Latest Developments, April 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Operation Serval extended
Radio France Internationale reports that French politicians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the military intervention in Mali beyond the initial four-month timeframe:

“All the political parties agreed on the need to continue the French intervention in Mali: 342 votes for, 0 votes against. Later in the evening, senators confirmed this vote by 326 votes for and 0 votes against.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also made an important announcement: starting in July, the UN could contribute peacekeepers to join the French and African forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Apology questioned
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is under fire for failing to hand over documents to a commission investigating years of abuse of indigenous students at church-run residential schools:

“The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has given about a million records to the commission and has promised hundreds of thousands more. But 23 other departments have yet to follow suit.

‘We respect the fact that it’s really a huge task,’ said [Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair].
‘But the reality is that we haven’t seen any additional documents,’ he said, ‘which really tells us that the government wasn’t ready, that it had done no preparation whatsoever.’

Alvin Fiddler, the deputy chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario, said Monday that failure to produce the records would cast doubt on the historic apology for the residential school system that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2008 on behalf of Canadians. ‘It goes back to the question of how sincere was he and how sincere was the apology,’ Mr. Fiddler said.”

Patent loophole
Reuters reports that South Africa plans to rework its intellectual property laws in order to make cancer and HIV/AIDS medication more affordable:

“Central to the reforms is closing a loophole known as ‘ever-greening’, whereby drug companies slightly modify an existing drug whose patent is about to expire and then claim it is a new drug, thereby extending its patent protection and their profits.

As an example, [Julia Hill of Médecins Sans Frontières] said India had avoided patenting Novartis cancer medication imatinib, as opposed to South Africa, which granted an initial patent in 1993 that only expires this month.
In addition, Hill said South Africa had granted secondary patents on imatinib to extend Novartis’ monopoly until 2022, meaning it costs $34,000 a year to treat a patient – 259 times more than the cheapest Indian generic alternative”

Swing and a miss
The Associated Press reports that a US judge has blocked an attempt by the government to seize a “$38.5 million Gulfstream jet” from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president:

“The Justice Department had alleged that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue bought the jet with money derived from extortion, misappropriation, theft and embezzlement. But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled Friday that the government did not link the jet to any specific illicit acts and dismissed the civil forfeiture complaint.”

The worst thing
The Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden argues it would be better for G8 countries to “stop doing bad things to poor countries” than to pledge more aid:

“The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.

On average, between 2002 and 2006 $857 billion flowed into developing countries each year. Of that $84bn was aid, $187bn was migrant remittances, $226bn foreign direct investment and $380bn was loans. Meanwhile, on average every year over the same period, $1205bn flowed out: $130bn profits for investors, $456bn in debt repayments and a whopping $619bn in ‘illicit flows’. Some of that is corruption money – about 3%. About 30% goes through criminal networks but some 60% of the ‘outflow’ is tax avoidance schemes. Unaccountable and un-transparent tax havens – many of them British – are where these schemes operate.”

Institutionalizing torture
Foreign Policy’s James Traub writes that a recent report on US torture after 9/11 shows how a democratic country can engage in “things that are repugnant to its principles”:

“Military dictators can simply order dissidents to be pushed out of planes into the sea or thrown into prison to rot; the political leaders of a democracy need the legitimacy of law to justify otherwise despicable acts, whether it’s Jim Crow legislation or the fraudulent treaties that drove Native Americans from their land.

Americans have an apparently ineradicable view of themselves as a force for good. Republicans shamelessly play to this angelic self-conception when they accuse Obama of not subscribing to the national credo of ‘American exceptionalism.’ But what dark deeds has that credo excused! To know for a certainty that your ends are noble is to excuse yourself in advance for whatever means you choose to fight your adversaries, who by definition must be evil.”

Casual racism
Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior describes as “irresponsible” the media’s emphasis on the Chechen ethnicity of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing:

“One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American [who assassinated US President William McKinley] caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become ‘white’ – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.”

Bean drain
The UN News Centre reports that two UN experts have said the World Bank-led privatization of Burundi’s coffee industry is hurting farmers:

“In 2007, the Burundian President declared that coffee was owned by the growers until it was exported, an arrangement that allowed them to manage the supply chain and entitled them to 72 per cent of revenues from coffee sales on international markets.
However, in 2008-2009 the Burundian Government moved towards full privatization of the industry under alleged pressure from the World Bank, whose support for public health programmes was reportedly tied to coffee sector reforms. Since then, less than 5 per cent of Burundian coffee was processed in the country, with the higher value-added operations taking place abroad.”

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Latest Developments, April 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Looking beyond aid
The Guardian reports that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has urged the EU to do more to ensure its trade, immigration and food policies do not harm poor countries.
“Between 2009 and 2011, only seven out of 164 impact assessments looked at the impact on developing countries even though 77 were potentially relevant to them, the [OECD’s development assistance committee] said. In the case of fisheries policy, the impact assessment restricted its analysis to public agreements, excluding the majority of EU vessels that fish outside EU waters under private agreements or joint venture, the review noted.”

Commodity pains
The UN News Centre reports on new findings that suggest high commodity prices are doing more harm than good to poor countries, despite higher export revenues.
“What should be a boon for poor nations, especially the globe’s 48 least developed countries – whose economies often depend heavily on commodity exports – is on balance a negative development because many of these countries are net importers of oil and staple foods.
Since the food crisis of 2008, prices for basic nourishment have been both volatile and high, the report notes – and poor families are acutely vulnerable, as they typically spend 50 per cent or more of their incomes on food.”

Five-star apology
Postmedia News reports that Canada’s international development minister has apologized for upgrading from “a five-star hotel to a swankier hotel” at the taxpayers’ expense while attending a conference in London last year.
“The government announced Monday [International Development Minister Bev Oda] was reimbursing some of the additional costs from the June 2011 international conference — held to discuss vaccines and immunization for children in developing countries — after they were uncovered in a media report.
Those reimbursed costs included the $16 glass of orange juice.
In her apology, Oda made no mention of repaying the money she spent hiring a chauffeured limousine during her trip — costs that may not have been incurred had she stayed in the hotel where the conference was held.”

Museum greenwash
The CBC reports that environmental groups are protesting the decision to name a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after mining giant Barrick Gold.
“Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new ‘Barrick Salon’ is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.
The decision has activists planning a demonstration at the museum this afternoon, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.
They believe mining companies do not put nature before their own business practice.”

Vale under fire
Inter Press Service reports that 30 groups from around the world have come together to condemn Brazilian mining giant Vale for allegedly committing serious environmental and human rights abuses while posting earnings in excess of $20 billion in each of the last two years.
“Vale is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, the International Council on Mining and Metals ICMM), and the São Paulo Stock Exchange Corporate Sustainability Index (ISE), all of which establish corporate social and environmental responsibility principles.
But in January 2012 it was named the “Worst Company in the World” by the Public Eye Awards, which every year name and shame the companies that have shown the worst social or environmental irresponsibility.
Vale even beat out Japan’s Tepco, the firm that operates the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, which melted down after the March 2011 tsunami.”

Duty to cooperate
The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, argues that the current debate on climate change lacks “an honest starting point,” which he believes should be human rights.
“Climate change represents an enormous threat to a whole host of human rights: the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to development. There is therefore huge scope for human rights courts and non-judicial human rights bodies to treat climate change as the immediate threat to human rights that it is. Such bodies could therefore take government policy to task when it is too short-sighted, too unambitious, or too narrowly focused on its own constituents at the expense of those elsewhere. Fossil fuel mining, deforestation, the disturbance of carbon sinks, and the degradation of the oceans are developments that can be blocked on human rights grounds.”

Africa’s image
Author Binyavanga Wainaina takes issue with international media portrayals of Africa.
“The truth is, with the rise of China, we do not have to take any deal Europe throws at us that comes packaged with permanent poverty, incompetent volunteers and the occasional Nato bomb.
As the West flounders, there is a real sense that we have some leverage.
The truth is, we will never look like what CNN wants us to look like.
But that’s fine – we can get online now and completely bypass their nonsense.”

Privatizing Rivera
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi reflects on the irony of having to pay $25 to see the revolutionary public art of Diego Rivera inside New York’s private Museum of Modern Art.
“The spirit of Diego Rivera has long since abandoned MoMA and is now hovering somewhere between Zuccotti Park in New York and Tahrir Square in Cairo – hovering over the Syntagma Square in Athens, Azadi Square in Tehran, the Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid, and the remnants of the Pearl Square in Bahrain – where young artists are plotting the proportions of their organic tenacity between the beautiful and the just. ”

Global economic governance
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Deborah James argues the UN Conference on Trade and Development is “seriously threatening” to those who caused the global financial crisis.
“The role of UNCTAD as an alternative voice to the ‘Washington Consensus’ paradigm – being the only multilateral economic institution focused on development – must be strengthened vis-a-vis the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the G20 in global economic governance decision-making. In the coming week, it will be important to choose sides in the ‘Battle of UNCTAD’s Future Mandate.’ A lot depends on it.”

Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”

Latest Developments, July 28

In the latest news and analysis…

It has been exactly a year since the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution declaring access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation as human rights, rights that continue to elude 900 million and 2.6 billion people, respectively. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was “not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers pay five or even 10 times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same areas of the same cities,” while making it clear he did not believe water should be free. But speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Bolivian President Evo Morales slammed water privatization: “Water is life. Water is humanity. How could it be part of the private business?” And Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians writes that Canada and Tonga are the only two countries who have not recognized the right to water and she reminds readers access to water is not universal, even in rich countries.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has released its review of American aid policies. The assessment was the result of the organization’s “peer review” process, meaning only members of the DAC – an even more exclusive group than the OECD which is  commonly described in newspaper shorthand as a “rich-country club” – can be “examiners.” In this instance, it was Denmark and the EU. The accompanying press release carried the headline “US, a generous donor, is committed to making aid more effective” and said the world’s biggest aid donor had “significantly enhanced its development strategies, policies, and programs” since the last review in 2006. The examiners do, however, note that the 0.21 percent of American GDP devoted to aid falls well below the DAC average and called on the US to “better incorporate and reflect the goals and strategies of developing countries.” They also point to “concerns about the role of the U.S. military in humanitarian assistance.”  The US Agency for International Development’s Donald Steinberg called the assessment “fair, objective and rigorous.”

Malawi’s government, reeling from the suspension of American and British aid over alleged human rights abuses and poor economic management, is trying to defend its actions, claiming those killed during last week’s demonstrations were not protestors but looters and blaming the lack of fuel and foreign exchange on IMF-imposed privatization. Under mounting pressure to devalue the national currency, President Bingu wa Mutharika has said: “I cannot devalue the kwacha because no one, including the IMF, is giving me convincing arguments on what will be done to deal with the rise of the cost of living that will follow the devaluation.” One bit of good news for Malawi’s embattled government is the country’s top ranking in the latest Hunger Reduction Commitment Index.

If Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab will not deal with foreign agencies, the international community should go through local NGOs, according to the Somali Relief and Development Forum umbrella group. “There are divisions within al-Shabaab and there are Somali NGOs that are able to work around al-Shabaab and bypass them, but there is hardly any international engagement with these local NGOs,” forum spokesman Mustakim Waid told the Guardian.

As the food crisis in the Horn of Africa continues to unfold, a growing chorus is calling not just for emergency relief but long-term assistance to allow the region to feed itself through future droughts. According to a Bloomberg report, World Food Program head Josette Sheeran thinks her organization’s Purchase for Progress initiative can help do exactly that by using “the agency’s buying power to integrate the world’s poorest farmers into the global food economy.” But a skeptical Frederick Kaufman, in a 2009 Harper’s Magazine piece, wonders how inculcating the profit motive in food producers will help the world’s poor: “Henceforth, the rural farmer could follow fluctuating prices with the technology of his mobile phone. The once indigent peasant could become a commodity trader and peg his sale to any time of the year. In this way, he could forecast, model, and leverage more financing. No matter that commodity speculation and grain hoarding had helped trigger the world food crisis.”

In a Transparency International blog post entitled “Saving the World? Prove it,” Krina Despota argues dodgy carbon offsets actually lead to more emissions since they are used as justification for polluting elsewhere. The biggest offset scheme is the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), through which major polluting countries can meet their Kyoto commitments by obtaining credits through investing in greening projects in other countries. But as of October 2008, “over 75% of all projects registered under the CDM had been completely constructed prior to being approved for carbon credits, suggesting that in some cases projects did not rely on financing from the CDM to be realized.” Despota also argues the CDM can actually provide incentives to pollute, as companies fiddle with emission levels in order to maximize the number of credits for which they are elligible.

A new Hollywood movie entitled “The Whistleblower” takes on the link between international peacekeeping and the sex trade as it played out in Bosnia during the 1990s. According to Ari Karpel of the New York Times, the film depicts graphic abuse and “implicates the United Nations, the State Department, private contractors and nongovernmental organizations in the sex trade.” Nevertheless, the star of the film, Rachel Weisz, tells the Times the true story has been toned down for public consumption: “In real life there were girls doing this as young as 8 years old.”

As reported yesterday, liquor giant Diageo agreed to a $16 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of bribery in three Asian countries. But if the US Chamber of Commerce gets the changes it wants to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, companies will no longer have to pay fines for paying bribes abroad as long as subsidiaries do the dirty work, according to Global Financial Integrity’s Dan Hennessey. Moreover, companies “with anti-corruption programs would also be able to use the existence of those programs in order to defend themselves from legal action.”