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Five torture myths debunked

Torture is used more often than you think – and in countries you wouldn’t suspect.

Josefina Salomon

TO MARK THE International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it’s time to debunk persistent myths and misconceptions about torture…

1. Torture is mainly used against terror suspects and during war

Amnesty International research shows that torture and other ill-treatment continue to be an issue in many countries facing real or perceived national security threats, including terrorism.

However, the focus on torture and other ill-treatment in what the US authorities then called the “war on terror” at the beginning of the century may have skewed the global picture. What our research also clearly shows is that most victims of torture and other ill-treatment worldwide are not dangerous terrorists but rather poor, marginalized and disempowered criminal suspects who unfortunately seldom draw the attention of the media and public opinion, either nationally or globally.

Real or perceived political “enemies” of the government who have never carried a bomb or any other weapon, including human rights defenders, opposition politicians and journalists, are also frequent victims of torture.

This means that yes, torture continues in anti-terrorism contexts, but even here torture is mostly practised as a means of dehumanizing enemies – real life doesn’t look like “24” or “Zero Dark Thirty.”

And globally most victims are tortured not because they’re terrorists but because they’re poor, or different, or dare to disagree with the government. Whatever the motive, torture and other ill-treatment are prohibited absolutely, and never justified, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

2. Torture is the only way to get information, fast

Torture is a primitive and blunt instrument of obtaining information. States have a huge variety of ways to collect information on crimes – both past and planned – without losing their humanity. In particular, humane questioning techniques have proved to be efficient in obtaining information on crimes without the devastating personal, societal and legal consequences.

3. Some forms of torture are not that bad

Torture doesn’t come in levels.

It is defined legally as an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to punish or obtain information. No torture is “lite”.

All forms of torture are despicable and illegal – including electric shocks, beatings, rape, humiliation, mock executions, burning, sleep deprivation, mock drowning, long hours in contorted positions, use of pincers, drugs and dogs. Sadly, all of these are widely used in countries across the world.

4. In certain circumstances, it serves a greater good

No. Torture is never legal or acceptable. Countries that currently fail to punish it by law are violating internationally agreed standards.

In legal terms, the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment is “non-derogable” – that is, it cannot be relaxed even in times of emergency. The prohibition has achieved such a strong global consensus that it has become binding even on states which have not joined the relevant human rights treaties.

But many governments today continue to torture for a host of reasons, mainly because governments benefit from torture – or believe that they do – and because those responsible rarely face justice. Much more needs to be done to end this despicable practice.

5. Only a handful of the worst governments use torture

Over the past five years Amnesty International has reported on torture or other ill-treatment in 141 countries and from every world region.

While in some of these countries torture might be the exception, in others it is systemic, and even one case of torture or other ill-treatment is unacceptable.

Amnesty International’s evidence and global research combined with more than five decades of documenting and campaigning against this abuse, reveals that, torture is still flourishing.

Josefina Salomon is a News Writer at Amnesty International.

On 26 June 2014, Amnesty International will hold a demonstration against torture in Dublin: see more details here

For more information about torture visit Amnesty International’s Stop Torture Campaign.


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Gujarat- Devleopment Myths #GharGharModi #NOMOre_2014

“Taking a broader view of the Bharat Nirman versus Gujarat model discourse, the Lucknow-based political analyst Sudhir Kumar Panwar pointed out that a deeper analysis would show a lack of substance and an ideological hollowness in the big tussle on the development agenda. “Between them, these two parties have led the coalitions that ruled this country for the past 16 years. When you analyse the policies of these two formations, especially their economic policies, one would see that they are identical. Broadly, both follow neoliberal economic policy parameters that are anti-farmer, anti-retail trader and anti-poor. The specific development programmes that both of them adopt could have different shades of emphasis, but in totality the developmental agenda of both the parties are one and the same, starting with facilitation of big corporates and multinational business-industrial entities in various sectors, including agriculture, promotion of FDI and dilution of people-oriented systems such as the public distribution system. In other words, what we are witnessing now is nothing but a sham.”

Frontline Cover Story

Published: March 19, 2014 12:30 IST | 

The BJP and the Congress unleash their campaign blitzkriegs highlighting the “Gujarat model” of development and “Bharat Nirman” respectively, triggering a debate on what constitutes development. By VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

DEVELOPMENT has become the buzzword in the campaign for the 2014 general election. The two mainstream parties, the ruling Congress and the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have contributed majorly to this so-called development discourse with the massively funded propaganda blitz of each. The Congress’ campaign, driven by the “Bharat Nirman” slogan, argues that the country has witnessed unprecedented progress and socio-economic empowerment during the last 10 years when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the party, was in power at the Centre. The BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar, led by the party’s ideological and organisational fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), seek to present its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the symbol of development and the “Gujarat model” advanced under his leadership as a sort of panacea for India’s problems. Several non-Congress, non-BJP parties, including the Left parties, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), have added their mite to this discourse with the professed objective of “exposing the hollowness” of the BJP and the Congress campaigns by projecting their own development initiatives. Thus, the Left is focussing on the Kerala and West Bengal models of development and the JD(U) is highlighting the “Bihar model”. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the new entrant into national politics, has also sought to put across its own ideas on the theme by arguing that resources can be released in a big way by fighting corruption.

The BJP and the Congress had planned and started executing their “development discourse” campaigns over the past 15 months, and, as expected, their political blitzkriegs reached a crescendo with the announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule on March 5. Informal estimates are that both the parties are spending close to Rs.500 crore to advance their campaigns. The international communications consultancy APCO Worldwide has been assisting Modi in this effort since 2007. The BJP has roped in additional institutional resources, which include Soho Square, a subsidiary of the international advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), and TAG, a subsidiary of McCann Workgroup. The Congress campaign is also driven by international advertisement agencies such as Dentsu India and J. Walter Thomson. The advertisement campaigns driven by these agencies cover different platforms ranging from traditional media to social media.

Both thematically and structurally, the campaign drive of the two national parties has striking similarities to the “India Shining” campaign launched by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2004. The NDA had sought to showcase the development gains of the A.B. Vajpayee government by spending over Rs.150 crore in publicity exercises. The India Shining campaign did capture much space in the media but the common man was not impressed. The BJP and the NDA suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the Congress and some minor secular parties in the 2004 elections. This time round, the two parties are competing with each other to publicise their own adaptations of the India Shining slogan.

The non-Congress, non-BJP parties do not have the kind of huge budgets needed to advance their part of the development discourse. Obviously, the impact these parties have created in media spaces is comparably lower than what has been achieved by the two big parties. Thus, certain achievements of the Bihar model that came up in official, government documents as recently as the second week of March have not received the kind of attention or traction they merit, presumably because of the lack of support from big-time social and media influencer companies.

The achievements of the Bihar model were reflected in Economic Survey 2012-13, which pointed out that the State had recorded high rates of growth during the Eleventh Five Year Plan. The survey stated that Bihar’s economy grew at an annual rate of 11.95 per cent in the Eleventh Plan period, a significant increase from 5.67 per cent recorded in the Tenth Plan period. “The rate of growth is not only high compared to the previous Plan period but one of the highest among all the Indian States,” the survey stated. Although the survey noted that this impressive growth was not reflected proportionately in poverty reduction, it certainly raised questions about the BJP’s propaganda projecting Gujarat as the State with the highest growth rate in the country. Yet, neither the survey nor the questions its findings raised about the claims on Gujarat have enjoyed the kind of circulation and approbation the Gujarat model has received across the country and abroad. Similarly, the several initiatives taken by the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government in Bihar, including measures to empower the most backward communities and the weaker sections of society through enhanced representation in the local bodies and panchayati raj institutions, have not got much publicity.

The inability of the smaller parties to showcase and promote their development achievements or development models is reflected in the historical experience of the Left parties, too. The Left has been in power in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala for many years since 1957. Its record in respect of implementing land reforms is unmatched in the country. The reforms have helped improve the living conditions of a large number of the people in these States. Kerala’s significant achievements in improving the material conditions of living, reflected in the indicators of social development, some of which are on a par with many developed countries, have given rise to the internationally accepted term “Kerala model of development”. Yet, at no point of time did the features of the Kerala model generate the kind of massive political traction that is being witnessed now in the case of the Gujarat model. Clearly, the well-funded propaganda machinery with its reach and efficacy is an important concomitant of the development discourse in the 2014 campaign.

Nothing reflects the importance of this factor more concretely than the traction the BJP and Modi have gained by harping on the Gujarat model in multifarious fora. However, their claims of high achievement have been questioned on several parameters, from foreign direct investment (FDI) to employment generation to public health to literacy. Census 2011 ranked Gujarat 17th among the States in achieving literacy levels. Gujarat’s claims on being the State with the highest FDI have also been questioned with figures that show that its ranking is not on the top rung. National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) documents reveal that “Gujarat scores low in areas of nutrition, education, employment, wages, consumer price index, rural planning, health, the status of the environment and other indicators of the overall health of society” (see Frontline, March 8, 2013). On the basis of data provided by these documents, the political epithet “feku” (bluffer) was also attached to Modi. But, the BJP leadership and the party’s political and advertisement associates have not given much heed to this.

This determined pursuit of the Gujarat model theme is supplemented by sustained efforts at causing communal polarisation in different parts of the country, exploiting local issues and tussles. The Union Home Ministry has noted with concern that scores of low-intensity communal conflicts erupted across the country in the past three months.

A Lucknow-based senior RSS activist told Frontline that for the past 15 years Gujarat had been the Sangh Parivar’s laboratory where Hindutva polarisation was clubbed with the fabrication of a development model to reap major political gains. “We are very close to successfully advancing this combination at the national level forcefully,” he pointed out.

From hindutva to ‘development’

Evidently, this pursuit is well planned and has been implemented steadfastly for several decades. In the mid-and late-1980s, the Sangh Parivar had sought to carve out a domineering political space for the BJP by concentrating on the Hindutva agenda and building a pan-Hindu political identity. The Ayodhya Ram Mandir agitation was the vehicle on which this political plan was mounted. This led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. But the Sangh Parivar could not reap the kind of political gains it expected in the elections that followed. The larger lessons of India’s electioneering slogans were thus brought home to the Sangh Parivar.

Barring the 1977 and 1984 elections, when the atrocities of government agencies and the Congress during the Emergency in 1975-77 and the assassination of Indira Gandhi respectively were the main issues, every general election since 1952 was driven by an economic agenda through slogans such as “development through Five Year Plans” and “Garibi Hatao” (eradicate poverty). This message was assimilated by the BJP with much alacrity as it found that its core Hindutva agenda was not good enough to attract the majority of Hindu voters. Also, to reach somewhere close to a striking distance of power at the Centre it had to depend on a clutch of allies who pursued varied interests through assertive politics based on caste, community and region. It was the cumulative effect of all this that led to the formulation of the “development plus Hindutva” political theme giving primacy to the development agenda.

In fact, in response to the BJP’s offensive, the Congress embarked on its own massive propaganda plan showcasing development and empowerment under the UPA regime. Sources in the Congress told this correspondent that Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and Jairam Ramesh had repeatedly raised the point about the BJP and Modi getting the upper hand on the development issue and that the UPA was losing the “perception” battle with the principal opposition party as well as the new entrant, the AAP. The answer that the UPA managers found for this was a massive campaign highlighting the benefits of the UPA government’s flagship programmes such as the rural employment guarantee scheme, housing projects for the poor, and empowerment of the weaker sections of society.

However, despite pumping in huge resources, the Congress campaign has not been able to create the kind of impact that the BJP and Modi’s Gujarat model campaign has had. The primary reason for this, according to the Delhi-based political analyst Sheetal Singh, is the public perception that for every development initiative undertaken by the Congress and the UPA, the leadership has swindled and siphoned off resources in crores. “When such a perception gains ground, there is hardly any chance of people valuing your positive enterprises even when they are enjoying the benefits of the same,” Sheetal Singh told Frontline.

Taking a broader view of the Bharat Nirman versus Gujarat model discourse, the Lucknow-based political analyst Sudhir Kumar Panwar pointed out that a deeper analysis would show a lack of substance and an ideological hollowness in the big tussle on the development agenda. “Between them, these two parties have led the coalitions that ruled this country for the past 16 years. When you analyse the policies of these two formations, especially their economic policies, one would see that they are identical. Broadly, both follow neoliberal economic policy parameters that are anti-farmer, anti-retail trader and anti-poor. The specific development programmes that both of them adopt could have different shades of emphasis, but in totality the developmental agenda of both the parties are one and the same, starting with facilitation of big corporates and multinational business-industrial entities in various sectors, including agriculture, promotion of FDI and dilution of people-oriented systems such as the public distribution system. In other words, what we are witnessing now is nothing but a sham.”

Indeed, along with the development discourse, voices such as Panwar’s are also gaining ground in the electoral arena. However, it remains to be seen how much reach and impact these voices will have in the era of professional influencer companies supported with big budgets.


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Monsanto’s 10 most misleading talking points on GMO labeling #mustread


By Michele Simon

Cross-posted from Appetite for Profit

Photo by Shutterstock.

The battle in California over Proposition 37, which would require labeling of foods containing GMOs, is really heating up. Millions of dollars are already being poured into the opposition campaign, with much of it going to former Big Tobacco shills. Over at GMO HQ, Monsanto recently posted this missive called “Taking a Stand: Proposition 37, The California Labeling Proposal,” in which the biotech giant explains why it is opposing the measure (to the tune of $4.2 million so far).

Even for a corporation not exactly known for its honesty and transparency, this brief webpage is riddled with deception and outright falsehoods about the initiative and its proponents. Here are the 10 most blatant examples:

1.  The law “would require a warning label on food products.”

No warning label would be required. Rather, the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” would be required on the back of the package — similar to what is now required for ingredient or allergen labeling. For whole foods, like the sweet corn coming soon to a Walmart near you, a sign would be posted on the store shelf with the words “genetically engineered.” The aim is simply to offer consumers additional information about the contents of the foods they purchase.

2. “The safety and benefits of these ingredients are well established.”

Unfortunately, no long-term studies exist on either the safety or benefits of GMO ingredients, so Monsanto has no basis for making such a claim. Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not even require safety studies of genetically engineered foods. Meanwhile, some independent studies raise questions about links to allergies and other potential health risks.

3. “The American Medical Association just re-affirmed that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

This statement, while true, is taken out of context and is misleading because the American Medical Association (AMA) also (for the first time) called for mandatory premarket safety studies of GMOs. As Consumers Union recently noted in its reaction to AMA’s announcement, labeling and testing logically go together:

The AMA’s stance on mandatory labeling isn’t consistent with its support for mandatory pre-market safety assessments. If unexpected adverse health effects, such as an allergic reaction, happen as a result of GE, then labeling could perhaps be the only way to determine that the GE process was linked to the adverse health effect.

4. Food companies “have had the choice” to use GM ingredients.

Choice is a good thing; however, consumers have never had the choice. Prop 37 will give consumers a long-overdue choice about eating genetically engineered food.

5. “FDA says that such labeling would be inherently misleading to consumers.”

Of course FDA refuses to require GMO labeling, thanks to Monsanto’s arm-twisting that began more than 20 years ago. Food Democracy Now’s Dave Murphy explained the FDA decision in May upon its 20-year anniversary, which came as a result of a broader deregulatory push by the first Bush administration:

Twenty years ago this week, then-Vice President Dan Quayle announced the FDA’s policy on genetically engineered food as part of his “regulatory relief initiative.” As Quayle explained in the 1992 press conference, the American biotechnology industry would reap huge profits “as long as we resist the spread of unnecessary regulations.”

Dan Quayle’s 1992 policy announcement is premised on the notion that genetically engineered crops are “substantially equivalent” to regular crops and thus do not need to be labeled or safety tested. The policy was crafted by Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lawyer who was hired by the Bush FDA to fill the newly created position of deputy commissioner of policy.

Five years earlier, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush visited a Monsanto lab for a photo op with the developers of Roundup Ready crops. According to a video report of the meeting, when Monsanto executives worried about the approval process for their new crops, Bush laughed and told them, “Call me. We’re in the dereg businesses. Maybe we can help.”

Call they did. It’s typical for corporations to get their policy agenda approved through back-channel lobbying and revolving door appointments and then point to the magical policy outcome as evidence of scientific decision-making.

6. “Consumers have broad food choices today, but could be denied these choices if Prop 37 prevails.”

There is no basis in logic that consumers could be denied food choices. Indeed, Proposition 37 actually broadens the meaningful food choices available through greater transparency. Right now, people are eating in the dark.

7. “Interestingly, the main proponents of Proposition 37 are special interest groups and individuals opposed to food biotechnology who are not necessarily engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply.”

In fact, quite a large number of food producers, farmers, and others very much “engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply” support the campaign. (See the growing list of endorsements.) Speaking of “special interest groups” wouldn’t that label apply to the likes of Monsanto and all the industrial food producers who oppose Proposition 37?

8. “Beneath their right to know slogan is a deceptive marketing campaign aimed at stigmatizing modern food production.”

“Modern food production,” is that Monsanto’s latest euphemism for scientifically altering the genetic code of the food supply? In truth, nothing is hidden “beneath” the Right to Know campaign, that’s all it’s abo
ut. But because Monsanto has no good argument for why consumers don’t have the right to know how their food is produced, it has to resort to distracting deceptions.

9. “[Proponents] opinions are in stark contrast with leading health associations.”

Another look at the long list of Prop 37 endorsements reveal that Monsanto and friends are actually out of step with leading health associations, such as:

  • American Public Health Association
  • American Medical Students Association
  • American Academy of Environmental Medicine
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility, California chapters
  • California Nurses Association

10. “The California proposal would serve the purposes of a few special interest groups at the expense of the majority of consumers.”

Again, logic defies this talking point, especially since all polling indicates a “majority of consumers” want GMO food to be labeled. Indeed, the most recent California poll shows the proposition winning by a 3-to-1 margin. No wonder Monsanto has to resort to such nonsensical talking points.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. She is grateful to live in Oakland, Calif., within walking distance of a farmers market. You can follow her on Twitter.


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