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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Mar 29 2017 – Law enforcement authorities say they have discovered a quantity of drugs, arms and ammunition at a beach on the east coast of the island, a few hours after four people including three Venezuelan nationals were detained for trying to enter the country illegally.

The four men, including a national of the Dominican Republic, who sought to enter the island on Sunday, are still being questioned by officials.

A statement by the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) said law enforcement officials conducted a joint operation with the Police’s K-9 unit at Long Bay Beach on Tuesday and found two guns, a Glock 9 mm and a Colt 9 mm, along with 94 rounds of ammunition.

It said the operation also seized 179 packages of marijuana totalling just over 411 pounds, with a street value of over EC$1.6 million.

The ONDCP said the drugs originated from Venezuela and that so far this year, it has seized 810 pounds of marijuana and 50.9 kilogrammes of cocaine.

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Mar 28 2017 – Three members of the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), including its leader and former finance minister Harold Lovell, were freed on Tuesday after charges were dropped against them at a magistrates’ court.

Jubiliant UPP supporters chanted and celebrated as Lovell, former education minister Dr Jacqui Quinn and the St Phillip South Member of Parliament, Wilmoth Daniel, emerged from the court building.

The trio had been charged with larceny, fraudulent conversion and corruption in relation to three Daewoo buses worth more than EC$600,000 that had been donated to the former UPP administration by Japan.

The prosecution had alleged that the trio converted the buses for personal use and had them registered in their names while they were in public office.

The UPP had labelled the charges as part of the “continued harassment and political persecution of former members of its administration” and accused the ruling Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration of orchestrating the charges on the eve of its second anniversary on June 12 last year, to deflect focus from its “dismal failures”.

The charges were first filed in the St John’s Magistrates’ Court on May 30, 2016 and when the three accused appeared before Magistrate Conliffe Clarke on Tuesday, he ruled the defendants did not have a case to answer.

He said based on how the charges were laid there were no charges for them to answer.

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 28 2017 – Government has lifted the ban imposed last Tuesday on the importation of corned beef from Brazil, after tests revealed “no concerns about the safety” of the product here.

Senior Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Mark Trotman today sanctioned the resumption of the importation and sale of the canned meat, telling reporters this afternoon there was no evidence of contaminated corned beef entering Barbados from South America’s largest country.

“I have no concerns about the safety of corned beef from a veterinary standpoint. Obviously I cannot make any categorical statements. The laboratory analysis is part of our routine investigations. These types of tests take quite a while. We have to do microbiological analyses on a large number of samples. There are 17 different brands of corned beef in Barbados and we have to take several samples from each brand. We have to do a number of different tests on them. However, based on the information that we have been able to gather, what I can tell you is that I have no concerns about the product,” Trotman said.

Barbados, which imports 99 per cent of its corned beef from Brazil, last week joined a number of Caribbean countries that banned the importation and sale of meat products from that country, after the authorities there announced that major meat processors had been “selling rotten beef and poultry”.

Brazilian police had named the food conglomerate BRF – the world’s largest meat producer – and JBS – the world’s largest food processing company by sales and the biggest poultry exporter – along with smaller companies in a two-year corruption probe.

And, according to Reuters news agency, the police had alleged that the companies had paid inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.

While Trotman said none of the establishments that produce corned beef for Barbados had been implicated in the police action, there were lingering concerns because this was an issue where federal inspectors with the Brazilian ministry of agriculture were involved in “a bit of corruption”.

“It is a systemic problem that we need to get some clarification about. So while we import probably about 99 per cent of our corned beef from Brazil, it is a massive market and one I think some importers might want to take advantage of. There is a potential systemic issue although the number of inspectors involved was very small compared with the entire Brazilian federal inspection system . . . . It is still important that we get some clarification on it. So we will be working with our regional partners to do this on a regional basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Retail and Distribution Committee of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Anthony Brancker welcomed the lifting of the ban.

“We want to commend the Ministry of Agriculture for the actions it took to secure the health of Barbadians. We are thankful that the investigation was thorough and that we are going to see corned beef back on our shelves,” Brancker said.

Asked about the economic cost to the retail and distributive sector, Brancker admitted that hundreds of thousands of dollars were tied up in inventory, but said it was important to place the health of Barbadians before money.

“Even at this stage we were not really looking at the potential loss. We were looking at safeguarding the lives of Barbadians as our paramount concern. We worked along with the Ministry of Agriculture providing all of the samples necessary so that we would come to a conclusion that was in the best interest of Barbados. We were 100 per cent willing to support the sale of safe and wholesome corned beef to our customers,” Brancker said.

Last Friday, a number of supermarkets managers had told Barbados TODAY the ban had little impact because Barbadians had been moving away from corned beef and gravitating towards canned fish instead. (Barbados TODAY)

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ROSEAU, Dominica, Mar 28 2017 – The leader of the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP), Lennox Linton, has said the police are in “combat mode” with the Dominican population after the party was denied permission to stage a march here on Thursday.

But Linton said the party and other “patriots” will be staging two meeting here on Thursday “for which we do not need permission”.

He said the first meeting will take place in Pottersville on the outskirts of the capital starting at 5.00 pm (local time) and there will be another meeting in Lagon at 7.30 in the evening.

“We are going to do it peacefully, we are going to do it very orderly, we are not in any confrontation mode, we are simply saying in a loud voice with the sons and daughters from all across Dominica that Skerrit must go,” Linton added.

Police Commissioner Daniel Carbon in a letter to the UWP public relations officer, Nicholas George, said that the denial was due to “public safety and national security reasons”.

But in a post on his Facebook page, Linton said he was “surprised at the tone of the letter” from the Police Commissioner regarding the march which is part of the opposition efforts to get Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his government out of office.

“We are seeking to have a peaceful, law abiding activity, an activity in dissent, an activity in protest of the prime minister’s continuance in office. We are standing on a democratic right for a right to have him removed from office so our country can move on.

“The letter from the Commissioner of Police suggests that the police (are) in combat mode with the people of Dominica who are protesting for their rights in a democracy. This comes after weeks of persecution of members of the leadership of the United Workers Party and the Dominica Freedom Party.

“We have been denied permission, our rights to march have been denied by the police,” Linton said.

The UWP had written to the police on March 15 seeking permission to stage the march as it part of its efforts to get the Roosevelt Skerrit government to resign or call fresh general elections.

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Mar 28 2017 –  Chilean President Michelle Bachelet travelled to Haiti on Monday for talks with government and U.N. officials weeks before the start of her country’s announced withdrawal of military peacekeepers.

Bachelet’s stop included meetings with President Jovenel Moise, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti and the nearly 400 Chileans currently serving in the U.N. stabilization mission.

Chile’s government announced last year it would begin withdrawing its peacekeepers, and Bachelet’s office now says the gradual pullout will begin April 15.

That is the same day the U.N. Security Council is due to decide the future of the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, which was established after a 2004 rebellion ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is recommending the U.N. peacekeeping mission as a whole wrap up with the departure of all 2,370 military personnel by Oct. 15. Troops come from 19 countries.

The U.N. chief said a successor smaller peacekeeping operation should be established in Haiti to continue to support police training, political stability, good governance, electoral reform, the rule of law and human rights.

Bachelet told Chilean troops based in the northern city of Cap-Haitien that her government believes it has succeeded in realizing the goals set at the start of the stabilization mission some 13 years ago.

“It is time, therefore, to refocus our strategy,” she said.

Bachelet also visited a Port-au-Prince school for girls rebuilt by Chile after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

She was scheduled to depart for a flight to Geneva on Monday evening.

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Mar 28 2017 – Immigration officers are questioning four Venezuelan men who allegedly tried to sneak into the country illegally on Sunday.

The four were found moments after they swam ashore at Long Bay sometime between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. It is alleged that the men were dropped off by a boat and, after authorities received a tip-off about their arrival, the group was promptly intercepted.

The operation involved officers attached to the Customs Department, the Immigration Department, the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP), and the police.

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Members of the Tambourine Army during their March 11 protest. The radical social-justice movement is fighting gender violence and rape culture in Jamaica.

By Desmond Brown

KINGSTON, Jamaica (ACP-IDN) – In the wake of an alarming upsurge in domestic violence and abuse of women and girls, a new group has emerged here with the promise of a revolution for social change, combating gender-based violence in particular – the “Tambourine Army”.

On its Facebook page, the Tambourine Army describes itself as a radical social-justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and safeguarding the rights of women and girls.

The group first came to public attention on Sunday, February 8, when 14 women staged a peaceful protest at the Nazareth Moravian Church in the central parish of Manchester, rallying support for a 15-year-old St Elizabeth school girl allegedly abused by the pastor of the congregation.

One of the protesters reportedly used a tambourine to hit the then leader of the Moravian Church in Jamaica, Dr Paul Gardner, on the head, and the hashtag #TambourineArmy soon became popular on Jamaican social media in reference to the incident.

“This is not an army that fights with guns and M16s — though they are militant about their cause,” wrote former Jamaican senator and self-described changemaker Imani Duncan-Price in a recent op-ed in the island’s The Gleaner newspaper.

“The aim: to finally make Jamaica safer for women and girls, to deal systematically with the scourge of violence against children and women.”

More than two dozen women were murdered in Jamaica in 2016 and, according to Acting Commission of Police Novelette Grant, a little over 1,400 perpetrators of crimes against women and children over the past 13 months have been arrested.

Attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford, QC, said the Tambourine Army raises a number of constitutional issues that are fascinating for a human rights lawyer to disentangle.

“Issue #1: Women and children are being constantly abused. Most of the worst violations of human rights occur within the home. Men who think they are stronger, including pastors who claim to be interpreters of the Word of God, abuse their power and think they are beyond the reach of justice. It has to stop, and as in many civil rights struggles, the abused are fed up with pious talk that has changed nothing.

“Issue #2: We enjoy the right of free speech and use it all the time, in talk shows and on social media, and on the street. It is a precious right that allows us all to vent our grievances and campaign for change. In the old days in Britain, they used to charge those who agitated for reform with ‘criminal libel’. In Jamaica, the offence of criminal libel was abolished by the Defamation Act 2013. But is it now returning in another form?

“Issue #3: We live under the rule of law, and the justice system should be there to ensure that crimes are reported and investigated, and the perpetrators punished. The presumption of innocence means that we should not label people as guilty until they have been so found after a fair trial. But the system is creaking. Cases take ages to be heard. Most judges do their best to do justice, but the ordeals faced by both victims and accused on the road to justice are often intolerable.”

On March 11, the Tambourine Army organised it debut national protest march against domestic violence, and Gifford said he fully supports the group.

“The issue of violence and sexual abuse cannot be resolved only by talk and no action. Men, too, should be part of the struggle to bring about true equality in relationships, and true care and protection for our children,” he said.

But noted obstetrician, gynaecologist, comedian and poet Michael Abrahams said he does do not agree with some of the tactics employed by the movement.

“The name ‘Tambourine Army’ arose after co-founder Latoya Nugent hit a pastor who is an alleged predator on the head with a tambourine. That was an assault, and I have reservations about naming the movement after such an incident,” Abrahams said.

“I also have reservations about the #SayTheir Names campaign that they initiated, in which victims are urged to publicly ‘name and shame’ alleged perpetrators, as persons with axes to grind can use the opportunity to smear the names of innocent people, even before making formal reports to the relevant authorities.”

Several persons voicing disagreement with the tactics being used by the Tambourine Army, including human-rights advocates sympathetic to their cause, have also been publicly cursed and disrespected by Nugent in social media.

On March 14, Nugent was arrested and charged with three counts of using a computer for malicious communication under section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015.

Nugent allegedly published information on social media maligning several individuals as sexual predators, leading to formal complaints to the police by some of them.

“The women of the Tambourine Army see themselves as militant warriors who have decided that enough is enough and that it is time to rebel and start a revolution,” Abrahams said.

“Many people are hurting from the sequelae of child abuse, and when people hurt, are marginalised, and are denied justice, their pain will be manifested as anger.”

Then, he noted, there will come “a breaking point when the rules of the society that has failed them will be ignored and they will blaze their own trail. Their actions will offend and hurt some, and there will be casualties and collateral damage.

“Rebellions and revolutions are never pretty. Warriors are not here to play nice. The abuse of children has become normalised in our society, and if this were not the case, the Tambourine Army would not exist.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 March 2017]

Photo: Members of the Tambourine Army during their March 11 protest. The radical social-justice movement is fighting gender violence and rape culture in Jamaica.

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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A manmade rainwater catchment on a farm in Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 28 2017 (IPS) – The Caribbean Drought & Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN) is warning countries in the region that the same abnormal climate conditions they have experienced over the last few years, which resulted in some of the worst drought in two decades, could continue this year.

Several Caribbean countries, particularly in the eastern Caribbean, experienced a drier than normal February, and in some cases both February and January were relatively dry, CDPMN said.

The Barbados-based network also said that although there is some uncertainty over rainfall during the March to May period in some parts of the Caribbean, concerns remain for the western Caribbean/Greater Antilles for both short and long term drought, and in the southern portion of the eastern Caribbean for long term drought.

“Some models also suggest the possibility for the return of El Niño, and drier than normal conditions late in 2017,” Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Adrian Trotman told IPS. “The CDPMN will continue to monitor this situation.”

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of weather impacts.

In 2015 and 2016, a powerful El Niño drove up global temperatures and played a role in droughts in many parts of the world.

The so-called “Super El Niño” is said by experts to have had a role in driving global temperatures to record highs.

CDPMN said apart from portions of Barbados and Dominica that were slightly wet, the islands of the eastern Caribbean were normal to below normal regarding rainfall for the month.

It said Trinidad and Tobago was normal to slightly dry; Grenada, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, St. Maarten, St. Thomas normal; while Barbados was normal to slightly wet with St. Vincent extremely dry and St. Lucia moderate to extremely dry.

The French island of Martinique was reported to be moderate to severely dry, while Dominica was slightly wet in the southwest to severely dry in the northeast.

Antigua was exceptionally dry and St. Kitts moderately dry. The CDPMN said that the Guianas ranged from normal to very wet, with greatest relative wetness in interior areas.

Beginning in 1997-1998, drought forced water restrictions across the Caribbean, and resulted in significant losses in the agriculture sector.

Caribbean countries have been implementing water rationing to deal with shortages of the resource, with St. Kitts being the latest country to implement the measure.

On Jan. 25, the Water Services Department announced the resumption of water rationing in the capital Basseterre, Bird Rock, Half Moon and the South East Peninsula. Daily rationing occurs during the hours of 10 pm to 5 am.

The Water Services Department said although rainfall for 2016 was more than in 2015, it was still significantly below average, and therefore the country is still in drought.

“We are approaching the Dry Season and are already experiencing reduced inflows from our surface water sources and storage in our wells. The recent showers only improved the situation slightly,” acting general manager Dennison Paul said.

“We are also experiencing technical difficulties with one of our wells in the Basseterre Valley Aquifer, which has compounded the problem. Our drilling programme is ongoing and should bring relief to consumers when commissioned.”

In 2015, St. Kitts experienced island-wide water rationing as a result of drought conditions. Coming off traditional rainfall levels of around 20.63 inches per year, the island saw an average 9.87 inches in 2015.

Officials have implemented several water-saving measures to help mitigate the upcoming dry period.

These include asking all residents, government and private institutions to make the repair of leaks a priority; asking residents without cisterns to explore purchasing large storage containers  of 500 gallons or more; businesses implementing a water management contingency plan which should involve daily monitoring of water meter; government ensuring that critical institutions such as hospitals and schools, have onsite standby water storage receptacles, based on vulnerability; there should be no washing of vehicles with water hoses; mandatory no watering of grass; no water delivery to cruise vessels; and fines or disconnection of service for violation, where applicable

In addition to other measures taken to improve the supply of water to consumers, Public Works Minister Ian Liburd indicated in July 2016 that a company, Ocean Earth Technologies, had been contracted to locate and bring on-stream new wells in the Basseterre area.

He said they had identified seven sites north of the airport where wells were to be drilled.

Barbados has also been grappling with chronic water shortages while the St Lucia government, in 2015, declared a “water-related emergency” as some communities, particularly in the north, continue to deal with dry weather conditions affecting water supplies across the Caribbean.

At the fifth Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Montreal earlier this month, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry called for greater focus to be given to the impact of drought on agriculture in the Caribbean.

“I think that for a long time we have been focusing on hurricanes in the Caribbean and really we have taken our eyes off drought mitigation. And in my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes,” Stanberry said. “After a hurricane, you can get up the next morning and start producing again; the drought tends to be prolonged.

“The overwhelming majority of our farmers, particularly our smaller ones, really depend on rainfall; and with climate change we are seeing wide variation in rainfall patterns. We are seeing extremes; in some months we have too much rain and for the last three four years, you can almost bet your bottom dollar, that there is going to be a drought and the drought tends to be prolonged,” Stanberry added.

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NASSAU, Bahamas, Mar 27 2017 – The Bahamas government says it is not perturbed by a recent move by the Haitian parliament to join the international drive to end the tragedy of statelessness and to ensure the millions of innocent people around the world with no nationality get the help they need.

In a brief statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the policy and the law of The Bahamas is that one obtains citizenship by descent, which means through your parents.

“There are no plans to change that,” the statement added.

Nassau has complained in the past of the number of Haitians who are seeking to enter the country illegally and also seek to gain resident status or citizenship.

Last week, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, praised Haiti for becoming the third member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the 69th country to accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness once the government deposits the instruments of accession with the Depository of Treaties in New York.

The 1961 Convention requires states to establish safeguards in their nationality laws to ensure no person is made stateless at birth or later in life. It notably provides that children must acquire the nationality of the country in which they are born if they would otherwise be stateless.

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Cristiana Paşca Palmer

MONTREAL, Mar 27 2017 Cristiana Paşca Palmer has assumed office as the new Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the principal global treaty on biodiversity.

Adopted by governments in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro at the same time as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention has near-universal membership, with 196 Parties.

The overarching goals of the Convention are the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Two protocols have been adopted under the Convention, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization.

Ms. Paşca Palmer assumes her duties following the successful conclusion of the UN Biodiversity Conference (thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Second meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing), held last December in Cancun, Mexico.  Ms. Paşca Palmer has extensive experience in policymaking on the environment and sustainable development, as well as with the implementation policies, programmes and projects at the national and international levels.

A Romanian national, Ms. Paşca Palmer most recently served, from November 2015 to January 2017, as Romania’s Minister for Environment, Waters and Forests.  In that capacity she headed the Romanian delegation at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, where she signed the agreement on behalf of Romania, the 2016 Marrakech Climate Change Conference, and the 2016 UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancun.

As Head of the Ministry of Environment, Ms. Paşca Palmer oversaw eight individual agencies–including the National Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Fund Administration, the National Forest Authority, Romania’s Water Administration, and the Romanian Meteorological Administration—totaling approximately 30,000 staff and a $250 million annual budget.

Prior to serving as Minister for Environment, Waters and Forests, Ms. Paşca Palmer was Head of the Climate Change, Environment and Natural Resources Unit within the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development between 2011 and 2015. Her duties included overall management of European Union international cooperation and development in the areas of environment, climate change, forests, desertification, and disaster risk reduction. One of the most significant biodiversity related efforts conceived and led by Ms. Paşca Palmer was the design of the EU’s “Biodiversity for Life Initiative” (B4Life), a $1.2 billion comprehensive flagship program, financing innovative initiatives linking biodiversity conservation with food security and green economy transformation. She was also a Policy Analyst on International Relations and the Western Balkans in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, from 2010-2011.

Ms. Paşca Palmer also brings experience in mobilising civil society in support of the environment.  She was the founder and president of Green Cross Romania and was Country Director Romania for Fauna & Flora International (FFI), often referred to as the world’s first conservation society, where she, among other things, managed FFI’s in-country operations in Romania during the implementation of a $8.8 million GEF and World Bank Biodiversity Conservation Project, which pioneered the first system for protected areas’ management in Romania in the post-communist era.

Born in 1968, Ms. Pașca Palmer holds a PhD in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, with a focus on development economics, business management and environmental sustainability. She holds a Master in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Master of Science in Systems Ecology and Management of Natural Capital from the University of Bucharest. Ms. Pașca Palmer is the recipient of U.S. and European academic scholarships (Edward S. Mason, Joint Japan/World Bank, Marie Curie, and Henry R. Luce), and was awarded the Gorbachev Award for “significant contributions to the environment” by former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev. She enjoys the outdoors and has a great interest in ethnography and folklore.

Ms. Paşca Palmer joins the Convention at a crucial moment, with only four years remaining in the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and for Parties to achieve the current Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.  She will lead the preparations for the fourteenth Conference of the Parties which will take place in Egypt in 2018, the 25th anniversary of the year that the Convention entered into force in December 1993, and will also oversee the process for Parties to develop the set of commitments that go beyond 2020.

Ms. Paşca Palmer succeeds Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, who served as Executive Secretary between January 2012 and February 2017.

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity is based in Montreal, Canada.

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