TransConflict http://www.transconflict.com Transform, Transcend, Translate Thu, 22 Aug 2019 12:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 Of tariffs and statehood http://www.transconflict.com/2019/08/of-tariffs-and-statehood/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/08/of-tariffs-and-statehood/#respond Thu, 22 Aug 2019 12:12:46 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24375 Read More]]> At this point, removing the tariffs against Serbia without recognition by Belgrade would be a serious setback to Kosova’s wobbly sovereignty.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT

By David B. Kanin

Calls for normalization and resumption of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosova mask the fact that there still exists no European strategy toward the Balkans.  The demand by the Great Power“ Quint” for Kosova to suspend its tariffs in exchange for a Serbian agreement to stop its campaign for countries to de-recognize Kosova serves the interest of neither protagonist.  The immediate rejection of the Quint’s instruction by Marko Djuric, Belgrade’s point person on the lost province reflects the fact that the stalled dialogue so important to the Quint is of only cosmetic interest to Balkan principals.  Whatever diplomatic dance ensues, neither side can accept what it views as unilateral concessions on the only issue that matters – Kosova’s status – for the sake of some nebulous notion of “normalization.”

The term “normalization” connotes a sense that there exists some sort of Platonic transactional universe of standards and behavior that governs a trans-Atlantic security community and that southeastern European supplicants must adhere to.  The actual conditions and behaviors afflicting the United States and Western Europe suggest this is not the case. The patronage bosses that still run political and economic life in the Balkans long ago figured out how to manage Western officials and academics much as their predecessors handled the representatives of earlier great powers – flatter them in person and ignore them in substance.

In fact, the situation in the region already is normalized.  The successor states to the former Yugoslavia, Albania, and sometimes Greece and Bulgaria remain engaged in multi-decades long disputes over identity, resources, pride of place, and, of course, history.  Governments, oligarchs, and other notables compete for international favor but also use the foreigners to gain advantage in local and regional power struggles. Appeals for transparency, democracy, or rule of law continue to involve the use of slogans as placeholders in the absence of coherent policies.  To be sure, something called “civil society” issues demands and complaints but is over-rated abroad and largely marginalized at home. Complacent assurances that the notional Europeanization process just needs time to take hold amount to waiting for Godot.

Whether Ramush Haradinaj chose well in imposing tariffs against Serbian good entering Kosova no longer matters.  For better or worse, the tariffs – and Hardinaj’s insistence that they stay in place until Belgrade recognize Kosova – have become a measure of the country’s status.  If Pristina backs off now without getting what Haradinaj demanded Kosova will lose an important round in its struggle for sovereignty. Resumption of the over-hyped negotiation started under EU auspices in 2013 would underscore the possibility Serbia eventually can both get into the European Union and recover its lost province. Creation of an association of Serbia municipalities in Kosova would make things even worse for Pristina because Serbian administrations would have a universally accepted status while Kosova does not.   Private assurances from Serbian notables to Westerners that Belgrade knows it cannot recover Kosova are unimportant – what matters is the public perception of official Serbian rhetoric and behavior and the simmering base line beat from nationalists and their Russian supporters that keeps irredentism alive.

  • Western efforts to appease Serbia with material or diplomatic benefits in the hope of mooting Belgrade’s claim on Kosovo will continue to have as little success as Bismarck’s effort in the 19th Century to distract France from Alsace-Lorraine by encouraging its imperial expansion in Africa. 

The principal weakness of Kosova’s tariff policy is not international opposition, but rather the feuding between Haradinaj, Hashim Thaci, and other politicians as they jockey over who should run Kosova’s foreign policy and how this should play into the coming election.  Haradinaj and his tariffs remain popular, but his future status depends on the outcome of the deliberations of yet another court over whether he committed war crimes. His previous voluntary surrenders to war crimes courts helped his domestic reputation and there is no sign even his conviction this time would break the regional pattern under which war crimes convictions automatically award those found guilty with a sort Roman-style Virtu in the eyes of their co-nationals.  Still a conviction likely would make it difficult for Haradinaj to remain/return as Prime Minister, and any successor might not be as staunch in defending the tariffs – and, therefore, Kosovar sovereignty – against international assaults. 

Thaci also is affected by the latest war crimes wild card, but he has different problems.  First, his overall stature and ability to manage the country’s foreign policy have diminished considerably since the initiative he co-authored with Alexander Vucic to swap territory as part of a deal that would include Serbian recognition was greeted with howls of fury at home and abroad. Second, his party could have a hard time maintaining power even if Thaci somehow manages to avoid a new election.  Third, occasional indications the United States would accept a land swap deal so far do not suggest Washington is ready to commit to pushing for one, and domestic opposition to the idea in both Kosova and Serbia remains considerable. Neither Vucic not Thaci has no Plan B.

The poisonous relationship between Thaci, Haradinaj, and other important Kosovar politicians trumps the fact that the tariff and land swap initiatives are not automatically contradictory.  Border changes and tariff removal could happen as part of an overarching deal – by creating a new reality that would be real “normalization.” Nevertheless, there is little chance of any such arrangement and, of course, furious resistance by domestic, international, and academic opponents of any such development will not go away.  The inertia enabling the status quo of momentary political geography remains powerful, no matter that serial US and EU celebrations since 1878 of supposed “final status” in the region have proven to be rhetorical fools’ gold.

Meanwhile, Vucic, unlike the Kosovars, would benefit if Pristina reverses itself on the tariff and the desultory EU-mediated dialogue resumes.  The Serbs would be able to use such a tactical victory to highlight the possibility they can join the EU without having to recognize Kosova. Once again, Vucic would look like the adult in this room and could use his burnished international stature to further marginalize the unimpressive collection of political opponents he has to deal with at home.  Regarding Kosova, Vucic would be able to sit back while politics in Pristina unravel. He could continue to play the Russians off against the chaotic constellation of Western governments and the EU. 

The critics should turn off their sirens and give Vucic and Thaci credit for constructing a general outline of an agreement on a hot-button issue in the face of certain domestic and international opposition.  This proposal presented an opportunity to open a dialogue regarding how best to organize negotiations on a settlement between the two countries and among the squabbling politicians on each side. Instead, knee-jerk rejection by the internationals, who continue to dismiss any idea created by locals instead of themselves, reinforced the prevailing stasis.  The dangers inherent in the land swap and the diplomatic freeze created by Haradinaj’s tariffs should not have led the foreign diplomats and experts to forget that they still have not produced any approach of their own robust enough to get the protagonists talking about more than technical trivialities. Next time authorities on different sides of still-simmering Balkan disputes agree on an approach to negotiating a potentially dangerous problem, it would be helpful if Western overseers would ignore their public intellectuals and work with the authors of a new initiative – whatever problems it has — instead of slamming the idea down a priori.  This is what enabled the 2001 Ohrid Agreement between Macedonians and Albanians and the recent Prespa deal between Greece and what became the Republic of North Macedonia.

The larger point is that only arrangements created and committed to by local authorities might lead eventually to what Karl Deutsch called a “security community.”  Without going into recent arguments between constructivists and their critics about this concept, there is no evidence great powers – whether allies or rivals – can force contestants in a contested region for more than a limited time to accept a demand that they resolve their conflicts.  Either the larger powers themselves engender conflicts that originate in or spillover into limnal security zones, or their rival patron-client relationships lead the system to break down. That has been the pattern in the Balkans (and Middle East) since the period of Ottoman decline. It will not be possible to know whether Balkan authorities and social activists are willing or able to effective take charge of their own geopolitical futures unless and until the big powers finally get out of the way.

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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Local peacebuilding – what works and why http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/local-peacebuilding-what-works-and-why/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/local-peacebuilding-what-works-and-why/#respond Wed, 17 Jul 2019 07:59:24 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24367 Read More]]> This report, a collaboration between Peace Direct and the Alliance for Peacebuilding, explores the effectiveness of local peacebuilding, sharing real and impactful initiatives from around the world.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

Click here to read the full report

‘What works and why’ argues that more support for local peacebuilding is needed, and highlights examples of effective local initiatives in support of this claim. To counter the scepticism some decision-makers express about the impact of local peacebuilding, the report is confined to examples that have been objectively assessed by external evaluators or researchers.

Despite an increased commitment to peacebuilding on the part of donors and other international organizations, the world has become more violent in the past decade.[1] Furthermore, while meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 is recognized as crucial to achieving all SDGs,[2] progress has been disappointing, and is currently under review.[3]

As the UN Security Council has made clear, while peacebuilding can and must be supported by international efforts, peace is only durable when it is locally built, owned and sustained.[4]

Local peacebuilding – actions initiated, led and implemented by people in and from their own context, both at the grassroots and nationally – is therefore essential. Yet local peacebuilders are too often starved of support. Their political leaders can be unsupportive, meaning international help is crucial. International donors and organizations, however, are often unwilling or unable to step in.

This can be due to risk aversion, prejudice and operational constraints, as does an unwarranted scepticism that local actions have the requisite depth, scope and scale of impact to reduce violence and shift societies from fragility to resilience. Even so, local peacebuilders have demonstrated a significant impact on peace. This report therefore argues that the international community must give them more support.

Based on an examination of over 70 external evaluations of local initiatives, the report highlights and analyses their considerable success in three domains of impact:[5]

  1. Preventing, reducing or stopping violence;
  2. Improving relationships between and among people and peoples (i.e. ‘horizontal relationships’);
  3. Improving relationships between people and those who govern them (‘vertical relationships’).

The report further divides these impacts into three ever-deepening levels of change: Knowledge and attitudes, behavior, and structures (i.e. norms, systems, institutions).

Three clusters of peacebuilding approaches emerged from the evaluations studied:

  1. Community-based peace initiatives;
  2. Initiatives led by or engaging with specific groups, such as women, youth and traumatized people;
  3. Initiatives that advocate improved national policies and discourse, and early-warning networks.

The sustainable impacts on peace of these approaches are explored and analysed, forming the basis for practical recommendations aimed at donors, multilateral organizations and international NGOs.

 

 

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

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Sri Lanka – an emblematic failure in an emblematic case http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/sri-lanka-an-emblematic-failure-in-an-emblematic-case/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/sri-lanka-an-emblematic-failure-in-an-emblematic-case/#respond Tue, 16 Jul 2019 06:48:36 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24364 Read More]]> In the short-term, it is now incumbent on all those members of the international community who have highlighted the case of ‘Trinco Five’ in the past, to continue to support the fight of the surviving family members (whatever direction that fight may now take) – and to ensure that those against whom there are well founded allegations of involvement in the massacre remain in the spotlight until they can one day be brought to book.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

On 2nd January 2006, a group of Tamil students gathered on the sea front in Trincomalee, a pretty coastal town – and today popular tourist destination – on Sri Lanka’s East coast. Under the gaze of a Mahatma Gandhi statue, the students chatted and ate food together, celebrating the news they had received earlier that day of their admission to university.

Shortly after sunset, five of them were dead; lined up on the roadside and shot, execution-style, by members of Sri Lanka’s security forces. Around fifteen minutes prior to the murders, a grenade had been rolled towards the group from a passing three-wheeler headed in the direction of the army headquarters, injuring several of them. Frantic pleas to get the wounded to hospital were ignored by the authorities. The armed men in uniform who approached the group came not to help, but to eliminate evidence of the crime and those who had witnessed it.

Credit: Tamil Guardian

The violence did not end that evening though. As the government’s fabricated version of events – that the students had been LTTE militants readying themselves for an attack on government troops – came under increasing pressure, so too did those willing and able to tell the true story to the world. Among those killed in the ensuing cover-up were:

  • Sugirtharajan, a local Tamil journalist whose photos of the dead students, taken at a heavily guarded mortuary, provided irrefutable evidence of the manner of their deaths;
  • Balachandran, a taxi-driver who had shared information to relatives of the deceased about the three-wheeler witnessed at the scene of the crime; and
  • Handungamuwe Nandarathana, a Buddhist monk who publicly condemned the killings.

Yesterday, the thirteen suspects in the case, including twelve members of Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force (STF) unit, were acquitted of all charges by a local magistrate court.

It is news that will have come as a devastating, if unsurprising, blow to the families of the victims, who – in the face of physical intimidation, death threats, and exile – have fought for over a decade to see that justice is served upon those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. Among them is Dr Manoharan, the father of murdered Ragihar, who has spoken out courageously and persistently about his son’s case.

This week’s verdict, which is the culmination of a tortuous and faltering thirteen-year effort to convict those responsible in Sri Lanka’s local courts, is one that is all the more shocking when viewed in light of the mass of evidence gathered around the case. Meticulously compiled inquiries by human rights groups have found “overwhelming evidence of state complicity”, while a major UN investigation concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that security force personnel … killed the five students.” In a leaked diplomatic cable from 2006, senior US officials indicated that state complicity in the murders was an accepted fact among Sri Lanka’s leaders. In the words of one leading rights advocate, the massacre “is not such a difficult case.”

The failure to prosecute is also particularly damning given the national and international prominence of the incident. Such was the public outcry that followed it, the case is today routinely included among Sri Lanka’s list of so-called ‘emblematic cases’: instances of human rights abuses so egregious or incontrovertible in nature that successful prosecutions are regarded as a litmus test for the government’s stated commitment to justice and accountability. This week’s news gives lie to that commitment, and stands as a potent symbol of the government of Sri Lanka’s near total failure to deliver when it comes to prosecuting state forces.

It is a failure which underscores the long-term need – as pressed repeatedly by human rights groups – for independent and internationalised forms of justice in Sri Lanka that are capable of delivering accountability where the state alone will not.

In the short-term, it is now incumbent on all those members of the international community who have highlighted the case of ‘Trinco Five’ in the past, to continue to support the fight of the surviving family members (whatever direction that fight may now take) – and to ensure that those against whom there are well founded allegations of involvement in the massacre remain in the spotlight until they can one day be brought to book.

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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Albania’s self-consuming corruption undermining path to EU accession http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/albanias-self-consuming-corruption-undermining-path-to-eu-accession/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/07/albanias-self-consuming-corruption-undermining-path-to-eu-accession/#respond Mon, 15 Jul 2019 08:45:46 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24361 Read More]]> Albania’s future prosperity and security rest on accession to the EU. To that end, it must take all the necessary social and political measures to accelerate the process of integration, which is of significant strategic importance to the EU as well.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra

At a time when Albania was expected to make significant progress in its accession talks with the European Union (EU), some member states are unwilling to support the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. France in particular argued that the EU must deepen integration among existing members and reform its unwieldy decision-making processes before it contemplates adding new countries. Moreover, political corruption, organized crime, and inequality, coupled with domestic tensions caused by the major political parties in Albania, gave further credence to the EU’s decision to postpone accession negotiations until October of this year.

That said, distancing Balkan countries from the EU gives even more freedom to Russia and Turkey to assert themselves in the Balkans, as they have been working hard to strengthen their ties to the region. Both Erdogan and Putin hope to prevent the Balkans’ integration with the EU by manipulating the largely corrupt political elites in these countries.

In May, the European Commission recommended that accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia begin as soon as possible, stating that the two countries have “delivered on reforms.” But after a meeting in Luxembourg in mid-June, a minority of EU member states declined to support the commission’s proposal to open accession talks.

NATO member Albania, which Transparency International rates as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries, has only made limited progress in combating corruption, including money laundering and bribes, despite firing crooked judges and prosecutors. European ministers met in Luxembourg last year and agreed to open talks, but in June the decision was unexpectedly postponed.

Tens of thousands of protesters, led by opposition leaders in Albania, marched against Prime Minister Edi Rama, throwing Molotov cocktails at the entrance to his office and calling for him to quit over alleged election fraud and corruption. Even though the protestors are in favor of EU accession, nevertheless many EU countries see this political tension as a sign that Albania is not yet ready to join.

The Ambassador of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to Albania, Bernd Borchardt, condemned the protests, stating that “…we completely condemn those who try to use violence as a short political path; they will fail”. Protesters harassed him by holding demonstrations in front of his residence, writing “Borchardt shame on you” on the wall outside his apartment.

The leaders of the main political parties are accusing each other of corruption, while seeking the power to rule the country which is facing major problems. The Washington Post recently revealed that the leader of the opposition, Lulzim Basha, who called for the protests, and two other party officials have been accused of illegally spending about $650,000, which is linked to Russia through a lobbyist and a foreign company.

Corruption in Albania is nothing new. Eight years ago, Ilir Meta, the current president, appeared in a video that was leaked to the media, discussing a bribe from a businessman to the tune of €700,000 with another former minister, Dritan Prifti. An earlier review of the video by British and American experts stated that the tape was authentic, but the court subsequently ruled the expert review as inadmissible.

According to Albania’s Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj, while the prospects of opening accession talks might be affected by the opposition’s behavior, this cannot and should not be considered a serious impediment. “…[it] is clear that the opposition’s behavior adversely affects the dynamics of the reforms (especially when it comes to judicial and electoral reform), in Albania as noted by the Commission Report itself; and negatively impacts the reputation of our country… It is clear that Albania must be assessed based on its evident progress rather than on the power-games of the opposition.”

Addressing Meta, who was elected President in 2017 with his support, Rama said that “Those who are trying to stop that process are wrong. They are playing with fire and they are burning themselves in front of the law.”

Even though the protests and allegations of corruption are not linked directly to the EU’s decision, they hurt the image of the country ahead of a decision by the European Union. The political tension in Albania is feeding those countries in the EU, who argue against Albania’s accession. Meanwhile, the US and the EU have warned the opposition against inciting violence.

Enton Abilekaj, a journalist from Albania, says that the international community supports the government, and that’s why the protesters are reacting. “[The international community’s] stances against the extreme acts of the opposition and in favor of partial election on June 30 are dividing the public opinion in another dispute about the role of western countries in Albania,” adding that “being stuck for this long waiting for European integration, is a failure of the Albanian government to fight the organized crime and corruption.”

The EU’s focus in Albania has been on making progress on judicial and anti-corruption reforms. According to Epidamn Zeqo, the reasons why the accession criteria were set up by the EU in the first place are related directly to Albania’s challenges in fighting corruption and organized crime. Integration can be delayed in case political tension continues. Albanian leaders have the responsibility to convince the EU that they are ready to open talks and not miss this historic chance.

Although the EU is aware that Erdogan’s and Putin’s objectives are to cement their power in these countries, which directly challenges Western strategic interests and values, delaying this decision puts these countries at risk, as the delay only advances the strategic interests of the two rivals in the western Balkans—Russia and Turkey.

Turkey and Russia have been targeting the Balkans for the past several years (which they view as easy prey) in an effort to coopt them into their spheres of influence. They promulgate their sinister political agenda by investing in major national projects strategically calculated to have the greatest economic and political impact on the financial market, and by using submissive politicians to do their bidding.

Whereas Putin does not hide his animosity toward the Western alliance and tries to undercut their interests anywhere he can, Erdogan wants to have it both ways. He wants to maintain Turkey’s membership in NATO and presumably still desires to join the EU. Yet, he seems willing to undermine the EU’s and NATO’s strategic interests in the Balkans by cozying up to Putin while entrenching Turkey in Serbia, only to serve Turkey’s interests.

France and the Netherlands are correct to suggest that the EU must first deepen integration among existing members, reform the cumbersome decision-making processes, and ensure that candidates such as Albania address their endemic corruption problems before it adds new members. It would be more prudent, though, to commence the accession talks while insisting that the Albanian government must, during the negotiating process, clean up its act in earnest as a prerequisite to continuing negotiations.

The Albanian government must understand that while it can have normal relations with Russia and Turkey, it should prevent them from dominating the country’s political discourse and financial sector. Albania’s future prosperity and security rest on accession to the EU. To that end, it must take all the necessary social and political measures to accelerate the process of integration, which is of significant strategic importance to the EU as well.

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.

Arbana Xharra authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.

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


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Sri Lanka – jailed for writing a short story, help #FreeShakthika http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/sri-lanka-jailed-for-writing-a-short-story-help-freeshakthika/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/sri-lanka-jailed-for-writing-a-short-story-help-freeshakthika/#respond Mon, 24 Jun 2019 12:51:34 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24357 Read More]]> For over 80 days, Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning Sri Lankan writer and poet, has been held in police custody.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

For over 80 days, Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning Sri Lankan writer and poet, has been held in police custody.

The reason for his detention? The publication of a fictional short story about life in a Buddhist temple; a story which allegedly alludes to child sexual abuse involving members of the clergy.[1]

Shakthika’s arrest on 1 April 2019 followed a series of complaints to police by Buddhist organisations. He has been charged under the ICCPR Act – a piece of legislation that is, somewhat paradoxically, designed to give effect to the government of Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law to protect freedom of expression.

Lawyers and human rights experts have roundly condemned the arrest as a gross misapplication of the law, emphasising that the relevant section under which Shakthika has been charged is clearly aimed at tackling the incitement of violence on the grounds of religion, race or nationality – and not merely causing religious offence or insult.

While a legal challenge is now well underway, Shakthika’s freedom continues to be denied ahead of trial; a trial which he seems almost certain to win on a proper and impartial reading of the law. At his latest hearing at a magistrate court on Tuesday (18 June), he was yet again remanded, with a further hearing due to take place next week (on 25 June).

The growing suppression of free speech with free speech legislation

Unfortunately, the ongoing detention of Shakthika appears to be not an isolated injustice, but rather part of a wider coordinated assault on freedom of expression by hardline – but influential – Sinhala Buddhist groups on the island; an assault that has gained in intensity following the Easter Sunday bombings.

In May, a Muslim woman, Abdul Raheem Masaheena, was arrested under the ICCPR Act for wearing a shirt depicting a ship’s helm, an image which complainants to the police had wrongly suggested was a Buddhist symbol, the dharmachakra. Then last week – also under the Act – the authorities threatened to move an investigation against Kusal Perera, a respected journalist whose alleged wrong-doing consisted of the mere mention of growing Sinhala Buddhist extremism on the island. These recent incidents take place against the backdrop of years of sustained harassment and targeting of Tamil journalists and activists under the current regime, as recently manifested in the appalling hate campaign against Tamil Guardian editor, Thusiyan Nandikumar.

The latest crackdown on freedom of expression under the auspices of the ICCPR Act in Sri Lanka are rendered all the more outrageous and frustrating by the government’s abject failure to hold to account the perpetrators of actual recent identity-based violence, as well as those inciting it in plain sight. This week’s latest remarks from one of the seniormost figures in the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka suggesting some Muslims should be stoned to death – deemed “classic pre-genocidal language” by staff from the International Crisis Group – have scarcely been remarked upon by Sri Lanka’s leaders, let alone investigated by the authorities. Last month, another extremist monk, then serving a jail sentence for contempt of court having threatened a disappearances activist, received a Presidential pardon and was released.

In the wake of recent attacks against members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, the potential consequences of these recent developments – both for freedom of expression, and the risk of further violence against Sri Lanka’s minority communities – are deeply worrying. Of further concern, the government has signalled an intent to bring forward an unnecessary and potentially oppressive hate speech law, a move which could further embolden those currently attempting to curb free speech on religious grounds.

Take action

Please help bring an end to the ongoing injustice of Shakthika’s detention – and ensure that a line in the sand is drawn against the current surge of attacks on freedom of expression in Sri Lanka – by acting now. There are two suggested ways in which you can lend your support:

  1. Send an email or letter to the Sri Lankan authorities urging them to immediately release Shakthika. English PEN, a human rights organisation, have put together a handy short list of demands around which you can frame your correspondence. They have also compiled a list of key contact details – including those for the offices of the Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister and Ministry of Justice – to which you can direct it.
  2. Get creative. In the spirit of artistic freedom, create a banner, poster or work of art bearing the hashtag #FreeShakthika – then share it on social media and give us a heads up. If you’re in need of some inspiration, check out some of the campaign visuals deployed at the vibrant protest held in support of Shakthika in Colombo earlier this week (for example, see herehere and here). Alternatively take and share a photo snap of yourself with this campaign print-out.

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. A phenomenon which has been widely reported on in recent years, including by the BBC.

 


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Insidious discrimination against the Roma is Europe’s shame http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/insidious-discrimination-against-the-roma-is-europes-shame/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/insidious-discrimination-against-the-roma-is-europes-shame/#respond Thu, 13 Jun 2019 08:06:27 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24353 Read More]]> Whereas we cannot change human nature, we can change our behavior and become more tolerant and facilitate Roma integration in all walks of life. We should do so not only for the sake of social harmony and peace, but for the overall productivity and progress that can be made when equality and justice prevail.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra

Two weeks ago, a 29-year-old Roma woman was physically attacked in the middle of the day in Kosovo, after a false accusation spread that the victim had been kidnaping children. Social media provided a platform for hate speeches and misleading information, which often precipitates violence against innocent Roma people. Generally, the hatred and disdain toward Roma by the Balkan and wider European population is sadly embedded in their psyche and cultural orientation. This largely explains why a Roma woman was beaten on a city street while a crowd of young people watched with utter indifference. One wonders why European governments are not taking all the necessary measures to stop this type of appalling behavior, especially in countries that aspire to join the EU.

According to the European Commission, there are 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, out of which one million live in Western Balkan countries. They are the largest ethnic minority in Europe, largely live in poverty, and are victims of prejudice, violence, social exclusion, child abuse, and sexual slavery. It was reported in 2018 that hundreds of Roma children have been trafficked in the Netherlands alone as sex slaves. Even though EU countries have banned discrimination against the Roma community, they still face major obstacles in education, access to healthcare, and certainly job opportunities.

In reaction to the attack on the Roma woman, Kosovo’s Ambassador to DC, Vlora Citaku, shared a personal anecdote describing how Kosovo society has discriminated against Roma people for decades. She wrote, “Nurije and Fitimi were in my class. They always sat in the back of the classroom even though the teacher asked them to sit with us. But we made fun of them, we wouldn’t touch them, play, or talk to them. One day when Nurije fell sick and didn’t come to school for weeks… our teacher tried to make us play together and would punish us if we hurt or made fun of them. They stopped going to school because we became intolerable … and it is all our fault”.

Representatives of the Equal Rights for All Coalition (ERAC) in Kosovo strongly condemned the attack and the misinformation that led to it, and beseeched the community not to encourage acts of violence.

The World Bank report “Breaking the Cycle of Roma Exclusion in the Western Balkans”, published in March 2019, explains how Roma face multiple barriers and constraints that hinder their ability to amass human capital, participate in the labor market on an equal basis, and benefit economically. “The insufficient stock and accumulation of human, physical, financial, and social capital have hindered the ability of Roma households to generate income over the life cycle”, says the report.

Many Roma live in isolated communities and are often unaware of or unable to access social services and programs available. Illiteracy, lack of access to information, absence of trust in local authorities, and even lack of perceived need (as in the case of childcare) are among the barriers faced by Roma.

Sadly, it is not only in the Balkan countries where Roma communities face discrimination and physical violence. In many EU states, including Hungary, Italy, and the United Kingdom, Roma are confined to segregated areas, denied basic education and job opportunities, and routinely suffer racist assaults in city streets and campsites, often with police complicity.

Attackers have sought out and violently assaulted whole families, burned their homes, and nearly wiped out a whole community in settlements across Europe. Violence against Roma is gravely underreported, and Roma are often viewed as scapegoats for broader societal ills, often characterized as outsiders who are inferior citizens and are unwanted in their respective communities.

The Roma community was persecuted by the Nazi regime, viewed as a threat to the “superior Aryan” race. Himmler declared that the Roma were to be placed on “the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.” Seventy-four years after the fall of the Nazis, the situation of Roma in Europe hasn’t improved much. Although Roma are no longer victims of genocide, they still face high levels of discrimination, abuse, and violence.

In Hungary in 2009, a Roma man with his 5-year-old son were shot and killed while fleeing their home, which was set on fire by attackers. In March 2019 in Paris, a series of vigilante attacks were sparked by false reports of attempted kidnappings. A violent attack last summer on a Roma encampment outside of the city of Lviv in Ukraine left one dead and four others injured, including a young boy and a pregnant woman.

The situation is not improving, even though for many years the EU has focused action on preventing Roma discrimination. In 2011, the European Commission produced an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, assessing each country’s strategy and integration policy measures. Since 2013, the European Council adopted a recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in the member states—a first ever EU-level legal instrument for Roma inclusion.

Xhemal Ahmeti, a journalist and historian originally from Macedonia, says that according to the latest reports published by human rights organizations, the Roma are most affected in Romania and some Balkan countries such as Serbia and Macedonia. “They are also used by the politicians, especially during the election campaign. When [politicians] need crowds of people, they instrumentalize the Roma community with little money to get their electoral support”, says Ahmeti.

Given the systematic human rights violations of Roma people, top-ranking EU officials in particular must prioritize addressing the routine ill-treatment of Roma because it is a core violation of basic human rights, which the EU is supposed to espouse. Civil society, the media, and NGOs should be mobilized to campaign against Roma discrimination, raise awareness about the gross discriminatory practices, and the damages it causes to society.

The Roma community issue and their treatment must seriously be addressed by the European Commission, and especially by the prospective Balkan candidate countries who wish to join the EU. The EU must make it clear to these countries that they must take immediate and significant measures to address the discrimination against Roma in all aspects of life, particularly in the fields of education, healthcare, and professional skills. Otherwise, they would risk the continuing accession process, if not the prospect of joining the EU altogether.

According to the World Bank’s latest report in March 2019, “Roma inclusion is not only a moral imperative… This is particularly important in aging societies because absorbing Roma entrants into the labor force can help counteract shrinking working-age populations. Roma are a young population, and this youth bulge can be turned into a demographic dividend through proper investment in education and basic services.”

Discrimination based on race, sect, religious belief, or gender is sadly ingrained in our system as human beings. Distinguishing ourselves from the “other” largely because of our belief in our superiority or exclusivity gives us a sense of false empowerment that we enjoy exercising, even, if not especially, by inflicting unbearable pain and suffering onto the other.

Whereas we cannot change human nature, we can change our behavior and become more tolerant and facilitate Roma integration in all walks of life. We should do so not only for the sake of social harmony and peace, but for the overall productivity and progress that can be made when equality and justice prevail.

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.

Arbana Xharra authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.

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

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Left behind by Northern Ireland’s neoliberal peace http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/left-behind-by-northern-irelands-neoliberal-peace/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/left-behind-by-northern-irelands-neoliberal-peace/#respond Tue, 11 Jun 2019 08:15:45 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24269 Read More]]> Recent events have exposed how Northern Ireland hasn’t experienced peace as much as a cold war. The structural violence, legacy of conflict and democratic deficit can’t be left to dangerously smoulder any longer.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT

By Niamh Ni Bhriain

The murder of journalist Lyra McKee by the New IRA in the Derry on April 18 was a tragic reminder that Northern Ireland’s fragile peace has delivered neither reconciliation nor prosperity to segregated and marginalised communities.

The journalist’s murder has sent shock waves through the island of Ireland and beyond. It did not however occur in a vacuum. Northern Ireland has been caught in a murky grey area where war and peace ebb and flow. In 1998, following over 30 years of political and sectarian violence, the Good Friday Agreement was signed between political leaders from the Irish and British governments and both sides of Northern Ireland’s divide. The Agreement cautiously ushered in a new era. Local communities dared to believe in the words of the late poet Seamus Heaney that “hope and history [would] rhyme”.

Although it paved the way for significant structural reforms, glaring gaps remain, most notably in respect of accountability for gross human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson added insult to injury when he acknowledged the “soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland”. In reality though, those same soldiers were responsible for shooting and killing unarmed civilians, and only one of those responsible, Soldier F, will face criminal prosecution for murder. People are growing old and dying without learning the truth or seeing justice for crimes perpetrated against them or their loved ones. The consequences of this failure cannot be overstated.

Tensions and violence in recent months and a failure to prosecute the perpetrators of state crimes, raise a thorny question: what does “peace” look like in a society where the underlying structural causes and consequences of the 30-year war have not been properly addressed?

A twofold democratic deficit

Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing assembly at Stormont was suspended in January 2017, plunging the region in to political darkness. In the absence of a functioning elected government, the region is currently being run ad hoc by civil servants with no political mandate or capacity to approve legislative or funding proposals. Political leaders’ attempts to restore the Assembly have been lacklustre, leaving only confusion and a jaded frustration. And the democratic deficit is twofold – there is no sitting government in Stormont, and Northern Ireland’s only political party in the House of Commons in London is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is by no means representative of the region’s population. The DUP won just 36% of the popular vote in the 2017 general elections. Following Lyra McKee’s murder, political leaders committed to holding fresh talks to break the political deadlock and return to Stormont. However, with the DUP’s politics firmly rooted in hatred towards the perceived “other” in society, there is a deepening sense of frustration with this outdated identity politics.

In Northern Ireland everything is political – from your name to where you live, to the pub you drink in and the drink you choose, to your accent and the language you speak, to the football jersey you wear and the sport you play, or the passport you hold. These politics are rigid and archaic, deeply rooted in the past, yet they continue to dominate the present.

Since 2016, the region has had yet another shadow hanging over it: the massive uncertainty created by Brexit. Northern Ireland voted decisively to remain in the EU. Now, coupled to the rest of the UK, it is being dragged out against its will. The folly of Brexit is nowhere more visible than on the island of Ireland. Mostly English Brexiteers, in their haste to take back control of borders they had never lost control of, somehow overlooked their only land border. In their flailing attempts to dismiss the issue, the British border in Ireland either was not a problem at all or was wholly an Irish problem, missing the point that creating any sort of border structure between the north and south directly violates the Good Friday Agreement. Little wonder that the border has become the most contentious point of the negotiations on how the UK will eventually leave the EU. The House of Commons has come to look like a circus with no shortage of clowns, leaving in limbo the livelihoods and security concerns of communities on both sides of the border, those who will suffer most should any sort of border structure (hard, soft or otherwise) be put in place.

Peace is not just the absence of armed conflict

Ultimately though, Brexit uncertainty is only superficially responsible for the recent acts of violence. The underlying drivers run much deeper. Structural violence, rooted in political, social and class divisions prevalent before the signing of the Peace Agreement in 1998, largely remains. The dynamics across the region are far from peaceful. Although the armed actors involved in Northern Ireland’s violent past may no longer be at war, peace cannot be solely defined by the absence of armed conflict. Laying down arms is an important part of any peace process, but a great deal more is needed for peace to take hold.

Despite the decommissioning of arms and apparent dismantling of paramilitary structures, whole neighbourhoods are still patrolled by loyalist and republican paramilitary groups. “Peace” in this context appears merely to be managed through a hawkish paramilitary style territorial “peacekeeping”, a cold war of sorts. According to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, eight families a week became homeless and were forced to relocate between April 2015 and October 2018 – over three-quarters of these cases cited paramilitary intimidation and sectarianism as the reason for relocating.

Residents targeted by paramilitary groups sleep with one eye open, carefully carving out mental escape routes, should masked men show up on their doorsteps. This pernicious control goes beyond intimidation and threats, as residents are summoned and paramilitary style “justice” is doled out in the form of punishment shootings or beatings for behaviour considered unacceptable. Failure to attend a “punishment” appointment would be tantamount to suicide, so victims present themselves, often accompanied by their families, to be shot in the knees or ankles, knowing that they will likely be left permanently paralysed and in need of life-long care, if not dead. These areas exist in a state of lawlessness, where “justice” is meted out through a parallel paramilitary controlled underworld, where nothing goes unnoticed within the community and outsiders are kept out.

Peace propaganda paints a wonderful picture of peace being enjoyed equally by all sectors of society. But the structural drivers of the conflict are steeped in poverty and class struggles in an ever more globalised, neoliberal world. It’s hardly surprising that the communities that suffered most during the protracted war in Northern Ireland were the last to receive a share of the peace dividend, if they benefited at all. Periodic Multiple Deprivation Research Reports compiled by the Northern Ireland Assembly found that the parliamentary constituencies considered the most deprived in 2001 – namely North and West Belfast and Foyle constituencies – were still the most deprived in 2018.

A generation has been failed by the neoliberal state

Teenagers and young adults from these areas are too young to remember the so-called “Troubles”. But they have been raised in deeply impoverished, marginalised, and all but forgotten neighbourhoods. The rays of hope of the new era of peace that dawned across Northern Ireland cast no light on the dilapidated housing estates and damp blocks of flats that comprise these extensive urban centres. Against a backdrop of low incomes, high unemployment, and limited education opportunities, the dreams and aspirations of an entire generation in these areas have evaporated. A generation of opportunity has been lost, failed by the state.

Globally, since the 1970s, neoliberalism has coerced the democratic majority to the cliff edge, forcing a shift in the balance of power to the elite economic minority. In many ways Northern Ireland’s peace is a neoliberal peace, where the elite classes enjoy their share of the wealth and benefit from the regeneration projects rolled out since 1998, but very little, if any of this wealth trickles down to where it is needed most.

Two decades have passed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland continues to experience a “brain drain”. Young people still leave in large numbers and few return, particularly among the unionist population. It’s hardly surprising, considering that three of the UK’s worst “jobless black spots” are in Northern Ireland.

Derry has the highest rate of unemployment and dependence on social services in the UK. It’s a situation that can no longer be blamed solely on historical neglect, but on the continued fiscal reliance on Westminster and the grinding to a halt of legislative and institutional initiatives as the political impasse continues. The city is struggling with high unemployment, limited educational opportunities, substance abuse and suicide. Its youth have become increasingly disengaged from politics and the state in any of its facets Stormont, Westminster or otherwise. What does “ the state” even mean for communities who have been abandoned by it, who suffer post-generational conflict related trauma, and are yet to see justice done for the atrocities perpetrated against them?

Neoliberalism is wreaking havoc across communities globally, isolating individuals and eroding the social fabric. In this void, sectarian politics flourish and paramilitary groups and gang violence thrive, giving young people a much desired sense of belonging, community, purpose, and at the very least, something to do. Outside the neoliberal peace bubbles dotted around Northern Ireland, there’s been an increasing sense of foreboding that the smouldering wreckage brought about by a political system that has disenfranchised and failed its people, could be reignited.

Every summer loyalists drape the Union Jack, and in some cases Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) flags, in a show of strength, territorial control, and loyalty to the Crown. They enthusiastically light bonfires across Belfast, decked out in Irish flags and other nationalist symbols, fanning the flames of sectarian tensions across the region. Similarly, members of republican splinter groups, clad in military style uniforms, sunglasses and berets, march in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. Although those involved are not masked or carrying arms, the message is unmistakably clear – the war is far from over.

The murder of journalist Lyra KcKee was strongly condemned across all sectors of society in Northern Ireland. Communities came together in an outpouring of grief and in solidarity with her family and friends. During the funeral service, Fr. Magill said that he dared to hope that “Lyra’s murder… can be the doorway to a new beginning”. As William Butler Yeats proclaimed in The Second Coming, “Surely some revelation is at hand” where a new kind of politics is born – one that is built from the grassroots up, that flies in the face of the current top-down, neoliberal political system that has overwhelmingly ignored, sidelined, and crushed the very people it claims to represent—an alternative politics and positive peace. that dares to imagine a new story for Northern Ireland, with its people at its centre.

Niamh Ni Bhriain is the Coordinator of the War and Pacification at the Transnational Institute.

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

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The impact of Cyclone Idai – lessons for Africa http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/the-impact-of-cyclone-idai-lessons-for-africa/ Fri, 07 Jun 2019 10:34:49 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24258 Read More]]> Following Cyclone Idai, African governments must strengthen the African Risk Capacity (ARC) and ensure that African states are better prepared to handle natural disasters.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Ched Nyamanhindi and Phillip Nyasha Fungurai

Globally, natural disasters remain a threat to peace and security. With an expected increase in natural disasters due to climate change, Africa must brace itself. Piston (2013) postulates that urban and coastal populations are at increased risk of massive casualties, political strife, and local tensions from natural disasters. Busby (2007) argues that climate change is one of the factors increasing the chances of natural disasters and extreme environmental events, aggravating competition for scarce resources.

Southern Africa was hit by a cyclone in March 2019 that affected a huge number of people. There are lessons that Africa can learn from such disasters, including disaster preparedness, physco-social impacts, internal displacement, the reality of climate change and the role of donors, regional blocs, governments and communities of action in natural disasters.

Cyclone Idai is viewed as one of the worst tropical cyclones to affect Africa, especially its southern part. It originated from a tropical depression that formed off the east coast of Mozambique on 4 March 2019. Idai reached the land near Beira at a speed of 195km/h. It was an intense tropical cyclone, which destroyed structures and killed people on its way through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Infrastructure was wrecked, livelihoods were destroyed, and fauna and flora damaged.

The cyclone killed more than 1,000 people in Mozambique, more than 259 in Zimbabwe, and more than 56 in Malawi, and one in Madagascar. According to a United Nations report, the cyclone has affected more than three million people by destroying infrastructure and displacing people from their homes. The impact of the cyclone has damaged or destroyed more than 951,000 acres of crops; at least 99,317 houses; approximately 2,800 classrooms; and nearly 40 health units in Inhambane, Manica, Sofala, and Zambézia provinces in Mozambique, according to initial estimates by local authorities. An estimated one million people in affected areas were left without electricity due to damaged electrical infrastructure as of March 20.

Psycho-social impact

The effects of Cyclone Idai were fatal in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving psychological scars for the survivors and the communities. The delay and difficulty in rescuing the survivors and finding and burying the dead exacerbated the situation. Bobrowski (2013) states that the psychological consequences of disasters are related to the degree of exposure to hazards and the losses that characterize natural disasters. Disaster impact, compounded by adversities in the aftermath, create new special populations of persons needing medical and psychological support. Some persons exposed to disaster rebound quickly from transient distress reactions. However, others progress to psychopathology, including PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Those who lose loved ones are likely to grapple with complicated grief. The psychological impact of Cyclone Idai is huge, and yet the affected countries lack adequate psycho-social support for the affected victims. African governments must establish well-equipped hospitals and institutions that address the psychological impacts of natural disasters.

Internal displacement of people

Internal displacement is a major impact of natural disasters like Cyclone Idai. According to statistics from the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) of Zimbabwe, 1,838 homes were completely destroyed and a further 193 partially destroyed. As a result, 16,000 people were displaced and are in need of shelter, blankets, utensils and sanitation. In Mozambique and Malawi an estimated 200,000 people were displaced and forced into temporary camps at schools, hotels and churches. Governments have a role in ensuring that human rights concerns are addressed so that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) receive the protection they require and to which they are entitled.

According to Kalin (2005) much attention has to be devoted to issues of human rights protection that arise from displacement. The areas that need monitoring include access to assistance, discrimination in aid provision, enforced relocation, sexual and gender-based violence, loss of documentation, safe and voluntary return or resettlement, and issues of property restitution. Those internally displaced by Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe are reportedly already experiencing human rights violations, such as partisan distribution of aid and delay in accessing assistance. This is against “institutions” like the Kampala Convention; an African Union treaty that addresses internal displacements due to natural disasters and armed conflicts. Its aim is to safeguard the rights of affected people and to establish the role of states in the protection of these rights. Not all African countries have domesticated the Kampala Convention. However, with Africa’s vulnerability to natural disasters and armed conflict all African states must ratify the Kampala convention to protect the rights of IDPs

Disaster unpreparedness

One of the major impacts of Cyclone Idai was to expose the lack of Disaster Preparedness and Planning. The nature and magnitude of the cyclone caught the government unprepared. There was no equipment and skilled personnel to rescue the affected communities. Assistance by well-wishers and donors was crucial, providing essential aid in the form of shelter, medicines, food, blankets, water and clothes. The arms of government responsible for managing disasters were not-fully capacitated to respond to the emergency. Donor agencies, the UN and other Non-Governmental Organisations played a major role in assisting.

African governments should put in place functional Disaster Management Plans. There should be functional, well-equipped and trained units that are fully able to respond to disasters. A country should not depend on donors to fund its Disaster Management process. Beavgui (2019) notes that the African continent has been struggling to allocate part of its limited resources to disaster preparedness, due to various competing priorities in health, education, infrastructure, and other sectors.  Recently, disasters such as cyclones, droughts, and floods are increasing in both frequency and magnitude due to the effects of Climate Change. Consequently African governments must be better prepared for natural disasters.

Climate Change

One of the major impacts of Cyclone Idai was to register to governments that Climate change is real and there is a pattern of climate disasters unfolding in the region. Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi are struggling to cope with the impacts of Cyclone Idai, and yet very little to do with generating the emissions causing the problem. According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Africa is one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, despite contributing the least to global warming. Economic superpowers such as the United States of America and China are the leading emitters of gases contributing to climate change, yet they suffer very little from the impact.

Gavin (2019) postulates that the general population in Africa is not yet widely aware of the science of climate change, although they are keenly aware of climate change’s effects. There is resulting demands on the state for better infrastructure, better planning, and better crisis response. These will be felt by African governments with increasing intensity. African governments, in turn, will be looking for leverage to demand more urgent action, and more equitable cost-sharing, from the largest economies. Cyclone Idai – which has been named as one of the major natural disasters to hit Southern Africa in the past twenty years – gives African governments the arsenal to demand an equitable distribution of resources among countries to counter the effects of climate change.

The role of donors and aid

Since the onset of cyclone Idai, numerous donors have come with food, medicines, water, shelter and clothes to assist affected communities. Dambisa Moyo in her book, Dead Aid, argues that aid has done more harm than good to Africa. She states that:

“…the notion that aid can alleviate systemic poverty, and has done so, is a myth. Millions in Africa are poorer today because of aid; misery and poverty have not ended but have increased. Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world”.

With its vast natural resources, why should Africa run to the western world in times of disaster? Why should Africa look up to Donor Agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations in its time of need? African governments should reflect and ask themselves why the core issue of saving its citizens is left to donors and well-wishers. Donor agencies have so far raised €12m from the EU. While the governments of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi have requested for resources and emergency relief to help more than than million people affected.

According to Beavgui (2019), African governments are working towards changing this paradigm. The African Union Heads of State established the African Risk Capacity (ARC) in 2012 to support the development of better risk management systems, aimed at reducing dependence on the international community for disaster relief. African governments must strengthen the ARC and ensure that African states are better prepared to handle natural disasters.

Ched Nyamanhindi is a peacebuilding and development professional. He is  a a PhD candidate in Peace and Governance at Africa University, Zimbabwe. Ched also holds a Masters in Peace and Governance and has more than 10 years working experience in the non- profit sector in Zimbabwe. He has extensive experience working in anti-corruption, policy formulation, peace building and governance areas.

Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is Global Peace Ambassador affiliated with Global Peace Chain, a network of peace actors that advocates for peace across the Globe. Phillip is a DAAD fellow who subscribes to principles of peace, democracy and social justice. He is also an independent democracy and development researcher who works with various think tanks and civic groups in Germany, South Africa and Zimbabwe.


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

 


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How international solidarity saved an activist’s life in Burundi http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/how-international-solidarity-saved-an-activists-life-in-burundi/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/how-international-solidarity-saved-an-activists-life-in-burundi/#respond Thu, 06 Jun 2019 08:23:20 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24316 Read More]]> Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa is a thorn in his government’s side, so he needed urgent help from supporters abroad when someone tried to assassinate him.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Antoine Kaburahe

Amandine Mbonimpa has not forgotten anything about the afternoon of 3 August 2015. That was when her father was shot.

She had known he was in danger. Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was the founder of a human rights organisation, APRODH, in his home country of Burundi, and it had worrying information: the ruling party was secretly distributing weapons to its youth wing.

APRODH had also investigated the military training of young Burundians across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Burundians had been involved in a long-running conflict – without unofficial support from their government.

In 2014 Mbonimpa had been imprisoned by the Burundian authorities, which accused him of “smearing the government and lying”. Thanks to an international mobilisation, including a call from Barack Obama, then US president, he had been released on parole, but the regime kept an eye on him. Somewhere, a plan to murder him was put in place.

On 3 August “assassination rumours had circulated on social media the whole day”, says Amandine Mbonimpa, now a refugee in Quebec, Canada. “Around 3pm, I called Dad, to reassure myself. He told me that he too had heard [the rumours], but as always, he did not feel any fear, he was serene.”

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was used to threats. But that day, the killers meant them. It was in the evening that the news dropped. Pierre-Claver had been shot. Word spread rapidly: ‘Mutama’, the ‘old man’, as he is affectionately called, is well-known and respected for his commitment to human rights in Burundi.

There was a rumour that I was going to be killed in my hospital bedPierre-Claver Mbonimpa

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa remembers well what had happened. He had been in his car with his driver. “I saw behind us a motorcycle that was riding at a breakneck speed. The bike got to us at a fast pace. The man shot four bullets. The shooting was almost close-range. A bullet hit me on the neck and blood spurted.”

Bleeding heavily, he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. I went there to see what was happening: at the time I was still a journalist in Burundi before being myself forced into exile.

The crowd was already at Bujumbura Central Polyclinic. That’s where I saw another daughter, Zygène Mbonimpa, his wife, Marceline Tamatama, friends and many human rights activists. But he wasn’t safe yet.

“Security guards sent by various embassies came to ensure my safety at the Polyclinic, because there was a rumour that I was going to be killed in my hospital bed,” says Pierre-Claver. “All the embassies worked in synergy for my evacuation.

“Despite my weakness, my pain, I would like to say that I saw a great surge of solidarity at that moment,” says Pierre-Claver. “In my room I saw distinguished individuals such as diplomats of the African Union, those of the European Union and ambassadors.”

Fast-moving fund

It was clear to his supporters that Pierre-Claver needed to leave the country immediately. Currently in Belgium as a refugee, Zygène Mbonimpa remembers with overwhelming emotion the support of The Fund for Global Human Rights: “Doctors quickly noticed that Mutama had been seriously affected. He needed care he could not find in Burundi. And then, we were afraid he would be finished off on his hospital bed. I wrote to Tony Tate [programme officer at the Fund] and his reaction was quick. He agreed to pay for flight tickets, and the organisation also contributed to the payment of hospitalisation costs in Burundi.”

Tate confirms Zygène’s account. The Fund had been funding and working closely with APRODH for five years at the time, although Tate has known Pierre-Claver since 1999, when they were both working for different organisations. “He was at ABDP [Burundian Association for the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights] at that time and I was working for Human Rights Watch.” When he heard that his long-time colleague had been shot, Tate moved fast.

We stand by our grantees in good times and in badTony Tate, The Fund for Global Human Rights

“Upon learning the information from Zygène and Richard [Nimubona, director of programmes at APRODH], I immediately sought approval from my directors and board members to make an emergency grant,” he says. “We were able to wire the money to APRODH’s account within 24 hours. After the money arrived, it became clear that Pierre-Claver would receive other money and assistance from other funders as well. The money The Fund provided was combined with others to pay for the travel costs of one of his family members to accompany him to Brussels.”

That financial support was critical. The Belgian embassy had agreed to give Pierre-Claver a visa, but the family had to find air fares in a very short time.

“Without this support, we would have had a big problem to raise this money while Dad’s life was in a very critical condition,” says Zygène.

Tate says he was pleased that the Fund was able to respond to the incident and ensure the safety of one of its long-time partners: “My hope was that the family would see that as an organisation, we stand by our grantees in good times and in bad,” he says.

“As a human rights funder, we have an ethical responsibility to provide emergency funding when activists we support are in danger. Human rights work is inherently risky and those who support it must stand ready to respond quickly when defenders are in need.”

Struggle for survival in Brussels

In Brussels, Pierre-Claver was quickly operated on. Doctors first fastened a metal frame on his head to hold his skull together. He spent 121 days in hospital, fed by serum and then a kind of porridge, as he could not open his mouth or chew food. He sat in an armchair, unable to lie down, and his weight went down from 82 kg to 54 kg.

But his ordeal did not stop there. As they had missed him, those who wanted to kill him went after his family. First, his son-in-law, Pascal Nshirimana, was killed, and while he was still in the hospital, his son Weli, 24, was also killed.

“My wife received a very short message via WhatsApp. Weli had just been killed, my wife informed me,” says Pierre-Claver. “I did not know what to say or do. I was totally helpless. I called some friends and asked them to bury my little son in dignity. That’s all I could do.”

Through all this, the now seventy-year-old activist has remained a man guided by peace and justice. We have never heard him speak of revenge.

Prisoner turned activist

He first made himself known by creating ABDP, an association dedicated to defending the rights of prisoners, after he himself had spent time inside. He says that prison opened his eyes. “When I got unjustly imprisoned, I discovered that detainees had no rights in prisons. They could stay in jail for years without ever being tried.” As soon as he was released, he began to defend the rights of prisoners, later extending his fight to the defence of human rights in general.

His work has made a difference. “It should be known that it was not until 2009 that the criminal code of Burundi made torture an offence! Until then, confessions obtained under torture were taken into account by the judges. Having made people understand that torture is an offence is one of the fights of which I am very proud. Thanks to APRODH, every 26 June, the World Day against Torture is celebrated in Burundi.”

Organisations such as APRODH still have focal points. But they need means to workPierre-Claver Mbonimpa

Still in exile, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa is still working to defend human rights in Burundi. With the support of international organisations APRODH remains effective. “We knew that if he were to return to Burundi, he could be arrested or killed,” says Tate. “But we continue to fund APRODH in its global advocacy campaign denouncing the ongoing human rights violations in Burundi.”

“He is one of the most informed about human rights violations in Burundi,” says a diplomat in Brussels, who asked to remain anonymous. “With all that he has done there, this man has a vast information network. In any corner of Burundi, in any area of ​​the country’s life, he has a source, a contact, a friend.”

“It is important that international organisations continue to support him and his organisation,” says a member of a human rights NGO, also speaking anonymously.

Always on the phone, Pierre-Claver continues to encourage teams on the ground. He also travels very often in the sub-region. “It is important that the international community continues to support independent human rights organisations in Burundi,” he says, “because with the closure of UN organisations and the ban on international media including the BBC, there is a risk that human rights violations will be committed behind closed doors. Organisations such as APRODH still have focal points. But they need means to work.”

Pierre-Claver remains modest and accessible despite two honorary doctorates by major Belgian universities and several international awards. Asked what he thinks of those who tried to kill him, he simply answers:

“I forgave those who shot me and those who killed my son and my son-in-law. But I want justice. If the assassins were arrested, I would be happy to see justice doing its job. For my part, I will not ask for any compensation. What would they give me for the death of my child and my son-in-law?”

Antoine Kaburahe is a Burundian journalist and writer. He lives in exile in Belgium.

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

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Modernity and civilization offer no shield against future genocide http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/modernity-and-civilization-offer-no-shield-against-future-genocide/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/modernity-and-civilization-offer-no-shield-against-future-genocide/#respond Wed, 05 Jun 2019 08:12:09 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24339 Read More]]> What has changed, and what have we learned from previous genocides? Very little. As long as we put our short-sighted political interest above human lives, we prove we have leaned little from history and are condemned to repeat it time and again. We must hold up the mantra of “never again”, and act before it’s too late.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

The phenomenon of genocide has baffled historians for many generations. The question that has been and continues to be asked is what goes through the minds of leaders, however despotic and ruthless, to conclude that committing genocide against their real or perceived enemies will provide them with salvation that only the extermination of other people would bring? And what does that say about us as human beings, who have failed to adopt “never again”, sworn to in the wake of World War II, as the mantra to guide us in preventing the occurrences of genocides?

It seems that we settled on the notion that modernity and civilization, and international laws that prohibit crimes against humanity, will be enough to prevent future genocides. To the contrary, modernity is where genocide reached its pinnacle, enabling countries to murder on an assembly line, such as the genocide committed by Germany against the Jews. Obviously, this notion is completely misguided, as is evident by the genocides in Kosovo, the Sudan, and Rwanda that were perpetrated nearly five decades after the conclusion of the second World War.

The various motives that prompted previous leaders to commit such large-scale genocides have not changed, as xenophobia, racism, discrimination, and intolerance remain very much a part of human society. Even a cursory review of what is happening around us at the present, from China to America, suggests that the roots of genocide have not been eradicated. Indeed, as long as we continue to see each other from the prism of a different religion, different color, different race, or different ideology, and blame others for our plight, the prospect of future genocides still looms high.

The genocides that occurred over the past 110 years were motivated by different rationales but led to similar horrifying consequences.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks advocated for the formation of an exclusively Turkish Muslim state. The policy of “Turkey for the Turks”, and rejection of any nationality that did not subscribe to Islam, led to the decimation of nearly 2.5 million Pontic Greeks and Armenians. In Rwanda, genocide was perceived as the only way to break out of a historical cycle of discrimination and oppression of the Hutu majority by the Tutsi minority.

The Germans believed that they belonged to a superior race—Aryan—while the Jews belonged to an inferior race that threatened to contaminate and pollute German society and culture. Serbia adopted a strong exclusionary ideology, proclaiming that Serbia was for Serbians and that other nationalities should leave or be eliminated. Finally, in Sudan, competition for scarce resources and north Sudan’s takeover of the southern Sudanese, the majority of whom are non-Muslim and non-Arab, sparked genocide there.

Methods of extermination

The states that perpetrated genocide by and large used similar methods to exterminate their enemies. Against the Pontic Greeks, the Ottomans employed massacres, death marches, summary expulsions, arbitrary executions, rape, and forced conscription into labor battalions.

The Serbian military’s effort to reassert control over the region was accompanied by atrocities such as the destruction of over 500 villages and killing of an estimated 15,300 civilians. Twenty thousand women were raped, and thousands disappeared. Serbia’s response to NATO’s intervention was to drive out all the Kosovar Albanians, pushing nearly 1.2 million refugees into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

The Turkish policy of exterminating Armenians was carried out under the guise of deportation. Massacres were carried out through mass burnings: 80,000 Armenians in 90 villages were burned in stables and haylofts. Thousands were killed by drowning – women and children would be placed onto boats that were capsized in the Black Sea. Turkish physicians also contributed to the planning and execution of the genocide. All in all, nearly 1.5 million Armenians were extinguished.

In Germany, the Extermination of the Jews, the “Final Solution”, began with mobile killing groups called Einsatzgruppen. They gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. Immediately following the Wannsee Conference in 1942, Jewish men, women, and children were methodically killed with poisonous gas. More than six million Jews perished over a period of four years.

In Rwanda, an unofficial militia group called the Interahamwe was mobilized; at its peak, this group was 30,000 strong. In addition to brutal mass killings, systematic rape was also used as a weapon of war during the genocide.

The Darfur genocide began in 2003 with the mass murder and rape of people living in Western Sudan, carried out by the Janjaweed, a government-funded group that continued attacks until 2010. The Janjaweed are ethnic Arab militia groups, which would follow government attacks from the air with scorched-earth campaigns, burning villages, and poisoning wells.

Propaganda

Strong pan-Turkish and pan-Islamist propaganda began to appear in the Ottoman press in early August 1914, which alienated and intimidated non-Muslims; the Ottomans believed that the Christian Pontic Greeks were tainting the population and threatening the integrity of the Muslim-majority nation-state. Ottoman authorities created a propaganda campaign, claiming that Armenians were a threat to national security, in part because of some Armenians’ support of Russia in the ongoing World War. Because most Turks were illiterate, anti-Armenian propaganda was primarily disseminated in the sermons of Muslim mullahs and by town criers, who labeled Armenians as spies, infidels, and traitors. The promotion of Islamism was critical, as it was the central ideology behind the Armenian and Greek genocides.

One of the major tools of Nazi propaganda was a weekly newspaper, Der Stürmer (The Attacker), which proclaimed at the bottom of the front page of each issue, “The Jews are our misfortune!” The newspaper regularly featured cartoons of Jews in which they were caricatured as hooked-nose and ape-like. The Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebbels, employed art, music, theater, films, books, radio, educational materials, and the press. Propaganda encouraged passivity and acceptance of the impending laws against the Jews. Nazi films portrayed Jews as subhuman, wandering parasites, infiltrating Aryan society.

Milosevic’s propaganda campaign was based on the Nazis’ techniques, with the added power of television. To weld the population together, official propaganda drew on the sources of the Serbian mystique, that of a people who were the mistreated victims and martyrs of history, and that of Greater Serbia, indissolubly linked to the Orthodox religion. Serbian television and radio’s repetitive use of pejorative descriptions against Croats, Bosnians, and Albanians quickly became part of common usage.

Hutu extremists in Rwanda also used the media to their benefit. Local officials and government-sponsored radio stations called on ordinary Rwandan civilians to murder their neighbors. Radio was utilized to provide the location of specific Tutsis to be targeted. Radio was also used to justify the genocide; radio hosts discussed discrimination the Hutus suffered under the Tutsis.

In the Nuba Mountains and southern Sudan, crimes against humanity were justified by characterizing victims – Christians by and large – as ‘infidels’ (kafir). In Darfur, with a mostly Muslim population, a different kind of rationalization for slaughter was required. The regime categorized Darfuris as infidels by connecting them with Judaism, and emphasized that the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit were non-Arab; the Zaghawa tribe in particular was portrayed as having Jewish origins. All the tribes were then seen as generally non-Muslim and therefore evil, sub-human, and unable to be trusted.

Measures to prevent future genocide

As we have witnessed, the concept of “never again” that was coined in the wake of the Holocaust and embraced as the mantra for future generations to prevent genocide failed to materialize. Acts of horrifying genocide occurred time and again during the past three decades; Rwanda, Sudan, and Kosovo provide telling examples. What is necessary then is to create awareness, especially among the young generation, about the horrors of genocide that human beings are capable of inflicting on others, and stop pretending that modernity and civilization provide a natural shield against future genocides.

The fact that the current young generation is becoming increasingly less aware of genocides that occurred even two decades ago is extremely worrying. For example, less than 35 percent of Americans are aware there was an Armenian genocide. In Britain, 800 students from 15 schools were asked if they had any knowledge about genocides that occurred since the Holocaust; 81 percent could not name any modern genocide, only 13 percent knew about the Rwandan genocide, 5 percent knew about the atrocities in Bosnia and Cambodia, and a mere 2 percent knew about the Darfur genocide.

There are several measures that all nations ought to take to prevent future genocide, albeit not a single or a combination of such measures can ensure that genocide will never happen again. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant and do whatever it takes to prevent mass killings.

First, it is crucial that the study of genocide in general be offered as a course that all middle and high school students should be required to take. There is no doubt that learning the history, psychology, motivation, and methodology used to effect mass executions is a necessary step that would help prevent future genocide. In this regard, listening to the stories and experiences of genocide survivors in a classroom setting is critical because unlike reading about genocide (which is vital), sharing the experience of what a survivor has endured, especially when describing the horrifying consequences, humanizes victims and leaves an indelible mark in the minds of the students. In addition, it is necessary to provide books, other printed materials, and videos produced specifically for those age groups to see and feel the level to which human beings are capable of descending.

Second, it is essential that communities hold symposiums and town hall meetings to discuss mass killings with speakers who have personally experienced or are noted authorities on genocide. These should be held on the anniversaries of various genocides, coinciding with public awareness campaigns to ensure that these atrocities are remembered. Organizations focused on educating about and preventing genocide, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Enough Project, should lead the way in holding such events, given their credibility and expertise on the issue of genocide. Inviting the press to cover such events will remind people that we are living in a time when such atrocities can still happen, and that each and every one of us must assume a role, however small, to promulgate knowledge of the unfathomable acts that sadly are still a part of our nature as human beings.

Third, acknowledging that mass murders have in fact occurred, and taking certain measures to prevent it from ever happening again, such as the case with Germany, can go a long way to prevent history from repeating itself by creating a process of reconciliation to heal the wounds. As such, we must not allow countries like Turkey (including its Ottoman predecessors), who committed unspeakable atrocities against the Greeks and Armenians in the wake of World War I, to deny its crimes against humanity with impunity. Even now, Turkey under President Erdogan refuses to acknowledge Turkey’s historic crimes. Every country should follow France’s and Germany’s footsteps and pass laws that make the denial of the Pontic Greek and Armenian genocides a crime punishable by jail time or fine, or both.

Fourth, it is imperative that the UN or EU (preferably the EU to prevent political jockeying), create a commission to monitor conflicts within or between countries that could lead to genocide. Preventive measures can take place to avert such conflicts from escalating. That is, early intervention could certainly de-escalate tension and mitigate conflicts. For example, early intervention in Rwanda could have prevented the genocide against the Tutsis.

There were clear signs that the tension between the two sides was building up; UN peacekeeping forces commander General Roméo Dallaire notified his superiors in New York that genocide was imminent in a memo now known as the “genocide fax”. The fact that nearly 800,000 were slaughtered within a 90-day period was not a spontaneous outburst, but clearly a premeditated scheme that had been in the works for a long period of time.

Finally, in the age of unprecedented social media that allows us to reach millions of people in a few minutes, it should be fully utilized to create greater awareness about genocides. However controversial the use of social media may be, its overwhelming pervasiveness cannot be ignored, and its power must be used to create public awareness about past genocides that would help prevent future gross violations of human rights.

On the same note, companies like Facebook, whose platform was used to incite genocide in Myanmar, and Twitter, which was groundbreakingly used by ISIS to promote its ideology, must be held responsible and be proactive in removing content inciting hatred and violence.

The civil war in Syria that has so far led to the deaths of over 600,000, five million refugees, and as many internally displaced, by definition is not a genocide. However, indiscriminately bombing towns and villages from the air to kill tens of thousands of innocent people is still akin to genocide. When such atrocities can take place both in Syria and in Yemen with little to no effort to stop them, it suggests how inept and indifferent the international community has become, which allows such horrifying carnages to take place.

It is these types of gross human rights violations that are happening with impunity by the perpetrators, along with the ongoing genocides against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Yazidis, Kurds, and Christians by ISIS, that raise serious questions about our ability to address such horrific crimes. We can, if we only will it. But we are still unwilling to rise and take whatever measures necessary to prevent such atrocities.

What has changed, and what have we learned from previous genocides? Very little. As long as we put our short-sighted political interest above human lives, we prove we have leaned little from history and are condemned to repeat it time and again. We must hold up the mantra of “never again”, and act before it’s too late.

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.

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

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May 2019 review http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/may-2019-review/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/06/may-2019-review/#respond Tue, 04 Jun 2019 09:17:29 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24329 Read More]]> TransConflict is pleased to present a selection of articles published during May, plus updates from the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

 Suggested ReadingConflict BackgroundGCCT

1) To prevent brain drain, Kosovo must eradicate corruption

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra – The US and EU “pressure” to fight corruption and deal with the country’s socio-political and economic ailments have largely failed. The US and the EU must now change their approach because their strategic interest aligns with the Balkans’ and Kosovo’s strong desire to integrate with the EU and NATO. Read on…

2) Sri Lanka – ten years on

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice – May 18th marks ten years since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the final stages of which were scene to some of the worst mass atrocities of the 21st century.Read on…

3) Weaponizing white terrorism – the boomerang effect on the Balkans

Mladen Mrdalj – Attempts by Balkan nationalists to weaponize links of international terrorism with the Bosnian war have had a boomerang effect. The simplifications are the boomerang; and here is why. Read on…

4) Risk of Israeli-Iranian war still looms high

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – There is nothing in the current crises with Iran that cannot be resolved through negotiations. But the continuing threats and counter-threats will gain increasing traction and make the risk of waging a war preferable to the consequences of allowing Iran to continue its destructive behavior. Read on…

5) Cameroon – moving fast when there are short windows of opportunity

Rene Wadlow – There are two separate and not directly related crisis areas in Cameroon. One is a spillover of instability and conflict in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. The second crisis area concerns the Anglophone area of Cameroon to the south and west on the frontier with Nigeria. This armed conflict depends on the ability of Cameroonese to find compromise forms of government, perhaps in a con-federal structure. Read on…

6) On Resolution 2467

Kirthi Jayakumar – That the US successfully imposed itself in the wording of a document that addresses women’s rights the world over and managed to force a regressive idea onto a globally applicable document is alarming. It suggests a tendency that is likely only to continue: one that is progressively eliminating the rights of women, one phrase at a time. Read on…

7) Qatari realignment

Christian Kurzydlowski – The Qatari crisis has turned the idea of a unified GCC, or Persian Gulf region on its head. The myth of Gulf Arab, and Sunni unity, has been shattered, if it ever existed. Regional fragmentation, and lack of consensus are part of the new narrative of the Gulf region. The Qatar crisis, has forced Qatari dynamism, and with no end in sight, will see additional and innovative new elements being brought into existing political, security, and economic structures of the Gulf region. Read on…

8) Sri Lanka – sectarian violence and the higher self

Rene Wadlow – While Christian-Muslim dialogue is necessary in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, it is only as the individual person moves beyond their self-identification as Christians or Muslims that a true harmonious society can grow. Read on…

9) Dveri and the protests in Serbia

Christian Kurzydlowski – Nationalism in Serbia, like in most countries, cannot be reduced to a single current or strand of thought. Where Dveri stands out is in its adaptability. It has remoulded its image, as well as attempting to widen its appeal. It has been able to adopt the rhetoric of both resentment and real grievances, and then turn it against a specific political actor, or “other”, while creating a political platform. Read on…

10) Netanyahu’s defunct strategy to keep Hamas at bay

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – There are many cynics who believe that peace between Israel and Hamas is nothing but an illusion. On the contrary, anyone who maintains that the current situation is sustainable is misguided, as they ignore both the turmoil and the bloodshed over the past 12 years, and the reality on the ground that cannot be changed. Read on…

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

What are the principles of conflict transformation?

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The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/the-metamorphosis-of-a-female-fighter-into-a-peacebuilder/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/the-metamorphosis-of-a-female-fighter-into-a-peacebuilder/#respond Wed, 29 May 2019 08:55:32 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24264 Read More]]> The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Sawssan Abou-Zahr

 “I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room.

Salwa in 1976


A fighter

At first, female volunteers were assigned “womanly missions” such as cooking, cleaning and communication. Within months, and due to the growing scale of hostilities, the women had no choice but to receive compulsory military training.

Salwa was sent to areas of active conflict, sometimes as the only female fighter, and defied objections on the presence of women or “skirts” in military fields. Here too she refused to accept sexism, especially in a leftist environment that preached equality. She objected to the exclusion of female fighters from political meetings. She was “in charge of the girls because their parents trusted me.” When I asked how conservative fathers embraced their daughters’ military training, she explained they were led to believe it would protect them from aggression and sexual assault.

Between 1975 and 1983, Salwa was leading a double life. The war continued on and off, thus she was both a civilian and a warrior. In one instance, she went back to her village in a military vehicle and was perceived as a “community defender”. She felt strong, “equal to men and as competent as them”, even though her parents were not proud of her military role. At another point, she was a new mother in Beirut, displaced by the conflict and struggling to find milk in a devastated city invaded by the Israeli army.

Perhaps she could shift between her identities as a fighter and an educator because she didn’t kill anyone. Ironically, she excelled in training, yet, on the front line she didn’t shoot targets directly even if her life was at stake. When a close friend was murdered, a fellow combatant took her to shoot a Christian male hostage in revenge. As angry as she was, she simply couldn’t. Although he was blindfolded, she told me she could see the horror in his eyes. She still does.

A turning point

Everything changed when she gave birth to her daughter from a fighter husband. Shortly after, the house was targeted by snipers. Salwa experienced fear as a parent, not as a fighter. She realized she had to give up her military duties, out of motherly affection, and for practical reasons. Believe it or not, she never received an allowance as a fighter. It wasn’t a job, and she discovered she needed one to raise her child.

She taught chemistry at one of Beirut’s public schools. It was the mid-eighties in a divided city, even among the allied Muslim and Palestinian militias. Some students had guns instead of books. She found death threats targeting “all communists” on the classroom chalkboard. She knew it meant her and wasn’t surprised when she found the tyres of her car slashed. She survived fierce battles, got injured once, and didn’t fear being killed by those youth. In fact, she thought she should help them. “If I could change the mind of only one, that would be enough. Keeping them in class was a challenge because they would become child soldiers had they dropped out”, she told me. “If I could change the mind of only one, that would be enough. Keeping them in class was a challenge because they would become child soldiers had they dropped out”, she told me.

Building peace with yourself and others

When the war ended, the family sought a fresh start in Canada. It was the first time in fifteen years Salwa lived in a peaceful society. Ironically, in a capitalist country, she saw the ideals of communism implemented and had the chance to critically reflect on everything she believed in thus far.

When she returned to Lebanon in 1994, she struggled with depression and kept questioning the reasons for the war. With a sad look, she admitted to me she felt useless and dissatisfied with herself. It broke her heart that comrades died in vain because they were all puppets in a dirty game of warlords’ interests.

Her daughter, once more, offered her a turning point. Wanting to distance herself from her parents’ communism, she threw herself into mediation and spirituality. Fearing she might lose her, Salwa followed her daughter’s lead. She now believes a hidden spirituality within prevented her from killing, and that her own daughter helped uncover this aspect of herself. Like a bolt of lightning, it was an overwhelming revelation. It took her five years to heal herself from old ideologies. Never again would she take part in a war.

She denounced political activism and was ready to meet “the others”. A former “enemy” is currently a friend. This made her a better person, and thus a better educator. She turned book clubs into a safe haven for students to develop critical thinking so they don’t blindly follow warlords turned into politicians. History shouldn’t repeat itself.

Salwa went back to university and studied sociology, working for peacebuilding through education. I admired a sparkle of pride in her eyes when she told me she had finally found some inner peace. She denounced political activism and was ready to meet “the others”. A former “enemy” is currently a friend. This made her a better person, and thus a better educator. She turned book clubs into a safe haven for students to develop critical thinking so they don’t blindly follow warlords turned into politicians. History shouldn’t repeat itself.

A fighter for peace

As one Fighter for Peace, she reached out to Syrian women. After long discussions, she convinced a Syrian friend that violence ruined the just cause of the opposition. She conveyed that message in workshops to Syrian women from different ethnic backgrounds. She recognized her old self in them. At first they exchanged accusations, were angry seeking revenge and unable to admit everyone was losing in the war. However, she spoke to them about accepting each other despite all the bloodshed. She encouraged them to communicate, listen and forgive so they start peacebuilding, no matter how unpopular that is. She was not judgmental and touched their hearts and minds by embracing their uncertainties. These women are now inside Syria working for reconciliation and advocating for peace.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change”, she said.Would she have denounced militarization if someone spoke to her in 1975 about the dangers of violence? After some silence and a deep breath, she replied: “Yes, I could have reconsidered if I were encouraged to perceive matters differently. I might have taken another path”. 

Sawssan Abou-Zahr is a Lebanese journalist, editor and consultant. Sawssan is Peace Direct’s Local Peacebuilding Expert in Lebanon.

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

What are the principles of conflict transformation?


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Sri Lanka – sectarian violence and the higher self http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/sri-lanka-sectarian-violence-and-the-higher-self/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/sri-lanka-sectarian-violence-and-the-higher-self/#comments Tue, 28 May 2019 19:09:03 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24321 Read More]]> While Christian-Muslim dialogue is necessary in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, it is only as the individual person moves beyond their self-identification as Christians or Muslims that a true harmonious society can grow.

  Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

On 14 and 15 May 2019, revenge violence broke out in a number of towns in Sri Lanka against Muslim shopkeepers by Christians motivated by the Easter Sunday attacks on three Christian churches, two Roman Catholic and one Protestant.  The Easter church attacks were carried out by a recently formed militant Muslim militia most of whose members have now been arrested by the police.  However, the danger of sectarian violence remains real, and measures of active reconciliation are needed.

Just 10 years ago, in mid and late May 2009, the fighting between the Sri Lankan Army and the remaining Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE) led by Veluppilai Pirabhakaren came to an end.  The military struggle had begun in 1983, but its roots went back at least to Independence in 1948.  The conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils had ebbed and flowed since the colonial period in disputes about legitimacy, language, economy, and policies on religion.

Since the armed conflict had a certain religious coloring – the Tamils being largely Hindus and the majority Sinhalese Buddhists – religious organizations, both national and international, tried to play a role as mediators; or, at least, proposed possible subjects ripe for mediation.In the end, no offer of compromise was ever enough.  All forms of moderation were seen as betrayal.  The war continued with the last months being particularly destructive.  The psychological wounds are deep.  The healing of individual traumas with psycho-spiritual techniques remains a real priority, for the suffering of the war may sow the seeds of future unrest and a desire for revenge.

At the end of the armed conflict in 2009, the Association of World Citizens proposed a con-federal structure of government as a way of respecting differences in a pluralistic society while providing the possibilities of joint action.   There is a need to develop government structures in which all citizens feel that they belong and that their interests are safeguarded.Federal or con-federal forms of government were agreed to in the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord leading to the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution.  The amendment provides for the establishment of provincial councils. Unfortunately, these Councils have never become functional.

It is my impression that in the past decade, there have not been the creative changes in the structure of government needed.  Popular participation in government has not been developed.While the Sinhalese-Tamil tensions lent themselves to con-federal type proposals as the populations lived in relatively separate parts of the island, Christians and Muslims live spread out over the whole country.  Thus, decentralized governmental structures are not an adequate policy for reconciliation.  Rather, it is a modification of attitudes, values and individual actions which is needed.  In many such conflicts based on attitudes and visions of “identity”, the Association of World Citizens stresses the importance of a quest for the Higher Self.  This is an identity which first includes the individual’s current self-identity formed by nationality, social class, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, language and life experience.

The Higher Self is more than the sum of these elements in the formation of identity. The Higher Self is formed by an interaction of the individual with what we can call a spiritual energy from which the individual consciousness arises.  What the Chinese call the Tao. It is this Higher Self which is the ground of world citizenship, a sense of identity with all of humanity and a kinship with Nature which also arises from the same spiritual energy.As has been said, it is difficult to solve problems on the same level from which gave rise to the problem.  While Christian-Muslim dialogue is necessary in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, it is only as the individual person moves beyond their self-identification as Christians or Muslims that a true harmonious society can grow.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizenship

The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of TransConflict.

 


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Trump must never listen to the warmonger Bolton http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/trump-must-never-listen-to-the-warmonger-bolton/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/trump-must-never-listen-to-the-warmonger-bolton/#respond Mon, 27 May 2019 08:29:13 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24314 Read More]]> Trump must not engage the United States in another war in the Middle East. We have and continue to pay dearly for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and we are still fighting the latter. Of all the promises that Trump made in his political campaign for the presidency, preventing another war is the one promise he must keep.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.

The Iraq war would be child’s play compared to a war against Iran, who will put up a fight, far worse than all of the wars in the Middle East since 1948 combined. Much of the Middle East will be in flames. American casualties will be many times that of the Iraq war.

Trump should never listen to Bolton, who is being strongly influenced by Crown Prince bin Salman and Netanyahu, who seem to encourage him to attack Iran. They are dangerous men, and want to prevail over Iran at the expense of the United States by dragging it into an unwinnable war. No matter how much death and destruction Iran will suffer, it will be there to stay. To think that regime change in Iran, as Bolton and Pompeo continue to advocate, will usher in a democracy is an illusion that will never materialize.

The US efforts to establish democracies in Egypt and Libya in the wake of the Arab spring offer glaring examples of the US’ dismal failure. To resolve the conflict with Iran by toppling the clergy though the use of force is not the answer. Iran technically will lose such a war, but that in no way guarantees that regime change and democracy will follow. The answer lies through negotiation and only negotiation, until all conflicting issues that separate the US and its allies from Iran are settled peacefully.

Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s concerns that if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon would severely compromise their national security is exaggerated at best and unfounded at worse. Even if Iran acquires such weapons, Tehran will not use them preemptively or in retaliation to a conventional attack on its nuclear facilities and high-value military assets. If Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons, it is doing so strictly for defensive purposes, just like Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and India.

No one knows better than the Revolutionary Guard and the clergy in Tehran that using nuclear weapons for either defensive or offensive attacks is tantamount to suicide. Israel as a nuclear power will always maintain second-strike capability and will not hesitate for a moment to respond in kind and inflict unacceptable damage from which Iran can suffer for decades.

Like any other country, Iran wants to live and prosper in peace. Yes, it has been and still is involved in many nefarious activities throughout the region. And yes, it has the ambition of becoming the region’s hegemon. But, in the final analysis, Iran will weigh the benefits versus the disadvantages that it can garner by being a constructive player in the Middle East.

However, Iran will fight with all its might against regime change imposed on it by a foreign power or otherwise. The Iranian government, led by the clergy, has every right to govern itself in any manner it chooses. Its current military preparations are only in response to the United States’ threats to use force to effect regime change. Tehran has in no way any offensive designs in mind, and Bolton cannot fool anyone otherwise. I give credit to Trump for being in fact the one who is resisting Bolton’s and Secretary of State Pompeo’s adventurous streak.

Certainly, Iran’s behavior is not acceptable. Iran must stop threatening Israel and other countries in the region, and disabuse Netanyahu in particular of the notion that Tehran is out to destroy Israel. A resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also disabuse Iran from using that conflict to justify its enmity toward Israel.

There is no better or more urgent time than now for the EU to interject itself in an effort to ameliorate the growing tension between the United States and Iran. The EU should initiate behind-the-scenes negotiations with Iran and agree with the US on a joint cohesive strategic plan to mitigate the conflict with Iran. The new negotiations should be based on quid pro quo aiming to achieve a comprehensive deal in stages that could lead to a permanent solution.

Every conflicting issue should be placed on the table. Iran must stop meddling in the affairs of other states, freeze its research and development of ballistic missiles, and end its support of extremist groups such as Hezbollah and waging of proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. In return, the EU and the US should offer Iran a path for normalizing relations and removing sanctions, and assure it that the West will not seek regime change.

This kind of cooperation and high level of transparency will serve the objective of reaching regional stability from which Iran can benefit greatly, instead of continuing its nefarious activities which invite even more severe sanctions, and potentially a devastating war.

Neither Tehran nor Washington want war, and every party directly or indirectly affected by the conflict with Iran—especially Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states—will greatly benefit from a new, peaceful agreement with Iran.

Trump must not engage the United States in another war in the Middle East. We have and continue to pay dearly for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and we are still fighting the latter. Of all the promises that Trump made in his political campaign for the presidency, preventing another war is the one promise he must keep.

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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On Resolution 2467 http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/on-resolution-2467/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/on-resolution-2467/#comments Wed, 22 May 2019 08:12:35 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24262 Read More]]> That the US successfully imposed itself in the wording of a document that addresses women’s rights the world over and managed to force a regressive idea onto a globally applicable document is alarming. It suggests a tendency that is likely only to continue: one that is progressively eliminating the rights of women, one phrase at a time.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Kirthi Jayakumar

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 after a month of deliberations and negotiations. The resolution aims to combat sexual violence in conflict and offer legal and other support to survivors. However, the journey of the Resolution from what it was to its current form involved many difficult negotiations and arguments, particularly between the United States and other Security Council members.

In its hardline stance against particular provisions and word choices in the Resolution, the United States has reasserted the poor view it has taken on women’s rights under the Trump regime. Not only has the government sought to assert control over women’s bodies through its national policies, but through this Resolution it has also sought to do so with respect to women the world over.

The Resolution

Drawing from prior texts such as Resolutions 1325, 1820, and 2106, the text of 2467 aims at augmenting legal redress against sexual violence in conflict, by focusing specifically on survivor needs, enabling access to justice, and expanding on the provision of reparations. However, the resolution explicitly does not mention the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” even once.

Although prior resolutions have addressed sexual and reproductive health and have explicitly mentioned the phrase, it was removed from the document altogether at the insistence of the US delegation. The negotiations – led by a German diplomat, Andreas Glossner – met with great opposition from the US delegation; replete with a threat of a veto if the resolution referred to women’s rights “that way.” Be that as it may, the resolution continues to affirm earlier resolutions, invariably giving a fillip to resolutions like 2106, which refer to women’s rights “that way.”

During the negotiations, several members of the Security Council asserted themselves against US pressure to weaken global commitments to women in conflict zones. Between threatening to abandon the text to putting pressure on Germany to call the US out for its demands, ultimately, a watered-down version of the resolution emerged so as not to throw the very resolution out altogether. By the end of it, 12 countries including the US voted yes, and Russia and China abstained.

The US simply refused to accept proposals that would aim at establishing a formal mechanism in the UN Security Council to track sexual violence in conflict. It cited the burden of “significant new work” for the members of the Security Council as a basis for its rejection – an idea that China and Russia also shared in equal measure. Aside from this, China and Russia came up with resolutions of their own that focused on prevention – which never went to vote. The US also came down heavily on making references to the International Criminal Court. This is arguably in endorsement of the US view against the court itself, which it declared last year was “dead” to it.  The US also came down on the mention of “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and safe termination of pregnancy” and “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care such as access to emergency contraception, safe termination of pregnancy and HIV prevention and treatment.” The Dominican Republic delegation stood up to the US stoutly, vehemently asserting that such rights were non-negotiable, and that an attempt to refute this access is nothing shy of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment. 

A worrisome trend

It is unfathomable how a resolution striving to address sexual violence in conflict could function without a mention of the key phrase of “sexual and reproductive health rights.” Rape and sexual violence are fundamentally carried out in conflict as part of key strategic plans that cost next to nothing to implement. They are aimed at targeting the enemy enough to break their social order and this happens primarily because of the direct effect of such heinous violence on the sexual and reproductive health of women.

Violent and armed conflict present severely dangerous consequences for all gender identities, men included – who are also vulnerable to sexual violence. However, given the prevailing social dynamics of patriarchy and gender-based discrimination, the prevalence of violent conflict only augments an atmosphere of impunity that virulently encourages and abets the commission of sexual violence. This is what makes rape an “effective” weapon of war. Interpretations of the extant legal regime by international courts and tribunals have validated the truth that rape and sexual violence are forms of war crimes, torture, and can even be contributory factors in implementing genocide campaigns.

What is particularly disconcerting is the sheer sense of the US being unmoved by the consequences of their choices. In the run up to the deliberations, there were guest speakers who presented graphic accounts of sexual violence in conflict, including the likes of Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, aside from Amal Clooney. Even as the US delegation casually suggested that they put survivors at the heart of their work, their limiting, patriarchal stance was all they had to offer. 

That the US successfully imposed itself in the wording of a document that addresses women’s rights the world over and managed to force a regressive idea onto a globally applicable document is alarming. It suggests a tendency that is likely only to continue: one that is progressively eliminating the rights of women, one phrase at a time. That other nations could do nothing more than to give in after a point is representative of the structural violence inherent in the UN system as it stands: the threat of a veto was really all that stood between the 15-member body and dropping the resolution altogether.

Kirthi Jayakumar is a legal researcher and lawyer. Her interest and experience is in peace, conflict, international law and gender issues, focusing on Afghanistan, the Middle East, DR Congo and South-Asia.

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

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A “territorial peace” approach to curb coca production in Colombia http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/a-territorial-peace-approach-to-curb-coca-production-in-colombia/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/a-territorial-peace-approach-to-curb-coca-production-in-colombia/#respond Tue, 21 May 2019 09:10:57 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24286 Read More]]> A “territorial peace” approach is needed to curb coca production in Colombia, opposing the militarized approaches proposed by the current government. It exposes evidence related to the health, environmental and social costs of aerial spraying of Glyphosate herbicide, and asserts that sustainable peace must be built through the recognition and empowerment of local communities.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Juanita Esguerra-Rezk

Crops and conflict 

In 2014 when I was working for a humanitarian organization in Colombia, I found myself in Putumayo walking amidst a mined area surrounded by coca crops (the raw plant used to produce cocaine). Contrary to the image that is widely portrayed by mainstream media, I did not find criminal gangs guarding the area, nor did I meet a mythical capo or his servants in the style of the infamous Pablo Escobar. Instead, I found extremely poor campesino families, with red eyes and irritated skin, anguished by the damage to their food crops and concerned because they just lost their livelihoods. Their territory had recently been sprayed with an herbicide called Glyphosate by a military aircraft in an attempt by the Colombian government to halt the production of cocaine. When I visited again in 2016, I saw these families filled with hope from the transformative potential of the historic Peace Agreement signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Army of the People. (FARC-EP). Contrary to the image that is widely portrayed by mainstream media, I did not find criminal gangs guarding the area, nor did I meet a mythical capo or his servants in the style of the infamous Pablo Escobar. 

Central to the Colombian Peace Agreement is the notion of “territorial peace,” [1] a concept which opens the possibility to build peace around the right of local communities to influence the decision-making processes that impact their everyday lives, such as land-use planning, management of natural resources, education and livelihoods. This requires an effective process of decentralization and the recognition that territories are more than just geographic units, as they are also composed by identities and lived experiences of the communities that inhabit them. In this sense, “territorial peace” suggests that the most critical issue to support peacebuilding in Colombia is not the laying down of weapons by the FARC, but the transformation of the regions most affected by violence through the empowerment of local communities.

A landscape for local agency

At the core of that transformation is giving agency to thousands of families in the country’s most isolated and rural areas like the one I visited, where economic alternatives to growing coca are very limited. To this end, a chapter of the Peace Agreement was devoted to ‘the Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs’, and the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Crops Used for Illicit Purposes (PNIS) was created. Although the program focuses on technical support for the substitution of coca crops, the Peace Agreement recognizes that the problem of drug production and trafficking must be addressed as part of broader rural development initiatives, which include land tenure, poverty alleviation, infrastructure and access to basic services. Sixteen Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (PDET) were created to prioritize these issues with the participation of local communities. the problem of drug production and trafficking must be addressed as part of broader rural development initiatives, which include land tenure, poverty alleviation, infrastructure and access to basic services. 

However, the political landscape in Colombia has significantly changed after the signing of the Peace Agreement. In 2018, President Iván Duque, whose party campaigned against the approval of the Peace Agreement, won the election on a promise to “fix its shortcomings”. Since he took office, his administration has delayed its implementation by targeting the PNIS program, among others. In 2017, Colombia had reached an all-time high of 171,000 hectares in coca cultivation. After Duque took office, he announced his plan to complement crop substitution (which is facing important budget cuts) with forced eradication, including a return to aerial spraying of herbicides.

Why territorial peace matters  

If this setback in policy is approved, it will impact the lives of the many Colombians that live in these territories. It also represents the return of a militarized intervention similar to the US-backed Plan Colombia, which has already proven to be ineffective and have unintended consequences, such as:

  • It is expensive: Various studies estimate that to eradicate 1 hectare of land, approximately 33 additional hectares must be sprayed every year, and can cost up to 24,000 USD.
  • It is inefficient: According to UNODC, in the seven municipalities where PNIS is implemented, the rate of re-planting in areas with voluntary substitution – where eradication is carried out after after signing an agreement with families with the promise that technical assistance will be provided – was 0.6%, which is lower compared areas where eradication is forced and campesinos are not given support for an alternative livelihood.
  • It has important ramifications on human health: in 2015 President Juan Manuel Santos banned aerial spraying, after Glyphosate was linked to causing cancer in humans, and it is linked to an increase in dermatological and gastrointestinal problems . Recently, a U.S. jury in California ruled that it was a “substantial” cancer factor
  • It has negatively affected relations between the state and civil society: when Colombian governments have promoted eradication initiatives, these were rarely accompanied by parallel efforts to promote livelihoods. As a result, the relationship between the state and coca growing campesinos is generally antagonistic, as the state has not only been absent from these regions but, when it is present, it has acted in a repressive manner.
  • It has negative environmental consequences: eradication displaces coca cultivation to areas “off-limits” to aerial spraying, such as national parks and protected areas, which then leads to further deforestation and damage to landscapes.

In light of such a discouraging outlook, we must insist on the importance of territorial peace and the empowerment of local communities. The government must stand by the promises made to more than 99,000 families that committed to voluntary substitution, like the ones I visited in Putumayo. So far, 34,767 hectares of coca have been eradicated under this program, which shows a compliance of  94%. The best way to curb coca production in the long-term is to support families to transition into legal economies and build enabling environments for such transitions. Advocating to resume aerial spraying is a mistake, not only because of its ineffectiveness and negative consequences, but also because it hinders local agency and the possibility to (re)build relations between the State and rural populations that have endured and resisted so much violence after more than fifty years of war. The government must stand by the promises made to more than 99,000 families that committed to voluntary substitution, like the ones I visited in Putumayo. 

Juanita Esguerra-Rezk is a Master of Global Affairs Student at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on the intersection between peacebuilding, development and environmental issues.

Footnote

  1. It is important to note that territorial peace means different things to different political actors in the Colombian context, to a large extent because the Peace Agreement does not provide a specific definition.

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

 

 


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Sri Lanka – ten years on http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/sri-lanka-ten-years-on/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/sri-lanka-ten-years-on/#respond Mon, 20 May 2019 08:03:24 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24302 Read More]]> May 18th marks ten years since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the final stages of which were scene to some of the worst mass atrocities of the 21st century.

Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

The scale and gravity of the crimes that took place in the war’s last days alone can be difficult to comprehend, let alone come to terms with: entire families loaded on to army buses and forcibly disappeared; a twelve-year old child executed in cold blood; the bodies of rebel fighters desecrated.

Yet, shockingly, these events were but a part of a much longer campaign of violence between September 2008 and May 2009 during which hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were encouraged to gather inside declared humanitarian ‘safe zones’ – before being systematically shelled by government forces and deprived of life-saving humanitarian assistance. It is in this manner, partly aided by the rebel forces’ policy of preventing civilians from leaving the territory under their control, that between 40,000-70,000 (and possibly many more) are credibly estimated to have been killed.

Today, members of the Tamil community, in Sri Lanka and around the world, will gather to remember and mourn the dead. The Sri Lanka Campaign mourns with them, and extends its heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to all of those who continue to bear the pain of 2009 and its aftermath.

For many, it is a pain which the intervening decade has done little to alleviate. Despite multiple UN investigations, a change of government in Colombo, and an internationally supported process to address the past, almost no one has been brought to justice for the egregious human rights violations that took place in the North-East of Sri Lanka ten years ago. It is a record that shames not just the government of Sri Lanka, but the world at large.

The international community failed the civilian victims of the war in 2009. And, in many ways, it fails them still.

Today, it is clear that lending meaningful support to war survivors requires going beyond current approaches, be it through the creation of parallel evidence collection mechanisms, the pursuit of war criminals abroad, or the more principled use of leverage when it comes to bilateral engagement with Sri Lanka. Incidentally, it is the very same set of calls to the international community that could have saved lives in 2009 – for greater scrutiny, further pressure, more willingness to speak out – that are the need of the hour today in the fight for truth and accountability.

This month’s events in Sri Lanka – which have seen violent attacks on Muslims by roving mobs of Sinhala nationalists, the reinstatement to active service of an a alleged death squad leader, and renewed calls to give free reign to Sri Lanka’s security forces – have brought into clear focus what’s at stake. Unless the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses are held to account, and the structures which enable them dismantled or reformed, those very same individuals and institutions will continue to wreak violence on Sri Lanka’s minority communities and risk a return to yet another cycle of grievance-fuelled violence.

To borrow from a powerful recent op-ed by a Sri Lanka Campaign advisor and a renowned Tamil poet:

“Holocaust survivor Primo Levi once said, “It happened; therefore, it can happen again… it can happen everywhere.” So long as impunity and the failure to address the root causes of atrocity crimes continue in Sri Lanka, lasting peace will remain elusive.”

Sri Lanka and the search for justice, ten years on. from Outsider TV on Vimeo.

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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To prevent brain drain, Kosovo must eradicate corruption http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/to-prevent-brain-drain-kosovo-must-eradicate-corruption/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/to-prevent-brain-drain-kosovo-must-eradicate-corruption/#respond Fri, 17 May 2019 05:13:25 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24293 Read More]]>

The US and EU “pressure” to fight corruption and deal with the country’s socio-political and economic ailments have largely failed. The US and the EU must now change their approach because their strategic interest aligns with the Balkans’ and Kosovo’s strong desire to integrate with the EU and NATO.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate GCCT
By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra

On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the end of Kosovo war, the country is facing a dramatic large-scale brain drain. Every day, young professionals wait in long lines in front of EU embassies to apply for visas to legally leave Kosovo in the search for job opportunities and more promising futures. While it may be argued that massive brain drain is a problem that some European and Western Balkans states are facing, Kosovo’s migration is becoming increasingly acute, especially because of the endemic corruption among the political elite, much of the business sector, and many private and government institutions.

The massive emigration of nearly 100,000 people that occurred in 2013 alone is so alarming demanding that the Kosovo’s government tackle the problem head-on with the support of the US and the EU if Kosovo is to remain a viable country with a secure future.

According to Balkan Insight, a 2016 report from the German Interior Ministry listed Kosovo and Albania as the top countries whose citizens requested asylum in 2015. Kosovars filed 37,095 requests. Only Albanians, with a total of 54,762 requests, filed more.

“Unlike the previous migrations of Albanians from Kosovo over the last 50 years, this new wave is different in that these young people are leaving for good, never to return to the country ruled by the elites who stole their future”, says Ilir Deda, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo and Vice-President of the Liberal-Democratic centrist party Alternativa. According to him, this trend will continue until Kosovo matures and takes decisive political and practical steps by ending two decades of endemic corruption of its leaders and their parties.

“Kosovo political elites are engaged in unchallenged nepotism, sleaze, misusing of public funds, and impunity that have aroused the feeling of weakness, lack of perspective, and depressed citizenry”, says Lulzim Peci, former Ambassador to Sweden and current Executive Director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development.

What is particularly worrisome is that the new emigrants are mostly professionals who lost hope and accuse their deeply corrupt government of showing complete indifference to their needs. They feel trapped, and leaving the country appears to them as being the only viable option.

In Kosovo, where unemployment has reached an alarming 30%, the politicians are the richest class in the country. Many big businesses have greatly expanded thanks to politicians’ support — who received millions in return for “their efforts.” Although the EU has deployed a police and civilian mission in Kosovo (EULEX) to prosecute corruption, it has largely failed. In fact, corruption has only become worse under the mission’s watch.

The current US Ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett, in the ‘Week Against Corruption’, said that government officials continue to accept bribes, interfere in the justice system, and employ their relatives in public institutions. The EU representative in Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, reminded Kosovo’s citizens that corruption is ruining their country’s image.

The US and EU “pressure” to fight corruption and deal with the country’s socio-political and economic ailments have largely failed. The US and the EU must now change their approach because their strategic interest aligns with the Balkans’ and Kosovo’s strong desire to integrate with the EU and NATO.

It is common knowledge in Pristina that the US has directly interfered in Kosovo’s domestic affairs with little or no opposition, because the US is seen as a reliable friend. In 2011, Kosovo’s parliament elected first female president, Atifete Jahjaga, who was proposed by the US. In 2015, under US pressure, the Kosovo Parliament passed a law to create the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, a court based in the Hague that has jurisdiction over Kosovo war crimes. Last December, Kosovo created an Army, defying Serbia and even NATO, but with the full support of the US.

There are many steps the US and EU should take to assist Kosovo in revitalizing its economic sector, encourage social involvement, and push for political reform that would substantially reduce over time the numbers of the young who are leaving the country and precipitating the most disturbing brain drain. They can help Kosovo leave behind the doldrums in which it finds itself, and chart a new path that Kosovo’s government and institutions should fully embrace that would lead the country to a better and promising future.

To send a clear signal to the entrenched corrupt Kosovar officials, US officials should regularly meet with trustworthy politicians and refuse to engage crooked officials in any social settings while preventing high-level businessmen from receiving EU and US visas. This will send an unambiguous message to the public that there is no international support for those self-serving officials who are undermining Kosovo’s future wellbeing.

To nurture an independent juridical system, US and EU should expand training programs for young judges, lawyers and prosecutors and expose them to the ways the US and EU handle prosecution in dealing with corruption, and push for anti-corruption legislation.

In addition, the US and EU should exert all necessary pressure on the government to reform the educational system, including technical training to provide new job opportunities and prepare a new generation to assume leadership positions.

Since Kosovo wants to join the European Union, the EU is in a position to demand that the government begin a systematic process to clean up their acts by fully adhering to the EU’s requirement to qualify for membership and fully comply to the democratic principles, human rights, freedom of the press and untainted judiciary.

Moreover, the US can help Kosovo to develop commercial opportunities by creating a better business climate for foreign investments while encouraging business interaction between western Balkan economies. A healthy economy allows employers to raise salaries – currently the lowest in the region – which can, at least in part, help to stem emigration of youth, especially young couples who can hardly make ends meet.

Of particular importance, the US ought to insist that at least 20 percent of its financial aid to Kosovo is dedicated to participatory sustainable development projects. Communities can choose their own projects where the youth would be directly involved, develop a strong sense of belonging, feel needed, find meaning in their work and develop a vested interest in their projects and thus the motivation to stay.

For these initiatives to work well, top officials must commit to protect human rights, end arbitrary incarceration and police brutality, prevent human trafficking, and protect free speech and free media outlets while undertaking social and political reforms to strengthen the democratic foundation.

In the final analysis, however, every single official ought to remember that Kosovo has emerged from the ashes of many thousands of men and boys who were slaughtered by the Serbian military to prevent the rise of an independent and free Kosovo. They have a moral responsibility and a sacred duty to put the country’s national interest above their own and prevent brain drain, as the future of Kosovo rests on the vitality of its youth, in which every single Kosovar has a stake.

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.

Arbana Xharra authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.

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


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Dveri and the protests in Serbia http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/dveri-and-the-protests-in-serbia/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/dveri-and-the-protests-in-serbia/#respond Thu, 16 May 2019 14:45:40 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24284 Read More]]> Nationalism in Serbia, like in most countries, cannot be reduced to a single current or strand of thought. Where Dveri stands out is in its adaptability. It has remoulded its image, as well as attempting to widen its appeal. It has been able to adopt the rhetoric of both resentment and real grievances, and then turn it against a specific political actor, or “other”, while creating a political platform.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Christian Kurzydlowski

There is something rotten in the state of Serbia. The on-going anti-government protests, which began on November 30th, 2018, are manifestations of major dissatisfaction with the rule of President Aleksandar Vučić. The protests are clearly indicative of a deeper malaise. Popular anger at increasing media censorship, corruption, instances of political violence, and the marginalization of civil society resulted in people taking to the streets. A seeming lack of political alternatives has only added to the widespread anger. This hasn’t stopped attempts to capitalize on the waves of discontentment. Among those looking to capitalize is the Srpski Pokret Dveri (Serbian Movement – Dveri), popularly known as Dveri (Doorway). By actively protesting, Dveri is testing the waters through their attempts at reframing the protest narrative. What is its primary narrative? What is the potential impact?

Initially, Dveri was founded within the Serbian philology department at the University of Belgrade, in January 1999. Organized around the journal “Dveri Srpske”, its initial focus was on a mixture of political conservatism, and clerical nationalism. Its genus can be seen as part of the then emerging Orthodox Christian right in Serbia, and one that specifically sought close links with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

It has been categorized in the nebulous terms of “far right”, and “fascist”, for its anti-LGBT stance and attempts to redefine the role of certain Serbian collaborators during the Second World War. Dveri has attempted to refute any association with fascism, in order to make itself more palatable to the Serbian electorate. It has also expelled Srdjan Nogo, a Dveri National Assembly member, for indiscipline, especially in regard to his quote that Serbian Premier Ana Brnabić should “be hanged” if she signed the Dublin Regulation, outlining rules allowing asylum seekers in Serbia.

Nationalism in Serbia, like in most countries, cannot be reduced to a single current or strand of thought. Where Dveri stands out is in its adaptability. It has remoulded its image, as well as attempting to widen its appeal. It has been able to adopt the rhetoric of both resentment and real grievances, and then turn it against a specific political actor, or “other”, while creating a political platform.

It is in this vein that Dveri’s actions in the ongoing Serbian protests deserve closer attention. Currently it is a member of the Savez za Srbiju (Alliance for Serbia), itself a broad coalition of contrasting political opinions, united in agreement of protesting against Vučić’s rule. Calling for a transitional government, followed by a general election, it is here that Dveri’s adaptability and pivoting has the potential to result in political capital.
This has been enhanced by the creation of a Slobodna zona (Free zone), in Belgrade’s Pioneers Park, directly across from the National Assembly of Serbia. Participating in the protests, and in the Free zone, has given Dveri a chance to reframe the existing nature of the protests.

The issue of Kosovo, and the possibility of a Serbian recognition of its independence is portrayed by Dveri as a national betrayal. Dveri’s leader Boško Obradović, and Dveri member of the National Assembly Marija Janjušević, entered the National Assembly during a session of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija. Holding placards, Obradović denounced the government for “betraying Kosovo”, and warned the committee that it faced the prospect of a Greater Albanian state. On 21st March of this year, Obradović gave a press conference saying much to the same effect. In effect, Dveri is attempting to redefine the anti-government protests through the lens of “national liberation”, against both the Vučić government, and any attempt at recognition of an independent Kosovo.

Dveri, and its attempts at reframing the anti-government narrative should not be seen as a majority sentiment, at least not for the moment. The fact is that the disparate entities making up the Alliance for Serbia are operating on a supposed rotating leadership. The Democratic Party’s 18 members of the National Assembly overshadow Dveri’s mandate of 4 members in the National Assembly. The initial impetus for the creation of the Alliance for Serbia was through Belgrade mayor and Democratic Party member, Dragan Djilas.

Nevertheless, the amount of publicity that Dveri is able to generate, within a larger popular movement, might well go toward giving the movement not only a wider appeal but also a more general acceptance.

At this stage, it is too early to say with any real definitiveness as to any outcome. Vučić will most likely not step down. Most probably not of his own accord. Tellingly, he might argue as to whom could possibly replace him that could guarantee security? In this light, Vučić can portray Dveri as radical, and a threat to regional security. Slobodan Milošević used similar rhetoric in marginalizing Vojislav Šešelj and the Serbian Radical Party in the 1990s.

Certainly Dveri’s Kosovo narrative is meant to be inflammatory and aimed at evoking an emotional reaction. But does its actions surrounding the expulsion of members deemed too extreme indicate a sense of political reality? How will the folding of Dveri’s parliamentary group affect not only its message, but also its exposure? What, if any stance, will Dveri moderate, and on what stance will it further entrench itself? Will attempts at mobilizing primarily on national integrity, and sovereignty be enough? How nationalist can Dveri be without becoming too exclusionary? With ongoing protests, this remains to be seen.

Christian Kurzydlowski has a PhD in history from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Having previously done a Masters of Arts at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. He is passionate about interpreting current affairs through historical knowledge, to create scenarios for potential future trends. After a decade of globetrotting, he is back in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Footnotes:

  1. It should be noted that “Dveri”, as it is not used extensively in Serbian vocabulary, is not an easy term to translate into English.
  2. Jovan Byford, “Antisemitism and the Christian Right in Post-Milošević Serbia.  From Conspiracy Theory to Hate Crime”, Internet Journal of Criminology 1 (2003), p. 6.
  3. Srđan Mladenov Jovanović, “The Dveri Movement Through a Discursive Lens: Serbia’s Contemporary Right-Wing Nationalism”, in Südosteuropa. Journal of Politics and Society. 66 (2018), no.4, pp. 481-502.
  4. See Dveri Srpske: Časopis za nacionalnu kulturu i društvena pitanja, Year 12, No.45, January 2010. See also Branimir Nešić, Boško Obradović (editors). Nacizam i antinacizam: juče, danas, sutra. (Srpski sabor Dveri, Belgrade), 2012.

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Cameroon – moving fast when there are short windows of opportunity http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/cameroon-moving-fast-when-there-are-short-windows-of-opportunity/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/cameroon-moving-fast-when-there-are-short-windows-of-opportunity/#comments Tue, 14 May 2019 09:08:01 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24282 Read More]]> There are two separate and not directly related crisis areas in Cameroon. One is a spillover of instability and conflict in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. The second crisis area concerns the Anglophone area of Cameroon to the south and west on the frontier with Nigeria. This armed conflict depends on the ability of Cameroonese to find compromise forms of government, perhaps in a con-federal structure.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Rene Wadlow

On 8 May 2019, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, after a 3-day mission to the Cameroon, welcomed the Cameroon government’s willingness to cooperate over finding workable solutions to what she called “major human rights and humanitarian crises” caused by months of serious unrest and violence across the southwest and north of the country.  She said “I believe that there is a clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity to arrest the crises that have led to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people as well as the killings and brutal human rights violations and abuses… It will take significant actions on the part of the Government and substantial and sustained support from the international community.”

There are two separate and not directly related crisis areas in Cameroon. One is a spillover of instability and conflict in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. Solutions will depend largely on what can be done in Nigeria concerning the Boko Haram issue and in the Central African Republic in creating a stable and inclusive government.  The second crisis area concerns the Anglophone area of Cameroon to the south and west on the frontier with Nigeria. This armed conflict depends on the ability of Cameroonese to find compromise forms of government, perhaps in a con-federal structure.

The Anglophone crisis has its making in the 1919 League of Nations Mandate period.  The German colony of Cameroon was divided under a League of Nations Mandate.  The largest and most populated part of the country was under a French mandate – France having the neighboring  colonies of Gabon, Congo and Oubangui-Chari, today the Central African Republic.   England ruled Nigeria and added a part of Cameroon as a mandate area until 1960 when the Cameroon became independent.  The British mandated area voted in a referendum to join with the rest of Cameroon but with a promise of administrative and cultural autonomy.  For roughly the first 20 years this administrative structure worked more or less well.  Overall development of the country was slow and often stagnant, but the Anglophone area did not feel more marginalized than any other part of the country.

In 1982, the current President Paul Biya was elected for the first time and has been constantly re-elected since, the last time in October 2018.  Biya, an ethnic Fang from the area on the frontier with Gabon has carried out a centralizing administrative policy under the slogan of “national unity”.  Taking over a key element of the French constitution, he has stressed that Cameroon is “one and indivisible”.  In practice, this has meant the increased power of the French-speakers within the administration and a growing sense of marginalization among the English-speaking.  Views in the Anglophone area were divided among those who promoted union with Nigeria, those who promoted the creation of a separate, independent State, and those who wanted to stay within the Cameroon but with greater autonomy, respect for cultural differences under some form of federal or con-federal structure.

The conflict came to a head in October 2016 when the Anglophone community felt that they were being flooded in their schools and law court jobs by French-speaking professionals.  Led by  the teachers and lawyers unions, there were strikes, boycotts of schools and courts, “dead village days” when all activity stopped.  As of October 2016, there started to be organized local armed militias and smaller armed groups.  There started to be attacks on persons holding opposed views as to the future of the area.

One year later, in October 2017, wide-spread violence broke out and has continued to grow.  Military and police have been attacked who in return burned villages and killed people.  Many people left their homes for safer areas, some to Nigeria, others to elsewhere in Cameroon.

Those wishing the creation of a separate State have declared “independence” with the State taking the name of Ambazonia whose President is Julius Ayak Tabe.  The number of militias has grown.  There are at least 10 separatist groups.  It is impossible from outside to evaluate their membership, relative strength and policy demands.

There have been calls for moderation and offers of mediation by the Roman Catholic Bishops of Cameroon and by the African Union as well as by the United Kingdom and the USA.  President Biya has stated since 2016 that he is willing to engage in “constructive dialogue” but that he  was unwilling to talk to anyone who questions the “one and indivisible” nature of the State.  Thus there is no dialogue, constructive or otherwise, at the moment.

The “clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity ” seen by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights rests with those called “federalists” who propose a federal structure for the country somewhat along the Nigerian model.  The “federalists” are not armed, and it is impossible to know their strength.  Many people are afraid to speak out for fear of bing attacked.  As it is, there are many attacks to hold people for ransom.  Young women are taken as “sex slaves”.  Arms and money are coming in from Cameroonese living in Nigeria, although the Nigerian Government is not encouraging the separatist movement, at least not publicly. It seems that drugs are widely used among those fighting.

All this makes discussion on the administrative structure of the State difficult.  In practice, there is the long-lasting issue of how to move fast when there is a window of opportunity.  The Foreign Ministries of Governments are equipped to move fast and usually have lines of communication to the intelligence services and the military.  The Foreign Ministry usually also has contacts to “think tanks” and university research departments in its country. The problem is that for an issue such as the internal administrative structure of the Cameroon, most Foreign Ministries will turn a blind eye, having other problems on their mind.

The United Nations system has the intellectual resources for such an issue but dispersed.  There are people at UNESCO who follow educational policy and who may have followed the teachers’ strikes in 2016 which were an early sign of trouble.  The same holds true  for the ILO who may have been informed of the teachers’ trade union strike. There are people at FAO who follow agricultural development and who may have studied the relative agricultural development among French and English-speaking zones of the country.  There is, however, a difficulty for the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to draw on this knowledge in the U.N. system dispersed among Geneva, Paris, and Rome.

The Vatican may be kept well informed as the Roman Catholic Bishops have called for mediation.  However a good deal of the leadership in the Cameroon are Protestants and may not look kindly on Catholic leadership on the issue.

Thus, we need to look at non-governmental organization leadership for action on constitutional change in the country. There are a number of problems however.  One is a question of “legitimacy” – an international NGO with expertise may have no local member, and local NGOs may have external links, but these are not specialists on constitutional questions. Thus, while the Protestant churches in the Cameroon are members of the World Council of Churches, the World Council is not focused on governmental constitutional issues.

Expertise on the Cameroon is usually found in university departments but which have no direct links to NGOs.  Moreover, the university-based expertise on the Cameroon is mostly found in France but that is largely focused on the French-speaking part of the country.  The specialized knowledge on the English-speaking part of the Cameroon is mostly in the Nigerian universities and is relatively rare. How to pull together non-governmental capacity is even more difficult than from within the U.N. system.

However, as the High Commissioner stated, the time that the window is open may be short and needs to be acted upon quickly. The same issue holds true for other areas as well.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens.

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Netanyahu’s defunct strategy to keep Hamas at bay http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/netanyahus-defunct-strategy-to-keep-hamas-at-bay/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/netanyahus-defunct-strategy-to-keep-hamas-at-bay/#respond Mon, 13 May 2019 16:11:25 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24279 Read More]]> There are many cynics who believe that peace between Israel and Hamas is nothing but an illusion. On the contrary, anyone who maintains that the current situation is sustainable is misguided, as they ignore both the turmoil and the bloodshed over the past 12 years, and the reality on the ground that cannot be changed.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Netanyahu has served as prime minister for the past 11 years, coinciding with Hamas’ rule over Gaza ever since it usurped power in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority after a brief violent confrontation between the two sides. During this period, Netanyahu has deliberately perpetuated the conflict with Hamas as a means by which to promote his sinister political agenda. At no point has he contemplated finding a mutually acceptable solution that could end the hostilities and gradually lead to peaceful coexistence. Instead, he has portrayed Hamas as an irredeemable foe committed to Israel’s destruction, insisting there is nothing that Israel can do other than maintain the status quo and handle Hamas with force.

The recent flareup between the two sides is just another violent episode in a continuing bloody conflict, including three wars that killed thousands of Palestinians and scores of Israelis, not to speak of the massive destruction inflicted on Gaza and the social and economic dislocation that the Israelis endured.

Netanyahu often uses disproportionate force to ‘teach Hamas a lesson’. He knows, however, that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is of such magnitude that it is impossible for Hamas and the public to accept, as in the past, incremental and temporary relief while the blockade remains in place and hopelessness and despair continue to reign. Predictably, the vicious cycle of violence continues, and managing rather than solving the conflict has been Netanyahu’s strategy all along.

Netanyahu is resisting calls from his own party, as well as from some of the opposition members, to invade Gaza and decapitate Hamas’ leadership—as Energy Minister and Security Cabinet member Yuval Steinitz described it to Army Radio on Monday, “to get rid of Hamas, we have to conquer Gaza.” He and others foolishly believe that such a drastic move would guarantee calm and lead to a peaceful transition from Hamas to the PA, which is nothing short of a pipedream. Unless Israel occupies Gaza permanently, a new cadre of Hamas leaders will rise almost overnight who will be even more militant and resilient than the current leadership.

Netanyahu objects to another incursion, fearing that this time Hamas will not agree to any ceasefire that does not permanently provide relief and lead to the lifting of the blockade, which he vehemently opposes.

He also refuses to reoccupy Gaza, as this would force the Israeli government to care for nearly two million Palestinians, which would be nothing short of a nightmare. Not only would such an ill-conceived move require the establishment of a massive security apparatus that will constantly put the lives of soldiers at serious risk, it would also cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually to sustain.

Netanyahu has constantly strived to prevent any reconciliation efforts between the PA and Hamas, which allows him to claim that there is no negotiating partner. And when the PA and Hamas have agreed twice in the past to form a unity government, Netanyahu refused to enter peace talks, insisting that he won’t negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Netanyahu often accommodates the Egyptians in dealing with Hamas, given Egypt’s important role in mediating between Israel and Hamas. Egypt is interested in maintaining calm in Gaza, but does not mind the punishing blow that Israel frequently inflicts on Hamas. As Hamas is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has designated as a terrorist organization, it imposes serious restrictions on the crossing of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt.

Finally, Netanyahu consistently opts to maintain pressure on Hamas by seizing any opportunity to interrupt the flow of goods and building materials to ensure that Hamas remains vulnerable and dependent on Israel’s goodwill. He wants the Palestinians in Gaza to blame Hamas and Islamic Jihad for their plight, hoping to instigate unrest—which has not materialized in any significant way. He skillfully led the majority of Israelis to believe that Hamas is a mortal threat while ignoring the irreversible facts on the ground, which he must face in order to find a permanent solution to the conflict with Hamas.

Gaza is in effect a large open-air prison with nearly two million destitute Palestinians that cannot be wished away. Gaza is territorially separated from the West Bank and is governed by Hamas, which embraces a different ideology than the PA. There is no prospect that the PA and Hamas will reconcile their differences; Hamas will not relinquish power and surrender their arsenals to the PA, which, from its perspective, is tantamount to capitulation. Hamas’ priority is to end the Gazans’ ‘imprisonment’ and it will continue to fight and sacrifice to achieve an end to the blockade.

It should be made clear though that Hamas has been its own worst enemy. Even though it knows Israel is here to stay and no power can dislodge it, it openly calls for Israel’s destruction, which plays directly into the hands of Netanyahu and a majority of Israelis. Hamas’ militancy and buildup of military arsenals provides further proof to many Israelis that Hamas is an irredeemable enemy that deserves what has befallen it.

The validity of this argument, however, does not change the reality that the Palestinians in Gaza are largely living under subhuman conditions. And regardless of Hamas’ bellicose narrative against Israel, it too wants to end the conflict without being humiliated in the process. The solution to the conflict with Hamas is not another incursion into Gaza, or raining destruction from the air, or decapitating Hamas’ leadership, and certainly not re-occupying Gaza. Instead, Israel needs to treat Gaza as a separate entity from the West Bank, as there is hardly anything in common between the two sides.

Hamas has proposed time and again a long ceasefire (Hudna) for 15-20 years, during which Israel would allow Hamas to embark on building infrastructure, housing, hospitals, schools, seaports, and other development projects. This would create thousands of jobs and an improved quality of life that every Palestinian in Gaza yearns for.

These projects should be implemented under the supervision of a special international commission to ensure that all funds raised from donor countries, including the US, the EU, and the oil-rich Arab states, are channeled to these projects. Hamas would certainly develop a vested interest in safeguarding the new development, and would therefore refrain from provoking Israel, and rein in Islamic Jihad to maintain the calm.

Hamas knows that Israel will always be able to wreak havoc on Gaza should it not fully adhere to the terms of the ceasefire. A long-term ceasefire in conjunction with confidence-building measures will certainly change the nature of the bilateral relations between Israel and Hamas, which could gradually lead to lifting the blockade altogether. Furthermore, a resolution to the conflict between Hamas and the PA can and should take place, provided that it will not in any way undermine Israel’s national security, after Israel resolves its separate conflict with the PA.

There are many cynics who believe that peace between Israel and Hamas is nothing but an illusion. On the contrary, anyone who maintains that the current situation is sustainable is misguided, as they ignore both the turmoil and the bloodshed over the past 12 years, and the reality on the ground that cannot be changed.

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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Qatari realignment http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/qatari-realignment/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/qatari-realignment/#comments Thu, 09 May 2019 09:34:09 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24256 Read More]]> The Qatari crisis has turned the idea of a unified GCC, or Persian Gulf region on its head. The myth of Gulf Arab, and Sunni unity, has been shattered, if it ever existed. Regional fragmentation, and lack of consensus are part of the new narrative of the Gulf region. The Qatar crisis, has forced Qatari dynamism, and with no end in sight, will see additional and innovative new elements being brought into existing political, security, and economic structures of the Gulf region.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Christian Kurzydlowski

What was an initial diplomatic spat between Qatar and its geographic neighbours, ballooned into a crisis. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (Hereafter GCC) June 2017 blockade, or boycott, of Qatar marked a turning point in the regional policy of the Persian Gulf The GCC’s actions were initiated at the behest of Saudi Arabia, with Qatar being accused of supporting terrorism, and of its growing ties with Iran. Yet this belies a deeper cauldron of external tension and potential for internal dissent in the region. Regime survival remains a top priority of the absolute monarchs ruling in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar’s refusal to meet the demands placed upon it is as much about national pride as it is survival.   

How is the blockade, or boycott against Qatar playing out? What are the implications for both Qatar and the region? Could this crisis be the forefront of an increased multipronged Qatari global footprint? Perhaps, most poignantly, what is the Qatari endgame and how has the country adapted to the new normal?

It is helpful to look first at the evolution of Qatari regional and foreign policy, starting from 1971. Independence broadened the scope of pre-existing regional and tribal politics into the domain of international politics. Qatar’s ruling family, the Al Thani, moved to Doha from Fuwairat in 1847. The ruling sheikh at the time was Mohammad bin Thani. Mohammad bin Thani’s move was largely a response to Al-Khalifah (the Bahraini ruling family) pressure from neighbouring Bahrain [1]. Successive Al Thani sheikhs however had numerous issues within the Al Thani clan, many of who were defiant of their ruling sheikhs.

A prominent example is the June 1995 deposing of the first emir of independent Qatar, Khalifah ibn Hamad Al Thani, by his son, Hamad. Emir Hamad was reportedly unhappy with his father’s conservative approach to developing the nation, and was supported by younger Al Thani members as well as the US, due to his stated intention of liberalizing Qatari society and politics.[2]

Emir Hamad’s coup and the increasing reliance on American support can be seen as a turning point in both American foreign policy, and Qatari regional, and foreign policy. Implicit American backing for Qatar can be seen as the best guarantor of the nation’s independence, and perhaps of continued Al Thani rule.   This is becoming increasingly poignant in light of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud’s (hereafter MBS) assertive policies to exercise regional leadership.

The current crisis permutated from proxy wars (Libya, Syria, and Yemen) from 2011. This was an attempt by Gulf state actors to pursue local allies and influence. This has had a devastating and destabilizing effect on all countries where Gulf funded militias operate. Here the accusation of Qatar funding so-called terrorist groups has some merit. In Syria, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia funded the Jaysh al-Fatel (Army of Conquest). Qatar attempted to pivot accusations of financing terrorism by signing a 2017 agreement with the United States to curtail terrorist financing. Thus undermining one of the key accusations levelled against it. Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resulted in a joint Saudi-Emirati supported military coup in Egypt, accentuating regional cleavages.

Due to most of its traditional trade route across the Persian Gulf being shut down, Qatar has been forced to adapt. Leveraging the $320,000,000,000 assets under management in the sovereign wealth fund of the Qatar Investment Authority, the country is seeking to raise investment in the United States to $45 billion by 2021. To this end, Qatar has undertaken a massive public relations campaign aimed at countering “Saudi propaganda”, which has been helped by the actions of MBS. Mounting criticism of the Saudi Crown Prince, especially over the continuing Saudi engagement in Yemen, and the death of dissident Jamal Khashoggi has polarized much of western opinion against the Saudis. Increased assertion, and aggression, both domestically and externally, has been a hallmark of a Saudi-led regional foreign policy aimed against Islamist and revolutionary movements.  By contrast, this has allowed Qatar to be seen as being friendly to currents within the wider Arab world wanting change.

Qatar’s limitations due to economic sanctions are forcing a scale back of foreign involvement. However the country has used both its financial leverage, as well as liquefied natural gas reserves to increase its own resilience, and attain a positive trade balance. India has become an increasingly important partner for Doha, importing food products.  Iran has opened up its port infrastructure to Qatar. A similar situation exists with Oman, which saw a surge in trade with Qatar, especially as the country depends on Omani ports in light of the blockade. Qatar’s deep financial resource reserves are critical in its political and economic re-alignment. As a result, it should be lauded for its efforts in diversification.

Qatar has skilfully managed to re-align and adapt to the existing reality, but also to create a narrative by which it is seen as the underdog, and a victim of Saudi-led and inspired aggression, therefore eliciting sympathy. The Qatari crisis has turned the idea of a unified GCC, or Persian Gulf region on its head. The myth of Gulf Arab, and Sunni unity, has been shattered, if it ever existed. Regional fragmentation, and lack of consensus are part of the new narrative of the Gulf region. The Qatar crisis, has forced Qatari dynamism, and with no end in sight, will see additional and innovative new elements being brought into existing political, security, and economic structures of the Gulf region.

Christian Kurzydlowski has a PhD in history from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Having previously done a Masters of Arts at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. He is passionate about interpreting current affairs through historical knowledge, to create scenarios for potential future trends. After a decade of globetrotting, he is back in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Footnotes:

  1. David Commins, The Gulf States: A Modern History, (I.B. Tauris, London, 2012), p.105
  2. Ibid. p.283.

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

 


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Weaponizing white terrorism – the boomerang effect on the Balkans http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/weaponizing-white-terrorism-the-boomerang-effect-on-the-balkans/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/weaponizing-white-terrorism-the-boomerang-effect-on-the-balkans/#respond Tue, 07 May 2019 08:32:00 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24260 Read More]]> Attempts by Balkan nationalists to weaponize links of international terrorism with the Bosnian war have had a boomerang effect. The simplifications are the boomerang; and here is why.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Mladen Mrdalj

My shock following the first news of the New Zealand mosque massacre was disrupted upon learning that the white terrorist played a Serbian war song minutes before. I found myself wondering if how I was feeling at that moment was how Muslims feel following an Islamic terrorist act. And there it was. Subtle hints, less subtle hints and direct accusations that Serbian nationalism and Radovan Karadzic (the Bosnian Serb leader rightfully convicted of war crimes against Bosnian Muslims) inspired another white terrorist. This despite the terrorist himself identifying another white terrorist as his only true inspiration, and celebrating many non-Serb historical figures (in)famous for fighting Muslims. Yet, they were quoted, and tweeted, and retweeted, solidifying Balkans nationalist friction into a Manichean struggle of Good vs. Evil. Attempts by Balkan nationalists to weaponize links of international terrorism with the Bosnian war have had a boomerang effect. The simplifications are the boomerang; and here is why.

Commenting on the New Zealand massacre, Asne Seierstad wrote that white terrorists “spread myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts.” The Guardian’s Gary Young, however, identified mainstream media and politicians as legitimizing such a radicalization. However, I think most legitimize it unintentionally. White supremacists distrust mainstream media and politics and thus consume mainstream narratives in a perverted embrace: immigrants and respected political, business, and scientific elites become the enemy. By “othering” immigrants because of their race, language, and/or religion on the one hand, and the elites because of a humiliating sense of political, economic, and intellectual impotence on the other, white radicals embrace whoever is portrayed as a villain.

Why has Serbian nationalism become a perfect villain? The explosion of YouTube and social networks in the mid-2000’s coincided with: the “War on Terror,” the culture war against white male chauvinism, and the international coverage of the Yugoslav war crimes trials. Some Western white males felt under attack for being western, white, and male. The “War on Terror” had sparked Islamophobia, including the American president’s call for a “crusade”. A number of war videos had emerged on YouTube, showing Serbs (white Christian Europeans) mercilessly exterminating Muslims. The media covered the verdicts of international criminal tribunals which found Serbs guilty of war crimes and genocide.

The Serbs have been presented as brutal Islamophobes, remorseless and unflinching: They used UN personnel, including Russians, as human shields against NATO airplanes and even shot some down. The respected American diplomat Herbert Okun reasoned: “Serbs kill without compunction and die without complaint”, invoking an image of terminators akin to the eponymous movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. White supremacists’ perverse embrace of respected mainstream views has finalized dehumanization of Serbs into everything that the alienated, insecure, and thus radicalized, white western male wanted to be – Steve Bannon’s honey-badger who “doesn’t give a s**t”. Appropriately, the Western fans popularized the aforementioned Serbian war song by renaming it to read “Remove Kebab”, echoing a machine user manual. They further appropriated a context-specific war song into a universal Islamophobic song by ignoring the lyrics targeting Catholic Christian Croats (the “Ustasha”). Without such decontextualization, the New Zealand terrorist, himself Australian, could have attacked Catholic Australian neo-Ustasha. Or Ulster Loyalists could have decontextualized it into a solely anti-Catholic song.

Diana Buttu noticed a similar dehumanization of Palestinians: “[They] don’t have any legitimate grievances. It’s all Islamic-driven… [it] turns Palestinians into irrational figures who want only to kill Israelis.” White nationalists dehumanize Israelis by admiring their presumed choice to build an “ethno-nationalist state”. The Western mainstream concedes, more or less openly, by tacitly rejecting the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” as a security necessity, not choice. Similarly, had there been a minimum of fair approach to Yugoslav civil wars, Western mainstream would have recognized all ethnic groups’ rational security necessities, including Serbs’, instead labeling them Islamophobic.

Then, white nationalist adherents of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory (majority becoming a minority) would have been astonished to learn that Serbs did not mind becoming a minority in Yugoslavia. In spite of constituting only 36 percent of population, Serbs advocated replacing communist ethnic veto with a majority rule based on the one-person-one-vote principle. However, democratic Yugoslavia was acceptable to the Bosniak Muslim leaders only if Croats were to stay and secure a non-Serb majority. This strategy backfired and incentivized Croatian secession, pulling Bosniaks out of Yugoslavia and into Serb-Croat (intra-Christian) conflict. To this day, it remains unexplained how a democratic Yugoslavia would have translated into a Serb hegemony.

“The majority of Muslims prefer a European quality of life. We, Serbs, are much closer to our Muslims than to Europe,” said Radovan Karadzic, seeking an alliance with Bosniak Muslims against Christian Croats. For all their reported Islamophobia, Serbs’ attitude toward Bosniak Muslims was eventually not determined by Islam, but by the Bosniak leaders’ strategic calculation to side with Croats and unconstitutionally outvote Bosnian Serbs in a bid to have a unitary Bosnia secede from Yugoslavia, as Bosniak scholar Adis Maksic demonstrates. Despite the share of Serbs in total population of both Yugoslavia and Bosnia being the same, roughly about one-third, Bosniak-Croat rejection of a common Yugoslav state boosted Serb suspicions and, consequentially, security concerns. In the last bid to save peace, Bosnian Serb leaders accepted Bosnia’s secession with the condition that a unitary country be replaced with three ethnically-based entities, each containing a roughly proportional share of the other two ethnic groups.

If white nationalists would have been disheartened that Serbian war against Bosniak Muslims was a feature of the intra-Christian war, they would have been appalled that Serbs sometimes provided military assistance to Bosniak Muslims against Christian Croats and those Muslims who rebelled against the central Muslim government. Ultimately, aggrieved by NATO interventions, Serb nationalists supported Saddam Hussain, Yasser Arafat, Muammar Gadaffi and Bashar Al Assad. A nationalistic song even celebrated 9/11 attack, renaming Osama bin Laden into a “Serb Miladin”.

Not surprisingly, the overlap of ethnic and religious identities in the context of the ultimate struggle for survival radicalized Bosnian war’s participants. While the Catholic Croat leadership boasted of being Antemurale Christianitatis against both Muslim and Orthodox “Easterners”, Serbs increasingly viewed the conflict as the last episode of a perennial war against both the “Turks” and “Ustasha”, and the Bosniak Islamic radicalization surged with the influx of mujahedin and Islamic tendencies in the leadership tamed by the dependence on the United States.   

Portraying religious radicalization, the effect of war, as its cause, misconstrues the conflict as primordial. While initially this imagined irrationality justified Western inaction, confining irrationality to Serbs justified military interventionism. It conveniently explained away the rationalist explanations of war as the optimal choice of actors legitimately distrusting each other. Identifying Srebrenica massacre with the Holocaust decisively divided its participants into genocidaires and victims, equated war crime and war aim, and effectively limited studying war to studying Serbian nationalism. Crossing the limits becomes “revisionism” and “genocide denial”. “Serb Islamophobia” also imposed a moral burden on Bosniaks to destroy the Bosnian Serb entity (Republic of Srpska). It dehumanizes the Serbs by neglecting their efforts to avoid the war and ally with Bosniaks. Some Serbs resort to the “Islamic hypothesis”: dehumanizing Bosniaks by alleging they largely embraced Bosniak Muslim war-time leader Alija Izetbegovic’s controversial Islamic fundamentalism, and taking mujahedin arriving during the war as evidence of pre-war Bosniaks’ Islamization.

In context of globalizing Islamophobia, international terrorist acts boomerang to the Balkans. Serbs weaponize Islamic terrorists’ links to Bosnia to legitimize Republic of Srpska and its bid for independence. Bosniak nationalists weaponize white terrorists’ admiration for Serbs’ image in Western media to delegitimize and, ultimately, abolish Srpska. The narrative about irrational Serb Islamophobia is their ammunition. Ironically, white nationalists use the same ammunition to continue the kind of war against Islam that the Serbs never fought. Serb chauvinism, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing, including destruction of mosques, were driven by an ethno-nationalist secessionist conflict, just like Serb temples were destroyed because they were Serbian, not because they were Christian. Twenty-four years since it received international recognition, the Serb entity in Bosnia now hosts vibrant communities of Bosniak Muslim returnees that vastly outnumber those of Serb returnees to Croat- and Bosniak-dominated territories.

Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid warned against terrorists encouraging radicalization by heightening contradictions and polarization. Simplifications and cherry-picked gory details feed polarization by legitimizing the segregation of all dissenters into the “Other”, judged by its most extreme elements. Moral options are then reduced to either total victory or total defeat, resembling a civil war psychology. Understanding, disaggregation, and negotiation with the “Other” are thus labeled revisionist, immoral, and treasonous. We should deny moral high ground to binary morality in favor of both complicated and humane experience of groups’ reciprocal recognition of security concerns and necessities. That should help isolate cases of legitimate binary morality such as Holocaust from group conflicts driven by legitimate security necessities. Otherwise, all politics is aggression and all war crimes are Holocaust. Perpetuating the deceiving narrative of “Serb Islamophobia” will ultimately destroy either Bosnia or Republic of Srpska or both. However, the reciprocal recognition of Bosnian ethnic groups’ security necessities will transform truce into peace without sacrificing justice.

Mladen Mrdalj is a lecturer at the College of Economics and Administration in Belgrade, where he also serves as a director of International Center for Governance Studies. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Northeastern University and in 2018 he was a visiting researcher at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies (Boston University).

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


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Risk of Israeli-Iranian war still looms high http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/risk-of-israeli-iranian-war-still-looms-high/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/risk-of-israeli-iranian-war-still-looms-high/#comments Mon, 06 May 2019 06:13:36 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24266 Read More]]> There is nothing in the current crises with Iran that cannot be resolved through negotiations. But the continuing threats and counter-threats will gain increasing traction and make the risk of waging a war preferable to the consequences of allowing Iran to continue its destructive behavior.

   Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Accusing Iran of being a rogue country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting extremist groups and terrorism, persistently threatening Israel, and destabilizing the region in its relentless effort to become the dominant power may well all be justified. The question is, what would it take to stop Iran from its destabilizing activities and help make it a constructive member of the international community, and avoid military confrontation with either the US or Israel or both?

The answer is not regime change, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and top American officials advocate, but a diplomatic solution. The EU, led by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – who continue to adhere to the JCPOA – should initiate a behind-the-scenes dialogue and pave the way for US involvement in a negotiating process with Iran to find a peaceful solution and prevent a disastrous military confrontation.

Should the Trump administration remain adamant on regime change, it is more than likely that one of the following scenarios will unfold, which could lead to a catastrophic development.

Bellicose narrative leads to violence: The threats and counterthreats between Iran and Israel could lead to miscalculation, resulting in an unintended outbreak of a catastrophic war that neither side wants nor can win. As it continues to escalate, such narratives also create a public perception both in Israel and Iran that military confrontation may well be inevitable. As a result, both countries would become entrapped by their bellicose narrative against one another, in which any incident perceived to threaten the national security of either side could trigger a devastating military confrontation.

Rhetoric like the statements by a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, declaring on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution that “if they [the United States] attack us, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground”, and Netanyahu’s response that if Iran attempts such an attack, it will fail and “…this would be the last anniversary of the revolution that they celebrate”, should be avoided.

Attacks in Syria spark further conflict: Israel’s continuing attacks on Iranian military installations in Syria, from which Iran has sustained heavy losses, could pressure Iran to retaliate as it will no longer allow itself to be humiliated now that these attacks are in the open. Iran’s tendency to overly exaggerate its military prowess, which it has come to believe in, and Israel’s psychologically rooted fear of existential threats, narrows the space of reasonable discourse.

The problem here is that Israel’s determination not to allow Iran to establish permanent military bases in Syria, and conversely Tehran’s resolve not to cut its losses and leave, shortens the time before an outright military confrontation could occur. These conditions are further aggravated by Trump’s support of Netanyahu’s military campaign against Iran in Syria, bringing Israel and Iran ever closer to the precipice of war.

Effecting regime change in Iran: Trump’s desire to effect regime change – by imposing sanctions to dislocate the Iranian economy and instigate public unrest, while trying to isolate Iran internationally – could create chaotic conditions in the country, but it does not guarantee that regime change will in fact be realized. Unlike the US’ successful attempt in 1953 to topple the then-Mosaddeq government, in today’s Iran the clergy is far more entrenched in every aspect of life.

Although Iranians are suffering and ordinary people take a serious personal risk by demonstrating against the government and demanding change, this public pressure is not enough to unseat the government, as the Trump administration is hoping for. It does, however, push the government to search for new avenues to alleviate the worsening economic conditions.

The mullahs have shown an inordinate capacity to ruthlessly quell any public unrest, and it can count on the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to safeguard the survival of the clergy, because in protecting the mullahs, the Guard protects its own elite position. This mutuality of interests and dependency explains why the clergy allocates a significant portion of Iran’s national budget to the Guard, regardless of the overall economic hardship from which the public suffers.

Waging a premeditated war against Iran: This is the worst option of all, as there is simply no way to predict the ultimate outcome. To suggest, as some Israelis do, that a surgical attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities carried out jointly by the US and Israel will not necessarily evolve into a regional war displays a clear lack of understanding of the Iranian psychological and political disposition. Regardless of cost, Iran will retaliate against US targets and allies in the region, which could plunge the Middle East into a devastating war from which no one will escape unscathed.

Given the fact that no war could obliterate Iran, and Israel’s low threshold for casualties, any Iranian attack on Israel in the course of a war that results in the death of thousands of Israelis while inflicting massive destruction may well force Israel to resort to the use of WMDs. This option becomes even more realistic should Israel conclude with certainty that Iran is posing an imminent existential threat. For this reason, no sane Israeli or American should even contemplate a premeditated war and must stop short of nothing to prevent an accidental one.

The February 2019 Warsaw conference revealed disunity and disagreement between the US and its allies in addressing the Iran problem. Although it was ostensibly convened to address the crises sweeping the Middle East, the focus quickly shifted to Iran, which was the intent of the US in the first place. The Trump administration wanted to rally the international community behind its confrontational policy toward Iran, to which the European countries objected, as was manifested by the low-level delegations they sent to the conference.

For Iran, this display of disunity provided it the opportunity to take full advantage of the Western alliance’s discord and trade with many other countries to compensate for American sanctions. However, the EU must make it clear to Tehran that it cannot count on the discord to last indefinitely. Conversely, Germany, France, and the UK ought to persuade the US that its confrontational approach will not work. Secretary of State Pompeo’s unabashed statement that “you can’t achieve stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran”, a position that Netanyahu echoed the day after, will only heighten the tension and draw them ever closer to a military confrontation.

The EU must initiate behind-the-scenes negotiations with Iran, if it hasn’t already, and along with the US, develop and agree upon a joint cohesive strategic plan to mitigate the conflict with Iran based on the carrot-and-stick approach. The new negotiations should be based on quid pro quo aiming to achieve a comprehensive deal in stages to enhance mutual credibility and build trust.

Every conflicting issue must be placed on the table and a solution to any such issue, for example, an agreement on freezing Iran’s research and development of ballistic missiles, is reciprocated by lifting a specific set of sanctions from which Iran can derive immediate benefit. To be sure, Western powers should offer Iran a path for normalization of relations, removing sanctions, and assurances that the West will not seek regime change.

In return, Iran must stop meddling in the affairs of other states, supporting extremist groups such as Hezbollah, threatening Western allies, and waging proxy wars in Yemen and Syria while undermining their geostrategic interests. Moreover, Iran must provide a full account of its nuclear weapons history and present all information pertaining to its nuclear facilities and equipment, as was uncovered by the archives seized by Israel, along with the technology and materials that it has hidden from the international monitors.

This kind of cooperation and high level of transparency will serve the objective of reaching regional stability from which Iran can benefit greatly, instead of continuing its nefarious activities which invite condemnation, sanctions, and potentially war.

Pierre Vimont, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, observes that “These different challenges all boil down to the issue of a regional security arrangement for the whole region. Highly ambitious indeed, but the response to the current mistrust between Iran and its neighbors can only come from a clear perspective of where this whole region should be heading to ensure a sustainable stability.”

There is nothing in the current crises with Iran that cannot be resolved through negotiations. But the continuing threats and counter-threats will gain increasing traction and make the risk of waging a war preferable to the consequences of allowing Iran to continue its destructive behavior.

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.

This article is a short excerpt from my latest essay, Preventing an Israeli-Iran War, published in the May 2019 issue of American Diplomacy. The full-length essay is available here.

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


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April 2019 review http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/april-2019-review/ http://www.transconflict.com/2019/05/april-2019-review/#respond Thu, 02 May 2019 08:41:25 +0000 http://www.transconflict.com/?p=24251 Read More]]> TransConflict is pleased to present a selection of articles published during April, plus updates from the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

1) Understanding the Easter Sunday attacks – and the risks ahead

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice – At time of writing, 290 people are confirmed to have been killed following a series of blast attacks at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Hundreds more have been injured.[1] The Sri Lanka Campaign condemns the appalling crimes that took place yesterday and stands in solidarity with all those affected. Read on…

2) Libya – will the UN appeal for a halt to the march on Tripoli be heard?

Rene Wadlow – With the administrative-political situation in Libya badly stalemated and a meeting for negotiations to be held 14-16 April unlikely to make progress, on Thursday 4 April 2019, General Khalifa Hafter, one of the key players in the drama decided to start a “March on Tripoli” and to take overall power by force.Read on…

3) The election will obliterate the face of Israel as we know it

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – Unlike any previous right-wing Israeli government, the formation of a new government under Netanyahu may well be the most decisive and consequential for Israel as we know it. This is nothing short of a turning point in Israel’s history, as its reactionary, zealous, messianic, and extreme right-wing leaders choose more territory over the future security and prosperity of Israel, forfeiting its democracy and shattering the centuries-old dream of the Jews to establish an independent, free, secure home and live in peace. Read on…

4) Holding European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland after Brexit

Nikos Skoutaris – It would be an interesting turn of events if the argument of Geoffrey Cox whose aim was to convince the EU to accept UK’s right to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop would lead to enhancing the exercise of the EU citizens’ rights of the local population. Read on…

5) 25 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, trauma healing needs to be at the centre of peace and development efforts

Scott Weber and Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza – Rwanda is obviously not alone in its post-conflict trauma healing experience. Millions of people have more recently been affected by civil war in countries like Syria and Yemen. When the wars abate and reconstruction begins, Rwanda will certainly offer important lessons for these countries as they embark on their own trauma healing and reconciliation efforts. Read on…

6) Extending Brexit – reaching the Larry David moment of the saga

Nikos Skoutaris – For better or for worse, the current political stasis can only be overcome if a consensus is reached over the most existential question that the UK has been facing throughout its history: its relationship with the continent. At this moment in time, another democratic vote (elections or referendum) seems to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition in order for such a consensus to be built. Read on…

7) Another UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice – Been following recent developments on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council but unsure of what it all means? In this explainer, the Sri Lanka Campaign try to answer some of the key questions. Read on…


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