Latest Developments, September 5

In the latest news and analysis…

G20 friction
As the G20 summit kicked off in Russia, Reuters reports that US President Barack Obama encountered “growing pressure” from world leaders not to attack Syria:

The first round at the summit went to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as China, the European Union, the BRICS emerging economies and a letter from Pope Francis all warned of the dangers of military intervention in Syria without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Putin was isolated on Syria at a Group of Eight meeting in June, the last big summit of world powers, but could now turn the tables on Obama, who recently likened him to a ‘bored kid in the back of the classroom’ who slouches at meetings.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, portrayed the ‘camp of supporters of a strike on Syria’ as divided, and said: ‘It is impossible to say that very many states support the idea of a military operation.’ ”

What’s missing
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is talking for the first time about air strikes against Syria, while a range of alternative scenarios are being floated:

“The latest is from Senator Joe Manchin III, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who proposes giving Mr. Assad 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and begin securing and ridding the country of its weapons stockpiles. Only if Mr. Assad refuses would the president be authorized to take military action.
‘We need some options out there that does something about the chemical weapons,’ Mr. Manchin said. ‘That’s what’s missing right now.’
The concept is already being debated by some government officials and foreign diplomats, though the White House has not weighed in.”

Rome pullout
Al Jazeera reports that Kenya’s parliament has voted to sever “any links, cooperation and assistance” with the International Criminal Court, which is set to try the country’s new president and his deputy:

“Many Kenyan politicians have branded the ICC a ‘neo-colonialist’ institution that only targets Africans, prompting the debate on a possible departure from the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said that Kenya had the support of African Union in this matter, and that other African countries could now follow suit.”

Open-pit protests
The Guardian reports on “the symbolic fight of our generation” against a Canadian-owned gold mining project in Romania that, if given the green light, would be Europe’s biggest:

“Thousands of citizens first took to the streets on Sunday, in cities across the country, spurred by the Romanian government’s recent draft bill to allow Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, to mine gold and silver at the Carpathian town, Rosia Montana.
Campaigners have criticised the “special national interest” status the bill would give the mine, which would allow the Romanian branch of Gabriel Resources, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, to move the few remaining landowners off the site through compulsory purchase orders.”

No teeth
Care International’s Gerry Boyle dismisses the UK government’s newly launched Action Plan on Business and Human Rights as relying almost entirely on “encouragement and exhortation”:

“As a society, we all bear responsibility for the actions of the businesses that build our wealth and deliver the products we consume, and so we have an obligation to ensure that companies operating in the UK uphold these basic standards.

So how can the guiding principles be enforced? The question of whether breaches should be a criminal offence is a complex one that requires more work, especially on how this would be enforced. It is however, a reasonable request that the Companies Act should give rise to a civil remedy that could be pursued by victims, shareholders, or indeed by the company’s own directors seeking to pursue redress where human rights abuses have occurred.”

Corporate shield
Harvard University’s John Ruggie calls on rich-country governments to do much more to ensure corporations do not violate people’s human rights with impunity:

“Exceptional legal measures may be needed where the human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended, as for example in conflict zones; and where it concerns business involvement in the worst human rights abuses. The international community no longer regards sovereignty as a legitimate shield behind which egregious human rights violations can take place with impunity; surely the same must be true of the corporate form. Greater clarity on this critical point would benefit all stakeholders.”

Two kinds of countries
In a Q&A with the Washington Post, author Teju Cole discusses his series of tongue-in-cheek tweets on whether the UK should be bombed for selling chemicals to Syria:

“It seems to me that, without quite thinking it through, we’ve divided the world into two: countries we can imagine bombing and countries we can’t imagine bombing. It’s a question of imagination. The idea that the US would launch missiles into London in 2013 is beyond absurd. But the tragedy is that it’s all too easy to imagine the U.S. launching missiles into other cities in other places in the world. I wanted to bridge that gap, in the little drive-by way of troublemaking that Twitter allows.

All that said, U.K.’s issuance of a license for the export of chemicals or holding arms trade fairs for whomever has the money does not not make Cameron a butcher like Assad. That’s one indelible truth. The fact that Cameron and Obama preside over needlessly vicious war machines is yet another. We can hold both thoughts in our heads at the same time.”

Unhealthy priorities
The Center for Global Development’s Amanda Glassman slams a recent US trade proposal concerning tobacco in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations:

“The proposal put forward by the US Trade Representative (USTR) last week in Brunei would reduce prices for US tobacco in low- and middle-income countries and make it more difficult for these countries to enforce anti-tobacco policies like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions.

A ‘carve-out’ for tobacco – where tobacco would simply be excluded from the terms of the TPP agreement – was proposed by Malaysia and makes sense. But the USTR worries that a carve-out would set a precedent that could be used to block a variety of other US exports on health grounds.”

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