Tag Archives: human rights

Your Biometric Data in Facebook

A federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit against Facebook after the California-based social media site claimed there was a lack of personal jurisdiction in Illinois.The plaintiff in the case, Fredrick William Gullen, filed the complaint alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Gullen is not a Facebook user, but he alleged that his image was uploaded to the site and that his biometric identifiers and biometric information was collected, stored and used by Facebook without his consent. The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, implemented in 2008, regulates the collection, use, and storage of biometric identifiers and biometric information such as scans of face or hand geometry. The act specifically excludes photographs, demographic information, and physical descriptions….

In the Facebook case, no ruling has been made on whether the information on Facebook counts as biometric identifiers and biometric information under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Instead, the judge agreed with Facebook that the case could not be tried in Illinois.

However, the company is currently facing a proposed class action in California relating to some of the same questions….How the California class action will play out remains to be seen. California does not yet have a clear policy on biometric privacy.A bill pending in the state’s legislature would extend the scope of the data security law to include biometric data as well as geophysical location, but it has not yet become law.  The question of privacy in regards to biometric information is one that has garnered increasing attention in recent months. On Feb. 4, 2016 the Biomterics Institute, an independent research and analysis organization, released revised guidelines comprising 16 privacy principles for companies that gather and use biometrics data.

Excerpts from Emma Gallimore, Federal judge boots Illinois biometrics class action against Facebook, Legal Newswire, Feb. 22, 2016, 12:15pm

See also the case (pdf)

Sterilized Prostitutes

Pope Francis on Janurary 19, 2018 criticized sterilization campaigns that have targeted indigenous people during a speech to Amazonian communities in Peru.  It’s a topic likely to strike a chord in a country where more than 300,000 women were sterilized during the 1990-2000 government of former President Alberto Fujimori. ..The pontiff decried organizations that promote “reproductive policies favoring infertility” and said some continue to advocate for the sterilization of women — even without consent.  Many of the women sterilized during Fujimori’s administration were illiterate and came from poor, indigenous communities. More than 2,000 later came forward to complain that they had been forcibly sterilized…In 1996 there were, according to official statistics, 81,762 tubal ligations performed on women, with a peak being reached the following year, with 109,689 ligatures, then only 25,995 in 1998 (bbc).

Pope Francis denounced sexual enslavement of women in the Amazon who are trafficked and forced into prostitution, saying the “machismo” culture cannot stand. …It is painful how “so many women are devalued, denigrated and exposed to endless violence.”  Many women work as prostitutes in the region’s bars, servicing clients who often work in gold mines and other extraction industries….

Excerpts from The Latest: Pope decries sterilization campaigns in Peru, Associated Press, Jan. 19, 2018

Case: In 1996, Peruvian public health officials threatened Maria Mamerita Mestanza Chávez with criminal sanctions if she did not undergo a sterilization surgery. Her partner ultimately agreed to the surgery. She was never examined prior to the procedure. After complications ensued, she was refused medical treatment and died at home nine days later. After domestic remedies failed, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) and two other Peruvian human rights group filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 1999 and were later joined by the Center and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). In 2002, the Peruvian government agreed in principle to settle the case. An agreement was signed in 2003 in which the government acknowledged international legal responsibility, agreed to compensate Mestanza’s surviving husband and children, and agreed to modify and implement recommendations made by Peru’s Human Rights Ombudsman concerning sterilization procedures in Peru’s government facilities.  (see center for reproductive rights)

Looking Behind the Brick Wall: Military

From the DARPA website on project  Revolutionary Enhancement of Visibility by Exploiting Active Light-fields (REVEAL) program

Imagine, for example, squad members patrolling a street in a deployed urban environment, and an armed assailant crouching behind a car or a concrete barrier. Without the benefit of different vantage points (from the air, for example), the squad could be blind to the hidden threat. If by chance a glass storefront window were behind the assailant, the squad might spot the assailant’s reflection in the window. But if the backdrop were a brick wall, there would be no visible reflection. By exploiting currently untapped aspects of light and the varied paths of photons bouncing off the brick wall, troops using hardware based on the theoretical foundations provided by REVEAL might someday be able to detect the otherwise hidden assailant [or see clearly what people are doing inside their homes].

Another potential application could be determining an unknown material’s composition and other properties from a safe distance, avoiding the potential danger associated with close proximity and physical examination. Based on information carried by the photons interacting with the material, it may be possible for troops in the future to identify radioactive, biological or chemical threats and camouflaged targets from much farther away than currently possible.

See also FBO

Only One Protester was Killed: Kenya

One person was killed and several injured in January 26, 2015 when Kenyan police clashed with Maasais protesting against a local governor they accuse of misappropriating tourism funds from the Maasai Mara game reserve, an official said.  Police fired shots and teargas as thousands of people from the Maasai ethnic group, clad in traditional red cloaks, marched to the governor’s office in Narok town, the administrative centre of the sprawling Maasai Mara park, witnesses said.

Narok County Commissioner Kassim Farah, an official appointed by the president, said: “Only one protestor was killed by a bullet.  “We regret it but the organisers of the demonstration should be held responsible, not the police.” Kenya Red Cross said seven people injured in the clashes were taken to a nearby hospital.

Demonstrators marched to the gates of Governor Samuel Tunai’s office, shouting: “Tunai must go.” Some hurled rocks. The dispute began when Tunai’s administration contracted a company to collect Maasai Mara park entry fees, a deal the locals say was suspect.

Visitors to the Maasai Mara, one of Africa’s biggest tourist draws, pay $80 per day to roam an area full of wildlife such as lions, rhinos and giraffes. Upmarket lodges and luxury tented camps can charge hundreds of dollars per person per day for the experience, although a spate of militant attacks in Kenya as well as the Ebola epidemic on the other side of Africa have scared off many tourists….

Local government finance has come under increased scrutiny from Kenyans since a newly devolved system was introduced in 2013 under which local governments receive about 43 percent of the national budget directly and are responsible for raising their own additional revenues.  Devolution was designed to spread wealth and help local communities benefit from revenue earned in their areas but analysts say corruption and other issues that have blighted national politics have now also spread to local bodies

Corruption protest in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region turns deadly, Reuters, Jan. 27, 2015

Nuclear Waste Politics, Secrecy – Canada

Ontario Power Generation is proposing to build a massive underground nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ontario (Canada) near lake Huron,a plan that has drawn opposition from environmentalists, aboriginal groups and legislators in Michigan.  At issue were numerous meetings of the “community consultation” advisory group, comprising the mayors who sit on county council and representatives of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and Ontario Power Generation, that began in 2005.

The citizen groups alleged the discussions were kept secret because the politicians feared damaging their electoral fortunes and pointed to informal notes from one meeting in February 2010 that showed a mayor fretting about “a negative backlash at the polls.”The probe by Amberley Gavel — a company based in London, Ont., that helps municipalities with closed-meeting procedure investigations — concluded the public never knew about any of the meetings.

It also found the discussions had a marked influence on the mayors’ decisions regarding the radioactive waste project despite their contention the meetings were simply information sessions at which they passed no motions.  The citizen groups said the province should be reviewing the conduct of Ontario Power Generation.  They also said the county response — to ask staff to provide annual reminders about the law requiring open meetings — was “appallingly weak.”  Council members have “thus far show defiance with no hint of remorse,” the statement said.

Save our Saugeen Shores and the Southampton Residents Association  called on Ontario’s ombudsman to review the circumstances that led to a report critical of Bruce County council for meeting nuclear waste representatives without telling anyone or documenting the discussions.  “This was a major error of provincewide importance in light of the evidence of an 8.5-year egregious disregard of the law and the public’s right to open and transparent government,” Rod McLeod, the group’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Colin Perkel,  Nuclear waste opponents call for penalties against ‘secret meetings’, The Canadian Press, Sept. 18, 2014

Controlling Protesters – the Skunk Drone

South African company Desert Wolf yesterday unveiled its Skunk riot control drone at the IFSEC security exhibition outside Johannesburg. Armed with four paintball guns, it can fire a variety of ammunition to subdue unruly crowds.The Skunk is designed to control crowds without endangering the lives of security staff. Bright strobe lights and on-board speakers enable operators to communicate with and warn the crowd. If things get out of control the Skunk can use its four paintball guns to disperse or mark people in the crowd. Four ammunition hoppers can load different types of ammunition such as dye marker balls, pepper spray balls or solid plastic balls. Payload capacity of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is 40 kg but since the gun assembly weighs around 15 kg the aircraft has an excess of power.

In addition to two high definition day cameras, the Skunk carries a FLIR thermal camera for night vision capability. A camera and microphone on the operator’s station records the operators (a pilot and payload operator) so their behaviour can be monitored. Hennie Kieser, Director of Desert Wolf, said people tend to be less aggressive when they are monitored.

Desert Wolf will soon deliver the first 25 units to customers in the mining industry and the UAV will enter service around June/July. Kieser said it was sad that the mines are in a predicament with strike related violence and this is why the mines are the biggest market for the system. A full system including cameras, ground control station etc. will cost around R500 000.

Kieser said Desert Wold will definitely export the Skunk into Africa, primarily for mining operations, and that South African success will lead to other orders. He felt the best market is not in South Africa because of the current legislation restricting drone use.

Desert Wolf Unveils Riot Control UAS, UAS Vision, May 16, 2014

Explosive Weapons: Deaths and Damages

Data released by Action on Armed on Violence  (AOAV) on May 14, 2014 shows that civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 from explosive weapons have increased by 15%, up from 2012.Civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. AOAV recorded 37,809 deaths and injuries in 2013, 82% of whom were civilians. The trend was even worse when these weapons were used in populated areas. There civilians made up a staggering 93% of casualties.  These stark figures mean that civilian casualties from bombings and shelling worldwide have gone up for a second consecutive year.  This data is captured in AOAV’s latest report, Explosive Events, which analyses the global harm from the use of explosive weapons like missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

KEY FINDINGS
•Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon were the most affected countries in the world. More than a third of the world’s civilian casualties from explosive weapons were recorded in Iraq, where AOAV saw a dramatic escalation in bombings with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
•Seventy-one percent (71%) of civilian casualties from explosive weapons worldwide were caused by IEDs like car bombs and roadside bombs.
•Civilian casualties in Iraq increased by 91% from 2012, with more than 12,000 deaths and injuries recorded in the country in 2013.
•Market places were bombed in 15 countries and territories, causing 3,608 civilian casualties.
•Ballistic missiles, used only in Syria, caused an average of 49 civilian casualties per incident, the highest for any explosive weapon type.

The Rights of Migrant Workers

In September 2013 reports of the abuse of Nepalese migrants working on stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, and the deaths of at least 44 of them, appeared in the Guardian, a British newspaper. The Nepalese government’s first response was to recall its ambassador to Qatar: the Guardian had quoted her describing the Gulf state as an “open jail”. Shortly afterwards, Nepalese and Qatari officials held a joint press conference in Doha at which they insisted Nepalese workers were “safe and fully respected”. Reports to the contrary were false and driven by “inappropriate targets and agendas”.

According to Martin Ruhs of Oxford University, the Nepalese government’s apparent lack of concern can be explained by looking at the interests of those involved. For all the mistreatment, Nepalese workers earn far more in Qatar than they could at home. Remittances make up a quarter of Nepalese GDP. If the Nepalese government were to insist that rules protecting migrant workers in Qatar should be enforced, Qatari employers might look for workers elsewhere.

In Gulf states and Singapore, where migrants have few rights on paper, the foreign workforce is huge: 94% of workers in Qatar were born abroad. Sweden and Norway, where migrants can use public services, claim welfare benefits and bring in dependents, admit relatively few purely economic migrants.

This trade-off is visible even within the European Union, where the recent accession of 12 relatively poor eastern European countries has sparked a debate about migrants’ rights to welfare. In January David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, clashed with his Oxford contemporary, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister. Mr Cameron wants to be able to exclude recently arrived European immigrants from welfare and public housing. “If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn’t it also pay their benefits?” Mr Sikorski responded….

A UN convention on migrant workers’ rights which came into force in 2003 has been ratified by only 47 countries, most of which are net senders of migrants.

The abuse of migrants: And still they come, Economist,  Apr. 19, at 54

Change Your Fingertip – Deportation USA

In 2013  America removed 369,000 undocumented migrants, an increase of nine times compared with 20 years ago. This takes the total number of the deported to almost 2m in Barack Obama’s presidency…On one measure this is a great success. It is hard to find many areas where the federal government is so effective in implementing laws passed by Congress. Yet it is harmful—not just for the deported, who often have a miserable time once they are expelled  but for the country they leave behind, something which even the deporters have come to recognise….Much of that spending has created a border agency that can operate throughout the country. Before the September 11th 2001 attacks it was considered a threat to liberty for agencies to share too much information. After the report of the 9/11 Commission the opposite became true. The result is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with doing the deporting, can now quickly determine whether someone serving a prison sentence for a serious crime is eligible to be deported when their time is up. More controversially, it also allows ICE to see whether someone charged by the police with relatively minor offences can also be deported.

Of the 369,000 people deported last year, roughly two-thirds were people who had been stopped while trying to cross the border. The rest—134,000 of them—were picked up in the interior of the country…Some people take more drastic steps to avoid triggering a match on the database. In November ICE arrested a doctor in Boston who flew in regularly from the Dominican Republic to alter fingerprints. A full set of unrecognisable fingertips cost $4,500.

While the police have been tracking down migrants, the Department for Homeland Security has continued to raid workplaces and audit companies to see if they employ undocumented workers. In November Infosys, an Indian IT firm, agreed to pay fines of $34m for immigration offences. …The number of people deported is largely determined by the number of beds available in detention centres, which are the holding pens for the people America expels. Each year Congress mandates funding for a certain number of beds for immigration detention and stipulates that the occupancy rate must be kept high. In 2013 that number was 34,000.   Some of these places are run by private companies for ICE, like the one in Pearsall, a small Texas town decorated with churches, car-parts shops and a high-school football field. The facility can house up to 1,800 men at any one time, sleeping on iron bunk-beds in dormitories of up to 100. This is not a prison but it has few windows, is surrounded by fences topped with razor wire and is run by the GEO Group, a company that also runs prisons…The government has to make sure that the countries where detainees were born will have them back. In rare cases this proves impossible. Families for Freedom, an NGO, says it is working with a Kenyan man who has been in immigration detention in New York for eight years. From the detention centres the deportees are rounded up and put on planes. ICE has its own air operations division which flew 44 charter flights a week in 2013, and runs a daily flight to deposit people in Central America. When flying to more unusual destinations, an ICE agent will babysit the deportee on a commercial flight.

America’s deportation machine: The great expulsion, Economist, Feb. 8, 2014, at 23

Saudi Arabia Not Happy Iraq Gets Drones

The report that America’s drone war has assumed frightening proportions under President Barack Obama should surprise no one. It took only three days for the new commander-in-chief to order his first covert drone strike.  On Jan. 23, 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal region. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. The lone survivor, a 14-year-old boy, had shrapnel wounds in his stomach and a fractured skull. He lost one eye. Later that day, the CIA leveled another house killing between five and ten people

A week after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, a missile slammed into a hamlet in Yemen, hitting one of the poorest tribes in the poorest country in Arabian Peninsula. At least 41 civilians were killed, including 21 children and five pregnant women.  Not only has the number of drone strikes and the resulting civilian casualties increased under Obama’s watch, but he has also widened the scope of the drone war to include new countries like Yemen and Somalia. Missile strikes from unmanned drones killing unmentionable numbers of people are now the crucial component of America’s war on terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack On Jan. 23, 2009 – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, overwhelming majority of them civilians…

A convoy taking a Yemeni bride to her wedding came under attack on Dec. 12, 2013 causing the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year in that country. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 civilians.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Dec. 18, 2013 calling on states using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure to comply with their obligations under international law and the UN Charter. Amnesty International released a report on Oct. 22, 2013 raising serious concerns about several recent drone strikes that appear to have killed civilians outside the bounds of the law. Pakistan High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued a ruling on May 9, 2013 declaring the ongoing US drone strikes against tribal areas illegal under international law and saying they amount to “war crimes” when they kill innocents.

But rather than addressing such global concerns, the Obama administration is sending drones to Iraq, adding a sinister dimension to the sectarian strife there. The Iraqi government will get 48 drones this month and 10 surveillance drones in upcoming weeks.

Drone deaths on the rise, Saudi Gazette,  Jan 27, 2014

The Transparent Individual

By integrating data you want into the visual field in front of you Google Glass is meant to break down the distinction between looking at the screen and looking at the world. When switched on, its microphones will hear what you hear, allowing Glass to, say, display on its screen the name of any song playing nearby…It could also contribute a lot to the company’s core business. Head-mounted screens would let people spend time online that would previously have been offline. They also fit with the company’s interest in developing “anticipatory search” technology—ways of delivering helpful information before users think to look for it. Glass will allow such services to work without the customer even having to reach for a phone, slipping them ever more seamlessly into the wearer’s life. A service called Google Now already scans a user’s online calendar, e-mail and browsing history as a way of providing information he has not yet thought to look for. How much more it could do if it saw through his eyes or knew whom he was talking to…

People may in time want to live on camera in ways like this, if they see advantages in doing so. But what of living on the cameras of others? “Creep shots”—furtive pictures of breasts and bottoms taken in public places—are a sleazy fact of modern life. The camera phone has joined the Chinese burn in the armamentarium of the school bully, and does far more lasting damage. As cameras connect more commonly, sometimes autonomously, to the internet, hackers have learned how to take control of them remotely, with an eye to mischief, voyeurism or blackmail.  More wearable cameras probably mean more possibilities for such abuse.

Face-recognition technology, which allows software to match portraits to people, could take things further. The technology is improving, and is already used as an unobtrusive, fairly accurate way of knowing who people are. Some schools, for example, use it to monitor attendance. It is also being built into photo-sharing sites: Facebook uses it to suggest the names with which a photo you upload might be tagged. Governments check whether faces are turning up on more than one driver’s licence per jurisdiction; police forces identify people seen near a crime scene. Documents released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a campaign group, show that in August 2012 the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Next Generation Identification” database contained almost 13m searchable images of about 7m subjects.

Face recognition is a technology, like that of drones, which could be a boon to all sorts of surveillance around the world, and may make mask-free demonstrations in repressive states a thing of the past. The potential for abuse by people other than governments is clear, too…In America, warrants to seize user data from Facebook often also request any stored photos in which the suspect has been tagged by friends (though the firm does not always comply). Warrants as broad as some of those from which the National Security Agency and others have benefited in the past could allow access to all stored photos taken in a particular place and time.

The people’s panopticon, Economist,  Nov. 16, 2013, at 27

In Fear of China: UK, France, Germany

China sees human rights] as a self-serving diplomatic optional extra, to be discarded as soon as they jeopardise other interests. And China, unlike Sri Lanka, is powerful enough to make Western leaders hold their tongues.  Of course Western governments would deny this stoutly. Discussion of human rights, Britain says, is an integral part of its relationship with China. The two countries have held 20 rounds of a bilateral dialogue on the issue and British leaders raise it at every opportunity. But the 20th round was two years ago; and there is little evidence that Chinese leaders see the harping on human rights in private exchanges as more than an irritating quirk, like the British fondness for talking about the weather.

So the version of Mr Cameron’s visit to China believed by many observers is one in which he has swallowed a big chunk of humble pie. After he met Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in London last year, an incensed China froze him and his country out. British business complained it was losing out to European competitors. Mr Cameron had to reconfirm that Britain does not advocate Tibetan independence and say that he had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama again.  Only then did China welcome him back, at the head of the biggest British trade mission ever to go there. In the circumstances, he could not risk making provocative public statements about China’s “internal affairs”. It seems unlikely that the leader of any big European country will receive the Dalai Lama again. This week Global Times, a Communist Party paper, crowed that Britain, France and Germany dare not jointly provoke China “over the Dalai Lama issue. Even America’s Barack Obama delayed meeting the Dalai Lama until after his first visit to China in 2009, tacitly conceding China’s point that the meeting was not a matter of principle, but a bargaining chip.

If China is getting its way diplomatically on Tibet, it is not because repression there has eased. Over the past two years, more than 120 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest. This week, exiles reported the sentencing of nine Tibetans for alleged separatist activity. Similarly, although freedoms for the majority in China have expanded, dissidents are still persecuted. The most famous of them, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel peace prize, remains in jail for no more than advocating peaceful, incremental political reform.

China has succeeded in shifting human rights and Tibet far down the agenda of its international relations for three reasons. One, of course, is its enormous and still fast-growing commercial clout. Not only is it an important market for sluggish Western economies. It is also a big potential investor—in high-speed rail and nuclear projects in Britain, for example.

Second, alarm at China’s expanding military capacity and its assertive approach to territorial disputes is also demanding foreign attention. Joe Biden, the American vice-president, arrived in Beijing from Tokyo on December 4th. Liu Xiaobo and Tibet may have been among his talking-points, but a long way below China’s declaration last month of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over islands disputed with Japan, and the economic issues on which he had hoped to concentrate.

A third factor is China’s tactic of linking foreign criticism to economic and strategic issues. Global Times, not satisfied with Mr Cameron’s contrition, used his visit to chide Britain for the support it has shown Japan over the ADIZ, and for its alleged fomenting of trouble in Hong Kong. China might argue that linkage is something it learned from the West, and the days when its normal trading ties with America were hostage to human-rights concerns. But now China itself seems happy to use commercial pressure to bully Japan or Britain, for example.

Banyan: Lip Service, Economist, Dec. 7, 2013, at 48

The Global Slavery Index

Ten countries have three-quarters of the world’s 30m slaves, according to the first Global Slavery Index, published by Walk Free, a campaign based in Australia and supported by philanthropists. Its definition of slavery includes coerced work (including provision of sex) and children forced into marriage. Data on these provide the indices for its ranking of 162 countries.  Mauritania comes out worst, with an estimated 4% of the population enslaved. Most are born into slavery—a deeply rooted practice. Children are owned by the same people who own their parents, to be used or sold. Some of India’s 14m enslaved people were also born into slavery, based on caste or other obligations. Others are trapped in debt bondage. This practice has been a crime for nearly 40 years, but the laws against it are poorly enforced.

Definitions of slavery are controversial; many countries fiercely resent charges of inaction. But Kevin Bales, the lead researcher, says that not one government from the ten worst performers (in prevalence) has so far contested his findings. Europe’s slavery rates are the lowest, but even in Britain, one of the lowest-ranked countries, the survey reckons up to 4,600 people are enslaved. They include trafficked women and people, often with mental or family problems, who are coerced into working in construction gangs.Next year’s survey aims to sharpen the data. But without more determined efforts from governments and lawmen, it is unlikely to paint a happier picture.

Slavery: Dry bones, Economist,  Oct. 19. 2013, at  66

Migrants in a Gated World

The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger…The group was discovered after survivors reached Arlit on foot. Local experts said that the people were victims of human trafficking and were believed to have died two weeks ago as they tried to walk 12 miles in scorching sun to reach a well after the lorry they were travelling in broke down leaving them stranded.  Sources in Niger said that the group, who began their perilous journey across the desert in late September, was comprised of local people from Zinder, the second largest city in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria.

One security expert stressed that the group were not economic migrants but victims of trafficking.  Moussa Akfar, a security expert based in Niamey, Niger’s capital, said: “This was in fact a case of poor people and children who were being trafficked to Algeria. There is an inquiry underway but we know that this was trafficking because economic migrants go to Libya – in Libya you find people of all nationalities, from Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries, heading to Europe.  “In this case all the victims were Nigerien from Zinder, and they were being trafficked. The questions that have to be asked now is how officials on road checkpoints did not alert the authorities about this group. There is endemic corruption at work.”..

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rocked by repeated food crises in recent years. Last year Save the Children termed Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother amid its warnings that continuing poverty levels were driving people to undertake life-threatening journeys to higher income nations.  While many in Niger said that the October deaths were linked to trafficking, Algeria being the intended destination, Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, said the group could have been trying to reach Europe.

Excerpt, Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert, Guardian, Oct. 31, 2011

The Curse of Displacement

Dhinkia, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa) (India)  is a hub of protest. The women, one from every village family, are staging… a sit-in. Sisir Mohapatra, a former sarpanch or village head, makes a rousing speech. He seems respected, though his police record would suggest he is a mafia don: he says he faces 35 criminal charges, and of his 60-strong extended family in Dhinkia, 40 are also wanted by the law. They claim that the charges are all trumped up. Their real crime is to oppose the biggest single foreign-investment project India has ever attracted.

Estimated to cost $12 billion, the project, promoted by POSCO, a South Korean firm, is eventually to produce 12m tonnes of steel a year for export. It will have its own power plant, port and, 200 kilometres (125 miles) inland, its own iron-ore mine. Since an agreement on the project was signed in 2005, it has been mired in controversy—a case study in why

Environmentalists worry about air pollution, coastal erosion, the endangered olive ridley turtle and much else. Many, including the Communist Party of India (CPI), which holds the local parliamentary seat, complain that the ore will be sold too cheaply, at a royalty to the government of just 27 rupees (currently about 40 cents) a tonne. Meanwhile, residents of Dhinkia and nearby villages fear for their livelihoods.

So the project has been delayed, probed by countless committees and subjected to repeated litigation. Just this week it faced hearings in Delhi at the National Green Tribunal, an environmental court. But as so often in India, one of the biggest delays has been acquiring the land. In theory, this should be easier for POSCO than for many other investors, since most of the 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres) it needs are designated as forest (even the scrubby sand dunes) and thus government land.

The residents of Dhinkia, however, claim legal rights as people whose families have been making their living from the forest for at least 75 years (which the government disputes). Some, indeed, make a very good living. Devendra Swain, like many villages, maintains betel vines, from which he earns 50,000 rupees a month selling the leaves. Mr Swain also grows rice, mangoes, cashew nuts, bananas and papaya. He claims not to be against industrialisation—except in his fecund backyard.

The villagers’ resistance to the project has seen ugly violence. In 2010 police fired rubber bullets to clear one dharna. In February there was another clash as police entered a neighbouring village, Govindpur, and started dismantling betel vines. In March three people died in a bomb explosion—victims of pro-project goons, say the villagers. The police allege the victims were blown up while making bombs themselves. Involvement in this incident is one of 61 charges facing the CPI’s Abhay Sahoo, the protesters’ leader, who is now in jail for the third time and trying to secure his release on bail. Fearing arrest or an attack by thugs, the 1,400 others in Dhinkia facing criminal charges dare not leave the village.

Of India’s million mutinies, many involve the emotive issue of land. That is one impulse behind a new law covering land acquisition and the resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected. This week it passed through Parliament’s upper house. Few disagree that some new legislation is needed to replace a much-abused British-era law from 1894.

The new bill, however, has drawn fierce criticism. Business is predictably aghast at what it sees as a populist law timed ahead of looming elections.. Some businessmen think it is simply “unworkable”.

Even some who support the principles behind the bill think their implementation has been botched. N.C. Saxena, a former senior civil servant who sits on a National Advisory Council [claims]  that it does not even cover government land. In other words, it would have no relevance for projects such as POSCO’s. Even if it did, legislation would not solve the fundamental difficulty, a total distrust of government.

“After 66 years of independence,” says Mr Mohapatra, the former sarpanch, “no one has ever been compensated properly. Whoever gave his land and his home later became a beggar.” He points to what he says is the unhappy lot of those displaced by two other projects in Odisha. One is the Hirakud dam across the Mahanadi river. It is India’s longest dam, for which Jawaharlal Nehru poured the first concrete in 1948. As many as 180,000 people had to move. Another is just down the road from Dhinkia, where a big oil refinery has been under construction since 2000. An empty field outside Dhinkia has drains and electricity, put in when plots were offered as compensation to those forced to shift. People found it so unappealing that the field is still empty. Moreover, 52 families who supported the POSCO project, many forced out of Govindpur in 2008, are still in reportedly miserable conditions in a transit camp. Add in heavy-handed police, and those agitating against the project have plenty of ammunition. Even the best-drafted law would find the going tough

This Land is Whose Land? A new law may do little to break India’s land-acquisition logjam, Economist, Sept 7, 2013, at 44

Hunting Down Hackers in US: Barrett Brown

A federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown [pdf] and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance.

The court order, imposed by the district court for the northern district of Texas at the request of the US government, prohibits the defendant and his defence team, as well as prosecutors, from making “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case, other than matters of public interest.”  It goes on to warn Brown and his lawyers that “no person covered by this order shall circumvent its effect by actions that indirectly, but deliberately, bring about a violation of this order”…

But media observers seen the hearing in the opposite light: as the latest in a succession of prosecutorial moves under the Obama administration to crack-down on investigative journalism, official leaking, hacking and online activism.Brown’s lead defence attorney, Ahmed Ghappour, has countered in court filings, the most recent of which was lodged with the court Wednesday, that the government’s request for a gag order is unfounded as it is based on false accusations and misrepresentations.

The lawyer says the gagging order is a breach of Brown’s first amendment rights as an author who continues to write from his prison cell on issues unconnected to his own case for the Guardian and other media outlets.In his memo to the court for today’s hearing, Ghappour writes that Brown’s July article for the Guardian “contains no statements whatsoever about this trial, the charges underlying the indictment, the alleged acts underlying the three indictments against Mr Brown, or even facts arguably related to this prosecution.”

Brown, 32, was arrested in Dallas on 12 September last year and has been in prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 100 years in custody.  Before his arrest, Brown became known as a specialist writer on the US government’s use of private military contractors and cybersecurity firms to conduct online snooping on the public. He was regularly quoted by the media as an expert on Anonymous, the loose affiliation of hackers that caused headaches for the US government and several corporate giants, and was frequently referred to as the group’s spokesperson, though he says the connection was overblown.

In 2011, through the research site he set up called Project PM, he investigated thousands of emails that had been hacked by Anonymous from the computer system of a private security firm, HB Gary Federal. His work helped to reveal that the firm had proposed a dark arts effort to besmirch the reputations of WikiLeaks supporters and prominent liberal journalists and activists including the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

In 2012, Brown similarly pored over millions of emails hacked by Anonymous from the private intelligence company Stratfor. It was during his work on the Stratfor hack that Brown committed his most serious offence, according to US prosecutors – he posted a link in a chat room that connected users to Stratfor documents that had been released online. The released documents included a list of email addresses and credit card numbers belonging to Stratfor subscribers. For posting that link, Brown is accused of disseminating stolen information – a charge with media commentators have warned criminalises the very act of linking.

As Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, has put it, the Barrett Brown case “could criminalize the routine journalistic practice of linking to documents publicly available on the internet, which would seem to be protected by the first amendment to the US constitution under current doctrine”.

Excerpt, Ed Pilkington, US stops jailed activist Barrett Brown from discussing leaks prosecution, Guardian, Sept. 4, 2014

 

Predictive Policing

PredPol Places, a US company, has developed] one of a range of tools using better data, more finely crunched, to predict crime. They seem to promise better law-enforcement. But they also bring worries about privacy, and of justice systems run by machines not people.  Criminal offences, like infectious disease, form patterns in time and space….

Cops working with predictive systems respond to call-outs as usual, but when they are free they return to the spots which the computer suggests. Officers may talk to locals or report problems, like broken lights or unsecured properties, that could encourage crime. Within six months of introducing predictive techniques in the Foothill area of Los Angeles, in late 2011, property crimes had fallen 12% compared with the previous year; in neighbouring districts they rose 0.5%…

For now, the predictive approach works best against burglary and thefts of vehicles or their contents. These common crimes provide plenty of historical data to chew on. But adding extra types of information, such as details of road networks, can fine-tune forecasts further. Offenders like places where vulnerable targets are simple to spot, access is easy and getaways speedy, says Shane Johnson, a criminologist at University College London. Systems devised by IBM, a technology firm, watch how big local events, proximity to payday and the weather affect the frequency and location of lawbreaking. “Muggers don’t like getting wet,” says Ron Fellows, IBM’s expert.

Predicting and forestalling crime does not solve its root causes. Positioning police in hotspots discourages opportunistic wrongdoing, but may encourage other criminals to move to less likely areas. And while data-crunching may make it easier to identify high-risk offenders—about half of American states use some form of statistical analysis to decide when to parole prisoners—there is little that it can do to change their motivation.

Misuse and overuse of data can amplify biases….But mathematical models might make policing more equitable by curbing prejudice…

This sort of transparency about what goes on in predictive systems, and what their assumptions are, may also be a partial solution to worries voiced by Andrew Ferguson, a law professor in Washington, DC. Mr Ferguson fears that judges and juries could come to place too much credence in the accuracy of crime prediction tools, jeopardising justice.

The legal limits on using social media to fish out likely wrongdoers, or create files on them, are contested. Most laws governing police investigations pre-date social networking, and some forces assert that all information posted to public forums is fair game. But Jamie Bartlett of Demos, a British think-tank, says citizens and police forces need clearer guidance about how to map physical-world privacy rights onto online spaces. He thinks gathering information about how someone behaves on social sites ought to require the same clearance needed to monitor them doggedly in public places. Officers who register anonymously or pseudonymously to read content, or send web crawlers to trawl sites against their owner’s wishes, would require yet more supervision.

Identifying true villains among the oddballs and loudmouths found by social-media searches is tricky. Most police efforts are embryonic. Evgeny Morozov, an academic and technology writer, thinks the privacy-conscious have more to fear from crime detection algorithms cooked up by social networks themselves. Some of those firms already alert investigators when they suspect users of soliciting minors. Unlike the cops they employ clever coders who can process private messages and other data that police may access only with a court order.

These projects make life difficult for many criminals. But smart ones use the internet to make predictions of their own. Nearly 80% of previously arrested burglars surveyed in 2011 by Friedland, a security firm, said information drawn from social media helps thieves plan coups. Status updates and photographs generate handy lists of tempting properties with absent owners. It does not take a crystal ball to work out what comes next.

Predictive policing: Don’t even think about it, Economist,July 20, 2013, at 24

Australia’s Detention Centers in Nauru

The detention centre on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru was based on a Statement of Principles, signed on September 10, 2001 by the President of Nauru  and Australia’s -Minister for Defence.. The statement opened the way to establish a detention centre for up to 800 people and was accompanied by a pledge of $20 million for development activities.

The purpose of the centre is to process asylum seekers and refugees arriving by boat in Australia. In November 2012, an Amnesty International team visited the camp and described it as “a human rights catastrophe … a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions.  In July 2012 the detention centre was holding 545 asylum seekers. On 19 July 2013 there was a major riot in the detention centre. Several buildings were destroyed by fire. Damage was estimated at A$60 million.The riot began at 3pm when the detainees staged a protest. Up to 200 detainees escaped and about 60 were held overnight at the islands police station.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Diac) confirmed that the remaining asylum seekers on the island, around 400, had been transferred to a second processing centre on the island, a flat “black soil site” with no permanent accommodation.

Excerpts from

Oliver Laughland, Anonymous claims responsibility for attack on Nauruan government website, Guardian, July, 21, 2013 and Wikipedia: Nauru

Multinational Corporations in US Courts: Kiobel v. Shell

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)… grants American district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”. At the age of 190 it sprang back to life on April 6th 1979, when it was used to allow two Paraguayans to sue a former Paraguayan policeman in an American court for acts of torture committed in Paraguay.Since then, roughly 150 lawsuits have been filed against American and foreign corporations for actions committed around the world. Four local plaintiffs used the ATS to sue Unocal in a federal court in Los Angeles for human-rights violations allegedly committed during the construction of an oil pipeline in Myanmar. A human-rights organisation used it to sue Yahoo on behalf of two Chinese democracy activists for actions committed in China by a subsidiary. ATS suits against DaimlerChrysler and Rio Tinto, among others, are pending. Though most ATS cases have been dismissed or settled, the costs of settlements can be high and the negative publicity damaging.

Multinational companies will therefore cheer the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), released on April 17th, 2013. It dramatically limits the ability of plaintiffs to file suit against corporations in American courts for actions committed abroad.  The ruling stems from a case brought in New York by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs living in America. They allege that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations—including murder, rape, theft and destruction of property—committed by Nigeria’s armed forces in the region of Ogoniland. A federal appeals court dismissed their suit, arguing that the ATS provides no grounds for corporate-liability lawsuits. But as the 150 ATS suits show, other courts have disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to settle the question.

In an earlier ruling, in 2004, the court cautiously ruled that the ATS permitted lawsuits for “a modest number of international law violations”, such as piracy and crimes involving ambassadors, which would have been recognised when it was adopted. The court’s Kiobel ruling goes much further. It holds that the ATS does not apply to actions committed by foreign companies, and noted a strong presumption against applying American law outside the United States, “There is no indication,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice, “that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms”.  In a separate concurrence, four of the court’s liberals took a slightly softer tack, arguing that the ATS should allow suits that prevent America from becoming “a safe harbour…for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind”. But that reasoning still does not permit foreign nationals to use American courts to sue foreign companies for acts committed on foreign soil.

Extraterritoriality: The Shell game ends, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 34

The Arms Trade Treaty and $70bn Weapons Market

[T] global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) … was overwhelmingly approved by 154 countries on April 2nd, 2013 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.  The next stage is for those countries which voted for the treaty to begin formally signing up to it in early June. Each signatory country will then have to ratify it at home. The treaty will come into legal force 90 days after the 50th country has ratified it—perhaps as soon as the end of this year. For some, ratification will be a simple process; for others it could prove harder.

The Obama administration is a strong supporter and likely to sign up soon. But getting the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed for ratification will be a struggle, even though the American Bar Association has confirmed the treaty does not infringe any constitutional right to bear arms (as the NRA claims). America’s defence industry also supports it, hoping to bring other countries’ arms

Whatever difficulties may lie ahead, supporters of the treaty to regulate the $70-billion-a-year trade in arms are jubilant. It is the climax of a campaign that began a decade ago. It had especially strong support from African and Caribbean countries where society has been torn apart by civil war or transnational crime, both stoked by the illicit trade in small arms. The deal involved compromises: for example, a weaker section on munitions. But what a senior diplomat close to the negotiations describes as “the heart” of the treaty—the prohibitions section—is alive and beating.

The ATT requires states to establish regulations for arms imports and exports in eight main categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. They must assess whether their transfer could lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law, terrorism or organised crime. They must take into account the risk of serious acts of violence against civilians, particularly women and children. An overriding risk of any of these consequences means states must block the deal.

States must also report annually on all their arms transfers to a UN-run “implementation support unit”. The aim is to shine a light on a previously murky business and make governments accountable under the terms of the treaty. The main sanction is embarrassment. That may seem feeble, but previous treaties on landmines and cluster bombs have set a new global norm which makes it shameful to use such weapons indiscriminately.

The abstainers include big arms exporters (China and Russia) and importers (India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia). But they may sign up later. Russia says it needs more time, while China (surprising some) played a constructive role, apparently influenced by the African countries with which it has forged close commercial ties. Both may find they pay an economic price if their arms industries are increasingly excluded from global supply chains. It will take time for new standards of behaviour to establish themselves, but the push has begun and the treaty can be further strengthened over time. For the moment, says a diplomat involved with the treaty over many years, what has been achieved is “pretty damn good”.

Regulating the weapons trade: A Killer Deal, Economist, April 6, 2013, at 69

 

How the US Persecutes Hacktivists

The government is treating hackers who try to make a political point as serious threats.   [T]he state has come down on them with remarkable force. This is in large measure evidence of how poignant, and troubling, their message has been.

Hacktivists, roughly speaking, are individuals who redeploy and repurpose technology for social causes. In this sense they are different from garden-variety hackers out to enrich only themselves. People like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates began their careers as hackers — they repurposed technology, but without any particular political agenda. In the case of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Wozniak, they built and sold “blue boxes,” devices that allowed users to defraud the phone company. Today, of course, these people are establishment heroes, and the contrast between their almost exalted state and the scorn being heaped upon hacktivists is instructive.

For some reason, it seems that the government considers hackers who are out to line their pockets less of a threat than those who are trying to make a political point. Consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer, better known as “Weev.” When Weev discovered in 2010 that AT&T had left private information about its customers vulnerable on the Internet, he and a colleague wrote a script to access it. Technically, he did not “hack” anything; he merely executed a simple version of what Google Web crawlers do every second of every day — sequentially walk through public URLs and extract the content. When he got the information (the e-mail addresses of 114,000 iPad users, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff), Weev did not try to profit from it; he notified the blog Gawker of the security hole.  For this service Weev might have asked for free dinners for life, but instead he was recently sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of more than $73,000 in damages to AT&T to cover the cost of notifying its customers of its own security failure.  When the federal judge Susan Wigenton sentenced Weev on March 18, she described him with prose that could have been lifted from the prosecutor Meletus in Plato’s “Apology.”

“You consider yourself a hero of sorts,” she said, and noted that Weev’s “special skills” in computer coding called for a more draconian sentence. I was reminded of a line from an essay written in 1986 by a hacker called the Mentor: “My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.”  When offered the chance to speak, Weev, like Socrates, did not back down: “I don’t come here today to ask for forgiveness. I’m here to tell this court, if it has any foresight at all, that it should be thinking about what it can do to make amends to me for the harm and the violence that has been inflicted upon my life.”  He then went on to heap scorn upon the law being used to put him away — the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the same law that prosecutors used to go after the 26-year-old Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January.  The law, as interpreted by the prosecutors, makes it a felony to use a computer system for “unintended” applications, or even violate a terms-of-service agreement. That would theoretically make a felon out of anyone who lied about their age or weight on Match.com.

The case of Weev is not an isolated one. Barrett Brown, a journalist who had achieved some level of notoriety as the “the former unofficial not-spokesman for Anonymous,” the hacktivist group, now sits in federal custody in Texas. Mr. Brown came under the scrutiny of the authorities when he began poring over documents that had been released in the hack of two private security companies, HBGary Federal and Stratfor. Mr. Brown did not take part in the hacks, but he did become obsessed with the contents that emerged from them — in particular the extracted documents showed that private security contractors were being hired by the United States government to develop strategies for undermining protesters and journalists, including Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for Salon. Since the cache was enormous, Mr. Brown thought he might crowdsource the effort and copied and pasted the URL from an Anonymous chat server to a Web site called Project PM, which was under his control…..

Other hacktivists have felt the force of the United States government in recent months, and all reflect an alarming contrast between the severity of the punishment and the flimsiness of the actual charges. The case of Aaron Swartz has been well documented. Jeremy Hammond, who reportedly played a direct role in the Stratfor and HBGary hacks, has been in jail for more than a year awaiting trial. Mercedes Haefer, a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, faces charges for hosting an Internet Relay Chat channel where an Anonymous denial of service attack was planned. Most recently, Matthew Keys, a 26-year-old social-media editor at Reuters, who allegedly assisted hackers associated with Anonymous (who reportedly then made a prank change to a Los Angeles Times headline), was indicted on federal charges that could result in more than $750,000 in fines and prison time, inciting a new outcry against the law and its overly harsh enforcement. The list goes on.

In a world in which nearly everyone is technically a felon, we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors to decide who should be targets and how hard the law should come down on them. We have thus entered a legal reality not so different from that faced by Socrates when the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens, and it is a dangerous one. When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society.

Excerpts, By PETER LUDLOW, Hacktivists as Gadflies, NY Times, April 13, 2013

It Can Cost Your Life: Shipping Minerals

A dark underbelly exists in Indonesia’s thriving trade with China. Since late 2010 five ships loaded with Indonesian minerals have sunk when bound for China, with huge loss of life. Little has been done to break the deadly trend. Indeed, plenty of interests have an incentive to hush it up. The latest ship to founder is the Harita Bauxite, a bulk carrier which sank on February 17th near the Philippines. Of its 24 crew, who were all or mainly from Myanmar, ten were rescued, one of whom later died. Fourteen were still missing when the search was called off two weeks later.

The vessel is thought to have been carrying nickel ore, a potentially deadly cargo, loaded on Obi island in the remote Indonesian province of Muluku and destined for China’s steel mills. In terms of the global bulk trade, shipments of nickel ore from Indonesia to China are tiny: just 2m-3m tonnes out of more than 4 billion tonnes of bulk goods carried each year on over 9,000 vessels. Yet this backwater trade accounted for four of the 20 bulk freighters lost worldwide during 2010-11, and for 66 of 82 deaths, according to Intercargo, an association of ship owners.

ll four ships were found to have sunk because the cargo had liquefied. Nickel ore is dangerous because if it gets too wet, the fine, claylike particles that are often present in the ore turn the cargo to a liquid gloop that sloshes about the holds with such momentum that even a giant ship can capsize. The four ships had loaded during Indonesia’s rainy season. The ore is typically stockpiled in the open. Quite how the Harita Bauxite foundered is not yet clear, but if liquefaction was a factor, as many in the shipping industry suspect, it will have been another entirely avoidable tragedy.

Preventing liquefaction should be fairly simple. It involves checking the moisture content of susceptible commodities. If they are too wet, a surveyor will deem the cargo unsafe and not to be loaded. Time and again in Indonesia, checks have been inadequate. With the bulk-shipping business in the doldrums, the profitable nickel trade is a siren call for ship owners and charterers. Indonesia’s ministers and mandarins in Jakarta, the capital, refuse to comment on the tragedies and have done little to tighten policing at faraway ports in Sulawesi, Muluku and Papua.

Ship captains report intimidation by miners and agents if they refuse to accept cargo. A leading marine insurer says the ports’ remoteness makes it hard to sample cargoes reliably. Local officials turn a blind eye to unsafe practices. Peter Lundahl Rasmussen at Bimco, a maritime association, says surveyors trying to do their job have been assaulted or arrested.

With insurance claims mounting, shipping bodies and insurers have issued plenty of instructions about how to load nickel ore safely, especially in Indonesia. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency responsible for shipping safety, is also taking steps to tighten the regulations for commodities that can suffer liquefaction.

But the IMO’s process is a glacial one, and the new rules will not clear its various committees and be promulgated until at least 2015. Even then, the organisation relies on its members to enforce regulations. In Indonesia, in other words, the impact of tighter rules may be minimal. Moreover, existing and planned legislation covers ore depots and the ports, but not the transit between the two, where rain may do its dangerous work. Steve Cameron at RTI, a risk consultancy, argues that it would be more effective if mining companies faced charges of corporate manslaughter for not ensuring that their ore reaches ships in good condition.

Shipping: Deadly Trade, Economist, Mar. 23, 2013, at 46.

 

Rape is a Way of Life in Congo

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has threatened to stop supporting two Congolese army battalions unless soldiers accused of raping scores of women in an eastern town are prosecuted, said a senior U.N. official.  The United Nations said 126 women were raped in Minova in November 2012 after Congolese troops fled to the town as so-called M23 rebels briefly captured the nearby provincial capital of Goma.

The senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two Congolese battalions had been told to start prosecuting soldiers accused of raping the women in Minova this month or they would lose the support of U.N. peacekeepers, Reuters reports.  “Many rapes were committed. We have investigated, we have identified a number of cases and we demand that the Congolese authorities take action legally against those people,” said the official. He did not say how many soldiers had been accused. “Since nothing sufficient has happened at this stage we have already put two units of the armed forces of Congo on notice that if they do not act promptly we shall cease supporting them,” he said. “They have to shape up.”

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in December that alleged human rights abuses were committed in and around Minova between November 20 and November 30, including the 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians. Nesirky said at the time that two soldiers were charged with rape, while seven more were charged with looting.  The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and supports operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 troops in Congo – a country the size of Western Europe.

Peacekeepers have been stretched thin by the M23 rebellion in the resource-rich east of Congo and the U.N. Security Council is considering creating a special intervention force, which one senior council diplomat has said would be able to “search and destroy” the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the country.  M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels’ integration into the army, but they have since deserted.

African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord late last month aimed at ending two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and paving the way for the intervention force

U.N. threatens to stop working with Congo army units accused of rape, Reuters, Mar. 8, 2013

 

Who is Cryptome?

Cryptome unfamiliar to the general public, is well-known in circles where intelligence tactics, government secrets and whistle-blowing are primary concerns. Since its creation in 1996, Cryptome has amassed more than 70,000 files — including lists of secret agents, high-resolution photos of nuclear power plants, and much more.

Its co-founder and webmaster, a feisty 77-year-old architect, doesn’t hesitate when asked why.  “I’m a fierce opponent of government secrets of all kinds,” says John Young. “The scale is tipped so far the other way that I’m willing to stick my neck out and say there should be none.”  Young describes several exchanges with federal agents over postings related to espionage and potential security breaches, though no charges have ever been filed. And he notes that corporate complaints of alleged copyright violations and efforts to shut Cryptome down have gone nowhere.

For Young, there’s a more persistent annoyance than these: the inevitable comparisons of Cryptome to WikiLeaks, the more famous online secret-sharing organization launched by Julian Assange and others in 2006.  Young briefly collaborated with WikiLeaks’ creators but says he was dropped from their network after questioning plans for multimillion-dollar fundraising. Cryptome operates on a minimal budget — less than $2,000 a year, according to Young, who also shuns WikiLeaks-style publicity campaigns.  “We like the scholarly approach — slow, almost boring,” says Young. He likens Cryptome to a “dusty, dimly lit library.”  That’s not quite the image that Reader’s Digest evoked in 2005, in an article titled “Let’s Shut Them Down.” Author Michael Crowley assailed Cryptome as an “invitation to terrorists,” notably because of its postings on potential security vulnerabilities.Cryptome’s admirers also don’t fully buy into Young’s minimalist self-description….

Young considers himself a freedom-of-information militant, saying he is unbothered by “the stigma of seeming to go too far.” Claims that Cryptome aids terrorists or endangers intelligence agents are “hokum,” he said. “We couldn’t possibly publish information to aid terrorists that they couldn’t get on their own,” he said, depicting his postings about security gaps as civic-minded.  “If you know a weakness, expose it, don’t hide it,” he said…

As a motto of sorts, the Cryptome home page offers a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: “The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.”  The website says Cryptome welcomes classified and confidential documents from governments worldwide, “in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance.”  Young attributes Cryptome’s longevity and stature to its legion of contributors, most of them anonymous, who provide a steady stream of material to post.  Among the most frequently downloaded of Cryptome’s recent postings were high-resolution photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after it was badly damaged in the March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster.

Cryptome also was a pivotal outlet last year for amorous emails between national security expert Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, which led McGurk to withdraw as the Obama administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.  Other documents on the site list names of people purported to be CIA sources, officers of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, and spies with Japan’s Public Security Investigation Agency….

Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year….Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft’s confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days….

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome’s patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.  “Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda,” Young has written on the site. “Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose…”

Excerpts from DAVID CRARY, Older, Quieter Than WikiLeaks, Cryptome Perseveres, Associated Press, Mar. 9, 2013

Keep Talking, the State Listens

DARPA is funding a project that uses crowdsourcing to improve how machines analyze our speech. Even more radical: DARPA wants to make systems so accurate, you’ll be able to easily record, transcribe and recall all the conversations you ever have... But it’s not just about better recordings of what you say. It’ll lead to more recorded conversations, quickly transcribed and then stored in perpetuity — like a Twitter feed or e-mail archive for everyday speech. Imagine living in a world where every errant utterance you make is preserved forever.

University of Texas computer scientist Matt Lease… has attracted enough attention for Darpa to award him a $300,000 award over two years to study the new project, called “Blending Crowdsourcing with Automation for Fast, Cheap, and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech.” The project envisions a world that is both radically transparent and a little freaky.

The idea is that business meetings or even conversations with your friends and family could be stored in archives and easily searched. The stored recordings could be held in servers, owned either by individuals or their employers….

How? The answer, Lease says, is in widespread use of recording technologies like smartphones, cameras and audio recorders — a kind of “democratizing force of everyday people recording and sharing their daily lives and experiences through their conversations.” But the trick to making the concept functional and searchable, says Lease, is blending automated voice analysis machines with large numbers of human analysts through crowdsourcing. That could be through involving people “strategically,” to clean up transcripts where machines made a mistake. Darpa’s older EARS project relied entirely on automation, which has its drawbacks….

Crowdsourcing is all about harnessing distributed networks of people — crowds — to do tasks better and more efficiently than individuals or machines. Recently, that’s meant harnessing large numbers of people to build digital maps, raising funds for a film project at Kickstarter, or doing odd-jobs at Amazon Mechanical Turk — one system being studied as part of the project. Darpa has also taken an interest in crowdsourcing as a way to analyze vast volumes of intelligence data, and Darpa’s sibling in the intelligence community, IARPA, has researched crowdsourcing as a way to find the best intelligence predictions.

It also raises some thorny legal and social questions about privacy. For one, there is an issue with “respecting the privacy rights of multiple people involved,” Lease says. One solution, for a business conference that’s storing and transcribing everything said by the participants, could be a mutual agreement between all parties. He adds that technical issues when it comes to archiving recorded speech are still open questions, but people could potentially hold their cell phone conversations on remote servers; or on individual, privately-held servers.

The other problem is figuring out how to search massive amounts of transcribed speech, like how search engines such as Google use complex algorithms to match and optimize search queries with results that are likely to be relevant. Fast and cheap web analytics — judging what people type and matching it up to what they click — is one way to do it. Studying focus groups are more precise, but expensive. A third way, Lease suggests, is using more crowdsourcing as a sort of a “middle-ground” between the two methods.

But it’s unknown how the research will be applied to the military. Lease wouldn’t speculate, and it’s still very much a basic research project. Though if it’s similar to EARS at all, then it may not be too difficult to figure out. A 2003 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service described EARS as focusing on speech picked up from broadcasts and telephone conversations, “as well as extract clues about the identity of speakers” for “the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities.” Though Lease didn’t mention automatically recognizing voices. But the research may not have to go that far — if we’re going to be recording ourselves.

Excerpt, BY ROBERT BECKHUSEN, Darpa Wants You to Transcribe, and Instantly Recall, All of Your Conversations, Wired, Mar. 4, 2013

Watching your Internet Fingerprint

The current standard method for validating a user’s identity for authentication on an information system requires humans to do something that is inherently difficult: create, remember, and manage long, complex passwords. Moreover, as long as the session remains active, typical systems incorporate no mechanisms to verify that the user originally authenticated is the user still in control of the keyboard. Thus, unauthorized individuals may improperly obtain extended access to information system resources if a password is compromised or if a user does not exercise adequate vigilance after initially authenticating at the console.

The Active Authentication program seeks to address this problem by developing novel ways of validating the identity of the person at the console that focus on the unique aspects of the individual through the use of software-based biometrics. Biometrics is defined as the characteristics used to uniquely recognize humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits. This program focuses on the computational behavioral traits that can be observed through how we interact with the world. Just as when you touch something with our finger you leave behind a fingerprint, when you interact with technology you do so in a pattern based on how your mind processes information, leaving behind a “cognitive fingerprint.”

This BAA addresses the first phase of this program. In the first phase of the program, the focus will be on researching biometrics that does not require the installation of additional hardware sensors. Rather, DARPA will look for research on biometrics that can be captured through the technology already in use in a standard DoD office environment, looking for aspects of the “cognitive fingerprint.” A heavy emphasis will be placed on validating any potential new biometrics with empirical tests to ensure they would be effective in large scale deployments.

The later planned phases of the program that are not addressed in this BAA will focus on developing a solution that integrates any available biometrics using a new authentication platform suitable for deployment on a standard Department of Defense desktop or laptop. The planned combinatorial approach of using multiple modalities for continuous user identification and authentication is expected to deliver a system that is accurate, robust, and transparent to the user’s normal computing experience. The authentication platform is planned to be developed with open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to allow the integration of other software or hardware biometrics available in the future from any source.

The combined aspects of the individual that this program is attempting to uncover are the aspects that are the computational behavioral “fingerprint” of the person at the keyboard. This has also been referred to in existing research as the “cognitive fingerprint.” The proposed theory is that how individuals formulate their thoughts and actions are reflected through their behavior, and this behavior in turn can be captured as metrics in how the individual performs tasks using the computer.

Some examples of the computational behavior metrics of the cognitive fingerprint include:

− keystrokes

− eye scans

− how the user searches for information (verbs and predicates used)

− how the user selects information (verbs and predicates used)

− how the user reads the material selected

• eye tracking on the page

• speed with which the individual reads the content

− methods and structure of communication (exchange of email)

These examples are only provided for illustrative purposes and are not intended as a list of potential research topics. The examples above include potential biometrics that would not be supported through this BAA due to a requirement for the deployment of additional hardware based sensors (such as tracking eye scans).

Excerpt from, Broad Agency Announcement, Active Authentication, DARPA-BAA-12-06, January 12, 2012

On Feb. 12, 2013, two groups announced related projects. The first is an industry group calling itself the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance. It consists of the computer-maker, Lenovo, the security firm, Nok Nok Labs, the online payment giant, PayPal, the biometrics experts, Agnito, and the authentication specialists, Validity. The second is the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), a research and development arm of the Defense Department.

Excerpt from DARPA, FIDO Alliance Join Race to Replace Passwords, CNET, Feb. 12, 2013

Hunting Down Somali Pirates: British Empire

Times are tough and getting worse for Somali pirates, as their targets take countermeasures. The number of attacks off the Horn of Africa tumbled from 236 in 2011 to no more than 72 in 2012, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a body that monitors crime at sea.

Now a private naval effort is adding to their woes. A company called Typhon will use a 10,000 tonne “mother ship” to accompany convoys of merchant vessels. With 60 mostly armed, mostly British ex-soldiers on board, it will deploy speedboats and unmanned drones to watch and intercept hostile boats.  Anthony Sharp, Typhon’s boss, says customers will find that more efficient than putting armed guards on every ship. It will also spare them keeping guns on board (which is tricky in law). Typhon plans to have three large ships by the year end, with at least one based in the Gulf of Guinea, a hotspot for pirate attacks last year, and ten by 2016.

Its backers include Simon Murray, a former foreign legionnaire who is now chairman of Glencore, a commodities giant due soon to merge with Xstrata, a mining behemoth. The new outfit will be a big potential customer for Typhon. But Mr Sharp downplays comparisons with Britain’s East India Company, which ran a private empire with its own navy. His is “actually quite a boring business,” he claims. Not for the pirates.

Piracy: Privateers,Economist, Jan.12, 2013, at 54

Three Activists and their Twitter Accounts

A federal appeals court ruled Friday (Jan. 25, 2012)  that prosecutors can demand Twitter account information of certain users in their criminal probe into the disclosure of classified documents on WikiLeaks.  The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said the government’s reasons as to why it is seeking the information can remain sealed.

The case involves three Twitter account holders with some connection to the secret-busting WikiLeaks website. They had argued that forcing Twitter to cooperate with the investigation by turning over data amounts to an invasion of privacy and has a chilling effect on the free speech rights of Twitter users.

The federal panel in Richmond rejected their appeal and affirmed a magistrate’s court order that Twitter must turn over limited account information to prosecutors. The court said it weighed the right of public access against the need to keep an investigation secret. The appeals court agreed with the magistrate that the government’s interest in keeping the documents secret outweigh the right to public access.

Prosecutors have said federal law specifically allows them to seek account information as a routine investigative tool. Specifically, the Stored Communications Act allows them to obtain certain electronic data without a search warrant or a demonstration of probable cause. The government must only show that it has a reasonable belief that the records it seeks are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.  “This is essentially a reasonable suspicion standard,” the court wrote.  Under the Stored Communications Act, the government can also keep sealed documents related to their investigation from the subscribers. The appeals panel concluded the subscribers had no First Amendment right to access the documents. Prosecutors submitted their rationale for seeking the Twitter information to U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan but it was kept secret and sealed also.

The court wrote that the “government’s interests in maintaining secrecy of its investigation, preventing potential subjects from being tipped off, or altering behavior to thwart the government’s ongoing investigation, outweighed” the subscribers’ claims.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing the Twitter users, said the government can use those IP addresses as a sort of virtual tracking device to identify a specific computer used by an account holder and with it the user’s physical location.

The appeals panel also allows the government to keep secret any similar orders it sought from other social media sites.

“This case shows just how easy it is for the government to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet, and it highlights the need for our electronic privacy laws to catch up with technology,” said ACLU attorney Aden Fine. “The government should not be able to get private information like this without getting a warrant and also satisfying the standard required by the First Amendment, and it shouldn’t be able to do so in secret except in unusual circumstances”

The original order issued in December 2010 at prosecutors’ request also sought Twitter account information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Pfc. Bradley Manning, who faces life in prison if he’s convicted of indirectly aiding the enemy by leaking U.S. secrets while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.  Neither Assange nor Manning was a party in the lawsuit challenging the legality of the Twitter order.

WikiLeaks Case: U.S. Appeals Court Rules On Investigation, Huffington Post, Jan. 25, 2013

Torture in Afghanistan: following the master

The UN report (2013), titled “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody,” offered a grim tour of Afghanistan’s detention facilities, where even adolescents have reported abuse like beatings with hoses and pipes and threats of sodomy.

In the case of the intelligence service, the United Nations reported a lower incidence of torture. But it was not clear whether that finding reflected improved behavior as much as it did a decrease in the number of detainees handed over to the intelligence service by the international military coalition. And some detainees have alluded to new secret interrogation centers.

The Afghan government rejected the report’s specific allegations but said that there were some abuses, and that it had taken numerous steps to improve the treatment of detainees. The government gave United Nations officials access to those held in all but one detention facility.Among the questions raised by the report is whether the pervasiveness of torture will make it difficult for the American military to hand over those being held in the Parwan Detention Facility, also known as Bagram Prison, as required under the agreement reached last week in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  The United Nations did not look at the Parwan Detention Facility, in part because it is not yet wholly under Afghan control….

After a United Nations report on torture in 2011, the international coalition suspended transfers of battlefield detainees to 16 Afghan detention sites. ISAF resumed transfers to most of those centers after certifying that they were complying with human rights protocols. Then, in October 2012, the coalition received new reports of torture and abuse and halted some of the transfers that it had restarted only months before, the United Nations report said. The United Nations has briefed ISAF at several points in the course of its research, which included interviews with more than 600 detainees as well as employees of the Afghan intelligence service, the Afghan police, judges and prosecutors….The Afghan government’s 20-page response, which is included in the United Nations report, rejected all specific allegations, including “beating with rubber pipes or water pipes, forced confession, suspension, twisting of the detainees’ penises and wrenching of the detainees’ testicles, death threats, sexual abuse and child abuse.”

ALISSA J. RUBIN, Anti-Torture Efforts in Afghanistan Failed, U.N. Says, NY Times, Jan. 20, 2012

See also Convention against Torture

CIA Torture Program: the case of El-Masri

Nearly a decade after a German man claimed he was snatched off the street, held in secret and tortured as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — all due to a case of mistaken identity — a panel of international judges said today what Khaled El-Masri has been waiting to hear since 2004: We believe you.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down a unanimous verdict siding with El-Masri (pdf of verdict) in his case against the government of Macedonia, which he claimed first played an integral role in his illegal detention and then ignored his pleas to investigate the traumatic ordeal. For his troubles, the ECHR ordered the government of Macedonia to pay El-Masri 60,000 Euros in damages, about $80,000.

“There’s no question 60,000 Euros does not begin to provide compensation for the harm he has suffered,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is representing El-Masri, told ABC News today. “That said… for Mr. El-Masri, the most important thing that he was hoping for was to have the European court officially acknowledge what he did and say that what he’s been claiming is in fact true and it was in fact a breach of the law… It’s an extraordinary ruling.”

El-Masri’s dramatic story, as detailed in various court and government documents, began in late 2003 when he was snatched off a bus at a border crossing in Macedonia. Plainclothes Macedonian police officers brought him to a hotel in the capital city of Skopje and held him there under guard for 23 days. In the hotel he was interrogated repeatedly and told to admit he was a member of al Qaeda, according to an account provided by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The German was then blindfolded and taken to an airport where he said he was met by men he believed to be a secret CIA rendition team. In its ruling today, the EHRC recounted how the CIA men allegedly beat and sodomized El-Masri in an airport facility, treatment that the court said “amounted to torture.” The CIA declined to comment for this report.  El-Masri was then put on a plane and claims that the next thing he knew, he was in Afghanistan, where he would stay for four months under what his lawyers called “inhuman and degrading” conditions.  According to the Initiative, it wasn’t until May 28, 2004 that El-Masri was suddenly removed from his cell, put on another plane and flown to a military base in Albania. “On arrival he was driven in a car for several hours and then let out and told not to look back,” the group says on its website. Albanian authorities soon picked El-Masri up and took him to an airport where he flew back to Frankfurt, Germany.  According to El-Masri’s lawyers, the CIA had finally realized they accidentally picked up the wrong man.

In their decision today, the ECHR said El-Masri’s account was established “beyond reasonable doubt,” in part based on the findings of previous investigations into flight logs and forensic evidence.  Before the EHRC, El-Masri and his supporters had tried to bring his case to trial in several courts, including in the U.S. in 2005. There, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit on behalf of El-Masri against George Tenet, then director of the CIA, but the case was dismissed in 2006 after the U.S. government claimed hearing it would jeopardize “state secrets.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2007.The same year, a German prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for 13 CIA agents for their alleged role, according to the New York Times, but the agents were never arrested.

In addition to the money Macedonia has been ordered to pay El-Masri, the Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on Macedonia, the U.S. and Germany to offer official apologies to El-Masri and for Germany to ask the U.S. to hand over the officers allegedly involved in the kidnapping so they may see trial.  Goldston said he hoped the ECHR’s ruling could open the door to further investigations into the CIA’s controversial rendition program and “all these kinds of cases where allegations of abuse arise from counter-terrorism practices.”

LEE FERRAN. Court: CIA Tortured German During Botched Rendition, ABC News, Dec. 13, 2012

How the UN failed Sri Lanka Civilians

Between August 2008 and May 2009, as the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) entered its final stages, an estimated 360,000 or more civilians were crowded into an ever smaller part of ‘the Wanni’ area of Northern Sri Lanka where many died as a result of sustained artillery shelling, illness and starvation. Almost 280,000 survivors were forcibly interned in military-run camps outside the area of conflict. The UN responded mainly through its humanitarian assistance and development frameworks; its political and human rights roles were limited. Despite the gravity of events, UN Member States did not formally consider the situation until the war ended. During the final stages, and the aftermath from May 2009 onward, the UN provided assistance to IDPs in internment camps, even as IDP rights and UN principles of intervention were not respected. Most IDPs were eventually allowed to return home. (Annex III provides a detailed account of events and UN actions)

In April 2011, the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts (POE) on accountability in Sri Lanka issued a report recommending a review of the UN’s own actions. In a letter to the Secretary-General, the POE described UN action as a low point for the organization as a whole, and said that some UN agencies and individuals had failed in their mandates and did not uphold the UN’s founding principles. Pursuant to the POE’s recommendation, the Secretary-General established an “Internal Review Panel on UN action in Sri Lanka” (the Panel), led by Charles Petrie, tasked with providing an assessment of UN action during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, identifying institutional and structural strengths and weaknesses, and making recommendations to ensure a more effective UN response in similar situations. The Panel began work in late April 2012 and submitted the present report at the end of September.

For the UN, the last phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka presented a major challenge. The UN struggled to exert influence on the Government which, with the effective acquiescence of a post-9/11 world order, was determined to defeat militarily an organization designated as terrorist. Some have argued that many deaths could have been averted had the Security Council and the Secretariat, backed by the UN country team (UNCT), spoken out loudly early on, notably by publicizing the casualty numbers. Others say that the question is less whether the UN should assume responsibility for the tragedy, but more whether it did everything it could to assist the victims.

The Panel’s conclusion is that events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warning and the evolving events during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities adopted by Member States and the Secretariat, agencies and programs.

Decision-making across the UN was dominated by a culture of trade-offs – from the ground to UN headquarters (UNHQ). Options for action were seen less as responsibilities and more in terms of dilemmas. Choosing not to speak up about Government and LTTE broken commitments and violations of international law was seen as the only way to increase UN humanitarian access. Choosing to focus Security Council briefings on the humanitarian situation rather than the causes of the crisis and the obligations of the parties to the conflict was seen as essential to facilitate Secretariat engagement with Member States. There was a sustained and institutionalized reluctance among UNCT actors to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist. In Colombo, many senior UN staff simply did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility; and agency and department heads at UNHQ were not instructing their staff in Sri Lanka otherwise.

The UN’s failure to adequately counter the Government’s under-estimation of population numbers in the Wanni, the failure to adequately confront the Government on its obstructions to humanitarian assistance, the unwillingness of the UN in UNHQ and Colombo to address Government responsibility for attacks that were killing civilians, and the tone and content of UN communications with the Government and Member States on these issues, contributed to the unfolding of dramatic events.

UNHQ engagement with Member States regarding Sri Lanka was ineffective and heavily influenced by what UNHQ perceived Member States wanted to hear, rather than by what States needed to know if they were to respond. Reflection on Sri Lanka by UNHQ and States at the UN was conducted on the basis of a mosaic of considerations among which the grave situation of civilians in Sri Lanka competed with extraneous factors such as inconclusive discussions on the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect’ and Security Council ambivalence on its role in such situations. In the absence of clear Security Council support, the UN’s actions lacked adequate purpose and direction amid the many competing factors.

Most crucially, the UN did not use all the political and advocacy tools at its disposal. In particular, it did not keep Member States or the public fully informed. Nor did it warn the Sri Lankan Government or the LTTE of the consequences of their actions, including their responsibility for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Systemic failure in Sri Lanka can be distilled into the following:

(i) a UN system that lacked an adequate and shared sense of responsibility for human rights violations;

(ii)  an incoherent internal UN crisis-management structure which failed to conceive and execute a coherent strategy in response to early warnings and subsequent human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations against civilians, and which did not exercise sufficient oversight for UN action in the field;

(iii)  senior staff on the ground who lacked the necessary armed conflict, political and IHL experience to deal with the challenge presented by Sri Lanka, and who were given insufficient support;

(iv) the ineffective dispersal of coordination of UN action and monitoring of human rights and IHL violations across several different UNHQ entities in Geneva and New York with overlapping mandates;

(v) inadequate political support from Member States and inadequate efforts by the Secretariat to build such support;

and (vi) a framework for Member State engagement with human rights and IHL protection crises that is outdated and often unworkable.

Overview of Recommendations

The Panel’s Terms of Reference imply that it should gather lessons from an historical event that has passed. However, the magnitude of the violence in the Wanni, following decades of strife and injustice, continue to be felt by Sri Lanka’s communities. Sri Lanka’s peaceful and stable progress will require a process of accountability and reconciliation and a political solution to the long-standing grievances of all communities, as well as a response to ongoing and new concerns, and prevention and protection in the future. Working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka, the UN needs to take on this further challenge.

This report’s recommendations for the UN system are designed to be politically feasible and resource neutral, while encouraging profound changes in the institution’s approach to similar situations in the future. The broad lines of the recommendations include the need to:

Restate the vision of the UN: The Secretary-General should restate a vision of the UN’s most fundamental responsibilities to include the defence of human rights. The vision should help frame strategy and policy responses by senior levels of the organization to situations of massive human rights violations.

Embed a UN human rights perspective into UN strategies: The UNHQ needs stronger capacity to include human rights, IHL and international criminal law perspectives in overall analysis and strategy for any situation. It should also have stronger capacity to build political support from Member States for addressing grave concerns.

Strengthen the management of the UN’s crisis response: To ensure coherent UNHQ oversight for UN strategy and action, the Secretary-General should strengthen management of the whole-of-UN response to situations of massive human rights violations.

Promote accountability and responsibility: All staff should be fully informed of, and have easy access to, procedures under which allegations of serious misconduct by staff can be reported and promptly investigated.

Improve UN engagement with Member States and building of political support: For every such crisis, the Secretary-General must have an array of options that will permit him to fully inform Member States and suggest appropriate actions.

Better address violations of privileges and immunities: When a Member State engages in sustained actions against UN personnel and institutions, including violations of UN privileges and immunities, the Secretary-General should review options for response by the Secretariat and invite Member States to consider what action they could also take.

Coming at the beginning of his second term, the Secretary-General’s decision to commission an internal review is an extremely courageous step. The Panel believes that the report’s findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action. The UN’s failure to adequately respond to the events in Sri Lanka should not happen again. When confronted by similar situations, the UN should be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities. In support of this effort, the Panel strongly urges that its report be made public.

This executive summary was obtained fromhttp://www.innercitypress.com/

Final redacted version of UN report

BBC initial report (unfortunately does not contain the leaked version as a pdf)

Ship Breaking – Greens against workers

At its height in 2008 Bangladesh’s ship-breaking industry accounted for half of all ships scrapped in the world, according to IHS, a consultancy. Today the country accounts for around a fifth. In these years Bangladeshi ship breakers found themselves at the forefront of criticism as NGOs and pressure groups exposed some of the worst practices causing environmental and human harm. These included high health risks due to injuries, noxious fumes and the handling of asbestos. Critics say one way in which Bangladesh competes on cost is that poor workers are unlikely to file claims for accidents or bad health. Another advantage is (or was) the use of child labour.

In 2009 the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), a public-advocacy group, convinced the Supreme Court to ban all ship recycling not meeting certain environmental standards. The court’s decision meant that by 2010 the ship-breaking industry had come to a halt. Zahirul Islam of PHP, a local manufacturer with a big ship-breaking division (the industry prefers to call it ship recycling), says that for 14 months the company was unable to import a single vessel for breaking.  Knock-on effects hurt the wider economy. A World Bank study estimated that ship breaking employed over 200,000 in Bangladesh. Many of the jobs were subsequently lost. And domestic steel prices rose sharply. Half of all Bangladesh’s steel comes from breaking ships.  Under pressure from the ship breakers, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has since relaxed the regulations. Hefzatur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, believes this has saved the industry. From just a score of vessels scrapped in the main part of Chittagong two years ago, about 150 were broken up in 2011.

Greens are not happy and want the ban reimposed. Delphine Reuter of the Shipbreaking Platform, an NGO in Brussels, describes ship recycling as “close to slavery”. It and BELA are leading the call for more regulation. That bothers international shipping firms and ship brokers, which argue that Bangladeshi ship breakers have cleaned up their act.

At the International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency responsible for curbing shipping pollution and ensuring safety, the head of pollution prevention, Nikos Mikelis, says environmentalists present Bangladesh with a false choice. “They say they are happy to have the industry, but not on the beaches. Where do they want it? In the mountains?”

Ship breaking in Bangladesh: Hard to break up, Economist, Oct. 27, 2012, at 44

Chevron, 50 Activists and their Email Accounts

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and EarthRights International (ERI) asked judges in California and New York today to quash subpoenas issued by Chevron Corporation to three email providers demanding identifying information about the users of more than 100 email accounts, including environmental activists, journalists, and attorneys. The information Chevron wants could be used to create a detailed map of the individuals’ locations and associations over nearly a decade.

The subpoenas are the latest salvo in the long-running battle over damage caused by oil drilling in Ecuador. After years of litigation, an Ecuadorian court last year imposed a judgment of over $17 billion on Chevron for dumping toxic waste into Amazon waterways and causing massive harm to the rainforest. Instead of paying, Chevron sued more than 50 people who were involved in the Ecuador lawsuit, claiming they were part of a conspiracy to defraud the oil giant. None of the individuals represented by EFF and ERI has been sued by Chevron or accused of wrongdoing.

“Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron,” said Marcia Hofmann, EFF Senior Staff Attorney. “These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador.”

The motions to quash filed today asked the courts to reject the subpoenas, pointing out that anonymous speakers who are not parties in a lawsuit receive particularly strong First Amendment protections. EFF first won court recognition of this protection in Doe v. 2theMart.com in 2001. Chevron’s subpoenas also violate the legal protections for the right of association for political action that were developed during the civil rights era.

“The courts have long recognized that forcing activists to reveal their names and political associations will chill First Amendment rights and can only be done in the most extreme situations,” added Marco Simons, Legal Director of ERI, which has provided legal assistance to third parties affected by the Chevron litigation in two international proceedings. “We look forward to having those longstanding principles applied in this case so that people can engage in journalism and political activism and assist in litigation against environmental destruction without fear that their identities and personal email information will be put at risk.”

EFF and ERI are challenging the subpoenas to Google and Yahoo! in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the subpoena to Microsoft in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. .

EFF and ERI Fight to Quash Speech-Chilling Subpoenas from Chevron, Press Release of Electronic Frontier Foundation, Oct. 22, 2012

Nuclear Waste Island, Orchid, Taiwan

Most people on the windswept outpost, 62 kilometres east of Taiwan’s mainland, would love to see the 100,277 barrels of nuclear waste gone. But many admit they are concerned about their livelihoods if that day comes.  Orchid Island has been a flashpoint for Taiwan’s environmental movement since nuclear waste was first shipped there in 1982. Local residents, mostly members of the Tao aboriginal group, say the waste was put on the island without their consent. Periodic protests have claimed negative health and environmental effects.

In response, Taiwan Power Co has showered the community with cash handouts, subsidies, and other benefits.  Orchid Island received subsidies worth 110 million Taiwan dollars in 2011, according to company data. That doubled local government spending, according to township secretary Huang Cheng-de.  “The current situation, basically, is that Taipower gives us quite a bit of money, and our people are becoming pretty reliant,” Huang said.  Most of the funds are divided into government-managed accounts for each of the island’s 4,700 residents, who can apply for it if they have a business or career-oriented need. Residents also receive free electricity, health-related emergency evacuations, scholarships for higher education and a 50-per-cent discount on all transportation costs to Taiwan’s mainland.  Statistics indicate local residents are taking advantage of the benefits. In 2011, they used nearly twice as much electricity per household as the national average, according to company data.

Protests have weakened and for many residents, including Chou the restaurant owner, the existence of nuclear waste has become more acceptable.  “Most people here are against the nuclear waste, but since its already here, they should pay us for using our land,” Chou said. “For now, I’m okay with it as long as they don’t add any more barrels.”  The utility plans to move the waste off the island by 2021, but only if another township in Taiwan agrees by referendum to take it, according to Huang Tian-Huang, a company deputy director.  If it goes to plan, “so goes the compensation,” Huang said, although he acknowledged that gaining consent from another community will be difficult.  Questions remain on what would support Orchid Island’s economy if those subsidies end.

For Taiwan aborigines, nuclear waste is blessing and curse, http://www.timeslive.co.za, Sept. 16, 2012

Covert Ops in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia: Civilians Killed

From the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Pakistan September 2012 actions: Total CIA strikes in September: 3 Total killed in strikes in September: 12-18, of whom 0-3 were reportedly civilians; All actions 2004 – September 30 2012: Total Obama strikes: 294;Total US strikes since 2004: 346; Total reported killed: 2,570-3,337; Civilians reported killed: 474-884; Children reported killed: 176; Total reported injured: 1,232-1,366

After seven strikes in August – the most in a single month since October 2011 – September saw a pause in the bombing which lasted 20 days. The respite coincided with many and sometimes violent anti-US protests around the world. Muslims were inflamed by a blasphemous film, produced in the US and posted online. Up to 17 people died in riots across Pakistan as public outrage at drone strikes reportedly added to the violence.

On September 24 two named al Qaeda militants were killed by the CIA. Saleh al Turki ’was not on the FBI’s bounty list, but was a mid level AQ guy’. However Abu Kahsha al Iraqi was described as ‘a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban’ and ‘long a target of Western counterterrorism agencies.’

Yemen September 2012 actions:Confirmed US drone strikes: 0; Further reported/possible US strike events: 4-5′ Total reported killed in US operations: 0-40;Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-12  All actions 2002 – September 30 2012: Total confirmed US operations: 52-62; Total confirmed US drone strikes: 40-50; Possible additional US operations: 117-133; Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 61-71; Total reported killed: 357-1,026; Total civilians killed: 60-163; Children killed: 24-34

US and Yemeni officials were unusually reticent in September in attributing air strikes to United States air assets, including drones. That may have been due to the deaths of eleven named civilians in a botched airstrike in Radaa in central Yemen, the worst loss of civilian life since at least 12 civilians were killed in May. Victims of the strike were buried 18 days later in Dhamar with police pallbearers.  Abdulraouf al Dahab was the supposed target of the strike. But it missed the alleged militant leader’s car and hit civilian vehicles. A ten-year-old girl Daolah Nasser was killed with her parents. Two boys – Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari (13) and AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout (12) – were also among those killed.  Some reports said US drones carried out the strike. The Yemen Air Force publicly claimed responsibility for the attack but it lacks the technical capability to strike a moving target.  That fact was confirmed by President Hadi on a visit to Washington, where he also claimed to approve every US strike carried out in Yemen, and downplayed civilian deaths  A suspected US drone killed at least six people, eight days after the Radaa strike. Said al Shehri was initially reported among the dead. But subsequent reports say the former Guantanamo inmate and al Qaeda’s number two in Yemen survived the attack.

Somalia September 2012 actions:  Total reported US operations: 0;All actions 2007 – September 30 2012 Total US operations: 10-23; Total US drone strikes: 3-9; Total reported killed: 58-170;  Civilians reported killed: 11-57; Children reported killed: 1-3

Once again no US combat operations were reported for September, although a former UN official told the Bureau that as much as 50% of secret actions by various forces operating in Somalia go unreported. Two previously unrecorded operations have been added to the Bureau’s data. These relate to possible US strikes on al Shabaab bases in Puntland in August, and in Kismayo in October 2011.  Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) troops finally struck al Shabaab’s last stronghold, Kismayo, in Operations Sledge Hammer alongside soldiers of the Somalia National Army. The KDF is fighting in Somalia as a part of the Amisom peacekeeping force and attacked Kismayo from the land and sea before dawn on September 28. Initial reports said they met with some resistance from al Shabaab but had taken control of the city’s port. It is possible that US forces assisted the operation.  A Somali diplomat told the Bureau that the outgoing Transitional Federal Government opened its doors to the US and others to fight al Shabaab, and in doing so allowed them ‘a licence to completely ignore any local or international law.’ US Special Forces and CIA are operating across Somalia. And the US is supporting proxy forces with training and weapons

Jack Serle and Chris Woods, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, September 2012 update, Oct. 1, 2012

CIA Operations in Syria: the leaks

The U.S. is ramping up its presence at Syria’s Turkish border, sending more spies and diplomats to help advise the rebel forces in their mismatched fight against the better armed Syrian regime, and to watch for possible al-Qaida infiltration of rebel ranks.  U.S. officials briefed on the plan said the modest surge in U.S. personnel in the past few weeks — estimated at fewer than a dozen people — has helped improve rebels’ political organizing skills as well as their military organization. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.

It’s part of a two-pronged effort by the Obama administration to bolster the rebels militarily without actually contributing weapons to the fight, and politically, to help them stave off internal power challenges by the well-organized and often better-funded hardline Islamic militants who have flowed into the country from Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region.  The increased intelligence gathered is intended to help the White House decide whether its current policy of providing only non-lethal aid is enough to keep momentum building in the nearly 18-month revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Spokesmen for the Pentagon and White House declined to comment Thursday.

The diplomats and intelligence operatives from the CIA and other agencies stay outside war-torn Syria and meet with rebel leaders to help them organize their ranks, while also studying who makes up those ranks, how they are armed and whom they answer to, the officials say.  Information is also gathered from Syrian defectors and refugees as well as rebel troops, officials say.  “The model is to keep case officers away from conflict, and you collect through local forces,” said former CIA officer Reuel Gerecht, now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based policy group that focuses on terrorism.

The effort is concentrated on the Turkish border instead of the border with Jordan where many Syrian refugees are fleeing, a U.S. official said, because the traffic between Syria and Turkey is still far greater…. Syrian rebels have complained they are outgunned by the Syrian military and must rely on contributions in money and small arms from Gulf countries, and increasingly from hardline Islamic militants, including Iraq’s branch of al-Qaida.

US sends more spies, diplomats to help organize, train and study Syria’s rebel ranks, Associated Press, Sept. 6, 2012

Torture Techniques in Clandestine Prisons

The al Qaeda suspects who were subjected to so-called harsh interrogation techniques, and the lawyers charged with defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the treatment they consider torture.  Defense attorneys say that and other Kafkaesque legal restrictions on what they can discuss with their clients and raise in the courtroom undermine their ability to mount a proper defense on charges that could lead to the death penalty.  Those restrictions will be the focus of a pretrial hearing that convenes this week.  Prosecutors say every utterance of the alleged al Qaeda murderers, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, must be strictly monitored precisely because of the defendants’ intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency’s clandestine overseas prisons.  Defense attorneys called that view extreme.  “Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn’t tell you that,” Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, said after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  At one point in the arraignment, another of bin Attash’s attorneys, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, was explaining why his client refused to cooperate. Just when things got interesting, a security officer cut the audio feed to the media and others observing the proceedings from behind a soundproof glass wall with a 40-second audio delay.  “The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big-boy pants down at the CIA, it makes it impossible …,” Schwartz said during the blocked portion of the arraignment, according to a partial transcript later declassified.  Prosecutors have said in court filings that any revelations about the defendants’ interrogations could cause “exceptionally grave damage.”

Civil libertarians argue that if those interrogation methods really are top secret, then the CIA had no business revealing them to al Qaeda suspects.  Defense attorneys will challenge the secrecy rules at the pretrial hearing that begins on Wednesday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.  Prosecutors have about 75,000 pages of evidence to turn over to defense attorneys in the 9/11 case, but they won’t do it until the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, issues protective orders aimed at safeguarding the material.

Hundreds of men suspected of supporting al Qaeda or the Taliban were rounded up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and shipped to Guantanamo in response to the September 11 attacks. (Of the 779 men who have been held at Guantanamo since the prison operation began in 2002, 168 remain.)  The CIA took custody of the “high-value” captives believed to have top-level information that could help the U.S. and its allies prevent further attacks.  It held them incommunicado for three or four years and transferred them among secret overseas prisons, questioning them with interrogation methods that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and which the Obama administration has since banned.  Some details of the program, including waterboarding, mock executions and sleep deprivation, have already been disclosed by Bush and the CIA itself. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official, recently defended them in news interviews to promote his book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Action After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”

Yet in both the 9/11 case and that of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of sending suicide bombers to ram a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000, the government presumes that every word spoken by the defendants, in the past and in the future, is classified at the highest level — “Top Secret,” with a “Sensitive Compartmented Information,” which is routinely shortened to TS/SCI.  The defendants’ words are also “born classified,” a status their lawyers said has previously been used only to safeguard details about nuclear weapons. So are all documents and legal motions related to their cases, which cannot be made public unless they’re cleared by a Department of Defense Security Classification Review team.  How that team works is a secret.  “I’ve never seen them. I’ve never communicated (with them). No one has ever been able to tell me that,” said James Connell, a lawyer for 9/11 defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.  The Pentagon would say only that the review team includes both civilians and uniformed military personnel and that it can take up to 15 business days to make its decisions.

Proscribed topics include details of the defendants’ capture, where they were held and under what conditions, the names and descriptions of anyone who transferred, detained or interrogated them and the methods used to get information from them, according to the court documents.

Defense lawyers say the classification system used at Guantanamo violates President Barack Obama’s 2009 order that prohibits using secrecy labels to conceal lawbreaking or prevent political embarrassment. They say it also “eviscerates” the legal defense protections Congress set down in the law that authorizes the Guantanamo tribunals.  The government’s secrecy rules mean that every lawyer, paralegal and expert on the prosecution and defense teams must undergo an extensive background check and obtain a TS/SCI clearance. Once they get clearance, they are briefed on what has to stay secret. The document that forms the basis of the presumptive classification is itself secret.  “It is ridiculous,” said Army Captain Jason Wright, one of the lawyers for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “The briefing is classified, so I can’t discuss what I can and cannot discuss.”

Mohammed’s lawyers have asked the UN special rapporteur for torture, Juan E. Mendez, to investigate claims that their client was tortured. But they could only share with Mendez the information that has been publicly declassified.  “We are prohibited from sharing any details of his mistreatment, even to the special rapporteur,” Wright said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a challenge arguing that the government has no legal authority to classify information that it not only disclosed to the defendants but forced them to learn.  “The question here is: Can the government subject people to torture and abuse and then prevent them from talking about it?” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.  The ACLU said the claim of broad authority to gag defendants infringes on the American public’s right to open trials and goes far beyond what the courts have allowed, namely that censorship must be narrowly tailored and aimed at protecting a compelling government interest.

Excerpt, Jane Sutton and Josh Meyer, Insight: At Guantanamo tribunals, don’t mention the “T” word, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2012

Rogue Army or Rogue Soldiers? Haditha Massacre, Iraq

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has directed a panel of experts to assess whether reforms are needed in the way the military justice system handles crimes committed by U.S. forces against civilians in combat zones, the Pentagon said on Friday (Aug. 3, 2012).  While the Pentagon said the decision was not linked to any specific case, it follows a spate of incidents in Afghanistan that have outraged the local population, including one in which a soldier is suspected of killing 16 villagers in a shooting rampage.   “There is no one case that motivates this,” said Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, who explained Panetta’s decision to undertake the review.  “We’ve now been in deployed areas for over 10 years,” he said. “We want to ask ourselves every once in a while: Is the system working like it should? Are there reforms that could be brought about to better apply military justice in deployed areas when the offense involves civilians?”

Panetta asked a subcommittee of the newly established Defense Legal Policy Board to review cases over the past decade in which U.S. forces committed crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to see whether judicial procedures need to be improved.  “Abuses have been rare among our professional fighting force, but they became huge flash points that threatened to undermine our entire mission and the foundation of our relationship with the host government and its people,” Panetta said in a memorandum to the Pentagon leadership.  “For offenses that take place in a country in which we operate alongside the civilian population, it is critical that our system of military justice be efficient, fair, dependable and credible,” he added.

The review is expected to look into cases like the Haditha massacre in Iraq, where Marines killed 24 civilians. Of the eight Marines originally charged in the case, only one was found guilty — of dereliction of duty.  Cases like the one against Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused in the slayings of 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year, may not factor into the investigation. Panetta’s instructions call for the panel not to “intrude upon any pending case or investigation.”

The review panel will be led by former top Pentagon lawyer Judith Miller and retired Major General Walter Huffman, a former Army judge advocate general. While largely made up of lawyers, the panel also includes retired military commanders and a former police criminal investigator.  The group is expected to deliver a report within seven months to the Defense Legal Policy Board, which will review the findings before passing them to the defense secretary.

Panetta orders review of military justice in combat zones, August 03, 2012|David Alexander | Reuters

Indigenous Peoples Rights and Energy Projects: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Deep in the rainforest, the village of Sarayaku is two days by river from the nearest town. But its 1,200 Kichwa Indians are now in the spotlight. On July 25th the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Ecuador’s government had ignored the rights of Sarayaku’s residents when granting permission for an energy project—putting governments in the Americas on notice that big physical investments are not legal until the indigenous people they affect have had their say.

The dispute began in 1996 when Petroecuador, the state oil firm, signed a prospecting deal with a consortium led by Argentina’s Compañía General de Combustibles (CGC). Much of the area it covered was the ancestral land of Sarayaku’s residents, who were not consulted. CGC later offered locals medical aid for their consent. Some villages signed up, but Sarayaku held out.  Nonetheless, by early 2003 CGC had drilled 467 boreholes around the town for seismic surveying, and packed them with 1,433kg of high explosives. They were never detonated, and remain buried in the forest. As well as felling trees and destroying a sacred site, the company ruined some of Sarayaku’s water sources. Work ceased in 2003, and CGC’s contract ended in 2010.

The court found that the state had breached the villagers’ rights to prior consultation, communal property and cultural identity by approving the project, and that CGC’s tests had threatened their right to life. It ordered the government to pay damages, clear the remaining explosives and overhaul its consultation process. In future affected groups must be heard in a plan’s “first stages…not only when the need arises to obtain the approval of the community.” However, the judges did not ban prospecting on Sarayaku lands. The right to consultation does not grant a veto.

The ruling will be studied closely in the myriad Latin American countries struggling to balance big investments with local rights. A narrow reading of the decision suggests that governments must tiptoe around indigenous concerns, but can act more boldly when other groups protest, since the ruling was based partly on the International Labour Organisation’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention.

The ruling also shows that the regional justice system has not lost its mettle. In 2011 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which litigates cases at the court, asked Brazil to halt work on the huge Belo Monte dam because its neighbours were not given a sufficient chance to speak up. Brazil’s government, which had authorised the dam only after a long public debate, saw this as a violation of its sovereignty. It did not comply, and stopped contributing money to the commission.  The commission was weakened by angering the region’s biggest country and by the criticism that it had exceeded its mandate. After Brazil presented new evidence in the case, the commission reversed its stance on Belo Monte. Moreover, last month the Organisation of American States voted to draft a reform plan for the commission, which some fear could strip it of important powers. Ecuador was among the commission’s loudest critics.

The Sarayaku case was not as heated as Belo Monte, since Ecuador’s government had already promised to pay damages. However, the court’s decision did strongly reassert its right to intervene in development cases. Moreover, Ecuador’s government plans to tender a big chunk of the Amazon for oil exploration later this year, despite indigenous opposition. If neither side backs down and the protesters appeal, the court’s next ruling on development in Ecuador may be far more contentious.

Indigenous rights in South America: Cowboys and Indians, Economist,July 28, 2012, at 32