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Rights expert charts progress on right to food

The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #7690, 6 November 2013.  We thank SUNS for permission to re-distribute this article.

The Special Rapporteur's report is available at http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20131025_rtf_en.pdf

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Rights expert charts progress on right to food

Geneva, 5 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- In his final report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr Olivier De Schutter, has highlighted an "emerging global right to food movement", focused over the past 10 years on the practical aspects of realising the right to adequate food through appropriate legal, policy and institutional frameworks.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur stressed that the emergence of such a global right to food movement is an opportunity to be seized.

"Together with the adoption of framework laws on the right to food and of rights-based national food strategies, it represents a chance to move towards policies that are designed in a more participatory fashion and therefore better informed and reach all intended beneficiaries; that guarantee legal entitlements and are therefore monitored by the beneficiaries themselves; that ensure the appropriate coordination and synergies - between the short-term aim of eradicating hunger and the long-term objective of removing its causes, between different sectors of government, and between the local and the national levels."

After serving six years as Special Rapporteur, De Schutter's final report takes stock of important progress made since the 1996 World Food Summit, highlighting emerging best practices and the role of key actors: Governments, Parliaments, courts, national human rights institutions, civil society organisations and social movements.

"The right to food has come to the fore as Governments realise that their efforts to combat food insecurity and hunger have been failing and realise the urgent need to strengthen national legal, institutional and policy frameworks," he said.

The report was based on expert meetings convened by the Special Rapporteur to assess progress made in Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern and Central Africa, and West Africa, as well as 11 country visits that he undertook since the beginning of his mandate.

The Special Rapporteur said he further benefited from replies to a questionnaire sent on 5 February 2013 to all United Nations Member States.

In his report, De Schutter noted that at the time of the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to food was more than a symbol, but hardly more than an aspiration.

"It has now become an operational tool and widely recognised as a key to the success of food security strategies."

According to the Special Rapporteur, the right to food has more to do with modes of production and issues of distribution than with levels of food production alone.

"It primarily aims to guarantee to each person, individually or as part of a group, permanent and secure access to diets that are adequate from the nutritional point of view, sustainably produced and culturally acceptable. Such access can be ensured through three channels that often operate in combination: (a) self-production; (b) access to income-generating activities; and (c) social protection, whether informally through community support or through State-administered redistributive mechanisms."

As such, De Schutter added, depending on the population concerned, the right to food is closely related to the right of access to resources such as land, water, forests and seeds, that are essential to those who produce food for their own consumption; the right to work, guaranteed under article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the right to social security, protected under article 9 of the Covenant.

The contribution of the right to adequate food to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition operates at three levels, said De Schutter.

First, as a self-standing right recognised in international law and in a range of domestic constitutions, it imposes on States obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate food.

Second, the right to food encourages the transformation into legal entitlements of social welfare benefits that individuals or households receive under governmental food security schemes.

Third, the right to food requires that States adopt national strategies to progressively realise the components of the right to food that cannot be immediately guaranteed.

"The significant progress achieved at each of these levels in recent years has been brought about by the interplay of different actors, including courts, parliaments, governments, national human rights institutions, civil society and social movements."

The report underlined that the right to food is increasingly stipulated in domestic constitutions, as recommended by Guideline 7 of the Right to Food Guidelines.

For example, in 1994, South Africa included the right to food in article 27 of the post-apartheid Constitution.

Other countries have followed suit. The new Constitution of Kenya, approved by a popular referendum in 2010, states the right of every person "to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality"; like that of South Africa, the Constitution imposes on the State a duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil that right.

A 2011 study identified 24 States in which the right to food was explicitly recognised, although in about half of them, it was recognised for the benefit of a particular segment of the population only, such as children, and sometimes through another human right such as the right to life.

Since that study was completed, articles 4 and 27 of the Constitution of Mexico were amended in order to insert the right to food. In El Salvador, Nigeria, and Zambia, processes of constitutional revision are under way that may lead to insertion of the right to food in the respective Constitutions.

In other countries, such as Uganda and Malawi, ensuring access to adequate food and nutrition is defined as a principle of State policy.

These are not symbolic advances, De Schutter stressed, noting that victims of violations are entitled to "adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition".

"The recognition of the right to food in domestic law empowers courts or other independent monitoring bodies to impose compliance with the obligations of the State to respect, to protect and to fulfil the right to food. Significant progress has been made in this regard in recent years."

According to the report, the obligation to respect requires that the State refrain from interfering with the existing levels of enjoyment of the right to food and that it guarantee existing entitlements, for instance, by ensuring that those who produce their own food be secure in their access to the resources, including land and water, on which they depend, or by ensuring that those who could have access to income-generating activities allowing them to purchase food are not denied such access.

Courts are generally well-equipped to enforce this obligation, said De Schutter, citing several rulings in this regard.

For example, he noted that the High Court of South Africa ordered a revision of the Marine Living Resources Act, requiring the development of a new framework taking into account "international and national legal obligations and policy directives to accommodate the socioeconomic rights of [small-scale] fishers and to ensure equitable access to marine resources for those fishers".

This resulted in the adoption of a new Small-Scale Fisheries Policy in May 2012, which recognises the importance of small-scale fisheries in contributing to food security and as serving as a critical safety net against poverty.

In Honduras, the Sectional Court of Appeal in San Pedro Sula granted a constitutional remedy in the Brisas del Bejuco case in order to prevent the eviction of a group of small-scale farmers, referring to the obligation of the State to protect the right to food under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has protected the resources on which the Ogoni people depend for their livelihoods against the damage caused by oil companies operating on their territories, a position reaffirmed in 2012 by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States.

"In all these cases, courts or quasi-judicial bodies have protected the right to food by prohibiting actions that would undermine the ability of individuals and communities to produce their own food," said the Special Rapporteur.

According to the report, the obligation to protect requires that the State protect individuals' enjoyment of the right to food against violations by third parties (namely, by other individuals or groups or private enterprises), including by establishing an adequate regulatory framework.

Courts too may play a role by intervening where private actors violate the right to food. For instance, in a case on which the Special Rapporteur said he wrote a letter of allegation, the High Court of Uganda at Kampala ordered on 28 March 2013 that compensation be paid to 2,041 individuals who had been evicted from their land in August 2001, when the Government of Uganda gave the land to a German company to establish a coffee plantation.

On the question of the obligation to fulfil, De Schutter noted that it is sometimes believed that, owing to the fact that certain dimensions of the right to adequate food can be realised only progressively, courts have no role to play in adjudicating claims concerning the alleged insufficiency of measures adopted by the State to discharge this third-level obligation.

"This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the notion of progressive realisation. Progressive realisation is the opposite of passivity. It requires immediate steps that are deliberate, concrete and targeted and that aim to ‘move as expeditiously and effectively as possible' towards the full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights," he said.

The Special Rapporteur pointed out that in situations of natural disaster or conflict, or "whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) that right directly".

This component of the right to food has been invoked successfully before courts in recent years. In Nepal, the Supreme Court issued an interim order in 2008 for the immediate provision of food in a number of districts that food distribution programmes were not reaching, confirming and extending its initial order on 19 May 2010.

In May 2013, a juvenile court in Guatemala ordered 10 Government institutions to adopt a set of 26 specific measures to compensate damages caused to five children in two villages of Camotan, who were left malnourished as a result of the State's failure to provide support.

The order was based on the 2005 Food and Nutrition Security Law and Guatemala's obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

"Where the situation of individuals or communities is so desperate as to condemn them to hunger unless they are given support, courts routinely have relied on the right to life to impose such obligations to provide," said the report.

Despite the significant progress made in recent years, some dimensions of the right to food remain under-developed.

This is especially the case as regards its extraterritorial dimensions, said De Schutter, adding that the mechanisms allowing victims of violations of the right to food in extraterritorial situations are often non-existent or hardly accessible in practice.

According to the report, policies aimed at eradicating hunger and malnutrition that are grounded in the right to food shall redefine as legal entitlements benefits that have traditionally been seen as voluntary handouts from States.

The right to food requires that schemes providing benefits, whether guaranteeing access to food or promoting agricultural and rural development and national social protection floors, be consolidated into legal entitlements, clearly identifying the beneficiaries and providing them with access to redress mechanisms if they are excluded.

Courts may contribute to strengthening benefits into legal entitlements, said De Schutter, citing, for example, that following the filing of a public interest litigation petition, the Supreme Court of India derived from the right to life mentioned in article 21 of the Constitution a series of requirements articulating how various social programmes should be expanded and implemented in order to ensure that the population is guaranteed a basic nutritional floor.

"This is to this date the most spectacular case of a court protecting the right to food," said the Special Rapporteur.

He noted that the Court prohibited the withdrawal of the benefits provided under existing schemes, including feeding programmes for infants, pregnant and nursing mothers and adolescent girls; midday school meal programmes; pensions for the aged; and a cash-for-work programme for the able-bodied, thus converting such benefits into legal entitlements.

Moreover, the Court expanded on and strengthened existing schemes, to ensure that they provide effective protection against hunger.

For instance, it ordered that school meals be locally produced and be cooked and hot, whereas in the past children were fed with dry snacks or grain, and that preference be given, in the hiring of cooks, to Dalit women; it raised the level of old-age pensions; and, consistent with the idea that the schemes implement a constitutional right, it ordered their universalisation, significantly expanding the number of beneficiaries.

To supervise the implementation of its orders, the Court also established two independent Commissioners to monitor the implementation of programmes fulfilling the right to food throughout the country.

Providing a legal framework to public programmes that aim to ensure food security may strengthen these programmes and ensure that they are maintained across time. The recent developments following the "right to food case" in India provide an example, said the rights expert.

On 5 July 2013, he noted, the Government adopted the National Food Security Ordinance, based on a legislative bill initially tabled in 2011. This new legislation is aimed at ensuring access to food throughout the life cycle for two thirds of the population of India through a combination of a variety of programmes that will henceforth be considered legal entitlements, making their removal unlikely even if political winds change.

Further noting that the National Food Security Ordinance could be further improved, De Schutter said: "The Ordinance nevertheless provides an example of a food security law that defines as legal entitlements a large range of benefits that are aimed at ensuring that people are not denied access to food simply because they are poor, and establishes a set of accountability mechanisms at different levels."

Although "remarkable", the example is of course not isolated, he said, adding that in fact, in most countries, social protection schemes and support to food producers are provided for in the law, and lack of implementation can be remedied by courts.

"Latin America has been leading the movement towards the adoption of framework laws in support of the realisation of the right to food. Food and nutrition security laws grounded in the right to food have been adopted in rapid succession in Argentina (2003), Guatemala (2005), Ecuador (2006 and 2009), Brazil (2006), Venezuela (2008), Colombia (2009), Nicaragua (2009) and Honduras (2011)."

Similar laws are currently being considered in Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

"The remarkable progress achieved over the past decade in Latin America is the result of the combined efforts of civil society, social movements, parliamentarians and national human rights institutions," said De Schutter, adding that the dedication of parliamentarians is particularly noteworthy.

Progress is being made on this front in other regions as well. In Malawi, for example, a proposal was made by civil society organisations in 2010 for a national food security bill. In Mozambique, the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutritional Security, an inter-ministerial coordination body, led an inclusive process to the same effect.

In Uganda, the Nutrition Action Plan 2011-2016 mentions the need to fast-track the adoption of the Food and Nutrition Bill, which should lead to the adoption of a Food and Nutrition Council.

Senegal and Mali, in 2004 and 2006, respectively, adopted framework laws that are centred on the establishment of agricultural policies, allowing farmers' organisations to contribute to the design of such policies.

In Indonesia, a Food Law (18/2012) was passed in November 2012 where the right to food, food sovereignty and food self-sufficiency are important pillars; a national food security agency should be established before 2015.

"The increasing recognition of the importance of a legal and policy framework grounded in the right to food reflects a growing understanding that hunger is not simply a problem of supply and demand, but primarily a problem of a lack of access to productive resources such as land and water for small-scale food producers; limited economic opportunities for the poor, including through employment in the formal sector; a failure to guarantee living wages to all those who rely on waged employment to buy their food; and gaps in social protection."

De Schutter said that the remarkable success of Brazil in reducing child malnutrition rates over the past 15 years bears witness to the power of strategies such as "Zero Hunger" and participatory approaches.

Beyond that example, the report said that recent research shows that countries that have made significant progress in reducing malnutrition present a number of common characteristics:

(1) they sought to adopt a multi-sectoral approach to combating hunger and malnutrition; (2) in almost all cases, the political impetus at the highest level of government was a key factor; (3) civil society participation and empowerment were essential, contributing to the sustainability of policies across time and improving their acceptance and impact among affected populations; (4) multi-phased approaches were the most effective, as allowed by multi-year national strategies combining both short-term interventions and long-term approaches to nutrition; (5) the establishment of institutions monitoring progress ensured that the political pressure remained present throughout the implementation phase of the strategy and that the resources were committed; (6) the continuity of financial investment from national resources, supplemented with external matching funds, was vital: one-time efforts, over short periods, failed to achieve significant impact.

These are the ingredients of success that approaches grounded in the right to food provide, said the rights expert, adding that all branches of government - legislative, executive and judiciary - have a responsibility to contribute to this implementation.

As illustrated by the range of examples, he said, the protection of the right to food requires a legislative framework, policies implementing food security strategies, and enforcement through judicial means.

Yet, even that may not suffice. Various veto points may make it difficult for political systems to create the requisite conditions for accountability. The poor are often a constituency that matters less to politicians. The poor may experience considerable difficulties in accessing judicial redress mechanisms, which is why social audits matter.

The role of other actors, national human rights institutions and civil society, is therefore essential, De Schutter concluded. +

United States: Poised for breakthrough with Iran on hostage crisis anniversary

Washington, 5 Nov (IPS/Jim Lobe) -- On the 34th anniversary of the seizure by Iranian militants of the US Embassy in Tehran, a growing number of experts here believe Washington and the Islamic Republic may be moving toward detente, if not rapprochement.

While hardline demonstrators in Tehran Monday marked the anniversary with ritual chants outside the long-abandoned embassy of "Death to America!", US negotiators and their Iranian counterparts were preparing for critical talks in Geneva later this week on the future of Iran's nuclear programme with their partners from the so-called P5+1 (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).

The talks are also likely to include a bilateral tete-a-tete between the heads of the countries' delegations. It would be the third such session since Secretary of State John Kerry spent an hour with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on the sidelines of a P5+1 meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York at the end of September.

That meeting - the highest-level talks between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Revolution - was followed by the unprecedented phone call by Barack Obama to Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's new president was making his way to JFK airport after his highly successful four-day sojourn at the UN.

The speed and intensity of these exchanges have clearly injected growing confidence here, and apparently in Tehran, too, that both sides are seriously committed to reaching an accord on Iran's nuclear programme - and thus opening a new chapter in bilateral relations - despite opposition from powerful hard-line constituencies who, for now at least, have been put on the back foot.

Thus, while Monday's demonstration celebrating the embassy seizure - which launched the 444-day "hostage crisis" that no doubt contributed to the 1980 election defeat of President Jimmy Carter and seared a deeply hostile image of Iran in the US collective consciousness of most Americans - drew thousands of anti-US protestors Monday, the ruling authorities had made clear in previous days that diplomacy would go forward.

Thus, banners attacking "the Great Satan" and the alleged naivete of Zarif and Rouhani that appeared last week in various parts of Tehran in advance of Monday's anniversary were removed by municipal workers. According to a tweet by the New York Times correspondent in the Iranian capital, they also "rushed" to the demonstration to quickly dispose of its remnants after the crowd had dispersed.

More important, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had earlier suggested disapproval of Rouhani's conversation with Obama, came out firmly in favour of the president and his team in a speech to students on the eve of the anniversary.

"No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers. They are our children and children of the revolution. They have a difficult mission, and no one must weaken an official who is doing his job," he declared in what was widely considered here as his strongest defence of Rouhani and Zarif to date.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has taken pains ever since the last P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva October 15-16 to deal with opposition to engagement both here, where it is centred in Congress where the Israel lobby exerts its greatest influence, and among its allies abroad, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Israel.

On the home front, a series of high-level meetings appears to have persuaded key senators from both parties to hold off on acting on a pending sanctions bill already passed by the House of Representatives that would punish foreign companies or countries for importing any Iranian oil until at least after this week's talks, scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Iran experts have warned that new sanctions would almost certainly strengthen Iran's hard-liners, forcing a suspension in negotiations at the least. The administration also argued that such legislation, coming at a moment of growing optimism, also risked fracturing the international coalition that has so far mostly respected the sanctions regime.

Speaking Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Sen. Carl Levin, who heads the powerful Armed Services Committee, insisted that Washington had an obligation to test Rouhani's promises to clear up doubts about the peacefulness of Iran's nuclear programme.

"Whether it is a 10 percent, 40 percent, or 60 percent chance, it should be tested and probed," he said. "We should not at this time impose additional sanctions."

Even some Republicans suggested they were willing to be patient. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who noted he has voted for every previous sanctions bill, said he was "open" to waiting. "The whole idea behind sanctions was to get people to talk, to deal with the issue," he told ‘The Hill' newspaper.

Senior administration officials have also met with leaders of key hawkish Jewish organisations, including the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which, aside from Christian Zionist groups, make up the influential Israel lobby.

Along with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, these groups have pushed hardest for tougher sanctions, as well as concrete moves to make the threat of military force to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities more credible.

While accounts of these consultations have conflicted, the administration appears to have asked for a pause in lobbying for new sanctions for at least a few months.

The Jewish leaders reportedly agreed to a limited "time out" during which they would neither actively push for nor lobby against any sanctions legislation, although one of the participants, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, called for Senate approval of the pending package in an op-ed published by Israel's Haaretz newspaper Monday.

On the foreign front, meanwhile, Kerry was dispatched late last week to the Middle East to reassure Saudi Arabia, Tehran's arch-rival whose recent blunt criticism of US policies in the region has shocked many observers, and its Gulf allies that Obama was indeed determined to prevent Iran's acquiring a nuclear weapon.

He will be travelling on to Israel later this week.

At the same time, Wendy Sherman, Washington's chief negotiator at the P5+1 talks, appeared on Israel's Channel 10 news programme to convey a similar message of the administration's determination.

Washington, she said, had no intention of abandoning key oil and banking sanctions until a comprehensive agreement over Iran's nuclear programme was reached but was prepared to ease some sanctions as part of an interim confidence-building process.

She did not provide details on what a final agreement or interim measures would consist of. While Israel publicly insists that the price for lifting sanctions should be Iran's total dismantling of its nuclear programme, experts here believe that is not a realistic goal.

"... [N]o matter how devastating the sanctions, no matter how persistent we are at the negotiating table, and no matter how credible the military option we are able to threaten - Iran will not agree to the maximalist terms that the Israeli government and some Americans advocate," warned Robert Einhorn, who served as a top non-proliferation adviser at the State Department in Obama's first term, in a widely-noted speech late last month in which he laid out details of what he called a "good deal," as opposed to an "ideal" one.

The former would limit Iran's ability to quickly achieve "breakout capability" - that is, to move quickly to build a nuclear weapon before the US or the international community could take effective action against it.

Such a deal would include, among other measures, a significantly enhanced inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), strict limits on uranium enrichment (five percent), the number of centrifuges, and stockpiles of enriched uranium. +

United States: Nuclear called a lesser evil than fossil fuels

Washington, 4 Nov (IPS/Carey L. Biron) -- Four prominent climate and energy scientists are calling on environmentalists to rethink their longstanding opposition to nuclear energy, warning that there is no "credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power".

The warning comes just ahead of a new round of international climate negotiations, slated to start next week in Poland, aimed at arriving at an international consensus on action to mitigate climate change beyond 2015.

Yet observers are increasingly pessimistic that this process will be able to keep the planet's average temperature rise below two degrees Celsius by the end of this century, the current stated goal.

The new call comes in the form of a letter sent over the weekend to world leaders, prominent environmentalists and green organisations.

Most prominently, it was signed by James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who for decades has written of the dangers posed by climate change; today, he is perhaps the single most recognisable researcher speaking on the issue in the United States.

Also signing on to the call, addressed to "those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear energy", are two additional US scientists, Ken Caldeira and Kerry Emanuel, and one from Australia, Tom Wigley. Each are associated with major research institutions.

"We appreciate your organization's concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change," the four state.

"With the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology that has the potential to displace a large fraction of our carbon emissions. Much has changed since the 1970s. The time has come for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century."

Currently, nuclear energy provides around a fifth of US electricity demand. Globally, that figure is slightly lower, with 30 countries hosting nuclear reactors that provided around 12 percent of worldwide electricity production, as of 2011.

As of July, around 434 reactors were operating globally, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a US lobby group. In addition, 71 new plants were under construction, including two here in the United States.

In their letter, the four scientists say that while they support renewable forms of electricity production, these methods appear unable to deal with the quickly ramping-up global demands for energy. They also suggest that new nuclear plant designs are cheaper and "much safer" than older reactors, while new incineration methods can "solve the waste disposal problem".

The letter has been embraced by the nuclear industry, which many analysts suggest has been stagnating for years over environmental and safety concerns.

"The letter puts an exclamation point on a phenomenon that has been unfolding for several years, namely the steady growth in support for nuclear energy from leading environmentalists," Marv Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told IPS in a statement.

"Greenhouse gas emissions would be vastly higher if nuclear energy facilities did not provide 40 percent of the electricity globally that is produced by carbon-free sources of power (63 percent in the United States) ... There is ever-increasing recognition of this analysis."

In fact, the number of environmentalists who have publicly begun advocating for nuclear power in the face of climate change remains quite low, though James Hansen will now be a notable addition.

Among environmentalists, initial reactions to the letter have been adamant, if respectful, rejection.

"[We] respect these scientists, and thank them for their years of service. Unfortunately, we will have to agree to disagree with them on this one," Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

"While we agree that the climate crisis is the most urgent challenge of our time, this group fails to acknowledge that wind, solar and [energy] efficiency are the faster, cheaper and safer way to fight the climate threat."

Brune says nuclear plants are "too expensive, too slow to build, and too risky", while noting that Germany, one of the world's largest economies, is currently decommissioning its nuclear plants while focusing significant funding on renewable energy sources.

Indeed, green groups have been increasingly trumpeting the falling costs of renewables, with wind energy falling by around 43 percent over the past three years, and solar down by 80 percent. The economics of nuclear, on the other hand, have become even more complicated in recent years, with several US plants shutting down over feasibility concerns.

Further, many renewable technologies are currently ready to be put into action, compared to the decade it can take to build a new nuclear plant. A major report released last year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a US research group, found that currently available renewable technologies could provide 80 percent of US demand by 2050.

And while, in their letter, Hansen and the other scientists allude to new technologies that would make the nuclear option cheaper and safer, most such methods have yet to be demonstrated.

"There certainly are proposed technologies that proponents say would address many of these concerns, but they don't have a proven track record, and have yet to be deployed on a large scale," Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an advocacy group, told IPS.

"It would have been nice to know exactly what this letter is referring to, as they don't actually back up these claims. If they're going to convince environmental groups, they're going to need to offer some good technical information."

While UCS has focused for years on issues of nuclear safety and price, the group doesn't reject the prospect of nuclear energy entirely.

"Because the climate issue is so large and the need to reduce emissions is so big and urgent, we certainly don't want to take nuclear power off the table as a potential solution to climate change," Clemmer says.

The United States alone, for instance, will likely have to reduce its emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050.

"As such, we're definitely supportive of things like research and development of nuclear and other technologies that can reduce carbon emissions, and we want to make sure we have as many options at our disposal," Clemmer continues.

"But where we are today is a different story. We're not in a position to allow for large-scale deployment of nuclear power, due to concerns over security, proliferation, safety, waste disposal. Meanwhile, solar and wind technologies have none of those risks and their costs are quickly coming down." +

United States: The never-ending war

Washington, 4 Nov (IPS/Prashanth Kamalakanthan) -- In his final letter to his family, 30-year-old Iraq war veteran Daniel Somers wrote of having never returned from war.

"In truth, I was nothing more than a prop," reads the suicide note dated June 10, 2013, six years after his final deployment. "In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time."

As the US-led war in Afghanistan draws to a close, Washington will tout the absence of combat troops in that country. Looking toward a scheduled withdrawal date of 2014, President Barack Obama has proudly announced that "our troops are finally coming home."

But in what state he cannot say. For as the soldiers start streaming back, they will have absences of their own. Many will be disfigured, missing parts of the bodies they left with.

Others will return in boxes, gone altogether. For some, like Somers, it will take longer to understand what was lost.

"There are some things that a person simply cannot come back from," he wrote in anguish.

Though it's the harshest condemnation we seem to hear, the horrors of war are not really "unspeakable."

The English language gives us many words to express the wretched realities of modern warfare: rape, mutilation, massacre, psychosis. But there are those that make our wars, and there are those who live them.

Both choose not to utter these ugly truths for their separate reasons. The heroic vocabulary of patriotic sacrifice papers over a miserable human reality politicians wish to ignore and soldiers need to escape.

Between them are the witnesses who find the voice to speak.

Ann Jones, the scholar, journalist and photographer who for decades has reported from the world's conflict zones, turns in her latest book to those dealing with the silences surrounding the United States' longest war.

They Were Soldiers is an unwaveringly human narrative about the soldiers who return from Afghanistan, whole or in pieces, and the communities that put them back together, or not.

It is not, as she makes clear at the outset, about "the pointless wars."

From the outside, wars start and stop; they are planned, waged and, eventually, ended. For the people inside them, the violence never ceases.

As Jones - the daughter of a WWI veteran whose trauma haunted him six decades after the Armistice and herself diagnosed with PTSD after her time in Afghanistan - observes, "often it merely recedes from public to private life."

And so in her book, she begins with the end. In its opening chapter, she considers the dead, those termed in public-relations-speak "the fallen," of whom all that's left are "remains."

Those words, Jones notes, are a way of de-emphasising how in Afghanistan soldiers often are not found intact.

Families are sent "literally whatever remains" in this new kind of war defined by catastrophic explosions, mostly roadside bombs (IEDs), instead of gunfire.

Mortuary specialists have the gruesome task of identifying people who have sometimes quite literally "fallen to pieces."

At each point of the impersonal systems of war, Jones listens as the human beings who care for those grievously damaged in Afghanistan (or sometimes the damaged themselves) tell their stories.

She speaks with specialists in Mortuary Affairs, whose job it is to collect partial humans and return them to their families.

Many remain haunted by "the smell of dead meat," the images of mangled bodies lingering "because, still, they looked like us."

With Jones we take a C-17 medical evacuation flight as she talks to shaken doctors and boyish recruits.

We follow her as she accompanies the wounded off the battlefield, first to the US medical hub in Landstuhl, Germany, then on to Walter Reed stateside.

We hear how parents, strong for their children at the bedside, step out into hallways and "hang onto each other," weeping.

We see gruelling prosthetic rehabilitation sessions that "begin to resemble a circle in hell," as former warriors sweat, groan, and collapse in pain and frustration, while their families slowly accustom themselves to their newly limbless children.

We are invited, with Jones, into the broken homes that receive the mentally marred, sitting with mothers and wives unable to recognise their former children. We are there.

A women's studies scholar and a longtime advocate for women's rights, Jones devotes much of her book to this oft-overlooked women's burden of war: rehabilitating traumatised men groomed into violence.

She sets the useless mantra of military therapists (give the returned soldier "his space") against jarring news clips recounting the stateside abuse of spouses and children, stories long since forgotten by all but local journalists.

Nineteen-year-old Jessica Hine's fate - to be beaten and murdered with her child by her Marine boyfriend, then left as a corpse sitting on a couch for nearly two weeks while he watched TV beside her - crystallises the epidemic of post-combat military murder for Jones.

"There's the metaphor: the soldier with his perfectly silent uncomplaining woman beside him, giving him his space while he enjoyed the national game."

But even in describing such brutality, Jones manages sympathy for the human beings involved, both sufferers and perpetrators of the violence.

Her book reminds us that we are all made victims by warfare: the soldiers, their families, the strange human species that lacerates itself instead of living cooperatively.

"War is not inevitable," she writes, "Nor has it always been with us. War is a human invention - an organized, deliberate action of an anti-social kind - and in the long span of human life on Earth, a fairly recent one."

In this way, They Were Soldiers is as much about the debasement of military institutions as it is about the dignity of the people caught inside them. War simply passes from one body to the next, vessels for violence damaged along the way.

Jones follows this path of destruction unflinchingly, accomplishing one of the most moving antiwar texts we have today.

And, still, it is no screed against US foreign policy - only an ode to those who suffer by it. When one sees war in such basic human terms as Jones has, one understands the starkness of the choice: war or humanity. No having both.

"Not suicide, but a mercy killing," Daniel Somers wrote of his own death. It's a statement at once piercingly sad and honest. War is an industry that makes humans its raw material, a public policy choice that ends lives and destroys the living.

Ann Jones cuts past the words, the concepts, the mythos - and puts us in the thick of it. In facing war's inhumanity and grasping its cost up close, we may become, in the end, a little more human ourselves. +

 


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