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How can media coverage tell us when a genocide is happening? This is the subject of a fascinating article published Tuesday on ForeignPolicy.com.

“What Did We Know — and When Did We Know It?” (by Michael Dobbs, who is following the Mladic trial for the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) looks closely at about 1 minute of video footage shot by a Serbian journalist on July 13, 1995, during the genocide of Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica.

The first part of the video (repeated subsequently in slow motion) shows prisoners gathered in a field, guarded by soldiers in uniform. The second part was taken by Petrovic as he drove back toward Srebrenica through the village of Kravica while the massacre was underway. You hear shots ring out, mingled with the throbbing beat of music from the car radio. In addition to the crumpled bodies (more visible in the slow motion part of the video that begins at 0:50), you see the bullet-spattered façade of the warehouse and empty white buses (used to transport the prisoners).

This footage aired the next day on the Belgrade TV station Studio B, with the murdered Bosnian Serbs described as “dead Muslim soldiers.” One journalist—Robert Block, Belgrade correspondent for the Independent in London—saw the footage and immediately suspected a massacre. He went to the television station and asked to see the footage in slow motion. The next day he published a story titled “Bodies pile up in horror of Srebrenica.”

As Dobbs points out:

If a lone reporter was able to reach such conclusions on the basis of examining a few seconds of video footage, think what a powerful intelligence agency would have been able to do had it been explicitly tasked to gather evidence of war crimes. We now know that the CIA had additional imagery of the Kravica events that was captured in real time, but not analyzed for many weeks.

Given that massacres in the area continued for another week after the footage was broadcast, if intelligence analysts had been paying attention, many lives might have been saved.

From a prevention point of view, what’s important is for intelligence agencies—and journalists—to be on the lookout for signs of atrocity crimes, especially when there is violent conflict going on.

Dobbs will be writing more articles about the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, which you can follow here.

* After months of debate, Israeli courts ruled in favor of extraditing Aleksandar Cvetkovic to Bosnia to stand trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Cvetkovic, who immigrated to Israel in 2006, was arrested in January by Israeli authorities after Bosnian-based courts accused him of participating in the Srebrenica massacre.

* Two Burmese men living in Australia admitted to committing crimes against humanity—including the arrest, torture, and execution of civilians—during Burma’s political turmoil of the late 1980s. The men reportedly admitted to the crimes out of guilt.

* A Sri Lankan government report said that while state forces may have caused civilian deaths during the final months of the country’s civil war, they did not violate international law. The report, issued by the Ministry of Defense, did admit to accidental civilian deaths, but a large portion was devoted to criticizing the conduct of the rebel Tamil Tigers. Said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch: “This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting.”

 * Responding to reports that ICC charges against Muammar Qaddafi might be dropped if he agrees to step down, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch wrote that “instead of putting a conflict to rest, a de-facto amnesty that grants immunity for crimes against humanity may just spur another cycle of grave abuses while failing to bring peace.”

Photos (from top): Interpol, topnews.in, tntmagazine.com

Sudan: New Drive for Darfur by Christian Engineers

The Affiliation of Christian Engineers has embarked on a new drive to obtain signatures on a petition against mass atrocities in Darfur. The ACE, a faith-based grassroots organization that is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, has been circulating a petition for over a year calling on the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and other engineering professional societies worldwide “to take actions necessary to: 1) stop the mass atrocities in Darfur and create a sustainable peace in the region, 2) protect civilians in Darfur as this happens, and 3) bring justice and accountability those most responsible for the mass atrocities in Darfur.” The ACE bases its petition on the engineering profession’s Code of Ethics, which stresses the responsibility towards “safety, health and welfare of the public.”

Citing the importance of oil in the political and security dynamics of Sudan, and the role that engineers play in locating, extracting, transporting, and refining Sudanese oil, the petition says “we will openly work to persuade all Engineers and Engineering societies around the world to influence those Engineers now working in Sudan to play a positive role in persuading the all parties to adopt the above objectives” and calls on members of the WFEO to use “their skills to help the people of Darfur, such as providing services to the refugee camps, medical professions, and those who are working to bring peace to the region.”

The new campaign, which is endorsed by genocide researcher Samuel Totten, seeks to gain backing from the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

Bosnia: 16th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

July 11, 2011, marked the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys following the fall of the town of Srebrenica marked one of the darkest moments of the 1992–95 Bosnian War. The town was supposed to be protected and disarmed by UN peacekeepers after being declared a safe haven in 1993, but Bosnian Serb troops captured the town and rounded up the refugees who had sought UN protection before systematically killing the men and boys and raping the women.

This week, Bosnians from all over the world gathered to commemorate the massacre, marching along the escape route and praying at mass graves along the way. An important part of each year’s commemoration is the burial of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA testing. This year, 613 victims, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, were newly identified, bringing the total number of named victims to 6,481. This year’s commemoration was also attended by the president of Croatia and the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidency.

This year’s anniversary falls amid the capture of Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Bosnian Serb forces that committed the massacre, and a Dutch court’s ruling holding the Dutch government responsible for the Dutch peacekeeping force’s expulsion of Srebrenica refugees from the UN compound under pressure by Bosnian Serb forces. Mladic is currently on trial at the ICTY, while the Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to compensate the plaintiffs.

In related news, the “Mapping Genocide” project became public last Friday. The 17 maps in the interactive online project track events before, during, and after the fall of Srebrenica, giving viewers access to documents, profiles, reports, and videos related to the massacre. The project, produced by the Sarajevo-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was put together based on material provided by the UN and the Bosnian Serb government as well as the ICTY’s rulings.

Image: Engineers Petition for Darfur

Bosnia: Mladic appears before ICTY again

Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, yesterday appeared for the second time before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The hearing was marked by heated exchanges between Mladic and the presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands. His indictment on 11 charges—including genocide, persecution, and deportation—stems from his leadership of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war, including the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In court yesterday, Mladic said he would not enter a plea without the presence of his Serbian and Russian lawyers, while the court said the Serbian attorney was not qualified to represent Mladic since he does not speak English. On Sunday, Agence France-Presse had reported that Mladic planned to boycott the hearing as a protest against issues with his representation. After Mladic’s expulsion, the judge entered pleas of not guilty on all 11 charges, but did not set a date for his next court appearance.

Laws of War: Crisis Group president Louise Arbour delivers speech

Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current president of the International Crisis Group, delivered the annual Kirby Lecture at the Australian National University on June 23. Titled “The Laws of War: Under Siege or Gaining Ground?” the speech examined the current state of international humanitarian law and the laws governing warfare.

Arbour noted that international law regarding the conduct of war has come under attack from both sides, one arguing that traditional laws of war constrain governments’ ability to fight asymmetric wars against terrorists or insurgents, the other arguing that international law gives too much leeway to states that inflict civilian casualties. While Arbour acknowledged important gaps in international humanitarian law, she said some criticisms were a result of the law’s greater effectiveness in recent years in holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable and the desire of some states to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

Arbour noted that armed conflict has changed dramatically since international treaties like the Geneva Conventions were formulated. It is not always clear whether military, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations against non-state actors can be considered acts of war, which means they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how they should be governed under international and domestic laws. However, even if non-state actors violate laws governing warfare, Arbour argued that states should abide by them, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Non-state violators can be held accountable through the criminal process, whereas states are still bound by their obligations under those treaties.

Even if asymmetric warfare has made it more difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants, Arbour said today’s criteria remained useful, relevant, and necessary: “The current formulation does allow for the targeting of ‘civilian combatants’ when they are engaged in hostilities. To expand humanitarian law to allow the targeting of those civilians not directly involved in hostilities would be a dangerous step, and would entirely undermine the rationale of civilian protection.”

Arbour noted the continuing debate over what constitutes excessive civilian casualties, with one side arguing that any restriction on civilian casualties is too restrictive and the other that current laws of war allow too many civilian casualties. She said that current laws struck a proper balance between “military and humanitarian imperatives,” and that clearer standards would develop over time.

Finally Arbour discussed the concept of “lawfare”—the “use or the abuse of laws of war as a military tool.” While she cautioned against the manipulation of law for political aims, she also highlighted international humanitarian law’s potential to play a major role in protecting civilians and prevent conflict if implemented and enforced properly, and warned against attempts to cast aside or radically revise the current system of international humanitarian law.

Photo: The Guardian

Tensions are running high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have yet to resolve the conflict dating back to the Nagorno-Karabakh war of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite a 1994 ceasefire and rounds of internationally mediated negotiations, the two countries have not arrived at a permanent settlement and are currently engaged in a military buildup. Ceasefire violations by both sides and frustration resulting from lack of a clear resolution have led many Azeri refugees displaced by the conflict to consider war as a viable policy option and to engage in what appears to be military training.

Amnesty International issued a report on Friday urging Rwandan authorities to finish reviewing their “genocide ideology” law to ensure it does not contravene Rwanda’s obligations under international human rights law. Amnesty says the law, enacted in October 2008 to prevent a repeat of the 1994 genocide, is too broad and abstract, which leads it to be used to stifle political dissent and limit freedoms of speech and expression, including legitimate criticisms of current Rwandan policies by opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists. Rwandan officials responded to the allegations, saying Amnesty had “chosen to misrepresent reality in an inaccurate and highly partisan report.”

Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, appeared on Friday before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for the first time since his May 26 arrest. Responding to the 11 counts against him, including genocide, extermination and murder, and terrorism, he called the charges “obnoxious” and “monstrous” and declined to enter a plea. Mladic, who spent much of the hearing discussing his ill health, will appear before court again on July 4.

Image: Kiva Stories from the Field

Former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic, was captured in Serbia on May 26 after evading arrest for almost 16 years. He is awaiting transfer to The Hague, where he will stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He faces charges of genocide in connection with the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. His capture is a positive step towards ending impunity for genocide, Al Jazeera reported.

Bernard Munyagishari, a former Hutu militia leader suspected of masterminding the Rwandan genocide, was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo after evading capture for nearly 17 years. He is wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape. “The prosecutor [Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow] hailed the DRC authorities for their co-operation in executing the warrant of arrest, despite the hurdles encountered in tracking down the fugitive,” the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said. The ICTR indictment states that Munyagashari helped prepare and plan the 1994 genocide.

Satellite images provided by the Enough Project have confirmed that the Sudanese government has been attacking Abyei. “Images show the destruction of a southern-aligned base at Todach by tanks or other armored vehicles, fires burning at the town of Dungop, and the presence of northern attack aircrafts and bombers capable of reaching Abyei town within an hour. Images also show that a former Misseriya encampment at Goli has largely been vacated, confirming reports of Misseriya movements further south.” The Satellite Sentinel Project produced a ‘human security crisis alert’ detailing their findings.

Photo: BBC.co.uk

April, for many reasons (including Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur), is Genocide Prevention Month. April 24 is the date Armenians have chosen to commemorate their genocide at the hands of the Turkish state in 1915, and each year on this date the U.S. president makes a statement. But none of them yet has used the word genocide to describe the events. U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R, CA) and Frank Pallone (D, NJ) sent a letter to President Obama urging him this year to be the first. Although as a senator Obama spoke openly of the genocide, and of the Turks’ denial of it, he has declined to do so since entering the White House. This year was no different, although in a subtle shift, Obama did use the Armenian term for the genocide, Meds Yeghern (or Mec Yeġeṙn), which means “the Great Crime.”

The first U.S. trial charging a person with genocide is slated to open tomorrow in Wichita, KS, the Wichita Eagle reports. Prosecutors claim that 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya, a native of Rwanda, not only lied to obtain U.S. citizenship, but personally ordered the deaths of hundreds of individuals during the 1994 genocide in his homeland. According to the Guardian, “The U.S. government’s strategy in the case mirrors its prosecution of suspected Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, who settled in Ohio after the second world war. Demjanjuk was not charged with committing a violent crime, but rather with concealing his activities from U.S. immigration officials.” The website Rwandinfo.com claims that Human Rights Watch, citing First Amendment protection, is resisting a subpoena to turn over information related to the case. The Rwandan government says it welcomes the trial.

Photo: Associated Press

The unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution on Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi sends a tough warning to other hard-line regimes, including Burma’s military junta, the Irrawaddy has reported.  The resolution “sends a strong message that the international community will no longer tolerate regimes . . .  that kill their own citizens or commit gross human rights violations.”

The Bosnian War Crimes Court has indicted Veselin Vlahovic for crimes against humanity, including “murder, enslavement, rape, illegal detention, physical and psychological abuse” of civilians during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. Vlahovic, dubbed “the monster of Grbavica,” was extradited to Bosnia from Spain last year after being arrested there for robbery and assault with a firearm, the Canadian Press reported.

The Stanley Foundation has posted a video on YouTube by Edward Luck, UN special adviser for the Responsibility to Protect. Luck answers questions about how the UN is applying R2P in its response to atrocities in Libya.

Photo: unifemuk.org

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