TransConflict http://www.transconflict.com Transform, Transcend, Translate Mon, 30 Mar 2020 05:51:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 What questions should we be asking about the Coronavirus? http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/what-questions-should-we-be-asking-about-the-coronavirus/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/what-questions-should-we-be-asking-about-the-coronavirus/#respond Mon, 30 Mar 2020 07:51:50 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24538 Read More]]> We need better data, and we need to test specific standardised communities to assess the true nature of the medical risk we face. Only then we can move beyond empty models to hard-headed decisions about just what level of geopolitical defenestration and societal impoverishment we are prepared to accept in order to maximise our efforts to stem this pandemic. We need to change course, and we need to do it quickly.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Matthew Parish

The first observation to note about the recent global lockdown in response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is that forcing people into isolation will not substantially reduce the rate of eventual infection of the world’s population. The medical evidence to date suggests that the virus is so infectious and yet slow-burning that eventually everybody will catch it. The infection rate will be 100%, less those persons (if any) who for whatever reason have some immunity to it. The origins of any such immunities, if they exist, are not yet known.

Governments instructing people not to socialise is not going to reduce the infection rate naturally below 100%. That is because everyone is breaching these instructions at least to some degree. Contemporary mankind is incapable of being unsociable indefinitely. Given the longevity of the infectious virus (up to three days on a surface as inhospitable as plastic), the actions involved just in buying food (nobody lives on isolated self-sustaining farms anymore) necessitate multiple interactions in which transmission of the virus is virtually inevitable. The same is true of actions involved in caring for the sick. So we are all going to contract this virus.

The good news however is that this virus is not very dangerous. The vast majority of those who contract it will recover fully, quickly. A small minority will die; but they may have died anyway, of some other virus or bacterium or other natural cause. The problem is that we do not yet know how many additional people may die or be at risk of dying, beyond those who would die anyway as a result of contracting the virus. What we do know is that if people show serious symptoms as a result of contracting the virus, their odds of survival increase substantially if they are hospitalised adequately, and emergency equipment, such as lung ventilators, is made available to them.

Therefore everyone is now constructing hospital beds. The proper goal of the lockdown is to slow the spread of the virus while we have time to build hospitals and equip them appropriately. It is not to decrease infection rates. Indeed it barely a takes a leap of the imagination to realise that lockdown may ultimately increase infection rates, by prolonging the period of total population exposure to the virus; therefore because the virus will kill the people it kills less quickly, it will not kill itself off as quickly. Contrast Ebolavirus, whose proverbial fatal flaw has traditionally been to kill its victims more quickly than it can spread to new victims. Ebolavirus has recently been evolving its way out of these limitations. The saving grace of contemporary viruses is that they are not so deadly as to limit their own transmission.

Because there is currently no widely available test for Coronavirus, and its symptoms are not significantly distinguishable in many cases (particularly milder forms of the infection) from the symptoms of various other viruses, we have very few reliable figures. We have no useful figures for infection rates. It is therefore unjustified to say that Italy has a higher infection rate than some other country, unless we are applying identical cross-sectional population testing which we are not because the testing methods permitting this do not yet exist.

For the same reason we cannot say that Coronavirus is more fatal in Italy once contracted, because we do not know how many people in Italy have contracted Coronavirus and hence we cannot say whether that is a higher proportion of the population of Italy than any other proportion of any other country’s population. Moreover the ideas that Italy’s infection rate is the product of either (a) some statistical fluke in transmission; or (b) some unique cultural or political environment encouraging the virus’s propagation, both sound inherently unlikely. When everything comes out in the wash, the likely infection rate in Italy will likely be the same as everywhere else – near enough 100% – and the likely death rate will bear a relationship to the number of equipped hospital beds with ventilators.

We do not even know how many people have so far died by reason of Coronavirus, because we cannot isolate a proportion of those who die with Coronavirus who would have died anyway. Rather the only reliable data we have is what proportion of people who come into hospital testing positive for Coronavirus die; and we can subdivide that data into proportions of people dying who are (a) sent home again without treatment, versus (b) kept in hospital with a ventilator. The latter proportion being lower than the former, we are building hospitals and buying ventilators and trying to slow down transmission until we have enough beds and ventilators to cater for our worst case statistical modelling scenarios about the proportion of people likely to die (a figure we cannot know until we have a reliable test; we are only working on unjustified assumptions for now).

To illustrate the logic of this, imagine a community of 1000 people ravaged by Coronavirus (all the following figures are fictionalised, merely for the sake of preserving mathematical simplicity). Let us assume that the community infection rate will be 100%. Let us assume that x% (I will call it 20% for the purposes of this example) of persons infected (i.e. 200 people) will fall into the severe category and will seek medical assistance. Of those, 50% (100 people) will die unless treated with H+V (hospital bed plus ventilator); in which case 25% will die (50 people). To minimise the deaths, you need 200 H+V’s, so you slow the progress of the disease by ordering your community members to self-isolate until you have built them. Even though your community will not self-isolate properly (this is virtually impossible), you buy yourself time to build the 200 H+V’s.

However a society does not actually need that many H+V’s; the more effectively your population self-isolates, the slower the spread of the virus and therefore H+V’s can be used over. There will be a correlation between infection spread rate and the number of H+V’s you need; let us say that for a given infection rate you will only need y% of 200 H+V’s because patients using H+V’s will recover (or die) in time for the next wave of infected patients to seek medical attention. Tough self-isolation reduces the number of H+V’s you need to minimise deaths and therefore saves the government money as well as gives you time to build the H+V’s; hence the system will not be overwhelmed: something that would cause unnecessary deaths at the early stages. This is the logic of the Coronavirus lockdown.

The figures of 50% and 25% in the foregoing calculation can be calculated and known based upon the methods currently available to us. You count the number of people who seek medical attention and have Coronavirus. You count the number you treat with H+V and the number you do not treat. You count how many die and how many recover. These figures are available to western health services. The figure of a 100% eventual infection rate is not available to us, but it a good working assumption given what we know about the ease of transmission. All the other figures we do not know, and we cannot know until there is widespread testing.

Therefore we do not now actually know the optimal number of H+V’s a society needs to minimise deaths, and we will not do so until we have a comprehensive system of testing. With testing, we will be able to tell how quickly the virus spreads under different circumstances. We can then undertake experiments such as locking down different parts of a country to different degrees, and compare the time scale for the virus to spread. We can also tell what proportion of persons infected have symptoms serious enough to seek medical attention. This way, we can calculate x and y in the above examples for our society, and we can assess the optimum number of H+V’s we need to minimise deaths. But until we have widespread testing, we are just guessing.

The media is full of images across the world of people building hospitals and buying ventilators. We do not yet know whether we are building and buying the right numbers. It is entirely possible either that we are not building enough, and ill people will be sent home when they could benefit from treatment; or that we are building far too many, and images of conference centres full of hospital beds placed there by soldiers will become future relics of humankind’s folly in the quest to harness an unknown enemy.

Human life has a value. The UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence, a pharmaceutical regulator, assesses it at approximately GBP30,000 per year, and will not license medications costing more than that in the continuation of life. Building / purchasing H+V’s also has a price, but it is negligible when we consider the current global losses being suffered. In terms of political economy, constructing hospital facilities also has a benefit to hospital managers / bureaucracies that will run them, as they seize budget lines and political influence. When the scientists and doctors responsible for the speculative statistical modelling, that generates assertions about how many H+V’s a society needs, fall under the managerial responsibility of those who obtain a political economy net benefit from constructing them (health ministers and the like), there is a palpable potential for conflicts of interests.

It would not therefore be surprising were it subsequently to turn out that we have built far too many H+V’s. The costs of building them must be weighed against the other uses to which national healthcare budgets might be put, placing a value upon a human life to enable such comparisons. This ought also to serve as a restraint upon the quantum of healthcare efforts spent creating hospital bed and ventilator capacity. At some point, we are wasting money better spent curing people who are seriously ill in other ways.

There is already anecdotal evidence emerging of domestic medical care systems’ neglect of other patients, and in some cases a massage of statistics. In some parts of Italy, any death in a hospital that treats Coronavirus patients (that is to say, virtually all of them) is treated as a death by reason of Coronavirus. This escalates the sense that Coronavirus is an overriding medical priority and inflates the already entirely artificial death rates cited in the media. We cannot even begin to calculate a death rate until we have an infection rate; we cannot assess that until we have uniform testing.

The far greater costs than those of building H+V’s are the economic, social and psychiatric costs of lockdown. Again here there is insufficient information to engage in even an imprecise science of lockdown. What are the optimal levels of lockdown? Sweden (light) and Italy (tough) stand as two opposing poles in the debate. Sweden has far lower Coronavirus statistics than Italy, but that goes to illustrate the dangers of casual correlations (should we all therefore follow the Swedish model?) and the incommensurability of different countries in the absence of standardised testing procedures.

The higher the level of lockdown imposed, the greater the economic, social and psychiatric costs to society. The principal benefit we have identified from a higher level of lockdown is the greater ability to construct H+V’s, that may potentially never be needed, in lower numbers and/or at a more leisurely pace and under less media-political pressure of newsreels of patients waiting in lines outside hospitals. One might be of the view that the former set of costs to society are inevitably going to be much greater than the latter. At the very least, we ought to be satisfied quickly with the number of H+V’s constructed and ease the lockdown so that its worst excesses in terms of colossal damage to society can be alleviated.

If values must be placed upon the healthcare system changes the Coronavirus pandemic has engendered, then likewise efforts must be made to evaluate the long-term costs of lockdown using a comparable metric. It is imperative that we make efforts to measure the world’s economic, social and psychological losses. A model that takes account of the fact that the societal damage done may extend indefinitely far into the future is imperative. Yet we have not even begun to think about how we might do this. Therefore we cannot currently weigh the harm we are aiming to alleviate, against the damage we are inflicting against ourselves. Moreover nobody has yet even thought about assessing the potential geopolitical consequences of different nations undertaking these sorts of balancing exercises in different ways. Each country may come out of this global crisis at a different geopolitical level from that it began at. The consequences of Coronavirus may be profound.

Instead of now discussing a relaxation of the lockdown given the improvements underway in our healthcare facilities, we are hearing narratives that we need even more of it. I do not know what possible logic can underly this, save for the logic of panic or self-beggary. China however is no doubt most content with the situation. Crude oil prices are now below $30 by reason of depressed global demand. That can only help swing the global oil markets to a demand-side model, cementing China as the world’s principal economic superpower by virtue of its consumptive capacity and correlative power to drive global markets. Demand-side commodities markets will take economic power away from Wall Street and direct it towards Shanghai. This may be a foretaste of the geopolitical political changes to follow. In the midst of this sweeping change in commodities pricing, oil pricing and supply disputes between Sunni and Shia, Saudi Arabia and Russia look like bald men arguing over a comb. The United States’ fracking industry will likewise be left awry.

At the end of the Coronavirus crisis, depressions in demand for consumer and other goods will surely become semi-permanent. That is because we are all going to have less money. We are all soon to learn that it does not much help anyone if the government compensates you for not working; it uses the money and resources of society as a whole to do this, and therefore we will all become impoverished in consequence. This may spell the demise of the economics of scarcity, as the value of money is no longer needed to regulate demand because supply outstrips the demand that has been permanently depressed. It is hard to imagine what a post-capitalist society may look like that has been transformed in this way. Do we want to take the risk, and is it too late to reverse course?

There is madness afoot amidst these mists. In these remarkable times, it takes clear thinking to understand the medium-term consequences of the social policy decisions we are making. In any other era, the election to self-castrate the private sector in favour of government bail-outs (which may result in partial nationalisation) and to inflate a healthcare sector outside market parameters would be viewed as ravings from the asylum. We need better data, and we need to test specific standardised communities to assess the true nature of the medical risk we face. Only then we can move beyond empty models to hard-headed decisions about just what level of geopolitical defenestration and societal impoverishment we are prepared to accept in order to maximise our efforts to stem this pandemic. We need to change course, and we need to do it quickly.

Matthew Parish is an international lawyer based in Geneva, Switzerland and an Honorary Professor at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. He has been elected as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and named as one of the three hundred most influential people in Switzerland. He writes this article while self-isolating, suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19. www.matthewparish.com


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Israel is engaged in systematic self-destruction http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/israel-is-engaged-in-systematic-self-destruction/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/israel-is-engaged-in-systematic-self-destruction/#respond Wed, 25 Mar 2020 12:21:08 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24535 Read More]]> No one can impose any moratorium on the Israeli freedom to discuss any number of views on any issue. This is one of the central hallmarks of a true democracy. In the end though, Israel has gone astray for too long under a misguided Prime Minister. Now the country is marching toward self-destruction unless a new awakening sweeps the nation and the people remember the reasons behind the establishment of the state in the first place.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

It is said where are two Jews, there are three opinions. And in the state of Israel, there is yet another version: where there are five Jews, there are nine political parties. There are certainly advantages to having different views on every topic, especially when the issues under discussion are seriously consequential and relate to the future national security and wellbeing of the state. However, when those different views are not guided by a unity of purpose, but rather personal interest, which is placed above that of the nation’s, the result could be extraordinary dire to the future of the state. Moreover, when corruption at the top seeps through the lower strata of the political parties, it is like an infectious disease forcing everyone to zealously guard his/her turf and leave the affairs of the state for another day, if that day ever comes.

This is the plight of the political parties in Israel, which are putting the future of the state at risk—not because they cannot form a government that must address the urgent issues that face the nation, but largely because the leaders of the parties and their surrogates insist on being appointed to posts or positions to satisfy their hunger for power.

Chief among those who are corrupt to the bone is Prime Minister Netanyahu, who bribes, cheats, misleads, lies, fakes, and deceives, and would crawl to the bottom of any sewage pit only to stay in power. The fact that he has been indicted in three cases on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust and will soon face trial after several years of exhaustive investigation, is only befitting a man who has no scruples and is willing to drag the country into the same pit.

One, however, cannot blame Netanyahu alone. It is the Likud party that has enabled him over the years to chip away brick-by-brick at Israel’s democracy, undermine the judiciary, discriminate against Israeli Arabs as well as Jews of color, alienate the American Jewish community, and torpedo any prospect of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To be sure, the Likud party has long since lost its conscience as it continues to support its leader, whose manipulative skills are surpassed only by his deviousness and ever-insatiable thirst to stay as prime minister to his dying day – to hell with Israel’s future.

And what about the other political parties? Why is it that after three elections, there is still no consensus to form a government? Had the business of the state assumed priority and consensus emerged in developing a cohesive strategy on how to deal with the difficult issues the country must grapple with and set aside personal ambition, a government could have been formed following the first election.

But that was not the case. Not a single party has advanced specific policies to address the rampant poverty that affects nearly two million Israelis (representing 23 percent of the Israeli population), half of whom are children, in a country that has, in relative terms, one of the strongest economies in the world.

Not a single party has a comprehensive plan as to how to fix the broken healthcare system in a country that has some of the most advanced scientific and technological research in medicine worldwide.

Not a single party is paying any attention to the continuing discrimination against some Sephardic Jewish communities and especially against Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20 percent of the population. They are accused of being disloyal and their representatives are shunned away from participating in the political affairs of the state; but then they are expected to support the government’s treatment of the Palestinians in the territories as the perpetual enemy to justify their draconian policies.

Not a single party is addressing the growing emigration of disillusioned Israelis who are fed up with government’s paralysis and corruption and have lost faith in the country’s future. The number of those leaving Israel is greater than the number of immigrants into the country that was supposed to be the promised land for the Jews.

Not a single party is trying to remedy the destructively escalating social and political polarization between the secular and the orthodox, between Arab and Jews, between the haves and have-nots in a country that faces mortal enemies in a region awash with instability, violence, wars, and deadly rivalries for regional hegemony.

And above all, not a single party has come up with a realistic plan to end the seven decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has and continues to consume the Israelis from within, having still no end in sight. Not a single leader of any of the parties can say where Israel will be in 10 or 15 years if there is no solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

The two leading parties, Likud and Kahol Lavan, talk with various degree of emphasis about annexation of the settlements along the Jordan Valley, about maintaining indefinite Israeli security throughout the West Bank, about means and ways to stifle Palestinian communities while applying different laws governing the Palestinians in the West Bank versus the Jews who populate the settlements. However, one thing is certain: Israel is becoming an apartheid state and Trump’s “deal of the century” only reinforces this ugly, self-destructive development.

The sad thing is that no matter how much wishful thinking and how harshly any government treats the Palestinians, the Palestinians will not disappear. They are there to stay and will never give up or give in on their right for statehood, regardless of the massive and unconditional American support Israel may enjoy for now.

The Israeli political parties must sooner than later wake up to the bitter reality. Regardless of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority, including its nuclear arsenals, Israel’s real strength lies in the cohesiveness and unity of purpose among its people. Any future Israeli government must first and foremost focus on strengthening the Israeli social fabric by addressing the socio-economic malaise while further enhancing the judiciary and guarding the democratic principles of the state that includes the Israeli Arabs.

Simultaneously, the next government must articulate a peace plan to end the conflict with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. By using its military and economic prowess, Israel can sustain any peace accord as long as it is fair and allows the Palestinians to live in peace and dignity.

No one can impose any moratorium on the Israeli freedom to discuss any number of views on any issue. This is one of the central hallmarks of a true democracy. In the end though, Israel has gone astray for too long under a misguided Prime Minister. Now the country is marching toward self-destruction unless a new awakening sweeps the nation and the people remember the reasons behind the establishment of the state in the first place.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Sri Lanka – abandoned promises? http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/sri-lanka-abandoned-promises/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/03/sri-lanka-abandoned-promises/#respond Tue, 24 Mar 2020 14:05:57 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24531 Read More]]> The Sri Lanka Campaign has published a new report, ‘Abandoned Promises?’, looking at the progress that the government has made towards addressing the legacy of the island’s brutal civil war.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

The new report, ‘Abandoned Promises?’looks at the current state of play for human rights in Sri Lanka, and evaluates the progress that the government has made towards addressing the legacy of the island’s brutal civil war, during which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed.

Our findings – based on media reports, assessments by UN human rights bodies, and input from local activists – paint a troubling picture. Four and a half years after the government pledged action at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the overwhelming majority of its 25 key commitments remain mostly or completely unachieved.

Read the findings here

Even more troubling, this week Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that Sri Lanka would seek to “withdraw” from the HRC process; a process which the Sri Lankan government has supported (at least on paper) since October 2015. While it remains unclear at this stage what exactly that announcement might mean – an issue we looked at in a recent Twitter thread – it will no doubt come as yet another blow to efforts to obtain truth and justice for the victims and survivors of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka.

In this context it is vital that members of the international community remain vigilant – and that they maintain a firm and principled stance on the need to deal with the past in Sri Lanka. A key test will be how they respond when the HRC opens for its 43rd session in Geneva next week.

Our report, the latest instalment in our #KeepThePromise campaign, calls on member of the international community to remain engaged at the HRC and ensure a continuation of the process beyond its expiry in March 2021. However, we also want to see them being much more proactive elsewhere: enhancing efforts to pursue alleged war criminals abroad, denouncing the crackdown on human rights activists that is currently underway in Sri Lanka, and reviewing cooperation with the government on aid, trade and security.

You can read our full list of recommendations here.

For coverage of events next week, including a statement to the HRC from Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister on Wednesday morning and an update from the UN Human Rights chief on Thursday afternoon, you can follow us over on Twitter.

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, which is comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

This article was originally published on the Sri Lanka Campaign website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.


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The moral devastation of the continued occupation http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/the-moral-devastation-of-the-continued-occupation/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/the-moral-devastation-of-the-continued-occupation/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 14:59:32 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24527 Read More]]> To be sure, while Israel resorts to utilitarian arguments to justify its treatment of the Palestinians, in the process Israel reveals the classic pitfall of utilitarian thinking. It ultimately does not provide sufficient protection and respect for human rights, which directly erodes Israel’s moral standing within the community of nations.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

I have long maintained that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank defies the moral principle behind the creation of the state. Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion, the occupation erodes rather than buttresses Israel’s national security and cannot be justified on either security or moral grounds. Trump’s “deal of the century” is tantamount to perpetuating the occupation, which will be to Israel’s detriment. Unless Israel embraces a new moral path and ends the occupation, no one can prevent it from unravelling from within only to become a pariah state that has lost its soul, wantonly abandoning the cherished dreams of its founding fathers to have an independent democratic Jewish state.

There are four ethical theories—Kantian, utilitarian, virtue-based, and religious—that demonstrate the lack of moral foundation in Trump’s peace plan. In this article I will discuss the Kantian, utilitarian moral theories and in the following article I will cover the virtue-based, and religious theories.

The first moral theory is deontological ethics, whose greatest representative is Immanuel Kant. According to this theory, consequences are irrelevant to the moral rightness or wrongness of an action; what matters is whether the action is done for the sake of duty or out of respect for the moral law.

Kant provided several formulations of the moral law, which he refers to as the categorical imperative; for our purposes, what is most important are his first two formulations. The first is the principle that morality requires us to act only on those maxims we can universalize. As he puts it, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In short, never do anything that you do couldn’t will everybody else do at the same time.

The question is whether the Israeli occupation is a policy that can be universalized and pass this test of moral reasoning. The answer is clearly no; the policy of occupation is rationally inconsistent, as it requires Israel to exempt itself from moral and political norms that the rest of the international community recognizes (and which serve to protect Israel itself).

Israel is making an exception of itself – which is the capital sin, according to Kant, as in effect Israel is saying: ‘We don’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else.’ This is evident from the fact that Israel denies the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and justifies that in the name of national security, even though the achievement of absolute security would invariably render the Palestinians absolutely vulnerable.

Whereas Israel has agreed numerous times to a two-state solution, it continues to usurp Palestinian land, thereby violating international agreements which Israel is signatory to (UN Resolution 242, the Oslo Accords). In doing so, Israel is clearly defying the first formulation of the categorical imperative, which as Kant showed, requires us to honor our agreements and contracts. That is, Israel is acting on a maxim or policy of breaking its agreements to serve its self-interest, which cannot be universalized without contradiction because then the institution of reaching international agreements cannot be sustained, which obviously don’t bother either Trump or Netanyahu.

Although many countries break international contracts, that does not affect Kant’s argument as he knew full well that people lie, cheat, and steal. His concern is with the principle of morality and what it requires regardless of whether these requirements are in fact met. By maintaining the occupation, Israel is flouting the moral law while expecting the Palestinians to uphold the same norms.

The second formulation is to never treat another person merely as a means, but always also as an end in themselves. In other words, what Kant is saying is that as free rational beings who can act in accordance with morality, each of us possesses intrinsic worth which implies that we must respect the inherent dignity of each individual.

In the case of the Palestinians who are under occupation, Israel is treating them as objects rather than persons who can rationally consent to the way they are being treated. Israel is coercing the Palestinians physically and psychologically by denying them human rights, through, for example, administrative detention, night raids, and expulsion, thereby robbing them of their dignity and denying them their autonomy, which Trump’s Deal only reinforces.

The second moral theory is Utilitarianism, which in its modern form originated in England with the works of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. In contrast to Kantianism, this theory places all emphasis on the consequences of our actions. It states that an action is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.

The moral evaluation of any policy depends on whether it maximizes utility. Utilitarianism agrees with Kant on one fundamental point, which is that morality prohibits making an exception of oneself. For obvious reasons, governments give greater priority to their own people. But does the occupation maximize the security and well-being of all Israelis?

In spite of the fact that Israel takes extraordinary measures to enhance its security, the occupation is in fact undermining the security of the state, as is evident from the repeated bloody clashes, which have intensified since unveiling of the peace plan, and the costly state of readiness that Israel must maintain. Moreover, if Israel were to extend its moral considerations beyond its own people to include the Palestinians, then the policy of occupation still fails on utilitarian grounds even more acutely.

To be sure, while Israel resorts to utilitarian arguments to justify its treatment of the Palestinians, in the process Israel reveals the classic pitfall of utilitarian thinking. It ultimately does not provide sufficient protection and respect for human rights, which directly erodes Israel’s moral standing within the community of nations.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Church, state, and rock and roll http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/church-state-and-rock-and-roll/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/church-state-and-rock-and-roll/#respond Thu, 13 Feb 2020 09:24:50 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24523 Read More]]> Montenegro’s controversial law on religion is – unusually for Milo Djukanovic – a poorly thought through mistake.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT

By David B. Kanin

My son went through a period during which he was in a series of punk rock bands. One was good – really good. It played in garages and then small commercial venues throughout the US and Europe. The group got a recording deal and put out a couple of CDs. It was never going to become the Beatles, but it attracted an audience and was set to do more touring and recording. Then it broke up. There were personal issues, of course, but what struck me about its demise was the sincerity with which its members disagreed over the direction of their music. Like other artists, these people passionately believed in the importance of the emotional and aesthetic content of their sound and their values. This band would not stay together for the sake of whatever success they might attain or even for the sheer pleasure to be had from having arguments. The feeling and the truth of the music mattered too much.

Politics, of course, does not – cannot – work like this. Power broker are brokers because they navigate among interests forever competing for whatever happens to be scarce. Unlike musical lyrics, law, communal lore, and the rhetoric of the Agora provide what stakeholders and supplicants know to be lubricating rationalization for no holds barred competition. A political system can be considered to work well when all sides accept the need for an existing system of structural and allegorical cover, as opposed to a violent conflict to construct and control a different one.

There is danger when politicians attempt to attach prevailing or insurgent religions to their personal stars. Usually, this is not because religious authorities usurp the prerogatives of patronage bosses – no matter Jean Calvin’s Geneva and current-day Iran things often work the other way around. Sometimes those holding secular authority do not take seriously enough the sincerity and passion involved with the value structures of religious believers. They forget that the Faithful are capable of challenging efforts to violate the tenets or venues of their faith even when religious authorities are as cynical, materialistic, or power hungry as their secular counterparts. Believers absorb mundane affairs into the sacred time involved in what to them are very real connections with God and with the valorous and heroic activities of those who came before them. Like artists, their thoughts and passions meld. That is a part of what is going on in Montenegro today. Djukanovic and his lieutenants intended their poorly conceived law on religious freedom as a power grab involving ownership of holy sites and a long-standing effort to undermine the residual influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church in independent Montenegro. The government played on disputes over authority involving clerics in Macedonia as well as Montenegro to put an end to the era of regional Serbian ecclesiastical hegemony put in place by Ottoman fiat around 1830.

Podgorica almost certainly intended this as a self-contained episode in the regime’s ongoing effort to secure all local levers of power against periodic efforts from Belgrade and Moscow to bring Djukanovic’s rule to an end. Protests from Serbian prelates, priests, and believers certainly were no surprise, but the numbers attracted to street demonstrations and the international attention paid to the dispute likely have amounted to more than Djukanovic expected. He has felt compelled to warn members of his own party not to attend protests directed against the new law.[1]

The politicians (and some outside pundits[2]) do not appear to realize these are more than mundane events. This dispute ties into quarrels in Orthodox Christianity that have accompanied the still-ongoing process of replacing the former Yugoslavia. Even the Russians got their hair mussed when they attempted to use Moscow’s “Third Rome” pretensions to orchestrate a power grab in the run-up to the Ecumenical meeting held in Crete in 2016. Arguments going back centuries involving the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch and residue from the Phyletism controversy at the Great Council of Constantinople in 1872 mixed with contemporary disputes between the Russian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, and other Orthodox Churches to spoil Moscow’s agenda. The disharmonies produced by these synchronic problems from different periods of history proved as decisive now as when each first emerged.

Orthodox believers in Montenegro are not going to simply accept the new law and relinquish the claim that Montenegro is an integral part of a greater Serbian universe, no matter the periodic existence of a separate Montenegrin state. If anything, Djukanovic’s effort to force a concession by Serbian Orthodox clerics to the supremacy of the secular state when it comes to defining religious property rights will strengthen the resistance to Montenegro’s current sovereign status. Being creatures of sacred time, the clerics and their flock will wait Djukanovic and his minions out because they know the political fashions of secular times will change (again).

This trouble has weakened the Big Man’s hold. Djukanovic, who skillfully weathered Moscow’s rather blunt effort in 2016 to oust him and prevent Montenegro from joining NATO, did not have to take the Church on so directly – his decision to do so may indicate his successful resistance to Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, knee-jerk Western acceptance of his less than transparent manner of governance, and deflection of Russian threats to his person and his rule have made him overconfident. Djukanovic is not about to go away – his political opposition remains weak and divided. Nevertheless, whether or not he reverses himself on this law, his less than sure footed approach to the issue suggests he is getting careless.

David B. Kanin is an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former senior intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

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Trump’s and Netanyahu’s folly http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/trumps-and-netanyahus-folly/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/trumps-and-netanyahus-folly/#respond Mon, 10 Feb 2020 12:19:56 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24521 Read More]]> Preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and enshrining the dream of Greater Israel that Netanyahu championed will be the nightmare of the right-wing Israelis, as the “deal of the century” will blow up in their faces. Trump and Netanyahu will be remembered as the two leaders who betrayed Israel and subjected its citizens to live and die by the gun.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Since the Second Intifada in 2000, the Israelis have been steadily moving to the right-of-center. Successive Israeli governments have made national security central to Israel’s very survival, and linking it to the presumed existential threat posed by the Palestinians has become the national mantra. Thus, controlling the Palestinians’ lives and their territory became synonymous with Israel’s national security. Israel has, for all intents and purposes, given itself the license to do whatever it pleases in the Palestinian territories, including building settlements, erecting barriers and fences, demolishing Palestinian homes, and restricting their movement, and was poised to annex the Jordan Valley, all in the name of national security.

The unveiling of Trump’s “deal of the century” (Deal) was framed to fully support the Israeli scheme, yet it tragically condemned the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians to years, if not decades, of violence and wars while dangerously destabilizing the region, which is already plagued with widespread turmoil.

Do Trump and Netanyahu understand the implications of what they have done? Here we have an impeached president and a prime minister who is indicted and facing trial—two crooks facing new elections. Trump will drag himself through any gutter to be reelected, and pleasing his evangelical constituency is vital to that goal. Thus, releasing his decisively pro-Israel Deal at this particular juncture was meant to serve his immediate goal and that of Netanyahu, who is also seen as the conduit for the messianic mission of the evangelicals.

Netanyahu, whose zealotry and obscene lust for power matches only that of Trump, gladly embraced the Deal because it boosts his reelection prospects, realizes his life-long aspiration for a Greater Israel, and allows him to emerge as Israel’s savior who restored much of the Jews’ biblical “land of Israel” to its rightful owners.

To understand why the Deal puts Israel’s future at risk, one need not go too far to find the answer. Even before the Deal was disclosed, the Palestinian Authority rejected it on the grounds that it denies the Palestinian right to statehood, legitimizes the settlements, allows for the annexation of nearly 30 percent of Palestinian land, and permits Israel to annex the Jordan Valley. This shatters any prospect of establishing a viable Palestinian state, regardless of what the deal stipulates.

By what logic then will the Palestinians accept such a deal that robs them of a more than 70-year-old dream to establish an independent state? Whether or not they missed several opportunities in the past to realize their dream, their initial rejection of Israel’s right to exist does not nullify their right to a state of their own that lives in peace with Israel.

The Deal has only justified the claim of extremist Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and countries like Iran and others, that Israel has had all along no intention of allowing the Palestinians to have an independent state, and that only continued violent resistance will force Israel’s hands.

This will be the net outcome of the Deal. As the Palestinians lose hope and have little left to lose, violence and more violence will be the order of the day, which is precisely what Israel wants to avoid and the Deal was presumably supposed to prevent.

This also begs the question as to who, in fact, can pose an existential threat to Israel. Certainly not the Palestinians, who know only too well that Israel is a formidable military power that can at will take any security measure deemed necessary to protect itself. Moreover, there is not a single country in the Middle East, including Iran, that can challenge Israel militarily without sustaining horrifyingly unacceptable damage. Tehran especially knows that well.

What Trump and Netanyahu have cooked up is a recipe for perpetual violent conflict, and while Israel will always have the upper hand, it will not enjoy a day of rest. Israel will have to station thousands of additional troops and spend hundreds of millions of dollars more annually on security to protect the jigsaw puzzle of settlements scattered throughout the West Bank. The resentment and resistance of the Palestinians will only worsen, and any incident can trigger deadly violence.

Preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and enshrining the dream of Greater Israel that Netanyahu championed will be the nightmare of the right-wing Israelis, as the “deal of the century” will blow up in their faces. Trump and Netanyahu will be remembered as the two leaders who betrayed Israel and subjected its citizens to live and die by the gun.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Turkish-Russian shadows darken the sky over Libya http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/turkish-russian-shadows-darken-the-sky-over-libya/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/turkish-russian-shadows-darken-the-sky-over-libya/#respond Tue, 04 Feb 2020 11:00:31 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24519 Read More]]> The creation of highly decentralized governmental structures in Libya will not be easy. Nevertheless, such decentralized administration is key to the future, and a challenge to all of us who want to see a peaceful and relatively just Libya.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

As if the Russian-Turkish cooperation-rivalry in Syria were not enough, we find the same combination of rivalry and some common interests between Russia and Turkey in Libya – with even more oil and pipeline issues thrown in. On the one hand, Russia is backing General Khalifa Haftar who had done part of his military studies in the USSR and has a relatively easy relation with Russians. Since April 2019, General Haftar and his “Libyan National Army” is bogged down in his quest to take over the capital, Tripoli, which would make him master of most of the socio-economic wealth of the country. Haftar is blocked by tribal militias loyal to what is considered the legitimate government led by Fayez al-Saraf.

A large number of people in the Tripoli area have been displaced, seeking relative safety in other areas. Migrants and refugees being held in detention centers are suffering. Food and medical supplies are lacking. While there is a ceasefire agreement, the agreement is often violated and migrant-holding camps are hit.

Both the Russians and the Turks have sent mercenaries to back their interests: the Russian, the “private”security firm Wagner, first founded to back Russian interests in Ukraine. The Turks have sent Syrian militias friendly to Turkey with promisses of money and Turkish citizenship.

libyan01_400The growing Turkish influence in Libya worries both Greek and Cypres who have Law of the Sea exclusive-economic-zone disputes with Turkey in areas that may have important oil and gas reserves.

There is general agreement among the U.N. negotiators as well as diplomats from interested States that the aim is to develop a single, unified, inclusive, and effective Libyan government that is transparent, accountable, fair with equitable distribution of public wealth and resources between different Libyan geographic areas, including through decentralization and support for municipalities, thereby removing a central grievance and cause of recrimination.

The creation of such State structures has been the chief issue since 1945 when the Allies – Britain, the USA and the USSR – agreed that the Italian colonies should not be returned to Italy, although Italian settlers were encouraged to stay. The Allies did not want to create the structures of the new State believing that this task should be done by the Libyans themselves. Also, the three Allies disagreed among themselves as to the nature of the future State.

By 1950-1951 with more crucial geopolitical issues elsewhere, the Allies were ready for the creation of a Libyan State. It seemed that a monarchy was the most appropriate form of government as there were no structured political parties that could have created a parliamentary government. Thus in 1951, Idris was made the King of the State. Idris was the head of the Senussi Sufi Order created by his father. The Senussi Sufi Order had branches in most parts of the country. Idriss ruled the country as if it were a Sufi order and did little to structure non-religious political structures. Idris ruled until September 1969 when he was overthrown by Muammar el- Qaddafi.

Qaddafi was also not interested in creating permanent political parties which, he feared, might be used against him. He called himself “the Guide of the Revolution” not “President” and Libya became the Libyan Jamaihirya, that is, the authority of the people. The closest model to Qaddafi’s vision is a Quaker Meeting, where decisions are taken by consensus and compromise at the local level. These decisions are then sent as recommendations to the next higher level where by consensus and compromise again a decision is taken. Ultimately, these decisions reach to the top of Libya, and the “Guide” sees how they can be carried out.

The problem with the governance of Libya was that not everyone was a member of a Sufi order where the search for enlightenment in a spirit of love was the way decisions were to be made. Moreover, there were hardly any Libyan Quakers, and compromise was not the chief model for the tribal and clanic networks which was how the country was structured under Qaddafi.

Since the overthrow and death of Qaddafi in 2011, there has been no agreement on how the country should be structured. The model which is most likely to be followed is that of General Khalifa Haftar, The model is a military-based dictatorship with a small number of civilians as “window dressing”. The model is well represented through the world although not always held up as a model form of government. Haftar holds a good bit of the Libyan territory, although his hope of a quick victory over the “national unity” government in the capitol Tripoli has not been successful for the moment.

The National Unity Government of Faiez Sarraj is a civilian-led government but heavily dependent for its survival on tribal militias. The model for the government is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey with a certain ideological coloring from the Islamic Brotherhood, originally from Egypt but whose ideology has spread. What type of structures can be created between these two major models is not known. I would expect to see a Khalifa Haftar-led government with a few civilians brought in from the National Unity Government.

The only geographic area outside of the current Tripoli-centered conflict between Faiez Sarra and Khalifa Haftar is the area known as the Fezzan – the southwestern part of the country on the edge of the Sahara. The area was associated with the rest of the country during the period of King Idrass as there were a number of branches of his Sufi order in the oases where most of the 200,000 people in the area live, mostly date palm farmers. Gaddafi largely left the area alone as there was little possibility of developing organized opposition. However, today, the governmental neglect has opened the door to wide-spread smuggling of people, weapons and drugs. The Italian government in particular has drawn international attention to the lack of administration in the Fezzan as many of the African migrants who end up in Italy have passed through the Fezzan on their way to Europe.

The creation of highly decentralized governmental structures in Libya will not be easy. Nevertheless, such decentralized administration is key to the future, and a challenge to all of us who want to see a peaceful and relatively just Libya.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens

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Trump’s Dreadful Foreign Policy http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/trumps-dreadful-foreign-policy/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/02/trumps-dreadful-foreign-policy/#respond Mon, 03 Feb 2020 17:02:32 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24517 Read More]]> Trump never understood the critically important bond between Europe and the US, treating them as business partners who must pay an equitable share on defense—failing to grasp that their security is pivotal to our own and serves our most vital geostrategic interests. His strong-arm tactics have increasingly alienated and antagonized both our friends and adversaries, making the US increasingly isolated which inadvertently lessens American influence globally.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Recently, I met with a group of officials from different countries who came to the US to learn about our political system and the decision-making process regarding US foreign policy under the Trump administration. Had I been asked this question while Presidents Obama or Bush were in office, I could have answered with some specificity about certain US policies toward our allies and adversaries. However, Trump has no coherent foreign policy doctrine, no understanding of historical perspective, and no knowledge of the intricacies of various regional conflicts. He is dismissive of alliances, unbound by international agreements; he is erratic, unfettered, and issues policy directives based on “gut feelings.” Here I provide a synopsis of Trump’s foreign “policy” and the global disorder he has and continues to sow.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict became more intractable than ever before, as Trump torpedoed the prospect of a two-state solution even before he unveiled his so-called “deal of the century.” By moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017 and recognizing it as Israel’s capital, declaring all settlements legal, giving the green light to annex the Jordan Valley, and freezing financial aid to the Palestinians, he deliberately left no room for the Palestinians to negotiate on the very issues that he granted to the Israelis. The Israeli right-wing celebration will be short lived, as sooner than later this “deal” will explode in their faces. There is little prospect for peace left, and violence will be the order of the day.

Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of US forces from Syria was nothing short of a disaster. He abandoned our most trusted ally in the fight against ISIS—the Syrian Kurds—to the mercy of Turkey’s ruthless dictator Erdogan. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands became refugees. Turkey has now established a foothold in Syria, and Russia became the sole power broker in the country. Iran became more determined than ever before to augment its military presence in Syria, which poses a constant threat to Israel and will make Syria the battleground between Israel and Iran. ISIS once again is on the rise along with other jihadist groups, and violence between the conflicting parties will continue unabated. The US is left with no say about the country’s future.

After three years of vacillation and uncertainty, a new US-Iraq crisis ensued immediately after the assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani on Iraqi soil, ordered by Trump. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis poured into the streets demanding the ouster of American troops, forcing the parliament to pass legislation to that effect. Trump’s ill-fated decision further strained the already tense relations with Iraq, allowing Iran to further solidify its power and political influence in Iraq and severely undermine the US’s geostrategic interest in the country and the region. Although some US troops will remain in Iraq, as long as Iran dominates the Iraqi body politic, the US will increasingly be marginalized, which will adversely affect our allies in the Middle East.

The conflict with Iran is 40 years old, and has considerably worsened with Trump’s hostile policy—first by withdrawing from the Iran deal, then imposing crippling sanctions, threatening regime change, and most recently, assassinating General Soleimani. Instead of building on the nuclear deal, Trump destroyed any prospect of constructive relations with Iran, which has presently all but abandoned the deal. By all accounts, Iran can now produce any quantity and quality of uranium it chooses. Trump’s misguided approach to Iran only increased the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons and encouraged Iran to continue its nefarious activities in the Middle East. The new US-Iran conflict will destabilize the region, as the two countries remain at the precipice of war.

The effort to denuclearize North Korea was nothing but an illusion. Trump thought he could use his ‘unrivaled negotiating skills’ to persuade Kim Jong Un to dismantle his nuclear weapons before the US lifts any sanctions. After three face-to-face meetings, Trump failed because he never understood that Kim will not denuclearize without an explicit, long-term plan. Furthermore, following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, he gave Kim no reason to trust him. A plan to be implemented in stages over a period of 7-10 years while sanctions are gradually lifted, corresponding to denuclearization in stages, which would lead to normalization of relations, might have appealed to Kim. As a result of Trump’s dismal failure, the tension in the Korean Peninsula has only risen as Kim resumed testing new ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Since Trump came to power, Turkey has become increasingly more nationalist with a strong Islamist agenda. Under Erdogan, Turkey is willing to challenge Western values and is prepared to assert itself politically and militarily, and do so with impunity. Even though Erdogan cozied up to US’ staunchest foes (Russia and Iran), defied NATO by buying Russia’s S-400 air defense system, and threatened to prohibit the US from using the Incirlik Air Base, Trump conceded by giving Erdogan the green light to intervene in Syria and ravage the Syrian Kurds. Trump refrained from taking any punitive measures against Erdogan, even though he is terrorizing his own people and dismantling what’s left of Turkey’s democracy. Trump’s accommodation of Erdogan’s authoritarian conduct further emboldened Erdogan to interfere in the domestic affairs in Middle Eastern, Western Balkan, and North African countries while marginalizing the US.

The continuing disastrous war in Yemen will be remembered as one of Trump’s most horrific failures, as he continues to directly contribute to the devastation by supplying Saudi Arabia with killing machines. Trump has made hardly any effort to end the war in Yemen. Tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, millions are starving, and as many as one million children are infected with cholera. Although Iran and the Houthis are to blame just as much, Trump has said nothing and done less to bring this catastrophic war to an end. He puts his personal financial interest in Saudi Arabia first while ditching our moral responsibility, as he makes the US complicit in the Saudis’ crimes against humanity under his watch.

Trump’s failure to end the Afghanistan war is a continuation of Bush’s and Obama’s failures to realize that the Afghanistan war is unwinnable. While Trump criticized his predecessors for not ending the war, he followed their path while ignoring what has long been acknowledged—that the Taliban will ultimately wrest power. Trump’s effort to reach an agreement was torpedoed just before it was finalized because of a suicide bomber who killed an American soldier. Instead of pausing the agreement temporarily, he scuttled it completely. The way to end the nearly two decades-old war is by requiring the Taliban to commit to two vital provisions: preventing terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS from using Afghanistan as a staging ground, and fully adhering to human rights. Violating these commitments would trigger specific crippling sanctions.

Trump’s policy toward the Libyan civil war hovered between neglect and indifference, leaving the country’s fate to Russia and Turkey. Trump, who initially supported the UN-recognized Sarraj government, reversed course in support of Khalifa Haftar, who is determined to control the entire country. Secretary of State Pompeo, who attended the Berlin conference hoping to shape the deliberation about Libya’s future, bore no fruit. Russia and Turkey, who have huge vested interests in Libya, have already established themselves as the powerbrokers. Trump’s ill-advised choice to steeply reduce the US military presence in West Africa will only further weaken the US’s influence not only in Libya but in the region, which has enormous geostrategic consequences for European allies in particular.

Trump has alienated our European allies to a degree that raises serious questions about his commitment to our trans-Atlantic ties. His embrace of Russia’s Putin, and conversely his intense criticism of our allies, played directly into the hand of Putin, who is determined to weaken our alliances, especially NATO, which has provided for European collective security since World War II. Trump never understood the critically important bond between Europe and the US, treating them as business partners who must pay an equitable share on defense—failing to grasp that their security is pivotal to our own and serves our most vital geostrategic interests. His strong-arm tactics have increasingly alienated and antagonized both our friends and adversaries, making the US increasingly isolated which inadvertently lessens American influence globally.

This is the plight of our foreign policy under Trump. Sadly, nothing is likely to change as long as he remains in power. Our only salvation is that even though Trump undermined America’s image in the eyes of the international community, the US remains the singular superpower. It may take some time, but under new and enlightened leaders, America will regain its global leadership role and live up to its political and social values and moral principles.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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Killing Soleimani undermines global order http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/killing-soleimani-undermines-global-order/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/killing-soleimani-undermines-global-order/#respond Mon, 27 Jan 2020 10:43:17 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24507 Read More]]> Under any circumstances, Trump will leave office as an impeached president who made the world much less safe by playing into the hands of America’s enemies. We and our allies will end up paying the price.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Those who applaud the assassination of General Soleimani seem to simply equate him to a terrorist who certainly deserved to meet his fate. The question here is not whether he deserved to be killed, but can his killing be equated to those of Osama Bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leaders of al-Qaeda and ISIS respectively? They were the leaders of ferocious terrorist groups, stateless, not associated with any international organization, nor were they recognized by a single country. The same cannot be said about Soleimani. Regardless of how vicious, he was a very high-ranking government official in Iran, second only to Khamenei.

There are scores of other heads of state who are as brutal if not more so than Soleimani; are we now going to assassinate these individuals or their deputies only because they are ruthless leaders? Are Turkey’s Erdogan, or Russia’s Putin, or China’s Xi, or North Korea’s Kim, or the Philippines’ Duterte less ruthless than Soleimani? These cruel leaders, who Trump openly admires, have committed unspeakable atrocities.

Just imagine what would have happened if Iran attacked a convoy escorting Vice President Pence and killed him just as he boarded his car near Riyadh airport. How would Trump have reacted? I venture to say that for Trump, this would have been tantamount to a declaration of war, just as Tehran viewed the attack on Soleimani. Trump would have retaliated in a massive way because an attack on a top US official by an adversary would simply be unacceptable by both Republicans and Democrats alike.

This begs the question as to what sort of global order we will have left if the leaders of one country eliminate the leaders of another simply because they deem them ruthless. Nothing but global chaos would ensue, destroying the very idea of an international order that governs the conduct of sovereign states toward one another. This would also defy the United Nations’ founding principles and make it extraordinarily difficult for the community of nations to work together to solve bilateral and multilateral problems to make the world a safer place.

What is worse in the case of Soleimani is that he was assassinated at this particular juncture on the order of Trump, which was intended to distract public attention from his political wounds and woes. Never mind that the Trump administration produced no shred of evidence of an imminent danger; nevertheless, he gravely risked our national security strictly for his own personal political benefit. It is an election year, and he is now facing an impeachment trial in the Senate on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. If the past three years offer any indication, Trump would stop short of nothing, including obstruction of justice, cheating, lying, making misleading statements, threatening, bribing, and yes, killing foreign leaders to get reelected.

The Ukraine debacle, which blew up in his face and those of his top political advisors, pales in comparison to the assassination of Soleimani, which brought us to the verge of war with Iran—a war that would have made the Iraq war look like child’s play. A war with Iran would exact thousands of American casualties at an astronomical cost while plunging the Middle East in an unending violent conflict that would spare none of our friends and allies.

Trump acted just like a dictator, and every single Republican member of Congress who demonstrates more loyalty to Trump than to the nation becomes complicit in his betrayal of the country. Senators, as jurors in his impeachment trial, have the opportunity to convict him based on the overwhelming evidence that he abused his power and obstructed Congress.

He must be stopped now because he is too dangerous and too reckless to be entrusted with national security and the well-being of the nation. The Senators who exonerate him in his trial will be traitorous and will put themselves on trial come November.

Under any circumstances, Trump will leave office as an impeached president who made the world much less safe by playing into the hands of America’s enemies. We and our allies will end up paying the price.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

 

 


 

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Myanmar in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/myanmar-in-violation-of-the-1948-genocide-convention/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/myanmar-in-violation-of-the-1948-genocide-convention/#respond Fri, 24 Jan 2020 15:42:44 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24509 Read More]]> On 23 January 2020, a panel of 17 judges of the World Court (ICJ) voted unanimously calling on Myanmar (formerly Burma) to take all measures in its power to prevent genocide of the remaining 600,000 Rohingya that the Court stated were extremely vulnerable to violence at the hands of the military. The Court calls for emergency provisional measures in order to respect the requirements of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

On 23 January 2020, a panel of 17 judges of the World Court (ICJ) voted unanimously calling on Myanmar (formerly Burma) to take all measures in its power to prevent genocide of the remaining 600,000 Rohingya that the Court stated were extremely vulnerable to violence at the hands of the military. The Court calls for emergency provisional measures in order to respect the requirements of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The unanimous ruling amounts to a rejection of the arguments of Aung San Suu Kyi that she presented in person at the Hague during the three-day hearing of the IJC starting 10 December 2019. The unanimous decision is all the more remarkable as one of the 17 judges was nominated by Myanmar and another by the Gambia which had brought the complaint to the Court. This call for provisional measures is not the final decision of the Court, but it does point to what is likely to be the final judgment.

This is the first time that the World Court has been asked to deal with the respect of the Genocide Convention and is thus an important step in the development of World Law. The Court does not have direct means of enforcement. Thus, there needs to be strong pressure from non-governmental organizations concerned with the development of World Law.

The Government of Gambia on Monday, 11 November, 2019 had brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague a complaint against the Government of Myanmar for violation of the 1948 Convention on Genocide concerning actions against the Rohingya. Under the rules of the ICJ, Member States can bring action against other Member States over disputes alleging breaches of international law, in this case the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. All members of the United Nations are automatically members of the ICJ. However, most cases before the World Court concern actions touching upon the States involved, such as frontier limitations on which the ICJ has been particularly active.

In this case, Gambia is acting as the conscience of the world society, not being the country from which the Rohingya are fleeing nor the country to which they flee. The Attorney General of Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who had served as a special assistant to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said “The case is to send a clear message to Myanmar and the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of the terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding before our own eyes.”

The Genocide Convention is a landmark in the effort to develop a system of universally accepted standards that promote an equitable system of world law for all members of the human family to live together in dignity. There have been repeated appeals to make the 1948 Genocide Convention operative world law. The then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an address at UNESCO on 8 December 1998 “Many thought, no doubt, that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – could not happen again. And yet they have. In Cambodia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Rwanda. Our time – this decade even – has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits. Genocide – the destruction of an entire people on the basis of ethnic or national origins – is now a word of out time too, a stark and haunting reminder of why our vigilance must be eternal.”

The Genocide Convention has mechanisms for dealing with complaints concerning violations. Article VIII says “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.”

Article III states “The following acts shall be punishable:

– Genocide:

– Conspiracy to commit genocide:

– Direct and public incitement to commit genocide:

– Attempt to commit genocide:

– Complicity in genocide.”

When the Convention was being drafted, the competent organs of the United Nations was thought to be the Security Council. However, despite factual evidence of mass killings, some with an intent to destroy “in whole or in part” an ethnic group in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and the Sudan, no Contracting Party to the Genocide Convention has ever called for any action under Article VIII of the Convention. Now Gambia has acted and focused on the highest legal body within the U.N. system. [1]

Genocide is one of the crimes on which the International Criminal Court (ICC) can also act. The International Criminal Court opened a preliminary inquiry into Myanmar’s alleged crimes against the Rohingya based on the U.N.’s 444-page report of the U.N.-created Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar which said in August 2018 that the Myanmar army’s tactics were “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats” and that “military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages.” It is not known what action the ICC will undertake.

The action of Gambia is important as it focuses both on the mechanisms of world law and the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens

Note

  1. For a detailed study of the drafting of the 1948 Genocide Convention and subsequent normative developments, see William A. Schabas. Genocide in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p 624)

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Travels across Kashmir and Ladakh – a frank perspective http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/travels-across-kashmir-and-ladakh-a-frank-perspective/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/travels-across-kashmir-and-ladakh-a-frank-perspective/#respond Tue, 21 Jan 2020 16:02:02 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24503 Read More]]> On August 5th 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill revoked Article 370 and 35A, splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Ashima Kaul travelled to Ladakh to interview local peacebuilders on how this has affected their community.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Ashima Kaul

On August 5th 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill revoked Article 370 and 35A, splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The Bill went into effect on October 31st. Even as a new political and constitutional system is coming into place, with people, communities, regions and institutions in transition, I decided to travel across the Karakoram, Zanskar and Pir Panjal ranges from Ladakh to the Kashmir and Jammu regions to visit the land and listen to its people. This travelogue is unique, as it goes beyond the rhetoric and binaries often presented in the media to bring forth the voices of invisible people, paradoxical narratives, the complexities on the ground and blind spots that governments often miss out – the people experiencing conflict, and their feelings.I decided to travel across the Karakoram, Zanskar and Pir Panjal ranges from Ladakh to Kashmir and Jammu regions to visit the land and listen to its people. This travelogue is unique.

New proposed map of Jammu and Kashmir

Source: Times Now News, 2019

Ladakh Perspectives 

Back in the office, thirty-year-old Disket Choral, who works there as a cook, had moist eyes. She spoke in a whisper, “I am happy about Ladakh getting a Union Territory (UT) status. This is what my father sacrificed his life for…I grew up listening about my father’s cause for Ladakhi’s freedom,” she gazed at his photo hanging in the office and with a barely audible voice added, “Today, it feels like his dream has been fulfilled.” Choral accompanied me to the families of other martyrs in Sankar and Saboo, nearby villages to Leh, now the  capital of UT Ladakh. It was an emotional reunion for all of them.

Kashmir is not the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh, with its two districts of Buddhist majority Leh and Muslim (Shia) majority Kargil, administratively governed by Kashmir, is the largest geographical region in Jammu and Kashmir, covering 69.6% of the area with India (1,38,942 sq. km.). However, within Ladakh, the demographic dynamics are complex. Muslims in Leh, both Sunni and Shia, have differing perspectives than the Muslims in Kargil and Noorbaqshi in the Nubra Valley, both residing in towns and villages along the Line of Control with Pakistan. Overall Muslims account for fifty percent of the population in Ladakh. Over the years they have gained an assertive presence in Ladakh, which the Buddhist political leadership can no longer ignore. “Earlier as separate districts the minorities in each district, in Kargil the Buddhist and in Leh the Muslims, felt insecure and discriminated but now within a UT Muslims are equal stakeholders in Ladakh’s future,” pointed out Shafi Lasso, an advocate I spoke to in Leh. He adds emphatically, “As Muslims we will sentimentally always remain connected with Kashmir. Also, geographically we will never be separated from Kashmir. Sentiments of co-religion and trade will always remain strong,” clearly showcasing subtle underlying religious fault lines and tensions between the different faith communities. The districts in Ladakh may continue to coexist despite their differences, yet the fissures and fault lines deepened by the revoking of Article 370 are more visible in Kargil.

Besides a sense of local discrimination felt due to rule in Ladakh centring from Leh, Kargil has affiliations with Kashmir because of several other factors, including road links, co-religionists and geo-political influence. However, it is also the post- re-emergence of the Hindu right-wing party Bhartiya Janta Party, that, according to the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, has pushed the community to feel insecure in the new environment.

The emerging dynamics in the region can be understood from the interview I conducted with Sheikh Lufti (pictured above), former President of IKMT (Imam Khomeni Memorial Trust) for three terms and now its Advisor. As a representative of a constituency which has a considerable youth following, he said, “We are getting this feeling that being a Muslim is a crime. But we Shias of Kargil are first Indians. We have sacrificed our blood for the country. We fought during the 1999 Kargil war. We know that Pakistan is no option for us for we are aware of what is happening with Shias in Pakistan. But we are feeling disappointed with the Central government’s decision regarding Article 370 and we will never accept it. They should have asked the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever has been done is illegal and unconstitutional. The new disposition has no safeguards for our land and security for the future of our youth. The demand for UT was never our demand. It was a demand of the Buddhists of Leh. We feel sandwiched and in such a situation we might be pushed to taking adverse steps.”

Mentioning about IKMT outreach he reasoned that their services to their community like education and health ran parallel to what government was running. “This allows us to think about adopting alternative ways of resistance. India has to think that this is a border region and we are cut off from the rest of the country during the winters. Youth are getting disgruntled and are demanding their rights. These sentiments should not be overlooked for the sake of preventing future conflicts,” clearly indicating a choice they will be pushed into making if their peaceful voices remain unheard.

To deepen the complexity of the Ladakh region, Muslims from Nubra Valley, especially the Turtuk sector who belong to Balti culture and Noorbakshi faith, have deeper ties with the Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan. This sector in Ladakh offers geo-political corollaries and complexities that form the root of conflict with Pakistan. As Turtuk’s Sarpanch Inayat says, “In 1947 we got independence from the British, in 1971 from Pakistan and now in 2019 from Kashmir.”

What does the future look like for the people of Ladakh?

Notwithstanding these uncertainties, efforts to build a new Ladakh is already underway. To begin, a 21-member delegation, including members across administrative, political and religious spectrum, went on a study tour of those UTs in India which have a tribal status to find the best constitutional framework for Ladakh. “For us identity includes our ecology, environment, culture, land and people,” said Rinchen Angmo, Editor Reach Ladakh Bulletin. She was part of the delegation team whose recommendations will be given to the central government. Meanwhile a United Ladakh Front has been formed with a Joint Advisory Council for Communal Harmony. Members of the delegation have been holding public meetings – at times 10-12 in a day – to educate, engage in advocacy and build awareness amongst the people about their findings, framing an inclusive draft recommendation. A twenty-point memorandum has been prepared which includes the signatures of Muslim, Christian and Buddhist organisations, including the Ladakh Gompa Association.

Sonam Wangchuk, a 53-year-old innovator and education reformist known internationally for his Ice Stupa and SECMOL, lists priority concerns for future of Ladakh. “Within Ladakh we should give respect to different parts. We have Dah-Hanu belt who speak a different language and we should support them who they are. The same goes for the Nomads of Changthang and the people of Kargil, Zanskar and Nubra. They should feel stronger about who they are. For this we should not only claim their rights but give them rights too,” he said. He has been supporting and playing a facilitating role, mediating between different organisations and the community leadership. “We have to defend, protect and survive, first, and then we can progress, prosper and develop a vision for the region wherein every part of Ladakh will flower in different colours. Hence our first priority is to take safeguards for the people, land and nature, not only from outsiders but also from the Ladakhis themselves to protect their glaciers, valley, flora and fauna. Both outsiders and the Ladakhis who might become greedy, to exploit resources. Therefore, the need of the hour is to develop a caring attitude to save the Ladakh from Ladakhi greed and other business interests that only care about profit,” opinionated Wangchuk, a concern that other parts of Ladakh, whether Muslim or Buddhist, articulate as well. The issue is that communities are fearing and not listening to each other. They only need to listen to each other to discover that all communities have similar concerns and rising anxieties about the future. As a Buddhist businessman, owner of a guest house in Nubra Valley said, “I am glad we are not getting a legislature. Our representatives divide people in the name of Muslims and Buddhist before and after elections. Now that possibility has been erased as we are getting a UT without a legislature.””We have to defend, protect and survive, first, and then we can progress, prosper and develop a vision for the region wherein every part of Ladakh will flower in different colours. Hence our first priority is to take safeguards for the people, land and nature, not only from outsiders but also the Ladakhis themselves to protect their glaciers, valley, flora and fauna.” 

Politics based on demography are essentially about numbers; spiralling fear. In a region where each community fear the political power and control of the other, to recreate a unifying phenomenon that promotes the notion of unity in diversity and co-existence is what the future should usher in for a peaceful Ladakh. However, more than three months down the line, people’s anxieties and concerns have still not been addressed. Central leadership in India needs to address these concerns immediately to quell any disquiet and separatist ideas. People on the ground are beginning to compare this decision to that of attitudes in China towards Tibet. For what needs to be understood is that while Ladakhis are happy with the bifurcation ‘azadi’ (freedom) from Kashmir, they are worried about the protection of land, culture and identity which Article 370 provided. “It is a historical development. Ladakh has a place under the sun. Undoubtedly while we are happy about bifurcation, but Article 370 was the mother of all safeguards. We need to ensure that some aspects of the legacy continue for safeguarding Ladakh,” cautiously articulated Ambassador Phunchok Stobdan. This is what needs to be addressed for Ladakhis who are beginning to feel ‘colonised’. These are warning signals and if people’s sense of alienation is not addressed we have seen all over the world that it often swells into fully-fledged conflict.

Ashima Kaul coordinates the organisation Yakjah in their work in Jammu and Kashmir. An independent journalist by profession, she has an active interest in interfaith dialogue.

This article was originally published by Peace Insight and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.


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Stepping back from the brink of war http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/stepping-back-from-the-brink-of-war/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/stepping-back-from-the-brink-of-war/#respond Wed, 15 Jan 2020 11:14:01 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24500 Read More]]> In some ways, both Iran and the US need to lick their wounds and begin a new chapter, however long and arduous it may be, because war is not and will never be an option.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Trump’s order to kill General Soleimani is one of the most reckless acts taken by a president, who once again has put his personal political interest above the nation’s security. Certainly, Soleimani deserved to meet his bitter fate. He was behind the killing of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq while threatening and acting against American allies. However, killing him without considering the potentially dire regional repercussions and without a strategy, under the guise of national security concerns, is hard to fathom.

Republican members of Congress who praised the assassination of General Soleimani seem to be utterly blinded by their desire to see him eliminated. What will happen next, they seem to have no clue. Trump, who is fighting for his political life, appeared to have cared less about the horrifying consequences as long as he distracts public attention from his political woes. He made the decision to assassinate Soleimani seven months ago, but he gave the order now to serve his own self-interest, especially in this election year where he desperately needs a victory while awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate.

During the Senate briefing on Iran led by Secretaries of State and Defense Pompeo and Esper, and CIA Director Haspel, they produced no evidence that there was an imminent danger of an attack on four American embassies orchestrated by Soleimani, as Trump has claimed. In fact, Esper said openly in a January 12 interview that he saw no evidence.

Republican Senator Mike Lee labeled it as “probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue…What I found so distressing about the briefing is one of the messages we received from the briefers was, ‘Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran,’ and that if you do ‘You will be emboldening Iran.’” Now, having failed to produce evidence of imminent danger, the Trump administration claims that the killing of Soleimani was part of a long-term deterrence strategy.

The assassination itself has certainly emboldened Iran’s resolve to continue its nefarious activities throughout the region, but even then, the measure Trump has taken to presumably make the US more secure has in fact done the complete opposite.

It has created new mounting problems and multiple crises. Trump dangerously escalated the conflict with Iran; severely compromised the US’ geostrategic interest in the Middle East; intensified the Iranian threat against our allies, especially Israel; led Iran to double down in its support of terrorist and Jihadist groups; badly wounded the US’ relations with its European allies; deemed the US untrustworthy by friends and foes; and pushed Iran to annul much of the nuclear deal, all while impressively advancing its anti-ballistic missile technology.

And contrary to Trump’s claim that he made the right decision for the sake of American security, 55 percent of voters in a USA Today survey released on January 9th said he made the US less safe. And now we are still at the brink of war.

Although Iran has admitted to being behind the attack on the Asad air base in Iraq, it initiated the attack to save face in the eyes of its public and demonstrate its possession of precision missiles and willingness to stand up to the US. This retaliation was expected, but since Iran wants to avoid an all-out war, it was strategic and carefully calculated to inflict the fewest American casualties, if any, to prevent a vicious cycle of retaliatory attacks which could get out of control and lead to a war.

This, however, does not suggest that Iran will stop its clandestine proxy operations—employing its well-trained militia in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria to execute new attacks on American and allies’ targets in the region while maintaining deniability. Similarly, the clergy can also pressure hawks in and outside the government to avoid any provocative acts against the US. Iran is patient and will carefully weigh its gains and losses before it takes the next step.

Following Iran’s attack on the Asad base, Trump has also shown restraint because he too wants to prevent an all-out war, knowing that even though the US can win it handedly, it will be the costliest victory in blood and treasure and certainly in political capital.

The whole mess began when Trump withdrew from the Iran deal. What did Trump think he could accomplish? Withdrawing from the deal without having any substitute, without consultation with the European signatories, and with re-imposing sanctions, especially when Iran was in full compliance with all the deal’s provisions, is dangerously reckless—undermining our national security interests and jeopardizing the security of our allies in the region. The Iran deal was not perfect, but the idea was to build on it, gradually normalize relations with Iran, and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons altogether as it works to become a constructive member of the community of nations.

To resolve the crisis with Iran, the US must demonstrate a clear understanding of the Iranian mindset. Iran is a proud nation with a long and continuing rich history; it has huge natural and human resources, is the leader of the Shiite world, occupies one of the most geostrategic locations in the world, and wants to be respected. The Iranians are not compulsive; they think strategically and are patient, consistent, and determined.

The revocation of the Iran deal simply reaffirms Iran’s distrust of the US, from the time the CIA toppled the Mosaddeq government in 1953 to the continuing sanctions, adversarial attitude, and the open call for regime change.

Both Khamenei and Trump have their own domestic pressure to contend with and want to avoid war. The Iranian public is becoming increasingly restive. They are back in streets demanding immediate economic relief. Conversely, Trump calculated that further escalation of violent conflict with Iran will erode rather than enhance his political prospects, and would make defeat in November all but certain.

West European countries are extremely sensitive to any major escalation of violence, as it would lead to mounting casualties and destruction on all sides. Iran can resort to a wide range of hostile measures, including disrupting oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, by mining the Straits of Hormuz through which 21 million barrels per day (21% of global oil consumption) pass, resulting in a massive economic dislocation in the Middle East and Europe in particular.

The pause in hostilities offers a golden opportunity to begin a new process of mitigation. Germany, France, and Britain have already engaged the Iranians in an effort to ease the tension between Iran and the US and create conditions conducive to direct US-Iran negotiations. By now, Trump must realize that Iran cannot be bullied and the only way to prevent it from pursuing nuclear weapons is through dialogue.

Regardless of how flawed Trump views the Iran deal, it still provides the foundation for a new agreement, as many of its the original provisions remain valid and can be built on it. Other conflicting issues between the two sides, especially Iran’s subversive activities, should be negotiated on a separate track.

In some ways, both Iran and the US need to lick their wounds and begin a new chapter, however long and arduous it may be, because war is not and will never be an option.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

 

 


 

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Communal identities are durable. Civic? Not so much. http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/communal-identities-are-durable-civic-not-so-much/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/communal-identities-are-durable-civic-not-so-much/#respond Thu, 09 Jan 2020 09:39:59 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24498 Read More]]> The Balkans need activists not wedded to the inertia of Western political ideology.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT

By David B. Kanin

Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was heavily involved in the diplomacy that brought Scotland into what became the United Kingdom in 1707. He engaged in the public relations of the era with pamphlets designed to convince skeptics among the literate classes in England and Scotland that the Union was a natural development and a good idea. In 1709 he published a blow-by-blow account of the negotiations and popular opposition to the Treaty. Defoe predicted confidently that the economic and social benefits of the new entity eventually would meld the two hitherto hostile peoples into what we would call a civic entity.

The point here is not the fact that the United Kingdom’s unity now is in question, but that the robust energy behind Brexit and the Scottish independence movement three centuries after the UK’s creation underscores the indelible nature of resistance to official and intellectual pressure to replace affective ethnic, religious, and local identities with civic values. (This discussion leaves out the even more fraught Irish question.) The political superstructures of group affinities change over time, but the strength of the universal insistence to distinguish the Us from the Them does not dissipate. Jeremy King, Pieter Judson, and others have shown that the energy of communal identity can be directed against even the official nationalisms pushed by a group’s “own” public intellectuals if movements and the publicists lack grassroots trust.

For the three decades since the collapses of Communism and the former Yugoslavia Western governments, their house academics, and the self-important sliver of humanity calling itself “civil society” have launched serial efforts to force individuals and communities in the Balkans to embrace liberal values and civic institutions. Instead, vacillation and insincerity from Western capitals, cynical co-option of Western political forms by local patronage bosses, and breathless promotion of civic rhetoric by public intellectuals have served largely to provoke people in the region to craft strategies for surviving the latest flavor of elite and exogenous oversight. Meanwhile, like Defoe, contemporary mainstream publicists admonish those opposed to the imposed arrangements to drop their supposedly primitive ways and accept mainstream Western teleology.

Those surviving Westerners who either promoted the rickety Balkan status quo or who expressed skepticism regarding these efforts are passing their respective batons to younger diplomats, bureaucrats, and scholars. Some newer observers adopt existing liberal institutionalist prejudices and start off predisposed to assault the ethnic “discourse.” They either identify green shoots of civic-ness they say prove nationalist populism is not hegemonic or else claim that what seems to be ethnic is not ethnic at all, but rather somehow representative of economic or social phenomena amenable to what has become ritualized conflict management jargon. Meanwhile, even as comprador elites and bureaucrats wait for the civic Godot, nationalist or largely mono-ethnic parties continue to win elections and patron-client networks continue to overawe formal economies.

Less arrogant voices among Balkan overseers acknowledge the shortcomings of Western regional policies so far but retain the hope that internal reform and, eventually, “more Europe” will lead the Balkans toward some version of rule of law politics. Some preface their assessments with language something like “despite the great progress made in the Balkans…” Others avoid such ritual fictions and simply acknowledge the serial failures that mark virtually every effort by bureaucrats and NGO mavens to force Balkan governments, opposition politicians, and communities to practice Western norms. Those in this school of thought worry that the EU’s reluctance to admit new Balkan members makes things worse but share their more naïve colleagues’ view that the only possible path toward a constructive future lies in liberal institutions and civic norms.

This conventional wisdom is stunting the potential for rising generations to refresh thought and action in the Balkans. An article in the European Western Balkans website encapsulates the problem. It lavishes praise on people it says will “shape the future” of the region in 2020. None of these splendid individuals actually are from the Balkans – except, perhaps, the Prime Minister of Croatia, who is included only because his country has assumed the EU Presidency (and how many Croats would admit their nation is of the Balkans?)

How can younger generations of activists craft more constructive conceptual frameworks and plans of action as long as liberal Orthodoxy denies the possibility that constructive ideas exist outside its teleological canon? It is difficult for anyone who wants to be taken seriously (for example by getting a job or an academic degree) to risk challenging the tattered Western paradigm. A century and a half of repeated failure by the various Wests might be expected to motivate alternative thinking, but it is hard to blame those who want to make things better in the Balkans (as opposed to the many younger people who are reacting to exogenously enabled regional deterioration by leaving) for not bucking the inertial tide.

Still, the best chance for the Balkans may well rest in the hope that a critical mass of younger analysts, intellectuals, and business people become willing to reach across communal lines while disgorging the fantasy that civic values eventually will displace and homogenize heretofore ethnic identities. The essential condition for such constructive would be development of a mutual understanding among various classes of people that they can come to agreements with regional counterparts while retaining religious, cultural, and ethnic separation.

One example of something like occurred when veterans on both sides of the Bosnian divide staged demonstrations for the back pay, benefits, and other needs they shared. Western attention was focused on the over-hyped Plenums that intellectual elites touted in 2014, but the earlier veterans’ protests were largely ignored (perhaps because many of these activists did not have academic cachet or international contacts). Nevertheless, for a moment people who a few years earlier had been shooting each other embraced common interests.

The region needs a new generation of activists capable both of standing up to outside oversight and of crafting ways of creating at least transactional cooperation among various communal, political, and – crucially — patronage actors. Agreements should be designed to expand regional markets and build confidence in regional security. This work would emerge from necessary spadework around:

  • Distinguishing among those nationalists who are willing to work with counterparts from other communities from those who are not – and figuring out means of establishing reward systems that make it worthwhile to be a member of the first category and not the second;
  • Figuring out how to handle the spoilers — maintaining their right to free speech while preventing them from assuming the traditional (and easy) role of dominating politics from the radical flank;
  • Building support for such difficult and sometimes faltering efforts at building a better future among publics accustomed to distrusting local and foreign authorities who have earned that distrust; and
  • Keeping the overbearing foreigners at arm’s length while persuading selected outside governments and institutions to provide material assistance without inserting themselves once again in the management of how resources are distributed and deployed.

A century and a half of conflict, insecurity, and malevolent or incompetent outside interference provides little reason to hope pursuit of existing development and management strategies will produce better outcomes than the region so far has experienced. It is clear there exists no magic formula just waiting to be discovered by suffering communities in the Balkans. Nevertheless, given poor demographic, economic, and social prospects, the best shot for upside surprises may well come from the minds and sweat of those who have direct stakes in the region’s future.

David B. Kanin is an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former senior intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.


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The ABCs of Trump’s path to impeachment http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/the-abcs-of-trumps-path-to-impeachment/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/the-abcs-of-trumps-path-to-impeachment/#respond Mon, 06 Jan 2020 11:27:40 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24495 Read More]]> This is the greatest travesty committed by the Party of Lincoln to whom the Constitution was nothing but a sacred document. Now the Republicans are unabashedly willing to toss it down the river. They put party and personal interest first, and allow a lawless President to act like a monarch—a so-called president who has never been able to rise above the fray to the determined of the national security and wellbeing of the country. Judgment day is fast approaching.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Finally, Trump was impeached on December 18. It is a sad day for America because for the House of Representative to resort to such a historically rare punitive act suggests that Trump’s transgressions have been so severe that the House was compelled to take such a drastic measure. However, the two articles of impeachment—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—hardly describe Trump’s repeated blunders, lies, habitual abuse of the power of his office, and obstruction of justice. Indeed, the two articles of impeachment barely scratch the surface of his untamed behavior, which is devoid of any civility and moral responsibility.

In less than three years, the absurd became the norm, ignorance became a virtue, and lying has sadly become the order of the day. He brought shame and dishonor to the most prestigious office in the world—the US Presidency. His moral lapses, notoriety, vulgarity, and self-deceit are beyond the pale of human disorder.

As much as Trump must pay for his debased behavior which led to his impeachment, it is the corrupt Republican establishment that enabled him throughout the past three years to violate both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. It is the Republicans – not the Democrats – that eventually precipitated his impeachment. Whether or not he escapes conviction in the Senate, the Republican party, as much as Trump himself, will be held responsible for the damage they have inflicted on America’s democratic institutions, the rule of law, and its global leadership and moral standing.

To be sure, impeaching Trump is more than warranted because even a cursory review of his alarming misconduct suggests that there is more than one word for every letter of the alphabet – from A to Z – that describes one aspect of Trump’s character, as he has brought nothing but shame and disgrace to his office.

Arrogant: To say that Trump is Arrogant understates his propensity to show off his presumed skills as a negotiator, alleged business acumen, and supposed grasp of complex issues. He constantly claims that he is smarter than everyone around him, even insulting the US military by stating “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am”, and “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” He feels empowered when he wakes up to ‘enlighten the world’ with his early morning stream of twisted tweets, which only puts his arrogance and shallowness on full display.

Bigot: Many people refer to Trump as a bigot, a characterization which he owns and certainly makes no efforts to hide. No one has forgotten his outrageous attack on Mexican immigrants, stating: “When Mexico sends its people… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” His bigotry was even more pronounced when he belittled two Gold Star parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died in 2014 while serving in Iraq. By now, Trump has earned the distinction of making bigotry synonymous with his name.

Crude: One does not need to know Trump well to quickly discern that he is a crude man with no scruples, and with a love of name calling and swearing. He referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas, going so far as to do so at an event honoring Navajo veterans. He regularly calls people “losers”, “fools”, and “lame”, especially on Twitter. Speaking about his former Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump decried him as a “nut job” that he “barely knew.” This is the real Trump—behaving like a wild caveman who has long since forgotten the meaning of civility.

Demagogue: Being a demagogue is second nature to Trump; he will say anything, however contradictory and absurd, only to arouse his base. He made a campaign and inauguration pledge to eradicate Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth, knowing that this will never happen. In his inauguration speech, he stated: “Every decision… will be made to benefit American workers and American families”—a phony claim, as the tax bill shows. He craves pomp and circumstance, claiming “That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.” Demagoguery, to be sure, became Trump’s staple diet on which he feeds.

Egomaniac: For Trump, being an egomaniac fits not only his persona but his perpetually revolting self-praise. Perhaps he still doesn’t believe, for good reason, that he is the president and needs constant reinforcement. To show the enormity of his ego can best be expressed by his tweeting that “Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named “Man (Person) of the Year,” like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass…” To this day, Trump continues to boast about the size of his inaugural crowd, insisting that he had a much larger turnout than Obama in 2009. He still can’t digest that a smaller crowd attended his inauguration than that of a black president, which irks him more than anything else.

Fraud: Trump is the only president who has committed fraud on such an unparalleled scale. Starting with Trump University, he violated NY laws by calling it a university and operating without an educational license. He charged students $35k a year, promising they would “learn from Donald Trump’s handpicked instructors, and that participants would have access to Trump’s real estate ‘secrets.’” No jobs were offered, and no secret information was shared or revealed because there was none. He filed for bankruptcy four times (1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009) and was repeatedly fined for breaking rules related to his casinos. He was found this year to have used his “charity”, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, as an extension of his business and campaign; the foundation was shut down and ordered to pay $2 million in damages to eight legitimate charities. The dictionary might as well define the word ‘fraud’ by citing some of Trump’s fraudulent business dealings.

Garbled: If nothing else, Trump is a master of garbled words. Despite his bragging about his own language skills, his garbled words and unscripted utterances are incoherent, such as his description of visiting Napoleon’s tomb, saying: “He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death.” He rambled on about foreign policy, stating “You know, he [Obama] can talk tough all he wants, in the meantime he talked tough to North Korea. And he didn’t actually. You look at the red line in the sand in Syria. He didn’t do the shot. I did the shot…” Yes, Trump did attack a Syrian airbase, but only after ‘receiving permission’ from Putin.

Heartless: Putting his travel ban into immediate effect, stranding hundreds at airports, blocking off access to the US arbitrarily and more than anything else, putting children as young as two years old in cages is as Heartless and cruel as can be imagined. He endorsed a proposed repeal of Obamacare without plans to provide aid to disadvantaged communities. He has made no effort to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, ending care for 9 million low-income children, while giving billions in tax cuts to the richest of the rich. He callously ended DACA, which will affect almost 800,000 young adults who came to the US when they were children and don’t have a home to return to if deported. Not to speak of the fact that terminating DACA would also lead to splitting up families – those who illegally immigrated but have children that were born in the US. If Trump needed a heart transplant, his body would reject any heart which has not already been infused with cruelty and malice.

Ignorant: Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that being Ignorant is a virtue, especially when he pretends to know everything. He suggested that Frederick Douglass is still alive, offering “Frederick Douglass as an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” He took pride in the fact that he was tutored by Chinese President Xi Jinping about Korean-Chinese relations at a dinner. That’s how a quick learner he is. When discussing healthcare, he stated “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” Of course not. Trump thought that repeating “repeal and replace” is all it takes to resolve America’s healthcare problem.

Juvenile: Trump talks, walks, and brags like a Juvenile. He continuously tweets memes that no self-respecting adult would dream of doing – his head photoshopped onto the character Rocky Balboa’s body; himself awarding a fake medal to the dog injured in the raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; and his team imagining him as the genocidal villain Thanos from the Avengers films, wiping out his Democratic rivals. Offline, he left this month’s NATO conference early after video circulated of other leaders venting about his erratic actions. So, if you walk, talk, and brag like a juvenile, you are qualified to replace Trump.

Knavish: Being Knavish is just another characteristic that defines Trump as he has now become known—with no scruples and no principles. He insisted that his tax bill would benefit all Americans, when every study shows that the tax bill benefited the rich the most, and will in fact harm middle class and low income families. Since the bill was passed, Trump’s biggest claims have been disproven by economists. He commonly mistreats his workers (many of whom were undocumented immigrants). There are still many lawsuits against him for not paying his laborers. Unfortunately for them, they will have to wait to sue him once he is out of office. Having been impeached is one frog leap toward the White House’s exit.

Liar: If nothing else, Trump is known as a compulsive liar, and his political ascendance was built on lies. He really believes that if one repeats a lie time and again, it becomes the accepted truth, and that is good enough for his base. The Washington Post, which tallies Trump’s lies, reports that Trump lied or made misleading statements over 15,000 times since he became president (as of December 10). He lied about voter fraud, protesters paid to oppose him, Obama wiretapping his phones, how many times he was on the cover of Time—the list goes on and on. His file in Politifact says he has outright lied over 50% of the time. At a rally in Pensacola, FL, he said “Black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country”, but it’s actually fallen almost yearly since 2004. Trump is in his element when he is living in a world of colorful lies.

Manipulator: As a master manipulator, Trump uses language to galvanize voters; for instance, by using the marketable slogan “Make America Great Again,” he made his politics an easy sale. He has licensed and sold his name to give the appearance of success and stability. He used terrorist attacks in London and Egypt to push his travel ban. He condemns actions that others have done, to cover his own despicable delinquency (like his tweet in response to Al Franken’s sexual misconduct, when in fact he is the sexual predator-in-chief). For Trump, manipulation is a sort of twisted art form, and he should probably have his picture on the cover of Time magazine with caption, ‘The Manipulator of the Year.’

Narcissist: When it comes to be a Narcissist, Trump trumps them all—Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, and even Kim Jong Un. Everything Trump does is designed to make it solely about him. When campaigning for failed Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, he said “I’m taking a big risk because if Luther does not make it, they are going to go after me.” Even in tragedy he pulls attention back around to himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism…” On his desk, instead of having a Truman-esque plaque that reads “The Buck Stops Here,” Trump’s should read “It is me, me, me, all about me.”

Obsessive: Trump’s obsessive behavior spills out like waste from a corroded pipeline. He is obsessed with his looks, especially his thinning hair, and obsessed with people he hates, calling them by derogatory names. He refers to former VP Biden, who is likely to be his rival in 2020, “sleepy Joe.” His obsession with image is tied up with his decades-long lust for being named Time’s Person of the Year. He lashed out at this year’s honoree, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, decrying on Twitter “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” He never let go of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and wallows in conspiracy theories, such as the one claiming Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election on Clinton’s behalf, not Russia on his own. In a competition for the title of the most obsessed person in the world, Trump would win it handedly.

Polarizing: When it comes to Polarizing, you’ve got to give Trump an A+. His policies and behaviors polarize the public: such as the wall, the travel ban, his reactions towards the press, his treatment of immigrants… Trump’s name itself is polarizing. He sees everything in black and white, no middle ground, which has become increasingly painful for him in dealing with seriously complex issues. Since he came to office, the political and social divisiveness in the country grew ever wider, and ‘Us vs. Them’ became the refrain of the day. The country has never been as divided politically as it currently is since he came to office. To keep his base, Trump plays one group against another while enjoying the tension he creates.

Querulous: One other trait that distinguishes Trump is his Querulous nature. He constantly picks fights on Twitter, makes wild statements like threatening to attack North Korea, and engages in disparaging statements to pick fights with senators, judges, football players, and many others, only to score a point. After Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for Trump to resign due to increasing sexual harassment, he showered her with insults and went as far as clearly implying that she traded sexual favors for campaign contributions. His quarrel with the Democrats has become his staple of the day. He craves mean fights, which seem to energize him and give him that psychopathic satisfaction.

Racist: Trump is a Racist man to the bone. Only a person who is disposed to white supremacy could draw a moral equivalence between white nationalists in the Charlottesville rallies and law- abiding counter-protestors, some of whom turned violent. His opposition to immigration is based totally on race. He made it clear that he wants to shut the border to immigrants from Central and South America precisely because they are Hispanic, while welcoming any white Europeans to immigrate. He claimed that one of the federal judges acting in the class action case against Trump University couldn’t do his job because “he’s a Mexican”. And no one can deny the fact that there was a notable difference in his response to Hurricane Maria (which devastated Puerto Rico) versus his prompt and immediate generous aid to victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which affected Florida and Texas. From Trump’s perspective, white supremacy is only natural, as is the ‘inferiority’ of minorities.

Showman: Being a Showman is to a great extent the means by which Trump covers his shortcomings and lack of self-confidence. Everything, starting from his candidacy announcement riding on a golden escalator, has been a performance. He has a predilection for props, from comparisons of Obamacare vs. its replacement, scores of folders purportedly containing plans to disentangle himself from his businesses, to giant stacks of paper adorned with red tape (to be cut with gold scissors) to symbolize his efforts to cut regulations. To top it all, Trump lives and breathes for his rallies, which he continued from day one after his inauguration. He craves showing off his oratory skills, albeit his messages are convoluted and often make no sense. In short, Trump lives on showmanship, and without a stage he feels empty—because he is.

Toxic: There has been a rise in hate crimes and antisemitism since Trump took office. Trump’s selfishness poisons the civilian and political atmosphere, infecting Congress and splitting the GOP. The list of current and past government officials, conservative media editors and columnists, and intelligence officials in opposition to Trump is incomparable to any of his predecessors. Trump’s hatred toward anyone he views as opposed to him has long since become toxic. At his recent rally in Michigan, he viciously attacked Rep. Debbie Dingell, saying that her late husband, widely respected former Rep. John Dingell, may be “looking up” from hell, after her vote to impeach Trump. Such a toxic and hateful statement was widely condemned from both sides of the aisle. Trump wanted to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but all he has done make the swamp larger while leaving toxic waste in his wake.

Unstable: Many people are concerned about Trump’s Unstable behavior, and even more are deeply troubled about its implications on his mental acuity. Time and again, Trump has demonstrated how unhinged he is. He is compulsive and reacts to matters unrelated to governance, getting into Twitter fights with people for no logical reason. Trump is dangerously losing touch with reality. His erratic behavior, abrupt change of position about people and policy all point out a chronic mental disorder. Thousands of psychiatrists and psychologists from around the country who have been following his conduct and utterances strongly suggest that given his erratic behavior, he has a mental illness. Only an unstable person such as Trump would have penned the 6-page letter he sent to Nancy Pelosi on the eve of his impeachment, full of lines such as “…you know from the [Ukraine] transcript…that the paragraph in question was perfect”; “you have found NOTHING!”, in reference to the pre-impeachment hearings (which did in fact uncover a great deal of information); and referring to the last presidential election as “the great Election of 2016”; among many other unhinged statements.

Vulgar: The record on Trump’s Vulgarity is astounding. He seems to relish his vulgarity and the meanness that goes with it. It has been on full display since announcing his campaign, and has only continued three years into his presidency. He has continuously referred to Rep. Adam Schiff, head of the House Intelligence Committee and Trump’s latest obsessive target, as Adam “Schitt”, and in his attacks against former FBI attorney and agent Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, he imitated the sounds of an orgasm at a rally in reference to their (irrelevant) affair. For Trump, vulgarity is his drug of choice, on which he regularly overdoses.

Whiny: Trump himself openly and repeatedly admitted that he is Whiny. In a statement to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, he admitted: “I do whine because I want to win and I’m not happy about not winning and I am a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win.” His excessive whining, however, did not help him to avert his impeachment in the House of Representatives. In fact, the more he kept whining that his conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect,” thinking that he would eventually convince the public of the innocence of his call, he finally realized that his recipe to win through whining is just not working. In a typical show that everything must be about him, Trump even whined that he wasn’t given enough credit for late Sen. John McCain’s funeral, throwing a few lies in for good measure. “I didn’t get a thank you”, he said about his false claim that he had to approve McCain’s state funeral. Trump will soon realize that no matter how much he whines, in the future he will end up the loser because he has nothing to offer, except for whining.

Xenophobic: Trump was born Xenophobic, a chauvinistic fool with no sense of what is right or wrong. He led an assault on immigrants—whether they be Muslim, Arab, or Hispanic—which he reinforced through his refugee and travel ban and “America First” campaign. He has attempted to cut off funding for sanctuary cities, which house thousands of immigrants, through Executive Order 13768. And through AG Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department, he has been sending letters that attempt to harass jurisdictions that he feels have weak immigration policies into working with ICE. Simply put, Trump’s xenophobia is a consuming obsession based on illusions which he often entertain regardless of how far they might be removed from reality.

Yellow-Bellied: Trump is simply a Yellow-bellied coward, which has been plain to see for decades. He dodged the draft in Vietnam, and reacted to being gifted a veteran’s Purple Heart by saying “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” His fear and trepidation about the Russia probe prompted him to fire FBI Director Comey. He was terrified of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would eventually reveal, knowing that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the potential collusion to help him win the presidency would be of focus. Deep inside Trump knows he did not earn the Presidency, and has been horrified that he will be impeached. Well, his nightmare has finally come true, because the writing was on the wall from the day he took office.

Zealot: Trump is an unbending zealot – not as much about his religious or ideological convictions, because he is neither a religious man nor prescribes to any ideology, but far more so about his possessions and the image he wants to project. To show his “conservative credentials” (albeit he would trade them for any self-serving interest), he nominated two extreme right-wing federal court judges to lifetime positions. One helped craft voter suppression laws in North Carolina, and the other professed that the promotion of transgender rights is “Satan’s plan”. Trump delivered a speech in Warsaw in July 2017 that was highly reminiscent of alt-right rhetoric, leaving the unmistakable impression how zealotry will guard his conservative white base.

There is a touch of humor here and there to lighten up this alphabetic review of Trump’s three years in office, but the subject matter is fateful to America’s future. Trump is dangerous; his shortsightedness, mental instability, and ominous off-the-cuff statements could spark unintended horrifying consequences for America and the world.

The Republican party, which is deeply engrossed in partisan politics, has become the enabler of Trump, ignoring that they were elected not to protect the president but America’s global and national security interests, and the wellbeing of the American people. Every member of the Republican party establishment will be held responsible for not rising and stopping Trump from causing irreparable damage to the country’s global leadership role, moral standing, and the social and political injury that he has inflicted on the nation.

Any individual, let alone the president, who praises Putin’s Russia—America’s foremost enemy—and in the same breath severely criticizes and disparages our most esteemed institutions, especially the intelligence agencies and the judiciary, is tantamount to treason. How could any Republican official who claims to put the country’s security and safety first remain silent in the face of this unfolding perilous development? And worse yet, how could they continue to support a president who is unstable, unpredictable, and unfit to occupy the chair of the president? But then here we are, Trump will soon face trial in the Senate following his impeachment in the House, but there is hardly a single Republican member of Congress who has called for a fair trial and agreed to call witnesses and present documents that could potentially incriminate him.

This is the greatest travesty committed by the Party of Lincoln to whom the Constitution was nothing but a sacred document. Now the Republicans are unabashedly willing to toss it down the river. They put party and personal interest first, and allow a lawless President to act like a monarch—a so-called president who has never been able to rise above the fray to the determined of the national security and wellbeing of the country. Judgment day is fast approaching.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

 

 


 

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2020 will be more turbulent than 2019, unless… http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/2020-will-be-more-turbulent-than-2019-unless/ http://www.transconflict.com/2020/01/2020-will-be-more-turbulent-than-2019-unless/#respond Thu, 02 Jan 2020 12:34:50 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24491 Read More]]> The year 2020 will most likely be as turbulent if not more so than 2019 due mainly to the lack of American leadership and the rush of other powers, especially Russia, China, and to a lesser extent Turkey and Iran, to fill the vacuum the US is leaving behind. Beyond that, however, we are witnessing a global transformation where nationalism, extremism, and xenophobia are on the rise, millions of refugees are on the move, and poverty and economic dislocation are rampant, which together greatly contribute to instability and violence.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Unless some drastic measures are taken, the various conflicts in the Middle East will become ever more intractable and exact a horrifying toll in blood and massive economic dislocation. The continuing severity of these crises and their repercussions will depend on whether or not the combatants assume a realistic posture, or new leadership rise and commit to finding equitable solutions that can endure. We must keep in mind though that the turmoil we experienced in 2019 may further intensify in 2020 because of the continuing global crisis of leadership and the challenges posed to the global order that was established in the wake of World War II. The following brief review of seven Mideast conflicts reflects these developments and raises the question as to what must be done to change the dynamics in the hope of solving some of these conflicts.

Betrayal:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the oldest and most intractable conflict that has consumed both people for more than 70 years, and has been further impaired by their leadership’s refusal to recognize each other’s right to the same land. The leaders betrayed their people by failing to appreciate each other’s psychological, religious, and historic attachment to the land and being blind to the inter-dispersement of the population that makes coexistence inevitable. Israelis and Palestinians must now choose between endless violence, or living in amity and peace. Given the crisis in leadership, the hour calls for new visionary and courageous leaders who recognize that their people’s future security and prosperity still rests on the only viable option—the two-state solution.

Grandiose delusion:

Following the revolution in 1979, Iran sought to become the region’s hegemon equipped with nuclear weapons. The turmoil sweeping the Middle East points to Iran’s complicity in most of the conflicts destabilizing the region, including Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, while enlisting, financing, and training jihadist and terrorist groups and threatening Israel’s existence. Although the US’ withdrawal from the Iran deal was a mistake, Iran’s defiance led to crippling US sanctions. Seeking regime change and destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities is not the answer. The resumption of US-Iran talks offers the only way out, provided Iran plays a constructive regional role and abandons its grandiose delusion to become a nuclear power and the region’s hegemon.

Yearning for identity:

Since Iraq was established in 1932, it went through frequent political turbulence, overshadowing its glorious history. Following the revolution in 1958, the Ba’ath Party, a nationalist and socialist regime, rose to power and was able to finance ambitious projects throughout the 1970s. In 1979, Saddam Hussein, a ruthless autocrat, assumed power and led the country to the disastrous Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars. The 2003 war killed over 100,000 Iraqis, decimated the country, and invited Iran to exercise immense influence on all Iraqi affairs, while the people suffer from profound economic hardship. The current massive demonstrations demanding the ouster of Iran will ultimately prevail and restore Iraq’s unique national identity, for which all Iraqis yearn.

Killing in God’s name:

The Yemen war will be recalled as perhaps the most horrific humanitarian disaster in modern history. It is a proxy war pitting the leader of Sunni Muslims—Saudi Arabia, which supports the internationally recognized government and is determined to prevent Iran from establishing a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula—against the leader of Shiite Muslims—Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels. Yemen became the battleground, and the Yemenites are killed in God’s name. Tens of thousands have died, millions are starving, and over a million children are infected with cholera, all while the country lies in ruin. Five years later, the warring parties have finally realized the war is simply unwinnable. Ultimately, both sides must negotiate a solution.

The price of insatiable lust for power:

Syria’s civil war that started in 2011 is hard to fathom. What began as a peaceful demonstration became the most devastating war of the 21st century. Had President Assad responded to his fellow citizens’ demands by providing them with basic human rights, he might have averted a calamitous war that has killed nearly 700,000 people, rendered 11 million refugees or internally displaced, and leveled half the country to the ground. Now Assad is at the mercy of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, who are determined to maintain a permanent foothold in Syria. Syria may well become the battleground between Israel and Iran, while scores of militia, jihadist, and terrorist groups roam the country with no foreseeable end.

Erdogan’s self-defeating dictatorship:

Soon after Turkey’s President Erdogan came to power in 2002, it was believed that under his stewardship Turkey would become the first functioning Islamic democracy. He embarked on socio-political reforms and extensive economic developments, and engaged the Kurds to end a decades-long conflict while improving Turkey’s prospective integration into the EU. But then he reversed gears. For him, democracy was only a vehicle to promote his Islamic agenda and lead the Sunni Muslim world. He pursued his religious and ideological rivals with vengeance, imprisoning tens of thousands of Gülen followers and Kurds, along with nearly 200 journalists who are still languishing in jails. He will leave behind a legacy of a ruthless leader possessed with Ottoman revivalism, who squandered Turkey’s prospective brilliant future for a self-defeating dictatorship.

A preordained defeat:

The Afghanistan war, the longest in American history, should have ended one year after it began in 2001. It was clear that the Taliban’s initial defeat was temporary and that they would return to reclaim their inherent right to the millennium-old land of their ancestors. The US’ efforts to establish a democracy, coupled with a mounting build-up of American troops and escalating cost, bore little fruit. The Taliban relentlessly maintained their counter-offensive and, irrespective of their heavy losses, reestablished their central role. Under any negotiated agreement, the Taliban will eventually take over. All that the US can do is require the Taliban to fully adhere to human rights, and punish any violations with crippling punitive sanctions.

There are certainly many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa suffering from political instability, daunting economic hardship, violence, uncertainty, and fear. Sadly, the efforts that have been made by the UN, EU, and the US to quell or resolve many of these conflicts – be they in Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, or many other countries – have largely failed.

The year 2020 will most likely be as turbulent if not more so than 2019 due mainly to the lack of American leadership and the rush of other powers, especially Russia, China, and to a lesser extent Turkey and Iran, to fill the vacuum the US is leaving behind. Beyond that, however, we are witnessing a global transformation where nationalism, extremism, and xenophobia are on the rise, millions of refugees are on the move, and poverty and economic dislocation are rampant, which together greatly contribute to instability and violence.

Sadly, these developments coupled with a worldwide crisis of leadership may well worsen before a new generation of leaders can rise and try in earnest to resolve many of these conflicts humanely, passionately, and equitably to ensure their durability.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Ending US-Iran impasse rests only on face-to-face negotiations http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/ending-us-iran-impasse-rests-only-on-face-to-face-negotiations/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/ending-us-iran-impasse-rests-only-on-face-to-face-negotiations/#respond Tue, 17 Dec 2019 22:02:29 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24486 Read More]]> A new deal with Iran would inhibit proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, pave the way for finding a solution to the war in Yemen, and generally create a new positive atmosphere conducive to settling other regional conflicts.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Even a cursory review of the turmoil sweeping the Middle East points to Iran as one of the main culprits behind most of the conflicts that have and continue to destabilize the region. We find Iran directly involved in the civil war in Yemen, it equips and supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it exerts huge political influence in Iraq, significantly contributing to the unrest in that country. Moreover, Iran maintains a strong military presence in Syria, opening a third front to threaten Israel, and it is beefing up Hamas’s arsenals and defenses against the Jewish state. Finally, Iran enlists, finances, and trains militias and an array of jihadist and terrorist organizations to do its bidding on all fronts.

There is no doubt that ending the impasse between the US and Iran would markedly reduce tension and mitigate some other conflicts in the region, as the discussion between the two sides, according to US sources, will not be limited to Iran’s nuclear program. The US will insist on discussing some of Iran’s nefarious activities, such as its support of jihadist groups and missile development, albeit on a separate track, with linkages to ensure that the benefits Iran acquires from a new nuclear deal are compensated by Tehran’s demonstrable actions as a constructive regional player.

The question is how we go about finding such an accord and what will in fact bring the Iranian government back to the negotiating table without losing face in the eyes of its own public. To that end, we need to explore five different scenarios; through a process of elimination we will definitively conclude that face-to-face negotiations between the US and Iran remains the only viable option that both sides will be prudent to carefully pursue if they want to avoid a potentially disastrous conflagration.

War: There are those who suggest that waging a war against Iran and destroying its nuclear facilities will bring Tehran to heel. This scenario is fundamentally flawed because of its ominous repercussions. Even under the best of circumstances, whereby Iran’s nuclear installations are completely destroyed, Iran will still be in a position to unleash much of its conventional military arsenal against any real or even perceived enemies, especially Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the US.

Yes, under a war scenario, Iran can be devastated, but Iran will still be capable of inflicting incalculable damage on the attacker. We must remember that the clergy, with the backing of the military, will be fighting for their survival. And contrary to the views held by some American and Israeli hawks, there is little to no chance that such a war would bring an end to the mullahs’ rule in Tehran.

Whereas a significant portion of the Iranian population rejects the reign of the clergy, as they seek more freedom and better job opportunities, they will not tolerate a foreign onslaught. Regardless of how a war ends, Iran is there to stay. Given time, Iran will become even more belligerent and resolute to acquire nuclear weapons while bolstering its determination to become the region’s hegemon.

Maximum Pressure: The second scenario, which the Trump administration is currently pursuing, is to keep the crippling sanction in place and impose new ones until Iran gives up in despair, as its economy continues to deteriorate and the public becomes increasingly restive. The worsening US-Iran relations since Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are only deepening the rift between the two sides. Nevertheless, although Iran is hurting badly from the effect of the sanctions, no one should underestimate its resiliency and capacity to cope under the worst of circumstances.

Iran has vast human and natural resources and the government can mobilize the masses in support of the government. It is also capable of ruthlessly cracking down on the demonstrators, as it is doing now and has done before. The Revolutionary Guard is committed to the clergy and will not falter to take brutal actions against any opponent to preserve the integrity of the regime, which best serves the Guard’s interests.

Regime Change: The third scenario is regime change. Perhaps there is nothing more appealing to the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others in Europe and the Middle East than to effect regime change in Tehran. Conversely, there is nothing more frightening to the clergy than forcible regime change.

The Trump administration has and continues to consider regime change in Tehran through a variety of means, including the support of public unrest, sanctions, and clandestine operations. In July 2017, when John Bolton was still the National Security Advisor, he called for regime change, stating that “the declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.”

The problem here is that no one, including the CIA, knows what will follow a sudden foreign-induced regime change, how the loyalists will react, and what the domestic and regional ramifications will be. Besides, there is no doubt that there will be a serious disruption in oil supplies, as the Iranian government is perfectly capable of closing the Straits of Hormoz through which an average of 21 million barrels flow each day. That’s the equivalent of about 21 percent of global petroleum liquids consumption — making it the world’s most important oil chokepoint. To be sure, forcible regime change is extremely risky, and the result may well be much worse than the conduct of the current one.

Containment: Iran is just about everywhere in the region—in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon—with a widespread network of extremist/terrorist organizations that are willing to follow Tehran’s dictates and can cause havoc at a time and place of their choosing. The US military presence in Iraq and its meager remaining forces in Syria are not focused on Iran’s entrenchment, but on fighting jihadist groups, especially ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Even under the harsh sanctions, Iran still is maintaining and further augmenting its presence in Syria by establishing permanent military bases and a strong foothold in the country, as they see it as central to their geostrategic objective to maintain a direct land corridor from Tehran to Lebanon. The Iraqi government still feels indebted to Tehran for providing a refuge to many Iraqi political leaders when they belonged to opposition groups fighting Saddam Hussein. At the present, no Iraqi politician can become prime minister without Iran’s consent, and successive Iraqi governments have done nothing to reduce Tehran’s influence in the country.

The desire for containment remains elusive at best. Other than imposing increasingly severe sanctions, and recent talks about a prospective US-Israel mutual defense treaty which could conceivably inhibit Iran from attacking Israel directly, there are no articulate plans for containing Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or Lebanon. The effort to contain is certainly not foolproof, as one single major miscalculation could lead to regional war. Thus, the inability to contain Iran has serious pitfalls as Tehran feels free to destabilize the region to advance its national interests.

Face-to-face negotiations: The fifth and the only practical option that will spare blood and treasure by all sides is direct good-faith negotiations between the US and Iran. By now, both Israelis in the know as well as Americans have concluded that it was a bad mistake to withdraw from the JCPOA. Nearly a year and a half later, Iran has not been cowed; instead, it became increasingly aggressive while openly and purposely violating certain elements of the original deal in retaliation against the US withdrawal.

French and German efforts to arrange for new negotiations between the US and Iran have not borne much fruit. An EU diplomat noted in November that any window to bring Iran and the US back to the table is now very small, stating “We’re now entering a phase where Iran’s actions have a serious impact on the breakout time”. But then, however small the prospect is to bring the US and Iran to the negotiating table, it must be continued.

The original Iran deal must still form the basis of new negotiations. The idea here is to build on that deal by addressing especially the sunset clauses, which were troublesome for Israel, and with which Trump agrees. In the search for a solution to the conflict, all major players must recognize the indisputable reality on the ground and make a realistic assessment of the assets that each player can bring.

The fact that the enmity and distrust between the US and Iran has lasted nearly two generations, and the fact that the US after more than two years of arduous negotiations withdrew from the JCPOA, makes the search for and reaching a new agreement all the more difficult and complex. But then, there is no other sane and practical option.

A new deal with Iran would inhibit proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, pave the way for finding a solution to the war in Yemen, and generally create a new positive atmosphere conducive to settling other regional conflicts.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Chilling effects under Sri Lanka’s new President http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/chilling-effects-under-sri-lankas-new-president/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/chilling-effects-under-sri-lankas-new-president/#respond Wed, 11 Dec 2019 13:46:25 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24483 Read More]]> It is the responsibility of members of the international community, some of whom have sought to foster the freedom of the press in Sri Lanka in recent years, to act to protect those now at risk. Should efforts to curb media freedom succeed, it will not only undermine the ability of Sri Lankans hold their government to account. It will also impair the free flow of information upon which wider efforts to protect and preserve human rights depend.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

It’s been just under three weeks since Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President of Sri Lanka, and already there are some worrying signs of the chilling effect his victory is having on press freedom and civic space on the island.

Several important commentators, from both the North and the South, have locked their social media profiles or withdrawn from online platforms altogether. Others have felt compelled to trawl through their account history to delete posts that might risk making them a target. The tweet below – posted by an anonymous Tamil journalist responsible for many important recent despatches from Sri Lanka’s war-affected North and East – is but one example of the challenges which many now face.

கரிகாலன் garikaalan@garikaalan

Decided to leave this platform for awhile due to security concerns coupled with systematic racist-hatred-threatening campaign leveled against me soon after alleged war criminal @GotabayaR took office;deeply grateful for those who supported me in past. #Journalism_Is_Not_A_Crime

Earlier this week, the human rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted four shocking instances of attempts by the Sri Lankan authorities to intimidate members of the press. In the North of the country, police officers visited the offices of the Tamil-language newspaper Thinappuyal and demanded information about its staff. In Colombo, three news outlets – all of whom backed opposition candidate Sajith Premadasa in the Presidential race – were raided by intelligence officials, with several staff members subjected to lengthy questioning.

Few are in doubt about what is driving this trend. In one of the cases described above, members of the police, having presented newspaper staff with an out of date warrant, proceeded to scan the office’s computers for one search-word in particular: ‘Gota’.

Self-censorship

Elsewhere, observers have highlighted a subtler shift towards forms of self-censorship, with commentators sticking to ‘safe’ subjects or avoiding sensitive issues entirely. In one account of this trend, a Colombo-based journalist, who has for several years written a weekly column for a national newspaper, cited a sudden and unprecedented refusal by the editor to publish his latest piece. The explanation offered by the editor? “Orders from above.”

As the journalist in that case explained, highlighting the incoming administration’s ability to curb the press while denying its involvement in censorship: “This jettisoning [of critical voices] will not be based on orders from the Presidency. The President’s reputation and the Rajapaksa legacy is enough to instil fear.”

Putting recent events in perspective

A cartoon by Prageeth Eknaligoda, who was abducted and disappeared while on his way home from work in Colombo in 2015.

That legacy is one that will loom large in the minds of press workers living in Sri Lanka, dozens of whom, mostly Tamil, were killed or disappeared during the reign of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015). One newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was killed in broad daylight having foretold his own murder. The astonishing recent abduction of a member of local staff attached to the Swiss Embassy in Colombo will no doubt fuel the sense of vulnerability felt by many journalists working in Sri Lanka today – and re-ignite the perception that no one is ‘untouchable’.

To be sure, media freedom was a significant area of progress under the government of former President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). However, the increase in breathing space was not one that was shared evenly. There are many instances in which journalists, and especially Tamil journalists, were harassed, intimidated and sometimes physically assaulted over the last five years. Earlier this year RSF raised the alarm about a resurgence of attacks on Tamil press workers following three incidents in the North and East.

On one reading, recent attempts to stifle the press in Sri Lanka are but the ‘sting in the tail’ of this period of increased openness. The intelligence and security structures of the state did not disappear under the previous government, nor were perpetrators of crimes against press workers held to account. As a result, many fear that their criticism of the government over the last five years may now leave them exposed.

It is the responsibility of members of the international community, some of whom have sought to foster the freedom of the press in Sri Lanka in recent years, to act to protect those now at risk. Should efforts to curb media freedom succeed, it will not only undermine the ability of Sri Lankans hold their government to account. It will also impair the free flow of information upon which wider efforts to protect and preserve human rights depend.

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, which is comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

This article was originally published on the Sri Lanka Campaign website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.

 


 

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Peace Direct calls for sustainable peace to be a priority ahead of UK election http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/peace-direct-calls-for-sustainable-peace-to-be-a-priority-ahead-of-uk-election/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/peace-direct-calls-for-sustainable-peace-to-be-a-priority-ahead-of-uk-election/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 12:53:14 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24480 Read More]]> Ahead of the UK general election on 12th December, Peace Direct urges all political parties to make sustainable peace a cross cutting priority in their development, security and foreign policies.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

This would include changes in policy and practice to address root causes of conflict, support for independent and vibrant civil society around the world, and a long-term approach to supporting conflict transformation.

Central to this is the role for local peacebuilders. There is growing recognition that atrocity prevention, conflict mitigation and long-term conflict transformation is most likely to succeed when it is locally–led. This election is an opportunity for the next UK government to boldly reorient policy and practice in support of locally-led efforts.

As the party manifestos are published in the coming days, Peace Direct will be scrutinising each party’s commitments. We’ll be looking for two things:

  1. promoting peacebuilding principles in response to conflict and global crises, delivering more impact for conflict affected communities, through the power of local action;
  2. providing resources to support local people to prevent and respond to violent conflict, tackle root causes, and rebuild their communities.

Underpinning these is the need to maintain an independent and fully-resourced Department for International Development (DfID).

This piece was originally published on Peace Direct’s website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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November 2019 review http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/november-2019-review/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/12/november-2019-review/#respond Mon, 02 Dec 2019 12:57:16 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24474 Read More]]> TransConflict is pleased to present a selection of articles published during November, plus updates from the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

 Suggested ReadingConflict BackgroundGCCT

1) Can the new government change Kosovo’s fortunes?

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra – Notwithstanding their lack of experience in governing, the new leaders, Mr. Kurti and Ms. Osmani, are young, visionary, and understand the plight and the needs of their people. Even though they may not have, as of now, a fully articulated socio-political and economic development plan, they have the potential to serve their country’s interests best. They are not tainted with corruption and are committed to change the fortunes of their country, which faces multiple and profound domestic and foreign problems. Read on…

2) Vucic’s plan B should become plan A – treat the EU as it treats you

David B. Kanin The latest in the series of broken EU promises and failed EU initiatives stand in sharp contrast to the modest but constructive “mini-Schengen” agreement among Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania. This, not continued begging at Europe’s door, is a way forward for Albania and the south-of-the-border shards of the former Yugoslavia.Read on…

3) Sri Lanka – halt the deployment

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice – The Sri Lanka Campaign has previously argued that no Sri Lankan soldier should serve in a blue helmet so long as serious human rights violations of the kind described above – not to mention allegations of sexual abuse against children by Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti between 2004-2007 – remain unaddressed. Read on…

4) Netanyahu personifies the corrupting force of power

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – In an open letter to Netanyahu in October, I wrote “It’s time for you to go. There is nothing you can do that others cannot do just as good if not better. Resign your post; turn to the Attorney General to drop the charges against you. The nation will forgive you for your good intentions and some deeds… Unless you want to end up in jail just like your predecessor, spare the nation the humiliation and pain.” Sadly, he did not heed such advice, regardless of its source, and now he may very well end up in jail and stigmatize Israel for having been led by corrupt leaders who seem to have always put their personal self-interest above that of the nation. Read on…

5) Upholding freedom of conscience and belief

Rene Wadlow – There is a worldwide erosion of the freedom of belief and conscience in many parts of the world causing large-scale suffering, grave injustice, and refugee flows. Belief and conscience are efforts on the part of individuals and communities to understand and to seek to live in harmony with the laws of Nature and often to communicate their understanding and devotion to others. The anniversary date of 25 November should be an opportunity to consider how to strengthen freedom of conscience and belief. Read on…

6) A decade of impunity – unlocking accountability for the victims of Sri Lanka’s killing fields

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice– A decade after the war’s end, the Sri Lanka Campaign speaks to ten Tamils who lived through and survived the final stages of the armed conflict in 2009, re-tracing allegations of serious human rights violations through the eyes of those who witnessed them first-hand, and asking the vitally important (but largely neglected) question of what can be done to ensure that those responsible for some of the worst atrocity crimes of the 21st century are one day held accountable.Read on…

7) The importance of Gambia invoking genocide convention against Myanmar

Rene Wadlow – The action of Gambia is important as it focuses both on the mechanisms of world law and the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya. Read on…

8) The butcher of Ankara’s visit to the house of lies

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – To be sure, the Turkish butcher Erdogan and the notorious liar Trump found their match, and they have no shame and no remorse about the extent they use each other to advance their interest. Read on…

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Upholding freedom of conscience and belief http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/upholding-freedom-of-conscience-and-belief/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/upholding-freedom-of-conscience-and-belief/#respond Wed, 27 Nov 2019 13:35:33 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24471 Read More]]> There is a worldwide erosion of the freedom of belief and conscience in many parts of the world causing large-scale suffering, grave injustice, and refugee flows. Belief and conscience are efforts on the part of individuals and communities to understand and to seek to live in harmony with the laws of Nature and often to communicate their understanding and devotion to others. The anniversary date of 25 November should be an opportunity to consider how to strengthen freedom of conscience and belief.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

25 November is the date anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly resolution in 1981 to proclaim the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The Declaration is a development of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlighting freedom or thought, conscience, religion or belief. The 1981 Declaration is now recognized as articulating the fundamental right of freedom of conscience, religion, and belief.

The efforts for such a U.N. declaration began in 1962. Two conventions were proposed by African States, many of whom had joined the U.N. after their 1960 independence. One convention was to deal with racism. Since racism in the minds of many delegates was largely limited to apartheid in South Africa, work on a racism convention progressed quickly and was adopted in 1965. Freedom of religion was more complex. The effort was led by Liberia, but ran into East-West Cold War devisions. Work on a convention was largely completed by 1967 when the Six Day War in the Middle East broke out, making religious issues all the more sensitive at the U.N.

One issue was that there was no agreed upon definition as to what is “religion”, thus the longer term used of “thought, conscience, religion or belief”.

Work was still slow. Thus, it was decided to change the proposal from a “Convention” which is a treaty which must be ratified by the parliament of the Member State to a “Declaration” which can be voted by the U.N. General Assembly. The second modification was to change the declaration from a positive one – “freedom of religion or belief” to a negative one “elimination of intolerance and discrimination” based on religion or belief.

Work on the Declaration had begun at the U.N. in New York. When the human rights bodies of the U.N. moved in 1977 to Geneva, a working group on the Declaration was set up in which representatives on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Association of World Citizens, were particularly active. By the summer of 1981, the drafting of the Declaration was complete. The text was sent on to the delegates in New York and was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 25 November 1981.

After 1981, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (become since the Human Rights Council) created the post of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion in 1985. The post continues today. The Declaration has given NGOs an agreed upon standard to which to hold governments. The 1981 Declaration cannot be implemented by U.N. bodies alone. Beginning with the shift of the U.N. human rights secretariat to Geneva and the closer cooperation with NGO representatives, the role of NGOs is more often written into U.N. human rights resolutions, calling on NGO cooperation, education and fact-finding. Thus in the 1981 Declaration there is a paragraph which “requests the Secretary-General in this context to invite interested non-governmental organizations to consider what further role they could envisage playing in the implementation of the Declaration.”

Thus, the Association of World Citizens has continued to play an active role in the U.N. human rights bodies when the right of belief and conscience has been under attack in different parts of the world. Our policy has been to take a lead when a community under pressure was not part of an NGO in consultative status with representatives in Geneva who could speak for them. In practice, the World Council of Churches speaks for Protestant and to a lesser degree for the Orthodox Churches. The Vatican, which is considered a State, participates actively in human rights bodies and speaks for Roman Catholic churches. Thus, the Association of World Citizens has, in recent years, raised the issues of the Mandaeans, also known as Sabian Mandaeans, in Iraq, the Yazidi in Iraq and Syria, the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar (Burma), the Baha’i in Yemen after having raised starting in 1980 the persecution of the Baha’i in Iran. Starting in 1985, there being no active Buddhist organization active at the U.N. in Geneva at the time, we raised the condition of religious liberty of the Tibetans in Tibet. This was followed by presentations of the fate of the Falun Gong movement in China. They are basically Taoist but consider themselves as a separate movement or belief. There was no Taoist NGO at the U.N. that I knew of.

There is a worldwide erosion of the freedom of belief and conscience in many parts of the world causing large-scale suffering, grave injustice, and refugee flows. Belief and conscience are efforts on the part of individuals and communities to understand and to seek to live in harmony with the laws of Nature and often to communicate their understanding and devotion to others. The anniversary date of 25 November should be an opportunity to consider how to strengthen freedom of conscience and belief.

Rene Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Netanyahu personifies the corrupting force of power http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/netanyahu-personifies-the-corrupting-force-of-power/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/netanyahu-personifies-the-corrupting-force-of-power/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2019 15:38:38 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24468 Read More]]>

In an open letter to Netanyahu in October, I wrote “It’s time for you to go. There is nothing you can do that others cannot do just as good if not better. Resign your post; turn to the Attorney General to drop the charges against you. The nation will forgive you for your good intentions and some deeds… Unless you want to end up in jail just like your predecessor, spare the nation the humiliation and pain.” Sadly, he did not heed such advice, regardless of its source, and now he may very well end up in jail and stigmatize Israel for having been led by corrupt leaders who seem to have always put their personal self-interest above that of the nation.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

The long-anticipated indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu has finally come to pass. For three years, Netanyahu spared no effort to scuttle three criminal cases against him, but failed. These charges and their implications have now become rather clear. They have occupied Netanyahu’s thinking as to how to save himself and maintain his position as Prime Minister. They have impacted Israel’s policies, in particular toward the Palestinians, and without a doubt the charges have adversely impacted Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government following the last two elections.

In the first case, Case 1000, Netanyahu is charged with receiving gifts from Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan in return for political favors. In the second case, Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of striking a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to provide Netanyahu with favorable coverage in return for politically targeting a rival newspaper. In Case 4000, the third charge, Netanyahu took steps to benefit his friend Shaul Elovitch, who controlled Bezeq, in return for favorable coverage on Bezeq’s news site Walla. The first two cases charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust; the third case added charges of bribery as well.

Netanyahu made a supreme effort all along to have these charges dismissed, claiming in the first case that it is acceptable to receive gifts from friends. In Case 2000, he claimed that he and Mozes were basically fooling each other and had no intention of following through, and argued in Case 4000 that asking for favorable coverage is not bribery.

In April of this year, Netanyahu continued his effort by initially trying to reinstate a 2005 immunity law which gave the Knesset House Committee the power to reject the Attorney General’s request to rescind immunity of any particular MK. In May, Netanyahu planned to push through a new law that would allow the Knesset to protect his immunity. This would have allowed the Knesset to ignore any High Court ruling on administrative matters, including potentially revoking Netanyahu’s immunity.

And in July, realizing that he couldn’t pass such laws, Netanyahu claimed “No one is changing the law, it doesn’t need to be changed, and I won’t need it at all… it isn’t necessary at all because there has never been anything and there won’t be anything.”

The three indictments were a menacing dark cloud that hovered over Netanyahu’s head, and have had a significant impact on his political decisions. He sought to demonstrate that the charges were largely frivolous and that he is the indispensable leader that will safeguard Israel’s national security.

But the greater impact of these charges on his behavior was more related to the Palestinians. He needed to show toughness and an uncompromising position – not only to cement his right-of-center base, but to demonstrate that he is the only leader who can pursue policies consistent with Israel’s presumed national aspirations to control all of the ‘Land of Israel, including the West Bank. Other than continuing to expand and legalize settlements, he announced more than once that following the formation of a new government, Israel will annex significant chunks of the West Bank, to continue to please his base.

Perhaps the most important impact of the charges was his inability to form a government twice this year, in April and September. Because as a sitting prime minister he would not be indicted, he insisted that under no circumstances would he relinquish that position, knowing that an indictment against him will force him to face trial. This was given an even greater urgency after the second election, when he and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz attempted to form a unity government.

For the same reason, Netanyahu insisted that in a rotating prime ministership which both sides agreed upon, he would serve as prime minister for the first two years. Since Gantz refused, especially given Kahol Lavan’s larger mandate and Netanyahu’s pending indictment, Netanyahu is opting to go for a third election within a year, hoping against hope that he will emerge as the winner with a greater mandate to form a new government.

What is sad about all this is that Netanyahu has all along put his self-interest above the party and the nation. Having served as the longest prime minister in Israel’s history, Netanyahu’s insatiable hunger for power and desperate need to escape the indictment was first and foremost in his mind.

For a man who professes to love his country and has dedicated all his life in the service of the state, he failed to grasp that in the final analysis, Israel’s survival has not and will never depend on a single individual. Had he indeed been concerned with the welfare and the security of Israel, he would have agreed to serve in a rotating unity government with Gantz on Kahol Lavan’s terms, and spared the country the pain of going through a third election. His failure, and the subsequent failure of Gantz himself to form a government, may well push Israel now toward its third election in a single year.

In an open letter to Netanyahu in October, I wrote “It’s time for you to go. There is nothing you can do that others cannot do just as good if not better. Resign your post; turn to the Attorney General to drop the charges against you. The nation will forgive you for your good intentions and some deeds… Unless you want to end up in jail just like your predecessor, spare the nation the humiliation and pain.”

Sadly, he did not heed such advice, regardless of its source, and now he may very well end up in jail and stigmatize Israel for having been led by corrupt leaders who seem to have always put their personal self-interest above that of the nation.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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Gotabaya’s Sri Lanka – the risks ahead and how to respond http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/gotabayas-sri-lanka-the-risks-ahead-and-how-to-respond/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/gotabayas-sri-lanka-the-risks-ahead-and-how-to-respond/#respond Wed, 20 Nov 2019 12:35:45 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24465 Read More]]> The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is likely to pose serious challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka – challenges which will demand the international community to depart from a ‘business as usual’ approach to working with the government.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

On Sunday morning, Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed victory in Sri Lanka’s Presidential elections having obtained 52.25% of the total votes cast. He did so with a significant margin on his closest rival, Sajith Premadasa, who walked away with a vote share of just 41.99%.

Notwithstanding some very serious electoral violations, including an incident in which shots were fired at a bus-load of Muslim voters in Sri Lanka’s North-West, the contest is widely regarded as having been sufficiently free and fair for the result to stand.[1]

With Premadasa having conceded defeat, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (or ‘Gota’ as he is commonly known) was duly sworn in as President yesterday. He takes the reigns from outgoing President Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected in January 2015 following the surprise defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s brother. It is widely expected that Gotabaya will now seek to install Mahinda as Prime Minister.

The shape of things to come

As a neutral non-partisan organisation, we accept the mandate granted to Gotabaya Rajapaksa and take no view as to how the people of Sri Lanka chose to exercise their democratic rights.

That said, Gota’s ascent to power raises some serious concerns about the future of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law on the island. To understand these concerns, it is necessary to look at both what he has done, and what he says he will do.

To be sure, Gotabaya is not just a ‘strongman’. He is an alleged war criminal, who presided over the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. As Defence Secretary (2005-2015) he bore command responsibility for the actions of troops during the bloody final stages of the civil war in 2009; actions which multiple UN investigations have said would likely constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity if established in a court of law. He is on record as suggesting that hospitals and civilians were legitimate military targets. And he is credibly believed (including as referenced in a US State Department report) to have directly ordered the extra-judicial killings of surrendering rebel fighters and their family members.

Then there is Gotabaya’s record after the war, a period in which he and his brothers mounted an unprecedented assault on Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions, plundered state resources, and sought to violently eliminate dissent (including through the use of disappearances and torture on an industrial scale). In addition to a corruption case in the Sri Lankan courts for alleged crimes committed during this time, Gotabaya currently faces two civil in the United States: one for allegedly ordering the torture of eleven individuals (nine Tamils and two Sinhalese), the other for his alleged role in the assassination of a prominent newspaper editor.

There is little evidence of Gotabaya’s intention to chart a radically different course now that he is President. Standing on a national security ticket and emphasising the need for “discipline”, he was cheerily dubbed ‘the Terminator’ by his family and close supporters on the campaign trail. Among his key pledges were ripping up the government’s commitments to deal with legacy of the war, and bringing to an end the few investigations that have been commenced into allegations of serious human rights violations by members of the security sector.

Red flags

Given the very real possibility of an increase in the number and severity of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, it is important to understand the key risks as well as the kinds of checks, balances, and levers which might be used to mitigate them. Below we examine five key ‘red flags’ to watch for in the coming weeks and months, and consider how those outside of Sri Lanka might effectively pre-empt and respond to them.

1. Immediate risk of reprisals to dissidents

Top of the list is the immediate risk of reprisals posed to human rights defenders, activists, victims, witnesses, and dissenters – many of whom have used the modest increases in civic space over the past five years to voice their rights and challenge those in positions of power. Regardless of whether Gotabaya embarks on a policy of actively targeting his opponents, many will be concerned that his recent rhetoric alone could provide a ‘green light’ for alleged perpetrators and members of the security forces to mete out revenge against those they perceive as having threatened their interests in recent times. Particularly vulnerable will be those like the protesting Tamil relatives of the disappeared who enjoy fewer of the protections afforded to more established civil society organisations.

Members of the international community should closely monitor the situation for at-risk individuals and groups and take all the steps at their disposal, including offers of safe passage, to guarantee their safety. Given that the diplomatic community have encouraged citizens to participate freely in Sri Lanka’s civic space since 2015, this is not simply a matter of doing the right thing. It is also a matter of responsibility.

2. Reneging on commitments to reconciliation and accountability

Unsurprisingly, Gotabaya has already stated that he intends to rip up Sri Lanka’s pledges on reconciliation and accountability for war-time violations – pledges contained in a UN Human Rights Council resolution that was adopted with the support of the government in October 2015. There is also speculation that he could seek to actively reverse what limited progress has been made as part of this reform agenda, including, for example, by dismantling Sri Lanka’s Office on Missing Persons.

To stop that from happening, and to limit the damage if it does, members of the international community must signal clearly to the incoming President the diplomatic and economic consequences that will result should he chose to pull the plug on his government’s earlier promises. That should include, at the very minimum, a commitment to continued scrutiny via the Human Rights Council, with or without the government’s support. But it should also entail a pledge to pursue accountability for war-time violations unilaterally where domestic political will is lacking.

3. Anti-minority ethnic violence

The past few years have seen several very serious, and at times deadly, episodes of orchestrated anti-Muslim rioting by Sinhala Buddhist hardliners in Sri Lanka. The election of Gotabaya, who has previously patronised the groups believed to be behind such mob violence, and who stood and won on an explicitly ethno-nationalist ticket, has stirred fears that minorities could become targets yet again.

Following a campaign period which saw, according to one monitoring organisation, “unprecedented levels of racism”, the international community will have a vital role to play in monitoring hate speech and responding to the attendant risk of identity-based violence.

4. An emboldened security state

While recent years have seen some progress in returning military occupied lands to their rightful owners, and a welcome decrease in the visible presence of the armed forces on the streets, militarisation in the Tamil majority North-East of the country remains a key concern.[2] Under Gotabaya, who has prioritised the need for national security and glorified the role of the armed forces, many are worried that that militarisation could re-intensify, carrying with it the risk of further harassment, intimidation, and surveillance of the civilian population. There are also fears that the “deep state” that Gotabaya is alleged to have orchestrated to such chilling effect in his role as Defence Secretary could yet again come to the fore.

To prevent that from happening, the international community ought to closely monitor the situation on the ground and respond to any increases in militarisation or security sector repression with appropriate sanctions. While a review of security cooperation with the Sri Lankan armed forces is already long overdue – especially in view of the appointment of alleged war criminal Shavendra Silva to army commander – this would be the appropriate place to start in bringing pressure to bear on this issue.

5. Threats to the rule of law and the Constitution

Finally, the election of Gotabaya (who was this time last year engaged in an unsuccessful coup attempt to install his brother as Prime Minister) has raised concerns that Sri Lanka’s constitution and rule of law could yet again be put to the test. Indeed, there are already fears that should the current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe refuse to step aside on his own accord, a re-run of last autumn’s attempt to oust him could be on the cards. More broadly, there is a prevailing worry about how the Rajapaksas’ proven lack of respect for the independence of key institutions, including the judiciary, could play out this time round.

Recent experience in Sri Lanka underscores the value of members of the international community (and especially institutions such as the Commonwealth) speaking up in a unified and principled manner. Correspondingly, it shows the harm that can be done when they stay silent and turn a blind eye. In what could be a very challenging period ahead, they must approach with their eyes open, and use their voice.

Business as usual?

In sum, the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is likely to pose serious challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka – challenges which will demand the international community to depart from a ‘business as usual’ approach to working with the government. As we highlight in our recent report, A Decade of Impunityrecent international engagement with Sri Lanka has failed to help bring about the accountability that is so desperately needed to prevent a recurrence of serious human rights violations. The election of an alleged perpetrator to one of Sri Lanka’s highest offices, arguably a symptom of that failure, is also an opportunity for the international community to change course. They should seize it.

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, which is comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

This article was originally published on the Sri Lanka Campaign website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.

Footnotes:

  1. According to one reporter, the “European Union election observation mission concluded that the Sri Lankan presidential election was largely free of violence and technically well-managed, but that unregulated campaign spending, abuse of state resources and media bias affected the level playing field.”
  2. Recent research has revealed that in some areas the civilian-soldier ratio remains as high as two to one, with the army heavily involved in several aspects of civilian life, including the running of pre-schools and farms.


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The importance of Gambia invoking genocide convention against Myanmar http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/the-importance-of-gambia-invoking-genocide-convention-against-myanmar/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/the-importance-of-gambia-invoking-genocide-convention-against-myanmar/#respond Tue, 19 Nov 2019 13:35:55 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24460 Read More]]> The action of Gambia is important as it focuses both on the mechanisms of world law and the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

The Government of Gambia on November 11, 2019 has brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague a complaint against the Government of Myanmar (formerly Burma) for violation of the 1948 Convention on Genocide concerning actions against the Rohingya. Under the rules of the ICJ, Member States can bring action against other Member States over disputes alleging breaches of international law, in this case the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

All members of the United Nations are automatically members of the ICJ. However, most cases before the World Court concern actions touching upon the States involved, such as frontier limitations on which the ICJ has been particularly active.

In this case, Gambia is acting as the conscience of the world society, not being the country from which the Rohingya are fleeing nor the country to which they flee. The Attorney General of Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who had served as a special assistant to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said: “The case is to send a clear message to Myanmar and the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of the terrible atrocities that are occurring around us.  It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding before our own eyes.”

The Genocide Convention is a landmark in the effort to develop a system of universally accepted standards that promote an equitable system of world law for all members of the human family to live together in dignity. There have been repeated appeals to make the 1948 Genocide Convention operative world law. The then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an address at UNESCO on December 8,1998: “Many thought, no doubt, that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – could not happen again. And yet they have. In Cambodia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Rwanda. Our time – this decade even – has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits.  Genocide – the destruction of an entire people on the basis of ethnic or national origins – is now a word of our time too, a stark and haunting reminder of why our vigilance must be eternal.”

The Genocide Convention has mechanisms for dealing with complaints concerning violations.  Article VIII says “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.”

Article III states “The following acts shall be punishable:

– Genocide:

– Conspiracy to commit genocide:

– Direct and public incitement to commit genocide:

– Attempt to commit genocide:

– Complicity in genocide.”

When the Convention was being drafted, the competent organ of the United Nations was thought to be the  Security Council.  However, despite factual evidence of mass killings, some with an intent to destroy “in whole or in part” an ethnic group in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and the Sudan, no Contracting Party to the Genocide Convention has ever called for any action under Article VIII of the Convention. Now Gambia has acted and focused on the highest legal body within the UN system.

Genocide is one of the crimes on which the International Criminal Court (ICC) can act. The International Criminal Court opened a preliminary inquiry into Myanmar’s alleged crimes against the Rohingya based on the UN’s 444-page report of the UN-created Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar which said in August 2018 that the Myanmar army’s tactics were “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats” and that “military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assulting children and burning entire villages.” It is not known what action the ICC will undertake.

The action of Gambia is important as it focuses both on the mechanisms of world law and the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya. It is thought that a first session of the ICJ on the Myanmar case will be held in December. [1]

Rene Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens

Note:

  1. For a detailed study of the drafting of the 1948 Genocide Convention and subsequent normative developments, see William A. Schabas. Genocide in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p 624) [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 November 2019]

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

 

 


 

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A decade of impunity – unlocking accountability for the victims of Sri Lanka’s killing fields http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/a-decade-of-impunity-unlocking-accountability-for-the-victims-of-sri-lankas-killing-fields/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/a-decade-of-impunity-unlocking-accountability-for-the-victims-of-sri-lankas-killing-fields/#respond Sat, 16 Nov 2019 11:44:42 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24457 Read More]]> A decade after the war’s end, the Sri Lanka Campaign speaks to ten Tamils who lived through and survived the final stages of the armed conflict in 2009, re-tracing allegations of serious human rights violations through the eyes of those who witnessed them first-hand, and asking the vitally important (but largely neglected) question of what can be done to ensure that those responsible for some of the worst atrocity crimes of the 21st century are one day held accountable.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

This Saturday, Sri Lankans will head to the polls to select a new President: the culmination of a high-stakes election battle dominated by questions of national security and economic development. Strikingly absent from the campaign trail has been any meaningful discussion of the enduring legacy of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war in 2009, and the concerns of those most affected by it.

Today we publish a major new report that aims to redress that imbalance. A decade after the war’s end, we speak to ten Tamils who lived through and survived the final stages of the armed conflict in 2009, re-tracing allegations of serious human rights violations through the eyes of those who witnessed them first-hand, and asking the vitally important (but largely neglected) question of what can be done to ensure that those responsible for some of the worst atrocity crimes of the 21st century are one day held accountable.

Read ‘A Decade of Impunity: unlocking accountability for the victims of Sri Lanka’s killing fields’

Infographic of Sri Lanka civil war civilian casualties data

As the current candidates vie, in the words of one front-runner, to become “the president of the future of Sri Lanka”, our findings underscore that many of those most affected by the war are yet to be allowed to move on from the past. Today, nearly five years after Sri Lanka’s incoming coalition government promised change – and four years since it pledged before the international community to confront allegations of war-time abuses – many survivors feel angry and let down about the shocking lack of progress in bringing perpetrators of grave human rights abuses to justice.

While Sri Lanka’s political leaders are the principal target of blame for this failure, our research reveals a clear and growing sense of frustration directed towards the international community – an international community who, despite previously placing the concerns of war-affected communities firmly on the agenda, are perceived as having failed to apply the pressure needed to bring about decisive change. And yet notwithstanding this sense of missed opportunity – and the dismay with which activists have observed the government of Sri Lanka’s recent efforts to position itself as a champion of human rights on the world stage – many do still retain a belief that members of the international community are, or can be, important and effective players in the fight for justice.

Where there is disappointment, so too there is fear. Several of those whom we spoke to signaled a sense of alarm about what the possible return of members of the former regime, including those implicated in serious human rights abuses, could spell for the immediate future. While many victims and survivors have seized the modest increases in democratic space since 2015 to speak up for their rights, there is now concern that this openness could leave some exposed to the risk of reprisals. There is an overarching worry, too, that Sri Lanka’s unaddressed culture of impunity for war-time violations could provide fertile soil for further ethnic violence down the line.

Sri Lanka's Charm Offensive un peacekeeping cluster munitions sexual violence circle of leadership UN

As a non-partisan organisation, we take no view as to how, or whether, Sri Lankans should vote this Saturday. But whichever candidate succeeds, it is clear that war-affected communities and members of the international community will face huge challenges to ensure that the grave abuses of the past are not ignored by Sri Lanka’s newly elected President. Survivors have not forgotten, and nor should we.

That is why we have set out a blueprint for action by members of the international community in our report, one that must begin with a frank acknowledgement of the failure of recent attempts to lay the foundations for sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, and a re-focusing of minds on the issue of accountability. To that end, we highlight some of the options available to policy-makers in the context of limited domestic political will to tackle impunity. We look, in particular, at ways in which accountability-seeking efforts can be enhanced – including through the establishment of mechanisms (already in place in other contexts) for collecting and preserving evidence of atrocity crimes, as well as the pursuit of justice beyond Sri Lanka’s borders via universal jurisdiction. We also consider the need for forms of engagement which deprive alleged perpetrators of legitimacy and material support, and which ensure that the government of Sri Lanka’s participation in global human rights and peacebuilding bodies is commensurate with its record on these issues at home.

Click here to read the report

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, which is comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

This article was originally published on the Sri Lanka Campaign website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.


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Sri Lanka – halt the deployment http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/sri-lanka-halt-the-deployment/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/11/sri-lanka-halt-the-deployment/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2019 08:06:52 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24453 Read More]]> The Sri Lanka Campaign has previously argued that no Sri Lankan soldier should serve in a blue helmet so long as serious human rights violations of the kind described above – not to mention allegations of sexual abuse against children by Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti between 2004-2007 – remain unaddressed.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

243 Sri Lankan troops are set to be deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. We want to stop that from happening, and would like to ask for your help in ensuring that it doesn’t.

Why? Because the UN itself recently pledged to scale back contributions of Sri Lankan peacekeepers, a move which followed international outcry over the appointment of alleged war criminal Shavendra Silva to Commander of the Sri Lankan army.

Predictably, Silva has been quick to seize on the recent announcement to try to whitewash his reputation and enhance his credibility. A series of shocking photos emerged on Wednesday in which the 243 Mali-bound troops, all wearing blue berets, presented a formal military suit to him. They are scenes that will be grossly offensive to Silva’s alleged victims, and deeply damaging to the image of the UN peacekeeping system.

But there is a further troubling aspect too: the Contingent Commander of the soldiers due to be deployed, P.G.C.S Gallage, hails from a unit of the Sri Lankan army, the Vijayahabu Infantry Regiment, understood to have had frontline combat experience during the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. It is at this time that some of the worst atrocity crimes of the 21st century are believed to have been committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Take action:

The Sri Lanka Campaign has previously argued that no Sri Lankan soldier should serve in a blue helmet so long as serious human rights violations of the kind described above – not to mention allegations of sexual abuse against children by Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti between 2004-2007 – remain unaddressed.

However, at the very minimum, we think that next week’s proposed deployment should be suspended until at least two things happen:

  1. First, we would like to see the UN publish clear guidelines, in view of its recent pledges, clarifying the circumstances under which Sri Lankan troops will be deployed to UN peacekeeping missions going forwards. Without this, it is simply impossible to understand how the policy has changed – and for observers like us hold the UN to its word.
  2. Second, the UN should outline exactly what screening and vetting measures have been undertaken (and by whom) with regards to the latest contingent of troops, and provide unequivocal assurances that neither P.G.C.S Gallage, nor any of those under his command, are potentially implicated in serious human rights violations. This is especially important in light of recent concerns about the quality and consistency of vetting procedures, not to mention the fact that problematic Sri Lankan contingent commanders have previously ‘slipped through the net’ and been repatriated from peacekeeping missions.

We have already written to members of the diplomatic community asking them to ensure that these basic pre-conditions are fulfilled. But you can help us too, by contacting the relevant part of the UN, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPO), yourself. There are two ways in which you can do this:

  1. Share this blog piece on Twitter or Facebook, using the hashtag #HaltTheDeployment and tagging @UNPeacekeeping
  2. Send a short (and polite!) message to DPO using this contact form, highlighting our blog piece and outlining some of the key concerns.

With your help, we can #HaltTheDeployment – and ensure that UN peacekeeping remains a privilege for troop-contributing countries, and is never used as an opportunity for human rights abusers to launder their image.

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, which is comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

This article was originally published on the Sri Lanka Campaign website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.


Interested in writing for TransConflict? Contact us now by clicking here!

What are the principles of conflict transformation?

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