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Last Monday evening, Sept. 24, the Women’s Media Center and Physicians for Human Rights presented a panel discussion titled “Is It Possible to Stop Rape in Conflict? A Conversation with Nobel Laureates and Activists at the Forefront of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.”

Before the panel itself got under way, author and activist Robin Morgan offered some comments. She began by saying that women live in an alternate reality of normalized violence. She mentioned the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s Akayesu decision, which ruled for the first time that rape, if committed with the intention to destroy a group, could be considered a component of genocide. It also marked the first time an international court punished sexual violence in a civil war. Throughout the world, especially in conflict-prone areas, women are subjected to female genital mutilation, untenable living situations as internally displaced persons and refugees, sexual slavery and prostitution, unpaid labor, and suffer disproportionately from illiteracy. She concluded by pointing out the direct correlation between violence in the family and violence in the state. For more on this topic, Morgan recommended reading Sex and World Peace, by Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett.

The next speaker was Susannah Sirkin, deputy director at Physicians for Human Rights, who focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She discussed the case of Bosco Ntaganda, who despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court continues to travel freely between the DRC and Rwanda, which has the effect of encouraging rape and other grave crimes. On the topic of medical treatment for rape survivors, Sirkin said that while clinics exist, their cupboards are bare. In addition to ending impunity, she also noted the need for survivors to tell their stories.

Sirkin then acted as translator for Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, located in eastern DRC. Dr. Mukwege said he has treated 40,000 women who are victims of rape and has performed 15,000 surgeries to repair women’s bodies damaged by rape and sexual violence. Compounding the problems of silence and lack of capacity surrounding these issues, Dr. Mukwege said that rape in DRC is not just a weapon, but a strategy of war—well planned, well organized, and systematic. Women and girls of all ages are victims and mass rapes are methodically carried out. There are instances in which public rapes are used to demonstrate power and destroy genitalia; one cannot go to the press as with a mutilated hand or ear. Consequences of rape in the DRC include a massive displacement of the population, as well as a demographic impact, since young women often develop obstetric fistulas that make it impossible for them to reproduce. There’s also the risk of contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. These are consequences that are transmitted to the next generation and lead to the destruction of the social fabric and economy.

After Dr. Mukwege, Patricia Guerrero spoke. She is director of the League of Displaced Women in Colombia, where displaced women live undercover because there are no public policies in place to address their plight. When conflicts come to an end and a peace process starts, Guerrero noted that violence against women often increases. Other social problems adversely affecting women in Colombia are the development and control of natural resources and the war on drugs. Because of the stigma these women face, they often speak in code.

The next-to-last panelist was Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran. Ebadi said she believes sexualized violence can be ended by addressing impunity through the ICC, although it is a problem that the ICC has no jurisdiction over half of the countries in the world because they are not state parties to the Rome Statute. She noted that while it is true the UN Security Council has the authority to refer cases to the ICC, as it did with Sudan, there is also the fact problem of the abuse of veto power within the Security Council. She cited Syria as an example, where crimes against humanity are being committed but China prevents the Security Council from taking action. Ebadi pointed out that children born from rape and what their destiny will be is often forgotten. In traditional cultures, as she called them, such children are hated and cast aside. So protecting victims has to include protecting these children. Punishing the perpetrator is the ideal but culture can dictate that the victim be killed or have other rights violated. During the Iran–Iraq war, she said, a vast amount of rapes were committed in southern Iran, which is tribal. Twenty years later, those who contested the 2009 election results were arrested and raped in prison. To bring an end to such atrocities, Ebadi suggested that a good starting point is naming and shaming those who commit them.

The final speaker was Jody Williams, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her achievements with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams noted that although a campaign to ban landmines is obviously very different from a campaign to stop rape in conflict, they both speak to the power of the collective, of civil society. She also talked a bit about her experiences working with the women’s human rights group MADRE.

The evening concluded with a Q&A session led by the event’s moderator, Lauren Wolfe. The event’s main takeaway was that rape in conflict isn’t something that happens “over there.” Rather, it is a continuum of the violence that happens in homes and between states. One of the contributing factors is the glorification of war, and the root cause is patriarchy, meaning a cultural mindset, not just the male gender. Because of the shame attached to it, victims of rape must overcome the obstacle of silence. For their part, men who aren’t responsible for these heinous acts also need to speak out. Political leaders must address this issue as they do unemployment or the economy. And in order to achieve true justice, women must participate in peace negotiations.

Related links:

UN Guidance for Mediators Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ceasefire and Peace Agreements

The Missing Peace Symposium 2012: Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings


Today, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the fourth issue of their bimonthly bulletin, R2P Monitor. This issue features Syria, Sudan, and DR Congo, all in “Current Crisis,” and Libya, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa, with situations of “Serious Concern.” Current crises are those where mass atrocity crimes are occurring and urgent action is needed; serious concern indicates that there is a significant risk of occurrence, or recurrence, of mass atrocity crimes within the foreseeable future if effective action is not taken.

In analyzing the violence in Syria, the Centre touches upon mounting sectarian divisions (which we wrote about here back in February), as well as divisions within the United Nations Security Council. While they call on the Syrian government to “immediately cease attacks on civilians and adhere to [Kofi Annan’s] six-point plan,” collective action must also be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, and the whole of the international community.

Similar necessary action is laid out for Sudan, where the government “should allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur should be thoroughly investigated by a credible and independent body authorized by the UN.” The Security Council is also urged to take steps beyond an investigation in order to better secure a long-term conflict resolution.

In the case of Congo, the brunt of the responsibility for addressing the threat of terrorist factions and militias falls on the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Other parties charged with acting in this instance are international donors and countries with whom DRC shares borders.

As one would anticipate given the name and nature of the Centre and its publication, the key recommendations appear to be structured parallel to the pillars of R2P:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

Last month, the World Peace Foundation launched a new blog series, How Mass Atrocities End, which seeks to address the question of how to recognize when genocide or mass atrocities end. The rationale is that

This question, let alone the equally, if not more complicated, question of how such violence ends has been caught up in normative assumption about how they ought to end: international armed interventions that rescue the innocent from certain annihilation.

The historical record reveals a potentially surprising and insightful array of forces that impact when and how mass atrocities end. The significance of these insights becomes clearer when one recognizes that:

1)   Armed interventions are not always possible;
2)   Nor are they always desirable;
3)   Nor can they deliver on all the promises ascribed to them.
4)   Further, we must note two significant trends in the broadly-defined field concerned with studying and engaging with large-scale violence against civilians. The first is a shift from response to prevention that results in engagement with unfolding situations at lower levels of violence, while retaining the language of exceptional crisis. Second, a shift from a vocabulary of “genocide” to that of “mass atrocities,” thereby also increasing the number of cases that might be considered within the response rubric. Defining and developing strong policies for successful prevention or response will rely on greater clarity in understanding what constitutes an ending to mass atrocities and how this has and might come about.

To address such questions, the authors have chosen to use the framing contexts of Sudan, Guatemala, and DRC. Sudan has experienced episodic mass atrocities since 1955, four instances of which are “arguably genocidal.” According to Alex de Waal, mass atrocity has not ended in Sudan; rather, the conclusion of each occurrence is just respite. And the reason for these temporary pauses is a combination of the following factors:

  • The exhaustion of the military or militia.
  • The perpetrators achieving specific goals.
  • Resistance of the targeted group.
  • Internal divisions among the perpetrators.
  • Public opinion.
Writes de Waal:

Violent conflict and atrocity in Sudan occurs in the context of a turbulent political system, characterized by a combination of extreme disparity between center and periphery, and instability at the center. [. . .] In summary, most of the time, everything in Sudanese political life, including the lives of ordinary people, is subordinate to tactical political calculus. When that political calculus changes, which may happen for diverse reasons, the rationale for inflicting atrocity also changes. It may lessen or disappear, and may then reappear, probably in a different form.

Given the current political climate in Sudan, especially due to tensions with South Sudan, de Waal concludes that further violence is likely in the region.

In Guatemala, genocide took place during the early 1980s, under both the military government of General Lucas García (1978-82) and the subsequent dictatorship of General Ríos Montt (1982-83). Roddy Brett, of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, writes:

State institutions and institutional arrangements during this five year period were controlled and held ransom by the military; after 1980 no space existed for civil society mobilization or for organised opposition to the successive regimes and the justice system was effectively shut down, the legal system such as it was neutered, and subordinated to the violent and arbitrary procedures of military justice. Consequently, organised civil society did not present a collective front against counterinsurgent operations of the mass atrocities that accompanied them. [. . .] the Guatemalan State facilitated the stigmatization of the indigenous Maya and the subsequent perpetration of systematic massacres against them through the intentional generation and operationalization of the belief in their natural and immutable inferiority and the creation of an ethnic hierarchy based upon invented criteria of biological, cultural and moral differences.

Ultimately, though defeated militarily, with the support of the international community and the emergent victims’ movement, still active guerrilla cells took advantage of the Central American peace process and pushed for a negotiated settlement overseen, influenced, and financed by the international community, including the United Nations. Though 17 accords were signed during the peace process, Brett asserts that neither the process nor the accords responded “directly or adequately to the underlying structural causes of armed conflict, including of historically embedded horizontal inequalities.”

As such, 30 years later, “a genocide ending remains at best intangible, at worst incomplete. [. . .] indigenous peoples continue to suffer the systematic violation of their right to autonomy in a nominally functioning political democracy, dying of preventable and curable diseases and being displaced from their lands to permit internationally supported extraction projects. [. . .] The question remains then as to what analytical and normative instruments are adequate in this context and what the role of the international community should be.”

Tatiana Carayannis describes the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo as three interlocking wars, which first began in 1996:

While mass atrocities in the first war ended through a decisive military victory and the second war ended through stalemate and international pressure, why does the third Congo war persist? Over near one-and-a half decade into this war, one can point to many reasons. Here are a few:
  • Genuine grassroots mobilization against “foreigners”
  • The harsher the repression, the greater the violence
  • No denouncement of Lusaka cease-fire violations
  • Emphasis on implementing the agreement that ended the Second Congo War at the expense of efforts to end the (ongoing) Third Congo War
  • Efforts to end third war began in earnest only after a decade of anarchic violence, making a complicated job that much more complex
  • A continued legitimacy gap for Congolese leadership

Despite the expense and effort that went into organizing the first post-transition elections in the DRC in 2006, Kinshasa increasingly relies on strong-handedness because its authority rests on weak national and local institutions—a crisis of governance and legitimacy that neither the 2006 elections, nor the flawed and contested 2011 elections have solved.


Earlier this week, Genocide Watch and the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPAN) put out a list and map of countries at risk of genocide, politicide, or mass atrocities in 2012. Categorized as current massacres, potential massacres, or polarization, a majority of the countries are in the Middle East and Africa. Current massacres are taking place in DR Congo, Sudan, Eastern Congo, Uganda, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. According to GPAN, these countries are “at the mass killing stage. They have active genocides, recurring genocidal massacres, or ongoing politicides. They are erupting.” The groups and factions comprising the victims and killers include government supporters or protesters, militias, religious and ethnic groups, armies, and terrorist organizations. Which side they fall on varies by region.

On January 18, 2012, the Stanley Foundation held a conference entitled, R2P: The Next Decade. The morning panels discussed R2P in practice; more specifically, panelists spoke about policy approaches since 2005 in the countries of Guinea, South Sudan/Darfur, Somalia, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya.

Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Executive Director of Security Council Report, considers Darfur and South Sudan to be the worst cases, due to the “moral abnegation” of international players within and outside of the Security Council. While the case of Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court, there was no follow-up and member states’ non-cooperation has not been condemned. Guinea is seen as the best case, due to the fact that it had the lowest threshold of violence and said violence was episodic, not systematic. Syria is an open case, as it was an “unintended victim of the success and excess” of the Libyan intervention, and an “expected victim” of geography. Last, Somalia is “debatable” as it transcends R2P and is a failed state by definition. He asserts that effective prevention action is crucial at the earliest stages of a conflict and that what’s most important is translating principle into practice.

The next speaker was Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He stated that 70% of UN Peacekeepers are deployed in Africa and protection is the responsibility of individual states. UN Peacekeepers and organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) are tasked with creating, consolidating, and keeping peace. As such, he wants to see: multilateralism in future interventions under the UN flag; a strengthened Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediation unit; Security Council support for ECOWAS and a regional approach; effective legal, political, and military sanctions against warlords and UN panels to name and shame world leaders fueling conflict; and the R2P principle incorporated into the doctrines of African bodies. He also believes that the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom) need to focus on collective, rather than selective, security.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Arnold Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, says that what ties the cases of the aforementioned countries together is the presence or absence of political strategy. Moving forward, there is a central need for viable political strategies. Though he considers Guinea to have been a predictable crisis, there was no willingness to do anything on the part of the international community. He is hesitant to use the term ‘genocide’ to describe Sudan, since he says that words have baggage, and ‘genocide’ has “enormous baggage.” He also contends that force is just a political tool but that the expectation on what it can achieve needs to be raised. He concluded by saying that Somalia and Syria illustrate the dangers of multiple agendas.

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that the focus has shifted and R2P is becoming victim-centered. Preventive activities and human rights promotion are imperative, as is monitoring and reporting in potential conflict areas, which proved to be successful in Cote d’Ivoire. He drew comparisons between Guinea and Syria, in the nature of violations, droves of peaceful demonstrators, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry. However, they differ because Guinea was a clear situation of full Security Council support with strong backing by ECOWAS while Syria was a fragile consensus, which limits the capacity of regional mechanism to act decisively. Moreover, the major difference is the attitudes of the governments themselves.

Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and Jordan noted that in Egypt and Tunisia, the role of the military facilitated the ouster of President Hosni El Sayed Mubarak and President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, respectively. Unfortunately, such was not the case in Libya. Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), posed the following questions:

-What is the best way to respond to a crisis?

-Who bears the international responsibility to protect?

-What are the limits of prevention?

In considering the answers, he discussed the case of Kyrgyzstan, where intercommunal violence broke out in 2010 after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown. Hundreds of people, especially Uzbeks and other minorities, died, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Additionally, arson, rape, and other atrocities were committed. Vollebaek encourages prevention through diplomacy, as well as a “formal early warning indicating that the situation has gone beyond a level” that the High Commissioner can contain, one where there is a “prima facie risk of potential conflict,” which has thus far happened twice—in Kyrgyzstan, and in Macedonia in 1999. Among the OSCE member states, early warning should be followed by early action. But the most fundamental aspect of prevention is an “emphasis on building capacity of states to fulfill their basic responsibilities.” He went on to say that prevention in practice is long-term and unrewarding, thus it finds resistance among domestic actors and the international community who are more interested in immediate dividends.

At the panel, R2P as a Tool — Identifying Past and Potential Added ValueAlex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy in Australia, pointed out the value of consensus, referring to the global consensus that underpins R2P. He describes R2P as being “disarmingly simple and straightforward in its demand and very clear about its meaning and scope.” Bellamy said R2P further finds value in changing habits and mindsets, mainstreaming the atrocity prevention lens by setting standards, and providing a common vision and shared goal.

Edward C. Luck, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, contributed that R2P protects populations by preventing, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement.  Additionally, a narrow but deep approach is correct and the three pillars of R2P are parallel—there must be political preparation or response capacities in place (local, regional or global); all three pillars must be worked on simultaneously, not one after the other. Luck also emphasized, “It is false division to talk about prevention on one hand and response on the other, they tend to merge when you come around to the actuality of making policy. They are interdependent and interactive, neither will have much credibility without the other.”

Keynote speaker United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the sentiments of the aforementioned speakers. After his introductory thanks and remarks, he quickly pointed out, “[…] delivering on the Responsibility to Protect requires partnership and common purpose. We get the best results when global and regional institutions push in the same direction. In 2011, we stood firm for democracy in Côte d’Ivoire. Yet, we could not have succeeded without the leadership and partnership of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.” On the flip side, however, “We learned lessons about our own limitations, as well. Consider the recent violence in South Sudan. We saw it coming weeks before. Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources.”

Secretary-General Ki-moon declared 2012 the Year of Prevention: “Prevention does not mean looking the other way in times of crisis, vainly hoping that things will get better…Nor can it be just a brief pause while Chapter VII “enforcement measures” are being prepared. Prevention means proactive, decisive and early action to stop violence before it begins…the key to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity lies within each society. These crimes occur far less often in places where civil society is robust, where tolerance is practiced, and where diversity is celebrated. Political figures cannot incite mass violence for their own ends where the rights of minorities and the rule of law are respected.”

He concluded by speaking about Syria, and his repeated condemnation of President Assad’s violence. The problem lies in the fact that the Security Council is divided on this particular case and efforts by regional actors such as the Arab League have proved fruitless thus far. Though he could not say what would happen next, he did remind the audience, “Such is the nature of the Responsibility to Protect. It can be a minefield of nuance, political calculation and competing national interests. The result too often is hesitation or inaction. This we cannot afford.”


Col. Rick Fawcett, serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Congosays it’s unclear whether the worst of the post-election violence in the country has passed. Human Rights Watch has reported at least 24 deaths and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who declared and inaugurated himself president, says he is effectively under house arrest. Incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared the winner by the Congolese Supreme Court and inaugurated last week; the U.S. State Department has expressed deep disappointment over this turn of events, as the irregularities from November’s election were never fully evaluated. Another contributing factor to doubts over the election is the fact that former rebels were promoted to senior posts in Congo’s military in return for supporting Kabila’s re-election effort.

In the capital city of Kinshasa, electricity was cut off and the food supply was disrupted. According to the New York Times,

[Congo] is last on the 2011 Global Hunger Index, a measure of malnutrition and child nutrition compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute, and has gotten worse. It was the only country where the food situation dropped from “alarming” to “extremely alarming,” the institute reported this year. Half the country is considered undernourished.

Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the United States was Congo’s largest donor with a commitment of over $900 million for peacekeeping, humanitarian and development initiatives in the past fiscal year. Many Congolese activists are now calling for some of this aid to be suspended until credible elections take place.


In the two days leading up to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s legislative and presidential elections on November 28, electoral violence left at least 18 civilians dead and 100 seriously wounded. Analysts further predicted election-related violence would follow, and in the two weeks since, these predictions have unfortunately been realized.

Eleven candidates ran for president, including incumbent President Joseph Kabila. Kabila originally came to power in 2001, after his father’s assassination, and was democratically elected in 2006. Currently he is an unpopular figure, especially in western Congo. Eastern Congolese voters are also disillusioned with Kabila’s rule, as he has failed to deliver on his 2006 promises of greater stability and improved infrastructure. As such, many voters were unconvinced that Kabila could win fairly. Moreover, the voting process was widely perceived as fraudulent and irregular.

According to the Carter Center:

“[We find] the provisional presidential election results announced by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) on Dec. 9 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to lack credibility. CENI results point to the re-election of incumbent President Joseph Kabila with 49 percent of the vote followed by Etienne Tshisekedi with 32 percent and Vital Kamerhe with 7.7 percent.  Voter turnout was 58 percent.

[. . .] the quality and integrity of the vote tabulation process has varied across the country, ranging from the proper application of procedures to serious irregularities, including the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa . . . it is also evident that multiple locations, notably several Katanga province constituencies, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila. These and other observations point to mismanagement of the results process and compromise the integrity of the presidential election.”

Anti-riot policemen and members of the elite presidential guard were deployed into the streets of Kinshasa to confront Tshisekedi’s supporters in the immediate aftermath of the election. It has now been confirmed that police killed four people in post-election violence, three of whom were looters and one who was hit by a stray bullet. Human Rights Watch received reports not only of shootings, but of abductions as well. The country’s last civil war, which claimed approximately 6 million lives, ended in 2003. The United Nations’ Human Development Index—the indicators of which are health, education, income, inequality, poverty, gender, and sustainability—ranks the DRC last out of 187 countries. Given these conditions and the DRC’s recent history, it is widely believed that this controversy could escalate into yet another civil war.


Commander Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, leader of the Congolese rebel group Mai Mai, is wanted by the Congolese government for ordering his militia to join an attack on a group of villages in Walikale, where the fighters gang-raped at least 387 women, men, girls and boys in 2010. He is also one of approximately 19,000 candidates for Congo’s National Assembly, the lower and main chamber of Congo’s Parliament. Sheka, listed as a “trader” on Congo’s election Web site, is one of 65 running in Walikale. Congolese authorities tried to arrest Sheka in July, but he escaped. In September, he registered as an independent candidate for the National Assembly. According to Congolese law, Sheka would be immune from prosecution if elected.

Congo’s election, scheduled for November 28th, includes a number of candidates accused of being criminals. One presidential candidate, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, is a former rebel leader whose militia carried out a massacre at a hospital and the surrounding area in 2002 during the country’s civil war. The fighters slaughtered any patient suspected to be from the Hema and Bira groups, killing more than 1,000, according to Human Rights Watch. After the war, Nyamwisi became Congo’s minister of regional cooperation. Another candidate is François-Joseph Nzanga Mobutu, the son of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) said in a press release earlier this week that some political leaders have been using inflammatory language to incite people to violence. It stressed that such conduct is a violation of the country’s electoral law and international electoral standards. According to the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, “Regional and local rebel groups…remain active in several areas, leading to widespread displacement, sexual violence, murder and other forms of human rights abuses against Congolese civilians. The central government…has been unable to restore authority in several provinces and is itself involved in various serious human rights violations. The poorly-trained national army (FARDC) and police lack the capacity and the budget to protect the election process. Furthermore, they have themselves been in involved in abuses. Made up of former rebel groups and Congolese soldiers, FARDC is far from politically neutral and remains divided despite various integration efforts.”


In September 2005, three mass graves were discovered in Rutshuru, in North Kivu province of eastern Congo. Two years later this discovery led to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiating a mapping exercise to investigate atrocities committed in the country between 1993 and 2003. The concluding report (click here for an interview with one of the report’s authors, Jason Stearns) was published in October 2010. Now, one year later, Human Rights Watch is calling on governments the world over to bring the perpetrators of the atrocities to justice.

Addressing the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, the mapping report describes the role of all responsible Congolese and foreign parties, including military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola. The Congolese government drafted a law to create a specialized mixed court, comprised of both international and domestic staff, but the Congolese senate rejected the proposal, despite support from Congolese civil society groups. Meanwhile, the governments of the other named African nations, as well as the UN, have failed to take decisive action.

Human Rights Watch has urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General to confer with the Congolese government, as well as the other governments named in the report and international legal experts, about how to ensure accountability for the crimes. Human Rights Watch is also calling on UN member states to support the Congolese government, financially and politically, in setting up mechanisms to try those responsible for the crimes.


* In discussing case studies of the use of the Responsibility to Protect concept (R2P) in Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of CongoAlex Vines highlights the importance of regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States, and the cohesiveness of interventionists. R2P was deployed in Côte d’Ivoire because of the fear that significant numbers of civilians were at risk, whereas R2P has not been applied in Congo because a UN mission partially charged with protecting civilians already exists. Vines maintains that R2P, despite the popular understanding of it, is about more than military force, since in many cases it is better not to engage militarily.

* In a novel attempt at genocide prevention, North Carolina State University researchers are hoping to use a population’s health and prenatal care as an identifying risk factor. In analyzing the remains of Bosnian Muslims from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and analyzing epidemiological data from the World Health Organization on Rwandan and Yugoslavian refugees, the researchers found high frequency of malnutrition, poor health, inadequate prenatal care, and related problems across these populations. NCSU researchers consider these conditions strong indicators of genocide risk because they are illustrative of the population’s marginalized societal status.

* In order to better prevent and respond to genocide and other mass atrocities, President Obama last month ordered an interagency review with the goal of creating an Atrocities Prevention Board. For the board to be effective, Professor Walter Reich of George Washington University argues that it must include independent experts from outside the government—such as specialists in international affairs, international law, and human rights.


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