17 March 2012

ONEWORLDNEWS: Guardians for the Future - 20 March

Ross Jackson (author, Occupy World Street ) and Rupert Read (author, "Guardians of the Future") discuss radical ideas for protecting the interests of future generations.

The costs of decisions we make today will be borne by future generations; the issue of intergenerational justice is at the heart of the need to act on climate change. So how might the world be different if the interests and basic needs of future generations were given legal protection?

Earlier this year, OneWorldcolumnist, Rupert Read, a philosopher at the University of East Anglia and founder of the new Green House Think Tank, launched a proposal called Guardians of the Future at the House of Commons: A council of "Guardians of Future Generations", chosen like a jury from the general public, would sit above the existing law-making bodies and have two core powers. A power to veto legislation that threatened the basic needs and interests of future people and the power to force a review, following suitable public petition, of any existing legislation that threatens the interests of future people.

In his forthcoming book, Occupy World Street, Ross Jackson, proposes a similar, but elected, institution as one of many specific political and economic reforms that could make it possible to address climate change and protect future generations: A council of 'wise elders' would be elected ─ one from each major region of the world ─ to exercise just one power, and that to be used sparingly, the power to veto or void any resolution passed by lower powers whenever they feel things are moving in the wrong direction for the whole of humanity.

Damian Carrington, covering the launch of Rupert Read's proposal in the Guardian, wrote:

The idea of Guardians of Future Generations joins a number of radical ideas which are starting to make small but real impacts in the world. Hungary appointed an Ombudsman for Future Generations in 2008. The concept of the crime of ecocide is being considered by the UN. And Bolivia has passed laws giving nature equal rights to those of humans.
Come along to hear Ross and Rupert discuss their ideas, and to join in the public debate that follows. Tuesday, 20th March at the Assembly House, Norwich, 6-7.30pm.

Ross Jackson's book Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform is published by Green Books on 22nd March 2012.

12 March 2012

Women and the Arab Spring

By Marguerite Finn

On the 8th March this year, International Women’s Day was 101 years old! We have had over a century celebrating a day, which was born not from celebration but out of protest and demands for change. In 1908 in New York, 15,000 garment workers marched through the streets demanding shorter working hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour. In 1911, over a million women took to the streets in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland demanding the right to vote, the right to work, the right to hold public office and an end to discrimination.

By 2012, in the ‘developed world’ at least, many of these demands have been met. In some developing nations there is still a long way to go.

The world is in a state of almost permanent conflict, declared, unfinished or imminent. The causes of those wars lie not just in ‘realpolitik’ and the supposed security of States, but in economics and the need for resources. It was the lack of economic rights that sparked the uprisings in the Arab States followed by demands for civil and political rights. It is the same message now as it was 101 years ago.

So how are women faring in the Arab Spring? It seems that they are not faring as well as they should be. Women, alongside men, participated in the protest movements that shook the Arab world in 2011 and continue in 2012, demanding freedom, equality, justice and democracy. Women, as well as men, paid and continue to pay a high price for their struggles. Today women must be able to play their full part in building the futures of their countries. Women's participation in public and political life, on an equal basis with men, is an essential condition for democracy and social justice, values at the heart of the Arab spring. The changes sweeping the region, which in some countries have transformed the political landscapes, present real opportunities for women to push for their rights. Yet they also present risks of regression. Demands for equality are set aside, while the efforts of protesters focus on bringing down regimes and dismantling oppressive state institutions. Recent history painfully reminds us that the massive occupation of public space by women during revolutions, in no way guarantees their role in the political bodies of the regimes that follow.

Although the situation of women varies across the region, threats to their human rights converge. Women are now confronting attempts to exclude them from public life, as well as acts of discrimination and violence, perpetrated with impunity by extremist groups and security forces. At a time when conservative forces appear to be growing in strength, it is vital that steps are taken to establish equal rights between men and women, as the very foundation of democratic societies.

Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said in Paris on the eve of this year’s International Women’s Day: “Women’s participation in public and political life, on an equal basis with men, is an essential condition for democracy and social justice”.

FIDH sites examples where women have not made the progress expected: in countries in transition women are being marginalised or even excluded entirely from political bodies. In Egypt, there were no women in 2 committees nominated to draft the new constitution. A new electoral law abolished measures guaranteeing women minimum representation in parliament and women gained only 2% of seats in the recent elections. In Libya, the electoral law adopted by the National Transitional Council (NTC) contains no quota for the representation of women in elected bodies. In Morocco, a law adopted in October 2011 established a quota of only 15% and there is one woman minister in the 30 member cabinet (compared to 7 in the previous government). In Tunisia, the 41-member government contains only 3 women.

Concessions on women's rights are often used as bargaining chips by politicians to maintain power by appeasing the most conservative forces. In Libya, while proclaiming the country's liberation from Qaddafi, the President of the National Transitional Council declared that restrictions on polygamy would be removed and divorce prohibited. In Tunisia, several representatives of the new government have issued declarations proposing measures that would violate women's rights.

During the revolutions and uprisings across the region, there have been numerous reports of violence targeting women, committed by militia, soldiers and police. There have also been reports of violence against women committed by demonstrators.

In Syria, women have been abducted by pro-regime forces to spread fear within the population and there are many reports of rape. In Libya, rape was used as a weapon of war and the stigmatization of victims is such that they are condemned to silence. In Egypt, women participating in the demonstrations have been sexually assaulted by protesters and several women protesters were forced by the army to undergo "virginity tests".

Faced with this reality, the International Federation of Human Rights is calling on national governments and parliaments to sign up to “20 measures for equality” and appealing to all ‘international actors’ to support the implementation of these measures by: supporting national and regional women's rights movements and civil society organisations; systematically including women's rights in bilateral and multilateral political dialogues; and systematically including women's rights, with specific objectives and indicators, in all cooperation programmes.

The 20 measures can be found on http://arabwomenspring.fidh.net and http://arabwomenspring.fidh.net/index.php?title=Women_and_the_Arab_Spring:20_measures_for_equality

So for all their participation and enthusiasm in the Arab Spring demonstrations, women’s status in society on equal terms with their male counterparts is not yet assured – and the practice of raping women as a weapon of war is on the increase (as are the wars). The UN Secretary General is addressing this growing trend. But both women and men need to keep up the pressure on their governments to stamp out this barbarity without delay. How many of the new transitional governments will sign up to the “20 measures for equality” is hard to say and even if they do sign up, will they keep to their promises? The FIDH will need to monitor the situation carefully so that progress can be measured by International Women’s Day 2013.


4 March 2012

The Battle for the Arctic

As NASA reports that satellite data shows the Arctic multi-year ice is dwindling even faster than single-year ice, having more than halved in extent since the 1970’s; and an article in Science highlights the unprecedented speed at which we are acidifying the oceans through CO2 emissions risking a mass extinction of ocean creatures. Oil companies line up to explore the Arctic wilderness for more of the fossil fuels which are responsible for these disasters in the first place.

In today’s OWC I have pulled together excerpts from the blogs of Greenpeace activists from New Zealand who last week boarded a drilling ship chartered by Shell with which they intend to explore for oil in the Arctic this coming summer.

23 February: right now Greenpeace activists are stopping a Shell drill ship from leaving the Port of Taranaki in New Zealand for the Arctic. Climbers - including actress Lucy Lawless - have scaled the rig's drill derrick and set up camp, equipped with enough gear to last for days. They are asking you to join them - by sending a message to Shell demanding it stays out of the Arctic.

Here's why: this is an industry that sees its own demise on the horizon. To survive it is prepared to go to the ends of the earth and take extreme risks in search of the last drops of oil. From the Great South Basin below New Zealand to the far reaches of the Arctic, nothing is sacred to Big Oil. So we have to act.

Shell's planned incursion into the Arctic signals the beginning of an Arctic oil rush that could cause irreparable harm to this fragile frozen world and its inhabitants. A major oil spill in the Arctic would be an environmental disaster. Experts say it would be virtually impossible to clean up, due to the harsh weather conditions and the sheer lack of vessels and infrastructure in the area. More than 6,000 vessels were pulled in to deal with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and even so only a meagre 17% of the oil was recovered. The US Coast Guard has made clear there is no way they could deploy thousands of vessels to deal with a blow-out in the Arctic.

The Arctic's already under huge pressure from climate change. Temperatures are rising faster there than anywhere else on earth and the ice is melting rapidly. If we're going to have any hope of keeping a lid on climate change then we have to leave Arctic oil in the ground. We can't watch the ice retreat then watch the oil giants send in their rigs. This is a fight for our survival. That's why we can't let this drill ship get to the Arctic. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Shell and the other oil giants need to hear this message loud and clear from people all around the world - the Arctic is off-limits to your oil rigs.

Day three: it's been a tough couple of days but I'm getting my second wind now - especially seeing how our action - seven kiwis sitting on a drillship - has caused such a roaring avalanche of disapproval to rain down on the big yellow Shell. It's not comfortable up here but our discomfort is a small sacrifice and well worth making to raise so much awareness about what Shell want to inflict on the Arctic and its people.

We are still being buffeted by strong winds but woke to a stunning sunrise and blue sky this morning. Our camp has been getting cosier each day. Solar panels placed to catch the sun and tarps deflect the wind. We have hammocks and sleeping bags filled with instant heat sachets, which takes most of the night chill off.

This has been a fitting first chapter for what will undoubtedly be an epic battle. The battle to save one of the most beautiful, unique and iconic places on earth from the seemingly insatiable greed of the oil industry. A battle to save the world from climate change - the greatest threat we face today.

Throughout this time Shell has tried to say it wants to talk, to explain how it can drill safely in the frozen Arctic, and that there's nothing to worry about. But both common sense and scientific consensus tells us there is no way to safely drill up there in the frozen north. A spill in the icy Arctic seas would be impossible to clean up. And it is no time to talk when aging rust-bucket drill ships like the Noble Discoverer are heading for the Arctic right now. Now is the time for action.

This is just the start of the story. The fight for the Arctic has only just begun. Join us now to finish the job at greenpeace.org/savethearctic.

Locally you can get active with Greenpeace in Norwich and other groups around the region, just go to the Greenpeace groups page, put in your postcode and it will tell you where your nearest group is.