Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Archive for the 'Disarmament' Category

A Perilous Peace in Sri Lanka

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Democratic Development, Disarmament, Human Rights, South Asia, Sri Lanka with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

by

Mukesh Chandra Baral

March was a muddled month for Sri Lanka. In the capital, Colombo, a Sinhalese Buddhist mob was filmed hooting and clapping around a destroyed clothing warehouse owned by a Tamil Muslim. The mob pelted stones on a vehicle while policemen stood by. After a week, in Kilinochchi, reportedly a mob damaged the party office of Tamil National Alliance and smashed vehicles belonging to the party. The party accused the police of not taking any initiative to quell the attacks.

The lawlessness in the country trails the three-decade long civil war that ended in May 2009. Thousands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) fighters, along with their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed. The death toll is estimated to be eighty to one hundred thousands. The civilian casualty is believed to be around forty thousands. The civilian death has been the most contentious issue since the beginning of the war.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, at the 22nd session of United Nations Human Rights Commission, which ended on 22 March 2013, world powers were pressing Sri Lanka for accountability. They wanted an investigation of horror and the atrocities allegedly carried by the government forces against Tamils during the Civil War. The session concluded with a US-sponsored resolution on human rights seeking an adequate progress in investigating killings and disappearances, mainly the brutal months at the end of the Civil War. The government spent most of March denying the past atrocities and legitimizing the ongoing mobocracy.

The call for accountability is not new for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshya. The UN resolution in 2012 had asked him to investigate and prosecute the violators. He had also agreed to implement the findings of Report of the Secretary- General’s Panel, which had found the allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and the government credible. But, ‘accountability’ does not look like a priority for President Rajapaksa.

His response towards any report on human rights violation by his administration has been ‘denial’. ‘Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) focusing on restorative justice, did just that. The Commission formed by the government started the investigation but quickly cleared the military from the allegation of deliberate attack on the civilians. Other human rights group pointed out that the investigation was flawed but the LLRC took no further steps.

Accountability peddlers

The United Nations is not the only one asking Sri Lankan Government for meaningful action. EU has long joined United Nations for accountability. United States, India, Canada, and Britain are some other powers on board. While speaking during the UN resolution, the Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US’s demand for accountability. The resolution was backed by India, one of Sri Lanka’s close neighbors, exerting further pressure on Sri Lanka. Indian government seems very concerned. It has historical reasons to be reluctant. But, it is constantly pushing Sri Lankan government for accountability.

The Commonwealth Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November 2013 has become another headache for Sri Lanka. David Miliband, a powerful MP from the British Labor Party, is lobbying publicly to shift the venue of 23rd Commonwealth Summit. Canada is one of the toughest Sri Lankan critics among the Commonwealth nations. It has been demanding independent investigation of the atrocities since 2011.

There are other organizations like International Monetary Fund which have demanded accountability on part of the Rajapakshya administration. Sri Lanka needs to show results along the line of accountability, unless it wants to stick with countries like China for all support. No doubt, the issue has turned into an agony for Sri Lanka

Dictator in the making

The Daily Mirror, one of the prominent newspapers of Sri Lanka, in March printed pictures of an inauguration of a memorial museum by the president. The museum restored a bus and depicted monks killed by LTTE. The pictures published were disturbing and provoking. Above all, the pictures were approving the Civil-War narration of the Sinhalese majority, the victor. One could only imagine the mass impact of the museum in the long run. The war is over, but the conflict, it seems, still exists. Three decades of war has solidified an enemy image that needs to be addressed. But instead, the president himself is inaugurating the sites of one-sided narrations. That is not only intensifying the injuries but also creating further divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils.

But, president does not seem concerned about it. Probably, he is paying back for the landslide victory of 2010. Thanks to the election, his party holds clear majority in the parliament. His close relatives who constantly conform his moves are in power. His older brother Chamal Rajapaksa is the Speaker in the parliament. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa is the Minster for Economic Development. Another brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the defense secretary. His niece Nirupama Rajapaksa is the Minister for Water Supply. He has already a 24-year-old son in the parliament. No wonder, he is blamed for promoting nepotism in the country.

Analyzing the power distribution and the chain of events, it can be argued that he is seeking more power. This January, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke was impeached and forcefully removed from office. The Supreme Court later ruled the Parliamentary Select Committee’s presiding unconstitutional. But the president did not appear to be concerned about the ruling. He appointed his legal advisor Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice, in the midst of the Bar Association protest. The Parliament has long removed the presidential term limits. All these developments suggest that he is going for the third term. But, does he have a plan to remain in power even after? In other words, is there a dictator in the making? Well, the developments suggest, the probability is high.

 

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

by

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

Kashmir on the Brink….of Peace?

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Human Rights, South Asia with tags , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

by

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As the season’s first snow falls in Kashmir, the leaders of India and Pakistan deliberate in New Delhi to further build confidence towards transforming conflict in one of most violent regions of South Asia. On December 14 India and Pakistan  signed agreements to liberalize the visa regime to facilitate people- to- people contact and the flow of goods between the two countries. The past decade in Kashmir has witnessed an ‘irreversible’ peace process which has impacted the conflict discourse and reduced the constituency for radicalism in the subcontinent. Though violence remains a challenge — as the  fighting in the Kashmir valley led to death of three militants just before the latest discussions — it has not deterred the parties to the conflict from continuing the peace process.

Since its inception in late 1940s, the Kashmir conflict has caused the loss of at least 50,000  lives, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and the crippling of the economy. The two major players, India and Pakistan,  pursued their rigid policies, fought four wars, and built up arms including nuclear arms, while millions of people lived below the poverty line. The costs of the conflicts, coupled with humanitarian costs in terms of the division of families due to drawing and redrawing of borders, loss of livelihood particularly tourism, militancy, and an all pervasive atmosphere of anxiety has made  the lives of the people living on the borders quite miserable. Both India and Pakistan have claimed the entire territory of Kashmir, currently divided between these two countries and China, and have fought wars while the civilians suffered.

In the context of the Kashmir conflict, two interlinked dimensions can be identified: external and internal. In its external dimension it is the conflict waged between two independent states, India and Pakistan, which emerged after the British rule ended in the subcontinent in 1947. In its internal dimension, an armed rebellion started in Indian controlled Kashmir in late 1980s with the rebels fighting for independence from the Indian control. For about a decade from the early 1990′s to the early 2000′s Kashmir witnessed the daily dance of death and destruction, prompting then US President, Bill Clinton to term it ‘the most violent place on the earth.’  During the cold war Kashmir was entangled in the superpower rivalry as reflected in United Nations Security Council debates and voting on Kashmir issues, but most of the violence and destruction has taken place in the decade since the late 1980′s.

The advent of globalization, increasing emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflicts, emphasis on economic diplomacy in place of political diplomacy, and the softening of borders in different parts of the world have reshaped the conflict discourse in Kashmir. The civil society organizations in India, Pakistan and Kashmir  have also played a crucial role in pressuring governments to think beyond state-centric policies. They organized ‘heart-to-heart talks,’ peace movements and sensitized policy makers about peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In 1999, the Indian prime minister boarded a bus from the Indian capital New Delhi to Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore. In 2003 both countries announced a series of confidence building measures. In 2005 and 2006, two border routes were opened to facilitate people-to- people interaction, and for the reunion of divided families. Since 2008, these two routes were opened for intra-Kashmir trade. Pakistan’s granting of most favored nation status to India in 2011 further enhanced prospects for economic cooperation. The visa agreement signed in New Delhi on 14 December 2012 has many new provisions, such as visa-on-arrival, increase in the number of places-of-visit, extended period of stay, etc. (for details of the agreement see here.)

There have been temporary setbacks to the peace process such as the brief period after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. However, both  countries resumed dialogue within a span of 18 months. There are detractors of the peace process, particularly extremist organizations who seek a violent and religion-based resolution of the conflict. However, their constituency has shrunk with the passage of years. The recent years have also witnessed peace in various important regions, particularly in the troubled Kashmir valley, famous for its tourist attractions. Tourism is the main source of revenue for Kashmir. It is estimated that the valley lost 27 million tourists from 1989-2002 leading to tourism revenue loss of $3.6 billion. However, the recent years have witnessed the rise in number of tourists. The Economist has pointed out the the number of tourists in the valley has recently passed 1.3 million.

The separatist  All Party Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz faction) is commencing its week-long visit to Pakistan on  December 15. This is a positive step — unimaginable during militancy in 1990s –  towards building peace in the region. Its leader emphasized that the main purpose of the visit is to make a ‘process-oriented effort’ towards resolution of the conflict (for details see here.)

Since the civilian government came to power in Islamabad in 2008, the peace process has gathered momentum. The current focus of the two countries is to strengthen the peace constituency by boosting economic cooperation, and promoting people-to-people interaction. The idea of converting the border in Kashmir from a rigid line of control to a flexible line of contact, communication and cooperation has gathered momentum, and India and Pakistan appear to have geared their policy mechanisms to realize this idea.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

 

 

Disarming Militias in Libya: Look to the Examples of Others

Posted in Disarmament, Libya, Middle East, Peacebuilding with tags , , on October 10, 2012 by michaelkeating

The BBC reported on how in Benghazi and Tripoli last week (10/29), over 600 Libyan militiamen turned over their weapons to the Libyan army in exchange for the opportunity to win electronics such as laptops and TVs.
This is just a small victory for peace building considering that some 200,000 Libyans  have access to over 2 million weapons that include a variety of weapons ranging from tanks to handguns.

The weapons are in the hands of militia groups  as a result of the 2011 Libyan civil war and were primarily acquired from the Gaddafi regime or from neighboring countries. Previous attempts to collect them have failed but it seems that momentum was gained after the attack on the US embassy in Libya on September 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The government put out public announcements on TV for the recall of weapons and it worked to a limited degree because of disgust over the terrorist act from just a few weeks before and a desire on the part of many civilians to establish peace and begin rebuilding the state. See the report here.

Peter Fragiskatos argues, in a BBC op-ed, that there are hundreds of militia groups motivated by  two reasons: for ideological reasons and for
material gains.   We know that at least this recent success story appealed to those looking for material gains. The trick may be figuring out the right incentives for groups that are motivated by ideological reasons. Attempts to replicate this recent weapons turnover will likely be tried in other Libyan cities. What can be learned from this?

Fragiskatos pointed out that this is not the first successful attempt by governments to collect arms after domestic civil strife. He highlights
that there have been successful attempts in Albania, Mozambique and Cambodia to collect weapons. In these cases, governments provided the militia with job training, various tools, or community projects using local labor as incentive for weapons turnover to the military.

If the Libyan government would like to implement weapons collections in other cities and make meaningful progress to this end, perhaps they should upgrade incentives to more practical ones that could offer the militia groups opportunity to improve their livelihoods. TVs are not going to provide permanent employment opportunities for these rebels. Rather, job education, household tools, public works projects will help to employ people and rebuild society. Furthermore, with help from the international community in the form aid, there should be guaranteed incentives offered to every one of the 200,000 estimated rebels who hand in weapons rather than entering them into a lottery with only the potential to win prizes.

It is still too soon to tell if this will be successful in fostering peace and aiding the society rebuilding process. In the months to come. if the Libyan government continues to successfully recall weapons, this could offer insight into how to help heal future post conflict societies and how to help them avoid falling into  viscous cycles of conflict.

Check out this BBC video clip of a Libyan weapons collection checkpoint and read the full article, “Libyans hand over hundreds of weapons to army.”

Priscilla DeGregory is a graduate student in the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston.