Latest Development, October 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Excess deaths
The Los Angeles Times reports on a new study that claims nearly half a million people died as a result of the Iraq War and its fallout:

“In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that at least 461,000 ‘excess’ Iraqi deaths occurred in the troubled nation after the U.S.-led invasion that resulted in the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein. Those were defined as fatalities that would not have occurred in the absence of an invasion and occupation.

Of those deaths determined to be the result of direct violence, the study attributed 35% to coalition forces, 32% to sectarian militias and 11% to criminals. Contrary to public perception of mayhem in Iraq, bombings accounted for just 12% of violent deaths. The overall majority of violent deaths, 63%, were the result of gunfire.”

“Fucking natives”
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reports on the anti-fracking standoff between Canadian police and First Nations protesters at Elsipogtog:

“Heavily armed RCMP officers, some clad in full camouflage and wielding assault weapons, moved in early Thursday morning to enforce an injunction against a Mi’kmaq barricade that has trapped exploration vehicles belonging to a Houston-based firm conducting shale gas exploration in New Brunswick.

Tensions were high on both sides as the raid unfolded.
‘Crown land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives,’ APTN’s Ossie Michelin heard one of the camouflaged officers involved in the raid shout to protestors.”

Angry students
Agence France-Presse reports that thousands of French students have taken to the streets in protest over the deportation of foreign-born peers:

“Leonarda Dibrani was detained during a school trip earlier this month and deported to Kosovo with her parents and siblings, in a case that has raised questions over France’s immigration policies, shattered the unity of the ruling Socialist party and landed France’s popular interior minister Manuel Valls in hot water.

Last month, [Valls] caused an outcry by saying most of the 20,000 Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

Last year, 36,822 immigrants were deported from France, a nearly 12 percent rise from 2011 that the Socialist government attributes to a steep rise at the beginning of the year when former president Nicolas Sarkozy was still in power.”

Leaking billions
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on Tanzania’s efforts to rein in “illicit transfers”, estimated to cost the country five percent of GDP annually:

“Some of the biggest multinationals operating in Tanzania aggressively avoid paying tax there by using tax havens such as Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he added. Several of them are registered in London.
‘Tanzania has agreements with more than 19 countries, some of them very old. With the United Kingdom, (we agreed) a tax treaty and investment treaty in 1963. We only had 12 graduates. Part of the campaign should be to review all these agreements,’ said [Zitto Kabwe, chairman of the parliamentary committee on public accounts], whose committee will present its report in February next year.
Seven of Tanzania’s top 10 taxpayers in the extractive and communications sectors use tax havens to the detriment of the country’s economy, he said. Two of the three largest mobile phone companies in the country are registered in the tax havens of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, costing Tanzania a large amount of revenue.”

Counting slaves
The Guardian reports on criticism of “the first index to attempt to measure the scale of modern-day slavery on a country-by-country basis”:

“Bridget Anderson, deputy director of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford, who has researched and written about human trafficking, said any attempt to gather ‘unjust situations’ across the planet and label them as ‘slavery’ is already getting off on the wrong foot.
‘I wouldn’t find it useful. You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like “forced”, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said.
‘Say with sex trafficking: if you are dealing with people who have very constrained choices, and you are so horrified with the choices, you say you are not allowed to make that choice, it’s too terrible for me on my nice sofa to tolerate. Is it right that you shut that choice down?’”

Ocean decline
Former Chilean finance minister Andrés Velasco argues that “improved governance mechanisms” are needed to end the degradation of the world’s oceans:

“Degradation is particularly serious in the one substantial part of the world that is governed internationally – the high seas. These waters are outside maritime states’ exclusive economic zones; they comprise two-thirds of the oceans’ area, covering fully 45% of the earth’s surface.
It is not enough to document that the losses are big. Obviously, the next question is what to do about it. No single official body has overall responsibility for the high seas. So, even if the economic losses turn out to be much higher than previous estimates, there are currently few effective mechanisms to bring about change. The basic pillar of ocean governance, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was established 30 years ago. Since then, huge technological advances have occurred, and demand for resources has increased massively.”

Help wanted
The BBC reports that the UN is appealing for more troops and equipment for MINUSMA, its peacekeeping mission in Mali:

“The UN force, which took over security duties in July, has less than half of its mandated strength of more than 12,000 military personnel.

‘We are faced with numerous challenges,’ [the UN’s special representative to Mali, Bert Koenders] told the UN Security Council.
‘The mission lacks critical enablers – such as helicopters – to facilitate rapid deployment and access to remote areas to ensure the protection of civilians. Troop generation will have to accelerate.’ ”

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Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Reforms held up
Inter Press Service reports that the International Monetary Fund has warned of delays in reforming its voting system which is currently weighted heavily in favour of the US and European members:

“According to the IMF, based here in Washington, these reforms are aimed specifically at ‘enhancing the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries, including the poorest’, and are supposed to be formally agreed upon by January 2013 to be officially integrated the following year.

China, for instance, today the world’s second-largest economy, only has voting rights on par with Italy. Under the new setup, China’s weight within the Fund would effectively double, along with that of several other emerging economies, while the voting rights of several developed countries would be curtailed.”

iPhone problems
The New York Times reports on fresh allegations of labour abuses at Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn just as the world’s richest company is set to unveil its latest phone:

“Foxconn has acknowledged using student ‘interns’ on manufacturing lines, but says they are free to leave at any time. But two worker advocacy groups said Monday that they had spoken with students who said they had been forced by their teachers to assemble iPhones at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, in north-central China.
Additionally, last week Chinese state-run news media reported that several vocational schools in the city of Huai’an, in eastern China, required hundreds of students to work on assembly lines at a Foxconn plant to help ease worker shortages. According to one of the articles, Huai’an students were ordered to manufacture cables for Apple’s new iPhone 5, which is expected to be introduced on Wednesday.”

Egyptian assets
The BBC reports that the British government is offering a lawyer to Egypt to help it recover assets held in the UK by allies of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak amid allegations London is dragging its feet on the matter:

“In February 2011, [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague told Parliament the UK had agreed to Egyptian government demands to freeze the assets of several former Mubarak officials.
But it took more than a month before Britain and 27 other EU states applied the sanctions. Egypt said the delay allowed the accused officials to move their money elsewhere.
A BBC Arabic and Newsnight investigation found that property and companies linked to key figures in the Mubarak regime have been largely unaffected by the sanctions.

Speaking earlier this month, Assem al-Gohary, head of Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, said: ‘The British government is obliged by law to help us. But it doesn’t want to make any effort at all to recover the money. It just says: “Give us evidence”. Is this reasonable?’ ”

Guantanamo death
The Toronto Star reports on the history of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, the Yemeni man who has become the ninth detainee to die at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which US President Barack Obama had promised to close down in 2009:

“According to court records, Pentagon officials first recommended Latif be transferred out of Guantanamo in 2004, when it was determined he was “not known to have participated in combat/terrorist training.” Again in 2006 and 2008, the Bush administration authorized Latif’s transfer home to Yemen, according to his assessment file made public by WikiLeaks.
In 2010, the U.S. District Court in Washington agreed, ruling that the government had failed to prove its case and ordering Latif’s immediate release. But the court’s decision was overturned in appeal, and in June, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.”

Fracking fight
Waging Nonviolence reports that the South African government’s decision to lift the moratorium on natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing is not going unchallenged:

“The industry’s argument that natural gas could diversify their energy supplies while creating jobs, all at a lower carbon cost than oil or coal, are particularly potent in those countries that suffer high unemployment, though African countries may also be especially skeptical due to their history of resource exploitation by outsiders. [Treasure the Karoo Action Group’s Jonathan] Deal noted that Shell’s reputation in Africa in terrible, particularly as a result of accusations of orchestrating the execution of environmental activists in Nigeria. Because of this, he explained, ‘Poor people are not that keen to trust.’ ”

Axing the tax?
Reuters reports that Ghana is reconsidering its proposed windfall tax on mining profits:

“The West African nation, the continent’s second-largest source of gold, proposed the 10 percent windfall tax on mining companies’ profits in its 2012 budget as part of measures to boost income to state coffers.
The government also raised the corporate tax rate on miners from 25 to 35 percent for this year.

The International Monetary Fund last year recommended that Ghana, which is also the world’s number 2 cocoa grower and an oil producer, consider raising taxes or introducing new ones to increase revenues.”

Silicosis suit
The Independent reports that nearly 3,000 South African miners are taking “FTSE 100 giant” Anglo American to court in the UK, claiming that working conditions destroyed their health:

“The latest court filing comes as Anglo is required to disclose information that will effectively decide the jurisdiction of the cases. Anglo argues that any hearings should take place in South Africa, but [British law firm] Leigh Day is examining whether a corporate restructuring in 2009 means that most operational direction now comes from the UK head office.”

Bases, bases everywhere
TomDispatch’s Nick Turse writes about what happens to US military infrastructure when wars end:

“Of those 505 US bases in Iraq, some today have been stripped clean by Iraqis, others have become ghost towns. One former prison base – Camp Bucca – became a hotel, and another former American post is now a base for some members of an Iranian “terrorist” group. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. But while a token number of US troops and a highly militarised State Department contingent remain in Baghdad, the Iraqi government thwarted American dreams of keeping long-term garrisons in the centre of the Middle East’s oil heartlands.
Clearly, US planners are having similar dreams about the long-term garrisoning of Afghanistan. Whether the fate of those Afghan bases will be similar to Iraq’s remains unknown, but with as many as 550 of them still there – and up to 1,500 installations when you count assorted ammunition storage facilities, barracks, equipment depots, checkpoints and training centres – it’s clear that the US military and its partners are continuing to build with an eye to an enduring military presence. ”

Latest Developments, August 18

 

In the latest news and analysis…

As the violent crackdown on Syrian protestors continues, Western leaders have called for the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to step down and are threatening more sanctions. “We call on him to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people,” said a joint statement by the leaders of France, Germany and the UK. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” US President Barack Obama said. And while there were no threats of international military action, a new UN report says the Syrian regime may have committed crimes against humanity and calls for an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Peru’s new left-leaning government has suspended its US-funded coca eradication program while it rethinks its drug fighting strategy. Though saying the move is meant only to be a “pause,” the country’s anti-drug czar also suggested 12 years of eradication efforts had done little to reduce cocaine production in the Andean nation that could soon become the world’s top exporter of the drug. And in Mexico, there are growing questions about the human and economic toll of the country’s war on drugs. But in a move designed to crack down on planes smuggling drugs through Central America, the Honduran government is proposing a no-fly zone over an area representing more than a quarter of the country’s total territory.

Apparently not swayed by a recent Economist article suggesting “shale gas should make the world a cleaner, safer place,” South Africa’s government has extended by six months its moratorium on drilling for the controversial energy source. The country’s mining minister imposed the ban earlier this year and commissioned a study on the impacts of fracking but still has some lingering questions. Anglo American and Shell are among the companies eager to extract South Africa’s shale gas but they have encountered opposition from farmers concerned about water contamination risks.

The UK government is vowing to resist any “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions, following noises from France and Germany that they intend to introduce such a measure to generate revenue and discourage market speculation. “Any financial transaction tax would have to apply globally — otherwise the transactions covered would simply relocate to countries not applying the tax,” according to a British Treasury official.

“No clear evidence exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts,” according to a new study by the UK’s Department for International Development, citing a lack of “rigorous quantitative evidence” on the subject. The study’s lead researcher has urged “a more holistic approach to financial services for the poor, which would put more focus on savings, remittances and financial literacy rather than on the obsessive interest in microcredit of the last few years.” Another, as-yet unpublished DFID study on microfinance in Africa is said to reach similar conclusions but, according to the Guardian, the department has already locked in funding to expand African microfinance programs.

Christian Aid has blasted the anticipated UK tax deal with Switzerland, saying it will undermine efforts to tackle international tax dodging, which the NGO estimates costs poor countries $160 annually, “far more” than the amount of aid they receive. “Poor countries lack the political and economic clout to do such deals with Switzerland – but they too lose billions as a result of money being illegally hidden in tax havens,” according to a Christian Aid press release. “And just like the UK, they need that money to fund vital public services such as schools, hospitals and justice systems.”  The statement calls on G20 countries to put a stop to “the tax haven secrecy exemplified by Switzerland” by forging “a new system of automatic information exchange between Governments – including those of poor countries – to help them to detect when citizens hide wealth offshore.”

Like Christian Aid, the French government does not like Switzerland’s so-called Rubik plan – which Germany has accepted and the UK looks set to do the same – that allows Swiss banks to retain their secrecy while falling into line with European tax rules. “We understand the choices made by Germany and Great Britain who, not so long ago, held similar positions to our own,” a French finance ministry source told Le Monde. “It’s only human to want the money right away.” But the source said transparency remains the French priority. Meanwhile, a number of African governments are reportedly looking to set up their own tax havens in order to “modernise the African financial sector.”

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs paints a picture of the world economy in which the super-rich have used the “global tax competition” argument to secure tax cuts from their home governments and tax havens have multiplied despite feeble protests from politicians: “In the end the poor are doubly hit, first by global market forces, then by the ability of the rich to park money at low taxes in hideaways around the world.” One of the essential steps he believes governments must take in order to end the current economic crisis is the balancing of budgets “in no small part through tax increases on high personal incomes and international corporate profits that are shielded by loopholes and overseas tax havens.”

Hexayurt Project director Vinay Gupta writes “we must acknowledge that the field of human rights has become a gridlock of rights, entitlements, preferences and theology. Rights directly conflict with each-other, as in the right to property directly conflicting with the right to assured access to water. Without a global jurisdiction, no government can enforce any kind of coherent rights doctrine, particularly in the face of borderless problems like terrorism or environmental crisis.”

University of South Carolina geographer Edward Carr argues development (as well as humanitarian) workers need to think more about their own work’s environmental impact: “While an intervention appropriate to a community’s current needs may result in improvements to human well-being in the short term, the changes brought on by that intervention may be maladaptive in ten or twenty years and end up costing the community much more than it gained initially.”