Latest Developments, April 22

In the latest news and analysis…

French right
Agence France-Presse reports that the National Front’s Marine Le Pen finished third with nearly a fifth of all votes cast in the first round of France’s presidential election, the highest total for the  “anti-immigrant, anti-European, far-right party” in its 40-year history.
“Calling for ‘economic patriotism’ and vowing to leave the eurozone, she railed against globalisation and the ‘Islamisation’ of France, initially gaining some ground with attacks on the production of Islamic halal meat.
[French President Nicolas] Sarkozy sought to steal her thunder on two key issues for the far-right — immigration and security — with his calls for fewer immigrants and his handling of deadly attacks lat month by an Islamist extremist in Toulouse.

Analysts see [Marine Le Pen] as part of a new age of far-right leaders across Europe seeking to shake off the fascist stigma of their predecessors.

Like her father, Marine Le Pen has not avoided causing outrage with outspoken comments. Last year she compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques in France to the Nazi occupation.”

Turning IMF conditionality on its head
Reuters reports that the International Monetary Fund has secured nearly half a trillion dollars in new funding from G20 nations but in return, emerging economic powers are demanding more say in how the institution is run.
“The battle over the next round of voting reforms begins with the elaborate formula for setting the quotas that determine each nation’s voting share, how much it must contribute to the Fund and how much it can borrow. The formula takes into account the size of each economy, foreign-exchange reserves and trade.
The current formula fails to capture the massive changes that have taken place globally since the IMF was founded after World War Two, especially the rise of emerging economic powers. Now that emerging markets are being asked to bulk up the Fund’s coffers to battle a crisis centered in Europe, their leverage to push for more change has increased.
‘Our demands are mostly for reforms, and those reforms are always finding obstacles,’ said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. ‘It’s very easy for the Europeans to get the money and not do any reforms.’ ”

Generic ruling
Reuters also reports that a Kenyan court has ruled the country’s lawmakers must ensure efforts to crack down on counterfeit drugs do not impede access to generic drugs.
“Generic medicines constitute the lion’s share of medicines used in Kenya, and have enabled poor people in the developing country to get the necessary treatment for various ailments.
A previous court order issued before Friday’s ruling had blocked the act from coming into force, and Friday ruling means lawmakers will now have to amend the bill to clearly distinguish between generic and counterfeit drugs.”

Lobbying against transparency
ProPublica reports that media companies behind many of America’s top news organizations are fighting against greater transparency of US political funding.
“The corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism — NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and dozens of local TV news outlets — are lobbying against a Federal Communications Commission measure that would require broadcasters to post political ad data on the Internet.

In a speech this week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski excoriated the broadcasters as working ‘against transparency and against journalism.’ ”

Improving mining contracts
The BBC cites Guinea as an example of the growing number of African countries that are renegotiating what they view as “abusive” mining contracts with foreign companies.
“The Guinean state will now receive a 15% free stake in all mining projects for the country’s flagship minerals – bauxite, iron, gold and diamonds.
The secretary general of Guinea’s mining ministry, Guillaume Curtis, says the new legislation was a response to ‘mining contracts with abusive clauses that made it impossible to increase the state’s revenue’.
Export taxes are now indexed on global metal prices and fiscal exemptions have been cut.
‘Yes, there are heavy investments, but the eight-to-12-year tax holidays given by our countries are exaggerated,’ Mr Curtis says.”

The Guardian reports that the head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development – an organization it describes as “an intellectual counterweight to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank” – has criticized the international community’s apparent unwillingness to undertake fundamental global financial reforms.
“As for reforms, [UNCTAD secretary general Supachai Panitchpakdi] identified as key greater disclosure of information from the likes of hedge funds on the kinds of financial instruments they were trading.

At a time of austerity, Supachai said it was time to move beyond official development assistance from rich countries, which has declined for the first time in 15 years. He argued a financial transactions tax, or Tobin tax, would achieve a dual function, helping to curb the power of international finance while also providing funds for developing countries.
‘It would not be expensive for the financial services industry,’ he said. ‘That argument is an excuse for masters of the universe to remain masters of the universe.’ ”

Global law
Open Society’s James Goldston writes that despite the international community’s rhetorical enthusiasm for the “rule of law,” there remains much disagreement on the concept’s meaning and how it should be implemented.
“Many developing countries want more ‘international’ law to restrain the U.S. and other veto-wielding Permanent-5 powers on the UN Security Council, a body sorely in need of reform. By contrast, western donor governments are keen to focus on ‘national’ rule of law needs in conflict regions of Africa and the Middle East.”

Uncivilized Europeans
South African satirical newspaper Hayibo reports that Africans have been shocked by recent “uncivilized antics” by Europeans.
“Africans say they have little hope that Europe will ever become civilized, after a week in which Spain’s King Carlos went on an elephant-killing spree and the Swedish Culture Minister was entertained by a racially offensive cake.

‘I don’t want to sound racist, and some of my best friend are white, but let’s be honest: violence is hard-wired into their DNA,’ said [Libreville resident August] Mwanasa. ‘I mean, Europeans killed over 20 million other Europeans in the 1930s and 1940s. That’s barbarism on a scale unprecedented in history.’ ”

Latest Developments, April 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Colonial crimes
The Guardian reports that thousands of documents were “systematically destroyed” and others remained hidden until now in order to conceal crimes committed in the last years of the British empire.
“The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the ‘elimination’ of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been ‘roasted alive’; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain’s late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that ‘might embarrass Her Majesty’s government’, that could ‘embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers’, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might ‘be used unethically by ministers in the successor government’.”

Torture ruling
The Courthouse News Service reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Torture Victim Protection Act does not apply to alleged abuses committed by organizations.
“Before courts can extend personhood to corporations, Congress must give some indication of that intention.
‘There are no such indications in the TVPA,’ [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor wrote. ‘As noted, the Act does not define ‘individual,’ much less do so in a manner that extends the term beyond its ordinary usage. And the statutory context strengthens – not undermines – the conclusion that Congress intended to create a cause of action against natural persons alone.’ ”

US transparency
Bloomberg reports the US government has announced new rules that will require banks to declare interest paid to “nonresident aliens,” despite strong opposition from Republican lawmakers.
“The regulations, adopted yesterday, are part of the government’s efforts to work with other countries on tax evasion. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service say the U.S. should ask its banks to report information just as it is requiring overseas banks to provide information on U.S. account holders.”

Radio France International reports that Senegal’s newly elected President Macky Sall has agreed to allow the continued permanent presence of French troops on his territory, albeit in reduced numbers.
“The two men signed the defence deal, which will published “in all transparency”, according to Sarkozy, as have all such agreements with France’s former African colonies since 2008.
Its most important feature – the reduction of the permanent French troop presence in Senegal from 1,200 to 300 – was already agreed in 2010 with Sall’s predecessor, Abdulaye Wade.”

Joining the club
Agence France-Presse reports that South Sudan has become the 188th member of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“The World Bank, an anti-poverty development lender, also hailed South Sudan’s membership, calling the impoverished country a “test case” on its principles of citizen-led state building with the support of international development partners.
‘I am very pleased to welcome South Sudan, the world’s newest country as our newest member of the World Bank Group, to help it manage and resolve its many formidable development challenges while it also builds a broad national coalition to secure lasting peace and prosperity,’ said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the bank’s vice president for Africa.”

Formula One’s 29%
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reports that less than a third of “firms linked to Formula One” responded when asked to respond to human rights concerns raised about the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Forty two companies or teams failed to respond.

‘Seldom have we seen a response rate this low from a group of companies anywhere in the world’, said Christopher Avery, Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. ‘And of the responses that were received, seldom if ever have we seen such a high proportion that completely fail to comment on the human rights concerns that they were asked to address.’

The usual response rate to the Resource Centre is 75% globally.”

ATT concerns
Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan expresses mixed emotions over the US position on the Arms Trade Treaty ahead of July’s UN negotiations.
“On the positive side, Assistant Secretary [Thomas] Countryman stated that the US is open to suggestions from other countries on ways to include ammunition within the treaty’s scope. This is a major shift in the right direction; prior to this speech, the US position was that ammunition must not be included in the treaty in any circumstance.

The US seems to hold the position that as long as a government ‘considers’ the impact of the arms transfer and ‘keeps it in mind,’ the treaty should allow states to transfer weapons to war criminals or human rights abusers. Such an Arms Trade Treaty would significantly lower the current international standards on respecting human rights and the laws of war, and it runs contrary to the US position on human rights and international humanitarian law at the United Nations.”

Different take on the cake
Blogger Nuclear Grrl takes issue with the accusations of racism leveled at a controversial piece of Swedish performance art that involved audience members in symbolic “female genital mutilation” by cutting a cake shaped like a caricatured African woman.
“Blackface has historically been used to dehumanize Black people. [Makode] Linde’s purposeful use of blackface in his ‘Painful Cake’ is meant to call out society for this dehumanization and show that Black women are real human beings. Blackface represents Swedish society’s view of Black women as simplistic caricatures of Black humanity rather than the real pillars of the family that they are. His performance proves his point with exemplary efficiency – no one seemed horrified by what they were seeing, at least not during the portion of the performance released on tape.”

Latest Developments, April 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Shocking cake
The Local reports Swedish culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth has become embroiled in controversy after her participation in a “racist spectacle” at a Stockholm art museum.
“As part of the installation, which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision, the culture minister began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris.

But images of the event, which show a smiling and laughing Adelsohn Liljeroth slicing up the cake, have caused the National Afro-Swedish Association and its members to see red and issue calls for her resignation.
‘According to the Moderna Museet, the “cake party” was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with “black face” is unclear,’ [the National Afro-Swedish Association’s Kitimbwa] Sabuni said in a statement.”

Excluding biofuels
EurActiv reports that EU “energy aid” to poor countries will not include funding for biofuels, coal or nuclear projects, though gas remains an option.
“Gas is currently a hot-button topic as the UK, France, Poland and the Czech Republic reportedly mount a behind-the-scenes push for the EU’s future climate milestones to be sculpted around ‘low-carbon’ targets – including gas and nuclear – rather than renewable energy.

The EU is the world’s leading donor of energy development aid, providing €278.5 million in 2010, and around €1 billion in the last five years, mostly, the EU says, as seed money to leverage private-sector funds at a ratio of 20:1.”

Laundering banks
Global Witness has called for a “thorough investigation” into UK and US banks alleged to have helped former Nigerian politician James Ibori launder millions in stolen public funds.
“According to the prosecutor, Sasha Wass QC, Ibori and his associates used multiple accounts at Barclays, HSBC, Citibank and Abbey National to launder funds. Millions of pounds passed through these accounts in total, some of which were used to purchase expensive London property.

Banks and lawyers have a legal obligation to identify their customers and carry out ongoing checks to identify any suspicious transactions which they have to report to the authorities. In particular, they are supposed to identify customers who are senior politicians or their family members and close associates, who could potentially represent a corruption risk, and do extra checks on their funds.

The case also shows how money launderers such as Ibori are able to use shell companies spread across different countries to move and conceal their assets. At present it can be incredibly difficult for law enforcement and others to identify the actual person who controls and benefits from a company. Global Witness is calling for all countries to use their company registers to publish details on the real, ‘beneficial’ owner of all companies.”

Glencore abuses
The BBC says it has uncovered evidence of Swiss-based commodity giant Glencore’s involvement in serious human rights abuses in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Undercover filming showed children as young as ten working in the Glencore-owned Tilwezembe mining concession.
And sales documents show a Glencore subsidiary made payments to the suspected associates of paramilitaries in Colombia.”

Controversial court reforms
Human Rights Watch is calling for proposed reforms to the European Court of Human Rights to be rejected by member countries.
“The draft proposals put forward by the UK contain many positive proposals, including a range of measures aimed at improving implementation of judgments by national authorities, Human Rights Watch said. But two proposals – one to limit the court’s ability to hear cases involving serious human rights abuse and other emphasizing principles that serve the interests of governments over those of the potential victims of human rights violations – are deeply problematic, and risk undermining the court. The UK currently chairs the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the organization’s highest decision-making body.”

Legalizing drugs
The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Nigel Inkster, who was once the assistant chief of Britain’s MI6 secret service, argues the time has come to end the War on Drugs and legalize them.
“Our investigation has shown that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ undermines international security.
Consumer countries of the developed world have seen whole communities devastated by epidemics of drugs misuse and crime. Addicts of drugs such as heroin have been marginalised and stigmatised and many otherwise law-abiding citizens criminalised for their consumption choices.
But the vulnerable producer and transit countries of the developing world have paid a far higher price.”

US corporate tax dodging
The Institute for Policy Studies’ Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger highlight six ways in which US corporate giants avoid paying taxes.
“AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, Duke Energy and Ford collectively reported more than $20 billion of US pre-tax income last year, yet none of them paid a dime in federal income taxes. Instead, they claimed refunds of more than $1.3 billion from the IRS.
These corporations are not alone in turning tax dodging into a competitive sport. Last year, US corporations paid an effective tax rate of just 12.1 percent, the lowest level in the last forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sixty years ago, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower lived in the White House, corporations paid 32 percent of federal government’s tax receipts; last year they paid 9 percent.”

Back to basics
In a piece addressed to his newborn daughter, Guardian columnist George Monbiot issues a plea for people to embrace a philosophy and collective course of action based on the recognition that she, “like all of us, arose from and belong to the natural world.”
“This is a positive environmentalism, which envisages the rewilding – the ecological restoration – of large tracts of unproductive land and over-exploited sea. It recognises nature’s remarkable capacity to recover, to re-establish the complex web of ecological relationships through which, so far, we have crudely blundered. Rather than fighting only to arrest destruction, it proposes a better, richer world, a place in which, I hope, you would delight to live.”