Northern Ireland rioting deserving of more than condemnation

Riots continue in Northern Ireland. ICC issue second arrest warrant for Bashir. Afghan soldier kills comrades. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Patricia Rich
13 July 2010

Rioting continued in Northern Ireland last night as police and protestors clashed in several areas. The 12th of July is the high point of the Orange Order’s marching season, a historic point of contention between nationalists and unionists. Since Sunday night there have been several reports of car hijackings, petrol bombs and other missiles thrown at police, who have in return fired 70 baton rounds (plastic bullets) and used water cannons to disperse crowds. In the past two nights 55 police officers have been injured, including last night a police woman who suffered head injuries from a missile from the protesting crowd. Two people were also injured by the baton rounds used by the police last night.

The openSecurity verdict: Northern Ireland is often touted as the example of a peace process which has worked in ending protracted conflict. Peace analyses refer to Northern Ireland as the place where ‘negative peace’ has won over physical violence. Negative peace refers to the state where physical violence have been eradicated without the cessation of structural or cultural violence – that is where the direct and obvious symptoms of violent conflict have been stopped but, the sources and ideas which fuel divisions are still apparent. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Northern Ireland has been heralded as a working model for ending protracted conflict, but this assumption is brought into question by the events of the last couple of days.

Whilst it is true that the levels of direct physical violence have decreased since the signing of the Agreement twelve years ago, this week’s riots (and indeed the sporadic, but not insignificant, incidents of violence which take place periodically in NI) are not anomalous but rather a symptom of a peace process which is understood as having ‘ended’ the conflict. This understanding that the conflict has ‘ended’ demotes those who feel their grievances have not been dealt with by this agreement or in the preceding years. Discussions and negotiations are over, a settlement has been made, and anyone who can’t accept that is demoted to the place of petulant spoiler.

The out pouring of condemnation of the violence that has occurred illustrates the political and policing communities’ inability to deal with the legitimate and real fears and feelings of a still divided population. Whilst of course the violence should not be condoned or tolerated, condemnation alone does nothing to understand its sources. Further, whilst those that participated in violent acts may be a small minority, the perception and sentiment which informs such action is felt more widely than by those willing to throw a rock, roof tile or petrol bomb.

The Orange Order marches are a tradition of the predominantly Protestant unionist community. On the one hand they serve as a site of unification and community pride but on the other they are an obvious symbol of division in a polarised community. The parades celebrate the 1690 Battle of Boyne in which Prince William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II. Etched on the collective memory of NI’s population; through the eyes of the mainly Catholic republican community, the parades revel in their defeat.

In order to move beyond the protracted conflict, which contrary to mainstream peace discourse, has not been solved, community leaders, the police, politicians and the media must seek to understand the feelings and fears which inform violent actions rather than simplistically condemning them. By understanding the conflict as over (in the face of evidence to the contrary), those who feel that the settlement doesn’t represent them are pushed to the periphery, making engagement in the peace process anachronistic. This dangerous assumption leaves scope for violence to continue.

ICC issue second arrest warrant for Bashir

The pre-trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court yesterday issued its second arrest warrant for Omar Al Bashir, the Sudanese president. In a press release the ICC stated that the prosecutor’s investigation had made the case that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that he is responsible for three counts of genocide “committed against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups”. This second arrest warrant does not replace the first arrest warrant which was issued in March last year and indicts Bashir for crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes.

The pre-trail Chamber I originally rejected the prosecutor’s application for an arrest warrant to be issued on the grounds of genocide in March 2009 however, this application was accepted as the ICC believe that “Al Bashir acted with specific intent to destroy in part” the ethnic groups specified above. That Bashir’s actions are now defined in International Law as genocide is a symbolic step, however, it is unlikely that he will actually be arrested and face trial – at least in the near future. While Bashir remains in Sudan it is not possible for an arrest to be made.

Three killed in Afghanistan

Two British soldiers and a Nepalese Ghurkha are believed to have been killed and four injured today by an Afghan soldier, the ministry of defence stated. The Afghan defence minister confirmed that “an Afghan army soldier has opened fire and killed”. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has sent a letter of condolence to Nato and Britain and has described the attack as “unfortunate.

The attack took place on soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles who were on duty in Helmand Province. The British and Afghan governments and the Nato command have been quick to reiterate the alliance of Afghan and foreign soldiers. General David Petraeus, US and Nato commander, stated that “we have sacrificed greatly together, and we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies”.

Today’s killing bring the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 356. The soldier responsible apparently escaped after the attack.

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