Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Itching for action
Le Nouvel Observateur reports that France may not wait for the UN’s green light to launch a military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“ ‘We are preparing to intervene in the Central African Republic, probably just after France hosts the African security summit scheduled for December 6 and 7, but before if necessary,’ a French official said.

Since September, in addition to the 420 soldiers already on the ground to protect Bangui’s airport, the French army has discretely pre-positioned troops in various countries in the region in preparation for a CAR intervention.

The legal basis for the planned operation has not yet been established.” [Translated from the French.]

Detention quotas
National Public Radio reports that US law requires that at least 34,000 immigrants be held in detention centres at all times:

“The detention bed mandate, which began in 2009, is just part of the massive increase in enforcement-only immigration policies over the last two decades. The last time Congress passed a broad immigration law dealing with something other than enforcement — such as overhauling visa or guest worker policies — was 1986.

‘They’re trying to pick people up for either very minor traffic violations or other minor convictions that wouldn’t be considered serious, but that they can quantify as a criminal alien,’ says Nina Rabin, an immigration law professor at the University of Arizona.”

Privatizing nature
The Scotsman reports on the debate over “natural capital accounting” that is playing out on the sidelines of a UN-backed conference in Edinburgh:

“As the two-day inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital gets under way in Edinburgh, economic justice groups have condemned its aim to put a price tag on resources such as water, air, geology and all life on earth so companies can include these ‘stocks’ in their balance sheets.
Organisers of the United Nations-backed conference claim the planet is more likely to be protected if its assets are given a financial value, but activists fighting global poverty believe this will lead to speculators buying and selling environmental assets for profit.
It amounts to ‘privatising nature’, according to representatives of European protest groups who are today hosting a counter event called the Forum on Natural Commons.”

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development has released its annual Commitment to Development Index, which “goes beyond measures of foreign aid” to assess trade, migration, environment, etc. policies in 27 of the world’s richest countries:

“Finland does best on finance because of very good financial transparency and support to investment in developing countries. Switzerland comes last, mainly because it lacks financial transparency and does not have a national agency to offer political risk insurance. Norway takes first place on migration, accepting the most migrants for its size and bearing a large share of refugee burden, unlike the last-ranked Slovakia, which is relatively closed to migrants from developing countries.

Canada is not party to the Kyoto Protocol and has high fossil-fuel production, high greenhouse gas emissions, and low gas taxes, putting it at the bottom.

Last-ranked Sweden is proportionally the largest arms exporter to developing countries and does not help protect sea lanes.

In short, all countries could do much more to spread prosperity.”

Inconvenient laws
The Canadian Press reports that a Canadian company is demanding “expeditious” changes to Romanian mining laws so it can go ahead with what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine:

“The chief executive officer of Gabriel Resources Ltd. says it needs quick progress on a new mining law in Romania or the company will be forced to do ‘something radically different’ with its controversial gold project.
A draft bill that specifically would have allowed the Rosia Montana project, one of Europe’s biggest gold mining projects, to go ahead was rejected by a Romanian parliamentary commission last week.

Gabriel Resources CEO Jonathan Henry said Tuesday that the company’s shareholders are running out of patience.

He did not say what ‘radically different’ would mean, but said the company was looking at all of its options.”

Right to privacy
Foreign Policy reports that the US is leading the charge against German and Brazilian efforts to have online privacy recognized as an international human right:

“The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.
In recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age — U.S. Redlines.’ It calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so ‘that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States’ obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially.’ In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas.

There is no extraterritorial obligation on states ‘to comply with human rights,’ explained one diplomat who supports the U.S. position. ‘The obligation is on states to uphold the human rights of citizens within their territory and areas of their jurisdictions.’ ”

Generic fears
Intellectual Property Watch reports on rich-country concerns that India’s approach to intellectual property rights could spread to other places:

“Over the past 12 to 18 months, there have been several developments in India related to patents that have stirred foreign industry and government criticism, but have been applauded by public health advocates. These include high-profile court decisions such as Novartis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that cancer drug Glivec cannot be patented in India because it does not represent a true innovation. The outcome was seen as having a potential impact beyond India’s borders.
India also issued a compulsory licence on a [cancer] medicine that caused significant concern among the patent-holding industry.”

Sweet 16
The Associated Press reports that Illinois has become the 16th US state to legalize same-sex marriage:

“ ‘We understand in our state that part of our unfinished business is to help other states in the United States of America achieve marriage equality,’ [Illinois Governor Pat Quinn] said before he signed the bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln. He said part of that mission was to ensure that ‘love is not relegated to a second class status to any citizen in our country.’ ”

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Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Commitment to development
The Center for Global Development’s David Roodman and Julia Clark describe some of the changes to the latest edition of the Commitment to Development Index, which ranks rich countries “on how much their governments’ policies and actions support global prosperity”:

“Last year the troop surge in Afghanistan lifted the United States to first place on security. The CDI rewarded this military move because the U.N. Security Council continued to endorse the foreign intervention in Afghanistan. We decided in 2012 to impose an additional criterion for inclusion: an operation also needs to be reasonably describable as primarily intended to help the citizens of the country in question. The war in Afghanistan does not mean that test in our judgment. The 2011 intervention in Libya does.
The conception of ‘security’ has expanded beyond the use of force. Countries are now rewarded for participating in international security arrangements such as the International Criminal Court and Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel land mines.”

Setting priorities
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, sketches out his vision of a “food security first” approach to biofuel development:

“The best practice cases of small-scale sustainable biofuel production may not be geared for exports. This is more than a coincidence: once the primary interest of agricultural systems becomes the cheap, bulk production of export commodities, the positive outcomes of smallholder engagement and intercropping of local staples are always likely to be lost.
The Institute for European Environmental Policy estimated that, to reach its initial 10% target for renewables in transport fuels, the EU would have had to import 41% of its biodiesel and 50% of its ethanol needs by 2020. So even with lower targets, dependence on imports – and therefore pressure on the structure of farming systems in the global south – are always the likely outcome of EU biofuel mandates.”

Drones over Yemen
Reuters reports that a US drone has killed nine suspected al Qaeda members in Yemen, based on eyewitness accounts of “six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people”:

“While Washington usually avoids comment on the strikes in Yemen, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks U.S. operations, says as many as 56 civilians have been killed this year by drones.
Many Yemenis complain the U.S. focus on militants is a violation of sovereignty that is driving many towards al Qaeda and diverting attention from other pressing issues such as unemployment, corruption, water depletion and economic revival.”

Drone journalism
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan writes that her paper is not doing enough to inform readers about US drone policy:

“Since the article in May, its reporting has not aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as ‘militants’ — itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers.
Americans, according to polls, have a positive view of drones, but critics say that’s because the news media have not informed them well. The use of drones is deepening the resentment of the United States in volatile parts of the world and potentially undermining fragile democracies, said Naureen Shah, who directs the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia University’s law school.
‘It’s portrayed as picking off the bad guys from a plane,’ she said. ‘But it’s actually surveilling entire communities, locating behavior that might be suspicious and striking groups of unknown individuals based on video data that may or may not be corroborated by eyeballing it on the ground.’ ”

Paris massacre
France 24 reports that French President François Hollande spoke of “bloody repression” as he marked the 51st anniversary of the killings of Algerian protesters by Paris police:

“On that fateful day, French police – under the leadership of Paris prefect Maurice Papon – brutally crushed peaceful demonstrations of Algerian anti-war protesters who had gathered in and around the French capital to protest against a French security crackdown in Algeria.

More than half-a-century later, the details surrounding the October 17 massacre – including the casualty figures – remain murky. A day after the demonstrations, the left-leaning French newspaper Libération reported the official toll as two dead, several wounded and 7,500 arrests. The death toll, however, was disputed by the [Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN)], which claimed that dozens were killed.  Many of the bodies were found floating in the River Seine.”

Bribe banking
The Sunday Times reports that British defence firm GPT used the UK’s biggest bank to funnel millions in alleged bribes to Saudi officials:

“HSBC accounts in London and New York were used to provide the alleged kickbacks as part of a money-laundering scheme. It was operated by the defence company to channel cash into private company accounts in the Cayman Islands.
It is claimed the payments form part of a total £72m in sweeteners paid by GPT Special Project Management to a Saudi prince who is a close relative of the ruler, King Abdullah.
The disclosure will raise fresh questions about HSBC, which was recently implicated by the US authorities in the laundering of billions of dollars for drugs barons and terrorists.”

Asset seizure
Reuters reports that Ecuadorean plaintiffs say a court has given them permission to seize $200 million of assets belonging to oil giant Chevron:

“The plaintiffs from villages in the oil-rich Amazon won an $18.2 billion case against the oil giant over claims that Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, contaminated the area from 1964 to 1992. Damages were increased to $19 billion in July.
Among the assets ordered turned over are $96.3 million that Ecuador’s government owes Chevron, money held in Ecuadorean bank accounts by Chevron, and licensing fees generated by the use of the company’s trademarks in the country, the plaintiffs said.”

Beyond aid targets
The Guardian reports that France’s development minister says he plans to focus more on “policies with the potential to help or hurt poor countries” than on traditional aid:

“On agriculture, particularly the common agricultural policy (CAP), which has been criticised for damaging the interests of poor countries despite reforms that have curbed the worst excesses, Canfin said France – where farmers have resisted CAP changes – would push for a ‘greener, more sustainable’ EU policy. On trade, he said France was willing to delay a 2014 deadline for completing economic partnership agreements (EPAs). EPAs are disliked by poor countries for forcing them to open their markes to competition that they cannot withstand. Canfin said France was willing to change the deadline to 2016, to allow more time to take into account the reservations of developing countries.”

Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Commitment to development
The Center for Global Development’s David Roodman presents his organization’s latest Commitment to Development Index which assesses donor countries based on policies that go beyond aid levels, but he expresses concern over the US’s skyrocketing ranking as a result of its increased number of troops in Afghanistan.
“The approach in the security component to military activities is shaped by three ideas: some interventions, such as the NATO-led war to stop the serves from potentially committing genocide in Bosnia, seem like contributions to development; other interventions are much harder to defend; and the rule used to distinguish between the two kinds should be mechanical, to limit bias—”objective,” if you will. It was Michael O’Hanlon who years ago suggested the presence-of-an-international-mandate criterion. (As mentioned, the Afghanistan war has such a mandate.) But even O’Hanlon argued for exceptions, at the time having Iraq in mind. The Security Council did not sanction the invasion of Iraq, but it did sanction post-invasion activities, so a strict implementation of the criterion would have rewarded the latter. O’Hanlon argued against rewarding the occupation of Iraq since it was so thoroughly motivated by national security rationales, not ‘commitment to development.’”

Private police
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Indonesian police have admitted to receiving money from US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to protect the world’s most profitable gold and copper mine in the face of labour unrest.
“Accusing the workers of ‘anarchy’ and threatening a national asset, local police chief Deny Edward Siregar warned the police would take ‘stern action’ if the site of the picket line wasn’t moved by today. Union officials responded by saying they were going nowhere, setting the scene for possibly more violence.
Police spokesman Wachyono defined the foreshadowed ‘stern action’ as ‘opening further negotiations with union management’. However, five striking workers have already been shot dead by police, raising accusations of a heavy-handed and hostile attitude of security personnel towards workers exercising their legal rights to industrial action.

‘How can they enforce the law [impartially] if they receive bribes?’ said Samsul Alam Agus, [human rights group] Kontras deputy co-ordinator.”

Private soldiers
The UN News Centre reports that an expert panel is calling for the regulation of the “ever expanding” activities of private military and security companies.
“‘And it is not just governments who take advantage of their services, but also NGOs [non-governmental organizations], private companies and the United Nations,” [Faiza Patel, the current head of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries] added.
For the Working Group, ‘the potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability.’”

Record deportations
The Inter Press Service reports on the increasingly hostile environment for immigrants in the US, where a million people have been deported since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“The Alabama law [House Bill 56], passed by the state legislature in June 2011, is described as one of the country’s harshest anti-immigrant bills. It requires that police demand identity documents of anyone who they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully, and requires public schools to determine the immigration status of primary and secondary school students, while authorising school officials to report children or parents who may be in the country illegally.
It also establishes penalties, even jail time, for people who hire, rent to or even assist undocumented immigrants, by giving a ride to a neighbour, for instance.”

Toothless watchdog
The CBC reports on the record to date of Canada’s mining watchdog, a position which one critic has described as “a bogus PR job, as a cover for business as usual.”
“In October 2009, the federal government appointed a corporate social responsibility counsellor to probe complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses in developing countries.
The Toronto-based office, however, has only received two complaints in the past two years — one of which was recently dropped because the mining corporation chose not to undergo the voluntary investigation.”

Super companies
Oxfam’s Duncan Green blogs about a new scientific analysis of 43,000 transnational corporations that suggests a group of 147 interconnected companies was “able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.”
“The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere. But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).”

Global tax rules
ActionAid’s Martin Hearson calls on the G20 to deal with tax havens which cost poor countries three times as much in lost tax revenues as they receive through international assistance.
“ActionAid’s report, Calling Time: Why SABMiller should stop dodging taxes in Africa, demonstrated how one multinational beer company shifts £100 million of profits per year – the taxes on which could educate 250,000 children – out of Africa and into the tax havens of Mauritius, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Capacity building in African tax authorities is important, but without more fundamental reforms to increase transparency and change global tax rules, it will never be enough to prevent this kind of tax dodging.”

Helpful aid
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has called on G20 leaders to help Africa improve its infrastructure while making it clear not all assistance is necessarily helpful.
“The pressure is on how to translate the plan into purposeful action for November and avoid the pitfalls of past efforts – including short-term thinking, destabilizing capital surges, and carbon-heavy construction. Success will be measured by the amount of capital generated, and the number of projects realized, as well as by the extent to which G20 activities complement and synergize existing efforts without supplanting or fragmenting them.”