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Are We Finally Getting it Right in the Central African Republic?

BY: ANTHONY DiROSA

On August 25th, 2013, I wrote about the slowly disintegrating situation in the Central African Republic in an attempt to join a growing chorus of voices seeking to sound the alarms that apparently weren’t being heard by the international community. Since then, as the crisis has grown more desperate, the world has started to take notice.

In November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “this cycle, if not addressed now, threatens to degenerate into a country-wide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation, including atrocity crimes, with serious national and regional implications.” Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, added:

“We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion. My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”

The concern so many had about the simmering risk of large-scale mass atrocities has unfortunately been realized in the last month. A new and dangerous dynamic of inter-religious hatred and violence has taken off in CAR that has catalyzed a brutal cycle of atrocities and targeting of civilian populations. Around half of the country’s population is Christian while about 15% is Muslim. The Christian majority and the Muslim minority have historically co-existed peacefully. In recent months, Muslim Seleka rebels, who ousted former CAR President Francois Bozize in March 2013, have reportedly attacked Christian communities all over the country. “The danger is that this polarization has taken place along religious lines, which has never really happened in the past and that people are self-arming themselves and carrying out back and forth attacks against each other,” said Kyle Matthews, the Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

In response, Christian militias have formed in an effort to fight back against Seleka militias. Due to newly formed fissures in CAR’s society, anti-Seleka Christians are targeting local Muslims whom they suspect are naturally aiding Seleka rebels. Furthermore, the conflict has attracted foreign jihadists from Chad and Sudan, set off targeted retribution by Christian militias on Muslim villages, caused the collapse of civilian authority and resulted in massive dislocation and food shortages.

Human Rights Watch reports that both sides are responsible for wonton acts of murder, rape, and looting. United Nations officials and the international community are deeply troubled by the sectarian tenor of the conflict, which is reminiscent of the early stages of past genocides in the region. In a briefing to the Security Council, the deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, called it “a vicious cycle that could very easily turn into mass atrocities.”

Reports out of CAR in the last several weeks have been so worrisome that international action became unavoidable. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2127 last week, authorizing a joint French/AU operation in the Central African Republic. This will help strengthen an intervention force of up to 6,000 African troops, to be aided by 1,600 recently deployed French soldiers with support from the African Union. In the medium term, a UN Security Council-approved peacekeeping mission with up to 9,000 troops operating under “robust rules of engagement” could be necessary, according to Ban Ki Moon. “Member States of the United Nations now have the opportunity, and I firmly believe the responsibility, to prevent what has the high potential to result in widespread atrocities,” said Ban.

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This sudden disbursement of support to CAR comes amidst an apex of violence in Bangui since the crisis unfolded earlier this year. Fighting in Bangui since last Thursday claimed at least 400 lives, according to Amnesty International. But the accuracy of these estimates is unverifiable; as many as 1,000 people may have been killed with many bodies being buried and taken away before they could be counted. Furthermore, on December 10th, two French soldiers were killed after a gun-battle ensued following attempts to disarm several Seleka rebels. Most of the foreign press and journalists are reporting from the capital region, Bangui, where over 30,000 civilians are holed up in the city’s airport, too afraid to leave its grounds. Tens of thousands may have already died in the more remote parts of the CAR, a country the size of France, according to independent journalist Gwynne Dyer.

Western countries have begun to step up their efforts. The US recently pledged $40 million for Central African peacekeepers and its armed forces will deploy military planes to help transport international peacekeepers from Burundi to Bangui in order “to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence,” said a Pentagon spokesman. The UK also pledged support by lending supply planes to the French and earmarking $25 million to CAR for humanitarian aid. The European Union has also contributed $50 million.

Despite these crucial immediate measures, it’s doubtful that 1,600 French soldiers will be able to restore long-term stability in the Central African Republic. These measures are at best a stopgap measure that represents a minimum commitment to restoring security in the short-term. The French mission, will at the very least, help reinforce the poorly equipped AU’s International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) as it struggles to bring order back to the streets of Bangui. The latest reports claim that the French forces had indeed restored some stability in the capital in recent days. The French, who have already intervened in a similar fashion in Mali this year, also hope that the UN will send additional peacekeepers as quickly as possible. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recommended 6,000 to 9,000 men to be added as soon as possible.

Many groups and organizations, such as the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International, have laid out potential next steps in CAR that will help ensure short-term and long-term stability (as well as critiques of recent UN efforts). The general consensus is that more needs to be done both in the short-term and long-term to secure CAR’s future. According to Human Rights Watch’s United Nations Director Phillippe Bolopion, “If the post Rwanda and Bosnia ‘never again’ means anything, the U.N. Security Council needs to go all in to halt the spiraling killing in the Central African Republic.” Hinting at the need for further UN forces in CAR, Netsanet Belay, Africa Director at Amnesty International, said that “Before it’s too late to make a difference, the UN Secretary General must speed up his assessment of the peacekeepers’ impact on the ground — within weeks, not months — he must immediately start preparations for the deployment of a robust UN peacekeeping force to step in if and when needed.”

Others in the international community are also pessimistic about both the ability of the AU-French mission to alleviate the risk of mass atrocities and the willingness of the world’s powers to commit the necessary resources. Ty McCormick at Foreign Policy believes that “Even if a more robust international presence can bring the fighting under control—a prospect that is far from certain in a country roughly the size of Texas, much of which is densely forested — rebuilding a semblance of state authority will likely take years, if not decades.” The challenge ahead for the international community in CAR is undoubtedly daunting. Former US Ambassador to CAR, Lawrence D. Wohlers, believes that the “difficulty will be what happens next; the CAR government structures have been largely destroyed, so a robust peacekeeping force will probably be necessary for years. This will be costly.”

With the United Nations already carrying out 15 peacekeeping missions worldwide and Western militaries more focused on counterterrorism missions in the region, it’s hard to imagine that the necessary financial and political commitments will be made quickly enough to get CAR the support it needs. And as we learn at the Auschwitz Institute’s Lemkin Seminar, time is of the essence in situations where there are ongoing mass atrocities. “In societies with histories of ethnic violence, the cycle of killing will eventually spiral downward into the vortex of genocide,” warns Gregory Stanton in his article, “The Eight Stages of Genocide.” UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow said six years ago that she felt CAR’s citizens were “the most abandoned people on earth.” If the proper short-term and long-term measures to bring CAR back from the brink aren’t made quickly and robustly, the observations Farrow made then will continue to ring true.

Yesterday, the French National Assembly (France‘s lower house of Parliament) approved a draft law outlawing genocide denial. This includes the killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers during World War I; though Turkey does not classify the killings as a genocide, France officially did so in 2001. The bill still needs Senate approval, and is expected to be debated early next year. In the interim, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganhalted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military cooperation and ordered his country’s ambassador home for consultations.” Erdogan also retaliated by accusing France of massacring 15% of the Algerian population while France ruled Algeria from 1945-1962. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan expressed gratitude for what he considers France’s commitment to human values, but the Organization of Islamic Cooperation rejects the bill and Turkish President Abdullah Gül said France should withdraw from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group if the bill becomes law. The Armenian National Committee of America put out a statement to “mark the event and call President Obama to carry out his promise on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the Congress to put the 304 resolution to the vote for the recognition of the Armenian genocide.”

Photo: euronews.net

* France continues its policy of carrying out mass evictions and expulsions of Roma, despite a warning from the European Commission, as well as a threat of EU sanctions, over a year ago. On September 29 Human Rights Watch made public a briefing paper it sent to the European Commission regarding the inadequacy of an immigration law France passed this year in June. The new law, designed to address the European Commission’s grievances, was deemed adequate by the European Commission in August, but Human Rights Watch says it in fact targets the Roma: “The law allows authorities to expel EU citizens for ‘abuse of rights’ if they have been in France on repeat short-term stays or are in France ‘for the fundamental purpose’ of benefiting from the social assistance system. This flies in the face of EU law, which allows citizens of member countries to stay in any EU country for up to three months without conditions.” Around 9,500 Roma were expelled in 2010, according to French government figures. In the first three months of this year, 4,714 Roma were expelled.

* Three protesters were killed in Guinea on September 27, on their way to a demonstration against parliamentary elections slated for December, which they say will be a sham. Amnesty International points out that the murders occurred on the eve of the second anniversary of 2009’s stadium massacre in Conakry, the nation’s capital. This underscores the continuity of violent tactics in Guinea’s recent history, despite the capitulation of military rule, which followed the contested election in 2010 that put current president Alpha Condé in power. “If this recurrent excessive use of force by police is to be stopped, it is essential to put an end to the climate of impunity that appears to be prevailing in Guinea,” said Paule Rigaud of Amnesty International. On September 27, Human Rights Watch reported that no one has been held to account for the 2009 massacre by Guinean security forces, which resulted in the death of 150 people and the rape of more than 100 women. A UN-led International Commission of Inquiry concluded, in 2009, that the Guinean government’s actions could be described as “crimes against humanity.”

* Former Rwandan public service minister Prosper Mugiraneza and his trade counterpart, Justin Mugenzi, were convicted by the ICTR on September 30 of complicity to commit genocide and incitement to commit genocide. Africa Review points out that the sentence comes 12 years after their arrest in 1999, and 8 years after the start of their trial in 2003. The ICTR acquitted two other ministers of the same charges due to lack of evidence. The trials, held in Arusha, Tanzania, address the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed the lives of over 800,000 people in the span of 100 days.

Photo: turkeymacedonia.wordpress.com

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.

Syria: Draft Resolution in Security Council

On Wednesday, France, Britain, Portugal, and Germany submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council condemning the actions by the Syrian government against civilian protesters. Explicitly referring to the Syrian authorities’ responsibility to protect its civilian population and suggesting that the violent measures may constitute crimes against humanity, the draft resolution called for an end to the violence, the enactment of political reforms and an investigation of the situation in full cooperation with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution also urged other states stop and prevent sales of arms and related supplies to Syria. Discussion on the draft resolution is to begin on Thursday with a vote taking place in several days. While the draft resolution has the support of as many as 11 of the 15 members of the Security Council including the United States, Russia and China have expressed strong reservations against it, leaving open the possibility of a veto.

The draft resolution follows last Thursday’s warning from Special Advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, and Human Rights Watch’s report regarding the situation in Syria. Deng and Luck expressed alarm at the attack on the civilians, called for “an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” and urged the Syrian government to cooperate with the inquiry and “to refrain from further attacks against the civilian population.” The Human Rights Watch report, in addition to detailing what it considered to be “crimes against humanity,” went further, recommending that the UN Security Council not only condemn the human rights violations, but also refer the violations to the International Criminal Court and adopting sanctions against Syrian officials if necessary.

Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each issued new reports on the Kyrgyz government’s investigation into last year’s ethnic violence. As a result of the violence between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks, nearly 500, mostly Uzbeks, were killed, and 400,000 fled their homes. The Amnesty International report, which alleges that some of the atrocities against the Uzbeks may have constituted crimes against humanity, argued that the government did not fully investigate the violence perpetrated by the ethnic Kyrgyz and possibly even the security forces against the ethnic Uzbeks. Human Rights Watch detailed allegations of torture, as well as ethnic bias against Uzbeks during the trials following the investigation. Furthermore, the organizations expressed concerns that the government’s inadequate investigations may lead to future unrest between the two ethnic groups.

Bangladesh: War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh has been instituting a war crimes tribunal relating to its 1971 independence war against Pakistan. One to three million, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 300,000 women were raped. The tribunal, which is investigating the participation of Bengalis in the atrocities, is significant as it raises questions on whether accused war criminals should be tried in an international court or in a domestic tribunal, and whether countries without advanced legal systems have the capacity to properly deliver justice. The tribunal, charged with prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity, is also important because it will be considering sexual violence as evidence in its decision-making. The court’s independence and fairness has been a point of contention, with Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, and the International Centre for Transitional Justice all expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed legal proceedings. It remains to be seen whether the tribunal can proceed free from political pressure and according to international judicial standards.

Photo: Guardian

The Third Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide took place April 4-6 in Bern, Switzerland, co-organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) with the foreign ministries of Argentina and Tanzania.

FDFA Secretary of State Peter Maurer, in his statement opening the forum, asserted “how important it is to ensure regional ownership in order to prevent the threats of genocide and mass atrocities.”

As he pointed out, “The special advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide and for the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Francis Deng and Mr. Edward Luck, have repeatedly called for the creation of regional mechanisms to adapt and implement the policies developed at the multilateral level.”

On the topic of how governments can incorporate genocide prevention into their work, Maurer highlighted the fact that policy discussions “are now increasingly centered on how to set up effective prevention architectures.”

Policy areas Maurer gave special attention to were transitional justice and early warning.

Noting “the relation between prevention and the struggle against impunity,” Maurer emphasized: “When atrocities have been committed, violators need to be judged, and the societies need to be rehabilitated in order to ensure the guarantee of no repetition. Effective transitional justice strategies are crucial to preventing recurrence of such tragedies.”

In conclusion Maurer stated: “In order to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies we need to work on strengthening the already existing early warning systems. We need to link them with the appropriate decision-making structures to ensure that risks are taken into account early on by decision makers, and that proper decisions are made on time.”

Photo: All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity

March 1, the UN General Assembly suspended Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Following the vote, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice commented: “This is the first time that either the Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, have suspended any member state for gross violations of human rights. And we think this is an important step forward in enhancing the credibility of the Human Rights Council.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States “continue[s] to demand an immediate halt to the violence perpetrated by the Qadhafi government against its own citizens.”

Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, stated that the appointment of Alain Juppé as France’s foreign minister was a “bad surprise” for Rwanda, AllAfrica.com reported. During Juppé’s previous tenure as French foreign minister, from 1993 to 1995, an investigation found that he strongly supported the forces that committed the genocide.

The UN has again released reports warning of a civil war in the Ivory Coast. Most recently, security forces in the country shot dead seven women who were protesting against Laurent Gbagbo, ABC News reported. According to CBC News, soldiers allegedly “mowed down women protesting [Gbagbo’s] refusal to leave power in a hail of gunfire Thursday, killing at least six and shocking a nation where women’s marches have historically been used as a last resort against an unrestrained army.”

CNN has released an interactive site showing the current rebellion in the Middle East country by country, specifically noting the causes of the unrest.

Photo: CBC News

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