South Africa: Business practices vs. human rights

Speakers at a mid-January conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, organized by the Foundation for Human Rights, examined effects of business practices on human rights.

Yasmin Sooka, the foundation’s director, told Inter Press Service, “The word ‘human rights’ is a bogeyman for business. Business doesn’t like human rights.”

Participants focused on bribery, child labor and violations of labor rights, noting corrupt practices by private corporations in Iraq as cautionary examples.

They looked at a December 2006 study of business recognition of labor rights by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights: 75 percent of European companies nominally acknowledged rights to free association and collective bargaining, as did 63 percent of North American companies and 50 percent of companies in Africa and Asia. Economics professor Sampie Terreblanche recalled his attempt to organize a truth and reconciliation commission aimed at identifying “companies [that] assisted apartheid and exploited Black people for a century.” South African entrepreneurs, he said, were notably cool to the idea.

Israel: Use of cluster bombs violated U.S. pact

Israel’s use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in its 2006 assault on Lebanon may have violated a pact stipulating the terms of their use, according to a State Department finding. The finding was reported Jan. 30 by the BBC.

In 1982, Washington banned cluster bomb sales to Israel for six years following charges that it used the deadly anti-personnel weapons on innocent civilians in Lebanon.

Last year, Amnesty International condemned Israel’s dropping of over 1 million cluster bombs on civilian areas in Lebanon, 90 percent of them in the closing days of the war. Over 1,200 civilians died in the war and at least 30 deaths and 180 injuries have resulted from postwar encounters with unexploded bombs, according to the UN Mine Action Service.

Philippines: Judge’s report accuses military of murders

A Philippine commission of inquiry appointed six months ago by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo released a report Jan. 30 that attributed most of the killings over six years of some 800 activists, unionists and peasants to “elements in the military.”

The commission, headed by retired Judge Jose Melo, emphasized the responsibility of commanding officers.

Referring to “a sorry history in our nation of political violence,” Arroyo called for follow-up investigations and special courts to deal with political killings, Reuters reported.

Colombia: Coal miners win contract

Sintracarbon, the union representing mine workers at El Cerrejon, Latin America’s largest open pit coal mine, concluded a two-year contract with the mine’s foreign owners on Jan. 28. Negotiations, stalled since Nov. 20, accelerated once strike preparations began on Jan. 25. Some 2,300 workers received pay increases, pre-paid health care, educational allowances, funding for children’s education and yearly bonuses.

Except for transferring 80 temporary workers to permanent status, Cerrejon’s owners apparently ignored Sintracarbon demands on behalf of 1,500 contract workers and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities displaced by the mine.

In Bogota, Senator Jorge Robledo, a union supporter, highlighted mine owner ties to the right-wing Uribe government. Minister Hernan Martinez “is not Colombia’s minister of mines,” he declared at a congressional hearing on Jan. 19. “He is foreign capital’s minister of mines.”

Last year Cerrejon’s owners sold 28 million tons of coal at $60 per ton. Costs were estimated at $25 per ton.

Spain: Judge probes CIA torture flights

On Jan. 31 Spanish Judge Ismael Moreno asked Spain’s Ministry of Defense to declassify and release intelligence information on CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects that stopped at Spanish airports in 2004 and 2005. Citing a June 2006 European Council report, he alleged the CIA used airports principally in Majorca and the Canary Islands to deliver the suspects to torturers, according to

An updated European Parliament report declared that, as of late 2006, the CIA’s “flying prisons” made 1,245 stopovers at European airports, 125 of them at 10 Spanish airports.

Swiss, Italian and German judges are also processing suits brought by CIA torture victims. Prosecutors in Italy and, as of Jan. 31 in Germany, have requested that their governments seek the extradition of CIA operatives.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @