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The situation of the Rohingya people in Burma remains dire. Even as President Thein Sein has launched political and economic reforms to move the country away from its authoritarian past, and even as Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s champion of human rights, has been freed from house arrest and is now in the middle of an historic, emotional, and heavily publicized visit to the United States, there is still a threat of genocide for the Rohingya.
With this in mind, Christine Lim traveled to the campus of Columbia University on Sept. 14 for a discussion titled “Burma in Transition: Minorities, Human Rights, and Democratic Process.” Speakers for the event were Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize laureate in Economics; Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union; T. Kumar, director of international advocacy for Amnesty International USA; and Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch.
Opening the event was Wakar Uddin of the Arakan Rohingya Union and the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America. His graphic, eye-opening slideshow relayed the horrific facts of everyday life for the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who live in Burma as a stateless minority with virtually no rights, having been stripped of their citizenship in 1982.
Even those who have lived in the country for generations are denied citizenship and birth certificates, Uddin said. They need permission from the state to reproduce at more than the replacement rate, marry, or travel outside their villages. Illiteracy is incredibly high among Rohingya, and fewer than 1 percent of them graduate from high school. Uddin described land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, and forced labor as rampant, and incidents of armed child soldiers waiting outside mosques to ambush attendees. He also said that the police routinely engaged in a practice officially known as “population reduction monitoring,” illustrating the sinister-sounding policy with a photograph of an old man shot to death.
Uddin declared that the Burmese government’s “massive ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, carried out with the help of the military, amounted to genocide and that full citizenship for the Rohingya was the only viable long-term solution. To this end, Uddin called on the audience to pressure the international community not only to supply aid but also to press Rangoon to repeal the 1982 citizenship law. He also urged the current Burmese government to grant the right to return to the estimated 1.5 million Rohingya who have fled to neighboring countries.
Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch said she recently visited Burma and did see some unexpectedly good changes in limited areas such as Rangoon, but that in Arakan the situation had only gotten worse. She expressed hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would take a more definite stand on the Rohingya issue during her tour of the United States.
Although Suu Kyi has shown concern over other Burmese social issues, such as the continued recruitment of child soldiers and prostitutes, she has remained silent regarding the treatment of the Rohingya minority in Burma. When asked during her June visit to Oslo, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991, whether she thought Rohingyas should be considered citizens, Suu Kyi replied, “I do not know.”
Pearson pointed out that President Thein Sein and the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, agreed on the confinement of Rohingyas in refugee camps and warned listeners not to be misled by the romantic idea of “cease-fire capitalism,” borne of the highly publicized peace agreements, signed but not acted upon, between Rangoon and military forces representing ethnic minorities. She said it was dangerous that civil society had been left out of discussions about the distribution of limited natural resources, since ethnic minorities were likely to lose out as a result. Pearson also stated that military reform would be necessary for positive steps toward democracy and human rights, because the military was currently “not on board” with those goals.
T. Kumar, of Amnesty International USA, spoke in greater detail about the difficulties of attending school, finding a job (as opposed to forced labor), or seeking medical care without citizenship and the right to travel freely.
Amartya Sen, the best-known of the speakers, urged listeners to keep a sense of balance with regard to the plight of the Rohingya, to avoid being either too discouraged or complacent about acting to improve matters where possible. He characterized the issue as a modern problem not only of human rights but of citizenship, saying what was necessary was a non-sectarian approach that truly sought to understand the tensions between ethnicities, as the problem was a complex one, stretching across religious, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries, and could not be solved by what he called a kind of wishy-washy “secularism” that insists upon giving the same five minutes of recitation from various holy texts before every communal gathering.
In a speech at the Asia Society on Sept. 18 in Washington, DC, Suu Kyi touched upon the conflict in Rakhine state, though she limited her discussion to abstract principles rather than concrete policies, such as the granting of citizenship, framing them as the responsibility of the government, as opposed to that of her party, the NLD:
“The government has formed a commission to look into the situation in the Rakhine. The NLD [. . .] want to give the government all the opportunities it needs to diffuse the situation there and to bring about a peaceful settlement. We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government, in any way possible, to bring about peace and harmony in the Rakhine state. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give—if it is within our ability to do so. But it is not for us—we are not in a position to decide what we do and how we operate—because we are not the government. I think this has to be understood by those who wish the NLD to do more. What we can do is to declare our principles and our preparedness to help in every way we can. [. . .] But I am not going to talk about the Rakhine issue in greater detail now.”
Fourth in a series of posts, by CHRISTINE LIM, on graduate-level academic programs in genocide studies.
1. What graduate-level degree is offered in the field of genocide studies at WCUPA?
West Chester University, located 25 miles west of Philadelphia, PA, offers through its Holocaust and Genocide Education Center a Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
2. What are some of WCUPA’s non-degree offerings in the field?
WCUPA offers a graduate-level certificate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, an undergraduate minor in Holocaust Studies, and a popular capstone field studies course that has traditionally gone to sites of Holocaust history in Europe, usually Israel or Germany.
3. When was the program founded?
An undergraduate course on the Holocaust was first offered in 1978. WCUPA’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies M.A. and graduate certificate program began in 2000.
4. What makes the WCUPA program stand out from others?
It has a broad theoretical framework, with a rigorous focus on the nature and dynamics of prejudice, racism, and bigotry. Also, it brings an interdisciplinary approach to the subject matter, including courses from history, psychology, philosophy, criminal justice, political science, and language arts.
5. Who are the faculty involved in this program?
Here is our program faculty page.
6. What are the courses like?
Genocide in Modern History
Methods for Teaching the Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Politics of the Holocaust and Genocide
A more complete list is here.
7. How many years do students normally take to graduate?
Normally, the program takes two years to complete.
8. How many people have received this degree to date?
38 students have graduated from the program since its inception. 37 graduates received the MA degree. 1 student graduated with the 18-hour certificate.
9. What are your alumni doing?
The bulk of our alumni are middle and high school teachers who are using the degree to create courses in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. A smaller number of graduates work in Jewish federations or Holocaust museums, and we’ve had students go on to doctoral programs in history at Temple University, the University of Tennessee, Wayne State University, and Lehigh University.
(Google and LinkedIn searches reveal that Middle East analyst Asaf Romirowsky is an alum. Other alumni are variously an Adjunct Professor of Holocaust and Genocide at Widener University, on the Executive Committee of the Holocaust Resource Center of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, the chair of a high school English department, and a Special Assistant Public Defender.)
10. Tell us more about the admissions process.
GREs are not required. I don’t know what our acceptance rate is, but the basic requirements are an undergraduate degree, GPA of 2.8 or higher, a completed application with statement of purpose and transcripts, and two letters of recommendation.
Third in a series of posts, by CHRISTINE LIM, on graduate-level academic programs in genocide studies.
1. What type of graduate-level degree is offered in the field of genocide studies at Kean?
Kean University, located in Union, NJ, offers through the Nathan Weiss Graduate College a Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
2. When was the program founded?
The program was founded in January of 2006.
3. How many people have received this degree to date (or how many per year receive them, on average)?
11 people have graduated to date.
4. Who are the faculty involved in this program?
Here is our program faculty page.
5. What are the courses like?
Genocide in Asian History
The Ukrainian Famine-Genocide 1932-1933
A more complete list is here.
A 10-page Powerpoint presentation on the program is available here.
6. What are your alumni doing?
The Alumni Relations Office [908-737-2586] should have more information.
A quick Google search shows that one 2008 grad is completing her Ph.D. in Holocaust History and Genocide Studies at Clark University.
7. How many years do students normally take to graduate?
Approximately two years.
8. How competitive are admissions?
We no longer require GREs. Our program usually attracts self-selected applicants.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.