Latest Development, October 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Excess deaths
The Los Angeles Times reports on a new study that claims nearly half a million people died as a result of the Iraq War and its fallout:

“In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that at least 461,000 ‘excess’ Iraqi deaths occurred in the troubled nation after the U.S.-led invasion that resulted in the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein. Those were defined as fatalities that would not have occurred in the absence of an invasion and occupation.

Of those deaths determined to be the result of direct violence, the study attributed 35% to coalition forces, 32% to sectarian militias and 11% to criminals. Contrary to public perception of mayhem in Iraq, bombings accounted for just 12% of violent deaths. The overall majority of violent deaths, 63%, were the result of gunfire.”

“Fucking natives”
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reports on the anti-fracking standoff between Canadian police and First Nations protesters at Elsipogtog:

“Heavily armed RCMP officers, some clad in full camouflage and wielding assault weapons, moved in early Thursday morning to enforce an injunction against a Mi’kmaq barricade that has trapped exploration vehicles belonging to a Houston-based firm conducting shale gas exploration in New Brunswick.

Tensions were high on both sides as the raid unfolded.
‘Crown land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives,’ APTN’s Ossie Michelin heard one of the camouflaged officers involved in the raid shout to protestors.”

Angry students
Agence France-Presse reports that thousands of French students have taken to the streets in protest over the deportation of foreign-born peers:

“Leonarda Dibrani was detained during a school trip earlier this month and deported to Kosovo with her parents and siblings, in a case that has raised questions over France’s immigration policies, shattered the unity of the ruling Socialist party and landed France’s popular interior minister Manuel Valls in hot water.

Last month, [Valls] caused an outcry by saying most of the 20,000 Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

Last year, 36,822 immigrants were deported from France, a nearly 12 percent rise from 2011 that the Socialist government attributes to a steep rise at the beginning of the year when former president Nicolas Sarkozy was still in power.”

Leaking billions
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on Tanzania’s efforts to rein in “illicit transfers”, estimated to cost the country five percent of GDP annually:

“Some of the biggest multinationals operating in Tanzania aggressively avoid paying tax there by using tax havens such as Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he added. Several of them are registered in London.
‘Tanzania has agreements with more than 19 countries, some of them very old. With the United Kingdom, (we agreed) a tax treaty and investment treaty in 1963. We only had 12 graduates. Part of the campaign should be to review all these agreements,’ said [Zitto Kabwe, chairman of the parliamentary committee on public accounts], whose committee will present its report in February next year.
Seven of Tanzania’s top 10 taxpayers in the extractive and communications sectors use tax havens to the detriment of the country’s economy, he said. Two of the three largest mobile phone companies in the country are registered in the tax havens of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, costing Tanzania a large amount of revenue.”

Counting slaves
The Guardian reports on criticism of “the first index to attempt to measure the scale of modern-day slavery on a country-by-country basis”:

“Bridget Anderson, deputy director of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford, who has researched and written about human trafficking, said any attempt to gather ‘unjust situations’ across the planet and label them as ‘slavery’ is already getting off on the wrong foot.
‘I wouldn’t find it useful. You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like “forced”, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said.
‘Say with sex trafficking: if you are dealing with people who have very constrained choices, and you are so horrified with the choices, you say you are not allowed to make that choice, it’s too terrible for me on my nice sofa to tolerate. Is it right that you shut that choice down?’”

Ocean decline
Former Chilean finance minister Andrés Velasco argues that “improved governance mechanisms” are needed to end the degradation of the world’s oceans:

“Degradation is particularly serious in the one substantial part of the world that is governed internationally – the high seas. These waters are outside maritime states’ exclusive economic zones; they comprise two-thirds of the oceans’ area, covering fully 45% of the earth’s surface.
It is not enough to document that the losses are big. Obviously, the next question is what to do about it. No single official body has overall responsibility for the high seas. So, even if the economic losses turn out to be much higher than previous estimates, there are currently few effective mechanisms to bring about change. The basic pillar of ocean governance, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was established 30 years ago. Since then, huge technological advances have occurred, and demand for resources has increased massively.”

Help wanted
The BBC reports that the UN is appealing for more troops and equipment for MINUSMA, its peacekeeping mission in Mali:

“The UN force, which took over security duties in July, has less than half of its mandated strength of more than 12,000 military personnel.

‘We are faced with numerous challenges,’ [the UN's special representative to Mali, Bert Koenders] told the UN Security Council.
‘The mission lacks critical enablers – such as helicopters – to facilitate rapid deployment and access to remote areas to ensure the protection of civilians. Troop generation will have to accelerate.’ ”

Latest Developments, February 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Onshore havens
The Economist points out that many tax havens are not actually offshore and argues that efforts to rein in financial abuses must “focus on rich-world financial centres as well as Caribbean islands”:

“Mr Obama likes to cite Ugland House, a building in the Cayman Islands that is officially home to 18,000 companies, as the epitome of a rigged system. But Ugland House is not a patch on Delaware (population 917,092), which is home to 945,000 companies, many of which are dodgy shells. Miami is a massive offshore banking centre, offering depositors from emerging markets the sort of protection from prying eyes that their home countries can no longer get away with. The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules. British shell companies and limited-liability partnerships regularly crop up in criminal cases. London is no better than the Cayman Islands when it comes to controls against money laundering. Other European Union countries are global hubs for a different sort of tax avoidance: companies divert profits to brass-plate subsidiaries in low-tax Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands.”

Mining transparency
Reuters reports that the Guinean government has made its mining contracts public, dating back to independence, as it tries to reinvent the country’s extractive sector:

“The government is also overhauling the country’s mining code and has set up a technical committee to review existing accords, all of which are now published online on a new government website.
Guinean officials have said many of the contracts were signed under non-transparent conditions especially during the rule of a military junta before Conde’s 2010 election. The government says such accords do not benefit the country.

‘Guinea’s action is a model for other countries and demonstrates that making contracts public is possible even in challenging environments,’ Patrick Heller, senior legal adviser at Revenue Watch said in the statement.”

Assassination court
A New York Times editorial lends its weight to the idea of setting up a US court that would determine if terror suspects belong on kill lists as a way of moving toward “bringing national security policy back under the rule of law”:

“ ‘Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,’ Senator Angus King Jr. of Maine said at the [CIA boss nominee John] Brennan hearing. ‘If you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside-of-the-executive-branch body, like the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court], in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant.’ ”

Mining freeze
According to Colombia Reports, a Colombian judge ordered the suspension of all mining activities in an area of nearly 50,000 hectares due to the companies’ lack of prior consultation with local indigenous populations:

“ ‘[This decision] only seeks to prevent the continued violation of the rights of indigenous peoples on their territory [arising from] disproportionate use by people outside the community, and the violence that has been occurring in the area, of which there is much evidence,’ said the judge.

While indigenous communities have a constitutional right to be consulted on the use of their land, the judge did not declare the mining concessions illegal but ordered the suspension to protect indigenous communities while the legality of the titles is determined. Some of the licenses held by the mining companies for the area reportedly do not expire until 2038 and 2041.”

Airport immolation
Agence France-Presse reports that an Ivorian deportee has been hospitalized in serious condition after setting himself on fire at Rome’s Fiumicino airport:

“He had been ordered to present himself to border police at the airport for expulsion from Italy.
The man used a fuel tank and was seen being carried away in a stretcher, wrapped in a fire blanket.”

Dangerous trend
Human Rights Watch’s Benjamin Ward argues that “hatred and intolerance are moving into the mainstream in Europe” and action is required to stem the tide:

“Too often, mainstream European politicians use intolerant or coded language about unpopular minorities. They justify such speech on the ground that the failure to discuss issues like immigration creates political space for extremist parties. But far from neutralizing extremist parties, this kind of rhetoric from government ministers and other mainstream politicians instead legitimizes their views, sending a message to voters that xenophobic, anti-Muslim, or anti-Roma sentiment is acceptable rather than a cause for shame.
Human Rights Watch staff witnessed a Greek MP from a mainstream party describe migrants as ‘cockroaches’ during a Greek Parliamentary committee hearing in November on violence against migrants.”

Immodest claims
In a letter to the Guardian, an ambulance medic takes exception to the idea that banking executives make a “modest” wage for the work they do:

“A multimillion-pound pay packet for a banker’s success or failure is not ‘modest’. We take home in a gruelling year of real blood, sweat and tears what [RBS CEO] Stephen Hester earns in six days. I wish that those who earn such sums would realise that their renumeration is not right. Perhaps they should not apply terms to themselves like ‘I have one of the hardest jobs in the world’ (Fred the Shred) until they see what others do on a fraction of their wage. What comes out of their mouths undermines millions of hard working people in this country. If an ambulance turned up to one of their children severely injured on a country road, would we seem only worth £15 an hour? As they watched as we fought for their child’s life, far from back up and hospital facilities, would they reconsider the value of jobs that do not make a profit?
Would they consider our wages modest as they apply this term to their own? Modest is a powerful word and has to be earned.”

Latest Developments, June 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Euro racism
The Guardian reports that “several hundred people” at Krakow’s Stadion Miejski subjected the Dutch national football team to monkey chants at an open practice on the eve of the Euro 2012 tournament:

“Uefa subsequently tried to deny that it was racially motivated, saying they had checked with the Dutch squad and had been told it was not thought to be of that nature. Instead, the official line is that a small part of the crowd was protesting about the fact that Krakow had not been made one of the host cities.”

True ownership
Global Witness reproduces an open letter from civil society groups calling on the EU to require companies to disclose “their ultimate, or beneficial, owner”:

“Civil society has seen repeatedly how obscure company ownership structures have facilitated corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, environmental damage, terrorism and other crimes.

Stronger measures to address money laundering would contribute significantly to the EU’s stated aim of policy coherence for development. In 2010 there was a US$58 billion shortfall in the funds needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Yet at the same time developing countries were estimated to have lost between US$775 billion and US$903 billion in 2009 to illicit financial flows; the opacity around the beneficial ownership of companies and other legal structures facilitates these flows on a vast scale.”

Drone legality
The Hill reports that the UN is considering looking into the legality of US drone policies:

“On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the investigations would focus on the rate of civilian casualties generated by the American drone campaign, and whether those casualties constituted human rights violations.

‘The principle of distinction and proportionality and ensuring accountability for any failure to comply with international law is also difficult when drone attacks are conducted outside the military chain of command and beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control,’ she said, according to local news reports.
When asked if American-led drone strikes in Pakistan can be considered a human rights violation, Pillay replied: ‘I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians in any circumstances as human rights violations.’ ”

Forcible returns
A new UN report calls on countries including the US, Canada and France to stop deportations to Haiti:

“Since the 12 January 2010 earthquake, several international bodies, including the Independent Expert, have urged UN member states to suspend forced returns to Haiti because of the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Despite the international community’s appeals, several UN member States have forcibly returned Haitian nationals to Haiti since the earthquake, placing these individuals in a vulnerable, life-threatening position and placing additional burden on Haiti. Due to the government’s instability, the shortage of resources in Haiti, the conditions under which forcibly-returned individuals are detained, and the severe humanitarian consequences – including separation of family members and exposure to deadly diseases – the Independent Expert is deeply concerned that the forced return of these individuals may constitute human rights violations.

Some States/territories that returned individuals to Haiti since 12 January 2010 had previously halted or decreased forced returns for humanitarian reasons, including the Bahamas, Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States.”

Legal troubles
The Independent reports that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy whose immunity from prosecution is about to run out may soon be involved in “at least two legal cases” regarding allegations of illegal campaign funding:

“Just before this spring’s presidential election the left-leaning website Mediapart alleged that the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had ‘agreed in principle’ to pay €50m (£40m) to Mr Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.
The website published a document in Arabic, signed by Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former spy chief. The authenticity of the document is disputed. No official investigation is contemplated, but this may be the first of the ‘Sarkozy scandals’ to come to court.”

Western morality
Al-Akhbar’s Antoun Issa takes issue with the West’s indignation over the killings in Syria while it kills civilians elsewhere:

“Much of Western identity centers on a pillar of high civility, and by extension, high morality. It is a lingering legacy from colonialism where the West re-invokes its perception of the current world, where it is the civilized, and those beyond, hapless barbarians.

International relations does not base its machinations on slaughtered children, for if it did, there would be far fewer cases of massacres to report. Western nations expressing outrage over the Syrian massacre simply reeks of hypocrisy. The day preceding the Al-Kubeir massacre, a NATO airstrike in Logar Province, southeast of Kabul, killed 18 civilians.
On the morning of May 26, as the residents of Houla were coming to grips with the killings, another NATO airstrike blew up a family home in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight members of a single family, including six children.”

Evolving justice
Manuela Picq, most recently a visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College, argues that it is precisely because “it is in the nature of power itself to resist and deny mechanisms of accountability” that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has recently come under attack from a number of governments, is necessary:

“As the IACHR creatively interprets human rights norms, it expands the definition of rights, generates innovative, cutting-edge and progressive legislation. The IACHR’S pioneering role has inspired other human rights courts around the world, from Africa to Europe.
Tensions around collective rights to prior consultation like Belo Monte show the evolving face of human rights across the region. Cases brought to the Court against the depredations of mining companies reveal both the collective dimension of human rights and the intricate relationship between states, multinational corporations and indigenous peoples.”

Hierarchy of victimhood
In the wake of a fatal shooting at a downtown Toronto mall, York University’s Simon Black writes about the different facets of the city’s inequality of gun violence:

“Racism can be understood in part as the collective denial of the humanity of ‘the other.’ Unlike those deemed ‘innocent,’ poor, racialized young men impacted by youth violence are our ‘urban other.’ Victims and perpetrators alike are spoken of as ‘hoods,’ ‘gang-affiliated’ or ‘known to police,’ never as ‘citizens,’ full members of our community. They are criminalized in life and in death. This ‘othering’ is a form of violence in and of itself.
In our city it is the trauma and victimhood of those seldom exposed to gun violence that is prioritized. In response to last Saturday’s events, a headline on a Toronto Star column said, ‘It could have been any of us; it wounds all of us.’ Yet the reality remains that the primary victims of gun violence in our city are poor, racialized youth. And the primary sites of this violence are those neighbourhoods these youth call home.”

Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Commitment to development
The Center for Global Development’s David Roodman presents his organization’s latest Commitment to Development Index which assesses donor countries based on policies that go beyond aid levels, but he expresses concern over the US’s skyrocketing ranking as a result of its increased number of troops in Afghanistan.
“The approach in the security component to military activities is shaped by three ideas: some interventions, such as the NATO-led war to stop the serves from potentially committing genocide in Bosnia, seem like contributions to development; other interventions are much harder to defend; and the rule used to distinguish between the two kinds should be mechanical, to limit bias—”objective,” if you will. It was Michael O’Hanlon who years ago suggested the presence-of-an-international-mandate criterion. (As mentioned, the Afghanistan war has such a mandate.) But even O’Hanlon argued for exceptions, at the time having Iraq in mind. The Security Council did not sanction the invasion of Iraq, but it did sanction post-invasion activities, so a strict implementation of the criterion would have rewarded the latter. O’Hanlon argued against rewarding the occupation of Iraq since it was so thoroughly motivated by national security rationales, not ‘commitment to development.’”

Private police
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Indonesian police have admitted to receiving money from US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to protect the world’s most profitable gold and copper mine in the face of labour unrest.
“Accusing the workers of ‘anarchy’ and threatening a national asset, local police chief Deny Edward Siregar warned the police would take ‘stern action’ if the site of the picket line wasn’t moved by today. Union officials responded by saying they were going nowhere, setting the scene for possibly more violence.
Police spokesman Wachyono defined the foreshadowed ‘stern action’ as ‘opening further negotiations with union management’. However, five striking workers have already been shot dead by police, raising accusations of a heavy-handed and hostile attitude of security personnel towards workers exercising their legal rights to industrial action.

‘How can they enforce the law [impartially] if they receive bribes?’ said Samsul Alam Agus, [human rights group] Kontras deputy co-ordinator.”

Private soldiers
The UN News Centre reports that an expert panel is calling for the regulation of the “ever expanding” activities of private military and security companies.
“‘And it is not just governments who take advantage of their services, but also NGOs [non-governmental organizations], private companies and the United Nations,” [Faiza Patel, the current head of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries] added.
For the Working Group, ‘the potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability.’”

Record deportations
The Inter Press Service reports on the increasingly hostile environment for immigrants in the US, where a million people have been deported since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“The Alabama law [House Bill 56], passed by the state legislature in June 2011, is described as one of the country’s harshest anti-immigrant bills. It requires that police demand identity documents of anyone who they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully, and requires public schools to determine the immigration status of primary and secondary school students, while authorising school officials to report children or parents who may be in the country illegally.
It also establishes penalties, even jail time, for people who hire, rent to or even assist undocumented immigrants, by giving a ride to a neighbour, for instance.”

Toothless watchdog
The CBC reports on the record to date of Canada’s mining watchdog, a position which one critic has described as “a bogus PR job, as a cover for business as usual.”
“In October 2009, the federal government appointed a corporate social responsibility counsellor to probe complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses in developing countries.
The Toronto-based office, however, has only received two complaints in the past two years — one of which was recently dropped because the mining corporation chose not to undergo the voluntary investigation.”

Super companies
Oxfam’s Duncan Green blogs about a new scientific analysis of 43,000 transnational corporations that suggests a group of 147 interconnected companies was “able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.”
“The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere. But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).”

Global tax rules
ActionAid’s Martin Hearson calls on the G20 to deal with tax havens which cost poor countries three times as much in lost tax revenues as they receive through international assistance.
“ActionAid’s report, Calling Time: Why SABMiller should stop dodging taxes in Africa, demonstrated how one multinational beer company shifts £100 million of profits per year – the taxes on which could educate 250,000 children – out of Africa and into the tax havens of Mauritius, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Capacity building in African tax authorities is important, but without more fundamental reforms to increase transparency and change global tax rules, it will never be enough to prevent this kind of tax dodging.”

Helpful aid
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has called on G20 leaders to help Africa improve its infrastructure while making it clear not all assistance is necessarily helpful.
“The pressure is on how to translate the plan into purposeful action for November and avoid the pitfalls of past efforts – including short-term thinking, destabilizing capital surges, and carbon-heavy construction. Success will be measured by the amount of capital generated, and the number of projects realized, as well as by the extent to which G20 activities complement and synergize existing efforts without supplanting or fragmenting them.”