Latest Developments, October 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Land rights as human rights
An international human rights hearing could mark a fundamental change in the relationship between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and its federal and provincial governments.
“[University of Victoria anthropologist Prof. Brian Thom] said he believes it signalled the moment where B.C. First Nations may turn away from the treaty negotiation process and move towards settling their issues as human rights abuses.
‘They’re reframing the whole discourse today,’ said Thom. ‘The decisions of this commission could be crucial in reframing the next generation of aboriginal leadership. We’ve just had 20 years of that process and the current generation, I think, is tired of that discussion.’
‘The next generation may be thinking about human rights for a good long time.’”

The price of justice
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Nick Mathiason writes that the British coalition government’s proposed legal aid amendments could have serious consequences well beyond the UK’s borders.
“One major lesson from cases such as this [against UK-based miner Monterrico over alleged abuses in Peru] is that transnational companies can no longer operate in poorer countries thinking they can’t be pursued. But will similar claims be pursued in the future if the coalition government’s bill becomes law?
[Human rights law firm] Leigh Day, which also successfully fought Trafigura on behalf of more than 30,000 Ivorian victims allegedly poisoned from toxic waste, thinks not. It believes that it will now be much harder for indigenous communities and others living in poorer countries to get legal redress for human rights violations associated with the activities of multinational companies based in the UK.
This is because under sections 41–43 of the proposed reforms are three clauses that will make it all but impossible to pursue claims in British courts.”

Empty words
Jack Ucciferri of Harrington Investments calls the UN’s framework for business and human rights a “patently worthless document” and asks if “we really think that the best way to regulate corporate behavior is engage them in “Multi-Stakeholder Processes.”
“I searched the Document-Whose-Name-is-Too-Uppity-to-be-Uttered [Protect, Respect and Remedy] for a few terms. Ready?:
Variations of the word ‘responsible’ appear 14 times in 7 pages
Variations of the word ‘liable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘accountable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘culpable’ – 0 times.”

Sacred and valuable land
Al Jazeera reports on a dispute over land in Central Mexico that is sacred to the local Wixarika people but potentially lucrative for a pair of Canadian mining companies.
“‘It’s as if they wanted to put a gas station in the middle of the Basilica,’ said Santos de la Cruz, referring to the most sacred shrine of Mexican Catholics, the Basilica of Guadalupe. De la Cruz is a traditional authority in his community of Bancos San Hipólito and also an attorney engaged in the legal battle to defend his people’s lands and traditions.
In a press conference flanked by a cadre of grim-faced Wixarika men and women who had travelled for days from their communities in the western Sierra Madre, De la Cruz grew visibly emotional. ‘What they want to do is to rip out the vein of the heart of Wirikuta – and that’s why we’re here… We’re not interested in gold and silver; what interests us is life.’”

Mining for Development
Pro Bono News reports the Australian government’s new Mining for Development Initiative, which includes $22 million in funding for NGOs, is getting mixed reviews from civil society groups, with Oxfam enthusiastically endorsing it and ActionAid expressing serious reservations.
“[ActionAid’s Florence Apuri] said, ‘Our experience shows mining often brings more hardship than benefits to poor communities. Land grabs and the destruction of local ecosystems as a result of mining often makes it more difficult for poor communities to earn a living from the land and to feed their families.’
ActionAid said it applauds the idea of supporting developing countries to maximise the social return on mining, however the Government must recognise that the benefits of mining are not always equally spread.”

New Green Revolution
Macalester College geographer William G. Moseley argues the lessons of China’s Green Revolution are being misapplied by those pushing for greater use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers in Africa.
“While China and the West benefit from this New Green Revolution strategy, it is not clear if the same is true for small farmers and poor households in sub-Saharan Africa. For most food-insecure households on the continent, there are at least two problems with this strategy. First, such an approach to farming is energy-intensive, as most fertilisers and pesticides are petroleum based. Inducing poor farmers to adopt energy-intensive farming methods is short-sighted, if not unethical, if experts know that global energy prices are likely to rise. Second, irrespective of energy prices, the “New Green Revolution” approach requires farmers to purchase seeds and inputs, which means that it will be inaccessible to the poorest of the poor, who are the most likely to suffer from periods of hunger.”

Creating wealth
Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati argues that economic growth, rather than redistribution of existing wealth, is still the best tool for tackling poverty in poor countries.
“In impoverished countries where the poor exceed the rich by a huge margin, redistribution would increase the consumption of the poor only minimally – by, say, a chapati a day – and the increase would not be sustainable in a context of low income and high population growth. In short, for most developing countries, growth is the principal strategy for inclusive development – that is, development that consciously includes the marginal and poorest members of a society.”

The age of responsibility
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues the international community’s handling of the Libyan conflict was the moment the Responsibility to Protect “really came of age.”
“Other developments, both before and since, have reinforced and embedded the RtoP norm. Even as the NATO-led intervention in Libya was being widely criticized for overreaching its narrow mandate, a major General Assembly debate in July 2011 reaffirmed overwhelming support among UN member states for the RtoP concept, in all of its dimensions. The arguments now are not about the principle, but about how to apply it.”

Latest Developments, October 27

In the latest news and analysis…

French weapons
Jeune Afrique reports that the French defence ministry has released its annual report to parliament on arms exports and while undemocratic Morocco was the top African importer, Arab Spring heavyweights Libya and Egypt were second and fourth, respectively.
“Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi fought the rebels with new French weapons: 88.4 million euros worth of military equipment was shipped to Libya last year (the most in five years), according to a report to parliament for 2010 published on Oct. 26. While Paris insists arms exports are conditional on the “respect for human rights” of the buyers, that criterion was not applied to the Jamahiriya… But ministry of defence spokesman General Philippe Pontiès said “as soon as the Arab revolutions began, all authorizations were frozen.” (Translated from the French)

Corporate warlords
A Nigerian foreign affairs official has called for a crackdown on the illegal importation of small arms into West Africa by “corporate warlords” from rich countries, according to the Africa Report.
“[Lawrence Olefumi Obisakin] said small arms and light weapons were the “weapons of mass destruction” in West Africa, in view of the devastation witnessed from their misuse and the destabilising effects they had on the region’s socio-economic development, including the Niger Delta.
Nigeria had spent more than $10 billion in the last two decades to stem the tide of recurrent conflicts caused by the circulation of an estimated eight million small arms, he said.”

Canadian expropriation
A coalition of human rights and indigenous peoples’ groups has released a statement welcoming the start of an international hearing into land rights in Canada.
“The case before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concerns the 1884 expropriation of over 237,000 hectares of resource-rich land from the traditional territories of the Hul’qumi’num peoples on Vancouver Island. The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG) alleges that Canada has violated international human rights norms by refusing to negotiate for any form of redress for the expropriated lands, which are now mostly in the hands of large forestry companies, and by failing to protect Hul’qumi’num interests while the dispute remains unresolved.”

Consumers of war
In an interview with the Calgary Herald, physician and humanitarian Samantha Nutt discusses her new book Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid and the ways in which rich countries help perpetuate conflict around the world.
“We think these conflicts around the world have nothing to do with us,” she says, adding, “We are, literally, consumers of war,” through everything from our pension funds to the purchasing of cellphones, diamond rings and gasoline.
“The Canada Pension Plan has investments in arms manufacturers,” she says, noting in her book she provides advice to average Canadians on how to keep closer tabs on where their investments, and charity dollars, go.”

Tanzanian taxman
Reuters reports South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti has started paying a 30 percent corporate tax rate to Tanzania after more than a decade of commercial production in the country.
“The government began negotiations with mining companies to pay the tax after drafting a new mining policy in 2009 and the subsequent passing of new mining legislation last year.
‘This is the first time that AngloGold will start paying corporate tax since it entered the Tanzanian market,’ said the presidency.
Australian gold miner Resolute Mining was the first mining company to start paying corporate tax in Tanzania, according to the African country’s minerals ministry.
Mining officials said the government was also in talks with African Barrick Gold , which has four gold mines in Tanzania, on payment of the tax.”

Social protection floor
A new UN report calls for the worldwide establishment of a “social protection floor” that would guarantee a basic, livable income for all through transfers in cash or in kind.
“This report…shows that the extension of social protection, drawing on social protection floors, can play a pivotal role in relieving people of poverty and deprivation. It can in addition help people adapt their skills to overcome the constraints that block their full participation in a changing economic and social environment, contributing to improved human capital development and stimulating greater productive activity. The report also shows how social protection has helped to stabilize aggregate demand in times of crisis and to increase resilience against economic shocks, contributing to accelerate recovery towards more inclusive and sustainable development paths.”

Mandatory harmonization
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues proposed EU corporate tax harmonization is a nice idea but may do more harm than good unless it establishes a compulsory minimum rate.
“The [European] Commission’s proposal is commendable for introducing a form of formulary apportionment which seeks to establish where real economic activity takes place by looking at staffing levels, sales, assets, etc. meaning that companies cannot simply cherry pick the location where rates are lowest. This would be a crucial step forward in the fight against transfer pricing abuse by companies that use subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions in order to minimise their tax bills. Secondly this is a move towards increased tax cooperation.”

The failure fad
Bottom Up Thinking’s MJ argues that the development industry’s growing penchant for admitting failure is a good thing but is unconvinced that this newfound humility has so far actually led to any fundamental questioning of assumptions.
“It’s hard enough to admit failure in the first place. It’s even harder to admit that you might actually be the problem. And what matter most is what you do after you’ve admitted failure.”