Jozef Habrina is a Chief Analyst at the Council of Slovak Exporters - an expert in geopolitics and geoeconomics. He discusses war impact on the global economy and prospects for economic diversification. Jozef Habrina discusses with ITSS Verona members from Eastern Europe department сhanges in EU-Russian relations and the management of resource flows from a war perspective.
Efforts to improve human security in situations of violence have increasingly recognized the differential experiences and vulnerabilities of specific communities – like women or the elderly. In this line, advances have also been made in exploring the intersectionality of these contexts – that is, the fact that those belonging to multiple marginalized groups endure compounded risks. We are now at a point where we explore identity in conflict with more nuance than ever before. Yet, one collective still often remains excluded from our analysis – the LGBTQI+ or Queer community.
Despite efforts at inclusion and nuance in international security, like the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, we still implicitly marginalize or exclude the queer community from policy or alleviation measures, offering little differential protection or recognition. As such, in the words of Academic Jamie Hagen, “those vulnerable to insecurity and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity remain largely neglected by the international peace and security community”.
Queer human security and protection in conflict: where we fall short
From Chechen leaders, to Zimbabwe’s President or Turkey’s Erdogan, world leaders often don’t only decline to offer protections to LGBTQI+ people – they actively deny their existence. Be it within their borders or entirely, the majority of world leaders still deny basic recognition and rights to the queer community, paving the way for discrimination, abuses, and killings.
As a result, LGBTQI+ experiences are often implicitly or explicitly excluded from policy, research, and services addressing identity-based violence and mass atrocity. A recent paper by Protection Approaches has explored the multiple ways queer experiences of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide remain under-explored and unaddressed.
As we have stated, this is often due to pervasive political, legal, and social discrimination. However, another prominent effect is that, due to the community’s exclusion from research and debate, there is a stark lack of data pertaining to the lives of queer populations. Even when attempts at inclusion are made, we have little experience in how to ethically and effectively gather data on the community. Firstly, as violence is often viewed through a dichotomous lens with regard to gender, there is little space or recognition for communities that do not conform to this binary. Secondly, even if research focuses on LGBTQI+ minorities, challenges remain when attempting to ethically explore identity outside primarily western categorizations of gender and sexuality – which need to be adapted to different cultural realities – as well as in deciding which collectives to include and how to do so without putting them in danger. Lastly, researchers face the potential lack of availability of basic data on abuses – as many people do not report violence due to the fear of stigmatization or reprisals. As a result of these converging dynamics, queer populations suffer a double attack: victimization and erasure.
Being Queer in war: lived experiences of LGBTQI+ populations in modern conflict
The reality is that LGBTQI+ persons suffer disproportionate violence during armed conflict. The continued abuse and discrimination the community is subject to in peacetime only aggravates within this context, with the worsening of social chaos and the erosion of the rule of law. Indeed, the violence extends beyond self-identification, as even those being only suspected of belonging to the community face reprisals. While progress has indeed been made in terms of the recognition of LGBTQ+ populations under human rights law and existing abuses are increasingly being documented by media, human rights bodies, and civil society, queer populations remain among the least protected of all communities in armed conflict.
“I was on my way home [from work] when five or six men (…) stopped me. They kicked and punched and slapped me all over my head and body. They (…) threw me in a garbage bin. I lay down (…) and they pulled out a razor blade and a screwdriver and poked and cut me all over (…). They sliced me up and poured around five liters of gasoline all over my body and face and set me alight…. The neighbors rescued me”.
Beyond this, queer populations often contend with a severe lack of accountability and a sense of impunity, with states and armed groups tending to be involved in their abuses. Unlike other collectives, queer individuals not only have little or no recourse in law, they often can’t even find social or NGO support.
With discriminatory targeting driven by gender and sexuality worsening in much of the world, some scholars have come to consider these persecutions as amounting to crimes against humanity– as they are systematic, planned, and exercised against primarily civilian populations.
Notable examples of systematic abuses to LGBTQI+ populations continue to arise. Queer Afghans have been targets of increasingly severe attacks since 2021, in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. While same-sex relations were criminalized even before the Taliban took control, the situation has notably worsened. According to a report by Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International, LGBT Afghans have been threatened, sexually assaulted, attacked, and often been forced to flee as refugees. In some cases, family members themselves that support the Taliban have become threats to their safety. Nevertheless, obtaining testimonies remains complicated and there is no accurate estimate of the scale of attacks currently targeting LGBT people in the country.
While Afghanistan may be one of the cases that has received the most coverage, similar abuses have been reported in Iraq, Syria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. In Syria, the Assad regime has continued to progressively exacerbate its persecution and abuse of LGBTQI+ persons, or those considered to be so. This has been exemplified by reports of sexual violence – including rape, forced stripping, and cavity examinations – threats, severe assault, extortion, kidnapping, and killings by both the state and rebel militias. Even localized conflicts may severely affect the attitude of entire states toward the queer community – in Ukraine, Russian-influenced anti-homosexuality policies and attitudes proliferated since 2014, with the advent of conflict in the Donbas, and negatively affected the lives of LGBTQI+ persons in Kyiv. In this line, we need to consider not only wars, but other severe conflicts as sources of victimization. For example, LGBTQI+ persons – especially trans women – have been recognized as more vulnerable to violence both by armed militias and organized crime across Central America. As such, queer populations stand at the intersection of exacerbated vulnerability and reduced social or institutional support, especially in situations of conflict or protracted human security crises.
While LGBTQI+ people are not the only collective facing increased risks to their human security, the lack of attention paid to their protection, as well as their exclusion from most policy and research efforts on international security, have led their needs and vulnerabilities to be marginalized in humanitarian responses and social assistance during violent conflict.
There is an urgency to recognize the dire situation of queer populations in modern conflict and develop a policy architecture that is able to ensure their protection at an international level. As it stands, the recognition of LGBTQI+ experiences is often absent from even from the most seismic of security crises, and unless that changes we will continue to fail in efforts to holistically protect human rights.
The Global Humanitarian Overview 2021 has projected a historic level of food insecurity, with famine looming in several countries, due in large part to conflict and systemic violence. This forecast took into account the rising trend of the last two years; in 2019, in fact, seventy-seven million people in over 22 countries have experienced starvation due to armed violence. The new 2021 Global Report on Food Crises has confirmed that conflict has been the main driver of food crises also in 2020. Throughout the past year, up to 100 million people in 23 countries have experienced starvation because of violence and insecurity. The evidence that conflict causes food insecurity is well established. For instance, the FAO reports of the past decade have highlighted a recurring figure: The proportion of undernourished people is almost three times as high in countries in conflict than in other developing countries. This is also the result of the rapidly increasing civil displacements which can result in conflicts between social groups, causing food insecurity and a significant loss of income, resulting in acute famine and poverty.
However, these factors can sometimes interplay the other way round. Often poverty fosters conflict dynamics and insecurity; resource scarcity is a key factor of mass migrations and displacements which can result in conflicts between social groups. Economic inequalities are often seedbed for instability and represent a crucial contributing factor of violence together with socio-cultural and political factors. But poverty exacerbates all human vulnerabilities exposing people to a series of different types of risks. The condition of insecurity driven by privation concerns every dimension of life and it binds with multiple factors which reinforce each other and only eventually result in violence.
For instance, poverty is a key element when addressing food insecurity issues. Food security is a condition in which everybody has regular access to nutritious food, thanks to one’s own livelihood or a safety net provided by the state or any other organisation. Ensuring food security means guaranteeing the production of a sufficient amount of food in total and, especially, that everybody can access such vital resources. The Nobel Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen stated that the root cause of the continuation of world hunger is the continuation of poverty, despite the increasing total prosperity. In fact, even in periods of tight food markets, there is enough food available, but a large number of people are just too poor to afford it.
Many families, especially in developing countries, are particularly vulnerable to high food prices and they lack proper training on how to produce more food more sustainably. Agricultural development plays a key role in generating the incomes needed to ensure food security. In fact, two-thirds of the poor live in rural areas where agriculture is the dominant sector, but poor farmers are extremely vulnerable to the decline in agricultural output and aren’t able to benefit from basic infrastructures and access to markets. Income growth is necessary but the composition of growth matters too, as more equal growth is likely to lead to long-lasting food security. As a matter of fact, other compliments such as safe drinking water, awareness regarding adequate nutrition and access to health services are vital. In light of this approach, to tackle the causes of hunger, the policy objective should be the implementation of social norms dedicated to improving the conditions of the poor rather than concentrate on the overall agricultural production.
Food insecurity is, indeed, the result of many factors chained together. Some of them include privation and low wages coupled with poor education and inadequate health assistance. Malnutrition can be both a cause and a result of health problems. This depends on the quantity and quality of the food a person eats; the diet which a person can access must be sufficiently balanced otherwise a vicious circle begins. In this context, the crucial matter of health care deprivation and discrimination against women deserves a special mention. In fact, the vicious circle starts with maternal malnutrition and pours out, becoming a mass phenomenon further feeding famine and insecurity. The level of education is an important piece of the puzzle. Education significantly influences the information available and the possibility to obtain a well-paid job by which one can access sustainable and healthy food. But the possibility of having access to education and completing it depends precisely on the state of indigence. Malnutrition affects school performance and the diseases, often related to poor nutrition, reduce one’s opportunities in the labor market. In this way, the vicious cycle keeps feeding itself, pressing people in the tight grip of the poverty trap.
Ultimately, hunger driven by poverty can be both a cause and a consequence of conflict. The threats to food security can trigger unrest and provides a tangible reason for the instigation of violence. The 2015 FAO report Peace and Food Security estimated that post-conflict countries with high food insecurity are 40% more likely to relapse into conflict within a 10-year timespan. The report also highlighted how the increase in food prices in 2008 together with cuts in food subsidies, reduced real incomes triggering food riots in many countries.
Thereby, investing in food security may strengthen the effort to prevent conflict and achieve stability. To build long-lasting peace, it is essential to understand the mutual link among poverty, food security and conflict.
The situation in Eastern Ukraine is heating up. Videos published on social networks show military columns moving towards Donbass. Kiev has put its troops on high alert. Washington is considering sending the navy to the Black Sea, while Moscow is pulling heavy weapons and landing troops to the border.
Ukraine is a buffer state located in the center of Europe that serves as a road to an attack to the East or West. Today, the European Union and NATO, mainly represented by Poland, see Ukraine as a place where Russian influence on the European continent can be stopped. Russia sees Ukraine as an indispensable buffer zone against the West. To be fair, both Moscow and Kiev have internal motives for escalating tensions. President Zelensky's rating is rapidly goes down. In 2021, only slightly more than 20% of Ukrainians are willing to vote for him. Putin faces the same problem, his level of support in February 2021 is only 32%. The bottom line is that both sides have reasons to use the tensions in Donbass to influence the opinion of their voters. But let's still imagine that the conflict is not limited to Donbass, but fully involves Ukraine and Russia, what would it look like? Despite Kiev's efforts to reform the army in recent years, the balance of power between Ukraine and Russia has changed little. Russia has the ability to defeat its adversary and can implement its strategy in a variety of ways. Let's consider which ones? It can conduct small operations along the entire border with Ukraine, which will disperse Ukrainian forces. On the other hand, a small offensive will not bring additional influence in terms of politics or security. Another option for Russia and the Donbass it supports is to expand controlled territory into the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, making the separatists more self-sufficient. However, increasing the buffer territory is too little. Especially considering that such an action would also evoke an even stronger pro-Western sentiment in Ukrainian society and guarantee Moscow additional sanctions, something it cannot afford.
A third option for Russia could be to advance along the Southern coast of Ukraine and the Dnieper River and connect Donbass with Crimea creating such an overland corridor would strengthen Russia's control over Crimea and Donbass and allow it to control 75% of the fresh water supplied to Crimea. In such a situation, the supply lines of the overland corridor will be greatly stretched. And that's not to mention their vulnerability for about 400 km this will not be a problem for Russia unless other regional forces are measured in the conflict otherwise the supply will probably be cut off and the whole campaign proves unsuccessful. However, if no outside force intervenes, then technically Russia could advance further it could seize all of Ukraine and link up with its forces in the region of Transnistria (а separatist region of Moldova) in which case Ukraine would be undermined it would lose access to the Black Sea, reducing the importance of its alliance with Turkey. The apathy of the port city of Odessa would cause significant damage to the Ukrainian economy. From Russia's point of view, having a regional territory along the Black Sea would ensure that most of its interests in the region would be achieved. Geographically, if Russia intended to attack Ukraine, the Dnieper River would be the ideal anchoring point. Capturing all of eastern Ukraine and controlling all crossing points across the Dnieper would allow Russia to focus only on specific points. This would have provided it with a much more reliable line of defense than the buffer zone of Donbass. However, the seizure of such vast territory would instantly provoke fierce resistance that would be difficult to pacify. Such cities as Kharkov, Kiev and Dnepr would become particularly problematic and hotspots. In addition, the seizure of Ukrainian territory would be guaranteed to lead to covert or overt interference by other countries, as well as the maximum application of sanctions by the U.S. as in the case of Iran.
Not much has changed between Ukraine and Russia, at least militarily and politically. Ukraine still does not have the ability to defeat Russia The US is now satisfied with the current situation, Germany does not want to interfere in the situation, and France remains a de facto ally of Russia. Turkey is increasing its support for Ukraine, but they do not have enough resources to affect the status quo. Meanwhile, Russia continues to insist on constitutional autonomy, not wanting direct annexation, so despite all the hype, the resumption of a large-scale conflict is unlikely. However, given the amount of weapons along the borders, it cannot be completely ruled out. In all likelihood, Donbass will remain in limbo, because in political issues diplomats often welcome something new and only when it is actually no different from the old.