Daily Archives: April 1, 2015

News in Brief 01 April 2015 (PM)

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Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. UN Photo

“Extreme” concern for refugees in Yarmouk due to “fierce fighting”

The UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) says it is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrian and Palestinian civilians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

UNRWA reports that since Wednesday afternoon, intensive armed conflict has been ongoing between armed groups present in the area.

It says that credible information from public sources indicates that a variety of armed groups are engaged in fierce fighting in areas where Yarmouk’s 18,000 civilians, including some 3,500 children reside.

This places them at extreme risk of death, serious injury, trauma and displacement, UNRWA added.

UN brings relief to al-Baghdadi

A UN convoy carrying life-saving assistance for thousands of people has arrived in the town of al-Baghdadi in Iraq’s Anbar Governorate.

The conflict there has reportedly left thousands of residents with very limited access to food, clean water and medicine.

UN agencies have been struggling to reach the area because of the siege south of the town.

Three UN agencies took part in the convoy–the World Food Programme, the UN Children’s Fund, and the International Organization for Migration.

Copyright should not infringe on cultural rights

Creativity is not a privilege of an elite segment of society or professional artists, but a universal right, according to the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights.

Farida Shaheed said that copyright law and policy must be designed with sensitivity to populations that have special needs or may be overlooked by the market.

She made her comments during a presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday.

Cathrine Hasselberg, United Nations.

Duration: 1’44″

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Yemen FM urges ground op, says raids to eve…

NNA – Yemen’s foreign minister called Wednesday for a Saudi-led military coalition targeting Shiite rebels in his country to send ground troops.

“Yes I’m calling for this (ground forces) because I think at some stage air strikes will be ineffective,” Riyadh Yassin told AFP during an interview in the Saudi capital where he has taken refuge along with President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

His appeal coincided with warnings from aid groups about a brewing humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties in Yemen, where the coalition began air strikes a week ago.

Yassin said ground forces would cause “less civilian casualties” but added the main reason he proposes a land operation is to enable aid deliveries.

“I am suggesting to start as soon as possible,” he added.

“We don’t have a safe place from where they can operate,” he said of the aid groups.

On Tuesday the Saudi-led coalition’s spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri, said that “so far there is no need for land intervention” in Yemen but the need might arise “at any time.”

A Western diplomatic source on Wednesday said that a land offensive would be “very, very complicated and difficult”, partly because it would have to pass mountainous terrain in the country’s north, with which the Huthi rebels are highly familiar.

The source ruled out a seaborne landing because the coalition lacks amphibious forces.

But the foreign minister said troops could come in from the south, around the port city of Aden, which would be relatively easy to secure and could become a safe haven for humanitarian operations.

Aid agencies said on Tuesday they could not get assistance into Yemen.

The closure of the country’s international airports, and restrictions on seaports, are hampering delivery, Doctors Without Borders said.

Assiri said all kinds of assistance for Yemen’s needy are welcome but it has to go through “diplomatic channels.”

He said the movement of aid needs to be coordinated with the military “to make sure that we don’t have any mistakes or any misunderstandings concerning the movement in the ports or airports or through the Saudi border.”

Since Friday at least 93 civilians have been killed and 364 wounded in the conflict, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday.

“I’m very, very concerned” about the civilian impact, Yassin said. —AFP

=======R.A.H.

A Human Rights Catastrophe is Unfolding in Yemen

A human rights catastrophe is unfolding in Yemen and no one is prepared to stop it.

In the last two weeks, violence and instability in Yemen has metastasized at an alarming rate. Each day brings more grim news of civilian casualties

An airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp three days ago killed at least 29 people.

Amnesty says at least six civilians burned to death when a fuel depot was bombed in an airstrike on Monday.

27 people were killed overnight in an explosion at a dairy factory. There’s no confirmation of who was behind this strike.

142 people were killed in Mosque bombing on March 21, likely orchestrated by the Islamic State.

Many aid groups have pulled their staff amid the fighting. Those that remain are not able to bring supplies in, owing to a Saudi-led blockade.  From the NYT

Because of the blockade, Doctors Without Borders, one of the few international aid agencies still functioning in the country, had been unable to reinforce its surgical teams or bring in supplies, Ms. Dekhili said.

“Instead of a surge of humanitarian assistance, the opposite is happening now,” she said.

A similar warning came from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said it was trying to fly in supplies to replenish hospital stocks but had not been able to negotiate the safe arrival of the aircraft.

“We have reached out to absolutely everyone,” said Marie Claire Feghali, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Sana. “We are being delayed, but we continue to push.”

The warnings about the long term consequence of continued violence from outside groups like the United Nations and the International Crisis Group are coming in fast and furious. They could not be more clear about what may befall Yemen should this violence continue unabated. Here’s the top UN Human Rights Official yesterday.

“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, echoing a statement issued by UN Secretary-General’s Spokesperson. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse,” the High Commissioner said, calling on all sides to protect civilians from harm, and to resolve their differences through dialogue rather than through the use of military force. (Emphasis added)

And here’s an ICG report from last week. 

Without minimum consensus within and beyond its borders, Yemen is headed for protracted violence on multiple fronts. This combination of proxy wars, sectarian violence, state collapse and militia rule has become sadly familiar in the region. Nobody is likely to win such a fight, which will only benefit those who prosper in the chaos of war, such as al-Qaeda and IS. But great human suffering would be certain. An alternative exists, but only if Yemenis and their neighbours choose it. (emphasis added)

That alternative, from the ICG report, is this:

The immediate priority should be a UN Security Council brokered and monitored ceasefire, followed by UN-led peace talks with GCC backing, without preconditions, focusing on the presidency and leaving other power-sharing topics until basic agreement is reached on a single president with one or multiple vice presidents or a presidential council. Agreement on the executive would enable further talk on other aspects of pre-election power sharing in the government and military, and on state structure, particularly the future of the south, where separatist sentiment is strong. Both have been core drivers of conflict since the NDC ended in January 2014.

The problem is there is virtually no interest from the key international players in pursuing this diplomatic option. The parties to the conflict: Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Houthi Rebels, ex-president Saleh, and certainly ISIS and al Qaeda are pursuing their goals through armed conflict. And, if this goes the way the UN and ICG is expecting, we can expect many mire horrid acts of violence perpetrated against civilians.

Yemen combines all the worst aspects of the conflict in Syria: Sectarian violence, local grievances egged on by outside powers, with ISIS and al Qaeda vying for influence.  As always, civilians are caught in the middle. And, like Syria the international community is unable or unwilling to put a halt to the fighting.

The human rights catastrophe that’s unfolding in Yemen shows absolutely no signs of abating. And with basically no key influential international player pressing for a ceasefire, things are only going to get much worse.

Discussion

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DA Delivers Memorandum Opposing Eskom’s 25.3 Percent Tariff Hike Request [press release]

The following remarks were delivered by DA Parliamentary Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, outside the Public Enterprise Ministry in Pretoria today, where the DA submitted demands for addressing the exorbitant electricity tariff increases requested by Eskom. Maimane was joined by Shadow Minister for Public Enterprises, Natasha Mazzone MP, Shadow Minister for Energy, Gordon Mackay MP, and Gauteng Provincial Chairperson, Solly Msimanga MPL.

The DA has this morning submitted a memorandum to the Minister of Public Enterprise, Lynne Brown, demanding her immediate action to act on Eskom’s exploitation of South Africans through requests for a further increase in electricity tariffs.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) recently confirmed that Eskom is in the process of applying to reopen the electricity tariff determination process, this time requesting a massive 25.3% tariff increase.

This is despite the 12.69% increase for consumers, and 14.25% for municipalities, that has already been granted for the 201516 financial year by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA).

We are here today to tell Minister Brown and Eskom that South Africans will not tolerate electricity tariff increases, far above inflation, to fund the administrative incompetency and waste at Eskom.

A 25.3% increase will only exacerbate the burden of the electricity crisis and load shedding on citizens. Eskom’s continued exploitation of South Africans places upward pressure on inflation, hurts consumers and undermines economic growth.

Instead of taking prudent measures to bring the electricity crisis under control and contain costs, Eskom is simply shifting the burden onto South Africans who are already suffering from the increases in taxes and levies in the 20152016 budget. Households are being forced to cut back on other expenses to keep the lights on, while businesses are suffering as profits plummet and their ability to create jobs declines.

The end result is that South Africans are being increasingly squeezed to make up for an ineffective and corrupt government and its parastatals.

We have therefore compiled a list of five demands that the Minister should implement as a matter of urgency:

1. Prevent Eskom from exploiting South Africans through above-inflation tariff requests

While inflation over the past seven years has averaged out at 5.8%, Eskom has been granted an average tariff increase of over 20% per annum since 2008. This is far above the 8% per annum increase agreed to by NERSA in Multi Year Price determination (MYPD3) running up to March 2018.

The DA understands the need for electricity tariffs to be cost reflective, but these drastic increases cannot be justified so long as Eskom is being mismanaged, and government bailouts are being squandered.

Consumers whose income is growing at the pace of inflation simply cannot keep up with electricity prices that increase at a rate that is almost triple inflation.

2. Stop the payment of exorbitant salaries and bonuses to Eskom executives

According to Eskom’s 2014 integrated report, its CEO took home R15.36m in the 201314 financial year, compared to R8.46m in the 201213 financial year.

Moreover, during the past 7 years since load-shedding began, executives have received R63 million in performance bonuses. An additional R11 million in bonuses was paid to executives this year.

It is indefensible to call for an increase in electricity tariffs while Eskom’s top executives receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses for non-performance. If these are performance bonuses, the question has to be asked what performance is being used as justification? So long as load shedding continues to be a burden on our people and our economy, the notion of bonuses is absurd.

3. Make the procurement processes for diesel and coal transparent to minimise corruption and wasteful expenditure

Eskom is spending R2 billion per month on diesel supplies to fuel the turbines it utilises to minimise load-shedding. This emergency measure has now become standard practice to keep the lights on in South Africa, driving the cost of electricity generation up dramatically.

Until such a time as the need to run diesel-fuelled turbines has been minimised, it is vital that Eskom sources the cheapest fuel available. Making the procurement process more transparent would assist a great deal in reducing the price thereof. The Minister must ensure that middle men, benefiting from dubious tenders, do not enrich themselves at the cost of consumers.

The same, transparent approach should also be followed when procuring coal. Eskom was recently implicated in a report that it intended to purchase more than R3.7 billion worth of coal of an incorrect quality. In order to use this coal, it would have had to undergo a process of ‘blending down,’ at great additional cost.

Eskom simply cannot justify requesting a tariff hike while its internal processes result in wasteful and fruitless expenditure.

4. Make detailed maintenance reports public and establish tangible key performance indicators (KPIs) for managers

It is in the best interest of the portfolio oversight committee, government, and the public to have a full and accurate depiction of the state of affairs at Eskom. The parastatal cannot be held to account so long as it continues to hide the truth about the scope of the crisis it is facing.

There is still a major backlog of maintenance issues at most, if not all, Eskom power plants, as well as with the grid itself. The continued failure by Eskom management to actively address these is one of the main causes of unplanned outages that necessitate load shedding, and the continued use of diesel-fuelled turbines at great cost.

The Minister should make the maintenance records of Eskom public as a matter of urgency. Furthermore, she should establish tangible KPIs for managers that encourage a prompt response to maintenance issues and getting rid of the backlog. Managers should be held to account for allowing the situation to deteriorate to the state we find ourselves in.

5. Launch an independent inquiry into the mismanagement of Eskom

It is clear that the main cause underlying the need for massive tariff hikes is the mismanagement of Eskom. Wasteful expenditure in areas such as remuneration and procurement are sapping the company of vital resources, and widening its budgetary deficit, while the lack of proper maintenance leads to constant unplanned outages.

We demand that the Minister launch a truly independent inquiry into the mismanagement of Eskom to identify how the parastatal can be streamlined, corruption and waste eliminated, and costs cut. If government is insistent on propping up the Eskom monopoly, then it should at least be frank about the fact that the entity is clearly not functioning at optimal capacity.

The Minister should allow an indepdent, expert panel to evaluate Eskom and report back to Parliament on how the crisis can be addressed.

Increasing the price of electricity so dramatically only serves to add insult to injury to consumers and the economy, who are already suffering from the effects of load shedding.

We call on Minister Brown to act decisively on the matter and implement the demands of the DA for the sake of all South Africans.

Mmusi Maimane

Deputy Federal Chairperson of the Democratic Alliance | Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance

Source : Democratic Alliance

Presidency Receives Marikana Report

The Presidency has confirmed that it has received the report from the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.

“President Zuma is currently in Algeria on a state visit and will prioritise the consideration of the report on his return,” the Presidency said on Tuesday.

The commission – chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam – was set up by President Zuma to investigate the tragic events which took place around Marikana mine in Rustenburg, North West province, in 2012.

At least 44 people were killed, while roughly 70 were injured and over 250 were arrested in the wake of strike-related unrest.

The President has thanked Judge Farlam and commission members Aocate Bantubonke Tokota and Aocate Pingla Hemraj as well as all witnesses who participated in the commission.

Source : SAnews.gov.za