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How can media coverage tell us when a genocide is happening? This is the subject of a fascinating article published Tuesday on ForeignPolicy.com.

“What Did We Know — and When Did We Know It?” (by Michael Dobbs, who is following the Mladic trial for the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) looks closely at about 1 minute of video footage shot by a Serbian journalist on July 13, 1995, during the genocide of Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica.

The first part of the video (repeated subsequently in slow motion) shows prisoners gathered in a field, guarded by soldiers in uniform. The second part was taken by Petrovic as he drove back toward Srebrenica through the village of Kravica while the massacre was underway. You hear shots ring out, mingled with the throbbing beat of music from the car radio. In addition to the crumpled bodies (more visible in the slow motion part of the video that begins at 0:50), you see the bullet-spattered façade of the warehouse and empty white buses (used to transport the prisoners).

This footage aired the next day on the Belgrade TV station Studio B, with the murdered Bosnian Serbs described as “dead Muslim soldiers.” One journalist—Robert Block, Belgrade correspondent for the Independent in London—saw the footage and immediately suspected a massacre. He went to the television station and asked to see the footage in slow motion. The next day he published a story titled “Bodies pile up in horror of Srebrenica.”

As Dobbs points out:

If a lone reporter was able to reach such conclusions on the basis of examining a few seconds of video footage, think what a powerful intelligence agency would have been able to do had it been explicitly tasked to gather evidence of war crimes. We now know that the CIA had additional imagery of the Kravica events that was captured in real time, but not analyzed for many weeks.

Given that massacres in the area continued for another week after the footage was broadcast, if intelligence analysts had been paying attention, many lives might have been saved.

From a prevention point of view, what’s important is for intelligence agencies—and journalists—to be on the lookout for signs of atrocity crimes, especially when there is violent conflict going on.

Dobbs will be writing more articles about the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, which you can follow here.

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Democratic Republic of Congo: High stakes for November elections

The United States Institute of Peace, in association with the Great Lakes Policy Forum, hosted a discussion June 2 on how the United States and the international community can help stabilize the dangerous situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of the November elections. As security has broken down in many areas of the country, the threat of politically motivated violence is real—before, during, and after the election.

The DRC has been in a perpetual state of conflict for decades. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently lists it as one of the places most prone for ethnic conflict in the near future. It’s suffered two major wars, with over 5.7 million people dead as a result. Armed groups continue to challenge government control, while the government itself is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. Despite a successful election in 2006, dangerous conditions persist till today, especially in the east, where rebel groups perpetrate crimes against civilians including sexual violence, murder, looting, and forced displacement. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “national and provincial structures remain incapable of ensuring basic security for communities, providing transparent management of resources and wealth, and addressing entrenched problems of corruption, poverty, lack of development and heightened ethnic and regional tensions.”

The first speaker at the June 2 discussion, Joshua Marks, the Central Africa Program Officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, spoke at length on the DRC’s upcoming election. According to him, international monitoring is key to avoiding violence. Successful monitoring has a two-fold effect, he said: It not only gives the government greater legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, it also gives it greater credibility in the eyes of other countries, which may encourage them to give more aid.

While Marks said he was confident that UN and EU teams would ensure a fair election, he urged listeners to be cautious in their expectations. As he pointed out, even successful elections can give way to chaos, and the international community must make sure to strengthen other aspects of society as well—for example, supporting a greater separation of powers and protecting freedom of speech.

Also integral to stemming an outbreak of violence, Marks said, is monitoring the media, since media can be used as a tool either for democratic expression or hateful propaganda. Donor countries need to take a greater role in ensuring that they guide the Congo’s media towards the former. He looks at successful U.S. policy in this case as a good example. U.S. funding has helped create local radio broadcasts that are fair, strengthening civil society and open and democratic debate—two factors that can help avoid election-time violence.

While admitting the country is still is a dismal state despite billions of dollars in aid, Marks said he believes coordination of efforts by governments and like-minded organizations can lead to fund being used more efficiently and effectively.

The discussion’s second speaker, Tia Palermo, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, spoke extensively on the problem of sexual violence in the DRC. Recent reports have shown that sexual violence against women there is one of the highest in the region. However, Palermo claims the high levels of rape are not due to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, but simply by men acting on their own, which points to a fundamental problem in Congolese society. To rectify this, Palermo recommended that donor nations help build education programs and instruments to aid in the prosecution of accused rapists.

Photo:© UNHCR/P.Taggart

This week’s Guest Preventer on the AIPR blog is Daniel J. Gerstle:

Inspired by my experience as a former humanitarian aid worker and rights advocate, I now produce creative humanitarian media about how people survive war, disaster, and other extreme adversity. Part of my work is documenting the story of local and traditional violence prevention initiatives in war zones, which are often ignored by the press and left out of peace negotiations.

There are tremendous fears that the vastly different claims on where Sudan’s north–south border might lie, along with the threat of more violence in Darfur and growing rebellion in the Nile valley, will continue to threaten peace in central Africa and lead to more violence for years to come. What can a regular person living around the world do to stop it?

As founder and editor of HELO Magazine, a new organization that produces creative humanitarian media by, for, and about aid workers, rights advocates, refugees, and musicians who support them, I’ve gathered a team ready to answer this question.

Darfuri reconciliation expert Suliman Giddo, filmmaker Lucas Gath (Sins of My Father, ShootingPoverty.org), photographers Brendan Bannon, Michael Marquand, and Ala Kheir, motion graphics artist Ruslan Shukurov, musician alSarah, students at Ahfad University for Women in Khartoum, and many more are staged to help HELO create a visually stunning, interactive, virtual Sudan in which we will place short films that document local violence prevention initiatives along the frontlines. Each short film found within the virtual Sudan will offer a menu of options that viewers can take to act on what they saw: debate, donate, sign a petition, plan a trip, and potentially correspond with the people involved in the initiative.

We’re in the fundraising stage for traveling to Sudan to complete filming right now. The formal online fundraising campaign begins in the next weeks, but in the meantime we would love for people to help us cover the costs of travel and production by checking out our new Sudan Mosaic Video Teaser and reading the instructions below it which explain how to support our cause. You can also check out the other literary journalism, opinions, culture, and music stories we offer on other countries at HELO Magazine.

Much of Sudan has great potential for peace and prosperity. Many Sudanese who live on the frontlines have incredible ideas about how local and national disputes can be resolved. But for some reason, the international community, diplomatic envoys, and governments tend primarily to invite those with guns to negotiation tables. Wouldn’t peace talks be more successful if they were dominated by local violence prevention innovators instead? At the very least, Sudanese violence prevention innovators could use more press.

Daniel J. Gerstle is founder and editor of HeloMagazine.org; executive producer at Sudan Mosaic Interactive Media Project; and an independent consultant on humanitarian aid, human rights, and media.

The Stanley Foundation has published a policy analysis brief titled “Mass Atrocities and Armed Conflict: Links, Distinctions, and Implications for the Responsibility to Prevent,” by Alex J. Bellamy.  The document analyses atrocity prevention through a common prevention agenda.  For anyone interested in genocide prevention, it is definitely worth a read!

The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach programme has also published Discussion Paper #5, “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Edward Kissi. The paper focuses on remembering and drawing lessons from the crimes committed against the Jews during the Holocaust so the world can “prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

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