You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

* Human Rights Watch stated that more international monitors are “urgently needed” to help protect civilians and prevent crimes against humanity during the ongoing conflict in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. The Sudanese government called claims of genocide in South Kordofan “misleading and subjective” after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations called for an international investigation in the area.

* Despite the abatement in post-election fighting in Côte d’Ivoire, Amnesty International claims that hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons cannot return home because government forces are targeting ethnic groups thought to be loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo with arbitrary arrests, executions, and other crimes.

* In a letter to Myanmar’s president and the leaders of four rebel groups, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned of a return to all-out civil war unless all sides pursue a ceasefire and peaceful negotiations.

*According to the global activist group Avaaz, an estimated 3,000 people have gone “missing” in Syria since the government began its crackdown on the democratic uprising there.

Photos (from top): Stuart Price, Peter DiCampo/Pulitzer Center, almostdorothy.wordpress.com

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* Four former Guatemalan military officers are being tried for crimes against humanity they allegedly committed in 1982. They are accused of taking part in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which government forces murdered over 200 villagers suspected of being rebel sympathizers.

* Today a United Nations–organized seminar aimed at preventing genocide in South Sudan, hosted in the country’s capital of Juba, concludes. Special Adviser Francis Deng said the UN hopes to “prevent the new State from getting into. . . errors”—such as “discrimination, dehumanization, inclusivity, marginalization, and suppression”—that led to the breakup of Sudan.

* The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, chose Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as their presidential candidate. Bemba is accused of leading militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic. 

* President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the controversial British documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” claiming the footage, which purportedly shows the Sri Lankan army committing war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, was a “film” staged by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

* United Nations officials issued a statement saying Syrian authorities may have committed crimes against humanity in their suppression of the democratic uprisings sweeping the country. Citing reports of the murder and arrest of civilians, Francis Deng and Edward Luck called for an investigation and requested that the Assad regime abide by international regulations when responding to protests.

Photos (from top): thebellforum.com, realsociology.edublogs.org, Associated Press

Serbia: Goran Hadjic appears in court

Goran Hadzic, the last person wanted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has made his first appearance before the court today after being arrested on July 20. He was required to submit a guilty or not guilty plea, but instead his lawyers asked for and received a thirty-day extension on this deadline. Hadzic was indicted on 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2004 for his role in the ethnic conflict that erupted in Croatia during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

From 1991 to 1993 Hadzic was leader of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK), a group that fought for Serb independence from Croatia. During the fighting hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands displaced as RSK forces sought to clear about one third of the country of non-Serb ethnic groups in an attempt to establish a new state. The conflict was put to a halt only after a NATO intervention.

Hadzic’s 14 counts range from torture and unlawful imprisonment to persecution and murder of people of non-Serb ethnicity. He is also accused of helping to carry out the infamous Vukovar Massacre, in which 264 people, identified as wounded Croatian soldiers and non-Serb civilians, were removed from a hospital in the town of Vukovar and executed at a nearby farm.

Hadzic’s arrest comes only two-months after the arrest of suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic by Serbian police. Because the European Union has tied Serbia’s accession to the apprehension of all suspected war criminals, these arrests may have opened a new chapter in Serbian-EU relations by making the prospect of serious accession talks a real possibility. However, Belgrade denies that this was part of their motive. In a statement, Serbian president Boris Tadic said he believes the nation has finally “completed its most difficult chapter in cooperation with the ICTY.”

Photo: Associated Press

Zimbabwe: New Calls for Prosecution of Killings

The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) is holding its ninth biennial conference this week in Buenos Aires, and in addition to the deteriorating situation in Sudan, members will reportedly be focusing heavily on seeking justice for the victims of the Gukurahundi massacre of the 1980s.

Gukurahundi was genocide,” said Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of the IAGS and founder and president of the NGO Genocide Watch. The Gukurahundi massacre occurred between 1983 and 1987 in Zimbabwe. Stanton considers it one of the “worst of our generation.”

In 1983, as President Robert Mugabe’s government began to face increased political and potential military opposition from the rival Zimbawean African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Gukurahundi, an elite government military unit answerable directly to Mugabe, entered the ZAPU stronghold of Matabeleland. In an attempt to squash the opposition, government forces executed and arrested suspected members of ZAPU and indiscriminately targeted ethnic Matabele civilians—the lion’s share of ZAPU’s base of support. An estimated 20,000 people were killed. The violence only came to a halt when ZAPU signed a peace treaty proposed by the government. Mugabe denies that crimes were committed during the operation, calling it instead a counterinsurgency effort.

Stanton claims there is evidence to prove not only that the actions taken were authorized by the president and high-ranking members of the government, but that they were tantamount to genocide. He hopes to gain support from participants at the IAGS conference to press the matter with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Burma: Renewed Fighting

According to the International Crisis Group, Burma is very likely slipping back into civil war as peace agreements between the government and ethnic rebel militias have broken down. Fighting is currently taking place in multiple states, the most ferocious occurring in Northern Shan. Multiple sources have reported that in this particular offensive, the government has authorized the use of rape and murder of civilians to crush the rebellion.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation claims the Burmese army has been using rape as a weapon of war since the start of the May offensive against the rebel stronghold of Wan Hai. Claiming the orders originate from the highest level of government, the foundation has recorded at least a dozen reported rapes since late May. According to the Shan Herald, the government has also authorized the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by soldiers.

Such actions would not be out of place for the military junta that runs the Burmese state. In earlier conflicts, including the “Four Cuts” campaign, the government used similar tactics that resulted in the starvation, rape, and death of many villagers.

Photo: ZimEye.org

Sudan: Revealing UN Report on Worsening Situation

While the United Nations and its members remain unable or unwilling to take action to stop the conflict unfolding in South Kordofan, a recently leaked UN report, titled “United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan,” makes clear that UN officials are well aware that a bloody and ethnically targeted slaughter is under way.

The report, which has not been officially released, comes after claims by both UN and U.S. officials that there is currently no concrete and confirmable evidence that crimes are being committed by the Sudanese government. The regime’s offensive, which Khartoum claims is meant to root out a stubborn rebel resistance, began in early June. While reports accusing government forces of targeting civilians have surfaced from the start, the leaked UNMIS report, based on eyewitness descriptions by civilians and UN staff, gives the most detailed, horrific, and credible account issued so far.

Confirming the worst fears of some observers, the report gives concrete evidence that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), during their unrelenting assault, have targeted civilians of specific ethnicity as well as other noncombatants thought to be sympathetic to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)—hundreds are reported dead and thousands wounded as aircraft, artillery, and troops have targeted villages. Confirming earlier reports by the Satellite Sentinel Project, witnesses who spoke to UNMIS staff also claim that “they saw fresh mass graves” around the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli. Two UN military observers sent to verify this were arrested, stripped, and beaten, then released and told to avoid the area.

The report also details systematic efforts by government forces to cut off humanitarian aid to the area by bombing airstrips, erecting roadblocks, and raiding compounds where aid material is stored. It also contains allegations that Sudanese forces have harassed UNMIS staff. Aside from using force or the threat of force to keep UN staff from investigating rumors of war crimes, the SAF have arrested, interrogated, shot at, and, in one confirmed instance, executed UNMIS staff.

The UN has been not only been unable to put a halt to this quickly degrading crisis, but it has failed to provide protection to civilians. Thousands who flocked to the UNMIS compound were forced to leave by government agents. According to the report, “National Security agents, donning Sudan Red Crescent vests, came to the UNMIS Protective Perimeter and requested all the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] to relocate to the Kadugli Stadium . . . where they would be provided basic services including shelter in schools.” UNMIS staff claim many of these people were arrested shortly after leaving the area. Further accounts by eyewitnesses claim that SAF soldiers entered the protective perimeter and executed alleged SPLM members while UN peacekeepers stood nearby.

Columnist Eric Reeves has compared the situation in South Kordofan to the Srebrenica massacre. All of the countries capable of successfully intervening have indicated that they will not. The UN is likely to be hamstrung by conflict of interests, and China would very likely wield its veto in the Security Council to protect the government it does business with in Khartoum. According to Reeves, in this situation “real hope . . . seems entirely unwarranted.”

Photo: armece.com

Mary Stata returns to the AIPR blog as guest preventer this week:

While the debt ceiling debate continues to dominate headlines, Congress will soon begin deciding on annual legislation that sets policies and funding for tools to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities. The Friends Committee on National Legislation continues to lobby for greater investment in civilian tools that help avert crises that can result in mass killings of civilians.

Lobbying for these small yet vital accounts can be a tough sell in this budget climate. However, we’re not alone. FCNL coordinates the Prevention and Protection Working Group (PPWG), a coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian, and peace organizations dedicated to preventing deadly conflict and protecting civilians. PPWG recently sent a letter to members of Congress who determine the funding levels for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. The letter argues that working with international partners and investing in prevention accounts like the Complex Crises Fund and Civilian Response Corps, will save the United States lives and treasure in the coming years.

On July 20, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to mark up the 2012 Foreign Affairs Authorization bill, which guides U.S. foreign policy and authorizes funding levels for the State Department, USAID, and contributions to international organizations like the United Nations. Then, on July 27, the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up the annual spending bill for diplomacy, development, and international cooperation. The Prevention and Protection Working Group believes that strong investments in these tools better equips the U.S. government to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities.

Earlier this year, we succeeded in protecting the Complex Crises Fund from being eliminated in the fiscal year 2011 budget. However, it’s clear that we still have our work cut out for the next budget cycle. You can take action and support genocide prevention accounts by contacting your member of Congress. In the coming months, we’ll keep you updated on our progress and continue to lobby for strong prevention funding. Will you join us?

Mary Stata is the Prevention and Protection Working Group Coordinator with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC.

Stopping Third-Party Enablers of Mass Atrocities

Last week, Human Rights First published a briefing paper titled “Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities.” The paper discusses the role played by third-party governments, companies, and individuals in supporting the perpetrators of mass atrocities, and offers recommendations to target and stop those enablers.

The briefing comes in the wake of an interagency meeting coordinated by David Pressman—the National Security Staff’s Director of War Crimes, Atrocities, and Civilian Protection—to organize atrocities-prevention initiatives throughout the government, and identifies the roles each agency or department can play in the U.S. government’s efforts to deter enablers and prevent mass atrocities.

The paper notes that perpetrators of mass atrocities rarely have all the goods and services they need to carry out their plans of extermination, which means they must rely on outside supplies, especially of weapons, money, and fuel. While the perpetrators themselves may be isolated from the international community and therefore immune to outside pressure, third-party governments or commercial entities are often vulnerable to political and economic arm-twisting by other governments and multilateral institutions. Thus, inducing third-party actors not to support those who commit mass atrocities can do much to prevent atrocities, and a coordinated, whole-of-government approach can be very effective in accomplishing those goals.

The briefing urges the National Security Staff to provide leadership in coordinating the various agencies and departments to prevent mass atrocities by heading a robust interagency structure. Such a structure would pull together the initiatives pursued by each department into a comprehensive set of policies.

These are Human Rights First’s main recommendations:

  • The intelligence community should collect information not just on the perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also on the enablers, their roles, supply chains, and other relevant information. Such information may also shed light on other national security challenges like terrorism financing as well.
  • The Department of the Treasury should disrupt enablers by imposing sanctions and seizing assets of anyone who supports perpetrators of mass atrocities. While unilateral sanctions by the United States have been well enforced, UN sanctions need to be better enforced and more effective.
  • The Department of State can apply political pressure on enabling states through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, and embassies can play an important role in intelligence gathering. Formalizing the different State Department working groups on genocide prevention and clarifying their relationships to the National Security Staff will make the State Department’s efforts to defuse escalating atrocities more effective.
  • The Department of Defense would continue developing its Mass Atrocities Prevention and Response Operations (MAPRO) project and collect and disseminate useful intelligence.

Ethiopia: A hidden genocide?

A strongly worded new article about a little-known ethnic conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia raises questions about the international community’s silence on the government’s possibly genocidal campaign against the country’s Somali minority.

Ogaden is a territory in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Somali and have long felt marginalized by the Ethiopian government. In 1984 the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was formally founded with the intention of securing greater regional autonomy. The group maintains both political and military wings in Ogaden that have received mixed support from the population.

Addis Ababa considers ONLF to be insurgents, and has engaged the group in periodic fighting of varying intensity. International human rights groups have accused the state of using brutal tactics that are harmful to civilians. The state’s campaign against ONLF reached a new peak in 2007, when its response to increased ONLF activity (including a slew of political assassinations, bombing of government buildings, and kidnappings) involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.

Identifying rural villagers and local businessmen as the ONLF’s base of support and speculating that fighters were taking advantage of humanitarian assistance to feed and maintain themselves, the government expelled aid organizations and ordered a large-scale offensive that, according to human rights observers, targeted the civilian population. Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian troops, along with government-armed militias, indiscriminately attacked, executed, arrested, and forcibly removed from their land people believed to be friendly with the ONLF. Conditions were so severe that Genocide Watch wrote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009, urging her to pursue an investigation in the area.

Mainstream news outlets have largely failed to report on the conflict, and the international community has done almost nothing to respond. Some speculate that Addis Ababa’s support for the U.S. “war on terror” has helped the regime avoid investigation. However, deteriorating conditions in Somalia, coupled with the worst drought the region has seen in decades, may exacerbate Ethiopia’s violence to the point that it will no longer be possible to ignore.

Image: bnaidarfur.org

Sudan: New Drive for Darfur by Christian Engineers

The Affiliation of Christian Engineers has embarked on a new drive to obtain signatures on a petition against mass atrocities in Darfur. The ACE, a faith-based grassroots organization that is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, has been circulating a petition for over a year calling on the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and other engineering professional societies worldwide “to take actions necessary to: 1) stop the mass atrocities in Darfur and create a sustainable peace in the region, 2) protect civilians in Darfur as this happens, and 3) bring justice and accountability those most responsible for the mass atrocities in Darfur.” The ACE bases its petition on the engineering profession’s Code of Ethics, which stresses the responsibility towards “safety, health and welfare of the public.”

Citing the importance of oil in the political and security dynamics of Sudan, and the role that engineers play in locating, extracting, transporting, and refining Sudanese oil, the petition says “we will openly work to persuade all Engineers and Engineering societies around the world to influence those Engineers now working in Sudan to play a positive role in persuading the all parties to adopt the above objectives” and calls on members of the WFEO to use “their skills to help the people of Darfur, such as providing services to the refugee camps, medical professions, and those who are working to bring peace to the region.”

The new campaign, which is endorsed by genocide researcher Samuel Totten, seeks to gain backing from the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

Bosnia: 16th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

July 11, 2011, marked the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys following the fall of the town of Srebrenica marked one of the darkest moments of the 1992–95 Bosnian War. The town was supposed to be protected and disarmed by UN peacekeepers after being declared a safe haven in 1993, but Bosnian Serb troops captured the town and rounded up the refugees who had sought UN protection before systematically killing the men and boys and raping the women.

This week, Bosnians from all over the world gathered to commemorate the massacre, marching along the escape route and praying at mass graves along the way. An important part of each year’s commemoration is the burial of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA testing. This year, 613 victims, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, were newly identified, bringing the total number of named victims to 6,481. This year’s commemoration was also attended by the president of Croatia and the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidency.

This year’s anniversary falls amid the capture of Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Bosnian Serb forces that committed the massacre, and a Dutch court’s ruling holding the Dutch government responsible for the Dutch peacekeeping force’s expulsion of Srebrenica refugees from the UN compound under pressure by Bosnian Serb forces. Mladic is currently on trial at the ICTY, while the Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to compensate the plaintiffs.

In related news, the “Mapping Genocide” project became public last Friday. The 17 maps in the interactive online project track events before, during, and after the fall of Srebrenica, giving viewers access to documents, profiles, reports, and videos related to the massacre. The project, produced by the Sarajevo-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was put together based on material provided by the UN and the Bosnian Serb government as well as the ICTY’s rulings.

Image: Engineers Petition for Darfur

Sudan: Southern Independence, Northern Aggression

The Republic of Southern Sudan officially became the world’s newest nation on July 9. An overwhelming majority of voters supported independence from the North in a January referendum. The event was marked by huge celebrations across the new country. The New York Times reported that by dawn thousands had poured into the streets of the capital, Juba. Dignitaries from all over the world arrived there as well to partake in the festivities.

Officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China were among those who spoke at a ceremony hosted by the government of the new state. They offered encouragement and support, promising to open embassies in the capital as soon as possible.

After his swearing in, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir spoke to the thousands gathered. “We were bombed, maimed, enslaved, treated worse than a refugee in our own country,” he told the crowd, “but we have to forgive, although we will not forget.”

South Sudan’s independence comes after two decades of civil war and mass atrocities at the hands of the government led by President Omar al-Bashir. Military operations into areas considered friendly to southern rebels often resulted in the murder and arrest of civilians. Forced displacement was used to clear out huge tracts of land. For these actions and others, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in 2010 for genocide.

Bashir also delivered a speech at the independence day ceremony. But the world’s newest nation has little time to celebrate as it faces the resurgence of some very old problems.

A new frontline is beginning to appear on the North–South border, as unsettled territorial claims escalate into violent confrontation. The oil-rich regions of South Kordofan, specifically the town of Abyei, have been the epicenters of this resurgence of violence. Northern forces entered Abyei in May, amid government claims of attacks by southern militias. Fighting spread further into the Nuba mountains region, and there are now reports of ethnic cleansing against the people there. Deadly bombardments, house-to-house arrests, executions, and a blockade against humanitarian aid have left hundreds of Nuba dead and tens of thousands displaced. Many of the Nuba have fled their homes to the safety of caves to avoid the the deadly government offensive.

While Bashir claims the North is responding to rebel aggression, others believe he has more sinister intentions. According to columnist Eric Reeves, Khartoum plans to “seize Abyei as far south as possible, then negotiate final status of the region from a position of military strength.”

Many agree with this analysis based on one very important fact: The border regions are oil-rich, and North Sudan stands to lose billions of dollars of revenue now that the South has seceded. The already debt-laden government is trying to ensure that it has a heavy presence in an area that could be vital to the regime’s survival—and by all appearances, it is willing to restart war to do so.

Photo: David Azia/Associated Press

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