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Conflict Weekly
The Female Genital Mutilation bill in The Gambia, Search for a Ceasefire in Gaza and Continuing Instability in Haiti

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #220, 22 March 2024, Vol.5, No.12
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI

Anu Maria Joseph, Nuha Aamina and Navinan GV

The Gambia: The genital cutting and the return of the FGM debate
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 18 March, a bill aiming to decriminalise Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia proceeded to the second reading in the parliament. The lawmakers of the country voted 42 to four, advancing the bill. The bill was introduced on 5 March by an independent lawmaker, Almameh Gibba. He argued that the ban on genital cutting violated the rights to “practice their culture and religion” in the Muslim country and that “the bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values.”

On 18 March, on the day of voting, speaking to the Washington Post in front of the national assembly, Jaha Dukureh, a Gambian activist, said: “It is a rollback on women’s rights and bodily autonomy. It is a rollback in terms of telling women what to do with their own bodies. This is all this is. You are denying [us] as women who have been through FGM. You are telling us that what we are saying is a lie.” Dukureh was a victim of the cutting when she was a child and found it out on her wedding night when she was 15. Her younger sister died after the procedure.

Outside the national assembly, women and men held placards that read: “Girls need love, not knives.” Since the introduction of the bill, several popular religious leaders have increased their campaign demanding for revoking FGM. Followers of a popular Muslim cleric, Abdoulie Fatty, are rallying support by chanting: "Female circumcision is my religious belief, Gambia is not for sale."

On 6 March, the UN called The Gambia to withdraw the bill, describing it as "an abhorrent violation of human rights.” UN rights office spokesperson Seif Magango stated: We are alarmed by the tabling of a bill in The Gambian parliament seeking to repeal the Women's Amendment Act of 2015 that prohibits female genital mutilation.”

Issues at large
First, the female genital mutilation (FGM) debate in The Gambia. UNICEF defines FGM as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The cutting procedure differs among societies that are engaged in FGM. At the extreme level, the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female reproductive system, is removed, and the genitals are cut and stitched back to control women’s sexuality. According to a UNICEF report in 2021, 76 per cent of females in the Gambia, aged between 15 and 49, have undergone genital cutting. The report represents a timeline after FGM was banned in 2015. The ban was imposed by former President Yahya Jammeh who claimed that the practice is not required in Islam. Jammeh said that after 21 years of studying the Quran, he realised that cutting is based on “no traditional facts.” He banned the practice as “it endangers the lives of women and girls.” It is carried out by traditional women practitioners supported by the mother of the victim, without sterile equipment. Often, the same equipment is used on multiple victims who are under the age of eight. FGM is an inhumane practice that leads to serious physical and psychological issues including infections, bleeding, infertility, depression, trauma and at times death. 

The ban was met with strong criticism from those who supported it. The narratives on revoking the ban began right after Jammeh was out of power. Under the ban, an individual convicted of performing the cutting faces three years in prison or a fine or both. The latest debate began in August 2023 when three women were convicted for carrying out the cutting, and an Islamic cleric paid the fine, saying that the practice was taught by the prophet Muhammad. Further, they began the campaign to reverse the ban, which led to the bill. 

Second, the excuse of history, traditions, religion and patriarchy on the FGM. Contemporary historians claim the practice began in Egypt during the reign of Pharaohs, to prevent the slaves from unwanted pregnancies. However, over time FGM spread across ethnicities and religions, especially in Africa and the Middle East. A practice that then had no religious backing and has been inherently patriarchal, a deep-rooted inequality characterised by male dominance. However, the justifications differ among societies. Some claim it is an important part of their culture. For some, it is a practice out of fear of being socially stigmatized. 

Third, the global challenge of the FGM. On 8 March, on the occasion of Women’s Day, UNICEF released a report that the number of women across the world who have undergone FGM has increased from 200 million to 230 million in eight years. The majority are from African countries, with more than 144 million cases, followed by 80 million in Asia and six million in the Middle East. FGM is practised in 30 countries across Africa and the Middle East. Only Iraq and Oman in the Middle East have provisions against cutting. It is widely carried out in Africa, although banned in 23 countries. In total, FGM is practised in 90 countries across the world, and only 51 countries have laws against FGM. 

In perspective
Undoubtedly, genital cutting is a gross form of discrimination against women and children. It is a brutal practice that compromises women’s right to freedom, health, security and physical integrity- an extreme form of discrimination against women and inhumane. The justification is not mentioned in any of the religious doctrines. 

Two-thirds of the total population in Africa and the Middle East want to end the cutting practice, says UNICEF. Women have the right to ownership of their bodies and it is cruel that there are instances of mothers imposing these beliefs on their daughters. Deep-rooted religious and patriarchal leadership, superstitions and the fear of stigmatization are not easy to cut through. Fundamental rights are compromised under religious beliefs. The genital cutting cannot be justified under any circumstances. The only answer to the FGM is to stop the practice.

The War in Gaza: The search for a ceasefire and military operations in Rafah
Nuha Aamina

In the news
On 22 March, a report in the Washington Post, referring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Tel Aviv, said he has gone to "warn Israeli leaders against a ground invasion of the densely packed Gaza city of Rafah and to try to advance a cease-fire plan." The above report also referred to a statement by Blinken in Cairo on 21 March: "President Biden has been very clear that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and something that we can’t support."

On 21 March, during his visit to Saudi Arabia, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced that the US has “put forward” a resolution “before the United Nations Security Council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages.”. 

On 19 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, stated: “The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.” 

On 16 March, ahead of his two-day trip to the Middle East, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, called on Israel to allow “aid to reach Gaza on a larger scale now…There is a danger that a comprehensive offensive in Rafah will result in many terrible civilian casualties, which must be strictly prohibited.”

On 15 March, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, approved an operation in Rafah and said that the inhabitants would be evacuated. The Israeli government stated that the Israeli Defence Force was “preparing operationally and for the evacuation of the population.” Netanyahu also said: “No amount of international pressure will stop us from realising all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat against Israel.” On the same day, Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said that Egypt was seeking to “reach a ceasefire in Gaza.” In the US, President Joseph Biden agreed with US Senator Chuck Schumer when he called for new elections in Israel and criticised Netanyahu for being an “obstacle to peace.”

Issues at large
First, the significance of Rafah. The city, geographically situated at the southern tip of Gaza, bordering Egypt, has witnessed 2.3 million civilians relocate from the north during the last five months. Rafah is seen as the last safe zone for the Palestinians in Gaza, and many fear an attack on the city will force people to flee to neighbouring countries. 

Second, Israel’s reluctance to accept a ceasefire. The US and other countries from Europe have been pressurizing Israel to reach a ceasefire agreement. Hamas presented a proposal on 14 March, to the mediators urging Israel to stop its “aggression” against Palestinian civilians, allow the passage of aid, the return of Gazans to their respective homes and withdraw Israeli forces. For Israel, Hamas’ demands are “unrealistic.” Israeli security cabinet member and Minister of National Unity, Chile Tropper, stated that if Israel had to arrive at “a deal that will return our boys and girls home, it will come at a cost, and a heavy one.” 

Third, deepening rift between Israel and the US. The US support for Israel appears to be weakening, though it has been backing Israel's efforts to eliminate Hamas. The US has also criticized Israel on the humanitarian crisis; on 14 March, Schumer stated that the current Israeli government no longer "fits the needs of Israel.” At the state level, there is support for a two-state solution in the US; Biden has also emphasized the same. However, for Netanyahu, these are unrealistic expectations. 

Fourth, the worsening humanitarian crisis. According to health authorities in Gaza, the Israeli ground and air campaign led to the deaths of more than 31,500 people,  According to a UN-backed assessment, there is likely to be a spike surge in famine, affecting 300,000 people if there is no access to aid.

In perspective
First, with Israel getting ready for military operations in Rafah, the US and other Arab states are determined to find a ceasefire agreement in place. 

Second, though there is external pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire, Netanyahu seems to going ahead with his plans for military operations in Rafah. For him, unless the Hamas is eliminated, Israel will not end its war in Gaza.

Haiti: Continuing political instability 
Navinan GV

In the news
On 21 March, Ernst Julme, also known as Ti Greg, the boss of the Delmas 95 gang, was assassinated in a police operation. He was a member of the gang leader Jimmy Cherizier's "Viv Ansanm" alliance. 

On 20 March, members of Petion-Ville were slaughtered and set on fire.

On 18 March, gangs looted suburban communities, killed dozens, and left their bodies in the streets and fuel stations. Subsequently, four power stations were destroyed. The spokesperson for the US Department of State, Vedant Patel, stated that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is close to finalising the transitional council. 

On 16 March, UNICEF reported that one of its relief containers at Haiti's main port, packed with "essential items of maternal, neonatal, and child survival," had been robbed as gangs gained control of the capital. UNICEF chief said the situation was like "Mad Max."

On 12 March, Laurent Uwumuremyi, the Haiti country director for the humanitarian group Mercy Corps, said that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry's resignation had “not yet generated any effect” in the capital.

Issues at large
First, the resignation of the prime minister. Ariel Henry was unable to return to Haiti from his trip to Kenya in late February to secure the support of a Kenyan-led multinational force to Haiti. During his absence, the country witnessed a surge in violence, after gangs took control of the airport. Amid threats of civil war and international pressure, on 11 March, Henry tendered his resignation following an emergency meeting of regional leaders of CARICOM. The CARICOM discussed the framework for political transition, while the US highlighted the need for swift action as the gangs wreaked chaos. 

Second, the delay in the transitional council. Internal fighting among political parties and the reluctance of some groups to participate in the transitional council are two primary reasons for the delay. The proposal to have a new leadership in Haiti was rejected by several political parties, including the Pitit Desalin led by former senator and presidential candidate Jean-Charles Moise. Asserting that no Haitian should accept any proposal from the international community, Moïse insisted on implementing the three-person presidential council, which he recently formed with former police officer Guy Phillippe and a Haitian judge. 

Third, continuing violence. Despite Henry’s resignation, the tensions have not reduced. Jimmy Cherizier, the leader of the G9 gang, stated: “We’re not going to recognise the decisions that CARICOM takes.” He said that those living in Haiti should make the decisions and rejected the transitional council. After gangs destroyed four power stations in the capital, many parts of Port-au-Prince remain without power. There is a shortage of energy, fuel, and medical supplies, affecting hospitals across the country, with six out of ten facilities unable to function. Gangs have blocked roads and ports, limiting fuel distributors' ability to carry gas to pumps around the country. 

In perspective
Haiti is expected to see more political clashes with obstacles in forming the transitional council. Though the international community wants Haiti to speed up the process, there is no consensus among the parties about who should be in the councilThe majority of the Haitians including the gangs oppose the foreign-backed transitional council. 

Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Vetriselvi Baskaran, Akhil Ajith, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Navinan GV, and Narmatha S 

East and Southeast Asia
China: Foreign Ministry rebukers Taiwan’s participation at the Summit for Democracy
On 18 March, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Lin Jian, opposed Taiwan’s participation in the third Summit of Democracy, held in the South Korean capital Seoul. Taiwanese Minister of Digital Affairs, Audrey Tang, attended the meeting and delivered a video message on the discrimination faced by the country. He added that they are willing to work with like-minded countries to ensure the safe use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Meanwhile, Lin urged South Korea to follow the “one-China” principle and that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.”

China: Brazil launches investigation against Chinese industrial product dumping
On 17 March, Brazil’s Ministry of Development, Industry, Trade and Services began an investigation into the alleged industrial product dumping by China. They plan to probe into the past six months of imports ranging from metal sheets, pre-painted steel, and tyres. Due to China’s surplus production capacity, there has been a flood of exports from China. According to Chinese customs data, exports to and imports from Brazil increased by more than a third in the first two months of 2024. Brazil’s Ministry of Industry stated that there were “sufficient elements that indicate the practice of dumping in exports from China to Brazil . . . and damage to the domestic industry resulting from such practice.” This has created a dilemma for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who wants to further relations with China while protecting the domestic industry. Vietnam has launched a similar investigation against the dumping of wind towers and steel products.

Taiwan: China building military bases near Itu Aba, claims Foreign Minister
On 20 March, Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, stated that China is building military bases on the Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, and Mischief Reef. The bases are close to Taiwan’s Itu Aba, also known as Taiping, which is Taiwan’s main territory in the Spratly Islands. Wu stated that besides the ongoing tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, tensions are increasing over Itu Aba. He stated: "China has already created very enormous South China Sea military bases on the three islands surrounding Taiping - Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, and Mischief Reef - and these are all quite close to our Taiping." 

North Korea: Ballistic missile tests in the Korean peninsula
On 18 March, the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff reported that North Korea carried out ballistic missile tests towards the east of the Korean peninsula. The tests came ahead of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Seoul for the Summit for Democracy. Japanese Coast Guard confirmed the launches. South Korea condemned the launches as a “clear provocation.” The US State Department stated that North Korea violated several UNSC resolutions and is posing a threat to the region. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida responded: “North Korea's series of actions threaten the peace and security of our region and the international community, and are absolutely unacceptable.”

South Korea: Seoul hosts the Summit for Democracy
On 18 March, South Korea hosted the third Summit for Democracy in Seoul. The three-day Summit is themed ‘Democracy for Future Generations,’ focussing on digital threats to democracy, including misinformation, artificial intelligence, and deep fakes. The summit is attended by more than 100 countries. South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, while addressing the gathering, stated that the countries share the duty to exchange information on artificial intelligence and technology to promote democracy. He warned that AI and other digital technology without accountability are a threat to democracy. Yoon stated: “Fake news and disinformation based on artificial intelligence and digital technology not only violates individual freedom and human rights but also threatens democratic systems.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated: “As authoritarian and repressive regimes deploy technologies to undermine democracy and human rights, we need to ensure that technology sustains and supports democratic values and norms.” 

South Asia
Pakistan: Prime Minister Sharif asserts intolerance to cross-border terrorism
On 20 March, amid simmering tensions with the Taliban regime, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asserted that Pakistan would “not tolerate any kind of terrorism from across the border.” The statement came days after clashes and air strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He lamented: “Unfortunately, terrorism has reared its head again. The reality is that despite such great sacrifices and resources, our martyrs and troops are risking their lives to eliminate terrorism.” Sharif highlighted that while Pakistan wanted to “engage in trade and commerce and develop” its relations, “if a neighbour’s soil is used for terrorism [in Pakistan], this is intolerable.” He expressed his expectations for neighbouring countries to devise a joint plan against terrorism with “sincerity.”

Pakistan: Clashes with Afghanistan along the border
On 18 March, Pakistan launched air strikes on Afghanistan, attacking the militant outfit responsible for the 16 March North Waziristan attack. The same day, as per the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), eight militants, including the perpetrator of the Mir Ali attack, Shera alias Janan, were killed by security forces in North Waziristan as part of an intelligence-based operation (IBO). The ISPR added that sanitization operations were “being conducted to eliminate any other terrorists found in the area as the security forces of Pakistan remain determined to wipe out the menace of terrorism from the country.” On 16 March, in a terrorist attack in Mir Ali, seven soldiers were killed. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari expressed “national commitment” to the “complete eradication of terrorism,” and vowed that the country would not hesitate to strike back if attacked at borders or inside its territory. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence responded that “bases of Pakistani security forces” across the border were targeted with heavy weapons, killing one army officer and injuring three soldiers. Pakistan’s airstrikes elicited a response from the US State Department’s Principal Deputy spokesperson Vedant Pate on 16 March: “We deeply regret the loss of life and injustices sustained during the attack in Pakistan, and the loss of civilian lives during the strike in Afghanistan.” The US urged the Taliban to “ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Afghan soil,” while calling on Pakistan “to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counterterrorism efforts.”

Pakistan: Gwadar cut off amidst protests
On 18 March, Dawn reported on the road link of Gwadar and parts of the Makran division with Karachi and other areas being cut off for more than 48 hours in light of protests against the alleged enforced disappearance of two individuals. From 16 March, locals and the victims’ relatives blocked the coastal highway and the M-8 motorway, leaving hundreds of vehicles and people in buses on the highways stranded, as the protestors demanded the return of the two children. The closure severed the land communication between Gwadar, Karachi, Pasni, Ormara and Iran, leading to a shortage of essential goods in Turbat and Gwadar. Negotiations between the district administration and protestors remain fruitless. Protesters, including women and children from Gwadar and other areas, have camped at the highway with placards and banners, and have asserted that they will not move until their demands are met. They alleged that the two missing people were forcefully taken away by security forces three months ago, given assurance of their return in ten days.

Bangladesh: Worst air quality in 2023, says World Air Quality Report
On 20 March, the World Air Quality Report 2023 ranked Bangladesh number one with the highest average amount of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 concentration of 79.9 micrograms per cubic metre. The report adds Dhaka as the second worst capital city. The level recorded is 15 times more than the WHO set limit. Minister for Environment, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, stated: “There can be no overnight fixes but now that we have identified the sources of the pollution, we have acknowledged the problem.” 

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Israel: Airstrikes result in causalities
On 20 March, Al Jazeera reported that 23 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes which targeted local relief distribution workers near Gaza City’s Kuwait Roundabout. An Israeli bombing on a house in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza resulted in the death of at least 15 Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that he made it “supremely clear” to Biden that Israel is “determined to complete the elimination” of the Hamas from Rafah. On the same day, an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the West Bank. 

Israel: Arrests in the West Bank
On 19 March, the Israeli military arrested three Palestinians in the West Bank. Separately, two men were arrested in the town of Azzun, and a man was arrested in the town of Kafr Thulth. On 18 March, the Israeli military arrested a man in the Jabal al-Sharif area of Hebron. Meanwhile, following an Israeli raid, Hamas targeted a bulldozer with an explosive device in the Balata camp, east of the city of Nablus.

Syria: Israeli strikes outside Damascus
On 19 March, according to the Syrian Ministry of Defence, Israel launched missiles at multiple targets outside the capital Damascus. The ministry stated: “Syrian air defences intercepted Israeli missiles and shot down some of them.” The ministry added that the strikes caused infrastructural damage. Meanwhile, two Syrian military sources asserted that the strikes hit the Hezbollah ammunitions near the northeast of Damascus.

Yemen: Houthi and US military attacks in the Red Sea
On 19 March, the Houthi rebels attacked a ship in the Red Sea and fired missiles against Israel defying the UNSC order to halt the attacks. Houthi military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, stated that they fired “anti-ship” missiles at a US ship, Mado, in the Red Sea, and at several locations in the Israeli city of Eilat. On 18 March, US Central Command, CENTCOM, stated that it destroyed seven anti-ship missiles and three drones in Yemen. The US military stated: “It was determined these weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region.” 

Nigeria: 87 people abducted in Kaduna
On 18 March, BBC Africa reported that at least 87 people were abducted in the Kajuru region of Kaduna state. The abductees included women and children. According to the residents, the gunmen were dressed like military personnel. The latest abduction adds to the series of abductions that happened the previous week. On 3 March, several Internally Displaced People (IDPs) were abducted by the bandits in the Borno state. On 7 March, bandits attacked a school and abducted 280 students in Kaduna state. On 10 March, 15 students were abducted from a boarding school in Sokoto state. The series of abductions has raised regional and international concern about the resurgence of ransom kidnappings in the country.

Niger: Suspends military cooperation with the US
On 17 March, Niger’s military spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane announced the suspension of the military agreement with the US which allowed the latter to install military bases to operate in Niger. This immediate call-off came after the recent US delegates' visit. Abdramane stated: “Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism.” During the visit, the US delegates warned Niger of its increasing ties with Iran and Russia.

Africa: Indian Navy rescues cargo vessels from pirates
On 16 March, the Indian Navy rescued a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier, MV Ruen, which was hijacked three months before. The merchant vessel was hijacked in December by the Somalian pirates with 17 crew members. According to the Navy, all the 35 pirates on board were forced to surrender and raided for the possession of illegal arms, ammunition and contraband. The hijacking of MV Ruen by Somali pirates in December marked their first successful operation since 2017. 

Europe and the Americas
Russia: Amnesty International criticises measures taken to suppress Ukrainian identity
On 18 March, Amnesty International reported on Russia’s measures in Crimea to suppress Ukrainian identity. The report centred around Russia’s efforts in the last ten years to delegitimise Ukraine’s sovereignty. It criticised Russia for imposing restrictions on Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar identities in education, religion, media and judicial system. As per the report: “Changes to the curriculum and the almost total eradication of Ukrainian language tuition are designed to ensure that younger generations will lack the knowledge and awareness to challenge the Russian narrative surrounding Crimea's history.” It found that such policies were used in altering the ethnic makeup. 

Russia: Peskov hints at creating a buffer zone 
On 18 March, the Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, hinted at having a buffer zone between Russia and Ukraine as the only solution to protect Russia from Ukrainian attacks. Peskov claimed that the increasing attacks on the border impacted public facilities and residential buildings, and demanded a buffer zone. This is the first move from Russia towards a solution to the conflict amidst increased attacks in Belgorod and other neighbouring border zones.

Venezuela: Airspace to Argentina closed in response to plane “theft”
On 12 March, the Buenos Aires Times reported on Venezuela's decision to close its airspace to Argentina. This comes after Argentina handed over a Venezuelan cargo plane to the US. Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yvan Gil, stated that it would continue to block the airspace until compensated for the “theft” of the Venezuelan plane. He asserted: “Venezuela exerts full sovereignty of its airspace, and repeats that no aircraft, coming from or going to Argentina, may fly over our territory, until our company is duly compensated for the damage caused.” Argentina’s Presidential spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, responded: “The Argentine Republic has started diplomatic proceedings against the Venezuelan Government, headed by dictator Maduro, after its decision to prevent the use of airspace in that country by any Argentine aircraft.” In February, the US seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane owned by a subsidiary of Venezuelan state carrier Conviasa, which was sold to Venezuela by Iran.  

Cuba: Government protests US comments on demonstrations against food shortage and power blackouts
On 18 March, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a note to the chargé d’affaires at the US diplomatic mission in Havana, Benjamin Ziff, protesting the comments by the US embassy. On 17 March, the state media El Necio reported that demonstrators took to the streets in Santiago “due to the long hours of power outages from lack of fuel and other situations arising from the current economic crisis.” An economic and energy crisis in the country has led to worsening blackouts, forcing hundreds of thousands to migrate. In response to the protest, the US embassy commented: “We urge the Cuban government to respect the human rights of the protesters and attend to the legitimate needs of the Cuban people.” Later, the Cuban Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, condemned the “disrespectful” comments which were an “open interference in Cuba’s domestic affairs.” He added: “It was also cynical, as we said publicly, and hypocritical because it was referring to issues that are occurring in Cuba in which there’s an import and responsibility from the US government.” 

Colombia: President suspends ceasefire with an armed group 
On 17 March, Colombian President, Gustavo Petro, suspended a ceasefire with the Estado Mayor Central armed group, claiming that the group violated the agreement by attacking an indigenous community. The government announced that from 20 March, it would resume military operations against the group. The group broke away from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after signing a peace agreement in 2016. Indigenous leaders in Cauca reported that on 16 March an armed group attacked and injured at least three individuals. Petro stated that the organisation was “violating the ceasefire agreement,” and accused it of using peace talks as a pretext to “strengthen itself militarily.”

Canada: Increase in hate crime in Toronto following 7 October attack
On 18 March, Toronto police stated that the amount of anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate crimes has increased in Toronto due to the war in Gaza. According to Police Chief Myron Demkiw, hate crimes in 2024 rose by 93 per cent compared to 2023. 69 arrests and 173 charges relating to hate crimes have been made since the war began. Of the 84 hate crimes in 2024, 56 per cent were antisemitic. Additionally, there are cases of hate crimes carried out by anti-2SLGBTQI+, anti-Black, and anti-Muslim/Arab/Palestine communities.

The US: Austin to support Ukraine through assistance and planning
On 19 March, following the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting, the US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, assured the continuity of aid to Ukraine and expressed the US’ determination to support it with necessary resources. In response to the delay in aid worth USD 60 billion in the Congress, he stated: “We were only able to support this much-needed package by identifying some unanticipated contract savings.” He mentioned that in total, the group had generated USD 88 billion as security assistance to Ukraine and would continue in two tracks. The first would be giving near-term support for the Ukrainian troops, and the second would be helping the Ukrainian leaders in planning their defence and deterrence. 

The US: Supreme Court blocks Texas migration bill 
On 18 March, the US Supreme Court issued an administrative stay, preventing Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a Texas immigration law that allows local and state police to arrest individuals illegally entering from Mexico. SB4 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in December 2023. Abbott contended that SB4 is vital to reduce migrant crossings, and accused the Biden administration of not doing enough to secure the border. Since 2021, after Biden took office, at least 6.3 million migrants have illegally crossed into the US. 

This Week in History
"This Week in History" is a new column that examines historical events, consequences, legacies and their current relevance. We hope this column will provide an opportunity to build a young team that can analyze current events from a historical perspective and vice versa.

18 March 2014: Russia annexes Crimea
Rosemary Kurian
On 18 March 2014, Russia officially annexed Crimea, marking the beginning of its current conflict with Ukraine.

At the 21st century beginning, Ukraine had witnessed the Orange Revolution supporting the anti-Russian faction within the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament. This led to the victory of the anti-Russian Viktor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine. In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych returned to power as the new President. In Crimea, the predominantly Russian population supported Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. His return to presidency was favourable to the Russian control in Crimea. He extended Russia’s lease on the Sevastopol Port till 2042, which allowed Russia to bring around 25,000 troops to Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and a key port in the Black Sea. It also served as the headquarters of Ukraine’s Navy until 2014. In early 2014, after several months of protests, Yanukovych fled from Ukraine, following which several Russian troops with no determining insignia seized several government buildings, including that of the parliament. In March 2014, Russian troops were sent to Crimea, to protect the ethnic Russian population and subsequently Russia gained de facto control over Crimea. 

On 16 March 2014, a referendum was held in Crimea on whether the population would like to accede to Russia. In what was noted as an illegal referendum with predetermined results, the results favoured Russia with an overwhelming 97 per cent, which was not recognised by Ukraine and most of the West. On 18 March, Putin signed a treaty officially incorporating Crimea into Russia, which has largely failed to gain global legitimacy and recognition. Under international law, Russia was bestowed the designation of an “occupying power” due to its annexation of Crimea. 

The Crimean annexation prompted increased separatist movements in the Donbass region, with Luhansk and Donetsk declaring allegiance to Russia, a precursor to the current war in Ukraine. To Russia, the actions in Ukraine since 2014 are the former’s efforts to prevent Ukraine’s ties with NATO or the EU, both of which Russia sees as threats to its sphere of influence. In 2018, Russia inaugurated the Kerch Strait bridge which created a direct access link from Russia to Crimea, and its 12 mile span makes it the longest bridge in Europe. While the west condemned the construction, to Russia, the bridge was a mark of power over Ukraine and increase in naval influence. Russian naval ships routinely blocked vessels’ access to Ukrainian ports through the Sea of Azov. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the bridge became a key supply route for weapons to Ukrainian regions with Russian influence. Ukraine has had two attempts at destroying parts of the bridge, in which it took great pride and a massive morale boost during the war. All efforts at resolution have been halted with the question of Crimea as both parties claim it, and like Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, said, the war began with Crimea, and it will end with Crimea. 

17 March 1992: The end of Apartheid in South Africa
Karthik Manoharan

On 17 March 1992, in a landmark referendum, South Africa voted to end apartheid, with 68.7 per cent voting to end racism and minority white rule as a result of a long and arduous struggle against racial segregation. President FW de Klerk declared, "Today, we have closed the book on apartheid." In South Africa, apartheid laws were implemented in the 1850s, beginning with the Masters and Servants Acts of 1856. These laws were applied in four different territories and criminalized the breach of employment contracts. However, it became evident that the laws were primarily enforced against unskilled black workers, although they were technically applicable to all citizens. This discrimination continued with the Mines and Works Act of 1911, which limited the participation of black individuals in numerous skilled mining occupations.

Having gained independence in 1910, South Africa experienced the implementation of laws that aimed to subjugate the black majority and grant unprecedented power to the white minority. The passage of the Natives Land Act in 1913 further worsened the situation by restricting the acquisition and use of land by black Africans to a mere 7 per cent, confining them to reserves. In response to the Natives Land Act, the African National Congress (ANC), originally known as the South African Native National Congress, was formed to fight against discriminatory policies. However, geopolitical conditions, including the impact of world wars and economic depression, exacerbated racial segregation and strengthened apartheid.

As resistance against apartheid grew, demonstrations evolved from non-violent to armed means. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 was a turning point, where unarmed black protesters were met with violent police retaliation, resulting in the deaths of over 60 people and injuring hundreds. The incident garnered international condemnation and heightened the willingness of anti-apartheid activists to turn to armed struggle. Nelson Mandela, among other leaders, was arrested and imprisoned during this period.

International pressure and economic sanctions eventually forced President FW de Klerk to begin dismantling apartheid. The repeal of the Population Registration Act in 1989 and the subsequent release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 signalled a gradual shift towards dismantling apartheid policies. 

In his inaugural address as President of the State on February 2, 1990, FW de Klerk implemented various reforms and initiated the path towards a democratic South Africa. To gauge white support for dismantling apartheid, a referendum was proposed. The 1992 referendum, although restricted to white South Africans, delivered a strong majority vote of 68.7 per cent in favour of abolishing apartheid, with 31.2 per cent opposed. In 1994, South Africa held its first free and fair elections, making Nelson Mandela the country's first black President. This marked a significant milestone in the nation's history, solidifying the end of apartheid and the beginning of a new era of democracy and equality.

Newsmakers This Week
Femy Francis, Shamini Velayutham and Anu Maria Joseph

Hong Kong’s Article 23
On 19 March, the Hong Kong Legislative Council approved Article 23 of the Safeguarding National Security Law. The provision is an extension of the 2020 National Security Law passed by the pro-Chinese authorities. 

Article 23 gives the legislature and the police force more power and purview to subjugate dissent and quash pro-democratic movements in the country. It extends the power to legislate against opposition by increasing the ambit of what the law consists of and who can be charged. Under the law, the authorities can probe anyone who takes part in secessionism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces and actors. Additionally, they have increased the severity of punitive actions taken by the authorities if found guilty, with most leading to increased prison time or life imprisonment. 

The Chief Executive and leader of Hong Kong John Lee supported the law and said: “Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong.” Lee added that the law is necessary to safeguard Hong Kong from “potential sabotage and undercurrents that try to create troubles,” particularly "ideas of an independent Hong Kong.” The approval garnered international decry. Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brook said: “The passing of this law sends the clearest message yet that the Hong Kong authorities’ hunger to accommodate Beijing will outstrip any past commitments on human rights.” The US Congressional-Executive Commission expressed its concerns over the effects on US firms and businesses in Hong Kong and the curtailed freedom of Hong Kong citizens.

The Houthis
On 21 March, Bloomberg reported on a deal between the Yemeni Houthi rebels, Russia and China. The rebel group told China and Russia that their ships could freely sail in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, without being attacked. This understanding was reached between the Chinese, and Russian diplomats and the Houthi top leadership. In return, the rebel group demanded political support in the global arena, including at the UNSC. The discussion did not specify how this support would work; however, the deal aims to block provisions against the rebel group by the international actors, says Bloomberg. For Russia and China, the deal would be a reassurance from Houthis in terms of misidentification and attacks.

ISIS-K in Afghanistan
On 21 March, according to the New York Times, a suicide bombing in Kandahar city in Afghanistan killed 20 people and injured several members of the Taliban. Kandahar is home to the Taliban’s top leader, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, and the birthplace of the Taliban movement. According to Taliban officials, the militant vehicle exploded in front of the New Kabul Bank. The Taliban officials refuted the death tolls and claimed that only three people were killed. The Taliban officials at the Ministry of Interior asserted that the Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K is suspected to have carried out the attack. However, in its Telegram channel, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL (ISIS) group took ownership. The Ministry of Interior Affairs of Afghanistan stated: “The government condemns this attack and assures people that the perpetrators of this attack will be identified, arrested and handed over to judicial centres as soon as possible.”

Sudan's Hunger Crisis
On 20 March, a UNSC press release warned that the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is causing a hunger crisis which is evolving into a famine. Director of Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Edem Wosornu, stated: “Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory and on course to become the world’s worst hunger crisis.” He added: “A humanitarian travesty is playing out in Sudan under a veil of international inattention and inaction.” The UN estimates that 222,000 children could die of malnutrition in the coming months. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 28 million people- 18 million in Sudan, seven million in South Sudan and three million in Chad face acute food insecurity. Besides, efforts to reach out to the population are being challenged by violence and interference from the warring parties.

About the authors
Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Akhil Ajith and Shamini Velayutham are Research Assistants at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Navinan GV, and Narmatha S are Postgraduate Students at the University of Madras. Nuha Aamina is an Undergraduate Student at St Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

Karthik Manoharan is a PhD Scholar at the Department of History, Loyola College, Chennai. Rosemary Kurian is an undergraduate student at St Joseph’s University, Bangalore. She is currently part of the NIAS Area Studies team on Europe.

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