You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘United States’ tag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: ch16.org

* Burma’s ruling military junta seems to be inching towards democratic reform. The contentious Myitsone dam project has been called off and the government recently released more than 6,000 political prisoners. One of them, chief opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has registered her National League for Democracy party to run in the upcoming elections. The party supports a constitutional amendment that would allow prisoners to vote. Additionally, bans on public protests and union strikes have been lifted.

But these positive developments are still far outweighed by the country’s persistent human rights violations. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana (pictured above), recently discussed the Burmese military’s use of children and forced labor, as well as discrimination against ethnic minorities. A National Human Rights Commission has been set up but lacks independence, and border conflicts remain unresolved. Lastly, despite the dam project not coming to fruition, exploitation of Burma’s natural resources, and the resultant displacement of people, continues to be an issue.

* Last Friday, 29 United States senators, Democrat and Republican alike, sent a letter to President Obama to express their “support for developing the necessary tools to successfully avert mass atrocities and prevent conditions that can lead to violence against innocent civilians.” The letter recapped the terms of Senate Concurrent Resolution 71, while also expressing appreciation for recent steps taken by the Obama administration to develop a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to genocide and mass atrocities prevention, such as the Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10), a National Security Staff Director focused on the prevention of war crimes and atrocities, the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, and the mandate for an interagency study to inform the board’s work.

Photo: irrawaddy.org

* In a meeting with the Defense Writers Group on September 14, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said he had no problem with African states buying weapons and aircraft from China because he didn’t “see that as a military competition between [the U.S.] and China.” As Human Rights First pointed out, however, Chinese arms have enabled violence against civilian populations in Libya and Zimbabwe and contribute to ongoing atrocities throughout the continent, including in the Congo and Sudan. This is primarily the result of Chinese export laws that are neither strict nor strictly enforced by the government, coupled with Chinese companies’ lack of discretion.

* University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Sikkink argues in today’s New York Times that countries that prosecute human rights offenders have a better chance of ending repression than those that do not. In research comparing these two types of countries, she found that, contrary to what some contend, prosecutions of atrocity crimes tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy, or lead to violence. Writes Sikkink: “Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.”

* Cornell law student Nicholas Kaasik today lays out the argument for why the United States should ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court. The purpose of the ICC is to end impunity and hold leaders accountable for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Were the United States to join the 117 current States Parties, Kaasik says the relationship between the United States and the ICC would be mutually beneficial, strengthening each other’s legitimacy.

Photo: frbiz.com

A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations gives a useful analysis of the potential benefits and inevitable problems that will accompany the Obama administration’s Aug. 4 presidential directive to establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.

Taking a look at the country’s past, Andrew Miller and Paul Stares cite previous failures by the United States to prevent mass atrocities. Numerous administrations have been hamstrung by the lack of a truly comprehensive prevention framework. Miller and Stares contend that these past failures were not necessarily due to lack of will, but rather that high-level policymakers were not receiving information about small incidents that were indicative of a potential escalation in conflicts. Rwanda and Darfur, they say, serve as two stark examples in which high-level policymakers were unaware of the situations until the killing started and the only viable options were “sending in the Marines or doing nothing.”

Miller and Stares highlight the new plan’s potential for effective prevention in three key ways: 1) guaranteeing political and material support from the military and civil society, 2) establishing an early warning system, and 3) providing policymakers a structure that is capable of decisive action.

First and foremost, by framing the prevention of mass atrocities as “a core national security interest,” the Obama administration has given both the military and civil society “mandates” to prepare for prevention. As Miller and Stares point out, this gives agencies extra incentive to build their budgets in such a way that they can carry out this mission.

Next, the intelligence community must improve its early warning system. This system will be an interagency endeavor, allowing the government to develop adequate, timely responses—which Miller and Stares believe will include the use of economic, diplomatic, and legal tools.

Still, this information is useless unless relayed to the upper echelons of the policymaking community. The Atrocities Prevention Board is meant to do just that: It gives the intelligence community access to influential policymakers whose sole duty is to prevent mass atrocities, providing a much-needed link that was missing in the past.

The second section of the report examines pitfalls facing the system. Miller and Stares ask a few questions, the first being whether “the new atrocity-prevention structures and processes [will] become ‘mainstreamed’ within the national security apparatus?” This is critical, given how many other well-intentioned initiatives have been pushed to the wayside, including the Interagency Management System (now defunct) and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), both created by George W. Bush but since relegated to the periphery.

The report also raises the issue of whether or not subsequent presidents will support the Atrocities Prevention Board at all, given that each new administration tends to dismantle the initiatives of its predecessor.

Finally they ask whether or not in a time of financial crisis and an increasingly unpopular intervention in Libya, the American public will support the allocation of resources to finance future interventions worldwide.

Despite much initial praise from a number of organizations and governments worldwide, it stands to be seen whether Obama’s directive will yield a lasting and effective system for the prevention of mass atrocities. The Presidential directive ordered an “interagency review” to prepare relevant agencies for additional duties that would be required of them before the Atrocities Prevention Board would be up and running. According to the timeline set by the directive, the Board should be fully functioning by the beginning of December.

Image: dcu.blog.dccomics.com

* In a report titled “You Don’t Know Who to Blame: War Crimes in Somalia,” Human Rights Watch claims that all parties involved in the country’s ongoing conflict—al-Shabaab militants, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, African Union troops, and government-aligned militias—have “committed serious violations of the laws of war that are contributing to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.” These violations—which include indiscriminate artillery attacks, arbitrary arrests and executions, and the extortion and abuse of refugees—have made aiding those affected by the war and the famine more difficult. Human Rights Watch called on all parties to protect civilians and requested that international donors to the TNG establish “clear human rights benchmarks” to help ensure the government begins to abide by international humanitarian law.

* The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report today documenting human rights violations during the conflict in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. While both the rebels and the government are implicated, the report attributes a majority of the violations to government forces, which have purportedly targeted civilians during military operations, executed and arrested suspected rebel members, and indiscriminately bombed villages. Unconfirmed sightings of mass graves outside the city of Kadugli were also documented. The United Nations has called on Khartoum to allow international monitors to perform unhindered investigations into these allegations.

* During a press conference on Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the government is prepared to work with the international community to establish “an international commission” to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese government during its clashes with ethnic rebels. This announcement comes shortly after thirteen female U.S. Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which they called for action against the Burmese regime for its use of rape as a weapon of war. “We are prepared to work to establish an international Commission of Inquiry through close consultation with our friends and allies,” Nuland stated.

* Following a meeting of the African Prosecutors Association, chief prosecutors from a number of African countries have vowed to step up their efforts to find, arrest, and extradite fugitives wanted for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One way they hope to do this is through a greater level of intelligence sharing on the whereabouts of suspected criminals. There are reportedly 110 “indictments and appeals for arrests” still out for individuals suspected of being involved in Rwanda’s genocide.

Photos (from top): bar-kulan.com, Peter DiCampo/Pulitzer Center, news.az

* Representative Chris Smith, head of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, convened an emergency meeting to discuss the escalation of violence in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. Smith called for the immediate dispatch of peacekeepers to the area, which he believes “could be very effective in mitigating the loss of life.” This position is likely to be championed by U.S. officials at the United Nations Security Council meeting today.

* According to reports, since the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters began, thousands of government soldiers have defected and hundreds have been arrested after refusing to obey orders to indiscriminately open fire on protesters.

* Four former Guatemalan soldiers were sentenced to over 6,000 years in prison after being tried for crimes against humanity. They were found guilty of participating in the Dos Erres massacre, in which hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in a Guatemalan village by the military.

 * In a telephone conversation with Syria’s president on Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again condemned the government’s brutal crackdown on protestors and requested that the country’s borders be opened to international humanitarian organizations.

Photos (from top): rawstory.com, egyptianintifada.com, global post.com

To the applause of genocide prevention organizations nationwide, President Barack Obama today issued a study directive for the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, whose sole duty will be the development of policy aimed at preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities.

This is a milestone achievement, as until now the United States has lacked effective interagency protocols for prevention and response.

Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation executive director Tibi Galis praised the Obama administration for recognizing the need for a “whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively.’ ”

The directive, rather than spelling out details, offers an outline of the new body’s duties. Stressing the need for an overarching, “whole of government” approach, the president ordered the development of an interagency protocol identifying the government agencies that will contribute to the board’s work.

Many of the directive’s provisions are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government. The 2008 report issued by the GPTF argued that genocide and mass atrocities “threaten core U.S. national interests.” President Obama, in his directive today, used similar language, positing prevention as a “core national security interest.”

The GPTF report called for early warning systems, attempts to prevent escalation of violence once begun or imminent, and long-term prevention initiatives. While Obama’s directive remained mainly in the realm of broad intentions, its framework seemed to echo the suggestions of the GPTF report.

The presidential initiative received an avalanche of praise from U.S. organizations working to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes.

“Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said.

Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, cochairs of the GPTF, said the project “if fully implemented should eventually save countless lives.”

The United States Institute for Peace, a co-convener of the GPTF (along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), said it “welcome[d] the announcement” as a “needed step forward.”

The study directive gives the National Security Advisor 120 days to “develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.”

Photo: Oregonlive.com

Sudan: Revealing UN Report on Worsening Situation

While the United Nations and its members remain unable or unwilling to take action to stop the conflict unfolding in South Kordofan, a recently leaked UN report, titled “United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS) Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan,” makes clear that UN officials are well aware that a bloody and ethnically targeted slaughter is under way.

The report, which has not been officially released, comes after claims by both UN and U.S. officials that there is currently no concrete and confirmable evidence that crimes are being committed by the Sudanese government. The regime’s offensive, which Khartoum claims is meant to root out a stubborn rebel resistance, began in early June. While reports accusing government forces of targeting civilians have surfaced from the start, the leaked UNMIS report, based on eyewitness descriptions by civilians and UN staff, gives the most detailed, horrific, and credible account issued so far.

Confirming the worst fears of some observers, the report gives concrete evidence that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), during their unrelenting assault, have targeted civilians of specific ethnicity as well as other noncombatants thought to be sympathetic to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)—hundreds are reported dead and thousands wounded as aircraft, artillery, and troops have targeted villages. Confirming earlier reports by the Satellite Sentinel Project, witnesses who spoke to UNMIS staff also claim that “they saw fresh mass graves” around the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli. Two UN military observers sent to verify this were arrested, stripped, and beaten, then released and told to avoid the area.

The report also details systematic efforts by government forces to cut off humanitarian aid to the area by bombing airstrips, erecting roadblocks, and raiding compounds where aid material is stored. It also contains allegations that Sudanese forces have harassed UNMIS staff. Aside from using force or the threat of force to keep UN staff from investigating rumors of war crimes, the SAF have arrested, interrogated, shot at, and, in one confirmed instance, executed UNMIS staff.

The UN has been not only been unable to put a halt to this quickly degrading crisis, but it has failed to provide protection to civilians. Thousands who flocked to the UNMIS compound were forced to leave by government agents. According to the report, “National Security agents, donning Sudan Red Crescent vests, came to the UNMIS Protective Perimeter and requested all the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] to relocate to the Kadugli Stadium . . . where they would be provided basic services including shelter in schools.” UNMIS staff claim many of these people were arrested shortly after leaving the area. Further accounts by eyewitnesses claim that SAF soldiers entered the protective perimeter and executed alleged SPLM members while UN peacekeepers stood nearby.

Columnist Eric Reeves has compared the situation in South Kordofan to the Srebrenica massacre. All of the countries capable of successfully intervening have indicated that they will not. The UN is likely to be hamstrung by conflict of interests, and China would very likely wield its veto in the Security Council to protect the government it does business with in Khartoum. According to Reeves, in this situation “real hope . . . seems entirely unwarranted.”

Photo: armece.com

Mary Stata returns to the AIPR blog as guest preventer this week:

While the debt ceiling debate continues to dominate headlines, Congress will soon begin deciding on annual legislation that sets policies and funding for tools to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities. The Friends Committee on National Legislation continues to lobby for greater investment in civilian tools that help avert crises that can result in mass killings of civilians.

Lobbying for these small yet vital accounts can be a tough sell in this budget climate. However, we’re not alone. FCNL coordinates the Prevention and Protection Working Group (PPWG), a coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian, and peace organizations dedicated to preventing deadly conflict and protecting civilians. PPWG recently sent a letter to members of Congress who determine the funding levels for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. The letter argues that working with international partners and investing in prevention accounts like the Complex Crises Fund and Civilian Response Corps, will save the United States lives and treasure in the coming years.

On July 20, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to mark up the 2012 Foreign Affairs Authorization bill, which guides U.S. foreign policy and authorizes funding levels for the State Department, USAID, and contributions to international organizations like the United Nations. Then, on July 27, the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up the annual spending bill for diplomacy, development, and international cooperation. The Prevention and Protection Working Group believes that strong investments in these tools better equips the U.S. government to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities.

Earlier this year, we succeeded in protecting the Complex Crises Fund from being eliminated in the fiscal year 2011 budget. However, it’s clear that we still have our work cut out for the next budget cycle. You can take action and support genocide prevention accounts by contacting your member of Congress. In the coming months, we’ll keep you updated on our progress and continue to lobby for strong prevention funding. Will you join us?

Mary Stata is the Prevention and Protection Working Group Coordinator with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC.

Stopping Third-Party Enablers of Mass Atrocities

Last week, Human Rights First published a briefing paper titled “Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities.” The paper discusses the role played by third-party governments, companies, and individuals in supporting the perpetrators of mass atrocities, and offers recommendations to target and stop those enablers.

The briefing comes in the wake of an interagency meeting coordinated by David Pressman—the National Security Staff’s Director of War Crimes, Atrocities, and Civilian Protection—to organize atrocities-prevention initiatives throughout the government, and identifies the roles each agency or department can play in the U.S. government’s efforts to deter enablers and prevent mass atrocities.

The paper notes that perpetrators of mass atrocities rarely have all the goods and services they need to carry out their plans of extermination, which means they must rely on outside supplies, especially of weapons, money, and fuel. While the perpetrators themselves may be isolated from the international community and therefore immune to outside pressure, third-party governments or commercial entities are often vulnerable to political and economic arm-twisting by other governments and multilateral institutions. Thus, inducing third-party actors not to support those who commit mass atrocities can do much to prevent atrocities, and a coordinated, whole-of-government approach can be very effective in accomplishing those goals.

The briefing urges the National Security Staff to provide leadership in coordinating the various agencies and departments to prevent mass atrocities by heading a robust interagency structure. Such a structure would pull together the initiatives pursued by each department into a comprehensive set of policies.

These are Human Rights First’s main recommendations:

  • The intelligence community should collect information not just on the perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also on the enablers, their roles, supply chains, and other relevant information. Such information may also shed light on other national security challenges like terrorism financing as well.
  • The Department of the Treasury should disrupt enablers by imposing sanctions and seizing assets of anyone who supports perpetrators of mass atrocities. While unilateral sanctions by the United States have been well enforced, UN sanctions need to be better enforced and more effective.
  • The Department of State can apply political pressure on enabling states through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, and embassies can play an important role in intelligence gathering. Formalizing the different State Department working groups on genocide prevention and clarifying their relationships to the National Security Staff will make the State Department’s efforts to defuse escalating atrocities more effective.
  • The Department of Defense would continue developing its Mass Atrocities Prevention and Response Operations (MAPRO) project and collect and disseminate useful intelligence.

Twitter Updates