Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Watch List 2018 – First Update
Watch List 2018 – First Update
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
.

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
 Hide Footnote
 

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
 Hide Footnote
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
 Hide Footnote

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
 Hide Footnote
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.
 Hide Footnote
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.
 Hide Footnote

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

 

A Shiite Huthi rebel fighter stands guard during a rally marking the third anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition's intervention in Yemen, in the capital Sanaa on March 26, 2018. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen on March 26, 2015 to rest Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP

Watch List 2018 – First Update

Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.

Crisis Group Watch List 2018 (First Update)

The Watch List identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace. Giuseppe Fama, EU Relations Manager, explains the conflicts included in this update. Crisis Group

Burundi’s Dangerous Referendum

On 17 May, Burundians will vote on constitutional amendments that would allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to prolong his stay in power. Those new provisions also could start to dismantle the carefully negotiated Hutu-Tutsi ethnic balance, defined in the 2000 Arusha agreement that helped end Burundi’s civil war. A major outbreak of violence in the country does not appear likely around the vote, despite a deadly attack on a village on 12 May; the status quo could even drag on for years. But the regime’s repression, the potential demise of power sharing in Burundian institutions and the crumbling economy are harbingers of instability.

Although the European Union (EU) has lost leverage over Nkurunziza’s government in recent years, it retains a strong interest in preventing such instability. The EU and its member states should closely watch developments before, during and after the referendum, and continue to explore channels for pressuring the government while supporting the population. These include encouraging African leaders and the African Union (AU) to renew mediation attempts between the regime and the opposition, while keeping Burundi in the international spotlight. As the Burundian economy collapses, the EU, which suspended direct budgetary support to the Burundian government in 2016, should also take steps to ensure that the aid it now channels through the implementing agencies of the UN, EU member states and international non-governmental organisations helps Burundians as best possible.

Increasing Repression as the Referendum Approaches

The regime has designed the constitutional changes primarily to remove any obstacle to its control of the state apparatus.

The government’s main intention with the forthcoming referendum is to lengthen presidential mandates from five to seven years. This change would restart the clock on the two-term limit – rather than annulling it – potentially giving President Nkurunziza a further fourteen years in power. The new draft constitution also stipulates that ethnic quotas in parliament, government and public bodies be reviewed over the next five years. These quotas, intended to protect the Tutsi minority by guaranteeing the Tutsi 40-50 per cent representation in different state institutions, including the army, were a key part of the Arusha agreement.

The regime has designed the constitutional changes primarily to remove any obstacle to its control of the state apparatus. But in the process it may also be laying the groundwork for reversing ethnic checks and balances. The same is true of the draft constitution’s provisions to reduce the number of vice presidents (currently there are two, one Tutsi and one Hutu) to one and to replace the two-thirds majority requirement for parliament to pass particularly significant legislation with a simple majority.

The regime, including the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, has carried out a campaign of intimidation against anyone who opposes the referendum or calls for a No vote. It is using threats of violence to push Burundians to register for the vote in hopes of minimising abstention, and identifying people in campaign meetings. The government has banned Western media outlets – the BBC and Voice of America – from radio broadcasting for the duration of the campaign, while its own propaganda machine is in full swing. It has forced citizens to make financial contributions that it claims will support forthcoming elections.

The forced march to the referendum has further accentuated divisions among President Nkurunziza’s opponents, despite opposition factions making a renewed attempt to align their positions at the start of 2018. The Amizero y’Abarundi coalition and the Sahwanya-Frodebu party, which remain in Burundi, have both declared they intend to campaign for a No vote. The exiled opposition, under the umbrella of the Conseil national pour le respect de l’accord d’Arusha (CNARED), is calling for a boycott. The divide over the referendum exacerbates the historical divisions over strategy and personal rivalries within the opposition.

If the frequency of armed clashes between the army and insurgents has declined since 2016, human rights abuses continue.

Significant violence around the referendum appears unlikely, despite a 12 May attack on a village near the Democratic Republic of Congo border in which 26 people were reported killed by unidentified assailants. This attack comes after a relative absence of major security incidents since 2016, as armed opposition groups have suffered several setbacks. Some of their members were arrested by the Tanzanian government in 2017, sent back to Burundi, and have since disappeared. Those attacks that have taken place, which were launched from South Kivu in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, have failed to inflict significant losses on Burundian security forces or generate local support. But if the frequency of armed clashes between the army and insurgents has declined since 2016, human rights abuses continue. According to the human rights organisation la Ligue Iteka, 456 people were assassinated, 283 tortured and 2,338 arbitrarily arrested in 2017, the vast majority by the government.

President Nkurunziza and his party are developing a doctrine that mixes personality cult, religion and historical mythology to justify his prolonged stay in power. The president is now referred to as “supreme traditional leader”. The president and his wife, both active in new Pentecostal churches and prayer crusades, adhere to a theocratic vision that blends traditional Burundian signs of power with divine attribution; tellingly, the government is planning to build a large prayer centre in Gitega where ruling party members will be required to attend lengthy retreats. More broadly, this emerging doctrine presents a Manichean view of history wherein a harmonious pre-colonial Burundi was later spoiled by the machinations of external powers, in particular Belgium, though language pointing the finger at foreigners also tends to contain veiled references to the role played by their supposed Tutsi allies.

Economy and Development in the Doldrums

The Burundian economy has been severely hit by the loss of overseas aid since 2015, and by the flight of human and financial capital. Gains made in health and education since the early 2000s – notably drops in infant mortality and increasing numbers of Burundian children in school – have stalled. Shortages of currency and fuel have afflicted all sectors. Some 430,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, principally Tanzania.

Though many Burundians already struggle to make ends meet, the government is introducing new taxes and ad hoc levies. As its relations with Western governments have worsened, it has turned to Turkey, China and Russia for aid. But while these countries might afford the government political support and some financial respite, they are unlikely to offer the sort of budgetary or technical help that Western donors provided. Meanwhile, the impact of private investment in the mineral sector on the wider economy is unlikely to be significant, at least in the short term.

The regime has cracked down on civil society groups that have worked with international donors, including by imprisoning NGO members on spurious charges.

After negotiations with the government under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement, the EU and its member states decided in March 2016 to suspend cooperation due to Burundi’s rights abuses. Instead, it now channels development aid through international NGOs, the implementing agencies of EU member states and UN agencies. The president and his top officials paint European aid policy and sanctions (which target a handful of those officials) as deliberately aimed at hurting the Burundian people. In some cases, the regime has cracked down on civil society groups that have worked with international donors, including by imprisoning NGO members on spurious charges.

Mitigating Conflict Risk through Continued Support to the Population

The EU and its member states should take steps to help check Burundi’s repressive authoritarianism and alleviate deteriorating living conditions for its people.

On the former, Nkurunziza’s government has brushed off sporadic pressure from Western donors and actors such as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to open space for its opponents. Nor have mediation efforts of the sub-regional body, the East African Community (EAC), made progress. Indeed, some African leaders appear inclined to believe the government’s argument that there is no crisis to mediate.

That argument is flawed. The regime probably can keep dissent under wraps for some time. But the consolidation of its rule and dismantling of the Arusha power-sharing provisions augur ill for the country’s stability over time. The EU and its member states should press African powers and the AU to renew mediation attempts between the regime and the exiled opposition, with the aim of ensuring a credible election in 2020. They should strive to maintain international attention on Burundi, with EU member states on the UN Security Council pressing to keep Burundi on the council’s agenda. The EU also should uphold its position that conditions in the country do not allow for a free and fair referendum.

In light of its 2016 suspension of direct support to the government, the EU needs to redouble efforts to find ways to ensure its aid supports the population. In addition to the support it channels through international NGOs, it should continue pursuing its plan to directly support local NGOs, but with particular caution not to expose them to risk. This could mean providing them with adequate funding to reinforce their own management and legal capacity in case the government continues to harass them through the courts. The EU should also reinforce its delegation in Bujumbura and strengthen the tracking mechanisms with its implementing partners to prevent any misuse of its funds.

Militant Buddhists and Anti-Muslim Violence in Sri Lanka

Late February and early March 2018 saw Sri Lanka’s most serious and widespread incidents of anti-Muslim violence since gaining independence in 1948. Police failed to contain Sinhala Buddhist mobs in central Kandy district; the rioting appeared close to spinning out of control before President Maithripala Sirisena declared a state of emergency on 6 March. Within 48 hours of army and other military units being deployed, order was restored, but not before more than two dozen mosques had been destroyed, hundreds of houses and businesses vandalised, and two people killed. The episode shredded the ruling coalition’s already tattered reformist credentials and hurt chances for post-war reconciliation across ethnic and religious boundaries. It revealed the depth of mistrust and fear between Sri Lanka’s Buddhists and Muslims, and underscored the risk of more violence to come.

The European Union, its member states and other international partners should support efforts by the Sri Lankan officials, religious leaders and civil society groups to prevent further violence and address the underlying mutual misunderstanding between communities. It can do so by:

  • sending strong messages to the government, through all available channels, that it supports the strict enforcement of laws against hate speech and religious violence, including through criminal prosecutions;
     
  • offering financial and technical support to efforts by the government, civil society or media organisations to rapidly fact-check and counter rumours on social and traditional media; and by
     
  • supporting efforts to strengthen local-level inter-religious committees, in particular by assessing the effectiveness of past initiatives and sharing lessons learned to help redesign such bodies in innovative ways.

Anti-Muslim Sentiment and the Recent Bloodshed

Buddhist activists feed on Sinhala perceptions that over recent decades the country’s Muslims have grown more publicly and devoutly religious, and thus alien.

Discussions of Sri Lanka’s long, bloody history of conflict tend to focus on the military campaign to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and earlier leftist uprisings. Yet anti-Muslim violence is an enduring feature of modern Sri Lankan history and grew worse after the LTTE’s 2009 defeat. Many Sinhalese, including influential monks, have long feared that Sri Lanka’s foundational Buddhist and Sinhala character was under threat, with weak politicians incapable of protecting it. Whereas, before 2009, Sinhala nationalist insecurity centred on Tamil separatism, today nationalists point to Muslim “extremism” as the primary threat. Militant Sinhalese accuse Muslims of using clandestine means to suppress the Sinhala Buddhist population and gain economic and demographic dominance. Drawing in part on global Islamophobic discourse and events in Myanmar, Buddhist activists feed on Sinhala perceptions that over recent decades the country’s Muslims have grown more publicly and devoutly religious, and thus alien. Muslims make up under 10 per cent of the population, Sinhala Buddhists 70 per cent.

The deadly train of recent events began in the south-eastern town of Ampara, where Sinhala mobs attacked Muslim shops and a mosque on the night of 26-27 February. The violence was sparked by unfounded claims, spread through social media and backed by a video recording of an apparent “confession”, that staff in a Muslim-owned restaurant had placed a “sterilisation pill” in the food of Sinhala customers. Police were slow to react or make arrests and quickly released the alleged rioters on bail.

Activists and Muslim ministers had warned the prime minister and other senior officials that violence was brewing elsewhere. The police’s lax response in Ampara appeared to encourage militant Buddhist networks to strike again. Following appeals by Mahasohon Balakaya, an anti-Muslim group based in Kandy, and prominent monks, crowds turned out in Kandy on 5 March, angry at an earlier murder of a Sinhala Buddhist man by four Muslim men (there was no evidence the crime was communally motivated and all four attackers were promptly jailed). Over the next three days, Sinhala Buddhist mobs moved systematically from village to village burning and vandalising Muslim shops, houses and mosques. Police were again slow to respond, and in at least two cases, members of the Special Task Force – the elite police paramilitary unit – attacked Muslims, possibly in an attempt to falsely implicate them in the riots.

A Return to Hardline Nationalist Politics

The violence came at a moment of confusion and weakness for the ruling coalition, weeks after a stinging defeat in local elections at the hands of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP, Sri Lanka People’s Front), which ran a strongly nationalist campaign, including warnings of alleged abuses by Muslims. The changing political climate reinforces sympathy for ultra-nationalist agendas in the overwhelmingly Sinhala and Buddhist bureaucracy. It deepens the reluctance of police, bureaucrats and politicians to take action that could be seen as supporting Muslims.

Although President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe campaigned on a promise to crack down on militant groups, their coalition government has overseen not a single prosecution for previous religious violence.

In 2013 and 2014, under Rajapaksa and his powerful brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who headed the police and military, security agencies were accused of supporting militant Buddhist groups. Among these, the most prominent was Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force, or BBS), which incited deadly anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama in June 2014. State support reportedly included facilitating large BBS rallies, allowing its cadres to publicly harass and intimidate critics with impunity, and intervening in criminal cases against militant Buddhists, including by pressuring victims to withdraw legal complaints – or not to file them at all. However, after January 2015, when Mahinda Rajapaksa was voted out, violent anti-Muslim campaigns were supposed to be a thing of the past.

Yet, although President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe campaigned on a promise to crack down on militant groups, their coalition government has overseen not a single prosecution for previous religious violence. Militant Buddhist protests and attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses have continued, albeit at a lesser intensity. Online hate campaigns and militant organising have also proceeded apace, and fear and mistrust of Muslims remain as high as ever. Indeed, since coming to power, Sirisena himself and a senior cabinet member have met numerous times with BBS chief Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara and other militant monks. While officials claim the meetings were to encourage dialogue, most observers believe they aimed at shoring up the government’s credibility with Buddhist nationalists. Other ministers have called for BBS leaders to be prosecuted.

The government is running out of time to develop a strategy or build the political will to address two central issues underlying recent violence: Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and its politically powerful mix of entitlement and insecurity; and impunity for violence done in the name of protecting Sinhala and Buddhist dominance.

Preventing Violence against Muslims

The current high tensions and suspicions are deeply rooted and cannot be resolved quickly. Nonetheless, much can be done by the government and other actors to address misconceptions and rebuild trust. The EU can support these efforts in a variety of ways, as suggested below, but it must do so with discretion, taking its cues from supporters of reform in the government and civil society, and recognising Sinhala sensitivities about foreign involvement.

The EU should send strong messages to the government that it supports criminal prosecutions for religious violence.

Most important is for the government to conduct a quick, impartial investigation into the March violence and to speed up prosecutions for past actions. An expeditious inquiry would send a signal to those who might be tempted to commit violent acts in the future, and strengthen forces of reform in the judiciary, police and other state institutions. Some militant Buddhist leaders have been arrested for their role in organising the violence in Kandy. That is a positive first step, but it will bear fruit only if indictments and prosecutions follow. Ongoing cases against Gnanasara – for contempt of court and assault, among other charges – and other militant monks should be allowed to proceed to indictment or otherwise be concluded. The government should insist the police apply Sri Lanka’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, which has tougher penalties for hate speech and anti-minority violence than the regular criminal code.

The EU should send strong messages to the government that it supports criminal prosecutions for religious violence, including through the ongoing human rights monitoring process that accompanies EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) trade benefits, and in its regular dialogues with the government, including the meeting of the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights in June 2018 and the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting in fall 2018. Such prosecutions would be best framed as combatting not only anti-Muslim attacks, but also the larger phenomenon of impunity that has harmed all communities and places all citizens at risk of arbitrary violence.

The government can take other relatively easy, low-cost measures to develop a comprehensive and well-resourced information strategy to counter myths and misperceptions about Muslims. It could straight away establish an office tasked with rapidly fact-checking and countering rumours on social media, which, as the March incidents and earlier episodes have shown, are powerful sources of incitement. The office should liaise closely with the police and aim for quick distribution through all forms of state and private media, including social media. The EU and member states could offer financial and technical support to efforts by the government, civil society or media organisations on fact-checking.

The EU could also support existing projects by Muslim leaders to reach out to Buddhists, including monks, to explain and demystify Muslim teachings and practices.

In parallel, the government should strengthen existing district-level inter-religious committees to act more effectively as early-warning and mediation mechanisms. The committees should include police, influential monks, local government officials and local politicians, as well as Muslim representatives, and should report directly to the president and prime minister in emergencies to ensure that effective interventions are authorised when they are needed. Government-sponsored committees will need to coordinate better with civil society-led inter-religious groups, which have had limited impact over the years in part because they are often delinked from government and Buddhist religious authorities. The EU should support such committees, in particular by assessing the effectiveness of current and past initiatives and sharing lessons learned to help redesign such bodies.

The EU could also support existing projects by Muslim leaders to reach out to Buddhists, including monks, to explain and demystify Muslim teachings and practices, and familiarise them with what happens in mosques. Initial outreach programs have reportedly been well received by the monks involved. One option for EU support would be funding for European religious and community leaders and officials to share with leaders of all communities their experiences and lessons learned from their own inter-religious community work.

Venezuela: The Region Feels the Impact

International efforts to broker a solution to Venezuela’s implosion so far have not borne fruit. The crisis is spilling across Venezuela’s borders, with some 1.5 million Venezuelans fleeing the country over the past year and a half. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government is unable or unwilling to reverse the economic and social collapse brought on by its misguided policies. It frustrated the last round of talks between it and opposition representatives by unexpectedly calling an early presidential election, even as those negotiators discussed reforms to help level the playing field. That vote, now scheduled for 20 May, is more likely to aggravate than resolve the crisis, as the EU’s April declaration on the situation in Venezuela identified. Most opposition leaders call for a boycott, arguing that Maduro’s re-election is predetermined. Latin American governments in the ad hoc Lima Group, as well as those of the United States, Canada and Spain, have declared they will not recognise the result should the elections proceed as planned. The European Parliament endorsed the same stance in a resolution adopted at the start of May.

The EU, U.S. and other Western governments have imposed targeted sanctions on dozens of government officials, including the president and vice president. The U.S. has also banned most loans to Venezuela and is considering some form of oil embargo. A solution to the crisis can only come through a negotiated transition, which will require new talks between the government and opposition and additional pressure on the government. Ideally, Lima Group members would use the threat of their own targeted sanctions – such sanctions from Latin American governments would be almost unprecedented – to help push the government back to the negotiating table. To contribute to such a strategy, the EU and its member states, should:

  • Agree with Lima Group governments and the U.S. on clearly delineated steps the government should take to have Western sanctions lifted and avert Latin American sanctions.
     
  • Caution against the oil embargo floated by the U.S. and called for by some opposition hardliners, which would worsen the humanitarian emergency.
     
  • Encourage China, during engagements with Chinese officials, to help nudge Maduro to accept talks.

At the same time, efforts to contain the humanitarian crisis should continue. To this end, the EU and its member states should:

  • Reinforce their support for migrants and refugees along Venezuela’s borders.
     
  • Continue to seek out opportunities for delivering aid inside the country.

Particularly for the latter efforts, the EU will need to maintain a strict separation between the provision of humanitarian assistance and political demands on the government.

Humanitarian Emergency

Over eight million Venezuelans cannot afford three meals a day. Protein has disappeared from many of their diets. Essential medicines are lacking.

Venezuela is sinking ever deeper into a profound economic and social crisis. Annual inflation could reach upwards of 300,000 per cent by year’s end. Despite a government plan to strike three zeroes off Venezuela’s currency, cash is almost impossible to obtain, hitting the poor, many of whom have no other means of payment, particularly hard. Over eight million Venezuelans cannot afford three meals a day. Protein has disappeared from many of their diets. Essential medicines are lacking: for some such medicines only 20 per cent of the quantity needed is available; others have entirely run out. Many of those suffering chronic diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS or haemophilia are dying for lack of treatment.

Most public hospitals cannot guarantee running water or working lifts, let alone equipment such as X-ray machines. Patients are forced to provide their own medical and surgical supplies. Many operations are cancelled because blood banks lack reagents to ensure transfusions are safe. Long-controlled diseases like measles and diphtheria are making a comeback. Parts of the country are in the throes of a malaria epidemic. Yet the Venezuelan government denies the humanitarian crisis exists, portraying any coverage of the crisis as misinformation designed to undermine its rule. It also rejects much humanitarian aid, arguing that such efforts are part of a foreign plot to oust it.

As many as 1.5 million people have left the country in the past eighteen months, and a similar number may leave in the course of this year. The exodus has placed public services in neighbouring countries under strain, with governments in countries as far away as Chile having to adapt immigration regulations accordingly. Temporary shelters and soup kitchens catering to Venezuelans have been set up in Colombian and Brazilian border towns. UN agencies and the EU are now beginning to provide international aid in those locations.

Political Deadlock

A presidential election is scheduled for 20 May, but is unlikely to provide a way out of the crisis. In February, the government brought forward the election by more than six months, thus sabotaging internationally facilitated talks with the opposition over electoral reforms that were underway at the time. Most opposition parties are boycotting the poll, but beyond that do not offer a coherent strategy for pressuring the government.

Parliament has been rendered largely powerless, especially after a new Constituent Assembly, dominated by ruling party loyalists, was elected last year in a vote the opposition also shunned.

Former state Governor Henri Falcón of the Avanzada Progresista party, with the backing of two other small parties, is contesting the presidency. To do so, he has broken with the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition, which includes most of the more moderate opposition parties that had been negotiating with the government and are now planning to boycott the polls. The opposition’s harder-line wing, now represented by the Soy Venezuela movement, is calling for a “humanitarian intervention” – for the U.S. to intervene militarily, in other words – and for President Maduro to be impeached and tried for crimes against humanity. On 17 April, parliament, in which opposition politicians, mostly from parties in the MUD, hold a majority, voted overwhelmingly to approve Maduro’s trial for corruption by an ad hoc “Supreme Court in exile” – composed of judges appointed to the Supreme Court by the parliament and later forced into exile. But this initiative will have little practical effect. Parliament has been rendered largely powerless, especially after a new Constituent Assembly, dominated by ruling party loyalists, was elected last year in a vote the opposition also shunned.

Polls indicate that most opposition voters will abstain on 20 May, offering Maduro a clear chance of victory despite popularity ratings below 30 per cent. Even if Falcón were to win, the government’s control of electoral authorities, the Supreme Court – which has the final word on electoral disputes – and the security forces means it would have the power to block his victory. The absence of credible international observer organisations, which declined to deploy observers given the conditions in which the vote is being held, also gives Maduro a free hand.

Dozens of military officers, including commanders of key units such as the armoured Ayala battalion in Caracas, have been detained for allegedly plotting against the government. Their arrests lend credence to widespread accounts of unrest in the barracks. With the exception of a minority of mostly top military leaders, who are accused of benefiting from corruption and other criminal activities, members of the armed forces suffer the same deterioration in living standards as other Venezuelans. Military canteens often provide little or nothing to eat. That said, a coup attempt, while impossible to rule out, would be hard to pull off: the armed forces are fractured and extensively penetrated by counter-intelligence.

International Reaction

Venezuela’s international isolation has intensified markedly over the past year, with regional governments in particular turning their back on Maduro, especially after the breakdown of talks in February. Further sanctions are likely unless the president postpones the vote and takes measures to level the playing field. That said, exactly how the threat by Latin American and other governments to “not recognise the results” would be put into practice is unclear. Many governments already have withdrawn ambassadors from Caracas. But entirely severing diplomatic relations could reinforce the government’s siege mentality and backfire.

The Lima Group issued a fresh statement at the mid-April Summit of the Americas, which the summit’s host, Peru, barred Venezuela from attending. That statement called for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy. The group also emphasised the need for humanitarian assistance, both within Venezuela and in neighbouring countries hosting Venezuelans that have left. Meanwhile, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, together with several Latin American governments, Canada, Japan and the U.S., have backed a joint initiative to locate and seize those assets of Venezuelan officials that they have reason to suspect have been acquired through corruption.

Recommendations to the European Union and its Member States

Venezuela’s crisis is now a grave threat not only for its own people, but also for the wider region. A lasting solution requires a negotiated transition. It also requires comprehensive economic reform, which can only be carried out by a government that enjoys international political and financial support. The starting point must be a return to negotiations between the government and opposition leaders.

Thus far, the threat of economic collapse has not persuaded the group around Maduro to participate in such talks, which would, in essence, be aimed at negotiating the end of one-party rule and the restoration of democracy. Top officials perceive potential exit costs as extremely high, and fear they would risk prosecution for alleged corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations were they to lose power. For its part, the opposition is split into three main factions, each frequently adopting tactics that contradict those of the other two. Calls for military intervention by the harder-line Soy Venezuela faction are particularly counterproductive, fuelling the government’s accusations that humanitarian aid is a foreign plot.

To encourage a negotiated solution to the crisis, the EU and its member states should work closely with the Lima Group, the U.S. and other concerned governments to present a united front.

With no political solution in sight, the EU and its member states should continue and expand their critical humanitarian assistance along the lines described by the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management after a visit in March to the Venezuela-Colombia border area. Their efforts should include helping neighbouring countries cope with the burden on welfare services due to unprecedented migrant and refugee flows. The EU shall continue providing assistance to those affected and seek additional ways to deliver support to the population, which requires working around the government’s refusal to acknowledge the crisis, particularly by clearly separating political from humanitarian demands on the government, while strengthening Venezuelan civil society groups and foreign non-governmental organisations able to deliver food and medical aid to vulnerable populations. The EU and its members also should use their influence in multilateral bodies, including the UN, to ensure those bodies do all they can to alleviate suffering, including ensuring adequate funding and providing accurate information on humanitarian conditions in Venezuela.

To encourage a negotiated solution to the crisis, the EU and its member states should work closely with the Lima Group, the U.S. and other concerned governments to present a united front. All should coordinate their sanctions policy and diplomatic initiatives designed to bring about negotiations. This means agreeing on a set of measures that the government would have to take to have those Western sanctions that already exist lifted and avoid further sanctions, including from Latin American governments. The EU and its member states, however, should argue against wide-ranging economic sanctions, including an oil embargo. If the elections take place on 20 May, EU member states could use the opportunity presented by the 28 foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled shortly thereafter to coordinate their response.

A clear list of demands would allow sanctions against individuals, like those the EU introduced against seven top officials in January, to be gradually lifted if the government moves in the right direction. The EU should continue using its existing channels with the opposition to encourage them to unite around a credible strategy.

China, which thus far has played an important role propping up the Maduro government but shows some signs of tiring of its economic mismanagement, could contribute to a solution. The EU, together with Western and Latin American governments, should advise Chinese officials of the importance of nudging Maduro to accept talks, and thereby promote a stable and prosperous Venezuela. China also should participate in plans for a major economic and financial rescue package in the event of a transition agreement.

Prospect of Talks and Threat of Escalation Both Rise in Yemen

As the Yemen war enters its fourth year, prospects for military escalation and greater regional spillover are growing. The Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign along the Red Sea coast and in the Huthis’ home governorate of Saada, coupled with intermittent missile barrages fired by the Huthis at Saudi Arabia, threaten to quash the opportunity to revive the political process presented by the appointment of a new UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths. Military escalation could trigger direct confrontation between Saudi Arabia and its allies, particularly the United States, and Iran, which Riyadh accuses of assisting the Huthis in developing their missile program.

In this environment, the EU and its member states should:

  • As an urgent priority, help prevent the looming Saudi-led coalition invasion of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which would compound the already acute humanitarian crisis and could spark a wider war; such efforts would involve diplomatic engagement with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, ideally in coordination with the United States; and publicly opposing such an invasion, while condemning and pressing the Huthis to end their missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. Quiet outreach to Tehran could help, urging Iran to use what influence it has with the Huthis to discourage such missile attacks.
     
  • Assist the UN envoy in reviving a political process that is more inclusive and realistic. EU member states on the UN Security Council (France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) could promote a new Security Council resolution that better supports the UN envoy’s efforts than the April 2015 Resolution 2216, which is outdated and places unrealistic demands on the Huthis. The EU delegation to Yemen is well placed to assist the new envoy if talks materialise, notably by encouraging the Huthis’ cooperation.
     
  • Adopt a clear, public policy line on south Yemen, where separatist sentiment is increasing; such a line would oppose a unilateral move toward independence but recognise southern Yemenis’ grievances and the importance of revisiting the question of state structure and decentralisation.
     
  • Continue urgent efforts to alleviate the war’s humanitarian fallout, including by demanding from the coalition unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to all seaports, including Hodeida, as well as the Sanaa airport.

Risks of Escalation and an Opening for Diplomacy

On 4 December 2017, the Huthis killed their former partner, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since then, the Saudi-led coalition and its Yemeni allies have acted as if the military and political tides have shifted in their favour. They have tried to pull former Saleh supporters to their side, encouraged rifts within the Huthi movement, stepped up efforts to target the group’s leadership and pressed the Huthis on a number of war fronts.

After killing Saleh, the Huthis are simultaneously more open to diplomacy and more willing to up the military ante in response to coalition offensives.

In these endeavours they have had some success. Between December 2017 and February 2018 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and aligned Yemeni fighters won important tactical victories in Hodeida and Taiz provinces. Since then coalition-aligned forces have made small but steady gains, though not enough to shift the overall military balance. As in the past, the coalition has overestimated its ability to harm the Huthis in their northern highland strongholds. On 19 April, a coalition airstrike killed the head of the Huthi Supreme Political Council, Saleh Sammad, the de-facto president of the north and the highest-ranking Huthi killed thus far. Known as a moderate within the movement who could work with the late President Saleh’s party, his death is unlikely to reap significant military gains for the Saudi-led coalition but is a blow to peace prospects. Internal divisions within the anti-Huthi front continue to be its Achilles heel: some pro-Saleh fighters have joined the war against the Huthis, but many refuse to support President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his partners in Islah, an Islamist party. Islah and Hadi affiliates are at particular odds with UAE-aligned groups in areas such as Taiz and in south Yemen, which was an independent state prior to 1990.

After killing Saleh, the Huthis are simultaneously more open to diplomacy and more willing to up the military ante in response to coalition offensives. They have stated publicly and privately that they are ready to negotiate with Saudi Arabia over security concerns and to re-engage with the UN process under the new envoy. It is unclear if this readiness is a product of military pressure or an increased sense of security, as in the past the Huthis had cause to worry that Saleh would strike a deal behind their backs. Either way, their increased interest in talks offers hope of a political breakthrough.

That said, 2018 has seen an unprecedented uptick in Huthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. There is growing evidence of Iranian supply of Huthi weapons, including missile and drone technologies. For the Huthis, coalition attacks on Hodeida, the main port in the territories they control, and Saada, their home governorate, represent existential threats. Hodeida in particular is a red line. The coalition’s blockade, ostensibly to prevent weapons smuggling to the Huthis, has made the port a chokepoint for goods entering the north; prolonged fighting there could compound Yemen’s humanitarian disaster manifold. The Huthis have proclaimed they are willing to sink commercial ships to deter an attack. In April, Saudi Arabia accused the Huthis of firing on a Saudi-flagged oil tanker in the Red Sea, the first attack of its kind.

Recommendations for the EU and its Member States

To avoid this scenario and the regional escalation it could trigger, the EU should take a clear public position against a coalition attack on Hodeida for both humanitarian and political reasons, and engage in vigorous diplomacy, in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Washington, to help prevent it. Diplomatic efforts also should be directed toward encouraging both sides to de-escalate the conflict ahead of a possible resumption of talks. This could include the Huthis halting missile strikes at Saudi Arabia and ships in the Red Sea in return for the Saudi-led coalition stopping their offensive moves into Saada and along the Red Sea coast in Hodeida and Taiz provinces. The new UN envoy, with the help of the EU delegation and member states, could broker such an agreement.

As a non-belligerent in the Yemen war, the EU has access to all sides, including the Huthis.

If military escalation can be held at bay, the envoy will have a chance to revive negotiations over a cessation of hostilities and a return to an internal Yemeni political process. To be successful, these efforts will need a new framework that improves the one set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 2216. That resolution sets out a bilateral structure for talks between the Hadi government and the Huthi-Saleh bloc, which has become outdated and which never represented the range of Yemeni forces with influence on the ground. It also places unrealistic preconditions for a political settlement on the Huthis, including requiring them to withdraw from territories gained and hand over weapons. The EU, and in particular Security Council members France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the latter being the penholder on the Yemen crisis – should press for a new resolution that would support the UN envoy’s efforts based on his plan for reviving the political process, which he will present in June 2018.

The EU delegation is uniquely placed to assist the UN envoy in improving the structure and substance of potential negotiations. As a non-belligerent in the Yemen war, the EU has access to all sides, including the Huthis. The delegation could assist in communicating with and encouraging Huthi cooperation at the various stages of talks. Information and lessons from EU-sponsored Track II events during the course of the war, particularly with local security stakeholders, could help guide the process of improving intra-Yemeni negotiations. The EU and its member states should work with the UN envoy to produce a negotiating framework that more effectively includes women and other civil society representatives in decision-making roles early in the process, a deficiency during the last three rounds of UN-sponsored talks.

The EU and member states should continue to demand unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to all seaports, including Hodeida, as well as Sanaa airport.

South Yemen, where separatist sentiment is strong and the UAE is supporting separatist-leaning groups, is a critical flashpoint. In effect, the south is moving toward independence, but not all southern stakeholders support the idea. Nor do Yemenis in the north. The EU and its member states should have a clear, public policy line that opposes a unilateral move toward independence but recognises southern Yemenis’ grievances and the need to revisit the question of state structure and decentralisation, which remained unresolved in Yemen’s 2014 National Dialogue Conference. The EU delegation and member state representatives should also prioritise engaging with the UAE-supported Southern Transition Council and other southern political groups, and support their inclusion in intra-Yemeni negotiations.

Finally, ameliorating the war’s humanitarian impact should remain a top priority. The numbers are staggering. Over 22 million Yemenis – three quarters of the population – need humanitarian assistance. Of those, 8.4 million are at risk of starvation. Three million are internally displaced, mostly women and children.

The EU and member states should continue to demand unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to all seaports, including Hodeida, as well as Sanaa airport. To assist in their full opening, the EU is well placed to offer assistance to the UN in negotiating and possibly implementing security checks that address the Saudi-led coalition’s legitimate concerns regarding arms smuggling. They should also press the Huthis to allow unhindered humanitarian access to areas they control and to ease restrictions on aid workers operating in these areas. Beyond physical access, the EU should work with the Yemeni Central Bank to stabilise the value of the Yemeni riyal and promote a political compromise by which the Hadi government pays salaries to all civil servants nationwide, including in Huthi-controlled territories.