Social Res Network (2011): social media guide for researchers

Social Res Network (2011): social media guide for researchers

Just came across this guide. Thought I’d share.

From intro:
1. Introduction: Why pick up this guide?

 The guide is rooted in the practical experience of its authors and of the ten social media users we interviewed as part of the project. We are not trying to present social media as the answer to every problem a researcher might experience; rather, we want to give a ‘warts and all’ picture. Social media have downsides as well as upsides, but on balance we hope that you will agree with us that there is real value for researchers.

 This guide will show you how you can use social media to help your research and your career. Social media have big implications for how researchers (and people in general) communicate and collaborate. Researchers have much to gain from engaging with social media in various aspects of their work. This guide will provide you with information to make an informed decision about using social media and enable you to select wisely from the vast range of tools that are available.

Given the buzz in the media, you may feel that social media are aimed at teenagers and mainly used to discuss celebrity culture. But this guide will show you how social media offer researchers an opportunity to improve the way they work. One of the most important things that researchers do is to find, use and disseminate information, and social media offer a range of tools which can facilitate these activities. The guide discusses the use of social media for research and academic purposes, rather than the many other  uses that they are put to across society.

This guide will show how social media can change the ways in which you undertake  research, and open  up new forms of communication and dissemination. The researchers we interviewed in the development of this guide are using social media to bridge disciplinary boundaries, to engage in knowledge exchange with industry and policy makers, and to provide a channel for the public communication of their research.

Thoughts on violent revolution, anarchism and social change…

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought it was time for a good old fashioned rant… :)

Though I have a lot of friends who consider themselves anarchists, it’s a philosophy that I’ve never fully been able to agree with in any real sense. I often find myself in great debates over the practicality or some underlying, glaring contradictions that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. It’s not that I don’t see the problems with the way the world is currently being run, nor that I am brainwashed or don’t appreciate (and hope) for the idea of erasing the hierarchical subtext of our world and creating a more just society in its place. It’s the method of getting there that most worries me. The particular rise I see in the “F#*$ the police”, let’s-start-a-violent-revolution-to-overthrow-the-government-type of anarchism is quite troubling to me. Having experienced what happens in the absence of a functioning state first-hand, I fear the shape that would arise from such a drastic situation and see alternatives that are not so abrupt that I feel could be just as, if not more, effective.

Most of the anarchists I know believe in creating consensus-run societies. Herein lies one of my greatest problems with the whole philosophy of the violent revolution type of anarchism. Consensus right now does not favour a violent overthrow. Society does not consent to this. How can one expect to build a consensus society on the back of silencing another’s objections entirely? How does this inevitably not lead to more hierarchy—as those who have had their objections bulldozed over now become the ones who feel oppressed and ignored? I am not talking about the objections of those top elites in power, but rather, those of Joe Average; the vast majority of everyday persons who object. Those who will likely have a drastic change of life in the transition that they may well feel resent towards. Consensus doesn’t mean we all have to fully think everything is the best decision, but we do have to consent.

History has demonstrated repeatedly what can happen when a small group of people feel they know what is “best” for society and violently take matters into their own hands to try and change the situation via revolution.

Thinking practically for a minute; if all governments were tomorrow overthrown, what would happen in the world? What shape would the new, new world order take? How would society transition? Would essential services still run? Who would ensure that they do? Would it become a free-for-all in the streets in some places during the transition?

Obviously, if one believes in the ideal of consensus—then each community would be left to decide what shape this would take amongst them-selves. This leads to a seemingly never ending list of questions within my mind. Does the power vacuum created in the fall of the state lead to a crisis situation wherein a new power struggle takes place? Do those who led the overthrow get power-hungry once they have toppled the government? Do those freed from the previous system, those who were imprisoned by its rules rejoin society and how do they do that? How does society respond to those who refuse to live by consensus choices or laws, the psychopaths and the killers and such? If the world becomes decentralized, and communities become responsible for themselves, what happens to those communities without access to essential resources? Do we form some kind of global consensus on issues that affect us all? How does that take shape? Would we have to send representatives from our communities to share our objections and consent on the global stage, thus replicating government forms all over again? What happens to all the people who are currently reliant on capitalist global trade? Would their positions (and livelihood) just cease to exist in the breakdown, and what would their role in society now become? Would they be resentful of the change, having a complete upheaval in their way of life? What IS working in society right now? Do we have to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as they say. Is there anything worth keeping in the current system? Each question leads to a new series of questions with endless possibilities, many of the likely ones far worse in my mind than our current reality.

The status quo is violence. We, as humans, have invented so many forms of degrading, hurting, killing and maiming each other and our violence comes in so many forms; it is engrained in us that violence is the only “real” response. That oppression cannot be overcome by any other means. That the only way to respond to violence is with more violence. That perhaps, in reality, everything is violent. We cannot imagine a world without it. Perhaps there is no way to even be completely non-violent. Can we at least strive to reduce the harm as much as possible?

People are becoming more aware of the world around them. For the first time in history, the world is truly connected. It is possible to see live events from someone’s cell phone on the opposite side of the globe, to share ideas instantaneously. The technological advancements over the past hundred years are astounding. We began creating and creating and not immediately realizing the side effects and in the search for the almighty dollar, cheaper became more important than quality or overall consequences, especially when someone distant bore the brunt. We are growing consciousness and if you look around you—things are s-l-o-w-l-y changing right now. The corporate world is desperately trying to keep us placated, while others have been growing test communities with alternative economies and ways of life.

People are creating and innovating and trying to make great changes in the systems all over the world. And they are making things better. Instead of bullying our way through to change, why don’t we do our best to build consensus among those around us that change is desirable by demonstrating what’s possible. What is working. What can work. And educating on what doesn’t and why it doesn’t work for everyone.

We as humans are capable of great change. Numerous times throughout history we have seen a radical change in morality and norms. Slavery was not so long ago thought to be a natural state of humanity. Though it still exists, it is no longer a morally acceptable practice in the vast majority of the world and there are numerous laws outlawing its practice. So why can we not change the hierarchy and inequality too?

How can we drastically change the system, without necessarily breaking the system?

Government and society’s systems are intricate and complex—there is no one answer that will work universally. Practice out what works and what doesn’t in test communities all over the place. When something works, share it widely among other communities. There are already test communities popping up all over the place. They need more funding, more awareness and more ideas to be successful.

Some key things I think are necessary for drastic change and necessitate further investment, development and testing:

• Teaching peace and investing in peace on a global scale. Teach it from early childhood in every classroom, techniques such alternative dispute resolution and other conflict management strategies. Reinforce conflict resolution skills all through school and workplaces where possible. If we can spend trillions of dollars annually on militarization, we can surely spend billions on peace. Peacebuilding projects around the world are currently sparse and severely underfunded.
• Gradual reduction/retraining of the current armed forces into national guard/emergency services roles. Army functions retrained into civilian-based defense facilitators and other non-militarized functions.
• Reform the judicial and penal systems to focus on actual rehabilitation and positive reintegration into society for current offenders. Try alternative dispute resolution and alternate forms of justice in future grievances, particularly in “non-violent” crimes. Review current societies’ laws via some form of consensus. This includes local, regional, and global laws.
• A complete overhaul/creation of corporate law that favours the living world over profit.
• Restructuring local and regional governments so that they become more direct forms of democracy.
• Massive investment into the research and development of sustainable communities.
• Investment in basic needs over luxuries.
• A complete overhaul or creation of new international structures.
• Re-thinking spaces. Let cities feed cities. Rethink how spaces are connected, how they are accessible, how they blend into the environment around them, how they use energy, how they use water, how they interact with humans and other living species and let’s invest our time and our energy in that direction in the future.

Violent encounters with random strangers…

This morning on the way to work, I came across a situation and was left thinking of what responses were possible.

An obviously drunk man of about 30 carrying an open tall can of beer in his hand came up to a younger (maybe 16-18 year old) boy and started belligerently berating him on the subway in between stops. He threatened the boy that he would find and later kill him. That revenge is sweet. All sorts of angry banter. The boy sat quietly, looking down at his phone, earphones in, mostly trying to ignore him.

The man then swaggered down the subway car, stopping at least 3 times to yell at other passengers, his voice growing with each passing taunt and his aggression level clearly rising.

The boy looked up at me and the numerous other passengers in the vicinity as the man turned his back and just shrugged his shoulder and shook his head and mouthed– I don’t know him at all.

At first when I saw the confrontation– I had an assumption that the two males knew each other– and had perhaps had some previous violent background (such as gang affiliations), but as the man continuously walked up and down the subway car continuing his anger on other unsuspecting passengers, I realized that this was not the case.

I thought about the possible responses to this I could have taken and weighed each option over in my mind.

The man’s growing anger was clearly making the passengers extremely uncomfortable. The boy seemed seriously concerned, as did the other objects of his anger. Would it escalate? Would it come to the man becoming physically violent? The car sat in silence, people nervously exchanging glances outside of the man’s gaze—and others burying their noses deeper into newspapers, books or electronic devices.

The man had a beer in his hand– so he obviously got past any “security” on the TTC; did he have a knife or other weapon in his pocket? Would he be willing to use it should the situation escalate?

Would any other passengers speak or stand up against his abuses?

Would the man get off at the next stop?

Would anyone alert TTC authorities?

If I said something, what would I say? What would/could I do to de-escalate the situation?

In the end, I did nothing and I felt disappointed with myself at this response. I exchanged glances with other worried passengers, and watched as the belligerent man got off at the next stop.

Situations like this happen and often times fear holds us back from action. Fear held me back from action this morning. I was afraid that my doing something would escalate rather than de-escalate. I thought about trying to calm the man down, but ultimately thought against it, worrying that his response would turn violent against me. Sometimes there is no reasoning with people because they are emotional beyond reason. I don’t know this man and what he’s capable of.

What would you do/say? How would you respond?  How can we step in to de-escalate violent confrontations with strangers in our lives?  Is avoidance the best policy?

A new direction

During the last two years, I have truly enjoyed writing my This Week in Conflict reports, but alas, the time has come for me to take an extended, and perhaps permanent, break from it.

My goal for the reports was to learn more about what was going on in some of the more obscure conflicts on our planet and try to share that news in the most concise way. The real challenge I found was trying to get at the reality of the situation via news reports, and to try and verify the content. One thing I found was that frequently, 90% of the news I was coming across was a summary of one original report. Another difficulty came in trying to find more views of the situation, particularly local views, especially when I don’t speak the language(s) in that area or region. I thank the many people who sent in news stories, accounts or content to help me better understand.

Another setback of constantly reading bad news and reporting on it is the moral and emotional toll it takes on you. Though there were many positive stories on peace over the years, the vast majority was on the violent aspect of conflicts. Sometimes the stories were difficult to stomach.

The biggest challenge however, I found personally, was to try to be neutral over conflicts I had seen on the ground and lived through. I found myself remembering the situations I had lived and being much more selective with my choice of news stories to try and ensure a balance in what I wrote. I’m not sure I always succeeded.

My knowledge of global affairs has increased greatly to an extent that I started to recognize patterns in the conflicts. I began to expect to see stories on certain types of violence and abuses in certain regions. I would have loved to do a more thorough backgrounder for each of the countries/territories/areas if I had had the time. The layers are so deep—I think it would have been helpful to have started with that just so I would have been more prepared to know where to look for stories and content.

I’m back to living in Canada again, after several years in the Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire. I’m happy to be home. With any luck, I will be returning to school again in the fall, but this time, with a direction in peacebuilding, and a more positive outlook on how the future can look.

Maybe for now a peaceful world is only a theoretical utopia studied and philosophized about in the academic world, but so is the ideal of capitalism, or communism or any other global system we’ve thought of before. For the longest time, I felt that the human world was doomed; that we would just continue to be violent with each other until the end of our time simply because it’s “human nature”. It’s not human nature. Humans are actually mostly programmed towards positive social behaviour. We spend most of our day collaborating or working or talking or sometimes even just tolerating others. It’s a necessary part of society.

Peace studies is only still in its infancy. Since really delving into it over the past year or so, I have found that I now envision other options. I can see a distant future with better systems, more happiness; a world where resources are more equitably shared and perhaps even a world where all have enough of what they need to not only survive, but thrive. It will take time, little by little, but I now see it as a real possibility; human beings actually working together for the betterment of our species and our planet, instead of fighting amongst each other and destroying all of the world’s wonders.

There will always be conflict. It’s unavoidable. When it happens, we can choose to be violent, we can choose to see ways to transform the conflict non-violently, we can choose to try to avoid it altogether; there’s a whole host of responses that are possible. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to choose how to handle the conflict around us. Human emotions are a powerful thing. Giving people options by teaching and constantly reinforcing more positive conflict resolution skills in our societies, especially from childhood, to me is of utmost importance to take us in this direction and something I hope to seriously study and be more a part of in the future.

As I move on to the next, hopefully more peaceful period in my life, my priorities have changed and so I must give up this daily writing on conflict to move on to new ideas. I will still write in the blog, but likely less regularly and hopefully more positively from now on.

Thanks to all my kind readers and those who sent many thoughtful comments my way over the years to help make the reports better! Your assistance has been much appreciated!

Peace to all!

Rebecca

 

 

This Week in the World in Conflict… March 12th-19th, 2012.

  • A new Oxford University study has found that a beta-blocker drug may possibly reduce “subconscious” racism. The drug is thought to work by clocking activation of the peripheral autonomic nervous system and in areas of the brain involved with formulating emotional responses, including fear.
  • The Transitional Justice Institute announced its 5th annual Summer School on Transitional Justice on the theme of Gender, Conflict and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Ulster, Northern Ireland from June 25th-29th. Deadline for applications is May 4th, 2012.
  •  I’m not sure if this is actually newsworthy or merely conspiracy, and haven’t had a chance to look into it in any great depth, but it appears that there are mass resignations from world banks, investment houses and money funds; reportedly 320 in the last 4 months alone. The latest wrote a scathing resignation letter against Goldman Sachs in the New York Times.
  • The Center for International Peace Operations released a new report on partnerships in peace operations around the world.
  • The competition for the Presidency of the World Bank is heating up, as the current President ends his term on July 1st. For the first time, a normally behind-the-scenes election was shaken up after economist Jeffrey Sachs decided to shatter the ancient taboo and campaign openly for the job.
  • Oxfam released a new report discussing the progress in promoting local participation and empowerment in humanitarian responses, particularly in light of the Sphere Project, the Red Cross, and the Humanitarian Accountability Project.
  • The OECD released a new report warning that pollution will become the biggest cause of premature death, killing an estimated 3.6 million people a year by 2050 and overtaking such mass killers as poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water.

A different economic system.

[Dear readers,

I am still currently ill and as such will be holding back the This Week in Conflict Reports until I feel better.

In the meantime, I have been having the great pleasure of taking a course at Transcend Peace University and as such I am currently reading Johan Galtung‘s new Peace Economics: From Killing to Life-Enhancing Economy that is due to be released later this year (please be sure to buy it when it comes out– it’s awesome and well worth the read!). This short essay was one of my assignments from class where I summarized many of the concepts from Part 1 of the book. The book discusses some of the causes of the current economic crisis, and discusses paths to alternatives systems that would be more life-sustaining and peaceful.

Peace!
– Rebecca]

The economic crisis is far more long-running and far more complex than the simple narrative widely splashed across the media would have us believe. The dominant global economic system, hypercapitalism, is focused towards capital and growth, often at the expense of the welfare of human beings. In this system, there is a necessity for people to have a minimum level of purchasing power simply to satisfy their basic needs. Some live well below this level, others have such great wealth that they can’t possibly spend all they have within the real economy (made up of cycles of production-distribution-consumption). Instead they invest their surplus into the finance economy (made up of the buying-selling cycles of financial objects—with no end consumption), essentially betting with other people’s money, pocketing the gains and letting others take any losses that occur. This allows for magnificent growth in an economy that is based upon pure speculation and non-material products. As the finance economy has grown wildly, it has created a large gap between the growth of the real economy and the growth of the finance economy, increasing with it, the likelihood of an eventual crash as the two widen even further apart.

The inequality within this system goes farther than simply the difference in wealth. It encompasses inequality in military force, political power, and cultural values that are based upon attributes, actor interactions and the structure of the system itself. The cultural values of society legitimize the political power, that authorizes the military force, to protect the wealth of the super rich, who reinforce the cultural values; completing the vicious cycle that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich. Equalizing the system creates a better chance of dialogue among the population, creating better opportunities to find real solutions and increasing the likelihood that those solutions will be more equitable.

Essentially the economic crisis can be broken down into four separate crises. For those at the bottom of the wealth spectrum, the crisis manifests as the (1) under financing and the (2) undersupply of affordable necessities. For those at the top of the wealth spectrum, the crisis manifests as the (3) overfinancing and the (4) oversupply of normalities and luxuries. The crises all feed upon each other, with a crisis at the top creating a crisis for the bottom, and a crisis at the bottom, in turn creating a crisis for the top. The media has directed almost all of its attention to the crisis of only those at the top of the wealth spectrum to the detriment of real dialogue on the overall system, since discussion upon the financing of unprofitable goods is somehow an absurdity, but a system that allows people to starve is not.

A system with a floor for economic activity that ensures that basic human needs are met and a ceiling for economic growth, ensures that excess wealth is redistributed to where it is necessary, lessening the gap between rich and poor, between the real economy and the finance economy, and hopefully stop some people from starving while others live in lavish hedonism. An economy based not upon individual self-benefit, but rather upon ensuring that needs are met, and supply of basic needs is sufficient before enriching ourselves with normalities and luxuries.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 8th-15th, 2012.

  • A key player in the 2011 Conservative party campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions, on the advice of his lawyer, from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding during the last election that allegedly misled voters. In an extremely rare move, the Conservative government publicly backtracked on Tuesday on their plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes, after many questioned the fact that the government didn’t bother soliciting bids from other manufactures.
  • New York’s Wall Street group warned it could run out of money by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Thousands of people marched across the state of Alabama in the United States on Saturday, to protest against new electoral laws that would require voters to show strict forms of photo ID that they say is unfair to millions of African-American and Latino voters. On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks, at times forcing the soldier to strip naked and endure freezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released plans for a “heat ray” weapon to be used for crowd control that would direct electromagnet waves at people that would deliver sudden, unbearable heat to targets up to a kilometre away.
  • The bodies of four youths were found cut to pieces and left in plastic bags in the central Mexico city of Cuernavaca on Thursday along with a threatening note from a drug gang. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that police departments in Nuevo Leon state will begin giving a series of lie detector tests and psychological exams in an effort to stop corruption on the force.
  • The left-wing party of the ousted President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya named his wife as its Presidential candidate in elections next year on Tuesday. The former first lady is a relative novice in politics.
  • Polls opened in El Salvador on Sunday, in a big test for the first leftist government since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. By Monday, the Nationalist Republican Alliance was ahead with slightly more than 40% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting.
  • A former Special Forces soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, in Guatemala was sentenced to a largely symbolic 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
  • With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fast approaching, authorities in Brazil’s Rio are racing to build new hotels to cope with the influx of thousands of tourist, leaving many behind in the wake of soaring prices and some 7 million shortfall of available homes. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced they would file charges against a retired colonel over the disappearance of five guerrillas during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the first such case to be brought against any military officers from that era.
  • Two Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison with hard labour after a trial found them guilty of sexual abuses and exploitation.
  • At least three protesters were killed and some 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru reportedly clashed with illegal miners opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining.

This Week in Asian Conflict… March 7th-14th, 2012.

  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a new report discussing the threat of the terrorist group Lashkare-Taiba (LeT) in South Asia. The report suggests that the group is the second most dangerous terrorist group in the region, after al-Qaeda.
  • The United States named an Iranian General as a key figure in drug trafficking from Afghanistan on Wednesday. On Thursday, eleven people were wounded in a roadside bomb in the eastern city of Jalalabad; while American authorities announced they are looking into allegations that some Afghan Air Force officials have been using aircraft to transport narcotics and illegal weapons across the country. On Friday, the main US foreign aid agency in the country announced it is preparing to switch from private security contractors to Afghan government-provided security this month under a new policy mandated by President Karzai. On Saturday, the foreign minister announced he will visit Qatar to meet government officials to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban; five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have reportedly agreed to be transferred to Qatar, a move Afghanistan believes will boost a nascent peace process; four civilians were killed and one more wounded by a NATO air strike in the northeastern Kapisa province; Afghan and foreign troops killed two insurgents and detained 27 more during joint operations around the country; while Al Jazeera ran a report documenting the change over one in one district following the Afghan army taking control of the area. On Sunday, an American service member allegedly walked out of a military base in a rural district in the south and opened fire on three nearby houses, killing at least 16 civilians, including several children, undermining stability and triggering angry calls for the immediate departure of American soldiers; the Pentagon’s chief spokesman announced that the basic war strategy in the country will not change despite the “isolated” incident; American President Obama offered condolences to the families killed by the American, calling the attack “tragic and shocking”; while President Karzai said he is nearly ready to sign a general Strategic Partnership Agreement with the US. On Monday, an American official leaked that the American Army member accused of Sunday’s massacre was treated for traumatic brain injury in 2010; while American President Obama said he was “heartbroken” over the massacre, called upon a thorough Pentagon investigation and expressed his determination to get American troops out of the country. On Tuesday, British PM Cameron arrived in Washington ahead of talks with American President Obama to discuss the transition of security in Afghanistan; gunmen attacked a senior Afghan government delegation investigating Sunday’s massacre, killing at least one soldier; hundreds of students took to the streets of Jalalabad in anger over Sunday’s killings; while a senior Afghan banking official said that wealthy Afghans are carrying an estimated $8 billion—almost double the state budget—in cash out of the country each year. On Wednesday, two bomb explosions in Helmand Province killed at least nine people; three Polish soldiers facing war crimes charges over the killings of civilians in Afghanistan were acquitted in Poland’s highest court, but will face a retrial in connection with the case; Afghan soldiers arriving at a meeting with the US Defense Secretary were told to disarm before arriving; and the US soldier accused with Sunday’s massacre was allegedly taken out of the country on legal recommendation.
  • Lawmakers in Uzbekistan have reportedly declared war on toys that harbour foreign values, as they proposed a bill to protect the “moral health” of children and teenagers by limiting the import of foreign-made toys.
  • Amnesty International accused Sri Lanka of illegally holding hundreds of detainees who are vulnerable to torture and execution and urged the UN to investigate allegations of serious abuses during and after the country’s 26-year civil war. On Monday, the Defense Ministry reportedly ordered news outlets to get prior approval before sending mobile phone alerts about the military or police, a move press freedom groups decried as another step towards greater censorship.
  • Tens of thousands gathered in the capital of Bangladesh to demand the government step down and hold elections, in the biggest opposition demonstration since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party suffered a landslide defeat in 2008 polls.
  • A village in western India reportedly hosted a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls on Sunday aimed at breaking a tradition of prostitution in the region.
  • A former chief of the spy agency in Pakistan was forced to admit to spending millions of military dollars to influence an election during a court hearing on Thursday; one child was killed and a woman and a child injured when a mortar shell hit a house in the Bara area of Aka Khel in the northwest Khyber region; the interior minister announced that three of Bin Laden’s widows had been charged by authorities with illegally entering and living in the country; while militants allegedly attacked a Pakistan Army post in the Sarwakai area of the South Waziristan region, killing one soldier. On Friday, the PM named a new head of the ISI spy agency to take over for the outgoing spy chief who was due to retire March 18th; the Pakistani Taliban warned it will attack government, police and military officials involved if three of the late Bin Laden’s widows are not released from custody; a US drone fired missiles at a house in the Saraogha area of South Waziristan, killing at least 13 people; a militant shot dead the head of a local pro-government militia in the Kalaya area of the northwestern Orakzai region; the army announced it is in the process of handing over the Swat Valley to civilian leaders three years after 30,000 troops were sent to fight the Taliban; while security officials said that at least seven soldiers and eight suspected Islamist militants were reportedly killed in a clash in the North Waziristan region.   On Saturday, six members of a pro-government militia were reportedly killed when they were ambushed by militants in Dera Bugti; a clash between Pakistan army troops and militants in the Bara area of Khyber killed two soldiers and three militants; a mortar shell landed on a house in Aka Khel of Khyber region killing three people and wounding two others; and Pakistani fighter jets bombed four militant hideouts in the Khadezai and Mamozai areas killing 21 militants and wounding 23. On Sunday, 15 people died after a suicide bomber attacked a funeral attended by an anti-Taliban politician on the outskirts of Peshawar; while a homemade bomb exploded in the North Waziristan region, killing two people. On Monday, two people were killed and another 17 others wounded when a homemade bomb exploded next to a bus on the outskirts of the northwestern town of Sadda. On Tuesday, two missile strikes by suspected US drone aircraft reportedly killed at least 15 suspected militants close to the Afghan border; while militants allegedly threw a grenade and then opened fire at a meeting of tribal elders and local officials in a town in the North Waziristan regions, killing at least 3 people. On Wednesday, at least four people were reportedly killed and two others injured in a roadside bomb explosion near the Afghan border; while the government announced that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has “no more interest” in funding a project to build a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan.
  • The authorities in Azerbaijan reportedly arrested 22 Azeri citizens on Wednesday suspected of spying for Iran and plotting to attack western embassies and companies; while an investigative journalist says she was allegedly blackmailed by authorities to stop her investigations into corruption and the financial dealings of the President and his family, and will not let the video released on the Internet purporting to show her engaging in sexual activities stop her.
  • The Parliament of China unveiled legislation on Thursday solidifying police powers to hold dissidents in secret, prompting outcry from rights campaigners. A young Tibetan man died and two others were reportedly injured in a shooting at a police station in western China on Friday, after complaining about the arrest of another man for taking part in a mass protest; while a prominent Tibetan writer under virtual house arrest in Beijing plead for an end to self-immolations in protest against Chinese rule, saying such measures do nothing for the cause of Tibetan rights. On Saturday, reports suggested that police in western China had shot dead a Tibetan man and wounded two others amid protests against Chinese rule the previous Tuesday; another teenage Tibetan monk set himself on fire on the 53rd anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule; while three men started a hunger strike outside the UN headquarters in New York, calling for action over Tibet. On Sunday police announced they rescued more than 24,000 abducted women and children across the country in 2011 as nearly 3,200 human trafficking gangs were broken up. On Monday, it was reported that a controversial reality-TV show “Interviews Before Execution”, that interviewed death row criminals right before their death, was cancelled after 6 years on the air. On Tuesday, the outgoing Premier called for reducing growth to 7.5%, reportedly signaling that the days of GDP worship need to end; while authorities are reportedly set to pass a landmark legislation granting more rights to detainees and other political reforms, but human rights organizations and relatives of some of those already being held are concerned that it will have little effect on the activities of so-called secret “black jails”.
  • Facebook and several independent new websites remained blocked in Tajikistan on Friday, and an official suggested the cut-off may be linked to potential national security concerns.
  • Four soldiers were killed and one critically wounded when insurgents reportedly detonated a roadside bomb in the south of Thailand on Wednesday. On Thursday, a rubber farmer was shot dead and his wife seriously wounded when two unknown gunmen opened fire on them while they were working at their farm. On Friday, two soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in a series of insurgent attacks on military bases and checkpoints across the southern region, the latest outbreak of separatist unrest.
  • The government of Myanmar/Burma announced that peace negotiations had reopened with Kachin rebels on Thursday in a bid to settle a stubborn conflict that could impact tentative Western efforts to lift sanctions on the country. On Sunday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said that government censors are not allowing her party to criticize the previous military-run governments when it promotes its policies on state-run radio and television before next month’s elections. On Tuesday, a court sentenced a top leader of the ethnic Karen rebel group to life imprisonment for high treason, a move that could complicate a government-led peace process aimed at settling decades-old separatist conflicts.
  • Some 1,500 people took to the streets to protest in the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh on Wednesday to dispute local election results and demanding more seats for their political party on the city council.

This Week in African Conflict… March 6th-13th, 2012.

  • A new American initiative to improve the notoriously poor LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa is reportedly inspiring a large backlash. Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by widespread homophobia as well as chronic dependence on foreign aid, in particular from the US, and the idea that the two issues might now be linked seems to upset a lot of people.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has reportedly recently launched a new spate of attacks in the DRC after a lull in the second half of 2011; and the UN peacekeeping chief spoke of the role of UN peacekeepers in tackling the LRA. A video produced by the organization Invisible Children went viral this week demanding the removal of LRA leader Joseph Kony (#Kony2012), reaching more than 70 million hits and raising some $5 million in less than a week, amid much criticism. Frankly, I’m with the critics on this one; the idea of increased military intervention to stop a small rebel group (best estimates suggest 200-400 fighters left) that is heavily made up of children, when there are already several armed groups after them (including 100 American soldiers) strikes me as a bad idea, as do the claims/tone of the video itself, the organization’s past behaviour and the grandiose attitude of its founders.  I have written my own response to the Kony 2012 campaign, which can be viewed here. Following the Kony 2012 campaign, Uganda announced it would catch Kony dead or alive, eventually.
  • A senior American official urged the President of Malawi on Friday to respect his citizens’ right to freedom of expression, days after he accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement in his country; while the State House warned Malawian journalists, editors and human rights defenders that they risk facing unspecified action if they continue “twisting information”.
  • One year after the start of several months of popular revolts in Burkina Faso, the situation has settled down, but reportedly remains fragile. The government has adopted a number of measures to appease its critics, including upping civil servant salaries, intensifying the fight against corruption and subsidizing food prices.
  • A court in Tunisia reportedly fined a newspaper publisher 1,000 dinars ($665) on Thursday for printing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with his nude girlfriend, raising fears of a media crackdown.
  • One police officer in Mozambique was reportedly killed on Thursday after clashes with members of the former Renamo guerrilla movement, highlighting tensions that still exist in the country despite a 1992 peace accord.
  • The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the rights of a group of Somali and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya in 2009 were violated under several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights; the government called announced plans for greater autonomy in Benghazi a foreign-inspired plot to break up the country; while American President Obama hosted the Libyan PM at the White House, encouraging him to follow through on plans to hold national elections in June and stressing the importance of transparency and engagement with civil society, along with discussion cooperation on border management, weapons security and regional counterterrorism concerns. On Wednesday, Libyan leader Jalil vowed to use force to stop the country dividing into autonomous regions. On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in the two biggest cities to protest moves by groups in the east to declare autonomy from central rule; Russia criticized UN investigators for failing to adequately probe deaths caused by NATO bombs during the uprising against Gaddafi last year; the government reclaimed possession from Saadi Gaddafi of a London mansion worth some 10 million pounds after a British court ruled it had been bought using stolen Libyan state funds; while investigators probing violations committed during the country’s conflict said that they were giving the UN’s human rights chief a list of people who should face international or national justice. On Monday, damaging new claims emerged linking French President Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and former Libyan leader Gaddafi, who is said to have contributed up to 50 million euro to his election fund;  the government called upon its neighbours to toughen up border security, concerned about the large numbers of people who have been smuggled across the border since the end of fighting last year; while the UN Security Council extended the UN mission assisting Libya with its democratic transition for another 12 months, adjusting their mandate to support national efforts to promote the rule of law, protect human rights, restore public security and hold free and fair elections.
  • A popular music video making rounds in Senegal calls upon hard-up citizens who are offered cash for their vote in the upcoming Presidential election to pocket the money and vote as they wish anyway. On Monday, Belgium launched a bid in the UN’s highest court to force Senegal to bring former Chadian President Hissene Habre, dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, to trial for crimes against humanity.
  • The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland announced on Monday that it will boycott the 2013 national elections in the kingdom because political parties are banned. Political parties are banned in the country, and only individuals are allowed to stand as candidates.
  • Protests erupted in Khartoum, Sudan on Tuesday after a woman was reportedly killed by police; police responded by firing tear gas and using batons to break up the demonstrations. On Friday, armed Murle tribesman reportedly raided cattle camps, resulting in the disappearance of 500-800 people who are feared dead or abducted. On Sunday, a former senior UN official accused the Sudanese government of launching a genocidal campaign against non-Arab villagers in South Kordofan, by bombing civilians and using tactics reminiscent of the Darfur conflict—a charge the government dismissed. On Monday, the UN mission in South Sudan announced that it will provide support by collecting weapons at a civilian disarmament that were held illegally and monitoring the process. On Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said it sent patrol units and a medical team to an area on the Ethiopian border after unidentified raiders reportedly attacked several cattle camps over the weekend, wounding some 63 people and causing some 15,000 to flee into Ethiopia.
  • Human Rights Watch released a report urging the government of Cote d’Ivoire to urgently address the rising violent crime in and around the central town of Bouake, to takes steps to disarm former combatants widely believed to be implicated in the attacks, adequately equip the police and gendarmes to protect the population and investigate violent crimes. A former warlord, Cherif Ousmane, was appointed by the army high command as the head of an “anti-armed gangs unit” responsible for cracking down on bandits operating on the country’s highways. On Monday, local newspapers suggested that PM Guillaume Soro had resigned from his position during an extraordinary cabinet meeting in Abidjan.
  • Nigeria expelled some 56 South Africans from their country for “lack of proper documentation” on Tuesday in an apparent retaliation for the expulsion of 125 Nigerians from South Africa the previous weekend. On Thursday, Italian politicians and newspapers accused of giving them “a slap in the face” by allegedly not informing it of the special-forces raid in Nigeria that left one Italian and one British hostage dead; a Boko Haram spokesman denied any link to the kidnapping; police in Lagos State denied rumours that Boko Haram members has snuck into the state, advising residents to discard such report and go about their legal businesses without fear; suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked a police station and two banks in a remote part of the north, shooting dead some four policemen and three civilians; while some 20 people were said to have been killed and several others injured when Fulani herdsmen reportedly invaded Kadarko town in Nasarawa State. On Friday, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly set fire to the Bulabulim Ngarnam Police Station in Maiduguri, killing at least one person; a gun battle broke out between suspected militants and police in Kano, wounding at least three police officers; while some 120 Nigerians were deported from Britain back to the country for various offenses.  On Saturday, Boko Haram warned some journalists to stop or desist from misrepresenting their views at a Media Telephone Conferencing. On Sunday, a car laden with explosive detonated outside a Catholic church in Jos, killing at least nine people and injuring others; while some six people were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Delta State area. By Monday, the death toll from the explosion in Jos had risen to 19; while suspected Fulani herdsman were accused of killing two people and injuring three others in Jos.
  • Tens of thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in South Africa on Wednesday in a nationwide strike to demonstrate for improved workers rights and against plans to introduce unpopular road tolls. The House of Representatives mandated its Committee on Foreign Affairs to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review Nigeria’s bilateral relations on Thursday, following the previous week’s deportations of South Africans.On Monday, expelled youth leader Julius Malema made a surprise apology and begged to be allowed back into the governing party.
  • Police in Angola announced they are investigating a clash that occurred over the weekend in the capital between young anti-government protesters calling for the resignation of President Eduardo dos Santos and pro-government supporters who confronted them. On Tuesday, rights groups and activists warned of a rapidly deteriorating political climate in the country following a police raid on a private newspaper and a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo received tactical helicopters to support their mission from the Ukraine on Wednesday. On Friday, the UNHCR expressed concern that more than 3,000 Congolese civilians have fled into Uganda from the DRC’s North Kivu to escape fresh fighting since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court issued its first judgment against Thomas Lubanga, an alleged warlord accused of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.
  • The UN humanitarian office announced on Wednesday that it had deployed a team to the Republic of Congo to support authorities following last week’s explosions at an ammunition depot that killed some 200 people and injured 1,500.
  • Gunmen reportedly shot dead two policemen at a checkpoint near the capital in Burundi late on Wednesday and one attacker was killed in an exchange of fire. The Standard wrote an article about the revitalization of the once violent city of Bujumbura that is now peaceful.
  • The MDC-T party in Zimbabwe announced on Sunday that it will go it alone if ZANU-PF decides to pull out of the coalition government in the hope of forcing early elections before the implementation of reforms as required under the Global Political Agreement. On Monday, a deadline for the Information Minister to implement media reforms ordered by the three principals to the inclusive government was reportedly ignored.
  • Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt announced they were likely to declare they had lost confidence in the PM’s government via a formal vote, a move that will add to pressure on the ruling military council to appoint a cabinet led by the group on Thursday; while a judge said he was delaying the trial of civil society activists including the 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds until April 10th. Candidates for the “first ever free” Presidential elections began this weekend, with candidates now able to submit their applications. On Sunday, the leader of the Freedom and Justice party revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative al-Nour Party will support the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Hossam Al-Gheryani, for President; and an army doctor accused of carrying out forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year was acquitted of all charges.
  • At least 23 people were reportedly killed in an attack on Ethiopian troops by al-Shabaab insurgents near the border of Somalia on Saturday, with al-Shabaab claiming to have killed 73 Ethiopian soldiers and recovering 20 guns; while the African Union announced that Ethiopia was set to withdraw from Somalia by the end of April with Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi poised to step in. On Sunday, Ethiopia denied reports that its soldiers had been killed or captured. On Monday, the President of the Puntland government welcomed proposed talks between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Somaliland separatist region, but warned against denying the role of Puntland.
  • Public hospitals in Kenya face a potentially devastating health worker shortage after the government reportedly fired on 25,000 nurses on Friday who had been on strike since March 1st to protest the government’s failure to implement a salary increase; while the ICC rejected appeals from the former finance minister and three others to have charges against them dropped relating to the country’s 2007 election violence. As many as six people were reportedly killed and scores others injured when multiple grenade explosions rocked downtown Nairobi on Saturday, in attacks linked to the al-Shabaab militia. On Sunday, the VP urged Kenyans to remain calm as the government continues to fights terror. On Monday, PM Odinga accused Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of hatching a plot to avoid standing trial at the ICC, after documents purporting to be from the British Foreign Office was tabled in Parliament.
  • Tuareg rebels in northern Mali reportedly took control of the key garrison town of Tessalit follow a weeks-long siege on Sunday.

This Week in the World of Conflict… March 5th-12th, 2012.

  • Brandeis University in Massachusetts is offering a Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict with several scholarship opportunities. The program is geared towards professionals.
  • The Summer Peacebuilding Institute in Harrisonburg, Virginia is still open for the 2012 year. The institute offers courses in development, humanitarian assistance, monitoring awareness, restorative justice, social movements, community organizing, trauma awareness, mediation and many others from May 7th- June 15th.
  • The Italian branch of the hacking collective Anonymous reportedly took down the Vatican website on Wednesday in retaliation for the “corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It was revealed this week that a leader hacker with the Anonymous-linked LulzSec allegedly agreed to work with the American FBI after pleading to 12 charges of computer hacking last August.
  • Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs announced his intention to be the next president of the World Bank as the current head is near the end of his term. Sachs hopes to change the mistakes of the past and provide a leadership of development experts instead of Wall Street, bankers and politicians. On Wednesday, an insider in the Obama administration said that former American White House adviser Lawrence Summers, diplomat Susan Rice and PepsiCo Inc CEO Indra Nooyi are on a “short list” of possible American candidates to head the World Bank.
  • Several Muslim and African countries reportedly walked out of a Human Rights Council panel set up to tackle the issue of murder and violence against gays and lesbians around the world.
  • The German Chancellor announced on Tuesday that she had received assurances from the Brazilian President that Brazil would take part in a recapitalization of the International Monetary Fund. Brazil has urged Europe to stabilize the euro before the IMF can boost its own capital and release more funds for struggling euro zone states like Greece.
  • The UN Development Programme released a report on the need to strengthen justice and security for peace around the world.
  • UNICEF and the World Health Organization released a report on Tuesday that claimed that the world had met the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, well in advance of the 2015 deadlines.
  • New psychological research at Cornell University suggests that people don’t always have the capacity to recognize the best political candidate or policy idea, especially if they incompetent in the subject, which results in democratic elections that produce mediocre leadership and policies.
  • In the wake of March 10th‘s International Women’s Day, many sites reminded us of statistics showing how the gender imbalance is still alive and thriving, particularly in the aid sector; while the US State Department chose 10 honorees for the 2012 International Women of Courage ceremony. Top UN officials proposed a UN global conference on women for 2015, 20 years after the last women’s summit in Beijing.
  • The UN cultural agency UNESCO voted on Thursday to remove the name of Equatorial Guinea’s President from the Obiang Prize for science and replace it with that of his country, bowing to pressure over his human rights record.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the world has been able to meet some of the UN goals of reducing poverty and raising living standards in developing nations, though some regions are not reaping many benefits.
  • The United Nations unveiled new guidelines on Friday to help mediators address the problem of sexual violence in conflict by placing the issue high on the agenda when brokering peace agreements and ceasefires.
  • Judge Song was reportedly re-elected as President of the International Criminal Court and judges Monageng and Tarfusser elected as First and Second VPs. Several other new judges were sworn in as well, after being elected last December.
  • A new report by the UN warns that a “radical new approach” to managing the world’s water resources is needed to mitigate increasing scarcity. The report was issued to coincide with the opening of the World Water Forum in France, held every three years.
  • AidData released a report recently discussing how foreign aid affects armed conflict. The report suggests that aid can affect the likelihood of violent armed conflict by influencing a state’s ability to credibly commit to an agreement that averts war at present and into the future.

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… March 2nd-March 9th, 2012.

  • At least 35 soldiers and some 14 suspected militants were reportedly killed in twin suicide bombings and ensuing clashes with al-Qaeda militants in southern Abyan Province in Yemen on Sunday, part of an upsurge of attacks since the Presidential election last month. On Monday, officials raised the death toll to at least 139 people, as clashes continued; and the new President vowed to pursue the militants to their last hiding place. By Tuesday, the death toll had risen to over 180 soldiers and at least 25 militants dead; with some 70 soldiers captured by militants. On Tuesday, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda announced that it attacked a US intelligence officer due to an increasing American military presence. On Thursday, an army officer and six of his bodyguards were reportedly killed in a shootout with rebels in the north of the country, where insurgents have snatched territory during anti-government protests. On Friday, the UN refugee agency reported that the country is facing a new wave of internal displacement, with tens of thousands of civilians fleeing tribal clashes in the north and fresh fighting between government troops and militants in the south; while air strikes on suspected positions of al Qaeda linked fighters in the south killed several militants.
  • Police in the United Arab Emirates reportedly arrested an activist after he criticized the security services for interfering with the lives of citizens, the latest step to limit political dissent in the country.
  • Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Bahrain on Friday to demand democratic reforms in the biggest protest yet. Riot police reportedly blocked the road and fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters.
  • Around 8,000 students at a women’s university in Saudi Arabia demonstrated on Wednesday against a move by the university to keep cleaning crews away after accusing students of not doing enough to keep their areas tidy, resulting in the injuries of some 53 students after security forces dispersed them. The students declared on Friday they were planning to boycott classes the following day in response to the intervention by security forces.
  • Chatter on potential Israeli strikes on nuclear targets on Iran have reportedly never been higher, but some suggest it is all smoke-and-mirrors being used as a diplomatic weapon. AlertNet ran a report claiming that any strike on Iran would lead to an unleashing of horrible consequences, an opinion I strongly agree with. On Friday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced once again that Israel reserved the right to defend itself against Iran and that global powers would be falling into a trap if they pursued talks with the country; while American President Obama said he would not hesitate to use military force against Iran if necessary to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weaponry and also admonished Israel for “too much loose talk of war”. On Monday, PM Netanyahu responded for American President Obama’s call for an end to “loose talk of war” by reiterating Israel’s “right to defend itself” during a meeting between the two at the White House and Obama reassured the PM that the US “will always have Israel’s back”; while a young Palestinian man throwing rocks at soldiers in the West Bank reportedly had his skull smashed by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier. On Tuesday, the Atlantic ran an interesting article comparing the nuclear developments of both Israel and Iran over different time periods; while Hamas ruled out military support for Iran in any war with Israel; while two Palestinian children were reportedly killed when an abandoned ordnance exploded in the West Bank. On Wednesday, Israel reportedly cautiously welcomed the possible resumption of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, but announced it will not abandon other options. On Thursday, Israel reportedly asked the US for advanced “bunker buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s alleged underground nuclear sites, something that White House press secretary denied was discussed; an Israeli soldier reportedly shot dead a Palestinian and wounded another who stabbed him, as troops carried out an arrest in West Bank; Israel announced it is training its troops to hunt below ground with robot probes and sniffer dogs fearing a surge in tunnel and bunker construction by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian militants; while PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and will not attack the country in the coming days or weeks. On Friday, Israeli air strikes reportedly killed 10 militants in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian gunmen fired more than two dozen rockets at the Jewish state, in the worst violent flare up in months; while a vehicle exploded in Gaza, killing at least two people.
  • A prominent human rights lawyer in Iran was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a revolutionary court for spreading anti-government propaganda, endangering national security and accepting an “illegal” human rights price that critics are saying is politically motivated, his daughter said on Sunday; while conservative rivals of President Ahmadinejad appeared to have extended their lead in the parliamentary election that reportedly had more than 64% turnout after nearly 90% of ballot boxes counted. On Monday, the head of the IAEA highlighted the ongoing serious concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme, adding that the country has tripled its monthly production of enriched uranium; while the Washington Post suggested that international sanctions on the country are starting to really hurt Iran (The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg responded with an interesting point that’s worth mentioning—that sanctions that harm civilians may be less humane than other military options). On Tuesday, Iran announced it will allow UN inspectors access to a secret military complex where the IAEA suspects secret atomic work has been carried out and the EU foreign policy chief wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to accept an offer to meet to discuss the country’s nuclear programme. On Wednesday, a post on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Twitter account said that he had signed an executive order establishing the Cyberspace Council, appointing the President as its chair; while satellite images of a military facility reportedly show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, which some are calling an indication of an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapons trigger. On Thursday, Supreme Leader Khamenei welcomed recent comments by American President Obama emphasizing diplomacy in regards to the country’s nuclear program; an American Air Force General discussed the use of a 30,000 pound bunker buster bomb designed to smash through 200 feet of concrete before exploding in possible clashes with Iran; while world powers said in a joint statement that proposed talks with Iran on the nuclear program must be “serious”, without preconditions, and should produce “concrete results”. On Friday, six world powers reportedly demanded Iran keep its promise to let international inspectors visit a military installation where the IAEA believes explosives tests geared to developing atomic bombs may have taken place, not ruling out that Iran may be trying to remove evidence from the site; American Secretary of State Clinton announced the US and South Korea were making progress in discussions on the implementation of new American sanctions on Iran, but stopped short of announcing any deal on a potential waiver; while the chairman of the American Senate Armed Services Committee called for a naval blockade of Iranian oil exports to be considered before resorting to air strikes against country for its nuclear program. An interesting article was released in this month’s Washington Monthly suggesting that “an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume, and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine”; while another article in the American Prospect discussed ways to keep the peace without regime change in the country. The Atlantic ran two articles discussing the chances of an American or Israeli war with Iran.
  • The Interior Ministry of Iraq asked authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region to arrest VP al-Hashimi and hand him over for a trial on Sunday on charges he was running death squads. On Monday, at least 27 people were reportedly killed in a wave of attacks in the western province of Anbar. On Tuesday, at least 13 people were reportedly killed and nearly two dozen others wounded in dual car-bomb and suicide attack in the northern town of Tal Afar.
  • Refugees International announced on Friday that desperate people fleeing the besieged city of Homs in Syria were being shot at as they tried to escape over the border into Lebanon, including shooting at children as young as 10 or 12 years old; while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 10 people were killed when security forces fired a mortar on an anti-government protest in the town of Rastan. On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm at report suggesting government forces are arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Homs; Turkey’s Foreign Minister accused the Assad regime of committing “war crimes”; Syrian army tanks deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor to support forces and militiamen loyal to Assad who reportedly came under rebel attack after three pro-democracy demonstrators were killed; an explosion killed seven people and wounded several others in the southern town of Deraa; armed forces bombarded parts of Homs and allegedly blocked the Red Cross aid for a second day; while China urged the government and rebels to immediately end all acts of violence, especially against civilians and to start a dialogue.  On Sunday, the Red Cross again said it had been prevented from entering Baba Amr in Homs, but was instead delivering aid to a village near Homs where refuges were sheltering; armed forces allegedly renewed their assault on Homs, bombarding more areas and killing at least seven, including four children; Israel offered to assist international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Syria without intervening directly; a senior Republican American Senator called for the arming of Syrian rebels through the Arab League and suggested the imposition of “no drive” and “no fly” zones against Syrian military forces; while reports suggested that Lebanon was bracing itself for the new influx of thousands of Syrian refugees crossed their border, claiming they  feared they would be slaughtered in their own homes as the government forces hunted down opponents in Homs. On Monday, the Saudi foreign minister asserted that Syrians have a right to take up arms and defend themselves in a rare news conference; China announced it will send an envoy to help ease the crisis; Canada announced it has closed its embassy in Syria and expanded its economic sanctions against the country; heavy fighting allegedly broke out between government and rebel forces in Deraa on the border with Jordan; Ban Ki-moon announced that relief chief Valerie Amos is set to arrive in the country for Wednesday to urge parties to the conflict to allow in humanitarian assistance; teams of Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent reportedly reached two neighbourhoods of Homs where they distributed food and blankets to civilians; secretly shot video footage was released by a British television station that allegedly shows Syrian patients being tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs; while the International Crisis Group released a new report suggesting a plan for a negotiated transition in the country and the Center for American Progress released a new report discussing the challenges to ending the violence  in the country. On Tuesday, Assad again refused to allow aid into the destroyed suburb of Homs and reiterated his determination to fight “foreign-backed terrorism”; the UN announced it has footage similar to that aired by Britain’s Channel 4 television station purporting to show Syrian patients being tortured in hospital; while American President Obama said it was only a matter of time before Assad will leave office, but added that it was a mistake to think the US could take unilateral action there. On Wednesday, the UN humanitarian affairs chief visited parts of the neighbourhood of Baba Amr in Homs, finding it largely deserted and completely devastated.  On Thursday, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Morocco met behind closed doors to discuss a US drafted resolution urging an end to the crackdown on demonstrators; former UN Secretary-General Annan called for diplomatic solutions to the continued bloodshed, warning against arming the opposition; Lebanon’s foreign minister rebuffed a call by the American ambassador for their government to protect all Syrians who have fled across the border into Lebanese territory; Tunisia and Turkey announced that they are opposed to using outside military force to intervene in the country; the UN announced that it is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90 day emergency contingency plan to help civilians; the bodies of 18 Baba Amr residents were reportedly found stabbed to death after security forces raided homes; security forces reportedly shot and wounded three mourners at a Damascus funeral for an army defector that turned into an anti-government protest; Assad reaffirmed his determination to go on fighting what he called “foreign-backed terrorism”; Russia accused Libya of running a training centre for Syrian rebels; the UN cultural agency UNESCO condemned Syria for its crackdown on protesters but did not expel Damascus from its human rights committee as some countries had demanded; a Russian diplomat said that Assad is battling al-Qaeda-backed “terrorists” including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who will seize towns across the country if government troops withdraw; Libya’s PM denied Russian accusations that his country was running camps to train and arm Syrian rebels, but expressed strong support for them; while US officials are reportedly finalizing plans to aid the internal and external opposition, stopping short of direct military assistance until the opposition unites but not removing the possibility of potentially military options. On Friday, five members of the Syrian armed forces, including at least two generals and a colonel, reportedly defected to Turkey; Syrian forces reportedly killed at least 54 people as they sought to quell anti-government demonstrations; tanks shelled on opposition districts in Homs, killing four and wounding scores more; security forces reportedly killed one civilian in a residential neighbourhood in Damascus as they tried to put down an act of civil disobedience; Germany urged Russia to change its policy towards Syria and back a UN resolution condemning Damascus; France announced it cannot accept a UN Security Council resolution that would assign responsibility for the violence equally to the government and its opponents; UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Turkey following her trip to Syria to visit the camps for Syrian refugees; China said it will send another envoy to the Middle East and France to discuss the Syrian crisis; while an UN-Arab League envoy with Koffi Annan prepared to meet with President Assad the following day.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 1st-8th, 2012.

  • President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina sought negotiations with the UK to establish several weekly flights from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands on Thursday, a move the Islands’ legislative chairman says is “about as likely as the Falklands Air Service landing flights on the moon”.
  • The independent federal elections agency in Canada announced on Friday that it is now investigating more than 31,000 complaints of voting irregularities related to automated telephone calls during the last election that allegedly sent voters to false voting stations. The irregularities have been linked to the ruling Conservative Party, though the party and the PM thoroughly deny any wrongdoing. On Monday, the Conservative parliamentary secretary refused to release its call records in the wake of the growing robo-call scandal, while at the same time calling upon the Liberal party to release their records and shifting blame to Election Canada, the independent election body. On Tuesday, PM Harper refused to explain why Conservative MPs rejected a request by Elections Canada for more power to verify campaign financial returns; while the Conservatives reportedly repaid taxpayers $230,198 for their previous “in-and-out” scandal from the 2006 elections. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Observer ran a report detailed a Conservative adjunct professor’s experience attending the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School where voter suppression tactics were allegedly discussed.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela announced that he will need radiation treatment for cancer in the run-up to the October Presidential elections; though he insisted there was no metastasis after the removal of another tumor. On Saturday, Al Jazeera ran a report on the country’s struggles to stop violent crimes. On Monday, the government and opposition traded blame with each other after a violent melee at a Presidential campaign stop where several people were injured by bullets in Caracas.
  • President Martelly of Haiti nominated his foreign minister and close advisor, Laurent Lamothe, as PM on Thursday, raising hopes of a swift end to the country’s political vacuum. On Sunday, the President asked government officials to find ways to clear several sites around the country being occupied by ex-members of the armed forces.  On Wednesday, a banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major US bribery investigation involving former government officials was shot and killed.
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to outline the legal framework for the use of lethal force in targeted killings of Americans overseas in a major speech at Northwestern University law school on Sunday, suggesting that lethal force is legal under a September 18, 2001 resolution. On Monday, a bill reportedly passed in the House of Representatives (passing in the Senate on Thursday) that would expand existing anti-protest laws that make it a felony to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted”, which is defined in extremely vague and broad terms and could include a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting. Tuesday was dubbed “Super Tuesday” as 10 states opened their primary and caucus contests for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination.  On Thursday, two people were killed and seven wounded in a shooting at a psychiatric institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre; while a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggested that the number of hate and anti-government groups continued to rise in the previous year, fueled by racial tensions, conspiracy theories and anger over economic inequality. Reports suggested that a state senator in Wisconsin introduced a bill aimed at penalizing single mothers by calling their unmarried status a contributing factor in child abuse and neglect.
  • Police in Peru announced that they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement on Saturday who was the apparent successor to “Comrade Artemio” who was captured last month.
  • Following the rebel group FARC in Colombia’s announcement that it intends to release the last of its captives and stop kidnapping for ransom, families of 10 people currently in FARC custody were provided with new hope. On Tuesday, the ELN guerrillas reportedly freed 11 oil workers who were kidnapped in late February.
  • President Correa of Ecuador rallied supporters on Thursday in a show of force against street protests by opponents who he said were trying to destabilize his government ahead of the 2013 election.

This Week in Asian Conflict… February 29th- March 7th, 2012.

  • Two NATO soldiers were reportedly shot dead in southern Afghanistan by two Afghans, including a man believed to be a soldier on Thursday. On Friday, the country’s top religious council demanded that those responsible for the burning of Qur’ans at the NATO base be put on public trial; negotiations between the US and Afghanistan on a potential long-term military presence has stalled over Karzai’s demands for Afghan control of prisons and an end to night-time raids on Afghan homes, two points the US say are impractical and compromise the effort; and the US government slapped sanctions on an Afghan national it says helped manufacture IEDs for the Taliban. On Saturday, a roadside bomb killed four civilians in a car in eastern Nangarhar province; while Afghan police reportedly killed six insurgents, with two insurgents killed while trying to plant a roadside bomb. On Sunday, a Western official reportedly released that the joint investigation by senior Afghan and US military officials determined that there was no intent to desecrate the Qur’an in the February 20th incident, but that it could lead to a disciplinary review of the American personnel involved, a move that Afghans apparently will never accept. On Monday, Afghanistan’s top clerics issued new guidelines in a statement that asserted that women are subordinate to men, should not mix in work or education and must always have a male guardian when they travel, and also called upon insurgents to join peace talks; a suicide bomber killed at least two civilians at a US military base where copies of the Qur’an was burned last month; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed four alleged insurgents, wounding one and detained four more across the country; while two separate suicide attacks killed at least six people. On Tuesday, President Karzai endorsed the clerics’ guidelines that activists criticize as a giant step backwards for women’s rights. On Wednesday, the human rights director for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan urged the government to implement laws to eliminate violence against women on the eve of International Women’s Day; four alleged insurgents were killed by NATO air strikes in Kunar and a 12 year old killed by the insurgent’s gunfire; a roadside mine killed two civilians in Kunar; a homemade mine killed two insurgents and their two children in Kabul; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed four insurgents, wounded one and detained 8 more around the country; while six British soldiers were reported killed by an explosion that hit their armored vehicle in Helmand Province. On Wednesday, four civilians were reportedly killed and some 10 others injured in an explosion near the Pakistani border.
  • Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest rally in the northeastern city of Quba in Azerbaijan on Thursday, wounding four people; while authorities dismissed Iranian protests over its reported deal to buy arms worth $1.5 billion from Israel. On Friday, the Governor of the district of Quba was reportedly fired over the rioting.
  • Authorities in Uzbekistan allegedly installed security cameras in about 30 mosques in the eastern city of Namangan to prevent “theft”, inflaming locals who insist it’s another move to curb Islamic practice in the country.
  • The United States unveiled their new food aid program to North Korea in return for new nuclear moratorium agreement on Thursday, a move that China, South Korea and Japan welcomed and Reuters said helps to establish the credibility of Kim Jong-un. On Sunday, North Korea threatened “sacred war” against the South in a huge rally that reportedly attracted tens of thousands in the capital. On Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog announced it is preparing for a possible return to the country three years after it was expelled, a move welcomed by the United States.
  • A Saudi diplomat was reportedly shot dead in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Tuesday. The circumstances are still unclear.
  • The ruling Congress party in India suffered a major election setback in crucial state polls, winning clearly in just one of five states contested on Tuesday.
  • Supporters of the former President of the Maldives clashed with police and stopped the new leader from opening Parliament on Thursday, three weeks after he says he was forced to resign in a coup. Police announced 14 officers were rounded in the clashes, and that at least 34 people were arrested.
  • Thousands took to the streets in an opposition protest on Thursday in the southern city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan ahead of local elections in the city. On Sunday, polls closed and vote counting began in Osh to select members for the 45-seat city council, in an election that reportedly drew some 75.2% of voters.  On Monday, the leading local NGOs recognized the municipal elections, citing that they were confident that reported electoral violations did not affect the general outcome of the election.
  • Six mortar shells landed in North Waziristan in Pakistan on Thursday, wounding six people, four of them children; and fighter jets bombed five militant hideouts, killing some 18 militants and wounding 26. On Friday, at least 10 soldiers and 23 anti-state fighters were reportedly killed after militants attacked a security checkpoint in the northwest; a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at a camp of the Lashkar-e-Islam militant group in the northwest, killing seven militants and wounding five; Pakistani fighter jets bombed two militant hideouts in the Orakzai region, killing 15 militants and wounding 12 others; gunmen opened fire at a car in Peshawar, killing an intelligence official; three militants were killed and two soldiers wounded when militants attacked a paramilitary convoy in the southwestern Baluchistan province; while lawmakers voted for 45 new members of the Senate.  On Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest next to a police vehicle in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, killing one policeman and wounding four others. On Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest next to a police vehicle in the northwest, wounding one policeman. On Monday, the military announced that it had successfully tested a short-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads; three militants from the TTP were killed in fresh clashes with another militant group Lashkar-e-Islam in the Tirah Valley; a soldier was killed by a homemade bomb during a clearing operation in Bara; a group of militants reportedly ambushed a Pakistani paramilitary convoy in the Uch area of Baluchistan province, killing three militants; unknown gunmen shot and killed a former local politician in the Charsadda district; while the number two commander in the Pakistani Taliban was reportedly fired.  On Tuesday, a homemade bomb exploded and another defused on the outskirts of Dera-Ismail Khan, wounding two children; one Pakistani soldier was killed and two others wounded in a homemade bomb explosion in Bazai; and seven alleged militants were killed and nine others injured in a gun battle after they ambushed a convoy of Frontier Corps troops in the Uch area of Baluchistan.
  • Forty-seven people charged with terrorism are expected to face trial in Kazakhstan in relation to two explosions last October. On Tuesday, police said they arrested three activists of the unregistered opposition Algha party in Almaty in connection with violence last December. On Wednesday, the wives of two jailed leaders of the opposition Republican Social Democratic Azat Party led a protest outside the National Security Committee’s detention centre in Almaty to condemn a government crackdown on activists and also claiming they have not been allowed to see their husbands or send them clothes or food since they were detained more than a week ago.
  • China’s top official in Tibet urged authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet and mobile phones on Thursday, reflecting the government’s fears about unrest ahead of its annual parliamentary session; while the village of Wukan gave up their violent standoff over corrupt land grabs to vote for a new village committee. On Sunday, a Tibetan woman set herself on fire in the south-west the latest to protest against Chinese rule; residents in the southern village of Wukan elected a reformist leader to run a new administrative authority that many hail as a model for greater democracy following an uncompromising standoff over land grabs and abuses of power; while China apparently announced it is boosting its defence spending by 11.2% in 2012. Another Tibetan youth burned himself to death in the southwest on Monday, the third self-immolation in three days. On Wednesday, the government dismissed those self-immolating Tibetans as “criminals”.
  • Authorities in Tajikistan reportedly blocked access to Facebook and two Russian-language sites that published an article critical of the long-serving President on Saturday.
  • President Sein of Burma/Myanmar urged government troops and Kachin rebels on Thursday to end hostilities and take part in talks, but ruled out independence for any ethnic minority groups.
  • The Guardian ran an article on Sunday about a student facing 15 years in prison in Thailand for speaking out against the monarchy.
  • The Philippines ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture on Tuesday by a unanimous resolution in the Senate.