Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Commitment to development
The Center for Global Development’s David Roodman and Julia Clark describe some of the changes to the latest edition of the Commitment to Development Index, which ranks rich countries “on how much their governments’ policies and actions support global prosperity”:

“Last year the troop surge in Afghanistan lifted the United States to first place on security. The CDI rewarded this military move because the U.N. Security Council continued to endorse the foreign intervention in Afghanistan. We decided in 2012 to impose an additional criterion for inclusion: an operation also needs to be reasonably describable as primarily intended to help the citizens of the country in question. The war in Afghanistan does not mean that test in our judgment. The 2011 intervention in Libya does.
The conception of ‘security’ has expanded beyond the use of force. Countries are now rewarded for participating in international security arrangements such as the International Criminal Court and Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel land mines.”

Setting priorities
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, sketches out his vision of a “food security first” approach to biofuel development:

“The best practice cases of small-scale sustainable biofuel production may not be geared for exports. This is more than a coincidence: once the primary interest of agricultural systems becomes the cheap, bulk production of export commodities, the positive outcomes of smallholder engagement and intercropping of local staples are always likely to be lost.
The Institute for European Environmental Policy estimated that, to reach its initial 10% target for renewables in transport fuels, the EU would have had to import 41% of its biodiesel and 50% of its ethanol needs by 2020. So even with lower targets, dependence on imports – and therefore pressure on the structure of farming systems in the global south – are always the likely outcome of EU biofuel mandates.”

Drones over Yemen
Reuters reports that a US drone has killed nine suspected al Qaeda members in Yemen, based on eyewitness accounts of “six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people”:

“While Washington usually avoids comment on the strikes in Yemen, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks U.S. operations, says as many as 56 civilians have been killed this year by drones.
Many Yemenis complain the U.S. focus on militants is a violation of sovereignty that is driving many towards al Qaeda and diverting attention from other pressing issues such as unemployment, corruption, water depletion and economic revival.”

Drone journalism
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan writes that her paper is not doing enough to inform readers about US drone policy:

“Since the article in May, its reporting has not aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as ‘militants’ — itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers.
Americans, according to polls, have a positive view of drones, but critics say that’s because the news media have not informed them well. The use of drones is deepening the resentment of the United States in volatile parts of the world and potentially undermining fragile democracies, said Naureen Shah, who directs the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia University’s law school.
‘It’s portrayed as picking off the bad guys from a plane,’ she said. ‘But it’s actually surveilling entire communities, locating behavior that might be suspicious and striking groups of unknown individuals based on video data that may or may not be corroborated by eyeballing it on the ground.’ ”

Paris massacre
France 24 reports that French President François Hollande spoke of “bloody repression” as he marked the 51st anniversary of the killings of Algerian protesters by Paris police:

“On that fateful day, French police – under the leadership of Paris prefect Maurice Papon – brutally crushed peaceful demonstrations of Algerian anti-war protesters who had gathered in and around the French capital to protest against a French security crackdown in Algeria.

More than half-a-century later, the details surrounding the October 17 massacre – including the casualty figures – remain murky. A day after the demonstrations, the left-leaning French newspaper Libération reported the official toll as two dead, several wounded and 7,500 arrests. The death toll, however, was disputed by the [Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN)], which claimed that dozens were killed.  Many of the bodies were found floating in the River Seine.”

Bribe banking
The Sunday Times reports that British defence firm GPT used the UK’s biggest bank to funnel millions in alleged bribes to Saudi officials:

“HSBC accounts in London and New York were used to provide the alleged kickbacks as part of a money-laundering scheme. It was operated by the defence company to channel cash into private company accounts in the Cayman Islands.
It is claimed the payments form part of a total £72m in sweeteners paid by GPT Special Project Management to a Saudi prince who is a close relative of the ruler, King Abdullah.
The disclosure will raise fresh questions about HSBC, which was recently implicated by the US authorities in the laundering of billions of dollars for drugs barons and terrorists.”

Asset seizure
Reuters reports that Ecuadorean plaintiffs say a court has given them permission to seize $200 million of assets belonging to oil giant Chevron:

“The plaintiffs from villages in the oil-rich Amazon won an $18.2 billion case against the oil giant over claims that Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, contaminated the area from 1964 to 1992. Damages were increased to $19 billion in July.
Among the assets ordered turned over are $96.3 million that Ecuador’s government owes Chevron, money held in Ecuadorean bank accounts by Chevron, and licensing fees generated by the use of the company’s trademarks in the country, the plaintiffs said.”

Beyond aid targets
The Guardian reports that France’s development minister says he plans to focus more on “policies with the potential to help or hurt poor countries” than on traditional aid:

“On agriculture, particularly the common agricultural policy (CAP), which has been criticised for damaging the interests of poor countries despite reforms that have curbed the worst excesses, Canfin said France – where farmers have resisted CAP changes – would push for a ‘greener, more sustainable’ EU policy. On trade, he said France was willing to delay a 2014 deadline for completing economic partnership agreements (EPAs). EPAs are disliked by poor countries for forcing them to open their markes to competition that they cannot withstand. Canfin said France was willing to change the deadline to 2016, to allow more time to take into account the reservations of developing countries.”

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Latest Developments, October 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Secret meetings
The Washington Post reports that the White House has held a series of meetings to “consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes” in North Africa as a result of a perceived increase in the threat of terrorism:

“ ‘Right now, we’re not in position to do much about it,’ said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the talks. As a result, he said, officials have begun to consider contingencies, including the question of ‘do we or don’t we’ deploy drones.

In addition, the U.S. military has launched a series of clandestine intelligence missions, including the use of civilian aircraft to conduct surveillance flights and monitor communications over the Sahara Desert and the arid region to the south, known as the Sahel.”

American justice
Reuters reports that US Supreme Court judges “seemed skeptical” as they listened to arguments for allowing American courts to hear cases relating to human rights abuses committed overseas by foreign corporations:

“But in oral arguments in one of the court’s biggest human rights cases in years, some justices suggested they might not close U.S. courts to similar claims against individuals, including those who take refuge in the United States, or to claims involving U.S. companies.

More than 150 lawsuits accusing U.S. and foreign corporations of wrongdoing in more than 60 foreign countries have been filed in U.S. courts in the last two decades, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Running interference
The Globe and Mail reports that a Canadian cabinet minister is being accused of “threatening the integrity and independence of the penal and parole systems” in the wake of comments made following the repatriation of Omar Khadr who spent a decade in detention at Guantanamo Bay after his capture at the age of 15:

“[Public Safety Minister Vic] Toews’ remarks are controversial because while he was the government minister tasked with overseeing Mr. Khadr’s repatriation, he is also the minister who presides over the Correctional Service of Canada.
Mr. Toews also appoints and renews the adjudicators for the National Parole Board – the same patronage appointees who are charged with determining any given individual prisoner’s liberties.
Now these same officials who must now try to figure out whether to allow Mr. Khadr out of prison and onto parole in coming months, or whether to lock him up until his sentence expires in 2018.
Lawyers for Mr. Khadr wonder whether Mr. Toews’ remarks too clearly telegraph to his officials what he would like to have happen.”

Death tolls
The Associated Press reports that US military deaths in Afghanistan have reached 2,000, a number that is dwarfed by the number of dead Afghan civilians:

“Tracking deaths of Afghan civilians is much more difficult. According to the UN, 13,431 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict between 2007, when the UN began keeping statistics, and the end of August. Going back to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, most estimates put the number of Afghan civilian deaths in the war at more than 20,000.”

Unequal trade talks
Inter Press Service reports that a former Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, has concerns about ongoing talks for an “Economic Partnership Agreement” between Caribbean states and the European Union:

“ ‘The concept of proportionality has been thrown out of the window. Indeed, some are more equal than others. Inequality is evident – no visas are required for entry in most of our countries – while we need a Schengen Visa or UK Permit to step foot on European soil.’
Patterson said the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will need to address without further delay ‘such issues as investment, competition policy and government procurement to avert the danger of undertaking obligations or conferring rights on others that do not yet exist within the Community but already fall within the framework of the EPA’.”

Big deal
The New York Times reports that the board of Anglo-Swiss miner Xstrata has approved a takeover bid that would “create a behemoth in the world of mining and minerals”:

“First announced in February, the proposed transaction would unite Glencore, a giant commodities trading house, with Xstrata, its longtime mining partner. Together, the two would create an international mining company with both significant physical assets and an enormous trading operation that has invaluable insights into global demand for minerals.
The talks have drawn in many of London’s top deal makers, generating big fees for the bankers involved if the transaction is approved.”

Gray wave
The Guardian reports that legally enforceable rights specific to people over the age of 60, who will outnumber those under 15 by 2050, remain a rarity in today’s world:

“[The International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics’ Laura] Machado said there is a split between rich and poor countries on the need for a legally binding international instrument on ageing along the lines of the UN convention on discrimination against women.
‘It is clear there are two groups with very different positions,’ she said. ‘The EU especially does not consider such a convention on older persons necessary, whereas the Latin American bloc wants a legally binding instrument that will pave the way for laws at the state level.’ ”

Jobs, jobs, jobs
Inter Press Service reports that the latest edition of the World Bank’s annual World Development Report marks something of a shift from the institution’s traditional fixation on economic growth:

“ ‘The conventional wisdom is to focus on growth as a precondition for continued increases in living standards and strengthened social cohesion. But … the impact of growth on poverty reduction varies considerably across countries,’ the report notes.
‘If growth indicators captured the intangible social benefits from jobs, from lower poverty to greater social cohesion, a growth strategy and a jobs strategy would be equivalent. But a growth strategy may not pay enough attention to female employment, or to employment in secondary cities, or to idleness among youth. When potentially important spillovers from jobs are not realized, a jobs strategy may provide more useful insights.’ ”

Latest Developments, August 3

In the latest news and analysis…

0.7% rethink
The European Centre for Development Policy Management’s Niels Keijzer questions the continued relevance of the decades-old (though largely unmet) commitment made by wealthy countries to devote 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid:

“Measuring development efforts in a ‘post-0.7 world’ may therefore need a much stronger focus on actions in policy areas beyond aid; a reporting system would check how far donors promoted development other than by giving development assistance. This requires monitoring national policies and international policy positions on issues such as visa facilitation, banking secrecy, arms export, agricultural subsidies, fisheries and renewable energy.

The focus on ‘proving’ the effectiveness of ODA in splendid isolation – ie ‘value for money’ – continues. But is it now time to move away from it?”

Assault on Mother Earth
Nnimmo’s Reflections reports that a court in Ecuador has agreed to hear a suit against oil-giant BP on the grounds that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill may have amounted to a violation of the rights of nature, as enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution:

“In the suit the plaintiffs demand, among other things, actions on release of information, restoration, compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence. With regard to compensation, the demands are that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to commit to leaving untapped an equivalent amount of oil to the oil spilled in the Gulf’. Secondly, that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to redirect investment earmarked for further exploration towards strategies aimed a leaving oil underground as a more effective mechanism for compensating nature for the current impact on its climate cycles due to oil production.’ ”

Delta fiasco
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development have released a statement condemning the investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta:

“ ‘The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta is a fiasco. There is more investment in public relations messaging than in facing up to the fact that much of the oil infrastructure is old, poorly maintained and prone to leaks – some of them devastating in terms of their human rights impact,’ said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
‘No matter what evidence is presented to Shell about oil spills, they constantly hide behind the “sabotage” excuse and dodge their responsibility for massive pollution that is due to their failure to properly maintain their infrastructure and make it safe, and to properly clean up oil spills.’ ”

Drones and democracy
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that a top Pakistani diplomat believes US drone strikes are doing serious harm to his country:

“[High Commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan] also claims that some factions of the US government still prefer to work with ‘just one man’ rather than a democratically-elected government, and accuses the US of ‘talking in miles’ when it comes to democracy but of ‘moving in inches.’

‘What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.’
The army too risks being seen as impotent, he warns the United States.”

Strong words
The Citizen reports that former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa has said EU Economic Partnership Agreements are “a poisoned chalice and must be rejected,” likening them to a second Scramble for Africa:

“He  said the country would lose more than $62.4 million a year from tariff elimination when the EPA is fully implemented. He said the zero rating of taxes on imports, as among the EPA conditions, would put the country’s future production at risk as it would allow more goods from the EU, thus killing local industries.

‘Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884/85, which Balkanised Africa among 13 European powers as a guaranteed source of raw materials and market, the current contraption under EPA is the modern day equivalent of the Berlin Conference,’ said Mr Mkapa. ”

Saying no to REDD+
Inter Press Service reports that civil society groups in El Salvador are asking the World Bank to reject their government’s proposal to join an international anti-deforestation scheme they believe is bad for the environment:

“They argue that, beyond the praiseworthy aim of preserving forests in developing countries, the mechanism does nothing to enforce reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialised countries that are the prime causes of the pollution.
‘This is perverse logic on the part of sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases, like industry, energy generation and transport, which produce 60 percent of all emissions and are seeking to avoid responsibility,’ said Ivette Aguilar, an expert on climate change.
‘Rich countries do not want to change their consumption patterns,’ she told IPS.”

SEC scolded
US Senators Dick Lugar and Benjamin Cardin say there is “no excuse” for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s delays in implementing legislation that would require US-listed extractive companies to disclose all payments made to foreign governments:

“Our offices consulted with the SEC before we drafted the legislation and — at the agency’s urging — we gave it leeway to write the specific reporting rules within the confines of the law after consulting with industry, investor groups, the public, and other interested parties. The April 2011, deadline has passed. We have called for an investigation into the SEC’s failure to follow the clear letter of the law.

With a Commission vote not scheduled until late August, the lengthy delay has raised fears that the SEC may dilute the regulation, either by granting a broad exemption to countries that don’t want the public to know the sums they receive, or by limiting the specifics of the payments disclosed. The law is clear on both points: no exemptions, and project by project reporting. We urge the commission: follow the law and issue the rule.”

Fallujah fallout
Al Jazeera asks if the US is coming clean about its use of unconventional weapons in Fallujah in 2004 and the “possible link” with the Iraqi city’s high number of birth defects:

“ ‘Some kind of dust or material, whether it’s uranium, whether it’s some chemical we don’t know, must’ve got into the air, must’ve got into people’s bodies and into their food and their water … there are traces, most of the material are inside the individual parents,’ [according to weapons researcher Dai Williams].”