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By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

The Genocide Prevention Advisory Network recently issued a conference report from their advanced workshop at The Hague on March 14-15, 2012. Focusing on the emerging global and regional architectures aiming at the prevention of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the conference addressed the following questions:

  • What guiding principles are emerging to shape the architecture and community of genocide prevention and its relevant fields?
  • What can GPANet offer to articulate those principles and strengthen these emerging capacities?
  • How can GPANet work in partnership to support and facilitate local, national, regional and international prevention networks?

The papers presented at the conference dealt with the topics of early warning and data gathering and verification systems, case studies on Somalia, linkages with terrorism, and lastly, perspectives on genocide prevention. This final subject is what we’ll focus on, given the work of AIPR.

Discussing Holocaust education and genocide prevention, Yehuda Bauer spoke of the “problematic” text of the Genocide Convention and the resultant inefficacy of the United Nations to prevent or halt instances of genocide post-World War II: two examples being Rwanda in 1994 and Sudan at present. Given the structure of the Security Council, geopolitical interests often trump those of the humanitarian variety. Moreover, Bauer argues that race and ethnicity are modern social constructs, given the singular origin of the human species. This leads to the common “us vs. them” framing that serves to precipitate genocide. All of this is compounded by the fact that, “There is a dialectical development one can discern in international politics, reflecting two contradictory global trends: a tendency towards greater unification on the one hand, and an opposing tendency towards greater autonomy and independence of ethnic and/or national groups on the other hand.”

Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and formulator of the Eight Stages of Genocide model, noted Genocide Watch’s early warning system and how “[r]apid response by regional alliances has prevented or stopped several genocides: in East Timor, Kosovo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia , and Sierra Leone.” He also spoke of the success of international tribunals and the creation of the ICC. Having worked against genocide for 30 years, Stanton says he has learned two things about genocide prevention. He states:

  1. The first lesson is the direct result of our own human incapacity to comprehend or feel sympathy for large groups of people halfway around the world. Because individuals cannot do that, we need permanent institutions established that will watch out for precursors of genocide, take action to prevent it, intervene to stop it, and arrest and prosecute those who commit it.
  2. The second lesson I have learned is that genocide prevention must start and be led by people from countries at risk. It cannot be led by an American organization in Washington, DC, led by a pacifist director, that is unwilling to advocate the use of force to stop genocide. Prevention must especially begin from the ground up in countries at risk of genocide. A true International Alliance to End Genocide can support such local efforts and create an international mass movement to end genocide.

Daniel Feierstein then offered “A Critique of the Hegemonic View of the Current Genocidal Conflicts: A Perspective from the Latin American Margin.” His understanding of genocide seeks to dismantle a simplistic “Good People vs. Bad People” scenario and instead puts forth a perspective where genocide is “a technology of power used very successfully to destroy and reorganize social relationships and identities.” He believes “this would be a better explanation of why it continues beyond our collective calls of ‘never again.'” He went on to point out three different initiatives as possible alternatives to the military intervention model:

1. The UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) Experience

Since the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed on May 23, 2008, UNASUR has helped four countries in the region that have experienced the possibility of new violent conflicts: Bolivia (2008), Honduras (2009), Ecuador (2010), and the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela (2010). In each case there was a major crisis with strong potential to trigger atrocity crimes.

2. The Regional Fora on Genocide Prevention

Writes Feierstein, “The idea was to meet all the governments of a region to create an open exchange and debate on how to prevent possible genocidal conflicts. As every government is involved in the discussions, there is a possibility (only a possibility, but we should have little utopias, which are more possible to achieve than the big ones) that the real problems of the regions will appear. It is even possible that some approaches to resolve them will emerge, as there are few instances in which the governments are invited to debate on regional perspectives to analyze and prevent genocide.”

3. The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation

AIPR has organized several meetings with mid- and low-level representatives, with the idea that governments change but there are some kinds of officers who continue in their key positions as professionals and/or bureaucracy. The objective of the AIPR is to train those people in early warning and genocide prevention as a challenge for the future.

The  workshop concluded with a concept note by Alice Ackermann on emerging genocide prevention structures in Europe and Liberata Mulamula discussing the same in the context of the Great Lakes region of Africa.

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.

* Protests next month in the United States and Sweden will draw attention to alleged crimes against humanity in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Protesters seek to persuade the United States, the largest donor to Ethiopia, to force Addis Ababa to open the region to independent organizations so they can monitor, assess, and alleviate what protesters claim is an escalating and dire situation. The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia details human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian security forces and government-sponsored militias. This year, four refugees from Ogaden have been killed in Kenya, including the assassination of a community leader at the IFO refugee camp, operated by CARE.

* Sudan agreed to let UN relief agencies into South Kordofan. A Western diplomat said the gesture was a “smokescreen,” observing that Khartoum still won’t allow an independent inquiry into accusations its troops have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

* In Libya, with the advancement of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) into Tripoli, the international community has grown weary of the threat of revenge attacks or reprisals on supporters of Moammar Qaddafi. Since the start of the conflict, the anti-Qaddafi movement’s human rights abuses have raised serious concerns. The NTC responded to these concerns today, as an NTC spokesman called for calm. The rebel council has also taken promising steps to ensure a civil transition process by releasing some political prisoners. However, it is still uncertain how the NTC proposes to prevent reprisals on a large scale in the future.

* The Philippines is on the brink of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would make the Philippines only the third ASEAN nation to become a party to the ICC. Although the Philippines played an active role in the drafting of the treaty in 1998, and signed the treaty in 2000, it was not brought to the legislature for ratification until now. By ratifying the treaty, the Philippines commits to aid in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a proponent of ratification, stated that among other reasons for ratifying, the Rome Statute allows for the prosecution of individuals, rather than the ICJ’s approach of prosecuting state actors only.

Images (from top): ndsu.edu, Wikimedia Commons

Ethiopia: A hidden genocide?

A strongly worded new article about a little-known ethnic conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia raises questions about the international community’s silence on the government’s possibly genocidal campaign against the country’s Somali minority.

Ogaden is a territory in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Somali and have long felt marginalized by the Ethiopian government. In 1984 the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was formally founded with the intention of securing greater regional autonomy. The group maintains both political and military wings in Ogaden that have received mixed support from the population.

Addis Ababa considers ONLF to be insurgents, and has engaged the group in periodic fighting of varying intensity. International human rights groups have accused the state of using brutal tactics that are harmful to civilians. The state’s campaign against ONLF reached a new peak in 2007, when its response to increased ONLF activity (including a slew of political assassinations, bombing of government buildings, and kidnappings) involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.

Identifying rural villagers and local businessmen as the ONLF’s base of support and speculating that fighters were taking advantage of humanitarian assistance to feed and maintain themselves, the government expelled aid organizations and ordered a large-scale offensive that, according to human rights observers, targeted the civilian population. Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian troops, along with government-armed militias, indiscriminately attacked, executed, arrested, and forcibly removed from their land people believed to be friendly with the ONLF. Conditions were so severe that Genocide Watch wrote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009, urging her to pursue an investigation in the area.

Mainstream news outlets have largely failed to report on the conflict, and the international community has done almost nothing to respond. Some speculate that Addis Ababa’s support for the U.S. “war on terror” has helped the regime avoid investigation. However, deteriorating conditions in Somalia, coupled with the worst drought the region has seen in decades, may exacerbate Ethiopia’s violence to the point that it will no longer be possible to ignore.

Image: bnaidarfur.org

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