Latest Developments, May 31

In the latest news and analysis…

Universal justice?
Following the 50-year sentence handed down by a court in The Hague to former Liberian president Charles Taylor, the Daily Beast reports on some of the different views held in the country he once ruled concerning Western-style justice.
“Just last week, controversy arose when a commissioner from the nation’s Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) was quoted by media outlets as saying that the body would be forwarding names of Liberians to the International Criminal Court to be considered for prosecution.
Leroy Urey, chairman of the commission, said the statement did not reflect the view of the body. Commissioner Thomas Bureh, who was quoted in various Liberian media outlets, has stepped away from the comment and said that reconciliation should be Liberia’s primary focus.
According to a report by Front Page Africa, Mr. Urey accused Mr. Bureh of receiving bribes to make the statement: ‘I think Bureh has been tampered with by people in the erstwhile [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and the international community, especially [the UN Mission in Liberia],’ said Mr. Urey, according to the report.”

Boomerang bailout
The New York Times reports that most of Greece’s bailout money is going right back to where it came from.
“The European bailout of 130 billion euros ($163.4 billion) that was supposed to buy time for Greece is mainly servicing only the interest on the country’s debt — while the Greek economy continues to struggle.
If that seems to make little sense economically, it has a certain logic in the politics of euro-finance. After all, the money dispensed by the troika — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission — comes from European taxpayers, many of whom are increasingly wary of the political disarray that has afflicted Athens and clouded the future of the euro zone.
As they pay themselves, though, the troika members are also withholding other funds intended to keep the Greek government in operation.”

Right to Water
Embassy Magazine reports that “after years of opposition,” the Canadian government has said it plans to recognize the human right to water.
“In an interview, [Environment Minister Peter] Kent told Embassy that Canada is now willing to remove its request for the statement on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation to be deleted.
At the same time, he maintained that the right to water should not encompass ‘trans-boundary water issues or the export of water, or any mandatory allocation of international development assistance.’

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN special rapporteur for the right to water, publicly condemned Canada for its stance in a speech on world water day, March 22.”

Pan-African vote
Press TV reports that the Pan-African parliament has chosen Bethel Amadi to be its new president, though the body’s powers remain strictly “consultative and advisory.”
“Already commentators have criticized it, saying that without being able to pass binding resolutions, the parliament risks becoming nothing more than a talkshop. The new president admits the step to achieve legislative powers is one of his biggest challenges…
In order to be ratified, the amendment must receive the support of 28 countries. The Pan-African Parliament is hopeful a tangible step in this direction will be taken at the African Union Heads of State meeting in Malawi in July.”

Executive maximum wage
Reuters reports that France’s new government aims to unveil next month its plans to impose a relative cap on the salaries of top executives at state-controlled companies.
“Elected this month promising to curb the privileges enjoyed by France’s wealthy and powerful, Socialist President Francois Hollande pledged during campaigning to limit senior executives’ salaries to a maximum of 20 times that of their lowest-paid employee.

While restricted to state-controlled firms, the French pay limit could affect a number of listed companies including nuclear power plant builder Areva and utility EDF.”

Drone survivors
Harper’s provides a series of statements made by families of victims and survivors of a 2011 US drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.
“The men who died in this strike were our leaders; the ones we turned to for all forms of support. We always knew that drone strikes were wrong, that they encroached on Pakistan’s sovereign territory. We knew that innocent civilians had been killed. However, we did not realize how callous and cruel it could be. The community is now plagued with fear. The tribal elders are afraid to gather together in jirgas, as had been our custom for more than a century. The mothers and wives plead with the men not to congregate together. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers, and nephews. People in the same family now sleep apart because they do not want their togetherness to be viewed suspiciously through the eye of the drone. They do not want to become the next target.”

Spear’s silver lining
The Centre for the Study of Democracy’s Steven Friedman argues that the controversy over a painting depicting South African President Jacob Zuma’s genitals will have done some good if it leads to an acknowledgment of the sense of frustration among many that “minority rule is still with us.”
“[The solution] rests, rather, in recognising that the attitudes that made apartheid possible have not disappeared and that those who were powerful then still are — not in politics, perhaps, but in the economy, in the professions and in our cultural life. To name but one example — despite constant complaints about affirmative action, research shows that it is still harder for black graduates to get work than it is for their white counterparts.
While the row over the painting seems like a diversion, there is nothing trivial about a widespread sense that black people still do not enjoy the respect and access to opportunities due to citizens of a democracy. There is no more important issue than the charge that we are not overcoming our past.”

World Bank transparency
Global Financial Integrity “applauded” the World Bank for committing to the public disclosure of its decisions regarding sanctions against companies and individuals over allegations of fraud and corruption.
“ ‘Knowing which companies have been debarred is helpful, but understanding why a company has been debarred is critical in the fight against fraud and corruption.  The methods used by companies and individuals, who are defrauding the World Bank, are methods used to defraud governments, businesses, and individuals globally,’ [said GFI’s Heather Lowe.]”

Latest Developments, January 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Spring cleaning
Human Rights Watch has released the latest edition of its “annual review of human rights practices around the globe” which this year has a special focus on the Arab Spring.
“The United States and some European allies could make an enormous contribution to ending torture in the Arab world by coming clean about their own records of complicity in torture as part of their fight against terrorism. Western governments should punish those responsible for ordering or facilitating torture and end the use of diplomatic assurances as a fig leaf to justify sending suspects to countries where they risk torture.”

Deadly mining protest
The Oaxaca Study Action Group reports that two people were shot, one of them fatally, in the course of a protest against a Canadian-owned mine in southern Mexico.
“San José del Progreso, located 50 km south of Oaxaca City, has been a flash point for violence since an alliance of local environmentalists and farmers occupied the gold and silver mine in early 2009. Despite widespread resistance and an ongoing conflict that already claimed the lives of two people in summer 2010, Fortuna Silver began commercial operation of the mine last September. As the installations are located in an arid valley, smooth operation is heavily dependent on water access to process the ore. The contamination of the scarce resource is among the main concerns of the mining opponents, many of whom grow vegetables for a living and rely on clean water for irrigation.”

Rubik on life support
The Tax Justice Network gleefully reports that Switzerland’s Rubik plan to preserve its famous banking secrecy is on the verge of collapsing as EU objections to Swiss tax deals with Britain and Germany intensify.
“TJN’s position is unambiguous: these deals are weak, immoral, and even silly – and they undermine international attempts to tackle tax evasion. Both Germany and Britain should swallow their pride, withdraw from the deals, and put their diplomatic effort into pushing through the EU’s enhanced Savings Tax Directive – suitably extended to Switzerland.”

Maximum wage
The Guardian’s George Monbiot calls for a nationwide UK maximum wage to rein in corporate executive pay, which he describes as “a form of institutionalised theft, arranged by a kleptocratic class for the benefit of its members.”
“I’m not talking about ratios or relative earnings. Various bodies have proposed that there should be a fixed ratio of the top earnings within a company to either the median or lowest salaries. But as a report on this issue by the New Economics Foundation shows, the first measurement quickly becomes complex and opaque, the second creates an incentive to contract out the lowest paid work. I’m talking about an absolute maximum, applied nationwide.”

Drones and America
The Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer looks at the impact that America’s increasing reliance on drone strikes is having on its own democracy, quite apart from any death and destruction caused in distant countries.
“We must now accept that technologies that remove humans from the battlefield, from unmanned systems like the Predator to cyberweapons like the Stuxnet computer worm, are becoming the new normal in war.
And like it or not, the new standard we’ve established for them is that presidents need to seek approval only for operations that send people into harm’s way — not for those that involve waging war by other means.
Without any actual political debate, we have set an enormous precedent, blurring the civilian and military roles in war and circumventing the Constitution’s mandate for authorizing it.”

Drones and Pakistan
News Pakistan reports on Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s take on the impact US drone strikes are having on the ground in his country.
“Imran Khan, the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has urged the United States to stop drone strikes in Pakistan, claiming that they were killing many innocent people.
He observed that each bomb that killed terrorists also killed many people who might be related to the terrorists but were not involved in militancy.
In his view this collateral damage creates more Jihadis than it kills, he said this while interviewing with CNN.”

Proceed with caution
New York University’s Alex Evans and David Steven argue that despite growing enthusiasm for Sustainable Development Goals ahead of the Rio+20 summit, there is a lack of clarity regarding their contours and timeframe.
“The question of which countries would be covered by SDGs is a minefield. With any set of SDGs likely to be universal rather than applicable only to developing countries, major political challenges would arise. The MDGs demanded relatively little of OECD governments: all that was asked of them was aid, and relatively small amounts of it at that. A more comprehensive set of post-2015 Goals, on the other hand, would need to look ‘beyond aid’ – entailing changes to domestic policies in sensitive areas like migration, trade, intellectual property, or energy policy. The vexed issue of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ would certainly arise along the way – perhaps bedevilling post-2015 discussions as it already has the Doha round and the UNFCCC climate process (though an optimist might argue that a universal approach could help debate to move past the rigid and outdated typology of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries).”

Migrant myths
The Observer’s Barbara Ellen writes that new statistics undermine traditional narratives about immigrants and “benefits tourism.”
“This could be a chance to start a new kind of immigration debate, one that doesn’t centre on: ‘What are they taking from us?’ Rather, it might ask: ‘What are they giving us?’ Even: ‘Do we expect too much, too soon, of migrants? Should we break the habit of a lifetime and get off their backs?’
For too long, there’s been a bizarre cultural climate of putting migrants under unfair pressure to perform instantly. It’s as if they’re expected to be supermen and women, breezily starting multinational companies the moment they arrive… in a foreign country, sometimes homeless, and with a new language to master.”