Category Archives: peacebuilding

The Need to Negotiate – Suzanne Fenton

‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.’ So said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address as President in 1961. It is a sentiment that could have significant and positive repercussions today given the protracted conflicts that we see in the Middle East in particular and the increasing rise of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

This position paper will focus on the lessons that may be learned from past conflicts and countries living in negative peace. It will attempt to explain why it is time for states involved in current conflicts to sit at the negotiating table and jointly develop a framework for peace.

In the case of Palestine, arguably the world’s most protracted conflict, Abu-Nimer and Kaufman (2006) argue that basic rights of Palestinians are violated on a daily basis. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the ‘other’; in this case, the Israelis who are equally in fear of Palestinian suicide attacks so both the perceived and actual security of both sides is continuously violated. Peace and understanding has no hope of succeeding in such as atmosphere of mistrust and a vicious cycle of violence. Any future political agreement must tackle these issues in a more effective, pragmatic way. As human needs of identity, security and access to political power are at the core of protracted communal conflicts, Abu-Nimer and Kaufman support a human rights framework combined with the Dual Concern Model whereby a party must consider the rights and needs of the ‘other’. “Addressing the psychological dimension of protracted social conflict is key to its resolution,” argue Abu-Nimer and Kaufman.

It is a subject that Powell (2014), chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal, is familiar with, and a principle he has applied in practice. He stresses the need to speak with the enemy, saying there can be no purely military solution to a political problem. Powell acknowledges the issue that, for many, talking to terrorists may give them legitimacy. A case in point is the world’s response to ISIS thus far is an emotional one, a human one of horror and disgust, and therefore the very notion of negotiating with ISIS, the act of reaching out, is abhorrent to most. However, it is impossible to generate any form of peace in Iraq and Syria, without negotiations forming part of the action plan. However, this is easier said than done. Both parties must be willing to lay out also to directly address the grievances of Sunnis who were marginalised for years by Baghdad. For some Sunnis therefore, ISIS is an improvement and there is simply no viable alternative currently (Collard 2015). Referring to peacebuilding in Afghanistan, Duffield (2007) argues that politics is now at the forefront of peacebuilding efforts. In the case of ISIS then, the political solution is to first understand it.

Yet still there are many civilians and politicians that recoil at the thought of negotiating with illegitimate groups that commit such horrific acts. While this is human nature, it is important to understand that ethically speaking, talking to terrorists may eventually help save lives. What politicians have done so far has had almost no effect. Surely it is worth trying a method that has proved instrumental in the past and one that could transform not only the political landscape of the Middle East, but also the lives of its people.

Unless this is done in a practical and immediate way, there will never be an end to the many conflicts we see today. We owe it to future generations to start talking.

Postscript

Powell notes that actions such as setting false deadlines can cause already-fragile negotiations to fail in the past. Successful actions of focusing negotiations is to have the common goal of agreeing general principles or framework agreement. Having a skeleton agreement in place in Northern Ireland, while causing initial upset, actually helped to make the Good Friday agreement possible by including issues and demands and ruling out others.

Another key issue that often causes a barrier to negotiating is explaining to the public that the government is talking to terrorists. Given the current political climate and the fact that ISIS commits such atrocious acts and in the full glare of the world’s media, this would be a challenge today.

The move towards a real peace deal is when both sides can see a viable political way forward. There must also be a shift from the military faction to the political. Without the move from military to political, peace is not possible. With the conflict in Iraq and Syria still in the hands of the military, there is still a definite political element at play.

References

Abu-Nimer, M. and Kaufman, E. (2006) ‘Bridging Conflict and Transformation and Human Rights: Lessons from the Israeli-Palestinian Process’ in J. Mertus and J. Helsing [Eds] Human Rights & Conflict: Exploring the Links between Rights, Law and Peacebuilding, Washington: USIP, 277-307

Collard, R. (2015) ‘What We Have Learned Since ISIS Declared A Caliphate One Year Ago’, TIME magazine. Available at http://time.com/3933568/isis-caliphate-one-year/. Accessed on 20 June 2016

Duffield, M. (2007) Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kennedy, J.F. (1961) ‘Inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy’, available at https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/JFK-Quotations/Inaugural-Address.aspx

Powell, J. (2014) ‘How to talk to terrorists’, The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/07/-sp-how-to-talk-to-terrorists-isis-al-qaida. Accessed on 19 June 2016.

Powell, J. (2014) Talking to Terrorists: How to end armed conflicts, London: The Bodley Head

Cyber Warfare – Olivier Dubois

Surprisingly enough, the SCID program is relatively silent on cyber warfare. It is briefly referred to in relation with the so-called new terrorism: terrorist groups would have the ability to carry out ‘electronic terrorist attack targeting critical infrastructure’ (Department of Criminology, 2013). This is a very narrow part of what constitutes nowadays cyber warfare and by no means does it capture the stakes of the current cyber arm race.

As with many new concepts, there is no universal accepted definition of the term. Most definitions underline the use of computers and digital means in a coordinated manner by a government or a non-state group with a purpose of causing disruption and/or damage (Sakharian, 2013; Andress, 2013). The target of a cyberwar is computers, networks and digitally controlled devices. If the objective may not be destructing physical infrastructure or killing people, the impacts of cyber operations cannot be contained to the digital world. It is not solely about offering a bloodless military superiority or an economic advantage (Kirsch, 2012). To the contrary, the US department of defence’s Laws of War manual (DoD, 2015) is explicit in recognising that certain cyber operation do constitute use of force in the meaning of Art. 2 § 4 of the UN charter. It cites Operations ‘ that: (1) trigger a nuclear plant meltdown; (2) open a dam above a populated area, causing destruction; or (3) disable air traffic control services, resulting in airplane crashes’ (DoD, 2015: 989). It is reported that more than 100 States are developing some forms of cyberwar capacity (Limnell, 2016).

As in our daily lives, the frontier between the digital and physical world is increasingly becoming difficult to identify. Cyber operations are equally challenging legal and policy boundaries. From a legal standpoint, the fact that a major military power like USA explicitly consider that cyber operations are submitted to both Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello (IHL) does not solve everything. Recognising a cyber operation as an act of war is important as it may influence the type of counter measure the victims may consider. It may as well contain policy makers in taking aggressive actions (Lin 2012). However, this restraining frame may be completely ineffective as the imputability or the attribution of a cyber operation to its perpetrator remains extremely difficult (Dortmans 2015, Lin 2012). As a result, waging an cyber attack is extremely low-cost and risk-free compared to the pay off (Limnell, 2016). States have still to learn to operate an adapted range of countermeasures to cyber attack in avoiding to make mistake that could jeopardise their political credit or cause an unwanted escalation in the conflict (Limnell, 2016). The danger of unwanted escalation is real. As a technological arm race is ongoing, states have little time to properly assess the effect of the arsenal and could be nevertheless tempted to unleash it.

The layers are at a loss. Applying IHL rules on the conduct of hostilities to cyber attack is thus extremely difficult and efforts of experts who have proposed to NATO the Tallinn Manual on the International Law applicable to Cyber Warfare is not entirely convincing (Schmitt, 2013). In the absence of precise knowledge on the offensive capacities of cyber weapons, it is very difficult to operationalise and respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions (Droege, 2012). There is an urgent need for a new treaty banning certain cyber weapons and/or creating new regulatory and surveillance authority such as the one existing for chemical weapons or for atomic energy.

Political scientists are at bay, too. Policy framework and guidance have to be adapted to this new reality to ensure that cyberspace is not transformed in a wild battlefield. Regional or collective early warning system for aggressive cyber activity are inexistent. Cybersecurity and cyber warfare are ‘team sport’ where international cooperation is key. Old times alliances created for responding to threats in the physical world need to be shaken up to meet the challenge. International commission of investigation or international fact-finding missions on alleged cyber warfare activities are yet to be created or even suggested in the corridors of New York. Is it so utopian to imagine negotiating cyber cease-fire and mandating cyber observers, to be nicknamed the “Blue Tablets”, as modern peacekeepers for monitoring it? The new wars of the nineties have shaken the whole approach to peacebuilding. Cyber warfare offers a similar shift of paradigm. Let us not wait a ‘Cyber-Srebrenica’. Let us prevent it by thinking and acting out of the box now.

References

Andress, J. (2013) Cyber Warfare Techniques, Tactics and Tools for Security Practitioners, 2nd ed., Burlington: Elsevier Science.

Department of Criminology (2013), SCID module 6 Unit 3, Resource 1, Leicester: University of Leicester.

Department of Defence (2015) Law of War Manual, Washington DC: Department of Defence, available at http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/DoD_Law_of_War_Manual-June_2015_Updated_May_2016.pdf (last accessed 21 September 2016).

Dortmans, P., Thakur, N. and Ween, A. (2015) ‘Conjectures for framing cyberwarfare’ Defense & Security Analysis 31(3): 172-184.

Droege, C. (2012) ‘Get off my cloud: cyber warfare, international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians’ International Review Of The Red Cross 94(886): 533-578.

Kirsch, C. (2012) ‘Science fiction no more: cyber warfare and the United States’ Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 40(4): 620-686.

Limnéll, J. (2016) ‘The cyber arms race is accelerating- what are the consequences?’ Journal of Cyber Policy, (1)1: 50-60.

Lin, H. (2012) ‘Cyber conflict and international humanitarian law’ International Review of the Red Cross, 94(886): 515-531.

Shakarian, P. (2013) Introduction to Cyber-Warfare A Multidisciplinary Approach, Burlington: Elsevier Science.

Schmitt, M. (2013) Tallinn manual on the international law applicable to cyber warfare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Afghanistan’s Endemic Corruption – Iain Blackwood

The author has elected out of all the subject matter taught on the Security, Conflict and International Development course to discuss ‘corruption’. Although the subject matter is discussed, the author has first hand experience of corruption, which other individuals who work in conflict zones will undoubtedly have experience of and will have to contend with.  As the author has been working and living in Afghanistan for a number of years and has experienced corruption in his daily business dealings and within his own organisation, which diverted funds allocated in assisting Afghanistans humanitarian needs.  Furthermore, corruption within Afghanistan is not only a problem but is happening on endemic proportions and is not just limited to the capital Kabul, but reaches every element of Afghan society.

To give an indication of how endemic corruption is within Afghanistan, the 2015 Asia foundation report, reported that the local Afghan population sees corruption as inescapable, which they encounter daily, and 89.9 percent of Afghans reporting corruption as thee foremost problem in their day-to-day lives and 91.2 percent, when dealing with varying levels of the Afghan government (Asia Foundation, 2015).  These high levels of corruption in the daily lives of the Afghan peoples can be seen as further exacerbating an already troubled emerging fragile state and the newly formed Afghan government it appears has done little in the way of countering the endemic proportions of corruption within Afghanistan.

Corruption in Afghanistan can be all encompassing and encountered in various forms from the man in the street buying bread, to prices being inflated to include extra charges to fuel prices, or government officials wanting their share of the price of registering an Armoured vehicle. Although some of the added fees may be insignificant in size and terms of profit margins, this is corruption and certainly, the sums being asked by Government officials are large and often blatant corruption.  This occurs to local Afghans and International actors and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), alike.  Higher costs are incurred for International organisations as well as local Afghans but Internationals are perceived as being rich and capable of handing over ‘Baksheesh’ a bribe; to officials in order bypass the myriad rules and regulations, get paper work signed and officiated.

According to Transparency International (2015), Afghanistan is ranked 166 out of 168 and third worst country in the world for corruption. Therefore, corruption may emerge from necessity because of low wages or from the lack of education or just a way of Afghan life.  However, corruption is a way of life in Afghanistan and as previously mentioned encountered daily.  Although there have only been a handful of high profile prosecutions over the past decade these have principally involved money laundering through the  ‘hawala’ transfer system, which is an unofficial money system used to transfer proceeds both monetary and physical goods through normal merchant transactions to laundering the proceeds from Afghanistans pervasive opium industry (Ahmed, 2016).  Money laundering through the informal ‘hawala’ black market money transfer system is a major contributing factor in supporting criminality (Maimbo, 2003). This criminality within Afghanistan can further exacerbate an already fragile emerging failed state such as Afghanistan.  It is also known that criminal networks thrive in fragile and conflict states due to the disorganization of state infrastructures as well as other internal and external state dysfunction.  Still the Afghan government has done little prior to the election of Ashraf Ghani in cracking down and where clear cases of corruption have come to light, few cases have been investigated or prosecutions followed (FinTRACA, 2016). This is caused by a number of factors including complicit officials; weak financial polices, a weak government, which lacks both the expertise and will power to enforce its policies and follow through with its prosecution mechanisms Singh, (2015).

Additionally, according to Ashraf Ghani, criminal networks ‘often use formal government positions to promote criminal networks, as a result of which government offices degenerate into little more than a springboard for organized looting’, (Ghani and Lockhart, 2009: 80). To fight corruption it is necessary to initiate and populate educational elimination and reduction strategies together with new broad reaching law-enforcement measures, which would be considered a positive step, forward in fighting Afghanistan’s ongoing corruption and educating its population as to the harm corruption does. However in order to achieve its aims in crime reduction it also has to consider it conflict reduction programmes as crime and conflict go hand in hand in failed states. Although this is a tall order considering its curent unstable political climate and ongoing current counter insurgency (Banfield, 2014).

Postscript

Corruption is a human condition based on personal choice, coercion or group dynamics and has been recorded as far back as biblical times. Public officials have abused their offices for personal gain while populations have taken advantage by corrupting those holding power.  Corruption persists in countries that are susceptible to crime through weak and failed systems and ongoing conflicts where procedures and policies are lacking or do not exist.  It is therefore difficult to respond and prosecute offenders; this in part may be due to the fact that individuals lack the motivation to follow though investigations, or due to the Afghan judicial system having a entrenched corruption problem.

To counter corruption, anti-corruption measures must be embedded within institutions and organisations must be held accountable to higher offices. To do this simple crime reduction measures can be emplaced to deter individuals or groups of attempting to commit corruption, through such measures of having monitoring systems in place, greater transparency which may deter corruption, more surveillance and internal checks and greater prosecution and investigative checks.

Yet, these measures can also be implemented and adjusted to fit the means and the contextual factors involved. For example, greater monitoring, transparency, and internal checks could lead to those individuals in offices of importance to resist such measures for fear of revealing further malpractices of office or position.  Additionally, only when normal anti-corruption practices are in place and individuals are willing to work within these practices can crime reduction measures and campaigns be successful and ultimately eradicate the problem, however in Afghanistans case that may take some time yet due to the pervasiveness of it.

References

Ahmed, J. (2016) ‘Dirty Money in Afghanistan: How Kabul is Cleaning up the Illicit Economy’, Foreign Affairs, avaialable at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2016-09-07/dirty-money-afghanistan, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Asia Foundation (2015) ‘Afghanistan in 2015: A Survey of the Afghan People’, San Francisco: Asia Foundation.

FinTRACA (2016) Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA): Home Page, avaialable at http://www.fintraca.gov.af, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Ghani, A. and Lockhart, C. (2009) Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

High Office for Oversight and Anti-corruption (2016) Anti-Corruption Laws & Strategy, available at http://anti-corruption.gov.af/en/page/8477, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Maimbo, S. M. (2003) ‘The Money Exchange Dealers of Kabul: A Study of the Hawala System in Afghanistan’, World Bank Working Paper Series; No: 13, Washington, DC: World Bank, available at http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/335241467990983523/The-money-exchange-dealers-of-Kabul-a-study-of-the-Hawala-system-in-Afghanistan, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Patrick, S. (2011) Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security, New York: Oxford University Press.

Singh, D. (2015) ‘Explaining varieties of corruption in the Afghan Justice Sector’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 9:(2): 231-255.

Transparency International (2015) Corruption Perception Index 2015, avaialable at http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015#results-table, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Addressing current security threats through intelligence-led peacekeeping – Celine Demeyer

In the context of rapidly changing context and the growing number of actors involved in the security sector, harmonising international responses will be paramount to stabilising countries facing security various and complex security threats. The end of the Cold War brought along a new set of challenges for peacekeeping. In this context, the Brahimi report (UN, 2000) advocated for wider peacekeeping mandates allowing missions to better address a large range of challenges on the ground. The different nature of conflicts now requires an understanding of a range of conflict drivers, including political, security and socio- economic ones. This poses serious challenges for peacekeeping missions in terms of information- gathering and necessitates structural reform.

In order to effectively contribute to stabilisation in the context of civil wars, terrorism and other complex security threats such as transnational organised crime and terrorism, UN peacekeeping operations should adopt an intelligence- led methodology. The need for such a capability is recognised and has been reflected in various structural changes implemented within a larger UN peacekeeping reform, including the establishment of a Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC) and a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) to conduct information gathering using military, police and civilian sources (UN, 2016).

While this has been an important step, various challenges remain. The objectives of intelligence activities should for example be more clearly defined. Contrary to purely military operations, intelligence in peacekeeping should aim at a political settlement conflicts, requiring information relating to a broad range of conflict drivers and thus necessitates a human resources capacity combining military and civilian competencies. Secondly, relevant and useful information can only be gathered when done in a structured manner and respecting ethical limitations. Standard operating procedures and organisational structures should therefore be established, allowing military, civilian and police components to contribute to intelligence gathering. Also in this regard, information systems should be implemented that can allow for secure storage and transmission of data as well as to improve their analysis. Once such a capacity is established operating procedures should be established to allow sharing of analysis with the relevant mission components and other decision makers (Abilova and Novosseloff, 2016).

In the framework of upcoming discussions with member states on the development of a policy framework it is recommended that existing initiatives such as the All Source Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU), established within the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), should be analysed in a detailed manner and a lessons learned document presented to the member states for further discussion. Such a discussion should serve a twofold purpose. First, it should contribute to raising awareness among reluctant member states to grant sufficiently strong mandates to peacekeeping missions in order to allow them to deploy an adequate intelligence capacity tailored to a changing security environment and second, it should contribute to capitalising on existing knowledge as well as to mobilise member states to provide human and financial resources as well as technical expertise to further develop such a system.

Postscript:

From the start the term “intelligence” has been controversial as it is essentially opposed to the open and transparent nature of the UN and its work, leading to a quasi- avoidance of the term by the organisation. The problem is thus in essence one of confidentiality, as the UN is supposed to act as a neutral actor in conflict resolution. In addition, the issue of multilateralism versus unilateralism and thus the existence of political interests of certain UN member states prevents and will continue to prevent the development of a robust intelligence and information- sharing capability for UN Peacekeeping Operations (Diaz, 2007). On the operational level, the reluctance of states to contribute troops has led to low levels of expertise on the ground. There have however been a few exceptions, such as the case of MINUSMA where European countries in particular are providing expertise to enhance the information collection capacity of the mission. This is however the result of the interest of those countries in stabilising the Sahel region as it poses an indirect security threat to Europe, rather than a willingness to strengthen UN intelligence capacity in general.

Sources:

Abilova, O. and Novosseloff, A. (2016). Demystifying Intelligence in UN Peace Operations: Toward an Organizational Doctrine. Available at: https://www.ipinst.org/2016/07/demystifying-intelligence-in-un-peace-ops (Accessed on 15 September 2016).

Diaz, G. (2007). Intelligence at the United Nations for peace operations. UNISCI Discussion Papers, 13. Available at: https://www.ucm.es/data/cont/media/www/pag-72528/Gustavo13a.pdf (Accessed on 15 September 2016).

Karlsrud, J. and Smith, A. (2015). Europe’s Return to UN Peacekeeping in Africa? Lessons from Mali. Available at: http://www.ipinst.org/2015/07/europes-return-to-un-peacekeeping-in-africa-lessons-from-mali. (Accessed on 15 September 2016).

UN (2000). Report of the Panel on UN Peace operations (Brahimi report), A/55/305-S/2000/809. New York: United Nations.

UN (2016). Reform of peacekeeping. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/reform.shtml (Accessed on 15 September 2016).

 

Colombian People Reject Peace Deal with FARC

Last Sunday, 02 October 2016, the Colombian people voted against the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), which was signed a week earlier on 26 September. This significantly undermines the prospects of ending one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, which the recent historic peace agreement had the promise of doing.

The Plebiscite

A little over half (50.2%) of those who voted in the plebiscite on 02 October, voted against the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC. Many of those who voted against the peace agreement are thought to have done so because the agreement was seen as enabling FARC guerrillas, who are seen by many as terrorists or criminals, to avoid punishment for wrong-doing and even secure legitimate places in the political administration; there is a distrust of those who have reached the agreement and a fear of what the agreement will lead to (Miroff, 2016). In general terms, the vote against the peace agreement is viewed as lack of confidence in the agreement rather than in a lack of commitment to securing a sustainable peace.

Crucially, less than 40% of Colombians voted (in part due to adverse weather conditions which made it difficult to travel to voting polls, especially in rural areas). Of those who did vote, the majority were from rural areas, which are generally the most affected by the conflict – with the notable exception of Bogotá, which voted in favour of the peace deal (Idler, 2016).

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Peace Agreement

The peace agreement was historic, signalling the end of one of the longest-running armed conflict in the world. It followed the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement three months previously, on 23 June, which followed the General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace, which was signed by the parties to the conflict on 26 August 2012.

The General Agreement established a six-point agenda for the negotiations. The most politically-charged agenda point concerned the rights of victims. On 15 December 2015, an Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict was reached. Upon coming into affects, this agreement would establish a number of transitional justice mechanisms. These include a Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission and a Special Jurisdiction for Peace with chambers, a Tribunal for Peace and a Unit for Investigation. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace will have jurisdiction for prosecuting members of FARC and the state armed forces for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed while participating “directly or indirectly” in the armed conflict. Focus will be on those with command responsibility and, in an effort to promote peace, sentences will be significantly reduced including non-custodial sentences for those who acknowledged their responsibility.

The Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict was positive in that it was negotiated rather than imposed and uniquely built upon considerable contributions from representatives of victims associations. However, as the plebiscite result reveals, there is considerable disquiet that many members of FARC will not be held accountable for crimes committed (if the crimes they committed carried less gravity, or they did not have command responsibility or even if they can show they did not know what was happening under their command). The plebiscite result also shows that while the agreement negotiations were inclusive and consultative processes, they were clearly not wholly inclusive or responsive to the needs and concerns of all groups.

Intractable Conflict

The conflict between the Government armed forces and FARC has lasted for 52 years. It is both one of the longest internal conflicts in the world and has a magnitude of harm surpassed by few other conflicts, although often overlooked beyond Latin America. Approximately 220,000 people have been killed, about 80% of whom were civilians, and there have been over 100,000 registered forcibly disappeared persons, and tens of thousands of kidnappings (BBC 2016; Bouvier and Haugaard 2016). For many years, Colombia has recorded the second highest number of recorded deaths from mines or explosive remnants of war (ERW) among all countries, with more deaths only in Afghanistan (Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor 2016). Colombia also has one of the world’s highest number of internally displaced persons (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2016). By the summer of 2016, the Unit for Victims’ Reparation counted over 8 million officially-registered victims (Rueda 2016). The UN also estimates that there are 5.8 million people currently in need of humanitarian assistance (UNOCHA 2016).

Even though the Government of Colombia and FARC have expressed commitment to the ceasefire, there is significant cause for concern that what has been achieved over the last 4 years of peace negotiations may be undone. The ‘no’ vote is an added challenge to the many facing Colombia as it transitions to peace.

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Peacebuilding Challenges

The ‘no’ vote has demonstrated that there are significant socio-psychological challenges associated with moving away from a conflict that has lasted over half a century. In the first instance, accepting that there has been an armed conflict rather than efforts to counter terrorism and organised crime – as has often been portrayed by the state and accepted by large sections of the population – will be a challenge. It is necessary, of course, to accept there has been a conflict if the peace process is to be successful. While it is important that people feel justice has prevailed and those who have been responsible for atrocities are held to account, there is little hope that FARC will commit to a new peace agreement which results in criminal prosecutions for many of their members. This may mean that even before a new peace deal is negotiated, FARC members may join other guerrilla or armed criminal groups.

Moreover, the results of the plebiscite indicate that it is not, in fact, those people who may been victims of the conflict that have voted against what they see as treating FARC too leniently; aside from the capital, it was generally the urban centres rather than the rural locations, which the conflict has tended to hit hardest, that people voted against the peace agreement. There is a need, therefore, to encourage those from urban centres, who may have seen less of the conflict than their compatriots in rural locations, to consider that there has indeed been a conflict, which needs to be addressed by peacebuilding measures, rather than a fight against terrorist activities, which needs to be addressed with criminal sanctions.

Even moving beyond the ‘no’ vote and engaging in peace education among all groups, there are many other immediate challenges to the prospective peacebuilding process.

In the first instance, any agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC will only address the conflict with FARC and not the other guerrilla groups active in Colombia, notably, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN – in English, National Liberation Army), the second largest guerrilla group after FARC. The peace deal will also not address the presence and activities of armed criminal groups (former/quasi paramilitary groups) or BACRIM as referred to in Colombia (bandas criminales emergentes – ‘emerging criminal bands’). The prospective demobilisation of FARC also carries the risk of other guerrilla or criminal groups taking control of formerly-FARC controlled territory and criminal enterprises. Preparations are already afoot for such reorganisation, which is likely to result, at least in the short-term, in increased levels of violence associated with organised crime.

Organised crime in itself poses one of the greatest threats to the prospective peacebuilding process. Organised crime has a stranglehold on Colombian society, and has helped sustain and escalate the conflict and undermine security and the rule of law. High levels of impunity and links between guerrilla forces, armed criminal groups and the state in organised criminal networks will continue to undermine security and the prospect for peace.

Other threats to the peace process are typical of a post-conflict environment, and include the proliferation of small arms; the normalisation of violence; the psychological impact of trauma engendering distrust and fear; insecurity and an absence of the rule of law; and lack of confidence in the state and its ability to provide services. In many parts of Colombia, particularly rural, peripheral and border areas the state and its institutions lack any presence or legitimacy. These places have tended to be trapped in cycles of violence and poverty, and exploited by illegal armed groups.

Extremely high levels of human rights violations – notably against human rights defenders, women, indigenous leaders, Afro-descendant community leaders, trade union representatives, and journalists – also threaten to jeopardise a prospective peace. Colombia has one of the worst records of assassinations of human rights defenders: last year, over 54 human rights defenders were killed (The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2016). This constitutes about a third of all global deaths of human rights defenders that year (Front Line Defenders 2016). High levels of impunity and corruption, widespread presence of guerrilla and armed criminal groups, and lack of state presence or legitimacy, combine to help ensure the high level of human rights violations will continue – even after a peace agreement comes into effect– unless these enabling and causal factors are addressed. And unless they are, any peace secured will be piecemeal and short-term.

In addition, there are significant socio-economic inequalities and a huge gap between the rich and the poor. These factors can fuel grievances. They can also leave the poor vulnerable to further victimisation and creates the conditions which justify or deny crimes against them. Unless a peace agreement addresses these socio-economic disparities, the peace process will not bring peace and security to those who remain the most vulnerable to insecurity and violence. Consequently, any peace will be fragmentary and unsustainable, and the poor will remain vulnerable to exploitation, violence and other crimes.

There are also significant humanitarian challenges as a result of the conflict and a concern that those in need of humanitarian assistance may be overlooked in the peace process. These challenges are also likely to test a prospective fragile peace.

Even if agreements are renegotiated and received broad-based support, implementation of those agreements will be much more difficult than the process of reaching those agreements. Issues concerning transitional justice, land restitution and the demilitarisation, demobilisation and reintegration of FARC combatants will always be highly sensitive and pose challenges to the peace process. These challenges are compounded by poor economic conditions and limited resources to invest in peacebuilding. Generating additional funds to support peacebuilding internally will be difficult as it will involve raising taxes among those who have – in large part – regarded FARC as terrorists rather than combatants engaged in armed conflict.

Nonetheless, there is the promise the negotiations between the Government of Colombia and FARC will recommence and include former president Álvaro Uribe, an influential leader of the ‘no’ campaign. More inclusive peace talks, including those who campaigned against the peace agreement, could result in a more workable agreement and one which responds to the concerns and fears of all groups. There is still the commitment of parties to the conflict to negotiate a peace agreement. Now what is required is public commitment to a proposed peace. This requires that the public are more engaged in the negotiation process – to both be informed by it and inform it.

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References

BBC (2016) ‘Colombia Farc: Ceasefire signed to end five decades of war’, BBC News, 23 June 2016. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36611952 (accessed 05 October 2016).

Bouvier, V. and Haugaard, L. (2016) ‘Colombia’s Peace Accord on the Missing’, USIP Peace Brief 211, July 2016, Washington: USIP. Available online at http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/07/25/colombia-s-peace-accord-the-missing#.V5ZS9Jsj1-Q.twitter (accessed 05 October 2016).

Front Line Defenders (2016) Annual Report 2016. Dublin: Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Available online at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/2016-annual-report (accessed 25 July 2016).

Idler, A. (2016) ‘Colombia just voted no on its plebiscite for peace. Here’s why and what it means’, The Washington Post, 02 October 2016. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/03/colombia-just-voted-no-on-its-referendum-for-peace-heres-why-and-what-it-means/ (accessed 05 October 2016).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (2016) ‘IACHR Condemns Killings and Threats Directed against Human Rights Defenders in Colombia’, Press Release, 25 February 2015. Available online at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2016/021.asp (accessed 25 July 2016).

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (2016) Global Report in Internal Displacement. Geneva: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Available online at http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2016/2016-global-report-internal-displacement-IDMC.pdf (accessed 05 October 2016).

Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (2016) ‘Colombia’, Country Profile, Geneva: Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor. Available online at http://www.the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2016/colombia/casualties-and-victim-assistance.aspx (accessed 05 October 2016).

Miroff, N. (2016) ‘Colombians vote against historic peace agreement with FARC rebels’, The Washington Post, 02 October 2016. Available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/colombians-vote-on-historic-peace-agreement-with-farc-rebels/2016/10/02/8ef1a2a2-84b4-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html?tid=a_inl#comments (accessed 05 October 2016).

Rueda, L. (2016) ‘One step closer to peace in Colombia: implications for accountability’, Centre for International Criminal Justice (CICJ) Commentary, Amsterdam: CICJ. Available online at https://cicj.org/2016/06/one-step-closer-to-peace-in-colombia-implications-for-the-accountability-for-international-crimes/ (accessed 05 October 2016).

UNOCHA (2016) Humanitarian Needs Overview: 2016. Bogotá: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Available online at http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2016_colombia_hno.pdf (accessed 05 October 2016).

 

 

UN International Day of Peace

dan-smithOn the occasion of the UN International Day of Peace, Dan Smith (Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Manchester, and former Secretary General of International Alert) has uploaded an excellent blog post on the current state of global armed conflict and progress towards peace. There are some clear correlations with the conflict predictions and factors which are said to contribute to conflict risks, which are currently being posted to the Blackboard Discussion Board by newly-enrolled SCID students. I would suggest that while Colombia is one of the most positive current examples of how peace can be found in the most intractable of conflicts, there are still significant risks present in Colombia (notably high levels of organised crime and corruption, and massive socio-economic inequalities) which are not adequately addressed by the peace agreement and, if left unaddressed, may compromise the peacebuilding process.

This post also includes SIPRI’s summary reflection on conflict and peace building in 2016, which is also very informative –

 

 

 

Building Peace and Democracy in Myanmar, Brick by Brick

A series of posts on Democracy and Conflict: Real-life Solutions vs Models:

“Locally owned democratic reforms and peace building processes may not look as logical and attractive as externally promoted/imposed models, but they are effective — not the least because they derive from and are built in local culture, contexts, institutions.”

myanmar-conference-2016

21st Century Panglong Conference in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar 31 August, 2016. REUTERS

In this commentary on Myanmar’s recent progress toward establishing democratic governance and ending decades-long civil war, I will try to look beyond the known facts into the background of Burmese politics that frames, directs and conditions the course of developments, but is also continuously influenced by them. That is why this environment is neither static nor monolithic or heterogeneous. I will pick up some pieces of this dynamic puzzle to better understand what is happening in Myanmar and, more importantly, why it happens as it does.

Another milestone

In the course of four days, from 31 August to 4 September 2016, the government and military of Myanmar held a peace conference with rebel groups over the country’s future political and administrative set-up. The conference in the capital Nay Pyi Taw was the first broad based, inclusive of (almost) all stakeholders event dedicated to this issue in nearly seventy years, since gaining the independence in 1948.

The importance of this event is difficult to overestimate. It was the largest and most representative forum bringing together government officials, members of parliament, political party representatives, military officers, and representatives of ethnic armed groups in decades. Its significance is twofold, given that it demonstrated the legitimacy and credibility of the first democratically elected government and set the course toward the implementation of the negotiated peace that shall result in a new, federal political and administrative organisation of the Burmese State.

It was not perfect (what is in political realm?), for it did not live up to (rather elevated) expectations of achieving tangible outcomes except for demonstrating commitment, formally launching the process, and offering all the sides an opportunity to share their opinion. But that is already a firm step forward, in a manner that appears to be characteristic of political processes in Myanmar—testing ground and moving from one milestone to the next as conditions allow.

Conditions must be ripe for making a move to another milestone toward peace and democracy in Myanmar, and they grew so gradually over a number of recent years of painstakingly building momentum, to be ready by this point in time.

This kind of decision making based on ecological rationality (that is when inferences are made through exploiting the structure of information and the environment to arrive at adaptively useful outcomes) shows itself in many instances in Myanmar, including the timing of holding the conference. Many external observes grew impatient over the prolonged negotiations and the delay with holding this landmark event; they missed the point, I am afraid. The conditions must be ripe for making the move toward another milestone, and they grew so gradually over a number of recent years of painstakingly building momentum, to be ready by this point in time:

— The military have made another step on their ‘roadmap’, by allowing the democratically elected government to take public office; in so doing they retained their power and control of certain decision-making domains (such as defence, police and border control where they continue appointing the ministers and their deputies).

— The government is fresh and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi commands respect internally and internationally and enjoys credibility with majority of population; thus hopes and willingness to cooperate are high for the time being (this is not going to be always like that, because there will be unavoidable delays and failures in addressing the mounting problems that will eventually lead to certain frustration and disillusionment).

— The rebels are exhausted and they realise that they have achieved maximum of what they could have secured through the armed conflict. It is not a secret to either side that violence leads to more violence which only aggravates the situation but does not bring any result in and by itself. Since the signing of National Ceasefire Agreement in October 2015 all but three rebel groups in the north have put the arms down.

— This explains why all the rebel groups (even those who did not sign the agreement) agreed to its text last year. And in fact accepting the peace agreement is being kept firmly by the government and military, as a precondition for participating in the follow-up peace- and state-building process. On the other hand, the negotiation process was long enough (it took four years) for all the parties to hold internal consultations and to weigh all the pros and cons. In turn, the military’s powerful commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his deputy signing the agreement in person had demonstrated their commitment.

— And finally, the process has got high level of attention and support from the international community. At the moment it is at its pick, which means strong political backing but also availability of financial and technical aid which are much needed to revitalise the economy and to address Myanmar’s numerous social problems (this should be taken with caution though, first, because of ever important to Myanmar strategic goal of balancing its relations with China, and second, recalling the waste in supply and spending when the country first opened for the external assistance in 2011, after the sanctions imposed back in the 1990s).

The fact that the agreement signing ceremony last year was attended by ambassadors of forty-five countries, the UN and World Bank in presence and co-signed by six international witnesses (among them the most important politically and economically neighbours China and India, along with Japan, Thailand, UN and the European Union) already speaks for itself. This year, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the conference, while the former SG Kofi Annan will head a commission for examining the situation with Rohingya Muslims and offering recommendations.

Recognizing the complexity of Burmese society

Any society represents a complex system due to broad variety of societal groups which constitute it and the diversity of their interests and intra-group and inter-group interactions (as stakeholders in an array of issues). Complex systems, as a rule, are characterized by the interaction of their components and therefore the resulting ‘emergent’ properties of the system as a whole cannot be derived from generalized quality of its components but reflect the properties of those numerous and multidimensional interactions between its constituent parts. Those interactions, in turn, tend to constantly change in their dynamics, directions, forms and magnitude. That is why it is so difficult to categorize any society, even when assessed against the criteria of one given category (for example, using political rights and civil liberties for judging the degree of democratic freedom).

Now imagine how complex is society where one-third of population is comprised of ethnic minorities. Moreover, there are more than a hundred of those minorities living together in these territories literally for ages. Add seven decades of most recent violent confrontation between them and the government led by military junta (of ethnic majority)—a civil war resulting in further erosion of social fabric and deeply running mistrust, physical destruction, economic backwardness, poverty, massive scale human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of refugees abroad and displaced people in-country, and more than one hundred thousand of fighters belonging to a dozen-and-half of armed rebel groups spread across the land (which are linked to each other but do not form a single cohesive entity, thus may act independently).

Democracy and Peacemaking. It is impossible to meaningfully achieve one goal without attaining the other: there cannot be a democracy without equality and fundamental human rights and rights of minorities respected, and democracy seems to be the only system that can guarantee those rights to the Burmese society’s diverse populations. 

There are two processes running simultaneously in Myanmar, since its independence day. One is the process of political transformation (presumably toward democratic governance, but in a localised fashion). Another is civil war between the ethnic majority and minorities. In the shadows of it is taking place another localised violent conflict, driven by religious divides. These processes are intertwined, although may vary independently, and what happens is that only a solution (or rather, a set of solutions) that addresses core issues at the heart of them has a chance to be effective and sustainable. It is impossible to meaningfully achieve one goal without attaining the other: there cannot be a democracy without equality and fundamental human rights and rights of minorities respected, and democracy seems to be the only system that cannot guarantee those rights to the Burmese society’s diverse populations.

A REBEL SHAN SOLDIER GUARDS A MOBILE CAMP OF THE REBEL SHAN STATE ARMY IN NORTHEASTERN MYANMAR.

A rebel Shan soldier guards the heights of a hill outside a mobile camp of the Rebel Shan State Army (SSA) in north eastern Myanmar. PDN/TAN/JDP

Understanding the local contexts and institutions

This is a sketchy present-day portrait of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, set within the country’s unique contextual features and underlying institutions. Take just some of them, most prominent ones, and you will see the random events, individuals and groups as parts and parcels of political processes occurring in their natural environment.

The country has a long history of statehood—existed as an independent kingdom, at times strongly centralised, for centuries (since the mid of 11th century until British colonization in the end of 19th century). Therefore, sense of nationalism and pride of own history and traditions, in each ethnic group and nation-wide, runs very deep. Perhaps this is one reason that in spite of violent infighting, almost all the rebel ethnicity centred groups do not seek to secede but strive to have equal rights and autonomy thorough building a federal state within the present borders. They take pride of the fact that Burma did not join the Commonwealth because they ‘refused to accept the British sovereign as head of state’.

On the other hand, the colonial rule not only disrupted the continuity of sovereign rule but also exacerbated and exposed the country’s major social vulnerability by stressing its inter-communal ethnicity based differences. This was recognised at the time of gaining the independence, and political equality was reflected in an agreement of domestic forces. Unfortunately this agreement was not implemented, thus effectively leading to armed conflict between the ruling majority and ethnic minorities.

Religion (Buddhism) has been one of distinctive building blocks of identity in Burma over the course of its long history, and has greatly influenced the individual, group, and inter-community behaviour and relations. However, group identity is not a permanent ‘solid enduring fact’ but rather a ‘situational construct’ which, first, has many layers and, second, evolves as part of the advancement strategy in response to changing circumstances (for example, by changing the hierarchy of its ingredient parts/layers). Therefore the Buddhist identity has not always played a dominant or unifying role in inter-communal relations, especially in the framework of the civil war unfolding.

In addition to ethnic diversity, there is a religious minority of Muslim population living in compact pockets; they are seen as aliens and discriminated against by nationalist Buddhists, at times brutally. In the western state of Rakhine, about hundred and twenty thousand Rohingya Muslims are living in displacement camps after being driven from their communities four years ago (it is also indicative that no one represented them at the peace conference).

Economic inequality has been another driver of the conflict, since the minorities live in most remote and underdeveloped areas but also have been neglected by the central government for long. Decades of civil war have devastated the country’s resources and destroyed its economy’s productive infrastructure while creating the opportunities for illicit economic activities, especially drug related, thus contributing to the conflict’s sustainability.

The change from within

Myanmar has demonstrated that by following its own path it slowly by surely progresses toward the end goal. The goal itself is broadly defined; it is shaped and reshaped along the journey, with multiple intermediary milestones determining the pace, the direction and the current and possible future settlement formats. Its smooth transition from military rule to democratically elected government (even though with the power and special position of military constitutionally guaranteed) took too long in the eyes of many observers, but what is important is that it worked out and already started delivering its first results. Another process, of ending the civil war, has too, entered its maturity phase after many attempts, iterations, and prolonged negotiations.

It well may be that, after decades of dominating mostly grim news Myanmar is about presenting to the world a lesson on how internal differences could be overcome. Whatever comes in the end (both in terms of governance and peace), is going to be a Burmese product, a local model that may not (and most probably because of that won’t) fit into Western or any other models of democratic government and peacemaking or work as a model for replication elsewhere.

Revitalisation of a troubled society must come from within if there is to be a meaningful fulfilment of its various communities’ needs and aspirations and a workable mechanism to accommodate their diverse relationships.

I am convinced that the Burmese (and similar) experiences of dealing with their problems deserve to be closely studied and learnt from. I see the success factors of this approach in its domestically-driven energy and localised solutions, built with recognition of political culture, traditions and institutions, with adjustments made to local contexts and, through this interaction, influencing those contexts to allow the change occurring and taking root. The revitalisation of a troubled society must come from within if there is to be a meaningful fulfilment of its various communities’ needs and aspirations and a workable mechanism for their diverse relationships.

The country makes cautious steps in progression and there is a long way to go. But one thing is clear today is that they do it their own way in Myanmar, and even if it does not match everyone’s expectations or standards abroad, it may work well for their people. And that’s what matters in the end.

This article originally appeared as a blog on PolicyLabs under the headline ‘Myanmar: Building Peace and Democracy Brick by Brick’

About the Author: Dr. Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state-building and political processes in post-conflict countries. He has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Azerbaijan. Being posted in the field (such as office in Srebrenica) and headquarters of international projects and missions, he has designed, implemented and overseen a broad range of strategies and local and nation-wide initiatives, and have chaired and participated in the work of civil-military groups, political coordination boards at all levels.