Since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, representatives of the island’s Muslim minority and Buddhist majority have increasingly clashed violently. Attacks and counterattacks between the two communities have challenged the hope for peace on the island. Peacebuilding approaches to deal with the clashes between the religious communities require a better understanding of human non-material needs as motivation for political action. Considering the rationality of seemingly irrational acts such as self-immolation helps in understanding both these needs and the contentious issue at hand.
As Armenia readies for a controversial December 6 referendum, public attention has tended to focus on proposed constitutional amendments that would alter the country’s political system. But another, less discussed amendment is generating concern among some who question whether the country’s religious minorities, often deemed purveyors of “perverse” Western values, could suffer.
Wariness of so-called “sects” — a euphemism for primarily evangelical Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — has long existed in Armenia. The state-financed Armenian Apostolic Church, believed to be the world’s oldest Christian institution, is widely seen as a major pillar of national identity.
Currently, the constitution provides for church-state separation. Constitutional amendments proposed by a commission working under President Serzh Sargsyan’s office would provide for freedom of religion and ban religious discrimination, yet article 41 stipulates that such freedom could be restricted “with the aim of protecting state security, the public order, health and morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
Last month, violent clashes erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the killing and beheading of a 19-year-old Muslim in Bambari, allegedly by members of the Christian and animist militias known as the anti-Balaka. One year after African Union efforts in CAR were rolled into a United Nations mission, sectarian violence remains common, pointing to the urgent need for reforms to ensure stability ahead of general elections in October this year.
A growing Southeast Asian refugee crisis largely involving Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority has strong echoes of the humanitarian disaster on Europe’s doorstep. International observers have similarly called on Myanmar; refugee destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia; and regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to face up to the challenge, as the European Union finally appears to be doing with its own crisis.
At first glance the Southeast Asian situation appears more easily managed: both the origin and intended destinations of the refugees are in the same region, and the main countries concerned are all members of ASEAN. This could theoretically provide the opportunity for a more coordinated response. The story is made more complex, however, by a history of limited official commitments to human rights in the region—and to refugees’ rights in particular—coupled with a traditional ASEAN policy of non-interference in member states’ domestic policies.
Whatever its leaders say, France is once again caught up in the latest spiral of violence involving Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. This was made clear by the clashes that took place between protesters and the police on 19-20 July 2014 in Paris and Sarcelles after pro-Palestinian marches were banned. Since the confrontation resumed and Israel launched its Protective Edge offensive on 8 July against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed. Meanwhile, the Élysée has striven, against the odds, to prevent the conflict from being imported into France, in spite of the visibility of the issue and the fact that it is explosive enough to divide the French more than any other regional or global crisis. Since early July, peaceful marches and militant demonstrations – some pro-Palestinian, some pro-Israeli – have each been attended by thousands of people.
What is behind this enduring French passion for a conflict that is on the face of it distant, foreign, and complex? What domestic tensions and fractures does it really reflect?