Friday, November 15, 2013

The Invisible Refugees - Internally Displaced People

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For every Syrian who escaped the civil war in his or her homeland by crossing international borders, there are three more displaced within the country. Those who manage to leave become refugees. Those who stay behind remain invisible. But they are part of a growing population of refugees that are often without international support, a sub-group of people whose basic needs are rarely addressed by the global community: the internally displaced. 

Since the civil war started in April 2011, 2.2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  But according to the USAID there are at least 6.5 million internally displaced people who failed to do so and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, but largely remain out of reach for international aid organizations. 

All who must abandon their homes suffer, of course. But those who escaped the fighting in their homelands by fleeing abroad at least managed to survive, even if they have to subsist in tents and ramshackle huts and depend on charities and donations. Some receive the world’s sympathy and media coverage. A rare few even found asylum in the West.

By contrast, those who are internally displaced fare much worse, as they become truly dispossessed. They fail to cross an international demarcation and thereby don’t legally qualify as refugees. Instead of receiving international protection and media coverage, many remain invisible and live in constant fear. As in the case of Syria, with state restrictions on international media coverage and public assistance, very little protection for displaced persons can be had. 

A United Nations report “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement” defines internally displaced persons (IDP) as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” 

It is the "natural or human-made disasters" part of the UN definition – which itself is not legally binding - that makes the number difficult to quantify and monitor. Do the millions of roaming Chinese within the country because of industrial pollution that’s devastated their farmland or displacement by a government building project count as internally displaced people? And what do we make of Japanese citizens forced out of Fukushima region? How about those who fled from environmental degradation and drought? There is just no easy way to quantify this population of the displaced.

On top of the current news curve is the story of the victims of Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines. Some 800,000 are reportedly homeless, and conditions worsened as many are living without support in a hard-to-reach area. But they at least are garnering world sympathy and news coverage. And the Filipino government is amenable to international support. 

For the majority of the displaced population, their stories aren’t told. But their numbers are increasing. According to the UNCHR,  there are 26.4 million internally displaced people in the world in 2011. But some organizations estimate that the actual number of IDP is easily twice the number of internationally recognized refugees, if not triple that amount. The figure can fluctuate due to the sudden outbreak civil war or a natural disaster such as an erupting volcano, tsunami or earthquake. 

Distributions of food and medicine vary from place to place, and IDP protection depends on where they find themselves and which country they are in. Haiti is but a quick jump over from the United States and after the earthquakes in 2010, food and supplies and media coverage came relatively quickly – if chaotically - for earthquake victims. But after years of civil war in Darfur, hundreds of villages have been destroyed, 400,000 have died, and 2.2 million are now permanently displaced and many facing starvation and ongoing violence. It's a humanitarian crisis in which the international response is shockingly slow and ineffectual, and world attention is at best sporadic and the international community falls into what is popularly known as compassion fatigue. 


It may explain why there’s little coverage for the millions displaced in The Democratic Republic ofCongo, where 45,000 people continue to die each month, and more than 6 million people have died from long drawn out war and famine?  And we know little about the hundreds of thousands ofMuslim Rohingya population in Rakhine state who are robbed of their homes due to religious persecution in Buddhist majority Myanmar?

Unless they drowned at sea trying to escape the country, as in the case of the 50 refugees last week, their stories remain largely untold. In Iraq, as of the end of 2012, there are 2.1 million displaced people as a result of the U.S. occupation and inter-ethnic strife.  In North Korea, the suffering and starvation of a large number of people remain mostly unknown. 

Refugees and IDP are essentially the same. Both groups are coerced or compelled to flee in fear for their lives and security, but those who crossed international borders at least can afford a modicum of protection and assistance under existing global treaties, while those who don’t are entitled to little, and often garner little attention.

Pope John Paul II once called the plight of refugees "the greatest tragedy of all human tragedies" and "a shameful wound of our time." In the 21st century, that wound has festered and gangrened. How effectively we as an international community address it will largely determine the future of our global society. For all refugees' plight should challenge our conscience, as silence and indifference constitute the sin of omission.

TPP draft: United States reasserts its role as a world’s schoolyard bully

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In a leaked negotiation document about going trade negotiations, it becomes clear that the United States is still asserting its role as the world’s master of self-entitlement.
On Wednesday, a document leaked from an ongoing trade negotiation was published by WikiLeaks. It concerns the monopolies and exclusive rights we know as copyrights, patents, trademarks, and so on. While the contents of the proposed trade agreement are certainly interesting, not to say very alarming, it's even more interesting to see how the United States keeps asserting its industry interests over the world under the false flag of “free trade.”
This process started with Japanese cars in the 1970s. As people in the United States started shunning Detroit's cars in favor of Toyota, policymakers in the US realized that the country's age of industrial competitiveness had effectively come to an end, and sought new ways to keep the United States at the top of the food chain, competitive or not. The result was as audacious, daring, and provocative as it was successful: redefine "value,” "industry,” and "production" in a series of lopsided interstate contracts masqueraded as "free trade" deals that would make sure the United States kept being paid by the rest of the world.
The first of these "free trade" deals - more accurately described as Industrial Protectionism (IP) - was the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which stands at the heart of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its champion had been then-CEO of Pfizer, Edmund Pratt, who wanted to prohibit people in the third world from using their own raw materials and pharmaceutical knowledge in their own laboratories and plants to cure and treat their own people's diseases. He wanted to force them to buy from Pfizer or die trying. Millions died as a result of the success of the TRIPS "free trade" agreement and the WTO.
There is no word for this type of behavior short of "evil.”
As the TRIPS agreement on Industrial Protectionism (IP) was being negotiated, every industry interest in the United States chimed in and wanted their piece of the pie. Hollywood's movie industry, the record industry, everybody. This new leaked trade agreement - that has absolutely nothing to do with free trade, but with the upholding of exclusive rights and monopolies that limit free trade - builds on the previous TRIPS agreement; it harshens it and deepens it. It is named TPP, the "Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
The divide between the United States and other countries on the unfairness of the aggressively pushed "United States uber alles" agenda is very clear. It's almost enough to read the introduction, where the vast majority of participating countries have proposed this language, to safeguard our common cultural and scientific legacy:
"The objectives of this chapter are... to maintain a balance between the rights of intellectual property holders and the legitimate interests of users and the community in subject matter protected by intellectual property; protect the ability of Parties to identify, promote access to and preserve the public domain; ensure that measures and procedures to enforce intellectual property rights do not themselves become barriers to legitimate trade."
The United States blanketly opposes all of it. There shall be no balance, there shall be no promotion of monopoly-less trade (which, ironically, is anybody's normal definition of free trade). There shall only be exclusive rights, which are typically held by the United States.
Also, the legal language is deliberately convoluted - the United States wants to give Hollywood the right to shut people off from the internet (and therefore most of their citizens' rights) without due process, but this is hidden deep down in legal jumbo. How many would recognize the terms "injunctive relief" or "liability conditions" as depriving citizens of their freedoms of speech, press, and assembly? I fear many people would be shocked once they realized what the legal language means - but at that point, it will be much harder to stop this idiocy.
This agreement is not about free trade. Copyright and patent monopolies, by definition, are the opposite of free trade; they are exclusive rights preventing free trade. This agreement is about asserting trade monopolies held by the United States and forcing everybody else to pay protection money or go to jail for disrespecting the powers that be.
This is not free trade. This is racketeering. And it is disgusting.