From our UN correspondent Ian Williams: The “biggest financial scandal in the history of mankind,” as Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard put it, is ending with a whimper, not a bang. On March 29 Paul Volcker’s inquiry into the UN’s Oil for Food program cleared UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of using his influence to award an inspection contract to Cotecna, the company that had employed his son Kojo. It did reprimand the Secretary General for not having had a more thorough investigation when the allegations were first made in 1999; it accused Kojo and Cotecna of lying both to the elder Annan and the investigators about their continuing relationship; and it rapped over the knuckles the head of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services for employing a Singaporean compatriot with Oil for Food program money. (Oddly enough, this is the very body it says Annan should have tapped to investigate the allegations against him in 1999.) Volcker referred to how thoroughly “scrubbed” the UN had been by his inquiry, and his exoneration should free Annan to carry on with his UN reform package–except that the people who invented the “scandal” will not go away so easily. For them, Volcker’s judicious “no evidence” of wrongdoing by Kofi Annan is simply evidence of lack of assiduity on the inquiry’s part. For conservatives like Representative Henry Hyde and Senator Norm Coleman, the UN and Annan are always guilty, and it is just a case of finding a new occasion to say so. But the tables could turn yet on the UN-bashers. Volcker promised that his panel’s final report this summer will examine the part played by diplomats on the sanctions committee and the Security Council and their governments in the Oil for Food program. That should be interesting, since the panel will reveal Washington’s benign indifference to Saddam’s oil sales to neighboring states, reported to Congress and ignored, and will reveal how every contract within the program was scrutinized in Washington. It will also be very interesting to see whether the Administration opens its books to Volcker in the way that Hyde and his colleagues insisted the UN must do for Congress–and whether the American media will pay attention to the results.


Esther Kaplan writes: Rushing to meet a deadline for TRIPS compliance, the Indian Parliament recently passed a patent law that dispensed with, as a Pfizer lobbyist put it, “the utopian concept that every invention should be as free as air or water.” From 1970 India had patented only manufacturing processes not products, which allowed a generic drug industry to develop–one that now provides HIV medicines to more than half those being treated in the developing world. The World Health Organization’s ambitious goal to get 3 million people with AIDS on treatment by the end of this year could never have been imagined without these low-cost Indian generics. Indian producers like Cipla did much more to revolutionize AIDS treatment access than slashing prices by up to 95 percent; they also combined drugs patented by competing pharmaceutical companies into a single, easy-to-take pill. India’s new bill has put all this in jeopardy. Protests across India, and as far afield as Uganda and France, fueled a last-minute intervention by Communist Party members of the Congress-led governing coalition, who succeeded in amending the bill’s worst provisions–allowing, most important, continued production of generics already on the market. But after an invasion of lobbyists representing major Western drug makers, the law became dangerously tilted toward patent protection rather than public health: One provision imposes royalty payments on existing generics, which could dramatically hike costs, and another protects new drugs from compulsory licensing for at least three and a half years, a fatal wait for people with AIDS whose first drug combination is failing. “The 2001 Doha Declaration claimed that TRIPS could be implemented in a way that protects people’s health,” said Rachel Cohen of Médecins sans Frontières. “The implementation of this law, in a country that has played such a unique role in producing quality generics, will put that claim to the test.” Much depends on Indian resistance from groups like Mumbai’s Affordable Medicines and Treatment Campaign, which has vowed to challenge patent applications of public health significance, and on countries like Brazil, which must be pushed to supply generic HIV meds outside its borders.


Still another debate about the Iraq War is simmering in Britain, with an election under way. New information recently surfaced suggesting that the Blair government lied to Parliament–and the nation–when it claimed during the debate on the eve of the invasion that the war was legal under UN Security Council Resolution 1441. (The United States made an identical claim; France and other Security Council members argued that a second resolution, authorizing military action, was necessary.) The new information is contained in a partly declassified letter of resignation written by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, on the eve of the invasion. She protested that the incursion was not authorized by Resolution 1441 and would be a “crime of aggression.” The BBC released a censored passage from the letter in which Wilmshurst says Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told Prime Minister Blair confidentially on March 7, 2003, that the war would be illegal unless there was a second resolution. Later, during the parliamentary debate, Lord Goldsmith issued a public statement that the war was legal without a second resolution. This opinion from the government’s highest law officer was decisive for many MPs who voted for invading Iraq. Now Lord Goldsmith denies he held any other view than the one he gave to Parliament or that he changed his mind under pressure. Still, the revelations could intensify the feelings of many in Britain that the government lied. Note that Colin Powell made the same argument as Goldsmith to the UN, and to this day Bush claims (when it suits him) that the war was waged to bring Iraq into compliance with Resolution 1441. But as Kofi Annan subsequently said, the war was “illegal” under the UN Charter.