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DAGAinfo

28 August 2002
No. 134


In this issue:
  1. FEATURE
    Making Big Corporations Accountable Should Be WSSD's Top Priority
  2. NEWS in Brief
    China - Vast China pipeline to create growth belt
    Japan - Revisionists turn emperor into a god once more
    Taiwan - Taiwan Shifting Defense Priorities Toward Navy
    Burma - General Says Transition to Democracy Will Be Slow
    Indonesia - a giant step down the road to democracy
    India - Terror war 'could set off regional powder keg'
    Middle East Watch 
     - Starving the Palestinians
     - UN demands Israeli withdrawal from Palestine
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Philippines: Arbitrary arrest and assault by soldiers
  4. ANNOUNCEMENT
    DAGA Press: The War on Terror - Reordering the World

 

1. FEATURE - top
 

Making Big Corporations Accountable 
Should Be WSSD's Top Priority

By Martin Khor

In discussions on sustainable development, one issue has captured public attention and interest like no other: the behaviour of big companies and the need to make them more accountable. In the WSSD process, citizen groups have made corporate accountability their prime concern. The NGOs want the Summit to establish a global system to regulate the practices of corporations to prevent them from further damaging the environment; from manipulating currencies, profits and markets; violating human rights of their workers or the local communities that suffer dislocation to make way for them. 

Corporate Financial Scandals

In the past few months, this issue has amazingly sprung into the forefront of public consciousness through the revelations, one after another, of fraudulent or misleading accounting practices of such big-name companies as Enron, Worldcom and Xerox.

It is now clear that several companies had been 'dressing up' their bottom lines to show healthy profits when in fact they were making losses. When the true situation was exposed, confidence not only in the specific companies but also in the stock markets generally plunged. Investors are doubting the accuracy of the corporations' accounts, and this is undermining the basis of investing in stocks. Overnight, the stature of many corporate CEOs that once were icons and role leaders has now descended to record low levels. They are now seen as grossly overpaid, manipulative and even plain crooked. Thousands, even millions, of workers and investors have directly suffered the loss of large portions of their life savings as the value of stocks fell.

The implications are very significant for sustainable development. The most important corporate operating principle in many developed countries had been the maximization of short-term corporate profits. The announcement of quarterly earnings by a company causes its stock price to rise or fall dramatically. To avoid being taken over, a company had to show high profits. 

TNCs' Role in Eco-destruction

The rise of 'shareholder capitalism' and its obsession with short-term performance judged by profitability has now led the market system itself to the brink of worldwide economic slowdown. Some analysts even predict a financial meltdown.

The recent financial scandals are only one facet of the crisis in corporate accountability. Due to the dominant trend of deregulation and liberalization, companies have increasingly been able to do pretty much as they like, as the already inadequate controls over them were lifted. Perhaps the 1992 Rio Summit's biggest error was its decision not to create a mechanism to regulate corporations. Even then, NGOs like Third World Network and Greenpeace had identified the leading role of transnational companies in environmental damage, pointing out that:

  • TNC activities generate more than half the greenhouse gases emitted by industrial sectors with the greatest impact on global warming. 
  • TNCs dominate the trade and often also the extraction of natural resources and commodities, with effects on forests, soils, water and marine resources. TNCs dominate the mining sector, and also control about four-fifths of land worldwide cultivated for export crops.
  • TNCs dominate global and national industry and transport, and their activities result in pollution, industrial and occupational hazards, toxic wastes and unsafe products.
  • TNCs are also major transmitters of environmentally unsound production systems and hazardous materials to the South, including unsafe pesticides, polluting industries and hazardous wastes. They are also promoters of unsustainable consumption patterns in both the North and South.

However, the Earth Summit failed to place obligations on big companies to behave in an environmentally or socially responsible manner. It decided that companies could be trusted to change themselves. Since Rio, the trend of treating TNCs with kids' gloves has accelerated. They are seen by the UN secretariat not as powerful forces that need to be brought under control, but as responsible partners who would actually lead the world to sustainability. The UN now treats companies as part of 'civil society', as partners in a ‘Global Compact' with the UN itself, and recently as a vital component in the so-called Type Two Partnerships that are supposed to be a major part of the WSSD. These increasingly close links are bound to bring embarrassment to the UN. NGOs have already collected evidence that some companies have misused their status in the Global Compact. And imagine what will happen if many of the 'partners' proudly listed in the Global Compact or in the Type Two documents turn out to have engaged in fraudulent accounting and other unethical practices.

More Power to TNCs after Rio

The failure of Rio to make companies accountable was followed by developments in other areas which opened the way for companies to get more rights with less obligations. In particular:

  • The WTO's establishment in 1995 ushered in new global rules that made it more difficult for developing countries to set their own development policies or to regulate foreign products and firms. For example, TRIPS gives monopoly rights mainly to TNCs that own most of the world's patents, with adverse effects for consumers, farmers and indigenous people and technology users. The services agreement enables transnational service corporations to use their governments to pressurise developing countries to give them market access, which can affect the viability of local companies. The agriculture agreement enables large farms and giant agro-companies to profit from huge subsidies and tariff protection whilst many small farmers in the South are finding it hard to survive competition from cheap and often subsidised imported food. Some developed countries are also trying to make use of the WTO to prevent other members from taking health, safety or environmental measures, for example the labelling of genetically modified products or the import of unsafe food. 
  • The developed countries are now pushing hard to establish new agreements in the WTO on investment, competition policy and government procurement. If they succeed, the TNCs will have even more rights to operate around the world and have access to sectors and spheres (for example, government purchases, contracts and concessions) where local firms now enjoy advantages. Correspondingly, governments would be more and more constrained by international law from regulating foreign companies, or imposing obligations on them, or from assisting local firms.
  • In the decade since Rio, financial globalisation and liberalisation has continued at a rapid pace, enabling financial institutions (including speculative investment funds) greater freedom and access to markets worldwide. The deregulation process enabled the greater inflow and outflow of funds, which has destablised many developing countries and caused crises in Asia and Latin America. Governments in most affected countries are unable to take get out of the spiral of debt, devaluation and capital flight as they have been committed not to regulate the free flow of funds. 

With the institutionalisation of this particular brand of globalisation, each country and each company is under intense pressure to compete with the others. Under such conditions, environmental concerns have fallen down many notches in the national and international agendas. Business interests which have gained much ground in political influence have also persuaded certain governments not to be party to multilateral environmental rules such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change or the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. The global climate situation continues to deteriorate, whilst the safety and ecological risks arising from genetic engineering are growing much faster than the capacity to monitor or regulate.

The last ten years' record has confirmed that when governments give up their task of regulating companies, sustainable development is the loser. The myth that voluntary action by companies or self-regulation by industry will take care of corporate responsibility has now been exploded again by the accounting scandals of major companies. Case studies of the performance of many TNCs (for example by Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno in their book, 'Greenwash: the reality behind corporate environmentalism') also show that despite the public relations exercise claiming greater corporate responsibility, and despite more voluntary industry codes of conduct, there has been little change and much 'business as usual', with the corporations continuing with environmentally harmful activities.

Proposals to Regulate the TNCs

Thus, WSSD has the urgent task of placing the regulation of corporations back onto the international agenda. Self-regulation by companies is impossible to expect in the present highly competitive economic environment. circumstances. Public regulation, through the setting of industry-wide standards backed up by law and effective enforcement, is thus required. 

However, it is also not enough to expect individual governments to control TNCs on their own. Firstly, there is fierce and intense competition between countries; the government of a country would be reluctant to legislate standards higher than its competitor countries. Secondly, TNCs are now so huge in economic size (in terms of assets, turnover, employment, investment) as to dwarf many a country. Most governments, by themselves, are unable to even begin to adequately monitor (let alone regulate or control) the TNCs operating within their countries, due to lack of information, absent or inadequate corporate disclosure, and sheer absence of clout or influence in the face of immense TNC power.

Thus, not only must there be monitoring and regulation of TNCs at the level of individual governments, but at least just as important at the international or multilateral level. Otherwise there would be no adequate or effective means to monitor and check the environmentally-harmful activities of the world's major economic agents, and there would be no movement towards effective solutions to the global environment and development crises.

The WSSD should thus begin a process towards a binding framework on corporate accountability. This framework should contain provisions for public regulation and monitoring, in relation to such aspects as public disclosure of information, health and safety, environmental effects, and social and developmental implications. It should set up activities to monitor, analyze, develop criteria and principles for ethical and environmentally-sound behaviour, and regulate the activities of TNCs. Areas to be covered include: environmental, health and safety aspects; social and developmental aspects; and restrictive trade and business practices that deprive states and the public from their full benefits. TNCs should be made liable for compensation for the harmful effects caused by their operations on the environment, safety and health.

The WSSD and post-WSSD process should reaffirm the principle that states have the right to regulate the entry, establishment and operations of TNCs; and that TNCs have the duty to respect national sovereignty, respect the health and environmental rights of the public, and refrain from financial, pricing or technological activities that cause socio-economic difficulties to the host countries. These are principles contained in the draft Code of Conduct on TNCs that unfortunately was abandoned in the early 1990s.

WSSD should send a clear message that the rights and freedoms of TNCs and other business enterprises are secondary compared to the primary rights of the public and of states to subject their operations and behaviour to regulations, laws and guidelines that can ensure the reduction of environmental and development problems that threaten to engulf both Earth and humanity.

[Source: TWN Briefings for WSSD No.5]

 

2. NEWS in Brief - top
 

CHINA

Vast China pipeline to create growth belt

The 4,000-kilometer pipeline that will transmit natural gas from western China to the eastern part of the country will create a new economic growth belt along the route and benefit the areas environmentally, the government claims. 

Economically, the west-east natural-gas transmission project is expected to help improve China's energy-consumption structure and stimulate development of associated industries. 

The project is estimated to cost about 150 billion yuan (US$18.75 billion), including 29 billion yuan for the development of oil and gas fields in western China and 70 billion yuan plus for gas-utilization projects. 

If such downstream provinces as Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai Municipality consume 13.6 billion cubic meters of gas a year, an additional 68.8 billion yuan in investment will be required. 

The Yangtze River Delta and provinces of Henan and Anhui, through which the gas transmission pipeline runs, are the main target markets. Natural gas is expected to replace coal and petroleum in the chemical and power industries and in daily life in these areas. 

According to a market survey, the provinces of Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai Municipality will consume 800 million cubic meters of gas after the project goes into operation in the last quarter of 2003, 8.3 billion cubic meters by 2005 and 12.3 billion cubic meters by 2008. 

The environmental benefits could be huge. Shanghai, for instance, consumes more than 42 million tons of coal every year, about 70 percent of total energy consumption. Statistics show that the incidence of acid rain is 11 percent in Shanghai, 21 percent in Jiangsu, and 50 percent in Hangzhou. 

If 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas are delivered every year, they will replace nearly 30 million tons of coal, thus markedly reducing the discharge of carbon dioxide, soot and dust, which would otherwise be inevitable. 

The west-east gas-transmission project is expected to give a big push to the development of related industries in western China, especially in Xinjiang. Fixed assets investment in Xinjiang's oil gas fields will reach at least 20 billion yuan. The industrial added value is expected to increase by 26.8 percent and fiscal revenue would be multiplied. 

The maintenance of the pipeline, transportation, building material and other commodities will provide enormous opportunities for local enterprises. About 500,000 tons of condensed oil, light hydrocarbon and other by-products of natural-gas production will provide a plentiful flow of raw material to the petrochemical industry in Xinjiang. 

The project is also expected to give a big stimulus to the development of China's chemical industry. 

High-quality low-price raw materials will finally be available for chemical enterprises in eastern China. The chemical industry will consume 16 percent of China's natural-gas production or about 32.5 billion cubic meters by 2020. 

After the gas-transmission project goes into operation toward the end of 2003, the price of natural gas in Shanghai is expected to go down sharply. The average price of natural gas recommended by the authorities will be 1.29 yuan per cubic meter, and 1.35 yuan per cubic meter in Shanghai. Production costs of tire rubber and chloro-alkali in eastern China will thus be cut by a big margin. 

The structure of the energy industry is expected to improve greatly. Natural gas is regarded as a form of high-quality energy as compared with coal and petroleum. Consumption of natural gas takes up less than 3 percent of China's consumption of energy, while the average level in the world is 23 percent. The west-east gas-transmission project will bring natural-gas consumption up to 8 percent in 10 years. 

The project will provide fertilizer enterprises along the gas pipeline a chance to regroup. More than 90 percent of industrial natural gas is used in fertilizer production in the world, but natural gas is far from being the main material for fertilizer production in China because of its high cost. After the operation of the gas-transmission pipeline, large foreign enterprises such as the United States' Kellogg Co will buy ammoniac enterprises along the project on a large scale. 

The west-east gas-transmission project will also stimulate the development of the coating industry. The whole pipeline has to be coated externally with anti-corrosion materials and the total area of such coating is estimated at more than 12.76 million square meters. And the demand for coating by feeder lines is even bigger. 

As well, the condensed oil as a by-product of natural-gas production will serve as an ample supply of raw material for the petrochemical industry in Xinjiang. 

[Source: Asia Pulse]

JAPAN

Japan's Revisionists Turn Emperor into a God Once More

The Japanese emperor's godlike status has not changed since the second world war, according to a new exhibit at the country's most popular war museum.

The slick, Shinto-oriented rewrite of history at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo denies that Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity in 1946, as most westerners and Japanese believe.

Yasukuni, which is dedicated to Japan's 2.2 million fallen soldiers, including executed war criminals, is arguably the country's most emotionally charged and controversial site. It is at the vanguard of the revisionist movement.

The 4bn yen (£22m) renovation and enlargement of the shrine's museum, completed last month, goes to new lengths to roll back changes made during the allies' postwar occupation. It dismisses claims that the spiritual status of the emperor changed after defeat.

Under General Douglas MacArthur, the allied occupation forces tried to eradicate emperor worship, which they claimed had stunted democracy and fostered militarism. They pressed Hirohito to renounce his divinity - according to Shinto beliefs, he is a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu - which he appeared to do in an obscure new year speech in 1946. But a museum display dismisses this interpretation of his words as propaganda.

"The occupation forces tried to sever the bond between the emperor and the Japanese people," it says. "They widely advertised the new year statement as the 'emperor's declaration of humanity', but in actuality the emperor had done no more than to announce a return to the principles stated in Emperor Meiji's [1868] charter oath."

Government spokesmen have refused to comment on the Yasukuni interpretation.

Takechiyo Orikasa, of the imperial household agency, said: "The emperor's role is only that stated in the constitution as a symbol of the nation. Nothing more."

But ambiguity abounds. In Shinto, the gap between the human and the divine is far less clear than in a religion such as Christianity. Likewise the distinction between respect and worship has become increasingly blurred by agency officials, Shinto priests and conservative politicians.

The former prime minister Yoshiro Mori was speaking for many Shinto revisionists when he declared two years ago that Japan was a "divine nation with the emperor at its core".

The revisionist movement has made headway in recent years. Parliament has recognised the national anthem, which calls for the emperor to live 8,000 generations, and begun a debate on revising the postwar constitution, which separates state and religion.

To the fury of China and South Korea, the government has also approved school history textbooks that - like the Yasukuni museum - omit references to atrocities such as the Nanking massacre.

For more than a decade, prime ministers deemed Yasukuni too controversial to visit. But the current prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, paid homage at the shrine this year.

[Source: Guardian 12.8.02]

TAIWAN

Taiwan Shifting Defense Priorities Toward Navy

Taiwanese Defense Minister Tang Yao-ming told media representatives Aug. 15 that the Defense Ministry would shift spending priorities to the country's navy over the next decade. Tang said that whereas air defense accounted for 47 percent of the defense budget over the past decade, naval spending would account for 49 percent in the next decade. Taipei is particularly interested in acquiring a package of submarines, destroyers, helicopters and aircraft offered by the United States in April 2001.

The enhanced attention to the navy is part of an evolving Taiwanese defense doctrine, which has been moving away from the strategy of defending Taiwan if it is invaded to providing an effective deterrent to an invasion. This so-called "offshore defense strategy" was promoted by President Chen Shui-bian shortly after he took office in 2000. 

A look at the package of equipment Taipei intends to buy -- including new submarines and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft -- clearly shows that Taipei is evolving in its understanding of the potential threat posed by mainland China. Rather than pouring most of its money into aircraft and anti-ship missiles to be used against a potential Chinese amphibious invasion, Taipei is preparing for the more likely threat of Chinese harassment of commercial and military shipping in the Taiwan Strait. 

[Source:Stratfor 21.8.02]

BURMA

Burmese General Says Transition to Democracy Will Be Slow

A leader of Myanmar's military junta said recently week that democracy would not come quickly to the country, the former Burma, and that when it did it might look quite different from democracy in the West.

"Such a transition cannot be done in haste and in a haphazard manner," said Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the third-ranking member of the junta.

Coming three months after the release from house arrest of the pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the general's remarks were a reminder that her freedom did not signal the significant changes some people had hoped for.

Since her release on May 6 from 18 months of confinement, Aung San Suu Kyi has been allowed to travel widely and to meet with her supporters, something she had been barred from doing for more than a decade.

But the confidence-building talks she had been having with the generals before her release have not resumed, nor have there been the substantive policy talks she predicted.

The junta has continued to free small groups of political prisoners, but the slow pace has drawn the first critical comments from Aung San Suu Kyi since May. More than 1,000 political prisoners are estimated to be in detention.

"Until all our political prisoners are free, none of us can say that Burma is now truly on the road to democratic change," she said in a videotaped statement.

In his speech last Monday, General Khin Nyunt made it clear that the government's fundamental positions had not changed with the release of the opposition leader.

"The world is full of examples where a hasty transition from one system to another led to unrest, instability and even failed states," he said. "The democracy that we seek to build may not be identical to that which prevails in the West but it will surely be based on universal principles of liberty, justice and equality."

This is essentially the same position the junta has stated since coming to power in 1988. It justified repression by saying that moving to democracy was a delicate process that required time.

The government demonstrated its determination to keep a tight grip on the country this week by arresting 21 students in its first major crackdown since it freed Aung San Suu Kyi. Three were arrested apparently for starting an unauthorized literary group and one for distributing pro-democracy pamphlets.

General Khin Nyunt's position was given added weight by an endorsement from the visiting Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. "We are aware that the process of change must be gradual," said Dr. Mahathir, who has been encouraging the generals in their new,more open stance.

A United Nations envoy, Razali Ismail, struck an optimistic note when he paid his eighth visit to Myanmar two weeks ago. Mr. Razali, a Malaysian diplomat close to Dr. Mahathir, predicted unspecified major changes in the year to come.

He said that the junta would begin substantive talks with Aung San Suu Kyi "very soon" and that there was a possibility that she would be allowed to travel in Asia.

Early this month, Aung San Suu Kyi endorsed some foreign assistance for Myanmar. After she met with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi of Japan, a Japanese spokesman said Aung San Suu Kyi "does not oppose foreign assistance which will reach really needy people, but in that process transparency and accountability should be guaranteed."

[Source: NYT 25.8.02]

INDONESIA

Indonesia takes a giant step down the road to democracy

Indonesia took its biggest step for almost 30 years on its often bumpy road towards full democracy. The country's supreme legislature kicked the once virtually omnipotent military out of the national assemblies and surrendered to the people its right to elect the president and vice-president.

Both milestones will come into effect at the end of the next parliamentary term in 2004. Other decisions taken by the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) at the end of its 10-day annual session included a rejection of efforts by Muslim parties in the world's most populous nation to introduce sharia law.

Political analysts and non-governmental organisations broadly welcomed the changes, but criticised the assembly's failure to establish a commission to draft a totally new constitution.

Legislators were kept aware of public demand for change by student demonstrations outside the parliament building. On several occasions police used water cannon to prevent the several thousand protesters storming into the parliament compound. On most days the students were joined by thousands of radical Muslims demanding the imposition of sharia law for Muslims.

Banishing the military from both the parliament and the MPR has been one of the main demands of pro-democracy activists since Indonesia's former dictator, General Suharto, was toppled in May 1998. The security forces, particularly the army, had been the most powerful political force since Suharto took power in 1966 and retained massive influence after his ousting, even though their number of seats was cut in half to 38 in the 500-seat parliament.

Immediately before the MPR met, the head of the armed forces, General Endriartono Sutarto, said he wanted the military to retain its seats for at least another five years, but the strongest parties rejected his demand.

Introducing direct presidential elections is equally momentous. Suharto used the MPR, which he controlled, to 'elect' him every five years to give his dictatorship a veneer of legitimacy.

The new system will involve political parties nominating a presidential and vice-presidential ticket. If no one secures a majority, a run-off will be held between the two tickets securing the most votes. Critics say its one major flaw is that independent candidates will not be able to stand. The current president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is expected to win re-election in 2004, even though she is not as popular as when she replaced the impeached Abdurrahman Wahid in July 2001.

[Source: Atimes 22.8.02]

THAILAND

Terror war 'could set off regional powder keg'

The Asia-Pacific region is a "powder keg" of ethnic, racial and cultural tensions that could be set off by several factors, including the fight against terrorism, a leading Thai expert has warned. The US-led anti-terrorism campaign and threats of war in Iraq and on the sub-continent could also undermine East Asian stability, said academic and former Thai deputy foreign minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra.

Speaking at a Bangkok conference, Mr Sukhumbhand said widespread optimism over a perceived improvement in regional security could be premature amid potential religious and other conflicts. "These conditions may not necessarily be time bombs. But they are certainlygunpowder kegs, which can be ignited by a number of factors, real or perceived," he said.

He pointed out that the very factor which had promoted confidence within the region, namely the growing interdependence brought about by technology and globalisation, was also the greatest source of regional weakness. Such close links meant that if the United States decided to attack Iraq or if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified, dangerous repercussions would be felt throughout Asia, he said. The same would occur if a war broke out between India and Pakistan.

r Sukhumbhand warned that the impact could include escalating tensions within Asean and conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims within Asia. He said that in the post-September 11 world, strategists should keep in mind that "war and violence are not the way of Islam", and that other religions were no strangers to political violence.

"The message [from September 11] is that no one is immune," he said. "If the international community fails to bring about more equitable and sustainable development processes for the global poor because of its sole preoccupation with the military and security dimensions of international terrorism, then Osama bin Laden will have won a famous victory on that infamous day."

Mr Sukhumbhand also questioned the role of one "reluctant partner" within Asean, which analysts said was a reference to Myanmar, to accept the realities of the post-September 11 world. He said this regime could not assume its own survival in a world newly concerned about international links between terrorists, drug and people trafficking.

Separately, in a talk to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Wednesday night, US Ambassador to Thailand Darryl Johnson said the past year had changed geopolitics. "It is fair to say that our priorities with every country in the region have changed since September 11. Counter-terrorism is now the top of our agenda," he said.

This shift has raised concerns among regional analysts. Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, raised the issue of state-sponsored human rights violations. "The US-Asean agreement on terrorism could easily lead to history repeating itself, with human rights violations by state authorities in the region being tolerated, or even encouraged, by the US in the name of the war against terrorism," he said.

Prapat Thepchatree, director of Thammasat University's Centre of International Policy Studies, believes one way for the region to better prepare itself for the challenges ahead would be for Asean to drop its policy of non-interference in the affairs of other member countries.

[Source: SCMP 23.8.02]

MIDDLE EAST WATCH

Starving the Palestinians: The Latest Tactic of "the most humane army in the world"

One fifth of Palestinian children 'are chronically hungry'

The Israeli re-occupation of West Bank towns is on the verge of causing a humanitarian crisis among Palestinians, diplomats and aid agencies are warning. 

As many as a fifth of Palestinian children are suffering acute malnutrition, according to the preliminary results of a new survey by an American aid organisation. Seventy per cent of Palestinians now live on less than $2 (£1.30) a day, according to a new figure that is being circulated in Israel. 

So pressing is the concern that fears of a humanitarian crisis were raised at the last meeting of the so-called Middle East quartet of the US, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. 

The US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, told the Israeli authorities this week that the situation in the occupied territories was "a humanitarian disaster". 

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, is so concerned that he recently telephoned the UN Secretary- general, Kofi Annan, and asked him to do something to alleviate the situation. 

Israeli officials are concerned about the effect a series of forthcoming reports on the humanitarian situation could have for Israel's image. 

The preliminary results of the first report, by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) are already being widely discussed here, though they have not been officially released. A Palestinian website has published some of the details. 

The findings say 30 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and 21 per cent from acute malnutrition -- a massive increase compared to a survey for the same agency in 2000 when the figures were 7.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively. 

The agency says 30 per cent of the 3.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now rely on aid organisations for their daily food, and the number is increasing rapidly. They say there is a growing risk of an outbreak of a serious disease such as cholera. 

The preliminary results are based on a survey of about 300 Palestinian households. The final findings will be based on 1,000 households, and the figures are thought to be lower, but still a drastic increase on the situation before the intifada began. 

The United Nations mission here is one of several organisations about to publish its own report, and it is expected to be equally damning. 

The Israeli authorities have moved to pre-empt criticism by rushing through a series of measures to alleviate the situation. They are reissuing work permits to Palestinians to cross from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and work in Israel. 

The Israelis had withheld about $600m of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, saying they would be used to fund militants. 

This week they started to release some of the money, and Mr Sharon quietly dropped his insistence on a US team monitoring how the money was spent. The Israelis are also talking about withdrawing from Bethlehem and Hebron. The United Nations agency for refugees in the occupied territories, UNRWA, says it now feeds 217,000 families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compared to only 11,000 before the outbreak of the intifada. 

The Palestinian economy is in ruins after months of closures and blockades by the Israeli authorities who say they are the only way to stop militants from getting into Israel to stage attacks. 

Palestinian workers have been prevented from travelling from the West Bank or Gaza Strip to Israel; Palestinian farmers and manufacturers have been unable to get their produce to shops in Israel. 

In the past couple of months the situation has deteriorated drastically, with the Israeli army reoccupying Palestinian towns in the West Bank and placing them under 24-hour curfew, meaning Palestinians cannot work or send their children to school. 

Although some reports says as many as 70 per cent of Palestinians now live on less than $2 a day, the World Bank, to which the figure has been wrongly attributed, says its worst case scenario is 62 per cent. One aid worker said: "This is not like living on $2 a day in a Third World economy in Africa. These people have to pay Israeli prices. 

"The closures and curfews have been going on for some time now, and people have exhausted the money they can draw on from relatives and connections outside." 

[Source: Tikkun 27.7.02]

 


UN General Assembly demands Israeli withdrawal from Palestine

http://www.irna.com/en/head/020806171342.ehe.shtml

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution expressing grave concern over Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian towns and the dire humanitarian situation in Palestine.

Drafted jointly by European Union and Palestinian envoys and approved 114-4 with 11 abstentions, the resolution marked a major victory for the Palestinians, who softened an earlier draft harshly critical of Israel to win broad support among the General Assembly's 189 member nations.

The resolution repeated calls for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian cities and towns and stressed the need for free access to those areas by medical and humanitarian relief workers.

The resolution condemned all attacks against civilians on both sides.

The General Assembly passed the resolution at the end of a day-long debate on a UN report released last week regarding the March 29 Israeli military incursion into the Jenin refugee camp where Israel had used excessive force in densely populated areas and kept out medical and aid workers.

Palestinian delegate to the United Nations Nasser al-Kidwa said the report confirmed that the Israeli occupying forces have committed war crimes, atrocities and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

"While Israel has been trying to portray all of its policies and practices as simply a response to the suicide bombings, nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

"The reality is that this is a situation of foreign occupation," he said. "As a matter of principle, resisting Israeli occupation, Israeli colonization and settlements, and indeed the Israeli invasion of our cities and refugee camps is our right, if not our duty," al-Kidwa said.

Al-Kidwa also condemned the United States for providing the Jewish state with arms and financial aid while 'shielding Israel from international law and the will of the international community by wielding its veto in the United Nations Security Council'.

See UN press release at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2002/ga10037.doc.htm 

 

 

3. Urgent APPEAL - top
 

PHILIPPINES: Arbitrary arrest and assault by soldiers

AHRC-UA-36-2002

Name of victims:

1. Mr. Alex Colonia, 32, married, driver and a resident of Sitio Guinhabitan, Brgy. Bactas, Catmon, Cebu, Philippines

2. Mr. Vicente Garo Jr., 21, single, unemployed and a resident of Duterte St., Brgy. Suba, Danao City, Philippines

3. About 30 unidentified men who engage in buying and selling

- Place of incident: Brgy. Pansoy, Sogod, Cebu, Philippines
- Date of incident: Aug. 15, 2002
- The alleged perpetrators: Members of the 78th infantry battalion of the Philippine army based in Sogod, Cebu, Philippines, under the command of Lt. Col. Jonas Sumagaysay

CASE DETAILS

On Aug. 15, 2002, the members of the New People's Army (NPA) ambushed a police team in Brgy. Pansoy, Sogod, Cebu, Philippines, injuring two policemen and one civilian. Immediately members of the 78th infantry battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Jonas Sumagaysay, set up checkpoints in the area to block the fleeing rebels.

Mr. Alex Colonia, one of the victims, claimed that he went to Brgy. Pansoy to fetch his mother-in-law because an SSS check had just arrived at the municipal hall and would not be released without her signature.

On their way to Poblacion, they were warned that there was an ambush near their barangay and that it was not safe to leave the place where they lived because the soldiers were still looking for the rebels. They ignored their friend's warning though and even managed to hitch a ride on the vehicle of an acquaintance who was buying pigs in the Pansoy market.

Upon arriving at the ambush site, they were stopped by a group of heavily armed soldiers who searched their vehicle without presenting a search warrant. Then one of the soldiers grabbed Colonia and punched him in the chest. The soldier also reportedly barked, "You are a bully!" and punched his stomach.

All the passengers in their vehicle were made to face the wall of the cliff and raise their hands in the air. Colonia claimed that all the vehicles that passed that road that day were searched and their passengers had to undergo the same ordeal. They thought that they would be shot by the soldiers because some of them chambered their weapons and suddenly stamped their boots on the ground. Colinia said that he saw the same soldier punch and choke an unidentified man from Danao City.

At 4:00 p.m., they were brought to the police station in Poblacion, Sogod, and were released two hours later. No charges were filed against them.

Colonia estimates that about 30 people were forced to stand in the rain and raise their hands in the air while the soldiers checked their identification cards.

Vicente Garo Jr., who was also physically assaulted by the soldiers, said that he accompanied his brother-in-law to Brgy. Pansoy since it was market day to purchase pigs and other livestock.

He said that on their way home their vehicle was also stopped by a group of soldiers. One of them suddenly choked him and asked him about the location of the rebels' firearms. Garo almost fainted during the incident. The soldier then slapped him on the head and tackled him to the ground.

They were also ordered to face the wall of the cliff while the soldiers checked their identification cards. A councilor of barangay Sogod reportedly arrived at the checkpoint and vouched for the identities of the other victims, who are residents of this municipality. Ten of them who are not from Sogod were brought to the police station and were released at 6:00 p.m. through the intervention of Mayor Deo Durano.

Garo added that he was not able to identify the perpetrators because they covered their nameplates with a piece of cloth. They learned later that the suspects are members of the 78th infantry battalion.

SUGGESTED ACTION

Please send appeals to the president of the Philippines, the secretary of the Dept. of National Defense and the commanding general of the Philippine army to express your concern about this arbitrary arrest and physical assault of innocent civilians by Philippine soldiers and to urge them to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

SUGGESTED LETTER

Dear

I have learned that Alex Colonia, Vicente Garo Jr. and about 30 other unidentified innocent civilians living in the area of Pansoy, Sogod, Cebu, in the Philippines were arbitrary arrested and physically assaulted by Philippine soldiers during counterinsurgency operations on Aug. 15, 2002. I am concerned about these incidents as similar or even more severe incidents will take place during military operations in your country and that these incidents reflect the Philippine army's lack of respect for the human rights of civilians.

I urge you to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators from the 78th infantry battalion of the Philippine army who were engaged in this incident so that there is justice for the victims and to prevent further attacks on civilians. Furthermore, I would like to urge you and the leaders of the National Democratic Front, or NDF, to conduct an immediate cease-fire and to resolve the issues that divide you through negotiations rather than violence.

I look forward to learning about your positive response to my requests.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Yours truly,

-----------

PLEASE SEND YOUR APPEALS TO:

1. Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President, Republic of the Philippines
New Executive Building
Malacanang Palace Compound
J. P. Laurel St.
San Miguel, Manila
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 3968
E-mail: opnet@ops.gov.ph or kgma@yahoogroups.com 

2. Lt. Gen. Jaime S. De los Santos
Commanding General, Philippine Army
Fort Bonifacio, 1201 Makati City
PHLIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 813 1811

3. Mr. Angelo Reyes
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Camp Gen. Emelio Aguinaldo
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
E-mail: osnd@philonline.com

Also send a copy of your letter to:

Ms. Valera Quisumbing
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Building, UP Complex
Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +632 929 0102
Email: apnr@chr.gov.ph

For more information email: <ua@ahrchk.org>

 

4. ANNOUNCEMENT - top
 

The War on Terror
Reordering the World

By Ninan Koshy

The War on Terror was declared by the US in response to the horrific events on September 11, 2001. The war goes on unabated, with shifting aims, new targets, expanding scope and refurbished strategies.

In the book, 'The War on Terror, Reordering the World', Ninan Koshy analyses the significance of September 11 and the implications of the War on Terror. He gives special emphasis to the fact that the War on Terror is war in and on Asia with battlefields across the region, from West Asia to North East Asia and through Central, South and South East Asia.

"The War on Terror" which violates international laws has resulted in severe restrictions on human rights in many countries including the USA.

In the words of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "the war against the terrorists is for a wider new world order". This new world order has been projected by its advocates in terms of 'colonialism' and 'defensive imperialism'. This has to be seen in the context of the declared objective for 'regime change' and 'occupation' in several countries along with the new military doctrines and strategies of the USA. Post September 11 events clearly show that globalisation buttressed by the military might of the US is an important part of the architecture of the new global order.

Thought provoking and incisive, 'The War on Terror, Reordering the World' is of great relevance to academics as well as activists concerned about the complex challenges posed by the events of September 11.

Ninan Koshy was Director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (1981-1991) of the WCC and Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Programme, Harvard Law School.

The book will be published by
DAGA Press, Hong Kong
in September 2002.

For more information, please contact
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia
hotnews@daga.org.hk

 


END

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