Latest Developments, February 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Surprise endorsement
Wired reports that UN special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson, the man who recently launched an investigation into the use of armed drones, has given his “qualified backing” to John Brennan, the man who has been running the US drone program, for next head of the CIA:

“Emmerson, a British lawyer, has put the U.S. on notice that he won’t hesitate to investigate U.S. ‘war crimes’ if he uncovers evidence of them. While Emmerson’s inquiry won’t focus on individuals responsible for any uncovered abuses, Brennan, as a White House aide, presided over the bureaucratic process for ordering suspected terrorists killed. Yet at the White House, Emmerson says, Brennan ‘had the job of reining in the more extreme positions advanced by the CIA,’ which he thinks augurs well for Brennan’s CIA tenure.
‘By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA’s policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control,’ Emmerson says. ‘It’s right to view this as a recognition of the repository of trust that Obama places in Brennan to put him in control of the organization that poses the greatest threat to international legal consensus and recognition of the lawfulness of the drone program.’ ”

Due process
Georgetown University’s David Cole wonders if there are any “alternative checks within the executive branch” during US decision making on targeted killings:

“For example, is anyone assigned to make the case against the targeted killing—that is, to advocate on behalf of the person the administration is considering executing? The CIA uses ‘red teams’ to challenge and improve its analysis of potential operations; shouldn’t that be required before the executive kills a human being? Much information has been leaked about the process, but nothing has suggested that such a safeguard exists in the targeted killing program.”

Economic war
The Associated Press reports that Iran’s supreme leader has said that increasingly harsh economic sanctions make direct nuclear talks with the US impossible:

“ ‘You are holding a gun against Iran saying, “Talks or you’ll fire.” The Iranian nation will not be frightened by such threats,’ [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei added in a reference to U.S. sanctions over Iran’s nuclear efforts.
The U.S. this week further tightened sanctions, which have already slashed Iran’s oil revenue by 45 percent. The new measures seek to cut deeper into Iran’s ability to get oil revenue. It calls on countries that buy Iranian crude — mostly Asian nations including China and India — not to transfer money directly to Iran and instead place it in local accounts.”

No exceptions
Publish What You Pay is celebrating the Dutch government’s decision not to support “dangerous exclusions” in proposed new EU requirements for extractive industry transparency:

“The upcoming legislation which is being introduced through the European Accounting and Transparency Directives builds upon a landmark provision in US law – section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 – which requires all oil, gas, and mining companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to publish their payments to all countries and for every project. The US rules implementing Dodd-Frank 1504 do not provide for any exemptions from reporting.
In deciding not to support exemptions, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp said in a letter to the Dutch Parliament that exemptions were ‘not desirable’ since the Dutch government wished to create ‘a level playing field for international transparency requirements’.
Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and other oil companies have been fighting these laws both in the United States and European Union.”

Global precedent
Reuters reports on the opening of a special court in Senegal that will be the first in the world to hold a “trial of an ex-head of state by another country for rights abuses”:

“Prosecutors will work at a sea-front court in the Senegalese capital Dakar, investigating the alleged killing and torture of 40,000 people during [former Chadian President Hissene] Habre’s 1982-1990 rule.

Africa has a human rights court which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, but its status has only been ratified by 26 countries.
Former African heads of state have stood trial before, but only in their own countries or before international tribunals, never in the court of another country.”

Mining murders
Morning Star reports that a Colombian court has ordered prosecutors to investigate the president of a US mining company over the 2001 deaths of two union leaders:

“The company denies hiring militias and is fighting a lawsuit filed by survivors of the murdered men in an Alabama federal court that claims [Drummond Company] aided and abetted war crimes, including extra-judicial killings.

Lawyer for the plaintiffs Terry Collingsworth applauded judge [William] Castelblanco’s order that prosecutors investigate Drummond’s president, Garry Drummond, as well as a former mine security chief and two Colombians to determine whether they shared responsibility for the killings.
But he also said he wasn’t hopeful that the order would lead to a Colombian criminal prosecution.”

Gene treaty
Intellectual Property Watch reports that UN delegates have produced a text that could lead to “an international instrument or instruments protecting genetic resources against misappropriation”:

“The text, bearing a large number of brackets, shows that divergences still need to be bridged. The [Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC)] meeting scheduled for July has three extra days planned for the end to discuss the three legs of the IGC: genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. But this genetic resources text is not expected to be reopened then.

Canada, Japan, Norway, South Korea and the United States, resubmitted their joint recommendation on genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, for a non-binding instrument without a disclosure requirement.”

Luxury ban
Voice of America reports that China has banned radio and TV ads for luxury goods on the grounds that they “publicized incorrect values and helped create a bad social ethos”:

“The move to ban certain ads comes as the lunar new year celebrations approach and is another in a line of efforts by Chinese authorities to root out corruption, something the Chinese Communist Party has publicly acknowledged as a life or death struggle.

In December, China forbade high-ranking Chinese military officials from attending banquets and other events where alcoholic beverages are served. They also set limitations on the use of welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements, live performances and souvenirs.”

Latest Developments, February 23


In the latest news and analysis…

Outside solutions
Oxfam’s Barbara Stocking has expressed disappointment over the Somalia conference in London, which UK Prime Minister David Cameron hailed as a “turning point.”
“While we recognise the huge efforts of the UK Government to make the conference a success, what we had hoped for was a recognition that 20 years of internationally imposed solutions have failed. However, what we’ve seen once again are externally driven solutions that haven’t worked, aren’t working and will not work.

What we got was the rhetoric of Somali inclusion but you cannot go forward with a new constitution and elections in such a troubled country without a wide and inclusive political engagement within Somali society.”

Madonna strikes again
The Guardian reports Madonna’s latest school-building scheme in Malawi has run afoul of education officials who say they have not been consulted.
“…John Bisika, Malawi’s national secretary for education, science and technology, told the Guardian: ‘We have had no written or verbal communication. We just read about it in the papers. I don’t understand how she can work like that. For someone to go to the papers and say, ‘I’m building schools’, without telling the government, I find it a strange way of working.’
He added: ‘When will she build these schools? How will we know where these schools are needed? We need to do this in a co-ordinated manner. I wouldn’t just go to the UK and start building schools.
‘We need to be approached and work out where the schools are needed, based on school mapping. If she doesn’t come through us, it will not happen. We can’t just see people building schools. Let’s do it properly.’ ”

Patent reform
Intellectual Property Watch reports that UN talks have moved one step closer to an international agreement concerning genetic resources, although substantial differences remain over “mandatory disclosure of origin in patent applications.”
“The Indian delegate said ‘none of us here’ want to give ‘the impression that we are against the patent system’ but ‘there is a lot of free riding that is going on,’ he said, and the companies are taking traditional knowledge and claiming that it is their own, to the detriment of local communities he said. For the integrity of the patent system it is important that such bad patents are not granted, he added.”

Corruption by another name
The Tax Justice Network reproduces the communiqué released at the inaugural meeting of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa.
“Illicit financial outflows constitute a major source of resource leakage from the continent draining foreign exchange reserves, reducing tax collection, dwindling investment inflows, and worsening poverty in Africa. The methods and channels of illicit financial outflows are many and varied including tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, over-invoicing, under-pricing, and different money laundering strategies. This source of resource outflows is far bigger and higher in terms of scale and magnitude than the normal corruption channels, which are focused upon globally.”

Infantilizing nations
Michael Marder of the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz sees parallels between European current events and earlier dark chapters in the continent’s history.
“The infantalisation and animalisation of entire nations, for course, is nothing new for Europe that has had a long tradition of portraying itself in terms of the beacon of humanity and that has invariably resorted to the idea of its ‘civilising mission’ throughout it colonial conquests and expansions. Now, almost four decades after the last European countries have withdrawn from the colonies overseas, the same rhetoric is being turned inward, retracing the new political economic continental rift between the North and the South of Europe. Exploitation is the one constant that remains after this shift: exorbitant interest rates and repayment conditions attached to the bailout package will make sure that the debtor countries organise their economies around the need to service their debt for the foreseeable future.”

Price of doing business
Duke University’s Christine Bader asks why more extractive companies are not taking preventive measures to avoid escalation of conflict with host communities.
“[Former UN special representative for business and human rights, John] Ruggie suggests that most companies aren’t yet adding up what he calls those “costs of conflict,” which might be dispersed across security, public relations, legal, and operational budgets, and therefore aren’t motivated to act.
Some companies worry that opening up lines of communication will open the floodgates for specious claims. But a Harvard University study concluded that ‘the mere existence of a quality grievance mechanism can improve a company’s relations with affected stakeholders and thereby reduce grievances, as it signals that the company is ready to be held accountable, to confront, acknowledge and learn from problems.’ ”

Oil opacity
The Economist takes on the extractive industry’s “many objections” to more stringent transparency requirements, such as those contained in America’s Dodd-Frank act.
“But businesspeople struggle to produce examples of how local restrictions on publishing confidential contract details could clash with transparency requirements elsewhere. Contracts in developing countries typically have a clause permitting disclosures that are required by the company’s home country and stock exchange. Nor does greater disclosure seem to hurt competitiveness. In 2011 Angola awarded several new deepwater oil concessions to firms covered by Dodd-Frank. No oil company has so far cited increased openness as a material risk in its [US Securities and Exchange Commission] filings.
The expense has been minimal for the few, such as America’s Newmont Mining, that already provide country-level reporting (none yet breaks the numbers down project-by-project). Exxon says that the new rules would cost $50m. That is a lot of money, to be sure, but only 0.1% of last year’s profits. Companies already collect for internal use the data they are being asked to make public.”

Know thyself
UC Irvine’s Mark LeVine argues that if American and European citizens really want to help their counterparts in countries like Syria, they must first become more knowledgeable about their own countries’ “foreign policy interests and practices.”
“And if they got such knowledge, it would demand a much larger transformation in the political culture and economic structures of their own societies, which have always been intimately tied to support for authoritarianism and corruption abroad.”

Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Unravelling social contract
A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says its member countries are experiencing their highest levels of inequality in over 30 years and calls on governments to revise their tax systems so that wealthy individual pay “their fair share of the tax burden.”
“Launching the report in Paris, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said ‘The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries. This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility. Without a comprehensive strategy for inclusive growth, inequality will continue to rise.’”

Ethiopia’s financial losses
Global Financial Integrity’s Sarah Freitas estimates that Ethiopian losses due to illicit financial outflows amounted to $3.26 in 2009, which was more than the combined value of the development assistance it received and the products it exported.
“What can be done? The first step the international community should take is to hamper the ability of corrupt and tax-evading Ethiopians to launder their money in the global financial system.  This could be accomplished by establishing a global system of automatic exchange of tax information. In this way, Ethiopian authorities could much more easily track the bank accounts their tax evaders have established around the world. Furthermore, the G20 governments could push for an end to shell companies by calling for beneficial owners of all companies, trusts and foundations to be known to government authorities.  This would make it far more difficult for the corrupt and the criminal to hide their ill-gotten gains behind a wall of corporate secrecy.”

SEC contrivances
Butler University’s Mike Koehler, a.k.a. the FCPA Professor, writes about a recent court ruling in New York that pertains to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s practice of resolving cases – whether involving allegations of foreign bribery or not – without requiring an admission or denial of guilt from the defendants.
“In prior cases, Judge Rakoff has said that this policy contributes to a ‘facade of enforcement’ (SEC v. Bank of America) and is a ‘stew of confusion and hypocrisy unworthy of such a proud agency as the SEC.’ (SEC v. Vitesse Semiconductor)
Last week, Judge Rakoff, in denying the SEC-Citigroup settlement, again had pointed words as to the SEC settlement device typically used in FCPA enforcement actions.

‘An application of judicial power that does not rest on facts is worse than mindless, it is inherently dangerous.  The injunctive power of the judiciary is not a free-roving remedy to be invoked at the whim of a regulatory agency, even with the consent of the regulated.  If its deployment does not rest on facts – cold, hard, solid facts, established either by admissions or by trials – it serves no lawful or moral purpose and is simply an engine of oppression.’
Judge Rakoff stated that the ‘SEC, of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.’”

IP enforcement
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a group of civil society organizations has sent a letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization to express concerns over the UN agency’s “approach to enforcement” regarding piracy and counterfeiting.
“The signers highlighted a lack of transparency about WIPO technical assistance activities, the extensive link being made to public health and safety (which they called “questionable and tenuous at best”) as led by industry, and the possibility that WIPO enforcement activities might be undermining existing flexibilities in IP law. Signers included AIDS groups, digital civil liberties groups, and organizations working on development on the ground in countries around the world.”

Asbestos pushing
Canada’s biggest opposition party is criticizing the government for throwing its weight behind the country’s controversial asbestos industry during negotiations for a trade agreement with India.
“In response to questions from [International Trade critic Brian] Masse, the Chief Negotiator for the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement admitted Canada is currently working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world’s second largest consumer of asbestos.
‘We already dump hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos each year into developing nations – and now we want to make it easier for asbestos magnates to do so?’ said MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre). ‘This is deplorable and Canadians need to let their government know they will not put up with this any longer.’”

Blood diamond casualty
Global Witness has announced it has left the Kimberley Process, a certification program it helped establish in the hopes of cleaning up the international diamond trade.
“The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated, said the group. Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.”

A greener Green Revolution
In a Q&A with the Inter Press Service, International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze calls for a new kind of agricultural revolution.
“The Green Revolution was successful because it focused on very clear messages: increased fertiliser use, increased improved seeds and irrigation. But we found out in the long term that it is not sustainable. So now we need to look for sustainable approaches to production that do not destroy the environment and are available to a wide spectrum of farmers in Africa and in the world as a whole.”

Transnational coordination
University of California at Santa Barbara’s William Robinson argues the current “global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control” and predicts a protracted period of conflict.
“It is noteworthy that those struggling around the world have been shown a strong sense of solidarity and are in communications across whole continents. Just as the Egyptian uprising inspired the US Occupy movement, the latter has been an inspiration for a new round of mass struggle in Egypt. What remains is to extend transnational coordination and move towards transnationally-coordinated programmes.

In my view, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward towards the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a 21st-century democratic socialism in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature.”