Latest Developments, September 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Offense first
The Hill reports that the US, which was already sending weapons to Syria’s rebels, has now also cleared obstacles to sending them defensive equipment:

“The United States is prevented from shipping gas masks and other ‘non-lethal’ protective equipment related to chemical weapons use under mandates in the Arms Export Control Act.
Obama’s announcement effectively eliminates those rules for ‘international organizations… [and] select vetted members of the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council,’ [National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden] said in a statement Monday.”

Global corporate accountability
Ecuador’s government has announced that nearly 100 countries supported its call for a “binding international instrument” concerning transnational companies and human rights:

“The Declaration led by Ecuador and adopted by the African Group, the Group of Arabic Countries, Pakistan, Kirgizstan, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Peru, gathers up the concerns of the countries from the South regarding the flagrant human rights violations caused by the operations of transnational corporations, that in many countries, they have left as large debts, large effects on local communities and populations, including many indigenous peoples.

This joint Declaration constitutes a milestone within the Human Rights Council of the UN, since for the moment; Ecuador has been the only country that has defended the idea of generating an international instrument about businesses and human rights. Nevertheless, after a hard work of lobbying carried out by the Ecuadorian delegation in Geneva, it has been possible to add support, especially of countries from the South which demand more equity and responsibility on behalf of the great transnational forces.”

ICC backlash
Reuters reports that the International Criminal Court could lose a big chunk of its membership due to its perceived lack of balance:

“Officials say suggestions are being made in the African Union for a pullout from the Hague court by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created it.
‘There is a proposal in the African Union, which will likely come in January, for all AU member countries to withdraw from the ICC because the court is seen to be targeting only African leaders,’ Tanzania’s government spokesman Assah Mwambene said.
The walk-out proposal could come even sooner, possibly at an extraordinary AU summit before the year end, following expected criticism of the ICC at the U.N. General Assembly this month.

All 18 cases so far before the ICC are against Africans, in eight countries. Most were either initiated or supported by the governments of those states.”

No number, no list
The Blog of Legal Times reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the US government’s claim that divulging even the vaguest of information pertaining to drone strikes could threaten national security:

“[Justice Department lawyer Amy] Powell argued that the CIA’s ‘no number, no list’ response—where the government deems exempt from disclosure even the number of pages of any responsive document—is appropriate.
The ACLU lawyers said in their papers that the CIA failed to show why the government should be allowed not to describe the content of any single document.”

Crosses and veils
The Montreal Gazette reports the results of a public opinion poll on Quebec’s proposed “charter of values”, which suggest many of the Canadian province’s inhabitants share their government’s selective interpretation of secularism:

“Two proposals in the package do get large approval. Fifty-four per cent of Quebecers agree that the crucifix should remain over the speaker’s chair of the National Assembly. Thirty-eight per cent disagree.
And a big 90 per cent of Quebecers agree public servants giving services or Quebecers receiving services should do so with their faces uncovered.”

Oil displacement
The Monitor reports on the impacts of oil exploration on land tenure in Uganda:

“The discovery of oil and gas has also caused the appreciation of land value even in rural areas that are now getting transformed into urban centres. The resources have also attracted investors and speculators who are acquiring chunks of land to strategise how to profiteer from the nascent industry. The oil industry has also sparked off a scramble for land that at times has left some communities to be displaced by new landlords that are procuring pieces of land from individuals that were formerly owned communally.”

Miner threat
The Globe and Mail reports that a Canadian company is demanding Romania approve what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine or face a massive lawsuit:

“ ‘If the lower house [of parliament] does reject the project, we will go ahead with formal notification to commence litigation for multiple breaches of international investment treaties for up to $4-billion,’ [Gabriel Resources CEO Jonathan] Henry said in a phone interview. ‘Our case is very strong and we will make it very public that Romania’s effort to attract foreign investment will suffer greatly.’

The Rosia Montana project has been held up by well-organized and well-funded protesters, ranging from local farmers who do not want their properties seized to make way for the enormous mine to billionaires such as George Soros and celebrities such as Vanessa Redgrave, for about 15 years.”

Expendable labour
The Guardian reports that a number of Western clothing brands are being accused of doing too little for the victims of Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial accident:

“The international union IndustriALL has called for brands to contribute $33.5m to those injured and the families of those who died in the accident with a further $41m to come from the Bangladeshi government and factory owners. While all the brands which met in Geneva said they were prepared to put up at least some cash, no agreement was reached on the structure or scale of compensation, partly because 20 brands which were invited did not attend including Walmart, Mango and the Zara owner, Inditex.
Samantha Maher of campaign group Labour Behind the Label, who attended the talks, said: ‘It is almost six months since Rana Plaza collapsed. After all the hand-wringing, workers are still facing a life of desperation when half of those brands whose products they were making have turned their back on them.’”

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Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Buying time
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised speech on Syria, said the military strikes he has been pushing for might not be necessary:

“Citing the new diplomatic efforts, Obama said in his speech Tuesday night that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria — a vote he was in danger of losing.
Obama’s move gives crucial time for negotiations on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.

Obama said the Russian initiative ‘has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.’
But the 16-minute speech generally made the case for military action.”

Less welcoming
Reuters reports that the “trickiest task” facing Norway’s newly elected Conservatives will be integrating an “anti-immigration, anti-tax” party into the new government:

“Although Progress has toned down its rhetoric, it is seen by some as too radical for government, and once had among its members Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in a gun and bomb attack targeting Labour.

Bringing Progress into government could force [Conservative leader Erna] Solberg to make concessions on spending, taxes and perhaps even make a symbolic gesture on immigration. But any shift is likely to be mild, analysts said.
In immigration, Norway’s hands are tied by international treaties, which limit its room to maneuver. And the economy desperately needs new workers as unemployment is under 3 percent and a steady influx of workers keeps the labour market from overheating.”

Nothing to see here
The BBC reports on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that no UK territory is a tax haven anymore, now that some of the world’s most notorious offshore financial centres, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, have promised to become more transparent:

“In the House of Commons on Monday David Cameron said he no longer considered it ‘fair’ to use the label, after recent efforts to ensure transparency.

The three Crown dependencies [The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey] all refer to themselves as International Finance Centres, which mean they are in the business of tax avoidance which is legal, as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal.
‘It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens,’ continued Mr Cameron.”

Contested values
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s federal government has suggested it will fight Quebec’s proposed “charter of values” if the province’s lawmakers vote to adopt it:

“ ‘We would challenge any law that we deem unconstitutional, that violates the fundamental constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion,’ Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told reporters in Ottawa. ‘Freedom of religion is a fundamental, universal value inscribed in our own Constitution, and this government will defend it vigorously.’
Mr. Kenney said he is ‘very concerned about proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion, based on their deepest convictions.’

Polls in Quebec suggest that a majority of the residents of that province support what the [Parti Québécois] is trying to do. ”

Dutch diversions
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations has released a new report suggesting that the Netherlands is the “biggest tax sink” for companies from crisis/austerity-stricken Portugal:

“The large financial flows from Portugal to the Netherlands and back again, show that investments from and to Portugal are not real ‘investments’ but rather ‘round-trip’ investments, in which Dutch letterbox companies are used to avoid paying taxes in Portugal. In the SOMO report a case study is used to show how the Portuguese energy company EDP uses ‘The Dutch Connection’ to pay considerably less taxes in its home country.”

Euro coal
350.org’s Tim Ratcliffe and Bankwatch’s Fidanka McGrath urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop its “retrograde” financing of overseas coal plants:

“Between 2006 and 2011, while the current energy policy was in place, 48% of the EBRD’s $8.9bn (£5.6bn) energy portfolio went to fossil fuels. Support for coal actually increased in this period, from €60m (£50m) to €262m.

In July, the EBRD released a draft of its new energy sector strategy, a roadmap for the next five years for investment and policy initiatives. Although the strategy claims, ‘the bank will promote the transition to a low-carbon model throughout the energy sector’, the document would keep the bank on course with fossil fuel development, providing no significant restrictions on the development of oil, gas, or coal mining and far too few constraints on coal power plants. The policy would also open the door for other controversial, dirty energy sources such as shale gas.”

Unintended consequences
Bloomberg reports on the warnings of “the world’s largest political risk consultancy” regarding the International Criminal Court trials of Kenya’s top two politicians:

“ ‘The start of President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s and Deputy President [William] Ruto’s trials could slow the legislative agenda, potentially pushing petroleum and mining code revisions into the first half of next year,’ Clare Allenson, an Africa associate with Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note on Sept. 5. Delays to policy making may be caused by ‘weeks long’ absences by the accused and while lawmakers who support the pair travel to the court to show their political loyalty, Allenson said.

‘Members of parliament risk raising local tensions over the allegations as the witness testimony on human rights violations comes to light,’ Allenson said. ‘Further politicization of the cases could cause low level unrest in areas most impacted by the violence, particularly the southern Rift Valley and the outskirts of Nairobi.’ ”

RWP revisited
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues that the current Syria crisis has made the concept of “responsibility while protecting” more appealing than ever:

“The reality is that if an un-vetoed majority vote is ever going to be secured again for tough action in a hard mass atrocity case—even action falling considerably short of military action—then the issues at the heart of the backlash that has accompanied the implementation of the Libyan mandate, and the concerns of the BRICS states in particular, simply have to be taken seriously. Those issues and concerns reflect the views of a much wider swathe of the developing world.”

Latest Developments, August 30

In the latest news and analysis…

No to war
The New York Times reports that a parliamentary vote has prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to say Britain will not take part in any military strikes on Syria:

“It was a stunning defeat for a government that had seemed days away from joining the United States and France in a short, punitive cruise-missile attack on the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for reportedly using chemical weapons against civilians.
Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in a short statement to Parliament afterward, Mr. Cameron said that he respected the will of Parliament and that it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action over Syria. ‘I get it,’ he said.
The government motion was defeated 285 to 272.”

Problems of conscience
Although the US and France are still keen to attack Syria, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias argues there are better ways for Americans to reduce suffering in the world:

“Historically, military intervention on the side of rebel groups has increased the pace of civilian deaths, not decreased it. More to the point, if you put arbitrary framing issues aside, the United States stands by and does nothing in the face of human tragedy all the time. Millions of desperate people in Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and elsewhere would love to escape dire poverty by moving to the United States to work, and we don’t let them. Nobody in Washington is doing anything about the ongoing civil war in Congo.

Another way of looking at it—the bleeding-heart, correct way—is that Americans ought to care more about the lives of people outside our borders. That we ought to be more open to foreign immigration and foreign trade to help bolster foreign economies. That when the Office of Management and Budget does cost-benefit analysis for regulatory measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it ought to consider the impact on foreigners.”

Black budget
The Washington Post has published bits and pieces of the US National Intelligence Program’s secret $52.6 billion budget, revealing among other things that the Obama administration has embraced “offensive cyber operations”:

“The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.”

UN inaction
Amnesty International argues the UN “singularly failed” to investigate murders and abductions while it was in charge of Kosovo after NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign:

“ ‘[The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)]’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo,’ said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s expert on Kosovo.
‘There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. They must be investigated and the families of the abducted and murdered must receive redress. The UN should not be allowed to shirk its responsibility any longer.’ ”

Legal troubles
Buzzfeed reports that US financial giant JPMorgan Chase faces at least 43 “material” lawsuits:

“Of course, the so-called ‘London Whale’ case that resulted in $6 billion in losses for the bank is getting most of the attention, with news this week that the financial powerhouse may settle with U.S. and UK regulators for about $600 million. And there’s also last week’s headline grabbing story that there is an inquiry into potential bribery charges stemming from hiring practices in its Chinese offices.
But other allegations against the bank span from fraud to breaching both its contracts and its fiduciary duty, among many other charges. According to SEC documents, JPMorgan estimates its combined legal losses could be as much as $6.8 billion — possibly more if unforeseen damages are brought this year. What’s more, the firm’s annual legal costs over the last two years have been about $4.9 billion each year.”

Secular demands
The Globe and Mail reports on the controversy over Quebec’s yet-to-be-unveiled “charter of values”:

“The measures being considered reportedly include a prohition on state employees from wearing religious articles in schools, daycares, hospitals and other state workplaces.
On Wednesday, [Federal Liberal leader Justin] Trudeau paid tribute to Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, saying that Dr. King ‘refused segregation … denied discrimination … refused to allow [people] to believe that they were second-class citizens.’
Continuing his speech before a crowd of about 1,500 supporters, Mr. Trudeau said, ‘We sadly see that even today, as we speak, for example of this idea of a Charter of Quebec Values, there are still those who believe that we have to choose between our religion and our Quebec identity, that there are people who are forced by the Quebec State to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices.’ ”

Cosmopolitan vision
Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech”, the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder lays out his own global dream:

“I have a dream that we will one day take seriously the idea that we are all created equal, not just within countries but everywhere; and that we will recognize that it is as intolerable that a person’s future should be mainly determined by the place of his or her birth as it is intolerable that people’s future should be determined by the colour of his or her skin.”

CSR misunderstood
Mark Hodge of the Global Business Initiative for Human Rights warns against corporate social responsibility strategies that treat poor people “as recipients of charity and not as citizens with rights”:

“[India’s] Companies Bill also seems to convey the inexcusable message that companies can somehow offset negative impacts in one area of their work with corporate philanthropy in another. An example many in India point to is Vedanta’s ‘Creating Happiness’ campaign promoting the company’s philanthropic contributions, at the exact time it is embroiled in accusations of human rights and environmental abuses in India and internationally. The Indian ministry of environment withdrew permission for Vedanta to continue the project due to some of these concerns.”