Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts is an initiative that maps ongoing events in conflict hotspots around the world. It covers important issues concerning human right violations, migration, environment, gender, ethnic conflicts and terrorism among others.

Conflict alert is a 2-minute read, to give the reader an understanding of issues at large and perspectives, contributed by young scholars in 300-500 words. Write upsin this section follow a structured approach, initially explaining the event, followed by the issue at large and the scholar’s perspective. It delivers news with a scholarly touch.

For more information, kindly send an email to Prof D. Suba Chandran, at subachandran@gmail.com.

January 2020 | Conflict Alert # 20

Kenya: Al Shabab and a week of killings

December 2019 | Conflict Alert # 19

Citizenship Amendment Bill:2019

November 2019 | Conflict Alert # 18

Lebanon: PM Hariri quits, but protests continue 

November 2019 | Conflict Alert # 17

Human Trafficking across Europe: 39 Vietnamese found dead in a truck in the UK

 

Conflict Alerts # 20, 17 January 2020

Kenya: Al Shabab and a week of killings
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In news

On January 5, Al-Shabab extremists attacked Camp Simba, a key military base used by US counterterror forces in Lamu, Kenya, killing a US military service member and two defence contractors. The Kenyan Defence Forces stated that there was an attempt to breach security at Manda Air Strip but it was intercepted by them.

Two days later, a vehicle belonging to the Medina Bus Company was attacked in the Kotulo area between the towns of Wajir and Mandera which is close to the border of Somalia. At least 10 people, including several police officers, have been killed when gunmen attacked a bus in northeast Kenya. Al Shabab took responsibility for the attacks, stating that it had killed people who were secret security agents and government employees.

Suspected Al-Shabab fighters attacked a primary school in Garissa a county that borders Somalia on January 8. At least four students have been killed by this attack.

Issues at Large 

The Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has used Kenya as a key base for its fighting. The group is an affiliate of Al-Qaeda rose as a reaction to Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, which targeted the Islamic Courts Union’s control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The group has carried out more than 150 violent operations targeting civilians, universities and other places especially Kenya since their intervention in Somalia in 2011. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow Somalia’s government and impose its version of Islamic law in the country. They demanded the withdrawal of troops of the African Union (AU) and other multinational peacekeeping operations in the region that were launched in Somalia in 2007 with the authorization of the United Nations and the backing of the US.

In perspective 

These attacks by Al Shabab mark a prominent escalation of the group’s agenda for their attacks inside Kenya. Their attacks are also a retaliation to the US’s increasing military presence in the country. Although Trump's administration has increased aid and military engagement in Somalia, where al-Shabab have been most active. Several global efforts have been made to defeat Islamist terrorism; however, the group’s activities have not been contained.

Al-Shabab still retains control over large areas of rural Somalia and continues to carry out attacks in the region. The group has claimed responsibility for the Camp attack on Sunday and stated that it was part of its “Jerusalem will never be Judaized” campaign, a reference that has been made before.

These increasing attacks confirm Al-Shabab's influence, despite being removed from the main areas, still has a dominant presence in the cities and towns and is probably increasing again. This calls for immediate and effective measures to be taken by all actors in the region, the Somalian and Kenyan Governments along with international actors like the UN, the US, and the AU.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be contacted at fernandezabigail123@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 19, 15 December 2019

Citizenship Amendment Bill:2019
Sukanya Bali

In news
The new citizenship amendment bill grants Indian citizenship to any non-Muslim minority, from three neighboring countries, (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan) who entered India before December 31, 2014. The bill grants citizenship to people belonging to six religious’ communities- Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian, who fled persecution from Muslim majority countries. The bill categorically avoided Muslims. 


Issues at large
Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on 13 December 2019. Critics of the bill said that the law is discriminatory to Muslims and is against the secular spirit of the constitution. 

Aggrieved people took to the streets in protest against the controversial law. Sections of the population also protested because they believed that granting citizenship to erstwhile refugees/illegal migrants would put pressure on state resources and job opportunities.

Thousands of troops have been deployed, the internet has been shut down, around 21 people have been killed. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Abe, from Japan, was canceled, due to the massive protests in Assam. U. N. Human Right watch has shown its concerns and has stated the Bill as, “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”.


In perspective
Firstly, since the bill denies citizenship based on religious affiliations, it is fundamentally discriminatory and against the basic structure of democratic India's constitution
Secondly, in Assam Citizenship Amendment Bill violates provisions of Assam accords, 1979. It will grant citizenship to many more who have migrated until 2014, and possibly alter the demography of regions. The bill has aroused fear among the indigenous community of becoming a minority in their own state. Fear has gripped people that culture, traditions, and language would be impacted.

Thirdly, states like Kerala and Punjab have already expressed their disapproval towards the bill. As people stage protests in different parts of the country, which may lead to conflict between the central and state governments. 
Fourthly, the law may stoke Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India. 
Beyond domestic politics, the Citizenship Amendment Bill might also have international implications. In essence, as the law is discriminatory towards Muslims, it may affect India's relationship with Islamic countries.  A federal panel in the US is reviewing the case and is planning to impose sanctions on the Home Minister. 
Revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, passing the citizenship amendment bill, are widely said to be part of the greater Hindutva agenda of the right-wing BJP led government in India. Sooner or later, the effects of domestic policies will be felt in the foreign policy of the country. 

Sukanya Bali is a Research Associate with ISSSP. She can be contacted on sukanya9494@gmail.com  

Conflict Alerts # 18, 3 November 2019

Lebanon: PM Hariri quits, but protests continue 
Harini Madhusudan

 

In news

Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, resigned on 29 October 2019, following thirteen days of street protests. The resignation came after the violence between the supporters of two Shia groups attacking the camps of the protesters and blocking the roads in Beirut. Lebanon is facing a financial crisis and is struggling to provide essential services, including electricity and water. Hariri’s resignation is seen as a boost to the protests, that witnessed street brawls instigated by the supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement Party. 

The protesters demand that the government officials step down and replaced with a cabinet of independent experts who can lead Lebanon out of its financial crisis. They opine that Hariri should have resigned long ago, but ‘better late than never.’ They promise to continue their protests until all their demands are met. 

Issues at large

Lebanon is an import-dependent that maintains a pegged exchange rate between the Lebanese Pound and the United States Dollar. In 2019, the GDP per capita has reached its lowest since that of 2008, and the debt-to-GDP ratio has reached its highest since 2008 at 151 percentage. 

There was an increase in the government’s budget deficits and its reliance on using the foreign reserves from its Central Bank to keep the currency peg. The crisis was coupled with the strikes in gas stations, an imposed tax on gasoline, pharmaceuticals and importing of wheat. Additionally, there were wildfires in Lebanon. 

According to the Economist, Lebanon’s current protests has its origins in the sectarian political system post the Taif agreement. 

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has raised concerns over the growing protests in the region and has linked them with the policies of the US and Saudi Arabia.

Elsewhere, many see this as a new round of Arab Spring. 

In perspective

The widespread dissatisfaction against the existing system is culminating in violent protests across various countries. These protests have a common goal to bring down the ‘corrupt’ leaders and regimes. 

These protests could lead to the emergence of new leaders and substantial changes to the existing systems. It may be early to call these protests a new Arab Spring, but they have similarities. The fact that these protests are carefully aligned with the removal of the US troops from Syria and Iran crisis raises many questions on the broader goals of these protests. 

 

Conflict Alerts # 17, 3 November 2019

Human Trafficking across Europe: 39 Vietnamese found dead in a truck in the UK
Sukanya Bali

In news

On 23 October, a truck with 39 dead Vietnamese was seized in the UK. The truck driver and four others were arrested on charges of man slaughtering and human trafficking. The Vietnamese police had arrested two, for smuggling and illegal immigration. In the UK, the Essex police have started proceedings to extradite a man from Ireland. Robinson, who has been alleged to be a part of ‘global ring’ of smugglers, appeared in court in Chelmsford on Monday. 

Issues at large

39 Vietnamese (31 men and eight women) were travelling to the UK in search of better prospects. Earlier, the deceased was thought to be Chinese nationals. Europe has faced similar cases of man slaughtering and human trafficking. Under similar circumstances, in 2017, 58 Chinese, from south China suffocated to death in Dover, and in 2015, 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan died in Austria. There are dozens of smuggling networks that facilitate illegal migration. They charge a fortune for smuggling people into the UK and other European countries.  

The container truck was suspected of moving across Europe back and forth, as indicated by the GPS. On 15 October, the truck crossed over into North Ireland, to the south of Dublin. From Dublin, it crossed to Dover in the UK and then to Calais in France on 16 October. Between 17 to 22 October, the truck moved across various cities. 

British, Chinese and Vietnamese government agencies are working together to investigate the gruesome incident.

In perspective

The incident is a shocker. Most victims are believed to be from Nghe An and Ha Tinh, the poorest provinces in Vietnam. Many flee due to poverty and to support their families, and pay large sums to traffickers to take them to Europe. They end up working for cannabis farms and are subjected to exploitation. Women are forced into sex work.   

Conflict Alerts # 16, 27 October 2019

Bolivian unrest
Nidhi Dalal

In the news

Protests and marches are being held across Bolivia, suspecting fraud in the recently held elections. Due to the allegations of rigging, the counting process was halted for 24 hours. While the incumbent President Evo Morales has rejected all such allegations, the second-placed candidate Carlos Mesa has demanded a second round of voting. Mesa’s demands have found support by the US, Argentina, Columbia, and Brazil. Many Bolivians have taken to the streets, as they reject the election results. They claim to have lost trust in the electoral process and have clashed with the police at several places. Police have used tear gas to control the unrest. Protestors have burned several buildings including electoral offices and there have been reports of civilian deaths over the week. 

 

Issues at large

Polling for the election of the President had closed on Sunday and the results of quick count predicted a second-round vote. The official website had stopped operating for almost 24 hours and when it resumed there was a lead of ten-point percentage in the votes for Evo Morales. Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU had called for re-count to restore faith of the people in the legitimacy of the electoral process. The same requests have been rejected by Morales and he has also ignored any criticisms of election-rigging. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had been called upon to clarify and has reiterated Morales’s claims. Morales has been at the helm of politics as President since 2006 and has been criticized for trying to alter the presidential term limits. Recent allegations of him rigging elections have come in light of his attempts to retain power as President.

 

In perspective

People’s trust in the democratic electoral process has dwindled after the discrepancies in the process. Not only has the process of election been questioned, but also the credibility of the institutions are under Threat. Opposition and second-placed candidate Mesa has called for protesting until a second round of voting is held. The unrest will continue to affect the country until people's trust in the institutions and the government are restored.

Nidhi Dalal is a Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at nidhidalal93@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 15, 27 October 2019

Hundreds protest in Haiti
Nidhi Dalal

In the news

Protests in Haiti have been going on in the country for many weeks, with people coming out on streets relentlessly. President Jovenel Moïse has been accused of corruption and is being demanded to step down. Anti-government protestors have clashed with the police authorities and the protests have taken a violent turn in the past few days. People started setting up barricades and stone pelting at the police, which in turn coerced the police to respond with tear gas and pellet guns. The clashes have left about twenty civilians dead. Shops, schools, businesses have remained shut, bringing the country to a halt. A Haitian senator had opened fire on the protestors gathered around the Parliament building, injuring a journalist in the process. And in a rare occurrence, Catholic leaders have taken to streets calling for a solution to the crisis that has gripped Haiti. Humanitarian conditions have taken a turn for the worst with access to medical facilities, schools, groceries, and ATMs affected since the past two weeks. People are seen stocking-up essentials, estimating that the current status might prolong for a long time to come. Moïse has been adamant on his stance and has refused to step down from his position.

 

Issues at large

People in the country have been affected by intense corruption and economic slowdown in the past few years. Inflation has been rampant and there is no end in sight. People took to protesting since February 2019 after Moïse’s ascent to power and have expressed disappointment over administrative failures. There have been several protests earlier, but this is by far the longest one, lasting for more than six weeks. People are demanding a more inclusive and just society with the government being accessible to people across the society. The security situation in the country had also declined after the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeepers. Despite being the first black republic country, the democratic institutions are failing resplendently. Elections are corrupt, political situation is unstable, representatives are opportunist and the economy is being ignored by the government. This has led to frustration and citizens are becoming more rebellious. The democratic process has been under attack by breakdown of social order and recurring military coups.

 

In perspective

The unrest in the country will not die until there is a solution to the political dysfunction. The anti-government protests will continue till the time there is some kind of agreement between the government and the people. Also, the government is required to take proactive steps to close the divide between political elites and the citizens. Such steps will also help in addressing the cause of widespread social dissatisfaction. If the present condition persists, there are indications that the country might face a serious humanitarian crisis. The government will have to provide long-lasting solutions for the crisis being faced by the educational, social, medical and economic sectors that affect the majority of the Haitian population.

Nidhi Dalal is a Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at nidhidalal93@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 14, 27 October 2019

Protests rock Chile
Nidhi Dalal

 

In the news

A state of emergency has been declared in Chile and the country is facing the worst unrest in almost thirty years now. The country has been under the grip of violent protests and curfew under martial laws has been imposed in some parts of the country. Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera has issued an apology and has promised reforms in the economic condition of the country. He released a statement promising to tackle issues related to prices of medicines and electricity, pension raises and medical insurances. Fifteen civilians have been killed so far in clashes that turned violent. Most of the deaths happened during the loot and burning in Santiago city. In six days of protests, the police have made more than two thousand arrests. Considering the violence and number of causalities, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has decided to send a team to Chile to investigate human rights abuses against the demonstrators. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate charges of homicide and sexual abuse by the police in thirteen districts of Santiago.

 

Issues at large

Chile has been facing the worst unrest it has ever seen since the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The movement started as a students’ protest against the hike in subway fares. Since then, the protests have engulfed most of the country with people joining the crowd to express their dissatisfaction. The protests were initiated by high school students, who remain the drivers of most of the social movements in Chile.

Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in the South American continent but also has the largest divide between the rich and the poor. The hike in subway fares was just an opening of a deeply festered wound of economic inequality in the country. Protestors have targeted markets, petrol pumps, and metro turnstiles, so on and so forth, and have more recently resorted to looting and burning them. The situation in the country has attracted global attention after a state of emergency was imposed. The fifteen-day state of emergency has seen the deployment of military and police on the streets which the people felt are used to repress and silence their voices. Cases have been reported against extreme police brutality. Protesters have not given up despite Pinera promising reform package as they feel he made statements without understanding the core of the problem.

 

In perspective

Chile joins the category of countries protesting for more transparent and democratic governance, and economic reforms to improve the living conditions. Pinera’s plans and proposals for reformation in the economic slowdown have been rejected by the protestors. People want a more proactive role of the government in managing the divide that has ruptured open between the rich and the poor. The government’s attitude is doing very less to quell the unrest and a section of the protestors have demanded the president’s resignation. Even though the resignation seems unlikely at this juncture, the government will have to roll out better social policies. It will have to make decision making more accessible to people if it aims to keep order and discipline in the country.

Nidhi Dalal is a Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at nidhidalal93@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 13, 20 October 2019

Hong Kong Violence: A divide within
Harini Madhusudan

 

What happened? 

A homemade bomb was detonated for the first time during the months of protests. There are clear indications of an escalation of the rift between the protesters and the police at the street level. Suryanto Chin-Chiu, a superintendent of the Hong Kong police's explosives disposal unit, said at a news conference, that the device was hidden in a bush and was triggered using a mobile phone near Mong Kok district of Kowloon. 

A group of moderates have been voicing out that the violent turn of events may jeopardize the support to the pro-democracy movement, both at home and overseas. The pro-democracy legislators repeatedly hackled Carrie Lam for two consecutive days, after which the Legislative Council meeting was adjourned. Lam's policy speech at the Council, her chance at winning back the hearts of the people after four months of protests, became a point of criticism. For the detractors, it is offering little as a substantive political solution. 

What is the background?

The protests in Hong Kong have entered the fourth month, and there seems to be no end in sight for a solution or an end to it. There is a clear divide within in using violence as a means. There is fear among the moderates that the government in Hong Kong may use the violence as an excuse to postpone the local elections that are scheduled in November. 

At the Legislative Council meeting, Carrie Lam focused on the economic aspects. She promised increased housing and land supply; un-attractive offer in a city that has the least affordable property markets. When it came to political concessions and the demands by the protesters, she said, progress can be made only when the protests end. Both Cam and Beijing have held that Hong Kong's freedoms are being protected and have dismissed the demands of the protesters.

What does it mean?

The first sign of frustrations among the protesters, against their own and visibility of the divide among the protesters, is a sign that the protests are entering an important phase. Several reports and surveys show that youngsters who are willing to fight on the streets and willing to face the bullets at the frontline do not have their family support. The protesters seem to have disagreements on the level of violence that needs to be used. The protests could fall apart, If Beijing and Lam were to wait it out a few more weeks. 

However, the failure of Carrie Lam's government to grab the attention of their citizens during the speech at the Legislative Council is an indication that none of them knows what to do at this point. 

Harini Madhusudan is currently pursuing Ph.D. at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at harinimadhusudan@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 12, 20 October 2019

Spain: The trouble in Catalonia
Rashmi Ramesh

 

In the news

Following a Court verdict on the separatists, Catalonia has been witnessing widespread violence during this week. Protest marches in support of Catalonia's independence have turned violent, leading to clashes. There were massive clashes and stone-pelting at Plaça Urquinaona, forcing the police to fire rubber bullets, shell teargas and use water cannons. 

Though the Catalan President and the Parliament support the cause, they condemned the violence and urged the protestors to restrain from vandalism. 

Issues at large

The call for independence in Catalonia within Spain has been brewing during recent years. They claim an independent history, language, and culture that is distinct from the Spanish. There have been sporadic protests on the taxation system, especially the distribution of financial resources, where Catalonia is "made" to pay for the development of more impoverished regions of Spain. 

There have been annual rallies reinforcing the cause of independence in Barcelona. 2017 was a tipping point when the Catalan Parliament passed a resolution for independence. 

The present round of violence is related to detentions made during 2017 protests. Nine separatist leaders who were arrested then, have been sentenced to prison by the Spanish Supreme Court. 

In perspective

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has stated that, though Spain provides the right to dissent and express differing perspectives, violence is unacceptable. The priority for the government now is to maintain its territorial integrity and put an end to the violence. There are indications that the government would activate Article 155 of the Constitution that would allow it to take direct control of Catalonia by suspending the regional government. 

In the wake of upcoming elections, the right-wing opposition is pressurizing the government for more stringent actions against separatism. There have been incidents of right-wing supporters clashing with the pro-independence Catalans in Barcelona. 

There are similarities between the two movements in Catalonia and Hong Kong relating to techniques, slogans, the use of social media, and the airport blockade. Will the Catalonian dissent be able to sustain like the Hong Kong protests, or will it bite the dust, as it did in 2017? 

Rashmi Ramesh is currently pursuing PhD at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at rashmiramesh5@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 11, 20 October 2019

Turkey's Offensive in Syria
Nidhi Dalal

In the news

This week, Turkey agreed to halt its offensive for five days in northern Syria, following the meeting between the US Vice President Mike Pence and President Erdogan. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters would pull back from the 20-mile' safe zone'. 

Erdogan will meet the Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. This is important after the Russian troops were invited by the SDF to defend against the Turkish forces. The SDF, in a reversal, has also requested the Syrian forces to help them. 

Issues at large

Turkey has launched an offensive against the Kurds dominated region in Syria. The latter was an essential link in the SDF-led coalition forces and an important ally of the US in their war against the ISIS. They are spread across Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. 

Recently, Trump made a sudden announcement to pull out the US troops from Syria. Immediately Turkey has launched an offensive across the Turkey-Syria border, targeting the Kurdish forces in Syria. Fighter jets and tanks were used to bombard in the name operations against terrorists. Turkey's objective is to create a safe zone along the Syrian border.

Turkey has been facing Kurd separatism within its territory for long. There were a series of terrorist attacks by the Kurd separatists in the cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Turkey believes that the Kurds within its territory have cross-border linkages with Syria. Turkey has nearly 17 provinces with 20 million Kurdish inhabitants. Turkey also aims to create a 'safe zone' in the region so as to concentrate Kurdish opposition in the least amount of territory, and mostly out of its sovereign boundaries. 

Europe and the US have condemned the offensive launched by the US.

In perspective

Turkey's offensive is likely to destabilize the region and negate the successes against the ISIS during recent years. According to reports, the ISIS fighters who were kept in captive escaped, due to Turkey's bombing. The ISIS could bounce back.

Second, Russia will become the biggest benefactor of Turkey's offensive. With the US pulling out, it provides a space for Moscow to shape the region to suit its interests. However, it would not be a comfortable balance for Russia; it has to work with both Syria and Turkey, and in the process also achieve its objectives.

Third, Trump's sudden pullout is bound to impinge on the US credibility in the region. The US could have phased out its withdrawal with a definite time table. 

Finally, the Kurdish question in the region is likely to return and gain greater salience. With their presence across three countries – Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish question is likely to pose a bigger challenge to this region.

Nidhi Dalal is a Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at nidhidalal93@gmail.com

 

Conflict Alerts # 10, 31 August 2019

Myanmar: The Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh say no to repatriation
Abigail Miriam Fernandez 

In the news

After reaching a bilateral agreement, Bangladesh and Myanmar were to start repatriating Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar's Rakhine state on 22 August 2019. However, the Cox Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh strongly resisted this move with not even a single one coming to board the buses and trucks that were lined up to take them across the border. Many refugees fled and went into hiding because of the fear that they would be forced to go back. 

This effort is the second time in less than a year that the government plans has failed when it comes to the repatriation of these refugees.

Abul Kalam, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner for Bangladesh stated that Myanmar had cleared 3450 people to return. He also further stated that they could return up to 300 people per day with all infrastructure and logistics in place to ensure safe repreparation. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) assisting Dhaka in the return process assessed the readiness of those on the list to go back, UNHCR's Senior Regional Public Information Officer Caroline Gluck stated that the refugees had the right to decide without any pressure. The Agency went on to further state that not a single Rohingya refugee interviewed showed a willingness to repatriate any time soon and they when on to reiterated their demand for citizenship before repatriation. 

 

Issues at large

The issue dates back to 25 August 2017, when Rohingya militants attacked police posts causing harm and death to several officers. This led to the authorities burning down villages, civilian attacks and many other atrocities. The United Nations stated that it was a "textbook example" of ethnic cleansing and the Rohingyas' call it a "Genocide Remembrance Day". This caused about 750000 to flee their native state and move into parts of Bangladesh and India. 

Bangladesh earlier this year said that it could no longer accept any more refugees as it was becoming a burden for them. In January 2018, a repatriation deal was signed, however, it failed to materialize because once again the Myanmar government has denied the demands if the Rohingyas' which is their demand for integrated citizenships as well as the return of lands, and for military leaders to be held accountable for abuses. Myanmar has offered to allow the Rohingya, freedom of movement if they accept a national ID card called the Rohingya National Verification Cards (NVCs), which Rohingya believe would mean accepting their status as illegal immigrants. 

Adding to the unstable conditions is ongoing fighting between Rakhine rebels, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military and the suspicion between Dhaka and Naypyidaw.

 

In perspective

The repatriation process has been unsuccessful solely because of Myanmar's failure to reach an agreement with the refugees themselves, there have been no evident changes that the government of Myanmar has taken to convince the people to come back to their state. Unless a conducive environment is created where the Rohingyas have their fundamental rights and basic needs guaranteed any repatriation process would remain unsuccessful. Thus, there needs to be adequate measure by Myanmar to see that the demands of the refugees are met.

The international community and institutions that have been a part of this crisis should continue to exert pressure on Myanmar to see that the UN and aid workers, as well as representatives of the Rohingya refugees, are allowed to go to Rakhine and examine the issue so that measure could be taken to solve the problem. Countries like China and Bangladesh that have an impact on Myanmar should continue to ensure that Myanmar is doing everything in their capacity to ensure safe repatriation. However, at the same time precaution should be taken for big power involvement could do more harm than good. 

However, when looking at the situation and the stances that are held presently there seems to be an uncertainty about whether if the Rohingyas will return to a changed Myanmar, being left without any promising measure the stateless community may only face graver problems.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is pursuing post-graduation in Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be reached at fernandezabigail123@gmail.

Conflict Alerts # 9, 24 August 2019

Africa to be Polio Free
Sukanya Bali

In the news

In a WHO ministerial meeting on Wednesday, the regional director on Africa said that Nigeria will soon be certified as wild-polio-free. The region has completed its 3 years free from endemic polio and if no-cases are further registered in the next 6 months in Nigeria, the entire African continent will become free from polio virus.  

Issues at large

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria were the last countries identified under the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, out of which Nigeria is on the verge of being free from polio virus.

The continent is prone to outbreaks, which is a result of ill-effects of governance and lack of coordination among organisations in providing proper health care facilities for the people. The reported cases of endemic diseases could be substantially less than the actual, as it may affect the nation's travel, tourism, and foreign investments.

In 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of the world’s polio cases. The lack of immunization programs, awareness camps and investment in public health care facilities has created a vacuum between government and people. However, in the last 3 years, restoring people’s trust in medical facilities has been a major concern and outreach strategy for health care services.

In perspective

The certification would guarantee, Africa to be wild-polio-virus free. It would join four of the other WHO regions- Europe, America, Western-Pacific and South East Asia, that are polio-free. The significant milestone set by the African government in achieving a polio-free nation should further encourage them to fight the prevailing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

African countries should focus on enriching facilities of public-health-emergency and surveillance to track down the virus’ spreading in the region. Heavy investments and vigilante governance, is necessary to fight against diseases around the world. Social stigma, lack of awareness and poor governance, often hinder states from prospering in its public health.

In the several months ahead, Africa should keep a strict check on its population to be officially labeled as a polio-free region but greater is the responsibility of the government to prevent a relapse of wild polio.

Sukanya Bali is a Research Consultant at International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies. She can be reached at sukanya9494@gmail.com

Conflict Alerts # 8, 24 August 2019

Sudan: Political Transition and the challenges to Peace
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

Sudan has witnessed several shifts that would enable the country to move towards civilian rule this week. It began with a power-sharing deal that was reached on 17 August 2019 between Sudan’s military and civilian leaders that is, between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Freedom and Change (FFC) which is an alliance of protesters and opposition parties.

The agreement signed gave way for a transitional government to be led by Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, who would take power on the first of September. The new administration is to also replaces the military leadership that ousted Bashir in April and is expected to govern for just over three years until elections can be held. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is to lead the governing council for the first 21 months.

On 22 August 2019, Abdalla Hamdok was chosen by the protest movement to be the Prime Minister and he took the oath late that afternoon. He has 21 days to form a 20-member cabinet excluding the interior minister and defence minister who would be picked by the soldiers that are on the sovereign council. Along with this, the sovereign council was inaugurated, this council would comprise of six civilians and five soldiers to rule Sudan for a period of three years until elections can be held. Burhan was sworn in as the council’s chairman and he would lead the council for a period of 21 months followed by the appointment of a civilian ruler who would be appointed by the people will take over the next 18 months. Nine other members of the council also took their oath of office. The sovereign council is to oversee the formation of the government.

Issue at large

The crisis in Sudan can be traced back to December 2018 when then-President Bashir’s government-imposed austerity measures, this caused large scale demonstrations and it resulted in the removal of Mr Bashir who was in power for 30 years by the military after sit-ins outside the defence ministry. The demonstrates, however, went on to demand that the power be quickly transferred to the civilians. General Burhan and a few other generals formed a council however they failed to bring stability to Sudan which was now facing protests that were violent and sometimes deadly.

Sudan’s military council and the pro-democracy council reached a new power-sharing agreement on 5 July 2019, with help from the African Union (AU) and Ethiopia who played roles of mediators. Here both sides agreed to establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that they would rule on rotation for a period of three years and three months.

On 17 July 2019 Sudan’s pro-democracy movement and the ruling military council signed the power-sharing agreement. The ceremony was held in the capital, Khartoum. This marked the end of protests and negotiations that have been going on for more than three months. The deal also promises an investigation into all the violence that has taken place.

On 4 August 2019, the military and protesters went on to sign a constitutional declaration which gave way for the formation of the transitional government.

In perspective

What lies ahead for Sudan are many challenges, the country continues to witness unrest in the regions of Darfur, Kordofan and the Blue Nile, where many people are still displaced by the conflict, looking into these matters will be the priority of the transitional government. The other challenge is the fragile economy of Sudan which is on the verge of collapsing, the transitional government will need to take measure to build up the economy of Sudan to see some positive change in the country. Thus, it would take time for the council to clear the old system that Sudan is running on now, the people have high expectations from the council and it would be challenging for them to deliver results in such a situation.

Apart from these challenges, there is a need to remove all those who were loyal to Bashir in the armed forces, these people have caused unease among the people. Further, the security sector would have to undergo major changes.

The other question is to do with the doubt of whether the military will keep up to its part of the deal, although the protests have gone on to state that they would continue to mobilize street power to pressurise the military to uphold its commitment this remains uncertain.

Although there are a lot of challenges that are posed in front of the new council the measures taken and events leading up to now have put Sudan on the road headed for stability, thus it is in the hand of the leadership and the people of Sudan to cooperate to achieve this goal.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is pursuing post-graduation in Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be reached at fernandezabigail123@gmail.

Conflict Alerts # 7, 24 August 2019

Myanmar: Teenage girls traded as brides to China
Raakhavee Ramesh

 In the news

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, an outsized number of women and teenage girls from the northern Shan and Kachin states of Myanmar are being trafficked as brides to the families in China since the Chinese and Myanmar Government failed. In the internally displaced people's camps of the Kachin state, agonies of the fortunate victims who escaped from China after years of being a sex slave and experiencing domestic violence can be witnessed.

Issues at large

The history of the trafficked victims speaks volumes about the pathetic condition of the women and teenage girls in Kachin and northern Shan states. The decade's prolonged and heightened ongoing ethnic conflict had created financial distress for the ethnic Kachin families and forced them to flee to china for work. These people, while in search of a better livelihood, get carried away by the brokers and the relative's false promises and eventually get trafficked as brides to the Chinese men. On the Chinese side, the practice of "one-child policy" from 1979 to 2015 and gender discriminating abortions had created a severe gender imbalance resulting in the state of certainly no women for marriage and maternity. Subsequently, to bridge the gap, they target low-income families and promise them the high probability of attaining good jobs in China. Since Shan and Kachin states have porous borders with China coupled with inactive state of the border police and lack of stringent laws, these areas are highly prone to trafficking.

In perspective

With China's demographic problem of ageing population unsolved and imbalance in the sex ratio combined with no strict laws in the borders questions the safety of thousands of women in Myanmar who are trafficked in large numbers.

Though the Kachin women's association mostly involve in rescuing the victims, there is still not sufficient international attention shown. Given that the ethnic groups are the collateral damage of the armed conflict, it results in the displacement of natives and pushes them to the state of economic desperation. Also, the Myanmar government's inability to overthrow Chinese dominance and act against them is highly criticized. Trafficking of girls is a type and result of discrimination which can be prevented by enforcing and regulating harsh laws, thereby protecting the rights of women and children. By and large, Myanmar government can support the victims by being inclusive, thus providing medical and legal assistance to the uplift the plight of the displaced people and victims.

Raakhavee Ramesh is pursuing post-graduation in Political Science from Madras Christian College, Chennai. She can be reached at raakhaveeramesh@gmail.com.

Conflict Alerts # 6, 17 August 2019

Moscow Protests: Thousands rally in Moscow
Parikshith Pradeep

In the news

Thousands of Muscovites have taken to streets in support of the protest demanding fair representation in the Duma city elections. This comes in the wake of the election machinery disqualifying independent and candidates from opposition parties from contesting the September 8th Duma Municipal elections. 

Authorities have detained a large chunk of opposition activists, students and pro-democracy supporters. Lyubov Sobol-a leading activist on hunger strike was detained amid protests. In what is seen as a radical move, hundreds and thousands of peaceful protesters have been arrested since late July. Reports and imagery also indicate the exercise of violence by police forces during the protests.

Issues at large

Apart from being a movement for electoral rights, the protests indicate people’s pulse in viewing Russia’s polity. Recent march by 50,000 protesters, as estimated by White Counter-an NGO that monitors crowds, is voluminous enough to legitimize the popular discontent. This also goes on to show civilian willingness to attain rational narratives in matters of governance. 

Parallel protests in St. Petersburg strongly points to civilian dissent. For protesters, political freedom has become a necessity for which they have started materializing the grand plan. Unruly methods of suppression, the disappearance of political opponents and violence against journalists have raised human security concerns.

Last year’s pension reforms gathered large crowds and widespread protests. This clearly shows the rocketing of social, economic and cultural protests into that of a political one. Minute irritants have started ballooning into more significant problems.

In perspective

Any lead up to the reduction of power is unlikely to favour Kremlin’s needs. While Putin looks to retain his political footprint in Moscow, legislative losses, in the long run, could potentially lead to leadership changes.

A case to relate to the growing protests in Moscow could be its slow growth rates and the problem of stagnant wages. Last year’s pension reforms met with a similar response by protesters. The influence of social media and expression of protests through mediums such as music festivals have given a new face to dissent. 

Surprisingly, protests have been peaceful and have often followed defined procedures. As reported, Moscow’s response to protests has not been humane. Similarly, the Chinese approach to handling negotiations and protests with the general public is unsatisfactory as witnessed in Hong Kong. This calls for devising an international system for governments to address mass conflicts and protests. 
Retaining political hold through means non-favourable to Russia’s population could very well erode the legitimacy of Putin. Russia must take a cue from the new narratives of protest to reform its outlook in managing affairs of the state.

Conflict Alerts # 5, 17 August 2019

Hong Kong: Protests in Hong Kong paralyses air traffic
Sukanya Bali

In the news

Hong Kong’s airport services were disrupted when over 1000 pro-democracy protesters marched at one of the world’s busiest airports, on Monday. The protestors arrived at the airport, to showcase the issues to a larger audience and also to protest against police violence in Hong-Kong. 

China deployed its paramilitary forces and tanks in Shenzhen city, 30 km away from Hong-Kong on Tuesday. The build-up of the Chinese military on Hong-Kong’s borders has raised people’s concern about their security and safety.

Issues at large

A protest without-a-leader has engaged people of Hong-Kong together against the government, which resulted in the arrest of more than 600 people, has entered to its 10th straight weekend. 

The protests began as an opposition to the Extradition Bill, which gives mainland China the authority to extradite Hong-Kong citizens, has drawn the attention of the global community. This is said to be the biggest challenge; China is facing since the 1997 handover. 
The protest has entered a new phase where protestors demand the complete withdrawal of the Bill, amnesty for all arrested and the resignation of the Chief executive over police brutality on protestors.

In perspective

Hong-Kong protests have divided the region into two parts, protestors and authorities. The protest escalated, be it flash mob or sit-in demonstrations, to preserve its autonomy, security and stability against Beijing interference. The ongoing protest has affected ordinary people’s life and the functioning of Hong-Kong’s economy. 

China has called the protestors ‘terrorists’, and the military build-up at Hong Kong’s border, indicate an upcoming crackdown on protestors. However, China’s iron hand on Hong Kong, a former British colony, could result in the involvement of the international community and may loosen up China’s existing control over the city. 

US-China trade war has already hit the economy of Hong Kong. The political unrest followed by Beijing’s interference may deteriorate business operations and investors confidence in Asia’s economic hub. Also, the US, in its broader geopolitics, could further use the Honk Kong crisis to its advantage to tarnish the image of China. Trump might use this opportunity to bring China on his terms to negotiate a trade deal, before the 2020 presidential elections.

Conflict Alerts # 4, 17 August 2019

Middle East: The Yemenis march in support of separatists
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news

On August 15, 2019 thousands of Yemenis marched in support of separatist fighters who seized Sanaa, the southern port city from loyalists of Yemen's internationally-recognised government. Khormaskar district saw rallies by south-loyalists waving flags of the former South Yemen state and banners of the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which pursues the secession of south of Yemen. 
The demonstrators demanded that the STC holds on to the positions in Aden which they had ceased from Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Meanwhile, Yemeni officials said they would not engage in negotiations until the UAE-backed forces withdrew from Aden. Consequently, on August 17, the STC withdrew from all government positions in Aden.

Before the protest, on August 14th, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami requested the STC to hand over arms to the exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.

Issues at large

Since, the overthrow of Hadi government by Houthi rebels in 2014, Aden has been the de-facto capital of Yemen. On August 11, the Security Belt, a UAE-backed militia, allied with the STC seized the government military bases and effective control of Aden following four days of fighting with the troops loyal to Hadi. As per the United Nations, over 40 were killed in the clashes.

The Yemen war commenced in late 2014 with Houthis (supporters of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) captured much of Yemen and the capital Sanaa. In March 2015, with UAE-Saudi-led coalition launching a deadly air campaign, the conflict escalated. The coalition aimed to restore the internationally recognized Hadi government and defeat the rebels. Ever since tens of thousands have perished, over 85,000 children have died of starvation, and 24.1 million citizens need aid. Yemen war today is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In perspective

The current escalation is a straightforward secession demand by the separatist, stemming from south becoming a minority post-unification of Yemen.

Current clashes have exposed divides between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding Yemen’s future. The difference in opinions of Saudis and Emiratis were evident with UAE effectively pulling out of Yemen during the previous months. It threatens to commence a new dimension in the multi-layered Yemen war. Abu Dhabi’s interest is in securing the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait. For Riyadh, it is another proxy war with Iran. However, Saudi intentions in Yemen are becoming more muddled. 
Nevertheless, STC’s withdrawal from government positions in Aden is a clear signal of urgency to bring all parties of the “civil war within the civil war” onto the negotiating table. The developments may skew the Yemen conflict significantly.

Conflict Alerts # 3, 12 August 2019

Jordan Restores diplomatic ties with Qatar
Lakshmi V Menon

In the News

On July 10, 2019, Jordan and Qatar announced the complete restoration of diplomatic ties. Prior to the meeting, Qatar appointed a member of the ruling family, Sheikh Saud bin Nasser Al Thani as its ambassador to Jordan. In response, Zaid Al Louzi, a high-ranking diplomat was appointed as Jordan’s ambassador to Qatar.

Meanwhile, amidst soaring US-Iran tensions and the ongoing blockade, Qatar’s Emir met with US President Donald Trump in Washington to discuss security and economy. Trump appreciated investments made by Qatar in the US as “one of the largest in the world”.

The Emir’s visit comes soon after the Doha dialogue between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Issue at large

In June 2017, a UAE-Saudi led coalition consisting of Bahrain and Egypt launched a historic air, land and maritime blockade against the gas-rich country Qatar. Jordan siding with the Saudi-UAE axis severed ties with Qatar. The anti-Qatar quartet, as the coalition was later known, aimed to strong-arm Qatar into complying with the “thirteen points”.

Demands included shutting down of Qatar based media outlet Al Jazeera, ousting Iranian military members from Qatar, financial compensation, ceasing of treacherous support to Houthis and Islamist organizations, handing over of information and so on. Doha did not succumb.

In perspective

In the two years of the blockade, both sides have claimed victory. However, Jordan’s current move sways the verdict in favour of the latter. It took Doha less than a week to resolve domestic difficulties caused by the blockade. The tiny but wealthy state launched a massive $1.75 billion PR campaign and emerged victorious; causing reputational setbacks to the quartet. Even Trump recognized Qatar’s progress regarding terror aiding and came down heavily on Riyadh.

Jordan’s current move reflects three concerns. Firstly, discontent with the Saudi-Emirati-Israeli alliance and their stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As Trump and Kushner move away from the two-state solution, thousands of Palestinians in Jordan would remain an economic burden to Jordan. Secondly, Amman has realized that keeping an economic powerhouse like Qatar away is imprudent. During the 2018 unrest and economic crisis in Jordan, Qatar offered 10,000 jobs for Jordanians and provided economic aid worth $500 million. Lastly, Jordan is wary of being bulldozed by the combined politico-economic-military might of the Saudis and Emiratis.

The Qatar-Jordan rapprochement comes at a time when Qatar is facing an economic dip in its construction-driven growth that began to peak in 2012. Post the blockade, Qatar’s only land link (which is with Saudi Arabia) has become redundant; making the last stretch of infrastructural developments for the 2022 FIFA World Cup challenging. Perhaps the state’s decision to pull out of OPEC and expand its LNG capacity will enable greater economic security and flexibility. For Qatar, the entente essentially means three things. First, a declaration of their victory; second, sending a strong political message to the anti-Qatar quartet; and third, increasing the state’s regional political mileage for future endeavours.

Conflict Alerts # 2, 30 July 2019

Afghanistan: Taliban talks peace, but continues with violence
Mahath Mangal

In the news

In July three explosions have claimed the lives of at least 15 people in the Afghan capital of Kabul. A bus carrying employees of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum was one target. It took the lives of 8 employees and wounding 27 others. A magnetic bomb was pasted onto the bus. Another bomb exploded metres away from this spot killing at least seven and wounding at least 20. The attacker had blown himself up. The third blast was a car bomb. This attack alone was claimed responsibility for by the Taliban- which is contesting for control over the country against the government.

The other two explosions were later claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also referred to as ISIS). While acts of showing power between terror outfits, the loss of lives have been tremendous and sadly, a common sight in the country today.

Issue at large

The country has been reeling from frequent attacks from the Taliban and ISIS. Afghanistan has been a stage for several conflicts for the last 18 years between the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the US-led NATO’s intervention forces. The incidents of bombings in the country are very frequent. The number of terrorist organisations operating in Afghanistan has been a huge challenge to the security of the region.

Following the September 11 attacks, the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan in 2001 by the US for harbouring Al-Qaeda. Following which, a coalition of US-led NATO forces has been operating in the country with the aim of obliterating such terror outfits. The presence of westerners has also been a cause for much of the reactionary terrorism rising from the country.

While the US was successful in bringing democracy to the country in 2005, there was political turmoil between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in 2014. While the condition was improving, the Obama Administration announced it would be pulling the forces out of Afghanistan in 2011.

With the withdrawing troops, the Taliban grew in their influence. Today controlling at least half of Afghanistan’s territory Taliban is a key player in the country. The US has been holding talks with the Taliban. Seven rounds in- the negotiations have become high level. though the aim is to expedite peace-bringing, it seems a distant reality today.

In perspective

The objective of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is to remove the foreign forces from Afghan soil and reclaim power over the country ousting the current government. The Taliban refuses to negotiate with the US in presence of the Afghan Government citing they are mere puppets in the hands of the Westerners.

Having a sour history with each other, the peace talks have not made any significant result in the ground.

With the peace process on and the withdrawal deals are in the talks, the recent bombings in the country are acts to gain more leverage by the Taliban. With an escalation of tensions and display of their influence within the borders, the Taliban is showcasing in broad daylight that its grip over the country is deep and firm, also a gauge showing the weaker position of the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Conflict Alerts # 1, 28 July 2019

150 Migrants from Libya drown while crossing the Mediterranean
Parikshith Pradeep

In news

During late July 2019, in a tragic event, two boats carrying 300 refugees and migrants including children and women, off the coast of Al Khums, Libya, capsized killing more than 150. While Libyan coast guards have recovered bodies off the coast, in an awful gesture, survivors were taken to the Libyan Detention centre that was bombed earlier this month accounting for more than 50 deaths. Reports have also indicated missing immigrants and traumatized survivors from the incident. Although not the first incident of migration along sea lines in the Mediterranean, Filippo Grandi, commissioner of UNHCR has termed this the “worst Mediterranean tragedy of the year’.

 

Issues at large

Another incident in July 2019, witnessed the death of at least 82 people after a boat carrying immigrants capsized off the Tunisian coast. 

This trend indicates the rising influx of migrants to Europe vis-à-vis the Mediterranean. There has been strong resentment from countries like Italy, which are facing the end of the influx. In this case, as uncertain arriving at a solution seems, the pressure on the north of the Mediterranean region must be staved off to avoid negative offsets away from Libya. A dive deeper in this regard also points out to nations returning refugees and migrants to Libya.

The UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization of Migration have advocated against this move and pushed for the resumption of rescue operations to relieve the Libyan burden in this regard. Libyan crisis unfolding since 2011 has witnessed a slew of violent events, consequently resulting in a direct and indirect humanitarian crisis. Political affiliations, military and monetary engagements in this region have aggravated the rift between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord(GNA) led by Fayez-Al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar. Turkey’s support to GNA and Haftar’s backing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and the United Arab Emirates(UAE) makes it an uphill task to arriving at political solutions any sooner. The source of the Mediterranean migration crisis could be attributed to this tussle for power. 

 

In Perspective

Tragic incidents like these indicate absolute helplessness of civilians and lack of responsible establishments. Lack of geographical solidarity is a pressing factor that restricts humanitarian relief. Prolonged leadership crisis has already led to the development of stateless citizens. Loss of psychological allegiance to the land and rising anti-sentiments could irk civilians towards seeking conducive environments.

Looking forward, one could safely anticipate the emergence of violent non-state actors, wholly mimicking the rise of Arkan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which could lead to newer equations of conflict. This establishes a risky precedent for victims of war and violence. The situation in the Mediterranean is a critical reminder of avoiding dreadful consequences. Furthermore, posing as an early indicator, governments and stakeholders should gradually shift focus from conventional narratives of security to regarding substantial prominence in matters of human security.