JFP 4/24: U.S. Chamber of Commerce linked to Wal-mart Mexico bribery case
Just Foreign Policy News, April 24, 2012
U.S. Chamber of Commerce linked to Wal-mart Mexico bribery case
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
CBS News: Christians of the Holy Land
The exodus from the Holy Land of Palestinian Christians could eventually leave holy cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem without a local Christian population.
Al Jazeera video: Egypt suspends natural gas deal with Israel
Egyptian companies have suspended an agreement to supply natural gas to Israel. The two governments say it is a commercial dispute, but the backstory is an alleged sweetheart deal under the Mubarak government, and Egyptian discontent with what was perceived to be an unbalanced relationship.
Al Jazeera video: Unrest continues in Bahrain
A day after the Formula One Grand Prix race in Bahrain, Al Jazeera correspondent describes the events after the death of a protester.
Video: The Eurozone Recession: Are There Alternatives?
Mark Weisbrot debates Mahmood Pradhan, Deputy Director of the IMF's European Department, on the eurozone crisis and strategies for its resolution. Pradhan argues for strategies that would lower labor costs, Mark argues European authorities, including the European Central Bank, should reverse course, intervene to lower long-term interest rates, and support stimulus programs for economic recovery; and that some governments should consider leaving the euro if the authorities insist on continued austerity and high unemployment. Much of the discussion is on Greece.
Center for Constitutional Rights: U.S. Relents and Grants Pakistani Lawyer a Visa in Time for International Drone Summit
After months of pressure from human rights activists, the U.S. government has granted Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar a visa to attend and speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, 2012.
Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control
The peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting the first International Drone Summit. On Saturday, April 28, we are bringing together human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, journalists and activists for a summit to inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States. Participants will also have the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims.
1) Israel's prime minister scrambled to contain the damage from Egypt's decision to cut off natural gas exports as he tried to prevent a full-fledged diplomatic crisis, AP reports. Israel and Egypt signed a 20-year agreement for Egypt to provide natural gas to Israel in 2005. That deal has become a symbol of tensions between Israel and Egypt since last year's uprising. For many Egyptians, it typifies the close relations Mubarak forged with Israel and how his associates benefited greatly from such business deals. Critics charge that Israel got the gas at below-market prices, a charge Israel denies, and that Mubarak cronies skimmed millions of dollars off the proceeds. Israel relies on Egypt for 40 percent of its natural gas needs, AP says.
2) U.S. and Western media have underscored Assad's butchery, but offered little of substance on the opposition and its often savage behavior, writes Saul Landau of the Institute for Policy Studies. The question in Washington should be: will adding fuel to the violence make matters worse, Landau writes. The U.S should be working with Russia, China and the western powers to pressure both sides to stop shooting and start serious talking, Landau writes.
3) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lose an important ally in pushing a hawkish line on Iran if French President Sarkozy loses his bid for re-election as widely predicted, Tony Karon writes for Time. "Sarkozy has played a critical, instrumental role in hardening the European position on Iran," says Trita Parsi. "He has consistently taken positions more hawkish than those of the Obama Administration ... even if [Hollande] leaves the formal position on Iran unchanged, he's very unlikely to adopt Sarkozy's approach of pressing other Western powers and agitating for a harder line."
4) Israel announced it has "legalized" three unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, a move Palestinians and Israeli anti-settlement activists condemned as a step toward creating the first new settlements in more than a decade, the Washington Post reports. "This announcement is against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two-state solution," Peace Now said.
5) The Department of Justice may be more likely to prosecute Wal-mart in the Mexico bribery case because of evidence Wal-mart covered up crimes under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, writes law professor Peter Henning for the New York Times. Another factor supporting prosecution is that the Mexican bribery involved senior management at the subsidiary, not just low-level employees operating on their own.
One factor working against Wal-Mart is that the Justice Department may be looking for a prominent case to demonstrate the need for vigorous enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as a response to recent criticisms of the law, Henning writes. The Chamber of Commerce has lobbied for changes to the statute, arguing that aggressive application of the law has caused companies to shy away from overseas investments. Prosecutors can make an example of Wal-Mart to show that the Justice Department will not tolerate foreign bribery, even by a leading American company. That would bolster the argument that revising the statute would send the wrong message to the rest of the world.
6) The Justice Department has been conducting a criminal probe of Wal-Mart for allegations of systematic bribery in Mexico, the Washington Post reports.
As officials in recent years have stepped up their enforcement of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pushing for the law to be scaled back, the Post notes. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the Chamber that has been a leader in criticizing the law, listed two Wal-Mart executives as board members in its 2010 tax form: Jeff Gearhart, Wal-Mart's general counsel, and Thomas Hyde, a former Wal-Mart corporate secretary who stepped down in August 2010. Hyde was among the company executives who received initial reports of the alleged bribery in 2005, according to the New York Times story, the Post notes. [Thus, evidence has emerged that the Chamber's Thomas Hyde, a leader of the Chamber's anti-FCPA lobbying effort, participated as a Wal-mart executive in violating the law that he is now lobbying to weaken - JFP.]
7) An Egyptian ministry has rejected the applications for registration of eight American nonprofit groups, including the Carter Center, the New York Times reports. An official of the Carter Center said the group still hoped to receive an invitation from the presidential election commission to monitor the elections starting next month.
8) For the first time in years, a group of Palestinian women was able to reach the Nabi Saleh spring, which was taken over long ago by settlers, Haggai Matar reports for +972. Every Friday for the past three years or so, Nabi Saleh residents, along with Israeli and international supporters, have been demonstrating against the theft of their lands by settlers from the nearby settlement of Halamish. One of the activists said she believes Israeli soldiers let them pass because the group was all women and because the army is wary of abusing Palestinian civilians after an officer was caught on video beating a Danish peace activist.
9) Nabi Saleh protest organizer Bassem Tamimi was released on bail after more than a year in prison, +972 reports. Tamimi is one of the central figures in the popular struggle against the settlements' land theft in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and a symbol of the non-violent resistance to the occupation on the whole.
10) WOLA said two Colombian union leaders have received death threats from the Aguilas Negras neoparamilitary group, writes Colombia Reports. According to WOLA, the President and Vice-President of SINTRAEMCALI, a union in the western Colombian department of Valle de Cauca, received a letter Saturday inviting the two leaders to their own funeral. The letter contained two bullets. The message came only a week after U.S. President Obama claimed the Colombian government had met the conditions of the Labor Action Plan although many groups deny that substantive efforts have been made to protect workers' right to organize or to prosecute crimes against unionists..
11) AFL-CIO President Trumka expressed outrage the Guatemalan government still isn't providing protections for workers and U.S. officials must step in and press the issue, The Hill reports. The AFL-CIO filed complaints years ago against Guatemala for violating labor rights under the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Trumka said it is time for U.S. officials to push for arbitration. "Guatemalan working families have already waited too long for their day in court," he said.
1) Israeli prime minister plays down natural gas spat with Egypt as 'business dispute'
Associated Press, April 23
Jerusalem - Israel's prime minister on Monday scrambled to contain the damage from Egypt's decision to cut off natural gas exports, dismissing the matter as a mere "business dispute" as he tried to prevent a full-fledged diplomatic crisis.
The comments by Benjamin Netanyahu contrasted with earlier statements by Cabinet ministers who warned the Egyptian move threatened to harm already shaky relations between the two nations.
"We don't see this cutoff of the gas as something that is born out of political developments," Netanyahu said. "It's actually a business dispute between the Israeli company and the Egyptian company."
Late Sunday, Egypt's national gas company said it had cut off exports to Israel, saying its Israeli partner had not paid its bills.
Egypt's minister of planning and international cooperation, Faiza Aboul Naga, said the Egypt has "no objection" to negotiate new conditions and prices regarding its natural gas deal to Israel and has relayed this to Israel. She said the company delivering gas to Israel has failed to pay the fees for five times, and the last deadline was on March 31, which meant that the contract was automatically canceled.
Israeli officials say the payments were halted because repeated attacks by militants on the gas pipeline have all but cut off gas shipments for the past year.
Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, called the decision a "dangerous precedent that overshadows the peace agreements and the peaceful atmosphere."
That view was echoed by Israeli Energy Minister Uzi Landau. "The pretext is that this is a business dispute, but we see it is not a business dispute," he told The Associated Press, warning that the gas cutoff would worsen power shortages expected this summer and hurt ties between the countries.
Israel and Egypt signed a 20-year agreement for Egypt to provide natural gas to Israel in 2005.
That deal has become a symbol of tensions between Israel and Egypt since last year's uprising. For many Egyptians, it typifies the close relations Mubarak forged with Israel and how his associates benefited greatly from such business deals.
Critics charge that Israel got the gas at below-market prices, a charge Israel denies, and that Mubarak cronies skimmed millions of dollars off the proceeds. Egyptian militants have blown up the gas pipeline 14 times since the uprising more than a year ago.
The repeated disruptions have raised tensions with Israel, which relies on Egypt for 40 percent of its natural gas needs.
2) Get Serious About Syria
Syrians will pay a higher human toll if the rush for U.S. entanglement does not subside.
Saul Landau, Institute for Policy Studies, April 23, 2012
The Syrian conflict continued to boil – or boil over – when Syrian troops fired across the Turkish border on April 9, apparently killing either fleeing refugees or armed combatants. However, despite continued words of caution from the Pentagon and White House about getting into another messy Middle East war, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pressed for more intervention. The Syrian Accountability Act of 2003 began the formal U.S. attempt to bring down Assad, but the imperial princess Clinton now demands Syrian President Assad resign in favor of the Syrian National Council (SNC). This hastily formed group composed of exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members, and other groupings, many in exile, would magically transform Syria via fair elections into a good democracy – and sheep will fly.
Washington's "humanitarian" assistance fund for Syria escalated into "non-lethal" aid – sophisticated satellite communications equipment, and night-vision goggles so "rebels" could "evade" Syrian government assaults.
U.S. and Western media have underscored Assad's butchery, but offered little of substance on the opposition and its often savage behavior. Just weeks after the first March 2011 protests – Arab Springtime – the media disregarded eyewitness evidence of armed groups shooting at and killing members of Syria's security forces as well as civilians. Reporter Pepe Escobar witnessed "the shooting deaths of nine Syrian soldiers in Banyas" as early as April 10, 2011.
By focusing only on Assad's violence, Western leaders could promote a lopsided view of the conflict. In recent weeks, however, the media could not ignore all "photos and video footage of armed men with heavy weapons proudly declaring their stripes – some of them religious extremists advocating the killing of civilians based on sectarian differences."
Suicide bombings took place in Damascus and Aleppo, and Al Qaeda called its minions "to battle." The U.S. government ignored Al Qaeda's role and refers only to the "good" SNC, the majority who appear to ally themselves with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.
At a March meeting in Istanbul, sponsored by Turkey and Qatar, however, an unlikely source of dissent emerged. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: "We reject any arming [of Syrian rebels] and the process to overthrow the [Assad] regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region."
Al-Maliki questioned the motives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia who "are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire."
Iraq, he continued, opposed "arming" the Free Syrian Army and he feared, "those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country."
Maliki, who governs Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion and devastation of that country, questioned equating a cause backed by Saudi funding with freedom. "What's wrong with the Free Syrian Army getting funding from Saudi Arabia? Or, when did Saudi Arabia ever support freedom?" he asked.
These remarks were not featured in headlined stories; nor did TV or radio news provide coverage of Maliki's statement. Until recently, we might have depended on Al-Jazeera, whose Iraq war coverage won it praise from journalists. However, the network's Syria reports led some reporters to resign over the network's biased reporting. Hassan Shaaban, the Beirut bureau's managing director, resigned in March, "after leaked emails revealed his frustration over the channel's coverage." Shaaban had filed a story showing armed men fighting with the Syrian army in Wadi Khalid. Al Jazeera dropped the story. Two other Al-Jazeera staff quit for the same reasons.
Al Akhbar calimed Qatar's foreign policy influenced the reporting on Syria. Al Jazeera maintains headquarters in Qatar and the royal family helped establish the network.
The question in Washington should be: will adding fuel to the violence make matters worse? Assad's forces have defeated – with huge civilian casualties – the formal rebel uprisings, but the SNC could sponsor a prolonged terrorist war, which would increase civilian casualties, and not succeed in removing Assad or his Party [the Baath Party] from power.
Logic and reason dictate that Obama should follow the Syrian majority. A February 2012 poll showed "55% of Syrians want Assad to stay," [not] motivated by fondness for his government, but "by fear of civil war." The polls also ascertained "that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future." The YouGov Siraj poll on Syria was commissioned by The Doha Debates and funded by the Qatar Foundation, which isconnected to the royal family. The family has taken a hawkish position on Syria.
[Questions have been about drawing this conclusion from the YouGov poll, because of the small sample size of Syrians. However, the result is broadly consistent with the reported results of the constitutional reform referendum sponsored by the government, in which a slim majority of the electorate participated and voted yes - JFP.]
These facts have not oozed into State Department consciousness, where the rush for U.S. entanglement appears contagious. Good sense should command Secretary Clinton to help save the process former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set in motion for a negotiated cease fire. The opposition and the Assad side negated the April 10 deadline. This means Syrians will pay a higher human toll. The suffering is already immense.
On April 14, the UN Security Council backed a deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor the tentative cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition combatants. Before the arrangements become final, Washington should weigh in now with Russia, China and the western powers – not Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to pressure both sides to stop shooting and start serious talking.
3) How France's Presidential Runoff Could Shape Iran Diplomacy
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, April 24, 2012
French President Nicolas Sarkozy may have once been caught in an unguarded moment telling President Barack Obama he couldn't stand Benjamin Netanyahu and branding the Israeli leader "a liar," but Netanyahu would nonetheless lose an important ally if Sarkozy is unable to reverse Sunday's setback in his reelection bid. That's because regardless of the personal chemistry between them, Netanyahu will be initimately aware that Sarkozy is widely regarded as the most Israel-friendly French president ever and is also Israel's best bet among Western leaders for maintaining a hard line on Iran. Even if presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande is unlikely, if elected, to change France's formal position on Iran, the Socialist Party candidate is also highly unlikely to reprise Sarkozy's hyperactive and reliably hawkish hectoring of Washington and his European neighbors to escalate pressure on Iran-and to resist compromises with Tehran on the issue of uranium enrichment.
"Sarkozy has played a critical, instrumental role in hardening the European position on Iran, although the Iranians themselves have certainly helped," says Iran scholar Trita Parsi, author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy With Iran. "He has consistently taken positions more hawkish than those of the Obama Administration. By contrast, Hollande's orientation will be on fixing France's many domestic problems, and even if he leaves the formal position on Iran unchanged, he's very unlikely to adopt Sarkozy's approach of pressing other Western powers and agitating for a harder line."
4) Israel legalizes three West Bank outposts
Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, Tuesday, April 24, 12:13 PM
Jerusalem - Israel announced Tuesday that it has legalized three unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, a move that Palestinians and anti-settlement activists condemned as a step toward creating the first new settlements in more than a decade.
The decision marked the latest effort by Israel's right-wing coalition government to prevent evictions - some of them court-ordered - of Jewish settlers who have established communities without government permission in the West Bank, where Israel occupies land that Palestinians want for a future state.
Settlements are a core point of dispute in the frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the housing developments as Israeli land-grabbing and want construction to stop before resuming negotiations. Israel says the issue should be discussed during peace talks.
Although most foreign governments consider all settlements illegal, Israel applies that label only to about 100 so-called outposts that were built without official authorization, sometimes on private Palestinian land. Past Israeli governments have pledged to dismantle the outposts but have rarely moved to do so, and authorities have instead provided them with sewage, water and other services.
In a short statement issued Tuesday, the government said that a ministerial committee had decided to "formalize" the three outposts of Sansana, Bruchin and Rechelim, whose establishment it attributed to "previous governments."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressured to save the outposts by pro-settlement allies, some of whom have threatened to leave the governing coalition over the issue. Last month, the Israeli Supreme Court knocked back a government effort to delay the evacuation of the largest outpost, Migron, a ruling that energized efforts by conservative lawmakers to "retroactively" legalize the unauthorized settlements.
Anti-settlement activists say such efforts amount to the creation of new settlements, the first since the 1990s. "This announcement is against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two-state solution," the group Peace Now, which opposes settlements, said in a statement.
Netanyahu has also pledged to block the scheduled razing on May 1 of apartment buildings in another outpost, Ulpana, which the Supreme Court had ordered because they were built on private Palestinian land.
5) Weighing the Legal Ramifications of the Wal-Mart Bribery Case
Peter J. Henning, White Collar Watch, New York Times, April 23, 2012, 10:45 AM
[Henning, who writes White Collar Watch for DealBook, is a professor at Wayne State University Law School.]
The United States government puts a premium on corporate cooperation in foreign bribery cases, relying on companies to conduct thorough internal investigations and voluntarily disclose any wrongdoing.
Indications that Wal-Mart Stores may have taken steps to keep an internal investigation from digging deeper into $24 million in questionable payments - and later promoting an executive who may have been implicated in them - may affect how the government decides to proceed against the giant retailer.
Wal-Mart first disclosed in December that it had started "a voluntary internal review of its policies, procedures and internal controls pertaining to its global anticorruption compliance program." That review was the result of reporting by The New York Times about bribery by Wal-Mart de México to secure permits and approvals to build new stores.
The company's disclosures did not give any information about where the foreign bribery issues had arisen, only that the focus was on whether "permitting, licensing and inspections were in compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act." Wal-Mart said it had informed the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission about the internal investigation, and the company issued a statement in response to the Times article that its outside advisers "have and will continue to meet with the D.O.J. and S.E.C. to report on the progress of the investigation."
Cooperation is also important because it is a significant factor for prosecutors in deciding how to resolve a case. The Justice Department has allowed companies to pay reduced fines and avoid a guilty plea to criminal charges by entering into deferred or nonprosecution agreements because they came forward voluntarily and readily provided information.
While Wal-Mart may be angling for the same type of resolution, it is questionable whether being prodded by The Times's reporting to start an internal investigation shows that it took affirmative steps to address a problem. The company had dropped its earlier investigation, and likely would have let that sleeping dog lie if not for potential media scrutiny.
The Times article also raises two significant red flags for investigators that may cause them to take a more aggressive approach in the case. First, the Mexican bribery involved senior management at the subsidiary, not just low-level employees operating on their own. One factor cited in the Justice Department guidelines for deciding whether to charge a business organization is the "pervasiveness of wrongdoing within the corporation," and the most important consideration "is the role and conduct of management."
Second, Wal-Mart's own investigators raised questions about $16 million in "contributions" and "donations" to local governments, but there was no further review of those payments. Simply ignoring these types of transfers is sure to raise questions for the government about whether the company can claim it had an effective compliance program back in 2005 when these issue first came to light, another important consideration in determining whether to file charges.
The time lag may present a problem if the Justice Department wants to prosecute any individuals for bribery of Mexican officials. The statute of limitations for a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is five years. The limitations period can be extended if the government was seeking evidence from a foreign country, but that does not appear to be the case because Wal-Mart only disclosed the issue in late 2011. So charges related to conduct before 2007 may be lost due to the passage of time.
One way the government can try to avoid the statute of limitations is to charge a conspiracy, which only requires that one act in furtherance of the criminal agreement take place within the last five years. If active steps by Wal-Mart executives to cover up payments to foreign officials occurred in 2007 or later, then prosecutors might be able to pursue that charge.
The statute of limitations will not work as much in Wal-Mart's favor, however, because the company is required to annually file financial statements covering the previous five years. It is likely that questionable payments were not properly reflected on the company's books and records. So even if no charges can be brought for any foreign bribery, at a minimum it could be charged with violating the accounting provisions of federal securities law for not properly disclosing the payments made by Wal-Mart de México.
Another potential avenue that prosecutors are likely to investigate is obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1519, which was added by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. If there is evidence that anyone at the company covered up or destroyed records "with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a future investigation, that could be grounds for a criminal charge.
One factor working against Wal-Mart is that the Justice Department may be looking for a prominent case to demonstrate the need for vigorous enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as a response to recent criticisms of the law. The Chamber of Commerce, which hired a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, to lobby for changes to the statute, has argued that aggressive application of the law has caused companies to shy away from overseas investments for fear of being scrutinized.
The Times article makes it clear that Wal-Mart appeared to be more concerned with protecting its fast-growing Mexican operation than with thoroughly investigating allegations that corruption helped fuel its success. Prosecutors can make an example of Wal-Mart to show that the Justice Department will not tolerate foreign bribery, even by a leading American company. That would bolster the argument that revising the statute would send the wrong message to the rest of the world.
6) Wal-Mart faces federal criminal probe tied to allegations of bribery in Mexico
Sari Horwitz and Jia Lynn Yang, Washington Post, April 23
The Justice Department has been conducting a criminal probe of Wal-Mart for allegations of systematic bribery in Mexico, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The investigation was launched in December after Wal-Mart met voluntarily with Justice Department officials, revealing it was looking into whether its Wal-Mart de Mexico unit had bribed foreign officials to gain business. Wal-Mart said this weekend that it has also met with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The allegations were brought to light by the New York Times on Saturday.
The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bans companies from paying foreign officials to get more business. The law has recently been targeted by lobbyists - including an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with ties to Wal-Mart - who criticize it as too broad and bad for business.
As officials in recent years have stepped up their enforcement of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Chamber has been pushing for the law to be scaled back.
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the Chamber that has been a leader in criticizing the law, listed two Wal-Mart executives as board members in its 2010 tax form: Jeff Gearhart, Wal-Mart's general counsel, and Thomas Hyde, a former Wal-Mart corporate secretary who stepped down in August 2010.
Hyde was among the company executives who received initial reports of the alleged bribery in 2005, according to the Times story.
Wal-Mart's shares slid nearly 5 percent Monday, and the company faced more questions about how much it knew about the corruption and why it did not tell authorities. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Wal-Mart chief executive Michael Duke requesting an in-person meeting about the bribery allegations.
7) Egypt Rejects Registration Bids From 8 U.S. Nonprofit Groups
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, April 23, 2012
Cairo - An Egyptian ministry has rejected the applications for registration of eight American nonprofit groups, state media reported, in the government's first action on the status of foreign-backed nonprofit groups since its criminal prosecution of three American-backed organizations set off a crisis in relations with Washington this year.
The state media reported that the Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry had rejected the applications of the groups on the grounds that their activities violated Egyptian sovereignty.
Most notable among them was the Carter Center, which has sent monitors to observe the Egyptian presidential election. Its founder, former President Jimmy Carter, is something close to a national hero in Egypt for his role brokering the 1979 Camp David peace accords.
Sanne van der Bergh, director of the center's operations in Egypt, said that the group was awaiting an official response to its application and that it still hoped to receive an invitation from the presidential election commission to monitor the elections starting next month.
Other groups denied registration included Seeds of Peace, which brings young Egyptians, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians together at a camp in Maine; a group for Coptic Christian orphans; and a Mormon missionary group.
There was no indication of any immediate legal action against the groups or their employees in Egypt.
8) Palestinian women take back spring as settlers, soldiers look on
Haggai Matar, +972, Sunday, April 22 2012
[pictures of the action at link - JFP.]
For the first time in years, a group of Palestinian women was able to reach the Nabi Saleh spring, which was taken over long ago by settlers. The women vowed to return, hoping to hold on to the spring.
Every Friday for the past three years or so, Nabi Saleh residents, along with Israeli and international supporters, have been demonstrating against the theft of their lands by settlers from the nearby settlement of Halamish. At the focus of the struggle is the attempt to reach the Al-Kous spring, which was taken over by settlers in recent years. Week after week, demonstrators march toward the spring, but are stopped by soldiers who disperse them with tear gas (sometimes aimed directly at protestors and once resulting on the death of a Nabi Saleh resident) with "skunk" water, severe beatings, arrests and more.
On Sunday, for the first time in years, a group of roughly 30 Palestinian women was able to make it to the spring. The group was made up of local women, who were joined by activists from other villages, and supporters from Ramallah and Jerusalem. Soldiers and settlers who arrived at the scene did not stop the women from picnicking around the spring. After a few hours, the group left, vowing to return.
"The point of this direct action was to reclaim what the settlers have stolen from us," says Irene Nasser, one of the activists. "Many of us were very excited about being able to reach this beautiful place, after dozens of demonstrations during which we were barred from going there. The uniqueness of the action was also in that it was about women taking the popular struggle into their own hands and leading it together."
Nasser believes that the soldiers did not react this time both due to the fact that they were facing a women-only group, and as a result of the Shalom Eisner story – in which an officer was caught on video beating a Danish peace activist – and the trauma it caused in the army's ranks. In the coming weeks, the women plan to organize more direct actions, both in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere, in order to both challenge the army and empower the women taking part in the struggle.
9) Palestinian protest organizer makes bail after year in prison
Haggai Matar, +972, Tuesday, April 24 2012
The Military Court of Appeals ruled that Bassem Tamimi, central organizer of popular demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, will be released on bail Tuesday night after more than a year in prison. The ruling may be a sign of his coming acquittal as Palestinian detainees almost never make bail.
Tamimi is one of the central figures in the popular struggle against the settlements' land theft in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and a symbol of the non-violent resistance to the occupation on the whole. Following an arrest in his home on the 24th of March 2011, the military court ruled that Tamimi will stay in prison until the end of legal proceedings against him, no matter how long these take. This is a standard procedure with Palestinians as military courts argue that re-apprehension on the event of flight would be extremely difficult, and therefore usually deny bail.
Since then Tamimi has declared that he does not recognize the court of the occupier, branding it counter-democratic, and reaffirming his commitment to the non-violent struggle. As his trial unfolded, it became clear that the prosecution's whole case against Tamimi – who is charged with inciting the village's youth to hurl stones at soldiers – is based on the testimonies of two teenagers, snatched from their beds at the dead of night, and interrogated without the presence of an adult or without being told of their right to remain silent.
Recently the court decided to allow Tamimi a release on bail. The military prosecution appealed the decision, but was today denied, and Tamimi was freed Tuesday evening after friends deposited bail, and he himself was told not to leave the Ramallah area.
This might be a sign that the court is either considering acquitting Tamimi in the next trial session, planned for May 15, or that the judges believe he will not get a sentence higher than 13 months. The convication rate of Palestinians in Israeli military prisons, by the way, is 99.74 percent. About two weeks ago Tamimi was released for 48 hours to visit his mother in hospital. His return from this short vacation might also have influenced the court's decision.
10) Colombian union leaders receive death threats from neo-paramilitaries
Christan Leonard, Colombia Reports, Monday, 23 April 2012 17:06
Two Colombian union leaders have received death threats from the Aguilas Negras neoparamilitary group, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said Monday.
According to WOLA, the President and Vice-President of SINTRAEMCALI, a union in the western Colombian department of Valle de Cauca, received a letter Saturday inviting the two leaders to their own funeral.
The letter reads:
"Special message for the trade unionists of SINTRAEMCALI, especially the President and Vice-President of that f**king organization that is commanded by that pair of snitches, Jorge Ivan Velez and Albert Quintero. Those two motherf**kers don't know who they are messing with. I'm sending you this message because I think it is the last one that you will receive because we are going to shoot you for denouncing our bosses. We're sending you two bullets so that you can look and see which bullet will silence you for being f*gs. Each bullet has one of your names on it. Don't think that your two bodyguards will be able to save you. They will have to watch over you in the cemetery. We've also noticed that you have been visiting the Attorney General's Office often, but that won't last long."
-Aguilas Negras (Translation from WOLA)
In addition to the two bullets mentioned in the letter, the package also contained two roses and a prayer book with a message in it saying the two leaders will die very soon.
Mr. Velez told WOLA that he was threatened "for raising the profile of the case of SINTRAEMCALI internationally and domestically."
The message came only a week after U.S. President Barack Obama announced at the Summit of the Americas that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would come into effect May 15 despite strong opposition from labor groups.
WOLA called on both the U.S. and Colombian governments to address the threat and to meet the conditions of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan -- a set of commitments to improve labor rights and union violence that Colombia was supposed to meet before the FTA could come into effect.
"In order to effectively provide protection for labor rights defenders and show that violence and intimidation against this group will not be tolerated or condoned, the U.S. and Colombian governments must take immediate and decisive action to investigate this threat and fully prosecute the material and intellectual authors of the crime as mandated by the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan," said WOLA on their website.
At the Summit of the Americas, Obama claimed the Colombian government had met the conditions of the Labor Action Plan although many groups deny that substantive efforts have been made to protect workers' right to organize or to prosecute crimes against unionists.
Human Rights Watch released a study last October which found that "virtually no progress" had been made in the past four and a half years in getting convictions for these crimes.
Colombia is the most dangerous country in South America for unionists. According to government figures, 30 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2011, although Colombian unionists assert the actual number is 51.
11) Union leader urges action on case against Guatemalan unions
Vicki Needham, The Hill, 04/23/12 11:45 AM ET
A top union leader expressed outrage on Monday that the Guatemalan government still isn't providing protections for workers and U.S. officials must step in and press the issue.
The AFL-CIO filed a complaint four years ago against Guatemala for violating labor rights under the he Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
Union President Richard Trumka said the day "marks a tragic anniversary" because there is "still no justice for Guatemalan workers."
The AFL-CIO filed a complaint in 2009 against six Guatemalan unions, which advanced to the dispute resolution phase in 2011.
But Trumka said the Guatemalan government "still refuses to fulfill its most basic governmental function, to enforce its own laws for the protection of its own people."
"The Government of Guatemala's continuing recalcitrance to support and defend workers' rights to free association, collective bargaining and even the simple right to be paid for work performed is shameful," Trumka said in a statement. "Even worse is the ongoing violent repression of workers brave enough to fight back against the system that has apparently abandoned them," he said.
He said it is time for U.S. officials to push the case immediately to arbitration. "Guatemalan working families have already waited too long for their day in court," he said.
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