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Burma’s government this week continued its campaign against ethnic-based forces, with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claiming its headquarters in Shan State had fallen. The KIA commander in Shan State said Burmese government forces took control of the base on September 27, but that Kachin operations remained in other parts of the state.

Burma News International reported that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Shan State, numbering some 20,000, were thought to be hiding in civilian homes that may be subject to government investigation. It quoted the KIA as claiming that there were over 5,000 villages and 250,000 civilians living in northern Shan State, which became a war zone on September 24 when the Burmese government launched its current offensive.

Unlike refugees in Kachin State in northeastern Burma, who are receiving support from churches, NGOs, and Kachin communities abroad, the people in northern Shan have received no outside assistance. On September 27 the Irrawaddy quoted the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a relief agency on the border between the two states, as claiming, “Since 1997, the Burmese regime has destroyed more than 3,000 villages and displaced over half-a-million civilians in eastern Burma.”

Numerous resolutions by the UN General Assembly, including Resolution 16/24 in April, have called on the Burmese government to improve its human rights record. Organizations and governments—including Human Rights Watch, Burma Campaign UK, the United States, and Canada—support the establishment of a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

Despite recent developments, the International Crisis Group, in a briefing last week, argued that the reform process championed by the newly elected president, Thein Sein, was making progress, noting: “Military legislators have . . . supported an opposition motion in the lower house calling on the president to grant a general amnesty for political prisoners.” And Voice of America published an article in May saying that ASEAN was convinced enough of the country’s new direction that it is considering giving Burma the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014.


Today’s blog post focuses on the topic of transitional justice:

* Last week, the lower house of Brazil’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the creation of a National Truth Commission. The commission will investigate human rights abuses—including forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary executions—committed under the country’s 1964–85 military regime. It is expected that the bill will now be promptly approved by the Brazilian Senate. While noting the bill’s significant strengths, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has also pointed out its challenges and subsequent opportunities for successfully bringing justice to victims and their families, as well as preventing future violations. Read the ICTJ’s commentary here.

* Current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and former ICTJ president Juan E. Méndez published a book this month, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights, together with South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth. A long-time political activist, Méndez was arrested and tortured by the Argentinean government in the 1970s. He was the first executive director of Americas Watch, in 1981, and the UN’s first special adviser on the prevention of genocide, from 2004 to 2007. Taking a Stand offers critical analysis of human rights movements throughout the world and policy recommendations on both the international and domestic levels. The book has garnered favorable reviews, in part for its reliance on facts and research in addition to the author’s personal experiences.

* On September 16, ICTJ held a panel discussion called “Why the Silence on Sri Lanka?” on accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released a report alleging that scores of civilians were killed by governmental operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between January and May 2009. Led by Gordon Weiss, former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka and author of The Cage, and Dr. Vasuki Nesiah, academic and Sri Lanka human rights activist, the discussion focused on ways to ensure proper investigation of all crimes in Sri Lanka and other steps that will enable victims, and the country as a whole, to work toward a sustainable peace.


Sudan’s deteriorating political situation is raising concerns about a prolonged civil war there. International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a risk alert today, documenting the latest events and the obstacles that still exist for creating a sustained peace. The failed Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005, was supposed to “lay the foundation for a new reality in Sudan, end chronic conflict and make continued unity attractive,” ICG says. However, general elections called for by the CPA were never held, and in the absence of democratic transformation both the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) have opted for military solutions, resulting in an outbreak of fighting in South Kordofan in June and in Blue Nile in September.

The secession of South Sudan has had a very negative impact on its northern neighbor. An article yesterday in the Sudan Tribune explains President Omar al-Bashir’s veiled threats against the new Sudanese state: “Following South Sudan’s official independence last July, Sudan lost 75% of the oil reserves that existed under the united country. But the landlocked south needs the pipelines in the north that transport the oil for exportation through Port Sudan. Sudan has been hoping that fees assessed on using its oil infrastructure will help recover part of the revenue lost with the south’s independence. But the two neighbors have yet to agree on what the fair fee should be per barrel.” Insinuating a violent reprisal, Bashir told reporters, “If we don’t reach a solution we have our options to resolve this issue.” Another consequence of South Sudan’s secession has been the consolidation of power by hardliners within the NCP, who are even less disposed to peace.

If a solution is not reached on these issues, ICG predicts a protracted conflict in Sudan that could possibly spread into South Sudan. ICG emphasizes the need for international mediation since the CPA has failed, but warns that actors involved in negotiating the peace agreement, including the United States, are no longer trusted in Sudan, and that the primary mediator should be the African Union, in particular the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

Tom Andrews, president of the new U.S. advocacy group United to End Genocide (UEG), published a blog post last week arguing for a nationwide arms embargo on Sudan. He noted the testimony in Congress by a representative of Human Rights Watch, who “expressed strong concern about the impact this [supplying arms to rebels] could have on the flow of vital emergency aid to desperate civilians.” Andrews cited China as one of the biggest obstacles to passing an arms embargo in the UN.


In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2009 Report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, he outlines the three pillars of the principle:

  1. The enduring responsibility of the State to protect its populations, whether nationals or not, from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.
  2. The commitment of the international community to assist States in meeting those obligations.
  3. The responsibility of Member States to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a State is manifestly failing to provide such protection.

In response to the common misunderstanding of the third pillar as use of force, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect has created a new educational document detailing the third pillar’s range of measures and key actors.

And in furtherance of international commitment to the principle, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect this week wrote an open letter to the United Nations member states, urging them to prioritize setting goals for advancing R2P over the next year. Former diplomats and UN officials wrote how this year alone, lives were saved in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Libya through international efforts to uphold R2P. Specifically, they called on member states to:

  • Appoint a senior government official as a national focal point for R2P.
  • Encourage all relevant UN agencies and departments to incorporate an R2P perspective into their activities.
  • Use the tools available to the General Assembly to uphold R2P and take preventive and protective action.
  • Work together to develop additional goals and benchmarks for advancing R2P.

Addressing the opening of the General Assembly this week, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (pictured above) spoke of the importance of international law, the International Criminal Court, and upholding the rule of law. He stressed the importance of developing common practices and the capacity to actually implement R2P.


* Extrajudicial killings and the massacre of 36 civilians in Burundi have human rights groups worried about a return to civil war. September 18, in the town of Gatumba, a group of gunmen dressed in police uniforms entered a bar and ordered everyone to lie on the ground before opening fire. The Guardian reports that the bar was known as a popular place for government supporters. This massacre comes on the heels of a report by the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), a Burundian watchdog organization, which claimed it had evidence of 125 extrajudicial killings by the Burundian government between May and August, mostly targeting former Hutu rebels. The New York Times wrote that “an African diplomat in Nairobi” believed the killings in Gatumba were retribution against the government. “The government has been slaughtering them like rats,” the diplomat said. The attack on Sunday “was payback,” he said.

* Twenty-nine Shia civilians were killed in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan on September 20. Reports say the victims were Shia pilgrims, who were lined up in front of their bus before being shot. Amnesty International says the incident reveals the Pakistani government’s failure to address ongoing sectarian violence nationwide. Lashkar-e Jhangvi, an anti-Shia extremist group, claimed responsibility for the massacre. “These are not random killings but demonstrate the deliberate targeting of the Shia by armed groups,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. “These attacks prove that without an urgent and comprehensive government response, no place is safe for the Shia.”


On September 16 the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a report in its Occasional Paper Series titled “Prioritizing Protection from Mass Atrocities: Lessons from Burundi.”

The report details events in Burundi during the civil war of 1995–2005, and analyzes and critiques the measures taken by the international community in response to human rights abuses committed against civilians, in an effort to identify the lessons that can be gleaned with regard to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The report’s authors—Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Elana Berger, and Naomi Kikoler—conclude that these measures “ultimately brought stability to Burundi, thus leading to an end to atrocities, [but] for many years they failed to protect Burundians from the daily threats of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.” (Estimates of the number of people killed in Burundi’s civil war range from 200,000 to 300,000.)

The report describes the measures taken in Burundi as a direct response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, building on the situational and historical commonalities, as well as the ways in which the international community departed from previous actions, or inaction, in Rwanda. The three major areas of response are 1) mediation efforts, 2) the use of force, and 3) the application of economic sanctions, all of which were attempted by both regional and global organizations.


The report documents the mediation efforts of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, South African president Nelson Mandela, and deputy South African president Jacob Zuma. It attributes Nyerere’s efforts with ultimately bringing the involved parties to the negotiating table, but faults him for failing to include the CNDD-FDD (the military wing of the CNDD) and the FNL (the military wing of the Palipehutu); both were Hutu rebel groups engaged in combat with the Tutsi-run Burundian army, the FAB. These exclusions resulted in continued atrocities throughout the onset of mediation and the negotiation process.

The authors credit Nelson Mandela with the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000. This agreement established a transitional government, restructured the military to a 50/50 representation of Hutus and Tutsis, and contained a provision for the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Once again, however, the CNDD-FDD and the FNL were excluded from the negotiation, and both groups intensified their attacks on civilians after the treaty, causing more violent reprisals by the Tutsi FAB.

Jacob Zuma successfully brokered a ceasefire with the CNDD-FDD in December 2002, which resulted in its full integration into the Burundian military in late 2003, which brought about a marked decrease in atrocities against the population. In 2006 Zuma reached an agreement with the FNL that fully demobilized the last rebel militia, which was incorporated into the military in 2009.

The authors of the report believe the impact of mediation efforts was ultimately positive, successfully ending the war and bringing a stop to atrocities on both sides. On the other hand they note that, “The efforts were premised on the belief that a negotiated political solution would automatically lead to a cessation in violence and atrocities,” arguing that mediators instead should have addressed the problem of atrocities explicitly. They also say the exclusion of the two largest militias resulted in continued atrocities throughout the mediation and negotiation process.

Use of Force

The use of force was threatened but never employed during Burundi’s civil war. In fact the authors of the report claim that in many ways this exacerbated the situation, since there was no real commitment to using force, and regional and international troops on the ground had neither the manpower nor the mandate to protect civilians.

According to the authors, the United Nations’ threat of force in 1996 (see UNSC 1049) was undermined by the resistance of important countries like the United States and France, and thus actually had a negative effect: “The resolution did nothing to provide protection to Burundi’s population and instead, by threatening the use of force without being prepared to follow through . . . the Council created a moral hazard and likely slowed the progress of Nyerere’s peace process.”

A South African force deployed in 2001 was successful in its protection of politicians returning to form the transitional government established by the Arusha agreement, but did nothing to prevent atrocities against civilians. A competent peacekeeping force with a Chapter VII mandate was not established until late 2004. The report concludes, “The deployment of foreign peacekeepers to Burundi contributed to the development of long-term peace and security but did not protect civilians from immediate threats of atrocities.”

Economic Sanctions

Sanctions were a tactic employed by regional heads of state in Burundi early on. Yet a 1996 embargo on Burundian goods only resulted in the establishment of a black market by military officials, and since it effectively ended all foreign investment, it exacerbated poverty. The European Union and the UN froze all emergency aid to the country, but failed to enact sanctions of their own or to effectively support those who did. Without effective international support the sanctions had mixed effects, becoming “increasingly lackadaisical” until they were lifted in 1999.

The authors of the report state that this case demonstrates that regionally imposed sanctions on a possibly genocidal government are effective only if well enforced and the creation of a black market is blocked. Sanctions are employed in the hope that “suffering civilians will blame their government for their worsening hardship, placing popular domestic pressure on government actors to comply with international demands.” But this requires a strong political force that can provide direction to the people’s discontent, which did not consistently exist in Burundi, leaving the population to suffer without the reward of change.


In conclusion the authors note that “the incidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity has greatly declined and . . . the threat of genocide has subsided—in part due to continuous regional and international engagement in Burundi.” In retrospect, however, “A comprehensive peace agreement may have been reached more quickly and more lives could possibly have been saved . . . had states more strongly focused their efforts on protecting populations, in addition to their emphasis on finding a political solution to the crisis.”


* In discussing case studies of the use of the Responsibility to Protect concept (R2P) in Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of CongoAlex Vines highlights the importance of regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States, and the cohesiveness of interventionists. R2P was deployed in Côte d’Ivoire because of the fear that significant numbers of civilians were at risk, whereas R2P has not been applied in Congo because a UN mission partially charged with protecting civilians already exists. Vines maintains that R2P, despite the popular understanding of it, is about more than military force, since in many cases it is better not to engage militarily.

* In a novel attempt at genocide prevention, North Carolina State University researchers are hoping to use a population’s health and prenatal care as an identifying risk factor. In analyzing the remains of Bosnian Muslims from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and analyzing epidemiological data from the World Health Organization on Rwandan and Yugoslavian refugees, the researchers found high frequency of malnutrition, poor health, inadequate prenatal care, and related problems across these populations. NCSU researchers consider these conditions strong indicators of genocide risk because they are illustrative of the population’s marginalized societal status.

* In order to better prevent and respond to genocide and other mass atrocities, President Obama last month ordered an interagency review with the goal of creating an Atrocities Prevention Board. For the board to be effective, Professor Walter Reich of George Washington University argues that it must include independent experts from outside the government—such as specialists in international affairs, international law, and human rights.


* In a meeting with the Defense Writers Group on September 14, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said he had no problem with African states buying weapons and aircraft from China because he didn’t “see that as a military competition between [the U.S.] and China.” As Human Rights First pointed out, however, Chinese arms have enabled violence against civilian populations in Libya and Zimbabwe and contribute to ongoing atrocities throughout the continent, including in the Congo and Sudan. This is primarily the result of Chinese export laws that are neither strict nor strictly enforced by the government, coupled with Chinese companies’ lack of discretion.

* University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Sikkink argues in today’s New York Times that countries that prosecute human rights offenders have a better chance of ending repression than those that do not. In research comparing these two types of countries, she found that, contrary to what some contend, prosecutions of atrocity crimes tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy, or lead to violence. Writes Sikkink: “Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.”

* Cornell law student Nicholas Kaasik today lays out the argument for why the United States should ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court. The purpose of the ICC is to end impunity and hold leaders accountable for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Were the United States to join the 117 current States Parties, Kaasik says the relationship between the United States and the ICC would be mutually beneficial, strengthening each other’s legitimacy.


On September 13, Julius Malema, president of the African National Congress Youth League, was found guilty of hate speech for singing “Shoot the Boer,” an apartheid-era song. South African High Court Judge Collin Lamont ruled that singing the song was an incitement to commit murder against white farmers.

Malema has continually called for the nationalization of mines and the seizing of white-owned farmland. On September 10, he declared economic war on the “white minority,” claiming that there would be casualties, and that “they [white Boer farmers] are criminals, and they must be treated like that.

This and other developments have led Dr. Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch to issue alerts regarding the status of whites in South Africa, using an eight-stage model of genocide he developed for the U.S. State Department in the 1990s. Stanton recently said the situation had progressed from Stage 5 (radicalization of leadership and use of hate propaganda) to Stage 6, actual preparation for genocide, including isolation of the target group into specific areas and the drawing up of death lists. In an August 20 statement, Stanton said 800,000 of the 3 million white Boer farmers were already “being forced into marginal land sites where they are denied food-aid by the regime.”

According to Stanton, it is not only Boer farmers who are at risk now, but all whites and women in South Africa. At Stage 6, according to Stanton’s model, “a Genocide Emergency must be declared” and preparations should begin for “armed international intervention.” Otherwise the target group should be offered “heavy assistance . . . to prepare for self-defense,” or “at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the UN and private relief groups” for refugees.

Genocide Watch has listed Boer farmers as being at Stage 5 risk since 2002. On the current situation Stanton said, “Julius Malema must be removed as leader of the ANC youth league.”



The United Nations, human rights organizations, and activists around the world continue to pressure Burma to cease ongoing human rights violations, particularly the arrest and detention of video journalists. On August 31 the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus issued a press release noting that Tomás Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, released a statement after his most recent visit to the country, expressing “serious concern for ongoing human rights abuses in the country, including the continued incarceration and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience, attacks against civilians in border areas, and a host of violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”

In response to a call from the Democratic Voice of Burma, on September 9 human rights organizations joined Reporters without Borders in demonstrations outside Burmese embassies in Bangkok, Paris, Geneva and London, in support of the Free Burma VJ (Free Burma’s Video Journalists) campaign. “Around 20 journalists and bloggers have been arrested since the 2007 Saffron Revolution,” Reporters Without Borders wrote. “Hla Hla Win is serving a 27-year jail sentence because she wanted to tell the world what was happening in Burma. There are many other Burmese journalists who, like her, have paid a high price for exercising their right to report the news.”

On September 12 the Burma Partnership wrote that the Burmese government’s creation of a national human rights commission was “nothing more than window dressing.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his report to the 66th General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Burma, “the detention of all remaining political prisoners will continue to overshadow and undermine any confidence in the Government’s efforts.”


Responding to a September 13 report by Amnesty International, the National Transitional Council in Libya promised to investigate all instances of human rights abuse cited in the report, and renewed its pledge to adhere to international humanitarian law. The Amnesty report said that while Gaddafi loyalists committed crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity, the anti-Gaddafi rebels committed violent acts of reprisal that could amount to war crimes. In a statement on September 13, Claudio Cordone of Amnesty International called on the NTC to ensure “a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades, and to set new standards by putting human rights at the centre of their agenda.”

That same day, the NTC issued a statement condemning all abuses committed during the war, and said it “will move quickly to act on Amnesty’s findings to make sure similar abuses are avoided in areas of continued conflict such as Bani Walid and Sirte.” The NTC also stated that it would now be “putting its efforts to bring any armed groups under official authorities and will fully investigate any incidents brought to its attention.”

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