Latest Developments, June 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Grand corruption
Le Monde reports on new allegations concerning millions of dollars said to have been funneled from former Libyan ruler Muammar Gadhafi to ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

“According to Mediapart, two of these offshore companies received, in 2007 and 2008, money from kickbacks on Libyan security contracts linked to the French company Amesys. In his email, Ismail also stresses that the ‘agreement’ to free the detained Bulgarian nurses in 2007 ‘involved Libya’s purchase of a nuclear reactor from [French state-owned] Areva and the supply of Milan missiles to the Libyan army.’ He also says that ‘one of Sarkozy’s primary concerns was to sell the Rafale fighter jet for more than 2 billion euros.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

No arms
Embassy magazine reports that a new poll shows that only a “small, small minority” of Canadians want their government to help arm Syrian rebels:

“Six in 10 adult Canadians, or 60 per cent, said they disagreed that Canada should supply Syrian rebels with military aid, according to a June 18 Forum Research Inc. poll whose results were offered to Embassy.
Roughly one fifth of respondents, or 18 per cent, said they agreed, while roughly one quarter, 22 per cent, said they did not have an opinion.”

Minor casualty
McClatchy reports on the alleged killing of a 10-year-old boy by a US drone, an incident that prompted one local sheikh to ask, “What did Abdulaziz do? Was this child a member of al Qaida?”:

“Some analysts argue that this and other strikes run counter to the administration’s claims of improved targeting. [The boy’s brother, Saleh Hassan Huraydan] might have been a local al Qaida leader, they say, but it’s unclear whether he constituted a ‘continuing and imminent threat to the American people,’ Obama’s definition of a legitimate target.
‘The number of U.S. drone strikes over the past two years suggests that the U.S. is going after many more targets than just the 10 to 15 individuals it says represent imminent threats to U.S. national security. It appears to be going after whomever it can hit whenever it can find them,’ said Gregory Johnsen, the author of ‘The Last Refuge,’ a recent book on al Qaida in Yemen.
‘The new rules that Obama alluded to in his speech last month either aren’t yet in effect in Yemen or are making no difference,’ he added.”

Nuclear pledge
The New York Times reports that American President Barack Obama’s promise this week to reduce his country’s nuclear arsenal and “seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond cold war nuclear postures” is running into skepticism in several camps:

“The proposal to limit American and Russian deployed strategic warheads to about 1,000 each would bring the two countries back to around the levels of 1954, experts said. The president also vowed to work with NATO to reduce the unrestricted smaller tactical nuclear weapons still in Europe and to push the Senate to finally ratify the 17-year-old Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Taken together, the moves revived the effort Mr. Obama began in Prague in 2009 to put the world on a path to eventually eliminating nuclear weapons, one of the most idealistic, if hotly disputed, aspirations of his first term.
Yet even as Republicans argued that he was going too far at the risk of national security, his moves represented a more modest step than many arms control advocates had sought.”

Mining aid
The Globe and Mail reports that the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency told a meeting of Canada’s mining industry representatives that he is working to help them take advantage of the “huge opportunities” in poor countries:

“In his comments to the Mining Association of Canada, [Julian] Fantino dismissed criticism of the government’s strategy and praised the Canadian extractive industry’s work. ‘Your industry is a leader, internationally, and we want to help you succeed,’ he said.
Last fall, Canada established the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, which is meant to help developing countries establish policies to better govern their mining sectors. The institute ‘will be your biggest and best ambassador,’ Mr. Fantino told mining representatives on Wednesday, adding that it would draw on Canadian success in the mining industry and share lessons from Canada with other countries.”

Dune mining
Radio France Internationale reports that Senegalese farmers see an Australian company’s plans to mine zircon as bad news:

“A vast mining program was launched three months ago along the Grande Côte. In Casamance, in the country’s south, Australian-based Carnegie Minerals obtained an exploration permit. The company hopes to mine close to 5 million tons of minerals. But it is running into local opposition.” [Translated from the French.]

Too big to exist
The Guardian’s Joris Luyendijk argues that his interviews with hundreds of people working in London’s financial sector have convinced him that the industry is not no much out of control as “beyond control”:

“Before studying bankers I spent many years researching Islam and Muslims. I set out with images in my mind of angry bearded men burning American flags, but as the years went by I became more and more optimistic: beyond the frightening rhetoric and sensationalist television footage, ordinary Muslim people go about their day like all other human beings. The problem of radical Islam is smaller and more containable than Islamophobes believe.
With bankers I have experienced an opposite trajectory. I started with the reassuring images in my mind of well-dressed bankers and their lobbyists; surely at some basic level these people knew what they were doing? But after two years I feel myself becoming deeply pessimistic and genuinely terrified. This system is highly dysfunctional, deeply entrenched, and enormously abusive, both to its own workers and the society it operates in. The problem really is exactly as bad as the ‘banker bashers’ believe.”

Carbon discredited
FERN and Friends of the Earth have released a new report that uses the example of the highly touted N’hambita carbon offset project in Mozambique to argue that the EU should not fund such schemes:

“Sylvain Angerand from Friends of the Earth France explains: ‘A fundamental problem, which this report highlights, is that emissions stay in the atmosphere longer than trees stay standing. This report shows that carbon offsetting has few climate benefits and is a dangerous distraction from the need to cut emissions and reduce consumption.’ ”

Latest Developments, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Gender inequality
The World Bank’s newly released World Development Report 2012 focuses on gender equality and makes the argument that women’s rights have improved at an “astonishing” rate in recent years but substantial inequalities still persist.
“The main message of this year’s World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development is that these patterns of progress and persistence in gender equality matter, both for development outcomes and policy making. They matter because gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. But greater gender equality is also smart economics, enhancing productivity and improving other development outcomes, including prospects for the next generation and for the quality of societal policies and institutions. Economic development is not enough to shrink all gender disparities—corrective policies that focus on persisting gender gaps are essential.”

World Bank blind spots
ActionAid’s Rachel Moussié argues the latest World Development Report once again reveals the World Bank’s tendency to overemphasize the importance of economic growth while glossing over “key” elements of its own research.
“The World Bank’s faith in the market to pick up the pieces after a crisis is evident in its treatment of social protection, or lack thereof. The report reduces this multi-faceted issue to conditional cash transfers, completely neglecting the important role programmes such as South Africa’s child support grant have played in lifting households and women out of poverty. The bank seemingly fails to recognise that poverty is chronic in the current economic system and the shocks frequent.  Stop-gap measures are just not enough if governments are to prevent these shocks from reversing the gains made on gender equality.”

Al Jazeera reports environmental rights groups are concerned that Africa risks becoming a lab for lucrative carbon-trading schemes they think will likely only enrich speculators in financial capitals.
“The offsets that come from soil carbon capture schemes have been marketed by world bodies as a means to rechannel money back into climate-friendly agriculture.
However, environmental rights groups say the work of offsetting these emissions – and trading credits associated with the process on carbon markets – is where the big business lies.”

Engineering rights abuses
The Sudan Tribune has picked up on a report by Die Tageszeitung (or Taz) that German investigators are looking into the role that engineering and consulting firm Lahmeyer International may have played in alleged rights abuses surrounding the construction of a Sudan’s Merowe dam project.
“According to Taz, preliminary proceedings like this are rare in Germany, because German public prosecutors and prosecution services do not want to assume responsibility for the behavior of domestic corporations abroad. The judiciary in other states too often allows corporations from the rich north to do whatever they want to.”

Arms and their consequences
An Illinois judge has given the go-ahead to a multibillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that US defense contractor L-3 and a subsidiary assisted in the commission of acts of genocide in the Balkans during the 1990s.
“A lawsuit filed in a Northern Illinois federal court says L-3 and its subsidiary, MPRI (Military Professional Resources Inc.), helped arm and train the Croatians, who killed or displaced 200,000 Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia. The complaint states that, ‘Whether MPRI personnel took part in the genocide is not known and is not alleged here. But what is known definitively is that MPRI provided the means that enabled the genocide to occur.’”

Swiss commodity trading
The Tax Justice Network reports on the release of a new book dealing with Swiss-based trading companies and their role in the global commodities trade.
“Commodities traders often accept far higher risks than oil companies like BP or pure mining companies like BHP Billiton. They also increasingly build their own facilities, often in crisis or even conflict areas. The industry leaders’ increasing openness to risk was recently demonstrated in Libya, where Geneva-based Vitol, with an eye on forming new business relationships, delivered $500 million of fuel to the opposition on credit. And in newly-founded South Sudan, where transparency in the oil business is central for nation building and the peace process, Glencore sealed an obscure deal with the state oil company two days before the official declaration of independence.”

Project-by-project transparency
EarthRights International’s Jonathan Kaufman urges the European Parliament to go beyond existing US extractive industry transparency legislation by requiring companies to publish what they pay to foreign governments on a project-by-project basis.
“Project-level reporting is particularly important to ERI and the groups we work with because it will enable communities to hold governments to account for the resources that are extracted from their own land. It also matters to investors because company payments on various projects within a single country may be associated with different levels of political risk. (Think, for example, about how different it would be to make a large bonus payment to a government for a mining concession in a war-torn part of eastern Congo, as opposed to the peaceful, government-held western part of the country.)”

Voluntary principles
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues the upcoming Busan conference on aid effectiveness should aim for broad new principles that incorporate emerging players who are rapidly changing the world of development finance.
“Voluntary principles are not exactly the most exciting weapons in the international development armoury. Observed as much in their circumvention as in their fulfilment, they are painfully ineffective at creating the kind of rapid improvements most of us want to see. But they are often the best we can do, given the reluctance of powerful entities to submit to binding approaches. And they often set the tone of an era. We recognise the limits of what voluntary principles can achieve, but believe they will help nudge development financers towards better practices.”

Non-communicable diseases
The UN News Centre reports the international body has “launched an all-out attack on non-communicable diseases” with a declaration calling for a multi-faceted strategy to tackle risk factors underlying illnesses that account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths.
“Steps range from price and tax measures to reduce tobacco consumption to curbing the extensive marketing to children, particularly on television, of foods and beverages that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugars, or salt. Other measures seek to cut the harmful consumption of alcohol, promote overall healthy diets and increase physical activity.”

The big picture
New York University’s Alex Evans, frustrated by the perceived lack of human solidarity displayed in UN discussions, quotes former US astronaut Edgar Mitchell on the life-altering experience of seeing the entire planet from afar.
“We have all said over the years, if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different, because you can’t continue living that way once you have seen the bigger picture.”

Latest Developments, July 28

In the latest news and analysis…

It has been exactly a year since the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution declaring access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation as human rights, rights that continue to elude 900 million and 2.6 billion people, respectively. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was “not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers pay five or even 10 times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same areas of the same cities,” while making it clear he did not believe water should be free. But speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Bolivian President Evo Morales slammed water privatization: “Water is life. Water is humanity. How could it be part of the private business?” And Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians writes that Canada and Tonga are the only two countries who have not recognized the right to water and she reminds readers access to water is not universal, even in rich countries.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has released its review of American aid policies. The assessment was the result of the organization’s “peer review” process, meaning only members of the DAC – an even more exclusive group than the OECD which is  commonly described in newspaper shorthand as a “rich-country club” – can be “examiners.” In this instance, it was Denmark and the EU. The accompanying press release carried the headline “US, a generous donor, is committed to making aid more effective” and said the world’s biggest aid donor had “significantly enhanced its development strategies, policies, and programs” since the last review in 2006. The examiners do, however, note that the 0.21 percent of American GDP devoted to aid falls well below the DAC average and called on the US to “better incorporate and reflect the goals and strategies of developing countries.” They also point to “concerns about the role of the U.S. military in humanitarian assistance.”  The US Agency for International Development’s Donald Steinberg called the assessment “fair, objective and rigorous.”

Malawi’s government, reeling from the suspension of American and British aid over alleged human rights abuses and poor economic management, is trying to defend its actions, claiming those killed during last week’s demonstrations were not protestors but looters and blaming the lack of fuel and foreign exchange on IMF-imposed privatization. Under mounting pressure to devalue the national currency, President Bingu wa Mutharika has said: “I cannot devalue the kwacha because no one, including the IMF, is giving me convincing arguments on what will be done to deal with the rise of the cost of living that will follow the devaluation.” One bit of good news for Malawi’s embattled government is the country’s top ranking in the latest Hunger Reduction Commitment Index.

If Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab will not deal with foreign agencies, the international community should go through local NGOs, according to the Somali Relief and Development Forum umbrella group. “There are divisions within al-Shabaab and there are Somali NGOs that are able to work around al-Shabaab and bypass them, but there is hardly any international engagement with these local NGOs,” forum spokesman Mustakim Waid told the Guardian.

As the food crisis in the Horn of Africa continues to unfold, a growing chorus is calling not just for emergency relief but long-term assistance to allow the region to feed itself through future droughts. According to a Bloomberg report, World Food Program head Josette Sheeran thinks her organization’s Purchase for Progress initiative can help do exactly that by using “the agency’s buying power to integrate the world’s poorest farmers into the global food economy.” But a skeptical Frederick Kaufman, in a 2009 Harper’s Magazine piece, wonders how inculcating the profit motive in food producers will help the world’s poor: “Henceforth, the rural farmer could follow fluctuating prices with the technology of his mobile phone. The once indigent peasant could become a commodity trader and peg his sale to any time of the year. In this way, he could forecast, model, and leverage more financing. No matter that commodity speculation and grain hoarding had helped trigger the world food crisis.”

In a Transparency International blog post entitled “Saving the World? Prove it,” Krina Despota argues dodgy carbon offsets actually lead to more emissions since they are used as justification for polluting elsewhere. The biggest offset scheme is the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), through which major polluting countries can meet their Kyoto commitments by obtaining credits through investing in greening projects in other countries. But as of October 2008, “over 75% of all projects registered under the CDM had been completely constructed prior to being approved for carbon credits, suggesting that in some cases projects did not rely on financing from the CDM to be realized.” Despota also argues the CDM can actually provide incentives to pollute, as companies fiddle with emission levels in order to maximize the number of credits for which they are elligible.

A new Hollywood movie entitled “The Whistleblower” takes on the link between international peacekeeping and the sex trade as it played out in Bosnia during the 1990s. According to Ari Karpel of the New York Times, the film depicts graphic abuse and “implicates the United Nations, the State Department, private contractors and nongovernmental organizations in the sex trade.” Nevertheless, the star of the film, Rachel Weisz, tells the Times the true story has been toned down for public consumption: “In real life there were girls doing this as young as 8 years old.”

As reported yesterday, liquor giant Diageo agreed to a $16 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of bribery in three Asian countries. But if the US Chamber of Commerce gets the changes it wants to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, companies will no longer have to pay fines for paying bribes abroad as long as subsidiaries do the dirty work, according to Global Financial Integrity’s Dan Hennessey. Moreover, companies “with anti-corruption programs would also be able to use the existence of those programs in order to defend themselves from legal action.”