Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Spreading strikes
The Guardian reports that South Africa’s mining industry is on the verge of paralysis as labour unrest spreads in the wake of last month’s massacre of striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine:

“The flames have been fanned by Julius Malema, a former youth leader who was expelled from the governing African National Congress for ill discipline this year.

In an interview on South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 on Wednesday, Malema said: ‘We are calling for mine change in South Africa. We want the mines nationalised. We want the workers paid a living wage … and somebody has to listen.
‘Maybe this call has been ridiculed … by the authorities and mining bosses. Now we want to show them that we mean business. We are going to be engaging in very peaceful yet radical and militant action that will hit straight into the pockets of white monopoly capital.’ ”

Dying for PR
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s recent visit to South Africa was an exercise in public relations concerning his institution’s past and present impacts on the country’s people:

“Bank-financed electricity mainly supplied South Africa’s mining houses and smelters, as is still the case (the main customer of the Medupi coal-fired power station currently being built will be BHP Billiton, which consumes more than 10% of the country’s power to smelt aluminium). Then and now, this facilitated South Africa’s notorious migrant labour system, with low pay to migrant workers who succumbed to TB in squalid, single-sex, 16-to-a-room hostels and shacks.
Kim failed to address these historic issues, which are mirrored in his institution’s current portfolio, especially the [International Finance Corporation’s] controversial commitment (approved by former president Paul Wolfowitz in 2007) of $150m in equity/credit lines to Lonmin at the Marikana mine, as well as the $3.75bn for the Medupi plant north of Pretoria, pushed through by his immediate predecessor, Robert Zoellick.
The 34 victims of the Marikana massacre were mainly migrants from Lesotho and the Eastern Cape. Their migrant labour status replicates apartheid, including health vulnerability in disease-ridden shack settlements.”

Boat tragedies
Human Rights Watch’s Judith Sunderland calls out European governments over their failure to prevent migrant deaths at sea, after an estimated 140 people died in the Mediterranean last week:

“The truth is that European Union governments on the Mediterranean rim and the EU as a whole have focused far more effort on border control, including in ways that violate rights, than on preventing deaths at sea.

The EU needs to live up to European values this time around and do its utmost to ensure that those fleeing Syria reach safety and a meaningful chance to apply for asylum. We cannot mourn only the deaths of asylum seekers, though. None of those who perished last week deserved to die, regardless of their nationality or reasons for trying to reach Europe.”

Exploration hiatus
Bloomberg reports that Tanzania’s opposition is calling for “a 10-year moratorium on licensing offshore oil and gas blocks” so that the country has time to implement laws that will ensure it benefits from the exploitation of its natural resources:

“Tanzania, the holder of East Africa’s second-biggest natural-gas resources, in June tripled its estimate of recoverable gas reserves to 28.7 trillion cubic feet. The government postponed its next deep offshore bidding round, originally scheduled to start tomorrow, pending the adoption of a natural gas policy by lawmakers. Parliament may approve the draft document as soon as October.
‘A moratorium will not only allow us to manage our new resources effectively, it will also ensure the welfare of future generations,’ [Shadow Finance Minister Zitto] Kabwe said in an e-mailed statement. It would give time to set up a sovereign development fund, train Tanzanians for jobs in the industry, and make sure oversight bodies are monitoring oil and gas revenues, Kabwe said.”

Trade secrecy
Inter Press service reports on the “unusually tight secrecy” at negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are now in their 14th round:

“Thus, while inklings of the countries’ positions on the varying issues have come to light through brief public statements and leaked documents, the details of how the talks are progressing are known only to the negotiators and the corporations that have been given access to the draft documents.
According to activists, of the 600 advisors that the U.S. negotiators have used surrounding the talks, 84 percent have been corporate interests.
Indeed, not only has there been an ongoing lack of direct civil-society involvement in the TPP process, but progress in the negotiations has been kept secret from even the U.S. Congress. With the start of the 14th round of talks this weekend, a bipartisan letter was sent from Congress to Trade Representative Kirk, insisting “in the strongest terms possible” that Kirk’s office publicise details on what is being discussed, specifically with regards to intellectual property rights.”

Blasé about torture
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on a UN expert’s comments that suggest there has been “a paradigm shift” in the way Western society views torture:

“Speaking at Chatham House on the record last night [Juan] Méndez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, bemoaned a change in attitude. ‘We have lost an important asset that we had in the fight against torture: the moral indignation,’ he told the audience. ‘In the last ten years the culture has generated a sense that perhaps torture is inevitable or even necessary.’

The Obama administration reinstated the Code on Military Justice. However, Méndez candidly explained that the decision not to address what happened around the Torture Memos reveals a refusal to accept the US’s obligations under international law.
‘It’s a very disappointing decision,’ he said, ‘you can imagine how frustrating it is for a special rapporteur to go around the world saying we have to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes of torture, when the US doesn’t.’ ”

Multilateral views
UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg reports on a recent public opinion study that suggests American attitudes are rather well-disposed toward international cooperation on a range of global issues:

“The survey shows that Americans prefer a cooperative approach to American foreign policy and believe the UN should be a platform for cooperation even when it means the USA must compromise a bit.

Another related part of the polling asks respondents attitudes toward various international treaties to which the USA has not acceded, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and a post-Kyoto international climate change convention. Guess what? Americans are very supportive of the USA joining all three!”

Latest Developments, July 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Drums of war
Reuters reports that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said a foreign military intervention in Mali is “probable” now that Islamist forces appear to be in control of the country’s north:

“ ‘In the north, at one moment or another there will probably be the use of force,’ Fabius said, noting that intervention would be African-led but supported by international forces.

Fabius said Paris would not lead a military intervention since its colonial past in the country would complicate matters.”

Export responsibility
The Guardian reports that a British parliamentary committee is calling on the government to alter its arms export policy so as to avoid selling military equipment to repressive regimes:

“Under the government’s own guidelines, licences cannot be issued if there is a clear risk that the equipment might provoke conflict or could be used to facilitate internal repression.
Records for last year show 97 licences were granted for sales to Bahrain for equipment including assault rifles, sniper rifles, body armour, gun silencers, shotguns, pistols, weapons sights and small arms ammunition.”

Outsourcing peacekeeping
Global Policy Forum has released a report detailing the UN’s growing reliance on private military and security companies, with an estimated 250% increase in field missions’ use of security services since 2006:

“In the absence of guidelines and clear responsibility for security outsourcing, the UN has hired companies well-known for their misconduct, violence and financial irregularities – and hired them repeatedly. These include DynCorp International, infamous for its role in a prostitution scandal involving the UN in Bosnia in the 1990s and, more recently, its participation in the US government’s “rendition” program; G4S, the industry leader known for its violent methods against detainees and deported asylum seekers; ArmorGroup, a G4S subsidiary singled out in a US Senate report for its ties to Afghan warlords; and Saracen Uganda, an offshoot of notorious mercenary firm Executive Outcomes with links to illegal natural resources exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Collateral damage
The New York Times asks if the killing of Osama Bin Laden may have come at the cost of the “global drive to eradicate polio”:

“In Pakistan, where polio has never been eliminated, the C.I.A.’s decision to send a vaccination team into the Bin Laden compound to gather information and DNA samples clearly hurt the national polio drive. The question is: How badly?
After the ruse by Dr. Shakil Afridi was revealedby a British newspaper a year ago, angry villagers, especially in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, chased off legitimate vaccinators, accusing them of being spies.
And then, late last month, Taliban commanders in two districts banned polio vaccination teams, saying they could not operate until the United States ended its drone strikes. One cited Dr. Afridi, who is serving a 33-year sentence imposed by a tribal court, as an example of how the C.I.A. could use the campaign to cover espionage.”

Drone sales
Al-Monitor reports that the US Defense Department is looking to “boost profits for US manufacturers” by selling drones to Middle Eastern governments:

“In May, Iraq agreed to buy at least six unarmed US surveillance drones despite the protests from Iran. Turkey currently is haggling with the US for the purchase of $4 million hunter-killer Predator or $30 million Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs for use against the guerrillas of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

In a statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said ‘There are some technologies that I believe should not be shared with countries, regardless of how close our partnership.’
But in a speech at the US Institute for Peace last month (June 28), [US Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta said he would press for loosening the restrictions on arms sales, with or without the support of Congress.”

Leading from the sidelines
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny makes his case for the US to allow a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the final UN negotiations which are currently underway:

“The silver lining is that a consensus approach that brings in all major players may not actually be necessary to make progress. The U.S., Russia, and China have yet to sign the 1997 landmine ban treaty, for example. Yet the treaty is largely responsible for a dramatic decline in the number of mines being used and the number of people being killed or injured by them.

So it would be better for the U.S. to shoot blanks and negotiate for a strong document that includes ammunition—even if everyone at the table understands it won’t sign the resulting agreement. If the U.S. wants to show leadership on stopping the global arms trade, the best thing it can do at this point is get out of the way.”

Shared responsibility
In the wake of the deaths at sea of 54 African migrants earlier this week, a Dutch politician is calling on European governments to take collective action to avoid future tragedies:

“ ‘Governments in Europe, and not only in the countries on the southern shores of Europe, must react, and take an equal share in the protection of asylum seekers arriving from Africa,’ said Tineke Strik, author of a report on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is responsible?’

‘It is still not safe in Libya and the boats will continue to arrive. Europe knows that.’ ”

Illegitimate roadmap
Independent consultant Ahmed Egal argues that British “nation-building” efforts in Somalia are not designed to provide the Somali people with a legitimate and representative government:

“For example, the intelligentsia are frustrated and deeply unhappy that, despite all the pious statements about the Somali ownership of the Roadmap at the various conferences, an illegitimate, externally financed and externally-driven process is being imposed upon them. The political elite (and their business community backers), comprising warlords, present and past ‘government officials’ and Diaspora carpet baggers, are girding up for the auction of political posts and ministerial seats as they eagerly anticipate the flow of riches and patronage to come. The vast majority of the long suffering population of Somalia, however, are apathetic about the entire enterprise since they have no say in the proceedings; they just desperately hope that some semblance of normalcy can be restored, even if they can hardly recognise it should it somehow arrive.”

Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada’s third world
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights expert has waded into the controversy over living conditions in the northern Canadian community of Attawapiskat, expressing “deep concern” over the socio-economic situation of Canada’s aboriginal population.
“ ‘The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,’ [James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples] stated.
‘Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.
‘Aboriginal communities face vastly higher poverty rights, and poorer health, education, employment rates as compared to non-aboriginal people,’ said the expert.”

Apple blasts
The Associated Press reports that, for the second time this year, an explosion has rocked a factory run by Chinese suppliers to computer giant Apple, this time resulting in 61 people injured.
“Critics have taken Cupertino, California-based Apple to task for alleged violations of labor and environmental standards by its China-based suppliers, and the company has said it is working to resolve such problems.

A similar explosion occurred in May at a factory of electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group. Three people died and 15 were hurt due to what Foxconn said was ‘an explosion of combustible dust in a duct’ at the plant in the southwestern city of Chengdu.”

Migrant rights
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on member countries to extend what are supposed to be universal rights to migrants, whether they have arrived legally or not.
“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the [International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families] into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.
“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Sweatshop nation
The Inter Press Service carries a report from Haiti Grassroots Watch on the development of a new industrial park in Haiti, which the government and the international community say will provide jobs and growth but which critics say will cause social and environmental problems.
“Putting an industrial park – which will attract between 20,000 and 200,000 new residents – in the midst of a fertile area [as recommended by US-based Koios Associates] is not necessarily going to contribute to Haiti’s ‘sustainable development’, despite government claims to the contrary, economist [Camille] Chalmers notes. Haiti has gone from virtual food self-sufficiency three decades ago to importing over 60 percent of its food. Taking more land out of production will only increase that figure.
‘Before 1992, 90 percent of our cereal needs were met here in Haiti. That’s all changed. The country has become more dependent,’ Chalmers told HGW. “That means food has become more expensive as salaries have gotten lower. You get paid in gourdes, and you consume in U.S. dollars. That is terrible for the country… it is sinking us deeper into dependency.’ ”

Food fight
Oxfam’s Duncan Green examines the strong words exchanged on the subject of food security by World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy and UN food rights expert Oliver de Schutter, quoting the latter at length.
“We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.”

Living in truth
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs reflects on the life of Vaclav Havel and the lessons it can teach us for resisting injustice in its latest forms.
“Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.”

True democracy
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson warns of the dangers of concentrated economic wealth and criticizes government policies towards banks in both Europe and the US.
“The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:
‘The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.’ ”