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By Christine Lim

Monday marked the launch of the Obama administration’s eagerly awaited Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). Live webcasts of the President’s remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by an afternoon’s worth of panel discussions at the White House, moderated by Samantha Power, chair of the new Board, excited the genprev community.

Following is a sample of reactions and responses:

Francis Deng and Edward Luck, UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, said today in a press release: “[We] commend the growing series of partnerships established by Member States under a Responsibility to Protect framework. These include the network of focal points proposed by Costa Rica, Denmark, Ghana and Australia; the regional conferences on genocide prevention organized by Argentina, Switzerland and Tanzania; the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the [Auschwitz Institute’s] Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention; and other regional and sub-regional arrangements for the prevention of atrocity crimes.” The Special Advisers indicated their plan to continue serving as liaisons between the UN and such initiatives designed to maximize regional and cross-regional dialogue.

Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor of Oxfam America, said Monday in a press release: “The test for the APB is whether, over the long-run, we’re better able to mobilize those tools and whether it is able to quickly and effectively focus the attention of high-level decision-makers on countries that threaten to descend into mass atrocities in the future.”

Winny Chen, Senior Associate of Human Rights First, said today via e-mail: “The creation of the APB represents an important milestone in U.S. efforts to make ‘never again’ a reality. Though there are still many questions lingering about the structure and function of the APB, I’m heartened to see that the Board is already making strides in expanding the USG’s tools, such as developing new financial levers, for responding to threatening atrocity situations.”

Daniel Solomon, National Student Director of STAND, wrote a blog post yesterday, reflecting on his own participation in the day’s events. He discussed the Board’s composition, arguing that its true significance will not be to stop atrocities, but to “encourage the training of diplomats, development practitioners, military officials, and intelligence officers in atrocities prevention strategies; facilitate cross-national trainings of foreign militaries, law enforcement, and peacebuilding authorities; and, where relevant, provide greater support to the distribution and identification of early warning and atrocities risk.” Solomon also praised USAID’s innovation grants partnership with Humanity United.

Mary Stata, coordinator of the Prevention and Protection Working Group at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, wrote that the new Board brings U.S. policy one step closer to preventing mass violence by peaceful means. She reiterated the intent of the FCNL and others to continue lobbying for the implementation of recommendations made to the Obama administration last fall.

Eric Roston of BusinessWeek suggested the APB should be renamed “Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities” in the interest of simplicity: “A presidential body dedicated to the eradication of the methodical mass murder of innocents deserves more than to be lost in the stultifying jargon of government bureaucracy, where the APB will take its place in small, gray type next to its cousins, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the Joint Board For The Enrollment Of Actuaries.”

Less insightfully, as Time magazine noted, the Christian Science Monitor wondered what effect the APB would have on Libya, while The Atlantic worried about the propriety of and risks involved in more global intervention on the part of the U.S.

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Last Wednesday, Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, gave a public talk on genocide prevention at the University of Oregon School of Law’s Appropriate Dispute Resolution Center. The talk was held to mark the launch of an interdisciplinary initiative called Genocide and Mass Atrocities: Responsibility to Prevent, whose goal is to develop strategies to motivate citizens and governments to help prevent genocide and politicide. (A 104-minute video of the talk is available online, but much of it is unintelligible.)

In his talk, Stanton mentioned plans to add two stages to his existing model of genocide (Eight Stages of Genocide), originally conceived as a briefing paper at the U.S. State Department in 1996. However, due to the video’s poor sound, it was difficult to understand much more than that, so we contacted Stanton directly in order to learn more.

Stanton, who is also a research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University, was quick to give credit to the urging of a few thoughtful individuals, some of whom have taught genocide using his Eight Stages model for years.

In particular he named Alan Whitehorn, an Armenian genocide expert of the Royal Military College in Canada; Chris Scherrer, a teacher of genocide in Japan for many years; and Daniel Feierstein, an Argentinian genocide scholar, each of whom in different ways suggested the addition of more stages to the existing model. For instance, Scherrer’s suggestions would have resulted in an 11-stage model, while Whitehorn suggested that the leap from Symbolization to Dehumanization was too far, that Discrimination be added as an intermediary step, and that Preparation included too much.

As Stanton wrote in an e-mail: “I realized there are two types of preparation. One is preparation by the perpetrators—‘Planning (Conspiracy)’—for which I kept the name ‘Preparation.’ The other is the preparation of the victims through what [Whitehorn] called ‘Extreme Victimization,’ but which I prefer to call ‘Persecution,’ because that word is a direct descendant of Raphael Lemkin’s thinking about genocide as the most extreme form of persecution. That stage includes concentration of the victims into ghettoes, trial massacres, expropriation of their property forced displacement, etc. Both of these stages had previously been encompassed under ‘Preparation.’ ”

Stanton said he hopes to issue his new model officially later this year.

Image: Youtube.com

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report entitled Second Class Citizens: Discrimination Against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This titular discrimination is the result of unresolved tensions between the formerly warring factions of Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups–Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs–and constitutionally mandated separation by ethnicity in political and public life. Referred to as the constituent people, members of the aforementioned groups are the only ones who can “serve as president or in the upper house of the national parliament, and were granted veto power over any legislation that they viewed as threatening their ethnic group’s interests.” Others include Roma, Jews, Ukrainians, and people from other Southeast and Eastern European, all of whom comprise 3-5% of Bosnia’s four million people. While the European Court of Human Rights considers these policies to be unlawful ethnic discrimination, little has been done to effectively address and change the situation. As it stands, the present situation falls within the first category of factors in the analysis framework that the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide uses to determine whether there may be a risk of genocide, “Inter-group relations, including record of discrimination and/or other human rights violations committed against a group.”

Roma are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest national minority, and are disproportionately discriminated against. According to HRW, “The direct discrimination against Roma inherent in Bosnia’s political structure reinforces the indirect discrimination they often face in the provision of services like housing, health care, education, and employment.” When the country’s constitution was drafted in 1995, the rationale behind the exclusion of minorities from politcs was to maintain the tenuous peace in Bosnia. Today, however, ethnic politics has resulted in Serbs and Croats threatening to secede from Bosnia and “political deadlock that delayed the formation of a national government by more than a year after elections were held… Direct discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities does not end with politics; it is also entrenched in civil service.” For example, the Ombudsmen for Human Rights, an office which is supposed to protect against this exact type of discrimination, requires the appointment of three representatives from the three main ethnic groups to serve as ombudsmen, thereby leaving no room for any minorities.

One reason why Roma suffer the worst from indirect discrimination is because of “high unemployment rates and poor education levels and living conditions.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that ~10% of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not listed on any birth registries. Without birth registration and a birth certificate, one cannot access public services, such as schools, employment bureaus, or health care services. Many of the Roma in this region live in unstable, insecure, informal settlements. They are in constant danger of being forcibly evicted and lack basic services like electricity and running water.

In order to end the ethnic discrimination outlined above, which violates Bosnia’s commitments under international and European human rights law, Bosnia must remove it from their national constitution. The country must also implement its commitments under the “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015,” and ensure that these commitments are continued past 2015, namely guaranteeing that Roma can access basic services. HRW also recommends that Bosnia and Herzegovina conduct an accurate 2013 census, and make special efforts to reach out to minority communities, “including employing Roma and others in conducting the census and allowing individuals to confidentially identify their ethnicity.” Lastly, HRW calls on the United States, European Union, and Council of Europe to lend their support to pressing for constitutional reform and helping minorities gain the aforementioned access. Lastly, the EU must make ending discrimination against minorities in Bosnia, both in law and in practice, a condition for membership.

For more detailed key recommendations, a description of the methodology used to compile the report, and full recommendations for various actors, read the full report here.

This policy brief on Syria, released on Tuesday, outlines the International Crisis Group’s recommendations for immediate deescalation of the mounting violence.

Crisis Group says the priority is to “prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration” by fleshing out the existing initiative and reaching broad international consensus around a detailed roadmap.

The violence in Syria has escalated to the brink of civil war via bomb attacks and massacres by the repressive regime against the fragmented and increasingly radical opposition. Left unchecked, the violence will put more civilians at risk for mass atrocities, including the massacre of women and children, and possibly put the Alawites, the Syrian regime’s ruling sect, in danger of being targeted as a group for annihilation by an opposition that seeks revenge.

Changes in the regime’s approach in dealing with the opposition would require unlikely political or militaristic shifts in the global balance of power. As such, the implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace initiative is likely to be neither timely nor comprehensive, but for now it remains the only option.

The ICG brief provides an in-depth analysis into why a successful and lasting cease-fire in Syria as a result of the Annan plan (in combination with the half-measures hatched during the “Friends of Syria” meeting in April for the U.S. and its Arab allies to jointly provide financial and technical support to the opposition) is not a realistic expectation, and then suggests immediate next steps for the international community to take in order to prevent further humanitarian and diplomatic deterioration in the region:

  • “pilot areas where a ceasefire can be reached and a monitoring mission immediately deployed, in order to generate tangible evidence that this approach can produce relief;
  • arrangements under which the regime ultimately would allow virtually all peaceful protests, and the opposition would refrain from organising them in a specified perimeter within Damascus given regime sensitivities;
  • parallel to the above, means of enforcing and verifying a commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders; and
  • modalities of a credible investigation into the worst acts of violence to minimise risks of recurrence.”

Tuesday was the deadline set by the six-point Kofi Annan peace plan for Syria to cease fire against the opposition. As foreseen by many experts, Syria has been dragging its feet regarding the cease-fire, not least by ignoring the Tuesday deadline and continuing the violence against insurgents into Wednesday, while attaching numerous last-minute conditions to its active cooperation with Annan’s plan.

A few days before the deadline, for example, Damascus demanded written guarantees from opposition groups and hostile foreign states to renounce violence. International leaders responded with strong condemnations. Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the U.K. would put fresh diplomatic pressure on the UN Security Council to give President Assad’s crimes a “day of reckoning.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Syria agreed to a new cease-fire deadline of Thursday, without the written agreements by the opposition to give up their weapons, but has announced that it reserves the right to retaliate against any new opposition attacks.

As of Thursday, there were reports of a strained and uneasy silence in Syria. The regime has stopped bombarding rebellious towns heavily, but heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities. The situation is very fragile, but perhaps if the cease-fire holds up a bit longer, it will be enough time for the UN to negotiate and send in the first monitoring force as per the Crisis Group’s recommendations. Discussions about installing a monitoring team in Syria have been ongoing since at least late March.

Crisis Group presents some important questions once the practical discussions about a monitoring force are underway again:

  • “What would be required for an adequate third-party monitoring presence and mechanism – in terms of numbers, mandate, capacity – to address violations of the desired reciprocal and unconditional ceasefire, without which it almost certainly would quickly collapse?;
  • Might it first be deployed on a smaller scale, in pilot areas where a ceasefire could be immediately reached, as a way of demonstrating its ability to provide rapid, tangible relief?;
  • What is required to achieve, ensure and verify a credible commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders?;
  • How can one precisely define and carry out a regime commitment to tolerate peaceful protests while possibly allowing the authorities to protect some key interests: at a minimum ensuring mass protests do not occur in the heart of the capital (within a specified perimeter the authorities might consider overly sensitive)?; and
  • Initiation of a serious investigation into the worst forms of violence as a critical step toward preventing their recurrence, entailing Syrian cooperation with a team of international experts.”

It is a long shot, but if the immediate deescalation of violence in Syria is successful for long enough to allow a good faith effort to answer the questions above and to act upon those answers, a credible political transition in Syria may still be in the cards.

Image: Reuters

Last month, the World Peace Foundation launched a new blog series, How Mass Atrocities End, which seeks to address the question of how to recognize when genocide or mass atrocities end. The rationale is that

This question, let alone the equally, if not more complicated, question of how such violence ends has been caught up in normative assumption about how they ought to end: international armed interventions that rescue the innocent from certain annihilation.

The historical record reveals a potentially surprising and insightful array of forces that impact when and how mass atrocities end. The significance of these insights becomes clearer when one recognizes that:

1)   Armed interventions are not always possible;
2)   Nor are they always desirable;
3)   Nor can they deliver on all the promises ascribed to them.
4)   Further, we must note two significant trends in the broadly-defined field concerned with studying and engaging with large-scale violence against civilians. The first is a shift from response to prevention that results in engagement with unfolding situations at lower levels of violence, while retaining the language of exceptional crisis. Second, a shift from a vocabulary of “genocide” to that of “mass atrocities,” thereby also increasing the number of cases that might be considered within the response rubric. Defining and developing strong policies for successful prevention or response will rely on greater clarity in understanding what constitutes an ending to mass atrocities and how this has and might come about.

To address such questions, the authors have chosen to use the framing contexts of Sudan, Guatemala, and DRC. Sudan has experienced episodic mass atrocities since 1955, four instances of which are “arguably genocidal.” According to Alex de Waal, mass atrocity has not ended in Sudan; rather, the conclusion of each occurrence is just respite. And the reason for these temporary pauses is a combination of the following factors:

  • The exhaustion of the military or militia.
  • The perpetrators achieving specific goals.
  • Resistance of the targeted group.
  • Internal divisions among the perpetrators.
  • Public opinion.
Writes de Waal:

Violent conflict and atrocity in Sudan occurs in the context of a turbulent political system, characterized by a combination of extreme disparity between center and periphery, and instability at the center. [. . .] In summary, most of the time, everything in Sudanese political life, including the lives of ordinary people, is subordinate to tactical political calculus. When that political calculus changes, which may happen for diverse reasons, the rationale for inflicting atrocity also changes. It may lessen or disappear, and may then reappear, probably in a different form.

Given the current political climate in Sudan, especially due to tensions with South Sudan, de Waal concludes that further violence is likely in the region.

In Guatemala, genocide took place during the early 1980s, under both the military government of General Lucas García (1978-82) and the subsequent dictatorship of General Ríos Montt (1982-83). Roddy Brett, of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, writes:

State institutions and institutional arrangements during this five year period were controlled and held ransom by the military; after 1980 no space existed for civil society mobilization or for organised opposition to the successive regimes and the justice system was effectively shut down, the legal system such as it was neutered, and subordinated to the violent and arbitrary procedures of military justice. Consequently, organised civil society did not present a collective front against counterinsurgent operations of the mass atrocities that accompanied them. [. . .] the Guatemalan State facilitated the stigmatization of the indigenous Maya and the subsequent perpetration of systematic massacres against them through the intentional generation and operationalization of the belief in their natural and immutable inferiority and the creation of an ethnic hierarchy based upon invented criteria of biological, cultural and moral differences.

Ultimately, though defeated militarily, with the support of the international community and the emergent victims’ movement, still active guerrilla cells took advantage of the Central American peace process and pushed for a negotiated settlement overseen, influenced, and financed by the international community, including the United Nations. Though 17 accords were signed during the peace process, Brett asserts that neither the process nor the accords responded “directly or adequately to the underlying structural causes of armed conflict, including of historically embedded horizontal inequalities.”

As such, 30 years later, “a genocide ending remains at best intangible, at worst incomplete. [. . .] indigenous peoples continue to suffer the systematic violation of their right to autonomy in a nominally functioning political democracy, dying of preventable and curable diseases and being displaced from their lands to permit internationally supported extraction projects. [. . .] The question remains then as to what analytical and normative instruments are adequate in this context and what the role of the international community should be.”

Tatiana Carayannis describes the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo as three interlocking wars, which first began in 1996:

While mass atrocities in the first war ended through a decisive military victory and the second war ended through stalemate and international pressure, why does the third Congo war persist? Over near one-and-a half decade into this war, one can point to many reasons. Here are a few:
  • Genuine grassroots mobilization against “foreigners”
  • The harsher the repression, the greater the violence
  • No denouncement of Lusaka cease-fire violations
  • Emphasis on implementing the agreement that ended the Second Congo War at the expense of efforts to end the (ongoing) Third Congo War
  • Efforts to end third war began in earnest only after a decade of anarchic violence, making a complicated job that much more complex
  • A continued legitimacy gap for Congolese leadership

Despite the expense and effort that went into organizing the first post-transition elections in the DRC in 2006, Kinshasa increasingly relies on strong-handedness because its authority rests on weak national and local institutions—a crisis of governance and legitimacy that neither the 2006 elections, nor the flawed and contested 2011 elections have solved.

Image: artknowledgenews.com

Ahmed Harun, governor of the Sudanese state of South Kordofan, has been caught on film giving orders to the Sudanese army that may be interpreted as encouraging troops to commit war crimes against rebels.

In the video, published by Al Jazeera yesterday, Harun, who has already been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in Darfur, instructs his soldiers to “take no prisoners” in a speech delivered just before his soldiers enter rebel territory.

Says Harun: “You must hand over the place clean. Swept, rubbed, crushed. Don’t bring them back alive. We have no space for them.”

According to United to End Genocide, civilians in South Kordofan are not only in immediate danger of suffering direct, undifferentiated violence simply by virtue of living there, but are also in danger of starvation due to the ongoing conflict’s interference with adequate farming and the delivery of food aid.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo called for Harun’s arrest, saying: “A commander has a responsibility to ensure that his troops are not violating the law. He cannot encourage them to commit crimes. ‘Take no prisoners’ means a crime against humanity or a war crime, because if the prisoner was a combatant it is a war crime and if the prisoner was a civilian it’s a crime against humanity.”

Advocate Eric Reeves, who has written extensively about Khartoum’s aerial military attacks on civilians throughout Sudan, recently wrote an article for the Sudan Tribune calling for pressure on Khartoum to accept the multilateral humanitarian access proposal put forth jointly by the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations.

On March 29, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging the government of Sudan to allow immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to, among other regions, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The resolution also encourages the two Sudans to cease hostilities, return to negotiations, and allow any peaceful civilians in the area to voluntarily leave and take refuge somewhere safer.

Photo: ch16.org

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