Terrorism, Election Violence, and Transitional Justice

By Nicole Maylor

From exploring different research streams in the organization to watching world cup matches over lunch, the last 6 weeks of my internship were very eventful. Here are updates for my continued research on the Abu Sayyaf Group, a new project on election violence, and writing a piece on transitional justice:

Update on Abu Sayyaf Group

My policy paper on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) took a swift turn shortly after uploading my first internship blog post. After meeting with my boss, we decided that it would be in the best interest of my work to write a Stable Seas blog post on the ASG instead. The ASG blog post focuses on the Abu Sayyaf Group’s activities around the Sulu Sea to demonstrate the need for the Stable Seas project expansion in South East Asia.

In response to Stephanie Chipeur’s comment on my first blog post, through further research, I conclude that there is a link between maritime terrorism and organized crime. I had a good conversation with a co-worker who researches organized crime and he said that terrorist groups share similar tactics and activities with groups labeled as being involved in organized crime, thus a distinction between the two is hard to make. Additionally, I think that we in the West have been fed the trope of who a terrorist is, which links to gender, race and religion making distinctions between groups even more difficult. I have also learnt that terrorism efforts look different in different parts of the world. For example, Philippines is a coastal nation, and historically, terrorist groups in the area have been able to retreat to the isles in the Sulu Sea without persecution. This leads me to believe that a large part of the ASG terrorism efforts owe their success to the geography of the region.

To counter maritime terrorism efforts, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia signed an international agreement to patrol their shared waters in an effort to eliminate terrorist groups from retreating to the ocean after committing crimes. While this is a positive development in the region, I question how useful this effort will be if these patrol teams are not able to monitor every nook and cranny of every island? In my opinion, government forces must also explore technology such as drones that operate aerially to locate and monitor terrorist activity as well. Luckily, I will be able to get first-hand knowledge on this topic as a co-worker is heading to a conference in Manila at the end of August and will give me feedback to direct my piece. Overall, this has been a very interesting topic to learn about, and I look forward to getting my co-worker’s feedback in order to publish my Stable Seas blog post before the summer is over.

Election Violence, can we forecast the future?

I’ve also been tasked with researching election violence statistics for a data collection model with the goal of forecasting the future of election violence around the world. For this project, election violence is defined as any case where the government engaged in election-specific violence against civilians or harassed opposition. This has been an interesting experience in understanding how governments, in general, enforce their power. I researched 336 election results over a 20-year span and determined that despite a nation’s geography, development or political history, few are completely immune from election violence. For me, this spoke to a greater question on the relationship between the rule of law and the state. Should laws be enforceable just because they come from the state, even when they are corrupt? Is a true democracy one that centers the voices of the people? If so, how loud do their voices have to be? How do these ideas interplay with rights and freedoms against state produced violence?

These are all important questions that are examined by both the layperson and academic around the world. The answers are not simple, and I do not have any set conclusions on this topic. Overall, I have realized that governance, which is at the core of One Earth Future’s mandate, is tricky. That said, it can be achieved in many ways, including: free and fair election processes, contemplating different histories, and should have the ultimate goal of peace and co-operation for all.

Bringing in the Canadian Context

Lastly, I was offered an opportunity to co-author a piece on transitional justice. During a conversation in the work kitchen, a co-worker told me that she was writing a post for a series on African security to promote the book titled: African Actors in International Security: Shaping Contemporary Norms. She was writing about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Report as a standard for seeking justice in post-conflict states and I immediately thought of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She offered me the opportunity to work on the article together. I was very grateful for this offer, not only to bring the Canadian context of reconciliation with indigenous communities into my summer work, but also because I previously worked in Cape Town for an NGO focused on gender-based violence and South Africa holds a special place in my heart. Being able to co-author this piece allowed me to bring these two experiences together and I gladly welcomed it.

While writing, I listened to the Nelson Mandela Centennial Lecture  given by Barack Obama. The lecture centered working across ideological lines and resisting oppression and inequality. Obama, along with South African dignitaries, spoke to the need for a unifying symbol to rally around in uneasy political times. This was influential on my writing as I reflected on the idea of true reconciliation, and what that means today.

I also tried to incorporate my own experiences into the piece. I have conflicting thoughts on the topic of reconciliation because as much as I think truth and reconciliation commissions are necessary in post-conflict states, reconciliation must also be an ongoing process. The wants and needs of the oppressed mustn’t only be listened to and acted on during a reporting period but must continue to incorporate modern-day realities. This idea is especially interesting to think about in the South African context as the government is currently looking into land expropriation from majority white farmers which can be perceived as either retributive or restorative justice.

To compare, in the Canadian context, indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are currently protesting the outcome of various criminal cases where white men have been acquitted for murdering indigenous youth which speaks to the struggle between indigenous communities, the Canadian government and the ongoing pursuit of justice. Both cases speak to the modern-day reality of historically oppressed groups. Both cases come after state-led reconciliation efforts and reports. Overall, this piece has piqued my interest in transitional justice in post-conflict states, and I hope to learn and write more about this topic in the coming year.

Here is a link to the post: http://oefresearch.org/think-peace/truth-and-reconciliation-south-african-model

Lessons Learned

Overall, I am grateful to have worked on a variety of interesting projects at One Earth Future. Every day I was able to have stimulating conversations with co-workers and I am so happy that my fellow team members were also avid soccer fans! Looking back, I am proud of my efforts, and I will use the knowledge I have gained this summer to impact the world around me in a better, more peaceful way.

P.S. I haven’t reflected much on my life outside of the office. Here is the story of my weekend life in Colorado through pictures!

Peace Through Governance

By Nicole Maylor

The slogan at the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF) is peace through governance. Over the past six weeks of my placement, I have been exploring the nuances of this slogan to better understand the mission of OEF.

I have been working on the Stable Seas project, housed in the research department of the organization. This project evaluates maritime security through a specially curated index outlining 9 issue areas that impact a coastal state’s maritime security. From piracy to illicit trade, international co-operation to rule of law, countries are evaluated on how well or poorly they fair in these domains and awarded a score. The score is used as a policy tool to persuade governments to implement better maritime security measures to ensure peace through governance. While the Maritime Security Index covers Eastern, Southern, and Western African states, the goal of the project, and one of my tasks for the summer, is to expand the index to North Africa and the Middle East, with the ultimate goal of having a global index.

My second task for the summer so far has been researching maritime security issues and maritime terrorism threats in South East Asia. Specifically, I have been researching maritime vulnerability in the Sulu Sea between Philippines and Malaysia.

With an undergraduate degree in International Development and Globalization, the research I am doing for both tasks has been interesting and right up my ally, but after completing a year in law school, the questions I have been asking myself and reflecting on for this research have significantly changed.

One of the main questions I have been reflecting on is: what is maritime terrorism exactly? This is definitely a complex question and what I have come to understand is that the ability to label a group as “terrorists” and have that label shape a group’s identity resides with those in positions of great power. This understanding is exemplified through the life of Nelson Mandela. Ten years ago, Nelson Mandela was still classified as a terrorist by the United States, a superpower, and placed on a terrorist watch list.[1] Today, he is seen, rightfully so, as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

Therefore, when I reflect on the research I have been doing on the Abu Sayyaf Group, an ISIS backed terrorist organization in South East Asia,[2] I am trying to come to a more balanced understanding of who maritime terrorists are, classified by whom and why.

So far, I have found conflicting narratives. On one hand, the Abu Sayyaf Group has taken tourists from resorts for ransom, committed beheadings,[3] and partaken in the siege of Marawi city last year.[4] On the other hand, news outlets have also reported that the Abu Sayyaf Group has financially supported poor southern Filipino communities around the Sulu Sea.[5] The reason for their support is probably not benevolence, but this nuance does lead me to try to understand the roots of maritime terrorism in a more robust way.

My point here is that when examining maritime terrorism through a framework of peace through governance, I think the exploration must go deeper than merely accepting what popular media tells us to assume the profile of terrorist organizations to be. This exploration must also include questions around appropriate governance and the practicality of peace for coastal states. Does peace mean total eradication of terrorist groups and those who support them? Does it mean better governance of poor, unstable areas victimized by radicalization? And how do these questions change when analyzed through the lens of maritime security?

While these are very overwhelming questions to even begin to attempt to answer, I do have to say that I feel very privileged to be able to spend the summer exploring maritime terrorism, maritime security, and peace through governance. Hopefully by the end of this experience I will have some answers, so stay tuned!

To learn more about One Earth Future Foundation: http://oneearthfuture.org/

To learn more about the Maritime Security Index: https://stableseas.org/issue-areas/overview/#0

P.S. On the weekends I have been hiking a lot – here are some pictures of beautiful Colorado mountains!

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2013/12/07/why-nelson-mandela-was-on-a-terrorism-watch-list-in-2008/?utm_term=.8bac29b1abea

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36138554

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/world/asia/jurgen-kantner-hostage-abu-sayyaf.html

[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/happened-marawi-171029085314348.html

[5] https://www.nyarisk.com/2018/03/21/abu-sayyaf-weakened-not-defeated/

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