Latest Developments, September 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
In a speech entitled “Beyond Aid,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick argued wealthy countries have not yet adapted to a rapidly emerging multipolar world and continue to take a “do what I say, not what I do” approach to international relations.
“In a world Beyond Aid, sound G7 economic policies would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP. In a world Beyond Aid, G-20 agreements on imbalances, on structural reforms, or on fossil fuel subsidies and food security, would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP.”

Self-interested aid
Looking into the Canadian International Development Agency’s near future, the McLeod Group’s Stephen Brown and Ian Smillie see funding cuts and shifting priorities that have little to do with improving the lives of the poor in other countries.
“For instance, as Canada winds down its military involvement in Afghanistan, the Canadian International Development Agency will be “normalizing” aid to a level comparable to its 19 other “countries of focus.” This confirms a poorly-kept secret: aid to Afghanistan was always more about Canadians, candy and Kandahar than about sustainable long-term development.”

Resource curse
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead says the so-called resource curse is too often seen as a problem for the countries with said resources to resolve on their own.
“Above, I said the resource curse is “seemingly” an issue of national jurisdiction. That deserves some explanation. Governance itself is an issue of national jurisdiction, but the extractive industry that drives the supply of these resources is not. Most of these companies are, in fact, American and European and—therefore—are accountable to the governments of America and Europe. It is these companies, with their corrupt practices and lack of accountability, that facilitate the embezzlement and revenue misappropriation, which directly contribute to the resource curse.”

Population
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed takes exception to arguments pinning poverty, hunger and climate change on population growth.
“Climate change is not a population problem.  It’s a consumption problem.  People in rich countries, where population is static or falling, consume many hundreds of times more carbon than people in the poor countries where population is still rising.  Let’s start with the problem we have now – consumption in rich countries – rather than worrying about some hypothetical future when everyone in Mali has a washing machine and two cars.”

Drones
University of Ottawa political scientist Roland Paris calls for the establishment of clear international rules regulating the use of drones before the technology becomes widespread.
“The U.S. seems to be taking the opposite course, extending its drone campaign to countries far removed from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan – including Yemen and Somalia – and using rules of engagement that are, at best, obscure and, at worst, illegal.
This is a dangerously short-sighted strategy. While execution by drone may appear to be a relatively low-cost and low-risk option for dealing with America’s enemies, it legitimizes methods that other countries may be expected to follow once they acquire similar capabilities.”

Mercenaries
The UN News Centre reports a UN panel has called for tighter regulation of private military and security companies “by both host and contributor countries” in order to reduce the risk of human rights violations and to ensure accountability when abuses occur.
“The panel…noted in its report on Iraq that incidents involving private military and security companies there had dropped since the killing of 17 civilians and wounding of 20 others in Nissour Square in Baghdad by employees of the United States security company Blackwater in 2007.
But it added that Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors by US authorities after the 2003 invasion, preventing prosecutions in Iraqi courts while the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in US courts.”

AfriCom
The Hill reports the head of the US military’s three year-old Africa Command thinks looming Pentagon budget cuts are the biggest, though not the only, reason not to establish physical headquarters in Africa.
“Since AfriCom was formally established in October 2008, Pentagon officials and lawmakers have floated the idea of shifting its main hub from Stuttgart, Germany, to Africa or the United States.
But U.S. officials are hesitant to have a permanent and high-profile U.S. military presence on African soil due to indigenous skepticism about such an arrangement, which has left no clear candidates for its permanent home.”

Banking secrecy
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage says opposition to the so-called Rubik plan, whereby Swiss banks hand over tax money to national governments in exchange for maintaining their secrecy, could scupper a recent bilateral deal with Germany.
“The [Social Democratic Party]’s financial concept note published last Monday rejects the agreement with Switzerland. It is now quite likely that the deal will be rejected by the Upper Chamber, the Bundestat. North Rhine Westphalia’s Finance Minister Walter Borjans argued that effectively giving an amnesty to tax evaders was unconstitutional. Nicolotte Kressl and  SPD finance experts in the Bundestag said the deal should be halted as not to undermine EU efforts to secure automatic exchange of information with Switzerland.”

Corporate transparency
The Wall Street Journal reports the European Parliament has adopted a report that calls for laws to enforce transparency from oil, gas and mining companies.
“The report, which was first released July 25, contains a provision that calls for the EC to “establish legally binding requirements for extractive companies to publish their revenue payments for each project and country they invest in, following the example of the U.S. Dodd-Frank bill,” it said.”

Tobacco
The Guardian reports approximately 85 percent of the world’s tobacco is produced in the global south, often through the use of children as young as five working long hours under poor health conditions.
“The tobacco giants, who all have anti-child labour policies in place, insist they abide by the rules. British American Tobacco (BAT) says on its website that it does “not employ children in any of our operations worldwide”, but admits that using intermediaries to purchase tobacco makes it difficult to trace the country from which they buy the leaf and ensure all farm owners follow the rules.”

Latest Developments, August 19

In the latest news and analysis…

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor says he has received reports of crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime but for now has no jurisdiction to investigate them because Damascus does not recognize the court. He would require a “referral” from the UN Security Council in order to begin an investigation. But UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said she does not expect that to happen. Like Syria, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council do not currently accept the court’s jurisdiction: Russia which signed the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but has not yet ratified it, the US which signed but has subsequently “unsigned” it, and China which has yet to sign. In the nine years since the court came into being, it has undertaken six investigations, all of them in Africa.

Following yesterday’s call for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down, the EU has announced additional sanctions and is considering banning Syrian oil imports, a measure opposed by Human Rights Watch. In a letter to the Financial Times, HRW’s Lotte Leicht argues instead for the EU to freeze the assets of state banking, oil and gas companies until the “gross human rights abuses” stop: “We have deliberately avoided calling for wider energy sanctions because of the potential humanitarian impact on ordinary Syrians.”

Rick George, CEO of Canada’s Suncor which has a Syrian natural gas operation where production is “running normally,” said in a radio interview: “We’re actually not connected to the Assad regime in any way. We operate with a partner in Syria, the General Petroleum Corporation,” which is one of the state-owned companies blacklisted by US sanctions earlier this week. According to the CBC, Suncor “has said it is still able to produce natural gas in Syria under the current Canadian sanctions. It is reviewing U.S. sanctions.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports Syrian opposition representatives are meeting in Istanbul over the weekend to form the “Syrian National Council” which they will try to sell as “the official representative of the Syrian revolution.” The move “comes soon after the U.S. and European states have called for Assad’s ouster, and are mulling ways to increase pressure on the Syrian regime to make that a reality.” Rogin cites Chicago-based Syrian human rights lawyer M. Yaser Tabbara as saying the US, Turkey, “and other supportive governments, are being kept in the loop but are not directly involved in the project.”

Whatever Syria’s future may hold, it will not include participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup after the national team was disqualified for fielding an ineligible player.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Iraq had “finally” agreed to extend the presence of US troops in a “noncombat” role beyond the end of the year: “My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes.’ ” But the Iraqis see things differently: “We have not yet agreed on the issue of keeping training forces,” an advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Agence France Presse. “The negotiations are ongoing, and these negotiations have not been finalised.” A Pentagon spokesman subsequently said what Panetta had actually meant was “the Iraqis have said yes to discussions about the strategic relationship beyond 2011.”

Just Foreign Policy’s Robert Naiman argues that if the US government wants to reduce its debt, it should start by pulling all its troops out of Iraq by the end of the year “like we promised in the signed agreement between the two governments.” As for the evolving role of the US military in Iraq, Naiman says “these ‘trainers’ engage in combat: they kill Iraqis, and they get killed by Iraqis.” Earlier this month, US Representative Barbara Lee introduced the Iraq Troop Withdrawal Accountability Act which would “prohibit funding for any extension of the December 31, 2011 deadline to remove all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq.”

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation is filing charges against US tobacco giant Philip Morris for allegedly evading $2.3 billion in taxes. Earlier this year, public prosecutors had decided not to proceed with charges. The country’s attorney general will now make the final decision. The company said in a statement it was “disappointed” by this latest development and pointed to a recent World Trade Organization ruling to support its position.

To mark the fifth anniversary of Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan, Amnesty International is calling on Cote d’Ivoire’s government to distribute the compensation coughed up by the oil company: “Trafigura has paid US$260 million in a number of payouts but much of the money remains unaccounted for and thousands of victims have not received anything,” the human rights NGO said in a press release. The incident left 15 people dead and over 100,000 needing medical attention. Given these figures, Trafigura has paid an average of $2,600 per victim, though its payouts also include the cleanup costs.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has submitted to the General Assembly his annual report on the work of the United Nations, in which he claims regarding his first term at the organization’s helm: “We have confronted head-on the key global challenges of our generation: addressing climate change and global health; breaking the deadlock on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation; and mobilizing action against terrorism.”

Gerald Caplan writes in the Globe and Mail that he thinks he knows the motives of prominent “Muslim-haters” but does not understand how they obtain the media coverage necessary to become prominent in the first place: “But what’s the interest of certain media in enabling these haters to spread their gospel, to fan the flames of intolerance? What audience are they after? What do they expect their audiences to make of all this sympathetic exposure to rabid anti-Muslim feelings? Why are they inciting ordinary people to hate other ordinary people? Why?”