Latest Developments, February 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Media silence
The Washington Post reports that it was one of a number of major news organizations that granted a request not to reveal the existence of a drone base in Saudi Arabia:

“The base was established two years ago to intensify the hunt against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the affiliate in Yemen is known. Brennan, who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with Riyadh over locating an agency drone base inside the kingdom.
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

Extraordinary practices
A new report released by the Open Society Foundations reveals the scope of international cooperation with the CIA’s rendition program, a program that was never shut down:

“At least 136 individuals were reportedly extraordinarily rendered or secretly detained by the CIA and at least 54 governments reportedly participated in the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program; classified government documents may reveal many more.

President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order repudiating torture does not repudiate the CIA extraordinary rendition program. It was specifically crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects on a short-term, transitory basis prior to rendering them to another country for interrogation or trial.”

Targeting corruptors
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is introducing legislation to crack down on companies that pay bribes to foreign officials:

“In addition to allowing prosecutors here to go after Canadian companies for bribes they pay abroad, the new law will outlaw so-called ‘facilitation payments’ – the grease money paid to foreign officials even if it’s not directly linked to gaining a business deal or advantage. Those payments, technically different from a bribe, will not be immediately made illegal, but the government will outlaw them at a later date, presumably to give companies warning of the changing rules.

Although Canada signed an international convention on combating bribery in 1998, it has long been criticized for doing too little to enforce anti-bribery measures. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which reviews countries’ action to combat bribery, has repeatedly issued reports calling Canada’s enforcement weak, most recently in 2011.”

Counting the dead
Agence France-Presse reports that France has released its first official, if somewhat vague, death toll from its offensive in Mali, though there was no mention of civilian casualties:

“Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 26-day military intervention has killed ‘several hundred’ Islamist militants as its air and ground forces chased them from their northern strongholds into remote mountainous terrain in the far northeast.

France’s sole fatality so far has been a helicopter pilot who was killed at the start of the military operation, while ‘two or three’ soldiers have suffered light injuries, Le Drian said.
Mali said 11 of its troops were killed and 60 wounded after the battle at Konna last month but it has not since released a new death toll.”

More guns
Reuters reports that the US is calling for a resumption of arms sales to Somalia where a UN embargo has been in place since 1992:

“Diplomats said Britain and France have been reluctant to support ending the arms embargo. The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, which monitors compliance with the sanctions regime, has also opposed the idea of lifting it, U.N. envoys said.
Those who oppose getting rid of the arms embargo say Somalia’s security sector still includes elements close to warlords and militants, an allegation the Somali government rejects.”

Good times, bad times
Reuters also reports that Tanzania, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, has said it favours a flexible approach to taxing mining companies in order to compensate for fluctuating global prices:

“ ‘If [the mining companies] are making losses, will they keep quiet? When they are going to make huge losses they are going to approach the government,’ [minerals minister Sospeter] Muhongo told Reuters on the sidelines of an African mining conference in Cape Town.
‘If they are going to make huge profits, we will also approach them,’ he said.
Asked if this meant windfall taxes could be introduced, he replied ‘yes’.
Many African governments say they need to extract more revenue from their mining and oil industries to spread the benefits of resource wealth more widely.”

The world according to Fisk
The Tyee reports on a recent talk given by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, in which he expressed his views that so-called Arab Spring protesters sought dignity over democracy and that journalists must be “neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer”:

“And why not democracy? Because the western democracies are precisely the countries that have imposed their will, and installed dictators, in the Arab lands since the end of World War I. The West, he said, thinks it has a right and a duty to do so.
‘But these are not our people,’ Fisk said; they have a different history and culture from the West, and we have no business”

Fighting transparency
Global Witness’s Simon Taylor calls on aerospace/defense giant Boeing to stop opposing US legislation requiring companies to monitor their supply chain for conflict minerals from DR Congo:

“The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable have filed a lawsuit against the SEC to overturn the conflict minerals rule.

Boeing, which has a seat on NAM’s board and whose representative is the executive committee chair of the Business Roundtable, appears to be at the forefront of the fight to overturn the rule.

In comments submitted to the SEC, Boeing indicated that the final rule on 1502 would be too costly and burdensome to comply with, given ‘the complexity of modern supply chains.’
As the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing’s influence within the industry — let alone over its own supply chain — is considerable. Boeing’s attempt to kill Section 1502 through anonymous corporate lobby groups is misguided and irresponsible.”

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Latest Developments, September 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Systemic change
In assessing the performance of Britain’s outgoing international development minister, the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that “aid is not very important for development”:

“The aid effectiveness agenda has had some successes in turning the tide of donor arrogance and aligning external funds with domestic endeavours, but its lasting and unfortunate impact has been to divert the world’s attention towards technocratic tinkering and away from what really matters: systemic change.

Better regulation of companies and fairer trade with poorer nations has long since dropped from the agenda in favour of better terms for UK companies and investors. And does anyone remember climate change? Rather than focus on the major issues – sustainable development and poverty reduction – we are exhorted to focus on aid, sold as the generosity of a kind-hearted nation.”

Anti-bribery enforcement
Transparency International has released a new report assessing the commitment of the world’s richest countries to fighting foreign bribery:

“The report assesses the progress of 37 of the 39 countries signed up to the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery] Convention, placing them in four enforcement categories: Active, Moderate, Little and No enforcement.

Eighteen countries have little or no enforcement at all, having not yet brought any criminal charges for major cross-border corruption by companies. Together these countries represent 10 per cent of world exports. Only seven out of 37 countries are actively enforcing bribery law.”

Land-grab greenwash
A new report by the Oakland Institute looks at a US-owned company’s “strategy to deceive the public into believing that there is logic to cutting down rainforests to make room for palm oil plantations” in Cameroon:

“[SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon] is 100 percent owned by the American company Herakles Farms, an affiliate of Herakles Capital, which is an Africa-focused private investment firm involved in the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, mining and agro-industrial sectors. The Chairman and CEO of Herakles Farms, Bruce Wrobel, is also the Chairman and Executive Director of All for Africa, a ‘development’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

The expected negative social and environmental impacts of the plantation are numerous, including loss of livelihoods, small returns for local communities, and massive deforestation. The involvement of All for Africa, ostensibly a ‘development’ NGO, is deceptive. While partnering in the development of a plantation that will destroy existing and valuable tropical rainforest, All For Africa’s main stated goal, to plant one million trees for sustainability, does not match up with sustainable development goals.”

Torture revelations
Human Rights Watch has released a report containing new evidence on waterboarding and other forms of torture in CIA prisons, which suggests “just how little the public still knows about what went on in the US secret detention program”:

“The United States played the most extensive role in the abuses, but other countries, notably the United Kingdom, were also involved.

Five former [Libyan Islamist Fighting Group] members told Human Rights Watch that they were detained in US run-prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years. The abuse allegedly included: being chained to walls naked – sometimes while diapered – in pitch dark, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music, before being rendered back to Libya. The United States never charged them with crimes.”

Spill fallout
The Associated Press reports that local residents are claiming they have not received adequate help following a toxic spill at a Peruvian mine run by four global corporate giants:

“At least 350 Cajacay residents were sickened by the spill of 45 tons of copper concentrate, a mineral stew of volatile compounds. At least 69 were children.
The mine’s owner, Antamina, has not responded to repeated AP phone and email requests to identify the toxic components of the slurry and details on medical care it is providing for the spill victims. A document obtained by the newspaper La Republica shortly after the spill described the mixture as ‘highly toxic.’

Antamina is the world’s third-largest zinc mine and eighth-biggest producer of copper. It is owned by a consortium including Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata of Switzerland, Teck-Cominco Ltd. of Canada and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan.”

Hello to arms
Reuters reports that France may be considering supplying heavy artillery to rebel-held “liberated zones” in Syria:

“European powers have also said they will not supply weapons to lightly-armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks by Assad’s planes and helicopter gunships. However, the source implied there may be a shift in Paris’ thinking.
‘It’s not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be taken. It takes time,’ the source said.”

Forests for sale
Global Witness reports that “a quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years”:

“The new logging contracts – termed Private Use Permits – now cover 40 percent of Liberia’s forests and almost half of Liberia’s best intact forests.

Designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, Private Use Permits are being used by companies to avoid Liberia’s carefully-crafted forest laws and regulations. Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian Government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber.”

Puntland guns
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that an Australian citizen with a shady past is helping to set up a large militia force that “fundamentally changes the balance of power in the north-east of Somalia” despite a UN arms embargo:

“[Lafras Luitingh] is using a string of companies registered around the world, but according to UN investigators, Australia plays a central part in their operations.
Australian records show Mr Luitingh registered the company – Australian African Global Investments – in 2006.
It has branches in South Africa, Uganda and other African countries and is involved in logistics, transport and chartering planes and ships.
The Australian company was registered by Taurus Financial Services in Sydney.”