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In brief

World congress against the sexual exploitation of children

The first international congress dealing with the problem of the sexual exploitation of children for profit was held in Stockholm from 27 to 31 August. The initiative for the meeting came from ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism), working in collaboration with the Swedish government, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and a group of NGOs supporting the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The congress was attended by government representatives from most of the UN countries, participants from various international and regional organisations (including the UN Centre for Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, UNHCR and Interpol), NGOs, health professionals and media representatives from across the globe.

The aim of the congress was to draw the international community's attention to the issue of the sexual exploitation of children and to promote the development of national plans to tackle all forms of abuse in this area. It focused particularly on three aspects: child prostitution, the 'trade' in children for sexual purposes, and child pornography.

Although there are a number of legal instruments which refer to these problems, the key one for the purposes of the Stockholm meeting was the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Article 34 of this multilateral treaty, which has been ratified by 186 countries, the signatory states commit themselves to protect children against all forms of exploitation and violence of a sexual nature. For the purposes of the Convention, a child is defined as any human being less than 18 years old, except where the age of majority is lower than 18 in the relevant local legislation (Article 1).

The committee that was responsible for planning the Congress drew up documents on a number of themes including: the revision and application of laws; psycho-social prevention; tourism and child prostitution; those who engage in abuse; hygiene and health; the role of the media; child pornography; education; and human values. These subjects were all examined by working groups during the two-day session.

The congress was addressed by Anita Gradin, Member of the European Commission with responsibility for internal and judicial affairs, and matters relating to immigration. She took the opportunity to underline the point that the traffic in women and children was international. Organised crime, she said, lay at the heart of the 'trade' and it was closely linked to a whole range of other criminal activities. She cited, in this context, kidnapping, forging of documents, 'false' marriages and adoptions, clandestine immigration, violence and forced labour. these, in turn were associated with the drug trade, extortion and murder. The conclusion was that a global action plan and more international cooperation were needed. Ms Gradin acknowledged that existing arrangements had been successful in exposing the existence of paedophile networks but she was convinced that international cooperation should be strengthened further, and that organisations such as Interpol and Europol would be called upon to play a bigger part in the future. The European Commissioner went on to declare that a commitment to the protection of children ought to be a priority. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which is now eight years old - should not merely tee 'adopted' by all countries. It should, rather, be applied in full and integrated into the legislation of every nation. There was no point, she suggested, in enacting new laws, if the existing ones were not being implemented and the financial resources had not been provided. Ms Gradin reaffirmed the European Commission's commitment to the fight against the exploitation of children. This would be reflected in communications to be drawn up by the Commission for presentation to the Council of Ministers and European Parliament, on the following subjects: - the treatment of women (on the basis of the recommendations made by the Vienna Conference on this subject, which was held in June 1996); - sex tourism, notably in certain countries in Asia and Latin America; - actions designed to eliminate paedophile rings and child pornography networks which make use of new information technologies such as the Internet. During the congress, the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that his country would be launching an initiative at the EC's Justice and Internal Affairs Council meeting scheduled for 26 and 27 September. They would be proposing common action designed to strengthen police and judicial cooperation in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children for profit. He believed that it should be possible to take measures both within the framework of the Europol Convention, and by means of new and specific cooperation instruments. The culmination of the Stockholm congress was the adoption of a declaration and an action plan. These foresee strengthened cooperation and coordination among local and national authorities, and a series of measures to protect children, prevent abuse and provide rehabilitation.

1997: European year against racism

In a resolution adopted on 23 July, the Council of Ministers formally designated 1997 as the European year against racism. The aims, set out in the resolution, include: - highlighting the threat posed by racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, in terms of both respect for fundamental rights, and in ensuring the economic and social cohesion of the European Community; - encouraging reflection and discussion of the measures needed to tackle racism, xenophobia and antisemitism in Europe; - promoting a sharing of experiences, best practice, and effective strategies drawn up at the local, national and European levels; - disseminating information on the aforementioned best practice and strategies amongst those most closely involved in the fight against racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of their actions in this area; - highlighting the advantages of integration policies implemented at the national level, in particular in the fields of employment, education, training and housing; - taking account, wherever possible, of the experiences of victims of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, and promoting the participation of these people in society. ECU 6 million will be spent on a series of activities designed to help achieve these objectives during the 'year against racism'. A logo and slogan will be devised, and seminars and conferences will be staged with the aim of strengthening international cooperation (themes will include the role of education in eliminating racism, ways of establishing dialogue, and establishing mutual respect between different communities living in towns and cities). Documents and audiovisual material will be distributed, and an effort will be made to get the message across in the media. There will also be action to encourage information exchanges on best practice, and to increase public awareness of the issue. Prizes will be awarded to media organisations which safeguard the quality of the information they put out and which seek to promote tolerance. A specific effort will be made to counter the racist propaganda now appearing on the Internet.

WTO banana challenge

The European Union has set out its legal defence of duty-free preferences for African and Caribbean banana producing countries that are members of the Fourth Lomonvention. This took place in September at an initial hearing of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) panel - convened at the request of a number of competing banana producer nations. African and Caribbean states were permitted to voice their opinion as third part)" in the case, despite an objection from the United States. The EU's banana market arrangements - notably Protocol 5 of the Lomonvention, which sanctions duty-free access - have twice before come under attack in the Geneva body. Two earlier hearings in the WTO's forerunner, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), concerned the EU's previous state-to-state regime, and the new single market arrangements which have been in operation since July 1993. The present panel was set up at the request of four Latin American banana producer nations - Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala - together with the United States which is arguing that its domestic banana companies are losing out. The complainants jointly claim that the tariff quota for Latin American nations, the core of regulation 404/93 establishing the EU regime, discriminates against them. They also challenge the licensing arrangements of the so-called 'framework agreement' made under the GATT framework in 1994 with four Latin American nations (Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Venezuela). In return for a bigger share of the EU market, these four agreed to refrain from further challenges in the WTO against the EU's banana arrangements.

The panel is expected to give its verdict in March 1997. The hearings are taking place behind closed doors, but it is understood that EU and ACP nations can count on the support of Japan - which currently imposes its own quotas on imports of other items and does not want to be challenged for these - and that of India which wants to show solidarity with the ACP countries.

Speaking in Geneva, Cot'lvoire's Commodities Minister, Alain Gauze, stressed the heavy dependence of many African and Caribbean states on banana growing. 90% of Dominica's commodity exports are bananas and the crop accounts for 70% of its export receipts and 25% of its Gross Domestic Product.

One ACP representative in Brussels described the task ahead es 'convincing them (the panel) that the banana regime and regulation 404/93 are required to fulfil the obligations of the EU under the Lomonvention and the subsequent waiver.'

The waiver to which he referred was accorded by GATT to the Lomonvention's various non-reciprocal trade preferences in 1994, but it is up for renewal at the end of the year.

The EU has already put in a request for its extension until February 29, 2000, coinciding with the expiry date of LomV.

The WTO was expected to rule on the renewal of the waiver in mid-October ahead of the panel's decision. If the renewal of the waiver were to be disallowed, the EU and ACP 'defendants' at the panel could find themselves on shaky legal ground.

In the meantime, the EU has fixed its 1996 tariff quota, allowing a maximum of 2.553 million tonnes of Latin American bananas to be imported into the Union with a tariff of ECU 75 per tonne.

A further quota of 72 440 tonnes has been allocated to this region following tropical storms Iris, Luis et Marilyn. The damage caused by these storms led to the suspension of supplies of bananas from several Caribbean islands.

EU banana production is expected to reach 750 000 tonnes in 1996, while preferential imports from the African and Caribbean members of the ACP group have been fixed at 680 000 tonnes. According to latest predictions, the total consumption of this fruit in the European Union in 1996 will be 4030440 tonnes.


Trade and labour standards

Ahead of the first ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be held in December in Singapore, the European Commission has published a discussion paper (COM (96) 402 final) on whether labour standards should be linked to trade - which could mean sanctions for nations which do not comply with globally recognised labour clauses. What is at stake is to draw up globally recognised criteria and implement them without accusations of protectionism from some developing nations.

At an informal meeting of EU trade ministers in Dublin on September 18, EC Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, said that, in supporting an international code, the European Union had no intention of damaging the competitive advantage of developing nations.

Many Asian countries, who view the move of the EU and of other industrialised nations as veiled protectionism, do not even want the subject broached at the Singapore meeting. However, mention was made of the link between trade and internationally recognised labour standards in the conclusions of the Uruguay Round of GATT in Marrakesh in 1994, which requested that the WTO do more work on this issue.

The recent Commission paper advances the reasons for an international code: 'Workers in certain sectors in particular perceive that their jobs are under threat from imports from countries which allow unfair or unacceptable working practices.

These concerns cannot be ignored and should be addressed by the world trading system. Otherwise the perception will be - wrongly - that trade liberalisation is the problem and not the solution to the challenge to all societies to create a higher standard of living for all their citizens.'

It further makes the point that such a policy is in line with others such as the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. The EU has always upheld the view that there is a positive correlation between social progress, economic growth and trade liberalisation. According to the paper: 'There is no question of imposing on developing countries the higher wage levels and better working conditions which pertain in the industrialised world. Nor is this an action designed to re-erect new barriers to trade under cover of a social agenda.'

The EU and international bodies are already looking at the kind of global criteria that might be adopted. A report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), published in 1994, as well as the conclusions of the 1995 World Social Summit in Copenhagen, both suggest that freedom of association, collective bargaining, prohibition of forced labour and the elimination of child labour are top of the list.

A report entitled: 'Trade, Employment and Labour Standards - a study of core workers' rights and international trade', produced this year by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), looks at the options in depth.

Jeff Atkinson, trade policy advisor for the NGO, Oxfam UK, suggests that initial negotiations should be limited to matters covered in ILO Conventions 87 and 98. The former deals with freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, while the latter is on the right to organise and collective bargaining. He argues that other Conventions, covering such matters as the right to equal renumeration for men and women workers, freedom from discrimination and the abolition of forced labour, depend on the first two.

A notable omission from Jeff Atkinson's list is ILO Convention 138 on child labour. He does not feel that this Convention adequately addresses the issue. While international concern has focused on the most abusive forms of child labour such as slavery and prostitution, he points out not all child labour is so grossly abusive. Some forms can bring in money for food and shelter, which would otherwise not be available.

He argues that if conditions are right, employment (say on a family farm or business) can contribute positively to a child's development, by providing an informal learning environment in which social and physical skills can develop.

'To tackle the symptoms, for example by banning child labour, without addressing the underlying cause is likely to be counterproductive', says Mr Atkinson. He argues that it might induce children to seek illegal work in order to survive, or alternatively that they may end up becoming destitute.

Some bodies are already trying to enforce improved standards. Although the ILO cannot implement sanctions, if an ILO member fails to comply with Conventions, a dialogue can be instituted with the defaulting country. It is also running an extensive public campaign against child labour and is assisting the development of social labelling for goods produced which fully respect ILO Conventions.

Under its new Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), the EU can remove some trade preferences if goods imported from non-Lomeveloping nations are found to have been made with forced or slave labour. And from January 1, 1998, extra preferences can be given to countries which so request and comply with Conventions 87, 98 and 138. But if the enforcement of a socalled 'Social Clause' does reach the WTO level, some voices are already calling for joint monitoring involving the WTO and that long-time champion of human rights, the ILO.

The 1996 UNCTAD Report

A slow world growth rate is revealed in this year's annual report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), published in September. The global economy expanded by only 2.4% in 1995 compared with a 2.8% increase in 1994. And production is below what it could be, says the report. On the whole, developing nations achieved higher growth rates than their industrialised counterparts in 1995.

In 1996, world growth is expected to slow further although there will still be 'star performers' in some regions, and particularly slow movers in others. Asia is the continent currently doing best and China has the fastest expanding economy - despite this having slackened in recent years.

In 1995, Africa recorded higher growth than Latin America, according to the Rubens Ricupero, UNCTAD Secretary General. It also managed the first real increase in average per capita income for a long time. This was partly due to commodity prices picking up - they rose 10% on average.

But not such good news for the continent was a drop in private capital flows, notably direct investment. And the growth rate was highly variable across Africa. In some countries it was above 5% but in others, the economic situation was hit badly by political and armed conflicts.

Meanwhile, drought led to lower production in the Sahel. The prospects for 1996 are uncertain according to the report. It noted that even countries whose economies have expanded during 1995 and 1996 will need another ten concurrent years of good economic results to get back to the per capita income they enjoyed 20 years ago.

The report highlights the tremendous difficulties facing many of the heavily-indebted, least developed nations. This is despite the fact that a number of donors have recently written off substantial amounts of some countries' public debts while the Paris Club has rescheduled repayments from other nations. Even if the new arrangements are followed through, UNCTAD is predicting that debt will remain a major burden for many countries.

One worrying factor is the weight of their multilateral debt and bilateral obligations to creditors other than the Paris Club. Multilateral institutions have implemented a number of measures, but these are of very limited scope. The UNCTAD Secretary General is encouraging multilateral creditors in particular, to put more muscle behind their debt relief plans.

The authors of the report are also recommending the establishment of an agency, within UNCTAD itself, to help developing nations achieve trade diversification and industrialisation strategies for economic growth.

Seminar on NGOs and government relations in humanitarian emergencies

The British Council is organising an international seminar on the above subject in Oxford, UK, from 12-17 December 1996. The main themes to be covered at the meeting will include:

- the actors in humanitarian assistance;
- funder and donor policy;
- government sovereignty;
- rights and obligations of intervention;
- the role of the beneficiary;
- conflicts of interest and areas of cooperation between donor NGOs and host governments, and;
- accountability and evaluation.

Further information can be obtained from the Marketing Manager, International Seminars, The British Council, 1 Beaumont Place, GB-Oxford, OX1 2PJ.

Tel. (44) 1B65 316 636, Fax. (44) 1865 57368.

E-mail: International.