Conflict Weekly 67

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Conflict Weekly 67
George Floyd murder trial, Fukushima water release controversy, anti-France protests in Pakistan, Report on the Rwandan genocide and another Loya Jirga in Afghanistan

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #67, 21 April 2021, Vol.2, No.3
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

D. Suba Chandran, Lokendra Sharma, Rishabh Yadav, Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

The US: In the George Floyd murder trial, the jury finds the police officer guilty
In the news
On 20 April, the 12 member jury, after ten hours of discussion, found Derek Chauvin guilty following three weeks of deliberation. The former police officer, responsible for the death of George Floyd, was charged with three counts - second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

On the same day, President Biden, in an address, announced: "This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America." As a part of his address, he also said: "It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see…For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability."

Later, George Floyd's brother said: "We have to protest, because it seems like this is a never ending cycle… I'm going to put up a fight every day, because I'm not just fighting for George anymore, I'm fighting for everybody around this world."

Issues at large
First, the overwhelming role of the video of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd. The defence tried to argue that George Floyd's death was due to drugs in his system and related to his heart condition, and Derek Chauvin, the police officer, was not primarily responsible for Floyd's death. The defence also tried to argue that the police officer was only performing his duty, and his kneeling down was in line with the police training. However, the prosecution brought in witnesses that include police officers and medical experts that disproved the above two perspectives. More importantly, the video shot by someone in the street proved to be the primary case, making the jury conclude their verdict, calling Chauvin guilty.

Second, the larger social and political trial, outside the Court. Even before the trial could begin, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement closely followed the case and placed the entire judicial system on trial. Many BLM leaders openly said: it was not Derek Chauvin who was being tried but the entire American system. The BLM also looked at the trial, not only as that of justice for George Floyd but also for the entire African American community. It was seen as a test case of racial equality.

Third, the verdict against Chauvin as a beginning. The jury has given the verdict. The sentence has not been given yet. The Court is expected to give the sentencing; given the three counts on which Chauvin is found guilty, he should receive up to 40 years in prison. However, will he is the question. A section within the BLM also talks about "one down, three more to go" referring to three other police officers, who were also dismissed along with Chauvin.

In perspective
First, the fallout of the verdict on American society. According to reports in the media, many parts of the country were getting ready to address the protests across the US if the jury's verdict was otherwise. A report title in the Washington Post ("The Chauvin verdict had cities nationwide braced for unrest. Instead, they got a celebration") would reveal the nature of peace, accountability and justice in terms of racial relations within the US. A section believed that the jury would not find Chauvin guilty because of similar cases earlier. The African American community feels that the system is against them. Is the verdict on Chauvin's case an exception or likely to become a new normal for the US in terms of accountability?

Second, the verdict, on the one hand, should be seen as what Biden called as a "giant step forward in the march toward justice in America." On the other hand, it should also give a fillip to the Black Lives Matter movement, as George Floyd's brother said: "I'm not just fighting for George anymore, I'm fighting for everybody around this world."

Japan: Plan to release Fukushima's contaminated water ignites opposition
In the news
On 20 April, South Korea's foreign ministry announced that it would participate in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety verification efforts to address concerns regarding the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. On the same day, more than 30 students protested by shaving their heads in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

On 18 April, US climate envoy John Kerry backed Japan's plans during a visit to Seoul. He said: "We think we have confidence in the ability of IAEA and Japan and our relationship with the agency".

On 15 April, in a joint statement, three UN human rights experts expressed concern on the release. They said: "The release of one million tonnes of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan".

Issues at large
First, Japan's plan to release water. On 12 April, Japan announced that it would start releasing 1.25 million tons of contaminated water stored at the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean after two years, that is, 2023. Water used to cool down the reactor units destroyed by the Tsunami in 2011 is being stored in huge tanks at the plant site. Costing a billion dollar to maintain, the storage tanks are also running out of space. According to the plant operator Tepco and Japan's Prime Minister Suga, releasing the water will also aid in the decommissioning process of the Fukushima plant. Before release, Tepco will first filter the radioactive isotopes present in water and then dilute the water (to reduce the level of tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that cannot be filtered). The process of water release is expected to take decades to complete.

Second, the opposition to release. Japan's plans have received widespread opposition, including UN experts, environmentalists, and fishermen from neighbouring states. China, South Korea, North Korea. Russia and Taiwan have all raised objections to Japan's plans, arguing that it will lead to environmental pollution in the ocean and affect their populations' health and livelihood. Fishermen and environmentalists in Japan and across the neighbouring countries opposed this move. Their primary opposition stems from tritium (and other radioactive particles) in the filtered water. According to a 2014 Scientific American study, tritium can cause cancer if ingested. To address radioactive contamination, Environmental groups have suggested constructing additional storage tanks and allowing the radioactive particles to decay before releasing the water.

Third, Japan's mixed record. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was followed by anti-nuclear protests in Japan and worldwide, with a significant decline of trust in Japan's nuclear power industry. There were significant safety lapses at Fukushima. Then, in 2018, Tepco admitted that the filtered water stored at Fukushima contained radioactive particles, including cobalt and strontium, in 71 per cent of the tanks. This admission cast severe doubts on Tepco, which for years maintained that these particles were removed. Notwithstanding poor record, Japan claims that it will work with IAEA and meet international standards before releasing water. It also insists that tritium will be diluted to one-fortieth of what is permitted in drinking water.
In perspective
The Fukushima water release issue has resulted in rare convergence in a very divided region, with all of Japan's neighbours opposing the move. Despite the backing by the US, Japan would find it difficult to ignore the opposition not just by neighbours but also by environmentalists and fishermen. Given Japan's poor record, beginning with the safety lapses that lead to the Fukushima accident in the first place, it is imperative that Japan takes everyone along on this sensitive issue, ensures utmost transparency and meets all regulatory standards.

Pakistan: Government bans the TLP after violent protests against France
In the news
On 15 April, the Pakistan government banned the fifth largest political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), under anti-terror law, after the protest by TLP workers turned violent across the country. Earlier, on 12 April, security agencies arrested Saad Hussain Rizvi, leader of TLP, to obviate the organization's long-march and sit-in in Islamabad for demanding the expulsion of the French Ambassador and severing ties with France. The arrest sparked a countrywide protest, which turned violent as TLP activists clashed with law enforcement agencies. The protestors were also able to take hostage 11 police officers and made government come back to the negotiating table with the banned group.
Issues at large
First, the four demands of the TLP. It includes: the expulsion of the French Ambassador, the Release of the party chief Saad Rizvi, the removal of the ban on the party, and the release of all arrested activists. On 20 April, the government released Saad Rizvi, and agreed to withdraw all cases against TLP workers and is currently having a debate in National Assembly over the expulsion of the French Ambassador.

Second, the TLP and the issue of blasphemy. This is not the first time TLP activists have taken to the streets and created mayhem across the country over blasphemy. In 2017, they held a demonstration against the re-wording of the electoral oath that they found blasphemous. Similarly, in 2018, they held a protest against the Supreme Court's verdict on acquitting Aasia Bibi on the issue of blasphemy. In both these cases, the government had to accommodate their demands to diffuse the situation. These demonstrations have increased the group's popularity by making it the fifth largest political party. The impunity enjoyed by the group and its rising popularity hinged on demonstrations to safeguard 'Islam' provides it with the confidence to disrupt civil administration over the issues of blasphemy.

Third, Imran Khan's catch-22 situation. He was one of the first leaders to criticize the French government over the issue of controversial cartoons. While the demands of TLP are untenable and inimical to the interest of the Pakistani state, flatly refusing them will make him contradict his position and call into question his popular support. Also, the electoral success of TLP helps PTI by undercutting the votes of PML-N in Punjab. Therefore, Imran Khan finds appeasing TLP more pertinent than taking any punitive actions against them.

Fourth, non-state actors challenging the writ of the state. If the monopolization of violence is indispensable for internal sovereignty and independent foreign policymaking is a display of external sovereignty, the actions of TLP challenges both. The ability of TLP to pressurize the government in signing an agreement on the issue of expulsion of the French Ambassador and create chaos on the streets without facing any effective resistance from the state machinery underscore the state's weak capacity to enforce writ on its territory. The ability of various non-state actors to challenge the state's monopoly over violence underlines the crisis and challenges of state-building in Pakistan.

In perspective
The ban on the group will not achieve anything. Numerous fundamentalist groups exist in Pakistan's polity because of the patronage given by the establishment. There is a strong current of political appeasement while dealing with any religious group, which invariably boost their confidence and popularity. The need for the state is to rethink its approach in dealing with religious groups and religious issues and not let them invalidate the democratic structures of the state. To stonewall sensitive issues only allow the state to postpone crises and not eliminate them.

Rwanda: France did nothing to stop the 1994 genocide, says report
In the news
On 19 April, a report commissioned by Rwanda said the French government "bears significant responsibility for having enabled a foreseeable genocide" in 1994. The report said: "From its knowledge of massacres of civilians conducted by the government and its allies, to the daily dehumanization of the Tutsi...the French government could see that a genocide was coming. The French government was neither blind nor unconscious about the foreseeable genocide." The report covers the period between 1990 to 1994 and outlines that the French government supported the Habyarimana government throughout the years, regardless of the above warning signs.

Further, it also analyses France's role after the genocide and accuses the French government of covering up, obstructing and promulgating false narratives on its role in the genocide. It also maintains that France made little effort to bring those who committed the genocide to justice. It includes witness accounts citing that "For those who have not lived it, to simply say the word 'genocide' is almost anodyne and cannot convey even the small piece of the horror contained in the testimonies."
Issues at large
First, an earlier report by France. Commissioned by Emmanuel Macron, on the role of France in the genocide, the report was published on 26 March. Known as the Duclert report, it was prepared by 15 historians who were given access to the government's archives. Similar to the Rwandan narrative, the Duclert report says that France "bears serious and overwhelming responsibility" for the 1994 genocide as the government, under former President François Mitterrand, had a "strong, personal and direct relationship" with Habyarimana. It, however, clarifies that France did not actively want to be part of the genocide.

Second, the relations between France and Rwanda. Historian Vincent Duclert says that France was interested in expanding its influence in post-colonial Africa, and by establishing control over Rwanda, an erstwhile Belgian colony, Mitterrand expected to enter a new region. However, post-1994, the relations between the two countries have been strained, especially since Rwandan President Paul Kagame was a former leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front; the RPF rebelled against the Habyarimana government. The Rwandan government accused France of harbouring criminals who murdered Tutsis during its rescue mission, Operation Turquoise.  

Third, the role of the international community. While much of the focus has been on France, the Rwandan report does mention the role of other actors like Belgium, Uganda, and the US. During the genocide, the international community largely looked away to the extent that the US was hesitant to term it a genocide. However, Rwanda has not applied the same scale of scrutiny to other actors.
In perspective
First, the two reports could be a turning point in the relations between the two countries. Rwanda has welcomed Macron's acknowledgement of the French role in the genocide. Kagame also appreciated Macron's decision to have commissioned the Duclert report in 2019. He outlined it as France's efforts to "move forward with a good understanding of what happened."

Second, the report brings back the focus on France which has been on a spree of revisiting its colonial past. Prior to the Duclert report, Macron had admitted to France's role in the murder of a freedom fighter in Algeria, which was a French colony. Therefore, such steps reflect the maturity and resolve with which France is handling its past. 

Afghanistan: Government discusses the US troop withdrawal, calls for Loya Jirga
In the news
On 19 April, a cabinet meeting led by President Ashraf Ghani discussed the government's preparations for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. At the meeting, Ghani stated that the decision to pull the troops out of Afghanistan does not mean a cut in Afghanistan-US ties but opens a new chapter in relations. The implementation of bilateral and multilateral agreements after the withdrawal of US forces and empowering the security and defence forces were also discussed. Further, the cabinet called for a Loya Jirga to be held in which the status of permanent impartiality of Afghanistan could be considered after withdrawal.

Earlier, on 15 April, Ghani said the Afghan government "is not at risk of collapse" as the US announced to withdraw foreign forces. He said: "The narrative of the Afghan government falling apart is a false narrative," adding that the Afghan commandos, special forces and air force "have trained among the best, they are among the best in the region, as long as this force stays, there is no risk of state collapse."

Issues at large
First, the government's position on withdrawal. Following the announcement of withdrawal, Ghani said that Afghanistan respects the US decision. He said that the Biden administration's decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan "is no surprise" for him, adding that the decision "clarifies a lot of things and it allows us to move forward so the right decision will have the consequences of making Taliban think seriously." Additionally, he clarified that he does not believe in his previous comments that the country will fall in six months after the withdrawal of foreign forces, adding that he has brought reforms in Afghan forces which will help them to defend the country against any type of threat.

Second, the government's apprehensions of the Taliban. Since the announcement, the Afghan government has called on the Taliban to become more proactive in the negotiations stating: "If they (Taliban) engage in war, they would have lost a golden opportunity and I hope that they don't do that." Ghani said: "The ball is in the Court of the Taliban. We are fully prepared for Istanbul. There is a consensus on this, national and within the government. We will see now whether the Taliban opt." He said: "The key is that the political committee does not represent, unfortunately, the military committee or the commanders. They (Taliban) have not socialized peace yet, but it's a jolt that they need to absorb because they could not think that the United States will withdraw."

Third, the surge in violence over the past year. Violence continues to go unabated, hinting that the call for withdrawal might be early. In the last six months between October 2020 and March 2021, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a 38 per cent increase in civilian casualties compared with the same period in 2020. It attributed the surge in violence to both the Afghan army and the Taliban, with the Taliban responsible for 43.5 per cent of all civilian casualties and the Afghan national army responsible for 17 per cent.

In perspective
First, the government's ability to counter the fallouts of the troop withdrawal. With the support of all foreign troops coming to an end, it is likely that the Afghan forces alone with not be able to counter the fallouts of withdrawal even though the government claims otherwise.

Second, the withdrawal both a boon and a bane for the government. The withdrawal becomes a leveraging point for the government to try and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table; however, it also leaves the government in a challenging position as it would have to counter the Taliban and any insurrections by themselves.

Also from around the world
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Taiwan: The US sends unofficial delegation to extend support amid hostility from China
On 14 April, the US President sent an unofficial delegation to Taiwan to extend support to the country amid several hostile moves by China. Taiwan's presidential spokesperson said: "Once again, this visit demonstrates the firm relationship between Taiwan and the United States." Further, the visit marks the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act which Biden had supported as a young senator. Prior to this, on 12 April, as many as 25 Chinese military jets and bombers flew over Taiwan's defence zone.

North Korea: Propaganda outlet accuses Seoul of preparing to invade
On 18 April, The Korea Herald reported that a "North Korean propaganda outlet" termed South Korea's move to purchase 36 large combat choppers by 2028, an attempt to increase preparations to invade the country. It opined that South Korea was "stepping up plots to develop and introduce advanced arms equipment for northward invasion at a time when people's grievances are rising higher than ever as economic difficulties are worsening due to the global pandemic."

Myanmar: General Hlaing to attend ASEAN summit
On 17 April, Thailand announced that Myanmar's military ruler will be attending the ASEAN summit scheduled for 24 April. This would be General Min Aung Hlaing's first known foreign visit after the coup. On the same day, the military government released 23,184 prisoners to mark the traditional New Year. However, on the other hand, the military was seeking "832 people on warrants in connection with the protests." Meanwhile, the death toll from the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters stands at 728. 

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Sporadic violence amid elections in West Bengal
On 17 April, 78.36 per cent of electors exercised their franchise amid sporadic incidents of violence during the fifth phase of elections in West Bengal. Chief Electoral Officer said: "The elections were peaceful; today a few incidents were reported," adding that 23 persons were arrested in specific incidents during the day and 100 were arrested as part of preventive measures.
Bangladesh: Leader of Islamist group arrested over anti-Modi protests
On 19 April, Al Jazeera reported that hundreds of members and supporters of Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamist group, including its influential leader, have been arrested in Bangladesh. The arrests were made over the protests against the visit of PM Narendra Modi for the country's golden jubilee celebrations of independence.
Sri Lanka: Supreme Court begins hearing petitions challenging the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill
On 19 April, the Supreme Court began hearing petitions challenging the Colombo Port City Economic Commission bill, which aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorizations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones. The Court is set to hear petitions from around 20 individuals and organizations who have raised concerns about the constitutional integrity of the panel overseen by the president and the lack of direct oversight by regulators, including the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan: Pakistan committed to the negotiation in Istanbul says FM Qureshi
On 18 April, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: "We support reconciliation in Afghanistan and progress in the peace process, in Istanbul. I look forward to meeting Foreign Minister Atmar at (the) Istanbul Conference and to hosting him in Pakistan soon after to discuss a way forward post-conference." Further, he expressed hope that the "Istanbul process" will help make the Doha Agreement fruitful in the pursuit of lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Georgia: Ruling party and opposition sign EU-brokered deal
On 19 April, the government and opposition agreed to end the political crisis and signed an accord brokered by European Council President Charles Michel. The deal, if implemented, would pave the way for the release of two jailed opposition figures, electoral and judicial reforms and bring an end to the opposition lawmakers boycott of the parliament and the possibility of new parliamentary elections. Georgia has been in a political crisis since the Georgian Dream ruling party won a parliamentary election in October 2020, which the opposition disputed.
Iran-Saudi Arabia: Officials hold direct talks, reports Financial Times
On 18 April, Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabian and Iranian officials held direct talks on 9 April. According to Financial Times' sources, the two sides talked about mending their relations. They said the officials focussed on the conflict in Yemen; however, no major breakthrough has been made yet. The news report quoted an Iranian official who said the meeting was held on Iraq's request. He added: "This was a low-level meeting to explore whether there might be a way to ease ongoing tensions in the region." The development comes as the US is attempting to revive the JCPOA, a move that Saudi Arabia has opposed. As of 20 April, both sides have not commented on or confirmed the news report.
Israel-Palestine: Israel carries out airstrikes on Gaza Strip
On 17 April, the Israeli army said it had carried out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip aimed at "terror targets" including "training facility, an anti-aircraft missile launcher post, a concrete production plant & terror tunnel infrastructure." This was the second attack in less than a week. On 15 April, the Israeli army said it had conducted airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On the day, the army said it "hit targets belonging to Hamas and an ammunition factory and a tunnel used for weapons shipments in Gaza."
Ethiopia: UNICEF spokesperson highlights the dire condition of children in Tigray
On 20 April, the UNICEF spokesperson said more than one million have been displaced since the conflict in Tigray began in November 2020. He raised concerns about the impact the conflict will have on children. Further, he spoke of the combined effects of the conflict and the pandemic; since March 2020, more than 1.4 million children in Tigray have been out of school. He highlighted the horrors of gender violence. Citing that there were at least three cases of gender violence being reported, he said: "this is probably the tip of the iceberg because reporting is very, very difficult both for…security and cultural elements of shame, and so on. I heard traumatic stories of children as young as 14, I heard reports of gang-rapes."
Chad: President Deby killed in clashes with a rebel group
On 20 April, the army spokesperson announced that President Idriss Deby died of wounds "while on the frontline during a battle against rebels" who were moving towards the capital; he was visiting the soldiers. The circumstances of his death are unclear. However, his death comes after provisional results of the presidential elections showed that he had won a sixth term after he came to power in 1990. Since the elections were held on 11 April, a rebel group, Front for Change and Concord in Chad, had been advancing to the capital.
Peace and Conflict from Europe and Americas
Russia: Military says over 200 Islamic State militants killed in an airstrike in Syria
On 19 April, the Russian military stated that it has killed "up to 200 terrorists" in an airstrike by the Russian air force on two Islamic State bases located in the northeast of Palmyra. The Defense Ministry stated: "Two hideouts were destroyed, up to 200 militants, 24 pickup trucks with large-caliber machine guns, as well as about 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of ammunition and components for creating improvised explosive devices," adding that they were specifically planning "terrorist attacks and attacks on government agencies in large cities in order to destabilize the situation in the country ahead of the presidential elections in Syria."
Russia: Authorities move Navalny to a prison hospital
On 19 April, Russia's prisons service stated that Alexey Navalny has been transferred to a prison hospital as concerns over his health increases. His supporters have previously said that he was dangerously ill and could die "at any minute" as he continues to be on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks. On his transfer, the authorities stated: "Currently Navalny's health is evaluated as satisfactory, he is being examined daily by a doctor. With his agreement, he has been prescribed vitamin therapy."
US-Russia: Officials react to US sanctions
On 15 April, Kremlin spokesman criticized the US sanctions on Russia, saying: "We condemn any aspirations to sanction and consider them illegal. In any case, the principle of reciprocity still applies." Similarly, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: "The response to the sanctions will be inevitable; Washington must understand that they will have to pay for the degradation of bilateral relations. The responsibility for what is happening lies entirely on the US." These sanctions are seen as the toughest to be imposed against Russia since 2018 in retaliation of numerous alleged infringements.
The US: UN reports a ninefold increase in the number of migrant children at borders
On 19 April, the UNICEF said that number of migrant children arriving in Mexico hoping to move into the United States has increased ninefold from January to March 2021. It estimated that an average of 275 minors are entering the country every day. Further, it reported that the number of migrant children reported in Mexico rose to 3,500 at the end of March from 380 at the start of 2021. Further, the agency said that many children are being held in overcrowded shelters near the country's border with the US.
Cuba: Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes the first civilian leader
On 19 April, Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced Raul Castro as leader of Cuba and First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). This makes him the country's first civilian leader; however, the transition is unlikely to result in dramatic policy shifts in the one-party system which Diaz-Canel has vowed to safeguard. Further, Raul Castro would still be consulted on "strategic decisions."

About the authors
D. Suba Chandran is Dean and Professor; Lokendra Sharma is a PhD Scholar; Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Rishabh Yadav is an independent scholar currently enrolled at the NIAS Online Certificate Course on Contemporary Pakistan.

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