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By JARED KNOLL
Much of your work has focused on ethnic aspects of conflicts, genocides and politicides… do you feel the role of this sort of lens has changed since you started out in the field? Do you see or foresee any potential challenges or problems in the way of this approach?
I co-authored a book on ethnic conflict and suggested that these types of conflicts have the potential to escalate into genocide (as in Rwanda), but so do other conflicts such as revolutions (see Cambodia) and adverse regime change (such as in Chile, which turned into a politicide). During the late 70’s and early 80’s, most genocide scholars (meaning all approx. 10 of us) thought that any combinations or a single factor such as ethnicity, race, or religion were a necessary condition in most genocidal situations, given the wording of the Convention. However, when I began collecting information on the 46 cases that eventually became the data set used by State Failure (now Political Instability Task Force), it became apparent that victims sometimes were members of mixed ethnic groups and that perpetrators targeted them because they belonged to political opposition groups. Cambodia was a classic example, where most victims and perpetrators were ethnic Khmers — only a minority of victims belonged to different ethnicities, such as the Chams, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Cambodia was a reason that I coined the term politicide, which suggests that victims not only could be members of multiple identity groups but were primarily targeted because of their political affiliation. Of the 46 cases that I identified post WWII, many are mixed cases. For example, the Kurds in Iraq and indigenous Maya that supported the left in Guatemala.
Your work has been seminal, influencing an indeterminably wide swath of policy and scholarship… have you been particularly disappointed with any of the frameworks, policies, or concepts that have been built upon your ideas?
There are other scholars who have contributed more. I am especially thinking of my friend and mentor Helen Fein, the late Leo Kuper, Frank Chalk, and others. We have listened to each other, critiqued, cited, and supported one another’s efforts. We have built a discipline and it is now possible to get jobs in good universities, which was not a necessary truth in the 1980’s. As a Northwestern PhD, (according to my professors) I should have been at a major research university but the most frequently asked question at the time during interviews was, “What is that stuff you are doing?”.
How could I be disappointed? Systematic analysis is flourishing in Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—the Albright/Cohen report mentions my risk assessment and early warning efforts as something that needs doing and risk assessment is done routinely not just by me but in the US government and others. The UN (I had provided them with a framework and regular risk assessments) is a bit behind despite their talented personnel. That probably has much to do with antiquated opinions about quantitative analysis, as well as politically motivated leadership in related UN offices. When Juan Mendez became Adviser to the UN, he and his two associates visited me at my home in Annapolis to see how we could work together. I am not just a number cruncher but also a case study person and a specialist on the Middle East. Moreover, having been born into a leftist German family, I am also quite familiar about European affairs. A genocide scholar is/should not be bounded by either discipline or approach. My dissertation focused on prevention using legal philosophical arguments, but grounded in international law, and it also included an empirical exercise in which I tested empathy in different societies using fictional scenarios that had a historical base.
My/our work has caught on beyond expectations. Genocide is a household word — we have seen action in many situations and the recognition that systematic risk assessment and early warning are ever more needed is apparent. Aside from an African initiative, other governments have proceeded to establish their own centers. Why not indeed emulate the hard sciences instead of dabbling in case study-based analysis of specific situations? We do it globally based on accepted wisdom regarding dozens of cases. It is not too hard to generate good data, develop hypotheses based on theory, and then test assumptions. We/I have tested dozens of variables (including economic and environmental variables) that purport to support escalation to genocide. In addition, I developed a complex early warning model that used dynamic factors to track that evolution. For example, we tracked hate propaganda, small arms deliveries, etc. on a daily basis.
Your term and idea of politicide has not caught on as much as it perhaps could have in the international community. Are policymakers and scholars hamstringing themselves from potentially greater efficacy by not considering the targeting of political groups as a more important factor? Where would you like to see this focus brought to bear in today’s climate of conflict?
Why is there not more international action? Because, to use my old mantra, we do not know what remedies that tap state capacity and interest work in what situations at what time. What worked in Macedonia does not work in Syria. I made that argument many times and have developed response scenarios based on my early warning analysis, but much work remains. Just think of Burma—in the past, it was one of the worst case scenarios. I had argued for lifting sanctions to incorporate that country into the international community of states. There was a huge black market, and sanctions did not work—they more often make it harder for the already poor—and the West had zero influence but ASEAN, China, and Japan did—things are getting better.
Are you optimistic that the genocidal trends you’ve studied for three decades are diminishing? Can you realistically envision a world where we have early warning systems adequate to the task of completely circumventing mass atrocities?
For the time being, the occurrence of genocides are diminishing. But over the long run, I am pessimistic. The West may have a learned a few more lessons after Bosnia but Africans will be challenged by Muslim radicals—see Mali, Northern Nigeria, the 10th century maps of Islamic expansion. I am deeply disturbed by the emergence of right-wing movements in Europe that occasionally spout anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, there are indigenous peoples still under threat of annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and extreme discrimination, such as the indigenous peoples of West Papua.
What role do area experts have to play?
Experts need to both show compassion and distance themselves from quick judgment. Most of us are driven by a belief and desire that it is possible to build a better world, based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, given the unequal distribution of resources, lack of access to education, and re-emerging medieval ideas about how women should be treated, I am a profound pessimist. Especially disturbing for me is re-emerging anti-semitism in its most primitive form (blood libel, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, etc). Are we regressing to superstitions and the caveman mentality that drove Nazis? I see a dangerous trend evolving in the Muslim world—tribalism, sectarianism, radical forms of Islam (Salafis), indoctrination of their unemployed and undereducated youth. Where will it lead?
Regarding Syria, is there an onus on Western actors to intervene, or otherwise impact the conflict? What sorts of missteps are we in danger of making?
It made my list of extremely high-risk cases before the outbreak of violence. The UN was informed—we had pictures of mines on the border with Turkey—their aim was to maim refugees. But the West is tired and sees the Middle East as a cauldron of ever re-emerging conflicts. There is a real lack of enlightened leadership. You cannot build democracies by relying on networks of families, clans, tribes, sectarian and/or religious loyalties. We have always underestimated the strength of these ties. Countries running out of energy, water, having extended droughts and exploding birthrates are endangered to descend into chaos. Of the few that have functional educational systems, meaning they educate their young in the sciences, there are no opportunities. Maybe these countries have to go through these convulsions to find their way into the modern world. It is possible that Yemen, the poorest and most vulnerable (running out of water), has a chance of success through inter-tribal dialogue that includes women to build a stable autocracy or semi-democracy. Syria as of now may divide into Sunni, Alawite, and Kurdish regions under the influence of Iran/Russia/Saudi Arabia, and/or aligned with Salafis in Egypt. Of course, this is speculation.
How did you come to be involved with the Auschwitz Institute? Has your time as an instructor impacted any aspects of your scholarship or views?
What AIPR does is laudable, to put it mildly. As to my two lectures and one interview, the interview went well but the Jagiellonian University’s information system had too few subscribers. One lecture went well; the other, nowhere. I expected the participants to read and they did not. Well, a lesson learned—start on a more basic level. My suggestion is to be bold—challenge re-emerging anti-semitism wherever you find it. Some of our young hosts (Jewish students from Poland) told me that they keep a low profile—it deeply upset me. And then there is Auschwitz—as a German born non-Jewish scholar, it provides all the answers about why I am doing this kind of work—but this place is hell on earth and am I bothered that some visitors show a lack of respect when they walk over one of the largest cemeteries on earth.
In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a scholar and activist on the topic of gender and gender-based violence in the context of genocide and mass atrocities. Last year she published an article titled “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention” in the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and in addition to having been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, she will be contributing to a forthcoming volume on the prevention of mass atrocities, edited by the Auschwitz Institute.
Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Today we’re looking at an often overlooked and under-discussed aspect of mass atrocities: gender. Joining me is Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a prolific speaker on the subject and author of an article last year called “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention.” Hello, Elisa. Great to have you with us.
Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Why do we need to consider gender and gender-based violence as factors in the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities?
Well, there’s several ways to answer that. I think the primary reason it’s important that we look at gender-based violence when we’re thinking about the prevention of mass atrocities is that it is a very early warning signal when a conflict is underway. There are specific types of gender-based violence that I believe have a high correlation with genocide down the road, and when we see them used by a certain perpetrating group — whether it’s a state, or a political party, or a cadre within an armed force — when we see them using these specific forms of gender-based torture and patterns of killing, and sexual violence in particular, we can predict with some accuracy the spread of this sort of violence to greater and greater numbers of people down the road, if it’s left unchecked. And that is if there isn’t any diplomatic, political, economic, or, as a last resort, military intervention.
It isn’t talked about very much, rape and violence against women, or at least they aren’t much focused on. What do you think that says about our concerns?
There seems to be an intellectual block, in a sense, in the study of genocide to considering rape as an integral part of genocide. Of course there are many scholars who do. But in policymaking circles, frequently the widespread presence of rape or mass rape in a conflict, when it’s not attended also by co-ed massacre sites, is seen to be a special category that we call mass atrocity but not genocide. So in other words, you have several cases where the existence of gender-selective massacres of men, alongside the mass rape of women who were allowed by and large to continue living, you see that pattern used as a way to argue that genocide had not taken place, but rather war crimes, or crimes against humanity, or this much less specific term, “mass atrocity.”
What roles do you think that culture and religion play in these occurrences? Do you think there’s anything to arguments for cultural relativity, cultural sensitivity, or are we dealing with human rights that transcend those borders?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, and I think it’s an important one. I see these as universals, simply because they occur in similar formats throughout most of the cases of genocide that I’ve looked at, and then also cases that aren’t commonly considered to be genocide that I would include within an understanding of genocidal processes, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, or the current conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. So there is a kind of a universal dimension to these, in that genocide expresses itself very similarly across cases. Where I think cultural sensitivity is really important, and where it becomes very interesting, is, you know, the differences in patterns. Why in certain places one kind of atrocity is more pronounced than another, for example. And what cultural factors lead to that, and whether or not those cultural factors then themselves have contributed to this genocidal process, or are they just being drawn on or implicated in the genocidal process because they exist. So those sorts of questions are very important.
I think genocide is a universal crime and that it is universally frowned upon, and should be, and so we can be safe to say that if there’s a culture that’s caught up in a genocidal logic over a long period of time that humanity needs to respond, that there needs to be some response to that. Where I think cultural relativism becomes problematic is when it treats different cultures in a kind of ossified and rigid way that actually shares some characteristics with genocidal thinking by imposing strict trenches between different groups that can’t be bridged through human conversation or dialogue. And I think that oftentimes one will find people retreating to that type of cultural relativism, when it appears, when the persons promoting the prevention of genocide are not investigating genocidal dynamics in their own societies. Where I’ve gotten questions related to cultural relativism is often in situations where it’s felt that Americans are always going around the world telling people to be aware of genocide and how to prevent genocide, without sufficient awareness of our own history of genocide and lingering patterns within our society that emerge from that history, as well as red flags that we have in this country. So to avoid that I think it’s very important that whenever we’re talking about genocide prevention, and in all of our studies of genocide, that we seek to be truly universal in the cases that we look at, right, and universal in the societies that we target for long-term prevention of genocide. And those should and have to include Western countries, including the United States.
In cases where we can identify those cultural causes that contribute toward genocide or can lead to that, do you think that it may be necessary, or do you think it may be justifiable, for the international community or for international actors to take a stand against those practices, against those factors?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting and sensitive question, and I’m glad you asked it. This question was very relevant of course to the debate about and the struggle against female genital cutting, right, or what’s often called female genital mutilation. And it was actually very harmful when there appeared to be a unidirectional command from on high that certain societies stop this practice. What was much more effective was when local NGOs — often aided by training or funding or dialogue with international bodies — but when local NGOs began initiatives to speak with the practitioners of this, to speak with parents, to speak with young people and leaders within communities to try and change the way that this practice was seen, and replace it with other practices that could ritually or culturally attain the same goals without actually harming young girls.
So I think that when we’re looking at long-term factors that contribute to genocide, one of the most important things we can do is be in dialogue with local human rights groups, local civics groups, local intellectuals, obviously — in a truly dialogic and equal fashion, where everybody’s laying out a set of ideas about what can lead to genocide. And so that you have, internally within a society, a genocide watchdog that is going to be much more sensitive and much more aware of the meaning of certain cultural practices and their potential dangers down the road than any outsider could ever be, unless of course they spent a great deal of time there and speak the language.
You’ve been talking a lot about Syria lately. There’s been a lot of concern in the international community about the possibility of genocide of the Alawites. Do you think that horse is already out of the stable?
Yes. I do. But it depends on how you look at it and how you’re defining things. Since we all agree, I think, that genocide is a process, I think we’re in the genocidal process. But perhaps we need to make a distinction between the process of genocide and the fact of genocide after the end of hostilities. It’s only of course in retrospect that we can be absolutely sure, right, or close to 100 percent sure, that something we would call a genocide happened. The Rwandan genocide looked very different at the beginning of the hundred days than it did at the end. And this was one of the problems with garnering international support for some kind of effective intervention there. And so it’s similar in Syria. However, what we do see in Syria is focused attacks on children. So not just killing by shelling, not that kind of impersonal killing, but very personalized, ritualized, torturous killing of children, both in front of their parents at the site of massacres, but also in detention, then I think that says something about the intent of the regime, or certain groups within the regime.
Can you tell us a little about your contribution to Deconstructing Prevention? Are there pertinent situations or issues you think we need to focus on that have cropped up since your 2012 article?
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think the rise of the use of the term “mass atrocity” is a very interesting thing, and it comes out of the despair that many felt during the genocide in Darfur, where it felt that a lot of the tension was taken away from the horror going on in Darfur and instead devoted to a very useless and highly politicized debate about whether or not this conflict conformed to the UN legal definition of genocide. So “mass atrocities” grew out of that sense of frustration. Who cares if it’s genocide, let’s just call it mass atrocities. But I think one of the reasons that could happen, that we needed to replace this powerful term “genocide” with “mass atrocity,” is that Darfur followed a very gender-selective pattern of genocide. And so you have men routinely massacred, whereas women were raped and allowed to continue living. And it was the fact of their continued existence that often was the reason that people were unwilling to call what was going on in Darfur genocide and instead wanted to call it ethnic cleansing, or civil war, or counterinsurgency. And so it’s out of a very gendered idea of what genocide is that this term “mass atrocity” has been created. So I think that we need to interrogate that. We need to look at why it is that we needed to create a term like “mass atrocity,” whether or not it’s effective to have an even more vague and debatable term, in a sense.
Gender and genocide was a long-term interest of mine. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but I’d always been interested in women’s Holocaust testimonies and the ways that the National Socialists sought to destroy women as women, and use children against them to do so, which is a common theme in testimonials and memoirs from the Holocaust. So I brought those two together and was doing work on gender and genocide, and then it was only through a fluke, in a sense, that Adam Jones, whose work I find to be wonderful and has been very influential on my own work, suggested me to the Auschwitz Institute to get involved in these genocide prevention — the Raphael Lemkin workshops and seminars that you guys hold. And so it was through that path, and it was really the Auschwitz Institute that got me thinking about how I can utilize my research on gender and genocide for genocide prevention.
Well, I hope you’ll continue to push our definitional outlooks on genocide and mass atrocities, and keep gender a part of the conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you very much.
Photo: Courtesy Elisa von Joeden-Forgey
Questions Concerning the Application of R2P
One of the most troubling crises in our world today is the conflict in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that 70,000 civilians have been killed and millions more people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance. The unrest, which began in the spring of 2011 with public uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s repressive governance tactics, quickly escalated into violence from both sides when the military started opening fire on groups of demonstrators, who subsequently formed an opposition government comprised of several rebel factions. The Syrian government pushed the envelope even further when it was discovered in November of last year that its troops were mixing chemicals necessary for carrying out a campaign of chemical warfare. While a potential catastrophe was likely avoided due to immediate condemnation from the United States and the rest of the international community, the fact remains that Syria has the capacity to use these weapons at a later time. More important, despite various efforts to end the conflict, neither Syria’s opposition forces — which have also been shown to be committing crimes against humanity — nor the United Nations has been able to stop President Assad’s murderous attack on civilians, which has resulted in continued destruction of life.
The world community acknowledges that the crimes and atrocities being perpetuated in Syria must end. However, the means by which such an outcome might be achieved remain a topic of debate. In an effort to facilitate discussion around this dilemma, the Peace Islands Institute’s Center for Global Affairs and the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation collaborated to host an event on February 28 titled “Responsibility to Protect: Implications to the Crises in Syria and Other Nations.”
The program included brief remarks from moderator Roy S. Lee, the permanent observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization to the United Nations and adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, as well as presentations from Ambassador Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York, and Michael Doyle, the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University.
Lee opened the program by addressing the dire circumstances in Syria. Specifically, he referenced nations’ attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer Syria’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the UNSC’s rejection of a draft resolution that would have “come close to Chapter VII actions.” He also highlighted Syria’s recent mobilization of chemical weapons and cited growing concerns among human rights groups that “the time to act is already overdue,” meaning that the next step is to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Finally, he noted the United States’ announcement earlier that day that it would be pledging $60 million to assist opposition parties in Syria.
Following Lee’s introduction, Ambassador Schaper began by contrasting the action taken in Libya and the inaction in Syria with respect to the norm of R2P, highlighting how R2P itself was created with the intention of acting as a bridge between moral responsibility and legal obligations. In particular, Schaper referenced paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, which appear under the heading of “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and assert that while primary responsibility to protect lies with states themselves, the international community also has the duty to take collective action through the UNSC if states “manifestly fail” to uphold this responsibility. As such, Schaper called R2P an emerging norm that represents a “fundamental shift in the doctrine of sovereignty” and reflects “growing acceptance [of the belief that] a state is at the service of its citizens,” and not the other way around. In a similar way, he explained, “whether to act instead became an issue of how and when to act.”
Referring to recent successes of R2P in places like Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, and Libya, Schaper affirmed that “Syria is clearly an R2P situation” due to the crimes there, as well as the “clarity that the government of Syria is manifestly failing in its responsibility to protect.” He continually supported the use of R2P, given its validity, which lies in its “necessary legal basis through resolutions of the Security Council,” and suggested that the only viable option for Syria is to “go for a unified international approach to find a solution through a political tract.”
Professor Doyle expressed similar views, calling R2P “special” and “a landmark development in the international norm of human security.” Doyle’s subsequent remarks centered on what he termed the simultaneous license and leash offered by R2P. The license, he argued, is the capacity to “go beyond standard legal provisions seen in the UN Charter,” so as to invoke the “use of residual pressure” in crises like Syria. In contrast, the leash is represented by a restriction on the use of force to cover only four crimes (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity), as well as on the authority for making such a determination – that is, a resolution issued by the UNSC.
After providing a quick overview of international law in relation to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Doyle moved to the topic of legitimacy, and the question concerning when force could be used without UNSC approval. This discussion, he stated, was the impetus for the creation of the Canadian-led International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which produced R2P in 2001 and presented it at the 2005 UN World Summit. In essence, by successfully narrowing down triggers for the use of force, R2P was viewed as something “that was within the purview of the Security Council,” and reflected both a license – the affirmation that the Security Council can, indeed, protect individuals – and a leash – that this exclusive authority is attached only to the UNSC.
In practice, Doyle cited the same examples mentioned by Schaper, and added a few words on the implications of R2P’s use in Libya and, so far, non-use in Syria, stating that some countries might now be feeling “buyer’s remorse.” Given that the crisis in Libya resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi and a subsequent regime change, Doyle commented on countries’ fears that R2P might be used in the future for purposes it was not initially intended to address. Nonetheless, Doyle strongly supported the positive potential offered by use of R2P in Syria, and offered two suggestions for action. First, he indicated the need for another conversation to take place on the circumstances under which R2P should be used. Second, Doyle said the UNSC should set up a subcommittee to monitor the implementation of R2P, upon its being authorized. The alternative, he surmised, would be a continued stalemate in Syria.
One of the most important concerns raised in the question-and-answer session was how to measure what is a “reasonable chance of success” as justification for military force under R2P. Doyle responded by underlining how difficult it is to ever prove successful prevention, as “we won’t know that [crimes] haven’t taken place” and thus cannot produce tangible evidence to support such claims. However, he did emphasize that the most essential component is the responsibility to rebuild – to help a people reestablish their own state – because “it would be a sad commentary on R2P if it was only [used for] military purposes.” Doyle concluded with perhaps an even better remark on “reasonable chance” criteria, insisting that success should truly be measured by whether or not it was acceptable to and accepted by those it hoped to – and hopefully did – protect.
Photo: Michelle Eberhard
In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Mickey Jackson, Student Director of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities. Jackson has been part of the movement since 2008, when he served as a high school outreach coordinator.
Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. With me today is Mickey Jackson, director of a student-led movement called STAND, which uses advocacy, lobbying, and other strategies to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities. Hello, Mickey. Good to have you here with us.
Good to be here.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about what STAND does and why it’s entirely student-led?
Sure. I mean what you just said in your introduction pretty much captures it. Basically, STAND is a student-run organization that seeks to build permanent anti-genocide constituencies on campus and in communities around the country. What we’re most interested in is really empowering students to take ownership of their advocacy, because we feel that by doing that we not only give students something to do while they’re in high school or while they’re in college, but we help develop them into lifelong leaders.
So we see ourselves not only as participating in anti-genocide advocacy efforts in the here and now, but we also see ourselves as developing the next generation of human rights policymakers, human rights organizers, thought leaders, and so forth. That’s why we consider it to be so important that we are student-led. Because obviously the best way of developing into a leader is to be a leader. So we feel that by giving students ownership of anti-genocide advocacy — not only at the local level, but at the national level as well — we’re helping to create that new generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates.
Are you optimistic from that, that there is a possibility maybe one day, maybe one day soon, that a really significant measure of U.S. national security interests can be shifted toward international human security interests instead?
I am optimistic, because I think over the last couple years we’ve seen that happening. We’ve seen the Obama administration explicitly identify atrocities prevention as a core national security interest of the United States, and I think that language is very important: that it’s not just a core moral imperative or a core humanitarian imperative — it’s the notion that it is actually a core national security interest of the United States. And that’s very important because I think we would all agree that while moral considerations are nice and humanitarian considerations are nice, when it comes to foreign policy governments ultimately act on the basis of perceived national security interests. So that to me is a reason to be optimistic. One of the challenges that I think will arise is making sure that that continues after this administration leaves.
I think that’s a very pragmatic and grounded approach to it. There’s been some serious criticism recently of the American anti-atrocity movements over the past few years, such as former activist Rebecca Hamilton’s critique of Save Darfur. How do you measure success in the light of these sorts of reactions?
Two things to that. One of the things that I’ve always found admirable in the students who are involved in STAND’s constituency is that they are very open to criticism, and in fact often they’re the ones doing the criticizing, and holding not only STAND as a national organization, but also I would argue holding STAND and the movement accountable. And I think what you see in STAND’s constituency is a willingness to question past approaches, a willingness to think critically about how successful we have been as a movement. So I think there’s very much the attitude that we shouldn’t get defensive in the face of criticism. We should listen to it, and we should try to amend our approach accordingly.
In terms of how we measure success, in one sense you can measure success very mechanistically in terms of the policy changes that the movement brings about. I think you could make the argument that the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board represents a discrete success of the movement. The progression over the past 10 years of the creation of a constituency that actually cares about atrocities prevention, and the recognition among policymakers that that constituency exists. We try to take a longer view as well, and recognize that in many ways our impact, at least if we do our jobs right, we hope that our impact will ultimately be in the leaders that we develop. Our impact, ideally, 20 years down the line, will be the creation of this next generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates and policymakers.
Do you think that — based on some of these criticisms, where the American anti-atrocity movements fall short — do you think that’s more due to a problem with public conviction, or do you see it more as a problem with the state’s ability to exert influence globally, like has been suggested?
You know, I think the obvious answer is that it’s some combination of both. I do think over the past couple years — between the fact that the financial crisis led to more of a focus on domestic issues, as well as the belief that our interventions, so to speak, in Iraq and Afghanistan largely failed, or at least can’t really be seen as unambiguous successes — I do think that sort of led to a skepticism among the broader public about this notion of atrocities prevention, and about the notion that the United States can or should exercise leverage to end mass atrocities, so I do think that’s part of it.
And I also think that the inability of the United States, and its Western allies in particular, to exert influence in certain conflict situations certainly plays a role in that as well. But there are things that the United States can do. The fact that we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do something. And our attitude is, where there do exist opportunities for the United States to exercise a positive influence in ongoing mass atrocity situations, that there needs to be a constituency that’s pressuring our elected officials to take those steps.
Is it possible for movements like this, like yours, to ever be counterproductive? The Kony 2012, for example, anti-atrocity movement resulted in negative outcries, even in Uganda and east Africa. Is that an isolated incident, or is this something you need to be mindful of and concerned about?
It’s absolutely something that we need to be concerned about. I mean that’s — if we talk about responsible advocacy, and if we talk about wanting our advocacy to be effective — obviously it’s extremely important to be self-critical in that way, and to really think about whether what we’re asking for could ultimately end up having negative ramifications. I think Kony 2012 is sort of the go-to example for that, and I think Kony 2012 certainly raised — not only in STAND, but in human rights movements — I think it contributed to raising the consciousness among human rights organizers and activists about the need to be self-reflective in that way. So I absolutely do think it’s possible, and I think it’s something that we would always need to be careful of.
What message does STAND want to send to students who aren’t involved, who maybe don’t think that they have time, or don’t see how what happens on the other side of the world can affect their lives?
As far as the second question, about how it affects their lives, I mean, the simple answer to that is, in a lot of cases it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening in the eastern DRC or what’s happening in Syria has much of a direct impact on the life of a typical American college student. But I would also say that ours is a generation that recognizes that it’s becoming a smaller world, and that recognizes that in the past the international community has failed to respond appropriately to morally atrocious situations. And among the students that I talk to — even those who don’t think that it affects their lives, or even those who don’t feel that they necessarily have a whole lot of time to devote to anti-genocide advocacy — it’s not a difficult argument to convince students that the pattern of failed responses to mass atrocities should not be continued.
If you think that it’s a problem that 800,000 people died in Rwanda without any kind of international response, then you should be interested in our movement, even if it doesn’t directly affect your life. No matter how much time you have to give, there’s some way for you to plug into a movement, even if it’s just picking up the phone and calling your congressional office. Those things seem small, but when they’re multiplied together they can lead to the types of policy changes that we want to see. And it can ultimately lead to at least progress toward that ideal of making “never again” a reality.
Some impactful words for the youth coming up today. Thank you so much, Mickey, for joining me today, and sharing what you’re all about.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Photo: STAND website.
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.
Crisis Group says the priority is to “prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration” by fleshing out the existing initiative and reaching broad international consensus around a detailed roadmap.
The violence in Syria has escalated to the brink of civil war via bomb attacks and massacres by the repressive regime against the fragmented and increasingly radical opposition. Left unchecked, the violence will put more civilians at risk for mass atrocities, including the massacre of women and children, and possibly put the Alawites, the Syrian regime’s ruling sect, in danger of being targeted as a group for annihilation by an opposition that seeks revenge.
Changes in the regime’s approach in dealing with the opposition would require unlikely political or militaristic shifts in the global balance of power. As such, the implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace initiative is likely to be neither timely nor comprehensive, but for now it remains the only option.
The ICG brief provides an in-depth analysis into why a successful and lasting cease-fire in Syria as a result of the Annan plan (in combination with the half-measures hatched during the “Friends of Syria” meeting in April for the U.S. and its Arab allies to jointly provide financial and technical support to the opposition) is not a realistic expectation, and then suggests immediate next steps for the international community to take in order to prevent further humanitarian and diplomatic deterioration in the region:
- “pilot areas where a ceasefire can be reached and a monitoring mission immediately deployed, in order to generate tangible evidence that this approach can produce relief;
- arrangements under which the regime ultimately would allow virtually all peaceful protests, and the opposition would refrain from organising them in a specified perimeter within Damascus given regime sensitivities;
- parallel to the above, means of enforcing and verifying a commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders; and
- modalities of a credible investigation into the worst acts of violence to minimise risks of recurrence.”
Tuesday was the deadline set by the six-point Kofi Annan peace plan for Syria to cease fire against the opposition. As foreseen by many experts, Syria has been dragging its feet regarding the cease-fire, not least by ignoring the Tuesday deadline and continuing the violence against insurgents into Wednesday, while attaching numerous last-minute conditions to its active cooperation with Annan’s plan.
A few days before the deadline, for example, Damascus demanded written guarantees from opposition groups and hostile foreign states to renounce violence. International leaders responded with strong condemnations. Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the U.K. would put fresh diplomatic pressure on the UN Security Council to give President Assad’s crimes a “day of reckoning.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Syria agreed to a new cease-fire deadline of Thursday, without the written agreements by the opposition to give up their weapons, but has announced that it reserves the right to retaliate against any new opposition attacks.
As of Thursday, there were reports of a strained and uneasy silence in Syria. The regime has stopped bombarding rebellious towns heavily, but heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities. The situation is very fragile, but perhaps if the cease-fire holds up a bit longer, it will be enough time for the UN to negotiate and send in the first monitoring force as per the Crisis Group’s recommendations. Discussions about installing a monitoring team in Syria have been ongoing since at least late March.
Crisis Group presents some important questions once the practical discussions about a monitoring force are underway again:
- “What would be required for an adequate third-party monitoring presence and mechanism – in terms of numbers, mandate, capacity – to address violations of the desired reciprocal and unconditional ceasefire, without which it almost certainly would quickly collapse?;
- Might it first be deployed on a smaller scale, in pilot areas where a ceasefire could be immediately reached, as a way of demonstrating its ability to provide rapid, tangible relief?;
- What is required to achieve, ensure and verify a credible commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders?;
- How can one precisely define and carry out a regime commitment to tolerate peaceful protests while possibly allowing the authorities to protect some key interests: at a minimum ensuring mass protests do not occur in the heart of the capital (within a specified perimeter the authorities might consider overly sensitive)?; and
- Initiation of a serious investigation into the worst forms of violence as a critical step toward preventing their recurrence, entailing Syrian cooperation with a team of international experts.”
It is a long shot, but if the immediate deescalation of violence in Syria is successful for long enough to allow a good faith effort to answer the questions above and to act upon those answers, a credible political transition in Syria may still be in the cards.
Earlier this week, Genocide Watch and the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPAN) put out a list and map of countries at risk of genocide, politicide, or mass atrocities in 2012. Categorized as current massacres, potential massacres, or polarization, a majority of the countries are in the Middle East and Africa. Current massacres are taking place in DR Congo, Sudan, Eastern Congo, Uganda, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. According to GPAN, these countries are “at the mass killing stage. They have active genocides, recurring genocidal massacres, or ongoing politicides. They are erupting.” The groups and factions comprising the victims and killers include government supporters or protesters, militias, religious and ethnic groups, armies, and terrorist organizations. Which side they fall on varies by region.
Edward Luck, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, is warning that the deadly violence in Syria threatens to permanently divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines. He points to the mixed composition of Syria’s population as increasing the potential risk of divisions and is therefore urging community and religious leaders and civil society groups to do all they can to help reduce communal tensions. Says Luck, “If you look at the demographic breakdown of the population in Syria, it’s a demographic minefield. And we’ve seen in this region of the world some terrible examples of what can happen when a country is divided along sectarian lines.”
As discussed on this blog in December, within the complexity of the Syrian uprising lies a risk of atrocities against a minority religious group, the Alawites (to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belongs, as well as the security forces suppressing the dissent). The context/precedent for such a reprisal is discussed in the article “How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative”:
It is disturbing to note that in the Great Lakes, Balkans, and Trans-Caucasus, members of many ethnic groups articulate a version of history which emphasizes how they were historic victims of genocide, and how the inevitable response to this victimhood is to organize to inflict similar violence on the former perpetrators. These histories become self-justifying and self-fulfilling charters for genocidal violence. Interventions at any level in such cases need to be attentive to the layers of historical arguments and how they are deployed for political purposes. [emphasis added]
Mr. Luck is asking the international community, including the UN and regional organizations such as the League of Arab States, to be consistent and unified on the issue of reducing sectarian tensions. The Arab League has called for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to resolve the crisis in Syria, though Russia said on Monday that a ceasefire would need to be established in Syria before such a mission could be deployed. If this plan does end up being implemented, Luck said it is “critical to ensure that any mandate explicitly refers to reducing sectarian and ethnic tensions and improving community relations.”
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.”