Latest Developments, September 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Wage battle
Al Jazeera reports that protests continue in Bangladesh where garment workers are demanding an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $100:

“Western corporations that rely on Bangladeshi labor to make much of the clothing sold in their stores, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Macy’s, appeared reluctant to comment publicly on the protests — decisions that were criticized by labor-rights activists.
‘If the corporations were to send a clear message that they are willing to pay higher prices to manufacturers so they can pay higher wages to workers, that could have a real influence on negotiations,’ said Liana Foxvog, director of organizing at the International Labor Rights Forum, a U.S.-based group that advocates for workers in countries like Bangladesh.
But that’s unlikely to happen, Foxvog said.”

Serval omission
Le Mamouth blogger Jean-Marc Tanguy writes that the French military “surely forgot”, in its new detailed list of all the ammunition it has fired in Mali, to mention what actually got hit:

“…French soldiers fired 34,000 small-caliber rounds. 58 missiles were also launched, and Caesar howitzers contributed 753 shots. AMX-10RCR tanks chimed in with 80 shots and VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, nicknamed the ‘Saint Bernards of the desert’ spat out 1,250 25mm rounds.
Helicopters reportedly fired 3,500 shells and fighter jets dropped 250 bombs.” [Translated from the French.]

Laundered oil
Reuters reports that “much of the proceeds” from Nigeria’s stolen oil, estimated to cost the country $5 billion a year in lost revenue, are being laundered in the US and UK:

While oil majors like Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni are often the first to complain about theft, it is unclear how much they are losing from it. A measure of acceptable losses may be keeping them from taking determined preventive action, the [Chatham House] report said. Oil firms do not pay royalties on stolen oil.
‘Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria,’ said the 70-page report, entitled ‘Nigeria’s Criminal Crude’.

The report named the United States, Britain, Dubai, Indonesia, India, Singapore and Switzerland as likely money-laundering hotspots, and the United States, Brazil, China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Balkans as the most likely destination for stolen oil.

Looming coup
The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch and UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg debate via Twitter the proper course of action should Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, pay a visit to UN headquarters in New York:

Goldberg: “Genocide is a uniquely horrid crime. Arresting Bashir if he comes to NYC should trump other diplomatic considerations ‪http://bit.ly/15953P9”
Gourevitch: “If US were to carry out Sudan coup d’état as you advocate, should the US then be held responsible for consequences in Sudan?”
Goldberg: “The USA would be executing the [UN Security Council’s] will when it referred the case to the ICC.”
Gourevitch: “That avoids my serious question. You call for decapitating regime – do you. Say what happens as result is irrelevant?”
Goldberg: “but yes, I do believe the int’l community bears some responsibility for helping w/ a smooth transition”
Gourevitch: “Right, it’s no simple legal/moral matter. It’s a colossal political act w/colossal political consequences & not so obvious.”

Dropping H-bombs
The Guardian reports on new evidence suggesting that US President John F. Kennedy came much closer to nuking America than any Soviet leader ever did:

“The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.”

Cultural divide
Intellectual Property Watch reports on the resumption of UN debate over a possible international agreement on the relationship between intellectual property and “genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore”

“This has been a prickly issue, as a majority of developing countries would like to have a binding legal instrument and a number of developed countries have resisted the idea of a binding instrument.

The European Union said it recognises the importance of the work of the committee and ‘looks forward to establishing a work programme’ but with the understanding that any international instrument be non-binding, flexible and sufficiently clear. There is no agreement on the nature of the instrument, the delegate of Lithuania said on behalf of the group.”

Less is more
The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York asks if the absence of foreign aid has strengthened democracy in the breakaway republic of Somaliland:

“Somaliland’s government survives on taxation revenue, which, in turn, requires a degree of political accountability and transparency. In contrast, there are 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where foreign aid is so massive that it equals more than half of government spending.
‘If these aid levels damage the quality of governance in recipient countries – as Somaliland’s experience suggests they may – then it might be the case that, in the long run, less money may actually do more good,’ [Stanford University’s Nicholas] Eubank wrote in a blog post.”

Resource curse
UN expert on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya argues that “economic development”, as conceived by most governments and corporations, leads all too often to the loss of self-determination and culture for those who live off the land:

“In the case of indigenous peoples, their connections to the land invariably have a longer history than the government deciding what to do with the land. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, ownership of roughly one-half of the global south is contested, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. This is no surprise, since over sixty percent of the developing world’s forests are administered by governments – who all too often give it away for pennies per hectare, for the sake of ‘quick-fix’ development.”

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Latest Developments, February 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Surprise endorsement
Wired reports that UN special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson, the man who recently launched an investigation into the use of armed drones, has given his “qualified backing” to John Brennan, the man who has been running the US drone program, for next head of the CIA:

“Emmerson, a British lawyer, has put the U.S. on notice that he won’t hesitate to investigate U.S. ‘war crimes’ if he uncovers evidence of them. While Emmerson’s inquiry won’t focus on individuals responsible for any uncovered abuses, Brennan, as a White House aide, presided over the bureaucratic process for ordering suspected terrorists killed. Yet at the White House, Emmerson says, Brennan ‘had the job of reining in the more extreme positions advanced by the CIA,’ which he thinks augurs well for Brennan’s CIA tenure.
‘By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA’s policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control,’ Emmerson says. ‘It’s right to view this as a recognition of the repository of trust that Obama places in Brennan to put him in control of the organization that poses the greatest threat to international legal consensus and recognition of the lawfulness of the drone program.’ ”

Due process
Georgetown University’s David Cole wonders if there are any “alternative checks within the executive branch” during US decision making on targeted killings:

“For example, is anyone assigned to make the case against the targeted killing—that is, to advocate on behalf of the person the administration is considering executing? The CIA uses ‘red teams’ to challenge and improve its analysis of potential operations; shouldn’t that be required before the executive kills a human being? Much information has been leaked about the process, but nothing has suggested that such a safeguard exists in the targeted killing program.”

Economic war
The Associated Press reports that Iran’s supreme leader has said that increasingly harsh economic sanctions make direct nuclear talks with the US impossible:

“ ‘You are holding a gun against Iran saying, “Talks or you’ll fire.” The Iranian nation will not be frightened by such threats,’ [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei added in a reference to U.S. sanctions over Iran’s nuclear efforts.
The U.S. this week further tightened sanctions, which have already slashed Iran’s oil revenue by 45 percent. The new measures seek to cut deeper into Iran’s ability to get oil revenue. It calls on countries that buy Iranian crude — mostly Asian nations including China and India — not to transfer money directly to Iran and instead place it in local accounts.”

No exceptions
Publish What You Pay is celebrating the Dutch government’s decision not to support “dangerous exclusions” in proposed new EU requirements for extractive industry transparency:

“The upcoming legislation which is being introduced through the European Accounting and Transparency Directives builds upon a landmark provision in US law – section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 – which requires all oil, gas, and mining companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to publish their payments to all countries and for every project. The US rules implementing Dodd-Frank 1504 do not provide for any exemptions from reporting.
In deciding not to support exemptions, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp said in a letter to the Dutch Parliament that exemptions were ‘not desirable’ since the Dutch government wished to create ‘a level playing field for international transparency requirements’.
Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and other oil companies have been fighting these laws both in the United States and European Union.”

Global precedent
Reuters reports on the opening of a special court in Senegal that will be the first in the world to hold a “trial of an ex-head of state by another country for rights abuses”:

“Prosecutors will work at a sea-front court in the Senegalese capital Dakar, investigating the alleged killing and torture of 40,000 people during [former Chadian President Hissene] Habre’s 1982-1990 rule.

Africa has a human rights court which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, but its status has only been ratified by 26 countries.
Former African heads of state have stood trial before, but only in their own countries or before international tribunals, never in the court of another country.”

Mining murders
Morning Star reports that a Colombian court has ordered prosecutors to investigate the president of a US mining company over the 2001 deaths of two union leaders:

“The company denies hiring militias and is fighting a lawsuit filed by survivors of the murdered men in an Alabama federal court that claims [Drummond Company] aided and abetted war crimes, including extra-judicial killings.

Lawyer for the plaintiffs Terry Collingsworth applauded judge [William] Castelblanco’s order that prosecutors investigate Drummond’s president, Garry Drummond, as well as a former mine security chief and two Colombians to determine whether they shared responsibility for the killings.
But he also said he wasn’t hopeful that the order would lead to a Colombian criminal prosecution.”

Gene treaty
Intellectual Property Watch reports that UN delegates have produced a text that could lead to “an international instrument or instruments protecting genetic resources against misappropriation”:

“The text, bearing a large number of brackets, shows that divergences still need to be bridged. The [Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC)] meeting scheduled for July has three extra days planned for the end to discuss the three legs of the IGC: genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. But this genetic resources text is not expected to be reopened then.

Canada, Japan, Norway, South Korea and the United States, resubmitted their joint recommendation on genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, for a non-binding instrument without a disclosure requirement.”

Luxury ban
Voice of America reports that China has banned radio and TV ads for luxury goods on the grounds that they “publicized incorrect values and helped create a bad social ethos”:

“The move to ban certain ads comes as the lunar new year celebrations approach and is another in a line of efforts by Chinese authorities to root out corruption, something the Chinese Communist Party has publicly acknowledged as a life or death struggle.

In December, China forbade high-ranking Chinese military officials from attending banquets and other events where alcoholic beverages are served. They also set limitations on the use of welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements, live performances and souvenirs.”

Latest Developments, February 23

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Outside solutions
Oxfam’s Barbara Stocking has expressed disappointment over the Somalia conference in London, which UK Prime Minister David Cameron hailed as a “turning point.”
“While we recognise the huge efforts of the UK Government to make the conference a success, what we had hoped for was a recognition that 20 years of internationally imposed solutions have failed. However, what we’ve seen once again are externally driven solutions that haven’t worked, aren’t working and will not work.

What we got was the rhetoric of Somali inclusion but you cannot go forward with a new constitution and elections in such a troubled country without a wide and inclusive political engagement within Somali society.”

Madonna strikes again
The Guardian reports Madonna’s latest school-building scheme in Malawi has run afoul of education officials who say they have not been consulted.
“…John Bisika, Malawi’s national secretary for education, science and technology, told the Guardian: ‘We have had no written or verbal communication. We just read about it in the papers. I don’t understand how she can work like that. For someone to go to the papers and say, ‘I’m building schools’, without telling the government, I find it a strange way of working.’
He added: ‘When will she build these schools? How will we know where these schools are needed? We need to do this in a co-ordinated manner. I wouldn’t just go to the UK and start building schools.
‘We need to be approached and work out where the schools are needed, based on school mapping. If she doesn’t come through us, it will not happen. We can’t just see people building schools. Let’s do it properly.’ ”

Patent reform
Intellectual Property Watch reports that UN talks have moved one step closer to an international agreement concerning genetic resources, although substantial differences remain over “mandatory disclosure of origin in patent applications.”
“The Indian delegate said ‘none of us here’ want to give ‘the impression that we are against the patent system’ but ‘there is a lot of free riding that is going on,’ he said, and the companies are taking traditional knowledge and claiming that it is their own, to the detriment of local communities he said. For the integrity of the patent system it is important that such bad patents are not granted, he added.”

Corruption by another name
The Tax Justice Network reproduces the communiqué released at the inaugural meeting of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa.
“Illicit financial outflows constitute a major source of resource leakage from the continent draining foreign exchange reserves, reducing tax collection, dwindling investment inflows, and worsening poverty in Africa. The methods and channels of illicit financial outflows are many and varied including tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, over-invoicing, under-pricing, and different money laundering strategies. This source of resource outflows is far bigger and higher in terms of scale and magnitude than the normal corruption channels, which are focused upon globally.”

Infantilizing nations
Michael Marder of the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz sees parallels between European current events and earlier dark chapters in the continent’s history.
“The infantalisation and animalisation of entire nations, for course, is nothing new for Europe that has had a long tradition of portraying itself in terms of the beacon of humanity and that has invariably resorted to the idea of its ‘civilising mission’ throughout it colonial conquests and expansions. Now, almost four decades after the last European countries have withdrawn from the colonies overseas, the same rhetoric is being turned inward, retracing the new political economic continental rift between the North and the South of Europe. Exploitation is the one constant that remains after this shift: exorbitant interest rates and repayment conditions attached to the bailout package will make sure that the debtor countries organise their economies around the need to service their debt for the foreseeable future.”

Price of doing business
Duke University’s Christine Bader asks why more extractive companies are not taking preventive measures to avoid escalation of conflict with host communities.
“[Former UN special representative for business and human rights, John] Ruggie suggests that most companies aren’t yet adding up what he calls those “costs of conflict,” which might be dispersed across security, public relations, legal, and operational budgets, and therefore aren’t motivated to act.
Some companies worry that opening up lines of communication will open the floodgates for specious claims. But a Harvard University study concluded that ‘the mere existence of a quality grievance mechanism can improve a company’s relations with affected stakeholders and thereby reduce grievances, as it signals that the company is ready to be held accountable, to confront, acknowledge and learn from problems.’ ”

Oil opacity
The Economist takes on the extractive industry’s “many objections” to more stringent transparency requirements, such as those contained in America’s Dodd-Frank act.
“But businesspeople struggle to produce examples of how local restrictions on publishing confidential contract details could clash with transparency requirements elsewhere. Contracts in developing countries typically have a clause permitting disclosures that are required by the company’s home country and stock exchange. Nor does greater disclosure seem to hurt competitiveness. In 2011 Angola awarded several new deepwater oil concessions to firms covered by Dodd-Frank. No oil company has so far cited increased openness as a material risk in its [US Securities and Exchange Commission] filings.
The expense has been minimal for the few, such as America’s Newmont Mining, that already provide country-level reporting (none yet breaks the numbers down project-by-project). Exxon says that the new rules would cost $50m. That is a lot of money, to be sure, but only 0.1% of last year’s profits. Companies already collect for internal use the data they are being asked to make public.”

Know thyself
UC Irvine’s Mark LeVine argues that if American and European citizens really want to help their counterparts in countries like Syria, they must first become more knowledgeable about their own countries’ “foreign policy interests and practices.”
“And if they got such knowledge, it would demand a much larger transformation in the political culture and economic structures of their own societies, which have always been intimately tied to support for authoritarianism and corruption abroad.”

Latest Developments, February 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Somalia strikes
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates US military strikes have killed up to 162 people, including as many as 59 civilians, in Somalia since 2007.
“The total number of casualties may be higher.  Some reports simply state ‘many killed’, and other attacks may be unrecorded.

Though the Bureau has striven to untangle confused reporting of western military activity in Somalia, much remains opaque – something the US seems keen to see continue.”

Indigenous walkout
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the International Indigenous Forum has withdrawn from UN talks on rights governing genetic resources and traditional knowledge, a move that “calls into question the legitimacy of the negotiations.”
“As the ‘titleholders, proprietors and ancestral owners of traditional knowledge that is inalienable, nonforfeitable and inherent to the genetic resources that we have conserved and utilized in a sustainable manner within our territories,’ the group feels that ‘the discussion on intellectual property rights and genetic resources should include Indigenous Peoples on equal terms with the States since the work will directly impact our lives, our lands, our territories and resources.’
As a consequence, they said they decided ‘unanimously, to withdraw our active participation in the work developed by this Committee until the States change the rules of procedure to permit our full and equitable participation at all levels of the IGC.’
Under the current rules of procedures, Indigenous Peoples have observer status at the IGC. They can make proposals to the negotiations but those proposals have to be endorsed by at least one delegation to be taken into account.”

Rejecting consensus
Former French prime minister Michel Rocard argues the unrealistic quest for consensus is condemning international negotiations to failure and June’s Rio+20 summit will likely be no exception.
“Of course, there is a chance that the world will recognize its quandary at Rio. If a majority of the countries present dares to declare that demanding consensus is equivalent to enforcing paralysis, and if they insist upon following the voting procedures enshrined in the UN Charter, we could see enormous progress.
Global warming and economic crisis are threatening international security. This alone justifies referring these issues to the UN General Assembly, which, unlike the Security Council, knows no veto power. A strong declaration and a call for binding measures to address these issues would then be possible.”

Unfair fight
Agence France-Presse reports most victims of corporate abuses in Nigeria lack the resources to obtain restitution.
“In October, a Nigerian tribal king filed a lawsuit in a US court on behalf of his people against oil giant Shell, seeking $1 billion in compensation for extensive pollution that sickened the population and damaged their lands.
The plaintiffs said they decided to file the suit in a US court because of Shell’s history of a ‘culture of impunity’ and ‘disregard’ for the Nigerian judicial process.
They note that the Shell has refused to comply with a 2005 order to end gas flaring in the Iwherekan community or to pay a 2006 judgment to pay $1.5 billion to the Ijaw Aborigines for damages caused by decades of pollution.”

Too big to jail
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson argues American banks will continue to engage in “fundamental and systemic breaches of the rule of law” until their top executives face real penalties for such behaviour.
“Top bankers want to make a lot of money. They also want to stay out of prison. Political leaders can huff and puff as much as they want, but, without a credible threat of poverty and time behind bars, bankers have no reason to comply with the law.”

War machine
Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara writes about the damage caused by “the militarisation of the Arab Spring in Libya” and the sense of inevitability that led up to it.
“In late 2010, France and Britain decided to stage a war game titled Operation: Southern Mistral. It would involve thousands of military personnel and hardware from both countries. The scenario envisioned the two longtime military rivals joining forces for a bombing campaign against an imaginary southern dictator. The simulated war was condoned by a fictitious UN Security Council resolution and was scheduled to begin on March 21 of 2011. Well, the actual bombing of Libya began on March 19. This is surely a coincidence. But it does highlight the French and British mindsets and why no serious diplomatic effort got off the ground. The bombers were already on the runway.”

Immigration doublespeak
CNN.com’s LZ Granderson argues the American discourse around “securing the border” is really about something quite different from homeland defense.
“[National security]’s a part, but the larger truth is that nonwhite people will be the majority in this country by 2040 and this browning of America scares the hell out of a lot of people, particularly some white people. The thinking goes that if the country can deport the Mexicans who are illegally here and stop new ones from coming in, maybe that trend will slow down or even reverse.
That sentiment is at the core of the racial profiling laws started in Arizona and is at the core of the entire illegal immigration conversation. It’s a clumsy attempt to talk about race without mentioning race so as not to appear racist.
But the dialogue is transparent because if it was really about ‘securing the border,’ the facts suggest Canada would be a big part of the conversation and not just an afterthought.”

Interventionary diplomacy
Princeton University’s Richard Falk argues that a group foreigners currently being detained in Egypt do not work for “genuine NGOs” but rather, “informal government organisations” that are “overtly political.”
“In the end, Egypt, along with other countries, is likely to be far better off if it prohibits US IGOs from operating freely within its national territorial space, especially if their supposed mandate is to promote democracy as defined and funded by Washington. This is not to say that Egyptians would not be far better off if the [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] allowed civilian rule to emerge in the country and acted in a manner respectful of human rights and democratic values.”