At the first ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended by over 900 experts, faith leaders, international organizations and survivors from more than 100 countries, sexual violence in conflict was addressed as a serious war crime.

Held in London and co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Angelina Jolie, the Summit built off the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was endorsed by two-thirds of the U.N. member states in September 2013.

The Summit aimed to end the culture of impunity and address the serious ramifications of sexual violence on a population. A new International Protocol was put forward to strengthen prosecutions for those who commit acts of sexual violence during war. The protocol also creates guidelines to train peacekeepers and soldiers who work in conflict zones to be better equipped to handle populations who are at risk for sexual violence.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on the final day of the Summit, drew lessons from history to encourage the possibility of ending this type of violence in conflict. Advocating for a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence, ending impunity and providing more support for survivors, he stated, “we can establish new norms that respect women, girls, men and boys. And we can hold those who commit these acts and those who condone them – we can hold them all accountable.”

One important factor in addressing sexual violence in conflict is poverty. Many conflict zones today where sexual violence is most rampant are in countries with high levels of poverty, which affects women in particular. Women who have to walk home alone late at night, whose only access to a bathroom is outside of their home or who must walk long distances to collect firewood are vulnerable to attacks, both during times of peace and especially during times of conflict.

Countries that lack strong justice systems and where women, girls and men do not have access to strong education systems or who are not major players in economic activity are left vulnerable to these types of acts of violence, with no or little support after the conflict ends.

The Summit was an important step in beginning to address the issue and provide resources to women and men who are affected by sexual violence in conflict. As Secretary Kerry stated: “Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity.”

Therefore, ending impunity, providing resources for victims and eradicating poverty are all measures that will help end the practice of sexual violence as a tactic of war. Working to achieve environments where women and men are economically empowered, are able to receive an education and are more secure in their everyday activities are important factors that will contribute to a decrease in instances of sexual violence in conflict.

— Andrea Blinkorn

Sources: 1, 2, US Embassy, The Guardian, All Africa
Photo: Reuters

A recently released report from the U.N. offers a sobering update on crisis response and relief efforts in the conflict-torn country of South Sudan. The report said that the U.N. and its various agencies have only received about $739 million of the approximately $1.8 billion that it needs in order to help rebuild after the devastation that has occurred since the conflict first broke out.

The report comes on the six-month anniversary of the outbreak that started in December of 2013, when then-Vice President Riek Machar was forced out of office by Salva Kiir, triggering racial conflict between Nuer and Dinka people, respectively.

Some of the statistics are quite alarming, considering the already catastrophic amount of destruction that has already happened. Over 1 million people are internally displaced, and at least 366,000 have fled the country, while 3.9 million people are at high risk of hunger or famine. And the prices of staple foods have been steadily increasing.

Furthermore, the entire country has also been plagued by a multitude of public health problems. On May 15, a cholera outbreak was declared in the capital city of Juba, with two other outbreaks being declared in other locations. By the end of the year, 116,000 people across the country could be affected by cholera alone. There have also been documented outbreaks of Hepatitis E, meningitis and measles, not to mention that during the current wet season, outbreaks of malaria and pneumonia are on the rise. Without the necessary aid, these statistics could become even worse, and South Sudan could slip even further into disarray.

Toby Lanzer, Deputy Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General in South Sudan, said “Men, women and children have fled from their homes and sought refuge in the bush, inside U.N. bases and in neighboring countries…With many communities unable to farm or tend properly to their cattle, the risk of famine looms large. In some particularly hard-to-reach areas of the country, people are already starving.”

But despite many of the grim statistics laid out in the report, there have been some successes. For example, 80 percent of communicable diseases have been responded to within 48 hours, 63 percent of children under the age of 5 with severe acute malnutrition have been treated and 82 percent of people that have been affected by the conflict have been provided with safe water.

Fortunately, there is hope for those living in South Sudan. In the words of Lanzer: “With the continued generosity and solidarity of donors around the world, we can help prevent more unnecessary death and despair. Every dollar counts and makes a difference to people’s lives.”

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: The GuardianUnited Nations, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,  The Borgen Project
Photo: Action Against Hunger

russia cuts off gas
On June 16, 2014, tensions between Russia and Ukraine worsened after Russia’s state-owned company, Gazprom, cut off gas headed for Ukraine.

June 16 was the final day for Russia and Ukraine to come to an agreement about the gas dispute. Representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union met over the weekend but were unable to reach an agreement.

With no agreement about the unpaid $2 billion debt installment the company demanded for June 16, a portion of the $4.5 billion total debt that Ukraine owes the company led Gazprom to declare that  it will only deliver gas that has already been paid for.

Ukraine disputes the amount that Gazprom has stated it owes and also requests a new future price.

The main cause for the dispute can be traced back to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia that led to an 80 percent price increase of gas, reaching $485.50 per thousand cubic meters of gas in April. Although some reductions were made following recent talks, they were still above the average $377.50 per thousand cubic meters Gazprom charged other European countries in 2013, and more still than the previous $268 per thousand cubic meters Ukraine used to pay.

Russia has stated that it will continue to provide oil for the rest of Europe. More than 30 percent of Europe’s demand is supplied by Russia, of which half must pass through Ukraine.

Since the cut off has occurred in June, the vulnerability of Ukraine and the rest of Europe to a possible shortage are low. However, as the cut off continues, the urgency to find a resolution increases. When July comes around, Ukraine and the rest of Europe generally begin to completely fill their storage tanks in preparation for the winter.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have continued to increase in the backdrop of the failed deal. In addition to escalating violence in Ukraine, Gazprom has attracted controversy with its decision to build an exclusive gas route despite violating Europe’s open access laws.

With the continuing escalation, it is unlikely a resolution to the gas crisis will occur in the near future. Although E.U. leaders are expected to discuss the crisis during the summit in Brussels on June 26, the E.U. has told its members to conduct stress tests to examine the potential effects of a disruption.

A potential disruption could bode poorly for those in poverty throughout Europe, especially in the winter months. Hopefully an agreement will emerge before the cold comes.

— William Ying 

Sources: CNN, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC
Photo: CNBC

The world is slowly becoming a more peaceful place, according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Released in May, the first policy brief of the new Conflict Trends series estimated that the decline in global conflict of the last 20 years will continue over the next 40 to 90 years.

Havard Hegre and Havard Mokleiv Nygard, two researchers at the Institute, attributed this decline to increased education and economic diversification, among other factors.

For the purposes of their study, Hegre and Nygard defined conflict as ‘lethal armed conflicts between a governmental and nongovernmental opposition group.’ Using this designation, they estimated that 23 percent of the world’s countries were in conflict in 1994, with that number dropping to 15 percent today. They projected that in 2030, only 12 percent of the world’s countries will be in conflict, and will decline to 10 percent in 2050. They also noted that fewer countries have experienced conflict in the last 20 years, indicating an increase in the average length of peacetime.

Hegre and Nygard also analyzed factors they believe to contribute to global violence. They predicted a decrease in infant mortality as well as increase in the percentage of educated youth. These trends are likely attributed to the decline in world conflict in previous decades and will continue to do so in the future. However, they also found that conflict in a given country was correlated to its wealth, suggesting that low-income countries are more likely to fall into conflict.

Using these factors in their analysis, the researchers mapped out where in the world conflict is most likely to occur in the future.

Hegre and Nygard predicted that in the next 50 years, global violence will be concentrated in Africa and South Asia. They highlighted India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq as having a high risk of conflict.

Several of the countries they described as high-risk are either part of the “bottom billion” in terms of wealth, or are currently attempting to escape the “conflict trap.” They described this as a cycle in which low levels of development lead to conflict, while conflict leads to even lower levels of development.

In their summary, Hegre and Nygard acknowledged threats and circumstances that would challenge the trends of decreasing violence. Climate change or a “systemic shock,” such as a new Cold War, both have the potential to increase poverty and migration pressures that could lead to conflict. Other potential challenges depend on dramatic changes to the global trading system and the progress of socio-economic development.

The brief released in May is the first part of an ongoing project by PRIO to analyze conflict trends around the world. It is set to run from July 2013 to June 2016, and will be led by Henrik Urdal, a senior researcher and editor of the Journal of Peace Research at PRIO. Themes of the Conflict Trends project include natural resources and conflict, youth, development and conflict, political change and stability and the human costs of conflict.

PRIO is an independent, international nonprofit research institute that seeks to analyze the conditions for peaceful relations among people and nations.

– Kristen Bezner

Sources: PRIO 1, PRIO 2, PRIO 3, PRIO 4, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Photo: PRIO