Reading list of the week

A number of great articles and long-reads

– New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict

How can international actors, government and NGOs use new technologies to prevent conflict and violence. According to this research “the context should inform what kind of technology is needed and what kind of approach will work next.” As with any other program or approach, there is not one-size-fit-all solution and a failure to acknowledge the side-effects and risks of the technology can worsen the situation. The “do-no harm” theory works here as well. The technology must be integrated into existing civil society initiatives. “The increased horizontal spread of new technologies across societies has the potential to revolutionize these traditional systems by making more information available to more people”


– Central African Republic: U.N. Is Warned About Genocide Threat

There is been very little attention to the conflict in the Central African Republic but the UN office on the prevention of genocide that the country is at risks of genocide. In this now lawless and pretty much state-less country, armed groups incite Christians and Muslims to turn against each other – interreligious and inter-communal attacks have very much increased. According to a coalition of NGOs, new militias are forming in order to defend communities and counter-attack. What makes this even worse is the dire humanitarian situation caused by massive displacement and food shortages. Adama Dieng, the United Nations’ special adviser on the prevention of genocide, called for action on Friday.


– Syria

In Syria: What Chance to Stop the Slaughter? Kenneth Roth reflects on the impact of the chemical weapons deal, arguing that it should not be belittled, even though the Assad regime continues to kill people with conventional weapons (“(…) as Assad showed, chemical weapons are also different because of the extraordinary civilian toll they can exact”). The greatest impact, according to Roth, is a diplomatic one. From the beginning Russia and China used their veto power at the UN Security Council to “obstruct any significant effort to address the Syrian slaughter (…)”). The chemical weapons deal ended the stalemate and opened the door to focus on bringing humanitarian help to Syrians, an opportunity that the UN should urgently grab the opportunity now.

Roth then considers several ways to prevent further mass atrocities: the Geneva Talks II? The ICC? More condemnation of Russia? What is certain is that things can get worth. The responsibility to take action not only lies on the shoulders of the five permanent members of the Security Council but also on emerging or middle powers such as India, Brazil, and South Africa. “The chemical weapons deal represents the best opportunity since the war began to forge a unified international front to stop the slaughter in Syria. But that will happen only with a much more focused and consistent international effort—by both the West and others—to press Russia to live up to its responsibility to protect the people of Syria.”

 Insight: Starvation in Syria: a war tactic: The first sentence pretty much sums it all: “One Syrian security official called it the “Starvation Until Submission Campaign”, blocking food and medicine from entering and people from leaving besieged areas of Syria.” Aid deliveries are being blocked in several besieged areas and over one million refugees are affected, according to the UN. Furthermore, according to civilians, “farmers are targeted as they try to harvest their crop in an open field.” Deliberate starvation is a war crime, according to international law and there is been international pressure on the Syrian authorities to let aid agencies have access to these areas. However, Russia and China have vetoed condemnations of Assad and therefore referral of the case to the ICC. According to the journalist, “hunger has become so endemic that locals say they eat leaves and grass.” It is one thing to get a chemical weapons deal but deliberate starvation is a conventional, old-aged and easily used weapon of war as well.

It was also officially announced last week that polio had broken out in Syria, the polio outbreak in the country in 14 years.  Humanitarian access is poor or inexistent in many areas, especially those under military blockade. The shortage of food and medicine will make the situation even worse. According to experts, and to the Assad regime, the disease may have transmitted by foreign jihadists. In order to prevent an epidemic, the UN must focus on humanitarian aid (“36% of the aid for Syrians inside the country has been collected”). But the Assad regime must also understand that restricting access to humanitarian aid in rebel-controlled neighborhoods will not prevent infectious diseases from spreading to other areas. Epidemics don’t make a difference between friends and enemies.

Radicalization in Syria poses growing threat to Europe, says Turkish leader: In this interview Turkish President Abdullah Gul reflects on the consequences of the conflict in Syria beyond the country’s borders, including in Turkey. Not only is he worried about the spread of violence and the number of refugees (500,000 right now in Turkey alone), but also about the spread of infectious diseases such as polio and TB. One of the main arguments of why we should prevent or halt conflicts and mass atrocities even in “far away” countries is exactly that: we live in a global world where conflicts will have consequences beyond borders. If the moral argument doesn’t (which rarely does), then think about the consequences for your own people.

Gul also raises the right questions about Assad’s use of chemical weapons: “But was it just the chemical weapons? Do we reduce the whole thing to chemical weapons?” He is heavily critical of the international community’s failure in regard to Syria and described the UN Security’s performance as a “disgrace”. Finally he is pessimistic about Syria’s future “The country is destroyed … There really isn’t in my opinion much that can be done now.”


– Preventing Mass Atrocities: Resilient Societies, State Capacity, and Structural Reform

At the 54th Annual Strategy for Peace Conference (October 16–18), the Stanley Foundation brought together 30 diplomats, mass-atrocity experts, and international civil society representatives to achieve resilience to mass atrocities. They concluded that preventive actions are not only the responsibility of the state but also that of the international community, which must support a country’s efforts to develop its capacities to prevent violence.

Based on the discussions, here are the main guidelines for preventive action against mass atrocities:

International actors should identify opportunities for common collaboration with local groups and build from there.

Preventive action is dynamic, not static: To adapt to the quick evolution of mass  violence, international actors should integrate preventive action across varied sectors and  throughout different stages of mass violence.

Anticipate unintended consequences: International actors should be aware that in some cases they will work with and alongside former perpetrators to build preventive resilience. To mitigate hazards, preventive action should define clear boundaries between positive incentives and unconditional support.


–  Louise Arbour on conflict and peace: Doctrine derailed?

The International Crisis Group’s President & CEO Louise Arbour spoke at the opening of the Global Briefing 2013 (Video) She reflected at the past, present and future of internationalism by looking at the state of international criminal justice, peacekeeping missions, the Responsibility to Protect, and the international promotion of the Rule of Law. She gives a realistic and rather “pessimistic” view of the current state conflict management and mass atrocity prevention. Nonetheless, Arbour underlines that “ (…) it is only by acknowledging the inadequacies of our approaches that we have any chance of improving them” and therefore to advance peace and security


– New report on Piracy: a sophisticated financial system

“Pirate Trails: Tracking the Illicit Financial Flows from Piracy off the Horn of Africa” is reveals how profits are used to fund terrorism. After interviewing current and former pirates, middlemen, financial backers and government official the World Bank, the UN and Interpol is a comprehensive research put together this comprehensive report on the dangerous, murky but sophisticated world of piracy. Kenya, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates are the main transit points and final destinations. Most worryingly, a third of pirate financiers use profit made from piracy to gain political influence, set up militias or help religious extremists, including Al-Shabab and Al-Qaida.

“It is estimated that  more than  US$400 million was claimed in ransoms for pirate acts between April 2005 and December 2012 and  179 ships were hijacked off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa during that time.”


– How good are Goodwill Ambassadors?

The article offers a balanced view of the debates around good will ambassadors, often referred to as “celebrity humanitarianism.” While many may cringe at the view of people like Madonna, Bono, Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie visiting a refugee camps in “khaki-clad” entire, they sure bring a lot of attention to a country or a cause from those who do not usually look that way. The article highlights the benefits for humanitarian agencies and NGOs but also shows that using celebrities to draw attention to complex issues contains numerous risks: misrepresentation, simplification and condescendence (West must safe Africa). UN agencies and NGOs now understand the issues better and rely on “star-power” only when they know that it will be long-term and deep investment. Move aside Christina Aguilera and Miley, met George Clooney (The Sentinel Project) and Angelina Jolie (UNHCR) to the job.



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