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A Path to Free North Korea’s Political Prisoners

Courtesy of Scott Savage/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 20 June 2017.

Circumstances are ripe for South Korea, the United States, and the international community to adopt a fresh approach to address the North Korean crisis. High-ranking officials in North Korea are disaffected to an unprecedented degree, and granting amnesty to them may ultimately lead to the removal of Kim Jong-un.

In an April 6 analysis, Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, listed ways President Donald Trump could attempt to deal with North Korea, which included conventional strategies such as intensifying sanctions, increasing pressure on China to enforce sanctions, and even preventive military strikes. However, he concluded saying that the safest option would be to negotiate “a peaceful end to the 60-year-standoff on the peninsula” by providing the North Korean elite with an alternative to their “murderous and unstable leader.” He added that such an approach “could be the safest and most realistic way to sheath North Korean nuclear weapons and safeguard the American people.”

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How State Restrictions are Reshaping Civic Space Around the World

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 19 May 2017.

In April 2017, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated the Kola Ecological Center, a small environmental group in Russia’s Murmansk region, a “foreign agent.” The organization’s offense? It had advised regional authorities on nuclear waste handling and opposed plans to extend the run time of a local nuclear power plant—and, importantly, it had accepted Norwegian funding in the past. It now joins more than 150 Russian NGOs for whom the foreign agent label has led to crippling fines, onerous lawsuits, and, in the most extreme cases, liquidation.

Russia is not an isolated case. Governments around the world are cracking down on civil society activism. Pointing to threats of terrorism or the need to protect national sovereignty, they are erecting new barriers to the operations and funding of NGOs, harassing and demonizing civic activists, and criminalizing dissent through expansive anti-terrorism laws. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 60 countries restricted citizens’ freedom of assembly and civil society’s ability to access funding.

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Beyond Blood Diamonds: The Violence behind the Gold Route

Gold Teeth

Courtesy Jason Taellious/Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 25 November 2016.

Illegal gold exchanges between the global North and South are fuelling violence and exploitation, but most consumers are oblivious.

While the violence and exploitation associated with the illegal diamond trade is now widely known, there is far less global awareness of the violence associated with gold extraction. In 2014, an investigative journalism piece documented the illegal gold exchanges between some South American countries and those in the global North—on the one side Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, and on the other Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Falkland Islands, Panama, and several European countries. This report found that not only does illegal gold mining adversely affect a country’s tax revenues, it is also directly related to human trafficking—particularly of children—and the perpetuation of conflict by funding armed groups.

While mining in general creates various problems (e.g., contamination of water sources, displacement of local populations), these problems are magnified when mineral extraction is done outside the legal regulatory framework. At this point it is necessary to make a distinction between illegal and informal mining because these tend to be confused.  The first cannot be formalized due to certain characteristics (for instance, it violates environmental laws or has unsafe labour conditions) that lead to criminal mining. Informal mining, however, is defined by the lack of legal mining titles and often can be formalized eventually. The problem with illegal mining is that the lack of mining titles facilitates gold trafficking.

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Will Colombians Embrace Their New Peace Deal?

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Courtesy antefixus21/flickr

This article was originally published by the IPI’s Global Observatory on 26 August 2016.

After 52 years of armed conflict, the Colombian government and FARC rebels announced a final agreement aimed at ending one of the world’s longest-lasting insurgencies. In talks that began in Havana in 2012, the two sides have reached understandings on peacebuilding measures that include transitional justice, accounting for the “disappeared,” and a plan for demobilization of the rebels’ estimated 7,000 fighters. The historic agreement opens the way for peace after an internal conflict that, in a nation of 50 million, has left 220,000 dead, 7.65 million recorded victims, and more than 6 million people displaced from their homes.

The accord marks the beginning of the end of the FARC as an armed group and of Colombia’s internal armed conflict. This is a tremendous achievement by not only the two negotiating teams and the international community that supported the talks, but also by Colombian civil society, which for decades pressed for a political solution.

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Justice and Accountability for War Related Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka

 

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Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 August 2016.

As the testimonies of survivors of sexual violence in Sri Lanka’s long war enter the public domain and the government designs transitional justice mechanisms, is an end to impunity in sight?

The Sri Lankan government is currently designing transitional justice mechanisms to address human rights abuses connected to the three decade long war which ended in May 2009. But a key question is whether victims of sexual violence and rape committed in the context of the war will come forward and use these mechanisms?

The silence around sexual violence has long posed a challenge to determining its nature, scale and magnitude in the context of Sri Lanka’s long war. On the one hand, this is due to the pervasive culture of shame, which deters women from speaking out. Twenty-five years ago, in Broken Palmyrah Rajini Thiranagama noted that the “loss of virginity in a young girl, even if against her will, meant that she could not aspire to marriage in our society and, if already married, there is a good chance that she will be abandoned”.

The view of rape victims as “spoilt goods” has always been one of the most significant causes of under-reporting. Survivors and their families are however silenced not only by the shame of rape, but also by fear. Fear of reprisal by perpetrators or of further violence from the very institutions meant to protect them. That too remains unchanged.

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