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By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Last Thursday, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) put out their annual Peoples Under Threat report, an “authoritative rankings table which highlights those countries around the world where the risk of mass killing is greatest.” The fact that this table cites not only the countries at risk, but the specific ethnic groups and minorities within those countries, makes it a valuable resource for genocide/mass atrocity preventers. This is the seventh year the list has been compiled. It is notable that, “Almost all the significant episodes of civilian killing that occurred over the last year took place in countries which were near the top of, or major risers in, 2011’s Peoples Under Threat table.”

Though the Arab Spring started out hopeful in late December 2010, a year and a half later, the outlook and the reality are grim. As such, countries in the Middle East and North Africa feature prominently in the major risers–particularly Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt; while none of these countries made it into the top 10, they’ve all risen significantly in rank over the past two years or are new to the list. Says MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer, “The huge changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, while increasing hopes for democratisation, represent for both religious and ethnic minorities perhaps the most dangerous episode since the violent break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.”

Also of great consequence is the fact that South Sudan is the highest riser, ranking 8th on the list of Peoples Most Under Threat. The peoples at risk within the country are the MurleNuerDinkaAnuakJie, and Kachipo. (We previously wrote on this blog about clashes between the Lou Nuer and the Murle back in January.) Not yet 11 months old, South Sudan has already experienced two major armed conflicts and ranks high in indicators of group division: “massive movement – refugees and IDPs,” “legacy of vengeance – group grievance,” and “rise of factionalized elites.”

Click here to listen to an interview with MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer.

Photo: unmultimedia.org

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When the Arab Spring began 10 months ago, the world witnessed the transformative power of social media. But since then, individuals across a plethora of disciplines have sought to define its exact role in bringing attention to, preventing, and/or ceasing mass atrocities. To that end, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies recently hosted a conference, “The Promise of the Media in Halting Mass Atrocities.” At this event, the Canadian International Council interviewed Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, Canadian senator Roméo DallaireDispatches host Rick MacInnes-Rae, and André Pratte, editor-in-chief of La Presse. 

In discussing the extent to which social media, and more specifically, Twitter, helped bring about the Egyptian revolution, Mona Eltahawy was hesitant to recast last January’s events as the so-called ‘Twitter revolution.’ Social media is merely an instrument; change on that significant a level is driven by people, by feet on the ground. She went on to say that Twitter was used in Egypt to communicate with and connect to the outside world, not for internal organization. Eltahawy said that SMS played a bigger part, as more Egyptians have cell phones and send text messages than use Twitter. Furthermore, Eltahawy posits that the fact that Mubarak shutting down the internet didn’t affect him being ousted from power further proves that it wasn’t vital to the cause, but just a singular tool.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (pictured above), former commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), believes that the 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred as the result of a lack of both information and political will. There was no interest or expertise in the area, and media and public attention was focused on events unfolding in Cambodia and Yugoslavia. When asked if today’s arsenal of communication methods would have changed the course of events had they been available back then, Dallaire points out that electricity is still a major issue in developing countries. That notwithstanding, more methods of disseminating information would have been crucial. He explains that radio was the culture in Rwanda, not television or even newspapers. Dallaire was also asked about the application of R2P in Libya, a situation in which he feels the international community failed to call Qaddafi’s bluff. Qaddafi used similar language as had been employed in Rwanda and the responsibility was to protect the moderates and prevent a bloodbath. Accordingly, he says the intent of R2P needs to be clarified.

In his interview, Rick MacInnes-Rae says that while Canada may not actually have invoked R2P as a justification for the Libyan intervention, it nonetheless accomplished “what R2P would have wanted.” He then raises the issue of motive, i.e., protecting civilians or protecting access to resources, as he believes that will be raised as part of the aftermath discussion. He thinks that in such situations, social media can be used to activate opposition and that the media has no real role in R2P, only a journalistic mandate.

Also asked about about R2P in Libya, André Pratte says it is too early to say if it was a success. He spoke of assessing the short-term goals in those scenarios, and then addressing what happens when the intervening powers leave. In terms of the role of social media, he sees it as being used for coverage and opening a window, especially where journalists have limited or no access.

Photo: edhird.wordpress.com

* Egypt’s military council has assumed control over investigations into the massacre of Coptic Christians that took place on October 9 in Maspero, leaving at least 27 civilians dead. In an October 25 report Human Rights Watch said, “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s military rulers, should transfer the investigation from the military prosecution to a fully independent and impartial investigation.” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in the same report,

“The military cannot investigate itself with any credibility… The generals seem to be insisting that they and only they investigate the Maspero violence, which is to ensure that no serious investigation occurs. The military has already tried to control the media narrative, and it should not be allowed to cover up what happened on October 9.”

The October 9 massacre was in response to peaceful protests surrounding the burning of a Coptic church in Marinab on September 30, which Mustafa El Sayed, the mayor of Aswan, justified by saying the church was built without a permit.

* On October 20 large numbers of Janjaweed militias were reportedly flown into Blue Nile, Sudan. On October 23 Yasser Saeed Arman, secretary general of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) told Radio Dabanga that the National Congress Party was now using Janjaweed forces on the ground in Blue Nile. Janjaweed militias were among the groups involved in the genocide in Darfur, which began in 2003. The conflict in Blue Nile, which borders South Sudan, began on September 1.

Photo: lacopts.org

At least 25 protesters were killed and between 200-300 were injured on October 9 at a Coptic protest in Cairo, Egypt. The victims were protesting the destruction and desecration of a Coptic church in Aswan Province in southern Egypt on September 30. Aljazeera quotes some of the protesters as saying that they were marching peacefully when the military, along with “thugs” in civilian attire, attacked them. Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said, “It was supposed to be a peaceful protest, demanding that Coptic rights should be fulfilled. But it soon escalated into violence, with people on balconies pelting the demonstrators with stones.” Essam Khalili, a protester who was present during the massacre, said, “The protest was peaceful. We wanted to hold a sit-in, as usual. Thugs attacked us and a military vehicle jumped over a sidewalk and ran over at least 10 people. I saw them.” Amnesty International said in an article on October 11 that the SCAF has a responsibility to address this massacre, and that this “raises questions about their ability to police demonstrations… Egypt’s SCAF must show it can and will rein in the security forces and ensure they do not use excessive force.”

The Egyptian government’s reaction to this protest has both human rights organizations and its own officials worried. The BBC reported on October 11 that Egypt’s Finance Minister Hazem el- Beblawi resigned over the government’s handling of protest on Sunday. In an article on October 12, Town Hall quotes Ayman Nour, one of Egypt’s leading liberal reformers, as saying that with the latest bloodshed, the military has lost whatever goodwill it accrued last spring. He draws a comparison to Hosni Mubarak’s regime, saying that both believe “that government repression is all that stands between Egypt and social chaos.” Amnesty International is deeply concerned over the state television reporting in response to the protests, which called for Egyptians to support and “defend” the military, further exacerbating the situation. Furthermore, the military raided two other television stations covering the protests, 25TV and Al Hurra, apparently in an attempt to stem independent reporting.

Photo: ccfc.ie

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