Lowering the Sky-High Murder Rate in Latin America

Two women hold signs with the pictures of murdered relatives during a demonstration against the lack of safety on the streets, on June 20, 2009 in Caracas.  ​(Photo: Juann Barreto / AFP/ Getty Images);  featured background image by Creatyves / DeviantArt.

Sergio Vicente Goulard’s body lay naked on a hospital stretcher in Rio de Janeiro, waiting to be identified. A few hours earlier, paramilitaries had shot him in the head inside his home. Luiz Carlos Barbosa was found on the street in the middle of a favela controlled by two criminal gangs; he had been executed for switching his allegiance. Jorge Luiz Bento’s family found his corpse rotting near a stream in the municipality of Nova Iguaçu, headless and with his hands bound. Claudeir Francisco had been cycling when he was shot; he was still clinging to his cellphone headphones as his mother wept over his body. Leandro Alves died in the company of his wife and son after he pulled out a gun during an attempted carjacking. The ensuing shootout also took the life of one of the assailants.

On Jan. 28, 2017, we saw those six corpses in Baixada Fluminense, an area with the highest homicide rate in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In Latin America, the most violent region in the world, the victims will most likely be forgotten and the murderers will most likely go free.

Those bodies, found far from Rio’s beaches, attest to the average of six murders per day in this area. And they are just one example of what is going on all over Latin America, where each day the morgues receive the bodies of roughly 400 murdered people. The homicide rate is so high — about four people every 15 minutes — that we are no longer shocked by the deaths. Latin America is home to just over 8 percent of the world’s population but a third of its homicides; between 2000 and 2016, 2.6 million people were murdered. Most countries have seen their homicide rate fall, but in Latin American countries, it is on the rise.

Murder has become a normal part of life. But we must work to reverse that. Some cities are fighting impunity and have developed social programs to reduce violence. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. The cure for the epidemic is complex. It will come from difficult, long-term adjustments in everyday life. And, of course, from the enforcement of the rule of law.

That day in January we began investigating homicide in the seven most violent countries in Latin America — Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — to understand how an act that takes place in the space of a second can represent an entire culture of violence, corruption and impunity.

Many lives are connected to the dead: drug traffickers, police officers, death squads, ranch owners and sometimes children with access to guns. There are the investigators, whose new cases are more likely to be shelved than resolved, and the overburdened judges and expensive lawyers. And there are the mothers, children and wives who will relive the fatal scenes over and over again in their minds.

Punishment is rare. The Latin American countries included on the Global Impunity Index, from Mexico’s Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice, are categorized as nations of “high” impunity. Mexico is No. 2 on the list, after the Philippines. If we take into account the crimes that are never reported and remain unaccounted for, the two countries have an impunity rate of 99 percent.

People kill because they can get away with it. They kill to gain territorial control, to traffic drugs, to settle political disputes. The United Nations’ Global Study on Homicide establishes three types of murders: criminal, interpersonal and sociopolitical. Latin America takes first place in all three categories.

Infographic: The Top-10 Most Violent Cities Worldwide | StatistaFind more statistics at Statista

Marco Antônio Pinto, a homicide investigator from Baixada Fluminense, in Rio de Janeiro, told us that he liked working in his unit because it was a “jungle” of murders with “a wild variety of fauna.” A juvenile judge who has heard hundreds of testimonies told us that the young people who pass through his courtroom rarely express regret for having committed murder, just shame for having been caught.

While most Latin Americans have seen murder victims only on TV and in the newspapers, there are indeed many — usually poor people with dark skin from marginal neighborhoods — who have actually witnessed far too many murders. They are also likely to be murderers and murder victims themselves. According to a 2016 report, 50 percent of the homicides in Latin American cities take place on 1.6 percent of their streets.

Not long ago we visited Fortaleza, the city with the highest rate of child and adolescent homicide victims in Brazil. In 2013, the murder rate was 268 per 100,000 inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 17, but the map of lethal violence was an almost perfect arc that covered an area far from the tourist zone, where some neighborhoods had gone a whole year without a single homicide. When we visited these areas and asked young people how many murders they knew of, they sometimes had to use two hands to count.

A majority of the murders committed in Latin America take place in the seven countries on the path that we have been covering since January. Three years ago we traveled to those countries, as well as 11 others in Latin America, to write “Narco América,” a book about the impact of drug trafficking. Whenever we asked authorities why they had such high homicide rates, the answer was usually the same: drugs.

Bodies of two victims of Mexico’s ongoing drug war are seen lying by the side of a road as police secure the area in the city of Veracruz, Mexico.​ (AP / Getty Images)​

Drug trafficking is a factor in these and other ills (30 percent of the homicides are linked to organized crime or gangs), but it doesn’t explain everything. Countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, which also lie on the drug route leading to the United States, have the lowest homicide rates in Central America, light-years from their neighbors in the so-called Northern Triangle. Peru and Bolivia are major cocaine producers, yet their murder rate is nowhere near that of Colombia.

The most murderous nations are plagued with a number of common problems, but each also has it own particular issues. The drug war in Mexico is one of the most lethal conflicts in the world. Gang-related battles in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have rendered that small triumvirate the world homicide capital. In Colombia, on the other hand, deaths connected to the country’s conflict dropped by a third over a decade, but other types of violence led to more than 12,000 murders last year. Venezuela is in the grip of a social and economic meltdown: Last year there were 21,752 registered homicides. In Brazil, cities as well as rural areas are rife with territorial conflicts, and the national police force is among the deadliest in the world. All told, in Latin America 144,000 people are murdered every year.

Homicide is not just a consequence of something else: In our society it is a normalized practice for resolving conflicts. A 15-year-old told us he had killed his girlfriend because he had gotten angry at her.

As with any illness or addiction, the first step is accepting that we have become homicidal countries. For years, governments have massaged the statistics and assigned blame to their neighbors. In some cases, they have actively contributed to the problem, using violence to stop violence, as in the cases of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico — a country that, a decade after militarizing the fight against crime, started the new year with the highest number of homicides in its history.

But there are a handful of positive experiences worth examining and replicating. In Honduras, the Association for a More Just Society has developed a project that supports homicide investigations. In Venezuela, Proyecto Alcatraz provides work, sports and educational opportunities to young people in criminal gangs. In Brazil, authorities have tried placing community police officers in high-risk zones with programs like Stay Alive and Pact for Life. The ban on carrying firearms in Colombian cities has resulted in a moderate reduction in murder rates. Regulating the sale of alcohol as a security measure has been successful in Bogotá and Diadema, in the state of São Paulo.

In April, 30 civic organizations from Latin America’s seven most violent countries began the Instinto de Vida (Instinct for Life) campaign, aimed at reducing homicides by 50 percent over the next 10 years through conflict mediation; gun, alcohol and drug regulations; recidivism prevention; guaranteeing access to justice and due process; and strengthening relations between the police and communities. These measures share a common vision: They repudiate hard-line policies, target specific areas with high homicide rates and view homicide as a social, educational, economic and cultural phenomenon rather than simply a security issue. All of this work is producing promising results.

​White crosses placed by human rights organizations in memory of victims of violence are seen around Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)​

It is impossible, however, to attempt to reduce crime without the rule of law firmly in place. When the justice system doesn’t work, when investigations are not pursued, when crimes go unpunished, more murders will be committed. The bottleneck in the Mexican justice system, for example, gets tighter and tighter in the path from police officer to judge. In Mexico, there are four judges per 100,000 inhabitants; the international average is about 40 per 100,000. We have an exorbitant number of murders and a system that is unable and unwilling to investigate them, whether because of corruption or because the dead simply don’t matter enough.

A few years ago at a crime scene in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, we found a homicide inspector holding an almost blank notebook, indignant because he couldn’t get any information. “Nobody gives a damn — this is a farce,” he told us, gesturing at the gawkers taking photos of the body. Each month his superiors asked him to solve just two of the 30 cases stacked on his desk.

If we want to change this, we must confront the homicides with security policies as well as social programs. Most important, we need to break the chain of impunity. The first 24 hours after a murder are essential: Investigations must be swift, exhaustive and transparent. A strong chain of justice, which would include specialized police officers and sufficient independent judges to deal with the volume of cases, would be the first steps toward reducing the number of people who kill and are killed in Latin America.

Source: Life Where the Murder Rate Is Sky-High -By Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras | The New York Times | Leer en español @NYT

Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras, the authors of “Narco América,” are currently doing research for En Malos Pasos, a project on homicide in seven Latin American countries. This essay was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.


Recommended…
Latin America’s Murder Epidemic: How to Stop the Killings -By Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho | Foreign Policy
The World’s Most Dangerous Cities | The Economist
Mexico Can Catch All The Drug Kingpins There Are, But There’s a Different Problem Driving Crime -Christopher Woody | Business Insider
✻ How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico -By Ginger Thompson | ProPublica
✻ Duterte’s Murderous Drug War in the Philippines -By Alex Emmons | The Intercept
Open for Business, Not Human Rights: Trump’s Priorities in Central America -By Lauren Carasik | Boston Review
✻​ Crime Reporting in the Murder Capital: San Pedro Sula Nights​ | VICE News (Video)
✻​ Brazil Violence: Murders on the Rise in Rio de Janeiro | Al Jazeera (Video)
✻ Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws -By Lulu Garcia-Navarro | NPR
✻ Organized Crime, Gangs Make Latin America Most Violent Region -By Mary Murray | NBC News
✻ Latin America Is World’s Most Violent Region -By David Luhnow | The Wall Street Journal
✻ Inside the World’s Deadliest Country: Honduras

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Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

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✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

The Underbelly of the Syrian War: Trade in Human Organs

A young man Syrian refugee named Raïd, shown here, recently sold his kidney in Lebanon.​ (Photo: ​Ulrike Putz)

The illegal trade in human organs has become widespread in Syria and neighboring countries, medical officials and victims say, with cross-border networks exploiting thousands of desperate Syrians.

These networks purchase transplantable organs such as kidneys and corneas from Syrians and ship them to neighboring countries, where they disappear into the murky world of the international organ trade, they say. There are also allegations that organs have been stolen from prisoners.

Yasser (not his real name) is one of those who sold one of his own kidneys, which he calls the “worst decision of my life.” The 29-year-old fled the fighting in his home city of Homs, in western Syria, around 100 miles north of the capital Damascus, after the start of the war. He made his way to Cairo, but like many other Syrian refugees he had trouble getting work and found himself with no money to survive.

He heard through acquaintances that some people would pay for one of his kidneys. “I was new to Egypt. I did not have any money, and I couldn’t find a job, so my only choice was to sell my left kidney,” he said. A broker invited him to his home and a date was set for medical tests and the operation. “I sold it for $3,000 to someone I knew nothing about. We met for no more than 15 minutes before we closed the deal,” he said.

After the operation, Yasser moved to Istanbul, where he now shares a crowded apartment with several other young refugee men and works in an auto shop. The operation has left him permanently marked—both physically and emotionally—and he felt uncomfortable sharing further details of the procedure: “I will never forgive myself for what I did,” said Yasser, who has had pain in his remaining right kidney and had a doctor tell him he could die if he is not very careful.

There are no reliable statistics on how widespread the practice may be.

However, Hussein Nofal, head of the department of forensic medicine at Damascus University and chief of the newly formed General Authority for Forensic Medicine, has been compiling evidence of the organ trade and estimates 18,000 Syrians have had organs removed for sale over the past four years of war.

Mu’azzaz shows her scar at home in Lebanon on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Photo: Bill Kotsatos/Redux)

He said the trade is particularly active in border areas outside the control of the Assad regime and inside Turkey and Lebanon’s camps for Syrian refugees.

Nofal said organ prices vary across the region. In Turkey, someone can purchase a kidney for $10,000, while in Iraq the price may be as low as $1,000. In Lebanon and Syria, the cost hovers around $3,000.

He was also quoted last year in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which is reportedly close to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as saying that gangs working with Syrian doctors sell corneas for $7,500 each to foreign clients and falsify their country of origin.

Even war-torn countries have laws; the laws surrounding the organ trade in Syria are opaque, though, and with the raging conflict, difficult to enforce or take as far as prosecution.

All across Damascus, for instance, there are hundreds of posters requesting organ “donation,” especially next to hospitals and pharmacies. A typical one reads: “A sick person is in urgent need of a kidney. Blood type needed: O+. Tissue analysis to be done. For those interested in donating, please contact the number below.”

Authorities can do little about such advertisements, since under Syrian law organ donations to relatives and strangers are legal. To further skirt the law, the organ “donors” who answer these fliers go to their local court and attest that they are donating and not selling their organ.

Nevertheless, at least 20 complaints related to the organ trade made their way to the Damascus courts between March 2011 and September 2015. No such cases were seen before the fighting broke out, according to the attorney general of rural Damascus, Ahmad al-Sayyed.

These complaints, which name alleged criminals, as well as doctors and hospitals, have largely been filed by relatives of those who have died. They are considered difficult if not impossible to prosecute since those involved are hard to track down amid the conflict.

However, al-Sayyed estimates that there have been at least 20,000 cases of illegal organ sales across the whole country since the start of the war, especially in border areas where there are no longer any courts or police officers to enforce the laws. A judicial source at the Syrian Ministry of Justice who asked to not be named said police do not have the resources to follow up on individual cases to ensure the person receiving the organ has not paid the “donor.”

One oncologist, Dr. Mohammed Awram (not his real name), said the trade is widespread in the northern rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib. “A dermatologist asked me to sell the organs of pro-government detainees in rural Idlib, since, as he put it, they were going to be executed anyway,” said the doctor, who specializes in surgical oncology and traveled to Syria recently to treat patients in the rural areas around Idlib. The dermatologist explained to him that there were many buyers who were willing to pay, and that the money would be used to buy much-needed medical equipment and to support the armed opposition groups.

Awram refused on ethical grounds. He was also worried that such operations might lead to innocent people being arrested in order to harvest their organs. His refusal resulted in his being accused of working for the Syrian government.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS), he said, tried to kill him several times when he attempted to start manufacturing medicines, so he moved to rural Aleppo when Idlib was overrun with the Islamic extremists. “The area I moved to was [also] controlled by [ISIS], and we saw many cases of corpses with missing internal organs, mostly the liver and left kidney. However, I saw one case of a missing bladder,” he said.

Murhaf al-Muallem, director of the Consultative Center for Studies and Human Rights, said his organization has documented dozens of cases of Syrian organs being sold inside and outside Syria. “The center blames Syria’s neighboring countries for the situation, since they are not providing Syrian refugees with protection or job opportunities, which has led many of them to sell their own organs in order to provide for their families. Their poverty made them easy victims for the organ trade mafias,” he said.

Source: Underbelly of the War: Trade in Human Organs -By Ahmad Haj and Tamer Osman | Syria Deeply

Ahmad Haj Hamdo and Tamer Osman report for the Syrian Independent Media Group, which is comprised of five independent Syrian media organizations working together to highlight untold stories from the war-torn country: Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Rozana Radio, Syria Deeply, Syria Untold and the Violation Documentation Center in Syria. The project is supported by International Media Support.


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Meeting An Organ Trafficker Who Preys on Syrian Refugees -By Alex Forsyth | BBC News

An American Tragedy

Donald Trump at a campaign rally on Oct. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP); Background image credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

Source: An American Tragedy – By David Remnick | The New Yorker (11/9/2016)


David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.”

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

Into the Abyss: Corruption, Violence, and Famine Fuel Another Genocide in South Sudan

​A newly-arrived refugee child from South Sudan sleeps on a dirty floor at the Ngomoromo border post on the Ugandan side on April 10, 2017. According to a statement from the UNHCR, more than 6,000 people have fled into the northern Ugandan district of Lamwo since the start of the fighting in the South Sudan town of Pajok. Fighting between government forces and rebels erupted on April 3, 2017. (Photo by ​Isaac Kasamani / AFP / Getty​). Background image: A ​skull found on the ground in South Suda​n on March 31, 2016.​ (Photo by Nick Turse)​.

A legacy of corruption and violence has finally caught up to South Sudan, the world’s newest country, as the United Nations has declared a full-blown famine, a rare designation not made for any part of the world since 2011. Multiple UN officials have additionally warned that the country,  driven by armed conflict, stands on the brink of genocide.

A brief review of that nation’s history can offer insight into how things got so bad—and what, in concert with the urgent need for a surge in humanitarian aid, can be done to dismantle seemingly endless cycles of violence and suffering.

The underlying sources of conflict and human suffering in South Sudan today have not really changed much since Sudan’s independence in 1956, at which time South Sudan was still part of the larger nation of Sudan—South Sudan only became an independent state in 2011. This is a history of unchecked greed, manifesting itself primarily in the accumulation of wealth and power by corrupt leaders.

“South Sudan may be one of the poorest countries in the world per capita, but it is fabulously wealthy resource-wise: oil, gold, livestock (which are sources of wealth, savings, status, and social standing), the Nile River, and land. The ultimate prize is control of a kleptocratic, winner-take-all state with institutions that have been hijacked by government officials and their commercial collaborators for the purposes of self-enrichment and brutal repression of dissent.

When a peace deal was struck in 2005 ending the North-South war, the southerners were given authority over an interim administration in the southern third of the country, the part that would vote in an independence referendum six years later. During that interim period, two competing kleptocratic factions, led by Salva Kiir and Riek Machar—who would later become, respectively, South Sudan’s president and vice-president—had their own ethnic militias, corruption schemes, and patronage networks. Neither side was genuinely interested in building democratic institutions, good governance, transparency, service delivery, women’s empowerment, or economic development. Instead, the focus was on looting.

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MAN-MADE FAMINE RAVAGES WAR TORN SOUTH SUDAN. Years of civil war, a refugee crisis and a collapsing economy have taken their toll on South Sudan since it gained its independence in 2011.​ ​Famine in South Sudan has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country’s population, in need of urgent help, aid agencies say.​ ​People are already dying of hunger, and another 1 million people are on the brink of famine,​ ​according to the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian agencies.

The loyalties of different armed leaders and their fighters in different regions had to be purchased—or temporarily leased—to build a consolidated southern army and ensure a decisive vote for independence in 2011. As the interim southern administration established its system of managing finances, leaders went from managing a budget of about $100,000 to managing a budget of more than $1.5 billion when the oil-sharing provisions of the peace deal were enacted. An oil-fueled gravy train (PDF) was created, and grew as the budget expanded in the years that followed. Beyond funding for the army and a few other government functions, nearly everything else appears to have been stolen, as there was no transparency with the oil income and where it went. When the independent state of South Sudan was established in 2011, the looting only increased. Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks South Sudan 175 out of 176 countries.

A den of thieves had been created. The thieves had a falling out, first politically, then with open war in 2013, a scant two years after independence. These competing armed factions have committed horrible atrocities over the past couple of years as they violently pursue the spoils of a hijacked and perverted state. The horrors of war, however, have not deterred the leaders from continuing to milk the country’s system, as demonstrated in the 2016 investigative report by The Sentry.

The favored tactic for imposing will and exploiting resources throughout this history has been the recruitment and use of ethnic-based militias conducting scorched-earth operations. Ethnicity has been used as the main mobilizer for organized violence, which resulted in genocidal violence in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and in parts of South Sudan even during the North-South War that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence.

In most genocides or other mass atrocities, leaders figure out a way to use identities to mobilize citizen sentiment and drive wedges between communities. This is an essential element of a divide-and-conquer war strategy. In South Sudan, ethnic-based militias are recruited and armed to attack the communities perceived to be opponents. This practice goes back to the British colonial era, when identities were politicized, just as the Belgians did in colonial Rwanda, establishing “tribal authorities.” Even religion was politicized along ethnic lines in South Sudan by the British in the way missionary societies were deployed.

When militias are recruited and mobilized on an ethnic basis, a classic “drain the water to catch the fish” approach ensues, in which the population is targeted and cleared from the area, thus depriving opposition elements of a civilian base from which to recruit, resupply, and find sanctuary. War tactics include village burning, sexual slavery, burning of food stocks, denial of aid access, mass rape, forced conscription of children, and killing of civilians. Mass atrocities become routinized.

In 2013, the two main competing kleptocratic factions of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that had unified for the purposes of securing the independence of the country in 2011 had another falling-out, plunging the country back into war, mass hunger, and the brink of state collapse. There has been total impunity for the resource theft, child soldier recruitment, abductions, mass rape, bombing of civilian targets, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

Saving South Sudan

In South Sudan today, war crimes pay. There is no accountability for the atrocities and looting of state resources, or for the famine that has resulted. But it would be a mistake to see the trajectory of South Sudan as hopeless, its future fixed in the devastating status quo.

Many African countries became independent states in the past 50 to 60 years. South Sudan is five years old as an independent state. Sudan, the country from which it split five years ago, is 60. At the age of 60, the United States had a transatlantic slave trade fueling an economic boom, was ethnically clearing and cleansing its Native American populations, and had not yet fought its own civil war, one of the deadliest in per capita terms in the history of the world. Europe has an even deadlier history of state formation, marked by five centuries of border-defining conflict and genocide.

Thus, South Sudan and more broadly Africa are not so wildly different from the United States and Europe. Wars of state formation are just occurring later in Africa (because of colonialism) and with deadlier and more plentiful weapons, many of which are produced in countries with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. Well over half of the countries that emerge from wars eventually go back to war, especially when root causes remain unaddressed, so again South Sudan is not exceptional.

Many countries that were written off as hopelessly stuck in conflict and crisis over the last few decades have emerged and built new futures. Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and many others have emerged from deep crisis. Yes, they all have ongoing issues related to either corruption or restricting political space, but they are light years ahead of where they were just decades ago. More than half of the continent of Africa is at peace and growing economically. Many African countries are building democratic institutions and holding credible elections. Patience and the proper investments can lead to a turnaround in South Sudan, too.

Huge resources have been thrown at the problem for decades. Billions of dollars have supported peacekeeping forces, further billions have underwritten humanitarian assistance, and one peace process after another has tried to break the cycle of violence. But none of these efforts focus on the driving force of the mayhem. In South Sudan, corruption isn’t an anomaly within the system; it is the system itself, the very purpose of the state. There is no attempt to dismantle or counter the kleptocratic networks that benefit more from instability than peace.

The missing ingredient in the international response is the creation of sufficient leverage or influence to shift the calculations of these violent kleptocrats from war to peace, from atrocities to human rights, from mass corruption to good governance. The surest way for the international community to build influence is to hit these “thieves of state” in their wallets.

A young girl hangs a South Sudan flag on a wooden pole on January 30, 2011 (Photo by Timothy McKulka/USAID).

There are a number of internal conflicts within the broader war in South Sudan that will have to be resolved. External and internal change agents can work together to reform the kleptocratic system, build institutions of accountability, and create new incentives for better governance. Ultimately, South Sudanese people will drive reform and determine their future. From the outside, the United States, Europe, the United Nations, the African Union, and other concerned actors around the world can provide support and solidarity to the efforts of South Sudanese people who are on the front lines of efforts to build peace, good governance, and accountability.

However, in many cases it is the policies of external actors (countries, companies, banks, arms providers) that help provide a great deal of the fuel for the fires that burn in South Sudan and other war-torn African states. Therefore, some of the most meaningful actions that can be taken are focused on countering negative policies and commercial arrangements that originate from outside South Sudan and dramatically disadvantage South Sudan’s civilian population.

What is needed is a hard-target search for the dirty money, the ill-gotten gains from the last decade of looting. Choking the illicit financial flows of the kleptocrats is the key point of leverage available to the international community, given the vulnerability of stolen assets that are offshored in neighboring countries or around the world in the form of houses, cars, buildings, businesses, and bank accounts. The kleptocrats are not hiding their money under their mattresses. The points of convergence where illicit financial schemes rely on legitimate global financial infrastructure are where policy, enforcement, and regulatory efforts should be focused. Dismantling the financial networks that enable and benefit from atrocities will give peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts a real chance of success.

Tying accountability and consequences to credible peace efforts aimed at root causes represents the most promising route to peace. The international community needs to help make war costlier than peace for the leaders and their networks of collaborators, and change their cost-benefit analysis, creating targeted and personal consequences for corrupt war-mongers. The perverse incentives that reward violence and theft must be reoriented. The most promising policy approach would combine creative anti-money laundering measures with targeted sanctions aimed at kleptocratic networks, the combination of which would be robustly enforced with the objective of not just freezing a few assets, but rather freezing those willing to commit mass atrocities out of the international financial system altogether.

This is revolutionary, because it would suddenly give international policymakers and diplomats a major point of leverage to impact the calculations of those willing to commit mass atrocities to maintain or gain power. Given the dominant position of the United States in the international financial system, and the extreme vulnerability to which the assets of South Sudan’s kleptocrats are exposed within that system, the United States is uniquely positioned to help alter the incentives for South Sudan’s leaders away from grand corruption and war, and to give peace a chance in that embattled and long-suffering land.

War criminals and their international collaborators should pay a price for destroying so much of the hope that accompanied South Sudan’s birth as an independent nation a mere five years ago, and for their role in creating a full-blown, UN-declared famine. Despite the shadow of a corrupt and brutal history, it’s not too late for that hope to be restored.

Source: Corrupt Leaders Thrust South Sudan Into Famine and Abject Ruin -By John Prendergast | Enough Project via The Daily Beast

John Prendergast is founding director of the Enough Project, and co-founder of The Sentry.


Recommended…
A Mission That Was Set Up to Fail -By Column Lynch | Foreign Policy
South Sudan: Killings, Rapes, Looting in Juba | Human Rights Watch
How The World’s Newest Country Went Awry: South Sudan’s War, Famine, and Potential Genocide -By John Prendergast | Enough Project
South Sudan Violence Is Tribal ‘Genocide’-By Rodney Muhumuza | ABC News
South Sudan Faces Famine, Potential Genocide in Civil War | Interview between NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simona Foltyn and John Janoub | PBS Newshour
This Woman Has First-Hand Experience of the Atrocities in South Sudan -Aryn Baker | TIME
World Food Program ‘Horrified’ as South Sudan Workers Killed | ABC News

Fears of Ethnic Cleansing Resurface in South Sudanese Town as Militia Kill 10 -By Ludivica Iaccino | Newsweek

Is There Any Hope for Peace in South Sudan? -By Jacey Fortin | The New York Times
Is There Any Hope Left for South Sudan? -By Justin Lynch | The New Yorker

A Photographer on the Ground in South Sudan: A New nation, in Crisis -By Vaughn Wallace; Photography by Fabio Bucciarelli | Al Jazeera America (Photos)

Beyond International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights

Photo credit (above): Women of Green; Featured image (background): People gather to form a woman symbol to celebrate International Women’s Day at Manila’s Rizal Park on March 8, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Jay Directo)

Women around the world stand at the forefront of rising movements to defend and protect the health of water, land, air and diverse communities. While we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, it is vital to honor the women defenders who, with incredible courage and effort, are taking on corporations and governments to say “no” to resource extraction and the continued violation of human rights, women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and front-line communities. Through their work, these women act so that the generations to come may yet stand a chance of inheriting a sustainable and livable planet.

With increased frequency however, many of the women and men who advocate daily in defense of a just world are being systematically criminalized, attacked and murdered with impunity. According to 2016 reports by Global Witness, 2015 was the most dangerous year on record for land defenders, with at least three people per week killed for nonviolent opposition to mining and fossil fuel projects, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams, logging and other extractive industries.

Indigenous peoples defending ancestral territories represent upward of 40 percent of those killed. Women, and indigenous women in particular, face even greater challenges and dangers as they navigate the brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and sexual violence and gender-based persecution.

Tragedies such as the 2016 murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres indicate the acceleration of these trends, which have prompted United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to warn of an “epidemic” of murder of Earth defenders. The violation of women’s rights and land defenders speaks in a profound way to the derangement of our times, and to the dangerous worldviews of domination and exploitation, which sit at the root of both degradation of Earth’s natural systems, and violence against women of the world.

Despite experiencing the impacts of environmental harms with disproportionate severity, women are rising in diverse manifestations to demonstrate that they hold the knowledge, skills and heartfelt passion needed not only to protect their homelands, but also to build substantial and creative solutions needed to avert the worst impacts of environmental destruction and the climate crisis.

In this context, standing in solidarity with women defenders is critical — to uphold fundamental human rights, to protect front-line communities and to ensure sustainability on Earth. Front-line women can also be supported by demanding governments and corporate actors comply with indigenous rights and sovereignty, issues which often lie at the root of violations.

On International Women’s Day, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network shared the stories of just a few of the world’s countless women human rights and Earth defenders, and raises the call to visibilize, support and honor all frontline women defenders for their fierce dedication and unrelenting voice and action for justice.

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Click the image above to see the full sized image and read the name of the featured frontline woman.

Melania Chiponda, Zimbabwe
After bearing witness to violence and sexual abuse of women by security and military forces attempting to suppress local opposition to mining, Melania Chiponda of Marange, Zimbabwe began advocating as a woman defender, working independently and with WoMin. For many years, Melania has been speaking out against actions by the diamond mining industry to forcibly break the connection between women and their ancestral lands. For her work to protect indigenous women’s land rights and stop land grabbing and militarization of mining regions, Melania has been arrested, detained and threatened many times. She commented recently as part of the #DefendHer campaign.

“If you take away land from women in the rural areas, you take away their livelihoods; you take away the very thing that they identify with. Then we fight. Because we have nothing else to lose.”

Josephine Pagalan, Philippines
In the Philippines, Manobo indigenous woman leader Josephine Pagalan is fighting to protect her people’s ancestral lands from mining and logging operations. Following the murder of several of her colleagues, Josephine was forced to leave her community to seek safety in the city, fearing that impunity in her remote village would lead to her own death. Despite harassment, Josephine continues representing the public face of the many indigenous Lumad women who are on the front lines demonstrating, documenting human rights abuses and filing legal suits in opposition to the militarization, violation of community rights and environmental devastation taking place across their homelands.

Josephine explained to Womens E-News, “We want the government to be made accountable for the human rights violations and attacks. Mining companies promised too many things in the past but they did not deliver. We don’t want to give up our land because money can be consumed but land will not perish.”

Ana Mirian Romero, Honduras
In Honduras, Ana Mirian Romero, leader of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz and San Isidro Labrador Indigenous Council, is standing for land rights for the region’s indigenous peoples, working most recently in opposition to the Los Encinos hydroelectric dam, a project which never received free, prior and informed consent, as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Repeatedly since 2014, Ana Mirian has been subject to harassment, death threats, raids, beatings by police while pregnant, arson attacks and gunmen outside her home. In 2016, while being awarded the Front Line Defenders Award for outstanding contribution to the protection of human and land rights despite the immense personal risk endured, she explained, “We defend the river, the forests and the pure air that we breathe. That is all we want — land, air and water that is not contaminated by the dams. We are persecuted and threatened for this, but we do it for our children’s future.”

LaDonna BraveBull Allard and Joy Braun, North Dakota, United States
Joy Braun (Cheyenne River Sioux Peoples) and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (Standing Rock Sioux Peoples) are two of the extraordinary indigenous women defenders of the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline resistance movement, both taking action to protect water and life since the first day of the encampments. For many months, both women and their families have been exposed to violence, militarized police forces, raids and surveillance.

Joy Braun works in the region of North Dakota where rampant fracking (which would supply the Dakota Access Pipeline if it becomes operational) has been taking a devastating toll on the health and safety of indigenous women for many years.

LaDonna’s home, and the grave of her son, overlook the Missouri River at the point of Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. During a fall 2016 interview she pronounced:

“First and foremost we are water protectors, we are women who stand because the water is female, and so we must stand with the water. If we are to live as a people, we must have water, without water we die. So everything we do as we stand here, we must make sure that we do it in prayer, and that we do it in civil disobedience. We do it with goodness and kindness in our hearts, but we stand up. We will not let them pass. We stand. Because we must protect our children and our grandchildren.”

When women land and water protectors are harmed we must speak out and take action to resist and repudiate these abuses, and acknowledge that these women put their bodies on the line for the survival of all of us. Though the challenges and dangers faced are dire, we cannot help but remember the proverb which says: “They tried to bury us, they forgot that we are seeds.”

For each woman persecuted for her courageous defense of people and planet — let 100 more rise to build the world we seek.

Source: On International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights -By Osprey Orielle Lake and Emily Arasim | Moyers & Company


Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and serves as Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Follow WECAN International on Twitter: @WECAN_INTL.

Emily Arasim is an avid photojournalist, writer, seed saver and farmer from New Mexico. She has served as WECAN International‘s communications coordinator and project assistant since 2014.

The Panama Papers: ICIJ Investigators Expose Global Corruption and Crime

Corruption

The Panama Papers is an unprecedented, global investigation into the sprawling, secretive industry of offshore that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets and skirt rules by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners, spent a year sifting through 11.5 million leaked files to expose the offshore holdings of world political leaders, links to global scandals, and details of the hidden financial dealings of fraudsters, tax evasion, drug traffickers, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and more.

The trove of documents is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history. It includes nearly 40 years of data from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama. That firm, Mossack Fonseca, has offices in more than 35 locations around the globe, and is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets.

Executive producer: Hamish Boland-Rudder
Producer: Carrie Ching
Animation artist: Arthur Jones
Report: Will Fitzgibbon
Narrator: Eleanor Bell Fox
Supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

ICIJ’s analysis of the leaked records revealed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories.

The leaked data reveals information about 140 politicians, 12 current or former heads of state from 50 countries, including Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi. It reported Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stored millions of dollars of investments in Iceland’s major banks in an offshore company. The Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates secretly moved as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Juan Pedro Damiani, the Uruguayan lawyer who is president of the country’s most popular soccer team and a FIFA ethics expert, managed companies through which FIFA members may have received bribes.

ICIJ’s data and research unit indexed, organized and analyzed the 2.6 terabytes of data that make up the leak, using collaborative platforms to communicate and share documents with over 100 news outlets and 400 journalists working in 25 languages in nearly 80 countries.

The first news reports based on the papers, and 149 of the documents themselves, were published on April 3, 2016. The ICIJ plans to publish a full list of companies involved in early May 2016.

Source: The Panama Papers | ICIJ


Related & Recommended
❋ The Panama Papers: The Power Players

❋ The Panama Papers: Explore the Panama Papers Key Figures

❋ Inside The Panama Papers: Dirty Little Secrets | FUSION (Video)

❋ The Panama Papers: Secrets Of The Super Rich | The Journeyman (Video)

❋ Panama Papers: The Real Scandal Is What’s Legal by Brooke Harrington | The Atlantic

❋ The Panama Papers: The Mysterious U.S. Connection by John Carey | WSJ

❋ Mossack Fonseca: Statement Regarding Recent Media Coverage (Web/PDF)