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August 26, 2014

There’s still a long way to go to bring the AIDS pandemic under control

By Noreen Gumbo & Deirdre Ni Cheallaigh
 
The recent International AIDS Conference in Melbourne brought together an amazing diversity of scientists, researchers, practitioners, politicians, and people living with HIV from every corner of the globe.   
 
The conference reflected on the phenomenal progress which has been made to date in providing life-saving treatment to 14 million people and dramatically reducing HIV infections in both adults and children. 
 
It was also an opportunity to strategise on how to ensure that the amazing benefits of medicine and science are made available to everyone who needs them.  
 
There’s still a long way to go in bring the AIDS pandemic under control and sadly the statistics we’re seeing point to particular groups that are being left behind.  The largest group at risk of HIV world-wide are young women in Sub Saharan Africa who are at least twice as likely to be living with HIV as young men in the same age group. In many places this figure is much higher.  
 
aids conference melbourne
Dr Enida Friel of Oxfam Ireland with Noreen Gumbo and Deirdre Ni Cheallaigh in Melbourne
 
Other groups being left behind include men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and prisoners.  The message is clear: we have the answer to controlling the epidemic but there are barriers to be overcome to reach these most marginalised groups; barriers of exclusion, discrimination and bad policies.
 
In an address to conference delegates, Bill Clinton commented that the six delegates killed on their way to the conference on MH17 “gave their entire lives to the proposition that our common humanity matters a hell of a lot more than our differences” and urged participants to use their example to step up the pace.  
 
We are all challenged to do more. We are challenged as a faith agency to ensure we are inclusive and challenged as activists to lobby our political leaders to make the right choices and ensure that this epidemic is brought to an end and no one is left behind.
 
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August 21, 2014

Land for 110 violently evicted Guatemalan families

by Alexis Williams, Guatemala
 
As the sun rose on the Polochic valley 525 women, men and children belonging to various communities began a twelve hour journey along mainly dirt roads to their new community in Sactelá.
 
Travelling in a convoy of school buses and trucks, the families took all of their belonging including the tin roofs of their previous houses, household belongings and animals such as chickens and cats. 
 
The women, men and children belong to the 110 landless farmer families who were violently evicted in March 2011 in the Polochic Valley, north-eastern Guatemala, were re-located by the Guatemalan government to Sactelá, Cobán as part of the precautionary measure emitted by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICDH). 
 
Guatemalan families relocated following forced evictions
Community members holding signs (left) and participating in Mayan ceremony prior to departing. Photos: Alexis Williams
 
Since the eviction in 2011 Trócaire has accompanied 700 families along with our partner organisation Fundación Guillermo Toriello with emergency support such as food, medical provisions, temporary shelter and the construction of houses for 125 families. Additionally Trócaire has been collaborating with national and international civil society organisations to lobby and work with the Guatemalan government to ensure families are provided land and dignified living conditions. 
 
For several months prior to the re-location meetings took place between community leaders and several government institutions such as the Human Rights Office and the ministries for Transport, Water Supplies and Health to ensure that government committed to providing a minimum of basic services as recommended by the ICDH. On the day of the journey to Sactelá the families were accompanied by national and international organisations in a show of solidarity as well as observation of the process organised by the Guatemala government. 
 
Oscar Cucul, spokesperson for the 110 families spoke emotionally of the sadness of leaving the area in which they were born to move to a completely new community. Oscar also reminded the government “that over 500 families that were evicted are still in need of land where to live”, he added that the “government should favour the families from the Polochic and not the large businesses of sugar cane and African palm”.
 
Guatemalans relocated following forced evictions
Families awaiting food during the journey. Photo: Alexis Williams
 
Unfortunately, the families arrived in Sactelá at night time to find that the conditions the government was obliged to provide, including toilets, a potable water system and road access were not fulfilled. This situation worries Trócaire, as well as several organisations including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations in Guatemala. Trócaire along with the other national and international organisations will continue to work and where necessary place pressure on the government to act immediately. 
 
The Polochic Valley is a fertile stretch of land in north-eastern Guatemala, 50km from the Caribbean coastline. During the last few years there has been a dramatic expansion of sugar cane and African Palm driven by large land owners and multinational companies. The uncontrolled expansion has had an adverse impact in local communities who have for generations farmed in the valley. This includes rising land prices for purchase and rental (families who cannot afford to buy often rent or pay rent with the harvest of maize), increasing use of agro-chemicals and more drastically the violation of human rights through violent evictions involving the military, police and private security firms.  
 
Trócaire has highlighted the impact of large scale production of such monocrops for the exportation and use as agro-fuel in its campaign Food Not Fuel. Further information can be found in the article 'Food Not Fuel: Evicted families in Guatemala still face an uncertain future', and the documentary covering the visit of Irish actor Aidan Gillen to the Polochic Valley which was recently nominated for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Human Rights Film Award.  
 
The re-location of the 110 families is a small victory in ensuring that the human rights of the communities are respected and enforced. However, the re-location has come at a cost as families from various communities who have a generational connection with the Polochic Valley will now live in another region of the country, obliged to begin new relationships within the community and also with neighbouring communities. Additionally 629 families still wait for the government to provide land. These families wish to remain within the Polochic Valley and demand that the government put the communities’ well-being ahead of the interests of the private companies. 
 
August 18, 2014

In pictures: Trad for Trócaire 2014 launches at Sligo Fleadh

 
"At the Fleadh you are in the real core of Ireland: its culture,  music and open heart. These are people of Ireland at their best. Focal as Gaeilge: Bhain me an-taitneamh go deo as an Fleadh. Iontach suimiuil agus spreaguil. Ta croi Trócaire ann."
-Geraldine McDermot, Trócaire Volunteer
 
The Trad for Trócaire team was out in force at the Sligo Fleadh this weekend. Musicians, dancers and singers donned their blue Trad for Trócaire t-shirts and entertained the crowds with sessions all over the town. 
 
Music fans: Organise your own event with Trad for Trócaire
 
trocaire at sligo fleadh
 
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trad for trocaire fleadh
 
trocaire at sligo fleadh 2014
 
trad for trocaire launch sligo
 
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trad for trocaire musicians at sligo fleadh 2014
 
Trad for Trócaire is a fundraising and music week run by Trócaire and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann that celebrates traditional Irish music, while raising funds to support Trócaire’s work to help poor communities overcome poverty across the developing world. 
 
Music is powerful, but a Trad for Trócaire seisiún has the power to change lives. 
 
Please play your part this year by organising a Trad session, and raising funds to support some of the world’s poorest people with Irish music and song.
 
 
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August 01, 2014

All change? New faces at home and abroad on climate change

In her new role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, Mary Robinson’s task is nothing short of convincing very reluctant world leaders to stop dithering and to respond with the urgency warranted by the threat of climate change, writes Niamh Garvey, Policy Officer
 
The role is fitting for the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, as there is no greater threat to human rights across the board than climate change. 
 
It threatens the right to food, the right to water, the right to shelter and the right to life.
 
This new role will be an immense challenge, but also an incredibly timely one. By the end of next year global leaders are due to agree an historic global deal to prevent runaway climate change, and as Special Envoy, Mary Robinson’s role will be to convince them to make the decisions and take the actions on climate change that they've so long evaded.
 
This will require Presidents and Prime Ministers to transcend their narrow national self-interests in order to take the really tough but vital decisions to protect people and the natural world on which we all depend.  
 
While there are some encouraging signs, including recently announced co-ordinated action on climate change by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, progress among all world leaders to negotiate an international treaty on climate change is moving at a glacial pace towards a deadline for agreement in Paris at the end of next year. 
 
As founder of the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation, Mary Robinson’s approach will be much more than about getting any agreement. 
 
A ‘climate justice’ approach, which Trócaire has been calling for since 2007, means that we not only tackle the problem of climate change, but do so in such a way that ensures the most vulnerable people who are hit hardest whilst having done the least to cause the problem put at the centre of the response.  Mary Robinson is a powerful voice for such communities and we wish her every success with this role. 
 
mary robinson trocaire doha 2010
Mary Robinson pictured with Trócaire partners at the climate change negotiations in Durban in 2010
 
A first milestone will happen in September later this year when her boss, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon holds a Climate Summit in New York. He has invited global leaders, including our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to come and make announcements on what they are doing to advance progress on the response to climate change. He has set the bar high and it will be an important milestone for generating momentum towards a global deal.  
 
With an Irish woman in the high profile role of putting the case for climate action, will the Taoiseach announce enough of substance to make Ireland one of Mary Robinson’s ‘star’ or ‘problem’ countries?
 
This question will be to a large degree answered by the new face of climate policies at home. The recent Cabinet reshuffle has seen ‘Big Phil’ (Phil Hogan) head to Europe, and Alan Kelly take up the position of Minister for Environment and Local Government. 
 
Action in this Department, including delivering the long-standing commitment to bring in legislation on climate change, will set the tone for what the Taoiseach will be able to announce. The “Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill’ as it is known, is vital to putting Ireland on track for a low carbon future.  
 
Despite being in the programme for government since 2011 it has been an uphill struggle to get this piece of legislation past the post. An apparent u-turn by Minister Hogan back in November 2011 nearly took the Bill off the table altogether, but with lots of support from our campaigners, over 7,600 of who have taken action to call for the Bill, concerned citizens have managed to keep the issue alive.  
 
Minister Kelly has inherited a draft Heads of Bill that is yet to be formally published by the Government and still needs to go through the Oireachtas.  
 
To make his mark in this area, he should put the Climate Bill on the ‘A list’ for the new Dail term, and implement the recommendations of the cross-party Oireachtas Committee on the Environment report to address the current draft’s weaknesses.
 
It we want to do Mary Robinson proud, this Bill together with Ireland’s ‘fair share’ of climate finance to support developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change would provide the Taoiseach with the substance he needs to announce Ireland’s action at the Ban Ki Moon Summit in September in New York. 
 
It would be a strong signal that Ireland is prepared to play our part in getting world leaders collectively on track to delivering a global deal on climate change in 2015.
 
July 25, 2014

How Ireland can help to bring peace to the Israeli and Palestinian people

By Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire Executive Director
 
It is not enough to express horror at so many innocent lives having been lost in the latest round of violence in Gaza and Israel, we must instead ask how we can break the cycle that leads to this slaughter.
 
The region is trapped in a cycle of violence. Rockets are fired into Israel, followed by cyclical large-scale military invasions of Gaza. We utterly condemn the risks to civilians by both the rocket fire and the military invasions.
 
However, until we begin the tackle the underlying causes behind this conflict, this cycle will continue.
 
Through the European Union, Ireland can play a positive role in tackling these under-lying causes.
 
Regrettably, however, Ireland’s position on Israel and Palestine is contradictory and self-defeating.
 
Officially, the Irish Government condemns the military occupation of the West Bank, the continued expansion of illegal settlements and the blockade on Gaza.
 
Earlier this month, the Government issued advice to Irish businesses and citizens, warning against conducting business with illegal Israeli settlements. The government noted, “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible…[the settlements] are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.”
 
Yet, despite recognising continued illegal settlement expansion as a key driver of the conflict, the Irish Government and the EU continues to make these settlements financially viable through trade.
 
Trade between the EU and the settlements is conservatively estimated to be at least €96 million a year. The actual figure may be as high as €160m, which stands in contrast to the total amount of Palestinian exports to the EU, which amounts to approximately €12m annually. This trade incentivises Israel to continue to expand the settlements by confiscating land and demolishing homes of Palestinians.  
 
It is utterly self-defeating to condemn illegal settlements while at the same time ensuring their financial viability and incentivising Israel to continue to confiscate land from Palestinian families.
 
We must remove contradictions from Irish Government policy. We must stop condemning with one hand and supporting with the other. We must stop making the occupation financially viable while at the same time funding the humanitarian crisis it creates.
 
Until we do this, we are incentivising the continuation of this conflict.
 
It is a fallacy to believe that cyclical military invasions of Gaza, which result in large numbers of civilian deaths, will bring peace to Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
 
The only way this peace will happen is through a long-term political solution.
 
Ireland can and should do what it can to make this a reality.
 
You can take action here: www.trocaire.org/gaza
 

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