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