Latest Developments, January 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Uranium lockdown
Reuters reports that France is sending “special forces and equipment” to Niger to protect uranium mines operated by French state-owned nuclear giant Areva:

“Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for more than five decades and provides much of the raw materials that power France’s nuclear power industry, the source of 75 percent of the country’s electricity.

The military source confirmed a report in weekly magazine Le Point that special forces and equipment would be sent to Areva’s uranium production sites in Imouraren and Arlit, but declined to go into further details.”

Mali blue helmets
Foreign Policy reports that US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has “quietly floated” the idea of a UN peacekeeping force in Mali once France’s military offensive ends:

“Rice made the remarks in a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday evening, though she noted that the Obama administration had not yet officially decided to back a force of blue helmets.

Rice said that the original U.N. plan — which envisioned the Malian army as the ‘tip of the spear’ in a military offensive against the Islamists — is no longer viable, according to an official present at the meeting. She said the mission would likely shift from a combat mission to a stabilization mission, requiring a long-term strategy to hold territory and build up local institutions. French combat forces are unlikely to remain in Mali to do that job. ‘We need to be open to a blue-helmeted operation,’ she said, according to another official at the meeting.”

More drones
The Los Angeles Times reports that the past few days have seen a “significant escalation” of US drone strikes in Yemen:

“The flurry of strikes in Yemen comes as the administration is considering codifying a set of procedures and policies governing how targeted killings are carried out — how militants are added to kill lists, who reviews the evidence and which government agencies get a say. The so-called counter-terrorism playbook is not yet complete, an official said this week.

It is impossible to verify whether all those killed were Al Qaeda militants, as some news reports from the region have suggested.”

Big waste
The UN is calling for an end to practices – by consumers, retailers and governments – that lead to a third of the world’s food being wasted:

“ ‘In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tons annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption,’ said FAO’s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva. ‘This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.’
In Europe and North America, the average waste per consumer is between 95 and 115 kilograms per year, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and Southeast Asia each throw away only six to 11 kilograms annually.”

Human safaris
Survival International is celebrating an Indian Supreme Court order banning tourists from a road that cuts through a tribal reserve in the Andaman Islands:

“Survival has been campaigning for many years for the road through the Jarawa tribe’s reserve to be closed. It first alerted the world that tour operators were treating the Jarawa like animals in a zoo in 2010. Survival, and Andaman organization Search, had called for tourists to boycott the road.

The latest court order comes a year after the world was shocked by an international exposé of Jarawa women being forced to dance in exchange for food.”

Exporting emissions
Inter Press Service reports that environmentalists are looking to US President Barack Obama’s handling of the country’s coal reserves as a test of the commitment to tackling climate change he expressed in his inauguration speech:

“ ‘The big story out of the United States is the expansion of the country’s coal export – this is the biggest domestic threat to the climate,’ Kelly Mitchell, a campaigner with Greenpeace, an environment watchdog, told IPS.
‘Contrasted with the country’s great successes over the last couple of years in moving away from coal use, we’re now seeing risk of those emissions moving offshore.’

‘There is a little hypocrisy in this situation. The U.S. is moving forward to reduce emissions while at the same time the federal government is allowing a huge uptick in exports. That means we’re not living up to our responsibility to address the climate problem.’ ”

Accidental hostilities
Former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer lay out the two principal reasons they fear the prospect of “attacks in cyberspace” between nations in the years ahead:

“ First, unlike the structure of Cold War-era ‘mutually assured destruction,’ cyber weapons offer those who use them an opportunity to strike anonymously. Second, constant changes in technology ensure that no government can know how much damage its cyber-weapons can do or how well its deterrence will work until they use them.
As a result, governments now probe one another’s defenses every day, increasing the risk of accidental hostilities. If John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are confirmed as US secretaries of state and defense, respectively, the Obama administration will feature two prominent skeptics of military intervention. But high levels of US investment in drones, cyber-tools, and other unconventional weaponry will most likely be maintained.”

Differing views
The Guardian reports that the CEO of the world’s second-biggest brewing company has argued that “business can fix” Africa’s problems, a view not shared by everyone in the audience:

“Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, at a session called De-Risking Africa, alongside the Nigerian and South African presidents, [SABMiller’s Graham] Mackay insisted that throwing the continent’s markets open to more investment would boost growth.
‘Trust in economic growth to solve the problems of the continent,’ Mackay said. ‘Economic growth comes from the private sector: business will fix it, if it’s allowed to.’

But Paul Kagame, of Rwanda, stressed that Africans had to trust themselves – not outsiders – to solve their problems. Speaking from the audience, he said: ‘For me, the major problem I see is that Africa’s story is written from somewhere else, and not by Africans themselves.’ ”

Latest Developments, January 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Sense of urgency
Agence France-Presse reports that France is urging “rapid deployment” of international troops to Mali where combat between government and rebel forces started this week:

“Preparations are underway for the deployment to Mali of an international force approved by the UN on Dec. 20, to occur in stages and with no defined timetable.
The African force is to consist of 3,300 troops, with a European mission of 400, of which 250 will be trainers. The deployment of the EU mission, to be commanded by an as-yet undesignated French general, is expected to launch in February, according to Paris.” [Translated from the French.]

Dangerous goods
The Vanguard reports that Nigerian authorities have quarantined a ship thought to have sailed from the UK carrying toxic e-waste:

“Confirming this to Vanguard, Public Relations Officer of Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Mr. Chris Osunkwo, said that [the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency] had written to the Command informing them that they have intelligence report that a vessel which is erroneously called M.V. Mavia, was coming into the country with two container loads of e-waste.
Osunkwo said that the NESREA officials in the letter said that the vessel should not be allowed to discharge, adding that the inspection would be done onboard the vessel before it is sent back to it’s country of origin.”

Unwanted food
The Guardian reports on new findings that up to half the world’s food, about 2 billion tons worth, is wasted each year:

“The UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) blames the ‘staggering’ new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with ‘poor engineering and agricultural practices’, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.

In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers’ exacting standards on physical appearance, it says, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.
And about 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add extra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogramme of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050.”

No gold
Reuters reports that Colombia has announced it will create a wilderness park and ban mining in an area where a Canadian company wants to dig for gold:

“Eco Oro, formerly known as Greystar Resources, had faced opposition from local authorities, the country’s inspector general and environmental groups. They called its Angostura gold project a threat to the delicate Andean ecosystem.
The move by the country’s environment ministry to create the park effectively rules out any mining in an area of more than 12,000 hectares in northern Santander province.”

Colonial murder
7sur7 reports that British government documents implicate top Belgian diplomats in the killing of Burundian independence hero Prince Louis Rwagasore half a century ago:

“The documents in question are telexes exchanged between James Murray, the British ambassador in Bujumbura at the time, and the Foreign Office, as well as a confidential report by Belgium’s prosecutor. They indicate that Roberto Régnier, Burundi’s colonial governor, repeatedly spoke of ‘the need to kill Rwagasore’.” [Translated from the French.]

Mutual destruction
Domini Social Investments’ Adam Kanzer argues that without proper social and environmental guidelines, mutual funds “can be a very effective way of promoting broad social harm”:

“If there’s anything we’ve learned from the financial crisis, it is that even the most arcane financial decisions can have real-world impacts. Such is the case when you allocate billions of dollars to companies that make military-style assault weapons. We can no longer pretend that these decisions are morally neutral – they are not.
Standard-setting is not foreign to index management. Both the index managers and the stock exchanges set all sorts of financial and governance standards. The OMX Nordic Exchange actually has a standard to ‘investigate’, and presumably to ultimately delist, companies that have committed ‘serious or systematic violation of human rights or other ethical international norms’ including those that manufacture chemical weapons or land mines. They placed these standards under the heading “marketplaces with integrity.” After OMX’s acquisition by NASDAQ, it is unclear where those standards now stand. Some exchanges, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, require listed companies to produce sustainability reports. Dow Jones, MSCI and FTSE all maintain indices that include social and environmental standards.”

Mercury treaty
Human Rights Watch criticizes wealthy countries for opposing inclusion of “a stand-alone article on health” in what is expected to become the Minamata Convention, an international agreement aimed at limiting the negative impacts of mercury:

“At the last round of negotiations, in July 2012, Western governments – in particular Canada, the United States, and European Union members – rejected including a stand-alone article on health, contending that treaty is primarily about the environment.
They indicated that including health strategies might interfere with the health sector and drive up the cost of the treaty’s implementation. They also said that current references to health strategies in the draft text were sufficient. Their stance caused a heated debate with Latin American and African governments, whose representatives wanted a stronger health article.
‘The position of the United States, Canada, and the European Union has been disappointing,’ [Human Rights Watch’s Juliane] Kippenberg said. ‘Wealthier countries should recognize that environmental and health strategies on mercury go hand in hand, and provide financial support for both.’ ”

Too much information
Radio France Internationale reports that a new investigation by French newspaper Libération raises questions about why the country’s military issued a fake death certificate for one of a pair of French gendarmes killed in the first days of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide:

“For Libération, the answer may lie in the activities of the two gendarmes in Kigali. They were working, according to the newspaper, on radio transmissions by the French embassy, the French development mission and the Rwandan army. Did they stumble upon information about those responsible for the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, the event that triggered the genocide?” [Translated from the French.]

Lastest Developments, August 23

In the latest news and analysis…

First impressions
The Wall Street Journal provides a sampling of initial responses to the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s adoption of long-delayed rules regarding conflict minerals and extractive industry transparency:

“The consensus seemed to be that the business community scored some victories on section 1502 [of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package], the so-called ‘conflict minerals provision,’ that requires companies to examine their supply chains to determine and disclose if their products contain minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries.
Meanwhile, good governance groups seemed happy with the rules on section 1504,which requires companies to disclose to the SEC all payments made to either the U.S. or a foreign government for the extraction of oil and minerals.”

Presidential warning
Agence France-Presse reports that South African President Jacob Zuma has warned mining companies to treat their workers better, as tensions began to radiate beyond the Lonmin facility where 44 striking miners were killed last week:

“Pointing out that the mining industry has assets valued at $2.5 trillion excluding coal and uranium, Zuma said the sector should be able to pay its workers a better wage.
‘In fact it should not be such an industry that has the lowest paid worker, given the wealth they have,’ he said during a memorial lecture to honour a former leader of the ruling African National Congress. He also noted that the government issued a directive to improve housing conditions for mine workers two years ago, but an audit conducted at mines in the North West province’s Rusternburg platinum belt showed only half were in compliance with the mining charter.
In one case, a company is housing 166 workers in a hostel block with just four toilets and four showers to share between them, the president said. ‘Sanctions for non-compliance with the charter include the cancellation of mining rights or licences,’ Zuma said.”

Extraordinary court
Human Rights Watch is calling a new agreement between Senegal and the African Union “an important step in the long campaign” to bring former Chadian president Hissène Habré to trial:

“Negotiations in July between the African Union and Senegal resulted in a plan to try Habré before a special court in the Senegalese justice system with African judges appointed by the AU presiding over his trial and any appeal. The August 22 agreement commits the parties to the plan and to a timetable that would have the court operational by the end of the year.
The new agreement calls for ‘Extraordinary African Chambers’ to be created inside the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar. The chambers will have sections to handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The trial court and the appeals court will each consist of two Senegalese judges and a president from another African country.”

Roma restrictions
Reuters reports that the French government plans to “expand the number of sectors” where Roma people living in France are allowed to look for jobs:

“A government-approved list of jobs that are considered open to Roma people, which now stands at 150 and includes trades such as roofers, will be extended, according to a statement by [Prime Minister Jean-Marc] Ayrault’s office.
Two weeks ago, police evicted around 300 people from illegal campsites near the cities of Lille and Lyon and sent 240 of them on a plane back to Romania. The swoops recalled a crackdown two years before for which Sarkozy drew international criticism.”

Conga opposition
The Associated Press reports that a new public opinion poll suggests there is little local support for a $5 billion gold-mining project in northern Peru, which has raised fears of contaminated water supplies:

“The Ipsos-Apoyo poll in Cajamarca province found just 15 percent approve of the Conga project, with 78 percent disapproving and 7 percent with no opinion. U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co. is the mine’s majority owner.

Hundreds of Conga opponents held a second day of peaceful protests in the region Wednesday against what would be Peru’s biggest mine. They defied a state of emergency suspending the right of assembly that was imposed in early July after five people died during violent protests.”

American food
Reuters reports on a new study which found that Americans “throw away nearly half their food,” thereby wasting about $165 billion annually:

“ ‘As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That’s money and precious resources down the drain,’ said Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.

Particularly worrisome, the organization said, was evidence that there has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

‘No matter how sustainably our food is farmed, if it’s not being eaten, it is not a good use of resources,’ said Gunders.”

Glencore hearts droughts
The Guardian reports that the “food chief” at commodities-trading giant Glencore has said a crop-destroying drought in the US is good for business:

“Chris Mahoney, the trader’s director of agricultural products, who owns about £500m of Glencore shares, said the devastating US drought had created an opportunity for the company to make much more money.
‘In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities [the purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from price differences in different markets],’ he said on a conference call .

‘They [Glencore] are millionaires making money from other people’s misery caused by the drought,’ [global food trade expert Raj Patel] said. ‘It’s the sad fact of how the international food system – that they pushed for and our governments gave to them – works.’ ”

NAM rising
As the Non-Aligned Movement prepares for next week’s Tehran summit, Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad suggests that the 120-nation group may be about to emerge from its decades in the wilderness:

“Until the last decade there have been few attempts to create an ideological and institutional alternative to neoliberalism or to unipolar imperialism.

With the arrival of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the past few years, the mood has lifted. The much more assertive presence of the BRICS inside the NAM and in the United Nations has raised hopes that US and European intransigence will no longer determine the destiny of the world.”