Latest Developments, June 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Torture money
The BBC reports that in announcing a settlement package for victims of colonial-era torture in Kenya, the UK government said it “sincerely regrets” the abuses while rejecting any legal liability for them:

” ‘The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,’ [UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said].
‘The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.’
Mr Hague said 5,228 victims would receive payments totalling £19.9m following an agreement with lawyers acting for the victims, who have been fighting for compensation for a number of years.
The compensation amounts to about £3,000 per victim and applies only to the living survivors of the abuses that took place.
Mr Hague said Britain still did not accept it was legally liable for the actions of what was a colonial administration in Kenya.”

Bilderberg thaw
Comedy writer Charlie Skelton says that the 2013 edition of the Bilderberg conference marks a departure from the elite gathering’s “cold war policy of disengagement and secrecy” as mainstream news media converge on the event for the first time:

“Four Bilderbergs ago (has it been that long?) there were barely a dozen people outside the conference in Greece. The relationship with the press back then was simple: arrest them. Follow them, harass them, chase them out of town.

Never mind the steady stream of limousined technocrats and hedge-fund billionaires humming up the hill. The weird ritual of ducking delegates, tinted windows and rings of steel. Up on the hill, an ugly looking steel and concrete fence, a paranoid scar on the landscape. But over here in the paddock, in front of news crews, this is where Bilderberg changed.”

Violence silence
The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project has lodged a complaint with the Ontario Securities Commission over a Canadian mining company’s “poor disclosure” concerning violence near its silver project in Guatemala:

“According to Securities Commission requirements, Tahoe Resources must file material changes ‘forthwith’. Company disclosure, however, has been both insufficient and inaccurate.

‘As the company’s only mine project, investors, and the public in general, need to know about the implication of its employees in such an egregious attack, as well as widespread and ongoing opposition to the mine,’ remarked Jen Moore for MiningWatch Canada.”

War on pot
Postmedia News reports on a new American Civil Liberties Union study revealing the racial component of US anti-marijuana measures:

“The study shows that literally in every state and community in the U.S. there is a huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests despite the fact that the rate of marijuana use is about identical between whites and blacks.
On average, 3.73 times more blacks are arrested than whites. In some states, this rate rises to five.

The study shows that blacks are targeted no matter where they live, where they go, wealthy or poor, within small or large black communities.”

Unhappy shareholders
The New York Times reports that Walmart’s board of directors will face “largely symbolic” opposition at its annual shareholders’ meeting over perceived ethical lapses:

“A group of investors, including pension plans from Connecticut and Sweden and the United Automobile Workers medical benefits trust, is sponsoring a shareholder proposal related to an inquiry over Wal-Mart Stores’ potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The proposal asks that Wal-Mart disclose whether the company is holding current and former executives financially responsible for breaching company policies.
Calpers, the nation’s largest public pension fund, which owns about $400 million in Wal-Mart shares, says it continues to be concerned about the Mexico inquiry, and it is troubled by recent Wal-Mart supply-chain issues. It says it will vote against several board members and support several shareholder proposals.
‘We’re extremely concerned about Wal-Mart’s monitoring on its supply chain — the fires and deaths in Bangladesh, and other concerns about supply-chain issues in the U.S.,’ said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager for investments at Calpers.”

Post-2015 miss
The Green Economy Coalition’s Emily Benson writes that a UN panel’s recommendations for the Millennium Development Goals’ successors were disappointing on the sustainability front:

“The Panel falls short of recognising all of our planetary boundaries, arguably one of the most important research developments in the last decade. It reiterates the commitment on CO2 levels and insists on the need for sustainable consumption and production. But most of the emphasis is on the role of efficiency gains from production and technological advances, rather than tackling issues of how we consume – particularly in rich countries. Taken together, their goals do not measure progress in staying within our ecological limits.”

Evicted and uncompensated
IRIN reports on the plight of 250 people forced from their homes by construction of a mine owned by South Africa’s Anglogold Ashanti, just one of several such incidents in Tanzania in recent years:

“The area, which resembles a refugee camp and is known by residents as Sophiatown – or colloquially, Darfur – is inhabited by farming families who were displaced in 2007 to make way for one of the country’s largest gold mines.

The resettlement issue sparked a legal battle between Mine Mpya’s residents and Anglogold Ashanti. According to the company, no compensation was paid upon eviction because a High Court ruling found that ‘those on the land had no legal rights of occupancy.’ ”

Unburnable fuels
EJOLT’s Nick Meynen writes that European climate and energy policies are “mutually exclusive”:

“While [the Directorate-General for Energy] wants to open Europe for a new source of fossil fuels, [the Directorate-General for Climate Action] is working to prevent 2°C or more of global warming. In 2009, the EU has committed itself to this goal in Copenhagen. Scientists now know that in order to stand a reasonable chance of keeping below 2°C, around 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground as burning them would cause too much global warming. Even The Economist recognizes that we are faced with huge amounts of unburnable fuels. Policymakers in the EU, who read The Economist, know that this liberal magazine is not some environmental activist group crying wolf on the coming apocalypse without checking their sources. But instead of debating which reserves will be kept under the ground and how, the recent EU Energy Summit concluded with the message that Europe needs a shale-gas revolution. If that plan goes ahead, something is deeply rotten in the way policy is made in the EU. The simple truth is that the EU needs to choose which policy it wants: more or less fossil fuels? You can’t have both.”

Latest Developments, June 27

In today’s news…

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to send 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers to Sudan’s disputed Abyei region. As a neighbouring country that has been involved in military conflicts with two of its other neighbours – Eritrea and Somalia –  in recent years, Ethiopia is an interesting choice. David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, is not worried but he discusses the Ethiopia-Sudan relationship’s past and future challenges.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has just chosen a new head and the International Monetary Fund is about to do the same. The weekend’s FAO vote went against wealthy donor countries preferring a Spanish candidate to the Brazilian who won on the strength of wide support from the Global South. Given the divisions within the FAO and how far the Millennium Development Goal to halve world hunger by 2015 has gone off track, José Graziano da Silva’s job is unlikely to be an easy one. “Along with tackling the linked problem of climate change, delivering global food and nutrition security is the challenge of our time,” former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said over the weekend, as the number of chronically hungry climbs above 1 billion. At the same time, the number of obese people is closing in on 2 billion. Not surprisingly perhaps, new data on diabetes trends over the last three decades are all over the map. Among the big winners with an overall decreased incidence: Poland, Myanmar and Zambia. Among the big losers with increases of more than 60 percent: the US, Papua-New Guinea and Spain.

After the FAO disappointment, the North is expected to fare better in the IMF thanks to that organization’s vote-as-you-pay scheme, in which the US alone holds 17 percent of the votes and Europe close to 50. Tomorrow’s anticipated election of French finance minister Christine Lagarde will continue the exclusive ownership of the IMF leadership Europe has enjoyed since the organization’s inception. Despite growing pressure to relinquish this hold, European leaders have argued that the body’s primary focus is currently the eurozone crisis and its leadership should reflect that fact.

(As an aside, the International Criminal Court’s latest weekly update is out. Apart from an item on a visit from the Dutch foreign minister, the entire issue pertains to Africa. It remains to be seen whether European leaders will follow their IMF logic by pushing for an African to become the next chief prosecutor.)

While the IMF waits for official word of its new leader, it may have lost a customer, as Egypt appears to have decided it does not want a loan after all. And a number of Arab NGOs are accusing donors, such as the IMF and World Bank, of undermining the Arab Spring by imposing excessive conditions on loans.

The IMF’s sister institution, the World Bank, wants to include anti-corruption lessons in the curricula of poor countries. There is no word at present of a complementary initiative to teach rich countries how to tackle the supply side of graft.

In the private sector, Wal-Mart is heading to Africa where it is encountering considerable resistance. And the government of Peru has just revoked the license of Canadian mining company Bear Creek, following protests in which police killed at least five demonstrators. The company whose share prices tumbled on Monday vowed to take action against the government under the Canada-Peru bilateral free trade agreement which passed though the Canadian Parliament in 2009, just days after dozens were killed in protests over planned resource exploitation in the Amazon.

Finally, and appropriately for this first edition of Latest Developments, a plea to make fighting global inequality a priority.