Latest Developments, October 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Hunting W
Amnesty International is calling on Canada to arrest former US president George W. Bush when he visits the country next week.
“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former President Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” according to AI’s Susan Lee.
“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former President Bush to justice, the international community must step in.  A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights.”

Enforcing neutrality
The Associated Press reports the Swiss government has proposed a new law that would impose a number of restrictions on private security companies based in the country, including preventing them from taking part in foreign conflicts.
“The bill was prompted by the decision of Aegis, one of the world’s biggest private security contractors, to set up a Swiss holding company in 2010. Such holding companies are explicitly included in the proposal, meaning Aegis would have to report its activities to Swiss authorities if the bill is passed.”

A prescription for helping Africa
The UN News Centre reports Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro believes that although aid is still important for Africa, the continent’s needs also include improved market access for its exports, affordable access to foreign technologies and “more policy space” for its countries to chart their own paths.
“‘However, what Africa needs most, is to be recognized as a new investment frontier – where the returns are among the highest in the world,’ she said, noting that the continent has some of the largest known reserves of mineral resources including diamonds and gold; growing oil potential as Ghana and Uganda join the list of exporters; and the largest amount of unexploited arable land, a strategic asset in a world where food crises are becoming recurrent.

The dangers of foreign capital
On the other hand, the UN Development Programme’s Selim Jahan argues that both rich and poor countries must do more to reduce the latter’s over-reliance on foreign capital in order to reduce their vulnerability to global economic shocks.
“For instance, countries can reduce their dependency on exports by recalibrating growth strategies away from a narrow range of exports and by boosting demand from domestic sources. The international community can help reduce the susceptibility of developing countries to volatile commodity prices with the development of new international commodity agreements or funds to compensate countries for the loss in income due to falling prices.”

A call for decency, if not fairness
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead resists the temptation to project her cause – global tax reform – onto the Occupy Wall Street protestors, arguing instead that they stand for something far more fundamental: decency.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement doesn’t have pithy slogans, quick sayings, or easy solutions because it isn’t about any one problem. It isn’t about offshore finance, or bailouts, or CEO pay, or tax evasion. All of these events are the symptoms of an underlying problem—the status quo. It is a status quo that allows 25% of the FTSE 100′s subsidiaries to lie in tax havens. The status quo that allows the same person to hold both positions of CEO and president of the board. That allows Warren Buffet to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. And that allows the average American to earn 1/10,800th of the average Forbes 400 earner.”

A very low bar
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests, given “the west has systematically ruined Haiti’s chances of emerging from destitution,” it might be time for traditional donors to “humbly walk away” and see if other nations can do more good for a devastated country that is still in need of assistance.
“Not that there is any space for naivety about south-south solidarity. Big brothers such as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela may well engage in the right kind of rhetoric, but there are internal pressures in these countries to act in their own interests rather than Haiti’s – especially on agricultural issues – just as the west has always done. After all, Brazil instigated Minustah in its attempt to look important enough for a permanent security council seat, although it quickly became a Washington-directed intervention. It is not, then, geography that matters, but politics and attitude.
Nevertheless, these countries have also suffered exploitation at various points in their history. They are therefore more likely to understand what is going on and less likely to engage in it. Will they do any better? They can hardly do any worse.”

Afghan minerals
Global Witness’s Eleanor Nichol calls for cautious planning regarding Afghanistan’s huge mineral wealth which has the potential to lift the country’s people out of poverty and end its dependence on foreign aid or could become “a fresh axis of conflict and instability.”
“This means embedding clear processes for the award of extractive concessions; requiring extractive companies to disclose revenue paid to the state on a project-by-project basis; setting up sound legal, regulatory and contractual frameworks that safeguard social, environmental and human rights; publishing beneficial ownership details of companies engaged in the sector; and ensuring Afghans are consulted on, and can monitor, mining activities.”

Paying taxes for selfish reasons
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues it is actually in the best interests of transnational companies to integrate tax policy into their approach to corporate social responsibility.
“Research has shown that direct investors in low income countries tend to value political stability, the rule of law and human capital more than effective tax rates when deciding whether to invest. Sufficient, predictable tax revenue is needed to foster all of these conditions. High public investment is something companies need but some are not prepared to pay for.”

Latest Developments, September 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid grump
Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson offers a summary of a recent interview with New York University’s Bill Easterly whom he describes as an “aid grump.”
“The historical record is pretty clear that success in development comes from people doing development themselves. Outsiders can help in modest ways, such as in a response to a disaster. But there’s no evidence aid can become the main engine of development to transform the Third World into the First World, poverty to prosperity.”

The evolution of philanthropreneurs
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to some of the highlights – mainly to do with taxation of the extractive industries, tobacco and transportation, as well as thoughts on how to tap into migrant worker remittances and sovereign wealth funds – of a leaked preview to the report Bill Gates will present to the G20 later this year.
“Does Bill Gates’ protagonism mark a further shift of the big philanthropreneurs (and their foundations) from an insistence on sticking to the relatively straightforward world of ‘stuf’ (vaccines, infrastructure, seeds, microfinance) to the more complex business of influencing systems and policies, which are every bit as crucial to development? Hope so.”

Anti-depression
Another billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, prescribes some measures he believes Europe must undertake in order to avoid triggering “another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences.”
“Three bold steps are needed. First, the governments of the eurozone must agree in principle on a new treaty creating a common treasury for the eurozone. In the meantime, the major banks must be put under the direction of the European Central Bank in exchange for a temporary guarantee and permanent recapitalization. Third, the ECB would enable countries such as Italy and Spain temporarily to refinance their debt at a very low cost.”

Panic tax
The Institute of Development Studies’ Lawrence Haddad suggests the Financial Transactions (or Tobin or Robin Hood) Tax just proposed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso might not be as effective a tool against market volatility as a “a Panic Tax, the Tobin Tax’s first cousin.”
“The Panic Tax…does not tax the level of financial transactions, but the speed at which they occur.
This gets at Tobin’s original concern directly and deals with the dangers introduced by High Frequency Traders.”

CSR Binarism
The Institute for Human Rights and Business’s John Morrison expresses concern, in a letter to the Financial Times, that British Labour leader Ed Miliband has too simplistic a view of companies as being either good or bad.
“Company structures are value-neutral creations; it is the actions that business takes that have positive or negative impacts. What is needed is an undertaking from current or future UK governments also to intervene when an otherwise acceptable company does a very bad thing – such as the decision by Vodafone to close its Egyptian network at the end of January this year when its customers were most at need.”

Roma evictions
Human Rights Watch has condemned what it describes as “mass evictions and expulsions of Eastern European Roma” by the French government and the apparent indifference of European authorities.
“The European Commission gave France the all-clear, but the situation for Roma in France has only grown worse,” according to Human Rights Watch researcher Judith Sunderland. “It’s vital for the commission to renew its scrutiny of these abusive practices, which breach EU and human rights law.”

Irregular arrivals
Embassy Magazine reports that with Canada’s Conservative government now holding a majority of seats in parliament, the fight against a proposed toughening of the country’s immigration laws looks set to move to the courts, spearheaded by the newly formed Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“The bill defines human smuggling as an offence and sets out tough penalties. But the bill also lets the immigration minister designate an ‘irregular arrival’ of a group of people to Canada, whose members may be arrested without a warrant and detained for at least a year, unless their claim has been resolved or they get special permission from the minister.
Some refugee lawyers have said this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, in Section 7 guarantees the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person except ‘in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’”

Dangerous schlock
Foreign Policy’s Brett Keller is not a fan of the new film Machine Gun Preacher which he describes as “Hollywood’s latest take on the ‘white man saves Africa’ theme,” possibly a pack of lies and quite probably dangerous.
“But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: ‘We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we’re trying to help at greater risk, too…. Every time [Childers] puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot.’”

Latest Developments, September 22

In today’s latest news and analysis…

MDG blind spot
The Institute of Development Studies’ Richard Jolly offers some suggestions for reducing inequality, a problem he says is destructive for societies as a whole and is “largely overlooked” by the Millennium Development Goals.
“Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

The price of secrecy
Reuters reports on the tax deal signed by Germany and Switzerland that would allow the former to collect more tax revenue and the latter to maintain its banking secrecy.
“This goes against European Union efforts to clamp down on banking secrecy and has prompted strong objections.
‘This quasi-tax amnesty is not only morally abject but also crazy from a fiscal policy viewpoint,’ Germany’s main union federation, DGB, said in a statement on Wednesday.
‘Tax evaders may remain anonymous and are even rewarded retrospectively and legalised,’ it said.”

Tax dodging
Christian Aid is worried that G20 officials preparing the agenda for November’s summit intend to “water down” efforts to tackle tax avoidance in poor countries.
“This would be a scandal. Tax dodging by some unscrupulous companies costs poor countries more than they receive in aid. In fact, it’s one of the biggest single factors keeping people poor.
The G20 acknowledges this, and has previously committed to help governments collect tax revenue to fund development.”

Teaching peace
Medical doctor and Independent blogger Sima Barmania chose World Peace Day to ask if peace is actually possible.
“There are indeed a ‘lot of nutters’ out there – but a significant part of their attitudes have been shaped by culture, education, and other socializing processes,” according to the US-based National Peace Academy’s Tony Jenkins. “Peace education – and how we facilitate it – plays a big role.”

Cameron the action hero
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister David Cameron celebrated the NATO intervention in Libya and suggested the UN must engage in less talk and more action.
“You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?
The UN has to show that we can be not just united in condemnation, but united in action, acting in a way that lives up to the UN’s founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere…
The United Nations played a vital role authorising international action. 
But let’s be clear the United Nations is no more effective than the nation states that come together to enforce its will.”

Western intervention
British author Dan Hind interviews fellow-writer Greg Muttitt on Western intervention and the problem with trying to shape a post-conflict Libya without much understanding of the country’s culture and history.
“We should watch out for Western interpretations about what Libyan society is like. It is in the West’s interests for the Libyan political class to be weak and isolated, so it can be easily influenced from outside. That doesn’t mean that officials and generals have to sit down and work out a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. But everyone is tempted to see things in terms that suit their interests. Western policy-makers are no exception. There’s ample evidence of that in recent history,” according to Muttitt.

Land rush
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes about a new Oxfam report entitled Land and Power that relates specific cases, such as the forced evictions of over 20,000 Ugandans to make way for the UK’s New Forests Company, to draw attention to the issue of foreign interests buying up African land.
“It’s not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations. Investors, no matter how noble they purport to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from,” according to Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

Hunger as disaster
Hunger, which affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide and whose causes and possible solutions “go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system,” is the focus of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ new World Disasters Report 2011.
“The traditional, mainly Western-dominated approach to defining the world’s problems and solutions will weaken as new, more fluid configurations of state and non-state actors complicate the process by which collective action will be taken to deal with global issues. The power dynamics of the humanitarian sector – to date, a largely Western construct – will also change as greater capacity and stronger political clout emerge from other regions. At the same time, the growing primacy of state sovereignty around the world will determine the limits of humanitarian intervention and the approaches that will be tolerated by governments.” (p.183)

Open letter on Somalia
Oxfam presents a summary of the bullet points contained in an open letter it signed, along with 19 other NGOs, calling for Somalia’s belligerents and the international community to set aside their differences for the sake of those suffering from the country’s famine.
“The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.”

iProtest
Al Jazeera reports on the efforts of activist Debby Chan to investigate reports of safety and labour rights violations after a series of suicides by workers at the Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn.
“As consumers we should ask ourselves how certain products are made …. Corporate social responsibility is always window-dressing measures without enforcement mechanisms and remedies for workers. So the only way to stop labour rights violations is through campaigning. We hope that more consumers can pressure Apple and Foxconn,” according to Chan.