Latest Developments, October 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Desert deaths
Agence France-Presse reports that dozens of migrants have been found dead in Niger:

“ ‘About 40 Nigeriens, including numerous children and women, who were attempting to emigrate to Algeria, died of thirst in mid-October,’ Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of the main northern town of Agadez, said
‘Many others have been reported missing since their vehicle broke down in the desert,’ he said.

These migrants often look to Europe as their final destination, a security source said, and use Libya as a jumping off point amid the relative chaos in the North African country since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Humanitarian agencies say nearly 20 000 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe over the past 20 years.”

Congressional first
The Guardian reports on the testimony given to US Congress by civilian victims of a drone strike in Pakistan:

“Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

‘Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,’ [Rafiq ur Rehman] said, through a translator. ‘Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.’
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: ‘Not a militant but my mother.’

Rehman said: ‘In the end I would just like to ask the American public to treat us as equals. Make sure that your government gives us the same status of a human with basic rights as they do to their own citizens. We do not kill our cattle the way US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones. This indiscriminate killing has to end and justice must be delivered to those who have suffered at the hands of unjust.’ ”

Nearly unanimous
Al Jazeera reports that virtually all UN member states have called on the US to end its embargo on Cuba:

“This came in a symbolic vote of the 193-nation General Assembly on Tuesday. The unenforceable resolution was 188-2. The United States and Israel voted against it, while Pacific island states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau abstained.

‘Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,’ [Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez] said. ‘The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.’

‘The United States is a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people,’ [US envoy Ronald Godard] said.”

CAR troops
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted to send an initial 250 soldiers to the Central African Republic to protect UN staff:

“The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send 250 military personnel to the capital Bangui and then increase the strength of the force to 560 troops so they can deploy to areas outside the capital where there is a U.N. presence.

France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said France would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 1,200 if needed.”

Oil anger I
Reuters reports that protests have shut down all but offshore oil production in Libya:

“Libya’s oil exports have dropped to less than 10 percent of capacity or 90,000 barrels per day, Reuters calculations show, as renewed protests this week halted operations at western ports and fields, supporting global oil prices.

Any imminent agreement to even partially resume exports appeared elusive.
[Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi] paid an emergency visit to the western Sharara field on Monday and discussed pay increases with oil workers there. He was forced to leave without a deal, however, after local protesters refused to meet him.”

Oil anger II
Reuters also reports that the UK’s Tullow Oil has suspended drilling operations in Kenya over “popular impatience for a share of the spoils”:

“Backed by local politicians, demonstrators from Kenya’s poor, northern Turkana community marched on Tullow sites demanding jobs and other benefits, prompting one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most experienced oil explorers to ‘temporarily’ halt work.

Kenya is revising outdated laws governing the oil and gas industry. A draft law could go to parliament in November.
Others are also updating industry rules. Tanzania is drawing up a new gas policy, but has yet to issue it as a debate rumbles on about how much gas should be sold to foreigners.”

Redefining poverty
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica tells Al Jazeera that he rejects the label of “the poorest president in the world”:

“ ‘It seems that we have been born only to consume, and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto marginalised.’

‘Those who describe me so are the poor ones,’ he says. ‘My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied.’ ”

Terror threat
The BBC reports that South Africa’s ruling party is demanding an apology after US officials detained a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former cabinet minister because he was on a “terrorist watchlist”:

“[Tokyo Sexwale’s] detention at the JFK international airport was “an affront to the global anti-apartheid movement”, the [African National Congress] said.

Former ANC leader Nelson Mandela was only taken off the list by former President George W Bush in 2008.
Mr Sexwale was imprisoned along with Mr Mandela on Robben Island.

Another of Mr Sexwale’s lawyers, Leslie Makhabela, told South Africa media that US immigration officials had ‘alleged he posed a threat to international security’.”

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Latest Developments, October 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Reducing oversight
Stars and Stripes calls the Obama administration’s decision to loosen controls over military exports “a big win for the defense industry”:

“Come tomorrow, thousands of parts of military aircraft, such as propeller blades, brake pads and tires will be able to be sent to almost any country in the world, with minimal oversight – even to some countries subject to U.N. arms embargos. U.S. companies will also face fewer checks than in the past when selling some military aircraft to dozens of countries.

Under the new system, whole categories of equipment encompassing tens of thousands of items will move to the Commerce Department, where they will be under more ‘flexible’ controls. Final rules have been issued for six of 19 categories of equipment and more will roll out in the coming months. Some military equipment, such as fighter jets, drones, and other systems and parts, will stay under the State Department’s tighter oversight. Commerce will do interagency human rights reviews before allowing exports, but only as a matter of policy, whereas in the State Department it is required by law.”

Corporate accountability
Reuters reports that a majority of US Supreme Court judges seem to think an American court is not the proper venue for a lawsuit against German auto giant Daimler AG over alleged human rights violations in 1970s Argentina:

“The Daimler case is the second time in the last year that the court has considered how and under what circumstances multinational companies can be sued in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations.

The legal question in the Daimler case is different from that in the [Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell] case, which focused on an obscure federal law called the Alien Tort Statute.
The Daimler case concerns whether a U.S. court has the authority to hear a case against a foreign corporation ‘solely on the fact that an indirect corporate subsidiary performs services on behalf of the defendant’ in the state where the lawsuit was filed, which in this instance was California.
A decision in the Daimler case is expected by the end of June.”

Non-classical intervention
Reuters also reports that France could triple the number of troops it has in the Central African Republic by the end of 2013:

[French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius] has announced a troop increase by year-end once the U.N. Security Council votes in December on a resolution to strengthen a U.N. mission. Sources said it could increase the total French force to between 700-1,200.
‘It wouldn’t be an intervention in the classical sense of the word,’ Fabius said. ‘We’re not going to send parachutists, but there needs to be a presence because the state has been completely unseated.’ ”

Colonial marketing
Inner City Press reports on the latest debates inside the UN’s decolonization committee:

“Friday afternoon in the Fourth Committee, after a week of speeches denouncing the UK for the Malvinas or Falkland Islands, UK Political Coordinator Michael Tatham spoke. He spoke of his country’s ‘modern relationship’ with its territories — if you want to stay, you can.
Moments later Bolivia’s Permanent Representative Sacha Llorenti said that the UK’s invocation of self-determination, for which generations fought, was now being used as ‘colonial marketing.’
Llorenti also took on the United States, calling Puerto Rico a colony and long-jailed Oscar Lopez Rivera a political prisoner.

Papua New Guinea chided France for not turning over education in New Caledonia.”

Rental racism
A BBC investigation of 10 “letting agents” in London suggests that would-be tenants face rampant racism despite equality legislation:

“All 10 were recorded on secret camera saying they would be prepared not to show the flat to African-Caribbean people – and many detailed how they had done it before.
The lettings manager at A to Z Property Services, in Dollis Hill, said: ‘We cannot be shown discriminating against a community. But obviously we’ve got our ways around that.
‘99% of my landlords don’t want Afro-Caribbeans or any troublesome people.’ ”

Moral economy
Spirited Social Change’s Christine Boyle and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Seth Klein argue it is “wrong to presume that a moral economy would necessarily be one with fewer decent jobs”:

“We offer this simple definition: A moral economy is one in which people do not feel they have to sacrifice their values, harm human dignity or compromise ecological health in order to achieve economic security.
This definition is as much a cultural shift as it is a policy one. It’s not about public vs. private, so much as reconsidering the balance, and bringing a new lens to the economic planning that both governments and businesses undertake.”

Sharing, not caring
Evgeny Morozov writes in the Financial Times that companies pushing the so-called sharing economy are not really looking to build an “economy that benefits everyone”:

“The power model behind the sharing economy is more Michel Foucault than Joseph Stalin: no one forces you to be part of it – but you may have little choice anyway.
A new UN, indeed: the erosion of full-time employment, the disappearance of healthcare and insurance benefits, the assault on unions and the transformation of workers into always-on self-employed entrepreneurs who must think like brands. The sharing economy amplifies the worst excesses of the dominant economic model: it is neoliberalism on steroids.”

Choosing inequality
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that inequality is a policy choice and that the trend of growing disparities in the West is “not universal, or inevitable”:

“In many countries, weak corporate governance and eroding social cohesion have led to increasing gaps between the pay of chief executives and that of ordinary workers — not yet approaching the 500-to-1 level for America’s biggest companies (as estimated by the International Labor Organization) but still greater than pre-recession levels. (Japan, which has curbed executive pay, is a notable exception.) American innovations in rent-seeking — enriching oneself not by making the size of the economic pie bigger but by manipulating the system to seize a larger slice — have gone global.
Asymmetric globalization has also exerted its toll around the globe. Mobile capital has demanded that workers make wage concessions and governments make tax concessions. The result is a race to the bottom. Wages and working conditions are being threatened. Pioneering firms like Apple, whose work relies on enormous advances in science and technology, many of them financed by government, have also shown great dexterity in avoiding taxes. They are willing to take, but not to give back.”

Latest Developments, April 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Colonial crimes
The Guardian reports that thousands of documents were “systematically destroyed” and others remained hidden until now in order to conceal crimes committed in the last years of the British empire.
“The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the ‘elimination’ of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been ‘roasted alive’; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain’s late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that ‘might embarrass Her Majesty’s government’, that could ‘embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers’, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might ‘be used unethically by ministers in the successor government’.”

Torture ruling
The Courthouse News Service reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Torture Victim Protection Act does not apply to alleged abuses committed by organizations.
“Before courts can extend personhood to corporations, Congress must give some indication of that intention.
‘There are no such indications in the TVPA,’ [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor wrote. ‘As noted, the Act does not define ‘individual,’ much less do so in a manner that extends the term beyond its ordinary usage. And the statutory context strengthens – not undermines – the conclusion that Congress intended to create a cause of action against natural persons alone.’ ”

US transparency
Bloomberg reports the US government has announced new rules that will require banks to declare interest paid to “nonresident aliens,” despite strong opposition from Republican lawmakers.
“The regulations, adopted yesterday, are part of the government’s efforts to work with other countries on tax evasion. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service say the U.S. should ask its banks to report information just as it is requiring overseas banks to provide information on U.S. account holders.”

Françafriqe
Radio France International reports that Senegal’s newly elected President Macky Sall has agreed to allow the continued permanent presence of French troops on his territory, albeit in reduced numbers.
“The two men signed the defence deal, which will published “in all transparency”, according to Sarkozy, as have all such agreements with France’s former African colonies since 2008.
Its most important feature – the reduction of the permanent French troop presence in Senegal from 1,200 to 300 – was already agreed in 2010 with Sall’s predecessor, Abdulaye Wade.”

Joining the club
Agence France-Presse reports that South Sudan has become the 188th member of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“The World Bank, an anti-poverty development lender, also hailed South Sudan’s membership, calling the impoverished country a “test case” on its principles of citizen-led state building with the support of international development partners.
‘I am very pleased to welcome South Sudan, the world’s newest country as our newest member of the World Bank Group, to help it manage and resolve its many formidable development challenges while it also builds a broad national coalition to secure lasting peace and prosperity,’ said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the bank’s vice president for Africa.”

Formula One’s 29%
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reports that less than a third of “firms linked to Formula One” responded when asked to respond to human rights concerns raised about the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Forty two companies or teams failed to respond.

‘Seldom have we seen a response rate this low from a group of companies anywhere in the world’, said Christopher Avery, Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. ‘And of the responses that were received, seldom if ever have we seen such a high proportion that completely fail to comment on the human rights concerns that they were asked to address.’

The usual response rate to the Resource Centre is 75% globally.”

ATT concerns
Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan expresses mixed emotions over the US position on the Arms Trade Treaty ahead of July’s UN negotiations.
“On the positive side, Assistant Secretary [Thomas] Countryman stated that the US is open to suggestions from other countries on ways to include ammunition within the treaty’s scope. This is a major shift in the right direction; prior to this speech, the US position was that ammunition must not be included in the treaty in any circumstance.

The US seems to hold the position that as long as a government ‘considers’ the impact of the arms transfer and ‘keeps it in mind,’ the treaty should allow states to transfer weapons to war criminals or human rights abusers. Such an Arms Trade Treaty would significantly lower the current international standards on respecting human rights and the laws of war, and it runs contrary to the US position on human rights and international humanitarian law at the United Nations.”

Different take on the cake
Blogger Nuclear Grrl takes issue with the accusations of racism leveled at a controversial piece of Swedish performance art that involved audience members in symbolic “female genital mutilation” by cutting a cake shaped like a caricatured African woman.
“Blackface has historically been used to dehumanize Black people. [Makode] Linde’s purposeful use of blackface in his ‘Painful Cake’ is meant to call out society for this dehumanization and show that Black women are real human beings. Blackface represents Swedish society’s view of Black women as simplistic caricatures of Black humanity rather than the real pillars of the family that they are. His performance proves his point with exemplary efficiency – no one seemed horrified by what they were seeing, at least not during the portion of the performance released on tape.”