Latest Developments, July 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Lethal aid
Reuters reports that while Washington tries to decide whether or not the Egyptian military’s ouster of a democratically elected president constitutes a coup, the US will continue delivering “aid” to Egypt in the form of F-16 fighter jets:

“A U.S. decision to brand [President Mohamed Mursi’s] overthrow a coup would, by U.S. law, require Washington to halt aid to the Egyptian military, which receives the lion’s share of the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. assistance to that country.
The jets, which will likely be delivered in August and are built by Lockheed Martin Corp, are part of the annual aid package, a U.S. defense official said.

Asked about the F-16s, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: ‘It’s our view that we should not … hastily change our aid programs.’ ”

Deportations halted
Voice of America reports that a European court has blocked Malta’s plan to deport Somali migrants to Libya:

“Maltese authorities had intended to send two planes back to Libya carrying 45 Somali migrants who had arrived Tuesday. But the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling banning the repatriations.

Authorities say more than 400 migrants have arrived on the island in the past week, including babies, pregnant women and three men with gunshot wounds. Most are Eritrean or Somali.
The European Court of Human Rights declared illegal in 2009 the practice of so-called ‘push back’ – where migrants are forced to return where they came from.”

Low standards
The Guardian reports that members of a palm-oil industry sustainability initiative have been implicated in “Asia’s worst air pollution crisis in decades”:

“Greenpeace said its investigation pointed to a wider problem among the industry which is being ignored by the [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil], which only investigated member companies who had been named in the media, not all member companies in the Sumatran region.
‘Rather than claiming the innocence of members who’ve been reported in the media, the RSPO needs to address the real problem – years of peatland drainage and destruction which is labelled “sustainable” under RSPO rules and has laid the foundation for these disastrous fires,’ said [Greenpeace’s Bustar] Maitar.”

Taking sides
The Azerbaijan Press Agency reports that the Azeri government is accusing France and Germany of violating an arms embargo by selling anti-tank missiles to Armenia:

“The embassies of the aforementioned countries in Azerbaijan were demanded to clarify how these countries that imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to the conflicting parties could deliver these systems to Armenia.

France and Germany announce that in connection with the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, they are not selling weapons and military vehicles to Azerbaijan and Armenia and have imposed an embargo on this.”

Biofuels shift
Inter Press Service reports that changes to EU regulations on biofuels are eliciting mixed reviews from anti-poverty activists:

“ ‘From the point of view of the climate, this result is unexpectedly positive: from now on only truly sustainable biofuels will be subsidized,’ Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam International’s biofuel expert, told IPS.
‘But as far as food security is concerned, the result is outright negative. Last year the Commission proposed 5 percent to protect the existing industry while blocking its expansion. Everything higher than this percentage is unjustifiable. It signifies a subsidised growth of the sector, resulting in more speculation on land and food, causing more food insecurity and hunger.’ ”

Pharma bribes
The BBC reports that “senior executives” of the UK’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, are under investigation in China over alleged corruption:

“They are being investigated for bribery and tax-related violations, said the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
They are suspected of offering bribes to officials and doctors in an attempt to boost sales in the country.

‘The case involves many people, the duration of time is long, the amount of money involved is huge and the criminal activities are malicious,’ the ministry said.”

New wealth measure
The Alternative Development and Research Center’s Prahlad Shekhawat welcomes the UN Development Programme’s adoption of a “more inclusive” way of calculating wealth:

“[The Human Development Report 2013] includes both the amount of human well-being that countries generate as measured by the Human Development Index, as well as the level of resource demand and consumption as measured by the Ecological Footprint. It is a big step forward that a leading UN agency has now offered a strategy for alternative development. Earlier versions of the report only included Ecological Footprint outcomes in the background data.
The United Nations HDI is an indicator of human development that measures a country’s achievements in the areas of life expectancy, education, and income. The Ecological Footprint measures a people’s demand on nature and can be compared to available biocapacity. The HDI-Footprint, using simple indicators, prominently reveals how far removed the world is from achieving sustainable development.”

Ethical stain
The British Medical Association’s Eleanor Chrispin and Vivienne Nathanson write that doctors are “increasingly among those expressing concern” about the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison:

“This year’s annual representative meeting of the BMA condemned the participation of doctors and nurses in force feeding, branding it a ‘stain on medical ethics.’ In doing so, the BMA added its voice to that of the American Medical Association, which denounced the practice in a letter to the secretary of defense of the United States, and in a BMJ editorial. Individual doctors on both sides of the Atlantic have publicly expressed their alarm. While the US authorities continue to pursue a medically supervised regime of force feeding, the more insistent the medical community’s protests will become.
The forced enteral feeding of competent adults, protesting at being held without charge, is a human rights issue. The use of doctors and nurses as instruments to violate detainees’ fundamental rights is an issue of both human rights and medical ethics.”

Drone questions
The BBC reports that British MPs will hold an “inquiry” into the country’s policy on armed drones:

“MPs will examine the UK’s deployment of armed drones and the legal

The Defence Committee will look at the lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan as well as the constraints on the use of drones in the UK and overseas.
MPs will also investigate the future potential for unmanned aerial vehicles, and what capabilities the UK will seek to develop between now and 2020.”

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Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Chemical danger
Reuters reports that the UN is warning of growing health and environmental damage caused by the “increasing misuse of chemicals”:

“Poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to more than a million deaths every year, [the UN Environment Programme] said in a statement of its Global Chemicals Outlook.

Scientists have only assessed the risks of using a fraction of an estimated 140,000 chemicals marketed worldwide, in everything from plastics to pesticides, UNEP said.

The study also said rich nations are failing to recycle electronic waste, such as from old computers or television sets.
‘Estimates suggest that up to 75 per cent of the e-waste generated in Europe and approximately 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in the United States goes unaccounted for,’ it said.”

Behind closed doors
Amnesty International is calling on negotiators of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to ensure intellectual property provisions “adhere to core principles of transparency and uphold human rights”:

“Specifically, leaked TPP draft text neglects protections for fair use and standard judicial guarantees – such as the presumption of innocence – and includes copyright provisions that could compromise free speech on the internet and access to educational materials.
Moreover, draft TPP provisions related to patents for pharmaceuticals risk stifling the development and production of generic medicines, by strengthening and deepening monopoly protections.”

Charter cities
The Guardian reports that Honduras is about to embark on “one of the world’s most radical neo-liberal economic experiments” by establishing new settlements designed to attract foreign investment:

“The Central American nation hopes the plan for model development zones, which will have their own laws, tax system, judiciary and police, will emulate the economic success of city states such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
But even as the government signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with a group of international investors on Tuesday, opponents tried to lodge a suit at the supreme court for the arrangement to be declared illegal because the ‘state within a state’ risked undermining national laws, sidestepping labour rights, worsening inequality and creating a modern-day enclave that impinged upon the territory of indigenous groups.”

Universal means universal
Save the Children’s Alex Cobham writes about the proposed Framework Convention on Global Health that aims to “ensure health coverage for all”:

“[Researchers] have calculated, for example, that collectively, health inequalities between countries result in around 20 million lives lost each year (i.e. this is the size of the gap between outcomes in high-income and other countries), and that this has held over the last 20 years. This is roughly one third of all deaths over the period…
The fourth of ten points in the post-2015 document, in full, is this:
4. ‘Universal’ as universal: ‘Universal’ must be truly universal. No population should be
excluded because of legal or other status (e.g., undocumented immigrants, stateless people). Similarly, universal should entail 100% population coverage. Less than truly universal coverage as a goal may enable countries to forego the efforts required to ensure coverage for the most difficult-to-reach populations, who are often the most marginalized.

Business-lobby victory
Southern Illinois University’s Mike Koehler, a.k.a. the FCPA Professor, writes that US regulators have adopted a more business-friendly definition of “foreign officials” in new rules pertaining to overseas corporate behaviour:

“By so concluding, not only did the [Securities and Exchange Commission] quietly adopt a [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] reform proposal advanced by the Chamber [of Commerce], but it also contradicted an enforcement theory at issue in several of its prior FCPA actions.

With the SEC’s conclusion in its Section 1504 final rules that a company owned by a foreign government is a company that is at least majority-owned by a foreign government, the SEC will be hard pressed to allege in future FCPA enforcement actions that an entity with less than 50% foreign government ownership or control is an instrumentality of a foreign government and that its employees are ‘foreign officials’ under the FCPA.”

Unhealthy speech
Inspired by two contrasting court decisions on tobacco packaging in Australia and the US, Princeton University’s Peter Singer calls for laws that “level the playing field between individuals and giant corporations”:

“Whether to prohibit cigarettes altogether is another question, because doing so would no doubt create a new revenue source for organized crime. It seems odd, however, to hold that the state may, in principle, prohibit the sale of a product, but may not permit it to be sold only in packs that carry graphic images of the damage it causes to human health.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 100 million people died from smoking in the twentieth century, but smoking will kill up to one billion people in the twenty-first century.”

Inhumane laws
Human Rights Watch’s Ricardo Sandoval-Palos argues that US immigration laws lead to serious rights violations:

“Is it really in the United States’ interest to have policies generating such a level of fear among unauthorized immigrants that sexual violence or other abuses go unreported?
The United States government is entitled to regulate immigration. But it must do so in a fair manner that respects internationally recognized human rights standards—values the U.S. claims to promote and respect.”

Not easy being green
Reuters reports that US-based Herakles Capital has withdrawn its application for membership of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil following complaints over its project in Cameroon:

“Kuala Lumpur-based certification body RSPO said in a statement on Tuesday that Herakles had issued a written withdrawal of its application on Aug. 24, before the organisation could check the allegations made against the firm.

Greenpeace and other organisations had filed a complaint with RSPO alleging that Herakles’ project violated Cameroonian laws. The groups also said the area earmarked for the plantation was in a biodiversity hotspot and ‘would disrupt the ecological landscape and migration routes of protected species.’ ”