Links round-up

Reporting on African conflicts

In “In defence of western journalists in Africa” Michela Wrong defends journalists against those (usually academics) who are quick to criticize the way they report on a conflict, especially in Africa. I think it is pretty well argued. Journalists are not academics and do not pretend to be. They write for a very different, in a different environment, under different restrictions, and for much larger audience.

“More fundamentally, the writers seem to have lost sight of the definition of news, which aims to convey distant events to a non-specialist audience as succinctly as possible. That’s a lot easier to say than do.”

To academics who complain that journalists aren’t more “like them”, presenting the complexity of conflicts in 20 page articles, she answers “We don’t have time, we don’t have space, and anyway, that’s why you guys exist, remember?”

On the same topic: “South Sudan: are western journalists getting it wrong?”, Sterling Carter, The Guardian

 

Clinton Documents reveal more on US response to Rwandan genocide

The Clinton Presidential Library released new documents shedding light on the Administration’s response to the Rwandan genocide. The memo offers various responses to potential criticism of the US’ lack of response to the Rwandan genocide. The Guardian explains the background story behind the memos.

 

 America’s most dubious allies

Politico Magazine has an interesting long piece up its website “America’s 25 Most Awkward Allies” which stems from a phrase uttered by Susan Rice ““Let’s be honest,” she said, “at times … we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear.” The Obama Administration made it clear from the beginning that it would privilege quite diplomacy to silence or confrontation. The magazine has therefor put together a list of America’s most dubious allies with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia making it on the top of the list. Of course there is also Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar but also on the list are lesser-known relationships with Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Obama was also the first president to visit countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.

One of the interesting analysis is the relationship between the US and Rwandan president Paul Kagame. He has been a donor darling ever since he came to power, who commanded the RPF rebel forces during the 1994 genocide. The West, who certainly has reasons to feel guilty about not intervening during massacres, has responded by hailing Kagame as a visionary leader and commending him for allowing Rwanda to start recovering from the genocide in quite a remarkable way. Compared to its neighbours, Rwanda has taken quite an impressive economic and political turn. At the same time, Kagame’s fans are quick to forget that the Rwandan military killed civilians in the DRC and is still providing help to rebel groups, making the Congo one of most dramatic humanitarian crisis today. Kagame will also not hesitate to get rid of his opponents and dissidents in the most brutal ways. He is even very open about it: “betraying Rwanda brings consequences”, he says. He is a dictator but the West keeps portraying him as a progressive leader. As Condoleezza Rice (Former United States Secretary of State) apparently once said “The only thing we have to do is look the other way.” I wonder how long it will last but Kagame is certainly not leaving anytime soon.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo from the perspective of an Ambassador

The United States Institute for Peace hosted Ambassador Roger Meece who shared his perspectives on the DRC, a country that has experienced violent conflict and humanitarian crisis for two decades. As the former head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) Meece is in a good position to comment. In this presentation and Q&A, he shares his view on the conflict, the challenges, the regional implications, the UN’s engagement, and what lies ahead for the country.

 

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 Where to with the Responsibility to Protect?

In “R2P: A Norm of the Past or Future?”, Simon Adams, the director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reflects on the normative acceptance of R2P and the future of the doctrine. Adams acknowledges that the norm remains controversial and sometimes misunderstood. Some see it as an excuse to change a regime or “colonize” a territory, others regard the intervention in Libya and lack of intervention in Syria as a failure of R2P, and yet another group believes that the doctrine is “the fastest developing international norm in history” (emphasis on developing). What it is clear that “the circumstances that gave rise to the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 UN World Summit” have not ceased to exist. Contrary to what many might believe, there is growing acceptance for R2P: four UN Security Council Presidential Statements, more invocations in resolutions since 2011, and 30 countries have now adopted R2P Focal Points. Adams is good at reminding us that it takes time for norms such as R2P to be accepted, for sovereignty not to be seen not only as a right but as a responsibility. He reminds us that it took time to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and there are still challenges 60 years later. “The Responsibility to Protect, like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is still only as strong as the determination of the international community to uphold its principles. We cannot let future normative progress be a prisoner of the past.”

 

African Solutions to African Problems

In Long road to an African rapid reaction force, IRIN looks at the African Union’s idea to create creation of a military capable of rapidly deploying to African countries experiencing crisis. “African solutions to African problems,” as one would say. The idea of an African Capacity for Immediate Responses to Crises (ACIRC) came a response to lack of progress made on the creation of the African Standby Force (ASF), which should have been set up by 2010 but was pushed back to 2015. It also came as a response to the fact that France has had to intervene in Mali and in the African Republic to support African troops already on the ground. African states see this as a humiliation. Yet the creation of the ACIRC is very challenging. South Africa and Algeria are all for it but Nigeria, another big power on the continent, isn’t exactly an active supporter. Then there is also the problem of meddling and partisanship (Chad supporting Seleka in CAR? Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC? Uganda’s involved in South Sudan). However, there is hope. In 2013, 75,000 African peacekeepers took part in UN and African missions. What is needed is leadership, organization, coordination and cooperation among the members of the AU.

For another article on the subject: “Africa can solve its own problems with proper planning and full implementation of the African Standby Force” – Institute for Security Studies

 

The end of “Zurückhaltung”?

Has German foreign policy reached a turning point? Is the country finally ready to leave behind its “culture of restraint”? It certainly seems to be the case. At the Munich Conference last week Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck pronounced an eloquent speech about Germany’s responsibility. Not responsibility for past wrongs but responsibility to stop standing on the sidelines on world issues. For Gauck it is time to move past the “genocide-guilt” and adopt a more robust foreign policy.

This is likely to please Berlin’s partners. European neighbors and the US have been critical of Germany’s poor record in global security and crisis management. Some even claim that Berlin uses the “Nazi past” argument as an excuse not to get involved militarily. It certainly shaped Germany’s decisions on foreign deployments. But as an economic powerhouse in a polyphone Europe, Germany is now expected to do a lot more. Military engagement under Merkel is low and Germany seemed to have no security and foreign policy strategy. While German troops are stationed in Afghanistan and the Balkans, Berlin did not vote on the intervention in Libya and barely contributes to the mission in Mali, leaving crisis-ridden France do the dirty work.

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Most of Berlin’s political class now seems to acknowledge that Germany’s return among the concert of powers must be complemented with more international engagement. Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen told Der Spiegel that given Germany’s capacity and resources, it has the responsibility and obligation to be a bigger player in global crises. “Indifference is not an option,” she said, and announced that Germany plans to send more soldiers to Mali and to the up-coming EU mission in the Central African Republic.

Similarly, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasized that while economic interests and foreign trade are important, it is in the national and moral interest of Germany to engage in other spheres too, especially in security and defense. Like Gauck, he mentioned the principle of the “Responsibility to Protect”, a term that many governments and politicians are reluctant to utter.

Nonetheless, this new rhetoric will not lead to a full revolution in German engagement abroad. Gauck, Steinmeier and von der Leyen made it clear that Germany would never act alone. Responsibility is not simply responsibility to act but also responsibility to abstain, they say. Berlin will continue to rely on multilateralism and partnerships, share military capacities and expertise with its partners, in particular the European Union and NATO. Germany is not ready to be a foreign policy leader yet.

More importantly: what do Germans think? For historic reasons, the question of German military engagement is an old national debate and it is not going away soon. While the political class may more or less agree with Gauck, the German public is a lot more reluctant to see their country commit militarily. Indeed, a new poll suggests that while most of them want Germany to be more engaged internationally, 75% are against military deployments and argue that they are is already doing enough. Skepticism and self-doubt (and fear) remain widespread. Yet, key to mobilizing international support is mobilizing domestic support. Knowing this, would politicians have the courage to move beyond their self-interest and short-term political calculations when the decision must be taken to intervene? Will Gauck’s eloquent rhetoric be translated into action?

Fortunately, Gauck seems to be aware of this. He suggested that municipal and state levels of government, churches, union and parties initiate discussions with civil society in order to define what Germans want – or persuade them that, in a globalized world, it is in their national and moral interests to occasionally contribute to foreign deployments. This is smart. Foreign policy discussions should not be left to the political elite but discussed among Germans. Ultimately, Germans must define their foreign policy values and interests, whether or not they have the courage and will to assume more responsibilities.

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Update and interesting reads

I great lack of update on my part. I have been writing but in French! I’ll post a new piece soon

In the meantime, here are some interested links

Responsibility to Protect:

“Into the Eleventh Hour: R2P, Syria and Humanitarianism

Here is a series of article on R2P and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.It brings together some of the most important voices on R2P and humanitarian intervention to examine the doctrine’s validity in the context of Syria’s civil war and humanitarian emergency. Does the Responsibility to Protect have a future?

Also on the same subject “The Responsibility to Protect and the Use of Force in Syria” written by Eamon Aloyo from The Hague Institute

Finally, in “R2P4: The Unsung Fourth Element of Humanitarian Intervention” Mark Lagon calls for a fourth pillar for R2P: ”

“So actually, rather than too much focus on Pillar 3 in place of Pillar 2, what is truly being neglected is an as yet unmentioned “Pillar 4.” If R2P is such a solemn norm, to save the livelihoods of targets of atrocities, then Pillar 4 would represent unilateral or, better, collective action when the Security Council’s approval is not forthcoming.”

The idea of Pillar4 is certainly controversial.

Syria

A lot is being written about Syria, torture committed in Syrian prisons, and Geneva II. But at the end of the day, this is what we have come to: “The politics of starvation: Syria’s civilians go hungry after months of sieges”. Eating rats, dogs, and cats to survive. All Syrians there want is peace and food.

Central African Republic

Civilians in CAR are facing extreme violence at the moment. The images are daunting and remind me the Rwandan genocide. Although the French have sent troops to help African troops, the task is enormous and more help is needed. The European Union will sent in peacekeepers as well but, as always, it is taking a long time. Only 10% of the humanitarian aid has been funded. The African Union, whose members have not shown the capacity to appease tensions, have also discussed establishing a Standby Force. But what is needed is a UN mission – something the new interim president of CAR has also requested. Why is action always so slow?

Human Rights Watch’s researcher Peter Bouckaert is doing an incredible job reporting on the situation and documenting crimes committed by both sides. You can follow him on Twitter or see his Twitter live feed for real time news. Also read his latest report “Riptide in the Central African Republic”. Also published in Foreign Policy, the article is fittingly titled on the main page as “The war nobody wants to see”.

I’m very much admirative of the work these humanitarians and activists are doing on the ground. They are simply reporting and documenting mass atrocity crimes, they also try to speak to those who want or have committed violence in attempt to appease them.

Aid Leap and Irinnews  offer overviews and analyses of the conflict

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Peter Bouckaert in CAR

Occasionally, you’ll read something more positive about the situation there and those who are trying to make a difference. This is the case of two men, one Muslim, one Christian, who are trying to appease their respective communities. Christiana Amanpour managed to interview them for CNN. They want to emphasize that the conflict in itself is not religious but that religion is being use to fuel violence. “In my childhood at the time of the Christmas holidays, we shared our toys with Muslim friends. At the time of Ramadan, we played. In the past we have never been enemies. We were brothers.”

South Sudan

There was hope when South Sudan acquired independence in 2011 but the upsurge of violence in December proves how difficult it is to build a new nation. The two conflicting parties are holding peace talks but are also accusing each other of trying to derail them. New satellite images by U.S.-based monitoring group, the Satellite Sentinel Project, suggest that at least 210 tukuls (houses) have been burned down in  Malaka, a town the rebels and soldiers are fighting over. Pillage is  widespread as well – the World Food Program’s warehouses have been completely looted, which hinders their efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the 863,000 South Sudanese who have fled their homes.

Want to see a timeline of the conflict in South Sudan? Read it this one put together by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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Rwanda

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Commemorations have already started. People reflect on the inaction of the international community, on lessons learned, and on the effectiveness of reconciliation efforts in Rwanda.

– Foreign Policy Magazine “How Tradition Remade Rwanda. The secret ingredient in Rwanda’s efforts to rebuild its nation after the violence of genocide.”

– Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Open Letter to All UN Member States “The ‘Genocide Fax’ and the 20th Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994”

– Videos and reports from conference Genocide – A preventable crimes. Understanding early warning of mass atrocities
On 14 January, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect organized two event at the United Nations with Lt. Gen. The Hon. Roméo A. Dallaire and H.E. Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda. The press conference marked the anniversary of Dallaire’s sending a fax warning of the impending threat of a genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi population of Rwanda. Policymakers then refused to listen.

On 15 January, Roméo Dallaire then delivered a keynote speech at the UN. Also present on the panel were  Dr. Simon Adams, H.E. Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States,  Mr. Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Eugenie Mukeshimana, Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, and Dr. Stephen Smith, Kwibuka and Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation.

An interesting point that also came out of the conference is Romeo Dallaire idea that the recruitment of child soldiers can be used a a warning sign of internal warfare. Militia men who want to build-up an army focus on children because they are easy to recruited or kidnapped, cheap, easily influenced or subdued. In short, children are used a weapons of war.

Myanmar/Burma

There has been more violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The government denies the allegations. The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention published a new article on the systematic violence and patterns of ethnic cleansing.

Some History: Heinrich Himmler

If you are interested in the Holocaust, German newspaper Die Welt is published recently discovered letters and diaries written by Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the German Police and the Reich’s Commissioner for the “Festigung des deutschen Volkstums” (Consolidation oft he German Race). The material offers a view of the man who is responsible for the death of millions of Jews. This article is in English but for German speakers Die Welt is also publishing the material on a daily basis. An incredible and daunting view of one of the man behind the Holocaust.

Reading list – News round up

United Nations

–  Trends in Uniformed Contributions to UN Peacekeeping: A New Dataset, 1991–2012

A very interesting project by the International Peace Institute. Since the creation of the United Nations, peace operations have been one of the body’s integral components: sixty-seven operations in forty-two countries. Thanks to UN members’ investment in human capital and resources, there is evidence that peacekeeping operations have had a positive impact on the prevention or resumption of conflict. However, not a lot of data has been made available to researchers. In order to fill this gap, the International Peace Institute has therefore developed a Peacekeeping Database. One the focus of the database is to analyze the factors that encourage or discourage states from contributing to UN peacekeeping operations and to look at contribution patterns among regions (such as number and type of personnel), and over certain periods. The IPI wants to disseminate the results of the research and data based in order to improve the capacity of troop- and police-contributing countries. The database will be updated on a monthly basis. What is interesting to look at is geographic disaggregation over the years and whether personnel contributions are being shared more equally or less equally.

– Defying the UN Security Council: Last week, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Lithuania, Chad and Chile were elected to nonpermanent seats at the UN Security Council. However, in a astonishing diplomatic move Saudi Arabia declined the offer, citing the UN’s failure to face its responsibilities, especially in Syria and Palestine: “Work mechanisms and double-standards on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace”. Saudi Arabia’s Civil Disobedience at the United Nations analyzes and speculates on the short-term and long-term implications for the UN. The author suggests that, in the future, this kind of diplomatic move may be used by member states who want to put pressure on the UN to reform the structure of the Security Council

 

Syria

Three interesting analyses of the current situation in Syria. “The Four Things We Know About How Civil Wars End (and What This Tells Us About Syria)” analyzes the war from a theoretical point of view, or rather from our experiences of civil wars in general, and concludes that the chances of a negotiated agreement are null.

“The Syrian War in three capitals” end on a more positive note and looks at the war from three different angles (four even if you count Damascus): Teheran, Washington, Moscow. Looking at the interests and strategies of these three capitals, Marc Pierini argues that their best option is the diplomatic avenue.

Syria’ s entry into the chemical weapon conventions and the regime’s agreement to remove chemical weapons has allowed Assad to stay in power – at least for now. In Tracking the “Arab Spring”: Syria and the Future of Authoritarianism Steve Heydemann of Georgetown and the U.S. Institute of Peace analyze the regime’s capacity to adapt to the challenges, including by crushing protest from the start (unlike Egypt and Tunisia). According to the authors, Assad regime had to “reconfigure its social base, tighten its dependency on global authoritarian networks, adapt is modes of economic governance, and restructure its military and security apparatus.” More grimly, they state that “What seems more plausible is that the repressive and corrupt authoritarian regime that entered civil war in 2011 will emerge from it as an even more brutal, narrowly sectarian, and militarized version of its former self,” he writes. The article goes further by analyzing the way other governments in the region have responded to the Arab Spring or the threat of uprisings.

 

Somalia

The World Peace Foundation is going to run a number of article on patterns of violence in Somalia. In “Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Turn of 1991 (2013)” , Lidwien Kapteijns looks at the divisive policies of the Barre regime and the resulting clan-based violence against civilians between 1978-1992, and identifies 1991 as a key shift in the history of Somalia . For the first time, politico-military leaders purposely incited civilians to become perpetrators which had the effect to make clan-affiliation much stronger. According to Kapteijns, clan cleansing is widely denied, which undermines state building. As she rightly states “recent work in the fields of new genocide studies and the anthropology of violence have shown that silences, misrepresentations, and denials have been an integral part of acts and campaigns of genocide and ethnic cleansing.” The solution, Kapteijns argues, is to engage with the past and encourage a dialog on the clan cleansing violence.

 

Advancing the Responsibility to Protect

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Cardozo School of Law s-worked together on a report that seeks to advance the Responsibility to Protect. “A Common Standard for Applying the Responsibility to Protect”

– Addresses the need to systematically develop a common standard against which relevant actors can assess information in relation to potential mass atrocities and R2P;

– Develops guiding principles for the application of the standard;

– Assesses the benefits of, and challenges to, adopting a common standard.

 

The dilemma of engaging with armed group

Engaging armed groups: challenging preconceptions and expanding options

“You can’t make peace without talking to those doing the fighting” but engaging with non-state armed groups is complex. The parties in the conflict have contradictory motives and objectives. The article is based on the premise that governments often lack expertise and tools on how to engage with armed groups. When it comes to choosing options, governments need to look at conflict dynamics, potential obstacles, at the objectives of armed groups, and the role outside local and international actors could play.  Teresa Dumasy offers a balanced reflection on the complexity of engaging with armed groups and the need to broaden the range of options available. More importantly I think, Dumasy also underlines the need for good practice guide.

 

Gender and Conflict

The World Peace Foundation will release occasional paper on Gender, Conflict, and Peace. In the first paper, Dyan Mazurana and Keith Proctor provide a useful summary of the literature on the subject. More specifically they focus on five major themes:

– Culturally-inscribed notions of gender as an analytical framework for understanding conflict-related violence 

– How experiences of conflict and levels of vulnerability vary according to gender.

– Gender and non-violent resistance

– Looking at gender and peace in order to understand how local groups can influence national agendas and to promote a bottom-up approach to peace.

– Gender and transitional justice: transitional justice programs consistently fail to incorporate women and girls’ specific needs.

 On the same subject, Women Under Siege suggests “10 must-read books on sexualized violence in war”. You’ll find case studies (the Balkans, Vietnam, Romania, Nanking), analyses of the causes, consequences, and responses to sexualized violence in wartime, and policy recommendations. I would also add “Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and Beyond” by Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern.

Fifth annual report on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P): shining a light on local and national actors

As we sit and wait for world leaders to take a decision on the Syrian conflict (while Syrians are dying and suffering), I am reminded of the “international community’s incapacity to learn and listen. Listen because civil society groups, NGOs, think tanks and many others have been pushing for some type of intervention for two years now. Learn because world leaders always act when it is too late or too complicated to intervene. Once it is too late, we send the military in without finding a proper solution to the root causes of the conflict. The longer a conflict lasts the greater the difficulty and cost to act. Remember what the “Responsibility to Protect” states: if a state fails to protect its citizens, the international community should act in a “timely and decisive manner.” That is still something it is failing at.

In July, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon published his fifth annual report on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) called “R2P: State responsibility and prevention” (official publication next week). In his introduction, the Secretary General explains the main focus and argument of the report: 1) prevention of mass atrocities 2) the main responsibility for mass atrocity prevention lies in the hands of the State.

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 To put the report together the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect held a consultation process with UN member states, regional and sub-regional organizations, and civil society. They were invited to submit their views on progress made in terms of mass atrocity prevention, lessons learned from their own experience as well as challenges faced implementing these measures. In the end, 27 member states, one regional organization and 27 civil society organizations sent written submissions, and consultations were held with more than 120 members states.

Having had the luck to take part to meetings on this consultation process, I know that the Office’s main challenge was to find enough examples of lessons learned and to involve local civil society groups (this was a language issue). R2P is still an emerging norm and states are still in the process of creating or implementing prevention measures. Furthermore, the results of these policies and activities are unlikely to have immediate effects. Nonetheless, the consultation exercise provided important example of emerging mass atrocity prevention policies. 

Interestingly, the report starts by presenting a list of risk factors related to atrocity crimes. In doing so, the Secretary General emphasizes that no country is safe from mass atrocity crimes – preventing these crimes both at home and abroad is therefore everybody’s and every state’s responsibility. Particularly at risks, are states that have a history of discrimination, identity politics and/or deliberate exclusion. The absence of structures and laws designed to protect civilians, the presence of militias or a permissive environment increase these risks. But, nonetheless “No State can consider itself immune to the risk of atrocity crimes.” It is therefore wise of the report to provide examples of policy measures implemented in Australia, Portugal, Canada, France, Mexico, and Denmark.

At the heart of the Secretary General’s report lies the idea that because states have a responsibility to prevent mass atrocity crimes, they must build “societies that are resilient to atrocity crimes.” This focus on the state is smart because it corrects the misconception that R2P infringes on state sovereignty. Instead, the report clearly explains that creating an environment of resilience to mass atrocities reinforces State sovereignty and increases prospects for peace. Sovereignty is a right and a responsibility, and the best way to protect that cherished sovereignty is to respect the rights and lives of those who reside in the country.

In terms of policy measures, the report differentiates between structural and operational policy options. Structural policies are implemented to create an environment of resilience by addressing grievance and atrocity crimes (operational measures seek to mitigate tensions, halt imminent or ongoing crimes). These early preventive measures are interesting because they emphasize the need to get rid of sources of grievances before they create real tensions or escalate into violence. Among the policies cited are:

–       Constitutional protections;

–       Democracy (democratic electoral processes, political pluralism etc); National accountability mechanisms such as a fair and equal justice systems);

–       Security Sector reform (a legitimate and professional security sector);

–       Measures that address actual or perceived (economic) inequalities.

The emphasis is therefore on strong and legitimate national institutions and infrastructures that promote and guarantee human rights. Inclusive and accountable national infrastructures combined with specific national policies and measures are seen as the best ways to develop state resilience to mass atrocity crimes. 

One of the most interesting points of the report in the emphasis on the need for the creation of national or regional committees, parliamentary groups, or focal points that focus on atrocity prevention. Focal points and committees help coordinate national efforts to implement atrocity prevention strategies. Because these committees exist at local/national/regional level they are adapted to the local context. Indeed, while the responsibility to protect is a universal norm, there is no one-size-fits-all model for prevention policies. It depends on the country’s history, culture, demographics, etc. National and local actors are the ones who know what is needed.

The second appealing aspect of focal points or national committees is that they can include a variety of actors. Mass atrocity prevention and R2P are about national and internal actors first and should therefore encourage the participation of legislators, government officials, local NGOs and civil society groups. The best way to come up with policy and strategies that are adapted to the local and nation context is to create focal points that are inclusive and participatory.

Such focal points and regional committees already exist in Denmark, Ghana, Costa Rica, Canada, Kenya, the U.S. and Tanzania, among others. There have also been efforts to establish networks between focal points and committees so that states can share experiences and get an idea of the wide-ranging of existing initiatives available to them. This is crucial because even if policy measures are context-specific, policymakers can learn from countries where prevention measures have been successful. Such networks can create a “database” of policy options.

 Next week, the Deputy-Secretary-General, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and member state panellists, and civil society groups will convene in New York to discuss the report’s findings and national actions to strengthen government capacity to prevent mass atrocity crimes. Considering the present situation in Syria and our incapacity to learn from mistakes, one could question the need for such meetings. However, this is what makes the new report appealing: we should not wait and simply rely on external actors but on local and national ones. Considering the failure of the international community to act in a pro-active manner, starting the local and national level seems to be a more effective path to follow.

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These are dark time

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I saw the images and videos soon after the first reports came out. The images are surreal because the victims, a lot of them children, are either already dead or suffering – but there is no blood. People are trying to revive them by throwing water on the victims’ faces yet nothing seems to help. Some of the children just seem delusional or puppet-like.

 Syrian opposition group claims that a chemical attack has killed as many as 1,300 people in government rocket strike that hit Damascus suburbs. The Assad government denies that allegations calling the rebels’ claim a ‘disillusioned and fabricated one whose objective is to deviate and mislead’ the UN mission (A UN team is currently in Syria to investigate the use of poison gas by both the Assad government and the rebels). However, if proven trues the chemical attack would not only be the worst chemical in this civil war but also since 1988 when Saddam Husein launched a chemical-weapon attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. The Assad government has chemical weapons and has been suspected of using them before, though to a limited extent. This time, it seems very different.

 Though most world leaders condemned the attack they failed to act and, for now, have only called for an investigation. The European Union urged the government to give the UN full access to all sites and reminded that the use of chemical weapons is “unacceptable.” The French government adopted a firmer stand. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that, if proven true, the attack would be “an unprecedented atrocity”. Today he added that outside powers should respond “with force” if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed. He nonetheless ruled out sending troops on the ground and failed to say what “force” means. British Foreign Secretary William Hague meanwhile hopes that the massacre “will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime to realize its murderous and barbaric nature.”

Statements of the U.S. were rather bland, simply stating deep or grave concern. A year ago President Obama said that the US would respond forcefully to any chemical weapons use. However, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the side the U.S. chooses “must promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.” Obama is against any costly intervention in Syria, especially since the rebels do not represent Washington’s interests. Brushing off a question about his so-called “red line”, Obama said in an interview that, as the biggest power, it does “does not mean that we (the U.S.) have to get involved with everything immediately. We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests.” I “like” the “we have to get involved with everything immediately” considering the conflict has already lasted two years…Nothing can be expected from the White House.

There was not much from the United Nations Security Council because members failed to agree on a common statement. While Security Council members are seeking “clarity” on the opposition’s claims, China and especially Russia, Assad’s strongest supporter, opposed a strong and formal statement. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared more willing to condemn the attack describing reports of the chemical attack as “very alarming and shocking.” He warned the Syrian regime that, if proven true, “such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”

The Arab League called on UN inspectors currently on the ground to investigate reports. Saudi Arabia in particular urged the UN Security Council to “assume responsibility… By convening immediately to reach a clear deterrent decision that ends the humanitarian tragedy.” Turkey criticized the UN’s reaction stating that “all red lines have been crossed but still the U.N. Security Council has not even been able to take a decision. This is a responsibility for the sides who still set these red lines and for all of us.” Turkey has been supporting the rebels in Syria for some time and says the “use of chemical weapons in Syria is evident from the footage coming from there.”

The Assad regime seems to be playing with the “international community.” Why would it launch a chemical-weapon attack when UN inspectors are in the country? Does the regime want to show what it is capable of while the UN Security Council cannot even agree on a common statement? Assad is testing the West, showing that he has more than one trick up his sleeve. In recent weeks, successes and advances against the rebels have boosted his confidence. The Obama administration remains unwilling to act and ignores the “red line.” While the chemical attack will be a test for Washington, I doubt it will a game change. The White House’s strategy since the beginning of the conflict has been passivity. France, the UK and Turkey may take small steps but how much can they actually do?

In any case, western governments are responsible of failing to act. Whether this is a chemical weapon attack or not, too many people have already died.

Reading list of the week

Al-Bashir visits Nigeria: all eyes on Nigeria

“Controversy Trails Al-Bashir’s Visit To Nigeria” – The Guardian Nigeria

Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir is visiting Nigeria for the AU summit on AIDS. Human rights groups, including the Coalition for the ICC, urged Nigeria to arrest Al-Bashir who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Human Rights Watch Associate Director, Elise Keppler also said that if Bashir is allowed to visit Nigeria, it “would be a new low for Nigeria.” However, the indicted leader arrived in Abuja today

Sudan: is this what Sudan needs for people to care?

“Seven UN peacekeepers killed in Sudan ambush”

Gunmen ambushed a UN peacekeepers in Darfur. Seven of them were killed and another 17 injured. This is the deadliest ever single attack on the international force in the country.

Is this what it takes for the international community to focus on Sudan. How many Sudanese have died in Darfur, the Blue Nile region and South Kordofan without states and international/regional organizations caring?

Burma: more on the Rohingya

“Carr apprehensive about Rohingyas’ future in Myanmar”

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob discussed the plight of the Rohingya in Burma. Here is an interesting quote:

“(…) but I’ve got to say, after spending the day in Yangon talking to our representatives of the Rohingya people and to representatives of a group at odds with them, the Arakan League for Democracy and the Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party* that I’m pretty apprehensive.”

Has Burma Reached the Extermination Phase of Genocide? By Danny Hirschel-Burns – The Sentinel Project

Minority Rights: new report

Peoples under Threat 2013

This is an important early warning tool in terms of genocide and mass atrocity crimes prevention. Minority Rights Group published its annual index of people under threat, meaning “those countries around the world where the risk of mass killing is greatest.”  This includes Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Burma/Myanmar, the DRC,  Ethiopia and Nigeria.

South Sudan: Independence not it pretty as it may seem

South Sudan: ‘independence is not as beautiful as we thought’

After reaching independence in 2011, South Sudan faces up to a host of many challenges, including in terms of development, security and human rights

“Friends of South Sudan” Letter to President Salva Kiir

The letter issues a warning to President Salva Kiir and senior officials. The group expresses concern over the “increasingly perilous fate” of South Sudan. The signatories also condemn “a campaign of violence again civilians simply because they belonged to a different ethnic group or they are viewed as opponents of the current government”.

Syrian conflict

How We Are Failing Syrian People

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a snapshot that shows the current number of people in need of assistance across Syria and the region. 1.6 million refugees and about 7 million people in need of assistance inside Syria

Getting insurgents right

Insurgents and Identity: Why Nuance is Necessary by Edvin Arnby-Machata

Interesting article on Islamist movements in North Africa and the fact that many observers do not always understand the political and economical root causes of the problem, and focus too much on ideological linkages. They also tend to include Christian terrorists groups.

Kenya

Kenya: Too Little Action on Hate Speech?

Observers accuse government body tasked with prosecuting offenders of not doing enough regarding the wave of online hate speech during the pre-and post-electoral period last March.

Zimbabwe

Mugabe hunts for internet mole ‘Baba Jukwa’ revealing his secrets

President Mugabe has allegedly offered a $300,000 reward to anyone who will reveal the name of anonymous whistleblower “Baba Jukwa” who has been giving information about the Zimbabwean’s government election rigging strategies, assassination plots and corruption.

Bosnia

Genocide Count Reinstated in Case Against Karadzic

The first count of genocide in the indictment against wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic was reinstated as appellate Judges overturned a decision to acquit him of one of the two charges. Karadzic again faces two genocide charges plus 9 other accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Karadzic is accused of wanting to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Croats from parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. Thursday also marked the 18th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.

R2P

Good for Canada

Secretary-General appoints Jennifer Welsh of Canada Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect

Welsh is a professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford. Her research projects include Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect, in particular the evolution of the notion of the ‘responsibility to protect’ and a critique of conditional notions of sovereignty; the ethics of post-conflict reconstruction; and the UN Security Council. She will “work under the overall guidance of Mr. Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, to further the conceptual, political, institutional and operational development of the responsibility to protect concept, as set out by the General Assembly in paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome document.”