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Top Picks: Bastille attack, Brexit angst, and gunbattles in Juba

Welcome to IRIN’s weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Five to read:

Morbid data

This depressing data analysis from Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute, is actually from April, but the Bastille Day attack in Nice represents a horrific new challenge to its central hypothesis: there are bigger threats to civilians than terrorism.

Yes, there have been an alarming number of high-profile attacks in Western cities of late, but, Muggah argues, these won’t overturn long-standing statistics that show “urban centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia as significantly more vulnerable than those in Belgium, France, the UK or the US”. Innocent civilians are also far more likely to be killed during the course of armed conflicts than in extremist attacks. Muggah’s key finding though is that neither conflict nor extremism is responsible for as many civilian deaths as homicide. And, alarmingly, 46 of the 50 most violent cities are in the Americas, including a handful where “homicidal violence is off the charts”. The stats will provide no comfort for those in Western capitals who feel increasingly targeted or have lost friends or family in attacks, but they are far from alone.

China sails into troubled waters

This week judges at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea ruled against China’s claim of control over the South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines. The Chinese government’s reaction was fairly predictable: Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the arbitration “a political farce under the pretext of law” and the government immediately issued a 66-page White Paper outlining its side of the argument. While many saw China’s actions as a rebuke to international law, the International Crisis Group blogged optimistically that it could “revive negotiations”. Regardless of the effect of the ruling, the issue is not going away anytime soon. In addition to China and the Philippines, at least four other nations have competing claims.

Giving up on Gaza

This time two years ago, war had just begun raging in Gaza. By the time a ceasefire rolled around 50 days later, more than 2,000 Palestinians had been killed (mostly civilians) as well as 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel. Both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups have been accused of serious violations of international law, but, as this report from Amnesty International points out, precious little has been done about it. Amnesty argues that Israel’s system for investigating violations, which goes through the army itself, lacks independence and impartiality. For its part, Hamas hasn’t publicly investigated the firing of unguided rockets into Israel, and it has carried out abductions, torture, and summary executions of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. In Gaza, which still hasn’t been rebuilt, memories of the conflict are ever-present and many are waiting for justice that is unlikely to come.

A flare-up in Kashmir

Human Rights Watch has called on India to “credibly and impartially” investigate police tactics following street protests in Jammu and Kashmir State over the past week that left at least 30 people dead and hundreds injured. The demonstrations followed the death of Burhan Wani, a popular leader of the Hizb-ul-Mujahedin militant group, during a shootout with security forces on 8 July. Police responded to rock-throwing protestors with tear gas, pellet guns and live ammunition. As IRIN reported a year ago, human rights abuses are common by India’s security forces who are protected by law from being prosecuted in civilian courts without the approval of government authorities.

The New Odyssey

Patrick Kingsley is The Guardian’s migration correspondent. While reporting on Europe’s refugee crisis last year and researching a book, The New Odyssey, which came out recently, he spent a week on a search-and-rescue boat in the Mediterranean operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Not only did he witness rescues and meet survivors, he was often forced to put down his notebook and help distribute blankets and food. In this extract from his book, based on his experiences on the Bourbon Argos, he meets an MSF cultural mediator, Amani, who has joined the rescue team 13 years after making his own escape from Eritrea and surviving a similar journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. The extract appears alongside video and audio clips of MSF staff describing their own time on search-and-rescue vessels.

One to listen to:

South Sudan’s precarious peace

This powerful and timely one-hour podcast from the Wilson Centre delivers a deep dive on what the immediate and long-term future holds for South Sudan. A panel of experts from Juba, the region and beyond, offer their analysis of the situation. Among the panelists are Jok Madut Jok, a former government minister; Augustino Ting Mayai of the Sudd Institute; Alex de Waal of the World Peace Foundation; and Akshaya Kumar of Human Rights Watch. It’s essential, if depressing, listening.

One to read and listen to:

Anxiety, or angst, about immigration?

In the wake of Brexit, there is no denying the rising public anxiety about immigration, not just in the UK but throughout Europe. This report by the Migration Policy Institute, Understanding and Addressing Public Anxiety About Immigration, observes that the facts about immigration appear to resonate far less powerfully than the emotional appeals made by anti-immigration parties. The authors argue that how governments manage broader concerns about social change, the economy, and security threats can shape both public anxiety about immigration and levels of trust in governments’ ability to manage it. You can also listen to a podcast of a webinar broadcast by MPI earlier this week, discussing the report’s findings.

One from IRIN:

A fight to the death in South Sudan?

There was an inevitability to the violence that began on 7 July between the forces of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar in Juba, the capital of five-year-old South Sudan. There were already concerns with the implementation of the power-sharing agreement that ushered in a government of national unity in April. Little progress had been made over the demilitarisation of the opposing armies. There was also very little in the way of conciliatory moves, underlined by Kiir’s determination to create additional states – a move seen as favouring Kiir’s Dinka ethnic constituency.

Juba was also not the first incidence of violence this year. In February, more than 30 people died when soldiers broke into the UN-administered Protection of Civilians compound in Malakal, Upper Nile. As this report highlights, there was also terrible violence in Wau in June, launched by the army, which displaced 120,000 people – almost all from the Fertit ethnic group. That only fueled the perception by some that Kiir’s plan all along has been “Dinka domination” of South Sudan. There is growing unease that what we are actually witnessing might be a fight to the death.

Coming up:

Bridging the evidence gap

Wednesday, 20 July, 2:30pm BST

This webinar hosted by ALNP will consider how evidence should be used to plan humanitarian programming. Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee will be among four organisations presenting their ground-breaking work in this area.

See here for more details.

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