June 2010


We have a laboratory that shows us what happens to a vital and sensitive coastal wetland subjected to massive and repeated oil spills. So far very little has been done to study it. The Niger Delta, one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world, has experienced an average of one oil spill per day, collectively the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill per year, for five decades, 50 years. Half the life created in a warm coastal wetland is created in the top two millimeters of slime on the surface of the marsh mud, the food base of the entire coastal wetland, as illustrated below. If this layer is covered by oil and dies, all the animals up the food chain risk starvation. In the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold. you can hear a man telling us that in his Niger Delta fishing community where they have fished for generations, there is now no one who can make a living as a fisherman.

Half of the all the life created in the nature-rich Louisiana coast, one of the world's most productive estuaries, or in any warm coastal wetland, takes place in the thin layer of slime on top of the marshes. Microscopic creatures are a key part of the Gulf marsh ecosystem. (nola.com, click to enlarge enough to read)

Right now BP’s Deep Horizon well is spilling what may be the equivalent of one or more Exxon Valdez spills per week. The well may be compromised downhole (from dougr at the Oil Drum) and leaking in multiple locations. How, and even if it can be stopped are open questions to which no one appears to know the answer. In the Niger Delta we have the laboratory for how this massive a spill might effect people, plants, animals, land, and water. But it has been very little studied. The effects of this oil spilling on people has been almost completely ignored.

Meredeth Turshen wrote of the Niger Delta in 2004:

Specific effects of oil development on women’s health seem not to have been investigated. Although I found an article on the effects of exposure of crocodiles to sub-lethal concentrations of petroleum waste drilling fluid in the Niger Delta basin, I could find nothing on the health of women who live near oil wells and oil production stations, and nothing on reproductive outcomes in areas adjacent to petrochemical plants. Yet it is known that cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead are contained in the refinery effluents that are constantly discharged into nearby bodies of water. At high concentrations these metals cause metabolic malfunctions in human beings. They enter the food chain through the drinking water and the local fish that people consume.

Right now we are just beginning to see similar exposure to US citizens.

Oil spills have destroyed lives and livelihoods throughout the Niger Delta. You can see and hear what has happened to people:
Click here to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold.
It is based on Ed Kashi’s book of the same name, Curse of the Black Gold.

Neither the oil companies nor the Nigerian government want anyone to know what is going on. Investigation and research is actively discouraged. Those engaged in research or reporting may find themselves threatened and at risk of arrest, beatings, injury and death. And now The Mercenaries Take Over, mostly hired by the oil companies to protect their interests and prevent interference and investigation.

The same thing is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has hired mercenaries to keep the news media and the public away from the places the oil has come ashore and prevent investigation.
Louisiana response to Gulf of Mexico oil spill obstructed by BP and federal agencies, state officials say
or
Barriers to news coverage of Gulf of Mexico oil spill remain despite promises

Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access.

The threats and dangers are not now as pervasive and severe as in the Niger Delta. But they are there, and this is just the beginning. You can see in the following picture the vast extent of the oil spill, covering 18, 473 square miles on June 19, and growing. Much of that oil will be coming ashore in the wetlands. Storms are likely to drive it to land and inland. Much oil remains suspended in the water along with a great deal of methane that has been escaping with the oil. The oil and methane will kill marine life and make their habitat uninhabitable.

Strong thunderstorms form large, dense masses of bright white cloud in this MODIS/Aqua satellite image of the northeast Gulf of Mexico taken the afternoon of June 19, 2010. But it's clearer than the MODIS/Terra image taken the day before, and reveals fresh oil upwelling around the location of the leaking Macondo well, source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Slicks and sheen span 18,473 square miles (47,847 km2) on this image. Thin patches of slick and sheen appear to be making landfall from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Perdido Key in Florida, and from Grayton Beach State Park to the Seacrest / Rosemary Beach area along the Florida coast. (from SkyTruth on Flickr: flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4722626008/ , click to enlarge)

In Nigeria Claytus Kanyie says:

The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.

And another Nigerian fisherman speaks:

If you want to go fishing, you have to paddle for about four hours through several rivers before you can get to where you can catch fish and the spill is lesser … some of the fishes we catch, when you open the stomach, it smells of crude oil.

Soon this will be true in the Gulf of Mexico, as will all the health effects and economic impact of wetlands saturated with oil, and of a sea depleted of oxygen and filled with oil and toxic chemicals.

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Photo gallery from GhanaWeb of Ghana v USA

… the proposed US ‘engagement’ with the ICC would thus allow the US to declare itself above international law while using international law for its own interests.
… just as the US invokes counter-terrorism as a basis for military assistance to African states, it may come to use international justice enforcement to justify increased militarisation of select African armies. … the US prefers to rely on proxies to carry out its military agenda.

International Criminal Court

From The East African this week: African legislators see bias in ICC’s workings

Parliamentarians from member-countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Africa are accusing the Court for selectively pursuing justice by focusing on investigating suspected criminals mainly from this continent.

They said that while the ICC is keen on investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, the Court is sitting on numerous complaints against Western leaders who are accused of causing untold suffering from wars they started in the Middle East.

They said that the ICC appears to act under influence of some Western powers who use it as an instrument to weed out leaders who are against their policies in Africa.

“The ICC as a court per see is innocent. Our problem is that the process of indictment is usually politicised. For instance, the United States’s voice is loudest yet it isn’t a member of the ICC. But those who are members but with little international influence cannot have their grievances listened to,” said Isaac Musumba, Uganda’s Minister for Regional Co-operation.

… critics of the ICC have often cited the atrocities in Gaza as an example of the court’s bias against Africa, by not investigating the atrocities there.

In addition, more than 50 complaints against former US President George W. Bush and ex-British prime minister Tony Blair have been forwarded to the ICC for investigation with no lack.

I have heard several people say that if the ICC does not indict George Bush, it should release Charles Taylor. I don’t want Taylor released under any circumstances, but I understand the sentiment.

And the US Government wants to execute arrest warrents for the ICC, even though the US is not a party to the ICC treaty, the Rome Statute, and does not acknowledge ICC authority, except for authority over some other nations, so far, the nations of Africa.

In Pambazuka Samar Al-Bulushi and Adam Branch wrote: AFRICOM and the ICC: Enforcing international justice in Africa? They point out a number of problems with the US and AFRICOM involvement with ICC enforcement.

… in recent months, the US government has declared its interest in working more closely with the ICC – not with the intent of becoming a party to the Rome Statute (the ICC treaty), but to help execute arrest warrants.

“The Obama Administration has been actively looking at ways that the US can, consistent with US law, assist the ICC in fulfilling its historic charge of providing justice to those who have endured crimes of epic savagery… We would like to meet with the Prosecutor at the ICC to examine whether there are specific ways that the United States might be able to support the particular prosecutions that are already underway.”

This proposed alliance between the US military and the ICC has elicited little reaction from the human rights community despite the devastating consequences it may produce. At heart is the question of what it will mean for justice and the rule of law if the ICC comes to rely heavily on the military capacity of a single state – a state with its own military agenda and interests in Africa – as its enforcement arm, in particular when that state declares itself above the very law it claims to enforce.

Considering the US track record of destructive interventions in Africa during the Cold War and the US military’s disregard for international law in Iraq and Afghanistan, Africans have reason to be wary of greater US military involvement on their soil. The possibility that AFRICOM might add justice enforcement to its repertoire is therefore a genuinely troubling development, and the ICC risks becoming the latest pawn of US military strategy on the continent.

For one, just as the US invokes counter-terrorism as a basis for military assistance to African states, it may come to use international justice enforcement to justify increased militarisation of select African armies. … the US prefers to rely on proxies to carry out its military agenda.

Instead of bringing the US back within international law, the proposed US ‘engagement’ with the ICC would thus allow the US to declare itself above international law while using international law for its own interests.

The vast discretion afforded to the Office of the Prosecutor by the Rome Statute and the lack of transparency that characterises the prosecutor’s decisions as to whom to prosecute and why is unlikely to provide any check on this type of politicisation. Luis Moreno-Ocampo has shown himself willing to take full advantage of the discretion provided him, practicing immense selectivity in his investigations and prosecutions. … If the ICC is seen as working hand-in-glove with US interests in Africa, its legitimacy may end up fatally damaged.

LAYING STRATEGY: Mr Ocampo addresses the ICC review conference in Kampala. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA

The US Congress has just passed a law that AFRICOM should assist in the apprehension of Joseph Kony, one of the ICC’s main targets named by Ocampo. Of course the US law does not mention that the recent discoveries of oil in the areas where Kony operates make him an inconvenience for US and other big money financial interests. AFRICOM assisted in the disastrous Operation Lightning Thunder. It put up the money without which the raid would have been impossible.  We are likely to see more and worse with AFRICOM further militarizing that conflict.

One recent incident may provide a taste for what is to come through an AFRICOM–ICC alliance. In December 2008, a military operation coined ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ was carried out principally by the Ugandan military with training and financial support from AFRICOM against the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, the top commanders of which have outstanding ICC arrest warrants against them. The operation failed to capture the LRA leadership, however, and led to over 1,000 civilian deaths and the displacement of up to 200,000 Congolese.

The presence of US military on African soil raises a number of concerns for those communities where they are deployed. Former US Army Colonel Ann Wright warned against deploying US soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, citing the high number of rape and violent sexual assault cases in the US military and by US military personnel against women and girls in areas around US military bases. As she stated, ‘If the women of the Congo should Google, “US military – sexual assault and rape”, I suspect they will decline the offer of assistance from the African Command.’

Similarly, given the massive civilian devastation wreaked by recent US military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is likely that most Africans would say ‘no thank you’ to the offers of justice from the barrel of American guns. This is especially the case given that many of these law enforcement operations may be carried out not by uniformed US soldiers, but by US-contracted private security firms who anticipate a boom in business thanks to AFRICOM. Given the near total lack of accountability that private contractors have enjoyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, this should also give human rights and peace advocates considerable pause for thought.

Finally, regardless of how the proposed cooperation works out in practice, there is the underlying issue that, for people in many areas of the world, the idea that US military force is the chosen instrument of global justice makes a mockery of the violence and devastation they have suffered at the hands of US military intervention. The ICC’s pandering to the US military is an insult to all those in the US and around the world struggling to hold the US military and its mercenaries accountable.

And AFRICOM has its fingers in more legal pies. In May it organized the three day first Annual Africa Military Legal Justice System’s conference at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre in Accra, Ghana.

In February AFRICOM organized a training on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes for military in the DRC. Considering the problem with rape in the US military, even more so with the US military contractors, this is not reassuring.

AFRICOM looks like it is interested in a lot of legal authority throughout the continent of Africa, a grave danger to the people who live on the continent.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) hosted the first-ever Africa Military Legal Conference May 18-20, 2010 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Accra, Ghana. Representatives from 15 African nations, Canada and the United States attended.

ACCRA, Ghana - The first Africa Military Legal Conference, hosted by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), began May 18, 2010 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC) in Accra, Ghana. The three-day conference brought together lawyers and other legal experts from nearly 15 African countries. Participants in the opening session were Colonel Jon Lightner, chief legal counsel for AFRICOM, Air Vice Marshal Christian Edem Kobla Dovlo, commandant of the KAIPTC, Captain Kathleen Duignan, chief of AFRICOM's Legal Engagements Division, and Colonel Leo Hirschmann, a German officer who is serving a three year assignment at the KAIPTC as the head of training. (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command)