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Reparations Fight Gaining Steam; Caribbean Serious About Making Europe Pay

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Caribbean governments this week erased any lingering doubts that they are serious about making Europe pay for the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade by holding their most important preparatory meeting yet ahead of plans for a high level delegation to travel to Europe to serve demand payment letters in the coming weeks.

From his office in Bridgetown, Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart Monday evening presided over a four-hour video conference session on the subject of reparations where all the loopholes in the region’s case for payments were refined and defined. In this he had the support of Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the man credited with bringing other leaders on board to push Europe into compensating the region for the slave trade and the genocide associated with it.

Officials close to the meeting said that the video conference had involved about 70 persons, most of them delegates representing all 15 nations in the regional trade bloc and decisions flowing from this will be handed to presidents and prime ministers when they meet at their main annual summit in Antigua from the beginning of July.

A draft letter of demand has been prepared, setting out the horrors of the slave trade, “its lasting effects on the Caribbean population” and offering countries like Britain, The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal among others a chance to negotiate a settlement with countries.

And because some countries were colonized and its slave populations brutalized and robbed of wages more than one European nation, the narrative for every country varies to cater for such highly place officials said.

“After we would have served the letters of demand on Britain and the Dutch to start with, it will offer them a chance to sit down and negotiate with us but if this fails it will lead to a lawsuit seeking compensation before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands,” an official who attended the meeting said.

Regional attorneys general are being brought on board to help refine the draft for on passage to leaders. Some of those who attended Monday’s video conference meeting favor a physical presence in Europe to serve the letters but a final decision will be made as to exactly how this will be accomplished.

Additionally, a group of eminent Caribbean attorneys will be drafted in to liaise with the British firm of Leigh Day which had successfully sued and made Britain pay for brutalizing the Mau Mau Tribe in Kenya several decades ago. The firm has already said that it is confident that the region has a strong case and like academics and doctors in the University of the West Indies system, has linked a string of chronic diseases rampaging through the Caribbean to the horrors of slavery, poor diet on plantations, forced labor, rape and other inhumanely stressful conditions.

Former African Leaders Call for Legalizing Low-Level Drugs

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

A frank report cited by two former African presidents has called for the decriminalization of minor drug offenses, saying that trafficking, consumption and production is undermining development in West Africa and abetting corruption.

Picking up the momentum led by some U.S. governors, the report by a panel of African experts criticized current punitive policies which, they said, was fuelling corruption in a region where the cocaine trade alone is estimated at $1.25 billion a year – a figure which dwarfs the combined budget of several countries.

“We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offences,” Olusegun Obasanjo, the commission chairman and former president of Nigeria, told reporters in Dakar, Senegal, last week. He was joined by leaders from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mauritania, Nigeria, Cape Verde and Mali.

According to the West Africa Commission on Drugs, “West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production.

“The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks.”

“Most governments’ reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems,” said Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the U.N., who commissioned the study.

The report blamed the widespread criminalization of drug use for bloating the prison population.

Inmates are rarely reformed and in many cases end up more criminalized or sick as a result of their time inside, said the report, entitled “Not Just in Transit – Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa.”

The policy paper is the result of 18 months of research and consultations with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and several regional and national organizations.

Contributors included Senegalese psychiatrist Idrissa Ba, retired Sierra Leonean judge Justice Bankole-Thompson, Pedro Pires, a former president of Cape Verde.

Governments are urged to avoid a “militarization of drug policy” which, says the report, has been ineffective in Latin America.

“We caution that West Africa must not become a new front line in the failed ‘war on drugs’, which has neither reduced drug consumption nor put traffickers out of business,” the report said.

Move Afoot to Protect Women Around the World Against Violence

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –Last year, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was amended and reauthorized. This past month, a group of senators began setting their sights on broadening protection to women around the world.

With S.2307, also known as the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), preventing and responding to violence against women abroad would become a top priority of American foreign policy. When he was in the Senate, Secretary of State John Kerry first proposed the bill in 2010. It has failed a few times with several other sponsors since then.

This time, sponsors are hoping for a different outcome.

“Violence against women and girls impedes progress in meeting many United States global development goals,” the bill reads. “It is the policy of the United States to take effective action to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls around the world, as a matter of basic human rights as well as to promote gender equality, economic growth, and improved public health.”

While many applaud the measure – including 300 humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International – there are important questions to consider. With the United States’ track record on the subject within its own borders, and its litany of controversial international interventions, is it reasonable to attempt such a global endeavor?

“Once [the bill] develops more teeth, we’ll see how it interacts with [communities abroad],” says Caroline Kouassiaman, program officer for sub-Saharan Africa for the Global Fund for Women. The advocacy and grantmaking organization collects private funding and redistributes it as grants to independent, community-based women’s organizations abroad.

“The United States is a large player in international assistance, and that plays a role in sub-Saharan Africa in the way funding is allocated for resources,” says Kouassiaman, citing Uganda as an example. There, 40 percent of the national budget is funded through aid from the U.S. and other nations. As a result, the American policies attached to aid guide how Uganda allocates those funds to the community organizations and government agencies that need it.

The bill offers an extensive, but slightly vague outline for implementation. First, it makes the (existing) State Department Office of Global Women’s Issues a legally required entity, and charges the (also existing) ambassador with orchestrating all women-related efforts. The ambassador would also continue to be responsible for creating the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally (devised in 2012 via executive order). As part of this strategy, five to 20 developing nations with “significant levels” of gender-based violence would have individualized response plans.

“I think the grantees we work with would welcome the strong statement. It mirrors the language that exists in a lot of other policies [around the world], and we’re actually in alignment with the rest of the world, which is exciting to see,” says Kouassiaman.

Other directives in the bill include fostering economic, educational, health, and legal activities to combat gendered violence; preventing early and forced marriage; and using “U.S. personnel” to train foreign police and military forces to respond to and prevent violence against women and girls.

For Lauren Chief Elk, activist and cofounder of the Save Wiyabi Project, an advocacy group that addresses violence against indigenous women, that last point is a red flag in an already dubious policy.

“Do I think gender violence is a problem in these countries, yes. But I also think the United States is a root of those causes,” she explains. “What I find problematic is that – and it’s not that thinly veiled – this is very much like what we used to fuel the Iraq-Iran invasion…we’re ‘liberating women.’ It’s not ultimately about helping with gender violence, it’s more about occupation.”

Elk also points out that law enforcement and military are often perpetrators of violence against women, within their own ranks and among those they are supposed to protect. In 2006, a Philippine court convicted an American soldier of raping a woman who lived near the base. In 2011, soldiers based in South Korea were all put under curfew after two soldiers were accused of raping South Korean women on separate instances. Last year, the then-chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for the Air Force was arrested in Virginia for sexually assaulting a civilian.

“The United States is global violence against women,” Elk says. “We can barely go a day without hearing about sexual assault against women in our own military forces, and these are the people who are going to be solving the problem?”

Kouassiaman is a bit more optimistic, but also remains critical until more details are given.

“[I-VAWA] is very comprehensive legislation…. But there are still a lot of questions in accountability. Who is responsible for enforcing this? One aspect is training military and police to respond, but how, and who’s doing this?” she asks, adding that women themselves should be part of the process. “We also need to address the issue of violence here in our own country.”

One aspect of the bill she and others find promising, is that it shows deference to the women, community systems, and organizations that are already engaged in this work, for and with their own people.

According to the bill, “building local capacity” is a mandatory part of the strategy. Further, “Not less than 10 percent of the amount of assistance provided…should be provided to community-based nongovernmental organizations, with priority given to [those] led by women.”

The bill also mandates “engaging men and boys as partners,” though it doesn’t say how.

Currently, I-VAWA is being reviewed in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. If it passes muster there, it will be put to vote on the Senate floor. From there it must pass a vote in the House, survive any amendments, and then be signed by the president. If the past is any indication, the legislation will likely face an uphill battle.

On the other hand, as Elk points out, the wake of the Nigerian girls’ kidnapping, gang rapes in India, and the Isla Vista, California killings may provide ripe conditions.

“It gets tricky when you frame invasions with aid and help and humanitarianism. It gets people’s emotions going,” Elk says. She offers an alternative to I-VAWA:

“A great first step to addressing gender violence worldwide would be to get military forces out of these countries, including private forces employed by U.S. companies,” Elk recommends, “and then work on getting those companies out.”

Black Workers Stuck in Poverty Wages

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As fast food and retail workers continue to march for higher wages, a new study by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that Blacks are more likely to earn poverty wages than Whites.

EPI released the “Raising America’s Pay” study in conjunction with the launch of a new research initiative focused on “broad-based wage growth as the central economic challenge of our time – essential to alleviating inequality, expanding the middle class, reducing poverty, generating shared prosperity, and sustaining economic growth.”

During a panel discussion about the new project, Valerie Wilson, director of EPI’s program on race, ethnicity, and the economy, said that over the last 30 years, wage growth has been far below productivity growth, for a lot of workers, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

Although the number of Blacks and Whites working poverty-level wages has increased since 2000, nearly 36 percent of Black workers made those wages compared to less than 23 percent of Whites.

“As we see a shrinking piece of the pie for workers to divide, Black and Hispanic workers have been left behind,” said Wilson.

Wilson said that the new project will examine occupational segregation in gender and race, observe the rise of mass incarceration and how it affects Black male workers, and the surge in undocumented workers.

In a 2011, EPI researchers reported that Black males earned less than $15 working full-time, compared to their White male peers who made more than $20, even with the same levels of education.

“One possible explanation for this wage disparity is that Black men tend to be crowded into lower-paying occupations – even when they have similar educational attainment as white men,” stated the report. “The result is an oversupply of workers in the crowded occupations, which has the effect of lowering wages further in those jobs.”

In 2013, the Center for Economic Policy Research, reported “that increases in education and work experience will increase workers’ productivity and translate into higher compensation. But, the share of black workers in a ‘good job’ – one that pays at least $19 per hour (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars), has employer-provided health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan – has actually declined.”

Wilson said that higher levels of education have not translated into wage growth.

“If we look at those workers who are the highest earners, these are also the workers that tend to be the most highly educated,” said Wilson. “More education has helped minorities and women to get higher wages, but it hasn’t necessarily gotten them to equal wages, so that’s an additional step that needs to be taken to close the gap.”

Lawrence Mishel, president of EPI, agreed, adding that college education is important, but when it comes to inclusive income growth over the next 10 years, addressing education is not very high on that list.

Mishel said that when economists lean on technology and globalization as prime movers for an inevitable growth in the wage gap, they ignore “a huge realm of policy actions which have generated wage suppression and income inequality.”

Mishel pointed to a Clinton-era tax break for performance pay that contributed to the expansion of high wages in financial sector and the erosion of unionization to explain the growth in the wage gap.

Mishel said, “No deity created that. That was created by policymakers. It’s not driven by innovators, it’s not Steve Jobs.”

Elise Gould, director of health policy research for EPI, said that 70 percent of income comes from wages, wage-based equity or transfers related to work and that’s why wages have are critical in reducing poverty.

“We need to use all the levers we have at our disposal. We need to look at [Temporary Assistance For Needy Families], we need to look at food stamps, we need to look at unemployment insurance,” said Gould. “We need to strengthen the social safety net and we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years that the social net has made progress in reducing poverty.”

Gould said that if we don’t try to close some of these gaps, we’re failing American society.

“If we don’t do anything to change where these rungs are in wage distribution, if we don’t change what this income distribution looks like, some people are always going to be at the bottom and we know those low rungs are not a great place to be,” said Gould.

During a keynote speech at the launch of the “Raising America’s Pay” initiative, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that we’re making progress toward economic progress, but we still have a long way to go.

“Everywhere I go across this country people are working harder and falling farther behind,” said Perez. “Opportunity has become more and more elusive for more and more working families.”

He recalled that the basic bargain was that if you work hard and take responsibility for yourself and for your family, you’ll have a chance to punch your ticket to the middle class, that has always defined America, is being called into question for millions of workers and their families.

“Worker productivity has increased about 90 percent since 1979. Wages for production and non-supervisory workers have barely budged,” said Perez. “The workers are receiving a smaller slice of the pie that they helped bake.”

Noting the increase of women in the labor force, Perez said that the nature of work is evolving and we need to make sure that we are working hard to reflect the fact that our workplace has changed.

“We’re in the ‘Modern Family’ universe but we’ve got public policy that is more like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ [an old TV show] and we need to change that,” said Perez. “You shouldn’t have to make a choice between the family you love and the job that you need.”

Perez continued: “I know you ought to make sure that you make enough money to put food on the table, but I think it’s equally important that you’re at home to eat that meal with your family, and too many people I know are not able to do that.”

Women of Color Urge Obama to 'Re-align' My Brother’s Keeper

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than 1,000 women of color – including Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker; actress Rosie Perez; political activist Angela Davis; Anita Hill, a law professor best known for testifying that she had been sexually harassed by future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and economist Julianne Malveau – released a letter to President Obama Tuesday asking him to expand his White House initiative aimed at Black and Latino males to include women and girls of color.

“We write to join the concerns expressed by the letter from 200 Black Men about My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and to share our hopes that together, we can re-align this important Initiative to reflect the values of inclusion, equal opportunity and shared fate that have propelled our historic struggle for racial justice forward,” the letter said.

“While we applaud the efforts on the part of the White House, private philanthropy, social justice organizations and others to move beyond colorblind approaches to race-specific problems, we are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking. The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.”

The women added, “We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative. When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them. Not only is there no exceedingly persuasive reason not to include them, the price of such exclusion is too high and will hurt our communities and country for many generations to come.”

The letter pointed out:

  • Our daughters are disproportionately at risk, as the data on violent victimization make clear;
  • Native American girls are victims of rape or sexual assault at more than double the rate of other racial groups, while Black girls have the highest rates of interpersonal victimization from assault and are more likely to know their assailant than all other groups;
  • The homicide rate among Black girls and women ages 10-24 is higher than for any other group of females, and higher than White and Asian men as well;
  • Black girls are more than three times more likely to be suspended from school than White girls, and are disproportionately funneled through the juvenile justice systems;
  • Black women are three times more likely to wind up behind bars than White women;
  • he four-year graduation rate for Latinas is the lowest among all girls;
  • The median wealth for Latinas is $120 and for Black women it is $100 dollars. This means that just about half of Black women and Latinas are forced to walk an economic high wire without any net whatsoever and
  • Considering that the majority of all households depend on women’s wages and wealth, the economic future of female youth is vital to the community as a whole, including the sons and daughters that are dependent on their mothers’ well-being.

“In short, women and girls of color are not doing fine, and until they are, men and boys will not be doing fine either,” the letter stated. “Girls and young women must be included in all our efforts to lift up the life chances of youth of color. To those who would urge us to settle for some separate initiative, we need only recall that separate but equal has never worked in conditions of inequality, nor will it work for girls and women of color here.”

When more than 200 men sent their original letter to President Obama recommending that he broaden his male initiative to include females of color, administration officials said they were addressing some of the issues facing women and girls through the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was created in 2009.

Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett chairs the council. Earlier this month, she told reporters, “We have been working over the last five and a half years on issues that are important to women and girls in all of our programs, all of our policies and all the legislation that we support.”

However, the authors of the letter don’t feel that is enough.

“To those who would urge us to take up our concerns with the White House Council on Women and Girls, we note that the Council, like many gender-focused initiatives on women, lacks an intersectional frame that would address the race-based challenges faced by young women of color in a racially-stratified society. We note as well that the scale and magnitude of the issues addressed within MBK are specific to the needs of communities of color. The White House Council on Women and Girls should of course, be encouraged and supported to do more; however, girls and women of color suffer, struggle and succeed with the men and boys in their lives. Only together will our collective well-being improve.”

In a press release accompanying the letter, UCLA Law Professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, one of the key organizers of the letter writing effort, said: “We cannot pass the burden of invisibility to yet another generation of our girls of color. When we see the challenges they face and actually listen to what they say, how can anyone who loves our daughters as much as our sons say, ‘No, you must wait.’ Our girls need to know they are supported and loved, and that we are working to remove the obstacles that undermine their well-being as much as the boys. How can we in good conscience do anything less?”

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