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Armed violence in non-conflict situations

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 17 December 2010

Recently the Fondation Chirac attended day long conference dedicated to armed violence: here are some of the points that were raised on the challenges of dealing with this issue. It is not an exhaustive analysis of the situation but hopefully will inspire some further reflections.

“Armed violence—both in crime and in conflict—claims an estimated 740,000 lives each year. The vast majority of these deaths (540,000) result from direct experience of violence. Nearly two-thirds (490,000) occur in non-conflict situations.” Small Arms Survey, 2010

Despite these high numbers, these deaths are often overlooked.

What to call it and how to define it:

It is difficult to define or categorize armed violence that takes place in non-conflict situations. Depending on the definition used, there are between 2 and 10 million people involved in gangs or armed groups in the world. Due to this lack of common definition, there is no existing international legal framework to help reduce it. For example, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), it falls into the “other situations” category. This difficulty in categorizing armed violence also means that little research is devoted to this area and thus even less time and money to its reduction.

Each case is distinct. Today words like “terrorist” and “vigilante” are used so frequently that one could almost believe that all “terrorist” groups came about in the same way and are motivated by the same reasons. Therefore, as much as possible, labels should not be used; instead the social, economic and political processes behind each militant group need to be examined.

There are different legal categories of armed violence: internal armed conflict, international armed conflict, both referring to a state of bellicose involving the State military. Lastly there are “other situations” that the (ICRC), has identified and divided up as follows: coups d’état, violence linked with maintaining public order, intercommunity violence, territorial gang violence and violence linked to transnational organizations.

While it is possible to create categories to describe the different types of armed violence, a group or a person rarely fits into just one category – creating a “hybrid” – or basically a new category that needs its own definition depending on the situation.

Underlying causes of armed violence:

While the causes are many and obviously differ on a case-by-case basis, for many experts the apparition of armed groups is a response to a lack of state presence. There’s a gap that needs to be filled and new actors step up to the plate.

In the case of urban violence, rapid urbanization is often blamed. While this may be part of the issue, it is particularly the absence of social and spatial networks that lends itself well to the creation of gangs.

Reducing the phenomenon:

Experts and governments are beginning to recognize that armed violence can no longer be dealt with through military action alone. Militaries are often given the mission of reducing armed violence because they are highly trained in dealing with external crises, and they can be quickly mobilized. But dealing with armed violence in non-conflict situations is a question of security, economic and social development, and governance and therefore involves a multiplicity of actors.

The World Health Organization takes the public health approach, which aims to prevent violence before it occurs, and is based on an ecological model, that reaches out to the individual, the family, the community, and the societal levels all at the same time. This system is not very well developed for the time being and requires a long-term commitment of 3 to 5 years.

Another important element in combating armed violence, is reconstructing the “illegitimacy of violence”. Studies have repeatedly shown that youth that have either witnessed or been victims of violence are the most likely perpetrators. For many, violence has become the norm – this cycle needs to be broken so that violence becomes, once again, an illigitmate reaction.

To sum up the day, each case is different, should be studied individually and called by its own name, and each solution needs to be individually tailored. The next step – how to mobilize the international community to fight against something that is still so difficult to grasp.

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The two Koreas: a broken home on the brink

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 8 December 2010

A regime isolated from the rest of the world

Korea (both North and South) along with Iceland, are rare examples of largely homogenous countries, ethnically and linguistically. Yet the vagaries of history have led to a hopeless, ideological divide between both Koreas for almost 60 years. The Pyongyang regime has isolated itself from the rest of the world, with the exception of China that continues to support it though with increasing distance.

Who will waver first – North or South Korea? To explain the most recent behavior of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, analysts vacillate between a purely political explanation (Kim Jong-il wants to ensure the arrival in power of his son Kim Jong-un) and a psychological explanation (North Korea, as would a misunderstood teenager, is desperately trying to direct the attention of the adults around him to his frustrations and anxieties). Without completely ruling out the former, the latter seems the most plausible. It may also offer a key to breaking the dangerous deadlock in which both Koreas have found themselves.

A change of mood for South Korea?

Many South Koreans have sought to overcome this situation through dialogue and reconciliation, and it would be fallacious to suggest such efforts have not yielded positive results. Between 2000 and 2009, the famous Sunshine Policy implemented by the late President Kim Dae-jung (Nobel Peace Prize 2000) and his Unification Minister and the current President of Kyungnam University, Park Jae Kyu (Special Jury Prize for Conflict Prevention by the Foundation Chirac 2009), and actively pursued by the late President Roh Moo-hyun, the predecessor of the current President Lee Myung-bak, offered the Korean peninsula a period of relative calm that implied the possibility for greater cooperation between North and South, and perhaps even, ultimately, a form of unification that would be flexible enough to reassure everyone.

It is, I think, fair to say that this reconciliation policy has been, until very recently, supported by a large portion of South Koreans. During a three-week stay in South Korea last spring, after the Cheonan incident, I saw to what extent South Koreans remained committed, despite the crisis caused by the sinking of the warship, to maintaining dialogue between the North and the South. They have maintained an exemplary attitude, made up of patience and conciliation, towards their northern neighbors. One can therefore understand the signs of irritation given off by Seoul for the past few days. However, allowing this capital of goodwill evaporate in the wake of the bombing of the island of Yeonpyeong, and giving way to feelings of revenge – however legitimate they may be – could have tragic consequences.

Do not impose demands

It will not be easy to end the deadlock, as both sides are apparently irreconcilable. Seoul’s position (it might be more accurate to say that of Washington) which demands denuclearization first and only after will there be normalization. Whereas Pyongyang wants normalization first and then denuclearization. This game of “chicken” or “my demands first but not yours” would seem childish if the risks were not so great.

So, can we imagine a widely respected politician, active or retired, coming from a country that is not involved in the six-party talks – currently on hold – capable of convincing both parties to agree to a simultaneous denuclearization and normalization? Is it realistic to believe that the big stick policy with naval maneuvers and the whole shebang will comply to the expectations of the United States and South Korea? For the policy to be effective, they must be ready to use the stick at the next outburst of the family’s black sheep or lose all credibility. Is it so hard to reassure the turbulent and provocative teenager that is North Korea that it really belongs to a family rather than to the axis of evil?

The Korea Times, published in Seoul, notes, with fundamentally Asian wisdom, that Koreans should not allow ideological differences of the past 60 years destroy 5000 years of a national identity that is shared by all Koreans. We can not agree more.

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Sustainable development and respect for diversity are intimately linked

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 8 December 2010

The Foundation has, from the start, stated that defending peace and promoting the sustainable development of our planet, necessarily entails respect for the diversity of cultures and more generally all forms of life. President Chirac is passionate about the cause of the First Peoples and has always encouraged dialogue between cultures as the very foundation for peace and the guarantee of a more harmonious, durable, richer development.

Given the hegemony of a dominant ideology and the market system that standardizes tastes and broader societal choices, we must offer solutions that are by definition different and complementary. We can not solve the current economic, social, and cultural crisis with a single model, but rather by working through the combination and complementarity of different visions. This is a feature of the sustainable development movement, it is inherently tied to natural Biodiversity but it is also by nature tied to a Biodiversity of approaches and solutions.

We cannot leave oil behind unless we combine all sources of renewable energy, unless we adjust the current neoliberal model by adapting it to the social and environmental constraints of each country or continent, unless we change the world by ceasing to create blocks and conflicts between civilizations.

Each individual must create a personal life model

This vision directly echoes President Chirac’s decision not to intervene during the second Iraq war, and in so doing, ending the binary and hegemonic vision held by the United States at the time.

Respect for each and everyone’s diverse point of view, for their participation in harmoniously changing the world, all the while allowing each his or her freedom; this is a message that offers particular depth to the concept of Sustainable Development. The theme is approached here in terms of subsidiarity. Each individual must create a personal life model, more in harmony with himself and the Planet. This would replace the current model, often based on a dominant ideology that impoverishes the world and leads into a dead-end.

One of the Fondation’s most powerful messages is that it is up to each of us to observe and participate in these multiple visions that enrich our daily lives and help build our future World.

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Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.

Posted by Michel Sidibé on 1 December 2010

On this World AIDS Day we can be proud.

Globally we have reduced the number of new HIV infections and deaths by nearly 20%.

This means less people are becoming infected with HIV and less people are dying from AIDS.

56 countries have either stabilized or significantly reduced the rate of new HIV infections.

For the first time, we have broken the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic and reached the first part of the Millennium Development Goal for HIV.

We have achieved this amazing milestone because families, communities, governments— and UNAIDS have united the world in an unprecedented movement.

We are prevailing…with political commitment, leadership from all sectors including leaders of faith…with science, with evidence, with human rights, and passion.

On this World AIDS Day we can remember.

Our successes have not come without sacrifice. Today we mourn friends and family— some 30 million people who have lost their lives to AIDS.

An estimated 10 million people are waiting for treatment.

We must remember that punitive laws and stigma still hurt too many people around the world.

On this World AIDS Day we can commit.

Our hard-won gains are fragile—so our commitment to the AIDS response must remain strong.

AIDS is a proven investment and must be a shared responsibility today and tomorrow.

On this World AIDS Day we can be hopeful.

With your commitment and that of UNAIDS and the UN family, we are changing the course of the AIDS epidemic. I have called for the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015. Nothing gives me more hope than knowing that an AIDS free generation is possible in our lifetime. So on this World AIDS Day, take action today—together we can reach Zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths!

Michel Sidibé

Executive Director of UNAIDS and

Under Secretary-General of the United Nations

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