JFP 4/18: US urged to join mineban; Israeli leader admits MA never said "wipe off the map"
Just Foreign Policy News, April 18, 2012
US urged to join mineban; Israel leader admits MA never said "wipe off the map"
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
* Action: Urge Obama to speak up to protect human rights defenders in Bahrain
Fourteen Bahrainis are in prison for supporting peaceful protests for democracy and human rights. One is on hunger strike and near death. Urge President Obama to speak up.
Seventy-Six Civil Society Leaders Deliver Letter to President Obama Calling on U.S. to Announce Intent to Join Mine Ban Treaty
Leaders from 76 nongovernmental organizations delivered a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to relinquish antipersonnel landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty without further delay.
NYT: Despite foggy opposition, Romney has embraced 2014 withdrawal
"Yet Mr. Romney has also embraced a timeline for a near-total withdrawal by the midpoint of the next presidential term, just as Mr. Obama has. 'The timetable by the end of 2014 is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces,' he said during a November debate."
Oxfam calls for greater scrutiny of hedge funds and banks used to finance development
Oxfam says more than half of the lending of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation is now through intermediaries; projects funded by these intermediaries aren't subject to the Bank's safeguards.
1) U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan posed for photos with body parts of Afghan corpses, reports the Los Angeles Times, which published some of the photos. The soldier who provided The Times with the photos said they point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops. The photos have emerged at a particularly sensitive moment for U.S.-Afghan relations, the LAT notes. In January, a video appeared showing U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base triggered riots that left 30 dead and led to the deaths of six Americans. In March, a U.S. Army sergeant went on a nighttime shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17.
2) U.S. officials said NATO countries had agreed to keep some international troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the New York Times reports. The Times says the new agreements will enable President Obama to "announce at a NATO summit meeting in Chicago next month that the unpopular … conflict is close to an end."
3) Dan Meridor, Israel's minister of intelligence and atomic energy, has acknowledged that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never actually said that Israel "must be wiped off the map," Robert Mackey reports for the New York Times. Teymoor Nabili of Al Jazeera suggested during an interview with Meridor that Ahmadinejad's rhetorical flourish had been misinterpreted. In response, Meridor said Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, had said repeatedly "that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn't say, 'We'll wipe it out,' you're right, but, 'It will not survive.'"
Although there is general agreement now among translators and scholars that Ahmadinejad did not commit his country to the project of destroying the state of Israel in 2005, Mackey notes, the phrase that was wrongly attributed to him is frequently used as evidence of Iran's genocidal intentions.
4) Israel's government is scrambling to find ways to save some of the unauthorized West Bank settlements it once promised to dismantle, including some that are built partly on private Palestinian land, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Legalizing these outposts would be a frontal assault on the Oslo accords and road map," said Israeli attorney Michael Sfard, who represents Palestinian landowners and the anti-settlement group Peace Now. Israel is using the four outpost cases included in Netanyahu's order last week as "trial balloons" to gauge international reaction, Sfard said. "So far the silence from the international community is just fueling the right-wing radicalization process in the government."
5) The Argentinian government's decision to renationalize the oil and gas company YPF has been greeted with howls of outrage, threats, and forecasts of ruin in the international press, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. But there are sound reasons for this move, and the government will most likely be proved right. Most of the world's oil and gas producers, from Saudi Arabia to Norway, have state-owned companies. Argentina is catching up with its neighbors and the world.
6) Mohamed Nasheed, the ousted president of the Maldives, has appealed for the international community to support early elections in his country as he linked the fight for democracy with the battle against global warming, the Guardian reports. Nasheed said he was disappointed at the reaction of the US to his overthrow; the US recognized the coup government and has opposed Nasheed's call for early elections. Nasheed noted that governments like the US who have supported the coup are also those that have opposed international action against climate change.
7) The Israeli military announced that a senior officer caught on videotape striking a Danish pro-Palestinian activist in the face with a rifle was to be dismissed from his post "on moral grounds," the New York Times reports. The military had moved quickly to suspend Colonel Eisner from his post as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade after the video was broadcast on a popular Israeli television news program.
8) Thousands of farmworkers have seized 30,000 acres of land around Honduras as part of a dispute with large landowners and the government, AP reports. Activists say the seized territory is arable public land that small farmers have the legal right to grow crops on under Honduran law. A land dispute between small farmers and landlords in the Aguan Valley has led to dozens of deaths among farmworkers. Via Campesina said the farmworkers were unarmed, used no force and wanted to avoid a confrontation, but didn't rule out an official attempt to dislodge them from the fields. 72 percent of rural homes are below the poverty line.
9) A local women's rights group says Honduras is poised to pass a law making it a crime for women to use the emergency contraceptive pill, Trustlaw reports. The law could see women jailed for up to six years, making Honduras one of the few countries in the world where women can be prosecuted for using emergency contraception.
10) The Committee to Protect Journalists says Colombia is the fifth worst country in the world for unsolved murders of journalists for the second year in a row, writes Colombia Reports. The CPJ ranked Iraq the worst for unsolved murders of journalists, with Colombia placed fifth after Somalia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
1) U.S. troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers
An American soldier says he released the photos to the Los Angeles Times to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. The Army has started a criminal investigation.
David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2012, 4:30 a.m.
The paratroopers had their assignment: Check out reports that Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.
The 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived at the police station in Afghanistan's Zabol province in February 2010. They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held - and others squatted beside - the corpse's severed legs.
A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate the remains of three insurgents who Afghan police said had accidentally blown themselves up. After obtaining a few fingerprints, they posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.
The Army launched a criminal investigation after the Los Angeles Times showed officials copies of the photos, which recently were given to the paper by a soldier from the division.
"It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes," said George Wright, an Army spokesman. "Such actions fall short of what we expect of our uniformed service members in deployed areas."
The photos have emerged at a particularly sensitive moment for U.S.-Afghan relations. In January, a video appeared on the Internet showing four U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base triggered riots that left 30 dead and led to the deaths of six Americans. In March, a U.S. Army sergeant went on a nighttime shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17.
The soldier who provided The Times with a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses did so on condition of anonymity. He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.
2) U.S. and NATO Finalize Pacts on Ending Afghan War
Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, April 18, 2012
Brussels - The United States and its allies in NATO finalized agreements on Wednesday to wind down the war in Afghanistan, paving the way for President Obama to announce at a NATO summit meeting in Chicago next month that the unpopular, nearly 11-year-old conflict is close to an end.
But many of the most critical details remained unresolved, chief among them who would pay billions of dollars a year to support the Afghan security forces.
After a day of meetings at NATO headquarters here, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the allies had formalized three crucial commitments: to increasingly move the Afghans into a lead combat role; to keep some international troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the year all American forces are supposed to be home; and to pay billions of dollars a year to support the Afghan security forces.
[The claim that "all American forces are supposed to be home in 2014" has appeared repeatedly in the Times, even though there is no such commitment; in the Times article on the web, the phrase "the year all American forces are supposed to be home" is hyperlinked to a February 2 article that says that by the end of 2014, "most of the troops are scheduled to be home" - JFP]
Mr. Panetta's comments, which reflected the Obama administration's eagerness to get out of the unpopular war, were immediately dissected by European nations that are under pressure from their parliaments to bring their troops home from the decade-long conflict. European officials said it would be hard to persuade their own countries to stay put if the United States were perceived as rushing to the exits.
France, however, continued to move toward accelerating its withdrawal from Afghanistan a year early. The French defense minister, Gérard Longuet, reiterated in an interview late Thursday in Brussels that his country would withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan - 2,400 soldiers in Kapisa Province - by 2013, although about 1,200 French personnel would be left behind in a support role in Kabul and other areas until 2014.
At the same time, the French proposed on Thursday that all NATO nations fighting in Afghanistan should consider ending their combat roles in 2013 to give the Afghan forces more time to prepare for the departure of most foreign troops the next year. "We must not leave the most difficult for the end," Mr. Longuet said.
Still, there was plenty of confusion over Mr. Panetta's remarks. "He said the combat role will come to an end, but he also said combat will continue," one senior NATO official said Thursday afternoon. At another point, the same official said that Mr. Panetta's comments were premature, and that NATO would make any decisions about the combat role of the alliance in Afghanistan.
"I'm not saying that Secretary Panetta wasn't right for what he said," said the official, who asked not to be identified by name under ground rules imposed by NATO. "I'm just saying as NATO, there's been no decisions - we're still working this, we're consulting with our allies. There are different views about when this should happen, how quickly it can happen."
"Major elements of the A.N.S.F. cannot possibly be ready to stand on their own by 2014," Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an e-mail.
The United States has about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, but 22,000 of them are due home by the fall. No schedule has been set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that almost all are to be out by the end of 2014. NATO officials and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, expect that a small international force will stay behind.
3) Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel 'Must Be Wiped Off the Map'
Robert Mackey, New York Times, April 17, 2012, 7:11 PM
In a reminder that Persian rhetoric is not always easy for English-speakers to interpret, a senior Israeli official has acknowledged that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never actually said that Israel "must be wiped off the map."
Those words were attributed to Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005, in English translations of his speech to a "World Without Zionism" conference that October. As my colleague Ethan Bronner reported the next year, one problem was translating a metaphorical turn of phrase in Persian that has no exact English equivalent - there was, for instance, no mention of a map - and there was a heated debate about whether the original statement was a threat or a prediction.
Last week, Teymoor Nabili of Al Jazeera suggested during an interview with Dan Meridor, Israel's minister of intelligence and atomic energy, that Mr. Ahmadinejad's rhetorical flourish had been misinterpreted. "This idea that Iran wants to wipe Israel out," Mr. Nabili said, "now that's a common trope that is put about by a lot of people in Israel, a lot of people in the United States, but as we know Ahmadinejad didn't say that he plans to exterminate Israel, nor did he say that Iran's policy is to exterminate Israel."
In response, Mr. Meridor said that Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran's ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said repeatedly "that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn't say, 'We'll wipe it out,' you're right, but, 'It will not survive.' "
As the Guardian columnist Jonathan Steele explained in 2006, a more direct translation of Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks would be: "this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time," echoing a statement once made by the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In an English translation three days after the speech in 2005, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri - which was founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer - rendered the sentence in a similar way: "Imam [Khomeini] said: 'This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.'"
In an interview with The Lede on Tuesday, Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American writer whose father was an ambassador under the Shah, pointed out that Mr. Ahmadinejad had slightly misquoted Ayatollah Khomeini, using the Persian word for "page" instead of a similar-sounding word for "scene or stage."
Mr. Majd, who once did a cameo as Mr. Ahmadinejad's translator at the United Nations, also noted that in the original speech, the Iranian president had argued that while the end of Israeli rule over Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, might seem impossible to imagine, the end of the Shah's rule and the collapse of the Soviet Union both proved that change on that scale was possible.
The author, who recently spent time in Tehran, suggested that Mr. Ahmadinejad has perhaps made so little effort to explain that he was misquoted because he relishes his image as a sworn enemy of Israel, and would not want to be seen as stepping back from even threatening remarks he did not make.
Still, over the years, the original misinterpretation of Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks has been so often repeated that it has become a kind of shorthand. "In my conversations with Americans," Mr. Majd said, very often they respond to the name Ahmadinejad by saying, "He wants to eliminate Israel."
Although there is general agreement now among translators and scholars that Mr. Ahmadinejad did not commit his country to the project of destroying the state of Israel in that 2005 speech, the phrase that was wrongly attributed to him then remains so firmly rooted in the popular imagination that it is frequently used as evidence of Iran's genocidal intentions.
Last year, after President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly that Israel, "looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map," Glenn Kessler, the editor of The Washington Post's Fact-Checker blog, criticized everyone "who has blithely repeated the phrase," including himself.
4) Israel tries to save West Bank settlements it vowed to dismantle
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's approach appears designed to avoid eviction of Jewish settlers and appease conservative lawmakers.
Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2012, 4:01 p.m.
Jerusalem - Israel's government is scrambling to find ways to save some of the unauthorized West Bank settlements it once promised to dismantle, including some that are built partly on private Palestinian land.
The new strategy seeks to retroactively legalize some outposts and, in other cases, relocate Jewish settlers to nearby land that is not privately owned, in effect creating what critics say would be the first new West Bank settlements in years.
The approach by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government appears designed to avoid the need to carry out high-profile military evictions of settlers in order to appease conservative lawmakers, who have accused Netanyahu of betraying the settlers' cause.
But it raises questions about past promises by the succession of Israeli governments - to Palestinians, the international community and Israel's own Supreme Court - to stop building new settlements and evacuate many of the illegal outposts, particularly those built on Palestinian land without official Israeli authorization.
Though most of the world views all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal, Israel makes a distinction between settlements it has approved and those, known as outposts, that arose over the last 20 years. Most are small communities of ideological religious families who put up temporary housing without the permission of the Defense Ministry. Though the government labels them illegal, it also provides implicit support in the form of security, roads, electricity and other infrastructure.
The fate of these approximately 100 outposts was thrust back into the spotlight last month when the Supreme Court reiterated an order that Migron, the largest outpost in the West Bank, be evacuated this year, though it delayed the deadline to August. In doing so, the court rejected a government request to delay eviction for three years more while settlers are relocated about a mile away.
A few other outposts are also facing demolition deadlines in the coming months in response to court challenges by Palestinian landowners and anti-settlement activists.
Facing a backlash from settler groups and right-wing politicians over the impending evacuations, Netanyahu announced this month that he was committed to "strengthening" Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He ordered his attorney general to search for ways to legalize three other unauthorized outposts - Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim - and to block the planned demolition of a fourth, Givat Haulpana, near the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
The decision marked a reversal for the government, which previously assured the Supreme Court that it would dismantle Givat Haulpana by May because it was built on private Palestinian land.
Palestinians said Netanyahu's support of settlement expansion and the government's continued approval of new housing permits suggest that Israel is not serious about resurrecting the peace process. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet this week with Palestinian officials in an attempt to restart negotiations, but the Palestinians say they won't resume talks without a settlement freeze.
Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers are proposing legislation that would prevent the future dismantling of most existing outposts built on private Palestinian land by requiring Palestinian landowners to accept monetary compensation in lieu of the property.
Critics say the government's actions violate both the spirit of peace accords, including the 1993 Oslo accords and the 2002 U.S-sponsored "road map," and of explicit promises made to the Supreme Court in recent years.
"Legalizing these outposts would be a frontal assault on the Oslo accords and road map," said Israeli attorney Michael Sfard, who represents Palestinian landowners and the anti-settlement group Peace Now.
"Because of the absence of a peace process and significant American pressure, ideas that only six months ago were unheard-of are becoming a political reality," Sfard said. Israel is using the four outpost cases included in Netanyahu's order last week as "trial balloons" to gauge international reaction, he said. "So far the silence from the international community is just fueling the right-wing radicalization process in the government."
5) Argentina's critics are wrong again about renationalising oil
In taking back oil and gas company YPF, Argentina's state is reversing past mistakes. Europe is in no position to be outraged
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Wednesday 18 April 2012 06.42 EDT
The Argentinian government's decision to renationalise the oil and gas company YPF has been greeted with howls of outrage, threats, forecasts of rage and ruin, and a rude bit of name-calling in the international press. We have heard all this before.
When the government defaulted on its debt at the end of 2001 and then devalued its currency a few weeks later, it was all doom-mongering in the media. The devaluation would cause inflation to spin out of control, the country would face balance of payments crises from not being able to borrow, the economy would spiral downward into deeper recession. Then, between 2002 and 2011, Argentina's real GDP grew by about 90%, the fastest in the hemisphere. Employment is now at record levels, and both poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced by two-thirds. Social spending, adjusted for inflation, has nearly tripled. All this is probably why Cristina Kirchner was re-elected last October in a landslide victory.
Of course this success story is rarely told, mostly because it involved reversing many of the failed neoliberal policies – that were backed by Washington and its International Monetary Fund – that brought the country to ruin in its worst recession of 1998-2002. Now the government is reversing another failed neoliberal policy of the 1990s: the privatisation of its oil and gas industry, which should never have happened in the first place.
There are sound reasons for this move, and the government will most likely be proved right once again. Repsol, the Spanish oil company that currently owns 57% of Argentina's YPF, hasn't produced enough to keep up with Argentina's rapidly growing economy. From 2004 to 2011, Argentina's oil production has actually declined by almost 20% and gas by 13%, with YPF accounting for much of this. And the company's proven reserves of oil and gas have also fallen substantially over the past few years.
The lagging production is not only a problem for meeting the needs of consumers and businesses, it is also a serious macroeconomic problem. The shortfall in oil and gas production has led to a rapid rise in imports. In 2011 these doubled from the previous year to $9.4bn, thus cancelling out a large part of Argentina's trade surplus. A favourable balance of trade has been very important to Argentina since its default in 2001. Because the government is mostly shut out of borrowing from international financial markets, it needs to be careful about having enough foreign exchange to avoid a balance of payments crisis. This is another reason that it can no longer afford to leave energy production and management to the private sector.
So why the outrage against Argentina's decision to take – through a forced purchase – a controlling interest in what for most of the enterprise's history was the national oil company? Mexico nationalised its oil in 1938, and, like a number of Opec countries, doesn't even allow foreign investment in oil. Most of the world's oil and gas producers, from Saudi Arabia to Norway, have state-owned companies. The privatisations of oil and gas in the 1990s were an aberration; neoliberalism gone wild. Even when Brazil privatised $100bn of state enterprises in the 1990s, the government kept majority control over energy corporation Petrobras.
As Latin America has achieved its "second independence" over the past decade-and-a-half, sovereign control over energy resources has been an important part of the region's economic comeback. Bolivia renationalised its hydrocarbons industry in 2006, and increased hydrocarbon revenue from less than 10% to more than 20% of GDP (the difference would be about two-thirds of current government revenue in the US). Ecuador under Rafael Correa greatly increased its control over oil and its share of private companies' production.
So Argentina is catching up with its neighbours and the world, and reversing past mistakes in this area. As for their detractors, they are in a weak position to be throwing stones. The ratings agencies threatening to downgrade Argentina – should anyone take them seriously after they gave AAA ratings to worthless mortgage-backed junk during the housing bubble, and then pretended that the US government could actually default? And as for the threats from the European Union and the rightwing government of Spain – what have they done right lately, with Europe caught in its second recession in three years, nearly halfway through a lost decade, and with 24% unemployment in Spain?
It is interesting that Argentina has had such remarkable economic success over the past nine years while receiving very little foreign direct investment, and being mostly shunned by international financial markets. According to most of the business press, these are the two most important constituencies that any government should make sure to please. But the Argentinian government has had other priorities. Maybe that's another reason why Argentina gets so much flak.
6) Maldives ousted president appeals for global help to bring early elections
Mohamed Nasheed links fight for democracy to battle against global warning in call for international pressure on successor
Jason Burke, Guardian, Wednesday 18 April 2012 04.44 EDT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/18/maldives-ousted-president-mohamed-nasheed
Delhi - Mohamed Nasheed, the ousted president of the Maldives, has appealed for the international community to support early elections in his country as he linked the fight for democracy with the battle against global warming.
Nasheed, a respected climate change campaigner who was forced out of power in February, said on Wednesday that he hoped for "robust" pressure from regional and world powers to "restore democracy" in the Maldives as soon as possible.
The 44-year-old politician, who became president in 2008 after the Maldives's first multiparty election for 30 years, described his disappointment at the reactions of the US and India to his overthrow by elements of the police and military. Both Washington and Delhi recognised the new administration of President Mohammed Waheed and called for a government of unity instead of early polls. Both have opposed stricter measures on climate change, Nasheed said.
"If you do a map of who supported [us] and who did not, it maps the climate change issue. The Europeans are far, far better than bigger emitting countries and the USA," he told the Guardian on a visit to India.
7) Israeli Officer Who Struck Protester Is Dismissed
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, April 18, 2012
Jerusalem - The Israeli military announced on Wednesday that a senior officer caught on videotape striking a Danish pro-Palestinian activist in the face with an M-16 rifle during a standoff in the West Bank was to be dismissed from his post "on moral grounds."
In addition, the officer, Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, will not receive a planned promotion to serve as the deputy commander of the military's prestigious officer school, and will not be eligible to serve in a commanding position for the next two years, the military said in a statement.
The military had moved quickly to suspend Colonel Eisner from his post as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade hours after the video was broadcast on a popular Israeli television news program on Sunday night. Israeli leaders issued swift condemnations.
The episode took place on Saturday when Israeli soldiers blocked the path of 200 Palestinians and their foreign supporters who were participating in a bicycle tour of the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The foreign activists said they had wanted to draw attention to the restrictions placed on Palestinians living in the area.
The altercation occurred when the cyclists tried to leave the Palestinian village of Ouja and join Route 90, a major north-south artery. Access to the road was blocked by a line of 10 to 20 soldiers. The activists said that after waiting for half an hour, singing and chanting, they then decided to walk peacefully toward the soldiers in an effort to reach Route 90. That, they said, is when Colonel Eisner became violent.
The Dane, Andreas Ias, 20, had his lips sutured after he was struck. A Dutch volunteer said that Colonel Eisner had also hit her and a Palestinian woman in the face, and a Palestinian man in the back, with his rifle.
8) Thousands of Honduran farmworkers seize land around country from large landowners
Associated Press, Wednesday, April 18, 3:03 PM
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Thousands of farmworkers have seized 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) of land around Honduras as part of a dispute with large landowners and the government, activists and officials said Wednesday.
Activists say the seized territory is arable public land that small farmers have the legal right to grow crops on under Honduran law. The large landowners who have been farming the land say they bought it legally from the government. A land dispute between small farmers and landlords in the northern Aguan Valley has led to dozens of deaths among farmworkers in recent years.
Mabel Marquez, of the organization Via Campesina, said that the largest seizure had occurred on the country's Caribbean coast, where roughly 1,500 farmworkers had seized land held by a sugar plantation. The movement also took possession of several farms on the outskirts of the capital, Tegucigalpa.
"We want to avoid any type of confrontation," Marquez said, adding that the farmworkers were unarmed and used no force. Marquez said the farmworkers didn't rule out an official attempt to dislodge them from the fields.
Activists said they were seeking meetings with government officials to open a national dialogue on land disputes, make clear that the lands were public property and that the farmworkers shouldn't be dislodged. According to United Nations figures, 53 percent of Hondurans live in the countryside and, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America, the residents of 72 percent of rural homes are below the poverty line.
9) Honduras poised to criminalise women using emergency contraceptive pill - rights group
Anastasia Moloney, Trustlaw, 18 Apr 2012 10:17
Bogota - Honduras is poised to pass a law making it a crime for women to use the emergency contraceptive pill and for doctors to prescribe it, a local women's rights group has said.
In February, the Supreme Court in Honduras upheld a decree imposing a blanket ban on the sale and use of emergency contraception, even for rape survivors, paving the way for lawmakers to develop laws to enforce the ban.
These laws, if passed, could see women jailed for up to six years, making the Central American nation one of the few countries in the world where women and girls can be prosecuted for using emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill.
"It's almost a done deal that congress will pass this law criminalising emergency contraception," said Gabriela Diaz, head of reproductive rights at the Centre for Women's Rights in Honduras.
Lawmakers in Honduras could vote on the issue any day, she added.
"There is no schedule and or timetable for when this law will be debated. It could happen at any time," Diaz told TrustLaw, in a telephone interview from the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.
In Honduras, abortion is banned under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother or foetus is in danger. The country's supreme court ruled that the emergency contraceptive pill was a method of early abortion and therefore illegal.
This decision goes against the views of leading global health bodies, including the World Health Organisation and the Pan-American Health Organisation, which say the emergency contraceptive pill is not a form of abortion because it prevents sperm from fertilizing the egg.
"Taking away the right to emergency contraception means women who have been raped will be left with no choice but to go through with the pregnancy and give birth even if they don't want to," Diaz said.
"In Honduras, there are no options for women with unwanted pregnancies if emergency contraception is denied. Women here can't decide if, when and how many children they want," she added.
10) Colombia is fifth worst in the world for unsolved journalist murders
Rosemary Westwood, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 17 April 2012 08:50
Colombia is the fifth worst country in the world for unsolved murders of journalists for the second year in a row, according to a new report.
It once again led Latin American nations in the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2012 Impunity Index, which measures how often members of the media are killed and how frequently those murders are solved.
The CPJ ranked Iraq the worst for unsolved murders of journalists, with Colombia placed fifth after Somalia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
The report criticized Colombia's "unacceptably high" ranking, "a legacy of its deadly past and its continued shortcomings in prosecuting open cases."
But it also praised recent judicial efforts to bring killers to justice.
"The fight to end impunity in crimes against the press is a long and complicated struggle," Maria Teresa Ronderos, a Colombian journalist and member of the CPJ's board of directors said in a statement.
The reported praised recent convictions and a slowed pace of journalist killings.
But it also highlighted the unsolved murder of award-winning reporter Guillermo Bravo Vega, who exposed government corruption and was shot dead in his home in 2003.
Ronderos said there remained more work to be done. "While lethal violence has receded, the number of threats has escalated and the investigations into these threats have gone nowhere," she said.
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