Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Rising toll
Reuters reports that the number of migrants found dead in the desert of northern Niger has climbed to 92, the majority of whom were children:

“The mayor of Arlit, Maouli Abdouramane, said 92 bodies had been recovered after days of searching – 52 children, 33 women and seven men.
‘The search is still going on,’ Abdouramane told Reuters by telephone. He said the victims were all from Niger but their final destination was unclear.

The bodies were strewn across the desert over a large distance, to within 20 km (12 miles) of the border with Algeria, a second military source said.”

True owners
Reuters also reports that the UK government has decided to make public a new database meant to reduce money laundering and tax evasion by “untangling deliberately opaque ownership structures” of corporations:

“ ‘This sets such an important global principle… You have to have someone who makes a stand on principle and then gets the world to follow. In this case it’s the UK,’ said Gavin Hayman of the anti-corruption group Global Witness.
Efforts to improve transparency in the European Union are currently being debated, and recent legislative proposals in the United States could tackle company ownership disclosure. Hayman said neither was expected to quickly follow Britain’s lead.
[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion have been complicated by the fact that Britain is seen as a market leader in providing access to offshore tax havens in former British colonies.
‘We’ve found the UK has been one of the pillars of financial secrecy in the past so this is quite a significant shift,’ Hayman said.”

The other 10%
The Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy, however, argues the UK’s newly promised public register of companies’ true owners will be “a damp squib of a reform”:

“Sure, 90% of companies will publish their beneficial owners – but they will be the ones where legal and beneficial ownership is the same. It is the other 10% who are the problem and many of those will actively seek loopholes in an arrangement if there is no way of proving if what they declare is right or wrong and the agency responsible for doing so is denied the resources it needs to enforce the law.”

On schedule
The BBC reports that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes Syria has destroyed its “declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons” within the prescribed timeframe:

“OPCW head of field operations Jerry Smith told the BBC that his team had ‘personally observed all the destruction activities’.
‘They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons,’ he said.

More than 1,000 tonnes of chemical precursors – the raw materials – remain to be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year, which our correspondent says will be a delicate and difficult process.”

Cholera update
Inter Press Service reports that there is “no end in sight” for Haiti’s deadly, UN-triggered cholera epidemic:

“In a single week between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, the Pan-American Health Organisation reported 1,512 new cases and 31 deaths. New cases are reported in all 10 departments.

The spread of cholera in Haiti, which has killed more than 8,300 and infected over 680,000 people since October 2010, has been blamed on Nepali peacekeepers who are part of the 9,500‑strong U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The United Nations has refused demands for compensation. Earlier this month, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the world body on behalf of the cholera victims.

‘I wish a creative solution could be found whereby the Haitian victims would get some modest amount of financial support on humanitarian grounds, without the U.N. having to give up its diplomatic immunity,’ [former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kul Gautam] said.”

New internationalism
The Sheffield Institute for International Development’s Jean Grugel writes about the need to “reframe international development as global justice”:

“Human rights are a vital tool for reframing international development in ways that set out our collective responsibilities to find a just global settlement. But to have traction, rights have to be understood as more than the traditional package of liberal rights. Other sorts of rights – social, economic, gendered, cultural – are also critical.
Action is needed much earlier in the life cycle of global injustice. It is not enough to protest once abuses are happening. Global justice means, above all, making arguments for urgent structural transformation to the global political economy.”

Vulture’s charters
The World Development Movement’s Nick Dearden points to the Children’s Investment Fund as an example of a sweetly named UK organization that uses bilateral investment agreements to “run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people” in other countries:

“Whether India’s policy was right or wrong is beside the point. Rather we have to ask whether it is the right of a British hedge fund to dictate the energy policy of a state. This is by no means an isolated example. Globally there are 2,833 bilateral investment agreements, many offering companies access to ‘dispute mechanisms’ which allow them to by-pass national courts and uphold their so-called rights over and above the duty of governments to protect and represent their citizens.
Back home, the owner of TCI, Chris Hohn, is one of the biggest ‘philanthro-capitalists’ in the world, investing profits in a mega-charity the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Even if multi-billionaire philanthropists could solve world poverty, they will certainly not do so when their profits are derived by undermining the sovereignty of countries to represent their own people.”

Science says revolt
The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein argues that the results of scientific research suggest humans need to take a stand against the current political and economic orthodoxies:

“[University of California, San Diego’s Brad Werner] isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.”

Advertisements

The Defining Fight of Our Lives

(The following Beyond Aid piece appeared in The Tyee last week with a different picture and a slightly altered title but is otherwise unchanged.) 

There is a saying where Vidalina Morales de Gámez comes from, that you can live without gold but you can’t live without a glass of water each day.

Where she comes from is El Salvador’s Cabañas region, which for much of the last decade has been the scene of a struggle between Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corporation and those who oppose the planned El Dorado gold project they say threatens already scarce water supplies.

The National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (La Mesa) member found herself in Vancouver this past weekend, six years into her involvement in the fight, standing on the southwest corner of Dunsmuir and Howe, the place her opponents call home, demanding that they stay out of hers.

“For us, it’s so difficult to come here,” she told The Tyee just after megaphoning her message in Spanish to a crowd that organizers pegged at a little under 200. “But they come to our land with such ease and do what they want. It’s unbelievable.”

Taking the fight to Pacific Rim’s turf, even on a Saturday when the offices were closed, was a bittersweet experience for the 44 year-old mother of five. It was a release, she said, but there was also fear.

“I felt nervous because they are watching those of us who are on the frontlines. So there is fear because of what’s happened in our country.”

Among those happenings are the unsolved murders of three anti-mining activists, alleged death threats against others and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit brought before a World Bank arbitration panel by Pacific Rim against the government of El Salvador for refusing to issue the required environmental permits. That legal battle entered a new phase last week.

The buck stops here
Morales’s battle was just one of many providing the inspiration for Shout Out Against Mining Injustice, a two-day Vancouver event hosted by the Council of Canadians “aimed at exposing the appalling environmental and human rights abuses of Canadian mining companies.”

The list of speakers included representatives of mining-affected communities from Chile to Northern Ontario, as well as environmental and human rights activists, a member of parliament and a union boss.

As the name suggests, Shout Out Against Mining Injustice was not about finding a middle ground on which to meet mining companies. Instead, the focus was on building international solidarity among communities affected by Canadian mining projects, as well as with a wider set of environmental and human rights allies.

The day before the Pacific Rim protest, the event kicked off with a demonstration led by members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation outside the offices of Taseko Mines Limited, where the company hoping to establish the New Prosperity mine in B.C.’s Cariboo-Chilcotin region was holding its annual general meeting.

In addition to such direct action, there was much discussion of injustices ranging from alleged assassinations to the destruction of sacred indigenous sites. A recurring theme in such accounts, apart from the depiction of Canadian companies as ignoring the rights of poor and indigenous populations, was the sense — as with both El Dorado and New Prosperity — that even when a government initially says no to a project, the local population cannot rest easy.

Given that three-quarters of the world’s mining companies have their headquarters in Canada, Maude Barlow, the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, called the struggle for responsible mining “the defining fight of our lives.” And a number of panelists spoke of the ways, through investments and pensions, that average Canadians contribute to and benefit from mining profits.

“Your resources fund these companies, so you are co-responsible for legal action against them,” said Silvia Quilumbango, president of the Ecuadorean environmental group DECOIN, which recently helped bring an unsuccessful lawsuit in an Ontario court against the Toronto Stock Exchange for complicity in alleged human rights abuses by the now-delisted Copper Mesa Mining Corporation.

Effecting change
But of course, courts can only dispense justice as defined by the laws they are charged with upholding. And these laws, according to Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP’s Steven Shrybman, are increasingly stacked in favour of corporations.

The main culprit, as he sees it, is the vast and growing global architecture of “pernicious” international trade agreements that have emphasized corporate rights over responsibilities during the past two decades. A “patchwork” of about 3,000 such deals designed to “circumvent the domestic judicial process” has essentially created a de facto multilateral agreement on investment, despite that proposed pact’s apparent defeat back in 1998.

According to Shrybman, there are three potential pressure points for grassroots efforts to push for greater corporate accountability in the extractive sector: the companies, the federal government and the courts.

He advised “monkey-wrenching any dispute that you can,” citing his fellow panelists’ calls for a public campaign to shame Pacific Rim into dropping its lawsuit against the government of El Salvador.

But as a lawyer, he favours a “more systemic approach” than simply going after individual companies. Because he believes that courts can be affected by “noise” from the population, he thinks average Canadians can help “re-energize” domestic courts to take on corporate abuses committed abroad. He pointed to last week’s filing of a lawsuit by a group of Ecuadorans against Chevron in an Ontario court as a positive sign, even though neither plaintiff nor defendant is actually Canadian.

As for the government, Shrybman argued the ideal course of action would be for it to repudiate international trade agreements. But failing that, he sees Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian’s proposed bill C-323 as a step towards redressing “the grotesque imbalance between the rights of corporations and the rights of the state.”

Culture shift
Julian was also in attendance at the conference to discuss his bill, which is modeled on the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), an arcane 18th century law that has been resurrected in recent years by lawyers trying to hold corporations to financial account for their actions in other countries.

But Julian knows he is swimming against the tide with his proposal. With the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court set to re-hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell, the ATCA itself could soon lose its new-found potential as a tool for punishing overseas corporate wrongdoing.

More immediately relevant to the Canadian context is the current make-up of parliament. Julian said he was “vilified” by Conservatives for his decision to attend Shout Out Against Mining Injustice. Indeed, in the House of Commons on Friday, Fort McMurray-Athabasca MP Brian Jean said Julian “should be ashamed of himself…Attacking the natural resources sector, he is attending a Council of Canadians conference that actually opposes the mining industry and Canadian companies around the world. The member for Burnaby-New Westminster is spending his weekend attacking trade and our resource sector.”

As a result of the prevailing political climate, Julian said he is not planning to push ahead with his bill “in the next few months,” as he sees little prospect of passing it at present. Nevertheless, he ended his speech with a short, big promise: “We will achieve mining justice in Canada.”

For that justice to extend to her tiny country, Morales believes Canadians may need to change more than their laws.

“In El Salvador, we don’t have the luxury of just going to the corner store or mall to buy what we need. We have to produce it,” she said, looking out a window onto Vancouver’s industrial waterfront, as though she needed a reminder of Canada’s fixation on economic growth. “I think that people here often don’t realize that or open their minds to seeing the world in a different way.”

Latest Developments, May 16

In the latest news and analysis…

State of the planet
Agence France-Presse summarizes the World Wildlife Federation’s new Living Planet Report, which says high-income countries have five times the ecological footprint of their poorer counterparts.
“The survey, compiled every two years, reported an average 30 percent decrease in biodiversity since 1970, rising to 60 percent in the hardest-hit tropical regions.

The decline has been most rapid in lower income countries, ‘demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidising the lifestyles of wealthier countries,’ said WWF.”

Libyan deaths
Human Rights Watch has released a new report about the 72 civilian deaths it says were caused by NATO strikes in Libya last year.
“The number of civilian deaths from NATO air strikes in Libya was low given the extent of the bombing and duration of the campaign, Human Rights Watch said. Nevertheless, the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites Human Rights Watch visited raises concerns of possible laws-of-war violations that should be investigated.

NATO asserts that it cannot conduct post-operation investigations into civilian casualties in Libya because it has no mandate to operate on the ground. But NATO has not requested permission from Libya’s transitional government to look into the incidents of civilian deaths and should promptly do so, Human Rights Watch said.
‘The overall care NATO took in the campaign is undermined by its refusal to examine the dozens of civilian deaths,’ [HRW’s Fred] Abrahams said.”

Corporate power
The Guardian reports on a legal dispute between a UK hedge fund and an Indian state-controlled coal company, which has some observers asking if the “terms of trade and investment are skewed” in a way that harms poor countries and poor people.
“ ‘What this case really illustrates is how far global trade and investment rules have gone in increasing the power and influence of companies,’ said Ruth Bergan, co-ordinator for the Trade Justice Movement. ‘Under bilateral investment treaties, companies have been given the right to sue states, not in national courts, whether in host or home countries, but in international arbitration centres, based at the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank, and a handful of other often highly secretive centres.’ ”

Terror double-standard
The Atlantic’s John Hudson suggests US ambivalence toward assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists is evidence of America’s “flexible definition” of terrorism.
“The Obama administration is moving to delist an Iranian dissident group from the State Department terrorism list, which, as recently as January, reportedly detonated a magnetic bomb under the car of an Iranian scientist. Perhaps unintentionally, the message the move would send appears to be: This activity is OK as long as it’s against Iran.”

Rio+20 deadlock
Inter Press Service reports that two weeks of preparatory talks for next month’s Rio+20 summit have “failed to reach consensus on a global plan of action.”
“ ‘Let us be frank,’ the [UN Conference on Sustainable Development] secretary general Sha Zukang said, ‘the negotiating text is a far cry from the focused political document called for by the general assembly.’ Zukang said the objective should be to arrive in Rio ‘with at least 90% of the text ready, and only the most difficult 10% left to be negotiated there at the highest political levels’.
However, a statement released by a coalition of international NGOs warned that Rio+20 ‘looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development’. ‘Too many governments are using or allowing the talks to undermine established human rights and agreed principles such as equity, precaution and polluter pays,’ it said.”

Western gender problems
UC Santa Barbara’s Hilal Elver argues that a recent Foreign Policy issue on the plight of women around the world failed to acknowledge that gender equality does not exist in Western countries either.
“Anthropologists use the term ‘native informants’ to identify the witness of insiders. Giving a platform to Muslim women writers critical of Islam has also become a very popular tactic in Europe. These commentators claim to speak from bitter experience about how Islam is bad for women. This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.

FP only pointed to the United States as a good example, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton works on women’s issues while shaping US foreign policy. I am sure she has many things to say about the United States, if FP would ask, about the relevance of her gender to her unsuccessful presidential campaign. But, this is not what readers seem to care about. It would have been much more impressive and acceptable if such critical issues were presented not only for selected adversary countries and cultures, and if there was not exhibited such bias and partisanship.”

Show trial
The University of Ottawa’s Peter Showler writes about the lack of “sincerity” during a parliamentary investigation into the Canadian government’s proposed changes to national refugee laws.
“[The proceedings] became more show trial than law making. The witnesses called by the Conservatives repeated their versions of the government storyline: Canada is inundated with bogus refugees; we need fast decisions to get rid of the fraudulent claimants; they come here for welfare, not protection; putting smuggled passengers in prison for a year is the only way to stop the smugglers who are evil. The Conservative members rarely asked real questions of their witnesses. They repeated the government litanies about Canada’s generosity and burdens on the Canadian taxpayer followed by ‘would you agree?’

There is an awful, disembodied sensation in watching a show trial. It is the sensation of observing a slow-motion accident through a plate-glass window. Something horrible and inevitable is happening and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You realize the outcome has been decided already. The proceedings became a theatre piece where everyone played their part.”

Latest Developments, May 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Big deal
Inter Press Service reports that closed-door talks are set to resume around the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership – potentially the biggest trade deal ever signed by the US – with major implications for global health.
“While U.S. global health policy has seen significant strengthening over the past five years, passage of the TPP ‘would start rolling this back,’ warns Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group here.
Worldwide over the past 10 years, prices for HIV-related medicines, for instance, have fallen by 99 percent, largely driven by competition from generic drugs. While the fight against generics by large pharmaceutical interests has largely shifted away from the WTO, Maybarduk suggests, the TPP agreement signals the next iteration of that effort.
‘The TPP could well be the worst that we have seen,’ Maybarduk says. ‘Not only does it run contrary to the U.S.’s own pledges on global AIDS work, but the TPP will set the template for the entire Asia- Pacific region. That could have an impact on half of the world’s population.’ ”

Tackling overfishing
The Guardian reports that Senegal’s new government has revoked the fishing licenses of 29 foreign trawlers.
“Hunger is growing in Senegal and other Sahelian countries, but much of the catch by the foreign fleets ends up in Britain and the EU after being exported from ports like Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Local fishing industry leaders in Senegal, Cape Verde, Mauritania and elsewhere say catches from inshore fishing have been decimated in the past 10 years because of overfishing. In addition, many other ‘pirate’ trawlers operate illegally in west African waters, further decimating stocks.
‘Senegal’s only resource is the sea,’ said Abdou Karim Sall, president of the Fishermen’s Association of Joal and the Committee of Marine Reserves in West Africa. ‘Unless something changes there will be a catastrophe for livelihoods, employment and food security.’ ”

Financial services hype
Juraj Dobrila University’s Milford Bateman argues that the “financial inclusion agenda” promoted by the World Bank is “nonsense.”
“First, as ever, there is the overarching effort to try to get the poor to uncritically accept the tools the rich have used to acquire their great wealth and become powerful. Finance is one of these tools. By claiming that helping the poor to ‘manage their money better’ will rapidly lead to economic and social benefits, the promoters of the financial inclusion agenda hope the poor will abandon any possible interest in supporting the collective capabilities and initiatives that history shows have massively empowered them. I would include here trade unions, social movements, strongly regulated labour markets, universal healthcare, public sector employment, a ‘developmental state’ and, most of all, the programmed redistribution of wealth and power.”

Islamophobia
The East London Communities Organisation’s Muhammad Abdul Bari writes that Europe’s “counter-jihad movement” poses a serious threat to the continent’s communal harmony.
“It is disheartening that a continent that had learnt many lessons in such a hard way, after the devastation of the two World Wars, and which prides itself in equality and human rights, is allowing itself to be influenced by the forces of intolerance and hate. It is now open season to malign Muslims because of their religious and cultural practices. Yet Muslim immigrants arriving after the war joined in the effort to rebuild the economies of war-torn Europe in the 1950s. In almost every field of life, Muslims have been an integral part of the European tapestry. Muslims are today at home in Europe, have been contributors to its past and are stakeholders in its future.
Yet the language and rhetoric used by the Far Right and the level of political expediency in mainstream European politics is mind boggling. The hate mongers are apparently succeeding in swapping a racist agenda for an Islamophobic one. The lacklustre response from European leaders has paved the way for anti-Muslim bigotry to move closer to the mainstream.”

Bribery’s cost
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne argues that the sort of bribery Wal-Mart is alleged to have committed in Mexico is neither victimless nor unavoidable.
“Environmental regulations exist for many reasons—to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community. If environmental laws were circumvented to build a new Wal-Mart supercenter too close to an important watershed, for example, drinking water could be contaminated and people could become sick or die.

While bribery is pervasive in Mexican society, it is very difficult for small businesses and local residents to escape paying up. They don’t carry the weight needed to change an entire society. However, a major company like Wal-Mart—with the promise of bringing thousands of jobs to local Mexican communities—has the leverage needed to say no to corruption and still conduct business. The company, apparently, chose not to do that.”

Immigration targeting
The Globe and Mail reports on concerns that Canada’s immigration policy is moving away from 50 years of trying to remove race and national origin from the equation.
“Overall it would be a mistake, says [Dalhousie University’s Howard Ramos], to conceive of the uneven outcomes for different immigrant groups as evidence that immigration was failing.
‘Immigrants in Canada have a high degree of integration. This [language] policy doesn’t reflect that success at all. It’s creating a problem where I don’t necessarily think a problem exists,’ he says. ‘The points system was introduced to correct the injustices of focusing on culture and language too heavily. It was a society and a time that was much more ethnocentric – and I don’t think it’s a time we should try and return to.’ ”

Democracy undone
Inter Press Service reports on some of the problems bilateral investment treaties pose for governments wishing to implement sound public policy.
“ ‘Foreign investors may challenge, in an international arbitration process, any change in law and policy to protect the environment and public health, to promote social or cultural goals, or to grapple with financial or economic crises. However, it is impossible to predict the outcome with any precision because each will depend in large part on the composition of the arbitral tribunal deciding the case, which consists of three highly-paid individuals, typically specialized in commercial rather than public law,’ [according to the International Institute for Sustainable Developments Nathalie Bernasconi].

‘A lack of transparency, unpredictability and conflicts of interest have simply become unacceptable. This discontent has led countries like Australia to disfavor investor-state dispute settlement entirely and others to terminate their investment treaties.
‘Watching these developments, countries like Brazil, which never ratified any of its investment treaties, must count themselves lucky,’ she added.”

Latest Developments, January 25

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Business rules
Amnesty International is calling on governments to take on the global lack of corporate regulation it says is having a “devastating impact” on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
“Governments are legally bound to consider how the policies and programs they implement affect human rights. In reality, many governments do not conduct even rudimentary assessments of the potential impact of their economic policies on rights.

Governments are consistently failing to regulate the corporate sector, trusting in their false promises of self-regulation, creating a toxic environment that is showing signs of boiling over as people take to the streets demanding an end to corruption, corporate greed and injustice.”

Trade imbalances
World leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum must focus less on “the imbalances in developed countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios” and more on “the wider imbalances generated by unfettered globalization,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter.
“Trade and investment agreements are the gateways through which globalization passes on its way to redefining a country’s economic landscape, and they are increasing at an impressive pace. There are 6,092 bilateral investment agreements currently in force, with 56 concluded in 2010 alone.
That growth reflects the flawed economic model of the pre-crisis years, which relied on indifference to where growth came from, how sustainable it was, and who was benefiting from it. If we are to learn anything from the ongoing crisis, it must be to start asking the right questions.”

Coal black box
A new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) argues electricity companies operating in the Netherlands are not coming clean about the source of the coal they use.
“None of the energy companies analysed in the report – E.ON, Vattenfall/Nuon, GDF Suez/Electrabel, RWE/Essent, DONG Energy and EPZ (DELTA) – are transparent about the specific mines where their coal comes from. ‘If companies are open about the coal chain, human rights violations and pollution in the coal chain can be prevented. But the electricity companies refuse to publish this information and as a result are not following recommendations laid out in international standards for supply chain transparency such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies’, says Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, Senior Researcher at SOMO.”

Press freedom
Reporters Without Borders has released its latest Press Freedom Index, which ranks nine African countries ahead of the US following the “crackdown” on the Occupy movement.
“The worldwide wave of protests in 2011 also swept through the New World. It dragged the United States (47th) and Chile (80th) down the index, costing them 27 and 47 places respectively. The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation ”

Circumcision silence
Paris Descartes University’s Patrick Pognant decries the lack of debate over the UN’s advocacy of mass circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa as a means of reducing the spread of HIV.
“At the very least, those who are to be circumcised ought to be informed objectively of the irremediable effects of this surgical act, which they have the right to expect from humanitarian organizations that are meant to protect them and improve their living conditions. If we celebrate progress in the field of medicine, we must also remember that it can make mistakes and it harbours extremists and ideologues, overcome, in this case, by a passion for surgery (just as their predecessors from earlier centuries, bistoury in hand, ravaged large populations, especially male ones). The time will come, one hopes, when international authorities will condemn all forms of physical mutilation committed without proper consent, whether the motivation be medical, moral or religious.” (Translated from the French.)

Strange bedfellows
War Child’s Samantha Nutt asks if new partnerships between international NGOs and Canadian mining companies will “nudge along good practice” or “buy silence in the case of bad practice.”
“Under the deal, World University Services Canada, Plan Canada and World Vision Canada will receive CIDA funding totalling $6.7-million for projects with Rio Tinto Alcan, Iamgold and Barrick Gold, respectively. The largest share was for the Plan Canada-Iamgold project, which will take all but $1-million of the CIDA funding over the next five years. For their part, the three mining companies will contribute additional support just shy of $2-million. The combined annual net profit for these firms is more than $4-billion.

Two of the participating mining firms have recently been involved in labour and human-rights disputes related to their operations abroad.”

Arming the Middle East
The Buck Institute for Research on Aging’s Raja Kamal takes issue with recent American and British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“These deals have been presented as useful arrangements to promote stability in a Middle East, allegedly threatened by Iran’s ambitions. However, seen through a different lens, it appears that arms-producing nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom are using Saudi Arabia as an automated teller machine, from which billions of dollars can be secured to bolster their troubled economies.
It is unfortunate that the U.S. Congress did not seize the opportunity to block the F-15 sale on the grounds that arming the Arab world is in the best interests neither of the region nor of the U.S. or the West in the long run.”

Negotiating change
Panteion University’s Alexios Arvanitis calls for negotiators at international talks to bring more than the pursuit of national interests to the table.
“In casting his veto at the European Union’s December summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, ‘What is on offer isn’t in Britain’s interests, so I didn’t agree to it,’ as if agreement solely depended upon whether or not interests were satisfied.
Then again, reaching an agreement might never have been Cameron’s goal. While so-called “win-win” outcomes are increasingly considered to be the ultimate purpose of every negotiation, what if the negotiating parties contemplate a win-win outcome that actually harms non-participants to the talks, or is against the law? What if the outcome is beneficial but contrary to the principles of the negotiating parties?”