Friday, June 24, 2016

Link of the day: News release from the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner: EU Trade agreements: UN rights' expert warns against bypassing national parliaments
(With thanks to Nadia Alexan)


GENEVA (24 June 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Alfred de Zayas today warned that any plan by the European Union to bypass national parliaments to push through controversial trade deals would violate international human rights norms and standards.

“Trade deals prepared and negotiated in secret, excluding key stakeholders such as labour unions, consumer associations, health professionals and environmental experts and now parliaments, have zero democratic legitimacy,” said the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

Mr. de Zayas’s call comes as the European Commission is reportedly preparing to treat the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) deal with Canada as an ‘EU only’ matter which, if adopted, will exclude ratification by every national Parliaments in the EU, according to leaked documents and recent media reports that the Independent Expert discussed with various EU stakeholders. 

“In view of the increasing vocal opposition by civil society organizations, a thorough open discussion should be carried out by national parliaments and referenda should be organized in all countries concerned,” Mr de Zayas said. “Disfranchising the public from participating in this important debate is undemocratic and manifests a profound disregard to peoples’ voice”.

An earlier consultation conducted by the European Commission in 2014 resulted in 97% of respondents from across Europe expressing opposition to the inclusion of asymmetrical investment protection in Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA. “The same would apply to CETA, but no consultation was ever held,” he noted. 

In the light of the European Council on 28-29 June 2016, the expert called on States to respect their human rights obligations. “The human rights treaty regime entails binding obligations that States must observe,” the expert said recalling the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter, and the American Convention on Human Rights. 

“In case of conflict between trade agreements and human rights treaties, it is the latter that prevail,” he stressed. “States must not enter into agreements that delay, circumvent, hinder or make impossible the fulfillment of human rights treaty obligations.” 

The Independent Expert noted that it is not for the State to guarantee profits to investors or transnational enterprises, but to legislate and regulate in the public interest. “The State cannot divest itself of this responsibility to act to protect populations under its jurisdiction by adopting precautionary health and environmental measures, by regulating labour standards and by ensuring food security,” he said. 

“Trade agreements should only be ratified after human rights, health and environmental impact assessments have been conducted, which has not been the case with regard to CETA and TTIP,” Mr. de Zayas said. 

“Ratification of CETA and TTIP would start a ‘race to the bottom’ in human rights terms and would seriously compromise the regulatory space of states. This is contrary to the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter and would constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a democratic and equitable international order,” the UN Independent Expert concluded.

NOTE TO EDITORS: 

The UN Independent Expert devoted his 2015 report to the UN Human Rights Council to the adverse human rights, health and environmental impacts of so-called free trade agreements such as CETA, TPP, TTIP and TISA. Ckeck the report (A/HRC/30/44): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IntOrder/Pages/Reports.aspx 

Mr. de Zayas focused his 2015 report to the UN General Assembly on the incompatibility of Investor-state-dispute-settlement arbitrations with fundamental principles of transparency and accountability. Ckeck the report (A/70/285): http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/70/285 
 
In his upcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council, to be presented in September 2016, Mr. de Zayas analyzes and rejects the proposal of an investment court system as a rebranding exercise, which maintains the normative asymmetry of one-way tribunals where investors can sue States but not vice versa, and where victims of human rights violations by the activities of investors and transnational corporations have no standing to sue, no recourse and no remedy.

ENDS

Mr. Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IntOrder/Pages/IEInternationalorderIndex.aspx

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Thibaut Guillet (+41 22 917 9674 /tguillet@ohchr.org) or write to ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)   


Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Log 517 June 23 2016: A few words --- 1,122, to be exact --- on this or that. I’ve always found it easy to put down 1,000 words, but seldom before with so little to say

Global events in recent weeks have become so incoherent, so alarming, that I have not felt up to sounding off about them. I did start this blog in 1996 as a sounding off page, so I have to confess that I have recently been neglecting my duty at that level. Not that it makes any difference what I write, or whether I write anything. It is just that I feel I owe it to myself to keep writing because I have been writing about something or other ever since I was in high school in the 1940s, and I have never tired of doing it. I could say it has becme a reflex action for me.
In all these years I have mastered only one aspect of writing, which is that after years in journalism, I have learned how to write an article. It has aways, to tell the truth, come easily to me.  I am not really given to boasting about my prowess, rather the opposite in fact, but I do remember with some satisfaction those days in the 1950s when I would sit down at a typewriter in the news room of The Montreal Star, knock off an article in fifteen minutes or so, and be greeted from time to time by the enquiry of a fellow reporter, “How the hell do you do that?”  Well, some people really have to worry over every line, grind it out of themselves: I remember some excellent reporters who were like that. But it always came easy to me, just a facility I always had that I was very grateful for, and really felt I could not take any excessive credit for.
I still think back to the days I spent in London when I had to cable my stories, writing them out complete with stops, commas and paragraphs written in as I went along. What  surprises me now is that I could sit down at about 7.30 in the morning after having consulted the nine or so daily newspapers that arrived on my doorstep every morning, and knock off on the cable forms a thousand or so words  that seldom needed to be edited after being committed to paper.  I can't do that nowadays: in fact, after I left daily journalism, and began to write longer articles for magazines, or even books, this facility of instant expression kind of seized up somehow: it was no longer just a question of having a lead and following one’s nose from that point to the end.  In the longer form, more thought was needed to make the thing coherent. And I soon discovered that writing a book was a physical and mental effort away beyond anything that had ever confronted me in journalism.  
In those days, once you had finished the text to your satisfaction, you then had to retype, as best you could, a clean copy to send to the publisher, and this was an immense physical effort --- imagine, retyping maybe 600 pages, one after the other --- that usually kept one glued to the typewriter for several days, and ended  as a severe pain in the back. Not to mention the neck and every other muscle.
Any experienced article-reader will have already spotted what all this is about: just an effort to fill some space without actually saying anything, an attempt to disguise that I have nothing worth saying on the global situation, or perhaps I should put it this way: I shrink from delivering one of my blanket denunciations of  right-wing politicians, conservatism in general, religion and its horrors, and the relentless grip of oligarchic wealth over all our lives.
It is so hard to face up to the facts. With every day it has become clearer that the United States,  the most powerful country on earth, is now a fully-functioning oligarchy in which the owners of wealth are in complete control of the direction of the nation. That is an idea very hard to live with, because it  makes almost certain that in the near-future the prospects for the earth and its inhabitants are bleak indeed. That the US Senate was unable to agree to any of the four proposals put before it designed to keep military assault weapons from being freely available to every citizen indicates surely, that the American political system is entirely bought and sold by the wealth-owners.
The fact that the choice before Americans in the coming election is between, on the one hand, a bombastic billionaire, whose experience in business has been such as to make any normal person cringe, and, on the other hand, a spokesperson for the corporate interests in whose gifts she and her husband are completely awash, and who seems to be willing to agree to anything in order to get elected, is another indication that the democratic pretensions of the nation are on the floor, gasping for air.
Mind you, I have never had much respect for those pretensions. Their famous Declaration of Independence, and their Constitution, on which their so-called democratic freedoms are supposed to be based, were signed by a bunch of slave-owners and were, as recent critics have shown,  always designed as an instrument to preserve the privileges of the slave-owning, wealth-owning elite.
Just why this great nation feels it necessary to maintain as many as 840 military installations, manned by tens of thousands of troops, around the world, is something that has never been explained.  Just last night I was reminded that fairly recently the US government imposed sanctions on the smallish South American nation, Venezuela, on the laughable notion that Venezuela had become an ever-present threat to the national security of the United States. I agree with the expressed opinion of citizens around the world that in the present circumstances the United States poses the greatest danger to the peace and security of the world, and the depressing thing is that there seems little prospect of improvement in the situation. Certainly the recent spectacular rise of militant Islamism can be laid directly at the door of the US, and its na├»ve belief that it can bludgeon small nations into following its so-called, flawed, democratic path. It’s as if the only lessons they have learned come from the old-fashioned westerns, namely that a sock on the jaw is the answer to all problems.
I write on the same day that Britain is voting whether to remain inside or to quit, the European Union. Once again, it seems, perfidious Albion, a constant presence throughout history, is giving a classic exhibition of wanting to have its cake and eat it too.  

Oh, dear…. Words fail me at last….

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Log 517 May 24 2016: Some good news today: religions are in decline, those of us without a religion are surging

Today I read some good news. In England and Wales, according to recent studies by an outfit called British Social Attitudes, more people profess to have no religion than admit to being religious. The change in this figure has been dramatic: those professing no religion are up to 48.5 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in the 2011 census.
Anyone who has read this blog over time will realize how warmly I welcome this news. The article carrying this momentous stuff is in today’s Guardian and can be found at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/no-religion-outnumber-christians-england-wales-study.
You can read it for yourselves, so it remains only for me to explain why I dislike  religions, all religions. In fact, the detailed figures given in the article confirm one of my overwhelming prejudices, which is that religionists are the masters at killing each other, and people who disagree with their particular beliefs, when it reveals that of all regions of the British Isles, it is only Northern Ireland in which people professing no religions are a tiny minority of just eight per cent. And which area within the British Isles is most known for violence, hatred, murder and mayhem?  You got it in one.
If we look at the contemporary world it is hard to imagine how anyone can profess to be religious, since it is religious people who are conducting all the wars. It is known that the United States is awash in religious fanatics, and it so happens that this great Christian nation almost never ceases bombing other peoples, invading their nations, and killing their citizens. (Their leader, a convinced Christian, was at one point reputed to draw up every Tuesday a list of people to be executed without trial by his drones. Way to go, Barack!).
But even if we leave that aside --- I know many will say all that killing is not done for Christian reasons --- the other wars going on at present seem all to be either stimulated by religious differences, or to be about religions themselves. The country that could claim, I suppose, to be the most religious on earth, Saudi Arabia, is also known as a veritable hellhole of kidnappings, floggings,  executions, invasions, exported terrorism, and a programme of imposing their extreme religion on the rest of the world.
I remember being shown around a major Moroccan city by a man who, meeting me on an airplane, kindly invited me home to share couscous with him and his family. As he drove me around the city he kept pointing out some of the many places that had been bought by Saudi princes, letting go a diatribe of denunciation of them as people who arrived thinking they could buy anything and anyone, who exhibited appalling behaviour in their dealings with the locals, and, even short of that, of vulgarly ostentatious flaunting of their ill-gotten wealth to such a degree that he wished fervently it would be possible to rid his country of them.
Of course, various religious sects are at each other’s throats throughout the Middle East, but also in countries like Buddhist Burma, horrible stories emerge of discrimination to the death against other religionists (the Rohinga Muslims, for example); in Bangladesh you can be hunted to death for expressing views about life that are commonplace in more civilized societies; in Turkey, mercifully freed by Ataturk from the rule of the imams,  religionists have forced themselves back into power and are busy imprisoning people whose opinions they don’t like, and so on and on. In Egypt, once the long-dormant Moslem Brotherhood was elected to power, they ruled with such savagery against anyone who didn’t believe what they believed, that they had to be removed by a military coup that is even worse.
Just this week the BBC showed a programme in which one of their minions travelled the length and breadth of what he and they call “the sacred Ganges.” And he found a river so polluted as to be almost beyond description. A river whose waters the adherents use for drinking, washing, crapping in, and disposing of their dead in. Another remarkable advertisement for the power of religion, I suppose.
In which part of the world is it most dangerous to be gay, lesbian or transsexual? In Africa, where the Christianity imposed by the former colonial rulers has taken root in a particularly virulent and intolerant form.
I cannot leave this without referring to the role of religion in priest-ridden Latin America. Though there have been clerics who have made courageous stands against the ruling oligarchies there (Bishop Romero is a notable case who was brutally shot down on the steps of his cathedral in El Salvador), the tale of the obsessed American fundamentalist Protestant sects that have penetrated the jungles is one of the horror stories of our modern world. Fanatically, these sects have ruined the lives of people living in these jungles, and imposed a brutal regime of absurd beliefs on them reducing them to despair, drunkenness, poverty and dissolution on the edges of towns and cities in that continent.  Read Norman Lewis’s various accounts of these people; read Peter Matthiessen’s monumental tragi-comedic At Play in the Fields of the Lord.
Even within our own society we have nothing to boast about, except that apparently adherence to the ridiculous shibboleths of Christianity are in decline. Virgin birth?  Are you serious? Ascension to heaven? Give me a break. Miracles and weeping statues? Phu-leeze!


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