As the United Nations General Assembly kicked off in New York this week, Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi—notably absent from the multilateral forum’s high-level session—finally spoke at length about the current crisis involving her country’s Rohingya ethnic minority. Suu Kyi’s national address on September 19, although condemning “all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” has done little to calm the critics who believe Myanmar’s leader is not doing nearly enough to acknowledge the dire humanitarian situation and help ensure that current challenges are overcome.
Three weeks into the current wave of violence that erupted in Rakhine State, reports continue to filter out, despite curbs on media access. These detail the Burmese army and Buddhist gangs directly targeting civilians, including perpetrating rapes and burning whole villages to the ground.
The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, seems intent on taking his country down an untrodden path. Since being sworn in as the Philippines’ 16th president this June, the first from Mindanao, he has made international news by advocating extrajudicial killings while at the same time thumbing his nose at the US. What could be motivating his dramatic actions? Many observers focus on his idiosyncratic personality. But greater insight comes through understanding the political culture of Mindanao in which he honed his political skills. The political culture of Mindanao sits within the broader Philippine context that is racked by violence, poverty and corruption.
Human Rights Watch reported that in 2015, the year before Duterte came into power, the Philippines was a country where attacks against indigenous people were rampant, child labor, especially in small-scale mining, was commonplace, eight journalists were murdered, and extra-judicial killings especially in Mindanao were routine. In the 2015 Perception of Corruption Index released by Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 95th out of 167 states. While certainly not the worst by global standards, the Philippines is hardly a model of good governance. Its rank of 115 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index underscores the challenges it faces. The current tidal wave of population (approximately 102 million with a growth rate of 1.7%), strains the nation’s budgets and infrastructure. Metro Manila’s population exceeds 12 million and continues to grow. The burgeoning population, corruption, disregard for the rule of law and poverty have combined to dramatically inflate the crime rate in the Philippines. In 2012, a total of 217,812 crimes were reported; by 2014 that number had exploded to 1,161,188. Arguably the Philippines was in crisis even before the election of Duterte. His election can be seen, in part, as a reaction to that crisis, as much as it can be seen as contributing to it.
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.
Gravely affected by the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has managed to remain relatively stable against all odds – despite the influx of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees and internal political crisis involving actors who support opposing Syrian factions. Lebanon’s resilience can be explained by the high opportunity cost of state breakdown for domestic, regional and international political actors. Moreover, international economic assistance, diaspora remittances and informal networks established by refugees help to prevent outright economic breakdown. Yet, stability remains extremely precarious. Important tipping points include (1) the IS strategy of spreading the conflict to Lebanon, and the consequent disintegration of the army along sectarian lines, (2) democratic decline and popular dissatisfaction, (3) Hizbullah’s domestic ambitions and Israeli fears over the group’s growing military power and (4) the potential for frustration between refugees and host communities turning into recurrent violence. However, (5) the slow economic decline and the worsening sanitary conditions stand out as the greatest challenges.
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.