Tuesday, September 21, 2021

D.R. Congo (DRC): Islamic State Consolidates and Expands in Central Africa.

 by Elizabeth Kendal 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is estimated to be 92.2 percent Christian (of whom around half remain animist) and 1.9 percent Muslim. Islam entered DRC from East Africa’s Swahili Coast at least two centuries ago, as locals adopted the Arab beliefs, customs and Swahili language of the slave traders who settled in the region. While Islam is not new to DRC, fundamentalist Islam – which is pro-Sharia, pro-jihad and anti-infidel – is a recent phenomenon. For many years, the main jihadist group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF; formed in 1995), had been more criminal than ideological. Those days are over. Today, fundamentalist Islam is spreading rapidly in north-east Congo because Islamic jihadists – when not out killing and looting – are ‘inviting’ locals to convert and join them.

VIOLENT JIHAD

The main jihadist group in DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), first formed in 1995. Originally a Ugandan outfit, the ADF – the like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – was established with the goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni. To that end, both the ADF and the LRA received support from the Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Eventually, the Ugandan military managed to drive both the ADF and the LRA out of Uganda and into north-east DRC. WHile the remnants of the LRA eventually found refuge in the Kafia Kingi enclave, which borders north-east Central African Republic on the remote and disputed Sudan (Darfur)-South Sudan border, the largely-decimated ADF opted to consolidate in north-eastern DRC. For many years the ADF was more criminal than ideological; those days are over.

For background on the ADF see:
Examining Extremism: Allied Democratic Forces
By Jared Thompson, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), 29 July 2021

In June 2014, Islamic State launched its Caliphate in Iraq and Syria with the stated objective of baqiya wa tatamadad, or “remaining and expanding”. Subsequently, Islamic State franchises were established across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Afghanistan (ISKP) and Nigeria (ISWAP). 

In 2017, ADF leader Musa Baluku (a Ugandan) forged connections with Islamic State. Then, in April 2019 – just weeks after fall of IS’ last hold-out in Syria – Islamic State released a video which indicated that former IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had accepted an oath of loyalty from IS-Central Africa Province (ISCAP: with chapters in DRC and Mozambique). Since then, jihadist violence in north-east DRC has escalated sharply. While the leadership of the ADF – now known as ISDRC (the DRC chapter of ISCAP), comprises mostly Ugandan and Congolese Muslims, the rank and file includes numerous battle-hardened foreign fighters, as well as many abducted Congolese youths. 

On 9 September 2021, Long War Journal (LWJ) released a detailed analysis of Islamic State’s expansion in north-east DRC, specifically in the two provinces that border Uganda: Ituri and North Kivu. 

Recommended:
Analysis: The Islamic State’s expansion into Congo’s Ituri Province
By Caleb Weiss & Ryan O'Farrell, Long War Journal, 9 September 2021 

excerpt:

“Since 2017, which represented the nadir of ADF operations and the group’s first confirmed contact with the Islamic State, there has been an 838% increase in attacks conducted by the ADF. Additionally, the overall square mileage of the group’s area of operation has likewise increased by 364% in the same timeframe. And perhaps most worryingly, the ADF has already committed 28 double-digit massacres in just eight months of 2021 while the group carried out 22 double-digit massacres throughout all of last year.” 

Between Horror and Hope in the Villages of Ituri.
By Elena L. Pasquini, IPS, 6 Aug 2021

On 20 October 2020, as part of the Islamic State’s “breaking the fortress” campaign, ADF/ISDRC jihadists staged a sophisticated pre-dawn prison break in Beni City, North Kivu Province, freeing 1,300 inmates. 

As reported by LWJ, the uptick in jihadist activity – which has been most acute since June this year – is focused almost exclusively in southern Ituri Province: on the strategic Route National 4 (RN4) – which links north-east DRC to northern Uganda – and near the town of Boga.

LWJ excerpt: 

“The violence along the RN4 has primarily manifested in attacks on civilians. For instance, mass beheadings were reported along the road in both July and earlier this month [September]. On July 13, local media reported that at least 18 bodies, most of them decapitated, were found in several villages close to the town of Idohu – though exact details of the attack remain murky. While on Aug. 3, an additional 16 people were found killed near the same town. 

“Other incidents explicitly targeting civilians include a July 30 ambush on a convoy of commercial vehicles, also just outside of Idohu. For its part, the Islamic State has directly mentioned the targeting of “Christians,” a catch-all term it uses for civilians in the area, just three times in Ituri since June. It has largely maintained that its battles have been against FARDC troops stationed along the highway.” 

DESIGNATED TERRORISTS

On 10 March, the U.S. State Department designated “ISIS-DRC” a foreign terrorist organisation, and the group’s leader, Musa Baluku, a specially designated global terrorist. 

On 6 May, the Congolese government placed the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu under martial law; a move that has proved largely ineffective. Unfortunately, as in much of Africa, corruption has crippled the security forces, leaving officers lacking supply and motivation. Human Rights Watch reports that  between 6 May and 10 September at least 739 civilians were killed in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, almost all by ‘armed groups’. And the slaughter continues.

At around 10am on Wednesday 1 September,  ADF/ISDRC jihadists ambushed a convoy traveling “on the Komanda-Eringeti road (RN4) in the Territory of Irumu”. 

Terror in Ituri.
twitter, 1 September 2021


According to Fides, the convoy
of vehicles from Bunia and Komanda (Ituri province) was heading south to Beni-Butembo (North Kivu province). Despite being escorted by armed UN peacekeepers and Congolese military at least four civilians were killed and 20 abducted, while 14 cars and two trucks were torched. More than 60 wounded and traumatised civilians were later rescued from the bush. 

LWJ reports that at the same time as it is targeting communities along the RN4, “the ADF has also focused its efforts near the town of Boga, where it perpetrated a massacre of 55 civilians in May”. 

click on map to expand

On 31 May, ADF killed 57 civilians in displacement camps bear Bogo, which sits on the eastern side of the RN4, close to the border with Uganda. Among the dead were seven children, and an Anglican pastor whose daughter was critically wounded.  According to UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, “Several others were left wounded and 25 people were abducted, while over 70 shelters and stores were set on fire.” 

DA’WAH

LWJ excerpt: 

“In addition to its normal assaults against civilians and FARDC positions, [the ADF] has taken a slightly different approach to its Boga operations, by incorporating da’wah activities, or proselytizing, to [“invite”] civilians to adopt the Islamic State’s version of Islam. The implementation of da’wah in eastern Congo is a new phenomenon for ISCAP and a significant shift in the ADF’s historical modus operandi. 

“For example, videos emerged on Congolese social media earlier this month purporting to show a group of Banyabwisha civilians near Boga pledging bay’ah, or allegiance, to ISCAP. The Banyabwisha community are a Kinyarwanda-speaking Hutu minority in Congo with long-standing disputes with other communities over land rights and are often accused of being foreigners and therefore ostracized.

“Since 2015, significant numbers have migrated into Irumu territory, precipitating disputes with resident communities and accusations of Banyabwisha involvement in Ituri’s other intercommunal conflicts.  

“As these disputes have escalated, the ADF has inserted itself on the side of the Banyabwisha against their local rivals, providing military support and seemingly seeking to build the kind of domestic constituency that the ADF — long-dominated by Ugandans — have historically lacked in eastern Congo.

“It is likely the bay’ah videos came after the Islamic State’s men conducted outreach activities in order to bring the community under its fold. There is evidence of this occurring elsewhere near Boga, which has been documented by the Islamic State’s own central media apparatus.

“On Aug. 9, the Islamic State said that its men took over two villages in southern Ituri close to Boga, Malibongo and Mapipa. Attached to the communique was a photo purporting to show an ADF fighter “inviting Christians in Mapipa village to the Islamic religion.” The picture marked the first time that any jihadist da’wah activity has been explicitly shown taking place inside eastern Congo.

“While the ADF has in the past cultivated cooperative relationships with local communities — in particular significant intermarriage with prominent ethnic Vuba families, recruitment of Vuba combatants, and providing support to Vuba chiefs in land disputes with other groups during the early 2000s — it has not previously framed such outreach as da’wah. 

“These recent claims of proselytizing to the Banyabwisha thus constitute the first time the group has been publicly shown explicitly proselytizing in Christian villages and a major shift in the ADF’s behavior towards Congolese civilian communities since its evolution into an Islamic State affiliate began in 2017.

“Such a model of outreach to nearby communities and potential voluntary recruitment from them has major implications for the ADF’s future trajectory, and one largely determined by the ADF’s unique context as compared to other Islamic State affiliates on the continent. 

“Unlike most Islamic State affiliates, which typically recruit from and seek to govern – albeit brutally – local Muslim communities, the ADF operates in a part of Congo whose Muslim community represents only a tiny fraction of the population.  

“Instead, much of the ADF’s manpower is composed of foreign recruits who enter Congo to voluntarily join the ADF or who are tricked through false promises of employment.  Within the group, Congolese form the second largest nationality after Ugandans — the nationality of most of the leadership — but Congolese members are typically press-ganged into the group following kidnappings.

“This significantly restricts the ADF’s ability to expand outreach to local communities, much less govern them according to its interpretations of Islamic law.  

“This recent outreach to Banyabwisha communities – framed by the Islamic State as seeking the conversion of Christians – is thus the ADF’s first foray into circumventing that unique hurdle to its adoption of the Islamic State’s typical strategy of embedding itself in local communities.” 

ISLAMISATION

On Thursday 8 April, Congolese prelates of the Catholic Church held a press conference in which they protested the “Islamisation” of the north-east. According to the prelates, civilians who had escaped after being abducted by ADF forces had spoken of being “forced to convert to Islam”. The prelates denounced the “Islamisation of the region to the detriment of religious freedom”.

Asked to elaborate, Church spokesman Donatien Nshole said: “The problem here is a faction of Islam that forces people to become Muslim.”

According to Nshole, who is also an abbot, around 7,500 civilians had been kidnapped in Ituri and North Kivu over the past year.   

On 15 April the Wall Street Journal published a feature article entitled, “Islamic State Seeks Revival in Christian Countries”. The authors report that, after being decimated in Syria, IS “is starting to target Christian-dominated countries, grafting onto Islamist terrorist groups that have emerged among disenfranchised Muslim minorities”. 

According to WSJ, in recent years the ADF has swelled from around 200 to more than 1,500 fighters. “Defectors say the group’s fortunes started to reverse around the time Waleed Ahmed Zein, an ethnic Arab from Kenya, began sending donations to Mr. Baluku. The Kenyan was receiving funds from his father, who had traveled to Syria, where he had become a member of Islamic State… New weaponry helped the militants mount more deadly attacks on Christian villages and military patrols… 

On Sunday 27 June, two IEDs exploded
inside a Catholic church in Benin, North Kivu,
destroying furniture, blowing out windows,
killing one worshipper and wounding several others.
(image: Jerry Nugwa and Martial Mukeba)

“Defectors say that some of the cash brought by the Kenyan financier was used to purchase ammonium nitrate and timers – key components for improvised explosive devices. Yemeni and Syrian jihadists traveled to Congo to train the fighters in military tactics and bomb-making, these defectors say. A July 2020 report by the United Nations’ ISIS panel says the ADF had started to use IEDs [improvised explosive devices].” 

A defector known as Mr Ssali – who lives under protection in a Kampala safe house – told WSJ: “Children as young as 10 carried machine guns and were taught Arabic and Islamic State ideology. Stealing an item worth more than $2 was punishable with a hand amputation. Anyone spreading a rumor had their mouth sewn shut with wire. Turning a flashlight on when drones were flying overhead was punishable by death.”

Mr Ssali told WSJ that the ADF’s military tactics emphasised extreme violence. He said that that during a raid on a banana plantation, fellow fighters beheaded a couple and took their children, chickens and goats as booty. After witnessing executions, Mr Ssali decided to flee.

While Christians are the primary target, local Muslims are also being pressured to convert to Islamic State’s brand of fundamentalist Islam. Local Muslim imams who resist have been brutally assassinated. 

CONSOLIDATING AND EXPANDING

A couple of years ago many analysts suspected the relationship between IS and the ADF was nothing more than a marriage of convenience: all boast with little substance. Now however, as LWJ explains, the links between the ADF and IS are so close that IS-central is able to provide precise and accurate details of a massacre and claim responsibility in a propaganda video before the DRC media can even report it. 

By these means – jihad and da’wah  – Islamic State is working to consolidate and expand in the remote north-east border regions of DRC. If successful it may well move to expand further, not only into Uganda, but possibly, in the future, into South Sudan and the wider “Christian” region. 

See also:
Slaughtering Christians – Islamic State Central Africa Province’s (ISCAP) Regular Tactic For Expansion.
Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM), 2 April 2021

UPDATE

The government of DRC has arrested a Jordanian national who is believed to have been in charge of ADF/ISDRC's drones. He was arrested on 18 September in Makisabo, near the city of Beni in North Kivu province. According to documents seen by Reuters, however, the man was carrying a Kosovo residence permit, identifying him as a 40-year-old Saudi Arabian national. Laren Poole, who monitors the ADF/ISDRC, told Reuters, "If this individual is confirmed to have been sent by the Islamic State's central leadership, it would also be the first clear indication that the Islamic State is providing their Congo affiliate with direct technical assistance." (Reuters 22 Sept 2021)

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ethiopia's Future Hangs the Balance

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On 28 June, in what seemed to be an instantaneous and inexplicable reversal of fortunes, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the Marxist organisation that dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades – regained control of Mekelle (the Tigray capital). 

The TPLF’s boast, that it had routed the far superior Ethiopian military, is pure propaganda, nothing but a lie. 

Captives on parade.
Photo by Finbarr O'Reillyfor The New York Times

As it turns out, the TPLF entered Mekelle after the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire having already withdrawn Tigray’s interim administration.

After being paraded through the streets, some 6000 captured Ethiopian troops were imprisoned in Tigray. 

In a 2 July Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) President Gregory Copley explains: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on June 28, 2021, called a unilateral ceasefire in military operations against the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Tigré Region of Ethiopia. This allowed TPLF forces unfettered access to the regional capital, Mekelle, and the prospect that the region would once again attempt to seal itself of hermetically from the rest of Ethiopia. 

“It is believed that Dr Abiy gave in to immense pressure from the US government, which had threatened to propose – through the UN Security Council – an armed intervention in Ethiopia to stop an ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the region. The TPLF rejected the ceasefire, and said that it would continue to fight against Ethiopian Government forces, confident in its backing from the US. The TPLF also said that it would continue its war against the adjacent Amhara people…

“What is significant,” notes Copley, “is that there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean people.” 

See:
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Caves to US Pressure on Tigré, Opening the Region to Major Instability
Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, by Gregory Copley, via Borkena, 2 July 2021

Recommended:
Pressure from US and EU Gives Wrong Signal: Violence Pays Off
By International Affairs Expert Simo-Pekka Parviainen (Finland), 7 July 2021 

Critically, as Stratfor (geopolitical intelligence) notes (1 July), the TPLF victory in Tigray “risks triggering more conflict elsewhere in the country [e.g. Oromia Region and Ogaden/Somali Region], placing both Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political future and his economic reform plans in peril… 

“The conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months.” 

See:
A Rebel Victory in Tigray Leaves Ethiopia’s Abiy in Hot Water,
Stratfor Worldview, 1 July 2021 (subscription) 

excerpt:

“Despite the TPLF’s quick seizure of Mekelle and the ENDF’s [Ethiopian National Defense Force’s] unilateral cease-fire, the conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months. The TPLF has said it will not stop its offensive operation until all ENDF and ENDF-allied forces can no longer threaten Tigray, including the forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and the troops from neighboring country Eritrea that both joined the ENDF during its November offensive. Eritrea and Amhara, however, are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray. Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat, given its role in the two countries’ 1998-2000 conflict that took place along Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Amhara nationalists had also hoped to use the TPLF’s decline to expand their influence within Ethiopia. The Amhara branch of Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity Party has already said that the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara, raising the risk for potential clashes in the future.”

ETHIOPIA’S LOOMING CRISIS

To understand why “Eritrea and Amhara are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray”; and why “Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat”; and why “the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara” (ensuring conflict will continue); we need to understand something of history and ideology of the TPLF in Ethiopia. 

Recommended:
Tigray Conflict: Homework Not Done by Western Countries Has Led to Wrong Policy Action
Simo-Pekka Parviainen, 18 May 2021

TPLF ORIGINS

In October 2016, Aleksandra W. Gadzala wrote concerning Ethiopia’s anti-government protests (which ran from 2015 to February 2018): 

“Ethiopia is made up of nine dominant ethnic groups and approximately eighty others. Historically, the Amhara people … were the country’s governing force. Emperor Haile Selassie, Emperor Menilek (1889–1913) before him, and Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime (1974–89) [a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union] after him were all Amhara. Each sought to establish a unified Ethiopia with Amharic as the official language and the Amhara culture as the foundation of Ethiopian identity. All other identities were to be eliminated – either by way of assimilation, or by force. In this the Derg [Amharic for Committee], was especially merciless. It perceived ethnic diversity as a threat to state unity; through its Red Terror campaign, it brutally slaughtered over five hundred thousand people – all, in its eyes, enemies of the Amhara state…

“Years of repression ultimately gave way to resentment of the Amhara and, by extension, the state. It also gave rise to what Ethiopian historian Gebru Tareke calls ‘dissent nationalism,’ and the emergence of ethno-nationalist groups like the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For the TPLF, the state was an oppressive and colonizing force from which the country’s ethnicities had to be liberated. In 1975 the group waged what amounted to a secessionist struggle: its 1976 manifesto established ‘the first task of the national struggle will be the establishment of an independent democratic republic of Tigray.’ When in 1989 the TPLF, then already under the direction of Meles Zenawi, successfully overthrew the Derg and in 1991 merged with three other political factions to form the EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front], Ethiopia was subdivided into nine mostly ethnic regions, each with the right to independent lawmaking, executive, and judicial powers. Enshrined in Article 39.3 of the constitution is the right of all ethnicities to ‘self-government.’ 

Gadzala explains how the TPLF-dominated EPRDF government then proceeded – by way of violent repression – to centralise governance to the point that ethnic federalism became meaningless. “In this way,” writes Gadzala (2016), “decades of Amhara control have given way to decades of Tigray control. The presidential office, the parliament, central government ministries and agencies – including public enterprises – and financial institutions have since 1991 all been controlled by the TPLF. So too the military.” 

See: 
Ethiopia Opens a Pandora’s Box of Ethnic Tensions
By Aleksandra W. Gadzala, The National Interest, 12 Oct 2016.

TPLF RULE

In 1983, at the height of the Cold War, the US government of President Ronald Reagan issued National Security Directive 75, which summarised US policy towards the Soviet Union.  US policy was designed, “To contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism by competing effectively on a sustained basis with the Soviet Union in all international arenas – particularly in the overall military balance and in geographical regions of priority concern to the United States. . .” while working towards “a more pluralistic political and economic system” within the Soviet Union.

At that time, Ethiopia was ruled by the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union. In line with Directive 75, the US backed the Marxist-Leninist TPLF as it led the fight against the Soviet-backed Derg. To paraphrase the thinking of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “They might be sons of bitches [in this case neither Fascists nor Islamists but Marxists], but they are our sons of bitches.” 

This mindset outlived the collapse of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union to continue into the War on Terror, proving that the US is as capable as any Great Power of unprincipled pragmatism in pursuit of geostrategic and economic interests. 

Despite US backing, the TPLF was still little more than a separatist guerrilla force from an ethnic minority fighting against a Soviet-backed military junta. In 1989, fortunes reversed as communism collapsed in Europe. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the TPLF-led Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – comprising the TPLF, the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party, and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement – took control of Ethiopia. 

A 2004 paper by Matthew McCracken brings to light “the hidden agenda of Ethiopia’s central government” [i.e. the US-backed TPLF-dominated EPRDF]. 

McCracken explains how the TPLF abused its power to further its illegitimate aims: diverting aid to Tigray in order to enrich the state, and using Ethiopian soldiers to fight a war against Eritrea on its behalf in an attempt to expand the borders of Tigray.

Recommended:
Abusing Self-Determination and Democracy: How the TPLF Is Looting Ethiopia
By Matthew J. McCracken 
Case Western Reserve University, Journal of International Law, Vol 36, issue 1, 2004. (40 pages)

Excerpts from the introduction:

“After Eritrean and Tigrayan rebels overthrew Ethiopia’s socialist-military government in 1991, members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (or ‘TPLF’) reorganized into a new political party known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (or ‘EPRDF’) and assumed control of Ethiopia’s central government. After 100 years of domination by the Amhara tribe, Ethiopia’s new government, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, claimed to usher in a new era of political openness.

“This so-called ‘Revolutionary Era’ produced many significant political changes…

“When Ethiopia’s Constitution was ratified in 1994, it established Ethiopia as a federal republic, and embraced the principle of self-determination through democratic rule… the Constitution granted all ‘Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ in Ethiopia the unconditional right to secede from the nation. To Ethiopian minorities and observers in the international community, the country seemed poised for democratic reform that would end decades of oppression.

“However, soon after the new Constitution was ratified, some legal scholars criticized its provision that allows regions within Ethiopia to secede. According to these scholars, the provision, articulated in Article 39, creates an unworkable form of central government by making it too easy for the country to break apart. Under Article 39, all a region needs to exercise its right of secession is a referendum passed by a two-thirds majority of its regional parliament and a separate referendum passed by a simple majority of the national parliament.

“Most of the scholars who have criticized Article 39 assume that its inclusion in the 1994 Constitution came about as a compromise between the EPRDF and other regional representatives. Under this assumption, the EPRDF reluctantly included Article 39 in the Constitution in order to appease regional calls for self-determination rights by minority populations who were inspired by Eritrea’s secession in 1993. In other words, the EPRDF needed to include Article 39 in order to garner support from Ethiopia’s regional governments and preserve the country's national integrity.

“However, recent developments have demonstrated that this assumption is probably incorrect. A new theory regarding the EPRDF’s purpose behind Article 39 is quietly gaining acceptance in Ethiopian and international circles. Although this theory is highly speculative, it is also potentially illuminating and explosive. It has all the hallmarks of a grand conspiracy theory: it implicates the highest levels of the Ethiopian [TPLF-dominated EPRDF] government; it involves a far-reaching plan with long-term goals; and it involves the use of violence and under-handed politics in order to perpetrate a fraud on the Ethiopian people and the international community. Worst of all, it is probably correct.

“In brief, the new theory is this: the TPLF-dominated EPRDF intentionally included Article 39 in Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution so that the Tigray region could loot Ethiopia of its resources, use the Ethiopian military to expand the borders of Tigray, and then secede from Ethiopia. Underlying this theory is the widely held opinion that the TPLF and EPRDF are not independent organizations, but symbiotic.

“The evidence supporting this theory comes from several sources. Most importantly, the TPLF put its intentions in writing in the organization’s manifesto known as the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. Drafted by TPLF leaders in 1976, the manifesto sets forth an elaborate plan for the liberation of Tigray from Ethiopian rule. The plan involves two main steps: 1) re-demarcating Tigray’s borders to expand the region’s borders within Ethiopia, and 2) acquiring coastal lands within Eritrea [reaching all the way to the Red Sea] and seceding as an independent nation…”

Having written the right to self-governance and even secession into the constitution, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF then used every repressive and violent means in its arsenal to frustrate that right, while never surrendering its own vision of an independence Republic of Greater Tigray. “It seems likely,” writes McCracken, “that the TPLF/EPRDF, like the Derg before it, never had any intention of allowing other regions [e.g. Oromia Region or Ogaden/Somali Region] to secede from Ethiopia…” 

Rather, it seems the TPLF’s plan was always enrichment, enlargement, and then secession by way of Article 39. 

McCracken writes: “In addition to diverting money from the rest of Ethiopia to Tigray, international aid organizations suspect that the TPLF has also misappropriated donated monies. Since overthrowing the socialist Derg, the ostensibly-democratic EPRDF has been able to secure large amounts of aid from Western nations such as the United States. According to the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (or ‘HRW’), Western nations have poured in funding to help the country develop, but turned a blind eye to human rights violations … not wishing to jeopardize Ethiopia’s cooperation in fighting terrorism.”

In 2010 a BBC investigation found  that the TPLF had indeed misappropriated donated monies, and that “Millions of dollars in Western aid for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 was siphoned off by rebels to buy weapons.”

This begs the question; “Does the TPLF actually care about Tigreans?” 

TPLF PROPAGANDA , AND FRIENDS IN WASHINGTON

The Ethiopian government has been accused of engineering famine and using food as a weapon. It is a horrendous accusation, one the government firmly denies, rejecting the claims as “baseless and politically motivated”. 

In November 2020, when the TPLF triggered this war by massacring hundreds of ethnic Amhara soldiers and then civilians in Mai-Kadra (Mycadra), western Tigray state, Tigreans were struggling to deal with the region’s worst locust plague in 25 years. That famine was already closing in on Tigray before the TPLF started the war shows just how much the TPLF cares for Tigreans (about as much as Hamas cares for Palestinians)! 

What's more, Copley notes, “there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean population”.

Rather, continues Copley, “The TPLF has, with some of the estimated $30-billion stolen from Ethiopian funds (and much of that coming from US direct and covert aid during the US Barack Obama-Joe Biden Administration), engaged in a major, professional information warfare campaign against the Abiy Government which replaced the Marxist TPLF Government. This has been assisted by the reality that the TPLF retained great friendships in Washington, DC, as a result of the [Dec 2009] deal which the former TPLF Meles Zenawi Government did with Washington to train and equip the TPLF’s private, 30,000-man army in exchange for US use of Ethiopian air basing, particularly at Arba Minch, in Southern Ethiopia.” (emphasis mine)

Indeed, the US Air Force invested tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the Arba Minch Airport runway and build an annex where it housed a fleet of Reaper drones which it used in the battle against al-Shabaab in Somalia between 2011-2016

But for the US to have the Meles/TPLF-led EPRDF regime as an ally in the War on Terror it had to turn a blind eye to endemic corruption and gross human rights abuses. For while the US was fighting actual terrorists, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF was using its anti-terror laws to crack down on political dissent, incarcerating thousands political prisoners, many of whom were severely tortured. 

Copley continues: “Senior TPLF officials – many of whom were given US passports by the Obama Administration – boast often of their friendship with senior US officials, but particularly with Dr Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor to the Obama-Biden White House (July 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017). During her tenure as National Security Advisor, Dr Rice’s deputy was Antony Blinken, now the US Secretary of State in the Joe Biden Administration. But Dr Rice, who is currently Director of the Domestic Policy Council which reports to Pres. Biden, had a long history of engagement with the TPLF, particularly dating from her years as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the William Clinton Administration, and as Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013... Now, the same team of Obama-Clinton officials are back in power in Washington, DC.”

INVERTING THE TRUTH

This might seem like a lot of information and a lot of background, but it really is important. For a narrative is being promulgated, and disseminated by Western politicians and mainstream media that is essentially an inversion of the truth. What’s more, this narrative – that PM Abiy is essentially a genocidal war criminal against whom the heroic TPLF must fight to liberate its oppressed people – can only take Ethiopia and the whole Horn of Africa into a place of unparalleled catastrophe; something one would assume is not in the West’s interests!  

On 29 October 2020, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have “set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability”. However, it warns that state failure “would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East” (page 4).  

“Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of pre-war Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists [code for Islamic jihadists]; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen” (page 10). 

Excerpt from McCracken’s conclusion (2004)

“It remains to be seen whether or not the TPLF will ever be able to realize the goals set forth in the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. It is possible that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the other TPLF members remaining in Ethiopia’s central government have given up on ever asserting Tigray’s independence following Ethiopia’s failure to gain access to the Red Sea.

“The international community, led by the United States, has chosen to ignore [numerous questions] in the case of Ethiopia. Perhaps the United States is too concerned with preserving Ethiopia as an ally in the ‘war on terror’ to question the legitimacy of [EPRDF-ruled] Ethiopia’s ‘democracy’. By blindly aiding Ethiopia [i.e. the EPRDF] and the TPLF, the United States risks creating a populous in Ethiopia rich with anti-American sentiment. The secession of Tigray would only provoke more anger and ultimately create the potential for more terror directed at American interests. The world cannot afford to ignore the hidden agenda of the TPLF any longer.” 

In concluding his strategic analysis (2 July 2021), Copley wonders: 

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed

 “… will the Government in Addis Ababa awaken to the reality that its chosen ally, the United States (for which it abandoned the Meles Government’s support for the People’s Republic of China), has, in fact, abandoned it. And would Dr Abiy, with that realization, resume attacks on the TPLF, regardless of US pressure? At that point, it seems likely that the US would do what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already threatened to do: to seek United Nations Security Council approval for an international military intervention into Ethiopia on ‘peacekeeping’ grounds, much as the same US team attempted to do (eventually getting some NATO support) in Yugoslavia during the 1990s?”

Ethiopia's future hangs in the balance.

----------------------------

Helpful Background: 

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 25 June 2018

Ethiopia-Eritrea: rapprochement achieved; now for implementation.
The silver cloud (of peace) has a dark lining (the TPLF).
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2018

Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 14 June 2020

Ethiopia: Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 18 Nov 2020

Ethiopia: Pivotal Elections; Church Massacre
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 17 March 2021 

-------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Papua (Indonesian): This is What State Terror Looks Like.

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On Sunday 25 April a small detachment of Indonesian security personnel was patrolling a crime scene in Puncak Regency, in the Central Highlands of Papua Province, when it was ambushed by Papuan rebels. A firefight ensued and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) provincial intelligence chief Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha was shot dead in what appears to have been a planned assassination

Indonesian President Joko Widodo immediately called for retaliation. 

On Thursday 29 April, police claimed to have killed nine Papuan fighters in Puncuk district on Tuesday 27 April in retaliation for Nugraha’s killing. However, the spokesman for the rebel group, Sebby Sambom denied the claim, calling it a “big lie” and “propaganda” designed to boost the Indonesian military’s (TNI) morale.  

FROM SEPARATISTS TO TERRORISTS

On 29 April, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD announced that Papuan armed criminal groups (Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata: KKB) would now be categorized as ‘terrorists’ in line with Counterterrorism Law No. 8/2018. The Counterterrorism Law grants security forces the power to authorise massive disproportionate surveillance, and detain suspects for longer periods without charge, increasing the risk that suspects will be abused and tortured. 

Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe immediately urged the government to reconsider. He warned that, rather than helping the situation, the “terrorist” designation could instead bring much harm. Governor Enembe “reiterated the Papua administration’s demand for the central government to tone down its heavy-handed approach in tackling problems in the province. ‘We want the security approach in Papua to be conducted in a more humane [manner], with an exchange of words and ideas, not an exchange of bullets,’ he said on Thursday [29 April]. He also urged the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police to thoroughly assess the armed groups’ strength, location and characteristics to avoid civilian casualties or wrongful arrests.”

Numerous human rights organisations and advocates – including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) – similarly denounced the move and expressed concerns that the terrorist designation could trigger racist violence against Papuans outside of Papua, and be used to justify mass, gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, much of it compounded by the extreme racial-religious hatred so many Javanese Muslims (especially in the Indonesian military) have for their Melanesian predominantly Christian compatriots. 

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said that the designation only showed the government’s failure to address the root of Papua’s problems and most probably will hurt rather than help that Papuans. “Based on our monitoring, military and police personnel allegedly often justify the killing of Papuan people by claiming that they were members of the Free Papua Movement [OPM] or ‘armed criminal groups’ without providing clear evidence – claims that are often denied by local residents and church leaders,” he said in a statement. “The [new] ‘terrorist’ label will only serve as further justification for such terrible human rights abuses.” (Jakarta Post, 2 May)

STATE TERROR: HELL UNLEASHED

On Sunday 2 May, Indonesian media reported that the Indonesian military (TNI) had deployed its 400-strong elite Infantry 315/Garuda Battalion to Papua. Video footage has been released of the battle-hardened battalion – which earned its nickname “Satan’s Forces” (pasukan setan) in East Timor where it came to known for its brutal methods – performing military drills in Papua in 1 May.  

'Satan's Forces' perform military drills in Papua, 1 May 2021


On 4 May, Papuan leader-in-exile Benny Wenda issued a statement in which he warned: “huge Indonesian military operations, some of the largest in years, are imminent in West Papua. The internet is being cut off, hundreds more troops are being deployed, and we are receiving reports that West Papuan civilians are fleeing from their villages in Intan Jaya, Puncak Jaya, and Nduga regencies . . . This looks like it will be the biggest military operation in West Papua since the late 1970s. . .” 

UK-based Wenda warned that along with Satan’s Forces, the Jala Mangkara Detachment (Denjaka), elite troops of the Indonesian Navy, are also being deployed for what he insists is “state terrorism”. 

On 6 May Reuters confirmed that internet services have been disrupted in the provincial capital of Jayapura and nearby Sentani (40km to the west) since 30 April. Exiled Indonesian rights activist Victoria Koman, said she had received reports that mobile and internet services in Puncak have also been disrupted. Papua has gone dark!

Andreas Harsono, a researcher with HRW’s Indonesia office is not alone in his assessment that, “The underlying problem in Papua is racism: racism against the dark skinned and curly haired people, and of course those that do most of the human rights abuses against ethnic Papuans, these dark-skinned, curly-haired people who are predominantly also Christian in Muslim-majority Indonesia, are Indonesian soldiers and police officers.” (RNZ, 7 May)

As tensions soared, Harsono urged the Indonesian government to put the threat posed by Papuan KKB into perspective. “According to Indonesian military estimate, they only have (around) 200 weapons. It is tiny, it is insignificant. Of course they are criminal, they kill people. Of course the police should act against them. But branding them as a terrorist organisation, these people who live in the forest who try to defend their forest, their culture, and their own people, mostly using bows and arrows, this is going to be ridiculous. This is going to affect these indigenous people so much.” 

What do children at this Christian school in Papua
want to be when they grow up?
A Pastor, a missionary, a pilot . . . 
Photo by Jeremy Weber, for his article, 
Life and Death in ‘The Land of the Clouds’,
Christianity Today, November 2020.

Which brings us to the truth

The real goal of this totally disproportionate military offensive is not security! The real goal is not to neutralise an existential terrorist threat, for there isn’t one! To the contrary, the real goal of state terror is always political! The real goal is to eliminate resistance to Indonesian rule by massively increasing the cost. The real goal is to spiritually crush and intimidate into silence every indigenous, ethnic Melanesian, predominantly Christian Papuan who has ever so much as dreamt of Papuan freedom! 

USEFUL ENEMIES

In his book Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars is More Important than Winning Them, (Yale University Press, 2012), Professor David Keen explains how war and violence can have a political function. “This is war’s possible function in intimidating a broad swathe of the population – well beyond the rebels or named enemy.”  

Keen quotes Shelton David who wrote concerning Guatemala: “Most observers are in agreement that the purpose of the Guatemalan army’s counterinsurgency campaign was as much to teach the Indian population a psychological lesson as to wipe out a guerrilla movement that, at its height, had probably no more than 3,500 trained people in arms.” 

Keen also quotes a donor who told him, “There was never a huge guerrilla movement [in Guatemala] – it was more used by the army so they could do what they wanted.” 

What’s more, Keen adds, the counterinsurgency narrative “provided cover and legitimacy for violence against a broad range of political activists and human rights workers”.

Critically, Keen quotes the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Classification which assessed that, “at no time during the internal armed confrontation did the guerrilla groups have the military potential necessary to pose an immanent threat to the State. The number of insurgent combatants was too small to be able to compete in the military arena with the Guatemalan Army, which had more troops and superior weaponry, as well as better training and coordination . . .  The State deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency, a practice justified by the concept of the internal enemy. . . [an identification which] served to justify numerous and serious crimes . . . the vast majority of the victims of the acts committed by the State were not combatants in the guerrilla groups, but civilians.” 

While these excerpts (which are taken from pages 112-113), relate to the conflict in Guatemala (1969-1996), they could just as easily be written today in relation to the conflict in Papua (1969 – ongoing). For as was the case in Guatemala (and numerous other conflicts), the Indonesian State is intentionally exaggerating the threat so it can target “politically inconvenient opponents under the cover of a wider war”. 

And make no mistake, this is a war

On 11 May, the Guardian quoted Lanikwe, a women’s community leader, from Wamena, near Puncak, who said the situation for local people was dire. “Thousands are displaced in Puncak, five villages fled into the jungle. Health clinics and schools have been taken over by the military. Soldiers are everywhere. We are living in a war zone.”

VICTOR YEIMO ARRESTED IN JAYAPURA

Arrested: Victor Yeimo in handcuffs, 9 May 2021.

On Sunday 9 May, Indonesian police in Papua’s provincial capital, Jayapura, arrested Victor Yeimo (38), one of the most prominent leaders inside Papua. 

The Indonesian government is accusing Yeimo of treason, which as UK-based Wenda explains, is ridiculous. “He is accused of ‘masterminding’ the 2019 West Papua Uprising, which was started by Indonesian racism and violence [RLM (27 Aug 2019)] and ended in a bloodbath caused by Indonesian troops” [RLPB 521 (24 Sept 2019)]. 

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the case against Yeimo “feels forced and baseless, but if it goes to court, there is a high chance that judges will find him guilty – even with weak evidence.” 

It might be ridiculous and it might be a sham, but as People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker, Bambang Soesatyo so shamelessly explained at the outset, the real goal is to ‘destroy them first’ and ‘discuss human rights matters later’. 

------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Military Coup Leaves Burma’s Christian Peoples Gravely Imperilled

By Elizabeth Kendal

General elections were held in Burma (Myanmar) on 8 November 2020. There were problems, mostly on account of on-going conflict and massive displacement. However, 95 percent of international observers deemed the process "good" or "very good" and a "democratic success". 

NLD supporters celebrate with poster
of Aung San Suu Kyi .

As soon became clear, Myanmar’s ruling, pro-reform, National League for Democracy (NLD) party had won a majority of seats in parliament, increasing its gains at the expense of the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Consequently, despite being guaranteed 25 percent of seats (as mandated by the 2008 constitution) the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) was faced with the prospect that its days as the real power in Burma were coming to an end. 

Most analysts believe the military started plotting its takeover in January, after talks with the NLD failed and the Generals realised they had lost control. On 26 January, in a press conference in the capital Naypyitaw, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun laid the foundation for the 1 February coup with his unsubstantiated claim the polls were marred by irregularities and fraud. 

Myanmar’s coup regime cut of old military cloth
By Bertil Lintner, Asia Times Online, 21 Feb 2021 

Make no mistake; for the Tatmadaw, the stakes are high. As Htwe Htwe Thein writes (Asia Times Online, 15 Feb), "For decades the military has amassed wealth by controlling the state bureaucracy and establishing near-monopolies in key sectors. The reform agenda of the civilian-led National League for Democracy government threatened to weaken – albeit gradually over time – this lucrative system of crony capitalism." The Tatmadaw’s ‘conglomerates control businesses and investments in sectors ranging from beer, tobacco and consumables to mines, mills, tourism, property development and telecommunications." Not only had the NLD already taken its first steps towards de-militarising the country, it promised to tackle military domination of key parts of the economy after the 2020 election.

coup leader, commander in chief
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing 
On the morning of Monday 1 February, the Tatmadaw staged its coup; replacing and detaining Burma’s elected leaders and State Ministers, installing themselves in the centre, and declaring a 12-month state of emergency. 

Like many others, Benedict Rogers believes that the personal ambition of coup leader commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing played a big part in his decision to launch the coup. 


Benedict Rogers on the military coup in Myanmar/Burma
YouTube, CSW UK, 22 Feb 2021

Who is Myanmar’s coup leader and what does he want?
Time the world started asking questions about General Min Aung Hlaing
By Nicholas Coppel, Nikkei Asia, 23 February 2021 

If the Tatmadaw thought the masses would meekly comply, they were gravely mistaken. Instead, the coup has triggered a crisis as the people rise as one to resist military rule. By the end of February, at least 20 civilians had been killed and scores wounded and arrested as the Tatmadaw – one of the most greedy, corrupt and violent human rights abusers on the planet – strikes back with deadly force.

CHRISTIAN PEOPLES IMPERILLED

Kachin villagers and internally-displaced people
in church in Myitkyina, Myanmar, May 2018.
Source WSJ, Photo: Ye Aung Thu

As Christian charity Open Doors rightly notes, the military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) will greatly "exaggerate existing vulnerabilities for Myanmar’s Christian minority". Christians comprise around six percent of the population; most are Protestant, mainly Baptist (1.7 million, mainly ethnic Karen, Kachin and Chin, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson) – along with some 750,000 Catholics. 

While the crackdown against anti-coup protestors in the major ethnic-Burman and Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media, the situation throughout the periphery – in Burma’s ethnic minority states (where most of the country’s Christians live) – remains, as ever, dark. 

Pay attention to what’s happening in Myanmar, Baptist pastors plead.
By Jeff Brumley, Baptist News, 19 Feb 2021

Yet it is in these ethnic minority states that the Tatmadaw has long committed its worst crimes – bombing, burning, strafing of villages; killing, torturing, raping of civilians; plundering, exploiting, trafficking and abusing – all with impunity. 

The inhumane barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes is the product of its lust for power, its covetous greed, and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism (by which it dehumanises its victims). 

Writing for The Diplomat (25 Feb), Stella Naw shines a light on the situation in Kachin State where “there is a longstanding and visible military presence, and soldiers arguably act with greater impunity due to the lack of outside scrutiny.

“This has certainly been the case in the way that soldiers have cracked down on anti-coup protesters in Kachin, who have reported being beaten, shot with rubber bullets and slingshots, and arrested over the last week.”

Naw describes how the junta moved quickly to depose the state’s NLD-appointed State Minister, and replace him with a “Kachin crony” aligned with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). “Kachin analysts predict he will use the chief minister’s position to further enrich himself and his business associates.”

Naw also reports that “On 13 February residents of [the Kachin capital] Myitkyina noticed that the city’s primary source of electricity, the Buga power plant [which is owned by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a political and armed organisation that the Myanmar military has designated as illegal], had been occupied by several dozen Myanmar soldiers. People did not know why the military had asserted control over the plant, but worried they would shut off their power.”

Furthermore, Naw reports, on two occasions during 2020, coup mastermind and military chief Min Aung Hlaing made official visits to Putao – Kachin State’s northern most town (close to the border with China) – and expressed an interest in developing the remote region. Then, on 29 January 2021, just three days before the coup, “the entire unit of Myitkyina’s regional Infantry Battalion 21 – around 200 men and their family members – was deployed to Putao to be permanently based there.” 

By Stella Naw, The Diplomat, 25 Feb 2021

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has expressed concern that troops are invading towns and severing transport routes, making it even more difficult to get aid to some 100,000 displaced Kachin. 

Burma expert Benedict Rogers commented on 1 March, that among the many images to haunt him, is that of SFX (St Francis Xavier) Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, tearfully knelling before police begging them not to shoot the protestors.

Words are not enough to stop Myanmar’s carnage
Suspension from ASEAN, sanctions and an arms embargo are needed to make the trigger-happy generals think again.
By Benedict Rogers, UCA News, 1 March 2021

Begging for mercy: Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Feb 2021
image source


In Karen State (around 30 percent Christian) some 5000 Christians are currently displaced in the jungle because the Tatmadaw has destroyed at least 23 villages over the past two months. In a report published on 7 February, David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, commented that the Karen feel that “their own lives haven’t changed: they were attacked before the coup and they are being attacked now after the coup.” Karen News reports (mid Feb) that in Karen State, as in Kachin State, the Burmese Army has blocked access to humanitarian aid.

DR SASA, CRPH ENVOY TO THE UN

The ousted government has formed the ‘Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Assembly of the Union: i.e. parliament]’ (CRPH). 

Significantly, as Benedict Rogers writes (UCA News 1 March 2021), the CRPH has appointed, Dr Sasa, an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian (and long-time friend of Rogers), as its special envoy to the United Nations. 

“Suddenly,” writes Rogers, “seemingly out of nowhere, Sasa is the CRPH’s nominated special envoy to the United Nations. His picture adorns banners across the nation. Protesters throughout Myanmar are saying that he is their only representative. He has been catapulted into national prominence.” 

And as Rogers notes, “That is both exciting and dangerous.”

For more on Dr Sasa and the suffering of the Chin people, see:
11 Sept 2019, YouTube (52:13 mins). 

While Western democracies must rally in support of Burma’s peoples, the only power that wields any influence over the Tatmadaw, is China. 

China has massive interests in Burma and while it does not want its interests or ambitions threatened by reform, neither does it want them threatened by instability. 

Rogers is appealing for “more than words”. 

“We need a global arms embargo,” writes Rogers. “We need targeted sanctions against the military’s enterprises. And we need the UN to accept the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar – embodied in the form of Sasa as their envoy, in close collaboration with the very courageous Kyaw Moe Tun, working together. . .” 

As for the Church – the global Church – Rogers would like to hear its voice. “So far,” he writes, “while the voice of the Church in Myanmar has been inspiring, the voice of the Church worldwide in their support has yet to be heard.”

------------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Australia: Victoria’s ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law Passes in Upper House

-- Royal assent secured; law will come into effect on 16 Feb 2022.

The Victorian state government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practises Prohibition Bill passed in the Legislative Council on the evening of 4 February 2021.  

Despite a lengthy debate, the world’s most repressive LGBTQ+ anti-conversion bill passed without amendments, 27 votes in favour and 9 against. The nine opposing votes came from 7 of 12 crossbenchers, and 2 of 11 opposition members. 

While the Bill’s focus is sexual orientation and gender identity, its similarity to religious anti-conversion laws in Hindu nationalist India and throughout the Muslim world is remarkable. In much the same way, Victoria’s anti-conversion law will ensure that LGBTQ+ identity is essentially a one-way street and procuring conversions is banned. 

If Victoria continues along this trajectory then the next step may well be a law against “blasphemy” (to criminalise criticism of LGBTQ+ ideology) and/or the mandatory registration of state-approved, ideologically compliant churches and clergy.

Text of Bill (pdf)
Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 

Excerpt: (from pages 7-8)

Meaning of change or suppression practice 

(1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person's consent— 

     (a) on the basis of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity; and 

     (b) for the purpose of— 

          (i) changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or 

          (ii) inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice or conduct is not a change or suppression practice if it— (a) is supportive of or affirms a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation . . .

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following— 

     (a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy; 

     (b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism; 

     (c) giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person. 

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice or conduct may be directed towards a person remotely (including online) or in person.

-----------
For further background and analysis see:
Victoria, Australia: the church of LGBTIQ+’s war against ‘apostasy’
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 26 January 2021.
-----------

That the Bill would be approved was all but certain. Holding 18 seats in the 40 seat Upper House, the ruling Labor government only needed the votes of three crossbenchers to secure passage of the Bill. This was all but guaranteed, with the Bill receiving strong support from crossbenchers Samantha Ratnam of the Greens, Fiona Patton of the Reason Party (formerly known as the Sex Party), and the Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick, the proud father of two transgender children (a son who is now a daughter and a daughter who is now a son). 

On 16 February, the Victorian governor the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, gave the Bill her royal assent. The Bill will come into effect on 16 February 2022. 

Once the law is enacted, anyone found trying to suppress or change another person’s sexuality or gender identity will face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a prison term of up to 10 years if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that their actions caused serious “serious injury” as defined by section 15 of the Crimes Act 1958: i.e. “an injury [to physical or mental health] (including the cumulative effect of more than one injury) that endangers life; or is substantial or protracted.”   

The Family Violence Protection Act will now be amended to make “conversion therapy” a form of domestic violence. 

BEFORE THE VOTE

In December 2020, former deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson took to twitter to express his concerns about the Bill. “A law before the Victorian parliament seeking to outlaw parental, therapeutic or religious discussions on issues of sexuality and gender is the biggest threat to our democratic freedoms in Australia’s entire legislative history.”  

A long list of organisations also criticised the Bill, including the Law Institute of Victoria, Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists,  Victorian Women’s Guild, Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese, Islamic Council of Victoria, and the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. 

Law Institute president Tania Wolff said their members were concerned that the bill “may impose limitations on conversations between children and their parents or other family or caregivers on the issue of gender identity or sexual orientation”. (The Australian, 4 Feb

Medical professionals expressed concern that the Bill's vague wording, broad scope and harsh penalties could see health professionals fined and/or jailed for giving professional advice that led to a patient choosing not to undergo permanent medical procedures to transition gender. However, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley dismissed these concerns, describing them as “misplaced” (The Australian, 3 Feb).

In an open letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s Catholic bishops and the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria noted that the bill risks criminalising conversations between children and parents, interfering with sound professional advice, and silencing ministers of religion from assisting some individuals who freely seek pastoral care.

“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t just ban out-dated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject,” the letter states. “It includes ill-conceived concepts of faith and conversation, vague definitions, and scientifically and medically flawed approaches. It places arbitrary limitations on parents, families and people of faith.”

The Presbyterian Church of Victoria’s “Church and Nation” committee described the legislation as “a solution in search of a problem”. 

From the Amnesty International Australia graphic:
"Conversion Practices in Australia".
(see RLM 26 Jan 2021)

We might also describe it as a “weapon”, purpose built for “lawfare” against “informal religious practices” that promote notions of “sexual sin” that are “harmful to LGBTQA+ people”, along with the “false ideology that their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender and sexual expression can be changed or suppressed.” 

See: What are Conversion Practices? 
Amnesty International Australia
22 Dec 2020 

As noted by Church and Nation: “The research used for the ‘whole of government LGBTIQ+ strategy’ was heavily skewed. The data was based almost entirely on personal surveys which measure each LGBTIQ+ respondent’s feelings or perceptions that other people treated them with hate or discriminated against them, and their subjective opinion that the perceived hate or discrimination was based on LGBTIQ+ prejudice. There was no indication of any analysis to ensure that their perceptions of “hate or discrimination” were correct, nor was there any indication of any analysis that any discriminatory behaviour was based on LGBTIQ+ prejudice as opposed to any other prejudice.

“There is no evidence that harmful ‘aversion therapy’ has existed in Australia for decades.” 

See: Conversion Therapy Ban, Victoria
URGENT CALL TO ACTION
from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria's Church and Nation committee.
-- includes links to the Victorian Government’s own publications: Whole of Government LGBTQI+ Strategy and Discussion paper on Conversion Therapy Ban legislation.

Only two opposition members – MPs Bev McArthur and Bernie Finn – defied their leader to vote against the Bill. Mr Finn told parliament that while he supported the general principle of banning gay conversion therapy, he could not abide the “bad parts of the bill”. (The Australian, 4 Feb

“This bill is an attack on basic freedoms,’ he said, ‘on freedoms of choice, free speech, freedom of assembly and an attack on freedom of religion . . .  If this bill was just what the government said it is [i.e. a law to protect LGBTQ persons from coercive, abusive or involuntary psychological or spiritual practices], there wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not, it’s a lot more than that. This in its own way is an omnibus bill, and they’ve got a very, very nasty habit of doing this to people, and to the parliament, of putting bills up which are in part acceptable, and in other parts appalling, and this is one of them.” 

In a 31 January 2021 article for the Spectator Australia, crossbencher David Limbrick (Liberal Democrats) – who voted against the Bill – slammed the Bill as “shameful”.

“I have approached this legislation with an open mind – I am not a religious conservative – and sat through many meetings with stakeholders from all sides of the argument. 

“This idea that evil religious people are waiting in the shadows to deny people choices about their own sexuality is an offensive caricature, not just to faith leaders, but to millions of people quietly practising their religions.  

“What’s worse is that there are undertones of anti-religious bigotry. Anyone who thinks this particular brand of bigotry is better than any other kind is kidding themselves.”

AFTER THE VOTE

After the vote, Baptist pastor and blogger Murray Campbell gave voice to the question many Victorians would now be asking: “How can we respond when a Government makes illegal practices that have been part of Christian religion since the beginning of the Church and have their foundation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ? 

“To be very clear,” Campbell explains, “I am not talking about aversion practices and non-consensual activity that stems from pseudo-science and bad theology. Church leaders including myself have repeatedly spoken against such things and believe they have no place in our churches . . .” 

However, “Among other things, the Conversion Practices Bill criminalises prayer and conversation where one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity or change is not the best course of action. A prayer for sexual abstinence can be considered ‘suppression’ and therefore illegal. Sermons are not targeted in this Bill, although the recently resigned Attorney General, Jill Hennessy, explained in the Parliament that sermons may be included at a later date.” 

What’s more, Campbell reports, “During tonight’s debate, one member of the Legislative Council [Ms Bath] asked the Attorney General [Ms Symes], ‘How will the Government up-skill ministers and pastors so that they know where the line is, [and] what they can and cannot say to people about sexual orientation and gender identity?’ (my [Campbell’s] paraphrase of the question). 

“What a revealing question! The Attorney General indicated that education materials will be made available. In other words, religious people must defer to the Government’s doctrine.”

See: Victoria Bans Conversion Practices Despite Significant Flaws in the Bill
by Murray Campbell, 4 February 2021  

Regarding the answer from Victorian Attorney General Ms Jaclyn Symes MLC, here is the quote from Hansard (p282):  “. . . when this bill is passed, there will be a 12-month implementation period. VEOHRC [Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission] will be providing education, materials and advice to religious organisations . . .” 

THE WAY FORWARD

As for the way forward, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, Rev. Dr. Peter Barnes, issued a statement on the website of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, encouraging the congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Australia not to be deterred from the obligation to proclaim “the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27).”

“We are obliged before God,” he writes, “to preach all that He has revealed to us, whether law or gospel, and to do so in a spirit of love and truth.

“There is nothing unique in such legislation. When King Darius exceeded his God-given authority, Daniel did ‘as he had done previously’ (Dan. 6:10). 

“It is our task to keep on keeping on, to proclaim and to live out so far as we can the gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to us.”

AMEN

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com