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* In a meeting with the Defense Writers Group on September 14, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said he had no problem with African states buying weapons and aircraft from China because he didn’t “see that as a military competition between [the U.S.] and China.” As Human Rights First pointed out, however, Chinese arms have enabled violence against civilian populations in Libya and Zimbabwe and contribute to ongoing atrocities throughout the continent, including in the Congo and Sudan. This is primarily the result of Chinese export laws that are neither strict nor strictly enforced by the government, coupled with Chinese companies’ lack of discretion.

* University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Sikkink argues in today’s New York Times that countries that prosecute human rights offenders have a better chance of ending repression than those that do not. In research comparing these two types of countries, she found that, contrary to what some contend, prosecutions of atrocity crimes tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy, or lead to violence. Writes Sikkink: “Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.”

* Cornell law student Nicholas Kaasik today lays out the argument for why the United States should ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court. The purpose of the ICC is to end impunity and hold leaders accountable for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Were the United States to join the 117 current States Parties, Kaasik says the relationship between the United States and the ICC would be mutually beneficial, strengthening each other’s legitimacy.

Photo: frbiz.com

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Democratic Republic of Congo: High stakes for November elections

The United States Institute of Peace, in association with the Great Lakes Policy Forum, hosted a discussion June 2 on how the United States and the international community can help stabilize the dangerous situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of the November elections. As security has broken down in many areas of the country, the threat of politically motivated violence is real—before, during, and after the election.

The DRC has been in a perpetual state of conflict for decades. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently lists it as one of the places most prone for ethnic conflict in the near future. It’s suffered two major wars, with over 5.7 million people dead as a result. Armed groups continue to challenge government control, while the government itself is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. Despite a successful election in 2006, dangerous conditions persist till today, especially in the east, where rebel groups perpetrate crimes against civilians including sexual violence, murder, looting, and forced displacement. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “national and provincial structures remain incapable of ensuring basic security for communities, providing transparent management of resources and wealth, and addressing entrenched problems of corruption, poverty, lack of development and heightened ethnic and regional tensions.”

The first speaker at the June 2 discussion, Joshua Marks, the Central Africa Program Officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, spoke at length on the DRC’s upcoming election. According to him, international monitoring is key to avoiding violence. Successful monitoring has a two-fold effect, he said: It not only gives the government greater legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, it also gives it greater credibility in the eyes of other countries, which may encourage them to give more aid.

While Marks said he was confident that UN and EU teams would ensure a fair election, he urged listeners to be cautious in their expectations. As he pointed out, even successful elections can give way to chaos, and the international community must make sure to strengthen other aspects of society as well—for example, supporting a greater separation of powers and protecting freedom of speech.

Also integral to stemming an outbreak of violence, Marks said, is monitoring the media, since media can be used as a tool either for democratic expression or hateful propaganda. Donor countries need to take a greater role in ensuring that they guide the Congo’s media towards the former. He looks at successful U.S. policy in this case as a good example. U.S. funding has helped create local radio broadcasts that are fair, strengthening civil society and open and democratic debate—two factors that can help avoid election-time violence.

While admitting the country is still is a dismal state despite billions of dollars in aid, Marks said he believes coordination of efforts by governments and like-minded organizations can lead to fund being used more efficiently and effectively.

The discussion’s second speaker, Tia Palermo, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, spoke extensively on the problem of sexual violence in the DRC. Recent reports have shown that sexual violence against women there is one of the highest in the region. However, Palermo claims the high levels of rape are not due to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, but simply by men acting on their own, which points to a fundamental problem in Congolese society. To rectify this, Palermo recommended that donor nations help build education programs and instruments to aid in the prosecution of accused rapists.

Photo:© UNHCR/P.Taggart

This week’s Guest Preventers on the AIPR blog are Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman, codirectors of the 2010 award-winning film The Last Survivor, which follows the lives of survivors of four different genocides—the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo—as they struggle to make sense of tragedy by inspiring tolerance in a new generation. 

From very early on, our goal was to make a film about genocide that left the audience with a feeling of hopefulness and optimism—that there was something they could do to end this tragedy. Now we are working with a coalition of groups to bring The Last Survivor to communities around the globe, spark dialogue about how to prevent genocide in the future, and bring much needed support and attention to the most vulnerable communities of survivors and refugees around the world.

As filmmakers, we believe the most effective way to raise awareness and, ultimately, to prevent genocide is by listening to and supporting the people directly affected by it. Too often, refugee and survivor communities are neglected by the genocide prevention movement, so, as part of our film’s grassroots campaign, we are working to bridge this divide by connecting refugees with anti-genocide activists in the United States. We hope this will help foster personal relationships and provide opportunities for activists to get to know the people they are advocating for, who are living in their own communities. If we learn from each other’s experiences, we can become a stronger force speaking and acting out against genocide.

We hope that you will consider joining us in this effort by bringing the film to your community so your friends and neighbors can learn about these atrocities and hopefully get inspired, like we did, to do something about it.

Everyone has personal reasons for getting involved in the movement to prevent genocide. These are ours.

Michael Pertnoy, founder and executive director, Righteous Pictures

When I was 18, I had the opportunity to journey to the concentration camps in Poland on a program called the March of the Living. Up until that point I had learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and in many ways it was overwhelming—thinking about the statistics, seeing the horrific pictures and graphic film footage, I felt helpless. But as I walked arm in arm with the Holocaust survivors from my home community, marching through the death camps into the gas chambers, the focus was no longer on the millions of lives lost, but the power of those who had survived; those who had passed through the worst that the world has to offer and emerged with something to give to the world—a renewed sense of purpose, an obligation to provide a firsthand account of one of history’s darkest times, and to share their story so future genocides could be prevented.

On that trip in 2002 I made a promise to the survivors that I would carry on their legacy to my generation and beyond. In 2006 I returned to the camps. By then, the genocide in Darfur had been raging for more than three years. Over 300,000 people had been killed and millions displaced. And I wasn’t even aware yet of the violence in Congo and the other nations around it. It was after this trip back to the camps, as a recent college graduate, that I decided to get involved with the growing anti-genocide cause that was mobilizing across the United States. It was the confluence of these experiences that birthed The Last Survivor, and the rest was history.

Michael Kleiman, cofounder and creative director, Righteous Pictures

My grandmother on my father’s side and her three sisters fled Belgium to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. I remember hearing stories about how the four of them were hidden in the back of a pickup truck and smuggled out of the country to the south of France, where they hid in a barn for six months before escaping to Portugal and then the United States. I grew up with these stories.

When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine told me in passing about the genocide in Darfur, which had been going on for three years at that point. I was taken aback, not only by the horror but by the fact that I’d never heard anything about it. I considered myself politically aware at that time—mindful of the world around me. So I did what any film student would do: I picked up my camera and made what I now consider to be a terrible short film about the genocide in Darfur and its absence from the news. I always wanted to do more, so when Michael came to me with the idea for a film about genocide survivors, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect published a policy brief May 19 titled “Tackling the Threat of Mass Atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Applying the Responsibility to Protect.” This report examines the ongoing violence in the DRC and what steps international organizations, donor governments, and the Congolese government can take to fulfill their obligations under the Responsibility to Protect.

Conflict between armed rebel groups and the DRC armed forces (FARDC), dating back to 1996, has resulted in war crimes and crimes against humanity on both sides, including mass murder, rape, looting, pillaging, extortion, forced labor, forced conscription, and the displacement of over 1 million people. Despite a 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO), an ICC investigation, and UN Security Council sanctions, the security situation remains unstable.

Within the Congo itself, the brief identifies several key issues for the government to address with regard to the FARDC, including corruption, absence of a clear command-and-control structure, lack of training in civilian protection and human rights, linkages of certain units to individual politicians, persistence of impunity for perpetrators of abuses, and conflict over natural resources and mines. The brief also calls on the DRC to take steps to fulfill its Responsibility to Protect, and urges foreign governments and multilateral organizations to support Congo’s government in doing so.

The brief says MONUSCO should deploy preventively rather than reactively, and improve communications with the local population to better protect civilians. The most urgent need, according to the Global Centre for R2P, is for security sector reform to rein in the FARDC, including prosecution of known human rights abusers in the military. Stronger and more unified institutionalization of the FARDC, standardized and coordinated training that includes civilian protection and human rights components, and civilian oversight are critical for effective security sector reform, the brief says.

Lastly, the report argues that disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs should shift focus from short-term disarmament to longer-term efforts to reintegrate demobilized combatants into civilian society.

Photo: Operation Broken Silence

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


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that Libya’s aerial bombing of civilians and use of heavy weapons on city streets must be investigated as possible crimes against humanity, Reuters reported. Pillay confirmed that “she had received accounts of executions, rapes and disappearances in the north African country.”

French president Nicolas Sarkozy told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes against Libya may soon be justified, the Guardian reported. “The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr. Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters,” Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya “because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs.” David Cameron, the British prime minister, further commented at the EU summit: “I think it is the moment for Europe to understand we should show real ambition about recognising that what’s happening in north Africa is a democratic awakening and we should be encouraging these countries down a democratic path.”

Charles Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, made his concluding statements in Taylor’s trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Griffiths stated that the trial of the once-powerful Liberian leader was “politically motivated’’ to ensure he does not return to power in Liberia and he branded the war crimes case “neocolonialism’’ built on circumstantial evidence, calling on the judges at the trial yesterday to acquit his client on all counts, Boston.com reported. Verdicts in the case are expected later this year.

To celebrate International Woman’s Day on March 8, CNN published an article titled “To empower African women, turn words into action.” The article states that “urgent work is needed to address the ills of gender inequality, marginalization and social injustice currently endured by women in places like the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence against women is rife and rape has become a weapon of war.”

Photo: Foreign Policy Magazine

A German court has ordered FDLR militia leaders Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni to stand trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on Congolese territory, AllAfrica.com reports. Murwanashyaka, 47, and Musoni, 49, were arrested in November 2009 and indicted in December 2010 for 26 crimes against humanity and 39 war crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Rwanda. Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende commented: “This is a very good achievement for the peace process in the Great Lakes region since the trial of these criminals will send a strong signal to those willing to go ahead with their diabolic projects in both the DRC and Rwanda.”

Over 100 people were killed in days of fighting in Sudan’s hotly contested Abyei area, while thousands have fled southward away from the carnage, Time magazine reported. The article discusses the recent referendum where South Sudan decided to succeed from the North and whether or not this fighting will signalize the “moment it all starts falling apart.”

Joe Olzacki, director of performing and visual arts in Bloomfield schools, will testify at a public hearing before the legislature’s education committee in support of a bill that would require Connecticut high schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.  The Hartfield Courant noted that only five states—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York—mandate that schools provide genocide education. Olzacki  commented: “Today’s kids don’t know what ‘never again’ means.”

Photo: Reuters Africa

The Libyan deputy ambassador to the U.N., Ibrahim Dabbashi, has stated in an interview with the BBC that genocide is occurring in Libya. Dabbashi spoke about the protests against the government and the violence being perpetrated against non-state actors by the government. Dabbashi urged the international community to establish a safe passage for medical supplies to get to Libya and for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start investigating the crimes against humanity being committed by Gaddafi against his own people.
[Update: the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide (Francis Deng) and Responsibility to Protect (Edward Luck) issued a statement saying they were “alarmed by the reports of mass violence coming from the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” They continued: “If the reported nature and scale of such attacks are confirmed, they may well constitute crimes against humanity, for which national authorities should be held accountable.”]

A mobile military court in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo investigating a case of mass rape has sentenced Lt Col Kibibi Mutware to 20 years in jail. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops to rape, beat up and loot from the population of Fizi on New Year’s Day, BBC News reported. The IntLawGrrls Blog commented: “If other crimes could be prosecuted as seriously as gender crimes, genuine progress on respecting the rule of law, maintaining order, and creating stability and prosperity is not only possible, but probable.”

Fresh clashes have erupted between supporters of Côte d’Ivoire’s rival presidents as the presidents of Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania arrived to launch a new bid to break the impasse AllAfrica has reported. The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect commented in January on the dire situation in Côte d’Ivoire.

Photo: Kansascity.com

In November 2010, the International Peace Institute (IPI) published a report by I. William Zartman titled “Preventing Identity Conflicts Leading to Genocide and Mass Killings.” Published in cooperation with the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide at the United Nations, the paper discusses stages in the prevention of identity conflicts and the tools available for the international community to use. Read it here.

In “Putting Complementarity into Practice: Domestic Justice for International Crimes in DRC, Uganda, and Kenya,” published by the Open Society Foundations, Eric A. White argues that the “principle of complementarity, under the Rome Statute, not only sets forth a key test for admissibility of cases in The Hague; it also places a heavy burden on individual states to help achieve the Rome Statute’s overarching goal: ending impunity for grave atrocities.”

Holocaust memorial day is commemorated annually on January 27. The day follows General Assembly Resolution 60/7 adopted on November 1, 2005.  At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German and Polish Presidents urged global vigilance to prevent crimes against humanity. At Germany’s official Holocaust remembrance day ceremony the first Roma guest of honour also noted how his people face new threats, including discrimination and exclusion.

On January 25, it was reported that Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana, who is accused of committing war crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo, will be extradited from France to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face such charges. Mr Mbarushimana was arrested in Paris in October 2010 following a request from the ICC, as the BBC reports.

On January 23, the UN published a report on the worsening situation in Darfur as reported by Reuters Africa. The report noted the “worrisome increase” in fighting between rebel and government forces in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The Associated Press further reported on January 27 that the US is calling for peacekeepers in Darfur to be more “aggressive.”

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