WHO’s role in documenting attacks on health workers and facilities


Public Health Dentistry

Public Health Dentistry (Photo credit: Trinity Care Foundation)

World Health Assembly adopts resolution on WHO’s role in documenting attacks on health workers and facilities

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

 

At the 65th session of the World Health Assembly last week, an important resolution was adopted on WHO leadership in collecting and disseminating data on attacks on health care in complex humanitarian emergencies.

 

Health providers are on the frontline during complex humanitarian emergencies. They, as well as their patients, deserve protection. However, in situations of crisis and armed conflictt, health-care workers are at greatest risk of assault, arrest, obstruction of their duties, kidnapping and death. Health facilities and ambulances are also at risk of attack.

 

Complex humanitarian emergencies

Resolution (EB130.R14) is titled WHO’s response, and role as the health cluster lead, in meeting the growing demands of health in humanitarian emergencies. Among others, this resolution states “that there is a need of systematic data collection on attacks or lack of respect for patients and/or health workers, facilities and transports in complex humanitarian emergencies.”

The resolution thus calls on the Director-General of WHO: “… to provide leadership at the global level in developing methods for systematic collection and dissemination of data on attacks on health facilities, health workers, health transports, and patients in complex humanitarian emergencies, in coordination with other relevant United Nations bodies, other relevant actors, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, avoiding duplication of efforts.”

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2012
Contact: David Nelson, IntraHealth International, tel. 919-313-9139

May 29, Washington, DC—The Safeguarding Health in Conflictcoalition commends the World Health Assembly—the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO)—on its unprecedented step to protect the lives of health workers and patients in humanitarian crises by spearheading global efforts to document the number of attacks on medical services.

In violent conflicts, where health needs are most urgent, health workers are at risk of assault, arrest and sometimes kidnapping and death, compromising their ability to deliver care and remain on the job. But such attacks usually go unreported; with a body of evidence, the global community can better protect fragile health systems and those on the frontlines. “Systematic data collection will be the basis for developing prevention strategies and holding perpetrators accountable,” said Maurice I. Middleberg, vice president for global policy at IntraHealth International.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition urged passage of the new World Health Assembly resolution—requiring the WHO to lead international data collection of attacks on health workers, facilities, transports and patients—for more than a year, and on Friday, WHO member states at the 65th  World Health Assembly in Geneva adopted it.

Health care services and the health workers who provide them are never more desperately needed, but never more vulnerable, than when violence convulses a society,” said Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Numerous organizations joined coalition members in a statement encouraging the WHO member states to adopt the resolution so that the work of developing methods to collect data and report on attacks can commence. The statement was made on behalf of the World Health Professional Alliance, which includes the World Medical Association, International Council of Nurses, International Pharmaceutical Federation, World Confederation for Physical Therapy and World Dental Federation, and the statement was supported by the American Public Health Association, CARE, Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Doctors for Human Rights, International Health Protection Initiative, International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations, International Medical Corps, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, International Rescue Committee, IntraHealth International, Management Sciences for Health, Medact, Merlin, Physicians for Human Rights, Women’s Refugee Commission and World Federation of Public Health Associations. Going forward, the coalition will advocate for effective implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition promotes respect for international humanitarian and human rights laws that relate to the safety and security of health facilities, workers, ambulances and patients during periods of armed conflict or civil violence. Founding members include IntraHealth International, Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Doctors for Human Rights, International Council of Nurses, International Health Protection Initiative, Karen Human Rights Group, Medact, Merlin – UK and Physicians for Human Rights.

Peoples Summit- Reply to the official Rio + 20 Earth Summit in Brazil


peoplesSummit

Between 15 and 23 June this year, held in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice: against the commodification of life and nature and defense of the commons. The event will take place at the Flamengo Embankment, alongside the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (the Rio +20). The official meeting marks the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio 92 or Eco 92). .

The people’s summit is a large space for debate and proposals from global civil society to build a new life on the planet in solidarity against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons. While the official agenda for Rio +20 favors the “green economy”, global networks and movements that are organizing the People’s Summit is positioned against that new dress that wears the same model of capitalist production and consumption, responsible for the current world crisis.

We expect more than 30 000 people for actions. A Facilitation Committee of the Brazilian Civil Society (CFSC), composed of social movements, nongovernmental organizations, groups and networks, is concerned with all the details (methodology, communication and mobilization). The CFSC is coordinated by the “Group of Joint,” which brings together many social movements and networks such as MMM, CUT, Via Campesina, the Brazilian Network for Peoples Integration (REBRIP) youth movement and environmentalists .

Construction of convergences from our struggles present and able to summon new anti-capitalist processes is the challenge that guides the methodology of the People’s Summit to be organized around three axes:

1. Structural causes of crises and social and environmental injustices, false solutions and new forms of capital accumulation on the peoples and territories. 2. Real solutions and new paradigms of the people. 3. Agendas, campaigns and mobilizations that unify the process of anti-capitalist struggle after the Rio +20.

Activities Self-managed content will be discussion and synthesis of the reflections according to the axes of the Summit.

The Plenary Assembly Pre-Convergence will be great opportunities for convergence of issues and sectors with a view to the preparation of the Assembly of Peoples, organized from contributions of the joint self-managed activities and historical processes of struggle and organization.The objectives are 1) Deepening dialogue and convergence among issues and sectors, 2) consolidate common positions across multiple sectors and issues of convergence and provide a basis for the Assembly of Peoples as an expression of unity in diversity, mobilization and political force with regard to dispute the official process, 3) Build a positioning of the Summit of the people in front of the Rio +20 Conference in the broader context of systemic crises from unifying the different issues, 4) Strengthen the movement , gathering strength for the future, building guidelines and agendas of struggle and generate a new cycle of mobilizations after Rio +20.

The unifying themes of the plenary of convergence are: 1 – Rights, by Justica Social and Environmental, 2 – Common Defense Against Commodification goods; 3 – Food Sovereignty, 4 – Energy and Extractive Industries, 5 – Work: In addition Economy and new paradigms of society.

After the plenary of convergence takes place People’s Assembly, which is the place where, through the testimony and analysis, exchange and solidarity, mobilization and concrete actions, we have the challenge of strengthening the present struggles and call for actions and initiatives, generating new platforms of unity.

The Assembly of Peoples was organized around three axes, which give direction to the whole summit. Assembly will be three sessions, in the mobilization and expression of convergence and positions constructed in the process of the People’s Summit. The public presentation of the positions and convergences will be permeated by cultural and symbolic actions, and encouraged by the different movements, respecting and valuing the diversity of the cultures of organization and mobilization.Assemblies are expected to be a political and symbolic moment in popular struggles, collecting, moving and holding thousands of people around analysis, solutions and common causes.

Official website of the People’s Summit: http://cupuladospovos.org.br

Pakistan offers little justice for victims of acid attacks


 

One little girl whose face was seared away wishes to die or turn back time. Her attackers are fined a few thousand dollars and left to walk free.

Acid attacks in PakistanZaib Aslam, left, with sister Rabia, is seen a few years before men threw acid at her in November in Faisalabad, Pakistan. The attack severely burned her face, sealed her eyelids shut and scarred her throat, making it difficult to eat. Zaib was 10 years old. (Handout / May 28, 2012)

May 29, 2012,

FAISALABAD, Pakistan — The cherub-faced 10-year-old girl was standing at a bus stop, saying goodbye to visiting relatives, when her mother noticed two motorcycles approaching, one coming down the street and the other from a graveyard behind them.She recognized someone on one of the motorcycles: her older daughter’s former fiance. He was clutching two liter-sized metal jugs.As two men armed with a pistol on the second motorcycle kept the cluster of relatives from running away, the ex-fiance handed one of the jugs to a fourth man riding with him. Without saying anything, they flung the contents at Parveen Akhtar and her little girl, Zaib Aslam.

The jugs contained sulfuric acid bought at a local market for 88 cents.

“It felt like someone had flung fire on me,” Akhtar said. “When I turned to look at Zaib, her face didn’t look like a face.”

In that terrible instant, much of Zaib’s face was seared away and her eyelids sealed shut. The acid splashed into her mouth, severely scarring her throat.

Six months later, Zaib always keeps a pink shawl draped over her head. She doesn’t want anyone — not even her family — to see her face.

She can’t see. Her throat remains badly swollen, so she eats only soup or bread dipped in milk or tea to soften it. There are days when she tells her family she no longer wants to live. And there are days when she sobs and begs for someone to turn back time.

“She’ll tell us, ‘I want my old face back!’ ” said Akhtar, whose right arm, neck and torso were burned in the attack. ” ‘All of you have normal faces! Why can’t I look like you?’ “

***

When Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar this year for “Saving Face,” her documentary on victims of acid attacks, Pakistan’s struggle to eradicate the crime drew worldwide attention, and horror.

A law enacted in December has established tougher penalties for acid attack convictions: from 14 years in jail to lifetime imprisonment, and a fine of up to $11,000 — a large sum for most Pakistanis. And yet every week, victims show up in emergency rooms nationwide, their faces and bodies horribly scarred.

No database exists that catalogs acid attacks in Pakistan, but the Acid Survivors Foundation, a Pakistani advocacy group for victims, estimates that 150 occur each year. The majority of the victims are women, and attacks are often an escalation of domestic violence.

“And at some point, the level of violence rises to a point where the husband wants to punish the wife by throwing acid at her to teach her a lesson and disfigure her for life,” said Valerie Khan, the group’s chairwoman.

Awareness about the crime has improved, Khan said, but Pakistan remains a patriarchal society where, particularly in rural areas, women’s rights are routinely ignored. Many attacks go unreported, and even when victims lodge complaints, police and judges often halfheartedly pursue the cases.

“The main trend in the Pakistani justice system remains that too few perpetrators are being convicted,” Khan said. “With local police and judges, the level of sensitivity and attention that they give to this issue is clearly insufficient.”

Here in Punjab province, women are often treated like chattel. Cases persist of teenage girls forced to marry men in rival families to settle blood feuds. Women who marry against their families’ wishes often become victims of honor killings. In a part of the country where local economies are driven by sprawling textile factories and sugar mills, women rarely own property or run their own businesses.

Victimization of women is especially prevalent within the underclass here, where education is lacking and large, extended families scrape by on a few hundred dollars a month. Zaib’s father is retired, and the eight children who still live at home rely on about $200 a month earned by Zaib’s 12- and 15-year-old brothers, who work as mini-bus attendants, and an 18-year-old brother who works at a bakery.

In the legislation passed in December, a loophole that once allowed acid attack defendants to avoid jail by reaching out-of-court settlements with victims was closed. That doesn’t give Zaib any solace, however. The attack that ended her life as she knew it occurred Nov. 25, just 17 days before it passed. A settlement reached in March between Zaib’s family and Ghulam Dastagir, the man who engineered the attack, is not affected by the new law.

The price that settlement put on Zaib’s face and misery was 350,000 rupees, about $3,800. Akhtar received 500,000 rupees, roughly $5,500. Leaning against a doorway at their two-room house in a cramped Faisalabad neighborhood, Akhtar glanced over at Zaib sitting motionless on a bed and acknowledged that settling was a mistake.

“I’m not happy with this agreement,” Akhtar said. “He’s free, and he could come and attack me again, or he could attack someone else in my family. That fear gnaws at me.”

***

Last summer, Dastagir, a 38-year-old supervisor at a Faisalabad textile plant, announced plans to marry Zaib’s 20-year-old sister, Nazia. On the day of the wedding, Dastagir didn’t show up. He had never told Nazia or her family that he was already married and had two daughters. His uncle had finally convinced Dastagir that he couldn’t go through with the wedding.

Two months later, Nazia married another man, a 25-year-old computer technician at a Faisalabad textile plant. When Dastagir found out, he was furious, Akhtar said. Dastagir focused his anger on Akhtar, who he believed had allowed Nazia to marry someone else.

“One day, he saw Nazia and me at a bus stop and threatened us,” Akhtar said. “He told me: ‘This marriage is wrong and I will not leave this alone. I will deal with you.’ “

On Nov. 25, Dastagir acted on his threat.

After throwing the acid, Dastagir and the other three men sped away. At the hospital, doctors sized up the damage to Zaib’s face and throat. Her face had been nearly flattened by the acid. Her nose was destroyed and her lips had ballooned.

Doctors saved her life, but lacked the means to do anything more than a single skin graft from her thigh that gave her face a bit more depth.

***

Police later arrested Dastagir and two of the accomplices. Dastagir, however, had connections with clout-wielding locals, including a Punjab provincial lawmaker, said Akhtar’s brother-in-law, Abdul Aleem. The lawmaker’s son-in-law began showing up at Akhtar’s house, urging her and her husband to accept money instead of a jail term for Dastagir and the other men, he said.

“There was no direct pressure, but we felt we were being threatened,” said Aleem, who became the family’s negotiator. “He’d say: ‘If you agree, in the future we will take care of you if you’re in trouble. But if you don’t listen to us, we won’t be on your side if you face trouble.’ “

On the day a judge approved the settlement, Dastagir and the other men walked free. Though the money is far more than either Aleem or Aslam, Zaib’s father, makes in a year, it doesn’t come close to paying for the raft of surgeries that doctors say Zaib will need to have any hope of improving her face and eyesight.

In the meantime, Zaib is the one who feels imprisoned. On the few occasions she has gone outside, neighborhood children have shunned her. “They stare at her face and say, ‘No, we don’t want to play with you,’ ” Akhtar said. She has missed five months of school since the attack. At home, she spends most of her time sitting alone on her bed, playing with dolls.

“She cries so much,” Aleem said. “There are times when she has said: ‘I want to die. It’d be better to die than to live this life.’ “

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Acid attacks: Haryana women face new form of assault


 

Deepender Deswal, TNN May 28,

ROHTAK: Acid seems to have become the new weapon in the hands of criminals in Haryana. Already infamous for its skewed sex ratio and high female foeticide rate, the state has seen a wave of acid attacks against women, even prompting the Punjab and Haryana high court to order a CBI inquiry into one of such case involving three schoolgirls.

Unidentified accused had thrown acid on three schoolgirls — two of them class 10 students and third in class 12 — when they were returning home from tuition classes in Sector 1 in Rohtak last year. While the accused are still to be identified, the HC has handed over the investigations to CBI.

Saturday’s daylight attack on a budding volleyball player in a bustling Rohtak street is 5th such incident in Haryana in a one year span. The motive in all the five incidents — in Rohtak, Sonipat, Kelram village of Kaithal district and Ambala — seems to be similar as the accused resorted to this brutal form of assault to take revenge on girl who had “dared” to snub him. According to police officers, in most cases, acid attacks have been used as revenge on girls who spurned advances of friendship or marriage by the accused.

Two victims had succumbed to acid burns. Paramjit Kaur, 30, was attacked when she was asleep, in Kelram village on May 23 and had succumbed to burns in a Karnal hospital on Friday. Another 17-year-old girl, Kiran, of Sonipat town, died of acid burns inflicted on her by two youths, including one who had been stalking her and pressurizing her to marry him, on July 13, 2011.

“It’s a reflection of the brutal male mentality where the accused took rejection as an insult. They found a soft target in the girl and attacked her with acid to deface her,” said Sandeep Kumar, a psychologist at Guru Jambheshwar University in Hisar. A mixture of psycho-social and sexual factors, like negative feelings, bias towards females, mental sickness and peer pressure could be the driving force behind the accused taking such extreme steps, he said.

Prof Promila Batra, head of psychology department at Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, said the accused are impulsive and aggressive and unable to think about the consequences of their act.

Police failure to effectively tackle such incidents is also responsible for the repeat of such attacks. “The accused in such cases should be tried under stricter law and punishment, too, must be exemplary,” said a police official. “Easy availability of acid and even easier use (throwing it while driving) is alluring for such accused, who take a sadistic pleasure by leaving a permanent scar on their victims while taking the revenge,” he added.

Timeline

May 27, 2012: Two biker youths throw acid on volleyball player Ritu Saini, 18, in busy Prem Nagar Chowk area of Rohtak and speed away

May 23, 2012: Paramjit Kaur, 30, attacked by a man, stated to be her relative, while she was asleep in her house in Kelram village of Kaithal, along with her two children. While she succumbed to her injuries, her 10-year-old son is struggling for life with 35% burns

July 13, 2011: Kiran, 17, dies in Sonipat after two youths on motorcycle throw acid on her. She had rejected the marriage proposal of main accused, Sanjay

June 18, 2011: Unknown assailants throw acid on three schoolgirls when they were returning home from tuition classes in Rohtak

 

Constructive Engagement Still Elusive at India’s Second Universal Periodic Review at the UN


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Delhi, May 29, 2012

India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI).

Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture.

WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED. WGHR is also disturbed that India dodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made to India on the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court. The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended that India ratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012 On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption of India’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.”

For more information, contact:

* Miloon Kothari,
Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)
email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

* Vrinda Grover,
Lawyer –
email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

* Madhu Mehra,
Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD)
email: programmes@pldindia.org

The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organisations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org

Maternal Deaths Halved in 20 Years, but Faster Progress Needed


Eritrean women

Eritrean women (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UN News
The report “Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010”, shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 – a decline of 47 per cent. While substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries particularly in sub-Saharan Africa will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal death by 75 per cent from 1990 to 2015.

Every two minutes, a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications, the four most common causes being: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion. Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries; most could have been prevented with proven interventions.

“We know exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise. These interventions have proven to save lives and accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal 5,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

Disparity exists within and across countries and regions. One third of all maternal deaths occur in just two countries – in 2010, almost 20 per cent of deaths (56,000) were in India and 14 per cent (40,000) were in Nigeria. Of the 40 countries with the world’s highest rates of maternal death, 36 are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Similarly, Eastern Asia, which made the greatest progress in preventing maternal deaths, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84 per cent as opposed to only 22 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has the highest rates of maternal death.

Fishermen’s body seeks TNPCB inspection of Kudankulam site


CHENNAI, May 31, 2012, The Hindu

 

Wants consent order for operating plant issued only after this is done

A fishermen’s welfare organisation has filed a public interest litigation petition in the Madras High Court seeking a direction to the Member-Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) here to inspect the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project site along with experts, and later issue the consent order for operating the plant.

The order should be issued only after the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) of India complies with all mandatory requirements, Fisherman Care of Old Pallavaram here stated in its petition.

It had been reported in the media that fuel filling operations in the power plant would commence soon. The board, by an order of February 2004, had issued a consent order to the NPC authorising it to establish the plant. The consent was valid for two years or till the industry obtained consent to operate under Section 25 of the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, whichever was earlier. The Board had earlier stipulated several conditions.

The petitioner said that from the reply of April 2 this year under the RTI Act, it was clear that the TNPCB had not given consent for operating the plant. It also came to be known that the Member-Secretary had not inspected and verified whether all safety measures as required in the conditions stipulated in the consent order of 2004 had been implemented.

The petitioner said some of the conditions had not been complied with. One condition was that adequate number of coastal water quality monitoring stations should be set up. But, the compliance report states that coastal water quality was being monitored by the Environmental Survey Laboratory.

Another condition was that precautionary measures should be taken in transportation, handling and storage of radioactive fuel and wastes and spent fuel. The NPC had stated that it “will be complied”.

The petition has been posted for hearing after the court’s summer vacation.

Why silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment and loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons ?


Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy

Vol – XLVII No. 22, June 02, 2012, economic and political weekely | Anand Teltumbde

Why has there been such a silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment acquitting all those accused of killing 21 dalits? At the same time, what explains their loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons in the textbooks? Has the elevation of Ambedkar as an icon relegated the dalit leadership to a politics of empty symbolism? Is the issue of a lack of accountability in the judicial system towards dalits not more important than the hollow iconisation of Ambedkar?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Bathani Tola 1996. After 14 years the case was decided by the Ara Sessions Court in May 2010 convicting 23 of the accused; three were awarded the death penalty and 20 with life imprisonment.

The verdict was challenged and the division bench of the Patna High Court delivered its verdict on 16 April 2012, reversing the judgment and acquitting all the accused. The judgment stunned every sensitive Indian who knew the ghastliness of the massacre of 21 dalits in this hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district of the then unified Bihar state on 11 April 1996. It did evoke angry reactions but mostly from family members of the victims at Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Arwal, all within 60 km of Patna.

In a ritualistic manner the Nitish Kumar government, accused of disbanding the Justice Amir Das Commission that was instituted by the then Rabri Devi government (March 1998) to investigate the political backing for the notorious Ranvir Sena, issued a statement that the government would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. With that, the massive act of rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor was pushed under the carpet. No television debate, not much media concern or highbrow analysis either!

Another controversy broke out over a cartoon that was drawn 63 years ago by a noted cartoonist of yesteryears, Shankar Pillai ofShankar’s Weekly, which showed Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on the Constitution depicted by a shell, mounted over a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru with a raised whip behind, all in the public gaze. The cartoon was a part of a Class XI Political Science textbook since 2006 and hence there was something fishy about it being noticed by politicians only now. As the grammar of electoral politics mandates, Kapil Sibal, the union minister for human resource development, with extraordinary sensitivity apologised and asked the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the creator of these textbooks, to withdraw the cartoon immediately. However, the controversy escalated and culminated in the ransacking of the office of Suhas Palshikar of Pune University by some Republican Panther activists who hogged the headlines and prime time on all the television channels.

Notwithstanding the content, at the most basic level these two instances throw up an important question about the attitude of dalits: Why are they moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge upon their existence?

The Ambedkar Icon

The entire dalit emotional charge is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon. Given the monumental contribution of Ambedkar to the dalit cause, it is natural that he is considered as their emancipator, a messiah. Further, given the state of the dalit masses, it is also natural that he is iconised. Ambedkar’s icon replaced their gods and symbolised their self-esteem, honour and prestige. It became their beacon, a rallying point to carry on with their emancipatory struggles. As it did all this, it became susceptible to manipulation by vested interests. The fi rst such manipulation came from within, by a section of college-educated urban dalits who painted it with shades that suited their self-interests. The icon was shorn of Ambedkar’s vision of radical transformation of India expressed, for instance, in States and Minorities and he was portrayed as a caste-based reservationist, constitutionalist, an anti-materialist and mind-centric Buddhist. When electoral politics became increasingly competitive with the rise of the regional parties of the middle castes, the political class realised the importance of the dalit vote bank and used this icon to infl uence dalits.

Suddenly, Ambedkar, who faced ignorance from the mainstream all through his life, became its darling. It began erecting his statues, naming roads and institutions after him and paying eulogies to him. It went on further strengthening this icon in increasingly distorted ways that would distance dalits from reality.

Once entrenched in the psychology of the dalit masses, it became a matter of competitive display of devotion in order to appeal to them. As dalit politics became rent-seeking from the mainstream political parties, many charlatans rushed in as leaders, feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits. The louder one shouted allegiance to Ambedkar, the bigger the leader one became. The more irrationality displayed in devotion to Ambedkar, the better the Ambedkarite. The real Ambedkar was forgotten in this process – Ambedkar, the iconoclast, the painstaking truth seeker, the fearless fighter for the cause of the oppressed, and the universalist dreaming of the world sans exploitation and humbug. It was forgotten that he struggled to solve the existential problems of dalits. Even his decision to renounce Hinduism and embrace some other religion had actually emanated from the need to counter the vulnerability of dalits in villages if one goes by his original explanation in Mukti kon Pathe (“Which way the deliverance”) which basically is about their atrocity-prone existence. And of course, he lamented at the fag end of his life that whatever he did just benefited the urban dalits and he could not do much for the rural folks.

The Cartoon Controversy

It is this iconisation that is behind the cartoon controversy. Without going into whether such a cartoon was necessary to be included in the textbook, given the proclivity of society to negatively interpret it, the fact remains that it was there for the last six years. If it had not caused any problem until now, it was unlikely to do so in the future. One need not accept the explanation provided by Palshikar, one of the advisors to the NCERT, that the cartoon was meant to enliven interest in young minds insofar as it presented a piece of the past before them, and was complex enough to yield various interpretations. But that in no way warrants ransacking his office. It is sad that it was the activists of the Republican Panthers – the radical non-parliamentary outfi t that has forced the overzealous state to incarcerate its members (Shantanu Kamble, Sudhir Dhawale and many others) for their revolutionary profession – who attacked Palshikar. It only shows how deeply internalised the Ambedkar icon is among dalits that it overwhelms even their revolutionary politics.

The controversy was raked up by Mayawati in Parliament, who badly needs to reconsolidate her core constituency of dalits in the wake of the fi ssures that showed up in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in order to be prepared for the general elections any time before 2014. It has been the core stratagem of her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, to make creative use of icons to build and maintain its constituency. Not to be left behind, all other dalit leaders, particularly the more unscrupulous ones like Ramdas Athawale (who has established an alliance with the anti-Ambedkar Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine) and Thol Thirumavalavan (the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (dalit panthers) of Tamil Nadu, who switches from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to DMK with ease as per the electoral prospects), raised their angry voices. As if there are no issues other than the Ambedkar icon (and of course reservations) to vent their anger!

The increasing misery of the vast majority of dalits in the absence of quality education, falling job opportunities (reservations arguably cater to only a minuscule section and that too the relatively welloff among them), declining public health and general contraction of the democratic spaces are all of no issue to them. Such is the power of the Ambedkar icon that for dalits Mayawati spending Rs 86 crore to renovate her residence or Athawale building a palatial house in a prime location in Mumbai have become non-issues. Even the rising incidents of atrocities which dishonour their women every day and devour their lives have become non-issues!

Dalit Blood, No Issue

The acquittal of all the 23 Ranvir Sena men who butchered 21 dalits in Bathani Tola therefore does not become an issue for the dalit leadership today. Bathani Tola is not a unique case; it only reinforces the pattern formed by many such judgments in other atrocity cases. For example, the Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh) case went exactly the same way as the High Court of Andhra Pradesh acquitted all the 50 accused. It was only in the Supreme Court, after 23 long years, that one accused was awarded life imprisonment and 30 others were given varying amounts of punishment upto three years. In Khairlanji (Maharashtra), in the wake of a public uproar, the special district court had awarded death to six and life imprisonment to two, which was foolishly celebrated by some dalits leaders who forgot the fact that 35 culprits were already discharged and the court had taken away the very ground for harsher punishment by observing that there was no conspiracy, no sexual violence, and no caste angle. In the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe (Bihar) carnage by the Ranvir Sena, the verdict of the lower court came after almost 13 years, sentencing 16 people to death, 10 others with life imprisonment and a Rs 50,000 fine, while acquitting 19 for lack of evidence. The pattern indicates that the lower courts, under public pressure, award harsh punishments, the high courts mostly invalidate them and if they are persisted with, the Supreme Court upholds parts of it. The long legal battle, which no ordinary dalit can afford, effectively takes away any justice from the fi nal judgment.

Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik recently (17 April 2012) expressed concern over the dismal conviction rate (just 3% to 8%) in such atrocity cases. This exposes how the atrocity cases, which are admitted with extreme reluctance by the police, are deliberately weakened in the investigation or invalidated by non-compliance of rules, mishandled by the prosecution in the courts, and at times perversely adjudged by the courts themselves under political pressure.

In the Bathani Tola case the court rejected the evidence of the eyewitnesses on the weird argument that they could not have been present at the scene. If they had really been there, the court observed, they would have all been killed.

What lies at the root of this malady is the total lack of accountability in such a legal process. Is that not an issue for dalits to agitate against?

U.K. Sees Rise of U.S.-Style Anti-Abortion Tactics


By Sarah Ditum

WeNews correspondent

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Polls show most U.K. citizens support a woman’s right to choose abortion. But U.S.-style anti-choice tactics are picking up speed and fostering an aggressive activism movement marked by website hacking and clinic vigils.

Pro-choice protesters outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in London.

Pro-choice protesters outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in London.
Credit: British Pregnancy Advisory Service

 

BATH, England (WOMENSENEWS)–The United Kingdom may be a pro-choice nation in polling data, but U.S.-style anti-choice tactics are being used to attack that consensus.

Seventy percent of U.K. citizens polled in 2011 said it was a woman’s right to choose whether she continues her pregnancy.
But this pro-choice majority has long been opposed by vocal anti-abortion groups, such as the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, founded in 1966. And now U.S. anti-choice groups have expanded into the U.K., bringing more aggressive tactics that overshadow the homegrown movement.

One such organization is 40 Days for Life, founded in College Station, Texas, in 2004. The group’s self-proclaimed tactic is what they call peaceful prayer outside abortion clinics. (Its name refers to the length of the biannual vigils the group conducts.) However, employees of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have reported that members of one vigil approached women attending the Bedford Square in London clinic. The Guardian has also reported that clinic workers accused 40 Days activists of filming people entering the clinics.

A second group, Abort67, is the English offspring of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-choice lobby group with headquarters in Lake Forest, Calif. The group, founded by Greg Cunningham, a former advisor to President Ronald Reagan, has more extreme tactics than 40 Days. Primarily active in Brighton and London, they display graphic images of late-term fetuses outside clinics in protest.
This type of graphic protest, fairly uncommon among British anti-choice groups, has proven to be an effective scare tactic. A rape victim, who walked through a protest by Abort67 to enter an abortion clinic,told her local paper it left her feeling “intimidated… panicky and judged.”

Website Hacking

Beyond protests, the criminal hacking of an abortion provider’s website here also had U.S. ties. In April, James Jeffrey was convicted of attacking a British Pregnancy Advisory Service website and stealing the personal information of 10,000 women who had registered with the site. He was also convicted of vandalizing the site with slogans referring to the “abortion industry,” a term with roots in U.S. anti-abortion rhetoric.
Following Jeffrey’s conviction, the BBC reported 2,500 attempts to hack the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s website again, with more than half of those attacks originating in the United States.
Parliamentary efforts are also taking a harder anti-choice line. Conservative Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries has twice attempted to introduce legislation to lower the legal limit for abortion in the U.K. to 21 weeks from 24 weeks.
After these attempts failed, Dorries began casting aspersion on abortion providers. She criticized counseling provided by clinics as “biased” during a parliamentary debate on National Health Service practices in September last year.
The charge – common in the U.S. anti-choice movement – implied that providers were financially motivated profiteers. It has since gained currency within mainstream right-wing papers in the U.K., such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.
This is despite the fact that the vast majority of U.K. abortions are provided either by not-for-profit bodies (mostly Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) on behalf of the National Health Service, or by the National Health Service itself. Just 4 percent of abortions are privately funded, according to the Department of Health.

Committee Established

Although Dorries’ amendment was defeated, Anne Milton, the parliamentarian under secretary of state for health, said during the September debate that she was sympathetic to Dorries’ aims. She established a committee to discuss the possibility of independent abortion counseling. Dorries is on that committee, which was due to submit a report at the end of April that hasn’t been published yet.
Pro-choice M.P. Diane Abbott resigned from the committee in January, calling it a front for anti-abortion ideology.
In the face of these attacks, U.K. pro-choice activists are becoming increasingly organized. In Brighton and London, where 40 Days for Life has been most active, an initiative called “40 Days of  Treats” delivered cakes and biscuits to the affected clinics for every day of the 40 Days for Life’s vigil.
When the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child held roadside vigils to mark the anniversary of the 1967 abortion act–which legalized abortion in cases where a woman’s health or life is at risk or if a child is likely to be born with a serious mental or physical disability–pro-choice activists throughout the U.K. held counter-protests.
Local groups have offered leadership in the pro-choice cause. The Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance in London and the Brighton Feminist Collective have been particularly engaged in organizing direct action and producing literature to refute alarmist claims of anti-choice groups.
On May 16, a pro-choice parliamentary meeting organized by the Abortion Rights Campaign brought activists, journalists, abortion providers and parliamentarians together to discuss how best to resist attacks on the right to choose.
But these groups are now clearly on the defensive.
In March, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered inspections of every abortion clinic in the U.K., following a sting operation by the Telegraph newspaper. Doctors who provide abortions say this has left them feeling attacked and demoralized.
Clare Murphy, head of public policy at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said in an article for the Independent in March that there is a worrying possibility that doctors will be deterred from training to perform abortions at all.
Sarah Ditum lives in Bath, England. She is a freelance journalist on politics, family and health.

Centre Proposes Six Months Advance Allocation of PDS Grains #Goodnews


New Delhi: The central government on Thursday decided to allow states to lift and distribute six months’ quota of food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in one go.

The decision has been taken in view of its granaries overflowing and record food production for the third year in a row.

Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution KV Thomas has written to the states, requesting them to make the most of the facility of advance lifting of food grains, according to an official statement.

“This will not only ease the problem of additional storage in view of increased procurement but also ensure uninterrupted supply of ration to the beneficiaries,” it said, reports IANS.

India‘s food grain stocks are 71.21 million tonnes as of May 1 with 38.19 million tonnes of wheat and 33 million tonnes of rice, according to the Food Corporation of India.

Thomas has also requested states to ensure lifting of additional allocation of 60 lakh tonnes grains for above poverty line (APL) families and 15.40 lakh tonnes for the poorest districts in 12 states made during 2011-12.

He regretted that states had lifted only 27 per cent of the additional grain allocation made during the current year.

Further the ministry has asked the states not to force the beneficiaries to lift the additional quota in one go and let them take the grains as per convenience.

In order to ensure transparency, the states have been advised that the bulk distribution may be made as far as possible in the presence of state government officials, representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions, members of vigilance committees in Gram Sabhas and NGOs concerned.

Centre Proposes Six Months Advance Allocation of PDS Grains

New Delhi: The central government on Thursday decided to allow states to lift and distribute six months’ quota of food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in one go.

The decision has been taken in view of its granaries overflowing and record food production for the third year in a row.

Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution KV Thomas has written to the states, requesting them to make the most of the facility of advance lifting of food grains, according to an official statement.

“This will not only ease the problem of additional storage in view of increased procurement but also ensure uninterrupted supply of ration to the beneficiaries,” it said, reports IANS.

India’s food grain stocks are 71.21 million tonnes as of May 1 with 38.19 million tonnes of wheat and 33 million tonnes of rice, according to the Food Corporation of India.

Thomas has also requested states to ensure lifting of additional allocation of 60 lakh tonnes grains for above poverty line (APL) families and 15.40 lakh tonnes for the poorest districts in 12 states made during 2011-12.

He regretted that states had lifted only 27 per cent of the additional grain allocation made during the current year.

Further the ministry has asked the states not to force the beneficiaries to lift the additional quota in one go and let them take the grains as per convenience.

In order to ensure transparency, the states have been advised that the bulk distribution may be made as far as possible in the presence of state government officials, representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions, members of vigilance committees in Gram Sabhas and NGOs concerned.

In a communication sent to the Chief Ministers of all the States/UTs, Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Prof K.V. Thomas has requested the states to avail the facility of advance lifting of food grains and its onward distribution to the TPDS beneficiaries to the maximum extent possible. This will not only ease the problem of additional storage in view of increased procurement but also ensure uninterrupted supply of ration to the beneficiaries.Prof Thomas has also requested the States to ensure lifting of additional allocation of 60 lakh tons for Above Poverty Line (APL) and 15.40 lakh tons for poorest districts in 12 States made during the current year under TPDS to the States/UTs. He has regretted that the states have lifted only 27 percent of the allocation made to these districts during 2011-12.

Regarding the six months advance allocation of ration to PDS beneficiaries in one go, the States have been advised to ensure that beneficiaries are not compelled to lift their entire allocation in one go and it should be purely voluntary. In order to ensure transparency, states have been advised that the bulk distribution may be made as far as possible in the presence of state government officials, representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions, members of vigilance committees in Gram Sabhas and NGOs concerned.