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BY: ANTHONY DiROSA
On July 30th, 2013, the AIPR Blog described a deepening ethnic conflict in South Sudan’s Jonglei state fueled by cattle-raids and retaliatory attacks. South Sudan’s micro-level conflicts were worrisome for a new country seeking to reconcile and move forward from decades of war, but far more worrisome– and–dangerous was the larger militia-based violence between the SPLA and Yau Yau rebels that was driving the country into ruin from the top down. Since July South Sudan has experienced a sharp escalation in the severity and scale of its internal conflicts, but in a different way. An attempted coup d’état last month has ignited an internal power struggle, which has galvanized the formation of military/political factions along religious lines.
What initially began as a struggle for power between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Riek Machar has now resulted in a situation where civilians, including women and children, are attacked simply because they belong to the other ethnic group. The intimacy between political and ethnic identities in South Sudan has allowed the situation to escalate beyond a political rivalry in Juba into towns and villages across the country, forcing seemingly amicable Nuer and Dinka neighbors to fear for their lives. For the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community, South Sudan represents a nightmarish confluence of ethnic, political and identity-based factors so reminiscent of past conflicts in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, and Burma.
Only two years removed from its hard-fought independence from Sudan, stability has proved illusive. While inter-communal conflict and sporadic violence have plagued the country during this time, the recent outbreak of widespread violence is unprecedented and surprising to many in the international community given its scale and severity. The crisis was not wholly unpredictable either.
Rising tensions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have been public since mid-2012 when President Kiir, in a move characterized by many as dictatorial and unconstitutional, dismissed the entire cabinet as well as several democratically elected governors from neighboring states. These tensions reached a breaking point on December 14th when the top leaders of the SPLM criticized ex-Vice President Machar (who was dismissed in July) at an SPLM National Liberation Council meeting, prompting Machar and his allies to angrily walkout. What followed the next day––and whether or not it was a coup––has been debated extensively. Nonetheless, political divisions within the leadership in Juba have split the country along political/ethnic lines and led to widespread atrocities and attacks on civilian populations. Although the immediate cause of the South Sudan crisis stems from political instability in Juba, there are many deep-seeded, long-standing grievances that need to be unearthed in order to understand how to bring the country back from the brink.
Serving as a foundation for the political crisis in Juba (and the eventual outbreak of violence) were a myriad of deeply entrenched political and economic grievances. According to Mehari Taddele Maru, a research fellow at the NATO Defense College, these included: the persistent, undemocratic nature of the government in Juba, increasing competition over the country’s resources, particularly oil, and low levels of delivery of basic services to the public. “It was a matter of time before the SPLM leadership had to face the mounting grievances of the population” according to Maru. Christopher Zambakari and Tarnjeet K. Kang at African Arguments also posit that the “SPLM dysfunction reflects itself the dysfunctionality of the South Sudan state.” Dr. Peter A. Nyaba, a South Sudanese leader and former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research believes that the country’s problems (originating in the SPLM) stem from “failure of the leaders in Juba to organize functional government institutions sensitive to the concerns of the citizens, to develop distinct political ideologies [not based on ethnic affiliations] and the failure to institutionalize power relations within the SPLM.” According to Nyaba, these failures have amounted to an autocratic-like governance style that is supported by ethnic lobbies and backdoor business deals, thus turning state institutions into a “limited liability enterprise.”
This is partially due to the over-centralization of power in Juba since the formation of the South Sudanese state in 2011. With ethnically diverse communities outside the capital now being controlled from Juba and having their requests for constitutional accommodation denied by the SPLM, it is no wonder why tensions have finally boiled over. In fact, a 2011 Crisis Group report identified precisely the same problems and forecasted the danger of not reconciling grievances by failing to reshape political and institutional arrangements. The report warned of the dangers of the SPLM’s “politics of exclusion”, an overly centralized, authoritarian government in Juba, and stressed the importance of political accommodation over a “winner takes all mindset.” Furthermore, Crisis Group specifically pointed to the fact that decentralization had been championed in rhetoric but was being neglected in practice, and that the growing center-periphery dynamic in Juba would be replicating the model in Khartoum that the South had just escaped from. The premonitions many experts had in 2011 have been realized. The current leadership in Juba, by shifting their focus to winning political battles, ignored the growing discontent of its citizens and within the SPLM. They have not taken seriously the process of building an effective, transparent and responsive government in order to move the country forward.
Furthermore, according to Khalid Mustafa Medani at The Guardian, the SPLM has “stifled all criticism, delayed the implementation of badly needed constitutional and security reforms, and pushed through laws restricting the operation of non-governmental organizations.” The grievances directed at the SPLM also stem from the conduct of the state’s security forces that have unlawfully imprisoned journalists and activists and murdered numerous SPLM political opponents and rivals.
Another major factor behind the conflict in South Sudan is the battle for control of the nation’s oil producing regions, which has pitted factions divided along ethnic/political lines against one another, both in government and across the country. The fact that South Sudan’s oil industry accounts for 98% of the government’s revenues annually, making it the most dependent on oil revenues in the world, creates a highly politicized issue with a lot at stake within the SPLM. According to Medani, the government in Juba allocates 38% of oil revenue to military and security, and only 17% to education and infrastructure. Meanwhile, agricultural production has declined sharply over the last decade––80% of South Sudan’s population relies on livestock and agriculture for their basic needs. Oil revenues have been used by Dinka and Nuer leaders (within the SPLM) to forge ties and cut deals with local leaders in the oil-rich Unity and Blue Nile states along political/ ethnic lines. It is no coincidence that control of Bentiu and Malakal, the capitals of two oil rich regions, has been fiercely fought over by rebel and government forces in the last month. Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, believes that “the opposition hopes that by capturing the oil fields, they’ll gain the upper hand in cease-fire negotiations by halting the government’s main source of income.” While oil is not the cause of the conflict in South Sudan, one of the world’s least developed countries, Patey importantly points out that “oil is the prize at the conflict’s end.”
Since fighting began last month the toll on the people of South Sudan has been staggering. Witnesses and U.N. officials have reported severe human rights violations by both sides, including ethnic massacres, summary executions and widespread looting. The Satellite Sentinel Project, a human rights group, recently released images showing the destruction of civilian homes and markets in two South Sudanese towns, Mayom and Bor, by government and rebel forces. Furthermore, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, claimed that mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and sexual have all been documented. “Quite a number of child soldiers have been recruited in the so-called White Army,” he said, referring to the Nuer tribe’s militia fighting in Jonglei state.
The UN has repeatedly warned that it is documenting and collective evidence of atrocities committed in South Sudan and would hold to account leaders on “all sides” if they failed to stop them. Despite reaching a preliminary ceasefire agreement this week in Adis Ababa, recent reports indicate that sporadic fighting and atrocities are continuing in disputed areas. South Sudan is unlikely to see lasting peace come quickly and easily given the scale of atrocities and destruction that has taken place in the last five weeks. The United Nations believes that over 10,000 have been killed and more than half a million have been driven from their homes. In Addis Ababa, Getachew Reda, spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaleg, conceded that “there has been so much bad blood involved now, and there is so much misunderstanding and hard feelings already for the last month, so it would be foolhardy to expect the two parties to come together just at the snap of a finger.”
The Way Forward
The path to peace, from Juba all the way to Unity, Blue Nile and Jonglei states, will be long and require both sides to address the long-standing issues that have existed even prior the country’s independence. Christopher Zambakari & Tarnjeet K. Kang at African Arguments recently stated, “Without resolving the societal issues facing South Sudan, democratizing the political party, opening up the political space, and addressing the root causes of the conflict, the country will only defer its problems to a later date.” Additionally, the authors at African Arguments believed the biggest obstacles to preventing future violence is reform of political and security sectors. “This includes the transformation of the SPLM from liberation movement into a democratic political party in addition to the completion of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel groups and the professionalization of the national armed forces,” they noted. Princeton N. Lyman, Jon Temin, Susan Stigan at Foreign Policy warned about the dangers of reaching a weak and narrow agreement in Addis Ababa. “Such a deal would ignore the broader population and its needs, perpetuate the trend of exclusionary and corrupt politics, and do nothing to address root causes of instability.”
The future of South Sudan must be guided by an inclusive and wide-ranging agreement involving different segments of society that addresses the fundamental, long-lasting problems in South Sudan’s political system. The only effective and sustainable approach to ensure stability for the people of South Sudan is one that tackles political devolution/ decentralization, the oil issue, the reconciliation of long-lasting political-ethnic rivalries, and justice for those responsible for mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. The costs of failing to do so would be too steep.
By: ANTHONY DiROSA
The politics of ethnic and cultural identity are of major concern to peacebuilders and policymakers when understanding how to stem the risk of armed conflict and mass atrocities in regions plagued by intercommunal violence. According to Diana Felix da Costa at the Norwegian Peacebuilding Center, one such place is Jonglei State, South Sudan, where ethnic cleavages that divide tribes are a major focus for international and national policymakers seeking to specifically target and contain such risk factors. Jonglei State represents a setting where tribal groups are defined by multiple identities but marginalized as a whole for the actions of a few. These inter-group distinctions are significant as the cattle-keeping Murle, who are endemic to the lowlands of Pibor county, embrace a distinct identity compared to the agrarian Murle living in the Boma. Although the Murle share an overarching ethnic identity, it’s hard to view or treat them as a unified group. As the risk of violence and mass atrocities has been escalating in Jonglei recently due to fresh SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), Yau Yau rebel and Lou Nuer militia fighting, comprehensively understanding the scope of ethnic and tribal identities, specifically within the Murle culture, has never been more crucial to both Juba, the UN and international actors. Doing so may be a crucial ingredient in formulating responsive solutions to both inter-Murle violence and the more widespread fighting between Yau Yau rebels and SPLA/ Lou Nuer forces.
The Murle are an ethnic group that originally migrated from Ethiopia to southeastern Jonglei hundreds of years ago, before moving further north and settling around Pibor. They are a largely pastoralist group that live in the flat open lowlands of Jonglei, while a smaller group of farmers inhabit the Boma Plateau and surrounding areas. According to Diana Felix da Costa’s fieldwork in Pibor County, although these Murle enclaves associate with a larger collective ethnic identity, they are known to associate and dissociate selectively in situations where it may be advantageous or when their collective security is in jeopardy. This makes sense when understanding the differences in lifestyle from the lowland Murle, which is oriented around cattle, and in Boma, where Murle people live an agrarian lifestyle and have no cattle. While cattle raiding lies at the core of much of the violence occurring in Jonglei state, there is no evidence that the largely agrarian Murle near Boma are involved. Regardless of their guiltlessness they are vengefully targeted by rival clans simply because of their Murle identity. Thus, amongst the Boma Murle a new term of self-identification, “Ngalam”, meaning “without cattle”, has been increasingly used as a means of dissociating themselves from the cattle-raiding Murle. The fragmentation and inter-group violence within the Murle community is even more pronounced as Murle from Boma often report incidents of child abductions and rape on behalf of their Murle neighbors from Pibor. On the other hand, Murle from Boma have aided their fellow in-laws from Pibor and Maruwo Hills when these sub-groups faced conflict from rival groups in their areas. Diana Felix da Costa postulates that this may be an example of in-group survival, especially given the sense of marginalization and insecurity the Murle feel within South Sudanese society.
From these examples it’s understandable why da Costa believes that Murle identity construction is both situational and interactive. Murle identity seems constructed relationally and is subject to changes according to specific interests and circumstances according to da Costa. The Murle also negotiate, accept and challenge identities that are projected onto them by others. On the other hand, there is evidence that Murle identity can also be fixed, as a Ngalamit is viewed, by the Murle, to always be a Ngalamit. These crucial micro-level idiosyncrasies make it hard to view them as an unified ethnic group. Likewise, it’s important to differentiate between the lowland and highland Murle, but also more specifically between the minority of lowland Murle behind the raids and the majority who are not, according to da Costa. Furthermore, not all Murle support cattle raids, child abductions and violence, just as all Lou Nuer or SPLA forces don’t support raids, child abductions and indiscriminate violence against civilians.
Deciphering Murle identity is doubly important given the context of both intercommunal violence and the more widespread militia based combat between the Murle backed Yau Yau movement and the state backed Lou Nuer youth rebels. It is important to note that amongst the three main forces fighting in Jonglei, major ethnic and tribal affiliations lay at the core since much of the rank and file of the SPLA is made of Lou Nuer, a historic rival of the Murle. Recent news out of Jonglei indicates that local Murle leaders are planning to convince Yau Yau, who is also a Murle, to end his rebellion against the government in Juba because of their shared ethnicity. This potential leveraging of Murle identity to promote peace comes at an important juncture where SPLA soldiers are indiscriminately targeting Murle civilians on the assumption they are Yau Yau supporters. There is both a strong incentive and ripe opportunity for the Murle and the international community to capitalize on ethnic and tribal affiliations to help assuage the violence that has wreaked havoc on Jonglei. Doing so would reverse the recent history of unsuccessful negotiations, porous peace agreements, botched local disarmament campaigns and a failure to enforce and follow-through with community driven recommendations for peace.
Peacebuilding initiatives must take these initial steps to understand the dynamics of Murle identity on top of addressing the root causes of violence and mass atrocities in. These acts are fostered by an environment lacking basic state security assistance and free flow and access of humanitarian aid. They are also fueled by the weakening of traditional authority and dispute resolution mechanisms and the manipulation by local and national elites of local grievances and ethnic identities, according to da Costa. Since fighting began to intensify around March 2013, over 100,00 civilians have been cut out off from humanitarian assistance and 120,000 forced to flee their homes. As the international community turns its attention to South Sudan’s current worsening crises, it is indeed important to understand the outstanding grievances and deep-seeded motivations behind such violence and to work to ensure these issues are addressed. What’s equally important is that external policy prescriptions be crafted by first understanding the nuances of the Murle identity so that peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives can harness them for peace.
This post marks the Auschwitz Institute’s inaugural podcast. Jared Knoll, based in Saskatoon, Canada, speaks to Samuel Totten, a pioneer of genocide studies in the United States, a co-founding editor of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and, in 2004, an investigator with the U.S. State Department’s Atrocities Documentation Project, interviewing refugees along the Chad–Sudan border to ascertain whether genocide had been perpetrated in Darfur.
Good day, I’m Jared Knoll, with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Joining me is Dr. Samuel Totten, genocide scholar and professor at the University of Arkansas. Last year he and 54 other experts in genocide prevention petitioned the United States government to take action in Sudan’s Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where they beheld a humanitarian catastrophe. Last week Dr. Totten returned home from an on-the-ground fact-finding excursion to this affected area.
Thank you, Sam, for taking the time to share with us today.
Thank you for the opportunity to do so. I greatly appreciate it.
I’d like to just jump right in and ask you: What are the biggest threats facing the people there on the ground right now?
There are basically three. One: Antonov bombers are being flown overhead every single day by the government of Sudan. Those bombers frequently end up bombing areas where people congregate, such as souks (the open-air markets), schools, and other areas such as that. And a lot of people are being severely injured and killed as a result of those bombings. Secondly, there is constant fighting in the area. Right now it’s concentrated around Kadugli, the capital of the state of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located.
So people are at risk of being killed by the ongoing fighting between the rebels and the government of Sudan as well. Third, there is the problem with food in the area. That is, there’s a lack of food. People have been unable to work their farms out of sheer fear of being killed by the bombs from the Antonovs. Also, the rainy season was shorter than usual this year, so the people did not end up producing as many crops as they usually do and so their food stores are down dramatically. So those are the three main concerns and problems facing the Nuba Mountains people today.
Is there any of those that you feel is the most urgent factor for the international community to address, or is a multifaceted approach what is needed here?
Actually all three issues are major, but I think that, one, if the international community could halt the Antonovs, that would be a real boon for the people of the Nuba Mountains. Also, right now, experts are projecting that this coming rainy season, which starts in late April/early May, could be disastrous if the international community does not get food up to the Nuba Mountains right now, while they can still traverse the roads. Once the rainy season sets in, it’s virtually impossible for any type of vehicle to get up there, and the government of Sudan has established a no-flight zone in South Kordofan, so no planes, either now or in the rainy season, will be able to fly in. So this is the time to get stores of food up there, so that the people do have food. There are individuals who are claiming that if such food is not transported up in large quantities, and I’m talking thousands of tons, there could be widespread starvation this time around.
Do you still believe that the Sudanese regime is attempting to take out those that the government suspects of supporting the liberation movement?
Oh, there’s no doubt about it, yes, they’re definitely focused on that. Now where I differ from a lot of people is this: There are a lot of individuals—scholars, activists, and others—who are calling this a case of genocide. After being on the ground and talking with people, going from village to village, speaking with rebel groups, rebel commanders, it’s not a case of genocide at this point in time. It’s a civil war between the rebel groups and the government of Sudan.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the government of Sudan is perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Nuba Mountains people, particularly in its indiscriminate bombings of them. But at the same time it’s a situation that could quickly morph into at least genocide by attrition if the food is not gotten up there. Because there’s no doubt in my mind, as well, that the government of Sudan’s bombings are preventing the people from producing the food that they need, and at the same time preventing humanitarian groups from entering the Nuba Mountains to provide aid to the people in need.
Do you still support the recommendations that you and others gave to the US government last summer? Has your last trip made you reconsider anything, or made you want to change or advocate different policies?
No, actually I pretty much stand on what we wrote last summer and what we sent to the U.S. State Department, to Princeton Lyman, who at the time was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, and to the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board. Everything that we addressed still stands as far as I’m concerned. I guess the only thing that I would emphasize is that there is a greater urgency to get tons of food up there, otherwise the situation, as I said, could prove disastrous.
Do you have anymore that you’d like to add, to say to the people listening, what they should do?
Yes, I do, thank you. Frequently we read about situations where bombings are taking place, but I must say that, once on the ground, one’s awareness of what that means changes radically. So number one I would say that anybody interested in the fate of the Nuba Mountains people really need to voice their concern and interest about the fate of the people as these bombings continue daily, because it is a form of terrorism, there’s no doubt about it. I saw people who absolutely refused to leave the caves of the Nuba Mountains because they feared that they were going to be killed. I heard regularly stories about children and adults who had been hit by the shrapnel and had legs sheared off, arms sheared off, even heads sheared off, and those who were not killed, many ended up bleeding to death. So it’s a horrific situation that’s happening there every single day that these people are living with.
Second, I would say it truly baffles me why during the early part of the crisis in Darfur—and I’m talking 2004, ’05, ’06—both students in this country, university students in particular, as well as activist groups forming coalitions, were so active, so vocal about what was happening in Darfur and are so silent today about what’s happening in the Nuba Mountains. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I really do not want to believe that people gave of their time, showed avid interest in the fate of the people in the Sudan for a number of years, and then decided Well, we’ll move onto something else.
People need to realize that the crisis in Darfur continues, but this new crisis in the Nuba Mountains is something altogether different when it comes to the issue of food. People really need to step up and they need to reflect on why they were active, say, a few years ago and not today, and I would hope that a new generation of students, who maybe were in high school during the Darfur years, would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors at their particular universities and become active today and speak up on the behalf of these beleaguered people who are leading very, very difficult existences in the Nuba Mountains.
Well, Sam, I hope that your experience and the experiences of other scholars doing the same sort of work, and the sharing of that, can help all people to raise their own awareness and have some sort of positive impact on the situation.
Today, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the fourth issue of their bimonthly bulletin, R2P Monitor. This issue features Syria, Sudan, and DR Congo, all in “Current Crisis,” and Libya, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa, with situations of “Serious Concern.” Current crises are those where mass atrocity crimes are occurring and urgent action is needed; serious concern indicates that there is a significant risk of occurrence, or recurrence, of mass atrocity crimes within the foreseeable future if effective action is not taken.
In analyzing the violence in Syria, the Centre touches upon mounting sectarian divisions (which we wrote about here back in February), as well as divisions within the United Nations Security Council. While they call on the Syrian government to “immediately cease attacks on civilians and adhere to [Kofi Annan’s] six-point plan,” collective action must also be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, and the whole of the international community.
Similar necessary action is laid out for Sudan, where the government “should allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur should be thoroughly investigated by a credible and independent body authorized by the UN.” The Security Council is also urged to take steps beyond an investigation in order to better secure a long-term conflict resolution.
In the case of Congo, the brunt of the responsibility for addressing the threat of terrorist factions and militias falls on the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Other parties charged with acting in this instance are international donors and countries with whom DRC shares borders.
As one would anticipate given the name and nature of the Centre and its publication, the key recommendations appear to be structured parallel to the pillars of R2P:
1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
Last Thursday, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) put out their annual Peoples Under Threat report, an “authoritative rankings table which highlights those countries around the world where the risk of mass killing is greatest.” The fact that this table cites not only the countries at risk, but the specific ethnic groups and minorities within those countries, makes it a valuable resource for genocide/mass atrocity preventers. This is the seventh year the list has been compiled. It is notable that, “Almost all the significant episodes of civilian killing that occurred over the last year took place in countries which were near the top of, or major risers in, 2011’s Peoples Under Threat table.”
Though the Arab Spring started out hopeful in late December 2010, a year and a half later, the outlook and the reality are grim. As such, countries in the Middle East and North Africa feature prominently in the major risers–particularly Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt; while none of these countries made it into the top 10, they’ve all risen significantly in rank over the past two years or are new to the list. Says MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer, “The huge changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, while increasing hopes for democratisation, represent for both religious and ethnic minorities perhaps the most dangerous episode since the violent break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.”
Also of great consequence is the fact that South Sudan is the highest riser, ranking 8th on the list of Peoples Most Under Threat. The peoples at risk within the country are the Murle, Nuer, Dinka, Anuak, Jie, and Kachipo. (We previously wrote on this blog about clashes between the Lou Nuer and the Murle back in January.) Not yet 11 months old, South Sudan has already experienced two major armed conflicts and ranks high in indicators of group division: “massive movement – refugees and IDPs,” “legacy of vengeance – group grievance,” and “rise of factionalized elites.”
Click here to listen to an interview with MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer.
The Local to Global Protection Project (L2GP) is an initiative to document and promote local perspectives on protection in major humanitarian crises. Based on research in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, L2GP explores how people living in areas affected by natural disaster and armed conflict understand ‘protection’ – what they value, and how they go about protecting themselves, their families and their communities. The research also examines how people view the roles of others, including the state, non-state actors, community-based organisations and national and international aid agencies.
Speaking at the event were Justin Corbett, author of the South Kordofan/Nuba, Sudan Study; Simon Harragin, author of the Jonglei, South Sudan Study; Ashley South, author of the two Myanmar (Burma) studies; and Nils Carstensen (ACT Alliance), L2GP manager and co-author of Network Paper 72. Also in attendance were Dr. Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI, and Wendy Fenton, coordinator of the Humanitarian Practice Network.
The impetus behind the project was namely the disconnect between protection activities at the local and global levels. The findings were consistent with the rationale, as the majority of local communities considered their own actions to protect themselves as more important than anything done by outsiders. The most common first line of defense was for people to get out of the way, whether that meant fleeing into the jungle, mountains, refugee camps or crossing the border into another country. Another popular survival strategy component was allying oneself with political or religious leaders who have connections and negotiating power. However, the study found that self-protection strategies often had negative consequences for local populations.
The Zimbabwe case study stressed the importance of “capturing local cultural and religious phenomena in assessing protection threats…includ[ing] witchcraft, religious sects and cult beliefs.” Outside actors largely ignore such issues, but they represent real protection threats for local respondents. In the cases of Myanmar, respondents hardly distinguished between immediate protection concerns pertaining to physical safety and security, and longer-term livelihood security issues. National actors tended to rank assistance priorities differently than communities and aid, and how it was targeted, was sometimes in conflict with local values and realities. This “illustrated the challenge of identifying the local voice.” As such, it is important to be mindful of “the inevitable presence of prejudices in the analysis and presentation of local perceptions,” necessitating greater interaction between international humanitarian actors and local actors.
Research for the South Kordofan/Nuba case study was conducted from 2005 (the beginning of a ceasefire ending a 20-year civil war) to 2011 (when violence flared up again). In accordance with the other case studies, “attempting to separate physical safety, rights and livelihoods, as international agencies commonly do, was not relevant to local understandings of protection.” Over the past six months, efforts have been made to lessen these ideological and practical gaps. Initiatives included “setting up local protection teams in Nuba, consisting of young male and female volunteers, whose role is to share local knowledge of wild foods or medicinal plants which may exist in one particular village, with other villages… the teams also disseminate advice on what actions to take during bombing raids to protect physical safety based on lessons generated from the previous period of conflict.”
Ultimately, international actors should heed the “predictive capacity of local actors who know what the protection threats are, and can articulate when they will happen,” since the former lack the capacity to respond to these.
On January 18, 2012, the Stanley Foundation held a conference entitled, R2P: The Next Decade. The morning panels discussed R2P in practice; more specifically, panelists spoke about policy approaches since 2005 in the countries of Guinea, South Sudan/Darfur, Somalia, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya.
Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Executive Director of Security Council Report, considers Darfur and South Sudan to be the worst cases, due to the “moral abnegation” of international players within and outside of the Security Council. While the case of Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court, there was no follow-up and member states’ non-cooperation has not been condemned. Guinea is seen as the best case, due to the fact that it had the lowest threshold of violence and said violence was episodic, not systematic. Syria is an open case, as it was an “unintended victim of the success and excess” of the Libyan intervention, and an “expected victim” of geography. Last, Somalia is “debatable” as it transcends R2P and is a failed state by definition. He asserts that effective prevention action is crucial at the earliest stages of a conflict and that what’s most important is translating principle into practice.
The next speaker was Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He stated that 70% of UN Peacekeepers are deployed in Africa and protection is the responsibility of individual states. UN Peacekeepers and organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) are tasked with creating, consolidating, and keeping peace. As such, he wants to see: multilateralism in future interventions under the UN flag; a strengthened Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediation unit; Security Council support for ECOWAS and a regional approach; effective legal, political, and military sanctions against warlords and UN panels to name and shame world leaders fueling conflict; and the R2P principle incorporated into the doctrines of African bodies. He also believes that the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom) need to focus on collective, rather than selective, security.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Arnold Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, says that what ties the cases of the aforementioned countries together is the presence or absence of political strategy. Moving forward, there is a central need for viable political strategies. Though he considers Guinea to have been a predictable crisis, there was no willingness to do anything on the part of the international community. He is hesitant to use the term ‘genocide’ to describe Sudan, since he says that words have baggage, and ‘genocide’ has “enormous baggage.” He also contends that force is just a political tool but that the expectation on what it can achieve needs to be raised. He concluded by saying that Somalia and Syria illustrate the dangers of multiple agendas.
Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that the focus has shifted and R2P is becoming victim-centered. Preventive activities and human rights promotion are imperative, as is monitoring and reporting in potential conflict areas, which proved to be successful in Cote d’Ivoire. He drew comparisons between Guinea and Syria, in the nature of violations, droves of peaceful demonstrators, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry. However, they differ because Guinea was a clear situation of full Security Council support with strong backing by ECOWAS while Syria was a fragile consensus, which limits the capacity of regional mechanism to act decisively. Moreover, the major difference is the attitudes of the governments themselves.
Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and Jordan noted that in Egypt and Tunisia, the role of the military facilitated the ouster of President Hosni El Sayed Mubarak and President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, respectively. Unfortunately, such was not the case in Libya. Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), posed the following questions:
-What is the best way to respond to a crisis?
-Who bears the international responsibility to protect?
-What are the limits of prevention?
In considering the answers, he discussed the case of Kyrgyzstan, where intercommunal violence broke out in 2010 after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown. Hundreds of people, especially Uzbeks and other minorities, died, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Additionally, arson, rape, and other atrocities were committed. Vollebaek encourages prevention through diplomacy, as well as a “formal early warning indicating that the situation has gone beyond a level” that the High Commissioner can contain, one where there is a “prima facie risk of potential conflict,” which has thus far happened twice—in Kyrgyzstan, and in Macedonia in 1999. Among the OSCE member states, early warning should be followed by early action. But the most fundamental aspect of prevention is an “emphasis on building capacity of states to fulfill their basic responsibilities.” He went on to say that prevention in practice is long-term and unrewarding, thus it finds resistance among domestic actors and the international community who are more interested in immediate dividends.
At the panel, R2P as a Tool — Identifying Past and Potential Added Value, Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy in Australia, pointed out the value of consensus, referring to the global consensus that underpins R2P. He describes R2P as being “disarmingly simple and straightforward in its demand and very clear about its meaning and scope.” Bellamy said R2P further finds value in changing habits and mindsets, mainstreaming the atrocity prevention lens by setting standards, and providing a common vision and shared goal.
Edward C. Luck, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, contributed that R2P protects populations by preventing, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement. Additionally, a narrow but deep approach is correct and the three pillars of R2P are parallel—there must be political preparation or response capacities in place (local, regional or global); all three pillars must be worked on simultaneously, not one after the other. Luck also emphasized, “It is false division to talk about prevention on one hand and response on the other, they tend to merge when you come around to the actuality of making policy. They are interdependent and interactive, neither will have much credibility without the other.”
Keynote speaker United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the sentiments of the aforementioned speakers. After his introductory thanks and remarks, he quickly pointed out, “[…] delivering on the Responsibility to Protect requires partnership and common purpose. We get the best results when global and regional institutions push in the same direction. In 2011, we stood firm for democracy in Côte d’Ivoire. Yet, we could not have succeeded without the leadership and partnership of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.” On the flip side, however, “We learned lessons about our own limitations, as well. Consider the recent violence in South Sudan. We saw it coming weeks before. Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources.”
Secretary-General Ki-moon declared 2012 the Year of Prevention: “Prevention does not mean looking the other way in times of crisis, vainly hoping that things will get better…Nor can it be just a brief pause while Chapter VII “enforcement measures” are being prepared. Prevention means proactive, decisive and early action to stop violence before it begins…the key to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity lies within each society. These crimes occur far less often in places where civil society is robust, where tolerance is practiced, and where diversity is celebrated. Political figures cannot incite mass violence for their own ends where the rights of minorities and the rule of law are respected.”
He concluded by speaking about Syria, and his repeated condemnation of President Assad’s violence. The problem lies in the fact that the Security Council is divided on this particular case and efforts by regional actors such as the Arab League have proved fruitless thus far. Though he could not say what would happen next, he did remind the audience, “Such is the nature of the Responsibility to Protect. It can be a minefield of nuance, political calculation and competing national interests. The result too often is hesitation or inaction. This we cannot afford.”
At the end of last month, a militia of 8,000 youths from the Lou Nuer ethnic group rampaged the eastern Pibor area of South Sudan, “unleash[ing] a spasm of destruction and violence on a rival ethnic group, burning down huts, looting stores and mercilessly hunting down women and children.” The clash between the Lou Nuer and the Murle lasted several days, resulting in gunfire exchange with the South Sudanese Army, as well as the theft of tens of thousands of cows. Though the death toll remains unconfirmed by the Army and the UN, it has been reported that more than 3,000 villagers were massacred and 50,000 individuals fled their homes.
According to McClatchy correspondent Alan Boswell,
Online forums and private conversations are filled with vitriol aimed at the Murle, a small, politically marginalized group that numbers between 100,000 and 150,000 and is neighbored by both the Dinka and the Lou Nuer, South Sudan’s two dominant tribes.
During the long civil war in which South Sudan won its independence from Sudan, the Murle were seen as traitors. They’re accused regularly of abducting their neighbors’ children, a practice not uncommon across South Sudan.
Chris Chapman, Minority Rights Group’s Head of Conflict Prevention, explained,
The attacks, which on the face of it appear to be cattle raids, have deeper underlying causes related to poverty, competition for scarce resources, the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war and marginalization of ethnic minorities. In addition, the conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle is taking on a dynamic of repeated revenge attacks, highlighting the need for the government to take urgent action to protect innocent civilians.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and to Burkina Faso David H. Shinn offers further explanation by saying that the conflict is deeply rooted in cattle raiding and the fact that young men are culturally required to pay a bride price in cattle.
While the fighting is currently at a standstill, threats of genocide are pervasive in the area and many fear a reprisal of violence. South Sudan is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster, as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been launching border attacks for months, killing civilians and members of the armed forces alike.
Sudan’s deteriorating political situation is raising concerns about a prolonged civil war there. International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a risk alert today, documenting the latest events and the obstacles that still exist for creating a sustained peace. The failed Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005, was supposed to “lay the foundation for a new reality in Sudan, end chronic conflict and make continued unity attractive,” ICG says. However, general elections called for by the CPA were never held, and in the absence of democratic transformation both the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) have opted for military solutions, resulting in an outbreak of fighting in South Kordofan in June and in Blue Nile in September.
The secession of South Sudan has had a very negative impact on its northern neighbor. An article yesterday in the Sudan Tribune explains President Omar al-Bashir’s veiled threats against the new Sudanese state: “Following South Sudan’s official independence last July, Sudan lost 75% of the oil reserves that existed under the united country. But the landlocked south needs the pipelines in the north that transport the oil for exportation through Port Sudan. Sudan has been hoping that fees assessed on using its oil infrastructure will help recover part of the revenue lost with the south’s independence. But the two neighbors have yet to agree on what the fair fee should be per barrel.” Insinuating a violent reprisal, Bashir told reporters, “If we don’t reach a solution we have our options to resolve this issue.” Another consequence of South Sudan’s secession has been the consolidation of power by hardliners within the NCP, who are even less disposed to peace.
If a solution is not reached on these issues, ICG predicts a protracted conflict in Sudan that could possibly spread into South Sudan. ICG emphasizes the need for international mediation since the CPA has failed, but warns that actors involved in negotiating the peace agreement, including the United States, are no longer trusted in Sudan, and that the primary mediator should be the African Union, in particular the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.
Tom Andrews, president of the new U.S. advocacy group United to End Genocide (UEG), published a blog post last week arguing for a nationwide arms embargo on Sudan. He noted the testimony in Congress by a representative of Human Rights Watch, who “expressed strong concern about the impact this [supplying arms to rebels] could have on the flow of vital emergency aid to desperate civilians.” Andrews cited China as one of the biggest obstacles to passing an arms embargo in the UN.
In an interview yesterday, Edward Luck, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the responsibility to protect, offered wide-ranging comments on the concept of R2P, past, present, and future.
In explaining R2P’s origins, Luck cited massacres like the Rwandan genocide and Cambodia’s “killing fields,” which made clear the need for a framework of principles to help protect civilians while taking into account the international system’s deep-rooted notion of state sovereignty. R2P, as conceived in 2001, seemed to present a perfect middle ground, and according to Luck its evolution has so far been successful.
Apart from NATO’s heavily criticized intervention in Libya, and the mixed outcome of Côte d’Ivoire, Luck says R2P has helped in Kyrgyzstan and Guinea, although these cases received less media coverage. In Libya’s case, he argued, most of the negative response has focused on the use of force, which isn’t R2P’s main goal and therefore shouldn’t be the litmus test of its success.
“For us the job isn’t response, the job is prevention,” Luck said. “Many people think that responsibility to protect is all about the use of military force after the bodies start piling up. For us, that isn’t morally acceptable.”
On the topic of Syria, Luck discussed why it is that R2P was applied to help the Libyans while the Syrian people seem to have been abandoned, explaining it mainly in terms of the influence of regional organizations.
In Libya’s case, Luck said, “the Arab League, the African Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, all acted before the Security Council did. . . . In this case it was really the way the [UN] Charter had meant it to be: the parties and then the regional bodies first try to resolve the differences.” This contrasts with Syria, where support for intervention from regional organizations has been absent.
Luck also cited the language used by Qaddafi, who referred to protesters as “cockroaches” and said he would “cleanse Libya house by house.” Assad, on the other hand, has been more careful. “We listen to what leaders say as well as watch what they do,” Luck said.
Speculating on R2P’s future, Luck says he hopes and believes that, rather than meeting its demise, R2P will become so absorbed into the way states think of their responsibilities, and so much a part of civil society, that his office at the UN “simply could go out of business.”
The interview fails to mention one glaring issue: namely, the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. By all accounts the regime in Khartoum, since June 5, has engaged in illegal policies that target civilians of specific ethnic groups for torture and arrest and murder. Criticism has been hurled at the UN and its member states for their lack of action and avoidance of the issues—as Luck himself does in the interview.
Genocide scholar Samuel Totten, who has written extensively on Sudan, wrote an opinion column last week arguing that South Sudan fits all the requirements for R2P intervention. Yet, he wrote: “the international [community] largely plays dumb, claiming ‘I see no evil’ and ‘I hear no evil.’ The latter, of course, conveniently translates into, ‘Thus, I do not need to deal with evil.’ Such a position is totally antithetical to the concept of The Responsibility to Protect. Indeed, it is akin to seeking an easy (and unconscionable) way out of acting responsibly.”
In contrast to Luck’s optimistic view of the future of R2P, Totten declared that it was “on the verge of becoming a dead letter.”