27 June, 2020

America's crimes against humanity

Annapurna Express, 17/6/2020

Fifty-four African nations have called on UN Human Rights Council to have an urgent debate on police brutality and racially inspired human rights violations. The letter asks for the debate to be held next week.

The militarization of the police and imprisonment of African-Americans go back to slavery. White supremacy—the notion of white culture being supreme over others—is part of the hegemonic cultural narrative of the USA. This narrative has enabled militarized violence over minority groups, including Native Americans and Latinos.

Black Lives Matter has opened the door. The UN should now open an extended investigation into America’s crimes against humanity. Since the end of the Second World War, the deep state and military-industrial complex of the USA has terrorized the globe. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Cambodia to Laos, the same logic of white supremacy and economic and technological domination has led to the deaths of millions. Cuba, Iran and North Korea suffer and starve under economic sanctions imposed by the USA.

America has been implicated in the conflicts of the Gulf, the Middle East and Africa, with mercenary troops and friendly nations acting as fronts for proxy wars.

Agencies such as the CIA have carried out assassinations and torture. But the CIA is a known institution. More sinister are the covert agencies whose purposes are unknown, conducting scientific experiments with no ethical guidelines.

Scientists are already capable of wiring up people’s brains to computers, with the purpose of downloading thoughts. If mobilized against opponents, this technology would bring about perpetual slavery through the control of the mind. This is a violation of bodily integrity which even the slaveholders of the 18th century could not have imagined. And yet Elon Musk’s Neuralink is a reality, celebrated as a tech “innovation” that will change the world. The inherent fascistic nature of the tech-industrial complex has done little to harm him or other tech magnates. Tesla’s stocks continue to rise exponentially behind smoke and mirrors of Wall Street. We are made to think of this as a social good, not the acme of the fascist panopticon.

On April 2015, the Large Hadron Collider, based in CERN, Geneva, “accelerated protons to the fastest speed ever attained on Earth,” Symmetry Magazine reported . Superconducting magnets were involved, 6.5 TeV of energy was generated. At the same time, a powerful quake shook Nepal, killing 10,000, injuring 22,000 (me amongst them), and making 400,000 homeless. America contributed 531 million to the Large Hadron Collider project. 1700 American scientists worked on the LHC research, more than any other nation’s, says CERN’s website. These two events are connected. This is not a matter to be dismissed as “conspiracy theory,” although that strategy has worked brilliantly in the past. Now the time has come for careful legal investigation through the auspices of international institutions.

All these crimes against humanity were enabled by the propaganda of the USA as a human rights defender, a fierce supporter of democracy, and a beacon of freedom. None of this is true. Democratic regimes were removed via coups and brutal military dictatorships put in their places, as in Latin America. The true purpose was to remove indigenous people from their land and have that land be taken over by multinational corporations of America.

America has used China’s state violence against Uighurs to protest the dangers of Chinese fascism. While chilling, it doesn’t compare to what America is doing. One million Uighurs are incarcerated in Xinjiang re-education camps. "In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population," says the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet.

With Black Lives Matter mass protests, the world has shown racialized violence of the American state must end.

African-Americans face the possibility of being choked, electro-shocked or killed as they go about their lives. A white policeman can kill a black man or woman, in their own homes or while going about their daily business, at any time.

We have no idea how many times this same kind of impunity has played out internationally, in deserts of Afghanistan and darkened streets of Iraq with no cameras present. How many people have Americans killed, covertly and overtly, with technology as yet unexplicated in law books? How many people has it driven to suicide?

America’s narrative of its own ethical goodness has silenced all opposition. An institution as aware of international law as the UN sees no legal doorway to the crimes against humanity committed by American troops, agents and covert institutions over 75 years. Now the time has come to take apart that myth. The UN must work together to put every single war crimes criminal before the long arm of the law. It is time for the trial of the century to start.

Famine or feast?

Annapurna Express,  31/5/2020

Kathmandu saw its first known starvation death this week: Surya Bahadur Tamang, who’d spent several decades portering goods in Kathmandu, was found dead on the sidewalks of Kirtipur. He did not make enough money to rent a room for himself, so he slept on the streets. On Saturday, May 23, exactly two months after the lockdown started and all work shut down, he was found dead, still clutching the woven jute strap he used to carry loads on his back. The locals said he had no family. He’d been eating free food offered by local organizations. Yet that wasn’t enough to ward off starvation.

How many people have died already is up for debate: on Twitter, there was news of at least one other man who had died of hunger in the Terai, news which went unreported in the national media. These are not isolated incidents but a systematic failure of justice. As time passes and the lockdown continues, there will be more starvation deaths.

In a 2017 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), almost two million people in Nepal were considered undernourished. Nepalis living in remote mountain areas had less access to food than those in the Terai.

The government of Nepal has made no plans to feed the estimated 10-15 percent of the population--2 million undernourished, plus 1.5 to potentially 3 million migrants who have returned from various cities of India--who already faces hunger.

On top of the lack of government preparation, we have a locust infestation which has moved up from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, just across Nepal’s border. The FAO estimates that the locust invasion will grow bigger by June-July, with the advent of wet weather and the monsoon. We could potentially lose much of our major crops. Coupled with this is a border dispute with India which could again trigger a blockade similar to the one in 2015. There will be less food export to rely upon as the locusts destroy essential crops and cause food shortages within India.

The Nepal government is still focused on developing immediate response plans for the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary focus so far has been managing the health sector and implementing the lockdown. As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, there is an urgent need to also focus on other crisis that will compound the risks from Covid-19. The most immediate threat is famine.

Many countries have started re-thinking their food trade and food security status. If countries like India and China do not keep trade open and supply chains working, food security risks for Nepal could be devastating. It is therefore of utmost importance to start discussing the importance of local food production and food sovereignty for Nepal. 

The returning migrant workers, who are now only viewed as a health risk could be Nepal’s opportunity to win back our own food self-sufficiency. There are vast tracks of empty land in the hills and mountains and even Terai. Out-migration and labor shortage was one of the reasons for abandoned cultivable land. Therefore, we need to capitalize on this opportunity and direct the returning labor force into farming. Nepal has deep roots in agriculture, and most of our young people already know how to farm. What they need to get started is government support for seeds, fertilizers, tools and markets.

Local governments could provide support by making land leasing easier so that ownership rights are protected but the land is not left unplanted. Water management technology, seeds fertilizers and other inputs are needed as well. The government must also set up farmer co-ops to link farmers to larger rural and urban markets. The actual approach will need to be managed at a local level. There is no single silver bullet approach. This also gives the local governments an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess.  

In Germany, when farmers needed extra help to harvest some spring crops that usually relied on migrant laborers from Eastern Europe, students from universities volunteered to help. The universities were closed due to the COVID- 19 and farmers even paid the students so it was a win-win situation. The context in Nepal would be different, but we need to find a way to increase our agricultural production. We cannot leave our lands barren and simply wait for the crisis to slowly unfold. Action needs to be taken now to hire students for agricultural work, to subsidize and support women farmers, and startup farmer co-ops.

Also urgent is the need to prepare for a locust invasion. While chemical sprays can keep the most immediate swarms at bay, they may harm other beneficial insects, so we should also think about biological control of the pests. Wasps are known to be the natural predators of locusts. We could ask Netherlands, which has top-notch biological pest control expertise, for help with designing a integrated pest management solution. We can also use drones as well as airplanes which can fly down towards the swarms and disperse them with noise. Scientists have shown the locusts stop swarming when there’s a lot of noise which disrupts their swarming activities.

We should not let this crisis go to waste. Let us use this opportunity to build back our food sovereignty. What we decide to do now will determine whether we face famine or feast in the upcoming winter.