Tag Archives: violence

End Game in Syria? Not so fast…The Worst could be yet to come.


Source: https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-29/three-reasons-why-syrias-civil-war-has-no-end-sight

Will Marshall is a 1st year International Relations undergraduate student at King’s College London and MENA Editor for International Relations Today.

As the Syrian Civil War entered its seventh gruelling year – some audacious statesmen, journalists and commentators had tentatively begun to suggest that the bloody conflict, which has claimed as many as 470,000 lives and involved, in some form or another, almost every regional player in the wider Middle East was beginning to draw to a close[1][2]. The dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State , which seemed unstoppable at its zenith just a few years ago, the string of decisive victories by Russian-backed Assad forces and the abandonment of US-led training programmes to the motley Free Syrian Army appeared to suggest that, against the odds, the Arab dictator had finally managed to regain some measure of control over his country. The events of recent weeks however, have brought these claims into serious doubt with the emergence of notable new crisis points pitting the region’s major powers; Turkey, Iran, Israel and of course the Assad Regime directly against one another. This suggests that the war is entering a new and fundamentally distinct phase where Syria acts as the battleground for the region’s myriad geopolitical struggles. This raises the distinct possibility that rather than a gradual wind down in hostilities, we may be about to see yet another dramatic upsurge in violent conflict in the already war-ravaged state, with the potential to transform what has until now been a proxy conflict into a long-feared ‘hot’ war between the region’s main powers.

Until now, the war in Syria has been a story of rapidly shifting alliances and even quicker shifts in territorial control. The concerted effort against ISIS however, which briefly served to unite the conflict’s diverse factions against a common enemy has rather served to consolidate the factions control over their respective zones of influence: The Turkish-backed rebels in the Northwest, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces in the East and Assad’s regime, with the backing of Russia and Iran increasingly entrenched in the South and West[3]. The result of this being that the front lines of the war are becoming increasingly fixed, with hostilities restricted to intense pockets where the strategic interests of these groups overlap such as Afrin, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. As the battle lines stabilise and the sweeping offensives – which characterised earlier stages of the conflict – become a thing of the past, a hallmark characteristic of the Syrian civil war’s latest stage will be that of steady attrition, with victory going to the party that can hold out the longest and absorb the greatest losses, be they military, civilian or material.


Source: https://news.sky.com/story/the-complex-whos-who-of-syrian-civil-war-11260774

Another trademark of the war’s shifting dynamic is the importance of outside actors in shaping the outcomes of the conflict. Though the war has been marked by external interference since the beginning, with Western powers providing material support to the rebels and Iran to regime forces since at least 2012, Russian airstrikes in support of Assad since 2015 and the reported presence of US, Russian, Turkish and Iranian ground forces at various points throughout the conflict; the extent to which Syrian forces now depend on outside support is unprecedented following seven exhausting years of combat[4]. Rather than a domestic struggle, albeit one in which foreign-sponsored proxies play a key role, more and more it is beginning to look like an international conflict of geopolitical interests played out on Syrian soil. In the words of Joost Hiltermann, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the International Crisis Group ‘Most of the conflicts now have nothing to do with Syria per se. They just happen to be fought there.’[5]

The offensives of recent weeks have done much to illustrate this point. Turkish military offensives, launched in late January have focused on the city of Afrin, a strategically crucial stronghold given its proximity to the Turkish-Syrian border. This is in a bid to oust the Kurdish-dominated YPJ, a group Turkey condemns as a terrorist organisation due to its links to the PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement responsible for a decades-long insurgency against Turkish control from its de facto jurisdiction over Northern Syria, a situation which naturally poses a key threat to Turkish national security. Such a move, whilst not entirely surprising given Turkey’s traditional enmity towards the Kurds, serves to upset the power alignments of previous months where it had seemed an emerging Russia-Turkey-Iran axis in support of the Assad regime was the best hope for a speedy resolution to the conflict[6]. The Turkish intervention however, turns such calculations on their head with appeals by Kurdish forces to Assad for the protection of the country’s territorial integrity resulting in the deployment of pro-Assad militias to backup Kurdish forces in Afrin according to Syrian State TV, thus making the prospect of a direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops a distinct possibility[7]. Meanwhile, the idea of Turkey gaining a significant foothold in the country serves to upset the interests of the other major regional player in Syria, Iran. Tehran has committed itself to nothing less than achieving a decisive military victory alongside its Syrian ally and increased Turkish penetration into the country raises the prospect of a breakdown in the temporary collaboration between the traditional rivals. More significantly, a continuation of Turkish attacks on the YPJ increases the likelihood of a direct confrontation with the US, its long-term NATO ally – an outcome which would not only have major implications for the power dynamic in the Middle East but for the Atlantic alliance as a whole.


Source: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-warns-turkey-planned-invasion-afrin/

Perhaps more illustrative of the new direction the war in Syria is taking is the furore surrounding the shooting down of an Israeli F-16 Fighter Jet over Syrian territory last month. Israel has, until now steered relatively clear of hostilities in the country. Nevertheless, the recent successes of pro-Assad forces, increasingly dependent on Iranian manpower and material support only serve to bolster Israeli fears of an Iranian arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean via pro-Iranian regimes in Baghdad and Damascus as well as proxies acting directly on behalf of the Iranian Government in Syria and Lebanon. Such an outcome is clearly unacceptable to Tel Aviv, with the entrenchment of Iranian proxy militias, not least Hezbollah in so close to the Syrian-Israeli border raising the prospect of a rerun of the 2006 Lebanon War not to mention the possibility of a more generalised conflict between the two arch-rivals. Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu’s fiery speech at the recent Munich Security Conference, in which he likened the current Iranian Regime to Nazi Germany illustrated the seriousness with which such a situation is viewed by Israel[8]. Netanyahu went on to reiterate his ‘red lines’ which, if crossed, would force Israel to respond to proactively, emphasising his commitment to preventing the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence base on Syrian soil. Though it is hard to imagine an all out invasion by Israeli conventional forces, targeted artillery and airstrikes being a far likelier option such situations can escalate rapidly, as Israel’s long history of conflict with its neighbours will testify. With the number of ongoing proxy conflicts in the conflict and the increasing deployment of regular forces to the Syrian quagmire, the prospect of an all out international war between the region’s major powers is more likely than ever.


Source: https://www.quora.com/Which-F-16-is-the-best-Israeli-American-or-Turkish

The growing disengagement of the global powers with the situation in Syria makes such an outcome even more likely. Whilst the Trump Administration has elected to maintain considerable military capacity within the country in support of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for the time being, his electoral promise to disengage with morale- and resource-sapping conflicts in the Middle East still holds strong, with America’s professed sole objective in Syria being the eradication of IS[9]. That Trump is willing to turn a blind eye to the encroachment of the forces of what the President has previously called a ‘murderous regime’ on the borders of arguably America’s closest ally serves to highlight the degree to which the US has disengaged with the outcome of Syria[10]. Whilst the presence of Russia is considerably more active, with Putin continuing to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime and acting as de facto monitor for the de-escalation zones across the country. Such has been the involvement of Russia in the conflict so far that the nation’s global prestige, geostrategic interests and military credibility are intricately entwined with the success of Assad[11]. Nevertheless, there are signs that Russia too is starting to take a back seat in the conflict with the withdrawal of the main body of Russian ground forces in 2016 and its continued occupation with the creation of de-escalation zones. It seems probable that, having guaranteed a pro-Russian regime in Damascus and continued access to military and naval facilities at Larnaka on the Mediterranean coast Putin seeks to negotiate a gradual exit from the war whilst his military reputation is still intact, increasingly handing over the reins to his regional allies in Tehran and Ankara. Without the restraining influence of the global powers however, there remains far less to deter regional powers from acting ambitiously on their own accord, further raising the potential for an unprecedented escalation. This disengagement of major powers therefore, is likely to represent another hallmark of the new phase of Syria’s war.

What we are seeing in Syria is not the winding down of the conflict that seemed apparent just two months ago,  but rather the fundamental transformation of the struggle from a domestic affair in which foreign players support their respective sides via proxies and clandestine means into something altogether distinct – and with a worrying potential for rapid escalation. The amount of territory controlled by forces lacking a major foreign sponsor is shrinking and in those which do the presence of outside actors is increasingly blatant. Though battle lines are solidifying, and conflict seems to be increasingly restricted to small pockets where rival geostrategic aims clash, the stakes involved, at least for the regional powers of the Middle East are on the rise. Syria increasingly resembles a chessboard where the ideological, military and geopolitical struggles for the region’s myriad rivalries are played out – one which offers the makings of an all out conflict to decide the fate of the Middle East.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-iraq-isis-yemen-saudi-arabia-iran-trump-wars-coming-to-an-end-a8133356.html

[3] https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/syria-civil-war-turkey-afrin-idlib-damascus-rebel-ypg

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22906965

[5] http://time.com/5159869/war-syria-entered-dangerous-new-phase/

[6] https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/expanding-russia-iran-turkey-alliance-puts-us-back-foot

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/turkey-warns-assad-not-intervene-kurdish-enclave-afrin

[8] https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/full-text-netanyahu-s-speech-on-iran-in-munich-1.5826934

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/09/19/trump-has-accelerated-obamas-misguided-policy-toward-syria/?utm_term=.54469db19200

[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-iran-un-speech-murderous-regime-saudi-arabia-latest-a7955641.html

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/25/syrias-return-to-bombing-as-usual-is-down-to-russia

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will marshall 1

By William Marshall, a first year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London with a special interest in Terrorism, Middle Eastern politics, the politics of ‘failed states’ and British Foreign Policy. 

2017 has in many ways been a year of unprecedented success in the incessant struggle against violent extremism. It has seen the dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State with Iraqi President Haider Al-Abadi recently declaring the defeat of IS in the country where the organisation surged to prominence following its incredible 2014 offensive which threatened Baghdad itself, after the capture of the groups last two strongholds along the Syrian border.[1] Meanwhile in Syria, US-backed Kurdish forces drove IS out of Raqqa, the groups de facto capital with surprisingly little resistance allowing for a rapid offensive which has, as of late December left IS control restricted to isolated pockets of the country’s eastern desert. As of yet, the feared resurgence of the organisation in its outlying ‘provinces’ has failed to materialise with the group and its affiliates gradually pushed back in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Nor has any other group emerged to fill the vacuum left by the organisation’s decline, with Al-Qaeda struggling to assert itself beyond its traditional heartlands and crackdowns on local insurgencies across the globe by governments keen to ensure their lands do not become the latest hotbed of Islamist Insurgency. The figures reflect this decline in global extremism with fatalities having almost halved to 7618 in 2017, compared to 14,356 the previous year.[2]

At home, by contrast the story couldn’t be more different. With three major attacks in as many months, 2017 was the deadliest year for Islamist terrorism in Britain since the deadly 7/7 attacks of 2005. That these attacks were deliberately concentrated against defenceless targets such as tourists and teenagers serves to illustrate Britain’s inherent vulnerability to attacks of this nature, a vulnerability exacerbated by the constantly evolving nature of terrorist tactics. Without a doubt, the shift towards attacks carried out using everyday items including vans, kitchen knives and homemade nail bombs, constructed with seemingly innocuous materials easily purchased in any hardware store up and down the country make the detection and prevention of such atrocities immeasurably harder. That suspects already under ‘active investigation’ such as Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt, not to mention the host of near misses interrupted moments before catastrophe – including a young man apprehended carrying a bag of knives in almost exactly the same location as March’s Westminster attack just days after the original attack were able to premeditate attacks undetected until the moment of catastrophe serves to illustrate the ease with which extremists adopting this new, low-tech style of terrorism can slip through the net of Britain’s Intelligence agencies.[3] Moreover, the collapse of IS in Syria and Iraq raises fears that a suspected 850 British IS fighters may return to use their skills picked up in the Middle East to commit mass casualty atrocities on home soil, with estimates suggesting that more than 400 of these hardened militants had already returned as of October 2017.[4] It would be wrong to suggest this indicates a systemic failure on the part of Britain’s Counter-terrorism services. Rather it is reflective of a threat that is not only becoming harder to detect and counteract but one which is growing at an alarming rate at the exact time that the Security Service is under an unprecedented degree of financial pressure.

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Photo Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/11/london-new-armed-police-base-met-tackle-terrorism#img-1

The last year has seen a dramatic surge in the number of terrorism-related arrests, reaching a record high of 400 in the twelve-month period to September, an increase of 54% on the previous year.[5] This is not the only statistic of note. 2017 also saw the highest number of female arrests for extremism related offences since records began at 58, suggesting a broader demographic of extremist sympathisers among Britain’s Muslim population than the stereotypical disaffected, young male. More significant was the upsurge in white people arrested for terror related offenses from 81 to 143, a 77% rise on 2017, the vast majority on suspicion of far-right related offences with dramatic spikes in the aftermath of Islamist attacks on London and Manchester.[6] This highlights the increasingly multifaceted nature of the extremist threat in modern Britain. In some regions such as Wales and the East Midlands, Counter-terrorism Police dedicate as much time to dealing with the far-right as to Islamist threats.[7] June’s attack against Finsbury Park Mosque by far-right lone wolf Darren Osborne serves to underline that the threat posed by such ideologies is not one to be taken lightly, especially as the simultaneous growth in Islamist extremism feeds into the divisive ‘us vs them’ narrative pedalled by organisations such as Britain First and National Action. Meanwhile, the political controversy over the post-Brexit relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic raises fears of the re-emergence of sectarian tensions in the province, with terrorist activity by both Republican and Unionist groups seeing a worrying upswing since the June 2016 vote to leave the EU and MI5 recently reporting that activities by dissident groups were being disrupted ‘on a weekly basis’ in what has been described as ‘the most concentrated area of terrorist activity probably anywhere in Europe’.[8]

In the face of such a diverse and growing threat it is clear Britain’s Counter-terrorism strategy, due for revision in early 2018, is in urgent need of reform to address the rapidly evolving nature of the extremist threat to the UK. The sad truth we must confront however is that once a potential terrorist becomes radicalised it becomes immeasurably more difficult to apprehend a suspect before he commits a devastating attack, especially given the current trend towards low-tech, casualty maximising techniques. Such a strategy must therefore have an emphasis on tackling the root causes of extremism, promoting a multiagency, multipronged approach which reflects the complex and diverse origins of radicalisation in the UK.

The British Government’s current Counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST was formulated by the Labour Government in 2006 following the 7/7 London Bombings which left 52 dead in what is the most devastating Islamist attack on British soil to date. The strategy, reflecting the multifaceted nature of dealing with the contemporary terrorist threat consists of four key strands, colloquially referred to as ‘the Four P’s’; Pursue, Protect, Prepare and Prevent. Of the four Prevent has always been by far the most controversial, dealing as it does with the contentious themes of multiculturalism, identity and community which lie at the heart of the counter-radicalisation initiative. However, it is also the most fundamental. It is far preferable to prevent disenfranchised individuals from turning to extremism in the first place than constantly playing a deadly game of catch up with already hardened, motivated radicals.

Prevent has nevertheless attracted considerable criticism, both from experts and community leaders who argue the strategy produces the very outcomes it seeks to prevent. The strategy depends on building a network of contacts with education and healthcare professionals as well as within vulnerable communities who are trained to identify and report signs of violent and non-violent extremism, with individuals deemed ‘at risk’ referred on to Prevent’s sister programme Channel, which seeks to provide a support network to turn such individuals away from extremist ideology. This approach has led to accusations that the strategy demonises entire communities, particularly among Britain’s Muslim population by fostering what has been termed a ‘climate of fear’.[9] A series of high profile cases in recent years have illustrated the difficulties of relying on such a strategy, for example the furore surrounding the attempted installation of CCTV with Counter-terrorism funding in Muslim-majority areas of Birmingham in 2010 or more recent reports of details of Muslim schoolchildren being gathered by authorities without parental consent.[10] Such incidents merely act to propagate a culture of suspicion and mistrust among the very communities it seeks to benefit.

Moreover, the strategy has come under fire from human rights activists who argue the approach violates privacy and freedom of expression; for instance, the case of a seventeen year-old referred to police after he showed signs of increased religious observance or the cancellation of debates on topics such as Islamophobia on university campuses which has attracted criticism from the likes of Rights Watch UK and The Open Society Justice Initiative. As one recent report by the Justice Initiative succinctly concluded, ‘Being wrongly targeted under Prevent has led some Muslims to question their place in British society’, underlining the counter-productive nature of an initiative that has community cooperation at its core.[11] Indeed, even King’s has not escaped the controversy with the announcement that the university would reserve the right to ‘monitor and record’ student’s emails in line with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act provoking a scandal which hit national headlines just last academic year, highlighting the sheer extent to which the issue has pervaded contemporary British society.[12] That only 20% of those referred to Channel are eventually deemed at risk of involvement in violent extremism exhibits the heavy-handed nature of such an approach to radicalisation, one that tackles the symptoms rather than the underlying causes and serves to build barriers between communities and authorities rather than break them down.[13]

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Photo Source: https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=CztRWu3HIYzagAblyYm4Ag&q=british+muslims+communities&oq=british+muslims+communities&gs_l=psy-ab.3…127766.131321.0.131769.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.1.76…0j0i30k1j0i5i30k1j0i8i30k1.0.tiDEcIGONHw#imgrc=xarTYilJJqkYKM:

Furthermore, the broad definition of extremism adopted by Prevent, specifically targeting so-called precursors to radicalism such as ‘pre-criminality’, ’non-violent extremism’ and opposition to ‘British values’ not only conflates many normal behaviours of teenagers trying to figure out complex issues of identity and belonging with signals of future terrorist activity but also risks undermining the very values, such as freedom of belief and expression that it seeks to promote.[14] Shutting down discussions on issues key to the radicalisation debate such as Islamophobia serves to stifle constructive, open discussion of these topics and drive debate underground, where it can be monopolised by extremists to promote their warped, vindictive worldview unchallenged rather than exposing and discrediting their repulsive, irrational ideologies for what they are.

Thus, Prevent appears to suffer from systemic flaws which serve to foster the very sense of alienation and injustice that it seeks to eliminate, playing into the hands of extremists and undermining the cooperation of communities when it comes to identifying and tackling potential terrorists.

It is, of course easy to point the finger and shovel the blame on Prevent for failing to protect us from terrorism. What we don’t see, however are the countless cases where Prevent referrals have successfully turned vulnerable individuals away from violent extremism. Whether it be Muslim schoolgirls in Tower Hamlets groomed by extremists online dissuaded from travelling to a life of abuse and fear in Syria or white working-class lads in South Wales turned away from far-right ideology by a timely referral to authorities. We will never really know just how many would-be extremists have been deterred from radicalism by Prevent, though if figures are to be believed it is safe to say they number within the thousands, if not more. Therefore Prevent, in spite of its inherent structural flaws is not a failed strategy. Rather it is one in need of comprehensive overhaul to address the evolving threat posed by extremism in all its forms by tackling the diverse array of underlying social, economic, political and psychological motivators which predispose vulnerable individuals to such ideologies.

As always, the key to such a strategy is winning the hearts and minds of communities most affected by extremism. If an individual feels that by embracing radicalism they face rejection by their community, they are far less likely to turn to such ideologies in the first place. Moreover, when a community feels supported and seen as part of the solution rather than the problem it is far likelier to cooperate with authorities in rooting out dangerous individuals. Realising such a vision, of course, requires grassroots, community-led initiatives by the vast majority within these demographics who reject violence. This involves community leaders working closely with authorities to develop strategies to tackle radicalisation on a localised basis, targeting specific factors driving radicalisation as well as identifying at risk individuals and building wider community resilience and cohesion.

Of particular importance is tackling the fraught issues of identity and belonging, notably among young people that, if left unresolved can morph into feelings of disenfranchisement, disempowerment and grievance which prove fertile ground for extremism to take root. Many, especially young British Muslims – those statistically most likely to be drawn into extremism remain trapped between conflicting values, juggling the traditional, family-orientated society of their parents with the temptations of contemporary Western culture.[15] It is no surprise therefore, that these young people are often left feeling a lack of belonging and are more susceptible than most to crises of identity. Tackling this naturally involves breaking down perceptions of marginalisation and encouraging a shift in attitudes towards demographics regularly stigmatised by the media. As many prominent scholars and clerics have pointed out, there is no inherent tension between Islam and British values, just as there is no conspiracy to eradicate Britain’s indigenous population as pedalled by many far-right organisations. It is these myths which grassroots initiatives must seek to challenge and invalidate.

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Photo Source:https://www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1366&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=tD9RWtGKGYqMgAbz2obADA&q=young+british+muslims&oq=young+british+muslims&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0.347371.350299.0.350942.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.368…0i13k1j0i13i5i30k1j0i8i13i30k1.0.qNsivIidhgA#imgrc=2hrtqBwLCvogQM:

Whilst a revamped Prevent should have a keen focus on community empowerment there is also a need for a more centralised and coordinated policy-making at a national scale to tackle common themes and issues in the radicalisation debate. National initiatives to encourage integration, such as the prohibition of exclusionary religious schools, changing the national curriculum to disprove popularly believed and damaging myths as well as promoting dialogue and mutual exchange between de facto segregated communities are fundamental to building the interpersonal relationships between members of differing communities necessary to cultivate a society that is resilient and united in the face of extremism. Likewise, multiagency coordination is fundamental in tackling radicalisation in context-specific environments, such as online and in prisons, utilising the expertise of both law enforcement agencies and experts and professionals in their respective fields to formulate coherent national strategies to combat extremism in such settings.

This kind of revamped Counter-Radicalisation strategy cannot be effective however, without attempts to tackle the underlying factors common to extremism of all forms such as poverty, deprivation, family breakdown and mental illness. Indeed, research suggests that as much as 82% of Islamism-related offences between 1998 and 2015 were committed in the UK’s most deprived areas whilst around 44% of those referred to Channel during this period had histories of psychological and mental health conditions, a figure significantly higher than the national average.[16] Both far-right and Northern Ireland-related extremists also seem to share a markedly similar profile of social and political marginalisation with these Islamists. What is striking about these findings is how close the profile of an average extremist is to those involved in gang-related violence or other criminal activities. Recent attacks appear to underline this link, with both Westminster attacker Khalid Masood and Manchester Bomber Salman Abedi having held criminal records pertaining to drug and alcohol-related offences. This supports several studies which cite growing evidence of a ‘crime-terror nexus’[17], with individuals involved in extremism increasingly having been involved in prior criminal activity and motivated by the same root causes as conventional criminality such as poverty, unemployment and mental illness rather than the assumed religious or ideological factors.

Thus, it is clear that any attempt to tackle the long-term underlying causes of extremism must involve making headway on such issues. The scope of such a task of course, lies well beyond the remit of security and law enforcement agencies, though it serves to highlight that radicalisation, rather than being merely a security problem is a far broader social issue that requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to address in the long-run. It is only when we start addressing it as such that we will begin to see progress on this controversial issue.



[1] BBC World Service: Weekend (10th December 2017): ‘Iraq Says War with IS now over’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vsq69s9dqmk [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[2] Esri Story Maps: Terror attacks 2017 (compared with same figures from 2016): 2017: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2017, 2016: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2016 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[3] Casciani, Dominic: BBC News: ‘Could MI5 have stopped 2017’s attacks?’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42244239 [Accessed 2nd January 2017]

[4] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘More than 400 British jihadis have already returned to UK, report warns’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-british-jihadis-return-uk-iraq-syria-report-islamic-state-fighters-europe-threat-debate-terror-a8017811.html [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[5] Evans, Martin: The Telegraph: ‘Surge in white and female terror suspects pushes up number of arrests to record high’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/07/terror-arrests-hit-record-high-400-made-uk-year/ [Accessed 30th December 2017]

[6] Ibid

[7] Davies, Jordan: BBC News: ‘Far-right extremist planned ‘race war’ by making explosives’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-42450131 [Accessed 2nd January 2018]

[8] Corera, Gordon: BBC News: ‘MI5 warnings on Brexit, terror and Russia’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42434767 [Accessed 3rd January 2018]

[9] Singh, Amrit: The Guardian: ‘Instead of preventing terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/19/terror-prevent-muslims-police-terrorist-attacks [Accessed on 4th January 2018]

[10] Hasan, Usama: The Guardian: ‘The Prevent strategy can help stop terrorism – if we use some common sense’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/09/prevent-anti-radicalisation-strategy-baby-bathwater-teething-troubles-working-well [Accessed 29th December 2017]

[11] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[12] Weale, Sally: The Guardian: ‘London university tells students their emails may be monitored’:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/20/university-warns-students-emails-may-be-monitored-kings-college-london-prevent [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[13] Muslim Engagement and Development (28th July 2015), ‘Channel: Safeguarding or stigmatising young children’: https://mend.org.uk/news/channel-safeguarding-or-stigmatising-young-children/ [Accessed 6th January 2018]

[14] Cobain, Ian: The Guardian: ‘UK’s Prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed [Accessed 4th January 2018]

[15] Versi, Miqdaad: The Guardian: ‘The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/10/prevent-strategy-statistics-independent-review-home-office-muslims [Accessed 5th January 2018]

[16] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Children exposed to terror radicalisation by Government’s failure to tackle root causes of extremism, report finds’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prevent-terrorism-strategy-failing-tackle-extremism-root-causes-oasis-report-children-radicalisation-a8085656.html [Accessed 26th December 2017]

[17] Dearden, Lizzie: The Independent: ‘Isis recruiting violent criminals and gang members across Europe in dangerous new ‘crime-terror nexus’’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-recruiting-violent-criminals-gang-members-drugs-europe-new-crime-terror-nexus-report-drugs-a7352271.html [Accessed 5th January 2018]

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What Interventionists get wrong about Venezuela

Venezuela IR Today Photo

Carly Greenfield is a third year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America.

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela has received mass media attention across the West, particularly in the United States (US). The crisis began following a Supreme Court attempt in March to dissolve the legislative branch and the subsequent protests against this decision. This event is seen as the origin of the crisis, with the death toll for the following five months amounting to around 130 people. The death toll, human rights violations, and lack of access to basic commodities has caused outcry from countries in the Americas and Europe and supranational organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). Some human rights advocates have even gone so far as to call for humanitarian intervention, or for the UN to invoke Responsibility to Protect (R2P). US President Donald Trump, in particular, has not shied away from the possibility of military intervention, even while others in the administration show a level of caution. This brash language shows a misunderstanding of R2P, a misunderstanding of the crisis and of the political landscape in Venezuela.


R2P relies on three pillars, the first being that the state holds the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For pillars two or three to be fulfilled, one of these crimes would have to be occurring. Analyzing these four atrocities, it is clear that the violence in Venezuela has not reached the threshold to move past the first pillar. War crimes require the state to be in a time of war, which Venezuela is not. Acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing both require the targeting of a specific population, with ethnic cleansing specifically requiring the targeting of an ethnic or religious group, which has not been documented in Venezuela. While some may argue that a particular political group is under threat, political affiliation or orientation is not a ‘protected’ status under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The only crime which R2P advocates may utilize as evidence of a breach of Pillar One, then, is crimes against humanity, but crimes against humanity have a less established definition than the three other crimes. To prove that crimes against humanity should not be the defining term used for the violence in the Venezuelan crisis, it is important to understand the cases where it already has been used.

Officials have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity in multiple trials, starting with the infamous Nuremburg Trials. The definition of the crimes has shifted over time, particularly following the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and has therein reached a broad definition under customary international law. Crimes against humanity span murder, rape, enslavement, imprisonment, disappearance, persecution, and other heinous crimes. The requirement that has been repeated across all three trials was that the crimes were systematic and widespread. This is the main problem with defining the violence, specifically state-led violence, as crimes against humanity. While murder, disappearance, and imprisonment have all been utilized by the Venezuelan government, these crimes have not occurred in the past five months at a widespread level. The 130 deaths include pro-government protesters and police officers, not only counter protesters killed by their government. Although the majority of the deaths are citizens, it does not constitute a level that could be conceived as widespread. Given the bulk of killings committed yearly by government forces across the globe, particularly in this region, it seems odd for Venezuela to be such an outstanding case of crimes that it merits intervention. While this should not be a case of what-about-ism, finite resources should bring into question which countries are worth intervening in and where the largest human rights abuses are occurring. Is Venezuela the worst current global humanitarian crisis?

It is important to note that the lack of existence of crimes against humanity does not make these deaths any more bearable by the deads’ loved ones or by the citizens of Venezuela. Criticism and protest of this government should be expected when governmental use of force is excessive and violence fills the streets. What it does show, instead, is that these murders do not constitute any crime that R2P is based upon. Intervention based on R2P, therefore, seems a moot point.

Some sources have seen evidence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights. For instance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein lambasted the Maduro regime with accusations of torture, arbitrary detention, and the responsibility of at least 70 murders during the crisis.

Yet even if the international community were to decide that there is proof of crimes against humanity in Venezuela, collective use of force would be unlikely to succeed—the general crime rate, separate from the government’s crackdown, has skyrocketed over the last two years, making it difficult for forces to adequately enforce a peace between the government and its citizens. Indeed, Caracas was named the most violent city in the world outside of a warzone in both 2015 and 2016. The inability to predict a successful intervention should cause pause for those advocating intervention as a stoppage to the violence.

US Intervention in Latin America

While the US is unlikely to intervene in Venezuela unilaterally, the history of US intervention in Latin America does not bode well for a positive response to intervention by the Venezuelan public or by other countries in the region. Since the US sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as one of the permanent five (P5) members, the US would explicitly vote in favor or against military action in Venezuela, most likely voting in favor. This would send a clear message to US allies and non-allies alike in the region that the US is not done meddling in regional affairs. For context: the US has supported, financially, militarily, and with clandestine intelligence, paramilitary groups and governments that have been accused and, in specific cases, convicted of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial murders, massacres, and political persecution. This includes, but is not limited to, the Dirty Wars under Argentina’s military regime, the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile, the genocidal military counterinsurgency mission in the Guatemalan Civil War, and countless other exposed covert operations. This pattern has made Latin American governments, particularly Leftist ones, hostile to US involvement in their countries.

On the 13th of August US Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the region to meet with Latin American leaders. President Trump’s commentary on intervention in Venezuela loomed large. The response could not be clearer. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a regional ally, candidly said:

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered. The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future.”

A US-associated intervention would begin at a deficit in popularity with the local population and regional governments, making the future for peace even more arduous. The current administration’s stance on the crisis is unlikely to create any real change, either.

Divisive Venezuelan Society

One of the main barriers to understanding the crisis is the current narrative, which propagates a bifurcated choice between the Maduro regime and the innocent population. The Maduro regime has made steps to consolidate power socially and politically. It has shut down independent press organizations, most recently two Colombian news channels, and with its newly founded Constituent Assembly has begun stripping the Opposition-controlled legislature of its powers. Earlier this month, Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely on charges of breaching democratic norms and the deepening crisis. The ongoing food and medicine shortages have caused crises within hospitals and multi-hour queues at state-run grocery stores. Basic commodities, like bread, are difficult to find. Corruption charges continue. Neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil have seen large migration flows, Colombia seeing hundreds of thousands in the last two years.

And yet three million people still voted in the constituent assembly election for pro-regime candidates. A lack of support for Maduro is not a lack of support for socialism, nor a condemnation of Chavismo. This is the main sticking point. Much like young Cubans fleeing Cuba in search of opportunities in the US, the majority of Venezuelans are not fleeing oppression but rather fleeing hunger. The lack of food and the radical levels of inflation, leaving the bolivar worthless, are the primary reasons for migration and discontent. As Opposition lawmaker Gaby Arrellano has recognized, missteps by the political class, both Left and Right, has not given the Venezuelan population much choice.

While the Opposition gained a majority in the legislative branch in 2016, the first time in 16 years, it was swept in on anti-regime sentiments, not necessarily pro-Opposition ones. This distinction means that an intervention that would replace the Maduro regime with an Opposition controlled regime would not be inherently more popular. The Opposition has not stayed fully unified throughout the crisis, either: the group fractured over whether to take part in the constituent assembly. In the end, they held their own unofficial plebiscite, but still did not take part in the Constituent Assembly. The ongoing political crisis is not simply a difference between the Maduro regime and the Opposition’s governing decisions.


The crisis in Venezuela has not bettered through the battering of the Venezuelan economy. The Maduro regime has only further dug in its heels, making cries of US imperialism and threats to Venezuela’s sovereignty to the public. An intervention that seems almost inherently based in regime change would not be welcome by the Venezuelan population nor by countries in the region. The focus should be on mitigating widespread suffering, primarily on medical cases and cases of starvation.

The Venezuelan-Colombian border is already very porous. While the Maduro regime will not accept aid from the United States nor make any major economic shifts, regional leaders and the UN could assist by creating food banks on the Colombian side of the border so that Venezuelans could have access to necessary goods without paying for them. Furthermore, medical camps in neighboring countries could also begin to help the sick. Concerns of the expanding crisis could be further mitigated by financially supporting neighboring states so they are better able to handle the influx of Venezuelans looking to temporarily migrate or access the market.

The upcoming October election should also be a focal point: the UN and regional leaders should look to negotiate with the Venezuelan government so as to support a free and open election that could see the possibility of peaceful and democratic regime change. There is much more that can be done to support those suffering from the crisis without the cost of intervention.


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3rd Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide


Article by Barbora Mrazova, 2nd year BA International Relations at KCL, currently volunteer with the STEP-IN project in Iraq

3rd of August is a sad day for all Yazidis, especially those that live in northern Iraq. Also, for all of us, who watch them remembering it. Three years ago, a Yazidi genocide by the Islamic State happened with the international community standing by. Before Yazidi people suffered 72 genocides – but this was the first one in the 21st century.

 Yazidis are a minority group, mostly living in Northern Iraq. Before the genocide on August 3rd, 2014, many Yazidis were living around the Sinjar mountain east of Mosul. Some in the surrounding villages and some in the Sinjar city. They were forced to flee their homes after ISIS started to take over their territories and there was no one left to protect these defenseless people.

 As a result, they ran onto the Sinjar mountain. People were running (the majority of Yazidis don’t have a car) and behind them ISIS was chasing them on Toyotas. They had no other option, since ISIS surrounded the mountain from all sides. For a few long days, they were without water, food, shelter, or another set of clothes. US, UK, and Australia made some emergency airdrops of canned food and water to people trapped on the Sinjar mountain, but it was too little and too late. Some never accessed these airdrops.

 Everyone was desperate. First of all, from dehydration and hunger but also because there was no access to news and they did not know what is actually going on around the mountain. Then, people started to receive messages, that ISIS is taking women and children to captivity and executing men right on the spot.

 On August 5, 2014 Vian Dakhil, Iraqi Kurdish MP, delivered a speech in the Iraqi parliament on behalf of the Yazidis that were trapped on the Sinjar mountain. She said: “I beg you, Mr. Speaker, my people are being slaughtered… For the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged on mountain Sinjar without food or water. They are dying… Our women are being taken captive and sold on the slave-market… Stop this massacre.” After this very emotional speech, full of tears, Dakhil almost collapsed. Nevertheless, she brought the international attention to the terrible atrocities that were carried out by the hands of Islamic State on Yazidis.

 This genocide resulted in a huge number of deaths and even greater number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Up to this day, some Yazidis have already returned to their destroyed homes, but the majority is staying in camps like Dawoodyia or Cabartoo located in Kurdistan region of Iraq.


Children of Dawoodyia camp, waiting until the exhibition will start. 

Today, on August 3, 2017, STEP-IN contributed with a small exhibition to a commemorate day of the genocide in Dawoodyia camp. For us in STEP-IN, it was one of the saddest experiences from our time in Iraq. This feeling of powerlessness to help people that came was crushing. Especially when we have seen those, whose personal stories we know. It was very hard to see little children with posters in their hands, on which there were pictures of mass graves with bodies of their families, neighbors and friends from their villages posted by ISIS on social media. Also, they had printed pictures with faces of those men that were killed right on the spot by ISIS, or even a picture of parents holding their beheaded daughter.

There are no words to describe what Yazidi people went through. We cannot understand their pain when they remember the day of the genocide. We can only try.

 During the exhibition, I wanted to do a short interview with Mukhtar (the leader of the people) of Dawoodyia camp. He tried very hard to at least explain in a few sentences what happened on this day. But then tears started to run down his face. He apologized but could not continue. One of our employees tried to finish but the same repeated. The memories are still too painful. Yazidi people suffered too much.


Young girl holding a flag of Kurdistan and wearing a head bandana with the date of the genocide during the exhibition

We ask ourselves: What can we do for them? Not much. But what we can do, we will. STEP-IN’s mission right now, among others, is to provide primary healthcare for people living in Dawoodyia camp. We are aware, that this is only a drop in the sea, but if we can help to at least a few people, we will continue to do so.

It does not matter whether we are Christians, Muslims or Yazidis, Iraqis or Europeans. We are all humans. Therefore, we must act human and help each other as much as we can, regardless of our differences.


A photo from the exhibition in Dawoodyia camp, Kurdish part of Iraq



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A violent peace: El Salvador 25 years on


Carly Greenfield is a second year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America.

El Salvador, a state of little more than 6 million people, often falls below the radar in the 21st century. However, 25 years ago, El Salvador was ending a 12-year civil war that had ushered it into a violent Cold War paradigm and brought global media attention along with it. Today, El Salvador is the battleground for deadly gang warfare and a hardened state presence. While the peace deal of 1992 ensured an end to the conflict, Salvadorans have not been able to cultivate a peaceful society. In 2015, San Salvador hosted the third highest murder rate in the world: with its population hovering around 1.7 million, almost a third of all Salvadorans have been forced to make this a part of their daily lives. The peace deal failed to create a peaceful state due to an inability to remedy the conflict’s roots of inequality and injustice, failure to persecute military members following the deal, and a failure to address the trauma experienced by local communities. Along with a lack of political will, El Salvador has faced the same abject poverty as its neighbor states and extreme levels of emigration towards the United States (US), leading to an excess in crime rates.

The civil war was fought between the Government of El Salvador and Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), but its roots lay much further back in El Salvador’s history. Like most of Latin America, Spain dominated El Salvador for over 300 years until its full independence in 1838. This laid down a system built around natural goods such as indigo and sugarcane and the need for a peasant population to farm it. Following independence, as in the colonial period, a group of elites held almost all of the wealth in the country. In the 19th century, they amassed control of the economy through the farming of a new crop: coffee. Economic disparity grew and in the 20th century, peasant revolts became increasingly common, leading to brutal crackdowns by the government. As El Salvador swung from one military dictatorship to the next and social mobility stayed practically impossible, the growth of leftist guerrilla movements was expected. Like in neighboring states Nicaragua and Guatemala, the 1970s and 1980s became ground zero for revolutionary politics.

El Salvador’s civil war lasted from 1980 to 1992, leaving over 75,000 people dead and thousands more displaced from their homes. It was notorious for death squads, the use of child soldiers, and various other human rights violations. Thousands had fled to neighboring countries, chief among them the United States. The US, who had backed the Salvadoran government during the war, would play a key part in both the peace deal and its ensuing breakdown. Following the 1989 Jesuit massacre, and the US no longer supplying the government with weapons but rather calling for an end to the conflict, the government and FMLN brokered a peace deal. Although the peace deal succeeded in ending the violent civil war and incorporating FMLN into the political system, economic goals of the peace agreement were less successful. Along with this, a lack of funding for government programs reincorporating child soldiers or supporting communities most affected by the atrocities kept areas from healing.

Within the peace accord, several agreements have been breached or not followed closely— Chapter 1, Armed Forces, facing the most challenges. Point 5, End to Impunity, gave the Commission on the Truth power to end impunity for armed actors involved in human rights abuses. However, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amnesty law that protected all military and guerrilla forces from prosecution in 1993, undercutting the Commission on the Truth, leaving many victims without anyone to hold to account. To this end, the entrance of the FMLN into the president’s office in 2009 led to the removal of the blanket amnesty law, yet still few cases have been prosecuted. Now, at the 25th anniversary, prosecutions are becoming less and less likely, meaning the justice side of the conflict remains unfulfilled, keeping the country from experiencing total peace. With Point 6 of Chapter 1, Public Security Forces, the government has loosened the regulations set out in the peace accord. While the peace accord set about creating a police force controlled by civilian authorities, rather than allowing the military to conduct the policing within El Salvador, the government has instead militarized its police. Though the primary role of the national civil police was shaped around safeguarding peace, anti-gang policies have been more offensive than defensive in nature. In the first decade of the 2000s, El Salvador’s leadership developed the manu duro policy (iron fist). President Antonio Saca brought more force to the program and labeled it super mano duro. These policies led to increased police presence in El Salvador along with heavier weapons and the legal ability to take harsh methods against suspected gang members, therein beginning to blur the line carefully set out by the peace accords. In 2015, the government labeled street gangs as terrorist organization— a step that proponents said was fitting, given how the gangs terrorize the local population and seek to undermine the government. What this decision also does, however, is expand police rights to round up any person with a gang-related tattoo, as being a member of a gang is now illegal. Searches and raids rose and stories began to crop up of police abuse and overzealousness, but few arrests were made inside the police force. The government’s ability to seek justice as it sees fit is reminiscent of the civil war, making some civil society activists uncomfortable. As many gangs are most active in poor neighborhoods, it is those people who are most affected by gang violence and extortion and government abuse, rekindling the divide between the poor and the heavily armed police.

Point 11 called for the suspension of forcible recruitment: children disappeared throughout the conflict and many were coerced or forced into fighting, leaving a generation with few skills outside of war. While the government has taken steps to protect children, the gangs recruit boys as young as 10 to serve as lookouts and informants throughout the country. Recruitment into a street gang should be treated as a similar crime to that named in the peace accord since most of the gang members are young and die early. The government’s inability to protect its youth shows that the peace accord has not been implemented in its entire scope, made more acute due to a lack of finances.

The El Salvador peace deal, like many other peace deals, focused on resolving the conflict at hand and less with the structural issues going on inside El Salvador. Still, Chapter 5 sought to answer “the agrarian problem.” Land reform occurred to give workers more access to the wealth being gained from the earth they till and more peasants were able to buy land. Still, wages did not rise substantially, and an elite few continue to amass a critical amount of the wealth. The space left between peace accords and truth commissions following conflict leaves substantial room for economic structures to remain in place even while they are often a focal point of the conflict. The failure of the government to set significant reforms in place means that many Salvadorans face similar economic pressures as those prior to the civil war.

It would be incorrect to claim, however, that El Salvador is wholly responsible for its homicide rate or gang epidemic. The role of the US in Salvadoran politics was a main hindrance to peace within the state during the civil war, and its support of the original peace deal was mainly in pursuit of its own national interest. Now, as the international community looks to how El Salvador can lower its homicide rate, it should really be analyzing US immigration policy. The practices that gangs employ have their origins in Los Angeles, not in Soyapongo.

Thousands of Salvadorans escaped the country during the civil war, particularly young men avoiding being brought in to fight. Many fled to the US, albeit without the proper documentation, and settled in Los Angeles. The adolescents noticed the street culture already prevalent in the city at the time, particularly the gang rivalry between the Bloods and the Crips. This gave birth to la Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, and one of the main gangs in El Salvador today. While the gang was formed in Los Angeles, it ended up back in El Salvador: the US government, cracking down on illegal immigration, deported thousands of Salvadorans back to El Salvador following the peace accord. Since the US prioritizes deporting those with criminal records, gang members were the perfect example of what the government wanted to get out of the country. So although the young men were raised in American streets, the US took no responsibility for their behavior, and gang culture was exported to El Salvador along with the people. Since most of these men had little connection to El Salvador, they were difficult to integrate, notwithstanding all of the other issues that the country was facing. US foreign policy towards El Salvador, laden with hypocrisy for decades, has only furthered the destabilization of the small country. By only understanding the civil war through the Cold War, it supported brutal government tactics and furthered the endless bloodshed. The deportation of young gang members and the separation of families across borders continue to put Salvadorans at risk. Furthermore, when the US saw an increase in unaccompanied minors entering the US in 2014, they were careful not to label them refugees, even though they were escaping the deadliest region outside of a warzone. As El Salvador continues to grapple with its rival gangs, the US continues its deadly deportation policy.

What does this all mean, in the context of a 25 year-old peace deal? Small states do not have full agency in their policymaking if they are not afforded it by larger states, such as in the US-El Salvador relationship. The violence in El Salvador should also serve as a reminder of the importance of financial power to put in place post-conflict programs that emphasize reintegration, community building, and job opportunities. Impunity serves no one but those who committed the crimes, even if it is being done in the name of healing and moving on. Furthermore, governments must conduct their own commissions to reform long-established obstacles: while truth commissions may bring victims’ voices to light, and peace accords disarm the opposition, there continues to be no exact model for addressing the long-term grievances of oppressed groups, especially in postcolonial states. The peace accord may have ended the civil war, but it was unable to provide stability or lead to civil society involvement that could have created a peace that meant more than simply the absence of war.


















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The Colombian Peace Process: Understanding the “NO” Vote

by Sofia Liemann Escobar, a second year War Studies student from Colombia. She is currently the treasurer of the KCL Latin American Society. Her main interests include security, Latin America and organised crime.



“True peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the presence of justice”

– Jane Addams, 1931 Nobel prize winner


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“Without justice, there is no peace”


On the 2nd of October, Colombians will be deciding if they support the agreement that has been reached between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. To many outsiders it is hard to understand why anyone could reject the agreements that as President Santos has proclaimed, will bring “a sustainable and durable peace” to Colombia. However, if they were to look closer to what is being agreed upon they might begin to understand why many Colombians are skeptical and against the proposed 297-page long agreement.


The FARC are a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that have been involved in a conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. Whist their aim has been to topple the government to impose a communist regime, their means to accomplish this, including its financing, has made them criminals. They are responsible for 70% of Colombia’s cocaine production, which amounts to 40% of the world’s production [1]. In addition, they have been using other criminal methods such as kidnappings, extortions and illegal mining to finance their operations. The methods that they have used against soldiers, government officials and civilians have labelled them as terrorists. They have used bombs and mines to kill and terrorize innocent civilians. They are also responsible for the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers in the conflict, and have committed sexual crimes against women and young girls who were forcibly taken away from their homes. Despite the amount of harm, which they have brought to Colombia, they only represent around 0.03% [2] of the population.


This agreement that has been under negotiation for over 4 years in Havana has generated hope for peace amongst many Colombians, whilst creating serious concerns to others. For many people abroad the news of an agreement being reached on the 25th of August created great anticipation, thus making it hard to understand why anyone would have issues with it. When taking a closer look, the huge concessions that were made in favour of FARC become evident, and the much-awaited peace becomes questionable. Each Colombian has their own concern regarding the agreement depending on their values and fears. People with low incomes are generally upset that the government will pay FARC to demobilise, when they haven’t received any support from the government despite them being honest citizens. Others are concerned that those who have committed serious crimes will be eligible for appointment in public service. Whilst others are frustrated that the Colombian government will be imposing taxes to implement the agreements, whereas FARC are not required to give up their criminally earned fortune. There are many more issues with the agreement, but there is one in particular that has been very controversial: justice, or the lack thereof, especially in the cases of crimes against humanity.


Even though it is expected that in peace processes there is a more lenient approach to justice, it does not mean that the perpetrators of serious crimes should not go to jail, even for a reduced sentence. The government has claimed that there will be no amnesty and pardon for those who committed crimes against humanity. According to the agreements, if the perpetrators confess the crime, they get an “alternative sentence”. The agreement is ambiguous with what the sentence is, but clarifies that under no circumstance would it be jail or prison. However, if they don’t tell the truth, they go to jail for 20 years, and if they speak up at the last minute they get 8 years (article 60)[3]. The problem with this approach is that the “alternative sentence” is not a proportional punishment for the crimes they have committed. The danger in this agreement is that those who are actually innocent can end up going to jail if they don’t “tell the truth”, and those who are guilty of massacres, bombings, kidnappings, child-soldier recruitment, rape and extortion will get to confess their crimes and get awarded essentially a jail-free card. Human Rights Watch has highlighted that this agreement will “guarantee impunity for those responsible of crimes against humanity”[4]. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch has denounced that allowing “confessed and convicted war criminals to be ‘punished’ by no more than orders for community service is grotesquely insufficient” [5]. It is interesting that in a recent opinion poll analysis by Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz, it paradoxically showed that whilst on average 40% of Colombians would be willing to sacrifice justice for peace, only around 11% would accept FARC members not going to jail[6].


Another dimension into the problem of justice is that it provides amnesty to drug trafficking. It will be the biggest money laundering operation that the world will have seen, as the government has accepted that drug trafficking is a related offence to political crimes (article 39)[7]. There is no mention in the 297 pages of FARC having to use their fortune to restore their victims.  The FARC are the third richest terrorist organization in the world[8]. Most of that money has been gained through the cocaine business. If the government is unable to bring the biggest drug cartel to justice, how will they have the authority to prosecute other cartels and drug traffickers in the country?


Just as worrying as the many other dubious and deceiving clauses in the agreement, is the inappropriate use of democratic mechanisms to disguise the imposition of the agreement. The congress, which is controlled by the President, approved the Legislative Act for Peace. A modification to the constitution to give “security and legal stability” to the process [9] by shielding the agreements so future governments will be unable to change them. It will also be elevated to special status under the Geneva conventions, therefore treating it as an international agreement despite FARC being a non-state actor. Furthermore, it grants special powers to the president so he can expedite decrees that will fast-track the implementation of new laws and the changes in the constitution. A process that normally requires 8 debates in congress, will be reduced to 4. In addition, the proposals brought by the president can not be modified without his consent, and as a result the congress will lose its raison d’être. In order to put this in effect, Colombians must support the plebiscite,  which is polemic in itself as the threshold has been lowered from 50% to 13%. It is astonishing to see how the government slowly changes the constitution to suit a terrorist group.


It is a misconception that the peace process under the agreed terms will stop the conflict in Colombia. The reality is that even if FARC are gone, violence is very likely to continue as long as the drug trafficking business continues. The agreement will not bring an end to this trade [10]. There are already signs that other organised crime groups are moving into old FARC territory and taking over their criminal economies. In the past few weeks ELN, Colombia’s 2nd largest guerrilla force, has increased their kidnapping and extortion activities. They also announced that they would be having an armed strike in six departments of Colombia [11]. Many have argued that in saying “yes” to this agreement, an opportunity is given to those who have suffered the most to live in peace. The sad reality is that many of these people will not see that peace because soon they will be overrun by other criminal groups that will be extorting, kidnapping and killing. Unfortunately, the agreement fails to properly deal with the issue of drug trafficking. President Santos claims that the FARC will help to eradicate coca crops, but it is hard to see this happening when taking into account the fact that during the negotiating of the peace process, Colombia once again gained the status as the major cocaine producer in the world [12]. In fact, last week President Barack Obama highlighted Colombia’s 42% increase in coca crop cultivations between 2014 and 2015 [13].


Colombians that are voting NO, are not warmongers. They are concerned citizens who see the risks of the agreement, and want a renegotiation on some of the critical aspects of the agreement. Santos has said this is impossible, and threatened that war would prevail if the outcome is a no. If that is the case, then it is proof that FARC were not in it to end the conflict in the first place. As the counterinsurgency academic, David Spencer, puts it: these “peace negotiations are part of a plan [for the FARC] to take power: they are not a means to end the conflict but rather to transform it” [14]. Spencer also points out that FARC’s petitions do not resemble those of an organization that wants to reintegrate back into society, “but rather those of one attempting to dictate at the negotiating table the terms of a peace that it was unable to win on the battlefield” [15]. This agreement opens the door for the populist left that have put fellow Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela in complete chaos.


All Colombians want peace- but is it worth sacrificing justice and democracy for this distorted version? Would other countries be happy agreeing to the same terms with the terrorists that harmed and terrorized them?


[1] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].


[2] Latest FARC numbers (15,700) / Colombian Population (48,814,452) x 100= 0.03%. Information obtained from http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/guerrilla-las-farc-contaria-15700-hombres & http://countrymeters.info/es/Colombia


[3] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html


[4] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to Curb Abuses< https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].


[5] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to CurbAbuses<https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].


[6] Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz (2016) El Termometro de la Paz <http://www.ideaspaz.org/especiales/termometro/#p3> [accessed 17 September 2016].


[7] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html


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[9] CNN Español (2016, Junio 2) Congreso de Colombia aprueba reforma constitucional para blindar acuerdo de paz en La Habana < http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/06/02/congreso-aprueba-reforma-constitucional-para-blindar-acuerdo-de-paz-en-la-habana/> [accessed 17 September 2016].

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[11] Noticias RCN (2016, September 11) ELN anunció paro armado de 72 horas en seis departamentos < http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/eln-anuncio-paro-armado-72-horas-seis-departamentos>[accessed 17 September 2016].

[12]Miroff, Nick (2015, November 10) Colombia is again the World’s Top Coca Producer.Here’s why that’s a blow to the US. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-a-blow-to-us-policy-colombia-is-again-the-worlds-top-producer-of-coca/2015/11/10/316d2f66-7bf0-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

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[14] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 137.

[15] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 147







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