Latest Developments, July 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic hiatus
The International Business Times picks up on a German media report that former US President Jimmy Carter said “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy”:

“The 39th U.S. president also said he was pessimistic about the current state of global affairs, wrote Der Spiegel, because there was ‘no reason for him to be optimistic at this time.’

Carter said a bright spot was ‘the triumph of modern technology,’ which enabled the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring; however, the NSA spying scandal, Carter said, according to Der Spiegel, endangers precisely those developments, ‘as major U.S. Internet platforms such as Google or Facebook lose credibility worldwide.’ ”

Bounty hunters
Jeune Afrique reports that France is not happy to see “20 or so” retired members of its special forces arriving in the Central African Republic:

“Commanded by Jérôme Gomboc, a former member of the French Navy’s 3rd airborne regiment, these ‘bounty hunters’ – as they are being called in Paris – are providing, among other things, round-the-clock protection for Michel Djotodia, the country’s new strongman, at Roux Camp. Over the last few days, the French embassy in Bangui has tried to convince him to send them away. It is also looking for a legal flaw in the contract with these very special retirees of the French military. But they work for a company, Roussel G-Sécurité, registered in the American state of Delaware. ‘We have no way of pressuring them,’ says Paris.” [Translated from the French.]

Euro tax haven
Reuters reports that the Dutch government is reviewing its “double taxation treaties” to see if they are unfair to poor countries:

“The Netherlands has more than 90 double taxation agreements. Several thousand international corporations, including 80 of the world’s largest, use the Netherlands to re-route profits from dividends, royalties and interest, often paying no withholding tax in the country of origin.

A June study by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations found that use of the Dutch tax system by multinational corporations causes 771 million euros ($1.01 billion) in annual lost tax revenue in 28 developing countries.”

Droned descendents
Nasser al-Awlaki, the father/grandfather of two American citizens killed in separate US drone strikes in Yemen, argues “a country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew”:

“In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon ‘kill lists’ of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.
The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

After the deaths of Abdulrahman and Anwar, I filed another lawsuit, seeking answers and accountability. The government has argued once again that its targeted killing program is beyond the reach of the courts. I find it hard to believe that this can be legal in a constitutional democracy based on a system of checks and balances.
The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?”

RIP 1504
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber takes issue with a recent US court ruling that does away with a law requiring extractive industry companies to divulge payments to foreign governments:

“In accepting the arguments of the American Petroleum Institute and tossing the ‘Publish What You Pay’ rule, the district court for the District of Columbia was wrong on the law and wrong on the policy

The one certain consequence of section 1504′s vacatur is that the E.U.—whose directive cannot be challenged until after it is implemented by member nations—will become the policy leader in revenue transparency. The SEC should gather its nerve to re-propose its own rule, the D.C. courts should show more respect for Congress, and all players should welcome a thoughtful debate on costs and benefits.
‘The global transparency train has left the station,’ says Ian Gary of Oxfam America. The U.S. got on the train first, and the E.U. followed. Now, in a reversal of the historical pattern, the U.S. threatens to get off. It should reconsider.”

Victims’ justice
In a Warscapes Q&A, Columbia University’s Mahmood Mamdani argues that the prevailing narrative in the “human rights movement” may be an impediment to peace:

“I do not agree with the point of view that the way forward is victims’ justice. I do have a notion that the real problem, at least in the situations that I know of in the African context, is an ongoing cycle of violence. Victims and perpetrators have tended to trade places over time. Yesterday’s victims become today’s perpetrators. And ‘victims’ justice’ will simply produce another round of violence. How do you bring it to an end? That is really my question. So my answer is that we have to look beyond victims and perpetrators to the issues. What are the issues? What drives the violence? Not just in terms of criminals and criminal justice, but in terms of political justice

If the objective is to bring the cycle of violence to a conclusion, then of course one has to look beyond the victim – and, instead, to look to the victim and the perpetrator, the context, and the issues.”

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenney and Sarah Dykstra argue “ambitious goals and a weak global partnership is not a recipe for post-2015 success”:

“But the limited (if important) impact of aid also suggests that, with a set of goals that look to be even more ambitious than the original MDGs, we should be thinking about a much wider range of policy levers in rich countries to speed development progress in poor countries. The new MDG 8, or post-2015 Goal 12, needs stronger, better language not just on aid flows, but on trade, finance, tax, illicit flows, migration, intellectual property rights, research into global public goods, commitments to the global commons and global institutions … the list is long.”

Latest Developments, September 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Systemic change
In assessing the performance of Britain’s outgoing international development minister, the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that “aid is not very important for development”:

“The aid effectiveness agenda has had some successes in turning the tide of donor arrogance and aligning external funds with domestic endeavours, but its lasting and unfortunate impact has been to divert the world’s attention towards technocratic tinkering and away from what really matters: systemic change.

Better regulation of companies and fairer trade with poorer nations has long since dropped from the agenda in favour of better terms for UK companies and investors. And does anyone remember climate change? Rather than focus on the major issues – sustainable development and poverty reduction – we are exhorted to focus on aid, sold as the generosity of a kind-hearted nation.”

Anti-bribery enforcement
Transparency International has released a new report assessing the commitment of the world’s richest countries to fighting foreign bribery:

“The report assesses the progress of 37 of the 39 countries signed up to the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery] Convention, placing them in four enforcement categories: Active, Moderate, Little and No enforcement.

Eighteen countries have little or no enforcement at all, having not yet brought any criminal charges for major cross-border corruption by companies. Together these countries represent 10 per cent of world exports. Only seven out of 37 countries are actively enforcing bribery law.”

Land-grab greenwash
A new report by the Oakland Institute looks at a US-owned company’s “strategy to deceive the public into believing that there is logic to cutting down rainforests to make room for palm oil plantations” in Cameroon:

“[SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon] is 100 percent owned by the American company Herakles Farms, an affiliate of Herakles Capital, which is an Africa-focused private investment firm involved in the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, mining and agro-industrial sectors. The Chairman and CEO of Herakles Farms, Bruce Wrobel, is also the Chairman and Executive Director of All for Africa, a ‘development’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

The expected negative social and environmental impacts of the plantation are numerous, including loss of livelihoods, small returns for local communities, and massive deforestation. The involvement of All for Africa, ostensibly a ‘development’ NGO, is deceptive. While partnering in the development of a plantation that will destroy existing and valuable tropical rainforest, All For Africa’s main stated goal, to plant one million trees for sustainability, does not match up with sustainable development goals.”

Torture revelations
Human Rights Watch has released a report containing new evidence on waterboarding and other forms of torture in CIA prisons, which suggests “just how little the public still knows about what went on in the US secret detention program”:

“The United States played the most extensive role in the abuses, but other countries, notably the United Kingdom, were also involved.

Five former [Libyan Islamist Fighting Group] members told Human Rights Watch that they were detained in US run-prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years. The abuse allegedly included: being chained to walls naked – sometimes while diapered – in pitch dark, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music, before being rendered back to Libya. The United States never charged them with crimes.”

Spill fallout
The Associated Press reports that local residents are claiming they have not received adequate help following a toxic spill at a Peruvian mine run by four global corporate giants:

“At least 350 Cajacay residents were sickened by the spill of 45 tons of copper concentrate, a mineral stew of volatile compounds. At least 69 were children.
The mine’s owner, Antamina, has not responded to repeated AP phone and email requests to identify the toxic components of the slurry and details on medical care it is providing for the spill victims. A document obtained by the newspaper La Republica shortly after the spill described the mixture as ‘highly toxic.’

Antamina is the world’s third-largest zinc mine and eighth-biggest producer of copper. It is owned by a consortium including Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata of Switzerland, Teck-Cominco Ltd. of Canada and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan.”

Hello to arms
Reuters reports that France may be considering supplying heavy artillery to rebel-held “liberated zones” in Syria:

“European powers have also said they will not supply weapons to lightly-armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks by Assad’s planes and helicopter gunships. However, the source implied there may be a shift in Paris’ thinking.
‘It’s not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be taken. It takes time,’ the source said.”

Forests for sale
Global Witness reports that “a quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years”:

“The new logging contracts – termed Private Use Permits – now cover 40 percent of Liberia’s forests and almost half of Liberia’s best intact forests.

Designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, Private Use Permits are being used by companies to avoid Liberia’s carefully-crafted forest laws and regulations. Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian Government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber.”

Puntland guns
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that an Australian citizen with a shady past is helping to set up a large militia force that “fundamentally changes the balance of power in the north-east of Somalia” despite a UN arms embargo:

“[Lafras Luitingh] is using a string of companies registered around the world, but according to UN investigators, Australia plays a central part in their operations.
Australian records show Mr Luitingh registered the company – Australian African Global Investments – in 2006.
It has branches in South Africa, Uganda and other African countries and is involved in logistics, transport and chartering planes and ships.
The Australian company was registered by Taurus Financial Services in Sydney.”

Latest Developments, September 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
In a speech entitled “Beyond Aid,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick argued wealthy countries have not yet adapted to a rapidly emerging multipolar world and continue to take a “do what I say, not what I do” approach to international relations.
“In a world Beyond Aid, sound G7 economic policies would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP. In a world Beyond Aid, G-20 agreements on imbalances, on structural reforms, or on fossil fuel subsidies and food security, would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP.”

Self-interested aid
Looking into the Canadian International Development Agency’s near future, the McLeod Group’s Stephen Brown and Ian Smillie see funding cuts and shifting priorities that have little to do with improving the lives of the poor in other countries.
“For instance, as Canada winds down its military involvement in Afghanistan, the Canadian International Development Agency will be “normalizing” aid to a level comparable to its 19 other “countries of focus.” This confirms a poorly-kept secret: aid to Afghanistan was always more about Canadians, candy and Kandahar than about sustainable long-term development.”

Resource curse
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead says the so-called resource curse is too often seen as a problem for the countries with said resources to resolve on their own.
“Above, I said the resource curse is “seemingly” an issue of national jurisdiction. That deserves some explanation. Governance itself is an issue of national jurisdiction, but the extractive industry that drives the supply of these resources is not. Most of these companies are, in fact, American and European and—therefore—are accountable to the governments of America and Europe. It is these companies, with their corrupt practices and lack of accountability, that facilitate the embezzlement and revenue misappropriation, which directly contribute to the resource curse.”

Population
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed takes exception to arguments pinning poverty, hunger and climate change on population growth.
“Climate change is not a population problem.  It’s a consumption problem.  People in rich countries, where population is static or falling, consume many hundreds of times more carbon than people in the poor countries where population is still rising.  Let’s start with the problem we have now – consumption in rich countries - rather than worrying about some hypothetical future when everyone in Mali has a washing machine and two cars.”

Drones
University of Ottawa political scientist Roland Paris calls for the establishment of clear international rules regulating the use of drones before the technology becomes widespread.
“The U.S. seems to be taking the opposite course, extending its drone campaign to countries far removed from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan – including Yemen and Somalia – and using rules of engagement that are, at best, obscure and, at worst, illegal.
This is a dangerously short-sighted strategy. While execution by drone may appear to be a relatively low-cost and low-risk option for dealing with America’s enemies, it legitimizes methods that other countries may be expected to follow once they acquire similar capabilities.”

Mercenaries
The UN News Centre reports a UN panel has called for tighter regulation of private military and security companies “by both host and contributor countries” in order to reduce the risk of human rights violations and to ensure accountability when abuses occur.
“The panel…noted in its report on Iraq that incidents involving private military and security companies there had dropped since the killing of 17 civilians and wounding of 20 others in Nissour Square in Baghdad by employees of the United States security company Blackwater in 2007.
But it added that Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors by US authorities after the 2003 invasion, preventing prosecutions in Iraqi courts while the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in US courts.”

AfriCom
The Hill reports the head of the US military’s three year-old Africa Command thinks looming Pentagon budget cuts are the biggest, though not the only, reason not to establish physical headquarters in Africa.
“Since AfriCom was formally established in October 2008, Pentagon officials and lawmakers have floated the idea of shifting its main hub from Stuttgart, Germany, to Africa or the United States.
But U.S. officials are hesitant to have a permanent and high-profile U.S. military presence on African soil due to indigenous skepticism about such an arrangement, which has left no clear candidates for its permanent home.”

Banking secrecy
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage says opposition to the so-called Rubik plan, whereby Swiss banks hand over tax money to national governments in exchange for maintaining their secrecy, could scupper a recent bilateral deal with Germany.
“The [Social Democratic Party]’s financial concept note published last Monday rejects the agreement with Switzerland. It is now quite likely that the deal will be rejected by the Upper Chamber, the Bundestat. North Rhine Westphalia’s Finance Minister Walter Borjans argued that effectively giving an amnesty to tax evaders was unconstitutional. Nicolotte Kressl and  SPD finance experts in the Bundestag said the deal should be halted as not to undermine EU efforts to secure automatic exchange of information with Switzerland.”

Corporate transparency
The Wall Street Journal reports the European Parliament has adopted a report that calls for laws to enforce transparency from oil, gas and mining companies.
“The report, which was first released July 25, contains a provision that calls for the EC to “establish legally binding requirements for extractive companies to publish their revenue payments for each project and country they invest in, following the example of the U.S. Dodd-Frank bill,” it said.”

Tobacco
The Guardian reports approximately 85 percent of the world’s tobacco is produced in the global south, often through the use of children as young as five working long hours under poor health conditions.
“The tobacco giants, who all have anti-child labour policies in place, insist they abide by the rules. British American Tobacco (BAT) says on its website that it does “not employ children in any of our operations worldwide”, but admits that using intermediaries to purchase tobacco makes it difficult to trace the country from which they buy the leaf and ensure all farm owners follow the rules.”

Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Libya

Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor suggests NATO propaganda has exaggerated the role of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa fighting among Gadhafi loyalists in Libya and may bear some of the blame for the violent backlash against dark-skinned Libyans: “Fully one-third of the Libyan population is dark-skinned and come from sub-Saharan Africa. And in pre-war prosperous Libya, migrant workers from central African countries performed most menial labour jobs. With emotions running high and Gaddafi loyalists still battling in several cities, many dark-skinned males have been summarily executed by rebels for no other reason than they are black.” Taylor does not deny the presence of some foreign mercenary troops but wonders if NATO’s support for the rebels makes its soldiers much different. With the fighting still not over, he says “it is as yet impossible to calculate how many Libyans were killed in the name of protecting Libyans.”

Meanwhile, Moammar Gadhafi is deposed but defiant and apparently still in Libya, and the embarrassments are beginning to pile up for his foreign opponents. Especially in the UK where allegations are swirling regarding renditions to Libya and a deal in which the man thought to be behind the Lockerbie boming was sent home in order to facilitate an oil contract for BP.

Somalia

As Somalia’s famine spreads, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer and Morgan Roach worry about the impact of alleged food aid theft on American taxpayer dollars and are calling for congressional oversight to prevent such misdeeds. So far, the US has given just over $60 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia, which amounts to roughly 40 cents per taxpayer.

Aid

The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz suggest that, since American troops are already engaged in “development” projects in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, it makes sense to give them the tools to be more effective.  Especially given talk of integrating the national defence, diplomacy and development budgets. As things stand, if one is to believe a former Pentagon logistician, the amount the US military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than the US Agency for International Development’s program budget. The Pentagon, however, disputes the retired brigadier general’s math.

A trio of researchers from MIT and the World Bank looked into the impacts of incentivized aid, whereby the size of grants provided to Indonesian villages depended on their progress toward reaching a number of health and education objectives. They found that such incentives led to improvements in health, but not education.

A new European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) report entitled “How to spend it: smart procurement for more effective aid” suggests that despite decade-old pledges by wealthy donor countries to untie aid, roughly 20 percent of development assistance requires recipients to spend money in donor countries. Moreover, because of the nature of the tendering and procurement system, a further 60 percent of aid contracts end up going to donor-country companies. In other words, 80 percent of aid is either formally or informally tied, making it “boomerang aid: a financial flow that is only channelled to developing countries on the books.” According to the report, “ tied aid disallows developing countries from taking full responsibility of their own development. It puts purchasing decisions in donors’ hands instead, often resulting in the purchase of inadequate goods or failed services.”

Human rights

Bard College’s Ian Buruma looks at the impacts of culture and religion on women’s rights. He argues that, as is the case with both the Taleban and disgraced former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, “culture comes to the rescue of the powerful more often than it protects the weak.” He believes culture needs to be subordinated to laws that protect those at risk. But while recognizing there are places where such goals are distant ones, he cautions against overzealous outside interference: “As for women in Muslim countries, there may not be much that people in the West can do to improve their lot. But it is unlikely that much good will come from bombing them.”

Globalization

Oxfam’s Duncan Green asks: “When did talking on the subject of ‘globalization and development’ start to feel so retro?” He describes an investigation into who benefits from globalization and how to spread those benefits around more equitably as “a very last-decade kind of gig.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the World Bank is in “very early stage” discussions with China to collaborate on exporting low-end manufacturing jobs to Africa, as the Asian giant adjusts to a shrinking workforce and an increased emphasis on producing higher-value products. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said shifting 5 million jobs to Africa would increase manufacturing employment on the continent by 50 percent.One of the possible methods for the transition would be the creation of industrial zones, a tactic that has proved controversial in Haiti, for example. Zoellick also sees potential for Chinese assistance in agriculture.

Latest Developments, August 11

In the latest news and analysis…

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would consider limiting social networking services such as Twitter and Blackberry Messenger in situations like the recent riots, a measure, as Reuters puts it, “widely condemned as repressive when used by other countries.” The Globe and Mail’s Ivor Tossell conveys a similar sentiment: “Cracking down on citizens’ communications in times of crisis would put Mr. Cameron in the company of a large and unsavoury bunch of autocrats.” Earlier this year, the UN’s top expert on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue called for “as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet” but warned: “Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, and to monitor and identify activists and critics.”

In other technology news, the US military test launched its Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). The unmanned manoeuvrable aircraft, built to travel at 20 times the speed of sound, is part of the Pentagon’s Prompt Global Strike efforts that have involved “working for nearly a decade on an audacious plan to strike anywhere on the planet in less than an hour.” But for the second time this year, the device lost contact with ground stations and disappeared into the Pacific, a result described by the program manager as “vexing.”

Piracy is reportedly starting to become an issue off the west coast of Africa: “Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has over the last eight months escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings, cargo thefts and large-scale robberies,” the Associated Press reports, citing Denmark’s Risk Intelligence. Over on the continent’s east side, piracy is old news but the Guardian’s Mark Tran reports it has become another factor complicating aid delivery to those affected by the Horn of Africa’s food shortage. To recap then, the list of problems cited since a state of famine was declared in parts of Somalia include lack of money (less than half of what the UN says it needs), lack of organization, uncooperative rebels, a government/AU offensive against said rebels, high food prices, draconian US anti-terrorism laws and a weak dollar. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced an additional $17 million in emergency funding, of which $12 million will go to Somalia. Also heading from the US to Somalia is Richard “Colonel Sanders” Rouget, whom Wired describes as a “mercenary with a criminal record and possible ties to several African coups and at least one murder.” In the name of counterinsurgency, “America has endorsed, however indirectly, a man who for years has allegedly fought against stability, justice and self-governance in Africa,” according to Wired’s David Axe.

Fifteen years after Pfizer drug trials during the course of which 11 Nigerian children died, the first compensation cheques have been issued, with the families of four of the deceased each receiving $175,000. A Wikileaks document revealed Pfizer tried to dig up dirt on the attorney general in order to make him drop the case before finally agreeing in 2009 to a $75 million settlement.

The US Supreme Court may examine the question of corporate liability for overseas human rights abuses later this year in light of recent contradictory interpretations of the Alien Tort Statute by federal appeals court judges. Human rights lawyers say the majority of the rulings support their position, but US Chamber of Commerce lawyers argue international law “establishes liability for states and individuals, and not for corporations.”

Oxfam’s Emily Greenspan writes about the new social and environmental policies of the International Finance Corporation, which is “the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group.” The new rules include a “precedent-setting requirement” that corporations looking to work on indigenous lands obtain “free prior and informed consent” from local communites, and an obligation for oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their contracts with host governments. It does not appear, however, that companies have to reveal their profits, as called for by Christian Aid’s Joseph Stead in order to discourage corporate tax avoidance as well as government corruption. Nevertheless, Greenspan hopes the new requirements “will set in motion a ripple effect among other international financial institutions, export credit agencies, companies, and governments, helping to reduce social conflict and increase transparency around large-scale development projects globally.”

Over the last week or so, there have been a number of articles describing last year’s passage of the Dodd-Frank Act – a piece of American legislation that includes a requirement for companies to prove the minerals they use have not exacerbated conflict in their country of origin – as a disaster  for the Democratic Republic of Congo, the very place it was ostensibly meant to help. A Businessweek article talks of a 90 percent drop in legal mineral exports over the last year and a David Aronson op-ed in the New York Times says: “Rarely do local miners, high-level traders, mining companies and civil society leaders agree on an issue. But in eastern Congo, they were unanimous in condemning Dodd-Frank.” But the Institute of Human Rights and Business’s Salil Tripathi calls these arguments “simplistic and wrong.” He says those who pushed for the kinds of measures contained in Dodd-Frank realized there would be some adverse short-term economic impacts but they see ending a protracted conflict as the ultimate goal: “Restrictions on conflict minerals alone won’t end unrest in the DRC. But not having any restrictions on products known to fuel conflict, ostensibly to preserve livelihoods for the country’s people, won’t make matters better, either.”

Given the current economic crises on both sides of the North Atlantic, UC Berkeley economist Barry Eichengreen asks: “Isn’t this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move away from a world where the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank hold the supply of international liquidity in thrall?” He proposes “a global-GDP-linked bond, the returns on which would vary with global growth rates.”