Latest Developments, May 27

In the latest news and analysis…

European arms
The Guardian reports that EU sanctions against Syria have “collapsed” due to disagreement over supplying arms to rebels:

“Michael Spindelegger, the Austrian vice-chancellor and foreign minister, voicing anger at the outcome, directly blamed the collapse on the UK, with the sanctions regime ending at midnight on Friday.

He added that France joined Britain in demanding a lifting of the arms embargo, in order to supply weapons to what they call the ‘moderate’ opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but that the other 25 member states were opposed”

Mali election
Agence France-Presse reports that Mali will hold the first round of presidential elections on July 28, keeping to a timetable insisted upon by France, whose troops have led the fight against Islamist rebels in its former colony:

“Acting president Dioncounda Traore has said that neither he nor his ministers will stand in the polls, which will go to a second round on August 11 if required.

Paris has said about 1,000 soldiers will remain in Mali beyond this year to back up a UN force of 12,600 peacekeepers that is to replace [the International Mission for Support to Mali] gradually from July and will be responsible for stabilising the north.

The international community hopes the July elections will produce an effective government but Mali’s national electoral commission has voiced concerns about the tight timeframe.”

French intervention
Reuters reports that French special forces helped kill suspects in the twin bombings of a Nigerien military camp and a French-owned uranium mine, meaning that French troops have now killed people in at least four African countries (after Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic) so far this year:

“The coordinated dawn attacks killed 24 soldiers and one civilian and damaged machinery at Areva’s Somair mine in the remote town of Arlit, a key supplier of uranium to France’s nuclear power programme. The attacks raised fears that Mali’s conflict could spread to neighbouring West African states and brought an Islamist threat closer to France’s economic interests.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM television that special forces had intervened at the request of Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou. France stationed special forces in northern Niger to help protect its desert uranium mines, providing one-fifth of the fuel for France’s reactors.”

Pascua Lama on hold
The Associated Press reports that Chile has blocked a mining project owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold and imposed the maximum fine over “very serious” environmental violations:

“After a four-month investigation, the Environmental Superintendent said all other construction work on Pascua-Lama must stop until Barrick builds the systems it promised to put in place beforehand for containing contaminated water.

Chile’s regulator noted that while Barrick itself reported failures, a separate and intensive investigation already begun by the agency’s own inspectors found that the company wasn’t telling the full truth.
‘We found that the acts described weren’t correct, truthful or provable. And there were other failures of Pascua Lama’s environmental permit as well,’ said the superintendent, Juan Carlos Monckeberg.”

Racialized justice
Reuters reports that Ethiopian prime minister and current African Union chairman Hailemariam Desalegn has denounced the International Criminal Court for its seemingly exclusive focus on Africa:

“The Hague-based court was set up to bring the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice – a mission that Hailemariam said it has lost sight of.
‘The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity but now the process has degenerated into some kind of race-hunting,’ Hailemariam told reporters at the end of African Union summit in Addis Ababa. ‘So we object to that.’
During the summit, African leaders backed a Kenyan proposal for the tribunal to refer its cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy for alleged crimes against humanity back to Kenya.”

Food protests
The Associated Press reports that organizers said protests against US agribusiness giant Monsanto took place in more than 50 countries over the weekend:

“Organizers said ‘March Against Monsanto’ protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Los Angeles where demonstrators waved signs that read ‘Real Food 4 Real People’ and ‘Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.’

Protesters in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina, where Monsanto’s genetically modified soy and grains now command nearly 100 percent of the market, and the company’s Roundup-Ready chemicals are sprayed throughout the year on fields where cows once grazed. They carried signs saying ‘Monsanto-Get out of Latin America’ ”

Hoarding secrets
Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has said its response to a deadly “SARS-like virus” has been hampered by a Dutch lab’s patent rights:

“[Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish] said [the coronavirus] was taken out of the country without permission and Saudi Arabia only learned of its discovery from ProMED, a U.S.-based internet-based reporting system.
The Rotterdam-based Erasmus lab then patented the process for synthesizing the virus, meaning that anyone else who wanted to use their method to study it would have to pay the lab.
The patenting had delayed the development of diagnostic kits and serologic tests for the disease, Memish said.”

Asylum denied
A new report by Amnesty International accuses governments around the world of enacting immigration policies that threaten the rights and even the lives of people fleeing conflict in their home countries:

“The European Union implements border control measures that put the lives of migrants and asylum-seekers at risk and fails to guarantee the safety of those fleeing conflict and persecution. Around the world, migrants and asylum-seekers are regularly locked up in detention centres and in worst case scenarios are held in metal crates or even shipping containers.
The rights of huge numbers of the world’s 214 million migrants were not protected by their home or their host state. Millions of migrants worked in conditions amounting to forced labour – or in some cases slavery-like conditions – because governments treated them like criminals and because corporations cared more about profits than workers’ rights. Undocumented migrants were particularly at risk of exploitation and human rights abuse.”

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Latest Developments, April 24

UN peacekeeping

In the latest news and analysis…

Killer fashion
Reuters reports that a building that collapsed in Bangladesh – killing nearly 100 and injuring over 1,000 – contained five garment factories with links to major Western brands:

“The website of a company called New Wave, which had two factories in the building, listed 27 main buyers, including firms from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada and the United States.
‘It is dreadful that leading brands and governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for Western nations’ shoppers,’ Laia Blanch of the U.K. anti-poverty charity War on Want said in a statement.”

Pension-fund ethics
Reuters also reports that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is considering divesting from oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, that operate in Equatorial Guinea “where oil revenue does nothing to relieve abject poverty”:

“The fund, whose investments totalled $725 billion on Wednesday, invests Norway’s revenues from oil and gas production for future generations. Exxon Mobil was its tenth-largest equity holding at end-2012, according to its annual report.

The fund has frequently excluded companies for what it deems to be unethical behaviour based on the recommendations of its ethics council.

U.S. energy companies Marathon Oil and Hess Corp also operate fields in Equatorial Guinea. The oil fund owned 0.76 percent of Marathon Oil and 0.69 percent of Hess at the end of 2012, according to Reuters data.”

Political interference
The Independent reports that Britain’s finance minister, George Osborne, has “a secret veto over large and potentially politically sensitive fraud investigations”:

“Under a government agreement the Serious Fraud Office must get permission from the Treasury to launch any complex new inquiry which comes on top of its normal budget.
But controversially the Treasury can keep its decisions secret – potentially allowing it to veto politically sensitive fraud inquiries, either before or midway through an investigation, without public scrutiny.

[Transparency International’s Robert Barrington] said there was potentially a ‘clear conflict of interest’ in the Treasury’s role promoting economic growth and deciding whether to investigate a UK company for misdeeds in a foreign country which might damage its reputation and finances. ‘Either by design or accident you could easily get a situation where egregious corruption is simply not investigated,’ he said.”

Split jurisdictions
Mining.com reports that a Chilean court has upheld the suspension of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama project but construction is continuing on the Argentine side of the border:

“The appeals court in the northern city of Copiapo charged the Toronto-based gold miner with ‘environmental irregularities’ during construction of the world’s highest-altitude precious metals mine.
Chile’s environmental and mining ministries are on record backing suspension of work on the Andes mine. Opponents claim construction has spread dust that has settled on the nearby Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, accelerating their retreat, and is threatening the Estrecho river, which supplies water to the Diaguita tribe living downstream.”

Drone flip-flop
Foreign Policy reports that US Senator Rand Paul, who grabbed headlines earlier this year with a 13-hour anti-drone filibuster, has caused outrage with a “perceived reversal” on the subject:

“ ‘I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on,’ Paul said. ‘If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.’
While it’s true that Paul has always made an exception for ‘imminent threats’ — a 9/11-like moment — the liquor store scenario struck many libertarians as a very low threshold for domestic drone strikes, especially considering Paul’s Senate floor remarks, which if you recall, took a more anti-drone stance. Here’s Paul on the Senate floor:
‘I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.’ ”

Above the law
Radio-Canada reports that MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, is under fire for a lack of accountability over crimes allegedly committed by its members, including a Canadian policeman who fled the country earlier this year:

“Since 2007, there have been 70 allegations of sexual assaults committed by MINUSTAH members. But not one of them has faced trial in Haiti. [Olga Benoît of Haitian Women Solidarity (SOFA)] says these cases are ‘just the tip of the iceberg.’
In a report published last August, International Crisis Group, an NGO working on preventing armed conflicts around the world, recommends that the UN sign an accord with each country participiating in a mission, to establish ‘common binding investigative norms’ in order to ‘ensure that UN peacekeepers who commit crimes answer for their actions.’
[The Haitian National Human Rights Defence Network’s Marie Rosy Auguste Ducéna] believes Canada ‘also has an obligation to see the case reach judicial authorities.’
There is a possibility of punitive action against the police officer. An investigation is under way. But if there are sanctions, the police will not divulge any information, as they say all disciplinary measures are considered internal matters that remain between officers and their employers.”

Teflon miners
The Council of Canadians’ Meera Karunananthan urges the UN human rights council to challenge Canada’s aggressive promotion of the “logic of international corporate rights”:

“The abuses by Canadian mining companies are a systemic part of an economic development policy that disregards human rights and disdains the environment. It is no coincidence that Canada is now home to 75% of the world’s mining companies, the majority operating overseas. The Canadian government has accelerated its pursuit of investment treaties in the global south to serve the interests of the extractive industry. These treaties allow companies to challenge environmental, public health or other resource-related policies that affect mining profits.
At the same time, Canada allows its corporations to benefit from a climate of impunity, offering no legal recourse for adversely impacted communities and demanding no accountability in exchange for generous public subsidies, as the EU and other jurisdictions do. These conditions have made Canada a haven for the global mining industry.”

Deep solutions
So-called geek hereric Kentaro Toyama tells Humanosphere that technology “cannot fix poverty”:

“It’s certainly tempting to think that next generation of futuristic technologies can change the world. But Toyama has seen innovative technology rendered powerless, harmful even, in settings of severe poverty. He says the problems require even deeper solutions.”

Latest Developments, April 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Mine on hold
The Globe and Mail reports that a Chilean court has ordered Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold to suspend construction on its “massive” Pascua-Lama project:

“Barrick stock fell 8.6 per cent to a new 52-week low of $24.81 per share on Wednesday after the appeals court said Pascua-Lama should be halted as it reviewed complaints by local communities that the project is polluting groundwater and rivers in the Atacama desert region, one of the driest areas on earth.

A court source in Chile told Reuters that the appeal could take several months, and the dispute will probably end up in the Chilean Supreme Court.

Set at about 5,500 metres above sea level, the project is being built at the peak of the Andes mountain range between Chile and Argentina and is at once lauded as an engineering feat and decried as an environmental scar on ancient and pristine glaciers.”

War without borders
Radio France Internationale reports that France’s three-month old military operations in Mali could spill over into other African countries:

“ ‘We can’t think “Mali.” We have to think “Sahel” and beyond,’ said a French general. ‘Armed groups are going to operate from other countries in the region. In Libya alone, there are nearly 300 katibas. We made the jihadis’ GPS boxes talk and found frequent return trips between the Adrar des Ifoghas and southwestern Libya via the Salvador Pass in northern Niger. What’s more, we overheard conversations at the start of our operation in which al-Shabaab in Somalia offered to help al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

Pakistan’s 99 percent
Foreign Policy’s John Hudson expresses concern over the recent revelation that 98.8 percent of people killed by US drones in Pakistan during the 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al-Qaeda leaders:

“Some advocates of the drone program trust the administration’s judgment, and feel that the White House deeming targets dangerous — even if they had no association with al Qaeda — is sufficient. But for others, the McClatchy report may only confirm allegations that terror suspects are killed with an insufficient degree of background information and oversight.”

A lesser form of justice
The Washington Post reports that senior commanders in the US military could soon lose their “virtually unlimited authority to reduce or overturn” court-martial verdicts:

“Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, commended [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel but said the Pentagon needed to further reduce the power of senior commanders over the military justice system and give more authority to prosecutors and judges.
‘Unless pretrial decision making around investigation and prosecution of offenses is also removed from the hands of commanders and given to impartial prosecutors, military criminal justice will remain a lesser form of justice,’ she said.”

Who’s Dramane?
MaliWeb reports that Mali’s largest political party has picked Dramane Dembélé, a man who has worked for a number of foreign mining companies, as its presidential candidate in the national election scheduled for July:

“A mining consultant, he was national director of Geology and Mines from 2005 to 2010, head of a Mali-European Investment Bank mining project in 2004, and exploration geologist for private companies, such as CMCX, Barrick Gold and Pangea Goldfield.” [Translated from the French.]

Beyond MDGs
The Guardian reports that a group of European think tanks have said eradicating global poverty will require a broader approach than that of the Millennium Development Goals, which are set to expire in 2015:

“The report called on richer countries to collaborate in areas important to development such as international financial regulation, trade, migration and climate change. In a message to the EU in particular, the report called on member states to live up to the principle of policy coherence on development (PCD).
‘The concept of PCD is central, since it implies that all policies, and not merely development co-operation, should be conducive to development, eg policies in the areas of trade and investment or agriculture and fisheries should promote (or at the very least not thwart) development,’ said the report.”

Majority rules
Drawing on her recent experience of the Arms Trade Treaty talks, Oxfam’s Anna Macdonald argues that requiring consensus for international agreements is a recipe for paralysis:

“The requirement to reach consensus is in principle a means of protecting the rights and voices of even the smallest countries. It’s what can enable small island states and other vulnerable countries to stand their ground in the U.N. climate change negotiations. But too often the consensus rule works to protect the powerful, not the powerless. Big powers love consensus because it gives them veto power.

In a sudden about-face, the United States, the government that had insisted on consensus as the condition for its support throughout the [ATT] negotiating process, switched to calling for a vote as soon a possible.

This may not mean the United States now supports the majority process – but changing horses during the race meant the Americans could use the consensus process to get the text they wanted and then, by supporting the resolution [to take any blocked text to the General Assembly], they could ensure it went to a vote and passed.”

10 minutes
Transparency International drives home just how simple it can be for individuals to set up shell companies “in spite of global regulatory restrictions”:

“In fact, anyone with access to the internet can set up an offshore company. It takes about 10 minutes and consists of little more than a few sheets of paper and a few thousand dollars. This makes it too easy for corrupt individuals to hide their ill-gotten gains.”