It’s 2013. For conflict analysts, the new year is a time for lists. In particular, those ubiquitous lists of “conflicts to watch,” which seem to pop up on the regular. While not “scientific,” per se, these lists provide a useful insight into policy priorities: both what policymakers are looking at, and what various organizations think they should be looking at. As STAND policy analyst Danny Hirschel-Burns, who made his own “conflicts to watch” list, observed, the Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) and the International Crisis Group’s(ICG) lists stuck out. CFR’s Preventive Priorities Survey, which spans the U.S. policy community, highlights key points of overlap between U.S. strategic interests and regional instability, whereas ICG’s watchlist identifies opportunities for conflict prevention.
As STAND moves into a new stage as an independent, self-sustaining organization, we’ll continue to advocate for human rights in our existing areas of concern: Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, and Syria. Given our global scope, however, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for additional opportunities to highlight civilian protection in U.S. foreign policy worldwide. In 2013, here are a few civilian protection crises that we’ll be watching.
Civil War in Syria
With both sides in Syria continually failing to reach political agreements, it seems unlikely that the Syrian civil war will find an end without thousands of more civilian deaths. As Syria reaches its two year mark, the opposition is gaining ground and the regime is slowly eroding. However, even if the regime falls, it is unlikely that peace will be found with the opposition in its current state. Today, the West seems more likely than ever to support the opposition, which could hasten the opposition’s control. As the Syrian regime becomes more desperate, the fear of chemical weapon use by both sides will become more salient, and an international intervention will become more likely.
Ethnic Violence in Nigeria
Nigeria’s violence represents a confluence of crises, many of which have plagued the country throughout its decade-and-a-half management of civilian rule. Throughout the past three years, the Nigerian government has struggled to contain the domestic consequences of Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgency which has emerged from Nigeria’s marginalized northern provinces. As Boko Haram’s operations fragment, and its attacks on civilian and military targets creep further south, Abuja will struggle to contain the organization’s impact on inter-communal violence in central Nigeria’s volatile Middle Belt region. To complicate matters, security services appear unable to uphold a civilian protection mandate, leaving civilians throughout northern Nigeria in the crosshairs.
Political Divisions in Sudan
Discontent in Sudan, both within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has been growing throughout 2012. The Sudanese government has cracked down on growing revolts in Khartoum over rising costs of living, targeting students protesting austerity measures, rising tuition costs, violence against female Darfuri students, and the recent murder of four male Darfuri students. The crackdown against peaceful protesters, the swift response to a possible coup attempt in late November, and the NCP’s political divisions show state weakness and point to more repression in the coming year. In addition to political tensions within the NCP, Khartoum continues to fight the Sudan Revolutionary Front, limiting access to humanitarian aid organizations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians into South Sudan.
State-Building in South Sudan
As the world’s newest state, South Sudan has witnessed border conflict with neighboring Sudan, inter-communal violence, and civilian discontent with state services. South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states are home to approximately 200,000 refugees from Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and conflict in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, caused by climate change and localized militarization, has internally displaced approximately 80,000 people. In addition to managing refugee and IDP influx, in 2013, South Sudan will need to improve its basic infrastructure, strengthen security, carry out a civilian disarmament campaign, and reach an agreement with Sudan on citizenship issues. Widespread poverty and South Sudan’s lack of funds for infrastructure and assistance are obstacles to these goals.
Continuing Instability in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
The M23 group in the eastern DRC, allegedly backed by bordering Rwanda and Uganda, has increased human rights abuses and internal displacement in the east, leading to the M23 takeover of Goma in late November. While peace talks have been initiated, violence in the region remains rampant, and the Congolese government does not have the capacity to address the longstanding security and governance issues that the east faces. Without a meaningful commitment to political and governance reform by the DRC government and with the continued meddling of Kigali in eastern Congo, the situation will likely continue in 2013.
Cartel Violence in Mexico
As we’ve observed, Mexico’s cartel violence is a challenging case for atrocity prevention advocates: clashes between cartels, as well as between cartels and Mexican security forces, appear criminal, yet mirror the scope and scale of civil conflicts elsewhere. Mexico’s cartel conflicts occur in the context of trans-regional drug trafficking, as well as the U.S. government’s efforts to limit the domestic reach of the illicit narcotics trade. Mexico’s new President Enrique Pena Nieto has indicated an interest in diffusing the country’s crisis, but has remained ambiguous on particular steps towards mitigating violent clashes between cartels and the security services. U.S. politics may also prove a decisive factor, as the second Obama administration ponders the implications of Colorado and Washington’s recent marijuana legalization referenda for domestic and international drug policy.
Electoral Violence in Kenya
During the three-month aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 presidential polls, a corrosive mix of elite competition and popular mobilization facilitated a devastating wave of electoral violence, which continues to drive Kenyan politics in 2013. As Kenya heads towards its next presidential contest, which will likely occur in March, the atrocity prevention community is looking for early warning signs of conflict outbreak. The Kenyan state appears incapable of containing outbreaks of violence at the local level, such as the recent inter-communal clashes in the coastal Tana River Delta. While post-2007 reforms have encouraged broader accountability within Kenyan politics, two International Criminal Court indictees, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, remain active participants in the current race.
Tentative Reforms in Burma
In the past year, Burma has undergone a series of political, economic and administrative reforms at the hands of the Myanmar government. Political prisoners have been released, labor laws introduced, censorship relaxed, and an independent National Human Rights Commission convened. While these signs are heartening, conflict between the Kachin and the Myanmar military continues in the north and the government seems to have little interest in negotiating peace between the Rakhine and Rohingya in the west. In light of the country’s recent reforms, the US has eased up on sanctions, and it will be important to protect resource-rich minority areas from entering corporate power.