Tag Archives: corruption

Few signs of Spring in Baku (and less in Strasbourg) in the leadup to a tainted Eurovision final

by Rhodri C. Williams

As much as I am a big believer in maintaining a healthy firewall between work and life, the human rights branch can sorely test one’s ability to compartmentalize. As a result, I face a dilemma next Saturday. On one hand, my kids are now old enough to genuinely share in my (not unlimited) fascination with the annual sanitized bacchanalia that is Eurovision. So my private-me would love to break out the popcorn, pile onto the couch with the family and squirm through this year’s crop of ethno-retro-monstro-disco with an untroubled conscience.

Inconveniently, however, my public-me has long since foreclosed this option. Unlike earlier contests, this year’s final in Azerbaijan is tainted not only by the unapologetic disdain for human rights and democracy displayed by its hosts, but also by the self-defeating failure of the European institutions responsible for safeguarding these values to attach even the frailest of strings to the massive PR coup of holding the contest. Free but unwilling to lob criticism from the safety of Brussels, Strasbourg (home to the Council of Europe or CoE, to which Azerbaijan has made binding human rights commitments) and Geneva (in the case of the European Broadcasting Union or EBU, which sponsors the event), these organizations have displayed nothing like the courage of ordinary Azerbaijani activists and journalists who face blackmail, police beatings and hard time for expressing dissent.

In an age in which European leaders are all too willing to disown previously indispensable autocracies in the Middle East, how to explain this blindness to their own backyard? Will presumptive president-for-life Ilham Alijev become for the Council of Europe and the EBU what Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi ended up being for the LSE? And what legitimate claim will the rhetoric of ‘European values’ have on the loyalties of ordinary Azerbaijanis when and if the substance of those values actually prevail? These questions have been raised in a very pointed and concrete manner during recent weeks by a number of international and local organizations.

Beginning with the international advocates, my former Bosnia colleagues at the European Stability Initiative (ESI) today released a blockbuster report on the systematic campaign of ‘caviar diplomacy’ designed to win and retain “the stamp of legitimacy conferred by Council of Europe membership”. The ESI alleges that by offering annual gifts of caviar and flash trips to Baku, the Aliyev regime secured the loyalty of key members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (composed of national parliamentarians from CoE member states), as well as the organization’s secretariat. In return, Baku received “ever more anodyne, even complimentary” reports on its blatantly rigged elections and deteriorating human rights record.

In the words of ESI, the Aliyev regime succeeded in only five years in neutering Europe’s oldest human rights organization:

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An inconvenient forum: Thoughts on the Chevron-Ecuador Case

by Nicholas A. Fromherz

As a student of environmental law, resident of the Andes, and former clerk for two federal judges, I have followed the Chevron-Ecuador case with increasing interest—and, of late, increasing concern.  No matter which side we believe, it is clear that the people and ecology of Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region have been affected by the operations of Chevron (or, perhaps more accurately, those of predecessor Texaco and the state-owned Ecuadorian firm Petroecuador).

But that will always be the case with extractive industry—more important factors for purposes of litigation are to what extent and what, if anything, was done in the way of prevention and/or mitigation. This post will not attempt to answer those questions.  More informed individuals and groups have offered a range of answers as to these very points (see here and here), and my own speculation on the matter would only add to what has become a morass of conflicting information.

Instead of analyzing the merits of the case, I would like to discuss two issues that have received less than complete coverage: (1) the unintended and unlikely consequences of Chevron’s effort to remove the case from U.S. federal court on grounds of forum non conveniens; and (2) the institutional and socio-political factors that must be considered when analyzing Chevron’s claims of judicial corruption by the Ecuadorian courts.

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Costing stability against freedom: The minority dilemma in Syria and Iraq

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a recent discussion with a member of Syria’s Christian minority here in Sweden, I found myself conceding the point that a majority of the population may still support the al Assad regime and that many of its opponents in the region clearly have a political axe to grind alongside their professed humanitarian motivations. It was easy enough to dismiss the notion that Assad had been seriously interested in reform, but my interlocutor’s most troubling argument was that the regime had been – and remained – the sole guarantee of her and her communities’ physical safety.

In a media world almost saturated with analysis of the Arab Spring, an increasingly historically oriented strain of thinking has begun to revive the arguments that had become too threadbare to save Mubarak and Ghaddafi – après moi le déluge: Continue reading

The World Bank on ‘sleaze timber’

by Rhodri C. Williams

The BBC reported today on a new World Bank analysis of the scope and detrimental effects of illegal logging worldwide. There is of course no shortage of commentary on the challenges facing global forestry management and the consequences of failure to improve our performance. Just last month for instance, TN covered the latest report on the topic by Rights and Resources Initiative, which linked the failure to protect local forestry rights to the broader vulnerability of marginal communities to global patterns of large-scale investment in land and natural resources.

Nevertheless, the World Bank report does a neat job emphasizing the ties between illegal logging, corruption and chronic patterns of weak governance. In other words, the analysis supports a broadening in focus from the ‘blood diamond’ problem of natural resources supporting active conflict to a ‘sleaze timber’ (you read it first here!) emphasis on how natural resources can undermine the conditions for sustainable and equitable development. The report also does a good job foregrounding some fairly shocking statistics:

Every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers around the globe.

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging in some countries accounts for as much as 90 percent of all logging and generates approximately US$10–15 billion annually in criminal proceeds.

Mostly controlled by organized crime, this money is untaxed and is used to pay corrupt government officials at all levels.

The report focuses on criminal justice means to track the income generated by illegal logging and prosecute those responsible. While such approaches are important in terms of both returning ill-gotten revenues and preventing further cutting, they are unlikely in the short term to be able to address the social and cultural devastation wrought where past cutting has erased the spiritual homes and economic resource base of indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers. While it would be good to see more serious efforts to end the enormous damage caused by illegal logging, it is not at all clear how much of it can actually be undone.

Bosnia update: political crisis, partition proposals and property claims

by Rhodri C. Williams

Bosnia continues to elude complete stabilization in both large ways (such as unquiet territorial debates) and small ones (such as unresolved property claims). A recent run of analysis and reports on Bosnia provides examples of both:

First, a typically engaging piece by Tihomir Loza on TOL updates us on Bosnia’s tormented struggle toward a government after last October’s elections. This article focuses on the way that the Social Democrats – heirs to the ethnically inclusive but authoritarian pre-war Yugoslav political mainstream – have alienated Bosnia’s minority Croats by using a curious loophole in the postwar constitutional framework (and one that was originally pointed out to me by old friend and eminent constitutional expert Gianni LaFerrara when I was a green young intern at OHR).

Specifically, the presidential election rules unintentionally (Gianni?) give non-Croats a decisive vote in electing the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, an opportunity which they appear to have seized. In reaction, the Croats have begun to demand greater territorial autonomy, asserting (in Bosnia’s curious constitutional parlance) that “the only way for Bosnia’s Croats to protect their interests and dignity was to shape the territories on which they form the majority into a third entity.” Stay tuned…

Second, Gerard Toal has highlighted an interesting exchange of views on the fuure of Bosnia published in the most recent edition of European Affairs. The series starts off with an extraordinarily breezy call for the partition of Bosnia by Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute. Aside from getting at least one basic Bosnia fact wrong (the “high representative” in Bosnia is distinctive precisely because it is not a UN mission), he appears to conflate the ‘forced unity’ of Bosnian nation-building with a recent history of civil wars fought over the entirely distinct phenomenon of post-colonial inheritance of colonial boundaries (posted on here).

The central policy prescription given is that international actors should ‘withdraw objections’ to the secession of various bits of Bosnia; given that such objections are founded on international treaties, the Bosnian Constitution, the aspirations of a probable majority of Bosnia’s citizens and the regional plan for EU accession of at least three countries, I myself would have a hard time figuring how to campaign for that one, let alone implement it.

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