Latest Developments, November 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Generic shutdown
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has voted down a bill that would have allowed Canadian companies to make generic drugs for sale at discount prices in poor countries:

“It was an attempt to untie the knots in [Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime], which came into law in 2004 under a Liberal government. While the goal of the access-to-medicines regime has been widely lauded, it is fraught with red tape and, in eight years, has been used to send just two batches of one generic drug to one country.

But even Canada’s brand-name drug manufacturers said they were not opposed to seeing Bill C-398 progress through Parliament.”

No UN money
Reuters reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed an “offensive military operation” in northern Mali but stopped short of offering financial support for the intervention:

“One Security Council diplomat was furious at Ban’s recommendation against granting the [African Union] request for U.N. funding for the operation, which U.N. diplomats estimate will cost $300 million to $500 million.
.…
Ban suggested that the funding for the initial military combat operations could be through ‘voluntary or bilateral contributions’ – which diplomats said meant European Union member states would be asked to cover costs.”

Fools rush in
In an interview with Libération during a diplomatic mission to Paris, the leader of the Tuareg separatist group Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), Bilal ag-Achérif, argued military intervention in Mali’s north would be ill-advised at this time:

“One cannot make a prescription without using a stethoscope on the patient, without consulting the people of Azawad. Such a military operation, with troops that know nothing of the terrain, would trigger disorder, spread the threat of terrorism throughout West Africa and increase drug trafficking. It could cause a lot of collateral damage. How to distinguish the terrorists from the others? They wear the same clothes.” [Translated from the French.]

Global theft
Global Witness calls for the investigation into nearly $1 billion embezzled from Kabul Bank to extend well beyond Afghanistan’s borders:

“ ‘Donors, auditors and the international banks involved in this scandal all have questions to answer,’ said [Global Witness’s Gavin] Hayman. ‘Which banks accepted corrupt money from Kabul Bank shareholders or politically exposed persons? What measures did they take to assure themselves that the funds were not the proceeds of corruption? The answers to these questions are necessary to understand why so much corrupt money was able to flood the international financial system, to facilitate the recovery of stolen assets, and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.’
Global Witness added that countries with assets from Kabul Bank, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Switzerland must freeze and return the assets stashed in their private banks, and launch inquiries into how the money ended up within their borders.”

Lifting the corporate veil
Bloomberg reports that a hearing pitting Ecuadorean plaintiffs against oil giant Chevron in a Canadian court marks the first step in “a global collection effort that includes seizure attempts in Argentina and Brazil”:

“A group of 47 Ecuadoreans have asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to seize Chevron assets in Canada, ranging from an oil sands project to offshore wells, to satisfy a [$19 billion] 2011 court ruling in the Latin American nation that ordered the company to pay for oil pollution dating to the 1960s.

The Ecuadorean plaintiffs, from the remote northern Amazon River basin, are seeking enforcement of the judgment outside their home country because Chevron has no refineries, oil wells, storage terminals or other properties in the nation.

The Ecuadoreans face an ‘uphill battle’ because they must convince the court that Chevron and its Canadian operations should be treated as one entity rather than separate companies, said Barry Leon, a partner and head of the international arbitration group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP in Ottawa.
‘The expression that gets used legally is “lifting the corporate veil” and disregarding the separate personalities,’ Leon said. ‘The courts generally, in Canada and elsewhere, have been reluctant to do that.’ ”

Nuke upgrade
Wired reports that the US, whose current president earlier in his term called for “a world without nuclear weapons,” has begun a $10 billion overhaul of its European nuclear arsenal:

“A 2008 Secretary of Defense task force against underestimating the ‘political value our friends and allies place on these weapons, the political costs of withdrawal, and the psychological impact of their visible presence.’ But the same report notes that U.S. European Command — the Pentagon’s top generals in the region – ‘believ[e] there is no military downside to the unilateral withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe.’ After all, America has thousands of additional warheads that could be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers, and submarines.”

Cancellation fallout
Reuters reports that the US is taking heat for calling off talks on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which had been scheduled for December:

“The postponement ‘will have a negative impact on regional security and the international system to prevent nuclear proliferation as a whole,’ Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said in a statement.
Iran, which is accused by the West of developing a nuclear weapons capability, said this month it would participate in the talks that had been due to take place in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked about the U.S. announcement, Iranian nuclear envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told state broadcaster Press TV from Vienna:
‘It is a serious setback to the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and this is a clear sign that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free of nuclear weapons.’

The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed at a 2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 NPT, a treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear arms in the world.”

Chased away
A new Amnesty International report calls for an immediate end to forced evictions of thousands of Roma migrants living in France:

“ ‘France has failed to include international human rights standards against forced evictions in its domestic legal system. As a result, evictions of informal settlements where Roma live generally take place without adequate prior information, consultation or notice to residents,’ [according to Amnesty’s John Dalhuisen].
‘In most cases, alternative housing is not provided and entire families are left homeless. They have no choice but to re-establish their homes in another informal settlement elsewhere, and schooling and medical treatment are interrupted as a result.’ ”

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Latest Developments, November 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Water grab
The International Institute for Environment and Development has released a new report warning that the African “land grab” phenomenon also involves water rights, with implications extending far beyond the land being sold.
“‘Companies that acquire land for irrigated farming will want secure water rights, but long-term contractual commitments can jeopardise water access for local farmers,’ says co-author Lorenzo Cotula. ‘This affects not only the people who have customarily used the land that is being leased, but also distant downstream users who can be hundreds of kilometres away and even across an international border.’
The Gibe III dam in Ethiopia will enable irrigation on 150,000 [hectares] of land the Ethiopian government has allocated to investors, but studies suggest this project would lower the level of Kenya’s Lake Turkana – on which half a million Kenyans depend — by eight metres by 2024.”

Intellectual property and health
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a high-level World Trade Organization meeting on how best to balance the demands of trade, intellectual property and public health.
“There were variations in views of the issues of the health, trade and IP officials that echo differences typical across national governments. [World Health Organization head Margaret] Chan was more outspoken about putting health matters ahead of commercial interests, using especially strong language against the tobacco industry, which is lobbying intensively in trade arenas like the WTO to stop national governments from taking actions against tobacco packaging aimed at discouraging smoking. Chan also said that an “elephant in the room” is policy incoherence within governments, where different agencies are working in different directions, and then they expect the international organisations to solve their internal issues.”

Intellectual property and poverty
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram argues stronger intellectual property rules have “ominous implications” for the world’s poor.
“Affordable and equitable access to existing and new technologies is crucial for human progress and sustainable development in many areas, including food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The same is true of affordable access to essential medicines, on which progress has been modest. By 2009, such medicines were available in just 42% of poor countries’ public facilities and 64% of private-sector facilities. Meanwhile, median prices in the public sector were 2.7 times the international reference prices and 6.1 times higher in the private sector!”

The price of secrecy
Le Monde reports on Switzerland’s growing success at getting cash-strapped countries to sign agreements that preserve bank secrecy despite G20 pledges to tackle tax havens.
“A number of countries in financial difficulty are in fact negotiating similar deals [to those recently signed by Germany and the UK] with Bern or are preparing to do so, such as Italy and Greece, according to several sources. But the Rubik accords are highly problematic, says a chorus of officials and NGOs. For starters, according to a source that is well acquainted with the file, ‘the text is a way for Switzerland to snuff out European efforts to obtain automatic exchange of financial information, which it absolutely does not want.’ ‘Morally, these deals are tough to swallow because they maintain the anonymity of account holders,’ adds the French government’s point man on the fight against tax havens, François d’Aubert.” [Translated from the French.]

Phoned-in CSR reports
The Guardian reports on a study that suggests companies are not taking environmental reporting seriously.
“The examination of more than 4,000 corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and company surveys by a team at Leeds University found ‘irrelevant data, unsubstantiated claims, gaps in data and inaccurate figures’ – a finding that will cast serious doubt over the burgeoning sector.
Among the most colourful mistakes and omissions made by some of the world’s biggest corporations were a company whose carbon footprint was four times that for the whole world, and a carmaker and power group which both, entirely legally, managed to excise a huge coal plant from their pollution record.”

Chevron’s rights suspended
Reuters reports Brazil has suspended Chevron’s drilling rights following an offshore spill earlier this month.
“Chevron initially attributed the ‘sheen’ on the sea surface to naturally occurring seepage from the seabed. The company is being investigated by the Federal Police, which noted discrepancies between Chevron’s account of the spill and the government’s.
The Frade leak, while small, is likely to provide more ammunition for the growing worldwide opposition to offshore drilling in the wake of the estimated 4-million-barrel BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.”

Nuclear weapons-free zones
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus Noam Chomsky argues that despite President Obama’s “rhetorical commitment” to nuclear non-proliferation, America’s actions “are in direct contradiction” to this posture.
“Parenthetically, we may add that US insistence on maintaining nuclear facilities in Diego Garcia undermines the [nuclear weapons-free zone] established by the African Union, just as Washington continues to block a Pacific NWFZ by excluding its Pacific dependencies.”

Linking transparency and procurement
Tax Justice Network guest blogger Matti Ylönen writes about a proposal in Helsinki to link corporate transparency and public procurement, an idea he hopes will spread beyond northern Europe.
“While discussions on binding Country-by-Country reporting standards are steadily gaining momentum in international fora, the city board of Helsinki has decided that it’s time to open another track. After returning the initiative earlier for further preparation, the board is now ready for Helsinki to start the background work on how the City of Helsinki could positively favour companies that report their key financial information openly and on country-by-country basis in public procurement.”

Republic of Lakotah
Al Jazeera asks if Native Americans could have their own country within US borders.
“In 2007, the Lakotah Freedom Delegation – a group of Native Americans led by activist Russell Means – declared sovereignty from the United States and proposed the founding of a new country known as the Republic of Lakotah.
The proposed nation would be based on territory demarcated by an 1851 land agreement made between the U.S. government and Lakotah tribal leaders. The Republic of Lakotah would cover a 200,000-square-kilometre space that is currently claimed by the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming.
The U.S. government does not recognise Lakotah or its representatives, stating that its leaders were not democratically-elected and that members are still subject to U.S. law. Lakotah would be a federation of semi-autonomous tribal groups, and governance would be based on an interpretation of a pre-European indigenous political format.”