Latest Developments, December 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian plan
The Independent reports on “secret Syria talks” aimed at drawing up plans to provide the country’s rebels with training, as well as military support from air and sea:

“The head of Britain’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, hosted a confidential meeting in London a few weeks ago attended by the military chiefs of France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE, and a three-star American general, in which the strategy was discussed at length. Other UK government departments and their counterparts in allied states in the mission have also been holding extensive meetings on the issue.

The training camps can be set up in Turkey. However, the use of air and maritime force would, in itself, be highly controversial and likely to lead to charges that, as in Libya, the West is carrying out regime change by force.
Furthermore, any such military action will have to take place without United Nations authorisation, with Russia and China highly unlikely to back a resolution after their experience over Libya where they agreed to a ‘no-fly zone’ only to see it turn into a Nato bombing campaign lasting months.”

Weak deal
The Guardian reports that environmental and anti-poverty groups are unhappy with the lack of progress made during the UN climate talks that ended in Doha over the weekend:

“ ‘A weak and dangerously ineffectual agreement is nothing but a polluters charter – it legitimises a do-nothing approach whilst creating a mirage that governments are acting in the interests of the planet and its people,’ said Asad Rehman, head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth. ‘Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis. The blame for the disaster in Doha can be laid squarely at the foot of countries like the USA who have blocked and bullied those who are serious about tackling climate change. Our only hope lies in people being inspired to take action.’ ”

Too big to indict
The New York Times reports that US authorities have decided not to indict banking giant HSBC over alleged laundering of Mexican drug money, for fear that “criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks

“Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities. The bank, which is based in Britain, faces accusations that it transferred billions of dollars for nations like Iran and enabled Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through its American subsidiaries.
While the settlement with HSBC is a major victory for the government, the case raises questions about whether certain financial institutions, having grown so large and interconnected, are too big to indict.”

Private aid
The Guardian reports on War on Want’s criticism of the UK’s increasing use of the private sector to deliver aid to Africa, a strategy the NGO contends “will do little to reduce poverty”:

“ ‘In fact [Department for International Development]-funded expansion of corporate control over agriculture in Africa is a sure way of increasing long-term vulnerability,’ [War on Want director John Hilary said].

War on Want also attacks the government for using aid to promote the commercial interests of some of the world’s most profitable food, drink and agrochemical corporations.
The report says that DfID-sponsored programmes which have funded projects in Africa and Asia with multinationals include the alcohol companies Diageo and SABMiller and the food giant Unilever. It also tracks support for initiatives to develop sales networks for agrochemical companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto. DfID is, for example, set to contribute £395m to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative that involves 45 of the largest multinational corporations investing $3bn (£1.86bn) in African agriculture.”

Suspended justice
Reuters reports that a French court has given no jail time to ex-soldiers it found guilty of murdering an Ivorian man in 2005:

“The incident – in which [Firmin] Mahe was suffocated with a plastic bag in an armored vehicle after his arrest – erupted into a diplomatic scandal after it was found the soldiers tried to cover up the crime.

The court gave Colonel Eric Burgaud, who had given the order to kill, a suspended sentence of five years, while his adjunct who had admitted to carrying out the murder, Guy Raugel, received a suspended four-year sentence.
Brigadier Chief Johannes Schnier, who helped in the killing, was handed a suspended sentence of one year. Another soldier who drove the vehicle during the killing was acquitted.”

Continent-specific justice
Inner City Press reports on concern in some diplomatic circles that the International Criminal Court’s new prosecutor is picking up where her predecessor left off, targeting only Africans for indictment:

“Another Security Council source, from a country that has signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, expressed to Inner City Press dismay at the ‘mechanism’ announcement over the weekend that new ICC prosecutor Fatima Bensouda is now looking into indicting the M23 and its supporters.
Opponents of Joseph Kabila get indicted by the ICC, from [Jean-Pierre] Bemba to Bosco [Ntaganda], the complaint runs. And what has been accomplished? Let the ICC at least try an indictment in another continent and see how it goes. Or why not look at Kabila or those in his administration, as well?”

Bloc party
The Associated Press reports that not everyone was celebrating as European Union leaders gathered in Oslo to collect this year’s Nobel Peace Prize:

“Three Peace Prize laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina — have demanded that the prize money of $1.2 million not be paid this year. They said the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
Amnesty International said Monday that EU leaders should not ‘bask in the glow of the prize,’ warning that xenophobia and intolerance are now on the rise in the continent of 500 million people.”

Institutionalized assassination
The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman argues that the biggest problem with America’s drone strikes is not the remoteness of the killings but the secrecy surrounding them:

“To make the spread of drone warfare less likely – and to prevent abuses in America’s own programme – drones need to be reclaimed from the realm of covert warfare. The CIA may relish its conversion into a paramilitary force. But wars should be fought by the military and openly scrutinised by politicians and the press. Anything else is just too dangerous for a free society and for international order.”

Latest Developments, July 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Gulf build-up
The Wall Street Journal reports the US is building a missile-defense station in Qatar, but its location is a secret because of “the sensitivity surrounding any U.S. military deployments in the emirate”:

“The Pentagon chose to place the new radar site in Qatar because it is home to the largest U.S. military air base in the region, Al Udeid Air Base, analysts say. More than 8,000 troops are stationed there and at another U.S. base in Qatar.

Officials said the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is overseeing the buildup to counter Iran, also wants to deploy the Army’s first Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-interceptor system, known as a THAAD, to the region in the coming months, possibly in the United Arab Emirates.”

Torture admission
The Independent reports that the British government has admitted for the first time that colonial forces tortured and sexually abused Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion more than 50 years ago:

“The starling admission came as a trio of elderly Kenyans stood up in court to describe how they were beaten, castrated and sexually assaulted by British forces and their Kenyan allies during the pro-independence rebellion.
The three Kenyans are suing the Government in a landmark legal case that could lead to a deluge of compensation claims from victims of British colonial violence around the world.”

Vaccine violence
Agence France-Presse reports that a World Health Organization team was shot at in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, during a polio immunization campaign:

“A health expert, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the attack was the latest in an alarming trend of violence against polio workers.
He said there had been threats and announcements in mosques branding the vaccine anti-Islam and blamed ‘a new wave of attacks on polio workers’ on the CIA’s use of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi to help find bin Laden.
The doctor was jailed for 33 years in May after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover.
‘It has become a very serious and critical issue. People suspect foreigners involvement in the programme and fake campaign by Afridi has given further credence to conspiracy theory,’ he said.
He said polio workers were beaten in the capital Islamabad on Monday, a team fired on in the southern town of Jacobabad and a motorcycle stolen in the southwestern town of Ziarat.”

ATT escape clause
Amnesty International is calling upon US President Barack Obama not to water down the Arms Trade Treaty currently being negotiated at UN headquarters in New York:

“President Obama’s officials have indicated they want the treaty to include an escape clause that would allow national security considerations to override any serious human rights concerns when deciding to supply arms.

Amnesty International is urging governments to ensure a ‘Golden Rule’ on human rights is included in the treaty. This would mean that if there is a substantial risk arms due to be supplied by a country are likely to be used to commit serious human violations the arms transfer shall not take place.
Many governments and most US allies support this position. However, some influential states including China, Russia and US have been promoting weaker rules.”

The New School for Social Research’s Tarak Barkawi uses the example of private security companies to take on “the big lie of private sector efficiency”:

“One of the hidden costs of privatisation is that knowledge and expertise are no longer retained by public institutions. Instead, they become the property of private contractors. Militaries, police forces, and other public services lose the ability and the institutional memory to conduct various tasks. Governments must then pay the price over and over again for contractors to do the job badly.
Contractors care little about developing and retaining dedicated expertise in particular tasks. They need only enough to secure the contract. Their bottom line is profit, not security or the public good. As a consequence, privatisation is a kind of “de-development”, a de-modernisation of the services government provides and which we pay for through taxes.”

Punishing banks
Global Witness’s Stefanie Ostfeld argues that the only way banks will get serious about tackling money laundering is if they and their executives face harsh financial and criminal penalties:

“Global Witness investigations have detailed how major banks including Barclays, Citibank and HSBC, have done business with corrupt senior officials from Nigeria, Angola, Turkmenistan, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo. Banks are the first line of defense against corrupt funds, but as long as they continue to accept the proceeds of state looting and grand corruption, as long as they continue to facilitate the money laundering that makes drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorist finance possible, they are fully complicit in these crimes and the poverty that persists in so many countries.”

NGOs as instrumentalities
FCPA Blog’s Philip Fitzgerald argues that NGO staff should, in some cases, be considered “foreign public officials” under anti-bribery legislation, such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

“Certain NGOs, then, can be considered to be exercising part of the powers usually reserved to a state authority. Nuanced analysis is, however, necessary. The keys, as with instrumentalities under the FCPA, would be the degree of state influence and the degree to which the NGO officials are performing a public function.

If NGOs can be public international organizations for purposes of the OECD convention and global anti-corruption regimes, the fight against graft would benefit from a very interesting extension to the reach of the current international anti-bribery framework.”

Drone casualty report
Inter Press Service reports that a new study that found no civilian deaths caused by US drone strikes in Pakistan this year has come under fire for its underlying methodology:

“ ‘[New America Foundation] relies only on a small number of media reports immediately following a strike. Sometimes we learn crucial facts days, weeks or even months after an initial attack,’ [the Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s Chris Woods] told IPS.
‘In February of this year, for example, a major investigation by Associated Press, based on 80 eyewitness testimonies from civilians in Waziristan, found previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in 20 percent of the sampled strikes. Unfortunately, NAF has not incorporated these important findings into its data,’ said Woods.”

Latest Developments, July 11

Flying and a wedding made last weekend another long one for Beyond Aid, so we have some catching up to do on the latest news and analysis…

The biggest news of the last few days was of course the birth of a new country. All may not be well between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, but South Sudan officially came into being on Saturday, even if maps may take a little time to catch up with the new reality. Map aficionados will appreciate the Guardian’s interactive political map of Africa, which shows the continent’s shifting borders since 1900. Its creators, however, apparently forgot about Ceuta and Melilla, the final European possessions on the African mainland, which may be too small for the map’s scale but deserved a mention in the accompanying text.

The UN declared in its annual progress report on the Millennium Development Goals that the objectives set over a decade ago are still attainable by the 2015 deadline. While there has been progress in many parts of the world, much of the reduction in those living in poverty has occurred in East Asia. So, even though there has been some good news out of India, 54 percent of its people still live on under $2 a day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked World Population Day with a call for an end to global poverty and inequality: “We have enough food for everyone, yet nearly a billion go hungry. We have the means to eradicate many diseases, yet they continue to spread. We have the gift of a rich natural environment, yet it remains subject to daily assault and exploitation. All people of conscience dream of peace, yet too much of the world is in conflict and steeped in armaments.” The UN press release also points out that many wealthier countries are worried about low fertility and aging in a world where the population has doubled since 1968.

Joseph Stiglitz touches on the problems posed by this apparent lack of solidarity when he argues for an overhaul of the global financial system, which he says is bad for rich and poor, but especially the poor: “If you just focus on nationalities, you cannot be self-regulated. This kind of valuation focuses on individual units, but not the whole system.” Similarly, George Soros argues the eurozone’s biggest problem is trying to find national solutions to continental problems.

The US has announced it will withhold $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan, while it has delivered only two percent of the agricultural aid it pledged at the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, according to a new report by anti-poverty group ONE.

Senegal announced it would extradite former Chadian president Hissène Habré, who is accused of being responsible for at least 40,000 deaths during his reign in the 1980s, back to his native country. But the Senegalese government had a change of heart after the UN expressed concerns the man who once enjoyed French and US backing in a war with Gadhafi’s Libya could be subjected to torture upon his return. The case has long been controversial in Senegal, as many there feel the pressure to try Habré comes from outside the continent, thereby fuelling the perception that African rulers are held to account far more than their counterparts from wealthier countries.

Such objections might be calmed by the release of a new Human Rights Watch report – authored by none other than Reed Brody who has played a lead role in the campaign to try Habré – calling for former US president George W. Bush to be investigated over the use of torture during his administration. The report also names his vice-president Dick Cheney, former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ex-CIA director George Tenet. “The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.” Roth added: “When the US government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice.”

Also, following the European court of human rights rulings against Britain in a pair of cases involving UK abuses in Iraq, Human Rights Watch’s Clive Baldwin says an independent body, rather than the military itself, should investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing.

Canada has announced it will boycott the UN Conference on Disarmament until North Korea’s chairmanship ends next month, at which point it will push for changes that go beyond the rotating presidency. The US, on the other hand, does not believe a controversial chair can cause much damage in a consensus-based organization. The requirement of a consensus is one of the aspects Canada would like to see changed.

In a Guardian piece on the UK’s Department for International Development’s newfound enthusiasm for turning to the private sector to help reduce world poverty, a department official opines: “We suspect that the development community as a whole hasn’t looked hard enough at non-state provision of services.” The author characterizes the comment as “quite bold given that developing countries were very much forced to look at “non-state provision of services” in the 1980s when the World Bank and the IMF introduced its structural adjustment programme, which actually reversed development progress in some countries.” It is, however, more difficult to dispute the DFID official’s assertion that NGOs are not accountable to the public either.