Latest Developments, January 31

In the latest news and analysis…

PMC impunity
David Isenberg, author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq, argues that even after high-profile scandals in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the mechanisms for dealing with sexual violence committed by private military contractors (PMCs) remain toothless.
“What should be done in the future? [University of Illinois graduate student Angela] Snell calls for a three-fold solution: First, victims should file complaints against the United States in international courts, under the theory that the United States is liable for its contractors’ acts, because it has condoned them by failing to punish them and even actively discouraging their prosecution; second, victims should sue individual perpetrators in the United States under the [Alien Tort Statute], both to compensate victims and to deter contractors from future violence; third, and finally, the United States must act to close the jurisdictional gap that allows PMCs to escape prosecution by signing and supporting international treaties, developing its own stricter system of criminal liability for PMCs, and using contract mechanisms to enforce standards of conduct for PMCs.”

Poor forum
Despite its promise to focus on the Great Transformation, last week’s World Economic Forum was distinctly lacking in “radical new thinking” on sustainable development, according to the Global Institute for Tomorrow’s Chandran Nair.
“Although there were interesting sessions on Asia, rarely did they focus upon the need for the region to reject the current consumption-led growth model, which thrives on under-pricing resources and fails to acknowledge limits, and instead adopt an alternative developmental trajectory. Much of the discussion was based on a Western narrative, and therefore focussed on the political imperative of how to maintain lifestyles, whilst only addressing sustainability issues at the periphery.
This perspective seems to ignore the realities in Asia, where the challenges are very different. There, the priority is not to about how to maintain lifestyles but how, in 2050, five to six billion Asians will be able to live in the most crowded and resource constrained part of the world. Central to this is the need to alleviate poverty through fair and equitable access to vital resources.”

Fashion racism
A group of 31 public figures have signed an op-ed slamming the French edition of fashion magazine Elle for a recent article on the politico-sartorial statements of the “black-geoisie.”
“Elle magazine informs us that when it comes to fashion in 2012, the ‘the “black-geoisie” has internalized all the white codes.’ Moreover, ‘chic has become a plausible option for a community that had been stuck until now with its streetwear codes.’ Yes indeed, whereas Blacks spent decades dressing like ‘scum’ in a hood, they have finally understood, thanks to the teachings of Whites, that they were better off paying more attention to their appearance. Such is the substance of an article published Jan. 13 in the favourite weekly of housewives belonging to the ‘white-geoisie’ (since, apparently, we must now distinguish members of the bourgeoisie according to race) entitled ‘Black Fashion Power’ that tries to analyze the reasons behind the red-carpet success of African-American stars.” (Translated from the French.)

Worst-kept secret
The Independent reports that US President Barack Obama has admitted for the first time what everyone already knew, that the CIA is using drones for “very precise precision strikes” inside Pakistan.
“Washington’s use of drones in Pakistan has long been a source of anger for many Pakistanis. While US officials claim the strikes are an important tool in its arsenal, many in Pakistan say they undermine the country’s sovereignty and often hit innocent civilians. The New America Foundation, a US think-tank, estimates drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years. Last year, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism said it believed that of those killed, as many as 775 were civilians, including 168 children.”

Drones for human rights
The Genocide Intervention Network’s Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis, on the other hand, argue drones can be used to protect innocents around the world, starting with Syria.
“Imagine if we could watch in high definition with a bird’s-eye view. A drone would let us count demonstrators, gun barrels and pools of blood. And the evidence could be broadcast for a global audience, including diplomats at the United Nations and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Drones can reach places and see things cell phones cannot. Social media did not document the worst of the genocide in the remote villages of Darfur in 2003 and 2004. Camera-toting protesters could not enter the fields where 8,000 men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica in 1995. Graphic and detailed evidence of crimes against humanity does not guarantee a just response, but it helps.”

Staying grounded
But Daniel Solomon argues on his Securing Rights blog that using drones to document abuses could actually hamper human rights efforts over time by reducing the role of local populations.
“In a recent essay, Joshua Foust highlighted the relative decline of human intelligence (HUMINT) tradecraft and capacity as a decisive consequence of the Obama administration’s drone-heavy ISR operations. Human rights organizations confront a similar dilemma–often, relative to the official intelligence community, monitoring-and-reporting groups like Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International operate more advanced, broader, and deeper human intelligence networks in conflict-affected states. Local partnerships, empowerment networks, and storytelling capabilities represent the life-blood of an effective human rights organization. It’s easy to see how, with an increased emphasis on drone technology, those capacities would wither, with unfortunate consequences for the crucial art of human rights advocacy.”

Technological salvation
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs lays out a technological vision for reining in human injustice and destructiveness in the Anthropocene era before suddenly concluding that solving such problems may require more than reducing inefficiencies.
“Yet getting from here to sustainable development will not just be a matter of technology. It will also be a matter of market incentives, government regulations, and public support for research and development. But, even more fundamental than policies and governance will be the challenge of values. We must understand our shared fate, and embrace sustainable development as a common commitment to decency for all human beings, today and in the future.”

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