How they Exacerbate Ethnic Tension

Lanka flag

by Samir Pasha and Naga Kandiah, Jurist

Much controversy surrounds the use of the flags associated with the Sri Lankan peoples, mainly because they are loaded with ethnic symbolism in a country recovering from a generation-long civil war along ethno-nationalist lines. The flags of concern here all feature big cats as central to their designs.

Big cats, wherever they occur, have been objects of reverence. Even where they are not native, their sheer power, grace, agility, ferocity and strength have enabled them to establish a place in the mythos and heraldry of many nations. Of interest to the Sri Lankan story are three species of big cat: the leopard, the lion and the tiger. We will briefly examine them in that order.

Of the three species, only one is currently resident in Sri Lanka—the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya). Strangely, it does not feature in the ethnic heraldry of the country anywhere near as much as its relatives do. As the subspecies name suggests, the Sinhala word for leopard is kotiya, a word which is also commonly (although not entirely accurately) used to denote the tiger—especially as a derogatory term directed at Tamils. The leopard is significant in Hinduism, however, as the animal from which the god Shiva's garments are made, and the god is frequently depicted meditating upon a leopard's skin.


Cox's Bazar

by Andy Heintz, CounterVortex

The Burmese military's murderous repression hasn't just affected its home country, it has also had consequences for neighboring Bangladesh. It has been four years since Burma's military, known as the Tatmadaw, launched an assault against the country's Rohingya Muslim population with genocidal intent, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

"The crimes in Rakhine State, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," said the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. In the final 20-page report, it found: "There is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw  chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine state."

The UN described genocide as intent to destroy an ethnic, national group in whole or in part. The designation has been used in the past to describe war crimes in Bosnia, Sudan and the Islamic State's murderous campaign against the Yazidi communities in Syria and Iraq. The UN has called for Tatmadaw's commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (now leader of the ruling junta), and four other generals to face justice for committing war crimes.


Anti-authoritarian Voices in Uprising against the Dictatorship

ABC Belarus

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate

The former Soviet republic of Belarus exploded into angry protests last August in the wake of contested presidential elections that resulted in a totally implausible landslide victory for long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Police, riot squads and army troops unleashed harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water-hoses against demonstrators in the capital Minsk and other cities.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was challenged in the Aug. 9 election by opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. After the vote, Tikhanovskaya was expelled by the Belarusian KGB to Lithuania, as spontaneous protests broke out. From exile, Tikhanovskaya issued a call for continued protests to force Lukashenko from power.


Tecun Uman

by Kevin Lapp, Jurist

The Biden Administration recently came to agreements with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to increase their border enforcement. These agreements aim to reduce the number of migrants who are able to make their way to the US-Mexico border by extending American border defense thousands of miles south of that border. And they do so in a very American fashion—through deterrence achieved by militarizing borders. Now, the US is outsourcing the militarization to other nations.

According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Mexico agreed to keep 10,000 troops at its southern border, Guatemala will add 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border and set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route through the country. Honduras will deploy 7,000 police and military to its border. Subsequent reports indicate that the US has agreed to train members of the Guatemalan task force that will be deployed to the country's borders. What the US has offered in return, or promised not to do, in exchange, for these commitments is unclear.


Haitian immigrants

by Anne Bloomberg, Jurist

On March 12, the Biden Administration designated Myanmar for Temporary Protective Status (TPS). Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro  Mayorkas said, "Due to the military coup and security forces’ brutal violence against civilians, the people of Burma are suffering a complex and deteriorating humanitarian crisis in many parts of the country." A few days earlier, Venezuela was designated for Temporary Protective Status. The Secretary cited the fact that Venezuela is "a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens."

Haiti is currently experiencing a constitutional crisis. Haitian judges, lawyers, and civil society largely agree that President Jovenel Moїse's term legally ended in February of 2021. Moїse argues that he has one more year due to a delay in his taking office caused by a rerun of the election. Postponement of the 2019 elections, arguably due to the government's mismanagement, means there is no functioning parliament and Moїse is ruling by decree. The United Nations has expressed concern over declining judicial independence. Moїse is calling for a vote on constitutional reforms that will shift the balance between the executive and legislative branches. A referendum on the changes is scheduled for June.


Burma minorities

by Andy Heintz, CounterVortex

With its February coup d'etat, Burma's military—known as the Tatmadaw—has unwittingly created a nonviolent resistance that is more diverse and inclusive than any movement in the country's history. The threat of death, torture or prison has not deterred protesters from continuing to participate in acts of civil disobedience against the military and its allies. These demonstrators have shown an amazing amount of bravery and discipline by continuing to practice nonviolent resistance against a military that has once again shown it has no qualms about doing whatever it needs to do to hold onto power. This includes using live ammunition to kill peaceful protesters, arson to destroy entire villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war.


Burma protest

by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex

Burma is once again in the international headlines as the Southeast Asian nation has lost another opportunity to sustain its credibility as a multi-party democracy. A one-year state of emergency and period of military rule was announced in the early hours of February 1,  when the generals again seized power. Many of the newly elected lawmakers were detained just hours before Parliament was to convene its fresh session.

But over a hundred thousand Burmese citizens have taken to the streets across the country in the days since then, demanding restoration of democratic rule and release of all detained political leaders—including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, known to her followers by the honorific Daw, or aunt. The spontaneous demonstrations across Burma bring back memories of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, led by Buddhist monks, which paved the way for the democratic transition four years later.



by Henry "Chip" Carey and Jennifer McCoy, Jurist

Americans were shocked by the January 6 storming of the US Capitol by the Proud Boys and other right-wing mobs and militia. International observers and some US politicians began referring to the country as a "banana republic"—a derogatory statement referring to banana-producing countries in Central America with histories of unstable and corrupt governments. Latin Americans generally have had more experience with and can more easily recognize thuggish behavior and its danger right away, be it from the left or the right. They therefore have been at the forefront in taking multilateral and region-wide action to promote and protect democracy.

The Western hemisphere in fact designed a process to collectively defend against threats to democracy like the one just faced by the US: the Inter-American Democratic Charter. This Charter could be invoked now to warn about the dangerous precedent set by an elected president refusing to accept the results of an electoral defeat and inciting violence to distort or prevent a peaceful transfer of power.

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