Latest Developments, April 26

In the latest news and analysis…

International justice
Following the guilty verdict delivered against former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Oxford University’s Christine Cheng discusses some of the problems with international justice as currently practiced.
“Courts build their legitimacy partly based on the cases that they choose to hear. By focusing predominantly on Africans, there is a real worry that the ICC will be perceived by non-Western countries as providing a cloak of legitimacy for the US and other Western nations to achieve their political aims— despite the fact that the ICC’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has explicitly stated that the ICC is not a court ‘just for the Third World.’
What the international community needs to guard against is allowing the ICC to become a tool that Western liberal democracies can impose on developing country leaders who have fallen out of political favour. For the ICC to remain viable, neither can it be perceived as the backdoor by which Western powers target their political enemies.”

Quake aid
The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz look into where US funds intended for quake relief in Haiti ended up going.
“The U.S. Department of Defense, which took responsibility for security in Haiti in the aftermath of the quake, was the largest recipient. The remainder of the funds went to large international NGOs, private contractors, and other agencies of the U.S. government such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). As we have blogged previously, less than one percent went to the Government of Haiti to rebuild public institutions. And Haitian-led NGOs have barely received any money at all.

Contracts to Haitian firms remain few and far between. Following a request from Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch, USAID released data on its procurement from local contractors in Haiti. Local contracts add up to $9.45 million, which is only 0.02 percent of total contracts awarded by USAID. Over 75 percent of USAID funds went to private contractors inside the Beltway (located in Washington DC, Maryland, or Virginia).”

Inter Press Service reports that critics of the new US National Bioeconomy Blueprint say it emphasizes economic interests at the expense of social and environmental ones.
“ ‘The bio-economy approach offers politicians in industrialized countries an opportunity to be seen to be doing something about meeting ill-defined “renewable energy targets”, while maximizing opportunities for economic growth and securing a constant supply of energy,’ [the Global Forest Coalition’s “Bio-economy Versus Biodiversity” report] warns. “There is precious little concern about the environment, or about impacts in other countries, apart from the usual platitudes about providing jobs.’ ”

Maid in India
A new Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations/India Committee of the Netherlands report details rights abuses at Indian textile plants that supply Western clothing companies.
“For real change, scale is needed. Corporate and other initiatives, certification bodies and business associations should push their members to commit to real action, or discipline them. The voluntary character of compliance activities should urgently become more binding. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively are key rights that enable workers to defend their rights. Both manufacturers and buyers should actively ensure these rights are respected.”

Laws of war
Lawyer Chase Madar argues a Wikileaks-obtained video showing US helicopters killing a number of unarmed Iraqis – an act that may well have been legal – is “an indictment of the laws of war as we know them.”
“Let’s be clear: What killed the civilians walking the streets of Baghdad that day in 2007 was not ‘war crimes’ but war. And that holds for so many thousands of other Afghan and Iraqi civilians killed by drone strikes, air strikes, night raids, convoys, and nervous checkpoint guards as well.
Who, after all, writes the laws of war? Just as the regulations that govern the pharmaceutical and airline industries are often gamed by large corporations with their phalanxes of lobbyists, the laws of war are also vulnerable to ‘regulatory capture’ by the great powers under their supposed rule. Keep in mind, for instance, that the Pentagon employs 10,000 lawyers and that its junior partner in foreign policy making, the State Department, has a few hundred more. Should we be surprised if in-house lawyers can sort out ‘legal’ ways not to let those laws of war get in the way of the global ambitions of a superpower?”

Good aid, bad aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie asks if some donors are better than others.
“The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, certainly seems to think so, urging poor countries at an aid conference in Busan, South Korea, to ‘be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity’. It is hard to imagine a more absurd statement from a US official, given the country’s leading role in previous scrambles for Africa – not to mention its weak record (with other donors) of ‘building capacity’ over more than 50 years of aid-giving. From the cold war to aid conditionality supporting its own interests, to the pouring of money into the Horn of Africa after the 9/11 attacks, the US pretty much wrote the book on how to use aid to ensure strategic interests. Clinton should remember John Kennedy’s assertion in 1962: ‘Aid is a method by which the United States maintains a position of influence and control around the world … I put it right at the top of the essential programmes in protecting the security of the free world.’ ”

Population bomb
In an interview with the Guardian, Stanford University’s Paul Ehrlich argues that both the numbers and behaviour of people pose a threat to the future of humanity.
“[Human population and consumption] multiply together. You have to be deal with them together. We have too much consumption among the rich and too little among the poor. That implies that terrible thing that we are going to have to do which is to somehow redistribute access to resources away the rich to the poor. But in the US we have been doing the opposite. The Republican party is wildly in favour of more redistribution, of taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich.”

Latest Developments, November 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Structural maladjustment
The Inter Press Service reports on the release of a new UN report on the current state of the world’s Least Developed Countries, while quoting some of the organization’s economists who are highly critical of the impact the World Bank and IMF have in such countries.
“There are currently 48 poorest countries with low per capita income of less than a dollar a day. About two-thirds of LDCs are located in Africa, and all indicators suggest that they are the worst affected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s market-oriented policies.
‘The neo-liberal policies (fostered by the IMF and World Bank) devastated these countries,’ says Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, [UN Conference on Trade and Development’s] secretary general. ‘These policies turned most sub-Saharan African countries from net food producing countries into net food importing countries.’
Team leader for the report, Zeljka Kozul-Wright, said that the LDCs are the victims of ‘structural maladjustment’ policies followed over the last 40 years, which resulted in ‘boom-bust cycles and growth collapses.’

Aiding repression
The Washington Post reports the US government has launched an investigation to determine whether technology made by California-based Blue Coat Systems helped the Syrian government monitor dissidents.
“On Thursday, three senators urged the Obama administration to investigate whether Blue Coat and another California-based company had provided “tools of repression” to Damascus.
‘The sale of U.S.-made equipment that may have contributed to ongoing violence is unacceptable and should be investigated as soon as possible,’ said the letter from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.).

The senators who asked the Obama administration to investigate Blue Coat also asked for an investigation into the California-based company NetApp.
Bloomberg News has reported that NetApp equipment is part of a Syrian Internet surveillance project designed to intercept and catalogue all e-mail in Syria.”

Copyright trumps all
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm argues a proposed US copyright law – the Stop Internet Piracy Act – will give corporations the power to censor Internet sites and could endanger human rights activists around the world.
“Ironically, we know from the WikiLeaks cables that the State Department has also aggressively lobbied many other countries for strict new laws similar to SOPA. They have even offered to fund enforcement and literally draft the laws that sacrifice free speech for greater copyright protection for Hollywood.
Over one hundred law professors signed a letter staunchly opposing the Senate’s version of this bill on constitutional grounds earlier this year. Even Google’s public policy director Bob Boorstin said the bill ‘Would put the US government in the very position we criticise repressive regimes for doing – all in the name of copyright’. Here’s hoping Hillary takes a closer look and repudiates SOPA as adverse to US interests both at home and abroad.”

Shadow world
Bradford University’s Paul Rogers reviews a new book, written by former South African member of parliament Andrew Feinstein, on the global arms trade and the “web of malpractice” into which it draws the world’s politicians.
“Throughout The Shadow World, Feinstein emphasises the sheer corruption of the whole process, pointing to the enticements and kick-backs, always overshadowed by the ubiquitous use of ‘commission’ and ‘agents’, as though the distancing of corruption through intermediaries somehow makes it more acceptable. What he seeks to do is open up perhaps the greatest international can of worms of the current era, but this is inevitably an area replete with rumour and all too often affected by conspiracy theories that divert attention from the reality of trading in death.”

Cheaper is not always better
Michael Jennings, a lecturer at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, argues that donor pressure for poor countries to open public tenders to international competition is not necessarily good for their economies.
“Public procurement is generally seen as a technical, accounting issue, not a development one. This view is profoundly wrong. State and donor-funded purchasing is a significant part of overall GDP in developing countries, around 20% (and substantially more in some countries). Where that money is spent, and whether governments are able to make decisions on how to use their public resources, matters considerably for development.

Getting value for money is important, of course. Spend less per individual drug, for example, and you get more drugs for the overall money spent. But “value” should not only reflect monetary considerations. Used in the right way, procurement could be an important development tool: helping create jobs, boosting skills, supporting emerging industrial sectors, helping national economies wean themselves gradually off aid.”

Ostracizing tax havens
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead writes that although not much in the way of concrete policy came out of the recent G20 summit, its host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had some harsh words for a handful of tax havens, including one of France’s neighbours.
“Sarkozy intonated that a list of eleven uncooperative jurisdictions should be ‘excluded from the international community,’ including: Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, Botswana, Brunei, Panama, Seychelles, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. He added that a list of countries which do not conform to acceptable tax practices would be published at all future G20 summits. ‘We don’t want to have tax havens any more.’ He said ‘Our message is very clear.’”

Power shift
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues there has been “a subtle rebalancing of power” between aid donor and recipient countries over the last few years.
“Changes in the global context are the main causes of this change in body language: donor economies are doing badly, calling into question their assumptions of always knowing best; emerging powers are doing well, implying different ways of doing things and providing poor countries with other avenues for trade and aid relationships; and poor countries are doing better economically than before, giving them more confidence and shaking off an attitude of dependence.”