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Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Op-Ed / Global

Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325

The text below is a chapter from the forthcoming book "Women and War: Power and Protection", to be published by the United States Institute of Peace
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For advocates of the empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, these are heady times.  The past two years have seen a growing international awareness not only of the personal costs to women for our failure to protect them in the context of armed conflict, but also of the tremendous collective costs we pay as a global community for failing to achieve our goals of building peace, pursuing development, and reconstructing post-conflict societies.  The result of this awareness has been a spate of UN Security Council resolutions, national action plans, impressive speeches, and structural changes that have hopefully set the stage for real progress.

It is tragic that it has taken graphic images of women raped in the eastern Congo, and young girls with acid thrown in their faces in Afghanistan for daring to return to school to shame our collective conscience, but the world is responding.  At the United Nations, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict has been formed to coordinate enhanced work by thirteen dozen separate agencies under the tagline, “Stop Rape Now.”[fn]The thirteen entities are the Department of Political Affairs  the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Peacebuilding Support Office, the Joint Program on HIV/AIDS, UN Development Program, UN Population Fund, High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Children’s Fund, UN Development Fund for Women, World Food Program, and World Health Organization.Hide Footnote Security Council resolutions – 1820, 1888, and 1889 in particular – have created an office of a special representative for eliminating violence against women, mandated new measures of accountability, called for structures to name and shame offending parties, authorized the use of UN sanctions in such cases, and defined widespread sexual violence itself as a threat to international peace and security.[fn]UN Security Council Resolution 1820, 19  June19 2008 Women , Peace and Security  available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/391/44/PDF/N0839144.pdf?OpenElement; UN Security Council Resolution 1888, 30 September 2009, Women, Peace and Security, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/534/46/PDF/N0953446.pdf?OpenElement; UN Security Council Resolution 1889, 5 October 2009, Women, Peace and Security, available at  http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/542/55/PDF/N0954255.pdf?OpenElement
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No Security Council peacekeeping mandate can be passed now without a paragraph requiring forceful civilian protection, especially for women.  The anticipated creation of a new UN gender entity has the potential to end the disarray that has bedeviled the efforts of the UN Development Fund for Women, the Special Advisor for Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women and their sister agencies, if key steps are taken to ensure its effectiveness and relevance.  The same promise and caveats apply to the High-Level Steering Committee for Women, Peace and Security, chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, and is backed by a civil society advisory group led by former Irish President Mary Robinson and head of the Femmes Africa Solidarite Bineta Diop.

Other international and regional organizations – notably the European Union, the African Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – are taking similar steps.  The EU has adopted a “comprehensive approach” for implementing resolutions 1325 and 1820, which includes provisions for building political will, training political and military officials, exchanging information on best practices, cooperating with international actors, monitoring and evaluation.[fn]Council of the European Union, 1 December 2008, Comprehensive Approach to the EU Implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security, available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/hr/news187.pdf
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The EU is also articulating an action plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment, complementing national action plans adopted by nine EU member states.  The Spanish Presidency in the first half of 2010 made gender considerations in the context of armed conflict prevention one of its top priorities.  The EU has reached out to civil society groups, including the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, with which it is developing indicators for it to use on gender considerations.  

The Nordic countries have long shown the way in this agenda, but now they are joined by other governments.  In the United States, a fortified and re-energized office for global women’s affairs was established at the State Department under respected activist Melanne Verveer.  New programs within USAID and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and the leadership of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice are encouraging.  Secretary Clinton highlighted the tragedy of sexual violence during her first visit to Africa, reaffirming the centrality of gender issues to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives globally.  In Congress, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Bill Delahunt have sponsored and gained new support for the International Violence Against Women Act, legislation that outlines comprehensive measures to strengthen  U.S. and UN initiatives on these issues.  A former sponsor, Vice President Joseph Biden, is in a new position to push for its enactment.

But against this backdrop, two “inconvenient” questions bedevil us.  First, has this effort had any tangible effect on the ground?  Substantive and anecdotal evidence suggests that we are making little progress against sexual abuse, impunity and systematic disengagement of women in conflict situations.  Rape continues to be used unabated as a weapon of war.  The voices of women are still excluded from peace tables, resulting in agreements that ill reflect ground truth and fail to bring lasting peace as often as they succeed.   Issues related to trafficking in persons, reproductive health care, girls’ education and accountability for past abuses continue to be lost in the shuffle.  Warring parties still frequently begin peace processes by granting amnesties to each other for heinous crimes committed in the fighting – tantamount to men with guns forgiving other men with guns for atrocities taken against women. 

A second nagging doubt is whether the expression of political will by senior policy-makers has been translated into a higher priority for gender considerations when national security policies are adopted.  Regrettably, strategic decisions are still generally taken with little if any regard for their impact on women.  In the eastern Congo, for example, regional powers were backed by the world’s super-powers and even the United Nations in attacks in 2009 against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  These are indeed horrendous groups, but the attacks produced few if any strategic gains against them and were structured so as to virtually invite massive retaliation against the local population.  The predictable results were targeted rapes against women and massive displacement of hundreds of thousands women-led households.  And it was not just the retaliation of renegade forces that violated international humanitarian law: the very Congolese and Ugandan forces who led the attacks are themselves charged with brutal human rights abuses against women.  Similarly, in Afghanistan, we still hear domestic and even international policy-makers argue that long-term security and counter-insurgency efforts depend upon winning the support of warlords, traditional leaders and even Taliban figures, whom we cannot afford to alienate through an over-emphasis on women’s rights and protection.  

Thus, the real challenges we face are how to translate our growing awareness and activism into concrete improvements on the ground, both by prioritizing these issues in the corridors of power and by ensuring the adoption and implementation of effective programs and projects with rapid impact.  

The Promise of UNSC Resolution 1325

To design an action agenda for UNSC Resolution 1325, it is important to view the resolution in its proper historical context.  Based on the Namibia Plan of Action on “Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations”, adopted in Windhoek in May 2000, the resolution’s eighteen articles called for greater representation of women in national decision making, especially in prevention and resolution of conflict; incorporation of a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations; new financial and logistical support for gender dimensions of peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction; greater consideration of women and girls in resettlement, rehabilitation, and demobilization programs; respect for women’s human rights and an end to impunity for crimes against women; new efforts to combat sexual violence in armed conflict; and greater consultations with local and international women’s groups.[fn]UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 31 October 2000, Women, Peace and Security, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N00/720/18/PDF/N0072018.pdf?OpenElement
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But Resolution 1325 was a product of its times.  It reflected a clear cautiousness among the Security Council members in 2000 about wading into thematic issues and a lack of confidence in declaring that these issues themselves constituted a threat to international peace and security.  Thus, its language is hortatory rather than directive: it “urges,” “encourages,” “requests,” and “invites” rather than “demands” or “instructs.”  The resolution lacks time-bound targets for achieving its goals, accountability or measurement provisions to secure its implementation, working groups or special representatives to monitor and prod action, new funding or personnel dedicated to the issue, reporting mechanisms vis-à-vis the Security Council, watchlists of countries failing to meet its objectives as a naming and shaming exercise, or provisions for sanctions against state and non-state violators.  Contrast this approach with that of UNSC Resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict, which was passed five years later and included each of these provisions.

Some observers believe that these gaps doomed Resolution 1325 from the outset.  This is unfair.  As documented elsewhere in this volume, there has been notable progress within UN structures, especially in terms of awareness, expansion of the numbers and roles for gender advisors, gender training gender for peacekeepers and senior officials, adoption of some outstanding guidelines for field action, development of small-scale and in-situ programs, and more.  But the approaching tenth anniversary of the resolution reminds us that its promise is still largely a dream deferred for women in conflict.  There is a growing realization that October 2010 must not be a celebration, nor even a stock-taking exercise, but an impetus for urgent new action to address the most serious problems.   Concrete steps, elaborated below, must be taken to bring women to the peace table, expand assistance for gender-related post-conflict reconstruction, empower the soon-to-be-established UN women’s entity, strengthen women’s associations in conflict-affected countries, mandate time-bound goals and accountability mechanisms for implementing the resolution, protect displaced women from sexual abuse, engage women in security sectors, and use moral suasion to force member states to make formal commitments to specific actions over the next three years to promote the resolution’s provisions.  

Where We Are; Where We Need to Go

In preparing for the second decade of action under Resolution 1325, UN officials have recognized that the United Nations can accomplish little unless it partners with member states and activists from around the world who can bring their expertise, experience, and especially ground-truth to this exercise.  One key step has been the appointment of a fourteen-member UN Civil Society Advisory Group on Women, Peace and Security, fourteen independent experts to advise senior UN officials on ways to better protect women in conflict situations, and to ensure that their voices are heard in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction and governance structures.”[fn]Members of the panel are Mary Robinson (Ireland) co-chair, Bineta Diop (Senegal) co-chair, Sanam Anderlini (Iran/UK), Thelma Awori (Liberia/Uganda), Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls (Fiji), Lahkdar Brahimi (Algeria), Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda (Zimbabwe), Swanee Hunt (U.S.), Hina Jilani (Pakistan), Elisabeth Rehn (Finland), Zainab Salbi (Iraq/U.S.), Salim Ahmed Salim (Tanzania), Donald Steinberg (U.S.), Susana Villaran de la Puente (Peru)Hide Footnote Its mandate and methodology are instructive. 

As a first step, the advisory group is assessing the status of implementation of Resolution 1325: what has worked well; what has worked at the local or grass-roots level but has not been replicated elsewhere or brought to scale; and where we have simply failed to meet our commitment. 

Second, the advisory group will establish realistic and achievable time-bound goals for the areas of improvement identified.  For example, what percentage of women do we need sitting at peace tables by what year?  What reduction in sexual violence around UN-run camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons must we achieve and by when?  What portion of funds contributed at post-conflict donors conferences must be dedicated to gender-based projects, such as reproductive health care and girls’ education?  The advisory group is supporting UN efforts to identify to devise indicators to measure these outcomes, provisions to identify the entities and individuals are responsible for achieving them, and accountability mechanisms to put pressure behind their implementation.   

Finally, the advisory group is addressing the principal constraints to progress by assessing the institutional changes needed within the UN, other international and regional organizations and member states to facilitate progress.  It is also addressing the need for additional financial and personnel resources, including a quick-disbursing trust fund available to UN officials leading peacekeeping mission to facilitate rapid response to impending situations of sexual violence or other abuses.  The advisory group is also serving as a catalyst to bring the voices and ground-truth of women impacted by armed conflict to the attention of global decision-makers.

A Cautionary Tale from Angola

Before turning to the specific measures that should comprise the action agenda for UNSC Resolution 1325 for the next decade, it is also instructive to review a practical example of the costs of failing to involve women in peace processes.  In this regard, my experience in Angola provides a cautionary tale for our efforts.

In 1994, while serving as President Clinton’s special assistant for African Affairs, I supported negotiations to end two decades of civil war in Angola that had killed a half million people and left four million homeless. When the Lusaka Protocol was signed,[fn]The Lusaka Protocol, signed 15 November 1994, is available at Digital Collection of Peace Agreements, United States Institute of Peace http://www.usip.org/files/file/resources/collections/peace_agreements/lusaka_11151994.pdf
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I was asked by a journalist how the agreement took into account the needs of war-affected women. “Not a single provision in the agreement discriminates against women,” I said, a little too proudly.  “The agreement is gender-neutral.” 

President Clinton then named me ambassador to Angola.  It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda in June 1995 to realize that a peace agreement that calls itself “gender-neutral” is, by definition, discriminatory against women and likely to fail.

First, the agreement did not require the participation of women in the Joint Commission, the peace implementation body.  As a result, a typical meeting of the commission saw 40 men and no women sitting around the table.  This imbalance silenced women’s voices and meant that issues such as sexual violence, human trafficking, abuses by government and rebel security forces, reproductive health care, and girls’ education were given short shrift, if addressed at all.   

The peace accord was based on thirteen separate amnesties that forgave the parties for atrocities committed during the conflict.  One amnesty went so far as to forgive the parties for any action they might take in the coming months.  Given the prominence of sexual abuse during the conflict, the amnesties introduced cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild the justice and security sectors.  In effect, it showed Angolan women, as well as other key civil society actors, that the peace process was intended for the benefit of the ex-combatants and not them.

Similarly, demobilization programs for ex-combatants depended on lists provided by the warring parties.  As a rule, they defined  a combatant as anyone who carried a gun in combat.  Thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced into the armed forces and served as cooks, bearers, messengers and even sex slaves (so-called “bush wives”) were largely excluded.  Further, camps for demobilized soldiers and even for displaced persons were rarely constructed with women in mind, such that women risked rape or death each time they left the camp to collect firewood or used latrines in isolated and dimly-lit settings.

Male ex-combatants received demobilization assistance, but were sent back without skills or education to communities that had learned to live without them during decades of conflict.  As in all such situations, the frustration of these men exploded into an epidemic of alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, rape and domestic violence. This was especially true for young boys, who had never learned how to interact on an equal basis with girls their own ages.  In effect, the end of civil war simply unleashed a new era of violence against women and girls. 

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow four million displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women.  Road clearance sometimes preceded the demining of fields, wells and forests, resulting in premature resettlement and return.  As women in this environment went out to plant the fields, fetch water and collect firewood, they suffered a new rash of landmine accidents.

Over time, we recognized these problems and brought out gender advisers and human rights officers; launched programs in reproductive health care, girls’ education, micro-enterprise, and support for women’s NGOs; and involved women in planning and implementing all our programs.  But by then, civil society – and particularly women – had come to view the peace process as serving only the interests of the warring parties.  When the process faltered in 1998, largely because of the intransigence of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, there was little public pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict, and war soon re-emerged.  Permanent peace only came when Savimbi was killed in February 2002.

A key lesson from this experience is that peace itself is not enough to protect and empower women.  How we make peace determines whether the end of armed conflict means a safer world for women or simply ushers in a different and in some cases more pernicious era of violence against them. 

Sadly, we have not learned this lesson very well, as shown by developments in Afghanistan.  Given the Taliban’s abhorrent record on women’s rights during its reign, it is stunning that that the insurgents are scoring some debate points by arguing that women in Afghanistan today suffer more broadly from the lack of security, corruption, rights abuses and civilian casualties.[fn]See International Crisis Group Asia Report N °158, Taliban Propaganda Winning the War of Words?  24 July 2008Hide Footnote Indeed, advances in political participation by women and school attendance by girls have been offset by a failure to insist on accountability for warlords whose forces committed sexual violence during the years of conflict and continue such abuse today.  Instead, a number of these criminals have been given positions of power. 

The murder of women leaders and human rights defenders in Afghanistan and the failure of the government to identify and prosecute their assailants underline the impression of a lack of national commitment to women’s rights.  Not only has the administration of Hamid Karzai failed to publicly articulate a vision of women’s rights that is both home-grown and consistent with traditional Afghan Islamic society, but it has treated women’s rights as a bargaining chip to win support from traditional leaders.  Thus, it has ceded the debate to those who erroneously argue that such efforts are an alien concept imposed on Afghanistan by foreigners and their Afghan “puppets.”

An Action Plan for Revitalizing UNSC Resolution 1325

We can no longer afford to exclude the talents and insights of half the population in the pursuit of peace or to treat them as mere victims.  Eight specific actions should be prioritized.

First, those charged with leading and supporting peace processes, especially mediators from the UN and regional bodies, should commit to bring women to the table as peace negotiations are conducted and peace agreements are implemented. Around the world, talented women peace builders face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices, and threats of violence make even the most courageous women think twice before stepping forward.  Ground-breaking research under Anne-Marie Goetz, chief advisor for governance, peace and security at UNIFEM. suggests that only one in thirteen participants in peace negotiations since 1992 has been a woman.[fn]UN Development Fund for Women, April 2009, Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections Between Presence and Influence available at http://www.realizingrights.org/pdf/UNIFEM_handout_Women_in_peace_processes_Brief_April_20_2009.pdf.   The research is on-going and data is updated as additional information is received.
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Recent accords in Indonesia, Nepal, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Philippines and the Central African Republic have not had a single woman signatory, mediator, or negotiator.  Of 300 peace agreements negotiated since 1989, just eighteen contain even a passing reference to sexual violence.  Peace accords on Bosnia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia – where such violence was a dominant feature of the fighting – are silent on this issue. 

The usual rejoinder is that there simply are not women capable of participating in these processes due to the male domination of security and conflict resolution issues.  And yet in many of the affected regions, it is women who serve as the mediators of disputes at the community levels; in others, educated and successful women are active in sectors involving similar negotiations, including government, business, law, and academics.[fn]See International Crisis Group Africa Report, N °112, Beyond Victimhood Women’s Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda, 28 June 2006Hide Footnote In northern Uganda, for example, women’s associations such as the Teso Women’s Peace Association, Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative and Gulu District Women’s Development Committee groups have played a key role in local dispute settlement and as peace activists, yet were excluded from negotiations between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In Sudan, the systematic exclusion of women from peace negotiations on Darfur in particular has contributed to the failure of all accords, including the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, notwithstanding the existence of a vast pool of talented and educated Sudanese women, including graduates of the remarkable Afhad University in Khartoum, where some 5,000 women are currently training.

The Security Council must insist that the mandate for every UN peacekeeping mission protects women peacebuilders by providing them personal security and promotes their participation through training, financial stipends, and other means.  The Council should demand that negotiations led by the UN include a critical mass of qualified women on all sides – starting at 25 per cent – even if it takes quotas to do so.[fn]Mona Lena Krook, Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide, Oxford University Press, May 2009Hide Footnote Critics charged that such quotas are an aberration and represent reverse discrimination, but in fact, they are now the norm around the world: for example, political parties and national legislatures in more than 100 countries have quotas for female candidates for elected office. 

Second, bilateral contributors and multilateral institutions should insist that post-conflict recovery packages prioritize issues of importance to women, in particular reproductive health care and girls’ education.  In emergency funding projects to support 23 post-conflict situations since 2006, only 3 per cent included specific funding for women and girls[fn]UN Development Fund for Women, Funding for Women’s Needs within Post-Conflict Needs Assessments (PCNAs), July 2009.  Again, the research is on-going and data is updated as additional information is received.Hide Footnote – this despite our knowledge that girls’ education, for example, is one of the best investments in promoting stable societies, reducing unwanted pregnancies, improving agricultural methods, and eliminating sexual violence.  It has been said: “Educate a boy and you help a person; educate a girl and you help a community.” 

Donors should also help women to attain economic independence through land ownership, micro-enterprise and skills training.  All post-conflict recovery plans should be subjected to gender-impact analysis and specify the funds dedicated to women’s needs.  At the same time, gender considerations must be mainstreamed, such that the health minister views reproductive health care as a top priority, the commerce minister promotes women’s engagement in all levels of business activity, the education minister stresses girls’ education from primary to tertiary levels, and so on.  Women’s issues are too important to be left to the women’s ministry alone.

Third, the countries most instrumental in creating the new UN women’s entity must ensure that it has the power, resources, and global reach to make a real difference.  The creation of this office was a Faustian bargain: advocates abandoned their dream of a single agency with global reach and a billion dollars in dedicated funding, a so-called "UNICEF for Women."  In exchange, the General Assembly agreed to create a high-level office to oversee the significant but often competing contributions of UNIFEM, the Special Adviser for Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and other bodies, and to raise the profile of women’s issues at the UN Secretariat in New York and in UN missions abroad.  The EU and U.S. in particular must extend generous voluntary contributions and political support needed for the head of this office to be a forceful and ever-present advocate throughout the UN system and beyond.  The new under-secretary-general must be a world-class figure, with the capacity to generate public attention, mobilize political will among governments and “work” the UN system.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must give her – yes, it should be a woman – the  respect and resources needed to do her job, including direct access to the General Assembly and Security Council.

Fourth, bilateral donors and multilateral institutions should expand assistance for private women’s groups in conflict-affected countries.  Civil society organizations are often the first victims of the polarization that accompanies internal armed conflicts.  Women must have the institutional strength to influence local and global decisions that impact their lives.  They should identify women’s organizations as local implementing partners for projects: contracts for the distribution of humanitarian assistance, dispute resolution and election monitoring can be of even greater support than programs directed specifically at institutional strengthening, especially if accompanied by mentoring programs.  The principle must be: “Nothing about us without us.”

The training provided by the NGO, “Pact”, is instructive.  Among its other programs, Pact organizes long-term training and mentoring program for promising local non-governmental organizations in the basics of management, grant proposal drafting, bookkeeping to international standards, and so on, and then supports these NGOs throughout their development process.[fn]More information about Pact is available at http://www.pactworld.org/cs/who_we_are/welcome.Hide Footnote In 2009, Pact assisted more than 12,000 organizations in 62 countries, including groundbreaking women’s empowerment projects under its “Worth” program. 

Fifth, the Security Council must demand that the UN adopt time-bound goals backed by monitoring, accountability provisions and enforcement mechanisms for reducing violence against women, ensuring participation of women in peace processes, providing reconstruction resources to projects of interest to women, and the like.  The UN is currently engaging is a useful exercise to identify indicators in this regard in line with Resolution 1889, but the process must go further in mandating rewards for UN institutions and individuals for achieving these objectives and punishment for failing to do so.  Further, to bring Resolution 1325 up to date, the Security Council should establish a permanent working group on sexual violence; a watch-list of countries and non-state actors of concern to be named and shamed into improving their records; periodic reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council on these issues; and the enshrined principle that sanctions can be imposed on governments and non-state actors that abuse or fail to protect women.  Similar measures should be prioritized at regional organizations, including the African Union, the Organization of American States and ASEAN. 

Sixth, international humanitarian community should join together to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in conflict: those displaced from their homes and seeking refuge in camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs).  A priority should be to prevent the rape of women and girls during the collection of fuel; an expansion of livelihood, health, and education programs; mainstreaming of psycho-social considerations in all protection and services; training for camp managers and protection forces alike; proper configuration of camps and engagement of women refugees and IDPs in decision-making on these issues.  Excellent guidelines are now in place from various UN bodies, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, on gender-based violence interventions in these humanitarian settings.[fn]UN High Commissioner for Refugees May 2003, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response, available at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=3edcd0661&page=search


Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings: Focusing on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence In Emergencies,  September 2005 at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/439474c74.html; Inter-Agency Standing Committee Protection Cluster Working Group, 2007,Gender-Based Violence, Part, V.4 Inter-Agency Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons, available at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=4790cbc02&page=searchHide Footnote
However, knowledge of these guidelines is incomplete and sometimes non-existent among host governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), displaced persons, peacekeeping forces and even implementing UN agencies.  The systematic implementation is even sketchier, reflecting not only a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the guidelines, but also inadequate financial and personnel resources, lack of high-level attention and prioritization, weak coordination, the absence of goals and indicators needed to hold individuals and institutions accountable.[fn]One recent example of this failure is in the humanitarian response to the earthquake in Haiti.  Despite clear IASC guidance regarding the design of sanitation efforts in humanitarian settings, as of April 2010, latrines were  not divided between men and women in most IDP facilities, they did not as have inside locks, and there was insufficient lighting.  A predictable and preventable pattern of rape and other sexual abuse resulted in these areas.
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The global body for official humanitarian agencies, the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, recently adopted guidance on addressing rape in the context of firewood collection, including the provision of cooking fuel in humanitarian settings, based on recommendations from the Women’s Refugee Commission and other advocacy groups.[fn]See Women’s Refugee Commission, Beyond Firewood: Fuel Alternatives and Protection Strategies for Displaced Women and Girls, March 2006, available at http://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/docs/fuel.pdf; Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood & Alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings, April 2009, Matrix on Agency Roles and Responsibilities for Ensuring a Coordinated, Multi-sectoral Fuel Strategy in Humanitarian Settings Version 1.1 available at, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4ac5f1b22.pdfHide Footnote The donor community should ensure funding to implement these provisions fully, starting with the high-risk regions of Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, and the huge Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Seventh, leading external supporters of security sector reform in post-conflict situations – the EU, U.S. and UN in particular – should ensure that their support to rebuild and reform armies, police and other security forces includes effective training in gender issues for all personnel and requires ample incorporation of women into those forces.  Bringing women into these forces is particularly important to ensure that women who have been abused will come forward with their accusations, as is establishing “family safety units” within police systems  Foreign troop-contributors should also lead by example: the presence all-female peacekeeping units – such as the Indian battalion in Liberia – is a welcome novelty, but it is far from enough.  The EU and U.S. should commit to providing teams of women military observers to peacekeeping mission and ceasefire monitoring teams.  NATO, the African Union, African sub-regional organizations and other sources of peacekeeping forces should adopt similar programs.

Finally, there must be new financial resources dedicated to these efforts, provided both through assessed and voluntary contributions.  There must be a quantum leap in the resources dedicated to these issues, especially for projects in conflict impacted countries – $1 billion per year, or just about 30 cents per woman.  An important initiative to mark the tenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 would be a global presidential- or ministerial-level pledging conference, where member states would be under international suasion to come forward with formal commitments on concrete actions they will take over the next three years to promote the resolution’s provisions.  Partnerships should be encouraged, perhaps linking new resources from donor countries and new political will from conflicted-affected countries, on the model of the commitments made under the Clinton Global Initiative.[fn] The Clinton Global Initiative brings together international civil society actors, the business community, governments, foundations and international organizations to make joint commitments to achieve time-bound goals in key social and economic sectors.  Since its formation in 2005, the initiative has fostered  1,700 commitments generating some $57 billion in new resources.Hide Footnote

How to Make it Happen: Lessons from Resolution 1820

What lessons can advocates of this agenda learn and adapt from the success in promoting action in international bodies over the past two years?  Key lessons come from the efforts of like-minded advocates in civil society, the UN Secretariat and key member states during the first half of 2008 to pass a Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict.

Growing recognition of the rising phenomenon of rape used as a weapon of war set the stage for action in early 2008, but it was advocates recognized that it was important to document and personalize the phenomenon. The importance of data from the ground on the patterns and prevalence of sexual violence in conflict cannot be overstressed.  The most important use of such data is in developing projects and policies to prevent such violence and assist its victims[fn]Key insights can be derived from identifying the profile of perpetrators, for example.  If most rapes are carried out by government security forces, then there is a clear need for expanded programs of security sector reform, prosecution of individual soldiers/police and their commanders, expansion of the numbers of women in security forces and new training in protection of civilians.  A different kind of intervention is required if most rapes are perpetrated rebel forces, family members or unknown assailants.  Similarly, if the data show broad unreported numbers of rapes, there should be steps to facilitate women’s access to the justice system, to bring women into the police forces and expand community policing, to look at social mores that condone such behavior and to conduct civic education programs to make individuals aware of their rights.Hide Footnote , but hard numbers also help create political will so that policy-makers are prepared to dedicate scarce resources – including their own attention – to the problem.  There are three critical elements: first, credible data to show that the problem is real and pressing; second, a convincing linkage between addressing the problem and achieving broader policy objectives; and third, a credible case to show that a reasonable application of resources and attention can, if not solve, at least make a tangible improvement in the problem.  Put simply: is real, important, and solvable?   Elsewhere, I have referred to the need to meet a “threshold of credibility.”[fn]Speech by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group, given 17 December 2008 (Geneva) to UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, Combatting Sexual Violence in Conflict: Using Facts From the GroundHide Footnote

The "poster child" of this effort was the tragic situation in eastern Congo.  Personal accounts of sexual assaults was vital. Visits to foreign capitals by victims of rapes and those who treat them – including the courageous Dr. Denis Mukwege, who directs the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which treats rape victims from the region – had a major impact.[fn]Further information on the work of Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu available at http://www.panzihospitalbukavu.org/Hide Footnote But it was important to go beyond testimonials and be able to say with full confidence that there were 27,000 reported cases of rape in the South Kivu province of eastern Congo, or some 70 every day.

The fifteen ambassadors to the Security Council, all men, were lobbied by advocates, including their spouses. For example, they were made to watch films on sexual violence, such as the graphic The Greatest Silence by director Lisa Jackson.[fn]Lisa Jackson, The Greatest Silence, 2007.  For more information, upcoming screenings and events,  and DVD purchase, see http://thegreatestsilence.org/Hide Footnote Efforts by UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, including the hosting of a conference on peacekeepers’ role in preventing  sexual violence at Wilton Park outside London, helped personally invest key policy-makers such as U.S. Ambassador Zalmy Khalilzad in this effort.  Support from like-minded UN missions and Secretariat officials was essential.  Pressure also came from U.S. Congressman Bill Delahunt, who headed the House of Representatives oversight for the United Nations and held hearings on the effect of conflict on women in advance of the Security Council debate.[fn]Bill Delahunt, Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, UN Security Council 1325:Recognizing Women’s Vital Role in Achieving Peace and Security, Thursday 15 May 2008, at http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=988Hide Footnote

The result was UNSC Resolution 1820, passed on June 19, 2008 under the U.S. presidency of the Council.  The resolution breaks new ground by mandating wide-ranging and concrete actions by the UN Secretariat, member states and non-state actors to combat sexual violence in conflict.  Its passage is clear evidence of the wisdom of Margaret Mead’s statement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”[fn]The efforts of two talented and dedicated officers – Laurie Phipps and Phil Staltonstall at the U.S. and UK missions to the UN respectively – cannot be overstated. Hide Footnote

But even in this success story, there is a cautionary note.  Members of the Security Council were by no means satisfied that they had a clear picture of the phenomenon.  Resolution 1820 called for an "analysis of prevalence and trends, benchmarks for measuring progress, and plans for a lasting solution to the dearth of reliable sexual violence data."  It was as if the Council was saying to the advocates: "We know this is a serious problem, but we do not know enough about what is going on or how to address it."  This gap has delayed its implementation and even required the adoption of additional measures – UNSC Resolutions 1888 and 1889 – more than a year later to give real teeth to the efforts.

The Road Ahead

We must move beyond words, resolutions and stock-taking exercises to establish and implement an ambitious but achievable agenda for action on women and armed conflict.  The success of our efforts will not be measured by the reports we issue, the resolutions and legislation we pass, the publicity we generate or even the money we spend.  It will be measured by the degree to which we protect the lives and well-being of women and girls faced with the horrors of war; empower them to play their rightful and vital role in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction and governance; prevent armed thugs from abusing them in conditions of displacement; hold government security forces and warlords alike accountable for sexual abuses; prevent traffickers from turning women and girls into commodities; build strong civil society networks for women; and end the stigma of victimization that confronts women leaders.   

This dream embodied in UNSC Resolution 1325 must be deferred no longer.  Langston Hughes reminds us of the incumbent risks: “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Or fester like a sore – and then run?  Does it stink like rotten meat?  Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”[fn]Rampersad, A. & Roessel, D (Eds.). 1995, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics: LondonHide Footnote

 

EU Watch List / Global

Watch List 2021 – Spring Update

Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.

Table of Contents

Introduction

European leaders hoping that a new U.S. administration and COVID vaccines would bring some respite to tempestuous global affairs might look back disappointed at the past few months. A lot has happened since Crisis Group put out our last EU Watch List in January. Despite some bright spots, little of it has been good.

First was the Myanmar coup; an entry in this update covers where things stand. The military takeover upended the country’s short experiment with pluralism and provoked a degree of popular fury the generals seemed unprepared for. Though they appear eager for a return to the normalcy, their brutal crackdown has taken the country in the opposite direction. With the economy in tatters, a humanitarian calamity worsening, ethnic armed groups renewing violence and new militias emerging, the crisis risks paving the way for state collapse.

Then, new U.S. President Joe Biden announced he would pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan, meaning European forces will leave, too, by mid-September this year at the latest. Biden characterised the decision as reflecting his administration’s reduced prioritisation of Afghanistan amid other threats and challenges around the world. He also explained that he did not see a rationale for keeping troops in Afghanistan if it was not likely they would improve conditions there. This line of reasoning was an implicit rejection of Washington’s longstanding policy of using the deployment as an insurance policy against resurgence of terrorist threats. For many Afghans, the drawdown brings dread. Much is uncertain, but another escalation in fighting – in a country that has already suffered more than four decades of war – appears the most plausible scenario, as insurgents test how far they can go against Afghan security forces. European governments, which have put their diplomatic support behind Afghan peace talks and their financial support behind the Afghan government, will have their work cut out to promote stability if that happens.

There were troubling signs in those parts of sub-Saharan Africa Europe tends to fret about most. In January, our Watch List covered Ethiopia’s rocky transition – things since have gotten worse. The war in its northern Tigray region grinds on, with evidence of horrific abuses by all sides, including scorched-earth tactics by Eritrean forces fighting alongside the Ethiopian army against Tigrayan rebels. Trouble is brewing elsewhere in the country, with ethnic strife on the rise ahead of elections expected in June. Ethiopia is also at loggerheads with Sudan over border areas. Violence continues to destabilise much of the rural Sahel. To make matters worse, as this goes to press, the Malian military has detained the country’s interim president and prime minister, who themselves came to power after a coup less than a year ago. In Chad, President Idriss Déby died in April near front lines fighting rebels, raising fears in European capitals about Chad’s stability and what his death would mean for battles against jihadists around the Sahel and Lake Chad that Déby portrayed himself as pivotal to – though, thus far, his son, who has taken over, has kept Chadian deployments in place. Whether these events will prompt any further reflection in European capitals about the French-led military-focused strategy across the Sahel remains unclear.

Then came the latest flare-up in Israel-Palestine. After weeks of tensions in Jerusalem and heavy-handed Israeli policing at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hamas began firing rockets into Israel, prompting an Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Over eleven days of fighting, 243 Palestinians, including scores of Hamas fighters and 66 children, and twelve people in Israel including two children, died. Much of Gaza was left in ruins. It was the fourth Gaza war since 2007 but this round was different, notably in the violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians wracking cities in Israel itself and the displays of solidarity among Palestinians across the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Israel. Beyond the human cost, the war should serve as a wake-up call that, notwithstanding Israel’s normalisation with some Arab governments and many European leaders’ apparent desire to wish the conflict away, it remains a dangerous flashpoint. Unless Israel and international actors re-examine their long­standing approach to the conflict by taking into account Palestinians’ shared suffering and apparent newfound common voice, and unless Palestinians have the chance to elect a new leadership, it’s only a matter of time before rockets and bombs start again.

Nor it is clear that an end to COVID-19 is in sight. If much of Europe is ploughing ahead with vaccines and anticipating summer holidays, the pandemic’s ravages in India, Brazil and elsewhere show the struggles in other parts of the world to get it under control. Until now, COVID-19 has little shaped  peace and security or the trajectory of any major war one way or the other. Yet, in many places, the pandemic and lockdowns have aggravated precisely those problems that fed discontent beforehand: rising inequality, higher living costs, scarcer public resources, fewer opportunities for young people. Today’s upheaval across Colombia, for example, or the protests in northern Lebanon some months ago, have not primarily been about COVID-19. But the pandemic played into the anger that took people to the streets. Unless the virus can be tamed and economies pick up, those protests may be a harbinger of things to come. The EU played a key role in setting up and supporting COVAX, which helps distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. That support is likely to be crucial for some time to come.

As for major power politics, Biden has brought more continuity than change. European leaders can feel some relief at the shift in tone and sense of normalcy that has returned to transatlantic affairs and the UN Security Council. Still, U.S.-China ties are as fraught as ever. For Brussels, the balancing act remains largely the same: standing up to Beijing where it serves Europe’s interests, managing with as little friction as possible any divergence with Washington, and keeping open avenues for coordination on issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Russia’s troop build-up near its border with Ukraine earlier this year drove home again, as our entry below covers, the dilemmas it poses Western powers. Moscow appears to be withdrawing those forces, but the show of strength aggravated already toxic relations, coming together with tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between Western capitals and Moscow, related to Czech findings of Russian sabotage, and fresh U.S. sanctions on Moscow for, among other things, its alleged cyberattacks and election interference. As we go to press, European leaders had just agreed to impose fresh Belarus sanctions in response to President Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s brazen forced diversion of a European flight over his country’s airspace – characterised by some as state terror – to detain a Belarus dissident. As yet, no evidence suggests Moscow was involved, but it has publicly defended Minsk. Increased friction between Brussels and Lukashenka, a Putin ally, is unlikely to do much for Russia-West relations.

So where were the bright spots? Those lie – perhaps unexpectedly – in early rumblings of efforts to mend the rivalries that have fuelled Arab wars over the past decade. Turkish and Egyptian diplomats appear to have agreed to tamp down acrimonious rhetoric. The Gulf Cooperation Council spat is formally over, and while bad blood remains between Abu Dhabi and Doha, there are signs of reconciliation within the bloc. (Libya’s peace deal owes mostly to a fighting stalemate but cooling hostility among the parties’ outside backers – Turkey and Qatar on one side, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt on the other – is part of the story.) Even Saudi Arabia and Iran are talking; their representatives met in Iraq to discuss Yemen. These apparent recalibrations may be partly motivated by Biden eyeing a return to the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawing his predecessor’s unconditional support for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. How much they’ll achieve remains unclear: Yemen’s war, as our entry below makes clear, is still going from bad to worse; competition among Gulf powers in the Horn of Africa appears undimmed. Still, given the destruction those enmities have wrought over the past decade, any stirring of change qualifies as good news.

May 2021

Bolivia: Shifting Loyalties Complicate Route to Reconciliation

The turmoil that followed Bolivia’s disputed 2019 election has subsided, but the country’s deep political wounds remain unhealed. Credible and largely uneventful polls in October 2020 installed Luis Arce as president and returned Evo Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, laying to rest fears that a fresh election dispute would trigger another round of unrest. But while citizens’ faith in the electoral authorities has mostly been restored, the tensions of the past two years linger on.

Fierce disagreement persists about the 2019 polls, which led to Morales’ resignation and were declared null after a wave of post-electoral violence. On one side of the political divide are those who continue to see that election as an attempt at massive fraud aimed at prolonging Morales’ grip on power beyond constitutional limits; on the other are those who regard it as a coup orchestrated by Bolivia’s white elites, the military and their international allies, including the Organization of American States (OAS). Political polarisation deepened under the right-wing interim government led by Jeanine Áñez, which held power between the two elections, and was widely seen to be persecuting MAS members and political allies. Now that the MAS has come back to power, Áñez and several of her ministers have been jailed, stirring up still more political resentment and mistrust, and reinforcing the perception that the courts are in thrall to the government and bend to its dictates.

The path to reconciliation is hardly clear.

The path to reconciliation is hardly clear. President Arce came to power offering conciliatory rhetoric, and his government quickly unveiled an ambitious proposal to overhaul the politicised judicial system, which is a perennial source of partisan division. But any hope for a new tone disappeared in the rancorous run-up to regional and local elections, in which the MAS fared poorly amid growing internal tensions. Public discontent with the government, meanwhile, is mounting over poor management of the pandemic and a deepening economic slump. Although the EU and UN, as well as politicians such as Vice President David Choquehuanca and presidential runner-up Carlos Mesa, have mooted various plans for political and social reconciliation, their prospects look remote.

In these circumstances, the European Union (EU) and its member states should:

  • Continue working with the UN and other donors to provide technical assistance to national and local electoral authorities so as to guarantee transparent and credible polls in the future.
  • To reduce the polarising impact of perceived judicial partisanship on Bolivian politics, encourage the Arce administration to carry out comprehensive judicial reform on the basis of consultations with all political parties and civil society, while simultaneously moving forward on short-term goals, such as legal reforms to help address violence against women.
  • Press the Arce administration to ensure that the measures it takes with respect to Áñez are consistent with constitutional requirements.
  • Together with the UN and Catholic Church, help foster local dialogues aimed at preventing flare-ups of violence and build the conditions for an eventual national reconciliation process.

Political Fragmentation

Arce was elected president of Bolivia with 55 per cent of the vote after a turbulent year during which the administration of interim President Áñez was accused of human rights violations and using the pandemic to remain in power beyond its mandate. The election went smoothly. With EU and UN support, and with the widely respected Salvador Romero at the helm of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, the electoral authorities persuaded most Bolivians that the polls were free and fair. But peaceful polls and a landslide victory for the MAS over centrist Mesa (of the Civic Community party) and right-wing radical Luis Fernando Camacho (of the Creemos party) did not mean that Bolivia has united behind the MAS, as the results of March’s local and regional elections proved. The party won only three of nine races for state governor, and it now controls only two of the country’s biggest cities.

There are several explanations for the MAS’s lacklustre showing in the March polls. Back from exile in Argentina, Morales took control of the campaign. He placed his preferred candidates on the MAS slate, shunted aside popular figures such as Eva Copa, the young woman who led the Senate under the interim government, and turned off some traditional MAS voters in the process. The party also lost the support of voters who had expected the Arce administration to chart a course to domestic reconciliation, and who were disappointed when the new president declared a broad amnesty protecting his allies from being charged with serious crimes committed during the Áñez administration’s tenure. Morales found himself openly confronted by disgruntled former supporters, and well-known candidates defected from the party.

The new MAS-led government also faced growing criticism over its handling of COVID-19, especially regarding a lack of vaccines, and the public perception that it is not doing enough to respond to the related economic crisis. These widening divisions within the party as well as the MAS’s loss of support among its traditional constituencies represent a major shift in Bolivian politics. For example, many Aymara, an indigenous group that has historically supported Morales, shifted their allegiance to a new party founded by ex-MAS members, Jallalla. Significant numbers of small-hold farmers and the urban poor, who in the past were core MAS supporters, switched to other indigenous and leftist parties, such as Movement Third System.

These widening divisions within the party as well as the MAS’s loss of support among its traditional constituencies represent a major shift in Bolivian politics.

At the same time, the opposition has fragmented. The election of Camacho, who in 2019 mobilised thousands of supporters to demand Morales’ removal from office, as governor of Santa Cruz proved his enduring popular appeal among hardline opposition forces in some areas. Mesa’s Civic Community, a more moderate movement, holds 30 per cent of the seats in parliament, but was essentially absent from the local election battle.

“Lawfare” and Justice Reform

Political manipulation of the judiciary, widely known in Latin America as “lawfare”, has become one of the most distinctive and divisive characteristics of Bolivian political life. In the aftermath of the 2019 election, the Áñez administration brought politically tinged charges against Morales and others for sedition and terrorism. In turn, the Arce administration is levelling similar charges at Áñez, leading to her imprisonment since 12 March.

While evidence suggests that Áñez should face trial for grave crimes committed during her administration’s tenure, including the massacres of Senkata and Sacaba where at least nineteen people protesting Morales’ ouster were killed by Bolivian security forces, the way the Arce administration is prosecuting her is likely to increase the public’s sense that the judiciary is politicised. Among other issues, the constitution provides that former presidents are immune from normal prosecution through judicial channels for their actions while in power, and that they can only be tried by Congress. But in the present case, the government has determined that it lacks the votes in parliament to secure a guilty verdict, and admitted that it is therefore building a case against Áñez in the courts (which are widely viewed as lacking independence) based on her alleged role in what the administration characterises as a coup against Morales, despite scant evidence of her involvement.

Human rights organisations issued rapid condemnations of the Bolivian government’s imprisonment of Áñez and apparent use of the justice system to perpetuate a cycle of political revenge. The EU, UN, OAS and U.S. were similarly critical. This outside pressure helped convince La Paz not to file charges against other members of the interim government, but Áñez remains in jail, and some MAS factions have pushed back hard against the criticism, including through social media attacks on a disapproving European Parliament resolution. It is unlikely that these factions will soften their stance.

Efforts to reform the judicial system and break the cycle of revenge justice have thus far made little headway.

Against this backdrop, efforts to reform the judicial system and break the cycle of revenge justice have thus far made little headway. A reform proposal advanced by Justice Minister Iván Lima in December 2020 foundered in the face of lack of political backing from MAS leadership. A proposed referendum that would alter the way in which judges are elected – which now allows the party controlling Congress to decide who is on the slate – has been postponed until after the next judicial election, scheduled for 2023. Several high-profile members of an advisory council formed by the Arce government to pilot judicial reform have resigned, complaining that they had met only once.

Recommendations for the EU and Its Member States

To avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the 2019 elections, it will be important for Bolivian authorities to continue building public confidence in the electoral system. The EU should impress on the Arce administration the importance of maintaining an independent and impartial Superior Electoral Tribunal, and work closely with Dina Chuquimia, who replaced Romero after his resignation, to build on the progress achieved over the last year.

Additionally, the EU, in partnership with the UN, should continue to provide support to the Tribunal to strengthen its ability to run transparent and reliable elections, through technical assistance to improve vote counting; the purchase of better equipment and electoral materials; the design of a communications strategy that explains to the public the vote-tallying process and strengthens faith in its transparency; and the training of Tribunal staff, among other measures. Similarly, the Ombudsman’s Office and others have identified specific weaknesses in local electoral bodies that need to be addressed – in particular better training of local staff, guaranteeing that poll workers speak the indigenous language of the surrounding area and providing election materials that help voters understand their choices. The EU and member states that are already active in this area, such as Sweden, should extend their partnership with the UN and other donors to provide these electoral authorities with the technical and material support they require.

Given the corrosive and polarising impact of perceived judicial partisanship on Bolivian politics, the EU should also work with the Arce administration where possible to advance judicial reform efforts. Even if key parts of the planned reform are on hold, the EU and member states should continue to insist on improving the justice system, and press, among other things, for an increase in spending in this area (currently only 0.38 per cent of GDP) to allow for the creation of specialised courts, the appointment of more judges to ease case delays in the courts, and broader public access. The Arce administration should signal its commitment to ending politicised justice by developing a strategy to ensure that Áñez is treated in accordance with the constitution.

The EU could also support the justice ministry in pushing forward changes it has highlighted as priorities and that have broad political support; for example, modifications to Law 348 to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence. Bolivia has one of the highest numbers of femicides on the continent, and high levels of violence targeting women in politics. It could also partner with suitable national institutions and organisations to help modernise judicial bodies and give all Bolivians access to the judicial system.

Finally, together with the UN and Catholic Church, the EU should keep mediating political and social disputes that threaten to spill over into violence, as it has done since 2019. More substantial steps toward political reconciliation of the sort proposed by Mesa – including freeing political prisoners, prosecuting violent acts that took place between October 2019 and October 2020 (which would require reversal of the amnesty), and reinstating the two-thirds majority for certain legislative procedures to encourage greater inter-party cooperation (a threshold abolished in October 2020 by the MAS-controlled Assembly) – have been dismissed by the MAS but should still be on the table.

The EU and member states, together with well-regarded institutions such as the Catholic Church, should additionally offer political and, where needed, financial support for dialogue-based initiatives around specific issues that have established their worth. For example, altercations recently flared among coca growers (controlled growth of the plant is legal in Bolivia) after the government decided to move the location of one of two national coca markets, leading to protests and then a violent crack­down on protesters’ roadblocks. International mediation on issues such as this one could help minimise the chances that local frictions provoke wider unrest and instability, and progressively build the conditions for a national reconciliation process.

 

Help Contain the Damage of Myanmar’s Military Coup

The 1 February coup d’état in Myanmar has undone a decade of liberalisation, triggered a deep economic crisis, led to renewed ethnic armed conflict and set the country on the path toward possible state collapse. The security forces have responded to widespread popular resistance to the military takeover with brutal violence against demonstrators and the broader civilian population – killing hundreds and detaining thousands with the apparent aim of terrorising people into submission. Instead, resistance movements appear to have become even more determined, continuing to organise general strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Conflict has also resumed or escalated in several of the country’s ethnic areas as armed groups have deserted the peace process and attacked security forces. The economic meltdown prompted by the coup and the near collapse of many government functions, including the health and education systems, will have far-reaching and lasting consequences for Myanmar’s 55 million people. A humanitarian emergency is already in the making, as millions, particularly in cities, are pushed into poverty and face rising food insecurity.

The EU and its member states can help address the crisis in Myanmar by:

  • Channelling significant aid to address both the impending humanitarian emergency and longer-term needs relating to health, education and livelihoods; working to improve coordination among UN agencies, donors and implementing partners to ensure this aid’s efficient delivery; and urgently funding independent media;
  • Supporting regional diplomacy, particularly Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-led efforts, to boost the ASEAN special envoy’s legitimacy in engaging with the regime in a robust and effective manner; and backing efforts to convene an international contact group on Myanmar;
  • Maintaining and expanding targeted sanctions on the regime, the military and their business interests;
  • Continuing to engage closely with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and the National Unity Government as well as other legitimate representatives of the Myanmar people;
  • Ensuring that the EU arms embargo is strictly enforced and sufficiently covers dual-use items and technological tools of surveillance and repression; working with EU partners to develop a coordinated list of prohibited items; and sharing information with like-minded countries on efforts to block transfers on a voluntary basis.

A Multi-dimensional Crisis

After grossly miscalculating how Myanmar’s people would react to the 1 February coup, the regime appears determined to impose its will on the population through sheer brutality. Snipers have shot unarmed protesters, including children, in the head. Police and soldiers have attacked protest barricades with rifle grenades and mortars, targeted medical first responders and fired randomly into crowds, at passing vehicles and even into homes at night. State television has broadcast photos of detainees bearing clear signs of torture, possibly as a warning to others against resisting the coup. Some female detainees have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence during interrogations. These actions, no doubt intended to terrorise, have not achieved their goals. On the contrary, they have fuelled further resistance by inflaming the already simmering hatred of the military across the country. Although the regime almost entirely shut down the internet, general strikes and civil disobedience continue – with young female activists playing particularly prominent roles – and people keep finding new ways to express their dissent, for example by replacing demonstrations with flash mobs in order to avoid arrest. Close to four months on, the military is struggling to consolidate its power grab.

As a result of the violence, absence of governance, and strikes and civil disobedience, which also affect the private sector, Myanmar’s economy is falling apart.

As a result of the violence, absence of governance, and strikes and civil disobedience, which also affect the private sector, Myanmar’s economy is falling apart. Many have lost their jobs. Income-generating opportunities in the informal sector are drying up and the banking system is at a virtual standstill. Many people have great difficulty taking out cash due to Central Bank-mandated withdrawal limits, while the regime’s internet shutdown has prevented most from access to electronic banking and payment services. The combination of the banking crisis with a collapse in business and consumer confidence, widespread insecurity, and broken logistics and supply chains has resulted in a hard stop to economic activity, and the UN Development Programme now estimates that nearly half of Myanmar’s population risks falling into poverty by 2022.

At this rate, the poverty crisis will soon become a hunger crisis. Food markets are dysfunctional, with some staples unavailable, and surging prices for others. That many people are without income or access to cash leaves them unable to buy what food there is. On 22 April, the World Food Programme warned that up to 3.4 million additional people in Myanmar would struggle to afford food in the next three to six months, particularly in urban areas.

Likewise, the public health and education systems have all but collapsed, as the vast majority of medical staff and teachers – most of them women – refuse to work for the regime. Schools, already closed for months due to COVID-19, have seen their planned reopening stall due to striking teachers and parents afraid for their children’s safety. Many public hospitals and clinics are shuttered, and soldiers have converted others, in key city locations, into forward operating bases after evicting the patients. COVID-19 testing and treatment have virtually stopped and the vaccination program is far behind schedule. With regular childhood vaccinations in jeopardy and key imported pharmaceuticals in short supply, public health experts are worried that a decade of progress in improving basic health care and tackling infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will now be lost.

Meanwhile, armed conflict is increasing in several of the country’s ethnic areas. While full-scale conflict between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups has not yet erupted, clashes have escalated significantly since the coup. In some regions, such as Kachin and Kayin States, the situation is edging toward a resumption of all-out conflict, with the regime even resorting to airstrikes – including upon civilian targets. Several armed groups have put an end to existing ceasefires – some under pressure from their own constituencies to oppose the coup. While some may choose not to, it is now clear that the formal peace process for a negotiated political solution to Myanmar’s numerous ethnic conflicts is dead. Any hope of resolving the Rohingya crisis in the foreseeable future has also evaporated.

Another significant development is the formation of civil defence forces or militias by local communities, including in Sagaing and Magway Regions and Chin State. Armed with locally made hunting rifles as well as a small number of assault weapons and grenades, these groups are not capable of confronting experienced and well-armed army units, but they are able to use local knowledge of the terrain to harass and ambush soldiers, including in urban environments. Underground resistance groups are also carrying out improvised explosive device and arson attacks on regime targets and government administrative offices in Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere, while hundreds of protesters have travelled from cities to non-government-controlled areas to receive military training from ethnic armed groups.

Growing conflict and insecurity in many parts of the country, coupled with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis, may lead to significant population flows both internally and across the country’s borders.

Responding to the Crisis

With no sign of either an end to violence or a return to civilian rule, the EU and member states should take a number of steps to respond to the coup and its aftermath.

The first is to make urgent preparations to provide significant levels of support to ordinary people in order to address not only the looming humanitarian emergency but also longer-term needs related to the collapse of the health and education systems and the loss of livelihoods. The EU has already provided an extra €9 million for urgent humanitarian relief, but suspended its development assistance in March as a result of the coup. In order to deliver aid at scale while bypassing traditional mechanisms now under the junta’s control, the EU and member states should explore working through NGO and civil society channels (while protecting them from being overwhelmed or put at risk), multi-donor funds and UN agencies if possible, and local government systems as appropriate. To ensure efficient delivery of such aid, the EU should advocate for the nomination of a senior UN envoy for relief and recovery planning, who could be appointed by the Secretary-General to bring coherence and coordination to UN agencies’, donors’ and implementing partners’ responses to the crisis. With Myanmar’s media under immense pressure, Brussels should also urgently fund independent media outlets, who play a vital role in getting reliable information to the population and the outside world.

While the ongoing ASEAN-led process has significant limitations, it is the only diplomatic initiative under way and arguably the only platform for engaging both the regime and representatives of the elected civilian government.

Secondly, the EU should support global and regional diplomatic efforts to address the crisis. While the ongoing ASEAN-led process has significant limitations, it is the only diplomatic initiative under way and arguably the only platform for engaging both the regime and representatives of the elected civilian government. The EU should support it with the objective of making it more robust and effective, including by pushing for the speedy nomination of an ASEAN special envoy to help address the crisis and by pressing the junta to permit the envoy to travel to Myanmar as soon as possible. The EU should also back the convening of a contact group on Myanmar comprising key regional and Western countries, an idea that has been quietly discussed and that could usefully complement the ASEAN process. Finally, the Union and its member states should continue to engage closely with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (a group of parliamentarians elected in November 2020) and the National Unity Government that it has appointed, as well as other representatives of Myanmar’s people, such as ethnic leaders (including Rohingya).

Thirdly, the EU should continue to develop its framework of restrictive measures. It should continue to expand targeted sanctions on the military and its business interests, members of the regime, its cabinet, senior police and military officers, and military-owned or -linked companies. It should, however, refrain from revoking Myanmar’s access to the Everything But Arms trade scheme that gives developing country products tariff-free access to the single market, as the impact would fall on workers – mainly young women from poor families employed in the garment industry – and there are no indications that such a move would create leverage over the regime.

Finally, the EU should strictly enforce its arms embargo and make sure that it sufficiently covers dual-use items and technological tools of surveillance and repression. The EU and its member states should work to develop with other partner countries a coordinated list of prohibited items and share information on their efforts to block transfers of such items. This step would create a framework for like-minded countries to coordinate constraints on the military.

Halting the Deepening Turmoil in Nigeria’s North West

Nigeria’s North West is sliding deeper into crisis. Criminal gangs, some of which started out as ethnic militias or vigilante groups, have proliferated in the region. These gangs are gaining in strength – adding recruits, arming themselves more heavily and carrying out far more audacious attacks on both civilian and military targets than they were a few years ago. The humanitarian and economic costs are enormous. As security deteriorates, jihadist groups linked to the Boko Haram insurgency that erupted in 2011 in north-eastern Nigeria are also expanding their reach into the North West. The crisis risks spilling over into neighbouring Niger.

Although Nigeria’s government has repeatedly vowed to curb bloodshed, its military response has been inadequate.

Although Nigeria’s government has repeatedly vowed to curb bloodshed, its military response has been inadequate. It has made little progress toward resolving the herder-farmer conflict that is at the root of the violence and little effort to alleviate deepening human misery in the region. It urgently needs to develop strategies that can contain armed groups and ease the humanitarian crisis in the North West, while expediting plans to promote peaceful coexistence between herders and farmers. Given the government’s resource and capacity deficits, international partners can do much to help.

The EU and its member states should assist the Nigerian government to:

  • Bolster its security presence in the North West by providing security forces with logistics and communications equipment, as well as reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering tools needed to locate gangs hiding in forests and prevent their attacks, while making such assistance subject to appropriate human rights vetting. The EU can also help the government tighten Nigeria’s borders by offering training and equipment that would improve its security agencies’ capacity to stem the influx of illicit firearms and foreign jihadists. It can further help the establishment and effective operations of the newly created National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons.
  • Increase financial allocations to roll out immediate humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in the region and others affected by the mayhem, particularly women who have been widowed, sexually abused or who have lost their livelihoods.
  • Support those initiatives and organisations working to foster local dialogues among herding and farming communities, as well as different ethnic and religious groups, and accelerate implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which aims to improve relations between herders and farmers by building ranches and rehabilitating grazing reserves in states that have endorsed the plan.

Rising Violence

The causes of the North West’s turmoil are complex and inter-related. Environmental degradation caused by the twin pressures of climate change and rapid population growth has aggravated resource competition between herders and farmers. Disputes over land and water prompted both herders and farmers to form armed self-defence groups, fuelling a cycle of retaliatory violence that has taken on a communal dimension. The herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani, while the farmers are mainly Hausa or from other ethnic groups. In some areas, particularly in the southern part of Kaduna state, these tensions are compounded by long-running animosity among the predominantly Muslim Fulani and Hausa, and smaller, largely Christian groups.

The emergence of criminal gangs, whom the Nigerian government and mass media call “bandits”, has aggravated an already precarious security situation. Some of these gangs started as herder-allied groups but now operate autonomously. Many are exclusively or predominantly Fulani, while others are ethnically diverse. Some have recruits from neighbouring Benin and Niger as well as countries as far away as Sudan. Most members are illiterate. Aided by the flow of illicit firearms and hard drugs across Nigeria’s poorly secured borders, these gangs, often storming villages on hundreds of motorcycles, engage in a range of criminal activities, from cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom to extortion, sexual assault and armed robbery of gold miners and traders. Most gangs have taken refuge in the region’s vast woodlands – sometimes hidden in caves or mountainous terrain – including Kamuku forest in Kaduna state, Falgore forest in Kano state, Dansadau forest in Zamfara state and Davin Rugu forest, which straddles the states of Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara.

The gangs lack centralised leadership structures and are sometimes locked in bitter rivalries with one another. Some gang leaders claim they resorted to crime because successive federal or state governments neglected the welfare of the pastoralist Fulani or because security forces and vigilante groups formed by various communities abused them. Such claims may have merit in some cases, but in most they appear to be self-serving excuses for illicit profit seeking.

The gangs are continually evolving. Having originated in Zamfara state, they have since spread to all neighbouring states – Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto – and are growing in number and size. They are staging ever more mass abductions of students and other citizens in order to extract ransom payments from parents, families, communities or state governments, kidnapping over 700 schoolchildren and killing six between December 2020 and April 2021. But gang violence is no longer limited to hit-and-run attacks. In April, Muhammad Awaisu Wana, chairman of Niger Concerned Citizens, a civil society group, reported that armed groups had taken control of ten of fifteen wards in the Shiroro local government area of Niger state. Similar reports from Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina indicate that the gangs have established a permanent presence in parts of these states.

Gangs are also scaling up their weaponry, acquiring general-purpose machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, a prominent Muslim cleric who met several gang leaders in January, said they planned to buy anti-aircraft missiles to repel the Nigerian military’s aerial attacks. Gumi said: “What is currently happening … is insurgency and not banditry”. In April, gunmen stormed two military barracks in Niger state, killing at least seven soldiers; other assailants killed at least nine police officers in Kebbi state.

Rampant insecurity appears to be an opportunity for jihadists to extend their influence in the region by forging alliances with other armed groups.

Rampant insecurity appears to be an opportunity for jihadists to extend their influence in the region by forging alliances with other armed groups. A spike in jihadist activity in the North West raises the prospect that the region could soon become a land bridge connecting Islamist rebels in the central Sahel with the decade-old insurgency in the Lake Chad region of north-eastern Nigeria. Security sources point to a resurgence of the long-dormant Boko Haram splinter group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Group of Partisans for Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru, which was active in north-western Nigeria between 2011 and 2014. Elements of other Boko Haram offshoots, notably the Islamic State in West Africa Province, are arriving in the area.

At the same time, a poorly secured international boundary enables the influx of arms and facilitates the movement of jihadists to and from the Sahel, where local Islamic State affiliates have been expanding their influence. Moreover, as Crisis Group reported recently, organised banditry is spreading to neighbouring Niger’s south-western border strip between the towns of Maradi and Dogondoutchi.

The Growing Humanitarian Crisis

The violence is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the North West, which already has some of Nigeria’s highest levels of displacement, poverty, malnutrition and disease. The civil society organisation Global Rights reports that 1,527 people were killed by criminal and other armed violence in the North West in 2020, higher than the number (1,508) reportedly killed by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. In Kaduna state, the government reports that in the first three months of 2021, armed groups killed 323 people (compared to 628 in all of 2020) and kidnapped 949 others. The UN estimates that 279,000 people were displaced in Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina by the end of 2020, and that almost 2.6 million people across the three states are facing food insecurity in 2021.

Poverty is rising across the region. Gangs deny farmers access to their fields unless they pay levies, often making it impossible for them to plant or harvest crops. In Katsina state, Governor Aminu Masari said farmers have abandoned over 50,000 hectares of land in 2020. Amid the surge of kidnappings, ransom demands have forced many families – and sometimes entire communities – to sell property and take on debt. Some rural communities have agreed to pay taxes to armed groups to avoid attacks, an arrangement that further impoverishes residents.

Women have been disproportionately affected. Hundreds have been killed in attacks on their villages in recent years. Thousands have been widowed, leading to an increase in the number of single-income households. The violence has forced thousands more to flee their homes, abandoning farms, livestock and trades, thus losing sources of income. As gangs destroy markets and loot shops and warehouses, they cut off access to credit for many small-scale female traders. Wealthier business owners have also slashed their trade volumes in order to avoid travelling to suppliers on the region’s increasingly dangerous roads. Sexual violence is widespread. Having lost their livelihoods, some women have resorted to street begging or sex work so as to survive.

Furthermore, the violence poses a serious threat to education in the North West and Nigeria more broadly. Since December 2020, authorities shut down hundreds of schools across seven states – Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara – until better security arrangements are in place or the risk of mass abductions lowers. The use of some schools’ premises as displaced persons’ camps is also disrupting learning. Lower enrolment and attendance, resulting from insecurity, could add to Nigeria’s population of out-of-school children, already estimated at over 10 million and among the highest in the world.

Even more worryingly, the crisis is eroding the government’s capacity to perform certain core functions. On 5 May, citing the insecurity in the North West, the federal House of Representatives asked the National Population Commission to postpone the 2021 census until the situation improves. General elections scheduled for February 2023 may also prove impossible to organise in parts of the North West.

The Faltering Response

The Nigerian government lacks the personnel and resources to tackle the insecurity in the North West. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated pledges to crush the armed groups, as well as police and military operations that have killed hundreds of gang members since 2015, attacks continue. The faltering federal response is fuelling conspiracy theories that some government officials may be complicit in, or even profiting from, the violence.

Security forces are stretched woefully thin across the region. In Niger state, the governor complained that there are only 4,000 police to protect 24 million citizens (a dismal ratio of one police officer per 6,000 citizens). In March, the emir (Muslim traditional ruler) of Anka, in Zamfara state, reported that “we have less than 5,000 security men fighting over 30,000 bandits”. The federal government, however, has undertaken no major recruitment campaigns for security personnel in several years.

A dearth of equipment further constrains security operations. In January, the Katsina state government secretary, Mustapha Inuwa, recalled an occasion where “about 292 army officers were brought for a particular operation with only four vehicles”. Residents report that troops have sometimes fled combat against the gangs after running out of ammunition. The equipment deficit is only partly due to resource constraints. Inertia in Abuja is also at play. In January, the Niger state governor complained that, three months after his government had procured drones to track armed groups, they had still not been delivered due to delays in documentation, including the procurement of end user certificates, from federal authorities.

Peace deals between state governments and gang leaders have yielded few results.

Peace deals between state governments and gang leaders have yielded few results. In mid-2019, the governors of Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara states offered unconditional amnesties, rehabilitation and other incentives as a means of wooing the gangs to release hostages and disarm. These agreements led attacks to decline through the second half of the year. Disarmament stalled, however, for several reasons including possible bad faith by some actors, competition among groups and the failure of authorities to foster Hausa-Fulani reconciliation. Some armed groups that were not involved in the talks turned against those that agreed to negotiate. Many criminal gangs, oblivious of the peace agreements or perceiving them as a sign of government weakness, simply carried on their violent activities. The Zamfara state governor claims that his peace efforts are working despite continuing violence, but the others have since conceded defeat and terminated negotiations.

The humanitarian response has been insufficient. The federal government has made little effort to provide internally displaced persons (IDP) with food, water, emergency shelters or sanitary facilities, and its Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021 makes no mention of the crisis in the North West. Meanwhile, there are few international agencies on the ground, although the International Organization for Migration is documenting some of the displacement and the need for aid.

A Role for the EU and Its Member States

The Nigerian government needs considerable assistance in reversing the slide in the North West. On 23 March, the governors of three North West states – Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara – visited the EU delegation in Abuja, soliciting help. Together with its member states, the EU could render support in at least three areas.

The EU and its member states could assist Nigeria’s security agencies with logistics and communication facilities to help protect rural dwellers and respond more effectively to early warnings and distress calls.

A first priority is security support to the Nigerian government. The EU and its member states could assist Nigeria’s security agencies with logistics and communication facilities to help protect rural dwellers and respond more effectively to early warnings and distress calls. As most armed groups are hiding in forests, the EU could provide the military with reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering equipment to help apprehend them, making all such assistance subject to appropriate human rights vetting. Furthermore, the EU and its member states can help the Nigerian government secure the country’s borders by offering better training and equipment to strengthen customs and immigration agencies’ capacity to stem the flow of illicit firearms and foreign jihadists, and also by helping the Department of State Services improve intelligence gathering around border communities and target networks bringing firearms into the region. They can also support the full establishment and operations of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, created by the government on 3 May, as part of efforts to curb illicit firearms in the country and improve regional cooperation in arresting the transnational flow of firearms.

Secondly, the EU and its member states should help ease the humanitarian crisis. Beyond providing direct aid to the thousands of IDPs living in poorly run camps, they could help the Nigerian government survey the numerous displaced who have found refuge in cities and villages. Many victims of abduction, women and children especially, though released, remain at risk of exploitation, trafficking and gender-based violence. The EU and its member states could focus on the establishment and expansion of special community-based counselling and rehabilitation programs, providing women and children victims with physical and psycho-social support that could help reduce their vulnerability to such risks. The European Commission’s announcement, on 11 May, that it would allocate €37 million for humanitarian relief to vulnerable populations in Nigeria in 2021 is a step in the right direction. In making distributions from this fund, the EU should consider the critical needs in the North West.

Thirdly, the EU and its member states should lend greater support to measures aimed at curbing herder-farmer tensions. In the short term, they should provide assistance to various initiatives by state governments, communities and civil society organisations promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between herders and farmers, and also among different ethnic and religious groups. Looking ahead, they should offer technical and financial support to state governments seeking to implement the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which represents Nigeria’s most comprehensive strategy yet to encourage pastoralists to switch to ranching and other sedentary livestock production systems. Modernising the livestock sector is key to resolving the herder-farmer conflict, which triggered the crisis in the North West in the first place – and now threatens Nigeria’s political stability and food security.

Enhancing Prospects for Peace in Ukraine

Relations between Russia and the European Union (EU) are frostier than ever.

Relations between Russia and the European Union (EU) are frostier than ever. Reasons include disagreements old and new, with Europeans concerned about issues from Moscow’s treatment of opposition activist Alexei Navalny and other dissidents, to its alleged meddling in their elections, to newly surfaced reports of Russian involvement in a 2014 explosion at a Czech munitions depot. Those reports formed the backdrop for a rash of diplomatic expulsions by Prague and other European capitals, on one hand, and Moscow on the other. But it is the continuing war between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian state forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that remains the sorest point of friction.

Russia raised worries of a substantial escalation in Kyiv and among Ukraine’s Western partners when it massed forces near Ukraine’s borders in March and April. While these anxieties were largely assuaged when Russia started to pull back its forces in late April, the situation as a whole remains fraught. A ceasefire Kyiv and Moscow agreed to in July 2020 has broken down. Negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow are deadlocked. Neither side is taking steps prescribed by the 2014-2015 Minsk agreements that ended the worst of the fighting and were intended to bring peace. The Normandy Format peace process that includes France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine is largely dormant, with no new summit on the horizon. Absent changes, the coming year could bring new problems and new dangers of further outbreaks of violence. The EU, for all its difficulties with Moscow, can and should work with member states and allies to mitigate the risks and seek ways to break the impasse.

To deter future threats to Ukraine and reduce tensions with Moscow, the EU and its member states should:

  • Forge consensus with the U.S. and UK about how they would respond to evidence of Russian threats to attack or actual attacks on Ukraine, focusing on what additional sanctions they would apply and under what circumstances. Options for increasing military pressure should be viewed cautiously, given that they could bring further risks of escalation.
  • For purposes of deterrence, quietly communicate agreed-upon red lines and repercussions to the Kremlin, being careful not to rely on bluffs that Moscow would be likely to call.
  • Encourage Kyiv, on one side, and Moscow and its proxies, on the other, to return to observing the July 2020 ceasefire as a prelude to renewed talks among the Normandy Format countries and the U.S.
  • Work with the Biden administration to create incentives for breaking the long-running impasse in talks, including by delineating, and communicating, a clear plan for gradual, reversible sanctions relief for Russia in response to measurable progress.
  • Develop and propose economic incentives to aid and support Kyiv’s planning for Donbas’s eventual reintegration, to include proposals for restoring social, economic and transport links between government-controlled and separatist-held Donbas.

Political Stalemates

In December 2019, as French, German, Ukrainian and Russian leaders met in Paris to hold their first Normandy Format meeting to advance the Ukrainian peace process in three years, there seemed to be cause for hope. With a new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had averred his commitment to peace both on the campaign trail and upon taking office, the summit might have been a first step on a new path after years of stalemate and disappointment.

A year and a half later, those hopes are foundering. The conflict parties have taken only two of the seven joint steps promised in Paris: Kyiv and the Russian-backed leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in Donbas exchanged detainees in December 2019 and April 2020, and Kyiv and Moscow agreed to a ceasefire starting 27 July 2020. But other important steps – including, crucially, disengagement of forces from front lines, demining, particularly around key infrastructure facilities located on the line of separation between Ukrainian and separatist forces, and full access for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission – remain outstanding.

Moreover, even the slim progress made in 2019 and 2020 has begun to unravel. By March 2021, the ceasefire, the most successful of the many reached since the war began, had collapsed. As shelling and sniper fire resumed across the line of separation, a new crisis emerged. Russian troop build-ups near Ukraine in late March and early April sparked fears of a return to large-scale combat. The Kremlin said the soldiers were conducting routine training, but the deployment of paratroopers to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and establishment of a base camp at Voronezh (a few hours’ drive from the Ukrainian border) were nonetheless unusual and, understandably, alarming for Kyiv and its Western allies. When Ukraine asked for help, European countries, the EU, U.S. and UK spoke supportively but took no overt action in response.

At the end of April, ten days after Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden discussed a possible summit in a call, Moscow announced that the troops had completed their training and would be coming home. The announcement helped assuage concerns (although leaving unclear what precisely Moscow’s motives had been), but by then relations between Russia and the West were taking new twists and turns. In mid-April, the Czech Republic made public its findings of Russian involvement in a 2014 explosion at a Czech munitions depot and announced the expulsion of eighteen Russians affiliated with Moscow’s mission in Prague. Further expulsions by both sides ensued, with other European countries also expelling dozens of Russian diplomats. At around the same time, Washington announced its own expulsions of Russian diplomats along with new sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s alleged hack of U.S. government infrastructure through software provided by the SolarWinds company. In response, on 14 May, Russia said it deemed the Czech Republic and the U.S. “unfriendly” countries, curtailing the staff of their diplomatic missions. Then on 19 May, Washington imposed sanctions on a total of thirteen Russian vessels involved in laying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bypass traditional routes for which Russia pays lucrative gas transit fees to Ukraine and pump Russian gas directly to Germany.

Yet amid the rancour there are positive signs. Even as the new U.S. sanctions were announced, when Putin and Biden’s top diplomats met in Iceland in preparation for their possible summit in June, they noted their differences but struck an optimistic tone. Moreover, the Kremlin and Kyiv were exchanging invitations for summits of their own: Zelenskyy invited his Russian counterpart to meet in Donbas and Putin countered with an invitation to Moscow – although only to discuss issues unrelated to the war. Ukraine and Russia confirmed in late May that preparations for a meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy were under way.

But for there to be any chance of progress toward resolving the Donbas conflict, itself necessary for improving relations between Moscow and the West, the parties will need to address certain core areas of disagreement relating to implementation of the Minsk agreements. Among the most contentious is a Minsk requirement that Kyiv grant local autonomy (“special status”) to the separatist-held areas and hold local elections there in exchange for Ukraine regaining control of its eastern border. Ukraine says it cannot run credible polls in these regions until it has reassumed territorial control, and indeed its parliament has prohibited elections without first regaining such control. Russia says Minsk is clear: elections and special status come first, control only afterward. Moving past this fundamental impasse will be hard, but in theory, a deal is possible. The parties might agree, for example, that the OSCE and UN will monitor the border and region as a whole while elections are held, in order to assuage Kyiv’s concerns about their integrity.

The longer the war continues, the more positions harden, and the more difficult concessions seem.

In practice, however, the longer the war continues, the more positions harden, and the more difficult concessions seem. Complicating things further, Moscow sees Donbas-related sanctions as part and parcel of a broader Western pressure campaign, with Ukraine only one component. Russia is particularly rankled by what it perceives as the EU’s interference in its domestic politics. Russian parliamentary elections scheduled for September are likely to be a source of friction alongside the dispute over Navalny, particularly if, as appears likely, the Kremlin escalates its crackdowns on independent media and opposition. European positions may also harden due to forthcoming polls in European countries – notably Germany in September – in which European leaders will likely fear Russian meddling given Moscow’s previous alleged interference. Broader tensions make it all the harder to find mutually acceptable ways forward on Donbas.

Recommendations for the EU and Its Member States

Still, with Russia reversing its troop build-up and Washington interested in a June summit with Moscow, the EU and its member states may have an opportunity to work with the U.S. and UK to develop a joint deterrence strategy and revive the peace process.

Brussels, Washington and London should coordinate a common approach to deterrence in the face of future threats or aggression in Donbas. The first step would be to reach agreement on both red lines and consequences if Russia crosses them. For these purposes, sanctions, for all their limits, remain the primary non-military tool at the West’s disposal. Existing sanctions could be augmented through steps that would curtail lending to certain Russian enterprises, cut off Russian access to the SWIFT banking network or block Russian purchases of sovereign debt on the secondary market. Moscow is likely to be particularly concerned about the possibility of U.S. secondary sanctions, through which the U.S. could block access to the U.S. financial system for third parties that engage in prohibited transactions. The secondary sanctions could have a negative impact on EU member states, however, and risk adding to transatlantic tensions over the cost to European companies of U.S. sanctions on Nord Stream 2. (On the latter front, in a nod to ties with Berlin, the Biden administration waived sanctions on the company behind the pipeline and its chief executive.) Brussels and Washington should reach as good an understanding as possible about when Europe would back U.S. sanctions of this nature.

As for whether military pressure could be useful for purposes of deterrence, the West’s somewhat muffled response to the Russian troop build-up only reinforced awareness on all sides that neither the U.S. nor European countries want to get drawn into conflict in Ukraine. The Western powers should not make bluffs that Russia could well call. They should be extremely cautious about taking or threatening measures that would increase the likelihood of confrontation – such as putting Western advisers on the front line in Ukraine. While ramping up the provision of weapons to Kyiv might be less risky, doing so is not likely to yield the kind of battlefield advantage that would change Moscow’s calculations.

Whatever combination of economic and other measures the EU, U.S. and UK agree upon, they should communicate clearly to Moscow what their red lines are and what the consequences will be for crossing them.

Whatever combination of economic and other measures the EU, U.S. and UK agree upon, they should communicate clearly to Moscow what their red lines are and what the consequences will be for crossing them. Sending the message through quiet rather than public channels may give Moscow more political room to absorb it without reacting counterproductively. To maximise the usefulness of sanctions as leverage, the Western powers should not threaten measures that they would be unwilling or unable to rescind in the event that Russia reverses course.

As the EU and its partners are developing their approach to deterrence, they should also be focusing on easing tensions on the ground and encouraging dialogue. This means getting the parties back to the table, ideally for a near-term summit among the Normandy Four and possibly the U.S. Either before or at the summit, France and Germany could press for a suite of de-escalatory measures: for example, returning to the July 2020 ceasefire; broader and freer access for OSCE ceasefire monitors; a roadmap to restoring civilian freedom of movement across the line of separation; and broader military deconfliction and resumption of prisoner exchanges.

Ideally, over the course of the summit and ensuing negotiations, the EU, U.S. and UK would also present Moscow with incentives for charting a path out of the current standoff. They could, for example – as Crisis Group has argued before – offer the Kremlin a concrete plan to exchange the lifting of specific Minsk-related sanctions (eg, against banks and companies) for specific Russian military and political concessions in Donbas (eg, compromises on the Ukrainian border, disarmament of combatants or flexibility on special status). The proposal would make clear that should Russia or its proxies renege, the sanctions will be reimposed. There is some risk in this course of action: should Russia pocket the concessions and then backslide, Brussels may find it difficult to cobble back together the consensus required for the reimposition of sanctions. But if the U.S. and its European partners are not ready to use sanctions relief to motivate incremental progress by Moscow, the combination of high demands and inflexible tools offers little hope of breaking the deadlock.

Brussels should also work with Kyiv to encourage flexible thinking along the lines suggested above about how to work through the impasse over “special status” and begin planning for the near-term reintegration of Donetsk and Luhansk. The latter point is controversial: on one hand, Zelenskyy’s team has rallied to produce a roadmap for reintegration, but on the other, they appear to increasingly favour relegating the task to a distant and speculative future. If Brussels wants to help reverse this tide, it should keep up its promises of an EU economic support package to help rehabilitate the war-torn region, as well as offer plentiful guidance on overhauling Donbas’s fossil fuel-dependent economy. As further preparation for reintegration, Brussels should also maintain pressure on Kyiv to build an independent judiciary and adopt transitional justice legislation that encourages combatants to disarm and provides a framework for the fair trial of accused war criminals on both sides.

Arresting Yemen’s Freefall

In the spring 2020 EU Watch List, Crisis Group warned that the military, political and humanitarian situation in Yemen could go “from bad to worse”. That has happened: Yemen is in freefall. UN-led, U.S.-supported efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire have borne no fruit. Nor have attempts to prevent a battle for Marib, the internationally recognised government’s last bastion in the north. Huthi rebels appear poised to launch another offensive on the city in the coming weeks and months. If Marib falls, and even if it does not, fighting is also likely to intensify on other fronts. A Saudi-brokered deal between the government and southern secessionists hangs by a thread, even after the sides formed a power-sharing government in December 2020. A Huthi takeover of Marib would also likely precipitate a fresh wave of conflict in Yemen’s south and west.

The humanitarian crisis continues to worsen amid huge aid shortfalls and a Yemeni government-imposed fuel embargo on Huthi-held territory. The UN has warned repeatedly that famine is imminent. Only the infusion of billions of dollars in aid has staved off mass starvation to date. But donors have pledged just half of the money the UN says it needs for 2021 amid a coronavirus-induced funding crunch. Fighting over Marib city could make aid agencies’ work harder by triggering mass displacement and further limiting the supply of basic commodities. On top of everything, a year after COVID-19’s spread in Yemen first drew global attention, the country is suffering its deadliest outbreak yet.

The EU and its member states should:

  • Send more aid, escalating Yemen’s status as a priority recipient of the EU’s global response to COVID-19 through joint initiatives between Brussels and member states; increasing humanitarian funding under the new budget programming; and accelerating discussions about investment in medium-term projects – away from front lines – that foster local stability.
  • Advocate for forming a UN-led international contact group to help coordinate the world’s response to Yemen’s disaster, including through more concerted diplomacy in support of a ceasefire and the peace process. Such a group should include the EU, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
  • Push the UN to shift its mediation efforts away from a two-party focus on the Huthis and the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi toward a more inclusive peace process that encompasses other political and armed factions as well as women’s and youth groups and other civil society actors.
  • Working within EU COVID-19 protocols, increase diplomatic outreach to the Huthis in Sanaa, the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council in Aden.

Marib Offensive and UN Mediation

Since early 2020, Huthi fighters have focused on taking Marib governorate, in particular the eponymous city, along with nearby oil, gas and electricity production facilities. The Huthi campaign has been intermittent, and the rebels have at times struggled to advance. Saudi Arabia, which is allied with the internationally recognised government led by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has mounted a fierce aerial defence. Thousands of Huthi and anti-Huthi fighters have been killed and injured over the course of the year. Yet the Huthis have shrugged off their losses. A clear trend has emerged on the ground: gradual if uneven Huthi progress, coupled with growing unease and falling morale among forces aligned with the Hadi government. Absent a major shift in the balance of power, the Huthis appear set to take more territory and gain greater leverage in talks with local leaders as they seek to negotiate the governorate’s surrender.

Absent a major shift in the balance of power, the Huthis appear set to take more territory and gain greater leverage in talks with local leaders as they seek to negotiate the governorate’s surrender.

Fearing a growing humanitarian and displacement crisis amid a major coronavirus outbreak, and aware that a Huthi takeover of Marib would have a knock-on effect on dynamics elsewhere in Yemen, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has sought since early 2020 to broker a nationwide ceasefire. In 2020, the Huthis told Griffiths they would agree to a truce if the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi government lifted all restrictions on Hodeida port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast and allowed the Sanaa airport to reopen to international flights after four years of Saudi-imposed closure. For much of the year, the government and the Saudis argued that the Huthi proposal gave the rebels too much and quibbled over the fine print in draft agreements.

The parties failed to reach an accord, and now the landscape has shifted. In early 2021, after making a series of rapid military gains, the rebels shifted the goalposts, insisting that the government and Saudis unblock the port and airport unilaterally before they would consider a truce. They also backed away from the prospect of a nationwide ceasefire, saying they would first consider a cross-border ceasefire under which they would stop drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia in return for a moratorium on Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, including Marib. Riyadh and the Hadi government deemed the Huthi position a non-starter. In turn, the Huthis rejected a public Saudi offer made in March to ease restrictions on Sanaa airport and resume negotiations over Hodeida in return for a nationwide ceasefire and a mutual halt to cross-border attacks.

Fresh U.S. Energy

The recent change in leadership in Washington has injected fresh energy into international efforts to stop the fighting, with President Joe Biden making ending the Yemen war a top Middle East policy priority along with returning to the Iran nuclear deal. In February, Biden announced that he was halting all offensive support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. He also said the administration would cease some arms sales, remove the Huthis’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) and appoint a new U.S. special envoy for Yemen – a role now filled by veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking. Lenderking has been highly active since his appointment, travelling regularly to the Gulf (but not yet Yemen), and pushing the Huthis and Saudis to agree to a truce.

Washington’s frustration with the Huthis is palpable.

Washington wishes to engineer a conflict outcome acceptable to both itself and Riyadh. Yet its ability to do so is limited, as the Huthis hold the upper hand. By publicly prioritising ending the Yemen war, the administration may also have given the Huthis, and their main external supporter Iran, the sense that the conflict represents a more valuable bargaining chip than in the past. Washington’s frustration with the Huthis is palpable, and U.S. officials appear to be increasingly convinced that they cannot persuade the rebels to abandon their quest for victory in Marib.

Humanitarian Meltdown

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has placed greater limits on aid agencies’ ability to work in Yemen, and on donors’ generosity toward a country the UN says is already the site of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Yemen continues to sit at the brink of famine. Donors pledged $1.7 billion to fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal in March, less than half the figure the UN had asked for, leaving a $2 billion gap in the UN’s budget for the year. The UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, warned that as a result the UN “doesn’t have enough money to stop famine”.

A battle for Marib would make the humanitarian crisis still graver and more complex. Local government officials claim that two million people have moved to Marib since the war began six years ago, many of them with sufficient resources to settle and live without aid assistance, while UN estimates of poorer, formally displaced people living in temporary settlements hover around 700,000. In the event that fighting reaches Marib city, the UN believes that around 350,000 people will be displaced, seeking to travel either eastward to Seiyoun, a six-hour drive under normal circumstances, or southward to Shebwa. Both routes are likely to be dangerous, and fighting could cut off the Shebwa road entirely. The UN says it has contingency plans for a battle, but the response will put further strain on its already limited aid budget.

A Way Forward

With chances of a diplomatic breakthrough slim, Yemen’s trajectory in the coming months will largely be determined by developments in Marib. If the Huthis take Marib city, or negotiate its surrender, the government will lose its last major stronghold in the north; it may then face an attempted takeover by the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in southern governorates as well. A Huthi victory in Marib could also precipitate intra-Yemeni deal-making, most likely between the Huthis and one or more rival factions, potentially including the STC, at the expense of the Hadi government. Moreover, the STC and other groups are likely to press for a direct role in UN-led talks, rather than the indirect one they are afforded as part of the Saudi-brokered 2019 Riyadh Agreement. Even if the Huthis and government can reach a ceasefire in Marib, many local conflict parties remain sceptical it will last, or that it is in their interest to comply with its terms if they are not given a say in subsequent UN-led political talks.

For these reasons, whatever happens next in Marib, it is increasingly clear that the international approach to Yemen needs to be rethought. The UN’s current two-party mediation framework that focuses narrowly on the Huthis and the Hadi government (with Saudi Arabia active behind the scenes and wielding a de facto veto over any settlement) excludes many of the armed and political factions likely to influence the durability of a ceasefire or political settlement. It also boxes out political parties, civil society actors, women’s groups and youth organisations that have been crucial throughout the war to preserving local stability and social cohesion and whose buy-in and support will thus be important in sustaining any pact.

With EU support, Washington should advocate for an approach to peacemaking that takes into account the conflict’s deepening complexity and creates space for this range of actors.

With EU support, Washington should advocate for an approach to peacemaking that takes into account the conflict’s deepening complexity and creates space for this range of actors. The EU and Special Envoy Lenderking should press for the creation of a UN-chaired international contact group, which can revisit the UN mediation framework and encourage adoption of a new multi-party approach that better reflects the emerging reality on the ground. Such a body could establish a division of labour among its members to support the peace process, with sub-groups focusing on key topics such as sub-national conflicts (like the one between the government and STC), economic warfare and outreach to the Huthis in Sanaa, which has been constrained by COVID-19, with no senior diplomat visiting since early 2020.

A Role for the EU and Its Member States

The EU and its member states should bolster UN-led efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. They should also help coordinate the international diplomatic response to the war.

The EU’s inclusion in an international contact group would allow EU representatives to act as a force multiplier, positioning them to solicit funds and diplomatic capacity from member states for issues the group determines to be priorities. The EU and member states can also, along with P5 members and others, push for contact group members to start making regular diplomatic trips to Sanaa, Aden and perhaps Marib to ensure better contact with the Huthis, the Hadi government and other relevant groups in Yemen, providing them with a clearer picture of international thinking about the conflict. The EU and its member states can also play an important role in advocating within the contact group for a more inclusive political process, and share their practical experience in brokering local truces, reopening roads and freeing prisoners.

Whether or not as part of any contact group, to help make the peace process properly inclusive, the EU and its member states should throw their weight behind efforts to press the UN Security Council to adopt a broader interpretation of Resolution 2216 (prevalent interpretations of which have unhelpfully limited UN mediation to two-party negotiations to end the fighting) so that the UN can introduce a quota for women and other civil society figures in direct talks. The EU should also work with the UN to establish a parallel mediation track with women’s and civil society organisations, that at a minimum enjoys a direct channel of communication with UN deliberations, and ideally leads to a substantive role in the negotiation of a political settlement for those involved. The EU already funds work for women’s inclusion; it should increase its support for and engagement with groups on the ground.

The EU and member states should also begin active discussions about how to increase humanitarian funding for Yemen in light of COVID-19’s continued spread, the troubling socio-economic indicators and the huge deficit facing UN aid agencies in 2021. The EU should make it an even greater priority to allocate extraordinary humanitarian funds in response to the virus and increase its development assistance through joint programming with member states under the new EU multi-annual budget. Finally, whether or not the war continues, the EU and member states should start making medium-term plans to help improve conditions – potentially entailing local infrastructure development, capacity-building support for local government and civil society organisations, small business loans and similar efforts in areas away from the front lines that are starved of basic services and governance. Such projects could help foster at least a modicum of stability away from the fighting and may prevent the further deterioration of local institutions.