Nepal lost over Rs. 40 billion due to disasters in 40 years

Experts, lawmakers, government officials and civil society leaders
working on disaster preparedness have called for timely efforts to set
up effective early warning systems and plans to manage the risks posed
by various disasters recurrent in Nepal.



In a Dialogue Series organized by UNDP and Society of Economic
Journalist of Nepal (SEJON) on Tuesday the speakers revealed that
Nepal's growth rate is at stake due to disaster risks, which has led
to annual average economic loss of around Rs 1 billion. Key note
presenter for the programme, Mr. Amod Mani Dixit, Executive Director
of Nepal Earthquake for Earthquake Technology (NSET) cited facts from
his recent study that Nepal suffered a loss over Rs. 40 billion due to
disasters while 32,802 individuals lost their lives and around one
third of the country's population (6.95 million) were affected in the
period between 1971 to 2013. The financial loss alone speaks volumes
about why we should worry about natural hazards and disaster risks,
said Dixit.



In her opening address, Sophie Kemkhadze, UNDP Country Director, a.i.
shed light on the importance of disaster risk management and its
inherent linkages with human and economic development. She said that
the concurrent discussions on Post-2015 frameworks on Disaster Risk
Reduction (DRR) and the Sustainable Development Goals provide us a
unique opportunity - To firmly link development with understanding of,
and reducing disaster risks, and also to ensure that disaster risk
reduction is a key component of development and not an afterthought.
"Development discussion in Nepal cannot be complete unless the
discourses integrate on disaster risk management. As Nepal is aspiring
to upgrade to the status of developing nation by 2022, this is a high
time thoroughly focus on this agenda as economic prosperity is not
secured unless disaster risk management is strengthened," she said.



Speakers also noted that of other many indicators the country needs to
meet the economic vulnerability index is the one which is closely
associated with disaster risk management and this matters
significantly when it comes to Nepal's graduation to developed status.



Speakers stressed on the need for putting equal emphasis and priority
in mitigating risks associated with extensive disasters which account
for 81% of the total deaths (19% associated with intensive disasters)
and other impacts so far since 1971. They pointed out to the fact lack
of a legislation on disaster risk management should not be a pretext
for inaction. "What we need today is awareness at all levels that
disaster preparedness, such as building code implementation is not for
the purpose of revenue generation but for safety," said Dixit.



The audience had pointed questions for the panellists. President of
National Network of Community Disaster Management Committee Nepal
Jagannath Pd. Kurmi asked the panellists whether they could guarantee
that the disaster victims would be provided with relief irrespective
of their links with the political leaders and ministers, which, he
said, was the case in recent disasters. "Where the victims have not
even received basic relief, the provision of early warning system and
preparedness is a big challenge," he said. Bhakta Bahadur Shahi from
Surkhet asked why the disaster victims have not been provided with
relief even months after the disaster. He pointed out that many people
are still living in tents in the flood affected district.



The panellists had in their deliberations recommended a coherent set
of guidelines for relief and response which could address such issues.
One of the panellists, Bishnu Kharel form Care Nepal had presented on
the lessons learned from the recent disasters and recommended some
concrete actions to ensure better preparedness plans and
relieve/rescue measures.



Other speakers during the interaction include Honorable Mr. Resham
Bahadur Lama, CA Member and Coordinator of Chure Conservation
Sub-Committee and member of Environment Conservation Committee
(Parliamentary Committee), Mr. Shanmukesh Amatya from Department of
Water Induced Disaster Prevention (DWIDP), Mr. Bishnu Kharel from Care
Nepal, Ms. Sarah Blin, Country Director, Handicap International, Ms.
Ritva Lahti, Country Representative, Nepal, International Federation
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.



Dialogue Series is part of UNDP's attempt to generate debate on
development challenges facing Nepal. We have been collaborating with
local partners in organizing the Dialogue Series since early 2013.

New poll backs calls for US corporation to face court over Bhopal disaster



New poll results published today show clear public support, in both India and the USA, for US corporation Union Carbide to face an Indian court over the Bhopal gas leak disaster which left more than 20,000 people dead and poisoned more than half a million in 1984. 

Marking the 30th anniversary of the disaster, the poll, carried out by YouGov for Amnesty International, finds that a massive 82 per cent of Indians surveyed want to see Union Carbide attend the Indian courts about its role in the gas leak at the Bhopal plant. While fewer US respondents expressed a view, of those who did, almost two thirds (62%) agreed with that call. 

The corporation has consistently refused to answer charges of culpable homicide in the Indian courts. 

“This poll shows that the verdict in the court of public opinion is clear. Justice has not been delivered for Bhopal, and people will not stand for it,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, speaking from Bhopal after a visit to the site of the leak. 
  
“It is an ongoing outrage against the people of this city that a foreign company charged with serious crimes has never faced justice in an Indian court.” 

Union Carbide faces outstanding charges of culpable homicide in India over the gas leak. In 1992 a Bhopal criminal court declared Union Carbide an “absconder from justice”, after it failed to appear to answer the charges. 

It was the first of many attempts to evade justice. Dow Chemicals, which has owned Union Carbide since 2001, has failed to show up for two court hearings in Bhopal in the last six months. 

Calls for US government action

The poll of 1,011 Indians living in urban areas and 1,000 US adults reveals strong support in both countries for the US and Indian governments to ensure that Union Carbide is held to account for the Bhopal disaster. 

Seventy per cent of Indians and 45 per cent of US nationals surveyed believed that the US government should play a role in holding the corporation to account, against 24% and 30% respectively who disagreed. 
“This result should act as a wake-up call to the US government, which has until now effectively provided a safe haven for Union Carbide,” said Salil Shetty. 

“While the USA would never stand for a foreign-owned company evading accountability after wreaking havoc on its soil, it seems to be less concerned when the tables are turned.”

Clean-up of the site 

Sixty-six per cent of Indian and 45 per cent of US respondents believe that the companies who owned and operated the Bhopal site should pay for the clean-up of the contamination. 

Pollution from the abandoned site has contaminated the local water supply, posing a serious ongoing threat to the health of surrounding communities. Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals refuse to pay for a clean-up. 

Paltry compensation for victims and survivors 

The only area of disagreement between Indian and American respondents came over compensation for the disaster. 

Union Carbide agreed to pay US$470 million (equivalent to around $900 million in today’s money) in 1989, around 14 per cent of the US$3.3 billion figure that the Indian government had initially demanded. The Government of India is now seeking additional compensation from the company. 

Half of Indians surveyed said that the compensation package should be reopened, with only 27 per cent believing it to be a just settlement. In the US sample, by contrast, only 21% believed the 1989 settlement should be reassessed, with nearly half – 47 per cent – believing it should stay as it is. 

“The terms of the 1989 agreement were completely egregious and almost completely in Union Carbide’s favour,” said Salil Shetty. 

"It has been a major disappointment that legal technicalities have obstructed basic justice. The law has to be an instrument in service of justice for victims, not a web of processes that shields the perpetrator.” 

“$470 million amounted to around $1000 per person affected by the disaster, including people who lost their livelihoods completely. Compare that to the $20 billion that British oil giant BP was made to pay in compensation for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the southern US coast in 2010.” 

In a significant development last month the Indian government bowed to pressure from campaigners and promised to rely on scientific data, medical research and hospital records and accordingly revise the numbers of deaths and injuries for which it is seeking compensation. The move was widely welcomed by Bhopal survivors and prompted five women campaigners to end a nil-by-mouth hunger strike.

“We salute the determination of the Bhopal survivors who have bravely and stubbornly continued to fight when the decks have been completely stacked against them,” said Salil Shetty.

141128 Australian Embassy Press Statement on handing over of Australia Awards Scholarships to Nepalese students

At a ceremony held in Kathmandu on 28 November 2014, the Australian
Government awarded 44 Australia Awards Scholarships and two Australia
Awards Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships to 46 Nepali candidates
to pursue postgraduate studies in Australia commencing in 2015.
Australia is one of the largest providers of scholarships in Nepal.
More than 484 development-focussed scholarships have been awarded in
Nepal since the 1960s.

The farewell ceremony was presided by the Australian Ambassador to
Nepal HE Mr Glenn White and the Chief Secretary of the Government of
Nepal Mr Leela Mani Poudyal. Congratulating the awardees, Ambassador
White said "You join the many hundreds of Nepali scholarship holders
who have studied in Australia over the decades and applied their
experience to Nepal's development. In doing this you also further
strengthen the ties between our two countries." He wished the awardees
well for their studies and noted that the Scholarships would help
strengthen Nepal's capacity in key sectors such as education,
livelihoods, public policy and governance.

After distributing certificate to the awardees, Chief Secretary
Paudyal congratulated them for their achievement. He also expressed
his thanks to Australia for its valuable support and

cooperation. The awardees of this year come from diverse backgrounds
and are employed in the civil service, development sector and private
enterprise. Twenty-two of the 46 awardees are

women and 10 are public servants and they will pursue studies in
priority development sectors for Australia and the Government of Nepal
which include education, livelihoods,governance and water resource
management. The areas of study for two awardees will focus on meeting
the learning needs of Children with Disability including autism.

Through the Australia Awards the Australian Government provides access
to high quality education to promising Nepalis from all walks of life.
Eight of the Australia Awards Scholarships this year are offered to
candidates from remote regions of Nepal and traditionally marginalised
groups and more than 50 per cent of the Australia Awards are offered
to women.

For many years, scholarships have formed an important part of
Australia's bilateral aid program for Nepal. The Australian Government
offers these Australia Awards Scholarships annually in Nepal.

The next round of Australia Awards Scholarships will open for
applications between 1 February 2015 and 30 April 2015. Please visit
the Australia Awards website: www.australiaawards.gov.au or
www.australiaawardsnepal.org for further information.

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Filmmakers are invited to submit their documentaries and feature films to a festival in Moscow.

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Print, broadcast and online journalists who cover agricultural issues can apply for the Embrapa Reporting Prize.

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Landmark Report Highlights Persistent Challenges Faced by LGBT Community in Nepal

Kathmandu (24 November 2014) - While Nepal is often cited as a
progressive country in terms of equal rights for sexual and gender
minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in
the country continue to face a wide range of obstacles as individuals
and as a community, according to a new comprehensive report released
today.

The 'Being LGBT in Asia' country report produced by the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF) and the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID) reports widespread bullying in schools and a lack of
protection from discrimination by employers. Other challenges include
limited programming to address reproductive health needs of lesbians
and the lack of sensitive HIV healthcare for transgender women and gay
men who are at higher risk of HIV infection than the general
population.

"All people deserve to be treated with dignity no matter who they are
or who they love. And so it's especially pleasing to be in a country
where citizens have led an important movement to bring about historic,
meaningful, lasting change," said USAID Mission Director Beth Dunford.

The report also notes that despite a Supreme Court verdict in 2007 to
protect the rights of these minorities, an anti-discrimination law to
protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)
people has not been enacted nor has same-sex marriage been legalized
as ordered by court.

"As part of the 'Being LBGT in Asia' initiative, the Nepal Country
Report is important; not only will it help in creating a common
understanding, but also in setting the priorities for the future,"
said Nepal United Nations Development Programme Resident
Representative Jamie McGoldrick.

'Being LGBT in Asia: Nepal Country Report' calls on the Government of
Nepal and Nepali society to accept the existence of LGBT individuals
as an integral and contributing part of society. It calls on all
stakeholders to respect and protect the rights of LGBT people through
existing national and international human rights mechanisms and
through additional laws and policies as needed.

"Guaranteed LGBTI rights are fundamental for us because it is a matter
of being able to live a dignified life free of fear. It also is about
the future of LGBT children and youth in coming generations. We are
merely demanding equal rights and are not asking for special
privileges," said Manisha Dhakal, acting Executive Director of Blue
Diamond Society, a prominent civil society organization that has been
promoting LGBT human rights and access to HIV healthcare since 2001.

This report, part of the broader regional 'Being LGBT in Asia'
initiative, aims to provide an overview of the legal and social
environment for LGBT people and organizations in Nepal. It provides a
review of LGBT rights as related broadly to human rights conventions
and laws, the legal environment, the socio-cultural environment and
religion; and more specifically to education, employment, family
affairs, health, media, political affairs and the capacity of LGBT
organizations. The report is a joint collaboration between UNDP, USAID
and leading LGBT civil society groups and is based on information
gathered during the "'Being LGBT in Asia" Nepal National LGBTI
Community Dialogue held in April 2014 in Kathmandu as well as other
field work and reviews.

Download the English and Nepali reports here:

http://asia-pacific.undp.org/content/rbap/en/home/library/hiv_aids/being-lgbt-in-asia--nepal-country-report.html

For more information, kindly contact:

Bharat Man Shrestha (bharat.shrestha@undp.org)

LGBT Human Rights, HIV and Law Officer, UNDP Nepal I Phone:
+977-1-5523200 Ext. 1717/ Mobile: +977-98033-62518

The Basis of Indigenous Spirituality [Meeting Rivers Series - 48]

The Basis of Indigenous Spirituality





By Yangkahao Vashum*





The belief that God is everywhere and knows everything is the basis of
indigenous people's spirituality. Spirituality originates from the
Spirit of God. Spirituality for the indigenous people is a way of
living in the constant consciousness of the presence of God. It has to
do with the way they live, act, and relate with God, fellow human
being and the whole of God's creation.



Indigenous peoples' spirituality emphasizes on the wholeness of life
and interconnectedness of all. It is basically a spirituality of
relationship; our connectedness to one another and the whole of God's
creation and the spirit world. Tribal worldview makes no distinction
between what is the spiritual and physical, material and immaterial,
sacred and secular; heavenly and earthly, etc.



Honesty, sincerity, speaking the truth and dignity of labor are all
important spiritual values of the people. Hospitality, communitarian
spirit and respect for one another are the hallmarks of tribal people.
They practically lived out these values in their life.



Theirs is a spirituality that is centered on community, social justice
and peace. They lived and worked for maintaining balance and harmony
in the community as well as for the whole of creation.



Indigenous peoples' worldview can be described as the recognition of
the undifferentiated unity of all things, meaning, there is no
distinction drawn between the spiritual and physical, material and
immaterial, sacred and profane, and spiritual and earthly. Nor does
an indigenous worldview recognize any structure of hierarchy in
creation. They see the world and all its surroundings in holistic
perspective. While a Western worldview is essentially anthropocentric,
an indigenous worldview is creation-centered and is characterized by
understanding the interdependence and the interrelatedness of all
creation, including human beings. Therefore, indigenous peoples across
the world that I know believe that the whole of creation are our
relatives. The Lakota nation of American Indians has an expression
which describes beautifully all that concerns the Indigenous
worldview, "We are all related."



Leroy Little Bear observes that the indigenous "paradigm is comprised
of and includes ideas of constant motion and flux, existence
consisting of energy waves, interrelationships, all things being
animate, space/place, renewal, and all things being imbued with
spirits."1



As noted above, indigenous "peoples do not differentiate their world
of experience into two realms that oppose or complement each other.
They seem to maintain a consistent understanding of the unity of all
experience."2 Referring to Naga religious view, J. H. Thumra asserts
that "unlike many modern Christian belief in the dichotomy of the
'sacred' and the 'secular' or the 'spiritual' and the 'material', the
traditional Naga religion does not have such a dichotomy. For them
the 'sacred' and the 'secular' are one."3 In "An Emerging Asian
Theology: Tribal Theology," Wati Longchar makes a useful comparison
between dominant Christian worldview and traditional Tribal worldview
in which he underscores their differences.4 Indigenous peoples around
the world view reality in its wholeness and perceive life as one
single web and many smaller webs of relationships which is the
antithesis of the dominant Christian dualistic and individualistic
views. Further, their cultural and religious values are governed by
respect for one another and reciprocity is the norm for their
day-to-day interactions.



The well-being of all creation including that of human beings depends
upon preserving and restoring the harmonious interrelationships of all
creation. All living creatures including humans are meant to work
toward maintaining balance and harmony and these are to be seen as the
ultimate concern of all beings. Indigenous peoples do not believe in
the superiority of humans over against the rest of creation.



Indeed, indigenous people consider animals, other living creatures,
and all created as "'people' in the same manner as the various tribes
of human beings are people."5 Indigenous peoples claim they have
reciprocal relationships with all living things, which includes the
so-called "inanimate" objects such as rocks, plants, and other natural
forms.6 Everything is imbued with spirit so all is sacred for
Indigenous peoples. Because all creation is sacred the very land we
walk and till must be treated with respect and reverence. Therefore,
they treat life and creation with respect and reverence. One reason
land is sacred for Indigenous peoples is that it is the dwelling place
of the spirits; the ancestors have lived and worked the same land and
they take their final rest and their bones becomes the land.7



Indigenous worldview is further characterized by being spatially
oriented rather than temporally focused as is of the Euro-American
worldview. This worldview of spatiality essentially accentuates and
locates the all important life qualities of relationships among and
between human beings and the whole of creation. This understanding
extends and embraces the way Indigenous peoples view the world and
relate themselves to the spirits and God(s). In "Full Circle of
Liberation: An American Theology of Place," George E. Tinker argues
that the traditional Christian Euro-centric notion of God's action in
time, which incidentally, is also embraced by Black theologians and
Latin American theologians, is not how American Indians could
understand a relation to God. God acts in space and in place. Tinker
explains, "God reveals God's self in creation, in space or place, not
in time."8 For Tinker and other Indigenous thinkers, the traditional
linear thinking of temporality that is fundamental to the Western
intellectual tradition is quite alien to Indigenous peoples and is in
fact destructive to their livelihood.



Space-creation centered spirituality calls for critical reevaluation
of our ways of life, our Christian spirituality and our attitude
towards all God's creation. The ecological crisis which we are
confronted today is primarily a spiritual crisis. Looking from the
indigenous people's holistic view of life, there is no separation
between what is physical and spiritual, matter and spirit and
everything including human, spirits and the rest of creation are
interrelated and interconnected. For the indigenous people
spirituality is therefore a way of life; our living style, habit and
the way we conduct and relate with other fellow human beings and
creation are all integral part of their spirituality.



Notes:

1 Leroy Little Bear, "Foreward", in Gregory Cajete, Native Science. x.

2 Deloria, Spirit and Reason. 354.

3 Jonathan H. Thumra, "The Naga Primal (Traditional) Religion and
Christianity: A Theological Reflection," in V. K. Nuh, ed. In Search
of Praxis Theology for the Nagas (New Delhi: Regency Publications,
2003), 54.

4 For a detailed comparison see A. Wati Longchar, An Emerging Asian
Theology: Tribal Theology: Issue, Method and Perspective (Jorhat:
Tribal Study Center, 2000), 64.

5 Vine Deloria, Jr, God is Red: A Native View of Religion. 2d
ed.(Golden: North American Press, 1992), 89.

6 Walking Buffalo articulates this truth: "Did you know that trees
talk? Well they do. They talk to each other, and they'll talk to you
if you listen. Trouble is, White people don't listen. They never
learned to listen to the Indians, so I don't I suppose they'll listen
to other voices in nature. But I have learned a lot from trees:
sometimes about the weather, sometimes about animals, sometimes about
the Great Spirit." Quoted in Deloria. Ibid. 90.

7 M. Horam, Nagas Old Ways New Trends (Delhi: Cosmos Publications, 1988), 15f.

8 George E. Tinker, "The Full Circle of Liberation: An American
Theology of Place," in David G. Hallman, ed., Ecotheology: Voices from
South and North (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1994), 221; Spirit and
Resistance, 91-92.





*Rev. Dr. Yangkahao Vashum is Associate Professor of Systematic
Theology and Tribal Theology at the Eastern Theological College,
Jorhat, Assam, India. He is also Dean of the Post-Graduate Studies of
the College. His email id: yvashum@gmail.com

Time Is Now for Vietnam to Join the International Criminal Court


Global Coalition calls on Vietnam to take the regional lead on international justice

 

Bangkok/New York/The HagueVietnam should act in accordance with its stated commitment to international justice and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Coalition for the ICC said today.

 

In a letter dated 6 November to Vietnamese President Trương Tấn Sang, the Coalition recognized Vietnam's openness towards the ICC and called on the government of Vietnam to carry the progress it has made so far to its logical conclusion by ratifying the Rome Statute at the earliest possible date.

 

"The government of Vietnam has displayed a positive and open attitude towards the ICC and a commitment to international justice," said Amielle del Rosario, the Coalition's Asia-Pacific regional coordinator. "Vietnam was involved in the process that gave birth to the court and has been seriously considering and making progress towards ratification for nearly a decade—now is the time to join the Court."

 

In its United Nations Universal Periodic Review in 2010 and 2014, it accepted numerous recommendations to consider ratifying the Rome Statute. In 2012, Vietnam signed an agreement with the European Union that recognized the importance of the ICC and included a commitment to considering joining the Court. Vietnam's Ministry of Justice has also hosted two workshops on the ICC in order to build an understanding of the Court and learn from other Asian countries' experiences.

 

The letter emphasized that while these initial steps were positive, Vietnam should now sign and ratify the Rome Statute after nearly a decade of studying the treaty. By ratifying, Vietnam would gain recognition for the great strides it has made in its broader effort to bring domestic judicial legislation in line with international standards. The letter noted that incongruities between Vietnamese law and the Rome Statute are relatively limited—Vietnam's penal code already provides for crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and the crime of aggression to some extent—and that there are few obstacles in the way of Vietnam's ratification.

 

By ratifying the Rome Statute, Vietnam would establish itself as an important player in international justice, becoming only the fourth Southeast Asian state to join the ICC.

 

"Due to its tumultuous history, Vietnam has a deep understanding of the importance of ending impunity for grave crimes and can set an example for other states in the region by joining the ICC," said, Sunil Pal, director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). "In doing so, Vietnam would not only help strengthen a growing international system of justice already endorsed by most of the world, but also gain a stake in its operation."

 

Cambodia, Timor-Leste and the Philippines are the only states from Southeast Asia that have ratified the Rome Statute.

 

Accession to the Rome Statute would allow Vietnam to participate as a state party in the sessions of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) and shape the future of international criminal justice by participating in all negotiations and decisions of the ASP, including making proposals on any amendments to the Rome Statute.

 

 

BACKGROUND: The ICC is the world's first permanent international court to have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Central to the Court's mandate is the principle of complementarity, which holds that the Court will only intervene if national legal systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 

There are currently nine active investigations before the Court: the Central African Republic I & II; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Darfur, Sudan; Kenya; Libya; Uganda; Côte d'Ivoire and Mali. The ICC has publicly issued 31 arrest warrants and nine summonses to appear. Two trials are ongoing. The Office of the Prosecutor has made public that it is examining nine situations on four continents, including Afghanistan, Colombia; the registered vessels of the Comoros, Greece and Cambodia; Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq (examination re-opened in 2014), Nigeria and Ukraine. The Office of the Prosecutor has concluded preliminary examinations relating to Iraq, Venezuela, Palestine and the Republic of Korea, declining in each case to open an investigation.

 

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court is a global network of civil society organizations in over 150 countries working in partnership to strengthen international cooperation with the ICC; ensure that the Court is fair, effective and independent; make justice both visible and universal; and advance stronger national laws that deliver justice to victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

www.coalitionfortheicc.org

[Photo: www.asianventure.com]

Diwali: Hearing Earth's Cry

Anantanand Rambachan*

On the occasion of Diwali 2014, I want to share a reflection on one of
the central narratives associated, in the Hindu tradition, with this
festival. This is the narrative that connects Diwali with the
celebration and rejoicing over the return of Rama to his home, after a
lengthy exile, and his defeat of the oppressive and tyrannical,
Ravana. Citizens welcomed him by lighting thousands of lamps, even as
over one billion Hindus do today throughout the world. The story of
Rama has become a central narrative of Diwali because of the Hindu
understanding of Rama as embodying divinity and also because it
addresses the universal human longing for freedom from oppression and
the hope of living in a world where there is peace, justice and
prosperity.

Rama's return to his home in Ayodhya and the joyous illumination of
the city with earthen lamps conclude the story of his life as told in
most versions of the Ramayana. I want, however, to return to the
beginning of the story. For this, I turn to the version of the life of
Rama authored by the religious poet Tulasidas in the 15th century.

The Ramayana begins with an account of unbridled greed, the violent
exercise of power and oppression perpetuated by Ravana and those who
served him. He ravaged the earth, and used its resources, human and
natural, to serve his own ends. "There is no limit," says Tulasidas,
"to the evil of those whose hearts delight in violence."

The first to protest the suffering of the world is Earth herself.
Tulasidas personalizes her describes her as being alarmed and
distressed. "The weight of mountains, rivers and oceans," she says to
herself," is not as burdensome to me as one human being who oppresses
others." She notices also that people are silent from fear of speaking
out. After careful consideration, she takes the form of a cow and goes
to the place where all the good beings are hiding in fear. With tears
flowing from her eyes, she tells them of her suffering, but receives
no offers of help. In her condition of grief and sorrow, they
accompany her to the world of the deity, Brahma. Realizing his own
inability to help, Brahma advises that they seek the help of God, who
alone can bring the suffering of the earth to an end.

There is a predicament, however, before they can approach God to seek
God's intervention. "Where can we find God so that we may plea for
help?" they wonder. Someone suggested that they all go to heavenly
world of Vaikuntha. Another reminded them that God dwelt, not in
Vaikuntha but in the ocean of milk. As the discussion went on, Shiva,
who was present among them, offered a word of wisdom. God, explained
Shiva, is identically present everywhere. There is no place and no
time when God is not. God pervades the entire creation. There is no
need to go anywhere. "It is love alone," said Shiva, "that reveals
God, even as friction reveals fire." Shiva's words bring tears of joy
to everyone and a beautiful hymn of love spontaneously rises. In
response, a heavenly voice assures them that God will incarnate among
them as a human being to relieve the earth of her suffering. Shri Rama
is then born in Ayodhya as the child of Dasaratha and Kausalya.

I chose to describe Tulasidas' profound and poetic framing of the
advent of Rama since it speaks powerfully to our contemporary context
and especially to our degradation of the earth and its fragile
climate. His narrative deepens our understanding of our relationship
with the earth and suggests a fundamental value for our
transformation. There are three insights from Tulasidas that I want to
lift up and share.

The first is that human actions are consequential. The consequences of
our actions, however, are not limited to impacting other human beings.
Our actions disrupt the balance of the natural world. Greed, and the
violence that inevitably accompanies greed, rupture the web of life
and earth suffers. The effects of greed can never be compartmentalized
or limited to the world of human beings. Tulasidas is calling our
attention to deep unity of existence in which human choices always
have implications for the natural world. In Tulasidas' account the
earth is the first to speak out against human evil and its effects on
her. "The weight of mountains, rivers and oceans is not as burdensome
to me as one human being who oppresses others."

The second insight from Tulasidas is that the earth is a living
system. Earth is alive. He represents her as suffering and distressed
by human choices. The earth is not a passive and inert field,
dualistically separate from us that we may thoughtlessly and
inconsequentially exploit for our purposes. Our lives are inextricably
bound together and our well being inseparably linked. The earth
community includes every creature depending on her for sustenance and
so Tulasidas has earth speaking of her pain in the voice of a tearful
cow. The impact of climate change adversely affects every life form.
The cow is a powerful symbol of the generosity of the natural world
pleading for human reciprocity and concern.

The third insight of Tulasidas is embedded in the words of Shiva. When
the helpless gathering is debating God's location, Shiva reminds them
that there is no need to search for God anywhere. God is equally
present everywhere and in everything (hari byāpka sarbatra samānā).
God becomes manifest, Shiva explains, only through love even as fire
is made visible through friction. The teaching that God exists equally
in everything, repeated twice in this conversation, is a call to us to
see the radiance of God in the earth. In the Hindu tradition,
everything in which God is present is regarded as God's form (rūpa).
This means seeing the entire universe as embodying the divine. The Isa
Upanishad opens with the beautiful invitation to see the world as
enveloped by God (isa). Such seeing, described in the beautiful
Sanskrit word darshan, must express itself in a profound and loving
reverence for earth. This loving reverence, as Shiva attests, calls
forth and releases a tremendous energy that is devoted to saving the
earth. God's energy is manifested when our actions are inspired by
love.

The tears of our earth, poignantly described by Tulasidas, have not
ceased, afflicted as she is by pollution, the rapid loss of her
bio-diversity and by climate change that threatens her ability to
sustain life itself. Our religious traditions must awaken and
re-awaken us to a reverence for the earth and inspire energy and
action to respond to her plea and to relieve her from suffering.

We celebrate Diwali with lamps molded from the earth, in which we
place cotton wicks soaked in oil. As we hold these fragile lamps in
our hands this year, may we be mindful of our earth. May we know our
unity with her and be filled with gratitude for her gifts. May we be
attentive to hear again her cry and may we respond with loving
actions.

(Inspired by the Religions for the Earth Conference at Union Seminary
NY (19-21 September 2014) and the UN Climate Summit that followed)

The article originally appeared in Huffington Post on 15th October 2014.

*Anantanand Rambachan is Chair and Professor of Religion, Philosophy
and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, USA, where he has
been teaching since 1985. Prof. Rambachan is the author of several
books, book-chapters and articles in scholarly journals. Among his
books are, Accomplishing the Accomplished, The Limits of Scripture,
The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity, The Hindu Vision and
Gitamrtam: The Essential Teachings of the Bhagavadgita.

UNFPA resource center in Janakpur

In an effort to enhance knowledge of local people on development
issues including population, youth, sexual and reproductive health and
rights and gender equality, social inclusion, a resource center has
been established at the Regional Support Office of UNFPA, the United
Nations Population Fund, in the southern Nepalese town of Janakpur.
The city, historically called Mithilanchal, is the center of the
ancient Maithili culture, which has its own language and dialect.

Despite being one of Nepal's fastest-growing towns, Janakpur with a
population of 97,997 (Census 2011) still faces long hours of power
outages. Local people in the city lack access to an uninterrupted
internet facility or a resource center having a wide range of resource
materials on development and contemporary issues. "Keeping these
issues in mind, we established the center to cater to local needs,"
says Narendra Mishra, Regional Development Coordinator of UNFPA Nepal
in Janakpur, also a famous religious city.

The center is expected to benefit young people particularly adolescent
girls, women, researchers, scholars, students, journalists and others
who have an interest in these issues but lack access to a variety of
resources. A high speed internet facility even during power outages
will be available free in the center together with books, published
reports, journals, district profiles, district periodic plans, IEC and
other materials in both electronic and hard copies, says Mishra.

Women and young people make up almost half of the population in
Janakpur so it is fitting that there is a center which will help
development workers, students and researcher's understand their needs
more fully and will provide adolescents and women the chance to also
understand their rights more fully.

MASTER OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRATISATION (ASIA PACIFIC) Scholarship


The Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific) is a 60 credit point degree that seeks to develop the capacity of emerging leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to protect and promote human rights. It is offered in partnership by the University of Sydney, Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, the Kathmandu School of Law in Nepal, the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka and Ateneo de Manila Law School in Philippines.

The Asia Pacific Program in 10 points:

  • Highest standards of inter-disciplinary scholarship
  • A uniquely regional lived experience of human rights and democracy
  • Focus on the most pressing issues in the Asia-Pacific
  • Exposure to emerging areas of human rights scholarship in the Asia-Pacific
  • Practitioner-led training and development activities
  • Opportunities for independent research
  • Field experience and internships
  • Unique regional professional networks
  • Exposure to cutting-edge research
  • Engagement with leading human rights campaigns

At the end of the program, students graduate with a firm grounding in the philosophical, political, institutional, legal, sociological and cultural dimension of human rights and democratisation. The Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia-Pacific region) brings the study of human rights and democracy to life.

Program

The Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific) is taken over 1.5 years with an option to complete in 1 year. Students attain foundational knowledge and skills at the prestigious University of Sydney (from July to November). All students then undertake a regional semester at one of the leading human rights educational institutions in the region (January - July if students nominate to accelerate their studies, or up to September on a 1.5 year schedule), choosing either an experiential or research–based elective stream. Students also undertake a one–week intersessional intensive unit of study, which is offered at either the University of Sydney (in November) or off–shore (in January) each year (note, the 2015 calendar has not been released yet).

See Degree Structure for more information.

Financial support – scholarships for study

Scholarships for the 2015-16 cohort are now open until 12pm December 14 2014.

There are two types of scholarships available:

  • International Scholarship Scheme: Covering course fees to the value of 60 credit points of domestic student tuition at the University of Sydney and partner universities. It also offers a partial stipend to cover some living costs. Open to students from the Asia Pacific region including, in exceptional circumstance, Australians and New Zealanders.
  • Domestic Scholarship Scheme: Covering course fees to the value of 60 credit points of domestic student tuition at the University of Sydney and partner universities. Open to Australians only.

See the Financial Support page for more information about scholarships including selection criteria or download the 2015-16 Scholarship Application Form.

Applications for admission

Applications for admission should be made online via http://sydney.edu.au/courses/master-of-human-rights-and-democratisation-asia-pacific-regional-program.

Visit the Admission Requirements page for more information.

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