Syrians cast their vote in a controversial presidential election in 2014. Although the government claimed voter turnout was at 73%, many observers criticized the process and said the results were illegitimate. | Photo from Wikimedia
Race to the Ballot Box: UN Must Learn from Past Mistakes, Avoid Pre-Mature Elections in Syria
Last week, the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition began in Geneva. Leading the talks, Syria Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura prioritized discussion of elections. In March 2016, de Mistura had proposed an 18-month timeline for the election date, and the issue has continued to be on the top of his agenda. His emphasis on elections is likely a strategic one. Elections would symbolize a turning point in the conflict and signal that recovery is on the horizon. It would also lessen an overwhelming obstacle in the negotiations – who will lead in post-conflict Syria – by leaving the decision to the Syrian public. Despite these benefits, the Special Envoy should bear in mind lessons-learned from past transitional elections and avoid prioritizing a short-term win over adherence to best practices.
Some scholars argue the promise of early elections is vital to peace and democracy in post-conflict settings because they facilitate peace settlements, encourage international actors to contribute peacekeeping forces, and expedite democratization processes. But elections also carry a number of risks, particularly in unstable post-conflict contexts:
Renewed violence: In transitional elections, security issues are a primary concern. Early elections in the absence of demobilization or disarmament efforts increases the likelihood that one side to the conflict will reject the results and return to armed conflict. This is especially true when there is no means of power-sharing and government institutions have not been rebuilt. In 2010, a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire descended the nation into a renewed civil conflict after losing candidate Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power and forces loyal to each candidate took up arms.
Inaccessible ballot locations: Insecurity and violence will also prevent voters from going to the polls. Moreover, some 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the war began. Ensuring that displaced peoples have a safe, confidential, and practical means of voting will require resources, infrastructure, and coordination with states that are hosting refugees. Without security at ballot boxes or an opportunity for the displaced to vote, the results of any election will be skewed and seen as illegitimate.
The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at email@example.com.
BEIJING, China – On Tuesday, November 7th, the Chinese government banned tourism to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. This order was issued right before President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China.
Based on numerous sources, Chinese tour groups based out of the border city of Dandong have been ordered to stop all trips to Pyongyang. The companies were also ordered to run only one-day trips to the North Korean city opposite of Dandong called Sinuiju. Previously, the Chinese tour companies were allowed to run three-day or longer trips to North Korea.
The government did not provide a reason for this recent ban. Although some believe that it is because there aren’t many people traveling to Pyongyang, many believe that it is connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea.
With 80 percent of all foreign visitors to North Korea coming from China, the experts believe that it will have an impact with the North Korean economy. Currently, tourism is one of few ways North Korea is able to earn hard currency. Moreover, a think-tank in South Korea has reported that tourism generates around $44 million in annual revenue for the North. In 2012, around 237,000 Chinese visited North Korea.
During his two-day trip to China, President Trump discussed with Xi Jinping on a number of issues. Most importantly, the two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.
Earlier this year, the United States banned all travel to North Korea after the death of a 22 year-old student, Otto Warmbier. The University of Virginia student was held in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after arriving back to the United States.
By: Adam King Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — The Pneumonic Plague, a disease considered by many to be nonexistent, continues to ravage large parts of Madagascar. As CNN reports, 124 people have died from the Plague so far with estimates of upwards of 1,200 people infected. The World Health Organization provides a thorough summary of the current outbreak.
“Since August 2017, Madagascar is experiencing a large outbreak of plague affecting major cities and other non-endemic areas. From 1 August through 30 October 2017, a total of 1801 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of plague, including 127 deaths, have been reported by the Ministry of Health of Madagascar to WHO. Of these, 1111 (62%) were clinically classified as pneumonic plague, including 257 (23%) confirmed, 374 (34%) probable and 480 (43%) suspected cases. In addition to the pneumonic cases, 261 (15%) cases of bubonic plague, one case of septicaemic plague and 428 cases (24%) where the type has not yet been specified, have been reported (Figure 1). As of 30 October, 51 of 114 districts of Madagascar have been affected (Figure 2 and 3). Since the beginning of the outbreak, 71 healthcare workers have had illness compatible with plague, none of whom have died.”
While 127 deaths seems to be low, a continued trend in the current direction could reach epidemic levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not ascribe a certain numerical figure to an epidemic, but rather where “an agent and susceptible hosts are present in adequate numbers, and the agent can be effectively conveyed from a source to the susceptible hosts.” That appears to be how this strain of plague is being characterized.
“Pneumonic plague is more virulent or damaging and is an advanced form characterized by a severe lung infection that can be transmitted from person to person via airborne droplets such as through coughing or sneezing, for example. The incubation period is short, and an infected person may die within 12 to 24 hours.”
WHO does not believe that the infection will spread beyond Madagascar’s borders.
“WHO and the Malagasy government have stepped up screening at airports but say the infection is more likely to spread within Madagascar than it is to spread to other countries. But international spread is not a big threat, because pneumonic plague shows up quickly after someone is exposed to the bacteria. Exit screening at airports — like checking for fever — can help stop people from carrying the infection abroad.”
The difference between the widely known bubonic plague and the pneumonic version that is currently in Madagascar is the method of transference. Pneumonic is much more dangerous because it can be spread through contact between infected and uninfected people. Bubonic is transmitted from the bite an infected animal, which in the case of the plague in centuries ago in Europe, such as a rats or mosquitoes.
Despite these numbers, some opine that the outbreak is waning and new cases are on the decline.
“The large plague outbreak that began in Madagascar in August appears to be waning, according to government case counts and local news reports… A World Health Organization spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, confirmed reports in Malagasy media that both deaths and new cases were declining and most hospitalized patients had recovered.”
Fania Davis thinks the time has come for a truth-telling process about racial injustice in the United States, and she is working to make it a reality. We sat down with her and her colleague, Jodie Geddes, to discuss their vision for a national process, what they hope it would achieve, and what they have learned from their conversations with local leaders so far.
With enforced disappearances on the rise, ICTJ President David Tolbert says the path to prevention is clear: the international community must reorder its priorities and change its approach. The disproportionate attention on counterterrorism takes us further away from accountability and prevention, Tolbert writes. He urges the international community to lead the way in unequivocally censoring governments that use enforced disappearance as a political tactic — and ensuring there can be no impunity for this crime.
Bring General Rios Montt and other high ranking members of the military to trial in the Guatemalan courts for genocide? In 1999 it was a noble dream for justice, but one with little apparent possibility of ever coming true. Walk the long path to justice that led to this historic trial.
Matthew Sneed Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On September 20, Saudi Arabian officials announced that the kingdom was lifting its ban on video calling apps such as Skype and WhatsApp. Apps such as these were previously banned under the country’s Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), when the government argued that it was trying to “protect society from any negative aspects that could harm the public interest.”
The decision is motivated by Saudi Arabia’s economic interests as the look to expand their revenue sources. While the countries financial strength lies in oil, it hopes the removal of the ban will spark technology entrepreneurship in the region. The nation’s Information Ministry supported the decision and stated, “Digital transformation is one of the key kick starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivize the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries.”
The goal to promote long term development may damage local companies in the telecommunications industry. Saudi Telecom, Etihad Etisalat, and Zain Saudi, the three main telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, will likely see a decrease in their revenue from phone calls and texts made by the millions of expatriates in the country. Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of the Cornerstone Global Associates management consultancy stated, “Any phone company would rather have people using their telephone lines but this is an important message from the Saudi government that they have to move into the 21st century and not be left behind.”
Prior to its removal, Saudi citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around the ban. The VPNs tricked the computer into thinking it was someplace else so that it could access the apps banned by the nation’s internet laws. Many are happy this method is no longer needed. One anonymous international student was happy she could now easily talk to those outside the country, “It feels like we can communicate with the outside world,” because “Sometimes it felt like we had no connection here.” The ban was supposed to be officially lifted at midnight on September 21, but some citizens claim they could already access the apps on the mobile devices prior to that date.
The government still imposes tight regulations over other aspects of the internet. Websites that feature gambling, pornography, or that are critical of government actions remain banned. The country often still appears on “internet enemies”, the list compiled by Reporters Without Borders names countries who restrict internet access.