The UN: Compromise or Compromised?
Russia vetoes humanitarian aid resolution
On the 12th of July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution jointly proposed by Ireland and Norway. The resolution aimed to provide crucial humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, who continue to experience the devastating impact of conflict between the al-Assad governing regime and rebels. This provision of aid would have lasted for twelve months, a period of time that the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne, claims “actors on the ground… needed”.
However, the bias of Russia, a prominent supporter of the Syrian government, was on full display. The Russian Federation used its power to veto the proposal and in turn proposed its own amended resolution that passed with a vote of 12 members in favour and 3 abstainers (France, United Kingdom, and the United States). Aside from these votes, the only country to vocally support the amendment was China. The final resolution now sees humanitarian aid travelling from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Turkey for only six months as opposed to the original twelve. This is a replay of events in 2020, when Russia similarly pressured the Council to cut the period of aid delivery to Syria from twelve months to six.
The 2020 resolution also limited the UN’s access to a number of borders into the country, reducing entry from four borders to just two. The Syrian civil war has been a continuous conflict since the Arab Spring protests in 2011, where tension grew between government and rebels, and has led to a major international refugee crisis. In 2021, a total of 13 million people had been internally or externally displaced. The Syrian civil war has, since its inception, spiralled into an international conflict with Russia, Iran, and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government, and the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Britain, and France as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel supporting Syrian rebels.
Many are heralding this recent settlement as a necessary step towards helping the 2.4 million Syrian people reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid. Proponents of the Russian amendment also point out that it does not preclude the possibility of a renewal of aid in six months.
However, others view this as a compromised resolution.
Critics say it reduces the certainty and confidence surrounding aid, with French ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, claiming that we are now relying on a “precarious renewal”. The American ambassador, Richard Mills, also commented on the matter, stating “[this is what happens] when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage” and that Syrian civilians will be negatively impacted by the downgrade in the quantity of aid. Ambassador Mills went on to detail the general Russian stance on Syria, “Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.” Russia and China have both defended their positions on halving the guarantee of aid as a means of protecting Syrian sovereignty – that is to say the Syrian government’s autonomy and right to act however they wish within their own borders.
The irony of Russia’s claim to be a protector of sovereignty has not been lost on many. The impact of the new resolution may mean that, by the time UN agencies and NGOs working in the area will have organised to begin their operations, their authorisation will have expired. This will force them to spend valuable time and resources every six months working to apply for renewals and will diminish the amount of focus they can give to aid distribution on the ground.
The Security Council’s veto examined
Russia’s veto is part of a larger trend that sees the permanent members on the UN Security Council ally with brutal regimes by stalling action proposed by the UN. This trend applies to two states and two regimes in particular – The U. S’s defence of Israel and Russia’s defence of Syria. With regards to Russia, this is the 17th time they have used their veto to defend Syrian sovereignty despite that sovereignty being used to justify atrocities such as the Syrian government engaging in biological warfare against its citizens. Similarly, Russia and China both also used the veto to protect North Korea’s nuclear programme in 2022.
The situation between the U.S and Israel mirrors that of Russia-Syria but has been going on much longer. The U.S has used its power to veto 53 resolutions that would have sanctioned Israel over the past 50 years. Amongst those 53 exist a veto opposing investigations into the murders of seven Palestinian civilians by an Israeli soldier in 1990 and Obama’s veto of a resolution that would have denounced Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The U.S’s blanket support for Israel is tantamount to a war crime get-out-of-jail-free card and unquestionably sends a message to Israel that international law does not apply to them. China for its part has also used it’s veto twice to block UN aid to countries that are diplomatically engaged with Taiwan. Threats on the global stage is the main way in which China exerts indirect control over Taiwanese foreign policy and waving the veto around is one means of intimidating states looking for UN support.
This all begs the question – why are certain states given a veto at all, especially when vetoes are mostly used to defend the indefensible actions of friends?
An Austrian battalion doctor comforts a young patient in Damascus (United Nations)
Why is there a veto?
The veto was added to the UN charter as a way to persuade the Great Powers to join the UN. The Great Powers made it clear that there would be a veto or there would be no UN. In the wake of two devastating World Wars, the appetite for supranationalism and global governance was big. The veto was a bitter pill worth swallowing to establish the UN, binding the power in compromise from the very beginning in the hope that five countries would at least sing from the same hymn sheet on such serious matters. But in reality, over the near 80-year history of the UN, it has become an insurmountable weapon of war, the very thing the international organisation sought to prevent.
The veto is a barrier preventing the world from progressing past our former colonial global system. For four former western colonial powers to hold elevated influence over what regimes are worth keeping or what ones ought to be changed around the world is clear neo-imperialism. The list of permanent members on the Security Council includes only one state outside of the conceptual West. Similarly, the Security Council contains no representation from Africa, South America, or Oceania – yet three from Europe. This issue of Security Council representation too is a matter for debate.
Both Turkey and Brazil have at certain stages in recent times advocated for the abolition of the veto and have called for nations such as Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and India be added as permanent members to the council. In April 2022, the UN General Assembly voted that the General Assembly must convene within ten days of a veto, at which the vetoing state would be required to provide greater justification and a debate would take place around the use of their veto. This is a first step but it is doubtful that the General Assembly will have enough power to either convince or shame a permanent member into reversing their veto. The outcome of this reform is that procedurally, vetoes will now take longer but will still have the same effect of facilitating war crimes and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to reform international laws that would place responsibilities on third-party countries to ethically intervene in conflicts have also suffered under the political curse of compromise: legislation has been clumsily worded and operationally impractical.
Veto reform is merely polishing the veneer of something that is broken on the inside; abolition is the way forward.
Unfortunately, the five permanent members are likely to balk at any further diminution of their power and the loss of any of the five permanent members to the UN would be a great blow – see the League of Nations without America. The permanent members are significant contributors of financial aid to the UN and consequently, many members see the veto as a necessary evil to keep the UN together.
Ireland was among five states, the others being Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mongolia, who called for an outright abolition of veto powers back in 2018. Italy as part of the Uniting for Consensus Group also noted a desire amongst member states for the abolition of the veto. In relation to the Syrian civil war specifically, on top of their proposed resolution Ireland pledged €23 million towards humanitarian funding for Syria at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in May 2022 – the sixth conference of its kind. The funding will be provided to a number of humanitarian agencies. With this pledge, Ireland surpasses the €200 million mark in total humanitarian funding provided to Syria since 2012. While aid is stifled by a paralysed Security Council, the UN is forced to build peace with one hand tied behind its back. Of course the various reasons that cause Western democracies to prop up authoritarian regimes in the first place will still exist. However, in a veto-less world, the ways in which they could do this would be reduced by one.
Featured Photos by United Nations
This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Brianna Walsh and STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin
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From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland
Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.
Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.
I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.
If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.
The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.
When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.
People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.
While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.
I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.
For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.
I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.
Featured Photo by Slí Eile
This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin
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Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile
I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.
I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’
In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)
This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.
One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,
“O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”
She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,
“his words replete with guile
Into her heart too easie entrance won:
Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold
Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound
Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d
With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”
Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.
In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,
“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”
In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,
“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”
This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.
A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,
“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”
In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.
At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.
I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.
Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman
This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin
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India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute
Where did the dispute begin?
The dispute centres on areas of contested territory between China and India. The two countries contest where the border between them lies, which has led to long-standing tensions, including a brief war in 1962. After that war ended, the two countries agreed on a 2,100 mile long demarcation line, known as the Line of Actual Control. However, they did not go so far as negotiating an official border and still do not agree on exactly where the line lies. The Line of Actual Control separates Ladakh, which is part of Indian-administered Kashmir, from Aksai Chin, which India claims as its own territory but which China controls.
What has been happening recently at the border?
Over the last few months, there has been an increasing number of clashes along the Line of Actual Control between Chinese and Indian troops. These have mainly been low-level fistfights, including one larger fight that broke out in May. These tensions have resulted in both countries sending more troops to the border. An escalation occurred on the 15th of June, resulting in death for the first time in 45 years. India lost 20 soldiers, while China has refused to comment on its casualties.
What has sparked the recent escalation?
In May, India reported that the Chinese army seemed to have grabbed forty to sixty kilometres of territory in India, including areas not previously disputed. While each side crossing the border is not uncommon, due to the disagreement of where the line is, this was a more severe incursion as it included things like digging trenches and moving heavy equipment.
It is not entirely clear why China would do this, although there are several possible explanations. One reason could be that India has been building a road to an air force base in the area, which China may have seen as a threat, although both sides have built infrastructure in the past. Another possible reason is that China has also been increasingly aggressive in Asia recently, possibly due to other world leaders being distracted by the coronavirus crisis. This includes increased aggression in the South China Sea and a crackdown in Hong Kong.
The increased aggression in Ladakh may be part of this general trend. Additionally, China may be unhappy with India furthering its alliance with the US, including a 3.5 billion dollar arms deal in February. Regarding the clash on the 15th of June, India claims that China launched a premeditated attack on its troops, while China claims that Indian troops crossed the border and provoked Chinese soldiers.
Why is this important?
Both India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, possess nuclear weapons. While the chance of these being used remain remote, any increase in tensions inevitably raises the possibility that the two countries could escalate into war. Even if they didn’t use nuclear weapons in a war, it could still be very destructive given the size of their respective armies (two of the biggest in the world) and populations.
Can this be resolved?
It may be a positive sign that while both countries have guns and tanks near the border, the recent outbreaks of violence have been confined to fistfights, stone-throwing and some use of clubs. While this has still resulted in multiple casualties, each side has restrained themselves from using firepower. Both countries are banned from using firepower due to a 1996 agreement, which has not yet been broken. However, attempts to deescalate further may be unsuccessful.
Initially, on the 6th of June, both countries agreed to disengage but this did not prevent the fatal attacks on the 15th. On the 24th of June, military commanders agreed again to disengage their troops, and it remains to be seen whether this will reduce tensions. Satellite imagery has since emerged showing China has built several structures near the clash site from the 15th of June, in an area India claims is on its side of the Line of Actual Control. This casts some doubt on the possibility of disengagement, as this may be seen as a provocation by India. Even if tensions deescalate, the prospects of agreeing on an official border and fully ending the conflict are likely to be low, as several rounds of talks since 1962 have failed to produce one.
Featured photo by Steven Lasry
Every day we are witnessing the kindled spirit of the youth across the world. Political autonomy, corruption, powerlessness, poor economies, climate change and social media seem to be the chief contributors to the mass protest rage that has taken over. The large anti-government demonstrations have not been peaceful, with the number of human losses increasing as every day goes by. From Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan and more, the story seems to be the same: voices that were never heard are gathering together for a scream to bring about a much-needed change! Does it mean the people’s voice will finally be heard?
In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Chile.
How did this start?
The protests began in October 2019 due to an increase in subway fares by 3%, and soon paved the way to widespread vandalism, destruction and looting. The fare hike has definitely triggered the public after years of “rising cost of living, miserable pensions, relatively low wages, deficient health and education systems and costly and inefficient public utilities,” according to a report by the New York Times. These demonstrations are Chile’s worst unrest in decades. The protests have transformed into a nationwide uprising with the protesters demanding dramatic changes to the country’s economic and political system and the ultimate demand of the resignation of Chilean President Piñera. As of December 2019, 29 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested and the number only seems to rise.
According to Victor Villegas, a sociologist at Santiago’s Alberto Hurtado University, “it’s not a coincidence that the movement began with high school students because they have always driven Chilean social movements”. As police attempted to forcefully stop the students at the stations, the protests had already begun to spread out into the streets. Metro stations, supermarkets, and petrol stations were burned, leading Piñera to declare a state of emergency.
Although the leaderless movement has forced the billionaire president to be on the defensive, which resulted in him replacing eight ministers and the announcement of emergency measures including a small increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes on wealthy Chileans, the protests have continued.
What are the protesters’ demands?
The protesters have called for a change in the pension system and a measurable like in the minimum wage in addition to Piñera’s resignation. Piñera has addressed the demands in his reform plans but the protestors are furious that these proposals would cost the state, rather than the private industries. There have also been demands for a new constitution as the current one was drafted during the dictatorship.
Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters. Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco stated that “indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems” gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans.
The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP25, with thousands of world leaders and government officials attending, was supposed to take place in Chile in December but had to be cancelled due to the protests. Ironically, the focus of this particular climate change conference was economic and social inequality.
The government has scrapped the subway fare increase and the president said that he is mindful of the broader grievances that fueled the unrest. He is, however, yet to outline a comprehensive set of policies. It seems that Piñera is finding it difficult to come to grips with reality and the population’s frustrations. It looks like the protests will continue until he steps down.
Photo by Carlos Figueroa
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What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.
Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.
In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.
In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.
The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.
In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.
As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.
Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr
This is the first in a series on indigenous populations around the world and the difficulties they face.
Indigenous communities in Sakhalin have faced land wars and oil exploitation, but work is being done to change this.
Sakhalin Island lies between Russia and Japan in the North Pacific ocean. It’s rich and diverse groups of indigenous communities have often been overlooked, through years of occupation and minor land skirmishes. Indigenous communities still make up 0.7 per cent of Sakhalin’s population, and remain important stakeholders in the island’s cultural, social, and political development.
Sakhalin’s indigenous community is made up of four different ethnic groups: the Nivkh (the most numerous), the Uilta, the Evenki, and the Nanai. The Evenki and Uilta are known for reindeer herding, while the Nivkh were known for hunting and fishing, until the 1980s when they began to move into urban settlements.
While most of the indigenous communities have adopted the Russian-Japanese culture imposed upon the island, there are some cultural factors that tie the island to its indigenous past. The Nivkh language, for example, is spoken by about 10 percent of islanders, and is apparently unrelated to any other language on Earth. Additionally, revivalist movements are currently gathering steam, which seek to emphasise the island’s traditional shamanistic roots.
After centuries of being caught up in a land war between Russia and Japan, Sakhalin, which is now a formally Russian territory, still faces problems. After experiencing an oil-boom in the post-Soviet years, Sakhalin has seen an influx of oil companies developing pipelines on the island. This has posed issues for the island’s indigenous population, as their natural surroundings are damaged and polluted. As a result, indigenous islanders have begun protesting the actions of multinational oil conglomerates.
There are, of course, more positive sides to the story. In recent years, the Sakhalin Indigenous Minorities Development Plan has been established, with the aim of further involving indigenous communities in the economic and social life of the island. This plan, supported by Sakhalin Energy, also aims to help reduce the negative impact of oil exploration on the islanders.
Sakhalin Island is the perfect example of the vivid, diverse cultural landscape that is often overlooked among discussion of more prominent geo-political forces. With the help of people working to prevent environmental disaster, this vibrant indigenous cultural will hopefully remain prosperous for years to come.
Above photo: Sakhalin Island by Vatslav via Wikicommons.
Below photo: map of Sakhalin Island via google maps.
Shivangi Dayal looks at the inspiring women who work hard to cover humanitarian crises around the world.
Alice Schalek (1874-1956)
She was an Austrian journalist, photographer, writer and public speaker. During the First World War, Schalek worked hard to get accredited as a war correspondent by the Kriegspressequartier (War Press Office) in 1915. Her first war assignment was at the alpine front in South Tyro. In 1917, Schalek received a decoration Goldenes Verdienstkreuz mit der Krone for her media coverage.
Camille Lepage (1988-2014)
Lepage started her career as a French photojournalist at a very early age, working independently in Egypt, South Sudan and Central Africa. She covered stories about the conflicts in Central African Republic. While covering conflict in the Central Africa Republic, Lepage was killed.
Lynsey Addario (1973 – Present)
Born in Connecticut (United States), Addario is an American photojournalist. Her work is a mixture of human rights issues and conflicts focusing the role of women in traditional societies. Addario traveled to Afghanistan to document the life of women living under the Taliban before 2001. She has covered almost every humanitarian crisis of her generation, including conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and South Sudan. American Photo Magazine named her one of the five most influential photographers of the past 25 years in 2015.
Photo by Bimo Luki on Unsplash
With approximately 700,000 Rohingya now living in Bangladesh, the upcoming monsoon season is likely to make living conditions even worse. The crisis stems from human rights abuses, perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces, as they refuse to recognise the citizenship of Rohingya muslims.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has said that they continue to work with the UN and Myanmar, in the hopes of finding a humanitarian solution, calling for “an independent and impartial investigation into the serious and credible allegations of human rights violations by the Myanmar security forces”.
However, progress has been painfully slow. In February, Ireland supported the EU’s position to condemn the human rights violations and imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s senior military officers. But not much has changed for the Rohingya refugees, stranded in Bangladesh.
Ireland has provided €1 million in 2017, with another €1 million allocated for 2018, pledged for food, shelter, water and sanitation. The Irish Aid Rapid Response facility has also provided 37 tonnes of hygiene, sanitation and shelter kits.
To read the Deparment’s statement in full, see here.
Above photo: the monsoon season will make conditions much worse for Rohingya refugees. By John Fowler on Unsplash
In the second part of a series on gender violence in war, Deepthi Suresh examines why sexual violence is a war tactic and how international bodies are recognising the problem.
The influential International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2000 said that systematic violence referred to the ‘organised nature of acts of violence’ and not ‘random occurrences’. Following similar guideline, in 2008, the UN recognised wartime rape as a strategy used for gaining political momentum during armed conflicts. It has also been a means of torture, terror and punishment to affected populations.
Sexual violence has long been used as a tactic to target civilians during an armed conflict. It is widely acknowledged that socio-economic, political, and physical differences in gender create vulnerabilities. Though it is gender-based violence, tactical rape is then used to control and deliberately destroy whole communities. For example, it is a strategy used to remove populations from a geographic area, which almost amounts to ethnic cleansing. It is therefore, important to comprehend the reality, causes and implications of wartime sexual violence in order to respond to this strategy.
The failure of the state, in allowing women to be victims of sexual violence, is a grave concern. However, there has been some progress in international law pertaining to sexual violence during armed conflicts, particularly in the United Nations. In May 2012, the UK launched its Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, followed by the United Nations General Assembly (2013) Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is supported by over 150 states. In 2014 a new international protocol on the investigation of sexual violence was launch. These developments illustrate the high-level political actions being taken to address sexual violence in conflict around the world. This shift at the international level may provide a foundation for the much-needed working of the state-level responses to sexual violence.
Despite these international measures, sexual violence continues to be a war tactic, showcasing the lack of compliance with agreed international human rights law. This impedes international responses to humanitarian crises, such as this. However, these steps are still important, as the gradual move at an international level to reject sexual violence during armed conflicts represents the growing understanding that such horrendous acts are a threat to human security and international stability.
To read the previous instalment in this series, click here.
Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash
In the fifth instalment in our human rights series, Lynn Rickard looks at women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2018 we celebrate 100 years since Irish women were awarded the right to vote. In recognising our progress as a nation, we must also recognise nations who are not afforded the same women’s rights.
In today’s instalment we take a look at Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; focusing in on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, how far they have come and how far they have left to endure.
Though women in Saudi Arabia recently won the right to drive, according to Amnesty International gender based discrimination remains prominent across the MENA region “notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody”. As it stands, women in Saudi Arabia require a male guardian’s consent in order to travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry. Amnesty International notes that some women experiencing “gender based violence” are also forced into early marriage.
The Amnesty International Report 2011 noted the case of a 12-year-old girl whose father had forcibly married her to an 80-year-old man for money. Amnesty says local human rights activists highlighted the case and resulted in the girl obtaining a divorce in February 2012.
A 2010 Report by Freedom House explains that gender inequality is built into Saudi Arabia’s governmental and social structures, and is “integral to the country’s state supported interpretation of Islam, which is derived from a literal reading of the Koran and Sunna”. As a result work opportunities for women remain limited with women being employed in single-sex institutions such as education or health care.
Although discrimination against women and girls in Saudi Arabia is prevalent slight changes “in accordance with Islamic law standards” provide a beacon of hope for all women and girls within this region. In a report, Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry announced in July a change in Saudi girls’ public schools. The announcement outlined that from the beginning of fall 2017 certain schools will offer a physical education program during their school term. However, it is not known whether the girls have to get parental permission to enrol.
It may seem that Saudi women and girls’ rights are improving ever so slightly but radical results are yet to be observed as heavy gender based and religious restrictions prevail.
Photo by Majid Korang beheshti on Unsplash
Read our short factsheet about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
What is Israel?
As we use the term today, Israel is a state set up in 1948. It is a state for Jewish people in the Middle East, on the Mediterranean Sea. It was set up as part of a two state solution for peace, following an influx of Jewish refugees from Europe following the Holocaust. Though large numbers of European Jews emigrated to the Middle East during the 1930s and 1940s, there was already a large population of Muslims living there.
Why did they emigrate to the Middle East?
Because they saw it as their historic home, which the Jews had been forced to leave over 2000 years before.
What is Palestine?
Palestine is the historic name for the area that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Today, Palestine is the name for the Israeli controlled territory where mainly Muslims live. This is broken up into two separate areas, the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestine is recognised as a state by 137 UN member nations, not including Ireland or America. There has been no consensus in the UN as to whether Palestine is a state, but it has been granted observer status. This means it is not considered a state with the same rights as other members of the UN, but it can take part in some activities, like attending the general assembly.
What are the West Bank and Gaza?
They are the territories that make up Palestine, where most Muslims and Christians live. It is very difficult for people living there to leave, even to go into Israel. Most families moved there during the Nabka.
What is the Nakba?
When the state of Israel was created, the Israeli army sought to take control of certain areas. This led to the destruction of many Muslim villages and homes. Some families keep the key for their houses as a family heirloom, even though most houses were destroyed.
Since 1948 Israel has expanded their territory, meaning most Palestinians have smaller territories to live in.
What does Donald Trump have to do with it?
Most countries don’t recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, because it is on the border of the West Bank and internationally many people see it as the capital of Palestine. As a sanction against Israel’s policies in Palestine, most countries have their embassies in another city, Tel Aviv. This means they will not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, Donald Trump has moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognising it as Israel’s capital, in contrast to most other international practice.
Photo of Jerusalem by Rob Bye on Unsplash