Kate Ferguson: The Government must act – as the threat of ethnic cleansing haunts Bosnia once again

2 Dec

Kate Ferguson is Chair of Policy at the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and is Fouding Director of Protection Approaches, which has convened The UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group since 2017.

Most people think that mass atrocity crimes are rare, exceptional aberrations, but they are actually fairly common. Where there are means of criminal enterprise, motivation of populist bigotry or manipulation of identity politics, and opportunity of unchecked power violence against groups becomes likely. All are present and worsening in the Bosnian-Serb majority entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Republika Srpska.

Thirty years ago these same propellants were left unchecked, and succeeded in driving a political campaign that saw the deliberate, systematic violent targeting and forced expulsion of Muslims and Croats by a coordinated coalition of Bosnian-Serb and Serbian state and non-state armed formations.

Ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide are never inevitable, but they are predictable. The escalating risks in Bosnia today are familiar – and must – be confronted before the already precarious situation worsens.

Boris Johnson, in the outcomes of his Integrated Review of international policy, rightly made atrocity prevention a new strategic priority of British foreign policy: Bosnia is now the test case for this commitment.

This December marks the 26th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which established the two-entity make-up of the country – an agreement that froze rather than resolved the violence, and which preserved the single state by establishing a complicated system of power-sharing governance that includes a tri-partite presidency, with a rotating chairmanship.

Uneasy peace has held, but not taken root. Recent months have seen escalation of inflammatory actions and rhetoric by the Bosnian Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik. Dodik has announced his intention to withdraw Republika Srpska from many state institutions, including the border police, judicial institutions and the armed force of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1991 as now, the Bosnian Serb leadership is testing the attention and resolve of the international community as it escalates the political crisis and heats up its incendiary rhetoric. Dodik and his coterie – as Radovan Karadžić and all violent populists before him– know that these misdeeds help to gauge international appetite for censure, while also serving to incite local level identity-based violence. If Dodik is allowed to continue, we will see an uptick in violence.

Such incidents are already not uncommon in Republika Srpska, where Bosniaks who were ethnically cleansed in the 1990s have returned to their homes are now often targeted, threatened and assaulted.

This violence is not new. The hurling of stones at the Serbian Prime Minister in 2015 during the twentieth commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide drew international attention, but only because it occurred in front of the world’s media.

Three days later, a returnee to RS was attacked by masked men who carved the four Serbian Cs in a cross on his stomach, but this was not reported in English language press. But tensions are now mounting, and returnees fear history is repeating itself.

While the current crisis is not a new one it is, in part, a consequence of BiH’s allies failing to adequately respond to the pernicious and persistent denial of the genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims, and to the ongoing incidents of the enduring identity-based violence that rarely draw headlines outside of the region.

Late in the day it may be, but friends of Bosnia must now step up fully, and emphatically communicate that the errors of the mid-1990s will not be repeated and that red lines, if crossed, will result in coordinated response.

So far, the UK is emerging a potential leader on the international stage – a stark contrast to Britain’s Bosnia policy of the 1990s. Being outside of the European Union but working with European partners places the UK in a unique and strategically useful position.

The British Embassy in Sarajevo, led by Matthew Field, the Ambassador, is very well respected. Here, Parliament has already held a number of debates – another later today brought by Alicia Kearns, Sarah Champion and Stewart McDonald – which communicates solidarity and cross-party political will. (Hansard’s records for December 1991 contain not a single reference to Bosnia).

But how the commitments of the Integrated Review are reflected in Britain’s Bosnia policy are not yet clear. The Government continues to reject cross-party calls for a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy of atrocity prevention, arguing its narrow approach to conflict is sufficient.

During the 1990s, the then Conservative government failed to identify the campaigns of identity-based violence and atrocity for what they were and tried – and failed – to apply a framework of conflict resolution: at its heart, the violence between 1992-95 wasn’t a conflict, but a coordinated assault on populations, with the clear-eyed intention of removing or destroying them, in whole or in part.

The same mistake cannot be made again by the UK. Britain’s Bosnia policy needs to specifically recognise and respond to the rising risks of identity-based violence and atrocity.

BiH is the latest in a line of current and emerging crises where this policy gap can be seen to restrict the UK’s capacity to respond –the absence of central thinking strategically about preventing identity-based violence leaves even the most proactive country teams and embassies with their hands tied; they have to follow policy.

If the UK wants to stand with Bosnia, the Government needs to follow through on the promise of the Integrated Review. The IR claimed new emphasis on confronting grievances, criminal economies, political marginalisation as drivers of violence: this is what Bosnia needs.

Prevention policy requires a different way of doing things – it requires strategy, analysis, consultation, and coordination. But it doesn’t necessarily require big resources – in fact, effective prevention always saves both lives and money.

Since Dayton, Bosnia has been a frozen crisis. If Dodik is allowed to continue raising the temperature we will quickly reach the point there the thaw cannot be prevented. The goal for the UK and all allies of Bosnia mustn’t be to simply keep the uneasy peace, but instead to comprehensively support Bosnians who are working towards a safe, inclusive and resilient society.

 

Daniel Hamilton: The international community must take immediate steps to stop the bloodshed in Ethiopia

12 Nov

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

Until recently, there was a real sense that Ethiopia had turned a corner.

Despite the country’s tragic past, which has seen its people experience the vile deprivations of the communist Derg junta, intractable and bloody feuds with its neighbours and multiple coup d’états, the country has always had a spirit and verve unlike any other in Africa.

The pace of economic development in recent years has been staggering.

Where choking traffic had once paralysed the city, a sparkling new mass transit system rose above the streets to connect those living in formerly isolated suburbs. The new rail link from Addis through the eastern city of Dire Dawa and onto the port of Djibouti – and on to the rest of the world – gave new hope that Ethiopia may finally live up to its potential as Eastern Africa’s manufacturing powerhouse. The city’s myriad jazz bars were packed to the rafters with tourists and locals revelling in the benefits of growing salaries.

Tuesday evening’s plea by the Foreign Office for British citizens to evacuate the country at the earliest opportunity is therefore a painful one for those that know the country well.

Ethiopia’s wholly avoidable collapse into anarchy, just two years after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on improving neighbourly relations with Eritrea, is a stark reminder of the challenges fragile states face.

The roots of this avoidable conflict began last year when the central government authorised what was initially presented as a necessary law enforcement operation against separatist terrorist elements loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the north of the country. The operation won widespread support from supporters of the government.

Since then, and with the world distracted by the Coronavirus pandemic, the conflict has grown as an exponential rate. It has ceased to be a battle between the TPLF and central government and mutated into an alliance of nine other restive ethnic groups who, through a marriage of convenience, wish to topple the Abiy government.

Early this month, the Ethiopian Parliament imposed a six-month state of emergency which has handed the central government increasing powers to crack down on terrorism – perceived or imagined – in increasingly heavy-handed ways. Rather than calm the situation, this mechanism has effectively thrown fuel on the fire, with the UN Human Rights Commissioner expressing concern about mass killings of civilians and military personnel on both sides of the conflict.

As I write, the city of Addis Ababa is now at imminent risk of falling to opposition forces whose strength and durability has been underestimated by the central government.

Nobody doubts that the Abiy government has overstepped the mark and surrendered the moral leadership to run a country of more than eighty different ethnicities with a diverse range of culture and religious beliefs. But the opposition’s agenda, in particular that of the TPLF, risks the permanent division of Ethiopia, the permanent displacement of millions of people from their homes and the opening of tribal and ethnic conflicts that could have repercussions far beyond Ethiopia’s borders.

In her excellent article in The Times earlier this week about the element, Alicia Kearns MP highlighted the efforts of the Bosnian Serb to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to serve sectarian agendas.  The same is true for the Ethiopian opposition alliance.

Despite some valiant efforts on the part of local political leaders to force dialogue between opposing factions, domestic solutions to the crisis have failed.

It is now time for the international community to take immediate steps to stop the bloodshed.

There are a number of practical steps that should be taken.

First, it is crucial that urgent humanitarian aid is allowed to reach those that need it most urgently. Across northern Ethiopia, acute food shortages and the looming risk of famine is now impacting an up to seven million people – roughly one in fifteen Ethiopians.  Pressure must be placed both the Abiy government and opposition, both of whom have clear lines of communication with bodies like the Red Cross, to allow them carry out their work unimpeded.  This aid must extend to neighbouring Sudan where the UN projects more than 500,000 Ethiopian refugees will flee in the coming weeks.

Second, immediate pressure must be placed upon the Turkish government to cease its sale of military equipment to the Abiy government. In particular, the sale of Bayraktar drone systems, whose use by Azerbaijan in its recent war with Armenia saw entire battalions of troops liquidated at the press of a button, must end. The use of “drones of mass destruction” is not an appropriate application of military force on Abiy’s government – it has the potential to be a war crime.  Unless the supply of these weapons is limited, one can expect the death toll to rise by tens of thousands in the coming weeks.

Third, the issue of Ethiopia’s preferential access to international trade accord should also be urgently examined.  President Biden has already made steps to exclude Ethiopia from the terms of the US African Grown and Opportunity Act processes which gives the country duty-free access to most goods it exports to America – a move which has caused fury among Abey loyalists that have sought to frame the US as a hostile power with sympathies for the opposition.

Given the sensitivities regarding the US’s role in the country, the support of China – which recently dropped its opposition to a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of conflict – in blocking the export of supply and export routes controlled by both the government and opposition forces via the port of Doraleh (which is de facto controlled by Beijing) will be crucial.

Fourth, it is important that a constitutional settlement is found that allows for the integrity of the Ethiopian state to be maintained while granting appropriate rights of self-government to minorities. The African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo is well placed to lead such an effort given his successful efforts to lead a multi-ethnic government while serving as Nigerian President.

Fifth and finally, it is incumbent on governments globally and international institutions to put in place a solid plan to prevent the conflict spilling over from Ethiopia into neighbouring states. This will involve the provision of aid on the ground and an intensification of support for peacekeeping efforts.

Kenya, which shares long border with Ethiopia has long had its own domestic problems with separatist movements and is experiencing a devastating drought. Sudan, which only gained independence in 2011 after a protracted civil war, has long looked to Ethiopia as the guarantor of its own peace process.  Instability in Ethiopia, the region’s largest economy, risks crippling South Sudan’s already-fragile supply chains of everything from oil to basic foodstuffs and empowering rebel forces. Sudan, which has already taken in thousands of Ethiopian refugees, is struggling to navigate the fallout of its own military coup last month.

We are all aware of the impact of impact of ethnic conflicts and the mass loss of lives they have wrought on Eastern Africa in the past forty years. The images of barbarity in Rwanda and Sudan should rightly continue to haunt an international community that was too slow to act to prevent genocide.

In international relations, though, the price of delays and indecision in heading off genocide and famine is widely known – but often forgotten.

Rather than risk sleepwalking into another catastrophe, now is the time for the international community to force the country’s warring factions to the negotiating table and draw this latest tragic chapter in Ethiopian history to a close.

Creatura Mario: A pandemic pregnancy – and the stess, anxiety, and guilt of being barred from my wife’s side at hospital.

20 Dec

Mario Creatura works in communications and campaigns. He is a councillor in Croydon, a former Special Advisor in 10 Downing Street and was a Parliamentary candidate in the 2019 General Election.

It was a cold, dark night in December last year, two weeks into the General Election campaign. I had just got in from an afternoon of campaigning, wolfed down some dinner and was in the process of running out the door for the next session when my wife, Amy, pulled me to one side.

She was pregnant with our first child. It may be twee, but it was an incredibly happy, instantaneously life-changing moment. And, of course, it suddenly put everything into perspective: I was standing for Parliament but, a split second later, my priorities had shifted to thinking less about knocking on doors in the drizzle and towards the tiny, poppy seed-sized kid inside Amy.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the first scan revealed we were having not one baby, but two: a one in 250 chance. We were elated at the news we were having twins, and couldn’t believe our luck.

I accompanied my wife to every scan, every trip to the hospital – that is, until the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, the guidance changed. I was banished from my wife’s side and relegated to the car park, anxiously waiting for updates that all was well.

The rules were there for a very good reason. We needed to protect the NHS, and keep the risk to the incredible key workers in the hospital as low as possible. We understood the justification on an intellectual level, but that didn’t make it any easier emotionally. We are in the same household; she’ll have whatever I had. Why the separation?

Being pregnant at all comes with many potential hazards, but having a multiple pregnancy is officially classified as ‘higher risk’. There’s any number of additional complications that can occur at any point, simply because you have two or more children growing inside you. Reading the self-help books and online guides were informative but did little to reduce our stress levels

There were many times when I should have been by my wife’s side, when things weren’t going as smoothly as we’d hoped, but I was prevented from doing so. The guilt was palpable, and the impact real. It was made worse knowing that friends and acquaintances were going through the same thing. I subsequently learnt that many NHS Trusts were routinely preventing a partner or family member from accompanying pregnant women for scans and, in some cases, all stages of labour.

That’s why, when the tenacious Alicia Kearns launched her campaign in September, I was an immediate and enthusiastic supporter. It turns out that Government Covid guidance permitted partners to attend both scans and the entirety of labour, yet many trusts hadn’t cascaded this down adequately to maternity teams.

At that time, the guidance from NHS England was for expectant mothers to work out access with their midwife, who had total discretion on partner attendance. That led to national disparities, with large unintended consequences.

From the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary on down, the Government backed the campaign – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the end of the matter.

Yet three months on, a poll published this week for the incredible Twins Trust found that four out of ten women carrying twins or triplets were still being forced to go through scans alone. And whilst 40 per cent of families said they had one or both twins taken to specialist units after birth, partner access to the children varied from hospital to hospital.

I was able to attend the birth and, immediately after, I spent a few precious hours with my expanded family before being asked politely to leave. One of my boys needed urgent neonatal care, the other needed treatment for ten days after birth. Every day I delivered nappies, snacks and a change of clothes, but each time I had to hand them to a nurse – consigned to video calling my wife on the phone.

Whilst the hospital staff were truly phenomenal, it didn’t change the fact that, in June of this year, I was prevented from seeing my newborn children and wife when they needed me the most.

hankfully, that research, and yet more campaigning from MPs, led to NHS England this week issuing new guidance telling maternity teams them that expectant mothers will have a right to “access to support from a person of her choosing at all stages of her maternity journey”. These people will get a rapid Covid test on arrival, and so there’s no reason why partners shouldn’t be with pregnant women every step of the way. Why on earth did it take three months to communicate something so straightforward?

Back in June when the contractions started, I was continuing my increasingly dependent relationship with the hospital car park. Being separated from my wife as she started labour was for me emotionally (if not physically) agonising. Amy was incredibly brave, and for all intents and purposes had to go through 90 per cent of the labour on her own, frantically snatching the odd minute here and there to Whatsapp or call me.

When the moment came, thankfully, I was near and allowed to rush to her side. The birth was complicated, but the team at East Surrey Hospital could not have supported us better. The professionalism and the care we experienced was world-class, and while the entire experience was impacted by the pandemic it was nevertheless a feeling of total, unadulterated joy when little Milo and Rocco entered the world at 5.04am and 5.18am respectively.

We were lucky: many others have had significantly more traumatic experiences exacerbated by partners not being present. Seventy-none per cent of those quoted in the Twins Trust survey said the pandemic had taken a toll on their mental health. with 47 per cent saying they were allowed to bring a partner to some but not all ultrasounds. And with approximately 19 per cent of expectant mothers saying they received worrying news at a scan, it should be easy to see why this new direction from NHS England is so vitally important.

There is a broader lesson that I hope will be taken from this situation. The pandemic is sadly far from over, and it will take some time for the hope-giving vaccine to be rolled out sufficiently. Roughly 1,800 babies are born in the UK every month. These 1,800 women and their partners deserve to know what they can and can’t do as early and as clearly as possible. The virus has complicated what is an already tricky, stressful process. I hope NHS England and their subsidiary hospitals will learn from this experience to better communicate to their expectant mothers.

A pandemic pregnancy is tough enough; let’s try to ease some of the added anxiety as parents-to-be prepare to bring their little ones into the world.

Radical: A response to Nicola Richards and Alicia Kearns’ recent piece on the Gender Recognition Act

1 Sep

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

We’ve been writing this fortnightly column about sex and gender since March. We’ve covered a range of topics relating to relevant matters of law, philosophy, and public policy, but we’ve been clear from the outset about where we’re coming from:

Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it’s also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.

We’ve also been clear that we’re writing these columns because people on the centre-right have, too often, been missing from this important contemporary debate. We wanted to share what we’ve learnt and provoke discussion, and felt well placed to do this.

One of us, Victoria, is a party member and activist, and a classic conservative; the other of us, Rebecca, is a former party member and PPC, and a libertarian. Our shared values, and our differences of opinion, mean that, between us, we have a lot in common with most of the ConHome readership, which itself is varied in many ways.

So, we want to use this fortnight’s column to pave the way to search out points of commonality with some Conservative MPs – Nicola Richards, Alicia Kearns, and several other co-authors – who wrote a piece here last week.

Maybe you saw it then, or read about it in the papers. Now, the conclusions of their piece, regarding matters of sex and gender, were different from ours: not least in that they support a move to “self-ID”, and we don’t. But it seems clear that their article comes from a place of goodwill, and we’re keen to engage with its writers. 

We want to know more about their views, particularly regarding some key issues about which we feel they could’ve been clearer. We’re also keen to know your answers to the questions we’re going to pose to them now:

Q1 Are you clear about the content of the Gender Recognition Act?

You note “there are many misconceptions” about proposed reforms to the GRA. Unfortunately, you’ve adopted misconceptions, yourselves. For instance, you refer to a person changing their “gender” on their birth certificate. Yet, despite the confusing language regarding “gender recognition” in the legislation, a GRC doesn’t change the gender noted on a birth certificate (because gender isn’t recorded there). Rather, it changes someone’s sex, for legal purposes – to align it with the gender with which they identify.

Your confusion is understandable, in some ways: the wording of the relevant section of the GRA uses “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, and doesn’t define either. But it’s important that lawmakers – and particularly those agitating for profound change – are clear and specific, rather than helping to spread misinformation. Sadly, this is not the only example of misinformation we noted in your piece. 

Q2 Do you accept that the distinction between sex and gender is an important one?

We believe it’s crucial: that “sex” relates to matters of biology (whether someone is a member of the female sex set, or the male sex set), and that “gender” is a matter of social convention (how someone sees themself in relation to stereotypical societal norms regarding the two sex sets).

Moreover, we believe this distinction reflects why it’s neither illiberal nor hateful to oppose self-ID. People should be free to behave and present themselves in accordance with whichever (unharmful) norms they prefer, but there are good reasons to avoid pretending that sex-set membership is a matter of personal choice or feelings. 

There’s no law here against exercising “gender expression” – which is a private matter for individuals – and it would be profoundly illiberal to instate one. Indeed, there’s significant legal protection under the Equality Act and criminal law for anyone identifying as a member of the opposite sex.

Sex-set membership itself, however, is highly relevant to important matters of public concern, including those as basic and obvious as the data collection required to underpin medical-resource allocation.

We strongly believe, therefore, that whilst goverments should not be concerned with how people present themselves, healthcare concerns provide just one clear reason why the state must remain interested in, and objective about, matters of sex.

Accuracy and clarity is vital, here, and should be unobscured by personal impressions relating to sex-set stereotypes about matters such as as dress sense. 

Q3 Do you believe that trans people should have access to single-sex services and spaces intended for the opposite sex, including refuges and prison wings?

We were concerned by your claim that: “Trans people can already use, and have always been able to use, services matching their gender, regardless of whether they have the certificate. Services such as Domestic Violence Refuges have always been able to exclude a trans person in certain circumstances, if it is proportionate and regardless of whether they have a GRC. This is covered by the Equalities Act”.

Again, this is complicated, and the legislation is not clear, but the grounds on which trans people can be excluded from single-sex spaces under the Equality Act are actually general and wide-ranging.

Activist groups, such as Stonewall, like to pretend this isn’t the case, and public bodies, such as the EHRC, which should know better, have issued misleading guidance (currently subject to legal challenge) that tries to limit this to “exceptional” or “limited” circumstances.

But do you really believe that, in 2010, parliament intended that the very wide protected characteristic of gender reassignment – “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex” – generally entitled men in that position to use women’s changing rooms and refuges?

Rather, what is clear from the act, is that it was intended for people with this protected characteristic to be protected from discrimination (such as in the workplace), not that they were to be entitled to be treated as a member of the opposite sex. 

Moreover, you claim that “we are the party that ensures people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish”. Now, this is a contestable and partial account of Conservative Party philosophy.

But, putting that aside, aren’t you concerned by the idea of the Government violating women’s rights to organise themselves, and to consent to whom it is they share private spaces with? Or the ability of businesses and charities to provide services that respect and protect women’s interests and preferences?

Q4 Do you believe that doctors should be allowed to perform non-reversible medical interventions on under-16s, in order to help them physicalise their gender expression?

We believe that adults should be free to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble the opposite sex. We also believe, however, that there’s no justification for prescribing puberty blockers (which the NHS no longer states to be reversible) or hormome therapies to children.

Indeed, it’s clear that these interventions are, like FGM, a form of child abuse, and we are keen to share with you our full findings on this topic as a matter of urgency. 

Q5 Do you believe in free debate about these matters?

We hope you’ll agree that our questions are neither inherently hateful nor phobic. We certainly agree with you that improving mental health services for trans people is important, and that fighting against hateful prejudice of all kinds is both good and necessary.

We hope you agree with us, however, that people should be able to discuss their views openly about these matters, and that the serious professional consequences and personal abuse that too many – from JK Rowling, downwards – have faced for doing so, are worrying and wrong.