Latest Developments, August 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Warehouses for forgetting
The Washington Post reports that US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced plans to dial down America’s war on drugs by doing away with charges requiring mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offences:

“He also introduced a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

‘We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken,’ Holder said. ‘And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.’
‘A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,’ Holder said Monday. He added that ‘many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems rather than alleviate them.’ ”

Stopping stop-and-frisk
Reuters reports that a US Judge has ruled the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics unconstitutional, describing them as “indirect racial profiling”:

“[U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin], who presided over the 9-week trial without a jury, ruled the effectiveness of ‘stop and frisk’ was irrelevant.
‘Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime – preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example – but because they are unconstitutional, they cannot be used, no matter how effective,’ the ruling said.”

Dash for oil
The Financial Times reports on concerns over the “unusual” oil exploration deal signed between Somalia and ex-UK Conservative leader Michael Howard’s month-old company:

“The deal has unsettled some industry observers who had expected a public licensing round for all the oil blocks. Other more experienced companies had also been queueing up for contracts to undertake surveys. They say it is unusual for Soma, once it has gathered the data, to be able to cherry-pick the best dozen blocks.

‘The UK is promoting transparent and accountable government [but it] hosted a conference and invited all of us,’ said a diplomat who follows Somalia closely. ‘Then that momentum was used to promote British business interests: that could maybe have been more transparent.’ ”

Not-so-imminent threats
The New York Times quotes a “senior” American official as saying the US has “expanded the scope of people we could go after” with drones in Yemen:

“ ‘Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director,’ said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence issues. ‘Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.’

Senior American intelligence officials said last week that none of the about three dozen militants killed so far in the drone strikes were ‘household names,’ meaning top-tier leaders of the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But the American official said the strikes had targeted ‘rising stars’ in the Yemen network, people who were more likely to be moving around and vulnerable to attack. ‘They may not be big names now,’ the official said, ‘but these were the guys that would have been future leaders.’ ”

Erasing colonialism
The Guardian reports that by renaming the Caprivi Stip the Zambezi Region, Namibia has “wiped off the map” some of its colonial history:

In 2004 Germany apologised for the colonial-era genocide that killed 65,000 Herero people through starvation and slave labour in concentration camps. The Nama, a smaller ethnic group, lost half their population during what a recent book referred to in its title as The Kaiser’s Holocaust.

Today there is still anger among indigenous communities who live in poverty and demand reparations from Germany, their shanty town homes contrasting with vast German-owned farms. [What Dawid Knew author Patricia Glyn] added: ‘The Nama people I researched are still living in a ghetto. They put up a magnificent challenge to the Germans but they are landless. Changing a couple of names doesn’t really crack it. It’s very little and very late.’ ”

Toxic dumping
Euractiv reports that African countries have called for a crackdown on e-waste imports from Europe where it is cheaper to export than to dispose of old electronics:

“Nations that are parties to the Bamako Convention on the export of hazardous waste to Africa met in the Malian capital in June for the first time since the international agreement was agreed in 1991.
In its final declarations, released on Tuesday (6 August), the African representatives called for enforcement of the convention and for tougher national laws.
The Bamako meeting marked “the first time that African parties have by themselves called for rigorous action to prevent e-waste dumping,” said a statement from the Basel Action Network, an environmental group that campaigns against the trade in toxic waste.”

The hardest word
Author John Grisham argues that the US should atone for war on terror “mistakes” such as the incarceration of Nabil Hadjarab, a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France before spending the past 11 years at the Guantanamo Bay prison:

“Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.

First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.
This sounds simple, but it will never happen.”

Genocidal team name
Satirical newspaper the Onion “reports” on a new study showing that the Washington Redskins‘ name is “only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning”:

“ ‘It has the potential to come across as a degrading relic of an ethnocentric mentality responsible for the destruction of an entire people and their culture, but that’s only if you take a couple seconds to recognize it as something beyond a string of letters,’ [said lead researcher Lawrence Wagner]. Wagner recommended that the NFL franchise should change their name to something more appropriate and historically accurate, such as the Washington Racist Fucks.”

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Latest Developments, July 31

In the latest news and analysis…

Upside-down justice
Amnesty International, though pleased to see Wikileaker Bradley Manning acquitted of the “aiding the enemy” charge, accuses the US government of punishing those who reveal wrongdoing while protecting those who order or commit the crimes:

“ ‘Since the attacks of September 11, we have seen the US government use the issue of national security to defend a whole range of actions that are unlawful under international and domestic law,’ said [Amnesty International’s Widney] Brown.
‘It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour.’ ”

UN ultimatum
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo has issued a statement threatening to disarm by force all non-military armed actors in and around the eastern city of Goma:

“In light of the high risk to the civilian population in the Goma-Sake area, MONUSCO will support the [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo] in establishing a security zone in Goma and its northern suburbs. Any individuals in this area who are not members of the national security forces will be given 48 hours as of 4pm (Goma time) on Tuesday 30 July to hand in their weapon to a MONUSCO base and join the [Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement] process. After 4pm on Thursday 1 August, they will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement.”

Pattern of violence
London-based law firm Leigh Day has announced the launch of a suit against a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold over alleged complicity in “the deaths and injuries of local villagers” in Tanzania:

“The claims relate to incidents occurring over the last three years, including one in which five young men were shot and killed on 16 May 2011. The claimants allege that the mine and [North Mara Gold Mine Limited] are controlled by [African Barrick Gold] and that ABG failed to curb the use of excessive force at the mine, including deadly force used by police on a regular basis over a protracted period of time.
‘Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. We are aware of many other instances in which local people have reportedly been seriously injured or killed at ABG’s mine,’ said Leigh Day partner, Richard Meeran.

Two years ago, Barrick announced that ABG had launched a full investigation into what it called ‘credible’ allegations of sexual assault at the North Mara mine in Tanzania. The results of the investigation have never been released.”

Defining atrocities
The Globe and Mail reports on a movement to get the Canadian government to recognize that the country’s history of abuses against First Nations people constitutes genocide:

“As early as this fall, they could ask the United Nations to apply its definition of genocide to Canada’s historical record. This push comes five years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the treatment of children at aboriginal residential schools.

The UN defines genocide as the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group through any of a number of means including killing its members, causing them serious mental or physical harm, subjecting them to unsustainable living conditions, preventing births of their children, and forcibly transferring their children to another group.
In 2000, four years after the last residential school closed, the government of Canada adopted a definition of genocide that excluded the line about the forcible transfer of children. Courts have rejected native claims of genocide against Ottawa and the churches because Canada had no law banning genocide while the schools were operating.”

Last minute deals
L’Indicateur du Renouveau reports that an Irish and a Czech company obtained oil licenses from Mali’s interim government mere days before Sunday’s presidential election:

“Circle Oil Ltd, a company that already operates in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, is now authorized to ‘carry out exploration activities in blocks 21 and 28 of the Taoudenni Basin and to exploit any commercially viable deposits found therein,’ according to the government. In return, the company has pledged to invest at least $6.5 million in block 21 and $3.9 million in block 28.
As for the Czech Republic’s New Catalyst Capital Investments, a newcomer to the oil industry, it obtained carte blanche for exploration, production, transport and even refining of oil and gas in block 4 of the Taoudenni Basin. In return, it pledged to invest a minimum of $69 million.” [Translated from the French.]

Lies of omission
Politico reports that US Senator Ron Wyden has alleged that American spy agencies’ violations of court orders are “more serious” than the government is admitting:

“ ‘We had a big development last Friday when Gen. [James] Clapper, the head of the intelligence agencies, admitted that the community had violated these court orders on phone record collection, and I’ll tell your viewers that those violations are significantly more troubling than the government has stated,’ Wyden said.

Wyden has been an outspoken critic of the surveillance programs but has been restricted with what he can release about them because of his position on the Intelligence Committee. He said since the government made the compliance issues public, however, he could warn about them.”

Resumption of hostilities
The Long War Journal reports that US drone strikes have started up again in Yemen:

“Today’s strike is the second in Yemen in four days. The previous strike, on July 27, which is said to have killed six AQAP fighters in the Al Mahfad area in Abyan province, broke a seven-week pause in drone activity in Yemen.”

Dodgy deal
The Guardian reports on a mining agreement that has outraged the people of Guinea and prompted the FBI to investigate the Guernsey-registered company that hit the “jackpot”:

“The deal was notable not only because BSGR’s expertise was in mining diamonds, rather than extracting and exporting iron ore, but because the glittering prize of Simandou had cost the company so little: rather than paying the government of Guinea for the concession, it had invested $165m in an exploration programme in the area.

Even within the buccaneering world of African mining, the deal was regarded as stupendous. For an investment of just $165m, [Beny] Steinmetz’s BSGR had secured an asset worth around $5bn.”

Latest Developments, July 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Election dropout
Radio France Internationale reports that Tiébilé Dramé has withdrawn his candidacy from this month’s presidential election in Mali, saying a “credible” vote is impossible at this point in time and criticizing France’s role in his country’s electoral process:

“ ‘Paris,’ Tiébilé Dramé said, ‘is pushing for elections, no matter what the cost.’ He added: ‘I get the feeling [French foreign minister] Laurent Fabius is running the elections in Mali.’ Nevertheless, Dramé is not calling for a boycott of the vote. He even wished ‘good luck’ to his country.” [Translated from the French.]

The customer’s always right
The Independent reports that the UK has sold £12.3 billion worth of military equipment to “countries which are on its own official list for human rights abuses”:

“The Government had stated that it would not issue export licences for goods ‘which might be used to facilitate internal repression’ or ‘might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts’.

Only two states of 27 on the Foreign Office’s human rights list – North Korea and South Sudan –did not have licences to their names. Among the others, Saudi Arabia has 417 licences with a value of £1.8bn; Pakistan 219 worth almost £50m; Sri Lanka 49 at £8m and Zimbabwe 46, worth just under £3m.

‘The Government needs to acknowledge that there’s an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time. Instead they continue to claim these two policies “are mutually reinforcing”,’ [said Committees on Arms Export Controls chairman John Stanley].”

Hunger studies
The Canadian Press reports on new evidence that researchers in Canada conducted nutritional experiments on “isolated, dependent, hungry” aboriginal people in the mid-20th Century:

“Government documents eventually revealed a long-standing, government-run experiment that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.

They found people who were hungry, beggared by a combination of the collapsing fur trade and declining government support. They also found a demoralized population marked by, in the words of the researchers, ‘shiftlessness, indolence, improvidence and inertia.’
The researchers suggested those problems — ‘so long regarded as inherent or hereditary traits in the Indian race’ — were in fact the results of malnutrition.”

Dangerous oil
Reuters reports that the UN is warning that the activities of Western oil companies in Somalia could “threaten peace and security” in the region:

“Around a dozen companies, including many multinational oil and gas majors, had licenses to explore Somalia before 1991, but since then Somaliland and Puntland and other regional authorities have granted their own licenses for the same blocks.
In some cases Somaliland and Puntland have awarded licenses for blocks that overlap. The experts said one such case involves Norwegian oil firm DNO and Canadian-listed Africa Oil Corp.
‘Potentially, it means that exploration operations in these blocks, conducted by both DNO and Africa Oil under the protection of regional security forces, its allied militia or private forces, could generate new conflict between Somaliland and Puntland,’ the report said.
‘It is alarming that regional security forces and armed groups may clash to protect and further Western-based oil companies interests,’ it said.”

Fortress Europe
Human Rights Watch’s Judith Sunderland argues that the EU’s “increasingly hostile” attitude toward immigration is putting Africans’ lives at risk:

“[European commissioner for home affairs Cecilia] Malmström’s office has said it is examining pushback practices by member states – and not just to Libya – but it needs to be more open about this process and its conclusions. And it should be willing to use infringement proceedings against EU countries that send people to places where there is a risk of torture or persecution, a clear breach of EU law.
The European Parliament and European Council are studying a European Commission proposal for new regulations governing interceptions in the Mediterranean. It would allow for returns to third countries for those intercepted on the high seas following a cursory assessment of protection needs and the situation in the country of return. This is unacceptable.”

UN peacemaking
Al Jazeera reports on concerns that that the deployment of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo could have dire consequences:

The move abandons past UN risk-aversion in a way that critics fear could create a politicised force with an offensive mandate that fuels local resistance to peacekeeping and exposes humanitarian staff to new risks.

Pieter Vanholder, DRC country director of the Life & Peace Institute in Bukavu, told Al Jazeera FIB could have a deterrent effect, but ‘if some things go wrong, which they are bound to, the brigade may be seen as a kind of occupation force.’’
‘As a consequence it could become a push factor for some to join armed groups, adding to local resistance,’ Vanholder said.

Exaggerated risk
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenney argues, regarding the US Department of Homeland Security, the time has come to “shut the whole thing down”:

“More than a decade [after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks], it’s increasingly clear that the danger to Americans posed by terrorism remains smaller than that of myriad other threats, from infectious disease to gun violence to drunk driving. Even in 2001, considerably more Americans died of drowning than from terror attacks. Since then, the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in the U.S. or abroad have been about one in 20 million. The Boston marathon bombing was evil and tragic, but it’s worth comparing the three deaths in that attack to a list of the number of people in the U.S. killed by guns since the December 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn., which stood at 6,078 as of June.”

People for sale
UK House of Lords member Mary Goudie argues “it’s only by cutting off the money” that the world can stop human trafficking:

“Modern-day slavery is an underground business, intrinsically linked to global supply chains. Individuals and companies are making a huge amount of money out of this business and can make it extremely hard for campaigners and governments to chase the cash back to its true source. Dealing with the murky links between forced labour and global supply chains is perhaps the only real chance we have of cracking the business of slavery. All private companies should be required to sign up to the Athens ethical principles against human trafficking. By signing this agreement, they will be contributing to the eradication of human trafficking and emphasising that this form of business will not be tolerated.”