As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
The mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch have left at least 49 dead and some 20 wounded, many gravely, including children. The attacks took place when the mosques were packed for Friday prayers, and many of the dead were immigrants from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Arab world. An Australian-born man named Brenton Tarrant has been arrested as the gunman, and three suspected accomplices also detained. Marking a new extreme in depravity, the gunman live-streamed the massacre on Facebook as he carried it out, with a camera mounted on his head. The video has been removed from the web. Alas, so has his lengthy manifesto, in which he laid out his motivations for the attack. (Ma'an; BellingCat)
The 18 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum held their 49th summit in Nauru, issuing a statement (PDFi) Sept. 6 asserting that "climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people." The leaders "reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change" and committed "to ensure effective progress on Pacific priorities with regards to the Paris Agreement" through the development of a guide. Leaders at the Forum also urged all countries to comply fully with their commitments to mitigate emissions, "including through the development and transfer of renewable energy," within their committed timeframes. The leaders also "called on the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change."
Chilean activists protested in Santiago March 7 against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests."
The high court in India's Uttarakhand state issued a ruling March 20 recognizing the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna as "living entities," officially giving these rivers that have seen long years of ecological damage a legal voice. "This order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of family trusts or a company," said Raj Panjwani, attorney with India's National Green Tribunal, a body charged with prosecuting enviromental crimes. Under the ruling, the rivers are accorded all rights guaranteed by India's constitution, including the right not to be harmed or destroyed. The ruling, which comes in a public interest litigation brought by the NGT, mandates action by the national government if Uttarakhand state authorities fail to meet their responsibilities regarding the rivers.
Kingi Taurua, a prominent elder of the Nga Puhi, an iwi (naiton) of New Zealand's Maori people at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, North Island, has sent a formal "notice of veto" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the embassies and trade departments of its proposed partner countries, and has requested that the Queen of Great Britain intervene on the issue. The document cites the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, and states that the New Zealand government does not have "due authority" to sign the TPP without the agreement of Maori elders, "which [agreement] has not been given." Taurua claims that the TPP would be void in respect of New Zealand's involvement as a result, and should not be signed. Release of the document sent by Taurua, entitled "Notice of Non-Assent to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Exercise of Constitutional Power of Veto in Respect Thereof," came just a day before the TPP was due to be signed in Auckland on Feb. 4 by leaders from countries around the Pacific.
In a move being openly portrayed as part of a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, China has set up a working group to study the feasibility of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host. Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, assured: "We think there will be no conflict between the FTAAP and the region's other FTAs under discussion." But reports note that the news comes just as progress of the TPP has snagged over Japanese insistence on protecting its agricultural and automotive sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping in October said at the APEC business forum in Indonesia that Beijing will "commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties"—an obvious veiled criticism of the TPP. (Tax News, May 5; AFP, April 30)
Well, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has moved on from Japan to New Zealand, where has has secured an agreement to reinstate naval cooperation with the Kiwis. This was broken off in 1985, when New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory, thus closing its ports to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered US warships. The US shortly retaliated by suspending its defense pact with New Zealand, and barring the Pacific nation's warships from US ports or bases. Now Panetta in Auckland just announced that the ban has been lifted, and military cooperation will be restored. Although New Zealand remains officially a nuclear-free zone, which means nuclear-armed US ships will continue to be barred, that looks like it could be next to go. "While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues,’" Panetta said. (VOA, Sept. 21; NYT, Sept. 20)