OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should call on Israel and the Hamas authorities to cooperate with the investigation led by Justice Richard Goldstone into serious laws of war violations by both sides during recent fighting in Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today. A UN Board of Inquiry, in its report to the secretary-general, said its own probe into attacks on UN installations in Gaza should be supplemented by a more comprehensive international investigation, but Ban has said he would not press for a broader inquiry.
The UN Board of Inquiry mandate was limited to incidents involving attacks on UN installations and personnel during Israel's major military operation in Gaza from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. The Board of Inquiry found the IDF responsible for casualties and damages in seven of the nine incidents it investigated; in one incident it determined that the most serious damage was caused by a Palestinian rocket most likely fired by Hamas, and in another incident it said it was unable to reach a conclusion as to which party was responsible. The separate Independent Fact-Finding Mission headed by Goldstone was established by the UN Human Rights Council. Goldstone has said that the inquiry will investigate alleged violations of the laws of war by both sides during the Gaza fighting.
"The Board of Inquiry has produced an excellent report with solid recommendations. As a next step, the secretary-general should endorse the UN fact-finding mission already established under Richard Goldstone to look into broader issues," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "The failure of both Israel and Hamas to investigate themselves, along with the Board's conclusions and Human Rights Watch's findings inside Gaza, all show the need for such an impartial and comprehensive investigation."
The UN Board of Inquiry said that several incidents it investigated, including deaths and injuries occurring near the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's (UNRWA) Jabalia and Beit Lahiya schools, and the UNRWA headquarters and nearby Gaza Training Center, "required further examination in relation to the rules and principles of international humanitarian law." The report referred to the deaths of many other civilians during the Gaza fighting, and recommended "an impartial inquiry mandated, and adequately resourced, to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law" by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups.
Ban, in making public a summary of the Board's report, said that despite this recommendation "which relate[s] to matters that largely did not fall within the Board's Terms of Reference, I do not plan any further inquiry." Ban did not mention the Goldstone fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council. Justice Goldstone is a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Israel barred media from Gaza during the major military operations from December 27 to January 18, and has continued to deny entry to Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups. In a statement issued before Ban's press conference, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed the UN Board of Inquiry's report, saying that it was "tendentious, patently biased, and ignore[d] the facts presented" in favor of "the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organization."
On April 22, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released the results of its internal investigations into its behavior during the recent fighting, concluding that it "operated in accordance with international law" throughout the fighting and that "a very small number" of "unavoidable" incidents occurred due to "intelligence or operational errors."
That finding contradicted Human Rights Watch's research into the fighting in Gaza, which concluded that both Israeli and Palestinian forces were responsible for serious violations of the laws of war. For example, the IDF used heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas and apparently targeted people trying to convey their civilian status, Human Rights Watch said in a 71-page report. In particular, Human Rights Watch conducted field research into some of the same attacks covered by the Board of Inquiry, such as Israel's use of white phosphorus against the UNRWA's headquarters and a UN school in Beit Lahiya, disproving IDF assertions that "no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas."
"The IDF's investigation was an effort to whitewash Israeli violations of the laws of war," Whitson said. "It is regrettable that Secretary-General Ban did not speak out clearly today about the need for an impartial international investigation that can provide a measure of redress for civilians killed unlawfully."
Palestinian fighters also committed serious violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said. Immediately prior to the Israeli military operations that began on December 27, throughout the fighting, and in the period since, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into Israeli civilian areas, in flagrant violation of prohibitions against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
"The report of the Board of Inquiry makes a strong case for an independent investigation into laws of war violations more broadly, not just those involving UN installations," said Whitson. "The secretary-general should immediately signal his full support for the fact-finding mission headed by Justice Goldstone."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
While failing to pay what they owe, rich countries are forcing their poor counterparts to fork over $232 million each day for debt repayments—a clear expression of what one advocate called a "deadly double standard."
Wealthy Group of Seven nations owe low- and middle-income countries $13.3 trillion in unpaid development aid and climate funding, according to an Oxfam International analysis published Wednesday, two days before the start of the 49th annual G7 Summit.
Despite failing to meet their own obligations, G7 countries and their rich bankers are demanding that developing nations pay a combined $507 billion in debt repayments through 2028, Oxfam noted, thereby imposing devastating austerity on the Global South. The large sums of money currently allocated to debt repayments—collectively totaling about $232 million per day—could instead be spent on healthcare, education, climate action, and more.
"Wealthy G7 countries like to cast themselves as saviors but what they are is operating a deadly double standard—they play by one set of rules while their former colonies are forced to play by another," Oxfam International's interim executive director, Amitabh Behar, lamented. "It's do as I say, not as I do."
"It's the rich world that owes the Global South," said Behar. "The aid they promised decades ago but never gave. The huge costs from climate damage caused by their reckless burning of fossil fuels. The immense wealth built on colonialism and slavery."
"The G7 must pay its due. This isn't about benevolence or charity—it's a moral obligation."
Recent peer-reviewed research detailing how the prioritization of capitalist class interests has reproduced inequality between nations over time found that the Global North has "drained" more than $152 trillion from the Global South since 1960, and climate justice advocates stress that this plunder is reflected in rich countries' outsized share of historic and present greenhouse gas pollution.
According to Oxfam's new analysis, planet-heating emissions attributed to the G7 inflicted $8.7 trillion in climate change-related loss and damage on developing countries between 1979 and 2019—a figure that has since increased and will continue to grow.
At the United Nations COP27 climate conference last year, delegates agreed to establish a loss and damage fund after failing to commit to phasing out the fossil fuels causing so much harm. It remains to be seen how the new fund will operate, but Oxfam on Wednesday condemned G7 members for continuing to push for public investment in fracked gas and oil development despite vowing to wind down climate-wrecking dirty energy production at a faster rate.
Previous efforts to facilitate climate aid from the Global North to the Global South have fallen far short of what's needed due to the stinginess of wealthy countries, especially the United States.
In 2009, developed nations agreed at COP15 to allocate $100 billion in green finance per year to the developing world by 2020 and every year after through 2025, at which point a new goal would be established. However, only $83.3 billion was mobilized in the first year, and governments are not expected to hit their annual target, which has been denounced as woefully inadequate, until this year.
Based on Oxfam's calculations, the G7 is $72 billion behind on the pledge to help impoverished countries ramp up clean energy and respond to increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather.
Oxfam's $13.3 trillion estimate is based on a combination of the $8.7 trillion in uncompensated climate destruction caused by the G7 since 1979 and its $72 billion climate finance shortfall, plus nearly $4.5 trillion in unfulfilled development funding.
In 1970, rich nations including the G7 agreed to spend 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA). As of last year, however, they had provided just 0.27%. For their part, G7 members contributed a total of $2.8 trillion in ODA from 1970 to 2022, leaving a cumulative gap of $4.49 trillion between what they promised and what they've delivered.
"This money could have been transformational," said Behar. "It could have paid for children to go to school, hospitals, and lifesaving medicines, improving access to water, better roads, agriculture and food security, and so much more. The G7 must pay its due. This isn't about benevolence or charity—it's a moral obligation."
The upcoming G7 meeting, held this year in Japan, gives members of the powerful club a perfect opportunity to make good on their unmet commitments to uplift the poor, Oxfam said.
"G7 leaders are meeting at a moment where billions of workers face real-term pay cuts and impossible rises in the prices of basics like food," Oxfam pointed out. "Global hunger has risen for a fifth consecutive year, while extreme wealth and extreme poverty have increased simultaneously for the first time in 25 years."
"Two hundred fifty-eight million people across 58 countries are currently experiencing acute hunger, up 34% over the last year," the organization continued. "In East Africa alone, drought and conflict have left a record 36 million people facing extreme hunger, nearly equivalent to the population of Canada. Oxfam estimates that up to two people are likely dying from hunger every minute in Ethiopia, Kenya Somalia, and South Sudan."
\u201cHey #G7 leaders, who will follow through on your promises to tackle hunger?\n\n\ud83d\udea840 million face a hunger crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.\n\n\ud83d\udea81 person is likely to die every 28 seconds.\n\n\ud83d\udea885,000 people in South Sudan and Somalia on the brink of famine.\n\nThe\u2026\u201d— Oxfam (@Oxfam) 1684397628
Meanwhile, "the fortunes of the world's 260 food billionaires have increased by $381 billion since 2020," Oxfam noted. "Synthetic fertilizer corporations increased their profits by ten times on average in 2022. According to the IMF, the 48 countries most affected by the global food crisis face an additional $9 billion in import bills in 2022 and 2023."
"The G7 is home to 1,123 billionaires with a combined wealth of $6.5 trillion," said Oxfam. "Their wealth has grown in real terms by 45% over the past ten years. A wealth tax on the G7's millionaires starting at just 2%, and 5% on billionaires, could generate $900 billion a year. This is money that could be used to help ordinary people in G7 countries and in the Global South who are facing rising prices and falling wages."
Oxfam called on G7 governments to take the following steps immediately:
"Each and every day, the Global South pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the G7 and their rich bankers. This has to stop," Behar said. "It's time to call the G7's hypocrisy for what it is: an attempt to dodge responsibility and maintain the neo-colonial status quo."
The need for debt relief and redistribution is only poised to grow.
"At least an additional $27.4 trillion are needed between now and 2030 to fill financing gaps in health, education, social protection, and tackling climate change in low- and middle-income countries," Oxfam has estimated. "That equates to an annual financing gap of $3.9 trillion."
"Landfills not only contribute to climate change, but they disproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods and communities of color forced to live near dumps," said the co-author of a new report.
Methane emissions from U.S. municipal landfills—collectively, one of the nation's largest sources of the planet-heating greenhouse gas—could be reduced if the Environmental Protection Agency enacted "strong new regulations," a report released Thursday argues.
The report—entitled Trashing the Climate: Methane From Municipal Landfills—was published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. The publication notes that "more than 1,100 municipal landfills emitted at least 3.7 million metric tons of methane in 2021, which had the climate-warming impact of 66 million gasoline-powered vehicles driving for a year or 79 coal-fired power plants."
"To reduce this major but little-discussed source of potent greenhouse gases, EPA must impose regulations that mandate more gas-collection systems at landfills, require more monitoring and accurate reporting of methane emissions, and encourage more composting, recycling, and reduction in the waste stream by consumers," the paper asserts.
Methane—which has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere—is emitted from landfills primarily due to rotting food waste. Americans throw away about 40% of their food, and U.S. food waste soared by 70% between 1990 and 2017, according to the report.
EIP also found that "municipal waste landfills are often located in communities where residents are people of color or have lower incomes."
"Fifty-four percent of the landfills reporting to EPA's greenhouse gas database are surrounded by communities, within a one-mile radius, that exceed national averages for people of color or residents considered low-income," the report notes.
\u201cA \ud83e\uddf5on how landfill methane is trashing the climate, and what we can do about it, as explored in our new report: https://t.co/vt1ShnSNnP\u201d— Environmental Integrity Project (@Environmental Integrity Project) 1684427530
The publication continues:
In Uniontown, Alabama, a community that is 98% Black and 64% below the poverty line, neighbors complain about odors, nausea, headaches, and other illnesses from a landfill that receives 93% of its garbage from out of state. In the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn neighborhoods of Baltimore, a community that is 60% Black or nonwhite Hispanic, a nearby landfill owned by the city is one of the top methane emitters in Maryland.
EIP ranked the 10 leading methane-emitting landfills in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. Sampson County Landfill in Roseboro, North Carolina tops the list with 32,983 metric tons of methane released—more than 10 times the average landfill.
Another problem highlighted in the report is that "EPA's greenhouse gas numbers and information database are not based on pollution monitoring or sampling. Instead, all data on methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from landfills are estimated using mathematical formulas that likely lowball the real numbers."
Last year, EIP
sued the EPA, alleging the agency underreported landfill pollutant levels due to outdated estimation methods.
"EPA is failing to adequately control methane from landfills, a huge source of greenhouse gases, and we can no longer ignore this problem with the climate crisis heating up ," EIP senior attorney and report co-author Leah Kelly said in a statement Thursday. "Landfills not only contribute to climate change, but they disproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods and communities of color forced to live near dumps."
\u201c#Foodwaste = 18% of human-derived methane emissions. \n\nBut these #emissions are simple to reduce dramatically. Composting food = up to 84 percent less greenhouse gas emissions coming from landfills!\n#wastemanagement #ccac2023 #CCAC #methane #foodwaste\n\nhttps://t.co/cCjDYXQPKu\u201d— Climate & Clean Air Coalition (@Climate & Clean Air Coalition) 1684315540
In order to tackle methane pollution from landfills, the report recommends:
"The U.S. must reduce landfill methane, but it must do so without increasing toxic pollution in the air that people breathe and without further threatening the health of low-income communities and communities of color," the report concludes. "Composting and improved pollution controls are solutions to the problem of landfill methane. Incineration is not a solution; it is exchanging one problem for another."
"The pharmaceutical industry will always lobby to maximize their own profits, regardless of the impact on public health, but G7 leaders must resist."
A group of scientists warned the leaders of rich countries on Thursday that the world is badly unprepared for the next pandemic and must urgently lay the groundwork for a swift, equitable global response that puts lives over pharmaceutical industry profits.
In a letter to the heads of G7 nations as they gathered in Hiroshima for their annual summit, 16 scientists from South Africa, Brazil, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Japan, Indonesia, and other nations wrote that "it is critical that in the next health crisis the world rapidly deploys medical countermeasures in every country, regardless of their ability to pay," invoking the deadly failure to ensure sufficient access to Covid-19 vaccines in poor nations.
A just response, the scientists wrote, "requires removing every barrier to the development and production of medicines and vaccines—an area where the world failed during the Covid-19 and AIDS pandemics."
"Upholding strict intellectual property rules secured monopolies for pharmaceutical companies and prevented the widespread production of affordable generic vaccines and medicines in developing countries," they continued. "We write to you to emphasize and ask that you center the protection of human rights, such as the right to health and the right to benefit from scientific progress, over windfall profits."
The scientists' letter comes weeks after two dozen pharmaceutical company CEOs—including Eli Lilly chief David Ricks—met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss ways to "strengthen the power of science and an innovation ecosystem built on the protection of intellectual property rights and free access to pathogens."
That was how the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA)—a powerful industry trade group whose membership list includes Pfizer, Moderna, and Merck—described the meeting with Kishida, which took place less than a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) formally declared the coronavirus pandemic over as a global health emergency.
The death toll from the pandemic is believed to be in the tens of millions, and research has shown that many deaths could have been averted with more equal vaccine access worldwide.
But efforts to remove barriers that hindered vaccine production and distribution—including patent laws—were blocked by rich countries at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, which furiously opposed any changes that threatened their monopoly control over the lifesaving shots.
IFPMA was at the center of those aggressive lobbying efforts.
"We cannot double-down on implementation of intellectual property rules that make pandemics longer, costlier, and deadlier."
In their letter to G7 leaders—a group that includes Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—the scientists expressed dismay that the pharmaceutical industry is still "advocating a maximalist approach to intellectual property, disregarding the impact on public health."
"This is an extreme view that flies in the fact of mainstream scientific opinion," they wrote. "This position endangers the kind of scientific collaboration that is essential to properly prevent, prepare for, and respond to health crises, especially infectious diseases. It condemns most people who live in low and middle-income countries to remain at the back of the line in any future pandemic and exposes them inequitably to death and devastation for longer than people in high-income countries."
Dr. Craig Spencer, associate professor of the practice at Brown University School of Public Health and one of the new letter's signatories, said in a statement Thursday that "we believe that the right to health is more important than windfall profits, particularly in a health crisis."
"The pharmaceutical industry will always lobby to maximize their own profits, regardless of the impact on public health, but G7 leaders must resist," said Spencer. "We cannot double-down on implementation of intellectual property rules that make pandemics longer, costlier, and deadlier."
Another letter signatory, Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), added that "G7 Health Ministers have discussed preparing for the next pandemic but have not considered important lessons from Covid-19."
The letter cited one model that put the possibility of another pandemic as deadly as Covid-19 within the next 10 years at 27.5%. It also points to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that "the annual probability of extreme epidemics occurring could increase threefold in the coming decades."
While the scientists said they were encouraged by elements of the WHO's draft pandemic treaty, noting that it includes "provisions to increase the transfer of medical technology to developing countries and to support the suspension of intellectual property rules," they expressed concern that those proposals could suffer the same fate as earlier efforts to waive patent rules.
"We are not asking you to force or demand that institutions are uncompensated for their work, but we urge you make sure compensation is fair and just, and to resist the lobbying of institutions that have prioritized profits over people and public health needs," the scientists wrote. "There is no time to waste."