- Yazidi IS survivors win EU prize -ins
Two Yazidi women who survived a nightmare ordeal of kidnapping, rape and slavery at the hands of Islamic State jihadists won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Thursday.
Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar have become figureheads for the effort to protect the Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion with more than half a million believers concentrated in northern Iraq.
“They have a painful and tragic story” but “they felt compelled to survive to bear witness”, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz told the assembly in Strasbourg.
Given each year by the EU Parliament, the award is named after the dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, and honours individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, often falling foul of their governments as a result.
Murad, a slight, softly spoken young woman, was taken by IS from her home village of Kocho near Iraq’s northern town of Sinjar in August 2014 and brought to the city of Mosul. As a captive, Murad, who today is 23, said she was tortured and raped.
Bashar, who was just 16 when she was taken and is also from Kocho, witnessed family and friends being slaughtered by IS jihadists before being enslaved and sold.
After 20 months in captivity she escaped but then fell into the hands of an Iraqi hospital director who also abused and raped her and several other victims.
In a final tragedy, Bashar suffered horrific burns to her face and lost her right eye when one of her friends stepped on a landmine following their flight from the hospital director.
· A vote on referendums
The maturing of Indian democracy with the slow but sure strengthening of representative institutions, the separation of powers, and increased participation in elections is a triumph for the people.
Q.1 But there are questions about the depth of our democratic consciousness.
Q.2. How much say do Indian citizens have in influencing important legislations that have a strong bearing on their lives?
Q.3.Is it merely enough for citizens to elect and thrust responsibility upon parliamentary representatives to make choices for them?
Q.4. Can there be other devices to supplement the functioning of Indian democracy to make it more accountable, participatory and deliberative?
Two recent referendums
As we ponder these questions, referendums — instruments of direct democracy where citizens get to directly vote on specific and important issues rather than for representatives who will make a choice on their behalf on those issues — have been in the news recently. The Brexit referendum, on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, concluded on June 23 with 52 per cent (of 72.2 per cent of the electorate that turned out) voting to “Leave”. The October 2 referendum called by the Colombian government to ratify the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) resulted in a “No” vote favoured by 50.3 per cent of the less than 38 per cent of the electorate that turned out.
In both these referendums, held in diverse regions, the outcome came as a surprise. Anger at perceived loss of jobs due to immigration saw many Britons (especially in England and Wales) voting for a Brexit. Post-vote analyses showed how this referendum was more of a protest vote aimed at the economic state of affairs in post-financial crisis Britain than a well-considered mandate for a new Britain that is out of the EU. Even the most ardent proponents of Brexit distanced themselves from their own autarkic positions in the run-up to the referendum after the vote. The complications of a Brexit seemed to have never been thought through by the proponents and Britain’s political class is still roiled about the manner and method of the impending Brexit.
In the case of Colombia, a painstaking series of negotiations between President Juan Manuel Santos’s government and the FARC, with external brokerage from Cuba, came to naught after the referendum failed to ratify the deal. Participation was low, and the defeat margin for those in favour of the deal was narrow. But the outcome put a major spanner in the implementation of a peace deal which was to bring closure to a half a century-old civil war that resulted in lakhs of deaths.
The opposition to the deal was driven by detractors who derided it for political rather than functional reasons. Former President Alvaro Uribe now suggests that the referendum was for a renewed peace deal that emphasises greater accountability on FARC leaders for war crimes but this seems to be more of a feint to seek power during future negotiations.
Reasons for the results
The question that arises when we look at these referendums is this — are they too risky? Are political representatives in an indirect democracy more capable than voters themselves to deliberate on important public policy matters and make informed choices?
The first question can be easily answered. Referendums tend to add legitimacy to difficult legislative choices and it is more risky to take unpopular decisions without that stamp of legitimacy. As regards capability, legislators are voted less on the basis of their lawmaking competency and more on their promises and popularity in democracies today. In India for example, legislations are influenced more by party satraps than individual Members of Parliament.
Rather than questioning if instruments of direct democracy have a role at all in a representative system based on the British and Colombian examples, we need to do the following. First, we should not conflate the outcomes of referendums, even if the outcomes are unexpected, with the need for them. Each outcome has its rationale rooted in its specific political economy. In the case of Britain, the country stayed out of the Eurozone and therefore managed to use its currency control systems adroitly to escape the worst of the fallout of the global financial crisis. But stagnant economic growth and competition for blue-collar jobs between the lower middle classes and the immigrants had made EU membership a proxy issue for anger against immigration policies.
In Colombia, the FARC’s later-year strategy of using hostage taking and pumping profits from its allowances for drug production had seen to its intense notoriety among voters from non-interior parts of the country. A peace deal was more welcome to the harried electorate from the interior parts which had borne the brunt of internecine warfare. This reflected in the voting patterns. In any case, there should have been a minimum bar on participation to decide upon the ratification. With only 38 per cent of the electorate taking part, the referendum’s outcome should not have been binding in the first place.
Second, the need is for identifying when and how referendums are used in a representative democracy and not to question their efficacy. In India, there are very limited means of citizen participation in lawmaking, as this is a prerogative only of representatives. There are devices such as the Standing Committees in Parliament which invite members from civil society to weigh in their views on Bills that are up for discussion in the Houses. But largely, legislations are a matter that can only be influenced by public opinion through media coverage.
Relevance in the Indian context
If there are provisions which enable public voting on certain legislations — say, a mechanism that calls for referendums on select Bills and Acts based on a large quantum of public signatures seeking to vote on them — it could go a long way in not just sensitising the public towards important laws but also for a means of getting popular approval for them.
For example, today, the Aadhaar Act seeking to provide legal backing to the Aadhaar project was passed as a money bill, reducing an important legislation that could affect the welfare state, and which raises several issues related to privacy, to merely legislation on government spending. Would it not be fruitful to have mass participation over deciding whether Aadhaar should be mandatory to avail of welfare entitlements or services? It even seems imperative considering that there are serious questions being raised about the implementation of the project in schemes such as PDS distribution.
There are dangers, of course. Referendums can lead to majoritarianism and not just majority outcomes and therefore constitutional safeguards on the kinds of Bills and Acts that can be brought up for voting are a must. A lot of thought has to go into creating the mechanisms that allow for referendums.
In today’s milieu where legislatures are driven more by narrow political battles between the power-seeking executive and a cynical opposition, a demand for an instrument of direct democracy to be incorporated into legislative actions could seem impractical and utopian. But it is not an idea to be scoffed at as it has its merits. India, according to studies on referendums held across the world till 1993, is one of only five democracies to have never held them. It is worthwhile to consider this mechanism at least as a limited device to enhance our democracy into a substantive one.
- The voice of the Third World
The room went silent at the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism whenFidel Castro entered. He took the podium and firmly denunciated not only racism, but also the deep scars inflicted by capitalism. “The inhuman exploitation on the peoples of three continents,” he said in reference to Africa, Asia and Latin America, “marked forever the destiny and lives of over 4.5 billion people living in the Third World today.” It was this history, he said, that left “the current victims of that atrocity” in poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and sickness. Castro’s words mirrored reality. He would not end there. It was hope, not despondency that captured his personality. “I believe in the mobilisation and the struggle of the peoples!” he said. “I believe in the idea of justice! I believe in truth! I believe in man!”
It was hard to contain the applause. Castro, in his customary green fatigues, took in the adulation. There was nothing insincere about it: the leaders in the room admired the guerrilla. He said things that many of them believed, but had come to set aside. These were the ideas of their youth and of their anti-colonial traditions. But they had set them to mute. Never would we hear such honesty from these leaders of the Third World. But their applause suggested something important. Castro spoke for their suppressed values. His words rang true, even as their articulation would be sneered at by the Global North and their representatives in the Global South. The most severe mockery would be reserved for Castro’s hopefulness, his talk of mass mobilisation and struggle. Words like ‘justice’ and ‘truth’ had been emptied of their content. They would now mean the opposite. Commitments to mass mobilisation and struggle evoked excitement in some, condescension in others. It was the part of Castro’s resilient message that set him apart.
Castro, who represented a beleaguered revolution in a small island, stood for otherwise suppressed historical forces. Against all odds, the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra defeated the mafia leadership in Havana and defended itself from the Yankees of Washington, D.C. At the inauguration of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961, Cuba’s president Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado spoke in a language that irked the more staid leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Jawaharlal Nehru and Josip Broz Tito. Underdevelopment, he said, can be “overcome only through a struggle against and by total victory against imperialism”. Determined that imperialism needed to be confronted, Cuba hosted the Tricontinental meeting fifty years ago. It was here that Castro said that his government would “coordinate support for revolutionary wars of liberation throughout the colonised world”. Che Guevara was already in the Congo, working with African revolutionaries. Cuban material support — in terms of military and medical training — came to Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola. It was the Cuban assistance to the militants in these struggles that helped defeat Portugal and summon Portugal’s own Carnation Revolution against its fascist state in 1974. It was the Cuban intervention in Angola that helped defeat the South African military at the 1988 Battle of Cuito Cunavale, which broke the back of the South African apartheid regime and contributed to its demise in 1994. Cuba did its work and then withdrew. It did not seek to occupy — to get business deals or to create military bases. It came to help and then, having helped, it left.
In 1983, Castro arrived in New Delhi to hand over the presidency of NAM to India. He was received like a folk hero, the triumphant leader of a Third World then in great distress. The debt crisis had ended whatever hope had been kindled from the anti-colonial movements. Finance ministers lined up at the International Monetary Fund and at the various commercial lenders to raise funds for depleted treasuries. The will to fight for another world had been squashed. Fidel Castro had other ideas. He was not ready to bend his knee. What about a debt strike, he asked? What if every one of the NAM states refused to service their debts and what if they demanded that their debts be renegotiated? Castro received a standing ovation. But no one decided to follow him. There was no debt strike. Instead, country upon country faced a policy slate (neo-liberalism) that cannibalised their resources.
Castro continued to beat the drum, warning against the direction taken by the planet. He spoke about the failure of the world’s leaders to craft a global response to the perils that faced us all: a financial system that had become a casino, a social project that created perilous levels of inequality, a consumption pattern that would devour the earth’s resources, wars that are the child of greed and hunger. New ideas had crept in to corrupt thought. “The market has become today an object of idolatry,” he said in 1999, “a sacred word pronounced at all hours.” The richest 10 per cent of the world’s population today controls 89 per cent of the world’s wealth. This kind of thinking, Castro said, has “impaired the human mind”. Nothing held Castro back. When journalist Ignacio Ramonet accused him of being a dreamer, Castro responded, “There’s no such thing as dreamers, and you can take that from a dreamer who’s had the privilege of seeing realities that he was never capable of dreaming.” Solutions to such grotesque inequalities were needed. They cannot be found in apps and in microcredit. Much grander thoughts are required. Castro persisted with that ambition. It was his boldness that allowed so many people to breathe.
In 1953, a lieutenant and his squad captured Castro and some of his comrades. Castro hid his identity for fear of execution at the spot. The soldiers wanted to kill the guerrillas. The lieutenant walked about calming them down. “You cannot kill ideas.” He repeated, “you cannot kill ideas.” Later Castro wondered what made the lieutenant save his life and repeat that statement. “Our ideas did not die,” Castro said. “No one could kill them.” Without the long period of struggle and experimentation, without the years “we had to educate, sow ideas, build awareness, instil feelings of solidarity and a generous internationalist spirit, our people would not have had the strength to resist.” You cannot kill ideas. Castro, for the Third World, was not merely another leader. He was the mirror of its aspirations. That mirror is now shattered.
· ‘Reconciliation can’t be done in a few days’
In January 2015, nearly six years after Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war ended, President Maithripala Sirisena came to power deposing Mahinda Rajapaksa on the promise of good governance, the abolition of the executive presidency, and reconciliation with the Tamil minority. His election, to many at home and abroad, heralded hope of a new beginning for the country. Almost two years later, he is grappling with old and new challenges — ranging from an open split within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party he leads, to the frictions of coalition politics in the country’s first national unity government, to growing impatience of the Northern polity — even as he tries to move ahead with his reformist agenda.
Speaking to The Hindu in Colombo, President Sirisena discusses the progress made so far, the problems that linger, and his political vision for Sri Lanka. Excerpts from the interview:
In November 2014, you left the ruling party to join the common opposition. At that time, you spoke of grave personal risks associated with the defection that proved historic, leading to a regime change in Sri Lanka. When you look back now, how does it feel? What do you consider your biggest success as President?
Now 22 months have passed since I became the President. I am satisfied with my performance during this time. There are reasons for that. First, I succeeded in getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (that clips powers of the executive President and strengthens the independence of oversight bodies) passed in parliament. We actually proposed that the executive powers of the President be reduced immediately. The Supreme Court said major clauses cannot be deleted without a referendum. Furthermore, the Supreme Court told us what could be done with two-thirds majority in parliament. So we have changed clauses to the maximum extent possible with two-thirds majority in parliament.
Establishment of independent commissions is another reason. It was essential for the country to ensure (protection of) human rights, democratic rights, fundamental rights and the freedom of the people. I have ensured that people get these rights; I have succeeded in doing that as President. I have given the maximum possible media freedom.
The international community is so satisfied with my performance that they have completely changed their impression of the country. I have told the international community that I cannot accept any proposal that allows foreign judges to probe our domestic matters. This is another great victory I was able to achieve in this time.
The former President Mahinda Rajapaksa called snap polls even though he had two more years in power left. There are two reasons for that. There were two problems he could not solve as President. One was the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) proposals against our country. The second was that the country was heavily indebted at that time. We had a national debt of 9,000 billion (Sri Lankan) rupees. That was a major economic crisis for our country.
I am now dealing with the UNHRC proposals while protecting the respect and dignity of my country. In order to solve this major economic crisis, we have been formulating a new economic plan. I believe in a mixed economy. One is the increase of foreign and local investments. My second step is to strengthen the export production market and increase our exports.
The new programme for national reconciliation is being implemented. It is a major initiative for reconciliation among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher and other communities to ensure coexistence and harmony.
You spoke about the economy. As someone with a leftist background, now in coalition with the United National Party known for its right-wing economic policies, how do you think your government can promote economic growth while safeguarding living standards and social welfare of farmers and workers?
We have a consensual government of the two major parties. There are similarities as well as differences in the vision and policies of these two parties. My vision is social democracy. Your question is how compatible is liberal democracy with social democracy. The two major parties have agreed on a consensual formula. We need large-scale investments. We cannot come out of the economic crisis without such investments. At the same time, enhancing social welfare and subsidies are also essential. The poor man is the one badly affected by a market economy. We have to protect the welfare and economy of the ordinary man.
You have been a frequent visitor to the Tamil-majority Northern Province. How do you respond to the Tamil political leadership’s concern over the pace of reconciliation, with unresolved issues like militarisation, political prisoners and the call to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)?
Reconciliation is not something that can be done in a few days. In the last 22 months, I have been to Jaffna as President 11 times. Prior to that no leader went to the north (as often0. I feel very happy to interact not just with the Tamil politicians in the north, but also with the people and obtain their ideas directly. A vast majority — about 90 per cent of the people — in the north voted for me. They have confidence in me that I will solve their problems. So it is not only my responsibility, but also my obligation to solve their problems.
In drafting the new Constitution, we are looking at a Constitution that will strengthen the reconciliation between the communities. These things will have to be done keeping the southern Sinhala-Buddhist masses also satisfied. If the southern people are opposed to certain things, we cannot have a successful reconciliation process. Hence our endeavour towards reconciliation must also be acceptable to the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other communities. That is not an easy task. But we have to do this challenging job.
Can reconciliation proceed without accountability? How will you convince the Tamils, who have little confidence in domestic judicial mechanisms, that an internal probe will be fair?
When we came to power, our judiciary was very weak. One of the reasons we appointed a Chief Justice from the minority community was to enhance confidence in the judicial system among the minorities.
We have improved the quality of the judiciary and its independence and impartial nature. We can obtain advice from foreign judicial experts. As per our constitutional provisions, there is no possibility of foreign judges participating in our judicial process or conducting cases. I don’t have any mandate to act against constitutional provisions. We have to create a judicial mechanism that has the fullest confidence of the people in the north.
In the context of the ongoing constitutional reform, there is a call from the Tamils for federalism. Do you think the new Constitution can meet that aspiration? Some political actors in the south want a unitary Constitution, while constitutional experts seem to suggest that a compromise might be not terming the Constitution either unitary or federal.
People of the south are scared of the word ‘federal’. People of the north are scared of the word ‘unitary’. What we should do is not fight over these two words. We should come up with a formula that is acceptable to all. It takes maturity to understand devolution. We cannot satisfy the extremist elements either in the north or in the south. We have to do what is good for, and acceptable to, the majority of the people. We should not waste time over these arguments. We have to do whatever is possible as early as possible.
Given the enhanced ties between India and Sri Lanka, do you think there is reason to expedite signing of the ETCA (Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement), which has drawn considerable local resistance?
Since ancient times we have very close relations with India. This relationship has been built on Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. We expect to sign trade agreements with quite a number of countries. These agreements are aimed at benefitting both the signatory countries, and we don’t intend signing any agreement that could be detrimental to any one country. The proposal for India and Sri Lanka to sign a fresh (trade) agreement has been there for the last 10-15 years. Deliberations and discussions continued under different names. We will enter into an agreement which is not harmful to either party. There should not be any unnecessary apprehension or fear over this. We cannot do anything in secrecy; we are transparent and accountable to the people. We’ll discuss it in the Cabinet, and after that it will also be produced in parliament. If there are any unsuitable clauses, we will have further discussions and finalise the agreement.
Work on China’s port city project has resumed under your government amid local opposition. How is your government’s policy towards China different from the former President’s?
The port city agreement, when it was signed during President Rajapaksa’s time, was contradictory to the constitutional provisions. No government in the past had signed such an agreement. We amended certain clauses of that agreement as the new government. In such an agreement, the importance of national security as well as regional security should be taken into consideration. Both China and India are our good friends.
· Making climate rules at Marrakech
The United Nations conference on climate change now under way in Marrakech, Morocco, has the ambitious task of drawing up the first steps on enhanced finance and technology transfer, which is vital to advance the Paris Agreement that entered into force on November 4. India’s negotiating positions at the ongoing >Conference of the Parties 22 (CoP 22) must ensure that on both these aspects, the basic principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities laid down by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are upheld. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is central to the effort to contain the rise of the global average temperature in the current century to well below 2° Celsius since pre-industrial levels. But that goal is considered impossible even if sincere action is taken on all pledges made so far, necessitating a higher ambition. Moreover, the Paris Agreement does not have a carbon budget system that gives weight age to the emerging economies taking their historical handicap into account. The imperative therefore is to demand suitably high financial flows to both mitigate emissions and prepare communities to adapt to climate change. Such a mandate should be seen as an opportunity, since CoP 22 will discuss ways and means for countries to integrate their national commitments submitted for the Paris deal into actual policies and investment plans. In India’s case, new developments in sectors such as construction, transport, energy production, waste and water management, as well as agriculture, can benefit from fresh funding and technology.
Adopting green technologies in power generation, which has a lock-in effect lasting decades, and other areas like transport with immediate impacts such as reduced air pollution has a twin advantage. The local environment is cleaned up, improving the quality of life, and carbon emissions are cut. It is imperative therefore that the national position raises pressure on rich countries for technological and funding assistance under the Paris Agreement. In parallel, India would have to update its preparedness to meet the new regime of transparency that is to be launched under the climate pact. The preparatory decisions to write the rules and modalities for such a framework, and assist developing countries with capability building will be taken at Marrakech. There is some apprehension that the U.S. could exit the climate consensus since the President-elect, Donald Trump, has vowed to cancel the Paris Agreement. Yet, business and industry today see a strong case to take a new path, as energy costs favour renewable sources over fossil fuels. States and cities are also charting their own course to curb emissions. These are encouraging trends.
- The Marrakech mandate
As world leaders gathered in Marrakech (November 7-18) to discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-22), the election of a leader in the U.S. who has disavowed climate change cast a pall on the deliberations. Donald Trump has previously stated that if he were elected President, the U.S. would block the Paris Agreement. However, since the Agreement entered into force earlier this month, there is nothing that can be done immediately to stop it from moving forward. But, to imagine the most extreme cases, the U.S. could ignore its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), pull out of the Paris Agreement in four years, or withdraw from the climate convention altogether. These options seem too dramatic to consider, and they would also be very irresponsible, especially since the U.S. is the world’s largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the second largest annual emitter. Further, the implementation of the pledges by most countries depends on finance and technology support from the developed world. The U.S. has an important, even a central, role to play in taking forward the global agenda of limiting global warming.
Mr. Trump’s choice of Myron Ebell to head the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s transition team has also set off alarm bells. Mr. Ebell is quoted to have called the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan for GHGs illegal and has also said that the Paris climate treaty “is clearly an unconstitutional usurpation of the Senate’s authority.” He has also expressed his interest in reviving the coal industry in the U.S. Still, being President and governing are quite different from campaigning, and one hopes that President-elect Trump will not inflict damage to a global endeavour that aims to save the planet.
In Marrakech, nevertheless, delegates from around the world had to shrug off these considerations when they began the long and painstaking process of figuring out the scope and modalities for implementing the Paris Agreement. It was also the occasion of the first meeting of the CMA, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, the group responsible for supervising the execution of the deal. Several substantive details remain to be worked out and, in fact, will be completed only by 2018. These include accounting of the NDCs, adaptation communication, building a transparency framework, the global stock take every five years, and other procedures that facilitate the implementation of and compliance with the Agreement.
Financial support for developing country action on the NDCs was an important agenda item of this meeting as was the issue of transparency. Seven years ago, in Copenhagen, a Green Climate Fund was promised with the aim of making available $100 billion a year by 2020 primarily to support developing countries to address the impacts of climate change and find ways to reduce their GHG emissions. The Copenhagen Agreement stated that the money would “come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance”. Since then, there has only been a trickle of pledges but a torrent of controversy over claims made by OECD countries that finance was already forthcoming from them largely in the form of private investments in developing countries. The Marrakech negotiators simply noted that these issues remain to be resolved in forthcoming meetings.
With global temperatures predicted to cross the 1.5° Celsius lakshman rekha in the 2030s, why should countries wait to take action and fulfil obligations? The second Kyoto commitment period until 2020 is an opportune time for rich countries to make an effort to build confidence through their actions to reduce emissions and support developing nations. At this point, however, the language of the negotiations sometimes appears to be aimed at gaming the system.
Cause for cheer
One of the remarkable announcements at the Marrakech COP was the pledge by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, comprising 48 least developed countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and South Sudan, to get 100 per cent of their energy from renewable by 2050. Along with them, 165 sub-national jurisdictions, calling themselves the Under2s, announced that they would reduce their emissions by 80-95 per cent below 1990 levels and limit their per capita emissions to under 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. These governments range across states like California, New York and Telangana and cities like Manchester and São Paulo, and contribute to over a third of the global economy. Another cause for cheer is that the Science Based Targets initiative got a boost in Marrakech when over 200 companies worldwide committed to emissions reductions targets. With regard to the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, the framework for a five-year rolling work plan was approved. It will serve as the basis for developing corresponding activities, starting with the first meeting in 2017. Since adaptation has limitations, this is a global mechanism to provide support to countries that sustain ongoing and future harm from climate change. The aim will be to address issues such as extreme events, non-economic losses, displacement, migration, slow-moving climatic changes and risk management.
It is not clear whether these actions will be sufficient to put the planet on a path to a stable climate with warming below 2° Celsius, let alone the more ambitious target of under 1.5° Celsius. Nevertheless, they show that Mr. Trump or no Mr. Trump, global action to address climate change is here to stay.
- No country for the Rohingyas
A new humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar after the military crackdown on “Islamist jihadists” in the Rakhine State, home to more than one million Rohingya Muslims. The military claims it began the counter-terror operation after three border security posts came under attack on October 9. But since then more than 130 people have been killed in the State and 30,000 displaced, triggering a new wave of migration of Rohingyas to neighbouring countries. The army denies targeting civilians, but satellite images taken after the start of the crackdown indicate that hundreds of buildings were burnt down; reports suggest that even those who tried to flee the country were shot dead. The migrants are not welcome in Myanmar’s neighbourhood either. The violence itself is not surprising given the record of persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Many in the Buddhist-majority country call them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh though they have been living in Rakhine for generations. Myanmar’s military started a systematic persecution of the Rohingyas in the 1970s when thousands were deported to Bangladesh. The rest were stripped of citizenship by the junta, which often used the Rohingya problem to drum up support for itself among the Buddhist majority.
What is surprising this time is the silence of the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Ms. Suu Kyi, the country’s de factoruler, has not said much about the military operation in Rakhine, or spoken for the Rohingya cause. When her party took power in April, ending decades of military rule, many had hoped that it would signal the dawn of a new era of peace and democracy in Myanmar. But the government has been largely ineffective in tackling internal security and humanitarian issues. The operation in Rakhine shows the change of guard in government hasn’t brought any meaningful difference to Myanmar’s most disadvantaged sections. True, the army still remains a powerful institution. It controls the security, defence and border ministries besides wielding considerable economic power. It is also possible that the generals are escalating the conflict on their own. Even so, the government cannot remain in denial about the atrocities. Ms. Suu Kyi bears responsibility for what is happening in Rakhine now because her party rules, not the junta. For decades, Myanmar persecuted the Rohingya people while the world ignored their plight. By all accounts, that situation has not changed.
- India inches up a notch in WB ease of business ranking
India improved its position to 130 in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2017 report.
Improving India’s ranking in the report has been a key target of the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India which had been ranked 130 in the 2016 report, was placed at 131 according to the revised rankings for last year released on Tuesday, thus reflecting a marginal improvement.
India could not improve its ranking better despite reform measures that have been lauded in the report because other countries around it in the ranking list also did well last year, World Bank officials who oversaw the report said .
Augusto Lopez-Claros, Director, Global Indicators Group at the WB, praised the government for the reforms it undertook last year and noted that India had made a noticeable improvement in the distance to frontier (DTF) score — an absolute measure of progress towards best practices.
“While ranking is relative, DTF score is an absolute figure,” he said. India was 35th in DTF improvement last year. “It is pretty impressive,” he said. India has improved and is at 55.27 compared with last year’s 53.93, while the perfect score is 100. New Zealand that is ranked first has a DTF score of 87.01.
Word Bank Doing Business reports, introduced in 2004, review business regulations and their enforcement across countries —190 this year. The latest edition takes into account developments in one year up until June 1, 2016.
India is one of the few economies that was discussed separately for its reform measures in the report. Four reform measures undertaken by India during the year helped the country improve its DTF score, said the World Bank.
Getting electricity, paying taxes, trading across borders and enforcing contracts have become easier in India in the year, the report found. These findings are based on experiences in Delhi and Mumbai. The impact of local factors is limited, but it is relevant, said Rita Ramalho, Manager, Doing Business project at WB.
“India made getting electricity faster and cheaper by streamlining the process of getting a new commercial electricity connection. This reform impacts Delhi,” according to the report.
Paying taxes is easier after the introduction of an electronic system for paying employee state insurance contributions, a reform that applies to both Mumbai and Delhi.
Exporting and importing is easier because of the intorduction of ICEGATE portal and simplification of border and documentary procedures. “ India made enforcing contracts easier by creating dedicated divisions to resolve commercial cases,” the report said.
The report said that the Government has “embarked on a fast-paced reform path.” It scored well on protecting minority investors and is one of only six economies in the world that earn the highest possible score on the extent of shareholder rights index, which measures shareholders’ rights in corporate governance.
The overhaul of the Companies Act has brought Indian “companies in line with global standards, particularly regarding accountability and corporate governance practices,” according to the report.
“As of June 2016, 282 of the 470 total sections (of the new Act) were notified and eight provisions of the 1956 Act remain applicable. Despite this piecemeal introduction, it has paid off both in economic terms and in India’s performance in Doing Business,” it noted.
- A challenge called Wallonia
It’s easy to sneer at Wallonia, the francophone Belgian region whose regional legislature’s objections just scuppered the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada. Indeed, the potential end of the deal, which has been seven years in the making and which was set to bring theCanadian Prime Minister to Brussels this Thursday for a final signing, was met with widespread derision. The deal had been touted as one that could add around €11.6 billion to the EU economy and around €8.2 billion to Canada’s economy through the removal of some 98 per cent of tariffs on all goods between the two, and cooperation in numerous areas ranging from regulations, to financial services, and telecoms. Launched in 2009, discussions were formally concluded in 2014, and have been awaiting ratification since. To its critics, the developments are a clear example of the failures of a clunky EU system and its capacity to enable a region of a mere 3.6 million people fell a deal among just under 550 million people.
But Wallonia was far from being the only detractor of CETA. Earlier this month, the deal faced another major challenge when three organisations — Campact, food watch and Mehr Demokratie — challenged CETA’s legitimacy in Germany’s Constitutional Court, arguing that it would create powerful committees with “no democratic legitimacy”, and investment courts that would discriminate against European investors. To the great relief of the German government, that challenge was rejected by the court. Earlier in the process, back in August, the Austrian government had raised objections, sparking concerns about the future of the deal.
Though not as controversial as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU andthe U.S., discussions on which have stalled because of fierce opposition on the continent, CETA has attracted a fair amount of concern from civil society and beyond. A petition against CETA and TTIP attracted over three million signatures. In June, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, an UN human rights expert,warned, pointing to CETA, that “trade deals prepared and negotiated in secret, excluding key stakeholders such as labour unions, consumer associations”, and others had “zero democratic legitimacy”, and should be carried out via open discussions in national parliaments.
Pressures such as this had led the European Commission (EC) to take the unusual step in July of requiring that the trade deal, contrary to any in the past, would have to be ratified by all 28 member states, including Belgium which needed the ratification from its five regional assemblies. It was the EC’s attempts to inject democratic legitimacy, albeit at a late stage in the process that proved to be the trade deal’s undoing.
While the deal pledged to bring multibillion euro benefits to both the EU and Canada, there were many components that had alarm bells ringing: in particular, the Investor-state dispute settlement courts that the deal would have brought in, designed to provide a route for foreign investors to protect their interests in the region. These opaque systems, often ensconced in bilateral and other investment treaties, have for many years been criticised for not only providing foreign firms with advantages not accorded to domestic ones, but also with providing firms the ability to trample on legislation brought in by democratic parliaments (such arbitration has been used to challenge everything from plain cigarette packaging to legislation in South Africa designed to rectify the abuses of apartheid). The EU-Canada agreement had safeguards built in in recognition of the concerns (including a code of conduct and increased transparency), but its proponents failed to answer the fundamental question of why in the EU and Canada, with well-functioning judicial systems, such a separate court system was needed at all.
Though Canada and the EU have signalled they still hope the deal can be saved, despite Belgian declarations at the time of writing that they would be unable to sign, the debacle raises fundamental questions for the EU and beyond, and in particular the often opaque way that such negotiations are conducted, at a time of heightened public concern about the impact of globalisation on their industries and communities (this was certainly one of the many factors that played into the shock referendum result in the U.K. earlier this year). Certainly, a part of the answer would be involving civil society at a far earlier point in a much clearer process: CETA ended up having the worst of both worlds by providing opportunities to participate when the deal was pretty much concluded, making opposition one of the only possible ways of influencing it in any major shape or form.
The near collapse of the CETA deal will have implications for India too, and the stalled negotiations on the India-EU Free Trade Agreement, which commenced in 2007 and continues to be, held up by a lack of consensus on issues such as Mode 4 access for services professionals on the EU side, and FDI liberalisation on the Indian side.
CETA and TTIP have both stoked a strong anti-globalisation movement across Europe that shows no signs of subsiding, and the CETA developments have demonstrated the power individual member states or regions can have to block a sensitive deal. It could also hit, indirectly, hopes for a fruitful India-U.K. Free Trade Agreement: observers in Britain have pointed out that the struggles over CETA don’t bode well for Britain’s ability to negotiate favourable terms with the EU as it attempts to extract itself from the union, which could have a serious impact on the 800 Indian businesses in the U.K., many of which sell their products and services in the EU. The Wallonia problem may well be resolved, and CETA saved, but the challenge it throws up about the legitimacy of trade deals for the EU and the world more widely must be countered with reform, dialogue and greater transparency rather than derision.
· India makes fresh push to gain NSG entry
India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will be the centre-stage again this week as the group meets for the Consultative Group technical meeting on September 9-10, followed by the Plenary session in Vienna on Friday.
The government hopes its application will be considered again, five months after the last unsuccessful round.
A flurry of diplomatic activity since then has focused on all the countries, including China, that didn’t back India’s bid.
While a slew of leaders from New Zealand, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa, all NSG countries that have hard-line positions, have been invited to India in the past month, India’s nuclear negotiators have travelled to other countries, who are still unconvinced about the issue of non-signatories to the Non Proliferations Treaty (NPT) — like India — being made members of the nuclear club.
Earlier this week, Amandeep Singh Gill, joint secretary (Disarmament), travelled to Dublin to soften Ireland’s position, and also met with Chinese nuclear negotiator Wang Qun in Beijing on October 31. Other contacts have been made by Ministry of External Affairs officials and missions abroad in the 48 member countries of the NSG.
However, with China making it clear that its position hasn’t changed, and little movement in the objections of other countries on the issue of the NPT, officials are calling it a “long haul”, given that the NSG works by consensus.
“This Friday, in Vienna, a plenary session of the NSG will be held. Our position is subject to no change as of date,” Lu Kang, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a media briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, dashing India’s hopes of a clear path to its membership this week.
At best, said one diplomatic source, India will hope that a process will be set into motion to define criteria for non signatories to the NPT, but that the criteria will broadly fit India’s credentials as non-proliferators. India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan are all non-signatories of NPT, of which India and Pakistan have both applied for NSG membership this year.
Meanwhile, India has been working with its support base that includes the U.S., Japan, Australia and South Korea, that has been exerting its influence as the new Chairperson of the NSG to push for India’s case.
India also hopes Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Tokyo on November 11 that coincides with the NSG Plenary session will boost India’s non-proliferation image, as India and Japan are expected to announce their civil nuclear accord.
The U.S., that has backed India, said it remained optimistic about India’s chances of NSG membership by the year-end.
- Justice beyond borders
Russia’s move to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the outcome of the political undercurrents that have of late strained its relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). More ominous could be the ramifications of the exit, the fourth within the last two months, from the established world arbiter. The collective vision of that global pact was to bring the impunities of political leaders to justice before a transnational body when all domestic remedies were exhausted. Russia’s announcement was predictable as a reaction to the court’s report on Tuesday, stating that the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine amounted to an occupation. Moscow has denied any role by its military, maintaining that Crimea’s accession was authorised in a popular referendum. NATO’s continued eastward expansion explains at least some of President Vladimir Putin’s belligerent rhetoric. Not only has the western military alliance extended into the countries of the former Eastern bloc, it has also brought some member states of the erstwhile Soviet Union within its fold. Moscow’s approach to the world court is far from ideal. But the constraints of initiating punitive action against the U.S. and its allies for the war crimes committed during the Iraq war would have further eroded Russia’s diminishing faith in the liberal world order.
South Africa’s decision to walk out of the Hague court in October symbolises its abdication of a regional leadership role. Africa still remains hostage to the machinations of traditional tribal warlords, who systematically subvert democratic institutions and squander the rich natural wealth in league with big corporations. South Africa’s regressive step came at a time when politicians in neighbouring countries, faced with legal proceedings for perpetrating heinous crimes, have successfully projected the impression that the ICC was biased against the whole continent. The current stance of Pretoria is a far cry from that over a decade ago when the country incorporated crimes of genocide from the ICC statute into its domestic laws. When Washington refused at the turn of the century to be bound by the jurisdiction of the Hague court, there were concerns that the nascent body would be left sorely wanting in legitimacy and authority. Those anxieties have, if anything, been amplified by the unprecedented war crimes being perpetrated in the Syrian conflict and the humanitarian catastrophe being witnessed there. To enforce justice beyond the barriers imposed by domestic borders is a noble aim. But its realisation is that much harder when nationalism is resurgent.
- S. author Paul Beatty wins Man Booker Prize
Paul Beatty has became the first US author to win the Man Booker Prize for his novel “The Sellout”, which the novelist said should not be read as a “mono-directional” take on race. The jury behind the world’s most prestigious English-language literary award said the novel was a “shocking and unexpectedly funny” portrayal of Beatty’s native Los Angeles, using satire to explore racial equality in a fictional neighbourhood.
Beatty said readers should think of the novel as a work of fiction rather than solely focusing on race. “I tend to bristle when people say it’s black, it’s angry, it’s about race,” he told journalists after picking up the award at a glitzy black-tie ceremony in London’s historic Guildhall building on Tuesday.
“Hopefully it’s not so mono-directional. These labels are more malleable than we like to think about them,” the 54-year-old writer said. Beatty appeared overwhelmed when he took to the stage to receive the award from Prince Charles’s wife Camilla. “I can’t tell you guys how long a journey this has been for me,” he said.
The jury said that through his “equally affectionate and bitterly ironic portrait of the city and its inhabitants, Paul Beatty dodges inherited views of race relations, solutions or assumptions”. The author “presents through his beguilingly honest and well-intentioned hero an innocent’s view of his corrupt world”, the jurors added, bringing “the unendurable status quo of present day US race relations to an absurdist conclusion”.
- Face book and fake news
In August this year, Face book replaced the entire team that curated its Trending Topics section with an algorithm. This came soon after news reports claimed the curators where suppressing news from the conservative side of the U.S. political spectrum. Though an internal investigation found no systemic effort to suppress news, a statement from Face book said the algorithm “allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics”.
There was a hiccup, though. Soon after it went active, the algorithm picked up and promoted a story about a conservative television anchor supporting Hillary Clinton that turned out to be highly controversial, and equally false. The algorithm was designed to look for what most people were talking about or were interested in, and it did its job.
A platform for news
This would not be alarming but for a recent report from the Pew Research Centre which found that 44 per cent of American adults now get their news on Face book. Read this together with the fact that 64 per cent of them depend on just one site for the news and we begin to grasp the grip Face book has over the information available to the average, voting-age American.
The political role of Face book and the other Internet giant, Google, has come under scrutiny, after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential polls. Several fingers are pointing at fake news stories online as a reason for this election going off agenda. According to an analysis by Buzz Feed, a false post saying Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump, put out by a fake news site WTOE 5, had a Face book engagement of 960,000 (the sum of all comments, likes and shares for a post).
The highest engagement for a real news on the election was 849,000, for Washington Post’s “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?” According to Buzz Feed’s Craig Silverman, the top 20 false news items in the three months prior to the election had a collective Face book engagement of 8,711,000, while the top 20 real news items garnered 7,367,000 engagements.
Face book’s initial reaction to the allegation was denial, with founder Mark Zuckerberg saying it was “pretty crazy” to think fake Face book posts could swing elections. They may not have, but the Buzz feed numbers on false news are no small sums. And the Pew numbers are an indicator of how many people probably consumed those as real news. And, considering the margins at which the election was won, no number is too small.
The impact of false news is much more considering given how Face book delivers it to us. In June this year, Face book changed its news feed algorithm to give more weight to ‘friends and family’. That is, if someone on your friends list liked or commented on a post, the chances of you seeing that post are now much higher. Then as you engage with those posts more, Face book further fine-tunes your newsfeed to show similar posts. This streamlines your news feed to the interests of your circle, limited or diverse as it is. Essentially the algorithm places us in a jury of our peers, locking us in echo chambers of thought, validating each other in an infinite loop. Throw in a false news into this mix and, if it aligns with the ideological tilt of your clique, it goes viral (the disease metaphor being most apt here).
Face book later accepted the dangers of fake news, with Mr. Zuckerberg posting a blog saying Facebook would “penalise this content in News Feed so it’s much less likely to spread.” Both Facebook and Google have also decided to disconnect fake news websites from their powerful advertisement networks, the money from which is the main incentive for fake news and click-bait articles.
However, Mr. Zuckerberg went on to say that the problem was “complex, both technically and philosophically,” and that Face book did not want to curtail people’s ability to “share what they want whenever possible.” The high point of his argument was: “We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves.”
Arbiter of truth
Truth and its arbiters are not a highly regarded lot nowadays. We are now in the ‘post-truth’ era, where truth is “a matter of perspective” and those who seek to tell the truth are “agenda driven”. Mr. Zuckerberg is smart to distance himself from being an “arbiter of truth”. In fact, both Face book and Google have always avoided taking on a news media tag, though they are for all practical purposes the biggest news media outlets in the world. Being in the news media business brings with it a legal, professional and ethical responsibility to be an arbiter of truth.
In his mean culpa on fake news, Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he will reach out to journalists and news media organisation for tips on content verification. He is forgetting that the media is already there, fighting it out for a piece of the content distribution pie offered by the platform. These media outlets are putting expensive, fact-checked reports on your platform for free, Mr. Zuckerberg, all you have to do is give them precedence over un-corroborated news. Right now they are pushing listicles and click-baits to break into the aforementioned cliques that Facebook’s algorithms have created.
Of course, trust in the mainstream media is not exactly a distinctive feature of the Internet. We have terms like “presstitute” and “Lugenpresse” to describe the extent to which mainstream media is distrusted by the champions and foot soldiers of the politics of populism that is sweeping the globe. But the fact remains that the journalist who goes out on to the street to physically verifies a fact remains one among the best arbiters of truth. And truth needs its arbiters, now more than ever.
- From one Sharif to another
Anyone familiar with Pakistan’s history knows that most of the last 70 years since Independence have been dominated by the country’s military. Pakistan’s history and its politics have been more about the military than about its civilians or about society more broadly. Whether the military has governed directly under dictatorial military generals, as it has for 32 years, or whether it has ruled through other indirect, but equally intrusive, means, as it has when not directly running government, much of what Pakistan has become has been moulded by, and on account of, Pakistan’s military and its various interests and institutions. Whether it is Pakistan as a (failed) national security state, or a breeding ground for various forms of Islamic jihad, much credit goes to Pakistan’s military.
Moments of change
This is not to suggest that the civilian and political actors are innocent in any way, beyond agency, accountability or reproach. But having been constrained in numerous ways by the overly-dominant and overly-invasive military, for whether Pakistan has been a failed or failing state, a rogue state involved in nuclear proliferation, or a state which allowed the world’s most wanted man to live well-protected for five years in Pakistan, responsibility on civilians and politicians, in the absence of any real power, must be rather thin. Moreover, it is well recognised that whether it is Pakistan’s nuclear policy, Afghan policy or policy towards India, whether in terms of peace or trade, real power rests not with the civilian elected political body, but with the military, particularly the army.
Yet, there have been moments of change in this dominant narrative as well, such as following the 1971 war when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over a demolished and defeated Pakistan. Or, more recently, when led by a group of civilian and political actors in 2007 and 2008, an arrogant military general dictator was eventually ousted, to the extent that he was put under trial for treason — although he’s now an absconder allowed to live freely (and in great comfort) in exile abroad. It was this opening, in 2007 and 2008, that gave many Pakistanis a fleeting hope of a stronger, and perhaps more permanent, nature and direction of democratisation, than perhaps at any time ever before. While some of those expectations have been postponed, many still remain and, in fact, show signs of maturing.
Since 2013, much of the political discourse in Pakistan has been about the two Sharifs. One, a democratically elected Prime Minister who won an unexpected majority in an election seen as the most free and fair since 1970, which in Pakistan means that it was without military interference or influence; and the other, appointed by the incoming, Prime Minister following the May 2013 elections. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed General Raheel Sharif to what many still consider to be Pakistan’s most important and powerful office, that of the Chief of Army Staff, although the latter is meant to report to the former. However, much public discourse over the last three years has been in assessing and obsessing over which one of the two Sharifs has been the more powerful, which of the two would oust the other, and so on.
A mixed legacy
General Raheel Sharif retires as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) today, with his successor already announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a couple of days ago. In January of this year, General Sharif had announced that he would not seek an extension in his post, making him the first Pakistani Army Chief to leave office on time in two decades. But there had been much speculation and greater insistence by the many who were backing him, and hoping to see the end of the elected Sharif, that General Sharif would be granted an extension and stay in command not just over the military, but over much else in Pakistan.
General Sharif became the most popular and beloved man in Pakistan, also probably the most powerful, such was the hyped message constantly churned out by a Raheel-obsessed media. He was the defender of Pakistan’s international borders and its security, as well as the prominent guarantor of Pakistan’s only economic and investment project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He led the Pakistan army’s war against jihadists and Islamic militants in North Waziristan, hounding out and eliminating the various morphed factions of “the Taliban”, many created as a consequence of the policies of a former COAS, and of international Islamic groups. He even became the face of peace and prosperity in Karachi, by ensuring that militancy, crime and extortion were eliminated from Pakistan’s economic centre.
In the three years he was COAS, General Sharif was also thanked by many pro-democracy observers for not undertaking a coup against the elected democratic set-up, for which he might have had at least two opportunities: once in 2014 during Imran Khan’s Islamabad dharna, and again in 2016. Banners across many cities in Pakistan urged the Army Chief to take over, or at least to rescind his decision to retire. Such has been the precarious (and reversible) nature of Pakistan’s democratic transition that civilian actors have had to literally thank the army chief for not taking over, as if he was doing us a favour.
General Sharif has been overly praised and celebrated for his three years in power even by liberal commentators who have conveniently ignored or overlooked many shortcomings and failures during his tenure. While the military action against Islamic militants and jihadists in North Waziristan has been much celebrated, what has seldom been stated by the same gushing analysts, columnists and media persons is that many banned terrorist groups in Pakistan are still allowed to function with relative ease and impunity, quite publicly. The likes of Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, and many said to be involved with jihadi groups roam free and often get protection. The Pakistan military’s war against domestic terrorism in Pakistan has been highly selective.
Similarly, not pointed out by the same gushing supporters have been the many security failures, especially in Quetta. If the military has had hegemony over all security issues, especially in Baluchistan, the hundreds of deaths in terrorist attacks have been on account of military lapses, not civilian. Importantly, the possibility of building peace between India and Pakistan, something that most civilian groups and political parties have been striving for many years, has also been indefinitely postponed. The most powerful man in Pakistan over the last three years and the most powerful institution in the country do need to account for such failures.
However, such failures will be quickly forgotten and Raheel Sharif is likely to gain even more prestige for simply deciding to leave office when his time came due. His successor will need considerable time, patience and sagacity to gain respect and similar levels of authority, even given the large social media teams and media interests openly and aggressively supporting Pakistan’s military.
The other Sharif
Now that the military Sharif has retired, perhaps this opens the way for the other, democratically elected Sharif, to consolidate his position and, in the bargain, to strengthen democracy and the slow process of democratisation under way in Pakistan since 2007. Following the 2013 elections with just the second democratically-sanctioned government transition and handover just 17 months away, this is an opportunity too good to be wasted.