Cleaved and Clamored: The Crisis in Cameroon

On Tuesday, November 5th, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event alongside Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative to present Herman Cohen (former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs) and Dr. Fontem Neba  (Secretary General of Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium). During their panel discussion, Cohen and Neba discussed the history of Cameroon, ongoing Anglophone discrimination, and potential resolutions to end the conflict.

As one of the most prominent voices advocating for Anglophone rights, Dr. Neba spoke directly about the atrocities taking place in Cameroon because he was recently detained for nine months after being charged with terrorism. Followed by its establishment as a federation in 1961 and an illegal referendum in 1972 that unified the Francophone majority (~80%) in the north and Anglophone minority (~20%) in the south, Cameroon has endured significant conflict. With political power most harbored in the north, Anglophone Cameroonians have experienced pressure to assimilate and prevention to secede, which led to a civil war in 2016 that has been riddled with human rights violations. More specifically, the Cameroonian military has permeated the south with their influence by committing heinous acts such as destroying Anglophone schools, burning crops, and murdering separatists. As a result, these acts have led to famine, homelessness, and institutional instability throughout the south. Additionally, thousands have been jailed for speaking out against the Franchophone government, while approximately a half-million are internally displaced and another 40,000 have sought refuge in Nigeria.

Neba describing Cameroon’s geographic division. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Cohen then spoke about the crisis in Cameroon by drawing parallels with Eritrea which Ethiopia turned  a province before it eventually became an independent country. Although, the international community has been passive about the events unfolding in Cameroon. One exception is none other than the Trump Administration, which signed an executive order last month that effectively removed Cameroon from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. As a result, this action prevents Cameroon from profiting off duty free sales to the U.S. Additionally, south Cameroonians have found an Anglophone ally in Nigeria, making the prior impervious to defeat, while north Cameroonians have been increasingly critical of their government because they are not benefiting from the country’s strong economy. Thus, Cohen argues the U.S. is in the unique position to mediate a resolution. However, the Trump Administration has adopted an isolationist position, which currently places the U.S. distant from potential negotiations. Following, he suggested that the Cameroonian diaspora in U.S. should write letters to their local representatives and urge a cease-fire agreement.

After their presentations, Cohen and Neba took questions from an appalled audience. Addressing a question about the realistic options in our current political environment, Cohen insisted the United Nations Security Council must initiate negotiations and that it must be settled between warring factions; his personal suggestion is that they return to a federation relationship. Additionally, Cohen responded to a question that mentioned the role of former colonial powers, where he mentioned that Great Britain is currently distracted by Brexit, while France, despite reluctance from southern Cameroonians, is taking initiative to mediate the conflict. When asked how geopolitics, namely natural resources, influence this conflict, Neba claimed south Cameroon is rich in cocoa and timber as well as a fevered, educated populace. Although, he argued the region cannot become economically independent because their oil supply, which is on the border, is property of the government. In response, a passionate audience member, and Cameroon native, insisted south Cameroon, much like other small countries, can be independent without an oil industry.

Cohen answering an audience question. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Cohen argued this crisis has potential to become a “Rwanda situation”, but, thankfully, a potential resolution doesn’t require money or soldiers. However, the current trajectory of this crisis primarily lays in the hands of Cameroon (who is persistent on military intimidation), Nigeria (who has enabled separatists in the south), and the U.S. (who has implemented economic sanctions). Thus, these conflicting narratives put human rights advocates in the position to highlight this pressing issue whether it be mentioning it on social media, writing to your local representative, or donating to humanitarian relief.

International Women’s Day: Continuing the Fight while Celebrating the Victories

a picture of Peruvian women in front of a mountain range
Peru. Women in the Colca valley. Source: Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons

Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” In her context statement about the theme, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states that the changing world continues to shape the lives of people and “we have to be intentional about its use to positively impact the lives of women and girls. [The theme] puts innovation at the centre of efforts to reflect the needs and viewpoints of women and girls and to resolve barriers to public services and opportunities.” Innovation highlights the game-changers and activists willing to “accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls.” The goal of today is to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and girls who seek to overcome their marginalized status in their communities, level the representation across various academic disciplines and professional fields and undo the cycles of intersectional injustices to bring about a more equitable world.

History

What started as a response to a women’s labor strike in New York 1909 became an international movement to honor the rights of women and to garner support for universal women’s suffrage. In 1913-14, International Women’s Day was a tactic to protest World War I as a part of the peace movement. The UN adopted 8 March as the official date in 1975 during the International Year of Women. Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is Sustainable Development Goal #5 in 2015.

Celebrating some game-changers and activists

The list below is not extensive. Its purpose is to assist you in your search to discover and know what women are doing and have done around the world.

Kiara Nirghin: Won Google Science Fair for creating an orange and avocado peel mixture to fight against drought conditions around the world. She will join Secretary-General António Guterres.

Elizabeth Hausler: Founder of BuildChange.org, an organization that trains builders, homeowners, and governments to build disaster-resistant homes in nations often affected by earthquakes and typhoons.

Jaha Dujureh: Founder of SafeHandsforGirls.org, an organization fighting to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

BlackGirlsCode.com: A San Francisco based organization seeking to increase the number of girls from marginalized communities in STEM fields by 2040.

Shakhodat Teshebayeva: When the water crisis threatened her livelihood, she organized and mobilized a women’s group to advocate for a place for women at the discussion table regarding equal access to water.

Mila Rodriguez: Cultivates safe spaces for young people to use music to promote peace in Colombia.

Wangari Maathai: late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who initiated the GreenBeltMovement.org by planting trees for the cultivation of sustainable development and peace.

Next Einstein Forum: Continental STEM forum in Africa

Una Mulale: the only pediatric critical care doctor in Botswana who works to combine medicine and art to bring healing to the body and the soul.

The Ladypad Project

This coming week, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter and Dr. Stacy Moak will take 12 UAB students to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The team, in collaboration with the I See Maasai Development Initiative, will fund education on women’s health rights and provide 1500 girls with materials, including underwear and reusable pads, for menstrual hygiene management. The project was awarded a grant through Birmingham’s Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation.

Continuing the Fight

International Women’s Day is not only about celebrating the accomplishments of women and girls, but it is also about shining a light on the continuing injustices faced by more than half of the world’s population. From femicide and early marriage to FGM and sexual violence and exclusion from peace talks, gender inequity discounts the contribution of women and girls to the overall value of humanity. Kofi Annan, the late UN Secretary-General, posited that the empowerment of women proves more effective than any other tool for development. Noeleen Heyzer concludes that although there are women’s issues and rights still to be raised and respected, including those outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, there are many that we must continue to protect. March is Women’s History Month and our contributors will write about issues that continue to impact the lives of women and girls around the world.

 

Disarmament: Redefining the Power Perspective

**In light of yesterday’s announcement to withdraw from another international accord, the US, once again, positions itself as unwilling to cooperate with and participate in the international community. This blog is a repost from the fall. 

a picture of an abandoned nuclear bombs storage in Germany
Nuclear Weapons Depot S (1). Source: Jan Bommes, Creative Commons

Talks surrounding disarmament and nuclear weapons, including threats by North Korea against Japan, South Korea, Guam, and the US, are in abundance of late. However, the decision of the Nobel Peace Prize community to award this year’s prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a key development in the disarmament conversation, seems to have fallen by the wayside. Gene Sharp, a nonviolence theorist, demands, “A reexamination of the problem of war and the possible means for its solution must begin with a recognition of the failure of past movements and the proposals for the abolition of war.” In laymen’s term: the repetition inherent in the conversations of the status quo surrounding war, defense, and the military prove little in their manifestation of peace and its maintenance on a national and global level. To this end, he argues for a redefinition and reconceptualization of the true nature of war as it relates defense, deterrence, and peace. This blog briefly explains disarmament while celebrating the achievement of the organization and the treaty.

Disarmament consists of the reduction of and/or total elimination of military force and weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. International disarmament is an essential component in the creation of “global norms…vital to the sustainable development, quality of life, and ultimately the survival of the planet.” ICAN is a grassroots, cross-cultural, and international NGO movement taking the lead in “reshap(ing) the debate on nuclear weapons” by working with survivors of US atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dignitaries and actors, and the United Nations. On July 7, 2017, the UN General Assembly convened and negotiated a legally binding treaty calling for “multilateral disarmament negotiations… and establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as a political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Ambassadors from at least eight of the nuclear powerhouse countries were not in attendance.

The Global Peace Index (GPI) identifies China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the US as the least peaceful when accounting for the combined nuclear threat to international peace and security over the last seven years. “There has been a decline in militarization over the past three decades. Globally, the economic impact of violence…is enormous. Current peacebuilding spending on building peace is well below the optimal level”. GPI reveals an increase of resources utilized for the creation and containment of violence but few on the cultivation and maintenance of peace. Peacebuilding, whether domestically or internationally, does not appear as a priority of the current administration.

The majority of humanity understands the power of words; there are studies and reports confirming the power of positive confession and the purposeful use of written and spoken words. The word ‘peace’ appears in the US Government budget three times, whereas ‘defense’ appears 70. According to A New Foundation for American Greatness: Fiscal Year 2018 Budget for the US Government, the administration lays out the eight pillars of American reform and outlines a reprioritization of federal spending “to unleash the power of American work and creativity—and drive opportunity and faster economic growth… so that it advances the safety and security of the American people.” In other words, American creativity, work, opportunity, and growth is tied to the $639 billion US Defense budget with discretionary overview of $574.5 billion dollars–more than the combined proposed discretionary overview for the remaining cabinet departments, including education and labor. It is important to remember: discretionary allows a consumer to spend money on wants rather than on needs. The Defense budget sends a message to the world about the resolve and strength of America as a fulfillment of a Trump promise to focus on the safety of Americans from terrorists and other violent offenders.

a picture of an abandoned nuclear weapons depot in Germany
Nuclear weapons Depot S (4). Source: Jan Bommes, Creative Commons.

America, in the past as an international leader, bore much of the financial responsibility for multilateral cooperation. However, with the steady withdraw of financial support and non-appearances at UN agency meetings, the US government reaffirms its value for national defense over participating in creation of international peace and security for all. In their article, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, Schultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn argue the US has a unique opportunity to lead the way in reversing the global reliance on nuclear weapons. Written in 2007, they suggests nuclear weapons “were essential to maintaining national security during the Cold War…but reliance on for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly ineffective.” Highlighting the words of former US Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, they posit a bipartisan presidential agreement since Nixon regarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and remind how the Reagan-Gobachev agreement turned the conversation of arms race on its head. They conclude that a world without nuclear weapons because of multilateral cooperation aligns with the moral heritage of America.

Societies often equate defense with military; however, Sharp questions whether a redefinition of the function of the military in terms of deterrence or defense, can assist in the creation and acceptance of nonviolent solutions. Defense is employed as a function of “internal domination or is used to disguise for the home population what is in fact an attack on another country.” He establishes a need for the military while suggesting reliance on the military is the international symbol of an independent state unable to recognize: the provision of massive death and destruction, the inability of others to defend themselves against the impending destruction and death, and nonmilitary forms of resistance are possible as national defense. Unfortunately, the application of negative descriptions for alternatives to war render them passive, soft, submissive, and interdependent. In other words, the characterization of war and military power is masculine, and nonviolence and cooperation is feminine.

The unintended consequences of war heavily burden women and girls who “have responsibility and no power” due of the gendered division of labor, placing men in the public sphere and women in the private sphere. Antrobus postulates the intersectionality of the female life offers a unique perspective on the interplay of war and gender; the UN agrees. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons notes the disproportionate impact on women and girls, and indigenous people when considering the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of using nuclear weapons. Additionally, it reaffirms the principles of humanity as a public conscience, and recognizes the need for female participation in the peace process by supporting and strengthening the input of women as equal to men.

“Recognizing that the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men is an essential factor for the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security, and committed to supporting and strengthening the effective participation of women in nuclear disarmament.”

Boulding points out understanding and valuing the feminine perspective in a ‘male-dominated’ area requires men “in tune with the feminist redefinition of political goals and processes.” Collaboration can yield results, which extend beyond the short term through the identification of alternatives while working within the standardized international relations model. In short, the nature of peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping requires an egalitarian and gender equal value based partnership stance, capable of visualizing and verbalizing the long-term ramifications of short-term solutions on global humanity, rather than one nation and her citizens.

 

An American Peacemaker

In honor of the 50thAnniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Institute for Human Rights is publishing various outlooks on the life and contributions of Dr. King. This is the second entry in the series.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

photo of a dove midflight
peacemaker by Mohamed Mula, Creative Commons

The Peacemaker Defined

When confronted by a system permitting injustice, denying universal human rights, and thwarting peace for marginalized groups, many of us are deeply unsettled. To fully understand the destruction humans have wrought on one another is to simultaneously accept one’s own capacity to perpetuate evil in the world. Humans are capable of peace and war, justice and violence. A critical question arises here: what compels an individual to choose peace in the face of adversity? What inspires an individual to rise above violence, utilizing an ethos of peace as both a means and an end? In short, how can we become peacemakers?

Informed from many interviews of indigenous persons weaving peace from conflict, Marc Gopin offers the following personal traits that embody the peacemaker:

Responsibility; courage; independence; evangelical passion

A desire to inquire

A strong sense of ethnic roots that is combined paradoxically with universal love

Patience

Dignity

An embrace of love and the way of the heart as the key to peace

Emotional honesty

A consistent desire to seek out shared values across the boundaries of groups

A desire for leadership through social network creation

Long-term engagement with adversaries and faith in the value of ongoing debate and slow and steady influence

In Bridges Across an Impossible Divide, Gopin (2012) is quick to add that any and all of us can be peacemakers – if we so choose. It boils down to choice: choosing how to move through conflict, choosing to leave the world better than we found it.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Peacemaker

There is no doubt Dr. King ushered a new wholeness to American culture. His contributions to American society are legendary: leading the American Civil Rights Movement, raising collective American consciousness to address structural discrimination, and developing innovative strategies of nonviolent social protest still used throughout the globe. He taught a generation of civil and human rights footsoldiers, he constructed new theological language grounded in human equality, and he personally transformed the lives of those around him. He was a person of immense spiritual power– calling on his training as a man of the cloth to inform his philosophy and theology demanding racial equality in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is among the most prominent and revered peacemakers the world has ever seen.

Per Gopin’s definition, peacemaking describes not only works but also the personality of an individual. Being a peacemaker is not just directing policy change or charismatic leadership, but an ethos of resilient gentleness, and formidable commitment to the transformation of conflict to better the human experience. It is an understanding that peacemaking is not a vocation – it is a divine calling. Today, we remember that his faith and deeds literally transformed the soul of America. Dr. King was a true American peacemaker.

References

Gopin, M. (2012). Bridges across an impossible divide: The inner lives of Arab and Jewish peacemakers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peace as a Human Right in Somalia

A young woman holds the Somali flag during a demonstration by a local militia, formed to provide security in Marka, Somalia
A young woman holds the Somali flag during a demonstration by a local militia, formed to provide security in Marka, Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

The Declaration of the Right of Peoples to Peace, issued by the UN in 1984, “solemnly proclaims that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace.” Issued in the decade of extreme unrest in the nation of Somalia, this human right is particularly vulnerable in the war-torn state. In the past two hundred years, Somalia has been through an extremely complex series of conflicts that has included colonization, dictatorship, civil war, widespread violence, and UN intervention. Only declared to be no longer a failed state within the last year, Somalia is still in its fledging phase as an independent nation. Last week, Somalia elected its second president since the establishment of its current government, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. To understand the issues of today, first we must delve into the rich history of the nation.

Historical Background

The nation of Somalia was never originally a nation by its geographic boundaries today, but an area encompassing individual sovereign clans. In the late 19th century, in a period known as the “Scramble for Africa,” several European powers colonized the area as authorized by the Berlin Conference of 1884. The actors included Britain, colonizing the north-west area formerly known as Puntland, and Italy, colonizing the large area of Somaliland. France also conquered a small corner in the northeast. The colonizers were not interested in populating the area, but rather chose to exploit natural resources and use land for trade routes. The roots of the conflict begin here, as the European powers dismantle clan hierarchy and institute central governance. After World War II, the European powers begin to disengage and decolonize the area. In 1960, both Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland have both established independence from their former colonizers and then united, founding the United Republic of Somalia. This democratic state was successful for nine years, but the country succumbed to a coup by Mohamed Siad Barre.

Barre instituted a dictatorship under the new government, the Somali Democratic Republic. His reign, lasting for twenty years, amassed tremendous human rights abuses including targeted attacks on cultural groups and forced allegiance to the state (Metz 45-51). Caught in the middle of Cold War tensions, the country received funding and arms from both the Soviet Union and from the United States after the Soviet Union cut ties in the late 70’s. Cold War politics, when combined with post-colonial factions and the Ogaden War, proved to be a lethal blow to Barre’s dictatorship. The state collapsed in 1991, causing a power vacuum that provoked massive clan warfare. Within four months in the capital alone, “25,000 people [were killed], 1.5 million people fled the country, and at least 2 million were internally displaced.” Somalis know this period as burbur, or catastrophe (Bradbury and Healy).

United Nations Guard Unit guard of honor soldiers stand at attention infront of the Ugandan, United Nations and Somalia flags during the Inauguration of the United Nations Guard Unit in Somalia
United Nations Guard Unit guard of honor soldiers stand at attention infront of the Ugandan, United Nations and Somalia flags during the Inauguration of the United Nations Guard Unit in Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

UN Intervention

As one of the first large-scale humanitarian aid projects that the UN attempted, Somalia took the role of a laboratory of peace making and nation building. UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in Somalia) and their 30,000 troops did assist in stimulating economic and political infrastructure, aid in food security, and drive warring factions out of certain areas. However, the mission did not result in a conclusive peace settlement; it actually strengthened warlords and substantially increased terrorism. UNOSOM left in 1995 as an internationally known example of UN failure (Bradbury and Healy).

Women adorned in Somali flags celebrate Somalia's Independence Day at Konis stadium in Mogadishu on July 1. Today's celebrations mark 53 years since the Southern regions of Somalia gained independence from Italy and joined with the Northern region of Somaliland to create Somalia
Women adorned in Somali flags celebrate Somalia’s Independence Day at Konis stadium in Mogadishu on July 1. Today’s celebrations mark 53 years since the Southern regions of Somalia gained independence from Italy and joined with the Northern region of Somaliland to create Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

Movement towards Peace

The years following the departure of UNOSOM were neither peaceful nor war-struck. In fact, the rise of militant terrorist groups causes them to grab attention. A series of peace conferences hosted by neighboring countries attempted to find a solution for peace, but only successful session was the Mbagathi conference in 2004. The conference formed the Transitional Federal Government  (TFG) with the election of elected President Abdullahi Yusuf. The TFG was given a mandate to rule until the country was stable enough for independent governance. The mandate expired in 2012, and the election for the newly established Federal Government of Somalia began, resulting in the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Mohamud lead the country for the past five years, but lost the elections that occurred just last week. The newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali nationalist, is popular among the people and expected to bring an era of prosperity.

After the UN’s infamous failure in Somalia, outlook on global humanitarian aid became more critical. Though global aid operations became less popular, the need for assistance and justice did not die. It is of utmost importance that the global community keep a close watch on human rights abuses anywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Peace is an essential human right, and violation of that right is intolerable. Somalia’s outlook today is much brighter than it was twenty years ago; however, acts of terrorism and high levels of crime still plague the nation. President Mohamed may bring great things to the Somali people, but it is the duty of our global society to uphold the Somalians’ right to peace.