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UN food summit will be ‘elitist’ and ‘pro-corporate’, says special rapporteur | Global development

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The UN global food summit is “elitist and regressive” and has failed in its goal of being a “people’s summit”, according to the special rapporteur on food rights.

As world leaders prepare to attend the virtual event on Thursday, which aims to examine ways to transform global food systems to be more sustainable, Michael Fakhri said it risked leaving behind the very people critical for its success. In an interview with the Guardian, Fakhri said neither the worsening impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the right to food, nor fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance were being properly addressed by the meeting.

“The summit is being led by scientists and research institutes who are pro-corporate sector,” Fakhri said. “People say, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, let’s see if it is the ‘people’s summit’ it is claiming to be.”

“But they have failed in what they had set out to do. It is not the people’s summit. It is elitist.

“In the day-to-day operations of the summit, corporations do not have a role,” said Fakhri. “But the leadership picked comes from organisations that believe corporations are part of the solution.”

Called by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, the meeting was welcomed for recognising that farming has been largely ignored in climate talks. But its progress has been mired in controversy, as arguments continue over the causes of growing hunger and diet-related disease and whether the event is biased in favour of hi-tech intensive farming.

Agnes Kalibata
Agnes Kalibata opening a pre-summit meeting in Rome in July. Photograph: Giulio Napolitano/UN Photo

Guterres’ choice of Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan minister for agriculture, to lead the summit was met with protests last year, given her role as president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which has been accused of promoting damaging, business-focused practices.

In March, the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism, a group of more than 500 civil society groups with at least 300 million members, said it would boycott the summit and set up a parallel meeting. In a separate initiative, 148 grassroots groups from 28 countries, which make up the People’s Coalition on Food Security, urged the UN to sever the “strategic partnership” with the World Economic Forum, the organisation that hosts the annual Davos economic summit for the global elite.

Kalibata responded to criticisms at the time saying: “The entire purpose of the summit is to embrace not only the shared interests of all stakeholders but also – importantly – the areas of divergence on how we go about addressing the harsh reality humanity faces. If we are to build more inclusive food systems, we must be prepared to have inclusive debate.”

Fakhri said: “They claim to be listening to people. They invited me to provide human rights advice. But I haven’t seen any substantive response to my criticism.

“What I witnessed was a summit that was called for before the pandemic and continued as if there was no pandemic. What we are going to see is a summit whose value is a snapshot of all the problems we had before the pandemic. But the problem has got worse.”

In 2020 the number of people without access to adequate food rose by 320 million to 2.4 billion – nearly a third of the world’s population, according to Fakhri’s interim report on the right to food. The increase is equivalent to the previous five years combined.

The boycott of the event by organisations representing millions of people highlighted how “regressive the summit is in terms of human rights”, he said. “This is the first regressive move in the summit’s 60-year history.”

UN rapporteur Michael Fakhri on video call
UN rapporteur Michael Fakhri says questions of inequality and governance were not being properly addressed by the summit. Photograph: Cristiano Minichiello/UN Photo

Fakhri said the summit’s multilateral approach, which he claims is driven by the private sector, has not provided a meaningful space for communities and civil society to participate, with the risk of “leaving behind the very population critical for the summit’s success”.

He wrote to Kalibata in January, saying the global food crisis was “chronic, urgent and set to intensify” but that the summit appeared focused on science and technology, money and markets. It failed to address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance”, he said.

Fakhri said that “everyone is in agreement” that, with famine and food insecurity on the rise, food systems are not sustainable, but the summit is not dealing with the “power balance” many believe is responsible.

“The summit doesn’t want to answer those questions or deal with corporate power,” he said.

The most inclusive space, that of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), has been “marginalised”, he said, along with human rights. The CFS was formed in 2009 to give farmers and communities an equal say with big businesses.

Farmers and others have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology for a decade, Fakhri said, but it required a questioning of economic assumptions, protection of human rights and a rebalance of power.

“Food systems are being transformed in real time and people need solutions today, in reality, not this fantasy that has been going on.”

He believes nevertheless, that good things had emerged from the summit, including activating governments to devote their energy to national food policies.

“The second good thing is, despite its shortcomings and problems it has created new relationships. A lot of people committed to human rights were frustrated by the summit process but found new allies and opportunities for solidarity.”

He urged those who felt sidelined to take action and to “hold corporations accountable”. “People who are frustrated, don’t let the summit lead you to despair. Take your ideas, there will be a local food justice group or trade union, go join and participate there.”

Farm workers tending crops in Malawi.
Farm workers tending crops in Malawi. Photograph: Eddie Gerald/Alamy

In response to Fakhri’s comments, the spokesperson for the secretary general, Stéphane Dujarric, said: “Preparations for the UN food systems summit have been structured to ensure everyone around the world had the opportunity to participate through different platforms, in person and virtually. Several leaders from producers, farmers, women, Indigenous peoples, youth, and civil society engaged in the summit, representing millions of constituents from these groups. It is also important to note that the summit cannot achieve its objectives without engaging with the private sector.”

Dujarric said more than 100,000 people have engaged in summit dialogues and more than 2,000 ideas on transforming food systems emerged within six months of public engagement, of which 400 came from farmer and producer groups, Indigenous communities and civil society.

On Tuesday, a report by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development showed profits for large food companies escalating, while people producing, processing and distributing food were trapped in poverty and hunger. It calls for a “revolution” to place small rural farmers, who produce a third of the planet’s food, at the centre of the world’s food systems.

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Italy using anti-mafia laws to scapegoat migrant boat drivers, report finds | Global development

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Italian police have arrested more than 2,500 migrants for smuggling or aiding illegal immigration since 2013, often using anti-mafia laws to bring charges, according to the first comprehensive analysis of official data on the criminalisation of refugees and asylum seekers in Italy.

The report by three migrant rights groups has collected police data and analysed more than 1,000 criminal cases brought by prosecutors against refugees accused of driving vessels carrying asylum seekers across the Mediterranean.

The report by Arci Porco Rosso, the NGO Alarm Phone, and the nonprofit Borderline Sicilia, found evidence of police officers offering immigration papers and other incentives to migrants to persuade them to testify against the suspected boat drivers, who, in some cases were asylum seekers forced at gunpoint by traffickers to navigate refugee boats.

The NGOs claim the new evidence in the report confirms that Italy has spent decades pursuing a policy of criminalising asylum seekers, alleging prosecutors have been filling its prisons with innocent men used as scapegoats.

“We have examined over 1,000 court cases, spoken to hundreds of people involved,” the report stated. “We spoke to persons accused of boat driving, lawyers, judges and members of the police and coastguard, to reveal the full extent of Italy’s process of criminalising migration.”

Using police data and evidence presented in hundreds of court cases, the report revealed how refugees were targeted for prosecution.

Before sending a boat to Italy, from Libya, Tunisia, or Turkey, the report said smugglers often choose a migrant as a driver. This can be someone who does not have enough money to pay for the trip or with experience of navigation.

When the boat enters Italian waters, the authorities ask passengers to identify the driver, who is then arrested.

An Italian jail.
Boat drivers, who are often refugees, are being prosecuted for serious charges, such as human trafficking and criminal association, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Boat drivers, who often come from war-torn countries, are accused of crimes, from illegally piloting migrant boats to the country, to trafficking in migrants, to criminal association. They can face sentences from 15 years to life in prison.

Although in several court cases judges have recognised the “state of necessity” – that the unlawful conduct is justified to protect the perpetrator or another person from imminent and serious danger – hundreds of cases are currently making their way through Italy’s legal system.

Since 2013, at least 24 people have received sentences of more than 10 years, while six have been given life sentences, according to the report.

“This happens when, unfortunately, during the journey, some of the passengers die,” said Maria Giulia Fava at Arci Porco Rosso. ‘‘In that case, the boat driver is charged with murder. It is in those moments that justice is transformed into a terrible machine that risks destroying the lives of these people forever.”

Four Libyan professional footballers were arrested in Sicily in 2015 and sentenced to 30 years after 49 people died during a sea crossing. The men’s families and friends said they were refugees fleeing the civil war to continue their careers in Germany and were forced to pilot the boat. Last year, Libyan warlord Gen Khalifa Haftar reportedly refused to release 18 Italian fishers accused of illegally fishing in Libyan territorial waters until Italy had freed the footballers. But the move was unsuccessful.

Italian prosecutors’ use of anti-mafia laws in the cases of migrant boat drivers, which the report said has been framed as a continuation of the country’s prolonged battle against organised crime, has led to hundreds of boat drivers facing draconian charges, such as criminal association.

Evidence in the report appears to show that in some instances police have offered incentives to migrants to identify those driving the boat as being part of smuggling operations.

“In one case a Nigerian witness told us that the police officers promised him that, by providing an accusatory statement [against a boat driver], he would be allowed to go to school and have a bed in a hostel,”, said the report. “Sometimes, the same thing happens with translators, who are asked by the authorities to find the boat drivers among the other passengers.”

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International monitors suspend Russia-Ukraine mission

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International monitors in Russia-occupied east Ukraine have suspended operations to protect staff following protests in Donetsk over Ukraine’s capture of Andrei Kosyak, who Ukraine said was a Russian national on a covert mission. “Because of safety concerns and because of our safety rules and considerations we suspended our operations,” Yaşar Halit Çevik, the chief monitor of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s ‘special monitoring mission’, told Reuters Sunday.

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‘I was born a fighter’: the champion boxer changing young lives in Zimbabwe | Global development

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Beneath a corrugated iron roof in the crowded Harare suburb of Mbare, a group of boys darts back and forth across a smooth concrete floor, firing a series of rapid punches into the air.

A wiry older man, dressed in low-slung tracksuit bottoms and flip-flops, watches their moves, encouraging them to “Jab! Jab! Jab!”.

It’s a long way from a glamorous black-tie occasion in Glasgow in January 1998, when Arifonso Zvenyika beat Scotland’s Paul Weir to take the Commonwealth flyweight title for Zimbabwe.

Nicknamed “Mosquito” – reflecting his 50kg fighting weight and his deadly skills – Zvenyika is one of the country’s most successful boxers.

However, there is little to show for those early triumphs. Now 45, Zvenyika lives hand to mouth, hustling like so many others in a country where up to 90% of working-age adults are not formally employed.

When he’s not struggling to put food on the table for his own family, he trains young people for nothing at the Mosquito Boxing School of Excellence.

“I grew up without anything – even now I don’t have anything, but I can share boxing with less privileged children,” says Zvenyika, who is proud to have been born and raised in Mbare.

“The champions always come from the ghetto,” he says.

Three times a week, up to 20 young people – aged from eight to their early 20s – gather for fitness training and to develop their technical skills.

Arifonso Zvenyika at his Mosquito Boxing School of Excellence in Harare.
Arifonso Zvenyika at his Mosquito Boxing School of Excellence in Harare. Photograph: Nichole Sobecki/VII

Zvenyika says that he particularly focuses on boys and young men who struggle to remain in school and spend time on the streets.

“Some of the kids are totally poor and not even going to school. Some draw back from training as they don’t have shoes,” says Zvenyika.

One of the boys, 16-year-old Noel Sunday, says: “Both my parents are unemployed. I only did four years of school. I haven’t done my O-levels.”

A chalkboard in the gym reminds the young boxers to “Go hard or go home” and lists 10 rules. Eating, smoking and even laughing and jokes during sessions are prohibited.

“Boxing not only teaches discipline, but also positive values. It’s a low-cost, high-impact sport,” says David Mutambara, a former chair of Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission.

“But there is a scarcity of resources in this country. We get people who have natural, raw talent. The skills development needed to polish that raw talent is lacking.”

Zvenyika is reliant on others to provide training space, and is constantly on the hunt for more equipment. The school is short of gloves, pads, punchbags and headgear.

The rest of the time he spends looking for work.

“I’m shy to say it, but I can’t afford to feed my family properly,” he says. “We eat bread without butter, we drink tea without milk.”

A few miles from the centre of Harare, Mbare is chaotic and densely populated. It’s a first stop for arrivals to the capital who come looking for work.

“My family makes money running around the marketplace and helping to carry people’s luggage,” says Tatenda Kachepa, 22, who has trained with Zvenyika for five years and is one of the club’s star boxers.

Harare’s Mbare neighbourhood
Children playing in Mbare, Harare’s first high-density suburb, which was established in 1907. Today the buildings are dilapidated and overcrowded. Photograph: Nichole Sobecki/VII

The pandemic pushed many people already struggling to earn a living into desperation.

“We are now 15 people living together at my father’s place,” says Kachepa, who is still trying to complete his schooling. “During Covid, we haven’t made any money. It’s been a dog-eat-dog situation.”

Substance abuse, already widespread in Harare’s low-income areas, has become more of a problem during the pandemic.

Illicit alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine – better known as crystal meth or by its street name mutoriro – are all popular among young people.

“I’ve been there myself,” says Zvenyika of his own drug-taking past. “It hurts me to see these young kids doping. I’m trying to find ways to stop them.”

Zvenyika’s story is a familiar one – from rags to riches, followed by a slide into bad choices and prison.

“My mother tried her best, but she didn’t have money to send me to school,” says Zvenyika, who turned professional at 17. “I took up boxing as something to resolve my pain and calm me down.”

After his talent took him to Zambia and Australia, as well as to Scotland, Zvenyika crashed back down to a very different reality.

Accused by a neighbour of stealing a radio – Zvenyika insists he was framed – in 2000, the boxing champion was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Students at the Mosquito Boxing School of Excellence, Harare
Young boxers training at the Mosquito school. They lack gloves, headgear and punchbags, but levels of enthusiasm remain high. Photograph: Nichole Sobecki/VII

Although he continued to fight after his release, Zvenyika’s imprisonment – and a stroke while in jail – effectively ended his professional career.

“I’ve been in prison, in hospital, in a hooligan’s cell. I don’t want others to fall into that pit,” says Zvenyika. “I’m trying to move them to be good people.”

And he is confident that Mbare’s younger generation has sporting potential.

“People paint a bad picture of Mbare, but it’s a talent hub,” he says. “Young guys can get into bad things, but training keeps them busy.”

Strict lockdowns closed the club for much of the past 18 months, but as of last month Zvenyika has welcomed back his young students.

He is determined to keep the Mosquito boxing school open, despite the challenges.

“I was born a fighter and I’ll die a fighter,” he says. “Boxing might leave me, but I’ll never leave boxing.”

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