Friday, February 8, 2008

Gaza blockade amounts to collective punishment: HRW

Israel's blockade of Gaza denies 1.4 million Palestinians the food, fuel and medicine they need to survive, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, calling it collective punishment and a violation of international law.

The US-based international rights group also said in its annual report for 2007 that indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza also violate international law.

HRW said that for the first time since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, more Palestinians were killed in inter-factional fighting than by Israeli attacks.

"The Israeli and Western economic embargo of Gaza, Israel's almost total closure of Gaza's border crossings, ongoing lawlessness in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and heightened Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement in the West Bank contributed to a serious human rights and humanitarian crisis," the report said.

Israel, which has blockaded the Gaza Strip since the Islamist movement Hamas ousted forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas last June, on January 17 imposed a total lockdown on the impoverished territory, citing rocket fire.

"The general population has borne the brunt of Israel's measure" in Gaza in 2007, HRW said.

It said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak's decision to cut fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza constituted "collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population in violation of international humanitarian law."

The Israeli cabinet had in September declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" because of continuing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Between January and October last year, 245 Palestinians -- "about half of whom were not participating in hostilities" -- were killed by Israeli security forces, the report said.

"The Israeli army's continued failure to investigate civilian death and injury where there was evidence of a laws of war violation reinforces a culture of impunity in the army and robs victims of an effective remedy," HRW said. ...

~ Read on... ~


NAO: Britain's aid payouts 'open to corruption abroad'

Britain's £461m overseas aid budget for tackling poverty could be open to fraud because of the lack of controls over the way it is spent in some of the poorest countries in the world, the public spending watchdog has warned. The National Audit Office said the Government's switch from project-linked funding to wider "budget support" for countries in an attempt to reduce poverty had led to "significant risks" that that the funds would be "misapplied for political reasons or through corruption".

Calling for more controls to be imposed by the Department for International Development, the report highlighted internationally recognised data showing that the worst countries for corruption included some of the biggest recipients of budget support, including Pakistan (£52.5m), Vietnam (£34.5m), Zambia (£23.3m) and Nepal (£5.4m). "Donors cannot track their own contributions individually once paid to partner governments and instead monitor the government's overall expenditure and progress against its agreed strategy," said the watchdog.

"Evidence on the extent to which budget support has yielded better value for money than other ways of delivering aid, or has had an impact on income poverty, is not conclusive." ...

~ Read on... ~


Controversy at UN-backed drug conference

From UN-backed drug conference criticized by some participants for focus on harm reduction

...Keeping the Door Open, a Vancouver-based organization that promotes dialogue on drug use, also cohosted the conference. Chair Gillian Maxwell shared Reist’s enthusiasm.

“It seems the majority of the people in the room think it’s impossible to prevent drug use, and, therefore, you get the war on drugs, which is a war on people,” Maxwell said.

She maintained those who can use drugs responsibly should be able to do so without fear of persecution. Money spent on enforcement and punishment could be better spent on prevention and treatment, Maxwell said.

But Alcohol-Drug Education Service’s Judi Lalonde told the Straight that Maxwell’s argument of harm reduction was one made too many times at the Vancouver conference.

“Representation from the groups for legalization are probably about 95 percent, to possibly 5 percent in the area of prevention,” Lalonde claimed, speaking from the conference. “I’m quite disappointed with the whole process of the last few days.”

Lalonde said that she also attended a Beyond 2008 conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January, and that it was very different from Vancouver’s.

While Florida’s event “allowed for a real dialogue from a balanced perspective”, Lalonde continued, Vancouver’s “became a forum for lobbyists and activists”...


...What happens when a diverse group of drug policy experts from throughout North America convene to discuss solutions to the world drug problem? They begin by agreeing that the drug war must end.

Beyond 2008 is a worldwide forum sponsored by the United Nations to solicit expert testimony evaluating the UN's international drug strategy. The north American conference, which just concluded in Vancouver, brought together an impressive coalition of AIDS organizations, public health groups, human rights advocates, treatment specialists, former police officers, substance abuse researchers, academics, government officials, and others.

Perhaps unintentionally, the UN had created an unprecedented opportunity for a broad coalition of interested parties to articulate their consensus that the time for drug policy reform has come.

As long as the U.S-style "war on drugs" continues, criminals will control what drugs are sold, how much they cost, how deadly those drugs are, and how young their customers will be.

That was the message delivered yesterday by Jack Cole, a retired New Jersey police officer who spent 26 years making arrests in connection with "billions of dollars in cocaine and heroin" as well as other drugs. [The Province]

Surprised to find themselves outnumbered and outclassed, the drug warriors in attendance struggled to retain their composure. Some failed:

Cole was heckled outside the conference by Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former Republican speechwriter who is now with Florida's Project Sundial (Supporting United Nations Drug Initiatives and Legislation)...

...As long as the U.S-style "war on drugs" continues, criminals will control what drugs are sold, how much they cost, how deadly those drugs are, and how young their customers will be.

That was the message delivered yesterday by Jack Cole, a retired New Jersey police officer who spent 26 years making arrests in connection with "billions of dollars in cocaine and heroin" as well as other drugs.

"The war on drugs in the U.S. has been a dismal failure," said Cole, the founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

He was speaking at Beyond 2008, a United Nations global forum at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University's downtown campus.

Cole said delegates should urge Prime Minister Stephen Harper not to make the mistake of following the hardline U.S. drug "prohibition and punishment" stance.

The U.S. war on drugs has cost on average $69 billion a year for the past 35 years and led to 37 million arrests for nonviolent drug offences, said Cole.

"Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill-spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent and easier to get than they were 35 years ago and more people are dying in the streets at the hands of drug barons," said Cole, who claims LEAP has 10,000 members, including cops, judges and probation and parole officers...

Heroin markets brace for 2008 harvest

Afghanistan's opium economy will take up to 20 years to eradicate and require a £1bn investment from world leaders, according to a government study published yesterday.

The 102-page report was welcomed by the international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, even though it contains some highly critical messages about the effectiveness of some of the aid programmes.

Compiled by the Department of International Development and the World Bank, the analysis suggests at least an extra £1bn needs to be invested in irrigation, roads, alternative crops and rural development to attract farmers away from the lucrative and growing opium industry.

Its conclusions came as the UN produced fresh figures on the opium trade. The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) believes this year's crop will be similar to, or slightly lower than, last year's record harvest.

In 2007 Afghanistan had more land growing drugs than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined. ...

~ Read on... ~




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