Latest Developments, August 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Embassy threatened
The New York Times reports that an Ecuadorean government official has said that Ecuador would be prepared to let Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stay at its London embassy “indefinitely under a type of humanitarian protection”:

“Earlier Wednesday, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said that the British authorities had threatened to barge into the country’s embassy in London if officials did not hand over Mr. Assange. ‘Today we have received from the United Kingdom an explicit threat in writing that they could assault our embassy in London if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange,’ Mr. Patiño said at a news conference in Quito, adding defiantly, ‘We are not a British colony.’

Under diplomatic protocol, Mr. Assange was thought to be off limits while in the embassy. But the BBC reported Wednesday that British officials had raised the notion of revoking the diplomatic immunity of the Ecuadorean Embassy, allowing British officials to enter.”

Consultation required
Al Jazeera reports that a Brazilian judge has suspended construction of a controversial hydroelectric megaproject that is expected to flood 500 sq km of Amazon rainforest: 

“In a statement released on Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente said that work could only resume on the $11bn, 11,000MW Belo Monte Dam after the indigenous communities living in the area were consulted.
The dam has been condemned by environmentalists and rights activists, who say that it would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area that would be flooded.”

Plain packaging
Bloomberg reports that the backing of Australia’s highest court for a ban on trademarked labeling of cigarette packs has public health experts hoping for a “domino effect” around the world:

“The High Court of Australia today dismissed claims by Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914), British American Tobacco Plc (BATS), Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) and Imperial Tobacco Group Plc that the government illegally seized their intellectual property by barring the display of trademarks on packs. The judges gave no reasons for the decision and said these will be published later.
The ruling is a victory for a government faced with A$31.5 billion ($33 billion) in annual health costs from smoking, a habit it estimates killed 900,000 Australians over six decades. New Zealand and the U.K. are among countries whose governments have indicated interest in implementing similar legislation, which takes effect in Australia Dec. 1.”

Four-star tastes
The Associated Press reports that former US Africa Command head William “Kip” Ward is being investigated “for allegedly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly”:

“The defense officials said Ward is facing numerous allegations that he spent several hundred thousand dollars allowing unauthorized people, including family members, to fly on government planes, and spent excessive amounts of money on hotel rooms, transportation and other expenses when he traveled as head of Africa Command.
A four-star general is the highest rank in the Army.”

Exxon spill
Reuters reports that ExxonMobil is “investigating” an oil spill off Nigeria’s coast that has shut down the local fishing industry:

“Sam Ayadi, a fisherman in Ibeno, said by telephone that no one had been able to go fishing since the spill was first noticed on Sunday.
‘The fishermen are still off the waters due to the spill. We cannot return yet. We are waiting for Mobil to open to discussions with us about what happened,’ he said.
Oil spills are common in Africa’s top energy producer. Stretches of the Niger Delta, a fragile wetlands environment, are coated in crude. Thousands of barrels are spilled every year, and lax enforcement means there are few penalties.”

Aid’s colonial roots
Aid on the Edge of Chaos’s Ben Ramalingam presents a collection of thoughts on the “implications of complexity science for development aid” by Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom who passed away in June:

“The lack of long timeframes and a lack of supporting cultures means that aid agencies don’t help people learn how to think about and change the structure of the situations they are facing. In many situations, this is because of colonial roots of aid, which did not respect local institutions – they didn’t understand them so they were treated as non-existent.
The difference between this approach and that of Darwin is stark – the care and diligence that was given to studying animal species in the 19th century is so evident, and it from this that we have evolutionary theory. But these countries also had people, but there was no attempt to understand their knowledge systems, the rules they had developed to manage various kinds of socio-ecological systems… Colonial powers assumed we have the answers, and destroyed social capital. Aid agencies, unfortunately, do much the same thing.”

Haiti’s gold rush
Jacob Kushner writes in Guernica Magazine about “behind closed doors” negotiations between Haitian politicians and foreign mining companies over access to the country’s underground wealth:

“Since 2009, Haiti’s government ministers have been considering a new convention. This would allow Eurasian, Newmont’s business partner, to explore an additional 1300 square kilometers of land in Haiti’s north. But according to Dieuseul Anglade, Haiti’s mining chief of two decades, unlike previous agreements, this one doesn’t include a limit—standard among mining contracts worldwide—on how much of a mine’s revenue the company can write off as costs. Without any cap, a mining company can claim that a mine has an unusually low profit margin, allowing it to pay fewer taxes to the Haitian state; Anglade opposed these terms, and was fired in May.”

Corporate inconvenience
Harvard Law School student Maia Levenson has little sympathy for oil giant Shell’s argument, ahead of its US Supreme Court showdown with Nigerian plaintiffs, that corporate liability for foreign conduct could have “an adverse effect on a company’s stock price and debt rating”:

“Sure, major corporations may find it inconvenient to defend against allegations that they were complicit in crimes against humanity. But that is not a reason to find that they are immune. Major corporations, and the United States itself, are frequently the subject of lawsuits that may have adverse commercial implications—and we don’t deny plaintiffs the opportunity for redress because of the potential or actual costs. If we don’t deny victims a forum for even ordinary claims, why would we do so when the crimes at issue are the very worst kinds imaginable?”

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