Weekly News Review

25th January, 2004

Campaigners say no to EU funding for copper mine in Laos

International environment groups are raising the alarm about a funding decision to be taken next week by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s own bank for channelling soft money to supposedly worthy development projects inside Europe and beyond. The EIB board will meet on January 27 to discuss a EUR 60 million loan for the development of Sepon copper mine in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Originally scheduled for December, the decision was delayed following a letter writing campaign.

Located in the province of Savannakhet near the Vietnam border, the Sepon copper mine is owned by Australian company Oxiana. The copper mine follows a gold mine project on the same site which has been the source of ongoing environmental and social controversies already exposed by an international NGO campaign.

The environmental groups argue that Lao PDR “has notoriously poor governance and human rights problems”, and that it is extremely doubtful that open and free consultations with local communities affected by the mine have taken place. In addition, they point out that the recent findings of the World Bank's Extractive Industry Review spells out that such mining projects do not alleviate poverty in countries with “weak governance”. On the contrary, the costs to the country and its citizens often outweigh the benefits because of corruption and the frequent intimidation of local communities.

Compounding matters, environmental legislation and enforcement in Lao PDR remains very weak. The proposed copper mine threatens the ecosystem of nearby rivers (key tributaries to the Mekong River), and the likelihood of cyanide spills, illegal logging and increased stress on the biodiversity of the region will significantly increase.

Philippe Maystadt, EIB president, in conversation with a campaigner from Friends of the Earth International during the recent Climate Change Convention in Milan, acknowledged that, “Even if we put forward environmental and social conditions [on projects outside the EU] there is no guarantee that they will be met by the project implementers.”

Further evidence that the EIB is no champion of environmental and social rights is provided by the Framework Agreement for financial cooperation which it signed with the Lao PDR on 25 November 2003. The agreement permits the EIB to support capital investment projects that contribute to sustainable development. Such projects, the agreement suggests, can be found in the mining sector despite general agreement that mining is the least sustainable sector, especially in a country run by an oppressive regime.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, leading the EIB campaign on behalf of CEE Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth International said, “The EIB needs to reconsider its involvement with the Lao PDR. The Sepon copper mine is a huge project with detrimental environmental and social impacts which will do next to nothing for the population. If approved, it will only confirm the EIB’s cavalier approach to project finance.”

For more information go here

UK Labour MEP votes to support corporate right to pollute

Europe’s largest environmental organisation, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) warmly welcomed this week’s Environment and Health Committee vote on the Directive on heavy metals and PAHs in ambient air. The Committee voted in favour of introducing binding limit values for arsenic, cadmium, nickel and PAHs and strengthened the provisions on mercury. The EU institutions are obliged to adopt a Directive on heavy metals and PAHs in ambient air as the EU air quality framework Directive calls for EU regulation of these substances.

‘This is an important step towards improving EU air quality and protecting EU citizens from the dangerous effects of these toxic metals’, said Kerstin Meyer, Air Pollution Policy Officer at the EEB. ‘Binding limit values are necessary to ensure that people can breathe safe air, regardless of the country or neighbourhood they live in.’ The new binding limit values were brought in despite opposition from the right, as well as from David Bowe, who added further shame to the shoddy record of the UK Labour Party in the European Parliament, where it acts as little more than a mouthpiece for British industry.

‘This Committee has voted at last to prevent people having to breathe toxic waste’, said Roberto Ferrigno, EU Policy Director for the EEB. ‘It is ridiculous that there are no binding EU air quality standards on substances that are otherwise classified as toxic waste under the EU waste list and recognised as priority hazardous substances in the Water Framework Directive.’

The Committee’s narrowly-taken decision must now be endorsed by a full meeting of the Parliament and accepted by a large majority of member states before they become law.  You can help this process by writing to MEPs as well as to your own government, if you live in one of the member states.

For further information, write to kerstin.meyer@eeb.org

As the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) got under way in Davos, Switzerland, progressive organisations branded the gathering of senior executives and their invited guests as a means for big business to protect its interests at the expense of people and the environment.

Friends of the Earth International said that the WEF posed a threat to democracy by hosting discussions vital to the whole world behind closed doors.

The secrecy of the WEF's annual meeting was confirmed on January 19th when Friends of the Earth International Vice Chair Tony Juniper requested  a list of WEF participants and the detailed agenda they would address. The office of  the WEF's senior managing director, Jose Maria Figueres, said that the detailed agenda and list of people attending were confidential.

Tony Juniper accused the business-centred organization of hiding behind a screen of philanthropy while fixing access to new markets and greater profits for big business, regardless of the impacts on natural resources and the world's poor.

In an effort to diffuse criticism about its secrecy, the WEF started in 2003 its own 'Open Forum' that runs in parallel to its traditional closed-door meetings. Because the WEF and the 'Open Forum' are both called 'Forum', media reports and the public may confuse them.

More than 2,000 representatives from the top 1000 global companies along with state leaders are invited to the meeting, which this year embraces a theme of "security and prosperity".  But only select participants will address the issue of global trade, following the collapse of World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun (Mexico) last year and will meet on January 23 to try to re-start trade talks.

"When business leaders claim to be acting in the interests of security and prosperity, they mean security to protect the prosperity of the multinational companies who rule the world rather than the greater peace and security of the world,"  said Friends of the Earth

International Vice Chair Tony Juniper.

"CEOs still claim that what is good for large corporations is good for society - but world leaders should face up to the fact that this is not the case," added Nur Hidayati of Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

On January 15, a report from the World Economic Forum's own Global Governance Initiative revealed the extent to which big business is failing to protect the planet's natural resources or meet the needs of the world's poor.  The report, which can be downloaded from here,   found that the international community scored no more than four out of ten for its effort and co- operation in achieving the United Nation Millennium Goals - achieving just 3/10 in the areas of the environment, human rights and peace and security.

A report from Friends of the Earth International released ahead of the WTO Cancun meeting showed that big business, rather than helping achieve the ideals set out in the Millennium goals, is damaging the environment and local communities.  The report can be read here. Friends of the Earth is demanding international rules to make big business accountable for

its behaviour [4].

"It is time big business was held to account. The World Economic Forum is keen to show that it is acting for the greater good, but even their own reports expose the reality. We need global regulations to ensure that companies do not put profit above the needs of the environment and local communities," added Tony Juniper.

To read what the WEF has to say about itself go here

For more information on FoEI’s campaign for corporate accountability go here

New York Times column breaks US media silence on British spycatcher

Breaking a silence shared with almost all major U.S. media outlets, the New York Times on Monday Jan. 19th for the first time informed its readers about Katharine Gun -- thanks to a column on its opinion page. As the British press began reporting two months ago, Gun is a former UK intelligence agency employee now facing charges that she violated the Official Secrets Act.

"Katharine Gun has a much better grasp of the true spirit of democracy than Tony Blair," wrote columnist Bob Herbert. "So, naturally, it's Katharine Gun who's being punished."

Herbert's column, titled "A Single Conscience v. the State," goes on to explain: "Ms. Gun, 29, was working at Britain's top-secret Government Communications Headquarters last year when she learned of an American plan to spy on at least a half-dozen U.N. delegations as part of the U.S. effort to win Security Council support for an invasion of Iraq." The plan "included e-mail surveillance and taps on home and office telephones." It was outlined "in a highly classified National Security Agency memo. The agency, which was seeking British assistance in the project, was interested in ‘the whole  gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to U.S. goals.'"

T he full article can be read here

On Sunday, Tthe Observer published an in-depth news article that shed additional light on the prosecution of Gun, who has said that disclosure of the NSA memo "exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government." She plans to invoke a necessity defence -- arguing that she had sought "to prevent wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in tthe course of an illegal war."  To read the full article go here

On Dec. 17, the Institute for Public Accuracy issued a news release about the prosecution of Katharine Gun ("New Developments in Case of U.S. Spying on U.N. Security Council"). An article about her, written by IPA Executive Director Norman Solomon, appeared in the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 14 and a few other newspapers, including the Boston Globe (Dec. 20).  These two pieces can be read here

and here

Thanks to the Institute for Public Accuracy, Washington DC for the substance of this report.


Venezuelan workers say No to FTAA  


Trade unionists from every region and sector gathered last week in a Caracas theatre for a conference entitled “Venezuela facing the FTAA”.  They heard Minister of Production and Trade William Castro Soteldo speak on the participation of Venezuela in the recent Extraodinary Summit of Presidents of America, (excepting the excluded Cuba), in Monterrey, Mexico, as well as numerous political decision-makers, academics and labour leaders.  Together they examined every aspect of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. 

A number of social organizations were also present at the Forum, including the Indian Council of Venezuela, BONIVE, the wonderfully-named “Positive Middle Class”, student unions, agrarian organizations and representatives of organized communities.


Explaining Venezuela’s opposition to the FTAA, Professor Roldan Tomasz Suarez said that “it an initiative of the government and enterprises of the United States of America, trying to incorporate our brothers of Latin America and the Caribbean, except Cuba. It wants to: liberalize the trade in industrial goods, deregulate services (finance; telecommunications; transforming, distribution and furnishing of electricity; education; health; use, administration and delivery of water, etc.), deregulation of investments, of government purchases and of intellectual property, among others, eliminating or reducing the interventions of the States(nations, provinces and municipalities) in such transactions. At the same time as it enables such liberalizations, it also impedes the free movement of workers and persons, as well as of agricultural goods and agroindustrials. It is a case basically of an association among unequals, given that the economy of the United States represents about 77% of the Gross Product of the American hemisphere and there will not exist any special treatment and differentiation for countries of less relative economic development.”


The main workers’ organisations, the Bolivarian Workers’ Force and the National Union of Workers, intend to organise more forums throughout the country. The conference also called for more permanent meeting places where problems could be confronted, passed a vote of confidence in President Hugo Chavez and the whole negotiating team on FTAA at the meeting in Monterrey. Thanks to John Manning for translating the press release on which this report is based.

  I nternational Criminal Court to Get Evidence of Illegality of Iraq War

A strong case arguing the illegality of the invasion of Iraq will be handed soon to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The report prepared by eight leading international lawyers and professors  of law drawn from four countries makes a strong case against the illegality of the way British and U.S. troops fought the war.

Read more here

Metric Martyr Neil Herron has contacted us to ask us to inform our readers that “BBC Radio 5 Live is having an online poll on which law to repeal.  On the list is the 1972 European Communities Act which means European law now takes precedence over UK law (exposed in the clearest terms by the Metric Martyrs Judgment at the Court of Appeal in 2002)  Please help raise the awareness of the issue and help initiate the debate by clicking on the link below and registering your vote for the law which you would like to see repealed.” The link in question is here


Heather Wokusch, who writes regularly for Spectre, has an article in a recent edition of the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “Bushwhacking Mother Nature: US Environmental Destruction Abroad” can be read in translation on her own site here

Green Left Weekly, Australia’s socialist newspaper, issue #567, January 21, 2004, now available via the Internet. Includes a look at the latest developments over Iraq, including the recent publication of Ron Suskind's book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, which, says GLW, “has once again stoked the controversy surrounding the pre-war justification given by President Bush for the invasion of Iraq. Suskind has provided more evidence that the fake excuse used by the White House to justify the war, Saddam Hussein's "huge arsenal" of weapons of mass destruction, was not just a mistake based on flawed intelligence information, but a deliberate deceit.” Also, John Pilger  on  “IRAQ: What they don't want you to know” here


The War is still with us…and even more with the war's many targets and victims: Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians under Israeli occupation, immigrants and others under threat of repression in the States and elsewhere.  So the fact that February War Times/Tiempo de Guerras will come off the press next week, offering a free tool for peace activism in the US. Articles in this issue will include a report about military families who oppose the Bush "war on terrorism",  Israeli journalist Uri Avnery looking at the future of Ariel Sharon's attack on the Palestinians, news from campaigns in cities around the country against the Patriot Act, and Medea Benjamin on "Ten Good Things about 2003". To request free bundles for distribution in your area (in multiples of 25, please), contact distribution@war-times.com. Tell them how many you want and where to send them.

Books for a Better World is run by Mike Palecek, former federal prisoner for peace, congressional candidate, newspaper reporter. Leading left activist and historian Howard Zinn said of Mike’s work that it serves "... to inspire us all, because it looks beyond the false gods of our time, the ruthless political leaders, the timid intellectuals, the stars of People magazine, and tells the story of the bravest people in America". Sounds good. Find out more here


Update on another political prisoner, Richard Flood  Following our publication of Victor Wallis’s letter on this last week, Victor writes with two pieces of good news: that Richard expects to be released in April, and that “the rules on sending literature are now less restrictive; at his present address, people can send him literature directly (I have done so, and it went through}” See our letters page for details of Richard Flood’s address.