The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

China’s Dual-Track Approach to the Protection of Civilians

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security,Uncategorized by NTSblog on August 28, 2013

As of March 2013, up to 70,000 people have been killed in the internal conflict of Syria since March 2011, 2 million internally displaced and 900,000 fleeing abroad. In addition to displacement, serious violations of human rights have been widespread, perpetrated by both the government troops and rebel groups. Women and children have been exceptionally vulnerable. The humanitarian consequences in Syria highlight the urgency of the protection of civilians in armed conflicts (POC) – which seeks to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The primary responsibility to implement POC rests with the governments concerned and the international community has the responsibility to assist.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China’s support is essential for the concerted international effort to resolve conflict and ensure protection for civilians. For instance, China has been criticized for its veto against three Security Council draft resolutions on Syria that condemned the use of force against of civilians and urged for fulfilling the responsibility to protect civilians.  Syria is not the only POC-related case that China has vetoed or threatened to veto. In 2007, China vetoed a draft resolution on the situation in Myanmar that urged the authorities to stop troops from attacking civilians. As a result, China has been accused of protecting regimes that perpetrate or tolerate human rights abuses.

However, this accusation does not fully reflect China’s attitude to POC. In fact, China is developing a dual-track approach to POC. It remains highly cautious about endorsing intrusive measures, such as setting up no-fly zones, still less military operations without consent from the host country. In the Security Council open debates on POC, China has defended the Westphalian principles – respect for sovereignty and non-interference. The Chinese representatives have stated that prevention is the fundamental solution to POC-related issues. Peaceful means are preferred and excessive pressure would only complicate the situation. It has also emphasised that lack of development constitutes a key root cause of many conflicts.

China has also actively facilitated the peace processes of many conflicts, through both multilateral and bilateral channels. China actively supported peace efforts under the UN auspices, such as good offices and peacekeeping operations. Ibrahim Gambari, who closely involved in the peace process in Myanmar, said China helped persuade the military government to engage in conversations with him. With regard to Sudan, the Chinese President Hu Jintao and senior diplomats managed to persuade the Sudanese side to cooperate with international peace efforts. Gambari noted that the engineering team of the Chinese peacekeeping force China also supported mediation efforts concerning the Syrian crisis by Kofi Annan, the UN Special Envoy, and backed his peace plan.

China’s concern about sovereignty is largely caused by the Taiwan question and the secessionist problems in Xinjiang and Tibet. Hence, it always adopts a traditional understanding of sovereignty. The growth of national power has to some extent reduced such a concern. and resulted in the increasing need and expectation for greater Chinese contribution to global affairs. Hence, the dual-track approach is a balance between the misgiving about the erosion of sovereignty and its growing national power.


Transitional Justice in Asia II

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 16, 2013

Amnesty International issued a report last month, Time to Face the Past: Justice for Past Abuses in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, that urges for meaningful progress in seeking accountability for human rights violations committed during the conflict in Aceh from 1989 to 2004. Earlier this year, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh handed out the verdict for the two defendants accused of several accounts of international crimes; the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution (A/HRC/19/L.2) that encourages accountability and reconciliation for the Sri Lankan civil war. Some Asian countries face the challenge of seeking reconciliation and accountability for past international crimes as they are emerging from conflicts or large-scale violence.

Transitional justice (TJ) refers to mechanisms and processes that redress past systematic human rights violations. Justice is conceived in a broader sense in the field of transitional justice, which includes not only prosecution of perpetrators but also the telling of truth regarding past abuses, reparation, reconciliation and reform. It is considered by many people as an important step towards democracy and rule of law.

In the independence war of Bangladesh in 1971, over a million people were killed and tens of thousands of women raped. There were serious civilian casualties and wide-spread violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law in the final stages of the clashes in 2009. During the Aceh conflict, there had been wide-spread violations of human rights, such as extra-judicial killing, rape and torture. The pursuit of transitional justice for these crimes has been a mixed experience. The Bangladeshi tribunal has convicted four leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani Army in committing human rights violations. The Sri Lankan government appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to look back at the conflict and the commission produced a report with recommendations for reconciliation. There have been some prosecutions and reparations in relation to the human rights abuses during the Aceh conflict.

However, these activities are controversial and far from enough to achieve the objective of accountability and reconciliation. The war crime trials resulted in violent unrest in Bangladesh, with JI supporters questioning the credibility of the tribunal and the death penalty, while others demanded a harsher sentence. There have been criticisms of flaws and political interference in the trial processes. The implementation of the LLRC recommendations has been negligible. The Amnesty International’s report demonstrates that the exercise of justice in Aceh has made little progress.

Two issues are highlighted in the controversies and criticisms: an unbalanced approach to TJ and lack of people’s participation in the process. Complementary measures such as truth-telling and reparation have yet to happen in the case of Bangladesh. In addition, there has not been sufficient victim engagement in the trial processes. Sri Lanka’s progress in rebuilding infrastructure and resettling of displaced people has been acknowledged in the UNHRC resolution, but more work is needed in the areas of justice and reconciliation. In Aceh, victims and survivors have been denied truth and justice.

Transitional justice is a spectrum of judicial and non-judicial measures which are complementary. People should be the focus since they bear the brunt of abuses and violence. A integrated and people-oriented approach would be more effective in achieving justice and reconciliation.

Transitional Justice in Asia I

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 3, 2013

In February, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh sentenced two Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders for crimes committed during the independence war of 1971. Over a million people had been killed and tens of thousands of women raped during the war. The crimes were allegedly committed by the Pakistani army and its collaborator, Jamaat-e-Islami.

The court decisions resulted in serious clashes. JI supporters questioned the credibility of the tribunal while others demanded a harsher sentence. The resulting violence calls into question the effectiveness of transitional justice – the mechanisms and processes to redress past large-scale human rights abuses. It also provides a lesson for similar efforts in other countries to end impunity and reconcile social division, such as Sri Lanka.

The conflict between the Sri Lankan government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spanned from 1983 until 2009. There were serious civilian casualties and wide-spread violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law in the final stages of the clashes in 2009, such as rape, extrajudicial killings, shelling civilian and humanitarian targets, and using civilians as shields. Both parties to the conflict have been accused of committing these crimes, with the government side allegedly bearing the major responsibility. Since the end of the war in May 2009, there have been calls to bring perpetrators of the mass crimes to justice. The recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution (A/HRC/19/L.2) that encourages reconciliation and accountability for the Sri Lankan civil war represents the latest effort in this direction.

Seeking accountability constitutes an essential element of transitional justice – the processes and mechanisms that seek to redress past large-scale abuses, both judicial and non-judicial. Judicial processes of transitional justice end impunity and can stand as an impediment to future attempts of mass atrocities. The culture of impunity undermines the effectiveness of domestic and international laws in preventing atrocity crimes as it allows criminals to go unpunished and thus breeds risks of mass atrocities. Hence, ending impunity constitutes an essential aspect of preventing massive abuses, such as genocide and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, given the fact that post-crisis societies are usually still in complicate and delicate situation, a balanced approach to transitional justice is needed so as to achieve the goal of justice, reconciliation and rule of law. First, the judicial process should comply with international standards. The recent unrest in Bangladesh demonstrates that inconsistencies and politicisation of the judicial process could deepen division and fuel violence.

Second, transitional justice also includes non-judicial measures, such as truth-seeking and institutional reform. The social division in Bangladesh has deepened partly because meaningful development of such measures has yet to occur. Hence, the effort to pursue transitional justice in Sri Lanka should balance between judicial and non-judicial measures. Moreover, other complimentary measures, such as infrastructure construction, resettlement of displaced people and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, are conducive for social reconciliation, which in turn can facilitate the transitional justice process.

Sri Lankan society has been seriously divided by the protracted civil war, and investigation and prosecution of human rights violations during the war are essential for reconciliation as noted in the latest UNHRC resolution. However, it must be pursued in a balanced and consistent manner to achieve the intended goals.

Military Presence as a NTS Threat – the Case of Okinawa

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 2, 2012

Amid the escalation of its territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Japan reached an agreement with the United States on deploying MV-22 Ospreys to the US military bases in Okinawa, despite vocal public opposition to the deployment. The aircraft was involved in a series of accidents and this has raised the local community’s concern for their own safety. The agreement between the two governments and the strong protests re-emphasise the tension between national security and human security in Okinawa.

Okinawa plays a disproportionate role in the US-Japan security alliance, hosting 25 percent of all US military facilities and half of the US personnel in Japan but accounting for less than 1 per cent of Japanese territory. The protests against Ospreys are only the latest manifestation of Okinawans’ resentment against the US military bases. The heavy US military footprint has caused many non-traditional security (NTS) threats to local people, including environmental pollution, economic vulnerabilities, and social insecurities. Aircraft noise poses serious health threats to residents near the air bases. In 2011, residents around the Kadena air base filed a class lawsuit over aircraft noise, seeking compensation and a ban on night flights. Live ammunition trainings in the jungles have caused forest fire and soil erosion. Besides, accidents and incidents resulted from undisciplined behaviors of some soldiers have also upset local community, such as the 1995 rape incident and the 2004 helicopter crash. Lack of economic resilience is another NTS issue facing Okinawa as the prefecture is heavily subsidized by the central government. The reliance on central budget has limited the autonomy and flexibility of local economic development, as part of the earmarked money comes with restrictions.

Having realised the negative consequences, the Japanese and US governments have agreed to address these NTS threats, such as reducing the number of US soldiers from 19,500 to 10,900 in the future, relocating the controversial Futenma Air base to a less crowded location and adjusting training and operation procedures. However, the implementation of these measures progresses very slowly. The difficulties of addressing these issues are primarily rooted in the strategic importance of Okinawa. Okinawa has played an essential role in the US military operations in Asia since the Cold War. The US rebalance to Asia has made the bases even more important given Okinawa’s location at the intersection of Northeast and Southeast Asia. The recent escalation of tension between Japan and China has reinforced Japan’s belief in the need of US bases for its national security. Moreover, the strategic importance of Okinawa has made the Japanese government caught between national security and public anger. Politicians in Japan tend to promise a stronger position on the base issue to win voter support but usually fail to deliver the promise once they are elected. For instance, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned as a result of failure to keep his word.

The US military presence in Okinawa has been intended for defending Japan’s security and US strategic interests in East Asia.. However, the controversy over the US bases show that local people’s freedom from NTS challenges has not been fully respected in the pursuit of Japan’s national security. As the concept of security has evolved to incorporate human security as one of its dimensions, the security of Japan means more than absence of conflict and invasion but also the protection of its people’s well-beings. The achievement of Japan’s traditional security should not be at the expense of Okinawans’ non-traditional security.

Arms Trade Treaty: Why We Need It

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on July 12, 2012

Delegates from 193 UN member states have gathered in New York since 2 July 2012 to attend a historic UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. The month-long conference aimed to establish an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the export, import and transfer of conventional weapons. Considered a potentially ground-breaking “humanitarian treaty”, the ATT is really about arms transfer management. It would require ratifying countries not to authorised arms transfer if it is likely to be used to violate human-rights, undermine peace, prolong conflicts, or, if it is likely to be diverted to the black markets. It would also require them to publish their sales yearly and register arms brokers.

The conference is proof that the international community’s attitudes toward conventional weapons has changed. This category of weapons has long remained at the sidelines of arms control agreements due in large part to the long-standing preoccupations with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which is ‘chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons capable of a high order of destruction or causing mass casualties’. This preoccupation resulted in the establishment of a number of arms control treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) etc. Nothing of this kind existed for conventional weapons. The few existing mechanisms such as arms embargoes are fraught with limitations. A study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that arms embargoes that have been introduced since 1990 have had limited impact on both arms flows to and the behaviour of embargoed targets. More recently, Oxfam estimated that between 2000 and 2010, and despite the 26 UN, regional, and multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period, USD2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition was imported by countries under arms embargoes. A case in point is Syria. Despite an embargo, it was still able to import USD168 million worth of arms in the months before it began a crackdown on opposition activists. This, coupled with the attempted export of attack helicopters to Syria by Russia in June heightened the need for stricter international standards on arms transfers.

Conventional weapons are the primary or sole tools of violence in armed conflicts. Although they by themselves do not cause the conflicts in which they are used, they exacerbate and increase their lethality. Besides their use in armed conflicts, small arms and light weapons kill people on a daily basis in a variety of situations such as gang fights, homicides, suicides and random shootings. It was estimated that small arms and light weapons alone are responsible for the death of 500,000 people each year. It is therefore time to recognise conventional weapons as the “real WMDs” warranting the same level of regulations as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The conference on the Arms Trade Treaty thus represents an important move towards that direction. Establishing international standards on trade in conventional weapons through the Arms Trade Treaty could help curtail irresponsible arms sales or its transfer. This would enable the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts that are sustained by large scale, unregulated proliferation of conventional weapons.

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Political reforms in Myanmar: What it meant for ethnic minorities

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on June 19, 2012

Recent political reformsin Myanmar have generated strong interest and excitement around the world and understandably so. After decades of military rule, the country has finally warmed up to the idea of political reforms. Its first attempt at political reforms occurred in 2008 when the ruling military junta adopted a new constitution which allow for the establishment of a nominally civilian government with 25 per cent of parliamentary seats reserved for the military. This was followed by a general election in November 2010, the first in 20 years. Unsurprisingly, it was won by the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Following this election, the military junta was officially disbanded and power was transferred to a new civilian government headed by President Thein Sein, a former general. Mr. Thein Sein’s government has since freed a number of political prisoners and made overtures to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from house arrest in 2010 and was subsequently elected to Parliament in April 2012. The international community has responded positively to Myanmar’s fledgling democratic transition. Leaders such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have all paid visits to the country in order to normalise relations and invest in Myanmar’s vast, largely untapped, natural resources.

However, one central issue still remains to be addressed–the question of ethnic minorities. Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and has experienced a complex set of conflicts between the central government and ethnic minority groups. Ethnic grievances, and the resultant conflicts, are due mainly to the non-fulfillment of the promises of autonomy. At a conference in Panglong on 12 February 1947, representatives from ethnic minorities such as the Shan, Kachin and Chin, fearing domination by the majority Burmans, agreed to join the newly established Union of Burma in return for promises of full autonomy in internal administration. This demand was enshrined in the Panglong Agreement which declared that “full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas is accepted in principle”. This promise of autonomy however suffered a serious blow following the assassination on 19 July 1947 of Aung San, founder of the Union of Burma and one of the chief architects of the Panglong Agreement. The subsequent emergence of a military junta in the 1960s further dented any hope of autonomy for ethnic minorities. Civil wars ensued and more than 130,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of it.

The military junta always maintained a hard line approach towards ethnic minorities and their armed groups. Its attempt at finding solutions to the conflict were limited to signing ceasefire agreements. But ceasefire agreements do not offer a lasting solution as they are easily broken. Myanmar’s true and lasting peace hinges on resolving the issue of ethnic minorities. And the ongoing political reforms have yet to address this central issue.

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Rage in Rakhine: Democratization and the specter of latent conflict in Myanmar

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on June 8, 2012

On 04 June 2012, authorities in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar were roused by the reported massacre of 9 Rohingya Muslims by suspected Buddhist vigilantes. The incident marred the rosy picture presented by the Thein Sein government. Democratization appears on track in Myanmar with the conduct of relatively credible elections in April and “new freedom” even for the regime’s harshest critic—Aung San Suu Kyi. Strife between the Muslims and Buddhist in Rakhine illustrates the multiple drivers of conflict, on top of ethnic tensions with minorities (i.e the Karens in the east) and the pro-democracy movement centered in Yangon. The massacre illustrates that while democratization seems apace, the rule of law remains elusive.

Rohingya Muslims have been described as the “world’s most persecuted people”—existing for decades under the harsh military dictatorship in Myanmar. Within the dominant Burmese Buddhist state, Rohingyas are denied the most basic of rights such as travel, education, and even the number of children a couple can sire; prompting observers to dub the region, Mayanmar’s Gaza. The recent violence was in reprisal over the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by a gang of Rohingya men. It has been reported that the proximate cause of the incident was the distribution of inflammatory flyers targeted against the Rohingya hours before the Sunday evening incident.

Naypyidaw’s belated vow for “legal action” against the instigators had been met by tepid response and protests in Sittwe. The disjuncture between government response and the need for a nuanced understanding of the situation is painfully brought to light by the mishandling of the Myanmar state media, which referred to the Rohingya as “kalar”—foreigner.

Myanmar’s democracy project remains saddled by the lack of rule of law. Indeed, while policy had been recently rolled out to welcome back Rohingya refugees from neighboring Bangladesh, a fundamental issue remains unsettled. The Rohingyas remain excluded from the body politic. Recognition of minority rights is a keystone of substantive democratization beyond its procedural manifestations such as elections.

It is troubling that the Rohingya may resort to violence to counter the oppressive conditions imposed upon them—not against the state, but as a backlash against the majority Burmese population. Further incentivizing the use of political violence is the relative success enjoyed by armed and organized ethnic groups. To illustrate, the Karen National Union and its military wing exercise control over a swathe of eastern Myanmar, which includes functions of governance such as taxation and elections. As such, they are able to extract concessions from Naypyidaw and enjoy a semblance of relative autonomy.

And what of the prospects of the Rohingya mimicking the non-violent, electoral struggle waged by Aung San SuuKyi’s pro-democracy movement? An organized and politically-conscious Rohingya may dismiss non-violent struggle as a viable option only to the ethnic Burmese.

Simply put, the specter of conflict looms as the Rohingya is seemingly pushed to come to the belated realization of the Maoist dictum that “[political] power flows from the barrel of a gun”.

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Bickering Bangsamoros? Why Transparency is Insufficient for the Success of the GPH-MILF Negotiations

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 10, 2012

The “straight and narrow”[1]path to a final peace agreement by the end of 2012 between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appears clear.Taking cues from public outcry over the aborted 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), steps have been made to make the negotiations more transparent to stakeholders. However, this optimism is tempered by the lingering potential for conflict. With renewed confidence in the GPH-MILF negotiations (after two successive exploratory talks in 2012), the potential flashpoint is less likely a result of the presupposed “Christian-Muslim” dialectic but the more obscured tendency for fissures within the Bangsamoro[2].

The conclusion of the 27th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks (23-24 April 2012) led to the signing of the Decision Points on Principles, which puts forth the broad principles for greater political autonomy and resource-sharing sharing in favor of the MILF, subject to further negotiations. While the Decision Points are largely similar to the MOA-AD, the favorable response by stakeholders to the new initiative is an indicator of the increased transparency of the peace process.

Complementing these developments are apparent improvements in community security. Diminished perceptions of threat and insecurity along with the sense of empowerment enhance human security. In turn, this provides the groundswell of grassroots support for the GPH-MILF talks.

Expected animosities amongst communities ostensibly due to religio-politico identity (i.e. Muslim-Christian) have hardly manifested. A key point to note is that both government forces and the MILF have consistently upheld the ceasefire as seen in the absence of armed clashes in 2012. However, it must be stressed that these apparent improvements on the ground may overshadow the latent manifestations of conflict, far from the eyes of observers in Manila.

Clan conflicts or rido are not taken into account by GPH-MILF peace monitors. Illustrative of these latent conflicts is a series of clashes in April 2012 between families of MILF members and former Moro National Liberation Front rebels. It is just one example of how quality-of-life issues such as farming and land rights can incite conflict amongst the Bangsamoro.

Factionalism within the MILF, as seen in the breakaway of a major rebel unit (covering a specific geographic area) once led by the late Umbra Kato, is in fact a recurring event. More troubling is that the potential for fratricidal conflict is even more pronounced today. The recent demise of Abdulaziz Mimbantas, the MILF Vice Chairman for Military Affairs, brings with it the potential of a power struggle in the group’s highest echelons—reminiscent of the crisis triggered during the 2003 passing of MILF founder Hashim Salamat.

Simply put, the spillover of intramural violence in the MILF could very well trigger a cascade of conflict and insecurity in communities including Christian-dominated ones. Thus, steps must be taken by the GPH and MILF to rein in Bangsamoro bickering to prevent the emergence of humps towards the path to peace.

[1] President Benigno Aquino III’s 2010 electoral campaign was premised on the idea of a “DaangMatuwid” (Straight Path), which would do away with the corruption and policy obfuscation that purportedly besets Philippines politics.
[2] Bangsamoro, directly translated into “Moro Nation” is the ethno-politico concept used by Muslim secessionist rebels in Mindanao to distinguish themselves from the Philippine body politic.
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Regional Organisations – Making RtoP Implementation a Reality

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 13, 2012

Widespread violations of human rights were reported during the crisis in Libya last year, some of which constitute crimes against humanity. The atrocious nature of the violence led to the adoption of two UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions (S/RES/1970 and S/RES/1973), imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and sanctions against the Gaddafi regime. The resolutions emphasised the Libyan authorities’ primary responsibility to protect (RtoP) its people against mass atrocities. This most recent invocation of RtoP highlights the important role of regional organisations in the implementation of RtoP.

Given that UNSC members still vary in the degree of their acceptance of RtoP, the passage of two RtoP-embedded resolutions on Libya demonstrates how regional organisations – African Union and Arab League – reconciled differences for timely response to the crisis. In the UNSC debate on the two resolutions, the representative from China, which usually opposes external interference, explicitly emphasised that China respected the position of relevant regional organisations and thus would not obstruct the adoption of the resolutions.

In the face of mass atrocities, the advantage of regional organisations with regards to implementing RtoP is geographic proximity and cultural affinity. Regional countries serve as the outposts to experience early signs of atrocious crises, such as outflow of refugees. Tens of thousands of Cambodians fled the persecution of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1978 to Thailand and Vietnam. Collection and assessment of these early warning signals lays the foundation for timely and appropriate response. Moreover, similarities in culture and value make the country concerned more receptive to the good offices and mediation by regional organisations. For instance, the political solution of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008 was brokered by Kofi Annan who was dispatched by the African Union. The regional involvement successfully averted further escalation of the situation.

In view of numerous internal conflicts across the Asia-Pacific, RtoP is relevant to the region regarding the prevention of mass atrocities. However, the attitude of regional countries towards RtoP is ambivalent. Regional arrangements such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) have been identified by RtoP experts as appropriate channels to promote and implement RtoP.

However, as the ARF is more a loose forum for communication rather than a binding institution, there are capacity and expertise gaps making it difficult for the ARF to play the key role of RtoP sponsor. For instance, the establishment of a regional early warning system is still under discussion and the expertise of the ARF with respect to preventive diplomacy and mediation need to be strengthened.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) represent a key force to fill in the capacity gap of regional arrangements. The position of CSOs between the government and the private sector makes it a bridge for communication. On the one hand, CSOs work closely with people on the ground and are thus more sensitive to the early warning signals; on the other hand, CSOs people provide expertise to policy-makers at the regional level. For instance, programs of the Asia Pacific Centre for the RtoP in the Philippines and Cambodia are facilitating community-based early warning efforts and keeping the appropriate authorities informed.

RtoP presents normative support for the prevention and stoppage of mass atrocities but it is still in its emerging phase. Regional organisations are appropriate avenues for promoting RtoP, and engagement with CSOs supplements the capacity deficiency of regional mechanisms in implementing the principle.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s April? Myanmar’s 2011 By-Elections

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 3, 2012

It was no April Fool’s Day. As polling stations closed across Myanmar on 01 April 2012, reports point to an electoral victory for Aung San Suu Kyi and her bid to represent the Kawhmu constituency south of Rangoon. It is but one of the many high points in the apparent expansion of political space in Myanmar; which started in early 2011 with a reinvigorated peace process. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether these developments indicate a commitment to democratization by the Thein Sein government—a fundamental shift in Myanmar politics.

The recently concluded elections have largely been uneventful and peaceful, with most reports of fraud (i.e. voter list manipulation and ballot tampering) limited to dissident-linked sources. Clearly, it appears that the open invitation of international observers have deterred any overt attempt to rig the elections and apparently indicates the sincerity of the military-backed ruling government.

But an alternative punchline to the by-election is that the powers-that-be in Naypyidaw had no incentive to cheat anyway. Numbers-wise, the 45 seats up for grabs would not significantly change the balance of political power in the capital. Even personalities sympathetic to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) are wary and cautious of a negative unintended consequence of the election result—of potentially giving the military-backed civilian government a democratic façade.

As early as February 2011, there was already some concern over the growing irrelevance of the Burmese dissident diaspora; coinciding with the apparent ability of Sein’s administration to directly and deftly engage foreign actors. Promises (explicit or otherwise) of the lifting of sanctions imposed by the EU and the US; and of other diplomatic rewards from ASEAN are indicative of this troubling development.

The NLD’s success with the ballot box does not automatically resolve the intractable conflict and political instability besetting Myanmar. The appearance of democratic progress—of procedural but not substantive democracy, can lead to an oversimplification of the underlying issues that drive insecurity and underdevelopment. Too much focus on the by-election tends to neglect the bifurcated struggle that exist in parallel in Myanmar: the urban-centered, ethnic Burmese-led movement vis-à-vis the ethno-nationalist armed groups on the rural fringes.

Both domestic (i.e. the NLD and its allies) and foreign stakeholders thus need to be even more vigilant in ensuring that democratization continues. First, the NLD’s newfound parliamentary presence should be leveraged upon as another venue for Suu Kyi to espouse policy alternatives—befitting its status as an opposition bloc. Second, the relative transparency of the electoral process should be promoted across issue areas; starting with moves to independently investigate alleged human rights violations by the incumbent government. Finally, the modicum of pluralism accorded to the NLD should be extended to non-Burmese ethnic groups to sustain the gains of the simultaneous peace initiatives currently being undertaken.

Overall, Aung San Suu Kyi’s election cannot be the end-all of democratization lest the joke be at the expense of Myanmar’s people.

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Visible “Invisible Children”: Indicator of a tenuous link between social media activism and efficacy?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 19, 2012

As of this writing, Kony 2012 has had 82 million views in YouTube. Dubbed the “most viral” video in history, it presents 26 years of atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—which has been tagged by the United States as a “specially designated terrorist group”. Produced by Invisible Children (IC), Kony 2012 relies on striking imagery—of fear and deprivation experienced by Ugandan children, to elicit an emotional response.

Kony 2012’s domination of social media brought with it scathing critiques: the most recurring of which is the video’s purported oversimplification of the conflict and the LRA’s current inactivity in Uganda. Others claim that IC’s advocacy of further American intervention would only intensify conflict and prop up an abusive Ugandan armed forces. Nonetheless, what is clear is that Kony 2012 has succeeded in raising awareness about anissue that even known pundits have embarrassingly stumbled on. In short, Kony 2012 is a strong case of how to wage an effective viral marketing campaign.

What is unclear is whether the IC’s self-stated effort to “redefine propaganda” translates into political efficacy. While IC has helped create localized improvements in community security and well-being on the ground, its main value proposition is its Kony 2012 campaign. IC’s model of media, advocacy and development is too quick to point to its campaign as a causative factor in America’s decision to deploy military advisers to Uganda. Arguably, American involvement can be more readily explained as by a shift in geopolitical considerations in the region.

Of course, IC is not alone in ascribing tremendous efficacy to social media—which has often been cited as a critical enabler in the “Arab Spring”. But as post-uprising euphoria fades, it was clear that social media only played an ancillary role. International inaction over the current Syrian uprising shows the limits of social media (through portals such as the Syrian Media Center) in mobilizing international action. It is not as if there is a lack of gripping footage to evoke strong emotions.

Even if it can be proven that IC’s engagement of “culturemakers” and “policymakers” triggered American policy shift, would it not be thus disingenuous for the group to take the limelight? Would it not endanger the likelihood of success of other advocacy and pressure groups to utilize social media and viral marketing?

The appeal of any viral campaign is in its cultivation of an image of its bottom-up and crowd-sourced origins.   With the IC’s model all but laid out, it risks losing the degree of mystique and intentional obscurity a viral campaign needs. The direct linkage between the source and message saps the latter’s “virulence” and ultimately, its ability to propagate.

It must be stressed that the material aspects of conflict—of insecurity and deprivation, cannot be addressed simply by number of “likes” or Kony 2012 action kits sold. While wide-ranging atrocities can no longer remain invisible in this “Facebook age”, claims that there may never be another Rwanda are quite premature.

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“Silenced” Spoilers: Conflict prevention via local conditions in Central Mindanao.

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 1, 2012

In 27 July 2008, a statement by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, that an agreement granting the secessionist group substantive concessions was a “done deal”—sparked off widespread clashes in Central Mindanao, which displaced 700,000 people. Fast forward to February 2012, it is surprising that a similar comment by Iqbal, that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III promised a parliamentary “sub-state” for the MILF, did not result in another cycle of GPH-MILF violence. Although appearing as mere verbal spats, the contestation for public opinion has very real impacts on human security: the safety and well-being of conflict-affected communities.

The usual spoilers of the peace process—the hardliner MILF commanders on the one hand and populist local government officials on the other; had their divisive discourse muted. These hardliners have used inflammatory discourse to legitimize the use of armed violence. Iqbal’s 2008 statement saw local government officials swiftly retorting with hawkish discourse. This subsequently led to the scuttling of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and the outbreak of armed conflict in Central Mindanao.

With the same prize of political and economic autonomy at stake in 2012, the resounding silence can only be explained by the confluence of factors leading to improved security at the community-level. First, Iqbal’s statement comes at an opportune time, before the rice harvest season—which is often marked by incidents of rogue MILF rebels or unscrupulous government militia sortieing out and seizing produce from the respective supporters of the opposing camp. Such events, which sans the labels “MILF” or militia, are mere criminal acts; unnecessarily draw the mainstream MILF and Philippine security forces into conflict and unduly complicates the peace process. More importantly, the recidivist spoilers of the peace process, MILF Base Commanders Umbra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar who were wholly responsible for the violence in 2008, had also been taken out of the picture.

Second, further reinforcing the fortuitous prevailing circumstances and the disappearance of spoilers is the thickening of ceasefire monitoring mechanisms led by various parties such as the GPH-MILF, local civil society and international organizations—an overall process which had yet to fully take off before the MOA-AD debacle. Another key factor is the full deployment of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, unlike in 2008. Simply put, the multiple facets and levels of conflict resolution have made both parties more cognizant of the strategic implications of their actions limiting the incentives for violence.

With the ceasefire in place, spoilers on the government side—populist local government officials, with vested economic interests are sapped of their voice. The insulation of vulnerable communities from threats to their lives and livelihood thus increase their resilience to such incitements to violence. Overall, the self-contained and reinforcing dynamic of local improvements to human security have sapped spoilers of their efficacy. Absence of a suspicious national discourse brings the prospects of a more conducive socio-political milieu that can lead to a GPH-MILF political settlement.

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Indefinitely Under-Trial: Trying Elderly Defendants for International Crimes

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 15, 2011

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has been set up to prosecute former Khmer Rouge leaders. The Khmer Rouge is alleged to have committed crimes of mass atrocities against Cambodian civilians when they sought to transform Cambodia into a communist peasant farming society between 1975 and 1979. A recent preliminary hearing at the ECCC discussed the fitness of the accused – now aged between 79 and 85 years old – to stand trial. The trial has implications for its transitional effect on Cambodian society but the defendants’ old age remains an impediment to the trial process.

The purpose of preliminary hearings on the accused’s fitness is to ascertain his/her mental and physical capacities to participate in subsequent trial processes and exercise their rights to a fair trial. The ECCC will base its decision on the criteria established within the Strugar Test. The inquiry would be concerned more with the mental rather than the physical capacities of the accused. International criminal jurisprudence has established that the implications of mental incapacities of the accused in exercising fair trial rights are alone deemed suitable to be treated in medical facilities and constitute grounds to provisionally suspend trial processes.

At the recent preliminary hearing, the expert medical opinion on one of the defendants, Ieng Thirith’s mental capacity was inclined towards the conclusion that she is unfit to stand for trial. This is because she is suffering from ‘moderate to severe dementia’, most likely due to Alzheimer’s disease. The medical expert suggested that she would have great difficulty in understanding and challenging adverse witness testimonies, as well as difficulty in testifying. So what happens if the accused is deemed unfit to stand trial?

In all likelihood, Ieng Thirith will be unconditionally released into the custody of a medical treatment facility. In the interim, the trial against her would be suspended because she cannot be tried in absentia. Trials in absentia are forbidden at the ECCC by Internal Rule 81[1] and Article 35 of ECCC Law, which incorporates the fair trial rights enshrined in the UN International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The charges will remain outstanding and the proceedings against Ieng Thirith will resume when the accused returns to fitness.

It has been pre-empted that a declaration of unfitness could spur public scepticism. Therefore, four additional psychiatric experts have been ordered to conduct additional testing. However, unless the subsequent experts offer a significantly different diagnosis, the prevailing situation is that Ieng Thirith is unlikely to be restored to fitness with treatment. To note also is that the ECCC – a temporary judicial organ with a limited mandate – may no longer exists to prosecute the accused, if and when she returns to fitness. Also, unconditional release from charges is a rare outcome in international criminal trials. Therefore, the prospect that Ieng Thirith could remain indefinitely under-trial is highly likely if found unfit to stand trial. The inevitable paradox of trying aged defendants remains the impediment of their deteriorating physical and mental conditions to successful accountability.

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ASEAN and growing global expectations vis-a-vis multilevel security governance

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 2, 2011

ASEAN seems to face relatively greater pressure to contribute effectively to a multilateral order and multilevel security governance. This partly arises from its role as the driver of the wider regional agenda through various ASEAN-led multilateral institutions, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting – Plus (ADMM+8). With ASEAN in the metaphorical driving seat, the institutions are also expanding in scope – both in terms of the issues they address and their membership. For instance, the US and Russia participated in the inaugural ADMM+ in October 2010, and are due to take part in their first EAS later this year.

The idea of a regional-global security mechanism based on regional organisations assuming complementary roles vis-à-vis the UN has been reiterated in numerous UN documents in recent years, including the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

However, there are a growing number of critics who point to an ostensible legitimacy deficit vis-à-vis ASEAN and its wider regional role, with many lamenting that ASEAN’s institutional weakness diminishes its credibility as the driver and enforcer of the regional agenda. Accordingly, critics push “ASEAN” to put its own house in order and to ‘decide what it wants to be’.

While building institutional capacity in terms of a coherent and functional framework for responding to regional security concerns is without a doubt critical, many of ASEAN’s critics nonetheless seem to under-emphasise the constraints that the inter-governmental organisation faces in becoming more proactive, effective, and credible. Not least, ASEAN is handicapped by various relational dynamics, including the influence of powerful socio-political forces with the ability to constrain the domestic and regional agenda.

No case illustrates this more starkly than the diplomatic saga that has ensued in the Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian capitals since violence broke out on the Thai-Cambodia border in February and April this year. The primary factor behind ASEAN’s difficulties in resolving the bilateral dispute is the complexity of Thai politics and the motivations of several key actors, including the powerful military establishment and several key political groups, primarily the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) (although the UDD is similarly known for its readiness to deploy “mob politics” to destabilize the government).

Over and above Indonesia’s difficulties in bringing the two parties to the table to agree on demilitarization and the deployment of an observer team, the ASEAN chair’s tenuous diplomatic role is a stark reminder of the influence that diverse domestic actors can exact on ASEAN’s agenda and the constraints on ASEAN’s autonomous evolution, despite expectations to the contrary. If ASEAN desires to become more proactive in regional security governance, it will, in one way or another, invariably need to take account of powerful domestic dynamics and interests – which often lie beyond the reach of the official state line.

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The Draft Law on NGO and Associations – a Potential Barrier to Promoting RtoP in Cambodia?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on August 19, 2011

The ECCC commenced the initial hearings of Case 002 on 27th June 2011, the second of the four cases before the court against the senior Khmer Rouge officials for the crimes committed between 1975 and 1979. The tribunal was jointly established by the Cambodian government and the UN with the aim to provide justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge. This corresponds with the ethos of the responsibility to protect (RtoP) – civilian protection. Although the RtoP is now primarily conceived as a preventative mechanism, rebuilding constitutes a crucial component of the RtoP continuum proposed by the ICISS and transitional justice is an essential tool for rebuilding. Moreover, the ECCC trials also exemplify how Pillars I and II of the RtoP can be operationalise, not necessarily in its own name. The Cambodian government fulfills its responsibility to protect its people by holding ex-Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for their crimes, and the international community contributes by assisting Cambodia building its capacity. Repeated reports of political interference in the ECCC trials have proved the need to further diffuse the RtoP in Cambodia. With regard to the assisting role of the international community, the UN began to provide assistance to the Cambodian judiciary through training and counseling programs as early as 1993. The hybrid model of the ECCC provides the Cambodian personnel of the court with experience of international justice standards.

The RtoP is still a contested notion in the Asia – Pacific, and Cambodia is categorized as a fence-sitter by Bellamy and Davies (2009). Credible local actors are thus needed to facilitate the diffusion of the RtoP in Cambodia. Civil society organizations (CSOs) including NGOs are a potential option given their commitment and contribution to the ECCC trials. They lobbied for a measure of justice for the victims even before the negotiations on the ECCC were started. Since the ECCC became operational in 2006, they have provided legal and psychological counseling and assistance to civil parties that participate in the trials as witnesses. In addition, NGOs such as DC-Cam documented the statements and stories of survivors and victim families to commemorate the loss. On the one hand, CSOs empower the people to reduce their vulnerability for abuses by the state, while on the other hand they serve as the checking force on the government’s behaviors.

The middle position of CSOs provides the flexibility to operate as a bridge of communication between the government and the public. However, the draft NGO law has caused wide concerns of CSOs that their activities of will be hindered by due to the mandatory and complex registration, lack of safeguard against arbitrary decision-making, and absence of appeal channel for denied applications. These restrictions are likely to result in the decline in the number of CSOs and retreat of their activities. With regard to the impact on RtoP in Cambodia, it will means less help to empower the people and weaker checking on the government. Although the government has sought the comments of CSOs on the draft law, there are complains that some of the key concerns are not addressed. If the draft law turns into legislation, the promotion of RtoP will probably be affected.

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Refugees Not the Focus in Australia – Malaysia Asylum Deal

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on August 18, 2011

In a previous blog post, I suggested that attempts to promote ‘managed migration’ through the Bali process to curb human trafficking and smuggling was a progressive anti-trafficking measure. The 2011 Regional Cooperation Framework outlined that consistent assessment processes for asylum seekers be established and anti-trafficking measures developed with greater sensitivity to economic, social and political root causes of irregular migration. Adopting a ‘managed migration’ approach ensures a deeper analysis to understand the various clusters and circumstances of irregular migrants. This avoids conflation of all irregular migrants as illegal migrants in immigration and trafficking laws.

Following the Bali Dialogue, Australia and Malaysia made an asylum deal, which is intended to dampen irregular maritime arrivals through tackling “human trafficking” and “human smuggling” into Australia. The use of trafficking and smuggling syndicates by asylum seekers to reach Australia has gained significant media attention, since the Tampa Affair in 2001. Furthermore, most illegal maritime migrants into Australia are given refugee protection. According to Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, most refugees heading to Australia first fly to Kuala Lumpur before starting their boat journey to Australia via Indonesia. However, other asylum seekers without proper documentation utilize illegal maritime migration as their only option to reach Australia, as a preferred destination place for asylum. Australia’s signatory status may be an incentive. Nevertheless, the agreement between the Australian and Malaysian governments for refugee status determination to be undertaken in Malaysia is intended to thwart the business model of human smuggling/trafficking syndicates. The prospect of return to Malaysia aims to discourage risky journeys by illegal maritime migrants.

However, the transfer of 800 asylum seekers to a non-signatory state like Malaysia to the Refugee Convention is controversial. Malaysia’sapproach towards asylum seekers includes arbitrary detention and minimal integration into society after processing. Similarly, although a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Australia’s approach reflects little regard for the rights and protection of asylum seekers or refugees. For example, the Refugee Convention prohibits discrimination based on the migration means of asylum seekers (para 28, pp. 9; para 98, pp. 33). Despite their illegal entry, Australia has an obligation to ensure the rights of asylum seekers are protected by allowing them access to be processed in Australia. Instead, by diverting these persons to Malaysia, Australia could be refouling asylum seekers. However, Australia refutes this through a narrow reading of the Convention. Without an independent and robust mechanism to determine ‘refoulement’, this remains open to interpretation.

There are ongoing calls for Malaysia to ratify the Refugee Convention as a prerequisite to the asylum deal. Malaysian Convention Ratification and adherence would create employment and welfare access for refugees and recognition as juridical subjects. However, convention ratification does not guarantee fulfillment of obligations by the State. For example, Australia, despite its signatory status, maintains a questionable detention policy and culture. This policy violates international human rights law as encapsulated by The Refugee Council of Australia.

If similar approaches to the Refugee Convention produce such bargains, and are not tackled, similar future deals will encourage a lower standard among states towards their Convention obligations.

Overall, the Australian – Malaysian asylum deal concentrated on treating asylum seekers as prima facie illegal maritime migrants overshadows states’ commitments at the Bali Dialogue to broaden their conception of and response to irregular migrants.

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An ASEAN-led Asia-Pacific: Wavering Regionalism?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on July 12, 2011

The role and effectiveness of ASEAN-led regionalism is under the microscope again as it looks to convene the East Asia Summit (EAS) in mid-November 2011, with new members US and Russia joining for the first time. Indeed, in response to these countries’ successful membership bids, 2010 has been described as a ‘banner year’ for ASEAN centrality. It now leads most of the key regional multilateral institutions, including ASEAN Plus Three (ASEAN+3), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the recently-established ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), which brings together dialogue partners encompassed by the broader EAS – ASEAN member states, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Russia – in a platform specifically designed for security and defense cooperation.

ASEAN’s acceptability as the driver of East Asian regionalism has long been premised on its neutrality, which derives mostly from its consensus-based decision making, an important aspect of the normative framework known as the ‘ASEAN way’. Members of ASEAN-led regional institutions are comfortable in the knowledge that they will not be coerced into any form of cooperation or action. Recently, however, its role as a somewhat-passive driver of regionalism has not been without its challenges (if only in principle), including Hatoyama’s ‘East Asian Community’ proposal, as well as Kevin Rudd’s ‘Asia Pacific Community’ initiative which ostensibly sought to establish an institution that incorporated the entire ‘Asia-Pacific’ region (i.e. included the US) and a more effective body less encumbered by ‘ASEAN’ processes.

While the EAS has addressed the membership issue, it remains to be seen whether in the future a failure to sanction more concrete cooperation will – rather than secure acquiescence to its centrality – begin to erode ASEAN’s legitimacy. Cognizant that its political and security authority is left wanting, ASEAN has been making a conscious and explicit effort to further integrate its members and extra-regional powers to enhance economic integration and prosperity, as well as political and security cooperation, including building the relationships and mechanisms necessary for sustaining regional stability. However, recent fighting across the disputed Thai-Cambodia border and the demonstrable fragility of ASEAN-led mediation efforts suggest there will persist a significant legitimacy gap between the grouping’s vision for ASEAN-based regionalism and its own political authority (i.e. the capabilities that its members are yet willing to endow it with).

The South China Sea (SCS) security challenge will pose another test of ASEAN’s utility and relevance as the core driver of regional multilateral institutions. China’s recent assertiveness in the SCS has reignited this long-standing security issue again, with China’s position contrasting sharply with the US administration’s clear desire to deal with the maritime territorial dispute head on. One of the greatest challenges will be whether ASEAN-led regionalism can provide the appropriate forum to deal with the issue. While many concede that ASEAN has achieved its position of centrality by default, premised largely on the acceptability to all parties of the ‘ASEAN way’ approach, the emerging Asia-Pacific regionalism may conceal more conflicting interests yet conceivably also demand more concrete outcomes. In this sense, the very foundations of its ‘default’ centrality may in the long-run constitute the seed to its unravelling.

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Indonesia, the UNHRC and domestic rights issues

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 31, 2011

In response to Indonesia’s recent election onto the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa said it reflected ‘international appreciation of Indonesia’s role and leadership in fighting for human rights…in regional and global forums’. This statement is prescient, if not for all the right reasons. Indonesia is clearly committed to a human rights agenda externally; however its explicit foreign policy agenda is not trickling down to policies that demonstrate commensurate concern for domestic protection.

On 6 February 2011, in the latest indictment of a country seemingly unable to turn the tides on growing religious violence, 3 Ahmadiyah followers were killed in a horrendous attack (caution: graphic footage) in Cikeusik, West Java, while authorities stood by passively. OHCHR is alleged to have since expressed concerns over the ‘widespread violence and discrimination reported against the Ahmadiyya… [including] the state-sanctioned closing of…mosques, the burning of homes and places of worship, and…physical violence and murder’.

The violence has arguably been facilitated by actions and sentiments at the national level. In 2008, an anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, paving the way for further decrees outlawing Ahmadi practices at the local and provincial levels. Yet, rather than the national decree promoting more peaceful relations – in accordance with the official line – the Setara Institute recorded a parallel increase in violent attacks against the Ahmadis; from 3 in 2006 to 50 in 2010.

While one commentator rightly suggests it is a fear of having one’s own way of life threatened rather than inherent religious intolerance that is the catalyst for such violence, this may not leave much room for a solution. It remains that the Indonesian state has grown less capable or willing to prevent and punish acts of religious violence. Implying or resigning to the fact that religious violence may be an inevitable fact in a diverse nation – particularly a society imbued with democratic freedoms – is a moot point unless and until the Indonesian state takes steps to reassert the value of religious freedom contained within the state ideology, Pancasila, and the Constitution.

Clearly, processes of democratisation and decentralisation have made this a huge challenge. (One commentator notes how radical mass organizations have become ‘a new political order in the era of regional autonomy’, often used – and indulged – to achieve regional political ends). Nonetheless, calls by the Minister for Religious Affairs to ban the Ahmadiyah faith altogether, to a legislator’s suggestion they be shipped off to an uninhabited island, have arguably been unhelpful. In light of the recent attacks, several steps are advocated by HRW and others: revoke the national decree, void related regional and local laws, and use the notable trial of 12 Cikeusik suspects to begin reversing the culture of impunity that fuels the violence.

The president and heads of key state institutions recently pledged to strengthen the Pancasila ideology and counter growing radicalism. However, whether this constitutes more than lip service, and there exists the will or support at the national level to attempt to turn the tide, has yet to be seen.

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Makings of Gender-Sensitive Politics – International Law or Domestic Negotiations?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 26, 2011

Recent political crises in North Africa and the Middle East revealed the active role women play in these crises. The direct contribution of women in these protests, was significant. Also prominent are women taking on conventionally ‘hard’ decisions related to armed intervention into Libya. These include the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, White House Foreign Affairs Adviser, who were all instrumental in achieving the decision to intervene in Libya, while Major General Margaret Woodward is Commander of Air Strategy over Libya.

Greater political representation of women is internationally considered as a ‘soft’ issue. Over the years the UN has gained some momentum in enacting Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security to further greater political representation. Essentially, as much as these Resolutions represent women as victims of violence, they are meant to reinforce women as full participants in processes towards peace and security. Most relevant is Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000 recognising the role of women in conflicts prevention and resolution, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Also Resolution 1889, adopted in 2009 advocates for strengthening efforts on increasing the participation of women and mainstreaming gender perspectives in all decision-making processes, especially in the early stage of post-conflict peacebuilding. However, conflicts over the years have shown that these Resolutions remain weak in instituting a greater role for women in peace processes and security. Contemporarily, this trend is likely to persist, as the crises in the Arab world show little progress made in reference to the substance of these Resolutions.

Indicative of this is the minimal role of women in the resolution of these political crises such as in Egypt and Tunisia. In the words of one Egyptian protester, “the men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. But now he has gone, they want me to go home.” The Guardian newspaper posed an apt question that while women may have sustained the Arab spring, it remains to be seen if the Arab spring will sustain women? While in some places like Tunisia the outlook for women’s political status remains positive, in Egypt the struggle for women appears bleak. In fact, it appears their role in the protests against the ruling regimes were tolerated and instrumental since they reconciled with the ambitions of the wider society. In contrast, protests again a few months later, by women in Egypt for women’s equality were matched with physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment on International Women’s Day on March 8 2011.

Despite the UN Resolutions, the crucial question remains whether the solution for these Arab women lies in strengthening the nature of international regulation? However, the transition of women into greater political representation is also the result of internal political negotiation and converting the Resolutions into binding international law could have little effect, if any or be counter-productive as a top-down imposition.

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Civil Society Groups – Regional Champions of the RtoP in the Asia-Pacific?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 23, 2011

As the commission of mass atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica had shocked the world in the 1990s, the urgent need to prevent the (re)occurrence of such crimes was widely recognized. At the behest of the UN Secretary-General, the ICISS advanced the concept of “the Responsibility to Protect” (RtoP) in the report – The Responsibility to Protect, which was released in 2001. The RtoP claims that each state has the primary responsibility to protect its people from four mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and if it is unable or unwilling to do so, the wider international community has the responsibility to assist. At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders agreed on this spirit and incorporated it into the Summit Outcome. In 2009, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted the report on implementing the RtoP to the General Assembly, which outlined the three-pillar strategy and highlighted the importance of regional arrangements in implementing and diffusing the emerging principle.

Against this backdrop, the RSIS NTS Centre launched a research project to identify potential avenues to advance the RtoP in the Asia-Pacific which has the highest incidence of armed conflicts since 2002. According to Amitav Acharya, strong regional champions are crucial for the diffusion of a new norm in the region. The findings of the project concur with Acharya’s argument. The discussions at the two dissemination meetings in January and March of 2011 converged at the point that civil society engagement is crucial for diffusion of the RtoP and its operationalisation. As states in this region are strong upholder of the principle of non-intervention, national governments are not likely to champion the diffusion and operationalisation of the RtoP. Compared to state actors, civil society organizations (CSO) are in a better position to be regional champions as they are more flexible.

However, in contrast to the expectations of the meeting participants on the role of CSOs, not many CSOs were present at the two dissemination meetings, particularly the one in Bangkok. Moreover, my interviews with NGOs which operate at the Thai-Myanmar border reveal that few people from these groups understand the accurate definition and scope of the RtoP. Even if they are playing the assisting role in operationalising the RtoP, they are not aware of it. Hence, there is a gap between the awareness of the RtoP and the expectations on civil society organizations. It is thus important to disseminate the RtoP among these groups before they could assume the role as the regional champions in the Asia-Pacific.

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Some Basic Thoughts on the Nature of Organized Crime: Part 2

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 18, 2011

In the last blog entry, I highlighted the differences between ordinary profit-driven crimes and those labeled “organized”. The main characteristic of the latter is that it seeks to dominate a specific market for illegal goods. In order to maintain constant presence on the market, a criminal organization needs some sort of a structure and personnel. From this perspective, it is not surprising that it is commonly assumed that organized crime resembles legal business entities both in behavior and structure, and that is why so many authors talk about some McMafias, Crime Inc. etc. However, a more careful analysis reveals that criminal “enterprises” are in fact very different animals to legal businesses, an approach put forward by R. T. Naylor and presented in this blog.

The most important problem with the with seeing criminal “firms” as similar to legal firms, is that the theory of profit maximization does not actually explain how they behave. In fact, even legal businesses do not do everything to maximize profits. While profit is certainly the main reason why organized crime exists, most of the criminal organizations tend to adhere above all to the principle of risk minimization. Hence, unlike a legal firm, a criminal enterprise will seek to increase the level of intermediation, to reduce the risk of the “entrepreneur” being caught by the authorities. Similarly, unlike a legal business, a criminal one is more likely to “fall” i.e. be destroyed by the authorities, when it grows bigger and when it expands beyond a very small territory. Indeed, if organized crime really was run by large Hollywood-style quasi-corporations, it would be much easier for the governments to get rid of them. The uncertainty inherent to the illegal business, makes illegal firms adopt a rather short time-horizon for its operations unlike the legal corporations that are much more likely to assume that they will be in the market for a long time. Furthermore, unlike legal firms, illegal businesses cannot count on any formal property rights protection and hence faces the constant risk of losing its assets (either to the authorities or to other criminals). Naturally, this makes such “companies” much less likely to stockpile resources for some further investment.

Hence, contrary to popular fears and imagination, criminal enterprises operating in more or less functional states hardly resemble legal firms. While, it is true that their actions are determined by market forces, their methods of operation and priorities are very different. This reality should be finally recognized by policy makers and law enforcement agents fixated on fighting “big crime”. What we need is a better understanding of criminal markets rather than criminal groups. Without this understanding, we would only be addressing the symptoms rather than the systemic causes of transnational crime.

Israel’s Search for Security through Technology

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 10, 2011

On 27 March 2011, Israel deployed the world’s first anti-rocket defense system called the Iron Dome. This system was expected to increase Israel’s security against armed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. According to its manufacturer RAFAEL Advanced Systems Ltd., Iron Dome is an effective and innovative mobile defense solution for countering short range rockets and 155 mm artillery shell threats with ranges of up to 70 km in all weather conditions. It was subsequently used in a combat operation for the first time on 7 April 2011 when a battery located in southern Israel intercepted and destroyed nine Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The development of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system was in keeping up with Israel’s doctrine of maintaining Qualitative Military Edge (QME) over its adversaries. According to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion, “Israel is and will continue to be quantitatively inferior vis-à-vis the Arab world” and therefore it “must develop a very strong qualitative edge”. This doctrine has allowed Israeli conventional forces to prevail over the numerically superior Arab conventional forces in wars such as the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

QME however is less effective against armed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah who use both conventional as well as unconventional military tactics against Israel. Such tactics resulted in what was known as a ‘hybrid war’. One weapon system that enabled armed groups to employ hybrid warfare strategy is rockets which allows them to launch their own stand-off attacks. In the 2006 Lebanon War for example, Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets at Israel killing 44 people. Israel believed that Hezbollah now possesses 40,000 rockets including those that can hit targets of up to 200 km. Hamas on the other hand has rockets which can hit targets of up to 45 km. This developments prompted Israel to develop the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

At first sight, the Iron Dome system appears to be a ‘game-changer’ in the struggle between Israel and armed groups. Prior to the deployment of the Iron Dome, Israel has tried air strikes to full-scale ground operation to halt rocket fires prompting considerable international criticism. Iron Dome therefore represents a different approach to the missile threat and has compromised Hamas and Hezbollah’s strategy of striking Israel’s civilian population. The Iron Dome has further reinforced Israel’s belief in military technology as a way to enhance security. Military and technological measures, however, only tackle the symptoms of the problem and did little to address the root causes. As so often in the Middle East, it is the underlying political situation that is at the heart of the conflict. And this looks to be as intractable as ever. Even as Israel enhanced its military technology, it must also continue to engage armed groups and Arab countries in a dialogue in order to arrive at political solutions to the conflicts. Only then will Israel be able to gain the security that it craves for.

The Politics of Protection – Evaluating recent clashes along Thailand – Myanmar border

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 28, 2011

Recent reports in the media have discussed the National Security Council of Thailand moves to close the ‘displaced persons’ camps along the Thailand – Myanmar border. There are currently 143,097 people verified as living within these camps who have fled over the past twenty-five years. They fled across the border because of continued clashes between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) and different ethnic nationalities armies. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s fragile ceasefire agreements were made between some ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. These agreements led to a period of lesser violence up until the preparations for the Myanmar 2010 National Elections. In the run up to the 7th November poll, there was increased tension between the ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw because part of the ceasefire agreement was the eventual integration of ethnic nationalities’ armed forces into the Tatmadaw following national elections. However, as preparations for the elections continued, areas under control of the ethnic nationalities were declared unsafe for the polls to be conducted. As a result of these two significant and interrelated developments, the ceasefire agreements began to breakdown and, in turn, violence in the ethnic nationality areas increased.

The day after the elections took place, an estimated 10,000 people fled across the border from Myawaddy into Thailand. This mass movement was motivated by the violent clashes that broke out between the Tatmadaw and a group of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army defectors known as Brigade 5. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army is an ethnic nationality armed group allied with the Tatmadaw – itself a breakaway faction of the Karen Liberation Army, which has had a ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw since 1994. After days of fighting, the Tatmadaw reclaimed Myawaddy from Brigade 5 and the vast majority of those who fled across the border returned to Myanmar. While this was a large scale outbreak of violence, low level violent clashes continue between various ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. Indeed, this event demonstrates the unstable nature of the situation in the ethnic nationality areas as does the ongoing, albeit it significantly smaller and undocumented, number of people fleeing across the porous border. From my recent field work, many I spoke to from the ethnic nationality areas indicate that the Tatmadaw have revised tactics and have returned to the Four Cuts Strategy towards the ethnic nationalities – a plan designed to cut off four essential components: food, money, information and recruits. In addition to the return to this strategy, there are also reports of landmines being laid across the conflict zones. With a breakdown of various peace agreements and an increase in violence in the ethnic nationality areas, these areas are not fit to be deemed safe and stable. As a result, while the displaced persons want to return and Thai authorities want them to return, it is too early to suggest that voluntary repatriation will take place in the near future, no matter the outcome of the Myanmar 2010 election.

Cooperation rather than Competition (I): Renewable Energy for Whom?

As one of the world’s leading emerging economies, China’s insatiable demand for energy resources, as a result of its exponential economic growth rates is likely to increase over the coming decades. This has led to concerns of sustainability, namely the increasing scarcity of traditional energy resources and carbon emissions that exacerbate climate change.  China has nevertheless taken various steps to address these issues in its national development plans. Its proposed 12th Five year Plan demonstrates concrete steps for moving towards a low-carbon economy and also strategies to diversify its energy mix.

Clearly, energy needs for China’s economic development would require exploring all available resources within China’s territories. Interestingly enough, several regions which are crucial for China’s energy policies have also been theatres for social tension. In terms of renewable energy sources, China has initiated solar energy projects in Tibet, as the region is the richest resource for solar energy in China and is second to the Sahara Desert in terms of longest sunshine time in the world. Locations suitable for wind energy – aside from the Eastern Coast – include China’s Xinjiang province in the Northwest and northern territories bordering Mongolia.

In light of these geo-political concerns, China needs to ensure that its energy exploration and management policies are carefully implemented and do not adversely affect the needs of local communities in these regions. This is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, economic development is not simply a matter of achieving overall national growth, but more importantly, raising the standards of economic livelihoods and household incomes of the poor and increasingly marginalised communities as a result of industrialisation. Such inequalities exist between and within provinces in China. This was apparent in Xinjiang where despite the Western Development plan that boosted Xinjiang’s growth to the point that it was comparable to that of Eastern provinces, communities in southern Xinjiang (95% of non-Han origin) have a capita income half that of Xinjiang as a whole.

This relates to the second reason, where meeting these basic needs are important in preventing social tensions (and even conflict), which have occurred in the past as a result of the central government’s economic development policies that have widened inequalities – particularly for the largely rural/agrarian-based communities in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Like other shared natural resources, energy resources must be utilised as a tool for cooperation rather than conflict and competition. Ensuring communities’ access to energy sources is a crucial factor in this equation, as it would generate productivity via a bottom-up approach. Provincial and municipal governments in China would therefore play a significant role in catering to the specific development needs of the various provinces and their respective localities. Some improvements have so far been made such as the solar energy projects in Tibet that have been used for development needs of rural communities, and Xinjiang’s 20 billion yuan investment in wind energy technology. While this is a good start, such efforts must be further refined overtime and given greater support for the sustainable and affordable provision of renewable sources of energy to communities.





Timor Leste: ASEAN’s 11th Member?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 12, 2011

Timor-Leste recently lodged its application to become the 11th member of ASEAN. However, its members remain divided on the implications of welcoming the fledging nation as its newest recruit. Some are surely reminded of Myanmar’s problematic admission and the impact it has exacted on ASEAN’s perceived relevance. They see a fragile country, with a burgeoning population expected to double by 2040, poverty and worsening unemployment (likely to be compounded by the UN’s withdrawal in 2012), little progress or even regression on key socio-economic indicators since independence in 2002, and persistence of some political and security dynamics that contributed to the 2006 violence, prompting the establishment of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). Timor-Leste’s detractors are conscious of the impact the admission could have on ASEAN’s consolidation and community-building agenda, particularly its push for a single economic market by 2015. As a key opponent, Singapore worries it will widen the development gap and drag down ASEAN’s overall progress. One “nightmare scenario” that is touted: that ‘the entire integration project will unravel and Southeast Asia will be squeezed into irrelevance’.

On the other hand, Indonesia and Thailand are seen as ‘vanguards of support’, a historically ironic scenario for Indonesia given the violent relationship that reigned while Timor-Leste was a province of the archipelago. Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa has acknowledged fears related the derailment of community-building efforts, however has noted that Indonesia believes otherwise and sees a positive impact. He also argued that development gaps between ASEAN members were not a novel concept, citing differences between the founding members and Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, as well as regional security considerations.

A desire to counter China’s growing presence in Timor is recognized by some as an important driver of Indonesia’s support. This growing presence doesn’t necessarily imply that the relationship is of strategic importance in terms of Timor-Leste’s foreign policy agenda. Nonetheless, it is reported that over the past four years, in the aftermath of the instability of 2006, China has tripled its level of investment as well as foreign aid to Timor-Leste. It has funded the construction of the Presidential Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a new defense headquarters in Dili alongside numerous other infrastructure projects. It also sold two patrol vessels to Timor-Leste last year, leading to what one author termed the “saga of the Chinese boats”.

Ultimately, it is important to acknowledge that Timor-Leste is no stranger to its ASEAN neighbours. Many engaged in assistance efforts in the context of the post-referendum violence, and in successive years, to promote stability and strengthen the state’s institutions. Singapore, for instance, continues to be involved in a civilian police capacity and has promoted numerous capacity building programs under the Singapore Cooperation Programme.

Nonetheless, while ASEAN membership would give Timor-Leste’s development drive critical momentum, at the same time, with intimate knowledge of just how far Timor-Leste still has to go, concerned members are unlikely to be convinced of accepting the bid until well after the 2012 Timor-Leste elections and beyond.

China’s ‘Paradoxical’ Position on the Libyan Crisis

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 4, 2011

The unrest in Libya since mid- February has caused at least hundreds of deaths and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of foreigners from the country. As the pro-Gaddafi force began to use force on civilians, the international community has become even more concerned about the political and humanitarian consequences of the ongoing situation. The UN Security Council adopted Resolutions 1970 and 1973 , which respectively impose sanctions and a no-fly zone on Libya, with the aim to end the violence.

It is interesting to note that China casted paradoxical votes on the two resolutions – voting in favor of the former but abstained on the latter. China’s support for sanctions on Libya has been deemed as the indication for a possible shift away from the long adherence to the principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference, while the abstention and China’s recent criticism of the airstrikes against Libya have been consistent with its previous voting record on similar issues in the Security Council. This contradiction is the result of China’s concern for sovereign integrity and its mounting national power. In addition, the attitude of Libya’s neighbors and other major countries in the Security Council serves as the permissive condition for China’s inconsistent positions.

The increasingly visible online nationalism in China has reflected the fact that a majority of the Chinese people supports government efforts to defend sovereign and territorial integrity. This has largely been attributed to the 100-years of humiliation inflicted by foreign powers from the late 19th century until the founding of the new China in 1949. Many Chinese leaders also appear to share similar sentiments. During his meeting with the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, Deng Xiaoping explicitly stated that the sovereignty of Hong Kong was not negotiable. Hence, China’s insecure feeling towards sovereignty has shaped its conservative position on such issues.

However, as China’s national power has been increasing, its confidence over its capability to safeguard sovereign integrity has been growing. Amid the evacuation operation in Libya, the Chinese government dispatched warships and military transport planes to evacuate nearly 36000 Chinese nationals plus 2000 people from other countries within two weeks. It is the first time that China’s air force has participated in a civilian evacuation mission overseas. Apart from that, the participation of the multilateral anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden and the expanding role of China in UN peacekeeping have all demonstrated the fact that the Chinese military is more capable of projecting its power beyond their traditional comfort zone – the Asia- Pacific.

The growing military power has to some degree eased China’s concern over its own sovereign integrity, and the support of the Arab League for the Security Council resolution 1970 has further encouraged China to back sanctions on Libya. However, as its national power is not yet sufficient to make it feel fully secure, China is not likely to abandon the non-interference principle. Moreover, the fact that Brazil, Germany, India, and Russia abstained from Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone on Libya has reduced the political cost for abstention and thus enabled China to hold reservation.

Reflections on a More Confident and Relevant ASEAN?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 17, 2011

ASEAN’s perceived utility stems largely from its capacity to manage and diffuse tensions between its member states. The foundation of this achievement is largely recognized to be its normative framework – the ‘ASEAN way’, which is widely seen as the region’s most important informal mechanism of conflict management. Thus, when an on-going dispute over territory along the Thai-Cambodian border manifested in violent clashes on 4-7 February, violating fundamental ASEAN principles of the non-use or threat of force and the peaceful resolution of disputes, it generated debate regarding the fundamental [ir]relevance of the organisation, given its ostensible failure to fulfil it’s very raison d’être.

In the wake of the clashes, some commentators suggested that the incident could portend a reversal of ASEAN’s successes in securing regional stability and the return to force as the tool of choice for settling differences. While potentially alarmist, the escalation of the territorial dispute nonetheless presented an important litmus test for the 10-member association, which is in the midst of a drive to form a political-security community. However, several weeks after the height of the dispute, it is possible at least tentatively, to draw some positive insights.

Through the dispute, ASEAN has arguably signified its intention to move into a new phase, governed – necessarily – by a more proactive attitude towards regional peace and security. With a mandate reaffirmed by the ASEAN Charter, and without requiring prompting, Indonesian FM Marty Natalegawa, representing the ASEAN Chair, initiated shuttle diplomacy to attempt to pave the way for bilateral talks and to halt the violence. ASEAN’s role as mediator was strengthened on 14 February when the UNSC expressed its support for ASEAN’s active efforts in the dispute, endorsing the upcoming informal meeting of Foreign Ministers on 22 February.

Out of this meeting, there emerged agreement that a group of Indonesian observers would be sent to the disputed border area as well as consensus on the importance of holding further bilateral talks, with Indonesia’s support. It is expected that the two will discuss the plan, including the terms of reference for the observer mission, during the Thailand-Cambodia Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) on demarcation and General Border Committee (GBC) meetings in Indonesia on 24-25 March.

Indonesia’s engagement in the dispute on behalf of ASEAN has been described by Natalegawa as a ‘seminal development in ASEAN’s capacity to deal with a conflict situation’. Ultimately, in spite of accounts of its relative impotence in addressing issues of regional peace and security, it appears that ASEAN is making serious attempts to manoeuvre around its inherent constraints to take on a more proactive role in this area. ASEAN’s proactive engagement in the Thai-Cambodia crisis can boost its confidence in this regard, provided it manages to negotiate a stable solution to the conflict in the coming weeks and months. Though perhaps the real challenge will lie in maintaining the momentum when Indonesia passes its chairmanship to Cambodia in 10 months time, given that it was Natalegawa’s initiative and diplomatic skill that has been most striking during this crisis.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands: “Mercenaries” in Libya

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 9, 2011

“Mercenaries” in Libya?

A “No Fly Zone” or other UN sanctions do not preclude the Gaddafi regime increasing ground armed forces to extend their control. This could be done by an increased use of “mercenaries”. “Mercenaries” are legally defined broadly as persons motivated by private gain to fight in an armed conflict. They are not affiliated to the armed forces of a party to the conflict, nor of any other state. However, state complicity in the use of “mercenaries” is prevalent in Africa. Their use by the Gaddafi regime may be commonplace following the resignations of top officials from the government, and the defiance of orders by members of the police and army.

Furthermore, the use of “mercenaries” in internal conflicts is common in Africa. However, the quantification of “mercenary” activities is a difficult empirical task. The Gaddafi regime’s access to “mercenaries” may be assured through connections made with non-government armed forces it provided armed training to in Libya, between 1970 and 1980.

To this effect, advertisements have been launched in Kenya and Guinea to recruit pro-Gaddafi fighters. Fighters are purportedly offered approximately US$ 2500 per day or could earn up to US$ 20,000 a month.

A government official from Mali revealed that 200-300 members of the Tuaregs community from its Kidal region left for Libya to join pro-Gaddafi forces. The Tuaregs share a longstanding relationship with the Gaddafi regime, beginning from the formation of the “Islamic Pan African Legion” in the 1970s. Although the Legion was disbanded as an organisation in the 1980s, connections between Libyan officials and the Tuaregs have been maintained.

The Malian government has expressed anxiety but finds difficulty in controlling this exchange. Indeed, persisting conflicts in Africa and poor efforts in demobilising fighters have generated a steady supply of ex-combatants. With limited employment options available to them, these ex-combatants would prefer to use their combat skills for monetary gain.

‘Popular Anger’ Against Sub-Saharan Africans

The use of “mercenaries” is justifiably real to anti-government Libyan protesters and is perceived as state-sponsored violence. However, the retaliation through violence by anti-government protestors on innocent Sub-Saharans has led to their serious victimization. Sub-Saharans are targeted because their countries are dominant suppliers of “mercenaries” within the African continent.

Unfortunately, widespread and indiscriminate targeting of Sub-Saharans is conducted on their identification as “black” and “non-arabic speaking”. Underlying these indiscriminate attacks is the largely unorganised nature of incorporating “mercenaries” into armed offensives by states. This prevents an objective identification of parties to the conflict and their affiliations.

Africans particularly from Chad, Niger, Liberia, Mali and the Central African Republic have been forcibly detained and assaulted by armed mobs, with their homes and shelter camps targets of destruction. The violence has hampered their ability to exit Libya safely. Moreover, the International Organisation for Migration reports that Sub-Saharans are scarce amongst the thousands pouring out of Libyan borders daily.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

The hostilities between Libyan anti-government protestors and presumed “mercenaries” are due to a weak culture of accountability for “mercenary” activities. Therefore, the violence perpetrated by anti-government protestors is understandable because there is a vacuum within international and national legal systems in bringing these “mercenaries” to account judicially.

Will the Southern Sudanese Independence Referendum Provide A Lasting Solution to the Conflict?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 23, 2011

ON 7 February 2011, the final result of the referendum to determine the status of southern Sudan was released: 98.83 per cent of the more than 3.8 million registered voters in southern Sudan chose to separate from the north. This referendum was the final culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which brought a formal end to Africa’s longest civil war and it heralds the birth of a new country: the Republic of South Sudan. The 25-year civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which was described in various ways as one between northern and southern Sudan, Arabs and Africans, and Muslims and Christians resulted in the death of an estimated two million people. There are concerns that the referendum would plunge the country back into full blown civil war. Such fears however were unfounded. This is because there was recognition that the conflict between northern and southern Sudan had entered a stalemate and neither side would gain a decisive victory. Also, increasing pressure from the international community led both parties to return to the negotiating table. In any case any relapse into war would have exacted huge social and economic costs. A report by Frontier Economics estimated that a relapse into war could cost Sudan more than USD 100 billion over 10 years. A peaceful settlement to the longstanding conflict, even though ending a unified Sudan, was therefore the only viable alternative. The relatively peaceful manner with which southern Sudan secedes from the north is thus described as a “civil ending to a civil war”.

Source: The New York Times, 2011.

However, there is a possibility of the two countries relapsing back into conflict because there are still a number of delicate and potentially combustible issues that need to be resolved. One such issue concerns the permanent demarcation of the north-south border. Although 80 per cent of the border has already been resolved, 20 per cent of it is still being contested. The Abyei region has been identified as the reason why it remains so because “many of the ingredients of the wider north-south war—the oil, the proxy forces, the historic rivalries—are distilled in the Abyei region”. Like the rest of South Sudan, the Abyei region was also to hold a referendum in January 2011 but the process was held hostage by politicians from both North and South Sudan. It is imperative that South Sudan and North Sudan initiate dialogues early on to resolve all outstanding issues in order to prevent future escalation of conflicts between them.

The Thai-Cambodia Border Dispute and Implications for ASEAN

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 14, 2011

As someone who is passionate about evolving practice in ASEAN and whether it might portend a greater role for the body in ensuring human security in the face of prominent intra-state challenges, the recent flare up of the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is sobering. As well as violating the cardinal ASEAN principles of non-use of force and the peaceful resolution of disputes, the violence is believed to have left 3 Thais and 8 Cambodians dead and an estimated 30,000 displaced. Moreover, the recent eruption of tensions poses an important test case for ASEAN. For better or for worse, the trajectory that the conflict as well as resolution efforts take over the coming days and weeks will have potentially significant implications for the grouping. Amongst the most disconcerting are the possible effect the conflict may have on member states’ perceptions of ASEAN’s relevance and ultimately, the negative influence it might exert on the momentum towards a Southeast Asian political-security community.

The border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has its origins in a settlement between the Kingdom of Siam and the French colonial government in Cambodia a century ago that saw the Preah Vihear temple awarded to Cambodia. In 1962, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reaffirmed Cambodia’s sovereignty over the temple, but failed to rule on adjoining territory. The listing of the temple as a UN World Heritage site in 2008, however, sparked a fresh series of disputes, with the February clashes the most recent and violent flare up. Although border disputes are not uncommon among ASEAN members, observers of the recent violence invariably implicate the role of domestic political manoeuvring on both sides.

In the wake of the clashes, and in spite of Thailand’s preference for solving the problem bilaterally, Cambodia has called on the UN Security Council to engage and for UN peacekeepers to establish a buffer zone along the border. The Thai and Cambodian Foreign Ministers, and Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, representing ASEAN, are subsequently expected to attend a UNSC briefing on Monday. It is expected that the UNSC meeting will pave the way for a much-needed regional (binding) mandate to resolve the dispute. Kavi Chongkittavorn has suggested that Natalegawa’s urgent convening of a meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers on February 22nd is seen to be in anticipation of this, and will allow ASEAN to decide on a course of action for dousing potential further conflict – and salvaging its reputation.

While Cambodia’s internationalisation of the issue may have undermined ASEAN’s centrality in regional peace and security, the other side of the coin is that Cambodia’s course of action reflected a lack of faith in ASEAN’s capacity. The ASEAN Charter already provides for good offices, conciliation and mediation to solve disputes (see Articles 22 and 23), and it is crucial that ASEAN utilise this mandate – either through continued efforts by the ASEAN Chairman or a neutral party. Ultimately, the biggest hurdle to the effectiveness of current mechanisms is the requisite will on the part of member states. Countries’ perceptions of ASEAN’s legitimacy as an effective peace-broker are likely to play a key role in determining this. In this vein, in order to reaffirm its centrality in and capacity for regional conflict management, rather than merely asserting its relevance through the rhetoric of a political-security community, there must be measurable progress on concrete initiatives already provided for in the Charter and political-security community blueprint. This could mean, for instance, enhancing the region’s capacity for peacekeeping.

UN International World Day of Social Justice: Drawing Attention to the Causal Link between Development and Conflict

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 8, 2011

The UN marks International World Day of Social Justice on 20th February.  The term social injustice – including poverty, exclusion and unemployment – has varying implications for populations, and in turn is inextricably linked to domestic security. This was highlighted by the UN Secretary – General (Sec-Gen) Ban Ki Moon, at the Munich Security Conference. He linked the ongoing crises in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East to the lack of “broad-based security” – encompassing human insecurity and injustice in terms of poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations or the lack of good governance – as breeding social instability. These statements draw attention to social inequality and the lack of development as causes of internal conflict and violence. However, most often it is internal conflict and violence as causes of prolonged internal social inequality and lack of development, that is emphasised. This is seen in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 – Conflict, Security and Development. Ban Ki Moon’s statements reinforced that the causal connection between social inequality and lack of development on intrastate political instability needs greater political traction.

This is especially relevant to Southeast Asian countries experiencing protracted intrastate conflicts such as in southern parts of Thailand and Philippines. Horizontal inequalities contribute to the durability of separatist conflict, as seen in Aceh, Indonesia. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy introduced in 1971to reduce horizontal inequalities in the face of social riots, although controversial as an affirmative policy, is often cited for its long-term success in maintaining peace between the economically weak but demographically dominant Malay and economically powerful but minority Chinese communities.

Academic research has made theoretical developments on the causal connections between social inequality, and intrastate conflict and violence. Cederman et al. find that socio-economically excluded groups are more likely to experience conflict, especially when they are able to organise themselves based on common experiences of violations of civil-political rights. Accordingly, the academic and policy-making communities have embarked on the development of early warning mechanisms to prevent conflict as seen in the SIPRI report. This is supported by the UN.

Theoretical progress must be matched with political will on the part of state leaders to address domestic social inequalities and lack of development towards ensuring intrastate conditions for peace and security. Indonesian President Yudhoyono recently commented to fellow head of states at the Davos Conference 2011 on the centrality of Non-Traditional Security issues such as poverty and hunger, in adversely affecting the social and political stability of intra-state structures. He highlighted the transnational effects of these NTS issues triggering global consequences. Hence, he stressed the need for individual states to adjust their mindsets on security issues and drew attention to the collective imperative to address global imbalances through financial inclusion, social safety nets and aid for trade. ASEAN has made progress in expanding its political-security frameworks in recognising NTS issues. However, it remains to be seen to what extent regional developments will influence and support state leaders in overcoming domestic societal imbalances. Addressing these issues will require a human development approach that is inclusive of all its peoples so as to sustain internal peace and security.

Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship: Sustaining the Momentum on Human Rights?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on January 27, 2011

With Indonesia assuming the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this month, the expectation is that Indonesia will try to gain some headway in advancing the regional human rights agenda. For many, Indonesia’s power vis-à-vis ASEAN lies in its soft power, in its legitimacy as a champion of rights and a defender of democracy. In contrast, the head of Amnesty International recently argued that persistent human rights concerns in Indonesia are likely to prevent the government from realizing its high aspirations of taking a lead on the global stage.

Alongside the democratisation process in Indonesia and the subsequent loosening of authoritarian control, Indonesia’s Pancasila ideology and its image as a bastion of pluralism have certainly come under threat in recent years. In late 2008, controversial Anti-Pornography legislation was passed to the lamentation of minority groups and liberal Muslims, who claimed that the law arbitrarily imposed Islamic values on the whole nation, curtailing civil liberties and denying minorities’ identities. Controversial legislation aside, there has been a perceptible increase in the number of assaults against religious minorities in recent months by Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), in particular Christian groups and the Ahmadiyah religious community, decried by some Muslims as a cult. As the International Crisis Group recently pointed out however, fundamentalism is not restricted to Islamist groups in Indonesia, and tensions are increasingly exacerbated by evangelical Christian groups perceived to be behind a “Christianization” of Indonesia.

Growing religious intolerance is not the only serious human rights – and leadership – challenge confronting Indonesia (see Human Rights Watch’s 2011 World Report). In addition to poor protection for migrant workers and refugees, challenges to freedom of expression, and rising social intolerance (e.g. vis-à-vis sexuality and gender identity), impunity of security forces is a critical concern (brought to the fore again recently when three soldiers prosecuted for torturing two Papuan men received sentences of only 8 to 10 months for abuse and “insubordination”).

If Indonesia’s strength as a leader is seen to lie in its soft power and as a champion of people-centered policies, is its increasingly murky (or perhaps, increasingly accountable) human rights record likely to influence its ability to affect change within ASEAN, particularly when it comes to promoting its regional rights agenda?

At this stage, despite the expectations of a number of commentators, Indonesia’s domestic rights concerns do not appear to be factoring in to its neighbours’ perceptions of legitimacy. As Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya recently stated, ‘…the international community should learn from Indonesia. The principle of Pancasila is still applicable today, applicable for everyone…Indonesia is a country that demonstrates tolerance in every sense of the word’. For now, and from here, it appears that Indonesia’s success – for good or for worse – in moving the rights agenda forward in ASEAN will hinge more on its ability to achieve small, concrete gains – more so than the issue of rights or (in)tolerance within its own borders. Key tests will be its ability to consolidate achievements vis-à-vis the newly-established ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and the adoption of an ASEAN human rights declaration in 2011 that at the very least, does not backtrack on successes already gained.

Post-Election Violence and Human Security

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on January 6, 2011

In 2002, President Bush advanced his new national security strategy, which asserted that democracy and freedom were crucial to national success. Spreading democracy is emphasized in the EU common foreign policy as one of the solutions to the root causes of violent conflict. In his book, Gareth Evans argues that democracy is an essential long-term tool to ease tension in situations of R2P concern. Furthermore, democracy provides permissive conditions to ensure political security – one of the seven components of human security. However, the recent post-election violence in Ivory Coast has posed grave threats to human security of Ivorian people.

The Ivorian election on 28 November 2010 was expected to end the South-North split in Ivory Coast since a 2002 civil war. However, the election had in fact deepened the crisis. The power struggle between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has now escalated to violence between the respective supporters of the two political camps. As a result of the dangerous standoff, 173 people have been killed, and thousands of Ivorians have fled to neighboring countries in fear of the situation  escalating into a full-scale conflict. The confrontation has also disrupted the normal life of Ivorians.

The Ivorian turbulence is not an isolated case, and post-election violence is not an uncommon phenomenon in the developing South. Back in 2008, massive violence unfolded in Kenya after a disputed election in late 2007, causing the fear of mass atrocities breaking out. In Asia, we also witnessed similar situations. The clashes between the Myanmar government troops and ethnic Karen insurgents caused the outflow of 10,000 refugees to neighboring Thailand. In January 2010, Sri Lanka had its most violent election in a decade, with six deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Elections that are followed by violence are often characterized by sharp divisions along ethnic/religous/political lines. The elections are often tasked to improve relations among different ethnic/religious/political groups. However, democracy and democratic elections do not necessarily resolve pre-existing tensions. Demet Yalcin Mousseau concludes that democracy in multi-ethnic societies will face more intense forms of political violence than other democracies (‘Democratizing with Ethnic Divisions: A Source of Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research). Andreas Wimmer argues that democracy does not automatically generate inter-ethnic harmony. (“Democracy and Ethno-religious Conflict in Iraq” Pacific Review) Wimmer’s argument can also be applied in cases of religious/political division. The freedom embedded within democracy offers permissive conditions to fuel the claims by ethnic/ religious/ political groups and mobilize followers for their campaigns, which creates hotbed for violence once the election result does not meet the demands of major parties concerned.

Instability might exist during the initial period of democratization, but a more favorable environment can facilitate a smoother transition to full democracy. Root causes of post-election violence include imbalanced access to state power among and unequal distribution of economic gains among different groups. It thus needs synchronized progress on the economic and governance fronts for democracy to persist.

Continuity of Violence against Women from Peacetime into Periods of Intra-state Conflict and Violence

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on December 13, 2010

The use of gender violence as a war tactic and the impact of conflicts on the prevalence of post-conflict domestic abuse has been widely documented and researched. Responding to the phenomenon of gender violence during conflict, the UN has issued a series of Security Council Resolutions – 1325, 1820, 1882 and 1889 – on the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and on addressing the security concerns of women caught in armed conflict and in integrating them into peacebuilding processes.

However, what appears to be understudied is the role of weak domestic violence laws applicable during peacetime, in facilitating or perpetuating gender violence when conflict occurs, continuing into post-conflict periods. This is significant for the Asian region for several reasons – it is undergoing several intrastate conflicts; women make up “half of the population” in Asia-Pacific; and “violence against women is a common phenomenon in Asia” but considered a private family matter, excluded from intervention by public authorities. For example, academics including Rhonda Copelon, suggest that planned acts of rape in conflict zones to subjugate and humiliate, are linked to poorly regulated crimes of gang and marital rape during peacetime.

Although magnified in severity, the conditions inciting violence during conflict or post-conflict periods are similar to those  underpinning domestic violence during peacetime, including; structural factors such as gender inequalities due to patriarchal social hierarchies, acceptance of violence as a mode of social interaction or socio-economic inequality, but most importantly impunity. Levels of impunity related to the commission of domestic violence enables conflict zones to become environments for gender violence as social networks drastically breakdown.

All Southeast Asian states are signatories to the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and 8 out of 10 states have enacted specific regulations on domestic violence, barring Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar. The Philippines has the most comprehensive definition of domestic violence and the Vietnamese legislation is exemplary in addressing negative cultural influences such as forced child marriages. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Philippines have specific state institutions with responsibility to spread public awareness on domestic violence. Most countries provide criminal and civil remedies to domestic violence. Only Malaysia and Thailand have relevant legislation to ensure the prevalence of domestic violence is monitored.

Significantly, in concert with the international momentum, Southeast Asia marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2010. The United Nation’s campaign, “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women,” took off in Asia-Pacific on this day. The campaign targets youth, faith-based organisations and religious groups, men and boys and the media. Recognising that efforts by Southeast Asian states can be enhanced, Thai Prime Minister, Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva commented on the centrality of protection of women and girls from violence to gender equality and development within the region. He attributed the prevalence of violence against women to the existing the culture of impunity and observed that fundamental structural changes to existing unequal power structures, were required.

Operationalisation of the ‘RtoP’ in Southeast Asia

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on December 10, 2010

At a recent seminar at the NTS Centre, Mr.Francis Deng, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, presented a ‘road map’ for the prevention of genocide outside of a crisis context.

Mr. Deng suggested that genocide is essentially an extreme form of identity-based conflict. However, it is horizontal inequalities – vis-a-vis access to power, resources and the rights of citizenship – that catalyse the transformation of diversity into violent inter-group relations. As such, Deng argued that the best avenue for preventing genocidal crimes is through a structural approach, emphasising good governance, the promotion of democratic ideals, broad respect for the dignity of the human person, and the establishment of legal norms and rule of law institutions. Ultimately, prevention necessitates putting in place structures for institutionalising equality among different groups.

It was Mr. Deng’s view that the most propitious way forward for implementing (but perhaps more conceivably localising) this broad preventive agenda – vis-à-vis both genocide and the RtoP norm more generally – is through the normative and institutional frameworks particular to different regions. Indeed, while it is almost inconceivable that consensus beyond a superficial level will be reached at the global level on the operationalisation of this nascent norm, it is feasible that regions may be able to capitalise on a shared sense of solidarity and common purpose (although perhaps tenuous).

Deng insisted that contrary to perceptions that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still fundamentally subordinates people-centred concerns to the imperatives of the ASEAN way – specifically non-interference – there is a surprising level of receptiveness to his approach in the region. Indeed, the lofty goals that ASEAN has set for itself through its vision for an ASEAN Community, particularly the ASEAN Political-Security Community indicate that ASEAN’s core values are evolving from a severely state-centric conceptualisation to increasingly encompass the rights of individuals and communities. While conceding that progress is likely to be gradual (and observers of ASEAN would well agree), Deng insisted that recent ASEAN initiatives nonetheless highlight the promise of pursuing this agenda at the sub-regional level.

Mr. Deng’s insights and strategy resonate strongly with the experience in Southeast Asia. ASEAN countries have been quite vocal supporters of the RtoP in UN fora, albeit with some strong reservations regarding its implications for intervention. At the 2009 UNGA debate on the RtoP, the Asia-Pacific region was attributed with undergoing the greatest positive shift in favour of the RtoP since 2005, with particular mention going to the Philippines and Vietnam. Specifically, Southeast Asian states offered their overwhelming support for the first two pillars of the RtoP during the debate, including the international community’s responsibility to provide assistance and capacity building to ensure state’s can uphold their obligations.

Deng’s insights and preventive strategy are therefore extremely compatible with the ASEAN context. However, Deng’s position diverged significantly from the nature of the region’s support in his insistence on a fundamental acceptance of the third pillar (the responsibility of the international community to be more assertive when confronted with mass atrocity crimes). Nonetheless, at the end of the day, is it even necessary for states to resolve their inherent hesitations concerning the third pillar before they implement the ‘RtoP’? Rather than RtoP per se, states have already expressed their willingness to assist neighbouring states to build their capacities. Perhaps the more critical question at this point is therefore how to push this agenda forward.

Community Insecurity of Ethnic Minorities in Myanmar

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on November 15, 2010

On 7 November 2010, Myanmar held its first election in 20 years. Media attention has always been centered on the credibility of the elections and fate of the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Ethnic tensions, which are a crucial issue has  often been overlooked. A day after the election, more than 10,000 people fled to Thailand to escape the clashes between government troops and ethnic Karen insurgents, which escalated  as a result of an anti-election protest. The antagonism was aggravated by the cancellation of voting in some areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. This decision reflects the junta’s policies to marginalize ethnic minorities, which consequently threatens their community security. The insecurity has fuelled ethnic conflicts, which further threatens the security of the ethnic communities themselves.

Community security, one of the seven components of human security, aims to preserve the traditional values or identities of a certain group of people and protect them from ethnic or sectarian violence. According to the 1994 Human Development Report, community refers to a group of people who share common characteristics, i.e. ethnic origin, cultural identity, religious belief, etc. When the shared characteristics are under threat, the community is insecure.

Myanmar is an ethnically diverse country with over 135 ethnic minority groups which include  the Chin, Rakhine, Karen, Mon, Shan, and numerous other peoples. These ethnicities have varying languages, cultural and historical traditions, and religious beliefs. However, the military government has adopted policies, which aim to homogenize minority cultures and histories under the Burmese ‘national’ identity. For instance, all Chin language publications are required to be translated into Burmese and submitted to censorship before dissemination. The Rohingya are not even allowed to repair their crumbling religious buildings. Christian Karens have been forced to convert to Buddhism. The junta have also squeezed the political space of the minorities. Before the election, the Union Election Commission dissolved several ethnic political parties.

The 1947 Panglong Agreement was an attempt to provide autonomy and self-determination for minorities and foster mutual trust among ethnic groups. However, the Panglong spirit did not last long. The suppressive policies have pushed the minorities to continue their struggles for self-determination since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. In early Novemeber 2010, leaders of ethnic armed groups had a meeting in Mae Hong Son to discuss strategies to topple town the military government.  As a consequence of the protracted fighting and counter-insurgency operations, tens of thousands of people have been displaced as IDPs or refugees in neighbouring countries. The displaced people face physical and food insecurity and severe human rights abuses. A report on food security and internal displacement by the Burmese Border Consortium suggests that IDPs in eastern Myanmar are significantly vulnerable to food insecurity.

The repressive ethnic polices, the protracted insurgency/counter-insurgency fighting, and threatened community security of ethnic minorities have formed a vicious cycle. A durable solution to these thorny problems hinges on more inclusive policies and genuine engagement between the government and the ethnic groups.

The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction- Part II

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on November 8, 2010

SMALL ARMS have destabilising impacts on both states and societies. In Southeast Asia, the destabilising nature of the proliferation and misuse of small arms (both legal and illegal) has been most evident in places like Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, and Myanmar where there are ongoing conflicts, and Timor Leste which have been recovering from the consequences of years of conflict.

In the Philippines, about 70 per cent of small arms are in the hands of civilians and 80 per cent of the illegal weapons are concentrated in restive provinces on the southern island of Mindanao – Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-tawi. Economic losses as a result of conflict in Mindanao between 1975 and 2002 was estimated at PHP 5 – 10 billion (USD 9.5 – 19 million) annually. Conservative estimates of the costs of both the Moro and Communist conflicts from 1969 to 2004 was said to be at least 120,000 fatalities, military expenditure of at least USD 6 billion, and losses in gross domestic product of at least USD 17.5 billion.

Curbing the proliferation of small arms is therefore essential. Australia offers valuable lessons in this regard. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to ban and buy back more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – after the massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania on 28 April 1996  – has cut the country’s stock of firearms by 20 per cent and roughly halved the number of households with access to guns. As a result, firearm suicides declined by 74 per cent, saving 200 lives a year.

There is now an increasing call for stricter gun controls in Southeast Asia too. The Philippine Daily Inquirer for example argues that banning guns “will make the Philippines a more peaceful and safer country”. In fact, there is no dearth of gun control legislations in Southeast Asia. The Philippines has 21 individual Executive Orders, Laws, Acts, Memorandums, Presidential Decrees, Directives and Amendments (for a comprehensive list of gun control legislation in the Philippines, click here). Similarly, Thailand has the 1947 and 1967 Acts on Controlling Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation of Firearms. However, due to weak implementation, small arms continue to proliferate. Effective implementation of existing legislations thus constitutes an important first step to control the proliferation of small arms and its misuse.

Table 1: Small arms possession in Southeast Asia


Civilian guns
Government guns
Market cost of an AK-47 assault rifle (2007)
Number of Privately Owned Firearms (2007)
Rate of Civilian Firearm Possession per 100 people (2007)
Number of Privately Owned Firearms – World Ranking – out of 178 countries (2007)

Military firearms (2006)

Law enforcement firearms (2006)
15.6 firearms
USD 720
to 3,900,000
4.7 firearms
USD 328
4.0 firearms
USD 250

14,050 (1999)
Illicit firearms: 1,000,000 (2007)
0.5 firearms
USD 250
1.7 firearms
USD 300
84,588to 600,000
4.3 firearms
187,912 to 190,000
USD 40
142,038 to 370,000
1.5 firearms
1.2 firearms
USD 300
795 to 22,000
0.5 firearms
USD 1,500
1.4 firearms
USD 1,500
0.3 firearms

Source: Compiled from

Post-Conflict Societies – The Role of Gender Analysis

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 28, 2010

On 20th October 2010, the UN Population Fund released its State of World Population Report 2010 : From Conflict and Crisis to Renewal – Generations of Change (Report). Much of the report is aimed to coincide with the 10th Anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Resolution 1325) on women, peace and security. The Report utilises a gender analysis to reflect on the accounts of men and women to violence and sexual abuse in situations of conflict and post-conflict.

It is revealed that the experiences and responses of men and women to situations of conflict affect their role and psychology in the household, community or society in post-conflict environments. The case studies illustrated that altered post-conflict dynamics in some households led to positive shifts towards core household responsibilities (chapter 4), whereas in other cases the effects of conflict were converted to expression of domestic abuse (pp. 28 – 29). The collected emphasis of the accounts was the fundamental importance of ‘caring communities’; whether extended family, a clan, a village or a local organisation. The existence of such social support mechanisms is vital. However, in most cases these need to be accompanied by awareness raising and educating efforts on post-conflict trauma at local and national levels, to accurately sensitise local  cultures and inform support mechanisms.

Some key points arising from the 2010 Report include;

  • A gender analysis is useful to expose the abusive impacts of conflict on men, as it can for women; Chris Dolan’s ‘Gender Against Men’;
  • The presence of differential socio-cultural reactions (chapter 1) to the abuses suffered by men and women during the conflict; sexual abuse, torture and abduction suffered by women was more severely denounced, eventhough men went through similar experiences, led to the psychological insecurities of women being unaddressed;
  • Local Women Organisations play a significant role in bridging access for women to public forums to raise their security concerns (see also pp. 21). The Report notes the high prevalence of domestic violence in post-conflict Timor Leste and the efforts of the UN in producing a manual for the Timorese National Police on investigating cases of gender-based violence (pp. 21). The incorporation of women representatives in UN Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping forces assisted in aware-raising and educating local women, alongside local organisations, on issues of gender violence, especially in societies where domestic violence is deemed a private matter;
  • The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations has begun recruiting more women as civilian police officers, especially after Resolution 1325; India and Bangladesh (chapter 2, pp. 20) are among the top contributors of women to police work.

Many authors have written over decades on the importance of integrating women into post-conflict societal rehabilitation efforts; ‘Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources’ (1998). The main objective of these writings is to influence against the presumption of women as ‘victims’ but to consider their potential as social agents in post-conflict restoration of societies. Accordingly, the UN issued Security Council Resolution 1889 in October 2009; urging states, and international and regional organisations to take further measures to improve women’s participation in all stages of peace processes, including  political and economic decision-making at early stages of recovery processes (para 1).

Human Trafficking – Reflections on a Recent Conference

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 10, 2010

At a recent conference on human trafficking in Singapore, the trends of current human trafficking discourses and anti-trafficking measures were highlighted, with a focus on the emerging patterns within Southeast Asia. Migration remains rampant in Southeast Asia. Undoubtedly, the universal difficulty in identifying demarcations between the various groups of migrants adds to the complexity for anti-trafficking measures. Some of the salient factors raised are discussed.

Too Much Focus on Sex Trafficking

It was pointed out by many speakers that statistics on human trafficking were out-dated. The failure to update these leads to skewed focal points for policy interventions to curb trafficking tendencies. Although the sex industry and gendered perceptions of trafficking remain as concerns, it is necessary to broaden into other areas such as trafficking for labour in general, for example, in domestic work and fishing industries. These areas were highlighted as understudied; hosting higher numbers of persons trafficked, exposed to precarious working conditions and experiencing limited agency. Whilst there are regular news items on the threats to human security faced by domestic workers, the discourse needs to transcend gendered perspectives. It was revealed that 80 percent of global fishermen were from East Asia. A significant number of children are trafficked into bonded or forced labour, with conditions worsened by a lack of data on this issue, lack of monitoring at sea and the failure of current labour regulations to address the work conditions on fishing fleets.

Misdirected Enforcements Regulate Supply Motivations

Whilst presenting their field research, anthropologists at the conference raised evidence which showed that much of the action undertaken by enforcement agencies did not understand the motivations behind the supply feeding trafficking syndicates. Some of the factors raised included; structural vulnerabilities such as access to civil-political rights within their country of origin, which determines legal status to access social services. The lack of citizenship rights was a common characteristic amongst many of the communities found ‘victimised’ by trafficking syndicates; hill tribes in Thailand and Myanmar. Another important factor was social and cultural support. Persons who migrate for economic opportunities and are exploited but persist in the cycle are strongly influenced by expectations to earn and improve conditions back home, and if they fail, they experience negative stigma from communities in places of origin.  As a result, returning home is a difficult option. These realities of reintegration need mainstreaming in policy actions.

Politics of Access

A recurrent theme raised at the conference was that persons accessing trafficking or smuggling syndicates considered these agents, rather than government authorities, as a source of economical and social support. Indonesia remains a transit country used by many persons who wish to travel further, such as to Australia or New Zealand. For these persons whether illegally in Indonesia or housed in ‘shelters’, syndicates are whom they seek. This relationship between traffickers/smugglers and their subjects, make anti-trafficking enforcement efforts more complex.

Shortcomings on the part of officials; their failures to study and respond to the issues above, reinforces the dependencies of persons on trafficking/smuggling syndicates and exploitative employment conditions.  It is suggested that analysis, research and policy recommendations should increasingly prioritise ‘human security’ perspectives into anti-trafficking measures, rather than the current dominant criminal justice frameworks.

Human Security as an End of Solution to Internal Diplacement

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 9, 2010

This summer heavy floods hit Pakistan, affecting more than twenty million people countrywide. Among the flood victims, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are the most vulnerable group. In September 2010, the International Crisis Group (ICG) and International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) issued their respective briefing on the situations of internal displacement in Pakistan’s north-western Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa (KP). Both reports alerted that the IDPs crisis is worsening. The disaster had aggravated IDPs’ vulnerabilities relating to food security, health security, economic security, etc. As the floods have overstretched the resources of the host communities, some IDPs have to returned to their homes despite the latter still being unsafe to stay in. This inevitably would  put their physical security at risk. Hence, the resettlement of the IDPs and rebuilding their homelands are a big test for the Pakistani government. Despite the government’s commitment to addressing the issue of internal displacement, the strategy is problematic as it neglects the Human Security of the IDPs.

As the Pakistani military is presumed to have better logistical capabilities than other actors in derlivering humanitarian aid, the government has been taking the lead in rescue and relief efforts. However, the problem lies in the fact that humanitarian concerns are only subordinate to the government’s counter-resurgence operations. In fear of the possibility that relief supplies may fall into the hand of extremists, the government has strictly controlled  the access of aid from international donor agencies and non-governmental organizations to the displaced people. The government will verify the beneficiary lists of IDPs from these aid agencies before permission is issued.  Families that are suspected of links with extremist groups will not be considered eligible for assistance. This denial of issistance to innocent civilians, ironically, renders them vulnerable to the recruitment of jihadist groups. The Pakistani extremists have been trying to exploiting the disastrous situations to win public support, as was demonstrated by their active engagement in the 2005 earthquake.

In addition to the selectiveness in choosing beneficiaries of the humanitarian assistance, the government has forced some internally displaced people to join the fight against extremists as a condition for return. This policy has put the physical security of the IDPs at great risk. In April 2010, two suicide bombers attacked the the Kacha Pukha which was housing IDPs who agreed to cooperate with the government. The forced cooperation have caused split within communities and resentment of IDPs against the government, which again could be exploited by jihadist groups.

The above-mentioned coercive measures adopted by the Pakistani government in addressing IDPs issues are against the principle of humanitarian assistance, which are neutrality, impartiality, humanity, and independence. In order to solve internal displacement in a sustainable way, the Pakistani government should incorporate the Human Security dimension into its operations. The Human Security of the IDPs is not secondary to military objectives. Rather, it is the end of the military operations.

Private Business Sector and Security in Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 6, 2010

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s Outcome Document 2010 adopted at the conclusion of a High-Level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emphasises the role of the private sector towards development, particularly, towards the MDGs. Similarly, at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, multi-level and multilateral approaches are seen as crucial to the mitigation and prevention of non-traditional conflict and violence.

The UN Global Compact is a policy initiative that networks to align businesses with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foundation in 2007 recognised the connection between good corporate social responsibility and social development for Southeast Asia, and the instrumental role of the UN Global Compact. At a Policy Roundtable Discussion on Civilian Protection, organised by the RSIS Centre for NTS  Studies on 9 February 2010, it was observed that corporate social responsibility is accepted within ASEAN’s socio-cultural pillar. It was identified that an extension is needed; the link between business and human rights should be supported by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), to address a regional concern over private security organisations capitalising on conflict situations to provide manpower and arms to the parties in conflict. Overall, introducing accountability of businesses in situations of conflict and violence will fill a significant gap in the protection of civilians.

In June 2010, Global Compact released a guidance note on ‘Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: A Resource for Companies and Investors.’ The guidance note may be a vital resource for AICHR, but also for Southeast Asian countries experiencing intrastate instabilities, as often business investments in a country are deterred by such situations.

Generally, the guidance note is useful in exposing businesses to complex security situations and their inherent practical challenges, paving suggestions for risk mitigation strategies. It aims to complement the goals of maximising long term financial performance, with minimising risks and negative impacts on both the business and host communities, in four core areas; core business, government relations, local stakeholder engagement and strategic social investments. The guidance note includes an array of case studies, including from Asia, highlighting the issues, approaches taken and the result achieved in each.

It attempts to address the issues that tend to catalyse or sustain situations of violence and conflict; the hiring or consulting one group of local stakeholders whilst ignoring the rest, social investment projects inadvertently undermining the government’s role in providing basic services and the use of poorly trained private security forces which may use force leading to human rights abuses.

It seeks to enhance the role of private business sectors for its propensity to create; job opportunities, sustainable investments in cities and towns, and inclusive hiring policies that contribute to building good relations between ethnicities and communities, in areas with high-levels of, or are transitioning from situations of armed violence, political and social stability to peace, or experiencing abuses of human rights.

Confidence-Building in Peacebuilding – Timor Leste

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 1, 2010

The involvement of Singapore in UN Peacekeeping operations has included a detachment to Timor Leste. Through research and fieldwork an assessment of the prospects and challenges to civilian deployment illustrates that confidence building with locals is a central component to operational success.

The overarching task for these peacekeepers was; reforming, rebuilding and restructuring a national Timorese police force. In Dili between April-May 2006, soldiers under the command of military police Major Alfredo Reinaldo, executed a full-blown assault on strategic government installations; the Ministry of Defence and the house of Timorese defence force commander. As a result 70 percent of police personnel deserted their posts. The ‘mutiny’ did not affect Timor’s districts as much as the capital city. Nevertheless, UN interventions have extended to the whole country. This is partly because the weak infrastructures in the districts were  conspicuous, alongside the problems in Dili.

Success of Knowledge Transfers Dependent on Confidence-Building


A significant aspect of peacebuilding work involves communicating with the locals in ‘Tetum’ (one of the spoken official languages in East Timor). The language barrier in itself, was mediated by a translator. Generally, residents from the districts were less receptive to interactions with peacekeepers and reforms they encouraged. One reason for this may be that residents in Dili experience phases of ‘development’ more directly, that is, their exposure to education, employment, technology and external affairs is greater than that experienced by residents in the districts.


Justice structures in district areas are based on traditional means of justice. Residents in the districts have limited knowledge of existing written laws and their application in conflict resolution. A high incidence of domestic violence on women is prevalent in district areas; underpinned by the patriarchal nature of district societies, low education and unemployment levels amongst women. The prevalent practice of traditional justice has led to under-reporting of domestic violence situations.

Various initiatives have been introduced to develop justice structures in Timor . However, outreach of these efforts are resisted by residents accustomed to traditional structures and unable to appreciate the need to change. To ensure increased and effective outreach of justice structures, non-governmental organisations have been encouraged to assist women in gaining access to education and employment in for example, local cottage industries. This additionally exemplifies the expansions in scope of peacekeeping missions and the nature of actors involved.


Reliance on technology was rare in district areas before UN missions began. UN Peacebuilding initiatives brought equipment such as; radio and visual, and transportation vehicles, to these areas as these were tools foreign forces were accustomed to working with. Generally, where there were no existing resources, the local people welcomed the logistical equipment. In other cases, there was a sense of resistance to revamp hitherto methods of operation. The role of peacekeeping personnel from the surrounding Southeast Asian regions, in advocating these changes was instrumental in mediating perceptions and cultural differences, with local Timorese.

Essentially, effective peacebuilding is premised on building ‘confidence’ between foreign peacekeepers and local Timorese. However, the high attrition rate of international peacekeepers undermines the continuity of these efforts.

Upcoming Myanmarese Elections: Irreconcilable Differences?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 27, 2010

Myanmar is approaching its elections this year on 7 November. Concerns related to the continued attempts by Myanmar’s governing junta to entrench its supremacy and dismay that the upcoming elections are unlikely to be fair and free, tend to dominate discussions. Crucially, Professor Holliday discussed in a recent journal article options for Myanmar’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to manage its relations with ethnic minorities. Addressing the ongoing dissatisfaction amongst Myanmar’s ethnic minorities is vital for security and stability within Myanmar. Prof. Holliday recommends ‘assimilation’ and ‘ethnic enclaves’ as viable options.

Prof. Holliday qualifies his recommendations by stating these are for the long-term.  The article recognises the difficulties related to determining with accuracy, the distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar. The article acknowledges that Myanmar’s national movements are diverse and each has its own identity. There is no unified ethnic movement, and therefore, no single solution can be determined.

Nevertheless, the following are observations related to Prof. Holliday’s recommendations:-

‘Assimilation’ May Not Curb Ethnic Politics

Firstly, ‘assimilation’ may be too modest an option for a country in which ethnicity has been used as political means of gaining power.

Consequence of Current ‘Assimilation’ Policy

In 2009, Myanmar’s army clashed with ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. The clashes were partly a response to Myanmar’s SPDC’s attempts to co-opt ethnic minorities concentrated along Myanmar’s border-areas, to become border guards through application of provisions contained in its Constitution 2008, Clause 338, Chapter VII entitled ‘Defence Services’.

Military Superiority and ‘Ethnic Enclaves’

Provisions to empower ethnic communities will be illusory because the Constitution stipulates that the military will appoint 25 percent of members to regional and state Hluttaw (People’s Assembly). However, the planned resettlement of Burmans, who are the nation’s majority, to ethnic minority areas reduces the control persons from ethnic minority groups have on who is appointed to represent them in the assembly (see pp. 14 of link). Furthermore, the Constitution, particularly Article 20 (b), entrenches the legitimacy claimed by the military for its  superior governing role; to prevent the disintegration of the Union of Myanmar. Struggles for power by ethnic minority groups have been likened to acts of disintegrating the Union.

‘Ethnic Enclaves’ Not a Substitution

The nature of enclaves informed by the provisions of Myanmar’s Constitution is unlikely to be accepted by the minorities. The current Constitution does not address the appeals by ethnic minorities for federalism, to be given power to block decisions that go against their interests and sufficient guarantees that the military will not resume attacks on them.

The upcoming elections are not going to bring significant progress to the relationship between central government institutions and ethnic minorities. Before it could be seen what route ethnic minorities take in the upcoming elections, the junta has expressed an intention to disallow voting in several areas where ethnic minorities are dominant; Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, including four townships in the Wa self-administered division.

ASEAN and the EU: Moving Beyond State Integration

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 23, 2010

The deportation of thousands of Roma/Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria by France since August 2010 once again highlighted the plight of ethnic minorities in the European Union and elsewhere. France insisted that the act was not aimed specifically at the Roma and that the Roma are treated no differently to other migrants who do not meet its immigration rules. However, a leaked Interior Ministry memo circulated to French law enforcement officials prior to their deportation suggested otherwise. The memo instructed law enforcement officials that “three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be dismantled within three months prioritising those of the Roma”. This shows that the Roma are specifically targeted and this amounted to collective expulsion with racial overtones.

Similar trends can be observed in Southeast Asia too. On 28 December 2009, Thailand forcefully deported more than 4,500 Hmong asylum seekers to Laos PDR that is been accused of persecuting the Hmong since they backed U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Thailand maintains that Hmong living illegally in Thailand are economic migrants and not refugees in need of protection. Another minority ethnic group Rohingya were pushed back to sea by the Royal Thai Navy after they landed on Thai soil after undertaking perilous boat journey in December 2008 to escape persecution in Myanmar.

These events proved that although ASEAN and the EU have successfully integrated nation states in their respective regions economically and politically, they are yet to replicate that success in dealing with their ethnic minority communities. Quite simply, ASEAN and the EU failed to protect and integrate their most vulnerable minority communities. These minority communities have no nationality or are political refugees seeking protection from their governments. These communities include the Roma, communities from the former Soviet Republics, Turks, Palestinians, Rohingya, Akna, Lanu, Lisu, Yao, Shan, Hmong, Karen, Khmer Krom, Chinese Cambodians etc.

ASEAN and the EU have already established mechanisms to facilitate social and cultural integration of their minority communities. These mechanisms include the ASEAN Charter, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) etc. Besides these regional mechanisms, there are also international treaties and conventions that can help address the plight of minority ethnic communities namely the 1951 Refugees Convention and the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions.

Most EU member countries are party to these treaties and conventions. As such, abiding by their rules will pave the way for the successful integration of their minorities. Most ASEAN member countries on the other hand are not party to these treaties and conventions. Acceding to these treaties and conventions and abiding by their rules will help improve the status of stateless persons and refugees in Southeast Asia.

The credibility of ASEAN and the EU will be judged not only by the degree in which they integrate their member states economically and politically but also by how well they integrate their minority communities.

Reconciliation: People’s Justice?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 21, 2010

On July 26 2010, more than thirty years after the fall of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, 67-year old Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, became the first of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to be sentenced by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal jointly established by the UN and the Cambodian government to hold former Khmer Rouge to account. Duch was sentenced to 35 years, but this was effectively reduced to 19 years after being mitigated by time already served and compensation for a period of wrongful detainment.

However, now that sentence has been passed, the question inevitably arises as to whether it has vindicated or even eased the suffering of the survivors or countless victims’ families. In the moments following the court’s verdict, media reports noted that many victims and survivors were too upset to talk about the ostensibly inadequate punishment. Theary Seng lamented that Duch’s sentence equated to 11 hours served in prison for every life taken. With the recent indictment of a further four former Khmer Rouge cadre, the current focus of national reconciliation efforts is clearly on this tribunal. But is this form of justice likely to help foster reconciliation, and ultimately engender a sustainable peace in Cambodia?

The need for and prospect of reconciliation doesn’t seem to have been given enough attention in Cambodia. Legal (retributive) justice may be a critical first step in the healing of the Cambodian people. And it is difficult to argue against the need for a criminal tribunal as an integral component of conflict prevention by deterring future war criminals. At the same time, if Cambodia is to embark on a path towards reconciliation and sustainable peace, ordinary people will need to have inherently greater influence over what sort of grassroots processes are encouraged and if appropriate, supported by the international community to this end.

In Rwanda, gacaca courts were established to complement the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and to help its people witness some form of justice and come to terms with its genocidal past. In East Timor, the international community supported the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission. In Cambodia, reconciliation could mean providing an outlet for a public conversation between the victims and perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge horror so that they can begin reconciling their experiences, start to understand the events, and learn to trust one another again. Although the term is highly contested, it is useful to consider Kreisner’s model of reconciliation, which involves four elements: truth; justice; regard (forgiveness on the part of victims); and security (expectations of peaceful co-existence). This implies an inclusive process, whereby not only the survivors, but also the perpetrators, are heard.

How this could fit within the current context of criminal proceedings remains to be seen. At the end of the day, it should be the people who inform what processes are best going to foster peace and reconciliation. It seems doubtful, however, whether the imprisonment of 1 or even 5 ex-Khmer Rouge leaders will have that effect.

Human Trafficking: Accepting a Necessary Evil?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 16, 2010

States and societies in Asia face significant challenges in addressing root causes of poverty. Low socio-economic living conditions enhance the susceptibility of vulnerable sections of society to human trafficking. The situation for individuals is worsened when governing authorities are weak or unwilling to address these deficiencies. Whilst in Asia, enforcement authorities have made progress in reflecting the understanding that those subjected to trafficking experience incapacitated autonomy to make decisions, negative societal perceptions largely inhibit reintegration of victims into societies.

The tendency of human trafficking syndicates to thrive on the extreme vulnerabilities of individuals was recently indicated, in connection to the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan due to the floods this July. Human trafficking was alerted as a parallel crisis, especially in Sindh province. The province has been a hub for human trafficking and the floods have increased the vulnerabilities of those susceptible, mainly women and children. Within Southeast Asia, the Rohingya people, were recently reported subjected to trafficking at the hands of collaborating border officials and trafficking syndicates. The Rohingya are originally from Myanmar, and also experienced a natural disaster, Cyclone Nargis in 2008. The Rohingya are easier targets for trafficking syndicates due to their ‘statelessness’.

Effectiveness of anti-human trafficking measures is compromised by several factors including;

Data collection is challenging, due to the ‘underground’ nature of the trade. In ASEAN, efforts are being taken to address this. The United States’ Department of State report on Trafficking in Persons 2010, assesses trends from rates of prosecutions, convictions and victims identified in countries where such data is available. Below are figures on Asia;

East Asia and Pacific
Year Prosecutions Convictions Victims Identified Prosecutions Convictions Victims Identified
2004 438 348 2764 1541
2005 2580 2347 1041 406
2006 1321 763 629 275
2007 1047 651 824 298
2008 1083 643 3374 644 342 3510
2009 357 256 5238 1989 1450 8325
All Countries in Tier 2, Tier 2 watch list and Tier 3 except Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea


East Asia and Pacific
Year Prosecutions Convictions Victims Identified Prosecutions Convictions Victims Identified
2004 438 348 2764 1541
2005 2580 2347 1041 406
2006 1321 763 629 275
2007 1047 651 824 298
2008 1083 643 3374 644 342 3510
2009 357 256 5238 1989 1450 8325
All Countries in Tier 2, Tier 2 watch list and Tier 3 except Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea

Source: United States’ Department of State

Wide publicity and intervention by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has allowed prosecutions against Rohingya persons to be reconsidered in relation to their political status. However, Sindh females caught in sex trafficking rings are prone to being criminalised for prostitution based on Islamic ‘hudood’ laws on fornication and adultery, without screening for evidence of trafficking.

The region in general is moving away from criminalizing victims. ASEAN mechanisms and Pakistani authorities have both acknowledged the detrimental effects of policies based on criminalisation. They have incorporated specific provisions, underpinning anti-human trafficking laws, which emphasise the need to determine the background and needs of those apprehended in trafficked situations.

Whilst advances to address data deficiencies and criminalisation of victims to trafficking are encouraging, the stigma experienced by those trafficked within society remains. This hampers their ability to reintegrate into their host societies. For the Rohingya, they experience the additional bias of not belonging to the host country. Effectiveness of anti-human trafficking efforts depend on the prospects victims see within societies. Therefore, much of it depends on the ability of state authorities to adapt societal perceptions and raise acceptance amongst local communities through awareness raising and education initiatives, which may be led by community organizations.

East Asia and Pacific




Victims Identified



Victims Identified



































All Countries in Tier 2, Tier 2 watch list and Tier 3 except Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea

Justice Being Done- the Duch Trial

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 9, 2010

After waiting for more 30 years, survivors of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime are finally get what they deserve—justice. The first trial against the atrocious crimes committed during the Pol Pot era ended with a sentence of 30-year imprisonment for Kang Kek Iew, better known as Comrade Duch. This trial has significant implications for both Cambodia as well as the region. Domestically, it demonstrates the state’s efforts in fulfilling its responsibility to protect its citizens against atrocities by persecuting those responsible for the crimes. Regionally,  it sets an example for other countries with similar cases, such as Bangladesh.

Up to two million Cambodians were executed or died as a result of starvation or  being overworked under the Khmer Rouge regime. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, the atrocities were exposed to the world. However, the proceedings against these crimes have been rather slow due to complex domestic reasons and disagreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. Duch, who was the head of Tuol Sleng prison where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and executed, was formally charged in 2007. He is the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders who has been tried by the UN-backed tribunal.

Despite the delay, the trial shows that the state is committed to preventing genocide from recurring in Cambodia. It brings an end to impunity which undermines the role of domestic and international laws in deterring crimes such as genocide. Ending impunity constitutes an essential aspect of genocide prevention. In his message on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan incorporated “ending impunity through judicial action in national and international courts” into his five-point plan for preventing genocide. Sending the former Khmer Rouge figure into jail symbolizes a big step forward in this respect.

The Duch trial serves as an encouragement for the legal process against crimes of mass atrocity in the region. Just a few days after the sentence against Duch was announced, leaders of Jammat-e-Islami, a major Islamist party of Bangladesh, were put under arrest and would be tried for several charges including genocide. This organization is suspected to be involved in the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. Altogether, these developments all contribute to the efforts to prevent the recurrence of genocide in this region and the world at large.

However, there are also worries and concerns. Many people were angered by the fact that the 30-year imprisonment was reduced to 19 years on the basis that he had been already detained for 11 years prior to the trial. The incoming trial for the other four higher-ranking leaders is a bigger challenge. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that war might be ignited if more suspects were tried, and would not allow anyone to destroy the peace. Such a warning thus suggests that the government’s endorsement for the trials is conditional rather than full.

All in all, despite the anger, disappointment, and worries, it is undeniable that we embarking on returning justice to the victims and their families.

Can the ‘lucky country’ do better?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 7, 2010

The recent protest by Afghan asylum seekers in compulsory detention in Darwin in the Northern Territory has once again brought to the fore the issue of Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers. Admittedly though, it’s never far from the headlines, particularly at the height of a federal election campaign. Australian politicians have a reliable tradition of using ‘boat people’ as a political target, both pandering to and exacerbating anti-immigrant sentiment. And so it was in the recent election campaign, that both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott offered characteristically hostile policies on the issue of ‘boat people’, based overwhelmingly on the politics of fear rather than fact. Their promises to be tougher on border protection drew criticism from UNHCR, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Some of the myths propagated by politicians and the media in Australia:

Myth #1: Australia is being ‘flooded’ by ‘boat people’.

In comparison to the estimated 50,000 people who overstay their visas in Australia each year, the majority of whom are on traveling visas, the number of asylum seekers in Australia- particularly those arriving by boat- is relatively minor. In 2008-09, of 13,507 people who were granted visas under Australia’s Humanitarian Program, the vast majority (11,010) were granted visas before arrival. Of the remainder who had sought asylum on shore, only 206 had come by boat; 2,291 (over 90%) had arrived by plane. In 2009, around 2,700 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. This was in comparison to the approximately 180,000 people accepted in as migrants. The UNHCR reports that at end 2009, Australia had a total of 2,350 pending claims for asylum. Although overall, the number of asylum seeker claims in 2009 increased on the previous year by 29%, with UNHCR tables of origin indicating the role of external conflicts, such as that in Afghanistan, figures for Australia not only remained far below those observed in 2000 and 2001, but also far below those recorded by many other industrialized countries.

Myth #2: Australia accepts its fair share of asylum seekers.

In 2009, UNHCR ranked Australia 21st out of 44 industrialized countries in terms of the number of asylum seeker applications per 1,000 inhabitants. When asylum seeker intake was ranked per size of gross domestic product (GDP), Australia sat at 17th place. However, according to the same data, Australia had taken 0.6 asylum applications in terms of GDP per capita between 2005-09; this had fallen to only 0.2 applications in 2009.

Myth #3: Asylum seekers reaching Australia’s shores are ‘queue jumpers’ who have simply elected to disregard due process by making the passage by boat.

Firstly: what queue? Secondly, the location of an individual or urgency of a situation often does not lend to being able to lodge a claim with the UNHCR.

Myth #4: Asylum seekers are usually not fleeing a genuine fear of persecution.

To the contrary, in 2009, on average around 90% of claims made by asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat were proven to be genuine and based on a reasonable belief that if they were to return home they would face persecution, imprisonment or harm. This can actually be compared to the estimated 55% of those arriving by plane who are denied asylum.

Myth #5: ‘Boat people’ seek asylum illegally.

Australia has an obligation under the Refugee Convention to process claims for asylum, whether or not these are ultimately deemed legitimate and granted, or not. Thus, there is also no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, another assumption that is bandied around in public conversations about asylum seekers.

Australians (and people the world over) need to resist such myths surrounding irregular migration or ‘outsiders’ and demand a more mature political debate. If we choose to become more educated on issues surrounding the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, our politicians will have less fodder to play with in their political point scoring. These myths not only serve to severely degrade the basic right to dignity and survival of fellow human beings in desperate situations, they also have the potential to impact negatively on the cohesiveness of Australia’s multiracial and multicultural society. Surely the lucky country can do better? Doesn’t our common humanity demand it?

Gender Empowerment – Simply Relegated

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 6, 2010

The progression towards troop withdrawals from Afghanistan was welcoming until TIME magazine released an article, ‘Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban,’ depicting the insecurities of Afghani women to the withdrawal of foreign troops. Extensive efforts, supported by the Afghanistan authorities, the UN and the United States of America (US) have been undertaken to incorporate Afghani women into post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction initiatives. Although the constitution guarantees this and Afghani women are perceived to have visibility in the public domain, the local reality of abuse and threats experienced by Afghani women generally persists.

It is said that such persecution towards women persists due to the Taliban and other conservative elements in ‘governance’ circles, which are inimical to women rights and empowerment in Afghanistan. These elements are seen to have gained further traction with Afghanistan’s President Karzai’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban on their role in future national structures. This was reflected in the  recent Peace Jirga in June 2010, which Karzai saw as the only means of moving forward to achieve peace in Afghanistan. In response to the violence and threats experienced by women, President Karzai contemplated:-

“if he had any right to talk about human rights when so many were dying. ‘He essentially asked …what is more important, protecting the right of a girl to go to school or saving her life?’”

This disjunct between the security and development of women and that of the nation as a whole is not unique to President Karzai, as the

US’ foreign policy echoes this:

“most people’s thoughts, including, Barack Obama’s administration, are turning to some sort of negotiated settlement with the insurgents…including dropping efforts for women to be given a more equal place in Afghan society.”

In addition to reflecting a lack of commitment towards ensuring accountability of those who perpetrate violence against girls and women, the approach undermines the rationality that the UN promulgates through its agencies to states. The rationality is that the empowerment of women can support sustainable peace and security, which is conducive for long-term development.

This disjunct extends to development policies in Asia. For instance, there has been insufficient performance in achieving Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – Gender Equality and Empowerment. The lack of women’s participation in the workforce across the Asia-Pacific costs the region an estimated USD89 billion a year. Women in the region are also more vulnerable to poverty than men, due to contraints in gaining access to economic opportunities. These include discriminatory attitudes that restrict their mobility, limit employment choices and hinder control over assets.

Another important aspect, linking gender empowerment in development and security is women’s traditional role in the household. Since it is unlikely that men will assume this role in the near future, women remain dominant in the social reproduction sector. This sector forms the social fabric of a nation, involving rebuilding of the population, societies and communities, where women play an essential economic, logistical and social support role. As such, failing to empower women in security and development compromises the strength of these societal foundations. This consequently reduces societal ability to ease tensions and prevent future prevalence of conflict or violence.

Abstaining from mainstreaming gender into the security discourse has not reduced the prevalence of conflict in Asia. Hence, it is not a question of whether resources should be devoted to the empowerment of women or security for all. Rather devoting resources to the former will foster the latter. The question that remains, however, is how can the state ensure that development is effectively achieved in the long run, while incoporating elements that have the potential to inflict violence on girls and women?

The Limits of the War on Drugs

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 2, 2010

The brutal massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas by suspected paramilitary drug cartel Zetas on 24 August 2010 is a grim reminder that the military-led war against drugs in Mexico continues to get worse and shows no sign of ebbing. The migrants paid a heavy price for refusing to help the cartel smuggle drugs into the United States. This incident is not the first time that ordinary people are forcefully drawn into the drug conflict and surely it won’t be the last. Mexico declared “war” against drug cartels in December 2006. As of August 2010, the war has claimed more than 28,000 lives, a majority of them ordinary civilians like the migrants massacred by Zeta (See key events in Mexico’s drug war).

Does an all-out war against drug cartels and traffickers offer a sustainable solution to the drug problem? Thailand offers an interesting case. The Thai governmant launched a full-scale war  on drugs in February 2003 resulting in the death of more than 2500 people in the first three months alone. Ten months later, the Thai government declared “victory” and for a while there was a sharp decline in illicit drug flows into the country. The Thai government however failed to address the demand side with equal zeal. And it is in response to demand that drugs started to flow into the country again. To put the volume of drugs flow into perspective, Thai police intercepted 1.2 million amphetamine pills trafficked from Myanmar in 2009. In the first six months of 2010 alone, 5 million pills have already been intercepted. As many as 300 to 400 million amphetamine pills were expected to be trafficked into Thailand by the end of 2010. Clearly, the so-called “war on drugs” is at best a reactive policy and does not offer a sustainable solution to drug problem.

The examples cited above are manifestation of the “law enforcement approach” to drug problems. The objective of this approach is to curb the supply and availability of drugs by targeting those involved in drug trafficking (individuals, groups of individuals, organised criminal groups etc.). However, targeting individuals or criminal organizations alone will not solve the problem because the incentives remain in place. In order to address the incentive, one must pay close attention to the dynamics of the drug market and, most importantly, the demand for drugs.

Drugs is a product of market forces (not the plotting of criminal groups or traffickers) and is highly profitable. According to the World Drug Report 2010, more than 15 million people worldwide consume illicit opiates – opium, morphine and heroin. The global demand for these substances is estimated at 3,700 metric tonnes (mt), which yields a market value of USD 65 billion annually (heroin alone commands an estimated annual market value of USD 55 billion). It is this huge demand that drives the market. In order to successfully address the drug problem, demand reduction measures such as early education programmes, quality health services, rehabilitation and treatment programmes etc. must be instituted. Addressing demand requires a whole-of-society approach in which governments, community groups, civil societies, NGOs etc. join hands in an effort to educate children, help addicts recover, and promote drug-free society. All these can be achieved with minimum cost to human lives.

Forget Them Not: Preventing Mass Atrocities in Southeast Asia

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on June 9, 2010
Tags: ,

By Alistair D. B. Cook and Priyanka Bhalla

It is now over 30 years since Cambodia experienced genocide between 1975 and 1979 when the Khmer Rouge killed approximately 1.7 million people or 21 per cent of their population of about eight million. Cambodians were powerless to help themselves against the Khmer Rouge. The international community was caught in the midst of the Cold War and not interested. ASEAN was in its infancy. Vietnam invaded Cambodia and established a favourable regime in Phnom Penh. With this in our minds, how far has Southeast Asia come? What have countries, regional and international organisations, and civil society accomplished in an effort to prevent such mass atrocities from reoccurring?

The signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 established the grounds for an election and subsequent coalition government in Cambodia. Since then, Cambodia slowly moved forward with a fragile political system supported by the United Nations. This fragility was illustrated by the infighting between its co-prime ministers in 1997, which caused ASEAN to suspend Cambodian entry into the regional association until the issues were resolved. The weakness of the Cambodian political system was coupled with the presence and activities of various United Nations agencies, some of which have caused controversy in the years since the Paris Peace Agreement was signed. However, on the face of it, international activity illustrates a commitment by the international community to assist Cambodia to rebuild and develop its infrastructure and economy. Examples of this commitment range from the Special Tribunal in Cambodia, which was established in 2003 to try Khmer Rouge leaders for their role in the genocide to community-led sanitation projects.

As we plough through 2010 it is important to understand where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. Now is a good a time as any to do so. The Cambodian political system remains fraught with difficulties. The Special Tribunal for Cambodia has yet to deliver its first verdict against a Khmer Rouge leader, and future trials are in doubt. The Cambodian economy has developed apace but with significant disparity between the rich and the poor, between urban and rural, with increasing concern over land rights. However, Cambodian civil society has developed significantly as an important check on developments. It raises awareness on issues such as land rights and provides an important means to mobilise people in a peaceful way.

These developments illustrate that the path to sustainable peace is long and littered with hurdles. Indeed, it is easy to forget why we travel along such a path. However, such a path is unfortunately not exceptional, rather similar paths the world over are walked, from Kosovo to Timor Leste. It is with these various experiences around the world that consensus was reached at the UN General Assembly in 2005 to agree on the World Outcome Document. This document contains a commitment to prevent mass atrocities everywhere around the world, and is referred to as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). It was a significant commitment and one reached by consensus.

The commitment puts the primary onus on an individual country to protect its people from mass atrocities, through all available means, such as an impartial and effective legal system. If a country is unable to provide this, then other countries must be willing and able to assist it in building its capacity. If a country refuses assistance then the international community must be willing to act to persuade the country to provide protection. This is achieved through diplomatic negotiations or economically through smart sanctions. In the event that these tools do not work, in agreement with other countries, and through international organisations such as the United Nations, then countries must be prepared to use force to prevent mass atrocities, as occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 with the execution of 1.7 million people.

At a recent regional consultation on the responsibility to protect held in Singapore, hosted by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, academics, civil society activists, and policymakers met to discuss the RtoP and its impact on the region. The regional consultation heard many interpretations of RtoP with some participants contending that countries are willing to focus on preventive strategies, but not the use of force. Through the regional consultation it became clear that some have forgotten the paths we walk to a sustainable peace, which highlights the importance of taking stock, to see where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. The Cambodian experience should remind everyone why when push comes to shove, with the added protection that such a decision is made by as many as possible, that the use of force cannot be ruled out as a last resort.

When remembering the mass atrocities that have occurred in the region, it reminds us why consensus was reached in 2005, and this recollection should act as a motivation to ensure that preventive measures are in place. A focus on the use of force loses sight of the objective to prevent mass atrocities through an approach that focuses overwhelmingly on prevention. However, this regional consultation served as an important reminder to academics, policymakers and civil society that conversations such as these are ongoing. It is through a forum such as this, where we can interact and voice our concerns about the commitments we have made, that we are reminded why we made them and how we can move forward to prevent mass atrocities from happening again.

Alistair D. B. Cook is Post Doctoral Fellow and Coordinator of the Internal and Cross Border Conflict Programme, and Priyanka Bhalla is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. Alistair D. B. Cook is also an honorary fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Responsibility to Protect: How should Southeast Asia Respond?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 5, 2010
Tags: ,

By Yang Razali Kassim & Nur Azha Putra

Yang Razali Kassim

AS A new and fledgling doctrine in international relations, it is as contentious as it is, some say, revolutionary. This doctrine – the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – may be slowly gaining traction, but it remains immensely controversial. This is at least the key message from a regional consultation held recently among scholars, analysts and civil society actors from the Asia Pacific region. The nub of the controversy is the inevitable clash between two principles: the sovereignty of states and the responsibility of the international community to protect human lives in situations of failing states.

How does one reconcile the two contesting principles? Can they indeed be reconciled? How does the international community come to the rescue of citizens whose own states are unable or unwilling to protect them from mass atrocities such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? And how can this moral urge to protect be pursued without violating the principle of state sovereignty? This tension between the two doctrines in international affairs was intensely debated at the Singapore meeting, organised by Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Led by the RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS), the meeting ended with one clear impression: RtoP has a long way to go before it becomes as entrenched as the Westphalian principle of inviolable state sovereignty.

Nur Azha Putra

To be sure, world leaders have endorsed the doctrine at the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations. But the deep-seated attachment to the sanctified idea of sovereignty is still too strong for a warm embrace of RtoP: the fear of foreign interference in domestic affairs is overpowering. Indeed, it is feared, RtoP may be used to justify interference in the guise of international humanitarian intervention. This was exactly the controversy arising from the Myanmar government’s failure to come swiftly to aid its own people in the face of Cyclone Nargis. France felt provoked to urge the world community to invoke RtoP. But Indonesia, despite its new posture as a promoter of human rights, rejected linking humanitarian aid with RtoP. But if RtoP is not meant to include international humanitarian intervention, what is it? Where does RtoP begin and where does it end?

RtoP as a doctrine began in 2001 when it was propounded by a group of international human rights advocates in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). It was led by Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister, and Mohamed Sahnoun, special advisor to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. In 2004, Annan created the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to identify major threats facing the international community and come up with new ideas to meet these challenges.

The panel then endorsed  what it  termed as the ‘emerging norm’ –- the ‘responsibility to protect’ people from ‘avoidable catastrophe’, specifically the four types of mass atrocities mentioned earlier. This norm rests on three pillars: Firstly, sovereign governments have the primary responsibility to protect their own citizens from such catastrophes. Secondly, when these states are unable or unwilling to do so, that responsibility falls on the wider international community. Thirdly, intervention should be through peaceful diplomatic and humanitarian means, though military action may be undertaken as a last resort, if endorsed by the UN.

In 2005, at the UN’s World Summit, 191 world leaders unanimously endorsed the RtoP doctrine. A year later, the UN Security Council included references to RtoP in two of its resolutions, thus reaffirming the emerging doctrine. And thus was laid the foundations for a new ‘global moral compact’, as some called it.

The World Summit resolution notwithstanding, the fundamental tension between sovereignty and responsibility to protect remains a critical hurdle. Not surprisingly, Ban Ki Moon, Annan’s successor as UN Secretary-General, tried to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable in the clever phrase — the ‘abiding principles of responsible sovereignty’.

Despite the inherent tension, the Singapore consultation on RtoP ended with a consensus that the doctrine should not be precluded from the Southeast Asian region. But how? Two issues repeatedly emerged. Firstly, how to convince Southeast Asian states to adopt the three RtoP pillars as an integral package. For example, they may agree to the first pillar that underscores the state’s responsibility to protect. But they may reject the third pillar that the international community has the equal responsibility to intervene in the event of failure by the state. Secondly, how to persuade Southeast Asian states to institutionalise the RtoP doctrine both at the national and ASEAN levels.

Unsurprisingly, the key impediment to RtoP in Southeast Asia is the fear of foreign interference. Southeast Asian states fear that RtoP would be taken as a license to intervene in their domestic affairs. There is also the underlying fear of RtoP leading to 21st century neocolonialism – a tool by the West to advance its economic agenda or even subjugate weak Asian states once again. There seems also the misguided notion that RtoP need not apply to Southeast Asia because crimes against humanity such as those that happened in Darfur, Rwanda and Bosnia, would not occur in this part of the world. But did Southeast Asia not live through the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia in the 1970s?

Going forward, RtoP needs to be demystified. The misconceptions should be immediately addressed to promote human security as a global public good and thus a policy priority. To achieve this, the RtoP doctrine itself has to be clarified almost endlessly, if necessary. Although RtoP is slowly gaining ground, it is far from having captured public imagination in Southeast Asia.

Yang Razali Kassim is Senior Fellow and Nur Azha Putra Associate Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. They are also with the school’s Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS).

The Obama Doctrine and Southeast Asia

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on December 22, 2009

Alistair D. B. Cook

18 December 2009

ON 10 DECEMBER 2009, the annual Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to US President Barack Obama. A controversial recipient, his acceptance speech outlined his world vision, and provided insight into US engagement with Southeast Asia.

IN A move that has proven controversial, Norway’s Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to United States President Barack Obama for his new vision of global peace and what the US should do in its pursuit. The award was deemed by its critics as premature, given that his vision has yet to bear fruit. Despite this, President Obama’s speech should be noticed by Southeast Asia as it was peppered with references to the region within the context of global peace and security. This illustrates not only the region’s significance but also offered food-for-thought for decision-makers in Southeast Asia.

The US president acknowledged the ongoing wars in which the US is engaged, and used his acceptance speech to provide rationale and justification for the ways in which his administration pursues such wars in the name of global peace and security. The president recognised the US role as a “standard bearer” in the conduct of war, governed by international standards and enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. He also recognised that universal rules and norms need to be applied consistently to ensure the future legitimacy of justified military action, as an act of last resort to keep the peace.

Three Ways to Peace

In the pursuit of peace, President Obama outlined three ways in which a lasting peace can be sought. The first was to ensure that the international community is outcome-driven and that words must be followed by deeds. Within Southeast Asia, the ongoing political insecurity in Myanmar was mentioned more than once as an example. The US current strategy of measured diplomatic engagement with the military regime, while a difficult and sensitive issue, must be pursued as part of a multifaceted approach towards assisting the democratic transition.

However, while the US is willing to engage diplomatically with Myanmar, sanctions will remain until there are tangible developments. An American diplomat recently noted that ‘we should be careful not to confuse process with progress’. In other words, while the current US policy uses multiple foreign policy tools, this cannot work without reciprocal action from the military regime.  On this issue, the American diplomat recounted that the recent meetings in Naypidaw had been rather more briefings than dialogue, and that the final word needed to come from the military leader, Than Shwe, who was not present at the meetings.

The second way in which the US President outlined the US approach to global peace and security was through recognition that only a “just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual” can ever last in the long run. The president recognised that protecting these human rights would allow for peace and security to prosper, and he noted that without protection “peace is a hollow promise”. Indeed the US commitment is illustrated through its invitation to the commissioners of the newly established ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to visit the United States in 2010, and the administration’s recognition that the establishment of the human rights mechanism is a positive and important step.

The third way in President Obama’s drive for global peace and security is through the recognition that peace and security is no longer only about maintaining borders, but also about the security of the individual — referred to in academia as Human Security. President Obama said: “For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want” – a term coined in the United Nations Development Programme’s 1994 Human Development Report. There was recognition that security encompasses both old and new understandings, and that security and development are mutually inclusive in the pursuit of a just peace.

In other words, without tackling issues of access to food, water, healthcare, education, shelter; and supporting community resilience, and fostering cooperation and understanding among communities, states, regions and the international community a durable peace will remain unobtainable. In this vein, Scot Marciel, the US Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs recently spoke about increased cooperation between the US and ASEAN as institutional partners on trade and growth as a vehicle to promote development; notably through the ASEAN free trade area due to begin in 2015. However, Marciel noted that there is an emerging need for regional leadership in making this a reality.

Implications for Southeast Asia

What President Obama’s speech outlined was that the current administration is willing to engage with others, support partners and make use of all foreign policy tools to achieve tangible outcomes to the challenges that the international community faces. There was recognition in his speech that while the US was the global military power, there was a need to share responsibility in the pursuit of global peace and security.

The implications of this for Southeast Asia are clear. The US supports the regional ASEAN architecture, as evidenced through the appointment of an ASEAN Ambassador, and the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. That support, however, comes with an expectation that it is reciprocated with tangible developments on keeping its own house in order in line with international obligations.

Alistair D. B. Cook is Post Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also an honorary fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne.