Latest Developments, September 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian hope
The New York Times editorial board welcomes the new agreement between the US and Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons, while questioning how realistic it is:

“Under the deal’s terms, Syria is required to provide a ‘comprehensive listing’ of its chemical arsenal within a week. That includes the types and quantities of poison gas, and storage, production and research sites. The agreement also requires ‘immediate and unfettered’ access to these sites by international inspectors, with the inspections to be completed by November. Also by November, equipment for mixing and filling munitions with chemical agents must be destroyed. All chemical weapons and related equipment are to be eliminated by the middle of 2014.
The deadlines are necessary to keep the pressure on, but meeting them will not be easy in the middle of a civil war, even if Mr. Assad cooperates. The United States and Russia have worked for 15 years to eliminate their own chemical arms stocks and still have years to go.”

Moving picture
IRIN reports that the International Organization for Migration’s newly released World Migration Report offers a “global snapshot of migrant well-being”:

“Overall, the study found that migrants who moved north gained the most, with North to North migrants faring the best, and South to North migrants also rating their lives as better than their counterparts back home. Migrants in the South fared similarly or worse than if they had not migrated, with long-time South to South migrants considering themselves worse off than both the native-born and their counterparts back home. More than a quarter of South to South migrants struggled to afford food and shelter, even after being in a host country for more than five years.”

French coup
Jeune Afrique reports that a former president of Madagascar has accused France of being behind the 2009 ouster of his successor:

“It is a revelation that, if true, is likely to embarrass Paris. In an interview on the private chanel TV Plus Madagascar, ex-Malagasy president Didier Ratsiraka, 76, said on Sept. 11 that ‘France asked me to help Andry Rajoelina remove Marc Ravalomanana,’ referring to events in early 2009 that led to the overthrow of the ex-Madagascar president.
‘I answered that I am not in favour of coups,’ he added before explaining that he finally accepted after it was explained to him that this was not a coup. ‘We agreed that Marc Ravalomanana would leave power without a blood bath. And after his overthrow, we should undertake an inclusive transition… Andry Rajoelina was on board,’ he said.” [Translated from the French.]

No money, no answers
The Center for Economic Policy Research transcribes an Al Jazeera reporter’s questions to a UN spokesman about the organization’s position on compensating victims of the UN-triggered cholera epidemic in Haiti that has so far killed 8,260 and made 675,000 ill:

“[Al Jazeera’s Sebastian] Walker: But why is the claim not receivable?
[Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo] Del Buey: Well, it’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of our responses to claims against the organization.
Walker: So you don’t have to explain yourselves?
Del Buey: No.
Walker: You are saying that not only do they not get compensation but you don’t even have to explain why?
Del Buey: Well, that’s exactly what I said, that’s the United Nations’ policy.”

No deal
Reuters reports that thousands of Nigerian plaintiffs have rejected a “totally derisory and insulting” compensation offer by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell over pollution caused by spills in the Niger Delta:

“Their lawyers said they will now go back to a British court to request a trial timetable.
The legal action is being closely watched by the oil industry and by environmentalists for precedents that could have an impact on other big pollution claims against majors.

A source close to Shell and another source involved in the negotiations told Reuters the company offered total compensation of 7.5 billion naira ($46.3 million).
Leigh Day, the British law firm representing the villagers, said the compensation offer amounted to approximately 1,100 pounds ($1,700) per individual impacted, without giving the number of people it says were affected.”

Outside assistance
The Australian reports that Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said the US was “very, very helpful” in the bloody final war against the Tamil Tigers:

“American satellite technology located the ships and enabled the Sri Lankans to hit them. Before that, the Americans had been somewhat ambivalent about the Sri Lankan struggle. They never remotely justified or approved of the Tigers, but nor would they supply weapons to the Sri Lankan forces. Yet throughout the conflict, Sri Lanka got most of its military hardware from Israel and Pakistan, two military allies of the US that would probably have been susceptible to American entreaties not to supply arms.”

GMO creep
The Guardian reports that agribusiness giant Monsanto is under investigation in the US over suspected crop contamination:

“The investigation was ordered after a farmer in Washington state reported that his alfalfa shipments had been rejected for export after testing positive for genetic modification. Results were expected as early as Friday.
If confirmed, it would be the second known case of GM contamination in a major American crop since May, when university scientists confirmed the presence of a banned GM wheat growing in a farmer’s field in Oregon.”

Above the law
Human Rights Watch argues that the World Bank “does not recognize its obligation to respect international human rights law”:

“The absence of a clear commitment not to support activities that will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations leaves World Bank staff without guidance on how they should approach human rights concerns or what their responsibilities are.

 Introducing a human rights commitment would include carrying out systematic human rights due diligence for every program, first to identify how its lending or other support may contribute to human rights violations and then to figure out constructive ways to avoid or mitigate the human rights risks.”

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Latest Developments, January 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Legal breakthrough
Reuters reports that a Dutch court has ruled that Shell must pay damages for an oil spill in the Niger delta:

“A legal expert said the ruling could make it possible for other Nigerians who say they also suffered losses due to Shell’s activities to file lawsuits in the Netherlands.
‘The fact that a subsidiary has been held responsible by a Dutch court is new and opens new avenues,’ said Menno Kamminga, professor of international law at Maastricht University.
The court did not just examine the role of the parent company, but also looked ‘at abuses committed by Shell Nigeria, where the link with the Netherlands is extremely limited,’ he said. ‘That’s a real breakthrough.’

[Friends of the Earth’s Geert] Ritsema said it was also new that an oil company was being held responsible for failing to prevent sabotage.
There were 198 oil spills at Shell facilities in the Niger Delta last year, releasing around 26,000 barrels of oil, according to data from the company.”

Conditional care
A trio of NGOs is calling out Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold for attaching strings to a “remedy program” offered to women raped by employees of the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea:

“In order to receive a remedy package, women must enter into an agreement in which ‘the claimant agrees that she will not pursue or participate in any legal action against [Porgera Joint Venture], [Porgera Remediation Framework Association Inc.] or Barrick in or outside of PNG. PRFA and Barrick will be able to rely on the agreement as a bar to any legal proceedings which may be brought by the claimant in breach of the agreement.’
Included in the remedy options offered to women are ‘access to phychosocial/trauma counseling’ and ‘access to health care.’
‘We do not believe women should have to sign away rights to possible future legal action in order to access the types of remedy Barrick is offering these victims of rape and gang rape,’ says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.

‘We are also concerned that Barrick is not offering remedy to those women who have been raped and gang raped by members of police Mobile Squads who are being housed, fed and supported by PJV on PJV property’ says Tricia Feeney, Executive Director of Rights & Accountability in Development.”

Pacific Solution challenged
Inter Press Service reports that the leader of Papua New Guinea’s official opposition is going to court to fight an Australian detention centre for asylum seekers which is located in the island nation:

Following an agreement with Papua New Guinea, the Australian government reopened the detention facility in November last year as part of its widely criticised ‘Pacific Solution’ to increased numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters.

‘We challenge the right of the government to force people seeking refugee status in Australia to enter Papua New Guinea to be illegally and indefinitely detained under inhumane conditions,’ [Belden] Namah said in a public statement.
‘We are filing injunctions to have the current detainees released and to prevent the government from receiving or detaining any more asylum seekers from Australia.’ ”

Coal protest
The Financial Express reports that representatives of a British company wanting to develop a coal project in Bangladesh had to abandon a blanket distribution event due to hundreds of protesters “with country-made weapons in hand”:

“As information on [Asia Energy CEO] Gary Lye’s visit to the coal project area spread, local people on Monday staged demonstrations in different parts of Phulbari, Birampur, Nababganj and Parbatipur upazilas.
They also brought out processions on Tuesday morning and chanted slogans asking Asia Energy and its associates to leave the country immediately.”

Cash-strapped court
IRIN reports on concerns that the International Criminal Court cannot handle its recently announced investigation into alleged war crimes in Mali:

“ ‘There are serious questions to be asked of the new prosecutor as to whether it is a drastic overstretch to have eight African countries being dealt with simultaneously with essentially the same level of staff and the same level of finance as her office was operating on before,’ said Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. ‘Is it really feasible for the office to be dealing with so many cases?’

Total court funding in 2013 is around US$144 million, with possible access to a contingency fund of up to $9.3 million, compared with $138 million in 2010. The prosecutor’s office, which carries out the investigations, was this year allocated $37 million. This represents an increase of just $1.3 million since 2010 despite the addition of Mali, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Libya to the docket – and these countries were themselves in addition to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR).”

Blacklisted banks
The Guardian reports that Co-operative Asset Management has added Barclays to the list of banks in which the ethical funds it manages can no longer invest:

“But a subsequent review has led to Barclays being removed from the approved list of investments, which before the financial crisis excluded Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland.
Banks that are predominantly investment banks – Barclays makes the majority of its profits from investment banking – are not approved for investment. ‘Apart from struggling to convincingly pass the net benefit test, it is universally acknowledged that the most egregious risk taking, socially useless financial engineering and excess remuneration of the kind that threatened systemic failure took place at investment banks,’ the Co-op said.”

Anti-drone city
Chapati Mystery’s Manan Ahmed reflects on alternative ways to resist the US drone war in his introduction to a proposal for a city that “uses inscrutability as its armor”:

“What precisely is a response to the drones? Recently Teju Cole introduced drones in first lines of well-known fiction works and got more tweets than any of the current drone strikes. Almost simultaneously, Himanshu Suri (aka HEEMS) released the video of his ‘Soup Boys’ single which feature drones. Let us just say that while Pitchfork.tv is not necessarily concerned with Yemen or Pakistan or Mali and drones, they gushed about Soup Boys and its politics. There is both creativity and critique at the heart of these efforts – and where legally or morally we seem to be getting no where, perhaps creativity is the only ethical space left to marshall a defense.”

Latest Developments, November 27

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Fatal negligence
The New York Times reports that critics are partly blaming international clothing brands for over 100 deaths in a Bangladeshi garment factory fire:

“Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
‘These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,’ Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. ‘Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.’ ”

Double standard
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs argues that international oil companies should face “the same standards for environmental cleanup” whether a spill occurs in a rich or poor country:

“In the colonial era, it was the official purpose of imperial power to extract wealth from the administered territories. In the post-colonial period, the methods are better disguised. When oil companies misbehave in Nigeria or elsewhere, they are protected by the power of their home countries. Don’t mess with the companies, they are told by the United States and Europe. Indeed, one of the largest bribes (a reputed $180 million) paid in recent times in Nigeria was by Halliburton, a company tightly intertwined with US political power. (Dick Cheney went from being Halliburton’s CEO to the US vice presidency.)

The world’s governments have recently agreed to move to a new framework for sustainable development, declaring their intention to adopt Sustainable Development Goals at the Rio+20 Summit in June. The SDGs offer a critical opportunity for the world to set clear, compelling standards for government and corporate behavior.”

After 2014
The New York Times also reports on the potential number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan following NATO’s “handover” of the country to local authorities:

“Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its allies. But one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops.

A major challenge is that Afghanistan will not have an effective air force before 2017, if then. American officials said that NATO airpower would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 but will likely only be used on behalf of NATO and American troops and perhaps Afghan units that are accompanied by NATO advisers.”

Probe promised
The Tanzania Daily News reports that the country’s government has vowed to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses being committed in areas surrounding mines:

“ ‘We have come across serious allegation that investors are harassing and even killing residents allegedly entering mining sites without permission. If the allegations are confirmed we will take action regardless of the status of an investor,’ [Energy and Minerals Deputy Minister Stephen Masele] said.

He was responding to complaints by residents who said the relationship between mining investors and local residents particularly in Geita was not good calling for the government to intervene before it was too late.”

Debt colonies
Cambridge University’s Ha-Joon Chang argues that indebted countries such as Greece and Argentina should have the right to declare bankruptcy the way corporations do:

“[Greek opposition leader Alexis] Tsipras was asking why most burdens of adjustment for bad loans have to fall on the debtor country and, within them, mostly on its weaker members. And he is right. As they say, it takes two to tango, so those who condemn Greece for imprudent borrowing should also condemn the imprudent lenders that made it possible.

Meanwhile, the absence of rules equivalent to the protection of wage claims in corporate bankruptcy law means that claims by weaker stakeholders – pensions, unemployment insurance, income supports – are the first to go. This creates social unrest, which then threatens recovery by discouraging investment.”

Destructive conferences
In a Q&A with Inter Press Service, the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that international climate summits, such as the UN’s COP 18 which has just kicked off in Doha, simply legitimize the unsustainable behaviour of rich countries:

“It is beyond doubt now that any progress at the multilateral level will require two things: first, a further crash of the emissions trading experiment, so as to finally end the fiction that a market run by international bankers can solve a problem of planet-threatening pollution caused by unregulated markets; and second, a banning of delegations from Washington – the U.S. government and Bretton Woods Institutions – since that’s the city most influenced by climate denialists. Hence every move from the U.S. State Department amounts to sabotage.”

Brain drain numbers
The Financial Times looks at the findings in a new UN report, which explores the pros and cons of highly skilled people emigrating from the world’s poorest countries:

“[Least Developed Countries] not surprisingly suffer the highest rates of ‘brain drain’ in the world, at 18.4 per cent of the population – far above the 10 per cent rate for other developing countries, according to [the UN Conference on Trade and Development]. Six of the 48 LDCs have greater numbers of highly-skilled nationals living abroad than at home.
The total of university-educated ‘LDC emigrants’ stood at 1.3m in 2000 – up 58 per cent from 1990 – and by mid-2011 was estimated to have exceeded 2m, the report said. At these kind of levels, ‘the adverse effects on LDCs can outweigh the benefits from remittances – that is, the billions of dollars that these workers send home to their families every year,’ it says.”

EU subsidies
The Guardian’s George Monbiot attacks the EU’s €50bn-per-year farm subsidies on economic, social and environmental grounds:

“A European rule insists that to receive their main payment farmers must prevent ‘the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land’. In other words, they must stop trees and bushes from growing. They don’t have to grow crops or keep animals on the land to get their money, but they do have to keep it mown. All over Europe essential wildlife habitats are destroyed – often on agriculturally worthless land – simply to expand the area eligible for subsidies.”

Latest Developments, October 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Legal precedent
The BBC reports that four Nigerian plaintiffs are taking oil giant Shell to court in the Netherlands over alleged pollution:

“It is the first time a Dutch multinational is being put on trial in a civil court at home in connection with damage caused abroad.

If the farmers’ case is successful it could set a legal precedent, paving the way for thousands of other compensation claims from those affected by oil spills, says the BBC’s Anna Holligan in The Hague.”

Accredited poachers
Reuters reports that “EU-approved vessels” account for the bulk of illegal fishing off Sierra Leone’s coast:

“The European Union has set up regulations to prevent vessels involved in so-called illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing from accessing European markets.
An 18-month investigation conducted by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), however, documented a long list of abuses including fishing inside exclusion zones, using banned equipment, and transhipping fish illegally at sea.
The majority of cases involved ships accredited to sell their seafood at EU ports.”

Fighting transparency
The Hill reports that US oil and business groups are suing to overturn new rules requiring the extractive industry to disclose payments made to foreign governments:

“The lawsuit, filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, escalates a battle between industry and human rights groups over controversial transparency rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

‘Secrecy around payments enables corrupt government officials and political elites to siphon off or misappropriate revenues for personal gain, rather than development. It has been said that ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ – this lawsuit begs the question, what are oil companies trying to hide?,’ said Jana Morgan, assistant policy adviser with Global Witness.”

Swiss arms
Swissinfo reports that Switzerland is adopting new rules aimed at preventing the re-export of “war material” to conflict zones after Swiss grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates were found in Syria:

“Buyers will have to declare that they will not export, sell, lend or donate the material, or pass it on in any other way to a third party abroad, without the agreement of the Swiss authorities.
Where there is seen to be a high risk of the material nevertheless being passed on to ‘undesirable’ end users, the relevant Swiss authorities can stipulate that they shall have the right to make ‘post shipment inspections’ on the spot.
Where large amounts of material is exported, the declaration is to take the form of a diplomatic note from the receiving country.”

Gloomy forecast
Maplecroft has released its Food Security Risk Index for 2013, according to which 75 percent of African countries are at high or extreme risk:

“ ‘Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture,’ states Maplecroft’s Head of Maps and Indices Helen Hodge. ‘Although a food crisis has not emerged yet, there is potential for food related upheaval across the most vulnerable regions, including sub-Saharan Africa.’
A September report by Rabobank, a financial specialist in agro-commodities, estimates that prices of food staples could rise by as much as 15% by June 2013, resulting in record highs that will squeeze household incomes in many countries.”

Big loss
Bloomberg reports that the US Supreme Court has refused to intervene in a lawsuit that saw a judge in Ecuador impose a $19 billion fine on oil giant Chevron:

“Without commenting on the merits of the case, the U.S. Supreme Court today let stand a federal appeals court ruling that a New York trial judge exceeded his authority when he blocked a group of Ecuadorean farmers and Indians from seeking to collect the $19 billion award anywhere in the world.

The justices’ action, although it doesn’t address the substance of the case, effectively eliminates one avenue for Chevron to avoid liability. The company has refused to pay the judgment in Ecuador. Since Chevron does not have any bank accounts or other assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have now filed separate collection actions seeking liens against Chevron assets in Brazil and Canada.”

Mass firings
CNN reports that mining company Gold One has fired 1,400 striking workers at a South African mine:

“It’s the latest twist in a wave of sometimes-violent labor unrest that has wracked South Africa’s mining sector — the country’s biggest industry — for nearly two months. Another company, Anglo-American Platinum, fired about 12,000 striking workers who declined to attend disciplinary hearings last week after a three-week walkout.”

Scramble for Burma
Focus on the Global South argues that the impending boom in foreign direct investment poses a threat to farming communities in Burma/Myanmar:

“Land grabs are now set to accelerate due to new government laws that are specifically designed to encourage foreign investments in land. The two new land laws (the Farmlands Law and the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Law) establish a legal framework to reallocate so-called ‘wastelands’ to domestic and foreign private investors. Moreover, the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Law and Foreign Investment Law that are being finalized, along with ASEAN-ADB regional infrastructure development plans, will provide new incentives and drivers for land grabbing and further compound the dispossession of local communities from their lands and resources. Land conflicts that are now emerging throughout the country will worsen as foreign companies, supported by foreign governments and International Financial Institutions (IFIs), rush in to profit from Burma/Myanmar’s political and economic transition period.”