Libya and China’s pragmatism

Despite an attributed commitment to ‘non-interference’ in other countries, China is now well recognised for its pragmatism when it comes to international affairs. Libya is a case in point. China had substantive investments in Libya and good relations with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime when the rebellion against it began this year. Nonetheless, amid international outrage at the regime’s attacks on civilians, China stood aside at the UN Security Council vote in February on resolution 1973. The resolution also imposed an arms embargo on Libya. NATO adopted resolution 1973 as the mandate for its military intervention in Libya. H owever China also stridently criticised the NATO air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces. As the opposition showed itself to be a credible challenge to the regime, Beijing began reaching out. In early June the regime’s Foreign Minister Abdelati al-Obeidi was welcomed to Beijing. Barely two weeks later, so was the opposition’s top foreign affairs official, Mahmud Jibril. On June 22, China recognized the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as "an important dialogue partner." At the same time, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said: "China is not seeking any private interest on the Libyan issue. China believes the Libyan issue is essentially Libyan internal issue. " Stressing "the future of Libya should be left to be decided by Libyan people," he urged the two sides in the Libyan conflicts to "truly give peace a chance," saying "this will work for the fundamental interests of the Libyan people." However, as recently as late July, despite the UN arms embargo, Chinese arms firms were discussing weapons sales worth $200 million to the regime’s beleaguered forces. They include pistols, missiles and rocket launchers. See The Telegraph’s report here .

Sri Lanka replaces lifted powers for military

Sri Lanka's military dominates life in the Tamil areas of the island. The government on Wednesday restored draconian powers lifted amid much publicity last week. Photo AFP. Sri Lanka put in place tough new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, even as the near identitical Emergency Regulations ended. The new laws have been introduced under the PTA, allowing the authorities to maintain the militarised high-security zones in the Tamil parts of island. High security zones (HSZ) are swathes of residential areas occupied by the military during past offensives and converted into...

Of two African powers …

Whilst South Africa came into unexpected and ungainly confrontation with Western states over Libya this week, the other African power, Nigeria, has deftly come off the sidelines and joined the international action. Whilst South Africa is baulking at recognising the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s authority, Nigeria moved swiftly to do so on Tuesday – just as the rebels overran Gaddafi’s base-complex in Tripoli.

Rahul Gandhi: anti-corruption campaign undermines democracy

Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and widely seen as a prime minister-in-waiting, said Friday that a popular anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by activist Anna Hazare was “a dangerous precedent for a democracy.” See AFP's report here . Hazare’s fast for a strong anti-corruption law is in its eleventh day and millions across India have rallied to the cause in huge protests. It was Gandhi's first public statement on an issue that has snowballed into a full-blown crisis for the government. "A process divorced from the machinery of an elected government, that seeks to undo checks and balances created to protect the supremacy of parliament, sets a dangerous precedent for our democracy," he said. Gandhi also said he had "serious doubts" about the idea that a single piece of legislation would eradicate the corruption that permeates all levels of Indian society. The dispute, however, is over the terms of an anti-corruption law presently before parliament that would create a new ombudsman. The BBC summarised some of the differences thus: Mr Hazare says ombudsman should have power to investigate prime minister and senior judges; the government refuses. Mr Hazare wants the ombudsman to be able to investigate MPs accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in parliament; the government says such probes should be carried out by MPs. In recent days, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who sat beside Gandhi as he spoke, has sought to reach out to Hazare with a series of conciliatory gestures aimed at bringing the hunger strike to an end. But at the beginning of his campaign, the government had taken a tough line, initially arresting Hazare and several thousand of his supporters in a move widely criticised as repressive and short-sighted. Meanwhile, three top Indian industrialists have expressed concern over the impact worsening corruption has on their businesses.

Libya’s rebels sweep into Tripoli

Libya’s rebels took control of most of Tripoli in a lightning advance Sunday, celebrating the victory in the city’s symbolic Green Square, as Muammar Gaddafi’s defences collapsed with little resistance. The rebels were welcomed by thousands of jubilant civilians who rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with fighters, who linked up with comrades said to have infiltrated the city in recent days.

Renewed calls against death sentences in Rajiv Gandhi case

Human rights groups and others are again calling for the death sentences passed on three Tamils for their alleged involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to be commuted. The renewed calls come after Indian President Pratibja Patil's recent rejection of their clemency pleas paved the way for their executions. Rajiv Ghandi was assassinated in 1991 by a female suicide bomber said to be from the LTTE. The three Tamils currently facing execution - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan (known by single names) - were amongst 26 people sentenced to death by a special court in 1998 for their alleged involvement. Following an appeal the Supreme Court ruled that 19 were freed, having served their sentence, three were commuted to life sentences and only four of the death sentences were to be upheld - the three afore mentioned and Nalini, Murugan's wife. The sentencing occurred under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA). Amnesty International argues the law “ contained provisions that were incompatible with international standards for fair trial .” Human rights groups and activists have long also criticised the original trial and investigation as deeply flawed , highlighting the use of torture to elicit confessions. This week Amnesty International called for the death sentences to be commuted and urged fellow activists and supporters to take urgent action. (See statement here ). “ Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. “ The eleven-year delay in announcing the verdict of the mercy petition and the resultant stay on death row may further amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. “ The Supreme Court of India has itself commuted death sentences in a number of cases due to prolonged delay in deciding mercy petitions. ” Last week The Hindu newspaper, a strident critic of the LTTE, also joined the protests. In an editorial titled 'No to Death Penalty', the paper argued (see full text here ): " India must make a clean break with a savage tradition by abolishing capital punishment. An immediate moratorium on executions should be the first step. " "Internationally, there is an increasing trend towards abolition, with 96 countries doing away with it and 34 countries being abolitionist in practice by observing official or unofficial moratoria on executions. Each of the three UN resolutions calling for a moratorium has seen more countries backing it ". Several parties in Tamil Nadu have also called for the commuting of the death sentences issued.

US backs action on UN report on Sudan atrocities

The United States has urged Sudan to implement recommendations outlined in a UN report which found credible allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in the South Kordofan region. The report, by UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay, has been blasted by Sudan who described the UN report as "unfounded" and "malicious", yet conversely said that it would form its own committee to assess the situation in the area. The move comes as efforts by the United States for a UN Security Council statement were stalled by Russia and China. The disagreements are said to be over the “precise language” and not “on the need for a council statement”. While Sudan has agreed to let UN relief agencies into the region, the regime still refuses to allow an investigation by the UN into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Pressure mounts The statement by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, US Permanent Representative to the UN said that the United States was “deeply disturbed” by the report. She added: “We strongly support Commissioner [Navi] Pillay’s recommendations, including immediate, unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and ongoing human rights monitoring as well as for an independent inquiry to hold perpetrators of violence to account. We urge all members of the UN Security Council to join us in pressing for implementation of these recommendations.” The call for an investigation comes as a report by the Satellite Sentinel Project , has uncovered evidence of more mass graves in South Kordofan.

India’s anti-corruption revolutionary

A 74 year old social activist from the western Indian state of Maharashtra has shot to global fame this week as the leader and icon of India’s anti corruption crusade. Anna Hazare’s demand for a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman – or Lokpal – has drawn stunning popular support across India. It has also brought him into confrontation with the India’s government. But what could the objection be? The tussle is over the extent of the Lokpal’s reach. While the Congress government wants to keep the Prime Minister’s office and the Judiciary outside the purview of the Lokpal legislation, Hazare and an array of anti corruption activists insist that these powerful bodies must also be included.

Speculations as drilling begins in Mannar

Cairn Lanka, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cairn India, has begun drilling in one of eight blocks in the Mannar Basin off the island’s north-western coast. Sri Lanka’s government claims that seismic data shows potential for more than 1 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mannar. By way of comparison, Sudan’s proven oil reserves of 6 billion barrels (0.5% of world reserves). Of the eight blocks, two have been granted to China and India. Russia’s largest oil company, Gazprom, has also indicated an interest, as has Malaysia’s Petronas. Economic development minister Basil Rajapakse says that if oil is found, Sri Lanka would no longer be dependent on imports from other countries. Bizarrely, he also warned that some western countries may pose a threat to Sri Lanka, like they have done in the Middle East, if Sri Lanka is successful. Perhaps he’s forgotten that Cairn Energy, which owns half of spin off Cairn India, is a British company, which has been trying for over year to off load Cairn India to the Indian company metals and mining giant Vendanta . Both Cairn Energy and Vendata are in the FTSE-100 index of the London Stock Exchange. Meanwhile, Cairn Lanka has been exempted from taxes and import duties until 2016. The decision was introduced by Basil Rajapakse and passed in parliament with 58 votes against four. Exemptions on taxes include all capital goods imported by Cairn Lanka and its sub-contractors, including equipment, machinery and required supplies and consumables. Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader Anura Dissanayake claims that the exceptions mean that if oil is found, Sri Lanka would only receive 10% of the profit, compared to the 38% without the concessions.

The potential of America's 'Atrocities Prevention Board'

Welcoming the Obama administration’s launch of a new inter-agency body – the Atrocities Prevention Board – and other measures to enhance US responsiveness to the threat of mass atrocities and genocide , the Council on Foreign Relations this week put forward an analysis of its key benefits, as well as potential obstacles to the new doctrine. The Council on Foreign Relations is one of the most influential foreign policy think-tanks in the US.