Top Picks: al-Shabab amnesty, Colombia’s missing, and Chechnya revisited

Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Four to read:

“Enrique’s Shadow”

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have gone missing during armed conflicts, natural disasters or migration. The actual number of the missing isn’t known, but the impacts on families and loved ones left behind can last for decades. The protracted conflict in Colombia may have ended with last week’s peace deal between the government and FARC, but 79,000 people are thought to still be missing. “Enrique’s Shadow” is a graphic novel and animation commissioned by the ICRC to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August. It tells the story of 15-year-old Enrique, who was kidnapped by an armed group in Colombia in 1992, and the toll his disappearance takes on his family. After more than 20 years of searching for him, they’re still no closer to knowing if he’s dead or alive

Remember Chechnya? It’s still a repressive nightmare for many

Back at the turn of the millennium, Russia’s brutal second war to retain control of the republic of Chechnya was regularly making headlines around the world; the humanitarian disaster that followed even merited a mention in the 2001 blockbuster Bridget Jones’s Diary. Fast forward a decade and a half and many people would be hard pressed to find Chechnya on a map. That doesn’t mean things are OK – far from it, as this Human Rights Watch report reminds us. Ramzan Kadyrov, Russia’s appointed leader of the republic, has long been accused of using brutal tactics to stifle dissent. But with elections scheduled this month, “authorities have been viciously and comprehensively cracking down on critics and anyone whose total loyalty to Kadyrov they deem questionable”. Abductions and torture have become increasingly common, as the report notes. A sobering reminder of the terrible conditions that continue in an often forgotten corner of the globe. 

Lebanon's slow reconciliation

Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war ended in 1990, but the divisions that caused and fueled the fighting remain. In this film and text, Reuters visits a small village called Brih that was once home to both Druze and Christians. The war pitted the groups against each other and when the last of the Christians fled in 1983, their Druze neighbours moved into their homes, while others were torn down. But not long ago a Christian family whose ancestors hail from the village decided to bury one of their sons there, and it led to a rare moment of true coexistence. In Lebanon reconciliation is actually official (and politicised) process with an entire ministry still dedicated to those displaced by the war. It’s done village by village, and often involves bitter enemies drinking coffee together. This small example of how Lebanon’s painfully slow reconciliation is working – or not – is worth watching as divisions between neighbours and sects deepen elsewhere in the region.

Gifts and graft – how Boko Haram buys support

Mercy Corps has already done interesting work on the motives for youth participation in Boko Haram. In this follow-up research, they examine in greater depth how Boko Haram used financial support for recruitment and to build community support. Based on interviews conducted last month in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, Mercy Corps finds that financial assistance from the jihadist group is often viewed as the only viable path to business growth in the current conflict.

Respondents perceived that government-provided economic support was only for the wealthy and well connected, and inaccessible without political connections or bribes. In many cases, Boko Haram financial assistance to businesses came with the additional promise of security. This protection – from the insurgents’ own violence – allowed businesses to keep running without disruption during the height of the fighting.

One from IRIN:

How Kenya’s al-Shabab amnesty is a loaded gun

Kenya’s strategy to lure fighters away from al-Shabab has backfired. This IRIN investigation exposes the dangers fighters face from both sides should they choose to leave the insurgent group that controls much territory in neighbouring Somalia, where Kenyan troops are fighting. The story documents the case of two former fighters who turned themselves in to police in January, hoping to take advantage of the amnesty offer. They promptly disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown. Other al-Shabab militants may have killed them, or they may have become victims of Kenyan security forces, which have been accused of disappearing people as part of counter-terrorism operations. The report includes a video interview with the sister of one of the former fighters who is now in hiding herself, for fear of retribution. A former fighter tells IRIN he may return to al-Shabab, because he now doesn’t trust the amnesty offer. “It’s a trap,” he says.

Coming up:

Keeping political transitions peaceful – Thursday, 8 September, 9am (EDT)

This symposium at the US Institute of Peace will discuss peaceful political transitions. Panelists will discuss recent research, with a focus on Zimbabwe, with the aim of improving policy and practice. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Reddit AMA on the refugee and migrant crisis – Monday, 5 September, 8am (EDT)

Ahead of two major summits on refugees and migrants – the UN’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants and a Barack Obama hosted Leader’s Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis – experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will participate in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on the crisis, the international response, and what – if anything – the summits may achieve. Click here to follow the conversation and get your own questions in.


(PHOTO: 75 people died in Boko Haram’s bombing of the Nyanya bus park in Abuja, April 2014. CREDIT: Ikechukwu Ibe/IRIN)