141 stories about Afghanistan, and 88 stories about Iraq in The Toronto Star. This was replicated in major international publications such as the Economist, which had only 28 stories about the Congo, 144 stories about Iraq, and 91 stories about Afghanistan for the same period (The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Star, The Economist, August- November 2008).



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Blood on Canadian hands.

***This is an adaptation of several essays I have written over the past semester. It combines many of the facts I learned in my research in peace with a plea to Canadian people to take back democracy and voice their opinions. Free speech is only free speech if we use it! Peace studies is a rising academic discipline. We need to start spending money on peace studies and conflict transformation strategies instead of war and destruction!
For the record– I’m not anti-Canadian. I love Canada, it is my home.  I just disagree with certain political choices that are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Several Canadian politicians and companies are ruining our international reputation by their actions that detract from our long-standing position as peacekeepers and humanitarians concerned with human rights and freedoms. They are actually even participating in crimes around the world.

Slowly but surely, we have been lessening our international commitment to peacekeeping. We have dropped from being one of the largest troop contributors–way down to 56th in troop contributions behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Nepal, Jordan, Ghana, Rwanda, Uruguay, Italy, Senegal, China, South Africa, Ethiopia, France, Morocco, Benin, Brazil, Spain, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Indonesia, Poland, Argentina, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Philippines, Niger, Zambia, Ukraine, Chile, Tunisia, Bolivia, Austria, Korea, Gambia, Belgium, UK, Portugal, Togo, USA, Slovakia, Russia, Romania, Fiji, Mongolia, Greece, Guatemala, Peru, Cameroon, Qatar, Netherlands and Malawi. This despite the fact that 69% of Canadians surveyed nationally recognize peacekeeping as a strong Canadian value.

In place of peacekeepers worldwide, we now feel it is important to give our military an unlimited budget, following the example of the mighty war machine in the United States. Instead of keeping our value as peacekeepers, we are now making one as war-mongers. What sort of response will this elicit from the world? Surely, it only detracts from our longstanding neutrality and makes us targets.

Canada is guilty of helping to support war crimes in several areas around the world, either through aid projects, inaction or direct policies that support major human rights abusing governments. I will profile the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as an example– there are (unfortunately), MANY more examples of Canada condoning or supporting major human rights violations. The Congo is currently experiencing a MASSIVE human rights disaster, with close to 45,000 people dying per month of war related causes. You read right- that’s 45,000 DYING every month.

At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo”  and have yet to be further investigated or punished for these crimes.

Anvil Mining, a Canadian copper mining company working in the DRC, was accused of providing logistics to troops in the massacre of close to 100 people; a charge that they vehemently argue was accidental, unknown at the time and forced upon them by local legalities. All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources from leaders who were not in possession of said land. That’s right- they were accused of bribing rebel groups who were fighting in the area (who often force the locals to mine as slave labor) to gain control of mines so they can make a profit for themselves. These fighting groups are making up to $20 million a month in profits, often with Canadian assistance, to help continue funding their war.

Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining business, is supplied by and partnered with Adastra mining, which received a one billion dollar deal for control of mines in the Congo at Kolwezi (for cobalt) and Kipushi (for zinc) from Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (ADFL) before they were officially in power and in legal control of said resources.

The Canadian government is guilty for politically supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF, who are guilty of massive crimes against their own people. Our government is guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws and for not further investigating and punishing those implicated in the UN report. The Canadian government is also guilty of refusing the UN’s request for peacekeeping assistance and aid, and instead funneling these resources for the continued war in Afghanistan.

Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo (and elsewhere) to help stop the human rights abuses, but the responsibilities to the international community are being ignored by the current Canadian government.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada’s lead agency for development assistance abroad, committed $33 million for projects and initiatives in the DRC in 2006-7. These projects focused mostly on political and economic governance and access to primary health care, and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. Some of these political and economic governance programs that were supported by our politicians contribute to  Joseph Kabila’s governmental control- securing his place in government and ensuring the crisis continues.

The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “. The situation has gotten so bad in recent months that thousands of local Congolese demonstrators have taken to physically attacking the UN compound in Goma for what they say is the UN’s failure to protect them against rebel attacks and provide them with the basic necessities of life. The UN says its first priority is re-supplying clinics that have been looted by retreating government troops. Unfortunately, this means that refugees who haven’t eaten for days are met with shipments of soap and jerry cans (to prevent disease) while they wait for death by starvation. These refugees have recently taken up with the demonstrators in violently attacking anything identified with the UN.

This is not the UN’s fault (necessarily). The UN relies on its Member States for support. If they do not provide troops or funding to properly implement missions– the UN has no legs to stand. Overdue arrears are currently worth more than half the entire peacekeeping budget. The largest arrears account is owed by the United States, who is currently behind in their payments by US$1,288 million (total peacekeeping expenditures for 2005 was $4,737 million). No wonder the UN can’t meet the needs of their missions–they are not being staffed or funded to send a properly trained mission!

Why are we not supporting the Congolese and many other peacekeeping missions with the necessary troop support? — because your government has decided that it would rather spend its money on war.

The only way to stop these crimes is to make your voice heard and write to your government today demanding that they respect the Canadian values of peacekeeping and humanitarianism and stop supporting war and terror!
If you’d like more information on where you can find more resources or suggestions on what to write, or who to write- I’d be happy to discuss.

What are they mining in the Congo? The minerals to make sure we have our electronic equipment and luxuries.
This includes laptop computers, cellular phones, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, X-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, game consoles such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, video cameras, digital still cameras, sputtering targets, chemical process equipment, cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks, prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer, suture clips, corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, high temperature furnace parts, high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines, gas turbine parts, and strong permanent magnets, among other things.
Our luxuries are fueling this war! Make companies accountable for where their resources come from– demand that they implement processes to ensure this does not continue!
-RS


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