Latest Developments, April 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Radical revision
The New York Times editorial board calls the US Supreme Court’s decision in a case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell “a giant setback for human rights”:

“The court declared that a 1789 law called the Alien Tort Statute does not allow foreigners to sue in American courts to seek redress ‘for violations of the law of nations occurring outside the United States.’

But Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said that even where claims of atrocities ‘touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force’ to overcome a presumption that the statute does not apply to actions outside this country.
That presumption radically revises and undermines the way the statute has been applied for a generation. It has been limited by the types of human rights abuses it covers — but not by where they take place. The effect is to greatly narrow the statute’s reach.”

Silver lining
Reuters’s Alison Frankel writes, however, that human rights lawyers found some glimmers of hope in the Kiobel ruling:

“In the concurrence, [Justice Stephen] Breyer disputed the majority’s presumption against the extraterritoriality of the [Alien Tort Statute], though he agreed that the Nigerians’ case does not belong in U.S. courts. He laid out a different standard for ATS litigation: ‘I would find jurisdiction under this statute where (1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially and adversely affects an important American national interest, and that includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor … for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.’ ”

Senators heart guns
Former US Congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords excoriates the senators who have voted against increased gun control:

“We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

Big debarment
The Globe and Mail reports that the World Bank has banned Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and 100 of its subsidiaries from bidding on World Bank contracts for the next 10 years:

“The World Bank’s announcement about SNC, which was made Wednesday, also expanded the list of countries where the embattled engineering company has been accused of corruption. The bank said it has uncovered evidence that SNC conspired to bribe public officials in Cambodia and that it has passed that information along to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are already probing the company’s activities in Libya, Algeria and Bangladesh.
The 10-year prohibition was negotiated between the company and the bank and is the largest debarment that a company has agreed to as part of a settlement since the bank began sanctioning firms that seek to corrupt public officials.”

US torture
A new report by the Constitution Project alleges it is “indisputable” that the US practiced torture after the 9/11 attacks:

“The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been ‘the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.’ ”

Bad guest
A group of NGOs is calling on Canadian mining company Infinito Gold to stop its “decade-long harassment” of Costa Rica’s people and government, harassment they say includes the new threat of a $1 billion lawsuit:

“The [Costa Rican] courts told the Canadian company it could not develop the Crucitas mine, and told Infinito to pack up and go.
Instead of leaving, the company ratcheted-up a campaign of intimidation, attempting to censor a University of Costa Rica course focussed on the mining project and launching defamation suits against two professors and three other Costa Ricans who have spoken out publicly about the potential impact that this mining activity could have on a fragile environment.”

A tale of two archipelagos
The Guardian reports that a controversial UK official is going from administering the Chagos Islands, all of whose inhabitants Britain deported decades ago, to governing the Falkland Islands, for whose inhabitants Britain went to war a few years later:

“A US embassy cable published in the Guardian in December 2010 quoted a senior Foreign Office official, Colin Roberts, telling the Americans that as a result of imposing the marine reserve, there would be no ‘human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays’ on the islands.
He said the plan would ‘in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents’, according to the cable.
The case is the first resulting from the leak of classified US cables in which UK officials have been ordered to appear.
Roberts, commissioner of the [British Indian Ocean Territory] at the time of his meeting with US officials in May 2009, will take up a new post next year as governor of the Falkland Islands, the high court heard on Monday.”

Carbon bubble
Environmental author Duncan Clark asks if we “can we bring ourselves to prioritise a safe planet over cheap fuels, flights, power and goods”:

“Blithely ignoring the fact that there is already far more accessible fuel than can be safely burned, pension fund managers and other investors are allowing listed fossil fuel companies to spend the best part of $1tn a year (comparable to the US defence budget, or more than $100 for every person on the planet) to find and develop yet more reserves.
If and when we emerge from this insanity, the carbon bubble will burst and those investments will turn out to have been as toxic as sub-prime mortgages. Don’t take my word for it. HSBC analysts recently concluded that oil giants such as BP – beloved of UK pension funds – could have their value cut in half if the world decides to tackle climate change. Coal companies can expect an even rougher ride, and yet our financial regulators still allow them to float on stock markets without mentioning in their share prospectuses that their assets may soon need to be written off.”

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