The Monday newsroll


Video: “Preventing Genocide in the 21st Century”, Tony Blixen on Syria, international security and human rights

“Opinion: Stop Atrocities before they start”, Michael Shank and Madeline Rose.Very interesting article on the importance of civil society and the public in conflict prevention, especially on their capacity to put pressure on the US Congress. The authors also commend the Obama administration Atrocity Prevention Board.

Prevention at the State Level“, Peace Brief by Jonas Claes, United States Institute for Peace


“Is Obama’s Red Line a Green Light? It’s time for the president to to back up his words with action”, Salman Shaikh, Foreign Policy, 29 April 2013.


The Betrayal of Darfur. And the man who tried to stop it.” A great interview with Dr. Mukesh Kapila, head of the United Nations mission in Sudan in 2003-2004. He insists that “No positive lessons have been learned from Darfur” and argues that there is “a lack of personal accountability of not just the genocidaires but leaders in the UN and international community who stood by and did nothing.” He also speaks about the principle of R2P.

Sudan and LRA

“Group: Sudan army supporting fugitive warlord Kony”, Rodney Muhumuza, Associated Press

“Joseph Kony was Here” On crisis mapping and the LRA.  Using satellite imagery and testimony former LRA rebels,  “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave, 2009-2013,”   documents the renewal of Sudan’s support to the LRA from 2009 to early 2013. This is also a great report on the use of new technologies for human rights documentation and, hopefully, prevention.


Myanmar & the West: when economic ties seem to take precedent over human rights

In the past two years, Myanmar has undergone many positive changes. The now quasi-civilian government is making democratic reforms, especially in terms of freedom of speech. Indeed, the government has opened up to opponents and ethnic rebels. These changes have led many Western countries to lift their sanctions, and to restart economic and diplomatic ties with the former authoritarian state.  Which is why Human Rights Watch’s report which accuses Buddhists, the Burmese government and local authorities of committing human rights violations and ethnic cleansing against Muslim, may have come as a surprise to some. Buddhist attacking Muslims? As a recent article by Christian Caryl recently asked “Weren’t Buddhist supposed to be pacifists?”  In overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar, this is not the case. As HRW states in its report, security forces simply stood by as mobs openly attacked Muslims, known as Rohingya people. More than 200 Rohingya have been killed and 125,000 have been forced to flee to disease-ridden refugee camps where humanitarian aid is scarce. The report accuses Rakhine state officials of encouraging violence and state authorities failing to intervene.

Ethnic conflicts in Myanmar have a long history as minorities have been subjected to exclusion and abuses. Minorities are regarded as second-class or invaders. The Rohingya people in Rakhine state are one of them. Even though they have been occupied the region for several centuries, they are regarded as invaders and illegal immigrants, and are therefore denied citizenship by the Myanmar government. In 2012, President Thein Sein even called for the expulsion of “illegal” Rohingya, arguing that this is the “only solution” to violence.

 As part of an on-going project, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies monitors domestic (and foreign) media in Myanmar in order to provide warning signs of ethnic violence and mass atrocities. Since domestic and foreign independent media in now more active in Myanmar, the institute regularly saw reports of violence: mosques being burnt down, riots, looting, mass displacements, humanitarian aid blocked. There were also signs of hate speech with anti-Muslim pamphlets and recorded speeches being disseminated on the street and on social media such as Facebook. This is the case of the “969” campaign led by Mandalay monk named Wirathu. The segregation campaign urges Buddhists not to buy from Muslim shopkeepers because “it will eventually go towards destroying your race and religion.” Describing Muslim as “evil”, Wirathu argues that, once in power, “they will not let us practice our religion.” This kind of dehumanizing and paranoid speech is more than a warning sign. The supposed fear of the Other.

Anti-Rohingya or anti-Muslim speeches do not only come from people such as Wirathu. According to Aung Zaw, a journalist and activist, another government official is disseminating hate speech on social media. Furthermore, on 20 February, Burma’s Deputy Immigration and Population Minister Kyaw Kyaw Win denied the existence of the Rohingya ethnic group in Burma. The minister’s words reflect the statement of a monk in Mandalay who stated that  “there’s no such thing as Rohingya. They’re Bangladeshis. They’re brutal. They rape girls. They’re kalar.” Kalar is an insulting word ascribed to Muslims.

The government’s failure to take active steps only encourages hardliners to go further. In a televised address last month, President Thein Sein declared that he would not tolerate religious violence and would not “hesitate to use force as a last resort” in order to stop anti-Muslim violence. Yet nothing has been done. The president’s words were just a “bark” but no bite. In a year, I very much doubt that he has changed his mind that the Rohingya and Muslim groups in other provinces should simply been driven out of Myanmar.

Western countries have not pressured the government to act on this matter, even though reports of violence have long been issued by several UN agencies and NGOs, including Human Rights Watch. Instead, western countries are focus on establishing stronger trade ties. Last week the European Union lifted all sanctions on Myanmar except the arms embargo. Member states congratulated the country on its “remarkable process of reform.” On Monday, President Thein Sein also received the International Crisis Group “In Pursuit of Peace” award in celebration of his democratization reforms and “decisive action towards improving Myanmar’s relations with the political opposition and liberalizing past repressive laws.”

Considering the current situation Rakhine state, but also in Kachin state where a government offensive against rebels forced 100,000 people to flee, the optimism and positive messages of Western countries appears contradictory and may send the wrong message to the Myanmar government. Even though EU Ministers noted that there were “still significant challenges to be addressed”, a better balance must be found. The ministers made not explicit mention of the report or crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya. I admit that democratic transitions take time, but Western countries, regional bodies and businesses now investing in Myanmar must pressure the government to actively prevent the on-going ethnic cleansing. Especially since it could spill over into neighbouring countries, where the Rohingya have found refuge. The government should allow humanitarian agencies to have access to IDPs and refugees, and should arrest perpetrators of violence as well as those who incite violence. Myanmar should also once and for all tackle the matter of citizenship and respect its ethnic minorities. On his first visit to Europe last month, President Thein Sein urged EU countries to lift sanctions. But economic transition should come with a real democratic transition. Right now Western countries appear more willing to leave democracy and human rights aside in favour of economic ties. The international community should not contribute to Myanmar’s perspective of the Rohingya as stateless people who do not deserve protection.

The Wolf and the Lamb: “The reason of the strongest is always the best”?

In La Fontaine’s The Wolf and the Lamb, the dialog between the two animals illustrates not the violence tyrants exercise against the weak but their attempt to justify brutality. As a predator, the wolf is subjected to his aggressive and cruel impulses. Throughout the fable, the wolf resorts to a language of threats, hatred, and coercion, tries to justify the impending murder of the lamb by accusing him of false crimes and misdemeanours. His arguments are absurd but he nonetheless manages to reject the lamb’s rational counter-arguments. As he finds excuses for his tyranny, the lamb loses control and his voice is silenced: “The wolf carries the lamb, and then eats him. Without any other why or wherefore.”


La Fontaine story about power relations and the senselessness of the powerful still resonates today. Dictators such as Bashar Al Assad will always try to justify violent repression. What is surprising about La Fontaine’s fable is the sense of fatality: from the start of the fable, we know implicitly that the wolf is going to succeed, violence will triumph. The wolf may be the intruder in the story but his bad faith and cruelty are stronger than the lamb’s natural rights.


The parallel may be somewhat far-fetched or incongruous. However, what I want to say is that the strongest should not be allowed to succeed he should not be allowed to justify violence and tyranny. What is also missing in this fable is a third character. When La Fontaine wrote the fable, he wanted to denounce King Louis XIV authoritarianism and absolute monarchy. But we are not in the 17th century anymore. According to international principles, leaders do no longer have absolute power over their people anymore. If he is unable or unwilling to protect them, a third actor has a responsibility to act. I am not calling for military intervention here. In Syria, the situation has gotten so bad that it is difficult to say what the solution is. Some argue that we should arm the rebels, for example. My point is that we are not doing enough. We speak of “red lines not to be crossed” but where is that red line and if crossed, what will the international community do? There is a need for some kind of political action. After two years of conflict, the deadlock faced by the international community in Syria only helps Bashar Al Assad and contributes to the silencing of “the lamb.”


The French version of the fable ends with the following sentence: “Sans autre forme de procès” which could perhaps be translated as “without due process” or “without any form of judgment.” Once and for all, we should not let the Syrian regime get away with it or we will have to held accountable for or lack of action as well.

I will leave you a cartoon drawn by Chappatte in “Le Temps” (Geneva)


Chemical weapons used by Syrian regime?

The crisis in Syria has reached a new level today. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons against rebel forces “on a small scale”. While intelligence services are not a hundred percent sure, the fact that they came out with the statement seems to confirm what many observers had feared. The British Foreign Office made similar allegations, stating that it has “limited but persuasive information from various sources” that chemical weapons such as sarin gas have been used. This is a war crime.

People such as Senator McCain, who has long been a proponent of US-military intervention and assistance to the rebels, stated today that Syria  crossed a “red line.” But Washington is more careful, even though President Obama has stated before that the use of chemical weapons would be “a game changer.” The wounds of the Iraq war and the “yet to be found” (aka non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction are still open. As NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden explained, they learned from their experience.

Could this be a turning point? It is difficult to say. But the tone has clearly changed quite dramatically in Washington. On Tuesday still, the White House had announced that the government could not arrive to the conclusion that such weapons had been used. President Obama now seems to take the information very seriously. Countries such as France and Britain may now be in a better position to convince their partners to act. However, there is still a need to be carefully. France and Britain have been calling for a lifting of the arms embargo in order to arm the rebels. The US government has refused to do so until now, underlining the some of the rebels’ links with Al Qaida. It is obvious that the embargo does not affect Al Assad. He gets his weapons from somebody else. But it is also important to understand out who the rebels are: we have waited for so long to act that the situation has gotten extremely complex. Nonetheless, we also have a responsibility to act, whatever this action is. If we fail to do so, if the US government fails to stay true to its warnings even though the “red line” may have been crossed, Assad will only use the absence of reaction to make more use of chemical weapons. 

Newsroll: Baha’is, R2P, and social media

Roméo Dallaire on the Baha’is of Iran

Canadian senator and retired general Romeo Dallaire speaks about the escalation of human rights violations against the Baha’is of Iran. He believes these human rights violations could lead to mass atrocities if the world refuses to act.


R2P and Europe: on the importance of focal points

“First Regional R2P Focal Points Meeting for Europe in Slovenia”

From 10-11 April the Government of the Republic of Slovenia hosted the first Regional R2P National Focal Points Meeting for Europe. Participants included national focal points and representatives from 31 countries, representative of the UN, the ICC, the ICMPD, the EU, and the OSCE as well as NGOs. Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, was also present. The objective of the meeting was to advance the principle of R2P in Europe. Participants exchanged their views, experience and expectations. The establishment of national focal points within national legislatures is one of the major objectives of the proponents of the R2P doctrine. R2P Focal points have the ability to build national capacities on the prevention of mass atrocities: parliamentarians can hold government accountable for the lack of action taken to prevent atrocities. The Regional meeting was organized in association with the Global centre for the Responsibility to Protect. As you can see think tanks and non-NGOs are at the forefront of the promotion of mass atrocity prevention and R2P, constantly pushing governments to stay true to their commitments.

Social media and prevention

The Auschwitz Institute has issued an interesting podcast with Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director for Human Rights Watch and former Director of Communications at the International Crisis Group. Stroehlein speaks about media monitoring, the potential and challenges of social media, including in terms of prevention.

As Stroehlein rightly argues “media monitoring generally is very crucial for that early warning.” We saw it with the Rwandan genocide and RTLM radio. I am a strong believer that social media can be used to early warning and for advocacy. This is what many call “the power of witness.” For more information on the “power of witness”, you want to look at Harvard Kennedy School’s Mass Atrocity Response Operations (MARO) project, Hatebase and  Satellite Sentinel Project


US Genocide Prevention Initiative:

A year ago, US President Barack Obama launched the Genocide Prevention Initiative, which seeks to improve the his government’s capacity to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the 2008 Genocide Prevention task Force (GPTF), co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, pushed this initiative and made recommendations to the government, including the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. the aim is to improve the US’s capacity respond to early warnings of conflicts before they evolve into large-scale conflicts, mass atrocities and genocide. The creation of the board should be seen as a major step, even though a lot remains to be done. For more details on the President’s announcement, you can watch it here:

Here is also a statement by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen


Following the report issued by Human Rights Watch yesterday, several interesting articles were published.

– The Monks Who Hate Muslims, Foreign Policy, Francis Wade

Weren’t Buddhists Supposed to Be Pacifists?, Foreign Policy, Christian Caryl

Burma’s Rohingya’s ghettos broke my heart, Vice, Emanuel Stoakes

The Guardian also posted a video showing Burmese police standing by as Buddhist attack Muslim


An interesting New York Times article on the violence in Nigeria where heavy fighting between the army and Islamic extremists Boko Haram killed at least 185 people over the week end. The fighting in Baga (north of Nigeria, near Chad). is the first time Boko Haram has used heavy weapons. Following international reactions of shock, including from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the government has ordered a probe into the clashes to determine whether the army followed the rules of engagement. However, this type of probe is something that the military often conducts but impunity remains widespread. Results are never or rarely made public. Just before the fighting in Baga, the military got report of Boko Haram activities in the area and tried to arrest the suspected Boko Haram members in a mosque. According to soldiers, Boko Haram activists attacked them, one soldier was killed, leading the army to reply. Killing ensued. The area has been very insecure for a long time and it is only escalating.



Myanmar: HRW condemns campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims


Today, Human Rights Watch issued a 153-page report titled “‘All You Can Do is Pray’: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State” which accuses Myanmar to wage a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims.

The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority living in Rakhine, were persecuted by the army during the country’s authoritarian rule. Rakhine’s Buddhists regard the Rohingya as intruders and illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. And so do the government and Burmese society. 

The report blames local Buddhist monks and ultra-nationalist movement Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) for orchestrating the violence, and points the finger at Burmese authorities for standing by. According to the Rights group, the coordinated attacks against Muslim neighbourhoods began in June 2012 following sectarian violence between Arakanese and Rohingya. Since then the Arakanese attacked Muslim villages with machetes, guns and Molotov cocktails. They killed residents before burying some in mass graves. The aim of these coordinated attacks was to forcibly remove Rohingya Muslims from the area

In a statement, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, not only condemned the forcible removal of more than 125,000 Rohingya Muslims but made it clear that the government denies aid and restricts the movement of the community. Displaced victims have found refuge in IDP camps where living conditions are at their worse. HRW accuses the government of denying them adequate humanitarian aid and access to livelihoods: ““The problem with aid delivery in Arakan State is not a failure of coordination, but a failure of leadership by the government to allow displaced Muslims access to aid and freedom of movement,” stated Robertson.

Again we there were warning signs. According the HRW, the RNDP started encouraging violence and promoting ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims last June by distributing pamphlets and public statements demonizing the community. Further more government statements refer to Rohungya Muslims as “Bengali,” “so-called Rohingya,” and “kalar”, a derogatory term for Muslim. The report also provides clear evidence of violence and destruction thanks to satellite images.

Human Rights Watch calls for an independent international commission to investigate the violence and urged the country’s partners’ to act.  

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman and Myanmar’s deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut described the report as “one side.”

This week the European Union was due to decide whether or not to lift the sanctions on Myanmar. HRW believes that scrapping the sanctions would be premature, considering the current situation. Just a few hours ago however, the EU gave its green light and agreed to lift all economic sanctions, also the arms embargo remains. The EU described the decision as a “new chapter” in EU-Burmese relations: “”In response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue, the council has decided to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms.”

In North America, the U.S. suspended sanctions last year and US companies are allowed to invest. A year ago Canada eased its economic sanctions against Burma as well and a Canadian delegation visited Myanmar in February. After 25 years of almost no contact between Canada and Myanmar, Minister Baird decided to establish an Embassy in Burma and Canada’s first-ever resident Ambassador, Mark McDowell, was appointed in March, 2013.

Why kind of message does this send to the government of Myanmar and to the perpetrators of violence? Sure Myanmar and President Thein Sein’s government, long a dictatorship, have undergone a rather remarkable transition since 2011. But sectarian violence and tensions continue and have, it seems gotten worse. We ignored the warning signs, what can regional and international organizations, as well as new investors, do to prevent more violence from bring committed?

More on this soon…