The latest edition of Conflict Weekly covers: Proposed amendment in Sri Lanka, Verdict on the gunman in New Zealand, Peace Conference in Myanmar and the Ceasefire troubles in Libya | Contributors to this edition are: Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare, Sourina Bej, D Suba Chandran and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Sri Lanka: Moving forward with the 20th Constitutional Amendment
In the news
On 20 August, at the inauguration session of Sri Lanka’s new Parliament, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced the intention of the newly formed government to amend the Constitution.
In his inaugural address, the President stated: “As the people have given us the mandate we wanted for a constitutional amendment; our first task will be to remove the 19th Amendment from the Constitution. After that, all of us will get together to formulate a new constitution suitable for the country. In this, the priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people.”
Issues at large
First, the strong perception of the need to make amendments to crucial legislation passed by the previous government. For example, the 19A has become important in this context, as it was seen as a political manoeuvre by the previous regime to keep Mahinda Rajapaksa returning to power. The existing legislation includes a two-term limit for the President, bar on dual citizenship bar, age barrier for eligibility and also limitations of the Presidential power in terms of vital appointments. Besides the 19A, there are also concerns regarding the 13th Amendment.
However, there have also been voices against changes to the existing amendments. For example, CV Vigneswaran has stated that the 13A cannot be removed arbitrarily; he has also criticized the policy statement of the new government to be “of the Sinhala Buddhist, by a Sinhala Buddhist, for the Sinhala Buddhist” without acknowledgement of the decades’ long concerns of the Tamil population.
Second, the President’s intention of reforming the Constitution with the vision “one country, one law for all the people” carries different expectations for the multi-ethnic population of Sri Lanka. During the election, the Rajapaksas displayed their preference towards the majority Sinhala population to the extent that no SLPP campaigns were held in the North and the North East. The minority communities will continue to be on guard, but the President’s actions so far offer hope; as Justice Minister and PC Ali Sabry assured: “We are hoping to produce an effective Constitution to the country with the consent of all communities.”
Third, the new government carries the weight of expectations of the citizens who had suffered from both political instability and economic burdens in the past few years. The President’s approach towards the assignation of Ministries was termed ‘people-centric’ to strengthen the local economy to meet the challenges with attention to the development of agriculture, fisheries, education, health, employment generation and traditional industries.
First, with the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 19A has become incompatible with the present government and can be removed without a fight in the Parliament. It is also inevitable that debate regarding the 13A will soon arise as the drafting of the new Constitution continues to progress. While the President has clearly stated his desire for “one country, and one law for all people” it remains to be proven through the manner in which the concerns of the minority populations are handled. However, it should be noted that the new government is taking a transparent approach towards the proposed 20A as it has been affirmed that salient features of the 19A such as the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the limit on the term of Presidential office will be retained.
Second, the mandate received by the new government has enabled the President to move ahead with his election manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” that is sensitive to the needs of the people first and foremost. President Rajapaksa’s tough outlook on the effectiveness and efficiency of the public sector will be a blessing for the citizens. Sri Lanka is therefore expected to make significant progress within the next five years.
New Zealand: Gunman behind the Christchurch mosque shooting sentenced to life without parole
In the news
On 27 August, in a trial that lasted for three days, the gunman who pleaded guilty in orchestrating the terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand was awarded life sentence without parole. The sentencing of Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, comes a year after the shootings on 15 March. He became the first person in the history of New Zealand to be imprisoned for life without parole in a terrorist attack. On the fateful day, he drove to the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, entered the building, murdered 51 Muslims with semi-automatic guns and streamed the shooting live on Facebook.
Issues at large
First, the trial opens the space for reconciliation. The Muslim community has become a vulnerable minority in New Zealand, at a time when migration has led to a global debate on the status of immigrants. In New Zealand, immigrant groups from the Sikh to Muslim reside, but their integration into the multi-ethnic spirit of the country is unachieved. This trial is a step towards recognizing this exclusion and opening a space where the group can come together to get answers for the brutality on them.
Second, the trial in and of New Zealand. The question of reconciliation will be fulfilled when a strong leader conveys the verdict in an acceptable form to the whole community. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has been able to achieve it by showing her empathy and solidarity. However, the legal proceedings are less about political statements and more about technical adherence. The gunman has shown no remorse, and the victims seek repentance for the act. The trial has been watched by the rest of the world on how home-grown radical white terrorist is put on trial. It will be hard to ignore a consequence on whether his words will similarly inspire another lone wolf attack in another part of the world.
Third, the transnational character of white extremism. The impact of the trial is significant in the context of the transnational character of white extremism in liberal democratic countries. The killer was radicalized while travelling in Britain and Australia’s anti-immigrant sentiment also shaped his extreme view. The gunman’s theory that all immigrants are invaders and all immigrants are distorting the European culture resonates with many lone terror attackers in London, Germany and Canada. The European migration crisis has added to this deep-rooted anti-racist view. And as a majority of Muslim refugees entered Europe from MENA, it further led to the belief that all immigrants are Muslim and thus invaders. The trial will not be an internal affair of the country and will have transnational consequences, just like the cause of radicalization.
First, learning lesson for both the state and the other lone-wolf attackers. For the Western democratic countries countering white extremism, the sentencing brings in a socio-political message in which the minority group has been given a scope for representation. However, both right-wing extremists and Islamist networks could interpret the life sentence as an act of valour by a man who stood by his message.
Second, the sentence can open space for more discontent among anti-immigrant believers. The reconciliation for one group will lead to discontent among another group. The anti-immigrant sentiment is shared by a large population in New Zealand and in the rest of Europe. It has to be seen whether the trial of Tarrant will be seen differently. This has to be avoided.
Myanmar: The Fourth Session of the Union Peace Conference witnesses the signing of Union Accord-III
In the news
On 21 August 2020, Myanmar concluded the fourth session of the Union Peace Conference. The three days session, held in Nay Pyi Taw witnessed the participation by the following: Aung San Suu Kyi (State Counsellor and Chairperson of National Reconciliation and Peace Centre NRPC), Representatives from the Government, the Hluttaw (Legislature) and the Tatmadaw (Military), members from the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), and representatives from political parties.
On the same day, the Union Accord-III was signed by the representatives from the government, the Hluttaw, the Tatmadaw, the EAOs, and the political parties. The Accord, third in a series, includes three main agreements and cover 20 points focussing on a working plan and the implementation process. The First Agreement provides the framework agreement on implementing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The second provides for a “stage-by-stage work programme” and a “step-by-step implementation,” to achieve the NCA. The third agreement provides fundamental principles to establish a Union based on democracy and federal system in Myanmar.
Also, on 21 August 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a long speech (now available online). She referred to the sense of disappointments with the previous conferences, short duration of the fourth session, and the difficulties in reaching the Union Accord-III. She emphasized on three points. The first one was about a “new plan beyond 2020 for developing a Democratic Federal Union”. The second one was about “shaping the character of a Union with common agreements of national people” and the third one “to continue holding dialogues.”
On 24 August, the military announced extending the ceasefire across the country, however excluding the Rakhine state. Earlier, in May 2020, the Tatmadaw had announced a ceasefire until end August.
Issues at large
The first issue relates to holding peace conferences and signing agreements vis-à-vis their actual implementation. Across the world, all peace processes face this problem. In Myanmar, this is neither the first conference nor the first time, the parties come to a consensus and sign an agreement/accord.
In October 2015, the government signed the famous “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” (NCA) with eight Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Two more groups joined in 2018, making the EAOs that have signed the NCA into ten, and are now referred to as the NCA-S EAOs. During August-September 2016, Myanmar held the first session of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong. Two more sessions were held during 2017 and 2018. The latest session is the fourth in this series. Numerous agreements were signed in these sessions/meetings; for example, in the third session held in July 2018, Union Accord – II was signed; and 37 agreements were signed in the second session in 2017 referred as the Pyidaungsu Accord. The challenge is not conferences and agreements, but taking implementing them on the ground.
The second issue relates to the comprehensiveness of the “Nationwide” Ceasefire Agreement – in terms of groups and geography. While the Peace Conferences since 2015 have succeeded in getting ten Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) within the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), there are many outside it. And not every group that took part in the meetings were a part of the signatory the agreements. Similarly, the “Nationwide” Ceasefire, does not cover entire Myanmar; Rakhine State, for example, is outside it, as announced by the Tatmadaw recently.
The third issue relates to the differences and the political space within the State actors that include the political parties, the legislature and the military. The Tatmadaw continues to remain dominant and occupy a larger space in the dialogue process vis-a-vis the ethnic groups within Myanmar – militant or otherwise.
The forthcoming elections in Myanmar scheduled in November 2020 loom large for the NLD and Aung San Sui Kyi. The immediate focus of the NLD would be to win the elections and form the government subsequently. Hence the elections, victory and post-election government formation will assume priority for Myanmar’s main political party – the NLD, and also for the Tatmadaw. The latter would be watching the elections closely and see its outcome. The immediate priority for the State actors would be elections and not the peace process and the agreements signed. Myanmar seems to have succeeded in establishing multiple processes and also signing agreements. However, the end goal – peace, seems to remain afar.
Libya: Haftar rejects GNA’s call for a ceasefire, and calls it as a marketing stunt
In the news
On 21 August, Libya’s government announced a unilateral ceasefire calling for the demilitarising of the city of Sirte. The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) also called for Parliamentary and Presidential elections to be held in March, and to bring an end to an oil blockade imposed by rival forces. According to a statement released by the GNA, it has “issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories” adding that the main aim of the truce was to enforce “full sovereignty over the Libyan territory and the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries.” There was no immediate comment from military commander Khalifa Haftar but Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the pro-Haftar Libyan Parliament, called on all parties to adhere to the truce stating that the ceasefire will prevent foreign military intervention in Libya.
However, on 24 August, Haftar rejected the GNA’s call for a ceasefire dismissing the ceasefire announcement as a “marketing” stunt. Spokesman for Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) Ahmed Mismari stated, “The initiative that al-Sarraj signed is for media marketing,” adding, “There is a military build-up and the transfer of equipment to target our forces in Sirte. If al-Sarraj wanted a ceasefire, he would have drawn his forces back, not advanced towards our units in Sirte.”
Issues at large
First, the history of ceasefires in Libya. The success of Ceasefires has always been deeply uncertain in Libya, with both sides agreeing initially and then pulling out, or not trusting the other party. Earlier this year, Haftar walked away from the ceasefire agreement on the account being unhappy with the language of the draft agreement as well as the involvement of Russia and Turkey in the monitoring the ceasefire. Similarly, in April, the government rejected a unilateral ceasefire declaration by Haftar stating that it did not trust the latter.
Second, the impact of a power struggle within the Haftar camp on ceasefires. After Haftar lost the battle for Tripoli, Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives has emerged as the most influential and is seen as the alternative powerbroker for the country’s east. Internal power struggles impact on the outcomes of the ceasefire.
Third, external intervention in ceasefires. In an attempt to broker peace, Libya has become a turned into a proxy war, with several foreign powers joining in to defend ideological and economic interests. Recently, Turkey has stepped in, using drones and Syrian mercenaries to protect Tripoli and defeat Haftar. However, despite Turkey’s aggression, the support from Russian and UAE backing Haftar has made the situation more challenging.
Although the proposed truce underscores the shifting balance of power on the ground, the prospect of yet another round of conflict will be devastating for all sides and would leave neither side closer to consolidating a grip on the whole country. What Libya needs a dialogue leading up to a ceasefire followed further negotiations an attempt of which has never been made. This would help avoid numerous fallouts such as military intervention or the division of Libya which would further plunge the country into chaos.
Further, the international community and allies supporting either side have to take decisive steps re-establish stability to Libya rather than prolong the conflict.
Also, from around the World…
Peace and Conflict in Southeast and East Asia
Philippines: Two Islamic suicide bombers kill 14
On 24 August, two powerful explosions set off by the suicide bombers ripped through heavily populated areas of a southern Philippine island leaving 14 people dead and 75 wounded. The first attack took place near the town plaza on Jolo Island, while the second took place near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. However, Philippine military officials say that the militants allied with the Islamic State were behind the attacks.
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Pakistan: An Afghan Taliban delegation arrives in Pakistan to discuss the Afghan peace process
On 24 August, a Taliban delegation, led by their political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Pakistan to discuss the way forward in the Afghan peace process on the invitation of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. Pakistan has urged the Taliban to start talks with the Afghan government to end decades of conflict after meeting with the delegation. This is a second visit of the Taliban’s political delegation to Pakistan; they had previously visited Islamabad in October 2019. Further, this visit comes as preparations are being made to start the next phase of the Afghan peace process, which is the intra-Afghan talks.
Afghanistan: Saba Sahar, an Afghan actress and film director shot in Kabul
On 25 August, Saba Sahar, one of Afghanistan’s first female film directors, was shot in Kabul. According to her husband, Ms Sahar was travelling to work on when three gunmen opened fire on her car. No group has claimed the attack. Ms Sahar is among Afghanistan’s most famous actors, as well as a director and campaigner for women’s rights. Further, she has trained as a police officer and continues to work for the interior ministry. Her films and television programmes have explored justice and corruption. This attack comes amid the rising cases of attacks on film actors, political activists and human rights defenders in Afghanistan.
Peace and Conflict in the Middle East and Africa
Iraq: The US troops withdraw from Iraq’s Camp Taji base
On 23 August, a United States-led military coalition in Iraq stated that its troops have withdrawn from Camp Taji military base and handed it over to Iraqi security forces. Located 20km north of Baghdad, the base was facing frequent rocket attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting the US-led troops in recent months. The remaining coalition troops are to depart in the coming days after finalizing the handing over of equipment to Iraqi security forces. While speaking at the handover ceremony, coalition spokesman Colonel Myles Caggins III said: “We are making these transitions because the Iraqi security forces are successful against Daesh.” This was the eighth transfer of a coalition portion of an Iraqi base back to Iraqi forces.
Sudan: The US proposes to remove Sudan from terrorism list for $330m compensation
On 25 August, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, visited Khartoum where he proposed to remove Sudan from a list of states that sponsor terrorism in exchange for a $330 million payment compensation to American victims of al-Qaida. Further, Pompeo pressed for improved ties between Sudan and Israel, discussed the lifting of sanctions with the Sudanese prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok. However, Hamdok had told Pompeo that his interim government “does not have a mandate beyond these tasks or to decide on normalization with Israel.” Further, he urged the US not to link “the subject of lifting Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the subject of normalization with Israel.” The US designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, making the country ineligible for much-needed debt relief and funding from international institutions, and limits potential foreign investment.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Sudan and Ethiopia pledge resolve Blue Nile dam dispute
On 25 August, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the Sudanese capital Khartoum in the latest effort by the African nations to reach an agreement over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which has caused a bitter dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over water supplies. Further, in a joint statement made by Ethiopia and Sudan, “The two sides emphasized they would make every possible effort to reach a successful conclusion to the current tripartite negotiations.” Earlier this month, the three nations had agreed to present draft proposals over the management of the hydroelectric dam.
Africa: WHO declares Africa free of wild polio
On 25 August, the WHO declared Africa free of the wild poliovirus after decades of efforts. The African Regional Certification Commission announced this historical development for Polio Eradication during a World Health Organization (WHO) event. This comes four years after Africa’s last case was reported in northern Nigeria. Africa accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago. The success comes after health experts had to overcome many challenges, including convincing communities about vaccination.
Mali: Former President Keita released from detention, while ECOWAS fail to reach an agreement
On 27 August, coup leaders in Mali have released former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from detention. Further, on 24 August, talks between a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the military officers disagreed on a timetable to return Mali to democratic rule. Further, the international community increased pressure on the military, as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) suspended the nation from its membership 25 August and called for the release of President Keita. Additionally, the European Union has also suspended its training missions in the country, the two missions training Mali’s army and Police were part of international efforts to stabilize Mali and extend the state’s authority.
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Belarus: The government step up the pressure, arrests two senior protestors
According to the BBC, two senior figures in Belarus’s protest movement have been given 10-day jail terms for organizing demonstrations. Olga Kovalkova and Sergei Dylevsky belonged to the National Coordination Council. This council was in turn set up by the exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Since 9 August, Belarus has erupted into protests after an election poll projected the return of Alexander Lukashenko who has been in power for 26 years. The US and the EU have rejected the election reject as neither free nor fair.
Russia: Kremlin denies poisoning the Russia critic Navalny
The Kremlin has dismissed accusations that President Vladimir Putin has ordered the poisoning of one of the most crucial Russia critic Alexei Navalny. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the allegations were untrue and could not be taken seriously. Alexei Navalny on 20 August fell ill on a flight, and his supporters suspect poison was placed in a cup of tea at the airport. He immediately landed Germany for further treatment, and the doctors in Germany said he had “probably” been poisoned.
Turkey: After Hagia Sophia, another Church gets converted into a mosque
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on 21 August that the historic Church of the Holy Savior in Chora would be converted into a mosque. Initially constructed as a church in the 11th century, the Holy Savior, was later converted to a mosque after the Ottoman expansion. This mosque later became a museum in 1945. When the construction of the museum was contested in the court of law, the court ruled in favour of the revivalism and called the construction of the museum as unlawful.
The US: Another shooting of an African American by the Police revives the Black Lives Matter protests.
On 23 August, an African American – Jacob Blake, was shot six times by the Police, in Kenosha in Wisconsin, as the latter was trying to arrest him. While the shooting immediately provoked violence and arson in Kenosha, it also has revived the Black Lives Matter protests across the US. To make things worse in Kenosha, on 26 August, a 17-year-old has been reported to have shot two protestors with a machine gun. During the recent weeks, ever since the killing of George Floyd, another African American in Minneapolis on 26 May, there has been tensions and protests against anti-racism across the US. The support is getting widespread; the National Basketball Association had to postpone three playoff games as one of the teams decided to boycott a playoff game, showing solidarity to the protestors.
About the authors
Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare is a postgraduate scholar from the South Asian Studies, UMISARC, Pondicherry University. D Suba Chandran is a Professor and the Dean of School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sourina Bej and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are NIAS Project Associates and Research Assistant, respectively.
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