The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.
During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.
In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada’s patent laws are changed.
The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.
These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.
You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”
There are no corresponding rights for citizens. We can’t use these tribunals to demand better protections from corporate greed. As the Democracy Centre says, this is “a privatised justice system for global corporations”.
Even if these suits don’t succeed, they can exert a powerful chilling effect on legislation. One Canadian government official, speaking about the rules introduced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, remarked: “I’ve seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involved dry-cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, patent law. Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most of them never saw the light of day.” Democracy, as a meaningful proposition, is impossible under these circumstances."
So true… the “nonviolent” types I’ve meet have always been middle-class or above
Medical staff tasked with monitoring the health of prisoners held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, secret CIA prisons and in Afghanistan were complicit in abuses against them, an independent report has said.
The US Department of Defence and the CIA demanded that the healthcare personnel “collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in US custody”, according to the two-year study by the Institute of Medicine and the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations."
It’s crazy important that we never forget or ignore how absolutely unacceptable this is….
My journalist husband was murdered because he knew too much about Pinochet’s US backers. Accountability is 40 years overdue -Joyce Horman
Forty years ago, during Chile's bloody coup of 11 September 1973, my husband, Charles Horman, stepped into a car driven by “Captain” Ray Davis, the head of the US military group in Chile, for a ride from the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar to the capital of Santiago. That one journey forever changed our family, and placed me on a quest for justice that persists to this day.
Charlie was a journalist, and we both were enthusiastic supporters of the democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. When General Augusto Pinochet launched his coup against Allende from the same coastal town Charles was visiting, my husband was surprised to see not only many Chilean tanks and helicopters moving out, but US warships cruising just off the coast, and US military personnel on the ground. He overheard some of those personnel enthusiastically and eagerly taking credit for the success of the coup, implying US military involvement. Charlie dutifully took his notes.
Before he, and our visiting friend from New York, Terry, began their journey with Davis, Charles knew he had come upon dangerous information. The drive past heavy military roadblocks into the heart of Santiago where Pinochet’s forces were on a search-and-destroy mission for Allende supporters, provided the perfect opportunity for Davis to evaluate Charles and his loyalties. This reality did not escape my husband, and he began to fear Captain Davis.
Charles returned to our home in Santiago, and as he recounted his journey and discoveries to me, we resolved to leave the country. On 17 September, we separately embarked on our errands for the day, and kissed each other goodbye. I did not realize at the time that I would never see my husband alive again.
Later that day, Charles was abducted from our home by more than a dozen Chilean soldiers. He was brought to the national stadium, where some of the most brutal of the regime’s crimes were carried out against presumed Allende “sympathizers”. When I returned to find our home in disarray, and Charles missing, I feared the worst.
In the days and weeks that followed, Charles’ father, Ed Horman, and I sought the help of American officials. Rather than aiding our search, however, they inquired about our social circles, and asked if we had been “annoying” the Chileans. Gradually, it dawned on us that our worst fears were well-founded. If it had been made public, the information that Charles had acquired would have risked derailing the recognition of Chile’s junta by the US government. In that context, Charles was transformed from an American citizen who was entitled to protection, to a vulnerable and disposable threat to powerful forces.
A month would pass before it was revealed, through help from the Ford Foundation, that Charles had been executed – his bullet-ridden body buried in a wall in the national stadium. Yet, it was not until after Pinochet’s 1998 arrest in London, that an era of renewed pressure for accountability regarding the regime’s crimes would drive the Clinton administration to declassify many previously-redacted texts about that terrible time. According to one document:
US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman’s death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, US intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia.
Throughout these 40 years, our family has never relented in our search for truth and accountability around Charles’ death. We filed a case against Henry Kissinger in 1976. In 1981, it was dismissed “without prejudice” – free to re-open when more evidence became available. I personally testified in the House of Commons during Pinochet’s arrest in London. Our December 2000 case in Chile against Pinochet forces is still under investigation.
A year ago, Chile’s supreme court approved investigative Judge Zepeda's request for extradition of Ray Davis to Chile concerning the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, another American journalist who was killed during the coup. The US has not yet been served with the extradition request; if and when that happens, it would set an important precedent for a US military officer to be charged by another country for the death of American citizens.
In the 40 intervening years, some wrongs have been revealed and some cases have been tried in Chile, which is, again, a democracy. Pinochet’s arrest certainly served as a lightning rod to broaden the global mechanisms to hold human rights violators accountable. But there is still a long way to go: the United States military continues to lie to the public, and take every opportunity available to cover up their abuses of power. We all have an interest in uncovering the truth about whether Captain Ray Davis played a role in the death of my husband.
In that sense, Charles’ story is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, and makes the cases against those responsible just as pressing. Charles’ mother, Elizabeth, often used the refrain, “we will leave no stone unturned.” That, too, is my mission, and should be the goal of all those dedicated to a just world in which no individual is too big, or too powerful, to answer for their crimes.
Since the late 1990s, the US has made great efforts to destroy its own chemical weapons caches, and facilitating the process in the handful of other so-called “possessor states” – in some cases helping fund the process through aid.
However, technological and political challenges have resulted in lengthy delays. By missing its deadlines, the US and other countries have arguably breached a founding principle of the same treaty cited as a reason to justify an attack on Syria…
The United States promised, but failed, to destroy these stocks by 2012 at the very latest. The most recent forecast from the US is that the process of “neutralising” the chemicals in its Colorado weapons dump will be finished by 2018; the date for Kentucky is 2023. That will be 11 years after the US promised to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, and eight years after Russia – the other major possessor of declared chemical weapons – says it will have finished destroying its arsenal.
About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.
Although the process of constructing neutralisation facilities in Colorado and Kentucky is well under way, both plants have still not begun testing procedures. The nature of the Kentucky stockpile makes it particularly difficult to destroy.
"They have every agent there and every weapon – rockets, artillery shells, landmines, spray tanks and aerial bombs," said Paul Walker, a program director at Green Cross International, which has facilitated the destruction of chemical weapons in the US and Russia since the mid-1990s."
This is the real story of today’s bloodbath. Who can be surprised that some Muslim Brotherhood supporters were wielding Kalashnikovs on the streets of Cairo? Or that supporters of the army and its “interim government” – in middle-class areas of the capital, no less – have seized their weapons or produced their own and started shooting back. This is not Brotherhood vs army, though that is how our Western statesmen will mendaciously try to portray this tragedy. Today’s violence has created a cruel division within Egyptian society that will take years to heal; between leftists and secularists and Christian Copts and Sunni Muslim villagers, between people and police, between Brotherhood and army. That is why Mohamed el-Baradei resigned tonight. The burning of churches was an inevitable corollary of this terrible business.
In Algeria in 1992, in Cairo in 2013 – and who knows what happens in Tunisia in the coming weeks and months? – Muslims who won power, fairly and democratically through the common vote, have been hurled from power. And who can forget our vicious siege of Gaza when Palestinians voted – again democratically – for Hamas? No matter how many mistakes the Brotherhood made in Egypt – no matter how promiscuous or fatuous their rule – the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the army. It was a coup, and John McCain was right to use that word.
The Brotherhood, of course, should long ago have curbed its amour propre and tried to keep within the shell of the pseudo-democracy that the army permitted in Egypt – not because it was fair or acceptable or just, but because the alternative was bound to be a return to clandestinity, to midnight arrests and torture and martyrdom. This has been the historical role of the Brotherhood – with periods of shameful collaboration with British occupiers and Egyptian military dictators – and a return to the darkness suggests only two outcomes: that the Brotherhood will be extinguished in violence, or will succeed at some far distant date – heaven spare Egypt such a fate – in creating an Islamist autocracy.
The pundits went about their poisonous work today before the first corpse was in its grave. Can Egypt avoid a civil war? Will the “terrorist” Brotherhood be wiped out by the loyal army? What about those who demonstrated before Morsi’s overthrow? Tony Blair was only one of those who talked of impending “chaos” in bestowing their support on General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi. Every violent incident in Sinai, every gun in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood will now be used to persuade the world that the organisation – far from being a poorly armed but well-organised Islamist movement – was the right arm of al-Qa’ida.
History may take a different view. It will certainly be hard to explain how many thousands – yes, perhaps millions – of educated, liberal Egyptians continued to give their wholehearted support to the general who spent much time after the overthrow of Mubarak justifying the army’s virginity tests of female protesters in Tahrir Square. Al-Sisi will come under much scrutiny in the coming days; he was always reputedly sympathetic to the Brotherhood, although this idea may have been provoked by his wife’s wearing of the niqab. And many of the middle-class intellectuals who have thrown their support behind the army will have to squeeze their consciences into a bottle to accommodate future events.
Could Nobel Prize-holder and nuclear expert Mohamed el-Baradei, the most famous personality – in Western eyes, but not in Egyptian - in the ‘interim government’, whose social outlook and integrity looked frighteningly at odds with ‘his’ government’s actions today, have stayed in power? Of course not. He had to go, for he never intended such an outcome to his political power gamble when he agreed to prop up the army’s choice of ministers after last month’s coup. But the coterie of writers and artists who insisted on regarding the coup as just another stage in the revolution of 2011 will - after the blood and el-Baradei’s resignation – have to use some pretty anguished linguistics to escape moral blame for these events.
Stand by, of course, for the usual jargon questions. Does this mean the end of political Islam? For the moment, certainly; the Brotherhood is in no mood to try any more experiments in democracy – a refusal which is the immediate danger in Egypt. For without freedom, there is violence. Will Egypt turn into another Syria? Unlikely. Egypt is neither a sectarian state – it never has been, even with 10 per cent of its people Christian – nor an inherently violent one. It never experienced the savagery of Algerian uprisings against the French, or Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian insurgencies against both the British and the French. But ghosts aplenty will hang their heads in shame today; that great revolutionary lawyer of the 1919 rising, for example, Saad Zaghloul. And General Muhammad Neguib whose 1952 revolutionary tracts read so much like the demands of the people of Tahrir in 2011.
But yes, something died in Egypt today. Not the revolution, for across the Arab world the integrity of ownership – of people demanding that they, not their leaders, own their own country – remains, however bloodstained. Innocence died, of course, as it does after every revolution. No, what expired today was the idea that Egypt was the everlasting mother of the Arab nation, the nationalist ideal, the purity of history in which Egypt regarded all her people as her children. For the Brotherhood victims today – along with the police and pro-government supporters – were also children of Egypt. And no one said so. They had become the “terrorists”, the enemy of the people. That is Egypt’s new heritage.
- Revolutionary Reading List
- The Socialist Alternative - Michael A Lebowitz
- Ideas for the Struggle - Marta Harnecker
- Why Marx Was Right - Terry...
I was waiting to teach a class a nearby school today, and I made a friend. A little boy who looked like he was maybe 8 years old burst into the...
- "Guevaristas" slams Voice of Russia over article that implicates Che in JFK's assassination
In a long post written in greek, the website ...
I firmly believe that anyone who belligerently complains at length to a cashier at a retail or food place should be whisked...