Latest Developments, July 31

In the latest news and analysis…

Upside-down justice
Amnesty International, though pleased to see Wikileaker Bradley Manning acquitted of the “aiding the enemy” charge, accuses the US government of punishing those who reveal wrongdoing while protecting those who order or commit the crimes:

“ ‘Since the attacks of September 11, we have seen the US government use the issue of national security to defend a whole range of actions that are unlawful under international and domestic law,’ said [Amnesty International’s Widney] Brown.
‘It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour.’ ”

UN ultimatum
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo has issued a statement threatening to disarm by force all non-military armed actors in and around the eastern city of Goma:

“In light of the high risk to the civilian population in the Goma-Sake area, MONUSCO will support the [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo] in establishing a security zone in Goma and its northern suburbs. Any individuals in this area who are not members of the national security forces will be given 48 hours as of 4pm (Goma time) on Tuesday 30 July to hand in their weapon to a MONUSCO base and join the [Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement] process. After 4pm on Thursday 1 August, they will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement.”

Pattern of violence
London-based law firm Leigh Day has announced the launch of a suit against a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold over alleged complicity in “the deaths and injuries of local villagers” in Tanzania:

“The claims relate to incidents occurring over the last three years, including one in which five young men were shot and killed on 16 May 2011. The claimants allege that the mine and [North Mara Gold Mine Limited] are controlled by [African Barrick Gold] and that ABG failed to curb the use of excessive force at the mine, including deadly force used by police on a regular basis over a protracted period of time.
‘Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. We are aware of many other instances in which local people have reportedly been seriously injured or killed at ABG’s mine,’ said Leigh Day partner, Richard Meeran.

Two years ago, Barrick announced that ABG had launched a full investigation into what it called ‘credible’ allegations of sexual assault at the North Mara mine in Tanzania. The results of the investigation have never been released.”

Defining atrocities
The Globe and Mail reports on a movement to get the Canadian government to recognize that the country’s history of abuses against First Nations people constitutes genocide:

“As early as this fall, they could ask the United Nations to apply its definition of genocide to Canada’s historical record. This push comes five years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the treatment of children at aboriginal residential schools.

The UN defines genocide as the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group through any of a number of means including killing its members, causing them serious mental or physical harm, subjecting them to unsustainable living conditions, preventing births of their children, and forcibly transferring their children to another group.
In 2000, four years after the last residential school closed, the government of Canada adopted a definition of genocide that excluded the line about the forcible transfer of children. Courts have rejected native claims of genocide against Ottawa and the churches because Canada had no law banning genocide while the schools were operating.”

Last minute deals
L’Indicateur du Renouveau reports that an Irish and a Czech company obtained oil licenses from Mali’s interim government mere days before Sunday’s presidential election:

“Circle Oil Ltd, a company that already operates in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, is now authorized to ‘carry out exploration activities in blocks 21 and 28 of the Taoudenni Basin and to exploit any commercially viable deposits found therein,’ according to the government. In return, the company has pledged to invest at least $6.5 million in block 21 and $3.9 million in block 28.
As for the Czech Republic’s New Catalyst Capital Investments, a newcomer to the oil industry, it obtained carte blanche for exploration, production, transport and even refining of oil and gas in block 4 of the Taoudenni Basin. In return, it pledged to invest a minimum of $69 million.” [Translated from the French.]

Lies of omission
Politico reports that US Senator Ron Wyden has alleged that American spy agencies’ violations of court orders are “more serious” than the government is admitting:

“ ‘We had a big development last Friday when Gen. [James] Clapper, the head of the intelligence agencies, admitted that the community had violated these court orders on phone record collection, and I’ll tell your viewers that those violations are significantly more troubling than the government has stated,’ Wyden said.

Wyden has been an outspoken critic of the surveillance programs but has been restricted with what he can release about them because of his position on the Intelligence Committee. He said since the government made the compliance issues public, however, he could warn about them.”

Resumption of hostilities
The Long War Journal reports that US drone strikes have started up again in Yemen:

“Today’s strike is the second in Yemen in four days. The previous strike, on July 27, which is said to have killed six AQAP fighters in the Al Mahfad area in Abyan province, broke a seven-week pause in drone activity in Yemen.”

Dodgy deal
The Guardian reports on a mining agreement that has outraged the people of Guinea and prompted the FBI to investigate the Guernsey-registered company that hit the “jackpot”:

“The deal was notable not only because BSGR’s expertise was in mining diamonds, rather than extracting and exporting iron ore, but because the glittering prize of Simandou had cost the company so little: rather than paying the government of Guinea for the concession, it had invested $165m in an exploration programme in the area.

Even within the buccaneering world of African mining, the deal was regarded as stupendous. For an investment of just $165m, [Beny] Steinmetz’s BSGR had secured an asset worth around $5bn.”

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Latest Developments, May 27

In the latest news and analysis…

European arms
The Guardian reports that EU sanctions against Syria have “collapsed” due to disagreement over supplying arms to rebels:

“Michael Spindelegger, the Austrian vice-chancellor and foreign minister, voicing anger at the outcome, directly blamed the collapse on the UK, with the sanctions regime ending at midnight on Friday.

He added that France joined Britain in demanding a lifting of the arms embargo, in order to supply weapons to what they call the ‘moderate’ opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but that the other 25 member states were opposed”

Mali election
Agence France-Presse reports that Mali will hold the first round of presidential elections on July 28, keeping to a timetable insisted upon by France, whose troops have led the fight against Islamist rebels in its former colony:

“Acting president Dioncounda Traore has said that neither he nor his ministers will stand in the polls, which will go to a second round on August 11 if required.

Paris has said about 1,000 soldiers will remain in Mali beyond this year to back up a UN force of 12,600 peacekeepers that is to replace [the International Mission for Support to Mali] gradually from July and will be responsible for stabilising the north.

The international community hopes the July elections will produce an effective government but Mali’s national electoral commission has voiced concerns about the tight timeframe.”

French intervention
Reuters reports that French special forces helped kill suspects in the twin bombings of a Nigerien military camp and a French-owned uranium mine, meaning that French troops have now killed people in at least four African countries (after Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic) so far this year:

“The coordinated dawn attacks killed 24 soldiers and one civilian and damaged machinery at Areva’s Somair mine in the remote town of Arlit, a key supplier of uranium to France’s nuclear power programme. The attacks raised fears that Mali’s conflict could spread to neighbouring West African states and brought an Islamist threat closer to France’s economic interests.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM television that special forces had intervened at the request of Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou. France stationed special forces in northern Niger to help protect its desert uranium mines, providing one-fifth of the fuel for France’s reactors.”

Pascua Lama on hold
The Associated Press reports that Chile has blocked a mining project owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold and imposed the maximum fine over “very serious” environmental violations:

“After a four-month investigation, the Environmental Superintendent said all other construction work on Pascua-Lama must stop until Barrick builds the systems it promised to put in place beforehand for containing contaminated water.

Chile’s regulator noted that while Barrick itself reported failures, a separate and intensive investigation already begun by the agency’s own inspectors found that the company wasn’t telling the full truth.
‘We found that the acts described weren’t correct, truthful or provable. And there were other failures of Pascua Lama’s environmental permit as well,’ said the superintendent, Juan Carlos Monckeberg.”

Racialized justice
Reuters reports that Ethiopian prime minister and current African Union chairman Hailemariam Desalegn has denounced the International Criminal Court for its seemingly exclusive focus on Africa:

“The Hague-based court was set up to bring the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice – a mission that Hailemariam said it has lost sight of.
‘The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity but now the process has degenerated into some kind of race-hunting,’ Hailemariam told reporters at the end of African Union summit in Addis Ababa. ‘So we object to that.’
During the summit, African leaders backed a Kenyan proposal for the tribunal to refer its cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy for alleged crimes against humanity back to Kenya.”

Food protests
The Associated Press reports that organizers said protests against US agribusiness giant Monsanto took place in more than 50 countries over the weekend:

“Organizers said ‘March Against Monsanto’ protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Los Angeles where demonstrators waved signs that read ‘Real Food 4 Real People’ and ‘Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.’

Protesters in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina, where Monsanto’s genetically modified soy and grains now command nearly 100 percent of the market, and the company’s Roundup-Ready chemicals are sprayed throughout the year on fields where cows once grazed. They carried signs saying ‘Monsanto-Get out of Latin America’ ”

Hoarding secrets
Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has said its response to a deadly “SARS-like virus” has been hampered by a Dutch lab’s patent rights:

“[Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish] said [the coronavirus] was taken out of the country without permission and Saudi Arabia only learned of its discovery from ProMED, a U.S.-based internet-based reporting system.
The Rotterdam-based Erasmus lab then patented the process for synthesizing the virus, meaning that anyone else who wanted to use their method to study it would have to pay the lab.
The patenting had delayed the development of diagnostic kits and serologic tests for the disease, Memish said.”

Asylum denied
A new report by Amnesty International accuses governments around the world of enacting immigration policies that threaten the rights and even the lives of people fleeing conflict in their home countries:

“The European Union implements border control measures that put the lives of migrants and asylum-seekers at risk and fails to guarantee the safety of those fleeing conflict and persecution. Around the world, migrants and asylum-seekers are regularly locked up in detention centres and in worst case scenarios are held in metal crates or even shipping containers.
The rights of huge numbers of the world’s 214 million migrants were not protected by their home or their host state. Millions of migrants worked in conditions amounting to forced labour – or in some cases slavery-like conditions – because governments treated them like criminals and because corporations cared more about profits than workers’ rights. Undocumented migrants were particularly at risk of exploitation and human rights abuse.”

Latest Developments, April 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Mine on hold
The Globe and Mail reports that a Chilean court has ordered Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold to suspend construction on its “massive” Pascua-Lama project:

“Barrick stock fell 8.6 per cent to a new 52-week low of $24.81 per share on Wednesday after the appeals court said Pascua-Lama should be halted as it reviewed complaints by local communities that the project is polluting groundwater and rivers in the Atacama desert region, one of the driest areas on earth.

A court source in Chile told Reuters that the appeal could take several months, and the dispute will probably end up in the Chilean Supreme Court.

Set at about 5,500 metres above sea level, the project is being built at the peak of the Andes mountain range between Chile and Argentina and is at once lauded as an engineering feat and decried as an environmental scar on ancient and pristine glaciers.”

War without borders
Radio France Internationale reports that France’s three-month old military operations in Mali could spill over into other African countries:

“ ‘We can’t think “Mali.” We have to think “Sahel” and beyond,’ said a French general. ‘Armed groups are going to operate from other countries in the region. In Libya alone, there are nearly 300 katibas. We made the jihadis’ GPS boxes talk and found frequent return trips between the Adrar des Ifoghas and southwestern Libya via the Salvador Pass in northern Niger. What’s more, we overheard conversations at the start of our operation in which al-Shabaab in Somalia offered to help al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

Pakistan’s 99 percent
Foreign Policy’s John Hudson expresses concern over the recent revelation that 98.8 percent of people killed by US drones in Pakistan during the 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al-Qaeda leaders:

“Some advocates of the drone program trust the administration’s judgment, and feel that the White House deeming targets dangerous — even if they had no association with al Qaeda — is sufficient. But for others, the McClatchy report may only confirm allegations that terror suspects are killed with an insufficient degree of background information and oversight.”

A lesser form of justice
The Washington Post reports that senior commanders in the US military could soon lose their “virtually unlimited authority to reduce or overturn” court-martial verdicts:

“Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, commended [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel but said the Pentagon needed to further reduce the power of senior commanders over the military justice system and give more authority to prosecutors and judges.
‘Unless pretrial decision making around investigation and prosecution of offenses is also removed from the hands of commanders and given to impartial prosecutors, military criminal justice will remain a lesser form of justice,’ she said.”

Who’s Dramane?
MaliWeb reports that Mali’s largest political party has picked Dramane Dembélé, a man who has worked for a number of foreign mining companies, as its presidential candidate in the national election scheduled for July:

“A mining consultant, he was national director of Geology and Mines from 2005 to 2010, head of a Mali-European Investment Bank mining project in 2004, and exploration geologist for private companies, such as CMCX, Barrick Gold and Pangea Goldfield.” [Translated from the French.]

Beyond MDGs
The Guardian reports that a group of European think tanks have said eradicating global poverty will require a broader approach than that of the Millennium Development Goals, which are set to expire in 2015:

“The report called on richer countries to collaborate in areas important to development such as international financial regulation, trade, migration and climate change. In a message to the EU in particular, the report called on member states to live up to the principle of policy coherence on development (PCD).
‘The concept of PCD is central, since it implies that all policies, and not merely development co-operation, should be conducive to development, eg policies in the areas of trade and investment or agriculture and fisheries should promote (or at the very least not thwart) development,’ said the report.”

Majority rules
Drawing on her recent experience of the Arms Trade Treaty talks, Oxfam’s Anna Macdonald argues that requiring consensus for international agreements is a recipe for paralysis:

“The requirement to reach consensus is in principle a means of protecting the rights and voices of even the smallest countries. It’s what can enable small island states and other vulnerable countries to stand their ground in the U.N. climate change negotiations. But too often the consensus rule works to protect the powerful, not the powerless. Big powers love consensus because it gives them veto power.

In a sudden about-face, the United States, the government that had insisted on consensus as the condition for its support throughout the [ATT] negotiating process, switched to calling for a vote as soon a possible.

This may not mean the United States now supports the majority process – but changing horses during the race meant the Americans could use the consensus process to get the text they wanted and then, by supporting the resolution [to take any blocked text to the General Assembly], they could ensure it went to a vote and passed.”

10 minutes
Transparency International drives home just how simple it can be for individuals to set up shell companies “in spite of global regulatory restrictions”:

“In fact, anyone with access to the internet can set up an offshore company. It takes about 10 minutes and consists of little more than a few sheets of paper and a few thousand dollars. This makes it too easy for corrupt individuals to hide their ill-gotten gains.”

Latest Developments, March 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Presidential death
The University of London’s Oscar Guardiola-Rivera argues that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose death was announced Tuesday, made his country more inclusive during his 14 years in power:

“Chávez’s Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organisation.
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.”

Meddling allegations
The Associated Press reports that a British diplomat has been accused of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement” in Kenya’s presidential election by supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta who is currently leading as ballot counting continues:

“Kenyatta’s party also asked the high commissioner, Christian Turner, to explain what it called ‘the sudden upsurge of British military personnel’ in Kenya. British troops attend a six-week training course near Mount Kenya before deploying to Afghanistan. A new battle group arrived the week before Kenyans voted.
Britain’s Foreign Office said claims of British interference ‘are entirely false and misleading.’ It said the British soldiers in Kenya are part of a regular training program planned nine months ago ‘completely unrelated to the Kenyan elections.’ ”

New gun market
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted for a British-drafted partial suspension of the longtime arms embargo on Somalia:

“The Security Council resolution would allow sales of such weapons as automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but leaves in place a ban on surface-to-air missiles, large-caliber guns, howitzers, cannons and mortars as well as anti-tank guided weapons, mines and night vision weapon sights.

Human rights group Amnesty International called one the U.N. Security Council on Monday not to lift arms embargo on Somalia, describing the idea as premature and warning that it could “expose Somali civilians to even greater risk and worsen the humanitarian situation.”

Violent mine
The Daily News reports that two more people have died in clashes at a Tanzanian mine owned by Canadian giant Barrick Gold:

“The [North Mara Gold Mine] has been experiencing frequent invasions carried out by mostly young men targeting gold sand. The intruders have often been clashing with police officers guarding the mine 24 hours. In 2011 five civilians were shot dead after hundreds of people invaded the mine and clashed with anti-riot police.
The mine is also guarded by private security guards. The Canadian miner is currently setting up a multimillion wall fence at Gokona pit in a bid to boost safety and security in one of the country’s largest gold mine located at Nyamongo area.”

Toxic fog
Etiame reports that Togolese fishermen have said they encountered a suffocating cloud at sea, near a coastal area where the World Health Organization noted reports of a “strange” outbreak of coughing and chest pains last month:

“ ‘We were on the high sea that day. It was as if someone had launched tear gas. It stung our nostrils. It was probably toxic discharge from a ship. If it had been pollution from a neighbouring country, it would have dissipated by that point,’ said a visibly perturbed Koffa.” (Translated from the French.)

Protecting assets
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada has negotiated “so-called foreign investment promotion and protection agreements” with Cameroon and Zambia, bringing to seven the number of African countries that have made such deals with Ottawa:

“The FIPAs are meant to give businesses greater confidence to invest at a time when resource nationalism has become one of the leading concerns of the global mining industry. The trend became especially pronounced in recent years as emerging nation’s sought to renegotiate terms of mining investments in the wake of booming prices for metals like gold and copper, trading several times where they were a few years ago even.

Canada has 24 FIPAs in force around the world. It has also concluded the agreements with Benin, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania and is pursuing FIPAs with Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tunisia.”

Killer deal
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has said the Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently in its 16th round of negotiations in Singapore, could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries”:

“The negotiations are being conducted in secret, but leaked drafts of the agreement include aggressive intellectual property (IP) rules that would restrict access to affordable, lifesaving medicines for millions of people.
Proposed by U.S. negotiators, the IP rules enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law, and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.”

Nothing to see here
Reuters reports that Western observers will not be welcome in Zimbabwe during this year’s constitutional and presidential votes, purportedly due to the punitive policies their countries have imposed:

“Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that Harare would bar U.S. and European Union observers because of sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle for alleged human rights abuses.
‘To be an observer, you have to be objective and once you impose sanctions on one party, your objectivity goes up in smoke,’ Mumbengegwi, who is responsible for inviting and accrediting foreign observers, was quoted as saying.
‘I do not see why they need to be invited when they have never invited us to monitor theirs.’ ”

Latest Developments, August 23

In the latest news and analysis…

With rebel forces having overrun Moammar Gadhafi’s main Tripoli compound, the international community – despite the occasional voice that cautions “the game isn’t over yet” and the long-time leader’s vow to fight to the death – is increasingly discussing a post-Gadhafi Libya, Middle East and world. The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Baldauf wonders if Africa will miss Gadhafi who, for all his well-publicized faults, also was the “the single-largest contributor to the budget of the African Union, a prime aid donor for poor African countries, and a dependable advocate for pan-African cooperation.” UC Irvine historian Mark LeVine presents an “initial Libyan scorecard” on which the big losers – aside from Gadhafi and his close associates – include the UN because of NATO’s flagrant disregard for the rules of engagement set out by Security Council resolutions and the International Criminal Court because it will once again look like a dispenser of victors’ justice. But Open Society’s Alison Cole says it is “crucial for the maintaining of international justice that the ICC arrest warrants are implemented through the transfer of the three suspects to The Hague,” regardless of whether or not Libya is willing and able to conduct the trials itself.

In other prominent legal news, a New York judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn because the prosecution had lost faith in the reliability of the alleged victim as a witness, despite “the finding of Strauss-Kahn’s semen in three places on Diallo’s hotel uniform.” Commenting on an unrelated case, a UN official has called on the US to do more to protect women from domestic violence.

The Guardian’s Jason Burke writes about the 9/11 wars and their cost, estimating the total numbers of dead at 250,000 and of injured at 750,000: “This may be fewer than the losses inflicted on combatants and non-combatants during the murderous major conflicts of the 20th century but still constitutes a very large number of people.” The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick instead focuses on the “bright spots” of international efforts against perceived terror threats over the last decade. He points to “a more robust legal architecture to combat this scourge,” as well as agreements regarding money laundering and nuclear weapons. Patrick also says the US “has renounced torture, as well as extraordinary rendition and ghost prisons,” though the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill’s recent work on Somalia suggests that may not be the case. Meanwhile, Sudan is not happy it is still stuck on the US terror list, even after agreeing to last month’s secession of South Sudan. “We have been promised time after time … that once a peace agreement is passed, Sudan will be lifted from the list of countries harboring terrorism,” according to former Sudanese ambassador to the US, Mahdi Ibrahim. “But each time we realize the bar is raised.”

As for the war on drugs, Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza says countries with large numbers of drug users should “not put all the blame on drugs producing countries, but rather assume the responsibility as the countries to which drugs are destined.”

A subsidiary of Canada’s Barrick Gold is in talks with the Tanzanian government “over allocating mining areas to artisanal miners” around one of its projects, a measure the country’s home affairs minister described as “the only way” to restore peace to the surrounding area. The company says May clashes between villagers and police caused seven deaths at its North Mara mine.

Bloomberg reports Finland’s Nokia Siemens surveillance technology is being used by Bahraini intelligence against democracy activists who say they were tortured as a result of their text messages. But the company has done nothing illegal, according to the report: “Companies are free to sell such equipment almost anywhere. For the most part, the U.S. and European countries lack export controls to deter the use of such systems for repression.”

Acclaimed author Arundhati Roy suggests there is a suspicious level of corporate support for India’s proposed anti-corruption law: “At a time when the State is withdrawing from its traditional duties and Corporations and NGOs are taking over government functions (water supply, electricity, transport, telecommunication, mining, health, education); at a time when the terrifying power and reach of the corporate owned media is trying to control the public imagination, one would think that these institutions — the corporations, the media, and NGOs — would be included in the jurisdiction of a Lokpal bill. Instead, the proposed bill leaves them out completely.” She continues, writing that “by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India’s natural resources.”

The Center for Global Development’s Lawrence MacDonald says construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Canada’s “tar sands” to refineries in Texas would amount to dropping “the world’s biggest carbon bomb” on India and other countries threatened by rising sea levels and adverse weather conditions. “Perhaps it’s time that India and other developing countries hard hit by runaway climate change turn the tables and start asking tough questions about U.S. energy policy in general and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline in particular,” according to MacDonald. He says now is the time to speak up as the State Department holds hearings ahead of a decision on whether or not to approve the project by the end of the year.