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Canada's Wildfires, and Reviews of two reports on Tigray and the Arctic Ice-melt
Conflict Weekly #179, 08 June 2023, Vol.4, No.23
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and India Office of the KAS
Akriti Sharma, Anu Maria Joseph and Rashmi Ramesh
Canada: Raging Wildfires and its fallouts
In the news
On 7 June, Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, stated: "We are already seeing one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and we must prepare for a long summer. The threat of increased fires due to climate change." Canada has been witnessing hundreds of wildfires resulting in the evacuation and destruction of infrastructure. The wildfires have engulfed 9.4 million hectares of land since 7 June 2023.
According to the government of Canada, projections indicate a potential for continued higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country. The ongoing wildfire season is due to drought conditions. Canada is currently at national preparedness level five, indicating that it has fully committed all its national resources to mobilise the fight against the fires.
On 7 June, the US President, Joe Biden, directed his administration to deploy all available federal firefighting assets that can rapidly assist in suppressing fires impacting Canadian and American communities.
Issues at large
First, the unusual intensity of wildfires. Canada has the world's most dense forests, making it prone to wildfires every year. However, this year the intensity of wildfires is unusual. The wildfires, which used to be restricted to the country's southern parts, have spread to the eastern parts. Additionally, intense levels of wildfires are uncommon during the beginning of the season.
Second, climate change links to extreme weather events. The unusual increase in the frequency, intensity, and magnitude of wildfires can be attributed to climate change. IPCC has claimed a strong link between extreme weather events and climate change. Climate change is also acting as a cause and effect. Climate change has triggered wildfires; on the other hand, wildfires are destroying the forests, which are the natural carbon sinks, emitting greenhouse gases due to the burning of organic matter, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions - leading to air pollution.
Third, the worsening air quality. Canadian cities like Toronto had an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) of seven, indicating a "high risk" to human health. Calgary, Edmonton, and Forth Smith had an AQHI of five, implying a "moderate risk." The smoke crossed Canada and affected US cities, including New York, which witnessed poor air quality. Citizens were advised to wear masks to avoid the health risks of poor air quality.
First, keeping a check on human-caused wildfires. Even though 85 per cent of the ongoing fires have been caused by natural causes like lightning, 15 per cent are caused by human actions. Natural reasons cannot be controlled, but human causes can be restricted.
Second, the vulnerable population. The wildfire impacts will be much higher for the vulnerable population including the indigenous communities. The preparedness and response plans need to take enhanced action for vulnerable populations.
Third, efficient preparedness. Since Canada is expecting a harsh wildfire season, early warning systems and emergency plans would help manage the wildfires with lesser damage.
IPRI REPORT REVIEW
Persisting Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia's Tigray region:
Four Takeaways of HRW Report
Anu Maria Joseph
On 1 June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report titled "Ethiopia: Ethnic Cleansing Persists Under Tigray Truce." The deputy African director at the Human Rights Watch, Carine Kaneza Nantulya, stated: "The November truce in northern Ethiopia has not brought about an end to the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone; If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account."
The Human Rights Watch has called on the Ethiopian government to "suspend, investigate and appropriately prosecute" officials who have committed human rights abuses in Western Tigray.
On 6 June, Al Jazeera quoted the Ethiopian government rejecting the allegations by the HRW, stating: "This distorted and misleading portrayal of the situation attempts to undermine peaceful coexistence and fuel inter-ethnic conflict and obstruct the national efforts for peace and reconciliation.
The conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region between the Ethiopian federal forces, Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and respective allies (Amhara forces, Eritrean forces and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) ended with the signing of a peace agreement in November 2022. Although the deal has ended the hostilities between the parties, a negative peace persists in Tigray. The report by the HRW says the Ethnic Tigrayans are being targeted, undergoing human rights violations and forced expulsions.
Following are four takeaways from the report.
1. Continuing ethnic cleansing of the Tigrayans despite the peace agreement
During September 2022-April 2023, HRW interviewed 35 people, including the victims of the abuses, aid agencies and witnesses. It found out that despite the truce agreement, Amhara security forces known as "Amhara Liyu," a militia group known as "Fano," and interim authorities were engaged in forced expulsions, killings in detention, torture and inhuman treatment of ethnic Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone. The detainees were held for an extended period in police stations, prisons, military camps and other unofficial sites in the region. Several interviewees said 70 people, including residents and detainees, were forcibly expelled from the Western Tigray region. The report quotes a Reuters story on the Fano militia expelling 2,800 people from five detention sites in Western Tigray in early November, including men, women, and children. Nearly 47,000 UN registered displaced people in Sudan told HRW they are threatened by officials and security forces in Tigray against returning home.
2. Lack of accountability and justice to the human rights abuses in Tigray
The Ethiopian government has shown little interest in prosecuting those who committed human rights atrocities in Tigray. An Inter-Ministerial Task Force set up by the Ministry of Justice had previously promised to investigate the atrocities in Western Tigray by December 2022. The government has not yet released any details of these inquiries or prosecuted anyone for the atrocities. When Ethiopia was under review by the UN Committee against Torture in May, Ethiopian officials downplayed the allegations of ethnic cleansing.
3. Little international monitoring and investigations in Western Tigray
Although the international actors, including the EU and the US, had emphasized the priority of justice for the victims of human rights atrocities, they failed to initiate concrete benchmarks to hold the perpetrators accountable. Instead, right after the signing of the peace agreement, many actors, including the US and the EU, sought to revive strained relations with the Ethiopian government besides stressing accountability for the atrocities. On 15 March, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to strengthen bilateral relations. On 4 April, the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrel, said that the normalization of ties with Ethiopia would depend on the development of the peace process and refrained from addressing the lack of progress on justice for the victims.
4. Emphasis on the need for monitoring by national, regional and international actors
The report has emphasised the role of national, regional and international actors in monitoring the human rights abuses in Tigray. The HRW calls on the Ethiopian government to ensure that human rights monitors, including the National Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have access to the conflict-hit regions to conduct investigations. It emphasizes the need to establish an independent body for the Ethiopian government to monitor the repatriation of displaced communities. It highlights that the African Union Monitoring Mission, which is to visit Western Tigray in June, should publicly report on rights abuses and humanitarian access in the region. It stresses concerted efforts by international actors to support the mechanisms of monitoring and investigating violence.
This is not the first time ethnic cleansing has been reported in Tigray. Since the conflict broke out in November 2020, Tigrayans have been ethnically targeted. HRW released similar reports on ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia during April, June and December 2022. Although the peace agreement in Tigray mentions justice to the victims of the abuse, an end to a civil conflict between two forces, TPLF and Ethiopian federal forces, does not mean an end to ethnic indifferences. Referring to a truce as a yardstick for a sudden end to ethnic cleansing is unfeasible. The issue lies deep within the ethnic complexities of Ethiopian society. Ethnic issues in Tigray need to be addressed through the grassroots. The recommendation for a comprehensive monitoring mechanism has a relativity that it will unlikely address the issue.
Sea Ice-Free Arctic:
Three Takeaways of a research publication
In the news
On 6 June, a research article titled "Observationally-constrained projections of an ice-free Arctic even under a low emission scenario" was published in Nature Communications, highlighting the effects of climate change on the Arctic Sea ice. The authors observed the changes in the sea ice area in the Arctic across all the months by comparing three sets of satellite images with the CMIP6 multi-model simulations. Against the backdrop of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the authors emphasize the "importance of planning for and adapting to a seasonally ice-free Arctic in the near future."
The following are three takeaways.
1. Sea ice-free summers
Researchers have shown that the Arctic summers will be practically sea ice-free by the 2030s. This is about a decade earlier than the previous studies, which said ice-free summers would be a reality in the next 40 years. There is a significant reduction in sea ice in all months, beyond the internal variability range. This trend is the strongest in the summers, with September being the most ice-free month. Early summer sea ice loss is projected to occur later in the century. However, this does not imply that the Arctic will be completely ice free, but the oldest and thickest part of the sea ice is drastically dwindling. Most importantly, the researchers highlight that despite concentrated efforts towards reducing emissions, sea ice-free summer in the Arctic is inevitable, meaning that the developments are beyond correction and reversal.
2. Strong GHG influence on reducing sea ice
The study says that the greenhouse gas (GHG) influence on the Arctic is a dominating factor in reducing the sea ice cover. The GHG influence can be separated from other factors owing to its dominance. It also shows an expanded human influence on the cryosphere.
3. The vicious cycle
Climate change is affecting the Arctic in a skewed manner. The net radiation balance tends to produce larger changes in the Arctic, known as Arctic amplification. The causes and consequences of the Arctic amplification are cyclical- what might be a cause can be a consequence too. Anthropogenic factors are warming the Arctic at a fast pace. Consequently, there is a significant effect on the ecosystem and the human population living inside and outside the Arctic.
The extent of the effects of climate change in the Arctic is debated. There is no agreement on the level of Arctic amplification against the global rate. Earlier studies showed that the Arctic was warming twice the global rate before the 21st century. The IPCC's 'Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate' 2019 revised the figures and said that the Arctic surface air temperature has "likely increased more than double the global average" in the past 20 years.
In 2021, the Arctic Monitoring Impact Assessment Programme said the Arctic had warmed three times faster than the planet. It also said that in the case of global warming at two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels, the sea ice is highly likely to disappear. In 2022, researchers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute concluded that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet and is concentrated towards the Eurasian Arctic and the Barents Sea, warming seven times faster than the global average. Two other studies by the American Geophysical Union (2021) and Geophysical Research Letters (2022) point to the Arctic amplification standing at a four-fold pace.
Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Rishika Yadav, Taffy Tonia A, Lakshmi Parimala H, Nithyashree RB, Subiksha S, Sreeja JS, Varsha K, Jerry Franklin, and Immaculine Joy Paul
East and Southeast Asia
North Korea: UNSC criticized for discussing satellite launch
On 4 June, the Strait Times reported North Korea denouncing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for addressing the satellite launch and asserted its intention to reject sanctions and defend itself. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, criticized the Security Council for being a "political appendage" of the US and disregarding North Korea's right to space exploration. She condemned the UNSC's interference in North Korea's internal affairs and violation of its sovereignty.
South Korea: Sanctions on a North Korean hacking group
On 2 June, South Korea imposed sanctions on Kimsuky, a North Korean hacking group believed to have been involved in Pyongyang's satellite launch. In a joint advisory with the US, Seoul stated that the group conducts large-scale cyber-attacks on think tanks, academic institutions, and news outlets. The hackers carried out spear phishing campaigns, posing as journalists, academics, or individuals linked to North Korean policy circles. The US, South Korea, and Japan have emphasized that any launch by Pyongyang utilizing ballistic missile technology violates multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Cambodia: Concerns over AUKUS alliance
On 6 June, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed concerns over the AUKUS alliance, comprising the US, Britain, and Australia. He stated that the alliance concerns the ASEAN as it allows Australia to buy nuclear-powered submarines provided by the US and the UK. Hun Sen emphasized that AUKUS contradicts the 1995 Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. He warned that this military alliance could lead to a "dangerous arms race" in the region, posing a significant security threat.
Indonesia: Multilateral naval exercise
On 5 June, the Indonesian navy launched the Komodo drills in its waters off the coast of Makassar, South Sulawesi, joined by navies from the US, the UK, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and 29 other countries. Fifteen vessels, including those from China and Russia, participated in the drills off Sulawesi Island.
Thailand: Bangkok to cut electricity supply to Myanmar's border casinos
On 2 June, The Irrawaddy reported the decision of the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) in Bangkok to cut off the electricity supply to illegal casinos along the Salween River in Myanmar. The Myanmar Embassy in Thailand requested this decision after the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, met with the Myanmar junta. Chen Hai urged them to combat cross-border crime, online fraud, and gambling. According to the news report, even though there will be an electricity shutdown, the casinos will still be able to operate due to having generator backup.
Myanmar: 27 soldiers killed in clashes
On 2 June, According to a spokesperson from the Chin National Army (CNA), as reported by the Irrawaddy, there have been clashes between CNA and Chin Defense Force (CDF) with the Myanmar junta force in Hakka and Zooey. In the past four days, 27 soldiers and 12 resistance fighters were reportedly killed. On 28 May, the clashes broke out when 200 State troops moved through the Mindat-Kyauthtu route controlled by CDF in the southern state of Chin. The military regime singled out Htin Chuang village because it served as a trade center connecting the Mindat and Magwe areas.
Myanmar: State troops raid a Sagaing region
On 1 June, according to the Irrawaddy, in 2022, the Myanmar junta troops conducted raids in a Ye-U Township village in Sagaing region, resulting in the reported death of approximately 29 residents.
India: Inquiry commission formed to probe Manipur violence
On 4 June, the Indian government appointed a three-member Commission of Inquiry to investigate ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur. The commission will be headed by former Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the commission has been instructed to submit its report within six months of its first sitting. The commission would be headquartered in Manipur.
Pakistan: The US statement on regional security
On 5 June, the US stated that it engages directly with Pakistani partners on regional and security issues, refusing to comment publicly on the current political situation in Pakistan. The State Department spokesperson stressed the significance of maintaining security and stability in the region. He also expressed hope for a prosperous and stable Pakistan. Furthermore, Patel noted that despite the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) campaign to gain favour, it had minimal effect on the US administration. However, it did receive support from sympathizers in Congress. Meanwhile, the US had called on Pakistan to grant consular access to Khadija Shah, a dual-citizen fashion designer detained after the 9 May violence.
Nepal: Swapping land an option to resolve the Kalapani dispute, says Dahal
On 2 June, on the third day of his visit to India, in an interaction with the media, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal revealed that he discussed with the Indian Prime Minister on the boundary issues. He suggested swapping the Kalapani area with India to give Nepal access to Bangladesh through the Siliguri corridor. This was put forward on similar lines to the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, where the two countries exchanged multiple enclaves. However, this idea has been denounced by many in Nepal. One among them was the Deputy General Secretary of CPN-UML, Pradip Gyawali, who described it as "very immature." He justified with four reasons: "First, there is no provision to allow land swap in our constitution. Second, land swap is the last option for us, because first, we have to establish our claim over Kalapani. Third, that route [chicken's neck] is important for India. And fourth, a person like the prime minister should not show his cards when formal talks have not begun. The prime minister should not speak lightly on such a sensitive issue."
Bangladesh: UNHRC demands international recognition of the 1971 genocide
On 1 June, The Daily Star reported that the UN Human Rights Council had included the demand for international recognition of the 1971 genocide during the Bangladesh Liberation War as one of the agenda of its 53rd session in July 2023. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, received the statement from Stichting BASUG, a Bangladeshi diaspora organization with the special consultative status of the ECOSOC along with several other organizations. Besides reiterating the "international recognition of the 1971 genocide," the organization stated that the genocide was planned and carried out by the Pakistani military during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
Central Asia, The Middle East, and Africa
Israel: Six injured in Ramallah in the West Bank
On 7 June, the Israeli forces raided residences in Ramallah to demolish the home of the bomb attack suspect. The Israeli forces stated that the operation was to destroy the house of the terrorist who attacked Jerusalem on 23 November 2022. A group of Palestinians protested against the operation, where six people were injured during the clashes. A member of the Abbas Fatah party, Abdel Fattah Dola, stated: "The demolition of the homes of fighters is a collective punishment that falls under the war crimes committed by the occupation against our people." According to Al Jazeera, since January, 158 Palestinians, 20 Israelis and two foreign nationals have been killed in the Palestinian attacks.
Libya: Egyptian migrants sent back
On 5 June, BBC reported the deportation of thousands of Egyptian migrants back to Cairo by the Eastern Libya Forces. Further, 4,000 migrants were identified during raids among people traffickers in the east of Libya. The BBC report also referred to an Egyptian security source, stating 2200 of the 4000 migrants illegally residing in the country were repatriated. It also referred to migration agencies saying that there are nearly 500,000 migrants in Libya; most of them are attempting to travel to Europe by boat, while others have found jobs and settled in the country.
Sudan: Clashes continue despite the US sanctions
On 2 June, BBC reported on the ongoing fighting in Khartoum between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), despite the US sanctions. According to the BBC, the army had resumed air strikes and was reported to have used more artillery to clear the paramilitaries off the streets.
Senegal: Nine dead in lethal clashes
On 2 June, according to an Al Jazeera report, nine people were killed in clashes between riot police and supporters of Ousmane Sonko, a major opposition leader. Earlier, he was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly corrupting the youth. Cars and buses were set on fire in Dakar, while clashes were reported in places, including Ziguinchor, where Sonko served as mayor since 2022. Interior Minister Antonie Diome stated: "We have noted, with regret, violence that has led to the destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and Zinguinchor."
Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: Russia claims to have hit Storm Shadow and HIMARS
On 4 June, Russian Times reported on the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation's claims on missile attacks. According to the report, airstrikes were conducted on the Ukrainian military's airfields using long-range precision-guided air-launched missiles. The report quoted the ministry stating: "Command posts, a radar installation, Ukrainian aviation equipment, and storage facilities with weapons and ammunition were hit." The ministry also claimed to have shot down multiple missiles, including storm shadow missiles and rockets from HIMARS in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The UK: NATO allies conduct joint training exercises in Estonia
On 4 June, the UK's Ministry of Defence stated that the UK engaged in extensive training exercises with NATO allies, involving over 10,000 personnel from 11 countries in Estonia on 2 June. British RAF Typhoon fighter jets and Army Air Corps Apache helicopters participated in a joint exercise named Spring Tempest. They practised firing heavy machine guns and advanced missiles at sea targets, showcasing the ability to conduct precision strikes. The training was supported by a Forward Air Controller, operating from a Wildcat helicopter.
The US: State of emergency for the LGBTQ declared by the Human Rights Campaign
On 6 June, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) declared a state of emergency for the LGBTQ community in the US, citing the passing of 525 anti-LGBTQ bills in 41 states, including 220 parts of legislation targeting transgender people. HRC President Kelley Robinson stated: "The multiplying threats facing millions in our community are not just perceived they are real, tangible, and dangerous. In many cases they are resulting in violence against LGBTQ+ people, forcing families to uproot their lives and flee their homes in search of safer states, and triggering a tidal wave of increased homophobia and transphobia that puts the safety of each and every one of us at risk."
About the authors
Akriti Sharma and Rashmi Ramesh are Phd Scholars at the NIAS. Anu Maria Joseph and Rishika Yadav are Research Assistants at NIAS. Subiksha S, Taffy Tonia A, Lakshmi Parimala H and Nithyashree RB are Postgraduate Scholars at the Stella Maris College, Chennai. Sreeja JS, Varsha K, Immaculine Joy Paul and Jerry Franklin are Postgraduate Scholars at the Madras Christian College, Chennai.
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