Latest Developments, June 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Absurd economy
David Woodward, a new economics foundation fellow, welcomes new talk of worldwide poverty eradication but says the current global system is incapable of delivering such results:

“There is an absurdity to the idea of raising the average income of more than 7 billion people to more than $100,000 a year merely to ensure that everyone has an income of at least $465. But in the present context of global carbon constraints, it goes far beyond the absurd. It is both dangerous and counterproductive.

Merely relying on global growth (and the continuation of recent improvements in development policy) to eradicate extreme poverty is simply not a viable course. We can only hope to eradicate poverty – even by the highly restrictive $1.25 definition – through a major increase in the share of the benefits of global growth that accrue to the world’s poorest by a factor of more than five.
And that would require a fundamental rethink of our whole approach, not only to development, but to the operation of the global economy.”

Militarized internet
The Guardian reports on a leaked document indicating that US President Barack Obama has ordered the creation of a list of targets for potential cyber attacks should “national interests and equities” be considered under threat:

“The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) ‘can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging’.

Obama’s move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.”

Outsourced dirty work
Radio France Internationale reports that a new agreement between the European Union and Morocco could pave the way for Africa’s first migrant detention centres:

“On Friday June 7 in Brussels, Morocco signed a text that requires Rabat to negotiate and cooperate with Europe on immigration matters. In exchange for certain favours, Morocco is agreeing to take in all migrants who reached Europe illegally via Morocco,

Morocco is the first Mediterranean country to enter into such a partnership with the EU.

The concern is that Europe is trying to ship its migration problems outside its borders without any guarantees that human rights will be respected.” [Translated from the French.]

Fighting transparency
Postmedia News reports that the Canadian government is being accused of opposing proposed G8 measures aimed at fighting global tax avoidance:

“Tax watchdog groups say Canada is resisting efforts by [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron and G8 countries on a couple of measures that would further combat tax evasion, including identifying the true owners of offshore accounts and shell companies by disclosing what’s called beneficial ownership information.

Canadians for Tax Fairness, an advocacy group that’s part of a larger global network, says its sources also indicate Canada is fighting measures that would call for automatic tax information exchange agreements between countries that would help governments better track tax cheats.”

Timber barons
Global Witness has released a new report showing how logging companies are moving from loophole to loophole in order access Liberia’s rainforests:

“When the government halted logging under [Private Use Permits] in August, companies immediately began submitting large numbers of applications for Community Forest Management Agreements (CFMA). However, CFMAs are intended to allow communities to manage forests themselves, and it is illegal for anyone other than communities to submit CFMA applications. Once again, companies are targeting small scale permits and exploiting communities to get access to the forests.”

Strings attached
Friends of the Earth’s Kirtana Chandrasekaran and Nnimmo Bassey express concern over some of the “far-reaching changes to [African] land, seed and farming policies” demanded by the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition:

“Mozambique, for example, is committed to ‘systematically ceasing to distribute free and unimproved [non-commercial] seeds to farmers except in emergencies’. The new alliance will lock poor farmers into buying increasingly expensive seeds – including genetically modified seeds – allow corporate monopolies in seed selling, and escalate the loss of precious genetic diversity in seeds – absolutely key in the fight against hunger. It will also open the door to genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa by stopping farmers’ access to traditional local varieties and forcing them to buy private seeds.

Several countries have been asked to speed up the takeover of land by foreign investors. Ethiopia, for instance, will ‘Refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing’, while companies are already asking for up to 500,000 hectares (12.35m acres) of land in Ivory Coast under this scheme.”

Investor activism
Novethic has released a new report looking into the impacts of investors, primarily in northern Europe, who blacklist companies over alleged human rights abuses:

“The calling out of companies by investors, if echoed by public opinion and the media, can be a game changer. In order to maximize impact, investors must coordinate their efforts. If they adopt common definitions of the human rights they want to see respected and they take action together, progress will be significant.” [Translated from the French.]

Drone terror
Al Jazeera reports on the experiences of “terrorised” civilians who have witnessed America’s drone war up close and personal in Yemen:

“The repercussions were devastating. The villagers marched the next day, chanting: ‘Obama, why do you spill our blood?’ But President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met their pleas for answers with silence.
Salem’s mother died two weeks later apparently from shock. [Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber]’s sister Hayat, the mother of Walid, refuses to leave her home, and said she is ‘waiting to join my so’. Faisal’s daughter Heba was so stricken with fear she didn’t leave her home for twenty days. She still needs psychiatric care.
‘The people in the village are so afraid now,’ Faisal sighed. ‘Everything has changed. They think they can be killed anywhere.’ ”

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Latest Developments, March 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Off the hook
The UN News Centre reports that the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is dropping charges against Francis Muthaura who was charged with crimes against humanity in the wake of Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, but charges remain against president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta:

“[Fatou Bensouda] said that she had explained to the judge that several people who may have provided important evidence in the case have either died or are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution.
Ms. Bensouda also noted that the Prosecution lost the testimony of its key witness ‘after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes.’

‘Let me be absolutely clear on one point – this decision applies only to Mr. Muthaura. It does not apply to any other case,’ the Prosecutor said in her statement.
She added that, while aware of political developments in Kenya, ‘these have no influence, at all, on the decisions that I make as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.’ ”

Shoot first
Reuters reports that the UN is contemplating sending “a 10,000-strong force” with an unusually aggressive mandate to Mali ahead of elections scheduled for July:

“A heavily armed rapid-reaction force, similar to the unit proposed for a U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, would be a departure from its typically more passive peacekeeper operations.
In practical terms, U.N. diplomats say, troops in the rapid-response force would have more freedom to open fire without being required to wait until they are attacked first, a limitation usually placed on U.N. peacekeepers around the world.”

Contentious referendum
The Buenos Aires Herald reports that Argentina’s government is dismissing a referendum in which inhabitants of the Falklands/Malvinas voted overwhelmingly to remain British subjects:

“ ‘It’s a referendum organized by the British and for the British with the only purpose of having them saying that the territory must be British. It was neither organized nor approved by the United Nations,’ [Argentina’s ambassador to London] Castro told FM Millenium.

‘Self-determination is a fundamental principle contemplated by the international law that’s not granted to any settlers of a certain territory, but only to the original natives that were or currently are being subjugated to a certain colonial power, and this is not the case of the Malvinas Islanders.’
‘The Islanders are not a colonized people, but inhabitants of a colonized territory.’ ”

Illegal deal?
The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has signed an offshore oil deal with ExxonMobil that does not meet her country’s legal requirements:

“The deal will come under intense scrutiny given controversy over the contracts signed by the government in the extractive industries in recent years. The terms appear to be more beneficial to the state than other contracts in the oil sector, but still fall short of the country’s standard tax terms. The government will receive a US$50m signing bonus up-front, a 10% equity stake and royalties of 5-10% when production starts. According to Reuters, the country’s law requires a minimum royalty rate of 10% and a minimum equity stake of 20%.”

Double standard
Foreign Policy reports that the US State Department has accused Syrian rebels of “terrorism” for carrying out “attacks against folks who are not in the middle of a firefight”:

“One reporter pointed out that the United States routinely targets and kills members of various groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are not physically engaged in the fight at the time they are targeted. [State Department spokeswoman Victoria] Nuland declined to comment on the perceived double standard.

Nuland also declined to confirm or deny a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel that Americans are training Syrian anti-regime forces in Jordan.”

Cyberwarriors
The Washington Post asks under what circumstances the US will use its planned “military force to defend the nation against cyberattacks”:

“In fact, said Michael Schmitt, chairman of the International Law Department at the U.S. Naval War College, ‘the law of self-defense does not allow you to strike at a state merely because they have the capability to attack you.’

Georgetown University law professor Catherine Lotrionte said that if states start to take more aggressive measures at a lower threshold, the risk of escalation and ‘tit for tat’ goes up. ‘There needs to be international agreement on rules to prevent that escalation,’ she said, ‘or we’re looking at a really ugly world.’ ”

Bad role model
Tax Justice Network-Africa’s Alvin Mosioma and political scientist Hakima Abbas argue that Kenya should not be looking to the UK for help mapping out its financial future:

“Human rights, democracy and justice movements across the land have fought to keep political and economic elites in check. Yet, the reality is that greed surfaces whenever citizens rest. This was true with the recent send-off package that the outgoing parliament gave themselves despite the growing inequality of our society. This will be true if we allow our financial models to be based on the same systems that have stolen Africa’s wealth for centuries.

It is time we amplify African voices in the call for an end to the secrecy in the City of London and within the global financial system. We must call on our new public officers as they come into office in March to not allow Kenya’s future to be tied to the same rules of corruption and tax evasion.”

Mining ethics
Doug Olthuis of United Steelworkers and Ian Thomson of KAIROS argue the Canadian government has turned its back on the only useful component of its overseas corporate social responsibility strategy:

“Binding regulations are the only way to deal with the worst offenders in the industry. Providing access to Canadian courts for those who have been harmed in the most egregious cases is urgently needed, particularly for abuses committed in countries with no rule of law or weak judiciaries.
We were willing to engage in the [Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility] even though we see CSR as an extremely limited concept. All too often, CSR amounts to little more than public relations to promote a better corporate image without substantive commitment to change on the part of companies. Reliance on CSR alone, in the absence of enforceable standards, represents a model of corporate ‘self-regulation’ that leaves communities and workers without legal recourse to defend their rights and advance their collective interests.”

Latest Developments, February 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Fear of the police
A new report released by Human Rights Watch accuses Canadian police of negligent and “abusive” behaviour in an area of the country infamous for the murder and disappearance of First Nations women and girls:

“Indigenous women and girls told Human Rights Watch that the RCMP has failed to protect them. They also described instances of abusive policing, including excessive use of force against girls, strip searches of women by male officers, and physical and sexual abuse. One woman said that in July, four police officers took her to a remote location, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

Human Rights Watch researchers were struck by the fear expressed by women they interviewed. The women’s reactions were comparable to those Human Rights Watch has found in post-conflict or post-transition countries, where security forces have played an integral role in government abuses and enforcement of authoritarian policies.”

Toxic Europe
The Guardian reports that the EU’s own lawyers believe European efforts to legalize the export of contaminated ships to poor countries may be illegal:

“Leaked European council legal opinion papers seen by the Guardian express grave concerns over the European commission’s attempts to exempt ships from the Basel convention, the global treaty that demands that rich countries dispose of their own asbestos and other hazardous waste materials, and do not add to pollution in poorer countries.

According to the World Bank, Bangladesh alone is expected to have 79,000 tonnes of asbestos and 240,000 tonnes of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) chemicals ‘dumped’ on it by rich country’s ships in the next 20 years.”

Disappeared prisoners
ProPublica reports that “at least twenty” people who were detained by the CIA in so-called black prisons are still missing:

“The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention program. At Brenan’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), said the report shows the interrogation program was run by people ‘ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to detail, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.’ Rockefeller is one of the few to have read the report, which remains classified.”

Sankara’s ghost
Radio France Internationale reports that a French parliamentarian is calling for an investigation into the role France played in the 1987 assassination of Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara:

“Twelve Burkinabé MPs wrote to their French counterparts two years ago to demand a parliamentary inquiry into Sankara’s death.
[MP André] Chassaigne says it’s time for France to heed their call.
‘France, to an as-yet unknown extent, is responsible for this assassination,’ he said on Wednesday.”

Classified medal
The Associated Press reports that the US military has created a new medal for those who fight wars using “remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems”:

“The new blue, red and white-ribboned Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to individuals for ‘extraordinary achievement’ related to a military operation that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001. But unlike other combat medals, it does not require the recipient risk his or her life to get it.

The Pentagon does not publicly discuss its offensive cyber operations or acts of cyberwarfare. Considering that secrecy, it’s not clear how public such awards might be in the future.”

Organic country
The Guardian reports that Bhutan plans to ban all pesticides, herbicides and artifical fertilizers to become the first country with “completely organic” agriculture:

“In the west, organic food growing is widely thought to reduce the size of crops because they become more susceptible to pests. But this is being challenged in Bhutan and some regions of Asia, where smallholders are developing new techniques to grow more and are not losing soil quality.
Systems like ‘sustainable root intensification’ (SRI), which carefully regulate the amount of water that crops need and the age at which seedlings are planted out, have shown that organic crop yields can be doubled with no synthetic chemicals.

Good intentions
Africa on the Blog’s Ossob Mohamud writes about her own uncomfortable experiences with so-called voluntourism, which she says can all too easily treat poor countries like “a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices”:

“Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organizations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from an unjust global economic order. Why not advocate and campaign for IMF and World Bank reforms? How about having volunteers advocate for their home country to change aggressive foreign and agricultural policies (such as subsidy programs)? This might seem unrealistic but the idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly invested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.”

Bad suit
The Daily Guide reports that the Africa Centre for Energy Policy is speaking out against efforts by industry lobby groups to get around new US transparency requirements for oil, gas and mining companies operating abroad:

In a press release issued recently in Accra and signed by Mohammed Amin Adam, its Executive Director, ACEP said the suit is a betrayal of the move for global transparency in the oil and gas industry by well meaning global citizens and governments.
‘We, in Africa, received the news of the issuance of regulations to back the implementation of the Dodd Frank Transparency reforms with great joy because we believe that it would expose corruption and mismanagement of natural resources on our continent.’

‘It is against this background that ACEP calls on Anadarko, Hess Corporation and Kosmos Energy, who are operating in Ghana, to dissociate themselves from the legal suit by the [American Petroleum Institute] and instead support efforts at enhancing transparency and accountability in the global oil and gas industry,’ it stated.”