Latest Developments, August 19

In the latest news and analysis…

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor says he has received reports of crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime but for now has no jurisdiction to investigate them because Damascus does not recognize the court. He would require a “referral” from the UN Security Council in order to begin an investigation. But UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said she does not expect that to happen. Like Syria, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council do not currently accept the court’s jurisdiction: Russia which signed the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but has not yet ratified it, the US which signed but has subsequently “unsigned” it, and China which has yet to sign. In the nine years since the court came into being, it has undertaken six investigations, all of them in Africa.

Following yesterday’s call for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down, the EU has announced additional sanctions and is considering banning Syrian oil imports, a measure opposed by Human Rights Watch. In a letter to the Financial Times, HRW’s Lotte Leicht argues instead for the EU to freeze the assets of state banking, oil and gas companies until the “gross human rights abuses” stop: “We have deliberately avoided calling for wider energy sanctions because of the potential humanitarian impact on ordinary Syrians.”

Rick George, CEO of Canada’s Suncor which has a Syrian natural gas operation where production is “running normally,” said in a radio interview: “We’re actually not connected to the Assad regime in any way. We operate with a partner in Syria, the General Petroleum Corporation,” which is one of the state-owned companies blacklisted by US sanctions earlier this week. According to the CBC, Suncor “has said it is still able to produce natural gas in Syria under the current Canadian sanctions. It is reviewing U.S. sanctions.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports Syrian opposition representatives are meeting in Istanbul over the weekend to form the “Syrian National Council” which they will try to sell as “the official representative of the Syrian revolution.” The move “comes soon after the U.S. and European states have called for Assad’s ouster, and are mulling ways to increase pressure on the Syrian regime to make that a reality.” Rogin cites Chicago-based Syrian human rights lawyer M. Yaser Tabbara as saying the US, Turkey, “and other supportive governments, are being kept in the loop but are not directly involved in the project.”

Whatever Syria’s future may hold, it will not include participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup after the national team was disqualified for fielding an ineligible player.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Iraq had “finally” agreed to extend the presence of US troops in a “noncombat” role beyond the end of the year: “My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes.’ ” But the Iraqis see things differently: “We have not yet agreed on the issue of keeping training forces,” an advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Agence France Presse. “The negotiations are ongoing, and these negotiations have not been finalised.” A Pentagon spokesman subsequently said what Panetta had actually meant was “the Iraqis have said yes to discussions about the strategic relationship beyond 2011.”

Just Foreign Policy’s Robert Naiman argues that if the US government wants to reduce its debt, it should start by pulling all its troops out of Iraq by the end of the year “like we promised in the signed agreement between the two governments.” As for the evolving role of the US military in Iraq, Naiman says “these ‘trainers’ engage in combat: they kill Iraqis, and they get killed by Iraqis.” Earlier this month, US Representative Barbara Lee introduced the Iraq Troop Withdrawal Accountability Act which would “prohibit funding for any extension of the December 31, 2011 deadline to remove all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq.”

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation is filing charges against US tobacco giant Philip Morris for allegedly evading $2.3 billion in taxes. Earlier this year, public prosecutors had decided not to proceed with charges. The country’s attorney general will now make the final decision. The company said in a statement it was “disappointed” by this latest development and pointed to a recent World Trade Organization ruling to support its position.

To mark the fifth anniversary of Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan, Amnesty International is calling on Cote d’Ivoire’s government to distribute the compensation coughed up by the oil company: “Trafigura has paid US$260 million in a number of payouts but much of the money remains unaccounted for and thousands of victims have not received anything,” the human rights NGO said in a press release. The incident left 15 people dead and over 100,000 needing medical attention. Given these figures, Trafigura has paid an average of $2,600 per victim, though its payouts also include the cleanup costs.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has submitted to the General Assembly his annual report on the work of the United Nations, in which he claims regarding his first term at the organization’s helm: “We have confronted head-on the key global challenges of our generation: addressing climate change and global health; breaking the deadlock on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation; and mobilizing action against terrorism.”

Gerald Caplan writes in the Globe and Mail that he thinks he knows the motives of prominent “Muslim-haters” but does not understand how they obtain the media coverage necessary to become prominent in the first place: “But what’s the interest of certain media in enabling these haters to spread their gospel, to fan the flames of intolerance? What audience are they after? What do they expect their audiences to make of all this sympathetic exposure to rabid anti-Muslim feelings? Why are they inciting ordinary people to hate other ordinary people? Why?”

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