Martial law in Mindanao, Trump's plans for Somalia and global humanitarian attitudes: The Cheat Sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

What will martial law mean for the Philippines?

The Philippines’ tough talking president, Rodrigo Duterte, has declared martial law in the southern Island of Mindanao, and he’s threatened to extend it throughout the entire country. Duterte made the declaration as fighting raged in the city of Marawi between security forces and a group of Islamist militants who have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. Islamist militancy has been gaining strength as a peace process wavers in Mindanao, as we reported just over a year ago. The warnings came quickly. Many asked why Duterte had enforced martial law in all of Mindanao rather than confining it to the area where fighting was taking place. Others heard echoes of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled as a brutal dictator from 1972 to 1981 after declaring martial law – especially since Duterte promised that his version would “not be any different from what the president, Marcos, did. I'd be harsh.” Duterte’s words were particularly chilling in the wake of the about 7,000 people killed since he declared a war against drugs almost a year ago. Under the constitution, martial law can be imposed for 60 days. The coming days and weeks may give an indication of whether Duterte plans to extend or expand it, and whether there is a danger that the Philippines could slip back into autocracy.

Don’t do it, Donald

US President Donald Trump looks set to wage a more aggressive military campaign in Somalia. The New York Times provides cogent reasons why he shouldn’t.  More strikes do nothing to address Somalia’s root issue of state weakness and poor governance. “Instead, they may create more problems by allowing African Union forces to retreat, further militarize American policy, sideline diplomatic engagement and undercut the newly elected Somali president,” the paper says.

By declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” Trump is removing an Obama-era vetting process, which “potentially lowers the bar for tolerance of civilian casualties”. Dead innocents are a powerful recruitment tool for al-Shabab, and a vote-loser for the popular new government. If humanitarian and development aid can survive Trump’s budget axe, that would seem a better investment than doubling-down on a dubious military adventure.  

Meanwhile, this timely study explores the African Union’s attempts to protect civilians during its peace operations – Somalia included. It notes that most AU operations are military-heavy, despite the fact that protecting civilians requires “a combination of policing, civilian and military expertise”. Military intervention is an instrument, not a strategy. Stability and sustainable peace entail a political process.  “In sum, the AU should put more emphasis on developing its political muscle to end armed conflicts and crises, as well as flexing its military muscle,” the study notes.

WHS one year on

After a long build up, the World Humanitarian Summit concluded in Istanbul exactly one year ago with more than 3,000 commitments from the world’s largest donors and aid agencies to reform the aid system. Twelve months on seems like a good time to reflect on what the summit achieved and what progress has been made on that bewildering array of pledges. This week UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a brief statement alluding to the anniversary and the Agenda for Humanity in which his predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon, set out a framework for humanitarian reform ahead of the WHS. Guterres applauded “progress that is being made by so many stakeholders to take forward the commitments they made in Istanbul”. Christina Bennett of the Overseas Development Institute takes a more critical view, noting that while the WHS sparked some much needed “self-reflection in the aid sector” and “revived and modernised some rusty yet vital debates”, its landmark agreement on reforms to aid financing – the Grand Bargain – “has been slow in inspiring real change”. Our recent report on progress towards the Grand Bargain reached a similar conclusion. The commitments on “localisation” have been particularly troublesome. Bennett notes that “it took nine months to agree on who ‘local responders’ are and what ‘funding them as directly as possible’ means.” Going forward, Bennett recommends a dose of political pragmatism and the need to identify an influential individual to lead and champion the Grand Bargain’s implementation.

One of the major outcomes from the WHS was a commitment by the humanitarian and development sectors to work together more closely and to partner with local and national actors towards long-term capacity-strengthening. The so-called “New Way of Working” (the aid sector loves a catch phrase!) has dominated recent discussions at aid policy conferences, including an anniversary WHS meeting in Istanbul last week. Next week, we’ll be delving more deeply into how transformative the New Way of Working really is.

Who cares?

Across the world, citizens are growing less supportive of humanitarian action and less confident that as individuals they can make a positive difference to the global refugee crisis. These are the key points of today's  2017 Aurora Humanitarian Index, which is based on a survey of 6,500 people in 12 countries on their attitudes to global humanitarian issues, the effectiveness of response, and personal motivations to intervene. The index includes a ranking of pressing humanitarian concerns: 63 percent of respondents put terrorism at the top of their list of worries. The next most frequently expressed top concerns are the widening gap between the rich and poor, hunger, climate change and forced migration. Just nine percent of those surveyed said they thought their actions could help solve humanitarian issues.

On a more positive note, the survey found that younger people bucked the trend, as a much higher proportion of them showed “positive attitudes to humanitarianism and the individual impact on the refugee crisis.”

Some other key findings:

  • 42 percent of respondents feel their countries have already taken in too many refugees.
  • 34 percent of respondents agree that immigrants make their country a better place to live, yet one-third view migrants as a threat to their religious beliefs.
  • 44 percent of respondents feel their country is threatened by ethnic minorities. This figure rises significantly in the UK (56 percent); Kenya (56 percent); Turkey (55 percent); and France (54 percent).
  • Younger respondents value diversity, with 29 percent agreeing it is better for a country if everyone shared customs and traditions. 

The Index will be presented on Sunday in Yerevan, during the Aurora Dialogues, a platform for the world’s leading humanitarians, academics, philanthropists, business leaders and civil society to bring awareness to today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

Did you miss it?

Who is to blame for the murders of Michael and Zaida?

The Democratic Republic of Congo is opposing an international investigation into the deaths of two UN investigators, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. That’s disappointing because it’s exactly what is needed. In a useful examination of the current finger-pointing, the Congo Crisis Group takes issue with a recent New York Times report highlighting the “complicity” of the UN in the killings, and the insinuated involvement of an opposition politician. It argues that could play into the government’s hands, given the potential video evidence of a government role. The CRG is also scathing about the UN’s board of inquiry, which seems more concerned with understanding whether UN rules and regulations were followed than identifying the perpetrators of this crime, and more widely the thousands of other civilian deaths in Kasai.

(TOP PHOTO: Rebels guard a base in Mindanao, June 2015. Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)

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