News Round-Up

Liberia

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), a UN-backed court, has upheld the guilty verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In April 2012, the court’s trial chamber found Taylor guilty on eleven counts war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces in during the civil war in Sierra Leone, including murder, rape, terrorism and use of child soldiers. The civil war claimed more than 1991-2002.

This is a landmark ruling: Charles Taylor is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since the Nuremberg Trials. The UN Security Council welcomed the decision as  “an important step in bringing to justice those individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for such crimes, regardless of their official status.” Victims welcomed the decision as well but several Liberians, including the current opposition party, expressed sadness and sympathy for their former president. Some, like Taylor, may think that Taylor also called his trial a political conspiracy by western countries and by the current government of Liberia, to keep him out of the country.

The verdict finally brings an end to judicial proceedings in the case.

Sudan

Protests have been raging in Khartoum and across the country since the government lifted popular fuel subsidies, which doubled the price of fuel and other commodities. Protesters want the fall of the regime and attacked public buildings and fuel stations.

The army and the police fired tear gas and shot into the crowds of protesters in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, apparently aiming at the chest or head. The latest death toll figures vary between 21 and 140, depending on sources. Many protesters have also been arrested and access to the internet has also been cut, probably to prevent demonstrators to get organized. Sudan’s Information Minister Ahmed Bilal and government spokesperson described those who took the streets as outlaws, not peaceful protesters.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the African Center for Peace Studies called for an end to the violent repression: “Repression is not the answer to Sudan’s political and economic problems,” said Human Rights Watch.

Sudan’s fuel crisis began in 2011 and protests, when they happen, are getting bigger and fiercer each time.

Bashir Bashing – The Economist

Good blog post: Uprising in Sudan: What we know now

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Al Bashir is Persona Non Grata:

Last Sunday, Sudanese President Al-Bashir announced that he had applied for a visa to travel to the US in order to attend the UN General Assembly meeting last week. He even boasted that he secured his flights and hotel. Bashir is sought by the ICC for war crimes and genocide. Human rights agencies, civil society groups and the ICC were appalled by Bashir’s demand and urged the US to refuse him entry or to arrest him on arrival. A coalition of human rights groups even wrote a letter to the hotel association of New York asking its members to deny Bashir requests for accommodation.

Under international law, the U.S. would not have been able to refuse him a visa. According to the UN headquarters agreement act of 1947, the US is obligated to allow heads of states and representatives to attend meetings at the UN. This is unlike other organizations such as the African Union and the European Union do not allow the participation of government leaders and representatives that are considered illegitimate.

However, Sudan’s President cancelled the demand at the last minute. The U.S. and the U.N. avoided a major embarrassment and disgrace, especially since the US has no obligation to arrest Bashir since it is not party to the ICC Rome Statute. Perhaps the UN should review this treaty…

Bashir’s travel plans dilemmas have been in the media a lot in lately. Most recently, he travelled to Nigeria to attend African Union conference but public condemnation of his visit and demands by the ICC to arrest him led him to depart Nigeria abruptly.

South Sudan

Security forces have been accused of committing crimes against civilians in Pibor. The New York Times featured a set of pictures of the volatile region and the consequences of clashes between the Murle and the Lou Nuer ethnic group allegedly assistant by Sudan People’s Liberation Army (government troops).

Syria

The 15 members of the UN Security Council managed to agree on a resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons. 1) Syria has to abandon its chemical arsenal 2) weapons inspectors must be given free access to Syria’s military facilities. The members also agreed to endorse a plan for political transition. A peace conference is planned for mid-November.

However, the document does not mention who is to blame for the 21st sarin-gas attack and does not also mention what will happen if the Assad’s regime fails to get rid of its chemical arsenal? Many questions are left unanswered. The resolution continues to expose one of the problems with coercive diplomacy: how to negotiate with the Assad and his regime, knowing that he will stay in power. In terms of diplomacy, the Syrian crisis is certainly an extremely interesting case to follow: the outcome is unpredictable.

A few recent reads:

How to Dismantle a Chemical Bomb: Lessons for the United Nations in Syria – Amy Smithson

On Assad and chemical weapons “For the time being, the world must hope that this increasingly desperate man will not do even worse things than he already has.”

How to Safe Syrian – Michael Ignatieff

“The prize—successful control or confiscation of chemical weapons and an eventual cease-fire—is not merely an incalculable good for global security and for the lives of untold Syrians. It is the success we need in order to reinvigorate democratic faith in the capacity of the international community to protect civilians from tyrannical brutality.”

In the meantime, let’s not forget that people can be killed with conventional weapons as well. It happened on September 29.

United Nations General Assembly Meeting

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In his speech to the UN General Assembly, French President François Hollande underlined that the UN has a responsibility to: “Our credibility depends on our ability to intervene swiftly and effectively to enforce international law (…).” Hollande proposed the adoption of a code of conduct in the event of mass crimes through which the permanent members of the Security Council would collectively renounce their veto powers. The idea is not new but the context is different as the permanent members are debating military intervention and the problem of the legality of intervention. The Syrian civil war clearly exposed the weaknesses of the Security Council and the need for reform. How to find a balance between a country’s veto power and the need for the Security Council take urgent measures when faced with mass atrocity crimes. Since the veto power is here to stay, could Hollande’s proposition be a reform to consider? Perhaps. But a state would still only renounce its veto power if its interests are at stake.

If you want to know what heads of states and representatives have said, see here for the transcripts.

Remarks at Ministerial side event on “Prevention of Genocide: Divided Societies and Election-Related Violence” during the Opening of the UN General Assembly. Delivered by Simons Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Nigeria

In Nigeria, Boko Haram killed at least 40 students in their dorms last night. This is not the first school attack – another deadly one took place in July in Mamudo. Why schools? The name Boko Haram means “western education is forbidden” and their goal is to establish an Islamic state in Borno state, Northern Nigeria. Attacks against civilians and vigilante groups have increased ever since the government launched a military offensive against the rebel sect in mid-May. More than 3,600 people have been killed since the insurgency started and 30,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Although the government says the army has made progress against the rebels, this new attack is another sign of the threat posed by Islamist groups in countries such as Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya and Mali. They have also been targeting security forces, churches and mosques, politicians and a UN building. Some students have stopped attending school out of fear of being killed: “We no longer care about anything else except to live and see the next day” said one student. It seems like Boko Haram’s terror is having effects.

Despite Nigeria’s crackdown, Boko Haram continues its killing ways by Peter Tinti,

Is Nigeria’s get-tough approach working?

Boko Haram insurgency: The conflict in northern Nigeria crying out for more attention – and less violence – Ian Birell

“What is clear is that for the past four years Boko Haram has been talking the language of jihad and waging a vicious form of civil war against the Nigerian state.”

Kenya

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Of course there is a lot of news on Kenya. The massacre committed by Al-Shabaab at the Westgate commercial center, seen by many as a symbol of prosperity, signifies Kenya’s official entry in the club of countries currently fighting a war without borders. Kenya intervened in Somalia two years ago as part of the African Union mission in Somalia, AMISOM. While Kenya and its allies control Kismayo, Al-Shabaab is still strong in the interior of the country and use nationalism to turn the population against “foreign invaders.”

Observers this week were debating whether Al-Shabaab has grown weaker, as many thought before the attack in Nairobi. Based in Somalia, the group has established a links with armed groups in other African countries and the Arabic Peninsula, thereby extending their presence beyond Somalia, including in Kenya. Observers also question the goal of the attack. Since it attracted worldwide attention, the repercussions certainly go beyond Kenya.

A Wounded Leopard: Why al-Shabaab Attacked Kenya, R. Rotberg

“The attack on Nairobi shows how weak, how desperate, al-Shabaab has become. However the crisis in the mall is resolved, al-Shabaab has marked itself for destruction under the laws of war, intensifying its own vulnerability. Ahmed Abdi Godane, its unquestioned leader, may have needed the raid to improve his standing within al-Shabab and al-Qaeda. He recently purged competitors. But now he has made himself a target, along with others in the top ranks of his movement.”

Al-Shabaab and Twitter: When terror attack go digital  Terror 2.0: Kenya’s #Westgate and a New Face of Terrorism by Joshua Ramisch

“Other gunmen and bombers around the world have used the web to post their rants and suicide videos, but this explicit use of online terror is a worrying innovation.”

Burma

Finally a few updates on the situation in Burma, which is not improving.

Burma’s Rakhine clashes kill five as Thein Sein visits

For background on the situation, read this Q&A and this timeline. There’s not been a lot of international response but the U.S. embassy in Ragoon condemned the new sectarian violence against the Rohingya. President Thein Sein continues to remain silent and security services simply stand by.

Here’s a description of what is happening

“In Thabyuchaing, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Thandwe, more than 700 rioters, some swinging swords, took to the streets, police officer Kyaw Naing said. A 94-year-old Muslim woman died from stab wounds in the clashes that followed, the officer said, adding that between 70 and 80 houses were set on fire. Another officer, however, said only 19 homes were burned

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