Latest Developments, July 26

In the latest news and analysis…

A UN mission has observed food and fuel shortages and a “strained medical system” in Gadhafi-held parts of Libya. “Although the mission observed aspects of normalcy in Tripoli, members identified pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance,” humanitarian coordinator Laurence Hart said. Despite NATO’s military intervention, the amount of territory controlled by the Gadhafi regime has grown by about 20 percent over the last five months.

Twelve Democratic members of the US Senate have joined their Republican colleagues in opposing the proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on the basis of a perceived threat to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “Ratification requires two-thirds of the Senate. So far 57 senators have said they would vote against the treaty, expected to be wrapped up next year,” according to a US News and World Report piece, which also quotes a Republican letter of opposition: “Our firearm freedoms are not negotiable.” The ATT, as currently being negotiated, would apply only to the international transfer of arms.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development has released its World Investment Report for 2011. The top story suggests a world moving towards greater equality, at least among states: “For the first time, developing and transition economies together attracted more than half of global FDI flows.” On the other hand, foreign direct investment is declining in some of the poorest regions, most notably in Africa which saw a nine percent drop in 2010. The report also addresses the current state of corporate social responsibility: “Voluntary CSR standards can complement government regulatory efforts; however, where they are promoted as a substitute for labour, social and environmental protection legislation, or where CSR standards are not based on national or international rules, then these voluntary standards can potentially undermine, substitute or distract from governmental regulatory efforts.”

Speaking in Hong Kong, US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed for “true regional integration” in the Asia-Pacific as opposed to a “hodgepodge of inconsistent and partial bilateral agreements,” the pending US-South Korea trade deal notwithstanding. According to Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton’s message was consistent with American policy since the end of WWII but: “What is novel in Clinton’s approach is her insistence that developing countries—which have often been granted special treatment—can no longer be exempted from binding rules.”

The UN’s special envoy for the Middle East has told the Security Council: “The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume the responsibilities of statehood at any point in the near future.” But the US, one of five permanent members with veto power, has said it will oppose any attempt by the Palestinians to obtain state recognition from the UN in September.

Following last week’s deadly anti-government protests in Malawi, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government agency, has put on hold a five-year $350 million deal signed with the East African country earlier this year. The US government agency says it will conduct a review before deciding how to proceed, but terminating the agreement is a possibility.

After trying for over a decade, the International Gay and Lesbian Association has gained the right to attend and speak at UN meetings. Support for the group’s consultative status came primarily from Europe and the Americas, as well as Japan, South Korea, India and Mongolia. Opposition came largely from African and Islamic countries, as well as Russia and China.

University of London economist Costas Lapavitsas looks at the lessons to be drawn from earlier debt crises in poor countries. He criticizes policies that protect lenders while pushing the burden of debt onto the public, suggesting a possible remedy whereby an “audit commission could examine public debt for its legality, legitimacy, odiousness and social sustainability, providing grounds for its cancellation.” He also calls for “international co-operation among borrowers” and says “engagement with multilateral organisations, principally the International Monetary Fund, is to be avoided.”

Foreign Policy columnist Charles “The Optimist” Kenny calls for the leaders of Somalia’s militant Islamist group, Al Shabab, to be charged by the International Criminal Court for “crimes against humanity by method of mass starvation.” But at least some of the blame should go to the “modern world system” that has undermined the centuries-old, sustainable pastoralism that is uniquely adapted to producing food in one of the harshest climates on earth, according to Helen de Jode who has edited a book on the topic.

Esther Dyson, CEO of EDventure Holdings, says there are two types of investors: “Venture capitalists want to fund the next Facebook, while philanthropists want to use Facebook to support good causes.” And although she does not expect or want the former to start behaving like the latter, she suggests “they could focus a little more on training new employees rather than poaching them from the competition at inflated salaries.”

Latest Developments, June 28

In today’s news…

As expected, Christine Lagarde has become the new head of the International Monetary Fund. The position came up for grabs when her predecessor resigned after being charged with sexual assault. But Lagarde may not be above reproach either, as she is currently under investigation for her her involvement in a questionable legal settlement involving 403 million euros in public money.

In the US, the trial of businessmen caught in a sting trying to defraud the people of Gabon is a sign of an increased willingness to crack down on Americans who try to bribe foreign officials. At the same time, an unassuming house in Cheyenne, Wyoming suggests tax havens are not just islands in the Caribbean.

British Prime Minister David Cameron reminds us his government is taking the lead on aid transparency. So far, only 12 governments are signatories to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Germany is the only other G8 country among them.

Britain also found itself in a minority position when its delegates recently opted not to support a proposed International Labour Organization convention aimed at protecting the rights of domestic workers. Although the motion passed, the US, Canada and the Netherlands made it clear that in spite of their votes of support, they were unlikely to ratify the convention.

Argentina is not the only G20 country struggling to tackle money laundering. Up to $15 billion is laundered annually in Canada. And new statistics show its police only manage to identify a suspect in 18 percent of money laundering cases and prosecutors secure a conviction in just a third of trials in which money laundering is the most serious charge.

A number of civil society organizations have signed an open letter calling for the UN to establish an international tax cooperation body, while Christian Aid’s Julian Boys blasts the International Accounting Standards Board for secrecy he argues harms both the world’s poor and the IASB’s own interests.

Libya says the International Criminal Court arrest warrants issued against Gadhafi and his sons end any possibility of a negotiated settlement to the current conflict, thereby providing additional ammunition for those who argue international justice in its current form may actually harm the cause of peace in Africa.

Despite much fretting in wealthy countries about perceived mass influxes of refugees, a new UN report shows 80 percent of the world’s refugees are in poor countries, with Pakistan, Iran and Syria leading the way. The findings prompted UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to speak of a “worrying unfairness in the international protection paradigm.”

The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie, a vocal proponent of “beyond aid” thinking, writes about reducing aid dependence rather than reducing aid. The former requires replacing aid money with other sources of revenue. The article draws extensively from a recent talk by a Uganda Revenue Authority official who asks: “Is foreign aid to Africa promoting the strengthening of tax administration or simply having a substitution effect?”