Framework Agreement and Intervention Brigade: an illusion or a road to peace?

I have been studying conflicts in the Great Lakes Region for several years and even visited the region but I would not consider myself a specialist of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the reasons is that this one of the most, if not the most complex, conflict in the world today. We are talking about a long-existing war, nearly twenty years, involving a multitude of countries, armies, armed groups (20 and 30 armed rebel groups), and a large UN peacekeeping force. I am not even talking about the number of NGOs and UN agencies also present on the ground. The UN mission in the Congo, known as Monusco, is the largest existing UN mission in the world today. It has been on the ground for more than a decade but despite the presence of this 20,000 strong force, peace in the eastern DRC remains illusive. In November, a rebel group known as the M23 successfully invaded Goma despite the presence of the national army, the FARDC, and Monusco. Intense international forced the rebels to withdraw to northern areas but considering their success, it would be legitimate to believe that the population has stopped expecting anything from the FARDC or Monusco. Having been to Goma myself, though only for a day, the sense of insecurity is always present.

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The outbreak of the new rebellion in May 2012 prompted the signing of the Framework Agreement (Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework – PSCF) on 24 February 2013. This UN-led agreement was signed by the President of the DRC and ten other African heads of state, under the eye of the UN and three African regional bodies. The objective is to tackle underlying problems and core drivers of violence in the region: armed groups, weak Congolese institutions and governance, poor development, and foreign interference in the DRC’s internal affairs. The agreement highlights the need for concrete reforms in the DRC as well as increased regional cooperation, particularly between the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda (the latter two have both been accused of supporting rebellions in the eastern DRC).

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(Ban Ki-moon with President Joseph Kabila and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim – Junior D.Kannah. AFP)
 
Political strategies and political will

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Jim Kim (World Bank), and UN envoy Mary Robinson visited Kinshasa, Goma, and Kigali last week in an attempt to show their support for the new agreement. “We are determined to do more for crisis-stricken countries,” Ban said in Kinshasa and described the agreement as “best chance for peace in years.” Whether the Framework Agreement will actually contribute to peace depends on many factors, most importantly, I think, on 1) genuine commitment to Agreement 2) additional political strategies (national and regional), c) and political will to implement reforms and strategies once and for all.

With its large number of natural resources, the DRC could be a thriving, prosperous nation. But the corrupt government combined with hungry rebels and neighboring countries (Rwanda and Uganda long waged proxy wars in the DRC, and may still do so today according to several reports) make this impossible. Since the PSCF was signed, the government has set up a plan for national reforms, which includes dealing with impunity, reconciliation, decentralization, the justice system, and, most importantly, Security Sector Reform. But the government has a history of being slow to implement reforms. Enough pressure must therefore be put on the regime Kinshasa to genuinely execute these reforms and to engage in political dialog with various political and non-political actors. This pressure could come from the opposition (although it is currently divided), Congolese civil society, donors and NGOs, and from the international community.  

Another major challenge remains the commitment of key countries in the Great Lakes region to actually work together. The Framework agreement pushed for regional cooperation on the extraction and export of minerals, and on security issues. There has been increasing international pressure on neighboring countries, especially Rwanda, to commit to this. Recently, several donor countries, including Great Britain, froze then unfroze or reduced their aid to Rwanda when Kigali was suspected of backing the rebels. Rwanda has always been a donor darling but the relationship is changing. However, I have always found it hard to believe in the will of the DRC and its neighbors to cooperate in a transparent and legitimate way instead of illegally interfering in each others’ affairs. Perhaps international and regional pressure can force them to do so but these country had better understand that cooperation on political, security and economic issues is more beneficial for development in the long term.

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(M23 rebels in Bunagana, near the Ugandan border)

Special Intervention Brigade: can a more robust mandate work?

The Framework Agreement also cleared the way for a new UN intervention force. With Resolution 2098 (2013), the UN has embarked on an unprecedented military approach to deal with armed groups by setting up an Intervention Brigade with an offensive mandate. The 3.069 soldiers from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi will reinforce troops already on the ground but will also be responsible for neutralizing and reducing the threat posed by armed groups. The new brigade is therefore authorized to engage in offensive military action.

The reaction of the M23 was immediate. After months of truce, fighting with the FARDC erupted again around Goma last week. The rebels have also been trying to dissuade Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa from providing peacekeepers by appealing to their parliaments. In areas under their control, the M23 is holding rallies, and conducting propaganda campaigns against the Intervention brigade in order to turn the population against the force. Furthermore, the leader of the rebels stated that the M23 would fight back if attacked. Whether the rebels will actually fight back is difficult to say. They could eventually disarm or at least negotiate. The M23 has been in talks with the Congolese government since December 2012 but talks have stalled since the DRC agreed to the deployment of the brigade. The rebels clearly see the new force as an aggressor, not as a peaceful mediator.

Will the Intervention Brigade be able to carry out its mandate? At the end of April, a Mai Mai self-defense group attacked the town of Pinga despite the presence of Monusco peacekeepers responsible for protecting civilians. This is not the first time Monusco has failed to intervene. Just think about what happened in Goma last November. The passivity of Monusco seems in part due to a minimalistic reading of its mandate, which emphasizes that it is the “primary responsibility of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for ensuring security in its territory and protecting its civilians (…).” As a result, Monusco often appears to hide behind the inefficiency of the FARDC. Second, the mission seems more inclined to protect their own staff first rather than civilians. This kind of pasivity leads me to question the efficiency of the future brigade.  Is it actually ready to fight or will it stand by again?

This leads to another problem. The brigade should not simply focus on the M23 and the FDLR. This would be too restrictive. But let’s also not forget that there are about twenty to thirty very armed groups in the DRC who use different tactics and have different interests. How can one Brigade composed of 3000 men possibly neutralize them all? Finally, what will become of those rebels who decide to lay down arms? Will they be reintegrated into the FARDC again? This plan has proven widely detrimental to peace and is part been part of the problem. I think the new mandate is too large for the small brigade and only constitutes a short-term solution. The objective should not be to simply manage the problem of armed group but to actually solve it – thus my emphasis on the need for a genuine political strategy.

All previous national and regional peace-building efforts have more or less failed and lasting peace can only be reached through a multi-faceted and holistic approach (political, economic and security) to peace building. This strategy needs to tackle the political and structural nature of the long-lasting conflicts in the region. But it also mean involving multiple actors with diverse and agendas and approaches. The Framework Agreement may be a step in the right direction but the DRC still has a long way to go. As Ban stated “I think this framework agreement could be a landmark one, but it’s the minimum which we are doing. I think we should do more.”

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Sudan, responsibility to protect and accountability: not just for perpetrators

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity pleasure to attend a talk given by Dr. Mukesh Kapila, the former United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan (2003-2004) and the first one of the first individual to warn the international community about the unfolding genocide in Darfur. Dr. Kapila’s story is reminiscent of Lt-Gen Roméo Dallaire’s experience in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Kapila expected to preside over the Naivasha talks, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement started in September 2003 and supposed to end Africa’s longest war between the north and the south. But he quickly realized that a) the agreement still had a long way to go due to a lack of political will, b) that crimes against humanity were being committed in the Darfur region.

Silence

An outgoing speaker, Dr. Kapila asked the audience. If faced with such a crisis, what would you do and who would you go to? First, he reached out to diplomats and high-level representatives at the UN. He realized that great powers actually knew far more about the situation than he did. But they refused to act. One of the reasons was geopolitical considerations and calculations: they didn’t want to compromise on-going peace talks and thought all problems would be solved.

In Sudan, Kapila was told to concentrate on his job: getting humanitarian aid into Darfur and leave the politics. In New York, he was often faced with naivety, denial (despite evidence) and lack of empathy. So what do you when the people and institutions responsible for helping you turn a blind eye? Dr. Kapila decided to blow the whistle and to alert the media. He decided to disobey orders from above because they were immoral and against the very principles of the UN. This time, the UN did respond, peacekeepers were sent, which started a political process. But it was too little too late. Being a whistle blower also caused Kapila his job. Unpopular with many governments and even faced with death threats, he was forced to leave Sudan. But he refused to abandon what had now become a mission: to warn the world about Darfur and about the continuing crisis in Sudan.

The empathy deficit: reasons why we fail

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Did the UN and other global institutions learn anything from the Darfur crisis? No. Not if you look at the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan and in other parts of the world. Four million people are affected by the crisis throughout the regions of Darfur, Abyei, the Blue Nile mountains and the Nuba region (South Kordafan). The current political process not based on justice and accountability, and therefore fragmented. As Dr. Kapila stated “Darfur may be called the world’s most successful genocide in that it has gone on for a decade.”

Today the same atrocities are being committed in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile Region. President Al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the ICC in relation to Darfur, continues to run free. Since South Sudan became independent from Sudan two years ago, the regime in Khartoum has embarked on an Islamic purification campaign targeting the ancient peoples of these regions. As in Darfur ten years ago, the aim to remove these ancient tribes of the land in order repopulate the area with Arab tribes. At the heart of the conflict is the same racist idea. Today, one could argue that the situation is even worse. The Sudanese regime has more sophisticated aircraft and better technology today. What is unfolding now is a modern war of attrition of the same ethnic nature as it was in Darfur a decade ago.

The international community has not intervened in any (significant) way. Conflicts are fuelled by greedy and selfish people who benefit from them. Sudan is a powerful country in the economic system and there is a lot of estate interest. For example, we continue to trade with Sudan and sell them arms to Sudan, arms that are used to commit ethnic cleansing.

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Copyright: A. Boswell/ MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS. Family hiding from aerial bombing by the government in Nuba Mountains.

Kapila makes it very clear that global institutions such as the UN and the African Union are run by cowards. For the lack of action in Darfur, he clearly points the finger at Kofi Annan. I believe that Dr. Kapila is right when he argues that the responsibility to protect is increasingly becoming the “responsibility to procrastinate.” R2P makes it clear that the international community has a responsibility to protect populations at risk when their leaders fail to do so: “If crimes against humanity it’s everybody’s responsibility to act. But the higher your office the greater your responsibility”. So leaders such as Kofi Annan have failed and have not been held accountable for standing by. Dr. Kapila actually lists twelve reasons why we failed in Darfur and still fail, including denial and naivety, refusal to differentiate between victims and perpetrators, political indifference, disproportionate self-interest, evasion of responsibility, risk aversion, bureaucracy, and, most importantly, human empathy deficit.

Responsibility and accountability

I don’t think Dr. Kapila has lost hope in the UN. As a global institution it can bring people together to work for the common good and to resolve differences. Yet he believes that the UN, as well as other institutions, must be run by people with empathy and leadership. Countries like Canada should break diplomatic ties with Sudan because maintaining normal ties sends a message that committing mass atrocities is fine. Diplomatic isolation and economic embargos will, in the long run, work, according to Dr. Kapila. Civil society leaders and ordinary people have a role to play as well. They can hasten this process of change by putting pressure on leaders and by supporting the right organizations on the ground that are bringing humanitarian aid.

Kapila argues that people with a high office have a greater responsibility to act and a better chance of being heard. But this does not mean should not act. Don’t forget, we are the ones who elect our leaders, especially parliamentarians who are in a position to act as well. We may not sit in these global, regional or national institutions, but policymakers such as parliamentarians are supposed to represent us. We can push the executive to move to that level of leadership and statesmanship. The only question is how much suffering can be tolerated before there is change truly happens. We should not turn our backs either.

Video “Against the Tide of Evil” 

You can also join this ongoing campaign: “We need to talk about Sudan”

Not just for geeks: digital technologies and social media for the prevention of mass atrocities

For a few years now, several agencies and NGOs have been doing research on the potential and downsides of technology for human rights purposes. The question is: how can new digital technologies and new media be used for social change and mass atrocity prevention, including to monitor and prevent human rights violations. These technologies can both high-tech, such as satellite imagery and mapping, and low-tech, such as smartphones and social media. Research on the use of new technologies has really emerged in the past couple of years, in part thanks to specific situations, including the Arab Spring or the genocide in Sudan in 2003, also known as the “first genocide of the digital age.”

The Institute (MIGS) I work for is one of several centres that has decided to study how social media and digital technologies can be used to prevent genocide and mass atrocity crimes by creating a Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab (@DMAP_Lab). Our aim is to look at various initiatives and new technologies that have already been used and at the potential of other technologies. Here are the main applications of technological advancements and innovations for mass atrocity and genocide prevention

– Gathering information and evidence using social media and cellphones to get information from communities at risk. New technologies such as satellite imagery have also proved effective.

– Manage and visualize information– Creating database where the large amount data is collected and then analyzed by teams of experts. Considering the complexity of the situation, being able to visualize patterns is essential.

– Direct prevention and intervention – The data cannot only be used as evidence of mass atrocities and genocide but can also be used to prevent atrocities by monitoring early warning signs of conflicts (monitoring hate speech on social media is particularly effective). Social media and cellphones can also be used to coordinate humanitarian interventions and to inform populations are risk of targeted abuses.

What follows are a set of case studies

  • Innovative Uses of Geospatial Technologies

As I said, the Darfur genocide in 2003-2004 is known as the first genocide of the digital age. Why? Twenty years ago, when the Rwanda genocide was taking place, several journalists on the ground were taking pictures. But printing and sending these pictures abroad took time. Imagine if not only journalists but also individuals like you and me had had smartphones and Twitter at the time? There would have been massive evidence of the killings. Would it have changed the decisions of the international community? We cannot say for sure but I think that the availability and accumulation of images may have pushed the general public to put pressure on their governments to act instead of being bystanders to genocide.

Fast forward to the Darfur genocide. In 2003, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) conducted an insurgency in Darfur. The Khartoum government responded by leading a brutal counter-insurgency campaign against the non-Arab tribes in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died as a result of these deliberate and indiscriminate attacks while millions were forced to flee their destroyed villages. After much tiptoeing, the international community decided to act. On March 19, 2004, Mukesh Kapila, the outspoken UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, described attacks against civilians were ‘close to ethnic cleansing.’ Pressured to speak out in the face of clear human rights violations, the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued statements. However, it took another three years the UN Security Council to mandate a full United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

In 2006 Amnesty International and the American Association for the Advancement of Science created Eyes on Darfur, a project that uses satellite technology and on-the-ground imagery to map and collect evidence of the atrocities. Funded by the Save Darfur Coalition, the project provided satellite imagery to document abuses and violence by showing before and after pictures of villages in Darfur. It was clear that people were being killed and driven out of the land. On the Internet, viewers could literally look at maps of destroyed villages, thereby raising public awareness and enabling action by private citizens and NGOs who could now put pressure on policy makers to act. Furthermore, high-resolution satellite imagery can be used by international courts. 

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Another major organization involved is the Satellite Sentinel Project, launched on December 2010, and which uses DigitalGlobe satellites passing over Sudan and South Sudan to capture imagery to detect: bombardment and attacks; village razings; early warning of attacks on civilians; and evidence of apparent mass graves and forced displacement. Their partners at the Enough Project then analyze the imagery in order to produce reports and put pressure on policymakers to act. SSP’s reports are available to everyone, from the general public to journalists, from policymaker to the International Criminal Court.

Satellite imagery and videos were also in Zimbabwe in 2005 to document forced evictions and demolitions under the government’s Operation Murambatsvina (“Restore Order”). Some 700,000 people were driven out of their land as the government destroyed farms, schools and other legal structures. Porta Farm, a settlement west of Harare, was completely destroyed and up to 20,000 residents were evicted. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights brought the case to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.

 The same geospatial technology was also used in Kyrgyzstan (2010), Lebanon (2006), Georgia (2008), and Pakistan (2005-2009) to allow viewers to visualize the extent of violence and human rights abuses committed in these regions.

 

  • Crisis mapping and crowd sourcing: Ushahidi, Crisis Mappers, and Standby Taskforce

In the aftermath of some of the violence and humanitarian crises, several organizations, largely volunteer based, started working on crisis mapping for humanitarian response. The objectives can vary: mapping and monitoring elections, mapping hate speech and human rights abuses, coordinating humanitarian responds and disaster preparedness. Organizations doing this kind of work include TechChange, Ushahidi, and the Standby Task Force (SBTF). Since their creation they have grown important organizations and communities helped by volunteers worldwide, including here at the Institute.

In 2013, TechChange teamed up with Ushahidi, a web based crisis mapping platform and tech company, to monitor the Kenyan elections. Developed in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, Ushahidi uses Crowdmapping to generate crisis maps. In 2013, the Uchaguzi project sought use crisis mapping technologies to promote transparency and accountability, free and fair elections, and thereby reduce risks of violence. How does it work? The system allows people to collect data from text messages, Twitter, and online reports, which are then geo-tagged. Once this vast array of information has been classified, monitors can then look for signs of hate speech, voter intimidation, poll fraud, or reports of violence.

In 2011, the Syria Tracker collaborated with entities such SBTF, Crisis Mappers and Ushahidi to map evidence of mass human rights abuses in Syria. The aim of this experimental project was to localize large military equipment, large crowds and checkpoints using high-resolution satellite imagery as well as reports. The idea of Syria Tracker is for experts to look at before and after pictures. Between March 18, 2011 and April 8, 2013 they managed to document 62,811 killings.

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  • Social Media: Monitoring and mapping hate speech

In 1998, MIGS started monitoring local government-owned and privately-owned news media (radio, television and newspaper) in at-risk countries to detect signs hate speech and risks of violence. Hate speech (based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender etc) is a widely recognized indicator of elevated risk of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and serious war crimes. The project is based on our knowledge of the Rwanda genocide: before and during the genocide, state-owned newspapers and radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines widely disseminated anti-Tutsi propaganda and incited violence against the “cockroaches” (Tutsi). Today, the destructive role of these Rwandan media has been widely acknowledged.

Social media have revolutionized how we directly communicate and share information. From the Arab spring we have learned that while they do not drive revolutions, social media can play key role during modern-day activism, including in terms of mobilization, coordination, empowerment and collection of evidence. With the rise and popularity of social media and digital communication, MIGS and other organizations started monitoring social media, including in Syria and during the Arab Spring, in order identify early warning signs of sectarian conflict or to monitor current conflict. These new media can be a great source of information and risk assessment if the data is contextualized and analyzed in the proper way. Recently, the Sentinel Project (and Mobiocracy) launched a new project called Hatebase, a database that sets out to be “the world’s largest online database of hate speech.” The project is of the project’s mandate to detect warning signs of ethnic violence in at-risk countries. The aim is to sight instances of hate speech (terms such as “cockroach”, for example) and to map their frequency, localization, migration and transformation. The project seeks to create “the world’s largest online database of hate speech.”

  • Limitations

Of course technology has its limitations. For example, satellite imagery is expensive and requires time and capacity. Real time human rights violations have never been captured by satellite, which limits our capacities to act in a timely manner. Social media are much less expensive and thanks to “as the “power of witness” and citizen journalism provide resourceful on-the-ground reports of abuses. However, it is always crucial to a) analyze source of Tweet or Facebook post and to question their reliability  (Youtube, for example, is full of hateful comment b) to have a deep knowledge of the context and the region, including of the linguistics when analyzing hate speech.

There are challenges in applying technology to complex societal problems such genocide. Each situation is different thus software and technology requires the right experts to analyze the data. Most importantly, the right human intent and the political will to act constitute the biggest part of the equation. Today, massive human rights abuses are still taking place in Sudan, Syria etc. Therefore, it is important to know that digital technology and social media are not a complete solution to mass atrocities. However, it is no longer possible for perpetrators to hide. The evidence is there and for everyone to see: as we become witness to mass atrocity crimes, the goal is now to mobilize leaders.   

However there is true potential in these new technologies. Open mapping technologies and social media analysis can complement to work of NGOS and government agencies. It is the combination of tools, warning factors and initiatives that will increase our potential to prevent or at least mitigate conflicts, mass atrocities and genocide.

President Obama’s Atrocity Prevention Board: one year later

In 2011, under Presidential Study Directive-10 (PSD–10), President Obama created the Atrocities Prevention Board. In his landmark speech, Mr. Obama recognized mass atrocity and genocide prevention as “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” Officially established in April 2012, the board was a major step in the improvement of the United States’ efforts to act “before the wood is stacked or the match is struck.” The creation of this board, particularly in the American context, constitutes a significant step towards the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide.

Last week, the White House published a factsheet summing up the purpose and record of the Board.  But while the creation of the Board must be saluted, one year later I have mixed feelings about the impact of the Board’s efforts as described here. The factsheet appears a little too self-congratulatory and fails to mention shortcoming 

  • The Board as an inter-agency Atrocities Prevention Board: too much bureaucracy?

What the factsheet reveals is that the Board, as an inter-agency body, has created a highly bureaucratic and technical framework responsible for improving our capacity to prevent mass atrocity crimes. Indeed, the body is composed of senior representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS), the Joint Staff, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Staff. According to its mandate, the Board “coordinates the development of new policies and tools (…) to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities.” Thus within the board’s agencies, new doctrines and tools have been created in the past year.  

But while the Board is responsible for coordinating and prioritizing efforts, could the accumulation of agencies, research and tools, as well as the highly bureaucratic, technical and technocratic character of the Board make timely action and decision-making actually more complex? Although I highly welcome the creation of the board, this is my fear in the long run. This week, I attended a presentation at the Canadian Parliament given by Dr. Mukesh Kapila, the former Head of the UN in Sudan who was abandoned by his peers as the Darfur genocide unfolded. Speaking to parliamentarians and deputies, Dr. Kapila rightfully argued that institutions have lost their human side, and that we have therefore also lost our capacity to hold individuals accountable when they fail to act. Where are the individuals behind the institutions, he asks? This is my fear with the prevention board: that it could be another set of faceless agencies, a complex bureaucratic system that manages problems but does not solve them. As Dr. Kapila argues, institutions, such as the UN, have gotten coward and need to be served by people again.

  •  Policies and tools: from creation to political will to act 

Over the past year, the Board’s individual agencies have undertaken research and created a number of tools and policies responsible for improving the U.S.’ capacity to prevent mass atrocities. These elements include new analytical frameworks, “alert channels”, recommendations about data collections, and best practice handbooks. This is important. Governments, policymakers, military personnel and civil servants should be given the appropriate tools and knowledge to prevent mass atrocities. But when time comes, these tools must also be used. It is one thing to create a set of early warning systems, alert channels or to use new technologies but it is another thing to act once the risk assessment has been made. Management is the minimum requirement, leadership and political will to act are the real tools.

  • Case studies: the good and the bad

The White House factsheet refers to specific cases in which is Board’s has been involved in the past year, including Burma, Kenya, central Africa, and Syria. Some of the more successful initiative include US and UN efforts to address the problem of armed groups in Central Africa, in particular the LRA and the M23 that are perpetrating atrocities. The United States (USAID and the State Department for example) has indeed contributed to peacekeeping capabilities and civilian protection in various ways.

But the picture is less positive elsewhere. According to the fact sheet, “the U.S. Government is playing an important ongoing role in supporting efforts to address violence and protect vulnerable communities” in Burma. But what is actually being done? Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch published a report clearly condemning ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in Burma: “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.” Reports of human rights violations committed against this Muslim minority have actually been emerging for months. Not only has the Burmese government failed to address these violations but local authorities have also stood by while these crimes were being committed. They are complicit in the violence because they stand by while abuses are being committed. Furthermore, the Burmese government’s attitude towards of Rohingya and other minorities, some of them portrayed as stateless people and illegal migrants, has encouraged and rationalized exclusionary practices and abuses. While Burma has made several efforts in terms of democracy, the world has been quick to lift sanctions in order to develop economic ties with Burma, thereby leaving human rights considerations aside. The US along with the European Union only expressed worries or urged the government to act on human rights issues but nothing else has been done. Just last week, new reports of sectarian violence in western Myanmar emerged again. Why is the Board not acting on these issues when the evidence is clearly there?

The Board’s record in Kenya and Central Africa is more positive. This year’s elections in Kenya were peaceful partly thanks to international efforts in voter education and mitigation of potential election violence. However, the major problem remains is that the elected president Uhuru Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in post-election violence five years ago. One of the Board’s mandate is to combat impunity and promote accountability but Kenyatta’s election throws a shadow over the board’s attempt to deny “impunity to those who commit atrocities, at home.

Finally what about Syria? It remains our biggest failure this year. The international community remains in complete deadlock, mostly because we have been waiting for so long. The Board seeks to “share the global burden, by strengthening multilateral institutions (…)” and states that the “United States is working to build the capacity of the United Nations for atrocity prevention (…).” Yet in Syria the regime is killing hundreds of people every week, especially children. There is no miracle solution now only one that may be less damaging than another. Syria is what happens when “we fail to act preventatively before violence is at full blaze.”

I highly welcome the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board and encourage other countries to do the same.  But we must also guarantee the board a) is governed by people, not of faceless agencies that manage problems instead of solving them, and cannot be accountable b) puts emphasis on successes and shortcomings in order to learn lessons.