Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

More is less
The Wall Street Journal reports that NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes the deployment of Patriot missiles to the Turkey-Syria border would “contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis”:

“Turkey has formally asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deploy Patriot missiles to protect its long border with Syria, the military alliance said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a further militarization of the neighbors’ tense frontier amid heightened concerns the civil war is spilling onto Turkish territory.

Only the U.S., the Netherlands and Germany have the appropriate system available.”

By-product baggage
ABC Radio Australia reports on the controversy over what an Australian mining company plans to do with the radioactive waste it will generate at a rare earth refinery in Malaysia:

“Lynas chief executive Nick Curtis says the company made the application to [the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency] in the hope of shipping the by-product back and on-selling it to be recycled, but that is no longer the company’s plan.
‘We ceased looking for contracts in Australia because we think shipping to Thailand or Indonesia is cheaper.’
Mr Curtis says the company has permits to store the waste in Malaysia for the short and long term but are looking at opportunities to recycle the product in-country for industrial use.

Last week a Malaysian court dismissed an application to suspend the company’s temporary operating licences.
The protesters have lodged an appeal to the decision.”

Mining on trial
The Dominion reports on a group of Guatemalan plaintiffs preparing to go to Canada to testify against Hudbay Minerals, whom they accuse of “negligent management” leading to shootings that left one man dead and another paralyzed:

“Toronto’s Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors, is representing the plaintiffs, whose claims against the Guatemala operations of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals are serious.
‘The evidence that both sides are collecting right now (including the November cross-examinations) will be used at a March hearing which will determine whether the lawsuit should be heard in Canada or in Guatemala,’ Cory Wanless, a lawyer at Klippensteins, told The Dominion via email from Toronto. ‘This is obviously a very important question with potentially very significant ramifications for the rest of the Canadian mining industry.’ ”

WHO denial
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the head of the World Health Organization has denied that contributions from “producers of junk food and soda” are influencing the UN agency’s fight against non-communicable diseases:

“However, [WHO Director General Margaret] Chan acknowledged that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has taken money from the food and beverage industries for its NCD work. PAHO ‘is unique among WHO’s Regional Offices because it contains two separate legal entities – the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (AMRO) and the health agency of the Organization of the American States,’ the statement said. ‘In some areas the two entities may have variations in policy. For example, as mentioned in the media reports, in its capacity as PAHO, food and beverage manufacturers have contributed financially as part of a multi-sector forum to address NCDs.’ ”

Less than peanuts
Radio France Internationale interviews Ali Idrissa, head of the Niger chapter of Publish What You Pay, about uranium mining and his country’s relationship with French nuclear giant Areva:

“Today, it’s a very unequal partnership that we, as civil society actors, have long denounced. What Areva pays to the state accounts for less than 5.8% of the national budget. Peanuts, livestock and other exported products exported by Niger generate more income for the country than uranium does.” [Translated from the French.]

Plantation tensions
Greenpeace calls for an end to the large-scale deforestation being carried out in southwestern Cameroon by a subsidiary of US-based Herakles Farms:

“The deforestation is taking place despite the fact SGSOC is operating via a 99-year land lease that has not yet been approved by Presidential Decree and is therefore questionable under Cameroonian Law.
If it is not stopped, the planned 730km2 concession will eventually be almost half the size of the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area, or 10 times the size of Manhattan. It would destroy a densely forested area in a biodiversity hotspot, resulting in severe consequences for the livelihoods of thousands of residents and for the global climate.”

Poor numbers
Simon Fraser University’s Morten Jerven criticizes the development industry’s obsession with “the measure of the production and consumption of goods and services”:

“For a number of years now I have been trying to answer the question: How good are these numbers? The short answer is that the numbers are poor. This is just not a matter of technical accuracy – the arbitrariness of the quantification process produces observations with very large errors and levels of uncertainty. This ‘numbers game’ has taken on a dangerously misleading air of accuracy, and the resulting figures are used to make critical decisions that allocate scarce resources. International development actors are making judgments based on erroneous statistics. Governments are not able to make informed decisions because existing data are too weak or the data they need do not exist.”

Lords on drones
TheyWorkForYou.com transcribes a series of questions asked in the UK House of Lords about the use of armed drones:

“I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will be aware that international human rights law permits the intentional use of lethal force only when necessary to protect against a threat to life and where there are no other means, such as capture, available. Targeted killings are not lawful as the action has to be strictly necessary and proportionate. Given that the use of armed drones engages four major UN conventions as well as Article 51 of the UN charter, will she tell the House what measures the UK is taking to abide by international law and to encourage allies, such as the United States, to do the same?” [Question asked by the Liberal Democrats’ Baroness Falkner of Margravine]

“My Lords, in the light of the unknown number of civilian casualties as a result of drone attacks in Pakistan, when no armed conflict has been declared and the United States is not at war, does [Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs] agree that such attacks are illegal under international humanitarian law and that there is now a need for an enhanced arms limitation treaty?”  [Question asked by the Bishop of Bath and Wells]

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Latest Developments, August 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Long-awaited cleanup
The New York Times reports that “after years of rebuffing” requests for assistance, the US has started cleaning up the toxic legacy of its war with Vietnam:

“Forty years after the United States stopped spraying herbicides in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the hopes of denying cover to Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops, an air base here is one of about two dozen former American sites that remain polluted with an especially toxic strain of dioxin, the chemical contaminant in Agent Orange that has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases.

The program, which is expected to cost $43 million and take four years, was officially welcomed with smiles and handshakes at the ceremony. But bitterness remains here. Agent Orange is mentioned often in the news media, and victims are commemorated annually on Aug. 10, the day in 1961 when American forces first tested spraying it in Vietnam. The government objected to Olympics sponsorship this year by Dow Chemical, a leading producer of Agent Orange during the war. Many here have not hesitated to call the American program too little — it addresses only the one site — and very late.”

Migrant roundups
Human Rights Watch takes Greece to task for “ongoing sweeps targeting suspected migrants based on little more than their physical appearance”:

“Since August 4, 2012, more than 6,000 foreigners presumed to be undocumented migrants have been taken into police stations for questioning, and more than 1,500 arrested for illegal entry and residence with a view to deportation to their countries of origin.

Greek police must have specific cause to stop and question people beyond the appearance of their national origin. Mass expulsions are strictly prohibited under international law. Greece is also legally bound not to return refugees to persecution or anyone to risk of torture.”

Ethical banking
Reuters reports that as global food prices surge, some German banks are restricting food-related investments:

“Germany’s second-largest bank declined to give details about the reason for its decision to remove agricultural commodities from an exchange-traded fund (ETF), but German lobby group Foodwatch said the decision was because of ethical concerns.
‘Commerzbank is reacting to the debate about a series of studies which show that investment in this type of commodity fund pushes food prices upwards and so contributes to the hunger crisis in many parts of the world,’ Foodwatch said.”

The price of interoperability
The New York Times reports that US efforts to establish a Persian Gulf missile defense system involve selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to the region’s regimes: 

“Three weeks ago the Pentagon announced the newest addition to Persian Gulf missile defense systems, informing Congress of a plan to sell Kuwait $4.2 billion in weaponry, including 60 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, 20 launching platforms and 4 radars. This will be in addition to Kuwait’s arsenal of 350 Patriot missiles bought between 2007 and 2010.
The United Arab Emirates acquired more than $12 billion in missile defense systems in the past four years, documents show. In December, the Pentagon announced a contract to provide the Emirates with two advanced missile defense launchers for a system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, valued at about $2 billion, including radars and command systems. An accompanying contract to supply an arsenal of interceptor missiles for the system was valued at another $2 billion, according to Pentagon documents.
Saudi Arabia also has bought a significant arsenal of Patriot systems, the latest being $1.7 billion in upgrades last year.”

Contentious lake
The Financial Times reports that oil and gas exploration by a British company has “reignited” a border dispute between Tanzania and Malawi:

“Malawi’s late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, awarded an exploration contract to UK company Surestream Petroleum during mounting tension over entitlement to the lake last October. Surestream was one of seven companies to bid for hydrocarbon exploration licenses in the Lake Malawi basin.

Tanzania intends to officially claim part ownership of the lake, demanding that Malawi cease all oil and gas exploration activity until the issue is resolved. Tanzanian officials say the clash between the two governments could escalate and jeopardise stable relations if the lake’s exploration produces significant oil and gas discoveries.
Samuel Sitta, East African cooperation minister and former acting prime minister for Tanzania, recently said Tanzania was ready to respond to military confrontation.”

London laundering
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on a new Private Eye investigation that portrays Britain as “the centre of an embezzlement industry that steals billions from the world’s poor”:

“The regulation-free tax havens where stolen loot is stashed and the bankers who wash the money are still a long way from proper regulation.
Private Eye points out that Lord Green, a current trade minister and member of the Treasury team deciding how to reform Britain’s banks, was chief executive of HSBC during the years it was turning over hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty money.
When Private Eye asked one former policeman why the bankers aren’t getting arrested for money laundering, the answer was simple: ‘They are untouchable’.”

Corporate questions
Freelance writer Oliver Balch points out that, while there may be a business case for development, there may not be a development case for business:

“Moreover, the private sector’s solution to development evolves from capitalist orthodoxy. Developing countries, the argument runs, need more consumer-driven capitalism, not less. With the world’s natural resources depleting fast, a rethink here can justifiably be demanded. [Unilever CEO Paul] Polman talks of ‘decoupling’ economic growth from environmental impacts. It’s a nice idea, of course, but hugely difficult in practice. Only one fifth of Unilever’s energy is renewable, for example – and that’s from a market leader.”

Dodging responsibility
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth’s Nnimmo Bassey looks into the ability of foreign oil companies to avoid fines imposed on them by West African governments:

“Nations that depend on export of primary resources for revenue are essentially rent collectors as they often depend on external agencies or corporations to exploit resources found in their territories. As rent collectors they have limited control over what the actual operators do in the field as the operators actually present themselves (and are seen) as benefactors of the rentier states. And the states in turn are ready to pay scant attention to human and environmental rights abuses perpetuated by these operators. Examples abound in the case of Nigeria where human and environmental rights abuses have been documented continuously over the past decades. It is thus no news when these corporations ignore court orders or blatantly challenge government agencies that attempt to enforce any form of redress.
Companies will keep calling the bluff of Nigeria and other countries to which they pose as benefactors while in reality they are rapists. This will only stop with strengthening of citizens driven democracy, legislative activism and systemic change.”

Latest Developments, July 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Gulf build-up
The Wall Street Journal reports the US is building a missile-defense station in Qatar, but its location is a secret because of “the sensitivity surrounding any U.S. military deployments in the emirate”:

“The Pentagon chose to place the new radar site in Qatar because it is home to the largest U.S. military air base in the region, Al Udeid Air Base, analysts say. More than 8,000 troops are stationed there and at another U.S. base in Qatar.

Officials said the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is overseeing the buildup to counter Iran, also wants to deploy the Army’s first Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-interceptor system, known as a THAAD, to the region in the coming months, possibly in the United Arab Emirates.”

Torture admission
The Independent reports that the British government has admitted for the first time that colonial forces tortured and sexually abused Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion more than 50 years ago:

“The starling admission came as a trio of elderly Kenyans stood up in court to describe how they were beaten, castrated and sexually assaulted by British forces and their Kenyan allies during the pro-independence rebellion.
The three Kenyans are suing the Government in a landmark legal case that could lead to a deluge of compensation claims from victims of British colonial violence around the world.”

Vaccine violence
Agence France-Presse reports that a World Health Organization team was shot at in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, during a polio immunization campaign:

“A health expert, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the attack was the latest in an alarming trend of violence against polio workers.
He said there had been threats and announcements in mosques branding the vaccine anti-Islam and blamed ‘a new wave of attacks on polio workers’ on the CIA’s use of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi to help find bin Laden.
The doctor was jailed for 33 years in May after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover.
‘It has become a very serious and critical issue. People suspect foreigners involvement in the programme and fake campaign by Afridi has given further credence to conspiracy theory,’ he said.
He said polio workers were beaten in the capital Islamabad on Monday, a team fired on in the southern town of Jacobabad and a motorcycle stolen in the southwestern town of Ziarat.”

ATT escape clause
Amnesty International is calling upon US President Barack Obama not to water down the Arms Trade Treaty currently being negotiated at UN headquarters in New York:

“President Obama’s officials have indicated they want the treaty to include an escape clause that would allow national security considerations to override any serious human rights concerns when deciding to supply arms.

Amnesty International is urging governments to ensure a ‘Golden Rule’ on human rights is included in the treaty. This would mean that if there is a substantial risk arms due to be supplied by a country are likely to be used to commit serious human violations the arms transfer shall not take place.
Many governments and most US allies support this position. However, some influential states including China, Russia and US have been promoting weaker rules.”

De-development
The New School for Social Research’s Tarak Barkawi uses the example of private security companies to take on “the big lie of private sector efficiency”:

“One of the hidden costs of privatisation is that knowledge and expertise are no longer retained by public institutions. Instead, they become the property of private contractors. Militaries, police forces, and other public services lose the ability and the institutional memory to conduct various tasks. Governments must then pay the price over and over again for contractors to do the job badly.
Contractors care little about developing and retaining dedicated expertise in particular tasks. They need only enough to secure the contract. Their bottom line is profit, not security or the public good. As a consequence, privatisation is a kind of “de-development”, a de-modernisation of the services government provides and which we pay for through taxes.”

Punishing banks
Global Witness’s Stefanie Ostfeld argues that the only way banks will get serious about tackling money laundering is if they and their executives face harsh financial and criminal penalties:

“Global Witness investigations have detailed how major banks including Barclays, Citibank and HSBC, have done business with corrupt senior officials from Nigeria, Angola, Turkmenistan, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo. Banks are the first line of defense against corrupt funds, but as long as they continue to accept the proceeds of state looting and grand corruption, as long as they continue to facilitate the money laundering that makes drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorist finance possible, they are fully complicit in these crimes and the poverty that persists in so many countries.”

NGOs as instrumentalities
FCPA Blog’s Philip Fitzgerald argues that NGO staff should, in some cases, be considered “foreign public officials” under anti-bribery legislation, such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

“Certain NGOs, then, can be considered to be exercising part of the powers usually reserved to a state authority. Nuanced analysis is, however, necessary. The keys, as with instrumentalities under the FCPA, would be the degree of state influence and the degree to which the NGO officials are performing a public function.

If NGOs can be public international organizations for purposes of the OECD convention and global anti-corruption regimes, the fight against graft would benefit from a very interesting extension to the reach of the current international anti-bribery framework.”

Drone casualty report
Inter Press Service reports that a new study that found no civilian deaths caused by US drone strikes in Pakistan this year has come under fire for its underlying methodology:

“ ‘[New America Foundation] relies only on a small number of media reports immediately following a strike. Sometimes we learn crucial facts days, weeks or even months after an initial attack,’ [the Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s Chris Woods] told IPS.
‘In February of this year, for example, a major investigation by Associated Press, based on 80 eyewitness testimonies from civilians in Waziristan, found previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in 20 percent of the sampled strikes. Unfortunately, NAF has not incorporated these important findings into its data,’ said Woods.”