From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.

https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/free-bresha-meadows

 

(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)

 

 

Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan
Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls
accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

(Photo Credit: Liberation / Jacques Demarthon / AFP)

Radio WIBG: In France, in Saint Denis, Ghada Hatem opens a Women’s House

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

Two years ago Ghada Hatem, head of OBGYN at the Delafontaine Hospital, in Saint Denis, envisioned a Women’s House in Saint Denis, in the heart of the suburb of Paris that symbolizes immigration tensions and social precarity in France. Last Friday, the Women’s House was formally inaugurated.

Born in Lebanon, Ghada Hatem was fifteen when the civil war started in 1975: “It is probably what gave rise to a medical and social vocation in me.” She came to France to study medicine and choosing OBGYN as a specialty came naturally. She has always imagined exercising her “art” within a team.

Thanks to extraordinary teamwork, the Women’s House project went to completion. The day of the inauguration, a passionate and committed crowd was present along with some officials, all of them inspired by the project.

The Malian/French artist and singer Inna Modja has decided to be the benefactress of the Women’s House of Saint Denis. In her commitment to social justice, she has used her artistic expression to denounce female cutting, linking it to her engagement to end violence against women in general. As she explained, after she was cut in Mali when she was 5 against the will of her parents, “I fought to heal myself,” she remembered, first through surgery and then “step by step, I found the energy to become a woman again.”

Ghada and her colleagues received the surgical training to “repair” women who have been cut but as Ghada explains the repair is both physical and psychological and it is never a full restitution, the “scar” remains.

The House will offer many ways to address the trauma including support groups with the collaboration of Inna Modja.

While located within the hospital compound, the House has an independent entrance open to the street. Its role is to allow a free, intimate access to women who have already experienced all sorts of violence and humiliations: a place for them and with them. The need is enormous. The OBGYN department receives about 120 different nationalities and amid the 4500 births and 1000 abortions every year, and about 14% of the women had been cut. The medical system is not enough to help these women to recover their dignity.

This house should serve as a model to be reproduced everywhere it is needed.

Let’s listen to Ghada Hatem’s interview.

Ghada Hatem

Ghada Hatem

 

(Interview and photos by Brigitte Marti)

For Europe and beyond, there is no alternative: Asylum or barbarism

There is no beyond for the people who are fleeing wars and conflicts. They are caught in the net of inhumanity with borders erected to remove human rights, political representation, citizenship, and any existence from racialized women, men and children. The European inhabitants once believed that the Schengen zone was a place of no borders; of course, it was a false promise, at least for people. Nonetheless, the circulation of goods and merchandise has remained unaffected.

More borders than before the Schengen zone have been put in place. More walls and barbed wire have been installed around dubious borders to control the movements of people, whose status has evolved from the wretched of the world to the undesirables. Now, Europe is comprised of about 500 000 unwanted/undesirable people who live in camps around various borders of Europe, with 53 000 stranded in Greece.

We are watching the regularization of dehumanization and the deregulation of human rights and women rights. Refugee women are particularly in danger, an Afghan journalist who escaped brutal death after having been shot by the Taliban talks about her life in a Greek refugee camp with Amnesty international: “We are treated like animals. I’d rather be shot again than endure these conditions.” Additionally, sexual harassment is a constant issue in these camps.

With its numerous islands, Greece has been the main country of entry. Greece was also the target of Troika-managed neoliberal structural adjustment programs. The result is a dismantling of the social and political Greek society. While the undesirables are landing on the Greek islands, many of those same islands are now for sale to satisfy luxury investments and speculations. The European Union has created a hypocritical hell for human conditions, on one hand impoverishing an entire population in Greece under the aegis of fabricated debt economy and on the other hand stopping refugees on Greek soil.

Journalist and photographer Bulen Kiliç has been covering the refugee exodus since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, and, recently, he wanted to talk about the reality of living in these camps, the pestilential odor, the rain, the absence of sanitary conditions, the lack of food, the extreme precarity in which children are brought up or should we say brought down. He talked about and showed the “utter despair” that is being organized in the middle of Europe. 11000 to 12000 people, among them countless children, are stuck in the camp of Idonemi, in Greece. The camp of Idomeni is at the border with Macedonia. It is a ‘waiting’ camp, formed after the Macedonian government closed the borders violently, despite the condemnations of the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The people had nowhere to go. They may have escaped death, unlike the 2892 women, men and children who died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, but they live with no hope, treated like human waste, creating the perfect conditions for depression that leads one to lose one’s mind.

A group of international intellectuals and activists have signed a document “pas d’alternative, droit d’asile ou barbarie” ‘No alternative, asylum or barbarianism’. Indeed, there is no alternative. Europeans must organize to have asylum rights respected or they will face more barbaric reactions including their own. According to anthropologist Michel Agier, who signed the petition, one of the ways to fight this situation is to make these camps famous, because invisibility is an instrument of oppression.

In that spirit, here is Bulen Kiliç’s testimony about the camp of Idomeni: Losing their minds.

 

(Photo Credits: AFP / Bulen Kiliç)

Why is the European Union criminalizing and threatening refugees and volunteer helpers?

Lisbeth Zornig and a Syrian family she drove to Copenhagen

Just recently, in Denmark refugee helpers were sentenced for “human trafficking.” Lisbeth Zornig, a novelist, and her husband were fined 3000 Euros each. They could have been sentenced to prison time. Their `crime’ was having driven a Syrian family to Copenhagen, serving them coffee and cookies, and then driving them to the train station. Zornig declared, “I am very angry because the only thing we did was the decent thing, the same that hundreds of others did. They are criminalizing decency.”

Over the past few years, Denmark has changed its asylum laws, and now with their new Alien Act more helpers are being persecuted. While in 2014 about 140 were prosecuted for helping refugees, the number grew to 279 between September 2015 and February 2016.

Zornig’s lawyer, who has defended other Danes in similar cases, declared Denmark is now at the bottom of the table on human rights. However, the anti migrant trend has affected every member state of the European Union. In January, five rescuers from Spanish and Danish NGOs who rushed to help refugees stuck off the coast of Lesbos on a frail craft were arrested and also accused of smuggling migrants.

This criminalization of helpers mirrors the criminalization of refugees. In the age of austerity policies, the European neoliberal leadership is all about fences, walls and barbed wires. They follow the US model closely. On the island of Lesbos in Greece, the police formed a human chain to block volunteers whose goal was to bring emergency support. When the doctor of the group wanted to assist a baby who seemed to be unconscious, the police shouted that these people were prisoners!

The European Commission along with member states continue to bargain with human lives. They barter with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, himself involved in ethnic wars and repressive actions against journalists, activists, and scholars in his own country. Despite the opposition of European deputies and activists, the European Commission signed an agreement with Turkey to relocate refugees stuck in Greece in Turkish camps with no guarantee for safety, rather with more inhumane conditions awaiting them. In so doing, the Commission demonstrates that in this modern time the violence of the exercise of power depends less on its physical brutality than its ability to treat burdensome populations with indifference for their wellbeing.

In its latest report on the refugee crisis the Commission set the priorities for 2016. The Commission pleas for an “asylum system based on solidarity and fair sharing responsibilities,” but this self-serving language cannot conceal the constant breach of human rights occurring at the borders of Europe. In fact, the European Union has increased the power of FRONTEX, a heavily repressive mechanism that replaced Mare Nuestro. NGOs and volunteers have become wary of FRONTEX, which has forcibly controlled helpers and threatened them with fines. Volunteers explain that Frontex has called into question the status quo that allowed every one to help in good intelligence, as if the authorities’ goal was to bring down the humanitarian response. Member states and the European Commission have already brought down the humanitarian response to the organized murder of populations.

Dehumanization and deterritorialization are effectively the core values of the elites of our time.

Petitions are circulating to denounce the inhuman face of Europe, which we should understand as the inhuman politics of austerity as well. These inhuman measures and agreements are only possible with a racist eye that separates those who may live from those who must die for the advance of a dramatic political economic system.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Mikael Lindholm / The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: WeMove.EU)

Women say NO! to the new labor laws in France and across Europe that attack women

Once more, labor laws and work conditions are under attack in Europe, this time in France. The labor code of France, a heavy book, probably needed some cleaning up as laws had piled up and sometimes were redundant. With the encouragement of the Medef (the union of employers), the current government has undertaken to reshuffle all the principles of labor protection. Using a rare executive order (Article 49-3 of the Constitution), the French President passed a bill that was once opposed by the same Francois Hollande, who then called it undemocratic. Since his action, a movement to remind the government of its democratic responsibility has grown, and demonstrations and strikes succeed each other daily.

The Medef has argued that to create jobs employers must be able to fire more easily with fewer constraints that guarantee employees’ rights. So the French government offered a new labor law that has the potential to erase the type of labor protection that is the basis of labor rights. The bill was largely inspired by other labor bills passed in other European Countries under the aegis of austerity measures. Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Spain have passed bills to feed the exploitative neoliberal system with precarious labor contracts, called zero hour contract in one place and one-euro jobs in the next. In Greece, despite all the critics, the Troika imposed its memoranda making firing very easy. The minimum wage is now at its lowest level (511Euros for those under 25) and the social security system, which was efficient and inexpensive, is now close to being totally destroyed. Additionally, the dismantling of labor rights is very handy in making migration another source of marketization.

In France, the opposition to the bill first came from the students, who are fairly well unionized in high schools and universities. They immediately organized, understanding that this law would create a transitional system to precariousness for the youth, either for intellectual work or blue-collar jobs. Soon after many unions joined, including the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), CGC (Confédération générale des cadres), and FO (Force Ouvrière). Meanwhile, Nuit Debout (Night Standing Up), a rather spontaneous movement, gathered in public squares in various French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, and beyond.

Like other European labor bills, the French labor law is a double sentence for women. The bill ignores women’s rights while asserting its respect for the principle of equality. The bill’s language actually razes all means to attain this infamous gender equality. Flexibility supersedes gender equality. The law will limit the bargaining power of unions and fragment their negotiating power; it will aggravate the asymmetrical relationship between the employers associated with the financial oligarchy and the employees or the labor force in general. The obligations of employers toward their employees will be reduced tremendously. It will reduce the number of days off and possibilities for days off that made the leave of absence system a model for labor organizations.

The notion of flexibility has been used as a mythical term for progress while it’s real meaning for working class and particularly for women is increased precarity. In France, women make 80% of the part time labor force. Women also perform 80% of unpaid domestic work. The employers union never discusses this reality. Flexibility means lowering additional pay for extra hours, reducing delay for notices, and easing the firing process. This assault on workers’ time is a double assault on women workers.

The bill will also weaken the occupational medical system that has provided strong medical protection for employees. The risk in feminized professions of lowering the standard of protection is more than real.

Across France, mobilization is high. Feminists have been in the forefront, sending petitions and organizing demonstrations. The movement is also picking up in Belgium, for the same reasons. To understand what is at stake today, we should reread Emile Zola on the disastrous condition of the working class during the industrial revolution and especially women’s conditions. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit 1: 20minutes) (Photo Credit 2: France24)

Solidarity with the women prisoners of Fleury-Mérogis!

In Fleury-Mérogis, France’s biggest prison and one of its worst, women detainees have been organizing against new conditions of detention arranged by the new software GENESIS (Gestion nationale des personnes écrouées pour le suivi individualisé et la sécurité, National management of imprisoned people for individualized monitoring and security), an acronym that blurs its material reality for women incarcerated in Fleury-Mérogis. The software was sold under the aegis of efficiency and harmonization between the men’s quarters and the women’s quarters. In practice, this harmonization meant worsening the conditions of detention: reduction of the number of promenades, limitation of access to the gym and cultural activities, and reduction of visiting room sessions.

In December 2002, France ratified the United Nations’ resolution, Optional Protocol to the Convention Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). As a result of that ratification, in 2007 the French parliament passed a law creating an independent public body “contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté” in charge of monitoring all places and institutions where people are locked up.

This independent body released a report in January 2016 concerning the conditions of detention of women, which includes women in jails, prisons, administrative (immigration) detention, and psychiatric detention.

Women prisoners represent 3.2% of the prisoners in France with 5 to 6% of women prisoners in administrative detention. Juvenile delinquents may be locked up in educational centers, which resemble a prison anyway. Girls make up 6 % of incarcerated minors. Proportionately, women in psychiatric hospital are in greater number; 38.21% of those committed to psychiatric detention are women. Historically, women have been the targets of psychiatric control.

The report points out that women are more susceptible to suffer from separation from family circles, and especially from their children, than men. Although by law women are entitled to the same rights as men, the gap between them is even wider in prisons and jails.

With the consolidation of detention centers, women have been sent further away from home. This situation is well known in the United States but is relatively new in France. The report insists on the inherent injustice of this situation since about 75% of the incarcerated women are mothers. The law demands that women’s incarceration respects their familial responsibilities. Further, most of the women are incarcerated for minor offenses. Among the 188 detention centers and prisons in France only 43 may receive women. Often the women’s side in a prison is simply very basic compared to the men’s side.

The report stresses the lack of services for women detainees and disparities among the various prisons and jails receiving women; these services go from health services to judicial services such as parole and day parole. The carceral administration justifies the inequality by claiming that there are too few women to merit more equipments or services.

The report recommends adding services, improving the conditions of detention, implementing the required access to school and other activities, all in the respect of the principle of equality.

Despite this detailed and clear report that demanded actions for revising the conditions of incarceration for women, Fleury-Mérogis’s administration launched GENESIS March 3d.

Immediately, the Basque women political prisoners incarcerated in Fleury-Mérogis organized women prisoners against this injustice. A support group has also been organized. Citizens outside the prison have written letters to the prison administration. Signs of solidarity with the women inside are key when women are locked up and may feel isolated. So each rally outside has to be heard inside.

The women prisoners’ demand is simple: “We call for dignified living conditions, they talk about rules. We talk about mutual assistance and sharing, they talk about logistics and “traffic.” We talk about humanity, they talk about laws. We talk about communicating and coming together, they answer with security and solitary confinement.” The response of the prison’s management has been harsh, 4 women have been sent to solitary confinement. Since May 10th, 5 men and 2 women have been on hunger strike in solidarity with the women in isolation.

This is a struggle against the logics of over incarceration producing a carceral and societal aberration that started in early 2000. It is a fight against a higher degree of materialistic dehumanization of prison conditions, another step toward a harmonization with the United States’ penitentiary hell. Solidarity with women prisoners is required, today in Fleury-Mérogis, tomorrow …

(Photo Credit: L’Envolée) (Image credit: Paris-Luttes.info)

After COP 21, the murders that hide behind international treaties

The Women's Global Call for Climate Justice

At COP 21, Grace Balawag, member of the IIPFCC (the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change) told us her concerns as the language of the treaty being negotiated started to exclude indigenous people. She talked about indigenous right to land, about indigenous peoples’ knowledge and expertise and how, instead of being respected, they were excluded from negotiations while the world’s largest corporations were ubiquitous throughout those discussions.

Three months after the agreement, women and men environmental activists from indigenous communities are still being murdered by hit men working for vested interests often supported by governments, as was recently the case in Honduras and South Africa. Countries like Honduras with its violent repressive regime are just proxies for the violent global market.

As Billy Kyte from Global Witness said, “Indigenous people are being killed in alarming numbers simply for defending rights to their land.” Land means subsistence for indigenous people certainly, but also for the human population as a whole. However, land means carbon exchange market for vested interests. For instance, the REDD program (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is actually a carbon market mechanism that treats the business-made environmental deficiencies as more business and speculative opportunities. Indigenous people see carbon exchange value programs like REDD made by and for unscrupulous corporations as a land grabbing mechanism, a new form of colonialism, “Yesterday’s genocide was done with guns and blankets with small pox. Now they are using carbon trading and REDD.” All this entails murders, and fabricates aggressive justifications for “potentially genocidal policies.” Shouldn’t we all see that?

It is women who have suffered and are still suffering the most under this oppressive system. And so it is indigenous women who show the way toward real solidarity for transformative actions for “Climate justice and women’s rights.”

Why has this market mechanism superseded legally binding resolutions? For the first time, the Paris Accord recognized the climate catastrophic disruption, but by not expressing strong support for indigenous rights, the signers have been complacent with those powers that order the murder of people who fight against the causes of this environmental and human disaster. Therefore, it has failed to propose meaningful solutions.

Grace Balawag reminds us how difficult it is to negotiate under this corporatization and financialization of “nature” and the importance of collaboration.

(Photo Credit: Brigitte Marti) (Interview filmed by Joachim Cairaschi, conducted by Brigitte Marti)

Three Months after the COP 21 the real fight for survival is on the ground

Climate Survival Justice

Last December in Paris, under the aegis of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations organized the conference on climate change, or COP 21. Representatives from the Global South, Indigenous people, Women’s constituency, and more, came to attempt to weigh in on agreements that were already negotiated among vested interests of the planet.

Evidently, this situation originated in the industrialized countries where wealth was exponentially increased through the capitalist neoliberal order. Accumulation of wealth equating with accumulation of power was the hidden part of the official discourse. The United States along with the leaders of the G20 countries imposed its economic corporate power and forced the elimination of some language from the initial document. Elimination of public voices also took place in Paris where many demonstrations were banned in the name of security.

To get a better insight into the situation, WIBG interviewed Tess Vistro, a representative of the people of the Philippines:

We asked her recently what the agreement meant from the perspective of the populations who are the most at risk with climate change and the most affected in contrast with the official discourse.

Here is her answer:

“The outcome is highly skewed in favor of rich developed countries and the target temperature limit put the planet and people into greater risks of damage which experts would say could already be irreversible; on the basis of the submitted intended nationally determined contribution (indcs); we are on a path to an increase of 3 degrees centigrade in the middle of the century – 2050;

“Paris treaty did not grasp the urgency of the risk and threat climate change is posing on humankind and all species in this planet. It just is divorced from the reality now that coastal communities in large numbers are now submerged in waters, that farming and food production have become unpredictable, and unsustainable; that women already reeling from poverty and gender discrimination to face again the problem of climate change devastations, is pushing millions of women into deeper poverty and deprivation and sexual violence; that climate change impacts are right in our midst, are with us, intends to stay with us with greater ferocity and destructiveness, and we urgently need to take bold actions now.

“The essence of the historical and primary responsibility of developed countries in bringing the planet and humankind out of this climate crises, has been passed on even to poor and climate vulnerable countries.

“Reneging on this responsibility, the Paris treaty called on private corporations to pitch in, making the task of combating climate change a huge profit taking endeavor, not a social responsibility of governments particularly developed countries. The treaty offered immense opportunities to rake in huge profits at the expense of poor vulnerable countries. Endorsed solutions are clearly cut out for the needs of private interests. The failed mechanism of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation(REDD+) under the framework of market mechanism of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes is clearly spelt out in the treaty. Under this mechanism, developed countries can invest funds for REDD+ projects in developing countries, and can account the amount of reduced GHG emission in their respective INDCs, and thereby can continue to do business as usual in their respective countries. Worse as per practice, projects and investments for REDD+ invested in developing countries are false programs of reforestation and are actually plantation projects of high value cash crops designed for export.

“The Paris treaty gave a clear signal and mandate for private corporations to move in unhampered and with clear assurances of almost no regulation, with the treaty making sure that poor countries will not be able to hold rich countries and corporations liable and demand compensation for loss and damage that may result. The treaty stipulated that the `the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.’

“The technologies for clean energy solutions are clearly in the control of rich developed countries, solar and wind and even seeds and production technology for biofuels are clearly in the hands of rich countries and corporations. Lands for the production of biofuels would surely come from countries in the global south, creating now the spectre of massive land grabbing, biofuels competing with lands devoted for food production, creating the spectre of food insecurity and hunger.

“In the Philippines an estimated 2 million hectares of lands is offered for the production of biofuels to foreign investors. This would have been enough to meet the rice needs of the current population of the country, based on a two cropping season. Another million hectares is allocated for palm oil plantations.

“The Philippines is one of the top 3 vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. And this is not a fiction. It happened already with typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon that made a land fall in this planet’s history. (Cyclone Winston that struck Fiji last month has come second only to Haiyan) and in one quick swoop has left dead 7,000 people and three thousand others who went missing to this day, destroyed infrastructures worth Php18 billion,1.1 million houses, devastated agriculture to the amount of Php 17 billion, displaced 1.4 million agricultural workers. About 20 typhoons lash out the country annually, inflicting damages and untold sufferings for affected Filipinos. But despite this, the Philippines and other vulnerable countries were still mandated to contribute through their INDCs.

“It is a great injustice for the Paris treaty to have mandated the poor vulnerable countries who have scant carbon footprint, and who can barely break out now from an endless cycle of devastation- rehabilitation- devastation, from climate change disasters, to contribute; it is clearly injustice to have unleashed the reins of private capital to profit from solutions proffered – which could be more of profit taking endeavors than solutions.

“But if there is anything positive or success that came out of Paris, it is the movement of peoples from different countries, diverse sectors, that have committed to work for a safe planet, for all of humankind and the generations to come. This was shown not only with the people’s actions in and outside negotiations in Paris, but also the people’s mobilizations from different at different dates parallel to COP 21.

“The failure of the Paris treaty to deliver, should be enough reason to sustain the work of CSOs, grassroots organizations and networks movements of people and women, indigenous people, youth, trade unions working collectively locally, nationally, regionally and globally for a more just , and fair climate change deal. Enough reason to stir up a groundswell of work in local, grassroots communities – the key to winning the fight for climate justice.

“Currently in the Philippines, the biggest issue continue to be the impacts of typhoon Haiyan and the continuing slow grind of work for rehabilitation. As it is election campaign period now, these climate issues are brought out by candidates criticizing the incumbent administration for its ineptness in delivering the funds for rehabilitation to the victims, three years after Haiyan. Among NGOs, this is taken as an opportunity to raise the issue of climate change.

“Globally for women, from my own perspective, issues related to solutions, financing and important role of women in mitigation and adaptation plans must be put forward in the forthcoming COP agenda. To be vigorously monitored further would be to ensure that the principles of human rights, gender equality, etc. as enshrined in the preamble of the treaty, ( a win for CSOs who have persevered for its inclusion in the treaty), be faithfully used as a guide in all decisions related to the implementation of the Paris treaty.”

Tess Vistro March 9, 2016

(Image credit: Brigitte Marti) (Interview filmed by Joachim Cairaschi, conducted by Brigitte Marti)