Latest Developments, September 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Partial pullout
Agence France-Presse reports that the US is hoping to keep “around 10,000” troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014:

“But a new security agreement is needed to allow for the post-2014 presence, including provisions allowing the United States access to various bases.
‘We’re working with President Karzai and his government to get that bilateral security agreement completed and signed,’ [US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] said.

But Karzai has insisted Afghanistan would not be rushed over the negotiations and has even hinted that an agreement might not be finalised before presidential elections in April next year.”

Historic call
The Associated Press calls last week’s telephone conversation between the US and Iranian presidents “one of the most hopeful steps toward reconciliation in decades”:

“[Iranian President Hassan Rouhani], at a news conference in New York, linked the U.S. and Iran as ‘great nations,’ a remarkable reversal from the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessors, and he expressed hope that at the very least the two governments could stop the escalation of tensions.
The new Iranian president has repeatedly stressed that he has ‘full authority’ in his outreach to the U.S., a reference to the apparent backing by Iran’s ultimate decision-maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Such support would give Rouhani a political mandate that could extend beyond the nuclear issue to possible broader efforts at ending the long estrangement between Tehran and Washington — and the West in general.”

Weather forecast
The Guardian reports that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is only slightly less grim than its 2007 predecessor:

“East Africa can expect to experience increased short rains, while west Africa should expect heavier monsoons. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones; elsewhere in southern Asia, heavier summer rains are anticipated. Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but the coastal regions around the south China Sea and Gulf of Thailand can expect increased rainfall extremes when cyclones hit land.

Life in many developing country cities could become practically unbearable, given that urban temperatures are already well above those in surrounding countryside. Much higher temperatures could reduce the length of the growing period in some parts of Africa by up to 20%, the report said.”

Not letting go
While calling for French troops to “restore security” in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, International Crisis Group’s Thierry Vircoulon concedes that France is not exactly a neutral broker in its former colony:

“France has had an almost continuous military presence in CAR since the country gained independence in 1960, and it deployed 400 soldiers at the start of the current crisis to secure the airport.

Paradoxically, France, while securing Bangui’s airport, is also hosting ousted president [François Bozizé], who declared from exile in Paris his wish to retake power by force with the ‘support’ of private actors.”

Exported problem
The Washington Post reports on a new study that suggests the expiration of America’s assault weapons ban has had a “striking” impact on Mexico’s violence levels:

“Overall, our preferred estimates indicate that the annual additional deaths due to [the expiration of the ban] represent around 21% of all homicides and 30% of all gun-related homicides in the post-intervention sample, which are sizable magnitudes. … For total homicides there is a clear, sharp rise between 2004 and 2005 and the effect mostly persists through 2006. The results for gun-related homicides is noisier, but the same pattern is reproduced here as well.”

Tax justice
During a speech delivered at Geneva’s Graduate Institute, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan called for a “credible and effective multilateral response” to tax avoidance:

“Ladies and Gentleman, we must recognise that instances of bad behaviour by government officials and businesses are made possible by our legal and normative frameworks. This is a key area where the international community can make a difference.
Let us be clear: Tax avoidance may be legal, yes, but its extremes have become immoral, unconscionable, and unacceptable. Tax avoidance may once have been seen as an acceptable and standard business practice. But it now costs Africa more than it receives in either international aid or direct foreign investment.

The UK and the European Union are re-examining legislation on money laundering and transparent company ownership. I sincerely hope that they will make company registration public, easily accessible and open to all, and that these registries will extend also to trusts. We must shut down loopholes wherever we can and wherever they are.
I also encourage the British government to maintain its pressure on its overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The US government may also wish to pressure the state of Delaware.”

UNsuable
NBC News asks why it is impossible to sue the United Nations, even when the organization triggers a deadly epidemic, as it appears to have done in Haiti:

“In 1946, the year of its first General Assembly, the U.N. granted itself legal immunity as one of its first official acts. Member states signed a ratifying treaty, and that immunity has been endorsed separately by laws passed in many member states.
‘You can’t sue the United Nations in a domestic court or any court because governments have signed the treaty and some countries like the U.S. have even put it in domestic legislation,’ explained Larry Johnson, a former U.N. official who teaches international law at Columbia Law School.”

Arrest threat
The Kenyan Post reports that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has no intention of granting special treatment to Kenya’s Deputy President Willaim Ruto:

In an application she made on Thursday to the Appeals Chamber, [ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda] asked the chamber to reject Ruto’s request that his trial continues in his absence.
She has also warned Mr Ruto of arrest if he fails to show up at The Hague as is required under the Rome Statute and affirmed by the Appeals Chamber.
‘The prosecution notes that Mr Ruto is not here voluntarily, but on compulsion of a summon and risks arrest if he defaults. He is an accused person before the court and, while presumed innocent, cannot expect that life will continue as normally,’ Bensouda said.”

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Latest Developments, July 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Free hand
Le Monde reports that the UN and France have signed an agreement granting “freedom of action” to French troops in Mali:

“The text, according to a diplomat, is reminiscent of the mandate for France’s Operation Unicorn in Côte d’Ivoire, whose intervention under UN auspices precipitated the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in 2011.

Before calling for French back-up, the text stresses however, that UN peacekeepers ‘must do all they can’ to resolve a crisis. In the case of an intervention, French support will be ‘direct or indirect, by land or air, within the limits of both its capacities and the deployment of its units.’
Paris, which ‘wants to keep a free hand,’ according to a diplomatic source, will have ‘the choice of means, numbers and location.’ The French army has bases in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. It can also mobilize reinforcements from France, according to the same source.” [Translated from the French.]

American justice
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that a Florida court’s acquittal of a man who shot and killed an unarmed African-American youth was unjust but neither surprising nor, given the current state of the law, wrong:

“It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.
To paraphrase a great man: We are what our record says we are. How can we sensibly expect different?”

Avoiding tax reform
The Guardian reports that the US has blocked a French proposal for the G20 to crack down on tax avoidance by digital companies:

“Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation’s fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

While the Americans concede that the rules need to be updated, they are understood to be pushing for moderate change. They are believed to want tweaks to the existing wording of international tax treaties rather than the creation of wholly new passages dedicated to spelling out how the digital economy should be taxed.”

1,000 days of cholera
The Economist reports on the UN’s ongoing controversial handling of the cholera epidemic its MINUSTAH peacekeepers triggered in Haiti in 2010:

“Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it.

The UN has staunchly refused to entertain the cholera claims in any venue. Its letter to the claimants’ lawyers eschewed their proposals to meet, engage a mediator, or establish an alternative venue to hear the complaints. Whereas [UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s] letter to congressmen said that ‘the majority of [the] recommendations’ made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics were being implemented, a report by a United States-based non-profit group in May found that five of the seven recommendations were only partially implemented, or not at all. And although the UN launched an initiative to fight cholera in Haiti in January 2012, the programme is already falling short: Mr Ban’s letter stated that pledges for the cholera initiated amounted to $207m, $31m less than the UN said would be available last December. It is another failure that by now will hardly surprise the people of Haiti.”

Hunger bill
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman takes aim at the “awesome double standard” of the “monstrous” farm bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week:

“Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.
So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: ‘You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money’ — frequently, at this point, they add the words ‘at the point of a gun’ — ‘and force them to give it to the poor.’
It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.”

Broken ships
The Guardian explores the dangerous and environmentally harmful shipbreaking industry, which supplies much of the world’s recycled steel:

“One of the problems is steel is a commodity sold in international markets, making it very difficult to trace where it came from by the time it turns up in a consumer product. Improved supply chain transparency would help but would be difficult to manage in any practical way, said [Shipbreaking Platform’s Patrizia] Heidegger, who suggested flipping the problem on its head: make the ship’s owners responsible for ensuring that their products are recycled properly once they are finished with them.

The EU recently voted on regulations that require EU-registered ships to use ‘green’ recycling facilities, but the new rules miss a crucial point, said Heidegger: there is nothing to stop European owners re-registering their ships outside the EU before sending them for breaking. At the moment only around a tenth of vessels are flying European flags when they reach the end of their lives, even though around 40% of the world’s fleet is owned by European companies, she said.”

Dangerous objects
The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri mocks the security measures undertaken at a Texas Senate debate over proposed changes to the state’s abortion laws:

“Among the latest updates from the Unwanted Texas Efforts To Pass Stringent Anti-Abortion Legislation came the gem that the state senate security was confiscating tampons from spectators entering the gallery to watch debate on HB 2. Guns, of course, were still allowed in the gallery for those with concealed carry licenses.”

Latest Developments, July 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Absolute immunity
The University of Birmingham’s Rosa Freedman argues that 5,000 Haitians are “being denied their fundamental rights” by the UN’s insistence that it is immune from having to compensate victims of a cholera epidemic triggered by its peacekeepers:

“By invoking absolute immunity, the UN has either ignored or missed the point that all individuals have rights to access a court and a remedy. Those rights are being denied by the UN’s absolute immunity coupled together with its refusal to hear those claims within its own tribunals. The Organisation that created the modern system of international human rights law, and that is tasked with protecting and promoting those rights, is denying fundamental rights to these 5,000 individuals from Haiti. By failing to provide compensation to the victims of cholera in Haiti, the door has been opened for a successful human rights-based challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity – one that may have far-reaching implications and one that is long overdue.”

Made in the USA
Inter Press Service looks into the flow of arms from the US to Egypt in recent years:

“As the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel, Egypt receives about 1.5 billion dollars in both military and economic aid annually, of which 1.3 billion dollars is earmarked for the armed forces.

According to figures released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Egypt received about 11.8 billion dollars worth of weapons from the United States during 2004-2011, followed by 900 million dollars each in arms from China and Russia, and 700 million dollars in arms from Europe.”

Bitter sugar
The Guardian reports on the links between a UK-based company and alleged child labour, land grabbing and violence in Cambodia:

“Sugar is big business in Cambodia, thanks to a preferential EU trade scheme called Everything But Arms (EBA), which allows Cambodian sugar to be sold duty-free on the European market at a minimum price per tonne. Official figures show that 97% of Cambodia’s €10m (£8.5m) sugar exports went to the EU last year, and Tate & Lyle bought 99% of them.
Although the initiative is intended to bolster the world’s least-developed countries, the villagers say they have not profited from the deal at all.

Backed by British law firm Jones Day, the villagers have filed a lawsuit against Tate & Lyle, claiming that KSL were complicit in government moves to evict them to make way for the plantations. They also say they were insufficiently compensated for the land they lost, and faced ‘multiple instances of battery and criminal violence’ during which villagers were shot at and wounded, with one activist murdered.”

Another spill
Sahara Reporters reports Italy’s Agip has experienced two oil spills in three weeks in Nigeria:

“Alagoa Morris, the head of field operations for Environmental Rights Action in Bayelsa, said the community had witnessed numerous spills in the recent past, adding that the environment was badly affected and needed urgent remediation. Mr. Morris called on Agip to lessen the pressure on the pipelines in order to reduce the discharge into the atmosphere.
According to him, residents of the affected communities had expressed their readiness to cooperate with Agip to end the frequent spills and address the issue of oil theft, but he regretted that the oil firm had yet to agree to any sustainable and workable plan.”

Forest malpractice
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that a pair of Cameroonian NGOs are calling on the US government to investigate an American-owned palm oil company for alleged land grabbing:

“ ‘Our petition to the U.S. government against the corrupt land grab and illegal forest exploitation activities by Herakles Farms is within the framework of the principle of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) relating to the functioning of international enterprises,’ [Centre for Environment and Development] coordinator Samuel Nguiffo told Thomson Reuters Foundation. ‘The principle requires that international investors carry out better policies to improve the livelihood of the population, and not destroy it.’

CED investigations and a mission sent to the region by the ministry also discovered that locals were paid as low as 350 francs ($0.50) in annual leasing fees for the land, Nguiffo said.”

Geography of sustainability
The Conference Board has released a report that suggests North American companies “lag their peers” in other parts of the world in terms of corporate responsibility:

“Across the environmental and social practices covered, European companies had the highest average disclosure rate (27 percent), followed by companies in Latin America (24 percent), Asia-Pacific (23 percent), and North America (19 percent). [Global Reporting Initiative] reporting, in particular, continues to be at an early stage in North America, with only 29 percent of North American companies releasing reports following GRI guidelines, compared to 61 percent of companies in Europe.

While 84 percent of S&P Global 1200 companies reported having a business ethics policy, only 44 percent of companies disclosed having a human rights policy. The geographic differences are even more pronounced, as only 23 percent of North American companies reported having a human rights policy, compared to 63 percent of European companies, 57 percent of companies in Latin America, and 51 percent of companies in Asia-Pacific.”

Sweatshop nation
Freelance journalist Isabeau Doucet questions the international push to promote Haiti’s textile industry “by branding ‘Made in Haiti’ garments as somehow humanitarian, socially responsible, and good for Haiti’s ‘development’ ”:

“A new minimum-wage law was passed in the fall of 2012 to ensure workers in the Haitian garment-outsourcing sector would earn 300 gourdes for an eight-hour day (around CAD$7). But according to an audit released in mid-April 2013 by Better Work, a labour and business development partnership between the International Labour Organization and the International Financial Corporation (ILO-IFC), 100 per cent of apparel manufacturers evaluated in Haiti failed to comply, continuing to pay the previous wage of 200 gourdes (around CAD$4.70).

In a market driven by the profit-making of multinationals, the garment sector isn’t about creating jobs for Haitians so much as displacing jobs from one poor country to another, poorer one, making Haiti’s poverty its ‘comparative advantage.’ The Korean clothing giant Sae-A, which produces for Walmart, Target, and Gap, has been accused of anti-union repression, including ‘acts of violence and intimidation’ in Guatemala and, more recently, in Nicaragua. It closed its operations in Guatemala due to union disputes, before setting up shop in Caracol, Haiti.”

Latest Developments, March 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Saying no
Reuters reports that the Cypriot parliament has totally rejected the terms of a proposed international bailout, with not a single MP voting in favour:

“EU countries said before the vote that they would withhold 10 billion euros ($12.89 billion) in bailout loans unless depositors in Cyprus shared the cost of the rescue, and the European Central Bank has threatened to end emergency lending assistance for teetering Cypriot banks.
But jubilant crowds outside parliament broke into applause, chanting: ‘Cyprus belongs to its people.’

Europe’s demand at the weekend that Cyprus break with previous EU practice and impose a levy on bank accounts sparked outrage among Cypriots and unsettled financial markets.”

Empty chambers
The Peace Research Institute Oslo has released a new paper arguing for the inclusion of ammunition, without which warfare cannot be sustained, in a proposed binding international arms trade treaty as final negotiations get underway at the UN:

“In 2011 the total value of identified international transfers of ammunition was USD 5.6 billion. Just fifteen states accounted for 90 per cent of all these exports. The governments of this handful of states already control almost all the global trade in ammunition through existing laws and regulations concerning export, import and transit. These 15 states are (in alphabetical order): Brazil, China, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. Embrace of an Arms Trade Treaty by just this small number of states would encompass the vast majority of the current trade in ammunition.”

Land racket
Global Witness has released a film in which an undercover investigator poses as a foreign investor to expose the process by which indigenous land is getting bought up by commercial interests in Malaysia’s largest state:

“ ‘The Taib family and their friends have treated Sarawak’s natural resources like a personal piggy bank for decades,’ said [Global Witness’s Tom] Picken. ‘This investigation shows how they are willing to stash this dirty cash in jurisdictions like Singapore, which one lawyer in the film describes as “the new Switzerland”. Until Singapore and other financial service centres stop allowing corrupt politicians and criminals to shield themselves and their loot from justice back home, the likes of [Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud] will continue to get away with stealing from their own people.’ ”

Illicit association
The Wall Street Journal reports that Argentina’s government has filed charges against a subsidiary of UK banking giant HSBC for facilitating money laundering and tax evasion:

“Ricardo Echegaray, director of federal tax agency Afip, said a six-month investigation uncovered evidence that several companies evaded taxes of 224 million pesos and laundered 392 million pesos through phantom bank accounts at HSBC Bank Argentina SA.
Mr. Echegaray said at a news conference that ‘there was decisive participation’ of HSBC executives in hiding financial information from the authorities.

Executives at the companies targeted in the probe, including HSBC, have been charged with ‘illicit association,’ [an anonymous government source] said.”

Opposing protest
The CBC reports that HudBay Minerals has filed a lawsuit against a First Nation over protests outside a gold, zinc and copper mining project:

“[Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Chief Arlen] Dumas said HudBay and the Manitoba government should have obtained consent from area aboriginals before going ahead with development. The band never surrendered its rights to the land and resources, he said.
Work is well underway on development of the 916-hectare property.
A court hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Wednesday. Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting also wants an injuction against any further protests.”

Not budging
The Lowy Institute for International Policy’s Mike Callaghan argues that the US is harming future prospects of international cooperation by block reforms that would make the International Monetary Fund a bit less Eurocentric:

“It is worrying that one of the arguments against the reforms presented by the US Congressional Research Service is that emerging markets may not be ‘responsible stakeholders’, and increasing their voice ‘could result in the support of economic policies that are less aligned with the preferred policies of advanced economies.’ This is a ‘red rag to a bull’ to the emerging markets.
Commentators may worry about the impact on future US economic leadership, but the rest of the world should be concerned that the US is failing to exercise leadership now in not ratifying the governance reforms. This is undermining the IMF, the G20 and efforts to enhance better international economic cooperation.”

Unfettered industry
Mining Technology reports on the efforts of Canadian civil society groups to change the status quo in which Canada’s overseas mining industry is “not legally regulated or monitored by its own government in any way”:

“According to NGOs, the mining industry has also done some aggressive lobbying against regulation over the years, possibly because of fears it will limit companies’ ability to work in developing countries and contracts will be lost to competitors from countries such as China. However, [Human Rights Watch’s Chris]Albin-Lackey and [MiningWatch Canada’s Jamie] Kneen believe they underestimate the need for the expertise Canadian mining companies offer.
‘The argument…is really quite overblown,’ says Albin-Lackey. ‘To some degree this kind slippery slope argument is genuinely heartfelt from some people in the industry who are sort of suspicious of how far NGO advocates and other advocates actually want to take things, but in reality…there is nothing that we, or anyone else, are calling on the Canadian Government to keep an eye on that Canadian companies don’t already quite vigorously deny being involved with in the first place.’

UNaccountable
A New York Times editorial slams the UN for its lack of accountability over the cholera epidemic it caused in Haiti:

“The U.N. said last month that it would not pay financial compensation for the epidemic’s victims, claiming immunity. This is despite overwhelming evidence that the U.N. introduced the disease, which was unknown in Haiti until it suddenly appeared near a base where U.N. peacekeepers had let sewage spill into a river.
Though the U.N. has done much good in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, its handling of cholera is looking like a fiasco. While it insists that it has no legal liability for cholera victims, it must not duck its moral obligations. That means mobilizing doctors and money to save lives now, and making sure the eradication plan gets all the money and support it needs.”