Latest Developments, April 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Shell’s back
Agence France-Presse reports that oil giant Shell has returned to Nigeria’s “massively polluted” Ogoniland region 20 years after suspending its operations there due to unrest:

“The Anglo-Dutch oil major said the move was not part of an attempt to restart oil production in Ogoniland, describing it instead as a bid to comply with a 2011 UN report that called for one of the world’s biggest ever environmental clean-ups.

The report called for the oil industry and the Nigerian government to contribute $1 billion (762 million euros) to a clean-up fund for the region, adding that restoration could take up to 30 years.”

Fine rhetoric
Euractiv reports that the point person on the EU’s new transparency rules for global resource companies has accused the UK government of trying to water down the legislation during negotiations “despite the government’s public declarations that it supports more disclosure”:

“ ‘There is a general view really that they [Britain] were working very closely with Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto inspired a lot of their original proposal,’ [UK Labour MEP Arlene] McCarthy said of the British government’s negotiating position.
Britain hued closely during the talks on Tuesday to the industry position that companies should only disclose contracts at the government level, even though Prime Minister David Cameron had given a speech about a year ago saying that Britain was committed to the higher transparency standard of project-level reporting – a stance pressed by civil society, McCarthy said.

‘On the one hand, the rhetoric is fine, claiming that you are leading on the issues, but that certainly was not the case when it comes to practical negotiations or influencing other member countries to try and get a better deal. They did not push for anything like that at all,’ she said.”

Execution numbers
Amnesty International has released its annual report on executions and death sentences around the world:

“Only 21 of the world’s countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 – the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003.

The top five executing countries in the world were once again China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and USA, with Yemen closely behind.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

Ag-gag bills
The New York Times reports that “a dozen or so state legislatures” have proposed or adopted laws that would make it illegal for animal rights activists to videotape instances of cruelty on farms:

“Critics call them ‘Ag-Gag’ bills.
Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as ‘stand your ground’ gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.
One of the group’s model bills, ‘The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,’ prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to ‘defame the facility or its owner.’ Violators would be placed on a ‘terrorist registry.’ ”

Expanding war
The Wall Street Journal reports on America’s “escalating drug war across Africa”:

“Over the past two years, the U.S. government has spent about $100 million to expand its drug war into nearly every West African country, the State Department said. [Drug Enforcement Administration] officers are teaching police from Liberia and Cape Verde to board boats, and setting up drug squads in Nigeria and Ghana that would act on U.S. intelligence. The agency has five offices on the continent, with a sixth and seventh planned for Senegal and Morocco.”

Checkered past
The Associated Press reports that US private military contractor DynCorp, which was previously implicated in sex trafficking and extraordinary rendition, has won a new contract to support the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti:

“The Falls Church, Virginia-based DynCorp International received the contract from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. It will recruit and finance up to 100 officers to join the U.N.’s police unit affiliated with the mission, known as UN Pol, and 10 U.N. correction advisers.

The DynCorp task order has a one-year base period with three, one-year options that carries a total value of $48.6 million.”

Dam disappointment
The Asia Times reports that a World Bank-funded hydroelectric project in Laos may not be the “kinder, gentler” type of dam that was promised:

“After three years of commercial operations and a vigorous public relations campaign, the [Nam Theun 2] dam is now contributing to wider, more intractable problems. These include emerging evidence that resettled villagers have resorted to poaching and illegal logging to sustain their communities as well as reports from the European Union-sponsored Global Climate Change Alliance that Laos has recently become a net emitter of [greenhouse gases] after previously serving as a valuable global carbon sink.”

Carbon equality
Princeton University’s Peter Singer and Tsinghua University’s Teng Fei use the concept of a “carbon Gini coefficient” to assess the fairness of proposed approaches to tackling climate change:

“If it proves too difficult to reach agreement on a substantive equity principle, then an agreement that some carbon Gini coefficients are simply too extreme to be fair could form the basis of a minimum consensus. For example, we can compare the grandfathering principle’s carbon Gini coefficient of 0.7 with the Gini coefficient of the US, which most people regard as highly inegalitarian, and yet is much lower, at about 0.38.
On the other hand, equal per capita annual emissions is based on a principle that at least has a claim to be considered fair, and has a Gini coefficient of less than 0.4. We therefore propose that any fair solution should have a carbon Gini coefficient of 0.0-0.4. Although the choice of a precise number is somewhat arbitrary, this ‘fair range’ should establish the boundaries for those committed to an equitable solution to the problem of climate change.”

Latest Developments, July 25

In the latest news and analysis…

RIP Atta Mills
The BBC offers an obituary of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills who died suddenly and has been replaced by his vice-president, John Mahama:

“Mr Atta Mills described himself as a social democrat who leaned broadly on independence leader Kwame Nkrumah’s idea of social welfare.
But he pitched a more inclusive and less polarising political platform than both Mr Nkrumah and [former president Jerry] Rawlings.
Once in power he started an austerity programme and presided over the country’s first commercial oil production, promising that – unlike some African countries – his government would spend the newfound oil revenue responsibly.”

African justice
Agence France-Presse reports that Senegal and the African Union are proposing the establishment of a special court in Senegal to try former Chadian president Hissène Habré:

“After four days of talks in Dakar, a draft agreement was drawn up between the AU and Senegalese government on the ‘creation of extraordinary African chambers within the Senegalese court structure,’ said Amadou Baal, director of the justice minister’s office.
The chambers will have four sections to handle instruction, investigations, trials, and appeals, and will consist of Senegalese and other African judges.
Baal said the proposal was still subject to final approval.
Senegal pledged Friday to put Habre on trial, after the Hague-based International Court of Justice ruled that it must submit his case to its competent authorities for prosecution if it does not extradite him.”

Unfriendly skies
The Washington Post reports on UN concerns that Somalia’s skies “have become so congested with drones” that public safety is at risk:

“In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refu­gee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital.
Although U.N. investigators did not directly pin the blame for the mishaps on the United States, the report noted that at least two of the unmanned aircraft appeared to be U.S.-manufactured and suggested that Washington had been less than forthcoming about its drone operations in Somalia.”

Unsatisfactory draft
Reuters reports that there is much unhappiness over the first draft of the Arms Trade Treaty that is meant to be finalized by week’s end, with one critic saying it currently has “more holes than a leaky bucket”:

“[Oxfam’s Anna] Macdonald listed several criticisms. He said the range of weapons in the draft treaty needed to be expanded, particularly to include ammunition; the rules governing risk assessments that countries must do before authorizing an arms sale needed to be tightened; and the whole treaty needed to be broadened to cover the entire global arms trade and not just illicit transactions.”

Strings attached
The Guardian reports that activists in the US and India are criticizing conditions attached to American AIDS funding, which they say marginalize sex workers:

“International organisations that receive funds through the President’s emergency plan for Aids relief (Pepfar) must sign an “anti-prostitution pledge” prohibiting them from doing anything that could be perceived as supporting sex work. Activists say this has weakened the already underfunded response to the HIV epidemic among some of the most vulnerable communities.

US organisations that receive Pepfar money are no longer bound by the pledge, after successfully taking the government to court on the basis that the conditions attached to funding violate first amendment rights. But organisations outside the US are still required to sign it.”

Ogoniland pollution
The Financial Times reports that communities in Nigeria’s delta region are saying the government and foreign oil companies have done little since a UN report called last year for “the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken”:

“Earlier this year, Shell employed a local contractor to clean up the site of the 1970 well blowout [at Boobanade]. It says the work was inspected by the environmental regulator and signed off as satisfactory. But on a visit to the site in June, patches of oil residue could be seen in the soil. In one spot, fresh crude was bubbling up. [Local resident Fyneface] Farah says the remediation work was not satisfactory and that independent experts should be called to verify what was done. ‘We still cannot plant anything there and the water table is contaminated,’ Mr Farah says. ‘There is still not enough action – that is the truth.’ ”

East African energy
Think Africa Press asks who will benefit from East Africa’s apparently imminent oil and gas bonanza:

“Much of the coastal offshore drilling in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique is occurring in areas suffering from poor soil, low water tables and geographical isolation, and in regions in which many residents struggle to find employment. Whether discoveries of valuable natural resources will help or hinder these communities remains to be seen.
Indeed, as a consultant for USAID and the UN Development Programme explained, there are no baseline studies of the communities along the Tanzanian and Kenyan coasts, and if there has been any community consultation, it has gone undocumented.”

UN as enabler
Human Rights Watch asks how the UN can “stop itself from supporting” those who violate human rights:

“For many years, sometimes unknowingly and sometimes it seems because it chose to look the other way, the United Nations has provided assistance, money or logistical support to armies or police forces involved in abuses and serious human rights violations.

For the world organization to demonstrate it’s serious about ending support to abusive forces, it should lead by example and adopt stringent standards for itself. The organization needs to aggressively implement its ‘due diligence’ policy, properly fund it, and impose it where it counts – on the ground – even if it ruffles some feathers. The U.N. reputation is at stake, as much as the very mission its founders envisioned when they engraved in its charter to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.’ ”

Latest Developments, August 10

In the latest news and analysis…

British Prime Minister David Cameron has attributed the UK’s rioting to “a lack of proper parenting,” but Reuters journalist Mohammed Abbas relates another side of the story: “They were not your typical hoodlums out there. There were working people, angry people. They’ve raised rates, cut child benefit. Everyone just used it as a chance to vent,” one man told him. A Futurismic map of London suggests a link between the locations of the violence and levels of deprivation. The map uses the British government’s latest English Indices of Deprivation, which provide an aggregate of seven variables: income deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation, barriers to housing and services, living environment deprivation, and crime.

The UN says high food prices are making the Horn of Africa crisis worse, with grain and milk prices at record highs across the region. The US has given its support to a movement to impose international sanctions on Eritrea, which is also affected by East Africa’s severe drought, for allegedly attempting to destabilize its neighbours. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called the Ethiopian-led effort “timely” but added any sanctions “would not go in any way to harm the people of Eritrea, who are suffering enough as it is.”

The US has also imposed new sanctions on Syria, targeting its largest bank and biggest telecom company. Washington has little direct economic leverage because there are few American companies operating in Syria. It hopes, however, to influence European governments to take measures against the country’s oil and gas sector, a move that does not appear to be imminent. But a “group of social investment firms plans an e-mail campaign to urge 11 oil companies to either stop operations in Syria or communicate their condemnation of the violent crackdown on protesters to the government,” according to Pensions and Investments.

The World Bank has suspended lending to Cambodia over mass evictions of residents to make way for a luxury development on land around a lake in the capital Phnom Penh. “Until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak Lake, we do not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia,” the World Bank’s Annette Dixon said. Evictions have been the source of friction with foreign donors for some time but according to Reuters: “Land ownership is a complex subject in the impoverished Southeast Asian country, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.”

In the wake of Libyan accusations that a NATO air strike caused the “massacre” of 85 people earlier this week, Amnesty International is calling on the military alliance to investigate all alleged civilian killings: “NATO continues to stress its commitment to protect civilians,” the human rights group’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement. “To that effect, it should thoroughly investigate this and all other recent incidents in which civilians were reportedly killed in western Libya as a result of air strikes.”

Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney has struck back hard at Amnesty International for its criticism of his government’s plan to deport 30 men it alleges have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. In addition to writing a scathing open letter of response, he told the Toronto Star the rights group is wrongly using “its voice and scarce resources to focus on criticizing what is probably the fairest immigration system in the world.” Last month, Amnesty had called on the Canadian government to try these individuals rather than deport them. But it was hardly alone in questioning an operation that involved publishing the pictures and names of the alleged criminals on a government website and led some experts to suggest the Canadian government was “conflating immigration and criminal law.” The Canadian Centre for International Justice’s Jayne Stoyles told Embassy Magazine: “The label of war criminals kind of implies that someone has been through a criminal process. But they haven’t. And they’re not even being investigated through a criminal process.”

Exxon Mobil is disputing a US Court of Appeals ruling that it can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute for human rights abuses committed in Indonesia. In a petition for a rehearing, the company’s lawyers argue the decision’s “incorrect expansion of ATS liability threatens to unleash a flood of litigation in U.S. courts for actions lacking any salient connection to the United States” and called on the court to “reject the notion that the ATS can be used as a vehicle to bring suit in U.S. courts for alleged misconduct that occurred abroad.” And lawyers for alleged victims of human rights abuses surrounding a Guatemalan mine say Canada’s HudBay Minerals “cannot avoid liability for their past actions by selling the project.”

The Guardian’s John Vidal argues last week’s UN report on oil pollution in Nigeria’s Ogoniland region means “the conspiracy of silence between governments and oil companies has at last been broken.” While Kenya’s Business Daily carries the headline: “Multinationals, not corrupt politicians are the biggest source of dirty money flows.”

The University of the West of England, Bristol’s Diana Jeater reports on perceptions among Zimbabweans of international NGOs and aid agencies that “are mistrusted not least because they are perceived as part of the political strategies of donor governments.” She says there is also much “frustration at how the external agendas are introduced without proper research into local conditions and history” and a widespread “sense that the aid agencies are employers not helpers, who probably do more harm than good.” Jeater then concludes with a friend’s assessment of aid agencies operating in Zimbabwe: “They spend millions but they make no constructive difference. They just meet their funders’ benchmarks and get paid. They are parasites on the poor.”