Conflict Weekly 59

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Conflict Weekly 59
Continuing Protests in Myanmar, ‘Comfort Women’ issue in South Korea and Abductions in Nigeria

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly #59, 25 February 2021, Vol.2, No.08

Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Avishka Ashok and Apoorva Sudhakar

Myanmar: Pro-democracy protests continue despite the violence
In the news
On 22 February, millions of pro-democracy protestors held a general strike referred to as ‘22222’ across Myanmar. On the same day, people protested in front of the Chinese Embassy for the latter warning the international community not to interfere in Myanmar.  

On 23 February, a protest was held in front of the Indonesian Embassy apprehending Jakarta’s push for re-election in Myanmar. However, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia (who is scheduled to visit Myanmar next week) denied such an allegation. On 21 February, several protestors joined a young woman’s funeral; she was first among the five fatalities of the violence. On 23 February, the military government threatened action against the government health workers who had participated in the civil disobedience movement.

On 22 February, outside Myanmar, a pro-democracy protest was held by the Myanmarese in Japan and by the Rohingyas’ in their camps in Bangladesh. Also, sanctions were imposed by the G7 and the EU on financial assistance or development aid to Myanmar. 

Issues at large
First, the intensification of protests despite the violence. In the 2020 elections, a 70 per cent turnout regardless of the pandemic and 83 per cent of votes to NLD proves the support for democracy.  People are not ready to give this away without a fight, as the protests include every age and class. Also, the protests are widespread and not limited only to major cities. People belonging to different ethnicities such as Chin, Shan, Mon and others have also joined the protests.

Second, the importance of the sanctions against the regime. Although the spokesperson of General Min Aung Hlaing has refuted any larger impact, it is not true. This statement came immediately after the US sanctions on the General and his associates, on 12 February. The sanctions make an impact; in 2010, they played a role when the military agreed to a façade democracy. 

Third, the government retaliation against the protestors. This week has seen a major shift in the military’s stand. As of 24 February, more than 600 have been detained. Several laws of the colonial-era Penal Code have been amended, redefining the meaning of high treason and sedition, to legalise the coup. It also pushed for new IT department legislation which enables them to interfere in the personal usages of the internet. The media has been warned against the usage of ‘Junta’ and ‘regime’. 

In perspective 
First, the military’s retaliation makes it evident that violence will increase in the upcoming weeks. But it may not demotivate the protestors. There is massive support for the demand for democracy which will act as fuel to instigate many more to join the on-going protests.

Second, one of the largest ramifications of the crackdown will result in an influx of refugees to the neighbouring countries. This has been a norm in Myanmar since the 1988 protests. 

South Korea: The 'Comfort Women' issue returns to haunt
In the news
On 18 February, the United States Department of State said that Japan’s trafficking of women for sexual services during World War II was a grave violation of human rights. The statement comes after a Professor from Harvard University, who has now been urged to apologise, claimed that the Korean women were in voluntary contracts with the Japanese military and were not forced into prostitution.

On the same day, the Minister of South Korea suggested that Japan could seek help from their mutual ally, the United States, to resolve the issue. Chung opined, “I believe that the two governments can sufficiently address issues through close dialogue, and we have been persuading the Japanese side in that direction.”

On 24 February, South Korea urged for the issue to be looked at as a “Universal Human Rights Issue” to restore their dignity at the UN Human Rights Council. He opined, “Current and future generations should learn valuable lessons from the painful experience of the comfort women.”
Issues at large
First, the unresolved comfort women issue. The relationship between South Korea and Japan has not been ‘cordial’; both counties share a history of various unpleasant incidents, since the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Post-1945, Seoul and Tokyo repeatedly tried to resolve the issues and start afresh. However, the issue of systemic rape and forced sexual labour of women have proved to be a tough issue to be resolved.
Second, the periodic tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the comfort women issue continues to be an obstacle in establishing peaceful relationship. In 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the wartime crimes and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye approved an agreement to address the issue. However, the victims of the tragedy completely denounced the agreement, calling it a “humiliating diplomacy” as it failed to include the affected women, nor did it reflect their views and demanded that Japan make official reparations for its actions.
Third, the comfort women issue within the larger global threat to the dignity of a woman. The United Nations has adopted various resolutions to protect the dignity of women and punish perpetrators of sexual violence in conflicts. Resolution 1820 acknowledges the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and resolution 2106 emphasizes holding individuals responsible for crimes against women. Despite undertaking numerous such resolutions, the UN has not been able to prevent the exploitation; for example, the case of the Yazidis in the Middle East. Reality presents a dangerous trend for women all over the world.
In perspective
Japan’s refusal to admit its responsibility in subjugating and exploiting women during the World War presents the current and future generations with a dangerous precedent where crimes of the powerful are forgiven without much consequence. Japan could be shying away from accepting the responsibility of the Korean Comfort Women as it will coerce Tokyo to also look into its crimes towards women from other nationalities during the war.
Despite being a bilateral issue, the international community must look at the problem through a humanitarian lens and restore the honour and dignity of thousands of women who suffered at the hands of the Imperialist greed of countries during the World Wars.

Nigeria: Abductions highlight the worsening security situation 
In the news
On 22 February, the Governor of Niger state in northwest Nigeria announced that 53 people, including 20 women and nine children, had been released by bandits. The 53 people had been abducted nearly a week ago by bandits when they were traveling in a state-owned bus in a village in Niger.

On 18 February, the Defence Minister said people should not be cowards. He said, “At times, bandits will come with about three rounds of ammunition. When they fire a shot, everybody runs. I don't know why people are running away from minor, minor, minor things like that. They should stand. Let these people know that even the villagers have the competence and capability to defend themselves."

On 17 February, one pupil was killed and 42 people, including 27 students, were abducted from a school in Niger. Apart from the students, three staff and their family members were abducted by gunmen who stormed the school around midnight. As of 23 February, the 42 are still missing. On 19 February, Aljazeera reported that government officials had contacted the kidnappers for peaceful negotiations as “any military action could result in unnecessary deaths.”

Issues at large
First, the increased instances of abductions. The latest abductions come after nearly 300 schoolboys were allegedly abducted by Boko Haram in December 2020 from another state in northwest Nigeria; they were later released after negotiations. Further, Africanews reported that in early February 2021, in Niger again, gunmen had killed at least 10 and kidnapped another 23.

Second, the insecurity in northwest Nigeria. Apart from the Niger state, other states in the northwestern region of Nigeria are witnessing similar instances of violence. Until recently, Nigeria faced issues of extremism in the northeastern region where Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations have their strongholds. The insecurity is now spreading to the northwest and attacks carry a similarity with the tactics of Boko Haram.

Third, the role of bandits and kidnapping for ransom. Though there are similarities with the terrorist organisations, the attacks in northwestern states are carried out by local groups, generally known as bandits. Bandits are infamous for kidnapping for ransoms. In such cases, the bandit groups are open to the idea of negotiating and releasing the victims, instead of killing them.

Fourth, the failure of the government. The government has been unresponsive to the demands of the people to improve the security conditions. After years of witnessing massacres and abductions and pushing for change by the people, President Buhari finally replaced the heads of the army, navy and air force on 26 January. Further, there has also been a lack of transparency from the government’s side about the negotiations with the bandits or terrorist groups.

In perspective
First, unless the government steps up its efforts to increase security in the country, it will not be able to gain the trust and support of Nigerians. For the government to resolve problems like banditry, it is imperative to identify the root of the problem. Though, appointing new heads of defence may be a stepping stone to this, the government cannot afford to lose more time under increasing threats of violence.

Second, the government has not been accountable for the numerous instances of abductions and violence. Statements like that of the Defence Minister attempt to shift responsibility of security on to the people instead of owning up to the shortcomings in the security system.

Also, from around the world
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Hong Kong: Court denies Jimmy Lai bail due to ‘risk of committing further fraud’
On 23 February, the Hong Kong High Court Judge Anthea Pang announced her decision for denying Jimmy Lai’s bail stating that she is “not satisfied” that there are sufficient grounds for believing that Lai will not continue to commit acts “endangering” national security if bail is granted to him. Lai who is the most high-profile person charged under the national security law was arrested in August on suspicion of “conspiracy to assist an offender and conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” and was denied bail in February 2021.

Hong Kong: Government eases COVID-19 restrictions
On 18 February, the Secretary for Food and Health of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government announced the government’s decision to ease social distancing measures. The decision came after daily new COVID-19 cases remained at a single digit. Meanwhile, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam and other government officials received a COVID-19 vaccine at the start of the city’s inoculation program.

Taiwan: Navy to conduct military exercise where PLA aircraft and the US military aircraft frequently appear
On 18 February, Global Times reported that Taiwan has arranged intensive military exercises in February and March in areas where aircraft of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the US military often visit. Further, the Navy is to conduct its military exercise surrounding waters of Bashi Channel and the southwest airspace of the island where PLA aircraft and the US military aircraft frequently appear. The move is seen as mere political posturing to the residents on the island to show that the military is engaged.

China-Japan: Two Chinese vessels withdraw from Senkaku Islands
On 21 February, two Chinese coast guard ships withdrew from the disputed Senkaku island in the East China Sea. The Japanese Coast Guard officials stated that four vessels were spotted in the contiguous zone, and two of them entered the waters off Kubashima, one of the islands. Earlier in February 2021, the two Chinese coast guard ships entered waters off the Senkaku islands following which Japan protested against China's intrusion in the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Thailand: PM Chan-o-cha survives a no-confidence motion
On 21 February, Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-o-cha survived a no-confidence vote in parliament amid allegations that his government mismanaged the economy, bungled the provision of COVID-19 vaccines, abused human rights and fostered corruption. This is the second no-confidence motion PM Chan-o-cha’s government has had to face since taking office in July 2019.

Myanmar: EU to impose sanctions against the military over the coup
On 22 February, the European Union announced that it was “ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible for the military coup and their economic interests.” The bloc also called for “a de-escalation of the current crisis” as well as the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the ousted president, Win Myint, along with other detained leaders. The announcement came as protests continue despite the crackdown by military and police forces.

Malaysia: Over 1,000 Myanmar refugees deported despite a court order
On 23 February, 1,086 Myanmar nationals were deported back on three navy ships sent by Myanmar's military despite a court order to halt the deportation. The Director-General of the Immigration Department of Malaysia stated that the group had agreed to return voluntarily. However, the right groups critical of the deportation said that the move could endanger the deportees' lives. Previously, the Kuala Lumpur High Court had granted a stay until 24 February, when it was scheduled to hear an application by rights groups for a judicial review to suspend the deportation.

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
Sri Lanka: Foreign Minister terms upcoming UNHRC resolution “politically motivated”
On 23 February, the Foreign Minister said Sri Lanka was subjected to an “unprecedented propaganda campaign,” referring to a forthcoming UNHRC resolution on the “deteriorating” rights situation in the country. He said, “It is regrettable that … elements working against Sri Lanka intend to table another country-specific resolution.” The draft resolution had been submitted by the UK, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia. The Foreign Minister urged the UNHRC to determine whether Sri Lanka needed sudden attention or if the resolution had been politically motivated. 

India: Farmers conduct nationwide ‘rail roko’ protests
On 18 February, the farmers protesting against the three farm laws gathered at railway stations across the country and blocked train tracks for four hours as part of the ‘rail roko’ (stop the trains) protests. This was another attempt to pressurise the government into repealing the laws. The Bharatiya Kisan Union Chairman warned the Central government against forming a misconception that farmers will leave protest sites for the harvest season. He said, "If they insist, then we will burn our crops. They shouldn't think that the protest will end in 2 months. We'll harvest as well as protest.”

Pakistan: Four aid workers killed in North Waziristan
On 22 February, four women aid workers were killed by unknown gunmen in North Waziristan. The attack has been seen as an indication of the return of militancy in the region. The police said the victims were engaged in developing household skills for women. Condemning the attack, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Afghanistan: Government and Taliban resume peace talks
On 22 February, a Taliban spokesman tweeted that peace talks with the government have resumed in Doha thereby ending weeks of delay and raising speculations about the ending violence. The announcement comes after the Taliban wrote an open letter to the US on 15 February urging Washington to implement the withdrawal of international troops as per the Doha agreement. 

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia: Protesters demand the resignation of PM over Nagorno-Karabakh issue
On 23 February, protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan intensified over his handling of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the third demonstration within a week and was organised by the Homeland Salvation Movement. The Movement is an umbrella organisation of opposition parties. However, during the protests, more than 50 people, including those from the Movement, have been detained. 

Iraq: Series of rocket attacks on US bases 
On 23 February, a White House statement said, US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had discussed the series of rocket attacks on US bases and US-led coalition forces. They agreed that the perpetrators should be held accountable. On 22 February, at least three rockets targeting the US base landed in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Prior to this, on 20 February, one person was wounded when at least four missiles hit the Balad Air Base. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the US State Department spokesperson has blamed Iran for it. He said, “What we will not do is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran and contributes to their attempts to further destabilise Iraq.” 

Kuwait: UAE, Qatar hold talks for the first time after GCC crisis
On 22 February, delegations of the UAE and Qatar met in Kuwait for the first time in three years following the Al-Ula summit held in January 2021. The two sides “discussed joint mechanisms and procedures for implementing the Al-Ula statement.” Further, they reiterated the need to safeguard the Gulf kinship and develop a joint Gulf action in the interest of GCC in order to achieve peace and prosperity in the region. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Italian ambassador, two others killed in attack on UN convoy
On 22 February, the Italian Ambassador to the DRC, an Italian embassy officer and a World Food Programme staffer were killed in an attack by suspected rebel forces in Goma in the eastern part of the country. The three were traveling in a UN convoy to visit a WFP sponsored school feeding programme. The UN Secretary-General expressed his condolences and called on the DRC government to launch a probe into the incident. However, he and the UNSC reiterated that the UN will continue to support the people of the country. Meanwhile, the DRC government blamed the Rwandan-backed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), for the attack; the FDLR denied the allegations and instead blamed the DRC and Rwanda armies for the same. 

Uganda: Six children killed, five injured in a grenade explosion 
On 18 February, police said six children were killed and five were injured in northwest Uganda after a grenade they found in the bushes and played with exploded. The regional police spokesperson said the grenade had perhaps been abandoned by the Lord’s Resistance Army during the insurgency which lasted between the 1990s and early 2000s. She said this was the second explosion by leftover munitions in the area in less than two weeks; in the previous incident, two people were killed. 

Ethiopia: TPLF sets conditions for peace talks
On 19 February, the BBC quoted a media house affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and said the group leaders had issued conditions for peace talks. The conditions include withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amhara forces, an independent inquiry into the “ethnic cleansing” of Tigrayans, access to humanitarian aid, unconditional release of political prisoners and disbandment of the regional interim government formed by the federal government. Lastly, the leaders also demanded that an international body lead the peace talks. As of 24 February, there has been no response from the Ethiopian government.

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Russia: ECHR calls on Russia to free Navalny
On 17 February, the European court of human rights asked the Government of Russia to release Alexey Navalny “with immediate effect.” The court granted Navalny a temporary release from jail because it said the government “could not provide sufficient safeguards for his life and health.” In response, Russia stated that it would ignore the ruling despite a requirement to comply as a member of the Council of Europe, calling the court’s decision “blatant and gross interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state.”

Syria: German Court convicts a former Syrian secret police for crimes against humanity
On 24 February, a court in Germany convicted Eyad al-Gharib, a former Syrian secret police officer and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison. Eyad al-Gharib has been convicted of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for his role in arresting and transporting protesters to an interrogation centre known for torture. This makes him the first former Syrian official to be convicted of crimes against humanity

The US: Pentagon described climate crisis as “a threat multiplier”
On 23 February, John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, told the UN Security Council that the Pentagon has described the climate crisis as “a threat multiplier.” Further, he raised caution over the inaction by world powers on climate change saying that it amounts to a “mutual suicide pact” after countries such as China, India, and Russia expressed scepticism on the global security threat it posed.

The US: COVID-19 cases cross the 500,000 mark
On 22 February, The United States surpassed the 500,000-known coronavirus-related deaths in a pandemic that has lasted almost a year making it the country with the highest virus death toll in the world. President Joe Biden, while expressing grief over the numbers, said, “As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate,” adding, “this nation will smile again.” Further, he urged Americans to remember everyone who died and he instilled hope toward healing.

Colombia: Military carried out 6,400 extrajudicial killings says special Tribunal
On 18 February, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court stated that the military in Colombia carried out at least 6,400 extrajudicial killings and presented them as combat deaths between 2002 and 2008. Further, the court which was set up under the peace deal described the killings in question as “illegitimate deaths presented as combat fatalities”, also known as “false positives.” While the military high command has denied there was a systematic policy of inflating the numbers, soldiers have told the court that they were put under pressure to enhance the appearance of the government’s military campaign.

About the authors
Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Apoorva Sudhakar, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Avishka Ashok are Phd Scholar, Project Assistants, and Research assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.

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