Latest Developments, March 14

In the latest news and analysis…

ICC’s big day
The Independent reports that even as the International Criminal Court handed down its first ever verdict – finding Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers – questions remain about the court’s ability to overcome the challenges it faces.
“The complicated nature of building cases in the absence of international legal precedent and the necessity of gaining support from states for its intervention, as well as the uneven support for the Rome treaty by major powers such as the United States, have undermined the court’s efforts to gain acceptance. The ICC and its controversial outgoing chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, have been criticised in some quarters for focusing exclusively on Africa. In an effort to weaken the accusations of an anti-African bias the ICC has appointed Fatou Bensouda from the Gambia to replace the departing Argentinian.”

Voluntary solutions
The Guardian reports not everyone is impressed by a new set of proposed “voluntary global guidelines” on land governance and resource rights that would theoretically address the issue of mass land grabs by foreign investors in poor countries.
“ ‘The breadth of participants, including governments, has seen the content watered down to secure consensus. Value for the immense time and money invested in producing the guidelines may be hard to come by,’ said Liz Alden Wily, an international land tenure specialist.  ‘These are only guidelines after all, not binding on the very governments, companies, elites and investors who are already so heavily involved in land and resource capture.’
She said the time and money might have been better spent reframing international trade law, on which resource exploitation so heavily depends, and ‘bringing feeble human rights law up to scratch. Or invested in mobilising the millions of poor affected by policies and laws.’
Alden Wily added: ‘It will be interesting to see if the global aid community promoting these guidelines will spend the same effort to translate the advice into 150 languages and get copies down to every poor community in the developing world. That’s a billion copies right there.’ ”

Water rights
Reuters AlertNet reports that NGOs were unable to get the World Water Forum declaration amended to include “an unequivocal commitment to the U.N.-recognised rights to water and sanitation.”
“…Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch – a small U.S.-based NGO – described the declaration as ‘a step backwards for water justice’, noting that signatures had not even been collected from nations that endorsed it. “The entire event itself is a corporate tradeshow parading as a multilateral forum,” she added.

The firms supporting the event include French energy giant EDF, Veolia Eau, Bouygues Construction, HSBC and JCDecaux.”

WHO woes
Intellectual Property Watch reports on allegations that the private sector is using “financial leverage to gain undue influence” in the cash-strapped World Health Organization.
“A recent piece for the non-governmental Third World Network made the assertion based on developments such as the presence of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sharing the stage with WHO Director General Margaret Chan at the WHO members annual meeting last year, and the presence of industry interests at a civil society meeting before last year’s UN summit on non-communicable diseases.

Chan has sought repeatedly to assure member states that the WHO understands the necessary line between any stakeholders. But some see industry links in the reform proposals emerging from the WHO, the group said.”

Environmentalists, Martians and terrorists
The Huffington Post reports that the campaign by Canada’s ruling party against environmental groups took a “jaw-droppingly bizarre” turn when a Conservative senator asked “if environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians,” would they also take money from Al Qaeda, Hamas or the Taliban?
“Many environmentalists are upset with [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s seeming obsession with the millions they receive each year in charitable funding from the U.S., while ignoring the millions more spent in Canada each year by foreign business interests.
Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell pointed out that the Tories have no trouble with foreign funding as long as it benefits it’s own causes, such as the National Rifle Association petitioning to kill the long gun registry.
‘Funding flows in all directions across borders, and to somehow single out a subset just because you don’t like the stance of certain organizations and then demonize them for it for receiving the funding…is really a reprehensible treatment,’ Peter Robinson, the chief executive officer of the David Suzuki Foundation told HuffPost.”

Tax haven runaround
EUobserver reports the EU’s top tax official is running into opposition from certain member countries over attempts to tackle tax avoidance in Switzerland.
“Algirdas Semeta told EUobserver that bank secrecy makes it impossible to say how much potential tax income is being lost even as EU countries cut wages and public services amid the financial crisis. But it is likely to be big bucks: Switzerland currently hands over €330 million a year in tax payments to EU countries, while its banks manage €1.5 trillion of private wealth.”

Bizjet bribes
Tulsa World reports an American aviation company and its German parent have agreed to a deal with US authorities over alleged bribes paid to Mexican officials between 2004 and 2010.
“In many instances, Bizjet allegedly paid the bribes directly to the foreign officials. On other occasions, Bizjet is accused of funneling the bribes through a shell company owned and operated by a person who was then a Bizjet sales manager.
The Justice Department also stated that Lufthansa Technik — which it described as Bizjet’s “indirect parent company” — also entered into an agreement with DOJ in connection with the purported unlawful payments by Bizjet and the directors, officers, employees and agents involved in the conspiracy.”

Bankers vs. Robin Hood
Intelligence Capital’s Avinash Persaud compares the London banking industry’s arguments against a proposed financial transaction tax, aka the Robin Hood Tax, to past denials of the link between cigarettes and cancer.
“Listening to some London bankers, you would think that a 0.1% tax would usher in a nuclear winter. Bankers are effectively saying that, while they justify their high pay with claims of superior creativity, credibility and connectivity, all of that cannot compete with a tax on each transaction of just one tenth of one per cent. If, despite the industry receiving billions in implicit public subsidies and guarantees, the largest sector in the UK economy hangs by such a thin thread, its value-added must be seriously questioned.”

Latest Developments, March 12

In the latest news and analysis…

The backlash continues
As reactions to the Kony 2012 mega-viral video keep pouring in, Warscapes’ Dinaw Mengestu’s contribution – in which he blasts Invisible Children’s saviour complex and “doctrine of simplicity” – drew rave reviews on Twitter.
“In the world of Kony 2012, Joseph Kony has evaded arrest for one dominant reason: Those of us living in the western world haven’t known about him, and because we haven’t known about him, no one has been able to stop him. The film is more than just an explanation of the problem; it’s the answer as well. It’s a beautiful equation that can only work so long as we believe that nothing in the world happens unless we know about it, and that once we do know about it, however poorly informed and ignorant we may be, every action we take is good, and more importantly, ‘makes a difference.’ In the case of Kony 2012, this isn’t simply a matter of making a complicated narrative easier to understand, but rather it’s a distortion, or at worse, a self-serving omission of the extensive efforts made over the past decade by the UN, US, Ugandan and South Sudanese governments, and numerous religious and civil organizations across Uganda, to bring Kony to justice.”

Water world
The Guardian reports on concerns over the priorities of the World Water Forum, currently underway in France, that is calling itself a “platform for solutions” to global water issues.
“But critics say the forum, which costs as much as 700 euros for full access, caters to the interests of big business and gives corporations opportunities to advance their interests by facilitating direct access to high-ranking government officials. Starting on Wednesday, activists are staging an Alternative World Water Forum to promote alternatives to privatisation and share experiences on how to promote public and community-led water management from the bottom-up.
On Friday, UN special rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque warned that government delegates to the WWF appeared to be watering down their human rights commitments to water and sanitation. These rights, formally recognised by the UN in 2010, must form the basis of any proposals to expand access to essential services, said De Albuquerque in a statement.”

Public support for Anonymous
Web consultant Jon Blanchard makes the “perhaps career-limiting admission” that he supports the Anonymous international hacktivist movement.
“Hactivism, as undertaken by Anonymous, sees no buildings burned, no kids are clubbed and no officers pelted with rocks. It is non-violent protest that deliberately targets nothing more, and nothing less, than reputation.
The most dangerous outcome of the Anonymous movement, perhaps the most important thing it can do, is the embarrassment of people unaccustomed to being embarrassed.”

Patent precedent
Intellectual Property Watch reports an Indian court has ruled that a domestic generic drug manufacturer can produce a patented cancer medication despite the objections of Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant that first developed the drug.
“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) said the ruling ends Bayer’s monopoly in India on the drug and could set precedent for making more expensive patented drugs available for compulsory licensing.
‘But this decision marks a precedent that offers hope: it shows that new drugs under patent can also be produced by generic makers at a fraction of the price, while royalties are paid to the patent holder. This compensates patent holders while at the same time ensuring that competition can bring down prices,’ Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of the MSF Access Campaign, said in a statement.”

Ethics of obesity
Arguing that “an increase in weight by some imposes costs on others,” Princeton University’s Peter Singer calls for public policies that would discourage obesity.
“Taxing foods that are disproportionately implicated in obesity – especially foods with no nutritional value, such as sugary drinks – would help. The revenue raised could then be used to offset the extra costs that overweight people impose on others, and the increased cost of these foods could discourage their consumption by people who are at risk of obesity, which is second only to tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable death.
Many of us are rightly concerned about whether our planet can support a human population that has surpassed seven billion. But we should think of the size of the human population not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of its mass. If we value both sustainable human well-being and our planet’s natural environment, my weight – and yours – is everyone’s business.”

Evolving IMF
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher writes that despite the International Monetary Fund’s continued pushing of austerity measures in recent agreements with Latvia, Ukraine and Pakistan, there are signs that the 65 year-old institution is changing its ways.
“The IMF is in a period of what economist Ilene Grabel refers to as ‘productive incoherence’. There is a lot of very productive debate and change within the organisation, but it is often inconsistent and contradictory. New thinking about inflation targeting and capital flows has indeed crept into stand-by arrangements, but not the new thinking and hard evidence on austerity.
That said, the changes in the wake of the financial crisis are not to be overlooked and deserve applause. Part of the reason the institution is changing is due to the rising economic power of its developing members, such as China, Brazil and India. Along with this newfound power will come more voting power at the Fund.
If strategic coalitions are built, they can coalesce to make the institution more development-friendly – and live up to the promise laid out by its founders.”

Multilateralism and poverty
Oxfam’s Stephen Hale sees little short-term prospect of international cooperation that would fundamentally alter a global economic system whose rules are “stacked against the interests of the poorest countries.”
“A third cause is the poverty of current global governance structures, which do not foster the common approach we need to manage global risks and deliver prosperity and security for a world of 9 billion people.
In truth, it was ever thus. Despite progress on development aid and on climate change in better economic times, the pace of global collective action has always been profoundly inadequate for the scale of the challenges we face.”