Latest Developments, September 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian hope
The New York Times editorial board welcomes the new agreement between the US and Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons, while questioning how realistic it is:

“Under the deal’s terms, Syria is required to provide a ‘comprehensive listing’ of its chemical arsenal within a week. That includes the types and quantities of poison gas, and storage, production and research sites. The agreement also requires ‘immediate and unfettered’ access to these sites by international inspectors, with the inspections to be completed by November. Also by November, equipment for mixing and filling munitions with chemical agents must be destroyed. All chemical weapons and related equipment are to be eliminated by the middle of 2014.
The deadlines are necessary to keep the pressure on, but meeting them will not be easy in the middle of a civil war, even if Mr. Assad cooperates. The United States and Russia have worked for 15 years to eliminate their own chemical arms stocks and still have years to go.”

Moving picture
IRIN reports that the International Organization for Migration’s newly released World Migration Report offers a “global snapshot of migrant well-being”:

“Overall, the study found that migrants who moved north gained the most, with North to North migrants faring the best, and South to North migrants also rating their lives as better than their counterparts back home. Migrants in the South fared similarly or worse than if they had not migrated, with long-time South to South migrants considering themselves worse off than both the native-born and their counterparts back home. More than a quarter of South to South migrants struggled to afford food and shelter, even after being in a host country for more than five years.”

French coup
Jeune Afrique reports that a former president of Madagascar has accused France of being behind the 2009 ouster of his successor:

“It is a revelation that, if true, is likely to embarrass Paris. In an interview on the private chanel TV Plus Madagascar, ex-Malagasy president Didier Ratsiraka, 76, said on Sept. 11 that ‘France asked me to help Andry Rajoelina remove Marc Ravalomanana,’ referring to events in early 2009 that led to the overthrow of the ex-Madagascar president.
‘I answered that I am not in favour of coups,’ he added before explaining that he finally accepted after it was explained to him that this was not a coup. ‘We agreed that Marc Ravalomanana would leave power without a blood bath. And after his overthrow, we should undertake an inclusive transition… Andry Rajoelina was on board,’ he said.” [Translated from the French.]

No money, no answers
The Center for Economic Policy Research transcribes an Al Jazeera reporter’s questions to a UN spokesman about the organization’s position on compensating victims of the UN-triggered cholera epidemic in Haiti that has so far killed 8,260 and made 675,000 ill:

“[Al Jazeera’s Sebastian] Walker: But why is the claim not receivable?
[Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo] Del Buey: Well, it’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of our responses to claims against the organization.
Walker: So you don’t have to explain yourselves?
Del Buey: No.
Walker: You are saying that not only do they not get compensation but you don’t even have to explain why?
Del Buey: Well, that’s exactly what I said, that’s the United Nations’ policy.”

No deal
Reuters reports that thousands of Nigerian plaintiffs have rejected a “totally derisory and insulting” compensation offer by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell over pollution caused by spills in the Niger Delta:

“Their lawyers said they will now go back to a British court to request a trial timetable.
The legal action is being closely watched by the oil industry and by environmentalists for precedents that could have an impact on other big pollution claims against majors.

A source close to Shell and another source involved in the negotiations told Reuters the company offered total compensation of 7.5 billion naira ($46.3 million).
Leigh Day, the British law firm representing the villagers, said the compensation offer amounted to approximately 1,100 pounds ($1,700) per individual impacted, without giving the number of people it says were affected.”

Outside assistance
The Australian reports that Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said the US was “very, very helpful” in the bloody final war against the Tamil Tigers:

“American satellite technology located the ships and enabled the Sri Lankans to hit them. Before that, the Americans had been somewhat ambivalent about the Sri Lankan struggle. They never remotely justified or approved of the Tigers, but nor would they supply weapons to the Sri Lankan forces. Yet throughout the conflict, Sri Lanka got most of its military hardware from Israel and Pakistan, two military allies of the US that would probably have been susceptible to American entreaties not to supply arms.”

GMO creep
The Guardian reports that agribusiness giant Monsanto is under investigation in the US over suspected crop contamination:

“The investigation was ordered after a farmer in Washington state reported that his alfalfa shipments had been rejected for export after testing positive for genetic modification. Results were expected as early as Friday.
If confirmed, it would be the second known case of GM contamination in a major American crop since May, when university scientists confirmed the presence of a banned GM wheat growing in a farmer’s field in Oregon.”

Above the law
Human Rights Watch argues that the World Bank “does not recognize its obligation to respect international human rights law”:

“The absence of a clear commitment not to support activities that will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations leaves World Bank staff without guidance on how they should approach human rights concerns or what their responsibilities are.

 Introducing a human rights commitment would include carrying out systematic human rights due diligence for every program, first to identify how its lending or other support may contribute to human rights violations and then to figure out constructive ways to avoid or mitigate the human rights risks.”

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Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Exceptionally dangerous
In a New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it “alarming” that US military interventions in foreign conflicts have become “commonplace”:

“The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

I carefully studied [US President Barack Obama’s] address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Lethal aid
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has started arming Syrian rebels:

“The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.”

Excessive murders
Al Jazeera reports that the Dutch government has issued a formal apology for mass executions in Indonesia during the colonial era:

“Special forces from the Netherlands carried out a series of summary executions in its former colony between 1945 and 1949, killing thousands.
In total, about 40,000 people were executed during the colonial era, according to the Indonesian government; however, Dutch figures mention only a few thousand.

‘They are apologising for all the war crimes, which the Dutch merely call excesses,’ [Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen] added.
The Hague had previously apologised and paid out to the widows in individual cases but it had never said sorry or offered compensation for the victims of general summary executions.”

New boss
Reuters reports that Mali’s newly elected government has announced plans to review all existing oil and mining contracts:

“ ‘If there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question,’ [Mines Minister Boubou Cisse] said.
Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, said the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and its results would be made available to the public.

Cisse said his ministry aimed to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around 8 percent at present to 15 to 20 percent in the long term.”

No strikes
The UN’s commission of inquiry for Syria has released its latest report on recent atrocities in the war-torn country, along with a statement making clear its position on the prospect of foreign military intervention:

“For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.

There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.”

Peddling wars
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has put out a press release suggesting Canada’s government wants to increase arms sales abroad:

“CADSI also took the opportunity to thank the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, for her department’s recent decision to provide financial support to CADSI to strengthen the Canada brand at major international defence and security trade shows and increase the visibility of western Canadian businesses at those events.
‘Our Government is pleased to partner with CADSI to help promote western Canadian companies on the global stage,’ said Minister Rempel. ‘The defence and security industries are important economic drivers in Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada is committed to strengthening these key sectors.’ ”

Words and deeds
The Guardian reports that the US has thus far failed to keep its promises under the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria is now under pressure to sign:

“About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.”

Divide and rule
Georgetown University doctoral candidate Nick Danforth argues that European colonialism’s most enduring harm has little to do with arbitrary borders:

“In Syria, the French cultivated the previously disenfranchised Alawite minority as an ally against the Sunni majority. This involved recruiting and promoting Alawite soldiers in the territory’s colonial army, thereby fostering their sense of identity as Alawites and bringing them into conflict with local residents of other ethnicities. The French pursued the same policy with Maronite Christians in Lebanon, just as the Belgians did with Tutsis in Rwanda and the British did with Muslims in India, Turks in Cyprus and innumerable other groups elsewhere.
The militarization of these ethnic and religious identities, rather than the failure of perfectly placed state borders to alleviate tension between them, explains much of violence in the Middle East today. Blaming imperialism is usually sound politics and good comedy. But in this case, focusing on bad borders risks taking perpetual identity-based violence as a given, resulting in policies that ultimately exacerbate the conflicts they aim to solve.”

Latest Developments, September 5

In the latest news and analysis…

G20 friction
As the G20 summit kicked off in Russia, Reuters reports that US President Barack Obama encountered “growing pressure” from world leaders not to attack Syria:

The first round at the summit went to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as China, the European Union, the BRICS emerging economies and a letter from Pope Francis all warned of the dangers of military intervention in Syria without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Putin was isolated on Syria at a Group of Eight meeting in June, the last big summit of world powers, but could now turn the tables on Obama, who recently likened him to a ‘bored kid in the back of the classroom’ who slouches at meetings.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, portrayed the ‘camp of supporters of a strike on Syria’ as divided, and said: ‘It is impossible to say that very many states support the idea of a military operation.’ ”

What’s missing
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is talking for the first time about air strikes against Syria, while a range of alternative scenarios are being floated:

“The latest is from Senator Joe Manchin III, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who proposes giving Mr. Assad 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and begin securing and ridding the country of its weapons stockpiles. Only if Mr. Assad refuses would the president be authorized to take military action.
‘We need some options out there that does something about the chemical weapons,’ Mr. Manchin said. ‘That’s what’s missing right now.’
The concept is already being debated by some government officials and foreign diplomats, though the White House has not weighed in.”

Rome pullout
Al Jazeera reports that Kenya’s parliament has voted to sever “any links, cooperation and assistance” with the International Criminal Court, which is set to try the country’s new president and his deputy:

“Many Kenyan politicians have branded the ICC a ‘neo-colonialist’ institution that only targets Africans, prompting the debate on a possible departure from the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said that Kenya had the support of African Union in this matter, and that other African countries could now follow suit.”

Open-pit protests
The Guardian reports on “the symbolic fight of our generation” against a Canadian-owned gold mining project in Romania that, if given the green light, would be Europe’s biggest:

“Thousands of citizens first took to the streets on Sunday, in cities across the country, spurred by the Romanian government’s recent draft bill to allow Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, to mine gold and silver at the Carpathian town, Rosia Montana.
Campaigners have criticised the “special national interest” status the bill would give the mine, which would allow the Romanian branch of Gabriel Resources, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, to move the few remaining landowners off the site through compulsory purchase orders.”

No teeth
Care International’s Gerry Boyle dismisses the UK government’s newly launched Action Plan on Business and Human Rights as relying almost entirely on “encouragement and exhortation”:

“As a society, we all bear responsibility for the actions of the businesses that build our wealth and deliver the products we consume, and so we have an obligation to ensure that companies operating in the UK uphold these basic standards.

So how can the guiding principles be enforced? The question of whether breaches should be a criminal offence is a complex one that requires more work, especially on how this would be enforced. It is however, a reasonable request that the Companies Act should give rise to a civil remedy that could be pursued by victims, shareholders, or indeed by the company’s own directors seeking to pursue redress where human rights abuses have occurred.”

Corporate shield
Harvard University’s John Ruggie calls on rich-country governments to do much more to ensure corporations do not violate people’s human rights with impunity:

“Exceptional legal measures may be needed where the human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended, as for example in conflict zones; and where it concerns business involvement in the worst human rights abuses. The international community no longer regards sovereignty as a legitimate shield behind which egregious human rights violations can take place with impunity; surely the same must be true of the corporate form. Greater clarity on this critical point would benefit all stakeholders.”

Two kinds of countries
In a Q&A with the Washington Post, author Teju Cole discusses his series of tongue-in-cheek tweets on whether the UK should be bombed for selling chemicals to Syria:

“It seems to me that, without quite thinking it through, we’ve divided the world into two: countries we can imagine bombing and countries we can’t imagine bombing. It’s a question of imagination. The idea that the US would launch missiles into London in 2013 is beyond absurd. But the tragedy is that it’s all too easy to imagine the U.S. launching missiles into other cities in other places in the world. I wanted to bridge that gap, in the little drive-by way of troublemaking that Twitter allows.

All that said, U.K.’s issuance of a license for the export of chemicals or holding arms trade fairs for whomever has the money does not not make Cameron a butcher like Assad. That’s one indelible truth. The fact that Cameron and Obama preside over needlessly vicious war machines is yet another. We can hold both thoughts in our heads at the same time.”

Unhealthy priorities
The Center for Global Development’s Amanda Glassman slams a recent US trade proposal concerning tobacco in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations:

“The proposal put forward by the US Trade Representative (USTR) last week in Brunei would reduce prices for US tobacco in low- and middle-income countries and make it more difficult for these countries to enforce anti-tobacco policies like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions.

A ‘carve-out’ for tobacco – where tobacco would simply be excluded from the terms of the TPP agreement – was proposed by Malaysia and makes sense. But the USTR worries that a carve-out would set a precedent that could be used to block a variety of other US exports on health grounds.”