Latest Developments, September 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Drones in paradise
The Wall Street Journal reports the US military will begin launching armed drones from the Seychelles as it steps up its campaign against perceived terror threats in East Africa.
“The U.S. has used the Seychelles base for flying surveillance drones, and for the first time will fly armed MQ-9 Reapers from the Indian Ocean site, supplementing strikes from a U.S. drone base in Djibouti.”

Radical corporate transparency
A new Publish What You Pay report on 10 major extractive industry companies details the extent to which they rely on subsidiaries in “secrecy jurisdictions” – 2,083 such subsidiaries between the corporations examined – to maximize profits and, according to PWYP, deprive poor countries of massive amounts of income.
“This is why, in order to combat this veil of secrecy, PWYP Norway believes every company should publish their full revenues, costs, profits, tax and the amount of natural resources it has used, written off and acquired in any given year in every country it operates. This is known as country-by-country reporting (CBCR).”

Resource extraction and indigenous rights
The UN’s top expert on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has released the results of an extensive questionnaire-based study that suggests natural resource extraction and other major construction projects are having adverse effects on indigenous communities around the world.
“The vast majority of indigenous peoples’ responses, many of which stemmed from the direct experience of specific projects affecting their territories and communities, rather emphasized a common perception of disenfranchisement, ignorance of their rights and concerns on the part of States and businesses enterprises, and constant life insecurity in the face of encroaching extractive activities,” according to Anaya.

Taking the long view
Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj spoke to Reuters about a law that bans mining in his country’s river and forest areas.
“Half of the territory is covered by exploration licenses. I think that’s enough,” he said.
“We have to save our wealth (for) our next generation.”

Massive Chevron payout looming?
A US appeals court has overruled a lower court’s decision that prevented Ecuadoran plaintiffs from collecting billions in damages (awarded by an Ecuadoran judge) from oil giant Chevron over pollution in the Amazon rain forest.
“In February, a judge in Ecuador ruled that Chevron should pay to clean up contamination in the oil fields where Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, once worked. But the company persuaded a U.S. judge to block enforcement, arguing that the verdict was the result of fraud. Chevron even filed a criminal conspiracy case against the Ecuadorans.”

Fraud refund
The Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa’s Paul Hoffman draws attention to a legal precedent he thinks should be relevant to the inquest called last week by South African President Jacob Zuma into a 1999 arms deal that is alleged to have involved bribes from a number of foreign companies.
“These findings, still good law, on the effect of bribes on contracts are the key to obtaining the refund of purchase prices paid to arms dealers who allegedly bribed their way into contention in the arms deals. A R70bn [US$ 9 billion] bonanza for taxpayers is surely a worthwhile endeavour.”

Abetting repression
The BBC reports UK-based Gamma International is denying that it supplied software to the ousted Egyptian regime so that it could monitor online voice calls and emails.
“The files from the Egyptian secret police’s Electronic Penetration Division described Gamma’s product as “the only security system in the world” capable of bugging Skype phone conversations on the internet.
They detail a five-month trial by the Egyptian secret police which found the product had ‘proved to be an efficient electronic system for penetrating secure systems [which] accesses email boxes of Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail networks’.”

With friends like these…
Development consultant Ian Smillie says Western governments and the humanitarian organizations that serve as “fig leaves covering up the inattention” of the international community will have to start behaving very differently in Somalia if they want to help provide long-term solutions to the conflict-racked, famine-stricken country.
“None of the humanitarians, [the Canadian International Development Agency] included, has anything to say about the roller-coaster involvement of the West in Somalia, alternately arming, then aiding, then invading, then abandoning the country – then supporting an Ethiopian invasion that led to the rise of the extremist al-Shabaab militia and their brutal but entirely logical expulsion of Western aid workers.”

Intellectual property vs. cancer treatment
The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley writes that the UN conference on non-communicable diseases has focused almost exclusively on prevention rather than treatment, an outcome the US and EU lobbied hard to achieve.
“The pharmaceutical industry and its supporters in the EU and US where research and manufacturing takes place are very keen that nobody should get the idea that a declaration which allowed poor countries to bypass patents and obtain cheap copies of normally expensive Aids drugs should in any way be mentioned in the context of NCDs. That might open the doors to developing nations using the legislation to obtain new cancer and heart drugs – which make huge profits for the companies in the rich world.”

Patents around the world
The UN News Centre reports new figures showing the number of international trademark and patent application rose in 2010, though global distribution remains highly uneven.
“The top 10 patent offices accounted for approximately 87 per cent of all [trademark] applications in 2009, with the United States, Japan and China filing about 60 per cent of the total.”

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