Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Business crimes
The Financial Times reports that authorities in Switzerland are investigating whether a Swiss company’s purchase of gold from a “militia group” in eastern Congo constitutes a war crime:

“The legal proceeding is the strongest yet by Switzerland against one of the companies key to the country’s multibillion-dollar gold industry. It is the first time that anyone has attempted to deploy against a business the charge of ‘pillage’ – to describe stealing and illegally removing natural resources in the context of war – since the aftermath of the second world war.

The decision was prompted by a complaint from a Swiss non-profit organisation, Trial, following a nine-year investigation. It claims Swiss gold refinery Argor-Heraeus knowingly bought nearly three tonnes of gold sold by an armed group in eastern Congo via traders in neighbouring Uganda in 2005.”

US expansionism
Foreign Policy reports that the US is considering a new marine force off the coast of West Africa:

“The new force, still in notional stages, would be based on a Navy ship floating in and around the Gulf of Guinea, according to Marine officials and a briefing slide from an Oct. 30 speech delivered by Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon. The slide includes a map in which a single ship is based in the gulf, and Marines have the ability to perform missions from it as far inland as Algeria to the north, and Kenya and Tanzania to the east.”

Secrecy empire
The Guardian reports that the Tax Justice Network has released the latest Financial Secrecy Index and called the UK “the most important player in the financial secrecy world”:

“Britain, in partnership with Her Majesty’s overseas territories and crown dependencies, remains ‘by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions’, the Queen will be told tomorrow in a letter from tax experts and campaigners.
The monarch, who acts as head of state for UK-linked jurisdictions as far away as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and the Isle of Man, will receive a copy of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) two-yearly index of financial secrecy, which paints an unflattering picture of Britain and its close ties to many leading tax havens.”

Surveillance deal
The New York Times reports that the CIA is paying US telecom giant AT&T “more than $10 million a year” to help with overseas spying:

“The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the [US government] officials.

The company has a huge archive of data on phone calls, both foreign and domestic, that were handled by its network equipment, not just those of its own customers.

AT&T has a history of working with the government. It helped facilitate the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program by allowing the N.S.A. to install secret equipment in its phone and Internet switching facilities, according to an account by a former AT&T technician made public in a lawsuit.”

Risky countries
The BBC reports that the UK has decided people from its biggest former colonies won’t have to pay a “security bond” for the right to visit the ex-metropole:

“The aim of the scheme was to reduce the number of people from some ‘high risk’ countries – including India, Pakistan, and Nigeria – staying in the UK once their short-term visas had expired.
Visitors would have paid a £3,000 cash bond before arrival in the UK – forfeited if they failed to make the return trip.”

Redefining aid
The Guardian reports that the rules regulating what donor countries can describe as development assistance are “up for grabs for the first time in decades”:

“The development assistance committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, defines and polices what its members can count as official development assistance (ODA). Only spending with ‘the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries’ as its main goal is eligible, but in practice the rules, set in 1969, have allowed donors to count a wide range of activities. The UK, for example, counted £3m worth of pension payments to former colonial officers as ODA last year.”

Oversimplifying Africa
Africans in the Diaspora’s Solome Lemma argues the “Africa rising” narrative that seems to have replaced its racist predecessors carries its own risks:

“The state is often presented as a barrier, a liability ripe with corruption and inefficiency that can be leapfrogged by technology and enterprise. At most, the state’s value is to facilitate an investment-friendly environment for business. Where there is a problem, business can resolve it.
The World Bank and IMF have waged a sustained assault on African public services over several decades, and have never been called to account for the profound and lasting damage they have done.

As the priorities and spaces of activists and institutions converge, we should however ask ourselves: which Africans are gaining entry to institutional and mainstream development spaces and why? Is this change indicative of tangible shifts in power or is it simply a cosmetic facelift? On the continent or in the diaspora, we have insights into a different and constantly shifting picture of our communities, and that complex mosaic is still missing from most narratives.”

Home states
Oxfam’s Alex Blair discusses efforts to get the US and Canadian governments to do more to ensure mining companies based in their countries behave abroad:

“By holding companies responsible for their actions abroad, home states can help put an end to the human rights abuses in Latin America that are threatening the local people’s livelihood and way of life.
[The Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo’s Dora Lucy Arias] described a request from an elderly indigenous woman in Colombia: ‘They have been dealing with the impact of mining in that area for 30 years, and what she asked me to transmit to the world is that not everyone wants to just have more and more things in their house… Many people have a different view of what a good life is, and what they would like to be able to do is continue to be able to live their life on their land and continue to produce food.’
‘She asked me to talk about the war against the ability of small farmers to exist.’ ”

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Latest Developments, August 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Coup admission
The National Security Archive has published what it believes to be the CIA’s first formal acknowledgement that it helped plan and carry out the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister 60 years ago today:

“The document was first released in 1981, but with most of it excised, including all of Section III, entitled ‘Covert Action’ — the part that describes the coup itself. Most of that section remains under wraps, but this new version does formally make public, for the first time that we know of, the fact of the agency’s participation: ‘[T]he military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy,’ the history reads. The risk of leaving Iran ‘open to Soviet aggression,’ it adds, ‘compelled the United States … in planning and executing TPAJAX.’
TPAJAX was the CIA’s codename for the overthrow plot, which relied on local collaborators at every stage. It consisted of several steps: using propaganda to undermine [Mohammed] Mossadegh politically, inducing the Shah to cooperate, bribing members of parliament, organizing the security forces, and ginning up public demonstrations. The initial attempt actually failed, but after a mad scramble the coup forces pulled themselves together and came through on their second try, on August 19.”

Coup consequences
The New York Times reports that the US is “curtailing” financial, but not military, aid to Egypt following a security-forces crackdown that killed hundreds of protesters:

“Military aid to Egypt dwarfs civilian aid: of the $1.55 billion in total assistance the White House has requested for 2014, $1.3 billion is military and $250 million is economic. The civilian aid goes to such things as training programs and projects run by the United States Agency for International Development.

Among the programs affected, the official said, would be training programs in the United States for Egyptian government workers, teachers or hospital administrators. Depending on how events in Egypt unfold, and on how lawmakers react when they return from August recess, the economic aid could resume later, the official said.
There are fewer legal restrictions on the $585 million in military aid — the amount remaining from the original $1.3 billion appropriation.”

Marikana apology
The BBC reports that a UK-based mining company has said “sorry” on the first anniversary of South Africa’s deadliest police violence since the end of apartheid:

“The owner of the South African mine where 34 striking workers were shot dead by police a year ago has apologised to relatives.
‘We will never replace your loved ones and I say we are truly sorry for that,’ Lonmin boss Ben Magara said.
He was speaking to thousands of people gathered to mark the anniversary of the deaths at the Marikana platinum mine.”

FISA limits
The Washington Post reports that the secret US court tasked with oversight of the country’s surveillance programs “must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans”

“The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes.

The court’s description of its practical limitations contrasts with repeated assurances from the Obama administration and intelligence agency leaders that the court provides central checks and balances on the government’s broad spying efforts.”

Negative mattering
AllAfrica reports on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Kingsley Moghalu’s assessment of Africa’s economic prospects:

“Acknowledging that Africa has several of the world’s fastest growing economies – often cited by Africa champions as a sign of ‘Africa rising’ – Moghalu argues that economic growth based on cyclical and unsustainable extractive industries and commodity sales conveys ‘a false sense of arrival’.
Pointing to a syndrome he called ‘negative mattering’, he said Africa matters to the world today primarily for the same reason it did during the slave trade and the colonial period: for what can be extracted and exported.

Africa as a ‘last frontier’ often means a continent ripe for profit-making through international trade and investment, Moghalu said.”

Miranda rights
The Guardian reports that the partner of the journalist at the centre of the Edward Snowden affair has been detained at Heathrow airport under UK anti-terror laws:

“The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
[David] Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

[Labour MP Tom Watson] said: ‘It’s almost impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald’s partner was a terrorist suspect.’ ”

Lived gender
The Guardian also reports that Germany is set to become the first European country to allow babies with ambiguous genitalia to be registered as “a third or ‘undetermined’ sex”:

“The change is being seen as the country’s first legal acknowledgment that it is possible for a human to be neither male nor female – which could have far-reaching consequences in many legal areas.

The German decision to recognise a third gender was based on a recommendation by the constitutional court, which sees legal recognition of a person’s experienced and ‘lived’ gender as a personal human right.”

Behind the scenes
Le Monde reports on an apparent quid pro quo between France and Mali’s Tuareg separatist rebels since the country’s 2012 coup:

“Hoping to shift Bamako’s position, northern Mali’s communities seem to expect much from France which, despite its denials, still secretly controls the agenda.

According to a member of the French intelligence community, the MNLA supplied GPS positions allowing French bombers to hit their targets, particularly in the towns controlled by Islamists: Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. It was, moreover, the MNLA that recently helped recover the body of French hostage Philippe Verdon.

According to our sources, France supplied a plane carrying 70,000 litres of fuel and airdropped weapons to support MNLA troops after their eviction by al Qaeda jihadists in the summer of 2012.” [Translated from the French.]