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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "World Bank"

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Happy New Year, Nigeria: Now Say Good-Bye to Your Safety Net

January 10, 2012 ·

Massive protests have broken out in Nigeria following the government's announcement that long-standing oil subsidies will be terminated. Reuters has reported that tens of thousands have taken to the streets, and that confrontations with police have left at least five dead.

Thousands gathered outside the labour union headquarters in Lagos and marched to the marina that runs along its wide lagoon. The roads of the normally heaving commercial hub, notorious for its traffic jams, were largely empty.

Oil workers were also on strike and the offices of international companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil were shut. But Shell and the state oil company said output was unaffected.

Subsidies on imports of motor fuel were scrapped on Jan 1., leaving countless Nigerians without the only welfare program they depend on. With the change, Nigerians will be paying one dollar per liter in a country where most people make less than two dollars per day. People from all walks of life, including novelist Chinua Achebe, have lent support to the nascent movement to oppose this gutting of the Nigerian safety net.

A small, but high-energy crowd demonstrated at the World Bank to stand in solidarity with Nigeria, and to say no to the policies proposed by global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Here's a video (catch IPS'er Emira Woods leading the chants at the 0:58 mark):

The government argues that the subsidy program is riddled with corruption, and that this step is necessary to curtail government spending. The rhetoric is eerily familiar. All over the world, states once held the power to create a safety net for their citizens. In today's political environment, corporations are able to flex their muscle to impede on government taking that role from Wisconsin and El Salvador, to Lagos.

Why the 99 Percent are Protesting at the World Bank Today

December 15, 2011 ·

99 Percent Protesting at the Word BankToday I will join leaders from the labor, environmental, faith, and human rights communities to protest in front of the World Bank.

Why?

We'll be there to stand up for the democratic rights of people everywhere in the face of ever-expanding corporate rule.

There's a set of people from the 1 percent who don't think we should be there. Twenty-one years ago, those people got together just two blocks north of the World Bank, in the K Street corporate lobbyist corridor, and crafted a set of corporate rights that they then inserted in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

These so-called "investor protections," now in dozens of U.S. trade and investment treaties, are some of the most extreme examples of excessive corporate powers you could find. They grant corporations the right to sue governments in international tribunals over actions that reduce the value of their investment. This can even include environmental, health, and other measures to protect the public developed through a democratic process.

These rules empowered an obscure tribunal in the World Bank to rule on these "investor-state" cases. Three people who no one elected can decide the fate of millions.

One of these tribunals will soon decide the fate of El Salvador. A gold mining company, Pacific Rim, is suing for compensation because that government has not approved a permit for a gold mining project. The majority of Salvadorans oppose this project because of legitimate concerns that it could poison a river that's the country's biggest source of drinking water. Pacific Rim is demanding in excess of $77 million.

The story gets even more outrageous. Pacific Rim is suing under the U.S. trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, called DR-CAFTA. But since Pacific Rim is based in Canada, and Canada isn't part of the DR-CAFTA pact, they created a subsidiary in Nevada in order to file this lawsuit.

If Pacific Rim gets away with this, it will give a green light to global corporations everywhere to pull this same trick. U.S. corporations could set up subsidiaries in other countries that are trade partners with the United States, in order to sue the U.S. government.

During today's protest, I'll be part of a group of us that will walk across the street and deliver an open letter to this tribunal (called the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) and to the president of the World Bank, who chairs the tribunal's administrative council.

The letter, signed by over 240 labor unions and other international organizations representing more than 180 million people, demands that El Salvador's domestic governance processes and national sovereignty be respected and that the Pacific Rim case be thrown out. This is the 99 percent standing up to the 1 percent. We're saying: You must stop trampling on democracy.

John Cavanagh is Director of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. In August, he published in The Nation , with Robin Broad the article Like Water for Gold in El Salvador.

Effects of Resource Extraction on Human Rights in Chad

June 21, 2011 ·

Chad - (noun) 
1. Paper fragments created when holes are made in paper. 
2. A landlocked country in Central Africa bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, and Cameroon to the southwest.

It might seem that these two meanings are unrelated. However, in the June 15, 2011 discussion about the effect of oil extraction on the citizens of Chad, it was apparent that both definitions describe the country of Chad. Drilling holes into Chadian territory for the purpose of extracting oil has resulted in increased fragmentation of Chad’s society.

Delphine Djiraibe, founder of the Public Interest Law Center in Chad; Ian Gary, senior policy manager for extractive industries at Oxfam America; and Corinna Gilfillan, head of the U.S. Office of Global Witness, spoke to a group of over 20 people regarding the results of the World Bank’s decision to financially support the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project.

The pipeline project has had reciprocal effects for the World Bank and Chadians. Approved by the World Bank in 2000, the pipeline project was intended to alleviate poverty in Chad. Chad is the fifth poorest country in the world with an annual per capita income of $230. Despite its intended purpose, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline has resulted in decreased quality of life for Chadians. Deaths due to hunger and disease have increased, and citizens often do not have access to electricity and clean drinking water. While the government has built a few hospitals and schools, many of them are useless since they do not have staff or equipment. A significant portion of the oil profits intended for these projects are diverted for President Idriss Déby’s personal expenses.

Rebel groups have formed in response to the repression experienced by Chadians and have consequently caused security issues in Chad. Chad rebel groups have also recruited Libyan rebels to assist in overturning the Déby government. However, this fight will be difficult as the president has used oil profits to purchase weapons for his protection and defend his regime. In this country with no rule of law and a history of human rights violations, the pipeline project has served as a catalyst for further violations.

Gary weighed in by revealing that many civil society groups lobbied the World Bank to institute a moratorium on the pipeline initiative until human rights and government issues were resolved.  Civil society groups accurately predicted that the pipeline project would create a greater opportunity for corruption in Chad and cause additional problems in the country. Despite these warnings, the World Bank proceeded with funding the initiative which it would abandon in 2008, after Chad failed to reach the goal of reducing poverty. The bank attempted to pressure the Chadian government to uphold its promise to build structures that would alleviate poverty but the Chadian government paid its loan early and was no longer obligated to abide to the established guidelines.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline project shed light on problems that arise as a result of the extraction of oil in unstable countries and spurred reforms at the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation (IFC). The World Bank now requires the disclosure of payments for any project it funds and the IFC requires disclosure of contracts. (Chadian oil contracts were confidential). Also, free prior informed consent of indigenous population is required before oil, mining, or any high-risk project goes forward. Furthermore, the president of the bank agreed to an Extractive Industries Review (EIR), a two year process that examined the banks’ involvement in the oil sector. The EIR report recommended that the World Bank never support oil or mining projects where the government is corrupt and human rights violations are common and government, human rights and institutional capacity should be rectified before the start of the project, not during. However, the World Bank has continued its attempt to rectify issues along the way.

The pipeline project unintentionally strengthened the power of a corrupt government and negatively impacted the citizens of Chad. This could have been avoided had the World Bank listened to the concerns of civil society groups.

So what happens now? What can the international community do to support the citizens of Chad?  Clearly there needs to be a system of improved governance over resources as well as transparency of revenues and expenditures to ensure that resources granted to the government are benefiting its citizens.

Click here to listen to what the panelists had to say about oil extraction in Chad.

World Bank Doesn't Belong at the Green Climate Fund's Drawing Table

April 5, 2011 ·

The UN climate talks held in Cancun late last year paved the way for a new Green Climate Fund to channel money for developing countries to build resiliency, protect forests, and bring low-carbon technologies and practices into mainstream use.

That marked a critical victory for developing countries, but the biggest fights have yet to come. In the coming year, a committee of 40 government representatives (25 from developing and 15 from developed countries) will be working furiously with the UN and other institutions, as well as finance, gender, community participation, and other experts, on making this fund a reality. They must do everything from creating a management structure to forging a global definition of "clean energy."

This ambitious task is meant to result in a Green Climate Fund that can handle the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars a year developing countries will need in the coming decades to combat climate change and at the same time continue their fight against poverty.

It's fundamentally disturbing, however, that the World Bank — the planet’s leading cheerleader for a growth-without-limits development paradigm — is elbowing its way to the front of the line to help design the new fund, almost guaranteeing itself a permanent role in its management.

More than 90 environment, development, human rights, and anti-debt organizations from around the world conveyed this concern in a letter to the Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the convener of the first fund design meeting.

In the letter, civil society leaders called for strictly limiting the World Bank's role in the design on the Green Climate Fund for the following reasons:

First and foremost, the World Bank continues to finance dirty coal, oil and gas projects. According to a World Bank Group Energy Sector Financing Update prepared by the Bank Information Center, the global lender supported fossil fuel projects to the tune of $6.6 billion in 2010, a 116 percent increase from the year before. That included $4.4 billion for coal power projects, more than it spent on all new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects combined for the year ($3.4 billion). So while the World Bank is undeniably increasing it renewable energy financing, the volume is still dwarfed by its fossil fuel lending.

Bobby Peek, director of groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, an environmental justice group in Durban, South Africa, that endorsed the NGO letter, noted, “Only a year ago the World Bank made its largest loan ever to dirty energy, signing $3.75 billion over to the Eskom energy company to build a 4,800MW coal-fired power station in South Africa.” He asked, “Is this the institution we want to put in charge funding the solutions to the climate crisis?”

Bank officials say that the Eskom power plant — and similar coal projects in other countries — are important for bringing access to electricity for energy-poor families. But environmentalists and local activists argue that the project will benefit large mines and smelters, not the local community.

In fact, in an independent review of the Bank’s 26 fossil fuel loans in 2009 and 2010, Oil Change International found that none of these clearly identify access for the poor as a direct target of the project. The Bank agreed that not a single coal or oil project could be classified as improving energy access.

To the World Bank’s credit, it may be about to change course to a degree. A leaked draft of its new 10-year energy strategy revealed plans to move away from supporting new coal projects in middle-income countries. But environment and development groups argue that the language used in that draft document is riddled with loopholes. The energy plan also includes a massive scale-up of hydropower mega-dams that threaten to displace communities, destroy fisheries, and release their own greenhouse gases.

The Green Climate Fund should remain fully independent from the World Bank. Its design committee should engage experts from UN agencies and all regions of the world. Experts on gender, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, renewable energy and efficiency technologies, indigenous peoples, human rights, and social and environmental safeguards should weigh in, too.

Rwanda arrests U.S. Lawyer defending Opposition Candidate

June 3, 2010 ·

ErlinderLawyers in this country often get a bad rap for charging predatory rates and manipulating the fine print for their personal gain. It is too easy to forget that lawyers play a vital role of enforcing the rule of law and protecting our most basic rights and liberties. So how do we respond when the tables are turned and a lawyer's rights are being violated /in need of defense?

The US State Department suggests we sit on our hands. Nothing has improved for almost a week since Rwandan police arrested Peter Erlinder, a US lawyer and head of the International Criminal Court’s defense lawyer’s association, in Kigali last Friday. He had just arrived to defend his client, presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, when he was arrested and charged with the same crime for which she is wanted: practicing “genocide ideology.”

Rwanda’s recent constitution includes a “Genocide Ideology Law,” intended to penalize genocidaires and those who deny the reality of the1994 genocide. Although this law rests on good intentions, President Kagame has employed it with increasing frequency and in situations where it is unsubstantiated. In essence, the law has become a tool of the regime for political targeting and elimination of their opposition. 

Erlinder’s arrest is especially notable in this trend because it is the first time Rwanda has used “genocide ideology” charges to detain a foreign national. While Erlinder never denied the genocide, he has said it is inaccurate to blame only one side and criticized Kagame for suppressing open discussion of the subject. Ironically, the Rwandan government responded to Erlinder's rational appeal by making him an example of his own criticisms.

Kagame’s regime has leveled this emotionally charged indictment against its political opponents in the lead up to presidential elections August 9th. The most recent and high profile charge came against Victoire Inagabire April 21st, after she announced her candidacy for Kagame’s seat.

The international community, particularly the World Bank, has heaped praise on Kagame’s regime for its role in Rwanda’s economic recovery and political stability since the disastrous genocide there in 1994. This praise should not overshadow the increasingly authoritarian tendencies in Rwanda, however. These include muzzling of the independent press, harassment and intimidation of opposition parties in elections, and now criminal indictments against political opponents and their lawyers. Read more about the regression of democracy in Rwanda here.

The United States is incontrovertibly required to address Rwanda’s actions, both to protect Mr. Erlinder and to send a broader diplomatic message that such unlawful action against US citizens abroad will not be permitted. Yet so far, the US has prioritized maintaining its healthy political relationship with Rwanda.

“The US has had a special relationship with Rwanda, which remains one of the largest recipients of US foreign assistance in Africa.  Given the US government's expressed commitment to democracy and the rule of law, it is critical that the Obama Administration and the US Congress uphold these values in Rwanda and demand the immediate release of Peter Erlinder, an advocate of justice,” said the Institute's Emira Woods.

The National Lawyers Guild, of which Erlinder was formerly president, was first to issue a statement demanding his immediate release. At a national press conference in Washington June 3rd, the president of the National Lawyers Guild, David Gespass, said, "Professor Erlinder has been acting in the best tradition of the legal profession and has been a vigorous advocate in his representation of his clients. There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for representing defendants it dislikes.”

The injustice of Erlinder’s arrest and detainment is on the hands of both Rwanda and now the United States for its continued inaction. "The real issue here seems to be whether the US and the world will stand by and allow my father to be detained and prosecuted for doing his job, as an attorney and advocate for his clients," said Sarah Erlinder, daughter of Peter Erlinder.

The detainment became extremely critical Tuesday, when reports that Erlinder was hospitalized and had tried to commit suicide while in jail were released by the Rwandan government. "He mixed between 45 and 50 tablets in water and took the concoction in an attempted suicide," Rwandan Police Spokesman Kayiranga said. "However, the police managed to intercept and took Erlinder to hospital before the drugs could take their toll on his body."  Erlinder’s family disputes the validity of this claim and is pressing the Red Cross to make an independent investigation into his condition.

Why are NGOs the only reliable mechanism for news here? The US Embassy in Rwanda has been disturbingly absent throughout this affair.While the US Embassy staff took off work this Monday for Memorial Day, a holiday to commemorate those who fought for justice and freedoms, a champion of those very values remained behind bars just miles away in Kigali.  Justice and rule of law shouldn't take vacations, especially when champions of the law like Peter Erlinder need our help.

You can write to the Rwandan government demanding Peter Erlinder's release here.

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