The Record: This Week in Review

Human Rights Watch Finds Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza Violated the Laws of War

Human Rights Watch has sent detailed information to the IDF about numerous airstrikes in Gaza that may have violated the Laws of War.  The airstrikes, at least 18 of them, were carried out during fighting in November 2012 and were the result of Human Rights investigations.  The IDF has said that it is conducting “operational debriefings” of the attacks and will have completed its investigation sometime in February.

UN Security Council Set to Approve Sending Peacekeepers to Mali

Although the Malian government has expressed concerns about the presence of UN peacekeepers in the country (it fears the strengthening of a split between northern and southern Mali) it looks as though the UN Security Council will be approving the deployment of about 6,000 peacekeepers in the coming weeks.  The move comes after French troops have already secured much of the country from Islamist rebels.  Some issues that still remain to be worked out is how this UN peacekeeping force will interact with the UN backed African military force (AFISMA) which is currently fighting alongside French troops.

ICC Orders Extradition of Libyan Spy Chief

 Abdullah al-Senussi, Gadaffi’s ex spy chief, has requested that he be tried by the International Court of Court in the Hague.  He has been denied access to his British lawyer and the ICC, along with other human rights organizations, have expressed concern about his ability to receive a fair trial in the new Libya, which suffers from a weak central government and lack of rule of law.  Libyan leaders however have a vested interest in trying Gadaffi’s family members and supporters in country in order to gain credibility among their own population.

U.N. Sanctions North Korea for Latest Nuclear Tests

Tensions mounted this week with North Korea conducting additional nuclear tests, resulting in tightened sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.  However, nuclear capability concerns are drawing attention away from human rights issues within North Korea.  Current estimations put the number of persons currently held in North Korea prison camps at 200,000, where they suffer torture, rape and slave labor.  Both the United States and Japan will support additional inquiries into human rights violations in North Korea.

Human Rights Watch Report on Yemen

The Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Unpunished Massacre – Yemen’s Failed Response to the “Friday of Dignity” Killings” calling attention to the inadequate investigation and prosecution of those responsible. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 45 protesters, including University students and children, and implicated the involvement of several government officials.

Australian’s Prisoner X

The New York Times reported further details regarding the mysterious death of Mr. Ben Zygier, an Australian citizen also known as “Prisoner X,” who was being held in an Israeli maximum security prison.  Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a statement denying any violation of Mr. Zygier’s rights during the secret imprisonment or criminal proceedings. Mr. Zygier was incarcerated in 2010 and suspected by the Australian government of spying for Israel.

Abuse of Canadian Women Exposed

Human Rights Watch has published a report exposing police abuse of indigenous women and children in Canada.  The report details police brutality, threats of arrest, and shaming.  The British Columbia legislature recently established an investigative unit to further explore “police-related incidents involving death or serious harm.”  The concern is that the majority of the abuse faced is not covered by the definition of “serious harm” and more needs to be done by the Canadian government to protect women and children.

Australia Accused of Human Rights Violations 

Australia has been accused of human rights violations involving 23 Indonesian minors.  They were incorrectly housed in adult prisons where they were sexually harassed by the prison guards.  Jailed between 2008 and 2011, they were originally smuggled into Australia and have since been returned to Indonesia.

Jamaica in Final Stages of Accepting $ 750 million IMF Loan

Jan Kees Martijn, Head of the International Monetary Fund million to Jamaica, stated it has reached a “staff-level agreement” with Jamaica on a $ 750 million loan. Jamaica, which derives most of its GDP from tourism and other services, has seen a decline in its economy over the last thirty years. This loan is intended to reduce Jamaica’s “medium-term financing needs” and to contribute to its “debt sustainability,” Martijn said, but the loan still needs to be approved by the IMF’s executive board—scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

Three International Organizations Collaborate for the First Time

The World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization released a book, “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade,” marking the first time that these three organizations have come together to tackle some of the most pressing issues involving medicine and health. The book examines a range of issues related to these fields, uncovers powerful studies, and most notably, provides tools for future development and success of medical technologies and innovations.





Sciences Po Law School Clinic Involved in Transnational Campaign against Herakles Farms Project in Cameroon

By the Human Rights, Economic Development, and Globalization Clinic, École de Droit, Sciences Po

Oil, and palm oil in particular, has been hot news in France, especially due to the controversy over the so-called “Nutella tax,” which aims to cut obesity by tripling the tax on products that use oils such as palm oil. This is despite an unprecedented boom in the use of palm oil in the past decade.

Yet people in France often forget that the production of palm oil also has environmental consequences, notably vast deforestation, reduction of biodiversity, soil depletion, and water pollution. This also impacts inhabitants of the areas concerned, especially by displacing populations and negatively impacting sustainable and people-based development.

Prime areas of palm-oil cultivation include countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia (4,819,483 hectares) and Indonesia (7,527,760 hectares); Central Africa, such as Sudan (3,123,430 hectares), Ethiopia (2,412,562 hectares), and Cameroon (147,980 hectares); and Central and South America, such as Brazil (3,871,824 hectares) and Argentina (1,505,020 hectares). Foreign investment in plantations most often comes from former colonial powers such as France, and emerging economies, such as the Gulf countries and China, whose interest in palm oil mainly stem from its use in biodiesel and a desire to produce a clean environment in their own countries.

On Saturday the 2 February 2013, Greenpeace activists, led by coordinator Fréderic Amiel, met at the Place du Palais Royal in Paris to demonstrate against the Herakles Farms project in Cameroon. For the completion of this project, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Herakles Farms called SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PLC will demolish 70,000 hectares of forest in the Ndian and Kupe-Manenguba Divisions of Southwest Cameroon to make space for a palm oil plantation. The project is based on a questionable contract including a 99-year lease where SG Sustainable Oils will pay a rent of only about $1 per hectare. The company estimates that the project will impact 14,000 people, a figure which local and international associations and NGOs fighting the project denounce as representing half of the real number of affected people.

Greenpeace has focused its efforts on this case because of its highly negative impact on the livelihoods of local communities, and its potential to set precedent and excite repercussions on future land-grabbing cases. Land grabbing is indeed a controversial issue, which reflects a quasi-absence of regulation of sovereign and private actors conducting themselves, at times, in a neo-colonial fashion. As of today, estimates show that national and international investors have claimed more than 80 million hectares of land, primarily in Africa and in low-income countries, with the primary intention of producing cash crops, and with little focus on local environmental or human impacts.

Brendan Schwartz, member of the Cameroonian NGO Réseau de Lutte contre le Faim (Network fighting Hunger in Cameroon), and Samuel Nguiffo, associate of the Center for the Environment and Development, have joined forces to protest the illegality of the lease contract under Cameroonian law, as well as international conventions to which the country has signed. Despite ongoing legal proceedings, injunctions from Cameroonian courts, and contrary evidence from environmental and social impact studies, the project has continued its operations.

Paul Biya, President of Cameroon since 1982, came to the Elysée presidential palace in Paris from January 30th to February 2nd to meet with President François Hollande and to discuss the development of economic ties between the two countries. During his visit, several environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, denounced the silence of the government of Cameroon regarding the Herakles Farms project. At this stage of the ongoing campaign against the project, a transnational coalition of NGOs and advocates is coordinating a series of advocacy initiatives, including the arrival in France of Nasako Besingi, Director of the NGO Struggle to Economise the Future Environment, who has been a central figure in this campaign. Mr. Besingi and some of his volunteers were jailed for two days without official cause, although it appears their arrests resulted from their fight against violations of the rights of affected communities generated by the SGSOC and the Herakles Farms project.

In light of the past and present relationship between Cameroon and France, due to the alarming increase in land acquisitions in the Global South, and with willingness to contribute to a wider and deeper understanding of large scale land investments, the Paris-based Sciences-Po Law School Clinic has decided to include the Herakles Farms case among the ongoing projects of its Human Rights, Economic Development and Globalization (HEDG) program. The first in France to link academic theory with legal and multidisciplinary advocacy in this emerging field, HEDG involves teams of law and international affairs students, Ph.D. candidates, faculty, and practitioners affiliated with the Clinic. A HEDG team is currently working to analyze the legal and economic dimensions of the Herkales Farms project, as well as potential advocacy and recourse mechanisms in support of those locally affected.