Latest Developments, November 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Suspicious behaviour
Radio France Internationale asks if France, despite official denials, is preparing for military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“A French Navy vessel, the projection and command ship Dixmude, is slated to sail soon from Toulon with approximately 300 troops for a position in the Gulf of Guinea. This large amphibious ship will also be carrying vehicles and helicopters.

And from the port of Douala, Bangui is only 1,400 kilometres away. French military commanders know the route well, since their troops passed through Cameroon during the 2008 European Union Force mission in Chad and CAR.” (Translated from the French.)

Lowering the bar
The Guardian reports on trouble at the COP 19 climate talks as rich, polluting countries seem to be losing their appetite for reducing carbon emissions:

“The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, were faced with a new crisis on Friday, after Japan, the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, slashed its plans to reduce emissions from 25% to just 3.8% on 2005 figures.
The move was immediately criticised as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unambitious’ by developing countries and climate groups at the talks.

The Japanese announcement follows open criticism by Australia and Canada of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their countries, and reluctance from the US and Europe to aim for more ambitious emissions cuts.”

More migrant deaths
Reuters reports that 12 migrants have drowned off the Greek coast, “adding to the hundreds of deaths this year” as people try to reach Europe via the Mediterranean:

“The coastguard found fifteen survivors on the shore opposite the Ionian island of Lefkada and recovered 12 bodies, four of them children aged between three and six, another official said.

Crisis-hit Greece, Italy and Malta, the EU’s gate-keepers, have repeatedly pressed European Union partners to do more to solve the migrant crisis, which the Maltese prime minister said was turning the Mediterranean into a ‘cemetery’.”

History matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that rich countries must start viewing development finance as “reparation for damage done” rather than aid:

“Furthermore, it is widely known that trade rules and conditions past and present, set by rich countries, continue to have devastating effects on poor countries and poor people within them. Even Bill Clinton, the former US president, has publicly apologised for policies that ruined rice production in Haiti, to the benefit of US producers.
Rather than making a song and dance about how much aid we are sending countries where production has been decimated by rules serving rich-country interests, such money should be offered in compensation for harm done (most importantly, of course, the rules on protection, subsidies and quotas should be urgently changed).

Now it is an accepted UN principle that the west should fund the investments required in other countries to respond to climate change, it is logical that the same principle should be extended to other areas, including not only other forms of environmental damage such as overfishing, but also slavery, colonisation and unfair trade and finance rules.”

Developed economies?
Mongabay reports on the release of new data that suggests G8 countries account for three of the world’s four top deforesters since 2000:

“Dan Zarin, program director of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, an association of philanthropic foundations, says trading natural forests for planted forests represents a net loss for the planet.
‘You can’t “net out” deforestation by planting trees,’ said Zarin, ‘because newly planted forests are far less valuable for carbon, biodiversity and forest-dependent people than standing native forests.’
Malaysia’s rate of forest loss during the period was nearly 50 percent higher than the next runner up, Paraguay (9.6 percent). Its area of forest loss ranked ninth after Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Australia.”

Drone decline
The Federation of American Scientists reports that the US military’s investments in drones are on “a distinctly downward slope”:

“The FY 2014 budget request included $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement of unmanned aerial systems, a decrease of $1.1 billion from the request for the fiscal year 2013.
‘Annual procurement of UAS has gone from 1,211 in fiscal 2012 to 288 last year to just 54 in the proposed FY14 budget,’ according to a recently published congressional hearing volume.”

Not good enough
Human Rights Watch calls on Western clothing brands to do more to prevent worker deaths in Bangladeshi garment factories:

“Seven people died in the fire at Aswad Composite Mills on October 8. Aswad supplied fabric for other Bangladeshi factories to turn into garments for North American and European clients such as Walmart, Gap, H&M and Carrefour. The Bangladesh government and one of the retailers, Primark, said they had uncovered safety violations at the factory prior to the fire but no action was taken. Other companies said they had not inspected Aswad because they did not have a direct relationship with it.

In the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April 2013, most foreign retailers operating in Bangladesh have pledged to help improve the fire and building safety standards of hundreds of factories that directly make their clothes. But their commitments do not extend to subcontractors and suppliers like Aswad that play a major part in the supply chain.”

Dangerous delay
EurActiv reports on concerns that a proposed EU law on conflict minerals could end up getting shelved after delays for “undisclosed reasons”:

“The EU’s trade directorate had been expected to publish a regulation that would secure uniform compliance across the bloc – and beyond – by the end of this year.
Brussels is known to have been in contact with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) about creating a list of internationally recognised and audited smelters for use by European mineral extraction firms.

Some fear that the proposal could wither in the Berlaymont building’s corridors, if it does not bear fruit before the institutional changing of the guard that will follow European elections next May.”

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Latest Developments, July 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Supply chain ruling
Reuters reports that a US judge has upheld a rule requiring companies to disclose the use of “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers had challenged the conflict minerals rule, saying it was too costly and violated companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
But in his order issued late Tuesday afternoon, [Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia] rejected both of those arguments.

The ruling by Wilkins in the [Securities and Exchange Commission’s] favor comes just a few weeks after the agency lost another legal battle over a companion humanitarian Dodd-Frank rule that the Chamber and others had also challenged.
In early July, a different federal district judge tossed out the SEC’s ‘extractive resources’ rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.”

Press pardon
McClatchy reports that the White House is “concerned and disappointed” over the release from prison of a Yemeni journalist incarcerated after reporting on US drone strikes:

“As a condition of his release, [Abdulelah Haider] Shaye will be prohibited from leaving Sanaa for two years. Nevertheless, many Yemeni journalists and local press freedom organizations responded to the news with jubilance, hailing Hadi’s actions and celebrating Shaye’s freedom.
Shaye’s release ‘is a victory for common values of media freedom, justice and human rights,’ said a statement from the Freedom Foundation, a Sanaa-based press freedom organization headed by Yemeni journalist Khaled al Hammadi. ‘Especially since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the release of Shaye despite all the American pressures on him to keep him in prison.’ ”

Historical responsibility
Amnesty International is calling an Indian court summons of US-based Dow Chemical “an important step” toward corporate accountability over the Bhopal disaster that killed an estimated 22,000 people three decades ago:

“The company has been ordered to explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the 1984 Bhopal disaster, where UCC is accused of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

‘Dow’s attempt to distance itself from its wholly owned subsidiary UCC has always ignored the reality of the relationship between the two companies. Today’s court summons has confirmed that Dow itself must ensure that UCC faces up to its responsibilities,’ said [Amnesty International’s Audrey] Gaughran.”

Green light
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has received congressional approval to begin arming Syrian rebels despite “very strong concerns” about the plan:

“Both the House and Senate [intelligence committees] voted on the administration’s plan last week, officials said.
The agreement allows money already in the CIA’s budget to be reprogrammed for the Syria operation, a covert action that President Obama approved early last month. The infrastructure for the program, which also includes training, logistics and intelligence assistance — most of it based in Jordan — is already in place and the arms would begin to flow within the next several weeks.”

Compliance optional
The author of the Economist’s Democracy in America blog writes that the US government has rarely respected a decades-old prohibition on US aid to “coup regimes”:

“The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the act that initially rationalised foreign-aid policy under a single budget authority, provides that ‘none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.’
So, how many times have elected heads of governments receiving American aid been overthrown in coups since 1961, and in how many cases did America cut off that aid? As far as I can tell, the answers are: lots, and once or twice.”

Food conquest
The Guardian reports on concerns that the US is trying to force genetically modified food on Africa without proper public consultation:

“Food Sovereignty Ghana and other domestic organisations accuse the US and other foreign donors of promoting GM foods to west African countries, and tying aid to implementation.
According to a leaked cable, the US government was heavily involved in drafting Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act, which provided a framework for the introduction of GM foods. The US aid department

[Food Sovereignty Ghana’s Duke] Tagoe said: ‘Farmers in Ghana have had their own way of keeping seeds year after year. If these policies are allowed to manifest, Ghanaian farmers will have to change money into foreign [currency] in order to purchase seeds from overseas firms. The economic impact on the lives of the farmers will be disastrous. The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain. These seeds are not owned by any African entity, they are owned by American companies.’ ”

Congo forests
Global Witness takes issue with a new report that suggests “controlled timber management” has slowed deforestation rates in the Congo basin:

“There is little evidence to back up such claims, while the study ignores threats from the expansion of illegal logging operations, large-scale agricultural investments and palm oil plantations.
‘This is a shortsighted and misleading study. The world’s second largest rainforest is losing 2000 square km – an area 34 times the size of Manhattan – every year. This is totally unsustainable, and it’s set to get worse. When the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s freeze on new logging is lifted and the forest has been parcelled up for different commercial uses, we’ll see much more deforestation. The idea that things are moving in the right direction is ludicrous,’ said Alexandra Pardal of Global Witness.”

Mutual learning
TRANSCEND Peace University’s Johan Galtung lists his prescriptions for attaining “peace with our futures”:

“Fight inequality, boycott companies with CEOs making more than five to 10 times what the workers earn, switch to cooperatives, transfer accounts to savings banks, introduce a sales tax of five percent for financial transactions to finance a living wage and to put a brake on insane speculation, increase the quantity and quality of mediation and nonviolence all over, fight for democracy with transparency, dialogue, petitions, referenda, pick the best from worldviews, both-and, not either-or.
Islam offers togetherness and sharing needed in the West, the West offers diversity and freedom needed in Islam; go for mutual learning.”

Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

More is less
The Wall Street Journal reports that NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes the deployment of Patriot missiles to the Turkey-Syria border would “contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis”:

“Turkey has formally asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deploy Patriot missiles to protect its long border with Syria, the military alliance said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a further militarization of the neighbors’ tense frontier amid heightened concerns the civil war is spilling onto Turkish territory.

Only the U.S., the Netherlands and Germany have the appropriate system available.”

By-product baggage
ABC Radio Australia reports on the controversy over what an Australian mining company plans to do with the radioactive waste it will generate at a rare earth refinery in Malaysia:

“Lynas chief executive Nick Curtis says the company made the application to [the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency] in the hope of shipping the by-product back and on-selling it to be recycled, but that is no longer the company’s plan.
‘We ceased looking for contracts in Australia because we think shipping to Thailand or Indonesia is cheaper.’
Mr Curtis says the company has permits to store the waste in Malaysia for the short and long term but are looking at opportunities to recycle the product in-country for industrial use.

Last week a Malaysian court dismissed an application to suspend the company’s temporary operating licences.
The protesters have lodged an appeal to the decision.”

Mining on trial
The Dominion reports on a group of Guatemalan plaintiffs preparing to go to Canada to testify against Hudbay Minerals, whom they accuse of “negligent management” leading to shootings that left one man dead and another paralyzed:

“Toronto’s Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors, is representing the plaintiffs, whose claims against the Guatemala operations of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals are serious.
‘The evidence that both sides are collecting right now (including the November cross-examinations) will be used at a March hearing which will determine whether the lawsuit should be heard in Canada or in Guatemala,’ Cory Wanless, a lawyer at Klippensteins, told The Dominion via email from Toronto. ‘This is obviously a very important question with potentially very significant ramifications for the rest of the Canadian mining industry.’ ”

WHO denial
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the head of the World Health Organization has denied that contributions from “producers of junk food and soda” are influencing the UN agency’s fight against non-communicable diseases:

“However, [WHO Director General Margaret] Chan acknowledged that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has taken money from the food and beverage industries for its NCD work. PAHO ‘is unique among WHO’s Regional Offices because it contains two separate legal entities – the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (AMRO) and the health agency of the Organization of the American States,’ the statement said. ‘In some areas the two entities may have variations in policy. For example, as mentioned in the media reports, in its capacity as PAHO, food and beverage manufacturers have contributed financially as part of a multi-sector forum to address NCDs.’ ”

Less than peanuts
Radio France Internationale interviews Ali Idrissa, head of the Niger chapter of Publish What You Pay, about uranium mining and his country’s relationship with French nuclear giant Areva:

“Today, it’s a very unequal partnership that we, as civil society actors, have long denounced. What Areva pays to the state accounts for less than 5.8% of the national budget. Peanuts, livestock and other exported products exported by Niger generate more income for the country than uranium does.” [Translated from the French.]

Plantation tensions
Greenpeace calls for an end to the large-scale deforestation being carried out in southwestern Cameroon by a subsidiary of US-based Herakles Farms:

“The deforestation is taking place despite the fact SGSOC is operating via a 99-year land lease that has not yet been approved by Presidential Decree and is therefore questionable under Cameroonian Law.
If it is not stopped, the planned 730km2 concession will eventually be almost half the size of the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area, or 10 times the size of Manhattan. It would destroy a densely forested area in a biodiversity hotspot, resulting in severe consequences for the livelihoods of thousands of residents and for the global climate.”

Poor numbers
Simon Fraser University’s Morten Jerven criticizes the development industry’s obsession with “the measure of the production and consumption of goods and services”:

“For a number of years now I have been trying to answer the question: How good are these numbers? The short answer is that the numbers are poor. This is just not a matter of technical accuracy – the arbitrariness of the quantification process produces observations with very large errors and levels of uncertainty. This ‘numbers game’ has taken on a dangerously misleading air of accuracy, and the resulting figures are used to make critical decisions that allocate scarce resources. International development actors are making judgments based on erroneous statistics. Governments are not able to make informed decisions because existing data are too weak or the data they need do not exist.”

Lords on drones
TheyWorkForYou.com transcribes a series of questions asked in the UK House of Lords about the use of armed drones:

“I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will be aware that international human rights law permits the intentional use of lethal force only when necessary to protect against a threat to life and where there are no other means, such as capture, available. Targeted killings are not lawful as the action has to be strictly necessary and proportionate. Given that the use of armed drones engages four major UN conventions as well as Article 51 of the UN charter, will she tell the House what measures the UK is taking to abide by international law and to encourage allies, such as the United States, to do the same?” [Question asked by the Liberal Democrats’ Baroness Falkner of Margravine]

“My Lords, in the light of the unknown number of civilian casualties as a result of drone attacks in Pakistan, when no armed conflict has been declared and the United States is not at war, does [Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs] agree that such attacks are illegal under international humanitarian law and that there is now a need for an enhanced arms limitation treaty?”  [Question asked by the Bishop of Bath and Wells]

Latest Developments, May 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Undue influence
Deutsche Welle reports that the World Health Organization, which is holding its annual general assembly this week, is coming under fire for the growing influence of the pharmaceutical industry and private donors over its policies.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a prime example. With contributions of about US $220 million, the foundation is the second largest donor to WHO’s current budget – after the United States and before the United Kingdom in third place. The Gates foundation generates its income mainly from fixed assets.
‘The lion’s share of the $25 billion that Gates was able to invest in health programs around the world in the past 10 years stemmed from returns from well-known companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries whose business practices often run counter to global health efforts,’ [Medico International’s Thomas] Gebauer said.
Gates has also made a fortune from defending intellectual property rights, according to Gebauer. His foundation prefers to support patented medicines and vaccines instead of promoting freely accessible and less expensive generic products.”

R&D pact
Médecins Sans Frontières has called on the world’s health ministers to start drawing up a binding agreement that would encourage research and development for medical needs in poor countries.
“Today’s system for medical R&D is flawed, in that it is predominantly driven by commercial rewards rather than health priorities. This means that research is steered towards areas that are the most profitable, leaving fundamental medical needs – particularly those that disproportionately affect developing countries like tropical diseases or tuberculosis – unaddressed.

A convention would bring significant advantages. It would create an evidence-based process to define priorities. Signatory countries would then be bound to invest towards addressing those priorities. Importantly, any research funded thanks to the convention would deliver accessible and affordable products; for example, by ensuring price and supply commitments, adopting flexible licensing policies for developers, and supporting open innovation that would make knowledge available to others.”

Migrant cancer
Haaretz reports on violent protests and inflammatory rhetoric against illegal African immigrants in Tel Aviv.
“In a speech to the demonstrators, [Member of Knesset Miri] Regev said called the illegal migrants a ‘cancer in our body,’ and promised to do everything ‘in order to bring them back to where they belong.’
[MK] Danny Danon, who heads a lobby group which seeks to deal with the issue of illegal immigration said that the only solution to the problem is to ‘begin talking about expulsion.’
‘We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words “expulsion now.”’ ”

Fast-food deforestation
Mongabay reports on a new Greenpeace investigation that has found fast-food giant KFC uses packaging made partly – sometimes more than 50 percent – from Indonesian rainforest fibres.
“It isn’t the first time KFC has been criticized for its fiber sourcing practices. Campaigners — including Cole Rasenberger, a pre-teen activist — have targeted the company for using packaging from endangered forests in the United States.
But the focus of the new Greenpeace report is KFC’s relationship with [Asia Pulp & Paper], which has suffered waves of customer defections in recent years due to its environmental record. APP has cleared hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest and peatlands in Riau and Jambi, destroying critical habitat for endangered wildlife including Sumatran tigers, elephants, and orangutans.”

Free trade impacts
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s Brittany Lambert and Common Frontiers’ Raul Burbano argue the Canadian government “has shirked its responsibility” to assess the human rights impacts of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
“The trade deal came into force in August 2011 after being stalled in Parliament for nearly three years due to widespread concern that it could exacerbate existing human rights violations in Colombia.
The compromise that allowed the deal to pass was a treaty requiring both governments to report annually on the free trade agreement’s human rights impacts. The inclusion of such a provision in a trade deal is a global precedent, one touted by the Harper government as a meaningful way to ensure human rights accountability in trade with Colombia.”

OpenForum, Day 2
The Daily Maverick provides another roundup of discussions held at the Open Society’s “Money, Power & Sex” conference in Cape Town, with the second day’s focus being on culture.
“Where arguments about African identity flourish, the issue of language can’t be far behind – and so it proved. [Kenyan writer Binyavanga] Wainaina opened this can of worms, saying that he wrote in English, because ‘English just so happened, for all the reasons we all know. I am keen to domesticate it.’
But indigenous languages are not going away, he said, and ‘we will not be free to produce or create until we live full lives in our own languages.’ He pointed to the irony of the fact that it is the African elites – ‘we who have won scholarships’ – who have continued to impose English on the continent, and ‘it hasn’t worked.’

[South African singer Simphiwe] Dana said that to preserve all languages was impossible, which is why a continental language was necessary. If English is that language, she said, ‘We have to admit defeat. It’s over. Then they have won. Because culture and identity are maintained in our languages.’ ”

Expanding communities
In a rabble.ca interview, UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler discusses the increasing cross-fertilization of popular protest.
“Outside of our local groups or identity-based communities, we are figuring out what is our obligation to the stranger. Our commonality, whether it is anti-racism or radical democratic ideals, insists that we have obligations to one another that are not based on shared language or religion or even beliefs about humanity. Views do not have to be the same to sense that something is profoundly unjust and have strong ties of solidarity.”

The future we want
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon writes that knowing “we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity” has still not led us to embrace sustainable development.
“Clearly, the old economic model is breaking down. In too many places, growth has stalled. Jobs are lagging. Gaps are growing between rich and poor, and we see alarming scarcities of food, fuel and the natural resources on which civilization depends.

Because so many of today’s challenges are global, they demand a global response — collective power exercised in powerful partnership. Now is not the moment for narrow squabbling. This is a moment for world leaders and their people to unite in common purpose around a shared vision of our common future — the future we want.”