Latest Developments, December 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Historical responsibility
The Associated Press reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has placed the onus for tackling climate change on wealthy nations:

“Ban’s comments echoed the concerns of China and other developing countries, which say rich nations have a historical responsibility for global warming because their factories released carbon emissions into the atmosphere long before the climate effects were known.
‘The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialisation of the developed world,’ Ban said. ‘It’s only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility.’ ”

Resource alienation
The Daily Nation reports that Canadian firm Bedford Biofuels’ planned jatropha plantation on 120,000 hectares of Kenyan land “has raised questions about land ownership for the first time between neighbours”:

“ ‘When waters ebb, farmers plant rice. The Pokomo have planted rice for centuries. During the floods, pastoralists drive out herds… that’s the traditional way of using the land, keeps the ecosystem functioning,’ explains Ms Serah Munguti, communications and advocacy manager at Nature Kenya.
But environmentalists like Ms Munguti say the arrival of foreign companies like Bedford Biofuels, who come to the delta armed with ambitious plans for large-scale, intensive farming, might disrupt the system.
That, according to Ms Munguti, promises to heighten tribal tensions.
‘The conflict comes because everybody wants the water. The Tana Delta as it is today is a recipe for disaster,’ argues Munguti. ‘There is already conflict over limited resources. Then you look at all the projects that have been proposed and you can imagine what we are setting ourselves up for.’ ”

Middlemen
The New York Times reports that the US gave the green light for Gulf states to supply arms to Libyan rebels during last year’s civil war, but as a similar scenario plays out in Syria, America is worried that weapons are going to “some of the wrong militants”:

“The administration has never determined where all of the weapons, paid for by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, went inside Libya, officials said. Qatar is believed to have shipped by air and sea small arms, including machine guns, automatic rifles, and ammunition, for which it has demanded reimbursement from Libya’s new government. Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country, the former Defense Department official said. Others have gone to Syria, according to several American and foreign officials and arms traders.”

Betting the farm
A new report by the Oakland Institute asks if “you know what your pension fund is doing in Africa”:

“In recent years, the private financial sector has already invested between $10 to $25 billion in farmland and agriculture with little to no oversight; given current investment trends, this amount might double or triple in the coming years. Although agricultural funds are portrayed as positive social investment to help alleviate hunger and the effects of climate change, evidence demonstrates that large land deals are often detrimental to food security, local livelihoods, and the environment–yet little is known about the specific firms and funds driving this investment.”

Camp Integrity
Wired reports that following a $22.3 million no-bid deal, US special forces in Afghanistan are now based at a facility owned by America’s “most infamous private security company”:

You might think that Blackwater, now called Academi, was banished into some bureaucratic exile after its operatives in Afghanistan stole guns from U.S. weapons depots and killed Afghan civilians. Wrong. Academi’s private 10-acre compound outside Kabul, called Camp Integrity, is the new headquarters for perhaps the most important special operations unit in Afghanistan.

But the commandos won’t be the only U.S. military tenants at Camp Integrity. A Pentagon agency called the Counter-Narcoterrorism Program Office also uses Camp Integrity as a base of operations to aid in its war on Afghanistan’s drug lords. Academi provides the office’s small Kabul cell with, among other things, ‘a secure armory and weapons maintenance service.’ ”

Duty to protect
Debbie Stothard of the International Federation for Human rights (FIDH) argues that since the UN adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “access to justice for those affected has not improved”:

“Company-based grievance mechanisms may be useful for preventing harm and facilitating resolution of minor problems, however, they can in no way replace State-based mechanisms in cases involving egregious violations.
Of course, the best solution for a victim is to have access to an independent court where he/she lives. However, too often, the judicial system where the harm occurs is weak or unable to provide for an effective remedy. This is why we also need to remind home states of multinational companies of their duty to protect and insist that they provide effective avenues to remedy in cases where host states lack the capacity or will to do so.
The UN Working group could explore and recommend how home States, as part of their duty to protect, could facilitate access to justice for victims of human rights abuses in third countries involving corporations under their jurisdiction.”

Major shift
Inter Press Service reports on the IMF’s change of heart regarding government measures to control cross-border financial flows, though critics say more changes are needed:

“ ‘Arguably more important is to ask if the IMF will similarly relent on its manic obsession with keeping inflation extremely low in developing countries,’ [Delhi-based development consultant Rick Rowden] says.
‘Is the IMF now also suddenly in favour of trade protection and subsidy support for building domestic industries? Are they suggesting developing countries actually should ‘discriminate’ and against foreign investors and tilting the playing field in favour of building up domestic firms? I think not.’
He continues: ‘While the IMF’s about-face on capital controls is promising, the oft-cited pronouncements of the death of the Washington Consensus are quite premature.’ ”

Treaty violation
Radio France Internationale reports that Chadian President Idriss Déby, on an official visit to Paris, sought to set the record straight concerning a French NGO accused of attempting to smuggle children out of his country:

“I never, repeat never, pardoned members of Zoe’s Ark. Let there be no doubt. We have a treaty with France. They were convicted, and I respected the treaty. The kidnappers were freed without our consent. It’s a violation of the treaty. I’ve never said it before but today I’m saying it: It’s a violation of the treaty. In principle, the kidnappers should not only serve time in France but must also pay €6 million in compensation.” [Translated from the French.]

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Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Perception confirmation
The widely reported release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index was met by an extended “grumble” on Twitter by Save the Children’s Alex Cobham:

“Dear twitter, remember that an index based on *perceptions* of corruption will score worst those places most often reported as corrupt…
…regardless of any *actual* corruption. So a priori you might expect Greece to be worst in EU; Somalia worst in world etc. But…
… remember that it is just perception confirmation – with no element of objective factual support. Corruption continues to be #uncounted.
In addition, if you share view that providing financial secrecy can be corrupt and corrupting, good scores of eg Switzerland should raise qs
The other side of corruption can be seen in the Financial Secrecy Index
[Grumble over.]”

Right to opacity
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US oil industry is proceeding with a lawsuit aimed at blocking the required disclosure of payments made to foreign governments:

“In court papers filed Monday, the American Petroleum Institute, joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two other trade groups, called the rule, promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Provision under Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act and narrowly approved, ‘one of the most expensive’ in the history of the Commission.
Mandating disclosure is a violation of the First Amendment, the filing added. ‘The rule – and the statutory provision that authorized it – violate the First Amendment by compelling speech on a controversial matter in order to influence political affairs,’ it said.”

Performance anxiety
Germanwatch has released the 2013 edition of its Climate Change Performance Index, ranking the efforts of the world’s 58 highest emitters to protect the climate:

“In 2010, the most recent data period for this year‘s CCPI, the world saw another record breaking increase in global CO2 emissions. Not only have global emissions risen to another all time high, but this increase has also been the steepest emissions surge in history.
Not only are emissions rising at the global level. As well at the national level is little good news to tell. Not one of the examined countries has managed to change to a development path that is compatible with limiting global warming substantially below 2°C. No country‘s effort is deemed sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Therefore, as in the years before, we still cannot award any country with 1st, 2nd or 3rd place.”

Only the brave
The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project has released a report on the dangers faced by those opposing or monitoring the extractive industries in Uganda and Tanzania:

“There is a long history of antagonism, including cases of violence, between the mining industry and Tanzanian citizens, especially in the North Mara region of the country. It was here that in May 2011 between 4 and 7 Tanzanians (reported figures vary) were shot and killed and many others wounded by private mine security officers in an incident at the North Mara mine owned and operated by African Barrick Gold (AGB), a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold Corp.”

Just business
In a speech delivered to a UN forum in Geneva, Harvard University’s John Ruggie explained what he sees as the greatest need for holding to account businesses that commit human rights abuses abroad:

“National courts appear not to share a consistent understanding regarding the applicability to companies of international standards prohibiting gross human rights abuses, potentially amounting to international crimes. These may arise in areas where the human rights regime cannot be expected to function as intended, such as conflict zones or similar sources of heightened risk, and typically the allegations involve corporate complicity in acts committed by related parties. In those situations, plaintiffs may turn to home country courts. But even as the number of such cases has increased, courts have issued conflicting interpretations of what precisely the international standards stipulate. Greater legal clarity is needed for victims and companies alike. Only an intergovernmental process can provide that clarity.
The international community has determined, and everyone present in this room would agree, that sovereignty can no longer serve as a shield behind which governments are allowed to commit or be complicit in the worst human rights violations. Surely the same must be true of the corporate form. So let that be affirmed authoritatively, and remove all doubt.”

Very mercenary
Oxfam’s Gawain Kripke writes that the founder of private military company Blackwater, “which has been renamed several times, trying to escape the stench of scandal and atrocity,” has turned himself into an investment advisor:

“From a comfortable perch in Abu Dhabi (no extradition treaty with the US), [Erik] Prince now raises funds and advises clients on the wonderful investment opportunities in Africa. He claims he’s raised $100 million and is shooting (err) for $400 million more. His new company, Frontier Resource Group (motto: fortuna audaces iuvat or fortune favors the bold) offers support for investors mixed with ‘security and logistical capacity’.
Ever the bottom dweller, Prince has focused his efforts on some of the more problematic investments (natural resources extraction), and problematic countries; DRC, Guinea, and South Sudan. Which should be appealing to problematic investors (based in Hong Kong).”

Cold War continues
Columbia University’s Howard French argues Susan Rice, a frontrunner to become the next US secretary of state, has been instrumental in perpetuating an outdated American approach to Africa:

“On a broader level, the old paradigm of Cold War policy, with its momentous ideological competition, has been repurposed to work for something far more inchoate and hollow: the War on Terror. Accordingly, the United States has persisted in its embrace of leaders who align with Washington on that basis in places like Sudan and Somalia, mirroring the style of cherry-picking allies during the struggle against communism.”

Big food
National Public Radio asks if the food and beverage industry is the new tobacco:

“[The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity’s Kelly Brownell] pointed to cases in which the industry set up front groups to fight a soda tax in California and fought national guidelines that would restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
The food industry can do some good things, Brownell admitted, when it comes to fighting hunger or promoting sustainable agricultural practices. But ‘obesity is a different kettle of fish’ because solving it conflicts directly with the industry’s most basic imperative: To sell more food. All of the industry’s much-celebrated ‘healthy eating’ campaigns and partnerships with public health initiatives, Brownell says, amount to ‘baby steps’ that simply obscure this basic fact.”

Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Pharma bribes
The Washington Post reports that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has agreed to pay $60 million in fines over US charges that its subsidiaries bribed doctors and health officials in “about a dozen countries“:

“ ‘Pfizer subsidiaries in several countries had bribery so entwined in their sales culture that they offered points and bonus programs to improperly reward foreign officials who proved to be their best customers,’ said Kara Brockmeyer, who heads the SEC unit that enforces the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to bribe foreign government officials.”

Private security misconduct
The Associated Press reports that the private military company formerly known as Blackwater – now called Academi LLC – has agreed to pay a fine to settle 17 criminal charges, including arms smuggling:

“The list of violations includes possessing automatic weapons in the United States without registration, lying to federal firearms regulators about weapons provided to the king of Jordan, passing secret plans for armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark without U.S. government approval and illegally shipping body armor overseas.

‘For an extended period of time, Academi/Blackwater operated in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations,’ said Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI.”

Eurocentrism
The New York Times reports that a Singaporean diplomat has suggested Europe could benefit from showing greater humility in its relations with other regions:

“ ‘The problem is that Europe sees itself as a ‘normative power,’ as a region which sets the universal norm,’ said [Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Tommy] Koh in a speech marking the 15th anniversary of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

“This role often makes Europe a very poor interlocutor because its mission is not to appreciate alternative views but to impose its view on the world,” said Mr. Koh.

‘I wonder if the day will ever come when Europe will be humble enough to want to learn from Asia,’ he said, singling out the continent’s experience in dealing with multiculturalism, a challenge facing Europe.
He had heard three European leaders declare that multiculturalism was “a failure,” he said.
“I wish that their advisers had suggested that they should visit Southeast Asia to see how other countries have made a success of multiculturalism,” said Mr. Koh.”

Don’t call it a war
Obama administration counterterror chief John Brennan’s description of current American policy in Yemen sounds awfully familiar, according to Wired’s Danger Room blog:

“If you put the U.S. approaches to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into a blender, the frothing mixture that emerged would be Yemen policy. Brennan didn’t come close to conceding that the U.S. is at war in Yemen during a Wednesday talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Rather, Brennan took pains to describe President Obama’s approach to Yemen as a giant development effort — although it’s the type of economic improvement initiative that involves robots of death circling overhead.”

Do no harm
Médecins Sans Fronitères’ Judit Rius Sanjuan argues US enthusiasm for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens America’s own stated global goal of an AIDS-free generation:

“For example, the U.S. government wants TPP countries to lower the bar for patentability, thereby granting pharmaceutical companies new patents on variations of old drugs with little therapeutic benefit for patients. These provisions could stifle the production of less expensive generic forms. And, the U.S. would make it impossible to challenge a patent’s validity before it is granted – a commonly used tool that helps to prevent frivolous and unwarranted patenting and which is vital to fostering an IP system that rewards innovations benefiting patients. The U.S. demands also extend patent monopolies beyond the traditional 20-year period and make it harder for generics to get regulatory approval, which will serve to keep generics out and prop up drug prices for longer.”

Fuel on the fire
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne contends that foreign intervention is now “driving the escalation of the conflict” in Syria:

“Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime’s brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarisation of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base – while also dramatically increasing the death toll.

But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future – and halt the country’s descent into darkness.”

Delusions of altruism
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh takes aim at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who implied in a speech last week that China is using Africa for its resources:

“Certainly, there is more than an element of truth in such warnings. Yet US and European companies continue to try to exploit these countries’ resources as much, if not more, not least through land and other resource grabs. If anything, their concern now is that competition from Chinese and Indian (and even Brazilian and Malaysian) firms is forcing them to offer better terms for their resource extraction. As some Africans put it, it is better to have competing imperialists in action, to allow the objects of interest to play them off against one another. For northern capital used to treating so much of the less developed world as its happy hunting ground, this comes as a nasty shock.

So, please, let’s get real about western ‘help’ to Africa and other poor countries. Most of the developing world has already seen through it, so perhaps it’s time for people in the north to stop deluding themselves?”

Fighting the resource curse
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz urges governments in resource-rich countries to stand up to foreign mining companies so that economic benefits can flow to their citizens:

“Well designed, competitive, transparent auctions can generate much more revenue than sweetheart deals. Contracts, too, should be transparent, and should ensure that if prices soar – as they have repeatedly – the windfall gain does not go only to the company.
Unfortunately, many countries have already signed bad contracts that give a disproportionate share of the resources’ value to private foreign companies. But there is a simple answer: renegotiate; if that is impossible, impose a windfall-profit tax.

Companies will tell Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique to act quickly, but there is good reason for them to move more deliberately. The resources will not disappear, and commodity prices have been rising. In the meantime, these countries can put in place the institutions, policies, and laws needed to ensure that the resources benefit all of their citizens.”

Latest Developments, October 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Happiness is a doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for adding social boundaries to the nine so-called “planetary boundaries” in order to come up with comfort zones or “doughnuts” within which people can live both sustainably and decently.
“[N]on-monetary metrics must clearly be given more weight in policy making. Economic progress cannot be assessed only – or even primarily – in monetary terms (such as incomes per capita and GDP growth rates). Where the edges are, and whether or not we are hitting them, matters for stability and justice. Policymakers must take more notice of, and be more accountable for, the impact of economic activity on planetary and social boundaries, defined in ‘natural’ and ‘social’ metrics, such as species extinction rates, and unemployment rates.”

Inequality matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed says the Occupy movements have, if nothing else, dragged the issue of inequality into the spotlight and she presents five points to show why it matters.
“Policy change might be becoming more likely.  In sharp contrast to previous protests, the Occupy movement has got a very sympathetic hearing in the press, with even the Financial Times conceding that they have a point.  Could this be the moment that inequality becomes mainstream? ”

Corruption talks
A new World Bank and UN report calls on the world’s governments to do more about corruption and money laundering.
“The report, the Puppet Masters, examines how bribes, embezzled state assets and other criminal proceeds are being hidden via legal structures – shell companies, foundations, trusts and others. The study’s release coincided with a UN conference on corruption in Marrakesh, Morocco, bringing together anti-corruption advocates and representatives from 154 states.”

Mailbox companies
SOMO has released a new report on Dutch bilateral investment treaties alleging so-called “mailbox companies” are using these agreements to sue home countries for billions “for alleged damages to the profitability of their investments.”
“In addition, the majority of the companies availing themselves of the generous investment protections offered by Dutch BITs are so-called ‘mailbox companies,’ companies with no employees on their payroll and no real economic activity in the Netherlands.”

Walking the gender walk
Gender Action’s Elizabeth Arend argues there is an “alarming gap” between the World Bank’s rhetoric on gender equality and its actual investment policies.
“The World Bank’s gender-blind agriculture investments are even more appalling when they are offered in the form of loans, which increase poor countries’ debt burden and often compel governments to slash public spending on health and other social services to service debt. These cuts are devastating for poor women, who not only suffer directly from lack of access to healthcare, but are responsible for the health and welfare of their households.
Poor countries can appeal to the World Bank for debt relief, but only if they demonstrate a track record of adopting bank-imposed “free-market” policy reforms, including privatisation of state-owned enterprises and unilateral reduction of agricultural trade barriers while rich countries maintain theirs. Women inevitably bear the greatest burden when such policy reforms undermine poor countries’ investments in agriculture, health and education.”

Selling repression
In light of a recent Amnesty International report detailing the extent of arms sales to repressive Arab regimes over the last five years, Al-Jazeera asks if the proposed Arms Trade Treaty will really be able to rein in the global weapons trade.
“The human rights group reports that in the five years preceding the Arab spring $2.4bn worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment was sold to five specified countries that have faced or are facing popular uprisings – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
And these sales were committed by at least 20 governments including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.”

Blackwater and the US Supreme Court
The Leal Times reports former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter over a shooting incident in Iraq that “left more than a dozen civilians either dead or injured” are trying to get the US Supreme Court to hear their case.
“At issue is whether the indictment is tainted from the prosecution’s use of statements the guards were compelled to make in the hours after the shooting in Baghdad in 2007.”

Happy Birthday to UN
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked his organization’s 66th anniversary by calling for the 193 member states to display “unity of purpose.”
“Global problems demand global solutions,” he said. “They compel all nations to unite in action on an agenda for the world’s people.