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BY: ANTHONY DiROSA
On July 30th, 2013, the AIPR Blog described a deepening ethnic conflict in South Sudan’s Jonglei state fueled by cattle-raids and retaliatory attacks. South Sudan’s micro-level conflicts were worrisome for a new country seeking to reconcile and move forward from decades of war, but far more worrisome– and–dangerous was the larger militia-based violence between the SPLA and Yau Yau rebels that was driving the country into ruin from the top down. Since July South Sudan has experienced a sharp escalation in the severity and scale of its internal conflicts, but in a different way. An attempted coup d’état last month has ignited an internal power struggle, which has galvanized the formation of military/political factions along religious lines.
What initially began as a struggle for power between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Riek Machar has now resulted in a situation where civilians, including women and children, are attacked simply because they belong to the other ethnic group. The intimacy between political and ethnic identities in South Sudan has allowed the situation to escalate beyond a political rivalry in Juba into towns and villages across the country, forcing seemingly amicable Nuer and Dinka neighbors to fear for their lives. For the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community, South Sudan represents a nightmarish confluence of ethnic, political and identity-based factors so reminiscent of past conflicts in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, and Burma.
Only two years removed from its hard-fought independence from Sudan, stability has proved illusive. While inter-communal conflict and sporadic violence have plagued the country during this time, the recent outbreak of widespread violence is unprecedented and surprising to many in the international community given its scale and severity. The crisis was not wholly unpredictable either.
Rising tensions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have been public since mid-2012 when President Kiir, in a move characterized by many as dictatorial and unconstitutional, dismissed the entire cabinet as well as several democratically elected governors from neighboring states. These tensions reached a breaking point on December 14th when the top leaders of the SPLM criticized ex-Vice President Machar (who was dismissed in July) at an SPLM National Liberation Council meeting, prompting Machar and his allies to angrily walkout. What followed the next day––and whether or not it was a coup––has been debated extensively. Nonetheless, political divisions within the leadership in Juba have split the country along political/ethnic lines and led to widespread atrocities and attacks on civilian populations. Although the immediate cause of the South Sudan crisis stems from political instability in Juba, there are many deep-seeded, long-standing grievances that need to be unearthed in order to understand how to bring the country back from the brink.
Serving as a foundation for the political crisis in Juba (and the eventual outbreak of violence) were a myriad of deeply entrenched political and economic grievances. According to Mehari Taddele Maru, a research fellow at the NATO Defense College, these included: the persistent, undemocratic nature of the government in Juba, increasing competition over the country’s resources, particularly oil, and low levels of delivery of basic services to the public. “It was a matter of time before the SPLM leadership had to face the mounting grievances of the population” according to Maru. Christopher Zambakari and Tarnjeet K. Kang at African Arguments also posit that the “SPLM dysfunction reflects itself the dysfunctionality of the South Sudan state.” Dr. Peter A. Nyaba, a South Sudanese leader and former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research believes that the country’s problems (originating in the SPLM) stem from “failure of the leaders in Juba to organize functional government institutions sensitive to the concerns of the citizens, to develop distinct political ideologies [not based on ethnic affiliations] and the failure to institutionalize power relations within the SPLM.” According to Nyaba, these failures have amounted to an autocratic-like governance style that is supported by ethnic lobbies and backdoor business deals, thus turning state institutions into a “limited liability enterprise.”
This is partially due to the over-centralization of power in Juba since the formation of the South Sudanese state in 2011. With ethnically diverse communities outside the capital now being controlled from Juba and having their requests for constitutional accommodation denied by the SPLM, it is no wonder why tensions have finally boiled over. In fact, a 2011 Crisis Group report identified precisely the same problems and forecasted the danger of not reconciling grievances by failing to reshape political and institutional arrangements. The report warned of the dangers of the SPLM’s “politics of exclusion”, an overly centralized, authoritarian government in Juba, and stressed the importance of political accommodation over a “winner takes all mindset.” Furthermore, Crisis Group specifically pointed to the fact that decentralization had been championed in rhetoric but was being neglected in practice, and that the growing center-periphery dynamic in Juba would be replicating the model in Khartoum that the South had just escaped from. The premonitions many experts had in 2011 have been realized. The current leadership in Juba, by shifting their focus to winning political battles, ignored the growing discontent of its citizens and within the SPLM. They have not taken seriously the process of building an effective, transparent and responsive government in order to move the country forward.
Furthermore, according to Khalid Mustafa Medani at The Guardian, the SPLM has “stifled all criticism, delayed the implementation of badly needed constitutional and security reforms, and pushed through laws restricting the operation of non-governmental organizations.” The grievances directed at the SPLM also stem from the conduct of the state’s security forces that have unlawfully imprisoned journalists and activists and murdered numerous SPLM political opponents and rivals.
Another major factor behind the conflict in South Sudan is the battle for control of the nation’s oil producing regions, which has pitted factions divided along ethnic/political lines against one another, both in government and across the country. The fact that South Sudan’s oil industry accounts for 98% of the government’s revenues annually, making it the most dependent on oil revenues in the world, creates a highly politicized issue with a lot at stake within the SPLM. According to Medani, the government in Juba allocates 38% of oil revenue to military and security, and only 17% to education and infrastructure. Meanwhile, agricultural production has declined sharply over the last decade––80% of South Sudan’s population relies on livestock and agriculture for their basic needs. Oil revenues have been used by Dinka and Nuer leaders (within the SPLM) to forge ties and cut deals with local leaders in the oil-rich Unity and Blue Nile states along political/ ethnic lines. It is no coincidence that control of Bentiu and Malakal, the capitals of two oil rich regions, has been fiercely fought over by rebel and government forces in the last month. Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, believes that “the opposition hopes that by capturing the oil fields, they’ll gain the upper hand in cease-fire negotiations by halting the government’s main source of income.” While oil is not the cause of the conflict in South Sudan, one of the world’s least developed countries, Patey importantly points out that “oil is the prize at the conflict’s end.”
Since fighting began last month the toll on the people of South Sudan has been staggering. Witnesses and U.N. officials have reported severe human rights violations by both sides, including ethnic massacres, summary executions and widespread looting. The Satellite Sentinel Project, a human rights group, recently released images showing the destruction of civilian homes and markets in two South Sudanese towns, Mayom and Bor, by government and rebel forces. Furthermore, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, claimed that mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and sexual have all been documented. “Quite a number of child soldiers have been recruited in the so-called White Army,” he said, referring to the Nuer tribe’s militia fighting in Jonglei state.
The UN has repeatedly warned that it is documenting and collective evidence of atrocities committed in South Sudan and would hold to account leaders on “all sides” if they failed to stop them. Despite reaching a preliminary ceasefire agreement this week in Adis Ababa, recent reports indicate that sporadic fighting and atrocities are continuing in disputed areas. South Sudan is unlikely to see lasting peace come quickly and easily given the scale of atrocities and destruction that has taken place in the last five weeks. The United Nations believes that over 10,000 have been killed and more than half a million have been driven from their homes. In Addis Ababa, Getachew Reda, spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaleg, conceded that “there has been so much bad blood involved now, and there is so much misunderstanding and hard feelings already for the last month, so it would be foolhardy to expect the two parties to come together just at the snap of a finger.”
The Way Forward
The path to peace, from Juba all the way to Unity, Blue Nile and Jonglei states, will be long and require both sides to address the long-standing issues that have existed even prior the country’s independence. Christopher Zambakari & Tarnjeet K. Kang at African Arguments recently stated, “Without resolving the societal issues facing South Sudan, democratizing the political party, opening up the political space, and addressing the root causes of the conflict, the country will only defer its problems to a later date.” Additionally, the authors at African Arguments believed the biggest obstacles to preventing future violence is reform of political and security sectors. “This includes the transformation of the SPLM from liberation movement into a democratic political party in addition to the completion of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel groups and the professionalization of the national armed forces,” they noted. Princeton N. Lyman, Jon Temin, Susan Stigan at Foreign Policy warned about the dangers of reaching a weak and narrow agreement in Addis Ababa. “Such a deal would ignore the broader population and its needs, perpetuate the trend of exclusionary and corrupt politics, and do nothing to address root causes of instability.”
The future of South Sudan must be guided by an inclusive and wide-ranging agreement involving different segments of society that addresses the fundamental, long-lasting problems in South Sudan’s political system. The only effective and sustainable approach to ensure stability for the people of South Sudan is one that tackles political devolution/ decentralization, the oil issue, the reconciliation of long-lasting political-ethnic rivalries, and justice for those responsible for mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. The costs of failing to do so would be too steep.
Are We Finally Getting it Right in the Central African Republic?
BY: ANTHONY DiROSA
On August 25th, 2013, I wrote about the slowly disintegrating situation in the Central African Republic in an attempt to join a growing chorus of voices seeking to sound the alarms that apparently weren’t being heard by the international community. Since then, as the crisis has grown more desperate, the world has started to take notice.
In November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “this cycle, if not addressed now, threatens to degenerate into a country-wide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation, including atrocity crimes, with serious national and regional implications.” Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, added:
“We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion. My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”
The concern so many had about the simmering risk of large-scale mass atrocities has unfortunately been realized in the last month. A new and dangerous dynamic of inter-religious hatred and violence has taken off in CAR that has catalyzed a brutal cycle of atrocities and targeting of civilian populations. Around half of the country’s population is Christian while about 15% is Muslim. The Christian majority and the Muslim minority have historically co-existed peacefully. In recent months, Muslim Seleka rebels, who ousted former CAR President Francois Bozize in March 2013, have reportedly attacked Christian communities all over the country. “The danger is that this polarization has taken place along religious lines, which has never really happened in the past and that people are self-arming themselves and carrying out back and forth attacks against each other,” said Kyle Matthews, the Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.
In response, Christian militias have formed in an effort to fight back against Seleka militias. Due to newly formed fissures in CAR’s society, anti-Seleka Christians are targeting local Muslims whom they suspect are naturally aiding Seleka rebels. Furthermore, the conflict has attracted foreign jihadists from Chad and Sudan, set off targeted retribution by Christian militias on Muslim villages, caused the collapse of civilian authority and resulted in massive dislocation and food shortages.
Human Rights Watch reports that both sides are responsible for wonton acts of murder, rape, and looting. United Nations officials and the international community are deeply troubled by the sectarian tenor of the conflict, which is reminiscent of the early stages of past genocides in the region. In a briefing to the Security Council, the deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, called it “a vicious cycle that could very easily turn into mass atrocities.”
Reports out of CAR in the last several weeks have been so worrisome that international action became unavoidable. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2127 last week, authorizing a joint French/AU operation in the Central African Republic. This will help strengthen an intervention force of up to 6,000 African troops, to be aided by 1,600 recently deployed French soldiers with support from the African Union. In the medium term, a UN Security Council-approved peacekeeping mission with up to 9,000 troops operating under “robust rules of engagement” could be necessary, according to Ban Ki Moon. “Member States of the United Nations now have the opportunity, and I firmly believe the responsibility, to prevent what has the high potential to result in widespread atrocities,” said Ban.
This sudden disbursement of support to CAR comes amidst an apex of violence in Bangui since the crisis unfolded earlier this year. Fighting in Bangui since last Thursday claimed at least 400 lives, according to Amnesty International. But the accuracy of these estimates is unverifiable; as many as 1,000 people may have been killed with many bodies being buried and taken away before they could be counted. Furthermore, on December 10th, two French soldiers were killed after a gun-battle ensued following attempts to disarm several Seleka rebels. Most of the foreign press and journalists are reporting from the capital region, Bangui, where over 30,000 civilians are holed up in the city’s airport, too afraid to leave its grounds. Tens of thousands may have already died in the more remote parts of the CAR, a country the size of France, according to independent journalist Gwynne Dyer.
Western countries have begun to step up their efforts. The US recently pledged $40 million for Central African peacekeepers and its armed forces will deploy military planes to help transport international peacekeepers from Burundi to Bangui in order “to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence,” said a Pentagon spokesman. The UK also pledged support by lending supply planes to the French and earmarking $25 million to CAR for humanitarian aid. The European Union has also contributed $50 million.
Despite these crucial immediate measures, it’s doubtful that 1,600 French soldiers will be able to restore long-term stability in the Central African Republic. These measures are at best a stopgap measure that represents a minimum commitment to restoring security in the short-term. The French mission, will at the very least, help reinforce the poorly equipped AU’s International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) as it struggles to bring order back to the streets of Bangui. The latest reports claim that the French forces had indeed restored some stability in the capital in recent days. The French, who have already intervened in a similar fashion in Mali this year, also hope that the UN will send additional peacekeepers as quickly as possible. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recommended 6,000 to 9,000 men to be added as soon as possible.
Many groups and organizations, such as the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International, have laid out potential next steps in CAR that will help ensure short-term and long-term stability (as well as critiques of recent UN efforts). The general consensus is that more needs to be done both in the short-term and long-term to secure CAR’s future. According to Human Rights Watch’s United Nations Director Phillippe Bolopion, “If the post Rwanda and Bosnia ‘never again’ means anything, the U.N. Security Council needs to go all in to halt the spiraling killing in the Central African Republic.” Hinting at the need for further UN forces in CAR, Netsanet Belay, Africa Director at Amnesty International, said that “Before it’s too late to make a difference, the UN Secretary General must speed up his assessment of the peacekeepers’ impact on the ground — within weeks, not months — he must immediately start preparations for the deployment of a robust UN peacekeeping force to step in if and when needed.”
Others in the international community are also pessimistic about both the ability of the AU-French mission to alleviate the risk of mass atrocities and the willingness of the world’s powers to commit the necessary resources. Ty McCormick at Foreign Policy believes that “Even if a more robust international presence can bring the fighting under control—a prospect that is far from certain in a country roughly the size of Texas, much of which is densely forested — rebuilding a semblance of state authority will likely take years, if not decades.” The challenge ahead for the international community in CAR is undoubtedly daunting. Former US Ambassador to CAR, Lawrence D. Wohlers, believes that the “difficulty will be what happens next; the CAR government structures have been largely destroyed, so a robust peacekeeping force will probably be necessary for years. This will be costly.”
With the United Nations already carrying out 15 peacekeeping missions worldwide and Western militaries more focused on counterterrorism missions in the region, it’s hard to imagine that the necessary financial and political commitments will be made quickly enough to get CAR the support it needs. And as we learn at the Auschwitz Institute’s Lemkin Seminar, time is of the essence in situations where there are ongoing mass atrocities. “In societies with histories of ethnic violence, the cycle of killing will eventually spiral downward into the vortex of genocide,” warns Gregory Stanton in his article, “The Eight Stages of Genocide.” UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow said six years ago that she felt CAR’s citizens were “the most abandoned people on earth.” If the proper short-term and long-term measures to bring CAR back from the brink aren’t made quickly and robustly, the observations Farrow made then will continue to ring true.
Should restricting access to aid be considered a crime against humanity under the R2P framework? Should R2P be expanded to include deliberate restriction of aid or willful abandonment of populations in the face of natural disasters? Part One of this two-part series outlined the debate that occurred in 2008 surrounding Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. It also highlighted the popular arguments for including instances of willful omission into the R2P framework. Part Two will explore the arguments against the expansion of R2P to include crimes of omission, in particular, willful inaction in the face of natural disasters. Furthermore, this part will attempt to find the best way forward that prioritizes the concern for civilians on the ground in natural disaster situations where potential crimes against humanity are occurring
Why Expanding R2P Will Hurt the Doctrine Through Ideological Overreach
Should the scope of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) include willful inaction in the face of natural disasters? The arguments against expanding the scope of R2P to include willful inaction in the face of natural disasters are often centered in the concern of ideological overstretch and safeguarding R2P from further backlash. Whether or not such instances should be considered R2P cases has surprisingly generated somewhat of a one-sided consensus within the international community concerning the Cyclone Nargis crisis in 2008.
Many prominent NGOs, the UN Secretary-General and his special adviser on R2P, pro-R2P governments and the usual skeptics have spoken out against extending R2P to cover the international response to natural disasters on the grounds that it would stretch the concept beyond recognition or operational utility. Their core argument is that R2P is already highly controversial –– broadening its scope would make its application much more difficult. Expanding the doctrine could have the perverse effect of weakening support for tackling the Rwanda-like crisis of tomorrow.
Even the most senior scholars on R2P, like the former Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Edward Luck, have expressed hesitancy over incorporating willful omission in the face of natural disasters into R2P. Luck suggested at the time of Cyclone Nargis that: “it would be a misapplication of responsibility to protect principles to apply them at this point to the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar.” Luck also mentioned that since the Outcome Document of the 2005 [World] Summit limited R2P to just four crimes, “we must focus our efforts on implementing these principles in these four cases.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, believed that the case of Myanmar was a humanitarian crisis and it should be dealt with it that way. According to Gareth Evans, if R2P “is to be about protecting, the Inuit people of the Arctic Circle from the ravages of climate change — if it is be about protecting everybody from everything — it will end up protecting nobody from anything.
Theoretically, the misapplication of the responsibility to protect to natural disasters might damage the R2P principle itself, making it more difficult to enact in genuine cases of genocide and mass atrocities. Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome represent an agreed upon international consensus on the scope and breadth of the doctrine. These sections were carefully engineered by negotiators to ensure that R2P only apply to four crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Expanding R2P to include natural disasters and grave humanitarian situations would be inconsistent with the R2P’s founding language. It would also validate the fears of many states that R2P would be used to further infringe on the sovereign rights of states.
The current vitality of R2P is intimately tied to the reality that there is a deep misunderstanding about R2P in the international community, as many governments misconstrue the norm as a Western interventionist ploy. With the BRICKS countries and many in the Global South still mistrustful of R2P, advocating the expansion of R2P in this climate could be devastating to the doctrine. Thakur Ramesh stated at the time of Cyclone Nargis that invoking R2P is justified to stop large-scale killings or ethnic cleansing, however it cannot be invoked in cases of natural disasters. Furthermore, the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P did recognize the possibility of a crime against humanity being committed if “the Burmese government is deliberately withholding aid to people who are facing immediate risk of death.” The Centre ultimately advised against labeling the Cyclone Nargis crisis an R2P situation, stating that: “At present there is no evidence of widespread intent by authorities to cause great suffering.” Beyond their doubts about what expanding R2P would mean for the future of the doctrine, it’s clear the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P, among others, determined there was not a sound legal foundation for labeling the crisis in 2008 as “R2P applicable.”
Legally, many argued at the time that blocking aid isn’t a violation of one of the four R2P crimes. For acts to constitute crimes against humanity there must be a clear pattern with obvious intent. Alex Bellamy made this point by reiterating that crimes against humanity involve acts committed as part of a systematic attack against a civilian population. Bellamy claimed that the government of Myanmar was not engaged in such attacks in the Irrawaddy Delta since it was not denying all aid, or preventing aid agencies already deployed in the region from going about their work. Furthermore, he believed there was no evidence of widespread intent by military junta to cause deliberate suffering and that proving so would be nearly impossible. Determining intent, according to many, is the main reason why Myanmar was not an R2P-applicable case (although many like Wong and Ford strongly disagreed). If cases of willful omission by governments legally triggered the R2P doctrine, there would still be compelling reasons R2P-based intervention would be an inappropriate path according to some.
The political opposition to expanding R2P to include natural disaster situations, specifically at the United Nations Security Council, can’t be overstated. Several Security Council members made it clear during that they would block any attempt to use the Council to impose assistance against the wishes of the Myanmar’s government. Additionally, Russia and China’s outright opposition to calls for R2P in such situations is a major obstacle and clear indication that invoking R2P would never get past the Security Council. During the Cyclone Nargis, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations rejected the possibility of forcibly delivering supplies without the junta’s consent and argued that R2P did not apply to natural disasters.
The positions of China and the ASEAN countries only grew stronger after France’s Foreign Minister called for invoking R2P. The reluctance of ASEAN to view Cyclone Nargis as an R2P situation was not only because they did not believe that the principle applied in this case, but also because they were concerned about the potential interference in a nation’s domestic affairs. China, for example, claimed that the situation in Myanmar was not a matter of “international peace and security” and didn’t apply to the Security Council. There were other pathways at the UN, China argued, more appropriate for coordinating the delivery of international assistance (a point also made by many opponents to applying R2P in Myanmar).
Another important counterargument to advocates of expanding R2P is that misapplying the Responsibility to Protect would make humanitarian conditions worse in Myanmar and elsewhere. Some commentators in 2008 were fearful of any forceful action by external actors to force aid into Myanmar for fear that their efforts would backfire and cut off the aid that was already successfully entering the disaster zones. Looking forward, they argued, efforts to apply R2P again, in a case of large-scale killings, could be undercut. In other words, they feared that invoking R2P in Myanmar could have endangered lives elsewhere tomorrow and possible even delayed immediately help for Nargis victims.
On this point, the impracticality and potential collateral damage associated with potential military action under an R2P mandated mission underscore the broad concerns from many in the international community about how R2P would be actualized. As Alex Bellamy stated in 2010: “those who have attempted to use R2P to justify the delivery of humanitarian aid against the wishes of the host state (Myanmar) have not really considered the practicalities.” From airdrops to full-scale invasions, it’s hard to see any viable and practical approaches to implementing R2P in a natural disaster setting without further harming the livelihood of civilians on the ground, he said. Bellamy aptly summed up the counter-productivity of potential intervention strategies: “The problem with these approaches is they threaten to divert attention away from the delivery of humanitarian relief, making cooperation with local authorities more difficult and regional support less forthcoming, ultimately delaying assistance to those who need it most.”
Andrew O’Neil stated in 2008 that a full-scale invasion with humanitarian goals would have improved the conditions of the victims on the ground. Bellamy and many others in the genocide prevention community had major problems with such proposals, more specifically, the time it would take to mobilize, the effect it would have on aid flows and the likelihood it would be met with military resistance by the junta. Airdropping aid was another possibility proposed by many, but Bellamy and others noted the imprecision of airdrops, the possibility of drops being seized by the government, and the need for medical care and water purification kits to be delivered on the ground.
It’s hard imagine aid being delivered effectively without the cooperation of the Myanmar’s government, on top of the fact that Myanmar government would have likely expelled all of the United Nations staff members who were managing ongoing aid operations. More useful and practical options include utilizing regional organizations in cooperation with the UN Secretary General’s office, along with pressure from the UN Security Council and the General Assembly. Working to secure pathways and facilitate the work of associated relief agencies like UNICEF, the World Food Programme and UNHCR are some of the more tangible steps that can be taken to help civilians on the ground.
Ashley McLachlan-Bent and John Langmore claimed that “although it may be weak when it comes to rebuking the misjudged actions of its member states, ASEAN in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis was, arguably, far more successful than any other attempts to engage the regime, conduct disaster assessments and facilitate the entry of aid into the country.” This reflects the sentiments felt by many, not only that invoking R2P during Nargis would have been counterproductive, both in terms of getting aid to civilians and in ensuring R2P’s utility in the long-term, but that there were more feasible options involving regional actors and the UN that were ultimately more constructive.
This brief has outlined the arguments for and against making R2P applicable in situations of natural disasters, or in cases of willful inaction by governments when their populations are facing humanitarian catastrophes. It is the hope that this piece helps one better understand the debate that occurred during the Cyclone Nargis crisis in 2008, as well as the continuing discussions within the international community on the appropriateness of viewing cases of willful omission through an R2P framework. While there were strong arguments made by many, including several of the founders of R2P, throughout the Cyclone Nargis crisis there remained several points that both sides agreed upon
Firstly, this is a debate that has waned since 2008 largely without a solution from the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community. Given the mass confusion and disagreement during the last natural disaster turned mass atrocity situation (Cyclone Nargis), not having this discussion in the present could sacrifice timely and coordinated responses in the future. Working through this complex issue and establishing a strong international consensus or framework of action might avoid the delayed action or ineffective cooperation that would occur the next time a Cyclone Nargis comes around. This isn’t an impossible feat – the line that divided those for and against applying R2P in Myanmar wasn’t that wide. For example, even those who’ve argued against incorporating such cases into R2P have conceded that a situation like Cyclone Nargis came awfully close to being an R2P situation. It is important to note that the international community has rarely seen such examples of intentional omission to act in the face of natural disasters – the mechanisms for action and opportunities for such debates have been few and far between. Given the acceptance by many that such acts constitute crimes against humanity, along with the rising severity in storms and destructive weather patterns due to the effects of climate change, it might be time to revisit this issue sooner rather than later.
Secondly, the torchbearers of the R2P doctrine would be wise to use this issue as an opportunity to refine and perfect the norm, specifically on how it would apply in specific cases. It’s important to remember that in 2008 the international community unanimously accepted that the R2P exists and does require states to protect populations at risk. Since then, the norm has only grown in acceptance and importance. The main question is not whether or not states accept R2P, but rather how to apply it. Not only is this of great importance in terms of working out the unique case of R2P and natural disasters, but it’s also reflective of the larger issues that face the R2P norm. Establishing consensus in order to shape a framework for applying R2P in unconventional cases (where crimes against humanity are occurring) remains a major challenge. Doing so while stressing an understanding of an R2P that flexes its preventative aspects (Pillars I and II) rather than interventionist ones will be just as important.
A new view of R2P, coined by Jarrod Wong as “a constructive interpretation,” can address some of the aforementioned challenges. According to Wong, this evolved view of R2P can “apply not just to a government’s failure to protect its people from affirmatively perpetrated mass atrocities but also from harm based on omission where the government’s failure to act also constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.” The constructive interpretation of R2P would remove the focus off of the reference to natural disasters and instead shift it to crimes of omission where the failure to act constitutes a crime against humanity under international law. It’s important to point out that “natural disasters” were originally among the categories qualifying for R2P, but were ultimately removed by the time the U.N. adopted the doctrine in 2005. Wong’s interpretation reflects the points made by many: that the focus on “natural disasters” avoids the important distinction that it’s not that disasters at fault, but rather the human element that can acerbate suffering and constitute a crime against humanity.
According to Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian foreign minister, “there is no moral difference between an innocent person being killed by machete or AK-47, or starving to death, or dying in a cholera pandemic that could be avoided by proper international responses.” Viewing R2P in such a way can provide for a more consistent approach to situations in which crimes against humanity are committed by willful omission. Ultimately, this is an issue that comes down to how one determined R2P should be used moving forward. Some claim that the international community should recognize that R2P “is not a delicate vase but a sturdy pot which states must be willing to take down off the shelf and use.” Others, more concerned with preserving R2P’s already fragile political capital, would be reluctant to agree that applying it in situations other than classic conflict-based crimes is constructive for both the norm and its future utility. The lack of consensus on how to apply R2P in cases of willful omission requires greater debate and increased attention. Doing so would prevent delayed responses to a future crisis, as well as the unconstructive and time-consuming political debates that would inevitably accompany it. Having constructive dialogue now on this complex issue might better protect civilian populations at risk in the future, which is what R2P ultimately was created to do.
Should restricting access to aid be considered a crime against humanity under the R2P framework? Should R2P be expanded to include deliberate restriction of aid or willful abandonment of populations in the face of natural disasters? This piece is the first part of a two-part blog series that will examine this largely unsettled issue from the point of view of the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community.
Since the advent and proliferation of the Responsibility to Protect norm (R2P), which emerged from the Conference on State Sovereignty in 2001, a global paradigm shift has begun to take root concerning the relationship between governments and their peoples. R2P puts forward that it is a state’s duty to protect their populations and that sovereignty should no longer be used a shield for governments to hide behind. In particular, states have a responsibility to protect civilians from four particular crimes, namely: crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The growing ubiquity of R2P and its institutionalization can be seen (in recent years) within the United Nations, regional organizations and capitals across the world, thus shifting the focus of international conflicts from the state to the human level. The debate and controversy surrounding R2P has been plentiful and typically focused on the question of sovereignty, the legitimacy (and effectiveness) of interventions and the utility of R2P as a normative framework for action. But lost aside these more prominent debates is a particular controversy that emerged after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 in Myanmar.
Prompted by France’s Foreign Minister invoking R2P at the UN in the wake of the Myanmar government’s reluctance to allow aid to civilians, a fierce debate ensued concerning the doctrine’s applicability in Myanmar, and more generally, its applicability to natural disasters. The question of whether or not a government’s refusal to aid civilians in a disaster setting constitutes an R2P case quickly became a hot topic in policy circles both in Turtle Bay and in other global political spheres in 2008. But due to blowback, any traction this idea had received has largely abated since. Given the recent cases of governments refusing to directly or indirectly assist civilians during natural disasters, namely in Darfur and Myanmar, the relevancy of this debate should be revisited. While many in the mass atrocity/genocide prevention community have shunned the prospect of natural disasters being considered as R2P cases, the legal and moral arguments for doing so shouldn’t be discounted. This piece will seek to outline the recent history of this debate, the prevailing arguments on both sides, and a way forward that most effectively prioritizes constructive action and policy-specific solutions over attention-diverting ideological and politically motivated debates.
Why Including Crimes of Omission into R2P is the Logical Evolution of a Doctrine
As set out in the 2005 UN Summit Outcome Document, R2P applies only to a state’s failure to protect its populace from mass atrocity crimes, i.e., “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” The UN’s definition is distinctly narrower than the original expression of the doctrine (as formulated by the ICISS), as it specifically excludes instances such as “overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes, where the state concerned is either unwilling or unable to cope, or call for assistance, and significant loss of life is occurring or threatened.” The result was what Alex Bellamy of the University of Queensland has called “R2P Lite”. Nevertheless, crimes against humanity remained a trigger for the invocation of R2P, according to the 2005 Outcome Document. The core question that had divided the international community in 2008 was this: could and should inaction of a government be categorized as a crime against humanity?
Some commentators believe that R2P can be applicable in such cases, specifically Gareth Evans (although his opinions reflect mixed views). In 2008, Evans claimed that “Myanmar’s failure to help its citizens and refusal to allow for the delivery of aid, [its actions] could be characterized as mistreatment of the population, and therefore an ‘attack’ against its population that intentionally caused great suffering.” Thus, in situations where a country denies aid and at the same time does not take measures to help its population, many believe the doctrine of R2P could be implemented on the basis of a “crime against humanity.” Also chiming in on this issue in 2008 was John Virgoe, the International Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia Director, who stated that whilst his organization wasn’t ready to call for an international intervention, the situation was approaching an R2P scenario because of the potential commission of crimes against humanity. Former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy was one of the most ardent supporters of viewing the situation in Myanmar through an R2P lens. Axworthy claimed that due to past failures in Darfur and Congo, the international community needs advocates who would support and advance R2P in situations where crimes against humanity are occurring. Axworthy also believed that “the application of R2P to the situation in Myanmar would be a strong demonstration, especially to Asian countries, of the importance and viability of this international norm.”
From a legal perspective, Jarrod Wong’s inquiry into whether crimes of omission fit the description of the Rome Statute’s definition of a “crime against humanity” is particularly useful. Wong points to Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines crimes against humanity as: “any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: murder, or other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.” Wong makes the point that triggering R2P for crimes of omission is justified by prevailing international criminal jurisprudence, and “there is no need to recognize natural disaster situations or any particular context involving harm by omission as a new and independent basis for invoking R2P.”
Theoretically, the only difference between crimes of commission, such as mass executions, and acts of omission, is in the severity of the crime not the type. According to Wong it is the state’s reluctance to act, not the natural disaster, that is considered the cause of the harm. If a state’s deliberate inaction can be identified as a crime against humanity, and the state is manifestly failing to protect its population, R2P should legally apply to the situation. Because of this, according to Wong, R2P can then be “applied equally to a state’s failure to protect its population from harm caused by its omission to act when that omission constitutes a crime against humanity.” Gareth Evans also stated that what occurred in Myanmar could classify as a crime against humanity in two ways. Firstly, it could classify as a crime against humanity by fitting the description of “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health”. Secondly, it may fit under the international crime of “extermination”, defined in the Rome Statute as including “intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.”
Others have echoed Wong’s legal rationale by citing that the jurisprudence of international courts establishes that crimes against humanity can be caused either by acts of commission or omission, but only if those omissions are found with criminal intent. Stuart Ford found this point particularly important since many who reasoned that R2P did not apply to the situation in Myanmar claimed the junta’s blocking of aid was substantially different from deliberate state-sponsored killings that classically trigger R2P. But Ford effectively makes the legal case that “if killing via omission demonstrates the requisite criminal intent, it is just as much a crime against humanity as killing by commission.”
Judith Raffelseder’s legal dissection of this issue reached the same conclusion. The evidence of the situation proved that the military junta’s actions met the criteria of a crime against humanity because “it consisted of an organized pattern of non-accidental repetition of criminal conduct.” Raffelseder also concluded that the “blocking of aid was a crime against humanity that was part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.” Furthermore, Ford also concluded in his legal analysis that “all of the elements of a crime against humanity were present in Myanmar in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.” One of Ford’s central points was that while the legal foundations for triggering R2P in a case like Cyclone Nargis were quite strong, the political will to implement it wasn’t there (in fact it was quite the opposite). Given this strong legal foundation for classifying government refusal to aid civilians in the wake of natural disasters as a crime against humanity, and given the fact that the purpose of R2P is to provide a framework for which the international community can effectively address such crimes, it is hard to discount the rationale of those calling for R2P to apply in such situations.
Among the concerns of expanding R2P is that doing so would jeopardize its already fragile political standing and ultimately the effectiveness future applications. Politically, it’s apparent why natural disasters were ultimately removed from the list of crimes that would trigger R2P from the 2005 Summit Outcome document. But is R2P really at risk of being overexposed and overused, or is it just as much at risk of being diminished as a result of its underuse? Given the international paralysis on Syria, the unrelenting abuses in Darfur and ongoing mass atrocities in Myanmar, the consequences of failing to exercise R2P to stop atrocities is a somber indication that the former is proving to be the more perilous.
Proponents of employing R2P in Myanmar reasoned that the reluctance to do so in situations where natural disasters are intertwined with crimes against humanity contradicts the doctrine’s core intention: to save civilians lives. At the heart of this line of thinking is the idea that there is no moral difference between a government shooting 100 civilians or killing 100 by blocking access to clean water –– the result is the same. As Gareth Evans put it, “if what the generals are now doing, in effect denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death can itself be characterized as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed cut in.” Roberta Cohen also argued in support of R2P’s applicability by stating “that the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is a case for R2P because what started as a natural disaster turned into a man-made disaster, and the crime committed could constitute a crime against humanity.”
Realistically, it’s probably true that 99.9% of natural disasters would never fit the requirements of an R2P situation. The rarity of such situations might lead some to believe that its inclusion into R2P would be a pointless endeavor. But the situation in Myanmar showed that in the face of such a rare situation, the international community was truly divided on how to respond and unsure of the legality and appropriateness of applying R2P to such a unique situation. But even those who disagreed on R2P’s applicability agreed that it should not have been so easily ruled out. One of the founders of R2P, Ramesh Thakur, who disagreed that Cyclone Nargis was an R2P situation, publicly stated “it would be short-sighted to rule out the relevance and application of R2P should the situation not improve and people start dying in large numbers from the after-effects of Cyclone Nargis.” Another architect of R2P, Gareth Evans, agreed that “when a government default is as grave as the course on which the Burmese generals now seem to be set, there is at least a prima facie case to answer for their intransigence being a crime against humanity – of a kind which would attract the responsibility to protect principle.”
A core problem though is not the weak consensus on R2P’s applicability here, but rather the lack of clarity on how it could be put into practice in such situations. On this point, Judith Raffelseder alludes to the importance R2P can play in acting as a framework that can guide responses to such situations. She claims that “the international framework of disaster response laws does not, or only to a certain extent, provide an answer to the refusal of aid in the aftermath of a disaster, whereas the relatively new concept of R2P is a useful tool in this respect.” While any sort of military intervention triggered by R2P would have likely been counterproductive in immediately helping victims on the ground, placing the situation in terms of R2P could have been useful by stressing the non-military means of coercion that define R2P. Timothy Garton Ash, a supporter of employing the R2P doctrine in Myanmar, also wondered how the international community could use non-military means of coercion to help civilians on the ground. Ashley McLachlan-Bent and John Langmore put forth that “ASEAN was ideally placed to use the concept of R2P as a way of demonstrating to the region that the principle does not automatically imply military intervention, but offers a variety of diplomatic pressures and strategies to ensure the best outcomes for those suffering.”
Regardless of which side of the argument one lies on, there’s a clear gap in terms of how an international response should look like under the R2P framework. Such a lack of policy-specific solutions may impede the breadth of the international community’s toolkit the next time a Cyclone Nargis situation occurs. The international community must ask itself whether this inclusion of instances of willful omission (into R2P), be it in cases of natural disasters, be seen as either the latest stage of an evolving understanding of R2P, or an ideological overstretch that, although morally attractive, jeopardizes the future of the R2P doctrine.
The second part of this blog series will explore the arguments against the expansion of R2P to include crimes of omission, in particular, willful inaction in the face of natural disasters. Furthermore, this piece will attempt to find the best way forward that prioritizes the concern for civilians on the ground in natural disaster situations where potential crimes against humanity are occurring.
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.
By: ANTHONY DiROSA
The politics of ethnic and cultural identity are of major concern to peacebuilders and policymakers when understanding how to stem the risk of armed conflict and mass atrocities in regions plagued by intercommunal violence. According to Diana Felix da Costa at the Norwegian Peacebuilding Center, one such place is Jonglei State, South Sudan, where ethnic cleavages that divide tribes are a major focus for international and national policymakers seeking to specifically target and contain such risk factors. Jonglei State represents a setting where tribal groups are defined by multiple identities but marginalized as a whole for the actions of a few. These inter-group distinctions are significant as the cattle-keeping Murle, who are endemic to the lowlands of Pibor county, embrace a distinct identity compared to the agrarian Murle living in the Boma. Although the Murle share an overarching ethnic identity, it’s hard to view or treat them as a unified group. As the risk of violence and mass atrocities has been escalating in Jonglei recently due to fresh SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), Yau Yau rebel and Lou Nuer militia fighting, comprehensively understanding the scope of ethnic and tribal identities, specifically within the Murle culture, has never been more crucial to both Juba, the UN and international actors. Doing so may be a crucial ingredient in formulating responsive solutions to both inter-Murle violence and the more widespread fighting between Yau Yau rebels and SPLA/ Lou Nuer forces.
The Murle are an ethnic group that originally migrated from Ethiopia to southeastern Jonglei hundreds of years ago, before moving further north and settling around Pibor. They are a largely pastoralist group that live in the flat open lowlands of Jonglei, while a smaller group of farmers inhabit the Boma Plateau and surrounding areas. According to Diana Felix da Costa’s fieldwork in Pibor County, although these Murle enclaves associate with a larger collective ethnic identity, they are known to associate and dissociate selectively in situations where it may be advantageous or when their collective security is in jeopardy. This makes sense when understanding the differences in lifestyle from the lowland Murle, which is oriented around cattle, and in Boma, where Murle people live an agrarian lifestyle and have no cattle. While cattle raiding lies at the core of much of the violence occurring in Jonglei state, there is no evidence that the largely agrarian Murle near Boma are involved. Regardless of their guiltlessness they are vengefully targeted by rival clans simply because of their Murle identity. Thus, amongst the Boma Murle a new term of self-identification, “Ngalam”, meaning “without cattle”, has been increasingly used as a means of dissociating themselves from the cattle-raiding Murle. The fragmentation and inter-group violence within the Murle community is even more pronounced as Murle from Boma often report incidents of child abductions and rape on behalf of their Murle neighbors from Pibor. On the other hand, Murle from Boma have aided their fellow in-laws from Pibor and Maruwo Hills when these sub-groups faced conflict from rival groups in their areas. Diana Felix da Costa postulates that this may be an example of in-group survival, especially given the sense of marginalization and insecurity the Murle feel within South Sudanese society.
From these examples it’s understandable why da Costa believes that Murle identity construction is both situational and interactive. Murle identity seems constructed relationally and is subject to changes according to specific interests and circumstances according to da Costa. The Murle also negotiate, accept and challenge identities that are projected onto them by others. On the other hand, there is evidence that Murle identity can also be fixed, as a Ngalamit is viewed, by the Murle, to always be a Ngalamit. These crucial micro-level idiosyncrasies make it hard to view them as an unified ethnic group. Likewise, it’s important to differentiate between the lowland and highland Murle, but also more specifically between the minority of lowland Murle behind the raids and the majority who are not, according to da Costa. Furthermore, not all Murle support cattle raids, child abductions and violence, just as all Lou Nuer or SPLA forces don’t support raids, child abductions and indiscriminate violence against civilians.
Deciphering Murle identity is doubly important given the context of both intercommunal violence and the more widespread militia based combat between the Murle backed Yau Yau movement and the state backed Lou Nuer youth rebels. It is important to note that amongst the three main forces fighting in Jonglei, major ethnic and tribal affiliations lay at the core since much of the rank and file of the SPLA is made of Lou Nuer, a historic rival of the Murle. Recent news out of Jonglei indicates that local Murle leaders are planning to convince Yau Yau, who is also a Murle, to end his rebellion against the government in Juba because of their shared ethnicity. This potential leveraging of Murle identity to promote peace comes at an important juncture where SPLA soldiers are indiscriminately targeting Murle civilians on the assumption they are Yau Yau supporters. There is both a strong incentive and ripe opportunity for the Murle and the international community to capitalize on ethnic and tribal affiliations to help assuage the violence that has wreaked havoc on Jonglei. Doing so would reverse the recent history of unsuccessful negotiations, porous peace agreements, botched local disarmament campaigns and a failure to enforce and follow-through with community driven recommendations for peace.
Peacebuilding initiatives must take these initial steps to understand the dynamics of Murle identity on top of addressing the root causes of violence and mass atrocities in. These acts are fostered by an environment lacking basic state security assistance and free flow and access of humanitarian aid. They are also fueled by the weakening of traditional authority and dispute resolution mechanisms and the manipulation by local and national elites of local grievances and ethnic identities, according to da Costa. Since fighting began to intensify around March 2013, over 100,00 civilians have been cut out off from humanitarian assistance and 120,000 forced to flee their homes. As the international community turns its attention to South Sudan’s current worsening crises, it is indeed important to understand the outstanding grievances and deep-seeded motivations behind such violence and to work to ensure these issues are addressed. What’s equally important is that external policy prescriptions be crafted by first understanding the nuances of the Murle identity so that peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives can harness them for peace.
Complexity Theory in Peacebuilding Initiatives & Mass Atrocity Prevention
A new take on the importance of locally owned peacebuilding initiatives by Dr. Cedric de Coning, who heads the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Research Group at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), suggests a different approach to how international peacekeeping can ensure stability by helping spur self-starting, organically based peacebuilding efforts owned by local actors. Much of de Coning’s perspective is informed by complexity theory, or the study of how order, structure, and pattern arise from extremely complicated, apparently chaotic systems. According to de Coning, this theory can help shed light on the process of self-organization in societies where a variety of mechanisms and processes develop to manage peace processes. At the heart of this process in peacebuilding is bolstering the resiliency of social institutions, that is the ability of institutions to absorb and adapt to the internal and external shocks and setbacks they are likely to face. The author believes that “if a society is fragile it means that there is a risk that it may not be able to manage its own tensions, pressures, disputes, crisis and shocks without relapsing into violent conflict.” Institutional resiliency should be seen as a means conflict prevention that ought to be prioritized not only in peacebuilding operations, but also mass atrocity prevention efforts.
Given the importance of organically built institutional resilience in shielding post-conflict societies from shocks, a major function of external peacebuilding operations should be safeguarding, stimulating, facilitating and creating the space for societies to develop sustainable capacities for self-organization, according to de Coning. At the same time, peacebuilding operations must be mindful of the sensitivities of promoting a process of self-organization externally; too much external interference will undermine self-organization. The reason for this, as de Coning argues, is that external intervention removes the feedback loop that a system would otherwise need to help it self-organize, react and adapt to crises. Interventions often remove the need for a local social institution to react, thus depriving the local system from an opportunity to learn how to deal with such problems itself. Oftentimes peacebuilding and international assistance follow a linear logic; the more aid and resources thrown into a conflict setting, the more successful the operation will be. But complexity theory’s non-linear logic posits the opposite: that there is a point to which peacebuilding actually stops helping, and contributes to the very fragility it’s supposed to prevent. Case studies and past experiences demonstrate that externally-driven reform processes are not wholly sustainable.
Furthermore, de Coning believes many international peacebuilding operations too often impose their own culturally and historically informed versions of institutions, norms and models, which limits the room for locals to develop them based on their histories and cultural idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, peacebuilding operations usually underestimate the difficulties associated with transferring these institutions, norms and governance models to the local contexts. This is often combined with a inability to recognize how arduous, time-consuming and rife with challenges the process of rebuilding a state’s institutions is, as the process from fragility to stability is full of uncertainties. Peacebuilding experts would be wise to understand how their own histories and challenges in consolidating their own states’ institutions can help lend insight onto ongoing peacebuilding projects. As de Coning aptly states: “the art of peacebuilding thus lies in pursuing the appropriate balance between international support and home-grown context-specific solutions.”
The author’s focus on institutional resiliency is doubly important given the importance of strong institutions and rule of law in disincentivizing mass atrocities and localized violence in conflict prone settings. Likewise, the large overlap between the work being done in the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community and the peacebuilding tends to be mutually reinforcing. The mass atrocity prevention community could certainly benefit from components of de Coning’s take on complexity theory. The transference of peace initiatives from international to local ownership is a trend more frequently advocated for in the conflict prevention community recently. Locally led reconciliation efforts in Kenya were instrumental in forestalling mass atrocities during the recent election cycle. Peace efforts in Nimba county, Liberia were more also successful once outside actors relinquished control and gave greater ownership of the process to local leaders. Local ownership of peace initiatives oftentimes gives more legitimacy to the process in the eyes of the locals, (as opposed to Western imposed mechanisms) as tribal leaders and elders already command the respect and trust of their communities.
Alternatively, in Bosnia, local reconciliation efforts were only able to take off when international and external actors consistently pressured and prodded local leaders. Similar difficulties with local ownership were found in Kosovo, where a push by international actors for greater local ownership of the peace process led to internal mistrust, corruption and ambiguity at the local level about how to proceed. There are dangers to ceding control of conflict prevention initiatives to local actors without looking over their shoulder. The proper balance, for both peacebuilding and mass atrocity prevention experts, probably lies somewhere in the middle where local ownership is coupled with international standards and oversight. It is important to view local ownership not as an‘ either/or’ question, but rather a careful balancing act that is mindful of the miscues associated with overreliance on external assistance as well as the lack of stewardship. While the motives of both external and domestic actors should be questioned throughout the process, sustainable peacebuilding requires both contributions from international and local actors united in achieving the same goals.
The following is the final entry in a three part series on Kenya’s 2013 general elections and their implications for similar mass atrocity prevention efforts moving forward. The peaceful Kenyan election this past March was hailed as a major victory for those working to prevent a repeat of the mass atrocities committed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 elections. From the perspective of the mass atrocity prevention community, Kenya did a commendable job in upholding their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community also succeeded in assisting national and local authorities throughout this process. Thus, both fulfilled their 1st and 2nd pillar responsibilities under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) framework, which are, accordingly: that a state must uphold its responsibility to protect its populations, and that if that state is unable to do so, the international community has an obligation to assist. Lessons learned from the 2007-2008 atrocities catalyzed both domestic and international momentum to proactively address the risk factors and causes of potential violence. But does the Kenyan case study represent a true shining example of successful R2P application, as well as a model for future applications in unstable democracies? Or were there unique circumstances germane to this case and/or a large overhype of the risks that make this atrocity prevention success not as generalizable a model as some may think?
A True Model of 1st and 2nd Pillar R2P or an Aberration?
Kenya was certainly seen as a resounding success within the mass atrocity prevention community, but what are the lessons and best practices that are logically transferable to similar cases where there’s risk for political violence? In terms of the risk of mass atrocities, Kenya was indeed a unique case for several main reasons. Kenya’s government was first of all deeply committed to avoiding the same pitfalls suffered during the last national election cycle, where over 1,000 were killed and 350,000 displaced. These events prompted a political crisis, subsequent ICC indictments and led to the rapid destruction of more than half of the country’s GDP. Following this, Nairobi engaged in massive reforms, local and national conflict mediation efforts and greatly enhanced its police presence prior to the elections. These efforts fostered a narrative for a national violence prevention agenda that had not been seen in Kenya during past election cycles, essentially laying a strong foundation for creating a culture of accountability aimed at dissuading the incitement of political violence. In these five years, Kenya actuated a multidimensional peace industry that involved cohorts and partners from all walks of life, all invested in the same goal. It’s hard expect such an effort to replicated elsewhere in Africa where lack of resources, institutional capacity and political will would probably be in short supply compared to the Kenyan case. The feasibility of implementing highly coordinated tech campaigns in the DRC or Somalia is practically impossible compared to doing so in Nairobi, also known as the “Silicon Savannah”, as the disparities with infrastructure, resources and outside assistance are stark. But while the individual building blocks of peace were positioned to succeed in the Kenyan case, that doesn’t mean the blueprint of what worked in Kenya can’t be utilized in similar cases.
Secondly, when advocating for mass atrocity prevention in nations where strong electoral management and effective governance are lacking, strong institutions are usually the first defense against fraud and instability. Kenya, who many see as a model for democracy amongst East African nations, had institutions that weren’t completely broken, but rather in serious need of fixing. In other fledgling democracies it may be hard to quickly repair and restore confidence in institutions in order to establish a foundation for a peaceful democratic process, that of which Kenya managed to achieve in a relatively short period of time. Thirdly, the main risk in Kenya was election-based violence, which means the roots of violence weren’t nearly as deep as other countries in the region like the DRC, Sudan, or Somalia, where mass atrocities are being committed in the context of civil wars and widespread militia-based fighting. A key wildcard in this case was the ICC’s involvement after the last general elections and the symbolic impact they had on dissuading violence. It’s easy to see that the Hague was a powerful antidote to violence in Kenya, just as it’s not in Khartoum.
Another factor that makes the model utilized in Kenya ungeneralizable to other R2P cases is that the Kenyan government was fully committed to atrocities prevention for a variety of reasons previously mentioned. Externally driven capacity building, robust civil society partnerships and various election observers were more than welcomed by Nairobi, which differentiates this from more classic R2P cases where atrocities are occurring in closed systems, like Syria or Sudan. Many allege that the general elections were a classic case of the dog that didn’t bark, and that over hype and exaggeration distorted the true risk of mass atrocities. It remains hard to prove how much of an effect various initiatives had on the risk of violence during the elections, which may render the exactitude of recommendations for future cases somewhat unclear. Whether there was over hype or not isn’t going to bug policymakers, citizens, or international investors when considering the alternative, inaction, but it does muddy the waters for the international community when seeking to replicate, with confidence, the ingredients of the Kenyan model. The Kenyan example was uniquely geared towards a strong possibility of peace, that doesn’t mean some of the preemptive efforts taken can’t be seen as a successful utilization of the R2P toolkit. Certain lessons in Kenya may be useful in helping assist unstable democracies where election violence is a serious concern, such as Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mali in the short-term. The lessons and successes/failures in coordinating local early warning and response systems, pressuring political leaders to limit incitement, training indigenous media outlets to spread tolerance, and strengthening local capacities for peace, should be shared widely within the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community.
Finally, part of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm requires governments and the international community to work to ensure sustainable peace by addressing the root causes of violence. In fact, the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) Report from 2001, one of the foundational documents of R2P, considered this to be the international community’s most important obligation. To think that root causes of Kenya’s past atrocities have been completely addressed because of one short-term success would be dangerous and irresponsible. It is the obligation of the international community to assist Kenya in addressing these root causes in order to ensure long-term mass atrocity prevention. As Kenya exhales after a tense several months, the international community must begin this process while consolidating on gains made in enhancing civil society capacities and institutional accountability, particularly the judiciary. Newly appointed President Kenyatta must work to further establish trust in the electoral process, carry out constitutional reforms, continue the ongoing process of national reconciliation, and build upon the peace industry that helped carry Kenyan society through the recent elections. Not capitalizing on Kenya’s short-term victories in mass atrocity prevention would not only tarnish the generalizability of lessons learned for future cases , but would also amount to a failure by neglecting lessons of the past.
Photo: AP Photo / Ben Curtis
By ANTHONY DiROSA
The following is the second entry in a three part series on Kenya’s 2013 general elections and their implications for similar mass atrocity prevention efforts moving forward. The peaceful Kenyan election this past March was hailed as a major victory for those working to prevent a repeat of the mass atrocities committed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 elections. From the perspective of the mass atrocity prevention community, Kenya did a commendable job in upholding their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community also succeeded in assisting national and local authorities throughout this process. Thus, both fulfilled their 1st and 2nd pillar responsibilities under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) framework, which are, accordingly: that a state must uphold its responsibility to protect its populations, and that if that state is unable to do so, the international community has an obligation to assist. Lessons learned from the 2007-2008 atrocities catalyzed both domestic and international momentum to proactively address the risk factors and causes of potential violence. But does the Kenyan case study represent a true shining example of successful R2P application, as well as a model for future applications in unstable democracies? Or were there unique circumstances germane to this case and/or a large overhype of the risks that make this atrocity prevention success not as generalizable a model as some may think?
Technology, Crowdsourcing and Social Media
Also imperative to note was the use of technology in the Kenyan case study; mass data-mining operations, the utilization of mobile communications and monitoring SMS messages for hate speech are illustrative of the innovative technological platforms that are currently expanding the mass atrocity/conflict prevention toolkit. International partners like TechChange, who teamed up with domestic crisis-mapping tech company Ushahidi, helped fill gaps in conflict prevention capacity by diligently monitoring the Kenyan elections using social media. Ushahidi used Crowdmapping to produce crisis maps, or visual data fed by on-the-ground monitors posting live updates via Twitter, SMS or online posts, which would then be geo-tagged by the system to reveal potential risk areas. As this data was aggregated, monitors could sift through it to identify reports of violence, hate speech, corruption and voter suppression and coordinate responders on the ground. Ushahidi’s work is emblematic of how crisis mapping and crowdsourcing technologies can be used to encourage transparency and accountability in elections, and ultimately reduce the chance of violence.
Early warning/ early response systems across the country, specifically in the Rift Valley, were some of the more replicable conflict prevention mechanisms employed, in terms of best practices and lessons learned for future cases. The USAID-funded Local Empowerment for Peace (LEAP) led the coordination of early warning/early response (EWER) in the Rift Valley, as they trained nearly 600 peace monitors on how to observe, report, and respond to signs of early warning/early response. Monitors would report to a vast network of first responders, which included civil society groups and local administration officials, including police forces. LEAP, along with Mercy Corps, Uchaguzi and Ushahidi, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, worked in partnership to established two early warning hubs designed to respond to alerts from the monitors. The hubs were operated by data analysts and dispatchers who monitored the Uchaguzi platform, a hate-speech data-mining operation, as peace monitors also fed them information via cell phone. This effective example of partnering humanitarian agencies, civil society groups and tech-firms in joint conflict prevention and early warning/early response initiatives is a model that ought to be studied and replicated in the future.
Kenya’s government, specifically the Communications Commission, also led the way through innovative measures requiring screening of all short message service (SMS) texts for bulk dissemination by politicians. Kenya’s National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring took charge of identifying and reprimanding blogs with hateful and provocative material. New measures called on mobile companies to intercept any mass texts that may provoke violence. These were seen as reactionary policy measures intended to avoid what happened in 2007-08, when ethno-political hate messages were spread by political groups, leading directly to inter-ethnic violence. The suspension or censoring of mass communication technologies in conflict prone settings aren’t unique to Kenya, as SMS texts were suspended in the DRC in 2011, as well as Kashmir in 2012 and Egypt last year. International, domestic and local level efforts to curtail one of the main catalysts for violence in 2008, indigenous language media outlets, were also laudable. The media, mainly radio stations, were largely broadcasters of peace this time around, as commercial and government run stations were deeply involved in educating voters on the issues, focusing on civic education, preaching restraint and tolerance, and avoiding any and all political incitement. International media training agencies were involved in advising journalists on how to report critically without stirring up ethnic and sectarian tensions. Religious leaders also played a large role as conveyors of peace with messages of tolerance and respect aimed at their constituents. Although there were widespread criticisms and accusations that Kenya’s media engaged in self-censorship and failed to fulfill its watchdog role, it’s clear that given the alternative, the result should be deemed a success.
The next part of this Case Study for GenPrev series will focus on how the Kenyan model can be used in future R2P cases, and what the implications are for future atrocity prevention efforts.
Photo: The New York Times
The following is the first entry in a three part series on Kenya’s 2013 general elections and their implications for similar mass atrocity prevention efforts moving forward. The peaceful Kenyan election this past March was hailed as a major victory for those working to prevent a repeat of the mass atrocities committed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 elections. From the perspective of the mass atrocity prevention community, Kenya did a commendable job in upholding their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community also succeeded in assisting national and local authorities throughout this process. Thus, both fulfilled their 1st and 2nd pillar responsibilities under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) framework, which are, accordingly: that a state must uphold its responsibility to protect its populations, and that if that state is unable to do so, the international community has an obligation to assist. Lessons learned from the 2007-2008 atrocities catalyzed both domestic and international momentum to proactively address the risk factors and causes of potential violence. But does the Kenyan case study represent a true shining example of successful R2P application, as well as a model for future applications in unstable democracies? Or were there unique circumstances germane to this case and/or a large overhype of the risks that make this atrocity prevention success not as generalizable a model as some may think?
Why were they peaceful?
After a tension-filled but mostly peaceful election, Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Uhuru Kenyatta president-elect. Although his victory was challenged in court by his main competitor, Raila Odinga, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled it legitimate. Any analysis of why Kenya turned towards peace and away from violence must begin with the many reforms the country has undertaken to create credible institutions, such as the aforementioned IEBC and the revamped judiciary, which were criticized for corruption and incompetence and viewed with mistrust during the 2007-2008 elections. The main impetus behind these reforms was the new Kenyan constitution, ratified in 2010, which sought to change many of the broken laws, corrupt institutions and antiquated power structures that many Kenyans believed were culpable for part of the unrest in 2007-2008. Politically, a process of devolution, which gave greater control of local policies back to ethnically homogenous communities across Kenya, helped diminish political tensions fueled by long-standing ethnic-based resentments. Furthermore, according to the International Crisis Group, a consensus between the political elite and the citizenry not to drag Kenya back into chaos again was a major factor. Many Kenyans spoke of a national sense of regret, fed by strong memories and reflections of the violence in 2007-2008, as a powerful force that helped convince them that violence wasn’t the answer. Others may have felt compelled to resist promoting violence because of the possibility of accountability due to the lingering effects of the 2010 ICC indictments and the newfound confidence in Kenya’s judiciary, both of which restrained certain actors.
Some of the most important preventative efforts were indeed organic. A myriad of efforts throughout Kenyan society, from government bureaucrats, religious leaders, heads of political parties, local NGOs and youth peace activists, pushed Kenyans to embrace the peace discourse and reject violence. Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) played a large role in rooting out hate speech, promoting tolerance, and assuaging long-standing ethno-political cleavages. Local peace capacities were bolstered by the IEBC and the NCIC through creating conflict management committees at the local level, which helped ensure the consolidation of peace prior to the elections. These initiatives were prompted by the peace accord signed after the atrocities in 2008, which included requirements for establishing a countrywide network of “peace committees” at the district level that were locally instituted. Innovative and creative efforts like holding community peace workshops and conducting local street theatre performances, with themes of peace and inter-ethnic relations, helped increase inter-communal understanding prior to the election.
Domestic efforts were reinforced by numerous international partners. From the European Union and the United Nations, to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, external actors greatly aided Kenya’s efforts to institute conflict mitigation mechanisms and multi-level early warning systems. From the United States alone, the State Department’s Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau and the U.S. Institute of Peace helped arrange teams in high-risk areas to assist conflict mitigation efforts, while USAID funded and helped mobilize young Kenyans against violence. International NGOs, funded by foreign governments, investors and organizations (all committed to Kenyan stability) helped organize conflict resolution workshops, pro-peace advertisements, and media campaigns that forwarded pro-peace mass SMS texts to people in hot spots. The international community’s second pillar assistance to Kenya was carefully coordinated, well-funded and ostensibly effective.
The next part of this Case Study for GenPrev series will focus on how social media technology and crowdsourcing played a huge role in delivering peace during the Kenyan 2013 elections.