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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has launched a new website, “The Mladic Files,” documenting Ratko Mladic’s trial in The Hague. The project will also explore the larger framework, such as if future mass atrocities can be prevented by bringing past and present perpetrators to justice. Mladic was indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed while commander of the Bosnian Serb Army during the 1992-95 Balkans conflict; the project leader is the Museum’s Goldfarb Fellow, prize-winning foreign correspondent and author Michael Dobbs, who will not only observe the legal proceedings in The Hague, but also interview Mladic’s victims and cohorts, as part of his investigation into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. All of Dobbs’ findings will be posted to the project’s blog.
The Museum has long spotlighted the atrocities that occurred in the Balkans, with a particular focus on the Sreberenica massacre, one of only a few cases the international community has deemed genocide. As such, the Museum has also been monitoring the arrests and trials of those accused of crimes against humanity in the region. The Committee on Conscience, a standing committee of the Museum’s Council, is the guiding force behind the Museum’s work on genocide and related crimes against humanity. The Committee on Conscience is mandated with alerting the national conscience, influencing policy makers, and stimulating worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.
* Egypt’s military council has assumed control over investigations into the massacre of Coptic Christians that took place on October 9 in Maspero, leaving at least 27 civilians dead. In an October 25 report Human Rights Watch said, “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s military rulers, should transfer the investigation from the military prosecution to a fully independent and impartial investigation.” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in the same report,
“The military cannot investigate itself with any credibility… The generals seem to be insisting that they and only they investigate the Maspero violence, which is to ensure that no serious investigation occurs. The military has already tried to control the media narrative, and it should not be allowed to cover up what happened on October 9.”
The October 9 massacre was in response to peaceful protests surrounding the burning of a Coptic church in Marinab on September 30, which Mustafa El Sayed, the mayor of Aswan, justified by saying the church was built without a permit.
* On October 20 large numbers of Janjaweed militias were reportedly flown into Blue Nile, Sudan. On October 23 Yasser Saeed Arman, secretary general of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) told Radio Dabanga that the National Congress Party was now using Janjaweed forces on the ground in Blue Nile. Janjaweed militias were among the groups involved in the genocide in Darfur, which began in 2003. The conflict in Blue Nile, which borders South Sudan, began on September 1.
There are currently two main causes for concern in West Papua, Indonesia—conflicts between government forces and a separatist insurgency, and tensions between Muslim and Christian communities. In response to the presence of armed separatists in the area, Indonesian authorities have stationed troops in the region, while police arrest and detain those expressing dissent or criticism. The government has restricted access by human rights monitors and journalists from foreign countries, making it virtually impossible to conduct proper investigations. The overall situation worsened last week, when Indonesian security personnel beat and arrested hundreds of activists and other attendees at the Third Papuan People’s Congress’ independence rally. To date, two people have died as a result, their bodies discovered behind a barracks.
Hostilities are on the rise between Muslims and Christians due to steady Muslim migration from other parts of Indonesia, exclusivist groups on both sides that have reinforced an “us vs. them” mentality, and the lasting impact of past conflicts. Moreover, as opportunities arise to study Islam outside Papua, the indigenous Muslim community is being divided by those who return home with ideas in contention with traditional local practices.
Human rights organizations have reported sightings of jihadi groups and training camps in West Papua. Ja’far Umar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, admitted that some of his men arrived in Papua in late 2000 to assess “the needs of Muslims.” Thalib then sent approximately 200 men to Papua in 2001 to “crush” the Papuan independence movement, which he claimed was a Christian conspiracy to secede from Indonesia and form a Christian state. The group has since been disbanded.
On October 13-15, the Stanley Foundation convened U.S. government officials and mass atrocities specialists for a discussion called “Structuring the US Government to Prevent Atrocities: Considerations for an Atrocities Prevention Board,” as part of its 52nd annual Strategy for Peace Conference. Two months prior, the Obama administration mandated the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), per the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force.
The participants concluded that the cases with which the APB would be faced would fall into one of two categories: “situations of high, imminent or ongoing risk that have already mobilized internal focus and high-level attention vs. slow burn or “over the horizon” crises that have yet to trigger high-level concern and a cohesive policy approach.” Accordingly, the APB’s role would differ depending on which type of crisis they were responding to; the group went on to identify other potential roles for the APB outside of crisis-specific engagement. Another focal point of the discussion was implementing the APB concurrently with the Department of State and USAID’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in order to foster mutual reinforcement.
Also this month, the Stanley Foundation’s Rachel Gerber wrote an op-ed titled “Prevention: Core to the Responsibility to Protect,” in which she explains that the R2P principle is comprised of three pillars: 1) the primary responsibility of the state to protect its populations from four circumscribed mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes); 2) the concurrent responsibility of the international community to assist states in their efforts to do so; and 3) the responsibility of the international community to take collective action should national authorities fail to protect their populations from imminent or unfolding atrocities. R2P was formulated with the intention of preventing, and not solely responding to, mass atrocities. Gerber asserts that doing so requires a framework to be utilized throughout all phases of potential crisis—before crises emerge, as crises appear on the horizon, and following atrocities. While such a broad array of actions may not realistically fit into a single policy doctrine, it is imperative that R2P inform policy approaches across the crisis spectrum.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced on October 15 that the ICC would investigate three to six individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the post-November 2010 election violence in Côte d’Ivoire. Ocampo said no names would be published until ICC judges had approved his list of suspects. He also said investigations would include violence committed as early as 2002. The ICC prosecutor met with current Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara, but not with former president Laurent Gbagbo, whose lawyers say he should be tried by his own country and not an international tribunal.
Ouattara says nobody in his government will be spared from investigation, though none of his allies or supporters have been arrested or investigated so far. Human Rights Watch said on October 6 that, “President Ouattara needs to swiftly match his soaring rhetoric on ending impunity with credible prosecutions of those in his camp who committed serious crimes.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also commented on the need for impartial justice in a statement on September 27: “We are convinced that the perception that ‘victor’s justice’ is being applied would greatly undermine the reconciliation process.” In an October 18 article, the Daily Maverick of South Africa said that if impartial justice is not provided, “public distrust in the government will only deepen, this time with the south feeling aggrieved. Côte d’Ivoire will be back where it started again.”
* Today Majlis-e-Wehdat Muslameen (MWM) claimed that Pakistani government intelligence agencies were supporting terrorist organizations in an ongoing genocide of Shia Muslims in Balochistan Province, Pakistan. MWM is a coalition of Shia organizations created in April 2010 to advocate on behalf of the Pakistani Shia community vis-à-vis the government. MWM alleges that over 700 Shias have been killed between 1984 and 2011, and that government agencies have aided terrorist organizations in a genocidal plot against the Shia in Pakistan, citing the frequent acquittals of terrorists by the Lahore High Court. On October 17 hundreds of Shia Muslims staged a two-hour sit-in at Main Kachari Road Multan in Southern Punjab to condemn “the ongoing genocide,” and demanded that the Pakistani government recognize the links of the Lahore High Court to the terrorist organizations it is charged with trying. In an October 18 report documenting two more assassinations of Shia Muslims by Sunni terrorist organizations, Ahlul Bayt News Agency claimed that the United States was the mastermind behind these terrorist organizations, such as Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, in a “conspiracy to destabilize the country.”
* The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced yesterday that substantive proceedings for the trial of four top former Khmer Rouge officials would start on November 21. The defendants are Nuon Chea, chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, head of state; Ieng Sary, foreign minister; and Ieng Thirith, minister for social affairs. Each faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture. This announcement follows years of interference by the Cambodian government, resulting in only one person, Kaing Guek Eav, being convicted, despite the $100 million the trials have cost since being established in 2006. On October 11, German co-investigating judge Siegfried Blunk resigned from the ECCC, citing interference by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and other government officials. Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, declared last week that further trials were “not allowed,” prompting Judge Blunk’s resignation. Following this setback, Patricia O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for legal affairs, announced she would pay a visit this week to Phnom Penh to meet with government officials and others about the tribunal.
In September 2005, three mass graves were discovered in Rutshuru, in North Kivu province of eastern Congo. Two years later this discovery led to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiating a mapping exercise to investigate atrocities committed in the country between 1993 and 2003. The concluding report (click here for an interview with one of the report’s authors, Jason Stearns) was published in October 2010. Now, one year later, Human Rights Watch is calling on governments the world over to bring the perpetrators of the atrocities to justice.
Addressing the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, the mapping report describes the role of all responsible Congolese and foreign parties, including military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola. The Congolese government drafted a law to create a specialized mixed court, comprised of both international and domestic staff, but the Congolese senate rejected the proposal, despite support from Congolese civil society groups. Meanwhile, the governments of the other named African nations, as well as the UN, have failed to take decisive action.
Human Rights Watch has urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General to confer with the Congolese government, as well as the other governments named in the report and international legal experts, about how to ensure accountability for the crimes. Human Rights Watch is also calling on UN member states to support the Congolese government, financially and politically, in setting up mechanisms to try those responsible for the crimes.
* A Guatemalan court put out an arrest warrant on Wednesday for former president Oscar Mejia, who now faces charges of genocide. Mejia is accused of ordering massacres in an indigenous region of the country when he served as chief of the military in 1982-1983, before leading a military coup and serving as president between 1983 and 1986. After a police raid in Guatemala City did not turn up Mejia, the Attorney General’s office declared him a fugitive. Meanwhile, former General Mauricio Rodriguez has been sent to prison for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity; General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, the first former military arrested in this case in June, could also stand trial on genocide charges.
* Bangladesh State minister for law Qamrul Islam says the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), formed to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1971 Liberation War, will be exemplary for the international community. In addition to being independent and neutral, Islam says the proceedings will be unique in that they will have an appeals process. The United States supports the initiative, which has garnered praise from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
* Last month, eight students in the Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education class 2011-02 visited Poland as part of a class, “Genocide and the Military Role: Identification, Prevention, and Intervention.” Offered by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and Jagiellonian University at Krakow, the course teaches students not only about genocide committed during World War II, but also about genocide in the years since, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sierra Leone. The course aims to enable Army officers to identify societies on the verge of mass atrocities and find ways to prevent them.
At least 25 protesters were killed and between 200-300 were injured on October 9 at a Coptic protest in Cairo, Egypt. The victims were protesting the destruction and desecration of a Coptic church in Aswan Province in southern Egypt on September 30. Aljazeera quotes some of the protesters as saying that they were marching peacefully when the military, along with “thugs” in civilian attire, attacked them. Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said, “It was supposed to be a peaceful protest, demanding that Coptic rights should be fulfilled. But it soon escalated into violence, with people on balconies pelting the demonstrators with stones.” Essam Khalili, a protester who was present during the massacre, said, “The protest was peaceful. We wanted to hold a sit-in, as usual. Thugs attacked us and a military vehicle jumped over a sidewalk and ran over at least 10 people. I saw them.” Amnesty International said in an article on October 11 that the SCAF has a responsibility to address this massacre, and that this “raises questions about their ability to police demonstrations… Egypt’s SCAF must show it can and will rein in the security forces and ensure they do not use excessive force.”
The Egyptian government’s reaction to this protest has both human rights organizations and its own officials worried. The BBC reported on October 11 that Egypt’s Finance Minister Hazem el- Beblawi resigned over the government’s handling of protest on Sunday. In an article on October 12, Town Hall quotes Ayman Nour, one of Egypt’s leading liberal reformers, as saying that with the latest bloodshed, the military has lost whatever goodwill it accrued last spring. He draws a comparison to Hosni Mubarak’s regime, saying that both believe “that government repression is all that stands between Egypt and social chaos.” Amnesty International is deeply concerned over the state television reporting in response to the protests, which called for Egyptians to support and “defend” the military, further exacerbating the situation. Furthermore, the military raided two other television stations covering the protests, 25TV and Al Hurra, apparently in an attempt to stem independent reporting.
* The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, is dropping prosecutions against five high-level officials accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide, and torture. Since the Courts’ establishment in 2006, one conviction has been handed down; only four other Khmer Rouge cadres will now face trial. Amidst criticism from Human Rights Watch and purported interference by the Cambodian government, Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk (pictured above) has resigned, in addition to the investigating judges’ entire UN legal team.
* According to the UN, at least 235,000 people in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are on the verge of a potential food crisis. As planting season began five months ago in South Kordofan, fighting broke out between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and the Sudanese Government, displacing more than 200,000 civilians. Food stocks were delivered two months ago but have since been depleted and civilians are now experiencing food shortages. The conflict spread to Blue Nile early last month, causing people to abandon their fields and crops. International aid groups have also been restricted from accessing the area. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is calling for urgent action to prevent a humanitarian and food crisis.