Latest Developments, December 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian plan
The Independent reports on “secret Syria talks” aimed at drawing up plans to provide the country’s rebels with training, as well as military support from air and sea:

“The head of Britain’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, hosted a confidential meeting in London a few weeks ago attended by the military chiefs of France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE, and a three-star American general, in which the strategy was discussed at length. Other UK government departments and their counterparts in allied states in the mission have also been holding extensive meetings on the issue.

The training camps can be set up in Turkey. However, the use of air and maritime force would, in itself, be highly controversial and likely to lead to charges that, as in Libya, the West is carrying out regime change by force.
Furthermore, any such military action will have to take place without United Nations authorisation, with Russia and China highly unlikely to back a resolution after their experience over Libya where they agreed to a ‘no-fly zone’ only to see it turn into a Nato bombing campaign lasting months.”

Weak deal
The Guardian reports that environmental and anti-poverty groups are unhappy with the lack of progress made during the UN climate talks that ended in Doha over the weekend:

“ ‘A weak and dangerously ineffectual agreement is nothing but a polluters charter – it legitimises a do-nothing approach whilst creating a mirage that governments are acting in the interests of the planet and its people,’ said Asad Rehman, head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth. ‘Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis. The blame for the disaster in Doha can be laid squarely at the foot of countries like the USA who have blocked and bullied those who are serious about tackling climate change. Our only hope lies in people being inspired to take action.’ ”

Too big to indict
The New York Times reports that US authorities have decided not to indict banking giant HSBC over alleged laundering of Mexican drug money, for fear that “criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks

“Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities. The bank, which is based in Britain, faces accusations that it transferred billions of dollars for nations like Iran and enabled Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through its American subsidiaries.
While the settlement with HSBC is a major victory for the government, the case raises questions about whether certain financial institutions, having grown so large and interconnected, are too big to indict.”

Private aid
The Guardian reports on War on Want’s criticism of the UK’s increasing use of the private sector to deliver aid to Africa, a strategy the NGO contends “will do little to reduce poverty”:

“ ‘In fact [Department for International Development]-funded expansion of corporate control over agriculture in Africa is a sure way of increasing long-term vulnerability,’ [War on Want director John Hilary said].

War on Want also attacks the government for using aid to promote the commercial interests of some of the world’s most profitable food, drink and agrochemical corporations.
The report says that DfID-sponsored programmes which have funded projects in Africa and Asia with multinationals include the alcohol companies Diageo and SABMiller and the food giant Unilever. It also tracks support for initiatives to develop sales networks for agrochemical companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto. DfID is, for example, set to contribute £395m to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative that involves 45 of the largest multinational corporations investing $3bn (£1.86bn) in African agriculture.”

Suspended justice
Reuters reports that a French court has given no jail time to ex-soldiers it found guilty of murdering an Ivorian man in 2005:

“The incident – in which [Firmin] Mahe was suffocated with a plastic bag in an armored vehicle after his arrest – erupted into a diplomatic scandal after it was found the soldiers tried to cover up the crime.

The court gave Colonel Eric Burgaud, who had given the order to kill, a suspended sentence of five years, while his adjunct who had admitted to carrying out the murder, Guy Raugel, received a suspended four-year sentence.
Brigadier Chief Johannes Schnier, who helped in the killing, was handed a suspended sentence of one year. Another soldier who drove the vehicle during the killing was acquitted.”

Continent-specific justice
Inner City Press reports on concern in some diplomatic circles that the International Criminal Court’s new prosecutor is picking up where her predecessor left off, targeting only Africans for indictment:

“Another Security Council source, from a country that has signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, expressed to Inner City Press dismay at the ‘mechanism’ announcement over the weekend that new ICC prosecutor Fatima Bensouda is now looking into indicting the M23 and its supporters.
Opponents of Joseph Kabila get indicted by the ICC, from [Jean-Pierre] Bemba to Bosco [Ntaganda], the complaint runs. And what has been accomplished? Let the ICC at least try an indictment in another continent and see how it goes. Or why not look at Kabila or those in his administration, as well?”

Bloc party
The Associated Press reports that not everyone was celebrating as European Union leaders gathered in Oslo to collect this year’s Nobel Peace Prize:

“Three Peace Prize laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina — have demanded that the prize money of $1.2 million not be paid this year. They said the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
Amnesty International said Monday that EU leaders should not ‘bask in the glow of the prize,’ warning that xenophobia and intolerance are now on the rise in the continent of 500 million people.”

Institutionalized assassination
The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman argues that the biggest problem with America’s drone strikes is not the remoteness of the killings but the secrecy surrounding them:

“To make the spread of drone warfare less likely – and to prevent abuses in America’s own programme – drones need to be reclaimed from the realm of covert warfare. The CIA may relish its conversion into a paramilitary force. But wars should be fought by the military and openly scrutinised by politicians and the press. Anything else is just too dangerous for a free society and for international order.”

Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Perception confirmation
The widely reported release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index was met by an extended “grumble” on Twitter by Save the Children’s Alex Cobham:

“Dear twitter, remember that an index based on *perceptions* of corruption will score worst those places most often reported as corrupt…
…regardless of any *actual* corruption. So a priori you might expect Greece to be worst in EU; Somalia worst in world etc. But…
… remember that it is just perception confirmation – with no element of objective factual support. Corruption continues to be #uncounted.
In addition, if you share view that providing financial secrecy can be corrupt and corrupting, good scores of eg Switzerland should raise qs
The other side of corruption can be seen in the Financial Secrecy Index
[Grumble over.]”

Right to opacity
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US oil industry is proceeding with a lawsuit aimed at blocking the required disclosure of payments made to foreign governments:

“In court papers filed Monday, the American Petroleum Institute, joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two other trade groups, called the rule, promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Provision under Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act and narrowly approved, ‘one of the most expensive’ in the history of the Commission.
Mandating disclosure is a violation of the First Amendment, the filing added. ‘The rule – and the statutory provision that authorized it – violate the First Amendment by compelling speech on a controversial matter in order to influence political affairs,’ it said.”

Performance anxiety
Germanwatch has released the 2013 edition of its Climate Change Performance Index, ranking the efforts of the world’s 58 highest emitters to protect the climate:

“In 2010, the most recent data period for this year‘s CCPI, the world saw another record breaking increase in global CO2 emissions. Not only have global emissions risen to another all time high, but this increase has also been the steepest emissions surge in history.
Not only are emissions rising at the global level. As well at the national level is little good news to tell. Not one of the examined countries has managed to change to a development path that is compatible with limiting global warming substantially below 2°C. No country‘s effort is deemed sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Therefore, as in the years before, we still cannot award any country with 1st, 2nd or 3rd place.”

Only the brave
The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project has released a report on the dangers faced by those opposing or monitoring the extractive industries in Uganda and Tanzania:

“There is a long history of antagonism, including cases of violence, between the mining industry and Tanzanian citizens, especially in the North Mara region of the country. It was here that in May 2011 between 4 and 7 Tanzanians (reported figures vary) were shot and killed and many others wounded by private mine security officers in an incident at the North Mara mine owned and operated by African Barrick Gold (AGB), a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold Corp.”

Just business
In a speech delivered to a UN forum in Geneva, Harvard University’s John Ruggie explained what he sees as the greatest need for holding to account businesses that commit human rights abuses abroad:

“National courts appear not to share a consistent understanding regarding the applicability to companies of international standards prohibiting gross human rights abuses, potentially amounting to international crimes. These may arise in areas where the human rights regime cannot be expected to function as intended, such as conflict zones or similar sources of heightened risk, and typically the allegations involve corporate complicity in acts committed by related parties. In those situations, plaintiffs may turn to home country courts. But even as the number of such cases has increased, courts have issued conflicting interpretations of what precisely the international standards stipulate. Greater legal clarity is needed for victims and companies alike. Only an intergovernmental process can provide that clarity.
The international community has determined, and everyone present in this room would agree, that sovereignty can no longer serve as a shield behind which governments are allowed to commit or be complicit in the worst human rights violations. Surely the same must be true of the corporate form. So let that be affirmed authoritatively, and remove all doubt.”

Very mercenary
Oxfam’s Gawain Kripke writes that the founder of private military company Blackwater, “which has been renamed several times, trying to escape the stench of scandal and atrocity,” has turned himself into an investment advisor:

“From a comfortable perch in Abu Dhabi (no extradition treaty with the US), [Erik] Prince now raises funds and advises clients on the wonderful investment opportunities in Africa. He claims he’s raised $100 million and is shooting (err) for $400 million more. His new company, Frontier Resource Group (motto: fortuna audaces iuvat or fortune favors the bold) offers support for investors mixed with ‘security and logistical capacity’.
Ever the bottom dweller, Prince has focused his efforts on some of the more problematic investments (natural resources extraction), and problematic countries; DRC, Guinea, and South Sudan. Which should be appealing to problematic investors (based in Hong Kong).”

Cold War continues
Columbia University’s Howard French argues Susan Rice, a frontrunner to become the next US secretary of state, has been instrumental in perpetuating an outdated American approach to Africa:

“On a broader level, the old paradigm of Cold War policy, with its momentous ideological competition, has been repurposed to work for something far more inchoate and hollow: the War on Terror. Accordingly, the United States has persisted in its embrace of leaders who align with Washington on that basis in places like Sudan and Somalia, mirroring the style of cherry-picking allies during the struggle against communism.”

Big food
National Public Radio asks if the food and beverage industry is the new tobacco:

“[The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity’s Kelly Brownell] pointed to cases in which the industry set up front groups to fight a soda tax in California and fought national guidelines that would restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
The food industry can do some good things, Brownell admitted, when it comes to fighting hunger or promoting sustainable agricultural practices. But ‘obesity is a different kettle of fish’ because solving it conflicts directly with the industry’s most basic imperative: To sell more food. All of the industry’s much-celebrated ‘healthy eating’ campaigns and partnerships with public health initiatives, Brownell says, amount to ‘baby steps’ that simply obscure this basic fact.”