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Seven Months Later: The Humanitarian Crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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In November 2020, fighting between government troops and Tigrayans erupted in Ethiopia in an operation to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The move was presented by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a “law enforcement operation” aimed at rounding up TPLF members, but ensuing fighting has killed thousands and left 5.2 million people in Tigray in need of food aid. Seven months since the start of the conflict, one of the world’s most senior humanitarian figures, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock spoke candidly about the conditions in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Ethiopia, where, only four decades ago, the modern world became aware of the scourge of hunger, which spawned charity supergroups, money-raising songs, ‘Band Aid’ concerts, and a slew of assurances that we – the world – would never allow it to happen again. Now, when speaking at the G7 summit, Lowcock states that “There’s famine now in Tigray.” Lowcock placed the responsibility squarely on forces from Eritrea, a neighbouring country.

Drawing on an authoritative assessment of the emergency by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (ICP), the ICP evaluated that around 353,000 people in Tigray are in phase 5 (catastrophe), with another 1.769 million in phase 4 (emergency). While the ICP did not use the word “famine”, by definition, Phase 5 indicates that famine applies to a population. The system has five levels from Phase One (food secure) through to Phase Four (emergency) and Phase Five (catastrophe or famine). Behind these figures is a horrific human tragedy. Hunger-related deaths in large numbers are inevitable. It is, in fact, already taking place. Young children are the first to perish in a famine, accounting for two-thirds of those who perish. According to the most recent data from Tigray, 300,000 children are expected to die. The figures are on the conservative side. Because the survey teams were unable to reach all locations, they had to rely on extrapolation from limited data.

The Ethiopian authorities would almost certainly contest the “famine” warning, citing the technicality that the “catastrophe” circumstances were dispersed across Tigray, with no single place having a proportion of people in phase five above 20%, the normal criterion for declaring famine.

Undoubtedly, the region has long been plagued by issues, having been destroyed by the effects of climate change, drought, and locusts, leaving swaths of the people living on the periphery of pervasive poverty. But unmistakeably, this current crisis that is currently unfolding in Tigray is the result of conflict. This crisis has emerged from the cumulative effects of violence, including population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets, as evidenced by the IPC system statistics.

Humanitarian services have been affected and the government’s largest emergency response apparatus – the “productive safety net programme,” – was shut down as a result of the war. Forces from the neighbouring Amhara region captured Tigray’s most fertile areas, depriving Tigrayans of their farms and shutting down the most lucrative seasonal labour options. The Eritrean soldiers who joined the fight have also been accused of massive pillage, as well as burning crops, demolishing health facilities, and stopping farmers from ploughing their land, together with the Ethiopian army.

Rape has become widespread – usually perpetrated by soldiers. The United Nations estimated that 22,000 rape survivors will require assistance. Furthermore, fear of sexual abuse keeps women and girls hidden, preventing them from seeking food. However, humanitarian organisations have been delayed in their response, hampered by insecurity as well as several procedural roadblocks erected by Ethiopian officials. According to the United Nations, 2.8 million individuals have received relief. Humanitarian workers privately believe that is way too optimistic. There are also regular reports that troops steal aid offloaded from trucks, with several Tigrayan people reporting that Eritrean forces arrive shortly after relief handouts and seize the food.

Aid workers have also been slain in this conflict, the most recent being on May 28. Aid workers are often stopped by the Ethiopian army as they travel deep into rural areas, alleging that they are aiding the rebels. Specifically, nine aid workers have been killed since the fighting broke out. Samantha Power, chief of USAID, believes that the attacks on humanitarian workers are clearly premeditated, and it is part of a worrying trend of harassment and violence directed against aid workers.

Lowcock has said  “Now, we are at a tipping point,”. While expressing his dissatisfaction with the UN Security Council’s lack of action, he also said “Despite all we have told you of the widespread and systematic scale of the rapes, we continue to receive horrific reports of widespread sexual violence,”. Moving forward, Lowcock emphasised three areas where immediate change is required: humanitarian access, money, and a quickening of relief delivery. The UN has also called for an inquiry into the  war crimes, and the US has halted Ethiopia’s economic and security help and barred anyone implicated in the violence or in blocking humanitarian relief from visiting the US. Similarly, on the 26th of May, in a statement, President Joe Biden said, “The large-scale human rights abuses taking place in Tigray, including widespread sexual violence, are unacceptable and must end.”

As US Special Envoy Jeff Feldman cautions, we “should not wait to count the graves” before proclaiming the crisis in Tigray as it is: a man-made famine. Ethiopia evidently does not want the outside world to know about the unchecked murder, rapes, abduction, and hunger that is taking place, thus journalists are not welcome, and the famine and extensive human rights abuses have mostly gone unnoticed. So, what are the options? Once more, diplomatic pressure must be applied on cruel authorities in order to bring about a cease of hostilities and allow humanitarian agencies urgent and unimpeded access.

China’s Political Encroachment into Hong Kong

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China’s political encroachment into Hong Kong and new Bill passed is causing outrage in the city, with many residents having no choice but to “shut up or leave”. Additionally, tensions have arisen between China and the G7 members over the city.

At the end of May a bill was passed in Hong Kong, which reduces the publics ability to vote and increases the number of pro Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city. The changes to Hong Kong’s elections come as Beijing further tightens control over the semi-autonomous city that saw months of anti-government protest and political strife in 2019. These new changes are another string of movements by Beijing in controlling the city and ensuring the people are loyal to Beijing and China. China has already rounded up and jailed opposition politicians, teachers, journalists and students. The bill has already caused uproar in the city and international community, who are fed up with Beijing’s “bullying”. Arguably, this new bill will only anger Hong Konger’s more and the city should be ready for new protests in the near future.

Due to China’s aggressive encroachments into the city, many Hong Konger’s are seeking residence elsewhere, in particular the United Kingdom. Last year the UK announced a visa scheme for all Hong Kong people with a British national status, which accounted to almost 3 million people. In fact the UK set up a £59 million scheme to help Hong Kong migrants settle into the UK. As of last month, over 8,000 migrants had already moved to the UK and the government are expecting up to 300,000 Hong Kong residents to use the programme in the first 5 years. However, this has increased tensions between China and the UK, with the Chinese government accusing the UK of sheltering ‘wanted criminals’, due to the migrants not showing loyalty to the nation. The UK has no plans on slowing down the intake of Hong Kong migrants due to the threat from China, yet the British pubic are critical of the new migration into their country. Many Brexiter’s that voted to leave the EU, due to migration and to “Take back control” of their country are criticising the new bigger intake of the Hong Kong community. However, the majority of the British public are advocates for the migration, arguably due to Hong Konger’s stereotyped as “well off” and “highly qualified”, which will boost the UK’s economy.

This week the G7 members held a 3 day meeting in Cornwall to discuss various geopolitical issues, with a main concern over Beijing’s role in Hong Kong. The G7 members are; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. The leaders of the group announced that China needs to “Respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, with regards to the abuses of the Uyghur Muslim minority group and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists. However, China has responded and accused the G7 pf “political manipulation” and a Chinese spokesman said ‘Stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests’. The tensions are continuing to rise between China and the international community as they clash over morals and opinions, which in turn could cause a conflict if not resolved peacefully in the near future.

Overall, the new bill is likely to incite further protests in the city and also cause more residents to feel the need to move for either their safety or freedom. The bill and new encroachments haven’t come without international criticism, as the G7 members have met this week and highlighted China’s neglect to fundamental freedoms. The UK in particular has created tension with China as the country has taken migrants from the city into their own country to escape the communism from China. If China and the G7 members don’t sort out a peaceful negotiation soon, there could be a potential conflict very soon.

Peru and its Political Prospect after Presidential Election

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Peru has completed the counting of ballots in a close presidential run-off election, but an official declaration might take several days.

The Peruvian electoral office, ONPE, announced on Thursday evening after all polling station records were processed that left-wing populist candidate Pedro Castillo had received 50.179 percent of the vote. Keiko Fujimori, his right-wing opponent, earned 49.821 percent of the vote. The difference was less than 63,000 votes. Peruvians voted under a period of tremendous political turmoil. It cycled through three presidents, suffered one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates and watched its economy shrink more than any in the region under the weight of the pandemic. Francisco Sagasti, the current president, is serving on an interim basis. After Congress decided to depose popular former leader Martin Vizcarra and Vizcarra’s successor, Manuel Merino, resigned, he became Peru’s fourth president in less than five years.

Many in the country hoped against the odds that the presidential election would offer a new start. Instead, nearly a week after the votes were cast, Peru is again gripped by uncertainty. The two candidates are in a tight race. One contender is claiming fraud and requesting that up to 200,000 ballots be thrown out, thus disenfranchising many poor and Indigenous voters. The other has called on his followers to go to the streets in order to protect those votes. The tension is straining democracy, increasing the schisms that run across a fundamentally divided nation and increasing concerns about the country’s future.

Castillo, a rural primary school teacher who has never held public office, campaigned on a promise to give states greater control over markets and natural resources as part of a plan to bring the benefits of economic growth to Peru’s poorest, despite warnings that his policies would recede the economy of the country like Venezuela.

Before winning the first round of the election, the primary school teacher was barely known, and she ran on a vow to aid the poor by raising taxes on big mining businesses in this copper-producing country. However, there are concerns that his initiatives could destabilise the country’s economy. Whoever wins will have a difficult challenge in uniting a divided country of 32 million people, whose economy has crumbled as a result of the recession.

On the other hand, Fujimori aimed to persuade voters that Peru’s current economic and political systems need adjusting rather than revamping, and that her administration would not result in further allegations of corruption and human rights abuses that marked her father Alberto Fujimori’s reign from 1990 to 2000.

However, it will likely take more days before a winner is announced. Authorities must continue calculate the results from polling locations whose results have been contested and are being reviewed by special election judges. Once the judges have addressed the issues, the count must be approved by the country’s National Jury of Elections (JNE). According to Peruvian law, a winner may be announced only after the JNE has reviewed all vote counts and settled any concerns from election observers. In Peru’s election system, there is no vote recount. According to the JNE President results might be available this month, but that the large number of nullification demands might postpone the process.

Ms. Fujimori requested that 300,000 ballots be reviewed, and 200,000 others be void. It might be days before a judgement is made on her petitions, as well as prospective appeals and reviews. Only then will the electoral tribunal be able to proclaim a winner.

Since 2018, Fujimori has been the subject of a corruption probe and money laundering. She spent 13 months in jail between 2018 and 2020, when she was released on parole. She has rejected the claims and has not been charged officially.

While ballots were still being tallied, the chief prosecutor in her case requested a court to sentence her to preventative jail. The request, according to Fujimori, was superfluous.

Ms. Fujimori has been accused of running a criminal organization that trafficked in illegal campaign donations and could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Detained and released three times as the case proceeds, she is now accused by the prosecution of having contact with case witnesses, a violation of her release. If she is elected, she will be immune from prosecution for the duration of her five-year tenure.

The election, and the tensions it has stoked, are widening the schisms in Peruvian society.

Despite stable economic growth rates over the last two decades, Peru remains a severely unequal and divided country, with the richer and whiter population in its cities receiving the majority of the advantages of Ms. Fujimori’s father’s neoliberal economic model implemented in the 1990s.

When the pandemic swept across Peru, it widened existing social and economic divides, disproportionately affecting people that could not afford to stop working, lived in tight quarters, or had limited access to health care in a nation with a fragile safety net.

The elections were fought along the same economic, racial, and class lines, with Ms. Fujimori receiving the majority of her support from urban regions and Mr. Castillo from the rural highlands, which are home to many mixed-race and Indigenous Peruvians.

Hundreds of voters on both sides have taken to the streets to protest for their candidate, mostly peacefully and at times with musicians and dancers.

The malfunctioning of Peruvian institutions, on the other hand, has the potential to create new waves of dissatisfaction and upheaval, particularly as the government attempts to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations while still growing the economy. The emergence of polarising and even fringe presidential candidates in Peru may be a foreshadowing of what is to come elsewhere in Latin America, where high inequality, rising unemployment, fractured party systems, fiscal crises, and the worst effects of the pandemic are fuelling disdain for politics as usual.

Western Europe’s Response to the Belarus Flight Diversion

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On May 23, Flight FRA4978 was approaching its final destination of Vilnius, Lithuania when it was forced to divert to Minsk, Belarus. The plane was accompanied by a MiG-29 fighter jet that guided the plane into the Belarusian capital. Soon after its arrival, a passenger, Roman Protasevich, was arrested. The 26-year-old journalist was the editor of the opposition channel on the Telegram messaging app called Nexta. He left that position to live in exile in Lithuania, where he covered the events of the 2020 Belarus presidential election, after which he was charged with terrorism and inciting riots. Belarus has said that the plane was diverted because a bomb threat onboard and claims the threat came from Switzerland. However, no bomb was found on the flight and the Swiss foreign ministry says it has no knowledge of a bomb threat issued from Switzerland. The incident has promoted a reaction from several western European governments who responded without delay or hesitation.

The fallout from the diversion has propelled Belarus to the front pages for the first time since the mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko that took place in 2020 throughout the summer and fall. The EU has responded swiftly, announcing a new package of sanctions targeting state enterprises, those in Lukashenko’s inner circle, and Belarus’ state airline. Most of western Europe’s airlines have also been suspended flights entering Belarusian airspace.

This caused other implications, with Russia- an ally of Belarus, taking several days to grant Air France and Austrian Airlines flights to Moscow the clearance to use Russian airspace to divert around Belarus, resulting in cancelations. Along with the EU, the UK has told flights to avoid Belarusian airspace and UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has suspended the operating permit of the Belarus’ state airline, Belavia, effectively banning it from the UK. The current situation is seeing cancelations and delays. If the situation escalates further passengers and airlines could see flight times increased, a rise in fares, higher operation costs, and longer haul, nonstop flights needing to make re-fueling stops along the way. Cases of what can become more likely have already occurred. On the day of the incident, the ban on Belarusian airspace had already taken place when a British Airways flight from London to Islamabad was already in transit, causing it to divert to Moscow to refuel, before continuing.

Normally, this is not an ideal situation for the airline and travel industries but is even more inconvenient as airlines in Europe hope to have a busy summer season following the 15-month significant decrease in travel due to coronavirus restrictions. The events have caused the aviation map of Europe to be adjusted with mild challenges and if the situation increases the challenge of drawing a new map will be tough. One road to avoid Belarus airspace would be to fly over the Ukraine however there are already restrictions on flying over Ukraine, after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in 2014. For the UK, an option would be to fly over Crimea, but no British operator has flown over Crimea for quite some time. Belarus has seen an increase in traffic as flights have been going around Ukraine since 2014. Now as flights avoid Belarus, Latavia and Lithuania are likely to see an increase in air travel.

The United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Belgium are just a few of the western European countries that have banned the Belarusian airline, Belavia. The airline has had to cancel flights to 22 destinations until at least the end of the summer. It is unclear when the conflict will lessen but the Belarusian government is standing firm in their actions and the EU is standing firm in their response. Airlines are often forced to adjust operations in response to major geopolitical disruptions. For example, several U.S. airlines canceled flights to and from Israel as conflict with Palestine increased and some airlines needed to add fueling stops after the hacking of a fuel pipeline that serves airports on the East Coast of the United States. The brazen decision by President Lukashenko to force a commercial flight to land in order to arrest a journalist has showed how quickly aviation can become entangled in geopolitics.

Mexico’s Legislative Elections: Lives and Power Lost

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During Mexico’s mid-term legislative elections this week, various instances of violence towards those running for power have been committed from criminal gangs routed in altering and changing the results of the elections in their favour. These attacks, violent in their nature, have become increasingly common in the country particularly around election time.

The elections have been seen as a challenge for current left-leaning leader Obrador, who is currently halfway through his 6-year term and will test popular support for his Fourth Transformation reformist project. Criticisms toward the government regarding their handling of the COVID 19 pandemic as well as the rise in violence and criminality in the country could potentially harm the high approval ratings that the President has already been previously having.

Mexican cartels have been seen using bribery and violence to try and influence many of the elections that have been occurring across the country, with some reporting that up to 90 people have been killed, while others saying that deaths could have been up to 150. Mexican authorities have logged 398 threats or attacks on candidates since campaigning started on the 6th of April.

At a voting station in the border city of Tijuana, a man has been reported to have thrown a severed head as well as leaving plastic bags filled with body parts nearby. The man ran away according to authorities, and it is unconfirmed whether he has been captured or not. Elsewhere on voting day, someone has been reported to of thrown an inactive grenade into a voting station in Mexico state.

Another incident involving union leader Alberto Alonso, who was running for mayor in the Mexican beach resort of Acapulco shot repeatedly just 200 metres from his home. After leaving his home and driving in his car, a motorcycle closed in and pulled out a handgun, shooting his car. Alonso’s bodyguard fired back which forced the attackers to flee, luckily, he escaped physical harm but had to be admitted to the hospital for stress reasons.

Campaigning has since been suspended in various municipalities around the country because of the violence and even the ruling Morena party stopped campaigning in the southern part of the state of Mexico after an ambush in March had killed 13 police officers.

Despite the President’s attempts to protect candidates, the attacks are frequent and ongoing, and the criminal cartels feel there are no repercussions for their actions, so they feel free to carry on. In areas like Guerrero, south of Mexico City, a lot of the violence takes place. President Obrador has accused the media of sensationalising the murders to demoralise the government’s efforts, despite the attacks being malicious and ongoing, with many innocent lives lost.

Following the elections results President Obrador’s coalition hung on to its control of Congress, despite losing its majority in the lower house. Also, his Morena party lost leadership in half of the 16 boroughs in the capital. Despite this, they were still the biggest party in the elections and captured enough seats to form a majority with its allies, not the worst situation for Obrador but it is a slight contrast from his landslide victory 3 years ago.

With political killings being an ongoing issue in Mexico it seems little has changed in the country. Despite the President’s pledges when first elected to reduce the violence, the events during the mid-term elections prove that there is much still to be done to resolve this issue.