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Myanmar: Rakhine State Faces a Third Crisis
Myanmar: Rakhine State Faces a Third Crisis
Photo shows Tajik border guards checking identification documents of people crossing the Tajik-Afghan border on a bridge across the Panj River outside the city of Panj, August 2010. AFP PHOTO
Briefing 78 / Europe & Central Asia

塔吉克斯坦预警:内部压力和外部威胁

塔吉克斯坦如今正处于危险的重负之下——因其受暴力、腐败和经济困难所扰,苦其与阿富汗边境之漫长而不安全。拉赫蒙总统的专制破坏了1997年签署的和平协议,并助长了境内伊斯兰激进主义的发展。随着其国家愈加脆弱、且或波及周边列国,塔吉克斯坦应成为冲突预防中的优先对象。

概述

塔吉克斯坦数中亚贫困之最;于内于外,它都面临着巨大的压力。埃莫马利•拉赫蒙总统23年以来的统治充满了暴戾、问责制的缺失、腐败和大规模的移民返乡。劳工转汇和贩毒是国家收入的主要来源。他对宗教和反对派的控制——包括禁止温和的塔吉克斯坦伊斯兰复兴党(IRPT)——则助长了民怨。塔吉克斯坦与阿富汗所接壤的边境线长达1400公里,而沿线的安全即使在在最佳时期也难以保持一致;此外,阿富汗北部局势日益不稳,且中亚武装分子在此地和塔利班结盟,并对塔吉克斯坦、吉尔吉斯斯坦和乌兹别克斯坦造成了新的威胁。俄罗斯对塔吉克斯坦的支持是区域安全的一个重要组成部分,但莫斯科方面对塔吉克斯坦内部反对拉赫蒙一事则愈感担忧。欧盟和美国对塔吉克斯坦政府的影响甚微,但欧美、俄罗斯以及其他的国家却都应对拉赫蒙的领导方向、国家失败的风险和伊斯兰极端分子乘机而入的可能性保持警惕。

1997年的和平协议仅是掩盖了——但并为解决——其残酷内战后产生的紧张局面;而这一协议亦正在被瓦解。和平协议的核心是让伊斯兰复兴党能在议会中代表战争反对派,然而在2015年3月那场充斥着违规的选举后,拉赫蒙剥夺了该党的议会席位;同年8月拉赫蒙禁止了其参会权;并于9月宣布伊斯兰复兴党为恐怖主义组织。伊斯兰复兴党的命运和该国对宗教表达的限制都充满体现了塔吉克斯坦对政治多元化的蔑视。腐败和任人唯亲之行径四处蔓延,而这似乎在向伊斯兰主义者和世俗公民传递着一个信息:任何试图挑战拉赫蒙的政治进程都会被终止。

2016年5月,时任特警部队头领的Gulmurod Khalimov将军投诚了叙利亚的伊斯兰国(IS);他的叛变则揭露了安全部队精英内部的分裂,也暗示着拉赫蒙可能不再知道谁才值得被信任;同时这也反映了伊斯兰中暴力激进教派在塔吉克斯坦境内与日俱增的吸引力。拉赫蒙总统对此的回应主要是谈论他劫后余生之想,而非试图扭转民众对政府已在政治上和道德上破产的看法。

塔吉克斯坦的经济已陷入瘫痪,而俄罗斯的经济低迷更是雪上加霜;这是因为劳工汇款占塔吉克斯坦国内生产总值的40%以上,与此同时,在2015年,有三十至四十万劳工因就业难而返回故土。然而,如此恶劣的经济环境实则基本上是由政府一手所致:多年的地方性腐败榨干了当地企业,发展援助所产生的影响亦是寥寥无几。同时,来自阿富汗的毒品走私日益增多。尽管塔吉克斯坦获得了来自俄罗斯、欧盟和美国的资助和技术援助,其边境安全问题仍充满不确定性;这则一方面是出于塔吉克斯坦多山的地理环境,而另一方面则是因为非法贸易已腐蚀了塔吉克斯坦的安全结构。

鉴于其存在的问题,塔吉克斯坦应当被国际社会列为冲突预防的优先对象。尽管务实性对策应将重点放在防止进一步的压制、并鼓励在2020年拉赫蒙任期结束之时进行有序的政权交接之上,但在考虑政策之时,国际社会也应将塔吉克斯坦将持续暴戾——且其视正规政治进程于无物的——独裁制度的风险考虑在内。在经济危机和政治停滞的压力下,国家力量会被进一步削弱;这或许对边界问题的影响不大,但国家于内于外的脆弱或会导致不稳定,并最终对边界问题产生影响。边界安全薄弱使得塔吉克斯坦沦为伊斯兰武装分子夺取中亚其他地区的中转站。乌兹别克斯坦边境实力虽比较强大,但与吉尔吉斯斯坦相比则又显得薄弱。

对俄罗斯、由莫斯科领导的集体安全条约组织(CSTO)中的其他成员国,和中国——其不安宁的新疆省与塔吉克斯坦接壤,且长达414公里——而言,无论何种成因导致的塔吉克斯坦国家失败都将是个头疼的麻烦。集体安全条约组织的成员国身份以及俄罗斯在塔吉克斯坦的驻军都可被视为对入侵的威慑力量,然而集体安全条约组织却尚未能经实战考验。乌兹别克斯坦、吉尔吉斯斯坦和哈萨克斯坦,在维护塔吉克斯坦的和平与安全方面,都有着明确的利益,它们应优先保护各自与塔吉克斯坦接壤处的安全,而非仅仅关注塔阿边界的问题。

俄罗斯、欧盟和美国应当为增进边界和平提供支持。在参与该地区政治——包括正式的安全和人权对话框架——的过程中,欧盟及其成员国和华盛顿都应强调政治压迫、侵犯人权和长期不稳定性之间的紧密关系。俄罗斯、联合国和其他助力达成1997年和平协议的国家——包括美国和伊朗在内,则都应督促拉赫蒙为维持可持续稳定而遵守原则。否则,在北阿富汗和伊斯兰武装力量的煽动下,塔吉克斯坦和国际社会都将无力阻止昨日区域纷争的重现。

比什凯克/布鲁塞尔,2016年1月11日

Commentary / Asia

Myanmar: Rakhine State Faces a Third Crisis

Overlapping crises – displacement, conflict escalation and COVID-19 – threaten the already vulnerable Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. In this excerpt from the Spring Edition of our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to work closely with other donors in pushing for government accountability while remaining engaged in critical humanitarian and development support.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2020 – Spring Edition.

Myanmar has made no meaningful progress since 2017 in addressing the Rohingya crisis, with no organised return of refugees from Bangladesh, and no improvement in the lives of those Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State. Prospects for progress have been further undermined by the dramatic escalation in armed conflict in the state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgency, which has led to some of the fiercest fighting Myanmar has witnessed in many years. Civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire, at least 60,000 people are presently living in displacement camps as a result of the conflict, and de-escalation appears unlikely in the near future. The novel coronavirus now looms as a third crisis. Rakhine State has extremely weak health infrastructure, and its capacity is already overwhelmed by the rising conflict casualties. The April killing of the driver of a UN vehicle, who was transporting COVID-19 swabs for testing, underlines the dangers the conflict poses to an effective pandemic response. Across the border in Bangladesh, the disease is starting to spread in Cox’s Bazar district, with the first cases now detected in the Rohingya camps, where crowded conditions make social distancing impossible and poor sanitation is likely to accelerate any spread. Rohingya refugees are becoming more desperate. With no hope of a safe and dignified return home, many are once again choosing to put their fate in the hands of people smugglers as they seek to reach Malaysia by boat – an increasingly perilous journey as Malaysia and other countries in the region are tightening border controls and blocking their entry due to COVID-19 concerns.

The EU and its member states can help address these evolving crises in the following ways:

  • Seize opportunities for incremental change. Prospects for a ceasefire or major positive developments in Rakhine State appear slim, and the leverage of the EU and other Western powers constrained. Nevertheless, it remains possible to achieve more limited change in respecting Rohingya rights and addressing the armed conflict’s impact on both Rakhine and Rohingya civilians.
     
  • Cooperate with like-minded donors to pursue concerted diplomatic action. In a context of limited leverage, coordination among international actors is all the more important in order to defend principles, maximise advocacy opportunities for humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine and Chin States, and push for changes in government policy toward the Rohingya.
     
  • Stay engaged and maintain current levels of humanitarian and development funding for Myanmar. Whatever the frustrations with the lack of progress in steering the government toward accountability and rights for the Rohingya and a political solution to Rakhine grievances, lifesaving needs of conflict-affected populations and developmental challenges remain high and must continue to be addressed. Disengagement would risk exacerbating structural factors underlying Myanmar’s multiple crises.
     
  • Continue to support the Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh. The humanitarian response should continue to be adequately funded. The risks of failing to do so – in both human and security terms – are considerable. The EU should also better integrate its humanitarian and development funding streams for a more effective aid response targeting both refugees and local communities in Cox’s Bazar district

Worrying Developments

Myanmar’s Rakhine State now faces three overlapping crises. The Rohingya crisis remains unresolved, with no sign of refugee repatriation through official channels almost three years after the mass exodus. Those Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State have seen no meaningful improvement in living conditions: many remain corralled in squalid displacement camps; the rest are confined to isolated villages. All face apartheid-like bans on access to most hospitals, schools are mostly segregated and freedom of movement remains curtailed. Restrictions on humanitarian access further compound their plight.

Civilian casualties have spiked in the first four months of 2020, with disturbing attacks on schools, medical facilities and humanitarian convoys.

In parallel, fighting has escalated dramatically since late 2018 between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group fighting for greater Rakhine autonomy. There are regular, often intense clashes across central and northern parts of the state – including many areas from which Rohingya fled or in which they remain – as well as in Paletwa township in neighbouring Chin State. There have also been sporadic attacks in the south of Rakhine State, as the Arakan Army attempts to expand its areas of operation. Chances of de-escalation or a ceasefire appear remote as both sides vie for strategic control of key townships and waterways. Civilian casualties have spiked in the first four months of 2020, with disturbing attacks on schools, medical facilities and humanitarian convoys. Young men in Rakhine are particularly exposed to the risk of violence at the hands of the military for being suspected Arakan Army members; women and children are disproportionately affected by conditions in displacement camps, where risks of domestic violence are high and health and education facilities limited or non-existent. The March government designation of the Arakan Army as a terrorist group has scuttled prospects of peace talks and will restrict possibilities for third-party mediation. The armed conflict has diverted what little attention the government was devoting to the Rohingya crisis, making significant policy steps even less likely.

In the Bangladesh camps, desperation is growing. Living conditions are dire, and with no prospect of returning home and no real future in Bangladesh, increasing numbers of refugees are taking extreme risks to escape the situation by any means possible. As in 2015, smuggling boats packed with human cargo are adrift in the Bay of Bengal, blocked from reaching Malaysia or landing elsewhere. The EU has urged regional maritime states to conduct search-and-rescue operations, but little has been done to save these people, many of whom are women and children.

The coronavirus adds a worrying new dimension to the situation in both Rakhine State and the Bangladesh refugee camps. Although Myanmar has so far avoided a major epidemic, with fewer than 200 reported COVID-19 cases and six reported deaths as of mid-May, it remains vulnerable to an outbreak. Conflict in Rakhine State is a significant impediment to disease preparedness and response, with little hope of cooperation between the government and the Arakan Army, which controls large swathes of the countryside. Many of the most vulnerable do not even have access to the health system – the Rohingya, due to movement restrictions and discrimination in access to health care; and ethnic Rakhine people living in conflict areas, many of whom now reside in crowded displacement camps, due to their inability to cross checkpoints. The April killing by unknown gunmen of a World Health Organization staff member transporting COVID-19 testing swabs highlights the direct impact that conflict can have on the response. The government’s internet ban in eight townships is also an obstacle to disease surveillance and public health messaging. In Bangladesh, COVID-19 has reached Cox’s Bazar district, and the first case was reported in the camps on 14 May. If the disease is not contained, it would likely have devastating consequences given the extreme population density, unsanitary living conditions and the internet ban in the camps, which limits refugees’ access to information about the disease.

What the EU Can Do

The likelihood of any major positive developments in Rakhine State is slim, and the EU, like other Western powers, has had diminished leverage over Myanmar since the Rohingya crisis began. The EU should continue pushing for accountability for the Rohingya displacement and for review of Myanmar’s policies on freedom of movement, access to non-segregated services and respect for fundamental human rights – also preconditions for any refugee repatriation. It needs to be realistic, however, about the impact it might have with this advocacy, which it should combine with efforts to achieve more limited, incremental changes to improve the lives of the Rohingya and mitigate the impact of armed conflict on civilians. Working with national and regional officials more open to engagement and reform is one such approach, although it is important not to overexpose such individuals.

In order to be effective, it is critical that the EU work closely with other donors. While international assistance constitutes only a small proportion of Myanmar’s GDP, it still provides opportunities to influence policy – not enough to prompt policy U-turns by the government, but sufficient to generate meaningful openings for dialogue and engagement and influence outcomes for the most vulnerable, including Rohingya and conflict-displaced people. This can be achieved through negotiating better humanitarian access to Rakhine internally displaced person (IDP) camps or advocating for local policy changes – for example, allowing Rohingya greater access to medical facilities and reducing the cost of and time for referrals. Coordinated and unified approaches among donors will be important to defend humanitarian principles, ensuring that international aid is channelled to all communities in a neutral and impartial manner. Working closely with other donors will also allow the EU to maximise chances of achieving the incremental steps described above.

An impoverished and less educated Myanmar is a recipe for further bigotry, social division and armed conflict.

Frustration with lack of progress on policy objectives in Myanmar ought not to translate into either political disengagement by the EU or its member states, or cuts to humanitarian and development support. Isolating Myanmar is unlikely to produce positive change and could instead exacerbate the structural factors underlying the country’s multiple crises: a poorer and more insular country will struggle even more to develop tolerance for diversity and the political imagination required for a more inclusive and peaceful future. Lifesaving needs of conflict-affected populations still need to be addressed, and development aid has a key role to play. An impoverished and less educated Myanmar is a recipe for further bigotry, social division and armed conflict. But the EU should implement development projects in a way that is sensitive to local contexts – particularly in conflict zones and areas in the throes of human rights crises – and gendered analysis. This means, in particular, recognising the challenges of providing development assistance in a context where one community, the Rohingya, is segregated and cannot benefit equally or at all from public goods, and designing programming accordingly.

It is also critical for the EU to remain fully engaged in the Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh through adequate development and humanitarian funding, especially given the uncertainties and risks engendered by COVID-19. Donor fatigue is a real threat. The European Commission has already mobilised critical aid for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Much more support is needed, but the pandemic’s impact on the EU’s overall financial capacity could well reduce the Commission’s spending power in the coming years. For a more effective response, the EU should aim to achieve better complementarity between its humanitarian and development funding in Cox’s Bazar district, which remains one of the country’s poorest. This implies engaging with the government of Bangladesh both to address the growing restrictions on providing immediate assistance to refugees and vulnerable local communities, and to discuss longer-term policy changes that would allow the active participation of refugees in the local economy and community. Should the European Commission choose to deprioritise Rohingya support in Bangladesh due to lack of meaningful progress, consequences could be dire. With no sign of refugees returning to Myanmar in the near future, failure to provide needed support could lead Bangladesh to adopt a more uncompromising stand toward the Rohingya and push more desperate refugees into people smugglers’ hands.