February 28, 2013

Resistance when Land and Life are in Peril: Guatemalan Human Rights Defender Speaks in Canada

Lolita Chávez says it is love of life that motivates her to risk her own as an outspoken Maya K'iche' activist against racism, mining, and hydroelectric project developments in the highlands of Guatemala. As a result of her leadership in Guatemala's Indigenous movement, she is a frequent target of threats, accusations and attempts to label her as someone who works against the national interest, as some sort of enemy of the state.

In Guatemala, as in many other parts of Latin America today, Lolita's story is all too common. Indigenous people, farmers, environmentalists and journalists who speak out against mining projects and policies are paying a steep price.

As Ottawa-based organizations with working relationships across the Americas, we observe that such activists are increasingly targets of smear campaigns aimed at slandering them as delinquents, saboteurs or terrorists. They are also frequently subject to unfounded accusations and dilated legal processes, from which they are often released without charge, but nonetheless made to endure months, even years of burdensome stress.

In the worst cases, they are targets of further violence and even assassination. Recent reports from Peace Brigades International, Amnesty International, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders support this perception.
At the root of various cases, in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru, we see aggressive industry and state promotion of the interests of Canadian mining companies.

In Guatemala, Goldcorp played a direct role in accusations against eight women living near its Marlin mine in the department of San Marcos. One of the women cut the power supply to the mine because of her frustration over the electrical post having been erected on her property without adequate information and after her complaints were repeatedly ignored. For four years, these rural, indigenous women lived with warrants out for their arrest.

As Goldcorp grew to become one of the largest gold producers in the world, with the Marlin mine as one of its top profit makers, these women lived in turmoil until a Guatemalan women's movement successfully fought to have the charges dropped in 2012.

During the past year, we have also observed attempts to criminalize activists trying to hold a consultation process about Tahoe Resources' proposed silver mine in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, south of Guatemala City. Tahoe Resources is a company closely related to Goldcorp. Now, instead of one municipal-wide consultation, local activists are undertaking twenty-six community-level plebiscites over the mine. This is a creative response to a difficult situation, but requires a much greater expenditure of energy and resources.

It is precisely this, the process of isolating, wearing down and requiring inordinate outlay of time, energy, money and legal supports from activists and their allies that is central to the strategy of stigmatization and criminalization of dissent. It affects the individuals involved, has serious ramifications for their families and friends, and raises the stakes for others who might otherwise support their cause. This is also true when international solidarity organizations start to get named in smear campaigns that accuse them of manipulating social and environmental justice movements. We have seen this happening in Guatemala, in Canada and in other countries.

This time last year, Canadian authorities began blaming U.S. charitable foundations for manipulating indigenous and environmental organizations opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to increased surveillance of such organizations by CSIS and the RCMP. At the same time we see efforts by Canadian authorities to paint activities to protect community wellbeing, fight for climate justice, and preserve water supplies as being contrary to Canadian values and against the national interest. It’s a slippery slope and one we're worried about.

Seeing this trend taking place in Canada and in Guatemala, we look forward to Lolita's visit to Ottawa next week as an opportunity to discuss the criminalization of peaceful dissent in defence of land and life.

Lolita has frequently heard family members and neighbours tell her to be quiet because they fear reprisals. But neither this, nor demonization from local authorities and businesspeople, has curbed her activism or her resolve. On the contrary, she has made a conscious decision to continue to defend her people's right to dignity and a healthy environment. In the process of building solidarity with Guatemala, we look forward to taking courage and inspiration from her struggle.

We are proud to be among the organizers and sponsors of 'Defending Dissent When Life and Land are in Peril,' a performance and panel discussion on Tuesday March 5, from 7-9pm at the Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly St Ottawa. For more information see the event page here.

Projet Accompagnement Québec Guatemala
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
The Americas Policy Group of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation
Peace Brigades International – Canada
MiningWatch Canada

This blog was written by the aforementioned parties. The views expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.

February 25, 2013

International treaty ushers in new era of food assistance

On February 5, CIDA announced its ratification of the new Food Assistance Convention (FAC). The FAC is a treaty that helps ensure that a minimum amount of quality food assistance is made available each year. In these times of foreign assistance cut-backs and increased climate and conflict related threats to food security, ratification of the FAC is a major achievement.

Along with Canada, other major donors of food assistance have now signed on including the E.U., Japan and the U.S. The new FAC came into force on January 1 2013 and the Food Assistance Committee (the governing body) convened for the first time under the new Convention on February 15.
The FAC itself isn’t new. Formerly known as the Food Aid Convention, its origins date back to 1967 and it has been re-negotiated six times in the interim.

What is fresh about this version is the FAC’s new emphasis on innovative and flexible responses to food crises. Cash and voucher-based programs now stand on equal footing with in-kind food transfers, caps on products to improve nutrition of women and children have disappeared, and the provision of agricultural tools and animal re-stocking are now permitted during emergencies and early recovery situations to help preserve assets and livelihoods. Importantly, linkages between short-term relief and long-term food security are underscored.
The new FAC enshrines updated principles for what constitutes effective and efficient food assistance. Local and regional procurement of commodities are encouraged and monetization is discouraged.

Another positive development is language around improved transparency. Historically, recipient governments, emerging donor countries and civil society have not played a significant role in the deliberations of the committee that governs the FAC. The new text stipulates that the committee “should facilitate information sharing with and dissemination to other stakeholders, and should consult with and receive information from them to support its discussions.”

It’s a good start and we’ll be curious to see the extent to which this happens. Notably, Brazil was an observer at the February meeting and it will be interesting to see if they sign on to the treaty.
While there is much good news to report, as always, there is a down-side to the new FAC.  Parties no longer make their commitments as part of the treaty itself. Rather they are required to announce a “minimum annual commitment” within six months (by June 2013) and they can change this commitment each year.

This does not bode well in terms of predictable levels of food assistance. Tracking first commitments and their stability year to year as well as donor performance against pledges will be critical in the coming years.
Canada has played an important role in the new FAC. Canada chaired the negotiations and came out of the starting blocks quickly by making its minimum annual commitment public several months before the deadline. Their commitment of $250 million is similar to both previous commitments and civil society “asks”. It’s important to keep in mind though that the commitment is a floor and as has been the case since 2004/2005, we would expect Canada to not only meet its minimum commitment but exceed it.

Clearly, there is much to keep us busy over the coming years as the new FAC is rolled out. We’ll be keeping a close eye on commitment levels and performance, scale-up and effectiveness of the new food assistance tools, and transparency in the FAC’s deliberations and reporting. We’ll also be encouraging strengthened relationships between the London-based FAC and the Rome-based food agencies. You can find out more about the new FAC at   www.foodassistanceconvention.org and on our website.

Barbara Macdonald is Senior Policy Advisor at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

February 19, 2013

How Do You Support Teachers? Pay Them

This blog post from Rebecca Winthrop was originally published in the Education For All Blog of the Global Partnership for Education. CCIC is thankful for permission to re-publish.

In many fragile and conflict-affected states, teachers are largely responsible for rebuilding and sustaining education systems, even when the government is unable or unwilling to do so. Teachers can be found working in some of the hardest conditions around the world and are often on the front lines of violence.
Education, and, with it teachers, have increasingly become targets of attack.
Between 2006 and 2009:
  • 439 teachers, education employees and students were killed in Afghanistan;
  • 117 teachers and students were assassinated in Colombia and 435 education staff also received death threats;
  • and the list goes on.
However, this form of violence is not the only thing that makes teaching especially difficult in these contexts. Teachers, like their students, have often been affected in other ways by the crisis themselves, including having their livelihoods disrupted by being displaced from their homes and losing loved ones. In addition, often the teachers working in this context are paid infrequently, if at all. A survey of teachers in post-war Liberia showed that, routinely, teachers had to work three jobs (two after they were finished teaching) just to feed their families.

A survey of teachers in post-war Liberia showed that, routinely, teachers had to work threejobs (two after they were finished teaching) just to feed their families.

Supporting teachers in all contexts, but particularly in these difficult situations, is clearly essential–from both a human rights as well as a state-building perspective. Teachers deserve conditions of work that are safe, adequately supported and provide steady financial compensation. Any country would be hard-pressed to build an education system with an essentially volunteer teaching force.

But supporting teachers amid crisis, including finding innovative ways of ensuring their regular payment, is also a smart move for those concerned with the larger projects of both state building and peace building in fragile states. Sustaining education services in crisis contexts is not only possible but an especially good idea because, if done well, it can be essential in protecting children and ensuring that young people continue the learning process. Education services amid crisis may not look like normal school–in fact teaching and learning may take place under trees or inside homes–but there are now years of documented best practices as well as globally accepted international standards on how to do it well.

Educational continuity amid crisis is important because we know that the longer a child’s education is interrupted, the harder it is for that child to find his or her way back to school and also because it lays the foundation for an early “peace dividend” post-crisis. A rapid revitalization of the education sector after a conflict or disaster has been described as one of the quickest ways of building citizens’ trust in the state (after all, schools are the most pervasive state institution) and can be a way of demonstrating to previously marginalized constituencies that they have an important stake in the political settlement or rebuilding process.

Often one barrier, if not the biggest one, to revitalizing and rebuilding education systems post-crisis is the inability to regularly pay teachers. Faced with long and expensive trips to retrieve their salaries, not being on the payroll or having many months pass without pay, many teachers choose to exit their profession and earn a living another way. Governments and international agencies often struggle to pay teachers due to broken banking systems, outdated active employee lists, and limited ability to monitor or track payments.

But supporting teachers amid crisis, including finding innovative ways of ensuring their regular payment, is also a smart move for those concerned with the larger projects of both state building and peace building in fragile states.

A recent report written by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and the CfBT Education Trust, Building Effective Teacher Salary Systems in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States, examines different strategies for ensuring that teachers can be regularly paid in fragile states.  While past research on this issue has focused on strategies for setting pay scales and creating sustainable financing, this report looks at the range of possible modalities for actually delivering compensation to teachers.

The report lays out a framework for this analysis by highlighting the five main components of an effective teacher compensation system where the main bottlenecks occur:
  1. banking
  2. public financial management
  3. auditing
  4. payroll, and
  5. Education Management Information System/Teacher Management System (EMIS/TMS).
It also provides examples–from a range of sectors–where actors have addressed one or more of these bottlenecks. The solutions documented vary greatly depending on context, ranging from pooled donor funds to mobile banking to employing the private sector to deliver payments. For example, the report highlights the case of Sierra Leone where an international financial accounting firm was subcontracted to pay teachers. The firm charged a 10 percent service fee but reduced leakages from 42 percent loss under the public sector to 8.5 under the new arrangement.

Ultimately, the report argues that ensuring an effective teacher compensation system is equally important to increasing the financing for teacher salaries. Given that teacher salaries are often the largest share of any education budget, getting them right is essential for not only the benefit of young people but the health of whole education system.

This blog was written by Rebecca Winthrop.

The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.

February 6, 2013

Part: II - Resiliency: what is it? And is it the new solution for long-term development?

Part II: So how is resilience any different from traditional sustainable development?

An already challenging endeavour has become even more complicated in the context of a growing number, frequency and scale of man-made and natural humanitarian disasters – mass flooding, famines, slow-onset disasters that are no longer impacting tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals, but millions within and across countries. And this is exposing a larger number of already vulnerable individuals to more risk and shocks.

Various presenters at the workshop (and the subsequent discussion) addressed a range of different ways in which they have responded to this challenge:

·        preventative measures (proactive and early analysis of risks; early warning mechanisms; risk financing mechanisms;  safety net programs that anticipate and address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers; early detection of malnutrition through growth monitoring; strengthening infrastructure; improved natural resource management; consulting and engaging with groups impacted by disasters to help shape and develop future responses to potential emergencies; placing more emphasis on national disaster risk reduction plans;

·        early responses to shocks (cash and voucher transfers to meet basic needs with purchases coming from local markets; seeds and tools distribution; local savings and loan associations that can respond to emergency needs);

·        flexible mechanisms to protect lives and livelihoods and smooth consumption throughout the year (cash for work programs; one-off livelihood grants so individuals don’t sell their assets; encouraging individuals to grow cash and food crops through the cropping cycles);

·        protecting long term gains (programs to diversify and enhance people’s income sources through crop diversification, and building long term assets like livestock; working through local municipal and national governments (both in humanitarian and development interventions) to strengthen their capacity in disaster preparedness and management, and longer term change through policy and legislative change).

What we also took from the workshop is that a first key step in resiliency is bridging the gap between short term humanitarian interventions and long term development.

But more importantly, perhaps, it is about not viewing humanitarian interventions as an isolated response to an external risk or shock, or even about looking for ways to integrate emergency preparedness and response into long-term national development planning (although that is part of it), but rather ensuring that development programs can help communities weather smaller shocks, so that they don’t evolve into crisis/humanitarian levels.

This goes against the one-way continuum model that we often work with (that “starts” with early response, then recovery and reconstruction, and “ends” with longer term development) and turns it into thinking about sustainable development planning that is designed to better respond to and anticipate a range and cycle of risks and shocks as we work towards generating long-term change.

Put together, it is a collective and welcome admission, perhaps, from the whole development community – donor governments, partner countries, CSOs – that development is messy and complicated.

This presents a huge challenge for us going forward – which is why to date we have all become experts at identifying the risks, but are still harder pressed to identify the remedies.

But it also presents us with a tremendous opportunity – to change the way we go about “doing development”. It means changing how we talk about these issues and communicate with the public about them; how we fundraise; it means breaking down the silos within our own organizations, and how we plan and program (and with whom) for longer term change.

Of course, with this opportunity comes another challenge: donor governments, and sometimes our own organizations, need to be able to communicate short term measurable results, and operate within shorter time frames, rather than plan for longer term change. And each have their own silos and funding mechanisms that aren’t necessarily responsive to what is required with this new approach. For many, this represents a huge roadblock to advancing the issue.

But what encouraged us at the meeting was, despite this, a number of groups have simply decided to proceed and take the lead. And what’s even more encouraging, is that where they have taken the lead, we hope donors will be quick to follow.

This blog was written by Fraser Reilly-King, Policy Analyst (Aid), CCIC, and Paul Hagerman, Co-Chair of the FSPG and Director of Public Policy at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB).

The views expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC CFGB or their members.

February 1, 2013

Part I: Resiliency: what is it? And is it the new solution for long-term development?

Part I: What is resiliency

Every now and then the development community comes up with a new buzz word that sounds like the next big solution to the challenge of long term sustainable development.

The current one seems to be resiliency – it was the focus of a panel discussion at Busan’s High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4), organized by the Red Cross, and with CIDA President Margaret Biggs, among others; the recent food crisis in the Sahel (the third in five years) saw the launch of a new “Partnership for Resilience”; and project and program proposals are now increasingly framed as contributing to ‘resilience’.

A key challenge is that everyone is using the term to describe different things and in doing so, resiliency risks losing its utility as an organizing concept. Better defining what resiliency is, allows practitioners to more clearly determine what it is good for, when and why (and what it is not). As one commentator has said, it is just as useful to include within a definition of resilience things that we should exclude as resilient.

We had the opportunity to get our heads around the issue at a recent workshop on “Linking Short Term and Long Term Food Security: Humanitarian and Development Perspectives”, organized by the Canadian Food Security Policy Group (FSPG) and the Humanitarian Coalition.

At the meeting, a number of the bigger Canadian development NGOs presented a series of case studies. These were based on where groups have tried, both successfully and not so successfully, to integrate short-term and long term approaches to food security into their programming with a view to building the resiliency of very vulnerable households – particularly in parts of the world that are suffering from chronic food insecurity and child undernutrition. Here is what we got from the meeting (and from a little extra side reading):

What is resilience?

As understood at HLF-4, it is about “ensur[ing] that development [and humanitarian] strategies prioritise building resilience among people and societies at risk from shocks. [...] Investing in resilience and risk reduction increases the value and sustainability of our development efforts.” (Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, Para. 27)

Drawing from various thinkers on this (see links above, and remember there is no commonly agreed definition), it is about shock and risk management, mitigation and ‘building back better’. It is about anticipating, preventing, learning from and adapting to these shocks. It is about ensuring that vulnerable individuals’ and communities’ capabilities (such as health and education) and assets aren’t depleted as a result of these shocks, and that in fact their lives and livelihoods are getting better not worse.

In practice, for climate groups it is about better integrating climate adaptation into development programming; for humanitarian groups it is about emergency preparedness and early response, and disaster risk reduction (although it is arguably a longer term “development” issue); and for the Canadian Food Security Policy Group, it is in large part about how to support better transitions between emergency and long term approaches to food security.

Ultimately, what I took from the workshop (and the approach of these different groups) is that resiliency is another way of talking about long-term sustainable change and equity. It means taking a more holistic approach to development—one firmly grounded in improving the lives of the most vulnerable households and communities in the developing world.

This blog was written by Fraser Reilly-King, Policy Analyst (Aid), CCIC, and Paul Hagerman, Co-Chair of the FSPG and Director of Public Policy at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB).

 The views expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC CFGB or their members.