Latest Developments, October 1

In the latest news and analysis…

State of hunger
A trio of UN agencies has released a new report suggesting that, despite a slight drop in global hunger, about an eighth of the world’s population is “still chronically hungry”:

“Despite the progress made worldwide, marked differences in hunger reduction persist. Sub-Saharan Africa has made only modest progress in recent years and remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with one in four people (24.8 per cent) estimated to be hungry.
No recent progress is observed in Western Asia, while Southern Asia and Northern Africa witnessed slow progress. More substantial reductions in both the number of hungry and prevalence of undernourishment have occurred in most countries of East Asia, Southeastern Asia, and in Latin America.”

Torture suit
Courthouse News Service reports that dozens of Iraqi plaintiffs are suing an American company in a US court over alleged war crimes at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison:

“The surviving Iraqi detainees and representatives from the estates of the dead sued CACI Premier Technology and CACI International under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.

Detainees have sued CACI in the past for alleged torture. In June 2013, a federal judge found that CACI cannot be sued for its alleged role in the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners. The ruling relies on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a recent Supreme Court decision in which the justices effectively immunized corporations from claims under the Alien Tort Statute by foreign citizens.”

Red light
A group of UN experts is arguing that a steel project owned by South Korea’s Posco “must not proceed as planned” in India:

The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District, and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more in the surrounding area.

While India has the primary duty to protect the rights of those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by the project, the experts underlined that ‘POSCO also has a responsibility to respect human rights, and the Republic of Korea, where POSCO is based, should also take measures to ensure that businesses based in its territory do not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad.’

‘People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits,’ stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda.

UN scolded
The Caribbean Journal reports that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said the UN’s handling of the cholera epidemic it caused in Haiti threatens the organization’s “moral authority and credibility”:

“Gonsalves said there was ‘no longer any scientific dispute’ that the UN was responsible for the outbreak, which has killed more than 8,000 people in Haiti and infected more than 600,000.
‘I continue to be deeply disturbed by the UN’s callous disregard of the suffering it has wrought in a fellow CARICOM country, and by the shameful, legalistic avoidance of what is a clear moral responsibility on the part of the UN,’ he said. ‘I call on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to acknowledge unambiguously, and apologize for, this organization’s role in the tragedy, and to take immediate steps to compensate the victims and their families.’ ”

Climate refugee
Agence France-Presse reports on a man from Kiribati who is seeking refugee status in New Zealand due to the impact of rising sea levels on his native island:

“Legal experts consider the man’s case a long shot, but it will nevertheless be closely watched, and might have implications for tens of millions of residents in low-lying islands around the world.

In a transcript of the immigration case obtained by The Associated Press, the Kiribati man describes extreme high tides known as king tides that he says have started to regularly breach Kiribati’s defences — killing crops, flooding homes and sickening residents.”

Dirty business
The Tyee reports that a murder in Mexico fits into a pattern of violence faced by people who oppose Canadian mining companies around the world:

“Far from an isolated event, this kind of story has played out across Latin America, Africa and beyond when Canadian mining firms set up shop. When, occasionally, violence at distant mining sites comes to the attention of Canadian investors or the public, corporate officers typically deflect responsibility onto ‘pre-existing conflicts’ — old rivalries or local power struggles given fresh fuel by the injection of mining money.
What we found in Oaxaca, however, was that those ‘pre-existing’ conflicts are far from petty or ancient feuds. Instead, they reveal serious and deep differences of opinion in affected communities about whether the kind of industrial development a mine offers is a driver for community benefit, or a threat to traditional culture and more sustainable livelihoods. As the lure of personal gain subverts authentic community priorities, local democratic processes are often among the first to fall victim.”

Naming & shaming
Voice of America reports that the International Labour Organization may have problems carrying out its plan to get a bit tougher with abusive garment factories in Cambodia:

Beginning in January, the ILO will publicly release information on factories that fail to comply with the most important elements of the country’s labor laws.

‘In the last three years we’ve seen the factories’ compliance with the Labor Law has been declining – it’s getting worse. Working conditions are deteriorating. That’s not true in every factory, but on the whole this is what we’ve seen. And we’re returning to an old practice – something we did in the early years of the project – to create some gentle public pressure on factories to improve working conditions,’ said [the ILO’s Jason] Judd.

As a result, [the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia] will send letters to its members advising them that they are no longer obliged to let [ILO] inspectors enter their factories.”

Teeth required
SOMO writes that NGOs are “sceptical” about the Dutch government’s latest plans to improve the overseas behaviour of the country’s companies:

“What if companies do not want to cooperate and don’t stick to the agreements? MVO Platform feels that in addition to the commitment of the involved companies, monitoring and regulations from the side of the government will be necessary. The efforts should not be free of obligation and there should be supervision of the covenants. Companies that do not adhere to their agreements should experience real consequences, as should companies that are not entering into such agreements.”

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Latest Developments, September 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Africa’s lily pads
UPI reports that the US is expanding its “secret wars” in Africa as global interest in the continent’s resources grows:

“ ‘Washington is in the process of a massive expansion of what are referred to internally as “lily pads” that allow it a global strike capability,’ Oxford Analytica noted.
These include facilities in Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. Western military sources say the Americans are seeking to establish a base in newly independent South Sudan as well.”

Harmful financial flows
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher writes about efforts to get the World Trade Organization to ensure international trade rules do not impede efforts to reform the global financial system:

“In 2011, Ecuador joined with India, Argentina and South Africa to request that the WTO study the inter-relationships between trade rules and regulatory reform. The US however, blocked the request. The US, South Korea, Norway and Canada, all said that the WTO, and particularly the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), had a ‘prudential carve-out’ that provided WTO Members with the flexibility to regulate their financial systems. Thus, they were implying, there was no need to have such a discussion.
Ecuador and other emerging market and developing countries want to see that in writing.  They worry that their regulations could eventually result in a WTO challenge or cause nations not to put in place needed reforms for fear of being challenged. ”

AGOA’s failure
University of Oxford researcher Pierre-Louis Vézina writes that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a US law meant to promote the continent’s textile exports, may not have been such a “trade-policy success” after all:

“The quotas imposed on Chinese exports during the Multifibre Agreement guaranteed smaller developing countries access to the US market. This implicit export subsidy for African countries, coupled with AGOA preferences, was thus a golden opportunity for African apparel exporters.
Yet, a key feature of the AGOA preferences was the absence of rules of origin, which are usually imposed under trade agreements to avoid transhipment. This meant that African exporters could use inputs from any country, in any proportion, as long as some assembly work took place in Africa. It thus provided an opportunity for Chinese exporters to merely tranship their products via ‘screwdriver plants’ in Africa, avoiding US quotas and on top benefitting from AGOA preferences. The end of the quotas on Chinese exports rendered the transhipment unnecessary and thus led to the departure of footloose factories and the fall of AGOA exports.”

Bhopal’s water
The Business Standard reports on findings that Bhopal’s groundwater remains contaminated nearly three decades after a leak at a Union Carbide factory caused “the world’s largest industrial disaster”:

“Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), which examined the ground water, submitted a report to the [Supreme Court] saying the levels of lead, nitrate and nickel are more than permissible levels in many samples of water taken by it.
‘In nine of the 30 samples, nitrate levels exceeded its permissible Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) limits for drinking water. Lead level in 24 samples were found to exceed its BIS permissible limit,’ said the report, submitted to a bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir.”

Carte blanche
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that Somalia’s new government has “little or no authority over the numerous foreign forces” operating in the country:

“ ‘Whoever comes trying to help them defeat al Shabaab, they are more than welcome… [but] they are given a licence to completely ignore any local or international law,’ [Omar Jamal, a diplomat with the Somali mission to the UN] added.
It’s not even clear which foreign forces are currently serving in Somalia, the terms of their involvement, and what they are doing.

The striking thing that emerges is the extent of the US’s involvement in Somalia, both direct and indirect.”

Oil impacts
In a Q&A with Rue89Lyon, Guatemalan community activist Hilda Ventura decries the actions of Franco-British oil company Perenco in her area:

“There was never any environmental impact assessment. Over the last while, children have been falling ill: they have skin ailments. We’ve seen an increase in miscarriages and respiratory problems. Ponds and wells have dried up near the oil drilling. In one community, they wanted to dig wells for water but it was contaminated. We live off corn and bean cultivation but we’ve noticed the harvests have shrunk. And we think it’s due to the pollution from the oil extraction.

Since 2009, there have been four expulsions. In total, 2,000 people were affected. From one day to the next, they tell us to leave. Only the big landowners have property titles. They kick us off our land: that’s taking our lives because we live off the land. Most of us have experienced three or four forced displacements. We’re being squeezed. To the north is a tourism megaproject, to the south is the monoculture for biofuels and to the west is the extension of the oilfield.” [Translated from the French.]

UK drones
A new report by Drone Wars UK indicates that the British government has so far spent £2 billion ($3.2bn) on drones and is “likely” to spend that much again, beginning in 2013:

“ ‘Rather than spending further billions on more drones what’s needed is investment in tackling the underlying causes of insecurity. That means devoting resources to measures designed to seriously tackle inequality and injustice in the world  – such as the Millennium Development Goals. Today, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, we need to jettison ever-increasing military spending and technological security fixes in favour of a sustainable security strategy that puts people – and especially the poor – at its centre,’ [according to Chris Cole, the report’s author].”

Kiobel II
The Center for Justice and Accountability’s Pamela Merchant lays out what is at stake next week when the US Supreme Court hears a second round of arguments pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell:

“If the Supreme Court accepts Shell’s arguments, federal law will no longer recognize a civil remedy for foreign abuses like genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or slavery. Already, the Supreme Court’s April 2012 ruling in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority shielded corporations, governments, and other legal entities from liability under the Torture Victim Protection Act.
For many survivors, the [Alien Tort Statute] offers the only avenue to seek redress and hear a court of law condemn a crime under its true name: genocide or crimes against humanity.”

Latest Developments, April 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Colonial crimes
The Guardian reports that thousands of documents were “systematically destroyed” and others remained hidden until now in order to conceal crimes committed in the last years of the British empire.
“The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the ‘elimination’ of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been ‘roasted alive’; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain’s late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that ‘might embarrass Her Majesty’s government’, that could ‘embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers’, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might ‘be used unethically by ministers in the successor government’.”

Torture ruling
The Courthouse News Service reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Torture Victim Protection Act does not apply to alleged abuses committed by organizations.
“Before courts can extend personhood to corporations, Congress must give some indication of that intention.
‘There are no such indications in the TVPA,’ [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor wrote. ‘As noted, the Act does not define ‘individual,’ much less do so in a manner that extends the term beyond its ordinary usage. And the statutory context strengthens – not undermines – the conclusion that Congress intended to create a cause of action against natural persons alone.’ ”

US transparency
Bloomberg reports the US government has announced new rules that will require banks to declare interest paid to “nonresident aliens,” despite strong opposition from Republican lawmakers.
“The regulations, adopted yesterday, are part of the government’s efforts to work with other countries on tax evasion. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service say the U.S. should ask its banks to report information just as it is requiring overseas banks to provide information on U.S. account holders.”

Françafriqe
Radio France International reports that Senegal’s newly elected President Macky Sall has agreed to allow the continued permanent presence of French troops on his territory, albeit in reduced numbers.
“The two men signed the defence deal, which will published “in all transparency”, according to Sarkozy, as have all such agreements with France’s former African colonies since 2008.
Its most important feature – the reduction of the permanent French troop presence in Senegal from 1,200 to 300 – was already agreed in 2010 with Sall’s predecessor, Abdulaye Wade.”

Joining the club
Agence France-Presse reports that South Sudan has become the 188th member of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“The World Bank, an anti-poverty development lender, also hailed South Sudan’s membership, calling the impoverished country a “test case” on its principles of citizen-led state building with the support of international development partners.
‘I am very pleased to welcome South Sudan, the world’s newest country as our newest member of the World Bank Group, to help it manage and resolve its many formidable development challenges while it also builds a broad national coalition to secure lasting peace and prosperity,’ said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the bank’s vice president for Africa.”

Formula One’s 29%
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reports that less than a third of “firms linked to Formula One” responded when asked to respond to human rights concerns raised about the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Forty two companies or teams failed to respond.

‘Seldom have we seen a response rate this low from a group of companies anywhere in the world’, said Christopher Avery, Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. ‘And of the responses that were received, seldom if ever have we seen such a high proportion that completely fail to comment on the human rights concerns that they were asked to address.’

The usual response rate to the Resource Centre is 75% globally.”

ATT concerns
Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan expresses mixed emotions over the US position on the Arms Trade Treaty ahead of July’s UN negotiations.
“On the positive side, Assistant Secretary [Thomas] Countryman stated that the US is open to suggestions from other countries on ways to include ammunition within the treaty’s scope. This is a major shift in the right direction; prior to this speech, the US position was that ammunition must not be included in the treaty in any circumstance.

The US seems to hold the position that as long as a government ‘considers’ the impact of the arms transfer and ‘keeps it in mind,’ the treaty should allow states to transfer weapons to war criminals or human rights abusers. Such an Arms Trade Treaty would significantly lower the current international standards on respecting human rights and the laws of war, and it runs contrary to the US position on human rights and international humanitarian law at the United Nations.”

Different take on the cake
Blogger Nuclear Grrl takes issue with the accusations of racism leveled at a controversial piece of Swedish performance art that involved audience members in symbolic “female genital mutilation” by cutting a cake shaped like a caricatured African woman.
“Blackface has historically been used to dehumanize Black people. [Makode] Linde’s purposeful use of blackface in his ‘Painful Cake’ is meant to call out society for this dehumanization and show that Black women are real human beings. Blackface represents Swedish society’s view of Black women as simplistic caricatures of Black humanity rather than the real pillars of the family that they are. His performance proves his point with exemplary efficiency – no one seemed horrified by what they were seeing, at least not during the portion of the performance released on tape.”