MARCH 1996 · VOLUME 17 · NUMBER 3
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
THE UNITED STATES APPEARS READY to award Turkey with significant military equipment despite strong opposition by human rights groups and detailed reports on the use of U.S. military supplies against civilian Kurdish targets by the Turkish military.
The U.S. government is now considering Turkey's request to purchase 10 AH-IW Super Cobra attack helicopters valued at $135 million from Bell-Textron, a Texas-based arms manufacturer.
Turkey claims that it needs the Cobras to match the military power of its rival, Greece. Human rights activists, assert, however, that the Turkish army has used Cobras to crush insurgents in Kurdish areas in the southeast.
During the past three years, the Turkish army has used U.S.-supplied fighter bombers and helicopters to attack civilian villages, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch estimates the decade-old war between the central government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has resulted in more than 19,000 deaths, and displacement of approximately two million people from their native areas.
"We have a lot of evidence that these helicopters have been used in human rights violations in Turkey," says Christine Haen, an Amnesty International spokesperson.
The proposed sale "will escalate a dangerous arms race and exacerbate tensions between Turkey and its neighbors," adds Lora Lumpe, editor of Arms Control Monitor, a newsletter that tracks U.S. arms industry sales.
The United States has long granted Turkey a special place in its geo-political considerations. Over the past decade, the U.S. Congress has appropriated over $4 billion in military aid to Turkey. Last year Turkey ranked as the third largest weapons importer in the world, and Washington provided 80 percent of its defense equipment.
Having initially been swayed by arguments from human rights groups, the administration is now shifting, resuming the historic U.S. policy stance. The shift comes as a result of intense pressure from Senator Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina, others in the Republican Congress and defense industry interests.
Defending the potential sale of Cobras, a State Department official says, Turkey "is the only Western-looking democracy in an area where democracy is rare." The official says that the U.S. government will probably refrain from linking the sale of helicopters to the Turkish Government's human rights record.
Privatizing the Amazon
OBSESSED WITH THE NOTION that privatization will help boost its economy, the Peruvian government is considering handing over millions of acres of land in rainforests to private investors.
The new move toward privatization is part of a plan prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture that seeks expansion of the existing Ecological Protection Zones (ZPEs).
Under the plan, almost 60 percent of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest will be converted into private property, according to Peruvian newspaper reports. If the plan is enacted, approximately 46 million hectares of the Peruvian Amazon hitherto not part of a protected zone will be regulated by the Ley de Tierras, a law that allows sale to private investors through public auction.
The other land will be allocated to expanded ZPEs, which will include protected national parks and indigenous people reserves as well as areas close to rivers.
But environmental groups say that the ZPE plan will not protect even the natural environment included in the zones. Instead, they fear, the proposed plan would lead to further destruction of the rainforest and the economy of its inhabitants. "The ZPEs do not have conservation as their fundamental objective," says Gustavo Suarez, executive director of the Peru-based Foundation for the Conservation of Nature. Although they will not be privately owned, they will be open to use through concessions, he says. "It could happen that a company requests a concession of these lands and later it charges the indigenous people for its use," Suarez worries. "The proposal does not make any restrictions."
Chained to Looms
TEXTILE BARONS IN BANGLADESH have unleashed a reign of terror against garment workers campaigning for the right to one day's holiday each week. Since July 1995, when the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) initiated its campaign for a weekly holiday, the textile companies have sacked more than 500 workers. About 100 were fired for involvement in trade union activities, while nearly 400 workers were given no reason for their dismissal.
Labor leaders say that since November 1995, five women workers have been raped and three killed.
The Bangladesh garment industry employs more than one million workers, mainly women and children, who work long hours in small factories with low pay, no holidays or days off, no health care, no housing and no transportation facilities. Bangladesh workers have a legal right to Friday as a holiday, but employers do not observe it, and they frequently fire workers who demand it.
In November 1995, the textile bosses closed 10 factories without giving the workers accrued wages and overtime payments. Workers in more than 100 factories are owed back wages for the last three to four months.
"Garment workers have to work 14 to 16 hours a day. Sometimes they have to tolerate physical torture and women workers are frequently harassed," says Amirul Haq Amin, general secretary of the Federation.
-- Haider Rizvi