Caught in the Middle: Civilian Protection in South Sudan

UNMISS' protection of civilians site near Bentiu, South Sudan houses over 40,000 IDPs. August 23, 2014. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

The recent fighting between the government of South Sudan's forces and rebels aligned with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State proves that civilian protection remains the key challenge for the United Nations in South Sudan. During the attack by rebel forces, sixteen civilians were killed, including a paramount chief with his four children. Despite several signed cease-fires, civilians continue to be subjected to “extraordinary acts of cruelty” and ethnically motivated violence. Since December 2013, the UN estimates that at least 10,000 people have died in the conflict, around 1.8 million people have been displaced, and the country has been pushed to the edge of famine.

On July 9, 2011, amid a cloud of optimism, the world saw the birth of South Sudan. After years of violent civil conflict and political struggle, the independence of the new country was celebrated. The international community and stakeholders felt that ethnic polarization and inter-communal tensions could be mitigated by developing state institutions and building a state that could deliver basic services.

Ukraine Steels Itself for Winter as Putin Forges Ahead with Novorossiya

A building shows signs of heavy shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Semenivka, September 18, 2014. (Flickr/UN Ukraine)

The Europe-Asia Summit in Milan, Italy, delivered little, if any, tangible progress to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Relations between Russia and Ukraine’s major European allies remain just a few degrees above a new Cold War-style ice age. And with only a preliminary gas deal achieved between Kiev and Moscow, this may be quite literally true for Ukrainians as winter approaches.

Agreements achieved in Minsk between Russia and Ukraine and between Kiev and the separatists over a military de-escalation, the withdrawal of combat troops, and the establishment of a buffer zone have made some incremental progress, but a cease-fire that was meant to have been in force since September 5 has been frequently breached—in particular during the protracted battle between separatists and Ukrainian forces for the airport in Donetsk.

Boko Haram Deal to Release Girls Met with Hope and Skepticism

Policewomen block supporters of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign from marching to the president's official residence in Abuja on October 14, 2014. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria—and the world—await with bated breath credible confirmation that the government has been able to agree a lasting cease-fire deal with Boko Haram. Reports have emerged that a deal has been signed with the insurgent group which will mean the release of the 217 Chibok schoolgirls abducted in April and an end to the violence and terror which have plagued the country for more than a decade.

As the respected Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole has written of the announcement, this will mean different things to different people. For some Nigerians, it could be an early Christmas gift. To even imagine that the insurgents or terrorists are ready to abandon their aspirations of establishing an Islamic state and establish a dialogue with the government is a huge relief.

Mali's Elusive Peace

A MINUSMA peacekeeper during a training in Gao, Mali, May 15, 2014. (MINUSMA/Marco Dormino)

It has been nearly 20 months since the sound of French fighter jets filled the skies of Mali’s desert north where, on the ground below, Islamist militants had seized control of a land mass comparable to the size of France. The cacophony of fighter jet engines and their explosive arsenal marked the advent of France’s military intervention in northern Mali. Coined Operation Serval, the mandate of the counterinsurgency was to nullify the threat posed by Islamist extremists who were seeking to expand their operational footprint outside of Mali’s insurgent-battled north. An associated goal of the French military operation was to support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in achieving its mandate—the restoration of Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity.

By mid-2013, it seemed that the French military had made good on its promise. Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MOJWA), were driven out of major urban centers that had fallen under their brutal control. The French-led operation also led to the deaths of a number of prominent jihadists, most notably Hacene Ould Khalil and Omar Ould Hamaha, who had long been sought by regional and international security agencies. In addition to ousting and neutralizing jihadist fighters, Operation Serval also curtailed militant operational capabilities. Key militant logistical and operational bases were destroyed in ground and air operations, while drug-trafficking networks, considered a significant revenue-generating industry for Sahel- and Maghreb-based terrorist groups, were similarly dismantled.

Legality, Legitimacy, and Human Protection: International Intervention Against ISIS in Syria

Twin explosions in southeastern Kobane, October 8, 2014. (Flickr/Poggemann)

As the battle for the tiny Kurdish enclave in Kobane goes into what could be its final phase, and the US-led coalition steps up its air campaign against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, serious questions are being asked about the legality and legitimacy of intervention and about what all this means for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Several prominent commentators have argued that the airstrikes in Syria are illegal because they have not been authorized by the UN Security Council and are not acts of self-defense because ISIS poses no direct threat to the US. But this rests on a mistaken view of the scope of self-defense enshrined in the UN charter. Article 51 of the charter notes the “inherent right” of states to “individual or collective self-defense” (emphasis added). In other words, not only does the government of Iraq have a right to use force to defend itself against ISIS, other states have a right to assist it, as Jason Ralph has pointed out. The absence of a direct threat to the US or its allies does not, therefore, invalidate self-defense as grounds for intervention, because actions against ISIS in Syria are essentially a defensive response to that organization’s armed aggression against Iraq. Indeed, this was precisely the argument US officials employed. While there may be some legal squabbling at the margins, it appears from the international response to the intervention that this is a justification broadly accepted by most member states.

Where Are Our Girls?

Demonstrators outside the Nigerian embassy in New York, October 14, 2014. 

Boko Haram’s April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok has been one of the most provocative developments of its almost five-year insurgency against the Nigerian government. It has catalyzed a global protest campaign, drawing support from many of the world’s most influential citizens. It has aided the Nigerian government in garnering both regional and international assistance in its ongoing fight against the Islamist extremist sect. It has also placed unprecedented pressure on the Nigerian government to act with a decisiveness and rapidity which has been sorely lacking in its response to the insurgency.

Yet six months to the day, the Chibok girls remain hostages of one of the most brutal insurgent groups on the African continent, and not much more is known about their plight today as was speculated at the time of their abduction. A burning question remains unanswered: What will happen to the Chibok girls?

Countering ISIS Through UN Security Council Means Separating the Devil from the Details

At a historic meeting at the heads of government level on September 24, the Security Council chaired by US President Barack Obama adopted Resolution 2178, addressing the threat of foreign terrorist fighters. With an estimated 15,000 nationals from over 80 countries on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, governments are understandably concerned not only about their ability to further destabilize fragile environments but also about their impact at home when those fighters return. Exposed to the brutality of warfare and the ideology of extremists, it’s argued, such returnees can threaten their homelands or act as ideologues and recruiters for extremist groups.

Hong Kong Protests: Implications for China and Beyond

Protesters begin a sit-in on Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, during Occupy Central with Love and Peace, September 28, 2014. Faces in the foreground have been digitally blurred. (Flickr/Citobun)

Although mass protests are not new in Hong Kong, the recent demonstrations are unprecedented in their target—directly challenging a decision of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC)—and in their objectives—free elections and resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. So, Hong Kong joins the long list of places where citizens have resorted to mass protests to voice their grievances to the authorities that govern them. While every movement has been different, some features are common: relatively leaderless, the crowds include mainly middle-class young people, well-educated, urban, and technologically savvy, with expectation for greater agency in the way they are governed. Feeling unrepresented by political parties and politics as usual, they enlarge the political space for debate and contestation using public squares and social media. They seem more concerned by political processes, although the underlying causes often include slowing economic growth and un- or under-employment.

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