Latest Developments, March 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Measuring inequality
The UN Development Programme has released its 2013 Human Development Report, which argues that the vast majority of countries have made progress in recent years but “national averages hide large variations” within countries:

“[Human Development Index] comparisons are typically made between countries in the North and the South, and on this basis the world is becoming less unequal. Nevertheless, national averages hide large variations in human experience, and wide disparities remain within countries of both the North and the South. The United States, for example, had an HDI value of 0.94 in 2012, ranking it third globally. The HDI value for residents of Latin American origin was close to 0.75, while the HDI value for African-Americans was close to 0.70 in 2010–2011. But the average HDI value for an African-American in Louisiana was 0.47. Similar ethnic disparities in HDI achievement in very high HDI countries can be seen in the Roma populations of southern Europe.”

Arming rebels
Time reports that France is pushing hard to lift a European embargo that is preventing the provision of arms to rebels fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad:

“In the most emphatic sign yet that Paris intends to get weapons and ammunition flowing to anti-Assad fighters, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said March 14 that if the E.U. and other international partners fail to heed that call, France may act on its own to bolster rebel fighting capacity.
‘The position we’ve taken, with [President] François Hollande, is to demand a lifting the arms embargo… [as] one of the only ways to get the situation moving politically,’ Fabius told France Info radio Thursday morning. Asked what France would do if its partners refused that request, Fabius indicated Paris would act unilaterally, reminding listeners that ‘France is a sovereign nation’.”

Outsourced borders
Jeune Afrique reports that Médecins Sans Frontières has alleged the European Union bears much of the responsibility for the grim conditions migrants endure in Morocco, where it is shutting its operations:

“ ‘In the last 10 years, Brussels has toughened its border controls and externalized its migration policy more and more. From a transit country, Morocco has also become a destination country by default,’ [the MSF report said]. As a result, a large number of undocumented migrants from south of the Sahara, 20,000 to 25,000 according to local organizations, are now waiting in Morocco for a hypothetical journey to European soil via Spain. According to MSF, their vulnerability increases with the length of their stay.” [Translated from the French.]

Chemical contamination
Reuters reports that oil giant Shell and chemical manufacturer BASF have agreed to pay hundreds of millions in compensation to former workers in Brazil for exposure to toxic substances:

“Brazil’s public labor prosecution service said 60 people were killed from prolonged exposure to chemicals used to make pesticides at the plant. The factory began operating in the 1970s in Paulinia in Sao Paulo state until government authorities ordered it to shut down in 2002.

Gislaine Rossetti, a spokeswoman at BASF, told Reuters the companies would not disclose the proportion of the total compensation each would pay. Shell would be solely responsible for reparations linked to soil pollution, she said.”

Gold on hold
Reuters also reports that a shipment from a mine owned by Canada’s two biggest gold mining companies is being detained in the Dominican Republic whose president recently demanded a renegotiation of the mine’s operating contract:

“Fernando Fernandez, director of customs in the Dominican Republic, said the shipment was halted because of a problem with documentation.
‘When it is resolved, the shipment will go out,’ he told reporters.
Pueblo Viejo, one of world’s largest new gold projects, is jointly owned by Barrick and Canada’s second largest gold miner, Goldcorp Inc.
On Feb. 27, in a speech marking the 169th anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence, Mr. Medina said the terms of the contract with the two Canadian miners were unacceptable and demanded more benefits from the mine. The contract was negotiated before Mr. Medina took office last August.”

Silent torture
A UN torture expert has called for an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the Americas:

“ ‘Despite the fact that many examples show that the region of the Americas is not an exception to the global trend of abuses in the use of solitary confinement, I am concerned about the general lack of official information and statistics on the use of solitary confinement,’ Mr. Méndez said, recalling the harmful effects of this widespread practice he comprehensively documented in his 2011 global report to the UN General Assembly (see below).
‘The use of solitary confinement can only be accepted under exceptional circumstances, and should only be applied as a last resort measure in which its length must be as short as possible, it should be duly communicated and it should offer minimum due process guarantees when it is used as a disciplinary sanction,’ the Special Rapporteur said.

He called for the absolute prohibition of solitary confinement on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and for an equally absolute prohibition on indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement. For purposes of defining what constitutes prolonged solitary confinement, he suggested the benchmark of any term exceeding 15 days.”

Global pillage
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips is happy to report that the issue of land grabs – or “pillage” (on a “truly staggering” scale) as he calls it – has arrived on the agenda of the upcoming G8 meeting:

“Every six days land the size of London is bought and sold – often by people who have never even visited it, sometimes in an online click-and-buy. Some of those who take over the land will grow crops – often for biofuels rather than for food and, when for food, often for export rather than for locals. Others just put up a fence and wait for the price of the land to go up while around them people go hungry.”

Diplomatic anachronism
A Los Angeles Times editorial argues that the US should stop maintaining Cuba on its list of terrorist-sponsoring countries simply because “it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism”:

“None of the reasons that landed Cuba on the list in 1982 still exist. A 2012 report by the State Department found that Havana no longer provides weapons or paramilitary training to Marxist rebels in Latin America or Africa. In fact, Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and President Juan Manuel Santos’ government. And Cuban officials condemned the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Clinging to that designation when the evidence for it has passed fails to recognize Cuba’s progress and reinforces doubts about America’s willingness to play fair in the region.”

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