Latest Developments, October 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Immigration disaster
The Associated Press reports that another boat carrying African migrants, this time an estimated 200, has capsized on its way to Europe:

“The capsizing occurred some 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Lampedusa but in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.

Last week, a ship carrying some 500 people capsized off Lampedusa, killing more than 300 people. Only 155 survived. The deaths prompted calls for the European Union to do more to better patrol the southern Mediterranean and prevent such tragedies.”

And the winner is…
RT reports that the global watchdog tasked with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons has won this year’s Nobel peace prize:

“The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was founded in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans the production, storage and use of chemical weapons.
Its main job since then has been the ongoing monitoring of the process of chemical disarmament by the treaty’s signatories, particularly the US and Russia, the countries that held the largest stockpiles at the time it was signed.

Awarding the prominent prize to the OCPW came as a surprise to many. Nobel Prize watchers didn’t mention the organization as a likely laureate. Predictions favored several individuals, including Malala Yousafzai, a teenage Pakistani women’s rights campaigner who survived a Taliban attack, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and rape victims’ defender from Congo, Claudia Paz y Paz, the resilient mafia-fighting Guatemalan attorney general, and Sister Mary Tarcisia Lokot, a nun at the forefront of post-war reconciliation in Uganda.”

Above the law
In a New York Times op-ed, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu argues countries (like the US) that reject membership in the International Criminal Court are “looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress” with impunity:

“Most of all, they believe that neither the golden rule, nor the rule of law, applies to them.

Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to wriggle free.
Moreover, where justice and order are not restored, there can be no healing, leaving violence and hatred ticking like a bomb in the corner.”

Mercury treaty
The BBC reports that countries have started signing a legally binding agreement regulating the trade and use of mercury:

“The Minamata Convention was named after the Japanese city that, in the 1950s, saw one of the world’s worst cases of mercury poisoning.

The [UN Environment Programme] assessment said the concentration of mercury in the top 100m of the world’s oceans had doubled over the past century, and estimated that 260 tonnes of the toxic metal had made their way from soil into rivers and lakes.”

Falling short
Human Rights Watch’s Jessica Evans argues that the World Bank “lags behind” when it comes to mitigating human rights risks:

“The bank’s safeguard policies partially address protecting indigenous peoples’ rights and ensuring that people are resettled appropriately, but fall short of international human rights law on those areas and more generally. Moreover, the policies don’t even require the World Bank to analyze human rights risks in designing and carrying out its activities.

The World Bank is undertaking its first wholesale review of its safeguard policies. If it goes right, bank staff will be required to identify potential human rights risks and work to prevent or mitigate them, to avoid contributing to abuses.”

For-profit spying
The Guardian reports on the Canadian government’s “increasingly aggressive promotion of resource corporations at home and abroad,” which appears to extend to espionage and intelligence sharing with companies:

“ ‘There is very substantial evidence that the spying Canada was doing for economic reasons aimed at Brazil is far from an aberration,’ Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald told Canadian media on Tuesday. Greenwald hinted that he will be publishing further documents on [Communications Security Establishment Canada].
‘We’ve already seen how Canadian embassies around the world essentially act as agents for Canadian companies – even when they’re implicated in serious human rights abuses,’ said Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada, an NGO watchdog. ‘We just had no idea how far they were willing to go.’ ”

More equal than others
In the wake of the recent US military raids in Somalia and Libya, Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf writes that America must reject “exceptionalism” in order to be a great nation:

“Exceptionalism is contrary to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and the ideas that led to the founding of the country. If there is one lesson of human civilization, it is that equality under the law needs to apply to nations as well as people or else chaos and injustice ensue. This past weekend’s raids were more damaging not because the outcome of one was unsuccessful but because the outcome of the other was. If countries feel they can swoop in and snatch up bad guys anywhere, whenever, and however it suited them, the world would quickly fall into a state of permanent war.”

Water justice
The Blue Planet Project’s Meera Karunananthan argues that the private sector cannot provide “silver bullet solutions” for ensuring the human right to water:

“The real crisis is a political one: corporations are attempting to control water policy to guarantee secure access to scarce water resources. When governments relegate basic services, such as water and sanitation, to profit-driven multinationals that hike up the service fees and exploit scarce resources, we are dealing with a crisis generated by an unsustainable economic model.
Yet that model continues to be promoted around the world at events like the Budapest Water Summit, where governments discuss the future of the world’s water with polluters and water profiteers rather than with the communities most impacted by the global water crisis.”

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Latest Developments, December 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian plan
The Independent reports on “secret Syria talks” aimed at drawing up plans to provide the country’s rebels with training, as well as military support from air and sea:

“The head of Britain’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, hosted a confidential meeting in London a few weeks ago attended by the military chiefs of France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE, and a three-star American general, in which the strategy was discussed at length. Other UK government departments and their counterparts in allied states in the mission have also been holding extensive meetings on the issue.

The training camps can be set up in Turkey. However, the use of air and maritime force would, in itself, be highly controversial and likely to lead to charges that, as in Libya, the West is carrying out regime change by force.
Furthermore, any such military action will have to take place without United Nations authorisation, with Russia and China highly unlikely to back a resolution after their experience over Libya where they agreed to a ‘no-fly zone’ only to see it turn into a Nato bombing campaign lasting months.”

Weak deal
The Guardian reports that environmental and anti-poverty groups are unhappy with the lack of progress made during the UN climate talks that ended in Doha over the weekend:

“ ‘A weak and dangerously ineffectual agreement is nothing but a polluters charter – it legitimises a do-nothing approach whilst creating a mirage that governments are acting in the interests of the planet and its people,’ said Asad Rehman, head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth. ‘Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis. The blame for the disaster in Doha can be laid squarely at the foot of countries like the USA who have blocked and bullied those who are serious about tackling climate change. Our only hope lies in people being inspired to take action.’ ”

Too big to indict
The New York Times reports that US authorities have decided not to indict banking giant HSBC over alleged laundering of Mexican drug money, for fear that “criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks

“Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities. The bank, which is based in Britain, faces accusations that it transferred billions of dollars for nations like Iran and enabled Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through its American subsidiaries.
While the settlement with HSBC is a major victory for the government, the case raises questions about whether certain financial institutions, having grown so large and interconnected, are too big to indict.”

Private aid
The Guardian reports on War on Want’s criticism of the UK’s increasing use of the private sector to deliver aid to Africa, a strategy the NGO contends “will do little to reduce poverty”:

“ ‘In fact [Department for International Development]-funded expansion of corporate control over agriculture in Africa is a sure way of increasing long-term vulnerability,’ [War on Want director John Hilary said].

War on Want also attacks the government for using aid to promote the commercial interests of some of the world’s most profitable food, drink and agrochemical corporations.
The report says that DfID-sponsored programmes which have funded projects in Africa and Asia with multinationals include the alcohol companies Diageo and SABMiller and the food giant Unilever. It also tracks support for initiatives to develop sales networks for agrochemical companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto. DfID is, for example, set to contribute £395m to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative that involves 45 of the largest multinational corporations investing $3bn (£1.86bn) in African agriculture.”

Suspended justice
Reuters reports that a French court has given no jail time to ex-soldiers it found guilty of murdering an Ivorian man in 2005:

“The incident – in which [Firmin] Mahe was suffocated with a plastic bag in an armored vehicle after his arrest – erupted into a diplomatic scandal after it was found the soldiers tried to cover up the crime.

The court gave Colonel Eric Burgaud, who had given the order to kill, a suspended sentence of five years, while his adjunct who had admitted to carrying out the murder, Guy Raugel, received a suspended four-year sentence.
Brigadier Chief Johannes Schnier, who helped in the killing, was handed a suspended sentence of one year. Another soldier who drove the vehicle during the killing was acquitted.”

Continent-specific justice
Inner City Press reports on concern in some diplomatic circles that the International Criminal Court’s new prosecutor is picking up where her predecessor left off, targeting only Africans for indictment:

“Another Security Council source, from a country that has signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, expressed to Inner City Press dismay at the ‘mechanism’ announcement over the weekend that new ICC prosecutor Fatima Bensouda is now looking into indicting the M23 and its supporters.
Opponents of Joseph Kabila get indicted by the ICC, from [Jean-Pierre] Bemba to Bosco [Ntaganda], the complaint runs. And what has been accomplished? Let the ICC at least try an indictment in another continent and see how it goes. Or why not look at Kabila or those in his administration, as well?”

Bloc party
The Associated Press reports that not everyone was celebrating as European Union leaders gathered in Oslo to collect this year’s Nobel Peace Prize:

“Three Peace Prize laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina — have demanded that the prize money of $1.2 million not be paid this year. They said the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
Amnesty International said Monday that EU leaders should not ‘bask in the glow of the prize,’ warning that xenophobia and intolerance are now on the rise in the continent of 500 million people.”

Institutionalized assassination
The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman argues that the biggest problem with America’s drone strikes is not the remoteness of the killings but the secrecy surrounding them:

“To make the spread of drone warfare less likely – and to prevent abuses in America’s own programme – drones need to be reclaimed from the realm of covert warfare. The CIA may relish its conversion into a paramilitary force. But wars should be fought by the military and openly scrutinised by politicians and the press. Anything else is just too dangerous for a free society and for international order.”

Latest Developments, October 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Bad timing
Oxford University’s David Priestland argues the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to the European Union at this point in time is “distinctly odd”:

“The introduction of the euro changed the EU from an institution that used economic integration to promote peace to one that is sacrificing peace on the altar of free-market economics. Brussels is being rewarded for its pacific past at the very moment it is provoking civil strife.

Nor did Europe’s eirenic outlook always extend beyond its borders. Individual countries have sometimes played a far from peaceful role in the world – especially the French and British meddling in their former empires. Europe’s protectionism has also damaged the interests of the developing world.”

Development by force
Human Rights Watch’s Jessica Evans criticizes the World Bank’s support for Ethiopia’s controversial “villagization” program:

“Once forcibly evicted and moved to the new villages, families are finding that the promised government services often do not exist, giving them less access to services than before the relocation. Dozens of farmers in Ethiopia’s Gambella region told us they are being moved from fertile areas where they survive on subsistence farming, to dry, arid areas. Ojod’s family farm was on the river, but as part of the villagization program, the government took his farm and forced his family to relocate to a dry area. There are reports that this fertile land is being leased to multinational companies for large-scale farms.
The villagization program is an Ethiopian government initiative, not one designed by the World Bank. But villagization appears to be the government’s way of implementing a certain World Bank project in five of Ethiopia’s eleven regions.”

Colonial legacy
Radio France Internationale reports that French President François Hollande has promised to hand over archives relating to a massacre of Senegalese troops fighting for France during World War II:

“ ‘The dark side of our history includes the bloody repression at the Thiaroye camp in 1944 which caused the death of 35 African soldiers who fought for France,’ Hollande told the Senegalese parliament.

In a speech where he also paid homage to the victims of the slave trade, Hollande declared that the Françafrique policy, often criticised as neo-colonialist, is over.
‘There is France and there is Africa,’ he declared, adding that he was not going to give the Senegalese moral lectures, in an indirect reference to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial speech in Dakar five years ago.”

Poisonous siege
The Independent reports on a new study linking the siege of Fallujah by Western forces during the Iraq War to the city’s “staggering rise” in birth defects:

“The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.”

Patent override
The Guardian reports that the Indonesian government has taken steps to allow seven “important” but patented medicines to be manufactured cheaply and locally:

“The biggest fights now are in India, where Big Pharma is battling to preserve its patents, arguing that India’s thriving generic companies will sell not just to the poor but to the whole world.
But what has happened in Indonesia is remarkable for its scale. It appears that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has decided to license the entire slate of medicines its population needs against HIV. It already had an order from 2007 for three older HIV drugs (efavirenz, lamivudine and nevirapine), but the new decree states specifically that this is ‘no longer sufficient’.
The drug patents belong to Merck, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb, Abbott and Gilead.”

Tax hike
The New York Times reports that Mongolia is considering renegotiating the investment agreement it has with Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto regarding a $6 billion copper project:

“Last Monday, the caucus of Mongolia’s Democratic Party, which leads a coalition government in place since August, passed a budget proposal, which calls for a new sliding royalty on Oyu Tolgoi’s revenue that would rise to 20 percent depending on the copper price. The 2009 investment agreement set the royalty rate at 5 percent.
The new plan would also raise Oyu Tolgoi’s effective tax rate by eliminating income-tax allowances. The government would bring in 221.3 billion tugriks, or $160 million, from the royalty and 224.5 billion tugriks, or $163 million, from corporate income tax, according to estimates in the draft budget proposal.
This week, the plan is expected to reach Parliament, which will decide whether to adopt or modify the proposal.”

Paradigm shift
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a recent roundtable where one of the participants argued that global health justice will require “a body of hard and soft laws”:

“ ‘When I first entered global health, I thought global health was mostly about making rich countries devote resources to those who lack the capacity to do it,’ [Georgetown University’s Larry Gostin] said. This ‘is a northern view based upon guilt, but it is really the wrong view,’ he said.

There are still residual international responsibilities, but they are based on a flawed idea of international development assistance for health, which is ‘very much charitable-based, with a benefactor and a recipient.’ It is not justice-based, he said, and lacks a sense of shared responsibility, adding, ‘We need to change this paradigm.’ ”

Food futures
The Observer’s Heather Stewart decries the lack of action by rich-country governments to rein in the price of food, which she says depends more on “all-but-irrelevant events in Brussels or Berlin” than on supply and demand:

“Any tougher crackdown – forcing greater transparency about who is betting on what, with whom, for example – looks highly likely to be scuppered by the same kind of concerted lobbying that sank proposals for regulating other derivatives markets in the years before the crisis.
In the US, for example, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is facing a legal battle over its attempts to impose ‘position limits’, constraining the share of the market single investors can hold in a number of commodities, including corn and cocoa. The proposal was struck down by a court in Washington, in a case brought by several financial sector trade bodies – though the CFTC has not given up on introducing position limits in some form.”