Latest Developments, May 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Undue influence
Deutsche Welle reports that the World Health Organization, which is holding its annual general assembly this week, is coming under fire for the growing influence of the pharmaceutical industry and private donors over its policies.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a prime example. With contributions of about US $220 million, the foundation is the second largest donor to WHO’s current budget – after the United States and before the United Kingdom in third place. The Gates foundation generates its income mainly from fixed assets.
‘The lion’s share of the $25 billion that Gates was able to invest in health programs around the world in the past 10 years stemmed from returns from well-known companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries whose business practices often run counter to global health efforts,’ [Medico International’s Thomas] Gebauer said.
Gates has also made a fortune from defending intellectual property rights, according to Gebauer. His foundation prefers to support patented medicines and vaccines instead of promoting freely accessible and less expensive generic products.”

R&D pact
Médecins Sans Frontières has called on the world’s health ministers to start drawing up a binding agreement that would encourage research and development for medical needs in poor countries.
“Today’s system for medical R&D is flawed, in that it is predominantly driven by commercial rewards rather than health priorities. This means that research is steered towards areas that are the most profitable, leaving fundamental medical needs – particularly those that disproportionately affect developing countries like tropical diseases or tuberculosis – unaddressed.

A convention would bring significant advantages. It would create an evidence-based process to define priorities. Signatory countries would then be bound to invest towards addressing those priorities. Importantly, any research funded thanks to the convention would deliver accessible and affordable products; for example, by ensuring price and supply commitments, adopting flexible licensing policies for developers, and supporting open innovation that would make knowledge available to others.”

Migrant cancer
Haaretz reports on violent protests and inflammatory rhetoric against illegal African immigrants in Tel Aviv.
“In a speech to the demonstrators, [Member of Knesset Miri] Regev said called the illegal migrants a ‘cancer in our body,’ and promised to do everything ‘in order to bring them back to where they belong.’
[MK] Danny Danon, who heads a lobby group which seeks to deal with the issue of illegal immigration said that the only solution to the problem is to ‘begin talking about expulsion.’
‘We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words “expulsion now.”’ ”

Fast-food deforestation
Mongabay reports on a new Greenpeace investigation that has found fast-food giant KFC uses packaging made partly – sometimes more than 50 percent – from Indonesian rainforest fibres.
“It isn’t the first time KFC has been criticized for its fiber sourcing practices. Campaigners — including Cole Rasenberger, a pre-teen activist — have targeted the company for using packaging from endangered forests in the United States.
But the focus of the new Greenpeace report is KFC’s relationship with [Asia Pulp & Paper], which has suffered waves of customer defections in recent years due to its environmental record. APP has cleared hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest and peatlands in Riau and Jambi, destroying critical habitat for endangered wildlife including Sumatran tigers, elephants, and orangutans.”

Free trade impacts
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s Brittany Lambert and Common Frontiers’ Raul Burbano argue the Canadian government “has shirked its responsibility” to assess the human rights impacts of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
“The trade deal came into force in August 2011 after being stalled in Parliament for nearly three years due to widespread concern that it could exacerbate existing human rights violations in Colombia.
The compromise that allowed the deal to pass was a treaty requiring both governments to report annually on the free trade agreement’s human rights impacts. The inclusion of such a provision in a trade deal is a global precedent, one touted by the Harper government as a meaningful way to ensure human rights accountability in trade with Colombia.”

OpenForum, Day 2
The Daily Maverick provides another roundup of discussions held at the Open Society’s “Money, Power & Sex” conference in Cape Town, with the second day’s focus being on culture.
“Where arguments about African identity flourish, the issue of language can’t be far behind – and so it proved. [Kenyan writer Binyavanga] Wainaina opened this can of worms, saying that he wrote in English, because ‘English just so happened, for all the reasons we all know. I am keen to domesticate it.’
But indigenous languages are not going away, he said, and ‘we will not be free to produce or create until we live full lives in our own languages.’ He pointed to the irony of the fact that it is the African elites – ‘we who have won scholarships’ – who have continued to impose English on the continent, and ‘it hasn’t worked.’

[South African singer Simphiwe] Dana said that to preserve all languages was impossible, which is why a continental language was necessary. If English is that language, she said, ‘We have to admit defeat. It’s over. Then they have won. Because culture and identity are maintained in our languages.’ ”

Expanding communities
In a interview, UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler discusses the increasing cross-fertilization of popular protest.
“Outside of our local groups or identity-based communities, we are figuring out what is our obligation to the stranger. Our commonality, whether it is anti-racism or radical democratic ideals, insists that we have obligations to one another that are not based on shared language or religion or even beliefs about humanity. Views do not have to be the same to sense that something is profoundly unjust and have strong ties of solidarity.”

The future we want
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon writes that knowing “we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity” has still not led us to embrace sustainable development.
“Clearly, the old economic model is breaking down. In too many places, growth has stalled. Jobs are lagging. Gaps are growing between rich and poor, and we see alarming scarcities of food, fuel and the natural resources on which civilization depends.

Because so many of today’s challenges are global, they demand a global response — collective power exercised in powerful partnership. Now is not the moment for narrow squabbling. This is a moment for world leaders and their people to unite in common purpose around a shared vision of our common future — the future we want.”

Latest Developments, May 4

In the latest news and analysis…

80 years
Agence France-Presse reports that the chief prosecutor in the Charles Taylor trial is recommending the former Liberian president, who was found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague last week, be sentenced to 80 years in prison.
“The prosecutor said the term would be fair given Taylor’s role in arming and aiding rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2001 civil war, one of the most brutal conflicts in modern history.

Taylor, Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, had dismissed the charges as ‘lies’ and claimed to be the victim of a plot by ‘powerful countries.’ ”

Playing for time
Intellectual Property Watch reports that Switzerland is pushing for the World Health Organization to delay this month’s planned negotiations on a mechanism for funding research and development into diseases that predominantly impact poor people.
“The proposal calls for ‘informal, in-depth consultations with Member States on the appropriateness and feasibility of the recommendations contained in the report, in particular concerning a globally binding instrument on research and development, together with the funding implications of such an instrument.’

The recommendation to proceed to negotiations for a binding instrument on R&D came from an in-depth two-year process under the Consultative Expert Working Group on research and development.”

Rational migration
The UN News Centre reports on the launch of a new study into the impacts of European immigration and border policies on the human rights of migrants.
“The year-long study, which will begin with a three-day trip to Brussels, will examine the EU directives as well as national policies in place with respect to visa regimes and border control, and will assess interception practices on land and sea, detention conditions, returns, and readmission.

‘Although migration to and from the European region is not a new phenomenon, since the 1990s the region has witnessed a sharp increase in migration movements,” [UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau] said, calling for the international community “to embrace a new, balanced discourse on migration based on equal rights, non-discrimination and dignity, as well as on reality.’ ”

Extinction woes
Mother Jones reports that a new meta-analysis of recent scientific research suggests that high levels of species extinction are as dangerous as global warming for humans.
“Studies in the past 20 years have demonstrated that more biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive. So there’s growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions from habitat loss, overharvesting, pollution, biological invasions, human overpopulation, and other human-caused environmental changes will diminish nature’s ability to provide goods and services important to all life (ours too)… like food, clean water, and a stable climate. ”

Saving independent journalism
On World Press Freedom Day, the Columbia Journalism Review reproduces part of a recent Rebecca MacKinnon talk, in which the Internet freedom activist identifies iPhone apps, social media privacy policies and intellectual property legislation as serious threats to independent journalism and democracy.
“The problem with apps is that they give the companies that run the platforms that deliver content to their devices an opportunity to censor and discriminate against certain content—not only when governments require it, but also for business reasons, or for no clear reason.

News and media companies that do care about the future of journalism and democracy must not turn a blind eye to Apple’s arbitrary censorship. The point is not that they should avoid Apple apps and their relationships with Apple. The point is that since the law and the constitution are apparently useless against private censorship and discrimination, the only way to get Apple to operate in a democracy-compatible manner is if Apple’s customers, business partners, and investors insist on it.”

Colonial borders
Washington State University’s Peter Chilson writes that the current troubles in Mali are traceable, in part, to the arbitrary borders France imposed on its former West African colonies.
“Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time on Koulouba, working in the archive on the palace grounds, which houses Mali’s oldest colonial documents, papers the French failed to destroy or take with them at independence in 1960. In those archives, and others across the region, I figured out that the French left behind no paperwork to legally justify the borders that frame the eight countries of French West Africa, all former colonies, with Mali at the center. There is no evidence that any official, French or African, actually walked the political lines to clearly lay them out at independence. This is a big part of what brings us to this mess, a Mali that has no clear government leadership and whose very shape is now stamped with a question mark.”

A questionable choice
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that British Prime Minister David Cameron, as the leader of a rich country, is “not very” qualified to take the lead on establishing successors to the Millennium Development Goals.
“To date there is no evidence of any understanding on his part of the problems facing developing countries.
His only credential, and the reason he got the job, is that his government has demonstrated a commitment to aid increases, which are wrongly seen as a proxy for commitment to poverty reduction. Those calling for ever more aid should congratulate themselves that one outcome of their efforts is the leader of a rightwing Conservative-led government which is implementing structural adjustment at home being given a starring role in deciding the future of development for the next 15 years.”

Transnational justice
Al Jazeera asks if justice is really served when transnational corporations reach out-of-court settlements over alleged rights abuses committed abroad.
“Unlikely to get any redress in Peru, the victims sued Monterrico in the UK, with the help of British law firm Leigh Day and Co, alleging that the company had been complicit in the affair.
But though their prospects looked good, the case was settled by Monterrico last year just before it came to trial. It meant the victims did get some compensation – but the wider problems they were fighting to reveal were never aired in open court.
The case is an interesting example of a growing trend. Multinational companies are increasingly likely to respond to legal challenges in this way. The settlement costs can be high but usually they are far less than they would be after a negative verdict. And more importantly it gives the companies – and their lawyers – control of the public debate.”