Latest Developments, November 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Generic shutdown
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has voted down a bill that would have allowed Canadian companies to make generic drugs for sale at discount prices in poor countries:

“It was an attempt to untie the knots in [Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime], which came into law in 2004 under a Liberal government. While the goal of the access-to-medicines regime has been widely lauded, it is fraught with red tape and, in eight years, has been used to send just two batches of one generic drug to one country.

But even Canada’s brand-name drug manufacturers said they were not opposed to seeing Bill C-398 progress through Parliament.”

No UN money
Reuters reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed an “offensive military operation” in northern Mali but stopped short of offering financial support for the intervention:

“One Security Council diplomat was furious at Ban’s recommendation against granting the [African Union] request for U.N. funding for the operation, which U.N. diplomats estimate will cost $300 million to $500 million.
.…
Ban suggested that the funding for the initial military combat operations could be through ‘voluntary or bilateral contributions’ – which diplomats said meant European Union member states would be asked to cover costs.”

Fools rush in
In an interview with Libération during a diplomatic mission to Paris, the leader of the Tuareg separatist group Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), Bilal ag-Achérif, argued military intervention in Mali’s north would be ill-advised at this time:

“One cannot make a prescription without using a stethoscope on the patient, without consulting the people of Azawad. Such a military operation, with troops that know nothing of the terrain, would trigger disorder, spread the threat of terrorism throughout West Africa and increase drug trafficking. It could cause a lot of collateral damage. How to distinguish the terrorists from the others? They wear the same clothes.” [Translated from the French.]

Global theft
Global Witness calls for the investigation into nearly $1 billion embezzled from Kabul Bank to extend well beyond Afghanistan’s borders:

“ ‘Donors, auditors and the international banks involved in this scandal all have questions to answer,’ said [Global Witness’s Gavin] Hayman. ‘Which banks accepted corrupt money from Kabul Bank shareholders or politically exposed persons? What measures did they take to assure themselves that the funds were not the proceeds of corruption? The answers to these questions are necessary to understand why so much corrupt money was able to flood the international financial system, to facilitate the recovery of stolen assets, and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.’
Global Witness added that countries with assets from Kabul Bank, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Switzerland must freeze and return the assets stashed in their private banks, and launch inquiries into how the money ended up within their borders.”

Lifting the corporate veil
Bloomberg reports that a hearing pitting Ecuadorean plaintiffs against oil giant Chevron in a Canadian court marks the first step in “a global collection effort that includes seizure attempts in Argentina and Brazil”:

“A group of 47 Ecuadoreans have asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to seize Chevron assets in Canada, ranging from an oil sands project to offshore wells, to satisfy a [$19 billion] 2011 court ruling in the Latin American nation that ordered the company to pay for oil pollution dating to the 1960s.

The Ecuadorean plaintiffs, from the remote northern Amazon River basin, are seeking enforcement of the judgment outside their home country because Chevron has no refineries, oil wells, storage terminals or other properties in the nation.

The Ecuadoreans face an ‘uphill battle’ because they must convince the court that Chevron and its Canadian operations should be treated as one entity rather than separate companies, said Barry Leon, a partner and head of the international arbitration group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP in Ottawa.
‘The expression that gets used legally is “lifting the corporate veil” and disregarding the separate personalities,’ Leon said. ‘The courts generally, in Canada and elsewhere, have been reluctant to do that.’ ”

Nuke upgrade
Wired reports that the US, whose current president earlier in his term called for “a world without nuclear weapons,” has begun a $10 billion overhaul of its European nuclear arsenal:

“A 2008 Secretary of Defense task force against underestimating the ‘political value our friends and allies place on these weapons, the political costs of withdrawal, and the psychological impact of their visible presence.’ But the same report notes that U.S. European Command — the Pentagon’s top generals in the region – ‘believ[e] there is no military downside to the unilateral withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe.’ After all, America has thousands of additional warheads that could be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers, and submarines.”

Cancellation fallout
Reuters reports that the US is taking heat for calling off talks on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which had been scheduled for December:

“The postponement ‘will have a negative impact on regional security and the international system to prevent nuclear proliferation as a whole,’ Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said in a statement.
Iran, which is accused by the West of developing a nuclear weapons capability, said this month it would participate in the talks that had been due to take place in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked about the U.S. announcement, Iranian nuclear envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told state broadcaster Press TV from Vienna:
‘It is a serious setback to the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and this is a clear sign that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free of nuclear weapons.’

The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed at a 2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 NPT, a treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear arms in the world.”

Chased away
A new Amnesty International report calls for an immediate end to forced evictions of thousands of Roma migrants living in France:

“ ‘France has failed to include international human rights standards against forced evictions in its domestic legal system. As a result, evictions of informal settlements where Roma live generally take place without adequate prior information, consultation or notice to residents,’ [according to Amnesty’s John Dalhuisen].
‘In most cases, alternative housing is not provided and entire families are left homeless. They have no choice but to re-establish their homes in another informal settlement elsewhere, and schooling and medical treatment are interrupted as a result.’ ”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, April 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Setting a precedent
The Uxbridge Gazette reports on an asbestos-related UK court ruling that the plaintiff’s lawyers say represents a landmark in the fight for corporate accountability.
“Historically, parent companies have been able to avoid any liabilities arising from work undertaken at its subsidiaries, treating them as separate entities where one company cannot be found responsible for the actions of another. Todays (Wednesday) decision will mean that parent companies can be held liable for the practices of their subsidiaries irrespective of the corporate veil, according to Mr Chandler’s legal team.
The judgment, it believes, will not only have far reaching ramifications for companies in this country with subsidiaries in the UK but also multinational companies headquartered in the UK with subsidiaries in developing countries.”

Chief’s letter
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reports that Canada’s top First Nations chief, Shawn Atleo, has written a letter to the federal government slamming its lack of consultation over proposed changes to environmental assessments of industrial projects as “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
“At stake but not mentioned in Atleo’s letter is Enbridge’s massive Northern Gateway Pipeline project which is broadly opposed by First Nations. The project, however, is backed by the Conservative government which says piping Alberta bitumen to the British Columbia coast to satiate China’s oil-thirsty economic machinery is in Canada’s national interest.
‘Thirty years after the Constitution recognized and affirmed Aboriginal and Treaty rights, it is an alarming development that Canada would take such steps that will potentially further undermine processes that already do not adequately address clear duties for consultation and accommodation,’ wrote Atleo, in the letter, dated the April 20, 2012.”

Dam tensions
Inter Press Service reports on the labour troubles plaguing hydroelectric dam construction in Brazil.
“A year ago, [trade unionist Altair Donizete de Oliveira] had predicted that unrest would break out again at Jirau because the dam is being built by a consortium controlled by a foreign company, the French utility GDF Suez.
Analysing the factors fuelling the conflicts, Oliveira said ‘Brazilian companies have a heart,’ while foreign firms only use cold logic based on technical considerations. He also mentioned cultural differences.”

Writing about Africa
Morehouse College’s Laura Seay writes that the simple solution to poor Western media coverage of Africa is to follow the BBC model of hiring African journalists.
“There’s no reason that other major media providers couldn’t hire local reporters to improve their coverage as well. Rather than relegating them to second-tier or co-author status, why not hire Africans as country or regional correspondents? A reporter does not have to be Caucasian to provide objective and well-written reporting from the continent, and in many cases, this reporting is more nuanced than that of an international correspondent who spends five days reporting a story. For example, by far the most thoughtful reporting and analysis on Ugandan reactions to the Kony 2012 viral video came not from American journalists, but from Ugandan reporter Angelo Izama who, to the New York Times‘ credit, was able to publish an opinion article in its pages. Why can’t the Times hire Izama or someone equally qualified to report on Uganda full time?”

Post-2015 problem
Anti-poverty activist Lysa John and Oxfam’s Stephen Hale argue the discussion around establishing successors to the Millennium Development Goals is distressingly one-sided.
“Where are the voices of the poor in this process? The conversation at present is overwhelmingly between northern governments and thinktanks. The most glowing achievements in the MDG success story have been the result of social and economic initiatives in the global south. Most believe that traditional donor countries have failed to meet the commitment for aid and partnership spelled out in the infamously catch-all goal eight – to develop a global partnership for development.
This really matters. Unless there is far broader involvement and ownership of the next round of goals, there will be no agreement on them. Developing countries and the ‘emerging’ economies must be co-creators of this process. The UN plans to consult civil society in 50 countries. But civil society groups and coalitions in the south need financial support to help them carry out their own independent reflection and mobilisation on this, not simply an invitation to participate in the UN consultation.”

Many centres
In a Q&A with IRIN, Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom discusses the concept of polycentrism as it relates to managing the planet and its resources.
“Part of my discouragement with the international negotiations is that we have gotten riveted into battles at the very big level over who caused global change in the first place and who is responsible for correcting [it]. It will take a long time to resolve some of these conflicts. Meanwhile, if we do not take action, the increase to greenhouse gas collection at a global level gets larger and larger. While we cannot solve all aspects of this problem by cumulatively taking action at local levels, we can make a difference, and we should.

We need to get out of thinking that we have to be moving the same everywhere. We need to be recognizing the complexity of the different problems being faced in a wide diversity of regions of the world. Thus, really great solutions that work in one environment do not work in others. We need to understand why, and figure out ways of helping to learn from good examples as well as bad examples of how to move ahead.”

Aiming high on the ATT
Oxfam’s Ed Cairns presents a new paper that argues national governments must not compromise in the quest for a tough Arms Trade Treaty at this summer’s UN negotiations.
“But there’s no point in any new regulation unless it works – to make the market operate for the public good. And that applies every bit as much to a UN conference to agree a useful Arms Trade Treaty. The vast majority of governments want an effective Treaty that will have a practical impact on curbing the irresponsible arms deals that fuel human rights abuses or war crimes – or waste a vast amount of money that could be better spent on, say, development. But like every idea for effective regulation, there are those who want to water it down.  On the arms trade, they’re governments like Syria and Iran, and – an odd companion – the US, which may have made a catastrophic error when it insisted that the process to agree the Treaty should be by consensus.”

Latest Developments, December 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Better than nothing
Mother Jones reports on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” which prevented the COP 17 climate summit from going down as a total disaster but leaves much still to be negotiated and done.
“While it’s notable that the US, China, and India agreed to creating a legal pathway, there was still concern from developing countries that too much burden had been shifted to them. China expressed concern that the developed nations were not doing enough. ‘It is not what is said by countries it is what is done by countries, and many are not realizing their commitments,’ said Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead negotiators. ‘We’ve been talking about this for 20 years, they’re still not being acted upon … We want to see your real actions.’”

Enabling corruption
A new report by the Bond Anti-Corruption Group calls on the British government to do more in preventing UK banks and companies from “fuelling and facilitating” corruption in other countries.
“The failure to act here in the UK when it comes to enforcing bribery laws and tackling dirty money has devastating effects on developing countries, undermining good governance and exacerbating poverty,” according to the Bond Anti-Corruption Group’s Melissa Lawson.

Business & human rights
The Institute for Human Rights and Business has released its Top 10 list of emerging business and human rights issues for 2012, among which is “providing legal redress for business participation in human rights violations.”
“For over a decade victims of human rights abuses around the world have turned to the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) for redress in the form of monetary compensation. Of the over 100 cases filed (which include allegations of child abuse, providing support to or benefiting from security forces, and divulging the identity of Internet users), only a few have been admitted, and all have been dismissed or settled out of court.”

Not beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie writes a review of a recent speech given in London by economist Jeffrey Sachs whose thinking, it seems, has yet to move beyond aid.
“A notable omission from his hour-long speech was aid, traditionally a Sachs staple. The subject finally came up when a member of the audience asked him what he would tell western leaders to do to support development in Africa.
His answer focused entirely on aid: raise contributions to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria; find better ways to deliver aid to agriculture and education. These are important areas, but there is a long list of weightier issues – capital flight, tax regimes, climate change and improved global business regulation, to name but a few.
One understands why Sachs always returns to aid. It is the easiest thing for rich countries to deliver – everything else requires genuine change rather than just reaching into the wallet. But he could at least say: “In the absence of the real changes required, let’s at least give aid.” He didn’t, which brought his appearance to a disappointing conclusion.”

Poverty & human rights
The International Council on Human Rights Policy’s Vijay Nagaraj marks Human Rights Day by making the case for increased attention to socio-economic rights.
“Sixty years ago, the United Nations affirmed the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Now is the time to recall those unassailable rights and to act on them in good faith and with strong conviction. For a start, the human rights community must push to ensure discrimination on the grounds of poverty (or economic status) is prohibited in human rights law, alongside race, colour, sex, language, religion, etc. The continued failure to recognise discrimination on the grounds of poverty is not only a failure to account for the real-life experiences of millions of people who experience it every day, but also reinforces the secondary status of socio-economic rights in mainstream human rights practice.
On this 10th of December, let us call for a paradigm shift in how we see and address poverty. A human rights approach calls on us to view poverty not as unwelcome collateral, temporarily inevitable or even a result of faceless, unstoppable economic forces, but rather as the result of acts of commission and omission and bad policy choices by political and economic elites. It is a problem of justice.”

Blame the parents
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Nick Mathiason argues the necessity of “piercing the corporate veil” that allows large companies to use their complex corporate structure to avoid being held accountable for environmental and human rights abuses.
“Clearly, in financial reporting, a link between the parent and subsidiary is manifest. Yet company law treats every business entity as legally separate, even within the same ‘business family’. And this is where difficulties arise in seeking to hold a parent company accountable, even in instances where it knew of, or supported, the conduct of its subsidiary.
To remedy this, a corporate ‘duty of care’ principle needs to be established which states that, in the event of a parent financially benefitting from a subsidiary, it has a responsibility to ensure the subsidiary carries out duties in line with established laws. When the subsidiary fails to live up to required standards, the parent cannot hide behind a corporate veil but has to face legal liability.”

UN parliament
The World Federalist Movement’s Warren Allmand lays out his case for supporting the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
“The idea is to start with an advisory body at the UN that gradually transitions into a world parliament. Article 22 of the UN Charter allows for creation of ‘subsidiary bodies.’
National parliaments would second MPs to the UN parliamentary assembly in proportion to party standings. Unlike UN ambassadors, UN parliamentarians would not take instruction from national governments, but would be accountable to citizens, and mandated to act according to conscience and the common good.”