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Ethiopia: A hidden genocide?

A strongly worded new article about a little-known ethnic conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia raises questions about the international community’s silence on the government’s possibly genocidal campaign against the country’s Somali minority.

Ogaden is a territory in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Somali and have long felt marginalized by the Ethiopian government. In 1984 the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was formally founded with the intention of securing greater regional autonomy. The group maintains both political and military wings in Ogaden that have received mixed support from the population.

Addis Ababa considers ONLF to be insurgents, and has engaged the group in periodic fighting of varying intensity. International human rights groups have accused the state of using brutal tactics that are harmful to civilians. The state’s campaign against ONLF reached a new peak in 2007, when its response to increased ONLF activity (including a slew of political assassinations, bombing of government buildings, and kidnappings) involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.

Identifying rural villagers and local businessmen as the ONLF’s base of support and speculating that fighters were taking advantage of humanitarian assistance to feed and maintain themselves, the government expelled aid organizations and ordered a large-scale offensive that, according to human rights observers, targeted the civilian population. Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian troops, along with government-armed militias, indiscriminately attacked, executed, arrested, and forcibly removed from their land people believed to be friendly with the ONLF. Conditions were so severe that Genocide Watch wrote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009, urging her to pursue an investigation in the area.

Mainstream news outlets have largely failed to report on the conflict, and the international community has done almost nothing to respond. Some speculate that Addis Ababa’s support for the U.S. “war on terror” has helped the regime avoid investigation. However, deteriorating conditions in Somalia, coupled with the worst drought the region has seen in decades, may exacerbate Ethiopia’s violence to the point that it will no longer be possible to ignore.


Democratic Republic of Congo: High stakes for November elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:© UNHCR/P.Taggart

Discussion Paper #5 published by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme is “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Dr. Edward Kissi of the University of South Florida. The paper looks back at atrocities perpetrated against the Jews during the Holocaust to draw lessons from them for the prevention of future mass atrocities, especially in Africa.

Looking at the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, Kissi concludes that a state seeking to commit mass atrocities will generally succeed in doing so, and that society’s responses to the killings tend to be tepid. The key to preventing future genocides, he believes, is to get bystanders to do more than just stand on the sidelines and watch. And the three areas Kissi focuses on in this paper are early warning, regional and local initiatives, and education.

One way to do this is to closely monitor volatile situations that have the potential to devolve into genocide. Civil and ethnic conflicts—as well as related phenomena such as hate speech, demonization of target groups, and massive migrations of particular groups—are valuable warnings of future mass killings, since perpetrators of mass atrocities often use war or domestic power struggle as cover for their actions. Leaders who plan mass atrocities often look at past genocides and emulate their rhetoric and tactics, believing they will go unchallenged because past perpetrators of mass killings were not stopped. Kissi points out that hatred and prejudice sparking violence, while often targeted at ethnic or religious groups, may also be directed at groups defined in other ways, such as sexual orientation.

Kissi goes on to discuss the importance of the Responsibility to Protect and the practical means of achieving it. He notes that outside actors, such as the United States or the United Nations, have not had much success in preventing or intervening in genocides, especially in Africa, and that smaller initiatives led by neighboring countries and subregional organizations have a better track record in implementing rescue missions and civilian protection. Empowering civil society, especially local and community leaders, to speak out and exercise their traditional authority against hate speech and other warning signs of genocide may also help to build a local culture that does not condone mass killings.

While international actors can play a role in helping to develop these capacities, Kissi argues that local and regional initiatives, rather than international intervention, may be better suited to implementing the Responsibility to Protect. At the same time this may prevent perpetrators of mass violence from hiding behind criticisms of neocolonialism and accusations of meddling by foreign powers.

Another important component of building capacity to prevent future genocides in Africa is educational programs grounded in examining past atrocities like the Holocaust. The point is to teach children about respect and toleration so it is more difficult for them to accept prejudice against and dehumanization of other groups later on, encouraging them to be more than just bystanders if mass atrocities break out again.

Photo: The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme

Sudan: U.S. calls for ceasefire and investigation of alleged war crimes

On Friday, the White House condemned the resumption of violence between Sudanese forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in South Kordofan state of Sudan. Calling for an immediate ceasefire and a political resolution to disputes between the two sides, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said attacks based on “ethnicity and political affiliation” could be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity. Carney asked for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to be respected and called on the UN to investigate the alleged crimes so perpetrators could be held accountable. According to the UN, airstrikes by Sudanese forces have been concentrated in disputed territories along the proposed north-south border, endangering civilians and preventing effective humanitarian aid. As many as 40,000 people have fled South Kordofan, an oil-producing state, and a report by the Sudan Democracy First Group accused Sudanese forces of pursuing genocide in South Kordofan.

Libya: Moreno-Ocampo says Qaddafi ordered rape of hundreds

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said last week that the Qaddafi regime had raped hundreds of women “to spread fear of his regime and curb dissent.” The Christian Science Monitor said it was unclear exactly how many women had been raped, citing an NGO official who said the stigma of rape prevents many women from speaking out. Moreno-Ocampo said new evidence made it certain that Qaddafi himself ordered the rapes. The original ICC arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and Libyan security official Abdullah el-Sanussi, which cited crimes against humanity, did not include rape as a charge, but it may be added if the warrants are approved by the ICC judges. According to Moreno-Ocampo, the use of rape is a new tool of oppression for the Qaddafi regime. The Libyan government called the accusation “the same old nonsense.”

Côte d’Ivoire: UN investigation accuses both sides of crimes against humanity

A report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (extract here) says that war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated by both sides following a hotly contested election last year. Forces loyal both to former president Laurent Gbagbo and to his successor, Alassane Outtara, committed murder, rape, and torture “through generalised and systematic attacks against the population targeted on the basis of their assumed political sympathies,” the report said. Approximately 3,000 people are estimated to have been killed during the clashes. The UNHRC investigators voiced concern that forces loyal to Outtara are still committing violence, and asked the Ivorian government to carry out its own thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Image: Africa Confidential

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found two Croatian generals guilty (Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač) and acquitted one (Ivan Čermak) of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for acts committed by Croatian forces during Operation Storm between July and September 1995. The three officers were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively. The court found the crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer.

Rwandan Ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo, speaking to students and faculty of California Baptist University as part of the 17th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, called for genocide denial to be fought internationally, reported. “Denial is the last stage of genocide and it could be the beginning of another cycle of genocide, if left unchecked or stopped,” Kimonyo told the audience.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a compromise bill (H.R.1473) to fund the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Save Darfur reported that, unfortunately, the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the United States to more effectively respond to situations where mass atrocities are occurring or likely to occur, was reduced by 20 percent compared to last year’s level. The Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which runs programs to mitigate conflict, was also reduced, by more than 70 percent. Funding allocated to the Civilian Stabilization Initiative serves to prevent violent conflict in areas critical to U.S. interests, inlcuding Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


This week’s Guest Preventer on the AIPR blog is Elizabeth Dovell:

Power Lectures on “Obama, Human Rights, and the Lessons of the New Diplomacy”

Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning study “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, lectured at Columbia University last Monday on President Obama’s human rights agenda and the establishment of a “new diplomacy.”

Power, who currently serves as Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs on the National Security Council, has become one of Obama’s key advisers on genocide and human rights issues. Along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Power was one of three women instrumental in the United States’ decision to take part in the intervention in Libya, an act that some consider the most proactive implementation yet of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

In her Monday address, Power recalled the world of crises Obama inherited that required major international cooperation: global economic recession, instability of the Iraqi regime, and a growing threat of terrorism all stood out as issues that demanded a renewed multilateral approach of “burden-sharing.”

By “clearing the brush” around U.S. response to genocide and mass atrocity, Power said, Obama is seeking to establish a framework that will shape U.S. involvement in global human rights concerns in years to come.

Although Power didn’t say so (perhaps in deference to U.S. conservatives’ distaste for the idea?), the establishment of this new framework, rooted in diplomacy and multilateralism, clearly reflects the Obama administration’s acceptance of R2P as the guiding concept in responding to mass atrocities (see p. 48 of the May 2010 National Security Strategy).

Still, despite UN General Assembly approval in 2005, most states have been hesitant to invoke the norms laid out in the R2P framework. As Power pointed out, it is one thing to agree on a moral imperative, another to agree on swift and decisive action in the face of the four atrocities outlined in R2P: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. (Here, it is important to note that the Responsibility to Protect falls first to states, then to regions, and only then to the international community.)

Striking a note of optimism on the UN itself, Power noted that the Human Rights Council, often viewed as controversial for the disproportionate attention it pays to some human rights abuses at the expense of others, has taken several unprecedented actions recently—suspending Libya from the council, creating a Commission of Inquiry in both Libya and the overshadowed Ivory Coast, and authorizing a special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in Iran.

Elizabeth Dovell formerly served as Communications and Social Networks Intern at AIPR and Research Assistant at the World Policy Institute. She will graduate from SUNY New Paltz in May with a bachelor’s degree in international relations.

The UN Security Council passed resolution 1973, authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya from pro-Gaddafi forces. The BBC released an article analyzing the text of the resolution. The overriding aim of the resolution is to halt the fighting and implement a cease-fire. The resolution further creates a no-fly zone over Libya.

In recognition of the resolution, Libya’s foreign minister held a press conference in which he stated: “Libya has decided an immediate cease-fire, and the stoppage of all military operations.” But many countries are skeptical, as reported by the Telegraph and the Associated Press. American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States must see “action on the ground,” not just words concerning the cease-fire.

Officials announced that the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League, would join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Libya in Paris this Saturday.

Disputes between ethnic groups in the Sudanese border region of Abyei could escalate to full-scale conflict, UN genocide officials warned on Friday. reported that clashes between the groups have left more than 100 people dead and displaced at least 20,000 people.

Human Rights Watch stated that the three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast may amount to crimes against humanity: “A new Human Rights Watch investigation in Abidjan indicates that the pro-Gbagbo forces are increasingly targeting immigrants from neighboring West African countries in their relentless attacks against real and perceived supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as having won the November 2010 presidential election.” The Associated Foreign Press reported that Gbagbo said on Friday he would open talks on the situation with his rival Ouattara.

Photo: Human Rights Watch

The Genocide Prevention Task Force was jointly convened in 2007 by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. In December 2008, the GPTF released a report entitled “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers.” The report asserts that genocide is preventable, and that making progress toward doing so begins with leadership and political will. It offers 34 recommendations as part of a comprehensive approach, recommending improved early warning mechanisms, early action to prevent crises, timely diplomatic responses to emerging crises, greater preparedness to employ military options, and action to strengthen global norms and institutions. Download the report here.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and Genocide Prevention in Africa” outlines the outcomes of an expert roundtable convened by the International Peace Institute, the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and the InterAfrica Group, which took place in Addis Ababa in October 2008. The report discusses the scope of RtoP and genocide prevention, including how each is distinct from humanitarian intervention, the conceptual implications of applying RtoP in Africa, given the complex internal and external dynamics exerting pressure on the African state and the operational implications for RtoP at global, regional, and subregional levels. Download the report here.

Today’s post “From the AIPR Team” comes from Operations Intern Mark Edwards:

One of the projects AIPR is developing right now is the Global Intern Project, and that has been the focus of my efforts in the past few months.

The purpose of the project is to create awareness of genocide prevention and education in the United States and abroad. The internship will be open to students and professionals alike, and AIPR will work with universities so that students will be able to get academic credit.

Interns will research individual countries, focusing on how the government educates people about genocide prevention. They will also monitor current events for possible signs of genocide, and interview state and local officials about their positions. Each intern will receive training from AIPR in using the Analysis Framework developed by the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and will submit monthly reports to AIPR on the progress of their work.

Intern reports will be validated by country experts and submitted to the OSAPG, which will use them to raise awareness about genocide prevention both within the UN system and in individual countries.

We will begin selection of interns as soon as the application form is approved by the OSAPG. If you are interested in applying, write to

A German court has ordered FDLR militia leaders Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni to stand trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on Congolese territory, reports. Murwanashyaka, 47, and Musoni, 49, were arrested in November 2009 and indicted in December 2010 for 26 crimes against humanity and 39 war crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Rwanda. Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende commented: “This is a very good achievement for the peace process in the Great Lakes region since the trial of these criminals will send a strong signal to those willing to go ahead with their diabolic projects in both the DRC and Rwanda.”

Over 100 people were killed in days of fighting in Sudan’s hotly contested Abyei area, while thousands have fled southward away from the carnage, Time magazine reported. The article discusses the recent referendum where South Sudan decided to succeed from the North and whether or not this fighting will signalize the “moment it all starts falling apart.”

Joe Olzacki, director of performing and visual arts in Bloomfield schools, will testify at a public hearing before the legislature’s education committee in support of a bill that would require Connecticut high schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.  The Hartfield Courant noted that only five states—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York—mandate that schools provide genocide education. Olzacki  commented: “Today’s kids don’t know what ‘never again’ means.”

Photo: Reuters Africa

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