Latest Developments, January 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Arms sale loophole
Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that, following congressional opposition to a proposed sale of US arms to Bahrain due to human rights concerns, the Obama administration is moving ahead with a repackaged sale without formally informing Congress or the public.
“Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.
We’re further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain’s “external defense” and therefore couldn’t be used against protesters. Of course, that’s the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.”

Responsibility while protecting
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans surveys the extent of the damage done to the “responsibility to protect” principle by disagreements over how NATO handled its Libyan intervention.
“The better news is that a way forward has opened up. In November, Brazil circulated a paper arguing that the R2P concept, as it has evolved so far, needs to be supplemented by a new set of principles and procedures on the theme of “responsibility while protecting” (already being labeled “RWP”). Its two key proposals are a set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences) to be taken into account before the Security Council mandates any use of military force, and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that such mandates’ implementation is seriously debated.”

WEF women
The Guardian’s Jane Martinson argues the World Economic Forum in Davos “has a woman problem.”
“Although the days are long gone when one female delegate was asked to leave an event because security assumed she must be a spouse without the required permit, the majority of the women in Davos are not there as participants. Only newcomers to Davos seem to consider this fact remarkable, with the odd feminist exception such as Helen Clark. The former prime minister of New Zealand turned administrator of the United Nations Development Programme called the female participation rate ‘pathetic’. The leader who appointed so many senior women to her cabinet that Benetton ran an airport advertising campaign welcoming visitors to the ‘women’s republic of New Zealand’ called for organisers to commit to the millennium development goal of 30% female participation by 2015. ‘Or why not next year? They should just go and look for the women. In one stroke, participation would go up.’ ”

Forgetting about poverty
Time’s Roya Wolverson argues that, with all the talk about inequality, absolute poverty seems to have dropped of the World Economic Forum’s radar.
“What’s missing in the WEF discussions is the perspective of the poor.  Unfair trade practices and poor working conditions in the developing world, issues that made it onto the WEF agenda a decade ago and keep rearing their ugly head, haven’t been raised at all. Instead, the conversation is acutely focused on the plight of the Western worker and his dwindling pension plan.”

Bad medicine
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the World Health Organization’s executive board has come up with a proposal for an international mechanism that would deal with  “counterfeit and substandard medical products” medicines without taking on thorny IP and trade issues.
“A contentious issue around counterfeits has been the suspicion on the part of some developing countries that concerns about counterfeit and substandard medicines are being purposely confused with trade in legitimate generic medicines from those countries. Removing intellectual property and trade from WHO discussions likely minimises the possibility of confusion.”

Bad money
Reuters reports on how difficult it is for financial regulators to overcome the client privacy provisions of Western banks in order to take action against “undesirable assets and clients.”
“ ‘Our current arrangements for the creation of trusts and the setting up of companies anonymously have created an environment which is permitting kleptocrats to move their loot around (and commit) tax evasion on a monstrous scale,’ said Anthea Lawson, head of the Banks and Corruption Campaign at Global Witness, a non-government organisation which campaigns against money laundering and corruption.
Those determined to hide money have numerous devices at their disposal: for example it is possible to establish an offshore company which belongs to an offshore trust behind which may be another trust, all spread across multiple jurisdictions and set up by an associate of a person on a sanctions list.”

War on finance
The Economist says that François Hollande, the French Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, has “declared war on global finance.”
“The financial industry, he said, had grown into a nameless, faceless empire that has seized control of the economy and society. To tackle the enemy and restore the French dream, Mr Hollande wants to separate banks’ ‘speculative’ activities from their lending arms. He would outlaw ‘toxic’ financial products, keep banks out of tax havens and ban stock options for all companies except start-ups.”

Tackling inequality
British Labour leader Ed Miliband lays out some proposals for a fairer economy.
“I support proposals for a financial transactions tax levied equally on the major trading centers from Hong Kong and Singapore to Wall Street and the City of London. The British government needs to show more leadership on this issue in Europe — and all members of G-20 need to help make it happen.
Britain loses billions of pounds in revenues because of outdated rules that allow our richest citizens to keep their money in off-shore tax havens. Tax authorities need to know about income and wealth hidden behind front companies, trusts and other complex financial products. If these rules cannot be changed by international agreement, progressive governments should go ahead and do it themselves.”

Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Cholera compensation
Al Jazeera reports a US-based human rights group is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations from the UN for those affected by a deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti.
“‘The cholera outbreak is directly attributable to the negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and deliberate indifference for the health and lives of Haiti’s citizens by the United Nations and its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH),’ the petition said.
It said numerous studies, including those by the UN, traced the virus to UN personnel from Nepal.
‘Until MINUSTAH’s actions incited the cholera outbreak, Haiti had not reported a single case of cholera for over 50 years,’ the petition said.”

Development as right
The UN News Centre reports that on the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, some of the organization’s top officials conceded the principle had “languished” in practice.
“‘The fact that almost three billion people live in poverty and that 20 per cent of the world’s people hold 70 per cent of its total income means that we have not kept our promises,’ said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.”

R2P’s uncertain future
Embassy Magazine reports that, while a number of Responsibility to Protect proponents have pointed to the NATO intervention in Libya as a successful implementation of the doctrine, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan argues the “jury is still out.”
“When the council voted to effectively unleash the air power of western countries like the United States, France and Britain against Libyan military infrastructure and equipment, Brazil, China, India and Russia all abstained, sending a “powerful message” that the UN’s top body was divided, said Mr. Annan.
‘Therefore, when you go to implement that resolution, you have to be very careful to stick to that resolution,’ he said.
That powerful message is reverberating in another failed council effort. An Oct. 5 resolution, that would have condemned Syria for the killing of thousands of people the UN says was at the hands of Syrian government authorities, was vetoed by China and Russia under the auspices that it didn’t explicitly rule out another foreign military intervention.”

Open-pit ban
MiningWatch Canada reports the government of a Philippine province has issued a ban on open-pit mining over the objections of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific, which has vowed to take legal action.
“‘The destruction of our land and natural resources through open pit mining is irreversible and the forced displacement of communities contradicts the real meaning of development, or should we ask “development for whom?”’ says Daniel Castillo, Director of the Dipolog Committee on Mining Initiatives, a Church-based support group in Zamboanga del Norte.”

Benefits of conservation
The UN Environment Program’s Achim Steiner makes the economic case for protecting animal species from extinction, using the example of Palau which recently became the first country to declare its waters a shark sanctuary and now earns an estimated eight percent of its GDP through shark-diving tours.
“Nature should never be prized merely for its economic value. But, in a world of competing demands and limited resources, economic considerations can help to tip decisions in favor of conservation rather than degradation. This kind of strategic thinking can help to ensure that the world’s 10,000 migratory species continue their journeys, so that future generations can also marvel at these nomads of the natural world.”

Learning from others
The University of Cambridge’s Tarak Barkawi argues that because we live in “a jingoistic age, when Westerners, Asians and Muslims are all convinced of their own superiority,” new ideas and solutions are impeded by a reluctance to learn from and co-operate with others.
“And so, when we look upon the Arab Spring, we should not interpret it as a matter of Arabs having finally read John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and applied Western ideas. We should look instead for the new ideas, the new possibilities, the new politics created up by the protesters, activists and ordinary people who have made revolution.
We should be cognizant too that the Arab Winter will be a university of counter-revolution, as new forms of repression, of neo-imperialism and of exploitation are developed in response to novel circumstances.”

Othering and torture
The University of Edinburgh’s Tobias Kelly writes about the long-standing Western tradition of viewing torture as something that is only committed by uncivilized “others”, with the result that no British citizen has ever stood trial for the crime of torture.
“The problem is that too much is at stake for the British government to admit its complicity in torture. They will always try and find other words to describe the brutal ill-treatment of detainees. Assault, disobeying orders, dereliction of duty, even murder, but not torture.
Once torture has been used to make the distinction between the civilised and the barbarous, it is just too difficult for the British government to imagine that it stands on the wrong side of that line.”

Durban showdown looming
Democratic Republic of Congo negotiator Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu tells the Independent Online what he is expecting from rich countries at the upcoming climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.
“They seek to tear down the Kyoto Protocol, now or later, and to replace it with a different architecture.
A few have said they will not participate in a second commitment period, despite their legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, while others have said the next commitment period should be ‘transitional’ to a new regime.
In other words, they seek to ‘transition’ out of their legally binding obligations under the Kyoto Protocol into a new regime we have not designed yet.
One country seems to prefer an altogether weaker system via a ‘pledge-based’ rather than ‘science-based’ system of emission reductions that applies ‘symmetrically’ to rich and poor countries.
So it is not merely a question of who will remain inside or outside the multilateral process, but, more fundamentally, what that process will be. This is the big question for Durban.”

Latest Developments, October 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Land rights as human rights
An international human rights hearing could mark a fundamental change in the relationship between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and its federal and provincial governments.
“[University of Victoria anthropologist Prof. Brian Thom] said he believes it signalled the moment where B.C. First Nations may turn away from the treaty negotiation process and move towards settling their issues as human rights abuses.
‘They’re reframing the whole discourse today,’ said Thom. ‘The decisions of this commission could be crucial in reframing the next generation of aboriginal leadership. We’ve just had 20 years of that process and the current generation, I think, is tired of that discussion.’
‘The next generation may be thinking about human rights for a good long time.’”

The price of justice
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Nick Mathiason writes that the British coalition government’s proposed legal aid amendments could have serious consequences well beyond the UK’s borders.
“One major lesson from cases such as this [against UK-based miner Monterrico over alleged abuses in Peru] is that transnational companies can no longer operate in poorer countries thinking they can’t be pursued. But will similar claims be pursued in the future if the coalition government’s bill becomes law?
[Human rights law firm] Leigh Day, which also successfully fought Trafigura on behalf of more than 30,000 Ivorian victims allegedly poisoned from toxic waste, thinks not. It believes that it will now be much harder for indigenous communities and others living in poorer countries to get legal redress for human rights violations associated with the activities of multinational companies based in the UK.
This is because under sections 41–43 of the proposed reforms are three clauses that will make it all but impossible to pursue claims in British courts.”

Empty words
Jack Ucciferri of Harrington Investments calls the UN’s framework for business and human rights a “patently worthless document” and asks if “we really think that the best way to regulate corporate behavior is engage them in “Multi-Stakeholder Processes.”
“I searched the Document-Whose-Name-is-Too-Uppity-to-be-Uttered [Protect, Respect and Remedy] for a few terms. Ready?:
Variations of the word ‘responsible’ appear 14 times in 7 pages
Variations of the word ‘liable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘accountable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘culpable’ – 0 times.”

Sacred and valuable land
Al Jazeera reports on a dispute over land in Central Mexico that is sacred to the local Wixarika people but potentially lucrative for a pair of Canadian mining companies.
“‘It’s as if they wanted to put a gas station in the middle of the Basilica,’ said Santos de la Cruz, referring to the most sacred shrine of Mexican Catholics, the Basilica of Guadalupe. De la Cruz is a traditional authority in his community of Bancos San Hipólito and also an attorney engaged in the legal battle to defend his people’s lands and traditions.
In a press conference flanked by a cadre of grim-faced Wixarika men and women who had travelled for days from their communities in the western Sierra Madre, De la Cruz grew visibly emotional. ‘What they want to do is to rip out the vein of the heart of Wirikuta – and that’s why we’re here… We’re not interested in gold and silver; what interests us is life.’”

Mining for Development
Pro Bono News reports the Australian government’s new Mining for Development Initiative, which includes $22 million in funding for NGOs, is getting mixed reviews from civil society groups, with Oxfam enthusiastically endorsing it and ActionAid expressing serious reservations.
“[ActionAid’s Florence Apuri] said, ‘Our experience shows mining often brings more hardship than benefits to poor communities. Land grabs and the destruction of local ecosystems as a result of mining often makes it more difficult for poor communities to earn a living from the land and to feed their families.’
ActionAid said it applauds the idea of supporting developing countries to maximise the social return on mining, however the Government must recognise that the benefits of mining are not always equally spread.”

New Green Revolution
Macalester College geographer William G. Moseley argues the lessons of China’s Green Revolution are being misapplied by those pushing for greater use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers in Africa.
“While China and the West benefit from this New Green Revolution strategy, it is not clear if the same is true for small farmers and poor households in sub-Saharan Africa. For most food-insecure households on the continent, there are at least two problems with this strategy. First, such an approach to farming is energy-intensive, as most fertilisers and pesticides are petroleum based. Inducing poor farmers to adopt energy-intensive farming methods is short-sighted, if not unethical, if experts know that global energy prices are likely to rise. Second, irrespective of energy prices, the “New Green Revolution” approach requires farmers to purchase seeds and inputs, which means that it will be inaccessible to the poorest of the poor, who are the most likely to suffer from periods of hunger.”

Creating wealth
Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati argues that economic growth, rather than redistribution of existing wealth, is still the best tool for tackling poverty in poor countries.
“In impoverished countries where the poor exceed the rich by a huge margin, redistribution would increase the consumption of the poor only minimally – by, say, a chapati a day – and the increase would not be sustainable in a context of low income and high population growth. In short, for most developing countries, growth is the principal strategy for inclusive development – that is, development that consciously includes the marginal and poorest members of a society.”

The age of responsibility
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues the international community’s handling of the Libyan conflict was the moment the Responsibility to Protect “really came of age.”
“Other developments, both before and since, have reinforced and embedded the RtoP norm. Even as the NATO-led intervention in Libya was being widely criticized for overreaching its narrow mandate, a major General Assembly debate in July 2011 reaffirmed overwhelming support among UN member states for the RtoP concept, in all of its dimensions. The arguments now are not about the principle, but about how to apply it.”