PSR: March 03, 2017

March 03, 2017

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This week in: Peace & Security Publications |
IPSI | Africa | Americas | East Asia | Middle East | South Asia

Featured Report

Veracruz: Fixing Mexico’s State of Terror

The International Crisis Group (ICG) analyses the intense violence in Veracruz, Mexico’s third-most populous state. At least 2,750 people are believed to have disappeared, the former governor is wanted for embezzlement on numerous counts, and the 17 journalists who were killed in 2010 only touch on the actual number of people who were killed. The ICG believes that strong international support is necessary in order to transform the situation within the state.

This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: UN attack helicopter halts militia

On Sunday, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA) used an attack helicopter to prevent approximately 40 heavily armed militiamen of the Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) from carrying out an attack on the remote town of Bambari. MINUSCA spokesperson Vladimir Monteiro said the action upheld the peacekeeping force’s mandate to protect civilians from violence between FPRC and the rival Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), and warned FPRC against bringing “war to Bambari.” Comment: FPRC and UPC were formerly allied as part of the Séléka rebel coalition which ousted former president François Bozizé in March 2013, but the groups later split over disagreements.  In April 2014, the Security Council authorized MINUSCA, initially comprising of 10,000 military personnel to the country. In December 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that UPC rebels killed at least 32 people in clashes with FPRC. (News24, AP, Reuters)

SOUTH AFRICA: Flare up of xenophobic attacks

On Monday, approximately 100 people ransacked foreign-owned shops in Johannesburg in the latest wave of xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals spreading across parts of South Africa, particularly Johannesburg and Pretoria. Last Friday, an anti-immigrant rally in Pretoria turned violent as South African riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up hundreds of protestors trying to enter a predominantly migrant suburb of Pretoria. South African protestors accuse foreigners of taking jobs from citizens and for involvement in criminal activity. President Jacob Zuma condemned the violence, urging citizens not to “brand all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers,” but also saying the government would crack down on undocumented workers. Comment: South Africa’s unemployment rate is over 25 percent. In 2015, anti-immigrant riots around Durban resulted in six deaths, and in 2008, similar violence killed at least 62 people. Renewed xenophobic violence raises fear and uncertainty among migrant communities in the country. (Africanews, All Africa, Al Jazeera 1, 2, Reuters)

REGIONAL: Woman appointed UN Deputy Secretary-General

On Tuesday, Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed was officially sworn in as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York, becoming the second African woman to hold the position. In her first address to the UN, Mohammed stressed the importance for the UN to be “fit for purpose” in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and stated that past solutions would not meet the challenges of the future. Comment: Prior to this appointment by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Mohammed was Nigeria’s Minister of Environment and formerly served as UN Under Secretary General and Special Adviser to former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on development planning. (Premium Times, Africanews, AllAfrica)

Researched/Written by Jessica Himelfarb

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

COLOMBIA: FARC begins disarmament process

On Wednesday, despite a series of setbacks, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began its disarmament process. The United Nations Mission in Colombia, the Colombian government, and  FARC leadership will be monitoring the process. Observers will identify and register all weapons within the 26 zones where FARC members are currently located and where they will transition to civilian life. Weapons will then be placed into special containers installed by the UN Mission in FARC camps. Comment: The process is expected to conclude on May 29th, 180 days after the final peace agreement came into force. Due to a lack of reliable record of the number of weapons owned by FARC, it will be difficult to quantify the percentage of disarmament. (El Universo, La Voz, CNN Español, Telesur, BBCUN)

UNITED STATES: Trump called for a “merit-based” immigration system

On Tuesday, President Trump spoke before Congress to lay out his agenda and, in a different tone from his first weeks in office, offered a far broader plan calling for a “merit-based” immigration system and prioritizing skills and employability over family ties. Trump said, “It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially, yet in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.” Comment: The president’s immigration system is similar to an immigration compromise proposed in 2007 by President George W. Bush, the system included an eventual grant of legal status to an estimate of 11 million illegal immigrants in addition to more strict border regulations. (CNN, Economic Times, New York Times 1, 2, Politico, Washington Post)

VENEZUELA: Central Bank is running out of reserves

The Central Bank of Venezuela issued a report stating that the country is down to just US 10.5 billion in foreign reserves. The country had nearly USD 30 billion in reserves in 2012, which decreased to USD 20 billion in 2015. According to regional economists, the trend can’t go on much longer, but it is not easy to predict how long it would take Venezuela to reach default. The fast decline in reserves is only exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in the country. The economic upset has led to food and medical shortages, as well as rapid price increases. Comment: Inflation is expected to rise to 1,660 percent this year and 2,880 percent in 2018, according to the IMF. Experts see the crashing bolivar, high government spending, poor management of infrastructure, and high levels of corruption as the key causes of inflation. (Infobae, El Universal, CNNHuffington Post)

REGIONAL: U.S. Senate expressed concern with “the crisis in Venezuela”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution expressing “profound concern” about the “crisis in Venezuela” and called for the immediate release of political prisoners. The resolution urges the Venezuelan government to respect the democratic process and calls on the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt additional measures to address the recession, high levels of inflation, and food and medicine shortages in the country. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro announced that he would update last year´s report accusing the Venezuelan government of violating the OAS’ Democratic Chapter. The 2016 OAS report argued that Venezuela’s constitutional order was being altered generating serious consequences for the democratic order. Almagro’s update on the report invokes a violation of Article 20 of the Inter American Democratic Chapter. Comment: According to the OAS Chapter, the main purpose of the inter-American instrument is the strengthening and upholding of democratic institutions throughout the Americas. The Charter defines what democracy is and that it should be the common form of government for all countries of the Americas. It represents a collective commitment to maintaining and strengthening the democratic system in the region. (El Nacional, El Nuevo Herald, Univision, OAS)

Researched/Written by Silvina Zbikoski

This week in East Asia & Pacific

CHINA: UN sanctions on Syria vetoed by China and Russia

On Wednesday, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over alleged use of chemical weapons for the seventh time since the civil war began in 2011. Investigations by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have found that the Syrian government carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015. China’s ambassador to the UN said Beijing opposes the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing. Comment: The resolution, drafted by France, Britain, and the U.S., would have banned the sale of helicopters and led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, as well as 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks. Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the U.S. (China Daily, BBC, The Guardian)

PHILIPPINES: Militants kill German hostage

On Monday, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded German citizen Jurgen Kantner after a deadline for his ransom passed. A video of the beheading was circulated on Monday shortly after which the Philippine government confirmed Kantner’s death. Abu Sayyaf, a military group with ties to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, demanded a ransom of USD 600,000 be paid by Sunday. President Duterte apologized for failing to save the German hostage while German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killing as an “abominable act.” According to Philippine authorities Abu Sayyaf are currently holding at least 19 foreigners and seven Filipinos hostage. Comment: Abu Sayyaf formed in the 1990s and has been kidnapping foreigners for decades, holding them for ransom in the jungles of southern Philippines. Last year Abu Sayyaf murdered two Canadians after their demands were not met. Abu Sayyaf also carried out the deadliest bombing in Philippines in 2004 claiming 116 lives. (The Inquirer, The Philippine Star, The Guardian, Al Jazeera)

THAILAND: Government drops law criminalizing torture

On Tuesday, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly, the military appointed parliament, dropped legislation to criminalize torture and disappearances, leaving state employees and security forces unaccountable for serious crimes. Following the decision, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, said the decision was “a devastating blow” to the families of those who have disappeared. Ms. Shamdasani also said that torture is not a criminal offense in Thailand, and while victims have won compensation in the past, perpetrators cannot be prosecuted. Comment: A UN working group on enforced disappearances recorded 82 cases in Thailand since 1980. Last year, Amnesty International released a report stating that Thailand’s military government has allowed a “culture of torture” to flourish since the army seized power in a 2014 coup. (The Bangkok Post, Reuters, UN News)

Researched/Written by Kanstantsin Ivanou

This week in Europe & Central Asia

RUSSIA: Russia bombs U.S. backed Syrian forces

On Wednesday, according to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, a Russian airstrike hit U.S. backed Syrian forces fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Townsend claims that initially Russian officials acknowledged the mistake and immediately suspended the airstrike. The Russian Ministry of Defense has since denied allegations that they targeted any areas designated by the U.S. military as controlled by Syrian forces. Comment: Communications between U.S. and Russian forces are a result of a ground communications link established in 2015 to avoid airspace clashes. The incident occurred southeast of the liberated city of al-Bab, and about 4-5 kilometers away from U.S. forces. (RT, Sputnik, Reuters, AP)

TURKEY: German journalist arrested and jailed

On Monday, dual German and Turkish citizen Deniz Yucel, a journalist for Germany’s Die Welt (DW) newspaper, was arrested, jailed, and accused of inciting hatred and terrorist propaganda. He was originally detained on February 14 after reporting on an email hack on Turkey’s energy minister. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the arrest “bitter and disappointing” and expressed concern over the strain on Turkish-German relations it has caused. Comment: Since an attempted coup in July, Turkey has shut down over a hundred news outlets and jailed numerous journalists. Yucel had also interviewed Cemil Bayak, a commander of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which Turkey has outlawed as a terrorist organization. (DW, EUobserver, AlJazeera, AP)

UKRAINE: Russian backed separatists seize Ukrainian factories and mines

On Wednesday, Russian backed Ukrainian rebels seized control of dozens of businesses, coal mines, and an aid distribution center, many belonging to Rinat Akhmetov’s foundation, Ukraine’s richest businessman. The separatist takeover followed a several-week long blockade by Ukrainian nationalists that has successfully blocked trade on both sides of the conflict. Russia commented that the separatists had little choice considering the blockade, and pledged to aid in de-escalation efforts.  Comment: Since April 2014, government forces have been fighting a war with separatist rebels that has claimed more than 9,800 lives in eastern Ukraine. While Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman has officially condemned the blockade, his administration is facing strong nationalist pressure in Parliament to not break it. (RFE/RL, Reuters, DW, AP)


Researched/Written by Kenneth Davis

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

EGYPT: Coptic Christian populations flee Sinai after attacks by armed groups

On Sunday, hundreds of Coptic Christians fled the Sinai Peninsula to Ismailia city, north of Cairo, following a series of deadly attacks by local armed groups. The Coptic Orthodox Church in Ismailia received the families and the government provided housing after citizens pressured the state to do so through criticism on social media. The flight of Coptic Christian population increased after the self-proclaimed Islamic State released a video threatening to carry out attacks against Christians in Egypt. While the group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, their Egyptian affiliate group is based in the northern Sinai and has carried out attacks against Christian populations in the past. Comment: Many human rights activists say this displacement is another sign of the government’s failure to protect the Christian minority in the Sinai. Approximately 5,000 Christians lived in the northern Sinai before the Arab Spring; less than 1,000 remain according to local priests and residents. (Egyptian Streets, Egypt IndependentAl Jazeera)

LIBYA: Travel ban imposed on citizens age 18-45

On Friday, Libya’s eastern military governor Abdul Razzaq Al-Nazhuri imposed a travel ban on all citizens aged 18-45. Al-Nazhuri says the ban is to “protect national security and Libyans of this age group from being lured by terrorist organizations.” Those who want to travel will need to seek clearance from the government and provide “criteria” to the intelligence department. The ban will only be imposed on those traveling out from Labraq Airport, the only international airport under Al-Nazhuri’s jurisdiction. Those under his authority can still take a flight out of Tobruk’s airport or fly from Labraq to a connecting international flight in Tripoli. Comment: This ban comes after Al-Nazhuri banned women under the age of 60 from traveling without a male chaperone. Libyans have criticized the ban as an attempt to deflect from criticism of the ban on traveling women and claim that the action is rooted in Salafist pressure on security forces in the east.(Libya Herald, Middle East Confidential, Middle East Monitor)

SYRIA: Government forces push ISIS out of historic Palmyra

On Wednesday, Syrian government forces and their Russian allies pushed the self-proclaimed Islamic State out of historic Palmyra, which has been held by the group twice since 2015. The army says it captured the area known as the Palmyra triangle after advances in recent days, which were backed by Russian airstrikes. Ancient monuments and structures, including a 1,800 year-old monumental arc have been destroyed. Comment: The self-proclaimed Islamic State first captured the area in 2015; with the government forces regaining control in March 2016, the group recaptured the area in December 2016. The destruction of Historical sites is condemned as a war crime by the United Nations.  (Al Masdar News, Middle East Monitor,Reuters)

Researched/Written by Raghda Karajah

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: Taliban attacks injure dozens

On Wednesday, the Taliban coordinated and executed two attacks in Kabul injuring dozens across the city, including three women and three children. A suicide car bomber attacked an Afghan police precinct and military training center. Gunfire broke out after the explosion. Another suicide bomber detonated outside the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch, while a second attacker was shot to prevent him from entering the compound. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks citing heavy casualties. Comment: Taliban attacks have escalated nationwide in recent weeks, despite the usual seasonal decline during the winter. Afghan security forces expect further escalations in intensity come spring. (Tolo News, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

MALDIVES: Defense minister says soldiers must lose right to vote

On Tuesday, while speaking at the opening ceremony of a drill competition, Defense Minister Adam Shareef Umar announced the government’s plans to abolish article 20 of the Armed Forces Act, which gives those who serve in the Maldives National Defense Force the right to vote. He argued that soldiers must remain “free of political influences.” Shareef said a bill would be submitted this year to parliament, which is majority-ruled by the Progressive Party of Maldives. Comment: Members of the armed forces gained the right to vote in 2008 with the passing of the Armed Forces Act and the Maldives’ newest Constitution. The chairman of the main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, said the party will not support the proposed changes to repeal this right. (Avas Online, Maldives Independent, Mihaaru)

SRI LANKA: First stop on U.S. Navy-led humanitarian mission

On Thursday, an annual humanitarian mission in the Asia-Pacific led by the United States Navy will set sail for Sri Lanka, marking the inclusion of a South Asian nation for the first time since its inception twelve years ago. The mission, called the Pacific Partnership, will bring 104 doctors, engineers, and other staff to Sri Lanka early next week to work on a variety of projects including the construction of a women’s clinic and a primary school. In addition to the United States, the mission includes people from the UK, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Comment: After spending two months in the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota, the humanitarian mission will spend two months in various towns in Malaysia and Vietnam. This year, in addition to humanitarian aid, the mission will include medical and law enforcement training. Mission commander Captain Stanfield Chien said the mission is a demonstration of U.S. commitment to the region. (Colombo Page, The Straits Times, Dvids)

Researched/Written by Kaleigh Thomas