Conflict Weekly 40

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Conflict Weekly 40
Protests against sexual violence in Bangladesh, One year after Xi-Modi summit, Assassination of a Deobandi scholar in Pakistan and continuing violence in Yemen

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 15 October 2020, Vol.1, No.40

Bangladesh: Protests intensify against sexual violence 
In the news
On 10 October, Bangladesh erupted against the sexual violence against women with a call for "Hang the Rapists" and "No mercy to rapists." During the recent weeks, there have been a series of protests on multiple incidents of violence against violence and State failure. As government data combines violence against women with "women and child repression" with no clarity on rape statistics, Rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, revealed 975 women have been raped till now in 2020 with one-fifth of them being gang rapes. 

The protests have increased after the revelation of a series of rapes in the recent past starting from 25 September when a person from the student wing of the ruling party was alleged for gang rape in Sylhet. On 2 September a gang rape of a girl from Noakhali was recorded who was also subjected to extortion later. A furore followed when this video went online on 4 October and protests ensued. An Advocate from Barisal was arrested who has been reported of raping a transgender from 5 February to 2 October this year.

Issues at large
First, a tradition of impunity where the country has exhibited a deep underlying structural, social and behavioural misogyny. Rape has become an expression of the socio-political power relation. The idea of consent is misconstrued, and women's dress is blamed as evident in the popular actor Ananta Jalil's recent statement. A criminal lawyer, Faruk Ahmed, recently blamed unemployment and lack of red light areas for the rising trend of rapes in Bangladesh. The police force being male-dominated and ill sensitized refuse to accept the incident as a serious offence to the extent of not even filing the case and victim-blaming. 

Second, gaping loopholes in the legal framework in Bangladesh. Culprits evade the law due to long drawn cases which only adds to the victim's stigmatization and humiliation due to section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872, which blames her for an immoral character. This ends up in the trial of the victim rather than the culprit. Quite unsurprisingly, the conviction rate stands at 3 per cent. 

Police statistics state that 10.57 daily rape cases had been filed on an average between 2014 to 2018, while the actual figures continue to be evasive due to under-reporting. Section 365 of the colonial-era Penal Code of 1860 narrowly defines rape as gender-specific and criminalizes marital rape only if she is under the age of thirteen. Despite three subsequent reforms of 1983, 1995 and 2000 by three different governments of Ershad, BNP and Awami League respectively, rape laws continue to be archaic, and the statutory age of consent stands at sixteen. Moreover, after a gang rape incident in a microbus in Dhaka in 2015, Bangladesh High Court in 2018 issued guidelines for handling rape cases which is still rarely followed.

Third, call for a social overhaul. Mobilizing against rape in a morally bankrupt society is a challenge, but systemic changes are required for a long-term change. Though the government on 12th October 2020 approved the death penalty for rape offenders through an ordinance, activists are far from satisfied as they believe this would only increase murders after rape keeping the conviction rate as it is.

In perspective
There is an urgent need for government interventions like gender sensitization among government officials, sex education in schools, ensuring psychosexual support to victims and constituting a Commission for rape as mandated by the High Court in January 2020. 

Clamours are to pass long-awaited sexual harassment and witness protection bills. Moreover, a societal dialogue has to begin for a radical restructuring of the social order facilitated by civil society organizations in the long run.

India and China: A year after Mamallapuram summit, the India-China 'connect' remains fraught
In the news 
13 October marks the one-year of the Modi-Xi's second summit meeting at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, India which the Chinese  President Xi Jinping had described as his "heart-to-heart" discussions with the Indian Prime Minister Modi as "candid," like those with a "friend." In turn, Modi had said that the "Chennai Connect" would mark the start of a "new era of cooperation" between the two countries. 

After the meeting, the two leaders decided to establish a high-level economic and trade dialogue mechanism to achieve enhanced trade and commercial relations. On the vexed boundary issue, the then Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had stated in October 2019, that both sides have been discussing additional confidence-building measures (CBMs) and the leadership will seek to strengthen peace and tranquillity along the border. 

Issues at large 
First, little progress on the outcomes from Mamallapuram. One year later, relations on all front between the two countries have worsened, and a new era of cooperation has given way to a new area of confrontation as the two continue to remain in a month-long border standoff across Ladakh.  The meeting stressed on greater Indian investment in China in information technology and pharmaceutical sectors. Presently, China remains a vexed trade partner with the US, and the conflict has expanded over individual countries banning Chinese apps like Tik Tok and companies like Huawei from domestic investments. A similar stance has also been taken by India, and over the year, New Delhi has looked for gains in trade while Beijing remained transactional which has yielded nothing. CBMs and special representatives engaged in dealing the boundary question has also yielded little as the two countries now see a Dokhlam moment in Galwan valley in Ladakh. Since then, bitterness has lingered not only in the strategic quarters but also in diplomatic signalling by India engaging deep in the Quad and the US. 

Second, Wuhan spirit remains to be kindled. The Mamallapuram summit followed a similar summit in Wuhan summit 2018 wherein Xi and Modi met to reset the relationship following the Doklam crisis. In Wuhan, the two leaders initiated a chat in private which was carried forward in the Mamallapuram, but despite those, the two leaders do not share a warm personal relationship, and Xi remains the only leader whom Modi still does not greet with an embrace unlike his counterparts in the US and Europe. The rapprochement, deemed as the Wuhan spirit by the two leaders, did not reflect in the 'Chennai connect' in Mamallapuram and after a year still does not kindle between the two political leaders.  

Third, a year later, the military's role in the bilateral relationship has expanded. Since the Galwan crisis in Ladakh, several military-level and only a few political leadership level meetings followed. Between 2014 and 2019, Modi and Xi Jinping met 18 times which contained the Wuhan Joint Strategic Guidance to their respective militaries. And yet, border intrusions by the PLA under Xi-Modi watch have continued. The message seems to be clear that both countries have seen their trade, border and political bonhomie as separate issues and good trade or political relation are not conducive to resolving strategic differences. In this background, the countries' military has continued with efforts to thaw the crisis with political leadership playing by rhetoric and less to act. 

In perspective 
After one-year, the mood of rapprochement set in motion is dissipating. The "Chennai Connect" is not strong enough to keep Delhi-Beijing ties afloat. Informal summits are useful ice-breakers as leaders can talk without the added pressure to show deliverables but serious structural problems in India-China relations are not likely to be resolved by two leaders' informal' dialogues and that seems to be evident with the return of border tensions between the two. 

Pakistan: A Deobandi scholar and head of Karachi's Jamia Farooqia assassinated in Karachi
In the news
On 10 October, Maulana Dr Adil Khan, a scholar from the Sunni Deobandi sect and head of Karachi's Jamia Farooqia seminary, was shot dead along with his driver in a suspected targeted attack when armed pillion riders opened indiscriminate fire on the car and fled. 

The police investigators have launched a probe to determine the identity and exact motive for the killing, they remain uncertain about the perpetrators of this high-profile targeted killing. The incident drew strong condemnation from several sections including Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The Army Chief has blamed "Pakistan's enemies" for trying to provoke sectarian violence. 

Issues at large
First, the continuing sectarian violence and the attacks on religious leaders in Karachi. Over the last six years, Karachi alone has seen numerous attacks on religious leaders. Maulana Adil is the third top Sunni religious leader to have been attacked in Karachi within a span of roughly six years. There has been no let-up in the sectarian violence not only between Sunnis and Shias but also between multiple Sunni groups seems to be continuing especially in Karachi and some urban centres of Punjab. Although moderate religious scholars from the two sects tried to ease the situation down, banned sectarian outfits and radical organizations have made use of the tensions to showcase their strength. On the other hand, the duality of these extremist groups' leadership, where the same religious leaders who had been preaching sectarian tolerance earlier have now suddenly taken to the streets with slogans of hatred.

Second, the failure of the State to address sectarian violence. Sectarianism often goes unnoticed by the government unless there is an extreme manifestation of the phenomenon. The government has usually used the 'concealment and appeasement' approach, which was evident from its dealing with the recent upsurge in sectarian tensions in the country. On the other hand, while investigations are carried out, most cases remain unsolved and thus unable to get a judicial verdict. Even when there were violent incidents like the one on the Maulana, the State actors are quick to blame the external factors, than to look within.

In perspective
The sectarian divide is dangerous, a situation Pakistan cannot afford to be caught in. Attacks like this will undermine whatever efforts are being taken by the State to reduce levels of sectarian violence. It leads to further violence, with attacks and counter-attacks amongst the various sectarian denominations.

Although Pakistan has made much progress in dismantling militant organizations and curbing terror financing. However, the existing measures are not sufficient enough to totally quell the sectarian violence at the national level and in Karachi. While the State finds it convenient to blame external actors, there are multiple factors within - economic crises, demographic changes, failure of education, religious intolerance, marginalized youth, and the escalation of urban violence by militant groups.

Yemen: No end to violence, as tensions renew in Hodeida
In the news
On 12 October, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi rejected a peace proposal by the UN Special Envoy for Yemen claiming that the proposal fell outside the agreed framework. Earlier, the President had supported the envoy's appeal to hold a ceasefire and implement the Stockholm Agreement of 2018 in Hodeida.

In the first week of October, clashes intensified in Hodeida between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government forces. As of 12 October, 38 civilians lost their lives, mainly from shellfire. One health centre was also hit restricting access to medical care to at least 32,173 households.

Issues at large
First, the humanitarian cost. The Saudi-led coalition's restriction on imports to block food, fuel, medical supplies to Houthi-controlled areas has left millions homeless and on the verge of hunger and medical risks. Yemen is battling a cholera outbreak currently. Further, The UN World Food Programme accused the Houthi groups of diverting their food aid to Houthi combat units. Currently, 20 million Yemenis are food insecure.

Second, the failure of the Stockholm Agreement. The Stockholm Agreement signed in 2018 called for a ceasefire in Hodeida, the exchange of over 15,000 prisoners between the warring sides, and the formation of a joint committee to de-escalate the conflict. According to the UN, the implementation of this Agreement has been ineffective with no significant progress.

Third, the regional politics surrounding the Gulf of Aden. The Saudi-led coalition which backs the Yemeni government faces divisions within itself. In April, the UAE, another significant member of the coalition, declared the South Transitional Council (STC) would self-govern the Gulf of Aden. The STC is a separatist group seeking control of south Yemen. The announcement was a violation of the Riyadh Agreement of 2019 which provided for a reshuffling of the Hadi government to include the STC representation and place their armed forces under government control.

Fourth, arms supply and involvement of international actors. The West, especially the US and the Saudi-coalition share a common threat, a growing Iranian influence in the region, and increasing Islamist radicals in Yemen owing to the instability. Though the US Congress raised objections on military sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it could worsen the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, President Trump has vetoed any move to stop military trade with Saudi Arabia putting the US at the risk of committing war crimes. Other suppliers of arms include France, Australia, Canada.  

In perspective
Any escalation in the Yemen conflict could have implications throughout the region. Yemen's Gulf of Aden is a transit route for much of the world's oil shipments. While all members of the Saudi-coalition aim at containing Iran, it is important to resolve the divergent ambitions in the coalition. In the current scenario, the prospects of peace are low. In 2018, UN-backed peace negotiations made progress by limiting violence but failed to bring an end to the conflict. Any new peace resolution needs accountability on the part of all parties involved, including suppliers of arms.

Also, from around the world…

Peace and Conflict in Southeast Asia and East Asia
North Korea: Kim Jong Un puts new missiles on display at a military parade
On 10 October, North Korea displayed what seems to be its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile during a military parade in Pyongyang. The parade was part of the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party. At the parade, Kim remarked that the country's military deterrent would only be used in self-defence and "will never be abused or used first under any circumstances." The new ICBM appeared to be much larger than North Korea's previously disclosed long-range missile, the Hwasong-15. Some experts have stated that the size of the new missile indicated that it might fly farther and carry a more powerful nuclear warhead. Further, the display of this new weaponry is said to serve as leverage in future nuclear negotiations with Kim promising late last year that he was to unveil a new strategic addition to the nation's arsenal.

Indonesia: Thousands march against the new labour law
On 12 October, thousands of trade unionists, students and citizens a massive demonstration outside the presidential palace in Jakarta against the Job Creation Law. It was organized by the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Union (KSBSI), a major trade union confederation. Later on, 13 October, thousands of conservative Muslims took to the streets in Indonesia's capital demanding that the government revoke a new law they say will cripple labour rights, with some clashing with police. Clashes broke out in the afternoon when riot police used tear gas to try to disperse protesters. Waving black flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, several thousand demonstrators, many wearing white Islamic robes took to the streets.

Peace and Conflict in South Asia
India: Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti released after a year
On 14 October, 14 months after being arrested, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti was released. The J&K government revoked her detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA), and the decision followed simultaneously as her daughter Iltija Mufti's petition challenging her detention remains to be heard in the Supreme Court. After her release from house arrest, in an audio message posted on Twitter, Mufti said the people of Jammu and Kashmir cannot forget the "robbery and humiliation" of 5 August and demanded release of all prisoners lodged in different jails of the Union territory and outside. Mufti, along with the other mainstream leadership, was detained under house arrest by the J&K police on 5 August in 2019, the day the Centre abrogated Jammu and Kashmir's special status.

India: Warring groups NSCN(I-M) and NNPGs come together for larger peace in Nagaland 
On 13 October, the Opposition Naga People's Front-constituted Political Affairs Mission facilitating the ongoing peace talks to resolve the Naga political issue has said that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) have "agreed in principle" to come together and discuss issues related to the peace process. This agreement between the two principle group in the peace talks assumes significance as the until now these groups have engaged separately with the Centre and have harboured differences over crucial points such as separate flag and constitution. 

Afghanistan: Forced virginity tests continue in Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) observed that 92.3 per cent of "virginity tests" recorded were conducted with neither the woman's consent nor a court order required by law to determine if there were acts of rape, adultery or sodomy. Despite Article 640 of the penal code restricting virginity tests to only those women who consent to be tested and with a court order and these tests continue.

Peace and Conflict in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa
Turkey: Tensions with Greece and Cyprus rise as Ankara redeploys ship in Eastern Mediterranean 
On 11 October, the Turkish Navy announced that its vessel, Oruc Reis, would be deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean to conduct a seismic survey south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo. The move has been criticized by Greece, France, Cyprus and the US. The US called this action a "calculated provocation" and demanded Turkey to pull back the ship. On 14 October, Erdogan accused Greece and Cyprus of failing to fulfil "promises" made during negotiations within the EU and NATO and said Turkey would give them "the response they deserve."

Iraq: Kataib Hezbollah spokesperson presents conditional ceasefire
On 11 October, the spokesperson of Kataib Hezbollah announced that all groups of Iran-backed Iraqi armed groups agreed to suspend attacks on US forces demanding that the Iraqi government presents a timetable for a withdrawal of US troops. He said the government should implement a parliamentary resolution in January for the same but "if America insists on staying and doesn't respect the parliament's decision then the factions will use all the weapons at their disposal."

Kyrgyzstan: Sadyr Zhaparov confirmed as new PM amid continuing unrest
On 14 October, Sadyr Zhaparov was named prime minister by was Kyrgyzstan's parliament in a repeat vote. This came after President Sooronbay Jeenbekov vetoed its previous decision due to proxy voting by some MPs in the 10 October session. Zhaparov had been serving a prison sentence but was freed by supporters last week. Further, this comes after the country plunged into a political turmoil after a disputed parliamentary on 4 October, with unrest breaking out after demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Bishkek and stormed government buildings, demanding a new vote and the resignation of pro-Russian Jeenbekov.

Nigeria: Government dismantle the notorious police unit SARS but protester remain sceptical
On 11 October, the Inspector General of Police in Nigeria stated that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had been dissolved and its officers would be redeployed to other units. However, many were sceptical of this move, describing the redeployment of officers as "problematic." This police unit which has for long been accused of grave human rights abuses sparked protests after the alleged killing of a man by an officer in southern Nigeria. Many more used the #EndSARS hashtag online to share stories alleging extortion, torture, disappearances and even murders at the hands of members of the unit. Later, on 12 October, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to a sceptical public on that he would crack down on rogue police officers accused of brutalizing citizens.

Tanzania: Fire breaks out on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
On 10 October, the Tanzanian Parks Authority released a photograph showing an enormous fire raging halfway up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro. Forest fires have broken out on and near the mountain before, however as the blaze raged local authorities say it is set to be one of the biggest ever seen. So far, there have been no reports of death or injuries. Further, although, the mountain is not endemic to a larger number of species, it is not likely that there would be any extinction of species. However, the larger issue is that species' range will be drastically reduced.

Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Europe: EU sanctions 6 Russians over the poisoning of Navalny
On 14 October, the European Union agreed to sanction six Russians and one organization over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This came after meeting between France and Germany in Luxembourg were due to outline a proposal for sanctions, made last week after an investigation found that Navalny was poisoned with the chemical nerve agent Novichok. The two countries believe that the poisoning could only have happened with the involvement of Russian authorities. After the announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow will respond in kind against EU sanctions over Navalny.

Climate Change: UN report says natural disasters doubled in the past 20 years
On 12 October, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in a report stated that climate change is largely to blame for a near doubling of natural disasters in the past 20 years. The report showed that 7,348 major disaster events occurred between 2000 and 2019, claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people, and costing the global economy some $2.97 trillion. This stark increase was mainly attributed to the rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events like floods, drought and storms, the report said, adding that extreme heat is proving especially deadly. Further, the report indicated that wealthy nations have done little to tackle the harmful emissions that are linked to climate threats. The report further highlighted the need to rapidly raise investment in early warning systems for extreme weather events to help address the issue. The report was released on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.

UN World Food Programme wins Nobel Peace Prize
On 9 October, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) received the Nobel Peace Prize for its fight against hunger. In a world shaped by conflict and the coronavirus pandemic, the recognition to WEP has turned eyes to the millions who still reel under hunger and poverty. 
During the 1990s when famine and hunger stopped making the headlines and the world immersed itself in the triumph of western liberalism, WFP began its work and came to the spotlight fighting the 2007-2008 food crisis. One can still remember the tiny red cups WFP had used in the early 2000 to campaign from its donors. Little did anyone know, the organization was plunging itself to provide food to destitute children in African countries where many would line upholding small red cup to collect porridge for their only daily meal. In a conflict-prone region, where steady supplies of food is affected, WEP has reached to help dozens from Haiti to Senegal, suffering food riots and political unrest. Since then, WFP has played a major role in feeding the refugees in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The Nobel Peace Prize to WFP is its own way off invoking what Mother Teresa once said "if you can't feed a hundred, feed only one," peace lies therein.  

About the authors
Sheetal Prasad is a PhD Scholar at Centre for South Asian Studies, JNU. Sourina Bej is a Project Associate; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Assistants at NIAS.

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