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Increased international transparency in military spending is possible

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Authors: Dr Nan Tian and Pieter D. Wezeman

On 20 October the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the annual report by the UN Secretary-General containing military expenditure data submitted by UN member states. In keeping with the trend seen in recent years, the number of UN member states participating in the reporting process for 2017 is comparatively low.

However, analysis by SIPRI indicates that many non-participating member states, including countries in sub-Saharan Africa, now release much of the relevant data into the public domain. Thus, the challenge for the First Committee is to encourage member states to submit this data directly to the UN.

Low reporting levels

The UN Secretary-General’s annual report has been published since 1981. The reporting mechanism was created after an agreement between member states that sharing information on military spending would be a useful confidence-building measure, which would increase the predictability of military activities, reduce the risk of military conflict and raise public awareness of disarmament matters.

However, low participation levels have been a long-standing problem—a problem that has worsened in recent years. Participation in the reporting process has declined from annual levels of participation of an average of 40 per cent of UN member states in 2002–2008 to 25 per cent in 2012–16. A total of 49 of the 193 member states submitted reports in 2016. In 2017 the UN Secretariat received reports from 41 governments in time to be included in the 2017 report. As in previous years, it is expected that a few other states will report later in the year.

The functioning of the reporting mechanism has been the subject of discussions by a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), which convened for a total of three weeks in 2016–17. The GGE noted that the causes of the low level of participation in the reporting mechanism should be established through an empirical study. Nonetheless, the GGE suggested a number of possible causes, including the following:

  • reporting fatigue among government officials involved in international confidence-building-related instruments;
  • lack of confidence in the information submitted to the report;
  • lack of perceived benefit, in particular when the government information is made available elsewhere in the public domain; and
  • lingering concerns about the sensitivity of the data.

The low level of participation is all the more remarkable considering that SIPRI based its military spending figures for 2016 on government documents for 148 countries, most of which are available in the public domain.

The case of sub-Saharan Africa

Published UN records show that, as of September 2017, no sub-Saharan African country had submitted an annual report on its military expenditure to the UN; it was a similar story in 2016. However, while they do not participate in reporting at the international level, many sub-Saharan African countries do make a substantial number of their budgetary reports available at the national level. SIPRI monitors these reports and has found considerable improvements in transparency in recent years, specifically in terms of availability, accuracy, reliability, ease of access and level of disaggregation.

Availability

Only five of the sub-Saharan African countries in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database had no military spending information for the calendar year 2016 (47 of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are currently included in the database). This is a far cry from the complete absence of submissions to the UN military expenditure report for that year. Of the countries that reported military expenditure budgets, 6 also published ‘revised budgets and actual spending’ documents, while an additional 12 published ‘revised budgets’.

SIPRI’s research shows that for the period 2012–16, only two countries (Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea) did not provide official government budgetary documents. Most countries publish documents annually with some releasing them biannually and quarterly. Long delays in publication are rare. Only two countries now seem to delay the release of budget documents by a year (Gambia and Guinea-Bissau).

Ease of access

Ease of access to the relevant budgetary information is essential for true transparency in military expenditure. Of the 49 sub-Saharan African countries, 34 have official budget documents published on their Ministry of Finance (MOF) websites, while 8 countries have no information on their respective government (MOF or other) websites and 7 do not have an official MOF website.

The MOF websites of the 34 sub-Saharan African countries where budgetary information is published are generally easy to navigate, follow a logical order of access to information and do not place restrictions on downloading of budget documents. Problems, however, arise in the case of countries with no information on their MOF website. In most of these countries issues such as poor website design (ease of navigation) and low levels of internet technology capacity (e.g. broken links or poorly maintained websites) all hamper public accessibility. There are numerous examples where governments have announced the release of budget documents but due to website or internet capacity problems the documents are inaccessible (e.g. Botswana and Gambia).

Disaggregation

Information disaggregation breaks down military expenditure into different and more detailed elements offering a more precise picture of the resource allocations within the military sector. Indications that spending is not in line with policy can be the first warning of possible resource mismanagement or corruption. By contrast, spending that is aligned with defence policy is a clear sign of confidence building at the national and regional levels.

At the time of writing, of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa for which military spending information is available for the period 2012–16, a total of 31 have provided disaggregated budgets. Whereas, 16 have provided no disaggregation of their military budget.

Insights from sub-Saharan Africa

The sub-Saharan African example shows that international transparency in military spending is possible. A substantial amount of relevant information exists in publicly available national reports. SIPRI has observed vast improvements in military sector transparency in the past five years. The number of public defence policy documents or white papers continues to grow and useful budgetary information is now also becoming more readily available. Countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, which previously provided almost no military spending data, now publish disaggregated military budgets and, in the case of CAR, even actual outlays. Others have in recent years constructed public websites where documents can be found.

It is to be hoped that the existence of extensive and relevant budgetary information in the public domain will be highlighted during the First Committee discussions. The challenge for the First Committee is to encourage member states to submit this data to the UN. What is clear from SIPRI’s analysis is that the lack of participation by member states in the reporting process is unrelated to the availability or sensitivity of the information. Since states already report such information nationally, in some cases in a detailed manner, incentives must be offered for these member states to also report to the UN.

The advantages of transparency in the military sector are well known; thus, the discussions on poor participation must focus on the issues of reporting fatigue, the perceived lack of relevance and the required resources (human and capital) in a way that demonstrates that the benefits of collective transparency outweigh the small effort needed to submit already available information. 

For more detail on the issues discussed in this Backgrounder see SIPRI’s forthcoming (early 2018) report ‘Transparency in Military Expenditure: the case of sub-Saharan Africa’. First published in SIPRI.org

(*) Pieter D. Wezeman is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme (SIPRI).

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How Mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh can destabilize the situation

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It is almost a month now since two of the former Soviet countries pitting against each other, The orthodox Christian Armenia and Muslim majority Azerbaijan. So far many casualties have been reported from both the side, however, what drew the attention and need to address soon is the involvement of the mercenaries in the conflict.

Historically mercenaries were used by many historic kingdoms to fight on their behalf or protect themselves from outside attacks for example the group called The Ten thousand a mercenary unit mostly consisted of Greeks who were hired by Cyrus the young to fight against his brother.

Then in the 14th Century came the famous John wood’s “The White Company“. An English Mercenary group consists of people of English, German, Hungarian origins. This group was famous for its expedition in Italy

Similarly, during the infamous raids by the Ottoman king Mahmud the II on the Byzantine Empire, the defence of the walls was handover to a famous Italian Mercenary Giovanni Guistiniani, who was given the task of defending the walls of the Kingdom with his army of Mercenaries. Throughout the raid, he and his mercenary army were able to hold up the post until he was shot and wounded during the last raid.

In the modern era, the mercenary fight was seen during the world war when few American volunteer pilots who called themselves The American Volunteer Group later were known as the infamous The Flying Tigers. Fought along with the Chinese against the Japanese forces in Burma (Myanmar).

Due to changes in the War and international Scenario, countries started hiring people for their conflicts so that anonymity can be kept. From Afghanistan to Syria the concept of mercenaries can be seen. But due to the complex international structure, the use of Mercenaries has become a debating topic for many reasons.

Destabilizing and international issues related to the hiring 

Any military has to follow the basic rules of engagement that protects those combatants who were injured during the conflict and civilians who had to face the wrath of the conflict so for better understanding the International Humanitarian law had categorized the conflict into two areas a) International armed conflict b) No international armed conflict.

As per the Geneva Convention 1949 Article 2, the international armed conflict is when two ‘High contracting parties’ are involved. So technically it means in an international Armed conflict only military combatants of the states will be used however the situation with mercenaries is very different. The definition provided in the Additional protocol I suggested six-point that makes a party or individual a mercenary and as per IHL Database Customary IHL, the group had to meet all the six points provided in the definition to be claimed as a mercenary.

However, the problem arises when foreign Mercenaries started to enter into the war as many countries like Italy, France, and even Additional Protocol I does not acknowledge the mercenaries as a combatant or POWs that means any involvement of mercenaries will not just destabilize the situation more but it will cause great human rights violation

The legal Status of Mercenary is again something that causes a major issue in the international arena for example Under International Humanitarian Law being a mercenary is not seen as a crime and they had to be treated properly according to the fundamental guarantees under Article 75 whereas under two International conventions one is International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries adopted in 1989 and second is African Union, the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa both deem the use of mercenary as a crime.

Another important aspect brought into the light was the fact that these groups function anonymously and secretly and because of their secret nature it becomes hard to trace their origins as we have seen in the case of 2014 “The little Green man” incident was Russian involvement was alleged however the government denies any involvement with the incident, similarly the recent news of Turkey sending ex Syrian fighters to fight along with Azerbaijan was also denied by Turkey despite recent Reuters report of two Syrian fighters agreeing to the fact that they were sent by Turkey. Due to the clear deniability of the host nation, it became tougher to implement international law on them which lead to more human rights violations.

Human rights Violation

As the conflicts are becoming more private with the hiring of mercenaries the chances of human rights violations are also increasing and to address such issues Resolution 7/21 by Human Rights Council suggested the creation of The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. But it was the Nisour Square Massacre 2007 by the employees of “The Blackwater” PMCs that forced the international community for having a strong global regulation for mercenaries or PMCs.

Mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh has a greater impact not only on the disability of the region but also might cause human rights issues, as mercenaries are notorious for committing heinous crimes like Drug trafficking, rape, murders, etc there are high chances that the hiring of Syrian mercenaries will lead to a humanitarian issue as the majority of the  Syrian fighters who previously belonged to the Anti-government rebel faction called the Free Syrian Army is being used in the conflict, though Turkey denied their involvement in hiring however many reports suggests that at least twenty of the soldiers belong to the Syrian rebels were killed in action who were hired by Turkey. As per the Guardian article written by Bethan Mckernan suggest that Turkey was paying the soldiers of the Murad division with almost 10,000 Turkish liras to protect the Azerbaijani Oil refineries.

The Mercenaries are always convicted of committing human rights violations like Murder, Drug Trafficking, Rape, etc. So far it is not exactly clear which group is being used in the Nagorno-Karabakh region but as per the news reports, the fighters mostly belong to the Turkish-backed Murad division and Free Syrian Army. Interestingly the members of the groups were involved in the recent Syrian crisis were as per the United Nations the same rebels were involved in many human rights violations like execution, torture, etc. that mostly went unnoticed in the similar lines an article in Business insider suggests how the Free Syrian Faction started involving in crimes like smuggling, Kidnapping, etc even Amnesty International on War Crimes in Syrian Conflict reported the human rights violation committed by the members of the Free Syrian Army.

Similarly, Murad Division has a history of attacking and torturing the members of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The division was also accused of committing violence in the parts of Afrin a Human Rights Digests published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights pointed the violence like theft, harassments, murder and other abuses were committed by this group in the Northern Syrian region.

As there are no reports of hiring procedure there is a high chance that some criminals might have been hired in the conflict and might commit the same level of crimes they had committed during their days in Syria.

Paving way for terrorism and more conflict 

Mercenaries have a history of committing crimes especially Transnational in nature and that is something even Antonio Guterres the current Secretary-General of United Nations had mentioned during his meeting summoned by Equatorial Guinea. 

The usage of Syrian mercenaries will not only create a way for terrorism in the region but might lead to more sectarian and proxy conflict. As historically in many conflicts world has seen ex-terrorist being hired as a mercenary force in different battles for example Chechen rebels have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan similarly many Yemeni mujahedeen fighters went to Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet fight who later became the reason for the creation of Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. Similarly, recent reports on ex ISIS fighters are being hired and sent to Nagorno-Karabakh is not only alarming information but this might also lead to the rise of the declining Islamic State of Levant- the Caucasus.

The historically Caucasian region was never free from insurgency and extremism the North Caucasian region was always infested with terrorism from groups like Al Qaeda, Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal- Ansar, Islamic Djamaat of Dagestan, and most importantly the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – who involves a large number of foreign fighters for their fights. During the First and Second Chechen War, the region had seen a huge influx of Arab fighters participating in war similarly the group Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal and the Islamic States also believes in hiring foreign fighters for their cause and this is what makes them more troublesome in the region and involvement of Ex Islamic State fighter in the battle will open the Pandora box. 

With Azerbaijan having their band of mercenaries fighting for them, reports also suggest that Armenia is also hiring Kurds especially Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and The People’s Protection Unit (YPG) to train the Armenian Militias to fight the war against the Azerbaijani forces and also the infamous Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia, fighters allegedly being hired to fight on their behalf. Kurds had a history of fighting on the behalf of Armenia as this is not the first time that Armenia had hired Kurds as their mercenaries, in 1923 – 1929 Armenia supported the Kurds group to form what previously was known as Kurdistansky Uyezd. This is the same group that is being designated as a terror outfit by Turkey, United States and even by the European Union, however, Armenia does not deem them as terror outfit this will create an issue for the international community to decide who is a terrorist and who is not and whom to put under trial as International Humanitarian law suggests that these mercenaries can only be prosecuted under the national laws, so if Armenia denies their involvement they might escape the trial and continue their fight and with such complexity in the international law famous dilemma of one man’s Terrorist Another Man’s freedom fighter will again arise and make this situation more tricky. 

As Kurds, Free Syrian Army, Turkey getting involved in the fight this will surely push the parties into a different sectarian war as Kurds had an old rivalry with the Turks and Syrian rebels, similarly, the fighters of the Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia had a history of attacking the Turkish interest in the 1980s. With Pro – Armenian groups arriving to fight against the Turkish backed Azerbaijan, and countries like Russia coming into play this will increase the insecurity of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which might push Erdoğan towards recruiting more no-state actors to achieve its dream of spreading its power and with insecurity more international state and non-state actors in the conflict might arrive which will make the issue more violent and complicated. 

Conclusion

As the world becoming more privatized, countries are trying hard to make the war privatized as well by hiring mercenaries to protect their interest. Due to the lack of a proper international framework for mercenaries identifying the crimes committed by mercenaries is becoming hard and with such complexity bringing Mercenaries by both parties not only pave way for more insecurity in the region but also opens the door for more human rights violation.

It is high time that international parties especially Armenia and Azerbaijan should pledge to remove all the mercenaries form the current conflict so that proper international mechanism can be used to create peace among the parties

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Defense

European defence still matters but not for Lithuania

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European countries have different points of view on the issue of the EU collective defence and security. These views divide the European Union and continue to weaken the organization.

Some of the EU member states realize the need to turn the EU into a real global military power.

European experts believe, that in order for European countries to be able to defend themselves and choose their own course independently, a consolidation of national defence industries is urgently needed. For this, the EU needs to create a real European Defence Technological and Industrial Base, which can only take shape through the incentives and projects conducted within the European Union.

The EU nations must have defence industries that are capable to allow EU to reduce its dependence on American or Chinese technologies.

Researchers found out that by doing so, member states would avoid losing between €25 billion and €100 billion every year due to their lack of cooperation, and could save 30% of their annual defence expenditure by pooling procurement.

Defence budgets had already been severely impacted by the 2008 crisis, as well as COVID-19, making EU countries more dependent on NATO to ensure their security. As a consequence, safeguarding the investments made in the EU defence and industry sector appears to be a matter of real urgency and a vital issue in terms of the sovereignty of European nations.

Other European countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which are not ready to make their own sufficient investment in the European defence, prefer to completely rely on NATO and the U.S. The Baltic states cannot imagine their security without the United States’ involvement, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says.

“All Baltic states are very clear that the United States’ involvement in our collective defense system is a critical factor and we can hardly imagine our 100 percent security without the United States’ involvement,” the president told journalists in Rukla.

In his words, Lithuania does not see the aspiration for Europe’s strategic autonomy as “some sort of competition with the US’s involvement in NATO activity”.

“Lithuania sees it as NATO capability’s complementary factor, and in no way there can be any opposition or competition between these two things as, otherwise, NATO’s ability to properly do its mission would be affected,” he said.

The Lithuanian leader also said he told that to French President Emmanuel Macron visiting Lithuania.

Taking part in a discussion with students of Vilnius University earlier, in his turn, Macron said Europe should be more sovereign and invest more into technology, defense to reduce its dependence on the United States and China.

“European defense is a phrase one could not utter five or ten years ago. We imagined that we can put our defense into the hands of NATO, but now we have already established a fund for the implementation of joint programs and we have structural cooperation on defense,” Macron said.

“We cannot always rely on the power that is on the other side of the Atlantic, which is probably focusing more on China and cannot give us so much attention. Therefore, it’s very important for us to be able to protect ourselves,” the French leader said.

The opposite positions could lead to a greater gap between European countries and dissatisfaction with existing frame of the organization.

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Who Needs A Proxy War In The Caucasus?

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Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

All proxy wars are, by definition, delusional. Usually, two client-states wage a war, one against another, while, actually, their war advances interests of some other states, commonly their sponsor-states.  The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is not a simple proxy war: its proxiness and delusional character exponentially grow as the conflict unfolds on the ground.

For, it is conceived as a war that was supposed to draw two major regional powers, Russia and Turkey, into a mutual conflict, on the assumptions that Russia is going to act as Armenia’s sponsor-state, ready to enter the war on the side of its presumed proxy, and that Turkey is going to act as Azerbaijan’s sponsor-state, ready to enter the war on the side of its presumed proxy. Yet, as the conflict unfolds, it becomes transparent that these assumptions were deeply wrong and that the proxiness and delusional character of this very war are skyrocketing beyond the absurd.

Turkish rapprochement with Russia, which is a logical consequence of Turkey’s geopolitical reversal caused by its failure to become a candidate for membership in the European Union after so many years of begging, has not remained unnoticed by relevant circles in the West. While the United States has tried to persuade the Turks to remain its most reliable ally and refrain from turning towards Turkey’s natural geopolitical environment, that is, towards other Eurasian powers, France’s foreign policy, with a British support, has chosen a different strategy.

Assuming that the close encounters between Russia’s and Turkey’s troops on the soil of Syria and Libya were an expression of a true potential for their mutual conflict, rather than a careful choreography conceived by these two powers to deceive their potential adversaries in the Euro-Atlantic bloc, France and Britain have created a strategy to draw Russia and Turkey into a mutual conflict through their presumed proxies, Armenia and Azerbaijan. For this purpose, they used the traditional bonds between France and Armenia, based on the presence of the numerous Armenian diaspora in France. Due to these historical bonds, it was not difficult for France to persuade the Armenian leadership to fall into a trap of a new war with Azerbaijan, as France’s (and Britain’s)de facto proxy. However, the basic assumption was that in the further development Russia will automatically take Armenia’s side, as it once did, in the times of Boris Yeltsin. In other words, Armenia was pushed into the war by France (and Britain), so as to make it seem as if Russia did it, in order to eventually draw Russia into a conflict with Turkey, which was assumed to be on the side of Azerbaijan in case of Armenian attack. A cunning plan, isn’t it? Yet, these assumptions, as well as the strategy derived from them, have proved to be a farcical failure.

For, Putin’s Russia is not Yeltsin’s Russia. Yeltsin allowed himself to be drawn into a geopolitical game constructed for Russia’s ultimate destruction, the game of creation of ethnically exclusive territories, like Nagorno-Karabakh, or South Ossetia, to be followed by their secession from the states to which they originally belonged and annexation by the states with which they shared common ethnic identity. In other words, this game was a game of endless ethnic cleansing and creation of ethnically exclusive territories, which would eventually destroy not only Russia with its numerous ethnic minorities, but also the entire zone of Eurasia with its numberless ethnic groups. This was a recipe for the ultimate destruction of the entire Eurasian space, carefully planned in the inner circles of the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment, and recklessly adopted by Yeltsin and many other post-Soviet politicians. However, Putin is not Yeltsin, and he did understand the destructive potential of the concept of ethnically exclusive territories when applied to the post-Soviet space: if every ethnic group were to claim its own exclusive territory, and then unification with its ethnic kin in other states, there would be no more territorially compact states in Eurasia, including Russia itself.

A similar pattern was previously applied to the Soviet Union, when its republics were stimulated to claim independence on the basis of ethnic identity and presumed right to self-determination. This process ended up with the total dissolution of the Soviet Union. Of course, full application of this pattern generates a process of endless dissolutions: for, all ethnic minorities within these newly-proclaimed states may well claim secession from these states, since the underlying assumption, adopted by many local ethnonationalist leaders, is that these ethnic groups’ survival is possible only within their own ethnically exclusive statelets. To put it briefly, it is a pattern of geopolitical fission, with the consequences similar to those of nuclear fission. Among other destructive processes triggered in the post-Soviet space, this pattern also led to the Armenian invasion of Azerbaijan’s territory and creation of the ethnically exclusive territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenian ethnic minority in Azerbaijan, with the ultimate goal of its secession from Azerbaijan and annexation by Armenia.

The same pattern was also promoted in the Balkans, again by Britain and France, in their initiatives for ethnic partition of Bosnia in the 1990s and annexation of its territories by Serbia and Croatia, and recently, for exchange of ethnic territories between Serbia and Kosovo. The concept of ethnically exclusive territories as the only safe environment for survival of ethnic groups, therefore, is not the invention of some ‘wild tribes’ in the Balkans or the Caucasus. It is a premeditated strategy for permanent destabilization of any geopolitical zone, wherever applied. Its authorship needs to be finally attributed to those who are always present in their application – the British and French foreign policy establishments. Yet, this time, in the case of the second Armenian-Azeri war, this hook has not been swallowed by its main targets, Russia and Turkey.

Having been aware of the fact that the Armenian attack on Azerbaijan was generated by some other players, who were not even too careful to hide its role in it (such as President Macron of France), and that the very concept of ethnically exclusive territories has served as a tool for permanent destabilization of both Russia and the rest of Eurasia, Russian foreign policy reacted in a way that was precisely the opposite from the reaction of Yeltsin’s foreign policy in the case of the first Armenian-Azeri war. Instead of automatically taking Armenia’s side and further promoting the concept of ethnically exclusive territories, as designed by the Anglo-French axis, Russia took a neutral position and thereby has practically given a green light to Azerbaijan to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh and restore its full sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this way, the very concept of ethnically exclusive territories has been delegitimised, not only in the Caucasus, but also in the entire post-Soviet space. Yet, it remains to be delegitimised in the Balkans.

Russia has probably made such a radical geopolitical turnover in tacit agreement with Turkey, so as to be safe about its outcome and the foreseeable consequences. Their rapprochement has thus been elevated to a level of potential strategic alliance. At the same time, Turkey has strengthened its credibility in the post-Soviet space and the rest of Eurasia, but not in the conflictual mode against Russia. This improvement of Turkey’s international standing has been based on its principled defence of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, that is, principled respect for international law, not on an aggressive implementation of a pan-Turkic programme that would eventually include all Turkic peoples, including Azeris, into some imagined Greater Turkey. The same applies to Russia and its abandonment of presupposed pan-Orthodox sentiments in the case of Armenia, although these have yet to be abandoned in the Balkans, in the case of Russia’s flirting with the Greater Serbian programme of ethnically exclusive territories.

In any case, both Russia and Turkey have thus made an important step out of the straitjacket tailored for them when the concept of ethnically exclusive territories was inserted into Eurasian geopolitical space. In that way, they have also created a geopolitical framework for Armenia and Azerbaijan to make a step out of their proxy roles, in which they were given a task to inscribe their respective ethnically exclusive territories. In other words, what has been generated is a geopolitical potential for peace between these two countries and their reconstitution along civic-inclusive, instead of ethnic-exclusive, lines.  

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