You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

* Yesterday, a Kenyan court ordered the government to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, should he ever return to Kenya. Though al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide and war crimes charges, he was not arrested when he attended a ceremony in Kenya last year. While the African Union does not want its members to enforce the arrest warrant, Kenya is obliged to cooperate as a signatory to the ICC. As such, the ICC reported Kenya to the United Nations Security Council. In response to the ruling, Sudan expelled Kenya’s ambassador and pulled its own envoy from Nairobi. The Kenyan ambassador was given 72 hours to leave the country.

* Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Burma later this week. In advance of the trip, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, in conjunction with 11 other human rights organizations, wrote an open letter to Secretary Clinton, “urg[ing] her to prioritize securing an end to the egregious crimes against humanity the Burmese Army continues to commit against ethnic minority civilians.” The country’s military-backed government recently unveiled reforms but atrocities committed as recently as last month have been reported by aid groups. The ongoing fighting has led to approximately 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons.


* The UN backed trial of three of the most senior members of the Khmer Rouge began today with opening statements in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The officials included Nuon Chea, also known as “Brother Number 2,” former head-of-state Khieu Samphan, and Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister for the Khmer Rouge. All three defendants deny the charges, which include genocide and crimes against humanity. Each of the three defendants are in their eighties, and many fear they will die before any convictions can be handed down. Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister and Ieng Sary’s wife, was deemed physically unfit to stand trial. Since its establishment in 2006, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has convicted only one person, Kaing Guek Eav, head of the notorious Tuol Sleng torture center.

* In Libya, human rights organizations are calling for the surrender of Saif al-Islam, a son of Muammar Gaddafi, to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Saif al-Islam is subject to an ICC arrest warrant for crimes against humanity in an investigation authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970. Saif al-Islam is reportedly being held in the town of Zintan by rebel forces. “The authorities will send an important message that there’s a new era in Libya, marked by the rule of law, by treating Saif al-Islam humanely and surrendering him to the ICC,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “His fair prosecution at the ICC will afford Libyans a chance to see justice served in a trial that the international community stands behind.”


* Yesterday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted former Rwandan mayor Gregoire Ndahimana of genocide and crimes against humanity, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. Ndahimana was convicted of the killings at Nyange parish, which was bulldozed while 2,000 Tutsis hid inside during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, by virtue of his “command responsibility.” In April 2001, an indictment was issued against Ndahimana, who was found hiding in Congo in 2009.

* In Bangladesh, five men in charge of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s Islamist party, are facing charges of crimes against humanity, which carry the death penalty. The trial is being held under a version of the country’s International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973, wherein government investigators have wide-ranging rights to detain and question, while suspects lack the usual rights to information and legal advice. Recently, there have been reports of defense lawyers and witnesses being harassed. Further developments, as outlined by Human Rights Watch, include the arrest of one key defense witness and the preparation of criminal charges against nine more. Furthermore, media reports are admitted with no forensic scrutiny. Lastly, the court has rejected a petition of recusal against its own chairman, who had been involved in a contentious inquiry into Jamaat’s alleged liability for atrocities.

* The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has ruled that 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea, is unfit to stand trial and ordered her unconditional release. Thirith was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and other former leaders of the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime.

In September the Carnegie Council published the Fall 2011 issue of its journal Ethics and International Affairs, featuring a roundtable discussion on the intervention in Libya and its implications for future humanitarian interventions. This post will examine one of the six contributions to the discussion, “The Ethics of Humanitarian Intervention in Libya,” by James Pattison. (It is important to bear in mind that the articles were written nearly two months ago, while Gaddafi was still in power.)

Pattison’s thesis is that the intervention in Libya was morally permissible, but it raises three issues about the ethics of humanitarian intervention in general; the ethics of mission creep, the problems with consequentialism as a means to justify intervention, and selectivity. Specifically, Pattison claims that the moral permissibility of Libya depends on two questions: Was there just cause for the intervention? What were the intentions of the interveners?

On the question of just cause, Pattison suggests relying on the parameters set by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty; the presence of large scale loss of life (genocidal intention not required), and/or ethnic cleansing. Pattison believes that Libya fulfilled these requirements for five main reasons. First, he claims that the intervening forces in Libya did not exceed the scope of the intervention—a no-fly zone with no troops on the ground. However, the presence of French, American, and British Special Forces in Libya, even if they were present only as advisors and trainers, could call this claim into question. Second, Resolution 1973 gave NATO permission to intervene, which made it an internationally sanctioned intervention. Third, the imminent military attack on Benghazi, combined with Gaddafi’s famous “no mercy” speech, and his call to cleanse Benghazi, justified forgoing preventative measures for the sake of saving innocent civilians under immediate threat of annihilation. Fourth, the intervention was supported by regional states and organizations, most importantly the Arab League. However, this support was second-guessed only a day after the intervention began. Lastly, Pattison claims that the mission had a reasonable hope for success in its short-term goal of protecting the citizens of Benghazi, but he also points out that the long-term hope of success was uncertain at best. Pattison makes a point of saying these facts support the moral permissibility of humanitarian intervention, but not the pursuit of regime change.

Regime change inherently holds higher risks than humanitarian intervention. A policy of forced regime change is more costly in economic and military terms, more collateral damage can be expected, and generally threatens the stability of the country and the entire region more than a humanitarian intervention. Therefore, Pattison states that the requirements to justify regime change should be proportionally higher given its consequences. Therefore, Pattison claims that a forced regime change in Libya was not justified. Although the intervention included forced regime change as only a secondary goal at first, Pattison claims that due to mission creep it became the main goal of the Libya intervention. This view is supported by British General Sir David Richards calling for an expansion of NATO targets to oust Gaddafi. This expansion of the NATO bombing campaign made many who supported the intervention backtrack. Mission creep is the first of three major issues Pattison believes the Libya intervention reveals about humanitarian intervention in general.

The second issue is the justification of interventions through a consequentialist point of view. In Libya the short-term consequences, namely the protection of the civilians in Benghazi, certainly justified intervention. However, the long-term consequences were less clear, and failed to reveal themselves even when the conflict drew to an end. Pattison states that the inconclusive nature of the long-term consequences puts justification of the intervention into doubt. if one focused only on the long-term consequences in Libya, intervention would not have been justifiable, since the long-term consequences were so unclear, and were constantly debated throughout the intervention. Instead, Pattison suggests that a different approach should be adopted, one that focuses on more assessable considerations, such as whether or not the intervention has the requisite legal authority.

The third and final issue the Libya intervention raises is that of selectivity. Many have disagreed with the Libya intervention in light of the fact that interventions were not undertaken in similar situations in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Many claim that this reveals the inconsistency of international moral standards and the presence and influence of self-interest in the UN’s decision to intervene in Libya. Pattison disagrees with this outlook, claiming that there should be selectivity, as many situations are dissimilar enough that an intervention could conceivably be permissible for one and not the other. He also says this critique misses its target; instead of proving that the Libya intervention was not justified, these facts actually reveal the moral failure of the international community in not intervening in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. In an August 26 article, Foreign Affairs agrees with Pattison, saying that the Libya intervention reveals the inevitability of selectivity in humanitarian intervention.

For Pattison, the real problem of selectivity is that given the assumption that the goal is to save the most lives with the lowest cost to the interveners, there were many other places that deserved intervention, where more lives could have been saved.  Notwithstanding, Pattison claims that an intervention in Libya and nowhere else is certainly morally permissible compared to no intervention at all.


Commander Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, leader of the Congolese rebel group Mai Mai, is wanted by the Congolese government for ordering his militia to join an attack on a group of villages in Walikale, where the fighters gang-raped at least 387 women, men, girls and boys in 2010. He is also one of approximately 19,000 candidates for Congo’s National Assembly, the lower and main chamber of Congo’s Parliament. Sheka, listed as a “trader” on Congo’s election Web site, is one of 65 running in Walikale. Congolese authorities tried to arrest Sheka in July, but he escaped. In September, he registered as an independent candidate for the National Assembly. According to Congolese law, Sheka would be immune from prosecution if elected.

Congo’s election, scheduled for November 28th, includes a number of candidates accused of being criminals. One presidential candidate, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, is a former rebel leader whose militia carried out a massacre at a hospital and the surrounding area in 2002 during the country’s civil war. The fighters slaughtered any patient suspected to be from the Hema and Bira groups, killing more than 1,000, according to Human Rights Watch. After the war, Nyamwisi became Congo’s minister of regional cooperation. Another candidate is François-Joseph Nzanga Mobutu, the son of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) said in a press release earlier this week that some political leaders have been using inflammatory language to incite people to violence. It stressed that such conduct is a violation of the country’s electoral law and international electoral standards. According to the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, “Regional and local rebel groups…remain active in several areas, leading to widespread displacement, sexual violence, murder and other forms of human rights abuses against Congolese civilians. The central government…has been unable to restore authority in several provinces and is itself involved in various serious human rights violations. The poorly-trained national army (FARDC) and police lack the capacity and the budget to protect the election process. Furthermore, they have themselves been in involved in abuses. Made up of former rebel groups and Congolese soldiers, FARDC is far from politically neutral and remains divided despite various integration efforts.”


On November 3 the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, at Columbia University in New York, hosted a roundtable discussion called “Peace and Justice in Burma: Serious International Crimes Continue Despite Talk of ‘Change.’ ”

The discussion featured a presentation by Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, outlining the current situation in Burma, specifically in Kachin State.

Stothard began with a brief history of the conflict in Kachin State. In 1994, after decades of fighting, the Burmese government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Despite the ceasefire, the Kachin people did not see their pleas for a representative government realized. In 2009 the Burmese government demanded that all opposition forces, the KIA included, incorporate themselves into the Border Guard Forces of the Burma Army. In light of the KIA’s refusal, the Burmese government launched an offensive against the KIA in Kachin State and Northern Shan State in June 2011. This war has caused large-scale displacement and a dramatic increase in human rights violations committed by the Burmese army in conjunction with its “four cuts strategy.”

According to an October 7 report by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), these human rights violations include extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and rape (often gang rape), the use of child soldiers, enslavement and forced labor, and torture. The report says these violations are a direct policy of the Burmese government, both regularly and widely perpetrated impunity, which suggests they could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The conflict in Kachin State has created hundreds of thousands of refugees who are currently housed in six makeshift refugee camps, five of them on the China–Burma border. The Burmese government has blocked aid to these refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis that Stothard says is not being addressed by the international community because of a lack of political will.

KWAT is one of many organizations calling for a UN inquiry and a subsequent referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Burmese organizations cannot request a referral to the ICC themselves, since Burma is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.)

Stothard told the audience that a referral to the Security Council was being blocked by Russia, a major arms dealer to the Burmese government, and China, which has multiple financial interests in Burma, including oil. So far there are 16 countries in favor of a UN inquiry into human rights violations in Burma, but Stothard says the initiative is also opposed by ASEAN, for fear of light being shed on human rights violations in most of its member states.


When the Arab Spring began 10 months ago, the world witnessed the transformative power of social media. But since then, individuals across a plethora of disciplines have sought to define its exact role in bringing attention to, preventing, and/or ceasing mass atrocities. To that end, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies recently hosted a conference, “The Promise of the Media in Halting Mass Atrocities.” At this event, the Canadian International Council interviewed Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, Canadian senator Roméo DallaireDispatches host Rick MacInnes-Rae, and André Pratte, editor-in-chief of La Presse. 

In discussing the extent to which social media, and more specifically, Twitter, helped bring about the Egyptian revolution, Mona Eltahawy was hesitant to recast last January’s events as the so-called ‘Twitter revolution.’ Social media is merely an instrument; change on that significant a level is driven by people, by feet on the ground. She went on to say that Twitter was used in Egypt to communicate with and connect to the outside world, not for internal organization. Eltahawy said that SMS played a bigger part, as more Egyptians have cell phones and send text messages than use Twitter. Furthermore, Eltahawy posits that the fact that Mubarak shutting down the internet didn’t affect him being ousted from power further proves that it wasn’t vital to the cause, but just a singular tool.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (pictured above), former commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), believes that the 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred as the result of a lack of both information and political will. There was no interest or expertise in the area, and media and public attention was focused on events unfolding in Cambodia and Yugoslavia. When asked if today’s arsenal of communication methods would have changed the course of events had they been available back then, Dallaire points out that electricity is still a major issue in developing countries. That notwithstanding, more methods of disseminating information would have been crucial. He explains that radio was the culture in Rwanda, not television or even newspapers. Dallaire was also asked about the application of R2P in Libya, a situation in which he feels the international community failed to call Qaddafi’s bluff. Qaddafi used similar language as had been employed in Rwanda and the responsibility was to protect the moderates and prevent a bloodbath. Accordingly, he says the intent of R2P needs to be clarified.

In his interview, Rick MacInnes-Rae says that while Canada may not actually have invoked R2P as a justification for the Libyan intervention, it nonetheless accomplished “what R2P would have wanted.” He then raises the issue of motive, i.e., protecting civilians or protecting access to resources, as he believes that will be raised as part of the aftermath discussion. He thinks that in such situations, social media can be used to activate opposition and that the media has no real role in R2P, only a journalistic mandate.

Also asked about about R2P in Libya, André Pratte says it is too early to say if it was a success. He spoke of assessing the short-term goals in those scenarios, and then addressing what happens when the intervening powers leave. In terms of the role of social media, he sees it as being used for coverage and opening a window, especially where journalists have limited or no access.


Tensions have erupted in Liberia during an initially peaceful protest outside the headquarters of the leading opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), in the country’s capital of Monrovia. The exact circumstances surrounding the violence are still unknown, but there is a general consensus regarding the chain of events.

Various reports agree that the CDC originally called for its supporters to gather peacefully outside the CDC headquarters to protest and boycott the second round of elections, set to take place tomorrow, following CDC opposition leader Winston Tubman’s loss to sitting president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the first round of voting. It has been agreed that Tubman had little to no chance of winning the second round. The Huffington Post said, in an article this afternoon, that international observers approved the first round of elections, and consequently this move by Tubman is seen as an attempt to discredit a fairly run election that did not turn out in his favor. These elections mark the second time voters have gone to the polls since the end of Liberia’s 14-year-long civil war in 2003.

The Huffington Post reported one death today, saying, “It was not immediately clear what set off the violence, but it appeared to have degenerated when security forces opened fire on demonstrators.” Meanwhile the Liberian Journal reported five people killed in the violence, writing, “The Liberian police, without any provocation, began to fire in the air, even after they barricaded the main entries to the opposition facility, provoking further tension and the chaos that followed.”

On today’s violence, the International Crisis Group’s West Africa Director said, “It’s motivated by the fact that they (Tubman’s party) think they don’t have a chance. It’s a way to stain the election. To create a problem of credibility for the president.” A Liberian Church leader offered another version: “I think members of the Liberia police force are provoking a problem, to justify their premeditated actions against a party that has chosen to exercise its full political and constitutional rights.” U.S. photojournalist Glenna Gordon, who is in Liberia, reported that she witnessed a confrontation between the Liberian riot police and UN peacekeepers. She also said she heard CDC supporters chanting “Tonight, tonight there will be a massacre.”

Ellen Margrethe Loj, the UN Secretary General’s special representative and head of the UN mission in Liberia said today, “Peaceful, credible, and transparent elections are important to ensure that peace in Liberia is maintained.”


* Alfredo Astiz, a former captain and navy spy, has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-83 Argentinian military dictatorship. He and 10 other former Argentine military and police officers together faced 86 cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder of leftist dissidents. Astiz was accused of participating in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of two French nuns, a journalist, and three founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Fifteen other former military officials were also convicted of crimes against humanity; 12 were sentenced to life in prison without parole, and four received jail sentences ranging from 18 to 25 years. The court has the ability to sentence former officials as the result of a 2005 Argentina Supreme Court ruling that denied amnesty to military figures who committed crimes during the military dictatorship.

* Last week, Uruguay followed suit by passing a law that eliminates the effects of the country’s 1986 Amnesty Law, which protected police and military personnel from being prosecuted for human rights violations, and repeals a statute of limitations that would have prevented victims from filing criminal complaints as of today. In addition to this revocation of amnesty, dictatorship-era kidnappings, torture, and killings are now classified as crimes against humanity. About 30 leftists were kidnapped and/or killed during Uruguay’s 1973-85 dictatorship. Also last week, Brazil’s Congress unanimously approved a  truth and reconciliation commission to investigate more than 40 years of human rights abuses. The commission will have subpoena power, can demand any document it wants from the government, and put witnesses under oath. But it won’t result in prosecutions, since the country’s 1979 amnesty remains intact. It must look at any rights crimes from 1946 to 1988, when Brazil’s current democracy began.


Twitter Updates