4. Ethnic Conflict By the end of this section, you should be able to show an understanding of the o causes o nature o outcome & responses to ethnic conflict with reference to the terms as outlined below (make sure you understand the meaning of each of these terms)
• • • • •
Causes of conflict unequal distribution of resources and political power territorial dispute cultural conflict human rights abuses; racism; sectarianism historical animosities
Nature of conflict • civil disobedience • terrorism • civil war
• • • •
Outcomes and responses to conflict social & economic impacts ethnic cleansing international intervention, peace processes. territorial division; autonomy
How we will cover this section • Firstly, you will do some background reading and make brief summary notes from the text book. The purpose of this is to familiarise yourself with the meaning of all the above terms and to get some idea of how they operate across a range of examples • Then, we will look at a series of past paper questions to consolidate your knowledge and understanding. • Finally, we will look at one cast study of an ethnic conflict: Sri Lanka
A. The Causes of ethnic conflict The causes of ethnic conflict are complex and are do to the interaction of a number of factors, including the following: Use the textbook as indicated to make very brief notes in the table. Note the examples you’re asked to comment on. There are many more examples in the text book, but just focus on the ones mentioned in the table. Factor i. Territorial Disputes (p114, para 2-3)
ii. Historical animosities (p115, para 1)
Each new generation growing up with information about past injustices always a potential for future conflict to emerge Especially the case when societies are ________________ b/c…
South Africa & apartheid
Global War on Terror
Northern Irish Catholics prior to the late 1960s Civil Rights marches
iii. Prejudice (p115, para 2)
iv. Cultural conflicts (p115, para 3)
The kinds of conflict that can emerge between cultures that share very different values e.g. fundamentalist Islam verses the West
v. Human rights abuses (p115, para 4)
vi. Allocation of resources & political power (p116, para 2)
Examples • Position of post-colonial African borders
B. The Nature of Conflict Ethnic conflict involves some kind of confrontation between the two rival ethnic sides. However, this confrontation can vary greatly in terms of its seriousness and scale of violence.
Civil disobedience Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws of the land in non-violent confrontation and protest over ethnic discrimination. One good example is the story of Rosa Parks. The setting was southern USA in the 1950s, when the black Civil Rights Movement was underway, using non-violent protest to try to get racial discrimination outlawed. Under the system of segregation used on buses in Alabama, white people who boarded the bus took seats in the front rows, filling the bus toward the back. Black people who boarded the bus took seats in the back rows, filling the bus toward the front. Eventually, the two sections would meet, and the bus would be full. If another black person boarded the bus, he was required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand, so that a new row for white people could be created. Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and re-enter the bus through a separate door at the back. Sometimes the bus-drivers would pull away before black passengers were able to re-board. Thursday, December 1, 1955, black woman, Rosa Parks, was sitting in the front-most row for black people. When a Caucasian man boarded the bus, the bus driver told everyone in her row to move back to create a new row for the whites. While all of the other coloured people in her row complied, Rosa refused, and was arrested for failing to obey the driver's instructions. Her arrest triggered a boycott of the buses by blacks. It resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the public transit system, because most of the bus users were the city's black population. The ensuing struggle lasted from December 1, 1955 to December 20, 1956 when a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional.
At other times, however, ethnic conflict can spiral into some form of violent confrontation: terrorism or civil war. Use the text book p118-119 to outline the difference between terrorism and civil war below:
Involves conflict between…
Global War on Terror
Civil War •
Involves conflict between…
C. The Outcomes and Responses to Conflict i. Economic and Social impacts Economic damage can range from direct destruction of buildings and infrastructure to the disincentive to outside investment caused by risks associated with conflict. Conflict can also have negative impacts on societies. For example, in Northern Ireland, widespread segregation has resulted from people’s desire to live in ‘safe’ areas with their ‘own kind’. This segregation has not diminished since the end of The Troubles; in fact, there is evidence that it has actually increased in inner city areas of Belfast. Left: bomb explosion in Belfast in the 1970s. Right: a Peace Line in Belfast 2000s
More extreme than this is the process termed ethnic cleansing. This is defined as (use text book, p 119, para 4 to define the term and give examples of how it was conducted in the former Yugoslavia)
ii. Finding solutions to ethnic conflict In many ethnic conflicts, at some stage the opposing sides will need to attempt to find a solution to the ethnic conflict.
a. Peace Process This term refers to the process of dialogue and negotiation that aims to bring about an end to the particular ethnic conflict. The discussions are never easy, and often take a long, tortuous route. For example, in the Northern Ireland Peace Process arguably began in the late 1980s with secret discussions between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The 1994 IRA ceasefire paved the way for ‘talks about talks’ to begin. This slow process was hit with many setbacks (e.g. the withdrawal of the IRA ceasefire in 1996 and the bombing of London docklands), but eventually saw agreement reached in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Since then, there have been many wobbles, both in terms of the stability of the political institutions and of the rising violence from Republican Dissidents, but (at the time of writing) the Peace Process seems to have delivered Northern Ireland into a generally ‘post-conflict’ situation. Other peace processes have not been as successful, including the Israeli-Palestine peace process, ongoing since the 1970s. one writer says this of the process: Sometime in the mid-1970s the term peace process began widely used to describe the American-led efforts to bring about a negotiated peace between Israel and its neighbors. The phrase stuck, and ever since it has been synonymous with the gradual, step-by-step approach to resolving one of the world’s most difficult conflicts. In the years since 1967 the emphasis in Washington has shifted from the spelling out of the ingredients of 'peace' to the 'process' of getting there. … Much of US effort focuses on how issues should be resolved – the process – rather than on substance – what should be done. The United States
has provided both a sense of direction and a mechanism. That, at its best, is what the peace process has been about. At worst, it has been little more than a slogan used to mask the marking of time.”
b. International Interventions Often, especially in more high-profile conflicts, there will be international intervention from other countries trying to use their influence to bring about an end to the ethnic conflict. Reasons for international interventions There are a variety of reasons why other countries may become involved: • Moral concerns when there is ethnic cleansing or genocide e.g. America’s involvement in Kosovo. • Political or historical links with the countries e.g. France’s interest in its former colony of Chad or the USA’s close links with Ireland & the UK. • Strategic reasons e.g. the America’s interest in the Middle East is partly due to the large Jewish population in the USA. • Security reasons e.g. America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was justified on the basis of the Global War on Terror and the role these countries were alleged to have played in it.
President Bill Clinton at Belfast’s City Hall, 1995
Sometimes, however, for political or strategic reasons, the international community has been slow to get involved in ethnic conflicts. One of the worst examples of this in recent times was the pathetic response of the international community to the genocide in Rwanda. More recent still has been the indecision of the UN to declare that the conflict in Darfur region of Sudan has involved genocide. Many argue that since it’s embarrassment in Somalia in 199_, the USA has been more reluctant to get involved in what it sees as non-strategic ethnic conflicts. Problems facing international interventions In addition to being involved politically, international intervention can sometimes take the form of soldiers on the ground to ‘police the peace’. This can be difficult for a variety of reasons: • There are inadequate resources including personnel and equipment necessary for the scale of the operation. • The international soldiers themselves may come under attack from terrorist insurgents within the country; it is notoriously difficult for an army involved in such an ‘asymmetrical war’ i.e. •
The terms of their deployment may prohibit soldiers from proactively engaging in battle; they may only be able to shot to defend themselves. This can result in soldiers standing by powerless will they watch violence and atrocities taking place before them.
As a result, international intervention has had a mixed success rate in helping resolve ethnic conflict.
A badge showing the range of countries involved in the peace keeping force in Kosovo, 1999. 50,000 troops from 39 different nations.
c. Political Outcomes Sometimes the peace processes will result in negotiated settlements concerning territory. We’ll take a look at two examples: • Territorial divisions If the opposing ethnic groups have clear territories, sometimes it is felt that territorial division is the most appropriate solution. This was the case in the formation of Northern Ireland. •
Autonomy Sometimes ethnic regions will not get full independence but will get autonomy (i.e. a degree of self-governance while remaining part of the overall territory). An example of this was the Kurdish northern region of Iraq. Currently, its population elects representatives both to the national Iraqi parliament and to its own regional autonomous government.
The Kurdish autonomous region in N. Iraq.
Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka Use the colour map on the website to sketch out the main ethnic regions of Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka.
1. The causes of the conflict
Sinhalese (mostly Buddhists) Tamils (mostly Hindus) Others
74% 18% 8%
The causes of Sri Lanka’s conflict are varied and complex, but they include the following:
A. Territorial dispute When the Tamils and Sinhalese moved into Sri Lanka from India thousands of years ago, they both had very separate identities, and indeed, at that stage the island was separated into two kingdoms; the smaller Tamil population in the north and the majority Sinhalese in the south. This history has produced a very strong territorial claim which underpins the current conflict: • the Tamils believe that the north of island is their home land (called Eelam); • the Sinhalese believe in a religious prophecy proclaiming the territorial unity of the island as a Buddhist state. In other words, both groups have a deep attachment to certain parts of the island, which results in very strong motivation to fight for them.
B. Historical animosities & unequal distribution of political power Under British colonial rule from 1815 to 1948, the minority Tamils become more successful in getting government jobs and subsequently had a representation in the higher class jobs greater than their proportion in the population as a whole. Following independence, it was not long until there was a dramatic emergence of strong Sinhalese nationalism; in 1956 the highly nationalist Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) was easily elected by the island’s majority Sinhalese population, stating that they wanted to reclaim the Sinhalese identity lost to the Tamils under British rule.
C. Sectarianism and human rights abuses The SLFP introduced policies that were seen as sectarian and abusing human rights. One area where this was evident was in language reform. Under British rule, English had been the countryâ€™s official language. However, the SLFP made Sinhala the official language and required all public sector workers to be able to speak and write it. The result of this was that the Tamils were effectively forced out of these higher status jobs (in favour of Sinhalese) and they were relegated to second-class citizens. One particular consequence of this language reform was to reduce access to education for Tamils. Most simply, with Sinhalese being national language and language of education, the Tamils were discriminated against. In addition, the Sinhalese government introduced a complex ethnic standardisation process for university entry, with the following results: at the time of independence, Tamils had 31% of university places; by 1970, this figure had dropped to 16%.
2. The nature of the conflict
LTTE suicide bomber explodes his bomb in the middle of a crowd.
A. Civil disobedience It was not long after independence before the Tamil minority started to protest against the reforms introduced by the Sinhalese. Initially, these took the form of civil disobedience as Tamils took to the streets in protest. The reaction of the Sinahalese government was swift and brutal â€“ the army and the police were sent in to put down the protests. This heavy-handed approach resulted in around 400 deaths of Tamil protesters.
B. Terrorism This escalated the conflict and resulted in terrorist activities by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). This group is reportedly responsible for the suicide belt and pioneered its use along with the use of female suicide bombers. It is estimated that the LTTE has conducted around 200 suicide attacks since the late 1980s. Some of its most high profile victims have included the assassinations of Indian Prime Minister in 1991 and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister in 1993.
C. Civil war In July 1983, the LTTE launched a deadly attack on the military in the North of the country, killing 13 soldiers. Using the nationalistic sentiments to their advantage, the Sinhalese government organized massacres and riots against Tamils in Colombo, the capital, and elsewhere. Between 400 and 3,000 Tamils were estimated to have been killed and many more fled Sinhalese-majority areas. Most commentators consider this to be the beginning of civil war. This was has included all out direct fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE, including battles for territory. By May 2009, it is estimated that some 88,000 people had lost their lives as a result of the conflict. On the day before she set out to blow up the Sri Lankan prime minister, Menake went shopping for a sequined top to hide the vest full of explosives that would turn her into a human bomb. It was the cyanide necklace that gave her away.
Above: Tamil Tigers on parade. Right: Sri Lankan army tank fires at LTTE forces during the 2009 military offensive.
3. The outcomes of the conflict A. Economic Impacts Some estimates suggest that the Sri Lankan government has spent 5% of the countryâ€™s GDP on defence in recent years, rather than targeting basic social needs or generating further economic growth in the island. In addition, there has been a negative impact on the countryâ€™s tourist trade. However, following the ceasefire announced in 2002 (see below), there was some evidence of improvements in tourist numbers. The Sri Lanka Tourist Board reported 500,000 visitors in 2003, an increase of more than 25% on the year before.
B. Social Impacts In addition to the 88,000 people killed, there are a significant number of people who have been displaced (forced out of their homes and areas). It is very hard to estimate how many have been forced to move during the entire conflict. However, the governmentâ€™s military initiative to defeat the Tigers in 2009 left around 300,000 Tamils in refugee camps.
A refugee camp of displaced Tamils in 2009
C. Peace process and international intervention After two decades of fighting and three failed attempts at peace talks, including the unsuccessful deployment of the Indian Army as a Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to 1990, a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict appeared possible when a cease-fire was declared in December 2001, and a ceasefire agreement signed with international intervention from Norway in 2002. This settlement included the LTTE agreeing to remove its demand for an independent Tamil state in return for the Sinhalese government granting the Tamils an autonomous region in the north of the island. Sri Lankan government minister and LTTE However, limited hostilities renewed in late 2005 and the conflict official shake hands at press conference began to escalate until the government launched a number of major announcing ceasefire agreement in 2002. military offensives against the LTTE in 2006, determined to defeat the LTTE militarily. The government announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement in 2008, alleging that the LTTE violated the agreement over 10,000 times. This prompted the peace monitors from Norway to withdraw from the country. Following this, the government forces took control of the entire area of the north of the island previously controlled by the Tamil Tigers, leading the LTTE to finally admit defeat on May 17, 2009.