Conflict Weekly 15

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Conflict Weekly 15
Ceasefire and Self Rule in Yemen, Syrian war trial in Germany, SIPRI annual report on military spending, and Low civilian casualties in Afghanistan 

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 29 April 2020, Vol.1, No. 15

A Padmashree, Sourina Bej, Harini Sha and Sukanya Bali 

Yemen: The Saudi-led coalition extends ceasefire, while the UAE-backed STC announces self-rule
In the news 
Amid the persisting violence by the Houthi rebels, the Saudi-led coalition on 24 April extended the unilateral ceasefire in Yemen by one month in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The impact of the violence on the fragile health infrastructures in Yemen remains critical. 

The Houthis continued with their demand for a complete ceasefire and lift of air and sea blockade.

However, the most important development of the week in Yemen took place outside the Houthis controlled territories. The Southern Transitional Council which is supported by the UAE announced its plan to establish self-rule in the southern province of Yemen. 

Issues at large
Saudi Arabia led military coalition declared a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen for two weeks on 9 April. It was further extended last week by the coalition. However, Iran backed Houthi rebels rejected the ceasefire declared and called for the lifting of the blockade imposed by the coalition. 

The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies has choked the people and the Houthi rebels of food and essential medical supplies to fight the pandemic. Around 70 per cent of the population are malnourished and lack medical supplies due to the sealing of the border. The coalition has taken over the oil fields and restricted oil exports by 50 per cent, further choking the oil revenues for the country. 

The latest development in Yemen is not the ceasefire extension, but the announcement by the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to establish autonomous rule in the southern province against the Internationally Recognised Government (IRG). While the UAE has continued to back the STC separatists despite its withdrawal from Yemen in 2019, the IRG has been supported by Saudi Arabia. 

In 2019, the STC agreed to the Riyadh Agreement along with the ICG. Now the self-rule announcement upsets that.

In perspective
Saudi Arabia has three significant challenges in Yemen now.  First, it has to tackle domestic criticisms to stop the costly intervention in Yemen. Second, it has to manage the coalition as the STC is supported by the UAE. Third, support from the international community during the humanitarian crisis is also not in place. This makes it impossible for Saudi Arabia to sustain its control in Yemen. 

The domestic conflict in Yemen is more significant than external interferences. A conflict triangle exists now between the Houthis, IRG, and STC that are fighting for power in Yemen. Peace in the region depends on the UAE’s capability to convince the separatists, which will, in turn, bring down the internal tensions.


For the first time, the Syrian war criminals stand trial   
In the news
On 22 April the trial of two Syrian officials began in the south-western German town of Koblenz. The officials, who defected from the Syrian regime in 2014, are charged with war crimes. Since the Syrian civil war started nine years ago, this is the first time that members close to the Bashar al-Assad regime are facing charges of crimes against humanity and are going to face trial in a foreign land. 

The accused, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib had sought political asylum from Germany in 2019 with an aim to escape the civil war in Syria in totality. However, their asylum plea was rejected and will face the trial for being part of oppressive state machinery.    

Issues at large 
Both the defectors undergoing the current trial were members of the notorious intelligence service of Syria called the Branch 251. When the conflict started as members of the intelligence unit, they arrested, tortured, killed, and raped protesters and opposition figures before defecting to Germany. They have committed 58 murders at Branch 251 and oversaw the torture of at least 4,000 people as a commanding officer between 29 April 2011 and 7 September 2012. In the course of the application of asylum, the defectors did not exhibit remorse or tried to protect their past. 

The prosecution of the Syrian defectors by the German prosecutors in a German court against the crimes that were committed in Syria is possible due to Germany's Code of Crimes Against International Law. The code came into force in June 2002 and incorporates the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows German courts to prosecute crimes against international law even if they were not committed in Germany and that neither the perpetrators nor the victims are of German origin. 
With the current trial of the Syrian officials, Berlin has once again shown the efficiency of its war crime units and a powerful signal that human rights abusers cannot rest in comfort in another country after committing crimes that shook the consciousness of humanity.  
In perspective 
First, the trial puts in perspective the nature of Assad’s regime and the culture of impunity, torture, and oppression in Syria. When the accused test guilty it will lay bare the workings of a violent system that suppressed and murdered thousands of civilians. This also throws light on the series of chemical attacks, assassinations that the regime has been charged off committing but until now no one with a direct connection to Assad has been indicted. 

Second, the trial brings a poetic justice to the refugee crisis that started after the civil war in 2016. The overcrowded boats carrying Syrians refugees to the European shores continue even today. Greece has grappled with thousands of refugees in its camps and picked up the bodies of other thousands that wash up its shores.      

Last, the Syrian diaspora in Berlin played an important role in registering their complaints on the crimes against humanity by the regime. The evidence against Raslan has come from the work of various Syrian exile groups in Europe that have collected 8,00,000 pieces of documentary evidence from the Syrian conflict.  

SIPRI Report says United States, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are the five largest spenders
In the news
On 26 April, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its annual report concluded that the global military expenditure in the last year had been the highest in a decade. The report highlights an increase in military spending by 3.6 per cent from 2018, the largest since 2010. 

The five largest military spenders in 2019 are the United States, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia and their cumulative military expenditure accounted for 62 per cent of the total global expenditure. 

And for the first time two Asian countries - China and India, figure in the top three military spenders in the world.       

Issues at large
SIPRI publishes a comprehensive annual update on military expenditure every year. 

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the global military spending of 1.9 trillion dollars in 2019 was the highest and probably represents a peak in global expenditures. While China increased its military expenditure by 5.1 per cent, India’s expenditure grew by 6.8 per cent from the year 2018. 

The report identifies the growing tensions with both China and Pakistan as the major drivers for India’s military spending. Japan and South Korea were the other Asian countries named by SIPRI as the largest military spenders. 

The SIPRI report highlights that the annual military expenditure in the region has continuously increased since 1989. In the global share of military expenditures, the United States contributes heavily with 732 billion dollars that accounts for 38 per cent of the global share. The report identifies that perceived threats of great power politics and competition with China might have led to the recent growth in the US military spending. 

In perspective
The significant increase in military spending amongst the democratic countries should cause an alarm to the fundamental liberal ideas of cooperation and co-existence at the international level. In an increasingly globalised world, the possibility of war has reduced, but low-intensity conflicts have continued among many countries. The perceived threats of a possible war have kept alive the countries’ military expenditures. 

In 2020, the outbreak of coronavirus is likely to drain the economy. In this scenario, an accelerated trend of military spending might be reversed in the upcoming years.

The UN Report on Afghanistan: Civilian casualties in 2020 at the lowest since 2012 
In the news
On 27 April the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released the first-quarter report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts. According to the report, since 2012, civilian casualties in the country has remained at the lowest with 1,293 fatalities. In 2020, the casualties in the country decreased by 29 per cent as compared to the first quarter in 2019.

Issues at large
After a weeklong ‘reduction in violence’ from 22 to 28 February this year, Afghanistan witnessed an increase in attacks on civilians in March. 

According to the report, there are four main actors responsible for civilian casualties. The anti-government actors account for 55 per cent of civilian casualties, of which 39 per cent were by Taliban and 13 per cent by ISIL-KP (causing 710 civilian casualties with 282 killed and 428 injured). Pro-government actors, including both Afghan national security forces and international military forces, are responsible for 32 per cent (412) of civilian casualties. The report highlighted that the highest number of attacks were conducted through ground engagement, followed by targeted killing and non-suicidal IEDs. It further bifurcates the nature of attacks based on the kind predominantly carried out by the pro and anti-government actors.

International troops are inclined to withdraw from Afghanistan, after the US-Taliban deal. The last civilian casualty by the international military forces was on 17 February in the region that continues to face attacks from the Taliban. The UNAMA documented that the pro-government attacks were more responsible for child casualties in this quarter.

The incidents on healthcare workers have seen a rise in the first quarter. Presently Afghanistan has 1,828 cases, and the number of attacks on health workers had shut down many clinics. The Taliban indicated in a statement, to work with international organisations in combatting the virus, As per the report there have been 18 incidents impacting health care workers, out of which 17 were claimed by the Taliban. Two of these attacks were accounted for after the Taliban’s statement.

In perspective
First, as per the report, in the first quarter, there is a decline in casualties as compared to 2019. This has to become a trend in the next quarters to put an end to the long war in the country.
Second, the prisoner release has been one of the priorities for the Taliban. As long as the government and Taliban fail to come to terms and begin the intra-Afghan talks, the dangers to civilian casualties are likely to continue. 

About the authors 
A Padmashree and Harini Sha are Research Interns at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) and Sukanya Bali and Sourina Bej are Research Associates at NIAS.

NIAS Conflict Weekly is an academic endeavour of the International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. It aims to track, interpret and analyse conflicts and peace processes across the world with a special emphasis on South Asia. Conflict Weekly brings to the research community every Wednesday a weekly alert of events, updates, and analyses on potential and ongoing peace processes and conflicts in the world. For earlier alerts in the Conflict Weekly series, click here.

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