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Last Thursday, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) put out their annual Peoples Under Threat report, an “authoritative rankings table which highlights those countries around the world where the risk of mass killing is greatest.” The fact that this table cites not only the countries at risk, but the specific ethnic groups and minorities within those countries, makes it a valuable resource for genocide/mass atrocity preventers. This is the seventh year the list has been compiled. It is notable that, “Almost all the significant episodes of civilian killing that occurred over the last year took place in countries which were near the top of, or major risers in, 2011’s Peoples Under Threat table.”
Though the Arab Spring started out hopeful in late December 2010, a year and a half later, the outlook and the reality are grim. As such, countries in the Middle East and North Africa feature prominently in the major risers–particularly Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt; while none of these countries made it into the top 10, they’ve all risen significantly in rank over the past two years or are new to the list. Says MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer, “The huge changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, while increasing hopes for democratisation, represent for both religious and ethnic minorities perhaps the most dangerous episode since the violent break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.”
Also of great consequence is the fact that South Sudan is the highest riser, ranking 8th on the list of Peoples Most Under Threat. The peoples at risk within the country are the Murle, Nuer, Dinka, Anuak, Jie, and Kachipo. (We previously wrote on this blog about clashes between the Lou Nuer and the Murle back in January.) Not yet 11 months old, South Sudan has already experienced two major armed conflicts and ranks high in indicators of group division: “massive movement – refugees and IDPs,” “legacy of vengeance – group grievance,” and “rise of factionalized elites.”
Click here to listen to an interview with MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer.
Last week, as part of the eleventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) organized a roundtable discussion on “Truth Commissions and Indigenous Peoples: Lessons Learned, Future Challenges.” The event also marked the launch of a resource book titled Strengthening Indigenous Rights Through Truth Commissions. Per the ICTJ, “The book summarizes the findings of an international conference on truth commissions and indigenous rights hosted by ICTJ in 2011. It makes concrete proposals to consider when setting up a truth commission focused on abuses committed against indigenous peoples.”
Moderating the discussion was Eduardo Gonzalez, director of the Truth and Memory Program at the ICTJ. Sparked by recent media coverage of the Canadian Indian residential school system, the ICTJ set out to determine whether truth commissions are useful for advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in Guatemala, Peru, and Paraguay. Today, there are truth commissions in Cote d’Ivoire, Nepal, and Brazil, as well as local efforts at truth-seeking taking place in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States.
The first speaker was Alcibiades Escué, coordinator of strategic planning at the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca. Mr. Escué said that from the 1980s through the present, the treatment of indigenous peoples is getting worse. He spoke of the extraction policies of the national government in indigenous territories occupied by guerrillas because of the mines located there. Territories have been consolidated and battalions camp out high in the mountains. There is an indigenous guard force consisting of young men and women who are oriented and accompanied by older people. Mr. Escué went on to speak about harmonic justice, the purpose of which is to promote self-determination for persons and communities so that they can best acquire life essentials. Within his community, this also includes searching for and registering victims. He concluded with talk of a house of thought, which not only provides training and education, but also aids in the reconstruction of historical memory. Another organizational process is the symbolic review of elders and spiritual authorities.
Next to speak was Ana Manuela Ochoa Arias, a lawyer for the National Authority of Indigenous Governments in Colombia. The indigenous peoples of Colombia live in the mountains of Santa Marta and comprise 30 percent of the Colombian population, which is about 1.3 million people. Sixty-five indigenous languages are spoken in the region, though Ms. Arias mentioned demographic fragility. Her speech focused on Law 1448, the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which was signed in June 2011 and pertains to historical reparations for the victims of the internal armed conflict that spanned 50 years. However, the law only applies to acts committed since January 1, 1985. So what is sought is transformational, rather than transitional, justice. Indigenous peoples have suffered cultural and economic damage, with specific damage caused to women and children. Ms. Arias maintains that the state has a legal obligation to such persons, each of whom individually had to make their own proposal.
The third speaker was Esther Attear, Passamaquoddy tribal member and lead staff person for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. According to Ms. Attear, her people have witnessed a 95 percent decrease in population due to genocide, war, disease, and forced relocation. She discussed residential schools, where Indian children were sent after being taken away from their parents; the goal of such schools was to “kill the Indian, save the child.” It has now come to light that rampant abuse occurred in these schools, and approximately 1,000 children died as a result. The ultimate aim was the destruction of culture, including native dress and language. In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in response to “the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to ‘protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families’ (25 U.S.C. § 1902).” In Maine Wabanaki, state case workers received special training to deal with these cases, especially since in this culture, a child has three parents—mother, father, and tribe. Even so, there remained an invisible wall of the truth of genocide and genocidal policies. Decolonization also required truth and reconciliation; “white” people had to deal with their guilt and unpack a heritage of racism and genocide, while native people had to work through internalized oppression, lateral fighting, and a legacy of victimhood. In order to challenge the dominant narrative of white vs. native, both sides need to reach a common understanding, come up with recommendations for best practice, and share their stories in order to heal.
The last panelist was Alvaro Pop, Guatemalan independent expert and member of the UNPFII. He spoke about how in December 2011 in Colombia, indigenous people were victorious in having the Marmato municipal council “close the door to the efforts of Canadian companies to resettle the population and to destroy a town with 475 years of history in order to extract gold from the Marmato mountain using open pit mining in only 20 years.” He viewed this as an end of 400 years of darkness for the Mayas. He went on to say that indigenous peoples are survivors, having endured slavery, exploitation, and other such horrors. Now, the indigenous people want to rescue history, a mechanism to enrich identity, as the public school curriculum begins with colonization. A truth and reconciliation commission recognizes facts and awakens consciousness but was limited in Guatemala and didn’t have the future that was hoped for. It is now time to move beyond mourning and such a commission must contribute to the end of impunity by having specific mandates and including indigenous dialects and languages.
Mr. Gonzalez concluded the panel by talking about short- and long-term violations of rights—individual, collective, and earth. Reconciliation should not just be on an international level, but must be a nation-to-nation effort. He then opened up the floor for a brief Q&A session. The first person to speak was a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who sat on the Guatemalan Commission from 1997 to 1999. She said they were dealing with 600 massacres and that there were actually two commissions, one from the Catholic Church and one from the UN. She believes that truth commissions are just the beginning and that there is a need for different sponsors.
Closing out the program was an audience member who is part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which is court-mandated and focuses on children who were forced to go to residential schools, as discussed above. This school system was in place for more than 150 years, and children spent anywhere from 10 to 21 years at these schools. There are 80,000 survivors, and the last residential school closed in 1996. Though the experience is sadly widespread, one survivor’s testimony states, “We have been raped in every way—emotionally, physically, spiritually, culturally.” The commission plans to establish a national research center and hold an expert group meeting before the end of 2013.
The Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict recently published a policy brief titled “Operationalizing the Responsibility to Prevent.” What sets this paper apart from others of its ilk is the fact that it directly addresses the prevention aspects of R2P. Most importantly, the authors use what they refer to as a “crimes” approach to prevention. Within this framework exist three distinct dimensions involved in the commission of an atrocity crime: a perpetrator, a victim, and a permissive environment or situation. However, it is cautioned that one not be too rigid when labeling perpetrators and victims, as these identities can become fluid within a conflict situation.
The authors of the brief assert that, “Of the four R2P crimes . . . the legal category of crimes against humanity represents the best characterization of what the principle of R2P was designed to halt or address. [. . .] Research shows that crimes against humanity do not occur randomly, but often reflect a complex interaction of different actors over a long period of time.” The three stages during which conditions escalate to the level of mass atrocity crimes are 1) risk factors, 2) crisis & mobilization, and 3) imminent emergency. Systemic strategies, which are applied to the first stage, “seek to mitigate risk factors and build resilience in a broader group of states, which exhibit some of the so-called root causes of mass atrocity crimes.” In contrast, targeted strategies, which are necessitated by the second and third stages, “are designed to change either the incentives or situation of those contemplating or planning mass atrocity crimes, as well as the vulnerability of potential victims; they seek to shift the consequences of a potential course of action in a particular context.” (See page 9 for a table of targeted prevention tools.)
Lastly, when discussing mass atrocity prevention and the prevention of armed conflict, the paper makes two points: First, R2P crimes often occur in the context of violent conflict and second, “root causes” of genocide are similar to root causes of conflict. Yet it cannot be assumed that endeavoring to prevent, or even bring about an end to, conflict will necessarily reduce the potentiality of mass atrocity crimes. This is because
- While a large majority of mass killings since 1945 occurred within the context of armed conflict, at least a third of the cases did not.
- Some instances of mass atrocities occur under the “cover” of armed conflict, but are not directly linked to either the causes of that conflict or the conduct of the war itself.
- While strategies to prevent or resolve conflict tend to be aimed at eliminating or avoiding violence and the use of force, the prevention of mass atrocities—particularly at a late or imminent stage—may require military means.
- Armed conflict is regulated but not forbidden by international law, whereas mass atrocities are outlawed as crimes.
As such, it remains necessary to justify the need to act preventively and build generic capacity for prevention.
In fall 2011, the Auschwitz Institute launched the pilot run of a Genocide Prevention Monitoring Internship, operated in partnership with the Office of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG). The purpose was to offer interns
practical experience in assessing the risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes within a single country, while providing the OSAPG with information the Special Adviser can use in his mission to “act as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.”
Interns received training on how to assess risk using the OSAPG’s Analysis Framework and submitted reports to the Auschwitz Institute on a monthly basis from (roughly) October 2011 through March 2012. Four countries were selected for monitoring: Bahrain, Indonesia, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. Initially, the plan was to have one intern for each country, but owing to the degree of interest and qualifications on the part of our applicants, for some countries we assigned two monitors.
Now, having concluded the internship’s pilot run, we are evaluating the usefulness of the project, to the interns, to our own work, and to the OSAPG. To that end, we asked each of the interns to write a blog post about their experience, answering two questions: 1) What did you learn about genocide prevention? 2) What did you learn about the risk(s) of genocide in the country you were monitoring?
This week we present the post by Jeremy Garsha, a graduate student in history at San Francisco State University. Jeremy monitored Zimbabwe—not for genocide, but for the broader category of crimes against humanity.
As a monitoring intern for the Auschwitz Institute, the most important lesson I learned was that genocide is not an event, but a process. Being a graduate student of comparative genocide, this is a notion I have been taught, but one I quickly forget. By training I am a historian. I investigate past genocides, where all of the pieces have already played out. It is easy to forget that each moment of human rights violations, left unchecked, has the potential to spiral into the systematic killing of individuals based on their identity. When examining historical episodes of genocide from a present point of view, each event often seems inevitable and intentional. Yet, as scholars and citizens of an international community, we must always remember that genocide can and must be prevented at the very inception of exclusionary ideology and basic human rights violations. If genocide is a process, then it can be prevented at many moments, so long as we have the vigilance and courage to act.
I was privileged enough to work with the Auschwitz Institute, an organization dedicated to preventing conflicts before they escalate into atrocities and genocide. Under their guidance, I had the opportunity to monitor Zimbabwe, a country more at risk for crimes against humanity than genocide. By broadening our search to include not only the legal definition of “genocide” as defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), but also all of the illegal acts listed in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), my research partner, Yasmin Andrews, and I were able to investigate and monitor a myriad of sources and antecedents that had the potential to become systematic criminal acts. Zimbabwe provided me with a real-world example of why it is important not to become blinded when looking specifically for genocide threats, as many human rights violations do not fit within the parameters of the “national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups” found within the Genocide Convention. When using a broader definition of “crimes against humanity,” however, it became clear that prevention monitoring of Zimbabwe is of prime importance.
Zimbabwe has a history of genocide: 20,000 Matabele citizens were mass murdered by the exclusively Shona Fifth Brigade in 1983–84, in what was called the Gukurahundi (a Shona term meaning “the early rain that washes away the husk before the spring rains”). Zimbabwe also has a recent history of political violence following the disputed election results of 2008, which set up a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The past episodes of violence, as well Zimbabwe’s decimated economy, has also caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring southern African nations. Lacking effective judicial oversight, Zimbabwean government and state security forces operate in a system of impunity. There exists the threat of renewed violence following next year’s scheduled elections, as well as the failing health of 88-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power for over 30 years. The above factors, to name but a few, underscore the necessity of proper and effective monitoring efforts.
A genocide prevention monitor working out of his home in San Francisco is not a replacement for United Nations–backed monitors on the ground. It is, however, a useful and safe alternative when it is not possible to place UN-trained observers in every country that is at risk of genocide. In a globalized world, independent news sources provide an amazing amount of information, and it is remarkable how much can be gleaned by having an individual tasked with gathering and filtering these streams of media. As monitoring interns, our task was to collect, not analyze data. Reading reports on Zimbabwe from across the globe left me with one final realization during my six-month internship, our shared connection of humanity.
I have always had an academic interest in Zimbabwe and southern African history, but working as a genocide prevention monitor reminded me that there is no shortage of information in the digital age. Anyone with an Internet connection can instantaneously plug into world events. With this connection comes the responsibility to take action when human rights anywhere are threatened. In Zimbabwe there is the concept of unhu, a variation of the Zulu term ubuntu, popular in southern Africa, which refers to the notion that one’s humanity is created and nurtured because of its shared connection to others. Crimes against humanity are just that, crimes that violate our shared understanding and connection to humanity. Genocide in one particular region affects us all, and we are all tasked with the responsibility to prevent future human rights violations from escalating into mass atrocities.
In recognition of Genocide Prevention Month, the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the UN and United to End Genocide co-hosted a panel discussion on Monday with Magid Kabash of Sudan, Kambale Musavuli of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Stephen Lamony of Uganda.
The panel, held at the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan, discussed the role of the International Criminal Court, arrest warrants, and the importance of justice for victims of atrocity crimes. Discussants drove home the point that ending the culture of impunity by holding perpetrators accountable sets an important example for would-be leaders and backers of mass atrocities.
Tiina Intelmann, Ambassador of Estonia and President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, said in her opening remarks that the global community must cooperate to end the culture of impunity. She hailed both the KONY 2012 campaign and the ICC’s recent conviction of former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo as positive steps toward the ultimate goal of preventing mass atrocities.
Staci Alziebler-Perkins, NYC Genocide Prevention Coalition Convener and 2011 Carl Wilkens Fellow, shared the story of how she became an activist and said the ICC had many cases it should give more focus to, but the number of cases has been on the rise while funding has been decreasing.
Speaking in place of Hawa Abdallah Salih, who was ill and could not attend, Magid Kabash, a refugee and activist from Sudan with the Nuba Mountains International Association, gave the audience a firsthand account of the atrocities occuring in that region and implored the international community to act to protect the Nuba people from the Sudanese government.
The focus of the discussion, however, fell heavily on the atrocities, past and present, in the Congo. Kambale Musavuli of the Democratic Republic of Congo, human rights activist and national spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo, said he hoped “the ICC and international bodies support the UN Mapping Report [documenting “the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003”] and the ICJ ruling as it is an attempt to end the culture of impunity, to provide justice for the victims and create a framework for accountability for mass crimes committed and still being committed in the Congo.”
Stephen Lamony of Uganda, a human rights and victim’s rights advocate, as well as Situations Adviser & Outreach Liaison for Africa at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, discussed the importance of arrest warrants.
Finally, in a pre-recorded video address, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor for the ICC, updated the audience on the court’s activity and urged them to give maximum exposure to ICC cases.