Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Rising toll
Reuters reports that the number of migrants found dead in the desert of northern Niger has climbed to 92, the majority of whom were children:

“The mayor of Arlit, Maouli Abdouramane, said 92 bodies had been recovered after days of searching – 52 children, 33 women and seven men.
‘The search is still going on,’ Abdouramane told Reuters by telephone. He said the victims were all from Niger but their final destination was unclear.

The bodies were strewn across the desert over a large distance, to within 20 km (12 miles) of the border with Algeria, a second military source said.”

True owners
Reuters also reports that the UK government has decided to make public a new database meant to reduce money laundering and tax evasion by “untangling deliberately opaque ownership structures” of corporations:

“ ‘This sets such an important global principle… You have to have someone who makes a stand on principle and then gets the world to follow. In this case it’s the UK,’ said Gavin Hayman of the anti-corruption group Global Witness.
Efforts to improve transparency in the European Union are currently being debated, and recent legislative proposals in the United States could tackle company ownership disclosure. Hayman said neither was expected to quickly follow Britain’s lead.
[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion have been complicated by the fact that Britain is seen as a market leader in providing access to offshore tax havens in former British colonies.
‘We’ve found the UK has been one of the pillars of financial secrecy in the past so this is quite a significant shift,’ Hayman said.”

The other 10%
The Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy, however, argues the UK’s newly promised public register of companies’ true owners will be “a damp squib of a reform”:

“Sure, 90% of companies will publish their beneficial owners – but they will be the ones where legal and beneficial ownership is the same. It is the other 10% who are the problem and many of those will actively seek loopholes in an arrangement if there is no way of proving if what they declare is right or wrong and the agency responsible for doing so is denied the resources it needs to enforce the law.”

On schedule
The BBC reports that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes Syria has destroyed its “declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons” within the prescribed timeframe:

“OPCW head of field operations Jerry Smith told the BBC that his team had ‘personally observed all the destruction activities’.
‘They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons,’ he said.

More than 1,000 tonnes of chemical precursors – the raw materials – remain to be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year, which our correspondent says will be a delicate and difficult process.”

Cholera update
Inter Press Service reports that there is “no end in sight” for Haiti’s deadly, UN-triggered cholera epidemic:

“In a single week between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, the Pan-American Health Organisation reported 1,512 new cases and 31 deaths. New cases are reported in all 10 departments.

The spread of cholera in Haiti, which has killed more than 8,300 and infected over 680,000 people since October 2010, has been blamed on Nepali peacekeepers who are part of the 9,500‑strong U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The United Nations has refused demands for compensation. Earlier this month, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the world body on behalf of the cholera victims.

‘I wish a creative solution could be found whereby the Haitian victims would get some modest amount of financial support on humanitarian grounds, without the U.N. having to give up its diplomatic immunity,’ [former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kul Gautam] said.”

New internationalism
The Sheffield Institute for International Development’s Jean Grugel writes about the need to “reframe international development as global justice”:

“Human rights are a vital tool for reframing international development in ways that set out our collective responsibilities to find a just global settlement. But to have traction, rights have to be understood as more than the traditional package of liberal rights. Other sorts of rights – social, economic, gendered, cultural – are also critical.
Action is needed much earlier in the life cycle of global injustice. It is not enough to protest once abuses are happening. Global justice means, above all, making arguments for urgent structural transformation to the global political economy.”

Vulture’s charters
The World Development Movement’s Nick Dearden points to the Children’s Investment Fund as an example of a sweetly named UK organization that uses bilateral investment agreements to “run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people” in other countries:

“Whether India’s policy was right or wrong is beside the point. Rather we have to ask whether it is the right of a British hedge fund to dictate the energy policy of a state. This is by no means an isolated example. Globally there are 2,833 bilateral investment agreements, many offering companies access to ‘dispute mechanisms’ which allow them to by-pass national courts and uphold their so-called rights over and above the duty of governments to protect and represent their citizens.
Back home, the owner of TCI, Chris Hohn, is one of the biggest ‘philanthro-capitalists’ in the world, investing profits in a mega-charity the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Even if multi-billionaire philanthropists could solve world poverty, they will certainly not do so when their profits are derived by undermining the sovereignty of countries to represent their own people.”

Science says revolt
The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein argues that the results of scientific research suggest humans need to take a stand against the current political and economic orthodoxies:

“[University of California, San Diego’s Brad Werner] isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.”

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Latest Developments, March 26

In the latest news and analysis…

UN peacemaking
Reuters reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended a peacekeeping force for Mali as well as the creation of a parallel combat force:

“In a report to the 15-member Security Council, Ban recommended that the African force, known as AFISMA, become a U.N. peacekeeping force of some 11,200 troops and 1,440 police – once major combat ends.
To tackle Islamist extremists directly, Ban recommended that a so-called parallel force be created, which would work in close coordination with the U.N. mission.
Diplomats have said France is likely to provide troops for the smaller parallel force, which could be based in Mali or elsewhere in the West Africa region.
‘Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali alongside the U.N. mission in order to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations,’ Ban wrote.
The parallel force would not have a formal U.N. mandate, though it would be operating with the informal blessing of the Security Council. The report did not specify a time limit for the mission.”

Cataract of weaponry
The New York Times reports that the CIA is helping arm Syria’s rebels:

“From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.

These multiple logistics streams throughout the winter formed what one former American official who was briefed on the program called ‘a cataract of weaponry.’ ”

Old habits
Agence France-Presse reports that France sent an additional 300 troops “to ensure the protection of French and foreign citizens” in the Central African Republic as rebels toppled President François Bozizé over the weekend:

“A tactical command post has been set up in the capital Bangui.
There were already 250 French troops stationed in the Central African Republic.
France has a military base in Gabon, home to a reserve of prepositioned forces regularly deployed during regional crises. Reinforcements had already been sent to Bangui in December during the first rebel offensive.” [Translated from the French.]

Big mistake
Agence France-Presse also reports that France has offered “sincere condolences” after a fatal incident in the Central African Republic’s capital where French troops guarding the airport opened fire:

“Two Indian citizens were killed. The injured Indians and Chadians received immediate assistance from French troops who took them to a medical unit, a defense ministry statement said.
In all, five Indians and four Chadians were injured, according to military spokesman Thierry Burkhard. The Indians are civilians who were working for foreign companies in the Central African Republic and the Chadians are police officers, members of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC), he said.” [Translated from the French.]

Investing in Africa
Reuters reports that new UN data reveals a surprising picture of foreign direct investment in Africa:

“Malaysia was the third biggest investor in Africa in 2011, the latest year for which data is available, behind France and the United States, pushing China and India into fourth and fifth positions.
France and the United States also have the largest historical stock of investments in Africa, with Britain in third place and Malaysia in fourth, followed by South Africa, China and India.”

Unintended consequences
The New York Times reports that back in 2011, the European Union “planted a time bomb” in Cyprus’s banking system that led to this week’s bailout/austerity agreement:

“[Former Cyprus finance minister Kikis Kazamias] was in Brussels as European leaders and the International Monetary Fund engineered a 50 percent write-down of Greek government bonds. This meant that anyone holding these bonds — notably the then-cash-rich banks of the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus — would lose at least half the money they thought they had. Eventual losses came close to 75 percent of the bonds’ face value.

‘We Europeans showed tonight that we reached the right conclusions,’ Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced at the time.
For Cypriot banks, particularly Laiki Bank, at the center of the current storm, however, these conclusions foretold a disaster: Altogether, they lost more than four billion euros, a huge amount in a country with a gross domestic product of just 18 billion euros. Laiki, also known as Cyprus Popular Bank, alone took a hit of 2.3 billion euros, according to its 2011 annual report.”

Sovereignty delayed
Jeune Afrique reports that France, which tested chemical weapons in the Algerian Sahara well into the 1970s, has signed a secret agreement to clean up the contaminated area:

“The existence of this facility for testing chemical and biological weapons was first revealed by the French press in October 1997. But, at the time, information highways were less efficient. The news had no effect on Algerian public opinion. In France, it led only to a superficial discussion on the use of chemical weapons. Fifteen years later, the return of B2-Namous in the news is having a far greater impact, stoking interest in an old state secret that neither Paris nor Algiers want to declassify. Algeria, whose ‘restored sovereignty’ long served to legitimize those in power, only recovered all of its territory 16 years after independence. Until 1978, about 6,000 sq km of its Saharan land, in the Beni Ounif region, on the border with Morocco, remained under French military control.”
[Translated from the French.]

Orphan MDG
The Guardian reports on new hope for the “global partnership” of the neglected eighth Millennium Development Goal:

“Devoid of clear targets, MDG8 talks in general terms about an open, rule-based trading and financial system, dealing with debt burdens, providing access to affordable essential medicines, and increasing access to new technologies. Goal eight also mentions fostering links between the public and private sector to drive better development.

Taxation has emerged as a key issue in terms of global partnerships as rich countries have failed to deliver on trade – the Doha trade round that was supposed to have benefited developing countries remains moribund – and development assistance is shrinking because of austerity in the west. The sums at stake are enormous.”

Latest Developments, December 4

Traffic jam, Fraser Canyon, Canada

In the latest news and analysis…

Rehabilitation
The Guardian reports that the question of whether or not rich countries should compensate poor communities suffering from the effects of climate change has become “a major new issue” at the ongoing UN climate talks in Doha:

“The concept is new for both science and policy, say observers. In the past, the debate was about how poorer countries could adapt their economies to climate change and reduce, or mitigate, their emissions with assistance from rich countries.
But in a little-noticed paragraph in the agreement that came out of the Cancún, Mexico, talks in 2010, the need ‘to reduce loss and damage associated with climate change’ was recognised by all countries. In legal terms, that potentially opens the door to compensation – or, as the negotiators in Doha say, ‘rehabilitation’.”

Red line
The Washington Post reports that US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have again warned Syria’s government against deploying or using chemical weapons, without making it clear what they might do about it:

“The administration has never publicly spelled out how it would respond, but one option is an airstrike to destroy supplies before they can be weaponized. Once the chemicals were ready for deployment, however, airstrikes would no longer be viable as they could release deadly agents.

Syria is suspected to possess the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons after the United States and Russia.”

Euro drone
Wired reports that a number of European governments are hoping the inaugural test flight of the nEUROn is the first step towards the continent’s “future of flying killer robots”:

“In fact, the nEURON won’t actually join any European air forces. Much like the U.S. Navy’s stealthy X-47B — which, as David Cenciotti of The Aviationist  notes, the drone kinda resembles — it’s just a demonstrator aircraft, meant to show that European companies can successfully develop an attack-sized, stealthy unmanned plane. Concept proven, the follow-on aircraft will both evade radar and release air-to-ground missiles, the Euros hope, thereby putting them at the front of the pack in emerging drone technology.”

Selling children
Reuters reports that a trial has begun in Paris for employees of French NGO Zoe’s Ark that was accused of kidnapping children from Chad for adoption in France:

“They face up to 10 years in prison and 750,000 euros ($975,400) each in fines for fraud, for being an illegal intermediary in an adoption and for aiding foreign minors to stay illegally in France.
The trial, which is expected to last until mid-December, relates to the charity’s activities in France before its workers left for Chad. Over 350 French families were promised a child from Sudan’s conflict-ridden Darfur region and paid up to several thousand euros each in the expectation of adopting.”

Weapons footprint
The Global Post reports on the international impacts of the enthusiasm that America, as the world’s biggest importer and exporter of firearms, has for guns:

“The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] says US companies increased production by 2 million between 2006 and 2010, bringing the total to nearly 5.5 million.
Three manufacturers produce about a quarter of that total. The top maker of pistols and rifles, Sturm, Ruger & Company, has facilities in Arizona and New Hampshire. Other major players include Smith & Wesson in Massachusetts, which produces the most revolvers, and Maverick Arms in Texas, the leading shotgun manufacturer.
Those companies also top the list of American firearms exporters, shipping about 110,000 guns, or 45 percent of total exports, in 2010.”

New politics
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that the future welfare of the planet and its inhabitants depends on changing the prevailing distribution of political power:

“In other words, the struggle against climate change – and all the crises that now beset both human beings and the natural world – cannot be won without a wider political fight: a democratic mobilisation against plutocracy. This should start with an effort to reform campaign finance – the means by which corporations and the very rich buy policies and politicians.

But this is scarcely a beginning. We must start to articulate a new politics, one that sees intervention as legitimate, that contains a higher purpose than corporate emancipation disguised as market freedom, that puts the survival of people and the living world above the survival of a few favoured industries. In other words, a politics that belongs to us, not just the super-rich.”

Words of caution
The Associated Press reports that the head of US Africa Command has warned against a hasty military intervention in northern Mali, arguing “negotiation is the best way”:

“Army Gen. Carter Ham said that any military intervention done now would likely fail and would set the precarious situation there back ‘even farther than they are today.’

The African Union has been pressing the U.N. to take immediate military action to regain northern Mali, and Ham said that military intervention may well be necessary. But he said the African-led collaborative effort that has worked in Somalia may be the right model to use in Mali. That effort generally involves intelligence and logistical support from the United States, as well as funding and training, but the fighting is led by African nations and does not include U.S. combat troops on the ground.”

Defending squatting
The Open University’s Steven Rose puts a positive spin on squatters, who currently face hostile laws and public opinion in Europe but make up over 10 percent of the world’s population:

“These squat neighbourhoods are often referred to as slums, shanty towns, favelas or bidonvilles. They are often characterised as grim places, with poor sanitation, high crime rates, drug gangs, and other problems. But it’s often a misconception, says Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters. He spent two years living in slums in four of the world’s largest cities: Mumbai, Nairobi, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro. ‘They’re not criminal enterprises. They’re not mafias,’ he says. ‘These are people, law-abiding citizens, workers. People who wait on the tables and clean the rooms in the tourist hotels. People help each other and take care of each other. These were wonderful places to live, once you step beyond the fact that they don’t have a sewer system.’

What the squatting dispute boils down to is a split between those who consider private property to be sacred, and those who would prioritise the right to shelter. Few people would happily forfeit a second home to squatters, but nor does it feel morally justifiable for a nation to have an estimated 930,000 empty homes while people sleep on the streets.”

Latest Developments, August 3

In the latest news and analysis…

0.7% rethink
The European Centre for Development Policy Management’s Niels Keijzer questions the continued relevance of the decades-old (though largely unmet) commitment made by wealthy countries to devote 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid:

“Measuring development efforts in a ‘post-0.7 world’ may therefore need a much stronger focus on actions in policy areas beyond aid; a reporting system would check how far donors promoted development other than by giving development assistance. This requires monitoring national policies and international policy positions on issues such as visa facilitation, banking secrecy, arms export, agricultural subsidies, fisheries and renewable energy.

The focus on ‘proving’ the effectiveness of ODA in splendid isolation – ie ‘value for money’ – continues. But is it now time to move away from it?”

Assault on Mother Earth
Nnimmo’s Reflections reports that a court in Ecuador has agreed to hear a suit against oil-giant BP on the grounds that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill may have amounted to a violation of the rights of nature, as enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution:

“In the suit the plaintiffs demand, among other things, actions on release of information, restoration, compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence. With regard to compensation, the demands are that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to commit to leaving untapped an equivalent amount of oil to the oil spilled in the Gulf’. Secondly, that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to redirect investment earmarked for further exploration towards strategies aimed a leaving oil underground as a more effective mechanism for compensating nature for the current impact on its climate cycles due to oil production.’ ”

Delta fiasco
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development have released a statement condemning the investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta:

“ ‘The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta is a fiasco. There is more investment in public relations messaging than in facing up to the fact that much of the oil infrastructure is old, poorly maintained and prone to leaks – some of them devastating in terms of their human rights impact,’ said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
‘No matter what evidence is presented to Shell about oil spills, they constantly hide behind the “sabotage” excuse and dodge their responsibility for massive pollution that is due to their failure to properly maintain their infrastructure and make it safe, and to properly clean up oil spills.’ ”

Drones and democracy
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that a top Pakistani diplomat believes US drone strikes are doing serious harm to his country:

“[High Commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan] also claims that some factions of the US government still prefer to work with ‘just one man’ rather than a democratically-elected government, and accuses the US of ‘talking in miles’ when it comes to democracy but of ‘moving in inches.’

‘What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.’
The army too risks being seen as impotent, he warns the United States.”

Strong words
The Citizen reports that former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa has said EU Economic Partnership Agreements are “a poisoned chalice and must be rejected,” likening them to a second Scramble for Africa:

“He  said the country would lose more than $62.4 million a year from tariff elimination when the EPA is fully implemented. He said the zero rating of taxes on imports, as among the EPA conditions, would put the country’s future production at risk as it would allow more goods from the EU, thus killing local industries.

‘Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884/85, which Balkanised Africa among 13 European powers as a guaranteed source of raw materials and market, the current contraption under EPA is the modern day equivalent of the Berlin Conference,’ said Mr Mkapa. ”

Saying no to REDD+
Inter Press Service reports that civil society groups in El Salvador are asking the World Bank to reject their government’s proposal to join an international anti-deforestation scheme they believe is bad for the environment:

“They argue that, beyond the praiseworthy aim of preserving forests in developing countries, the mechanism does nothing to enforce reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialised countries that are the prime causes of the pollution.
‘This is perverse logic on the part of sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases, like industry, energy generation and transport, which produce 60 percent of all emissions and are seeking to avoid responsibility,’ said Ivette Aguilar, an expert on climate change.
‘Rich countries do not want to change their consumption patterns,’ she told IPS.”

SEC scolded
US Senators Dick Lugar and Benjamin Cardin say there is “no excuse” for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s delays in implementing legislation that would require US-listed extractive companies to disclose all payments made to foreign governments:

“Our offices consulted with the SEC before we drafted the legislation and — at the agency’s urging — we gave it leeway to write the specific reporting rules within the confines of the law after consulting with industry, investor groups, the public, and other interested parties. The April 2011, deadline has passed. We have called for an investigation into the SEC’s failure to follow the clear letter of the law.

With a Commission vote not scheduled until late August, the lengthy delay has raised fears that the SEC may dilute the regulation, either by granting a broad exemption to countries that don’t want the public to know the sums they receive, or by limiting the specifics of the payments disclosed. The law is clear on both points: no exemptions, and project by project reporting. We urge the commission: follow the law and issue the rule.”

Fallujah fallout
Al Jazeera asks if the US is coming clean about its use of unconventional weapons in Fallujah in 2004 and the “possible link” with the Iraqi city’s high number of birth defects:

“ ‘Some kind of dust or material, whether it’s uranium, whether it’s some chemical we don’t know, must’ve got into the air, must’ve got into people’s bodies and into their food and their water … there are traces, most of the material are inside the individual parents,’ [according to weapons researcher Dai Williams].”