Latest Developments, November 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Suspicious behaviour
Radio France Internationale asks if France, despite official denials, is preparing for military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“A French Navy vessel, the projection and command ship Dixmude, is slated to sail soon from Toulon with approximately 300 troops for a position in the Gulf of Guinea. This large amphibious ship will also be carrying vehicles and helicopters.

And from the port of Douala, Bangui is only 1,400 kilometres away. French military commanders know the route well, since their troops passed through Cameroon during the 2008 European Union Force mission in Chad and CAR.” (Translated from the French.)

Lowering the bar
The Guardian reports on trouble at the COP 19 climate talks as rich, polluting countries seem to be losing their appetite for reducing carbon emissions:

“The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, were faced with a new crisis on Friday, after Japan, the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, slashed its plans to reduce emissions from 25% to just 3.8% on 2005 figures.
The move was immediately criticised as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unambitious’ by developing countries and climate groups at the talks.

The Japanese announcement follows open criticism by Australia and Canada of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their countries, and reluctance from the US and Europe to aim for more ambitious emissions cuts.”

More migrant deaths
Reuters reports that 12 migrants have drowned off the Greek coast, “adding to the hundreds of deaths this year” as people try to reach Europe via the Mediterranean:

“The coastguard found fifteen survivors on the shore opposite the Ionian island of Lefkada and recovered 12 bodies, four of them children aged between three and six, another official said.

Crisis-hit Greece, Italy and Malta, the EU’s gate-keepers, have repeatedly pressed European Union partners to do more to solve the migrant crisis, which the Maltese prime minister said was turning the Mediterranean into a ‘cemetery’.”

History matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that rich countries must start viewing development finance as “reparation for damage done” rather than aid:

“Furthermore, it is widely known that trade rules and conditions past and present, set by rich countries, continue to have devastating effects on poor countries and poor people within them. Even Bill Clinton, the former US president, has publicly apologised for policies that ruined rice production in Haiti, to the benefit of US producers.
Rather than making a song and dance about how much aid we are sending countries where production has been decimated by rules serving rich-country interests, such money should be offered in compensation for harm done (most importantly, of course, the rules on protection, subsidies and quotas should be urgently changed).

Now it is an accepted UN principle that the west should fund the investments required in other countries to respond to climate change, it is logical that the same principle should be extended to other areas, including not only other forms of environmental damage such as overfishing, but also slavery, colonisation and unfair trade and finance rules.”

Developed economies?
Mongabay reports on the release of new data that suggests G8 countries account for three of the world’s four top deforesters since 2000:

“Dan Zarin, program director of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, an association of philanthropic foundations, says trading natural forests for planted forests represents a net loss for the planet.
‘You can’t “net out” deforestation by planting trees,’ said Zarin, ‘because newly planted forests are far less valuable for carbon, biodiversity and forest-dependent people than standing native forests.’
Malaysia’s rate of forest loss during the period was nearly 50 percent higher than the next runner up, Paraguay (9.6 percent). Its area of forest loss ranked ninth after Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Australia.”

Drone decline
The Federation of American Scientists reports that the US military’s investments in drones are on “a distinctly downward slope”:

“The FY 2014 budget request included $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement of unmanned aerial systems, a decrease of $1.1 billion from the request for the fiscal year 2013.
‘Annual procurement of UAS has gone from 1,211 in fiscal 2012 to 288 last year to just 54 in the proposed FY14 budget,’ according to a recently published congressional hearing volume.”

Not good enough
Human Rights Watch calls on Western clothing brands to do more to prevent worker deaths in Bangladeshi garment factories:

“Seven people died in the fire at Aswad Composite Mills on October 8. Aswad supplied fabric for other Bangladeshi factories to turn into garments for North American and European clients such as Walmart, Gap, H&M and Carrefour. The Bangladesh government and one of the retailers, Primark, said they had uncovered safety violations at the factory prior to the fire but no action was taken. Other companies said they had not inspected Aswad because they did not have a direct relationship with it.

In the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April 2013, most foreign retailers operating in Bangladesh have pledged to help improve the fire and building safety standards of hundreds of factories that directly make their clothes. But their commitments do not extend to subcontractors and suppliers like Aswad that play a major part in the supply chain.”

Dangerous delay
EurActiv reports on concerns that a proposed EU law on conflict minerals could end up getting shelved after delays for “undisclosed reasons”:

“The EU’s trade directorate had been expected to publish a regulation that would secure uniform compliance across the bloc – and beyond – by the end of this year.
Brussels is known to have been in contact with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) about creating a list of internationally recognised and audited smelters for use by European mineral extraction firms.

Some fear that the proposal could wither in the Berlaymont building’s corridors, if it does not bear fruit before the institutional changing of the guard that will follow European elections next May.”

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Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Rising toll
Reuters reports that the number of migrants found dead in the desert of northern Niger has climbed to 92, the majority of whom were children:

“The mayor of Arlit, Maouli Abdouramane, said 92 bodies had been recovered after days of searching – 52 children, 33 women and seven men.
‘The search is still going on,’ Abdouramane told Reuters by telephone. He said the victims were all from Niger but their final destination was unclear.

The bodies were strewn across the desert over a large distance, to within 20 km (12 miles) of the border with Algeria, a second military source said.”

True owners
Reuters also reports that the UK government has decided to make public a new database meant to reduce money laundering and tax evasion by “untangling deliberately opaque ownership structures” of corporations:

“ ‘This sets such an important global principle… You have to have someone who makes a stand on principle and then gets the world to follow. In this case it’s the UK,’ said Gavin Hayman of the anti-corruption group Global Witness.
Efforts to improve transparency in the European Union are currently being debated, and recent legislative proposals in the United States could tackle company ownership disclosure. Hayman said neither was expected to quickly follow Britain’s lead.
[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion have been complicated by the fact that Britain is seen as a market leader in providing access to offshore tax havens in former British colonies.
‘We’ve found the UK has been one of the pillars of financial secrecy in the past so this is quite a significant shift,’ Hayman said.”

The other 10%
The Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy, however, argues the UK’s newly promised public register of companies’ true owners will be “a damp squib of a reform”:

“Sure, 90% of companies will publish their beneficial owners – but they will be the ones where legal and beneficial ownership is the same. It is the other 10% who are the problem and many of those will actively seek loopholes in an arrangement if there is no way of proving if what they declare is right or wrong and the agency responsible for doing so is denied the resources it needs to enforce the law.”

On schedule
The BBC reports that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes Syria has destroyed its “declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons” within the prescribed timeframe:

“OPCW head of field operations Jerry Smith told the BBC that his team had ‘personally observed all the destruction activities’.
‘They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons,’ he said.

More than 1,000 tonnes of chemical precursors – the raw materials – remain to be removed and destroyed by the middle of next year, which our correspondent says will be a delicate and difficult process.”

Cholera update
Inter Press Service reports that there is “no end in sight” for Haiti’s deadly, UN-triggered cholera epidemic:

“In a single week between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, the Pan-American Health Organisation reported 1,512 new cases and 31 deaths. New cases are reported in all 10 departments.

The spread of cholera in Haiti, which has killed more than 8,300 and infected over 680,000 people since October 2010, has been blamed on Nepali peacekeepers who are part of the 9,500‑strong U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The United Nations has refused demands for compensation. Earlier this month, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the world body on behalf of the cholera victims.

‘I wish a creative solution could be found whereby the Haitian victims would get some modest amount of financial support on humanitarian grounds, without the U.N. having to give up its diplomatic immunity,’ [former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kul Gautam] said.”

New internationalism
The Sheffield Institute for International Development’s Jean Grugel writes about the need to “reframe international development as global justice”:

“Human rights are a vital tool for reframing international development in ways that set out our collective responsibilities to find a just global settlement. But to have traction, rights have to be understood as more than the traditional package of liberal rights. Other sorts of rights – social, economic, gendered, cultural – are also critical.
Action is needed much earlier in the life cycle of global injustice. It is not enough to protest once abuses are happening. Global justice means, above all, making arguments for urgent structural transformation to the global political economy.”

Vulture’s charters
The World Development Movement’s Nick Dearden points to the Children’s Investment Fund as an example of a sweetly named UK organization that uses bilateral investment agreements to “run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people” in other countries:

“Whether India’s policy was right or wrong is beside the point. Rather we have to ask whether it is the right of a British hedge fund to dictate the energy policy of a state. This is by no means an isolated example. Globally there are 2,833 bilateral investment agreements, many offering companies access to ‘dispute mechanisms’ which allow them to by-pass national courts and uphold their so-called rights over and above the duty of governments to protect and represent their citizens.
Back home, the owner of TCI, Chris Hohn, is one of the biggest ‘philanthro-capitalists’ in the world, investing profits in a mega-charity the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Even if multi-billionaire philanthropists could solve world poverty, they will certainly not do so when their profits are derived by undermining the sovereignty of countries to represent their own people.”

Science says revolt
The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein argues that the results of scientific research suggest humans need to take a stand against the current political and economic orthodoxies:

“[University of California, San Diego’s Brad Werner] isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.”

Latest Developments, October 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Desert deaths
Agence France-Presse reports that dozens of migrants have been found dead in Niger:

“ ‘About 40 Nigeriens, including numerous children and women, who were attempting to emigrate to Algeria, died of thirst in mid-October,’ Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of the main northern town of Agadez, said
‘Many others have been reported missing since their vehicle broke down in the desert,’ he said.

These migrants often look to Europe as their final destination, a security source said, and use Libya as a jumping off point amid the relative chaos in the North African country since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Humanitarian agencies say nearly 20 000 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe over the past 20 years.”

Congressional first
The Guardian reports on the testimony given to US Congress by civilian victims of a drone strike in Pakistan:

“Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

‘Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,’ [Rafiq ur Rehman] said, through a translator. ‘Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.’
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: ‘Not a militant but my mother.’

Rehman said: ‘In the end I would just like to ask the American public to treat us as equals. Make sure that your government gives us the same status of a human with basic rights as they do to their own citizens. We do not kill our cattle the way US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones. This indiscriminate killing has to end and justice must be delivered to those who have suffered at the hands of unjust.’ ”

Nearly unanimous
Al Jazeera reports that virtually all UN member states have called on the US to end its embargo on Cuba:

“This came in a symbolic vote of the 193-nation General Assembly on Tuesday. The unenforceable resolution was 188-2. The United States and Israel voted against it, while Pacific island states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau abstained.

‘Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,’ [Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez] said. ‘The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.’

‘The United States is a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people,’ [US envoy Ronald Godard] said.”

CAR troops
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted to send an initial 250 soldiers to the Central African Republic to protect UN staff:

“The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send 250 military personnel to the capital Bangui and then increase the strength of the force to 560 troops so they can deploy to areas outside the capital where there is a U.N. presence.

France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said France would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 1,200 if needed.”

Oil anger I
Reuters reports that protests have shut down all but offshore oil production in Libya:

“Libya’s oil exports have dropped to less than 10 percent of capacity or 90,000 barrels per day, Reuters calculations show, as renewed protests this week halted operations at western ports and fields, supporting global oil prices.

Any imminent agreement to even partially resume exports appeared elusive.
[Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi] paid an emergency visit to the western Sharara field on Monday and discussed pay increases with oil workers there. He was forced to leave without a deal, however, after local protesters refused to meet him.”

Oil anger II
Reuters also reports that the UK’s Tullow Oil has suspended drilling operations in Kenya over “popular impatience for a share of the spoils”:

“Backed by local politicians, demonstrators from Kenya’s poor, northern Turkana community marched on Tullow sites demanding jobs and other benefits, prompting one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most experienced oil explorers to ‘temporarily’ halt work.

Kenya is revising outdated laws governing the oil and gas industry. A draft law could go to parliament in November.
Others are also updating industry rules. Tanzania is drawing up a new gas policy, but has yet to issue it as a debate rumbles on about how much gas should be sold to foreigners.”

Redefining poverty
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica tells Al Jazeera that he rejects the label of “the poorest president in the world”:

“ ‘It seems that we have been born only to consume, and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto marginalised.’

‘Those who describe me so are the poor ones,’ he says. ‘My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied.’ ”

Terror threat
The BBC reports that South Africa’s ruling party is demanding an apology after US officials detained a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former cabinet minister because he was on a “terrorist watchlist”:

“[Tokyo Sexwale’s] detention at the JFK international airport was “an affront to the global anti-apartheid movement”, the [African National Congress] said.

Former ANC leader Nelson Mandela was only taken off the list by former President George W Bush in 2008.
Mr Sexwale was imprisoned along with Mr Mandela on Robben Island.

Another of Mr Sexwale’s lawyers, Leslie Makhabela, told South Africa media that US immigration officials had ‘alleged he posed a threat to international security’.”

Latest Developments, October 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone investigation
New York University’s Sarah Knuckey provides a brief summary of the new interim report on the UN’s investigation into drone strikes and targeted killings:

“There is ‘strong evidence’ that between 2004 and 2008, Pakistani intelligence and military officials consented to US strikes, and that senior government officials acquiesced and at times gave ‘active approval’ (¶53). However, the report states that only the democratically elected Government of Pakistan can provide legal consent to US strikes, and (now) only in accordance with consent procedures announced in a 2012 parliamentary resolution. Any current cooperation ‘at the military or intelligence level’ does not ‘affect the position in international law’ (¶54). On this basis, the report finds that there is currently no legal consent, and thus that the continued US use of force in Pakistan violates Pakistani sovereignty (absent valid US self-defence).”

African test case
The New York Times reports that the US military, eager for new missions after Iraq and Afghanistan, is using its Africa Command to try out “a new Army program of regionally aligned brigades”:

“The first-of-its-kind program is drawing on troops from a 3,500-member brigade in the Army’s storied First Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One, to conduct more than 100 missions in Africa over the next year. The missions range from a two-man sniper team in Burundi to 350 soldiers conducting airborne and humanitarian exercises in South Africa.
The brigade has also sent a 150-member rapid-response force to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to protect embassies in emergencies, a direct reply to the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed four Americans.

Before deploying, the troops in Kansas receive six days of cultural training and instruction from Africa-born graduate students at nearby Kansas State University.”

Françafrique redux
In an interview with La Voix du Nord, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian indicates that France is also looking to increase its military capacities in Africa:

“We can carry out two or three [UN-led] operations simultaneously. We do, after all, have 280,000 troops and there are only 3,000 in Mali, as far as I know. I would even say that, with the changes to the military budget I’ve undertaken, we could do another Mali alone, without the Americans. With drones – the first two Reapers will arrive in Niamey by the end of the year –, the transport planes and the supplies that have been ordered. The puny little French army I’ve been hearing about will be able to do another Mali all by itself in the years to come.
The key is our reactivity in Africa between the prepositioned forces and, shall we say, the long-term foreign operations. If we succeeded in Mali, it’s because we had troops in Ouagadougou. We’re on the ground in Dakar, Abidjan, Bangui, Libreville, Bamako, N’Djamena, Niamey. The time has come to think about improved reactivity, particularly with regards to managing the Sahel question.” [Translated from the French.]

Migrant deaths
The Miami Herald reports that a boat carrying Caribbean migrants has capsized off the Florida coast, killing at least four:

“ ‘It was difficult to ascertain truly how many people were on this overloaded vessel,’ said Commander Darren Caprara, chief response officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami.

Once in U.S. custody, Haitian and Jamaican migrants may ask for asylum, after which asylum officers would determine whether each one has a ‘credible fear’ of being returned home.
If they pass the credible-fear test, the migrants would have their cases heard in front of immigration judges. A win there would allow them to be freed and to apply for a green card after a year in the United States. If they lose, including appeals, they would be deported.
A separate policy known as wet foot/dry foot applies to undocumented Cuban migrants. Those caught at sea are generally returned to the island nation, while those who reach U.S. land can stay.”

Saudi no
Al Jazeera reports that Saudi Arabia has turned down a two-year stint on the Security Council, accusing the UN of “double standards”

“ ‘Work mechanisms and double-standards on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace,’ the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
‘Therefore Saudi Arabia… has no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world’s peace and security,’ it added.”

Illegal texts
The BBC reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has backed an “illegal-immigrant text message campaign” despite some wrong numbers:

“The Home Office says just 14 people out of a total of 58,800 contacted were mistakenly asked if they had overstayed their visas.
But campaigners say the true number of people wrongly contacted is far higher.
Labour described the government’s tactic as ‘shambolic and incompetent’

Originally, [the texts] had included the phrase: ‘You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have the right to remain.’ ”

Kyrgyz pullout
Foreign Policy reports that the US military has announced it will return the Manas airbase to Kyrgyzstan by next July, after years of bumpy relations with the host government:

“The Defense Department instead will expand its use of an air base in eastern Romania called Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu, or ‘MK,’ which now serves as a logistics hub for U.S. European Command. MIK is already used to house as many as 1,350 troops at any one time, typically for rotational use for troops deployed to Romania. Now that will be used for troops leaving Afghanistan.”

Casting stones
The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders suggests it is problematic for Canada to apply “the ‘G’ word” to countries like Turkey when its own past may be no less genocidal:

“The UN Genocide Convention, which Canada ratified more than six decades ago and has applied against other countries, defines the crime as including ‘any of’ a list of acts committed against an identifiable group, including not just mass killing and mass physical or mental harm but also ‘deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part,’ ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,’ and ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’ You can find sustained examples of many of these in Canadian history, plus acts of cultural destruction such as forcing thousands of Inuit to replace their names with metal number plates.”