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The US: Juneteenth approval a step in the right direction
In the news
On 17 June, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which made 19 June an official federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the country. Biden said: "I have to say to you, I've only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president. By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we've come (and) the distance we have to travel." It became America's first new holiday since Martin Luther King Day in 1983.
On 19 June, the holiday celebrations were marred by acts of violence across the country that left at least five people dead. In Oakland, California, seven people were shot at a Juneteenth celebration, leaving one dead. In Colorado, masked gunmen fired 114 rounds into a Juneteenth party, killing one and injuring four people.
Issues at large
First, a brief history of Juneteenth. The day — an amalgamation of June and nineteenth — is the anniversary of enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, being told that they were free. Texas was one of the last Confederate states where slavery was still institutionalized. The proclamation by the Union forces, who had taken control of the town towards the end of the American Civil War, came on 19 June 1865. This date has since been celebrated as a holiday by the African-American community to commemorate the end of slavery in the country.
Second, the end of a long fight by African-Americans on Juneteenth. Prior to Biden's declaration, only a few states recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Previous attempts to declare the occasion as a federal holiday were met with resistance. Last year, one such bill had been blocked by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who cited the costs of an additional holiday. Barack Obama, as a senator, had co-sponsored a similar bill; however, he was unable to get it passed even after he became president.
Third, the inequality that African-Americans still have to face in the US. The declaration comes barely a month after the first anniversary of the George Floyd murder, which sparked widespread protests across the country against police brutality towards African-Americans. It also comes during a time when Republican-controlled states are passing restrictive voting measures, designed to prevent African-Americans from exercising their franchise.
Despite official recognition of the holiday, recent events show that there is still a long way to go. The violence that marked the celebrations exemplify this. There have also been criticisms that while an official holiday has been declared, little is being done to educate people about the struggle that Juneteenth is meant to honour. Nevertheless, it remains a step in the right direction.
Myanmar: New UNGA resolution
In the news
On 18 June, United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution titled "The Situation in Myanmar" after 119 countries voted in favour, 36 abstained from voting, and one country voted against. The revised draft of the resolution was introduced by Liechtenstein and cosponsored by 58 other countries.
The US, UK, and EU, who had earlier responded with sanctions, joined the list of countries that voted in favour. In addition, five ASEAN countries and Myanmar's UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun voted for the resolution. Among countries that abstained from voting were China, Russia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Iran, and Egypt. Belarus is the only country that voted against it.
Issues at large
First, major issues discussed in the resolution. The resolution starts with expressing grave concern about the declaration of the state of emergency in Myanmar. It endorsed constructive engagement of ASEAN and reiterated the central role of a five-point consensus to bring a peaceful solution. It condemned the use of lethal force and violence against peaceful demonstrators and members of civil society. The democratic transition in Myanmar, concerns regarding the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority, the ongoing conflict in Kachin, Kayin, Rakhine, Shan, and the southern Chin States, immediate and unconditional release of President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, other government officials, and politicians were other critical issues raised. The resolution was initiated by the Assembly following a briefing by the UN Special Envoy on the situation in Myanmar on 26 February; it was later revised after ASEAN countries disagreed with some draft provisions in May.
Second, explanation for not favouring the vote. Majority of Asian countries, mainly from South Asia and Southeast Asia, abstained from voting. Among the countries who explained abstaining from the vote, most importantly, Bangladesh said: "It fails to recognize in its operative part, the urgent need for creating conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of the displaced minorities of Myanmar, particularly the Rohingyas." Russia cited: "The draft resolution is notable for its politicized character, and its individual passages are openly tendentious or out of touch with reality". Unsurprisingly, China has also maintained its non-action stand on the Junta government. In its explanation of the vote, India did not comment on its abstinence but said it welcomes the ASEAN initiative. Belarus commented: "it does not accept country-specific resolutions… Such documents are always biased, carry one-sided interpretation of events & facts, and also lead to aggravation of the situation in the targeted states, interfering in their internal politics."
Third, the ASEAN response. The ASEAN divide on the resolution was notable after Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam voted "yes" along with the Myanmar government-in-exile's representative at the UN. At the same time, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand abstained. The non-ASEAN, Southeast Asian country, Timor Leste, also abstained from the vote. However, all ASEAN countries positively responded to the resolution's call upon Myanmar to swiftly implement the five-point consensus reached at the Leaders' Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held on 24 April 2021. ASEAN envoys earlier this month visited Myanmar to seek the swift implementation of the consensus to which the Myanmar Junta has agreed to co-operate. However, opponents of the Junta and many people in Myanmar have a fettered hope in the consensus.
Given the non-binding nature of the UNGA resolution, the move is unlikely to influence the ongoing situation. Nevertheless, the resolution signifies the overwhelming global consensus on the issue. As the UNGA reiterates and calls upon the Junta to implement a five-point consensus, the move might positively impact the current slow implementation process.
Global Peace Index: Last year, three of the nine regions in the world became more peaceful
In the news
On 17 June, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released the 15th edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI). According to the report, this year's results show that the average level of global peacefulness deteriorated by 0.07 per cent, the ninth deterioration in peacefulness in the last thirteen years. Of the 163 countries in the GPI, 86 recorded improvements, 75 recorded deteriorations, and two recorded no change in score. Further, the report reveals a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have decreased, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising tensions between several major powers. It states that 2021 was the first year since 2010 that the indicators for the intensity of conflict and the number of conflicts improved.
Further, the report states that only three of the nine regions in the world became more peaceful over the past year, with the largest improvement occurring in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), followed by Europe and South Asia. Meanwhile, the largest regional deterioration occurred in North America; however, the MENA region remains the least peaceful region in the world.
Issues at large
First, violence continues to be one of the most pressing issues for people globally. According to the report, the newly released Lloyd's Register Foundation World Risk Poll which examines attitudes towards risk and violence across 145 countries, cited violence as the biggest risk to daily safety in 49 countries with over 60 per cent of people at least somewhat worried about sustaining serious harm from violent crime. However, despite the high fear of violence across the world, most people feel that the world is getting safer, with nearly 75 per cent of people globally feeling as safe or safer currently than they did five years ago.
Second, the unfolding impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace. According to the report, violent events related to the pandemic peaked in April 2020, with an average of 200 violent pandemic-related events per month from August 2020 to April 2021. Although it was thought that the pandemic might help reduce violence around the world, the impact of the pandemic on active conflicts was short-lived, with some of these effects likely to last for years to come.
Third, the cost of violence. According to the report, the economic impact of violence increased by 0.2 per cent over the last year, mainly due to the increases in military expenditure which rose by 3.7 per cent. However, the economic impact of terrorism fell by 17.5 per cent. In 2020, the economic impact of violence on the global economy amounted to USD 14.96 trillion in constant purchasing power parity (PPP) terms which is equivalent to 11.6 per cent of global GDP.
Fourth, the importance of Positive Peace. According to the report, the key to building peacefulness in times of conflict and uncertainty is Positive Peace. It states that uneven improvements in the Pillars of Positive Peace can lead to increased violence, highlighting the importance of a holistic, systemic approach to building Positive Peace.
First, new triggers of conflict and new conflict zones. In 2020, new factors such as the pandemic have become triggers for the conflict. These triggers have not only created new problems but have also aggravated ongoing conflict, leaving authorities perplexed and people more troubled. Additionally, although regions that are least peaceful continued to be the same, new regions such as North America became a hotspot for the conflict due to various circumstances.
Second, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Peace. Just as the report suggests, the pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact on ongoing conflicts and will have a significant impact on levels of conflict and violence.
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: Beijing opposes UN High Commissioner's remarks on "domestic affairs"
On 21 June, Global Times reported that the spokesperson for the Chinese Mission to the United Nations Office had rejected the UN High Commissioner's statements on "China's domestic affairs on its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong Administrative Region." The spokesperson called on the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to not interfere in the country's "sovereignty and judicial independence." Earlier on the same day, Bachelet had reportedly mentioned "the chilling impact" of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and also called for access to Xinjiang. On 22 June, Canada presented a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council. The statement said millions were arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and therefore, urged Beijing "to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the High Commissioner." The signatories to the joint statement include the US, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and Britain.
Hong Kong: Court upholds decision to deny trial by jury to first national security trial
On 22 June, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision to deny trial by jury to Tong Ying-kit, the first suspect charged under the National Security Law. The Court observed that a jury was not "an indispensable element of a fair trial." Hong Kong Free Press quoted the judges: "When there is a real risk that the goal of a fair trial by jury will be put in peril by reason of the circumstances mentioned in the third ground, the only assured means for achieving a fair trial is a non-jury trial." Previously, in April, the Court of First Instance in the High Court had sentenced Tong to a trial without jury.
South Korea: Seoul aims to address wartime problems with Tokyo during working-level talks
On 21 June, the Foreign Ministry stated that South Korea and Japan will hold working-level talks on wartime sexual slavery, forced labour and related issues, in Seoul. The Korea Herald reports that the meeting between Foreign Ministry officials of the two countries comes amid "Seoul's efforts to mend strained ties with Tokyo." The working-level talks were last held between the Director General for Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Foreign Ministry and his Japanese counterpart in April.
Myanmar: Rights group condemns military leader's visit to Moscow
On 22 June, The Moscow Times quoted a rights group which opined that military leader General Min Aung Hlaing's visit to Russia "legitimizes" the "brutal and unlawful attempted coup." The Justice for Myanmar group told The Moscow Times: "We are appalled that Russia is hosting Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, a war criminal who continues to command the Myanmar military to commit atrocity crimes. The trip legitimizes Min Aung Hlaing's brutal and unlawful attempted coup that has been rejected by the Myanmar people." Previously, on 21 June, the European Union imposed sanctions on eight officials and three firms in connection with the February coup. Meanwhile, on 22 June, The Irrawaddy reported that a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's defense team said there is no evidence on the charges pressed against her. The lawyer is dealing with two charges against her on the alleged possession of walkie talkies.
Myanmar: Almost 10,000 Myanmarese fled to India and Thailand, says UN Envoy
On 18 June, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar informed the UN General Assembly that nearly 10,000 Myanmarese refugees had fled to India and Thailand. The Envoy said: "Nationwide clashes, including in central Myanmar and regions bordering China, India and Thailand, have led to acute new displacements of around 175,000 civilians, and some 10,000 refugees have fled to India and Thailand. The regional threat of the crisis is real." Therefore, the Envoy called for condemnation of all forms of violence, outlining that there is a risk of a civil war.
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: NHRC sets up committee to probe into West Bengal post-poll violence
On 21 June, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up a committee to investigate incidents of post-poll violence in West Bengal. The committee will constitute eight members headed by NHRC member Rajiv Jain. In a statement, NHRC said the committee would examine "all cases of post-poll violence in West Bengal for which complaints have already been received" in NHRC. Meanwhile, the Calcutta High Court dismissed a plea filed by the West Bengal Government which sought the recall of the High Court's order to constitute the committee.
India: Protests in Lakshadweep over 'land encroachment' by the administration
On 19 June, members of the Lakshadweep district panchayat and the village panchayat in Kavaratti protested over what they termed 'land encroachment' by the administration. The members removed red flags said to have been posted by the authorities to delineate several plots of land in the southern part of the island. This comes as the Lakshadweep administration has been facing protests from the islanders over other issues recently.
Pakistan: Islamabad is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with Washington, but will not allow US military bases on its soil, says PM Khan
On 22 June, Prime Minister Imran Khan in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post stated that Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States but will not allow US military bases on its soil. He said: "We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price," adding, "If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again." Further, he reiterated: "We oppose any military takeover of Afghanistan, which will lead only to decades of civil war, as the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and yet must be included in any government for it to succeed." Meanwhile, On 20 June, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview with TOLOnews called on Afghan leaders to be flexible in moving the peace process forward and stop blaming Pakistan for any stalemate.
Afghanistan: The US can provide over-the-horizon support to the Afghan government, says Pentagon
On 21 June, Pentagon spokesperson stated that the US military "can already provide the over-the-horizon support that the Afghan government will need," adding, "other aspects of the Afghan situation are still being studied. Commanders at many levels are wrestling with what over-the-horizon counterinsurgency and over-the-horizon logistics will look like." The spokesperson said that the US defence secretary and military leaders in the Pentagon, at US Central Command and in Afghanistan, "are constantly looking at the pace we're going at, and the capabilities we have, and the capabilities that we're going to need throughout to complete the withdrawal."
Afghanistan: President Ghani meets with political leaders, agree to build consensus on peace
On 21 June, President Ashraf Ghani met with prominent political leaders, including former Mujahideen figures, to discuss the peace process. According to the Presidential Palace, the participants emphasized the need for building consensus and pledged that the next steps of the peace process would only happen if a consensus was arrived at after mutual understanding. Additionally, they underlined the importance of a unified stance and powerful political consensus as essential tools for strengthening peace and stability, strengthening the Republic and mobilizing support for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
Afghanistan: Taliban calls for the implementation of the Doha Deal
On 20 June, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar stated that to achieve progress in the peace negotiations, the implementation of the Doha agreement is required. Additionally, he called for the release of the remaining prisoners, and the removal of Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist are important for progress in the peace negotiations. Further, he stated that the group wants the establishment of a "real Islamic system" in Afghanistan. He said: "A real Islamic system is the best tool for solving all the problems faced by Afghans," adding, "And it is the only demand for which all layers of Afghan society are united and do not oppose."
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia: Pashinyan claims early victory in snap elections
On 21 June, acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan claimed victory after 75 per cent of the results of the snap parliamentary elections were declared. Pashinyan's Civil Contract party won 55.61 per cent of the votes; Al Jazeera quoted him: "The people of Armenia have given our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister." However, former President Robert Kocharyan's alliance, which bagged 20 per cent of the votes, said it does not recognize the results. The alliance said: "Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organized and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust."
Syria: At least ten killed in firing in Idlib province
On 21 June, at least ten people were killed in an exchange of fire between the government forces and rebels in Idlib province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government forces had fired artillery shells at Ihsim and Barah villages; 13 were reportedly injured in Barah. The Associated Press referred to an activist who said that the deceased included a local commander of al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the state media SANA reported that the retaliatory firing by the rebels at Joreen village led to the death of a nine-year-old girl.
Israel-Palestine: 20 injured in Sheikh Jarrah clashes
On 22 June, the Palestine Red Crescent said at least 20 Palestinians were injured in clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians on 21 June in Sheikh Jarrah. Al Jazeera reported that Israeli police had used stun grenades and skunk water and raided homes. Further, on 22 June, 44 settlers reportedly broke into the Al Aqsa mosque complex under Israeli protection. The development comes after a ceasefire was implemented on 21 May.
Yemen: At least 47 killed in Marib; UN blacklists Houthi militia
On 19 June, military sources said at least 47 people had been killed in renewed clashes between government forces and the Houthi rebels in Marib. The deceased included 16 pro-government persons. Military officials told the AFP that government forces had repelled several Houthi advances. Meanwhile, on 18 June, the UN added the Houthi militia on its blacklist reasoning that "the Houthi group has killed and maimed 250 Yemeni children." The Director of Yemen Human Rights and Freedoms Network welcomed the move: "The grave violations committed by the Houthi militia against civilians in the past six years amount to war crimes against humanity, mainly against children." He added: "This designation is the only weapon that can pressure the Houthis to stop crimes and violations against Yemeni children."
Sudan: Foreign Minister requests UN to replace Ethiopian peacekeepers in border with South Sudan
On 21 June, Khartoum urged the UN to replace Ethiopian UNICEF peacekeepers in the Sudan-South Sudan border with peacekeepers from other countries. The request was made when the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister met with the Director of the Political Department of the Office of UN Assistant Secretary-General. The Minister said the request was made because of "the current changes in relations with Ethiopia and the loss of its forces' neutrality, which was essential to carry out the mission's tasks."
Nigeria: Three abducted students from Kebbi killed during crossfire
On 21 June, BBC reported that three students - two girls and a boy - who had been kidnapped from a college in Kebbi State, were killed during a crossfire between bandits and soldiers. The girls reportedly died of trauma and exhaustion; however, the boy's body had injuries from gunshots. The development comes after at least eight students and three staff were rescued in army operations on two different days. On 17 June, gunmen kidnapped more than 80 students and teachers from a federal government college in Kebbi; a policeman was killed and a student injured in the incident. Meanwhile, Premium Times quoted a lawmaker in Kebbi who said that bandits had been frequently attacking villages and, before the attack on 17 June, had warned the community that they would be back.
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Spain: Government decides to pardon nine Catalan separatist leaders
On 22 June, the government of Spain approved the pardons of nine separatists serving long prison sentences for their involvement to form a breakaway state in the north-eastern region of Catalonia. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said: "I do know that there are people who are against the step, and I do understand and respect their reasons," adding, "But those of us who support the pardons also have our reasons – and in those reasons, our hopes for the future outweigh the grievances of the past. And when it comes to weighing up political decisions, the future has to matter more than the past."
Belarus: EU, US, UK, and Canada levy expanded sanctions
On 21 June, the United States, European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on Belarusian entities and officials calling on the country "to end its repressive practices against its own people." Additionally, they called on President Alexander Lukashenko to cooperate with investigations into the forced landing of a Ryanair flight there in May and the arrest of the two journalists who were on board. The four in a joint statement said: "We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime's continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law," adding, "We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments."
The UK: Royal Navy and Royal Air Force launch operation against ISIS in Middle East
On 22 June, The EurAsian Times quoted a Royal Navy commander and reported: "the British F-35B stealth fighter jets onboard the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier have launched counter-terror operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East." The operation is jointly carried out by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. This comes after the Commander of the Carrier Strike Group, on 18 June, had tweeted: "The UK Carrier Strike Group is joining the fight against Daesh." The Commander reportedly said that the UK aimed to "to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan."
Turkey: Women protest over withdrawal from Istanbul Convention
On 19 June, hundreds of women in Istanbul rallied against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, with effect from 1 July. The convention, established by the Council of Europe in 2011, targets violence against women and domestic violence. Critics of the decision say the withdrawal puts women in Turkey at greater risk when violence against women is already so high. Meanwhile, conservatives in Erdogan's party claim the convention encourages violence by undermining Turkey's traditional family structures.
Croatia-Bosnia: Demonstrators block Croatia-Bosnia border in protest against the EU migration policy
On 19 June, demonstrators temporarily blocked Croatia's border with Bosnia in protest over the EU's migration policies. During the protests, demonstrators waved signs such as "Open the Borders" and "End the EU border regime," while criticizing the Croatian police for the pushback of migrants who were trying to reach Western Europe. The demonstrators also called for the abolition of the EU Frontex border agency.
Nicaragua: Another presidential candidate detained
On 20 June, the police arrested the fifth presidential candidate Miguel allegedly on the grounds of having committed anti-national acts. This brings the total number of opposition leaders detained to 15, ahead of the general elections in November. Nicaraguan authorities have arrested 17 opposition figures this month, including five potential presidential candidates considered opponents to President Daniel Ortega using a two-article anti-terrorism law passed in December. However, the detention of these leaders has generated international condemnation with Mexico and Argentina already recalling their ambassadors to Nicaragua.
Brazil: Protests against the president as COVID-19 deaths surpass 500,000
On 20 June, thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Brazil as the death toll from COVID-19 crossed 500,000. Demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro waving flags with slogans such as "Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment" in protest against the response of President Jair Bolsonaro's administration to a pandemic. Further, this comes as Bolsonaro is being investigated by a congressional inquiry over his administration's handling of the pandemic.
The UN: Grave violations against children in conflict' alarmingly high,' says CAAC report
On 21 June, the United Nations released its annual Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) report in which it states that grave violations against children remained "alarmingly high" at nearly 26,500, while the pandemic increased their vulnerability to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals. The report cites that at least 19,379 children affected by war in 2020 were victims of grave violations such as recruitment or rape. Further, the report states that the highest numbers of grave violations were recorded in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Meanwhile, more than 8,400 children were killed or harmed in ongoing wars and nearly 7,000 others were recruited to fight, mainly in the DRC, Somalia, Syria, and Myanmar.
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