Tag Archives: Ken Saro-Wiwa

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

According to the G8, it looks like we may be starting to see signs that the global economic crisis is beginning to ease. The final communiqué of the G8 summit on Saturday expressed the sentiment that the worst of the crisis may now be over, and that it may be time to begin addressing the challenges of inflation rather than stagnation. According to the communiqué,

There are signs of stabilisation in our economies, including a recovery of stock markets, a decline in interest rate spreads, improved business and consumer confidence, but the situation remains uncertain and significant risks remain to economic and financial stability.

Despite the relatively upbeat assessment, hopes for a quick recovery in the Eurozone (glossary) continue to be thwarted by sharp declines in industrial production and high unemployment.

In other news from the previous week,

1. Incumbent president Majmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decisively won Saturday’s presidential elections in Iran, defeating the moderate reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Although Moussavi alleges Ahmadi-Nejad’s victory was the result of unfair electoral practices and intimidation and has demanded a new poll, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared the results final, suggesting any challenge would be unsuccessful. Turnout in the election was high—surpassing 85 percent. Protests broke out across Tehran after the election, and the international community is watching developments in Iran with great concern. The elections carried big implications not just for domestic Iranian society, but also for U.S. foreign policy.

2. The United Nations tightened sanctions on North Korea on Friday. After several weeks of increasing tensions in which the government of North Korea had expanded nuclear warhead and missile tests, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution expanding sanctions beyond the narrow focus on weapons and weapons technology (which has long been in place) to now include suspending foreign aid, loans, and export credits outside of humanitarian aid. The passage of sanctions by the Security Council signals a shift in Russian and Chinese policy. The two countries had long opposed intensifying sanctions on North Korea, fearing the collapse of the unstable regime.

3. In a dramatic shift in Russian foreign policy last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the country would drop its bid to join the World Trade Organization and would instead seek to develop a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia has been negotiating for WTO membership for 16 years, but has been blocked largely as a result of U.S. opposition. Two schools of thought to explain the shift in policy have emerged. According to the first, this represents Russia’s frustration with the process and is merely a ploy to speed up accession talks. According to the second, Russia is more interested in expanding its influence in its former sphere of influence, and the new customs union would help to achieve that goal. Whatever the truth, the move clearly surprised most observers and confounded analysts.

4. The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reached a settlement with the family Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists executed by the Nigerian government in 1995. According to the suit, Shell had requested the Nigerian government to intervene—going so far as to finance and assist in operations against groups in the Niger River delta region. Without conceding any involvement in their deaths, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million in damages to settle the claim. The case was one of the first to be brought before U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789, which gives non-U.S. citizens the right to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad. Shell had unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed.

5. The crisis in Peru continued last week, as protestors continue to confront police in the capital Lima. A national strike had been called by indigenous groups and labor unions to protest changes in land rights laws. An estimated 10,000 people turned out on Thursday before police dispersed the crowds. The government of Peru is now moving to suspend the law which led to the protests.

Advertisements

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The major news story this week was the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and only the third woman appointed to the highest court in the United States. Politically, Sotomayor’s nomination was a brilliant move on the part of the Obama administration. While President Obama did not take advantage of the opportunity to appoint a liberal counter-weight to the conservative ideologues of Justice Antonin Scalia, the President did manage to force Republicans into a difficult spot. Republicans had been gearing up for a protracted fight against any Obama nomination as a way to mobilize their softening political base and increase fundraising in anticipation of next year’s Congressional elections. But in nominating Sotomayor, Obama forces Republicans to balance their desire to mobilize their base against their need to expand the base of the party to include the country’s largest and fastest growing minority group.

In news from outside Washington DC last week:

1. The United States is still struggling to figure out how to deal with the challenges posed by North Korea’s increasingly belligerent policy stance. Over the past two weeks, North Korea has engaged in a nuclear warhead test (on Monday) and several missile test fire operations. While the United States has officially downplayed the situation, describing North Korea’s actions as “nothing out of the ordinary” and dismissing it as mere “posturing,” it has discussed the need for a tougher approach. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council seems unlikely to moved on fresh sanctions against the North Korean regime.

2. After a week of intense fighting, the Pakistani military has regained control of Mingora, the main town in the disputed Swat valley. The government of Pakistan has been fighting against Taliban militants, who have turned to terrorist  bombings in their fight against the Pakistani government. On Thursday, for example, four bombs exploded in Peshawar, a city in north-west Pakistan. Observers are speculating that the Pakistani government may turn its attention to the Waziristan region along the Afghanistan border once operations in the Swat valley are completed. But the ability of the Pakistani government to continue to exercise sovereignty over the border regions will depend on its ability to establish governmental institutions and expand the reach of the country’s central institutions into the border regions—something the central government has not been able to do so far.

3. Political tensions within the Palestinian Authority intensified on Sunday after forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (from the Palestinian Liberation Organization faction) raided a safe house belonging to Hamas, the other party in government. The clash–the bloodiest since the Abbas government revived peace talks with Israel in 2007, resulted in six deaths, including two high-ranking Hamas officials. The attack came just four days after Abbas met with President Barack Obama in Washington, DC. Obama encouraged Abbas to improve his efforts to fulfill his obligations under the road map for peace, including maintaining law and order in the West Bank. Observers believe this attack was part of that effort, intended to demonstrate to the United States that the Palestinian Authority is following through on its promises.

4. Fighting in the Niger River Delta region continued over the past week, as the government of Nigeria continued its attacks on militants in the region. The government is hoping to reopen oil wells in the Ogoniland region. But observers fear that the government’s increasingly militarized efforts to address the crisis may backfire. Groups in the Niger Delta region claim that they have received few benefits from the country’s oil wealth, suffering from severe environmental degradation and severe human rights violations resulting from oil production, but seeing little benefit from the industry. Militants in the region have already launched attacks against some oil production facilities, hoping to cut off production and increase the cost of operating. Activists in the United States have taken a different approach, attempting to sue in U.S. courts the multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell for their alleged involvement in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other human rights activists in the region.

5. Oil prices reached a six-month high on Friday, trading at $66 per barrel. OPEC is projecting that oil should reach $70-$75 per barrel by the end of the year. While the fighting in the Niger Delta region certainly contributed to increasing prices, observers also believe that speculators are coming back into commodities markers, leading to price increases. In a move certainly linked to the higher prices, the government of Brazil announced that it would reopen its vast offshore oil fields to international bidders. Meanwhile, the oil giant Chevron is being sued in Ecuadorian courts, facing damage liabilities as high as $27 billion for alleged damage to the environment and human health caused by their operations in the country.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The headlines this week were dominated by the G20 summit in London. The final communiqué produced by the summit committed $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund (little of which was actually new money) and pledged some reforms for the structure of the institution. But the G20 was unable to agree on a new global stimulus package and failed to create an effective system of regulating global finance.

In other news from the last week:

1. Nuclear politics moved in two opposite directions over the weekend.  North Korea on Sunday launched a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The launch, widely viewed as a precursor to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of striking the western United States, produced a sharp rebuke from other states, including Japan, South Korea, and the United States. According to a statement issued by the government of North Korea, the rocket successfully delivered into orbit a satellite transmitting revolutionary songs back to the earth.  But according to reports from the Pentagon, the rocket and its payload fell into the Pacific Ocean after the second stage of the rocket failed to properly ignite.  The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to take up the topic on Sunday afternoon.

2. As part of a policy review commissioned by the Obama administration, the United States government is considering a dramatic change in policy vis-à-vis Iran. While the U.S. has maintained its steadfast opposition to Iranian enrichment efforts, Iran has maintained its sovereign right to enrichment of nuclear fuel. The irreconcilability of the two positions has led the administration to consider dropping its opposition to Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for increased access by international monitors to Iranian nuclear facilities. It is generally believed that Iran currently maintains approximately 5,500 centrifuges and has amassed a stockpile of 1,000 kg of low-grade uranium, enough to produce one nuclear bomb if the uranium were sufficiently enriched.

3. A meeting of the NATO heads of government produced an agreement to deploy 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to monitor upcoming elections and train Afghan soldiers and police. Importantly, the alliance also agreed to appoint Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, as its new secretary-general. Rasmussen’s appointment was initially opposed by the Turkish government, whose opposition was driven by the controversy over anti-Muslim cartoons in Danish newspapers last year. Rasmussen was nevertheless appointed to direct the organization, but his position as secretary-general raises concerns about the wisdom of appointing a director whose appointment is regarded by the Muslim world as an affront.

4. A lawsuit filed in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act against Royal Dutch Shell is moving forward. Shell is being sued for their involvement in the execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the government of Nigeria in 1995. In bringing the suit, lawyers are hoping to force Shell to disclose their role in human rights violations in the Ogoni district of Nigeria. The case, which is scheduled to commence in New York on May 26, is also widely viewed as a test case to determine if multinational corporations can be sued for damages for their operations abroad.

5. U.S. officials announced on Thursday that it will expand the scope of funding extended to help Mexico’s anti-drug initiatives. Under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. originally committed to providing the Mexican government with $300 million to help in anti-drug efforts. In response to calls by the Calderón government, some now believe that the U.S. may expand the initiative to as much as $1.4 billion.