That need to do “something”.

When conflict or disaster strikes, often our first instinct is that “something” needs to be done to help those impacted. It’s an essential part of who we are as human beings, as a species with the capacity for empathy. But is this idea of just doing “something”– without serious consideration into the potential consequences that could arise from that “something”, “anything” to “help” mentality — unintentionally causing more harm on the very people we meant to help in the first place?[1] This does not speak, in the slightest to one’s dedication or compassion or intention towards any cause or action, or make them any less truthful or intelligent or meaningful or human for wanting to take action. It’s a good thing that people feel disgusted and motivated to want to take action, to do “something” about other human beings’ suffering—because that suffering deserves nothing less than disgust and motivation directed towards changing it.

The recent Kony 2012 campaign is great for one specific reason—more people hear about some important global issues. Hopefully, that will empower them to dig deeper into some of the root causes of this conflict and how many outside powers have ties to the violence. Hopefully, it will make them question the way their own purchases, and lifestyles, and governments, and corporations, and organizations, are impacting this conflict and adding unnecessary fuel to the fire. Be the change, as they say.

If we look at some of the different causes of the conflict—the political, economic, social, security, international, regional and local forces that are driving it; that are profiting from continued conflict; that have stakes in the conflict; that will keep conflict going in the region long after Kony is captured or killed—we see that the Kony 2012 narrative is incredibly simplistic. The region’s turmoil is not all in the hands of Joseph Kony. Nor will stopping Joseph Kony completely eradicate violence or child abduction/conscription in the region.

I will not go into the full analysis of all the many problems with Invisible Children’s video. They are widely available at the present moment. Some suggest it lacks context and nuance; that it demonstrates the privilege in the social justice world that enables this organization to be heard over other local ones or ones making positive drastic differences on the ground; that it misspent money or isn’t as accountable as it should be; its patronizing tone; the critiques of an all American Board of Directors, Directors of Programming, Executive Staff—basically all the people actually running the organization, despite claims of Ugandan inspired and led programming; of interviewing and using vulnerable children in their advertising against all good ethical practices; the “white man’s burden” messiah complexes; the way it paints human beings as “invisible” and voiceless; the excessive self-aggrandizing nature of those involved; the focus on Uganda, when the LRA has now moved to neighbouring countries; reducing Kony’s eluding capture to claims that “nobody knows” who Joseph Kony is, and that if they did–this would somehow magically change; how they ignore the voices and needs of Ugandans and those actually affected by the LRA and Joseph Kony; that those working for the organization are media professionals and not development professionals; how they call on supporting the Ugandan army, accused of massive abuses, as the best way to stop the conflict; how they push people to contact their government and encourage more international involvement towards intervention purposes, falsely claiming that the current American intervention is under threat; photos of the founders posing with SPLA members and weaponry; possible donor links to far-right, anti-gay groups; how one of their founders likened the organization to a business, a company over a non-profit organization or charity in an interview;  and going as far as claims of a grand international conspiracy, involving numerous players; of American chiefs conspiring to stop China from taking over the continent or of trying to cash in on oil deposits. What I will go into, are some of the potential consequences a campaign like this could have on the ground and why it is important to think about these things before blindly supporting a cause.

Some fifty percent of Uganda’s governmental budget has been cited to come directly from foreign aid.  The institutions involved in funding have not always ensured that this money has gone to where it is most needed or that it isn’t lining the pockets of leaders so that they can use it to further commit crimes against their own populations. The current President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has been in his position since 1986, and is just beginning to serve yet another term in office after a highly controversial election where dissent was allegedly stifled and voter fraud was rampant. Bill Clinton once described him as the head of a new breed of African leaders. Uganda was labelled a “development darling” by much of the world under Museveni, and international money flowed in with very little accountability.

Accusations of Museveni and his government and army’s involvement in war crimes and other abuses subsequently ensued and international parties have at times, even assisted them by giving more weaponry, hardware and military support. [2] Transparency International has accused Museveni’s government, most specifically the Uganda Revenue Authority, [3] of widespread graft. Yet, our Western governments continue to provide more money and support despite these accusations.

Best estimates suggest that there are currently only between 200-400 LRA fighters fighting and by all recent reporting—those fighting are no longer even in Uganda and haven’t been for several years. Rather, they are in neighbouring countries that have all been battling in a regional war that has been ongoing for decades, involving numerous armed forces and militias in a highly entangled and complex conflict. A high percentage of the fighters in the LRA are children, and many of the regional governments’ armies, including the armed forces in Uganda– who Invisible Children advocates supporting as the “best” option to tackle the problem– have also been accused of conscripting children. The parties, in many cases, have been accused of using child fighters essentially as human shields. Any increased support for militarization in this area, as advocated by Invisible Children, means more armies potentially wreaking havoc on the population, as there is little keeping them from continued corruption and abuses. The LRA currently enjoys very little support in the region– and they are already scattered and on the run. Increased militarization risks ramping up their abduction drive to recruit more children into the LRA to better fight off those hunting them down, and actually increasing the level of violence and suffering for those on the ground. Sending in military to try to stop an armed force stacked with children also severely risks the lives of those child soldiers as battles ensue.

Killing or stopping Kony isn’t going to magically solve all the problems in the area, because the narrative is much more complicated than a simple “good guys” versus “bad guys” situation. In “bringing to justice” one man, you potentially cause and support massive human rights abuses by other parties. There are numerous other strategies to employ here that do not involve military intervention. That do not involve firing on human children. That do not involve supporting dubious regional players.

To stop violence, you must look at its roots, not at its manifestations. Why did the LRA take up arms in the first place? How did Kony get supporters and why do they continue to fight with him?

Many of the abducted children have been forced to do horrific things like kill neighbours or rape their own parents, so that they would be left with a stigma of never being able to go back to their homes, and incentive to stay with the army. They are also often drugged. The strategy to get them out of the bush then, is obviously very complicated. There have been many positive efforts at targeting the children conscripts via radio, via leaflets (which is more difficult since many don’t necessarily read) and other measures to try to dispel the belief that they can never go home after the wrongs they have committed. Amnesty programs have had some effect as well, and have resulted in several senior commanders coming out of the bush in previous years. There are numerous highly respected organizations working in the region that have other plausible nonviolent strategies that are worthy of being considered before declaring military options as the only resort left. Many are locally driven initiatives that know the full background, the context, the nuances, and they are making a real difference on the ground.

If we are all so suddenly keen to focus on justice in the region[4]– why do we in the west still prop up Museveni, and other controversial leaders’ governments? Why do we still make shady trade deals stealing away resources from the region for Canadian and American and other western consumption? Why do we still give the leaders assistance year after year, even when we know it is being squandered away to line the leaders’ and cronies’ pockets and to commit further atrocities on the populations? Why do our governments repeal laws banning military aid to those that arm and recruit child soldiers? These problems can be addressed without resorting to military action and are something the western world should be thinking more carefully on, because these are directly within the western world’s control. We can lobby our governments not to provide money or equipment or training or assistance to take part in abuses, instead of potentially causing further ones with increased militarization. These are things we CAN do without taking the lead in distant problems.

Even the best of intentions can easily go awry and wind up causing greater human rights abuses and violence. Doing “something” is not always better than doing nothing. Doing something, just for the sake of doing something– can kill people. Can cause death and destruction. Can make the problem worse. People don’t watch a 30-minute video of a surgery and suddenly think they are now skilled enough to perform surgery. That is a life and death matter. And so is the security situation in a foreign country or doing humanitarian work[5]. It is also a life and death matter. It is not something that can be easily directed by people with little knowledge or background or insight into cultural nuances and historical issues that may be driving it. Almost all the experts in the region are against this strategy for good reason. It takes up resources that could go towards more effective advocacy, and takes up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy. It will likely also actually decrease the amount of assistance that goes into Central Africa as people assume that by tweeting, watching, and buying, they have fulfilled their duty and are now absolved of all further responsibility. Many Ugandans in the field are also rightfully upset at the narrative that erases their efforts and relegates them to a position of dependence and victim hood, reliant upon outside forces.

The amount of consumerism in the campaign is also extremely troubling. It calls upon people to buy products to support the cause. Some of these products are made with metals. Some are made from polyester and rayon. Some are made with timber. There are tons of products for sale on their site, manufactured with tons of raw materials. None specify where they have come from, who made them, or what environmental problems or human rights abuses they may have caused or will cause along their manufacture, usage and disposal. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the metal on the Kony 2012 bracelet came from regional sources embroiled in conflict? How incredibly ironic that those tweeting and texting, and using electronics to pass the Kony 2012 message are also potentially indirectly supporting the regional conflict, other global conflicts and other significant human rights abuses to make these very gadgets that make it all possible!

And supporters are asked to “blanket every street, in every city until the sun comes up” with Kony’s face and the cause, with no word about the sheets of paper this message will be printed on; whether it will be taken as timber from somewhere on the continent, likely spurring land conflicts in its wake as the leaders we continually prop up steal ancestral lands from underneath their own people, sell off its timber and turn the rainforests into mono-field crops that enslave child workers. And what of my city this morning, that was littered with these falling posters, soaked by rain; likely to wind up filling a landfill somewhere shortly?

I don’t mean to discourage people from wanting to do good in this world, or wanting to be a part of something that is doing good– but that should never stop us from looking at things with a critical eye. We should not be so easily swayed by petitions or flashy campaigns outright without knowing the consequences of them. We could be doing more harm than good in the process, and none of us wants that.

There are TONS of good LOCAL peacebuilding programs that are worthy of support in the region. If you feel compelled to donate—why not take a look into what they are doing:

http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/dr-congo/peacebuilding-organisations/

http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/sudan/peacebuilding-organisations/

http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/uganda/peacebuilding-organisations/

http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/burundi/peacebuilding-organisations/


[1] Or others.

[2] A document released in 2010 by WikiLeaks revealed that the US allegedly told Uganda to let it know when its army was going to commit war crimes using American intelligence within the country, without dissuading it from doing so. They were already providing information and $4.4 million worth of military hardware a year.

[3] The law and enforcement sector, the health and education sectors have also been accused of bribery by the organization.

[4] Not to mention the rest of the world. One could easily make a case for several western leaders and their involvement in war crimes worldwide.

[5]After watching the film, I’d say I am now informed about the situation in Uganda.”

_______________________________________________________________________________

UPDATES: March 10:

UPDATE: March 16:

  • Interesting turn of events. One of the founders of Invisible Children was reportedly arrested last night for lewd behaviour for being drunk and masturbating in public and possibly vandalizing cars.

 

UPDATE: March 17:

  • Reportedly Jason Russel was not actually arrested, but rather detained and then sent for mental evaluation following the incident. Sorry for the error.
  • Also, this video came to light for me for the first time and raises some serious questions in my mind about Invisible Children spending so much on production values over on-the-ground programming. This one as well, and many others that have since been removed.

 

They’re coming…

Dear readers, hope all is well!

Over the last couple days, I have gotten distracted by the rise of the KONY 2012 campaign and have busied myself responding to numerous comments and articles with the problems that I see with this action. In light of this, I will be delaying the posting of the This Week in Conflict reports until the weekend. They are still coming, just late. I will also *hopefully* have my full critique of the Invisible Children campaign sometime tonight or tomorrow here on A Peace of Conflict– so be sure to check back for that.

Peace to you all!

Rebecca

 

This Week in African Conflict… February 28th-March 6th, 2012.

  • A lawyers group claim that police arrested a carpenter on Wednesday who questioned whether Zimbabwe’s President still had the strength to blow up balloons at his 88th birthday celebrations, under a law making it an offense to insult the President.
  • The top UN envoy to Libya expressed confidence on Wednesday that the nation will be able to overcome current difficulties and pursue a path towards the goals it committed itself to when the popular uprising began a year ago; Reporters Without Borders condemned the continuing detention of two British TV journalists who were arrested in Tripoli last month; while the revolutionary brigades accused of torture were reportedly still holding three quarters of the detainees captive from the civil war, as many as 6,000 persons. On Friday, the UN-mandated commission of inquiry that probed human rights abuses in the country reported that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed by both Gaddafi troops and the forces that fought to oust him; while hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Bengazi demanding that the occupying militia leave and allow judges to return to work. On Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it had formed a political party in the absence of laws laying out a formal process for the establishment of political parties. On Sunday, the house of the bourse announced that the Libyan stock exchange was set to re-open on March 15th. On Monday, Human Rights Watch called upon the Libyan government to urgently increase security for the roughly 12,000 displaced people from Tawergha in the west; thousands of mourners gathered in Benghazi to re-bury 155 bodies unearthed from a mass grave of people who were reportedly killed during the civil war; while the most senior Algerian official to visit Libya since its revolution promised that members of Gaddafi’s family given refuge on Algerian soil will not be allowed to meddle in Libyan affairs. On Tuesday, tribal leaders and militia commanders in the east declared that they are forming a semi-autonomous region inside the country; while the Institute for Security Studies released a report discussing the responsibility to protect norm used in Libya in 2011. Instability is reportedly only deepening in the country.
  • Some 23 people were reportedly wounded in Algeria on Saturday after a suicide bomber drove a four-wheel drive vehicle packed with explosives at a paramilitary police base in a desert town. It was not immediately clear who was responsible, though an al-Qaeda splinter group reportedly took responsibility the following day.
  • A peacekeeper serving with the joint UN-AU operation in Sudan’s Darfur region was killed on Wednesday after unidentified gunmen allegedly ambushed a patrol. On Thursday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese Defence Minister for crimes against humanity and war crimes, as part of investigations into crimes committed in Darfur; South Sudanese army officers received training on human rights, democracy and the rule of law from the UN; while South Sudan accused the north of bombing two oil wells in the north of their country and moving troops and weaponry close to an army base near the poorly defined border; Sudan denied all the allegations. On Friday, at least 30 people were killed and more than 15 injured in fresh clashes between youth of Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups in Nyirol County over cattle raiding. On Saturday, the SPLA spokesperson told a newspaper that the disarmament of the civilian population in Jonglei state is due to start in two weeks time; President Bashir vowed to flush out the remaining rebel pockets in South Kordofan as he ordered the setting up of camps across the country for Popular Defense Forces; and also condemned the ICC arrest warrant issued against the defense minister. On Sunday, Sudanese police reportedly used batons to disperse more than 100 students protesting in the centre of Khartoum against the closure of their campuses following the independence of South Sudan. On Monday, the political opposition alliance rejected a declaration made by President Bashir on Saturday to mobilize for war and deploy Popular Defense Forces across the country and called upon the leader to step down from power.
  • At least 7 bodies of alleged al-Shabaab militants were displayed by the administration of the Shabelle Valley in central Somalia on Thursday. On Friday, AU and Somali troops reportedly seized control of an al-Shabaab insurgent base in the north of the capital, reducing their capacity to launch attacks in the city. On Saturday, al-Shabaab attacked soldiers from the semi-autonomous Puntland region, leaving at least nine dead.  On Sunday, Reuters ran a report about how residents of the city of Baidoa were happy to see the arrival of Ethiopian soldiers, whose presence they once resented.
  • A group of MPs in Uganda in the governing National Resistance Movement reportedly forced ministers to resign and are allegedly obliging President Museveni to contemplate firing most of his cabinet. On Wednesday, a demonstration at a local town council in Luweero over poor garbage disposal turned violent after police reportedly threw tear gas canisters at demonstrators.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire announced on Thursday that it will assess the situation in two constituencies where there were some “incidents” during last weekend’s legislative by-elections.
  • The electoral commission in Guinea said on Thursday that it would hold its delayed parliamentary elections on July 8th, in an effort to help unblock donor aid potentially worth billions of dollars.
  • Abdoulaye Wade, incumbent President of Senegal, admitted he had fallen short of the required 50% majority in the highly contested Presidential vote on Wednesday, and that a run-off would be required. EU observers reportedly discovered 130,000 ghost names on the voter registration list. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the people of the country for a peaceful and orderly first round of Presidential elections and appealed for the same commitment during the second round.  Key figures in the opposition protest urged their followers to support Presidential challenger Macky Sall in next month’s run-off. On Monday, the electoral commission announced that the second round run-off would be held on March 25th.
  • Officials in Cairo, Egypt announced on Wednesday that a travel ban on seven Americans employed by pro-democracy US groups had been lifted; the Globe and Mail wrote an article about a rise in radicalism and the subsequent backlash of “hijab-free zones” that refuse veiled women entry; while election officials set the date for the first Presidential election since the overthrow of Mubarak last year for May 23 and 24th. On Thursday, American pro-democracy activists were flown out of the country; a move that many suspected is likely to defuse the worst row between the two countries in decades.  On Saturday, the speaker of the Parliament criticized the “flagrant interference” behind Cairo’s decision to lift a travel ban on American democracy workers accused of receiving illegal funds, echoing growing anger over the move.
  • On Wednesday, African Arguments discussed the false peace in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo; and the ICC judges announced they will hand down their verdict in its first trial in the case of Thomas Lubanga who is accused of committing three war crimes, including conscripting children under the age of 15 into arms groups; enlisting children into armed groups and using children to participate actively in armed conflict. On Monday, the UN refugee agency voiced concern over the recent displacement of several thousand people as a result of fresh attacks by the LRA in the Orientale province; while Reuters ran an article suggesting that President Kabila’s lack of publicity since the controversial November elections has left the country on edge.
  • The ruling African National Congress in South Africa expelled its youth leader Julius Malema after finding that he had shown no remorse after being convicted of fomenting divisions in the party on Wednesday. On Thursday, Malema supporters clashed with his rivals after they had blockaded the road in protest at his expulsion.
  • The Guardian ran an interesting article about land deeds and rights in Liberia, and how small farmers are losing their livelihoods to multinational palm-oil interests. On Friday, a top UN official assured the Liberian people that they are not preparing to leave the country but are seeking to reconfigure their presence after assessing the ability of national institutions to maintain peace and security.
  • At least ten thousand people have reportedly fled northern Nigeria for neighbouring Niger and Chad to escape a military sweep targeting Boko Haram; arsonists suspected to be Boko Haram members allegedly burned down seven schools in the northeast on Thursday, leaving thousands of children without schools in the middle of their term; while suspected pirates in speedboats killed four police after opening fire on a marine checkpoint in the creeks of the oil-producing Niger Delta (The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility the following day). On Friday, three Boko Haram members were killed when a bomb reportedly exploded at a compound suspected to be used as a bomb-making factory in Kaleri Ward. On Monday, some 45 people were thought to be killed in a renewed skirmish between Fulani herdsmen and native Tiv community in Benue State, while two policemen were killed and two others injured when gunmen stormed a police quarters in Kano municipality.
  • At least 200 people were reportedly killed and many more injured in a series of explosions in the capital of Congo-Brazzaville on Sunday that were caused by a fire in an arms depot at a military base. Small explosions continued the following day, hampering rescue efforts. On Monday, reports suggested that people were blaming the government for the blasts that were allegedly caused by an electrical short circuit and the number of injured rose over 1,500 people.
  • Disgruntled workers at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation defied an order by the government to return to work on Friday. Three people were reportedly killed and five other injured in the Shambani area of Isiolo when armed raiders made away with thousands of camels over the weekend.
  • Ethnic tensions are reportedly rising ahead of next year’s Presidential election in Namibia.
  • The PM of Lesotho reportedly led a walkout from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy along with 45 other MPs to form a new party, the Democratic Congress, which will take over as the majority party in Parliament.
  • The Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat in Mozambique denied press reports on Wednesday that its local representatives were hindering the registration of voters in the southern city of Inhambane ahead of the mayoral by-election scheduled for April 18th; police in a northern town tried to persuade the leadership of the former rebel movement Renamo to release a man who had been imprisoned at the Renamo Nampula headquarters for the past three weeks; while the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption caught two municipal policemen who were extorting money from drivers of minibus-taxis in Maputo and Matola.  On Thursday, the Ministry of Agriculture reportedly began to revoke land titles in cases where the holder had abandoned the land.
  • A farmer in eastern Cameroon challenged a government ruling forcing him to cede his land to Chinese rice farmers and was sentenced to one year in jail for “rebellion”.
  • The President of Malawi accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement that is challenging his grip over the nation on Sunday during a radio interview.

Time for a change…

Hello all! Hope all is well!

I got bored with the old look and so have decided to change it after three years with the same design. I hope readers will find the change more user-friendly. Let me know your feedback– if you like it better, what needs changing or if you find links that don’t work.

Please bear with me while I make the change. I will hopefully have it all up and running again smoothly shortly.

Peace!

Rebecca

This Week in the World in Conflict… February 27th-March 5th, 2012.

  • The UN-mandate University for Peace’s Centre for Executive Education is offering an online course on Skills for Effective Negotiations starting March 15th.
  • The Center on International Cooperation completed its Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2012, covering both UN and non-UN peace operations during 2011.
  • A report by the UN’s Inter-Parliamentary Union expressed concern at the “worryingly low” and barely increasing number of women serving in Parliaments around the world. The report covered 188 countries claiming only 19.5% of the world’s lawmakers are women, and that only 20 countries had parliaments where at least one-third of deputies were women.
  • The World Bank announced on Wednesday that developing countries appear to have already met a UN goal to halve extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries by 2015, thanks mainly to China’s economic boom.
  • Twenty-five suspected members of the Anonymous hacking movement were arrested in a sweep across South America and Europe in Operation Unmask.
  • Arms sales at the 100 biggest arms makers reportedly grew 1% in 2010, adjusted for currency fluctuations, to $411 billion, defying the global downturn according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The report did not include Chinese arms supplies worldwide and only had limited data on Russian arms manufacturers.
  • The international body dedicated to removal of chemical weapons discussed the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles in Libya and the existence of possible similar stockpiles in Syria during talks this week.
  • The University of Groningen (Netherlands) and the University of Sousse (Tunisia) announced a joint summer school on democracy and transitional justice. Registration will take place until April 13, 2012.

This Week in European Conflict… February 25th-March 3, 2012.

  • European Union leaders confirmed that Herman Van Rompuy will serve a second term as President of the European Council on Thursday. Van Rompuy has served as the President since December 2009.
  • A remote-controlled bomb injured 15 police officers and one civilian on Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey targeting a police bus close to the headquarters of the ruling AK Party. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
  • A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units were started on Thursday in the Netherlands. The scheme will send teams of specifically trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.
  • The government of Ireland passed into law controversial copyright legislation that Internet freedom groups called a new form of censorship.
  • Serbia took a large step towards integrating with mainstream Europe on Monday as European Union foreign ministers called for the country to be made a candidate for union membership; while the European Union mission in Kosovo said six suspected operatives of Serbia’s Interior Ministry were arrested in Kosovo and five of them ordered held for 30 days. On Thursday, EU leaders formally endorsed Serbia as a candidate for membership into the bloc.
  • Hundreds of angry protesters forced President Sarkozy to take refuge in a cafe during his campaigning in France’s Basque country. Sarkozy denounced the “violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour”.
  • Senior EU officials agreed on fresh sanctions against Belarus on Monday in response to the President’s continued repression of his political opponents. On Tuesday, jailed hunger-striking opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka received a visit from his wife at the detention centre, who said he looked “half-alive”; while EU members announced they would recall their ambassadors to Minsk—a move Belarus said was “escalating tensions”— after Belarus asked the ambassadors to leave and recalled its own envoys “for consultations” in a tit-for-tat response to an expansion of sanctions. On Friday, EU officials expressed their “serious” concern over the “deterioration of the situation” in the country, as the European Council adopted a statement endorsing the recent EU sanctions and called on the bloc to continue work on “further measures”.
  • Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Russia on Sunday, wearing white scarves and ribbons or carrying white balloons or flowers, and lined the Garden ring holding hands to form a human chain to protest the likely return of Putin to the Presidency. On Monday, the opposition accused the Kremlin of playing up a purported assassination attempt against PM Putin to boost his popularity ahead of the Presidential elections; while an activist in the opposition Solidarity movement was reportedly arrested and sent to a psychiatric clinic for alleged antigovernment action. On Tuesday, authorities announced their plans to modernize the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle to include detachable equipment, such as an optical sight and a lamp. On Wednesday, PM Putin said his enemies were planning dirty tricks including ballot stuffing and even murder to tarnish the elections; opposition political blogger Aleksei Navalny said that he and other opposition protesters would not recognize the results of the March 4th Presidential election if Putin wins; while the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg passed a bill banning propaganda to minors about homosexuality or pedophilia, angering critics by tying sexual violence against children to homosexuality. On Thursday, Putin said he had not yet decided whether he wants to stay in power beyond 2018, when the Presidential mandate he is expected to win expires, showing his confidence in an upcoming win; the top investigative body says it launched an investigation into several video clips allegedly containing fake evidence of vote-rigging; authorities accused the US of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups; while Human Rights Watch says authorities are cracking down on critics during the protests. On Friday, the Guardian ran an article suggesting that although anti-Putin protests are rampant in Moscow, outside the capital, his support is much greater; election monitors complained of harassment and revealed alleged plans for mass fraud, prompting the opposition to plan protests no matter the results on Monday; Russia expressed a willingness to restore diplomatic relations with neighbouring Georgia, after the Georgian President offered to established visa-free travel to Georgia for Russians; Putin said that protests made him a stronger candidate; while the Russian Interior Ministry announced it plans to send 6,300 police officers from central Russia to Moscow for the election and subsequent days.
  • Police and protesters fought in the streets of Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday as more than 30,000 people joined students in demonstrations against cuts in education spending.
  • Police in London, England announced they arrested 20 people in an operation to dismantle the Occupy protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday. The protesters were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceed.
  • Two dozen Azerbaijani and Turkish protesters gathered outside the Armenian Mission near the UN on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and to demand an apology for what Baku calls“genocide” in the village of Khojaly. On Tuesday, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that the recent law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution, a move Turkey welcomed.
  • An inactivated explosive device was discovered on an empty subway train at an Athens metro station in Greece on Saturday. Police say they believe the device was likely linked to a far-left group.  
  • A former interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukraine was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office. Critics dismissed the charges as politically motivated. On Monday, the EU criticized the court decision, saying the verdict casts doubt on the independence of the judiciary.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 24th-March 2nd, 2012.

  • At least 28 people were reportedly killed in clashes on Saturday between government troops and opposition forces in Syria as the Red Cross continued efforts to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs; while at least 89 people were reportedly killed nationwide. On Sunday, the ICRC said that Syrian authorities had still not responded to a request for a ceasefire to allow the wounded to be evacuated from the Baba Amro district in Homs. On Monday, activists reported the deaths of more than 125 people across the country, just hours after the state television announced that an overwhelming majority of voters (some 89.4%) agreed to a new constitution, though the UN announced that it was “unlikely to be credible”; the shelling of Homs continued; the EU agreed to new sanctions against the country, targeting the central bank, seven cabinet ministers, prohibiting trade in gold and other precious metals with state institutions and a ban on cargo flights from the country; the ambulances of the Arab Red Crescent reportedly evacuated three people from the Baba Amro district of Homs; activists reported the discovery of at least 62 people near the city of Homs; and the Qatari PM called upon the international community to provide arms to the rebels. On Tuesday, the UN human rights chief announced that the situation in the country is “dire” and called upon the government to declare an immediate “humanitarian cease-fire”; a UN official said that Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians, or more than 100 a day; Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer was reportedly evacuated from Homs, though many other journalists, including Edith Bouvier, remained trapped. On Wednesday, Libya announced it will donate $100 million in humanitarian aid to the opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli; 13 Syrian activists were reportedly killed in the process of helping wounded foreign journalists trapped in Homs escape; heavy fighting broke out near the main rebel stronghold of Baba Amro in Homs as Syrian troops began a ground assault; UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs announced she was denied in her repeated requests to visit the country; and Reuters ran an article on the “path of death” smuggling route that is fueling the rebels.  On Thursday, a top US official for the Middle East says the “tipping point” in the country must come “quickly”; the UN Security Council called upon the government to grant UN humanitarian chief Amos “immediate and unhindered access” to the country; the Syrian National Council formed a military council, which it says will act as a clearing house for anyone offering it arms; the rebels defending Baba Amro said they faced at least 7,000 government troops; Kuwait’s Parliament said it would support the rebel Free Syria Army  and called upon the Kuwaiti government to cut ties with Assad; Ban Ki-moon and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed their concern at the possibility that Syria may have chemical weapons; security forces reportedly opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in Damascus, injuring five young men; Russia’s Putin announced he had no special relationship with President Assad and that Syrians should decide who should rule their country; American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were allegedly buried in Homs where they were killed 8 days prior; government troops started to advance on Homs, after weeks of bombardment by tanks and fighters; and the Free Syrian Army announced they had withdrawn from the Baba Amr district of Homs. On Friday, Syrian authorities reportedly blocked the Red Cross from entering the Baba Amr district of Homs, despite receiving permission from the government to send a convoy with seven truckloads of aid; Human Rights Watch said that new satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts reveal that bombardment of the Baba Amr neighbourhood has inflicted widespread destruction; Ban Ki-moon underlined the need for concerted action to end the crisis, lamenting that the international community has thus far failed in its responsibility to stop the bloodshed; while two French journalists, including Edith Bouvier, were safely evacuated from Homs to Lebanon. Some interesting articles were published, one calling for the world to prepare to arm the Syrian rebels (a position I personally strongly disagree with—after all, arming opposition groups has had soo much success in the past *sarcasm*); another questioning the morality of any foreign intervention within the country; one talking about the logistics of intervention; and another one questioning the world’s inconsistency on foreign intervention into conflicts.
  • At least 25 people were reportedly killed in a car bomb attack outside the gate of a Presidential compound in south Yemen on Saturday, hours after the new President was sworn in; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the new President after he took his oath of office in Parliament. On Wednesday, an al-Qaeda linked group threatened to unleash a torrent of attacks unless the government pulled its forces back from a contested southern city of Zinjibar. On Thursday, rival units of the military briefly traded fire outside the residence of the newly elected President, with no reported casualties.
  • At least 8 people were reportedly killed in violence in Iraq on Wednesday, after a car bomb exploded in a shopping area in southeastern Baghdad, unknown gunmen shot at a car in Mosul and a car bomb exploded in the city of Kirkuk; the main Sunni Muslim insurgent groups rejected laying down their arms to join the political process and announced they will keep fighting to topple the “occupation government”. On Thursday, a student shot and killed an American teacher at a private Christian school in the autonomous Kurdish region, then attempted suicide and was taken to a mental hospital; while Human Rights Watch criticized Iraqi authorities for using “repressive means” to muzzle peaceful protests after last week’s demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of protests against widespread corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment. Reuters reported that militants killed 151 Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces in February, showing that daily bombings and shootings remain persistent fact of life despite the withdrawal of US forces in December.
  • The government of Bahrain announced on Sunday that almost all the verdicts issued by military courts against people involved in pro-democracy protest movements crushed by the state last year were now being handled by civilian courts. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new report on unfair trails in military and civilian courts in the country. On Thursday, authorities imposed restrictions on groups trying to monitor reforms and asked UN investigators into torture to postpone their scheduled trip.
  • A Palestinian man reportedly died after being shot in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Saturday. On Monday, a Palestinian women, released by Israel in a prisoner swap last year, but re-arrested earlier this month and held without charge, is reportedly on a hunger strike to protest her treatment, just a week after the Israeli government struck a deal with another prisoner on a hunger strike. On Tuesday, the UN political chief called upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get serious about overcoming the current impasse, noting that talks that began last month have stalled and the situation on the ground in West Bank and Gaza remains dangerous. On Wednesday, Israeli troops reportedly raided two private Palestinian television stations in the West Bank, seizing transmitters and other equipment on the grounds that they “interfered with legal broadcasters and aircraft communications”.
  • American intelligence analysts suggested on Friday that they continued to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb despite a new report from the IAEA about an accelerated uranium enrichment program. On Saturday, the IAEA claimed that Iran had yet to give an explanation over a small quantity of uranium metal missing from a research site; while SWIFT, the world’s biggest electronic banking system, announced it is ready to block the country’s central bank from using its network to transfer funds. On Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministers announced he expects talks with the international community over the controversial nuclear program and is confident they will continue, also condemning the production of atomic weaponry as a “great sin”; while Human Rights Watch claimed that authorities are “dramatically” escalating their crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of the parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, Hezbollah said that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear programme would set the Middle East ablaze, possibly drag in the US and unleash a conflict beyond their control; while Iranian authorities offered Pakistan 80,000 barrels of oil per day on a three-month deferred payment plan in an attempt to soften the impact of Western sanctions and ease some of Pakistan’s energy needs. On Thursday, the Atlantic ran an article claiming that bombing Iran would mean also invading Iran and all that this would entail; Israel announced that it would soon test-fire a ballistic interceptor missile, hoping to avoid stoking war tensions with Iran; an opinion poll showed that a wide majority of Israelis either oppose a strike on Iran or would favour an attack only if it was carried out with US agreement; while Israel pressed American President Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and their nuclear programme advances beyond specified “red lines”. On Friday, Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency reported that the sister of President Ahmadinejad failed to win a Parliamentary seat and early returns were showing conservative rivals of Ahmadinejad elected in many other constituencies; several other sites wrote articles about the parliamentary elections that reportedly had a “record” turnout; Iran’s ambassador to Moscow complained that a Russian state-controlled bank shut down the accounts of Iranian embassy personnel, the Russian Foreign Ministry thought may be a consequence of EU and US sanctions; American President Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but that a premature attack would do more harm than good; while Israeli PM Netanyahu says his country will not draw any “red lines” for action regarding Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 23rd-March 1st, 2012.

  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article discussing whether Central America should legalize drugs or not, in an effort to reduce the drug related violence in the region. Al Jazeera also took a look at rising drug related violence in Central America in the wake of a recent UN report.
  • A bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday in the Virginia state Senate in the United States when lawmakers returned the bill to committee. On Friday, Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks was formally charged with 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy”, after declining to enter a plea in a military trial; while gay marriage was set to be legalized in Maryland after the state Senate gave its final approval to a bill that will now be sent to the Governor. The Pentagon notified lawmakers of plans to boost American strength in the Persian Gulf in response to alleged Iranian threats close to the Straits of Hormuz on Saturday. On Monday, it was reported that millions of dollars of White House money helped to pay for a New York Police Department program that put entire American Muslim neighbourhoods under surveillance since 9/11; while a student in a high school in Ohio opened fire in the cafeteria with a handgun, killing one student and wounding four others before giving himself up to authorities (the death toll rose to 3 the following day). WikiLeaks published more than five million emails stolen from an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor that is now being called the Enron of private intelligence. On Wednesday, a Pakistani national in Guantanamo Bay plead guilty to five charges related to terrorism, murder, conspiracy and spying, reaching a plea deal that he provide “full and truthful cooperation” with the US government that limits his prison sentence.
  • The Prime Minister of Haiti offered his resignation to the President on Saturday after days of political tension between the premier and government ministers over issues of dual nationality. On Wednesday, several thousands of supporters of former President Aristide filled the streets of Port-au-Prince on the eighth anniversary of his toppling, demanding that President Martelly prove he does not hold dual citizenship and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.
  • On Friday, five disabled protesters began a hunger strike in Bolivia in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people; while scores of disabled people fought police in La Paz after ending their 1,000 mile, 100-day trek through the country.
  • Police in Puerto Rico were alerted to a 6-foot-long military torpedo at a metal recycling centre along the north coast on Friday.
  • An American immigration judge ruled on Thursday that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former defense minister of El Salvador for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s.
  • Protesters in Bahrain are angered at riot weaponry from Brazil that has reportedly been used on them in recent months, killing some 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. Protesters allege that the Brazilian tear gas has more chemical substances that has made people foam at the mouth and caused other symptoms, even causing the death of babies.
  • The PM of Canada announced he was unaware of allegations that his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help them win by a narrow margin in last year’s federal election, after an Elections Canada investigation revealed that voters in several constituencies had received automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots. On Monday, it was revealed that all the calls weren’t robo, automated pre-recorded voice messages, but rather real-time calls made into ridings across the country; a move that Liberal leader Bob Rae said definitely affected the election results, specifically in 27 ridings that were hotly contested.
  • Two British cruise liners were reportedly turned away from a port in Argentina as tensions mounted over the future of the Falkland Islands. On Wednesday, the British government accused Argentina of pursuing a policy of confrontation over the Falklands, after reports suggested they were calling on companies to stop importing goods from the UK.
  • FARC rebels in Colombia vowed to free 10 remaining police and military hostages and end its practice of kidnapping civilians on Sunday, calling the practice “nothing but a disaster”. The government greeted the announced with caution, as an “important and necessary step” for peace and that they would like to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire. On Wednesday, at least 11 Colombian oil workers were reportedly seized by an unidentified armed group as they worked on a pipeline near the Venezuelan border.

This Week in Asian Conflict… February 22nd-29th, 2012.

  • US Secretary of State Clinton announced she had a “constructive discussion” of common concerns with her counterpart in Pakistan on Thursday; new details about American drone strikes were revealed by Reuters; Pakistani jets bombed four alleged militant hideouts in the Mela area, killing at least 15 militants; while at least 15 people were killed and more than 30 injured in a bomb explosion near a bus station in Peshawar. On Friday, four police officers were killed and at least five others injured in a suicide attack on a police station in Peshawar; while seven militants were killed when Pakistani forces shelled their hideout in Bara.  On Saturday, a mortar shell landed on a house in the northwestern Khyber tribal region, killing three people and wounding three others; fourteen small homemade bombs planted on railway tracks exploded in the southern Sindh province, disrupting railway traffic; an American drone reportedly crashed in North Waziristan, though the US denied Taliban claims that they had shot it down; while Pakistani forces began to demolish the house where Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in the city of Abbottabad. On Sunday, a homemade bomb exploded next to a military patrol in the South Waziristan region, killing two soldiers and wounding another; while militants fired RPGs at a military checkpost in the Sarwakai, killing two soldiers. On Monday, at least five people were reportedly killed and 15 others wounded in a bomb explosion at a political rally in the North West. On Tuesday, at least 18 people were reportedly killed after gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus in a northern village; a homemade bomb exploded in the Bara area of the Khyber tribal region, killing two people and wounding another three; while the Stratfor WikiLeaks email release suggests that Pakistani army officials may have known where Osama Bin Laden was hiding.
  • Sri Lanka rejected UN involvement in probing allegations of army atrocities in the long war against Tamil rebels that ended in 2009 on Monday, saying UN calls to prosecute soldiers guilty of misconduct were “unwarranted incursions”. On Tuesday, Chatham House released a report on breaking the cycle of continued impunity for war-time abuses in the country.
  • The government of India clarified on Tuesday that it accepts a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that would legalize gay sex in the country; while millions of workers reportedly staged a 24-hour strike to demand improved rights for employees and to protest over rising prices.
  • China is reportedly softening on its strict family planning laws, as older threatening slogans are being replaced by more upbeat ones. On Tuesday, at least 12 people reportedly died in riots in Yecheng County, with police allegedly killing two of the attackers. The cause of the riots was unknown at the time of reporting. On Wednesday, twenty people were reportedly killed when a group of men wielding axes and knives attacked a market in the western Xinjiang Uyghyr Autonomous Region.
  • The Atlantic ran a report on the worsening violence in Tibet, as at least 22 people have self-immolated in protest at the Chinese government’s rule.
  • A group of villagers in the south of Myanmar/Burma are speaking out against a massive industrial estate that is reportedly being built on their land, in a way that would have been unthinkable for years, for fear of consequences; while the Guardian reported that the censors are in retreat and that a new era of a (partly) free press and (some) freedom of expression is  now permissible. On Friday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said that developing the country will be impossible without peace in the restive Kachin regions.
  • A court in Kazakhstan reportedly sentenced two opposition leaders to 15 day prison terms on Saturday for organizing a rally for democratic change. Around 300 protesters were vastly outnumbered by riot police, who detained a handful of speakers and later blocked a group that attempted to march to a police station where six activists were being held.
  • The Commonwealth suspended the Maldives from its democracy and human rights watchdog on Wednesday, calling upon elections to be held before the end of the year.
  • A court in northern Tajikistan gave jail sentences to seven people for being members of the banned Islamist Tablig-i-Jamaat organization on Thursday.  On Wednesday, the ambassador to Russia announced his country expects Russia to start to pay rent for bases it uses on Tajik territory.
  • The UN Security Council extended the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste on Thursday to the end of 2012 so that it can continue to help promote peace, stability and development.
  • Protests continued over the burning of copies of the Qur’an at a NATO base in Afghanistan, with demonstrators setting fire to part of a housing compound used by foreign contract workers on Wednesday; the US Embassy in Kabul announced it was on lockdown and all travel suspended; while Pakistan announced it will give its full support to any clear effort by the Afghan government to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban, but does not want to lead a peace process that would impose a solution. The Attorney General alleged on Thursday that a female Senator has links with a criminal group involved in kidnapping in the country; Amnesty International released a new report about displaced people living within the country; at least 2 US soldiers and 2 Afghans were killed in separate incidents after the Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign troops in retaliation over reports that copies of the Qur’an were burnt at a NATO airbase; an Afghan soldier reportedly shot dead two American soldiers; US President Obama sent a letter of apology to the President, stating that the incident was not intentional; while protests continued reportedly killing some 5 Afghan protesters. On Friday, Pakistani PM Gilani publicly called on the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan to join peace talks with the Afghan government; while protests over the burning of the Qur’an at the US-led base in the country were held in several regions, resulting in the death of at some 23 people. Protests continued on Saturday, resulting in at least six deaths; a remote controlled mine killed six Afghan army members and wounded some 12 others; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed some 12 alleged insurgents and detained six more in several provinces across the country; while two American officers were reportedly shot dead at close range in the Afghani Interior Ministry allegedly by an Afghan police intelligence officer, and another seven US military trainers were wounded in protests, resulting in NATO pulling all of its advisors out of ministries across Kabul and the US Defense Secretary calling on the Afghan government to protect NATO forces. On Sunday, President Karzai renewed his calls for calm, after protests continued for a fifth day; the Canadian department of foreign affairs suspended all meetings with Afghan ministries; while France announced it is making preparations to withdraw non-military personnel from the country and condemned the fatal shooting of the two Americans. On Monday, the American Obama administration announced it has no plans to accelerate their withdrawal from the country in the wake of violent attacks against their countrymen; the UN announced it is temporarily relocating its international staff from its office in the northern Kunduz province which was attacked over the weekend; nine people were reportedly killed in a car-bomb explosion at the airport in Jalalabad, with the Taliban claiming responsibility; the Taliban claimed to have infiltrated an international military base in the east and poisoned food supplies; Afghan security forces and foreign troops reportedly killed six insurgents and detained three more near the Pakistani border; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed another five insurgents and detained some 22 in eight separate operations; while the Atlantic reported that the recent anti-American protests and violence suggest that Afghans see Americans more as occupiers than liberators. On Tuesday, an explosion at a residential compound in the southern Helmand Province killed four women and three children. On Wednesday, the top American military transport commander said that overland cargo routes through Pakistan must be reopened to NATO for the US to complete its pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2014; Afghan police killed four alleged insurgents during operations in Helmand and Kandahar provinces; while at least 20 people were injured in two explosions, one targeting a NATO supply convoy and the second targeting a bank in the northeast. The Atlantic ran an article on how Afghanistan hasn’t changed since the invasion of Western forces eleven years ago.
  • Israeli defense officials confirmed a deal to sell drones, antiaircraft and missile defense systems for some $1.6 billion to Azerbaijan. The deal has reportedly been in the works for some time and is not in response to Iran’s nuclear development program.
  • The former President of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo plead not guilty to charges of electoral fraud on Thursday. The charges include rigging the results of 2007 congressional polls to favour her candidates.
  • The Atlantic ran an article about the how Thailand is looking increasingly fragile and prone to conflict again, as the military and civilian governments clash.
  • The United States and North Korea reportedly met for their first talks on the North’s nuclear program since the death of Kim Jong-Il. On Friday, the American co-ordinator for policy on North Korea said that there was some progress, but that he had a “better understanding” of the North’s position on its controversial nuclear programme after the talks. On Saturday, North Korea threatened to wage a “sacred war”, launching a powerful retaliatory strike against the South if provoked, a day before the start of annual South Korean-US military drills. On Monday, South Korea and the US began their military exercises, despite the threats from the North of possible retaliation. On Tuesday, South Korean activists gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul to protest against the country’s policy of repatriating North Korean defectors. On Wednesday, North Korea reportedly agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, implement a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests and allow IAEA inspectors in to verify and monitor in exchange for American food-aid shipments.
  • Three state-owned television channels in Uzbekistan removed Turkish soap operas because the material was deemed “inappropriate” by authorities. The soap operas are widely popular across Central Asia and the Middle East. On Tuesday, the British Defense Secretary arrived in Tashkent to reportedly discuss facilitating the withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan via other Central Asian states.
  • The media-freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called upon the government of Kyrgyzstan to immediately lift its block on the fergananews.com news website to ensure Internet freedom in the country. The sites were blocked in mid-2011 by the Kyrgyz parliament over their coverage of the June 2010 violence in the south of the country. On Monday, the Russian defense minister says that Russia will fully pay overdue rental fees for a military facility in the Kyrgyzstan by the end of February; and the PM announced he decided to fire all customs officials, border guards and police at the country’s two international airports in a bid to tackle corruption. On Tuesday, the Atlantic ran a report about a previously unheard-of group allegedly declaring jihad against the Manas Transit Center in the country. Security measures are reportedly being increased in the southern city of Osh ahead of a planned demonstration on March 1st and weekend local elections.

This Week in African Conflict… February 21st-28th, 2012.

  • Experts say the increasing trend of illicit financial flows are posing a great threat to Africa’s fragile growth as they pump back more dollars to developed countries than those send to poor African states.
  • The Open Society Media Program released background papers earlier this month on Mapping Digital Media, on the impact of digitization on democracy in the Horn of Africa.
  • A top UN official stressed the importance of a comprehensive regional strategy to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, highlighting the threat posed to the security and economic development of States in the region.
  • The UN Security Council voted on Wednesday to increase an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia to nearly 18,000 troops to try and squash the al-Shabaab rebel insurgency, calling upon the AU to increase the strength of its AMISOM peacekeeping force by almost 50%; the chief of awareness raising for al-Shabaab insisted that unmarried girls should join in Jihad against pro-government forces while addressing a congregation over the weekend at a mosque; Ethiopian and Somali troops reportedly captured the strategic Somali city of Baidoa from al-Shabaab, who vowed to avenge the loss;  aid agencies demanded an end to the politicisation of aid in the country, saying they must be allowed to negotiate with all warring parties so that they can reach communities ravaged by famine and war; while International Crisis Group released a new report about the end of the mandate for the Transitional Federal Government in six months time. On Thursday, an international meeting aimed at resolving the political crisis in the country was hosted by the British PM and pledged more help to combat terrorism and piracy while demanding that its politicians form a stable government with a threat of sanctions against anyone stalling progress. On Friday, a missile strike reportedly killed four foreign militants south of Mogadishu. On Saturday, the Somali PM said that in the future a share of natural resources would be offered in return for help with reconstruction, making many observers uneasy about increasing foreign interference; reports suggested that Britain is involved in a secret high-stakes dash for oil in the country; an Islamist militia group in Puntland reportedly merged with al-Shabaab and announced their plans to scrap the license of Western oil and gas firms drilling in the region; while US drones reportedly killed 4 al-Shabaab high ranking officials in the Lower Shabelle region. The renewed offensive against al-Shabaab by Somali, Ethiopian, Kenyan and AU forces in the past couple of weeks has reportedly sparked another influx of civilians to Mogadishu out of fear of fighting. On Tuesday, at least nine were killed and many injured in heavy fighting and shells between government forces and al-Shabaab in the Lower Jubba region; and two hostages were killed as a Danish warship intercepted a cargo vessel allegedly hijacked by pirates off the coast.
  • US officials admitted that the Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony remains elusive in an unknown location in the Central African Republic, despite the deployment of American troops. They claim, however, that the LRA has been decimated to about 200 fighters. On Tuesday, humanitarian officials announced that a joint military offensive between the armed forces of the CAR and Chad to oust the Chad’s Front Populaire pour la Redressment (FPR) rebel movement is hampering operations to help the displaced.
  • The world’s largest refugee camp—the Dadaab settlement in eastern Kenya – marked its 20th anniversary in existence. Arrivals frequently exceed 1,000 people per day. On Tuesday, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that the 5,000 pending cases of post-election violence will be thoroughly investigated before decisions are made to either prosecute them or drop them. On Friday, detectives from Muthaiga police station reportedly raided the home of the former President’s son in a bid to arrest him after the High Court issued a warrant for him to be detained for one month for ignoring an order to pay maintenance to his estranged wife. On Tuesday, at least two people were reportedly killed in an attack by armed men in Mandera.
  • Security forces in Sudan reportedly raided two Arabic daily newspapers, confiscating all copies of the publications that were due for distribution on Sunday. On Wednesday, aid agencies called upon Sudan to urgently extend the looming deadline for up to 700,000 southern Sudanese to leave the country, as it is impossible to meet and would create a “logistical nightmare and humanitarian catastrophe”. On Thursday, activists, opposition politicians and journalists expressed their concern over a new espionage laws being debated in the Sudanese Parliament. On Friday, two African Union-UNAMID peacekeepers sustained gunshot wounds in Darfur after being targeted by an unknown group; the UN welcomed the return of its personnel to the South Kordofan state; while rebels reportedly clashed with government forces, with rebels claiming to have killed a dozen government soldiers and the government accusing the rebels of targeting civilians. On Sunday, South Sudan and Sudanese forces clashed in South Kordofan, despite the recently signed non-aggression pact. On Monday, rebel groups in Sudan announced they had captured a Sudanese army garrison near the border with the South; while the UN reported that increasing numbers of Sudanese and South Sudanese are reportedly fleeing to Kenya due to fighting and economic crisis. On Tuesday, analysts warned that a plan to start disarming civilians in South Sudan, by force if necessary, is likely to worsen the security situation and complicate efforts to deliver essential humanitarian aid; while Sudan reportedly threatened military action against the South, accusing their troops of involvement in rebel attacks along the border where rebels claim they killed 150 government soldiers.
  • Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Wednesday for Tuesday’s deadly attacks at a popular market in Maiduguri, Nigeria; gunshots and explosions rang out in Kano, as the military reportedly exchanged fire with suspected Boko Haram militants; while unknown gunmen set some classrooms and a store at Budun Primary School in the outskirt of Maiduguri. On Thursday, gunmen on motorcycles shot dead two policemen and wounded two others in Kano. On Friday, at least 10 people were killed in a night attack on the Gombe Divisional Police Station, as gunmen reportedly set off bombs in an attempted prison break in the northeastern city of Gombe. On Sunday, two suicide bombers suspected to be Boko Haram members blew up the Church of Christ in Nigeria headquarters in Jos, killing at least 2 people. Police arrested 8 Nigerian Christians from a rival faction of their own church in relation to the bombing, while 8 others were killed in reprisal attacks by protesting youths following the incident. Also, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked the Shuwa Divisional Police Station in Madagali, killing three police corporals.
  • Tens of thousands of returning workers from Libya, failing rains and insects are reportedly causing food shortages and a major humanitarian crisis in Chad that could affect up to 3.6 million people.
  • A Parliamentary committee leading the constitution making in Zimbabwe has reportedly been forced to drop a number of provisions, including one on term limits that would have locked President Mugabe from future polls on Thursday. On Friday, PM Tsvangirai reportedly castigated President Mugabe and the ZANU PF over insincerity, calling the unity government a “sorrowful experience” and vowing to resist Mugabe’s calls for early elections. On Saturday, President Mugabe celebrated his 88th birthday with an elaborate party, and again called for an early vote this year. Concern is reportedly building over the fate of a human rights activist missing since the 8th of February.
  • On Friday, the Supreme Court of Rwanda sentenced one of the most important Tutsi opposition leaders, PDP party president Deogratias Mushayidi, to life in prison in a controversial verdict for “plotting to overthrow” Kagame’s government, spreading rumors to incite hatred of the government and using forged documents. Supporters say that the trial is merely a tool to silence the opposition.
  • President Compaore of Burkina Faso fired his justice minister on Friday and created a cabinet post for human rights in an effort to calm citizens’ anger over abuses by government officials. The justice minister was reportedly fired for ordering the arrest, beating and detention of a man with whom he had a minor traffic dispute.
  • A young girl was killed and ten women and children injured when Mali’s air force reportedly bombed a camp for displaced civilians in the north on Wednesday. On Friday, the UN refugee agency appealed for $35.6 million to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis resulting from the renewed fighting in the north between government forces and Tuareg rebels; while President Toure announced he is willing to step down and hold democratic elections in June, denying that he is willing to fight a war against the rebels in return for staying in power. Refugee numbers are rising daily in the bordering countries as the fighting rages between the Malian army and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad fighting for greater autonomy for the Tuareg. On Sunday, the French Foreign Minister said that Mali must negotiate with separatist Tuareg rebels to end the fighting in its northern desert, during a visit to the country.
  • The judge in ousted President Mubarak’s trial in Egypt announced that the verdict will be delivered on June 2nd during Wednesday’s hearing.  On Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood announced it will be holding the Interior Ministry responsible for two separate attacks on Islamist politicians over the last couple days, accusing it of ignoring death threats made to its members; while the Muslim Brotherhood also reported claimed in its own newspaper that it had scored an outright majority in the upper house of Parliament ahead of results that would be released on Sunday. On Sunday, a court reportedly adjourned the trial of pro-democracy activists accused of illegally receiving funds from abroad until April; while at least 20 Jordanian nationals were reportedly trapped in the south Sinai, blocked in by Bedouin protesters demanding the release of Sinai prisoners. On Monday, the Supreme Commission for Presidential Elections postponed the meeting to announce the timeline for the upcoming elections until next week.
  • Three people were reportedly killed and some 25 injured on Tuesday in clashes between rival tribes in the far southeast of Libya. On Wednesday, a military court ruled that 50 people accused of fighting for Gaddafi and helping a mass jail break by alleged Gaddafi supporters should be freed and tried instead in a civilian court; while two Libyan Mirage fighter jets, which were flown to Malta by defecting pilots last year, headed back home. On Thursday, troops intervened to try and end fighting between rival tribes in the eastern desert where dozens of people had been killed over the previous week. On Friday, clashes flared between rival tribes in the far southeast, injuring several people. On Saturday, Libya and France reportedly agreed to look into boosting maritime security and controlling Libyan borders, as the French Defense Minister met with his Libyan counterpart in Tripoli; militiamen reportedly detained two British journalists working for Iran’s Press TV and are holding them in Tripoli; while authorities urged Libya’s neighbours to hand over Gaddafi supporters who have fled the country, saying bilateral ties could be threatened if they did not cooperate. On Sunday, the government of Niger warned its people that they could be targeted by roving militias if they travel to Libya, as tensions rise between the neighbouring countries over Niger’s refusal to extradite Gaddafi’s son Saadi; while the situation remained tense in the south-eastern town of Kufra, with more than half the population fleeing and the death toll reaching over a 100. On Monday, a powerful militia announced it will  not heed a government request to disband because they incentives are not generous enough. On Tuesday, officials announced they will not rule out using force to regain control of the town of Bani Walid after it was recently taken over by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
  • The President of Uganda’s Forum for Democratic Change, Kizza Besigye, and a female MP were hospitalized on Tuesday when a political rally was dispersed by police in Kampala. On Wednesday, Besigye reportedly said that the threat of death will not stop him from advocating for political freedom. On Saturday, the Independent (Kampala) reported that President Museveni appears to be losing his grip after 10 of his 15 top ministers either resigned over alleged corruption or face censure by a rebellious parliament that refuses to be either bribed, intimidated or seduced by Museveni. On Monday, IRIN warned of overwhelmed refugee camps in the west of the country, as an influx of refugees fleeing post-election violence and militia activity in the DRC are swarming in. On Tuesday, the Uganda Human Rights Commission released a new report on victims’ views on the right to remedy and reparation.
  • The opposition in Senegal claims that it has a permit to march and occupy public places while the Ministry of the Interior continues to call for the deployment of forces to prevent the occupation of strategic places. On Tuesday, hundreds of opposition supporters clashed with security forces in the capital, as EU observers criticized a ban on protests and an African envoy flew in to try and stem the rising violence. On Wednesday, President Wade ignored appeals by former Nigerian leader Obasanjo to withdraw from the presidential race made during a series of meetings with main opposition members.  On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed his hope that this weekend’s Presidential election is peaceful and credibly staged. On Friday, thousands of opposition activists took to the streets to demand President Wade cancel the elections, resulting in at least six deaths. On Saturday, the country was gripped by uncertainty on the eve of the election as more than 450,000 voter cards have yet to be collected by registered voters. On Sunday, former Nigerian President Obasanjo’s mediation attempts suffered a setback as protesters turned down a proposed two-year term for Wade and ordered Obansanjo to leave their country; Senegalese voted across the country, largely without incident, though incumbent President Wade was reportedly heckled by voters as he cast his ballot.  IRIN ran an analysis about life under President Wade. On Monday, early results appeared to indicate that Wade had failed to win an outright majority, which would necessitate a runoff. On Tuesday, the campaign spokesman for incumbent Wade said that partial results showed that Wade was well short of an absolute majority.
  • The International Criminal Court announced that it would be expanding the scope of its investigation into possible war crimes in Cote d’Ivoire to as far back as 2002 on Thursday; while Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the scheduled end of a national commission of inquiry investigating the post-election violence, citing several failures and rushed work. On Sunday, unidentified armed individuals shot at a convoy from the Independent Electoral Commission as it transported ballot boxes from a central-western town during the legislative by-election, with a second attack occurring hours later, killing at least five people. A new book written by a French journalist challenges the dominant narrative about the killing of several women protesters in Abobo that prompted the French and the UN to intervene following the election crisis in early 2011.
  • A self-proclaimed gay activist in Liberia and some of his followers narrowly escaped an angry mob who rushed a local radio and television station to attack him for his pro-gay campaign on Thursday; while members of the Senate launched a probe into allegations of rebel training ongoing in the area near the Liberian-Ivory Coast border. On Tuesday, MPs are expected to consider a bill that would forbid same sex marriage.
  • A judge in Tunisia granted the publisher of a daily newspaper a provisional release, postponing his trial over the publishing of a photo of a football player embracing a naked model until March 8th, after the publisher went on a hunger strike. On Thursday, police used tear gas to break up a crowd of around 200 hard-line Salafists allegedly armed with sticks, swords and petrol bombs after they set fire to a police station.

This Week in the World of Conflict… February 20th-27th, 2012.

  • I ask readers interested in peace and conflict to join the Peace and Collaborative Development Network and donate to help keep them alive, if possible. The network is a great place to meet others working in the field, browse job openings, read great blog entries and learn where to find other conflict resources.
  • The International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict is now accepting applications for the 2012 Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict at Tufts University running from June 24-30th, 2012.
  • The Columbia Centre for Oral History announced its 2012 Summer Institute “What is Remembered: Life Story Approaches in Human Rights Contexts” to be held June 4-15th, 2012 at Columbia University in New York City. Sessions will look at the methodological and theoretical implications of doing life story research with individuals who have suffered human rights abuses and other forms of discrimination.
  • A coalition of governments, international organizations and other groups joined forces with the World Bank to confront threats to the health of the planet’s oceans, launching the Global Partnership for Oceans on Friday. Marine life is being threatened by over-fishing, loss of habitat and environmental degradation.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual Attack on the Press in 2011 report. The report claimed 46 journalists were killed and 179 imprisoned last year in countries around the world, with Pakistan listed as the most dangerous place for journalists to work followed by Libya and Iraq.
  • The President of the UN General Assembly stressed the importance of mediation in the early stages of conflict on Saturday, saying that seeking peaceful settlement of disputes before they become violent can save lives and ensure stability.
  • Earlier this month, Oxfam released a report on the challenges posed by the vast humanitarian crises around the world, in spite of the growing number of vulnerable people, the rise in disasters and the failure to put most fragile states on the path to develop that will significantly increase needs.
  • The Oxford Research Group released a new report on the drivers of insecurity in the Global South, including climate change, increasing competition over resources, global militarisation, and marginalization across much of the “majority world”. The Group suggests the need to change the current approach to security that is based upon the premise that insecurity can be controlled through military force or containment, focusing on “curing the disease” instead of “fighting the symptoms”.
  • Cambridge Scholars Publishing is set to release a new book called Conflict Resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement that looks at the growing field of conflict analysis and resolution and the need for scholars to work on the ground to transform entrenched conflicts.
  • Peace, Conflict and Development: An Interdisciplinary Journal just published its latest special issue on what’s missing in approaches to peace and conflict.
  • The Noble Institute announced that 231 people have been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, including former US President Bill Clinton, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Bradley Manning.

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 17th-24th, 2012.

  • China announced on Friday that it had yet to receive a formal invitation to a meeting of international powers in Tunis next week to discuss the crisis in Syria; the government reportedly blocked a premiere live stream website, Bambuser, that has been used by dissidents to upload streaming video of conditions in the country in real time; thousands of Israeli Arabs reportedly demonstrated against Assad, calling for him to step down; an award-winning “New York Times” correspondent died in the country from an apparent asthma attack; NATO’s Secretary General said that the they have no intention of intervening in Syria, even if the UN mandate was changed to protect civilians; three pro-democracy protesters were allegedly killed by security forces during protests; security forces renewed a bombardment of opposition strongholds in Homs and attacks on rebels in Deraa; while the government of Venezuela allegedly supplied diesel to the country, undermining Western sanctions. On Saturday, security forces reportedly fired live ammunition to break up an anti-government protest in Damascus, killing at least one person; China said it backs President Assad’s plans for a referendum to end the violence; and Iraq announced it was reinforcing security along its Syrian border to stop the flow of arms and smuggling. On Sunday, gunmen reportedly staged an ambush that killed a senior state prosecutor and judge in an opposition-dominated northern region; a leading Chinese newspaper accused western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and that their calls for Assad to step down could provoke a “large-scale civil war” that might demand foreign intervention; Egypt announced it was recalling its ambassador to Damascus; an insider in the Syrian regime said it is “disintegrating” under the weight of international sanctions; and AP reported a troop build up in Homs. On Monday, members of the EU announced they will likely adopt fresh sanctions against the Syrian President in the coming week; the International Committee of the Red Cross said it is negotiating with Syrian forces and opposition fighters on a daily two-hour ceasefire to bring life-saving aid to civilians the hardest hit by the conflict; security forces reportedly injured four youth when they fired live ammunition at a night demonstration in Damascus. On Tuesday, the US said it will consider taking “additional measures” to end the bloodshed in Syria if an international outcry and a strengthened sanctions regime do not convince the government to stop the crackdown on the opposition; Russia said it will not attend a Western-backed international conference in Tunis about the crisis because it only supported the opposition cause; security forces reportedly killed at least 33 civilians in army raids on villages in northern Idlib province; and government forces reportedly continued to bombard the city of Homs, killing at least 63 people. On Wednesday, a veteran Sunday Times correspondent and a French photographer were reportedly killed in Syria, along with some 80 others as security forces rained rockets and bombs on opposition-held neighbourhoods in Homs, increasing the foreign pressure on Assad; security forces and militiamen loyal to Assad allegedly chased, captured and then shot dead 27 young men in three northern villages; two Islamist militant groups in Iraq rejected a call by al Qaeda to aid Syrian rebels in their revolt, saying sending weaponry and fighters across the border would only worsen the conflict; the main opposition Syrian National Council said it wants a minimum of 3 points of safe passage for life-saving aid supplies to enter the country; a main opposition group called upon Syrians to boycott an upcoming referendum on a new constitution, calling it an attempt to cover up the crackdown; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Russian President Medvedev that any dialogue about the crisis in Syria would lead nowhere; the Information Ministry reportedly told foreign journalists that are illegally inside the country that they should report to the government, as they allegedly had no knowledge of the entrance of the two foreign journalists who were killed in Homs; France called upon the Syrian government to immediately halt the military onslaught of Homs and allow safe access for medical aid; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the UN relief chief to visit the country to assess the humanitarian situation. On Thursday, security forces reportedly lined up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one extended family after raiding the village of Kfartoun in Hama province; three people were killed in shelling in the village of Soubin; a French journalist who was badly injured in a recent attack in Homs issued a video plea for help to cross the Lebanese border; the UN accused the Syrian regime of “crimes against humanity”, including the use of snipers against small children, and drew up a list of senior officials who should face investigation; China announced it would not accept an invitation to discuss the crisis in Syria with other world powers during the “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday in Tunisia; several attendees of the Friends of Syria group announced they would seek tougher measures, including a possible economic “stranglehold” on the Syrian government. On Friday, representatives from more than 70 nations gathered in Tunis for the “Friends of Syria” conference aimed at finding ways to end the bloodshed, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar reportedly pushing for more forceful intervention against Assad including supplying weapons to rebels; pro-Assad protesters rallied outside the conference in Tunis; EU diplomats named seven Syrian ministers to be targeted with new sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes on the ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, industry, oil and mineral resources, and transport, with more sanctions expected to be issued on Monday; US Secretary of State Clinton called upon Syria to agree to a cease-fire and criticised Russia and China for siding with Assad; while the Syrian Arab Red Crescent began evacuating wounded or sick women and children from the Baba Amro district of Homs, in what is being called “a first step forward”.
  • Police and anti-government protesters clashed in Bahrain on Thursday, with two policemen reportedly severely injured in a petrol bomb attack. Two Western activists were detained for leading a women’s protest on Friday, while police suppressed the protests with water cannons and armoured vehicles. On Monday, police again used water cannons and tear gas to break up a march chanting anti-government slogans following a funeral. On Wednesday, Sunni Muslims warned the government at a rally of some 20,000 people, against entering a dialogue with Shi’ite-led opposition parties, instead urging them to focus on security.
  • Government forces in Yemen reportedly detained 10 al Qaeda linked fighters on Friday; while oil pipeline workers returned to work after a 10-day strike which had shut down oil exports. On Monday, an explosion rocked a polling station in Aden and was followed by gunfire that killed one soldier and injured another; while the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda confirmed the death of a senior leader who officials say died in a bloody family feud. The country went to the polls on Tuesday, with the Vice-President as the only candidate in polls that are reported to have a high turnout despite calls for a boycott by the opposition and deadly violence in the south. Reuters ran an article outlining the high-ranking members of Saleh’s family who still have positions in security and military roles or influential positions in the business community. On Wednesday, vote counting was underway  to confirm the current VP as the new leader, amid violence that killed at least 10 people across the country’s south; while the Security Council welcomed the holding of elections and encouraged leaders to move on to the next stage of transition. On Thursday, troops reportedly opened fire on a rally by southern secessionists opposed to the Presidential elections, killing one protester and wounding three others; while outgoing President Saleh, who had been receiving medical treatment in the US, left the country headed for an unknown destination. On Friday, Al Jazeera ran a report about the cost of rebuilding the country in the wake of Saleh’s departure, a price the country can ill afford.
  • Police announced on Friday that they had found the bullet-riddled body of a man in his twenties floating in a river northwest of Kirkuk, Iraq; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a man and his son, wounding both in Mandili; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen near Muqdadiya; gunmen opened fire on an off-duty policeman near his home, killing him near Khalis; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers in southern Baghdad; gunmen in a car opened fire on a police lieutenant colonel and his driver, killing both in Tikrit; and a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded a farmer near Hawija. On Saturday, authorities began evacuating an initial batch of 400 Iranian dissidents from Camp Ashraf to a transit camp near the airport in Baghdad; gunmen killed two off-duty soldiers in separate attacks in western Mosul; a mortar round killed one civilians in eastern Mosul; a bomb attached to a car wounded three people in Falluja; gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding one policeman in Falluja; police found the body of a man who had been handcuffed and shot in southern Kirkuk; and police found the body of an unidentified man who was killed by the explosion of a roadside bomb he was trying to plant in Hawija. On Sunday, a suicide bomber reportedly killed 16 people and wounded some 26 in a crowd of police recruits leaving their academy in eastern Baghdad. On Monday, a sticky bomb attached to a police lieutenant colonel’s car exploded, seriously wounding him in Tuz Khurmato; gunmen stormed a house killing a tribal leader in the southern outskirts of Falluja; a sticky bomb attached to a former civil defense lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding two others in Jalawla; a sticky bomb attached to an off-duty police lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding another policeman in Ramadi; while judges ordered one of the two VPs be tried for terrorism, a move the accused dismissed as “black comedy”. On Wednesday, a bomb near a policeman’s house exploded, wounding his wife and child in Baquba; a roadside bomb wounded one civilian in western Mosul, and gunmen shot dead a civilian in eastern Mosul. On Thursday, at least 28 separate bombings were reported across the country, killing over 49 people and wounding at least 280 people, many of them security forces; while there were at least 6 attacks by gunmen, mostly at security checkpoint,  killing some 18, and wounding at least 31 people.
  • The United States and the EU expressed cautious optimism on Friday over prospects that Iran  may be willing to engage major powers in new talks; President Ahmadinejad blamed foreign powers for “all the problems” in the region through their interference; two Iranian naval ships sailed through the Suez Canal with permission of Egyptian authorities; officials in key parts of the American Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Iran from nuclear ambitions and that the US will be left with “no option” but to launch an attack on the country, or watch Israel do so; two articles in the Atlantic discussed the warmongering media frenzy over Iran; and Israel blamed Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah of plotting attacks against Israelis and Jews worldwide, a claim Hezbollah leader Nasrallah vehemently denied. On Saturday, Britain’s foreign minister warned that any attack on Iran would carry huge costs, including leading to a new cold war; American General Martin Dempsey also warned against military strikes against Iran; the Israeli Defense Minister said a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger an arms race in the Middle East and that nations should impose “crippling” sanctions on them to force the end to their nuclear ambitions; while a Vienna-based diplomat announced that Iran may be poised to expand its nuclear program at an underground site near the city of Qom. On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies in retaliation for the EU sanctions. On Monday, inspectors from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in the country for two days of talks about the Iranian nuclear program; the Iranian media reported that two of their navy ships docked in the Syrian port of Tartous on a mission to provide training to Syrian naval forces; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s outlook on the West appears to dim the hopes for any future nuclear deal; several European countries announced they have stopped buying Iranian oil, while others announced they would be cutting back on their purchases; authorities reportedly faced a second and more extensive disruption of Internet access; and Common Dreams published a report highlighting the hypocrisy of condemning Iran for its alleged connection to the assassinations in Tbilisi, New Delhi and Bangkok while not doing the same to the assassinations of Iranian scientists allegedly ordered by Israel. On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief renewed calls for Iranian authorities to halt the execution of an Iranian man with Canadian residency for “designing and moderating adult-content websites” that contravene the country’s laws; the two Iranian warships were reported to have passed south through the Suez Canal after a brief stop in the Syrian port of Tartus; the Iranian body that vets election hopefuls reportedly approved 3,444 candidates to run in the March 2nd parliamentary polls; authorities announced they expect to hold more talks with the IAEA; while a five-member group of UN atomic energy watchdog experts continued their talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Christian Science Monitor ran a report detailing what would happen if Iran did have a nuclear bomb. On Wednesday, the IAEA team declared their mission in Iran a disappointment as they were unable to visit a military site at Parchin; Russia warned that an attack on Iran would lead to a catastrophe; Supreme Leader Khamenei offered new assurances that his country is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, even while a report, allegedly out of Iran, of the wife of an assassinated nuclear scientist who said her husband’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel; Israel said it believes that within 2-3 years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the US; and the Atlantic ran a piece suggesting that a pre-emptive attack on Iran may actually ensure they get nuclear weaponry, if they don’t already have it.  On Thursday, a weeklong election campaign began for the March 2nd parliamentary polls, with analysts predicting a comfortable victory for the ruling conservative faction loyal to Ayatollah Khamanei. On Friday, Russian PM Putin accused the west of seeking “regime change” in Iran under the guise of trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, during a tour of Iranian nuclear research centre; while the IAEA reportedly claimed that Iran has dramatically accelerated its production of enriched uranium in recent months and is refusing to cooperate with an investigation of evidence that it may have worked on designing a bomb.
  • Several thousand Palestinians reportedly rallied in Gaza and the West Bank on Friday in support of the jailed Islamic Jihad leader who has been on a hunger strike protest for a 63rd day against his detention by Israel; while reports suggested that a sustainable energy program in a rural area of the West Bank was being threatened by Israeli authorities. On Saturday, at least two Palestinian were wounded in an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza City, allegedly in retaliation for several rockets fired into southern Israel the day before. On Tuesday, the Palestinian prisoner whose life was in danger after he went on a hunger strike for 66 days, agreed to eat after a deal was struck for him to be released at the end of a four-month period of detention. On Wednesday, the top UN envoy for the Middle East peace process described Israel’s announcement that it had given approval to a large number of new settlement units deep inside occupied Palestinian territory; while members of Hamas endorsed a unity government with the Palestinian authority, taking on a more moderate position that reportedly presents a serious challenge to Israel and raises the states in any future peace process. On Friday, Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Muslim worshippers near the al-Aqsa mosque for the third time this week, reportedly sparked by fears that far-right Israeli activists were planning to enter Muslim-controlled areas at the site; while the UN committee on Palestine rights voiced alarm over the recent Israeli decision to build more than 500 new homes in a settlement inside occupied Palestinian territory and to retroactively “legalize” some 200 settlement units built earlier without permit.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 16th-23rd, 2012.

  • President Caledron of Mexico reportedly unveiled a large advertising board near the American border calling on the US to stop the flow of weapons into the country on Friday.  On Sunday, a fight between prison inmates inside a jail near Monterrey reportedly killed some 44 people. On Monday, reports suggested that some 30 members of the Zeta drug cartel plotted with prison guards to orchestrate an elaborate escape that resulted in Sunday’s prison deaths.
  • The Governor of New Jersey in the United States rejected a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state and called upon a ballot question to decide the issue a day after the state assembly passed it. On Friday, a 29 year-old Moroccan man was arrested in Washington DC as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, as he carried what he thought was explosives into the city. On Monday, the Obama administration’s plan to revamp the country’s nuclear weapons strategy and possibly reduce the number of warheads was leaked to the press, causing a major uproar among some conservatives who called the proposals “reckless lunacy”. On Tuesday, the US Marine corps discharged the long marine convicted in the 2005 killings of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha, but will not face jail time. On Wednesday, several members of the Congress received mail threatening biological attack and containing suspicious powder, later found to be harmless by law enforcement officials. On Thursday, at least seven US soldiers were reportedly killed after two helicopters collided during a training exercise along the Arizona-California border.
  • Authorities in Canada announced plans to toughen their refugee laws to filter out fake claims from “safe” countries like Hungary, which it says are clogging up the system and wasting taxpayer money. Critics say it is an attack on human rights, as it appears to target the large influx of claims from Roma “gypsies” coming from Hungary. The country has also allegedly threatened a trade war with the European Union over the bloc’s plan to label oil from the province of Alberta’s vast tar sands as highly polluting. An indigenous community has launched a lawsuit against the government and a petrochemical company SunCor for failing to prevent pollution that has taken a severe toll on their environment and health.
  • The top court in Ecuador upheld a jail sentence on Thursday against three newspaper publishers who were also ordered to pay damages for libelling President Correa. Rights groups claim the ruling puts freedom of expression under threat.
  • The President of Haiti was reportedly attacked as he walked in a Carnival procession in Port-au-Prince, but escaped unharmed on Friday. Witnesses say that “troublemakers” were throwing rocks at the President and his accompanying motorcade.
  • National police in Panama reportedly broke up protests over plans for a vast copper mine and hydroelectric schemes, killing three men, wounding dozens and detaining more than 100 others.
  • Flooding rivers in Peru and Chile displaced people and turned up old land mines from the 1970s, resulting in a closure of the border between the two countries on Monday.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela announced that he must receive another operation to remove a lesion on his pelvis where surgeons removed a large cancerous tumour last year, but denied rumours that there was any metastasis. Chavez’s imminent departure for his surgery has reportedly thrown his re-election campaign into uncertainty.
  • Hundreds of relatives of inmates who died in last week’s prison fire in Honduras reportedly forced their way into a morgue in the capital to demand the remains of loved ones on Tuesday. The government announced that a dropped cigarette may have set off the fire, going back on the original claims of a purposely set fire.
  • A group of 17 leading intellectuals in Argentina criticized the government for supporting the right to self-determination of Falkland Island inhabitants, questioning the country’s claims on the territory.

This Week in Asian Conflict… February 15th-22nd, 2012.

  • President Karzai of Afghanistan confronted the Pakistani leadership on Thursday during a visit to Islamabad, accusing Pakistani officials of harbouring the Taliban; he also was quoted as saying there were secret contacts between the US, Afghan governments and the Taliban, and that the militant group was interested in ending the war; while the Pakistani President publicly pledged efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban with hopes of ending the Afghan war. On Saturday, the two days of high level talks ended in acrimony with Afghanistan saying it was “preposterous” to think that Pakistan could deliver the Taliban chief Mullah Omar to the negotiating table. On Sunday, the Atlantic ran an article that suggested that education in the country would be taking a big step backward, as new textbooks would cut out much of the country’s post-1973 history since none of the major groups can agree on a basic set of facts. On Monday, a prominent female lawmaker repeated her intention to run for the presidency when Karzai’s term runs out in two years time; while a car bomb in Kandahar killed one policeman and wounded four other people. On Tuesday, US and NATO forces rushed to apologize for discarding and possibly burning copies of the Qur’an, as thousands of angry Afghans protested outside the Bagram military airbase; Chatham House released a new report on how the withdrawal of international forces will affect the country; Afghan officials reported that Taliban militants beheaded four Afghan civilians who they believed had been spying for the government; President Karzai reportedly invited the Taliban leadership to direct talks with his government, while urging Pakistan to help with negotiations; a man wearing an Afghan police uniform killed an ISAF service member in southern Afghanistan; a roadside bomb killed four civilians including a child in southern Kandahar; Afghan security forces and foreign troops killed two insurgents, wounded three and detained one more in Kabul and Logar provinces; and Pakistan announced it will not support an American-driven initiative to start Afghan peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar until it is clear that they have backing from Kabul. On Wednesday, Georgia’s Defense Ministry announced that three of their soldiers were killed in Helmand province while serving alongside NATO forces; while President Karzai appealed for calm as demonstrators protesting over the burning of copies of the Qur’an clashed with security forces, resulting in at least seven deaths.
  • The military in Pakistan rejected criticism by Human Rights Watch concerning the murder of a Pakistani journalist that suggested the Inter-Services Intelligence agency was beyond the reach of the criminal justice system, as “derogatory, biased and contradictory”; while intelligence officials said two suspected US drone missile attacks killed more than 10 people in the North Waziristan region near the Afghan border. On Thursday, a suspected US drone aircraft reportedly fired two missiles at a car in the North Waziristan region, killing ten people; a homemade bomb planted in a vehicle exploded in the city of Quetta; a militant threw a hand grenade at police officials in Peshawar, injuring three people; one soldier and eight militants were killed in clashes between Pakistani forces and a group of militants in Wana; a suicide bomber killed two people and wounded five others in the Upper Dir district; and a suspected US drone aircraft killed six and wounded two others as it fired two missiles at a house in Miranshah. On Friday, the Atlantic ran an article that suggested that the Americans should “suck it up” and apologize to Pakistan for the “friendly fire” incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last fall; a homemade bomb exploded, killing three Pakistani soldiers in Tirah; three militiamen were killed when Pakistani forces and a pro-government militia attacked a militant base in Bara; a clash between two militias left five militants and three members of a government-sponsored militia dead; while a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed up to 32 people and injuring at least 60 in a market in a town close to the Afghan border. On Saturday, the death toll from Friday’s suicide bombing rose to 39; and militants ambushed a Pakistani paramilitary convoy in the southwestern Baluchistan province, killing two soldiers and wounding nine others. On Sunday, a homemade bomb exploded in the northwestern Khyber region, killing seven pro-government militia members and critically wounding five others; while militants reportedly attacked a military checkpoint, killing a soldier and wounding three others in Wana. On Tuesday, the Interior Minister announced that the government in Islamabad intends to ask Interpol to arrest the former President and military chief Pervez Musharraf in connection with the assassination of former PM Bhutto; a homemade bomb exploded outside a hospital in Peshawar with no reported casualties; a homemade bomb exploded next to a police vehicle in the Bagzai area with no casualties; and policeman was killed when militants attacked a police checkpoint in Panjgur.
  • The International Crisis Group released a new report on Timor-Leste’s upcoming elections, and the possibility of a more peaceful future.
  • The President of Kyrgyzstan announced on Friday that he plans to demand overdue fees for Russian military assets on Kyrgyz soil during upcoming talks in Moscow. On Monday, the President announced at a meeting with visiting US State Department officials that “no foreign troops” should remain at the Manas airport after 2014, which the US pays to use as a transit centre for operations in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, a state-controlled Internet provider blocked access to a leading independent news website.
  • Activists suspected of playing a role in December’s violence in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan are reportedly still being rounded up by authorities and detained. On Tuesday, five men were reportedly sentenced on terrorism charges for creating an illegal armed group and of organizing and conducting a bombing in the northwest, to jail terms varying from 5 to 13 years; while the former VP of the Kazakh national nuclear company was arrested in Canada for violating immigration laws.
  • Human Rights Watch criticized the authorities of Azerbaijan for the alleged forcible eviction of hundreds of residents to demolish the last standing building in the neighbourhood of Baku where the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is to be held. On Saturday, security forces allegedly arrested and jailed an Iranian journalist within the country without any specific charge. Authorities announced on Tuesday that they had busted an alleged terrorist group working for Iran’s secret services.
  • The government of Myanmar/Burma announced it expects to reach a ceasefire deals with all of the ethnic minority rebel armies within three months time before starting a process of political dialogue towards “everlasting peace”. The Bangkok Post ran an article that suggested that the recent ceasefire deals are driven by a desire of the army and politicians to capitalize on the booming narcotics business and not a real desire for change. On Thursday, the World Bank said it was in the process of returning to the country after 25 years, but the nation must first clear its arrears to global financial institutions before the bank resumes lending. On Friday, the EU announced it was lifting travel restrictions and sanctions against the country, in the first step towards rewarding the government for democratic reforms. On Sunday, a dissident monk who helped lead the 2007 anti-government uprising is facing fresh legal action for “squatting” illegally in a government-sealed monastery and breaking into two others. On Monday, the Guardian reported that a monk jailed for his role in the 2007 protests and then released in an amnesty in January now faces action by the authorities because he has “repeatedly broken Buddhist monks’ code of conduct and the law” by rejoining the religious order without requesting authorization and joining a monastery that has been sealed off by the government. On Wednesday, Karen rebels, who have been fighting for autonomy in the country for the last six decades, outlined their demands for peace with the government, including a complete withdrawal of government troops from posts near villages along the Thai border.
  • Recent re-elected President Berdymukhammedov in Turkmenistan vowed to lay the foundations for a multiparty system and a free media on Thursday, after being elected with some 97 percent of the vote.
  • Radio Free Europe reported that articles in the Uzbek language on Wikipedia have not been accessible in Uzbekistan for weeks, though no official statements have been released by authorities about the blockage. On Wednesday, it was reported that prominent cleric Imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov survived an attempt on his life in a Swedish city where he was granted political asylum in 2006.
  • The government of China reportedly detained several hundred Tibetans who were returning from teaching sessions by the Dalai Lama in India and is forcing them to undergo political re-education. On Wednesday, Chinese police reportedly detained a Tibetan writer in a western area. On Thursday, the exiled Tibetan PM said that the plight of Tibetans has deteriorated since a wave of deadly protests in 2008, stressing that Tibetans live in a “lockdown”. On Saturday, another Tibetan Buddhist monk reportedly set himself on fire in western China.  On Sunday, the 21st Tibetan monk this year set himself on fire after shouting slogans in favour of Tibetan independence and the exiled Dalai Lama.
  • The new President of the Maldives agreed to hold early elections on Thursday to break the political impasse brought on by the allegations that the former President was forced to resign in a coup. On Friday, thousands of supporters of the former President rallied peacefully in the capital as Commonwealth ministers arrived to investigate the circumstances of his exit from power.
  • Two fishermen in India were reportedly shot dead in a confrontation with an Italian oil tanker off the southern Indian coast on Wednesday, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries. Indian police detained the entire Italian crew.
  • North Korea threatened to launch “merciless” strikes against South Korea over its planned regular live-fire drills near their disputed sea border on Sunday. On Monday, South Korea conducted live-fire military drills from five islands near its disputed sea boundary with the North, despite their threat of retaliation; while North Korea’s state media announced that the ruling Worker’ Party will hold a key conference in April where it will likely make official the succession of power to Kim Jung-un.
  • The family of two young brothers in Indonesia have blamed police brutality for the death of their two boys, aged 13 and 17, who died in police custody. A new poll on Monday suggested that the ruling Democrat Party has lost major support, to the point that it could be pushed out in the next election. On Wednesday, security forces reportedly stormed a prison on Bali following a riot by inmates, injuring several people.