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This past February, the Auschwitz Institute awarded the Raphael Lemkin prize to Dr. Barbara Harff, to recognize her contributions to the field of genocide prevention. Dr. Harff agreed to discuss via print correspondence some of her thoughts and positions on subjects related to the state of genocide prevention today, her past and current work, involvement with the Institute, and thoughts toward the future.
 
Dr. Harff is Professor of Political Science Emerita at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and has twice been a distinguished visiting professor at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is a prolific author, whose work has been important for the crafting of genocide prevention policy, as well as academics. She co-coined the useful term ‘politicide,’ and her early warning framework for genocide prevention has been a critical component of many projects and programs.

Much of your work has focused on ethnic aspects of conflicts, genocides and politicides… do you feel the role of this sort of lens has changed since you started out in the field? Do you see or foresee any potential challenges or problems in the way of this approach?

I co-authored a book on ethnic conflict and suggested that these types of conflicts have the potential to escalate into genocide (as in Rwanda), but so do other conflicts such as revolutions (see Cambodia) and adverse regime change (such as in Chile, which turned into a politicide). During the late 70’s and early 80’s, most genocide scholars (meaning all approx. 10 of us) thought that any combinations or a single  factor such as ethnicity, race, or religion were a necessary condition in most genocidal situations, given the wording of the Convention.  However, when I began collecting information on the 46 cases that eventually became the data set used by State Failure (now Political Instability Task Force), it became apparent that victims sometimes were members of mixed ethnic groups and that perpetrators targeted them because they belonged to political opposition groups. Cambodia was a classic example, where most victims and perpetrators were ethnic Khmers — only a minority of victims belonged to different ethnicities, such as the Chams, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Cambodia was a reason that I coined the term politicide, which suggests that victims not only could be members of multiple identity groups but were primarily targeted because of their political affiliation. Of the 46 cases that I identified post WWII, many are mixed cases. For example, the Kurds in Iraq and indigenous Maya that supported  the left in Guatemala.

Your work has been seminal, influencing an indeterminably wide swath of policy and scholarship… have you been particularly disappointed with any of the frameworks, policies, or concepts that have been built upon your ideas?

There are other scholars who have contributed more. I am especially thinking of my friend and mentor Helen Fein, the late Leo KuperFrank Chalk, and others. We have listened to each other, critiqued, cited, and supported one another’s efforts. We have built a discipline and it is now possible to get jobs in good universities, which was not a necessary truth in the 1980’s. As a Northwestern PhD, (according to my professors) I should have been at a major research university but the most frequently asked question at the time during interviews was, “What is that stuff you are doing?”.

How could I be disappointed? Systematic analysis is flourishing in Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—the Albright/Cohen report mentions my risk assessment and early warning efforts as something that needs doing and risk assessment is done routinely not just by me but in the US government and others. The UN (I had provided them with a framework and regular risk assessments) is a bit behind despite their talented personnel. That probably has much to do with antiquated opinions about quantitative analysis, as well as politically motivated leadership in related UN offices. When Juan Mendez became Adviser to the UN, he and his two associates visited me at my home in Annapolis to see how we could work together. I am not just a number cruncher but also a case study person and a specialist on the Middle East. Moreover, having been born into a leftist German family, I am also quite familiar about European affairs. A genocide scholar is/should not be bounded by either discipline or approach. My dissertation focused on prevention using legal philosophical arguments, but grounded in international law, and it also included an empirical exercise in which I tested empathy in different societies using fictional scenarios that had a historical base.

My/our work has caught on beyond expectations. Genocide is a household word — we have seen action in many situations and the recognition that systematic risk assessment and early warning are ever more needed is apparent. Aside from an African initiative, other governments have proceeded to establish their own centers. Why not indeed emulate the hard sciences instead of dabbling in case study-based analysis of specific situations? We do it globally based on accepted wisdom regarding dozens of cases. It is not too hard to generate good data, develop hypotheses based on theory, and then test assumptions. We/I have tested dozens of variables (including economic and environmental variables) that purport to support escalation to genocide. In addition, I developed a complex early warning model that used dynamic factors to track that evolution. For example, we tracked hate propaganda, small arms deliveries, etc. on a daily basis.

Your term and idea of politicide has not caught on as much as it perhaps could have in the international community. Are policymakers and scholars hamstringing themselves from potentially greater efficacy by not considering the targeting of political groups as a more important factor? Where would you like to see this focus brought to bear in today’s climate of conflict?

Why is there not more international action? Because, to use my old mantra, we do not know what remedies that tap state capacity and interest work in what situations at what time. What worked in Macedonia does not work in Syria. I made that argument many times and have developed response scenarios based on my early warning analysis, but much work remains. Just think of Burma—in the past, it was one of the worst case scenarios. I had argued for lifting sanctions to incorporate that country into the international community of states. There was a huge black market, and sanctions did not work—they more often make it harder for the already poor—and the West had zero influence but ASEAN, China, and Japan did—things are getting better.

Are you optimistic that the genocidal trends you’ve studied for three decades are diminishing? Can you realistically envision a world where we have early warning systems adequate to the task of completely circumventing mass atrocities?

For the time being, the occurrence of genocides are diminishing. But over the long run, I am pessimistic.  The West may have a learned a few more lessons after Bosnia but Africans will be challenged by Muslim radicals—see Mali, Northern Nigeria, the 10th century maps of Islamic expansion. I am deeply disturbed by the emergence of right-wing movements in Europe that occasionally spout anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, there are indigenous peoples still under threat of annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and extreme discrimination, such as the indigenous peoples of West Papua.

What role do area experts have to play?

Experts need to both show compassion and distance themselves from quick judgment. Most of us are driven by a belief and desire that it is possible to build a better world, based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, given the unequal  distribution of resources, lack of access to education, and re-emerging  medieval  ideas about how women should be treated, I am a profound pessimist. Especially disturbing for me is re-emerging anti-semitism in its most primitive form (blood libel, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, etc).  Are we regressing to superstitions and the caveman mentality that drove Nazis? I see a dangerous trend evolving in the Muslim world—tribalism, sectarianism, radical forms of Islam (Salafis), indoctrination of their unemployed and undereducated youth. Where will it lead?

Regarding Syria, is there an onus on Western actors to intervene, or otherwise impact the conflict? What sorts of missteps are we in danger of making?

It made my list of extremely high-risk cases before the outbreak of violence. The UN was informed—we had pictures of mines on the border with Turkey—their aim was to maim refugees. But the West is tired and sees the Middle East as a cauldron of  ever re-emerging conflicts. There is a real lack of enlightened leadership. You cannot build democracies by relying on networks of families, clans, tribes, sectarian and/or religious loyalties. We have always underestimated the strength of these ties. Countries running out of energy, water, having extended droughts and exploding birthrates are endangered to descend into chaos. Of the few that have functional educational systems, meaning they educate their young in the sciences, there are no opportunities. Maybe these countries have to go through these convulsions to find their way into the modern world. It is possible that Yemen, the poorest and most vulnerable (running out of water), has a chance of success through inter-tribal dialogue that includes women to build a stable autocracy or semi-democracy. Syria as of now may divide into Sunni, Alawite, and Kurdish regions under the influence of Iran/Russia/Saudi Arabia, and/or aligned with Salafis in Egypt. Of course, this is speculation.

How did you come to be involved with the Auschwitz Institute? Has your time as an instructor impacted any aspects of your scholarship or views?

What AIPR does is laudable, to put it mildly. As to my two lectures and one interview, the interview went well but the Jagiellonian University’s information system had too few subscribers. One lecture went well; the other, nowhere.  I expected the participants to read and they did not. Well, a lesson learned—start on a more basic level. My suggestion is to be bold—challenge re-emerging anti-semitism wherever you find it. Some of our young hosts (Jewish students from Poland)  told me that they keep a low profile—it deeply upset me. And then there is Auschwitz—as a German born non-Jewish scholar, it provides all the answers about why I am doing this kind of work—but this place is hell on earth and am I bothered that some visitors show a lack of respect when they walk over one of the largest cemeteries on earth.

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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Kate Doyle, a senior analyst for the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, whose work has been key to putting together the facts of the genocide against Guatemala’s Mayans under the country’s military dictatorship in the 1980s. She went into Guatemalan records and tracked the chain of command that allowed lawyers representing victims to get a ruling in Spain classifying the case as a genocide. Last year she received the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism last year, and currently she is conducting new research into mass atrocities in Guatemala.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute. Today we’re looking at the criminal trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, who is considered to be at the center of culpability for the mass killings in Guatemala, which came to a peak under his dictatorship in the ’80s. He faces charges for 15 massacres in the Ixil region, and the deaths of 1,771 unarmed men, women, and children during his reign in 1982 and 1983. The trial opened at the end of January with Montt facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Speaking with me now is Kate Doyle, a forensic archivist working for the National Security Archive in DC. She played a major part in tracking down the chain of command that allowed lawyers to get a ruling in Spain that the case amounted to genocide, which has led us to the ongoing trial. Hello, Kate. It’s good to have you here with us.

Hi, Jared. Thanks for having me.

Can you tell us a little bit about the factors leading up to this historic trial and the work you’ve done contributing to it?

Sure. The efforts on the part of Guatemalans to bring Ríos Montt and the senior military command, and many others, to justice, since the end of the long, 36-year civil conflict in 1996, has itself traveled a very long road. The initial filing on the charges of genocide and charges against humanity against Ríos Montt and seven of his co-conspirators, in Spain, took place in 1999. So, many years ago, the case was filed by a well-known Mayan activist in Guatemala named Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize many years ago. Rigoberta filed the case shortly after the Spanish court had indicted General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, in an effort to try him under the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes committed in his country. That took place in 1998. So Menchú and the organizations and massacre survivors that she represented decided to file a case based on the same model of international human rights justice in 1999. And that case began to work slowly, slowly through the system of the court in Spain.

And in the meantime, in 2000, the following year, again, a group of survivors that belonged to an organization called the Association for Justice and Reparations, and another group, the Centre for Human Rights Legal Action, inside Guatemala — these are Guatemalan activist organizations — filed a case in the Guatemalan national court, charging Ríos Montt and his senior military command with genocide and crimes against humanity in, again, the year 2000. That process, that parallel process, has brought us to the point we are today, with the Guatemalan case actually going to trial finally, earlier this year.

What significance does it have for the victims and their families?

Well, this is an extraordinary development, obviously. The survivors of the massacres and the family members of those who did not survive have been working to see this day for 30 years. So you can imagine that there is a tremendous amount of sort of supressed excitement — sometimes not so suppressed; people do shout out and applaud sometimes in the courtroom — but in general, people are there to observe and listen, and there is a tremendous amount of hope. People have come on buses from all over the country in this particular trial, since it focuses on an area of one of the rural departments of Guatemala known as the Quiché. The Ixil communities that were affected by the massacres in that region in 1982 have sent representatives down to Guatemala City to observe the hearings: the various presentation of evidence, and the arguments of the defense and prosecution to this point.

So it’s really been a very emotional experience for many, many people to watch this unfold, as slow and considered as it has been. And it is a very, very important victory, I think, for those communities. Just to see this man, and in this case his senior military intelligence chief, José Rodriguez, have to sit in the courtroom and listen to the presentation of the case by the prosecution. That alone has been really quite an extraordinary experience for people.

So it’s quite important, then, that this case is being tried in a national court, rather than an international tribunal?

It is. I mean, I think it’s the international case, the case introduced by Rigoberta Menchú and many others, in 1999 in Spain, has been a critical catalyst, pressure, prod for the national case. So in no way would I want to diminish the importance of that effort and that process, because that has had a very particular and powerful effect on getting this national case to move along.

That said, of course it is especially resonant for people, and powerful for people, to see Guatemalan lawyers in a Guatemalan courtroom, arguing before a Guatemalan judge, on the outlines of these terrible crimes that were committed by the Guatemalan military against its own citizens. So yeah, it has a special power, the fact that this is being held in a national court, and I think it’s important to recognize that there really isn’t another case we can think of around the world where a country has been willing and able to try one of its own former heads of state on charges of genocide, in its own court, without international support and contribution, and the presence, usually, of international judges. So this is really groundbreaking, I think, all around the world, in terms of international justice.

How do you think that Ríos Montt has been able to escape this for so long and remain immune, immune to these charges?

Ríos Montt’s ability to avoid prosecution on human rights crimes is the result of a confluence of all kinds of factors. First of all, the war didn’t end until 15 years after the crimes in this particular case were committed. So you had an armed internal conflict continuing all this time, and the Guatemalan military was an absolute front, center player in Guatemalan politics, government, security, the economy, every aspect of Guatemalan life until very, very recently. Another reason is that Ríos Montt in the early 1990s created a political party and became a member of congress. And that gave him immunity, for years and years, from prosecution of any kind related to the wars.

And that, I think, is linked to a third reason why it has taken so long for Ríos Montt to be tried, and that is the Guatemalan justice system was severely damaged during the civil conflict. The military stocked it with judges who were either former military people, relatives of military, or just friends to the military: very conservative, very supportive. Also, the judiciary system was systematically targeted for intimidation, threats, attacks, murders. There were a number of judges that were murdered both during and after the conflict.

So all of these factors — the ongoing war that lasted well into the 1990s; Ríos Montt’s own immunity that he managed to get by becoming a member of congress, even from the worst, most heinous crimes imaginable, such as genocide or the crimes against humanity with which he’s charged now; and the weakness of the justice system in Guatemala — all of that, plus the just across-the-board lack of political will to try members of the military for human rights crimes, conspired to delay and obstruct the process of justice for decades.

What implications do you see this having in the field of human rights law, specifically dealing with cases of mass atrocities?

One of the reasons this trial happened is because of the pressure that was brought to bear on the Guatemalan justice system, and the government in general. Internally, there was an incredibly sustained, committed amount of work that went on, on the part of the survivors’ organizations, the human rights groups, and the organizations committed to human rights justice there. But internationally, the role that the Spanish case played in continuing to push this on, and continuing to focus international attention on this case was also critical.

Is there anything exceptional about this particular case of these 15 massacres that allowed that to happen?

One of the elements that has been exceptional, and I think this is also critical for these trials, has been the identification of evidence. In the case of the Guatemalan Ixil region, where these 15 massacres — as opposed to the hundreds of other massacres that took place during the conflict — were carried out,  is that number one, there have been multiple exhumations done: the unburying of the massacred dead over the last 15 years. And those exhumations have been done almost exclusively by a nongovernmental organization called the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala.

They have been able to compile extraordinary, powerful evidence of the identification of the people found in these mass graves, hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children. They’ve been able to put together profiles on the kinds of people targeted, and clearly these were not all men carrying weapons. These were people of all ages, down to infants, who often had their hands tied, or had been blindfolded, or otherwise constrained before killed. So this kind of data, matched with a DNA laboratory in Guatemala City, where the office has its headquarters — that has been crucial for the development of the evidence in this case.

And the other piece of evidence that has been central to the case has been the appearance of documents from inside the Guatemalan military command. These are records that were provided to the National Security Archive by sources that have requested anonymity, but we’ve been able to, over the course of many months, verify the authenticity of these materials. And these are basically both the commands — on the part of the Guatemalan senior military command, back in 1982, to carry out the scorched-earth operations that targeted these Ixil communities — and the reports from the field, as the patrolling units were walking through the villages and encountering civilians and killing them; encountering fields of corn and burning them down so people wouldn’t have food to eat; encountering peoples’ homes and schools and churches, and razing them to the ground. These reports were sent back up the chain of command to the army chief of staff in Guatemala City, and we now have these reports, and they are at the heart of this case.

Sounds like this is just the beginning. Do you think there is a possibility that U.S. officials could end up being charged in connection with the crimes?

Well, who would charge them, Jared? I think that’s the problem. It is certainly going to be a closely examined question as to precisely who within the U.S. government supported, aided, abetted the doctrine and the strategy behind these counterinsurgency operations. It will be a closely examined question whether or not the United States provided material assistance of any kind. And it will be an equally closely examined question as to what extent U.S. officials were responsible for how that war was waged and the civilian deaths that resulted. The problem with that line of inquiry is what comes next? Who is going to take on an indictment of U.S. officials for the crimes of genocide in this case, or for aiding and abetting the human rights violations that took place?

I know that in Spain, Balthazar Garzón, the judge in the Pinochet case, did try to open an investigation, and I know that U.S. officials —  we know through the Wikileaks documents — flew to Spain to pressure the Spanish government to drop that case. So I think that’s a fascinating and worthy investigation to carry out, and I will be very curious to see how that would be implemented, and in what court, under what legal jurisdiction.

Well, thank you so much for being here with us, Kate. It was a pleasure to have you. 

All right, Jared. Thanks for the invitation. It was great talking.

Photo: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20120203/index.htm

From right: Eduardo Gonzalez, Esther Attear, Ana Manuela Ochoa Arrias

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Last week, as part of the eleventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) organized a roundtable discussion on “Truth Commissions and Indigenous Peoples: Lessons Learned, Future Challenges.” The event also marked the launch of a resource book titled Strengthening Indigenous Rights Through Truth Commissions. Per the ICTJ, “The book summarizes the findings of an international conference on truth commissions and indigenous rights hosted by ICTJ in 2011. It makes concrete proposals to consider when setting up a truth commission focused on abuses committed against indigenous peoples.”

Moderating the discussion was Eduardo Gonzalez, director of the Truth and Memory Program at the ICTJ. Sparked by recent media coverage of the Canadian Indian residential school system, the ICTJ set out to determine whether truth commissions are useful for advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in Guatemala, Peru, and Paraguay. Today, there are truth commissions in Cote d’Ivoire, Nepal, and Brazil, as well as local efforts at truth-seeking taking place in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States.

The first speaker was Alcibiades Escué, coordinator of strategic planning at the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca. Mr. Escué said that from the 1980s through the present, the treatment of indigenous peoples is getting worse. He spoke of the extraction policies of the national government in indigenous territories occupied by guerrillas because of the mines located there. Territories have been consolidated and battalions camp out high in the mountains. There is an indigenous guard force consisting of young men and women who are oriented and accompanied by older people. Mr. Escué went on to speak about harmonic justice, the purpose of which is to promote self-determination for persons and communities so that they can best acquire life essentials. Within his community, this also includes searching for and registering victims. He concluded with talk of a house of thought, which not only provides training and education, but also aids in the reconstruction of historical memory. Another organizational process is the symbolic review of elders and spiritual authorities.

Next to speak was Ana Manuela Ochoa Arias, a lawyer for the National Authority of Indigenous Governments in Colombia. The indigenous peoples of Colombia live in the mountains of Santa Marta and comprise 30 percent of the Colombian population, which is about 1.3 million people. Sixty-five indigenous languages are spoken in the region, though Ms. Arias mentioned demographic fragility. Her speech focused on Law 1448, the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which was signed in June 2011 and pertains to historical reparations for the victims of the internal armed conflict that spanned 50 years. However, the law only applies to acts committed since January 1, 1985. So what is sought is transformational, rather than transitional, justice. Indigenous peoples have suffered cultural and economic damage, with specific damage caused to women and children. Ms. Arias maintains that the state has a legal obligation to such persons, each of whom individually had to make their own proposal.

The third speaker was Esther Attear, Passamaquoddy tribal member and lead staff person for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. According to Ms. Attear, her people have witnessed a 95 percent decrease in population due to genocide, war, disease, and forced relocation. She discussed residential schools, where Indian children were sent after being taken away from their parents; the goal of such schools was to “kill the Indian, save the child.” It has now come to light that rampant abuse occurred in these schools, and approximately 1,000 children died as a result. The ultimate aim was the destruction of culture, including native dress and language. In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in response to “the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to ‘protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families’ (25 U.S.C. § 1902).” In Maine Wabanaki, state case workers received special training to deal with these cases, especially since in this culture, a child has three parents—mother, father, and tribe. Even so, there remained an invisible wall of the truth of genocide and genocidal policies. Decolonization also required truth and reconciliation; “white” people had to deal with their guilt and unpack a heritage of racism and genocide, while native people had to work through internalized oppression, lateral fighting, and a legacy of victimhood. In order to challenge the dominant narrative of white vs. native, both sides need to reach a common understanding, come up with recommendations for best practice, and share their stories in order to heal.

The last panelist was Alvaro Pop, Guatemalan independent expert and member of the UNPFII. He spoke about how in December 2011 in Colombia, indigenous people were victorious in having the Marmato municipal council “close the door to the efforts of Canadian companies to resettle the population and to destroy a town with 475 years of history in order to extract gold from the Marmato mountain using open pit mining in only 20 years.” He viewed this as an end of 400 years of darkness for the Mayas. He went on to say that indigenous peoples are survivors, having endured slavery, exploitation, and other such horrors. Now, the indigenous people want to rescue history, a mechanism to enrich identity, as the public school curriculum begins with colonization. A truth and reconciliation commission recognizes facts and awakens consciousness but was limited in Guatemala and didn’t have the future that was hoped for. It is now time to move beyond mourning and such a commission must contribute to the end of impunity by having specific mandates and including indigenous dialects and languages.

Mr. Gonzalez concluded the panel by talking about short- and long-term violations of rights—individual, collective, and earth. Reconciliation should not just be on an international level, but must be a nation-to-nation effort. He then opened up the floor for a brief Q&A session. The first person to speak was a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who sat on the Guatemalan Commission from 1997 to 1999. She said they were dealing with 600 massacres and that there were actually two commissions, one from the Catholic Church and one from the UN. She believes that truth commissions are just the beginning and that there is a need for different sponsors.

Closing out the program was an audience member who is part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which is court-mandated and focuses on children who were forced to go to residential schools, as discussed above. This school system was in place for more than 150 years, and children spent anywhere from 10 to 21 years at these schools. There are 80,000 survivors, and the last residential school closed in 1996. Though the experience is sadly widespread, one survivor’s testimony states, “We have been raped in every way—emotionally, physically, spiritually, culturally.” The commission plans to establish a national research center and hold an expert group meeting before the end of 2013.

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.

Image: artknowledgenews.com

Last month, the Global Action to Prevent War network sponsored an event at the United Nations, Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Within this context, they prepared a draft Background Concept Note on gender and RtoP to be utilized at policymaking workshops. In recent years, the UN has sought to address the problem of sexual violence committed against civilians in conflict zones but women are not a protected group under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. And while the term gendercide has gained more widespread use since its introduction in 1985, the fact remains that rape and sexual violence targeting females have long been tools of war and are often components of genocide itself. Though women can certainly be considered potential victims of mass violence, they also play an integral role in effecting stability and change. As such, the crux of the Background Concept Note lies in the following proposal:

1. At the international level, UN Member States should do more to highlight roles that women are already playing in the prevention of mass atrocities, and also do more to increase women’s direct participation in a wide range of peace and security initiatives, as set out in SCR 1325.

2. At the national level, RtoP strategic discussions relating to the general implementation of the norm should highlight the significance of women’s contributions (as leaders in conflict prevention, as aids to survivors and ex-combatants, as national focal points for RtoP discussion and strategic planning, etc) in such implementation strategies.

3. Member States should be encouraged to include RtoP language in the development of their National Action Plans (NAPs) on 1325 to help highlight the roles that women can and are already playing in calling attention and responding to the threat of mass atrocities.

This framework complements the Women Under Siege project, which was also launched in February 2012. Per its mission statement, the project has two main components:

1. A public education plan to demonstrate that rape is a tool of war (not only a crime of war, but also a strategic tool). This plan includes testimony from and partnership with survivors of modern wars from Bosnia to Darfur.

2. An action plan to push for the creation of legal, diplomatic, and public interventions to ensure the United Nations, international tribunals, and other agencies with power will understand the gender-based threats as a tool of genocide and will design protocols to intervene and halt gender-based genocide.

As of late, Women Under Siege has been particularly focused on systematic sexualized violence in Guatemala and Burma, especially as perpetrated by military members in both countries.

Image: letyourvoicebeheard-tb.blogspot.com

In their article, How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-NarrativeAlex de WaalJens Meierhenrich, and Bridget Conley-Zilkic examine the narrative frameworks that inform today’s agenda of “protection of civilians” in conflict:

 1. A teleological assumption that the occurrence of attacks against civilians will, unless halted or deterred from outside, inevitably escalate towards genocide.

2. An epistemological assumption that privileges coercive military operations conducted on humanitarian grounds by international forces.

3. An ethical imperative based on the above teleology and epistemology that forecloses the historical and political discussions of how mass atrocities actually end.

Using comparative evidence from a variety of cases, beginning with the Holocaust and continuing through Libya, they then provide “a counter narrative to the dominant civilian protection agenda by returning to the historical record of how mass atrocities end.”

As to the first point, Jens Meierhenrich (pictured above) has put forth a general framework for studying genocide termination that contests this teleology. He argues for separating genocidal acts, campaigns, and regimes to better distinguish between different endings and, significantly, how each informs different policy options. In addressing the aforementioned epistemological assumption, the authors divide the ending of mass atrocities into five categories: 1) violence halted by the perpetrators once goals are met; 2) elite dissension or exhaustion within the perpetrator regime; 3) victims of violence flee or otherwise resist; 4) interventions waged by interested outside parties; or 5) humanitarian intervention.

Finally, questioning the ethical imperative, the authors relate a question that they deem to have been inadequately engaged by policy experts and researchers alike: How does one recognize when genocide or mass atrocities end? As they explain, “This question, let alone the equally, if not more complicated, question of how such violence ends has been caught up in the normative assumption about how they ought to end.”

While an optimal ending of mass atrocities is outlined as one in which vulnerable civilians are rescued, perpetrators are punished, and the state is justly reconstructed to address the conditions that enabled violence to occur, actual endings can rarely be described as optimal. But it is important to pay attention to what forces have played a tangible role in ending violence in order to garner a better understanding of how to interact with complex situations, what tools might achieve which exact goals, and a realistic expectation in terms of ending mass atrocities when this objective is obscured by competing agendas.

The authors describe some endings as being “the successful completion of a genocidal campaign, called off when the perpetrator regime is consolidated or when the political landscape alters such that the political rationale for mass violence against civilians is reduced. Other endings occur when the genocidal regime is removed from power, through successful resistance or invasion, or is fought to a standstill . . . Some endings are simply respite—a gap between genocidal campaigns conducted by a regime with an intact apparatus of mass violence.”

The article concludes by contending that the current undertaking of preventing genocide seeks to go beyond this singular aim to decisively resolve conflict and achieve transitional justice. Instead of the sole and default response of establishing a new regime “with ethical credentials commensurate with the horror that preceded it,” the authors’ approach “[. . .] eschews arguing from ‘ought’ to ‘is,’ and instead addresses the complexities of real politics and develops a rich comparative evidence base.” It seeks practical responses in the details of particular circumstances as opposed to deriving analysis and policy from universals that stem from moral impulses. Ultimately, such an approach should result in more effective prevention policymaking and reactions.

Photo: lseinternationalrelations.wordpress.com

On December 15 Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s de facto president during the early 1980s, delivered himself to the Attorney General’s office to ask if he would be tried for his 10-year-old charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the indigenous populations. Mr. Ríos Montt said, “if there’s a criminal investigation against me, it should go forth according to due process and I should stand trial.” This seemingly honest move comes on the heels of a new legislature, which is to take office next month, thus losing Mr. Ríos Montt his congressional seat, and the immunity from prosecution that comes with it. In a December 20 article, the Council on Foreign Relations said this indicated nothing more than a clear grasp on the reality of what would happen after his immunity expired, especially considering the tension that exists between himself and the incoming president Otto Perez Molina. The article also pointed out that the new leader of the Attorney General’s office, Claudia Paz y Paz, has proven more than willing to pursue his case, as her office has already convicted four soldiers, and has recently pressed charges against five more for their roles in massacres that occurred during Mr. Ríos Montt’s rule. Furthermore, Spain’s National Court issued an international arrest warrant for Ríos Montt on genocide charges in 2006, making his flight potentially more dangerous than facing the charges domestically. While the article certainly does not praise Mr. Ríos Montt for his decision to turn himself in, as it is seemingly his only option, it does say that this has positive implications for Guatemala’s justice system, saying, “the fact that Ríos Montt has to engage with the charges at all shows that something may finally be right with Guatemala’s fledgling justice sector.”

Photo: prensalibre.com

* A Guatemalan court put out an arrest warrant on Wednesday for former president Oscar Mejia, who now faces charges of genocide. Mejia is accused of ordering massacres in an indigenous region of the country when he served as chief of the military in 1982-1983, before leading a military coup and serving as president between 1983 and 1986. After a police raid in Guatemala City did not turn up Mejia, the Attorney General’s office declared him a fugitive. Meanwhile, former General Mauricio Rodriguez has been sent to prison for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity; General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, the first former military arrested in this case in June, could also stand trial on genocide charges.

Bangladesh State minister for law Qamrul Islam says the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), formed to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1971 Liberation War, will be exemplary for the international community. In addition to being independent and neutral, Islam says the proceedings will be unique in that they will have an appeals process. The United States supports the initiative, which has garnered praise from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

* Last month, eight students in the Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education class 2011-02 visited Poland as part of a class, “Genocide and the Military Role: Identification, Prevention, and Intervention.” Offered by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and Jagiellonian University at Krakow, the course teaches students not only about genocide committed during World War II, but also about genocide in the years since, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sierra Leone. The course aims to enable Army officers to identify societies on the verge of mass atrocities and find ways to prevent them.

Photo: cja.org

* Representative Chris Smith, head of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, convened an emergency meeting to discuss the escalation of violence in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. Smith called for the immediate dispatch of peacekeepers to the area, which he believes “could be very effective in mitigating the loss of life.” This position is likely to be championed by U.S. officials at the United Nations Security Council meeting today.

* According to reports, since the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters began, thousands of government soldiers have defected and hundreds have been arrested after refusing to obey orders to indiscriminately open fire on protesters.

* Four former Guatemalan soldiers were sentenced to over 6,000 years in prison after being tried for crimes against humanity. They were found guilty of participating in the Dos Erres massacre, in which hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in a Guatemalan village by the military.

 * In a telephone conversation with Syria’s president on Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again condemned the government’s brutal crackdown on protestors and requested that the country’s borders be opened to international humanitarian organizations.

Photos (from top): rawstory.com, egyptianintifada.com, global post.com

* Four former Guatemalan military officers are being tried for crimes against humanity they allegedly committed in 1982. They are accused of taking part in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which government forces murdered over 200 villagers suspected of being rebel sympathizers.

* Today a United Nations–organized seminar aimed at preventing genocide in South Sudan, hosted in the country’s capital of Juba, concludes. Special Adviser Francis Deng said the UN hopes to “prevent the new State from getting into. . . errors”—such as “discrimination, dehumanization, inclusivity, marginalization, and suppression”—that led to the breakup of Sudan.

* The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, chose Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as their presidential candidate. Bemba is accused of leading militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic. 

* President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the controversial British documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” claiming the footage, which purportedly shows the Sri Lankan army committing war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, was a “film” staged by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

* United Nations officials issued a statement saying Syrian authorities may have committed crimes against humanity in their suppression of the democratic uprisings sweeping the country. Citing reports of the murder and arrest of civilians, Francis Deng and Edward Luck called for an investigation and requested that the Assad regime abide by international regulations when responding to protests.

Photos (from top): thebellforum.com, realsociology.edublogs.org, Associated Press

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