Without International Support, Yemen Could Slide Backwards

A meeting during the National Dialogue Conference discusses the issue of South Yemen, December 13, 2013. (credit: NDC)

After two years of intense dialogue about its present and future, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) reached a broad agreement in January on the basic principles and norms that would be enshrined in a new constitution, including changing the current centralized form of governance by having a federal state based on principles of democracy, equal citizenship, and the rule of law.

Munir Al Mawari, an independent member of the NDC, said it was very hard to end the conference—it went four months longer than intended—but he called it “a big success.”

“My assessment is that if we can implement these articles [from the conference], Yemen will be in good shape,” he said.

However, he had strong words of caution about the former regime. "From my experience in the NDC, they did many things to make it hard for us to conclude the conference." He said the former regime still has the “power to destroy Yemen if they decide to,” but “they are afraid of the international accountability.”

“Without the involvement of the Security Council and the international community, even if we have a social contract, we're not going to be able to have elections or implement the constitution itself,” he said.

Mr. Al Mawari said the former regime, which lost power after the 2011 revolution, stole money and property from the people of Yemen, and this money could be used to destroy the country. “The money in Yemen is more dangerous than weapons,” he said. He recommended that the international community intervene to freeze this money, “not only because we need it in Yemen, but also because this money is being used against the country, against the outcome of the NDC, against stability.”

Farea Al-muslimi, a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and writer who also participated in this interview, agreed that this is not the time for the international community to disengage, and that the resurgent regimes in Syria and Egypt could inspire Yemen’s former regime, adding that, "if there isn't concrete action by the international community to stop the former regime from trying to go back in a time machine, I think there is a huge danger that Yemen will collapse at any second.”

“Yemenis will be highly influenced by the commitment of the international community to this transition—political-wise, economical-wise, and most importantly, sanctions-wise on those who might hinder this transition,” he said.

Mr. Al-muslimi said that one very good outcome of the national dialogue process was the inclusivity of women and youth from outside and within traditional political parties. “I am not usually a big fan of quotas in Yemen,” he said, “but I think the good thing with the national dialogue is, for the first time, there was a political entity in Yemen that was the first to include new actors at the table.

“And this is connected to, somehow, the international role in this. I don't think it would have been possible to include youth, women in the national dialogue if it was not for the international pressure and pressuring political parties. Despite what we think (whether successful or not) about the national dialogue, that is definitely an aspect: that it was successful in including youth and women to a huge degree that has not happened before in Yemen.” 

The interview was conducted by Waleed Alhariri, a research assistant at the International Peace Institute.

Waleed Alhariri: Today, I welcome Farea Al-muslimi and Munir Al Mawari to the Global Observatory. Farea Al-muslimi is a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and writer. He cofounded and chaired several youth initiatives in Yemen since 2007. In 2013, he was listed by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 100 top global thinkers. 

And Munir Al Mawari is an independent member of the National Dialogue Conference in Yemen, and a powerful voice in the team of transitional justice during the conference. Thank you for speaking with us today. 

My first question will go to Munir. What is your assessment of the results of the recently concluded National Dialogue Conference in Yemen? 

Munir Al Mawari: I believe it was a big success. We were afraid that it would never end. It was hard to conclude the conference and to agree on anything, but at the end, we concluded the conference. It was supposed to be concluded in six month, but it took ten months. 

And we were lucky that some political powers did not mind passing on some suggestions and some articles, hoping from their end that the conference would never conclude. So, it was almost like that GCC initiative—they signed the initiative thinking that it will never be implemented, but, in the end, it was implemented. 

And the conference was very hard to conclude. But I think it is a big success, and we have now a roadmap. My assessment is that if we can implement these articles, Yemen will be in good shape.

Breaking the Crime Trap: Factoring Crime into Development Policy

Federal police during the arrest of a member of the Gulf
crime cartel in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. (Jesus Villaseca Pérez/Latitudes Press/Flickr)

Over ten years ago, in Breaking the Conflict Trap, Paul Collier and others made the case for better factoring civil war into development policy and practice. As a result, the mechanisms by which conflict traps societies in under-development are now well understood, and much development policy and practice attempts to address these factors. 

Yet today, criminal violence poses threats to human and international security that sometimes rival those posed by political violence. For example, homicide rates in Central America match those in the major global war zones. Just a few weeks ago, the UN Security Council adopted sanctions for the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo targeting the links between wildlife and resource trafficking, and ongoing conflict and fragility, in central Africa. 

A decade ago, we set about breaking the conflict trap; now, we must set about breaking the crime trap.

What is the Crime Trap?

Almost $1 trillion per year is drained from developing countries through illicit flows. That represents significant capital, siphoned away from licit economic growth and development, into private pockets, offshore havens, and underworld networks. But the development benefits lost as a result are probably worth significantly more than $1 trillion, once the foregone economic growth, reduced costs of borrowing, and other economic knock-on factors are taken into account. 

A 2011 World Bank report estimated, for example, that Central America lost 8% of its GDP through criminal violence. The World Economic Forum finds crime a major drag on business in the region. Illicit outflows coexist with pervasive corruption and criminality, and we know that these factors corrode social capital and state legitimacy, providing a further drag on development

In fact, we are still learning about the variety of unexpected negative impacts that crime has on sustainable development: just this week, research involving United Nations University’s Dr. David Wrathall was published in Science showing that narcotrafficking promotes deforestation and loss of biodiversity. 

Some people argue that crime generates local economic growth. In Africa, for example, some commentators have suggested that drug production and trafficking has fueled local economic growth and property development. Others tell a similar story about Somali piracy

Atrocities in South Sudan Feed Cycle of Violence: Interview with Ivan Šimonović

The South Sudanese flag displayed at an independence celebration, July 2011. (Arsenie Coseac/Flickr)

"There is no doubt any more that both sides to the conflict [in South Sudan] have been involved in numerous human rights violations," said Ivan Šimonović, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

Mr. Šimonović visited the country last month to investigate violations resulting from the intense fighting that broke out in mid-December between rebel forces and the government. He met with survivors of a mass shooting in a police station, where hundreds of victims were shot, as well as with survivors of a massacre of women in a church compound.

"We have to address human rights violations no matter who commits them, whether it’s pro-government or opposition forces," he said. "Our position is impartiality." 

Mr. Šimonović said the current situation in the country is "very bad and a matter of great concern."

“What started as a political struggle [between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar] has degenerated into an ethnic conflict, and, as a result, thousands have been killed,” Mr. Šimonović said, adding that the humanitarian situation is also very dire. Over 800,000 people remain displaced.

Though a second round of peace talks began in Addis Ababa yesterday, Mr. Šimonović said that, for sustainable peace, “there is a long way to go, and it will require much more than bilateral dialogue between two forces that are in conflict now. It will require inclusion of civil society—of religious leaders, of elders, of women.” 

Mr. Šimonović said its highly important to address the social and economic underpinnings of the current crisis, and have an open dialogue. He said it is particularly important that there is freedom of expression and freedom of the press which "are violated at the moment."

Mr. Šimonović said that in human rights work, thorough investigation is crucial to reconciliation. “When I talked to displaced persons, to the victims, I noticed that they have completely different perceptions of how the conflicts started, who the victims and who the perpetrators are. And the difference is based on their ethnic affiliation—whether they are Nuer or Dinka.”

“So, for any sort of reconciliation, it is important that they know the facts: that both sides have been quite involved in human rights violations and committed crimes. However, for this to be accepted, you have to investigate individual cases of violations and report on them.”

Mr. Šimonović said a comprehensive report on the human rights violations committed in the country after December 15, 2013 will be released by the end of April 2014. 

The interview was conducted by Bianca Selway, research assistant in the peacekeeping program at the International Peace Institute.

Bianca Selway: Today, I welcome Ivan Šimonović to the Global Observatory. He is the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, heading OHCHR's (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) office in New York. 

My first question for you is: Last month, you visited South Sudan to look into cases of human rights violations during the fighting that broke out in mid-December 2013. What is the situation on the ground at the moment? 

Ivan Šimonović: The situation is very bad and a matter of great concern. What started as a political struggle has degenerated into an ethnic conflict, and, as a result, thousands have been killed. I myself had the opportunity to talk to victims of such crimes. For example, I met with survivors of a mass shooting in a police station, where hundreds of victims were shot, as well as survivors of a massacre of women in a church compound. 

Now, I think it's highly important to highlight that the United Nations has, I would say, [been] involved in an unprecedented protection of civilians exercise. We opened our gates to all civilians, and tens of thousands of them—currently about 80,000—have been under our protection. 

Now, let me finally say that the humanitarian situation is also very dire. We have about one third of the population desperately needing humanitarian assistance to sustain themselves. However, because of lack of access, because of fighting, because of looting of our stocks, we are not able to help them all. Food security is going to deteriorate. Because of fighting, quite a large part of the population in affected areas has not been able to tend to their crops. So, the situation is very difficult. 

Visualizing the Web of Armed Actors in Congo

A screenshot of a new data visualization shows in red the connections between the rebel group M23 and various armed actors. See the visualization in action >>

For more than two decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has suffered from what is described as Africa's "great war." Two weeks ago, the United Nations Security Council renewed sanctions against the country. There are myriad factors fueling the country's protracted conflict, and there is a bewildering assortment of armed groups keeping the embers burning. But who, really, is driving the conflict on the ground? How do they operate? And why do efforts to bring peace so regularly fall flat?

Outsiders and insiders alike have devoted years to trying to understand the persistence of DRC's violence entrepreneurs. Many scholars have broached the issue from sociological, political, and other social science perspectives. And while their approaches have generated important insights, new thinking could help clarify the situation further still. A new dataset and interactive visualization that we created for the Stability journal could help shed some light on the protagonists of Congo's interlocking conflicts.

The multidimensional dataset features detailed information on hundreds of armed groups, political elites, businessmen, and others. The information is drawn exclusively from a 2012 UN Group of Experts report that documents shady financial networks and the illicit procurement of military equipment. We developed a user-friendly data visualization to map the links between them, consolidating complex links in a single convenient snapshot (see above image.)

For example, one of the key protagonists of DRC's latest round of fighting is the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), a rebel group formed in April 2012 in the wake of a failed peace agreement penned a few years earlier. With ready access to military-style weaponry, stolen cobalt and copper, and ties to other Congolese militants, the M23 emerged as one of the most formidable fighting forces in the DRC. From the beginning, there was evidence that M23 was backed by extensive foreign support. 

The extent of assistance provided by foreign governments to the M23 has been the subject of much acrimony. Among the most controversial claims is that the rebels received direct military intelligence, assistance, and equipment from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. If the allegations are true, then governments in both countries are violating an international arms embargo. Beyond these well-known allegations, the visualization also shows the extent and variety of other armed groups and individuals intertwined with the M23, which has established pacts with armed groups in the Kivu, Ituri and Kasai-Occidental provinces of the DRC, for example. All the while, the M23 has carried out brutal attacks, executed prisoners of war, and recruited child soldiers.

The M23 movement quickly reached its apogee with the fall of the Congolese city of Goma on November 20, 2012. Within a year, the group experienced a similarly speedy demise with its defeat by Congolese armed forces and a new UN intervention brigade. In spite of plans to quickly disarm and demobilize the group, a UN Group of Experts found that a number of sanctioned M23 leaders were still moving about freely in Uganda. Adding insult to injury, the rebels attacked UN peacekeepers and also demonstrated continued ties to Rwanda, openly recruiting new members in that country despite declaring an end to their rebellion in November 2013.

Owing to an apparently resurgent M23, the Security Council unanimously voted to renew its arms embargo and sanctions against the DRC last month. It also urged the UN and member states to increase their vigilance against former M23 combatants to ensure that the rebels did not regroup or resume military activities. A challenge for the international community, however, is keeping track of the individuals, governments, and networks sustaining the M23 in the DRC and outside of it. 

The diplomats, soldiers, aid workers, and citizens working to bring peace to the DRC are only just beginning to appreciate the ways in which new technologies can change the landscape of peacebuilding. When prepared carefully, and with attention to local context, such tools may potentially revolutionize the way governments, non-governmental organizations, and international agencies understand and engage with questions of early warning and conflict prevention. By demonstrating the relationships between state and non-state actors and the manifold ways in which outsiders fuel civil wars, they can offer new ways to hold warring parties and recalcitrant armed groups to account.

Dr. Cathy Nagini has a PhD in medical biophysics with experience working in the DRC and on data visualizations. Robert Muggah has also worked across the Great Lakes and is the research director of the Igarapé Institute and directs research and policy at the SecDev Foundation. They co-authored the article in Stability with Mainak Jas and Hugo Fernandes.

Unprecedented Syrian Refugee Crisis Brings Unprecedented Response: Interview with Amin Awad

An aerial view of the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. (Bidna Capoeira/Flickr)

“The [Syrian] crisis [has] reached a magnitude of unprecedented proportion,” said Amin Awad, Director for the Middle East and North Africa Bureau of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Between 2-3 million people have fled the civil war in Syria, resulting in unprecedented flows of refugees into neighboring countries. Lebanon saw its population grow by one fifth. Za'atari, a refugee camp in Jordan, has an estimated 144,000 refugees, making it the country's third largest “city.”

Mr. Awad said that the borders between Syria and neighboring countries are by-and-large open. “There are restrictions sometimes because of security, because of smuggling, because of infiltration...However, we're working now with the governments in making sure that people are entering. We're cooperating with the border authorities, with the ministers of interior, and the security apparatus, to make sure that there is law and order in the camps, in the host communities, and that these countries are comfortable and supportive to keep their borders open.” 

He said they are preparing refugees and the countries for the long term by shifting from material-based assistance to cash-based assistance. “We are hoping that the millions of dollars that are spent on cash programs to the refugees will also trickle down to the host communities and stimulate those economies. And a byproduct of that will be generation of employment, access to services, stimulating the markets—as small as they are in these towns and villages—where the refugees live now.” 

Mr. Awad said there are “over 200 groups that are working in the surrounding countries” and “there are converging efforts between the humanitarian, the development, and the national institutions in the region.” He said that UN agencies and international NGOs have some established fora for communication, and while this leaves out organizations in the region that don’t take part in the established humanitarian system, “there are informal settings where coordination and information sharing and dialogue is taking place” with these organizations. The comprehensive regional strategy that aims to support a more holistic and longer-term response to the crisis and bring together diverse initiatives and actors—being developed by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs— is “an important strategy and initiative,” he said.

He said that UNHCR contributes at the village-town-municipal level, where it supports services such as water, sanitation, education, health, expansion of electric coverage, waste management, income generation, and employment. He said it also contributes at the central government level where “we play a catalyst role in making sure that there is bilateral support to the neighboring countries from financial institutions and development actors. We also forge agreements with some of these development actors and financial institutions.”

The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Jérémie Labbé: I am here with Amin Awad, Director for the Middle East and North Africa Bureau of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Amman, Jordan. Concurrently, Amin also serves as UNHCR’s regional refugee coordinator for the Syrian crisis, which will be the main focus of our interview today. Amin, thank you very much for being with us on the Global Observatory.

First, could you please give us an update on the extent of the Syrian refugee crisis with a few figures?

Amin Awad: The crisis reached a magnitude of unprecedented proportion. There are about 2.4 million registered refugees in the region, in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt—and some went far beyond. There are another 600-700,000 that are not registered that bring the total number of refugees in the region to about 3 million Syrian refugees as of February 2014. 

ln Mali, Peace and Reconciliation is a Balancing Act

A delegation of the Joint Security Commission‚ in charge of observing the ceasefire between the Malian army and armed groups from the north, on an assessment mission in Kidal, June 23, 2013. (MINUSMA/Blagoje Grujic)

It’s been one year since the French Army intervened in Mali. While progress has been made in addressing several important issues, much more needs to be done to build social cohesion and ensure long-term stability for the country.

The particular challenge in Mali is whether the peace process, aimed at negotiating with and constraining armed groups, can be configured in conjunction with the reconciliation process, aimed at re-establishing relationships between different communities. At this stage, Mali needs to draw a careful balance between state security and human security. The international community will also need to perceive and navigate its role from this angle.

The Mali crisis is a multi-dimensional mix. It has a south-versus-north component, ethnic tensions, ambitions of violent extremists, criminal interests, and a struggle over how the nation will be governed. Most of these components play out beyond Mali in a regional context as well. 

Following the French intervention in January 2013, the international community responded relatively swiftly and in a unified way to the crisis. In April, the UN Security Council agreed on the “re-hatting” of efforts by regional organizations into a UN stabilization mission (MINUSMA), supported by a continued capacity of the French who are mandated to use all means necessary to intervene in support of MINUSMA. 

Domestically, Mali state power has been reset after successful presidential and parliamentary elections between July and December 2013. A new government is in place, led by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK). A Ministry for Reconciliation and Development of the North has been created, as well as a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The new government has made some promising steps to address impunity and corruption. 

To a large extent, Mali’s problems boil down to what will happen in the north. The French have quite consciously left some of the Tuareg-based groups a level of power in order to divide and rule among the different armed groups that were in the process of coalescing early 2012. This allowed them to focus quite effectively on chasing violent extremists. However, the north is not yet secure.   

The inclination of the new government is to follow the prerogative of state security, assert what it sees as its legitimate power, and guarantee the effective control of Bamako all over the country. But in the last three months of 2013, government delegations visiting the north have been met by demonstrations that have sometimes turned violent. This in turn has led to irritations with MINUSMA for not being able to fully protect government representatives. 

Could Sanctions and Mediation Save Ukraine?

Ukrainians protest in front of barricades at Independence Square, December 2013, Kiev, Ukraine. (Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr)

With the political crisis in Ukraine, the European Union (EU) is facing the biggest security challenge to its borders since the 1990s, when the former Yugoslavia broke apart with a series of brutal wars. Yet surprisingly, the EU has been slow to react, and many EU members continue to remain passive, preferring to follow behind the United States in fashioning their policy. But how the EU responds to this crisis is critical to a peaceful resolution.

Ukraine has experienced acute crises every decade since 1994, usually around presidential elections, and in 1994 and 2004, the country was heavily divided between candidates supported by eastern and western Ukrainians. In 2004, Europe looked very different; the EU and NATO had undertaken the biggest expansions in their histories. Ukraine was different, too; its economy was growing by 12 per cent, and the Orange Revolution (sparked by election fraud) was free of violence despite seventeen days of mass protests. In that instance, the EU stepped in as a mediator, and Ukraine’s ruling elites and opposition supported a negotiated compromise. 

How times have changed. And now, Ukraine’s current crisis is deeper, and more bitter, for six reasons.

First is the cause. The current crisis was sparked by the government’s decision in late November 2013 to turn away from signing an Association Agreement with the EU that Ukraine had been negotiating since 2008. The crises in 1994 and 2004 took place around elections, whereas elections were still eighteen months away when the current crisis began. 

As Violence Persists, International Intervention in CAR Falls Short

Fleeing violence, a family resettles in the burnt-out shell of a light aircraft at Bangui International Airport, December 2013. (UNHCR/S. Phelps)

Two months after the beginning of the French/African Union intervention in the Central African Republic, the situation continues to be volatile, with communal violence still taking place in the capital city as well as in the countryside. This begs the question as to whether assumptions made by the international actors on the ground and the international community—assumptions that informed the intervention strategies—were correct or not. 

In March 2013, the overthrow of CAR’s President François Bozizé hardly made international headlines, and when it did, it was because South African soldiers were involved in a badly planned military adventure. Outside Bangui, however, the security situation was bad, and it took a turn for the worse in May when the new president, to regain some leverage in the capital city, sent Seleka fighters to all prefectures, and massive looting and mass killings took place in the countryside for reasons that still seem to defy logic.

International NGOs mobilized themselves a few months later and tried to get the attention of world leaders, especially in Europe and France. They rightly argued that patterns of insecurity in CAR after March 24 showed that incremental improvement could not be expected, and that action needed to be taken to save lives, reassert a sense of law and order, and pressure the government to care about its own population. Meanwhile, CAR’s ministers spent their time travelling overseas, and CAR's president signed dubious mining contracts with foreign companies. 

It was only after France’s President François Hollande returned from his mid-August vacation that he acknowledged the situation in CAR had deteriorated to an unacceptable level, and that the international community should intervene. Once it realized the situation, however, France failed in its public diplomacy to get its European partners and other international players on board. France got into an argument with the UK on the use of European money to fund an African Union (AU) force in CAR, as London wanted maximum effort put into Somalia and the AU's mission there, AMISOM. France was also unable to get US support for a UN peacekeeping operation that was seen as too costly in Washington and not a timely response to the situation, since it required at least six months to deploy. 

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