Conflict Weekly 14

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Conflict Weekly 14
A new wave of arrests in Hong Kong, One year after Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, ISIS violence in Mozambique, and the coming global Food Crisis

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 22 April 2020, Vol.1, No. 14

N Jayaram, D Suba Chandran, Meghna Muralidharan and Aarathi Srinivasan

Hong Kong: 15 prominent pro-democracy activists arrested during the pandemic
In the news
On 18 April, 15 prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were arrested, sending shockwaves not only within Hong Kong and among China-watchers but also incurring strong reactions across the globe.
The arrests came even as Hong Kong, China and much of the world have been in lockdown in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spectacular pro-democracy upsurge in Hong Kong (that was there since June 2019) had already been suspended in view of the COVID scare.
Issues at large
Those arrested were charged with having taken part in "unlawful assemblies" as part of the protests which was sparked by an extradition bill. Now-abandoned, the bill was widely viewed as a major assault on the rule of law and caving into Beijing's diktat.
The 15 includes some of the most respected and prominent figures in Hong Kong's political life. Martin Lee Chu-ming, one of the senior-most barristers, has been campaigning for democracy and human rights since the 1980s. He had, in fact briefly been one of the only two pro-democracy figures on the committee set up in the late 1980s to draft the 'Basic Law.' The 'Basic Law' is Hong Kong's mini-constitution guiding the former British-ruled territory's governance after its handover to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is another barrister and former legislator who has been campaigning for democracy for decades. Jimmy Lai Chee-Ying is an entrepreneur and founder of a media company that has cast its lot with the democracy camp. Others include trade unionists and activists who have long been thorns in the side of the Hong Kong establishment, opposing the tycoon-government nexus.
In perspective
Prominent Western politicians including Hong Kong's last British governor Chris Patten immediately denounced the latest action, as did the International Bar Association, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and other bodies. 
Patten and Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch saw in it another step towards burying the "one-country, two-systems" formula that had been promised to Hong Kong prior to the handover.

Although it may be tempting to dismiss the 15 arrested as of yesterday's activists, the fact that the regime moved on them after all these months shows the clout they command. The actions are certain to be seen as a red rag by the pro-democracy camp.
It is yet another cynical display of raw power on the part of Xi Jinping regime in Beijing. The way it has been dealing with the Turkic peoples in Xinjiang, the COVID-19 crisis and Hong Kong, underline its willingness to ride roughshod over established processes in having its way.


Sri Lanka: One year after the Easter Sunday attacks
In the news
On 21 April 2020, one year after the attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019, Sri Lanka observed two minutes silence across the country to remember and honour those who were killed.

A few days earlier, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Sri Lanka made a bold statement of forgiveness. He was quoted to have stated: "Last year, some misguided youths attacked us and we as humans could have given a human and selfish response…But we meditated on Christ's teachings and loved them, forgave them and had pity on them…We did not hate them and return them the violence." 

It was not only brave and bold but also forward-looking. The Cardinal was also quoted: "We are aggrieved that those responsible for governance at that time did not take seriously the repeated warnings received concerning these attacks and so not only allowed this massacre to take place but also sought to hide their culpability in different ways after the attacks. Still more serious is the responsibility of all those who masterminded these attacks by planning, funding and encouraging the perpetrators and deliberately covering up facts of the case. Some of them surely knew this was coming." (Daily Mirror)

Issues at large
There are four issues in the background: Forgiveness, Accountability, Responsibility and Justice.

It is easy to preach about forgiveness. However, challenging to practice. The Cardinal has made a strong statement on behalf of everyone to forgive the perpetrators, for what they had done. By calling them "misguided youths", the Cardinal has also opened a big window for other youths, who may have supported the perpetrators, or sympathized with their cause. 

Forgiveness, however, does not mean to forget what had happened. By forgiving the perpetrators, the Cardinal does not mean that the victims would pretend that 21 April 2019 never happened. That is not the essence of the message. 

Forgiveness also calls for accountability. His statement, as quoted in the Daily Mirror later, clearly talks about accountability. Did the previous government, or sections within the government ignore the warnings? Were there specific inputs to concerned ministries and departments that were overlooked? Did a section within the society know what was likely to happen on 21 April 2019? If the answer is yes to the above questions, then those who are responsible for not taking actions against 21 April 2019, and those who responsible for allowing it to happen, have to be held accountable.

The present government led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa have to take the lead and ensure there is accountability. Unfortunately, narrow politics is likely to dictate the outcome of this accountability process. It would be a huge disservice to those who were martyred on 21 April 2019, and those are living with the painful memories of the day. 

Third, responsibility – by the State and society. The State has a responsibility to bring those responsible for 21 April 2019, without penalizing the majority within the Muslim community. Given the Islamophobia across the world, it is easier to blame the Sri Lankan Muslims.

On the other hand, the minority also has a responsibility to the majority. It is easier to profess that the community should not be held responsible for the actions of a few. Especially when the majority is emotionally charged and politically polarised as the case was following 21 April 2019. The minority community has a responsibility to the nation by ensuring accountability within. 

There has to be a collective responsibility by the minorities. It would be easier to prevent 21 April 2019, than to respond to its failure.

Finally justice. Forgiveness is the beginning. The Cardinal has shown the way in Sri Lanka. The State and the society – majority and minority, have to respond and ensure accountability. And take responsibility. It would be a grave injustice to those 250 plus who died and thousands of those who are living holding their memories. 

Mozambique: Islamist militancy intensifies as 52 villagers killed for refusing to join rank-in-file
In the news
On 22 April, it was reported that about 52 villagers were killed in Mozambique's troubled northernmost province by Islamist insurgents after they refused to be enrolled in their ranks. The actual killings, however, took place on 7 April and came to light only this week. The killings occurred in Xitaxi village in Muidumbe district in the province of Cabo Delgado which is also the site for multibillion-dollar gas projects by some of the leading oil companies.

Issues at large
In the last few months, a large number of militant attacks have taken place in Mozambique. Refusal to be part of this militant group is the primary reason for this killing. Hundreds of people have been killed, and thousands have been displaced in the last two years in the country. The activities of the insurgent group have increased over the past two years, and in many of the provinces, this group has captured important buildings and marked their territory by hoisting a white flag. However, the government officials have refused to accept such claims despite regular attacks in the country. 

Economic grievances which have soared in recent months following tropical cyclones have forced many young local populations towards terrorism and criminal activities. A large number of radical militant groups have been active in Cabo Delgado in recent years. Of the many active groups, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-jama is responsible for dozens of terror attacks that have been taking place in northern Mozambique. The group is said to be closely linked to the Islamic State; however, like Al Shabab and Boko Haram, the objectives of the militant group is still not clear. The latest attack by these groups, wherein they have relied on speed boats and barricaded main roads, makes this group a rebel force. The capability of this militant group to attack urban centres is no more a surprise. 

The failure of the Mozambique armed force to combat the militant group led to the intervention of troops from the Russian private military company Wagner. The force is deployed since 2019 in Mozambique but suffered several defeats and deaths at the hands of the fighters. Wagner is still deployed in Mozambique, still in the process of reassessing the strength of its opponents. 

In perspective
First, the killing and beheading of the civilian population is a sign of the insurgent groups proving themselves as a parallel entity in Mozambique, an option resorted by most of the non-state actors. Lack of a robust public face has provided a space for this militant group to create their presence in Mozambique.  

Second, as the countries might not be able to focus due to the lockdown, this will create a perfect momentum for the militant groups to grow in Cabo Delgado. High chances of military setback are to be expected in the coming days. However, the Mozambican government can still counter and prevail if it works towards reforming its military and enhances its relationship with the neighbouring countries. Better pathways combined with advanced technology should be adopted. Despite the reformation that Mozambique will undergo, there is a high possibility of a drawn-out struggle for which Mozambique and its partners need to be prepared.


Review: New Report on Food Crisis 2020 cautions increased vulnerability amid the pandemic 
In the news
On 21 April, the Global Report on Food Crisis (GRFC) 2020 was released by the Global Network against Food Crisis. The report is a joint consensus-based assessment of acute food shortage situations around the world by 16 partner organizations. It provides a detailed analysis of the factors responsible for and contributing to the food crisis. The annual report brings out that though the harvest is better this year, there are many vulnerable populations who are left behind and will be a victim to severe food crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, almost 135 million people in 55 countries were identified to be in crisis conditions or worse. This marks the highest number in the four years since the GRFC was launched. While comparing the 50 countries that were in both the 2019 and 2020 reports, the population in crisis or worse rose from 112 to 123 million.

Issues at large
The report indicates that the primary driver of food insecurity is armed conflict or violence of all sorts and is largely prevalent in the Middle East and Asia. Africa accounted for the highest number of people who will be impacted by food scarcity due to weather and economic shocks. 

The countries home to 135 million may face an excruciating dilemma in managing the deficit in food, leading to an impact on the lives or livelihoods of many. The acute food insecurity forecasts for 2020 were produced before the COVID-19 became a pandemic, but it is understood that the pandemic will have a considerable effect on the livelihoods of people, disrupting food supply chains and affecting the budgets aimed for humanitarian assistance. 

The pandemic and the already existing economic condition will lead to a severe global recession. Either way, unemployment or underemployment will reduce the purchasing power of individuals, decreasing their access to food. There is a possibility of rising food prices due to a shortage of labourers, political unrest and the disruptions to the food supply chains.

In perspective
It is given that the forecasts for 2020 were produced before the COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic and do not account for its impact on vulnerable people in a food crisis situation. Despite that fact, uncertainty with regard to the possible impacts of the pandemic is noticeable, which can double the food insecurity level and will be responsible for the diversion of resources from humanitarian assistance to the health sector. The report also looks at the all-inclusive perspective in identifying the areas of vulnerability and predicting the level of food insecurity in 2020.

There is an emphasis on protecting the critical food supply chain, advocating trade corridors to remain open and ensuring that there is access to food for those who are living in a vulnerable area. 

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