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France: One year after Samuel Paty's beheading
In the news
On 16 October, the French Prime Minister commemorated in Paris the schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, who was beheaded one year ago after he exhibited cartoons of Prophet Muhammad as part of his history lessons on free speech. At the commemoration, the French government unveiled a plaque at the Education Ministry in Paty's honour, and renamed the capital's Latin Quarter after him. The French Prime Minister Jean Castex noted, "Here is a man who wanted to do his job… a man who only aspired to transmit the values of freedom, secularism, tolerance, free will." "We will not forget Samuel Paty," added the Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on a visit to a school in Paris.
Issues at large
First, a profile of Samuel Paty's killing. The 47-year-old teacher was stabbed and beheaded on 16 October 2020 by Abdullah Anzorov, an 18-year-old, Chechen origin immigrant. Azarov was later shot dead by the French security forces in a chase. Paty's lesson on free speech had garnered ire from some parents and triggered an online debate on the nature of his class that bordered on misinformation and rumors. In the months following the murder, the police investigation had revealed that a girl had lied to her father about the occurrences in Paty's class in order to avoid questions on her absence from the class. This later prompted an online frenzy leading Anzorov to heinously avenge the insult on Islam by beheading Paty.
Second, society on edge since Paty's death. The killing had left the educational practitioners and parents stupefied with lasting effects. France views its schools as places where civic liberalism and secular values are instilled. Paty's death led to an emotional outpour by thousands who had since rallied in support of free speech, and teachers have dedicated their lessons to Paty's memory. Several schools now stand renamed after Paty, and it has created fear on potential fallouts of seeing a teacher as a hero than a victim of a social problem. People are losing faith in politicians for using symbols such as renaming schools, in turn stigmatizing Islam and alienating many Muslim students from a liberal education.
Third, hardened State response. The killing of Paty has intensified debate on internal security, immigration laws, popular politics in the background of an upcoming presidential election, and revision of French secularism/ laicité. On 23 July, the anti-separatism law strengthened the government's scope to check mosques and other religious organizations in its fight against religious radicalism. The law made it a criminal offense for anyone in the name of religious ideology to pressurize civil servants and other public-service providers to deviate from French secular values. The law followed three terror attacks that preceded Paty's killing. And since 16 October 2020, France had aimed to expel more than 200 non-citizens suspected of being radicalized.
Fourth, the role of the Judiciary. The investigation into Paty's death remains open. And a similar trial is underway for those accused in the Charlie Hebdo terror attack and the 2015 coordinated Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris. The Judiciary is playing an important role to begin the process of justice and healings at individual and societal levels. With the trials, the ferocity of terror acts remains acknowledged.
First, the commemoration of Paty remains a sad reminder of the regional trend of lone terror acts such as in London where MP Sir David Amess was recently stabbed to death. The lone attacks have brought to light a network of bedroom radicals whose networks and methods of digital radicalizations remain an incomprehensible reality.
Second, in France, the memorialization of Paty lacks a social dialogue to bridge the ethnolinguistic divisions. Laïcité could be an unlikely answer to combat religious radicalism if inequalities and prejudice are not addressed.
Haiti: Kidnapping, ransom and the "gangs"
In the news
On 16 October, 17 missionaries and family members were kidnapped in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The group consisted of six women, six men, and five children with 16 American citizens and one Canadian citizen. The 400 Mawozo gang or the ‘400 inexperienced men' that is behind the kidnapping, has demanded USD 17 million as a ransom (USD one million per person), according to The Wall Street Journal.
On 18 October, thousands of workers went on strike in the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities demanding better stability and security in the country. The general strike brought the capital to a complete standstill.
Issues at large
First, the omnipresent gang-violence in Haiti. While gang violence in itself is not new to the country, there has been a spike in kidnappings since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July this year. The victims generally belong to the middle class of Haiti, with the means to provide the armed gangs with the demanded ransom. According to some estimates, roughly half of Port-Au-Prince is controlled by armed gangs, and their sphere of control is only rising.
Second, domestic political instability. There was a deterioration of the economic and security situation in Haiti during Moise's presidentship. This led to demonstrations by discontented citizens and the increasing assertiveness of armed gangs. The assassination of Moise in July 2021 led to chaos within the ravaged country. The ensuing political instability has led to the interment of the rule of law in the country. This has further enabled the unhindered progress of armed gangs.
Third, the deepening economic crisis. Haiti is one of the poorest states not just in Latin America but also in the world. Recurrent natural disasters have adversely impacted the economic stability of the state. While Haiti was yet to recover from the devastation caused by a massive earthquake in 2010, another earthquake struck in August 2021, killing thousands of people and resulting in a loss amounting to a billion dollars. The rampant crisis of unemployment has also contributed to the flourishing gang culture.
While the Haitian agencies are negotiating the release with the help of the US investigative agency FBI, at this stage, it is unclear whether the ransom of USD 17 million would be paid or whether the kidnapped would be released without harm. But irrespective of the outcome in this case, gang violence and kidnappings are only set to increase in the days and months ahead. A country ravaged by disasters, poverty, unemployment, the migrant crisis and political instability has all the right conditions for gangs to thrive. Unless Haiti is saved from becoming a 'failed state' by external help and internal churning, there is no solution or end to gang violence and kidnappings.
Sudan: Political instability deepens as anti-government protesters demand a military takeover
In the news
On 16 October, anti-government protesters took to the streets of Khartoum and protested in front of the presidential palace demanding the dissolution of the interim government and calling for a military takeover.
On 18 October, an emergency cabinet meeting was held to bring in various factions of the civilian-led government led by the coalition locally identified as the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). On the same day, tensions between protesters and security officials intensified, and the former were heard chanting "Down with the Hunger Government." The protesters called for General Abdel Fatah Al Burhan, the head of the country's armed forces and the Joint Military-Civilian Sovereign Council to assume leadership of the country through a coup; the pro-military protesters were forcefully dispersed from the vicinities of the presidential palace in an attempt to re-establish order.
Issues at large
First, Sudan's current political scenario. The country is currently undergoing its worst political crisis since the ousting of former President Omar-Al-Bashir in 2019, who is currently serving imprisonment for his involvement in the Darfur conflict. The recent political unrest is a result of a failed coup attempt on 21 September by the loyalists of Bashir which the interim government claimed to have foiled successfully. Various clashes were reported between pro-government supporters and the protesters.
Second, militaristic attempts to Sabotage the transition. The civilian administration has been a constant critic of the armed forces of the country and for their alleged attempt to hinder the functioning of the interim government. A former minister of trade criticized the increasing militaristic attempts as "They (armed forces) aim, by weakening the civilian authority through economic sabotage and encouraging ethnic protests to create a reality that allows them to take control of power in Sudan". It is widely alleged that many of the close ringleaders of the former president still hold important positions in defense and the recent attempted coup is seen as tendencies that can severely damage the delicate fabric of Sudanese politics.
Third, ineffective governmental responses to public demands. Prime minister Abdella Hamdock's administration has failed to resolve ongoing ethnic tensions in various parts of the country. The Sudanese economy struggles to stay afloat while a major port in eastern Sudan remains under the blockade placed by local tribesmen hindering international trade; this has caused significant damage to the image of the interim government in power. According to pro-military groups and factions within the FFC aligned with the military, it is highly unlikely that the current administration can emerge effective.
Fourth, a divided civilian administration between government supporters and pro-military groups has enabled the military to use the lack of unity to their advantage. Various factions in the FFC which are loyal to former political oligarchies that reigned control under Bashir's regime have been making efforts to topple the existing interim administration.
First, the ongoing tussle will effectively determine the political future of the country for the coming decades. The military appears to have gained enormous popular support in the past few years as the civilian administration struggled to maintain stability. Despite Bashir's ouster from power, much of Sudanese political elite undoubtedly are inclined towards Bashir and the military, this leaves the political scale of the country highly unpredictable.
Second, the civilian administration must buckle-up and enhance their administrative capabilities to improve a popular image which can possibly prevent a major military intervention. A sudden change in power can have serious regional ramifications as the country borders conflict-ridden neighbours like Libya, Egypt and Ethiopia. If the military takes complete control, the country can attract both regional and international sanctions, which will inflict further damage over its economy as the country is heavily dependent on international aid. Finally, if Sudan falls under military-rule through a coup, it will become the fourth country to have a military takeover in the Sahel region.
Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
Hong Kong: Pro-democracy activist's trial resumes after 11 weeks
On 18 October, the trial of pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi, who had been accused of sedition, resumed. Hong Kong Free Press explains that the activist faces 14 charges including "disorderly conduct in a public place, conspiracy to utter seditious words, holding or convening an unauthorised assembly, incitement to knowingly take part in an unauthorised assembly, and refusing to obey an order from an authorised officer." The activist has been in custody since September 2020; his trial was earlier adjourned in July.
North Korea: Pyongyang confirms test fire of submarine-launched ballistic missile
On 20 October, Pyongyang confirmed that it had carried out a test fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile on 19 October. This was the first test of a SLBM in two years, after the last one was conducted in October 2019. In response to the development, a South Korean official said the test "demonstrates the need to quickly engage with North Korea in dialogue." Similarly, the US State Department condemned the test, maintaining that such tests "are a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and are a threat to the region."
China-Japan: Chinese vessels enter Japan's territorial waters
On 20 October, Japan Coast Guard officials said that four Chinese government vessels had entered Japan's territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea temporarily. The officials said the ships left after two hours, following which they were in Japan's contiguous zone. This was the 30th time that Chinese vessels had entered Japan's waters in 2021, the last time being 19 September.
Indonesia-Malaysia: AUKUS is matter of concern, says Foreign Ministers
On 18 October, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said that Malaysia and Indonesia agreed that the recent AUKUS pact between Australia, the UK and US is a matter of concern. Though Abdullah acknowledged that Australia "doesn't have the capacity for nuclear weapons," expressed the two countries' reservations against Canberra's plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. The development comes after Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi previously opined that the pact could lead to an arms race in the region.
Indonesia: Three killed in earthquake in Bali
On 16 October, three people, including a three-year-old, were killed and seven injured in a 4.8 magnitude and 4.3 aftershock that hit Bali. Of the total deceased, two were killed in a landslide triggered by the earthquake; three villages were cut off from access. The development comes after Bali reopened itself to international tourists, more than a year after travel was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Myanmar: Military frees prisoners; coup leader outlines commitment to restoring democracy
On 19 October, Reuters referred to local media reports which said that the military rulers were freeing hundreds of prisoners over the last few days. The released persons included Aung San Suu Kyi's party spokesman, journalists and other parliamentarians. The state media reportedly announced that 5,600 prisoners would be granted amnesty. The development comes after coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing defended the coup and said the junta had a five-step process to restore democracy. Several activists, however, believed that this move was an image-building exercise after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) excluded General Hlaing from the upcoming summit. Further, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that around 40 people had been immediately detained after they were released on the day.
Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Farmers continue their protests ahead of Supreme Court hearing
On 20 October, the Samkyukt Kisan Morcha urged more protesters to join the movement at the borders of Delhi from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states, calling in for reinforcements ahead of a Supreme Court hearing that could bring an end to the protests. Meanwhile, on 18 October, the police stated that two members of the Nihang sect have been arrested for the murder of a labourer from Punjab whose hand and foot were cut off at the farmers protest near Delhi.
India: Two labourers from Bihar were shot dead in Kashmir
On 17 October, two labourers from Bihar were shot dead while another was injured in South Kashmir. According to the J&K police: "Terrorists fired indiscriminately upon non local labourers at Wanpoh area of Kulgam. In this terror incident, two non-locals were killed and one (was) injured. Police and security forces (have) cordoned off the area." This attack comes as the Kashmir Valley has witnessed a series of attacks against migrant workers and local residents. In October itself five migrant workers and nine civilians have been killed in similar attacks.
India: Floods in Uttarakhand and Kerala
On 17 October, incessant rain in Uttarakhand has led to floods, landslides, and massive destruction of property, with the Nainital district most affected. A total of 52 deaths were reported, while 17 persons were injured and five have gone missing. Meanwhile, the floods in Kerala have left at least 26 people dead, five of who were children. Kottayam and Idukki are two of the worst affected districts in the state.
Bhutan-China: MoU signed agreeing on a 'Three-Step Roadmap' for border dispute resolution
On 14 October, China and Bhutan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) agreeing for a "three-step roadmap" to speed up the talks that will "break the deadlock" on the border dispute between the two countries. China's Assistant Foreign Minister said: "The MoU will make a meaningful contribution to speeding up the negotiation on demarcation and promoting the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries." Similarly, Bhutan's Foreign Ministry said: "will work with China to implement the MoU, unswervingly push forward the negotiation on demarcation, and be committed to strengthening bilateral relations."
Sri Lanka: President commissions task force on 'green agriculture'
On 16 October, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a task force on 'green agriculture.' The task force will be responsible for looking into the requirement of fertilizers and improving the quality of organic fertilizer produced in the country. The decision comes after the government banned all chemical fertilizers, shifting immediately to organic fertilizers. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's farmers are continuing their protest against the government's abrupt 'organic fertilizer only' policy shift since May 2021.
Bangladesh: Two killed in communal violence, temples vandalised
On 16 October, two Hindu men were killed as communal violence continued in Bangladesh, taking the death toll to six because of the recent unrest. The police have reportedly detained around 300 suspects following the incident. Protests began after footage emerged of a Quran being placed on the knee of a Hindu god during celebrations for the Hindu festival Durga Puja. Angry mobs vandalised Hindu temples and clashed with police in various parts of Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met leaders of the Hindu community and promised stern action.
Pakistan: One police officer killed, 17 injured in blast in Balochistan
On 18 October, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) stated that a police officer was killed and 17, including pedestrians, were injured in an explosion near the Balochistan University in Quetta. The CTD said the explosion came from a time device that was attached to a motorcycle. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The federal Interior Minister condemning the attack said: "We will not allow terrorists to destroy the province's peace. The federal government will provide resources and support to the provincial government."
Afghanistan: Russia hosts a high-level meeting on Afghanistan, Khalilzad steps down as US envoy
On 20 October, Russia hosted a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in which representatives of over ten countries participated. During the meeting, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov called for the formation of an inclusive government that "truly reflect the interests of all ethnic and political forces" in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban delegation called on the international community to recognize the current government of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, on 18 October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy to Afghanistan, has stepped down. In a letter to the Blinken, Khalilzad said: "I am of course saddened on behalf of the Afghan people that, despite our best efforts and extensive shuttle diplomacy on my part and that of the team as well as much urging from the international community, the Afghans failed to make use of this opportunity to end their 40-year conflict in a constructive spirit and with a fair compromise."
Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Azerbaijani soldier killed amid skirmishes
On 14 October, one Azerbaijani soldier was killed and six Armenian servicemen injured in a shooting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijan Defence Ministry accused Armenian forces for the casualty; however, Armenia denied responsibility for the same. In another development on the same day, the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers met for the second time for talks mediated by Russia, in less than a month. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the two ministers agreed to strengthen resolution of issues.
Syria: 11 killed in army shelling in Idlib; 14 military personnel killed in blast in Damascus
On 20 October, at least 11 people were killed in a shelling by the Syrian army in Idlib province's Ariha city. Reuters referred to frontline workers who said that the majority of the casualties were school children; UNICEF confirmed the death of four children. UNICEF said: "Today's violence is yet another reminder that the war in Syria has not come to an end. Civilians, among them many children, keep bearing the brunt of a brutal decade-long conflict." The development came after 14 military personnel were killed and three injured in a blast on an army bus in Damascus.
Yemen: 10,000 children are victims of war, says UNICEF; Houthis makes advances in Shabwa and Marib
On 19 October, the UNICEF spokesman said that 10,000 children have either been killed or seriously wounded in the war in Yemen since 2015. The spokesman however emphasised that this was only a figure known and that countless casualties remained unknown. Therefore, he termed this figure underreported; he appealed for over USD 253 million for UNICEF to continue working in Yemen. In another development, on 17 October, the Houthi rebels said they had captured new territories in Shabwa and Marib. Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition said 160 Houthis had been killed in its airstrikes in Marib.
Iraq: IS mastermind captured outside the country, says PM
On 19 October, BBC reported on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's announcement that Ghazwan al-Zawbaee of the Islamic State had been captured in an intelligence operation outside Iraq. Karrada is believed to be the mastermind behind the deadly explosions in 2016 and 2017 in Baghdad and other provinces which left hundreds dead. The development came after Kadhimi said that the IS financial chief had been arrested in a similar operation in another country.
Israel-Palestine: Israeli forces raid Damascus Gate; 4,000 Palestinians to get official IDs soon
On 19 October, at least 22 Palestinians were injured and 25 arrested when Israeli forces reportedly led a violent crackdown at the Damascus Gate and other areas in East Jerusalem, for the second consecutive day. Al Jazeera reported that the majority of the arrested were children. In another development, on the same day, Israel announced that it would grant legal residency and official IDs to 4,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. This is seen as a goodwill gesture after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in August.
Eswatini: UN Secretary-General raises concern over use of force against student demonstrations
On 18 October, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the use of excessive force against school demonstrations. The statement read: "The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of enabling the people of Eswatini to exercise their civil and political rights peacefully." With this, the Secretary-General called on the government "to ensure that security forces act in conformity with relevant international human rights standards, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."
Ethiopia: Airstrikes continue to target Tigray
On 20 October, residents said that the Ethiopian government had carried out new airstrikes in Tigray. This follows the airstrikes on 18 October wherein three children lost their lives and one person was injured in a series of airstrikes in the region; the state media said that Ethiopia had carried out the airstrikes. The state media coverage came even after the Ethiopian government spokesperson denied carrying out the airstrikes. Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) opined that "intensification of the conflict is very alarming."
Nigeria: 43 killed by gunmen in Sokoto
On 17 October, at least 43 people were killed in an attack by gunmen at a weekly market in Sokoto State's Goronyo weekly market. The attacks continued well into 18 October. The Sokoto government spokesperson said: "We're faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes."
Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
The UK: Over 800 migrants cross the English Channel
On 19 October, BBC reported that more than 800 people have crossed the English Channel to Kent over three days. On 16 October, 410 people were intercepted in 11 boats, followed by 102 migrants in three boats and another 294 in 10 boats on 17 and 18 October respectively. The Clandestine Channel Threat Commander said: "The government is determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings using every tool at our disposal, at every stage in the journey," adding, "The government's New Plan for Immigration provides a long term solution to fix the broken system and deliver the change required to tackle criminal gangs and prevent further loss of life."
Germany: Former German soldiers arrested on suspicion of a terror plot in Yemen's war
On 20 October, authorities arrested two former German soldiers accused of trying to form a mercenary group to intervene in the military conflict in Yemen. According to the prosecutors, the two allegedly planned to recruit up to 150 men for a private army made up of former police officers and soldiers, allegedly trying to offer their services to Saudi Arabia's government for missions in Yemen. Additionally, the prosecutors suspect the accused wanted to advertise their military service for deployments in other conflicts.
Austria: Two migrants found dead on a van from Hungary
On 19 October, Austrian troops discovered the bodies of two migrants in a van crammed with around 30 people who had crossed into Austria from Hungary. All the migrants in the van were men from Syria. The driver of the van is being sought. Further, Governor of the Burgenland told local media the parallel with the 2015 deaths was "frightening" adding that the incident showed "the brutality and inhumanity of organised human smuggling" calling for European-wide reform of asylum processes.
Chile: Demonstrators mark the second anniversary of months of unrest against social inequality
On 18 October, thousands took to the streets of Chile to mark the second anniversary of the demonstrations against inequality that triggered the re-writing of the constitution. The protestors also renew their calls for greater social justice. Since the unrest in October 2019, around 30 people have died while President Sebastian Pinera's government has been criticised for its brutal response from security forces, including some rights violations.
Brazil: Bolsonaro 'should be charged with crimes against humanity' says report
On 20 October, an inquiry report stated that President Jair Bolsonaro should be accused of a series of crimes including crimes against humanity over his handling of the country's Covid-19 pandemic as well as charges of homicide and genocide against indigenous groups. Additionally, the committee of inquiry requested charges against around 60 people, including five ministers or ex-ministers, and three of Bolsonaro's sons. The report is the culmination of a six-month inquiry that has revealed corruption in government. However, the draft report needs to be voted on by the Senate commission where it could either be vetoed and altered.
Bolivia: Government claims Haiti-linked group conspired to assassinate President Arce
On 18 October, the interior minister claimed that members of a group involved in killing Haitian President Jovenel Moise had conspired to assassinate Bolivian President Luis Arce in 2020. The minister said: "We are talking about the fact that days before the (18 October 2020) elections, paramilitaries who would later kill the president of Haiti and mercenary contractors... were in Bolivia," adding, "The intention was ending the life of the president."
Guatemala: Former soldiers storm Guatemala Congress
On 19 October, former Guatemalan soldiers stormed the Congress in protest over unpaid compensation for their service during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. Hundreds of protesters broke through a metal gate and forcibly entered a parking lot behind the Congress building, placing chains with padlocks on several doors to prevent deputies and staff from leaving the building. The protests come after Congress refused to approve a bill that would authorize compensation of about USD 15,000 to each retired soldier for their service during the civil war.
Argentina: Government ID database for entire population hacked
On 18 October, the Record reported that a hacker has breached the Argentinian government's IT network and stolen ID card details for the country's entire population, which is now being sold in private circles. The hack targeted RENAPER, which the officials claim "did not suffer any data breach or leak," however, the hacker said that they have a copy of the RENAPER data, thus contradicting the government's official statement.