Civilian resistance to mass atrocities: Understanding non-violent, militant and alternative responses in Southeast Asia
Part 1Session 2
Wed 14:00-15:30 Room 3.01
Part 2Session 3
Wed 16:00-17:30 Room 3.01
- Claire Smith University of York
- Ellen Emilie Stensrud The Norwegian Centre for Holocaust and Minority Studies
Save This EventAdd to Calendar
Anti-minority violence and illiberal peacebuilding in Southeast Asia: Resistance, reform, rebellion
Claire Smith University of York
Over the past two decades, several Southeast Asian countries have witnessed severe levels of violence against minorities during periods of democratic change, most notably Indonesia and Myanmar. For example, the armed targeting of civilian minority groups by the security sector in Papua, Indonesia, has not been effectively addressed via democratic fora, and civil society activism has been extremely restricted on this issue, even while opening up on others. In pre-coup Myanmar, post-reform majoritarian politics even supported violence against religious minorities, and underpinned the state’s persecution of the Rohingya group. The paper seeks to explore how in both of these transitional multi-ethnic states, processes of reform also lead to processes of exclusion and violence against particular minority groups, many of them located in borderland contested regions. The paper argues that these exclusionary and violent effects followed from the imposition of an “illiberal” peacebuilding agenda focused on national stability and majoritarian elite dominance. Despite widespread hopes at overall democratic reforms, particular groups were directly excluded from the benefits, and indeed became scapegoats for national problems.
In such contexts, the paper also seeks to interrogate, first, how vulnerable groups on the ground resisted threats of violence and what methods, if any, were successful. Second, the paper explores the modes of reform that were possible within these illiberal contexts, who drove reforms forwards, and the extent to which reforms were successful in protecting minority groups. Third, the paper considers the role of rebellion, where pathways to reform and resistance had failed, and minorities took up arms in response. In particular, the paper considers the multiple dimensions of power - at the local, national and regional levels - that provide avenues for successful minority protection, and which constellations of power restrict such efforts.
Countering power and mobilising support: Strategies of civilian resistance in contemporary Indonesia
Najib Azca Universiteit van Amsterdam
Rachael Diprose University of Melbourne
Some two decades after authoritarian rule in which mass atrocities occurred in Indonesia, the country’s contemporary democratic political order has been variously labelled as populist, illiberal, stagnating, and backsliding. While the upsurge in conflict that Indonesia experienced at the onset of democratisation—large-scale violent protests, communal violence, insurgent tensions and widespread vigilantism—has mostly subsided, with the exception of significant contestation in one or two restive provinces, new patterns of protracted contestation have emerged. Most notably such contestation has concerned community challenges to powerful business or state interests, especially in relation to land grabs, and large-scale agribusiness, extractive industries, and infrastructure projects, which have been more prevalent in Indonesia’s resource-rich outer islands (Pierskalla & Sacks; KPA, 2021). Drawing on multiple cases from across Indonesia, this paper explores the various civilian strategies of resistance used to counter such powerful interests, often with the risk of violent reprisals, that is, beyond the strategic use of the instruments of the state such as ballot box or the courts, or forum shopping for non-judicial alternatives for recourse or mediation. The paper identifies at least four ways that civilians seek generate multiple sources of pressure on powerholders to shift their interests so as to respond to civilian concerns: disruptive civil disobedience, multi-scalar network and coalition building (including with rival powerholders and sometimes predatory interests), performative repertoires to appeal to multiple publics (through digital activism, traditional media engagement, naming and shaming, and protest), and discursive legitimation. How risky the strategies are, and how they are sequenced and interact, tend to also be contingent on the behaviours of powerholders, the extent to which prior grievances remain unresolved and intersect with other conflicts, and the extent to which a conflict or interrelated conflicts have already escalated or become protracted.
Do differences in the nature and scale of atrocity crimes influence potential resistance strategies? The effects of the coup on resistance in Myanmar.
Ellen Emilie Stensrud The Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies
During mass atrocities such as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide, victim groups often have to protect themselves and utilize whatever personal, economic, organizational and military resources they have in local communities to mobilize resistance and support. This paper reviews existing literature on self-protection and resistance strategies and discusses whether the lessons from self-protection during violent conflict and repression are applicable to atrocities such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. War and authoritarian repression may have very different drivers and characteristics compared to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Therefore, self-protection and resistance strategies may also need to differ. For example, during war, political negotiations may be a viable strategy, in contrast to situations of identity-based violence where the perpetrators’ goal is to eradicate a specific group from an area. At the same time, the lived experiences may be similar for victims across different types of violence, and lessons from local self-protection strategies during armed conflict may therefore be relevant during more severe atrocity crimes.
Civil society documentation of human rights violations in Myanmar: the potential for truth-telling and accountability
Brianne McGonigle Leyh
Maaike Matelski Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Serious human rights violations, particularly against ethnic minorities, have been a stark reality in Myanmar for many decades. The Rohingya crisis that deteriorated in 2017 and the ongoing abuses in areas of armed conflict such as Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan States, and more recently in response to anti-coup protestors, demonstrate the recurrence of violence and trauma. Amidst these ongoing violations, civil society actors inside and outside the country have attempted to monitor and document human rights abuses in the hope to contribute towards truth-telling and accountability. This paper seeks to identify the origins and scope of such documentation efforts, and analyses the complexities of multiple layers of documentation work initiated by a variety of civil society actors. We argue that these initiatives can be of vital importance in documenting and archiving material on human rights violations for truth-telling purposes and (international) attempts at justice. However, the multitude of layers and actors comes with a number of risks and challenges, including over-documentation and issues of hierarchy and contestation of the collected material. We therefore look at the potential for partnership and cooperation between the different actors involved in documentation work that aims to promote and protect human rights. We also consider the potential impact, value and limitations of these documentation efforts in the aftermath of the 2021 military coup.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Struggle Movement and Thích Nh?t H?nh Role as International Spokesperson
Alexander Soucy Saint Mary's University
The Vietnamese Buddhist Struggle Movement in Vietnam in the 1960s grew out of Buddhist Reform ideas around the need for Buddhists to engage with societal issues, and initially responded to the oppression of Buddhists by American-backed autocrat, President Ngô ?ình Di?m. After Di?m’s assassination, the Struggle Movement continued to organize against the state and its American-sponsored war. While visible non-violent action such as protests and immolations by Buddhist monastics and laity were central to the movement, it also increasingly relied on international advocacy to make the plight know. This paper will explore Thích Nh?t H?nh’s role during the Vietnam War as the main international spokesperson that brought an international voice to the peace efforts of the Buddhists in Vietnam.
Since the end of the Cold War, and subsequent political changes, several Southeast Asian countries have experienced mass atrocities and severe human rights abuses. Recent examples include the persecution of civilians after the military coup in Myanmar. Mass atrocities and widespread human rights abuses have also taken place during periods of democratic opening in places such as Indonesia, Timor Leste, the Philippines and Thailand. At the same time, two parallel processes have restricted human rights advocacy in the region: the growing power and influence of China, and a resurgence in populist and authoritarian modes of rule. Against this turbulent backdrop, the panel asks: How have vulnerable groups on the ground resisted threats of mass atrocities? Is it possible to identify a pattern of resistance strategies across divergent cases? What kinds of resistance strategies have been more successful in defending groups against mass atrocities and abuses and under which conditions? How have resistance options been influenced by regional and global political power shifts, alongside national regime changes?
In the international policy and research field of mass atrocity prevention, there is a strong normative emphasis on the duty of outsiders to rescue victim groups either through political pressure, or through more forceful economic and military measures. However, the reality of mass atrocities (understood here as large-scale one-sided violence against civilians) is that victim groups usually need to protect themselves. This is particularly the case in Southeast Asia, where regional actors, most notably ASEAN, have shown limited willingness or capacity to respond to atrocity threats in a meaningful way, and the strategic influence of China in the region reduces the leverage of other external actors. There is, therefore, a need to better understand the strategies threatened groups employ to protect themselves against atrocities, and how these groups may be able to mobilise support domestically or internationally.
Our panel invites contributions from scholars, practitioners, civil society organisers and human rights activists to discuss resistance strategies towards atrocities and severe human rights abuses in the Southeast Asia region. We particularly encourage contributions from activists, organisers, junior scholars (including PhD students) and Southeast Asian scholars.