April 6, 2024No Comments

Discrimination and the right of a people to self-determination: UN Charter and UniversalDeclarationof Human Rights

Author: Alessandro Peluso - Human Rights Team


The humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East, in the Palestinian Territories, is among the most serious in the history of the Mediterranean.

The coexistence of different peoples with different cultures, customs and religious beliefs has accompanied the history of all civilisations that have settled along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, yet the conflict between the State of Israel and Palestine seems far from seeing a resolution, due to the diplomatic inability of the Western and Eastern blocs to intervene decisively and put an end to a suffering far from the standards of the contemporary world.

The International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction is recognised by Israel, is examining the case, raised and brought before the court by South Africa, about the possibility of genocide against the Palestinian people at the hands of the State of Israel. However, since this is an open case that will take a long time to see a ruling clarifying the nature of military and non-military operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the focus in this article will be on the rights of a people, a topic that applies to many other cases of possible persecution of entire populations in other continents,  such as the case of Rohingya and Uyghurs people in Asia.

United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It is worth reiterating that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets out fundamental rights that should serve as a beacon for action by any individual and State. Articles 1, 2, 3 and 5 lay down principles specific to the human being, understood as an equal and free subject, whose identity must not be a reason for discrimination of any kind; and whose person must not be subjected to inhuman treatment.

For the purposes of this discussion, it seems natural to follow the benchmarks of international law and the commitment made by States. For these reasons, reference should also be made to the UN Charter, which should be read in conjunction with the UDHR in order to get a full understanding of the premises.

Article 1(1) of the UN Charter states that “[The purpose of the United Nations is] to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.

State recognition and peoples’ rights

At first reading, it is plausible to think that this is a principle that applies to States only, as legal subjects, and in particular to contracting states, (i.e. those that are members of the United Nations). However, not only it applies to contracting States, which have agreed to follow the dictates of the signed papers in the broader context of international relations, but it also serves as a general principle of conduct of peoples and States towards peoples and social groups. After all, International Law is based upon customary law, which also benefits from the signature of documents such as the UDHR or the UN Charter.

This detail is crucial to observe with the right lens the dynamics of any case to be analysed, such as that of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Territories are recognised as a state in fact by a limited number of States, be it for political or legal reasons. According to international law, in fact, recognition is not a necessary and determining factor for a State to be considered as such; however, it is a very important factor on a political level, as it lays the foundations for diplomatic relations between states. Such a point has been long discussed in doctrine, having jurists and scholars debating whether recognition is required (Constitutive Theory) or not (Declaratory Theory). Notably, the latter argument is supported by the Montevideo Convention (1933), which Article 3 establishes that: 

The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition, the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts. The exercise of these rights has no other limitation than the exercise of the rights of other states according to international law”.

Source: author safary248 - Pixabay

A State is then considered as such if it has control over an inhabited territory and is endowed with autonomous governing institutions, so that it can effectively exercise its sovereignty over the territory. It also means that the State is enabled to exploit the natural resources of its territory, and to provide services to the citizenry, as the population obtains the citizenship of the State to which it belongs.


One therefore gets the impression that the persecution to the detriment of minority populations may be primarily of a political nature. There is no valid reason for differences between peoples to lead to a sharp division between ethnic groups, and States, which enjoy a strong position concerning minorities, should be reminded of the principles of fundamental human rights. Diplomatic action must be incisive in this regard, because a clear-cut Western and Eastern stance on such issues can change the fate of peoples who are suffering countless casualties and seeing their rights denied.

April 1, 2024No Comments

Not Just a Vacation Paradise: Unveiling China’s Belt and Road in the Maldives

Author: Carlotta Rinaudo - China & Asia Team

For years, people could only travel between the two islands by ferry. On one side of the shore stood Malé, the capital of the Maldives, a bustling urban hub and a sensory feast in itself, with its markets bursting with colors, exotic fragrances, and the lively chatter of fishermen displaying their daily catch. On the opposite shore lay Hulhumale, an artificial island hosting modern residential facilities and the Maldives’ international airport. Connecting these two islands was vital for daily life, yet the ferry system often proved inadequate to its task – especially during peak hours, when tourists and locals alike had to endure endless queues under the tropical sun.

Things were to change when Abdulla Yameen was elected President in 2013. The half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, often referred to as the “dictator” of the Maldives, Yameen had ambitious plans for his island nation. Through a development initiative known as “Greater Male” he aimed to elevate Malé, Hulhumale, and other neighboring islands into a modern hub with upgraded infrastructure, housing, and public services. But this grand vision faced a major obstacle. In 2011 the Maldives had lost its Least Developed Country (LDC) status, which meant that the island could no longer attract funds through international aid. With this avenue closed, Yameen had no other choice but to seek an alternative source of investment. Enter China.

Those were the times President Xi Jinping had started to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose goals largely aligned with Yameen’s vision. It did not take long for Yameen to travel to Beijing, praise China as one of the Maldives’ “closest friends” and join the BRI. Nor did it take long for Chinese companies to establish their presence in the atolls: through Chinese loans, they built 11,000 high-rise buildings in Hulhumale, expanded the Velana International Airport, and extended the local electricity grid. Then came the Friendship Bridge. Built by China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC), it crossed over 2km of turquoise waters to connect Malé and Hulhumale, facilitating the flow of people and resources at a rapid pace. Commuters no longer needed to endure endless queues during peak times.  

Source: Picture taken by the author “(…) the capital of the Maldives, a bustling urban hub and a sensory feast in itself, with its markets bursting with colors, exotic fragrances, and the lively chatter of fishermen displaying their daily catch.”

The conversation around these megaprojects, like any debate surrounding the BRI, quickly became sharply polarized. While some glorified the megaprojects as examples of “win-win cooperation”, many others disagreed. Given Malé’s significant debt to China, they argued that this scenario represented yet another example of debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing strategically pushes recipient countries into debt to then seize control over their assets. Similar claims have emerged in neighboring Sri Lanka, where Chinese-funded projects led to repayment challenges, eventually culminating in the transfer of the Hambantota port to China. However, simplifying the BRI’s presence in the Maldives to a dichotomy of “win-win cooperation” versus “debt trap diplomacy” is problematic. One only has to explore the urban center of Malé to discover a more nuanced reality. Here, the discontent among the local population towards their ruling élite highlights another crucial yet neglected actor in the BRI: the political leadership of the recipient country. That is, Chinese investors do not operate in a vacuum, but within a context where local politicians are active players rather than passive recipients of debt. In the case of the Maldives, the ruling class functions more like a cabal of corrupt politicians feeding a patronage-based system, and taking every megaproject as an opportunity for personal gain. “It is not really about China pushing the country into debt. It is more about our political class using foreign investors to satisfy their own thirst for cash”, says a local resident who spoke under the condition of anonymity. Take the above-mentioned Friendship Bridge. Initially proposed as a six-lane bridge connecting Hulhumale and Malé at a cost of around $100 million, it was later downsized to four lanes under Yameen’s administration. Despite the reduction in size, the cost of the project was doubled to almost $200 million. “The government initially promised a bigger bridge but later built a smaller one. They then inflated the contract value, pocketed the excess funds, and eventually left our Chinese creditors unpaid” explains the local resident.

Source: “One only has to explore the urban center of Malé to discover a more nuanced reality.” Picture taken by the author

Parallels can be drawn with the Hambantota Port. Here, a consultancy group estimated that constructing a bunkering facility would cost around $33 million, yet the Ports Minister demanded a $100 million loan. In both cases, the contracts were significantly inflated, allowing surplus cash to clandestinely find its way into the pockets of the ruling élite – Yameen’s inner circle in the Maldives, and the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka. Presently, Maldivian officials struggle to ascertain the exact amount of debt owed to China and are actively seeking to renegotiate interest rates and repayment plans. Meanwhile, President Yameen was arrested on corruption charges. This only highlights the importance of not overemphasizing China’s control over its projects abroad - it is equally vital to scrutinize the role of the host country’s political leaders, as they too significantly influence the nature of the BRI.  

China is not alone in funding a construction boom in this small yet strategically positioned island nation. India, viewing the Maldives as part of its traditional sphere of influence, is also funding various megaprojects to steer the island away from the Chinese orbit – and back to its own: hospitals, cricket stadiums, ports and airports, and even a sea bridge connecting Malé to other islands in the West, surpassing the Friendship Bridge in both length and scale. Caught in between this geopolitical rivalry, the Maldivian political élite has attempted to capitalize on both Chinese and Indian investments to amass even more personal wealth, leading to rampant and unprecedented construction activity. Airports are being built on islands where only 800 people live, making people question if these developments are really necessary. Needless to say, this is a game with few winners and many losers. 
“The problem is that this construction boom simply does not fit the Maldivian reality” explains another local resident. “All this dredging activity is damaging our coral reef, which is our primary defense from rising sea levels. Yet we continue to destroy it with unnecessary construction projects. Meanwhile, our leadership gains illegal money, while greater powers fight their own geopolitical game on our sovereign territory”. Today, ordinary Maldivian citizens are burdened with debt and environmental devastation. Their nation owes at least $1.4 billions to Beijing – yet unofficially this figure might go as high as $3.5 billions, which accounts for 70% of their GDP. In addition, being the lowest-lying country in the world, many parts of the Maldives could sink by the end of this century, posing an existential threat to its inhabitants. 

Source: “(…)many parts of the Maldives could sink by the end of this century, posing an existential threat to its inhabitants.” Picture taken by the author

During the Third Belt and Road Forum in October 2023, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of fighting corruption associated with the Belt and Road Initiative. Premier Li Qiang echoed this commitment, stating that Beijing was committed to achieve a “clean Silk Road” devoid of graft. Yet ensuring a corruption-free Silk Road also necessitates more oversight over recipient countries, as they play a crucial yet underestimated role in determining the inclusivity and sustainability of BRI projects. Beyond simplistic notions of “win-win cooperation” versus “debt trap diplomacy”, the reality of the BRI is characterized by top-down decision-making, secretive negotiations, and limited public involvement. This only perpetuates a cycle of patronage, profit-seeking, and personal interests – all at the expense of human needs. Similar to the Sri Lankan experience, for the Maldivian population the true trap might not be that of Chinese investments - but the rule of a dysfunctional political leadership. 

March 27, 2024No Comments

The 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide*: the role of transitional justice and humanitarian assistance in the aftermath 

Authors: Agostino Bono, Camilla Cormegna, Ilas Touazi, Shams Jouve, Sophie Herzog Sønju - Crime, Terrorism, Extremism Team in collaboration with the Africa Team*

*Resolution 955 (1994) / adopted by the Security Council at its 3453rd meeting, on 8 November 1994. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/198038?ln=es&v=pdf#files


April 7, 2024, marks the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, 100 days during which Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered by Hutu supported by government authorities. In the aftermath of the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) faced significant challenges in terms of reconciliation and rebuilding the country, implementing a judicial system based on transitional justice. Transitional justice addresses widespread human rights violations in post-conflict contexts, acknowledging victims, fostering peace, reconciliation, and democracy. 

In another ITSS article, the Russia Team discusses the role of transitional justice in post-conflict Ukraine. This article explores the post-genocide Rwanda’s search for justice and reconciliation through the judicial process, arguing that a holistic view of transitional justice is needed and both the objectives of peacemaking and justice, restorative and retributive tools, must be balanced to ensure a sense of sustainable peace. Rwanda also represents a turning point in the post-conflict agenda: as UN peacekeepers failed to prevent the genocide,  post-conflict resolution approaches shifted from humanitarian interventions to the responsibility to protect, where the UNSC authorises military intervention in the event of ethnic cleansing and civil war. The transformation of humanitarian intervention approaches is described after presenting a historical overview of the Rwandan genocide. The article then evaluates transitional justice methods, including the ICTR, and local and gacaca courts. Lastly, it compares Rwanda and South Africa's use of traditional methods in the reconciliation process.

The roots of the Rwandan conflict: A historical overview 

The Rwandan society has been always divided along ethnic lines between the Tutsi, the Hutu and the Twa. Since the 1800s, backed by the Belgian colonisers, the Tutsi were the dominant ethnic group. The concentration of power in the hands of the Tutsi exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions and led to the 1959 social revolution, which resulted in the abolition of the Tutsi monarchy and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to neighbouring countries.  The post-colonial governments of Gregoire Kayibanda (1960-1973) and Juvénal Habyarimana (1973-1994) discriminated against the Tutsi and were characterised by corruption as well as power struggles within ethnicities. Their domestic policy intensified in October 1990. During that month, the return from Uganda of the Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF),  a contingent of special forces, sparked a civil war with the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) of President Habyarimana who accused the Tutsi of the increasing Hutu’s social grievances and sufferings. Concomitantly, powerful Hutu from the Akuzu tribe, gave logistic and material support as well as training to the anti-Tutsi front.

The Arusha Peace Treaty in June 1992 put an end to two years of belligerence between the RAF and the RPF and established a power-sharing agreement between the parties in conflict. However, the instability continued throughout the country also because of the Hutu’s propaganda against the Tutsi at the national and local levels. Therefore, despite all the efforts, the civil war lasted until 1994 with a final toll of about 10,000 deaths. A significant example of the bilateral aggression took place on 6 April, 1994. Following negotiations with the RPF in Arusha, Tanzania, the aircraft carrying President Habyarimana and Burundian President Ntaryamira was shot down by unknown attackers. Their killings ignited the Rwandan genocide, which was fuelled by the Hutu political elite who accused the RPF of the murders. In their killing spree, they massacred Tutsi as well as moderate Hutu opponents.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda failed to stop the genocide as well as to join efforts with the RPF. This resulted in the unilateral reaction of the RPF which spread throughout the country, finally managing to put an end to the massacre in July 1994. Overall, between 6 April and 19 July 1994, approximately 800,000 ethnic Tutsi, Twa and Hutu were killed for the sake of “cleansing the nation”. 

The Rwandan genocide: between humanitarian intervention approach and post-conflict reconstruction (PCR) 

The emergence of ethnic, religious, tribal, and civil wars, particularly in Rwanda, reshaped the Security Council's priorities from maintaining international peace to stopping the massacres and ensuring the free distribution of humanitarian aid, then providing armed support for the relief effort and authorising multinational military intervention to stop the genocide and crimes against humanity. However, the UN's post-Cold War activities, particularly in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then Rwanda, have been characterised by humanitarian operations that are increasingly militarised and described as “military humanitarianism.” While contemporary international law does not grant humanitarian intervention the same exceptional status as the right to self-defence. In this vein, the acceptance of a right to judicial interference was sown with pitfalls precisely by Rwanda, which refused to adopt the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994. Yet, it is a question of interference in the service of peace and justice, constituting a leap from the right to interfere to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect (R2P) and prevent genocide, war crimesethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

In the post-Cold War globalised world, a “post-conflict reconstruction approach” (PCR) has arisen to prevent systematic human rights violations that offers reparation to victims and strengthens conflict resolution and peacebuilding. In that respect, Rwanda stands as a major case on the emerging post-conflict agenda. Consequently, the change in the nature of humanitarian intervention from traditional approaches to new dimensions was implemented in the Rwandan theatre, which initially focused on the classic peacekeeping operation with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda UNAMIR, decided by resolution 872 (1993) of 5 October 1993. Faced with the United Nations' inability to manage the Rwandan crisis through its action, described as humanitarian assistance, the French-led “Operation Turquoise”, followed by “Operation Support Hope”, was described as founding a right to interfere. That’s why the “PCR” process in Rwanda to solve genocide issues and trauma has been shaped innovatively to achieve sustainable peace recovery and promote reconciliation due to holistic planned coordination among different policy interventions and stakeholders in the context of security, political governance, socio- economic development, gender, and justice. Meanwhile, PCR was enhanced by mechanisms of coordination in the transition to peace, namely the Rwandan government (GoR), as well as the administration of justice and conflict prevention under a window of sustainable consensus reconstruction among the formal and transitional informal justice systems (IJS). 

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Darwinek - "Flag-map of Rwanda" - This picture is an excerpt of the original /https://shorturl.at/JXZ34

ICTR, the local courts and their limitations

The exceptionality of the genocide in Rwanda was the public mass participation, and so the retributive justice process became increasingly difficult. The need to implement an international criminal tribunal became essential for convicting those utmost accountable. The ICTR, or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was created as of the UN Resolution 955, which stated that its aim was “prosecuting persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of International Humanitarian Law committed in the territory of Rwanda”. In total, 93 people were indicted by the ICTR. Of them were 62 sentenced, 14 were acquitted, 10 were referred to local courts, and the rest either died, escaped, or had their charges withdrawn. The ICTR was historical as it was the first time “an international tribunal delivered verdicts against people responsible for committing genocide”, with their sentences ranging from 2 years to life imprisonment. Those not indicted by the ICTR were indicted by the national court system. Towards the mid 2010s, around 10000 people were tried in relation to the genocide, potentially facing the death penalty. The difference in punishment, as well as the varying judicial process, came to be a large problem for the reconciliation of the Rwandan state. Although the ICTR was successful in creating some sense of fairness and victor-mentality for the remainder of functional society, the UN resolution and the tribunal itself had clear limitations through their retributive aims. Retributive justice can be defended from a logical perspective as something that can be justified in terms of utility, but not in terms of fairness. From a moral perspective, it can be justified in terms of fairness, but not utility. In Rwanda, the retributive justice process through ICTR convicted those most in charge of the genocide, without determining the morality of the crimes beyond the basis of international law, not addressing the root issue which ultimately caused neighbours to kill their neighbours. There was no need for the convicted in either court to express remorse or wish to reform, and so a retributive justice process did arguably limit the reconciliation process of the state after the genocide. 

Gacaca courts: balancing accountability and reconciliation

To provide alternative solutions for dealing with the perpetrators of the genocide while promoting peace, in 2002 the Rwandan government established the gacaca courts, which combined elements of retributive and restorative justice. In 2012, gacaca came to an end, having tried more than 1.9 million suspects, involving over 170,000 judges. Gacaca were customary local courts traditionally led by elders and public figures to solve local disputes. The new gacaca retained some characteristics of the original model but now judges had the power of sentencing while the existence of a forum of community members allowed victims to voice their suffering. Significant value was also placed on the acknowledgement of guilt, shame and regret by the accused: the offender’s confession about the atrocities committed would reduce sentences in favour of community service. According to Pugh and Rwanda’s leaders, community involvement to address crimes and truth-telling succeeded in achieving accountability more efficiently compared to state-controlled mechanisms while fostering reconciliation. Not only did many perpetrators appear remorseful and apologised to their victims by giving them truth and closure about a tough past, but since gacaca was rooted in tradition, the Rwandan society managed to reclaim a cultural heritage nearly lost during colonisation. In turn, gacaca helped the healing of a country torn apart by an ethnopolitical conflict by reintegrating citizens not as Hutu or Tutsi but as Rwandan nationals. 

However, numerous criticisms have been levelled against the gacaca system. Apart from a lack of due process, one of the key issues revolved around the legitimacy of judges. Many people elected as judges were later recognised as having taken part in the genocide, compromising their integrity and accountability,  ultimately undermining the justice system. Thomson also contends that gacaca courts were a state-driven legal system devised to exert control by collectively assigning guilt to the Hutu population, categorising them as perpetrators, while politicising the victimhood of the Tutsi community. The RPF leadership failed to prosecute Tutsi forces who committed atrocities against Hutus, de facto failing to deliver true justice. Overall, notwithstanding these criticisms, gacaca proved to be an important restorative tool in the reconciliation process, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to transitional justice that incorporates both retributive and restorative measures.

Assessing cultural tools for reconciliation in Rwanda and South Africa

We observe a particularly efficient use of holistic, home-based approaches to post-conflict reconstruction in Africa from 1995. Rwanda and South Africa have both succeeded in introducing solutions grounded on traditional mechanisms for reconciliation.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate human rights violations usually perpetrated by state institutions and the military during the apartheid. Similarly to Rwandan solutions, it aimed at strengthening peace by reestablishing trust within the South African society, while avoiding direct violence and rebuilding the country. This last point differs from Rwanda’s clear need for individual justice, each country adopted different forms of transitional justice mechanisms. The TRC emphasised on rebuilding the country politically, while Rwanda’s Gacaca courts favoured the settlement of revenge needs within the society.

Considered the ‘largest experiment in popular justice in modern history’ as well as a ‘unique [model] among judicial structures around the world’, the Gacaca allowed for faster trials and certainly eased ethnic tensions after the genocide by putting the society at the heart of reconciliation. Culturally adapted programmes focused on inclusiveness and dignity, therefore restoring a national identity. Levels of political reconciliation reached 90%, demonstrating the clear success of traditional tools for reconstructing Rwanda. In South Africa, the TRC received similar positive outcomes and particularly contributed to acknowledging abuses suffered by the victims.

However, cultural resources are not magical tools for reconciliation. Indeed, John Lederach evaluates the success of reconciliation through four constitutive elements: peace, truth, justice, and mercy. According to this model, South Africa emphasised truth and mercy at the expense of justice, whereas Rwanda emphasised justice at the expense of mercy.

The main issue raised by the gacaca courts being traditional tools is their disrespect of international legal standards. They failed to provide gender-sensitive justice or efficient reintegration means, and could definitely not accelerate the process of restitution and compensation of properties, nor erase the genocide’s psychological and physical damages. 

In South Africa, the TRC was in charge of the problematic mission of ‘establishing truth’, forsaking individual reconciliation and focusing on political and national needs. The Commission did not address the many inequalities suffered by the black community following the apartheid, including increased levels of poverty, and therefore did not answer the population’s need for the whites to take responsibility and pay reparation.


It is clear that the tragedy of the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1990s marked the post-Cold War period, reflecting the reality of a country strongly characterized by political violence and community and ethnic tensions. But amid of this indelible trauma, the vital role of transitional justice and informal justice systems, with the dual involvement of local justice (Gacaca), and national and international courts (ICTR), emerged as a solution to this endemic crisis. However, this was reinforced by post-conflict reconstruction (PCR) approaches in response to genocide and crimes against humanity, but it also played a pivotal role in the peacebuilding architecture and conflict prevention management. Thus, the main lessons drawn from the Rwandan experience are essentially linked to respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which must be at the centre of local government priorities, and post-modern internationalism above political divisions and double standards at the international level, while today there are various situations, particularly in Ukraine, where populations face risks of crimes under the responsibility to protect (R2P). 

March 25, 2024No Comments

Prof. Thijs van Dooremalen on Climate Crisis and Strategies of Western Nations

In this session, Professor Thijs van Dooremalen delves into the strategies of the European Union and Western nations. We dissect how each region tackles the climate crisis through policy frameworks, focusing on how they communicate the urgency and navigate political challenges. While also exploring the human cost of climate change and how extreme weather events impact human security.

Thijs van Dooremalen is an Assistant Professor within the Governance of Crises research group at Universiteit Leiden. He researches how and why events can cause transformations within national public spheres (media, politics, and policy-making). In his PhD thesis, he analyzed this for the case of 9/11 in the United States, France, and the Netherlands. He is currently particularly interested in the impact of extreme weather events on climate crisis politics.

Interviewer: Kelly Mikelatou - Human Security Team

March 25, 2024No Comments

Africa’s Critical Minerals: Shaping the Future of the Energy Transition 

Authors: Dan Ziebarth, Ingrid Heggstad, Miguel Jiménez Admetlla, Michele Mignogna - Political Economy, development & Energy Security Team


The need for critical minerals to achieve the energy transition cannot be stressed enough. According to the International Energy Agency, demand for these minerals will increase by a factor of four to sixfold. Just as with many other trends that begin to unfold, Africa holds the key since it sits on a vast supply of these resources. Yet, the way the continent approaches this matter could determine whether its history is rewritten or if there is a perpetuation of an uneven distribution of resource gains.

Several key indicators highlight Africa's importance in this context. More than half of African countries possess green minerals essential for the energy transition. Notably, the Democratic Republic of Congo boasts half of the world's cobalt reserves, crucial for batteries and electric vehicles. To fully leverage these resources, Africa must integrate its supply chain processes, capitalizing on value addition at every stage, from extraction to transportation.

Balancing a Just Transition for Africa: Challenges and Imperatives 

Mineral supply chains typically involve four stages, which can broadly be divided into extraction, refining, production, and recycling. Currently, the vast majority of African countries export critical minerals in their primary form, trapping the continent in a cycle known as the primary commodity trap.

Accordingly, Africa perceives a tiny percentage of the overall benefits, with forecasts suggesting that this situation is unlikely to improve shortly. Out of the projected $8.8 trillion market value of global batteries and the supply chain of EVs, only $55 billion is expected to flow to Africa. Thus, there is an urgent need for substantial reforms. However, this goal conflicts with the interests of countries aspiring to lead in renewable energy transitions. Indeed, to maintain sustainable growth without compromising inputs, these nations are eyeing the continent’s supply of rare earths

While ensuring that necessary minerals reach global markets is crucial for meeting climate agreements, the pioneers in energy transition such as the EU, the US and China ought to design climate policies which hold high standards. At the same time, even though some sort of protectionism has been put in place in the continent, this may be rather ineffective if ownership along the supply chain remains foreign. If the opposite occurs, it could turn out to be a Berlin Conference of the 21st century.

Co-opetition for Resources in Africa: The EU & China

Thus far, the EU has adopted the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRM Act) which sets ambitious targets for mineral processing, emphasizing reduced reliance on third countries. Precisely, it establishes targets for critical raw materials of meeting 10% of annual needs mined materials, 15% recycled materials, and 40% of materials processed in Europe by 2030 for minerals, while simultaneously not relying on a single third country for more than 65% for any material. Remarkably, two major roadblocks should be noted for the EU to achieve these targets. 

The first involves intensifying global competition for resources in Africa, particularly about China. As the green transition progresses, states are increasingly reliant on critical minerals from Africa, fueling competition for influence over these strategic resources. Aware of the risks associated with overreliance on a single supply chain, African countries have strategically prioritised diversifying their mineral partnerships. This strategic recalibration has added another layer of complexity to the geopolitical landscape, as access to the supply chains of critical minerals becomes yet another arena for the intricate dynamics of great power rivalry to unfold. 

Source: © AI generated picture

International competition for access to critical minerals navigates through alliances and rivalry alike. Geopolitical manoeuvring by influential players such as the US, China, and the EU is intricately tied to securing and managing critical minerals' supply chains. China possesses a dominant position in producing and refining African critical minerals, giving it significant influence over supply chain dynamics and sparking concern among other key stakeholders such as the EU and the US. This influence is evident in regions like the Horn of Africa, where the evolving engagement of China and the EU reveals intersecting interests and potential for both competition and collaboration

While China's growing economic presence in the region, driven by access to critical minerals and infrastructural projects, contrasts with the EU's emphasis on security initiatives and governance reforms, Chinese involvement has nonetheless produced benefits for infrastructural and economic development. Additionally, their security operations, including peacekeeping and anti-piracy efforts, have contributed to increased regional stability. These positive outcomes challenge prevalent negative narratives in the West regarding China's involvement in the region, offering the potential for cooperative influence and increased opportunity for strengthened stability in the region. Although it would require thorough preparation and collaborative endeavours, Chinese and European involvement in the Horn of Africa holds the potential for a mutually beneficial outcome. 

Additionally, a second major consideration regarding the CRM Act is ensuring that local communities in Africa are safeguarded, while also supplying enough critical minerals to achieve targets. A common concern locally is that extractive industries, such as mining, will place several negative consequences on the environmental and social conditions in mining communities in Africa. To ensure a just transition, the mineral supply chain process must provide sufficient protection for mining communities in Africa to not harm or exploit them over the long term. Within this geopolitical context, African countries emerge not solely as suppliers of the critical minerals for the green transition but also as significant influencers in shaping global power dynamics. 

As these countries strive to break free from the primary commodity trap, their choices concerning trade agreements, alliances, policies for resource extraction, and infrastructure expansion resonate throughout the entire supply chain. African countries’ involvement introduces a new dimension to international competition, where countries and blocs vie not only for access to critical minerals but also for influence over their strategic decisions. 

Africa's mineral wealth forms an essential bedrock for industries worldwide, as the supply chain of strategic minerals extends across multiple facets in the development towards sustainable solutions. Therefore, countries depend on a consistent and unbroken supply of these minerals, wherein the evolution and dynamics of this supply chain can send shockwaves throughout the global economy and geopolitical landscape. 


In conclusion, the continent, and the whole world, stands at a crossroads. The approach to African resource management will determine whether it can break free from historical patterns of exploitation. The goal, as stated in the African Green Minerals Development Strategy Approach Paper, is to guide Africa to strategically exploit the continent’s green mineral resources for industrialisation and to assert control over its destiny to create an African presence in emerging green technologies. A shift towards integrated supply chain management, sustainable extraction practices, and prioritisation of local community welfare is imperative to harness the full benefits of Africa's mineral wealth while mitigating adverse consequences.

In this context, international cooperation and strategic partnerships are essential to navigate the complexities of the evolving geopolitical landscape surrounding critical minerals and to ensure that the global shift to clean technologies does not come to the detriment of African communities. 

Long story short, Africa's pivotal role in the global supply chain of critical minerals underscores the continent's potential to shape the trajectory of the energy transition and influence global power dynamics. By making informed choices and fostering cooperation, African countries can not only unlock economic opportunities but also play a significant role in shaping a more equitable and sustainable global future.

However, this potential comes with significant challenges and considerations.

March 18, 2024No Comments

Japan’s OSA: Balancing Security and Stability in the Indo-Pacific

*Authors: Southeast Asia and Oceania Team


Amid escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, exacerbated by assertive Chinese actions, in April 2023, Japan declared a new cooperation framework—Official Security Aid (OSA). Positioned as a strategic departure from its longstanding Official Development Aid (ODA) framework, the OSA marks Japan's commitment to strengthening the armed forces of like-minded nations. This move reflects Japan's response to the evolving security landscape, characterized by Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS) and other geopolitical challenges.

From ODA to OSA

For decades, Japan stood as a bastion of ODA, considered as the main reliable partner for Southeast Asian nations. Its aid is granted under a request-based system and reflects a commitment to regional stability via non-military means.In the postwar era, Japan utilized development cooperation to establish relations with neighboring countries and subsequently to support the expansion of Japanese businesses in Asia. It played a role in the transition from socialist regimes and, amid China's rise, contributed to the development of legal systems and the consolidation of democracies.

The OSA, however, underscores Japan's proactive stance in gaining a more dominant role in the region, marking its first attempt in the postwar era, in which this country seeks to directly enhance the capabilities of foreign military forces. Under the OSA, Japan aims to provide not only equipment and supplies, but also support for infrastructure development to the military forces of like-minded countries, thereby bolstering their security capabilities.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue address marked a pivotal moment in this new approach, with an announcement on doubling Japan's defense spending, and on the necessity in a departure from Japan's traditional post-war foreign policy, primarily centered on economic contributions. Japan's move towards OSA fits with its long-standing role as a vital ally for Southeast Asia in maritime security, especially during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership.

The realization of OSA materialized around the Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) 50th anniversary, culminating in a Joint Vision Statement and an implementation plan which emphasized maritime security cooperation. Subsequently, Japan extended its security assistance totaling $13 million to Bangladesh, Fiji, Malaysia, and the Philippines, demonstrating a commitment to fostering stability beyond its borders.

Furthermore, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is set to play a pivotal role in providing maritime security support to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. JICA's plan encompasses capacity-building initiatives and the provision of patrol boats, radar systems, and drones. This comprehensive support seeks to address the security needs of nations grappling with regional power dynamics. This move signifies Japan’s intent to forge a broader international coalition, marking a strategic shift in its diplomatic and security engagements.

Strategic Gains

Amid the delicate balancing acts between superpowers, the OSA offers Southeast Asian claimant states an appealing prospect. With territorial disputes and threats from China in the SCS, Japan’s commitment to enhancing defense capabilities might seem to aim to deter Chinese assertiveness.

In this context, and following the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, Japan has elevated relations with Vietnamand Malaysia to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and a Security Assistance agreement, including maritime equipment provision, was signed with Malaysia. Additionally, although not a claimant state, Japan plans to build a patrol vessel for the Indonesian Coast Guard. Moreover, coastal surveillance radars will be granted to the Philippines, with discussions on reciprocal troop access and joint military exercises. Japan and the Philippines are also working towards a trilateral alliance involving the US. As Japan has its own territorial dispute with China over its southern islands, the OSA aligns with its ambitions to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and secure regional supply chain resilience.

Source: AkinoriMatsui "World flags" - https://en.photoac.com/photo/3989789

Japan also might envision the OSA as a means to reduce Southeast Asian countries' dependence on China. As the Belt and Road Initiative remains a significant diplomatic tool, the OSA introduces new areas of cooperation. For Bangladesh, for instance, which heavily relies on Chinese weaponry (70%), the OSA offers an opportunity to diversify suppliers and mitigate risks associated with the quality of Chinese-made military equipment.

Balancing security and stability

In his address at the Hiroshima G7 Summit in 2023, PM Kishida emphasized the potential parallels between the current situation in Ukraine and future challenges in East Asia. Observing global instability stemming from the Ukraine war, the rise of China, US-China tensions, and the Israel-Hamas War, Japan’s proactive foreign policy aims to foster deterrence and regional security. This change signifies a departure from its conventional stance of following US priorities by shifting towards a Japan-led multilateral security collaboration. It should be asked whether this securitization led to more, or less stability in the region.

While Japan's emphasis on maritime security and support to like-minded Indo-Pacific countries aligns with countering China's assertiveness, extending OSA to the military capabilities of developing countries introduces complexities.

The potential reactions from ASEAN nations, particularly considering their neutrality and non-alignment strive, could lead to heightened tensions and disrupt the delicate balance in the ongoing superpower competition. Moreover, concerns over an arms race in the region emerge; due to ASEAN countries' diverse capabilities and stances in the superpower competition, providing security assistance to certain members might increase tension in the region and undermine the current multilateral system. 

The pursuit of a competitive armament approach, rather than creating a secure environment, may contribute to heightened tension, prompting a more assertive Chinese stance and a Chinese armament of its allies in the region. Furthermore, given China’s extensive arms sales to the region, and its lenient restrictions on arms exports, it is essential to question whether Japan's OSA will genuinely serve as an effective countermeasure to China.


Japan's adoption of OSA signifies a proactive response to regional challenges posed by assertive Chinese actions. While enhancing defense capabilities for like-minded developing countries brings strategic gains, potential reactions from ASEAN, fears of an arms race, divisions, and China's extensive influence, warrant cautious consideration. As Japan assumes a broader international role, the delicate balance between security and stability in the Indo-Pacific calls for careful navigation and strategic planning to mitigate potential negative repercussions of such security related initiatives.

*Views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not represent any organization or its affiliates.

March 18, 2024No Comments

Dr Rosario Formicola on F-16 as a game changer in Ukrainian War 

Dr Rosario Formicola active duty aviator Italian Air-force talks about on the potential change in the situation on the frontline in Ukraine with the transfer of F-16 aircraft to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Dr. Rosario Formicola delivers a presentation on the importance and specifics of the transfer of F16 aircraft to Ukraine. The specificity and importance of this factor in changing the balance on the battlefield and its impact on the security system in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The advantages, problems and potential benefits for the Ukrainian Armed Forces are described. Due to the specifics of his duties, the doctor does not disclose some technical data, but gives a clear picture of the consequences of the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine. 

According to the expert, the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine will significantly strengthen the troops, will be a big obstacle and challenge for Russia, but unfortunately the needs of the frontline in Ukraine require not only a much larger number of aircraft but also a huge effort to build the necessary infrastructure for maintenance. For obvious reasons, the doctor does not disclose specific figures or technical specifications, but gives an assessment of the implications and issues of this issue.

Interviewers: Igor Shchebetun - Russia Team

March 11, 2024No Comments

Beijing and Washington try to talk to each other about AI

Author: Francesco Cirillo - U.S. Team

The sudden emergence of applications related to artificial intelligence, which combine different fields of work, is at the centre of international agendas and governments. The issue of the possible risks of AI has focused the debate on the need to find common ground, especially between China and the United States, the two major global economic powers and key players in AI research and development, both in the public and private Big Tech sectors, both in the US and in China. 

In recent months, following the San Francisco Summit in November 2023, where a very important bilateral meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping took place, China and the US have started to engage in a dialogue to create global governance on AI. For several experts, Sino-American cooperation is crucial to avoid a political-military race in the AI sector, as was also said by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. From Beijing's perspective, the issue remains a priority due to the delicate diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. Between December 2023 and January 2024, two Chinese academics wrote two papers attempting to define the new China-US relationship from Beijing's perspective. 

Da Wei, a professor at Tsinghua University, highlights four key concepts needed to analyse the new 'normal' in Sino-US relations after the San Francisco summit. The paper points out that relations will remain predominantly negative in the long term, but analyses the condition that neither power wants a direct confrontation on the economic level. From the point of view of Chinese academics, there seems to be the idea that both China and the US must find the need to coexist, especially to consolidate dialogue on issues of artificial intelligence. 

Here too, Chinese academics and experts reiterate the need for high-level dialogue to build global governance on AI

Even the world of independent academic research is moving to protect the impartiality of scientific research on AI.

On 5 March, a team of MIT experts published a letter"A Safe Harbor for AI Evaluation and Red Teaming," calling on tech companies involved in generative AI research to implement independent evaluation systems for AI-related risks. The letter, signed by several experts, refers to the confidentiality and corporate security issues that many Big Techs, most notably OpenAI, have within their R&D teams, preventing an unbiased assessment of the risks associated with the sudden development of AI, accelerated from December 2022.

Source: Tara Winstead - Pexels

Artificial Intelligence issues have entered the international debate because of their potential in various sectors, but also because of the competition/cooperation that both China and the United States will have to face in the coming years on issues related to the integration of AI systems in the economic, political and military spheres. 

International competition and the race to dominate AI could change the current status of global governance, but it would not change the game and the competition between the great powers, since technological innovation has always played a key role in the global hegemony of the superpower that would gain a strategic advantage over all the other great global powers.

March 9, 2024No Comments

Prof. Paola Rivetti on Iran and Mahsa Amini

Prof. Paola Rivetti is an Associate professor in Politics and International Relations at Dublin City University. Her expertise lies in Iranian politics, gender and sexuality, social and political mobilisation and the Middle East Region. 

In this session, prof. Rivetti talks about Iran in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini's death, dwelling into the movement Women Life Freedom, Iran's geopolitical position after the protests, and future prospect for the country (de)stabilisation. 

Interviewers: Ilaria Lorusso, Shahin Modarres, Margherita Ceserani. - Iran Team

March 6, 2024No Comments

The Houthis and Iran: A Complex Nexus Threatening Regional Stability

Authors: Will Kingston-Cox, Ilaria Lorusso, Margherita Ceserani, Shahin Modarres - Iran Team

The Russo-Iranian strategic military cooperation in the Red Sea unfolds against the backdrop of a multifaceted and changing geopolitical scenario. The evolving situation in the area prompts a reevaluation of the Russo-Iranian partnership, drawing parallels with their collaboration in Ukraine. While historical dynamics may inform the alliance, the Red Sea theater introduces a maritime dimension, reflecting an adaptive strategy. The interstate treaty between Tehran and Moscow further solidifies their alliance, positioning Iran strategically alongside Russia and China, as geopolitical alignments shift post-Russia's invasion of Ukraine1

As Iran rejects US’s accusation of its support to the Houthis’ attacks, in turn linked to the conflict unfolding in the Gaza Strip, the complexities in the Red Sea underscore the delicate nature of their partnership and the need for a nuanced analysis considering historical context and evolving geopolitical dynamics. In this context, this article will attempt at providing such a summary of the Russo-Iranian partnership so far, and what prospect for the latter the new scenario in the Red Sea holds2

On 17 January 2024, Maria Zakharova, the Kremlin’s spokeswoman, announced that Russia and Iran will sign a new comprehensive interstate cooperation agreement imminently3. This treaty, a furtherance of the Russo-Iranian strategic partnership already evident in Ukraine and before, will serve to consolidate this strategic partnership and entrench it both politically and legally. The signing, as told by Zakharova, has been expedited by the changing international context, a reference perhaps to the global discord resultant from conflicts in Ukraine and, pertinently, the Red Sea region. Such a contention is affirmed by prior comments from the Kremlin in November 2023, in which it was announced that significant work in deepening and developing “military-technical cooperation” was under way4

It is important to emphasise the importance of such an agreement’s final draft being catalysed by events in the Red Sea, pertinently those relating to the Yemeni Houthis and the Red Sea shipping route. British and American strikes, described as “defensive” by NATO, on Yemeni Houthis on 11th January were condemned by Moscow, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denouncing them as “illegitimate” and that the Western coalition were seeking to manipulate the international legal order. Tehran’s stance, too, was resolute. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, derided the coalition strikes as “arbitrary” and “[in clear breach of Yemeni’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity…against international law.” 

The level to which Iran involves itself, be it politically, diplomatically, or militarily, will undoubtedly concern the actions of policymakers in Moscow. The degree to which the Russo-Iranian politically-military strategic partnership will be seen in the Red Sea will depend on the extent to which the current Houthi conflict embroils Tehran. 

Since the 1979 revolution, the Houthis have been intricately tied to the Islamic Republic of Iran, functioning as one of its proxy groups. This relationship unfolds against the backdrop of international sanctions, shaping Iran's defense strategy. Unable to engage in research development or scientific collaboration in defense due to sanctions, Iran has devised a defense doctrine grounded in two key pillars: proxy groups and a ballistic program.

The first pillar, involving proxy groups, has seen Iran establish and support various entities across Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Israel, and neighboring countries. The primary objective seems to be destabilizing regional and international security, and strategically deploying conflicts as leverage during negotiations.

The turning point emerged after the October 7th attack, prompting the Islamic Republic to perceive a threat to what it terms the "axis of resistance." In response to diminishing Hamas influence within the Gaza Strip and an effort to alleviate pressure on the group, Iran allegedly directed the Houthis in Yemen to escalate security destabilisation in the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait region.

Source: An armed Yemeni sits on a boat in front of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship - EPA/via BBC News - Keystone archivio

Backed and provided by Iran, the Houthis pose a multifaceted threat against maritime security and Israel in the region. The first dimension involves the use of missiles sourced from Iran, followed by the deployment of drones also supplied by the Islamic Republic. Lastly, the Houthis reportedly possess and have been strategically placing sea mines since 2021 in the Red Sea, adding another layer of complexity to the threat.

Considering that a substantial 12% of international trade traverses the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the ongoing situation becomes increasingly untenable5. The intersection of geopolitical interests, proxy dynamics, and strategic maneuvers underscores the urgent need for international attention and diplomatic resolution to avert potential catastrophe in this crucial maritime passage.

While the Houthis, threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea, oil has so far continued flowing. According to one Houthis political leader, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, maritime routes around Yemen are safe for Chinese and Russian vessels, as long as they are not associated with Israel. Moscow, while publicly indicating support for Washington's efforts to maintain order in the Red Sea, has only a small amount of its trade passing through the Suez Canal. Moreover, Russian officials suggest that the Red Sea crisis could potentially redirect shipping to the Northern Sea Route or the North-South Transport Corridor via Iran to the Indian Ocean. 

All in all, the renewed Russo-Iranian strategic partnership, in the Middle East space on this occasion, represents an adaptive response to the changing geopolitical landscape. The intricacies of the Red Sea, added to the Iranian grip on the Houthis, brings another dimension to the relationship between the two states. In this article, we have demonstrated how the partnership's strategic implications and the evolving nature of conflicts in the region underscore the need for a multilevel approach while addressing today’s complexities and potential risks in the Red Sea.

  1. https://www.itssverona.it/what-is-the-future-of-russo-iranian-military-relations ↩︎
  2.  https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/07/us/politics/iran-us-israel-conflict.html
    https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/walking-a-tightrope-what-is-irans-current-strategy-161592 ↩︎
  3.  https://www.reuters.com/world/putin-irans-raisi-sign-new-interstate-treaty-soon-russia-2024-01-17/ ↩︎
  4. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/22/ukraine-claims-downing-barrage-from-russia-rare-iranian-made-drone ↩︎
  5. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20240119-red-sea-crisis-how-global-shipping-is-being-rerouted-out-of-danger ↩︎