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CWA # 521, 21 July 2021

Conflict Weekly
Floods in Germany, Wildfires in Siberia and the Pegasus Spyware

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #80, 21 July 2021, Vol.2, No.16
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

Sourina Bej, Akriti Sharma and Harini Madhusudan


 
Germany: Climate change in focus after floods kill more than 100 
In the news 
On 18 July, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to Schuld, one of the two regions hardest hit by extreme rainfall in Western Germany, said, the number of such extreme weather events had increased in recent years, adding, "we have to up the pace in the fight against climate change." 

On 14 July, in the Ahrweiler district, Rhineland-Palatinate, at least 117 people died after torrents of rainwater collected in the surrounding Eifel mountains and then a flash flood gutted through several villages. About 30,000 are currently without power, drinking water and gas. Along with Germany, Belgium also recorded a death toll of 27, according to the national crisis centre. 

Issues at large
First, the nature of floods and extreme climate variability. Recurring flooding in Rhineland is relatively common yet this extreme deluge and swelling of rivers are rare in Germany. According to the data released after the deluge and interpreted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were inundated with 148 litres of rain per sq metre within 48 hours in a part of Germany that usually sees about 80 litres in the whole of July. The Köln-Stammheim station was flooded in 154mm of rain over 24 hours, obliterating the city's previous daily rainfall high of 95mm. With climate change, the events of hydro-meteorological extremes are expected to become more extreme. And the deluge coincides with the global trend of simultaneous extreme heatwaves across the Atlantic and cloudbursts. 

Second, the response by disaster management mechanisms. In the Ahrweiler district, early warnings about record rainfall and expected floods did not make their way to the communities most at risk. In Erftstadt, south of Köln, the federal government's weather warning app advised many to stay inside their house, but by the next day, when the nearby dam was at risk of breaking, faster evacuation in keeping at pace with unfolding nature took all by surprise. Even though the European Flood Awareness System sent out specific warnings four days before the downpour, the ensuing flash floods still appeared to be a crisis.

Third, the nature of social preparedness. An overreliance on digital tools such as warning apps is yet to materialize in the border villages. The war-period sirens, now used by fire departments, and over-dependency on radio and television announcements are among the many factors impacting pre-emptive response. The flash floods that came after midnight on 14 July shut down the electricity and the telecommunication networks, cutting off people in the affected areas from official communication. The swelling of the river and the increase in the water level by every minute was never be expected. 

Fourth, emphasis on tackling climate change. The deluge has brought the focus on regional effort to tackle impacts of transboundary natural disasters and it comes at a time when the EU entered the next phase of introducing a climate policy to put the continent on a path to climate neutrality by 2050. The aim is to introduce a new emissions trading regime for the transport and building sectors, and in this Germany, itself has a national climate action plan to cut the greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 by making a complete switch to renewable energy.  

In perspective
In a federally administered disaster management system, the fear of the unknown surpassed all forms of preparedness. The systemic gap was exposed in a situation of a transboundary disaster, and the cooperative federalism was hindered by timely Centre-state coordination. In addition, the aftermath of the deluge saw the question of economic and social reconstruction of the vulnerable communities become a campaign issue. While the global efforts at tackling climate change are focused on cutting carbon emissions, the floods in Germany calls for the need to build communities resilient to face recurring natural disasters.



Wildfires: Siberia to the US
In the news
On 19 July, the Siberian city of Yakutsk temporarily closed the airport due to heavy smoke and wildfires. Yakutia's governor said: "The situation with wildfires in our republic is very difficult. I repeat that we are experiencing the driest summer in the past 150 years in Yakutia, and the month of June was the hottest on record. This, together with the dry thunderstorms that occur nearly daily in our republic, brought about significant wildfires." 

On 18 July, the Russian Emergency Ministry said that it had deployed two amphibious aircraft to Yakutia to help tackle the fires. According to the officials, 247,000 acres of land had been engulfed by the fires in 24 hours. Also, Kremlin has said that the wildfires have been caused by climate change.

On 12 July, wildfires in California had burned 83,256 acres of land resulting in the most destructive blazes the region has ever witnessed.

On 20 July, the wildfires in Oregon had burned 300,000 acres of land near the Bootleg Spring, followed by which thousands of people were evacuated. Nearly 2,000 firefighters have been deployed to douse the fire. 

Issues at large
First, the regional expansion. The wildfires have not been limited to one specific region geographically. They have been occurring throughout the globe. The US, Brazil, and Australia have witnessed deadly wildfires in recent years. Wildfires have become a global disaster.  

Second, the recurrence, intensity, and duration. Wildfires have become more frequent in recent years. Regions like Australia, Brazil, the US, and Russia witness wildfires every year. Siberia has been witnessing deadly wildfires for three consecutive years. The intensity of the wildfires has also increased, resulting in the burning of more areas geographically. The fire seasons are getting longer and the fire risks are increasing. According to scientists, if human-induced climate change was not there, such an event would have occurred once every hundred years.

Third, climate change as a cause and effect. The US and Siberia witnessed a deadly heatwave that is attributed to climate change. The heatwave and extremely dry weather conditions due to anthropogenic climate change resulted in blazes in the regions. In Siberia, permafrost is thawing which can result in an unstable land surface. On the other hand, the wildfires are destroying the forests which are the natural carbon sinks, and emitting greenhouse gases due to the burning of organic matter contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the heavy smoke emitted by the burning of the forests and organic matter had resulted in poor air quality. 

In perspective
First, the authorities in Siberia are only dousing the fires which are affecting the people. Most of the blazes which are not affecting the people are blazing unchecked. The geographical expansion of wildfires makes it difficult for the firefighters to control the fire. Such inadequate efforts to douse the wildfire can prove to be fatal for the planet's ecosystem.

Second, the preparedness and response. Since the wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense, the preparedness and response of such extreme weather events are significant. Wildfire emergency management should be efficient. Mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery should be stressed upon.

Third, the inability to control the fires. Wildfires have become a common event but the severe intensity of the wildfires makes it difficult for humans to control the blazes. However, with effective policy-making and use of technology, and effective early warning systems, wildfires can be controlled.



Pegasus Spyware: Government spying and the privacy questions
In the news
On 18 July, a document of the investigation by Paris-based Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International and a consortium of international news outlets was published. The study was based on a list with thousands of phone numbers of over 1000 prominent persons from over 50 countries across the globe. It was called the Pegasus Project. According to the reports, the majority of the numbers were based on countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This brings to the fore the ethical questions of spying and its usage by governments. While NSO and some of the governments have released statements denying any wrongdoing, it is unclear where the list of phone numbers was leaked from.

Issues at large 
First, the idea of Pegasus. Early records of the issues with Pegasus dates back to 2015 when it was revealed that human rights workers, journalists, lawyers' politicians, and researchers were allegedly under surveillance by the Mexican authorities. Over the years, it has evolved to be seen as the most sophisticated hacking tool in the world, where it does not require the user to click on any exploitative links to activate them. Amnesty International, in 2019 submitted a petition to Israeli courts, in an attempt to force the Israeli ministry of Defence to revoke NSO's security exports licence. 

The Pegasus spyware is popularly known to be used against criminals and terrorists and made available for use only for intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and military in countries with a good human rights track record. NSO is an Israel-based technology firm, founded in 2010. It is known to provide security services to governments. The media report reveals that there have been over 50,000 phone numbers in their database, of which over 600 politicians, government officials, security officers, diplomats, business executives, several members of the Arab royal family, and up to 200 journalists and human rights activists. Pegasus is a software that enables remote surveillance of smartphones with a "zero-click" attack that makes it hard to detect. 

Second, the State involvement. Though NSO has denied the accusations, it argues that it can't be held responsible if governments misuse the technology, it sells them. While NSO is in legal battles with Amnesty International, WhatsApp, Facebook, the group in late June released a document called, "Transparency and Accountability Report," where it revealed that it has 60 clients from 40 countries. Officials from the company have revealed to The Independent that they cannot be sure exactly who is targeted by their software once it is handed over to the clients, and that they do not remotely operate it. The governments that purchase the spyware are asked to sign a contract in agreement to not transfer the systems to any third party. However, with the increasing activities on the internet, there is significant demand for these services. 

Third, victims and their privacy rights: it is still unclear if all the devices of the numbers in the list have been infected. However, it can be considered a gross violation of the basic human right to privacy. For example, it has been revealed that the spyware was known to be installed in the phone of Jamal Khashoggi's fiancé days after his murder. These actions pose larger ethical questions on the legitimacy of the surveillance industry as a whole. How does a private firm from Israel be able to decide which client is allowed to access their software? Who is a fair client and who isn't? 
 
In perspective 
The report exposes the infrastructure of the Pegasus software. However, the sheer efficiency of the software will retain the demand for its use. The Pegasus software brings to us a modern version of private detectives, but detectives who remain at one of the closest to the personal space of an individual. The fact that the company uses the tracking of criminals and terrorists as a legitimizing factor can be seen as problematic. Governments and private companies like NSO must work towards the accountability of such services.
 



Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
 
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: US, UK, EU, Japan accuse Beijing of massive hacking 
On 19 July, the Biden administration accused China of carrying out a "massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software" terming it a "pattern of irresponsible behaviour in cyberspace." Further, the Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals for alleged involvement in a hacking campaign targeting universities, businesses, and government bodies. Similarly, the EU said cyber activities that have a "significant effect" targeting government bodies may have links to China. The UK. National Cyber Security Centre said similar groups had "targeted maritime industries and naval defence contractors in the US and Europe and the Finnish Parliament." Japan also claimed that several businesses were targeted by China-backed hacking groups. 
 
The Philippines: Easier to ask Chinese ships from Philippine waters now, says Duterte
On 19 July, President Rodrigo Duterte said initiating cordial relations with China had made it easy to ask Chinese ships to exit from Philippine waters. The remarks came after the Presidential spokesperson, on the same day, said that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) had chased a Chinese naval warship from the country's EEZ on 13 July. Duterte said sending the PCG, instead of naval ships, is part of the Philippines' diplomatic efforts to address disputes in the West Philippine Sea. 
 
Myanmar: Clashes between KNU and BGF continue 
On 20 July, The Irrawaddy reported that clashes between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Karen State Border Guard Force (BGF) were continuing despite the initiation of peace talks between the two groups in June. The BGF is controlled by the military. The news report quoted the Secretary of the KNU: "BGF troops advanced in two vehicles and our soldiers clashed with them in Kontangyi. The KNLA troops ambushed the vehicles and retreated after shooting for a few minutes. Two BGF fighters were seriously injured in the skirmish." Meanwhile, a BGF Major confirmed the ambush but dismissed claims that two were injured. 
 
Myanmar: Anti-coup protesters observe Martyrs' Day; Suu Kyi misses ceremony
On 19 July, anti-coup demonstrators in different cities observed the Martyrs' Day marking the assassination of freedom fighters, including Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, on 19 July, 1947. Reuters quoted some of the protesters: "Martyrs never die. We are going to wash our feet with the blood of war dogs." The military officials also held a ceremony at Aung San's mausoleum; however, Suu Kyi was not present at the ceremony and a department head of the Yangon City Development Committee laid the wreath at the mausoleum. 
 
Myanmar: Child Rights Committee raises concerns over state of children in Myanmar
On 16 July, the UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) warned that children in Myanmar are facing risks that could damage an entire generation. The CRC noted that at least 75 children had been killed since the coup in February. The Chair of the CRC said: "Children in Myanmar are under siege and facing catastrophic loss of life because of the military coup," adding, "Children are exposed to indiscriminate violence, random shootings and arbitrary arrests every day. They have guns pointed at them, and see the same happen to their parents and siblings." Therefore, the CRC called for an immediate solution to the crisis and called on Myanmar to adhere to the Child Rights Convention.
 
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
Maldives: Nasheed tells Solih to "course-correct before it is too late"
On 17 July, Maldivian Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Nasheed asked President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to "course-correct before it is too late." In a statement, Nasheed accused Solih of defaulting on his pledge to address religious extremism, referring to the government's "withdrawal" of support for a recent Bill which criminalized hate crimes. He said: "When the conservative religious parties who are part of a political alliance with the government objected, the government withdrew support for its own Bill."
 
India: Chief Justice calls out the misuse of sedition laws as a "serious breach of functioning of institutions"
On 15 July, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana called out the misuse of "sedition laws as a serious breach of functioning of institutions." He asked: "Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak... Is this law necessary after 75 years of Independence?," arguing, "the use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself," Additionally, he asked the Center to explain why it still retained the colonial-era law in the statute books when it had done away with so many other archaic laws.
 
India: Oxfam report highlights growing inequalities in health indicators
On 19 July, Oxfam India in a report titled "India Inequality Report 2021: India's Unequal Healthcare Story" showed that the growing socio-economic inequalities in India are disproportionately affecting health outcomes of marginalized groups due to the absence of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The report shows: "the general category performs better than SCs and STs; Hindus perform better than Muslims; the rich perform better than the poor; men are better off than women, and the urban population is better off than the rural population on various health indicators. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these inequalities."
 
Pakistan: PM and COAS meets with Zalmay Khalilzad
On 19 July, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. During the meetings, Khalilzad stressed the urgency of a comprehensive political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, one that leads to sustainable peace and preserves Afghanistan's security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Additionally, Khalilzad met with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and National Security Adviser Moeed Yousuf.
 
Afghanistan: Rocket attack near Presidential Palace during Eid prayers
On 20 July, three rockets landed near the Presidential Palace during the Eid prayers where President Ashraf Ghani and other politicians and officials had attended. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and the Taliban has denied their involvement in the attack. Meanwhile, a group of religious scholars from across Afghanistan called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and make efforts for peace and stop the violence that "brings destruction and killings" to the Afghan people.
 
Afghanistan: Republic, Taliban delegation say they will expedite peace negotiations
On 18 July, delegations from the Afghan government and the Taliban concluded two days of negotiations. According to a joint statement, the two sides agreed to expedite the peace efforts and continue high-level talks until a settlement is reached. Additionally, they agreed to find a common ground to move the country forward from the current situation, promising to provide humanitarian assistance throughout Afghanistan. However, there was mention of de-escalation of violence or ceasefire in the statement.
 
Afghanistan: Erdogan says Taliban should end "occupation" in Afghanistan
On 19 July, President Tayyip Erdogan said: "the Taliban need to end the occupation of their brothers' soil and show the world that peace is prevailing in Afghanistan right away," and rejected the group's warning of consequences if Turkish troops remain in Afghanistan to run Kabul airport. Meanwhile, he has asked the US to provide financial, logistical and diplomatic support to help Turkey run and guard Kabul after other foreign troops leave the country.
 
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Azerbaijan-Armenia: Defense forces exchange fire 
On 19 July, Azerbaijani and Armenian forces exchanged fire along the border with the Defense Ministries criticizing each other, respectively. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that the Armenian side forces started firing first, while the Armenian Defense Ministry refuted the claims adding that Baku held the responsibility for the incident. The development comes days after a similar exchange of fire left at least one Armenian soldier dead and an Azerbaijani soldier wounded. 
 
Palestine: Palestinian Authority condemns Israeli police storming into Al Aqsa complex 
On 18 July, Al Jazeera referred to Palestinian media, which said that Palestinians had condemned the Israeli police storming into the Al Aqsa Mosque complex on the same day. The news report quoted from Palestinian Authority's statement, which held "the Israeli occupation government fully responsible for the escalation resulting from the Israeli incursion in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied Jerusalem." The PA further termed the Israeli action "serious threat to security and stability." Further, the Jordan Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "The Israeli actions against the mosque are rejected and condemned, and represent a violation of the historical and legal status quo, international law and Israel's obligations as an occupying power in East Jerusalem."
 
Iraq: 35 killed in a suicide attack in Baghdad 
On 19 July, at least 35 people were killed and over 60 wounded in a suicide bombing at a market in the Sadr City of Baghdad on the eve of the Eid festival. The Interior Ministry said that a locally-made IED was used in the attack. Meanwhile, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack. The Iraqi President tweeted: "They are targeting our civilians in Sadr City on the eve of Eid," adding, "They do not allow people to rejoice, even for a moment."
 
Syria: Air defences intercept Israeli missiles in Aleppo
On 19 July, the state media reported that the Syrian air defences had intercepted an Israeli attack in southern Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the missiles destroyed bases and a weapons depot of pro-Iran groups after they landed close to the Scientific Studies Research Centre. The development comes a month after Israeli attacks killed at least 11 government troops in June.  
 
Libya: Amnesty International reveals fresh evidence of violence at Libyan detention centres
On 15 July, a report by Amnesty International titled 'No one will look for you': Forcibly returned from sea to abusive detention in Libya' documents new evidence of starvation and abuses inside migrant detention centres collected from migrants inside seven facilities across Libya. The report reveals the numerous violations, including sexual violence, against men, women and children intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centres in Libya, highlighting the horrifying consequences of Europe's ongoing cooperation with Libya on migration and border control.
 
Ethiopia: Tigray forces attack neighbouring region Afar, says, regional spokesman
On 19 July, a spokesman for the Afar region said the region had been under attack from Tigrayan fighters since 17 July. He said the Afar forces, along with militia forces were fighting with the Tigrayan forces and added that the federal military forces will shortly aid the Afar forces. Meanwhile, the spokesman for Tigray confirmed the attacks and said: "We are not interested in any territorial gains in Afar, we are more interested in degrading enemy fighting capabilities."
 
South Africa: High Court adjourns Zuma's trial 
On 20 July, the Pietermaritzburg High Court said the former President Jacob Zuma's trial had been adjourned until August. The development comes after the arrest of Zuma led to looting, protests and violence. Zuma appeared for a virtual hearing on 19 July and his legal team, citing the pandemic, called for the postponement of the trial, adding that the defendant had a right to appear in person for the same. 
 
The GERD: Ethiopia attains second-year target for filling Nile Dam
On 19 July, an official told AFP that Ethiopia had achieved its second-year target of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD or Nile Dam). The Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister tweeted that the water in the dam was overflowing. The development comes amid Ethiopia's tensions with Egypt and Sudan regarding the dam.
 
Peace and Conflict on Europe and the Americas 
Turkey: Erdogan says Cyprus talks can only resume on a 'two-state' basis
On 20 July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that peace talks on the future of Cyprus can take place only between "the two states" on the divided Mediterranean island. He said, "The new negotiation process can only be carried out between the two states. We are right and we will defend our right to the end." Additionally, he reiterated Ankara's support for the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
 
Turkey: EU headscarf ruling 'grants legitimacy to racism,' says Turkish Cabinet Ministers
On 18 July, Turkey's cabinet ministers criticized the European court of justice (ECJ) for its decision to allow employers to ban headscarves from their workplaces. The ministers said that the move was "a blow to the rights of Muslim women" and that it would "grant legitimacy to racism." Additionally, spokesperson for Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "The decision by the European court of justice on [headscarves] in the workplace is another blow to the rights of Muslim women," adding, it would "play right into the hands of those warmongers against Islam in Europe."
 
The UK: 430 migrants cross the English Channel
On 19 July, around 430 migrants crossed the English Channel to the UK, making it a new single-day record. According to the Home Department "substantial steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration." Additionally, Britain's clandestine channel threat commander, said "there is an unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings across the channel because of a surge in illegal migration across Europe," adding, "people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making these dangerous crossings. We are continuing to pursue the criminals behind these illegal crossings."
 
BREXIT: The UK threatens to deviate from Brexit deal
On 19 July, Reuters reported that Britain will threaten to deviate from the Brexit deal unless the European Union shows more flexibility over Northern Ireland. This move could push the five-year Brexit divorce into chaos. Meanwhile, David Frost, the British minister is scheduled to announce a significant potential change on the protocol that could have far-reaching consequences for the relationship with the EU.
 
France: French investigators probe Jaish al-Islam rebel group
On 19 July, Deutsche Welle reported that France's official war crimes unit confirmed that it is investigating the Jaish al-Islam rebel group. Jaish al-Islam which continues to operate in Syria has been integrated into the Syrian National Army, which is a collective of hard-line rebel groups supported by NATO member Turkey. This probe would be the first time a Western country is looking into atrocities committed by rebel groups.
 
Peru: Pedro Castillo declared as president-elect
On 19 July, Pedro Castillo was declared as the president-elect of Peru after winning the popular vote in a contested run-off election that went on for six weeks. He is scheduled to be sworn in as President on 28 July. After the announcement, Castillo, in a speech, said: "We are going to work together and bring this country together," adding, "We are going to reject anything that goes against democracy." Meanwhile, Castillo's running mate, Dina Boluarte, was declared vice president-elect.
 
Cuba: Government holds rally in Havana after protests
On 17 July, the Cuban government held a massive rally in Havana. The rally was held in response to the nationwide protests amid widespread shortages of basic goods, demands for political rights and the island nation's worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Raul Castro, who among the protesters, denounce the US trade embargo and reaffirmed support for Cuba's revolution. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said that Cuba's "enemy has once again thrown itself into destroying citizen's sacred unity and tranquility."
 
Haiti: Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph steps down
On 18 July, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced that he would cede power to Ariel Henry, who had been appointed by Jovenel Moise as prime minister two days before his assassination but was not sworn in. He said, "Everyone who knows me knows that I am not interested in this battle, or in any kind of power grab," adding, "The President was a friend to me. I am just interested in seeing justice for him." Additionally, he said that he was willing to transfer power "as quickly as possible."



About the authors
Sourina Bej is a doctoral candidate at the University of Bonn, Germany. Akriti Sharma and Harini Madhusudan are PhD Scholars; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.

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