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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Gaza Has To Cope With Economic Violence More Often Than It Has to With Border Wars

Written by By Harry Blain, Foreign Policy in Focus

“They just seem — well — less developed, less innovative, less productive than the Israelis.”

This was one of the many objections I faced during a recent attempt to secure support for a petition condemning the 12-year siege of Gaza. While it seemed honest, it was also probably influenced by a time-honored propaganda tactic: the celebration of Israel’s economic and technological achievements in everything from renewable energy to its “startup ecosystem,” as opposed to the stagnation, corruption, and cronyism of the Arab and Muslim world.

Israeli police patrol the Gaza coast (Photo: Edo Medicks / Flickr)

Making the Desert Bloom

Few proponents of this narrative put it quite as bluntly as “the cool kid’s philosopher,” Ben Shapiro, did in 2010. “Israelis like to build,” he wrote on Twitter. “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock.”

All the same, there seems to be something inherently appealing about supporting a country that has “made the desert bloom.” Who can argue with the basic facts? Rationing of oil and food existed in Israel as late as the 1960s; now it boasts “the highest density of startups of any country in the world.” From 1986 to 2016 its GDP grew by 180 percent. Its unemployment and debt-to-GDP figures make some developed nations look like banana republics.

Compare this with the miserable spectacle of an Egyptian economy 40 percent controlled by its armed forces, a Saudi “rentier state” sustained by a slave-like, mostly South Asian underclass, or a growing casualty list of failed Iranian development plans and vision documents. Not to mention the Palestinians, whose leaders have often done an impressive job of squandering and misusing large sums of foreign aid money, or paying civil servants not to work as long as they belong to the right political faction.

“Redeeming the Soil”

In a broad sense, these were the points raised by the man who didn’t like my petition. And, like any good political operative, I dodged them: the only question on this piece of paper, I said, is whether we should defend — with our tax dollars and national diplomatic representatives — the self-proclaimed right of the Israeli military to shoot and kill non-violent protesters.

But, notwithstanding my attempt to stay “on message,” the economic questions do have to be answered. For one thing, they have significant political implications, lying at the heart of Israel’s national mythology since at least the late 19th century, when early “Labor Zionists” committed themselves to “redeeming the soil” through agricultural settlements in Palestine.

In a more concrete way, “the economy” is not — and never should be — a purely academic curiosity. As our material foundation, it is capable of broadening, constraining, stimulating or destroying the possibilities of human life. It is at the core of our daily struggles and advances. Understanding its dimensions in Israel/Palestine, therefore, is essential to understanding what we vaguely call “the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Strangulation Hurts

Thankfully, despite what some officially-anointed “experts” tell us, the general picture is not particularly complicated.

Israel’s economic development has been remarkable, and much of it has been driven by the ingenuity of its citizens — but it helps when American aid reaches above 10 percent of your GDP in times when you really need it.

It helps too when you have full control over your borders, airspace, roads, water, schools, and electricity. When you don’t have to worry about well-armed, hostile colonists routinely setting fire to your olive trees. When you can go fishing without being shot, threatened, or humiliated by a professional national navy. When you can drink clean water, or plant in clean soil. When your imports and exports are not subject to the arbitrary restrictions of a government whose ministers openly support your mass expulsion.

Embed from Getty Images

Many of these inhuman and degrading conditions apply to everyone living in the occupied Palestinian territories. But they are uniquely crushing to the people of Gaza.

Although Palestinian leaders — both in Hamas and Fatah — are far from guiltless, it takes a heavy dose of intellectual casuistry to deflect blame from the de jure and de facto occupying power. Gaza’s economic catastrophe is not caused by a lack of entrepreneurial spirit or some politicians who can’t keep their hands out of the till. It is caused by an occupation regime that has embraced New York Senator (and, incredibly, now Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer’s call to “strangle them economically.”

This strangulation has ranged from sinister calculations of near-but-not-quite starvation levels of daily caloric intake for Gaza, to more mundane but equally humiliating micromanagement of Gaza’s eggplant and tomato exports. Its primary consequence is what Harvard’s Sara Roy calls a “demeaning dependence on humanitarian aid” for at least 1.3 million Gazans (70 percent of the strip’s population).

And this is really the central point about the relationship between the economy and the conflict: it’s not a question of GDP per capita, aggregate growth, or even the unemployment rate. As any political scientist will not hesitate to tell you, there are too many poor people and not enough wars in the world to sustain the idea that poverty causes war.

In this sense, Gandhi’s often-quoted claim that “poverty is the worst form of violence” might not be an empirically sound one. But what we see in Gaza is not just poverty: it is, above all, humiliation. This, of course, can grind people down until they give up. However, it only takes a single outrage — a murder, a beating, an insult — to turn these slowly accumulating grievances into a political explosion. Israel learned this the hard way in 1987 and 2000, as did many Arab dictatorships in 2011.

It is good when we speak out against horrors like those that the Israeli military inflicted on Great March of Return protesters. But calling out the more insidious economic violence that dominates daily life in Palestine comes closer to the essence of the struggle. We cannot wait for the next massacre before we take up this task.

Harry Blain is a PhD student in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York). This article was originally published on Foreign Policy in Focus.
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Monday, 18 June 2018

Argentina Legalises Abortion, Victory For Women's' Rights

Written by Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, University of Bath and Lucía Cirmi Obón, National University of Quilmes

“Nothing will stop us now!” These were the words of the excited and emotional activists when Argentina’s parliament voted narrowly (129 votes to 125) to decriminalise abortion. The National Congress in Buenos Aires was surrounded by women wearing green scarves around their necks, heads and wrists. Since 2005 this has been the symbol of their campaign. It represents life and hope and evokes memories of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – a group of women whose children disappeared under the dictatorship in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s.

File 20180614 32319 1dyppvq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
EPA/David Fernandez

It was in fact the president, Mauricio Macri, leader of a centre-right government who, under the pressure of feminist and social activists, suggested opening the abortion debate in his inaugural speech to parliament. Despite pressure from religious groups, he had to recognise that there was an increasing social awareness about abortion. Feminist groups were showing politicians that women and society were ready for a change.

Under the current regulations, women cannot have a legal abortion in Argentina. Exceptions are only very rarely considered in the case of rape or risk to the health of the woman. Even then, the ultimate decision lies with health professionals – and they can refuse to perform a procedure on the grounds of religious belief. Every year, hundreds of pregnant women die in Argentina because abortion is criminalised.

Clandestine abortion is the main cause of maternal mortality. According to the Ministry of Health in Argentina, there are 500,000 illegal interventions per year. In 2016, there were 245 maternal deaths, 43 of which were produced by illegal abortions. This was an urgent public health matter. Criminalising abortion has not stopped abortions from taking place. It has only increased the risk of self-harm and death.

Women Spoke, Parliament Listened

This vote was preceded by weeks of discussions and presentations from experts, activists, politicians and the public to parliamentarians so that they could make an informed decision. The representatives went on to have hours of intense debate before passing the new law. This will legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and in longer periods in situations that entail health risks to the pregnant person or in the case of rape.

There have been six previous attempts at passing this legislation. This time, the campaign group presented a petition to parliament, gathering signatures from 71 MPs from different political affiliations – enough to ensure that the matter would be debated in parliament.

Activists gather ahead of the parliamentary vote. EPA
But the real victory belongs to the massive push from women’s rights activists. They organised and rallied against “femicide” (femicidio) in demonstrations, celebrations and speeches. Like an unstoppable green tide, women’s presence in the streets began to take shape and volume. They became a collective voice that could not be stopped. In a short period of time, the activists turned abortion into a national issue. Women became the main protagonists of their own destiny rather than having to submit to the judgement of the Catholic Church. and religious groups when it comes to their reproductive rights.

The three clear goals of the campaign were reasonable and inspirational. As a counter to the old-fashioned fundamentalism of right-wing religious groups, which make obsolete patriarchal arguments about women’s roles, the campaign argued that women should receive sexual education to help them decide on their own reproductive health – which is crucial for young people to be able to understand their bodies. It also called for contraceptives to be made more readily available to avoid abortion in the first place and for abortion to be a possibility when the other two fail.

In addition to the campaign, four marches organised by the feminist group Not One Less (Ni Una Menos) were of paramount importance. Ni una Menos argues that the criminalisation of abortion must be seen as part of the broader violence against women that has recently increased, together with rape, abduction, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. These are young and strong feminists who enlivened the campaign.

The Green Tide

There are no words to describe the joy that the success of this long-term campaign has brought to activists and to women in general. The law has not been approved yet – it must now be discussed and approved by the senate. But, for now at least, the criminalisation of abortion looks to be a thing of the past.

As María Alicia Gutiérrez, a leader of the National Campaign for Legal Abortion and researcher on reproductive health at the University of Buenos Aires, emphasised in her presentation during the parliamentary debate, this is a collective right that responds to the broader demand for reproductive justice. The campaign has achieved the “social” decriminalisation of abortion, even if it has not yet become law.

The Senate might reject the new law but can’t turn back the green tide. June 13 and 14 2018 will forever be celebrated as historic days for the feminist movement in Argentina. The feminist struggle crosses all kinds of issues – in fact, the campaign has worked closely with gender diversity groups so that the beneficiary of this legislation would not only be women but “all people with the ability to procreate”. This is in line with the principles of the Argentine Gender Identity Law, which would allow a trans-man to be able to have an abortion.

The feminist critique is becoming stronger and more powerful. Global feminism is the only movement fighting simultaneously against patriarchy, heterosexuality, racial discrimination, capitalism and colonialism. To make this vote happen in Argentina, violence against women was confronted by women in defence of life and their rights. Their chants have worked. They have secured legal abortion and the right not to die: Aborto legal para no morir ya!

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Bath and Lucía Cirmi Obón, PhD scholar, National University of Quilmes. This article was originally published on The Conversation
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Saturday, 16 June 2018

Trump-Kim Summit, Kim Walks Away With The Cherry On The Pie

Virginie Grzelczyk, Aston University

At first glance, it is easy to call the meeting between US president, Donald Trump, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, “historic” and “unprecedented”. It was the first meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries, which are still technically in a state of war.

You could also call it a success – preparations and schedules were respected, the media had ample opportunity to take shots of the two men shaking hands in front of the colourful display of 12 intermingled American and North Korean flags – and they were also privy to comments by the two leaders, including Kim in one of his very rare appearances in front of the foreign press.

The meeting was also a success from a security and optics points of view: smiles were exchanged, in-depth discussions took place between cabinet members, nobody went off script and there were no security breaches, thanks to ironclad preparations by their Singaporean hosts.

Embed from Getty Images

Now that both leaders are on their way back to their own countries, we are left with many photos of the bromance du jour, as well as a signed statement – and a plethora of questions. What should we take away from this historic moment? Here are three key points:

1. Ultimately It Was North Korea’s Day

Kim has managed to build upon the work of his father and grandfather and secured the highest form of recognition that there is – a bilateral meeting with the president of the most powerful country on the planet.

And North Korea did not have to pay a cent for it: China furnished a plane, Singapore footed the US$15m-plus bill for the summit, and the media distributed images of the North Korean leader parlaying on equal terms with the US president to the entire world. It’s a resounding success for Kim – and one that is likely to be exploited back home for political purpose.

2. What Is Written In The Agreement

The joint document signed by both parties shows the craftiness and hardline approach the DPRK has taken to the summit. Though the agreement commits both parties to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula – removing all nuclear weapons from the region, including potential American weapons – the DPRK has only reiterated, in writing, its commitment to “work towards” this aim.

This is certainly not the pledge for the unilateral dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear programme that the US has always pushed for.

3. What Is Not Written In The Agreement

The agreement shows a clear miss from the United States, as there are no mentions of CVID (“complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement”) of North Korean nuclear capabilities – something that was talked about a great deal in the run up to the meeting.

Given that Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser, John Bolton, have signalled that they would accept nothing short of CVID, this is a giant omission. Essentially, this should be read as a refusal from the DPRK to state that they would denuclearise unilaterally.

4. Putting Words Into Action

The agreement provides very vague concepts for a new US-DPRK relationship – one that will without a doubt also change the nature of balance and geopolitics in East Asia and relationships with other regional actors such as South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

The first concrete action was for the American president to announce he intends to call a halt to the annual war game exercises organised between the US and South Korea (the most recent exercises nearly derailed the inter-Korea summit a few weeks ago). This is an important step toward confidence building for both sides of the summit and one that should be praised.

But it is important to note that Trump’s rationale was to scrap the war games, not because they offend and worry the DPRK – but, as he himself stated to the media, because they cost a lot of money. And money – especially the way Trump thinks the rest of the world takes advantage of the US – was a theme the US president returned to repeatedly in the post-summit press conference.

Trump also talked about real estate development opportunities in the DPRK. In essence, Trump’s money-focused transactional nature took only a few hours to surface after his handshake with Kim. But peace has a cost and, given the current US narrative that seeks to avoid foreign entanglement and is fed up with spending money on international commitments, it will require the United States to manage its shaky alliances if this is to be a realistic prospect.

And as reactions are starting to pour in from world leaders, it is important to remember that the summit has given the DPRK legitimacy on the world stage, while there was little talk of how this legitimacy was acquired: essentially by developing nuclear weapons.

Kim is a dictator who has purged a number of rivals while starving and oppressing his own population. Ultimately, Trump has just willingly sat down with a villain and not gained much in the way of concessions in return.

Virginie Grzelczyk, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Aston University. This article was originally published on The Conversation
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Thursday, 14 June 2018

Has Venezuela Become A Mafia State?

Written by Venezuela Investigative Unit, InSight Crime

There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a “mafia state.” Here are seven arguments as to why we think Venezuela qualifies and what the implications are of this troubled Andean nation as a regional crime hub.

1. Top Level Criminal Penetration Into State Institutions

For the last three years InSight Crime has been tracking individuals we believe have links to organized crime and have held, or currently hold, senior positions in Venezuelan state institutions. We have found 123 officials that we confidently believe are involved in criminal activity. For legal reasons we will not publish the entire list, but some of the clearest cases are named in this investigation, “Drug Trafficking within the Venezuelan Regime: The Cartel of the Suns.”

What is clear from our investigations is that the following institutions are staffed at the higher echelons by individuals we believe are, or have been, engaged in criminal activity:

The Vice Presidency, the Ministries of Interior (Ministerio del Poder Popular del Despacho de la Presidencia y Seguimiento de la Gestión de Gobierno), Defense (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Defensa), Agriculture (Ministerio del Poder Popular de Agricultura Urbana), Education (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educación), Prison Service (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario), Foreign Trade and Investment (Ministerio de Estado para el Comercio Exterior e Inversión Internacional), Electricity (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Energía Eléctrica), the National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana), the Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Bolivarianas), the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN) and PdVSA.

The penetration of so many key institutions, and the fact that they constitute the state’s main organs in the fight against organized crime, means that Venezuela cannot even contain organized crime, let alone effectively fight it. With so many state actors with interests in criminal activity, be it fuel smuggling, the black market sale of food and medicines or the trafficking of cocaine, this factor alone suggests that Venezuela qualifies as a mafia state.

2. Evidence of Kleptocracy

How does a nation sat astride the greatest oil reserves outside of the Middle East go bust? Staggering incompetence, corruption and kleptocracy.

The state coffers have been pillaged on an industrial scale by the Bolivarian elite. With no transparency or public accounting of state budgets or expenditure, it is hard to calculate how much has been looted from the country. An investigation by a congressional committee put the number at $70 billion. A former minister has stated that the number is closer to $300 billion.

Without hard data, all we can do is recognize the scale of the corruption and look at some of its principal motors. The lack of transparency is one. Venezuela ranks 166 out of 176 countries rated by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. If nobody knows how much the state is earning and how it is spending it, then there is no accountability and therefore officials who control budgets can easily divert funds into their own pockets or those of their friends. This kleptocracy has certainly been one of the main factors that has brought Venezuela to the edge of economic collapse and bankruptcy.

Currency and price controls introduced by the Venezuelan government in February 2003 were one of the principle enablers of corruption and kleptocracy during the government of Hugo Chávez. And this continues today, although on a much smaller scale.

“The system was created to be abused,” said Alejandro Rebolledo, a Venezuelan lawyer specializing in organized crime, during an interview with InSight Crime in Caracas. The differential exchange rates were created under the premise of avoiding capital flight in the aftermath of widespread strikes that had led to the 2002 coup. They immediately gave raise to “perverse incentives,” according to Carlos Miguel Alvarez, an analyst at the Venezuelan think tank Ecoanalitica. Unscrupulous businesses and corrupt officials could buy dollars “cheap” at the official rate and sell them for much more bolivars on the black market.

Importers “wildly inflate the value of goods brought into the country to grab American dollars at rock-bottom exchange rates. Sometimes, they fake the shipments altogether and import nothing at all,” according to an investigation by the New York Times.

Now, the exchange system is used to keep key sectors loyal. The privileged get access to US dollars, allowing them to make huge profits. The principal beneficiary today is the military, which controls the importation and distribution of food and medicine, and profits in criminal terms from this monopoly.

3. The Devolution Of State Powers To Irregular And Illegal Actors

Following the 2002 military coup that ousted Hugo Chávez from power for 48 hours, the president made key changes to the levers of power to ensure he could not be toppled in the same way again. One of the measures he adopted was to devolve state functions to irregular and even criminal elements. The security forces also lost the monopoly on carrying arms. Instead there has been a proliferation of weapons and munitions into criminal hands, either by design or through corruption. We have two articles in this investigative series dedicated to two examples of this: “The Devolution of State Power: The Colectivos,” and “The Devolution of State Power: The Pranes.”

The colectivos are irregular, usually armed groups that have control over many neighborhoods, principally in Caracas. They have historically enjoyed government blessing and therefore a degree of legitimacy, but are ultimately accountable to no one. They “police” their areas of influence and some even offer a parallel justice system. While they were initially funded by the Venezuela government, they have increasingly turned to criminal activities to finance themselves, principally the microtrafficking of drugs, as well as extortion. The government of President Nicolás Maduro has used the colectivos to exert social control in their areas of influence and to break up opposition protests.

The Colectivos also perform police surveillance . Credit: Carlos Ramirez
The pranes are the criminal bosses within Venezuela’s prison system. Under Prison Minister Iris Varela, the government has largely delivered control of the prison system to the pranes, with the understanding that they keep violence to a minimum and prevent disorder within the penitentiary system. The system of pranes has become so powerful and successful, that their criminal structures now operate beyond the prison gates, often in tandem with the so called “megabandas,” criminal structures than now exert control over much of the Venezuelan underworld.

4. Exponential Growth Of Venezuelan Organized Crime

Venezuela does not have a long tradition of organized crime. Indeed, until very recently it was the Colombian mafias who controlled much of the drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping, and these were largely confined to the border states.

Today crime is rampant, and Venezuela is likely the kidnap capital of Latin America, although there is no hard data to support this claim.

Right from the outset, the Bolivarian regime adopted a strange attitude to crime. In a now infamous speech Chávez made shortly after becoming president, he condoned those who stole to feed their families, in comments widely interpreted as encouraging crime.

“The truth is that yes, if I were that young man … and I saw my daughter at the point of dying of hunger I think I would go out at midnight to do something to stop her from going to her grave — don’t you think?” he said in a public address.

“The rich are bad and the poor are exploited, the poor are delinquents or violent because they’re poor and exploited,” is how Roberto Briceño-Leon, who heads the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV), described the regime’s ideological justification for tolerating criminality.

There have been a series of government policies that have directly benefited organized crime. One began in 2013, when the government began implementing what became known as its “peace zone” policy. Run by José Vicente Rangel Avalos, now the mayor of Sucre municipality in Caracas, the policy was to engage in social investment in areas of high criminality and negotiate with local communities to reduce crime. What really ended up happening was Rangel Avalos sitting down with the leaders of megabandas.

Part of the negotiations between the megabandas and the government was a verbal agreement not to allow state security forces into the designated zones without prior agreement, according to reports. Rangel Avalos denied this was the case, but observers and the media reported that the government effectively handed the areas over to the control of the gangs. They became the de facto law, and thus expanded in confidence, strength and territorial control. The absence of the security forces was the most fundamental factor in the growth of the gangs. Much like their colleagues in the prisons, the megabandas were able to create a state within a state.

“They abandoned people when they said to the municipal police, the state police, the city police that they couldn’t patrol these [peace zones] to avoid misunderstandings … and so the criminals said, ‘Hey brother, this is my opportunity to convert this area into our territory, to bring kidnapping victims, to charge ransoms, to batter the people who live here,’” Fermín Mármol, a lawyer and former police chief, told InSight Crime.

The peace zone policy, never officially recognized by the government, has been abandoned, but the zones in which it was practiced remain some of the areas with the highest rates of criminality.

Investigations by InSight Crime point to between 12 and 16 megabandas, some with over 300 members, currently operating in Venezuela, mainly in the states of Miranda, Guárico, Carabobo, Aragua, Zulia, Bolivar, Táchira and in the capital Caracas.

Linked to growth of criminal gangs has been the increase in illegal economies. The biggest has long been the smuggling of subsidized fuel, the cheapest in the world to buy, into Brazil and Colombia. This is now largely in the hands of the National Guard, working with Colombian groups. But a far more widespread series of black markets was created via the system of government subsidies on foodstuffs and medicines. This black market has fed the growth of criminal actors, who profit from their trading or smuggling. Nowadays, almost every Venezuelan does business with black markets, and many state actors, as well as criminal actors, profit from it, once again blurring the lines between the state and criminals, undermining the legitimacy of the government.

5. High Levels Of Violence By State And Non-state Actors

While there are no official homicide statistics, the most realistic data on murders is provided by Venezuela’s Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV). It placed Venezuela at 89 homicides per 100,000 of population during 2017, making the nation the most dangerous in Latin America, in a region with the highest homicides rates in the world. Caracas ranks as one of the deadliest cities on the planet, with a murder rate of 130 per 100,000.

Of the 26,616 homicides registered by the OVV in 2017, 5,535 occurred at the hands of the security forces, a very high proportion, amid widespread accusations of extrajudicial killings, often in the context of the Operations to Liberate the People (Operativos de Liberación del Pueblo – OLPs). These are anti-crime offensives, launched by President Nicolás Maduro, aimed at bringing down rampant crime rates. They have been marked by high numbers of killings and accusations that there is a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. Another factor in the high level of state killings has been the heavy handed response to opposition protests. The United Nations has already questioned the high level of security force killings.

These levels of homicides can be laid firmly at the door of the government. When Chávez took power in 1999, homicide rates were at around 25 per 100,000, with just under 6,000 violent deaths at the end of 1999, according to the OVV. From 1999, homicides began to go up and have risen steadily year on year.

6. The Exportation Of Criminality

For decades Colombia exported conflict and criminality to Venezuela, as that country’s civil conflict spilled over the frontier. Colombian drug trafficking organizations and warring factions set up shop, turning Venezuela into a logistics base, safe haven and one of the principal transit nations for Colombian cocaine. However, with the rising levels of criminality and the large-scale contraband to neighboring countries, including many small and vulnerable Caribbean islands, Venezuela is becoming a net exporter of criminality.

Much of this can be laid at the door of sheer desperation. Hungry and penniless Venezuelans, many with little education or marketable skills, have been forced out of the country in their search for survival. They are easy prey for organized crime, as victims and recruits.

The Red Cross estimated that at least one million Venezuelans fled their nation into Colombia over the last 12 months, and that an estimated 37,000 people were crossing the border every day.

Many of these dispossessed are being recruited by organized crime. The biggest recruiters have been the Colombian mafia and rebel groups, but InSight Crime doing field research in Colombia has found Venezuelan women working in the sex trade across Colombia, including as far away as Nariño on the border with Ecuador. The chapter “Colombia and Venezuela: Criminal Siamese Twins” provides further information on the presence of these rebel groups on the border between the two countries.

In the article on the cocaine pipeline from Venezuela through the Caribbean, “Dominican Republic and Venezuela: Cocaine Across the Caribbean,” we track the growing involvement of Venezuelans in a wide variety of criminal activities.

7. Widespread International Accusations Of Criminal Behaviour

Another indicator of a mafia state is when enough international actors question a state’s legitimacy, not just on its democratic credentials, but for criminal activity.

Not surprisingly, the United States has taken the lead in condemning the Venezuelan government. In one of the most recent declarations, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said that ordinary Venezuelans were “the unwilling victims of a criminal narco-state.”

Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos has accused the Maduro administration of “using criminal gangs to be able to exercise better control over society, over the people, a macabre association of criminal gangs with security forces to control the population.”
The United Nations has received reports of “hundreds of extrajudicial killings in recent years, both during protests and security operations,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stated.

Panama placed 54 Venezuelan government figures, including President Maduro, on a list of persons at “high risk” of engaging in money laundering or financing terrorism.

The European Union placed sanctions on seven senior government officials, including Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno, intelligence chief Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez and the number two of the ruling socialist party, Diosdado Cabello. They are now subject to asset freeze and travel bans.

Even Switzerland, not known for its aggressive foreign policy, announced sanctions against Venezuela, stating it was “seriously concerned by the repeated violations of individual freedoms in Venezuela, where the principle of separation of powers is severely undermined and the process in view of the forthcoming elections suffers from a serious lack of legitimacy.”

Venezuelans go the polls this weekend, to choose their next president. Nobody is expecting free and fair elections, and the favorite to win is the sitting president, Nicolás Maduro. If he wins, the mafia tendencies of the Venezuelan state are likely to further solidify, and this Andean nation will become one of Latin America’s regional crime hubs, with grave consequences for her neighbors and the region as a whole. *

This article is part of a multipart investigation looking at organized crime in Venezuela. This article was originally published by InSight Crime.

*Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 16th May, 2018 by InSight Crime. Presidential elections were held in Venezuela on 20 May 2018 with incumbent Nicolás Maduro being re-elected for a second six-year term. Considered a snap election, the original electoral date was scheduled for December 2018 but was subsequently pulled ahead to 22 April before being pushed back to 20 May. Some analysts have described the poll as a show election,with the election having the lowest voter turnout in Venezuela's democratic history. (source: wikipedia)
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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Toxic Outcome Of An Armed Conflict, Donbass, Ukraine

Written by By Wim Zwijnenburg, New Security Beat

A looming industrial tower of pipelines and chemical storage tanks rises out of snowy landscape. In Novogorodske, a small quiet town in eastern Ukraine, workers go about their daily business at the Dzerzhinsk Phenol Factory. A penetrating, inescapable smell greeted us as we entered the village, which a Dutch journalist and I are visiting as part of our investigation into the environmental and health risks from ongoing fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Our research for the open-source collective Bellingcat has identified the factory as one of a number of potential environmental flashpoints.

Dzerzhinsk Phenol Factory

At the factory, the director welcomes us with coffee and an obligatory crash course in safety and chemical hazards. The plant turns coal tar into phenol, a toxic chemical used in pharmaceuticals and the plastics industry, and paraffin, which has numerous uses, from wax to rocket fuel.  More than 350,000 liters of toxic waste is stored in three nearby ponds, just a couple of hundred meters outside the village. Locals tells us how the mafia used the ponds’ acid water to get rid of bodies. When we ask the director about it, he laughs and says it’s not that bad: “You only get heavy burn wounds when you touch the water.”

Since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014 between the Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists, the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” the heavy industrialised Donbas region has faced an increased risk of ecological disaster. Shelling by both factions could release substantial pollution from the area’s many chemical factories, water treatment facilities, power stations, and others environmentally sensitive sites. One barrage of misfired artillery shells could set in motion a chain reaction that would render large parts of the region uninhabitable, spilling toxic waste into rivers and groundwater, making living there impossible. 

For five days, we plow our way through the snowy landscape in a rusty, Soviet-era Lada, trying to understand how local villagers, factory owners, and the military perceive these threats. Do they know what could happen if one of the shells hit the wrong target?  And how do they deal with the multitude of risks to their health?

Devastating Consequences: The Risk of Toxic Flooding

The Bakhmut Agrarian Union, near the town of Novoluhanske, is a giant livestock facility with 90,000 pigs and a huge reservoir of one million liters of animal waste, which contains high levels of nitrates, ammonia, and antibiotics. Damage to the facility, which has already been targeted by shelling, could release the waste into nearby rivers.

While we’re standing next the town’s local military post, we hear a heavy artillery barrage about 3 km away. The farm is literally on the frontline, surrounded by trenches. We pass several Ukrainian army roadblocks to reach the main office building.  In the lobby, a big hole in the ceiling—and the visible remains of a Grad missile—marks the last hit in December 2017. The staff tells us that all the water-pumping systems have been fixed and unexploded ordnance cleared from the pond, so the biggest threat is gone. But that doesn’t exclude the risk of renewed shelling.

OSCE’s recent environmental assessment of the conflict in Ukraine portrayed a distressing situation. Due to power shortages and lack of trained personnel, dozens of coal mines are out of operation, affecting the pumping systems. These mines, some of which store toxic and radioactive waste, are at risk of severe flooding if the rising groundwater isn’t pumped out. If they flood into the rivers and nearby villages, the consequences would be catastrophic for local communities and the environment they depend on. Some scientists fear that hundreds of thousands of people would need to be evacuated, as happened in the past.  The OSCE report highlights a range of other problems, including burned forests and damage to industrial facilities. In December 2017, the UN Commissioner on Human Rights warned of the ‘“devastating consequences” for the local population and environment, if water filtration stations, storing thousands of litres of chlorine, were hit by the shelling.

Building Stronger Norms to Prevent Conflict-Related Pollution

Conflicts like the ones in the Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria show how wartime damage to the environment can have long-term consequences for countries as they seek to recover. There are three main key concerns around conflict pollution that need to be addressed. First, awareness of how military activities can leave behind toxic remnants and the related environmental and human health risks is limited. The lack of sufficient efforts to identify and map potential environmental hotspots hinders effective humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.

Second, states are not taking responsibility for the environmental footprint of their armed forces, from producing munitions to selecting targets, and are not sharing data with authorities and humanitarian organizations during and after armed conflicts. To improve transparency and accountability, states should share data and improve relevant practices that limited their environmental “bootprint.”  

Third, targeting critical infrastructure or the collapse of environmental governance can have severe consequences for local populations: for example, a misfired artillery barrage could release toxic waste, contaminating water and displacing entire towns and villages. In Iraq and Syria, the pollution of rivers and agricultural lands from attacks on oil facilities has already hampered livelihoods and socio-economic opportunities for local communities. Therefore, military planning should include reviewing the direct or long-term consequences of targets and potential impacts on livelihood.

With more conflicts taking place in urban areas and near environmental flashpoints, there is a clear and outspoken need to incorporate these environmental security risks into military planning, humanitarian responses, and post-conflict reconstruction programs. The recent resolutions adopted by the United Nations Environmental Assembly—a 2016 resolution submitted by Ukraine on armed conflict and the environment and a 2017 resolution submitted by Iraq on mitigation of conflict pollution—as well as work done by the UN Special Rapporteurs on toxics and human rights and the International Law Committee on protection of the environment in armed conflict, together show the growing recognition that we need stronger international norms and regulations to address the toxic remnants of war and the environmental dimensions of conflict.

At the same time, there is increasing concern over the effects of environmental degradation on the potential for conflict. As wars degrade natural resources and agricultural lands, how does this impact shape people’s lives and livelihoods, and thus possible future conflicts? From our visit to the Donbass, we learned that the affected communities deserve a bigger voice in the wider debate on environmental pollution caused by armed conflict. Efforts to recover and rehabilitate after war should include addressing the acute and chronic health risks arising from damage to the community’s livelihoods. We must seize this opportunity to address these concerns and not only help prevent these challenges from getting worse, but also help the community build a better future for themselves and all of the victims of war.

Wim Zwijnenburg is the project leader for humanitarian disarmament at PAX, a Netherlands-based NGO focused on promoting peace. PAX was awarded the 2017 UNEP/UNOCHA Green Star Award in the Response category for its work on conflict and environment. Sources: Bellingcat, Euromaiden Press, Gornyi Zhurnal, Hromadske, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Pax, Politico, United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations International Law Commission. This article was originally published on NewSecurityBeat.
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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Spain Has A New Government, What Is In Store For Catalonia?

Written by Simon Toubeau, University of Nottingham and Pere Almeda, University of Barcelona

Spain’s new prime minister Pedro Sanchez rose to office against a backdrop of unprecedented drama. But now he could capitalise on the circumstances that landed him the top job to resolve the conflict with Catalonia.

Sanchez successfully ousted his predecessor Mariano Rajoy by passing a motion of no confidence against the Partido Popular government. Seizing on the unique opportunity offered by the sentencing of several prominent PP officials in a long-running corruption trial, the opposition leader moved quickly.

Sanchez needed at least 176 votes but his Socialist party (PSOE) only had 84 seats and Ciudadanos, a centrist-liberal formation with a strong Spanish nationalist rhetoric, wouldn’t endorse a new left-wing government. So, Sanchez needed to muster the support of all other parties in the Spanish parliament. This included the left-wing party Podemos, and several nationalist parties from the Basque country and Catalonia, such as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC).

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At the same time, in Barcelona, Quim Torra – a Catalan nationalist hand-picked by the exiled former president Carles Puigdemont – was elected leader of a new Catalan government. This came after months of protracted negotiations that followed the extraordinary regional elections of December 2017. These were called by the Spanish central government immediately after it suspended the Catalan government for having symbolically issued a unilateral declaration of independence after the referendum held on October 1.

But any hope from Madrid that these elections would quell nationalist fervour backfired. The three parties in favour of Catalan independence (JuntsPerCat, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, Candidatura d’Unitat Popular) returned to parliament with a majority (albeit a slim one), determined to pursue their cause, setting them on a collision course with Madrid.

To avert this collision, Sanchez must now make good on the promise he made to his Catalan parliamentary allies to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Catalan government on how to resolve the ongoing conflict.

The Basis Of A Deal

At the basis of the deal between these parties was the common goal of ousting Rajoy from power. The Catalan parties will offer stability for the Spanish government: support for the continuation of a minority PSOE administration until the end of the legislature in 2020 and support on the party’s economic and social policies.

In exchange, the PSOE will need to make progress dealing with Spain’s unsolved national and territorial conflict since its transition to democracy in the late 1970s.

In the short term, Sanchez must de-escalate the conflict by putting an end to the acrimonious relationship between Spain and Catalonia. That means being willing to listen and to talk. There is already a ring of cautious optimism on that front. Sanchez seems prepared to engage in dialogue – unlike Rajoy.

Then Sanchez must restore the Catalan government’s authority, restoring devolved powers to the regional parliament. He will also have to deal with the trickier matter of the nationalist leaders who were jailed last autumn. This is a fundamental demand among many Catalans, who see them as political prisoners. But it may not be easy for the party to intervene in a judicial process without it looking like obvious political meddling.

In the longer term, Sanchez will need to think creatively about how to engage the Catalan government over Catalonia’s constitutional future within Spain. He will be treading a thin line, either side of which stand staunch opponents. On one side are the dyed-in-the-wool Catalan republicans, who harbour a seemingly irrepressible will to assert Catalonia’s right to decide its future. They will almost certainly demand a new, legally sanctioned referendum on self-determination. On the other side are the defenders of national unity, the PP and Ciudadanos, which may well soon take over the mantle of Spanish nationalism. They hold an equally firm view that any concession on the issue of self-determination is not permissible. That view is shared by an important portion of Spanish public, many of which vote for the PSOE. With a dwindling basis of electoral support, Sanchez can’t afford to alienate them.

Federal Reform

So Sanchez will have to remain committed to accommodating Catalonia within the framework of the constitution. What that eventually looks like will depend on what is made possible by the political coalition that supports reform. One potential strategy available to the PSOE is to (re)capitalise on its ties with the Catalan Socialist Party to reach out to moderate nationalist forces in the Catalan parliament. They could hash out an agreement over potential federal constitutional reform.

At the heart of any reform are two major longstanding demands that will have to be addressed. The Catalan government wants a new fiscal settlement and for Catalonia to be recognised as a distinct nation within Spain. These reforms can be achieved through a revision of Catalonia’s statute of autonomy and would need to be ratified in a referendum by Catalan voters.

National recognition would represent an acknowledgement of Catalans’ sovereignty and their “right to decide” their constitutional future – albeit within the parameters set by the Spanish constitution. A referendum on a new statute could also open the door to a democratic option on independence. However, at this point, that’s unlikely to happen. The main difficulty will be to ensure this new statute can’t be overturned by future judicial challenges that may water it down.

A Narrow Chance For Success

The deal brokered to support the socialist minority government is still fresh and there isn’t a huge amount of trust between the parties. There’s even some lingering hostility. So while there is a chance to solve the conflict with Catalonia, it’s narrow. The deal may yet break down.

But if parties on all sides are prepared to listen to divergent political views – and if Sanchez’s party can show creative spirit – there is hope that a political change in Spain could bring about a constructive dialogue. That, in time, could form the basis of a renewed relationship between Catalonia and Spain.

Simon Toubeau, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham and Pere Almeda, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Barcelona. This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Monday, 11 June 2018

Fighting Child Marriage Deluge In South Sudan, When Will It Stop?

Written by Katrina Lee-Koo, Monash University

Last month, a Sudanese court sentenced a 19-year-old woman to death for killing her husband who had repeatedly raped her. The prosecution of Noura Hussein, forcibly married at the age of 16, has triggered global outrage and drawn attention to the millions of girls worldwide who are married against their will.

A high-profile campaign has been initiated to overturn Hussein’s death sentence, with celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Emma Watson, and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard lending their support.

Refugees in South Sudan. Pic:  EU/ECHO/Malini Morzaria

The Sudanese court’s decision to apply the death penalty in the case is shocking. However, the practice of child forced marriage is putting the lives of millions of adolescent girls at risk around the world. One in five girls worldwide is estimated to be married before the age of 18, including even in parts of the United States.

Not only are these girls often left isolated from their families and support networks, they face a greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and experiencing dangerous complications in childbirth. They are also much more likely to experience domestic violence and be taken out of school. Often, they are married to much older men and with limited economic opportunities are more likely to live in poverty.

Child Forced Marriage In South Sudan

Rates of child forced marriage are exacerbated by conflict and crisis, which have been particularly pronounced problems in South Sudan, the nation that split from Sudan in 2011 following decades of debilitating war. Conflict has continued nearly unabated since then, displacing millions of people and causing widespread food shortages.

The minimum legal age for marriage in South Sudan is 18. This is set out in the transitional constitution and the Child Act of 2008. The minimum age limit is much higher than in neighbouring Sudan, which allows a girl to marry with a parent’s permission at just 10 years of age.

Despite the laws in South Sudan, however, UNICEF estimates 52% of girls are married there before their 18th birthday, the fifth-highest rate of child marriage in the world. (In Sudan, the rate is 34%.)

Adolescent pregnancy frequently follows early marriage, as well. At 158 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19, South Sudan has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world. Combined with one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates at 789 deaths per 100,000 life births, early marriage has dire consequences for adolescent girls.

Drivers Of Early And Forced Marriage

As part of a recent study between Plan International and Monash GPS, we conducted research with adolescent girls in South Sudan and in refugee camps in northern Uganda. We found that there are numerous and overlapping drivers for forced child marriage in South Sudan.

The current food crisis and economic downturn means that the collection of a bride price makes early and forced marriage a viable – yet negative – coping mechanism for families. One of our research participants, a member of civil society in the capital, Juba, remarked “with this current situation some parents take their girls as assets, which are sold expensively, so in most cases most parents sell off their daughters for money.”

In Nimule, another noted “Due to the conflict, most of the parents are forcing their girls to get married so that they can get money to survive in this current situation.”

We found family separation increased the risk of early and forced marriage. Many adolescent girls who, due to the ongoing conflict, are separated from their parents and residing with extended family, are far more vulnerable to forced marriage. This is primarily driven by male relatives such as uncles and cousins.

We also found that once married, girls nearly never return to school. One of the adolescent girls we interviewed told us: “The future is not good at all … many girls will end up getting married as a means of survival.”

But forced child marriage cannot be explained simply as a transactional arrangement for families to secure resources to survive. Its prevalence results from an interplay of factors, including entrenched gender inequality, harmful gender norms, continued conflict and communal violence, and limits on the agency and decision-making of adolescent girls, all of which conspire to put them at risk.

In some instances, girls actively sought to mitigate the threat of forced marriage by engaging in small-scale livelihood activities such as collecting firewood or selling goods in the market, or showing their value to their family and community through educational performance and household labour.

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Efforts To Address The Forced Marriage Of Children

Putting an end to child forced marriage in South Sudan and other countries requires addressing all the drivers of this practice, such as poverty and food insecurity, limited access to resources, sustainable livelihoods and education, and lack of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

At the same time, humanitarian actors must work with the community to address the lack of awareness on the rights of girls and the legal frameworks in place to uphold them.

Waiting until another adolescent girl is on trial for murder is too late.

Katrina Lee-Koo, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Monash University. The author would like to acknowledge the work of Hannah Jay, a senior research coordinator at the Monash University Gender, Peace & Security Centre, in writing this article. This article was originally published on The Conversation
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Friday, 8 June 2018

The World Needs To Know The Truth About The Rohingya Crisis

Written by Kourosh Ziabari, Fair Observer and Thomas Macmanus, State Crime Journal

The humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been described as the world’s most urgent refugee crisis. The roots of the ethnic conflict can be traced back to British colonial policy in what was then Burma, but it was the decision to strip the Muslim Rohingya minority of citizenship rights on the basis of their religion that laid the foundation for most recent abuses. While 135 national ethnic groups were recognized and granted certain rights, the Rohingya were effectively rendered stateless under the 1982 Citizenship Act, creating the world’s largest stateless minority.

Pic: Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 2017 © Hafiz Johari

Decades of privation and humiliating restrictions culminated in violent clashes between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and Myanmar security forces in August 2017, leading to the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya civilians to Bangladesh.

The violence against the Rohingya has been waged on an unprecedented scale that has shocked even the most seasoned aid workers and journalists. There have been countless reports of Rohingya women being systematically raped, of villages torched and men summarily executed. The notion of rape as a weapon of war has once again become a haunting reality. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, has called the situation in Myanmar a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

International aid is being delivered, but conditions on the ground severely limit the effort. Even ideological reasons prevent the successful delivery of aid to the affected Rohingya as Buddhist mobs confront aid groups for prioritizing Muslims. At the same time, Transparency International considers Myanmar to have a highly corrupt government, even under the de facto leadership of the Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, ranking it at 130 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index. These figures mean that any international aid within Myanmar might disappear down the corruption drain.

We talked to Dr. Thomas MacManus, research fellow for the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London and editor-in-chief of State Crime Journal, about legal aspects of the crisis and the exigency of an appropriate and categorical international response.

Kourosh Ziabari: The Rohingya crisis has been described by UN officials as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. In your view, is this designation correct? If so, what specifically qualifies the human rights abuses in Myanmar as genocide? 

Thomas MacManus: I welcome the call by UN human rights chief, Prince Zeid bin Raad Zeid al-Hussein, for crimes committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. Previously, the UN has hidden behind the euphemism of ethnic cleansing, a term with no legal meaning. When I hear “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” I ask, as a teacher of state crime and international criminal law, What textbook?

There is no such international crime as ethnic cleansing. So why would this term be used? One reason would be to avoid the legal obligation to investigate potential cases of genocide. We warned the UK government of the risk of the impending annihilation of the Rohingya in 2015, and it did nothing. The idea that only a court can confirm that genocide has taken place, a stance also taken by the UK government, makes a mockery of the prevention element of the 1948 Genocide Treaty. Experience shows that decades have usually passed by the time an international court secures a prosecution for genocide.

It is undoubtedly a genocide, and we have published a detailed report about it available on our website. The findings of ISCI indicate that the Rohingya have been systematically weakened — physically, psychologically and collectively — to such an extent that their agency and purposefulness has effectively been destroyed. This weakening has been orchestrated through planned illness, hunger, loss of livelihood and the removal of basic human rights. Mass killings have been going on since 2012, exacerbated by state-sponsored stigmatization, discrimination, violence and segregation.

Ziabari: What are concrete steps the international community can or should take in order to address the humanitarian crisis and the plight of the Rohingya? What is a realistic way out of the situation?

MacManus: The international community must recognize the cause of the humanitarian crisis — the state-led genocide of the Rohingya community. There are a range of diplomatic and military solutions available to the international community, through the UN or regional bodies. What is lacking is any political will or moral leadership.

I am not recommending any specific solutions. The point is that the states have a wide range of diplomatic and military options available to them. We haven’t seen political leadership on this issue from any quarter.

Ziabari: Outside humanitarian assistance, are there legal steps that can be taken, such as by the International Criminal Court? Would sending a message to the military regime that its excessive use of force cannot continue unpunished have any effect? Are there any past examples to draw from?

MacManus: The UN Security Council could refer the case to the ICC. And any state can exercise universal jurisdiction to arrest members of the Burmese government and prosecute them for international crimes. Past examples of genocide and its punishment, or lack of, include Armenia, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Ziabari: Myanmar has been making an effort to reshape its image as a global pariah prior to the Rohingya crisis. Would being branded a rogue state once again put pressure on the government and make it cooperate with the international community to address the conflict?

MacManus: This is not a conflict — it is a genocide. I avoid the term “rogue state,” but threats of sanctions and punishment may force the Burmese government to change its behavior.

In March, a group of Australian lawyers sought to prosecute Aung San Suu Kyi for crimes against humanity. She may also face an application for an arrest warrant if she ever tried to enter the UK. In December 2017, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that a court would find that the military campaign against the Rohingya people amounted to genocide.

Ziabari: Facebook has been accused of helping spread hate speech against the Rohingya. To what degree can social media be held accountable — is it a reflection of public sentiment, abhorrent as it may be, or is it being used as a political tool to stir ethnic strife?

MacManus: Facebook has a responsibility to monitor its platform and, if it is being used for the spread of hate speech and the incitement of violence, then it must react.

I don’t have much to say on the role of Facebook until we get more data. If Facebook is being used for the spread of hate speech and the incitement of violence, then it must react and the relevant domestic and international authorities should investigate.

Ziabari: Your research focuses on civil society. Are there any civic initiatives in place in Myanmar directed to help the Rohingya? What can be done on a nongovernmental level to prevent such ethnic crises from arising in the future?

MacManus: There are few civil society initiatives in Burma directed at helping the Rohingya. Attempts to help them are quickly shut down by the government, which has even banned the word “Rohingya.” Civil society inside Burma should champion projects that foster collaboration and understanding between ethnicities. This could, for example, include projects where Rakhine’s Buddhist and Muslim population work together on development projects and new businesses. However, this is currently all but impossible under the repressive, genocidal, military-controlled government.

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist. He has conducted numerous interviews with politicians, diplomats, Nobel Prize laureates, academics and other public figures from around the world. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Senior Journalists Seminar Fellowship from the East-West Center in Hawaii. In November 2015, he won the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism by the FNPI foundation in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Thomas MacManus is a lecturer in state crime at Queen Mary University of London's School of Law. He holds a BA (Hons) in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick, which included one year at Tilburg University, an LLM (with Distinction) in International Law from the University of Westminster, and a PhD in Law and Criminology from King’s College London. MacManus was admitted to the New York State Bar in 2004 and the Role of Solicitors of Ireland in 2008. 

This article was originally published on Fair Observer.
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When Israeli Forces Train American Police, What Does It Mean For American Citizens?

Written by Domenica Ghanem, Institute for Policy Studies

The Israeli forces mowing down unarmed Palestinian protesters also train U.S. police forces that brutalize communities of color.

pic: shutterstock
Razan al-Najjar is the latest victim in Israel’s onslaught of Palestinians to go viral. The 21-year-old nurse was shot dead by a sniper. Her only weapon? A wad of medical gauze. She’d been treating protestors who’ve been rallying for their right to return to homes they were expelled from as refugees.

Unfortunately, the death of another unarmed civilian is hardly even news to Palestinians.

May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in symbolic support of recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, was also the bloodiest day in this recent wave of demonstrations. In just one day, at least 50 Palestinians were killed and 2,400 more injured by the Israeli military. (Other counts put those figures even higher.)

This isn’t an anomaly. In this latest wave of demonstrations, Israeli forces have killed dozens of unarmed protesters and wounded thousands more. And they’re not apologizing.

The violence has additionally troubling implications for the United States—and not just for its foreign policy, but at home. That’s because U.S. police forces actually train extensively with the Israeli military. In fact, hundreds of federal, state, local, and even some campus law enforcement departments across the country have trained in some capacity with the Israeli forces now gunning down Palestinian protesters in droves.

Some notable ones include the Chicago police, responsible for shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The Baltimore police too, who were responsible for killing 25-year-old Freddie Gray. And the St. Louis department, which was deployed in Ferguson when protests erupted after police killed 18-year-old Michael Brown—prompting Palestinians halfway across the world to begin tweeting advice for minimizing injuries when police deploy tear gas.

U.S. police departments are sent to Israel, or sometimes Israeli forces come to the United States, under the pretense of counter-terrorism training.

Apparently that training includes learning the benefits of “skunk water”—a liquid developed by Israel that’s used to break up anti-occupation protests like the ones occurring right now. After protests in Ferguson, the St. Louis department started stockpiling the stuff.

And that now infamous NYPD Muslim surveillance program? The NYPD Intelligence Division Chief responsible for that one got the idea from a similar program used to spy on Palestinians.

It begs the question of whom the U.S. police consider terrorists.

The former head of Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) Avi Dichter—who has advocated dropping heavy bombs on civilian-occupied Gaza apartment buildings—believes there’s “an intimate connection between fighting criminals and fighting terrorists.” He calls these threats “crimiterrorists.”

But this isn’t a one-sided transfer of tactics. Dichter likes to think of the war on terror and the war on drugs in the same category. And when Israeli forces visit the United States, they also receive training from our police forces on the drug war tactics that have targeted Black and brown communities.

And just as well-documented as the U.S. police killings of Black Americans are the Israeli military killings, torture and surveillance of Palestinian adults and children.

Take 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi. He was shot during a protest and had to have part of his skull removed. He was then taken by Israeli forces in the middle of the night, and beaten into confessing that they didn’t shoot him in the face, despite medical records and eyewitness accounts proving otherwise.

Of course, this story has an ending that Black Americans can also relate to — those in uniform will rarely be held accountable by the government.

While these connections may be new to some, the activists fighting both against the occupation of Palestine and for Black lives are not strangers to how their struggles are linked.

In 2015, Black and Palestinian artists and activists released a video and statement of Black-Palestinian solidarity in the face of state-sanctioned violence. And the Movement for Black Lives platform includes demands for the U.S. to divest from the occupation of Palestine.

The movement is taking root in many cities. In Atlanta, the group #ATLisReady released a list of demands following the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — the first calling for the termination of the Atlanta Police Department’s involvement in Israeli training programs. And Jewish Voices for Peace launched “Deadly Exchange,” a campaign to end the sharing of the worst practices of policing.

And now, these movements are starting to notch some victories. Durham, North Carolina recently became the first city to ban trainings of U.S. police by the Israeli military.

The success of Durham’s training ban, spearheaded by Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine, is even more extraordinary when you consider the efforts of both the powerful pro-Israel and police lobbies to crack down on Black and Palestinian-led activist organizations.

While the joint forces of the Israeli military and the U.S. police are a terrifying and oftentimes deadly affront, a joint Black and Palestinian force for good is emerging as quite powerful itself. And as the death toll rises here and in Gaza, it’s needed now more than ever.

Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies. This article was jointly produced by Foreign Policy In Focus and In These Times.
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