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.”

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Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

New court
The BBC reports that Senegal’s MPs have voted to create a “special African Union tribunal” to try former Chadian president Hissène Habré on the continent, rather than in Europe:

“In July the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, passed a binding ruling that Senegal should begin proceedings to try Mr Habre without delay if it did not extradite him to Belgium.
MP Cheikh Seck said he voted for the law because it would show that Africa could hold its own leaders accountable.
‘It’s not up to the West to try Hissene Habre. It’s why I voted in favour of this law,’ he told the Associated Press news agency.

A 1992 Truth Commission in Chad accused Mr Habre of being responsible for widespread torture and the deaths of 40,000 people during his eight-year rule.”

The hardest word
Reuters reports that on his first state visit to Algeria, French President François Hollande said he was “not here to repent or apologize” for his country’s colonial past:

“The trauma of the 1954-1962 Algerian war, in which hundreds of thousands were killed before France’s departure, left deep scars in both countries which still hold back a partnership France believes could help revive the Mediterranean basin.

A formal apology for its colonial past is a sensitive issue. Many French citizens who lived there before independence and who fought in the French army against Algerian insurgents oppose the idea, as do former loyalist Muslim volunteers known as ‘harkis’.”

Idle No More
The Globe and Mail reports that, while First Nations protests are nothing new in Canada, “never in recent years have the protests been so widespread or sustained”:

“They point to the legislation that directly affects their communities, which native leaders, including [National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn] Atleo, say was written without their input. They point to development of natural resources on their traditional lands that offers little sharing of wealth but promises lasting environmental consequences. They point to a federal government that they say has been long on gestures but short on a willingness to listen and negotiate.”

Rio suit
Dow Jones reports that Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state intends to sue Chevron for damages on top of the $149 million the US oil giant has already offered to settle federal lawsuits resulting from a 2011 offshore spill:

“ ‘There will be a series of demands made by Rio de Janeiro besides the fine’ paid to settle the federal lawsuits, [Rio Environment Secretary Carlos] Minc said. Mr. Minc said he was not authorized to disclose the value of the damages the state was seeking.
Mr. Minc said that the spill, which released an estimated 3,700 barrels of oil into the sea after a drilling accident, ‘obviously’ caused damage to the environment, dismissing claims to the contrary made by Chevron.”

Big fine
Al Jazeera reports that Swiss bank UBS has been ordered to pay $1.5 billion to regulators in the US, UK and Switzerland for its role in the Libor rate-rigging scandal:

“UBS, which is based in Zurich, is the second major bank to be fined over the interbank lending rate scandal after Britain’s Barclays bank was ordered to pay $450m to British and US authorities in the summer for attempted manipulation of interbank rates between 2005 and 2009.
The fine is the second-biggest ever levied on a bank with banking giant HSBC fined $1.9bn recently for money laundering.

Other banks are also reportedly in advanced talks with regulators about settling allegations that they too manipulated their Libor information, including Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank.”

Land limits
Inter Press Service reports on Tanzania’s decision to limit the amount of land that investors can “lease” for agricultural purposes:

“According to official documents, seen by IPS, from the Tanzania Investment Centre, a government agency set up to promote and facilitate investment: ‘Even within a seven-year period, an investor would not be able to use more than 10,000 hectares…’
The move will come as a relief to land rights organisations that have continually called for the government to curb the land grabs here.

In Tanzania’s northern Loliondo district, which is known for its wildlife, much of the land has been leased out to international hunting concessions, which has resulted in the large-scale eviction of the local population – although the government refutes this.  A major U.S. energy company, AgriSol Energy, has also been accused of engaging in land grabs in Tanzania that would displace more than 160,000 Burundian refugees, according to a report by the Oakland Institute. The report states that AgriSol is benefiting from the forcible eviction of the refugees, many of whom are subsistence farmers, and leasing the land — as much as 800,000 acres — from the Tanzanian government for 25 cents per acre.
[Land Rights Research and Resources Institute’s Yefred] Myenzi said that of the 1,825 general land disputes reported in 2011, 1,095 involved powerful investors.”

Not on the agenda
Britain’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, has explained to the House of Commons why next year’s UK-chaired G8 summit will not play a role in establishing successors to the Millennium Development Goals:

“The Prime Minister is co-chair of the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda, which will submit independent recommendations to the UN Secretary-General in May 2013. Thereafter, we anticipate that a wide UN-led process will culminate in the agreement of post-2015 development goals in 2015. It is right for this process to be led by the UN and developing countries. The Prime Minister has announced that the G8 summit in 2013 will focus on tax, trade and transparency.”

Friends in high places
The University of Cambridge’s Ha-Joon Chang gives his take on why tax havens, which drain public revenues from governments around the world, continue to prosper:

“Why do tax havens exist? Because rich countries allow them to. If the US came down on tax havens in the same way they come down on countries that trade with Iran and Cuba, we’d have no tax havens in the world.”

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.”

Latest Developments, July 25

In the latest news and analysis…

RIP Atta Mills
The BBC offers an obituary of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills who died suddenly and has been replaced by his vice-president, John Mahama:

“Mr Atta Mills described himself as a social democrat who leaned broadly on independence leader Kwame Nkrumah’s idea of social welfare.
But he pitched a more inclusive and less polarising political platform than both Mr Nkrumah and [former president Jerry] Rawlings.
Once in power he started an austerity programme and presided over the country’s first commercial oil production, promising that – unlike some African countries – his government would spend the newfound oil revenue responsibly.”

African justice
Agence France-Presse reports that Senegal and the African Union are proposing the establishment of a special court in Senegal to try former Chadian president Hissène Habré:

“After four days of talks in Dakar, a draft agreement was drawn up between the AU and Senegalese government on the ‘creation of extraordinary African chambers within the Senegalese court structure,’ said Amadou Baal, director of the justice minister’s office.
The chambers will have four sections to handle instruction, investigations, trials, and appeals, and will consist of Senegalese and other African judges.
Baal said the proposal was still subject to final approval.
Senegal pledged Friday to put Habre on trial, after the Hague-based International Court of Justice ruled that it must submit his case to its competent authorities for prosecution if it does not extradite him.”

Unfriendly skies
The Washington Post reports on UN concerns that Somalia’s skies “have become so congested with drones” that public safety is at risk:

“In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refu­gee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital.
Although U.N. investigators did not directly pin the blame for the mishaps on the United States, the report noted that at least two of the unmanned aircraft appeared to be U.S.-manufactured and suggested that Washington had been less than forthcoming about its drone operations in Somalia.”

Unsatisfactory draft
Reuters reports that there is much unhappiness over the first draft of the Arms Trade Treaty that is meant to be finalized by week’s end, with one critic saying it currently has “more holes than a leaky bucket”:

“[Oxfam’s Anna] Macdonald listed several criticisms. He said the range of weapons in the draft treaty needed to be expanded, particularly to include ammunition; the rules governing risk assessments that countries must do before authorizing an arms sale needed to be tightened; and the whole treaty needed to be broadened to cover the entire global arms trade and not just illicit transactions.”

Strings attached
The Guardian reports that activists in the US and India are criticizing conditions attached to American AIDS funding, which they say marginalize sex workers:

“International organisations that receive funds through the President’s emergency plan for Aids relief (Pepfar) must sign an “anti-prostitution pledge” prohibiting them from doing anything that could be perceived as supporting sex work. Activists say this has weakened the already underfunded response to the HIV epidemic among some of the most vulnerable communities.

US organisations that receive Pepfar money are no longer bound by the pledge, after successfully taking the government to court on the basis that the conditions attached to funding violate first amendment rights. But organisations outside the US are still required to sign it.”

Ogoniland pollution
The Financial Times reports that communities in Nigeria’s delta region are saying the government and foreign oil companies have done little since a UN report called last year for “the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken”:

“Earlier this year, Shell employed a local contractor to clean up the site of the 1970 well blowout [at Boobanade]. It says the work was inspected by the environmental regulator and signed off as satisfactory. But on a visit to the site in June, patches of oil residue could be seen in the soil. In one spot, fresh crude was bubbling up. [Local resident Fyneface] Farah says the remediation work was not satisfactory and that independent experts should be called to verify what was done. ‘We still cannot plant anything there and the water table is contaminated,’ Mr Farah says. ‘There is still not enough action – that is the truth.’ ”

East African energy
Think Africa Press asks who will benefit from East Africa’s apparently imminent oil and gas bonanza:

“Much of the coastal offshore drilling in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique is occurring in areas suffering from poor soil, low water tables and geographical isolation, and in regions in which many residents struggle to find employment. Whether discoveries of valuable natural resources will help or hinder these communities remains to be seen.
Indeed, as a consultant for USAID and the UN Development Programme explained, there are no baseline studies of the communities along the Tanzanian and Kenyan coasts, and if there has been any community consultation, it has gone undocumented.”

UN as enabler
Human Rights Watch asks how the UN can “stop itself from supporting” those who violate human rights:

“For many years, sometimes unknowingly and sometimes it seems because it chose to look the other way, the United Nations has provided assistance, money or logistical support to armies or police forces involved in abuses and serious human rights violations.

For the world organization to demonstrate it’s serious about ending support to abusive forces, it should lead by example and adopt stringent standards for itself. The organization needs to aggressively implement its ‘due diligence’ policy, properly fund it, and impose it where it counts – on the ground – even if it ruffles some feathers. The U.N. reputation is at stake, as much as the very mission its founders envisioned when they engraved in its charter to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.’ ”