Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Business crimes
The Financial Times reports that authorities in Switzerland are investigating whether a Swiss company’s purchase of gold from a “militia group” in eastern Congo constitutes a war crime:

“The legal proceeding is the strongest yet by Switzerland against one of the companies key to the country’s multibillion-dollar gold industry. It is the first time that anyone has attempted to deploy against a business the charge of ‘pillage’ – to describe stealing and illegally removing natural resources in the context of war – since the aftermath of the second world war.

The decision was prompted by a complaint from a Swiss non-profit organisation, Trial, following a nine-year investigation. It claims Swiss gold refinery Argor-Heraeus knowingly bought nearly three tonnes of gold sold by an armed group in eastern Congo via traders in neighbouring Uganda in 2005.”

US expansionism
Foreign Policy reports that the US is considering a new marine force off the coast of West Africa:

“The new force, still in notional stages, would be based on a Navy ship floating in and around the Gulf of Guinea, according to Marine officials and a briefing slide from an Oct. 30 speech delivered by Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon. The slide includes a map in which a single ship is based in the gulf, and Marines have the ability to perform missions from it as far inland as Algeria to the north, and Kenya and Tanzania to the east.”

Secrecy empire
The Guardian reports that the Tax Justice Network has released the latest Financial Secrecy Index and called the UK “the most important player in the financial secrecy world”:

“Britain, in partnership with Her Majesty’s overseas territories and crown dependencies, remains ‘by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions’, the Queen will be told tomorrow in a letter from tax experts and campaigners.
The monarch, who acts as head of state for UK-linked jurisdictions as far away as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and the Isle of Man, will receive a copy of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) two-yearly index of financial secrecy, which paints an unflattering picture of Britain and its close ties to many leading tax havens.”

Surveillance deal
The New York Times reports that the CIA is paying US telecom giant AT&T “more than $10 million a year” to help with overseas spying:

“The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the [US government] officials.

The company has a huge archive of data on phone calls, both foreign and domestic, that were handled by its network equipment, not just those of its own customers.

AT&T has a history of working with the government. It helped facilitate the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program by allowing the N.S.A. to install secret equipment in its phone and Internet switching facilities, according to an account by a former AT&T technician made public in a lawsuit.”

Risky countries
The BBC reports that the UK has decided people from its biggest former colonies won’t have to pay a “security bond” for the right to visit the ex-metropole:

“The aim of the scheme was to reduce the number of people from some ‘high risk’ countries – including India, Pakistan, and Nigeria – staying in the UK once their short-term visas had expired.
Visitors would have paid a £3,000 cash bond before arrival in the UK – forfeited if they failed to make the return trip.”

Redefining aid
The Guardian reports that the rules regulating what donor countries can describe as development assistance are “up for grabs for the first time in decades”:

“The development assistance committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, defines and polices what its members can count as official development assistance (ODA). Only spending with ‘the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries’ as its main goal is eligible, but in practice the rules, set in 1969, have allowed donors to count a wide range of activities. The UK, for example, counted £3m worth of pension payments to former colonial officers as ODA last year.”

Oversimplifying Africa
Africans in the Diaspora’s Solome Lemma argues the “Africa rising” narrative that seems to have replaced its racist predecessors carries its own risks:

“The state is often presented as a barrier, a liability ripe with corruption and inefficiency that can be leapfrogged by technology and enterprise. At most, the state’s value is to facilitate an investment-friendly environment for business. Where there is a problem, business can resolve it.
The World Bank and IMF have waged a sustained assault on African public services over several decades, and have never been called to account for the profound and lasting damage they have done.

As the priorities and spaces of activists and institutions converge, we should however ask ourselves: which Africans are gaining entry to institutional and mainstream development spaces and why? Is this change indicative of tangible shifts in power or is it simply a cosmetic facelift? On the continent or in the diaspora, we have insights into a different and constantly shifting picture of our communities, and that complex mosaic is still missing from most narratives.”

Home states
Oxfam’s Alex Blair discusses efforts to get the US and Canadian governments to do more to ensure mining companies based in their countries behave abroad:

“By holding companies responsible for their actions abroad, home states can help put an end to the human rights abuses in Latin America that are threatening the local people’s livelihood and way of life.
[The Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo's Dora Lucy Arias] described a request from an elderly indigenous woman in Colombia: ‘They have been dealing with the impact of mining in that area for 30 years, and what she asked me to transmit to the world is that not everyone wants to just have more and more things in their house… Many people have a different view of what a good life is, and what they would like to be able to do is continue to be able to live their life on their land and continue to produce food.’
‘She asked me to talk about the war against the ability of small farmers to exist.’ ”

Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Rising toll
Reuters reports that the number of migrants found dead in the desert of northern Niger has climbed to 92, the majority of whom were children:

“The mayor of Arlit, Maouli Abdouramane, said 92 bodies had been recovered after days of searching – 52 children, 33 women and seven men.
‘The search is still going on,’ Abdouramane told Reuters by telephone. He said the victims were all from Niger but their final destination was unclear.

The bodies were strewn across the desert over a large distance, to within 20 km (12 miles) of the border with Algeria, a second military source said.”

True owners
Reuters also reports that the UK government has decided to make public a new database meant to reduce money laundering and tax evasion by “untangling deliberately opaque ownership structures” of corporations:

“ ‘This sets such an important global principle… You have to have someone who makes a stand on principle and then gets the world to follow. In this case it’s the UK,’ said Gavin Hayman of the anti-corruption group Global Witness.
Efforts to improve transparency in the European Union are currently being debated, and recent legislative proposals in the United States could tackle company ownership disclosure. Hayman said neither was expected to quickly follow Britain’s lead.
[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion have been complicated by the fact that Britain is seen as a market leader in providing access to offshore tax havens in former British colonies.
‘We’ve found the UK has been one of the pillars of financial secrecy in the past so this is quite a significant shift,’ Hayman said.”

The other 10%
The Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy, however, argues the UK’s newly promised public register of companies’ true owners will be “a damp squib of a reform”:

“Sure, 90% of companies will publish their beneficial owners – but they will be the ones where legal and beneficial ownership is the same. It is the other 10% who are the problem and many of those will actively seek loopholes in an arrangement if there is no way of proving if what they declare is right or wrong and the agency responsible for doing so is denied the resources it needs to enforce the law.”

On schedule
The BBC reports that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes Syria has destroyed its “declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons” within the prescribed timeframe:

“OPCW head of field operations Jerry Smith told the BBC that his team had ‘personally observed all the destruction activities’.
‘They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons,’ he said.

More than 1,000 tonnes of chemical precursors – the raw materials – remain to be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year, which our correspondent says will be a delicate and difficult process.”

Cholera update
Inter Press Service reports that there is “no end in sight” for Haiti’s deadly, UN-triggered cholera epidemic:

“In a single week between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, the Pan-American Health Organisation reported 1,512 new cases and 31 deaths. New cases are reported in all 10 departments.

The spread of cholera in Haiti, which has killed more than 8,300 and infected over 680,000 people since October 2010, has been blamed on Nepali peacekeepers who are part of the 9,500‑strong U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The United Nations has refused demands for compensation. Earlier this month, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the world body on behalf of the cholera victims.

‘I wish a creative solution could be found whereby the Haitian victims would get some modest amount of financial support on humanitarian grounds, without the U.N. having to give up its diplomatic immunity,’ [former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kul Gautam] said.”

New internationalism
The Sheffield Institute for International Development’s Jean Grugel writes about the need to “reframe international development as global justice”:

“Human rights are a vital tool for reframing international development in ways that set out our collective responsibilities to find a just global settlement. But to have traction, rights have to be understood as more than the traditional package of liberal rights. Other sorts of rights – social, economic, gendered, cultural – are also critical.
Action is needed much earlier in the life cycle of global injustice. It is not enough to protest once abuses are happening. Global justice means, above all, making arguments for urgent structural transformation to the global political economy.”

Vulture’s charters
The World Development Movement’s Nick Dearden points to the Children’s Investment Fund as an example of a sweetly named UK organization that uses bilateral investment agreements to “run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people” in other countries:

“Whether India’s policy was right or wrong is beside the point. Rather we have to ask whether it is the right of a British hedge fund to dictate the energy policy of a state. This is by no means an isolated example. Globally there are 2,833 bilateral investment agreements, many offering companies access to ‘dispute mechanisms’ which allow them to by-pass national courts and uphold their so-called rights over and above the duty of governments to protect and represent their citizens.
Back home, the owner of TCI, Chris Hohn, is one of the biggest ‘philanthro-capitalists’ in the world, investing profits in a mega-charity the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Even if multi-billionaire philanthropists could solve world poverty, they will certainly not do so when their profits are derived by undermining the sovereignty of countries to represent their own people.”

Science says revolt
The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein argues that the results of scientific research suggest humans need to take a stand against the current political and economic orthodoxies:

“[University of California, San Diego’s Brad Werner] isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.”

Latest Developments, October 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Prison torture
The Guardian reports on allegations of forced drug injection and electroshocking at a South African jail run by British security firm G4S:

“Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. G4S denies any acts of assault or torture.

[A former G4S employee] admitted using an electric shield on inmates to make them talk. ‘Yeah, we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely … Again and again. Up until he tell you what you want to hear, even if he will lie, but if he can tells you what I want to hear. He can tell the truth but if that’s not the truth that I want, I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it’s a lie.’ ”

Money to go
Haaretz reports that the Israeli government plans to “more than triple” the money if offers African migrants to leave the country and promise never to return:

“Over the past few months, hundreds of migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, have accepted the previous offer [of $1,5000], which also included a free plane ticket.
Ever since mid-September, when the High Court of Justice overturned a law that allowed illegal migrants to be jailed for up to three years, the state has been scrambling to find a new solution to the migrant problem.

Aside from the grants, the interior and justice ministries are also discussing other measures to deal with the migrant problem. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has given approval in principle to establishing an open detention center for illegal migrants and enacting new legislation that would allow them to be jailed for 18 months instead of three years.”

Held without charge
Agence France-Presse reports that the International Criminal Court has ruled that ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo must remain in detention even though he still has not been formally charged with crimes against humanity:

“The ICC has yet to confirm the charges against Gbagbo for his role in the bloody election standoff nearly three years ago.
Judges said in June that they needed more evidence before charging the former Ivory Coast strongman, who has been held by the ICC for almost two years.”

Sustainable listings
The Guardian’s Jo Confino wants the world’s stock exchanges to demand companies divulge “basic data” about the social and environmental impacts of their business:

“A new study benchmarking sustainability disclosures on the world’s stock exchanges points to a worrying levelling off in the number of companies that are reporting on six basic ‘first generation’ metrics; employee turnover, energy, greenhouse gases (GHGs), lost-time injury rate, payroll, waste and water.

It also does not take a great deal of intelligence to see that regulators need to get their acts together if we are to significantly change the current situation in which only 3% of the 3,972 world’s largest listed companies and 0.04% of the world’s small listed companies (20 out of 56,710) offer their stakeholders complete first generation sustainability reporting.”

Domestic rights
Inter Press Service reports that domestic workers from around the world have gathered in Uruguay to “speak for ourselves”:

“ ‘For many years only non-governmental organisations spoke for us, through studies and research…but we domestic employees and our unions have done the day-to-day hard slogging,’ said [Ernestina] Ochoa, vice president of the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN), which changed its name to Federation at the congress.
‘Now we have said “enough’s enough”, let’s found a large federation that unites us, let’s work together to organise ourselves, defend our rights, create unions, improve the laws and help countries where there are no laws, empower domestic workers, train leaders and have a voice vis-à-vis governments and employers,’ she said in an interview with IPS.

The basic rights established by the [International Labour Organisation Convention No.189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189)] include weekly days off, limits to hours of work, a minimum wage, overtime compensation, and social security.
So far, C189 has been ratified by Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay.”

Treating symptoms
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Matt Wade writes that current efforts to control migration tend to ignore “the global economic forces that drive the mass movement of people”:

“The global income gap has become common knowledge among the world’s 7 billion people and that has fuelled the motivation for migration. Surveys have found that more than 40 per cent of adults in the poorest quarter of the world’s countries would like to move permanently to another country if they had the opportunity. Hundreds of millions of people see migration as their only hope of improving their economic standing.
Economists call this a ‘disequilibrium phase’ – a huge mismatch between supply and demand. Because migration is one of the only mechanisms to fix this disequilibrium, migration pressures will exist until the income gap between countries becomes much smaller.”

Avoidance mechanisms
The World Bank’s Otaviano Canuto writes that Switzerland’s financial industry may bear substantial responsibility for depriving poor countries of the “means to finance development”:

“Switzerland, whose financial sector manages $2.2 trillion of offshore assets according to Boston Consulting Group, happens to be one of the main global transaction hubs for the oil, gas and mining sector, which in many developing countries dominates production and exports. Companies in this sector, it has been claimed, frequently dodge billions of dollars in taxes payable to developing countries by shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions.

In many developing countries, these practices take place in a tax environment that is already heavily tilted towards the private sector, particularly in the form of large tax incentives for oil and mining multinationals.”

US inequality
CNN’s John Sutter writes on the correlation between income inequality and a range of social and health problems:

“When the researchers plotted income inequality against an index of social problems that included infant mortality, mental health and others, they got the chart below, which shows that more unequal places tend to have more of these issues. The United States, the most unequal of the developed countries, for example, also has the world’s highest incarceration rate and a higher infant mortality rate than comparable nations. Sweden, meanwhile, has a low level of income inequality and fares much better on these social measures.
When the researchers plotted the same data according to average income, the correlation dissolved — the poorer societies were not more likely to suffer the social ills.”

Latest Developments, September 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Partial pullout
Agence France-Presse reports that the US is hoping to keep “around 10,000” troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014:

“But a new security agreement is needed to allow for the post-2014 presence, including provisions allowing the United States access to various bases.
‘We’re working with President Karzai and his government to get that bilateral security agreement completed and signed,’ [US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] said.

But Karzai has insisted Afghanistan would not be rushed over the negotiations and has even hinted that an agreement might not be finalised before presidential elections in April next year.”

Historic call
The Associated Press calls last week’s telephone conversation between the US and Iranian presidents “one of the most hopeful steps toward reconciliation in decades”:

“[Iranian President Hassan Rouhani], at a news conference in New York, linked the U.S. and Iran as ‘great nations,’ a remarkable reversal from the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessors, and he expressed hope that at the very least the two governments could stop the escalation of tensions.
The new Iranian president has repeatedly stressed that he has ‘full authority’ in his outreach to the U.S., a reference to the apparent backing by Iran’s ultimate decision-maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Such support would give Rouhani a political mandate that could extend beyond the nuclear issue to possible broader efforts at ending the long estrangement between Tehran and Washington — and the West in general.”

Weather forecast
The Guardian reports that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is only slightly less grim than its 2007 predecessor:

“East Africa can expect to experience increased short rains, while west Africa should expect heavier monsoons. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones; elsewhere in southern Asia, heavier summer rains are anticipated. Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but the coastal regions around the south China Sea and Gulf of Thailand can expect increased rainfall extremes when cyclones hit land.

Life in many developing country cities could become practically unbearable, given that urban temperatures are already well above those in surrounding countryside. Much higher temperatures could reduce the length of the growing period in some parts of Africa by up to 20%, the report said.”

Not letting go
While calling for French troops to “restore security” in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, International Crisis Group’s Thierry Vircoulon concedes that France is not exactly a neutral broker in its former colony:

“France has had an almost continuous military presence in CAR since the country gained independence in 1960, and it deployed 400 soldiers at the start of the current crisis to secure the airport.

Paradoxically, France, while securing Bangui’s airport, is also hosting ousted president [François Bozizé], who declared from exile in Paris his wish to retake power by force with the ‘support’ of private actors.”

Exported problem
The Washington Post reports on a new study that suggests the expiration of America’s assault weapons ban has had a “striking” impact on Mexico’s violence levels:

“Overall, our preferred estimates indicate that the annual additional deaths due to [the expiration of the ban] represent around 21% of all homicides and 30% of all gun-related homicides in the post-intervention sample, which are sizable magnitudes. … For total homicides there is a clear, sharp rise between 2004 and 2005 and the effect mostly persists through 2006. The results for gun-related homicides is noisier, but the same pattern is reproduced here as well.”

Tax justice
During a speech delivered at Geneva’s Graduate Institute, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan called for a “credible and effective multilateral response” to tax avoidance:

“Ladies and Gentleman, we must recognise that instances of bad behaviour by government officials and businesses are made possible by our legal and normative frameworks. This is a key area where the international community can make a difference.
Let us be clear: Tax avoidance may be legal, yes, but its extremes have become immoral, unconscionable, and unacceptable. Tax avoidance may once have been seen as an acceptable and standard business practice. But it now costs Africa more than it receives in either international aid or direct foreign investment.

The UK and the European Union are re-examining legislation on money laundering and transparent company ownership. I sincerely hope that they will make company registration public, easily accessible and open to all, and that these registries will extend also to trusts. We must shut down loopholes wherever we can and wherever they are.
I also encourage the British government to maintain its pressure on its overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The US government may also wish to pressure the state of Delaware.”

UNsuable
NBC News asks why it is impossible to sue the United Nations, even when the organization triggers a deadly epidemic, as it appears to have done in Haiti:

“In 1946, the year of its first General Assembly, the U.N. granted itself legal immunity as one of its first official acts. Member states signed a ratifying treaty, and that immunity has been endorsed separately by laws passed in many member states.
‘You can’t sue the United Nations in a domestic court or any court because governments have signed the treaty and some countries like the U.S. have even put it in domestic legislation,’ explained Larry Johnson, a former U.N. official who teaches international law at Columbia Law School.”

Arrest threat
The Kenyan Post reports that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has no intention of granting special treatment to Kenya’s Deputy President Willaim Ruto:

In an application she made on Thursday to the Appeals Chamber, [ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda] asked the chamber to reject Ruto’s request that his trial continues in his absence.
She has also warned Mr Ruto of arrest if he fails to show up at The Hague as is required under the Rome Statute and affirmed by the Appeals Chamber.
‘The prosecution notes that Mr Ruto is not here voluntarily, but on compulsion of a summon and risks arrest if he defaults. He is an accused person before the court and, while presumed innocent, cannot expect that life will continue as normally,’ Bensouda said.”

Latest Developments, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

French drone strike?
Xinhua quotes an anonymous “security source” as saying a French drone has killed six people in northern Mali, which if true, would be the first-ever drone killings by France:

“The source said that the Algerian army detected the drone, confirming that the strike took place near the border, on the Malian side.
The six combatants killed were allegedly plotting an attack against the military base at Tessalit, controlled since February by French and Chadian forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Welcome mat
Reuters report that on the same day as the alleged French strike, Niger’s foreign minister said he wanted armed drones to operate in his country:

“ ‘I would really welcome armed drones to shoot down drug traffickers, and all those who live from activities linked to drug trafficking. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible,’ [Mohamed Bazoum] said.”

Security state
The International Crisis Group has published a new report in which it expresses concern that Niger’s Western allies are pushing “a security strategy that has already shown its limitations elsewhere in the Sahel”:

“ ‘Niger has been included in security strategies that protect it but over which it has little influence’, says Jean-Hervé Jezequel, Crisis Group Sahel Senior Analyst. ‘Encouraged by its allies to upgrade its security apparatus, the Nigerien government has also substantially increased its military expenditure. But such a security focus could lead to a reallocation of resources at the expense of already weak social sectors’.
‘Rather than a security state, the people of Niger need a government that provides services, an economy that creates employment and a reinforced democratic system”, says Jonathan Prentice, Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer.”

Incoherent policy
The Guardian reports that a group of NGOs has accused the EU of breaking the law by letting European firms dodge “at least $100bn a year” in taxes owed to poor countries:

“The EU is the only region of the world to have a legally binding commitment to policy coherence for development, set out in the 2009 Lisbon treaty. Under the PCD, the aims of EU development co-operation should not be undermined by other EU policies on climate, trade, energy, agriculture, migration and finance.

On taxes, Concord calls on the European council – the group of EU leaders – to extend the automatic exchange of tax information among European countries to the developing world.”

Massacre cover-up
The Associated Press reports that a South African government commission investigating last year’s shooting deaths at the Marikana platinum mine has accused the police of lying:

“In a statement issued Thursday, the Marikana commission said it had to search computer hard drives of officers to discover documents about the 2012 shootings that riveted South Africa and recalled the worst excesses of the apartheid era.
The commission said documents show the police version of events at the platinum mine ‘is in material respects not the truth.’
The statement said the thousands of pages of new evidence include documents the police had previously said did not exist and material which should have been disclosed earlier by police.”

Small consolation
The Inquirer reports that Canada’s Barrick Gold is being accused of offering “crumbs” as compensation for a toxic spill in the Philippines:

“After nearly a decade of battling it out in a United States state court, the province of Marinduque has come close to signing a deal worth $20 million with the mining company that bought the firm being held responsible for unleashing toxic wastes into Marinduque’s Boac River in a case considered to be the country’s worst mining disaster.
The compensation offer of $20 million, however, is way below the $100-million claim for damages that the Marinduque government is demanding from Barrick in a 2006 lawsuit.

The amount, however, would further be reduced to $13.5 million after litigation expenses had been paid.”

Looming divorce
Reuters reports that African leaders will meet next month to discuss the future of the continent’s relationship with the International Criminal Court:

“So far there does not seem to be much support for it, but heads of state from the 54-member African Union (AU) may still discuss the possibility of a pullout by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.
Last week’s start of the trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity – with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial due in November – has fuelled a growing backlash against the Hague-based court from some African governments, which see it as a tool of Western powers.
‘The Kenyans have been criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause, even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,’ an AU official told Reuters.
‘An extraordinary summit will now take place to discuss the issue. A complete walk-out of signatories (to the Rome Statute) is certainly a possibility, but other requests maybe made.’”

House of cards
The Associated Press reports that Pope Francis has said he wants the Catholic church to become less fixated on “small-minded rules”:

“But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe.
Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.
‘The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,’ Francis said. ‘We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.’ ”