The CSS Blog Network

From Brussels to Damascus and Back?

Islamic Jihad Militants pray during a Rally in Gaza city

Islamic Jihad Militants pray during a Rally in Gaza city. Photo: Suhair Karam/IRIN.

Stories of youths travelling to Syria to participate in the struggle against the Assad regime continue to make headlines in Belgium. Like that of 18-year-old J.B., a once average teenager who converted to Islam at the age of 15 before radicalising under the influence of the recently dissolved organization Sharia4Belgium. In February of this year, J. travelled to Cairo to study Islam. Or so he told his parents. Before long, J. found himself in a training camp somewhere in Syria, where his passport and money were confiscated. After hearing about his son’s fate, J.B.’s father travelled to Syria in an attempt to bring him back home. At one point he found himself in the hands of a radical group and was interrogated for several hours on suspicion of spying for the United States. And while he escaped with his life, he was unable to locate J.B. and bring him back to Belgium.

Determining the exact number of young Belgians that have travelled to Syria remains a challenge. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICRS) estimates, for example, that there are between 30 and 85 Belgian “jihadists” are currently in the country. It is also believed that at least 12 Belgian jihadists have so far lost their lives in Syria. According to Edwin Bakker, director of the Hague-based Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism, this makes Belgium in relative terms “number one when it comes to the number of youths fighting in Syria”. What is known, however, is that most of the Belgian jihadists come from the Brussels-Vilvoorde-Antwerp axis and are aged between 15 and 30. » More

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Mediation Perspectives: Building Trust

Pyongyang-Kaesong highway

The Arch of Reunification is a sculptural arch located in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. It was constructed in 2001 to commemorate Korean reunification proposals put forward by Kim Il-sung. Photo: bryanh/flickr.

What do student exchange programs have in common with prisoner exchanges; and what does the release of information on missing persons have to do with a game of soccer, or a joint-economic development project? They are all examples of measures that can be used for confidence building in peace processes (albeit in different contexts and conflict phases). Generally speaking, confidence building measures (CBMs) can be understood as “a series of actions that are negotiated, agreed and implemented by the conflict parties in order to build confidence, without specifically focusing on the root causes of the conflict.” In other words, by letting parties collaborate on something that is not strategically important to them, they build the trust needed to subsequently address the strategic issues. » More

The Hague Jolie Declaration: Ending Impunity for Sexual Crimes in Conflict?

Survivors of sexual assault

Survivors of sexual assault who have babies resulting from the violence stay in a shelter in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN.

Rape and other acts of serious sexual violence in armed conflict are to be recognised as grave breaches of the Geneva Convention as well as war crimes, according to an announcement by British Foreign Secretary, William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, at a G8 meeting on April 11th 2013.

The new Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict agreed by ministers, elevates the most under reported and least prosecuted aspect of war to a new status, on a par with wilful killing and torture, and provides a framework for investigating and prosecuting offenders. The move is welcome news to campaigners working to end sexual violence, and it sounds good on paper, but how easy will it be to enforce? » More

Transitional Justice as Politics

Justice with a swagger

Justice? Photo: quinn.anya/flickr.

It is widely accepted that transitional justice can and should be separated from politics. How societies and states achieve justice in the wake of mass atrocities, so it goes, is a pursuit that must be divorced from political calculations. Indeed, in the eyes of many, politics is poison to any attempt at achieving accountability and combating impunity. Justice must be above and beyond politics.

As I have written previously, the field of transitional justice suffers from a diversity of problems. It is an ever-growing conceptual minefield that has accepted so much under its mandate that it risks losing its meaning. Increasingly, transitional justice no longer refers strictly to the approaches societies take to account for the past in the wake of conflict, dictatorship or a period of mass atrocity. Instead, a broad array of issues from Security Sector Reform, forced migration, Demobilization and Reintegration Reform, amongst others, are now considered under the transitional justice umbrella.

Another problem within the field and, especially, the practice of transitional justice has been a certain denial of politics. The strength of transitional justice is that it is political and, as such, represents the possibility of building societies and peace on the basis of a good politics. » More

ANZUS and the new Defence White Paper

F/A-18 and F-16's fly in formation over Sydney, Australia

F/A-18 and F-16’s fly in formation over Sydney, Australia. Photo: Department of Defence/flickr.

Last Friday’s Defence White Paper (DWP) rightly drew a lot of praise from (most) of the analytical community and the media. Many commentators, including myself, welcomed the more cautious tone regarding China’s military rise and the dismissal of Australia having to choose between Washington and Beijing. Does that mean Australia is less supportive of our US alliance? I’d argue that exactly the opposite is the case. There are several key points that support my view.

First, being more nuanced about China’s military capacity and intentions shows a maturation of Australian strategic thinking which surely is welcomed in Washington. As it seeks to integrate (not contain) China, Washington doesn’t need alarmist rhetoric about Beijing from its allies. It also doesn’t want us to invest in military capabilities such as nuclear submarines or long-range strike assets which would unnecessarily duplicate theirs and send provocative signals to China. » More

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