International Crisis Group

The Lost Girls

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Over the last week or so, multiple stories in the news have been asking why the media is ignoring the kidnapping of more than 200 girls (some reports say as many as 276) by Boko Haram, an extremist anti-Western group in Nigeria. Yet there have been literally hundreds of Facebook posts, thousands of tweets, and dozens of stories in the media about what is going on. It took a week or two — longer than it should have, yes, considering the horror of what has been perpetrated — but in the end, this case has gotten more attention than any single case of girls abducted in armed conflict in recent memory, possibly ever. People are paying attention.

As that becomes evident, all the outcry over “why aren’t we paying attention” starts to look like it’s part of a deeper public distress: Why have we not paid attention in the past when thousands of girls — and boys — have been abducted in armed conflict? Why aren’t we paying attention, right now, to the girls caught in human trafficking webs or sold into early marriages or held in captivity as “wives” by armed groups? Why are we only now outraged? And will this outrage sustain itself as situations like this one unendingly arise? Will any amount of anger lead to any concrete solution? Read the rest of this entry »

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Kosovo – referendum, barricades and EU plans

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Belgrade Annual Session 2011
Belgrade Annual Session 2011 (Photo credit: oscepa)
Posted on February 13th, 2012 in the category Kosovo by TransConflict

Ahead of a referendum in the north on attitudes towards Pristina, there are growing signs that a number of actors – particularly KFOR and the EU – are beginning to grasp the realities of the north, including the need to treat the local leaders as legitimate interlocutors.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

The snows are piled deep throughout the Balkans leaving many stranded and dealing with the cold and electricity shortages. Scores have died including an entire family – minus a young survivor – in an avalanche in southern Kosovo.  Kosovo issues, however, seem not to be taking any winter leave, with a vote due this week in the north on attitudes towards Pristina, continued focus on the Kosovo Serb barricades and EU consideration of the continued role of EULEX.

The northern Kosovo Serbs says that they are ready for their “referendum” to be held February 14-15. It will reportedly ask for a “yes” or “no” response to a single question – “do you accept the institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo?” Much has been made of this vote – essentially a poll unlikely to produce much surprise and with no legal or operational result. Now, the UN has jumped into the fray – reportedly saying the vote is contrary to law and that UNMIK will have no role in it. The Kosovo police, however, plan no special measures and KFOR’s concerns seem more about the vote provoking violence against Kosovo Serbs south of the Ibar.

Against the general backdrop of EU and German pressures on Belgrade over Kosovo, the International Crisis Group braved the snow and cold to travel through the north to look at the barricades there. ICG found official crossing points open but unused, with travel continuing across the boundary through alternative routes. ICG’s conclusion: “Trying to use issues like freedom of movement – or the rule of law – as tools to change locals’ minds about sovereignty issues, rather than as ends in themselves, just damages the tool. The dispute isn’t a technicality and cannot be resolved as though it were.”

Meanwhile, the Pristina newspaper Zëri reports that UNMIK appears to have negotiated a “gentleman’s agreement” to allow EULEX access through the barricades. UNMIK reportedly told the paper that it was “actively engaged” in discussing “unconditional freedom of movement” in the north with “northern Serbs, as well as officials in Belgrade” alongside KFOR and EULEX efforts to do the same. No details but perhaps the “gentleman’s agreement” allows EULEX to travel on the assumption they would not be conveying Kosovo Customs to the boundary crossings? In its trip report, however, ICG reported that the northerners are still watching the roads.

There is further reporting on the EU’s plans for “reformatting” the EULEX mission later this year “taking into account the progress made by Kosovo authorities in the rule of law and the needs of changing the mission.” This would be in-line with plans announced by the Quint last month to move toward ending “supervised independence” of Kosovo. A spokesman for prime minister Thaci told Balkan Insight that “we expect that in regions like in Mitrovica and Prizren, no EULEX police officers will be stationed due to the good performance of the police…[and] the same goes for customs.” Such changes would seem to take EULEX out of its peacekeeping role in the north – where it has taken the UN’s place on crucial rule of law issues including the police, courts and customs. Read the rest of this entry »

Next Year’s Wars – By Louise Arbour

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Ten conflicts to watch in 2012.

BY LOUISE ARBOUR DECEMBER 27, 2011

What conflict situations are most at risk of deteriorating further in 2012? When Foreign Policy asked the International Crisis Group to evaluate which manmade disasters could explode in the coming year, we put our heads together and came up with 10 crisis areas that warrant particular concern.

Admittedly, there is always a certain arbitrariness to lists. This one is no different. But, in part, that serves a purpose: It will, hopefully, get people talking. Why no room for Sudan — surely a crisis of terrifying proportions? Or for Europe’s forgotten conflicts — in the North Caucasus, for example, or in Nagorno-Karabakh? You’ll see also that we have not included some that are deeply troubling yet strangely under-reported, like Mexico or northern Nigeria. No room, too, for the hardy perennial standoff on the Korean Peninsula, despite the uncertainty surrounding the death of Kim Jong Il.

No reader should interpret their omission as meaning those situations are improving. They are not. But we did feel it is useful to highlight a few places that, to our mind, deserve no less attention. What follows is our top 10. At the end — and just to remind ourselves that progress is possible — we’ve included two countries for which we, cautiously, feel 2012 could augur well.

SYRIA

Many in Syria and abroad are now banking on the regime’s imminent collapse and assuming everything will get better from that point on. The reality could turn out to be quite different. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, many hope that the bloody stalemate finally might end. But however much it now seems inevitable that President Bashar al-Assad will leave the stage after his regime’s terrifying brutality over recent months, the initial post-Assad stages carry enormous risks.

On the one hand, the emotionally charged communal polarization, particularly around the Alawite community, has made regime supporters dig in their heels, believing it is “kill or be killed,” and their fears of large-scale retribution when Assad falls are very real. On the other, the rising strategic stakes have heightened the regional and wider international competition among all players, who now view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power. In that explosive mix, the first cross-border concern is surely Lebanon: The more Assad’s ouster appears imminent, the more Hezbollah — and its backers in Tehran — will view the Syrian crisis as an existential struggle designed to deal them a decisive blow, and the greater the risk that they would choose to go for broke and draw to launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to radically alter the focus of attention. “Powder keg” doesn’t begin to describe it. The danger is real that any one of these issues could derail or even foreclose the possibility of a successful transition.

IRAN/ISRAEL

Even if Iran and Israel somehow manage to sail safely past the rocks of the Syrian crisis, the enmity between them over the nuclear issue could blow them very dangerously off course. Though sanctions against Iran and saber-rattling all around intensified at the end of 2011, some may see this as merely the continuation of a long-term trend in the epically poor relations between Iran and Israel. Read the rest of this entry »