Latest Developments, October 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Immigration disaster
The Associated Press reports that another boat carrying African migrants, this time an estimated 200, has capsized on its way to Europe:

“The capsizing occurred some 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Lampedusa but in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.

Last week, a ship carrying some 500 people capsized off Lampedusa, killing more than 300 people. Only 155 survived. The deaths prompted calls for the European Union to do more to better patrol the southern Mediterranean and prevent such tragedies.”

And the winner is…
RT reports that the global watchdog tasked with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons has won this year’s Nobel peace prize:

“The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was founded in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans the production, storage and use of chemical weapons.
Its main job since then has been the ongoing monitoring of the process of chemical disarmament by the treaty’s signatories, particularly the US and Russia, the countries that held the largest stockpiles at the time it was signed.

Awarding the prominent prize to the OCPW came as a surprise to many. Nobel Prize watchers didn’t mention the organization as a likely laureate. Predictions favored several individuals, including Malala Yousafzai, a teenage Pakistani women’s rights campaigner who survived a Taliban attack, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and rape victims’ defender from Congo, Claudia Paz y Paz, the resilient mafia-fighting Guatemalan attorney general, and Sister Mary Tarcisia Lokot, a nun at the forefront of post-war reconciliation in Uganda.”

Above the law
In a New York Times op-ed, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu argues countries (like the US) that reject membership in the International Criminal Court are “looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress” with impunity:

“Most of all, they believe that neither the golden rule, nor the rule of law, applies to them.

Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to wriggle free.
Moreover, where justice and order are not restored, there can be no healing, leaving violence and hatred ticking like a bomb in the corner.”

Mercury treaty
The BBC reports that countries have started signing a legally binding agreement regulating the trade and use of mercury:

“The Minamata Convention was named after the Japanese city that, in the 1950s, saw one of the world’s worst cases of mercury poisoning.

The [UN Environment Programme] assessment said the concentration of mercury in the top 100m of the world’s oceans had doubled over the past century, and estimated that 260 tonnes of the toxic metal had made their way from soil into rivers and lakes.”

Falling short
Human Rights Watch’s Jessica Evans argues that the World Bank “lags behind” when it comes to mitigating human rights risks:

“The bank’s safeguard policies partially address protecting indigenous peoples’ rights and ensuring that people are resettled appropriately, but fall short of international human rights law on those areas and more generally. Moreover, the policies don’t even require the World Bank to analyze human rights risks in designing and carrying out its activities.

The World Bank is undertaking its first wholesale review of its safeguard policies. If it goes right, bank staff will be required to identify potential human rights risks and work to prevent or mitigate them, to avoid contributing to abuses.”

For-profit spying
The Guardian reports on the Canadian government’s “increasingly aggressive promotion of resource corporations at home and abroad,” which appears to extend to espionage and intelligence sharing with companies:

“ ‘There is very substantial evidence that the spying Canada was doing for economic reasons aimed at Brazil is far from an aberration,’ Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald told Canadian media on Tuesday. Greenwald hinted that he will be publishing further documents on [Communications Security Establishment Canada].
‘We’ve already seen how Canadian embassies around the world essentially act as agents for Canadian companies – even when they’re implicated in serious human rights abuses,’ said Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada, an NGO watchdog. ‘We just had no idea how far they were willing to go.’ ”

More equal than others
In the wake of the recent US military raids in Somalia and Libya, Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf writes that America must reject “exceptionalism” in order to be a great nation:

“Exceptionalism is contrary to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and the ideas that led to the founding of the country. If there is one lesson of human civilization, it is that equality under the law needs to apply to nations as well as people or else chaos and injustice ensue. This past weekend’s raids were more damaging not because the outcome of one was unsuccessful but because the outcome of the other was. If countries feel they can swoop in and snatch up bad guys anywhere, whenever, and however it suited them, the world would quickly fall into a state of permanent war.”

Water justice
The Blue Planet Project’s Meera Karunananthan argues that the private sector cannot provide “silver bullet solutions” for ensuring the human right to water:

“The real crisis is a political one: corporations are attempting to control water policy to guarantee secure access to scarce water resources. When governments relegate basic services, such as water and sanitation, to profit-driven multinationals that hike up the service fees and exploit scarce resources, we are dealing with a crisis generated by an unsustainable economic model.
Yet that model continues to be promoted around the world at events like the Budapest Water Summit, where governments discuss the future of the world’s water with polluters and water profiteers rather than with the communities most impacted by the global water crisis.”

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Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Exceptionally dangerous
In a New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it “alarming” that US military interventions in foreign conflicts have become “commonplace”:

“The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

I carefully studied [US President Barack Obama’s] address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Lethal aid
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has started arming Syrian rebels:

“The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.”

Excessive murders
Al Jazeera reports that the Dutch government has issued a formal apology for mass executions in Indonesia during the colonial era:

“Special forces from the Netherlands carried out a series of summary executions in its former colony between 1945 and 1949, killing thousands.
In total, about 40,000 people were executed during the colonial era, according to the Indonesian government; however, Dutch figures mention only a few thousand.

‘They are apologising for all the war crimes, which the Dutch merely call excesses,’ [Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen] added.
The Hague had previously apologised and paid out to the widows in individual cases but it had never said sorry or offered compensation for the victims of general summary executions.”

New boss
Reuters reports that Mali’s newly elected government has announced plans to review all existing oil and mining contracts:

“ ‘If there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question,’ [Mines Minister Boubou Cisse] said.
Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, said the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and its results would be made available to the public.

Cisse said his ministry aimed to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around 8 percent at present to 15 to 20 percent in the long term.”

No strikes
The UN’s commission of inquiry for Syria has released its latest report on recent atrocities in the war-torn country, along with a statement making clear its position on the prospect of foreign military intervention:

“For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.

There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.”

Peddling wars
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has put out a press release suggesting Canada’s government wants to increase arms sales abroad:

“CADSI also took the opportunity to thank the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, for her department’s recent decision to provide financial support to CADSI to strengthen the Canada brand at major international defence and security trade shows and increase the visibility of western Canadian businesses at those events.
‘Our Government is pleased to partner with CADSI to help promote western Canadian companies on the global stage,’ said Minister Rempel. ‘The defence and security industries are important economic drivers in Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada is committed to strengthening these key sectors.’ ”

Words and deeds
The Guardian reports that the US has thus far failed to keep its promises under the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria is now under pressure to sign:

“About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.”

Divide and rule
Georgetown University doctoral candidate Nick Danforth argues that European colonialism’s most enduring harm has little to do with arbitrary borders:

“In Syria, the French cultivated the previously disenfranchised Alawite minority as an ally against the Sunni majority. This involved recruiting and promoting Alawite soldiers in the territory’s colonial army, thereby fostering their sense of identity as Alawites and bringing them into conflict with local residents of other ethnicities. The French pursued the same policy with Maronite Christians in Lebanon, just as the Belgians did with Tutsis in Rwanda and the British did with Muslims in India, Turks in Cyprus and innumerable other groups elsewhere.
The militarization of these ethnic and religious identities, rather than the failure of perfectly placed state borders to alleviate tension between them, explains much of violence in the Middle East today. Blaming imperialism is usually sound politics and good comedy. But in this case, focusing on bad borders risks taking perpetual identity-based violence as a given, resulting in policies that ultimately exacerbate the conflicts they aim to solve.”

Latest Developments, April 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Operation Serval extended
Radio France Internationale reports that French politicians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the military intervention in Mali beyond the initial four-month timeframe:

“All the political parties agreed on the need to continue the French intervention in Mali: 342 votes for, 0 votes against. Later in the evening, senators confirmed this vote by 326 votes for and 0 votes against.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also made an important announcement: starting in July, the UN could contribute peacekeepers to join the French and African forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Apology questioned
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is under fire for failing to hand over documents to a commission investigating years of abuse of indigenous students at church-run residential schools:

“The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has given about a million records to the commission and has promised hundreds of thousands more. But 23 other departments have yet to follow suit.

‘We respect the fact that it’s really a huge task,’ said [Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair].
‘But the reality is that we haven’t seen any additional documents,’ he said, ‘which really tells us that the government wasn’t ready, that it had done no preparation whatsoever.’

Alvin Fiddler, the deputy chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario, said Monday that failure to produce the records would cast doubt on the historic apology for the residential school system that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2008 on behalf of Canadians. ‘It goes back to the question of how sincere was he and how sincere was the apology,’ Mr. Fiddler said.”

Patent loophole
Reuters reports that South Africa plans to rework its intellectual property laws in order to make cancer and HIV/AIDS medication more affordable:

“Central to the reforms is closing a loophole known as ‘ever-greening’, whereby drug companies slightly modify an existing drug whose patent is about to expire and then claim it is a new drug, thereby extending its patent protection and their profits.

As an example, [Julia Hill of Médecins Sans Frontières] said India had avoided patenting Novartis cancer medication imatinib, as opposed to South Africa, which granted an initial patent in 1993 that only expires this month.
In addition, Hill said South Africa had granted secondary patents on imatinib to extend Novartis’ monopoly until 2022, meaning it costs $34,000 a year to treat a patient – 259 times more than the cheapest Indian generic alternative”

Swing and a miss
The Associated Press reports that a US judge has blocked an attempt by the government to seize a “$38.5 million Gulfstream jet” from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president:

“The Justice Department had alleged that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue bought the jet with money derived from extortion, misappropriation, theft and embezzlement. But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled Friday that the government did not link the jet to any specific illicit acts and dismissed the civil forfeiture complaint.”

The worst thing
The Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden argues it would be better for G8 countries to “stop doing bad things to poor countries” than to pledge more aid:

“The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.

On average, between 2002 and 2006 $857 billion flowed into developing countries each year. Of that $84bn was aid, $187bn was migrant remittances, $226bn foreign direct investment and $380bn was loans. Meanwhile, on average every year over the same period, $1205bn flowed out: $130bn profits for investors, $456bn in debt repayments and a whopping $619bn in ‘illicit flows’. Some of that is corruption money – about 3%. About 30% goes through criminal networks but some 60% of the ‘outflow’ is tax avoidance schemes. Unaccountable and un-transparent tax havens – many of them British – are where these schemes operate.”

Institutionalizing torture
Foreign Policy’s James Traub writes that a recent report on US torture after 9/11 shows how a democratic country can engage in “things that are repugnant to its principles”:

“Military dictators can simply order dissidents to be pushed out of planes into the sea or thrown into prison to rot; the political leaders of a democracy need the legitimacy of law to justify otherwise despicable acts, whether it’s Jim Crow legislation or the fraudulent treaties that drove Native Americans from their land.

Americans have an apparently ineradicable view of themselves as a force for good. Republicans shamelessly play to this angelic self-conception when they accuse Obama of not subscribing to the national credo of ‘American exceptionalism.’ But what dark deeds has that credo excused! To know for a certainty that your ends are noble is to excuse yourself in advance for whatever means you choose to fight your adversaries, who by definition must be evil.”

Casual racism
Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior describes as “irresponsible” the media’s emphasis on the Chechen ethnicity of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing:

“One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American [who assassinated US President William McKinley] caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become ‘white’ – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.”

Bean drain
The UN News Centre reports that two UN experts have said the World Bank-led privatization of Burundi’s coffee industry is hurting farmers:

“In 2007, the Burundian President declared that coffee was owned by the growers until it was exported, an arrangement that allowed them to manage the supply chain and entitled them to 72 per cent of revenues from coffee sales on international markets.
However, in 2008-2009 the Burundian Government moved towards full privatization of the industry under alleged pressure from the World Bank, whose support for public health programmes was reportedly tied to coffee sector reforms. Since then, less than 5 per cent of Burundian coffee was processed in the country, with the higher value-added operations taking place abroad.”