Mozambique’s Dirty Elections: Not Free, Not Fair, Not Transparent

For over a year and a half, since April 2013, Mozambique has been going through a tense political atmosphere. Many parts of the country were going through an undeclared war between the party in power (Frelimo) and the main opposition party (Renamo). We reported on this situation in our New Year JA blog. It was because of this tense atmosphere, increased insecurity for citizens and clamp down on civil society that an unprecedented 30,000 people marched on the streets of Maputo on 31 October 2013, demanding peace, justice and solidarity, and an end to insecurity and war (see photos on the New Year blog).

After much negotiations, the parties decided to go ahead with elections scheduled for 15 October 2014, although the tense atmosphere had clearly not yet abated.

Elections took place on 15 October. On the same day, media and observers already reported several irregularities. There are many instances of violence including a young man killed in Beira. Opposition party observers were deliberately kept out of voting rooms and were unable to observe. There were reports of ballot boxes disappearing in some places, being burnt and destroyed in others. Several people were caught with multiple ballots in their hands already marked in the ruling party’s name and ready to be put into ballot boxes. Many election booths opened many hours after they were supposed to. Social scientist Joseph Hanlon’s page in English registers several issues with the voting.

All these and many more reports were actively covered in the media and are substantiated by two renowned Mozambican organisations, Liga dos Direitos Humanos (LDH, Human Rights League) and Centro de Integridade Publica (CIP, Centre for Public Integrity). They were both civil society observers of this election. These organisations were already raising these issues and irregularities on the day of the elections itself.

These irregularities were reported to the National Election Commission right away on the same day! However the official response was that these incidents were minimal and did not affect the overall outcome!

The Mozambican people are livid. The tension across Mozambique around this issue is evident and everyone is talking about the lack of democracy. Front page headline on Canal de Moçambique on 22 October stated “Filipe Nyusi: Uma Fraude Retumbante” (Fipile Nyusi [ruling party candidate]: A Reverberating Fraud). Social media including facebook has been ripe with discontent about the elections scenario.

Given the sentiment in the country, and the terrible official response, 4 Mozambican organisations today submitted a formal complaint to the National Election Commission. The 4 organisations include:

  • Liga dos Direitos Humanos,
  • Centro de Integridade Publica,
  • Justiça Ambiental (JA, Friends of the Earth Mozambique) and
  • Acção Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais (ADECRU, Action for Development of Rural Communities).

The complaint has nothing to do with who wins or who loses the elections. It is about governance, transparency, justice and democracy. We as Mozambicans demand free, fair and transparent elections. We demand justice. We know there will be backlash on our organisations from the government; however it is a matter of justice for all Mozambicans. It is also important to note that the Electoral Law does not provide any legal avenues for civil society or citizens to be able to make any complaints about the electoral process and get a response. However, the outrage is huge, so we decided to go ahead with a complaint anyway.

It is really sad that some big advocacy Mozambican groups who usually work together with us on issues, and who are criticising the election irregularities, yet did not have the courage to bring their voices to such an important complaint.

Just now the government has released the final results of the elections and has claimed a victory for the ruling party.

But what is the truth? Where is our democracy?

A luta continua (the struggle continues)…

UNAC’s 3rd International Conference about Land

Another International Conference about Land, organized by the National Peasants Union (União Nacional de Camposeses, UNAC), took place in early October in the Telecommunications of Mozambique (Telecomunicações de Moçambique, TDM) conference centre. It was a privilege to hear the peasants testimonies, concerns and appeals… most of which, unfortunately, remain unresolved and unanswered. The main issues addressed were:

  • Land conflicts that are getting worse all over the country. Farmers who find themselves competing with megaprojects, like plantations, for land that rightfully belongs to them;
  • The lack of market and of product flow paths, which sometimes leads to rotten goods;
  • Unfair competition with imported products from South Africa and Swaziland. Although most of the products from our farmers are organic, consumers end up choosing the cheapest and “nice-looking” products in detriment of local goods;
  • Community Consultation misguided and biased, often involving only community representatives and not the community as a whole, which allows leaders to be misled or even bribed, in exchange for personal benefits and at the expense of the welfare of the whole community;
  • The lack of incentives and of a specific policy for the preservation of local seeds and local knowledge, pushing farmers to purchase improved seeds that lead to having low production results;
  • Prosavana, because it is being imposed and because it is a top to bottom program which endangers the land and livelihood of peasants, clearly embracing agro-businesses;
  • Other issues raised were the lack of subsidized agricultural credit, lack of extension workers, ..

The problems are many, the feeling of abandonment is widespread and the fear of questioning and complaining is permanent. How can we be facing this scenario in a country that does not tire of glorifying itself over its excellent and progressive land law, and where over 80% of the population depend on agriculture?

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Nothing about us without us! (Photo credit: JA!)

Another much discussed matter were the seeds: the qualities of local seeds vs the qualities of improved and genetically modified seeds that we thought we were not allowed in Mozambique, but which the Ministry Of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, MINAG) is clearly keen to introduce. In fact, there are already experimental fields. In his presentation, the representative of MINAG praised widely the benefits of clearly questionable genetically modified organisms, and even said we cannot have an aversion to new technologies. The concerns of farmers are ignored, the concerns of non-governmental organizations are ignored – that is when they are not also accused of having outside interests – and there is plenty of evidence that shows us that by adhering to all forms of greedy development, based on the extraction of all types of natural resources and on the commodification of nature, the government is mortgaging the future of the country. The examples of large and serious impacts of new agro businesses programs like Prosavana, which are done with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are numerous, but still, those in charge insist on not accepting them, and insist on following the path of profit at the expense of people and the environment.

The conviction of the representative of MINAG on benefits of GMO’s, and the fact that he did not mention a single negative point, showed the pathway that the government chose to follow on this matter, despite the clear objections of the peasants who were present, despite the positioning of UNAC and several other civil society organizations. The way sensitive issues such as GMOs are approached is daunting, with only the “positives” being taken into account and no negative aspect being even mentioned. The peasants clearly said they want their native seeds, because the improved seeds do not germinate, because they do not want to pay for seeds every sowing season, because they do not want to become dependent on large agro business companies. But the government representatives said they were not prepared to discuss that issue at the forum, they had only been asked to present their work.

Although very briefly, the Nacala Corridor Strategic Economic Development Plan (Plano Estratégico de Desenvolvimento Económico do Corredor de Nacala, PEDEC), which the presenter defined as a set of strategies for economic development of the Nacala corridor, and safeguarding social and environmental aspects, was also presented at the conference. How this plan safeguards the social and environmental aspects of the area, remains a mystery among many other details of this immense and greedy program. Several issues remained “in the air”, as most of those present were totally in the dark regarding this program. The presenter had little or nothing to say when faced with questions, but assured that the 400 page study gives proper details and addresses concerns. The representative of GAZEDA, also responsible for the presentation of this program, stated that the PEDEC does not include Prosavana, that they are separate programs.

In the end, the reports and testimonies of current land conflicts were played down by one of the representatives of the government who said that the Law of the Land is quite clear and that there is no room for debate. If there are land conflicts they should be resolved with the Law of the Land. According to the same individual, there should be no doubt regarding this, so we asked him why then do these conflicts remain unresolved until today… the worst blind is the one who does not want to see.

The 3rd International Conference about Land confirmed the total lack of alignment between what farmers want and how they want to develop, and what the government wants economic development for Mozambique to be: designed at the highest level with its cooperation partners rather than with Mozambicans, and based on programs already implemented in other parts of the world, which benefit countries like Japan, a major player in both the PEDEC and Prosavana.

Any organization that seeks to question and wishes to obtain better understanding of these programs is labeled by some members of the government as “serving foreign interests”. It is hilarious to hear these comments from people who are implementing programs that are completely imported, and are against development… all to avoid having to answer difficult questions that have been consistently placed…

One of the questions that many farmers have posed during this conference was: “Ultimately, who does this government serve?”… No one dared to answer!

He steals, but he builds

A few days ago, the following headline caught our attention: “Roba, pero hace obras.” The article was from a Peruvian newspaper, and the statement was Susana Villarán’s, Alcaldesa (Mayor) of Lima, Peru’s capital, and candidate for re-election on the election that took place on the 5th of this month.

Campaigning, and by way of provocation to one of her political opponents, Villarán directed a shrewd critique to the Peruvian electorate, stating that the people were often too passive in the face of corruption. “This expression he steals but he builds is well known, (…) this kind of tolerance, that we get acquainted with in our homes, in schools, is everywhere and it is a terribly damaging culture.” – said the Peruvian politician.

Needless to say, a huge controversy broke out, and in the days that followed, many of the most important South American news media mentioned the case.

While political developments in Peru are of little or no interest to us Mozambicans, we could not help but find this news very interesting, the result of a very familiar social context and, as such, worthy of being shared. With our general elections at the door, and in a country where there is so much talk about corruption and so much corruption as there is in ours, we thought we could use it as a motto to share some ideas.

How many of us have heard, regarding elections in the country, the following barbarity: “Better leave him in power, at least he is already rich. If another comes, he will still have to get rich.” This is an example of the tolerance that Susana Villarán referred to, and it has to cease to exist in our society too so that we can move forward. Political corruption, regardless of shape or volume, is not acceptable in any way and should not be tolerated.

Another barbarity is the belief that the correct actions and decisions of someone in a position of power, serve as a counterweight to balance the ethical and morally wrong things they do. The good performance of a politician gives him/her credibility, not the right to take advantage of his/her position. After all, is it not the work of those in positions of power to honourably serve those who put them there? Do they not get a salary for it? Why are those who are caught stealing or conning their bosses arrested and fired and corrupt politicians in this country are not? These ideas may seem basic, but a lot of very well educated people often forget them.

But the problem of corruption in Mozambique is far deeper and extends far beyond our tolerance to the corruption of the political class. Far beyond… The biggest problem is that, among those who can afford to do it, corrupting someone is socially acceptable. It is OK to bribe the police. It is OK to “buy” a drivers license. It is OK to circumvent the Law of the Land to be able to get “that lot”. The result: after corrupting a lot of people on our way up, when we reach the top of the hierarchy, we Mozambicans think we have the right to be corrupted.

It is a cultural problem that we all have long been well aware of and that, as a people, we should all be engaged in solving. And we cannot afford the luxury of waiting for our leaders to take the initiative.

As a society, we have to be more demanding. For our democracy to grow, we must also grow and demand that our leaders grow with us. We have to guide them, we can not continue to allow them to decide our fates. We must show them the way we want to go. We must learn to impose our will, and they must learn to accept the responsibility to fulfil it.

Soon we will have elections and the possibility to choose who will represent us in the coming years. Let’s do it intelligently, and regardless of who wins, so that things truly change, we have to make it clear from the beginning that we, the people, own this country. That is what Democracy is all about.

CAN WE STOP OUR ELEPHANTS’ SLAUGHTER?

In an article we wrote on our Newsletter in June last year,  about the sad reports we were getting regarding a second extinction of the rhino in Mozambique (since they had been eradicated from our territory in the past and then reintroduced), we mentioned the possibility of extinction in our territory of yet another species, the elephant.

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Studies published at the time adverted that 4 to 5 elephants were being killed a day, most of them in our national parks, and warned that if urgent measures were not taken to change the course of things, elephants in Mozambique would be extinct in five years time. Statements of both international scientists and national park guards corroborated these allegations. A small documentary in one of the national television channels, with shocking footage of dead elephants and carcases, was also broadcasted at the time.

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But, as always in our country, a year as gone by and nothing has been done. In fact, the situation worsened and despite all the warnings by the civil society and the media, our elephants keep getting slaughtered. The competent authorities, whose duty is to act, are not acting. They do not even comment on the issue so that they do not have to explain how they are (not) tackling it. Maybe they are hoping that it will solve itself… And if it depends on them, so it will be: in four years time (five was last year) we will have no elephants left, and therefore, no problems to address. The way we see it, this is the only thing that can be going through their minds, otherwise, why are they not acting upon something so serious?

Unfortunately, we did not expect different. After all, this invariable incapability to take urgent measures that are necessary to solve serious environmental problems, whether on behalf of our elephants, forests or the environment in general, is a trademark of our government.

When we have no natural resource whatsoever (animals, forests or rivers), then we will not have the need to protect them, and consequently, we will not have any environmental problem. Correct? No? So why are we not acting?

Can someone please explain it?

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About this subject, in August of this year, an elucidative new study about the illegal ivory market global spreading was launched. This study, titled Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory, by Varun Vira, Thomas Ewing, and Jackson Miller, adds even more ashes to the fire by revealing some shocking recent data of the worlds counterfeit of this product.

The study states that the period between 2009 and 2013 was the worst in history since ivory trade was banned, and that in 2013 alone, over 50 tons of ivory were apprehended. Despite being hard to estimate the correct number of elephants that were killed to produce this kind of quantity, we know that at least 20.000 elephants are killed annually and that its world population is dropping, possibly on its way to extinction.

To make things worst, for example in China, ivory price has risen from USD $5/Kg in 1989 to USD $2.100/Kg in 2014. By itself, this stimulates an absurd increase in ivory traffic and converts what was “only” an environmental problem, into a case of organized crime with Africa as its focal point and countries like Mozambique, fragile due to its weak wildlife monitoring, as its main targets.

Given the seriousness of the situation and the feeble or nonexistent action of many of our governments, citizens from over 100 cities of the world gathered and organized a global march on the 4th of October, to protest against the present indiscriminate slaughter and to demand that serious measures are taken before it is too late.

But time does not stop and while we are writing this article, the clock keeps ticking in Mozambique and elephants keep getting slaughtered in our parks. Asking WHY and getting upset with what is not being done is not enough anymore. It is time to act, to move into action, to make use of our rights and duties as wise and caring citizens. Our government negligence and lack of attitude in these matters is a direct reflection of our apathy as a society in demanding that they be solved. And if our love for mother earth is not a strong enough motive to compel us, we should be reminded that there are many African nations that have long realized that their biodiversity is an enormous wealth, and among them, countries like South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, for example, have huge tourism incomes thanks to their clever management of those resources. By allowing the extinction of species in our territory, we are allowing those who perpetrate it to make us all poorer.

Out of the five year estimate for the extinction of elephants in Mozambique, we have now four left and nothing has been done. But as the proverb says, “together we are strong”. We believe that the majority of Mozambicans is aware of the importance of preserving our biodiversity, our natural wealth and we ask all of you to unite under this banner and demand of our goverment swift, practical and effective measures to save the elephants. Lets act to stop this reckless and merciless slaughter.

A luta continua, this time around for elephants and rhinos.

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Hot Air at UN Climate Summit

THE LEADERS’ SUMMIT HAS JUST HOT AIR, WHILE THE PEOPLE HAVE THE CLIMATE SOLUTIONS

World leaders and their unreliable promises grabbed all the headlines at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York last week, but if you want to know about the real solutions to the climate crisis you should tune in to what just happened on the streets instead.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens and environmental activists just marched, in cities across the world, from New York to Kathmandu to London to Delhi to Amsterdam, as part of the People’s Climate March, the largest climate action in history. Thousands also marched at the Flood Wall Street marches, to hold accountable corporations’ role in the climate crisis.

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Marchers at the New York Peoples’ Climate Mobilisations.

Our message to the so-called ‘world leaders’ is this: This Climate Summit and your empty promises will not bring us closer to solving climate change; you have to make real commitments, take the right actions, or get out of the way. Don’t just talk, walk.

We don’t want these weak voluntary pledges. What we need instead are more legally-binding, ambitious, equitable, science-based emissions cuts. We also need finance and technology for developing countries to deal with the crisis. At the Summit, we heard only the vaguest promises of funding without any real specifics or timelines.

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President Obama’s hot air speech at the UN Climate Summit. (Photo credit: UN)

The Climate Summit York laid out the red carpet for businesses. Developed countries’ leaders have been neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe because their priorities are being driven increasingly by the narrow economic and financial interests of corporations, dirty energy companies and wealthy elites.

Not all actions on climate change are the right actions. Unfortunately we have a long list of wrong actions or ‘false solutions’ to climate change that are constantly paraded, including mega-dams, natural gas, so-called “clean coal”, carbon capture and storage,  genetically modified organisms, agrofuels, carbon trading, ‘climate smart agriculture’, nuclear, offsetting and mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation). These false fixes distract from the real societal and economic changes that exist and are the real solutions needed to stop the climate crisis.

First and foremost we need reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at source. We also need to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume energy. Dirty energy is causing climate change and also harming workers and local communities. We demand clean sustainable community energy – the right for people to have access to energy; to decide and own their sustainable energy sources and sustainable consumption patterns.

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African Union speaking at UN Climate Summit. (Photo credit: UN)

So what did the Mozambican Ministry representative have to say in New York? “Energy, where our goal is to improve access to renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and promote low-carbon urbanization.”

But what are the actions that Mozambique is taking? Are they walking the talk? Actually they are doing the opposite. Instead of supporting small-scale renewable energy solutions for the 80% of Mozambique’s people without energy access, the government is pushing mega-projects, large-scale coal, oil and gas developments, mega-dams and large-scale land-grabbing. But we will hold them accountable to their words and push for people-centred clean development inside of this current polluter-centred, dirty economy.

Mozambique marches in support of Palestine

Yesterday, Saturday (2nd Aug) thousands of Mozambicans marched on the streets of our capital Maputo. Civil society and the general public, we all marched in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against the crimes committed by Israel against civilians, especially Palestinian children.

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Stop the massacre

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Marchers

Justiça Ambiental team also participated in the march, with our t-shirts bearing the Palestinian flag with the words ‘Palestina Livre’ (free Palestine) written across it. On the back was one of Yasser Arafat’s famous sayings, “A minha causa é liberdade” (My cause is liberation).

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JA people at the march

 

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Mozambican children marching for Palestinian children

 

We marched the streets chanting, “Palestina, Moçambique esta contigo” (Palestine, Mozambique is with you) and “Palestina viva” (long live Palestine) and “matança de crianças abaixo” (down with the killings of children) and more…

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“You just need to be human”

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Everyone gathered at the Samora Machel statue in Maputo

(All photos from Justiça Ambiental)

 

‘Israel has decided to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy’

Once again the full murderous force of Israel’s military machine is unleashed against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, while world leaders just watch the genocide of a nation in real time and do nothing.  When I started writing this article the death toll was well above 100 Palestinians (over half women and children) and zero Israeli civilian casualties or even major injuries, despite extensive coverage by western media of the deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. Sadly by the time I had finished writing the article the Palestinian death toll had gone over 1000 and by the time you read this it would have probably more than doubled. As Israeli Professor, Ilan Pappé says, “Israel, in 2014, made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.”

Israel’s aggression violates the UN Charter and fundamental international laws and principles, but this is not new and past commissions have found numerous war atrocities and violations carried out by Israel during past attacks that have not resulted in any concrete actions by the UN or our world leaders. The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms that neither law nor justice dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, but geopolitical alignments.

One just needs a quick look at the history of the conflict to confirm this bias and lack of action in the face of undeniable facts. The UN has defined Israel’s occupation as illegal and numerous UN resolutions have demanded the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. UN resolution 3379 from 1975 even went on to declare Israeli Zionism ideology as a form of racism, stating “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, and other ANC members that fought against apartheid, clearly see the parallels and define the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a form of apartheid. Yet the world denounced and ended apartheid in one place, but is allowing the other to continue. Even when Nelson Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

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Photo: Grabbing of Palestinian land by Israel

Numerous leaders and public figures have spoken out in support of Palestine, from Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to civil society groups around the world representing millions of people, such as Friends of the Earth, La Via Campesina, and many more. This criticism is not new, during the early days of the creation of Israel numerous influential individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, raised concerns and criticism. Today even celebrities that are not known to be political have voiced their support of the Palestinian cause, such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For anyone that doesn’t have the time to look into the details or considers the history too complicated, there is an easier way to decide on which side you should belong, simply look at the people you admire, your moral leaders.

Here in Mozambique, Samora Machel was a strong supporter of the Palestinian peoples’ struggles, and Yasser Arafat was a close ally and even attended Samora’s funeral. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Many more moral leaders have already done the homework for you. If we claim to be people that are guided by justice and morals it’s now time for us to show solidarity towards the Palestinian people and their struggle.

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Photo: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine, October 2013

I was part of Friends of the Earth International’s latest solidarity mission to Palestine at the end of last year. Even though we were invited by Palestinians, they do not have the authority to invite us into their own country. Instead we had to get an Israeli visa. On arrival the first question asked by Israeli authorities is whether you plan on visiting the West Bank. If you answer yes you most likely will not be allowed entry at all. So we had to enter Palestine ‘unofficially’.

Heavy army presence is evident everywhere, there are road blocks and check points at the entrances to all cities in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers check everyone who passes, always and independent of the prevailing political tensions. This control has prevented over 11 million Palestinian refugees from returning home, even though they are entitled under the Geneva Convention on Refugees to return, which Israel continues to deny. Based on current borders only 17.7% of Palestine (all in the cities) is under Palestinian control, while the rest is controlled by the Israeli army. However, even in the areas under Palestinian control have numerous restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.

The Israeli occupation doesn´t stop with the control of land and movement, but an attack on all the fundamentals of human rights such as water, heath, education, childhood, labour, culture, etc. It is a total structured suppression of a nation to the point where it is a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

During our visit, we realised that given the desert type of environment, water is a very valuable and vital resource for existence. All Palestinian water resources are under the complete control of the Israeli army, which regularly destroy Palestinian bore-holes and block construction of new ones. They impose inhumane water restrictions on Palestinians, while allowing excessive and unstainable use by Israeli settlers. The double standards and water grab by Israelis are impossible to hide. At present Isreali settlers consume daily almost 400 litres per person (more than double of London’s average use) and have swimming pools, exotic gardens and extensive agricultural lands with water-intensive crops that should never be planted in the desert. Meanwhile Palestinians don’t even come close to receiving the World Health Organisation’s daily recommended 100 litres per person and many survive on a little as 10 litres per day.

Water is just one of the fundamental pillars of life that is consistently being used by Israel to break the Palestinian nation and spirit, but it’s the same story for all sectors.

In health, Israel sends its waste to get dumped in Palestine and all high-polluting industries that were in Israel in the 1970s and were ordered by Courts to close due to risks to human health, were instead moved right next to Palestinian cities, like the Geshuri factories near Tulkarem. Israel is very aware of the health risks because, even today, if the wind starts blowing towards Israel, these factories have to halt production. But Palestinians have to just endure the toxins and cancer rates have increased significantly in the area.

The more time we spent in Palestine the more facts and details are continually exposed about the inhumane, unjust, illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. We heard numerous accounts that the Israeli military arrests Palestinian children as young as 5 years old, a high number of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse and are threatened with sexual assault and death to themselves or their families. This abuse is confirmed by UN reports which also add that, in the last decade, over 7000 children are have been arrested and tortured.

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Palestinian children in a village where water & electricity access has been harmed by Israel (Daniel Ribeiro)

Everywhere we went, we saw the Israeli military abuse. In Zbeidat the military blocked the construction of a water and sewage system. Jobet Adeeb near Bethlehem has no electricity or water sewage system, and is barred from installing solar panels, electrical wiring, borehole or almost any structure that would improve the standard of living but the nearby Israeli settlement has all the modern luxuries and services. We visited a village that has been completely demolished, even though Israeli courts have recognised the rights to the land. Many more Palestinians that we met talked about the constant demolition notices they receive, that sometime are carried out immediately while others stay hanging over the family’s head for over a year, never knowing when the military would come to demolish their home. But just like in Gaza today, they know it will happen that one day they arrive home to a pile of rubble.

These experiences are all too common and regular that anyone that want to know the truth has to just spend some time in Palestine. I could carryon for pages and pages of the injustices and abuse by Israel. The evidence is clear. I often hear today’s younger generation asking our elders how did they let it happen – slavery, apartheid in South Africa, 2 World Wars, genocides and many other atrocities. I am sure that our children and grandchildren will ask us the same question. How and why did you allow the Palestinian genocide to happen? And in truth we have no excuses. As the saying goes: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

There are easy ways that all of us can help, such as supporting the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign is non-violent and is inspired by the civil rights movement against segregation in the US and by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It is based on three basic pillars or principles:

  • Ending occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Apartheid Wall;
  • Recognising the fundamental rights and full equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel;
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

All these demands have a basis in UN resolutions on Palestine and they are simply requesting implementation of international law. They are basic rights and first steps in the struggle for justice. I call on all of us to join.

 

Margarita Declaration from Venezuela calls for eradication of dirty energy

Activists from Friends of the Earth, including from Justiça Ambiental, were present at the preparatory meeting for the social pre-COP held in Venezuela in July 2014. We were among about 280 activists from 130 civil society organisations, from Venezuela and across the world. We met for 4 days at Isla Margarita, an island off the mainland of Venezuela, to move to defeat climate change.

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Activists at Isla Margarita for the social pre-COP

This social pre-COP was a unique event. There is a pre-COP held every year before the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) COPs, which are the official UN climate change negotiations. However, civil society is usually never included in the pre-COP. This time, the Venezuelan government had a vision to involve civil society and make this a social pre-COP.

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Claudia Salerno. Photo credit: Zack Embree

In fact, the Venezuela government had to make a special effort to politely decline the meddling of the UNFCCC Secretariat in this July meeting that just happened. The pre-COP is being held in 2 parts, one in July and the other in early November. The Secretariat was discouraged from attending the July meeting because the space was for civil society to speak to one another freely. This was a very positive step and allowed rich exchange between civil society organisations and social movements from 6 continents. There was also a bit of freedom to deviate from the strict, alienating language of the UNFCCC space. Usually, the UNFCCC requires people to learn a whole new language to engage with the space. “Do you speak climate change?” asked Claudia Salerno, the Vice-Minister of Venezuela, while she was addressing a climate justice assembly. The July meeting allowed the space for the peoples’ demands in our own words.

The content discussions took place in 5 mesas (roundtables), namely: (1) Social Impacts of Climate Change, (2) Climate and Ethics: differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, (3) Social participation to combat climate change, (4) Social Action for transformation, (5) Empowering Actions in Developing Countries.

Each mesa debated issues under their topic and finalised the language they would like to contribute to the final declaration. It was very important that the declaration process was driven almost entirely by the people, not by governments or by bureaucrats. When the final Margarita declaration was read out by the Venezuela government officials late afternoon on Friday, 18 July, the words were of the participants.

The Margarita Declaration was quite an inspiring document, and included strong statements like calling for the eradication of dirty energy and talked about leaving 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to stop catastrophic climate change.

Vice-Minister Salerno acknowledged that Venezuela also needs to change, and that developing countries need a just transition away from dirty energy. This was a big step. At a time when other governments, from USA to Australia, India to Indonesia, Argentina to Mozambique all want to ignore climate science and increase dirty energy, this acknowledgement is a step in the right direction.

The declaration acknowledged the historical responsibility of developed countries in creating the crisis and demanded them to reduce emissions drastically, while also providing finance and technology to developing countries so we can provide our people with energy and a life of dignity without dirty and harmful energy.

Responding to the corporate capture of UN spaces and governments, the declaration rejected the interference of corporations in UN decisions.

The declaration unequivocally rejected false solutions to the climate crisis, including carbon markets, commodification of life; geo-engineering, agrofuels, agrotoxics, ‘green economy’, intellectual property rights; the mega-dams, monocultures and nuclear energy.

Notably, the declaration stated that fighting climate change needs a transformation of the economic, political, social and cultural systems at all levels. We need to transform the consumption model into Buen Vivir (Good Living) and global cooperative societies. We agree and, interestingly, JA hosted a seminar on Buen Vivir in Catembe last September.

It was interesting to reflect on Mozambique’s experience while watching Venezuela’s reaction to the declaration. Mozambique also has no historical responsibility for climate change. However, our country is going full steam ahead with dirty energy development, most of which is not even for our people, but rather it is being sold to the highest bidder and shipped out of the ports. We demand community-owned renewable energy to meet the needs of our people, not large-scale dirty energy for elites. You can find the Margarita declaration in English and Spanish.

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 Activists at pre-COP showing solidarity with Gaza. Photo credit: Jagoda Munic

Ramesh Agrawal: Fighting Jindal’s bullets with information and solidarity

As he hobbled up to the stage with a walking stick on one side, and supported by his son on the other, the crowd cheered loudly. Ramesh Agrawal was one of the amazing people who won the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize this year. He was honoured at a ceremony in San Francisco, where JA staff where present. We also met and interviewed him a few days before the prize was announced.

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Ramesh Agrawal, who is respectfully called Rameshji in India, is from an organisation called Jan Chetna Manch, meaning a platform to raise peoples’ consciousness.

 

He lives in Chattisgarh state of eastern India, which is rich in mineral resources and because of this there has been a huge attack on the lands and resources of the local people by the state in conjunction with corporations. It is a state with a high percentage of tribal communities.

 

Through a small internet café which Rameshji runs, he organised local communities to use the right to information as a powerful tool to learn about and challenge ‘development’ projects planned in their areas. One of the main companies who he has been targeting is Jindal Steel & Power, the same company which is also currently mining coal in Tete province, Mozambique.

 

In July 2013, Jindal sent its goons who went into Rameshji’s internet café, shot at him and left him to die. They commented that he had been writing too much these days and needed to be taught a lesson. Somehow Rameshji managed to make a phone call and get help. But he has been severely harmed by the bullets that entered his body.

 

This wasn’t the first time Rameshji had been targeted by the state-corporate nexus. In May 2011, he was arrested on falsified charges of extortion and defamation. At 4am his house was surrounded and he was arrested and jailed for 72 days without bail. Surprisingly, the charges against him had been filed a year ago, in 2010. Yet he was arrested only a year later, making a mockery of the justice system.

 

Why was he being targeted? Rameshji was actively using information to organise people and to oppose irregularities in Jindal’s coal blocks in the state. They were doing construction on government land without proper land acquisition and without an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

This is really striking because Jindal in Mozambique has been operating in similar ways. They have been mining coal without an EIA and with communities still living in the mining zone; they are having health problems and even their right to movement has even been severely hampered.

 

Rameshji told us that Jindal’s coal mining is causing pollution and coal ash in the air. This has impacted the lives of people. They are unable to make their traditional food badi anymore because they have no place to dry it without contamination from the coal ash. It is interesting that communities are facing such a similar situation in Mozambique where they have no place to dry their mandioca without coal contamination.

 

Of course the threats of Jindal are well known in Mozambique too. Rameshji explained that Jindal’s policy on those calling out for justice is clear: bribe them, threaten them to make them back down, or if that fails then remove them.

 

Jindal is politically well-connected and they run an active public relations to portray a ‘clean image’. This is also their weakness, that they are quite concerned about their image with banks, share markets, consortiums, etc.

 

Through talking to Rameshji, we learnt of the struggles of communities in India against Jindal which are so similar to the struggles of communities in Mozambique against the same company. We need to strengthen communities on both sides to gain information and to fight for their rights together.

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Photo: Justiça Ambiental

 

 

Press release: Mining…where are the rights of communities?

The Indian mining company, Jindal, tried for the third time in less than 1 year to derail the work of a Justiça Ambiental (JA!) team on the 4th of this month during the data collection of the research, monitoring, and advocacy in Changara district, Tete province. The JA team, composed of three members, were barred, intimidated, and threatened by certain Jindal officials when they tried to visit the community of Cassoca.

Jindal is operating one of the largest open pit coal mines running since 2013 whose total area includes communal lands and the communities themselves who have always lived in this area. They remain in the area with the mine in full operation and are victims of constant violation of their most basic rights and fundamental freedoms, including land rights and violation of their right to the environment due to air pollution caused by Jindal. The area of the mine was ceded by the Government of Mozambique and the mine went into operation without the Environmental Impact Study having been completed and approved in accordance with the law. No resettlement has occurred nor any other form of protecting the rights of communities affected by the mine.

The team of JA! intended to visit the community of Cassoca and upon reaching the gate that gives access to the company’s offices and the concession area of Jindal, the only means of access, they duly identified and informed the guards at the place where we intended to go as well as the work to be done. However, the team was immediately told they would have to obtain authorization from local superiors to allow the completion of the work in question. Moreover, the security team reported that the JA team should present themselves to the advisor of the company and the head of social affairs, resettlement, and corporate social responsibility. Indeed, we were received by a team of 6 people, including two local village leaders of Cassoca as well as employees of Jindal, who raised various issues, particularly regarding the interest of the JA team in that community and who suggested that instead of talking to community members the JA team should talk with the community leaders present there who, according to them, were the most suitable people to provide information. Our refusal of this proposal and insistence upon speaking directly with community members caused much discomfort and immediately brought an end to the little cordiality demonstrated, the atmosphere became heavy, with an intimidating discourse.

The advisor of Jindal and the head of social affairs and inter-industrial relations unfairly accused the JA team of being responsible for and instigating the protests carried out by the communities against Jindal as well as instigating violence. This interrogation lasted about two hours and in the end, the team was told in a threatening tone that they could go to Cassoca but that Jindal was not to blame for what might come to pass to the JA team as a result of the visit.
Therefore, the attitude of Jindal consisted once more of illegally impeding, through threats, intimidation, and restriction of the right to freedom of movement, the contact of JA with the communities that lie within the concession area.

Jindal does not want Mozambican society and the international community to be aware of the impacts of their activities on communities. Given these attitudes of Jindal which has been recurring, why does the Government remain silent in face of the various irregularities of the company and in the few situations in which it professes to do so in defense of these? And who defends the interests of the communities?

Maputo, 16 June 2014

JA! JUSTIÇA AMBIENTAL
Av.Mao Tsé Tung Nº 549, 1º Andar Direito, Maputo
Contact: 82 3061275 / 21 496668
E-mail: jamoz2010@gmail.com

 

 

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