Conflict Weekly 12

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Conflict Weekly 12
Globally, Coronavirus increases Domestic Violence, deflates Global Protests, threatens Indigenous Communities and imperils the migrants. In South Asia, two reports question the Assam Foreign Tribunal and the Afghan Peace deal

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly #12, 08 April 2020, Vol.1, No. 12

Sourina Bej, D. Suba Chandran, Rashmi Ramesh, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Monish Tourangbam and Sukanya Bali


COVID 19: As lockdown intensifies, there is an increase in Global Domestic Violence 

In the news
The "Stay Home, Stay Safe" precautionary measure by the countries to fight the spread of the Coronavirus is proving dreary for the women worldwide as the home becomes the most unsafe place for them. The United Nations called on 5 April for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. "I urge all governments to put women's safety first as they respond to the pandemic," Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.

A week before this urgent action the UN Secretary-General made a similar appeal that the pandemic is necessitated to end violence worldwide, but the violence at home has continued to rise due to an intensification of quarantine measures to contain the pandemic. The cases of domestic violence have increased in each country within the first week of lockdown from China, India, Italy, France, and Spain to South Africa.

Issues at large
In China, a Beijing-based NGO had seen a surge in calls to its helpline since early February, when the government locked down the Hubei Province which is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 per cent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than it had received in the first week of March. On 3 April, the French Police reported a nationwide spike of about 30 per cent in domestic violence. In South Africa, there were nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of a lockdown. In Malaysia, the government launched a controversial campaign advising women not to nag their husbands and to refrain from being "sarcastic" while doing household chores. The campaign was later retracted. In Turkey, the local NGOs have recorded that the killing of women has risen sharply since a stay-at-home order was issued on 11 March. According to National Commission for Woman, the total complaints from women in India rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2- 8), to 257 in the final week of March (March 23-April 1) when the lockdown intensified.

The experts have said the common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family, and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behaviour; and restrictions on access to such necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities. The home isolation, however vital it is to fight the pandemic, is giving more power to the abuser.

In perspective
First, the increase in cases has brought to the fore the failure of the governments to anticipate and prepare for such cases. Besides, like many courts, NGO shelters remain closed, and the priority of the Police has shifted to identifying the COVID-19 patients, thereby closing any avenues of justice for the victims of domestic violence. Any form of early intervention remains unlikely as the instruments of response find it difficult to collate cases with reduced funds and work strength.

Second, one needs to understand the cumulative factors that are leading to domestic violence. The lockdown from partial to complete has thrown the economy and the avenues for livelihood at risk for many. With the fears of unemployment increasing, the outlet has been a horrific increase in torture and physical abuse at home.


Global Protest Movements in 2020: CoronaVirus as the Black Swan

In the news
A recent analysis titled "Coronavirus has crippled global protest movements" published during the last week in the Quartz looked at the status of protest movements in Algeria and Hong Kong to highlight how the protest movements across the world have plummeted. Published on 1 April, the above analysis underlines referring to a data published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED): "In total, there were 452 protests worldwide last week—many of which took place on balconies—down from 1,519 in the first week of March."

A DW report titled, "Coronavirus: Arab uprisings struggle amid lockdown" published a few days earlier says, "longstanding uprisings that have brought down leaders from Lebanon to Iraq have largely left the streets as COVID-19 stifles public life."

Issues at large
During early February 2020, the National Institute of Advanced Studies organized a workshop on "Discontent in/of Democracy: The Rise of Global Protest Movements." The workshop focussed on protest movements in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Europe, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The workshop also focussed on the issue-based global protest movements, for example, gender and climate change.

When 2020 dawned, there were numerous big protest movements across the world, in the regions identified above. Some of these movements – for example in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were aimed at good governance. The protest movements from Algeria to Iraq in the MENA region during 2019 also resulted in regime changes and the overthrow of the existing rulers. 

Some of these movements – from Lebanon to Hong Kong, were aimed at better governance and democracy. While the Hong Kong movement attracted more global coverage, there were other movements from Iraq to Chile, with the same demands. Some of these protest movements were emancipatory in nature where it provided a platform for women to take part in the public space and thereby take ownership – individually and collectively. For example, in the MENA and Latin American regions, there was a visible presence of the women in the protest movements with salutary efforts and results.

Some of these movements had a gender focus; in early March, there was a large protest movement in Mexico demanding a halt in violence against the women. The Guardian in its coverage wrote on the above movement as: "From factories along the Río Grande to businesses in the capital and offices in cities near the Guatemalan border, women and girls joined the unprecedented protest, billed as a Day without Women."

Some of the protest movements are about global governance and a better future for the entire planet – for example, climate change. While Greta Thunberg led Fridays for Future received the global attention, there were multiple environmental movements from Latin America to Asia, looking at the immediate issues from fracking to securing the Arctic.

In perspective
While 2019 witnessed an emergence of these movements, unfortunately for them, 2020 has seen the opposite. For these movements and causes that they espoused, the pandemic of the Coronavirus should be nothing less than a Black Swan event.

The State, across the world, has used the threat from the Coronavirus as an excuse to flatten the protest movements. The State is likely to arm itself with more powers under the disguise of addressing the threats from the virus. The slogan – "social distancing" should be a great rescue for those State, that could have otherwise found it difficult to dislodge these protest movements.

Outside the efforts from the State, the protestors are also taking measures to address the problems of the Coronavirus and keep away from the protests. In some places, they have attempted to shift the movement online or protest individually. But the State is less likely to respond, or even take notice of online protest movements, or those from the balconies

Indigenous Communities battle a complete wipeout 

In the news
In late March, an 87-year old indigenous woman from the Borari community succumbed to the virus. The previous week saw another case, where a medical worker from the Kokama community tested positive after coming in contact with an infected doctor. These are among the first known cases of COVID-19 among the native tribes in Brazil.

The indigenous communities across the globe are at a high risk of contracting the virus- whether it is in Brazil, Peru, India, Indonesia, or Canada.

Issues at large

The corona-curve in China has flattened after around four months to the extent of not reporting a locally transmitted case in late March. After witnessing the peak, it seems that the cases in Italy and Spain, have reached a stabilising point. The concern now is to reduce the number of new cases to the bare minimum.

Amidst all this, is little attention on the status of COVID-19 in the native lands. Governments, as well as the media, are excessively focusing on the mainstream population, but the indigenous people are at a higher risk comparatively. Their history of the fight with pandemics has been disastrous. The American plagues of the 16th century brought to the continent by the Europeans caused the collapse of the Inca and Aztec civilizations.

Statistics point that around 90 per cent of the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere, was annihilated. The measles outbreak in the 1960s killed a large section of the population of the Yanomami community living in the Brazil-Venezuela border. It is, therefore, more important to focus on the health of the native people in the COVID-19 crisis.

In perspective
First, forests are intruded by illegal hunters, mining companies and their workers, and missionaries. This is common across all the native lands, and it makes them vulnerable to the diseases carried by these agents. In Brazil, Bolsonaro's policy of exploiting the Amazons, and the activities of the missionaries, has encouraged more human activity, thereby exposing them to the Coronavirus.

Second, the native communities have been taking proactive steps to stop the spread of the virus. The leaders of the indigenous community organizations have been educating their people regarding better sanitization and isolation. Communities have now blocked the entry of outsiders into their lands, and they have stopped moving to the places with tourist activities, the potential risk-zones in the forests. They are also using traditional medicines to sustain immunity. It seems that subsistence living, self-reliance for food, and traditional knowledge is helping the indigenous people to put up a fight in this hour of crisis. However, their trade has been badly hit, with fewer opportunities to sell their handmade products and vegetables.

Third, countries like Bolivia, Peru, India, Ecuador, Kenya, so on, have taken measures to stop the movement towards the native lands. In terms of the medical facilities, few health officials are monitoring the situation in their respective countries, but their numbers are considerably low. Medical professionals cannot reach all places where the indigenous communities live. The rate of testing for the virus is low, and therefore, complete information about the communities infected, the numbers, the rate of the spread and the casualties remains unknown. In some cases, the medical professionals themselves can be potential carriers of the virus. Additionally, they are also vulnerable to the virus when they are forced to go to a hospital for any other kind of treatments.

Fourth, COVID-19 has ensured that violent conflicts in the Indian sub-continent have reduced to a large extent. The Naxal movement and the insurgencies have taken a backseat during the crisis. The Naxal fighters called for a temporary ceasefire, to enable the government officials to reach remote tribal-dominated areas and provide medical facilities and essential supplies.

Fifth, the biggest fear definitely, is the washout of native culture in a few places. Their history of a fight with pandemics has been disastrous. The measles outbreak in the 1960s killed a large section of the population of the Yanomami community living in the Brazil-Venezuela border. This fear now has gripped the Indian authorities, since the virus spread to the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. Among the six tribes native to the islands, the Sentinelese, inhabiting the North Sentinel Island of the archipelago is at greater risk, as they are untouched by the mainstream civilization. The only measure, the government can take, in this case, is to provide external protection by blocking the entry points into the island.

While the world is worried about the effects of Coronavirus, there is a section of the population that is not even aware of this disease and even if they know, cannot get much help.


A lethal impact on the Refugee/Migrant Camps 

In the news
The growing casualties of COVID-19 around the world have led to a global lockdown. Social distancing, hygiene, and strong immunity are the key measures to fight the pandemic. These measures might sound simple; nevertheless, it is a luxury for many. More than 70 million people are displaced all over the world, as stated by the UN Refugee Agency. They could be referred to as refugees, migrants or asylum seekers and remains the most vulnerable in the present situation. On 2 April, after 20 refugees tested positive, Greece became the first country to force quarantine a refugee camp. It raises the pertinent question, how to restrict the spread of the virus in these camps, which are overcrowded, cramped, lacks basic hygiene and sanitation. 

Issues at large
Large camps such as the Syrian refugee camps inside and outside Syria, the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh or the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan are the most vulnerable. These large camp areas are crowded and lack the necessary facilities. The millions residing in these camps are displaced due to conflicts in their country of origin. For example, in one of the Syrian refugee camps called 'Vial', in the Greek island of Chios, 6000 refugees reside in a space intended for about 1,000 people. Similarly, as of 2017 more than 18,200 Rohingyas are sheltered in the Kutupalong camp, one of the largest Rohingya camps, in Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. According to the UNHCR in 2017 Pakistan had approximately 1.3 million registered Afghans living in unhealthy conditions. In India, the government's decision on sudden lockdown has affected not only the migrant population but also the Rohingya refugees living in small camps across the country. They are now left to starve as they are not recognized by the government.

The pandemic is also being used as an instrument to further restrict any entry of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers within many countries. In March-end, Bosnia detained several thousands of refugees and migrants within a newly built Lipa refugee camp as a preventive measure to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. Around 24 km from the border, these refugee camps lack water, electricity, and medical facilities hence the restriction of movement of the refugees from the camps by the Bosnian authorities have further compounded their deplorability. 

In perspective
First, with the refugees living in closed and cramped quarters, social distancing is impossible, and in case of contamination it will be an arduous undertaking to prevent the contagion. The government should thereby initiate measures for hygiene, sanitation, awareness and facilitating medical facilities in the camps. For resolving this problem, a unique initiative has been taken by Portugal. The government has granted temporary residency to immigrants and asylum seekers until July 2020. This will enable them to avail health and social benefits like any other citizen of the country.

Second, in a scenario where the government structures in the developing countries lack the capacity to provide health benefits to all its citizens, providing healthcare of the refugees will be a distant priority. For instance, Bangladesh lacks basic medical facilitates for its citizens and will always priorities them over the refugees who are unwelcomed in their country. A closed border has deteriorated the condition further as most of these camps are heavily dependent on international aids and medical practitioners' from an organization such as 'Doctors' without Borders.' 

Last, with the refugees mostly unwelcomed in the host countries, a conflict between the local residents and the refugees around the camp areas could be simmering in any instance of a positive case of Coronavirus or facilities to the refugees. In the case of the Rohingya camps, frequent skirmishes have been reported between the locals and the Rohingya refugees. Thus when there is a fear of pandemic these local conflicts will aggravate, resulting in increasing problems. 


India: Assam's Foreigners Tribunal Struggles to Sift through Ethno-Religious Faultlines  

In the news

On 4 April, a report 'Muslims Are Foreigners': Inside India's Campaign to Decide Who Is a Citizen published in the New York Times (NYT), alleged that the central and the state government have been "illegally" influencing and pressurizing the Foreigners Tribunal lawyers in Assam while carrying out their duties. The Foreigners Tribunal lawyers, under the National Register of Citizens (NRC), have been in the job of registering citizens and documenting foreigners in Assam. This process, as the report and many other writings, suggest has acquired nationwide relevance and added layers, since the passage of India's controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The NYT report made its position preferring to call the pro and anti-CAA protests as "India's citizenship wars". The report was categorical, in blaming the government for being responsible for "stateless" Muslims in Assam, and alleging that the Modi government was pulling "the country away from its foundation as a secular, multicultural nation and turn it into a more overtly Hindu state." 

Issues at large
This is indeed a volatile issue simmering in the State of Assam and elsewhere in India, as the whole country has gone for a lockdown amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Irrespective of the points and counterpoints of those who vehemently oppose and those who strongly support the intentions of the Indian government relating to the CAA, this issue is steeped in the complex geography of Assam, owing to its porous borders with Bangladesh and the history of identity politics in the State. Beyond the grand narratives and counter-narratives of the government's alleged pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim sentiments lie the history of the politics over who is an Assamese, and who is not and the demands for Inner Line Permit (ILP) to preserve the culture and rights of the indigenous. 

The agitations over the influx of illegal immigrants into Assam over different periods of its modern history has been mired in the politics of centre-state relations, political parties, and electoral vote banks, student and civil society bodies, insurgent groups, and their factions. 

In perspective
The issue of illegal immigration in Assam and ways to address it is inseparable from the story of the formation of modern state boundaries in the subcontinent, more particularly the creation of Bangladesh, and the dynamic definitional parameters of who is a native, and who is a foreigner. Ethnicity, religion, and the demographic compositions in different areas of Assam are acutely reflected in how the citizenship law has played out in the Brahmaputra and Barak Valley there.

Moreover, the anti-foreigners agitation in Assam and other states in India's northeast acquires a more complex political and socio-economic undertone, as the idea of a "foreigner" and an "outsider", might not always be a label preserved for illegal immigrants, but also Indian citizens from the rest of the country. Hence, the debate over who is an "insider" and who is an "outsider" here often goes beyond the grand narrative of Hindu-Muslim dichotomy. This story predates the Modi era and will continue in some form or the other after the Modi government is long gone.

So, what the NYT report attempts to shed light on, is part of a much bigger story, playing out amidst the fault lines of a complicated concoction of the complex geography of Assam and the history of the State of Assam and its people.

Afghanistan: Peace Deal is a Return to Regression for Women

In the news
On 6 April, the International Crisis Group briefings on the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan focused on what the peace deal means for the women of Afghanistan. A third in the series, the briefing questioned whether the intra-Afghan talks would include the rights, status, and liberty of the Afghan women. The briefing is an early warning on the challenges that both the Afghan government and the Taliban would face in the coming days of the intra-Afghan talks. 

Issues at large
On 29 February, the US and the Taliban signed a peace deal which focuses on four major commitments that include withdrawal of foreign troops; prevent Afghanistan for being used as a safe harbour for terrorists, permanent ceasefire and Intra Afghan talks. The deal has been in discussions from the past 18 months, and since the beginning, the issue of women and the minorities has gained lesser attention.

The deal paves way for the Taliban's return to governance at some level in Afghanistan, after the intra-Afghan talks. With the Taliban's possible return to power, there is uncertainty over the rights of women in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban's rule, before the US invasion in Afghanistan, women were subjected to harsh restrictions like strict dress code, no formal education, employment and harsh punishment like stoning.

Several strides towards securing the rights of women and minorities were made since the US invasion. Eighteen years after the US invasion, 3.5 million girls attend school, women hold 27 per cent of civil service jobs and improved access has halved the deaths during childbirth. As per the report, there are chances that the rights of women will be in jeopardy after the peace process. Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam and legal order, curtail the liberty of women and minorities.

In perspective
First, in the past 18 years, there has been a slight drift in the Taliban's formal policy towards the education of girls. The girls in the Taliban controlled territories attend schools till puberty. Taliban has indicated that they would not re-impose erstwhile rules enforced by their Ministry of Propagation Virtue and Prevention of Vice. However, the Taliban lacks a clear policy towards the rights of women in post-war Afghanistan and there is ambiguity about the stand Taliban would take in the intra-Afghan talks. According to the World Population view, Afghanistan has around 48.68 per cent of women population, with 12 per cent of the minority populations. Presently, women hold 27 per cent of civil service jobs which makes the decision over them unavoidable.

Second, the women in Afghanistan have voiced mixed views. According to the report, urban women are more sceptical about the Taliban's mainstreaming than rural women who are more concerned about the end to the bloodbath. Some women do not consider the Taliban as enemies and also credit them for restoring order in the mid-1990s. The rights of women will likely be one of the most contentious issues in intra-Afghan talks.

Third, as the Taliban has expressed interest in the inflow of aid, it is unlikely that they would enforce harsh restrictions on women as they did in the 1990s. 


Syria: New UN Report on Idlib

In the news

On 6 April, the United Nations released a report that investigated the incidents in northwest Syria since 17 September 2017 after the signing of the Memorandum on Stabilisation of the situation in Idlib de-escalation area between Russia and Turkey.

Issues at large

According to the report, the board investigated six specific attacks on schools, health centres, and refugee camps in the region. The UN-led inquiry was headed by Lt.Gen Chikadibia Obiakor, a former military advisor in the Department of Peacekeeping Operation.

The sites that were attacked and included in the investigation are: Martyr Akram Ibrahim Al-Ahmad Secondary School on 28 April, Rakaya primary health care centre on 3 May, Kafr Nabutha Primary health care centre on 7 May, Nayrab Palestine refugee camp on 14 May, As-Suqylabiyah National hospital on 26 May, Kafr Nobol surgical hospital on 4 July and Ariha protection centre on 28 July.

The report gives a brief analysis of all the seven attacks and elaborates the nature of the attack, casualties and the perpetrators of violence.

Expressing concerns on the humanitarian situations, the UNSC resolution 2165 also decided to aid along with its partners the World Food Program, United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organisation, United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organisation for Migrations, Food Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Population Fund at four specific border crossings, including two at the Turkish border with northwest Syria. The basic essentials, such as water, health, and education facilities and security were focused. It also highlights the use of deconfliction information, which was shared among coalition forces of Turkey, Russian federation and Chairs of International Support Group which is transmitted to the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The report also focuses on the security of humanitarian aid workers, such as the OCHA and few opposition groups who have signed the “Declaration of Commitment to Compliance with IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and Humanitarian Assistance.” This helps in the engagement of humanitarian actors and opposition group under a set frame in order to provide protection and assistance to civilians with respect to international humanitarian law.   

The report further recommends strong implementation of international humanitarian law, capacity building, regular assessment of staff security, clear guidance on UN engagement with non-state actors, the allocation of fund and identification of resources under Syria’s cross border humanitarian fund. The report looks at various arenas and recommends a thematic cluster that would enable sharing of the information on the incidents easily and suggest OCHA to implement a flexible way in building records and tracking all aspects of operations.

In perspective

First, in the report, the study of each incident is vague and the accuracy of the deconfliction document fails in its purpose to provide the data. Second, the report falls short of directly blaming actors involved in the attacks, even though Russia has carried out several attacks on schools, hospitals, and other civilian sites. Third, the report only looked into specific attacks and didn’t investigate the 595 attacks since 2011.

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