Latest Developments, October 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Desert deaths
Agence France-Presse reports that dozens of migrants have been found dead in Niger:

“ ‘About 40 Nigeriens, including numerous children and women, who were attempting to emigrate to Algeria, died of thirst in mid-October,’ Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of the main northern town of Agadez, said
‘Many others have been reported missing since their vehicle broke down in the desert,’ he said.

These migrants often look to Europe as their final destination, a security source said, and use Libya as a jumping off point amid the relative chaos in the North African country since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Humanitarian agencies say nearly 20 000 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe over the past 20 years.”

Congressional first
The Guardian reports on the testimony given to US Congress by civilian victims of a drone strike in Pakistan:

“Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

‘Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,’ [Rafiq ur Rehman] said, through a translator. ‘Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.’
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: ‘Not a militant but my mother.’

Rehman said: ‘In the end I would just like to ask the American public to treat us as equals. Make sure that your government gives us the same status of a human with basic rights as they do to their own citizens. We do not kill our cattle the way US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones. This indiscriminate killing has to end and justice must be delivered to those who have suffered at the hands of unjust.’ ”

Nearly unanimous
Al Jazeera reports that virtually all UN member states have called on the US to end its embargo on Cuba:

“This came in a symbolic vote of the 193-nation General Assembly on Tuesday. The unenforceable resolution was 188-2. The United States and Israel voted against it, while Pacific island states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau abstained.

‘Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,’ [Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez] said. ‘The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.’

‘The United States is a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people,’ [US envoy Ronald Godard] said.”

CAR troops
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted to send an initial 250 soldiers to the Central African Republic to protect UN staff:

“The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send 250 military personnel to the capital Bangui and then increase the strength of the force to 560 troops so they can deploy to areas outside the capital where there is a U.N. presence.

France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said France would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 1,200 if needed.”

Oil anger I
Reuters reports that protests have shut down all but offshore oil production in Libya:

“Libya’s oil exports have dropped to less than 10 percent of capacity or 90,000 barrels per day, Reuters calculations show, as renewed protests this week halted operations at western ports and fields, supporting global oil prices.

Any imminent agreement to even partially resume exports appeared elusive.
[Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi] paid an emergency visit to the western Sharara field on Monday and discussed pay increases with oil workers there. He was forced to leave without a deal, however, after local protesters refused to meet him.”

Oil anger II
Reuters also reports that the UK’s Tullow Oil has suspended drilling operations in Kenya over “popular impatience for a share of the spoils”:

“Backed by local politicians, demonstrators from Kenya’s poor, northern Turkana community marched on Tullow sites demanding jobs and other benefits, prompting one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most experienced oil explorers to ‘temporarily’ halt work.

Kenya is revising outdated laws governing the oil and gas industry. A draft law could go to parliament in November.
Others are also updating industry rules. Tanzania is drawing up a new gas policy, but has yet to issue it as a debate rumbles on about how much gas should be sold to foreigners.”

Redefining poverty
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica tells Al Jazeera that he rejects the label of “the poorest president in the world”:

“ ‘It seems that we have been born only to consume, and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto marginalised.’

‘Those who describe me so are the poor ones,’ he says. ‘My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied.’ ”

Terror threat
The BBC reports that South Africa’s ruling party is demanding an apology after US officials detained a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former cabinet minister because he was on a “terrorist watchlist”:

“[Tokyo Sexwale’s] detention at the JFK international airport was “an affront to the global anti-apartheid movement”, the [African National Congress] said.

Former ANC leader Nelson Mandela was only taken off the list by former President George W Bush in 2008.
Mr Sexwale was imprisoned along with Mr Mandela on Robben Island.

Another of Mr Sexwale’s lawyers, Leslie Makhabela, told South Africa media that US immigration officials had ‘alleged he posed a threat to international security’.”

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Latest Developments, December 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Rebel recognition
The New York Times reports that the US has announced it now considers an opposition coalition to be Syria’s “legitimate representative” even though it is unclear how much authority the group actually has over rebel fighters:

“Moreover, [the recognition] draws an even sharper line between those elements of the opposition that the United States champions and those it rejects. The Obama administration coupled its recognition with the designation hours earlier of a militant Syrian rebel group, the Nusra Front, as a foreign terrorist organization, affiliated with Al Qaeda.

But Mr. Obama’s move does not go so far as to confer on the opposition the legal authority of a state. It does not, for example, recognize the opposition’s right to have access to Syrian government funds, take over the Syrian Embassy in Washington or enter into binding diplomatic commitments.”

Too big to jail
Global Witness points out that 47,000 people died in Mexico’s drug war during the time that HSBC “failed to check whether the dollars it was shipping from Mexico to the US were drugs money,” an oversight for which Europe’s biggest bank has agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine:

“ ‘Fines alone are not going to change banks’ behaviour: the chances of being caught are relatively small and the potential profits from accepting dodgy clients are too big.  Fines are seen as a cost of doing business,’ said Rosie Sharpe, campaigner at Global Witness.
‘Instead, regulators should hold senior bankers legally responsible for their banks’ money laundering performance.  At the very least, senior bankers should be prevented from working in the industry, akin to the way in which doctors can be struck off.  Bonuses should be clawed back, and, in the most serious cases, senior bankers should face jail,’ said Sharpe.”

Uranium politics
NGO l’Observatoire du nucléaire sees the hand of a French state-owned company in the sudden alteration of Niger’s 2013 budget:

“This change, probably illegal, consisted of adding to the national budget 17 billion CFA francs (about €26 million) ‘given’ to Niger by the French nuclear company Areva, of which 10 billion CFA francs (more than €15 million) are set to go directly to purchasing an airplane for Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.
This is a clear act of corruption, in moral terms if not legal ones, by Areva which expects thereby to maintain its grip on Niger’s uranium, in order to supply French nuclear power plants.

It just so happens that Mr. Issoufou is a former director of a uranium mining company, Somaïr, which is an Areva subsidiary!” [Translated from the French.]

Patent trolls
Reuters reports that in the US, more patent lawsuits have been brought this year by “entities that don’t make anything than those that do”:

“This year, about 61 percent of all patent lawsuits filed through December 1 were brought by patent-assertion entities, or individuals and companies that work aggressively and opportunistically to assert patents as a business model rather than build their own technology, according to a paper by Colleen Chien, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
That compares with 45 percent in 2011 and 23 percent five years ago.”

Corruption’s infrastructure
The Center for Global Development’s William Savedoff suggests some measures rich countries can take to help stem illicit financial flows, which he calls “a problem for world governance”:

“There is only so much the developed world can do to promote better governance in developing countries; after all, developed countries don’t have such a great track record of addressing corruption at home – whether it comes to Super PACs in the US or Berlusconi’s comeback after conviction on tax fraud. But we can make a big difference if rich and powerful countries were to stop protecting and enforcing repayment of odious debt; hindering recovery of stolen assets; allowing multinationals to make facilitation payments; and hiding oil and mineral royalty payments from public view.”

Aid business
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, raises concerns about the potential impacts on Africa’s food security of a new US-led initiative to increase private sector investment in the continent’s agriculture:

“One of the [New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition] projects will see agri-food giant Cargill, subsidised by G8 development funding, take some 40,000 hectares of farmland in Mozambique. This comes at a time when peasant movements and smallholders across the developing world are calling out for their access to land to be secured in the face of land grabs.

And aid must not result in a long-term dependency on expensive technologies that may eventually force the most marginal farmers, who have the greatest difficulties accessing credit, to leave the land.”

Pathological consumption
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that consumer culture is “screwing the planet” for the sake of acquiring largely useless items:

“People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smartphone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make ‘personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets’. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask, ‘spending on what?’ When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.”

Moral legacy
Mother Jones’s Adam Serwer suggests the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, the new Hollywood movie about the American hunt for Osama bin Laden, are “rehabilitating torture”:

“The critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty is already receiving suggests that it may do what Karl Rove could not have done with all the money in the world: embed in the popular imagination the efficacy, even the necessity, of torture, despite available evidence to the contrary. Whatever the artistic merits of the film, that will be its moral legacy.”

Latest Developments, October 26

In the latest news and analysis…

License to bribe
Main Justice reports that a co-author of a US Chamber of Commerce proposal to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has just become the FBI’s general counsel.
“In its report ‘Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’ the Chamber said that the FCPA is a costly burden to business and ‘there is also reason to believe that the FCPA has made U.S. businesses less competitive than their foreign counterparts who do not have significant FCPA exposure.’ The paper called for five specific reforms including limiting a company’s ‘successor liability’ for the prior actions of a firm it has acquired and giving a clear definition of ‘foreign official’ under the statute.
The Open Society Foundation, a George Soros-funded organization issued a report, charging that [Andrew] Weissmann’s plan would ‘significantly reduce the scope and efficacy of the FCPA while substantially undermining more than 30 years of successful U.S. leadership in promoting global anti-corruption standards.’ ‘[T]he Chamber’s proposal looks more like a license to commit pervasive and intentional bribery than a modest attempt to eliminate the risk of prosecutorial over-reach,’ the report said.”

Proposed EU legislation I: A victory for transparency
Tearfund’s Jonathan Spencer welcomes proposed EU legislation that would require extractive industry companies listed in Europe and operating abroad to disclose what they pay to host governments on a project-by-project basis.
“[This information] will play a key role in releasing resources for development, improving transparency and engaging citizens with their governments. Evidence from other countries has shown that where details of budgets and projected expenditure is published, the money is much more likely to reach its intended destination and support development.”

Proposed EU legislation II: Bad for business
But a number of the companies – including Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Shell and Total – that would be subject to the proposed legislation have argued in a letter to the European Commission that such regulations are misguided and would be bad for business.
“One example is oil or gas fields which cross borders, where governments are understandably careful to safeguard the confidentiality of the terms they offer to investors,” said the letter.
“Further damage to competitiveness will be caused by the additional cost and administrative burden of project-level reporting.”

Proposed EU legislation III: No legal teeth
On the other hand, France’s Citizen Forum for Social and Environmental Responsibility argues the European Commission’s proposal lacks legal teeth.
“In fact, notwithstanding progress in certain areas such as reporting obligation, the [European Commission’s] statement on social and environmental responsibility does not address other crucial questions. The proposal lacks concrete measures to improve the legal responsibility between the parent company and its subsidiaries: companies based in Europe cannot, therefore, be considered responsible for violations perpetrated by their subsidiaries and subcontractors in the South. Nor does the statement spell out the legal avenues that would guarantee real access to justice for all victims of violations.” (Translated from the French.)

South-South cooperation
The Guardian has reproduced part of an IRIN series on how countries like Brazil, India, China and South Africa are changing the world of aid as they become increasingly significant donors.
“Many are not new at all – India, Brazil and China have been giving aid for decades – but what is new is that a group of non-western donors is giving more humanitarian and development aid year on year, and reporting it more consistently to official trackers, such as the UN’s Financial Tracking System (127 donors reported aid in 2010).
As they “emerge”, the traditional hegemony held by western donors over how and where aid is dispersed is starting to be dismantled.”

South-South colonization
While many within the development industry speak of the growing importance of South-South cooperation, Al Jazeera uses the issue of African land grabs to raise the question of possible South-South colonization.
“What would Gandhi say today were he to know that Indians, who were only freed from the shackles of colonialism in recent history, were now at the forefront of this “land-grabbing” as part of the race for foreign control over African land and resources; currently being called the Neo-Colonialism of Africa?,” ask the Ethiopian authors of an open letter to the people of India.

One-step solutions
The University of Ottawa’s Rita Abrahamsen argues that attempts to rein in trading of “conflict minerals” are well-intentioned but may not be particularly helpful for ending African conflicts.
“The danger is that by making illegal mining the only story about the conflict in eastern Congo, other causes—requiring more complex solutions—will be ignored. Meanwhile, the international community will invest vast sums in cumbersome tracking procedures that may be easily avoided in an environment of weak institutional capacities and porous borders.
Ultimately, then, the campaign against conflict minerals might do more to restore Canada’s image abroad and make Canadians feel like ‘good global citizens’ than it does to bring peace to the DRC.”

Size doesn’t matter
The UN Population Fund has released its annual State of World Population just as the number of Earth’s inhabitants is set to hit 7 billion, but its authors are more concerned with how people live than with raw numbers.
“Environmental journalist Fred Pearce echoes the view that a small proportion of the world’s population takes the majority of resources and produces the majority of its pollution.
The world’s richest half billion people— about 7 per cent of the global population— are responsible for about 50 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, a surrogate measure of fossil fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions, Pearce wrote in an article for Yale University’s “Environment 360” website. ‘It’s overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem,’ Pearce argued”