The latest edition of Conflict Weekly covers: Violence in India’s Northeast, FGM ban in Sudan, the UN warning on Global Hunger & the Return of Global Protests | Contributors to this edition are: Sourina Bej, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Sukanya Bali and Lakshmi V Menon
Northeast India: NSCN (I-M) cadres killed in counter insurgency operation in Arunachal Pradesh
In the news
On 11 July six cadres of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), from Nagaland, were killed in a counter insurgency operation at Longding in Arunachal Pradesh. The cadres of NSCN (I-M) were armed and were allegedly involved in “either kidnaping influential people for ransom or carrying out a big attack on security personnel,” the Arunachal Pradesh director-general of police said. The cadres nabbed by the security forces were linked to a group that was involved in the killing of Khonsa MLA Tirong Aboh and 10 others in May 2019. In response, NSCN (I-M) on 12 July called the operation an “act of terrorism” and that the 23-year-old truce with the Centre had “lost” its meaning.
Issues at large
First, muscular counter insurgency measures to break NSCN (I-M). The counter insurgency operation has come as a step to nab those responsible for the death of the MLA who was gunned down at the peak of the Lok Sabha elections. Even though this was the immediate reason, the security forces have long been engaged in series of operations to rout the group who is one of the actors in the Naga peace talks. With a stronghold in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, NSCN(I-M) has been the reason for violence. Thus on 1 April when Home Ministry extended the “disturbed areas” tag under AFSPA in this region for another six months, it was only to create the leeway to come down heavily on group. This was subsequently followed by the Nagaland governor sending a circular to the various departments to furnish details of family members and relatives involved with the different groups by 7 August.
Second, ending extortion to weaken money trails of NSCN (I-M). The main aim of the operations is to weaken the group economically. The group has maintained its active role through extortion and kidnappings which is a notorious truth in Nagaland. The government has been looking to end them and has now used the goodwill from the 2015 peace agreement to create the ground for the operations. It was also evident when the Nagaland governor sent a letter on the extortion situation to the Chief Minister and NSCN(I-M) was seen reducing the tax-rate citing the pandemic.
Last, NSCN (I-M)’s uncompromising demand in peace talks. The encounter has taken place at a time when NSCN(I-M) is in ceasefire with the Centre. The government interlocutor who signed the 2015 Framework agreement is now the Nagaland governor who represents the Centre’s position in achieving quick peace through a deal. But the quick peace has been difficult as the group has evaded to compromise on its primary demand and has continued with extortions or collecting taxes. This has further justified the ground for a muscular policy to deal with the group.
First, the present operation comes at a dangerous time when the state cannot afford the return of insurgency. The past experiences has proved that NSCN(I-M) can withstand multiple muscular policies. At the same time the group has also sent all the right messages by heeding to low extortion rates. There is a broad consensus among the group that peace talks with the government is desirable and beneficial for its larger political objective and inclusion.
Second, by continuing with the counter insurgency measure, the security agency has made it clear that they are looking to break the group to make peace work. This is highly unsustainable as it might end up overturning the decades of talks and also the possibility of a deal in the future.
Sudan ratifies law criminalising Female Genital Mutilation
In the news
On 10 July, Sudan criminalised carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM), making it punishable by three years in jail. The Sovereign Council which comprises of military and civilian representatives of the transitional government ratified the law three months after the cabinet approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform it. Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok praised this decision stating that “it is an important step on the way to judicial reform and in order to achieve the slogan of the revolution – freedom, peace and justice.” Further, this decision received a positive response from other women’s rights group. The United Nations Children’s Fund in Khartoum stated, “the law will help protect girls from this barbaric practice and enable them to live in dignity, and it will help mothers who didn’t want to cut their girls, but felt they had no choice, to say ‘no’.”
Issues at large
While this is a landmark and long-awaited decision, the issues that persist are likely to develop as the following.
First, the practice remains culturally entrenched in Sudan. The prevalence of FGM in Sudan remains one of the highest in Africa where an increasing number of women and girls are subjected to being cut by medical professionals. The widespread cultural belief that exists is that it is essential for the girl/women’s reputation and future marriage prospects. Further, the practice of FGM is interwoven with a patriarchal perception in the family which connects a man’s sexual pleasure to a woman’s pain that eventually entails a control over women by a man. Thus, these customs, traditions, and culture have proved to be much stronger than written laws.
Second, the lack of political will and staunch Islamist policies limits freedoms of women. Although some states had banned FGM a few years ago, attempts to ban it nationally were not successful under Omar al-Bashir. In 2016, Bashir tried to introduce a national law banning the practice, however, the effort was suppressed by religious conservatives. Further, although there are no customary laws surrounding FGM in Sudan, some religious leaders support the practice claiming that criminalising it would be against the sharia laws.
Last, risk of illegal practice of FGM will continue. Many believe that this legal reform will not be able to combat the issue for the practice may just move underground or move across borders to avoid prosecution Further, another challenge is the timing of this ratification which took place amid the pandemic, limiting the spread and proper implementation of this new law on many Sudanese.
First, the law criminalizing FGM is only the first step towards eradicating this practice. Tremendous work will have to be done with the communities in Sudan to ensure that this law is followed. The key to ending FGM in Sudan is resetting the behavioural principles. With FGM deeply entrenched in the culture and being a topic of taboo, only if community and religious leaders publicly support its rejection will the whole community nib the practice.
Second, for FGM to truly end, women must be empowered. FGM is not practised only in rural areas but in urban areas as well. Thus, along with eliminating poverty and improving education, the women centric health issues should be mainstreamed in the public discourse to end this harmful practice. Further, a more aware generation of young Sudanese women will be able to reject this practice and demand their dues.
Compounded by COVID-19 pandemic, global hunger likely to rise by 2030, warns the UN report
In the news
On 13 July the United Nations released a report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world that takes stock of the prevailing situation and foresees the impact of the pandemic on food security. The UN concluded in the report that the number of people suffering from hunger in the world has increased by 10 million from 2019 and had estimated that 130 million more may face chronic hunger by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN chief has spelled out that if the current trend continues, “we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2.0 – zero hunger – by 2030.” Reiterating the same, the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, ‘the report sends a sobering message even as countries continue to grapple with malnutrition in all its forms, including the growing burden of obesity.
Issues at large
First, lockdown from pandemic disrupts global food security. The pandemic has increased the vulnerabilities and threw light on the inadequacies in the food system in different countries. Pandemic has led to loss of livelihoods, disruptions in food supply chains, migration, and fall in remittances that have affected production, distribution, and consumption of food. With several economies in lockdown and the modes of food transportation in disarray, the UN has cautioned that by the end of 2020 the rate of chronic hunger is slated to increase.
Second, the number of undernourished people grows rapidly in Africa. In Africa 19.1 per cent of its population is undernourished and is worsening and in Asia and Latin America, 8.3 and 7.4 per cent of the population is undernourished. The current trends may lead Africa to become the world’s “chronically hungry”. According to the report, the present 690 million undernourished and hungry people, is projected to rise to 840 million people by 2030.
The UN stated that “over the past five years, tens of millions of people have become ‘chronically undernourished’” and also highlighted, that the “world has been committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, but is still off the track to achieve the objective by 2030”.
Third, world continues to grapple with different forms of malnutrition. The food security survey states that around three billion people could not afford a healthy diet. A healthy diet is more expensive and costs more than 1.90 dollar a day which is the current benchmark to estimate international poverty. In 2019, 191 million children under five were too short or too thin, while another 38 million were overweight.
First, the increasing food insecurity and deficiency of food supply is bound to have a heavy impact on the people. The rising hunger will slowly bring to the forefront the marginalisation and the societal inequalities that has long being ignored by the state. With countries weakened by capital, the lack of access to food will further compound the poverty level making it difficult for the developing and least developed countries to eradicate it and adept the human development approach.
Second, the report also brings out that if the numbers of people suffering from hungry has increased since 2014 it indicates a consistent lack of proper food distribution infrastructure and welfare measures in the countries. The pandemic has put in jeopardy the globalised system of dependency and with the access to food produce being stopped, its time the countries pay a closer attention to the national food security policies and principles.
Also this week…
RETURN OF GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Hong Kong casts ‘protest’ vote
In Hong Kong, more than 6,00,000 people have cast their ballots (most online but over 21,000 via paper ballots) as protest vote against Beijing’s severe national security laws. The unofficial vote shall finalise the pro-democracy candidates who will contest in September’s Legislative Council elections. The opposition aims to cash the anti-China sentiment and seize control from the pro-China rivals. The national security law while allowing mainland China’s security agents to officially operate in Hong Kong also punishes those engaged in terrorism, subversion, secession and conspiracy with foreign forces with a life imprisonment.
Anti-government protest wave rocks Bulgaria
Since 8 July, Bulgaria’s capital Sophia has been engulfed in an anti-government protest wave as thousands marched against a ‘mafia model’ of governance. Smaller protests were simultaneously held in other cities in the country. Protestors have called for Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s resignation but the head of the governing GERB party has rejected this demand. The stopping of Democratic Bulgaria party’s Hristo Ivanov, by National Protection Service officers guarding former leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party Ahmed Dogan’s mansion, have triggered the public uproar. The crisis is being attributed to ‘state capture’ and multiple business interests. Meanwhile, the issues of a slumping economy, coronavirus pandemic, rampant corruption and oligarchy have provided the necessary fuel to the wave of protests.
Corrupt governance behind protests in Mali
On 10 July massive protests had broken out in Mali with calls for the resignation of President Keita who have attempted to pacify the unrest by announcing the dissolution of the constitutional court. He has also warned that violence would not be tolerated. Opposition and the people are dissatisfied with President Keita’s handling of the country’s economic crisis, electoral disputes and jihadist conflict. The current protest is the third in the series of protest movements that have taken place in the country since June. The trigger for the protest was when the opposition coalition led by the conservative Imam Mahmoud Dicko rejected previous concessions made by Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. These reductions were aimed at ending the political standoff over disputed legislative election that took place in March.
In DRC, protests break over appointment of election chairman
On 9 July, protests erupted in several cities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as the National Assembly (dominated by former president Joseph Kabila’s supporters) decided to appoint Ronsard Malonda as the independent national electoral commission’s (CENI’s) chairman. With the police attempting to disperse the demonstrators, the protests turned violent killing at least three people. In another episode of the rally on 13 July, coordinated by the main opposition alliance Lamuka, demonstrators gathered in Boulevard Lumumba of the capital Kinshasa and marched around a vehicle that carried the opposition chief and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. Lamuka have blamed CENI’s fraud for the failure of its candidate Martin Fayulu in the December 2018 elections.
About the authors
Sourina Bej and Sukanya Bali are Project Associates at NIAS. Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Lakshmi V Menon are Research Assistants and Research Consultants at NIAS