Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Al Jazeera English’s The Stream on Hurricane Katrina and disaster capitalism

Yesterday I appeared on the Al Jazeera English program, The Stream (thankfully the poor internet here in South Sudan came through):

Deadly floodwaters caused one of the biggest evacuations in US history when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, Louisiana. Ten years on, the city still hasn’t fully recovered. New economic, educational and housing models are in play, but critics say they’re hurting the longtime residents who need help most. On Tuesday at 19:30 GMT, The Stream asks New Orleans residents how “disaster capitalism” has affected them, and explores how the city’s growing pains are similar to disaster zones around the world.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Antony Loewenstein @antloewenstein
Journalist and author (forthcoming) ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe
antonyloewenstein.com
Raynard Sanders @NOLAEQUITY
Educational consultant
theneworleansimperative.org
Erika McConduit-Diggs @ulgno
President & CEO of Urban League greater New Orleans
urbanleagueneworleans.org
Terri Coleman @TFSColeman
New Orleans resident

My comments appear at 15:13, 23:30, 25:22, 35:02, 40:30:

no comments – be the first ↪

The desperate need for peace in South Sudan

My piece in The National:

A woman in a black and white dress stood with a huge pot on her head. She had walked for days, with her two young children also carrying goods, to reach the camp for internally displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. They were all exhausted by the time they registered with the International Organisation for Migration at the facility that then housed 100,000 men, women and children.

Six months before I visited in July, there were fewer than half that number. Today, there are more than 124,000. About 200 people arrive each day, fleeing a civil war that has engulfed the world’s newest nation since 2013.

Tens of thousands are dead and many more have suffered sexual abuse and torture after an ethnic and power conflict between president Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar unleashed a brutal war.

The economy has collapsed. Millions are dependent on aid groups for food and water. Hundreds of thousands of children are on the verge of starvation. Only 10 per cent of boys and girls are in primary school and most of the teachers are untrained. Infrastructure, already in a parlous state during the 2011 independence celebrations, remains unfinished and broken.

It’s the civilians in South Sudan who are paying the highest price for this man-made humanitarian disaster. When I visited Bentiu, I saw suffering on an enormous scale.

It’s the rainy season, so rivers of mud flowed through makeshift huts and shops. Women who had left their husbands behind in remote villages to escape the marauding troops said they faced the risk of rape while searching for firewood.

The UN is overwhelmed by the surge of people seeking its protection.

A senior UN official in the capital Juba told me that he feared South Sudanese officials could kick out his organisation entirely, as happened in Eritrea, leaving millions of civilians homeless. “But I think the authorities still want international support,” he said.

“There’s no evidence yet, but if Al Shabaab or Boko Haram start operating here, the conflict will change and massive amounts of counter-terrorism money will start flowing to support the government.”

August 17, the deadline set by African and US negotiators for a peace agreement to be reached between the warring parties, has been and gone with no settlement. On the day itself, Juba was eerily quiet. One woman told me that she feared for the safety of her young daughter, so they both stayed at home.

The streets of Juba are a dusty, jumbled mess. Barely any roads are paved and thousands of people live in tin-sheds along the main streets. The airport will be closed every weekend until April 2016, while construction work funded by the Chinese government is undertaken. This essentially cuts the country off from the outside world for two days every week.

Empty water bottles and other rubbish are strewn around the city. Clean drinking water is difficult to find – leading to the current cholera outbreak – and hope is in short supply.

Although I haven’t met any locals who regret South Sudan’s break from Sudan in 2011, they despair at the inability and unwillingness of their country’s leadership to care for their people who they constantly praise as heroes of the liberation struggle. These are noble words with a bitter sting.

Canon Clement Janda, a former member of parliament and lead government negotiator in the peace talks, told me in the southern town of Yei that the international community had an “overemphasis on accountability over resolution”. He continued: “I need a solution first and then we can set up an accountability mechanism” to address alleged war crimes.

This is not a view shared by global human rights groups.

Mr Janda argued, as many do across Africa, that the International Criminal Court is a flawed body that is “always after the vanquished, never the victors”.

However, many civilians in Bentiu and elsewhere told me that their patience for delaying justice was over and they wanted military officers and leaders to be held to account now for abuses against them and their families.

The inability to rescue a failed state reveals the great limitations and interests of 21st century diplomacy. International media attention is rightly focused on the disasters in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and yet this implicitly frames South Sudan as just another typical, African mess, featuring tribal violence without meaning.

Civilians in South Sudan know better. First the guns must fall silent, then health and education services must be built and sustained. Integrating South Sudan’s economy into greater Africa – right now, the country barely exports anything and hardly attracts revenue from its copious oil reserves – will require patience and long-term commitment.

This may be impossible until a younger generation of leaders emerges.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist in South Sudan and author of the forthcoming book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe

one comment ↪

How little we know about the Western war against ISIS

My story in the Guardian:

We don’t know whether the Australian military has killed or injured civilians in Iraq, and if so, how many. Since Canberra joined the US-led mission against the Islamic State (Isis) on 8 October 2014, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has provided barely any information about its operations.

So the new report by Airwars, a British organisation comprised of journalists and researchers, is welcome. It aims to demystify the war against Isis and document how many civilians are dying in Iraq and Syria.

Airwars has found at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including 100 children, from 52 airstrikes. Over 5,700 airstrikes have been launched since 2014.

Yet the US military central command cites the deaths of only two civilians. The discrepancy between these figures – two deaths, or 459 – should be startling. The US State Department pledged to “review its findings” after Airwars issued its report, with a spokesman saying “That’s why we’re looking into them and trying to see where the – what the right number is, to be frank.”

Recall how it wasn’t until Wikileaks released the Afghan War Logs and Iraq War Logs in 2010 that the world discovered the extent of death, abuse and cover-up caused by the US in both states.

Australia’s role in the anti-Isis coalition is shrouded in secrecy. Operation Okra is described as “conducting air combat and support operations in Iraq and is operating within a US-led international coalition assembled to disrupt and degrade ISIL.”

The ADF issues very sparse monthly reports on how it is going about this mission. Australian jets are spending thousands of hours in the air, and have completed over 100 airstrikes, dropping more than 400 bombs and missiles, yet we are told only about the jets’ capabilities, and given pretty pictures of them in action.

I asked the ADF a number of questions, including why the public wasn’t being told more, whether Australia was aware of its actions causing harm or death to civilians, and whether its “rules of engagement” aimed to minimise civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. My questions were largely ignored. I was told:

For operational security reasons, the ADF will not provide mission-specific details on individual engagements against Daesh. The ADF will not release information that could be distorted and used against Australia in Daesh propaganda. Australia’s Rules of Engagement are designed to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Defence, Kevin Andrews, added that, “the Abbott government has every confidence in the professionalism of the Australian Defence Force to act in accordance with Australia’s Rules of Engagement, which are designed to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure”.

When Airwars questioned Australia’s lack of information sharing – unlike, say, Canada, which releases information on a timely basis – it received the same, pro-forma response from the ADF.

Airwars project leader Chris Woods, a British journalist and author of “Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars”, told me that Australia’s lack of transparency was worrying.

“Of the 12 nations in the Coalition which have bombed Daesh in Iraq and Syria over the past year, Australia is pretty much near the bottom in terms of transparency and accountability”, he said.

“The Saudis and the Belgians are worse, though not by much. Once a month we get a chart saying how many bombs have been dropped – and that’s it. No details of locations struck. No word of the dates on which strikes occurred.”

Woods condemns Canberra’s reason for secrecy as inappropriate for a democracy.

“The excuse for this paucity of information is that Daesh might use any improved reporting ‘for propaganda purposes’. That’s absurd, of course. Canada, the UK, France and others all report happily on where and when they strike,” he says.

“And transparency really does matter. The Coalition tells us that each member nation is individually liable for the civilians it kills. If Australia refuses to say anything about its strikes, how can there be any justice for those affected on the ground if something goes wrong?”

This ADF obsession with secrecy and obsessively trying to control the message is nothing new. Remember that in 2013, the ADF tried and failed to isolate Fairfax reporters Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty during their time in Afghanistan. As McGeough put it, they were “effectively denying our right as journalists to cover any of the story”.

Successive Australian governments have long demanded secrecy in matters of war, immigration and trade. It’s an attitude that presumes the public either doesn’t really care about what governments do; or that enough journalists are willing to swallow spin in exchange for access, embeds with Australian troops or spurious “exclusives” with the military and strategists.

Australia’s current war against Isis has continued this tradition of secrecy. As former army intelligence officer James Brown wrote recently in The Saturday Paper, “how much progress is Australia making against Daesh? It’s painfully hard to tell.” Yet there is no demand for the ADF to open up.

Paul Barratt, former secretary of the Department of Defence and president of the campaign for an Iraq War inquiry, says that the Abbott government’s attitude “reflects both its habits of secretiveness and the lack of a coherent strategy – more policy on the run.

“What started out as humanitarian relief using existing assets in the Middle East was rapidly transformed into boots on the ground in a training role, and aircraft both flying combat missions and refuelling other coalition aircraft for combat missions in Syria. There is little sign that this has been thought through or that it is heading in the direction of an achievable goal.”

I’ve long argued that reporters and media organisations should collectively push back against restrictive ADF methods by refusing to be embedded without greater freedom in the field. Apart from visiting the troops for state-managed photo ops, independent reporting of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan is preferable because it’s civilians who bear the brunt of the conflict.

Journalists should also ignore “exclusives” from the ADF until it recognises it’s creating an unacceptable mystery around actions undertaken with taxpayer dollars. Would the ADF loosen its rules? I’m confident it would, not least of all because it craves publicity.

If it doesn’t, we would at least have the spectacle of the ADF defending its tenuous position on disclosure.

no comments – be the first ↪

Civilians in South Sudan bearing brunt of cruel war

My feature in Foreign Policy:

BENTIU, South Sudan — Every day, some 200 people stream into Bentiu, the site of South Sudan’s largest camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Women trudge past armed U.N. peacekeepers while carrying large pots and bags on their heads and tiny children in their arms. They sit on the cracked brown earth in the blistering sun and heat, sometimes for hours, waiting to be fingerprinted. Camp workers photograph children for identification purposes, while the World Health Organization and other medical groups vaccinate them against measles and cholera. Nearby, hundreds of camp residents gather as World Food Programme workers distribute basic food rations such as sorghum and oil.

Bentiu, in Unity state near the border with Sudan, sits at the center of South Sudan’s never-ending storm. The United Nations established the camp in December 2013 after a violent power struggle broke out between President Salva Kiir’s ethnic Dinka forces and Nuer-majority rebels under the command of Riek Machar, his former deputy. More than 43,000 lived in the camp at the end of 2014, according to U.N. figures. Its population has now ballooned to 100,000, while 60,000 more live in similar, smaller facilities around the country.

Ruon David Kuol, a tall, 33-year-old man sporting a pressed purple- and white-striped shirt, arrived at the Bentiu camp from nearby Bentiu town in January 2014 with his wife and four children. But after five months, his family set off on foot for the Sudanese capital of Khartoum — some 580 miles away — leaving him behind. They did not feel safe at Bentiu, a place where women are often raped and killed by soldiers when they leave the camp for firewood and charcoal, Kuol said. It’s a problem across South Sudan. On July 21, Human Rights Watch issued a report implicating soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), South Sudan’s military, and militias in mass rape, looting, the burning of homes, and spreading widespread destruction across Unity.

“Living here is not like home. But my house was burned down by government troops. I cannot leave the camp, even [for] Bentiu town [just] down the road. I’m too scared,” said Kuol, who now serves as a liaison between his community and the camp authorities and who wants the “war crimes” being committed in his country to stop. “The guilty must be held accountable,” he said.

Such justice seems a dim prospect here, a country of 11 million where tens of thousands have died in the fighting between Kiir and Machar. Already dilapidated infrastructure, schools, and medical facilities have collapsed, and the economy is in free-fall, as some 7.8 million suffer from food insecurity; this year, South Sudan topped the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index. According to U.N. figures from this July, there are now some 1.6 million IDPs in South Sudan, and nearly 608,000 South Sudanese refugees live in neighboring countries. Currently, some 11,500 overstretched U.N. peacekeepers are stationed across South Sudan.

With the government and international community both unable or unwilling to broker peace, the desperate plight of IDPs like Kuol and his family will grow only more dire. “The country is different shades of shit,” one senior U.N. official in the capital, Juba, said.

Flying this month into Bentiu on a U.N. helicopter, one could see abandoned, burned-out buildings, as well as tens of thousands of cattle gathered near the center of town. The heavy rains had left behind lush, green fields.

The International Organization for Migration says it has registered 6,000 civilians in the area, but the government claims there are 15,000 people in Bentiu town, mostly IDPs. The discrepancy is hard to explain. But the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), an independent humanitarian organization tasked with camp management in Bentiu, said that government officials could be exaggerating numbers to receive more supplies for their own men — a pervasive but tough-to-prove allegation heard across South Sudan. “It should be the job of the government to help its own people,” DRC’s Gilbert Ogeto said.

Nature also seems to be conspiring against those in the camp. When the rain pours in Bentiu, it’s like a torrent of gray and red mud turns everything into porridge. Shopkeepers selling cell phones, flip-flops, sugar, clothes, and other basics navigate the onslaught.

During the rainy season in 2014, thousands of people lived in makeshift shelters in Bentiu’s U.N. camp, where they waded through waters reaching to their waists. Conditions were abominable, with the camp flooding and children drowning in their own homes. Roughly four children under age 5 were dying every day due to disease and malnutrition.

Determined not to face a repeat of this situation in 2015, U.N. officials used the dry months to begin raising land and installing water channels. In 2015, the U.N. and the International Organization for Migration oversaw the expansion of the camp to accommodate the influx of civilians. The new, stronger houses, built from bamboo and plastic sheets, are more resistant to the natural elements. Many IDPs are excited about living in these structures, though weary of war and uncertain when they’ll be able to return home.

But few observers expected the surge of IDPs at Bentiu, a surge largely due to the increased fighting in surrounding areas, Ogeto said. “There were plans to expand the facility in early 2015 for an additional 40,000 people. Now there are over 100,000, and we [are] planning for 120,000,” he added. A U.N. official also said that the facility couldn’t manage the “projected” IDP numbers, and many NGOs worry about being able to fund their activities if the numbers greatly exceed 100,000.

 

While officials are impressed with improvements to the camp, they know that ensuring its total security is impossible. Gunmen, allegedly SPLA troops, have sneaked into the Bentiu camp this year and killed residents. Armed government soldiers stalk its periphery, whose protective barriers and fences are easily breached. Barbed wire to fully secure the expanded areas is also in short supply. “Secure means different things to different people,” one U.N. security consultant remarked, acknowledging the impossibility of completely securing a site with over 100,000 people.

James Madut Ruei, a 50-year-old community elder, has lived in the Bentiu camp for 18 months and has witnessed the worst of the atrocities — including those by the SPLA. In April, government forces began an 18-month campaign against the rebels in Unity. On June 30, the U.N. issued a report alleging that the SPLA has engaged in major human rights abuses. Ruei spoke of a particularly grisly incident, also detailed in the report, of soldiers, reportedly fueled by ethnic hatred, raping women and girls before pushing some of them into huts and burning them alive. “It’s too much. It’s genocide. Only God knows when things will improve,” Ruei said. He often feels helpless in the face of the conflict, he said, and wants the international community, especially the United States, to pressure South Sudanese leaders to broker peace.

None of the horrors of Bentiu were inevitable. They rose, instead, only after the United States and the rest of the international community turned its back on South Sudan.

For decades, Christians in the United States had championed the cause of Christian-majority South Sudan in the region’s bloody fight with Muslim neighbors to the north. They found a strong backer in then-President George W. Bush, whose administration pushed for the peace talks that led to South Sudan’s secession from Sudan. In 2011, President Barack Obama welcomed a newly independent South Sudan as a strategic asset against a resurgent China in Africa. But when the conflict between Kiir and Machar exploded in 2013, Washington was distracted by other things, like the rise of the Islamic State and the war in Syria. Key U.S. posts, including ambassador and special envoy to South Sudan, sat empty for many months as weapons and support flowed to both sides of the conflict from China, Uganda, Sudan, and Israel.

In the years leading up to South Sudan’s independence, through media appearances and meetings with U.S. and U.N. officials, high-profile Westerners like actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, founding director of the Enough Project, campaigned vigorously for South Sudan’s independence, with seemingly little thought for the bloody consequences to come. Fortunately, Clooney and Prendergast are now demanding that the United States, South Sudan, and its neighbors pursue a new peace process, one with “biting consequences for those South Sudanese government and rebel leaders who continue to fan the flames of war and who are completely insulated from the suffering of their people,” as they wrote with a colleague in a recent article. Clooney and Prendergast have also launched a campaign to target the money fueling Africa’s worst conflicts. “With billions in oil revenues missing from state coffers, hundreds of acres of land bartered away for pennies on the dollar, and currency speculation running rampant, South Sudan was hijacked by violent kleptocrats long before it became an independent state,” said Akshaya Kumar, Sudan and South Sudan policy analyst with the Enough Project, in congressional testimony on July 10.

In an interview earlier this year with Foreign Policy, Princeton Lyman, Obama’s special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan in 2010 and 2011, said that Washington’s use of contractors instead of the U.S. military to work alongside South Sudan’s military was a key failing. He argued that the split between Kiir and Machar might have been avoided with deeper U.S. military engagement. “We would have seen the cracks that occurred in December 2013. We might have been able to anticipate it more and do something more about it,” he said.

As the months wore on through 2014 and into this year, Juba felt forgotten by Washington and the international community. The government’s relationship with U.N. officials, in particular, deteriorated sharply, imperiling those at the Bentiu camp and others like it. Speaking off the record, countless U.N. officials at the camp said that Kiir’s government has grown less tolerant of public criticism of its actions. Toby Lanzer, the former top U.N. official in the country, was kicked out in June by the government for being overtly critical of the regime, and other U.N. officials have been threatened with expulsion for placing blame for the endless fighting and abuses on the military and government. South Sudan’s government is also currently blocking passage of a U.N. food barge on the Nile, the latest restriction on civilians getting much needed supplies in rebel-controlled areas. As a result of the growing acrimony, U.N. sources say, the organization now rarely publicly challenges official actions by South Sudan’s government. The U.N. also stands accused of turning a blind eye to a Canadian aid worker who was raped in 2015 at its Bentiu camp.

The U.N.’s patience with the South Sudanese government is wearing thin. While there is no indication that the U.N. will leave South Sudan or be kicked out anytime soon, a senior U.N. official in Bentiu was exasperated with the war’s escalation and the apparent lack of urgency by the government to end it. “Even if the U.N. leaves tomorrow,” he said, “civilians would flee to Sudan, and the South Sudanese government still wouldn’t feed its own people.”

South Sudan seems to be mimicking Sudan’s fraught relationship with the U.N., but “they’re not as clever,” one senior U.N. official said in Juba, “but getting better. They believe they can militarily defeat the rebels or its leader, Machar, will die or be killed. I don’t think the government will yet kick out the U.N. entirely because they still crave international support and legitimacy.”

U.S. policymakers are finally signaling a shift toward accepting reality. On July 9, the four-year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, criticized by many Africa watchers as being too close to the continent’s dictators, issued a statement congratulating South Sudan on its independence, while ripping into Kiir and Machar “and their cronies [who] are personally responsible for this new war and self-inflicted disaster.” She promised that the United States, “along with the international community, will punish those determined to drive South Sudan into the abyss.”

Calls from activists in the United States and Africa for Obama to strongly engage the South Sudan issue during his visit to Africa were strong. On July 27, the president and regional officials met to discuss the creation of a regional intervention force and the potential for harsher sanctions against South Sudanese leaders. He condemned both Kiir and Machar during his speech to the African Union in Ethiopia. The International Crisis Group released a report on July 27 that argued that a regional solution to the war is “the best — if imperfect — chance to end the conflict and prevent further regionalisation.”

Things in Bentiu, meanwhile, are unlikely to change anytime soon. Nyamai Marko Liah, 27, and Nyawai Puot Chuol, 30, arrived in Bentiu in early July, each with four children. They wore clean, colorful dresses. They’re both married to the same man, Nyak Nong, who escaped to Sudan at the outbreak of the conflict. They haven’t seen him since, but occasionally speak to him via satellite phone. “If I could meet President Kiir and rebel leader Machar,” Liah told me, “I’d ask them to negotiate.… But we don’t see any sign of peace in this country.”

no comments – be the first ↪

Mining company operates in repressive Eritrea, questions abound

This week the Guardian published my story on the role of Australian and foreign mining companies in Africa. One of the companies I identity is Australian firm Danakali, currently operating in Eritrea. 10 days before publication I emailed questions to the corporation seeking answers. No response. A few days later I emailed again and called its Perth office. Again, nothing. Now, a few days after my story was released, the company’s CEO and Managing Director Paul Donaldson has emailed me some answers. He’s unhappy with my article and its lack of “objectivity”. I’ll let readers decide whether a company operating in one of the world’s most repressive regimes has questions to answer about its behaviour. The following are my original questions and Donaldson’s answers:

Operating in Africa can be a challenging regulatory environment. How does your company operate in a country such as Eritrea?
We are a small company in the feasibility study stage. We have a group of local geologists, safety, environmental and administrative personnel based in our Asmara office. They are all our employees and are on annual salaries. We have safety and travel protocols for commuting between office and site, have introduced risk assessment processes before conducting any site work and do monthly safety inspections at site.

Requirements for mining are outlined in the Eritrean Mining proclamation which identify the need for a bankable feasibility study with an accompanying social, environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan before a mining license can be granted. We work closely with the ministry of land and environment and the ministry of energy and mines to ensure that we meet/exceed these requirements.

A look at our asx announcements will demonstrate to you that our SEIA is being done to the equator principles, and that we have been conducting environmental baseline assessments to support the environmental impact assessment. The work is also being conducted by a Perth based environmental group who have been engaged to ensure this work is done to meet the equator principles, which is of the highest standard and underpins the social and environmental management plan.

In conducting this work, and again with reference to our published information, this includes stakeholder engagement and is particularly relevant to communities in close proximity to the resource.

Eritrea has been accused by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for its human rights abuses. How does your company ensure that human rights abuses aren’t being breached during its operations?

Firstly you should already be aware that we are not actually in operation. We are in feasibility study stage. All of our study work is conducted by paid personnel – both nationals and where appropriate expats. Secondly, the joint venture company is currently working through its operating policy’s which will be adopted when the project is further advanced. This includes corporate, social responsibility that ensures that human rights abuses do not occur. The existing Bisha operation which is a joint venture between the Eritrean National Mining company and Nevsun have led the way in this respect (I note there is no mention of them in your article).

What kind of relationship does your company have with the Eritrean government?
As per our company presentations – we have a good working relationship with the government. We meet regularly with the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Land and Environment. The Eritrean National Mining company is our joint venture partner.

Do you think that Australian companies, operating outside Australian borders, should have to abide by any basic operating standards, regulations etc and should this be enforced by the Australian government?

Publicaly listed Australian companies do have to abide by standards of good corporate governance. It is a condition. Safety, environmental, training performance all form part of public company reporting protocols when in operation.
Having said that, my views are as follows:
1. The first priority is to comply to the local regulations, which most African countries have, albeit at different levels of maturity

2. After that foreign companies should be working with the regulators within the relevant jurisdiction to continually lift the bar on standards

3. Companies should always be self and third party auditing to ensure compliance to their own policy and standards

4. It is not appropriate for the Australian government to enforce regulations in another country. However, it is important to foster information sharing between emerging and developed mining jurisdictions.

no comments – be the first ↪

How to make mining corporations in Africa respect human rights

The reality of international and Australian mining corporations in Africa can be grim for local civilians. My latest Guardian investigation examines these issues. I interview a journalist from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Will Fitzgibbon, about his organisation’s recent work on the subject and the following is the full interview extracted in the Guardian:

What’s been the overall response to your recent report?

There has been a very positive response to the ICIJ project Fatal Extraction. Australian politicians, civil society and lawyers involved in business and human rights and concerned by the social and environmental impacts of mining see this as what it is – the most detailed investigation into Australia’s corporate mining footprint in Africa.

There are some very engaged actors in this sector, including Oxfam and the Human Rights Law Centre. But there is also a sense that Australia’s debate on corporate impacts and alleged violations overseas is much more limited than elsewhere. In Canada, for example, there have been lengthy parliamentary debates and deep media analyses of comparable allegations in a way that is yet to happen in Australia.

Should companies have to abide by strict regulatory laws?

The jury is still out on whether new laws are the most pressing response to this problem. Many argue that there’s a lot that can also be done in terms of company reporting to investors and of promoting voluntary and transparent application of international principles of business and human rights.

How should the Australian government tackle the problem?

What struck me most was successive governments’ incuriousness about the impacts that mining companies could be having overseas. The first step is awareness, which can then feed in to decisions relating to aid funding of mining-related projects, investment decisions by government bodies and diplomatic support. I hope that ICIJ’s work is a a contribution to that raising of awareness.

Given the size of Australia’s overseas resource presence, there would seem to be a case for more Australian leadership on implementing and championing global business and human rights principles. Time and time again, experts inside and outside Australia told me they wish there was more interest from within Australia.

One constant refrain I heard from victims, lawyers and even politicians from Senegal to South Africa was that they wanted their grievances to be heard in Australia. Even for well-resourced civil society organizations, it is difficult to find avenues of redress or complaint within Australia. Legal barriers are high and costly while non-judicial systems supposed to assist  those impacted by Australian multinationals, such as the OECD National Contact Point based inside the Treasury, are underfunded and almost forgotten by Australia’s decision-makers. Advocates in Africa also complain about how difficult it is to grab the attention of Australian investors and shareholders in companies accused of wrongdoing or implicated in scandal.

Other countries, such as Canada and France, have experimented with monetary fines for companies found guilty of gross human rights abuses or revoking potential government export support. Canada even introduced an ombudsman with a specific mandate to receive and investigate allegations of corporate abuses by Canadian extractive industry companies operating overseas.

Why are the problems so ignored?

Part of it is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ There is a huge imbalance between Australia’s diplomatic and business interests in Africa.  We still have one of the lowest numbers of embassies and high commissions in Africa among our peers yet we have mining companies, sometimes literally flying the Australian flag, in places like Burkina Faso, Niger, Madagascar and Zambia.

Mining operations often happen in remote corners of countries that few Australians know of.

What’s more, language barriers, especially in Francophone Africa, limit the spread of news back home that relates to Australian companies.

Reporting in Africa requires a lot of costly footwork. It is hard to get information without spending days searching through filing cabinets in regional bureaucratic offices. Interviews with those who have suffered can take months to organize. Lots of media don’t have the capacity to invest in these kinds of stories. That’s part of what ICIJ does – the leg work and data analysis that traditional, for profit media cannot often do.

What’s been the response in Africa?

This project by ICIJ is perhaps the largest ever Africa-based collaboration of journalists. With ICIJ working together with journalists on the ground, we were able to help produce some great examples of investigations that countries with more difficult media environments, like Mali, have rarely seen.

Bringing together the behaviour of Australian companies as a corporate entity across an entire region rather than just one-off stories has helped draw attention to the issue for decision-makers in Africa. Ultimately, these are the men and women who sign off on deals with companies and make the choice between firms from Australia, Canada, China, Brazil or elsewhere.

no comments – be the first ↪

How foreign mining companies breach human rights in Africa

My investigation in the Guardian:

Australian miners are making a killing overseas. With little regulation or oversight, billions of dollars are being made in some of the most remote places on Earth.

The necessity of partnering with autocratic regimes has proved no impediment to investment. Human rights have been breached. Victims are largely invisible.

None of this should be surprising. If Australian companies operating internationally are mentioned in the media, it appears in the business pages and discusses the strengths of a CEO or share price. Rio Tinto, for example, receives largely uncritical coverage despite in the 1980s the corporation facing serious allegations of human rights abuses around the world, including in Papua New Guinea.

Two American non-profit media organisations, the Centre for Public Integrity and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, recently bucked the trend and released a stunning report, Fatal Extraction, on Australian mining companies working in Africa (in which no allegations were made against Rio Tinto). How revealing that this research was led from America and not Australia itself.

The findings of the report, produced in collaboration with African journalists on the ground, were shocking.

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Malawi, grim details of death, maiming and police and army brutality were revealed.

A lead investigator on the report, Will Fitzgibbon, told the Guardian that while the response to the report was “positive”, there was also a sense that “Australia’s debate on corporate impacts and alleged violations overseas is much more limited than elsewhere. In Canada, for example, there have been lengthy parliamentary debates and deep media analyses of comparable allegations in a way that is yet to happen in Australia.”

I asked Fitzgibbon how these violations should be addressed in Australia. He said:

“The jury is still out on whether new laws are the most pressing response to this problem. Many argue that there’s a lot that can also be done in terms of company reporting to investors and of promoting voluntary and transparent application of international principles of business and human rights.”

Australia’s lack of interest in alleged corporate crimes in far-away places is related to a worrying incuriousness among reporters and politicians (the Greens are a key exception).

“There is a huge imbalance between Australia’s diplomatic and business interests in Africa. We still have one of the lowest numbers of embassies and high commissions in Africa among our peers yet we have mining companies, sometimes literally flying the Australian flag, in places like Burkina Faso, Niger, Madagascar and Zambia,” Fitzgibbon said.

Eritrea is one country that should be under the spotlight.

“The economy of Eritrea has experienced considerable growth in recent years,” explains the website for Australian mining company Danakali. The Perth-based firm, which until recently was known as South Boulder Mines, has partnered with the Eritrean National Mining Company to develop a massive potassium-bearing salts deposit around 350km from the country’s capital, Asmara.

Danakali’s managing director Paul Donaldson said, “The Danakil region of East Africa is recognised as an emerging potash [potassium salts] province, and to date over 10bn tonnes of potassium bearing salts have been identified.”

Online intelligence magazine Geeska Afrika explained: “Eritrea has many benefits it can offer potential investors. It has a safe and stable government with an educated and disciplined work force.”

Absent from all the propaganda was any mention of Eritrea as one of the most repressive nations in the world. A UN report in June detailed horrific allegations of abuse committed by the regime. Human Rights Watch argued that “this authoritative report rightly condemns the horrific patterns of torture, arbitrary detention, and indefinite conscription that are prompting so many Eritreans to flee their country”. A sizeable majority of refugees leaving Eritrea and attempting to reach Europe are fleeing from this regime. I’ve met many Eritreans in South Sudan who prefer to live in a war zone than under the Eritrean dictatorship.

Danakali has been engaged in Eritrea since at least 2013. An independent Eritrean media outlet had accused the company of benefitting from forced labour. I can find no public response from the company about the country’s human rights record and the unavoidable ethical issues that arise from partnering with an autocracy. They have not responded to requests for comment.

Apart from a major Eritrean rebel group this year warning the firm to stay away due to environmental concerns and allegations that the indigenous Afar community was being pushed off its lands to make way for the development, the Australian company has not faced any serious questions over its work in Eritrea.

Australia has an inglorious history of turning a blind eye to profitable bad behaviour. Although the Australian Wheat Board paid kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime in the 1990s and early 2000s for favourable contracts, lengthy legal wrangling resulted in few significant scalps.

With only one journalist working for an Australian media organisation permanently based in Africa, ABC’s Martin Cuddihy in Kenya, the continent is easily ignored or dismissed. South America is even more woefully unrepresented. Finding stories of Australian corporate malfeasance on either continent requires expensive and time-consuming work.

Of course this is not just a problem facing Australia. The Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York has been pushing the United Nations for years to end the impunity enjoyed by American and European firms operating in developing states. The US Supreme Court has increasingly accepted arguments from multinationals that they have no responsibility for human rights abuses in the countries in which they operate.

I’ve spoken to senior human rights lawyers in Australia who say it’s also incredibly tough to pursue a successful case against a mining giant through the Australian courts. The people of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea have been waiting for decades for any compensation from the Rio Tinto-owned mine that caused a brutal, decades-long civil war.

Australia sells itself as a nation that can teach the world about responsible mining – Afghanistan is one willing student – but the record suggests our corporations have a callous disregard for the rights of civilians.

no comments – be the first ↪

Radio New Zealand interview on British multinational Serco

British multinational Serco is causing trouble in New Zealand, with behaviour at its privately-run prisons fraught with violence and unaccountability. It’s the normal Serco way and only fools will be surprised.

I was interviewed by Radio New Zealand’s Sunday Morning (on a very bad phone line in South Sudan) on the company’s inability and unwillingness to operate with necessary staffing levels and training. It’s a point I’ve investigated in my forthcoming book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out of Catastrophe:

[New Zealand] Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga says some of the information provided to him on Serco’s running of Mount Eden Prison has not been up to standard.

Under the private contractor, the facility has been the subject of a string of complaints about organised fights, contraband, prisoner injuries and the death of one inmate.

Corrections has appointed a director to manage the day-to-day running of the prison from tomorrow and will impose financial penalties on Serco.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said he was unhappy with the flow of information from his department on the running of the prison.

“I’ve made it clear that I’ve been disappointed about some of the communication of reports and other information that could come up the chain through myself and through the chief executive.”

Mr Lotu-Iiga expects the situation at Mount Eden Prison to begin to settle with his department in charge from tomorrow.

Serco deliberately understaffs its operations worldwide in order to make as much money as possible, according to an independent journalist who has written books about the company.

Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein told Sunday Morning that governments believed they were being efficient by outsourcing prisons or detention centres, but it came at a human cost.

Mr Lowenstein said he has found it was very hard to get information from Serco or governments about their operations, without whistleblowers.

no comments – be the first ↪

Iran nuclear deal masks US and China arms race

My piece for American website Mondoweiss:

The global arms race has never been more lucrative. America and China are engaged in unprecedented levels of spending around the world to influence and shape global affairs. The effects are devastating on civilians but Washington and Beijing insists they’re “stabilizing” nations. It’s one of the deadliest myths of the 21st century.

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 100 people since January, half of which were for non-violent drug offences. The country’s bombing campaign in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians and exacerbated a humanitarian catastrophe in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

None of these facts have any bearing on America’s attitude towards its close Middle Eastern ally. Between 2010 and 2014, both countries reached $90 billion of weapons sales that included planes and armored vehicles. Despite calls from activists to halt the huge increase in arms deals between Western nations and Saudi Arabia, Riyadh claims it fears the rise of Iran and Islamic State and is now the world’s biggest defense importer.

The effect on regional violence will be devastating with the Obama administration overseeing the largest expansion of weapons’ dealing in history. Washington is bribing Israel with arms to accept the Iranian nuclear deal (and despite the bluster Netanyahu will eventually accept it) while continuing to sell weapons to the dictatorial Egyptian regime. Jordan is receiving precision-guided missiles for its fight against Islamist militants and Bahrain, even after brutally crushing a pro-democracy movement in 2011, knew it would still receive military support from America.

A nuclear agreement between Washington and Iran is undeniably better than a military conflict but Muslim civilians in the region will pay a steep price. The Wall Street Journal captured the mood with its headline: “US seeks to ally concerns of allies on nuclear deal”. This is code for bribing autocracies with more weapons:

“The U.S. is specifically looking at ways to expedite arms transfers to Arab states in the Persian Gulf and is accelerating plans for them to develop an integrated regional ballistic missile defense capability, a senior administration official said.”

When US Secretary of State John Kerry talks of Tehran increasing instability in the Middle East, it’s worth remembering who is introducing so much defense equipment into the region. Arming dictatorial allies is one of the darkest legacies of the Obama era.

Defense contractors are excited about the prospect of increased tension in the Middle East. Insecurity leads to strong business. Defense company Lockheed Martin is predicting that foreign sales will soon represent 20 percent of its business. In a sign of its seriousness, the firm opened the Center for Innovation and Security Solutions in Abu Dhabi in late 2014 to assist the United Arab Emirates and design more efficient ways to partner with US allies. Another firm, Raytheon, is seeing increased sales with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and the UAE.

Grant Rogan, CEO of Blenheim Capital and a military sales expert, recently told Foreign Policy that American weapons’ deals could soon skyrocket. “The Saudis and Emiratis don’t trust the [Iranian nuclear] deal, no matter what the deal is”, he said. He expected advanced radar systems “happening in Saudi substantially faster if there’s no deal — or if it’s a deal that doesn’t defang Iran.”

However, America’s dominance of global arms sales is being challenged like never before. China is especially appealing to developing countries, keen on buying “military set meals”, a starter pack of basic defense gear. South Sudan has been a willing buyer despite the regime pursuing a brutal war against its civilian population. Although Beijing has spent billions of dollars building infrastructure in countless areas around the world in the last decade, including Africa, growing environmental, debt and labor issues have increased skepticism towards China’s development model.

“China’s leaders demonstrate little appreciation of the yawning gulfs that separate African people from their rulers, even in newly democratic nations”, writes journalist Howard French. Washington claims to believe in good governance and freedom of speech but its policies have entrenched authoritarianism across Africa under the guise of “fighting terrorism”.

China and America are now engaged in a race for African dollars, a continent with resources and a growing middle class to embrace and exploit. Founder of military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, works with Frontier Services Group alongside China’s biggest state-owned firm, Citic Group, to get some of the estimated $1 trillion Beijing intends to spend in Africa by 2025.

Despite China’s partial colonization of Africa, Washington has accelerated covert operations in the last years to support, train and arm militaries and rebel groups. American journalist Nick Turse, writing in his new bookTomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, explains how George W. Bush and particularly Barack Obama have engendered a pivot towards Africa “spanning almost fifty countries”. These include “drone assassinations in Somalia, a proxy war in Mali, shadowy ops in Chad and antipiracy efforts in the Gulf of Guinea.” US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is a secretive organization with little strategic depth.

The effect, like in the Middle East, has been to hugely destabilize an already fragile continent. At an Obama-led US-Africa summit in Washington in 2014, African leaders were desperate for new weapons to fight wars that neatly fit with Washington’s “war on terror”. Think Nigeria’s battle against Boko Haram, one example of a US-backed army committing gross abuses of human rights in its battle against extremism.  The deadly reality is that American efforts have failed spectacularly, causing suffering for African civilians and increasing the chances of blowback on the American homeland.

The Global Peace Index released its 2015 report and found an increasingly unstable world. Arms dealing by China and America are directly contributing to this result and yet their involvement in this deadly trade is too rarely acknowledged.

Past the rosy headlines of an Iranian and American détente lies the grim reality for millions of civilians in Africa and the Middle East. For them, Washington and Beijing will continue selling weapons to leaders for whom the ideas of democracy and peace are foreign concepts.

no comments – be the first ↪

Australia may send asylum seeker back to danger in Afghanistan

I’m proud to have been asked to sign the following statement (latest information here):

Prominent Australians urge Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to save the life of Nadir Sadiqi

Nadir’s life hangs in the balance. You alone in this country, Mr Dutton, have the power to decide whether Nadir lives or dies.

Nadir arrived by boat in Australia five years ago, leaving behind his much-loved family and village in Afghanistan and escaping for his life. Nadir had still been a boy when his father had been killed by the Taliban for refusing to fight for them and his two older brothers had been abducted and tortured and presumably murdered. A decade later, it was Nadir’s turn. He was savagely beaten and left for dead because he too refused to fight for the Taliban, this time against Western forces, including Australians.

Nadir has spent five years in detention in Australia, teaching himself and reaching a high level of English and all the while trying to gain permanent protection – not easy when the villagers who could have corroborated his story have been killed or have fled into hiding. Despite his best efforts, Nadir’s claims for protection have been rejected and he has been ordered to return to Kabul in August.

Nadir knows no-one in Kabul. He’s acquired a foreigner’s accent and dresses in western-style clothing and would immediately stand out as an easy target. Bumper stickers on cars in Kabul state that people who work with foreigners should be killed. Any connection or perceived sympathy for the West, makes anyone in Afghanistan a target, but particularly a member of a persecuted ethnic minority like the Hazara, to which Nadir belongs.

The threat to Nadir’s life has been further intensified as a result of the Australian immigration department’s negligent data breach early last year. This led directly to a second Taliban threat that if he ever returned to Afghanistan they would find him and kill him.

The Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation has recently requested that all countries with whom Memorandums of Understanding had been signed should revise them and not return asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade currently warns all Australian citizens not to travel there due to the ‘extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack’.

A Sydney Morning Herald investigation into asylum seekers returned to Afghanistan from Australia under the Howard years found that twenty had been killed and dozens more had disappeared. The first Hazara asylum seeker to be refouled by the Abbott government had been abducted by the Taliban within a month and severely tortured before escaping. Soon after, another Hazara with Australian citizenship was tortured and murdered. The risk for both of these men had been their connection to Australia, an ‘infidel country’.

Renowned expert on Afghanistan, Professor William Maley has stated ‘there should be an absolute moratorium on the involuntary removal of Hazara asylum seekers to Afghanistan’. Phil Glendenning, president of the Refugee Council of Australia and regular visitor to Afghanistan for the past ten years has stated that ‘no one with any knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan could possibly come to the conclusion that conditions are conducive to safe return’.

How can Australia, in the face of such powerful evidence and advice to the contrary, decide it is safe for this man to be returned to this place? We implore you, Mr Dutton, not to return Nadir to Afghanistan.

Buddies Refugee Support Group, Sunshine Coast, Qld.

Supported by:

Phillip Adams, AO – Broadcaster, journalist, writer and film producer, Fr Rod Bower – Archdeacon of the Central Coast, Anna Burke MP – Federal Member for Chisholm, Julian Burnside, AO, QC – Barrister, writer and human rights advocate, Jane Caro – Social commentator, writer and lecturer, Mark Darin – radio presenter, Senator Richard Di Natale – Leader of the Greens, Fr Jeremy Greaves – Archdeacon of the Sunshine Coast, Bruce Haigh – Political commentator and retired diplomat, Caroline Hutchinson – Journalist and radio presenter, Mark Isaacs – Author and former recreations manager on Nauru, Thomas Keneally, AO – Author, Dr Carmen Lawrence – Director of Centre for the Study of Social Change at UWA and former state premier, Antony Loewenstein – Independent journalist, Guardian columnist and author, Hugh MacKay, AO – Psychologist, social researcher and writer, Senator Claire Moore – Labor senator, Samille Muirhead – Journalist and radio presenter, Hon Melissa Parke, MP – Federal member for Fremantle,Rod Quantock, OAM – Comedian and writer, Dr Rosie Scott – Novelist, Mark Seymour – Musician, songwriter and vocalist, Jack Smit – Activist and coordinator, Project SafeCom, Frederika Steen, AM – Human rights advocate and retired immigration officer, Senator Larissa Waters – Greens senator, Tim Winton – Novelist

no comments – be the first ↪

Three women speak truths in Bentiu, South Sudan

My investigation in the Guardian:

Julia John

Julia John with one-year-old Tuach, in Bentiu camp. Photograph: Antony Loewenstein

The number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in the UN compound in Bentiu has risen above 100,000, the organisation has announced, making it the country’s largest camp for those fleeing the civil war that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2013.

South Sudan marked the fourth anniversary of independence from Sudan earlier this month, but the ongoing conflict between forces loyal to the president, Salva Kiir, and rebels supporting his former deputy, Riek Machar, has left little to celebrate.

Humanitarian organisations say they are struggling to cope with the influx of people to the camp, and conditions are grim as the rainy season – which runs from April to November – envelops everything in thick mud.

With the 100,000 milestone reached, three women living in the camp spoke about how they ended up there – and what they want for the future.
‘I don’t want to live alongside my enemies’
My name is Julia John (pictured above) and I’m 25 years old. I have three children, one-year-old Tuach, three-year-old Nyachiew and eight-year-old Nyawuora. I’ve been in this camp for 18 months. There was fighting outside my house in Bentiu town and we had to flee. My husband, Henry, is also here. Every day I am cooking, collecting firewood, getting water and taking care of my children. I hope for peace and the guns silenced. I will return to my home but I don’t want to live alongside my enemies.

I was hopeful in 2011, during our independence, for a South Sudan with no killing. I want to tell President Salva Kiir that many people have been killed and we need peace. As a woman in South Sudan, we are suffering because when we try to help our children, men can rape and kill us. When we go to collect firewood near this camp, government troops can get us. We are vulnerable.

I know some women who are getting treatment in Juba [the capital] after being attacked. In this camp, the UN supports us but we need firewood and charcoal because we have to leave this place to find them and that brings risk for us from government soldiers. I hope the UN and NGOs can address this.
‘We are not free in our own country’
Tabitha Nyakuon Gai, who walked for two days to reach the safety of the camp

Tabitha Nyakuon Gai, who walked for two days to reach the safety of the camp Photograph: Antony Loewenstein

My name is Tabitha Nyakuon Gai and I’m 36 years old. I’m from the Nhialdin area in Rubkona County. I have six children. I’ve been in this camp for one month. I had to walk two days to get here. My husband is fighting with the rebels and I don’t know where he is. I’ve had no contact with him since September last year. I miss him.

It’s hard to manage kids on my own. My husband fights a just war because the government has killed so many people. Every day I collect firewood and then sell it to make a little money to buy milk for my children.

In 2011 at independence I was happy because I didn’t want to be with Sudan anymore. I wanted to be free. We thought we should be united so it’s hard to believe that we are not free in our own country anymore. Hope disappeared in one minute. I’m worried about my kids’ future – there are no schools, and only the UN gives us food. If the UN leaves, who will feed us?

President Kiir has been in power for 10 years [Kiir served as regional governor before independence] so if I meet him I’ll tell him to leave office. It’s time to give the role to somebody else. Riek Machar has been waiting for so long, give him a chance and then after that Machar can hand over power to somebody else. It’s not right that one person holds power for so long.
‘Now there’s just insecurity’
Nyaduop Machar Puot

Nyaduop Machar Puot, who has lived for two months in the camp at Bentiu Photograph: Antony Loewenstein

My name is Nyaduop Machar Puot and I’m 37 years old. I have five children. I came from Boau village in Koch country. It took me six days to walk here. My cattle were taken and house burned. I had to flee. I had no choice. A government-affiliated militia attacked me. I saw women and children burned alive in a tukul [traditional South Sudanese home] by militias. When I saw people burned alive I knew I had to leave my village. I saw two people killed like this and they were my friends. My husband is still back in the village. I don’t know if he’s OK. He could not leave with us because he’s an old man with bad legs. I’ve been two months here in Bentiu.

When independence was declared in 2011, I expected there would be services for my kids and now there’s just insecurity. Today I cannot walk freely. I cannot help my children because South Sudan is at war and in a mess.

My message to President Kiir is that your turn is done. Let Machar take over. If Kiir doesn’t agree, both men should leave and not seek power. It’s time for new people at the top.

Compared to life in the village, life in this camp is safer. I still need shelter here because I’m living in temporary housing [her family resides in a flood-prone area of the camp]. The UN tells me it’s coming soon. I hope so because I need to protect my family.

no comments – be the first ↪

Too little to celebrate in South Sudan

My article in Le Monde Diplomatique English:

The UN Security Council recently imposed new sanctions on South Sudan including travel bans on six South Sudanese citizens. Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, praised the move saying: “The Security Council took strong action in support of a peaceful end to the conflict in South Sudan by sanctioning six South Sudanese individuals for fuelling the ongoing conflict and contributing to the devastating humanitarian crisis in their country.”

But the reality is that only one of the listed men, Major-General Marial Chanuong Yol Mangok, has a passport. This is largely a toothless travel ban on non-travellers. Many observers of South Sudan argue that the latest round of sanctions will do little to stop the country’s turmoil.

Even an arms embargo would only be successful if UN members enforce it:Israel and others still sell weapons to the war-torn nation. But an embargo has its place (the lifting of an international arms embargo on Somalia in 2013reportedly resulted in a rise of human rights abuses).

But neither President Salva Kiir nor rebel leader Riek Machar (the two men leading a brutal war for victory) are touched by the latest UN moves. Opposition figure Lam Akol told Associated Press that “if the sanctions are meant to encourage the spoilers to be serious for peace, and to warn them that not doing so has a price or punishment, then they should target the right people.”

South Sudan stands at a precarious point in its young history — 9 July was the fourth anniversary of independence and yet there was little to celebrate. I attended a government-organised “celebration” in the middle of the capital, Juba, on a searingly hot day. Although thousands of locals attended, many in full suits and fancy dresses, it was hard to discern any real enthusiasm. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni spoke, and warned against “outsiders” meddling in African affairs while his gunships flew overhead. President Kiir pledged to bring peace to South Sudan and remove corruption, promises that after years of war were hard to believe.

Since December 2013, when political and ethnic simmering tensions between Kiir and Machar exploded in bloodshed in the capital Juba and across the country, the nation has been rocked by extreme violence and dislocation. The world’s newest state has become one of the most reliant on international donors and aid to barely keep alive.

The exuberance that greeted the 2011 independence vote has largely disappeared. I never meet any locals in South Sudan who want to be once again controlled by Sudan under President Omar al-Bashir — for years under his rule the Muslim north routinely abused its southern, Christian neighbours — and yet millions of internally and externally displaced refugees are losing any hope of a secure future.

Today around eight million civilians, out of a population of 11 million, face food scarcity and at least 40% of the country is predicted to suffer from severe hunger by the end of July. In other parts of the nation, such as Unity and Western Jonglei States, some households face catastrophe and likely starvation, according to the USAID-backed Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) issued a report in late June that accused government soldiers of “widespread human rights abuses” in Unity State. The allegations included the sexual abuse of women and girls, and the burning alive of girls in their homes. The report stated: “This recent upsurge (in fighting) has not only been marked by allegations of killing, rape, abduction, looting, arson and displacement, but by a new brutality and intensity. The scope and level of cruelty that has characterized the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences.”

The scale of the humanitarian crisis is immense. UNMISS runs “protection of civilian” camps and as of 6 July they were housing 153,769 people nationwide in eight locations. Cholera outbreaks are increasing while the current rainy season means vast swathes of the country are inaccessible by road. Billions of dollars of global, financial support is being pledged on an annual basis for the UN and NGOs to administer assistance, but I’m hearing there’s donor fatigue after years of grinding conflict with a rising death toll (tens of thousands, at the very least). In the brutal calculation of donor contributors, South Sudan may become less of a priority than, say, Syria or Iraq, though the needs are only increasing.

None of this carnage was inevitable. It’s a man-made disaster that was emboldened by the choices made by western powers and supporters in the lead-up to the 2011 independence vote. Buyer’s remorse is now ubiquitous. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently visited South Sudan and powerfully reported on the conditions faced by suffering civilians. While he acknowledges his own backing for the Kiir government in 2011 — though “now it’s difficult not to feel despair” — there’s little reflection on lessons that should be learned from the experience.

The US, like all nations, doesn’t support states out of love or belief in human rights: it’s always about strengthening interests. South Sudan was framed as a bulwark against Muslim Sudan that had given shelter to Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s and remains close with Iran. Furthermore, China has spent the last decade colonizing Africa and furnishing various regimes with infrastructure and weapons. The US wanted a foreign policy success in the heart of the continent, while warning Beijing to stay off its turf, and for a brief time President Obama was able to claim this. It didn’t last long.

American actor George Clooney was another prominent and politically significant backer of South Sudanese independence. Few questions were asked, however, about the regime that was set to lead the country. Now Clooney is far more honest about the reality and wants to “dismantle the financial networks profiting from Africa’s deadliest wars.” If only these insights had been offered before 2011: “After securing their country’s independence, South Sudan’s political leadership embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from the state treasury, leaving little for education, health or other services. Soon, this violent kleptocracy degenerated along factional lines.”

The only way the conflict in South Sudan will cease is if enough pressure is placed on its political leaders and military. Any hopes that the African Union would be a positive influence on peace negotiations (and there’s little evidence so far that it has been) were dashed during the recent controversy over Omar al-Bashir and his escape from South Africa after a possible one-way ticket to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged crimes against humanity. The African Union expressed its outrage over the moves to extradite Bashir, claiming the ICC had an obsession with prosecuting Africans instead of pursuing leaders in other parts of the world. So South Sudanese leaders presumably have nothing to worry about.

Four years after South Sudan’s declared independence, the future viability of the state is in question. With millions of citizens facing extreme hunger and displacement, it’s natural to fear what will happen in the coming years. Like the ongoing conflict in Syria, another country that can no longer be described as a unified entity, South Sudan is experiencing an economic collapse and humanitarian tsunami. It’s the civilians who suffer the most and it’s for them that renewed peace talks and negotiations must be intensified. The troubles in South Sudan reflect deep failures from an international community that seems far more interested in celebrating successes than stopping bloodshed.

no comments – be the first ↪