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‘They beat him’: fear and anger at latest police killing in Tunis | Global development

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Almost everyone in the streets around Ahmed Ben Ammar’s house in the Tunis district of Sidi Hassine claims to have known him or his family. Nearly everyone also has a slightly different account of his death in police custody on Tuesday. Details vary but all agree that the 32-year-old was beaten to death by police this week.

Sidi Hassine is to the west of Tunisia’s capital, on the far side of the Sebkha Sijoumi wetlands and the hulking landfill at Borj Chakir, already years past its scheduled closure date. The smell and the mosquitoes fill the air. At one end of the road is a thriving market, at the other – near where Ben Ammar lived – cafes and shops line the dusty street.

“He was a good guy. He just wanted to work. He’d originally been a metalworker,” his friend Marwen says, describing the “clean” guy he remembered. “He was walking with his fiancee when the police stopped him, suspecting drugs. He refused to go with them, so they beat him.”

No one here is surprised by the behaviour of the police, only its ferocity.

“This is how they police working-class neighbourhoods,” Marwen says. “When you tell people you’re from Sidi Hassine they stand back, like you’re a criminal.

“Some people from here do get good jobs,” he says, although stressing that it remains the exception rather than the rule. For many young people in Sidi Hassine, illegal migration to Europe is the best option.

Protests followed Ben Ammar’s death. The following evening, a teenaged boy was filmed being stripped naked and brutally beaten in the street by police. Outrage and unrest spread, with protests erupting in the similarly marginalised neighbourhoods of Ettadhamen and Intilaka and spreading to the city centre.

“Most of those people involved in the protests will have been marked by the police. The next time they go into the station to get their paperwork renewed, they’ll be waiting for them,” Marwen says. Once they have a criminal record, few will find employment.

Politicians have denounced what they said was “isolated” police violence against the two men, promising a full investigation. However, Sidi Hassine residents point to an endemic culture of violence, corruption and impunity, untouched by past promises of reform.

“These aren’t individual acts,” says Arbi, 34. “They happen all the time. They happened yesterday, they’re happening today and they’ll happen tomorrow.”

He recalls the time he bought a few items of clothing to sell during Ramadan, only to have them confiscated by police, leaving him struggling to support his baby daughter. Unemployment across Tunisia averages 16%. Among 15- to 24-year-olds, more than a third remain jobless. Nobody knows how the Covid pandemic and the collapse of Tunisia’s tourism industry, plus related businesses, may affect those numbers.

Police violence is far from a new phenomenon in Tunisia. In January, demonstrations against police violence saw 2,000 predominantly young people from Tunis’s poorer neighbourhoods arrested, their identities now imprinted upon the long memory of Tunisia’s state bureaucracy. Many of them, including children, reported being beaten or maltreated in detention.

While nearly all strands of Tunisian public life have undergone reform since the 2011 revolution, police violence and impunity – safeguarded by a burgeoning network of police unions – appears only to have flourished.

Abderazzak, 31, sits outside a Sidi Hassine cafe. He’s never known a steady job, relying instead on precarious work as a day labourer to support his wife and baby son. Like many, he is not surprised at the fate of Ben Ammar and worries about his own future.

As a queue forms outside the bakery opposite, he says it should not be trading, as bakeries are on strike over delays in government subsidies intended to keep down the price of bread.

“They’re going to put the price of bread up shortly,” Abderazzak says. “How can I afford that? My son didn’t even have dinner last night.”

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ | Global development

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Millions of people forced to leave their homes because of severe drought and powerful cyclones are at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking over the coming decades, a new report warns.

The climate crisis and the increasing frequency of extreme weather disasters including floods, droughts and megafires are having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people already living in poverty and making them more vulnerable to slavery, according to the report, published today.

Researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International found that drought in northern Ghana had led young men and women to migrate to major cities. Many women begin working as porters and are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and debt bondage – a form of modern slavery in which workers are trapped in work and exploited to pay off a huge debt.

Boys at lathes turning aluminium pots
Children working in an aluminium pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Up to 85 million children work in hazardous jobs around the world. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head.

She said: “Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

She dropped a customer’s items once and had to pay for the damage, which she could not afford. The woman in charge paid up on condition that she repay her. She added: “I have been working endlessly and have not been able to repay.”

A woman from Bangladesh
A woman from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, who moved to Kolkata after a cyclone to support her family. Now she cannot return to home without her employer’s permission. Photograph: Somnath Hazra

In the Sundarbans, on the border between India and Bangladesh, severe cyclones have caused flooding in the delta, reducing the land available for farming. With countries in the region tightening immigration restrictions, researchers found that smugglers and traffickers operating in the disaster-prone region were targeting widows and men desperate to cross the border to India to find employment and income. Trafficking victims were often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border.

Fran Witt, a climate change and modern slavery adviser at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Our research shows the domino effect of climate change on millions of people’s lives. Extreme weather events contribute to environmental destruction, forcing people to leave their homes and leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and slavery.”

The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes.

The report is a stark warning to world leaders in advance of the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and calls on them to make sure efforts to address the climate emergency also tackle modern slavery. The report says labour and migrant rights abuses are disregardedin the interests of rapid economic growth and development.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a researcher for the IIED, said: “The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that’s being fuelled by climate change. Addressing these issues needs to be part and parcel of global plans to tackle climate change.”

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