Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Scary TPP
The International Business Times offers up five “scary provisions”, including one relating to affordable medicines, found in a purported chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership published by Wikileaks:

“ ‘The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has proposed measures harmful to access to affordable medicines that have not been seen before in U.S. trade agreements,’ Public Citizen stated Wednesday. ‘These proposals aim to transform countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, and include attacks on government medicine formularies. USTR’s demands would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.’
The TPP would limit access to medicines by expanding medical patents’ scope to include minor changes to existing medications; instituting patent linkage, a regime that would make it more difficult for many generic drugs to enter markets; and lengthening the terms of patents by forcing countries to extend patents’ terms during lengthy review processes.”

Dirty rubber
Global witness is calling on the World Bank, among others, to stop investing in a company the NGO has accused of land grabbing in southeast Asia:

“Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) has failed to keep to commitments to address environmental and human rights abuses in its plantations in Cambodia and Laos, Global Witness said today. The campaign group says the company now poses a financial and reputational risk to its investors, including Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation, and recommends they divest.”

Western onus
Xinhua reports that China is calling on rich countries to keep their past climate promises, including the financial ones, at this month’s climate change negotiations:

“The UN determines that developed countries should be held accountable for the accumulated high levels of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial era.

For the period from 2013 to 2020, developed countries are obliged to further cut their carbon emissions as well as providing funding and technologies to help developing nations handle challenges caused by climate change, [Chinese COP 19 delegate Su Wei] said.
‘Finance holds the key to the success of the Warsaw conference,’ Su said, urging developed countries to keep their promises made in previous climate talks.
Developed countries have agreed to jointly provide 100 billion US
dollars per year by 2020 for developing countries to better cope with climate change, which is far from implementation.
‘I hope we can make concrete progress in facilitating the operation of financial and technical transfer from developed countries at the Warsaw talks,’ he said.”

Thinking bigger
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on the argument that, “with climate-changing emissions still growing despite 20 years of negotiations and agreements to limit them”, consensus should not be the top objective at the current COP 19 climate summit:

“ ‘It’s ambition that’s needed, from my point of view,’ says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow on climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Right now, ‘everybody is willing to do something’ – a big change from the 2009 Copenhagen talks, when many countries were still refusing to budge – ‘but the cumulative amount that comes to is insufficient,’ he says. ‘So raising the ambition collectively of everyone is the key. The issue of inclusion has already been solved. Ambition has not.’

The problem is that negotiators tend to have fixed positions. No major developed countries have increased the ambition of their emissions reduction commitments so far in Warsaw, for instance.”

Muscular soft power
The Independent reports that both Western and non-Western powers are deploying troops across Africa for “not entirely altruistic” reasons:

“The last British campaign in Africa was 13 years ago in Sierra Leone, but the UK is currently training forces in three states that are anything but calm. General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, said: ‘We have got three relatively new things which don’t involve significant numbers of people but nevertheless are pointers to the future: Somalia, Mali and also the training of Libyan militias for integration into the military.’

‘If the world’s one remaining superpower is taking soft power seriously and the emerging one, China, is also starting on that path, soft power of a muscular variety can only get more traction,’ said Robert Emerson, a security specialist. ‘Conflicts will not go away from Africa any time soon, but we are seeing major adjustments in dealing with them. It will be fascinating scene of competition for influence in the future.’ ”

A baby step too far
The Guardian reports that even conservative reforms to some “potentially disastrous” kinds of US food aid may not happen:

“The Senate bill includes changes to the food aid programme that would at least partly satisfy reformists. These include a small expansion of a pilot programme that allows food aid to be bought locally, as well as restrictions on the use of monetisation. The House version largely maintains the status quo, while eliminating local sourcing and actually encouraging organisations to monetise food aid.
‘We’re seeing a lot of intransigence on the part of the House in terms of getting anything done,’ said Eric Munoz, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America. He admitted he was ‘not at all confident … that the [final] bill will include the reforms to food aid that the Senate has proposed’.
The Senate provisions marked a step in the right direction, said Munoz, but even if its reforms were adopted, they would amount to ‘only an incremental step toward where we ultimately need to go’.”

Haunted by loss
Madiha Tahir responds to criticism of her newly released documentary “about drone survivors and the families of the dead” in Pakistan:

“The springboard for the narrative is a speech by President Obama delivered this year in which he claims to be haunted by the loss of civilian life resulting from his policies. We make the frame clear by beginning with this speech followed by a guiding question: ‘What does it mean to be haunted by loss?’ It should be clear that to answer that question by saying ‘Because, Taliban’ is utterly nonsensical.

While [Malala Yousafzai] has commanded the attention of President Obama – to whom she was not shy about voicing her opposition to drone attacks – nine-year-old Nabila, who travelled to the US this month to deliver testimony to Congress about the bombing that killed her grandmother and injured the little girl, was received by a paltry five members out of the 435 US House of Representatives. There has been a studious disinterestedness in the stories of drone survivors. They don’t sell. That’s the broader context for ‘Wounds’.”

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Latest Developments, November 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Generic shutdown
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has voted down a bill that would have allowed Canadian companies to make generic drugs for sale at discount prices in poor countries:

“It was an attempt to untie the knots in [Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime], which came into law in 2004 under a Liberal government. While the goal of the access-to-medicines regime has been widely lauded, it is fraught with red tape and, in eight years, has been used to send just two batches of one generic drug to one country.

But even Canada’s brand-name drug manufacturers said they were not opposed to seeing Bill C-398 progress through Parliament.”

No UN money
Reuters reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed an “offensive military operation” in northern Mali but stopped short of offering financial support for the intervention:

“One Security Council diplomat was furious at Ban’s recommendation against granting the [African Union] request for U.N. funding for the operation, which U.N. diplomats estimate will cost $300 million to $500 million.
.…
Ban suggested that the funding for the initial military combat operations could be through ‘voluntary or bilateral contributions’ – which diplomats said meant European Union member states would be asked to cover costs.”

Fools rush in
In an interview with Libération during a diplomatic mission to Paris, the leader of the Tuareg separatist group Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), Bilal ag-Achérif, argued military intervention in Mali’s north would be ill-advised at this time:

“One cannot make a prescription without using a stethoscope on the patient, without consulting the people of Azawad. Such a military operation, with troops that know nothing of the terrain, would trigger disorder, spread the threat of terrorism throughout West Africa and increase drug trafficking. It could cause a lot of collateral damage. How to distinguish the terrorists from the others? They wear the same clothes.” [Translated from the French.]

Global theft
Global Witness calls for the investigation into nearly $1 billion embezzled from Kabul Bank to extend well beyond Afghanistan’s borders:

“ ‘Donors, auditors and the international banks involved in this scandal all have questions to answer,’ said [Global Witness’s Gavin] Hayman. ‘Which banks accepted corrupt money from Kabul Bank shareholders or politically exposed persons? What measures did they take to assure themselves that the funds were not the proceeds of corruption? The answers to these questions are necessary to understand why so much corrupt money was able to flood the international financial system, to facilitate the recovery of stolen assets, and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.’
Global Witness added that countries with assets from Kabul Bank, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Switzerland must freeze and return the assets stashed in their private banks, and launch inquiries into how the money ended up within their borders.”

Lifting the corporate veil
Bloomberg reports that a hearing pitting Ecuadorean plaintiffs against oil giant Chevron in a Canadian court marks the first step in “a global collection effort that includes seizure attempts in Argentina and Brazil”:

“A group of 47 Ecuadoreans have asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to seize Chevron assets in Canada, ranging from an oil sands project to offshore wells, to satisfy a [$19 billion] 2011 court ruling in the Latin American nation that ordered the company to pay for oil pollution dating to the 1960s.

The Ecuadorean plaintiffs, from the remote northern Amazon River basin, are seeking enforcement of the judgment outside their home country because Chevron has no refineries, oil wells, storage terminals or other properties in the nation.

The Ecuadoreans face an ‘uphill battle’ because they must convince the court that Chevron and its Canadian operations should be treated as one entity rather than separate companies, said Barry Leon, a partner and head of the international arbitration group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP in Ottawa.
‘The expression that gets used legally is “lifting the corporate veil” and disregarding the separate personalities,’ Leon said. ‘The courts generally, in Canada and elsewhere, have been reluctant to do that.’ ”

Nuke upgrade
Wired reports that the US, whose current president earlier in his term called for “a world without nuclear weapons,” has begun a $10 billion overhaul of its European nuclear arsenal:

“A 2008 Secretary of Defense task force against underestimating the ‘political value our friends and allies place on these weapons, the political costs of withdrawal, and the psychological impact of their visible presence.’ But the same report notes that U.S. European Command — the Pentagon’s top generals in the region – ‘believ[e] there is no military downside to the unilateral withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe.’ After all, America has thousands of additional warheads that could be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers, and submarines.”

Cancellation fallout
Reuters reports that the US is taking heat for calling off talks on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which had been scheduled for December:

“The postponement ‘will have a negative impact on regional security and the international system to prevent nuclear proliferation as a whole,’ Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said in a statement.
Iran, which is accused by the West of developing a nuclear weapons capability, said this month it would participate in the talks that had been due to take place in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked about the U.S. announcement, Iranian nuclear envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told state broadcaster Press TV from Vienna:
‘It is a serious setback to the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and this is a clear sign that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free of nuclear weapons.’

The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed at a 2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 NPT, a treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear arms in the world.”

Chased away
A new Amnesty International report calls for an immediate end to forced evictions of thousands of Roma migrants living in France:

“ ‘France has failed to include international human rights standards against forced evictions in its domestic legal system. As a result, evictions of informal settlements where Roma live generally take place without adequate prior information, consultation or notice to residents,’ [according to Amnesty’s John Dalhuisen].
‘In most cases, alternative housing is not provided and entire families are left homeless. They have no choice but to re-establish their homes in another informal settlement elsewhere, and schooling and medical treatment are interrupted as a result.’ ”

Latest Developments, December 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Leaving Iraq
Reuters reports on celebrations in the Iraqi city of Fallujah to mark the departure of US troops.
“Many Iraqis await the U.S. withdrawal with relief and hopes for a better future, despite fears that sectarian tensions bubbling beneath the surface will return just as Iraq struggles to end years of war and violence.
Overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the dark days of sectarian slaughter in 2006-07, but bombings and killings remain common.
‘After the Americans leave we want to see a united Iraq, we do not want disputes,’ Hameed Jadou, a Sunni cleric, told the crowds. ‘Whoever says this is an Iraqi Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurdish, or Turkman, is using the terms brought by the occupier.’”

Vulture funds
A UN human rights expert is urging the Channel Island of Jersey to prevent “vulture funds” from using its courts to sue heavily indebted poor countries.
“‘‘Vulture funds’ unfairly deprive poor countries of the gains from international debt relief efforts meant for the improvement of delivery of basic social services such as safe drinking water, health care, education, and housing,’ Mr. Lumina said. ‘The international community must not accept this immoral and unfair deprivation of scarce financial resources from the world’s poorest countries.’
In April 2010, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act to restrict the ability of ‘vulture funds’ to sue heavily indebted poor countries in UK courts, a favourite jurisdiction. However, the Act does not apply to UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories such as Jersey, Guernsey, the British Virgin Islands and Cayman islands.
This loophole has allowed US ‘vulture fund’ FG Capital Management (formerly FG Hemisphere) to sue the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Jersey’s courts for $100 million of debt obligations, reportedly bought for just 3.3 per cent of their value according to British media reports.”

Sweet Home Alabama
Human Rights Watch has released a report on Alabama’s new immigration act that, in the word’s of one of the legislation’s sponsors, “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life.”
“Under the Beason-Hammon Act, unauthorized immigrants are prohibited from entering into ‘business transactions’ with the state. An unauthorized immigrant who tries to do so is committing a Class C felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. As a result, state and local agencies have declared that unauthorized immigrants cannot sign up for water and other utilities, live in the mobile homes they own, or renew licenses for their own small businesses.

While every country has the authority to regulate the entry of immigrants into its territory, to deport those who have made an unauthorized entry, and to enforce its immigration laws against those no longer authorized to remain, international law requires that everyone is entitled to fundamental human rights by virtue of their humanity, Human Rights Watch said.”

Tough talk
The UN News Centre reports on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s description of the current imbalances in access to food, electricity, sanitation and healthcare around the world.
“This is not equitable. It is not sustainable. Nor can we live with deteriorating ecosystems. Science tells us that we are approaching, and increasingly over-stepping certain planetary boundaries. This, too, is not sustainable,” he said.

Making others rich
Al Jazeera reports on how the cocoa industry treats those who actually produce the beans required to make chocolate.
“The price of this important commodity may have been dropping in recent weeks, but suppliers, buyers and manufacturers will all still make billions of dollars. It’s the farmers of West Africa that will lose out, as they continue to live in poverty.”

Access to medicines
Daniele Dionisio of the European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicines and Poverty-Related Diseases argues for doing away with a controversial clause in a key intellectual property agreement that will be up for debate at this week’s World Trade Organization conference.
“The non-violation nullification of benefits (hereinafter non-violation or NV) provision allows World Trade Organization members to bring disputes to the WTO, which are based on the loss of an expected benefit caused by another member’s action, even if such action does not constitute violation of a WTO agreement.

WTO developing members would be put at risk should the NV clause be allowed in the [Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)] agreement. As a result, these countries might face pressures to reverse already enacted policies or measures under the threat of NV claims.
NV complaints could be used to threaten developing members’ use of flexibilities laid down in the TRIPS agreement. As regards access to medicines, the implementation of TRIPS flexibilities by developing members under Articles 30 or 31 (i.e., to grant compulsory licenses or CLs) could be charged with keeping patent owners from their legitimate or reasonable expectations. And it would come as no surprise should members claim that price cuttings of medicines under CLs deprive them of foreseen patent protection benefits.”

Sustainable development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues it is essential for development and environmental agendas, which he believes are growing apart, to be brought together again at next year’s Rio+20 conference.
“The idea of sustainable development goals, first floated by the Colombian government and seemingly gathering momentum as Rio+20 approaches, could be a way of embedding the concept into international dialogue, as well as binding together disparate processes such as Busan, Durban and the MDGs.
Countries in the north are tempted to give in to vested interests and protect the dirty economy, as Canada appears to be doing by pulling out of the Kyoto protocol. Rio could be the arena to remind them that a green economy will be better for jobs and growth, as well as the planet, if they only have the vision to look beyond the dangerous comforts of the growth model with which we have so far been stuck.”

Democratic hopes and fears
In an interview with Jeune Afrique, the French Institute of International Relations’ Thierry de Montbrial discusses the prospect of an “Islamist counterrevolution” in North Africa and the West’s fickle attitude toward democracy.
“This rise of Islamists was perfectly predictable. Westerners have a contradictory attitude – they want democracy but often reject its consequences – and are naïve because establishing democracy takes time. That said, I don’t think the Islamists, in the Maghreb, are looking for confrontation. They’ll want to have good relations with the West, while trying to transform society slowly through social pressure.” (Translated from the French)