International Affairs

South Africa:Shooting Rocks Cape Town International Airport - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
[News24Wire] Reports have emerged of a shooting at Cape Town International Airport.

Nigeria:Inflation Rate Drops for Eight Consecutive Time - Report - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
[Premium Times] For the eighth consecutive time since January 2017, Nigeria's inflation rate dropped to 15.98 per cent in September from 16.01 per cent recorded in August, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, said on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe:U.S.$400 Million Rail Deal Gets Cabinet Nod - Tue, 17 Oct 2017
[The Herald] The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ)'s $400 million deal with a consortium led by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) and South Africa's Transnet is now back on the rails after Cabinet gave a nod to the proposed tie-up. Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo confirmed the new development last night. It ultimately leads to the last leg of negotiations before the deal takes off."Yes, I can confirm that Cabinet has agreed to the investment

South Africa:Govt Marks Anniversary of Economic Partnership With EU - Tue, 17 Oct 2017
[] South Africa and the European Union (EU) this week mark the first anniversary of their Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

South Sudan:South Sudan to Revive Crude Oil Operations - Tue, 17 Oct 2017
[East African] Economically struggling South Sudan is determined to restore security in the country in order to resume normal crude oil production and attract investments. The oil sector has been battered since South Sudan's civil war started in December 2013.

Adrift in Afghanistan - Wed, 03 May 2017

As the war in Afghanistan drifts back into the public spotlight, Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon argues that five “urgent questions must be answered about the near- and long-term future of the fight.” The United States must clarify its definition of stability and success in Afghanistan, determine whether the Taliban, ISIS, or both is the enemy, discuss how many troops are needed on the ground, and create plans for stemming the loss of life among Afghan forces and for bringing an end to the war.

Making Chile Great Again - Wed, 03 May 2017

Since its return to democracy in 1990, Chile has been heralded as Latin America’s exception, writes Shannon O’Neil. But in the present, “this tranquillity has come to an end, and the economic and social consensus of the postauthoritarian years has crumbled.”

A Vision of Trump at War - Wed, 22 Mar 2017

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Philip Gordon offers a vision of howPresident Trump could stumble—through bluster, wishful thinking, and miscalculation—into war with Iran, China, and North Korea.

World Order 2.0 - Wed, 15 Feb 2017

There is growing tension between President Trump’s America First doctrine and building order in an interconnected world, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Egypt’s Nightmare - Mon, 13 Feb 2017

The single-minded pursuit of the Muslim Brotherhood has become the guiding principle of Egypt’s foreign and domestic policies, writes CFR’s Steven A. Cook. These policies, however, are proving counterproductive and destabilizing to the lives of Egyptians as well as Gazans, Libyans, and Syrians.

Issue Guide: Fidel Castro - Sat, 26 Nov 2016

Fidel Castro, who died on November 25, was one of the most prominent figures of the Cold War and an adversary of ten consecutive U.S. presidential administrations. This reading list considers the legacy of his nearly fifty years in power, including the Cuban Missle Crisis, the U.S. economic embargo, and the years following the Cold War.

Iran Nuclear Deal’s ‘Implementation Day’ - Sun, 17 Jan 2016

The confirmation by UN monitors that Iran has complied with the deal to dismantle large parts of its nuclear program lifts major sanctions and ushers in a new era for the Middle East. This issue guide offers analysis and background.

Issue Guide: 2016 State of the Union Address - Mon, 11 Jan 2016

Catch up on the issues President Obama will focus on in his final year with this State of the Union reading list.

Issue Guide: Iran Nuclear Talks - Fri, 26 Jun 2015

As the deadline looms for the completion of a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, this issue guide provides background on the diplomatic progress and stumbling blocks, and possible consequences of an agreement.

Issue Guide: Greece's Debt Crisis - Mon, 15 Jun 2015

Five years after the onset of its sovereign debt crisis, Greece once again finds itself on the precipice of default and a departure from the nineteen-member eurozone. This reading list provides expert background and analysis of the crisis.

Argentina’s leader Mauricio Macri covets momentum from midterm poll - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
Legislative elections will be a referendum on the reformist president

Brazilians taste the first fruits of recovery - Wed, 11 Oct 2017
Low inflation is allowing an economy emerging from a historic recession to breathe

Businessmen leaders enjoy their moment in South America - Fri, 06 Oct 2017
Centrist technocrats are back in fashion, but obstacles lie ahead

Mexico rescue efforts obscured by backdrop of controversy - Fri, 22 Sep 2017
Distrust in the government was amplified by less-than-stellar communication

A swansong indictment from Brazil’s Rodrigo Janot - Mon, 18 Sep 2017
For President Temer relief may be only temporary as country’s chief prosecutor bows out with a bang

Amazon and eBay warned by MPs about VAT fraudsters - Tue, 17 Oct 2017
The websites are accused by MPs of profiting from sellers who do not charge the tax on UK sales.

Rio Tinto charged with fraud by US authorities - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
The mining giant also paid £27m to UK regulators for breaching rules when buying African coal assets.

Sainsbury's to cut 2,000 jobs in cost-saving drive - Tue, 17 Oct 2017
The UK supermarket plans to cut jobs in human resources as part of a £500m cost-saving plan.

Harvey Weinstein 'steps down from company board' - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
Harvey Weinstein was fired from his company over sex allegations but had stayed on its board.

Australia's Crown casino denies slot-machine 'tampering' - Wed, 18 Oct 2017
Australia's parliament hears claims that Crown casino deliberately removed betting options.

France Should Face up to Azerbaijan’s Rights Record - Tuesday, March 1

In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku?

In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate.

One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived.

Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered.

When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment.

Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society.

President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics.

Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars.

Arvind Ganesan - Monday, May 25,

Arvind Ganesan is the director of Human Rights Watch’s Business and Human Rights Division. He leads the organization’s work to expose human rights abuses linked to business and other economic activity, hold institutions accountable, and develop standards to prevent future abuses. This work has included research and advocacy on awide range of issues includingthe extractive industries; public and private security providers; international financial institutions; freedom of expression and information through the internet; labor rights; supply chain monitoring and due diligence regimes; corruption; sanctions; and predatory practices against the poor. Ganesan’s work has covered countries such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, the United States, and Nigeria. His recent research has focused on predatory lending practices and governance issues on Native American reservations in the United States. He has written numerous reports, op-eds, and other articles and is widely cited by the media.

Ganesan has also worked to develop industry standards to ensure companies and other institutions respect human rights. He is a founder of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for the oil, gas, and mining industries and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the internet and telecommunications industries, where he also serves on the board. Ganesan has helped to develop standards for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and regularly engages governments in an effort to develop mandatory rules or strengthen existing standards such as the Kimberley Process. He serves on the board of EGJustice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea, and is a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)’s steering committee.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Ganesan worked as a medical researcher. He attended the University of Oklahoma.

World Bank Accountability Body Addresses Attacks on Critics - Tuesday, October

Members of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Cambodia demonstrate at a police blockade in December 2012 on the second day of community activist Yorm Bopha’s trial, on trumped up charges apparently brought for speaking out on forced evictions linked to a World Bank financed project.

© 2012 John Vink/Magnum Photos

When things go wrong with World Bank Group’s projects, it is often members of the community impacted who expose these problems. But they do so at their own risk. Finally, one of the bank’s accountability bodies is taking steps to make it safer for such members when they speak out.

Here’s why this move is so important: When a Cambodian villager filed a complaint about a World Bank Group project, a government official allegedly said, “Don’t be too strong in your advocacy, otherwise you may end up in prison.”

“I was afraid,” the community member said, “but felt I had to continue, because I was doing the right thing.”

This echoes other findings we documented in a 2015 report on whistleblowers in bank-financed projects. In 18 of the 34 cases we looked into, people who complained said they had been threatened or faced retaliation that they believed was linked to their concerns about the project. We found the bank does little to make sure it is safe for people to share their views about projects, and to prevent retaliation against these people.

Last week, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent body within the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, published an “approach” outlining how it will work to prevent and respond to threats and reprisals. This is after the Inspection Panel – the accountability body for the bank’s public sector lending arms – released in March 2016 guidelines to reduce retaliation risks.

These efforts to make it safer for people to expose problems in World Bank projects are welcome, as are pledges from other international financial institutions’ accountability bodies to follow suit. Still, the CAO approach does not describe actions it will take in partnership with people who are retaliated against.

The World Bank and other financing institutions, which have far more power to prevent and respond to reprisals than their accountability bodies, should commit to taking stronger actions themselves. The Dutch development bank, FMO, which published a position statement on human rights that addresses human rights defenders last month, is the only financing institution to have overtly tackled these issues.

The World Bank says that it takes “all reports regarding harassment of independent monitors very seriously.” It should back up these words by working with its clients to make sure it’s safe for people to share their views about its projects, monitoring for threats, and responding strongly whenever reprisals occur. 

Poor Transparency in Kentucky’s Private Probation Industry - Monday, October

Kentucky is one of several US states that allows private companies to supervise people on probation and requires people to pay companies for that service. Based on its experience researching the industry, last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky released a report describing how opaque the industry is, and called for either ending the use of private probation in the state or implementing stronger regulations.

Human Rights Watch’s own research in other states has shown how a lack of transparency around the practices and finances of probation companies can allow abuse to proliferate unchecked, with devastating consequences for poor offenders.

Kentucky has six companies operating in at least a quarter of its counties, the first of which started operating in 1989. It wasn’t until 2000 that Kentucky took any steps to regulate private probation, though even then there was no way to ensure that companies were following the rules.

Over the past three years the ACLU of Kentucky has made multiple attempts to examine the state’s use of these companies. The ACLU’s attempts in 2015 to request information from judges about private probation companies – records judges were meant to collect under the state’s rules – yielded no results. Private probation companies also refused to provide details, saying they weren’t subject to the state’s open records laws.

New, more stringent private probation rules have since taken effect. In 2017 in partnership with Human Rights Watch, the ACLU sent new requests to a hundred district court judges about their use of private probation. This time, about 70 judges responded, showing varying use across the state with roughly a quarter of Kentucky’s counties using private probation. In one county, judges in the same courthouse took differing approaches to probation: while one uses a private probation company in certain types of cases, another judge does not require any kind of supervision for low-level offenders, meaning no additional fees. The fees private probation companies charge to people under their supervision also varied from county to county.

Despite a higher response rate, information on the number of people supervised by probation companies, the total each person pays for their supervision, and the outcomes of their cases were not available as Kentucky does not require courts to track this information.

The uneven use of private probation across the state means starkly different experiences for people in Kentucky’s criminal justice system. As a result, the ACLU is recommending ending the use of private probation, short of which it calls on the state to ensure greater transparency, regulation, and oversight of the industry. 

Multimillion Dollar Settlement Casts Light on US Probation Abuses - Tuesday, Septemb

A private probation company in Tennessee recently reached an important settlement in a class action suit alleging wide-ranging abuses, a victory for those fighting the industry’s predatory practices that hurt the poor.

Providence Community Corrections (PCC) agreed to pay US$14 million to settle the suit in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The county was also a defendant for contracting PCC, and agreed to pay plaintiffs US$300,000. Rutherford County also committed to ending its use of private probation companies, to waiving fees and fines for people living in poverty, and to stop imposing probation on people purely because they are unable to pay court costs.

The complaint alleged PCC engaged in numerous questionable practices, describing the conflicts of interest that can arise when a company profits from probationers’ fees and the dangerous incentives to employ every tool – some illegal and unconstitutional – to ensure payment.

For example, individuals had to pay a multitude of fees directly to PCC – everything from supervision and random drug tests to unlawful surcharges, like “picture fees.” Those who were too poor to pay were put on supervised probation, incurring additional costs. In some cases, these fees exceeded the criminal fine. The complaint alleges that when plaintiffs, many of whom depended on government benefits, tried to get fee waivers, PCC’s complex process made them unobtainable. Many said they lost their homes, jobs, and cars trying to keep up with payments.

The complaint also maintains that when someone fell behind on payments, PCC officers had the discretion to “violate” them, threatening jail time to coerce payment. One plaintiff claimed PCC even falsified drug tests as a way to pressure him to pay.

If the judge signs off on the settlement, the complainants will be eligible for compensation. But this is just for people in one county. Private probation companies continue to operate across the United States – often without anything close to the kind of strict government oversight needed to prevent serious abuse. Human Rights Watch documented private probation abuses in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in a 2014 report and is examining companies in other states. Around the country, lawsuits similar to the Tennessee case have led jurisdictions to reconsider the use of companies to supervise probationers.

With growing scrutiny and outcry, counties and state governments cannot deny knowing about serious problems with private probation, and should make sure abuses don’t take place in their jurisdiction.

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