Inequality, Grievances and Civil War Workshop

Looking out across the bay at some of the most expensive land in the world. Photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

The workshop Inequality, Grievances and Civil War took place on the 11th and 12th of November 2011 and was hosted by the Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) of the ETH and the University of Zurich. Bringing together some of the leading researchers on group equalities and civil war, the aim of the workshop was to present new research on the role of inequality, geography, mobilization and institutions in explaining conflict onset and termination. Highly anticipated amongst participants, however, was the unveiling of the new GROWup(Geographic Research on War: Unified Platform) data portal.

Friday’s first session addressed ‘Horizontal Inequalities’ and was kicked off by Dr. Frances Stewart of the University of Oxford, presenting her paper “Horizontal inequalities at a global level: the case of Muslims versus the rest”. By placing horizontal inequalities as inequalities in economic and political resources between culturally defined groups, Stewart argued that global horizontal inequalities have similar implications to national ones. Stewart stressed that existing inequalities are a source of insecurity and can raise the risk of conflict globally. Hence, horizontal inequalities, whether they are cultural, political or economic, need to be addressed both on the national and the international level.

The Case for Rebel Victory

A mappa mundi from the 18th century
A Mappa Mundi from the 18th century Photo: Norman B. Leventhal Center/ flickr

In the Spring 2010 issue of International Security, Monica Duffy Toft offered up a rather ‘untimely meditation.’  Civil wars, she suggests here, are, on average, better left to reach their own conclusions — i.e., the victory of one side over the other — rather than frozen in negotiated settlements of the kind that  became more common in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War.

According to Toft’s statistical analysis of 118 civil wars over the period 1940 – 2002, “victory [by either side] reduces the likelihood of civil war recurrence by 24 percent, relative to all other types of termination,” and “negotiated settlements increase the likelihood of recurrence by 27 percent.”   Moreover, the statistical relationship between victory and non-recurrence seemed to be driven principally by rebel victories, rather than victories by government forces.  What should we make of this?

Toft takes care to distinguish civil wars from other forms of political violence. Excluded are other types of intra-state conflict, such as small-scale or low-intensity insurgencies, which involved fewer than 1,000 casualties per year; conflicts in which control over the central political apparatus was not at stake; enormously one-sided conflicts which may be better described as massacres or genocides; and conflicts between sets of non-state actors. The analysis also covers only completed civil wars, which Toft defines as those that in 2007 had experienced ‘no violence for at least 5 years.’

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 Weekly Theme: Sri Lanka Beyond the War

Flag lowering ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, photo: Skandhakumar Nimalaprakasan/flickr

After decades of violence and political polarization, Sri Lanka is taking tentative steps toward peace and reconciliation. A broader discourse and policies that take the socio-economic needs of all ethnic groups into account is vital for conflict resolution.

This Special Report includes the following content:

  • An Analysis by Nobert Ropers, director of the Berghof Foundation for Peace Support in Berlin, on the dangers inherent in an uneven victory by the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers.
  • A Podcast with Asoka Bandarage of Georgetown University examining the need for a more inclusive approach to peacebuilding, less focused on the narrow ethnic dualism of the conflict.
  • Security Watch articles on the war and its aftermath, including the refugee crisis.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including an International Crisis Group report on the Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE and an Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies paper on India’s role in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
  • Links to external resources, including The Virtual Library of Sri Lanka.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, including the Centre for Policy Alternatives based in Colombo.

Following the Somalia Crisis

Map of population displacement by ReliefWeb
Map of population displacement by ReliefWeb

I find it rather hard to follow the Somalia crisis in mainstream international media. I guess it has something to do with the killings of journalists in the country.

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), six reporters have been killed there since the beginning of the year. They say it makes Somalia the most dangerous country for journalists right now.

Frustrated at my regular news providers, I set out looking for up-to-date web-based  information on the crisis.


Here’s a selection of the websites I came across, with direct links to the relevant page on Somalia: