Deadly Mosquitoes Add to Social Tensions and Security Concerns in Rio

The inauguration of the 18th Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in Mangueira, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, March 11, 2011.
(André Gomes de Melo/SEASDH/Flickr)

While Rio de Janeiro gears up to host the 2014 World Cup and 600,000 foreign tourists, health disasters such as the dengue fever epidemic in 2007 and 2008 loom large over discussions of human security. The epidemic totalled about 300,000 cases of this mosquito-borne illness, including 240 deaths, and I witnessed first hand how inundated hospitals closed their doors and left sick people to seek treatment at ad-hoc hydration tents scattered throughout the city. 

The calamidade, or calamity, as locals called it, inflamed anxieties about personal health and safety in the city. Dengue fever, also called “breakbone fever” for the excruciating muscle, joint and bone pain it causes, is the world’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease. The number of dengue cases in Rio in 2013 was double that of 2012, and in 2014 the city is headed for a “situation of risk” for a dengue epidemic, according to Brazil’s minister of health. 

It also exposed long-standing social cleavages: middle-class residents blamed the scourge on inhabitants of favelas from which waves of dengue supposedly emanated. State health agents with tools to stem the tide of infections either could not or would not access favelas controlled by outlaw regimes of narcotraffickers. The impasse exemplified how decades of political abandonment of Rio’s poor crippled the state’s ability to maintain order in favelas and hindered public health responses to serious disease threats. 

Yet Rio’s dengue crisis also signaled an inflection point in the government’s stance towards favela communities. At the height of the epidemic, authorities ushered in new assemblages of public security in favelas in the form of Pacification Police Units (UPPs). With UPPs, Rio pivoted from a policy that historically neglected favelas, to one that intensely engaged them. Today, as the UPP project enters its sixth year, its public relations campaign circulates images of a friendly police force and claims that UPPs benefit more than 1.5 million residents in the pacified areas. 

Critics dispute these numbers, however, and pacification policing is increasingly controversial. Nevertheless, UPPs reconfigure established practices of managing social difference in resource-poor settings of Rio de Janeiro, and offer a window into cultural assumptions about collective health, social control and the social worth of the poor in a post-authoritarian democracy.  

Key Conclusions

  • While threats to public safety in the favelas often capture the limelight, public health concerns are also contributing to high levels of human insecurity. Middle-class Brazilians have been able to fortify their houses against violence, but not against mosquito-borne illnesses.
  • Improvements in sanitation, healthcare, and social services appear more likely in favelas where Rio’s new Police Pacification Unit (UPP) project is underway. The project aims to re-establish state access to politically abandoned urban areas, so that state authorities can deliver social services while also addressing the cycles of violence in these urban areas. 
  • Healthworkers say UPPs makes their job easier, and other services such as trash disposal have improved in these areas, yet claims are on the rise of human rights abuses at the hands of UPP officers. The presence of the officers is also creating new social disparities.
  • The UPP unit does not address the larger issues of entrenched inequality, health problems, and other fundamental causes of human insecurity, and Brazil must face the limits of militarized approaches to addressing urban fragility and the gamut of human security concerns it encompasses.


Twenty percent of Rio’s 6.3 million residents, or approximately 1.3 million people, live in the city’s poorest, most densely populated communities, known as favelas. For the most part, the communities are tight-knit and vibrant, though many middle-class residents of Rio regard them as hives of disease and drug-related violence. This is because in the early 1980s, the Andean drug trade expanded into Brazil, and drug traffickers began competing with established favela resident associations, which for many years had secured votes for politicians in exchange for state services. As narcotraffickers consolidated their power in favelas—in part by employing local residents and helping the poor—hundreds of favelas across Rio became no-go zones for ordinary police.

As violence increased, a chronic sense of vulnerability pervaded favelas. Innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire during gunfights between Rio’s Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and traficantes practically constituted an epidemic: stray bullets hit an average of one person per day in Rio in January 2007. 

What Comes After the Bombs Stop Falling in Syria?

Syrian refugees watch news about the Geneva II peace talks from inside a makeshift tent home in an unofficial refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, January 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

Representatives from Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian political opposition gather in Montreux, Switzerland, today for second-stage peace talks to end the conflict in Syria and agree on the broad parameters of a political transition. 

Expectations are low for the Geneva II peace conference, and it is in fact off to a rocky start. Although discussions are likely to focus on ending the current conflict, improving the delivery of humanitarian aid, and on whether and how the current regime will participate in political reform, it is not too early to give some thought to what needs to happen in Syria’s social and economic sphere for a peaceful transition to take hold. Lessons from previous Middle East transitions can offer some insights here.

Key Conclusions

  • While some elements of the Syrian regime may need to be dismantled, a robust Syrian state and strong institutions will be needed to promote stability and economic growth in a postconflict Syria.
  • Some will push for rapid privatization in Syria, but this would likely come at the cost of stability and sustainability in the country’s economy and economic institutions.
  • Where other political transitions have institutionalized sectarianism, Syrians should focus on establishing a cohesive national identity.
  • Regional cooperation and action will be essential to supporting Syria’s 2.4 million refugees and critical to long-term security and stability in the Middle East more broadly.


The architects of the Geneva Commuique and what comes after it need not look far for inspiration and important lessons as to how to reconstruct Syria peacefully and sustainably.  There are many recent examples of postconflict transition in the Middle East, and particularly in places of complex socio-religious composition and high international strategic interest: immediate postconflict reconstruction in Iraq (2003–2005), the Taif Agreement in Lebanon (1990), and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative in Yemen (2011). 

In a recent paper, Planning Ahead: Lessons for a Post-Conflict Syria, I drew lessons from these experiences to inform policymakers’ efforts to support political transition in Syria—particularly when it comes to shoring up the state, revitalizing the economy, rebuilding the lives of those marginalized or displaced, and fostering regional cooperation.  

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena

Francesco Mancini, Senior Director of Research at the International Peace Institute, has compiled a list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014. This list will be published in two installments: (1) the top ten issues to watch in 2014 at the global level (below), and (2) the top issues to watch in each region of the world.

1. Regional spillovers of crises
With no political solution on the horizon, Syria’s almost three-year conflict will likely cause more instability and violence in the region. Terrorist attacks will continue in Lebanon, while the economic and social pressure from refugees in Jordan will further drain that country’s limited resources—the United Nations has estimated that Jordan will need $5.3 billion by the end of 2014 for this humanitarian crisis. Regional extremist groups will continue their cross-border operations, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has taken up arms against Baghdad but also against Damascus. 

Another source of concern is Afghanistan, where the drawdown of coalition forces by the end of 2014 and the presidential elections in the spring threaten to increase the level of violence and exacerbate instability across the border into the FATA region of Pakistan. 

A third region at risk of a spillover crisis is central Africa. The weak Central African Republic (CAR) government has collapsed, triggering a serious humanitarian crisis, with 400,000 displaced and nearly half the population in need of assistance. Horrible violence has been taking place, and some UN officials have described the situation as ripe for genocide. The crisis is more political than religious, but since Christian militia were the ones who organized revenge attacks against the mostly Muslim rebel coalition Seleka as retribution for killings and looting, religious extremism might be further reinforced in the region. Instability has already spilled over the Cameroon border, and CAR’S porous borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo are a guarantee for continuing flows of weapons in both directions. 

2. Iran-US: BFF?
2014 will tell if Iran’s talk on the nuclear issue can produce tangible results, and it has the potential to redraw the geopolitics of the Middle East. The stakes are high. Some have emphasized the dangers in the Obama administration’s bet, saying a failure in the negotiation could cause a spike in oil prices, or worse: a shift in power toward hardliners in Iran and a consequent acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program, which could lead to a greater threat of Israeli military strike and Saudi’s search for nuclear capability. 

Others, such as Gary Sick of Columbia University, are more optimistic. “Reduced hostility between the United States and Iran could potentially have a constructive influence on virtually every major issue in the region,” wrote Sick. The most obvious is Syria, but other areas of mutual interest include stability in Afghanistan and Iraq; the defeat of al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups; access to new energy sources; and countering drug traffic. 

The more likely scenario will be a “messy middle.” Progress may be made on the nuclear side, but many difficult issues will remain open, such as the Iranian support for Hezbollah and its fierce anti-Israel stance. Opposition to a final deal will come from hardliners in Iran and in the United States. Israel and Saudi Arabia, so far the closest allies of the United States in the region, will remain the strongest opponents to any deal that would “rehabilitate” Iran and lift sanctions.

EU Troops Likely in Central African Republic, But Is it Too Little, Too Late?

The Central African Republic (CAR) is poised to become the next theater of operations of a European Union (EU) military mission.  On January 10, a month after the outbreak of inter-religious atrocities in the chronically unstable African country, EU diplomats granted preliminary approval for the deployment of a joint contingent of up to 1,000 soldiers aimed at restoring security. The decision comes following intense diplomatic pressure from France, which is so far the only European country with boots on the ground.

If endorsed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on January 20, the proposed deployment will provide some respite to 1,600 French troops and a nearly 4,000-strong African contingent struggling to contain the violence.  However, the EU operation is likely to face a delayed launch and acute strategic and operational constraints once deployed, meaning that it may not necessarily alter the situation on the ground in a decisive fashion.

Key Conclusions

  • The belated launch of an EU mission to the Central African Republic in support of current French-African military endeavors is a necessary but likely insufficient step to contain widespread violence.
  • In general, the size and possible scope of the EU mandate relative to the complexities of protecting civilians and the scale of the crisis indicates that it is unlikely to have a decisive impact on the overall conditions on the ground.
  • EU reinforcements may help to de-escalate fighting in the capital but will likely do little to deter large-scale sectarian mayhem across the country.
  • The EU force could have more relative impact in the medium term if it performs as a stand-by force in the likely event that a UN peacekeeping operation is deployed.


Too late?

The EU contribution to stabilization efforts in CAR is not the equivalent of a rapid reaction force.  Draft proposals envisage that a military operation "would deploy rapidly." However, EU policymakers’ scant appetite for military action so far and the political obstacles likely to stand in its way even once formally approved are not suggestive of swift action. Following the outbreak of systematic atrocities perpetrated by Muslim rebels (the Séléka group now formally disbanded) and self-defence Christian militias in which over 550 people were killed in the country’s capital Bangui in early December 2013, the EU skirted around the idea of sending armed personnel. UN Security Council Resolution 2127 of December 5 authorized a one-year deployment of the African-led Support Mission (MISCA), to protect civilians, to be backed by a French force, but was silent on any possible EU troop deployment.  The military dimension of the EU’s response was essentially limited to the provision of up to €50 million for MISCA and a pledge to “examine the use of relevant instruments to contribute towards the efforts under way.”

Exploratory talks aimed at fulfilling this commitment started last week with a draft concept presented by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.  The approval in principle of force deployment is a positive step. However, grounding personnel in areas of active fighting would be significantly more complex and riskier than performing military training and policing (as is the case of the EU military missions in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia and the Horn of Africa).  The real prospect of confrontations in CAR makes it difficult to generate political will. The withdrawal of the 850-strong Chadian contingent (MISCA’s largest) from the capital on January 14 after they allegedly fired on demonstrators has reminded EU politicians of just how daunting involvement would be.

But with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noting that “without serious intervention, further attacks—including massive violations such as those that took place on December 5—may well reoccur,” the pressure is on. Foreign ministers will conduct an initial review of the proposal for a joint force on January 20 and are likely to consent in response to this international pressure and the promise to consider possible (military) engagement in mid-December.

Libyan Case a Red Herring in Syria Dilemma

Protestors demand an end to lawlessness in Tripoli, Libya, December 2011. (UN Photo/Iason Foounten)

The international community’s failure to respond in a timely and decisive fashion to the crisis in Syria has been widely described as a failure of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). It is not hard to see why: the UN Security Council has fallen well short of adopting “timely and decisive” measures as approximately 120,000 people have been killed and close to nine million displaced. Syria thus stands as a test for RtoP that most commentators believe it has failed.

One of the principal explanations for this apparent failure is the political fallout from the NATO-led intervention in Libya. 

Key Conclusions

  • The Security Council’s failure to adopt a timely and decisive response to the situation in Syria is often attributed to the political backlash from NATO’s controversial intervention in Libya.
  • Voting patterns and statements offered in the Council’s Syria debates as well as the Council’s wider practice since 2011 provide little evidence of a direct link between the two cases.
  • The Council’s failure on Syria more likely stems from complexities and geopolitics associated with the Syrian case itself.


According to Gareth Evans, one of RtoP’s progenitors, “Consensus [about RtoP] has simply evaporated in a welter of recrimination about how the NATO-led implementation of the Council’s Libya mandate…was actually carried out. We have to frankly recognize that there has been some infection of the whole RtoP concept by the perception, accurate or otherwise, that the civilian protection mandate granted by the Council was manifestly exceeded by that military operation.”

Has the “infection” of RtoP stymied the chances of consensus on Syria? Would the Security Council’s response to Syria have been different without Libya and RtoP? Despite the ubiquity of the association between Libya and Syria in public commentary, evidence of a clear link between the two cases is surprisingly thin. 

First, Russian and Chinese explanations of their own (shifting) positions on Syria have not been consistent in emphasizing the legacy of Libya. In fact, China has yet to raise Libya in its formal comments on Syria addressed to the Security Council. The place of Libya in Russian thinking on Syria has been inconsistent at best. In explaining its first veto on a draft Syria resolution, in October 2011, Russia railed against NATO’s actions in Libya but added a series of other, pragmatic arguments to support its case. Five months later, Russia vetoed a second resolution on Syria but made no reference to Libya in explaining its position. Then, as the previously endorsed Annan-plan unraveled later in 2012, Russia cast a third veto and ramped up the rhetoric on Libya to new heights. 

Key Global Events to Watch in January

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



Peace & Security

      • January 4: South Sudan Peace Talks, Addis Ababa
        Formal negotiations between the South Sudanese government and rebels begin after weeks of violence left over 1,000 dead and cut South Sudan’s oil output. The regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development is mediating the peace talks as fighting continues to displace hundreds of thousands in the state of Bor, 9,000 of whom have taken refuge in the UN base there. The first two items on the talks’ agenda are cessation of hostilities and the question of detainees. Western powers hope the talks can prevent further ethnic violence and outright civil war in the world’s newest country.
      • January 13: ICC Trial of Kenyan DP Ruto Resumes, The Hague
        The case against Deputy President William Ruto and a former journalist, Joshua arap Sang, for their involvement in the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya has been delayed several times over the last months because some of more than 30 witnesses for the prosecution decided against testifying. Defense lawyers have claimed the prosecution has no case and is stalling while it coaches witnesses, whereas the prosecution has said its witnesses have been intimidated into not testifying or reversing testimonies after threats. Last month, Ruto applied to be absent from the court proceedings to tend to his political duties, but the ICC denied the application because it came too late.
      • January 14-15: Kuwait II Donors’ Conference for Syria, Kuwait City
        Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chairs the Kuwait II Donors’ conference, where more than 60 states have been invited to contribute to the fund to ameliorate the conflict in Syria. Additionally, surrounding countries, discuss the hosting of Syrian refugees—over 2 million people have fled Syria—and plans moving forward. $1.5 billion was raised in Kuwait last January.
      • January 21: Nuclear Watchdog Meets with Iran, Tehran
        Following an initial meeting on December 11, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iranian government continue discussions to review progress implementing the IAEA-Iran cooperation pact. The nuclear watchdog visited the reactor site in Arak last month and plans to discuss access to two others. Although the IAEA-Iran deal is separate from the negotiations between the the G5+1 and Iran, continued cooperation with IAEA is central to easing the crippling sanctions on the country. 

In Egypt’s New Constitution, Are Women Equal Citizens?

Two women search for their names at a polling station in al-Mahalla, Egypt, May 23, 2012. (credit: Nehal El-Sherif/Flickr)

Since its approval on December 1, 2013 by the 50-member commission, the revised Egyptian draft constitution has been dissected and analyzed from practically every angle. Some were extolling its new virtues and congratulating its victors, while others were pointing to its losers and lamenting its failings. The consolidation of the military’s role in politics at the expense of the rule of law and civilian oversight has attracted the most attention, and been the subject of much controversy.

For the female half of the Egyptian population, the new constitution, despite its shortcomings, gives cause for sober celebration, in terms of guaranteeing women’s fundamental rights and personal freedoms. 

In the retrospective and lofty language of the preamble, equal citizenship, the rule of law, and non-discrimination are cited as the foundations on which the new constitution rests. While affirming that the principles of sharia remain the main source of legislation, the introductory text states that the constitution “will be consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Egypt participated in its drafting and ratified.” In the last sentence of the preamble, the feminine form of the word “citizens” is fronted before the masculine one when addressing the people of Egypt to whom, it is stated, the constitution is dedicated.

In the body of the text, the new charter, under several provisions, explicitly grants women individual rights that were either excised from or circumscribed in the 2012 constitution. By virtue of article 6, Egyptian women married to a foreigner can henceforth bestow their nationality to their offspring, thus consecrating one of the tenants of equal citizenship mentioned above, and for which women rights organizations have fought hard. Nationality, the article states: the right of a person born to an Egyptian father or an Egyptian mother. The legal recognition of that person and the granting of official documents proving that person’s personal details are rights guaranteed and regulated by law. The law shall determine the conditions for acquiring nationality.

China’s Controversial Air Defense Zone Portends Problems, or Opportunities

This map shows a detail of the Air Defense Identification Zones claimed by Japan, South Korea, and China (approximate).

Much has been made of China’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea on November 23, as it adds another dimension to already complicated territorial disputes in the region. Although over 20 countries maintain ADIZs, China’s is problematic because this new zone overlaps with those of its neighbors, and because China is insisting that aircraft comply with its rules regardless of whether they intend to enter Chinese airspace—and this includes military aircraft. 

Equally problematic has been the vagaries of the international response. After the US condemned the move and sent B-52 bombers through the zone to illustrate its position, government authorities instructed American civilian airlines to comply with the zone in the interest of safety. Japan and South Korea followed suit with military flights of their own, but Japan has ordered its civilian airlines to ignore the zone, raising the dangerous possibility that Chinese fighter jets may intercept and escort the hundreds of flights from Japan to China. 

ADIZs are not governed by an international treaty or convention, and the risks of not having one are increasing. It is therefore incumbent on states that have declared ADIZs to begin discussions towards a set of standards that govern the act of declaring and the degree of authority exercised within an ADIZ. Otherwise, more states could begin to declare overlapping ADIZs, as South Korea did following the Chinese declaration, which complicated the protocols of interception, since both parties would claim the authority to escort the other. Also, the declarations of China and South Korea exacerbate ambiguities in international practice following the political decision by a country not to recognize another state’s authority in overlapping ADIZs. 

And speculation is growing that China may declare other ADIZs, including the South China Sea. This, of course, would be decidedly more provocative than the East China Sea, since no South China Sea state currently maintains an ADIZ. However, the Chinese declaration may cause others to do so, creating a pretext for a Chinese response.

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What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in August
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.