You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2013.
On January 25, 2013, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in conjunction with the Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege project, hosted a symposium, “Global Sexualized Violence: From Epidemiology to Action.” The focus of this post is on a panel discussing law, policy, and action on global sexualized violence.
Cristina Finch, policy and advocacy director for women’s human rights for Amnesty International USA, opened the panel, citing a UN statistic that 1 in 3 women will suffer some form of violence in their lifetime. Finch believes this to be a conservative estimate. She discussed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how it can be used to protect women against rape as a weapon of war, honor killings, and domestic abuse. She also pointed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as further providing a road map for eradicating such abuses, though the United States is one of seven countries that has yet to ratify it. Finch also highlighted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which ultimately established the Interagency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security. She closed her allotted time by talking about the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which the U.S. Senate will vote on next week.
The next speaker was epidemiologist Les Roberts, who spoke about how public health feeds into the intersection of law and policy when it comes to sexual violence. Aside from the fact that there is often a lack of information sharing, public health also approaches the subject differently. One way it does so is to provide confidentiality to victims and, in a related manner, handles these matters with sensitivity, whereas a legal approach is necessarily concerned with specificity. Further, in regards to GBV, public health programming is at odds with rights-based frameworking, as Finch spoke about.
Next on the agenda was the Global Justice Center‘s Akila Radhakrishnan, an attorney working on the Geneva Initiative, “which aims to ensure justice, accountability and equal rights to people in conflict and in post-conflict situations, and establish global legal precedents protecting human rights and ensuring gender equality.” A gender lens is not typically applied to international law or the laws of war, but progress was made with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in that rape and gender-based violence were officially recognized as being a systematic part of conflict–rape can be considered torture, a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a way to perpetrate genocide. This is codified in the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.
The last person to speak before the Q&A session was Meghan Donahue, gender and education coordinator of the Peace Corps. Her professional goal is to “help people develop the capacity to use their own resources and skills to resolve their needs and improve their own lives.” When her volunteers are dispatched, they teach local children about the social constructs of gender. They believe in a people-centered approach, focusing on sustainable development, community mapping, and student-friendly schools. The Peace Corps volunteers also seek to facilitate enabling environments, and help break down gender attitudes and cycles of poverty.
Lastly, moderator Lauren Wolfe asked the panelists a handful of questions before opening up the floor to the audience. When asked about how to put an end to global sexualized violence, the participants stated that we must get rid of misogyny, be honest about risk factors and data, and enforce existing laws. There also needs to be a combination of top-down laws and bottom-up community action/advocacy. Donahue pointed out that this recipe is what led to the disavowal of female genital mutilation in Senegal. Finally, when it comes to sexual violence, focus needs to shift from the victim to the perpetrator.
Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013
By ALEX ZUCKER
On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.
More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.
Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.
The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.
Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.
Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.
Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.
Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.
The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.
So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.
Photo: Alex Zucker
This post marks the Auschwitz Institute’s inaugural podcast. Jared Knoll, based in Saskatoon, Canada, speaks to Samuel Totten, a pioneer of genocide studies in the United States, a co-founding editor of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and, in 2004, an investigator with the U.S. State Department’s Atrocities Documentation Project, interviewing refugees along the Chad–Sudan border to ascertain whether genocide had been perpetrated in Darfur.
Good day, I’m Jared Knoll, with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Joining me is Dr. Samuel Totten, genocide scholar and professor at the University of Arkansas. Last year he and 54 other experts in genocide prevention petitioned the United States government to take action in Sudan’s Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where they beheld a humanitarian catastrophe. Last week Dr. Totten returned home from an on-the-ground fact-finding excursion to this affected area.
Thank you, Sam, for taking the time to share with us today.
Thank you for the opportunity to do so. I greatly appreciate it.
I’d like to just jump right in and ask you: What are the biggest threats facing the people there on the ground right now?
There are basically three. One: Antonov bombers are being flown overhead every single day by the government of Sudan. Those bombers frequently end up bombing areas where people congregate, such as souks (the open-air markets), schools, and other areas such as that. And a lot of people are being severely injured and killed as a result of those bombings. Secondly, there is constant fighting in the area. Right now it’s concentrated around Kadugli, the capital of the state of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located.
So people are at risk of being killed by the ongoing fighting between the rebels and the government of Sudan as well. Third, there is the problem with food in the area. That is, there’s a lack of food. People have been unable to work their farms out of sheer fear of being killed by the bombs from the Antonovs. Also, the rainy season was shorter than usual this year, so the people did not end up producing as many crops as they usually do and so their food stores are down dramatically. So those are the three main concerns and problems facing the Nuba Mountains people today.
Is there any of those that you feel is the most urgent factor for the international community to address, or is a multifaceted approach what is needed here?
Actually all three issues are major, but I think that, one, if the international community could halt the Antonovs, that would be a real boon for the people of the Nuba Mountains. Also, right now, experts are projecting that this coming rainy season, which starts in late April/early May, could be disastrous if the international community does not get food up to the Nuba Mountains right now, while they can still traverse the roads. Once the rainy season sets in, it’s virtually impossible for any type of vehicle to get up there, and the government of Sudan has established a no-flight zone in South Kordofan, so no planes, either now or in the rainy season, will be able to fly in. So this is the time to get stores of food up there, so that the people do have food. There are individuals who are claiming that if such food is not transported up in large quantities, and I’m talking thousands of tons, there could be widespread starvation this time around.
Do you still believe that the Sudanese regime is attempting to take out those that the government suspects of supporting the liberation movement?
Oh, there’s no doubt about it, yes, they’re definitely focused on that. Now where I differ from a lot of people is this: There are a lot of individuals—scholars, activists, and others—who are calling this a case of genocide. After being on the ground and talking with people, going from village to village, speaking with rebel groups, rebel commanders, it’s not a case of genocide at this point in time. It’s a civil war between the rebel groups and the government of Sudan.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the government of Sudan is perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Nuba Mountains people, particularly in its indiscriminate bombings of them. But at the same time it’s a situation that could quickly morph into at least genocide by attrition if the food is not gotten up there. Because there’s no doubt in my mind, as well, that the government of Sudan’s bombings are preventing the people from producing the food that they need, and at the same time preventing humanitarian groups from entering the Nuba Mountains to provide aid to the people in need.
Do you still support the recommendations that you and others gave to the US government last summer? Has your last trip made you reconsider anything, or made you want to change or advocate different policies?
No, actually I pretty much stand on what we wrote last summer and what we sent to the U.S. State Department, to Princeton Lyman, who at the time was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, and to the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board. Everything that we addressed still stands as far as I’m concerned. I guess the only thing that I would emphasize is that there is a greater urgency to get tons of food up there, otherwise the situation, as I said, could prove disastrous.
Do you have anymore that you’d like to add, to say to the people listening, what they should do?
Yes, I do, thank you. Frequently we read about situations where bombings are taking place, but I must say that, once on the ground, one’s awareness of what that means changes radically. So number one I would say that anybody interested in the fate of the Nuba Mountains people really need to voice their concern and interest about the fate of the people as these bombings continue daily, because it is a form of terrorism, there’s no doubt about it. I saw people who absolutely refused to leave the caves of the Nuba Mountains because they feared that they were going to be killed. I heard regularly stories about children and adults who had been hit by the shrapnel and had legs sheared off, arms sheared off, even heads sheared off, and those who were not killed, many ended up bleeding to death. So it’s a horrific situation that’s happening there every single day that these people are living with.
Second, I would say it truly baffles me why during the early part of the crisis in Darfur—and I’m talking 2004, ’05, ’06—both students in this country, university students in particular, as well as activist groups forming coalitions, were so active, so vocal about what was happening in Darfur and are so silent today about what’s happening in the Nuba Mountains. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I really do not want to believe that people gave of their time, showed avid interest in the fate of the people in the Sudan for a number of years, and then decided Well, we’ll move onto something else.
People need to realize that the crisis in Darfur continues, but this new crisis in the Nuba Mountains is something altogether different when it comes to the issue of food. People really need to step up and they need to reflect on why they were active, say, a few years ago and not today, and I would hope that a new generation of students, who maybe were in high school during the Darfur years, would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors at their particular universities and become active today and speak up on the behalf of these beleaguered people who are leading very, very difficult existences in the Nuba Mountains.
Well, Sam, I hope that your experience and the experiences of other scholars doing the same sort of work, and the sharing of that, can help all people to raise their own awareness and have some sort of positive impact on the situation.
In November 2012, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs released a publication, Civil Society and Disarmament 2012 – Applying a Disarmament Lens to Gender, Human Rights, Development, Security, Education and Communication: Six Essays. Given the Auschwitz Institute’s mission, this post focuses on the essay, “Minimizing the impact of illicit small arms and diverted weapons transfers in the commission of atrocity crimes, human rights violations and other violence” by Hector Guerra of International Action Network on Small Arms and Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict.
This piece centers on illicit small arms and the ways in which they contribute to mass atrocity crimes and community violence throughout the world. One statistic states that “of the 740,000 people who die each year as a result of armed violence, 500,000 are fatalities related to situations of violence other than armed conflicts, fatalities largely related to the use of small arms and light weapons.” The United Nations has endeavored to solve the problem of illicit weapons via various programs and protocols; this past summer, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was negotiated. However, agreement on a final text was elusive and a new meeting will take place in March 2013.
According to the authors, “the irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and the proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets, deliver aid to unstable areas, prevent abuses of human rights and the commission of mass atrocities, and create environments conducive to full political and policy participation by women and cultural minorities.” Many ‘illicit’ weapons originate in the legal sector before moving through unregulated transfers into the wrong hands. The uses of such weapons have far-reaching dangerous impacts, including:
- Illicit arms perpetuate conflicts that could otherwise be resolved.
- Illicit arms undermine development and inhibit the flow of assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, and others in dire need.
- Illicit arms in the hands of both State and non-State actors have been used to violate civilian populations’ human rights and impede efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.
- Illicit arms and ammunition hinder the ability of governments to carry out some of their most important functions, including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.
- Illicit arms “undermine the integrity of the security sector, creating or exacerbating levels of unacceptable risk for women and others seeking their proper place in society.”
- Illicit arms “contribute to cycles of violence and criminality that reinforce structures of poverty as women and men continue to expend large amounts of energy on security needs that could more beneficially be spent on pursuing educational and economic opportunity.”
All of the above is in addition to the immeasurable physical and psychological damage suffered by civilians as a result of illicit weapons access by criminals, insurgents, or other non-State actors. One of the most serious aspects of the proliferation of illicit weapons is “related to the role those weapons play in the commission of mass violence, including the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 and the massacre at Utoya, Norway in 2011.”
The UN has had the prevention of mass violence, both at the community level and within broader international legal frameworks, at the forefront of its agenda since its inception. Urgency in this area escalated in 2005 with the advent of the Responsibility to Protect norm. This is because the illicit trade in conventional weapons and ammunition severely complicates efforts to build State capacity and otherwise help governments fulfill their primary responsibility to protect their civilian populations. Moreover, their are staggering costs to fragile States from mass atrocity and other conflicts fueled in part by illicit weapons. For example, Africa loses ~$18 billion per year due to wars, civil wars, and insurgencies. Conservatively, armed conflict shrinks an African nation’s economy by 15%.
In order to combat the multitude of problems outlined above, governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders must work together. Concrete steps include:
- Exploring local and regional linkages between the presence of illicit arms and the threat of mass violence/human rights abuses.
- Calling attention to and addressing the linkages between legal arms sales diverted to non-State actors and criminal elements, and “the commission of human rights abuses, the suppression of access to jobs and services, and the chilling impacts of a compromised security sector on women’s participation in political and social life.”
- “Assist States, especially fragile States, to guarantee the security of existing weapons stockpiles (or remove them altogether), and help ensure marking, tracing and record keeping of arms that is cost-effective and sufficiently interactive with the highest international standards in this area.”
- Restricting the illicit flow/diversion of ammunition for small arms.
- Assisting States in promoting citizen disarmament.
- Assisting States in implementing important responsibilities resulting from the illicit arms trade, e.g., provide victims’ assistance and flag potentially diverted transfers.
Other resources include the UN’s recently revised Disarmament: A Basic Guide, and voices from impacted communities.
Why the Whole World Should Be Watching Argentina
By ALEX ZUCKER
On Dec. 19, 2012, a federal court in Argentina sentenced 16 men to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1976–83 military dictatorship.
These crimes—kidnapping, torture, murder, and sexual violence—were planned and carried out, by military and civilian officials alike, against activists who opposed the right-wing regime. The number of victims is estimated at 30,000 children, women, and men.
And the judges declared it a genocide. This is why the world should be watching.
On Dec. 9, 1948, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly—even before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sharp-eyed observers will notice, however, that the Genocide Convention offers protection only to national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Political, gender, and sexual identity groups, among others, do not qualify.
This makes it difficult to punish the crime, as the Argentinian scholar Daniel Feierstein explains, “given that nearly all modern genocides are, to some degree, politically motivated.”
In order to resolve this dilemma, Feierstein and his Argentinian colleagues argue that the concept of “partial destruction of a national group” may be interpreted to apply to groups not currently protected under the Genocide Convention.
In Argentina, for example, when the state kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and raped people who opposed the military regime, it was in fact destroying part of a national group: Argentinians—in this case defined by their political stance.
Based on this argument, the judges in Federal Oral Criminal Court No. 1 of La Plata declared that although the men they sentenced on Wednesday were guilty of crimes against humanity, their actions had been aimed at the extermination of a national group and therefore amounted to genocide.
While on the whole the world may be getting less violent, as Steven Pinker claims, it still depends who you are. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples; gays and lesbians; women—all remain at risk of being targeted by governments for violence, even outright physical destruction, because of their identity, because of who they are.
Last month’s verdict in La Plata offers a breakthrough approach to punishing those who seek to destroy human identity. Punishment is not enough, of course. The Genocide Convention is also about prevention. But Argentina has taken a step in a new direction. Down the road, it may save lives.