Latest Developments, November 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone child
New York University’s Sarah Knuckey discusses the “remarkable government admission” that a CIA drone killed a child between the age of 6 and 13 in Yemen in June:

“[The admission] adds to concerns about the reliability of much initial mainstream news reporting. Despite [Yemen-based journalists Iona Craig and Adam Baron’s] tweets the day of the strike, (the few) major news outlets covering the strike at the time failed to mention the child’s death. The admission in the LA Times adds weight to the warnings of many that initial mainstream news reports describing strikes – especially those relying solely on anonymous Pakistani or Yemeni officials for information on who was killed – should be treated with caution.

The admission notes that the CIA provided a classified briefing to Congress about this unintended death. For those of us concerned about the extent to which the CIA investigates and keeps track of unintended and civilian deaths, and the extent to which Congress is kept informed, this aspect of the admission is a positive. The next important step is for the government to provide such information to the American public, redacted as necessary.”

Leading from behind
The Canadian Press reports that Canada’s self-proclaimed “leadership role in international climate change efforts” remains near the very bottom of this year’s Climate Change Performance Index:

“A European report released to coincide with the United Nations conference ranks Canada 55th of 58 countries in terms of tackling greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

‘As in the previous year, Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries,’ states the report, released Monday in Warsaw.”

Françafrique support
International Crisis Group has called on the UN Security Council to “encourage” and “mandate” a French intervention in the Central African Republic:

“Now, however, the [UN Security Council] must act faster, initially to help those on the ground restore law and order and then to reverse the country’s chronic fragility. Under a Chapter VII mandate, it could greatly contribute through the following steps:
To stabilise the situation on the ground

2. Mandate French forces to contribute to the restoration of law and order.
3. Encourage French forces and other countries to provide much-needed intelligence support to [an African Union-led international support mission for the CAR (MISCA)].”

Punishing pillage
The University of British Columbia’s James Stewart questions an international justice regime in which only individuals, never corporations, are charged with war crimes:

“Trying perpetrators of rape, torture, murder and other crimes against humanity is essential. But we also must confront the war crimes committed by corporations that provide the means and motivations for mass violence.
In 2003, a United Nations panel on the plundering of Congo’s gems and minerals named approximately 125 companies and individuals that had contributed, directly or indirectly, to the conflict there. Soon after, the Security Council called on states to ‘conduct their own investigations’ through ‘judicial means’ — a call, in effect, for prosecutions. But no country responded directly to this call. Political impediments certainly contributed to the inaction, but so did legal uncertainty about how to go about these prosecutions. Many nations shrugged and asked, ‘Prosecute them with what?’

Other nations can, and should, follow the Swiss example. In the United States, for example, the War Crimes Act of 1996 declared pillage a federal crime. Federal prosecutors should examine ways to use this potentially powerful tool.”

Kalihari fracking
The Guardian reports on concerns that Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve is being secretively carved up for fracking by international energy companies:

“The Bushmen said they had no idea their areas had been earmarked for drilling until they were shown a map during the making of a new documentary film, The High Cost Of Cheap Gas, revealing that half the game reserve has been allocated to multinationals. Seranne Junner, a lawyer who successfully defended the Bushmen’s right to occupy their traditional lands within the CKGR, expressed surprise at the extent of land concessions.

She warned: ‘These licences may have been granted without anybody realising the long-term consequences … Water is not a resource that is overly abundant in Botswana as a whole, more especially within an area such as the CKGR. I would say it’s going to be extremely far-reaching for a sector of our population, if not the whole country.’ ”

Letter from Gitmo
Shaker Aamer, “the last remaining UK resident imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay”, argues that Americans’ security concerns do not justify “atrocities” against non-Americans:

“Elected American officials labeled me and the other prisoners here as ‘the worst of the worst’. They called us ‘terrorists’. Yet, despite these claims, I have not been charged with a single crime nor has any evidence been presented to support my imprisonment these long years. In fact, I have been cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Of course, Guantanamo does not define me. I arrived here bound at the hands and feet, blacked-out goggles covering my eyes, and expecting death. But up until that point, I had been an English teacher, a translator, a volunteer with a humanitarian group, a resident of Great Britain, a husband, and a father of four.

I pray that Americans do not continue to allow fellow human beings to suffer such atrocities in the name of their security. I dream that they will find the strength to peacefully challenge those in power. And I hope that their actions are shown more humanity than ours have seen.”

Global decision making
The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations’ Pascal Lamy and Ian Goldin call for “a comprehensive review and renewal of international institutions”, while stopping short of any mention of democracy:

“International affairs and international organizations largely operate under mid-twentieth-century arrangements, which has two serious shortcomings. First, countries with a diminishing stake retain disproportionate power. Second, global decision-making now involves four times as many countries as it did in the immediate post-war era, not to mention a plethora of non-governmental organizations and civil-society groups, making for a messy – and often unproductive – process.
With the world’s problems becoming increasingly complex and interconnected, global decision-making processes must be as streamlined and efficient as possible. When numerous committees meet in parallel, the countries with the largest teams of experts dominate proceedings, effectively locking most countries out of key decisions and impeding meaningful dialogue.”

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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.’ ”