Latest Developments, September 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Diplomatic baby steps
The Jerusalem Post provides a transcript of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s UN speech, in which he indicated a willingness “to engage immediately” in nuclear talks but also called for changes in Western attitudes and policies:

“Coercive economic and military policies and practices geared to the maintenance and preservation of old superiorities and dominations have been pursued in a conceptual mindset that negates peace, security, human dignity, and exalted human ideals. Ignoring differences between societies and globalizing Western values as universal ones represent another manifestation of this conceptual mindset.

The prevalent international political discourse depicts a civilized center surrounded by un-civilized peripheries. In this picture, the relation between the center of world power and the peripheries is hegemonic. The discourse assigning the North the center stage and relegating the South to the periphery has led to the establishment of a monologue at the level of international relations.”

Big signing
The Washington Post reports that the US is set to sign the international Arms Trade Treaty at the UN on Wednesday, though its entry into force still looks a long way off:

“The treaty will go into effect once it is signed and ratified by at least 50 U.N. member states. The United States will be the 89th country to sign the treaty, which was adopted in a 153 to 3 vote, with 20 abstentions, in April.

Only four countries have ratified the treaty — Iceland, Nigeria, Guyana and the Caribbean island state of Antigua and Barbuda. U.S. ratification requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, where many Republicans and some Democrats are strongly opposed, and the administration is unlikely to submit it in the near future.”

Intervention fever
Le Monde reports that France is currently mulling over three options for a military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“One, the most direct, would involve increasing the number of French soldiers currently in CAR from 450 to about 1,200 for a rapid securitization operation under a UN mandate, but with considerable autonomy. The second would call for increasing the current force to about 750 troops. This reduced mobilization put forward by President François Hollande would see the French contingent provide a support role for the international mission (MISCA) already on the ground with 1,300 soldiers from Cameroon, Congo, Gabon and Chad.
The last option, seen as more of a long-term approach, would keep the number of French soldiers at 450, who would serve as a rapid reaction force capable of increasing its size if needed.” [Translated from the French.]

ICC on Westgate
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has announced her willingness to investigate the deadly attack and siege of an upscale Nairobi mall:

“Such attacks by armed groups upon innocent civilians are contrary to international law and may constitute a crime under the Rome Statute, to which Kenya is a State Party. In expressing her solidarity with the victims, their families and the people of Kenya, and with full respect for the primacy of jurisdiction of the Republic of Kenya, the Prosecutor stands ready to work with the international community and the Government of Kenya to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.”

Blue-helmet crimes
Radio France Internationale reports that UN peacekeepers have been accused of misconduct, including rape, in northern Mali:

“An investigation is underway. According to information obtained by RFI on Tuesday, the rape allegations were made against Chadian soldiers belonging to the group that had left their post in Tessalit for Gao in order to protest that they had not been paid bonuses or relieved by fresh troops. According to the mission’s spokesperson, the suspects remain in custody in Gao.” [Translated from the French.]

Sharing the wealth
The Guardian reports that a town in Switzerland has voted to give a chunk of its “commodity million” to charities in countries where Swiss corporate giant Glencore operates:

“ ‘We hope that people will open their eyes to the danger that raw material extraction will be the next reputational time bomb for Switzerland,’ [Hedingen’s Samuel Schweizer] said. ‘Political leaders have not learned anything from the disaster of [Switzerland’s role at the heart of the] banking industry.’
The Berne Declaration, a non-governmental organisation campaigning against Switzerland’s role in hosting global commodity companies, said: ‘While the decision makers in the capital Berne consider our commodities industry still only a political reputation risk, the landmark decision in the rural-conservative Hedingen shows that on the ground Glencore and their competitors already have a real reputational problem in this country.
‘Remarkably and correctly, the people of Hedingen assume that tax money is not automatically white, clean or legitimate. As citizens, they take responsibility for that which the government still shies away from.’ ”

Vision with teeth
Human Rights Watch has released a new report in which it lays out a post-2015 development agenda that enforces respect for human rights:

“Setting mandatory requirements on corporations to undertake human rights due diligence around their work and publicly report on their human rights, social and environmental impacts, as well as their payments to domestic or foreign governments.
Requiring respect for human rights by international financial institutions, in all their development policies and programs.
Making the post-2015 agenda universal – with commitments applicable to all countries, not just low income ones – and strengthening accountability for delivering on these commitments to inclusive, sustainable, and rights-respecting development.”

Corporate medicine
ONE reports that its co-founder, U2 frontman Bono, has lashed out at the US oil industry for fighting against new rules requiring its overseas activities to become more transparent:

“ ‘We know corruption is killing more kids than TB, AIDS, and malaria put together. There is a vaccine and it’s called transparency,’ said Bono.

‘I’m no cranky anti-corporation critic here,’ Bono said. ‘I implore the people in this room, from Exxon, from Chevron… You can’t have it both ways. You can’t give alms to the poor on one level and have your hands on their throats on another.’ ”

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Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Exceptionally dangerous
In a New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it “alarming” that US military interventions in foreign conflicts have become “commonplace”:

“The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

I carefully studied [US President Barack Obama’s] address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Lethal aid
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has started arming Syrian rebels:

“The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.”

Excessive murders
Al Jazeera reports that the Dutch government has issued a formal apology for mass executions in Indonesia during the colonial era:

“Special forces from the Netherlands carried out a series of summary executions in its former colony between 1945 and 1949, killing thousands.
In total, about 40,000 people were executed during the colonial era, according to the Indonesian government; however, Dutch figures mention only a few thousand.

‘They are apologising for all the war crimes, which the Dutch merely call excesses,’ [Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen] added.
The Hague had previously apologised and paid out to the widows in individual cases but it had never said sorry or offered compensation for the victims of general summary executions.”

New boss
Reuters reports that Mali’s newly elected government has announced plans to review all existing oil and mining contracts:

“ ‘If there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question,’ [Mines Minister Boubou Cisse] said.
Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, said the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and its results would be made available to the public.

Cisse said his ministry aimed to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around 8 percent at present to 15 to 20 percent in the long term.”

No strikes
The UN’s commission of inquiry for Syria has released its latest report on recent atrocities in the war-torn country, along with a statement making clear its position on the prospect of foreign military intervention:

“For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.

There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.”

Peddling wars
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has put out a press release suggesting Canada’s government wants to increase arms sales abroad:

“CADSI also took the opportunity to thank the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, for her department’s recent decision to provide financial support to CADSI to strengthen the Canada brand at major international defence and security trade shows and increase the visibility of western Canadian businesses at those events.
‘Our Government is pleased to partner with CADSI to help promote western Canadian companies on the global stage,’ said Minister Rempel. ‘The defence and security industries are important economic drivers in Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada is committed to strengthening these key sectors.’ ”

Words and deeds
The Guardian reports that the US has thus far failed to keep its promises under the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria is now under pressure to sign:

“About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.”

Divide and rule
Georgetown University doctoral candidate Nick Danforth argues that European colonialism’s most enduring harm has little to do with arbitrary borders:

“In Syria, the French cultivated the previously disenfranchised Alawite minority as an ally against the Sunni majority. This involved recruiting and promoting Alawite soldiers in the territory’s colonial army, thereby fostering their sense of identity as Alawites and bringing them into conflict with local residents of other ethnicities. The French pursued the same policy with Maronite Christians in Lebanon, just as the Belgians did with Tutsis in Rwanda and the British did with Muslims in India, Turks in Cyprus and innumerable other groups elsewhere.
The militarization of these ethnic and religious identities, rather than the failure of perfectly placed state borders to alleviate tension between them, explains much of violence in the Middle East today. Blaming imperialism is usually sound politics and good comedy. But in this case, focusing on bad borders risks taking perpetual identity-based violence as a given, resulting in policies that ultimately exacerbate the conflicts they aim to solve.”