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EU funds at risk, as Polish region upholds anti-LGBTI ‘anthem’

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Poland’s ruling party and the Roman Catholic church have put a Polish region at risk of losing €2.5bn by enforcing its anti-LGBTI “declaration”.

The ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party openly whipped its delegates at a regional assembly in the Małopolska district in southern Poland, which covers the city of Kraków, into voting to uphold a 2019 declaration that the area was an “LGBTI ideology-free” zone.

A Polish archbishop, Marek Jędraszewski, had also preached in two public sermons ahead of the vote for the PiS delegates to toe the line.

The vote, on Thursday (19 August), saw the declaration upheld by 22 against 15, most of whom came from the opposition, centre-right Civic Platform party, which had called to overturn the old declaration.

The decision came despite the fact the European Commission warned the regional authority in a letter in July that it stood to lose €2.5bn in EU funds in the 2021 to 2027 period if the “discriminatory” text was upheld because it contravened EU values.

“What should we do? Choose pragmatism, realpolitik, as some say, or unambiguously defend our values, honour, genuine freedom?”, Jędraszewski, the archbishop, had said in a sermon on 15 August.

Meanwhile, commenting on the outcome, PiS education minister Przemysław Czarnek congratulated the local deputies.

“This shows that, in Poland, in the beautiful, vast region of Małopolska, we stand firmly behind values, behind the family, behind rules which are imperative for Poland, for Europe, to develop,” Czarnek said.

The vote came after a four-hour long debate in which Jan Duda, the father of Polish president and PiS loyalist Andrzej Duda, also spoke out in favour of the anti-LGBTI declaration, which he called Poland’s “Marseillaise”, by comparison to the French national anthem.

“Perhaps the European Commission doesn’t understand what Christian values are,” Duda said.

“Profanation of holy mass. Everyone saw it. Vandalism of blessed and holy statues … I don’t know who it was, but he walked into church with an axe,” the Małopolska regional assembly’s PiS-party speaker, Witold Kozłowski, also said, referring to an incident in 2019, which he blamed on LGBTI “ideology”, but which, in reality, involved a drunk who had nothing to do with gay rights.

“Be careful what you say. Check your facts, because people are listening,” Daria Gosek-Popiołek, a local deputy from Civic Platform, noted in the debate.

“I wonder what have LGBTI representatives ever done to you [PiS], since you want to exclude them, since you call them an ‘ideology’, even though they’re just people?”, Civic Platform’s Marek Sowa said.

“Once again, the hatred and anger of PiS turned out to be more important than the welfare of [Polish] citizens, and they [ordinary people] will suffer the most from this decision,” Robert Biedroń, an openly gay, left-wing Polish MEP, added in reaction to Thursday’s events.

Uneuropean?

Declarations on “LGBTI ideology-free zones” have no legal force, but call to ban promotion of homosexuality in public life, especially schools.

They have been adopted by over 100 local authorities, mostly in south-west Poland, under PiS’ patronage and have already led to symbolic cuts in EU funds in some cases.

Meanwhile, the Polish-EU dispute on protection of LGBTI minorities is just one among many, which also cover women’s rights, freedom of the press, judicial independence, the primacy of EU law, and PiS’ xenophobic and eurosceptic rhetoric.

“The Małopolska Region expresses a strong opposition to the emerging public activities aimed at promoting the ideology of LGBTI movements, the goals of which violate the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed in the acts of international law, question the values protected in the Polish constitution, and interfere with the social order,” the Małopolska assembly’s 2019 declaration says.

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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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