Latest Developments, November 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Status upgrade
Reuters reports that the UN General Assembly has voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, in favour of recognizing Palestine as a non-member state rather than an “entity”:

“Granting Palestinians the title of ‘non-member observer state’ falls short of full U.N. membership – something the Palestinians failed to achieve last year. But it would allow them access to the [International Criminal Court] and other international bodies, should they choose to join them.

At least 17 European nations voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution, including Austria, France, Italy, Norway and Spain. Abbas had focused his lobbying efforts on Europe, which supplies much of the aid the Palestinian Authority relies on. Britain, Germany and others chose to abstain.
The Czech Republic was unique in Europe, joining the United States, Israel, Canada, Panama and tiny Pacific Island states likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia in voting against the move.”

Frozen assets
Bloomberg reports that oil giant Chevron is asking Argentine courts to lift an embargo imposed on its assets in the country because of a massive outstanding fine handed down by a judge in Ecuador:

“Judge Adrian Elcuj Miranda ordered 40 percent of Chevron’s Argentine bank accounts to be held in escrow, Enrique Bruchou, an Argentine attorney representing Ecuadorean plaintiffs, said on Nov. 7.
The plaintiffs are seeking to enforce a $19 billion award against Chevron, which they say is responsible for destroying the environment in the Lago Agrio region, damaging living conditions of 30,000 inhabitants.”

Problematic portfolio
OnEarth reports that Susan Rice, the presumptive frontrunner to become the next US secretary of state, is heavily invested in Canadian companies that stand to profit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which she would have the power to approve:

“The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.
Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine.”

Mind the Gap
Paloma Muñoz Quick of the Danish Institute for Human Rights argues that the ongoing international negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty focus so much on states, that the “monumental” role of the private sector is largely overlooked:

“Companies in North America and Western Europe dominate the global arms industry. Likewise, shipping companies dominate international transport in weapons, including shipments to actors involved in conflict and illicit deliveries of small arms and light weapons to non-state actors in Colombia. Private security companies (PSCs) also fuel and directly rely on the arms trade for their operations.

A joint effort therefore is necessary to address the private sector’s role in the arms trade. Accordingly, UN Member States should seek to reference the [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] in the ATT’s preamble, which will provide a common reference point for States to address the private sector’s central role in the arms trade, and help ensure that companies in their jurisdiction do not contribute to human rights abuses undermining development”

Image issues
Concerned about the potential for reputational damage, Barclays has said it may get out of the agricultural commodities trading business:

“Several German banks, including Commerzbank, have this year restricted their investments in agricultural products, but banks elsewhere have been slower to curb activity despite heavy lobbying by groups such as World Development Movement (WDM), which has been critical of Barclays.

Barclays, Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan have all built up strongly in commodities in the past decade to challenge established veterans Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Those five banks control about 70 percent of the commodities trading pot.”

Circular economy
Science writer Gaia Vince sees signs that the tide may be turning against a consumer culture marked by planned obsolescence or worse, “replacing functioning phones simply for reasons of fashion or for technological additions that many of us rarely use”:

“And other companies are joining the move towards a circular economy, in which economic growth is uncoupled from finite-resource-use. Instead of the linear manufacturing route: mining materials, fabricating, selling, throwing them away; a circular economy is based around making products that are more easily disassembled, so that the resources can be recovered and used to make new products, keeping them in circulation. British yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is a strong advocate of the concept and commissioned a report into the idea, which found that the benefits to Europe’s economy alone could be $630 billion, based on cycling just 15% of materials in 48% of manufacturing and just being recycled once.”

Market colonization
Inter Press Service reports on opposition in Africa to genetically modified crops, which are often touted as a solution to food shortages on the continent:

“[Friends of the Earth International’s Nnimmo] Bassey said that GM crops are neither more nutritious nor better yielding nor use fewer pesticides and herbicides. And he said they are unsafe for humans and for the environment.
‘It is all about market colonisation,’ Bassey told IPS. ‘GM crops would neither produce food security nor meet nutrition deficits. The way forward is food sovereignty – Africans must determine what crops are suitable culturally and environmentally. Up to 80 percent of our food needs are met by smallholder farmers. These people need support and inputs for integrated agro-ecological crop management. Africa should ideally be a GMO-free continent.’ ”

Changing the rules
Purpose’s Alnoor Ladha, Pambazuka founder Firoze Manji and Yale University’s Thomas Pogge argue the world’s current level of poverty and inequality is not inevitable:

“It is the outcome of active choices by people who make and enforce the rules we all live by: rules about global trade, banking, loans, investment, taxes, working conditions, land, food, health and education. These rules are made by people and people can change them.
Frederick Douglass, a leader of the 19th century abolitionist movement which brought an end to slavery, once said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand’. If we want to change rules that have been written by the few and for the few, we must look outside existing power structures to the power of the many.”

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Latest Developments, August 23

In the latest news and analysis…

With rebel forces having overrun Moammar Gadhafi’s main Tripoli compound, the international community – despite the occasional voice that cautions “the game isn’t over yet” and the long-time leader’s vow to fight to the death – is increasingly discussing a post-Gadhafi Libya, Middle East and world. The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Baldauf wonders if Africa will miss Gadhafi who, for all his well-publicized faults, also was the “the single-largest contributor to the budget of the African Union, a prime aid donor for poor African countries, and a dependable advocate for pan-African cooperation.” UC Irvine historian Mark LeVine presents an “initial Libyan scorecard” on which the big losers – aside from Gadhafi and his close associates – include the UN because of NATO’s flagrant disregard for the rules of engagement set out by Security Council resolutions and the International Criminal Court because it will once again look like a dispenser of victors’ justice. But Open Society’s Alison Cole says it is “crucial for the maintaining of international justice that the ICC arrest warrants are implemented through the transfer of the three suspects to The Hague,” regardless of whether or not Libya is willing and able to conduct the trials itself.

In other prominent legal news, a New York judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn because the prosecution had lost faith in the reliability of the alleged victim as a witness, despite “the finding of Strauss-Kahn’s semen in three places on Diallo’s hotel uniform.” Commenting on an unrelated case, a UN official has called on the US to do more to protect women from domestic violence.

The Guardian’s Jason Burke writes about the 9/11 wars and their cost, estimating the total numbers of dead at 250,000 and of injured at 750,000: “This may be fewer than the losses inflicted on combatants and non-combatants during the murderous major conflicts of the 20th century but still constitutes a very large number of people.” The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick instead focuses on the “bright spots” of international efforts against perceived terror threats over the last decade. He points to “a more robust legal architecture to combat this scourge,” as well as agreements regarding money laundering and nuclear weapons. Patrick also says the US “has renounced torture, as well as extraordinary rendition and ghost prisons,” though the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill’s recent work on Somalia suggests that may not be the case. Meanwhile, Sudan is not happy it is still stuck on the US terror list, even after agreeing to last month’s secession of South Sudan. “We have been promised time after time … that once a peace agreement is passed, Sudan will be lifted from the list of countries harboring terrorism,” according to former Sudanese ambassador to the US, Mahdi Ibrahim. “But each time we realize the bar is raised.”

As for the war on drugs, Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza says countries with large numbers of drug users should “not put all the blame on drugs producing countries, but rather assume the responsibility as the countries to which drugs are destined.”

A subsidiary of Canada’s Barrick Gold is in talks with the Tanzanian government “over allocating mining areas to artisanal miners” around one of its projects, a measure the country’s home affairs minister described as “the only way” to restore peace to the surrounding area. The company says May clashes between villagers and police caused seven deaths at its North Mara mine.

Bloomberg reports Finland’s Nokia Siemens surveillance technology is being used by Bahraini intelligence against democracy activists who say they were tortured as a result of their text messages. But the company has done nothing illegal, according to the report: “Companies are free to sell such equipment almost anywhere. For the most part, the U.S. and European countries lack export controls to deter the use of such systems for repression.”

Acclaimed author Arundhati Roy suggests there is a suspicious level of corporate support for India’s proposed anti-corruption law: “At a time when the State is withdrawing from its traditional duties and Corporations and NGOs are taking over government functions (water supply, electricity, transport, telecommunication, mining, health, education); at a time when the terrifying power and reach of the corporate owned media is trying to control the public imagination, one would think that these institutions — the corporations, the media, and NGOs — would be included in the jurisdiction of a Lokpal bill. Instead, the proposed bill leaves them out completely.” She continues, writing that “by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India’s natural resources.”

The Center for Global Development’s Lawrence MacDonald says construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Canada’s “tar sands” to refineries in Texas would amount to dropping “the world’s biggest carbon bomb” on India and other countries threatened by rising sea levels and adverse weather conditions. “Perhaps it’s time that India and other developing countries hard hit by runaway climate change turn the tables and start asking tough questions about U.S. energy policy in general and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline in particular,” according to MacDonald. He says now is the time to speak up as the State Department holds hearings ahead of a decision on whether or not to approve the project by the end of the year.