Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Hornet’s nest
France 24 reports on the possible shape of France’s looming military intervention in the Central African Republic, which promises to be “more complicated” than the one in Mali earlier this year:

“ ‘A situation like the one in CAR where the targets aren’t clearly identified, where people don’t wear uniforms, where the adversary doesn’t seize territory can be a real hornet’s nest. That’s why France is going in on tiptoe,’ said retired general Vincent Desportes

France’s foreign minister tried to alleviate concerns about a French intervention by speaking on Thursday of simple ‘support’ for the panafrican force and a deployment that ‘will not be as massive or long’ as the one in Mali. Military experts, however, say that such peacemaking missions generally require a lot of boots on the ground.
‘There’s an immediate need in CAR and it’s obvious that French troops are going to do the work themselves before handing off to [the African Union’s peacekeeping force, MISCA] and turning into a rapid response force,’ said Desportes.” [Translated from the French.]

Preserving impunity
The New York Times reports that a new provisional deal between the US and Afghanistan would mean thousands of American troops stay in the country through 2024:

“After a war that stands as the longest in American history, the security agreement defines a training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan lasting at least 10 more years and involving 8,000 to 12,000 troops, mostly American.
Despite the sometimes harsh criticism from Afghan officials during the negotiations, the agreement includes concessions that the Obama administration could not win from Iraq during a similar process in 2011, leading to the final withdrawal of American troops there.
Now, the United States has at least an initial agreement from Afghan officials that American soldiers will not face Afghan prosecution in the course of their duties. And United States Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct antiterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central American demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.”

Corporate climate talks
Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman writes about the rise of corporate sponsorship at the UN’s COP 19 climate summit which is wrapping up in Warsaw:

“Among them, Pascoe [Corporate Europe Observatory’s Pascoe Sabido] says, are ‘General Motors, known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the US; you have BMW, which is doing equal things in Europe, trying to weaken emission standards.’ Grupa Lotos, the second-largest Polish petroleum corporation, has its logo emblazoned on the 11,000 tote bags handed out to delegates here.”

British terror
The BBC reports on evidence suggesting an undercover unit of the British army killed unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles” of the 1970s:

“Speaking publicly for the first time, the ex-members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with ‘hunting down’ IRA members in Belfast.

The details have emerged a day after Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, suggested ending any prosecutions over Troubles-related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The MRF’s operational records have been destroyed and its former members refused to incriminate themselves or their comrades in specific incidents when interviewed by Panorama.
But they admitted shooting and killing unarmed civilians.”

Anonymous denial
The Washington Post reports that the latest CIA drone strike in Pakistan, which allegedly killed six people at a madrassa, is creating even more controversy than usual:

“The [US] official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a madrassa was in the vicinity but said it was not damaged.

Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first in other areas in more than five years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also issued a statement Thursday condemning drone strikes, calling them a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Bogus numbers
The Daily Maverick reports that oft-repeated African hunger statistics appear to be “vastly exaggerated”:

“If twelve people died of ‘hunger’ ever minute in Africa it would mean that 6.3-million people starve to death annually. The limited available data does not support this. According to World Health Organisation mortality data, about 9.5-million people died in Africa in 2011. Of those deaths, only 396,161 were attributed to ‘nutritional deficiencies’.”

Last words
Open Democracy reproduces two letters from a new collection of the final writings of Ogoni rights and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa:

“I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘street-wise’. Bull-headed, yes. You have to be to take on Shell and the cabal that rules Nigeria.

I don’t see Shell and the government allowing me to travel—they must dread what bombs my presence will drop in Europe as I’m supposed to address the Swedish Parliament, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and another meeting in London. There or not, my words will ring through all the places.

Exxon had to pay 5 billion USD for the oil spill from one tanker in Alaska. By the time we’ve created sufficient awareness internationally, it should be possible for us to find assistance should we wish to sue.

As far as I am concerned, Shell should lose its mining lease in Ogoni.

No, Shell are merely hoping that the government will succeed in ‘pacifying’ the Ogoni and then they will move in proudly and calmly to continue to steal. They are in for a fight they will never forget.”

Sleeping with the enemy
The Guardian interviews War on Want’s John Hilary about big NGOs’ excessive coziness with governments and corporations:

“Development-speak is littered with references to partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Hilary refuses to accept this as evidence of progress and argues instead that even the most positive of such initiatives eventually give sway to the demands of the most powerful.

This ‘wholesale abdication of responsibility’, according to Hilary, has helped turn the issue of corporate accountability into little more than a public relations exercise.

While often brought on to panels and called into debates to give the alternative view, Hilary is not the only one unhappy with the state of British development work. A group called the Progressive Development Forum, for example, of which Hilary is a member, brings together those working in the sector to debate how to reframe conversations away from aid, charity and philanthropy and instead revive narratives of global justice and the need to tackle structural drivers of poverty and inequality.”

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Latest Developments, October 1

In the latest news and analysis…

State of hunger
A trio of UN agencies has released a new report suggesting that, despite a slight drop in global hunger, about an eighth of the world’s population is “still chronically hungry”:

“Despite the progress made worldwide, marked differences in hunger reduction persist. Sub-Saharan Africa has made only modest progress in recent years and remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with one in four people (24.8 per cent) estimated to be hungry.
No recent progress is observed in Western Asia, while Southern Asia and Northern Africa witnessed slow progress. More substantial reductions in both the number of hungry and prevalence of undernourishment have occurred in most countries of East Asia, Southeastern Asia, and in Latin America.”

Torture suit
Courthouse News Service reports that dozens of Iraqi plaintiffs are suing an American company in a US court over alleged war crimes at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison:

“The surviving Iraqi detainees and representatives from the estates of the dead sued CACI Premier Technology and CACI International under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.

Detainees have sued CACI in the past for alleged torture. In June 2013, a federal judge found that CACI cannot be sued for its alleged role in the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners. The ruling relies on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a recent Supreme Court decision in which the justices effectively immunized corporations from claims under the Alien Tort Statute by foreign citizens.”

Red light
A group of UN experts is arguing that a steel project owned by South Korea’s Posco “must not proceed as planned” in India:

The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District, and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more in the surrounding area.

While India has the primary duty to protect the rights of those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by the project, the experts underlined that ‘POSCO also has a responsibility to respect human rights, and the Republic of Korea, where POSCO is based, should also take measures to ensure that businesses based in its territory do not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad.’

‘People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits,’ stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda.

UN scolded
The Caribbean Journal reports that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said the UN’s handling of the cholera epidemic it caused in Haiti threatens the organization’s “moral authority and credibility”:

“Gonsalves said there was ‘no longer any scientific dispute’ that the UN was responsible for the outbreak, which has killed more than 8,000 people in Haiti and infected more than 600,000.
‘I continue to be deeply disturbed by the UN’s callous disregard of the suffering it has wrought in a fellow CARICOM country, and by the shameful, legalistic avoidance of what is a clear moral responsibility on the part of the UN,’ he said. ‘I call on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to acknowledge unambiguously, and apologize for, this organization’s role in the tragedy, and to take immediate steps to compensate the victims and their families.’ ”

Climate refugee
Agence France-Presse reports on a man from Kiribati who is seeking refugee status in New Zealand due to the impact of rising sea levels on his native island:

“Legal experts consider the man’s case a long shot, but it will nevertheless be closely watched, and might have implications for tens of millions of residents in low-lying islands around the world.

In a transcript of the immigration case obtained by The Associated Press, the Kiribati man describes extreme high tides known as king tides that he says have started to regularly breach Kiribati’s defences — killing crops, flooding homes and sickening residents.”

Dirty business
The Tyee reports that a murder in Mexico fits into a pattern of violence faced by people who oppose Canadian mining companies around the world:

“Far from an isolated event, this kind of story has played out across Latin America, Africa and beyond when Canadian mining firms set up shop. When, occasionally, violence at distant mining sites comes to the attention of Canadian investors or the public, corporate officers typically deflect responsibility onto ‘pre-existing conflicts’ — old rivalries or local power struggles given fresh fuel by the injection of mining money.
What we found in Oaxaca, however, was that those ‘pre-existing’ conflicts are far from petty or ancient feuds. Instead, they reveal serious and deep differences of opinion in affected communities about whether the kind of industrial development a mine offers is a driver for community benefit, or a threat to traditional culture and more sustainable livelihoods. As the lure of personal gain subverts authentic community priorities, local democratic processes are often among the first to fall victim.”

Naming & shaming
Voice of America reports that the International Labour Organization may have problems carrying out its plan to get a bit tougher with abusive garment factories in Cambodia:

Beginning in January, the ILO will publicly release information on factories that fail to comply with the most important elements of the country’s labor laws.

‘In the last three years we’ve seen the factories’ compliance with the Labor Law has been declining – it’s getting worse. Working conditions are deteriorating. That’s not true in every factory, but on the whole this is what we’ve seen. And we’re returning to an old practice – something we did in the early years of the project – to create some gentle public pressure on factories to improve working conditions,’ said [the ILO’s Jason] Judd.

As a result, [the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia] will send letters to its members advising them that they are no longer obliged to let [ILO] inspectors enter their factories.”

Teeth required
SOMO writes that NGOs are “sceptical” about the Dutch government’s latest plans to improve the overseas behaviour of the country’s companies:

“What if companies do not want to cooperate and don’t stick to the agreements? MVO Platform feels that in addition to the commitment of the involved companies, monitoring and regulations from the side of the government will be necessary. The efforts should not be free of obligation and there should be supervision of the covenants. Companies that do not adhere to their agreements should experience real consequences, as should companies that are not entering into such agreements.”

Latest Developments, January 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Tax breaks
Reuters reports that iron ore exports could propel Sierra Leone to 51.4 percent GDP growth in 2012, but the extent to which the country’s people will benefit may depend as much on two UK-based companies as on the government.
“Sierra Leone adopted a new mining law in 2009 designed to improve the state share of the country’s resource wealth by raising royalty rates. Previous legislation also established a tax rate of 37.5 percent for mining companies.
Both London Mining and African Minerals obtained substantial tax discounts in their contracts and are paying well below the percentages outlined, even after London Mining’s accord was renegotiated.

‘The limited tax contribution from the mining companies has huge implications for poor people in Sierra Leone,’ Danish watchdog DanWatch said in a recent report.”

Mining denial
The National Post is the first Canadian newspaper to report on last week’s death of a Mexican protester near a Canadian-owned mine, which Fortuna Silver says had nothing to do with its operations.
“A spokeswoman for the Canadian group MiningWatch criticized the company’s position.
‘There has been conflict over this project and worries over potential impacts on local water supplies for several years,’ said Jen Moore.
‘Instead of trying to deny any responsibility, the company should work to help diminish tensions.’ ”

Human-free bombing
The Los Angeles Times reports that the US Navy is testing a new drone that “has no pilot anywhere,” a development that raises a number of ethical questions.
“ ‘Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability,’ said Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert. ‘This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?’
Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.”

Chevron lawyers up
The Am Law Daily reports oil giant Chevron has disclosed that it is employing “no fewer than 39 law firms” to defend itself against a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
“By the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ count (which we did not verify), Chevron employs close to 500 outside lawyers or paralegals to counter their claims.

According to the plaintiffs’ unverified count, Chevron lists 60 lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher alone. The plaintiffs estimate that Gibson Dunn charged Chevron $250 million in 2010, and the same amount again in 2011, but they don’t explain their calculations. This number seems at least two times too high, since according to The American Lawyer‘s published figures Gibson Dunn’s total litigation billings in 2010 were approximately $595 million.”

Genocide denial
In the wake of the recent report by a French judge on the events that triggered the Rwandan genocide, freelance journalist Julie Owono calls for France to re-examine its role in “the first genocide in Africa of the 20th century” perpetrated against the Bamileke people of western Cameroon in the early 1960s.
“Much less about this is known however, since the archives detailing direct French involvement remain under the seal of secrecy by the French state. The recent publication of a journalistic and historical thesis by two French journalists and a Cameroonian historian, recounts in detail the war by France on the edge of the independence of Cameroon to impose the first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, to a population which in a majority supported the Cameroonian Independence Party, testimony in support of survivors of the massacres and actors, as well as the paradoxically more accessible archives of the Cameroonian army, and has gradually begun to open the wall of silence in which the French authorities had sealed the question of this genocide.
The answer given by French Prime Minister François during his official visit in Yaounde in 2009 might therefore attest the same memoricide will: ‘I absolutely deny that the French forces were involved in anything related to murder in Cameroon. All this is pure invention.’ ”

Counterintuitive capital movements
The London School of Economics’ Keyu Jin wonders why it is that “capital-scarce (and young) developing countries” are exporting rather than importing capital that they need for consumption and investment.
“China is a case in point. With its current-account surplus averaging 5.5% of GDP in 2000-2008, China has become one of the world’s largest lenders. Despite its rapid growth and promising investment opportunities, the country has persistently been sending a significant portion of its savings overseas.
And China is not alone. Other emerging markets – including Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle Eastern oil exporters – have all increased their current-account surpluses significantly since the early 1990’s. Collectively, capital-scarce developing countries are lending to capital-abundant advanced economies.”

Disputed hunger figures
The Guardian’s Claire Provost looks critically at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s oft repeated estimate that there a billion hungry people in the world, a figure from which even the UN body is distancing itself.
“Unfortunately, little of the uncertainty surrounding global hunger estimates is ever reported alongside the emotive, top-line figures.

While the FAO hunger indicator has long dominated discussions, it is not the only way to measure food insecurity. Over the years, it has been criticised on many fronts: for the poor quality of underlying data; for the focus on calorie intake, without consideration of proteins, vitamins and minerals; and for the emphasis on availability – rather than affordability, accessibility or actual use – of food. Some say we’d be better off focusing on improving household consumption surveys, opinion polls, and direct measures of height and body weight.”