Latest Developments, April 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Into Africa
Stars and Stripes reports that the US is sending 550 marines to Spain to serve as an Africa-focused “crisis reaction force”:

“[Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos] said the unit, which will serve the needs of U.S. Africa Command boss Gen. David Rodriguez, also could eventually be repositioned on the African continent if U.S. diplomatic officials make such an arrangement.
‘Right now, they’re temporarily going to Morón, Spain, as a placeholder,’ Amos said during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. ‘I think they are going to move sometime. It wouldn’t surprise me to find them moving around the African continent.’ ”

Calling a spade a spade
The CBC reports that former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin has said that the country’s residential schools made “use of education for cultural genocide”:

“The residential school system existed from the 1870s until the 1990s and saw about 150,000 native youth taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of ‘civilizing’ First Nations.
Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide or died fleeing their schools. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools.”

Phantom companies
Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne welcomes the German, French and UK governments’ calls for the disclosure of the “true owners of companies and trusts”:

“GFI studies estimate that anonymous shell companies and tax haven secrecy facilitate the illegal outflow of roughly $1 trillion from developing countries every year, exacerbating poverty and instability.

‘It’s fantastic to see the three largest economies in Europe endorse eliminating anonymous shell companies,’ [GFI Director Raymond] Baker remarked. ‘France, Germany, and the UK are demonstrating real leadership. The rest of Europe should join them to put an end to these terrible phantom firms.’ ”

New mission
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has approved the establishment of a peacekeeping mission for Mali called MINUSMA, comprising a force of 12,600 with backup from the French military:

“French forces would be able to intervene to support MINUSMA when peacekeepers are ‘under imminent and serious threat and upon the request of the secretary-general,’ according to the resolution.
Russia said on Thursday it was alarmed that there was a growing shift towards a ‘force aspect’ within U.N. peacekeeping operations after the council last month created a special combat force within its peacekeeping mission in Congo to carry out ‘targeted offensive operations’ to neutralize armed groups.
‘There must be a clear division between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. This is why we believe that the mandate of MINUSMA does not provide for offensive operations,’ Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote.”

Old mission
The Associated Press reports that the UN security council voted to maintain MINURSO, the 22 year-old peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, after the US dropped its proposal that a new mandate include human rights monitoring:

“In a report to the Security Council last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the camps” for Saharan refugees because of continuing reports of rights violations.
The United States, following up on the report, proposed having the UN monitor human rights in the resolution it drafted to extend the mandate of UN peacekeepers.

Diplomats said that when the U.S. presented its draft resolution to the Friends of Western Sahara group, which includes Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Spain and Switzerland, there were strong objections from France so the U.S. dropped the human rights monitoring provision.”

American stain
A New York Times editorial calls Guantanamo Bay “essentially a political prison” that should never have been opened:

“It was nothing more than Mr. Bush’s attempt to evade accountability by placing prisoners in another country. The courts rejected that ploy, but Mr. Bush never bothered to fix the problem. Now, shockingly, the Pentagon is actually considering spending $200 million for improvements and expansions clearly aimed at a permanent operation.

Just as hunger strikes at the infamous Maze Prison in Northern Ireland indelibly stained Britain’s human rights record, so Guantánamo stains America’s.”

Plundering Africa
EurActiv reports on a new study revealing the complicity of European Banks and tax havens in the “plundering” of Angola in the 1990s:

“Millions of dollars were transferred through banks based in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cyprus, the Netherlands, the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man to the benefit of powerful Angolan and Russian figures, the report shows.

[Corruption Watch UK’s Andrew Feinstein] added that it was because of the facilitating role of banks, tax havens and the veil provided by front companies that national resources were stolen from the poorest citizens with impunity.
Feinstein’s report makes several recommendations to Angola, Switzerland, the EU and its member states, and the financial sector to initiate investigations and take legal measures to prevent wrongdoing. In particular, he recommends that the EU’s accounting directive, which will require reporting of payments to governments in the extractive and forestry sector, be extended to include the banking sector.”

Fair trade fashion
In the wake of the building collapse that killed hundreds of workers making clothes for Western brands in Bangladesh, the Guardian’s Susanna Rustin expresses frustration that “applying even the most modest ethical criteria is ridiculously hard” for consumers:

“The Rana Plaza collapse is all the more distressing because it seems to have been avoidable. Consumers can’t prevent such tragedies. Governments and NGOs must apply pressure, both to the retailers responsible for the people who make their clothes, and to those in charge of regulating them. But until we can be more confident that workers’ lives are not being endangered, we must start to be more curious about where our clothes come from. Some of us are wearing clothes sewn by those killed this week in Dhaka.”

Latest Developments, April 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Mine on hold
The Globe and Mail reports that a Chilean court has ordered Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold to suspend construction on its “massive” Pascua-Lama project:

“Barrick stock fell 8.6 per cent to a new 52-week low of $24.81 per share on Wednesday after the appeals court said Pascua-Lama should be halted as it reviewed complaints by local communities that the project is polluting groundwater and rivers in the Atacama desert region, one of the driest areas on earth.

A court source in Chile told Reuters that the appeal could take several months, and the dispute will probably end up in the Chilean Supreme Court.

Set at about 5,500 metres above sea level, the project is being built at the peak of the Andes mountain range between Chile and Argentina and is at once lauded as an engineering feat and decried as an environmental scar on ancient and pristine glaciers.”

War without borders
Radio France Internationale reports that France’s three-month old military operations in Mali could spill over into other African countries:

“ ‘We can’t think “Mali.” We have to think “Sahel” and beyond,’ said a French general. ‘Armed groups are going to operate from other countries in the region. In Libya alone, there are nearly 300 katibas. We made the jihadis’ GPS boxes talk and found frequent return trips between the Adrar des Ifoghas and southwestern Libya via the Salvador Pass in northern Niger. What’s more, we overheard conversations at the start of our operation in which al-Shabaab in Somalia offered to help al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

Pakistan’s 99 percent
Foreign Policy’s John Hudson expresses concern over the recent revelation that 98.8 percent of people killed by US drones in Pakistan during the 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al-Qaeda leaders:

“Some advocates of the drone program trust the administration’s judgment, and feel that the White House deeming targets dangerous — even if they had no association with al Qaeda — is sufficient. But for others, the McClatchy report may only confirm allegations that terror suspects are killed with an insufficient degree of background information and oversight.”

A lesser form of justice
The Washington Post reports that senior commanders in the US military could soon lose their “virtually unlimited authority to reduce or overturn” court-martial verdicts:

“Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, commended [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel but said the Pentagon needed to further reduce the power of senior commanders over the military justice system and give more authority to prosecutors and judges.
‘Unless pretrial decision making around investigation and prosecution of offenses is also removed from the hands of commanders and given to impartial prosecutors, military criminal justice will remain a lesser form of justice,’ she said.”

Who’s Dramane?
MaliWeb reports that Mali’s largest political party has picked Dramane Dembélé, a man who has worked for a number of foreign mining companies, as its presidential candidate in the national election scheduled for July:

“A mining consultant, he was national director of Geology and Mines from 2005 to 2010, head of a Mali-European Investment Bank mining project in 2004, and exploration geologist for private companies, such as CMCX, Barrick Gold and Pangea Goldfield.” [Translated from the French.]

Beyond MDGs
The Guardian reports that a group of European think tanks have said eradicating global poverty will require a broader approach than that of the Millennium Development Goals, which are set to expire in 2015:

“The report called on richer countries to collaborate in areas important to development such as international financial regulation, trade, migration and climate change. In a message to the EU in particular, the report called on member states to live up to the principle of policy coherence on development (PCD).
‘The concept of PCD is central, since it implies that all policies, and not merely development co-operation, should be conducive to development, eg policies in the areas of trade and investment or agriculture and fisheries should promote (or at the very least not thwart) development,’ said the report.”

Majority rules
Drawing on her recent experience of the Arms Trade Treaty talks, Oxfam’s Anna Macdonald argues that requiring consensus for international agreements is a recipe for paralysis:

“The requirement to reach consensus is in principle a means of protecting the rights and voices of even the smallest countries. It’s what can enable small island states and other vulnerable countries to stand their ground in the U.N. climate change negotiations. But too often the consensus rule works to protect the powerful, not the powerless. Big powers love consensus because it gives them veto power.

In a sudden about-face, the United States, the government that had insisted on consensus as the condition for its support throughout the [ATT] negotiating process, switched to calling for a vote as soon a possible.

This may not mean the United States now supports the majority process – but changing horses during the race meant the Americans could use the consensus process to get the text they wanted and then, by supporting the resolution [to take any blocked text to the General Assembly], they could ensure it went to a vote and passed.”

10 minutes
Transparency International drives home just how simple it can be for individuals to set up shell companies “in spite of global regulatory restrictions”:

“In fact, anyone with access to the internet can set up an offshore company. It takes about 10 minutes and consists of little more than a few sheets of paper and a few thousand dollars. This makes it too easy for corrupt individuals to hide their ill-gotten gains.”

Latest Developments, February 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Onshore havens
The Economist points out that many tax havens are not actually offshore and argues that efforts to rein in financial abuses must “focus on rich-world financial centres as well as Caribbean islands”:

“Mr Obama likes to cite Ugland House, a building in the Cayman Islands that is officially home to 18,000 companies, as the epitome of a rigged system. But Ugland House is not a patch on Delaware (population 917,092), which is home to 945,000 companies, many of which are dodgy shells. Miami is a massive offshore banking centre, offering depositors from emerging markets the sort of protection from prying eyes that their home countries can no longer get away with. The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules. British shell companies and limited-liability partnerships regularly crop up in criminal cases. London is no better than the Cayman Islands when it comes to controls against money laundering. Other European Union countries are global hubs for a different sort of tax avoidance: companies divert profits to brass-plate subsidiaries in low-tax Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands.”

Mining transparency
Reuters reports that the Guinean government has made its mining contracts public, dating back to independence, as it tries to reinvent the country’s extractive sector:

“The government is also overhauling the country’s mining code and has set up a technical committee to review existing accords, all of which are now published online on a new government website.
Guinean officials have said many of the contracts were signed under non-transparent conditions especially during the rule of a military junta before Conde’s 2010 election. The government says such accords do not benefit the country.

‘Guinea’s action is a model for other countries and demonstrates that making contracts public is possible even in challenging environments,’ Patrick Heller, senior legal adviser at Revenue Watch said in the statement.”

Assassination court
A New York Times editorial lends its weight to the idea of setting up a US court that would determine if terror suspects belong on kill lists as a way of moving toward “bringing national security policy back under the rule of law”:

“ ‘Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,’ Senator Angus King Jr. of Maine said at the [CIA boss nominee John] Brennan hearing. ‘If you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside-of-the-executive-branch body, like the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court], in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant.’ ”

Mining freeze
According to Colombia Reports, a Colombian judge ordered the suspension of all mining activities in an area of nearly 50,000 hectares due to the companies’ lack of prior consultation with local indigenous populations:

“ ‘[This decision] only seeks to prevent the continued violation of the rights of indigenous peoples on their territory [arising from] disproportionate use by people outside the community, and the violence that has been occurring in the area, of which there is much evidence,’ said the judge.

While indigenous communities have a constitutional right to be consulted on the use of their land, the judge did not declare the mining concessions illegal but ordered the suspension to protect indigenous communities while the legality of the titles is determined. Some of the licenses held by the mining companies for the area reportedly do not expire until 2038 and 2041.”

Airport immolation
Agence France-Presse reports that an Ivorian deportee has been hospitalized in serious condition after setting himself on fire at Rome’s Fiumicino airport:

“He had been ordered to present himself to border police at the airport for expulsion from Italy.
The man used a fuel tank and was seen being carried away in a stretcher, wrapped in a fire blanket.”

Dangerous trend
Human Rights Watch’s Benjamin Ward argues that “hatred and intolerance are moving into the mainstream in Europe” and action is required to stem the tide:

“Too often, mainstream European politicians use intolerant or coded language about unpopular minorities. They justify such speech on the ground that the failure to discuss issues like immigration creates political space for extremist parties. But far from neutralizing extremist parties, this kind of rhetoric from government ministers and other mainstream politicians instead legitimizes their views, sending a message to voters that xenophobic, anti-Muslim, or anti-Roma sentiment is acceptable rather than a cause for shame.
Human Rights Watch staff witnessed a Greek MP from a mainstream party describe migrants as ‘cockroaches’ during a Greek Parliamentary committee hearing in November on violence against migrants.”

Immodest claims
In a letter to the Guardian, an ambulance medic takes exception to the idea that banking executives make a “modest” wage for the work they do:

“A multimillion-pound pay packet for a banker’s success or failure is not ‘modest’. We take home in a gruelling year of real blood, sweat and tears what [RBS CEO] Stephen Hester earns in six days. I wish that those who earn such sums would realise that their renumeration is not right. Perhaps they should not apply terms to themselves like ‘I have one of the hardest jobs in the world’ (Fred the Shred) until they see what others do on a fraction of their wage. What comes out of their mouths undermines millions of hard working people in this country. If an ambulance turned up to one of their children severely injured on a country road, would we seem only worth £15 an hour? As they watched as we fought for their child’s life, far from back up and hospital facilities, would they reconsider the value of jobs that do not make a profit?
Would they consider our wages modest as they apply this term to their own? Modest is a powerful word and has to be earned.”

Latest Developments, November 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder argues that over the past decade, “there has been very little overall progress in the policies of rich countries which affect prospects in poor countries”:

“But people from developing countries are clear that development policy today must mean more than giving aid. With growing economic success, they want to benefit more from the resources and services which they supply to the world. They do not want aid as compensation for global trade rules which are stacked against them: they want the rules changed. They do not want merely to be compensated for the damage done to the environment by industrialised countries; they want the destruction of our shared planet to stop.

Aid agencies and campaigners make a powerful case for increases in aid, and for improving its quality. But many have neglected the other issues which developing countries are increasingly demanding must be addressed and which are likely to be at least as important. This paralysis in the face of a changing agenda should come as no surprise. All aid agencies have to spend their budget wisely and avoid waste (or worse). But working to improve the policies on fisheries, patents or tax is always discretionary, however important it might be. Nobody in the government department responsible for these policies will complain if the development ministry leaves them alone. The people who stand to lose are in developing countries: and they have no voice and no vote when these priorities are set.”

US exceptionalism
The Hill reports that US President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill that will exempt US airlines from EU carbon fees:

“The White House had been under pressure from environmental groups to veto the bill. Those advocates want Obama to address climate change more forcefully in his second term, and said the emissions bill provided an opportunity to chart a new course.

‘However, there is a silver lining here — the administration has appointed high level representatives to pursue a global solution for aviation and climate,’ [the World Wildlife Fund’s Keya] Chatterjee said. ‘The White House now must endorse a global, market-based measure to rein in carbon pollution from aviation. If they do, we are optimistic that the U.S. can work with [International Civil Aviation Organization] to develop a package of policies that will reduce our share of global emissions.’ ”

Right to development
350.org’s Bill McKibben, the Environmental Rights Action’s Nnimmo Bassey and Focus on the Global South’s Pablo Solon call the COP 18 climate talks currently underway in Doha “the time to act for the future of humanity and Nature”:

“Rich countries who have poured most of the carbon into the atmosphere (especially the planet’s sole superpower) need to take the lead in emission reductions and the emerging economies have also to make commitments to reduce the exploitation of oil, coal and gas. The right to development should be understood as the obligation of the states to guarantee the basic needs of the population to enjoy a fulfilled and happy life, and not as a free ticket for a consumer and extractivist society that doesn’t take into account the limits of the planet and the wellbeing of all humans.”

Killer fashion
Al Jazeera provides a roundup of the global clothing lines who were customers of the Bangladeshi garment factory where a fire killed “at least 110 people” over the weekend:

“Survivors and witnesses told AFP that workers, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which supplied clothes to international brands including Walmart, European chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company.
Order books and clothing found at the site show the company was also making clothing for Disney Pixar, Sears and other Western brands.
The Associated Press news agency reports that blue and off-white shorts from ENYCE, the label now owned by Hip Hop mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, were piled and stacked in cartons on the floor.”

Pipeline colonialism
A First Nations group in Canada’s westernmost province has issued a letter to “the illegitimate colonial governments of Canada and British Columbia, and to all parties involved in the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline project” warning against attempts to bring a natural gas pipeline through their territory:

“Under Wet’suwet’en law, the people of these lands have an inalienable right to their traditional territories, and the right to defend it. Even by Canadian law, the Supreme Court Dalgamuukw case decision explicitly recognizes the authority of hereditary chiefs, not elected Indian Act bands or councils. As such, any further unauthorized incursion into traditional Wet’suwet’en territory will be considered an act of colonialism, and an act of aggression towards our sovereignty.”

Tackling offshoring
Global Witness’s Rosie Sharpe argues that the opacity of the global financial system is a major contributor to the perpetuation of poverty:

“Why don’t Congolese citizens know who bought the rights to six of their country’s best copper and cobalt mines? Because they were bought by anonymous firms registered in the British Virgin Islands. And, what’s more, these companies bought them at a snip – in some cases just a 20th of their estimated value – and then sold some of them on for much, much more. Someone pocketed a fortune, but hidden company ownership means neither we, nor Congolese citizens, can know who.

If we want to make poverty history, we have to make corruption history. And if we want to make corruption history, we have to make anonymous companies history. Global Witness has been calling for the names of the true, beneficial owners of companies and other corporate vehicles to be made public. Nominee directors and shareholders should have to declare themselves as such and say who they’re working for.”

Minimum tax
Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett makes the case for a minimum tax on America’s wealthiest people:

“I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.”