Latest Developments, March 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Red Cross hotel
The Center for Economic and Policy Research questions Red Cross priorities as the humanitarian organization considers building a luxury hotel and conference center on Port-au-Prince land it bought with Haiti earthquake relief funds.
“Considering the hundreds of people who have recently been forcibly evicted – with some recently having been burned out of their camps in suspicious arsons – couldn’t this be space that the Red Cross could offer them, rather than using it for a commercial venture that might not even be viable?
The Red Cross’ post-quake spending and use of funds, as the largest NGO operating in Haiti, has been controversial almost since the beginning. News that some ‘funds donated by national Red Cross agencies for quake recovery’ – much of which almost certainly came from individuals who believed their money would be used for emergency relief – might instead be used for a risky commercial venture (and one that caters to NGO’s and tourists) could provoke more controversy.”

Mosque outreach
The American Civil Liberties Union reports it has obtained documents indicating the FBI used a “mosque outreach” program to gather intelligence on American Muslim groups and their members “without any suspicion of wrongdoing.”
“The documents also show that the FBI categorized information about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected and other entirely innocuous activities, as well as mosque locations, as ‘positive intelligence’ and disseminated it to agencies outside the FBI. As a result, the agency wrongly and unfairly cast a cloud of suspicion over innocent groups and individuals based on their religious beliefs and associations, and placed them at risk of greater law enforcement scrutiny as potential national security threats. None of the documents indicate that the FBI told individuals interviewed that their information and views were being collected as intelligence and would be recorded and disseminated.”

Suspicious skin
The Global Post reports a German court has ruled that certain police can use the colour of a person’s skin as justification for demanding to see identification.
“However, judges ruled that skin color was reasonable grounds on which to carry out ID checks, since the train route in question is often used by illegal immigrants to enter Germany. Since police cannot check every passenger’s papers, they must select which people to ID based on their ‘border policing experience,’ the judgment said.
The officers are therefore allowed to make their choice ‘according to external appearance’ and without concrete grounds for suspicion, Agence France Presse reported.”

Drug talk
Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda writes that the “failed war on drugs” will loom large in discussions at next month’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia.
“Recently inaugurated Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, together with [Colombian President Juan Manuel] Santos and other heads of state, question today’s punitive, prohibitionist approach, owing to its enormous costs and meager results, and propose a different strategy: legalization.
Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden to Mexico and Central America a few weeks ago to forestall this trend, and he may have partly succeeded. Nevertheless, whereas only a smattering of political leaders and intellectuals advocated legalization in the past, nowadays officials are coming ‘out of the closet’ on drugs in droves. Those who used to say that they favored a debate on the issue now support legalization; those who opposed it now accept the need for debate; and those who continue to oppose legalization do so on moral, rather than rational, grounds.”

Crying foul
UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, argues the international community must look at the big picture and get serious about accountability if sustainable development is to become a reality.
“What are framed as development policies often end up doing very little to help the most marginalised communities, and sometimes end up harming them. Meanwhile, the effects of genuine development policies can easily be overridden by industrial and infrastructural projects, trade agreements, and other external factors that tip the balance against small-scale farmers and fishers. It is therefore essential to be able to cry foul when missing policies, misguided policies, or the sum total of policies, work against sustainable development.”

Talk is cheap
Inter Press Service reports on a group of legal experts who are looking to hold world leaders to the promises they make at June’s Rio+20 sustainable development summit.
“ ‘We are really tired of declarations,’ Antonio Herman Benjamin, judge of the Supreme Court of Brazil, told an international gathering of legal experts here Monday. Despite some progress made since the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most governments have failed to fulfil their obligations.
As a result, the court has launched a new initiative to promote role of law in advancing sustainable development. It is known as the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Stability.
The Congress’s scores of members from around the world include senior judges, prosecutors, legal scholars, auditors and development experts. They plan to focus on the problems and obstacles that hinder the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.”

Immigration detention
Author Edwige Danticat writes in the New York Times that new US immigration guidelines recommend the bare minimum of human rights for detainees, more than 110 of whom have died in custody since 2003.
“The new [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] guidelines are not perfect. They do not offer, for example, alternatives to jail-like detention, even for unaccompanied minors, the elderly, the disabled or pregnant women. But they are a step forward. In addition to medical care, safe water and limited recreation, they also require that staff members not perform strip searches on detainees of the opposite sex and that detainees not be used for medical experiments or for clinical trials without informed consent. They will crack down on sexual assault by staff members, contract personnel or other detainees and suggest that victims of sexual abuse be given access to emergency medical treatment.”

Good intentions
Northeastern University’s Aziza Ahmed argues we must “interrogate the consequences of advocacy efforts,” however noble the cause may appear.
“First, anti-sex trafficking activism has an extremely negative impact on HIV programs. Sex workers are highly vulnerable to contracting HIV. A key victory for anti-sex trafficking organizations was the insertion of the anti-prostitution loyalty oath (APLO) into the US Leadership Act for HIV/Aids, TB, and malaria. This provision requires that organizations agree to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. The APLO has the effect of disempowering sex worker organizations who refuse to sign on, shutting health services for sex workers, and alienating sex workers from public health programs.”

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