Weapons of Mass Destruction
on Feb. 2 of the toxin ricin in the mailroom at the
offices of the U.S. Senate majority leader has reawakened
fears about the scope of bioterrorism.
The deadly poison ricin caused
commotion when it was found in the offices of Senator
Bill Frist. Some 40 employees were put through sterilization
processes to make sure they weren't contaminated.
None reported any symptoms from the poison.
Alarm increased when it was revealed
that documents contaminated with the same chemical
had been sent to the White House in late 2003.
Sudden fever, cough and excess
fluid in the lungs are some of the symptoms
associated with ricin poisoning. There is no known
antidote. These symptoms may be followed by severe
respiratory problems -- and potentially death.
Speculation about new attacks
by terrorist groups have returned 28 months after
letters laced with a white powder identified as anthrax
claimed five lives and damaged the health of 17 people
in the United States.
Some consider chemical
and biological weapons among the greatest threats
to humanity in the new century.
Internationally, these sorts
of weapons are controlled by the Convention
on Biological and Toxic Weapons that entered into
force in 1975, and other multilateral agreements.
2002 it was believed that Iraq, Iran, North Korea,
Libya and Syria possessed what are known as weapons
of mass destruction (WMD), and the United States is
thought to be the world's leading holder of such weapons.
The United States led the invasion
of Iraq in March 2003, accusing the Arab country of
possessing WMDs and thus posing a threat to the U.S.
and the world.
However, on Feb.
5 the director of the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the first time acknowledged
that intelligence data may have overestimated the
potential arsenals of illicit weapons in Iraq.
A study on bioterrorism
in the 21st century says that in may 2002 the
U.S. deputy secretary of state, John R. Bolton, reiterated
accusations that Cuba could be using its biotechnology
for other purposes, such as applying it to WMD programs.
As a result of the visit
by former U.S. president , Jimmy Carter, to Cuba
that same month, it was determined that there was
no evidence of biological weapons production on the
island and that Cuba's efforts to support the scientific
development of other countries must be recognized.
Biological agents developed for
war are being put to other uses. As part of Plan Colombia,
a U.S.-backed campaign against drug trafficking in
the South American country, it was proposed to use
the U.S.-developed fungal agent fusarium oxysporum
to eradicate illegal fields of coca bush, used in
That proposal came under fire,
especially from environmental groups. The non-government
Colombian organization Mama
Coca charged that the fungus is a living organism
that could migrate and reproduce, growing out of control
and threatening fragile ecosystems, including the
Amazon, where illegal drug crops are planted.
The Internet has numerous sites
with information on WMDs -- biological and chemical
weapons -- and about efforts to stop their proliferation.
- Poison Ricin Found in Sen. Frist's Office
for Disease Control: ricin
and chemical weapons
on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxic Weapons
of the world's biological weapons
admits gaps in CIA intelligence on arms in Iraq
in the 21st century
Coca - in Spanish
- Carter visit to Cuba
Hispana.com (Spanish and English)
Fight Against Slavery
2004 is the International
Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and
its Abolition. A half-century since its international
prohibition, new forms of slavery persist around the
(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization) on Jan. 10 launched a series of events
having to do with the international year against slavery,
as a reminder of one of the darkest -- and ongoing
-- chapters in the history of humankind.
The year 2004 also marks the
bicentennial of one of the first nations of black
a symbol of slave resistance.
The existence of modern forms
of slavery was resoundingly condemned by the international
community gathered at the World
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in 2001. As a
follow-up, delegates are debating the effective application
of the conference's Program of Action, in a meeting
Jan. 26 to Feb. 6.
Article 4 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 establishes
that: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude;
slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in
all their forms."
According to a factsheet from
High Commissioner for Human Rights:
"The word 'slavery' today
covers a variety of human rights violations. In addition
to traditional slavery and the slave trade, these
abuses include the sale of children, child prostitution,
child pornography, the exploitation of child labor,
the sexual mutilation of female children, the use
of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage, the
traffic in persons and in the sale of human organs,
the exploitation of prostitution, and certain practices
under apartheid and colonial regimes."
According to the non-governmental
International, 20 million people were held in
bonded labor in 1999, forced to work as a means to
pay off a debt of some sort.
As for child labor, the anti-slavery
watchdog group estimates that 70 percent of boy workers
are in the agricultural sector, while most girl workers
are employed as domestics.
Among those who are trying to
deal with this problem are the group Working Children
in Latin America (NATS),
the African Movement of Children and Adolescent Workers,
Sangha, in South Asia.
According to the American Anti-Slavery
among the products of today's slave labor are sugar
from the Dominican Republic, chocolate from Cote d'Ivoire,
paperclips from China, carpets from Nepal and cigars
The Internet holds a wealth of
information on treaties and protocols related to eradicating
slavery. The UNESCO portal provides historical information
on slavery in Latin
America and the Caribbean as well as in Africa.
Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Declaration of Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Meeting of Working Children's Movements
Anti-Slavery Group (AASG)
World Economic Forum
criticisms from civil society groups, more than a
thousand executives from the world's biggest corporations,
national leaders and economists gathered in Davos,
Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World
Economic Forum, a defender of the current globalization
process. Just days early, in Mumbai, India, some 100,000
people gathered to assert that "another world
and security were the central issues of the WEF,
also known simply as "Davos", which in addition
to executives and political leaders, drew academics,
non-governmental organization activists and religious
Founded in 1971, the Davos Forum
has attempted to find solutions to the world's economic
problems through its annual workshops and panel discussions.
Its critics say the aim of these meetings is to seek
ways to benefit the participants at the cost of global
society and the environment.
In part as a response to criticisms
of its closed-door meetings, since 2003 the WEF has
held forums open to the public. The topic
of debate this year was "Globalization or Deglobalization
for the Benefit of the Poorest?"
Taking place in parallel to the
WEF was the alternative meet known as Public
Eye on Davos, a project of a coalition of non-governmental
organizations from around the world.
Environmental watchdog Friends
of the Earth notes that the first report of the
Governance Initiative reveals just how big business
fails to protect the Earth's natural resources and
to attend to the needs of the poorest populations.
The initiative was designed to monitor progress on
global efforts to implement the plans established
by the United Nations Millennium
Declaration. The report shows that the international
community merited three points, out of 10, in areas
like the environment, human rights and security.
As a counterweight to the Davos
Forum, the World Social
Forum was created, the objective being to create
a platform for discussing strategies in opposition
to the WEF's model of neoliberal economic globalization.
One of the criticisms of both
the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum
as that they failed to produce concrete results. IPS
news agency provided broad coverage of the two
Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Eye on Davos
Friends of the Earth
Greenhouse Gas Register
World Social Forum
Under suspicion of violating
international rules against the proliferation of nuclear
weapons, in late 2003 Iran signed a protocol
that opens the doors to unrestricted inspections
of its national territory. The apparently innumerable
efforts to stop the global arms race have proved insufficient.
The protocol that Iran signed
requires states to provide a detailed declaration
of their nuclear activities. In February 2004 the
first report of inspections will be presented, after
a year of investigations.
Other countries are also under
reports indicate that Libya's announcements in
December 2003 that it had renounced acquisition of
weapons of mass destruction and would cooperate with
United Nations inspections of its nuclear installations
came after months of secret talks with London and
But contrary to expectations,
the United States then took a step against the tide
by beginning development of new
The decision harks back to the
War, when the superpowers of the time, the United
States and the Soviet Union, were enmeshed in an arms
race that led to the proliferation of nuclear bombs.
Britain, France, China, India,
Israel and Pakistan joined the club of nations possessing
nuclear arms. Today, an estimated 28,000
atomic bombs exist worldwide.
Among the numerous disarmament
agreements, the Non-Proliferation
Treaty stands out. Since 1968 it has been the
main international commitment to prevent the multiplication
of nuclear arms and arms technology. It is the only
legally binding multilateral treaty and has been ratified
by the greatest number of countries.
Compliance with the treaty is
verified through inspections led by the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
An accord specific to Latin America
is the Treaty
on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, signed
in Mexico in 1967. It calls for nuclear technology
to be used for peaceful purposes only, such as generating
The United States and Russia
signed the Strategic
Offensive Reductions Treaty, which commits both
sides to reducing their nuclear stockpiles so that
by the end of 2012 their totals do not surpass 1,700-2,200
bombs in each country.
Endowment for International Peace website offers
an extensive list of references on treaties, reports
and analyses related to nuclear weapons.
Signs Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards
Cooperated Fully with UN Nuclear Inspectors
Era of Nuclear Weapons
Numbers - global stockpiles
American and Caribbean Treaty on the Prohibition of
Offensive Reductions Treaty
Bureau of Non
Endowment for International Peace
Mountains of outdated electronics
are accumulating in landfills around the world. A
new law in the U.S. state of California seeks to fight
the problem through a recycling program to enter into
force in July.
A pioneer in this area, the new
California law, known as SB20,
establishes that the consumer will pay six to 10 dollars
at the time of purchase of each electronic item that
contains heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, or cadmium.
The products covered by this
legislation are mostly televisions and computers.
Items with screens measuring less than four inches
Once the electronic device has
become outdated or no long works, the consumer can
hand it over to a recycling
center, free of charge. Currently, consumers pay
recyclers around 20 dollars per item.
are that more than 22 million computers are sold every
year in the United States alone. With the constant
development of new technology, computers become obsolete
in just two years.
Among the biggest concerns about
electronic waste in landfills is the impact on the
environment, as the chemical compounds contaminate
the soil and can filter into underground water supplies.
And the process of recycling
is not free of controversy. In the United States,
the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition denounced that Dell Computers obsolete
machines were being recycled by prisoners who did
not have the minimum protection for working with the
A large portion of electronic
waste is exported to developing countries, particularly
in Asia, where companies restore used computers or
dismantle the machines to recover metals like gold
and copper. The practice is under scrutiny by the
Basil Convention, which aims to prevent industrialized
countries from transferring dangerous waste to developing
While the European
Union is working to eliminate the use of toxic
materials in electronics by 2007, in Latin America,
Brazil has had a program
since 2000 under which manufacturers and importers
of batteries containing heavy metals must take responsibility
for collecting and recycling the used products.
Other efforts include "eco-labeling"
of computers, which takes into consideration the design
and use of materials, energy efficiency and manufacturing
strategies for electronics recycling: A tale of two
Silicon Valley Toxics
Ten Years of NAFTA
Amidst both enthusiastic applause
and loud condemnation, the North American Free Trade
reaches its 10th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2004. Relegated
to the back seat, environment and labor rights have
been only accessory issues in that trajectory.
NAFTA is a regional treaty involving
Canada, Mexico and the United States to create a free
trade zone and, originally, with a goal of opening
borders in 2005. Other objectives
include eliminating trade barriers and facilitating
trans-border circulation of goods and services, respecting
competition, increasing investment opportunities and
ensuring intellectual property rights.
The first decade of NAFTA has
left a bittersweet taste. Food
First, a non-governmental food security watchdog
group, says that in Mexico, while economic reports
celebrate export growth -- with more than 80 percent
going to the United States -- the agricultural sector
is suffering the impacts of subsidies for U.S. products,
against which Mexican farmers cannot compete.
Meanwhile, big U.S.-based manufacturers
have cut production costs by moving their factories
-- textile, automobile, electronics -- to Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Labor has tallied a lost of
500,000 jobs in the United States, ostensibly as the
result of NAFTA.
A study about the negotiating
process states that when the leaders of the three
countries agreed in 1990 to work on creating the treaty,
they didn't expect environmental and labor issues
to be important for ratification. But that same year,
a small group of activists launched a campaign, targeting
the U.S. Congress, so that their positions would be
included in the talks.
Environmental groups like the
World Wildlife Fund, National
Resources Defense Council and the National
Wildlife Federation monitored and supported the
process for creating an international body in charge
of ensuring respect for the environment, with the
authority to impose non-commercial sanctions.
But other organizations, including
the Sierra Club,
Friends of the Earth,
and Public Citizen,
resoundingly rejected the process, and demanded that
U.S. companies operating in other countries must be
required to comply with U.S. environmental laws.
The result was the creation in
1994 of the Commission
for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), which operates
under the terms of the North
American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation
(NAAEC). Its mandate is to attend to shared environmental
concerns and to prevent trade-related environmental
disputes among the three NAFTA partners.
That same year, the Commission
for Labor Cooperation was founded to improve working
conditions and living standards for employees, and
to promote 11
The two commissions are the first
to link environmental and labor issues with an international
In early 2004, an independent
committee made up of environmental officials will
assess the operations and effectiveness of the NAAEC.
- 10 Years Later - IPS Special Coverage
First - Genetic Pollution and Maize Diversity
NAFTA: Political Lessons for the FTAA
of NAFTA brings pains, gains
Years After NAFTA: How Has Globalization Affected
World Wildlife Fund-WWF
National Resources Defense
Council - NRDC
National Wildlife Federation
Friends of the Earth
Curbing Greenhouse Gas
Efforts are underway to convert
20,000 hectares of Brazilian pastureland back into
the rich forest ecosystem it once was. Picking up
the bill are polluting companies that want what is
known as a carbon dioxide "sink" to clean
up their sins against the environment.
This is one of the many greenhouse
gas mitigation projects being carried out around the
world, under the special mechanisms of the Kyoto
Protocol on climate change, an agreement that
has yet to be ratified.
The pastureland reconversion
plan is centered in the area of the southeastern Brazilian
city of Curitiba with a price tag of 20 million dollars.
Financing the initiative are
the U.S.-based corporations ChevronTexaco, General
Motors and American Electric Power, which are warming
their engines for the potential enactment of the Kyoto
The mechanism must be ratified
by 55 countries that signed the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
and whose combined greenhouse gas emissions represent
at least 55 percent of the world total.
Ratification of the protocol
is now in the hands of an indecisive Russia. The United
States, alone responsible for 25 percent of emissions,
has refused to support the treaty.
The Protocol contains legally
binding goals under which industrialized countries
are to reduce emissions by 2008-2012 of six types
of greenhouse gases by at least five percent with
respect to their 1990 levels.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries
can attain their goals by trading emissions credits.
The buying and selling of these credits, joint implementation
projects (like that underway in Curitiba), and so-called
"clean development" are the three
Through these channels, a country
that helps reduce emissions in others is given credit
towards its reduction objectives stated in the treaty.
However, this does not exempt
the country from reducing greenhouse gas production
-- at least in part -- at home.
The World Bank's Prototype
Carbon Fund, create in 2000, is a public-private
initiative for clean development and aims to reduce
generate certified emissions credits that are purchased
by the fund and then distributed among the participants,
which can use them to meet their greenhouse gas reduction
In the private sector, the World
Business Council on Sustainable Development alongside
the World Resources Institute
in 1998 launched a greenhouse gas initiative aimed
at developing practices that help companies monitor
and report their emissions.
In early December the World
Economic Forum announced the creation of a global
greenhouse gas registry to facilitate management of
companies' emissions worldwide. The information will
be available on the Internet.
More information on climate change
and greenhouse gases, as well as the market for emissions
credits can be found on the websites for the Secretariat
of the Convention on Climate Change (and the recent
COP9 meeting), and the International
Emissions Trading Association.
Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol
Beginner's Guide to Climate Change
Special Edition on Climate Change
Prototype Carbon Fund
World Business Council
on Sustainable Development
World Resources Institute
World Economic Forum
of the Convention on Climate Change
- Ninth Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC
More than half a century since
the proclamation of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrated
on Dec. 10, the struggle for the right to a healthy
environment is growing fast.
In this section, we provide several
informative web-sites on the linkages between human
rights and the environment.
The right to food, health and
housing and freedom of expression are several
of the aspects that the universal declaration
covers with the aim of guaranteeing just and peaceful
coexistence among humankind.
indicate that the first steps to link human rights
and the environment within the sphere of the United
Nations began in the early 1990s, when the Subcommission
on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities named a special rapporteur on human rights
and the environment.
Later, the Stockholm
Declaration, drafted at the United Nations Conference
on the Human Environment in 1972, established the
foundations for linking human rights and protection
of the environment by declaring that human beings
have the “fundamental right to freedom, equality
and adequate conditions of life, in an environment
of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”
The declaration also states that
human beings bear “a solemn responsibility to
protect and improve the environment for present and
In 1992, the Rio
de Janeiro Conference on the Environment and Development,
also known as the Earth Summit, proclaimed the public’s
right to know, to participate, and to work on improving
In January 2002, a conference
was held to assess the progress made since the Earth
Summit. The meeting’s web
site presents several documents that study the
link between human rights and the environment.
According to experts
while environmentalists have long been using human
rights as a platform to analyze the negative effects
of environmental degradation on health, human rights
groups are now beginning to comprehend that many of
the injustices committed against humanity are environmental
Health problems like diarrhea
and respiratory ailments, the main causes of death
among the world’s poor according to the World
Health Organisation, are preventable if a safe
and healthy environment is provided, including, in
this case, clean water and adequate health infrastructure.
In November 2002, the United
Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Committee declared
access to clean water a human right, citing it as
an indispensable requisite for the fulfillment of
In March 2003, the Third
World Water Forum was held in Kyoto, Japan, where
more than 24,000 participants discussed the actions
needed to overcome global obstacles standing in the
way of guaranteeing access to clean water.
The right to information has
given rise to an initiative known as the International
Right to Know campaign, aimed at requiring companies
based in the United States or traded on U.S. stock
exchanges and their foreign subsidiaries and major
contractors to disclose information on their overseas
The campaign is an attempt to
prevent abuses and ensure that companies respect the
environmental, labour and human rights of local communities
in the countries where they operate.
The web site of the The
People's Movement for Human Rights Education lists
international treaties and laws that link human rights
and the environment.
Universal de los Derechos Humanos (Español)
de los Pueblos para la Educación en Derechos
Económico, Social y Cultural de las Naciones
Foro Mundial del Agua (Inglés)
Human Rights and the Environment Within the United
de Estocolmo (Inglés)
de Río de Janeiro sobre Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo
The American Association
for the Advancement of Science (Inglés)
Mundial de la Salud (Español)
UNEP-OHCHR Expert Seminar on Human Rights and the
Environment, Geneva 2002 (Inglés)
Right to Know (IRTK) (Inglés)
and Human Rights Project (Inglés)
The Information Society
The World Summit on the Information
gets underway on Dec. 10 in Geneva. Eight thousand
people are expected to take part in deliberations
on how to bridge the digital divide and reduce the
imbalance in knowledge -- which are seen as the main
obstacles on the road to sustainable development in
the new economy.
Among the key objectives of the
Summit is the interconnection of all cities, educational
institutions, health centers and hospitals and local
and central government bodies before 2015.
Among the WSIS participants
will be more than 50 heads of state, and thousands
of representatives of governments, international organizations,
civil society groups, the private sector and the communications
In the first
phase of the WSIS, in Geneva, the delegates are
to adopt a Declaration
of Principles and Plan of Action. The second phase,
in Tunis in 2005, will revolve around issues of development
and evaluation of progress made.
The 2000 report by the United
and Social Council says that the revolution in
information and communications technologies (ICTs)
offers new opportunities for economic growth and social
development, but that it also poses new challenges
The report points to applications
for development such as electronic commerce and access
to financial markets, the creation of jobs, increases
in agricultural and industrial production and even
and "tele-education" -- providing services
to communities in remote areas.
But the text underscores that
the majority of the global population still lives
in poverty and has yet to benefit from the ICT revolution.
The report "Sustainability
at the speed of light" states that of the
eight billion micro-chips produced in 2000, just two
percent ended up in computers. Most people around
the globe live in continuous proximity to technology
-- in their cars, toys, cellular phones and even their
sports shoes, says the study.
Dubbed by some as "the second
industrial revolution", the rise of the ICTs
is expected to continue, and could ultimately reach
each person in the world.
Some observers fear that the
pace of expansion could mean that issues like the
environment and sustainable development will be ignored.
Among the proposals to anticipate
the spread of this new economy is the Digital
Opportunity Initiative, a public-private association
involving the Accenture company, the Markle Foundation
and the United Nations Development Program.
Launched at the G-8 Summit in
Okinawa in 2000, the initiative aims to identify the
roles of ICTs in promoting sustainable economic development
and social equalities.
Among the case studies are Costa
Rica and Brazil, as the Latin American examples of
successful government strategies to insert themselves
in the economy of the future.
If you are looking for
more information about the WSIS and links related
to ICTs, Inter Press Service is providing special
coverage on the unfolding of the information society.
Summit on the Information Society
at the speed of light: Opportunities and challenges
for tomorrow's societ
Nations Millennium Declaration
- Information Society - Special Coverage