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Ahmed Harun, governor of the Sudanese state of South Kordofan, has been caught on film giving orders to the Sudanese army that may be interpreted as encouraging troops to commit war crimes against rebels.

In the video, published by Al Jazeera yesterday, Harun, who has already been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in Darfur, instructs his soldiers to “take no prisoners” in a speech delivered just before his soldiers enter rebel territory.

Says Harun: “You must hand over the place clean. Swept, rubbed, crushed. Don’t bring them back alive. We have no space for them.”

According to United to End Genocide, civilians in South Kordofan are not only in immediate danger of suffering direct, undifferentiated violence simply by virtue of living there, but are also in danger of starvation due to the ongoing conflict’s interference with adequate farming and the delivery of food aid.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo called for Harun’s arrest, saying: “A commander has a responsibility to ensure that his troops are not violating the law. He cannot encourage them to commit crimes. ‘Take no prisoners’ means a crime against humanity or a war crime, because if the prisoner was a combatant it is a war crime and if the prisoner was a civilian it’s a crime against humanity.”

Advocate Eric Reeves, who has written extensively about Khartoum’s aerial military attacks on civilians throughout Sudan, recently wrote an article for the Sudan Tribune calling for pressure on Khartoum to accept the multilateral humanitarian access proposal put forth jointly by the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations.

On March 29, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging the government of Sudan to allow immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to, among other regions, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The resolution also encourages the two Sudans to cease hostilities, return to negotiations, and allow any peaceful civilians in the area to voluntarily leave and take refuge somewhere safer.

Photo: ch16.org

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The Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities has put forth an Initiative for the Improvement of European Union Capabilities to Prevent Genocide and Mass Atrocities. The rationale behind it is the importance of distinguishing between preventing conflict and preventing mass atrocities. The aim of the initiative is

“raising the awareness of the need to respond more effectively to the threats of genocide and mass atrocities by establishing a dedicated Task Force of European academics, experts and practitioners that will launch a series of consultations at the European level. This round of consultations and research will result in the elaboration of a Report assessing the current EU capabilities in the realm to prevent mass atrocities, which will be submitted to EU institutions and Member States.”

The Report has three main goals–to review and evaluate the EU’s existing tools for preventing mass atrocities, to develop practical policy recommendations to enhance responses to emerging threats of mass atrocities, and to highlight genocide prevention as a mainstream EU priority. It is slated to be released in December 2012 and will consist of five core chapters:

  1. Warning/Current Intelligence: warning about and verification of atrocities;
  2. Pre-Crisis Engagement: promoting security and human rights in countries under stress;
  3. Preventive Diplomacy: halting and reversing escalation toward mass violence;
  4. Intervention: intervening to stop ongoing atrocities;
  5. International Cooperation: creating synergies between the EU and the wider international community,

each of which will “consider the extent to which the EU’s current capabilities are adequate vis-à-vis the ideal requirements of an integrated genocide prevention strategy.” The 70-page Report will also include conclusions and recommendations.

Photo: foreignpolicy.com

In his 9 March New York Times op-ed, “How to End Mass Atrocities,” Alex de Waal argues that the current (predominantly Westernized) anti-genocide movement, spearheaded by Gareth Evans and Samantha Power, has become overly idealistic. Touching upon points discussed in his co-authored paper, “How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative,” de Waal writes that interventionists have become singularly focused in both their means and their ends. He points out that while they tend to view perpetrators of mass atrocities as “insatiable,” the reality is, “In many cases, the perpetrators simply stop killing when they have reached their goals, become exhausted, fallen out among themselves or been defeated.” He cites several cases in which this has held true, and more in which this has enabled the brokering of deals which have ultimately ended instances of mass atrocities.

But De Waal then makes some sweeping generalizations, asserting that the aforementioned interventionists “insist on pursuing a more ambitious agenda: nothing short of democracy and justice, imposed by military intervention.” Coupled with getting mired in rhetorical semantics, this leads to indecision and resultant inaction when the killings ebb or stop. Before mentioning the current cases of Sudan and Syria, de Waal surmises his thesis:

Western policy makers interested in stopping mass crimes should not overlook tools that can work. Where violence is used as an instrument for political gain, it is negotiable. Some perpetrators can be moderated through diplomacy. Others will stop killing if they defeat a rebellion or realize they cannot. The main aim should be to stop genocidal killing. Holding elections and prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes, however laudable those goals, aren’t the priority.

Two days later, Gareth Evans responded in kind with a letter to the editor entitled, “In Defense of ‘R2P’,” in which he argues that

The whole point of the R2P doctrine is simply to generate a reflex international response that occurring or imminent mass atrocities are everybody’s business, not nobody’s. What the appropriate response can and should be — including diplomatic persuasion, non-military pressure like sanctions or International Criminal Court action, or (in extreme and exceptional cases) military intervention — depends entirely on the circumstances of each individual case.

Other scholars in the field have also weighed in on the debate.

Image: nytimes.com

Scott Straus, Winnick Fellow at the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently wrote a working paper entitled, “Identifying Genocide and Related Forms of Mass Atrocity.” The central issue addressed by the paper is how members of the atrocity prevention community (his terminology) label crisis situations and identify emergent patterns of violence. Straus says conceptual analysis matters because:

  1. The atrocity prevention community must have a working definition of what class of events is in its domain of response.
  2. It is objectively difficult to know in the midst of the crisis whether or not it will escalate to a level that would trigger a response, that is, to genocide or mass atrocity.
  3. Conceptual analysis can help outside observers to identify and categorize different types of situations of atrocity and to recommend policy responses on the basis of those distinctions.
  4. Conceptual analysis and rigor will help organizations use language that over time will maintain or enhance their credibility.

Straus first endeavors to define/conceptualize the term “genocide.” He writes that the core consensus is that “genocide refers to violence that is extensive (deliberate, large scale, organized, systematic, sustained, widespread), group-selective (targeted at groups), and group-destructive (designed to destroy groups in particular territories under perpetrators’ control). Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944 to mean the “destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” and as the “destruction of human groups.” The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.” Five methods of genocide are then specified:

  1. killing members of the group;
  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
  5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The next part of the paper focuses on indicators and questions of genocide. In addressing group-selective patterns of violence, Straus poses four questions to help determine if genocide is taking place or about to occur: Does evidence exist of isolating and separating out specific identifiable social groups, whether those groups are ethnic, racial, religious, political, economic, or even regional? In the course of violence, does evidence indicate that perpetrators are identifying individuals for the commission of violence on the basis of those individuals’ ostensible membership in groups? Are civilians being deliberately targeted? Does evidence indicate that the violence is conforming to a logic of attacking groups, that is, are symbols or stereotypes of specific groups being targeted?

Straus goes on to say that in addition to groupness, genocide is extensive violence. To assess extent, “outside observers can look at deliberateness, at scale (are substantial numbers being targeted?), at systematicity (organization, coordination, patterned regularity), at time (repetition and sustainment, which are implied by systematicity), at geography (widespread breadth), and at capacity (ability to inflict violence, involvement in violence-specialized institutions). Lastly, another method of evaluating whether or not genocide is taking place is to ask if the pattern of violence is consistent with a logic of group destruction: Do the patterns of violence in genocide include acts that are consistent with group destruction? Does the violence target not only those members of a social group who pose an immediate threat (according to the perpetrator), but also those who are essential to a group’s reproduction, notably children and women clearly not engaged in combat? Is the language used to justify the violemce consistent with a logic of group destruction? Genocide exhibits a logic of “final solutions.”

Straus uses Darfur and Kenya as case examples, then discusses sources of conceptual disagreement. These include whether or not genocide should be the gold standard for intervention, determining how much group destruction needs to occur to cross the threshold to “genocide,” and whether the Holocaust should be the model for genocide. Observers also have conflicting objectives in when and how they use the term. There is a moral or ethical objective, the fact that genocide is also a legal concept, and a more empirical usage as a concept that identifies a specific type of violence.

Because of both the limits and ambiguities of the term “genocide,” more general umbrella concepts are gaining popularity, namely mass atrocity, crimes against humanity, and mass killing. Writes Straus,

The most common emerging general concept in the atrocity prevention community is mass atrocity. Mass atrocity has no formal, legal definition, but in most usages the concept aggregates other legal (or commonly employed) concepts, in particular genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing… Ethnic cleansing has no formal legal definition, but in general ethnic cleansing might be thought of as a set of actions designed to remove forcibly specific civilian groups from a territory… War crimes are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute. Although many different kinds of cases are covered under war crimes, in general, war crimes refer to significant violence against civilians in wartime. War crimes include killing, torture, hostage-taking, depriving prisoners of war rights, destroying shelter, and generally attacking civilians deliberately in war.

Three other important umbrella concepts are mass killing, mass violence, and democide (the murder of any person or people by a government). Then there are the parallel concepts of politicide, classicide, and gendercide. Politicide refers to the destruction of political groups in the way that genocide in the Convention refers to the destruction of ethnic, racial, national, and religious groups. Classicide refers to the intended mass killing of social classes, and gendercide refers to systematic destruction of gender.

To conclude, Straus recommends

that those in the atrocity prevention community should choose a standard that is reasoned, transparent, and, if response is the goal, of a high threshold. The standard should also be flexible enough to allow for ambiguities as events unfold. The net sum of the conceptual analysis in this paper is effectively a choice between two standards. One derives strictly from an analysis if terms that are broader than genocide… The second standard hews more closely to genocide but is broader and tries to avoid some of the problems with the way genocide has been incorporated into international law… drawing from the scholarly literature that emphasizes groups beyond those protected in the Convention, the conceptual standard does not limit itself to ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups. The standard applies to any social group that the perpetrator targets. The standard does not focus on intent per se, but rather reorients attention to issues of extent and scale, in particular the proportion of the target group that is affected by the violence.

Photo: krieger.jhu.edu

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

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