Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Drone War in Somalia

Somali militants say that a Moroccan was killed in a strike that a U.S. official said was carried out by an American drone. The statement Saturday (Feb. 25, 2012) on an al-Shabab website  [twitter account]named the dead Moroccan as Sheik Abu Ibrahim. The statement said two others — including a second foreigner — were killed in the overnight Friday attack.  A U.S. official told The Associated Press the attack was carried out by a drone. Somali officials identified another of the militants killed in the attack as a Kenyan citizen. Somalia’s al-Shabab counts hundreds of foreign fighters among its ranks. It formally merged with al-Qaeda this month.

U.S. drone kills Moroccan militant, Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2012

 

The UAE Goes Forward with its Nuclear Energy Program

EnergySolutions has been awarded a four year contract to design and supply waste management systems for the United Arab Emirates’(UAE) nuclear energy program. The program will see a Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO)-led consortium build four reactors for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), with the reactors based on the Shin-Kori APR1400 plants, which will serve as the ‘reference plants’ for the UAE’s new build plans.  Under the contract EnergySolutions will supply liquid waste processing equipment, including ion exchange and reverse osmosis systems, which will serve to significantly reduce levels of contamination and waste.

“This contract award follows EnergySolutions’ capture of two similar deals in China and sees the Middle East join the USA and Canada, Europe, and Asia as markets for the company’s sector-leading technologies and expertise in nuclear waste processing solutions”, said Mark Morant, President, Global Commercial Group, EnergySolutions. “We are leading the way in both the clean-up of old reactors and the design of innovative waste systems for new units and we look forward to working with KEPCO & ENEC to make a success of the UAE’s exciting new build program.”

EnergySolutions has over 15 years’ experience designing and delivering liquid waste management systems to Korean customers and other Korean reactor sites where our equipment is operating include Shin-Wolsong 1-2, Shin-Kori 1-2, 3-4, Kori 1-2, 3-4, Youngwang 1-2, 3-4, and Ulchin 1-2, 3-4. The Chinese wins were at the Yangjiang and Haiyang reactor sites.

EnergySolutions Wins Major New Build Contract in the United Arab Emirates, Press Release of Energy Solutions, Feb. 23, 2012

See also Nuclear Race in the Middle East

The Protection of Human Rights in Domestic Courts: Nigerians versus Royal Dutch Shell

The Supreme Court will weigh next week whether corporations can be sued in the United States for suspected complicity in human rights abuses abroad, in a case being closely watched by businesses concerned about long and costly litigation.  The high court on Tuesday will consider the reach of a 1789 U.S. law that had been largely dormant until 1980, when human rights lawyers started using it, at first to sue foreign government officials. Then, over the next 20 years, the lawyers used the law to target multinational corporations.

The case before the court pits the Obama administration and human rights advocates against large companies and foreign governments over allegations that Royal Dutch Shell Plc helped Nigeria crush oil exploration protests in the 1990s. Administration attorneys and lawyers for the plaintiffs contend corporations can be held accountable in U.S. courts for committing or assisting foreign governments in torture, executions or other human rights abuses.  Attorneys for corporations argue that only individuals, such as company employees or managers involved in the abuse, can be sued, a position adopted by a U.S. appeals court in New York. Other courts ruled corporations can be held liable.

The justices will hear an appeal by a group of Nigerians who argue they should be allowed to proceed with a lawsuit accusing Shell of aiding the Nigerian government in human rights violations between 1992 and 1995.

California attorney Paul Hoffman, who will argue on behalf of the plaintiffs, said corporations, under the 1789 law, were permissible defendants and that corporate civil liability was a general principle of international law.  “Businesses involved in genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious human rights violations deserve no exemption from tort liability,” he said in a brief filed with the court.  The Obama administration supported the corporate liability argument, as did international human rights organizations and Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Representing Shell at the arguments, Kathleen Sullivan, a former dean of the Stanford Law School in California, said U.S. and international law do not allow corporate liability for the alleged offenses. She said the post-World War Two Nuremberg tribunals covered prosecutions of individuals, not corporations.  She warned of the consequences of allowing such lawsuits.  “Even a meritless … suit against a corporation can take years to resolve,” she said in a brief, adding that corporations may reduce their operations in less-developed nations where such abuses tend to arise.

The British, Dutch and German governments supported Shell and said it violates international law to apply a U.S. law from more than 200 years ago to acts that take place in other countries and have no connection to the United States.  Also backing Shell are various multinational corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business lobby. Robin Conrad, head of the group’s legal arm, said that if the Supreme Court upholds corporate liability, “the global business community will face yet another wave of frivolous and expensive litigation.”

In the past two decades, more than 120 lawsuits have been filed in U.S. courts against 59 corporations for alleged wrongful acts in 60 foreign countries, lawyers in the case said.  Many of the lawsuits have been unsuccessful, though there have been a handful of settlements, the lawyers said. Many of the cases, having dragged on for years, are still pending.

Among the cases: Indonesia villagers accused Exxon Mobil Corp’s security forces of murder, torture and other abuses in 1999-2001; Firestone tire company was accused of using child labor in Liberia; and Ford Motor Co and other firms were accused of aiding South Africa’s apartheid system.

The Supreme Court case is Esther Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, No. 10-1491 (pdf arguments of the Obama Administration)

By James Vicini, Supreme Court to hear corporate human rights case, Reuters, Feb. 25, 2012

The Unstoppable Oil Pollution: Penghu Islands and BP Oil Spill

Taiwan’s offshore Penghu County is facing a serious oil pollution threat along some of its shores from a stranded Thailand-flagged freighter, a local official said Tuesday [Feb, 21, 2012].  The Oberon ran aground in shallow water off Mudou islet, part of the Penghu archipelago, early Sunday in strong winds.   All 16 of the vessel’s crew were taken off the battered vessel and the Penghu Defense Command dispatched 200 military personnel to clean leaked fuel oil from the beaches of nearby Siyu Township.More than 64 tons of oil had so far been collected, Col. Li Zi-cheng said.The contamination is “quite serious,” Li told CNA in a telephone interview.”We will continue the cleaning work in the coming week,” he added. The Penghu Islands, also known as Pescadores, are an archipelago off Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait consisting of 90 small islands and islets covering an area of

Penghu islands facing serious oil pollution from stranded ship, CNA, Feb. 21, 2012

 

The state of Mississippi has reached an agreement on civil penalties with one company over the BP oil spill.  On Tuesday, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the settlement with MOEX Offshore.  MOEX will pay $5 million to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Pollution Emergency Fund.  The company also agreed to pay an additional $5 million on supplemental environmental projects to promote conservation.  The U. S. and five Gulf State affected by the spill jointly negotiated a $90 million settlement with MOEX. Hood says the settlement is only for civil penalties and does not cover damages.

View over the Deepwater Horizon site, WTVA, Feb. 21, 2012

Another Way to Exploit African Countries; depleting their oceans by unsustainable fishing

Two-thirds of African countries have access to the sea. Some are making good use of it through fishing and tourism. But the productivity of African waters is plummeting….The main reason is bad governance. African Union calls to fight overfishing with joint navy patrols and co-operation between fisheries have been ignored. Nigeria, among Africa’s richest countries, lacks a serviceable navy. Some governments even collude in overfishing. Angolan fisheries officers rarely report the illegal catches of boats owned by politicians.  At the same time African states are failing to invest in much-needed marine research. They say it is a “donor activity”, meaning they want foreigners to pay for it. The continent has only one large oceanography department, at the University of Cape Town, and that is underfunded.

Coastal wetlands have little protection and fishing grounds are especially vulnerable. In many countries lot of foreign boats operate in areas close to the shore supposedly reserved for locals in dugouts. Some vessels use banned methods like light-luring (attracting fish with floodlights) and pair-trawling (where nets strung between boats are dragged on the sea floor).  Industrial fishing has been encouraged by rising global demand. The European Union has a series of agreements for its boats to fish in African waters. China has moved in too. The Russian fishing fleet is resurgent. In many cases, says André Standing, a researcher into fisheries agreements in Africa, it is not clear how much money is being paid for licences, or to whom. Critics say Africa’s failure to protect its ocean is political, the definition of a continent too weak to exert full control over its resources. A recent deal between Mauritania and China makes it hard to reduce the catch even if it is unsustainable.

Meanwhile the human footprint along Africa’s vast coastline is growing. The UN says African seaside cities are spreading by more than 4% a year…. Making the sea safer and more productive may be the best way to keep landlubbers peaceful. Experts have plenty of suggestions. Community initiatives could help get rid of dynamite-fishing and its ruinous effects. Conservation no-catch schemes such as one run by Blue Ventures, a Madagascan outfit, [of a UK charity] have proven their value. But there is too little money to scale them up. The best way to find the cash would be to point out the security costs of unhappy fishing communities to rich governments. Somalia’s piracy problem began in part as an armed response to illegal fishing in Somali waters. Some banditry in Nigerian waters started as a protest against the threat to fishing from the oil industry…..

The tributaries of Africa’s oceans are mostly clean and its mangroves in good condition, especially compared with those of Asia. But abuse is growing. With the sharks almost gone, Chinese diners are demanding manta rays and mobulid rays as ingredients for their expensive banquet stews. Frank Pope, an Africa-based writer on oceans, says that the slow-breeding rays could be gone even sooner than the sharks they used to swim alongside on the glittering reefs.

Excerpts, Africa’s oceans: A sea of riches,Economist, Feb. 18, 2012, at 52

See also Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements

Saving the Species; Molibe Marine Protected Areas

Some of the world’s most endangered marine life could be saved from extinction by establishing mobile nature reserves that would protect vulnerable species as they moved around the oceans, scientists say.  The initiative could provide safe havens for endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles, albatrosses, sharks and other travelling species, and sea life that is abandoning its historic territories in response to climate change.  Under the proposals, trawlers would agree to avoid certain stretches of the sea at set times of the year when endangered species are mating, spawning or passing through. Those ocean regions might move with the seasons, ocean currents and long-term environmental events like El Niño, the researchers said.

Mobile marine reserves could bolster existing protected areas that draw an invisible cordon around fixed regions of the oceans, such as coral reefs and sea mounts, where ecological diversity is linked to geographical featuresInstead of restricting areas by their location, mobile reserves would identify particular conditions that attract marine life “The stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most of the fish, turtles, sharks and seabirds,” said Larry Crowder, science director at the Centre for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. “We think of protected areas as places that are locked down on a map. But places in oceans are not locked down, they move.”

The idea was proposed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.One potential mobile marine reserve could protect the north Pacific convergence zone, a region where two giant currents meet head-on, bringing plankton, small fish, turtles and major predators together. The zone is always teeming with life, but it moves from season to season.

Hopes of creating mobile marine reserves have been around for more than a decade, but Crowder said that only in recent years has the concept become plausible because of improvements in satellite imaging and GPS tagging of species. With these technologies, marine biologists have learned in great detail the movements of different sea creatures….

The new reserves could work in favour of fisheries by opening areas of the ocean that might otherwise be restricted. Modern trawlers are fitted with GPS equipment and could have maps updated each year or season to make clear which areas were off limits to protect vulnerable species.  The initiative would not prevent unlawful fishing, but would help trawlers that were trying to work the oceans without pushing species to the brink of extinction.

Ian Sample, ‘Mobile nature reserves’ could save marine species from extinction,Guardian, Feb. 18, 2012

 

Regulating Greenhouse Gases; European Schemes, China, WTO and the ICAO

Could a fresh row over airline emissions lead to a global trade war? That is the scariest prospect raised by China’s objections this week to the European Union’s new plan for controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from aeroplanes. The scheme, which came into effect on January 1st, forces airlines flying into the EU to buy tradable carbon credits as part of its broader emissions-trading system.

Many countries are unhappy with the policy, but China’s proclamations this week—official news agencies report that China has “banned” its airlines from participation without specific government approval—appear to be an escalation. Not least because Chinese and European officials are expected to meet for high-level talks in Beijing next week. It also raises the temperature of the row in advance of a meeting of 26 dissenting countries, including India, China, Russia and America, in Moscow on February 21st.

As an effort to make airlines pay for their pollution, the EU’s action is overdue. In global terms, their emissions are modest, about 3% of the total. Yet they are rising fast: between 2005 and 2010 they grew by 11.2%. Meanwhile the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which was charged with taking steps to mitigate them, has done nothing of the sort…The EU decided to push ahead with its plan to make all flights into the EU subject to the emissions-trading scheme (ETS). This is now enshrined in European law. The only ways foreign governments could extricate their airlines from it would be to stop them flying into the EU, or make them subject to an equivalent mitigation regime of their own.

The main objection to the EU’s policy is that it applies to air-miles clocked up outside European airspace. The EU argues that its approach is consistent with ICAO’s own guidelines and that it would be impossible to regulate otherwise. But the dissenters claim this infringes their sovereignty and breaks the terms of the Chicago Convention, which has regulated aviation since 1944. A group of American airlines therefore launched a legal challenge to the policy; but it was dismissed by the European Court of Justice in December. There was a precedent supporting the Europeans: American green laws insist that ships docking locally be double hulled, even though that forces ship owners to pay for unwanted double hulls on international waters en route to American ports.

China also claims that the EU’s policy transgresses UN climate-change agreements which ordain that mitigation costs should be lower for developing countries than rich ones. Yet, even setting aside the difficult issue of how much of a free ride China can expect, the EU’s policy applies to individual companies, not countries, for which there is no such dispensation.

It is a troubling spat. But there is at least time to negotiate a way out. The airlines are not due to be billed for their emissions until April 2013. Even then, they will have to pay for only 15% of them. Under the ETS, they are required to buy tradable permits for a gradually rising portion of their emissions: this year the EU will give the airlines permits to cover 85% of them.  The airlines, naturally, say the cost will be onerous nonetheless. The China Air Transport Association, which represents China’s airlines, estimated the scheme would cost them 800m yuan ($127m) this year, and more than three times as much by 2020. It may well be less. EU officials say the costs of the scheme, if passed on to passengers, would add no more than around €2.50 ($3.30) to the price of a one-way ticket between Europe and China. By slapping ETS surcharges on tickets, as some non-Chinese airlines have done, they may even profit from the scheme.

The best solution would be through the ICAO. In November it resolved to accelerate steps to introduce its own mitigation efforts. It has drawn up a shortlist of options, including a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme that would apply to all airlines.

Excerpts, Planes and pollution:Trouble in the air, double on the ground, Economist, Feb. 11, 2012, at 66

Regulating the Weapons Markets, how to weaken international legislation

Negotiators on Friday (Feb. 17, 2012) narrowly averted the collapse of talks on a world arms trade treaty to regulate the $55 billion global weapons market, agreeing on ground rules for negotiations after days of procedural wrangling….Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities…..

Brian Wood of Amnesty International said Russia, China and several other arms-exporting nations were “resisting proposals from the overwhelming majority for criteria in the treaty that would stop arms transfers” when there was reason to believe they could be used for serious human rights violations.  He said Washington also had misgivings and was concerned that human rights criteria would discourage states like Syria, a major purchaser of Russian arms, from joining the treaty.  One diplomat described Syria’s 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, which has led to the death of over 5,400 people according to U.N. figures, and other Arab Spring uprisings as “the elephant in the room” as delegates ponder ways of halting arms sales to governments that kill their citizens.  “It was in everyone’s minds as we discussed the need for the treaty,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

There was a long debate about whether decisions at the July drafting conference in New York need to be made unanimously, which would give every country a veto.  The United States, Russia, China, Syria, Iran and others pushing for unanimity have argued that the only way to ensure universal compliance is to get all countries on board. Those who dislike the virtual veto, like Mexico and some European countries, believe it could mean that whatever treaty is agreed on in July – if there is one – will be weak.  “As we have seen in the case of Syria, veto power leads to inaction and hampers the ability of the international community to prevent conflict,” said Jeff Abramson of the group Control Arms. He was referring to Russia’s and China’s veto of two U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Syria’s crackdown.  In the end, participants at this week’s discussions at U.N. headquarters agreed that decisions at the drafting conference in July would be taken by consensus. A senior U.S. official described the veto as “the nuclear option” – a last resort.  The U.S. official, a leading member of Washington’s delegation, told Reuters the ability to “block a weak treaty” while protecting U.S. domestic rights to bear arms – a politically sensitive issue in the United States – was agreed on in 2009 and remained a condition for U.S. participation.

Diplomats involved in the talks said bickering between the United States and Mexico over procedure belied a concrete subtext – Mexico’s complaints that lax U.S. gun laws enable Mexican drug cartels to obtain weapons easily in the United States and move them across the U.S.-Mexican border.  One issue on which the U.S. and Mexican delegations disagree relates to tracking weapons and ammunition. Mexico would like a treaty to require national authorities to track and keep records of arms and ammunition from their manufacture to final use.  The senior U.S. official said such monitoring would not be permissible under U.S. law.  There are other areas of disagreement, delegates said. Washington does not want the treaty to cover ammunition, while China and Egypt are among those that want to exclude small arms.

Excerpt, By Louis Charbonneau, Collapse of arms trade treaty talks narrowly averted, Reuters, Feb. 18, 2012

Report of the Secretary General (Positions of China, Mexico, Egypt) (pdf)

Cross-Border Pollution: implications of nuclear waste disposal, Russia, Finland

Russian officials are going to use the planned nuclear waste repository on the site of the Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant near the metropolis of St. Petersburg for storing miscellaneous radioactive waste.  “There is hospital equipment there, such as X-ray machines, work clothes, and cobalt cannons used in cancer treatments”, says director Oleg Bodrov of the environmental organisation Zelyonyi Mir (Green World).  Russia plans to use the cave that is to be excavated to a depth of 70 metres near the Baltic Sea shoreline for permanent storing of low- and intermediate-activity nuclear waste.  In Finland there are similar underground facilities in Loviisa and Olkiluoto, at the nuclear plants located there.  In the first instance, the Sosnovy Bor cavern will be used to store the waste that has already accumulated in the area and that has thus far been stored in temporary, somewhat dilapidated storage sheds.  In the past 50 years, around 65,000 square metres of waste has piled up on the site.  Enormous amounts of waste will come from the old Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plants once their shutdown is commenced in a couple of years’ time….

The Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom, under whose jurisdiction the country’s nuclear power matters fall, refused to issue a comment to Helsingin Sanomat regarding the matter.  STUK, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, does not as yet have precise knowledge of the stored waste.  “Russia is in the process of sending out additional information regarding the project.

Excerpt, Russia to store miscellaneous waste in nuclear waste repository at Sosnovy Bor plant near St. Petersburg, http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi, Feb. 16, 2012

Chevron’s Amazon Rainforest Pollution, human rights and investment tribunals

Indigenous rainforest communities from Ecuador who recently won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for environmental damage have filed  a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly criticizing Chevron’s “egregious misuse” of the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (“BIT”) to violate human rights protections. They are seeking an order requiring Ecuador’s government to protect their right to life, physical integrity, health, a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law as guaranteed by the American Declaration of the Rights of Man and other international human rights treaties.

The petition was filed against Ecuador’s government because Chevron is seeking an order from the private investor arbitration panel mandating that the country’s President freeze the court proceedings until the BIT panel can rule, a process which normally takes three years. Such an order would violate Ecuadorian and international law as well as the human rights protections that the Commission is sworn to uphold, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the underlying environmental case.

The Commission, located in Washington, D.C., hears claims for emergency relief from individual human rights victims and derives its authority from the the multilateral international treaty that created the Organization of American States, of which Ecuador and the United States are members. Any order from the Commission is binding on the government against which it is issued.

“The threats are serious and urgent,” the plaintiffs wrote in their petition, referring to their own plight living near extensive levels of toxic oil contamination in the Amazon rainforest for almost 50 years. An Ecuadorian court in 2011 found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon when it operated under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992, causing dramatically increased rates of cancer and decimating indigenous groups. See here and here.

“The idea that an arbitral panel would even contemplate ordering a sovereign state to violate its human rights obligations is repugnant not only to the substance of international human rights law but to the very core of the international legal order,” the petition added.  The petition also argues that the relief sought by Chevron extends well beyond the scope of the BIT in that it does not authorize private investor arbitration panels to act as a “transnational” appellate court that can override decisions in a public court system of a sovereign nation. The BIT is normally limited to allowing investors to seek monetary damages directly from a government if it feels it has been treated unfairly, a claim that Chevron makes but that the indigenous communities reject.

The Ecuadorians believe the investor arbitral panel convened by Chevron violates international law in that it bars the rainforest communities from appearing before it, does not publish its decisions, and does not inform the public about when and where it meets. Further, its three members — all practicing lawyers — suffer from a conflict of interest in that they each stand to reap millions of dollars in fees paid in part by Chevron simply by granting jurisdiction over the case when there is little if any basis to do so.

“What Chevron is trying to with this secret arbitration is utterly offensive to anybody who believes in the rule of law,” said Fajardo, whose clients initially filed the environmental lawsuit against Chevron in 1993 in U.S. federal court in New York before it was shifted to Ecuador at Chevron’s request.  “Chevron is trying to convince the private arbitral panel to override the decisions of a public court in a sovereign country where Chevron chose to litigate, even as Chevron continues to pursue appeals in that country making the same arguments it makes before the secret panel,” he added. “It’s just an outrageous abuse of judicial process.”  “Any decision by the panel granting Chevron’s requests would violate international law and certainly would not bind the indigenous communities who are not a party to the proceedings,” he added. “We also believe it will backfire against Chevron if the company carries through on its threats to try to block enforcement of the legitimate Ecuador judgment in courts around the world.”

Ecuador’s government has argued that the oil giant has no right to even file the claim under the BIT given that the treaty did not take effect until 1997, or five years after Chevron left the country.  Chevron’s latest maneuver prompted renowned Latin American jurist Jose Daniel Amado to send a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking for a review of what he called an “improper and illegal expansion of arbitral powers” by the panel.  The Amado letter gained immediate support from jurists around the world, who sent a separate letter backing Amado’s arguments to the U.N. official in charge of international arbitration, Renaud Souriel.

Excerpt, Ecuador Communities Target Chevron’s Secret Investor Arbitration in New Court Filing, Says Amazon Defense Coalition, PR Newswier, Feb. 10, 2012