Latest Developments, March 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Violent peace
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution authorizing a “search and destroy” brigade and surveillance drones to supplement the peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

“According to the draft, [UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO] would ‘carry out targeted offensive operations through the Intervention Brigade … either unilaterally or jointly with the (Congo army), in a robust highly mobile and versatile manner … to prevent expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them.’

The draft Security Council resolution outlines MONUSCO’s role in monitoring a U.N. arms embargo on Congo that would now include using unmanned surveillance drones to ‘observe and report on flows of military personnel, arms, or related materiel across the eastern border of the DRC.’ It will be the first time the United Nations has used such equipment.”

Cradle of revolution
Al Jazeera reports that tens of thousands of activists have turned up in Tunis for the “counter-hegemonic meet” known as the World Social Forum:

“From Cairo to Dakar, from Wall Street to Nicosia, protesters can shake and occasionally even oust politicians, but contesting the global economic status quo is a far greater challenge.
The slogan of this year’s forum, which runs from March 26 to 30, in keeping with the spirit of Tunisia’s January 2011 uprising, is dignity.

‘We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy,’ Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera.”

UK in Mali
The BBC reports that British troops have begun arriving in Mali as part of an EU mission to train the West African country’s military for the fight against an insurgency which, according to the UK defense secretary, “poses a clear threat to our national interests”:

“The UK is also providing surveillance and logistical support to French troops who are helping the west African nation counter an Islamist insurgency.

The training will take place north-east of Mali’s capital Bamako, under the control of French Brigadier General François Lecointre and is expected to continue for around 15 months.
More than 200 instructors will be deployed in total, as well as mission support staff and force protection, making a total of around 500 staff from 22 EU Member States.”

Alone against the world
The Canadian Press reports Ottawa is pulling out of a UN desertification convention to which every other UN member is party:

“Canada signed the [UN Convention to Combat Desertification] in 1994 and ratified it in 1995. Every UN nation – 194 countries and the European Union – is currently a party to it.

A spokesman for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said in an e-mailed statement that ‘membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment.’
Mr. Fantino’s office refused to answer follow-up questions, including how much money was being saved by the move, and when Canada planned to notify the UN of its decision.
Government documents show Canada provided a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012.”

Almost there
Reuters reports that there is considerable optimism at UN headquarters that member countries will adopt the arms trade treaty whose final details are being hashed out:

“But [Amnesty International’s Brian Wood] made clear that there were problems with the text, including an overly narrow scope of types of arms covered. It covers tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms.
Predator drones and grenades are among the weapon categories that are not covered explicitly in the draft treaty.

Rights groups complained about one possible loophole in the current draft involving defense cooperation agreements. Several diplomats who also oppose this loophole said it could exempt certain weapons transfers from the treaty.”

Mining dispute
The Financial Times reports that a Canadian mining company is refusing to pay millions in fines levied by the government of Kyrgyzstan:

“The government, which holds 33 per cent of the equity, wants to renegotiate the agreement to run the mine signed with Canada-based Centerra in 2009 under what the government says was then a corrupt regime.
Alongside the moves towards renegotiation, two government agencies have hit Centerra with separate fines of $152m and $315m for alleged environmental damage.
The Kyrgyz parliament has also instructed the public prosecutor to investigate whether the company deliberately understated some reserves.”

Leaky economies
Quartz’s Naomi Rovnick highlights the role of tax havens – often European countries or their dependents – in siphoning money away from even the world’s rising economic powers:

“The clearest sign that BRICs are leaking tax revenues is that each country’s biggest source of outside investment is a tax haven. China counts the tiny Caribbean bolthole of the British Virgin Islands as its biggest source of foreign investment (not including the Chinese territory of Hong Kong). India has Mauritius, Russia has Cyprus, and Brazil has the Netherlands.

As this presentation from lawyers at international law firm Clifford Chance illustrates, setting up an intermediate Dutch company that appears to own a Brazilian business gives big tax advantages. For example, Dutch companies do not have to pay local taxes on dividends earned from a Brazilian investment.
This structure is known as the ‘Dutch sandwich’ in accounting circles. The name describes how a Netherlands company (think of it as a slice of Edam) is inserted between the real source of investment and the real investment destination (they are the bread).”

Jekyll & Hyde
The Guardian reports on calls for corporations to look beyond job creation when assessing the impacts they have on communities:

“The debate on jobs and taxes reflects the Jekyll and Hyde approach of the private sector. [UK International Development Secretary Justine] Greening neatly – if inadvertently – encapsulated this in her London speech, when she praised SAB Miller, the brewing giant, for working with 1,200 farmers in South Sudan to supply its brewery in the capital, Juba; according to ActionAid, governments in Africa may have lost as much as £20m through SAB Miller’s non-payment of tax.
‘You do see companies with a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) that do everything to avoid taxes,’ said one business representative who did not want to be named. ‘They will say it is within the law but, if they have aggressive tax avoidance, how does that sit with their CSR declaration?’ ”

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