brad brace

2/15/2009

CLIMATE CHARMERS CANED MONSTER'S TAIL

Climate change is not only occurring, it is accelerating. Deforestation
accounts for almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. One idea is to reduce
this figure by giving forests a monetary value based on their capacity to
store carbon and thus reduce greenhouse gases. This may eventually lead to
developed countries paying developing ones to reduce emissions caused by
deforestation and forest degradation.

The snake charming ban has stripped 800,000 members of Bengal’s Bedia
community, who have worked as snake-charmers for generations, of their only
source of income, while an estimated 20,000 are serving jail terms for
defying the ban.

The world must do more to confront the largely unstudied and neglected
phenomenon of people-trafficking. So little is known about the problem,
that no estimate can be given of the number affected. There is lack of a
common understanding of what human trafficking is, and whom it affects.

For generations, the ethnic Muslim Rohingya have endured persecution by the
ruling junta of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. The plight of
the Rohingya, descendants of Arab traders from the 7th century, gained
international attention after five boatloads of haggard migrants were found
in the waters around Indonesia and the Andaman Islands.

The Tanzania Teachers’ Union is taking legal action after 19 primary school
teachers were given the cane. The teachers were caned by a police officer
in front of their pupils after an investigation into poor exam results at
three schools.

“Unless a mechanism is put into place that makes forests worth more alive
than dead, deforestation will continue until the world’s tropical forests
are completely destroyed. In the absence of large-scale incentives for
conservation, an enormous number of the world’s species of plants and
animals and the resource base of millions of indigenous peoples and forest
communities will ultimately go up in smoke.”

The Bedia community is nomadic and regards snake-charming as its
birthright. The ban has severely affected 100,000 families in West Bengal’s
Cooch Behar, Murshidabad and Malda districts.

The most commonly used term for the problem – “people-trafficking” – itself
emphasises the transaction aspects of the crime, rather than the day-to-day
experience of modern enslavement. And it suggests the trafficking
phenomenon is little understood in all its forms from child soldiering to
sweatshop labour, domestic servitude, and even entire villages in bondage.

But unlike the Kurds or the Palestinians, no one has championed the cause
of the Rohingya. Most countries, from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, see them as
little more than a source of cheap labor for the dirtiest and most
dangerous jobs. “The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in
the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all. Hardly any of
them have legal status anywhere in the world.”

The report blamed teachers for being late or not showing up for work and
not teaching the official syllabus. One of the caned teachers, Ativus
Leonard, 33, said he was now too ashamed to meet his pupils.

Political and financial support could be provided to indigenous peoples if
governments decide that local forestry practices contribute to storing
carbon. “If instituted in a manner consistent with indigenous interests,
reduced deforestation could help to protect the biodiversity of plants and
animals, help to secure indigenous lands and livelihoods, and provide for
the ongoing culture and community of indigenous and forest-dwelling
peoples.”

Now they have set up a union and campaign group to lobby for an exemption
from the ban and state support for retraining. They say that if the state
continues to deny them their traditional source of income it should fund
them to set up snake farms so they can earn a living.

Statistics suggest that sexual exploitation is the most common form of
human trafficking (at 79%, followed by forced labour at 18%). This itself
may be an “optical illusion”, because “sexual exploitation is highly
visible in cities or along highways while forced labour is hidden. We only
see the monster’s tail.”

There are an estimated 750,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar’s mountainous
northern state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh. Thousands flee every
year, trying to escape a life of abuse that was codified in 1982 with a law
that virtually bars them from becoming citizens. Myanmar’s military
government has repeatedly denied abusing the Rohingya, though Amnesty
International said the junta has described them as less than human. Rights
groups have documented widespread abuses, including forced labor, land
seizures and rape.

But indigenous peoples and other observers have also expressed concern
about possible negative impacts. If forests are given monetary value, many
fear that – where land tenure rights are unclear and decision-making
remains top-down – new conflicts could arise among indigenous and local
communities and between them and the state.

The union, the Bedia Federation of India, says if the government cannot
lift the ban on snake-charming shows, then it should help them start up
snake farms where they could use their expertise to develop anti-venenes.

“How many hundreds of thousands of victims are slaving away in sweat shops,
fields, mines, factories, or trapped in domestic servitude? Their numbers
will surely swell as the economic crisis deepens the pool of potential
victims and increases demand for cheap goods and services.”

“It was like living in hell,” said Mohamad Zagit, who left after soldiers
confiscated his family’s rice farm and then threw him in jail for praying
at a local mosque. The 23-year-old spoke from his hospital bed in Thailand,
where he had been detained after fleeing Myanmar.

“We have no rights,” said Muhamad Shafirullah, who was among 200 migrants
rescued by the Indonesian navy. He recalled how he was jailed in Myanmar,
his family’s land stolen and a cousin dragged into the jungle and shot
dead. “They rape and kill our women. We can’t practice our religion. We
aren’t allowed to travel from village to village … It’s almost
impossible, even, to get married or go to school.”

Mechanisms might exclude local populations from implementation and
benefit-sharing processes, and possibly even expel them from their own
territories: “The increased monetary value placed on standing forest
resources and new forest growth, opens the door for corruption in countries
where this is already rife in the forest sector. Centralized planning where
the national government creates plans, receives payments and disburses the
new funds only adds to the marginalisation of forest people.”

“Having lived with the reptiles since childhood, the snake-charmers know
only one vocation, that is handling snakes and holding public shows, but
strong measures adopted by police and forest department for the last decade
or so have put them in a difficult situation.”

Another little-understood aspect of human-trafficking is that female
offenders have a more prominent role in people-trafficking than in any
other crime, with women accounting for more than 60% of convictions in
Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Twice since the 1970s, waves of attacks by the military and Buddhist
villagers forced hundred of thousands of Rohingya to flee over the border
to Bangladesh, a Muslim country whose people speak a similar language. Many
have since been repatriated, but 200,000 still work there as illegal
migrants and another 28,000 live in squalid refugee camps.

These concerns are reinforced by the difficulties experienced by indigenous
peoples in accessing international climate change debates. Indigenous
peoples were shocked to see that references to their rights were removed.

He said hundreds of thousands of Bedia will protest in Calcutta at what
will be the world’s largest-ever gathering of snake-charmers.

Most countries’ conviction rates rarely exceed 1.5 per 100,000 people –
“below the level normally recorded for rare crimes… and proportionately
much lower than the estimated number of victims”.

Violence against Rohingya women is common, and they face the threat of
prison because of their illegal status. Thousands of Rohingya have taken to
the seas from Bangladesh in search of better jobs, but ended up drowning or
at the mercy of traffickers. For years, the Rohingya traveled to the Middle
East for work, with nearly a half million ending up in Saudi Arabia.

There is also growing concern that indigenous peoples and local communities
are “unlikely to benefit if: they do not own their lands; there is no
culture of free, prior and informed consent; their identities are not
recognised; or they have no space to participate in political processes.”

It is sick that we should even need to write a report about slavery in the
21st Century. “My 14 children rely on me. They have no safety, no food,
nothing,” said Mohamad Salim, a 35-year-old, bearded fisherman who also was
detained and hospitalized in Thailand and begged to be allowed to continue
onto Malaysia. “What will they eat? How will they live if I don’t find
work?” he said, his voice trembling.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress