Latest Developments, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

French drone strike?
Xinhua quotes an anonymous “security source” as saying a French drone has killed six people in northern Mali, which if true, would be the first-ever drone killings by France:

“The source said that the Algerian army detected the drone, confirming that the strike took place near the border, on the Malian side.
The six combatants killed were allegedly plotting an attack against the military base at Tessalit, controlled since February by French and Chadian forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Welcome mat
Reuters report that on the same day as the alleged French strike, Niger’s foreign minister said he wanted armed drones to operate in his country:

“ ‘I would really welcome armed drones to shoot down drug traffickers, and all those who live from activities linked to drug trafficking. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible,’ [Mohamed Bazoum] said.”

Security state
The International Crisis Group has published a new report in which it expresses concern that Niger’s Western allies are pushing “a security strategy that has already shown its limitations elsewhere in the Sahel”:

“ ‘Niger has been included in security strategies that protect it but over which it has little influence’, says Jean-Hervé Jezequel, Crisis Group Sahel Senior Analyst. ‘Encouraged by its allies to upgrade its security apparatus, the Nigerien government has also substantially increased its military expenditure. But such a security focus could lead to a reallocation of resources at the expense of already weak social sectors’.
‘Rather than a security state, the people of Niger need a government that provides services, an economy that creates employment and a reinforced democratic system”, says Jonathan Prentice, Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer.”

Incoherent policy
The Guardian reports that a group of NGOs has accused the EU of breaking the law by letting European firms dodge “at least $100bn a year” in taxes owed to poor countries:

“The EU is the only region of the world to have a legally binding commitment to policy coherence for development, set out in the 2009 Lisbon treaty. Under the PCD, the aims of EU development co-operation should not be undermined by other EU policies on climate, trade, energy, agriculture, migration and finance.

On taxes, Concord calls on the European council – the group of EU leaders – to extend the automatic exchange of tax information among European countries to the developing world.”

Massacre cover-up
The Associated Press reports that a South African government commission investigating last year’s shooting deaths at the Marikana platinum mine has accused the police of lying:

“In a statement issued Thursday, the Marikana commission said it had to search computer hard drives of officers to discover documents about the 2012 shootings that riveted South Africa and recalled the worst excesses of the apartheid era.
The commission said documents show the police version of events at the platinum mine ‘is in material respects not the truth.’
The statement said the thousands of pages of new evidence include documents the police had previously said did not exist and material which should have been disclosed earlier by police.”

Small consolation
The Inquirer reports that Canada’s Barrick Gold is being accused of offering “crumbs” as compensation for a toxic spill in the Philippines:

“After nearly a decade of battling it out in a United States state court, the province of Marinduque has come close to signing a deal worth $20 million with the mining company that bought the firm being held responsible for unleashing toxic wastes into Marinduque’s Boac River in a case considered to be the country’s worst mining disaster.
The compensation offer of $20 million, however, is way below the $100-million claim for damages that the Marinduque government is demanding from Barrick in a 2006 lawsuit.

The amount, however, would further be reduced to $13.5 million after litigation expenses had been paid.”

Looming divorce
Reuters reports that African leaders will meet next month to discuss the future of the continent’s relationship with the International Criminal Court:

“So far there does not seem to be much support for it, but heads of state from the 54-member African Union (AU) may still discuss the possibility of a pullout by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.
Last week’s start of the trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity – with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial due in November – has fuelled a growing backlash against the Hague-based court from some African governments, which see it as a tool of Western powers.
‘The Kenyans have been criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause, even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,’ an AU official told Reuters.
‘An extraordinary summit will now take place to discuss the issue. A complete walk-out of signatories (to the Rome Statute) is certainly a possibility, but other requests maybe made.’”

House of cards
The Associated Press reports that Pope Francis has said he wants the Catholic church to become less fixated on “small-minded rules”:

“But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe.
Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.
‘The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,’ Francis said. ‘We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.’ ”

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Latest Developments, May 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Dead miners
The New York Times reports that an “independent team” will investigate an accident that killed 28 workers at a US-owned mine in Indonesia:

“Rescue workers on Tuesday night recovered the last body from the debris of the collapsed tunnel, in the Big Gossan underground training facility. The tunnel’s roof caved in May 14 with 38 mining company employees inside, with only 10 surviving, [Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold] officials said.

Freeport Indonesia is the largest taxpayer to the Indonesian government, but it is a regular target of nationalist politicians who have called on it to pay higher royalties. The company has also had labor disputes in recent years.”

Rendition immunity
Al Jazeera reports that the UK wants the case of a former Libyan opposition figure sent back to face torture during the Gadhafi years “heard in a secret court, or not at all”:

“In the first preliminary hearing over the claim brought by Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a prominent rebel fighter-turned-politician, the government’s lawyers held on Tuesday that the case should either not go to trial in the UK, or that UK officials were ‘immune’ from prosecution.

Belhadj and Fatima Boudchar, his heavily pregnant wife, were captured in exile in China. The ‘rendering’ operation was co-ordinated between the UK, US and Libyan intelligence agencies.

Belhadj has offered to settle the matter out of court if the British government agrees to pay a token amount of one British pound each, apologise and admit liability. The defendants have refused these terms.”

Fashion disaster
The Wall Street Journal reports that clothes were being made for Swedish fashion giant H&M at a Cambodian factory where a building collapse has injured 23 people:

“The Stockholm-based retailer also said its orders had been placed at the factory without its knowledge, highlighting the lack of control some of the world’s biggest brands may have over their supply chains.
Garment factories in Cambodia and other countries sometimes subcontract orders from retail brands to other factories to help meet demand or save costs, even though major brands often officially forbid the practice. Workers’ rights activists condemn such subcontracting because they say it makes it harder to track the origin of garments, obscuring responsibility for working conditions at the factories. Subcontracted factories may also be subjected to less rigorous auditing than factories approved by the brands.

On Monday, 23 workers were injured when a rest area outside the subcontracted factory operated by Hong Kong’s Top World Garment (Cambodia) Ltd., and located near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, collapsed and fell into a pond.
The incident came just a few days after portions of another Cambodian garment factory collapsed, killing three people and injuring several others.”

Criminalized migration
Human Rights Watch has released a new report criticizing the US government’s “skyrocketing” prosecutions of migrants who have entered the country illegally:

“The 82-page report, ‘Turning Migrants Into Criminals: The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions,’ documents the negative impact of illegal entry and reentry prosecutions, which have increased 1,400 and 300 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years and now outnumber prosecutions for all other federal crimes. Over 80,000 people were convicted of these crimes in 2012, many in rapid-fire mass prosecutions that violate due process rights. Many are separated from their US families, and a large number end up in costly and overcrowded federal prisons, some for months or years.”

Dirty jewellery
An international coalition of labour and environmental groups has released a report that is highly critical of the Responsible Jewellery Council’s certification system:

“The RJC system is riddled with loopholes relating to membership, auditing, and accountability, allowing, for example, member companies as a whole to be certified as RJC compliant even when some of their gold, platinum and diamond-producing facilities — or projects they are invested in — are excluded from RJC audits. The system lacks transparency. Auditors’ reports are not made public, and equally troubling, the RJC itself doesn’t receive evidence or detailed auditors’ reports about operations that it certifies.
Several RJC standards are weak and violate widely accepted social and environmental principles. Under the RJC Code, mining companies can operate in conflict zones, fail to protect workers’ rights to join unions, and allow children as young as 14 to work. It also fails to place limits on water and air pollution and allows toxic waste disposal into lakes and ocean environments.”

Debt crimes
Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Nick Dearden says the debt repayments and austerity measures demanded by Pakistan’s external creditors are “tantamount to economic torture”:

“From 1998 Pakistan was lent $500m by the World Bank and others to build a drainage project to improve land irrigation. This might have been a good thing, if it had worked. But it was so badly constructed that the project increased, rather than decreased, the salinity of the land and seriously damaged ecosystems. In 2003 flooding, partially caused by the drainage project, killed more than 300 people. Pakistan has just start repaying the World Bank (with interest) for the project.

The IMF’s loans have made Pakistan a more unequal country. One condition the IMF imposed was to increase sales tax and cut trade taxes. Over the 1980s and 1990s, as a result, taxes on the poorest households increased by 7%, while falling by 15% for the richest.”

Extractive transparency
The Revenue Watch Institute’s Daniel Kaufmann calls on rich countries to require more transparent overseas operations from their oil, mining and gas companies:

“Building on the pioneering Lugar-Cardin provision in U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation and the newly minted agreement in the European Union (EU), the G-8 should endorse both home — and host-country mandatory disclosure standards in line with these new U.S. and EU regulations and support their implementation. In particular, Canada and Russia ought to adopt these standards and ensure that G20 and emerging economies including Australia, Brazil, China, South Africa and Switzerland follow suit. [Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative] should also fully align itself with these disclosure standards, helping countries and companies report detailed revenues paid to governments.”

AU turns 50
The University of North Carolina’s Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja assesses the African Union’s achievements and shortcomings as the organization celebrates its 50th birthday this week:

“This unswerving opposition to white minority rule and colonialism is undoubtedly the [Organisation of African Unity]’s greatest achievement. It succeeded in mobilising African and world opinion against colonialists in the Portuguese colonies and settler states of Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

A major problem confronting the AU is resources. With so much dependence on the EU and other external funding, questions arise about African ownership and initiative in some of the theatres of intervention.”

Latest Developments, October 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Financial dependency
Business Day reports that new African Union head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is unhappy with the extent to which her organization depends on funding from outside the continent:

“ ‘No liberated mind can think their development agenda can be funded by donors,’ Ms Dlamini-Zuma told a Business Unity South Africa banquet in her honour at the weekend in Johannesburg.
‘Over 97% of programmes in the AU are funded by donors.

She said donors were even footing the bill for African institutions to develop the continent’s strategic agenda, a fundamental task in what has been dubbed the African century.”

Conditional rights
The Guardian reports that a pair of high-profile UN figures are calling for a crackdown on out-of-control land grabbing in Africa:

“Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, acknowledges the importance of the [committee on world food security] voluntary guidelines, but points out the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism. He argues that governments in sub-Saharan Africa or south-east Asia with poor governance, or tainted by corruption, will continue to seek to attract investors at all costs.
‘The international community should accept it has a role in monitoring whether the rights of land users, as stipulated in the guidelines, are effectively respected,’ De Schutter told the Guardian. ‘Since there is no “sheriff” at global level to achieve this, at the very least, the home states of investors should exercise due diligence in ensuring that private investors over which they can exercise control fully respect the rights of land users. Export credit agencies, for example, should make their support conditional upon full compliance with the guidelines, and in the future, the rights of investors under investment treaties should be made conditional upon the investors acting in accordance with the guidelines.’ ”

Big changes
Reuters reports that the Kenyan government plans to show some flexibility in implementing its new mining law:

“ ‘For those who have been licensed, we have asked them to provide clear proposals on how they want to implement this, taking into consideration commitments they have and we will consider that,’ Mohammed said in a interview.
‘But for those who have not been licensed, it will be immediate. We will not be issuing any new mining licences without the ownership of 35 percent by local citizens.’

The new requirement of 35 percent local equity follows a new tax of 10-20 percent targeting sales of property or shares in oil, mining and mineral prospecting firms, introduced recently to help plug a growing funding gap.”

GM crops on trial
The Times of India reports that the country’s highest court will not consider a proposed 10-year ban on field trials of genetically modified crops before hearing from stakeholders, such as a group of biotech companies whose members include agribusiness giant Monsanto:

“The five-member [court-constituted Technical Expert Committee] was unanimous in recommending suspension of field trials for 10 years, a period which it said should be used to put in place additional safeguards. It recommended identification of specific sites for field trials, setting up of an independent scientific panel to evaluate bio-safety data, recognition of conflict of interest in regulatory body and requirement of preliminary bio-safety tests prior to such trials.”

Blind sanctions
The University of Southern California’s Muhammad Sahimi and
 Al-Monitor’s Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi argue that the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West are not “smart” and “targeted” as initially promised:

“The world was promised that the sanctions will not hurt millions of ordinary Iranians who go about their daily lives and, in fact, oppose many of their government’s policies.
But, the sanctions are now in full force, and are hurting the same people who we were told were not meant to be their target, in what is yet another case of ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by Western policy towards Iran, and its disenfranchised people who have lost control over their destiny at both home and abroad. In fact, there are very strong indications that a human catastrophe could emerge whose scale poses as much a threat as an outright military attack.”

Not lovin’ it
Yale University graduate student Justin Scott takes issue with Black365, a new McDonald’s website aimed at African-Americans, in which the fast-food giant compares itself to the iconic baobab tree:

“Aside from issues of health, hegemony, and markets, what we have here is McDonald’s, a Western behemoth pushing a product that could not be even remotely considered African, using an African symbol to appeal to a population of African origin, in order to make itself look like something it isn’t. And it’s a shame that this tactic hasn’t been attacked more widely.”

Opposing views
Reuters reports that the Tanzanian government and foreign mining companies have very different ideas on how the country can enjoy more benefits from its mineral wealth:

“East Africa’s second biggest economy argues it is not seeing the fruits of soaring commodity prices, in particular gold. It plans to increase the mining sector’s contribution to the economy to 10 percent of GDP by 2025 from 3.3 percent last year.
But the miners say hiking taxes and increasing royalties is the wrong approach. They say Tanzania should focus on attracting more investors and issuing additional mining licenses.”

Ruinous rankings
The Guardian reports that the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business Index is once again coming under fire for promoting “a neo-liberal agenda of privatisations, welfare cuts, limited employment rights and low wages to please and entice foreign multinationals”:

“Bin Han, one of China’s senior representatives at the World Bank, says the rankings are fundamentally flawed.
‘The Chinese conclusion is straightforward: the report has used a wrong methodology, failed to reflect facts in individual countries, and misled readers. The questionable quality of the report has ruined the Bank’s reputation,’ he said at the debate.
The new boss at the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has pledged to review the rankings.”

Latest Developments, August 25

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Amnesty International says Libya’s Transitional National Council, which has now been recognized by the Arab League and is relocating to the capital Tripoli, is legally obligated to hand Moammar Gadhafi over to the International Criminal Court if and when he is captured. But Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations says the principle of “complementarity” means the ICC “can claim jurisdiction on one of only two conditions: when the country lacks a functioning judicial system, or when state authorities have manifestly failed to carry out a credible investigation into alleged atrocity crimes.” He argues, however, “if there were ever a strong case for ICC jurisdiction, it is Libya–a country with no functioning judicial system after four decades of arbitrary, dictatorial rule.” But as ICC lawyers wrapped up their first ever war crimes trial, the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Baldauf asks if the fledgling Court is capable of trying Gadhafi, given its short but shaky history. And South Africa’s deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, wants the ICC to investigate possible human rights violations by NATO. He also said the military alliance’s disregard for UN Security Council resolutions was having a ripple effect in the region: “Because of this situation created in Libya, the Security Council has not been able to agree on how to intervene in Syria.”

While not going as far in its criticism of NATO, a Globe and Mail editorial argues the “improvised air” of Operation Unified Protector “is not a good precedent for future applications of the United Nations’ responsibility-to-protect doctrine – which they interpreted very broadly.” But author David Rieff thinks what you see is what you get: “R2P may not have been designed as the latest version of humanitarian intervention, but with the Libyan action, that is what it has become.” In fact, as with the “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia during the 1990s, he believes the mission creep in Libya was entirely predictable: “This militarization may not be what [Gareth] Evans and the other architects of R2P intended. But then it is rare that a doctrine with the power to command people’s hearts and minds ever survives in the pure form those who first promulgated it imagined.”

The African Union no doubt felt the absence of its largest financial backer, Moammar Gadhafi, – though he was in good company as only four heads of state showed up – at a special summit to raise emergency relief funds for the Horn of Africa’s food crisis. Although pledges reached $351 million, the African Development Bank’s medium-term loans and grants represented the lion’s share of that amount. The actual cash total for immediate assistance appears to be $46 million. As a result, there was no shortage of criticism, especially for continental giants Nigeria and South Africa whose governments promised a combined $3.3 million in new money. “If we truly believe in ‘African solutions for African problems‘, we need to demonstrate this very clearly, not just in words but in actions,” according to Africans Act 4 Africa. On the other hand, EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva offered a more positive spin: “This is the first such summit held by a young organization with little humanitarian experience and a small but dedicated team. It will improve in the future.”

The wider community is not doing much better, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. So far governments have provided or promised only about a third of the $161 million it needs for its plan “to restore livelihoods and build the resilience of populations in the face of climate and other shocks” in East Africa.

A new study suggests a link between climate and violence, as the 93 tropical countries examined were twice as likely to experience internal conflict in El Niño years as they were in La Niña years. Lead researcher Solomon Hsiang of Columbia University “thinks the Niño analysis shows an example of a clear link between climate and conflict, and that this puts a new onus of proof on anyone saying that no such link will be at work as the climate changes in the future, even if it does not show what that future link might be,” according to the Economist.

Alena Buyx of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics lays out five principles for ethical biofuels, according to which their production must not violate people’s “essential rights” relating to food, water, health, etc.; they must be environmentally sustainable; they must reduce greenhouse gas emissions; their exchange must accord with fair trade practices; their costs and benefits must be shared equitably. To which she adds a sixth principle: “If the first five principles are respected and if biofuels can play a crucial role in mitigating dangerous climate change then, depending on certain key considerations, there is a duty to develop such biofuels.”

Swedish clothing company H&M says it is investigating after nearly 300 people collapsed at a supplier’s factory in Cambodia over a period of three days. According to a Reuters report, “deputy provincial police chief Ly Virak blamed the mass faintings on the “weak” health of workers and said the factory suspended operations until next week to allow its 4,000 workers to rest.” About 300 workers also fell ill last month at another H&M-affiliated factory in the capital Phnom Penh. The garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest source of foreign currency but has experienced sometimes violent strikes in recent years as workers demand better pay and working conditions. The latest “faintings” began on the same day as Greenpeace released a new report entitled “Dirty Laundry II: Hung Out to Dry” in which  the NGO says it found “hormone-disrupting chemicals” in the clothing of 14 global brands, including H&M. Helena Helmersson, the company’s head of corporate social responsibility, countered that the amounts found were well below EU restricted levels and that, in any case, the chemicals in question are not dangerous for humans. The first “Dirty Laundry” report came out last month and linked H&M, among others, “to suppliers in China who were found to be releasing a cocktail of chemicals into the Pearl and Yangtze River deltas.”

Oxfam’s Duncan Green looks at a report on the impact of cash transfers which, he says, are “all the rage, especially those handed over directly to women, who are widely thought to use the money more responsibly (spending it on food, rather than booze and fags etc).” While the Oxfam/Concern study identified a number of positives resulting from cash transfers, it also raised some serious concerns. Some of these related to poor project planning and execution, but others appear to run deeper: “Where cash was given in response to a food crisis, it is clear that while food aid was shared, cash was not. This was a major concern among recipients. Community sharing is critically important to women who tend to have a range of lending and borrowing strategies, with neighbours, family, shops and so forth, that enable them to cope when things get tough. Harming these coping strategies is potentially counter-productive for women who may find themselves increasingly vulnerable and less resilient to food insecurity in the long term.”