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Six Steps to Make the Most of the U.S. Senate’s Yemen Vote
Six Steps to Make the Most of the U.S. Senate’s Yemen Vote
Report 261 / Asia

缅甸:若开邦的政治

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 若开邦当下情势混杂了一系列恶性因素,其中包括根源深长的中央政府与边陲地区的紧张关系、针对穆斯林少数族裔的社群间及宗教间的严重冲突、以及极端贫困和发展欠缺。这引发了2012年的大规模暴力事件以及随后爆发的零星冲突。政治气氛已然处于高温状态,并可能随着缅甸2015年底全国大选的逼近而继续升高。若开邦的形势对缅甸政治转型的整体成功形成了重大威胁,并在政府亟需国际支持和投资之际,使其声誉严重受损。制定任何政策方案的前提是意识到任何简单办法或者快捷途径是不存在的。若开邦所面临的问题根源于数十年的武装暴力、威权统治以及国家——社会冲突。这场危机已经波及全邦以及其中的所有社群。化解危机需要一个持续和多角度的解决方案,并需要在过渡时期提供至关重要的人道主义和保护性干预。

 对若开邦局势的失败处理将会造成全国性影响。缅甸正在将自身重塑为一个与各少数民族和平相处、尊重多元化的更加开放的社会,狭隘且歧视性民粹主义的萌芽将会成长为巨大祸根,为政治解决数十年武装冲突,包括建立一个联邦国家,造成严重困难。

 若开邦最大的族群是信奉佛教的若开族,穆斯林在少数民族中为数不少,其中包括得不到缅甸政府和若开邦承认的罗兴亚人。国际上趋向于将若开族一概视为暴力极端主义分子,而忽略族群内存在的多种观点、忽视若开族本身也是一个长期受压迫的少数民族这一事实、并且很少试图去理解他们的想法和顾虑。这样的态度显然于事无补,因为其强化了若开族四面受敌的心态,并且将复杂现实简单模糊化,而对这一现实的准确把握是寻求可持续解决方案的必要条件。

 与缅甸其他少数民族类似,若开族人的积怨源于长期遭受政府歧视、对本民族事务缺乏政治控制、经济边缘化、人权受侵犯以及在语言和文化表达上受到的限制。然而若开族人积累了数十年的怨愤已经开始变形。自从向新政府的转型以来,在重建社区和重新树立民族身份的过程中,许多若开族人日益将人口数量对比视为最直接和明显的威胁,并由此担心将在自己本邦中成为少数民族。且不论有理与否,此类担忧在若开族社群中无疑十分强烈。

 多年来,穆斯林社群在社会和政治生活中被日益边缘化,而罗兴亚人受害尤甚。很多人长期得不到完整的公民权利,致使生存手段和生活水平严重受损。目前有人正试图通过立法剥夺他们的公民权,此举可能成为导火索。罗兴亚人视公民身份为仅存的与政治的联系纽带和影响政治的手段,失去了公民权,他们很可能得出政治大门已经关闭的结论,并可能由此走向非暴力反抗,甚至有组织暴力的路径。

 缅甸政府当下应对方案的核心包括一个核实无身份证明的穆斯林的公民身份的试点项目,以及一个在更大范围内应对政治、安全和发展问题的“行动计划”,但两者都存在严重问题。政府和若开族人社区拒绝使用“罗兴亚人”这个名称,罗兴亚人同样强烈地反对“孟加拉人”这个称呼,这成了一个死结。这一问题还未得到解决,对穆斯林人的公民身份核实项目就已经开始进行,大部分罗兴亚人可能采取抵制。

 行动计划设想将被授予公民权的人迁移到新的定居点,而非返回他们原本的家园,此举有可能会强化种族隔离。那些被确定为非公民,或拒不接受核实的人,可能会在达成解决方案前不得不暂居营地,这实际上可能会是很长时间。另外,许多穆斯林可能会被赋予入籍公民身份,因此得不到完整公民身份所具有的保障和多项权利。

 公民身份本身并不能自动提升穆斯林人口的权利。卡曼族的困境就是很明显的例子,他们从出生就拥有完整公民身份,而且其土著群体身份也获得了承认,但是由于他们的伊斯兰信仰,许多人被限制在难民营中,没有自由迁徙或返回家园的可能。由此可见,公民身份是改善权利的必要条件,而非充分条件。终结包括迁徙限制在内的歧视政策,改善安全环境与加强法治也同样必不可少。

 若开族佛教徒和穆斯林社区的需求与期望很可能无法调和,缅甸政府因此面临重大挑战。在此环境下,必须在保护穆斯林的基本权利和自由的同时,寻求缓解若开族担忧的途径。打击极端主义思想和仇恨言论的努力也同样重要,否则当下任意表达仇恨观点并据此行动而不受惩罚的大环境将无法得到改善。暴力的倡导者和实施者必须被及时抓捕归案,这在目前很少发生。及时执法不仅能维护正义,还有助于政治稳定和提升实现和平解决方案的可能性。

 政治解决方案可能不会立竿见影,即便如此也不能无所作为。危机的解决不仅对若开邦,而且对全缅甸都至关重要。防止极端主义暴力需要立即启动有公信力的程序,向若开族和穆斯林社区证明政治道路是存在的。更广泛地说,除非缅甸成功地塑造新的国家认同感,以包容这个国家极具多元化的文化、种族和宗教,否则就与全国范围的和平与稳定继续无缘。与此同时,国际社会也必须继续向弱势群体提供亟需的人道主义援助和保护,这可能会持续数年。同样关键的是解决若开邦所有社群都面临的长期贫穷和欠发展问题,公平和有针对性的村级社区发展项目尤为重要。

 仰光/布鲁塞尔,2014年10月22日

Members of the Yemeni pro-government forces walk through destruction in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city of Hodeida on November 18, 2018, during the ongoing battle for control of the city from the Huthi rebels. STRINGER / AFP

Six Steps to Make the Most of the U.S. Senate’s Yemen Vote

By an unexpectedly large margin, the U.S. Senate voted on 29 November to move ahead with a bill to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. Crisis Group calls on the key actors to seize this opportunity to suspend the fighting and pursue peace in earnest.

The U.S. Congress is notoriously reluctant to take tough decisions on matters of war and peace, which makes the Senate’s 29 November vote on the conflict in Yemen all the more remarkable.

The Senate voted by a 63-37 margin to advance a resolution that would require the Trump administration to “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen”. In doing so, it sent a clear message to both the administration and its allies intervening in Yemen, the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The message: a large, bipartisan group of senators is deeply troubled by both the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist killed by the kingdom’s agents in Istanbul, and correspondingly dissatisfied with the administration’s business-as-usual backing of the Saudis. Efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to defuse frustrations by reminding the Senate of the U.S.-Saudi partnership’s importance right before the vote fell flat; the administration’s failure to produce CIA Director Gina Haspel as a witness to speak about the Khashoggi affair only made things worse.

The Yemen war is moving quickly toward an inflection point.

The Trump administration and the Saudi leadership may be tempted to wait for the Senate’s moment of anger to pass. But that could be a serious miscalculation. With peace talks slated to begin in Sweden in early December, the Yemen war is moving quickly toward an inflection point. In the coming weeks and months, there is a modest but real opportunity to build trust between the warring parties and prevent what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis from descending into famine. The alternative – a brutal fight for the Red Sea port and city of Hodeida, the collapse of the incipient peace process and starvation on an unprecedented scale – is, unfortunately, more likely. Beyond its profound humanitarian costs, this outcome would further stain the reputations of the Saudi-led coalition and its Western supporters. The Senate vote, which staffers say represents the lowest ebb in sentiment toward Riyadh since the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, is just a taste of what could be in store if the coalition barrels blithely ahead.

The worst need not happen. Instead, the Trump administration and its Gulf allies should treat the 29 November vote as a spur to correct the course they have been on to date. To maximise the odds of a course correction, and to end the war, Crisis Group suggests the following six steps.

Congress Should Keep Up the Pressure

Congress should not let up on the Trump administration and its Gulf Arab allies. The Senate’s procedural vote sent a strong signal, albeit at this point a largely symbolic one. It would lose much of its force if the same or a similar resolution fails to gain sufficient support when it comes to the floor for adoption next week.

Moreover, the legislation’s sceptics argue that even if it becomes law (which would require a companion House of Representatives bill to pass and either presidential signature or a Congressional veto override), the bill’s broad reference to withdrawal from hostilities will be insufficient to secure the administration’s compliance. The White House has said it does not consider the U.S. to be engaged in the coalition’s war effort in Yemen, and the judiciary would be highly unlikely to take a position on this issue should Congress attempt to force the administration’s hand in court.

But these considerations miss the bigger picture. The Senate has telegraphed bipartisan revulsion at the war and at the U.S.’s complicity in it, along with a growing willingness to expend political capital in order to distance Washington from Riyadh. Saudi leaders with an eye on the long-term bilateral relationship should see cause for real concern.

Some of the technical issues in the resolution that would weaken its impact should it become law (notably the fact that the White House has already argued that the U.S. is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen and thus that the law would be without effect) could still be addressed. If the Senate wants to amend the resolution before a floor vote, it can do so. A source of inspiration could be another draft bill, the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans. The Senate did not plan to debate this bill until a new Congress is seated in January. But senators could borrow some of its specifics, which arguably would make the current bill more effective. Among other things, they could incorporate a suspension of both offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, a prohibition on refuelling coalition aircraft, and provisions requiring sanctions for those blocking humanitarian aid access, circumventing some of the current resolution’s shortcomings. They could also use the current bill to block spare parts transfers. 

The Senate should impress upon Riyadh and the White House that the withdrawal resolution is just the beginning if things do not change. A strong Senate vote in favour of the withdrawal resolution – whether amended or not – will put the new Congress (including a new Democratic majority in the House) in position to ratchet up the pressure still more if need be.

The White House Should Prioritise Preventing a Battle for Hodeida

As Crisis Group has repeatedly argued, a battle between UAE-backed Yemeni forces and Huthi rebels for the Red Sea port and city of Hodeida would be catastrophic in terms of both the human cost – the UN says fourteen million Yemenis are on the verge of famine – and the peace process. Yet the Trump administration baulks at decisive action to rein in the coalition whose proxies sit impatiently outside Hodeida. A reprieve in military pressure, it argues, could give the Huthis new confidence in their position going in to forthcoming consultative talks in Sweden. The administration used this argument in an attempt to peel supporters away from the Senate withdrawal bill and to freeze a UN Security Council resolution calling for a halt to the Hodeida campaign. It is mistaken.

The talks would be an important step, but they are not designed to produce a peace deal.

The administration’s position seems to underestimate both the likelihood and the gravity of an assault on Hodeida. Crisis Group’s field reporting points clearly to such an offensive, either before or after the consultative talks, unless something happens to change the coalition’s calculations. Such a fight would be devastating. It would take months, be horrendously destructive, induce famine and set back the peace process, all probably without changing the Huthis’ attitude as the UAE hopes.

The argument that pressure on the coalition could jeopardise the outcome of the Sweden talks and therefore should be avoided is equally misplaced. The talks would be an important step, but they are not designed to produce a peace deal; their purpose is to develop a framework on how to proceed with future talks. To mortgage the lives at stake in Hodeida and the country at large in the name of advancing the coalition’s negotiating position at these talks would be wrong, given that all previous rounds of talks have collapsed, and that anything achieved in Sweden would be utterly undone by a battle for the port and city.

The White House Should Not Suggest That It Can Protect the Coalition from the Political Fallout of Its Actions

The White House message to the coalition should be simple: you saw the Senate vote. Congress is furious, and we cannot do anything about it. Help us help you by calling off the Hodeida offensive, agreeing to a cessation of hostilities, and genuinely seeking a negotiated end to the war.

The Saudi-led Coalition Should Halt Any Plans for a Hodeida Offensive, Agree to a Cessation of Hostilities and Negotiate in Good Faith

The Senate vote is just the latest signal of Riyadh’s fraying relationships on Capitol Hill, and its reputation in the U.S. more broadly. The coalition ought to consider what it needs to do to repair the damage before it is too late. The UAE, which is leading the Red Sea campaign, has so far escaped the opprobrium directed toward Saudi Arabia but should be mindful that this could change and that a collapse of its most important regional partner’s standing in Washington would be costly for it as well.

A good first step would be for the UAE and Saudi Arabia to abandon plans to take over Hodeida and enter in good faith into detailed conversations with the UN over an acceptable way of moving the port to UN management – something the Gulf powers have thus far resisted. More broadly, the coalition should agree to a cessation of hostilities and in particular halt all airstrikes.

An unconditional Huthi surrender is not realistic.

Finally, the UAE and Saudi Arabia should also be clear in laying out what they see as an acceptable deal with the Huthis, and express willingness to compromise, rather than pushing for maximalist demands framed by UN Security Council Resolution 2216, in particular that the Huthis disarm completely without receiving anything in return. An unconditional Huthi surrender is not realistic. Instead, the coalition could offer a phased integration of the Huthis into Yemen’s security sector; a detailed plan for the integration of coalition-supported fighters, including hardline Salafis; and guarantees that they will accept a future meaningful political role for the Huthis.

The Saudi-led Coalition Should Prioritise Humanitarian Aid Access

Separate from the political process, the coalition should work closely with UN agencies – as it has begun to do – to reestablish full humanitarian access and capacity in and around Hodeida. The battle front lines in recent months have nudged up against key storage and grain milling sites that house the bulk of the UN’s surplus supplies. One of them is the Red Sea Mills, a wheat storage and milling facility near Hodeida that it took over from the Huthis in October and that is crucial for the UN to maintain its humanitarian operations. The coalition should provide the UN with access to the mills, clear and secure routes of entry and egress, and help remove mines and other hazardous materiel left in the mills by the Huthis.

The coalition should also guarantee that it will not cut off the last road connecting Hodeida port and city to the rest of the country, the loss of which would be commensurate in humanitarian impact to a battle inside the port or city.

The Coalition Should Give Peace Talks a Chance

The coalition should also give the talks set to begin in Sweden time and space to succeed. While the Saudis and Emiratis publicly support the peace process, they seem to expect the consultations to collapse, to end inconclusively or not to take place at all – and appear to be doing little to steer clear of those outcomes. Riyadh’s agreement to allow for the evacuation of injured Huthi fighters was one small step in the right direction. To further build confidence, the coalition should agree to other UN suggestions, such as the mutual release of prisoners and, optimally, to a nationwide cessation of hostilities.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi argue that the Huthis and their Iranian backers are unlikely to reciprocate any coalition good-will; rather, they can be expected to take advantage of it, bolster their military position, and bank on time and growing U.S. war fatigue to consolidate their position. This is a risk, and it is a reason why, as Crisis Group has previously argued, all who have ties to the Huthis need to exert pressure on them as well.

But at this point, the priority must be to halt the slide toward famine and do whatever is possible to end a war that has ravaged Yemen. The Senate vote offers a renewed opportunity to do so. It must be seized.