Peace Negotiations Across the Horn of Africa

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Saudi diplomatic efforts have just played a key role in facilitating a historic peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eretria, two nations that have endured a simmering conflict since the 1990s. After a bloody, unresolved war followed by years of tense, frosty relations, the two countries have come together to sign a historic accord and hopefully continue a pattern of normalizing relations across the Horn of Africa.

Long-standing conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea may also reach a turning point this week in the same city as diplomatic representatives and national leaders come together to continue what appears to be an inspiring set of resolutions and peaceful negotiations.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, sees strong and positive implications in these agreements and has offered statements praising the leaders of both parties and expressing hope for stability in the region.

“We have seen a conflict that has lasted for decades ending, and that has a very important meaning in a world where we see, unfortunately, so many conflicts multiplying,” said Mr. Guterres.

As a very important part of this positive development, the border between the two countries has reopened at two key crossing points after 20 years of closure. As of the past few days, hundreds of citizens from both sides have crossed the border to reconnect with relatives and loved ones, and celebrations have taken place around the region.

Eritrea established its independence from Ethiopia in 1991, and the two countries enjoyed relatively stable relations until 1998, when conflict erupted over a host of issues, the border closed, and trade tensions escalated.

At this point, both sides will need to leverage the current spirit of goodwill as the next stage of border negotiations take place, but peace is expected to prevail. Read more here and also here and join us as we follow this encouraging story.

Are Displaced Residents Returning to Syria?

Here at Just Atonement, we’re interested the study of human migration across national borders, and we believe that the more we can learn about why, when, and how people migrate, the better prepared we will be for the migration trends that will occur as the planet changes.

War, internal conflict, drought, rising sea levels, unpredictable storms, and shifting growing seasons are all likely to follow on the heels of rising planetary temperature, and though some migratory paths will be unique to specific people and specific circumstances, most will be part of larger patterns. One example of such a pattern is emerging now in Syria.

Even though displacements still far outweigh returns in this country torn apart by ongoing violence, returns appear to be on the rise.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than a half million Syrians who fled the country returned to their homes in 2017. (Syria’s population hovers around a total of 18 million). While the Syrian government has attempted to highlight this information in order to suggest that conflict is ebbing in the region, the UN migration agency emphasizes that these returns are by no means voluntary, safe or sustainable and these return migrations “cannot be considered within the context of a durable solutions framework.”

According to the IOM, about 97 percent of those returning to the country (the majority to Aleppo) have been able to return to their own homes, with the remaining 3 percent living with hosts, in abandoned structures or in temporary informal accommodations. Only 41 percent of returnees have access to water and 39 percent have access to health services.

So why are people re-crossing the border to return to areas they left under duress? Again, according to the IOM:

27 percent are returning to protect their assets and property

25 percent cite economic improvements in their home area

14 percent cite economic downturns in the areas to which they fled

11 percent cited “social or cultural issues” preventing integration in their destination areas, and

11 percent cited security improvements in the area they hope to return to.

It remains to be seen whether these resettlements will last. In Aleppo, government troops have recaptured some parts of the city once held by rebel forces, but several rebel strongholds still stand and conflict and instability in the area are far from resolved. All the same, many residents of the city feel compelled to return, even if only temporarily and in the face of significant risk and difficulty. By witnessing these returns and observing the outcomes, we can learn more about why people decide to leave or stay in place, and we can apply this information to similar decisions that will be made under circumstances we haven’t yet seen.

The ICC and Alleged US Crimes Committed During the War in Afghanistan

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In November of 2017, the International Criminal Court in the Hague began formally requesting an investigation of individual US citizens, including CIA employees and military personnel, over alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan after the launch of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The Office of the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had been conducting a preliminary investigation into what is being called the Situation in Afghanistan since 2006, and by 2017, the office found reasonable basis for the belief that war crimes and/or crimes against humanity had been committed by:

  1. The Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani network

  2. The Afghan National Security Forces, specifically, members of the National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police, and

  3. Members of the United States Armed Forces within the Afghanistan territory and Members of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities located in states that are party to the Rome Statute, principally during 2003 and 2004.

In light of the gravity of the acts committed and the lack of national proceedings (accountability from the justice system within the United States), the Prosecutor has determined that the case will be permissible by the ICC pursuant to the Rome Statute.

Based on the evidence collected during the preliminary investigation, the Prosecutor can ask ICC Judges to issue either summons to appear or arrest warrants or those believed to be most responsible for international crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Response from the US in 2018

As of Monday, September 10, the US has announced plans to “adopt an aggressive posture” against the ICC, including threats to the sanction ICC judges if they proceed with the investigation into these war crimes.

A speech by John Bolton will occur on Monday in Washington, according to Reuters, in which he is expected to declare the ICC an “illegitimate court” and announce to plans to shield US citizens from prosecution.

Read more on this development here and also here. We’ll be following this story closely, so check back in for future updates.

Children are more Vulnerable than Adults to Climate-Related Events

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has taken up a series of initiatives designed to pressure governments to mitigate the impact of climate-related events on younger generations.  

These initiatives encourage governments to recognize that extreme storms, heat waves, wildfires and water management problems will have a two-fold impact on those who are currently children: The short-term effect of these events will cause one category of harm, and the long-term effects will cause another. Children subject to uncontrolled weather events and water distribution issues can face malnutrition, disease, trauma, and involuntary migration, while the same children will face long term impacts that may undermine their ability to make a living and raise children of their own.

Children are among the most vulnerable members of any population, and in the face of hurricanes and floods, they are the most likely to experience injury. According to Director of Programmes Ted Chaiban, “As more extreme weather events increase the number of emergencies and humanitarian crises, it is children who will pay the highest price.”

Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stroke all have a far greater impact on children then adults, and all of these are increased by extreme heat and weather events and unstable or unsanitary water conditions.  

With this in mind, UNICEF has published a report which calls for a strengthening of global health systems in response to climate change.

The fund has also called for increased investment in climate resilient agricultural systems and water sanitation policies, education for young people on issues related to climate change, and a stronger inclusion of children’s concerns in national strategies and climate change action plans.  

As poorer families around the world face potential crop damage and loss of income, the prospect of stable futures for their children become uncertain. Short term concerns like childhood illnesses will eventually give way to concerns about geopolitical stability and the obstacles faced by those who hope to move across national borders or establish livelihoods in a shifting economic landscape.

With its agenda for action on climate change, UNICEF envisions a world in which adaptable, resilient systems for agriculture, water, and energy development provide an environment in which the next generation can find access to stability and prosperity. Read more about the report here.


Soil Science, Hunger, and Climate Change

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Earlier this month, over 2000 scientists gathered in Rio De Janeiro for the World Congress of Soil Science, prepared to discuss this year’s theme:  Soil Science: Beyond Food and Fuel.

Healthy soil—sometimes called the ecstatic skin of the earth—sustains life by feeding the planet. But soil does far more than just grow the plants we eat. Soil cleans our water, stores carbon, mitigates drought and flood risk, and supports the ecosystems that make all life on earth possible. Our ability to keep soil healthy and flourishing may provide a decisive line of defense against climate change, and most developed and developing nations recognize the role their soil health plays in food security and sovereignty.

About 815 million people are currently living with hunger and malnutrition. And while soil degradation amplifies this problem directly, it also amplifies food price volatility, which leads to land abandonment and involuntary migration.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) produced this report, “Status of the World’s Soil Resources” for review and discussion at the conference.

The conclusion: ten major threats to soil function exist today, including erosion, nutrient imbalance, acidification, and contamination (pollution). By combating the ten threats on the list, specifically these four, we can increase the health, nutrient value, and carbon sequestration capacity of soil around the planet.

According to the UN agriculture chief, “Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stock should become a priority.” We also need to prioritize the ability of soil to absorb and retain pollutants and industrial contaminants, since these contaminants flow through soil and remain in the water supply once the soil has reached its retention capacity.

With research and attention, we can make sure that soil remains a vehicle for prosperity and peace, and as a global community, we can come closer to achieving sustainable development goals. Learn more here.