International Relations Government Security Human Rights

Going Down the Afghan Road

Look familiar? Picture of a Yemeni refugee camp, courtesy of IRIN Photos/flickr

A new and worrying trend has taken hold in Yemen. According to a report by Amnesty International, the Yemeni government is increasingly sacrificing its human rights policies in order to preserve what they claim is their national security. Challenged by growing calls for secession in the south, periodic conflicts with the rebel Houthi movement in the north, and the regular appearance of al-Qaida throughout the country, the ruling elite is habitually resorting to repressive and illegal methods. An unknown number of Yemenis have disappeared; some have been tortured; and some have been condemned to death or long prison terms after unfair trials before specialized criminal courts. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, these measures actually only antagonized the Yemeni people, thereby preparing the ground for further extremism.

In part, the new Yemeni policies come as a reaction to intense pressure from governments in the US, Europe and the Gulf, which fear Yemen could break apart or even turn into a failed state. They especially dread the possibility of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) linking up with al-Shabab in Somalia, leaving the strategic Horn of Africa under the influence of Islamist militants and jeopardizing the safe transport of commodities to and from the Gulf and the Red Sea region. These external pressures, combined with domestic challenges to the legitimacy of the government, have prompted the Yemeni government to hit back with all the force it could muster.


ISN Quiz: Surviving the Coming Scarcity

Test your knowledge about scarcity, the topic of our latest Special Report.



Belarus – Stability on a Shaky Foundation

Photo of Belarus' President Lukashenko together with national flag
Belarus' President Lukashenko with national flag, courtesy of Zachary Harden/flickr

Alexander Lukashenko is still there, whether you like it or not. As president of Belarus since 1994 he has overseen the ostensible stabilization of his country, if you are willing to ignore how it has been achieved, that is.

But what are Lukashenko’s prospects after the next presidential election, expected to be held at the beginning of 2011?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union (a collapse it opposed) Belarus took a unique way, different from the 14 other former Soviet states. While the others went through political, economic and social turmoil, Belarus’ path resembled that of a light version of Soviet socialism with stability and modest prosperity.

Over the years, Lukashenko centralized economic and political power in the hands of his regime. Two thirds of Belarus’ economy is still state owned. This in turn assured loyalty from the bureaucracy and the political elites who could not  get access to sources of national wealth, which would have allowed them to develop a political appetite and gain leverage. Unlike in Ukraine or Russia, no ‘oligarch class’ could develop, making the president the ultimate re-distributor of wealth and political power in the country.

After the constitutional reform of 1996 a semi-presidential system was established that led to a complete dismantling of a western-style system of checks and balances. The legislative powers of the parliament are weak, the president controls the executive branch and the judiciary is simply an extension of the presidential administration. Since there is no liberal elite, pressure for liberalization and cooperation with the West is practically non-existent.

Another pillar of regime stability is sustained public support, despite rigged elections and lack of freedoms. Opinion polls from 2006 and 2008 demonstrate public support for the Lukashenko regime and its ability to ensure economic growth, low unemployment and social welfare – underlying the regime’s sustainability in a very real, tangible way.

Yet, what looks like a success story comes at a price that will be increasingly felt in the future – dependence on Russia.

International Relations Government Foreign policy

Mexico, New Perspectives

Keep your promises and make them true, Photo: Jonas Rey

Mexico is a country that has been in the news a lot recently, especially because if its tragic war on drugs. But it is also the host country for this year’s World Youth Conference; an event that tries to shape global youth policy past 2015 and the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals.

Considering that almost 50 percent of the world population is composed of young people and children, this conference is crucial for shaping the future lifeline of society, particularly as young people are most affected by poverty. Unfortunately, this conference and this topic is not being taken seriously by a large majority of countries, especially in Europe. And so far, the conference has not been covered by western media.

This lack of interest for youth policy is clearly problematic. As the World Bank reports, better youth policies increases the GDP of a country significantly over the long term. It also helps to create a more stable and safe society.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, why have governments, and especially western governments, not started to address the problems of the generation that is and will be most affected by the crisis? As the ILO reports, the current generation of young people threatens to become a lost one, due to high unemployment rates and a lack of appropriate policy responses from governments.


Surviving the Coming Scarcity

Middle-class consumption patterns place additional stress on already diminishing resources, photo: Daniel Kulinski/flickr

The world appears to be in the midst of transitioning from a planet of relative surplus to one of scarcity. This week the ISN examines what happens when ever-more acute resource limitations meet unsustainable consumption patterns.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Vivian Brailey Fritschi about what happens when ever-more acute resource constraints collide with the entrance of new, insatiable consumers.
  • A Podcast interview with Stefan Giljum from the Sustainable Europe Research Institute on the unique challenge of non-renewable resources running out..
  • Security Watch articles about resource conflicts from Africa to the Middle East.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including the Institut für Strategie- Politik- Sicherheits- und Wirtschaftsberatung on ‘The Geopolitical Dimension of Resource Scarcity’.
  • Primary Resources, like the full-text of UN Security Council Resolutions on natural resource depletion as a threat to international peace and security.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as the Oxford Research Group’s Sustainable Security website, which provides the latest news, comment, analysis and research relating to threats to global security and sustainable responses to those threats.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the Global Footprint Network, an international think tank working to advance sustainability through use of the ecological footprint, a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use and who uses what.