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, March 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Off the hook
The UN News Centre reports that the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is dropping charges against Francis Muthaura who was charged with crimes against humanity in the wake of Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, but charges remain against president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta:

“[Fatou Bensouda] said that she had explained to the judge that several people who may have provided important evidence in the case have either died or are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution.
Ms. Bensouda also noted that the Prosecution lost the testimony of its key witness ‘after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes.’

‘Let me be absolutely clear on one point – this decision applies only to Mr. Muthaura. It does not apply to any other case,’ the Prosecutor said in her statement.
She added that, while aware of political developments in Kenya, ‘these have no influence, at all, on the decisions that I make as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.’ ”

Shoot first
Reuters reports that the UN is contemplating sending “a 10,000-strong force” with an unusually aggressive mandate to Mali ahead of elections scheduled for July:

“A heavily armed rapid-reaction force, similar to the unit proposed for a U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, would be a departure from its typically more passive peacekeeper operations.
In practical terms, U.N. diplomats say, troops in the rapid-response force would have more freedom to open fire without being required to wait until they are attacked first, a limitation usually placed on U.N. peacekeepers around the world.”

Contentious referendum
The Buenos Aires Herald reports that Argentina’s government is dismissing a referendum in which inhabitants of the Falklands/Malvinas voted overwhelmingly to remain British subjects:

“ ‘It’s a referendum organized by the British and for the British with the only purpose of having them saying that the territory must be British. It was neither organized nor approved by the United Nations,’ [Argentina’s ambassador to London] Castro told FM Millenium.

‘Self-determination is a fundamental principle contemplated by the international law that’s not granted to any settlers of a certain territory, but only to the original natives that were or currently are being subjugated to a certain colonial power, and this is not the case of the Malvinas Islanders.’
‘The Islanders are not a colonized people, but inhabitants of a colonized territory.’ ”

Illegal deal?
The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has signed an offshore oil deal with ExxonMobil that does not meet her country’s legal requirements:

“The deal will come under intense scrutiny given controversy over the contracts signed by the government in the extractive industries in recent years. The terms appear to be more beneficial to the state than other contracts in the oil sector, but still fall short of the country’s standard tax terms. The government will receive a US$50m signing bonus up-front, a 10% equity stake and royalties of 5-10% when production starts. According to Reuters, the country’s law requires a minimum royalty rate of 10% and a minimum equity stake of 20%.”

Double standard
Foreign Policy reports that the US State Department has accused Syrian rebels of “terrorism” for carrying out “attacks against folks who are not in the middle of a firefight”:

“One reporter pointed out that the United States routinely targets and kills members of various groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are not physically engaged in the fight at the time they are targeted. [State Department spokeswoman Victoria] Nuland declined to comment on the perceived double standard.

Nuland also declined to confirm or deny a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel that Americans are training Syrian anti-regime forces in Jordan.”

Cyberwarriors
The Washington Post asks under what circumstances the US will use its planned “military force to defend the nation against cyberattacks”:

“In fact, said Michael Schmitt, chairman of the International Law Department at the U.S. Naval War College, ‘the law of self-defense does not allow you to strike at a state merely because they have the capability to attack you.’

Georgetown University law professor Catherine Lotrionte said that if states start to take more aggressive measures at a lower threshold, the risk of escalation and ‘tit for tat’ goes up. ‘There needs to be international agreement on rules to prevent that escalation,’ she said, ‘or we’re looking at a really ugly world.’ ”

Bad role model
Tax Justice Network-Africa’s Alvin Mosioma and political scientist Hakima Abbas argue that Kenya should not be looking to the UK for help mapping out its financial future:

“Human rights, democracy and justice movements across the land have fought to keep political and economic elites in check. Yet, the reality is that greed surfaces whenever citizens rest. This was true with the recent send-off package that the outgoing parliament gave themselves despite the growing inequality of our society. This will be true if we allow our financial models to be based on the same systems that have stolen Africa’s wealth for centuries.

It is time we amplify African voices in the call for an end to the secrecy in the City of London and within the global financial system. We must call on our new public officers as they come into office in March to not allow Kenya’s future to be tied to the same rules of corruption and tax evasion.”

Mining ethics
Doug Olthuis of United Steelworkers and Ian Thomson of KAIROS argue the Canadian government has turned its back on the only useful component of its overseas corporate social responsibility strategy:

“Binding regulations are the only way to deal with the worst offenders in the industry. Providing access to Canadian courts for those who have been harmed in the most egregious cases is urgently needed, particularly for abuses committed in countries with no rule of law or weak judiciaries.
We were willing to engage in the [Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility] even though we see CSR as an extremely limited concept. All too often, CSR amounts to little more than public relations to promote a better corporate image without substantive commitment to change on the part of companies. Reliance on CSR alone, in the absence of enforceable standards, represents a model of corporate ‘self-regulation’ that leaves communities and workers without legal recourse to defend their rights and advance their collective interests.”