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India offers additional concessional credit of $10 billion to Africa

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New Delhi: In its biggest ever engagement with Africa, India on Thursday sought to recharge its ties with all 54 African countries, announcing increased interaction in areas like energy and agriculture while offering an additional concessional credit of $10 billion.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as “historic” the summit, attended by 41 heads of state and government including of South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Liberia and comprising two kings, 25 presidents and six prime ministers besides six vice presidents, foreign and trade ministers and senior officials.

The third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) – the largest international gathering of leaders in Delhi after the Non-Aligned Movement summit in 1983 – was held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, allowing all the leaders to sit as equals at a horseshoe shaped table.

According to Indian officials, Africa had never been present in such strength in any of their interactions with other world power or groupings – an indicator of their expectations from India and the country’s growing international stature.

Prime Minister Modi, who was dressed in his usual Kurta with a pale blue sleeveless jacket and Churidar, in his closing remarks, said: “This has been a truly historic day. We had the opportunity to listen to the whole of Africa.”

He said closer defense and security cooperation, especially in capability development, will be a key pillar of their partnership, which was so “natural” as their “destinies are so closely interlinked” and “aspirations and challenges are so similar”.

Announcing that the next IAFS will be held after five years, Modi stressed Africa will remain at the center of India’s attention and engagement with it will remain “intense and regular.”

The summit adopted a Delhi Declaration seeking a decisive push for United Nations Security Council reform and calling on all countries to ensure that their territories were not used for cross-border terrorist activities, while also adopted was a Framework Agreement on Strategic Cooperation.

Commemorative coins and stamps were also released, and President Pranab Mukherjee later hosted a banquet for the visiting leaders.

On the sidelines, Modi also had bilateral meetings with 10 African leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Modi, who met 19 leaders on Wednesday is slated to have more bilateral on Friday.

In his opening address as the summit host, Modi sought to strengthen the India-Africa partnership by announcing 50,000 scholarships in the next five years.

“It is a meeting of dreams of one-third of humanity under one roof,” Modi said as he outlined a roadmap for increased Indian interaction with African countries in a wide gamut, including connectivity, infrastructure, power and agriculture — his speech evoking loud cheers from the leaders – in a bid to enhance Indian influence in a continent where China had stolen a march with over $200 billion investments in the last 15 years.

He also called for a comprehensive agreement on climate change at a global conference later this year. No one, Modi said, had contributed less to global warming than India and Africa, adding that “the excess of a few cannot become the burden of many”.

The summit, in which the visiting leaders were treated to a cultural extravaganza at the start including African dances, also saw the dresses and images of Africa come alive with many of the leaders sporting traditional costumes and headgear, including Liberian President and Nobel Peace Prize Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and many speaking in their native languages.

IAFS is a major initiative of the Modi government to reach out to the continent which has rich resources, is witnessing faster growth and has a similar demographic profile. African countries see the large scope of cooperation with India in diverse areas such as agriculture and education.

South African President Jacob Zuma described the relation between India and the African countries as an embodiment of South-South cooperation and dwelt on the roles “played by your visionary former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi”.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe strongly pitched for reforms of the UN Security Council and said Africa should get at least two permanent seats.

Apart from the concessional credit in addition to the $7.4 billion India has already committed, Modi said India would also offer a grant assistance of $600 million, which would include an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million.

He said India and Africa would deepen their partnership on clean energy, sustainable habitats, public transport, health care, telecommunications and climate resilient agriculture.

(IANS)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)