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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In advance of a workshop on Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect: Building Trust and Capacities for the Third Pillar Approach, to be held April 26 at the Global Governance Institute in Belgium, the organizers put out a call for papers in January. The papers will address two areas: enhancing the legitimacy and consistency of the third pillar* approach, and improving the effectiveness of R2P’s civilian and military tools.

Per the policy brief, “The workshop is not concerned with the conceptual nature of the pillar itself, but rather on the range of peaceful and military measures and tools—such as economic sanctions, preventive diplomacy and mediation, fact-finding missions and, as a last resort, military interventions such as the implementation of no-fly zones and civilian missions—used for implementation.” Policy recommendations discussed at/born of the workshop will be contributed to the United Nations General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the third pillar of R2P this summer.

NATO’s UN-approved mission in Libya has raised a number of concerns in regards to the actual carrying out of R2P. As noted above, intervention wasn’t solely intended to be of a military nature. The Libyan case therefore brings up questions of timeliness, legitimacy, proportionality, and effectiveness of this particular brand of action. Moreover, a greater emphasis on prevention would mitigate the need for intervention. Instead of reliance on the international community and the United Nations, regional actors such as the European Union and the African Union, should play bigger roles in responding to all stages of crises that would ultimately necessitate the invocation of R2P. Other elements of the principle to be discussed at both the workshop and the UNGA dialogue include trust-building, consensus-building, collaboration, transparency, capacity-building, early-warning systems, training, and a long-term holistic approach to crisis situations.

* The third pillar of R2P focuses on the international community’s responsibility to take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in those instances where a State is unable or unwilling to protect its own populations.


Last month, the Global Action to Prevent War network sponsored an event at the United Nations, Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Within this context, they prepared a draft Background Concept Note on gender and RtoP to be utilized at policymaking workshops. In recent years, the UN has sought to address the problem of sexual violence committed against civilians in conflict zones but women are not a protected group under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. And while the term gendercide has gained more widespread use since its introduction in 1985, the fact remains that rape and sexual violence targeting females have long been tools of war and are often components of genocide itself. Though women can certainly be considered potential victims of mass violence, they also play an integral role in effecting stability and change. As such, the crux of the Background Concept Note lies in the following proposal:

1. At the international level, UN Member States should do more to highlight roles that women are already playing in the prevention of mass atrocities, and also do more to increase women’s direct participation in a wide range of peace and security initiatives, as set out in SCR 1325.

2. At the national level, RtoP strategic discussions relating to the general implementation of the norm should highlight the significance of women’s contributions (as leaders in conflict prevention, as aids to survivors and ex-combatants, as national focal points for RtoP discussion and strategic planning, etc) in such implementation strategies.

3. Member States should be encouraged to include RtoP language in the development of their National Action Plans (NAPs) on 1325 to help highlight the roles that women can and are already playing in calling attention and responding to the threat of mass atrocities.

This framework complements the Women Under Siege project, which was also launched in February 2012. Per its mission statement, the project has two main components:

1. A public education plan to demonstrate that rape is a tool of war (not only a crime of war, but also a strategic tool). This plan includes testimony from and partnership with survivors of modern wars from Bosnia to Darfur.

2. An action plan to push for the creation of legal, diplomatic, and public interventions to ensure the United Nations, international tribunals, and other agencies with power will understand the gender-based threats as a tool of genocide and will design protocols to intervene and halt gender-based genocide.

As of late, Women Under Siege has been particularly focused on systematic sexualized violence in Guatemala and Burma, especially as perpetrated by military members in both countries.


Hitherto known only to a small group of academics, the United Nations headquarters houses an archive documenting 10,000 cases against accused World War II criminals, all of which belonged to the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The Commission was established in October 1943 by “17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals – ultimately involving approximately 37,000 individuals – examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.” In 1949, the Commission was dissolved and the UN made the files only available to governments on a confidential basis. In 1987, the rules were changed to allow access to researchers and historians who possess authorization from both their government and the UN Secretary-General. Researchers in Britain and America are now campaigning to make the files public.

In addition to contributing to history’s understanding of the Holocaust, says Dr. Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, “The importance of this archive could lie in prosecuting today for crimes of aggression, rape, cultural crimes, environmental crimes, because there’s a wealth of precedent far beyond Nuremberg. In fact, these trials are 100 times greater in extent than the Nuremberg trials.” According to Plesch,

Records indicate that alongside the Nuremberg trials, where prominent Nazis faced justice, the UN commission endorsed war crimes trials for some 10,000 individuals. It is known that 2,000 trials took place in 15 countries including the United States. The case law of all of these has been forgotten. The Nuremberg trials only constituted one percent of the post-World War II prosecutions. A first look at the UN War Crimes Commission archive of the other 99 percent shows a gold mine of precedent and practice that can help hold modern-day war criminals to account.

Plesch and two other researchers have written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging him to ensure full public access to all the records by pointing out how doing so would be beneficial not just to the public, but to the work of the UN. Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said the Museum is also seeking to open the War Crimes Commission files, as one of its mandates is to collect archival material.


In September 2005, three mass graves were discovered in Rutshuru, in North Kivu province of eastern Congo. Two years later this discovery led to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiating a mapping exercise to investigate atrocities committed in the country between 1993 and 2003. The concluding report (click here for an interview with one of the report’s authors, Jason Stearns) was published in October 2010. Now, one year later, Human Rights Watch is calling on governments the world over to bring the perpetrators of the atrocities to justice.

Addressing the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, the mapping report describes the role of all responsible Congolese and foreign parties, including military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola. The Congolese government drafted a law to create a specialized mixed court, comprised of both international and domestic staff, but the Congolese senate rejected the proposal, despite support from Congolese civil society groups. Meanwhile, the governments of the other named African nations, as well as the UN, have failed to take decisive action.

Human Rights Watch has urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General to confer with the Congolese government, as well as the other governments named in the report and international legal experts, about how to ensure accountability for the crimes. Human Rights Watch is also calling on UN member states to support the Congolese government, financially and politically, in setting up mechanisms to try those responsible for the crimes.


* The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, is dropping prosecutions against five high-level officials accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide, and torture. Since the Courts’ establishment in 2006, one conviction has been handed down; only four other Khmer Rouge cadres will now face trial. Amidst criticism from Human Rights Watch and purported interference by the Cambodian government, Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk (pictured above) has resigned, in addition to the investigating judges’ entire UN legal team.

* According to the UN, at least 235,000 people in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are on the verge of a potential food crisis. As planting season began five months ago in South Kordofan, fighting broke out between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and the Sudanese Government, displacing more than 200,000 civilians. Food stocks were delivered two months ago but have since been depleted and civilians are now experiencing food shortages. The conflict spread to Blue Nile early last month, causing people to abandon their fields and crops. International aid groups have also been restricted from accessing the area. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is calling for urgent action to prevent a humanitarian and food crisis.


Burma’s government this week continued its campaign against ethnic-based forces, with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claiming its headquarters in Shan State had fallen. The KIA commander in Shan State said Burmese government forces took control of the base on September 27, but that Kachin operations remained in other parts of the state.

Burma News International reported that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Shan State, numbering some 20,000, were thought to be hiding in civilian homes that may be subject to government investigation. It quoted the KIA as claiming that there were over 5,000 villages and 250,000 civilians living in northern Shan State, which became a war zone on September 24 when the Burmese government launched its current offensive.

Unlike refugees in Kachin State in northeastern Burma, who are receiving support from churches, NGOs, and Kachin communities abroad, the people in northern Shan have received no outside assistance. On September 27 the Irrawaddy quoted the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a relief agency on the border between the two states, as claiming, “Since 1997, the Burmese regime has destroyed more than 3,000 villages and displaced over half-a-million civilians in eastern Burma.”

Numerous resolutions by the UN General Assembly, including Resolution 16/24 in April, have called on the Burmese government to improve its human rights record. Organizations and governments—including Human Rights Watch, Burma Campaign UK, the United States, and Canada—support the establishment of a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

Despite recent developments, the International Crisis Group, in a briefing last week, argued that the reform process championed by the newly elected president, Thein Sein, was making progress, noting: “Military legislators have . . . supported an opposition motion in the lower house calling on the president to grant a general amnesty for political prisoners.” And Voice of America published an article in May saying that ASEAN was convinced enough of the country’s new direction that it is considering giving Burma the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014.


Today’s blog post focuses on the topic of transitional justice:

* Last week, the lower house of Brazil’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the creation of a National Truth Commission. The commission will investigate human rights abuses—including forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary executions—committed under the country’s 1964–85 military regime. It is expected that the bill will now be promptly approved by the Brazilian Senate. While noting the bill’s significant strengths, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has also pointed out its challenges and subsequent opportunities for successfully bringing justice to victims and their families, as well as preventing future violations. Read the ICTJ’s commentary here.

* Current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and former ICTJ president Juan E. Méndez published a book this month, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights, together with South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth. A long-time political activist, Méndez was arrested and tortured by the Argentinean government in the 1970s. He was the first executive director of Americas Watch, in 1981, and the UN’s first special adviser on the prevention of genocide, from 2004 to 2007. Taking a Stand offers critical analysis of human rights movements throughout the world and policy recommendations on both the international and domestic levels. The book has garnered favorable reviews, in part for its reliance on facts and research in addition to the author’s personal experiences.

* On September 16, ICTJ held a panel discussion called “Why the Silence on Sri Lanka?” on accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released a report alleging that scores of civilians were killed by governmental operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between January and May 2009. Led by Gordon Weiss, former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka and author of The Cage, and Dr. Vasuki Nesiah, academic and Sri Lanka human rights activist, the discussion focused on ways to ensure proper investigation of all crimes in Sri Lanka and other steps that will enable victims, and the country as a whole, to work toward a sustainable peace.


In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2009 Report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, he outlines the three pillars of the principle:

  1. The enduring responsibility of the State to protect its populations, whether nationals or not, from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.
  2. The commitment of the international community to assist States in meeting those obligations.
  3. The responsibility of Member States to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a State is manifestly failing to provide such protection.

In response to the common misunderstanding of the third pillar as use of force, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect has created a new educational document detailing the third pillar’s range of measures and key actors.

And in furtherance of international commitment to the principle, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect this week wrote an open letter to the United Nations member states, urging them to prioritize setting goals for advancing R2P over the next year. Former diplomats and UN officials wrote how this year alone, lives were saved in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Libya through international efforts to uphold R2P. Specifically, they called on member states to:

  • Appoint a senior government official as a national focal point for R2P.
  • Encourage all relevant UN agencies and departments to incorporate an R2P perspective into their activities.
  • Use the tools available to the General Assembly to uphold R2P and take preventive and protective action.
  • Work together to develop additional goals and benchmarks for advancing R2P.

Addressing the opening of the General Assembly this week, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (pictured above) spoke of the importance of international law, the International Criminal Court, and upholding the rule of law. He stressed the importance of developing common practices and the capacity to actually implement R2P.


On September 16 the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a report in its Occasional Paper Series titled “Prioritizing Protection from Mass Atrocities: Lessons from Burundi.”

The report details events in Burundi during the civil war of 1995–2005, and analyzes and critiques the measures taken by the international community in response to human rights abuses committed against civilians, in an effort to identify the lessons that can be gleaned with regard to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The report’s authors—Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Elana Berger, and Naomi Kikoler—conclude that these measures “ultimately brought stability to Burundi, thus leading to an end to atrocities, [but] for many years they failed to protect Burundians from the daily threats of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.” (Estimates of the number of people killed in Burundi’s civil war range from 200,000 to 300,000.)

The report describes the measures taken in Burundi as a direct response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, building on the situational and historical commonalities, as well as the ways in which the international community departed from previous actions, or inaction, in Rwanda. The three major areas of response are 1) mediation efforts, 2) the use of force, and 3) the application of economic sanctions, all of which were attempted by both regional and global organizations.


The report documents the mediation efforts of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, South African president Nelson Mandela, and deputy South African president Jacob Zuma. It attributes Nyerere’s efforts with ultimately bringing the involved parties to the negotiating table, but faults him for failing to include the CNDD-FDD (the military wing of the CNDD) and the FNL (the military wing of the Palipehutu); both were Hutu rebel groups engaged in combat with the Tutsi-run Burundian army, the FAB. These exclusions resulted in continued atrocities throughout the onset of mediation and the negotiation process.

The authors credit Nelson Mandela with the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000. This agreement established a transitional government, restructured the military to a 50/50 representation of Hutus and Tutsis, and contained a provision for the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Once again, however, the CNDD-FDD and the FNL were excluded from the negotiation, and both groups intensified their attacks on civilians after the treaty, causing more violent reprisals by the Tutsi FAB.

Jacob Zuma successfully brokered a ceasefire with the CNDD-FDD in December 2002, which resulted in its full integration into the Burundian military in late 2003, which brought about a marked decrease in atrocities against the population. In 2006 Zuma reached an agreement with the FNL that fully demobilized the last rebel militia, which was incorporated into the military in 2009.

The authors of the report believe the impact of mediation efforts was ultimately positive, successfully ending the war and bringing a stop to atrocities on both sides. On the other hand they note that, “The efforts were premised on the belief that a negotiated political solution would automatically lead to a cessation in violence and atrocities,” arguing that mediators instead should have addressed the problem of atrocities explicitly. They also say the exclusion of the two largest militias resulted in continued atrocities throughout the mediation and negotiation process.

Use of Force

The use of force was threatened but never employed during Burundi’s civil war. In fact the authors of the report claim that in many ways this exacerbated the situation, since there was no real commitment to using force, and regional and international troops on the ground had neither the manpower nor the mandate to protect civilians.

According to the authors, the United Nations’ threat of force in 1996 (see UNSC 1049) was undermined by the resistance of important countries like the United States and France, and thus actually had a negative effect: “The resolution did nothing to provide protection to Burundi’s population and instead, by threatening the use of force without being prepared to follow through . . . the Council created a moral hazard and likely slowed the progress of Nyerere’s peace process.”

A South African force deployed in 2001 was successful in its protection of politicians returning to form the transitional government established by the Arusha agreement, but did nothing to prevent atrocities against civilians. A competent peacekeeping force with a Chapter VII mandate was not established until late 2004. The report concludes, “The deployment of foreign peacekeepers to Burundi contributed to the development of long-term peace and security but did not protect civilians from immediate threats of atrocities.”

Economic Sanctions

Sanctions were a tactic employed by regional heads of state in Burundi early on. Yet a 1996 embargo on Burundian goods only resulted in the establishment of a black market by military officials, and since it effectively ended all foreign investment, it exacerbated poverty. The European Union and the UN froze all emergency aid to the country, but failed to enact sanctions of their own or to effectively support those who did. Without effective international support the sanctions had mixed effects, becoming “increasingly lackadaisical” until they were lifted in 1999.

The authors of the report state that this case demonstrates that regionally imposed sanctions on a possibly genocidal government are effective only if well enforced and the creation of a black market is blocked. Sanctions are employed in the hope that “suffering civilians will blame their government for their worsening hardship, placing popular domestic pressure on government actors to comply with international demands.” But this requires a strong political force that can provide direction to the people’s discontent, which did not consistently exist in Burundi, leaving the population to suffer without the reward of change.


In conclusion the authors note that “the incidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity has greatly declined and . . . the threat of genocide has subsided—in part due to continuous regional and international engagement in Burundi.” In retrospect, however, “A comprehensive peace agreement may have been reached more quickly and more lives could possibly have been saved . . . had states more strongly focused their efforts on protecting populations, in addition to their emphasis on finding a political solution to the crisis.”


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