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Sudan: Revealing UN Report on Worsening Situation

While the United Nations and its members remain unable or unwilling to take action to stop the conflict unfolding in South Kordofan, a recently leaked UN report, titled “United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan,” makes clear that UN officials are well aware that a bloody and ethnically targeted slaughter is under way.

The report, which has not been officially released, comes after claims by both UN and U.S. officials that there is currently no concrete and confirmable evidence that crimes are being committed by the Sudanese government. The regime’s offensive, which Khartoum claims is meant to root out a stubborn rebel resistance, began in early June. While reports accusing government forces of targeting civilians have surfaced from the start, the leaked UNMIS report, based on eyewitness descriptions by civilians and UN staff, gives the most detailed, horrific, and credible account issued so far.

Confirming the worst fears of some observers, the report gives concrete evidence that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), during their unrelenting assault, have targeted civilians of specific ethnicity as well as other noncombatants thought to be sympathetic to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)—hundreds are reported dead and thousands wounded as aircraft, artillery, and troops have targeted villages. Confirming earlier reports by the Satellite Sentinel Project, witnesses who spoke to UNMIS staff also claim that “they saw fresh mass graves” around the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli. Two UN military observers sent to verify this were arrested, stripped, and beaten, then released and told to avoid the area.

The report also details systematic efforts by government forces to cut off humanitarian aid to the area by bombing airstrips, erecting roadblocks, and raiding compounds where aid material is stored. It also contains allegations that Sudanese forces have harassed UNMIS staff. Aside from using force or the threat of force to keep UN staff from investigating rumors of war crimes, the SAF have arrested, interrogated, shot at, and, in one confirmed instance, executed UNMIS staff.

The UN has been not only been unable to put a halt to this quickly degrading crisis, but it has failed to provide protection to civilians. Thousands who flocked to the UNMIS compound were forced to leave by government agents. According to the report, “National Security agents, donning Sudan Red Crescent vests, came to the UNMIS Protective Perimeter and requested all the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] to relocate to the Kadugli Stadium . . . where they would be provided basic services including shelter in schools.” UNMIS staff claim many of these people were arrested shortly after leaving the area. Further accounts by eyewitnesses claim that SAF soldiers entered the protective perimeter and executed alleged SPLM members while UN peacekeepers stood nearby.

Columnist Eric Reeves has compared the situation in South Kordofan to the Srebrenica massacre. All of the countries capable of successfully intervening have indicated that they will not. The UN is likely to be hamstrung by conflict of interests, and China would very likely wield its veto in the Security Council to protect the government it does business with in Khartoum. According to Reeves, in this situation “real hope . . . seems entirely unwarranted.”


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.


Sudan: New Drive for Darfur by Christian Engineers

The Affiliation of Christian Engineers has embarked on a new drive to obtain signatures on a petition against mass atrocities in Darfur. The ACE, a faith-based grassroots organization that is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, has been circulating a petition for over a year calling on the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and other engineering professional societies worldwide “to take actions necessary to: 1) stop the mass atrocities in Darfur and create a sustainable peace in the region, 2) protect civilians in Darfur as this happens, and 3) bring justice and accountability those most responsible for the mass atrocities in Darfur.” The ACE bases its petition on the engineering profession’s Code of Ethics, which stresses the responsibility towards “safety, health and welfare of the public.”

Citing the importance of oil in the political and security dynamics of Sudan, and the role that engineers play in locating, extracting, transporting, and refining Sudanese oil, the petition says “we will openly work to persuade all Engineers and Engineering societies around the world to influence those Engineers now working in Sudan to play a positive role in persuading the all parties to adopt the above objectives” and calls on members of the WFEO to use “their skills to help the people of Darfur, such as providing services to the refugee camps, medical professions, and those who are working to bring peace to the region.”

The new campaign, which is endorsed by genocide researcher Samuel Totten, seeks to gain backing from the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

Bosnia: 16th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

July 11, 2011, marked the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys following the fall of the town of Srebrenica marked one of the darkest moments of the 1992–95 Bosnian War. The town was supposed to be protected and disarmed by UN peacekeepers after being declared a safe haven in 1993, but Bosnian Serb troops captured the town and rounded up the refugees who had sought UN protection before systematically killing the men and boys and raping the women.

This week, Bosnians from all over the world gathered to commemorate the massacre, marching along the escape route and praying at mass graves along the way. An important part of each year’s commemoration is the burial of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA testing. This year, 613 victims, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, were newly identified, bringing the total number of named victims to 6,481. This year’s commemoration was also attended by the president of Croatia and the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidency.

This year’s anniversary falls amid the capture of Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Bosnian Serb forces that committed the massacre, and a Dutch court’s ruling holding the Dutch government responsible for the Dutch peacekeeping force’s expulsion of Srebrenica refugees from the UN compound under pressure by Bosnian Serb forces. Mladic is currently on trial at the ICTY, while the Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to compensate the plaintiffs.

In related news, the “Mapping Genocide” project became public last Friday. The 17 maps in the interactive online project track events before, during, and after the fall of Srebrenica, giving viewers access to documents, profiles, reports, and videos related to the massacre. The project, produced by the Sarajevo-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was put together based on material provided by the UN and the Bosnian Serb government as well as the ICTY’s rulings.

Image: Engineers Petition for Darfur

Combating Psychic Numbing to Prevent Genocide

In the paper “Psychic Numbing and Mass Atrocity” [click where it says One-Click Download], University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic and his four co-authors examine the phenomenon of “psychic numbing” and its implications for genocide prevention policies.

Psychic numbing proceeds from the role of affects—positive and negative reactions to stimuli that influence our decision-making—in the dual-process theories of thinking. The dual process is composed of System 1 and System 2, the former emphasizing emotions, experiences, and intuitions and the latter based on analytical deliberations. Both are important components of our ability to think that arose out of the long process of evolution, but each has distinct effects on our decision-making. Affects are central to the System 1 mode of thinking, which “evolved to protect individuals and their small family and community groups from present, visible, immediate dangers.” However, this also means that “this affective system did not evolve to help us respond to distant, mass murder. As a result, System 1 thinking responds to large-scale atrocities in ways that System 2 deliberation, if activated, finds reprehensible.”

Studies have shown that “constant increases in the physical magnitude of a stimulus typically evoke smaller and smaller changes in response.” Applied to human lives, this means that “the importance of saving one life is great when it is the first, or only, life saved but diminishes marginally as the total number of lives saved increases.” Related to this revelation is the research showing that one specific victim with a name and a face compels a much stronger response from the public than simply a number of victims or a group of victims. As Slovic et al. state: “Our capacity to feel is limited . . . the emotion or affective feeling is greatest at N (number of victims) = 1 but begins to decline at N = 2 and collapses at some higher value of N that becomes simply ‘a statistic.’ ” This means that “faced with genocide and other mass tragedies, we cannot rely on our moral intuitions alone to guide us to act properly”—instead we need to depend on our ability to think analytically to guide our actions.

According to the authors, based on their research, if the international community were to pursue policies and institutional and legal arrangements to prevent and react to genocides, mechanisms to “overcome cognitive failures” would need to be implemented. As institutional arrangements and legal system are decision-making instruments based on analytical deliberations, the authors believe that any effort to mitigate the effects of psychic numbing should focus on: 1) “insulating institutions from the effects of psychic numbing”; 2) “removing or restricting institutional features that foster psychic numbing”; 3) “promoting System 2 deliberation directly”; and 4) employing System 1 to channel actors toward System 2 processes.”

In order to shield institutions from psychic numbing, the authors advocate changes to the current system of enforcement and reaction to mass atrocities, such as employing pre-authorization and pre-commitment for military intervention or economic sanctions. Rather than scrambling to react to a situation, their focus is on having rules in place that would allow countries and institutions to simply follow a procedure in place and bypass the inaction arising from psychic numbing as the casualties mount. They also support greater early warning and preventive diplomacy efforts, as well as giving more authority to regional institutions, which because of their physical proximity are less susceptible to psychic numbing than larger international organizations.

The authors call for changes to human rights reporting to emphasize personal stories and use more images, and to human rights indicators to place less weight on quantitative factors. They also believe that human rights law, such as the definition of crimes against humanity, should emphasize crimes against individuals rather than against groups. Lastly, in order to put greater emphasis on System 2-type thinking, the authors urge international institutions and national governments to deliberate more, and more open-mindedly, about possible courses of action, such as conducting cost-benefit analyses of intervention versus non-interventions in cases of genocide.

Image: Paul Slovic

Bosnia: Mladic appears before ICTY again

Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, yesterday appeared for the second time before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The hearing was marked by heated exchanges between Mladic and the presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands. His indictment on 11 charges—including genocide, persecution, and deportation—stems from his leadership of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war, including the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In court yesterday, Mladic said he would not enter a plea without the presence of his Serbian and Russian lawyers, while the court said the Serbian attorney was not qualified to represent Mladic since he does not speak English. On Sunday, Agence France-Presse had reported that Mladic planned to boycott the hearing as a protest against issues with his representation. After Mladic’s expulsion, the judge entered pleas of not guilty on all 11 charges, but did not set a date for his next court appearance.

Laws of War: Crisis Group president Louise Arbour delivers speech

Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current president of the International Crisis Group, delivered the annual Kirby Lecture at the Australian National University on June 23. Titled “The Laws of War: Under Siege or Gaining Ground?” the speech examined the current state of international humanitarian law and the laws governing warfare.

Arbour noted that international law regarding the conduct of war has come under attack from both sides, one arguing that traditional laws of war constrain governments’ ability to fight asymmetric wars against terrorists or insurgents, the other arguing that international law gives too much leeway to states that inflict civilian casualties. While Arbour acknowledged important gaps in international humanitarian law, she said some criticisms were a result of the law’s greater effectiveness in recent years in holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable and the desire of some states to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

Arbour noted that armed conflict has changed dramatically since international treaties like the Geneva Conventions were formulated. It is not always clear whether military, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations against non-state actors can be considered acts of war, which means they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how they should be governed under international and domestic laws. However, even if non-state actors violate laws governing warfare, Arbour argued that states should abide by them, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Non-state violators can be held accountable through the criminal process, whereas states are still bound by their obligations under those treaties.

Even if asymmetric warfare has made it more difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants, Arbour said today’s criteria remained useful, relevant, and necessary: “The current formulation does allow for the targeting of ‘civilian combatants’ when they are engaged in hostilities. To expand humanitarian law to allow the targeting of those civilians not directly involved in hostilities would be a dangerous step, and would entirely undermine the rationale of civilian protection.”

Arbour noted the continuing debate over what constitutes excessive civilian casualties, with one side arguing that any restriction on civilian casualties is too restrictive and the other that current laws of war allow too many civilian casualties. She said that current laws struck a proper balance between “military and humanitarian imperatives,” and that clearer standards would develop over time.

Finally Arbour discussed the concept of “lawfare”—the “use or the abuse of laws of war as a military tool.” While she cautioned against the manipulation of law for political aims, she also highlighted international humanitarian law’s potential to play a major role in protecting civilians and prevent conflict if implemented and enforced properly, and warned against attempts to cast aside or radically revise the current system of international humanitarian law.

Photo: The Guardian

Rwanda: ICTR refers genocide case to Rwandan courts

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) referred one of its cases to the Rwandan judicial system. The case is that of Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi, a Rwandan Pentecostal pastor charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and extermination as a crime against humanity. He was arrested in Uganda in June 2010 and has been in the tribunal’s custody since July of that year.

Previous requests for referral to the Rwandan courts were rejected by ICTR judges on the basis that a fair trial could not be guaranteed. In this case, however, the court noted that “Rwanda had made material changes in its laws and had indicated its capacity and willingness to prosecute cases referred by the ICTR adhering to internationally recognised fair trial standards enshrined in the ICTR Statute and other human rights instruments.” Uwinkindi’s referral is the first one granted since Chief Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow filed three new transfer requests based on his determination that the legal climate in Rwanda had changed enough to allow fair trial for the accused.

In their ruling, the ICTR judges requested that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights be appointed to monitor the Rwandan proceedings for fairness.

The ruling, which Rwandan pro-government daily The New Times labeled “a vote of confidence in the Rwandan judicial system,” follows the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1966 asking the tribunal to find ways to wrap up all cases by 2014.

Africa: Civil society groups urge governments to support ICC

A report by African civil society groups and international organizations working in Africa calls on African member states of the ICC to cooperate with and continue supporting the actions of the International Criminal Court. Titled “Observations and Recommendations on the International Criminal Court and the African Union,” the report criticizes AU requests for delays in ICC prosecution of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and in the investigation of Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, and condemns AU reluctance to support Security Council Resolution 1970 on Libya.

The organizations, numbering 125 and based in more than 25 countries, make seven recommendations to Africa’s 32 ICC member states: 1) support the ICC at AU summits, 2) push for accountability for serious violators of international law in Darfur and Kenya, 3) voice objections on Kenya and Darfur to the Security Council rather than the ICC, 4) address concerns about plans to expand jurisdiction of the new African Court of Justice and Human Rights, 5) cooperate with ICC prosecution of crimes in Libya, 6) comply with obligations regarding people targeted by ICC warrants, and 7) take a more active role in selection of the next ICC prosecutor.

Currently the African Court of Justice and Human Rights is allowed to rule on general legal matters and human rights treaties. The AU has proposed widening its jurisdiction to criminal prosecution for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Noting the complexity of these cases and the region’s lack of experience in handling them, the report advises caution. If the African Court moves ahead, says the report, it must adhere to international legal and procedural standards, have access to adequate resources to conduct investigations, and clarify its standing to make sure it doesn’t undermine ICC authority.

The recommendation regarding the Bashir warrant appears to be a response to the AU call for members not to cooperate with the arrest, while the plea for cooperation with the ICC on Libya aims to ensure that African concerns about military action don’t obstruct justice for crimes against civilians.

Photo: Human Rights Watch

On June 16, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion titled “Libya and the Responsibility to Protect.” Moderated by Mike Abramowitz of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the panel featured Manal Omar of the United States Institute of Peace, Sarah Sewall of the Harvard Kennedy School, and Ambassador Richard Williamson of the Brookings Institution.

As Abramowitz said in his opening statement, several issues regarding R2P have been raised by the public, commentators, policymakers, and politicians in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and the subsequent NATO intervention in Libya. Those questions include whether the intervention has prevented a mass atrocity, whether NATO’s ongoing actions have gone beyond the original mandate of civilian protection into regime change, and why the R2P principle has been applied to Libya but not other countries facing the threat of mass atrocities. Another question is whether R2P has been useful in dealing with the Libyan situation, or if the Libyan crisis has discredited the principle of the Responsibility to Protect.

Omar of USIP focused on illustrating the situation on the ground based on conversations she had with Libyan civilians and rebels. She highlighted the importance of NATO air strikes to rebels and civilians, and Libyans’ opposition to the possibility of foreign ground troops in their country. She also discussed Libyans’ views that regime change and civilian protection are one and the same in their country, their continued belief in the eventual demise of the Qaddafi regime, and ongoing discussions within and outside the National Transitional Council about transitional justice, reconciliation, and the form of Libya’s future government. Omar added that the people of Benghazi fear mass atrocities experienced in other parts of Libya could reach them without the help of the international community, and that they especially dread the use of rape as a “tool of war.”

Ambassador Richardson noted the tension between realism and idealism inherent in a principle like R2P, especially when it comes to the use of military force, and stressed the need for international legitimacy, multilateral consensus, and careful consideration of the full menu of options. He described the Libyan case as a learning opportunity, emphasizing that R2P, like human rights before it, will take a long time to establish itself as a global norm, and that while mistakes in applying the principle will be made, each time R2P is invoked is a chance for the international community to figure out what it means and how to respond. In the case of Libya, Richardson believes that Britain and France were more anxious to get involved than the United States was because they had greater interests at stake. He also said there may be times when it’s better to negotiate with the perpetrators of mass crimes without an ICC indictment to slow down the killing and save more civilian lives. He concluded by underscoring the need for post-intervention reconstruction and stabilization plans.

Dr. Sewall, one of the authors of the Mass Atrocity Response Operation Planning Handbook, emphasized the Libyan case as a learning opportunity, both politically and militarily, echoing many of Ambassador Richardson’s points. She described R2P as a “work in progress,” and said that even if some doubt the sincerity of the concept’s motives and view it as neo-imperialism, it remains “useful in framing the debate” about cases like Libya. She said the U.S. military’s actions in Libya demonstrated a lack of thinking about MARO operations within the military, noting that outside observers viewed airstrikes—the U.S. military’s primary tool for operations when not allowed to use ground troops—as synonymous with major combat operations aimed at regime change. Dr. Sewall stressed that protection strategies used in humanitarian interventions are defensive in nature, while the primary mode of carrying out U.S. military operations is offensive, creating an obvious disconnect between the goals of the operation and the tools used to accomplish them. Noting that “military power is very imprecise, highly uncertain, and really volatile,” she said civilian casualties could cause a backlash against future interventions, which underscores not only the need to be cautious about military intervention, but also the importance of prevention at earlier stages of conflict.

Image: Daryl Cagle,

Libya: Arrest Warrants for Key Government Figures

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants today for Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, his son Salif-al Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Al-Sanussi. The trio has been accused of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the murder and persecution of protestors during the uprising that swept the country earlier this year. While Qaddafi has ultimate control over the Libyan government, Salif-al Islam and Al-Sanussi are considered to have been instrumental in the development and execution of the violent strategies used in the government’s crackdown on the dissention that precipitated the ongoing civil war.

Despite celebration in the rebel capital of Benghazi, government officials there admit that the arrest warrants may make negotiating Qaddafi out of power near impossible. Al Jazeera reported that the rebel government has “made it clear that the door has been shut to any peaceful political settlement of this conflict. They are worried that [Qaddafi], who now is a prisoner in his own country, will fight until the end, until death.”

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trials Begin

Trials have begun today for four former Khmer Rogue officials accused of helping to orchestrate the mass atrocities committed under the regime’s rule from 1975 to 1979. Prosecutors for the UN-backed tribunal are claiming that each of the four defendants had direct influence in developing or executing government policies that caused the death of around 1.7 million Cambodians.

All four have pleaded not guilty to charges that include murder, genocide, torture, and religious persecution. Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge second in command, apologized for the deaths but maintains that government officials were acting as liberators, protecting the nation from Vietnamese military incursion. Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, whose ideology heavily influenced government policies, says he was unaware of the killings. The former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, a trusted member of  the regime’s inner circle, is claiming double-jeopardy, citing his conviction in a trial in 1979, for which he later received a pardon. His wife, Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister, who is accused of planning mass killings, said she was also unaware of the atrocities being committed and places the blame instead on Nuon Chea.

The trial is immensely “complex,” according to the New York Times. It includes “a 700-page indictment, hundreds of witnesses, thousands of pages of documentary evidence, scores of lawyers in the courtroom and three working languages — Khmer, English and French.”


The Stanley Foundation in May released a policy report titled The Role of Regional and Subregional Arrangements in Strengthening the Responsibility to Protect. Based on the proceedings of a conference hosted by the foundation, the report analyzes the differences in methods of implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) across different regional organizations.

The report hails the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as one of the most successful in incorporating R2P. The authors attribute this in part to Europe’s commitment to the principles of human rights and conflict prevention and response, which were articulated and matured in European-level institutions before being addressed at the international level. For Europe the provisions of R2P have long been the norm.

Asian regional organizations—specifically the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—have developed impressive policy frameworks to promote regional compliance with R2P. The problem, says the report, lies not in commitment but in capacity: ASEAN is too underfunded to develop adequate crisis prevention and response tools, or to sponsor programs that properly promote norms without outside help. Despite this, one of ASEAN’s greatest strengths is the dialogue it maintains with international organizations—cited as a key factor to successful implementation of R2P.

In the Americas, R2P faces ideological resistance. The Organization of American States (OAS) has tried to balance a firm belief in protecting human rights with an equally firm belief in territorial sovereignty. This has resulted in skepticism towards what some countries within the OAS view as the interventionist tendencies of R2P, leading to policies that are “more reactive that proactive.”

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have good policies in place, but lack the capacity needed to enforce the policies. While their flexibility allows for a huge array of responses, ranging from political pressure to military force, a lack of capacity has hamstrung their ability to respond to crisis effectively. The authors of the report give the example of the AU’s inability to muster sufficient military force from member states in response to the recent crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.

Despite vast differences between these regions, the report recommends some universal policies necessary for successful implementation of R2P. These include a high level of public engagement and education concerning R2P; the creation or modification of institutions that can viably perform the tasks necessary; and continued development of the capacity of regional arrangements to respond.


Guatemala: Former military chief of staff arrested

Former Guatemalan general Héctor Mario López Fuentes was arrested last Friday in Guatemala City. As the third-highest-ranking military official, he is alleged to have been responsible for massacres and violence against the regime’s opponents during the country’s 36-year civil war. Amnesty International says General López Fuentes planned 12 massacres that killed an estimated 317 indigenous Maya in Guatemala’s Ixil Triangle from 1982 to 1983. A truth commission (Commission for Historical Clarification) backed by the United Nations found that approximately 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared during the civil war, and that 440 massacres in indigenous communities may amount to genocide. López Fuentes faces charges that include genocide, forced disappearances, and crimes against humanity. His arrest follows that of two former heads of the national police force, who are also accused of severe human rights violations during the conflict.

News of the general’s arrest comes not long after the International Crisis Group released a report on the progress of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an investigative body created in 2007 by agreement between the Guatemalan government and the UN to strengthen the Guatemalan judicial system, investigate crimes committed by illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations (CIACS), and dismantle the CIACS, whose origins date back to the government intelligence forces during the civil war. The report states that the judicial system has come to rely on the CICIG too much as a crutch in dealing with issues involving CIACS. According to the report, the Guatemalan judicial system needs to take greater responsibility and initiative in investigating and prosecuting those crimes.

Sri Lanka: Miliband and Kouchner urge action based on UN report

David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, the former British and French foreign ministers, published an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune on Monday, calling on the international community to carry out the recommendations of last month’s UN report on Sri Lanka. “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” labels abuses committed by both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and calls for the creation of “an independent, international mechanism to monitor Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts and independent investigations into alleged violations.”

Referring to Sri Lanka’s and the global community’s responsibility to protect civilians, the two former ministers said there was evidence the Sri Lankan government had failed to protect Tamil noncombatants from violence. Miliband and Kouchner especially stressed the need for a process to hold human rights violators accountable for their wartime actions. They said if the Sri Lankan government was reluctant to proceed on its own, the international community should move forward with implementing the report’s recommendations, which have been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

The Sri Lankan government claims the UN report makes judgments based on “unverified information,” and says its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is looking into allegations of human rights violations. Kouchner and Miliband argue that the LLCR “fails standards of impartiality and independence and is deeply flawed.”


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