Latest Developments, January 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Legal breakthrough
Reuters reports that a Dutch court has ruled that Shell must pay damages for an oil spill in the Niger delta:

“A legal expert said the ruling could make it possible for other Nigerians who say they also suffered losses due to Shell’s activities to file lawsuits in the Netherlands.
‘The fact that a subsidiary has been held responsible by a Dutch court is new and opens new avenues,’ said Menno Kamminga, professor of international law at Maastricht University.
The court did not just examine the role of the parent company, but also looked ‘at abuses committed by Shell Nigeria, where the link with the Netherlands is extremely limited,’ he said. ‘That’s a real breakthrough.’

[Friends of the Earth’s Geert] Ritsema said it was also new that an oil company was being held responsible for failing to prevent sabotage.
There were 198 oil spills at Shell facilities in the Niger Delta last year, releasing around 26,000 barrels of oil, according to data from the company.”

Conditional care
A trio of NGOs is calling out Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold for attaching strings to a “remedy program” offered to women raped by employees of the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea:

“In order to receive a remedy package, women must enter into an agreement in which ‘the claimant agrees that she will not pursue or participate in any legal action against [Porgera Joint Venture], [Porgera Remediation Framework Association Inc.] or Barrick in or outside of PNG. PRFA and Barrick will be able to rely on the agreement as a bar to any legal proceedings which may be brought by the claimant in breach of the agreement.’
Included in the remedy options offered to women are ‘access to phychosocial/trauma counseling’ and ‘access to health care.’
‘We do not believe women should have to sign away rights to possible future legal action in order to access the types of remedy Barrick is offering these victims of rape and gang rape,’ says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.

‘We are also concerned that Barrick is not offering remedy to those women who have been raped and gang raped by members of police Mobile Squads who are being housed, fed and supported by PJV on PJV property’ says Tricia Feeney, Executive Director of Rights & Accountability in Development.”

Pacific Solution challenged
Inter Press Service reports that the leader of Papua New Guinea’s official opposition is going to court to fight an Australian detention centre for asylum seekers which is located in the island nation:

Following an agreement with Papua New Guinea, the Australian government reopened the detention facility in November last year as part of its widely criticised ‘Pacific Solution’ to increased numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters.

‘We challenge the right of the government to force people seeking refugee status in Australia to enter Papua New Guinea to be illegally and indefinitely detained under inhumane conditions,’ [Belden] Namah said in a public statement.
‘We are filing injunctions to have the current detainees released and to prevent the government from receiving or detaining any more asylum seekers from Australia.’ ”

Coal protest
The Financial Express reports that representatives of a British company wanting to develop a coal project in Bangladesh had to abandon a blanket distribution event due to hundreds of protesters “with country-made weapons in hand”:

“As information on [Asia Energy CEO] Gary Lye’s visit to the coal project area spread, local people on Monday staged demonstrations in different parts of Phulbari, Birampur, Nababganj and Parbatipur upazilas.
They also brought out processions on Tuesday morning and chanted slogans asking Asia Energy and its associates to leave the country immediately.”

Cash-strapped court
IRIN reports on concerns that the International Criminal Court cannot handle its recently announced investigation into alleged war crimes in Mali:

“ ‘There are serious questions to be asked of the new prosecutor as to whether it is a drastic overstretch to have eight African countries being dealt with simultaneously with essentially the same level of staff and the same level of finance as her office was operating on before,’ said Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. ‘Is it really feasible for the office to be dealing with so many cases?’

Total court funding in 2013 is around US$144 million, with possible access to a contingency fund of up to $9.3 million, compared with $138 million in 2010. The prosecutor’s office, which carries out the investigations, was this year allocated $37 million. This represents an increase of just $1.3 million since 2010 despite the addition of Mali, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Libya to the docket – and these countries were themselves in addition to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR).”

Blacklisted banks
The Guardian reports that Co-operative Asset Management has added Barclays to the list of banks in which the ethical funds it manages can no longer invest:

“But a subsequent review has led to Barclays being removed from the approved list of investments, which before the financial crisis excluded Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland.
Banks that are predominantly investment banks – Barclays makes the majority of its profits from investment banking – are not approved for investment. ‘Apart from struggling to convincingly pass the net benefit test, it is universally acknowledged that the most egregious risk taking, socially useless financial engineering and excess remuneration of the kind that threatened systemic failure took place at investment banks,’ the Co-op said.”

Anti-drone city
Chapati Mystery’s Manan Ahmed reflects on alternative ways to resist the US drone war in his introduction to a proposal for a city that “uses inscrutability as its armor”:

“What precisely is a response to the drones? Recently Teju Cole introduced drones in first lines of well-known fiction works and got more tweets than any of the current drone strikes. Almost simultaneously, Himanshu Suri (aka HEEMS) released the video of his ‘Soup Boys’ single which feature drones. Let us just say that while Pitchfork.tv is not necessarily concerned with Yemen or Pakistan or Mali and drones, they gushed about Soup Boys and its politics. There is both creativity and critique at the heart of these efforts – and where legally or morally we seem to be getting no where, perhaps creativity is the only ethical space left to marshall a defense.”

Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Libya

Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor suggests NATO propaganda has exaggerated the role of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa fighting among Gadhafi loyalists in Libya and may bear some of the blame for the violent backlash against dark-skinned Libyans: “Fully one-third of the Libyan population is dark-skinned and come from sub-Saharan Africa. And in pre-war prosperous Libya, migrant workers from central African countries performed most menial labour jobs. With emotions running high and Gaddafi loyalists still battling in several cities, many dark-skinned males have been summarily executed by rebels for no other reason than they are black.” Taylor does not deny the presence of some foreign mercenary troops but wonders if NATO’s support for the rebels makes its soldiers much different. With the fighting still not over, he says “it is as yet impossible to calculate how many Libyans were killed in the name of protecting Libyans.”

Meanwhile, Moammar Gadhafi is deposed but defiant and apparently still in Libya, and the embarrassments are beginning to pile up for his foreign opponents. Especially in the UK where allegations are swirling regarding renditions to Libya and a deal in which the man thought to be behind the Lockerbie boming was sent home in order to facilitate an oil contract for BP.

Somalia

As Somalia’s famine spreads, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer and Morgan Roach worry about the impact of alleged food aid theft on American taxpayer dollars and are calling for congressional oversight to prevent such misdeeds. So far, the US has given just over $60 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia, which amounts to roughly 40 cents per taxpayer.

Aid

The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz suggest that, since American troops are already engaged in “development” projects in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, it makes sense to give them the tools to be more effective.  Especially given talk of integrating the national defence, diplomacy and development budgets. As things stand, if one is to believe a former Pentagon logistician, the amount the US military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than the US Agency for International Development’s program budget. The Pentagon, however, disputes the retired brigadier general’s math.

A trio of researchers from MIT and the World Bank looked into the impacts of incentivized aid, whereby the size of grants provided to Indonesian villages depended on their progress toward reaching a number of health and education objectives. They found that such incentives led to improvements in health, but not education.

A new European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) report entitled “How to spend it: smart procurement for more effective aid” suggests that despite decade-old pledges by wealthy donor countries to untie aid, roughly 20 percent of development assistance requires recipients to spend money in donor countries. Moreover, because of the nature of the tendering and procurement system, a further 60 percent of aid contracts end up going to donor-country companies. In other words, 80 percent of aid is either formally or informally tied, making it “boomerang aid: a financial flow that is only channelled to developing countries on the books.” According to the report, “ tied aid disallows developing countries from taking full responsibility of their own development. It puts purchasing decisions in donors’ hands instead, often resulting in the purchase of inadequate goods or failed services.”

Human rights

Bard College’s Ian Buruma looks at the impacts of culture and religion on women’s rights. He argues that, as is the case with both the Taleban and disgraced former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, “culture comes to the rescue of the powerful more often than it protects the weak.” He believes culture needs to be subordinated to laws that protect those at risk. But while recognizing there are places where such goals are distant ones, he cautions against overzealous outside interference: “As for women in Muslim countries, there may not be much that people in the West can do to improve their lot. But it is unlikely that much good will come from bombing them.”

Globalization

Oxfam’s Duncan Green asks: “When did talking on the subject of ‘globalization and development’ start to feel so retro?” He describes an investigation into who benefits from globalization and how to spread those benefits around more equitably as “a very last-decade kind of gig.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the World Bank is in “very early stage” discussions with China to collaborate on exporting low-end manufacturing jobs to Africa, as the Asian giant adjusts to a shrinking workforce and an increased emphasis on producing higher-value products. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said shifting 5 million jobs to Africa would increase manufacturing employment on the continent by 50 percent.One of the possible methods for the transition would be the creation of industrial zones, a tactic that has proved controversial in Haiti, for example. Zoellick also sees potential for Chinese assistance in agriculture.