Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Repression won't resolve Basque conflict

Every two years Basque speakers vote with their feet. Thousands take part in the Korrika, a run supporting an ancient language that was outlawed by Franco’s dictatorship. There is a festive atmosphere here in Santutxu, a working-class part of Bilbao which stages the event. Yet I soon notice that many of the athletic participants are holding black-and-white placards.
Who are the stony-faced men in the photographs affixed to them? Prisoners, my new pal Victor tells me. It is my first time in the Basque Country but the political situation seems eerily familiar to someone who has spent most of his life observing Anglo-Irish relations. Although ETA is on ceasefire, the Madrid government won’t enter dialogue with its representatives. And I can’t help being reminded of how Britain’s then prime minister John Major refused to budge when the Provisional IRA called off its armed struggle in 1994. There was an inevitable consequence to Major’s obduracy: the Provos marked their return to violence after less than two years with a massive bomb in London’s Canary Wharf, killing a newsagent and his friend.

ETA – like the IRA – has committed numerous acts that are inexcusable. But simply condemning ETA as a terrorist organisation, without analysing what motivates its members appears to me both futile and counterproductive.

There is a widespread perception among outsiders that because the Basque Country was granted effective autonomy after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, its inhabitants have nothing to whinge about. Bilbao has even successfully rebranded itself from a gritty industrial city to one where services drive the local economy and hipsters are drawn to its gleaming Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

Just because a casual visitor does not notice a more repressive side to Basque life doesn’t mean it’s not there. From 1983 to 1987, the Madrid authorities sponsored death squads to kill, kidnap and torture both suspected ETA volunteers and non-combatants who had nothing to do with it. More recently, a draconian law allowing prison sentences for “glorifying” terrorism was introduced. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights found that this offence denied liberty of expression. The court’s ruling followed a case taken by Arnaldo Otegi, a leading figure in the banned party Batasuna, who spent 12 months in jail for arguing that King Juan Carlos bore responsibility for an army that imposes “his monarchic regime on our people through torture”.

With 700 Basque political prisoners behind bars, the question of their detention is one of the most sensitive issues to be addressed. Despite ETA’s ceasefire, suspected members of the organisation are still being arrested. Spain has rejected calls from the United Nations Human Rights Council to end incommunicado detention. This cruel practice continues despite a December 2010 verdict in the criminal court of Guipúzcoa, in which four members of the Civil Guard were found guilty of torturing Basque prisoners held in isolation.

Spain’s prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has announced he will not be seeking a third term in elections slated for next year. Judging by its dismal performance in opinion polls, his party, the Socialists, will probably be booted out of office then. So what does he have to lose by striving to build a durable peace in the Basque Country?

The efforts to criminalise dissent defy common sense. What is there to fear from allowing Bildu – a party formed following the ban on Batasuna – from seeking an electoral mandate? In the North of Ireland, there is a distinct possibility that Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, will soon be appointed its first minister. Tony Blair doesn’t deserve much praise but his willingness to engage with Sinn Féin has shown that it is possible to make armed groups swap the bomb for the ballot box. If anything, the problem with McGuinness is that he has lost much of his radical edge and become a mainstream politician, willing to implement public service cutbacks imposed from London.

Otegi and his colleagues have displayed an interest in applying lessons from the Irish peace process to the Basque Country. Before his latest arrest in 2009, Otegi was a guest of Sinn Féin in Belfast. Gerry Adams, the party’s leader, has correctly described Otegi’s imprisonment as “an obstacle to the development of a process for peace-making and positive change”.

The European Union has not helped matters by placing ETA on its list of terrorist organisations. Peace processes depend on flexibility and compromise, yet the entire EU has developed a rigid approach of “we don’t talk to terrorists”. As an in-depth recent study by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights showed, this blacklisting policy has had a “tremendously negative impact on attempts to resolve long-standing conflicts and complex struggles for self-determination”. The West’s refusal to talk to Hamas, in particular, has fomented unnecessary divisions in Palestine. If EU governments were genuine about seeking peace in the Middle East, they would remove Hamas from that list immediately. It should also be noted that Spain’s stance on “terror” is highly selective. In 2002, a new law banned parties that do not condemn violence. The following year, José María Aznar, then the Spanish prime minister, signed up for the invasion of Iraq, a war opposed by 90% of his compatriots. I don’t recall seeing Aznar and his right-wing Popular Party banned from holding office for glorifying this monstrous act of terror. Do you?

•First published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu), 24-30 April 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Pharma sets the agenda

Both my parents are pharmacists, so I grew up surrounded by medicines and people who relied on them to stay alive. The idea, then, that access to vital treatment should ever be denied horrifies me. What horrifies me more is that there is a bunch of lobbyists in Brussels who get paid handsomely to argue that such access should be restricted to the better-off.

Using freedom of information rules, I have obtained a few hundred documents exchanged between the European Commission and pharmaceutical corporations. Not everything I asked for has been released but there is enough here to realise that the myopic profit-fixated recommendations of Big Pharma are routinely swallowed by civil servants and regurgitated as official EU policy.

Right now, I’m looking at a 2008 letter about talks aimed at reaching a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and South Korea. It is signed by Brian Ager from the European Federation for Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and was sent to a number of high-flyers in the Commission, including David O’Sullivan, then its director-general for trade.

Ager was adamant that the EU must have strong provisions on intellectual property included in any deal with Seoul. In particular, he wanted a clause relating to “data exclusivity”. That is a fancy way of saying that makers of generic drugs should be banned from using information (on safety and clinical trials, for example) that the “originator” of a medicine hands over to the authorities when registering that product. Data exclusivity is a monopoly power, different from patents. And the measures advocated by Ager stretch beyond the main international system on patents: the trade-related aspects of industrial property rights agreement (TRIPS).

As the EU has been pushing for six years of data exclusivity to apply to new medicines introduced in Russia and China, Ager argued that the same timeframe should apply with Korea. “A weaker regime in the context of the EU-Korea FTA agreement (sic) would have a negative effect beyond the single country, setting a precedent that may adversely influence other negotiations,” he wrote.

It is significant that Ager wanted the EU to be even more aggressive towards the Koreans than the Americans had been. A draft US-Korea agreement – still not ratified by either side in 2011 – provides for a data exclusivity system of only five years, he noted.

This does not mean that Washington is naturally inclined to be more generous to generics. In 2001, Jordan signed a free trade agreement with the US. Under it, the data exclusivity arrangements for many medicines was extended from five to eight years. In 2007, Oxfam published a report concluding that by delaying the availability of unbranded versions of medicines, Jordan’s drug prices rose by 20%. This was in a country where 40% of the population did not have health insurance. As a result, Jordanians suffering from heart disease and diabetes faced bills two to six times higher than their neighbours in Egypt, which didn’t have such onerous requirements, paid for the same medicines.

Admittedly, Ager didn’t get everything he coveted. The agreement that the EU eventually signed with Korea – and which MEPs approved in February – provides for the five year system that Ager deemed inadequate. But EFPIA is continuing to demand that the full six years should apply in a separate deal under negotiation with India, the key supplier of generic drugs used to fight AIDS and other major killers in developing countries.

EFPIA’s member companies include Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Merck. Of course, it professes to be concerned about healing the poor. But the documents I’ve seen paint a nastier picture.

In 2007, EFPIA’s Brendan Barnes pressurised the EU to torpedo an access to medicines initiative by Brazil. Whereas the Brazilian government wished to have greater attention paid to intellectual property issues by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Barnes contended that that Geneva-based body was not “well-equipped” to deal with such matters. It is obvious from his efforts to persuade the EU to resist “this expansion of the WHO’s mandate” that he wanted intellectual property to continue being treated as a commercial matter, rather than a public health one.

Barnes’s efforts proved effective. Later in 2007, Portugal, then the holder of the EU’s presidency, submitted a paper to the WHO, telling it to pay less attention to intellectual property.

Time and again, the documents given to me indicate there is a cosy relationship between the Commission and Big Pharma. Numerous meetings are held between the two sides, without any input from public health advocates or campaigners against poverty. And I was particularly interested to learn that some emails journalists send to the Commission are passed on to the drugs industry.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the correspondence is the inconsistency in it. While Big Pharma does everything to thwart competition from cheaper generics, it still sucks up to the EU hierarchy by proclaiming its commitment to “competitiveness” at every opportunity. In one 2010 letter EFPIA’s Andrew Whitty wrote: “The challenge is to find a policy approach that delivers fast access to medicine, enhanced competitiveness, balanced budgets and reward for innovation.”

Call me old-fashioned but I believe health care is about trying to make sick people recover or – in terminal cases – relieving their pain. The logic of profit and loss, of competitiveness and balanced budgets should be viewed as irrelevant in this debate, especially when it relates to the world’s poorest.

·First published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu), 17-23 April 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

EU turns blind eye to Palestinian citizens in Israel

Answering questions from YouTube viewers over the past few weeks, Binyamin Netanyahu depicted Israel as an oasis of interracial harmony in a region of strife. "There's only one country in the heart of the Middle East that has no tremors, no protests,” the Israeli prime minister said. “That's Israel. Because we're the only one where we respect human rights. The only one that respects the rights of Arab citizens. Twenty percent of our population are Arabs. And they enjoy full civil rights in Israel. It's the only place in this entire vast expanse where Arabs and Muslims enjoy complete freedom and complete equality before the law."

It was a statement of characteristic chutzpah. Despite his claim that Israel “respects the rights of Arab citizens”, its national parliament – the Knesset – had just approved two pieces of legislation that discriminated against the 1.4 million Palestinians living within Israel’s internationally accepted borders.

First, on 22 March, a bill was passed to withdraw state funding from any institution that commemorates the Nakbah, the massacres and forced displacement of Palestinians that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Then, six days later, the Knesset approved a new law, which allows for Israeli citizenship to be removed when someone is convicted of terrorism or treason. Opponents of the law noted that it was directed at Palestinians and that it was virtually unthinkable that Jewish Israelis would have their citizenship revoked as a result.

Netanyahu’s comments were made ahead of a short European tour, confined to Germany and the Czech Republic. Predictably, they did not elicit any protest from the political leaders he met in Berlin and Prague. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, went out of her way to exude warmth towards her guest. Insisting she is “never irritated” by Netanyahu (notwithstanding reports they had exchanged cross words in February over the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories), Merkel described her contacts with him as “fun”.

Merkel’s silence over the treatment of the Palestinian minority in Israel is mirrored by the stance of the entire 27-country European Union.

Since Catherine Ashton was appointed the EU’s foreign policy chief in 2009, she has not issued even one statement focusing exclusively on the plight of Palestinians within Israel. Her reticence stands in marked contrast to her hasty reaction to incidents that affect Israeli Jews. For example, she swiftly condemned the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza into southern Israel on 7 April.

Ashton frequently meets Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, whose party Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) has been part of the country’s ruling coalition for the past two years. During that time, Lieberman and his colleagues have been the main sponsors of about 20 laws and bills designed to worsen the discrimination faced by Israel’s Palestinian minority.

In 1973, the United Nations recognised that the crime of apartheid did not only apply to South Africa but also to other situations where one racial group dominated over another. Israel has long enshrined its racism against Palestinians in quasi-constitutional legislation. The 1950 Law of Return enables Jews throughout the world to move to Israel and gain citizenship. Yet Palestinians forced to leave their homes during the Nakbah are denied that right.

When I asked Ashton’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic why EU representatives never utter the words “Israel” and “apartheid” in the same sentence, she replied: “Israel is a democratic country and a partner of the European Union. Human right issues and possible shortcomings in this respect are discussed in the regular dialogue we have with the Israeli authorities.”

Kocijancic would be well-advised to read an interview with the Israeli historian and political dissident Ilan Pappé published earlier this month by New Internationalist magazine. “Israel is what we in political science call a herrenvolk democracy, democracy only for the masters,” Pappé said. “The fact that you allow people to participate in the formal side of democracy, namely to vote or to be elected, is meaningless if you don’t give them any share in the common good or in the common resources of the state, or if you discriminate against them despite the fact that you allow them to participate in the elections. On almost every level – from official legislation through governmental practices to social and cultural attitudes – Israel is only a democracy for one ethnic group.”

The EU’s unwillingness to address the treatment of Palestinians within Israel was exposed in a report published in February by Adalah, a minority rights organisation based in Haifa, and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. It noted that the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel are not even mentioned in the “association agreement” between the EU and Israel that came into effect in 2000 and sets out the main contractual basis of relations between the two sides.

That omission was partly compensated for by an “action plan” on Israel approved by top-level EU representatives in 2005. The plan listed minority rights as one of the topics which the European Commission (the EU’s executive) and Israel were prepared to hold discussions. While Brussels officials appear to be monitoring the situation facing the Palestinian minority in Israel, “the Commission’s language has neither consistently hardened nor softened over the years,” the February report says.

“The EU is not willing to compromise its relationship with Israel,” Nathalie Tocci, the report’s author, told me. “This means it's unwilling to recognize Israel as not being a democracy. It is ready to criticise Israel's democratic deficiencies - regarding human and minority rights - but would view these problems as analogous to those within some European countries too.”

The socio-economic conditions in which Palestinians inside Israel live also put them at a disadvantage. Throughout Israel, more than 20% of households live below the poverty line. But the proportion rises to 50% for the Palestinian minority in general and to 80% for Bedouins.

When Lieberman visited Brussels in February, the EU issued a 45-paragraph statement on its relations with Israel. It called on the Israeli government to implement the recommendations of a panel chaired by Eliezer Goldberg, a retired Israeli judge, on Bedouin communities in the Negev. Issued in 2008, the Goldberg Commission report found that 62,000 Bedouins in 46 villages unrecognised by Israel were living in an “unbearable state”. It urged Israel to confer a legal status on those villages.

Lending its support to a commission mainly dominated by Israeli establishment figures was an easy step for the EU to take. Unsurprisingly, it did not go further by denouncing the role of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in destroying Bedouin villages such as Al Araqib, which has suffered more than 20 demolitions since July last year.

Even though the JNF’s bulldozers have been used in those demolitions and other acts of dispossession against Bedouins, the fund is regarded as a charity by some 50 countries worldwide. The JNF held a central position in the Zionist movement well before the state of Israel was established and used that position to advocate vigorously in favour of ethnic cleansing. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, one of its leading figures Yosef Weitz argued repeatedly that Palestinians should be forced out of Palestine.

The JNF has been given direct ownership of 13% of the land of Israel and a role in managing most of the remainder. It is particularly influential in Britain, where David Cameron, the prime minister, is one of its patrons. On its website, the JNF presents itself as a humanitarian and environmental organisation dedicated to planting trees in Israel.

“The JNF is involved in the illegal expropriation of Palestinian land and the concealing of Palestinian villages beneath parks and forests,” said Michael Kalmanovitz from the Stop the JNF Campaign in Britain. “The fact that David Cameron is one of its patrons is a disgrace.”

Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, said that both the EU and the US have tended to concentrate only on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and not on the Palestinian minority within Israel. By turning a blind eye to the Palestinian minority in Israel, the EU has failed to learn important lessons from the experience of its own member states. “You couldn’t have got peace between the UK and the Republic of Ireland without addressing the situation in Northern Ireland,” Jabareen said. “Europe should understand that.”

In his new book Boycott Divestment Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, Omar Barghouti argues that Westerners promoting conflict resolution in the Middle East have not grappled with the underlying injustices. “The main culprit is the insistence of Israel and successive US governments on exploiting the current massive power imbalance to impose a peace devoid of justice and human rights on the Palestinians, an unjust ‘solution’ that fails to address our basic rights under international law and undermines our inalienable right to self-determination,” he writes.

Barghouti is correct to pin much of the blame on Washington. Yet Europe’s contribution to this dismal state of affairs should not be overlooked, either. As the biggest destination for Israeli exports, the EU could have made the strengthening of its political and economic links with Israel conditional on improving the situation of all three groups that comprise the Palestinian people. These are the Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza; those within Israel’s internationally accepted borders; and refugees in the diaspora. The EU’s refusal to attach such conditions exposes its never-ending declarations of support for human rights as hollow.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 12 April 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Prague politics: acting as America's stooge

, After a day in Prague, I feel like my eyes cannot cope with any more beauty. From the old Town Hall with the overlapping circles on its astronomical clock to the funky futurism of its national theatre’s “new stage”, this is a city packed with architectural gems. It has all the elegance of a place that insists on being called central European. So why does its political establishment identify so much with the United States?

I blame Václav Havel. In a perceptive 1978 essay called “The Power of the Powerless”, Havel neatly summarised the function of propaganda in a repressive society. “Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything,” he wrote. “It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one.”

Browbeaten by totalitarianism, Havel made the mistake of thinking that market fundamentalism was the only viable alternative. When he came to power following the ‘Velvet Revolution’, he claimed that the Cold War had been a battle between two superpowers: one (the Soviet Union) a nightmare, the other (the US), a champion of liberty.

Havel is no longer the Czech president and has recently made his debut as a film director. But he remains the world’s best-known living Czech and uses the prominence he enjoys to demonstrate egregious double standards.

He continues to lend his support to dissidents such as the Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who suffer intimidation and imprisonment for their political beliefs. Yet he is happy to mainly turn a blind eye to human rights abuses carried out by the US and its client states, with their “omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus”.

In September 2010, he added his name to the Friends of Israel initiative. The brains behind this sordid public relations exercise include two men who helped start the war in Iraq: American diplomat John Bolton and former Spanish president José María Aznar. They also include David Trimble, a one-time leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who was selected by Israel to help “investigate” its attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last year. Predictably, Trimble served his Israeli master well by concluding there was no legal difficulty with the killing of nine peace activists in international waters. In Havel’s words, Trimble falsified the recent past.

Havel has defended his support for the state of Israel by saying that both it and the Palestinian Authority “deserve encouragement rather than boycott at this critical moment”. Such a declaration might have merits if Israel was seriously engaged in something that justified being described as peace negotiations. Yet the Palestine Papers, those documents leaked to Al Jazeera over the past few months, show that rather than desiring peace, Israel is committed to a process of colonial expansion. Even though representatives of the Palestinian Authority have been shown to have betrayed their own people by offering Israel control of most of East Jerusalem, Israel still wanted more.

Havel’s hypocrisy is replicated by Karel Schwarzenberg, the aristocratic and bowtie-sporting Czech foreign minister.

Schwarzenberg also fancies himself as a defender of dissidents. As a senator in 2005, he was kicked out of Cuba, where he was scheduled to address a conference of Fidel Casto’s critics.

His demands that countries reflect the democratic will of their people have not been reflected by the policies he has espoused at home. In 2008, he signed an agreement with Condoleezza Rice to station a US missile interceptor system on Czech soil. That decision was taken without the electorate being consulted, even though there was immense opposition to the plan among the Czech public.

Once more proving he is America’s stooge, Schwarzenberg announced last year that 180 new troops would be added to the 550-strong Czech contingent helping to fight that never-ending war in Afghanistan.

Just like Havel, Schwarzenberg is unwavering in his support for Israel. He likes to brag of how the Czech Republic vies with only the Netherlands for the position of the most pro-Israel government in the EU.

When Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008, Schwarzenberg asked: “Why am I one of the few that have expressed understanding for Israel? I have the luxury of telling the truth.”

By blaming all the violence on Hamas, he was parroting the version of events concocted by Israel. The actual facts of the situation were that Hamas observed an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel between June and November 2008. It was Israel which then reopened hostilities by attacking Gaza on 4 November that year, a day when the world was preoccupied with the election of a new American president.

Prague used to host one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities but over 250,000 Czechoslovak Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Before writing this piece, I admired the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe, which was built in Prague in the thirteenth century. More than 60 other Czech synagogues were destroyed by the Nazis.

If Schwarzenberg thinks that backing Israel at all times provides some atonement for the attempted extermination of Czech Jews during the Second World War, then it is vital he be challenged. In what way were the 320 Gazan children killed by the state of Israel in 2008 and 2009 culpable for the Holocaust? When did two wrongs start making a right?

·First published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu), 10-16 April 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rumours that Israel has fallen out of favour in Europe exaggerated

Is Binyamin Netanyahu really as tough as he would like us to believe? The prime minister’s European tour this week was restricted to Germany and the Czech Republic, two countries where he is guaranteed softball treatment from the political elite and the media.

Yet it would be wrong to think that everyone in those two countries has made a “Welcome Bibi” placard. On Tuesday evening, I shared a platform in Prague with Eva Nováková from the International Solidarity Movement. Nováková hit the headlines in January 2010, after she was taken from an apartment where she lived in Ramallah by Israeli soldiers. The following day she was deported, allegedly because she had overstayed her visa. (Her lawyers have mounted a challenge against the deportation in the Israeli Supreme Court. Israeli forces, the lawyers argue, had no legal power to apprehend a woman in a West Bank city nominally under full Palestinian control).

Since arriving back in Prague, Nováková has turned her attention to business links with the occupation of Palestine. She can regularly be seen protesting outside a shop that sells products made by Ahava, the cosmetics firm based in Mitzpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Even though the Czech government likes to champion political dissidents abroad, it prefers to ignore courageous home-grown troublemakers like Nováková. Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, has been kicked out of Cuba for embracing opponents to Fidel Castro, yet is uncharacteristically reticent when it comes to Israel’s systematic denial of basic rights to the Palestinians.

According to Schwarzenberg, the Czech Republic and The Netherlands are Israel’s most steadfast allies in the European Union. In January this year, he told The Jerusalem Post: “Whereas 10 or 20 years ago, there was a vast majority of EU countries who were definitely for Israel, now we can really rely on two countries.”

As it happens, he was misrepresenting the EU’s position. All of the Union’s 27 governments have embraced Israel in recent years. Britain, for example, is in the process of rewriting its universal jurisdiction law, which theoretically allowed for foreign war criminals to be tried in the UK’s courts. The weakening of this law is a direct response to pressure from Israel. In late 2009, Tzipi Livni chickened out of visiting London, when she discovered a warrant had been issued for her arrest at the request of Palestine solidarity campaigners.

Netanyahu is reportedly using his stopovers in Berlin and Prague to voice concern about Freedom Flotilla II, which will sail towards Gaza next month.

To their disgrace, some EU governments are helping Israel thwart this new initiative to break the medieval siege on Gaza. Demetris Christofias, the Cypriot president, stated during March that a 2010 order banning ships from travelling to Gaza via Cyprus remained in place.

So while Netanyahu mightn’t deign to set foot in most of the EU’s countries, he can still twist their leaders’ arms. Rumours that he has fallen out of their favour seem to be exaggerated.

·First published by Mondoweiss (www.mondoweiss.net), 8 April 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why NATO cannot be trusted

What do bagpipes have to do with the war in Libya? On NATO’s website, you can read about Marc Forterre, a French colonel and avid piper, whose musical instrument was mistaken for a weapon by airport staff in Addis Ababa. It would make a charming vignette, if it wasn’t for how the tale segues into editorialising about how the alliance helps the African Union to conduct its own military operations.

This celebration of trans-continental harmony is deceitful. It omits any acknowledgment of how most African governments are at odds with NATO over its attacks on Libya – and with good reason.

Apologists for the war maintain that it is based on the “responsibility to protect”, a concept usually abbreviated as R2P. Yet by examining past comments of James Jones, the decorated general who was Barack Obama’s national security adviser until November last, we might get a more accurate explanation. “As commander of NATO, I worried early in the mornings about how to protect energy facilities and supply chain routes as far away as Africa, the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea,” Jones said in 2008. (It is instructive that he joined the board of Chevron earlier that year).

Though the main tenets of R2P look laudable, the background of its chief proponent Gareth Evans can only arouse suspicion. When he was Australia’s foreign minister in 1989, Evans signed the Timor Gap Treaty with his then Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas. This enabled the theft of oil resources off East Timor, where 250,000 people died in one of the twentieth century’s most brutal occupations.

Just as the motives of a sham humanitarian like Evans should be questioned, doubts must be cast on Obama’s sincerity when he defended bombing Libya on the pretext “we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale”. Could the haste with which the West intervened not have more to do with Libya boasting Africa’s largest proven oil reserves? And were Western leaders and their chums in BP and Total not jittery over threats made by Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 (and reiterated in the past few weeks) to nationalise those resources?

Yes, it may be too reductionist to describe what is happening in Libya as another war for oil. The truth is probably that it is not only a war for oil but also to assert the control of America and its European stooges over Africa.

Having already declared war in Europe (Serbia) and taken charge of one in Asia (Afghanistan), it was perhaps logical that NATO would soon stretch its imperial tentacles into Africa. In 2007, Africom, its command for operations in Africa, was set up. “Factsheets” churned out from Africom’s headquarters in Stuttgart bragged of support for health, education and water projects. Yet that mask of charity belies a remark made by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then NATO’s secretary-general, the previous year, when he said the alliance was willing to use warplanes to secure oil and gas supply routes from Africa.

No war is fought for noble motives. If you really think that Sarkozy or Obama wished to protect civilian lives, study the eyewitness account signed by Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian doctors working in Libya on 24 March. They document how dozens of innocent people were killed and maimed by NATO bombs falling on residential areas of Tajhura, a suburb of Tripoli. The onslaught led to the roof collapsing in the maternity ward of a hospital, causing numerous miscarriages.

This serves as a reminder of how NATO bombed Serbia in 1999. On that occasion, a children’s hospital in Belgrade’s embassy district was targeted. As Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian economist, points out on the website Global Research, sleeping babies were spared by the alliance’s missiles. Generators were hit instead, depriving incubators of power.

Moreover, there is a distinct possibility that the consequences of NATO’s actions will continue to be felt in Libya long after the bombs have stopped falling, especially if those bombs were coated with depleted uranium (DU). While the Pentagon has said it has no reports that the substance is being used, the A-10 Warthogs flown by the US Air Force are equipped with guns designed to fire DU-tipped munitions.

I called a NATO spokesman to ask if the alliance has any policy or rules on depleted uranium. “The jury is still out scientifically on what the ramifications and dangers of using it are,” the spokesman told me. That appears to me as a flimsy attempt to justify the unjustifiable. While it may be impossible to prove that the upsurge of childhood cancer found in Iraq following the First Gulf War (1991) was linked to DU, there is ample circumstantial evidence to suggest it can have lethal consequences. Jawad Khadim al-Ali, an Iraqi doctor, is among those to have found an abnormally high incidence of cancer in parts of Basra where intense bombardment took place.

If you still need reasons why NATO should not be trusted, check out Rolling Stone’s new account of what young soldiers serving with the alliance got up to in Afghanistan. After Andrew Holmes, a corporal, nonchalantly shot dead an unarmed farmer, his squad leader presented him with the man’s finger as a trophy.

“Our values are firmly based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general and former Danish premier, said at the end of March. How are those values compatible with rewarding a murderer?

·First published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu), 3-9 April 2011