Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Project Director for Central Africa, breaks down the crisis in the Central African Republic in these four short video interviews.
Click here to watch the playlist.
The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Project Director for Central Africa, breaks down the crisis in the Central African Republic in these four short video interviews.
Click here to watch the playlist.
Iraq’s Jihadi Jack-in-the-Box
The jihadi surge is the tragic, violent outcome of steadily deteriorating political dynamics. Instead of a rash military intervention and unconditional support for the Iraqi government, pressure is needed to reverse sectarian polarisation and a disastrous record of governance.
Within days, the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) conquered parts of north-western Iraq and revealed the fragility of a country ruined by sectarianism, hollowed-out institutions and high-level, pervasive corruption. Accumulated grievances of Sunnis in the area meant that ISIL pushed against a house of cards. But its possibilities are limited and a kneejerk international military intervention risks stoking the conflict instead of containing it. The International Crisis Group’s latest briefing, Iraq’s Jihadi Jack-in-the-Box , outlines necessary actions by Iraq, Iran, the U.S. and the wider international community to end the harmful course of events and reverse its underlying drivers.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
“Under Prime Minister Maliki, the security apparatus has been undermined, parliament made toothless and other institutions gutted” says Maria Fantappie, Iraq Analyst. “All could see it, but it took swathes of the country falling to jihadis to put the extent of state deterioration in perspective”.
“A U.S. military response alone will achieve very little and could even worsen the situation”, says Peter Harling, Senior Middle East and North Africa Adviser. “Counter-insurgency cannot be successful without an effective Iraqi army to ‘clear’, an accepted Iraqi police to ‘hold’, and a legitimate Iraqi political leadership to build”.
U.N. Will Weigh Asking Court to Investigate War Crimes in Syria | Somini Sengupta
The Security Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution that would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria.
Russia is certain to veto the resolution. Its Western rivals are equally certain to seize on that veto in an attempt to isolate the Kremlin diplomatically. Supporters of the resolution, which was drafted by France, have spent days drumming up support from more than 50 countries.
Syria has undertaken its own countercampaign, distributing a letter castigating France for promoting what the Syrian ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, called a “biased draft resolution in order to sabotage any chance of peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis led by the Syrians themselves.”
France said the resolution was necessary to send a message to Russia, the Syrian government’s most important backer, even in the face of a veto.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo: Freedom House/flickr
"In at least five locations, South Sudanese seeking protection have been targeted and killed by armed actors in or around [UN] bases."
—from today’s report, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus | Hugh Pope and Scott Malcomson
A new round of talks has begun in Cyprus and the key parties seem eager to reach a settlement. However, the official goal — a bizonal, bicommunal federation — has stymied negotiators for decades. It is possible that the time has come to consider a mutually agreed separation, within the European Union, of the Greek and Turkish parts of the island.
The closest the two sides have come to an agreement on federal reunification was a decade ago under the Annan Plan, named after United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. It built on decades of work and won the support of the UN, EU, United States, Turkey, and even Greece. Indeed, any federal deal will have to look pretty much like the one hammered out in those years of intense negotiations.
Yet the reality of public sentiment bit back. 76 percent of Greek Cypriots said no to this plan at referendum. As Annan wrote to the Security Council afterwards, “what was rejected was the [federal] solution itself rather than a mere blueprint.”
Today the two sides — whose infrastructure and administrative systems are almost completely separate — are, if anything, further apart. The numbers of people crossing the border have fallen, while polls show weakening support for a federal outcome. In 2004, the Turkish Cypriot side supported the Annan Plan with 65 percent of the vote. But in 2010, they firmly voted back to power a leader whose whole career has been dedicated to a two-state settlement.
Miracles may happen — and there are many on the island who remain desperate for a settlement — but my judgment is that any federal deal will have an even tougher time succeeding now.
Fresh thinking is needed.The two sides should broaden the agenda alongside the well-worn process of UN-hosted talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators.
One idea that should be fully explored is what the terms might be if Greek Cypriots — the majority of the island’s population — were to offer Turkish Cypriots citizens full independence and fully support them to become members of the European Union.
Such a deal would have to be agreed to by Greek Cypriots, voluntarily and through a referendum. This will be hard. Greek Cypriot public opinion still, in theory, absolutely rejects any partition. But even senior Greek Cypriot officials agree in private — especially around the dinner tables of business leaders seeking a way out of Cyprus’s crushing banking crisis of 2013 — that there is an increasingly urgent need for a new way forward for the economy and for society.
There is also a growing drumbeat of expert opinion urging Greek Cypriots to consider outcomes beyond the traditional federal goal, which has become so discredited that few on Cyprus are paying much attention to the new talks. International Crisis Group has just published Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality, while the U .S. Congressional Research Service concluded last year that “a ‘two-state’ solution seems to have become a more prominent part of the Turkish Cypriot/Turkey rhetoric and unless a dramatic breakthrough occurs early in the negotiations… that reality may gain more momentum.”
Polls show that key parts of what Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots really want can look surprisingly similar. The Greek Cypriots have long wanted a solution securely embedded in European values and structures. That is what Turkish Cypriots say they want too: to become part of the European Union, not part of Turkey, even if they do wish that, in extremis, Turkey would protect their small community. The European part is crucial.
This can only happen with voluntary Greek Cypriot agreement, something that will have to be persuasively won by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. They will need to offer convincing terms: withdraw all or almost all of Turkey’s 30,000 troops on the island; end the demand to continue the 1960s “guarantorship” so hated by Greek Cypriots; guarantee compensation of Greek Cypriots for the two-thirds of private property in the north that is owned by them; return the ghost resort of Varosha to its original owners; and pull back to hold 29 percent or less of the island.
After what will necessarily be a multi-year transition, this will also produce the European solution that Greek Cypriots so often say they want. The two sides will share the same basic legal norms and regulations, the same currency, and the same visa regime. Secure and confident in their new sovereign rights, the Turkish Cypriot side will likely waive the un-European demand for “derogations,” or limits on property purchases by Greek Cypriots in the new entity.
Nobody is completely right on Cyprus: all parties share responsibility for the frozen conflict on the island. At the end of the day, an independent Turkish Cypriot state within the EU is not rewarding one side or another. Europe will doubtless flinch at accepting a small new Turkish, Muslim state in its midst.
But Europe helped create this situation, since Brussels breaking its own rules contributed to the clumsy 2004 accession of the disunited island to the EU.
Moreover, at least 100,000 of the 170,000 Turkish Cypriots are already EU citizens through their Republic of Cyprus passports.
Europe will also be among those who gain from resolving a dispute that has for four decades burdened so many local and regional processes, not least the long-hamstrung relationship between the EU and NATO, and the new question of how the countries of the East Mediterranean can most quickly, profitably and safely exploit new offshore natural gas reserves. This is not partition: it is reunifying Cyprus within the EU.
Photo: UN Geneva/Flickr
Let the U.N. Unmask the Criminals of Sri Lanka’s War | Louise Arbour
Louise Arbour, a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, is the president of the International Crisis Group
In early 2009, as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, having been herded into an area about the size of Central Park and subjected to relentless shelling. No one has been held accountable for these crimes, and even now the government in Colombo remains intent on burying the past. Only an international commission of inquiry stands any chance of rectifying this omission. So when the United Nations Human Rights Council meets Monday in Geneva, it should seek an investigation. It would be a decisive step toward justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
The 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka, in which ethnic Tamil rebels rose against a government dominated by the ethnic-majority Sinhalese, was regularly punctuated with massacres and rights abuses by government forces, as well as by suicide bombings and other attacks on civilian targets by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Since the government’s crushing defeat of the rebels, the predominantly Tamil northern province has been under de facto military occupation, with widespread reports of serious rights violations against the civilian population.
As the fifth anniversary of the war’s end approaches this spring, Sri Lankan officials say they need more time for reconciliation initiatives to take root. They argue that an international investigation will only further polarize Sri Lanka. They have reacted angrily to a new report by Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, that advocates an international investigation and heavily criticizes the government.
As the International Crisis Group has documented in a series of reports, the government’s postwar policies have entrenched an increasingly authoritarian regime in Colombo, deepened the rift between Tamils and Sinhalese, and drawn dangerous new lines of ethnic and religious conflict. To date, the government has rejected calls by the Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into war crimes allegations against both sides that have been documented by the United Nations secretary general’s panel of experts and by nongovernmental organizations like ours, and to adopt reforms that could foster postwar reconciliation.
The United States, which has a record of leadership within the Human Rights Council, would be the best sponsor for a resolution seeking an inquiry. The other members of the council should give it their strong support. They should also reject the Sri Lankan government’s endless delaying tactics and its global public-relations counterattack, which includes a half-hour infomercial that has been shown on American television.
Momentum for such an investigation is building. Six United States senators, led by Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, called for an international commission of inquiry in a letter sent this month to Secretary of State John Kerry. Three days later a resolution was introduced in the Senate calling for an independent investigation (not necessarily by a commission). Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, other senior European Union politicians and Indian officials also have taken clear exception to Sri Lanka’s failure to pursue accountability for atrocities. Meanwhile, in response to victims’ pleas for justice, a newly elected northern provincial council in Sri Lanka has joined the calls for an international investigation.
But the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rejected all such recommendations, even when they came from Sri Lanka’s own reconciliation commission. He has also gravely weakened the independence of the judiciary and the police with the impeachment last year of Sri Lanka’s chief justice, placing the possibility of using Sri Lanka’s courts to achieve accountability further out of reach.
An inquiry mandated by an intergovernmental body like the Human Rights Council would produce a more complete record of the scale of civilian suffering, and would challenge the Sri Lankan government’s denials that government forces were responsible for any significant loss of civilian life.
A commission is also likely to uncover evidence of abuses by the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a form that would be hard for Tamils and Tamil organizations to deny. That would deflate a romanticization of the Tigers among Tamils that keeps alive Sinhalese fears that the Tamil insurgency might resume, and also gives the government an excuse for continued militarization and repression.
By showing survivors of wartime abuses that the international community hasn’t abandoned them, a commission mandated by the council could also undercut growing calls by Tamil diaspora organizations for more radical measures, and encourage victims of rights abuses from all of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious communities (the country’s main faiths are Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim) to continue seeking an end to institutionalized impunity.
Such an inquiry won’t solve all of Sri Lanka’s problems; the island’s crisis of accountability and democratic governance runs too deep and is too complex to be resolved quickly. Nonetheless, increased authoritarianism, Sinhalese ethnic triumphalism and simmering Tamil resentment are clearly not the ingredients for a secure future. Both justice and reconciliation are needed for the Sri Lankan body politic to one day be healed.
The Human Rights Council has an opportunity, and should seize it. A number of the council’s current member states — for instance Chile, Costa Rica, Botswana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Morocco and Macedonia — have led on other human rights issues and should press the council on this one. Sri Lanka’s government is playing a waiting game, hoping the international community will lose interest, while also proffering the crude argument that reconciliation is attainable without justice.
But the costs of doing something now would be very small compared with the years of strife that would be the likely result of letting impunity win in Sri Lanka.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo: springm / Markus Spring/flickr
U.N. North Korea Report Puts China in Uncomfortable Position | Brian Spegele
A United Nations report that bleakly details widespread human rights abuses in North Korea is putting China in an uncomfortable position over its close ties to its isolated neighbor.
In its damning portrayal of North Korea, a special commission impaneled by the U.N. Human Rights Council takes Beijing to task for repatriating North Koreans who cross the border into China and are sometimes tortured and executed on return. The commission recommended that the U.N. Security Council refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court and adopt sanctions against North Korean leaders for allegedly committing crimes against humanity.
On a practical level, the report is unlikely to alter China’s policy toward Pyongyang, some scholars familiar with Chinese-North Korean relations said. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Beijing has veto authority. China’s role as North Korea’s largest trading partner and political benefactor is a strategic decision to maintain calm and a buffer on its northeast border, North Korea watchers said.
FULL ARTICLE (Wall Street Journal)
Grabbing the Wolf’s Tail | Graeme Smith
“The Taliban are still here,” a pharmacist who sells medicine to remote villages in the southeast told me last month in this shabby frontier town. “People are anxious about 2014 because the troops are leaving.”
After his customers started to understand recently that the United States and its allies will pull out most of their forces this year, he said, his sales of medication for anxiety, depression and insomnia increased 30-fold. Fear of a Taliban resurgence is so widespread that it is hurting property prices and the value of Afghanistan’s currency, scaring investors away and impelling Afghans to seek foreign asylum. Worries about the year ahead are a kind of pathology here.
FULL COMMENTARY (New York Times)
Photo: United Nations Photo/Flickr
I am writing concerning the situation in South Sudan. Like you, we have been following the country’s descent into civil conflict with growing dismay and concern. Crisis Group has been greatly encouraged by the calls you have been making for a decisive international response to this critical development.
It is the position of Crisis Group that the current violence in South Sudan could both broaden and deepen, with greater ethnic underpinnings, indeed that it is arguably already doing so. The consequences for the country are extremely serious and could turn catastrophic. The fighting also has taken on regional implications, including through the presence of Ugandan military in South Sudan and Sudan’s interests in oil producing areas reportedly controlled by the armed opposition. The international community, which has been a true friend of South Sudan both prior to and in the first years of its independence, has a responsibility to prevent the worst from happening.
With credible reports of mass killings and other human right violations by state and non-state armed actors alike, urgent, decisive and effective exercise of UNMISS’ protection of civilians mandate is paramount. With this in mind, we welcome the Security Council’s imminent passage of a resolution that emphasises the need to protect civilians and strengthens UNMISS’ capacities. We feel that UNMISS, using its existing forces until additional troops arrive, should take a number of immediate, specific steps to prioritise protection of civilians, above all other mandated tasks, including by:
At this stage, in addition to the protection of civilians, we welcome your call for an urgent ceasefire, with strong messages that individuals, and their leaders, who violate basic humanitarian principles will be held accountable for their actions. I would urge, further, that talks begin about implementing an effective arms embargo on all parties to the conflict not involved in good-faith negotiations towards a ceasefire and political settlement. The Security Council should consider the establishment of a sanctions committee both for violation of this arms embargo and against individuals who participate in or are complicit in atrocities.
Only once peace has been restored, can attention effectively turn to the longer-term, no less important task of repairing the damage done, including healing the divisions between and within the SPLM, SPLA and South Sudan’s diverse communities. We welcome the high-level visit of IGAD foreign ministers to Juba on 19-20 December as well as IGAD’s communiqué of 22 December and echo its call for a cessation of hostilities, the start of unconditional dialogue and the full and immediate protection of civilians. We reiterate our proposal in our statement of 18 December that they remain fully engaged and empowered in this process, with the Security Council supporting an immediate role for IGAD both in pursuing a ceasefire and, subsequently, facilitating peace talks aimed at restoring a unified South Sudan government that truly represents the diversity of the country.
President & CEO
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Watch Louise Arbour and Kofi Annan on the responsibility to protect, Comfort Ero on the militarisation of peacekeeping, Thomas Pickering on UN Security Council reform, and George Soros on the breakdown of the rule of law.
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