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.


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


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



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.


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



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.



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.

News Round-Up


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.


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


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).


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


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


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.”



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.”


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

Assad’s media game

During most of the conflict in Syria, Bashar Al-Assad stayed away from the public, making public appearance only to proof that he was still alive and well. For two years, he did not seem to have a communications strategy. However, for a couple of months now Assad has realized that he needs to work on his “image”. This became particularly evident with the threat of a Western military intervention.


In the aftermath of the chemical weapon attack, Assad suddenly made himself available to several high-profile, well-selected foreign media. On 2 September, he gave an interview to French newspaper Le Figaro, in which the Syrian leader spoke about chemical weapons and the risk of regional war, and warned France that there would be repercussions for the French interests in case of a military strike. A week later, just days after the anniversary of 9/11, Assad sat down with PBS Charlie Rose.  Here again he warned that the U.S. “should expect everything” in case of a military strike. Talk about selected foreign media: France and the U.S. were the nations closest to intervene in Syria. 

Assad is playing with Western fears and chooses his words wisely according to his interlocutor. In both interviews, he makes it clear that a strike would make the situation worse, lead to a regional war and the spread of terrorism. He told Charlie Rose that it would benefit Al-Qaeda and hinted at another September 11. In Le Figaro, Assad referred to Mohammed Merah, an Islamic gunman extremist who killed seven people in Toulouse last year and shocked the nation. Assad knows how to play with Western public opinion and trauma. In France, the U.S. and the U.K., the main proponents of intervention, most of the public is against military intervention.

 As Syria’s most important international supporter, Russia plays a role in the regime’s communication strategy as well. On 13 September Assad gave an interview to Russian newspaper Izvestia and TV channel Rossiya 24. He made sure to make use of Putin’s anti-Americanism and dreams of new grandeur, thanking Russia for helping Syria “face down the savage attack… and the Western, regional and Arab-backed terrorism.” President Putin played his part as as well by publishing an op-ed in the widely-read New York Times. This was perfect timing – a day earlier Obama had addressed the press on the situation in Syria. What better way for Putin to reply?

Instagram: illusion and delusion 


Then there is also the strange case of Bashar and Asma Al-Assad’s Instagram account. This is a typical propaganda campaign aimed at cleaning up Assad’s reputation. Dictators in the past have used pictures and paintings of themselves with children in order to win public opinion.

The account was opened at the end of July, when the army was making progress in the city of Homs. “Syrianpresidency” takes you to an alternate, delusional world where the Syrian conflict somewhat exists but where Assad appears as a protective modern leader who care about the well-being of his people. There are pictures of him with religious representatives, students, journalists and civil society leaders. But the most striking shots are the ones of Assad and Asma in soup kitchens and comforting injured soldiers.

 Just thinking about The Economist’s “Hit him hard” page 3 weeks ago, this is miles away from Assad’s image in Western media, where almost unbearable pictures of the chemical weapon attack victims have been widely printed. The Assad family uses its Instagram account the same way every other politician does…except that the “look-how-sweet-we-are” promotion campaign is colossal. But in the modern world of social media, where dictators cannot hide their crimes, his 40,000+ followers cannot be fooled. Other pictures are there to destroy Assad’s fairy-tale portrait of his regime.

 The “traditional” media offensive is more efficient.: Assad cannot change his image of a ruthless dictator, but he can play with the public’s psyche. The PBS interview revealed the persona that Assad has become. He appeared disturbingly calm, calculating, and subtle – he even laughed at times (*shudder*). He has become an expert in sophistry (“Would any state use chemical or any other weapons of mass destruction in a place where its own forces are concentrated?” he asked), trying to appear oblivious to the state of his country. Not too long ago I read Riccardo Orizio’s Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators, which contains interviews with disgraced dictators. All are convinced that they were loved by their people and that they were right to do what they did because things would be worse without them. Haiti’s Jean Claude Duvalier for example stated: “I am the only one who can save the country, which is now reduced to such a miserable state.” Assad make a  perfect fit in Orizio’s book. Hopefully he will soon be a fallen dictator too.

Chemical Weapon Agreement…then what?

Just a couple of weeks, the prospect of a military intervention in Syria was high. A week later, things have changed. Most states were opposed to the idea, citing risks, international law and efficiency. Then all eyes suddenly turned to Russia who proposed to put Syria’s chemical stock under international control (ultimately for destruction). Intense negotiations between U.S. and Russian diplomats ensued, finally leading to a breakthrough on Saturday: an ambitious chemical arms-control agreement which involves the inventory and seizing of Syria’s chemical weapons. According to the framework, the Assad regime has week to provide an inventory of its arsenal and international inspectors will be in Syria by November to assess the situation.

But where will this really lead? An end to the civil war? Let me be skeptical here. First, the war continues, with or without chemical weapons. Considering the war has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians, the Assad regime has showed that it kill a lot of people with guns and bombs….Guns don’t kill people, PEOPLE do.

“Things are improving…These here were not killed by chemical weapons” – Côté


Second, what will happen in case of non-compliance? Anything can be expected from Assad. Russia and the U.S. have agreed that violations would be referred to the Security Council but the nature of potential measures against Syria remain undecided and will be decided at the UN. Since nothing is said about penalties, Russia could very well once again use its veto to prevent sanctions and certainly intervention. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, warned that the use of force remains a threat if the deal is not respect. In this case, we would be back to two weeks ago.

Third, the rebellion is completely fragmented and growing more sectarian every week. Two western hostages freed last week described the situation as chaotic and the rebel groups as “midway between banditry and fanaticism.” Detained by the rebels for 152 days, Italian journalist Dominico Quirico said a new movement within Syria: the emergence of gangs of thugs with no code of conduct, who take advantage of the revolution to “take over territory, hold the population to ransom, kidnap people and fill their pockets.” Treated like an animal, he said he found in Syria “a country of evil.”


If the Russian initiative truly works, only the issue of chemical weapons will be solved. Countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia will continue to arm rebels, especially radical Islamists. As Quirico explained, some of these rebel groups only care about money and weapons. At this point, arming the rebels is likely to lead to more conflict, more sectarianism and more human rights violations, especially against minorities such as Alawites and Christians.

While a Syrian resolution on chemical weapons would be significant, it would not end the crisis and world leaders should not feel relieved. This is not a long-term solutions since it does not deal with the root causes of the conflict and the many problems that have arisen since the revolution started. Syrians are still dying.

These are dark time


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: 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.


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.


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.


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.”