Top Picks: Grotesque gap years, Iraq minorities, and a chance for peace

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:

Iraq's missing minorities

As we pore over the Chilcot Inquiry, there is more than enough present-day evidence that Iraq is suffering. Suicide bombers attacked a Shia shrine north of Baghdad on Friday, and the death toll from a Sunday suicide bombing in the capital has been raised to 292. Here’s some more: a report from Minority Rights International on the disappearance of the country’s minorities highlights how Yazidis, Turkmen, Shabak, Christians and Kakai’i have been disproportionately affected by violence since the start of 2014. Those not killed, abducted, or otherwise abused, have been forced from their homes, live as IDPs or have fled the country. Iraq’s Christian population – 1.4 million in 2003 – was down to 350,000 in early 2014 and is now some 250,000. The question of returns or justice for those who have suffered at the hands of so-called Islamic State, the Iraqi forces, or their allied militias, has not been properly addressed, the report argues. This in itself risks alienation, possible radicalisation, or a complete exodus of these groups. In a country rife with sectarian tension, the disappearance of what diversity is left would be yet another major loss.

A critical moment for peace in the Philippines

Peace appears tantalisingly close in the war-ravaged southern Philippine island of Mindanao. In this report, the International Crisis Group argues that the conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is closer to being resolved than at any time since fighting began four decades ago. But the ICG also warns: “President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on 30 June, needs to build quickly on the foundations laid by President Benigno Aquino’s administration or the process risks collapsing.” Aquino and the MILF forged a deal that would grant autonomy to an area of Mindanao populated mainly by Muslims, a small minority in this mostly Catholic country. But Congress failed to pass legislation that would form the legal basis of the agreement. Duterte will need to succeed where his predecessor failed and convince Congress to endorse the deal. The stakes are high: as IRIN reported recently, young fighters disillusioned with seemingly interminable negotiations are increasingly breaking off into extremist militant groups that take their cues from so-called Islamic State.

How to write about Europe

The blurb from a self-published gap year "memoir" by a British actress who once went to Zambia, took its place this week in the pantheon of patronising, made-up, and racist writing about "Africa". 

It was met with a crushing response on Twitter.

This riposte, about a Zambian spending time in a region of "Europe", home to "some of the world’s palest, most unfortunate people", drips with wit and scorn. 

"I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted thrush, and had close encounters with foxes, seagulls, wood pigeons, and mice. As football season came and went, the conflict in neighbouring Westminster began to escalate and then spill over into Cornwall with repercussions all along the seafront. Thousands of people were affected by the weakened currency – the very fragile “pound” – and we heard brutal tales of overpriced city breaks to Bruges."

Cambodian kleptocracy

This report by Global Witness, entitled Hostile Takeover, probes the business interests of the family of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The investigation “sheds light on a huge network of secret deal-making and corruption that has underpinned Hun Sen’s 30-year dictatorial reign of murder, torture and the imprisonment of his political opponents.” While Global Witness was only able to uncover “a fraction of the true value of the family’s business holdings”, researchers did find links to international corporations including Apple, Nokia, and Unilever. The humanitarian implications of the kleptocracy are clear: wealth is concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite while most of the population remains impoverished and many have been displaced by land-grabs. Cambodia’s corruption also siphons off funds that should be used to benefit the people, who could do with some help as they continue to suffer from natural disasters such as the recent drought.

One to watch:

Exodus: Our Journey to Europe

Europe’s refugee crisis is probably the most documented movement of people in history, but there are sections of the journey into and through Europe that have not made it onto our TV screens. No film crews have accompanied migrants on the back of the smugglers’ trucks that take them across the Sahara, or boarded the inflatable dinghies they use to cross the Mediterranean, or hidden with them in the back of trucks driving through the Eurotunnel.

But in the summer of 2015, a BBC production team gave smartphones to some of the people preparing to make the journey to Europe. Among them were several Syrians escaping the war, an Afghan man fleeing the Taliban, and a Gambian about to travel “the back way” to Italy to find work. Their footage has been combined with interviews shot by the production team to make a three-part documentary that will be aired on BBC2 next week. Excerpts of the first episode are available here. They include dramatic footage shot by a Syrian man of a dinghy crammed with other refugees slowly filling with water, and a Syrian family in Turkey wrestling with the decision whether to risk their children’s lives making a similar journey. Not to be missed.

One from IRIN:

Liberté, égalité, impunité

In explaining his resignation and defending his decision to hand over documents to the French authorities, UN whistleblower Anders Kompass made the stunning accusaion that the defence of ethical principles could no longer be entrusted to the world body. It was better, he said, to let outsiders act and follow up on sensitive information than to leave it to managers inside the organisation. More’s the pity then that two years after allegations first surfaced of sexual abuse by French and African peacekeepers on children as young as eight in Central African Republic, those outside actors – in this case French magistrates – appear powerless to do anything about it. As French investigators head back to Bangui for more interviews, there is no sign of any charges being brought, let alone of succussful prosecutions. The most depressing revelation in this fascinating exposé of the French judicial system by IRIN contributor Anthony Morland is that such delays in meting out justice are perfectly normal. “The longer this drags on, the more perpetrators are emboldened, seeing colleagues getting away with dreadful stuff, perpetuating a culture of impunity,” despairs Paula Donovan of Code Blue. It’s no surprise that more than 100 victims, mostly underaged girls, have come forward since with similar allegations.

Coming up:

Survival migration: addressing the global crisis

Monday, 11 July at 2:30pm (EST) at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC

Panellists at this event, co-hosted by the Overseas Development Institute and the CGD, will discuss alternatives to simply toughening border controls to address the recent rise in “survival migration”. In particular, they’ll talk about the need for new regulatory institutions that would better unlock the potential that migrants and refugees can bring to destination countries, and look at practical examples of innovation that could point the way towards more effective policies.

A livestream of the event will be available here.