Latest Developments, August 10

In the latest news and analysis…

British Prime Minister David Cameron has attributed the UK’s rioting to “a lack of proper parenting,” but Reuters journalist Mohammed Abbas relates another side of the story: “They were not your typical hoodlums out there. There were working people, angry people. They’ve raised rates, cut child benefit. Everyone just used it as a chance to vent,” one man told him. A Futurismic map of London suggests a link between the locations of the violence and levels of deprivation. The map uses the British government’s latest English Indices of Deprivation, which provide an aggregate of seven variables: income deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation, barriers to housing and services, living environment deprivation, and crime.

The UN says high food prices are making the Horn of Africa crisis worse, with grain and milk prices at record highs across the region. The US has given its support to a movement to impose international sanctions on Eritrea, which is also affected by East Africa’s severe drought, for allegedly attempting to destabilize its neighbours. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called the Ethiopian-led effort “timely” but added any sanctions “would not go in any way to harm the people of Eritrea, who are suffering enough as it is.”

The US has also imposed new sanctions on Syria, targeting its largest bank and biggest telecom company. Washington has little direct economic leverage because there are few American companies operating in Syria. It hopes, however, to influence European governments to take measures against the country’s oil and gas sector, a move that does not appear to be imminent. But a “group of social investment firms plans an e-mail campaign to urge 11 oil companies to either stop operations in Syria or communicate their condemnation of the violent crackdown on protesters to the government,” according to Pensions and Investments.

The World Bank has suspended lending to Cambodia over mass evictions of residents to make way for a luxury development on land around a lake in the capital Phnom Penh. “Until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak Lake, we do not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia,” the World Bank’s Annette Dixon said. Evictions have been the source of friction with foreign donors for some time but according to Reuters: “Land ownership is a complex subject in the impoverished Southeast Asian country, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.”

In the wake of Libyan accusations that a NATO air strike caused the “massacre” of 85 people earlier this week, Amnesty International is calling on the military alliance to investigate all alleged civilian killings: “NATO continues to stress its commitment to protect civilians,” the human rights group’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement. “To that effect, it should thoroughly investigate this and all other recent incidents in which civilians were reportedly killed in western Libya as a result of air strikes.”

Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney has struck back hard at Amnesty International for its criticism of his government’s plan to deport 30 men it alleges have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. In addition to writing a scathing open letter of response, he told the Toronto Star the rights group is wrongly using “its voice and scarce resources to focus on criticizing what is probably the fairest immigration system in the world.” Last month, Amnesty had called on the Canadian government to try these individuals rather than deport them. But it was hardly alone in questioning an operation that involved publishing the pictures and names of the alleged criminals on a government website and led some experts to suggest the Canadian government was “conflating immigration and criminal law.” The Canadian Centre for International Justice’s Jayne Stoyles told Embassy Magazine: “The label of war criminals kind of implies that someone has been through a criminal process. But they haven’t. And they’re not even being investigated through a criminal process.”

Exxon Mobil is disputing a US Court of Appeals ruling that it can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute for human rights abuses committed in Indonesia. In a petition for a rehearing, the company’s lawyers argue the decision’s “incorrect expansion of ATS liability threatens to unleash a flood of litigation in U.S. courts for actions lacking any salient connection to the United States” and called on the court to “reject the notion that the ATS can be used as a vehicle to bring suit in U.S. courts for alleged misconduct that occurred abroad.” And lawyers for alleged victims of human rights abuses surrounding a Guatemalan mine say Canada’s HudBay Minerals “cannot avoid liability for their past actions by selling the project.”

The Guardian’s John Vidal argues last week’s UN report on oil pollution in Nigeria’s Ogoniland region means “the conspiracy of silence between governments and oil companies has at last been broken.” While Kenya’s Business Daily carries the headline: “Multinationals, not corrupt politicians are the biggest source of dirty money flows.”

The University of the West of England, Bristol’s Diana Jeater reports on perceptions among Zimbabweans of international NGOs and aid agencies that “are mistrusted not least because they are perceived as part of the political strategies of donor governments.” She says there is also much “frustration at how the external agendas are introduced without proper research into local conditions and history” and a widespread “sense that the aid agencies are employers not helpers, who probably do more harm than good.” Jeater then concludes with a friend’s assessment of aid agencies operating in Zimbabwe: “They spend millions but they make no constructive difference. They just meet their funders’ benchmarks and get paid. They are parasites on the poor.”

Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

While London’s riots may not really seem like Beyond Aid material, commentators such as Laurie Penny have highlighted common ground through their accounts of how difficult it is for a society to provide thoughtful analysis of its own culture’s uglier aspects: “The violence on the streets is being dismissed as “pure criminality”, as the work of a “violent minority”, as “opportunism”. This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest.” Similarly, Daniel Hind writes in an Al Jazeera piece it is a mistake to view the riots as apolitical: “We should perhaps ask [the young rioters] what they were thinking before reaching for phrases like “mindless violence“. We might actually learn something.” In the meantime, while stressing he does not wish to “draw a straight line from the decision to bail out the banks to what’s going on now in London,” he provides an assessment of his own: “Those who want to see law and order restored must turn their attention to a menace that no amount of riot police will disperse; a social and political order that rewards vandalism and the looting of public property, so long as the perpetrators are sufficiently rich and powerful.”

Oxfam’s Duncan Green makes no mention of the riots on his blog but does suggest a distance between government priorities and those of the public with his comments on the UK Office of National Statistics’ recently published report “Measuring What Matters”: “Topline results from a big public consultation is that ‘what matters’ are health; good connections with friends and family; present and future conditions of the environment and education and training. Not much of that reflected in our leaders’ fixation on GDP.”

Libyan officials have accused NATO of the “massacre” of 85 civilians. NATO denies the charge, saying there is no such evidence and the overnight air strikes were “legitimate.” The EU has added to its existing sanctions against Libya by targeting two organizations it claims are “directly linked” to the Gadhafi regime. And the US is reportedly preparing to impose new sanctions against Syria and to tell President Bashar Assad he must go.

Self-described social entrepreneur Dermot Egan argues in the Guradian that reactionary corporate social responsibility must give way to social enterprise, which requires that a company to embrace “positive social impact” as its central purpose: “Companies cannot continue to pretend to serve society while simultaneously acting against it. Neither can they continue to give shareholder’s interest primacy above the interests of the public. No amount of investment in charitable causes or employee volunteering can change that fact. The purpose of a company will be to create shared value, where business and society achieve success together.” In the meantime, Wyoming state legislators are considering adopting new measures to combat corporate fraud, including banning the practice of appointing nominee directors which companies can use “to hide the company’s real corporate officers and to help the operators avoid responsibility for the company’s actions,” according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. And activists in India are outraged the organizers of the London 2012 Olympic Games have accepted Dow Chemical – the parent of Union Carbide whose pesticide plant was the source of a gas leak that killed thousands in Bhopal, India in 1984 – as a sponsor.

In a statement marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said large numbers of the world’s indigenous people have lost or risk losing “their ancestral lands, territories and natural resources because of unfair and unjust exploitation for the sake of ‘development.’ On this day, let us ask the crucial question: who actually benefits from this so-called development, and at what cost is such development taking place?” She also called on multinational corporations involved in resource exploitation on indigenous lands to respect human rights, before concluding: “The right to development is a human right for all, and indigenous peoples have the right to define and determine their own development.”  Two of the countries Pillay singled out for their problematic handling of relations between extraction companies and indigenous populations were Canada and Brazil. During the current visit by Canada’s prime minister to Brazil, the two nations set up a committee to deepen bilateral trade,  co-chaired by the CEOs of Brazilian miner Vale and Canada’s Scotiabank which last year helped set up “the largest arms length oil and gas deal in Brazilian history.”

A new Economist Intelligence Unit report predicts the African banking industry will grow 178-248 percent by 2020 “due to huge unmet financial needs in a world largely marked by excessive debt and leverage.” On the subject of excessive debt, Jonathan Glennie argues a debt default by a wealthy European nation could be a good thing for poor countries if , as a result, it became easier for them to repudiate their own dates. He believes it is “morally bankrupt to force poor countries to pay debts while their people suffer in extreme poverty, especially if much of the debt is illegal or otherwise illegitimate.” He does not dispute that default is a difficult and painful process, but wonders if repaying massive debts and the attendant interest might not be worse over the long run. As things stand, creditors dictate repayment conditions. But Glennie would like to see debtor nations have recourse to an independent panel that “would try to ensure that the debtor emerges from the proceedings with good prospects for financial and economic stability. And lenders will know that they can no longer get away with odious or careless lending.”