The Failure of Rio+20 is a Wake-Up Call for People Power‏

 Adam Parsons 

Image © CGIAR Climate

Almost a week since the Rio+20 Earth Summit ended, civil society is coming to terms with the ‘epic failure’ of global leaders to agree meaningful action for addressing the worsening planetary and social crises. Campaigners were near unanimous in decrying the inertia and lack of urgency shown by governments for tackling issues related to sustainable development, with national self-interest overriding any possibility of dealing with global problems in a genuinely cooperative and global manner.

Of particular concern was the ambiguous concept of a ‘green economy’, which many activists fear is the latest attempt of corporations to use the environmental crisis as an opportunity for making greater profits. Many NGOs observed the growing influence of major corporations and business lobby groups within the United Nations – one of the biggest differences between the first Rio Summit in 1992 and the latest gathering twenty years later, which is reinforcing policies that support the commercial interests of companies and preventing critical measures that serve the public good.

The real talk and action at Rio last week was not among ministers and heads of state, but in the parallelPeoples Summit for Social and Environmental Justice that was held over a 10 day period to propose real solutions to the serious problems that humanity is facing. This was the forum where the true meaning of ‘sustainable development’ was discussed and understood, with obvious implications for our current way of life and patterns of production and consumption. Clearly, long-term sustainability requires an acceptance that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. And living conditions can never be equalised around the world unless the over-consuming nations – the 20 percent of the world population that consumes 80 percent of the Earth’s resources – learn to live more simply and embrace the principle of sharing.

Sadly, the Rio+20 Declaration in no way reflected the global level of sharing, unity and cooperation that is needed to set humanity on a sustainable path. For example, instead of acknowledging that the solutions to poverty and inequality lie in ‘sustainable’ growth, the Declaration pledged 16 times over to pursue ‘sustained’ growth – i.e. growth at all costs, the root cause of ecological destruction – with only a vague call for “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce”. The U.S. lobbied to remove the word “equitable” from the text, along with any mention of the right to food, water, healthcare and gender equality.  Read more of this post

The Falkland Islands: How much has the game changed?

Daniel Crump 

Image © Tiger 2000

It was announced this week that the residents of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on their political status in 2013. The main focus of which will be their links with the United Kingdom, with 1,600 registered voters on the Islands deciding whether to remain under British rule or back Christina Fernandez’s view that ‘Las Malvinas’ should be a part of Argentina.

Views are mixed as to the seriousness of the escalated tension between the British and Argentine governments over the last few months. Some see the situation as harmless sabre rattling which should have been anticipated given that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the 1982 War. Others are choosing to read more into the rhetorical exchanges between David Cameron and Mrs. Fernandez. Governments are rarely prepared to answer too many questions on their willingness to enter into global conflict through fear of provoking unnecessary alarm, but what can we divulge from the rhetoric so far, and what are the main areas of concern?

A different kind of Cold War?

Whilst categorically denying that their own country is willing to enter into a new conflict, both governments are doing their best to show that the other one might be. Britain is accusing Christina Fernandez of pandering to the staunch nationalists in Argentina and using bullish language, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, to increase her approval ratings. For its part, Argentina has accused Britain of stepping up its military presence on the Islands and viewed Prince William’s recent visit as an obvious sign of disrespect.

Underlying all of this, the Falklands dispute has always involved, to a certain extent, concerns over natural resources, particularly oil. According to Argentine observers, the Falklands are an important strategic asset for the UK and give them an important route into Antarctica, which is seen as a potentially crucial area for future oil extraction. Many Argentines also recognise the cost of allowing the British to seize important natural resources so close to their own shores. Indeed, a significant part of the Military Junta’s reasoning 30 years ago was the possibility of improving their economic situation at home, and turning public opinion in their favour as a result.

The Dangerous Mrs. Fernandez?

Christina Fernandez is not leading a military junta. As a democratically elected figure, she is accountable to the people of Argentina and has historically shown her support for international law. There is also an unwritten rule in International Relations theory that democracies have much more to lose from war, and are therefore less likely to instigate a conflict than dictatorships, say.  Read more of this post

Bellow’s History

Nik Williams

Bosnian widows grieving at a mass funeral in 2010

‘To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice’, uttered by Elie Wiesel. This phrase haunts the legacy of the Holocaust, it leaks into every remembered tale, every history book, every elderly relative drawing at the twines of their memories, every town square and every memorial. To kill twice, to condemn not the already condemned body nor the mind, but the memory is a crime we can all become culpable in, as we let the shape of the Holocaust and its horrors dissolve into nothingness. When something is hidden from view, withdrawn from circulation, its outline becomes hazy and indefinite. Soon you redraw the image in your mind, but it is never the same. Lengths have shortened, curves emerged and proportions are tinkered with and soon you have in your mind, the last navigatory tool, a caricature of what was. But is the Holocaust trapped under the weight of our collective history, bound up in twine shunted against the wall in the room coddled with cobwebs, to be missed, to be obstructed from view by the miscellany and knickknacks of modern life?

You think history is the history of loving hearts? You fool! Look at these millions of dead. Can you pity them, feel for them? You can nothing! There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers. History is the history of cruelty, not love as soft men think.

Saul Bellow wrote this in Herzog and when thinking about the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity, how can history be anything but cruel? To think of Bellow’s cruel history is to think of a long and continuous thread tying us to the camps at Dachau, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, Belzec, Stutthof; the brutal war of independence in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan); Khmer Rouge’s utopic view of a ‘purer’ sense of communism that saw around 2 million people killed; the widespread murder and cannibalism of pygmy tribes in the DRC; inter-tribal violence in Rwanda that pitted Hutu and Tutsi against each other, severing villages and families; the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia and the list goes on. Reciting the list, part of me wants to call out to Wiesel: ‘how can we forget, it still happens, it is occurring around the world to remind us!’ But to remember a face, an individual instance, in such a sizable crowd, a mass of people where the edges of the crowd cannot be seen, is impossible. But how have we let such a crowd of the dead amass threatening to make the voices of each case inaudible above the din of the screams, yelps and sobs? Read more of this post

Tuition Fees: Human Rights and Wrongs


Image © Monika Ciapala

A few weeks ago the Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a speech at the Foreign Office, declared: “As a government we understand how important it is that we not only uphold our values and international law, but that we are seen to do so.

This may have come as a surprise to those who are acquainted with the UN International Covenant on Economic Cultural and Social Rights. The Covenant, signed by the UK, states in Article 13 that: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

The UK Government appeared puzzled by this and, in a submission to the UN Committee in 2007, wondered:

whether this paragraph is intended to mean equal access to higher education by: (i) the progressive introduction of free higher education, OR (ii) the progressive introduction of free education up until the point at which higher education commences. The Government’s position on financial provision for higher education students would conflict with interpretation (i) because the Government does not provide free higher education. However, higher education is equally accessible to all in the UK on the basis that fees are not charged at the outset but paid by means of loans at a later stage in the student’s life. If interpretation (i) is correct, the Government believes other State parties (such as Australia and New Zealand) would also have problems with the implementation of Article 13(2)(c). Read more of this post


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