India on a weapons hunt

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According to 2009-2010 Union Budget which was presented by Pranab Mukherjeee, defence expenditure was increased to Rs.141, 703 crore ($28 billion). This was a 34 per cent hike in defence budget compared to the previous year. The reason cited for the hike was that security “threshold has been crossed” with the Mumbai terror attacks. It is understandable that such a measure was adopted by the ruling heads taking into account India’s not so friendly relations with its neighbours. Very often though, the actual expenditure is significantly higher than the proposed allocation.

India’s defence budget for 2010-2011 is 1.5 trillion rupees ($32.5 billion), a 40 percent increase from two years earlier. The alarming increase in defence budget and expenditure has now made India the largest importer of arms. According to a study conducted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), India has over taken China, South Korea and Pakistan as the largest importer of weapons. The study also shows that India spent about $37 billion in 2009 when the proposed amount was only $28 billion.

The rise in expenditure has been discussed extensively especially because more than three quarters of India’s 1.2 billion people live on less than Rs. 100 ($2) a day. But this issue seems to have been pushed back following frequent encroachments from the Chinese side in Arunachal Pradesh and China’s close ties with Pakistan. Siemon Wezeman, a Sipri researcher, says: “It’s worrying from the fact you are bringing a lot of weapons into an area that isn’t particularly stable, where you’ve got countries that have been at each other’s throats.”

The increase in expenditure on defence also reveals that India wants to emerge as a superpower to counter China. India’s weapon import accounts for 9 per cent of all imports from 2006 to 2010. China went down by a place as it has started manufacturing its own weapons.

In the race to become the next superpower in the sub continent, India plans to buy 126 fighter jets, 200 helicopters and large amphibious landing ships. It has been estimated that India’s annual defence expenditure will cross $50 billion in the next five years.

While India is on a weapons acquisition spree, foreign weapons giants like Russia and America have found their perfect buyer. For the American economy, India’s decision to buy weapons has proved advantageous to the economy which was hit by recession. With the aim to boost U. S exports to India, U. S Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will be visiting India in March. He will be accompanied by the leaders of 24 U.S weapons companies who are hoping to strike a deal with weapon-hungry India.

Spending billions of dollars on weapons at a time when the Indian economy is performing considerably well might seem acceptable. However, the expenditure on these weapons does not stop with just buying them. Their maintenance costs are high and so the cycle of this large scale spending continues. India’s paranoia of an attack from either China or Pakistan will cost the citizens tens of billions of dollars a year for a very long time.

Outcomes of Climate Change summit in Cancun

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After a disastrous effort by world leaders to come to an agreement at the Copenhagen conference, the Climate Change Summit at Cancun, Mexico seemed to be a step forward. The Copenhagen climate summit had failed to formulate a treaty which was to be a successor to the Kyoto Protocol and failed to set a timetable for such a treaty. The summit at Copenhagen also came to an agreement that richer countries should raise funds to help poorer countries to deal with climate change and cut their carbon emissions.

Even with criticism over the meeting being held in an island resort which was once a rainforest, it has been considered a success especially because all major economies agreed to reduce emissions, but not enough to keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius.

Cancun climate change agreements

The agreements are aimed to help prevent deforestation, promote the transfer of low carbon technologies to developing countries, to establish a ‘green fund’ to shield the more vulnerable countries from climate change, inspecting emission cuts and the most talked about of all, a decision on the future of Kyoto Protocol. These pledges were put into UN documentation and for the first time, developing countries too agreed to consider ways to reduce emissions. The pledges made by the developing countries were, however, not put into the UN documentation of the conference.

Position of countries

While all major economies of the world came to an agreement over cutting their carbon emissions, the Bolivian chief negotiator, Pablo Solon said that the agreement did not make strong enough emissions cuts to save the planet. Saudi Arabia on the other hand won the right to get climate change subsidies for developing ‘clean’ coal, oil and gas. Venezuela left the discussions early amid concerns that not enough progress has been made on Kyoto.

The meeting also witnessed the rising tension between rich and poorer countries over the topic of Kyoto Protocol which is valid till 2012. The developing nations want the Kyoto Protocol to continue because it forces developed nations to cut their emissions. However, developed countries like Russia, Canada and Japan did not want to extend the treaty until poor nations also agree to cut their emissions.

Overall, all countries which participated in the summit agreed to the pledges made with a few exceptions like Bolivia. Both rich and poor countries jointly agreed to cut their carbon emissions. Nevertheless, Friends of Earth’s international director said, “In the end, all of us will be affected by the lack of ambition and political will of a small group of countries. The US, with Russia and Japan, are to blame for the lack of desperately needed greater ambition.”

The Swedish Crusade

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Director: Ali Fegan

The Swedish Crusade directed by Ali Fegan for the Swedish Public Television Service was screened at this year’s International Public Television (INPUT). It is no surprise that this documentary won an award in the category of Television: Network/ Syndicated with a controversial storyline and brilliant visuals.

Set in Sweden, the documentary begins with a Protestant vicar’s decision to convert to Catholicism. The decision itself received great publicity especially because of the existing tensions between Catholics and Protestants. This marks the beginning of the documentary which later explores the darker side of a group who believe they are a part of the Catholic society. The Protestant vicar, Sten Sandmark declares that he wants to make Sweden a Catholic country again with the help of gay haters, holocaust deniers and right- wing extremists.

From Sweden, the documentary takes us to Zaitkofen, Germany where the controversial Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) seminary is situated. The documentary effectively traces the history of the SSPX which was a part of the Catholic society till the late 80s. This group essentially consisted of conservatives who disliked the modernisation of the Catholic Church and believed that Jews and Muslims were destroying Europe’s integrity and was a threat to Christianity. Here begins the clash between the followers of SSPX and the Catholic Church under the Pope. The director has brilliantly depicted how Catholic Archbishops and Bishops deny any association with the SSPX while the SSPX themselves believe they are Catholics in all senses.

The most striking aspect of the movie is the interviews and Fegan’s interview with Richard Williamson is noteworthy. Williamson, an Archbishop of SSPX, openly denies the Holocaust and does not believe in historical data of the Holocaust even though he knows the interview will be telecast.

The documentary also features a considerable number of high end sources which proves the credibility of the information that the journalist is trying to convey. Archbishops and Bishops of SSPX and the Catholic Church, scholars, writers all provide information which shows both sides of the argument.

Another interesting technique used by the journalist is to show pre recorded visuals to Protestant vicars who lent their churches to the SSPX without knowing their intentions. The camera captures the worried and confused faces of vicars after they watch the controversial interview with Richard Williamson and Marcel Lefebvre who look down upon any other class of Christians.

Apart from religious links, the documentary also explains how politics is deeply rooted in SSPX. The society has close connections with right-wing nationalists and anti-Semites.

Over all, the documentary has brilliantly traced the workings of a conservative religious society in Sweden and how they have formed a base in Sweden and France with the sole agenda of converting everyone to the Roman Catholic Church. The narration provides the right amount of information and does not confuse the viewer. The editing too has been done well with juxtaposition of visuals to show a contradictory point.

Worker agitations hit Foxconn India

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Susan Dileep

After a terrible spate of worker suicides in China, the troubles of multi-million dollar manufacturing company, Foxconn, took a different turn in India when workers agitated for wage rise and for the management to recognise workers’ trade unions. More than    1,200 workers from Foxconn’s manufacturing plant in Chennai’s Sriperumbadur have been involved in a struggle to negotiate wage revision as Indian workers are paid relatively less compared to their Chinese counterparts.

Foxconn

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, 319 workers were arrested and taken to the Vellore Central jail. The arrested included CITU General Secretary A. Soundarajan who was kept in jail even after 307 workers were released on bail. The CITU came into the forefront after workers left the existing union, LPF. During a gas leak in another Foxconn plant, the LPF failed to address the issues of the workers. This led to workers joining the CITU.

With the support of the CITU, the workers fought for better wages because their counterparts in China were being paid more for the same amount of work. The Chinese were given a 30 per cent raise in the wake of criticism of Foxconn employment practices and worker suicides.  From January to August 2010, 14 workers committed suicide in China due to intolerable working conditions.

“The Foxconn suicides are a reminder of the human cost that can come with low-cost manufacturing U. S   tech companies demand.”– Businessweek.

A study conducted by a group of students and teachers from different universities in China who were allowed to enter the manufacturing plant, shows that exposure to toxic chemaicals, physical abuse by security officials, bad working conditions, low wages and the constant threat from company goons have driven workers to commit suicide.

Closer to home, thankfully workers have not resorted to suicide. However, with the hike in wages in China, workers asked for a raise and the then labour union, LPF, did not prove to be of any help in alleviating the workers’ plight. After the CITU joined the struggle, the company took drastic measures to stop the protest and retaliated by cutting wages of protesting workers, suspending 23 union activists and leaders. Foxconn’s management refused to negotiate with CITU on the grounds that the company had already entered into an agreement with another union, Foxconn India Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam (FITMS). FITMS belongs to DMK’s Labour Progressive Front (LPF). The tension between the LPF and the CITU is another dimension to the company’s never ending problem. While one group of workers belonging to the FITMS have urged the staff to return to work, another group has decided to continue the protest till their demands are met.

It is striking that world renowned brands such as Dell, Apple and Motorola who are clients of Foxconn have not taken an effort to make it clear that “a business model characterized by employee suicides and imprisonment of workers trying to get union representation is simply unacceptable”, says Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

With worker suicides, wage and union problems, and working conditions which have come under question, Foxconn’s latest tie up with Samsung has not been received well especially because of the existing turmoil within the company. However, Foxconn being one of the largest manufacturers of world class goods like the sensational iPad; what goes on inside the company has not been addressed properly. Clients have promised to look into the company’s issues but the possibility of any significant change is slim, because switching a manufacturer midway would mean a great loss to the clients.

First witness testifies

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Susan Dileep

 

A Historic Trial

Bemba at the trial

It was a theatrical opening to a landmark trial. As the blinds were pulled aside, Jean- Pierre Bemba sat on a chair with more than thousand eyes eagerly watching him, reported the BBC.

Jean- Pierre Bemba, the former Vice President of DR Congo was produced before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 22 November, 2010. After spending two and half years in custody, Bemba was produced before the court on three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity. Although Bemba wasn’t present when his troops allegedly raped and tortured civilians; he is being held responsible for his troops’ actions.

First witness testifies

Luis Moreno- Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor

On 26 November, the prosecution produced its first witness who is only known as Witness 38. The witness testified under protective measures like face and voice distortion. Although his identity was not revealed, he said that he organized civilians in Central African Republic (CAR) to resist Bemba’s army.

The witness recounted how Bemba was given VIP treatment on his arrival in CAR. As the trial progressed, the witness told the court how Bemba’s men committed acts of robbery and beating along with rape and murder.

“They had whips, pieces of wood, and at the end of them they had attached bits of rubber or leather, and they would use these instruments to hit the CAR civilians,” added the witness.

Under cross examination by the defense counsel, the witness denied any involvement of the CAR army in the crimes. When asked whether the CAR army had collaborated with Bemba’s army, the witness replied, “To say that they operated together, that would mean that the CAR army was involved in theft and rape. As far as I know, no. The CAR army was reduced to nothing, deprived of their authority.” However, later during the week, the witness agreed that the CAR army had also committed atrocities in a place called PK 13.

The defense counsel sought to establish that the witness could not distinguish which army committed the crimes. Bemba’s defense argued that once the army moved into CAR, it was under the control of Patasse and not Bemba. However, the prosecution argued that the evidence gathered from their investigation show that the troops were always under Bemba’s authority.

Bemba’s defense counsel also argued against the prosecution’s decision to freeze all of Bemba’s assets. According to the Rome statute, all assets acquired during the time of war will be seized. In the case of Bemba, assets which were acquired through companies before his military career were also seized.

The trial could last almost a year with more than 40 witnesses being brought to testify against Bemba.

At present, the ICC has ordered the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir on suspicion of war crimes and alleged genocide in Darfur.

Former warlord on trial

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Susan Dileep


Three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity are what the former Vice President of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mothers who witnessed their daughters being raped and rape survivors will be given a chance to testify against the one man who headed the army. Crimes include rape, murder, torture, pillaging and outrages upon personal dignity.

Jean- Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is the most high-profile figure to be tried by the ICC, is being prosecuted for commanding a militia which used rape and torture to victimize innocent people who were caught between warring rebel groups.

History

Bemba, a former warlord and leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, led his army of more than a 1000 men into Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 to help the then-president of CAR, Ange- Feliz Patasse, who was fighting against rebels led by Congo’s former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize. Patasse was unsuccessful in fighting against Bozize’s rebels and was ousted. Soon after, the new government of CAR pressed charges against Patasse as well as Bemba.

Though Bemba was accused of war crimes by the new government of CAR, he went on to contest the 2006 elections in DR Congo and received the second highest number of votes. In 2007, he joined the Senate. By mid 2008, Bemba was finally arrested under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. Now, after spending two years in jail, Bemba has been produced before the court for a historic trial.

The trial

The trial by the International Criminal Court at The Hague is truly groundbreaking as this is the first time a man of such high level is being prosecuted by the ICC. The two previous cases tried by the ICC were based on the DR Congo conflict itself. Also, this is the first case before the ICC to be completely focussed on sex crimes. Another first is that this case will be a command responsibility case where Bemba is being accused held responsible for his subordinates who used rape to victimize and demoralize civilians.

The trial will have three women judges on the bench which is another first for an international war crime trial.

The sex crimes against civilians were first brought to the attention of international communities by the Federation of International Human Rights after which an investigation was conducted by ICC.

What’s happening now

Bemba was produced before the ICC on November 22. As expected, Bemba’s lawyers pleaded not guilty. The trial could last almost a year with more than 40 victims being brought to the stand to explain the cruelties meted out by Bemba’s army.

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