Latest Developments, September 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic pledge
Le Monde reports on French President François Hollande’s shift toward possibly allowing MPs to vote on military intervention in Syria:

“French socialists have forged a doctrine on sending armed troops abroad. In a 2000 report, François Lamy, a Socialist MP from Essone, pointed to the example of other major democracies to call for a change to the constitution. He proposed it stipulate that ‘the use of French forces outside national territory be subject to parliamentary consultation beforehand’.
The report was presented by the defense commission, one of whose members was François Hollande, the Socialist Party’s first secretary at the time. In keeping with his own and his party’s earlier position, François Hollande called for a parliamentary vote on February 26, 2003 over the possibility of a French intervention in Iraq. Ten years later, with circumstances as they are, it is incumbent upon him to show that the president of the Republic is keeping faith with the pledges of the former first secretary of the Socialist Party.” [Translated from the French.]

War of choice
The Washington Post reports on a new poll suggesting that Americans “widely oppose” missile strikes against Syria:

“Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.

The public expresses even wider opposition to arming Syrian rebels, which President Obama authorized in June. Fully seven in 10 oppose arming rebels, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.”

Turning off the taps
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama’s “top national security aides” have advised him to cut off it massive military aid to Egypt following July’s coup:

“Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that has declined to label Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s July 3 ouster a coup and has argued that it is in U.S. national security interests to keep the aid flowing. It would also likely have profound implications for decades of close U.S.-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials say the recommendation has been with Obama for at least a week but they don’t expect him to make a decision until after the full Congress votes on his request for authorization for military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday.”

Swedish asylum
The Local reports that Sweden has decided to let all its Syrian refugees stay in the country permanently:

“Sweden is the first country in the EU to offer permanent residency to refugees from Syria, news agency TT reported.
The decision covers all asylum seekers from Syria who have been granted temporary residency in Sweden for humanitarian protection.

The decision means that the roughly 8,000 Syrians who have temporary residency in Sweden will now be able to stay in the country permanently.
They will also have the right to bring their families to Sweden.”

Dwindling stockpiles
The Cluster Munition Coalition reports on the past year’s “record-breaking progress” toward eradicating the weapon that was widely banned by a 2008 treaty:

“During 2012, the Netherlands finished the total destruction of its once-massive stockpile of cluster munitions and together with Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and others, destroyed a total of 173,973 cluster munitions and 27 million submunitions—the most in a year since the convention’s adoption and far exceeding 2011 totals, when states destroyed a total of 107,000 cluster munitions and 17.6 million submunitions.

Major stockpilers have indicated they will complete destruction years in advance of the deadline, including Denmark and the UK (by the end of 2013), Italy and Sweden (in 2014), and Germany and Japan (in 2015).”

Costly objection
iPolitics reports that a First Nation in Western Canada may have to compensate the federal government for challenging a proposed Canada-China investment treaty:

“With just under a month to decide whether or not they’ll appeal a federal court dismissal of their Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) duty-to-consult legal challenge, the Hupacasath First Nation find themselves having to consider the possibility of a hefty cost award.

A government spokesperson told iPolitics that they’ve yet to determine their legal costs, but the Hupacasath have come up with their own rough estimates for what the government has spent defending the challenge.
‘They had five lawyers in the courtroom, compared to our two,’ said Brenda Sayers, an elected Hupacasath councillor.
Add to that the expert witnesses the government flew in from around the world, she said, such as Christopher Thomas — a research fellow at the National University of Singapore — and it starts to add up quickly.”

Taxes for Africa
The Africa Progress Panel has called on G20 countries, where most multinational companies are based, to take responsibility for “tax avoidance and evasion”:

“In Africa, tax avoidance and evasion cost billions of dollars every year. One single technique – transfer mispricing – costs the continent more than it receives in either international aid or foreign direct investment. Transfer mispricing includes the undervaluing exports in order to understate tax liability. Africa loses precious opportunities to invest in health, education, energy, and infrastructure.”

Institutional racism
The UN News Centre reports that a group of UN experts has called on the US government to examine laws that “could have discriminatory impact on African Americans”

“ ‘States are required to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists,’ said the Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere.
According to the 2011 US Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics, 71.9 per cent of the total number of victims of hate crimes reported to the nation’s law enforcement agencies were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias.”

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Latest Developments, May 3

In the latest news and analysis…

Toothless embargoes
Oxfam has released a new report that shows countries under arms embargoes have imported over $2.2 billion in weapons and ammunition since 2000.
“This figure shows the extent to which states have been flagrantly flouting the 26 UN, regional or multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period. Oxfam is calling on the international community to put an end to decades of irresponsible arms deals which devastate people’s lives by agreeing a set of legally binding laws when diplomats meet to draw up a new Arms Trade Treaty in July 2012. Oxfam wants to see the new treaty place strict, unambiguous and legal obligations on states to control the global trade in arms.”

Protecting domestic workers
Human Rights Watch commends Uruguay for becoming the first country to ratify the international Domestic Workers Convention.
“The treaty, which extends core labor rights to an estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers, will come into legal force when it is ratified by two countries.

The convention requires governments to provide domestic workers with labor protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity protection. It also includes specific protections for children, requiring governments to establish a minimum age for domestic work and ensuring that domestic work by children above that age does not interfere with their education.”

$300M allegation
CBC reports that a former executive with Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has been accused of using shell companies to pay the Gadhafi family more than $300 million.
“CBC has no proof of the substance of the allegations contained in the “poison pen” email, nor any evidence it relates in any way to the allegations [Riadh] Ben Aissa now faces in Switzerland.
Ben Aissa is also the executive who hired Cyndy Vanier, the Canadian consultant who is sitting in a Mexican jail. She is accused of plotting to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi — who had a long history of directing billions of dollars in construction projects to Ben Aissa – out of Libya last fall.

What is clear is that that the December email — amid media reports of Vanier’s arrest — sparked a cascade of internal company audits, revelations of missing millions and three high-profile resignations within the company, including that of Ben Aissa prior to his arrest.”

Military pact
Inter Press Service reports on opposition to a new agreement between the US and the Philippines on increased military cooperation.
“ ‘It is terribly discouraging that the Philippine government cannot figure out a truly healthy relationship with the U.S. – that is, a relationship that allows the Philippines to forge meaningful relationships with America as well as with its neighbours, including China,’ Gina Apostol, the author of a novel on the Philippine elite’s relationship with the U.S. military, told IPS.
‘We are too stuck on our historical relationship with America, even though it has been patently disgraceful and traumatic.’ ”

NGO accountability
The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz discuss the recently published independent assessment of the US government’s response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
“The report makes passing references to the lack of beneficiary and local involvement, the large number of NGOs operating in the country, and the fact that many organizations came to Haiti with no previous experience in disaster management.  Yet it states that “due to time and resource constraints, we were unable to explore these topics in great detail.”  Also, the report says that “no clear baseline or reporting mechanism was established” for NGOs receiving USAID funding.  These are big issues for the USG – especially if NGOs and private contractors continue to be the main channels through which the money is being disbursed.  The USG must look at various options to increase accountability—from easily-accessible quarterly reports to the standard accounting framework offered by the International Aid Transparency Initiative.”

Cluster bomb bill
Earl Turcotte, who led the Canadian delegation during the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, says his country’s proposed legislation concerning the banned weapons is “the worst of any country” that has ratified the treaty.
“The Harper government is seeking exceptions that, among other things, will allow a Canadian commander of a multinational force to authorize or order forces outside the convention to use, acquire, possess, import or export cluster munitions.
As well, Canadian pilots or artillery personnel can use, acquire, possess or move cluster munitions while on secondment or attachment to outside states. Canadian Forces can also transport non-party state cluster munitions on Canadian carriers.
The legislation further proposes blanket exceptions that permit Canadian Forces to, in their words, ‘aid, abet, conspire, counsel and assist non-party State forces’ to carry out or escape from acts prohibited to convention states.”

Gods & consumers
Author Homero Aridjis writes that he was not surprised to hear that Wal-Mart was accused of paying $24 million worth of bribes in Mexico, given the histories of the company and his country.
“Walmart already had a history of controversial behavior in Mexico. Most notably, in November 2004, despite widespread opposition, the company opened a 72,000-square-foot store within the boundaries of the 2,000-year-old city of Teotihuacán, which features the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon (“the place where men became gods” — or consumers?). Walmart has also built a supermarket on forested land in the resort town of Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo — though the permit for the building later turned out to have been granted for another site, on the island of Cozumel. The question now is who allows this, and in exchange for what?”

Legal hype
The University of Virginia’s Brandon Garrett argues that the growing number of companies being prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act does not necessarily mean that corporate accountability is thriving in America.
“Most of these FCPA cases are self-reported by the corporation itself — not uncovered by intrepid police-work. They should not make us think prosecutors now have enough resources to take on major corporations. After all, corporations routinely spend hundreds of millions of dollars on FCPA investigations and defense costs; prosecutors can hardly command such resources. Foreign corporations now pay the largest FCPA fines, and my data from the past decade shows that foreign corporations pay larger fines across a whole range of crimes.”

Latest Developments, November 23

In the latest news and analysis…

A disturbing precedent
The UN News Centre reports three top officials have issued a statement calling on member states not to adopt a protocol they say would weaken the current ban on cluster munitions.
“‘The protocol that is being discussed will lower the standard set by the [Convention on Cluster Munitions] and fail to address the well-documented humanitarian and development threats posed by cluster munitions,’ [UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay] stated.
‘If adopted, it will allow the indefinite use of cluster munitions produced after 1 January 1980 that meet certain technical requirements and that are prohibited by the CCM because of the unacceptable harm they pose to civilians.’
The adoption of this protocol would set ‘a disturbing precedent’ in international humanitarian law, creating – for the first time – a new global treaty that is actually weaker than existing international humanitarian law, they added.”

Tahrir ammo
Tree Huging Hoolah provides a “round-up” of weapons and ammunition allegedly being used against protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“There seem to be a growing number people in and around the Square angry at being fired on by weapons supplied from countries making nice noises about democracy and restraint in Egypt, and are starting to document markings and specifications of what’s being used. It won’t help stop any violence, but I’m generally in favour of causing a modicum of embarrassment to those governments and companies which continue to supply tools of repression, usually for profit, to those who they well know will use them to violate human rights and repress their own citizens.”

Putting the “lethal” in “non-leathal”
Al Jazeera asks how dangerous the so-called non-lethal weapons being used against protesters around the world really are.
“With over 36 killed in Egypt since November 19, and medical sources citing ‘suffocation after inhaling tear gas’ as the cause of many of the deaths, the non-lethality of the weapons employed – as well as how they were imported – has come under serious question.
Khalid Abdala, an Egyptian actor and activist, told Al Jazeera from Tahrir that he held international governments ‘complicit in everything that is happening here’.
‘International governments have replenished the stocks of bullets that have been shot at people right now, and the tear gas that is clinging to my lungs,’ he said.”

E-waste exports
A new makeITfair report calls on the European Union to ensure revisions to its legislation on e-waste put an end to the export of such hazardous materials to poor countries.
“Electronics waste in industrialized countries is growing three times faster than regular waste – the result of the fast pace of technological innovation and the consequent short life of many electronic products. Up to 50 million tonnes of e-waste containing hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury are generated worldwide every year. A vast amount of the European e-waste is exported to developing countries such as Ghana, a major hub for European e-waste. This causes pollution and health problems because the country has no adequate infrastructure to deal with the hazardous waste.”

Let them eat processed food
The Guardian reports global food and drink companies are increasingly targeting the world’s poor whom they view as the primary “vehicle for growth” for processed products that increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
“As diets and lifestyles in developing countries change, their patterns of disease are following those seen in industrialised countries in the north equally rapidly. But for poor countries there is a double whammy: they have started suffering from high rates of [non-communicable diseases] before they have managed to deal with hunger and malnutrition. The double burden is devastating both their economic growth and their health budgets.”

Free trade impacts
Embassy Magazine reports an environmental assessment of a possible Canada-India free trade agreement will not examine Canadian exports of asbestos to the South Asian giant.
“Canada exported $40.3 million worth of asbestos-related products to India in 2010, according to Industry Canada, and the World Health Organization says asbestos causes an estimated 8,000 deaths each year in India—a phenomenon described in a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary as an ‘epidemic.’”

Enabling corruption
Global Witness’s Anthea Lawson argues banks in wealthy countries must stop playing an integral part in the corruption that is devastating poor countries.
“Three entrenched, repressive and corrupt regimes fell this year largely because the people they ruled were fed up with epic levels of corruption.
That kind of corruption cannot happen without a bank. Dictators cannot steal millions of dollars from the state, nor accept massive bribes, if the money has to be kept under the bed.
Payments for natural resources like oil and gas do not arrive in dollar bills, they are paid by bank transfer; increasingly, bribes and rake-offs from commercial deals are too. Plus it’s safer to keep money out of the country — away from opponents, and accessible if you’re ousted from power.”

Accounting advice
York University economist Fred Lazar suggests many governments could make their perceived financial difficulties disappear simply by reporting their finances in the same way as corporations currently do.
“For example, many government expenditures are investments – capital expenditures. Expenditures on infrastructure clearly are in this category. Some of the expenditures on training, healthcare, education, R&D (e.g. NASA and the Departments of Defense and Energy in the US), and the judiciary also should be classified as investments, for all of them contribute to enhancing the productive capacity of the economy.
Such expenditures should be excluded in the calculation of the budget balance – the equivalent of a company’s income statement – and instead be included in the government’s cash flow statement, as is the case with investment expenditures by companies. If these expenditures were treated in this manner, most government deficits would disappear immediately, replaced with budget surpluses.”