You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2011.

* Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have gathered evidence that the Sudanese government has committed war crimes in South Kordofan State, just north of the newly established border of South Sudan. Researchers from both organizations investigated 13 air strikes by the Sudanese government in the Nuba Mountains region, despite a ceasefire announced by Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir on August 23. The bombing campaign began June 5 in Kadugli. Witnesses and victims in South Kordofan described indiscriminate bombing and the use of anti-personnel mines in civilian areas void of any legitimate military targets, leading human rights organizations to call the acts a violation of international humanitarian law. Despite a mounting humanitarian crisis, President Bashir announced on August 23 that no foreign aid agencies would be allowed into South Kordofan. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has classified the food and livelihood situation of those affected by the conflict at the “Crisis” level, one below “Emergency.”

* Despite requests for a dismissal by the Kenyan government, the International Criminal Court decided today to proceed with the case against six high-ranking Kenyan government officials, on charges of crimes against humanity, murder, forcible transfer and persecution, and rape during post-electoral violence in late 2007. The defendants are Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, deputy prime minister and minister of finance; William Samoei Ruto, minister of higher education, science and technology; Henry Kiprono Kosgey, minister of industrialization; Joshua Arap Sang, head of operations for KASS FM radio; Francis Kirimi Muthaura, head of the public service and secretary to the cabinet; and Mohamed Hussein Ali, who was police commissioner at the time of the violence. The December 2007 violence resulted in 1,100 people killed, 3,500 injured, and up to 600,000 forcibly displaced.

* “The United Nations–backed tribunal in Cambodia (ECCC) dealing with mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago began its fitness hearing today into the health of two of the ageing defendants currently on trial,” the UN News Centre reported August 29. The hearing included two top Khmer Rouge officials implicated in the 1975–79 genocide. The allegations against Ieng Thirith, 79, the former social affairs minister, and Nuon Chea (also known as “Brother Number 2”), chief policy architect of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), include genocide, murder, torture, religious persecution, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Ieng Thirith was found to be “cognitively impaired,” which would compromise her rights to a fair trial. Nuon Chea was declared fit to stand trial.

* The Kigali Institute of Education (KIE), a teacher training college in Rwanda’s capital yesterday held a one-day forum on the prevention of genocide called “Teaching Genocide and Community Cohesion: From Theory to Practice.”  The workshop, run in partnership with Britain’s University of Nottingham, is geared towards teaching students and teachers the basics of genocide prevention, as well as the importance of building and spreading community cohesion, in the hope of preventing a repetition of the genocidal events of 1994.

Photos (from top): unitednews.com.pk, historyplace.com

Advertisements

* Protests next month in the United States and Sweden will draw attention to alleged crimes against humanity in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Protesters seek to persuade the United States, the largest donor to Ethiopia, to force Addis Ababa to open the region to independent organizations so they can monitor, assess, and alleviate what protesters claim is an escalating and dire situation. The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia details human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian security forces and government-sponsored militias. This year, four refugees from Ogaden have been killed in Kenya, including the assassination of a community leader at the IFO refugee camp, operated by CARE.

* Sudan agreed to let UN relief agencies into South Kordofan. A Western diplomat said the gesture was a “smokescreen,” observing that Khartoum still won’t allow an independent inquiry into accusations its troops have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

* In Libya, with the advancement of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) into Tripoli, the international community has grown weary of the threat of revenge attacks or reprisals on supporters of Moammar Qaddafi. Since the start of the conflict, the anti-Qaddafi movement’s human rights abuses have raised serious concerns. The NTC responded to these concerns today, as an NTC spokesman called for calm. The rebel council has also taken promising steps to ensure a civil transition process by releasing some political prisoners. However, it is still uncertain how the NTC proposes to prevent reprisals on a large scale in the future.

* The Philippines is on the brink of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would make the Philippines only the third ASEAN nation to become a party to the ICC. Although the Philippines played an active role in the drafting of the treaty in 1998, and signed the treaty in 2000, it was not brought to the legislature for ratification until now. By ratifying the treaty, the Philippines commits to aid in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a proponent of ratification, stated that among other reasons for ratifying, the Rome Statute allows for the prosecution of individuals, rather than the ICJ’s approach of prosecuting state actors only.

Images (from top): ndsu.edu, Wikimedia Commons

A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations gives a useful analysis of the potential benefits and inevitable problems that will accompany the Obama administration’s Aug. 4 presidential directive to establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.

Taking a look at the country’s past, Andrew Miller and Paul Stares cite previous failures by the United States to prevent mass atrocities. Numerous administrations have been hamstrung by the lack of a truly comprehensive prevention framework. Miller and Stares contend that these past failures were not necessarily due to lack of will, but rather that high-level policymakers were not receiving information about small incidents that were indicative of a potential escalation in conflicts. Rwanda and Darfur, they say, serve as two stark examples in which high-level policymakers were unaware of the situations until the killing started and the only viable options were “sending in the Marines or doing nothing.”

Miller and Stares highlight the new plan’s potential for effective prevention in three key ways: 1) guaranteeing political and material support from the military and civil society, 2) establishing an early warning system, and 3) providing policymakers a structure that is capable of decisive action.

First and foremost, by framing the prevention of mass atrocities as “a core national security interest,” the Obama administration has given both the military and civil society “mandates” to prepare for prevention. As Miller and Stares point out, this gives agencies extra incentive to build their budgets in such a way that they can carry out this mission.

Next, the intelligence community must improve its early warning system. This system will be an interagency endeavor, allowing the government to develop adequate, timely responses—which Miller and Stares believe will include the use of economic, diplomatic, and legal tools.

Still, this information is useless unless relayed to the upper echelons of the policymaking community. The Atrocities Prevention Board is meant to do just that: It gives the intelligence community access to influential policymakers whose sole duty is to prevent mass atrocities, providing a much-needed link that was missing in the past.

The second section of the report examines pitfalls facing the system. Miller and Stares ask a few questions, the first being whether “the new atrocity-prevention structures and processes [will] become ‘mainstreamed’ within the national security apparatus?” This is critical, given how many other well-intentioned initiatives have been pushed to the wayside, including the Interagency Management System (now defunct) and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), both created by George W. Bush but since relegated to the periphery.

The report also raises the issue of whether or not subsequent presidents will support the Atrocities Prevention Board at all, given that each new administration tends to dismantle the initiatives of its predecessor.

Finally they ask whether or not in a time of financial crisis and an increasingly unpopular intervention in Libya, the American public will support the allocation of resources to finance future interventions worldwide.

Despite much initial praise from a number of organizations and governments worldwide, it stands to be seen whether Obama’s directive will yield a lasting and effective system for the prevention of mass atrocities. The Presidential directive ordered an “interagency review” to prepare relevant agencies for additional duties that would be required of them before the Atrocities Prevention Board would be up and running. According to the timeline set by the directive, the Board should be fully functioning by the beginning of December.

Image: dcu.blog.dccomics.com

* In a report titled “You Don’t Know Who to Blame: War Crimes in Somalia,” Human Rights Watch claims that all parties involved in the country’s ongoing conflict—al-Shabaab militants, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, African Union troops, and government-aligned militias—have “committed serious violations of the laws of war that are contributing to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.” These violations—which include indiscriminate artillery attacks, arbitrary arrests and executions, and the extortion and abuse of refugees—have made aiding those affected by the war and the famine more difficult. Human Rights Watch called on all parties to protect civilians and requested that international donors to the TNG establish “clear human rights benchmarks” to help ensure the government begins to abide by international humanitarian law.

* The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report today documenting human rights violations during the conflict in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. While both the rebels and the government are implicated, the report attributes a majority of the violations to government forces, which have purportedly targeted civilians during military operations, executed and arrested suspected rebel members, and indiscriminately bombed villages. Unconfirmed sightings of mass graves outside the city of Kadugli were also documented. The United Nations has called on Khartoum to allow international monitors to perform unhindered investigations into these allegations.

* During a press conference on Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the government is prepared to work with the international community to establish “an international commission” to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese government during its clashes with ethnic rebels. This announcement comes shortly after thirteen female U.S. Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which they called for action against the Burmese regime for its use of rape as a weapon of war. “We are prepared to work to establish an international Commission of Inquiry through close consultation with our friends and allies,” Nuland stated.

* Following a meeting of the African Prosecutors Association, chief prosecutors from a number of African countries have vowed to step up their efforts to find, arrest, and extradite fugitives wanted for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One way they hope to do this is through a greater level of intelligence sharing on the whereabouts of suspected criminals. There are reportedly 110 “indictments and appeals for arrests” still out for individuals suspected of being involved in Rwanda’s genocide.

Photos (from top): bar-kulan.com, Peter DiCampo/Pulitzer Center, news.az

* According to the L.A. Times, at least one unnamed Western government is sponsoring a “fact-finding” mission aimed at gathering the evidence necessary to prosecute President Assad of Syria for crimes against humanity for his brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. “The fact-finding mission,” the Times reported, “mostly involves assembling testimony from Syrian refugees that conforms to standards of international law necessary to sustain a war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court.”

* Twelve female U.S. senators have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressure the Burmese government to halt its use of rape as a weapon of war. A letter to Clinton signed by eleven of the senators said, “Given the Burmese regime’s unabated use of rape as a weapon of war, we urge you to call on the regime to end this practice and pursue our shared goal of establishing an international commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity…”

* Amnesty International recently published a report calling for reforms in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice system to help “combat impunity that has been fostering a cycle of violence and human rights violations for decades.” Citing reports of rapes, arbitrary arrests, murders, and assaults committed by Congolese soldiers on civilians that have went unpunished, Amnesty asks the United Nations, European Union and others to provide funding and “technical support” to help ensure “a comprehensive, long term justice strategy is developed.”

* Villagers in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe have unearthed human remains that are thought to be victims of the Gukurahundi massacre, which took place between 1983 and 1987. The massacre saw an estimated 20,000 people killed when President Robert Mugabe ordered his elite Gukurahundi fighting force to squash political and potential military opposition in the Matabeleland area.

Photos (from top): opinion-maker.org, operationbrokensilence.org, ZimEye.org

* The government of Chad refused to execute international arrest warrants for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir upon his visit to the country today. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, and Chad, as a state party to the ICC, is obligated by international law to arrest him. Chad’s government maintains that an internal African Union agreement allows them to ignore the warrants.

* Nine former Salvadoran soldiers and military officials wanted for crimes they allegedly committed during El Salvador‘s civil war are fighting extradition to Spain. They are accused of being involved in the killings of six Spanish Jesuit priests and two other civilians in 1989.

* Calls by Burma’s vice president for renewed peace talks between the government and ethnic rebels are being met with skepticism from some rebel groups. The joint-secretary of one such group, the Kachin Independence Organization, believes that the calls are likely just propaganda in response to international pressure. Ceasefire agreements between a number of armed ethnic groups and the Burmese government broke down recently, leading to fresh fighting.

 * The United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over the worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Yemen. They requested that all parties within the country, including al-Qaeda and the government, allow the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

Photos (from top): mtholyoke.edu, sfgate.com, philippinenewsdaily.com

* Representative Chris Smith, head of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, convened an emergency meeting to discuss the escalation of violence in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. Smith called for the immediate dispatch of peacekeepers to the area, which he believes “could be very effective in mitigating the loss of life.” This position is likely to be championed by U.S. officials at the United Nations Security Council meeting today.

* According to reports, since the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters began, thousands of government soldiers have defected and hundreds have been arrested after refusing to obey orders to indiscriminately open fire on protesters.

* Four former Guatemalan soldiers were sentenced to over 6,000 years in prison after being tried for crimes against humanity. They were found guilty of participating in the Dos Erres massacre, in which hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in a Guatemalan village by the military.

 * In a telephone conversation with Syria’s president on Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again condemned the government’s brutal crackdown on protestors and requested that the country’s borders be opened to international humanitarian organizations.

Photos (from top): rawstory.com, egyptianintifada.com, global post.com

To the applause of genocide prevention organizations nationwide, President Barack Obama today issued a study directive for the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, whose sole duty will be the development of policy aimed at preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities.

This is a milestone achievement, as until now the United States has lacked effective interagency protocols for prevention and response.

Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation executive director Tibi Galis praised the Obama administration for recognizing the need for a “whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively.’ ”

The directive, rather than spelling out details, offers an outline of the new body’s duties. Stressing the need for an overarching, “whole of government” approach, the president ordered the development of an interagency protocol identifying the government agencies that will contribute to the board’s work.

Many of the directive’s provisions are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government. The 2008 report issued by the GPTF argued that genocide and mass atrocities “threaten core U.S. national interests.” President Obama, in his directive today, used similar language, positing prevention as a “core national security interest.”

The GPTF report called for early warning systems, attempts to prevent escalation of violence once begun or imminent, and long-term prevention initiatives. While Obama’s directive remained mainly in the realm of broad intentions, its framework seemed to echo the suggestions of the GPTF report.

The presidential initiative received an avalanche of praise from U.S. organizations working to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes.

“Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said.

Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, cochairs of the GPTF, said the project “if fully implemented should eventually save countless lives.”

The United States Institute for Peace, a co-convener of the GPTF (along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), said it “welcome[d] the announcement” as a “needed step forward.”

The study directive gives the National Security Advisor 120 days to “develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.”

Photo: Oregonlive.com

In an interview yesterday, Edward Luck, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the responsibility to protect, offered wide-ranging comments on the concept of R2P, past, present, and future.

In explaining R2P’s origins, Luck cited massacres like the Rwandan genocide and Cambodia’s “killing fields,” which made clear the need for a framework of principles to help protect civilians while taking into account the international system’s deep-rooted notion of state sovereignty. R2P, as conceived in 2001, seemed to present a perfect middle ground, and according to Luck its evolution has so far been successful.

Apart from NATO’s heavily criticized intervention in Libya, and the mixed outcome of Côte d’Ivoire, Luck says R2P has helped in Kyrgyzstan and Guinea, although these cases received less media coverage. In Libya’s case, he argued, most of the negative response has focused on the use of force, which isn’t R2P’s main goal and therefore shouldn’t be the litmus test of its success.

“For us the job isn’t response, the job is prevention,” Luck said. “Many people think that responsibility to protect is all about the use of military force after the bodies start piling up. For us, that isn’t morally acceptable.”

On the topic of Syria, Luck discussed why it is that R2P was applied to help the Libyans while the Syrian people seem to have been abandoned, explaining it mainly in terms of the influence of regional organizations.

In Libya’s case, Luck said, “the Arab League, the African Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, all acted before the Security Council did. . . . In this case it was really the way the [UN] Charter had meant it to be: the parties and then the regional bodies first try to resolve the differences.” This contrasts with Syria, where support for intervention from regional organizations has been absent.

Luck also cited the language used by Qaddafi, who referred to protesters as “cockroaches” and said he would “cleanse Libya house by house.” Assad, on the other hand, has been more careful. “We listen to what leaders say as well as watch what they do,” Luck said.

Speculating on R2P’s future, Luck says he hopes and believes that, rather than meeting its demise, R2P will become so absorbed into the way states think of their responsibilities, and so much a part of civil society, that his office at the UN “simply could go out of business.”

The interview fails to mention one glaring issue: namely, the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. By all accounts the regime in Khartoum, since June 5, has engaged in illegal policies that target civilians of specific ethnic groups for torture and arrest and murder. Criticism has been hurled at the UN and its member states for their lack of action and avoidance of the issues—as Luck himself does in the interview.

Genocide scholar Samuel Totten, who has written extensively on Sudan, wrote an opinion column last week arguing that South Sudan fits all the requirements for R2P intervention. Yet, he wrote: “the international [community] largely plays dumb, claiming ‘I see no evil’ and ‘I hear no evil.’ The latter, of course, conveniently translates into, ‘Thus, I do not need to deal with evil.’ Such a position is totally antithetical to the concept of The Responsibility to Protect. Indeed, it is akin to seeking an easy (and unconscionable) way out of acting responsibly.”

In contrast to Luck’s optimistic view of the future of R2P, Totten declared that it was “on the verge of becoming a dead letter.”

* After months of debate, Israeli courts ruled in favor of extraditing Aleksandar Cvetkovic to Bosnia to stand trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Cvetkovic, who immigrated to Israel in 2006, was arrested in January by Israeli authorities after Bosnian-based courts accused him of participating in the Srebrenica massacre.

* Two Burmese men living in Australia admitted to committing crimes against humanity—including the arrest, torture, and execution of civilians—during Burma’s political turmoil of the late 1980s. The men reportedly admitted to the crimes out of guilt.

* A Sri Lankan government report said that while state forces may have caused civilian deaths during the final months of the country’s civil war, they did not violate international law. The report, issued by the Ministry of Defense, did admit to accidental civilian deaths, but a large portion was devoted to criticizing the conduct of the rebel Tamil Tigers. Said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch: “This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting.”

 * Responding to reports that ICC charges against Muammar Qaddafi might be dropped if he agrees to step down, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch wrote that “instead of putting a conflict to rest, a de-facto amnesty that grants immunity for crimes against humanity may just spur another cycle of grave abuses while failing to bring peace.”

Photos (from top): Interpol, topnews.in, tntmagazine.com

Twitter Updates