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This is the third in a series of blog posts by Auschwitz Institute interns who from October 2011 through March 2012 monitored countries for risk of genocide using the Analysis Framework of the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. This week we present the post by Yasmin Andrews, a graduate student in international relations at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. Yasmin monitored Zimbabwe for risk of crimes against humanity.
As a student of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, I was no stranger to the study and analysis of violence, war and political conflict. However, this internship took on quite a different timbre than my university studies. I was chosen as one of the first set of interns to monitor states “at risk” of the occurrence of genocide. My country of interest was Zimbabwe, which is currently embroiled in a myriad of problems that render the state incredibly vulnerable.
As a Genocide Prevention Monitoring Intern for the Auschwitz Institute, I have had to be incredibly alert to the happenings within Zimbabwe. My work entailed observing events, news and current opinions within the country in relation to the potential for mass atrocities or crimes against humanity. The UN OSAPG (Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide) provided us with a Framework of Analysis establishing detailed guidelines on different factors that could indicate the potential for genocide within a society, including issues such as independent media, human rights protection, propaganda, increases in arms, and any increased involvement by other states.
Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Through the training received from the OSAPG and the research conducted, it became very evident that genocide is not a spontaneous occurrence. The build-up in tension within a country, as well as the actual killing of its people, takes place over a period of time. It is targeted and planned and therefore not a spur-of-the-moment affair.
My partner Jeremy Garsha’s and my job differed slightly from that of the other monitoring interns, as mass atrocities and crimes against humanity are more likely to occur than genocide in Zimbabwe. However, the UN OSAPG framework was still utilized as an important guideline in our research. This difference in classification often results in blindness towards the threat of violence that is brewing within Zimbabwe’s borders.
Zimbabwe has a history of internal violence. The massacre that took place through Operation Gukurahundi in Matabeleland by the Fifth Brigade is widely termed as genocide. This 3500-strong group of ethnically Shona supporters of Mugabe killed approximately 20,000 villagers and tortured and assaulted countless others in January 1983. In addition to this history of violence and genocide, the current situation in Zimbabwe lends itself to monitoring. There is a lack of an independent judiciary, effective national human rights institutions and effective legislative protection. The government has failed to abolish oppressive legislation and has passed additional laws which are inimical to fundamental rights and freedoms, including the Non-Governmental Organizations Act, which looks to proscribe the work of human rights organizations.
Additionally, Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, comprised of President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), have employed violence and tyranny to dominate government institutions and stem significant human rights advances. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been under attack from the excommunicated bishop, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga, since 2007. He has been able to intimidate Anglicans and with the support of members of the police force, he has denied many of their right to worship by seizing property belonging to the church. Churches have been forced to shut down and many have been forced at gunpoint to attend ZANU-PF rallies.
Additionally, the precedent of political violence, intimidation and corruption set by the 2008 elections is a cause for concern with the nation’s upcoming elections. UNICEF has reported a rise in the use of child labor and the lack of investigations or arrests for these abuses. A large number of NGOs, which provide basic services such as food and assisting the disabled, have been banned. Torture and other ill treatment of activists by police and members of Zimbabwe’s intelligence services remain a serious and systemic human rights problem in Zimbabwe. An alarmingly high proportion of these violations have been perpetrated by youth. Amnesty International’s call for Zimbabwean authorities to cease manipulating the country’s laws to persecute activists has fallen on deaf ears. Partisans of the Mugabe regime continue to benefit from a lack of accountability for past crimes. For example, a member of the Central Intelligence Organization connected to the murder of two MDC activists 12 years ago has still not been indicted. The African Union is unwilling to intervene and expel President Mugabe despite its mandate to maintain good governance in its member states. These are a few pertinent examples of the significant threat to the capacity to prevent mass atrocities in Zimbabwe.
The term “genocide” is a powerful word that many shy away from and are afraid to consider. When using the UN OSAPG framework to examine the cases of genocide in the past, such as when the Interahamwe killed 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, the indicators are visible. It is clear that there is a need for proper and effective monitoring efforts to prevent such a crime from ever occurring again.
In fall 2011, the Auschwitz Institute launched the pilot run of a Genocide Prevention Monitoring Internship, operated in partnership with the Office of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG). The purpose was to offer interns
practical experience in assessing the risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes within a single country, while providing the OSAPG with information the Special Adviser can use in his mission to “act as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.”
Interns received training on how to assess risk using the OSAPG’s Analysis Framework and submitted reports to the Auschwitz Institute on a monthly basis from (roughly) October 2011 through March 2012. Four countries were selected for monitoring: Bahrain, Indonesia, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. Initially, the plan was to have one intern for each country, but owing to the degree of interest and qualifications on the part of our applicants, for some countries we assigned two monitors.
Now, having concluded the internship’s pilot run, we are evaluating the usefulness of the project, to the interns, to our own work, and to the OSAPG. To that end, we asked each of the interns to write a blog post about their experience, answering two questions: 1) What did you learn about genocide prevention? 2) What did you learn about the risk(s) of genocide in the country you were monitoring?
This week we present the post by Jeremy Garsha, a graduate student in history at San Francisco State University. Jeremy monitored Zimbabwe—not for genocide, but for the broader category of crimes against humanity.
As a monitoring intern for the Auschwitz Institute, the most important lesson I learned was that genocide is not an event, but a process. Being a graduate student of comparative genocide, this is a notion I have been taught, but one I quickly forget. By training I am a historian. I investigate past genocides, where all of the pieces have already played out. It is easy to forget that each moment of human rights violations, left unchecked, has the potential to spiral into the systematic killing of individuals based on their identity. When examining historical episodes of genocide from a present point of view, each event often seems inevitable and intentional. Yet, as scholars and citizens of an international community, we must always remember that genocide can and must be prevented at the very inception of exclusionary ideology and basic human rights violations. If genocide is a process, then it can be prevented at many moments, so long as we have the vigilance and courage to act.
I was privileged enough to work with the Auschwitz Institute, an organization dedicated to preventing conflicts before they escalate into atrocities and genocide. Under their guidance, I had the opportunity to monitor Zimbabwe, a country more at risk for crimes against humanity than genocide. By broadening our search to include not only the legal definition of “genocide” as defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), but also all of the illegal acts listed in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), my research partner, Yasmin Andrews, and I were able to investigate and monitor a myriad of sources and antecedents that had the potential to become systematic criminal acts. Zimbabwe provided me with a real-world example of why it is important not to become blinded when looking specifically for genocide threats, as many human rights violations do not fit within the parameters of the “national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups” found within the Genocide Convention. When using a broader definition of “crimes against humanity,” however, it became clear that prevention monitoring of Zimbabwe is of prime importance.
Zimbabwe has a history of genocide: 20,000 Matabele citizens were mass murdered by the exclusively Shona Fifth Brigade in 1983–84, in what was called the Gukurahundi (a Shona term meaning “the early rain that washes away the husk before the spring rains”). Zimbabwe also has a recent history of political violence following the disputed election results of 2008, which set up a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The past episodes of violence, as well Zimbabwe’s decimated economy, has also caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring southern African nations. Lacking effective judicial oversight, Zimbabwean government and state security forces operate in a system of impunity. There exists the threat of renewed violence following next year’s scheduled elections, as well as the failing health of 88-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power for over 30 years. The above factors, to name but a few, underscore the necessity of proper and effective monitoring efforts.
A genocide prevention monitor working out of his home in San Francisco is not a replacement for United Nations–backed monitors on the ground. It is, however, a useful and safe alternative when it is not possible to place UN-trained observers in every country that is at risk of genocide. In a globalized world, independent news sources provide an amazing amount of information, and it is remarkable how much can be gleaned by having an individual tasked with gathering and filtering these streams of media. As monitoring interns, our task was to collect, not analyze data. Reading reports on Zimbabwe from across the globe left me with one final realization during my six-month internship, our shared connection of humanity.
I have always had an academic interest in Zimbabwe and southern African history, but working as a genocide prevention monitor reminded me that there is no shortage of information in the digital age. Anyone with an Internet connection can instantaneously plug into world events. With this connection comes the responsibility to take action when human rights anywhere are threatened. In Zimbabwe there is the concept of unhu, a variation of the Zulu term ubuntu, popular in southern Africa, which refers to the notion that one’s humanity is created and nurtured because of its shared connection to others. Crimes against humanity are just that, crimes that violate our shared understanding and connection to humanity. Genocide in one particular region affects us all, and we are all tasked with the responsibility to prevent future human rights violations from escalating into mass atrocities.
The Local to Global Protection Project (L2GP) is an initiative to document and promote local perspectives on protection in major humanitarian crises. Based on research in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, L2GP explores how people living in areas affected by natural disaster and armed conflict understand ‘protection’ – what they value, and how they go about protecting themselves, their families and their communities. The research also examines how people view the roles of others, including the state, non-state actors, community-based organisations and national and international aid agencies.
Speaking at the event were Justin Corbett, author of the South Kordofan/Nuba, Sudan Study; Simon Harragin, author of the Jonglei, South Sudan Study; Ashley South, author of the two Myanmar (Burma) studies; and Nils Carstensen (ACT Alliance), L2GP manager and co-author of Network Paper 72. Also in attendance were Dr. Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI, and Wendy Fenton, coordinator of the Humanitarian Practice Network.
The impetus behind the project was namely the disconnect between protection activities at the local and global levels. The findings were consistent with the rationale, as the majority of local communities considered their own actions to protect themselves as more important than anything done by outsiders. The most common first line of defense was for people to get out of the way, whether that meant fleeing into the jungle, mountains, refugee camps or crossing the border into another country. Another popular survival strategy component was allying oneself with political or religious leaders who have connections and negotiating power. However, the study found that self-protection strategies often had negative consequences for local populations.
The Zimbabwe case study stressed the importance of “capturing local cultural and religious phenomena in assessing protection threats…includ[ing] witchcraft, religious sects and cult beliefs.” Outside actors largely ignore such issues, but they represent real protection threats for local respondents. In the cases of Myanmar, respondents hardly distinguished between immediate protection concerns pertaining to physical safety and security, and longer-term livelihood security issues. National actors tended to rank assistance priorities differently than communities and aid, and how it was targeted, was sometimes in conflict with local values and realities. This “illustrated the challenge of identifying the local voice.” As such, it is important to be mindful of “the inevitable presence of prejudices in the analysis and presentation of local perceptions,” necessitating greater interaction between international humanitarian actors and local actors.
Research for the South Kordofan/Nuba case study was conducted from 2005 (the beginning of a ceasefire ending a 20-year civil war) to 2011 (when violence flared up again). In accordance with the other case studies, “attempting to separate physical safety, rights and livelihoods, as international agencies commonly do, was not relevant to local understandings of protection.” Over the past six months, efforts have been made to lessen these ideological and practical gaps. Initiatives included “setting up local protection teams in Nuba, consisting of young male and female volunteers, whose role is to share local knowledge of wild foods or medicinal plants which may exist in one particular village, with other villages… the teams also disseminate advice on what actions to take during bombing raids to protect physical safety based on lessons generated from the previous period of conflict.”
Ultimately, international actors should heed the “predictive capacity of local actors who know what the protection threats are, and can articulate when they will happen,” since the former lack the capacity to respond to these.
* 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.
* According to the L.A. Times, at least one unnamed Western government is sponsoring a “fact-finding” mission aimed at gathering the evidence necessary to prosecute President Assad of Syria for crimes against humanity for his brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. “The fact-finding mission,” the Times reported, “mostly involves assembling testimony from Syrian refugees that conforms to standards of international law necessary to sustain a war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court.”
* Twelve female U.S. senators have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressure the Burmese government to halt its use of rape as a weapon of war. A letter to Clinton signed by eleven of the senators said, “Given the Burmese regime’s unabated use of rape as a weapon of war, we urge you to call on the regime to end this practice and pursue our shared goal of establishing an international commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity…”
* Amnesty International recently published a report calling for reforms in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice system to help “combat impunity that has been fostering a cycle of violence and human rights violations for decades.” Citing reports of rapes, arbitrary arrests, murders, and assaults committed by Congolese soldiers on civilians that have went unpunished, Amnesty asks the United Nations, European Union and others to provide funding and “technical support” to help ensure “a comprehensive, long term justice strategy is developed.”
* Villagers in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe have unearthed human remains that are thought to be victims of the Gukurahundi massacre, which took place between 1983 and 1987. The massacre saw an estimated 20,000 people killed when President Robert Mugabe ordered his elite Gukurahundi fighting force to squash political and potential military opposition in the Matabeleland area.
Photos (from top): opinion-maker.org, operationbrokensilence.org, ZimEye.org
Zimbabwe: New Calls for Prosecution of Killings
The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) is holding its ninth biennial conference this week in Buenos Aires, and in addition to the deteriorating situation in Sudan, members will reportedly be focusing heavily on seeking justice for the victims of the Gukurahundi massacre of the 1980s.
“Gukurahundi was genocide,” said Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of the IAGS and founder and president of the NGO Genocide Watch. The Gukurahundi massacre occurred between 1983 and 1987 in Zimbabwe. Stanton considers it one of the “worst of our generation.”
In 1983, as President Robert Mugabe’s government began to face increased political and potential military opposition from the rival Zimbawean African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Gukurahundi, an elite government military unit answerable directly to Mugabe, entered the ZAPU stronghold of Matabeleland. In an attempt to squash the opposition, government forces executed and arrested suspected members of ZAPU and indiscriminately targeted ethnic Matabele civilians—the lion’s share of ZAPU’s base of support. An estimated 20,000 people were killed. The violence only came to a halt when ZAPU signed a peace treaty proposed by the government. Mugabe denies that crimes were committed during the operation, calling it instead a counterinsurgency effort.
Stanton claims there is evidence to prove not only that the actions taken were authorized by the president and high-ranking members of the government, but that they were tantamount to genocide. He hopes to gain support from participants at the IAGS conference to press the matter with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Burma: Renewed Fighting
According to the International Crisis Group, Burma is very likely slipping back into civil war as peace agreements between the government and ethnic rebel militias have broken down. Fighting is currently taking place in multiple states, the most ferocious occurring in Northern Shan. Multiple sources have reported that in this particular offensive, the government has authorized the use of rape and murder of civilians to crush the rebellion.
The Shan Human Rights Foundation claims the Burmese army has been using rape as a weapon of war since the start of the May offensive against the rebel stronghold of Wan Hai. Claiming the orders originate from the highest level of government, the foundation has recorded at least a dozen reported rapes since late May. According to the Shan Herald, the government has also authorized the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by soldiers.
Such actions would not be out of place for the military junta that runs the Burmese state. In earlier conflicts, including the “Four Cuts” campaign, the government used similar tactics that resulted in the starvation, rape, and death of many villagers.