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Chile activists eye chance for unmatched environmental protection | Environment News



Santiago, Chile – Chile’s newly elected constitutional assembly will be meeting this month for the first time to kick off a nine-month process of drafting a new doctrine to guide the country, throwing aside the previous dictatorship-era constitution.

May’s election saw major Chilean political parties lose out to independents, with President Sebastian Piñera‘s right-wing coalition, Chile Vamos, only clocking one-fifth of the 155 seats.

Environmental lawmakers and activists have hailed the result as a historic moment that could secure unprecedented environmental protection. Whereas existing constitutions have taken important steps to include ecocentric provisions, no national charter – with the exception of Ecuador – recognises the environment as fundamental to future development and prioritises its protection.

Forty-eight independent constituents – who won the lion’s share of seats – emerged from social movements, many of which are closely tied to environmental causes. Together with the 17 seats reserved for Indigenous communities, and the 25 seats won by progressive left-wing coalition Apruebo Dignidad, a significant proportion of the final assembly has pledged to enshrine environmental protection in Chile’s new constitution.

“This country has established its development on destroying the environment. We’re in a severe ecological crisis,” said Josefina Correa, political director of Greenpeace Chile. “A new constitution will change everything.”

‘A fight for life’

Bastian Labbé is one of the independents who is working to secure environmental rights. “In Chile, when communities want to save a river or protect a native forest, they have to campaign with their own money, through bingos, raffles,” he explained. “The state (should) be in service to those communities.”

It is a fight that Labbé knows intimately. He grew up in the industrialised coastal city of Hualpén, in southern Chile, characterised by a concentration of large gas refineries that continuously bellow clouds of smoke, their gas flares marking the city’s peripheries.

But a short distance from the steaming towers, Labbé found refuge in the Natural Sanctuary of Haulpén, a protected environmental reserve that contains the last coastal forest of the area and that animals including flamingos and penguins call home. “It’s part of my identity,” said Labbé, who teaches history and geography at Concepcion University.

When real estate moved forward with a plan to build more than 1,000 homes in the area one year ago, illegally clearing swathes of the forest, Labbé emerged as a leader spearheading actions to save the sanctuary. His efforts grew with the support of other regional groups fighting for various environmental protections.

“It’s a fight to defend the environment from the megaprojects, the extractivist politics that see nature as a resource to exploit,” he told Al Jazeera. “And in the context of climate change, it’s a fight for life.”

Legal protection

Enshrining environmental clauses in the constitution will help communities take private sectors to court for infringing upon their human rights – this could include rights to clean air, access to water, or mental wellbeing provided by green spaces.

Chile’s assets plunged after the election results were announced, with investors wary of the “market-unfriendly” stance of the majority of the assembly. Meanwhile, the minority of elected conservatives has vowed to defend and strengthen civil liberties and private property as stipulated by Pinochet’s constitution.

Maya van Rossum, an environmental law attorney and founder of US-based Green Amendment Movement, said eco-focused constituents such as Labbé must get environment rights positioned correctly in the draft to afford them the greatest level of protection, akin to civil rights and liberties, “(so) people can rely upon it (the constitution) legally to enforce their environmental rights in the courts”.

She also stressed the importance of keeping the wording broad. “We need to talk about clean water, a stable climate, healthy environmentals, and cultural values of the environment,” she said, explaining that specific definitions will be argued in courts. “You don’t want to get tricked and bullied into thinking that clean water is any less clear than free speech.”

Water rights

Rewriting Chile’s constitution emerged as a central demand during an anti-government uprising in October 2019, when protesters called for equality and fair access to health, pensions, and education, as well as greater environmental protection.

Those demands converged into a call to change the constitution, illegitimately conceived in 1980 during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and chiefly authored by conservative Catholic lawyer Jaime Guzman.

Guzman’s doctrine enshrined rights to private property and venerated free-market values, protecting private sectors and allowing for the gross expansion of industry. It explicitly permits the privatisation of water, allowing businesses to buy and exploit water sources.

Despite democracy returning to Chile in 1990, subsequent governments did little to curb the private sector’s free reign over the environment.

“The landlords of the water can defend their property rights while people who don’t have water do not have any legal right to complain,” said Correa at Greenpeace Chile. Currently, 350,000 people in Chile have no access to water and more than one million depend on unsafe drinking water.

Horses are seen on land that used to be filled with water, at the Aculeo Lagoon in Paine, Chile in January 2019 [File: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

Petorca is the epicentre of the country’s drought crisis, where avocado plantations have sucked the region dry. The elected constituent for the area, Carolina Vilches, is a seasoned water rights activist who made environmental protection a key priority during her campaign.

“In the new constitution, there is a historic opportunity to consecrate the human right for water,” she said in her campaign video. A survey by Greenpeace revealed that 81 elected constituents have pledged to enshrine water as a human and environmental right.

Enshrined in law

Meanwhile, Indigenous rights will also be addressed in the new constitution. Of the 17 seats reserved for Chile’s Indigenous communities, who make up 12.8 percent of the population, nine are set aside for the country’s largest Indigenous group, the Mapuche.

Each elected Mapuche candidate has put rights to their ancestral lands as a necessity in the drafting of the constitution. This comes amid a surge in unregulated forestry activities in Mapuche territories in the Araucania and Biobio regions in southern Chile, corresponding to hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The country’s booming forestry industry has burgeoned from 400,000 hectares (988,421 acres) in 1974 to about 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) in 2019, usurping Mapuche communities and impacting ecosystems.

Lynda Collins, an environmental law professor at the University of Ottawa and author of The Ecological Constitution: Reframing Environmental Law, stressed the importance of having environmental rights enshrined in constitutions. “If property is constitutionally protected, but the environment is not, obviously the environment will lose,” she said. “That’s not a fair fight, so it’s hugely important to, at a minimum, equalise the playing field.”

A sign on a glass door reading ‘Constitutional Convention’ is seen at the rooftop of the Pereira palace, where a new Chilean constitution will be developed, in Santiago, Chile [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

The assembly will meet for the first time later this month, where it must elect a president and vice president from its members to oversee and establish procedures. The body then has nine months for drafting, with a maximum extension of three months. The final constitution can only be ratified if approved by the public through a referendum.

For Collins, the writing of Chile’s new constitution marks a “potent historical moment” that can serve as a global example, and she added that it is exciting to see environmental champions have a voice in the process.

“(Chile) is both a cautionary tale about what happens when you push people to the edge by denying them access to crucial environmental services,” she said. “But also it’s a beacon of hope that there is another way to do this.”

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Trauma and mental health in Gaza | Mental Health




The May 20 ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas brought the latest round of conflict in the region to an end and led to a collective sigh of relief from the beleaguered Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

But the deep wounds the violence opened remain fresh.

Eleven days of Israeli bombardment on the besieged enclave left 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, dead. Nearly 2,000 have been injured. Homes, offices and hospitals have been destroyed.

As the fragile ceasefire appears to hold, those who survived the conflict are once again trying to rebuild their lives. But the damage inflicted during those 11 days was not only physical and material. The mental health of Palestinians in Gaza was also bombarded during those dark days.

Living in fear of the next air attack, the spectre of death looming. Losing loved ones and homes. It is hard to imagine how utterly traumatising their reality has been.

Residents of Gaza have been enduring layer upon layer of trauma for decades. The deadly Israeli onslaughts are the most damaging – four in the last 14 years – but they occur against the background of chronic trauma imposed by the occupation.

Atrocities like the seizure and demolition of homes, oppressive policing, unlawful killings, detention without trial and torture all inflict profound psychological damage. Such perpetual subjugation can destroy self-esteem and leave victims in a state of “learned helplessness” – resigned to their fate and vulnerable to depression.

Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza also amounts to a psychological stranglehold. The resulting economic deprivation has caused widespread unemployment and poverty – well-recognised risk factors for mental illness – and left health services underfunded, underdeveloped and unable to meet the demand. Each war on Gaza decimates them further – at least six hospitals, two clinics, a health centre and a Palestine Red Crescent Society facility sustained damage this time.

For most other countries, COVID-19 is currently the primary public and mental health concern. In Palestine, it is almost an afterthought, superseded by more dangerous assailants – air attacks and oppression. Nonetheless, more than 110,000 people in Gaza have been infected with the virus thus far, with more than 1,000 deaths. There are only enough doses available to vaccinate 60,200 people in a population of more than 2 million. So pandemic anxiety is also rampant in Gaza, adding to the mental burden.

All this turmoil translates to actual mental illness. In Gaza, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which features disrupted sleep, feeling permanently on edge and easily startled, flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma and emotional numbing – are incredibly high. A 2017 study found 37 percent of the adults living on the Strip qualify for the diagnosis.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I have treated refugees with PTSD from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be severe, complex and protracted. It would be almost impossible to start the healing while the root causes persist. The head of mental health services in Palestine once said her people do not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because their trauma is ongoing. Present-traumatic stress disorder may be a more fitting description of their experience.

As is often the case in these situations, children suffer the most in Palestine. A study conducted in 2020, before the latest conflict, found that 53.5 per cent of children in Gaza were suffering from PTSD. Nearly 90 percent had experienced personal trauma. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported the devastating news that 11 of the children killed by the recent Israeli air attacks were participating in its trauma programme. No wonder UN Secretary-General António Guterres described Gaza as “hell on earth” for children.

Of course, Israelis have suffered too. Twelve were killed by Hamas rockets in May, two of them children – a tragic loss of human life. But for the Israelis, the Iron Dome defence system and bomb shelters provide a vital safety net and sense of security that Palestinians live without. Their highly developed healthcare services are far better equipped to deal with both physical injuries and the psychological impact of rocket fire. They are not living through the mental anguish of occupation either. All this is reflected in their lower PTSD rates, ranging from 0.5 to 9 percent of the population.

Back in 2008, I went on a trip to post-conflict Somaliland to teach psychiatry to medical students. The civil war affecting the area ended in 1991 but its effects on the mental health of the population and health infrastructure were still evident some 17 years later. They still continue to this day. It will take time to rebuild the fragmented minds and health services in Gaza, but there is little hope for them until Israel ends its illegal occupation, settlement expansion and blockade on Gaza.

The oppression of Palestinians has led Human Rights Watch to the conclusion that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Perhaps viewing this situation through the prism of human rights violations and their grave impact on mental health might prompt the international community to pressure Israel to act. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve security and protection from trauma. The best way to achieve this is by affording Palestinians their basic human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Ex Museveni Bodyguard, Capt. Opolot, Succumbs to COVID-19




Retired UPDF Captain, Alex Opolot, is dead.

Opolot, who served for over 20 years in special military operations, lost the battle to COVID-19 this past weekend at Prime Hospital in Namugongo, Wakiso district.

Friends described him as a “great family man who was loved by his children to the moon and back.”

Born on January 21, 1962 in Bukedea district, Eastern Uganda, Opolot was among the first officers in the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).

He survived action in Somalia where served as a peacekeeper.

Opolot attended Kumi Primary School and Father Hilders Primary school.

He later moved to Soroti Secondary School before joining Busitema College of Agriculture and Mechanization.

Opolot also worked with Peko Machinery Works in Soroti before joining the army.

He recently retired from the army and was working with Arrow Security Group of Captain Mike Mukula at the time of death.

He was attached to Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Presidential Protection Unit/Brigade.

Opolot was later deployed in Northern Uganda to battle the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels where he excelled in field intelligence operations.

He recently retired from the army and was working with Arrow Security Group of Captain Mike Mukula at the time of death.

The deceased’s friends say he was a very skilled footballer, great dancer, very peaceful and cheerful soldier.

Opolot during his footballing days. He was know as Opolot Wizard
Opolot served in Somalia under AMISOM

He is survived by a widow and four children.

Opolot will be buried on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 in Odoot Etom, Okolotum, Kocheka Sub-County, Bukedea District.

Results of COVID-19 tests done on 11 June 2021 confirmed 1,727 new cases. The cumulative confirmed cases are 61,977 with 428 deaths.

To prevent infection and to slow transmission of COVID-19, do the following:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
  • Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.

The post Ex Museveni Bodyguard, Capt. Opolot, Succumbs to COVID-19 first appeared on ChimpReports.

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Palestinians not counting on change as Bennett replaces Netanyahu | Benjamin Netanyahu News




Palestinian leaders say new Israeli PM Naftali Bennett is likely to pursue the same right-wing agenda as Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian groups have dismissed the change in Israel’s government, saying new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is likely to pursue the same right-wing agenda as his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office called the Israeli parliamentary vote on Sunday an “internal Israeli affair” while groups in the besieged enclave of Gaza pledged to keep up their fight for Palestinian rights. Gaza has been under an Israeli air, land and sea blockade since 2007.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was “inaccurate” to call Bennett’s coalition government a “government of change” unless there was a significant shift in its position on the Palestinian right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Bennett, who heads the ultra-nationalist Yamina party and describes himself as “more right-wing” than Netanyahu, has said that the creation of a Palestine state would be “national suicide” for Israel. He has also called for the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank.

The millionaire former high-tech entrepreneur faces a tough test maintaining an unwieldy coalition from the political right, left and centre. Analysts say Bennett’s government will likely avoid sweeping moves on hot-button issues such as policy towards the Palestinians and instead focus on domestic reforms.

Palestinians unmoved

“This is an internal Israeli affair,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Abbas. “Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

In a statement, the Palestinian foreign ministry posed a host of questions to Bennett’s government. “What is the position of the new government regarding the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the establishment of their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital?”

“What is its position of the settlement and annexation processes? What is its position on Jerusalem and respect for the historical and legal situation there? Its position on the signed agreements? Its position on the resolutions of international legitimacy? Its position on the two-state solution and negotiations on the basis of the principle of land for peace?”

In Gaza, Palestinian groups vowed to keep resisting Israel.

“We aren’t counting on any change in the occupation governments, since they are united on the policy of killing Palestinians and confiscating Palestinian rights,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official.

And prior to the Israeli parliament vote, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas said: “Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is a settler occupier entity that must be resisted by all forms of resistance, foremost of which is armed resistance.”

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