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CAR b000Silence in the Heart of Africa Amidst the Collapse of the Central African Republic

By: ANTHONY DiROSA

Central Africa is not known to be the most politically stable region in the world, but the events seen in recent years from Bangui to Nairobi have been extremely worrisome, especially for those in the mass atrocity prevention community. As militia-based violence in the DRC shows no signs of abating, the South Sudanese security apparatus is deteriorating, and ethnic tensions in Kenya remain virulent, the Central African Republic is following this trend of divisive internal conflict. In March 2013, its government was sacked by a rebel group, prompting a condemnation from the UN Security Council, fueling a growing belief that the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) might pose a “serious threat” to regional stability. Since then, the situation in CAR has deteriorated massively: over 100,000 children now face sexual abuse and recruitment into armed groups in the country, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has further entrenched themselves into unpatrolled CAR territory, and over 200,000 people have fled their homes, with many now living in the bush. Politically, the country is being run by Michel Djotodia, who seized power from President Francois Bozize when fighters from the Seleka rebel coalition marched into the capital, Bangui, in March 2013. Although Djotodia pledged to hand over power after elections, currently scheduled for 2016, the absence of legitimate leadership in Bangui is a major obstacle that is impeding external efforts to reduce the threat to civilian populations. The lack of a rank-and-file system of accountability within the militia-imposed government has led to a situation where order has been replaced by chaos and the rule of law is virtually non-existent. It’s an understatement to say the situation in CAR is spiraling out of control.

Furthermore, the political crisis in Bangui has worsened the already dire absence of an effective state-security apparatus. As a result, the country has experienced  widespread looting, sexual violence and ransacking of hospitals and pharmacies, which has compounded the humanitarian situation immensely. Currently, about a third of the country’s 4.6 million people need assistance with food, shelter, health care or water, according to UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who has recently returned from a visit to the country. The rapid deterioration of stability in the Central African Republic is occurring despite the presence of the recently deployed 3,600-strong African Union peacekeeping mission. The Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States also has 350 soldiers based in Bangui, with a limited role and capacity to act. While the Central African Republic’s instability has been an issue since its independence in 1960, the current peacekeeping forces and international humanitarian efforts haven’t been sufficient to effectively restore order to towns and villages across the CAR. Opining on possible modifications to these efforts, Ivan Šimonović, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, warned the AU force alone would not be enough given the current situation in CAR. Šimonović believes that “a much larger and nationally diversified force is needed to provide security and protect the population; such a force would also prevent foreign rebel groups, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army or Islamist extremist groups, from finding a safe haven in the country.” Whether Šimonović’s warning of the potential for CAR to be an extremist haven was an attempt to draw more attention from an otherwise indifferent international community remains to be seen.

Regardless of whether there were multiple motives behind his statement, it’s important to note that Central Africa’s long-standing troubles haven’t been afforded the attention and action-based responses they should be given the current level of insecurity and lawlessness. Just imagine the potential response to a militia-based coup in the heart of Europe or oil-rich lands in the Middle East–the headlines would be hard to ignore. Getting involved in CAR is a simply a hard sell. The country is one of the poorest in the world and is largely off the geopolitical radar of many of the world’s capitals, in spite of the staggering figures and estimates illuminating the humanitarian situation since serious fighting erupted last December. It’s important to note that human rights abuses and crimes against humanity had been occurring for years under former President François Bozizé; this latest iteration is nothing unfamiliar to CAR’s citizens. Aside from lacking international attention, funding remains a problem for UN humanitarian agencies and their partners working in the Central African Republic. Currently, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ $195 million humanitarian appeal for the Central African Republic is only 32 per cent funded, having received $62 million so far (of which 23 per cent was carry-over from last year). In addition to CAR’s low international profile, several foreign donors have withdrawn aid to the country out of fear that their money would end up in the wrong hands. Most of these losses have been concentrated in development aid, an area often seen as less pressing than humanitarian aid. Furthermore, 30 project proposals submitted this year by NGOs to improve vulnerable people’s access to safe water and proper sanitation did not receive any funding from UN member states. These funding problems have limited the capacity of local activists and institutions to act. Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African League for the Defence of Human Rights (LCDH) recently stated that, “at the moment we’ve reached a very high intensity in terms of human rights violations, [but] we have no means to support ourselves.”

While the Central African Republic’s troubles have long been on the periphery of news cycles and international intrigue, due to the events of recent months some are finally starting to notice. On August 5 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to impunity for serious human rights abuses in CAR, including the consideration of sanctions. Meanwhile, in August, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court issued her second warning that the crimes being committed may fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction while hinting at a looming prosecution. Much of the noise being generated has come from the United Nations, who has experienced firsthand the effects of the escalating conflict. According to Amy Martin, head of office for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN offices “have been looted and pillaged to a point where we have to start from zero, and [it] takes us a long time to mobilize the resources to do that.” Aid organizations are also seeing the effects of CAR’s insecurity firsthand, as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the Red Cross have largely retreated to the capital Bangui due to increasing security risks. Civil society groups and international organizations have been at the forefront of humanitarian efforts on the ground, but without further international backing it’s hard to imagine the situation turning around. CAR’s problems remain a low priority for an international community still tangling with the crisis in Syria, Islamist extremism in Mali and other more politically dynamic conflicts.  “Without a strong response from the international community there is no future”, warned the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, Margaret Vogt. As the situation grows more dire by the day, there are actionable steps that the international community can start to put in place.

The first and foremost concern is restoring security and the rule of law as well as ensuring that more humanitarian assistance is brought in to deal with the massive internal displacement and basic concerns like food, shelter and access to medicine. In the longer-term, the international community should work to create a stable government in Bangui, working alongside neighboring countries and the wider region in order to avoid a spillover effect that could further jeopardize security in the region. Besides the humanitarian crisis, regional security concerns that stem from the LRA’s active presence, as well as the potential for safe-havens for extremist militia groups, are real and legitimate. If the international  community’s response to CAR’s current crisis remains slow and ineffective, perhaps the mass atrocity/genocide prevention community should play the best card in their hand: the LRA. The threat of the LRA has proven to be an extremely powerful rallying call for action-based responses in the region. Even those outside the field would remember the cloud of hype and cynicism surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign. While Invisible Children were successful through emotive storytelling and viral social media campaigning, the issues that lay at the heart of their campaign sold well. The looming threat of the LRA led to policy responses in both the US and EU, millions of dollars in pledges from governments, and military and humanitarian support to those on the ground in Uganda and the DRC, among others. What occurred was simply the illumination of a storyline that had been underreported on, unattended to and underfunded for far too long. What didn’t occur, to the extent that it produced effective policy-specific results, was a clear and deliberate effort to link the region’s atmosphere of insecurity with the harrowing humanitarian situation that preceded it.

With the LRA currently terrorizing local towns and villages in CAR according to Human Rights Watch and the LRA Crisis Tracker, there is a new sense of urgency to shed light on this in order to attract more international attention. On the ground, armed forces have adopted few measures to protect civilians who live in the areas where the LRA operate. In fact, only around 100 CAR soldiers are deployed to the vast eastern region where Kony is believed to be roaming in. US military advisors sent to CAR for counter-LRA operations have had their work there suspended recently and the impact has been devastating on civilians who rely on external security assistance. Given the level of desperation in CAR, coupled with the lack of international attention, the international community should be leveraging the LRA issue in order to attract more substantial interest from major international players. Collective messaging should not only be continuously channeled towards Western powers, but also regional/sub-regional actors and organizations who have a major stake in forging a stable Central African Republic. Given the relative silence in the last several decades concerning CAR’s instability, if the mass atrocity prevention community can package the importance of a rapidly worsening humanitarian/political situation (and its effects on civilian populations) with the more magnetic LRA issue (and the security concerns of Central Africa as a whole), it might represent the best strategy to get necessary assistance to those on the ground who need it now.

Photo: UN.org

Bridging the Gap Between Words and Action: The Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention

By: Chris Kousouros, Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention Program Coordinator

RedIf working on the political side of genocide prevention has taught me anything, it’s that there is an immense amount of awe-inspiring ideas conceived and bravely put forth every day. Often the only thing more impressive than an idea itself is the distance that exists between its initial utterance and its realization, even in its most basic form. This distance has claimed the lives of so many wonderful ideas.

So how does one successfully begin a regional network of governments focused expressly on the implementation of public policies and mandatory training for public officials on genocide and mass atrocity prevention? It started with a good idea—backed up by commitment and action.

We had just completed our intensive six-day Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention in Auschwitz, but officials from Argentina, Chile, Panama, and Brazil wanted to take prevention one step further.

The Lemkin Seminar consists of six days of training in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where all participants—typically mid-to-high-level government employees from all over the world—have the opportunity to listen to and interact with some of the leading voices in genocide and mass atrocity prevention. The seminar addresses prevention from all angles: from the history of the term genocide, to specific case studies, to a theoretical analysis of R2P, to a psychological analysis of perpetrators. You name it, they learn about it. Our aim at the Auschwitz Institute is to create a community of mid-level government workers around the world who have the know-how to react appropriately to warning signs in their own countries or abroad, and to take the necessary steps towards prevention.

Not bad, right? Well apparently the participants from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Panama wanted more. Their vision was to create a regional network of governments focused expressly on the implementation of public policies and mandatory training for public officials on genocide and mass atrocity prevention. The idea was that if a network was created with the goal of pooling resources, expertise, and political will to create a regional network of genocide prevention sensitive states, and not just individuals, the output could become greater than the sum of its parts.

But how to bridge the gap between such a lofty idea and reality?

First, officials from the four countries mapped out what the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocities (the Network) would look like. They took the idea of our weeklong training seminar and figured out how to amplify its reach by developing a Latin American version of our training curriculum that would not just be offered to a handful of government officials a year, but would be implemented as mandatory training in each participating Ministry. The Network would utilize our training seminars bi-annually to develop a Latin American version of this curriculum. At the same time, the people who would attend these training seminars over the next three years (set to finish at the end of 2015) will then, in turn, pave the way for instructors who administer the curriculum in their home countries. This takes the old proverb of teaching a man to fish to the next level. Our global seminar reaches 20-25 people twice a year, but they found a way to spread this education to an entire region, making it self-sustaining at the same time. Kudos to you, Latin America.

But once again, this is only a great idea, now what? A Network like this would require a regional commitment the likes of which has never been seen, ever. But how does such a commitment take shape? Surely all 18 of the Latin American member states wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to dedicate funding and personnel to prioritize genocide prevention in their national and regional agendas. No, surely not.

To gather the proper momentum and support, we needed the right time, place, partners, and audience for the announcement of the Network. Here’s how it went down:

Time: late March 2012. In the political context of the Arab Spring, most notably the ongoing debate on the implications for R2P (a major tool of prevention) after the Libya intervention, and only weeks after the formal indictment of Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, signaling what could be a major step in norms of transitional justice (also a major tool of prevention).

Place: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina, a founding member and a driving force in the creation of the Network, is also a global and regional leader in the implementation of processes of transitional justice following the Dirty War, not to mention one of the more influential countries in Latin America both economically and politically.

Announcers: The launching of the Network was announced by representatives of the Argentinean Foreign Ministry, as well as the Secretariats of Human Rights in Brazil, with the Auschwitz Institute and the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary General for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect serving as advisors and acting supporters. The idea was that if representatives from two of Latin America’s most politically influential powerhouses, backed by a reputable international NGO and the United Nations say that the Network is being created, representatives from the other countries would, at the very least, listen.

Audience: Latin Americans. More specifically, representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice, and Offices of the Ombudsmen from 18 Latin American countries. Why? Latin America is seen internationally as a leader in post conflict reconstruction and transitional justice, and is comprised of democratic states bearing the scars of past atrocities, in many cases assisted by the US during the Cold War. The founding members of the Network believed that the political will exists in this region to take the lead on genocide and mass atrocity prevention, and the initiative would be seen as internationally legitimate (not driven and/or controlled by the North), because some of the most ardent opponents of neo-colonialism are active members of the Network.

And they were right.

Today, after only 17 months since its inception, the Network has seen the successful completion of its first training seminar in Auschwitz, which was kicked off by words of wisdom from Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide. “The achievements of the Latin American Network, after barely 15 months of existence, are already resonating worldwide,” said Dieng.

The Network currently has 11 national initiatives fully functioning, ranging from regional high-level briefings on the Network and genocide prevention, to mini-training seminars for entire governments, peace-keeping troops, national police, and diplomatic academies on genocide and mass atrocity prevention, as well as managing relations between governments and their indigenous populations. Two national mechanisms for genocide prevention have been created within the governments of Argentina and Paraguay, which act as a structural base upon which the goals of the Network are managed by the entire government and civil society, and not just an individual focal point.

What’s more, the Network has since become an example to follow throughout the world, as shown by the recently created African Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, modeled after its Latin American counterpart. The Latin American Network is referenced constantly by high level UN and government officials as an example of regional cooperation in mass atrocity prevention, and was recently included in the UN Secretary General Report, The Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention.

And this just the beginning—there is much work to be done. But through the Network, Latin America has provided a clear example of how, with the right amount of political will and determination, one can indeed bridge that seemingly insurmountable distance that exists in international politics between lofty words and effective action.

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