Latest Developments, July 18

In today’s news and analysis…

UN General Assembly president Joseph Deiss has urged reform of the Security Council’s size and membership, saying “any solution to the long-running debate on making the Council’s composition more representative ultimately lies with the 193 Member States of the world body.” Except that in realitiy, responsibility “ultimately lies” with the US, China, Russia, the UK and France who, as the five permanent members of the Security Council, enjoy veto power over charter changes. For example, even if a two-thirds majority voted to scrap Security Council vetoes, any of the five permanent members could trump those 130+ votes with a single “no” of their own.

Former UN assistant secretary general Ramesh Thakur argues the UN “remains our best and only hope for unity-in-diversity in addressing problems without passports that require solutions sans visas,” while conceding the organization has to work harder to meet what he terms the “legitimacy criterion” and the “performance criterion.” He calls for the reform of a number of UN bodies, including the Security Council, as well as “greater transparency, democracy and inclusiveness in decision-making.”

According to a new survey of British public views regarding UK foreign policy, the majority do not think ethics should play a role in international relations. “The government’s conception of security, linking spending on development with a direct enhancement of the security of British citizens, has yet to resonate with the public. Moreover, findings that show “the general public and opinion-formers consider aid largely irrelevant to Britain’s international reputation, and as playing only a small role in serving national interests” could make it tough for the government to stick to its commitment to raise aid levels to 0.7 percent of GDP, according to Chatham House researcher Rob Bailey.

In an editorial entitled “Human rights at home, too,” Canada’s Globe and Mail suggests the EU needs to do a little introspection if it wants to have a credible voice when criticizing human rights violations elsewhere in the world: “The EU is quick to wag fingers at other countries that fail to respect human rights. It’s time they had a look at the ramshackle dwellings and decrepit shacks the Roma inhabit in their own backyard.” To which one commenter responded: “And Canada should look at how it treats Aboriginal Canadians before we get to (sic) high and mighty about our position on racism and human rights.”

Former G7/G8 sherpa Gordon Smith frets about the future role for Canada, a country which accounts for roughly 0.5 percent of the global population, in international diplomatic power circles. As for what Canada’s current government has to offer the international community, Maclean’s Magazine’s Paul Wells argues now that the Conservatives finally have a majority government and a weak opposition means they can do more or less as they wish within parliament, they are adjusting their persecution complex to see the rest of the world as “an excellent substitute enemy.”

A new Bureau of Investigative Journalism piece disputes the US claim that drones have killed no civilians in Pakistan for nearly a year. The report comes right on the heels of efforts to seek the arrest of ex-CIA general counsel John Rizzo for his role in approving drone targets.

The international community is looking to regulate the conventional arms trade next summer but may yet leave off riot-control equipment, which some critics refer to as “weapons of repression.”

The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting declares South Sudan “the biggest development challenge in the world.” She writes: “What faces South Sudan is daunting: it needs help on the scale of a Marshall Plan for one country. It’s an unprecedented development challenge and, so far, there has been more goodwill than action or sense of urgency.” Meanwhile, the last country to bear that distinction, Haiti, still has 600,000-700,000 people living in tents, most of its destroyed infrastructure has not been rebuilt and most of the rubble has not been removed 18 months after the earthquake, according to physician and longtime Haiti advocate Paul Farmer.

Also writing for the Guardian, Nicholas Watt describes the “new Scramble for Africa,” which, he says, China appears to be winning. Africa also has Google scrambling, as it tries to provide more local content in local languages, in order to get into a largely untapped market.

World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy kicked off a conference to review the Aid for Trade initiative – intended to provide poor countries with the tools and expertise needed to boost trade – with words of praise for the six year-old program: “Results range from increased export volumes to more employment, to faster customs clearance times and impacts on poverty.” Note the language: “increased export volumes,” “more employment” and “faster customs clearance times” but no modifier for “impacts on poverty.” The same conference saw the unveiling of the Transparency in Trade Initiative, described by one UN agency as a “project aiming to eliminate the transparency gap resulting from the lack of access to data on country-specific trade policies”

And finally, Monday also saw the beginning of a week-long conference on intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore.

Latest Developments, June 29

In today’s news…

Two World Bank economists argue the best way to reduce corruption and ensure Africa benefits from the current commodity boom is for governments to transfer portions of the resulting revenues directly to their citizens. Of course, government corruption is not the only obstacle to translating mineral wealth into societal benefits. After a three-year dispute, Canada’s First Quantum Minerals has just agreed to pay $224 million in tax arrears to Zambia. The Reuters piece says: “According to the World Bank, copper is responsible for 70 to 75 percent of export earnings but the mining industry as a whole only contributes about 10 percent of Zambia’s tax revenue.”

In the wake of last week’s guilty plea by  another Canadian company, Niko Resources, for bribing a Bangladeshi official, Transparency International finds itself in the unusual position of praising Canada…sort of. In the same breath, the organization points out that Canadian law defines prosecutable foreign bribery cases excessively narrowly and calls for the revival of proposed improvements that died in 2009 when the minority government ended the parliamentary session prematurely.

As the US and Switzerland struggle to come to an agreement on dealing with tax avoidance, the Tax Justice Network suggests some Swiss media and banks are too cozy to allow a meaningful public discussion on the impacts of tax evasion. Perhaps a quick trip to Vienna is in order.

As things stand, US sanctions on Sudanese oil exports will not apply to South Sudan when it officially declares independence on July 9. Unless South Sudanese oil exports, which account for 98 percent of the government’s budget, pass north through Sudan. Which is the only way the pipelines run.

Le Monde Diplomatique’s Serge Halimi argues the current debt crisis represents a threat to democracy as much as the economy and asks (in French) if there is an alternative to “shock therapy.” Another article in the same publication provides the example of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution which stipulates public debt must not impact national sovereignty, human rights or environmental protection; public debt can only be incurred to improve infrastructure or to invest in projects that will pay for themselves; public debt refinancing is only an option if the new terms are advantageous to Ecuador; and the nationalization of private debt is prohibited.

The World Bank tweets: “The time to act is now. The world’s poor will suffer first and most from #climatechange.,” while the UK House of Commons environmental audit committee slams the global lending institution’s energy policies, which may actually be making climate change worse.

Andrea Wechsler argues in Global Policy that “global governance arrangements must reach beyond the limited concept of intellectual property to knowledge as such and, thus, address global knowledge governance.” But a number of civil society organizations worry a new set of principles on Internet policymaking raises “cybersecurity and intellectual property rights to a level of importance that is comparable with internationally recognized individual human rights such as freedom of expression.”