WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (April 11-17, 2011)

INTERNATIONAL

ARAB SPRING

U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings.” By Ron Nixon. New York Times. April 14, 2011. Even as the United States poured billions of dollars into foreign military programs and anti-terrorism campaigns, a small core of American government-financed organizations were promoting democracy in authoritarian Arab states. The money spent on these programs was minute compared with efforts led by the Pentagon. But as American officials and others look back at the uprisings of the Arab Spring, they are seeing that the United States’ democracy-building campaigns played a bigger role in fomenting protests than was previously known, with key leaders of the movements having been trained by the Americans in campaigning, organizing through new media tools and monitoring elections. A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington, according to interviews in recent weeks and American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. The work of these groups often provoked tensions between the United States and many Middle Eastern leaders, who frequently complained that their leadership was being undermined, according to the cables. The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department. No one doubts that the Arab uprisings are home grown, rather than resulting from “foreign influence,” as alleged by some Middle Eastern leaders.
Related stories:
In Syria, protesters push to end decades of isolation.” Washington Post. April 16, 2011.

CHINA

Chinese Christians held as they meet to worship.” By Alexa Olesen. Independent (UK)/Associated Press. April 11, 2011. Beijing police yesterday detained dozens of worshippers from an unapproved Christian church who were trying to hold services in a public space after they were evicted from their usual place of worship. Leaders of the unregistered Shouwang church had told members to gather at an open-air venue in Beijing for Sunday morning services, but police, apparently alerted to their plans, taped off the area and took away people who arrived to take part. China’s Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations. Such “house churches” are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities. Shouwang pastor Yuan Ling said by telephone that he was unable to go to the service because police had put him under house arrest on Saturday night. Yuan said he knew of at least six other church members who were also under house arrest. Chinese authorities have been on high alert for large public gatherings following online calls for anti-government protests modelled on demonstrations in the Middle East. No major protests have occurred, but the crackdown has led to the arrest or detention of public interest lawyers, writers, intellectuals and activists. Ai Weiwei, an internationally known avant-garde artist who is also an outspoken government critic, became the highest-profile person targeted in the sweep when he was apparently detained a week ago.
Related stories:
Chinese Christians arrested for trying to hold open-air service. Members of Shouwang church bundled into vans in Beijing in latest Communist party suppression of protest and dissent.” Guardian (UK_. April 10, 2011.
Chinese Shouwang church vows to hold more services.” BBC News. April 12, 2011.

DEVELOPMENT FUNDING

IBSA Fund Packs Small But Sustainable Punches.” By Marina Penderis. Interpress Service. April 15, 2011. Despite only three million dollars a year coming into the India-Brazil- South Africa (IBSA) Fund for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation, it aims to pack punches above its weight with small but sustainable projects. The neighbourhood of Carrefour Feuilles in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has a history of violent gang conflict. In 2006 clashing members of that community were brought together through a waste collection and recycling scheme. The budget for the initial 14-month project – one of the first supported by the IBSA Fund – was only 550,000 dollars, but IBSA is proud of the return on its investment. The venture generates employment, reduces incidence of disease, prevents flood risk from garbage- clogged canals and, by recycling paper products into cooking bricks, even has a green effect. IBSA says it also has reduced violence in Carrefour Feuilles – and states that as being the main purpose of the project. “The project provides a structure for people, who are traditionally from rival groups, to work together,” explains Fernando Sena from the Brazilian Embassy in South Africa in an interview with IPS. “It employs 385 neighbourhood residents, including 207 women. Now 150,000 people benefit from improved sanitation.” The Carrefour Feuilles solid waste initiative was renewed after its initial run and has since been replicated in a neighbouring community with 263,000 residents, employing an additional 500 people. Other IBSA-funded projects include initiaves in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Cambodia, Sudan, and Gaza. “Their projects are very small scale, so no big headlines. They are very localised and politicised – Palestine, Guinea-Bissau, building sport stadiums,” opines White. “They need to look at things like agri-business. Brazil is pushing for that in Mozambique and Guinea- Bissau. Also Uganda and Ghana have huge potential,” he adds. Sena responds cautiously to the idea of bigger projects: “If we spend a lot of money on one project, we cannot do another. I wouldn’t be so concerned about the size but rather about the impact. The fund is not even a 10-year-old facility. “The idea is to do ‘more’, but ‘more’ in agreement with the people living there, and to do projects that can be replicated in other countries. Sometimes you can do a massive thing in one country but can’t replicate it. He adds that, “the idea is to listen to national governments and have projects that are important to them, that are highly visible, that are sustainable and that fit the size of the fund.”

INDIA

Lokpal Bill: First joint drafting committee meet begins.Times of India. April 16, 2011. Eight days after Gandhian Anna Hazare called off his fast demanding a stronger Lokpal law, the joint committee to draft the bill met on Saturday for the first time amid a controversy over a CD allegedly involving eminent lawyer and panel co-chairman Shanti Bhushan. The meeting chaired by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was held at North Block and attended by Ministers P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, M Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid and Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan from the civil society side. The deliberations came in the backdrop of a controversy over a CD in circulation which purpotedly has conversations with senior Bhushan, a former law minister, and politicians Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh. Bhushan has termed the CD as “clearly fabricated”. Hazare had on Saturday last called off his fast-unto-death agitation after government conceded his demand for a Joint Drafting Committee on the legislation. Both the sides had finetuned their strategy during separate meetings last evening. Government said it had an open mind on the proposed legislation and hoped that discussions will pave the way for a convergence of ideas. The activists on their part said they would want the Jan Lokpal Bill to be the base for the discussions and would press for videographing of the proceedings. The activists’ side also made it clear that they would press for bringing within Lokpal’s ambit Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and bureaucrats. They, however, added that the government’s objections were negotiable. Though Hazare was of the view that the higher judiciary should not be under the ambit of Lokpal, the activists rejected his argument and decided to argue for pressing its inclusion in the legislation. Kejriwal said only criminal misconduct by the judges is being sought to be probed under the Lok Pal bill and not not professional misconduct.
Related story:
Lokpal Bill panel meet: Civil society members present draft.” Times of India. April 16, 2011.

UK

Sex trafficking charity loses out to Salvation Army over £6m contract; Eaves Housing accuses ministers of ‘ideological decision’ that ‘will reduce funding by 60% per victim’.” By Patrick Butler and Alan Travis. Guardian (UK). April 11, 2011. A charity that pioneered specialist services for victims of sexual trafficking, providing refuge and therapeutic support for hundreds of abused and exploited women, faces an uncertain future after ministers withdrew its funding. Eaves Housing has accused ministers of taking an “ideological decision” after they awarded a £6m contract to run the Poppy Project services it has developed and provided over the past eight years to the Salvation Army. It said the decision marked a change in the way government supports care for victims of trafficking: “They were after a bare minimum service, not a specialist service.” The move came as it was announced that a woman who was a repeated victim of sex trafficking is to be paid substantial damages by the Home Office after it returned her to Moldova, despite the fact that she faced grave dangers there. The ‘”groundbreaking settlement was reached on the eve of a high court hearing for her claim against the Home Office for failing to take steps to protect her and for sending her back to Moldova despite substantial grounds to believe she was at risk from her traffickers. The woman was identified as a victim of sex trafficking by the Poppy Project after years of ill treatment. Abigail Stepnitz, national co-ordinator for the Poppy Project for Eaves Housing, said that, according to their calculations, the new contract would reduce funding by 60% per victim. This meant it would be impossible to offer anything more than a limited service to victims, many of whom need intensive psychological support, she said. “We are concerned for the women in our care. We really do not know how we are going to be able to offer appropriate care for these women.” A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said Eaves Housing “had done a very good job” in recent years, but the Salvation Army had put in a stronger bid for the contract, which has been widened to provide support for trafficked men as well as women. “Eaves are upset and it’s not great for them, but it’s much better for victims of trafficking,” said the spokesperson.

Have a little faith, a little later.” By Leesha Mckenny. Sydney Morning Herald. April 13, 2011. The appeal of eternity is not as strong as it used to be. A British study shows that increased life expectancy is to blame for older, smaller congregations, as more people decide that heaven – and religion – can wait. Researchers from the University of East Anglia and the University of St Andrews used the economic principle of cost-benefit analysis to examine the effect of life expectancy on the adoption of faith. The benefits of a religion – such as the probability of accessing the afterlife – were weighed up against other factors, such as the time spent on religious activities. The study, published in the International Journal of Social Economics, suggested that in countries where life expectancy was higher, people were less concerned about life after death and saw less need to make the early investment in religion. ”Higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardising benefits in the afterlife,” a co-author, a UEA economist, Elissaios Papyrakis, said. Dr Papyrakis suggested religious organisations should be prepared to accept and attract a ”greying church”, skewed towards an older demographic. But he added that an emphasis on the life-long benefits of faith – such as expanding a person’s social circle, communal activities, spiritual fulfilment, support and guidance – was key to attracting larger congregations of all ages. The National Church Life Survey, conducted in Australia in every census year, found the national average age of adult Christian church attenders was 53.4 years in 2006 compared with the average national age of 37.9 years in 2009. However, Ruth Powell, the survey’s research director, said the the decline in church attendance is probably better explained by ”major generational changes that have happened over the last few decades”.

Mobile phone charity charge suspended.” By Anushka Asthana. Times of London. April 15, 2011. Everything Everywhere, the mobile phone giant formed through the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, has suspended the practice of charging charities for donations made by text message. The Times revealed yesterday that the company was only passing on 90 per cent of text donations to charities that are not official “partners”. That had triggered a letter from a number of groups, including the Institute of Fundraising and British Heart Foundation, calling on Nick Hurd, the minister for Civil Society, to raise the issue with the company. He then urged it to reconsider. The operator acted swiftly, releasing a statement yesterday that said it was reviewing its policy and would suspend charges in the meantime. It said that it passed on 100 per cent of donations to charity partners and they made up the “vast majority” of organisations using the Text to Donate Service. But it admitted that it had, in other cases, withheld 10 per cent of the money as an administrative cost. Louise Richards, director of policies and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising, said text donations were becoming increasingly important to charities and smaller organisations would be particularly hard-hit if the charges continued. She welcomed the action taken by Everything Everywhere to suspend the charges, but said she wanted to see a permanent change. “That is a step in the right direction but we want a guarantee that they are not going to reinstate the charges,” said Ms Richards. She said the company had done a number of positive things in other areas to help organisations. “It would be such a welcome boost to charities if they went the extra mile because text donations are becoming a vital income stream to organisations.” Mr Hurd said he was “really pleased” the company had moved so quickly. “Businesses must play a part in helping to build a bigger, stronger society and this sends a powerful message to others. I look forward to the outcome of Everything Everywhere’s review and will be happy to meet with them to discuss the issue further. I also applaud the Institute of Fundraising and The Times for highlight this issue.” The company itself insisted in a statement that it had not profited from the text donations, but only withheld money to be put towards the costs of the service. It said it passed on the full amount to all its charity partners, including Comic and Sport Relief, Children in Need, Royal British Legion and Unicef. Total donations to UK charities over the past year, through their text service, was £7 million The statement added: “For non partners, who are responsible for a small fraction of the text to donate funds raised, we have historically passed on administrative costs, however as part of our review this has been suspended. “Our review is focused on making the service even better for more charities, including a simple Gift Aid mechanism for customers.” It said charities were losing up to £700 million a year in unclaimed Gift Aid. A spokesman said the company would announce a scheme soon to tackle the issue and help charities using the text service receive 125 per cent of the amount donated.

Big Society toothless, says Archbishop.” By Joe Churcher. Independent (UK). April 17, 2011. David Cameron’s Big Society initiative is toothless and could be used to allow ministers to wash their hands of responsibility for the impact of spending cuts, the Archbishop of Westminster warned. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has been a supporter of the Prime Minister’s call for an expansion of voluntary and community engagement. But he said the philosophy still lacked substance and was at a “critical point” as people started to feel the pain of the severe squeeze on public service budgets. “It is all very well to deliver speeches about the need for greater voluntary activity, but there needs to be some practical solutions,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “At the moment the Big Society is lacking a cutting edge. It has no teeth.” “We’re now at a very critical point, with the philosophy of the Big Society getting clearer, but on the other hand the effects of the cuts are becoming real and there’s real pressure about what will happen on the ground.”
The Government could not simply “cut expenditure, wash its hands of expenditure and expect that the slack will be taken up by greater voluntary activity”, he said.”Devolving greater power to local authorities should not be used as a cloak for masking central cuts. “It is not sufficient for the Government, in its localism programme, simply to step back from social need and say this is a local issue.” Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the Government was “up front about the need for cuts” and was ready to launch more “tools” such as the Big Society Bank and training 5,000 community organisers.

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