President Vladimir Putin has said that sanctions against Russia directly violate World Trade Organization (WTO) principles, and that Russia will continue to defend its economy with protective measures.
The sanctions violate the main principles of equal access for all WTO members to economic activity and access to goods and services in the market, Putin said at a meeting with advisers in the Kremlin on Thursday.
“The limitations introduced against our country are nothing but a violation by some of our partners of the basic principles of the WTO,” the President said, adding that sanctions “undermine free enterprise competition.”
On September 12, the US and EU expanded sanctions against Russia aimed at hurting Russia’s main industry – oil. The US and EU have led sanctions against Russia, along with Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and others over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the Ukraine conflict.
The best way for Russia to counter these unfair advantages is to develop its domestic market, the President said.
“In response, we took protective measures, and I would like to stress that they are protective; they are not the result of our desire to punish any of our partners or influence their decision in any way.”
Russia introduced protective measures over food supplies on August 7 in response to Western sanctions. The Kremlin and White House sanctions tit-for-tat has been escalating since March, when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia.
The food ban is due to only last a year, but at today’s meeting the President said that Russia needs to focus on increasing its market competitiveness over the next eighteen months to two years.
One of Russia’s main competitive advantages is its huge domestic market, and it should be filled with more Russian-made products, Putin said.
The President said that Russia’s decision to join the WTO in 2012 was a difficult transition for the country, but that it raised economic standards.
At the meeting President Putin laid out a list of economic priorities for the Russian state. At the top are developing the infrastructure, boosting lending, continuing to develop the agricultural and technology sectors, and increasing overall competition.
Russia joined the WTO in 2012 after nearly two decades of back and forth negotiations on the conditions for entry.
A top European court has struck down restrictions imposed by the European Union against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) on an alleged charge of circumventing US-led sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In a judgment on Thursday, the Luxembourg-based EU’s Court of Justice said it “annuls… the EU March 23, 2012 [ruling] concerning restrictive measures against Iran in so far as it listed Central Bank of Iran.”
“The reasons relied on are so vague and lacking in detail that the only possible response was in the form of a general denial,” the court ruled on Thursday, adding that “those reasons therefore do not comply with the requirements of the case-law.”
It said the charge leveled against the CBI is “insufficient in the sense that it does not enable either the applicant or the Court to understand the circumstances which led the [European] Council to consider…to adopt the contested act.”
The court also ordered the 28-nation European bloc to “bear one half of its own costs and to pay one half of the costs of Central Bank of Iran.”
At the beginning of 2012, the US and EU imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.
On October 15, 2012, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany reached an interim deal in the Swiss city of Geneva last November, according to which the six countries accepted to ease sanctions against Iran in return for the Islamic Republic limiting certain aspects of its nuclear activities. The deal came into effect on January 20 and expired on July 20. The two sides then agreed to extend the duration of the agreement until November 24.
The two sides are scheduled to resume talks on Friday to discuss removal of sanctions against Tehran.
Ukraine and the EU parliaments simultaneously ratified the economic and political parts of the Association Agreement that will strengthen ties between Kiev and Brussels. Economic integration is postponed until the end of 2015.
The document was approved at 1:00pm in Kiev and there was a synchronous signing session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Ukraine’s Rada voted 355 votes in favor out of 381 total, and the European Parliament supported the ratification with 535 ‘yes’ votes and 127 against, with 26 abstaining.
“From tomorrow I task the government with approving the implementation of the agreement and immediately implementing it into the force of law,” President Petro Poroshenko said at the ratification in Kiev. Poroshenko said he hopes the agreement will help Ukraine reform its economy and fight corruption, and that someday Ukraine hopes to apply for EU membership.
Ukraine “has embarked on the European path and nobody will are to shut the door to the EU membership for Ukraine,” the President said, as quoted by ITAR-ITASS.
Free trade with Europe’s $13 trillion economy will be postponed until January 2016, due to the weak state of Ukraine’s economy which would make it vulnerable to a sudden influx of European goods. Ukraine will continue duty-free trade with Russia and other CIS states until December 31, 2015, and on January 1, 2016 will begin economic integration with the EU.
Ukraine will still have the benefit of sending exports to Europe under a preferential trade code, but duty- free trade will not come into effect until 2016, protecting both Kiev and Moscow from economic risk.
In 2013, Ukraine exported goods worth $16 billion to Russia, nearly 25 percent of all total exports. In comparison, Ukraine exported $17 billion to Europe in the same 12-month period.
Since the political tension has intensified between the two, both have been cutting back on imports. In the first seven months of 2014, Russia reduced Ukrainian imports by 23.7 percent down to $6.7 billion, according to Russia’s Statistics Bureau. At the same time, Ukraine has been decreasing goods bought from Russia, which have fallen 20.7 percent to $9 billion. The lack of cooperative trade between the two has left a negative balance of trade of $2.3 billion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has estimated that nixing duty-free trade with Russia and switching over to the European system will cost Ukraine €165 billion over the next 10 years.
During trilateral talks in Brussels on Friday, Ukraine, Russia, and the EU agreed Ukraine’s integration into Europe’s trade orbit will begin on January 1, 2016.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the economic (the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, or DCFTA) part of the Association Agreement with the EU along with ex-Soviet nations Georgia and Moldova on June 27.
Ukraine signed the political part of the agreement on March 21, shortly after Crimea rejoined Russia.
The Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) will replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement Ukraine signed with the EU in 1998.
A senior European Union official has revealed that some EU member states have purchased oil from ISIL Takfiri militants despite their rhetoric against the group.
In a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana Hybas-kova said some European countries have purchased crude from the ISIL.
She, however, refused to disclose any names despite pressure by some Parliament members to do so.
The EU official also warned against any support by the West for separatist Kurdish groups who, she said, would destabilize the Middle East.
Earlier reports accused Turkey of buying and transporting oil from both the ISIL and Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. According to the reports, Western intelligence agencies could track ISIL oil shipments as they moved across Iraq and Turkey.
ISIL reportedly controls eleven oil fields in northern Iraq as well as Syria’s Raqqa province.
US intelligence officials estimate that the Takfiri militants earn more than USD 3 million a day from oil profit, theft, human trafficking and ransom. They say the militants sell oil and other products via established networks in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Turkey has denied reports of involvement in ISIL’s oil smuggling operations.
Global Information Society Watch | September 2014
Years before Edward Snowden leaked his first document, human rights lawyers and activists have been concerned about a dramatic expansion in law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies’ efforts to spy on the digital world. It had become evident that legal protections had not kept pace with technological – that the state’s practical ability to spy on the world had developed in a way that permitted it to bypass the functional limits that have historically checked its ability to spy. These concerns culminated in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, a set of principles intended to guide policymakers, activists and judges to better understand how new surveillance technologies have been eating away at our fundamental freedoms and how we might bring state spying back in line with human rights standards.
Over a year and a half in the making, the final version of the Principles appeared on July 20, 2013, the first weeks of what we might call the Snowden era. An updated version was issued in May 2014. The Snowden revelations, once they started rolling in, affirmed the worst of our concerns. Intelligence services as well as law enforcement had taken it upon themselves to spy on us all, with little consideration for the societal effects. Lawmakers and even the executive had little comprehension of the capabilities of their own spymasters, and how our digital networks were being turned against all individuals everywhere. The need for the Principles was confirmed in spades, but the long and difficult job of applying them to existing practices was just beginning.
Since then, the Principles have, we hope, been a lodestar for those seeking solutions to the stark reality exposed by Snowden: that, slipping through the cracks of technological developments and outdated legal protections, our governments have adopted practices of mass surveillance that render many of our most fundamental rights effectively meaningless. The Principles have been signed by over 470 organizations and individual experts, by over 350,000 individuals throughout the world, and endorsed by the United Kingdom’s Liberal Democratic Conference, as well as European, Canadian, and German parliamentarians.The Principles have played a central guiding role in a number of the rigorous debates on the need to limit states’ increasingly expansive surveillance capacities. Their impact is already evident in, for example, the United States’ President Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report and the the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recent report on the right to privacy in the digital age. Their influence has also manifested in some of the administrative, legislative and administrative attempts to address surveillance problems post-Snowden. Perhaps most importantly, they have functioned as a rallying point for campaigning and advocacy initiatives around the world.
Below, we spell out some of the key features of the Principles. A more detailed explanation of the legal grounding for our conclusions in human rights jurisprudence can be found in a Legal Analysis and Background Materials document generated in support of the Principles.
Core Definitions in International Human Rights Law
The Principles begin with defining two core concepts that spell out the “what” and the “how” of measured surveillance. The first concept focuses on the type of data to be protected, while the second one ensures that a broad range of surveillance activity constitutes an interference with privacy rights. Outdated definitions of these two terms have led to expansive surveillance practices, as wide swaths of sensitive data or surveillance activities have been deemed outside the scope of legal protections. These definitional changes are designed to re-focus privacy protections away from artificial examinations of the kind of data or method of interference, and back on the ultimate effect on the privacy of the individual.
The Principles make clear that it’s time to move beyond the fallacy that information about communications does not pose as serious a threat to privacy as the content of communications. Information about communications, also called metadata, subscriber information or non-content data, can include the location of your cell phone, clickstream data, search logs, or anonymous online activity. Individually, these can be just as invasive as reading your email or listening to your phone calls. When combined and analyzed en masse, the picture painted by such data points can be far more revealing than the content of the communications they accompany. In spite of this reality, pre-Internet age (in fact, postal service-based!) legal conceptions have persisted in some legal systems, offering less or, in some instances, no protection at all to information that is not classified as ‘content’. What is important is not the kind of data is collected, but its effect on the privacy of the individual.
As explained in Legal Analysis and Background Materials which have been prepared for the Principles:
“The Principles use the term “protected information” to refer to information (including data) that ought to be fully and robustly protected, even if the information is not currently protected by law, is only partially protected by law, or is accorded lower levels of protection. The intention, however, is not to make a new category that itself will grow stale over time, but rather to ensure that the focus is and remains the capability of the information, alone or when combined with other information, to reveal private facts about a person or her correspondents. As such, the Principles adopt a singular and all-encompassing definition that includes any information relating to a person’s communications that is not readily available to the general public.”
This concern has been addressed by the latest report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who made clear that:
“From the perspective of the right to privacy, this distinction between [content and metadata] is not persuasive. The aggregation of information commonly referred to as “metadata” may give an insight into an individual’s behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity that go beyond even that conveyed by accessing the content of a private communication.”
Given the revealing nature of metadata and content alike, states should be restrained from unchecked interference with any protected information: from revealing a speaker’s identity if it is not public; from wantonly vacuuming up the websites or social media one has visited; from stockpiling information on all the people one has communicated with; and tracking the ‘when’, ‘from where’, and ‘for how long’ of all our digital activities. In the pre-Internet age, the much more limited amount and kind of “metadata” available to law enforcement was treated as less sensitive than content, but given current communications surveillance capabilities, this can no longer be the case.
Communication Surveillance: Much of the expansive state surveillance practices confirmed during the past year depend on confusion over whether actual “surveillance” has occurred and thus whether human rights obligations even apply. Some have suggested that if information is merely collected and kept but not looked at by humans, no privacy invasion has occurred. Others argue that computers analysing all communications in real-time for key words and other selectors does not amount to “surveillance” for purposes of triggering legal privacy protections. Still others seek to reduce privacy protections to ‘harmful uses’ of information. Such legal variations can mean the difference between reasonable and carefully targeted investigations and a surveillance state built on the continuous mass surveillance of everyone.
In the digital age, where the most sensitive portions of our lives are constantly communicated over digital networks, it has never been more important to ensure the integrity of our communications. It means little whether the interference takes the form of real-time monitoring of Internet transmission, hacking into individuals’ mobile devices, or mass harvesting of stored data from third party providers. The mere recording of Internet transactions – even if ultimately unviewed – can have serious chilling effects on the use of our most vital interactive medium. We have to ensure that all acts of communications surveillance are within the scope of human rights protections and, hence, are “necessary and proportionate”.
On this front, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report, made clear that:
“any capture of communications data is potentially an interference with privacy and, further, that the collection and retention of communications data amounts to an interference with privacy whether or not those data are subsequently consulted or used. Even the mere possibility of communications information being captured creates an interference with privacy, with a potential chilling effect on rights, including those to free expression and association.”
To remedy this issue, the Principles define “communications surveillance” as encompassing the monitoring, interception, collection, analysis, use, preservation and retention of, interference with, or access to information that includes, reflects, or arises from or a person’s communications in the past, present or future.
Scope of Application
The Principles also address a long-standing problem arising from narrow interpretations adopted by some states regarding the extraterritorial application of their human rights obligations. Some have argued that the obligation to respect privacy and other human rights of individuals effectively stops at their national borders. In a world of highly integrated digital networks, where individual interactions and data routes defy any semblance of territorial correspondence, such distinctions are meaningless. The Principles therefore apply to surveillance conducted within a state or extraterritorially, and regardless of the purpose for the surveillance – including enforcing law, protecting national security, gathering intelligence, or another governmental function.
The OHCHR’s report explicitly underscores the principle of non-discrimination:
“Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law” and, further, that “in this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In this regard, the OHCHR’s report has underscored its importance:
“measures to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity regardless of the nationality or location of individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance.”
The 13 Principles
The substantive Principles are firmly rooted in well-established human rights law. Generally, any limits on human rights should be necessary, proportionate and for a set of permissible purposes. These limits must be set out in law, and cannot be arbitrary.
Under international human rights law, each right are divided in two parts. The first paragraph sets out the core of the right, while the second paragraph sets out the circumstances in which that right may be restricted or limited. This second paragraph is usually called the “permissible limitations” test.
Regarding the right to privacy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have stated that the “permissible limitations” test under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among other articles are equally applicable to Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
The OHCHR report has neatly summarized these obligations with respect ot Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy rights
“To begin with, any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be provided for by law, and the law must be sufficiently accessible, clear and precise so that an individual may look to the law and ascertain who is authorized to conduct data surveillance and under what circumstances. The limitation must be necessary for reaching a legitimate aim, as well as in proportion to the aim and the least intrusive option available…Any limitation placed on the right (an interference with privacy, for example, for the purposes of protecting national security or the right to life of others) must be shown to have some chance of achieving that goal. The onus is on the authorities seeking to limit the right to show that the limitation is connected to a legitimate aim. Furthermore, any limitation to the right to privacy must not render the essence of the right meaningless and must be consistent with other human rights, including the prohibition of discrimination. Where the limitation does not meet these criteria, the limitation would be unlawful and/or the interference with the right to privacy would be arbitrary.”
Legality – No Secret Laws: The principle of legality is a fundamental aspect of all international human rights instruments and the rule of law. It is a basic guarantee against the state’s arbitrary exercise of its powers. For this reason, any restriction on human rights must be prescribed by law. The meaning of “law” implies certain minimum qualitative requirements of clarity, accessibility, and predictability. Laws limiting human rights cannot be secret or vague enough to permit arbitrary interference.
On that front, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights made clear that:
“To begin with, any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be provided for by law, and the law must be sufficiently accessible, clear and precise so that an individual may look to the law and ascertain who is authorized to conduct data surveillance and under what circumstances.”
The need to meaningfully and publicly explain rights-infringing practices—while important in all contexts—is key to any effective check on communications surveillance as such practices tend to be surreptitious and difficult to uncover. Given the highly technical and rapidly evolving nature of communications surveillance, it is also incumbent that laws are interpreted publicly and not through secret processes effectively free from public scrutiny. The state must not adopt or implement a surveillance practice without public law defining its limits. Moreover, the law must meet a standard of clarity and precision that is sufficient to ensure that individuals have advance notice of, and can foresee, its application. When citizens are unaware of a law, its interpretation, or the scope of its application, it is effectively secret. A secret law is not a legal limit on human rights.
In her landmark report Pillay made clear that:
“Secret rules and secret interpretations even secret judicial interpretations of law do not have the necessary qualities of “law”. Neither do laws or rules that give the executive authorities, such as security and intelligence services, excessive discretion; the scope and manner of exercise of authoritative discretion granted must be indicated (in the law itself, or in binding, published guidelines) with reasonable clarity. A law that is accessible, but that does not have foreseeable effects, will not be adequate. The secret nature of specific surveillance powers brings with it a greater risk of arbitrary exercise of discretion which, in turn, demands greater precision in the rule governing the exercise of discretion, and additional oversight.”
Laws should only permit communications surveillance by specified State authorities to achieve a Legitimate Aim that corresponds to a predominantly important legal interest that is necessary in a democratic society.
Under international human rights law, any restriction on our fundamental freedoms must generally pursue a permissible purpose or “legitimate aim.” These purposes or aims are often enumerated within the Article itself. The Principles therefore require that communications surveillance only be undertaken in pursuit of a predominantly important legal interest. Such interests have been described by Germany’s highest court as “the life, limb and freedom of the individual or such interests of the public a threat to which affects the basis or continued existence of the state or the basis of human existence.”
Regarding the right to privacy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have stated that the “permissible limitations” test under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among other articles are equally applicable to Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.
The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has similarly affirmed, in its 2014 Report, that “any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be necessary for reaching a legitimate aim”. The Report elaborates:
“Surveillance on the grounds of national security or for the prevention of terrorism or other crime may be a “legitimate aim” for purposes of an assessment from the viewpoint of article 17 of the Covenant. The degree of interference must, however, be assessed against the necessity of the measure to achieve that aim and the actual benefit it yields towards such a purpose.”
Finally, communications surveillance cannot be employed in a manner that discriminates on the basis of grounds such as race, colour, sex, language religion or national origin, as such discrimination constitutes an illegitimate purpose.
Necessity, Adequacy and Proportionality
International human rights law makes clear that any interference with our fundamental freedoms must be “necessary in a democratic society”. In its General Comments No. 27, the Human Rights Committee clearly indicates that it is not sufficient that such restrictions serve a legitimate aim, they must also be necessary to it. Restrictive measures must also be adequate or appropriate to achieving their protective function. They must also be the least intrusive options amongst those which might be expected to achieve the desired result, and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected. Finally, any restrictive measure which undermines the essence or core of a right is inherently disproportionate and a violation of that right.
Applying these foundational principles to the context of communications surveillance, the Principles affirm that:
Necessity: Often, a surveillance objective might be achieved using far less intrusive mechanisms. While it is by no means necessary to exhaust other options, it should be recognized the communications surveillance is inherently invasive and should not be a tool of first recourse.
Adequacy: It is not sufficient to show that a given surveillance practice is necessary for achieving a given objective, it must also be adequate and appropriate to it. As noted by the High Commissioner, at minimum, communications surveillance which interferes with privacy “must be shown to have some chance of achieving [its] goal.”
Proportionality: Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that interferes with human rights and poses a threat to the foundations of a democratic society. Communications surveillance for investigative purposes, in particular, should only occur once the state has convinced an objective third party – a judge – that a serious threat to a legitimate interest exists and that the communications mechanism in question will yield information that will assist with that serious threat.
No voluntary cooperation:
Current digital networks and interactions entrust vast amounts of personal and sensitive data in the hands of a wide range of third party intermediaries, including ISPs, email providers, hosting companies and others. Through their discretionary decisions to comply (or not) with state surveillance requests, these intermediaries can dramatically impact on the privacy rights of all. Such voluntary sharing bypasses due process and poses a serious threat to the rule of law. The Necessary and Proportionate principles therefore prohibit any state communications surveillance activities in the absence of judicial authorization.
Contrary to many official statements, the modern reality is that state intelligence agencies are involved in a much broader scope of activities than simply those related to national security or counterterrorism. The Necessary and Proportionate Principles state that communications surveillance (including the collection of information or any interference with access to our data) must be proportionate to the objective they are intended to address. And equally importantly, even where surveillance is justified by one agency for one purpose, the Principles prohibit the unrestricted reuse of this information by other agencies for other purposes.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report also emphasized that point:
“The report explained that the absence of effective use limitations has been exacerbated since September 11, 2001, with the line between criminal justice and protection of national security blurring significantly. The resultant sharing of data between law enforcement agencies, intelligence bodies and other State organs risks violating Article 17 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because surveillance measures that may be necessary and proportionate for one legitimate aim may not be so for the purposes of another.”
Integrity of Communications And Systems:
No law should impose security holes in our technology in order to facilitate surveillance. Undermining the security of hundreds of millions of innocent people in order to ensure surveillance capabilities against the very few bad guys is both overbroad and short-sighted, not least because malicious actors can use these exploits as readily as state agents. The assumption underlying such provisions—that no communication can be truly secure—is inherently dangerous, akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It must be rejected.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report supports that conclusion, stating that:
“The enactment of statutory requirements for companies to make their networks “wiretap-ready” is a particular concern, not least because it creates an environment that facilitates sweeping surveillance measures.”
Notification And Right To An Effective Remedy
Notification must be the norm, not the exception. Individuals should be notified that access to their communications has been authorized with enough time and information to enable them to appeal the decision, except when doing so would endanger the investigation at issue. Individuals should also have access to the materials presented in support of the application for authorisation. The notification principle has become essential in fighting illegal or overreaching surveillance. Any delay in notification has to be based upon a showing to a court, and tied to an actual danger to the investigation at issue or harm to a person.
Before the internet, the police would knock on a suspect’s door, show their warrant, and provide the individual a reason for entering the suspect’s home. The person searched could watch the search occur and see whether the information gathered went beyond the scope of the warrant. Electronic surveillance, however, is much more surreptitious. Data can be intercepted or acquired directly from a third party such as Facebook or Twitter without the individual knowing. Therefore, it is often impossible to know that one has been under surveillance, unless the evidence leads to criminal charges. As a result the innocent are the least likely to discover their privacy has been invaded. Indeed, new technologies have even enabled covert remote searches of personal computers and other devices. Any delay in notification has to be based upon a showing to a court, and tied to an actual danger to the investigation at issue or harm to a person.
The OHCHR report lays out four characteristics that effective remedies for surveillance-related privacy violations must display:
“Effective remedies for violations of privacy through digital surveillance can thus come in a variety of judicial, legislative or administrative forms. Effective remedies typically share certain characteristics. First, those remedies must be known and accessible to anyone with an arguable claim that their rights have been violated. Notice (that either a general surveillance regime or specific surveillance measures are in place) and standing (to challenge such measures) thus become critical issues in determining access to effective remedy. States take different approaches to notification: while some require post facto notification of surveillance targets, once investigations have concluded, many regimes do not provide for notification. Some may also formally require such notification in criminal cases ; however , in practice , this structure appears to be regularly ignored.”
The 2014 OHCHR report continues, stressing the importance of a “prompt, thorough and impartial investigation”; a need for remedies to actually be “capable of ending ongoing violations”; and noting that “where human rights violations rise to the level of gross violations…as criminal prosecution will be required”.
Safeguards for International Cooperation:
Privacy protections must be consistent across borders at home and abroad. Governments should not bypass national privacy protections by relying on secretive informal data sharing agreements with foreign states or private international companies. Individuals should not be denied privacy rights simply because they live in another country from the one that is surveilling them. Where data is flowing across borders, the law of the jurisdiction with the greatest privacy protections should apply.
More to Be Done: The Necessary and Proportionate Principles provide a basic framework for governments to ensure the rule of law, oversight and safeguards. They also call for accountability, with penalties for unlawful access and strong and effective protections for whistleblowers. They are starting to serve as a model for reform around the world and we urge governments, companies, NGOs and activists to use them to structure necessary change.
But while the Principles are aimed at governments, government action isn’t the only way to combat surveillance overreach. All of the communications companies, Internet and telecommunications alike, can help by securing their networks and limiting the information they collect and retain. Online service providers should collect the minimum amount of information for the minimum time that is necessary to perform their operations, and to effectively obfuscate, aggregate and delete unneeded user information. This helps them in their compliance burdens as well: if they collect less data, there is less data to hand over to the government. Strong encryption should be adopted throughout the entire communications chain and, where possible, for data in storage.
It’s clear that under the cloak of secrecy, malfunctioning oversight and the limited reach of outdated laws, the practice of digital surveillance in countries from the far north to the far south, have overrun the bounds of human rights standards. We all hope to see activists around the world showing exactly where a country has crossed the line, and how its own policymakers and the international community might rein it back. We must call for surveillance reform to ensure that our national surveillance laws and practices comply with human rights standards and to ensure cross-border privacy are in place and effectively enforced. Working together, legal plus technical efforts like deploying encryption, decentralization of services and limiting information collected, can serve as a foundation for a new era of private and secure digital communications.
- International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, updated July 2014 https://neccessaryandproportionate.org/text
- EFF, Article19: Legal Analysis and Background Materials: International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, May 2014 https://en.necessaryandproportionate.org/LegalAnalysis
- The Right to Privacy in the Digital Agehttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/DigitalAge/Pages/DigitalAgeIndex.aspx
- Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to privacy in the digital age
- Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2013. Annual Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/docs/reports/2014_04_22_%20IA_2013_ENG%20_FINALweb.pdf
- Human Rights Committee, General Comment 27, Freedom of movement (Art.12), U.N. Doc CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9 (1999).
- UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, A/HRC/13/37
- UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, A/HRC/23/40
When placed in the proper context, recent events in Ukraine emerge as part of a pattern of “silent coups” typical of the era of President Barack Obama in which “regime change” is disguised as “democracy promotion” but actually overturns democratically elected leaders.
The Ukrainian coup unfolded in three stages: the establishment of the justification for the coup, the coup itself, and the exploitation of the coup to move Ukraine into the American sphere. All three stages bear the Obama administration’s fingerprint of looking like democracy even as the democratic will of a population is negated and reversed.
These modern coups are unlike the classic military coups executed by earlier U.S. presidents, such as those that removed Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Allende in Chile in 1973. Nor are they like President George W. Bush’s “regime change” involving overt U.S. invasions. The Ukrainian coup was so disguised as to be unrecognizable as a coup. The Obama-era coups require no tanks and few guns. They usually don the trappings of “pro-democracy” domestic protests.
The first stage establishes the justification for the coup. It pretends to be the expression of the public will through mass democratic expression in the streets. But it actually amplifies the voice of a disaffected and defeated minority. This pattern under President Obama took shape in the streets of Tehran in 2009 after the people of Iran made the mistake of once again choosing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their president – not the choice America wanted, so the choice had to be changed.
Next, the complaints of the U.S.-desired but defeated Hossein Mousavi and his Green Movement were picked up and amplified by the West, claiming that the election had been fraudulent, justifying a popular uprising for “regime change.” Except that the result hadn’t been forced on the people.
Despite frequent promises to furnish evidence and despite frequent opportunities to do so, Mousavi never delivered the case for electoral theft. And, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself pointed out, this was no narrow victory where the rigging of a few votes or even a few hundred thousand votes could steal a victory. “How can they rig eleven million votes?” the Ayatollah asked of an election that got about an 85 percent turnout and saw 40 million people cast ballots.
But it is not just the titanic challenge of moving millions of votes from one side of the electoral ledger to the other. The polls, both before and after the election, continually showed that the votes were always there for Ahmadinejad. Former U.S. national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett have documented that 14 methodologically sound polls — run externally by experienced Canadian and American polling organizations and internally by the University of Tehran — demonstrated the predictability, reasonableness and legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s 62.5 percent vote total.
On election night, the University of Tehran’s polls showed Ahmadinejad vacuuming up 57 percent of the vote. In post-election polls, between 55 percent and 66 percent of voters said they had voted for Ahmadinejad (who had a strong base of support among poorer Iranians and especially among rural voters whose opinions were less noticeable to the Western press).
The Western refusal to recognize the democratically elected Ahmadinejad coupled with the credence and amplification that America gave to the exaggeratedly popular Green Movement created the umbrella under which Mousavi’s movement could take to the streets and attempt the removal of a regime unwanted by Washington.
Such a coup-in-disguise exploits one of the potential troubles with democracy. It is the nature of democracy that the majority of people, not the unanimity of people, get to select the government. Even if a government wins a convincing 62.5 percent of the vote, that leaves a sometimes dissatisfied 37.5 percent of the people to take to the streets.
In a large country like Iran, where 40 million people voted, that translates into 15 million people who can take to the streets. When picked up by a sympathetic Western media, protests by even a fraction of those numbers can create the appearance of a mass social movement that justifies supporting what appears to be a popular demand for a change in regime. A “pro-democracy” social movement is born.
In Iran, a group that could not change the government through the democratic electoral process appeared to make a strong “democratic” case to change the government through social pressure. A mass minority protesting in the streets produced a cry heard more loudly around the world than a silent majority in a secret polling booth. It was still the minority, but – in such cases – “democracy” can be wielded as a weapon against democracy. If you can’t bring about the government you want in the polls, bring it about in the streets.
This Iran experiment of legitimizing a coup by transforming the minority, which failed to democratically change the government at the polls, into a mass movement expressing the “public will” to change the government in the streets fell short of its goal although creating a widespread impression in the West that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was illegitimate.
Other ‘Silent Coup’ Attempts
Four years later, a similar silent coup attempt appeared in the streets of Venezuela. With the death of Hugo Chavez, America saw the opportunity for the first time since 1988 to have a leader elected in Venezuela who did not insist on his country’s autonomy from the U.S. But, to America’s dismay, the people voted to continue the Bolivarian Revolution by electing Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro.
The Western media lens immediately focused not on the election of Maduro and Chavez’s party but on the claims of fraud issued by Maduro’s opponent (and Washington’s choice) Henrique Capriles. Despite Maduro agreeing to an audit of the voting machines, despite Capriles never filing his legal charges, despite 150 electoral monitors from around the world – including the Carter Center – certifying the election as fair and despite recognition by every other country in the world, the U.S. State Department continued not to recognize the Maduro government and continued to call for a recount and review.
When Capriles called his democratically defeated supporters to the streets, the Western media lens, as in Iran four years earlier, focused on and amplified the protests. As with Iran, Washington’s refusal to recognize the elected government and the U.S. legitimization of the protests provided cover to the opposition while it attempted to overturn the election results and overthrow the elected government.
Once again, “democracy promotion” was wielded as a weapon against democracy. Yet, in Venezuela, the experiment failed again, as it may have in Turkey and Brazil where Washington also looked with disfavor on the election outcomes.
In Brazil, Lula da Silva won 61.3 percent of the vote in 2002 and 60.83 percent in 2006. In the most recent election, in 2010, Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, won a majority 56.05 percent of the vote. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, far from declining in popularity, had seen his government’s actions rewarded with increasing voter support: 34 percent in 2002, 46.66 percent in 2007 and 49.83 percent in 2011. Nevertheless, in both countries, the defeated minorities took to the streets to attempt what they could not achieve in the polls.
This silent coup technique would prove more successful in Egypt where the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi would be removed from office not by democracy and the ballot box but, at least in part, by the defeated minority walking out of the polls and into the streets. “Democracy promotion” protests in Cairo and elsewhere set the stage for Morsi’s ouster by the Egyptian military.
The Ukrainian ‘Success’
The first stage of the Ukrainian coup — the establishment of a justification for the coup — fits this same pattern. As Seamus Milne said in the Guardian, the protest in the streets of Ukraine was “played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government.” But, he adds: “it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality.”
Though President Viktor Yanukovych is often portrayed in the Western media as a dictator who was flown in by Russia, the man the protestors were trying to remove on the streets was elected in 2010 by a plurality of 48.9 percent of the people in elections declared fair by international observers.
So this was not a mass “pro-democracy” movement ousting an unelected dictator. As in Iran, Venezuela and Egypt, this was the case of the losers of the last election trying to reverse those results by going into the streets. But, to make the script work, Western governments and media alter the roles and turn the democratically elected president into the undemocratic one and the opposition into the democracy.
Thus, the West cooperated in the de-legitimization of the elected government of Ukraine and the legitimization of a coup. Such a silent coup is made to appear “democratic” by making it look like a heroic “peoples” movement arising spontaneously from the street.
Having legitimized the cause of the coup-makers, the second stage is the silent coup itself. In this stage, the silent coup is disguised as the shuffling of the legal and constitutional workings of a nation’s parliament. Once again, the coup is executed by wielding “democracy” as the chief weapon.
This aspect of the silent coup – making it appear as simply a discontented population leading to a dispute among constitutional institutions – was developed and perfected in Latin America. During Obama’s presidency, it first appeared in Honduras where democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was whisked out of the country in a kidnapping at gunpoint that was dressed up as a constitutional obligation because Zelaya had announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution (since the old one favored the privileged oligarchy).
The political establishment – hostile to Zelaya’s proposal – falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek reelection. The ability to stand for a second term would have been considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya.
The Honduran Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional; the military kidnapped Zelaya; and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president. In other words, it was a coup in constitutional disguise. As American diplomatic cables made clear, the U.S. State Department knew the change in regime was a coup cloaked in the costume of a constitutional act. (Nevertheless, the result of the coup was supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
The second appearance of this coup pattern occurred in Paraguay when the right-wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left-leaning Fernando Lugo in a replay of the parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, a coup was made to look like a constitutional transition.
The right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it. Embassy cables again show that the U.S. was prepared to permit this kind of coup.
The Ukrainian coup is the third incarnation of this pattern of silent coup during the Obama administration. The coup that removed Viktor Yanukovych was disguised to appear as the workings of parliamentary democracy (after street protests in Kiev – supported by U.S. officials – and violent clashes between police and demonstrators created a crisis atmosphere).
With the clashes growing more intense, the parliamentary process that removed the democratically elected leader of Ukraine had three phases. In Act I, after Yanukovych had reached an agreement guaranteed by three European nations to accept reduced powers and to call early elections so he could be voted out of office, government security forces withdrew from the streets leaving public buildings unguarded. That allowed protesters to take control.
In Act II, the opposition made sure that it had the numbers and the strength to take over the parliament by pouncing when, according to the UK Guardian, “many of the MPs for southern and eastern Ukraine were absent from the session. Instead they were at a pre-scheduled congress of regional politicians in Kharkiv” and by intimidating those who remained who were loyal to Yanukovych.
Journalist Robert Parry wrote that neo-Nazi right-wing protesters occupied the government buildings “and forced Yanukovych and many of his allies to flee for their lives.”
In Act III, political parties that held just a minority of the Ukrainian parliament — mostly from the west — dismissed Yanukovych, favorably altered the constitution and formed a new government and began passing new laws often unanimously under intimidation. Parry wrote that “With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws . . . as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene” – a coup in constitutional disguise.
So, what was really a coup was made to look, as in Honduras and Paraguay, like the legitimate democratic actions of the parliament.
Creating a Pretext
The original issue used as a pretext for the coup was Yanukovych’s abandonment of an economic alliance with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia. But polls clearly demonstrate that the numbers on each side of the choice paralleled the numbers in the 2010 election: a nearly even split. So, the side that took over in the streets and in the parliament was the same side that lost in the 2010 election and did not represent a democratic change of the people.
As in Honduras and Paraguay, the silent coup in parliamentary disguise was assisted by the West. The trigger for the coup was consistently presented in the West as Yanukovych simply abandoning the E.U. in favor of Russia. But the West pushed him into a situation that made the crisis inevitable.
According to Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, “it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected President of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, ‘You must choose between Europe and Russia’.” Cohen added that Washington and the E.U. rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of collaboration for the E.U., America and Russia all to help Ukraine without forcing it to choose.
Having said that Yanukovych must choose one or the other, the West then made it impossible for him to choose the West. Robert Parry reported that the E.U. was “demanding substantial economic ‘reforms,’ including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund.” Russia, however, offered $15 billion in loans without such demands.
And in addition to the austerity measures, Cohen added that the E.U. proposal also “included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies.”
In effect, the West forced Yanukovych to choose Russia, thus setting the stage for the violent protests in the street. The U.S. government then protected and nurtured those protests. Both Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland publicly endorsed and supported the protesters’ undemocratic demand for regime change.
Washington then provided cover and legitimacy to the violent movement in the street by condemning not the protesters’ fire bombs and other acts of violence but the police response. And America did more than rhetorically support the protest: it helped finance the disruptions.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to, according to Robert Parry, “promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states.” Allen Weinstein, its original project director, said in 1991 that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the C.I.A.”
Parry reported that the U.S.-government-funded NED listed a staggering 65 projects that it funded inside Ukraine, creating “a shadow political structure of media and activist groups that could be deployed to stir up unrest when the Ukrainian government didn’t act as desired.” (In a September 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post, NED President Carl Gershman had referred to Ukraine as “the biggest prize.”)
In other words, NED money financed projects that helped drive the coup, but there was apparently much more U.S. money than what NED supplied. In December 2013, Victoria Nuland told an audience at the Ukraine Foundation Conference that the U.S. had invested over $5 billion in a “democratic Ukraine.”
But Nuland said more than that. She accidentally revealed the American handwriting on the Ukrainian coup script. In an intercepted phone call that was made public, she was caught plotting who the Americans wanted to be the winner of the regime change. She told the American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, that Arseniy Yatsenyuk was America’s choice to replace Yanukovych (and he did).
Pyatt also refers to the West needing to “midwife this thing,” a metaphorical admission of America’s role in the coup. At one point, Nuland even seems to say that Vice President Joe Biden, himself, would be willing to do the midwifery.
The Third Stage
Having made what was clearly a coup appear to be the legitimate shuffling of parliamentary democracy, the new government was ripe to advance to the third stage: moving Ukraine into the American sphere. Like the silent justification of the coup and the silent coup in constitutional disguise, the moving of Ukraine into the American sphere was a silent takeover: no invasion necessary.
The new government formally asked to ally itself with the patrons who helped place it in power in the first place. On Aug. 29, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk—the very man Victoria Nuland was caught naming as America’s choice to replace Yanukovych – announced that his cabinet had approved a bill putting an end to Ukraine’s non-aligned status that would pave the way for “resumption of Ukraine’s course for NATO membership.” The bill will now be sent on to parliament.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded immediately to Yatsenyuk’s announcement by reminding the world of NATOs 2008 decision that Ukraine would become a member of NATO if it so wanted and added that NATO would “fully respect” Ukraine’s intention to join.
So the silent coup had set the stage for the silent takeover of Ukraine by the West, as Ukraine slides out of Russia’s orbit and into NATO’s, a hostile takeover of a country in democratic disguise.
On its own, the Ukrainian intervention clearly has the markings of a U.S.-backed coup. But, removed from isolation and placed into the context of other coups and attempted coups that have taken place during Obama’s presidency, the Ukrainian coup can be seen to be the culmination of a pattern of coups made to look not like coups but like the admirable exercise of “democracy.”
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.
Members of the European Parliament (MEP) yesterday called to hold Israel accountable for its war in the Gaza Strip and to suspend the EU-Israel association agreement, the Anadolu news agency reported.
In a statement, the MEPs declared, “Israel’s direct targeting of civilians and its reckless cause of civilian deaths is a clear breach of international human rights law.”
Member of the Unitarian Left (GUE/NGL) parliamentary group, Martina Anderson said: “You cannot go on with an agreement after you have broken it.”
The European Union condemns the establishment of illegal settlements on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and considers it a violation of international law, but the association agreement with Israel is still valid.
Anderson stressed the Palestinians’ right to sovereignty, freedom and to live with dignity and respect and that they, as parliamentarians, should take responsibility otherwise they will become “partners in crime”.
Portuguese MEP, Marisa Matias said that suspending the association agreement with Israel is not a sufficient step, stressing on the need to apply an arms embargo and start working on a full ban of Israeli products produced in the occupied territories.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) passed a statement on Gaza at its annual congress Wednesday, urging the UK government to impose an Israel arms embargo and calling for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
The statement, overwhelmingly endorsed, condemns the death toll in Gaza that included “many people going about their daily work”, and “deplores attacks on UN facilities”. The TUC recommends that those responsible for breaching international law “should be dealt with in the International Criminal Court”.
The TUC statement also calls for an end to the “blockade of Gaza” and welcomes “the creation of a unity government for the Palestinian Authority” involving both Fatah and Hamas, urging “the UK government and the European Union to support this development”.
In light of Israel’s attacks on Gaza and policies in the Occupied Territories, the TUC statement calls on the UK government and EU to “end immediately arms trading with Israel including all military-industrial collaboration”. The TUC itself, it adds, should work with relevant unions to “press those companies involved in supporting Israel’s military to cease to do so”.
Congress called for “the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement until the rights of the Palestinians are established”, and committed to “rais[ing] the pressure on corporations complicit in arms trading, the settlements, occupation and the wall” through strategies that pressure “complicit companies” – a key part of the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) noted that “the statement, and the goals contained within it, are now official TUC policy”, an important boost for Palestine solidarity and BDS activists. The TUC’s statement was condemned by anti-boycott umbrella group Fair Play, who complained that boycotts merely pull “Israeli and Palestinian workers further apart”.
In an official letter Wednesday to Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, a group of top Russian experts including scientists, farmers and eco groups urged him to add all foods containing GMOs to the existing food sanctions that have been placed by Russia on the EU, U.S. and Australia amongst others.
The suggested ban includes all 18 varieties of genetically modified crops, registered and approved in Russia for use in the production of food for consumers and feed for farm animals.
The experts stated that the main manufacturers and suppliers of GM seed are located in countries that support sanctions against Russia. The biotech giants who fully control the market of GM seeds include: Monsanto (USA), Dow (USA), DuPont Pioneer (USA), Bayer (Germany), BASF (Germany). Therefore, products containing GM ingredients should be one of the sanctions applied by Russia in relation to these countries.
The experts suggested that Russia should also only buy conventional non-GMO food and feed products from countries that do not support the sanctions and yet currently supply products containing GMOs (e.g. Brazil, China, India and South Africa – BRICS countries).
“Now is a good time to stop the spread of food and feed products in Russia that contain GMOs, so we are then able to obtain objective scientific data on the impact of GMOs on the health of mammals. Independent research from domestic and foreign scientists suggests that GMOs may have an adverse effect on the health of mammals and lead to the development of diseases such as cancer, allergies, obesity, infertility, and others. To clarify the mechanisms of the impact of GMOs on living organisms, we need to continue to develop independent research in this area,” stated Elena Sharoykina, who is the Director of the Russian National Association for Genetic Safety.
Earlier this year in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia must protect its citizens from the use of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and that this could be done in compliance with the country’s obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In June, Russia also delayed the registration of GM varieties for the planting of GM crops, which had been planned to start in July. The current situation is that no GM crops have been grown in Russia and this will now be the case for at least the next 3 years.
[Don't miss the second half]
Ukraine’s civil war has grounded in stalemate and the economy is crashing. This has created an opening for dialogue. Will all parties seize the moment or will Moscow continue to be blamed?
CrossTalking with Karel van Wolferen, Neil Clark and Gilbert Doctorow.
A Palestinian school damaged during Operation Protective Edge. 7 August, Gaza City. [Jordi Bernabeu Farrús/Flickr]
A row is brewing over claims that Israel is earning millions of euros from a de facto policy of preventing non-Israeli reconstruction aid from entering the Gaza Strip.
At least 65,000 people in the Gaza Strip are homeless after the recent seven-week conflict. Infrastructure ranging from water desalination centres to power plants lies in ruins.
No formal Israeli ban prevents the import of reconstruction materials that were not made in Israel, but EU sources speaking on condition of anonymity say that in practice, Israeli security demands present them with a fait accompli.
“If you want aid materials to be permitted to enter, they will almost inevitably come from Israeli sources,” an EU official said. “I don’t think you’ll find it written down anywhere in official policy, but when you get to negotiate with the Israelis, this is what happens. It increases construction and transaction costs, and is a political problem that has to be dealt with.”
As well as Israel’s security restrictions on aid, “it can be very difficult to export materials to Gaza,” the official said. “A lot of goods for a Gaza private sector reconstruction project we had, ended up being held in Ashdod port for very lengthy periods of time – months if not years – so there was de facto no alternative but to use Israeli sources.”
The source added that the policy had benefited Israel’s economy to the tune of millions of euros and was, in his view, deliberate.
The European Commission donates some €300 million in development aid to Gaza and the West Bank every year, and around €200 million in humanitarian aid.
The EU official’s allegation received backing from international agencies canvassed by EurActiv and is broadly in line with findings in a UN report due to be published later today (3 September).
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) study will say that half of all donor assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – who the UN body say constitute a captive market – is spent on servicing a trade deficit to Israel.
‘Dual use items’
Tel Aviv imposed a full blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after the ascent to power of the Islamist Hamas movement, which has used suicide bombing and rocket attack tactics against Israel’s occupation, that have claimed hundreds of civilian lives.
But the UN and international NGOs have protested the blockade’s prevention of free movement and trade for the vast majority of Gazans as a collective punishment.
Building materials such as steel and cement, necessary for the reconstruction of Gaza, have been designated by Israel as ‘dual use’ items – adaptable for munitions – that may only be imported to Gaza by the UN and aid agencies under Israeli supervision.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime ministers’ office, denied claims that Israel’s entry policy to Gaza prevented non-Israeli-made reconstruction materials from entering the Strip.
“I know that policy, and it is not true,” he told EurActiv over the phone from Jerusalem. He was unable though to give examples of non-Israeli reconstruction materials allowed into Gaza, referring inquiries on to Cogat.
The Israeli body, Cogat, which coordinates the entry of aid into Gaza, did not respond to requests for comment.
But “there are not many choices,” Amir Rotem, the public affairs director for Gisha, an Israeli NGO, told EurActiv. “The Israeli market has a monopoly of cement in just one company, and I don’t know of any Palestinian-made cement in the West Bank, so there’s not much to choose from.”
‘Chutzpah writ large’
International reactions to the EU official’s claims were strong.
“It is outrageous that a country which has just demolished 25,000 houses is demanding that their construction industry benefit from rebuilding them at the expense of the international community,” one Western diplomat told EurActiv.
“Talk about chutzpah writ large!” he said.
Mahmoud el-Khafif, UNCTAD’s special coordinator for assistance to the Palestinian people, told EurActiv that he believed the EU official’s claims were correct.
“If you look at steel or cement, I think the only source for it would be Israel,” he said. “It is a serious problem in my opinion as an economist. What happened in Gaza and what is happening in the West Bank in terms of controlling Area C is an ongoing process to reduce the ability of the Palestinian economy to produce, and the only alternative is to import from Israel.”
Later today, a new UNCTAD report will say that economic growth (measured by GDP) in the economy of the occupied Palestinian Territories declined from 11% in 2011 to just 1.5% last year, far below the rate of population growth.
‘An unliveable place before 2020’
Even before the recent fighting, unemployment in Gaza was running at 36% and people were poorer than in the 1990s, when the Oslo peace process began.
Rebuilding the battered Strip now will take 20 years under the current regime of restrictions, according to a report published earlier this week by Shelter Cluster, an NGO chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council, with the participation of the UNHCR and the International Red Cross.
That could be too late for many Gazans. The UN’s relief and works agency (UNRWA) has previously estimated that Gaza will not be “a liveable place” by 2020 because of population increase and a depletion of fresh water sources by 2016.
“lf Gaza was going to be an unlivable place by 2020 – before the latest fighting – it will now be an unlivable place considerably before then,” Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA told EurActiv, from the Gaza Strip.
“With at least 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed, with miles of water infrastructure devastated, with millions of gallons of raw sewage flowing into the sea every day, and the corrosive impacts of blockade, the sustainability of Gaza will be even more short lived,” he said.
More than 2,100 Palestinians – mostly civilians – were killed in Israel’s recent Operation Protective Edge, as were 73 Israelis – mostly soldiers.
The international reconstruction effort in Gaza could cost more than $6 billion, according to the Palestinian deputy prime minister.
If you wonder how the world could stumble into World War III – much as it did into World War I a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness that has enveloped virtually the entire U.S. political/media structure over Ukraine where a false narrative of white hats vs. black hats took hold early and has proved impervious to facts or reason.
The original lie behind Official Washington’s latest “group think” was that Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated the crisis in Ukraine as part of some diabolical scheme to reclaim the territory of the defunct Soviet Union, including Estonia and other Baltic states. Though not a shred of U.S. intelligence supported this scenario, all the “smart people” of Washington just “knew” it to be true.
Yet, the once-acknowledged – though soon forgotten – reality was that the crisis was provoked last year by the European Union proposing an association agreement with Ukraine while U.S. neocons and other hawkish politicos and pundits envisioned using the Ukraine gambit as a way to undermine Putin inside Russia.
The plan was even announced by U.S. neocons such as National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman who took to the op-ed page of the Washington Post nearly a year ago to call Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important interim step toward eventually toppling Putin in Russia.
Gershman, whose NED is funded by the U.S. Congress, wrote: “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
In other words, from the start, Putin was the target of the Ukraine initiative, not the instigator. But even if you choose to ignore Gershman’s clear intent, you would have to concoct a bizarre conspiracy theory to support the conventional wisdom about Putin’s grand plan.
To believe that Putin was indeed the mastermind of the crisis, you would have to think that he somehow arranged to have the EU offer the association agreement last year, then got the International Monetary Fund to attach such draconian “reforms” that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from the deal.
Then, Putin had to organize mass demonstrations at Kiev’s Maidan square against Yanukovych while readying neo-Nazi militias to act as the muscle to finally overthrow the elected president and replace him with a regime dominated by far-right Ukrainian nationalists and U.S.-favored technocrats. Next, Putin had to get the new government to take provocative actions against ethnic Russians in the east, including threatening to outlaw Russian as an official language.
And throw into this storyline that Putin – all the while – was acting like he was trying to help Yanukovych defuse the crisis and even acquiesced to Yanukovych agreeing on Feb. 21 to accept an agreement brokered by three European countries calling for early Ukrainian elections that could vote him out of office. Instead, Putin was supposedly ordering neo-Nazi militias to oust Yanukovych in a Feb. 22 putsch, all the better to create the current crisis.
While such a fanciful scenario would make the most extreme conspiracy theorist blush, this narrative was embraced by prominent U.S. politicians, including ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and “journalists” from the New York Times to CNN. They all agreed that Putin was a madman on a mission of unchecked aggression against his neighbors with the goal of reconstituting the Russian Empire. Clinton even compared him to Adolf Hitler.
This founding false narrative was then embroidered by a consistent pattern of distorted U.S. reporting as the crisis unfolded. Indeed, for the past eight months, we have seen arguably the most one-sided coverage of a major international crisis in memory, although there were other crazed MSM stampedes, such as Iraq’s non-existent WMD in 2002-03, Iran’s supposed nuclear bomb project for most of the past decade, Libya’s “humanitarian crisis” of 2011, and Syria’s sarin gas attack in 2013.
But the hysteria over Ukraine – with U.S. officials and editorialists now trying to rally a NATO military response to Russia’s alleged “invasion” of Ukraine – raises the prospect of a nuclear confrontation that could end all life on the planet.
The ‘Big Lie’ of the ‘Big Lie’
This madness reached new heights with a Sept. 1 editorial in the neoconservative Washington Post, which led many of the earlier misguided stampedes and was famously wrong in asserting that Iraq’s concealment of WMD was a “flat fact.” In its new editorial, the Post reprised many of the key elements of the false Ukraine narrative in the Orwellian context of accusing Russia of deceiving its own people.
The “through-the-looking-glass” quality of the Post’s editorial was to tell the “Big Lie” while accusing Putin of telling the “Big Lie.” The editorial began with the original myth about the aggression waged by Putin whose “bitter resentment at the Soviet empire’s collapse metastasized into seething Russian nationalism. …
“In prosecuting his widening war in Ukraine, he has also resurrected the tyranny of the Big Lie, using state-controlled media to twist the truth so grotesquely that most Russians are in the dark — or profoundly misinformed — about events in their neighbor to the west. …
“In support of those Russian-sponsored militias in eastern Ukraine, now backed by growing ranks of Russian troops and weapons, Moscow has created a fantasy that plays on Russian victimization. By this rendering, the forces backing Ukraine’s government in Kiev are fascists and neo-Nazis, a portrayal that Mr. Putin personally advanced on Friday, when he likened the Ukrainian army’s attempts to regain its own territory to the Nazi siege of Leningrad in World War II, an appeal meant to inflame Russians’ already overheated nationalist emotions.”
The Post continued: “Against the extensive propaganda instruments available to Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime, the West can promote a fair and factual version of events, but there’s little it can do to make ordinary Russians believe it. Even in a country with relatively unfettered access to the Internet, the monopolistic power of state-controlled media is a potent weapon in the hands of a tyrant.
“Mr. Putin’s Big Lie shows why it is important to support a free press where it still exists and outlets like Radio Free Europe that bring the truth to people who need it.”
Yet the truth is that the U.S. mainstream news media’s distortion of the Ukraine crisis is something that a real totalitarian could only dream about. Virtually absent from major U.S. news outlets – across the political spectrum – has been any significant effort to tell the other side of the story or to point out the many times when the West’s “fair and factual version of events” has been false or deceptive, starting with the issue of who started this crisis.
Blinded to Neo-Nazis
In another example, the Post and other mainstream U.S. outlets have ridiculed the idea that neo-Nazis played any significant role in the putsch that ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 or in the Kiev regime’s brutal offensive against the ethnic Russians of eastern Ukraine.
However, occasionally, the inconvenient truth has slipped through. For instance, shortly after the February coup, the BBC described how the neo-Nazis spearheaded the violent seizure of government buildings to drive Yanukovych from power and were then rewarded with four ministries in the regime that was cobbled together in the coup’s aftermath.
When ethnic Russians in the south and east resisted the edicts from the new powers in Kiev, some neo-Nazi militias were incorporated into the National Guard and dispatched to the front lines as storm troopers eager to fight and kill people whom some considered “Untermenschen” or sub-human.
Even the New York Times, which has been among the most egregious violators of journalistic ethics in covering the Ukraine crisis, took note of Kiev’s neo-Nazi militias carrying Nazi banners while leading attacks on eastern cities – albeit with this embarrassing reality consigned to the last three paragraphs of a long Times story on a different topic. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]
Later, the conservative London Telegraph wrote a much more detailed story about how the Kiev regime had consciously recruited these dedicated storm troopers, who carried the Wolfsangel symbol favored by Hitler’s SS, to lead street fighting in eastern cities that were first softened up by army artillery. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]
You might think that unleashing Nazi storm troopers on a European population for the first time since World War II would be a big story – given how much coverage is given to far less significant eruptions of neo-Nazi sentiment in Europe – but this ugly reality in Ukraine disappeared quickly into the U.S. media’s memory hole. It didn’t fit the preferred good guy/bad guy narrative, with the Kiev regime the good guys and Putin the bad guy.
Now, the Washington Post has gone a step further dismissing Putin’s reference to the nasty violence inflicted by Kiev’s neo-Nazi battalions as part of Putin’s “Big Lie.” The Post is telling its readers that any reference to these neo-Nazis is just a “fantasy.”
Even more disturbing, the mainstream U.S. news media and Washington’s entire political class continue to ignore the Kiev government’s killing of thousands of ethnic Russians, including children and other non-combatants. The “responsibility to protect” crowd has suddenly lost its voice. Or, all the deaths are somehow blamed on Putin for supposedly having provoked the Ukraine crisis in the first place.
A Mysterious ‘Invasion’
And now there’s the curious case of Russia’s alleged “invasion” of Ukraine, another alarmist claim trumpeted by the Kiev regime and echoed by NATO hardliners and the MSM.
While I’m told that Russia did provide some light weapons to the rebels early in the struggle so they could defend themselves and their territory – and a number of Russian nationalists have crossed the border to join the fight – the claims of an overt “invasion” with tanks, artillery and truck convoys have been backed up by scant intelligence.
One former U.S. intelligence official who has examined the evidence said the intelligence to support the claims of a significant Russian invasion amounted to “virtually nothing.” Instead, it appears that the ethnic Russian rebels may have evolved into a more effective fighting force than many in the West thought. They are, after all, fighting on their home turf for their futures.
Concerned about the latest rush to judgment about the “invasion,” the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former U.S. intelligence officials and analysts, took the unusual step of sending a memo to German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning her of a possible replay of the false claims that led to the Iraq War.
“You need to know,” the group wrote, “that accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.”
But these doubts and concerns are not reflected in the Post’s editorial or other MSM accounts of the dangerous Ukraine crisis. Indeed, Americans who rely on these powerful news outlets for their information are as sheltered from reality as anyone living in a totalitarian society.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).