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A Congolese Experience
Justine Brabant

Based on the author’s experience as both a journalist and an independent researcher working regularly in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this article examines the many constraints that journalists face in areas of armed conflict. It considers two unusual aspects of journalistic practice observed in the DRC: first, the reporters’ lexical dependence – that is, how the language journalists typically use to describe war is borrowed, sometimes unconsciously, from the war-related rhetoric developed in other fields – and second, journalists’ practical dependence on humanitarian organisations and how this might influence the articles they produce.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Military Tactic or Collateral Damage?
Abdulkarim Ekzayez and Ammar Sabouni

Nine years of continuous conflict in Syria have borne witness to various atrocities against civilians, some of which amount to war crimes. Most of the involved parties have committed such atrocities, but the Government of Syria (GoS) and its allies remain at the top of the list of perpetrators. Out of a population of 21 million in 2010, more than half a million Syrians were killed as of January 2019 with more than 13 million displaced either inside the country, in neighbouring countries or elsewhere. Moreover, civilian infrastructures, including but not limited to health, have been severely affected, resulting in interrupted services and suffering. Looking at patterns of these atrocities, timing of occurrence, and consequences, could allow us to draw conclusions about motivations. While the GoS maintains these attacks were against combating civilians, we argue that civilians and civilian infrastructure were military and strategic targets, rather than collateral damage to the attacks committed by the GoS and its allies. The motives behind attacking civilians may be related to military gains in imposing submission and surrender; whereas others may be linked to long-term goals such as forced displacement and demographic engineering. This paper argues, supported by several examples throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, that GoS has used a five-point military tactic with targeting healthcare being at the heart of it. This military tactic has been extremely effective in regaining most opposition strongholds at the expense of civilian suffering and health catastrophe.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Timothy Longman

In 1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published an extensive account of genocide in Rwanda, Leave None to Tell the Story. Based on interviews and archival work conducted by a team of researchers and written primarily by Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell was quickly recognised as the definitive account of the 1994 genocide. In the ensuing two decades, however, much additional research has added to our understanding of the 1994 violence. In this paper, I assess Leave None to Tell the Story in light of the research conducted since its publication, focusing in particular on three major challenges to the analysis. First, research into the organisation of the genocide disputes the degree to which it was planned in advance. Second, micro-level research into the motivations of those who participated disputes the influence of ideology on the genocide. Third, research has provided increasing evidence and details of violence perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). I contend that despite these correctives, much of the analysis continues to hold up, such as the role of national figures in promoting genocide at the local level, the impact of the dynamics of local power struggles on the violence, and the patterns of violence, including the effort after the initial massacres to implicate a wide portion of the population. Finally, as a member of the team that researched and helped write Leave None to Tell, I reflect on the value of this rare sort of research project that engages human rights organisations in an academic research project.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
The Politics of ‘Proximity’ and Performing Humanitarianism in Eastern DRC
Myfanwy James

This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Simon Mabon

In recent years, cities have become key sites of political interactions. World Bank data suggests that 65% of the region’s population live in cities, although in the Gulf, this figure is much larger. As a consequence, regulating life in cities has become increasingly important. Legislation designed to regulate life finds most traction within urban areas, where jobs and welfare projects – not always under the auspices of the state – offer a degree of protection. Beyond this, the aesthetics of a city can be used to develop a national identity, which also brings about exclusion. Decisions over infrastructural and development projects are taken for political reasons, driven by domestic and regional concerns, but impacting on the lives of citizens and non-citizens within states and across space. Within the urban environment, identities, groups and networks interact and collide, simultaneously reinforcing and challenging communities, identities and the state itself. Amidst an array of tribal, ethnic, religious, political and ideological loyalties, regulating life within the city is of paramount importance for regime survival. As such, the city is the arena through which networks of patronage – family, tribal, religious or bureaucratic – can be mobilised to retain power.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
The end of the dream
Simon Mabon
in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

Religion is fundamentally concerned with the regulation of life, yet contemporary ideas about the role of faith in political life are deeply contested. Across faiths, sects and ideologies, different visions of the role of religion have resulted in political contestation with regional repercussions. Understanding these issues requires consideration of competing claims to authority and legitimacy, along with an exploration of the role of Islam within the political realm. Amidst a region increasingly characterised by sectarian divisions, it is imperative to consider the spatial aspects of the relationship between religion and politics and to explore how sect-based identities can be mobilised for (geo)political purposes. The chapter also considers the way in which similar issues emerge in Judaism, exploring the relationship between the state of Israel and settler groups.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Sovereignty, violence and revolution in the Middle East
Author: Simon Mabon

In events that have since become known as the Arab Uprisings or Arab Revolutions, people across the Middle East took to the streets to express their anger and frustration at political climates, demanding political and economic reform. In a number of cases, protest movements were repressed, often violently, with devastating repercussions for human security and peace across the region.

While a number of scholars have sought to understand how the protests occurred, this book looks at sovereignty and the relationship between rulers and ruled to identify and understand both the roots of this anger but also the mechanisms through which regimes were able to withstand seemingly existential pressures and maintain power.

Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

With the onset of the uprisings, new arenas of proxy competition emerged across the Middle East, simultaneously serving as zones of possibility and restriction as international players sought to manipulate domestic affairs often for their own ends. Yet the increasingly securitised and politicised role of religion, particularly within the context of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has left regimes open to criticism while state security is undermined by the ability of clerics in one state to speak to audiences in another. Evoking memories of Paul Noble’s regional echo chamber, this chapter draws together the first and second parts of the book to show how the fallout from the Arab Uprisings has consequences for the organisation of the contemporary Middle East.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

Drawing on Agamben’s ideas of the state of exception, the third chapter considers the development of political systems and the way in which they regulate life. Central to the chapter is understanding particular forms of sovereign power, the regulation of life and the ban that underpins such regulatory efforts. A range of different mechanisms facilitate the regulation of life, from claims to legitimacy to the coercive mechanisms of the state, including the security services and military.

The chapter begins with an exploration of different typologies of political structures before turning to a discussion of constitutions and citizenship. It then turns to consideration of the security mechanisms that underpin regulatory efforts before considering examples from Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.

in Houses built on sand