Latest Developments, January 31

In the latest news and analysis…

Blue helmet talks
Reuters reports that, following the French military’s capture of northern Mali’s principal towns, the UN Security Council looks set to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers:

“Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had resisted U.N. peacekeepers becoming embroiled in an offensive combat mission but the recapture of the main Malian towns has made a deployment less risky. The Security Council is due to discuss the possibility soon, U.N. diplomats said on Wednesday.
“This development is extremely positive and I want this initiative to be carried through,” [French Defence Minister] Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio.”

In its newly released World Report 2013, Human Rights Watch criticizes America’s enthusiasm for depriving individuals of their freedom:

“The US incarcerates more people than any other country. Practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities. Increasing numbers of non-citizens are held in immigration detention facilities although many are not dangerous or at risk of absconding. Federal prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry have escalated.

As of 2010, the US maintained the world’s largest incarcerated population, at 1.6 million, and the world’s highest per capita incarceration rate, at 500 inmates per 100,000 residents.”

Development fail
The Toronto Star reports that one Canadian NGO is having second thoughts about its participation in a federal government program that pairs up civil society organizations and mining companies for overseas development projects:

“ ‘Would we try it again? Probably not,’ Rosemary McCarney, [Plan Canada’s] president, said in an interview with the Toronto Star. ‘It’s upsetting to donors. People are mad. The reality is that working with any mining company is going to be a problem. There are going to be (employee) strikes and spills. Is it worth the headache? Probably not.’

[The Canadian International Development Agency] is giving Plan $5.6 million over five years to run an educational program in Burkina Faso. Iamgold, which operates a gold mine in the West African country, pledged another $1 million per year to the project. Plan has also committed $1 million. ”

Outsourcing radiation
Yale Environment 360 reports on concerns over Australian-based Lynas Corporation’s shipping of rare earths from Australia, where they are mined, to Malaysia for processing:

“The plant lies in an industrial zone atop reclaimed swampland, just 12 miles from Kuantan, a city of 600,000. The chief worry is that the rare earth elements are bound up in mineral deposits with the low-level radioactive element thorium, exposure to which has been linked to an increased risk of developing lung, pancreatic, and other cancers.

The [Institute for Applied Ecology] study faults a Lynas plan to dispose of wastewater through an open channel rather than a closed pipeline; a refusal by the company to disclose what the plant’s exact chemical byproducts will be; and a temporary waste storage facility that the institute predicts will cause radioactive leakage ‘even under normal operating conditions.’ ”

Treeckle down
The Guardian reports that the World Bank’s own evaluators say the billions it has invested in forestry over the last decade have helped commercial loggers more than poor people:

“The World Bank funded 345 major forestry projects in 75 countries in the decade to July 2011. The [Independent Evaluation Group] panel, which visited many of the projects and interviewed hundreds of people, criticised the bank strongly for:
• Continuing to support industrial logging.
• Not involving communities in decision-making.
• Assuming that benefits would accrue to the poor rather than the rich and powerful.
• Paying little attention to rural poverty.”

Good and bad murder
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes that the current US administration fiercely opposes extrajudicial killings, except for the kind that it carries out routinely in places like Pakistan and Yemen:

“The Obama administration deserves credit for strongly endorsing an extension of the mandate of the U.N. special rapporteur of extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and for repeatedly fighting to include language in General Assembly resolutions that specifically condemn extrajudicial killings of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Obama administration officials have also been willing to discuss targeted killings with the special rapporteurs, albeit in general terms. However, as the current mandate-holder, Christopher Heyns, observed after a two-day ‘interactive dialogue’ with U.S. officials in June: ‘I don’t think we have the full answer to the legal framework, we certainly don’t have the answer to the accountability issues. My concern is that we are dealing here with a situation that creates precedents around the world.’ This is exactly what his predecessors observed and warned about over the past ten years.”

Defining sustainability
Inter Press Service reports on concerns over the lack of guidelines in the “sustainable investment sector”:

“One significant point of concern among some environmentalists, for instance, is that investment funds will look to strengthen their ‘green’ credentials by choosing to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels – the biofuel products that to a great degree are fuelling the purchases of massive swaths of arable land across parts of Africa by Western corporations.

‘Investment is necessary, but only if investment criteria are first vetted by local communities, to incorporate labour, environmental and social concerns. Given that no such standards exist, and given that corporate accountability remains a major difficulty, this is extremely problematic,’ [according to the Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal].”

Social contract sans frontières
UK shadow secretary for international development Ivan Lewis MP claims to lay out an “ambitious vision for a progressive post-2015 development framework”:

“Ultimately, the new framework must be developed through an authentic and equal partnership. Gone are the days when G8 governments could impose their views on the rest of the world.

Trade, jobs, migration, the cost of living, the impact of climate change, our security are all profoundly affected by factors beyond our borders. One Nation: One World is our best and only route to fairness and prosperity in the future. But our values mean globalisation must work for the many not the few and we have a particular duty to reassure people that we understand the insecurity this rapid change is creating. In the 21st century to be a British patriot is to be an internationalist.”

Latest Developments, January 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Resource nationalism
British consulting group Maplecroft has added “resource nationalism” in some of the world’s poorest countries to the latest edition of its annual Political Risk Atlas, which identifies potential problems around the globe for businesses and investors.
“Potential actions by governments can include nationalising an entire industry. For example, in August 2011, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez announced his intention to nationalise the country’s gold industry. Likewise in Guinea in 2010, the state sought a renegotiation of contracts, saying it would become a minority shareholder in all mining contracts. Comparable events have occurred in 2011 in other parts of South America and Africa and are likely to be repeated, especially if a global economic slowdown begins to cut into government tax revenues.”

Fueling hunger
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott welcomes the end of billions in US subsidies for biofuels but laments the fact that “advanced biofuels that are not food-based are still not available.”
“For developing countries, that means that corn-based ethanol will remain the major biofuel in the United States, diverting a third or more of the corn crop and keeping upward pressure on food prices. The elimination of the blenders’ credit will do little to change that because, while the subsidy bolstered producer profitability when corn prices spiked in 2008 and again last year, it was not a major factor driving demand for ethanol. The congressional mandate requiring that biofuels be blended into gasoline put a floor under the market, which encouraged investment.  Thus, actual production has exceeded the mandated level in every year because oil prices have been high enough to make ethanol competitive.”

Sins of emission
Mongabay reports on an Atlanta-based company that emits more greenhouse gases than Finland and owns the top three facilities on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the top 100 sources of emissions in the country.
“For its part, Southern Company told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that their emissions are ‘indicative’ of their power plants ‘being among the nation’s largest generators of electricity,’ adding that, ‘Southern Company complies with all environmental regulations and supports transparency in emissions reporting. The company is a leader in environmental research, development and implementation.’ Southern company serves around 4 million people. In 2014 the corporation is opening a new coal plant in Mississippi that will reportedly capture 60 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
According to its records Southern Company spent over $8 million in lobbying the U.S. government last year. A profile of the company on, run by nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, reads ‘Southern has been one of the biggest proponents for electricity deregulation” and “gives most of its money to Republicans.’ ”

Re-assigning blame
The New School for Social Research’s Tarak Barkawi is perplexed by the use of the word “inhuman” to describe a video apparently showing US marines urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
“For senior US officials to help purvey accusations of the worst kind against the US military – as inhuman – makes little sense. While offering assurances that they will clean house, they should strongly distance themselves from the notion that this is a peculiarly US issue. Iraqis, Afghans, Americans and others have been mutilating each others’ corpses for some years now.
Such officials ought to remember also that these are the kinds of things that happen in the wars they are themselves directing. As the Japanese officer quoted above remarked, “it is the war that forces us to do the killing”.
For the rest of us in the liberal-minded citizenry, we would do well to recall that wars are initiated and sustained by leaders and governments, and by the powerful interests and passions that back them.
To vent frustration for this situation by easy condemnation of some young enlisted marines is a bit like pissing on corpses.”

Corporate charity
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie asks if “big company charity” is really better for the poor than “transforming core business practices” would be.
“In Western Union’s case, the big issue is transaction charges. There is a strong case that simply giving money to the poor (especially women) is the best way to help them out of poverty. So, without doubting the good work being done by Western Union, is spending through a foundation more effective than simply reducing the transaction charge and letting poor people purchase the things they know they need, such as better food, drugs or schooling?

Fundamentally, we should be wary of applauding corporates for charitable giving which, generally speaking, is concerned as much with PR as development outcomes, and is essentially funded by the taxpayer or consumer anyway.”

Demanding justice
Oxfam’s Farah Karimi argues “changing the division of power” in the world is necessary to ensure everyone has access to land, food, water and other essential but increasingly scarce resources.
“There is a third challenge, besides increased scarcity and shrinking political space: the current governance gap. The old governance system dominated by Western industrialized countries is in decay, while a new system that reflects the new global power relations isn’t yet functioning. Of course the G20 has emerged– but key issues such as poverty, justice and sustainable development don’t really feature on the G20’s agenda. The power and impact of globally operating companies is growing, enhancing the need for global governance. But the G20 doesn’t at all succeed in addressing vital global challenges or guaranteeing global goods.”

That which shall not be named
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a speech by World Health Organization head Margaret Chan, in which she praised the global body for its “consistent ability” to forge agreements on fair IP rules, though as the article goes on to say, the issue of counterfeit medicines has been particularly problematic.
“Chan did not directly mention the issue of counterfeit and substandard medical products by name, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding acceptable words by which to refer to it. The issue of “substandard/spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit medical products” – as it has been dubbed by member states in an effort to appease all sides – has been controversial at WHO in recent years. But members managed to agree in October on a new mechanism for addressing the issue.”