Getting Away with Mass Atrocities

 

Despite the recent focus on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities and the strengthening of international responses to these crimes, it is still the case that perpetrators are as likely to get away with mass killing and achieve at least some of their goals as they are to fail and end up being punished. As a result, political groups sometimes choose mass atrocities as a strategy for the simple reason that it does help them to achieve what they want at an acceptable price. When they do, perpetrators are often very well aware that that their behaviour violates cherished international norms and runs the risk of attracting international criticism, sanctions and – though only very rarely – military intervention.

As a result, they develop strategies for mitigating the risk of decisive international responses by trying to conceal the reality of what they are doing, creating uncertainty about responsibility for atrocities, establishing their own credentials as legitimate partners, generating legitimacy for the use of force against a foe, and preventing the emergence of an international consensus on action. Any strategy aimed at preventing or stemming the tide of mass atrocities has to recognize these strategies and develop countervailing ones.  As a start, I recently published a piece in the Journal of Genocide Research that identified some of the most common tactics employed by perpetrators and the factors that tend to influence how effective they are.

In the article, I argued that there are three main clusters of tactics that perpetrators of mass atrocities use to literally get away with it.

  1. Shaping perceptions to deny atrocities;
  2. Securing sufficient international sympathy;
  3. Diffusing responsibility.

Let’s look in a little more detail at these tactics

Continue reading “Getting Away with Mass Atrocities”

MAPRO – Good Advice on Mainstreaming Mass Atrocity Prevention

MAPRO: Mass Atrocity Prevention & Response Options, A Policy Planning Handbook

National governments are pivotal to the the prevention of mass atrocities. Besides fulfilling their own, internal responsibility to protect (R2P), ensuring that the United Nations and regional arrangements have the political support and resources they need to implement their atrocity prevention plans, and making resources available to preventive efforts when international action is needed in the face of imminent crises, national governments – especially those that have voiced loud support for the R2P principle —  should also give effect to their international commitments by integrating the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into national policy. 

Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations: A Policy Planning Handbook is the latest publication from the Mass Atrocity Response Operations (MARO) project run by Harvard University’s Kennedy School and the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Focusing on the US, the MAPRO Handbook provides guidelines and frameworks for the formulation of options, policies, and plans, and discusses the application of all elements of national influence in order to prevent or respond to mass atrocities.  As such, it is must reading for policy makers – and those interested in influencing policy makers – around the world as they grapple with the challenge of mainstreaming the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into foreign and defence policy.  The Handbook provides a thorough account of the types of analysis, policy processes and decision-making that are needed to properly incorporate genoicde and mass atrocity prevention into national policy. What is needed now is for other like-minded governments and civil society groups to examine what countries other than the US can do to mainstream mass atrocity prevention – perhaps through a multinational task force charged with drafitng a ‘handbook’ for R2P’s ‘group of friends’?

Continue reading “MAPRO – Good Advice on Mainstreaming Mass Atrocity Prevention”

American Exceptionalism: Shifting Views of Intervention and Conflict

 Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Beliefs matter. They tell us who we are and what we should want. While much U.S.foreign policy debate is marked by concerns for shifts in the balance of power and the costs of any intervention, such judgments are always advanced in the context of deeper understandings of how the world works.

However, these understandings are not limited to political or intellectual doctrines. Instead, such beliefs are often derived from deeper attitudes. They reside in a kind of collective unconscious, encompassing archetypal understandings reflecting not so much directly experiences as shared socialization experiences.

Such attitudes are often ambiguous and flexible, subject to a range of interpretations and nuances. Consider notions of American exceptionalism. In broad terms, this view suggests that theU.S.has escaped a European heritage of feudalism, class consciousness, and struggles over the balance of power. Instead, it has developed a liberal tradition of limited government, market individualism, and oft-crusading efforts to replace the balance of power with a more institutional order.

Yet, as the above Whitman quote suggests, American liberalism can take a number of forms. It has led policymakers to believeAmericahas a special responsibility to help others. However, it has also led them to pull back, out of fear that contact with others will dilute what makes them exceptional. Finally, an aversion to ideological disputes has often given rise to a pragmatic desire to reduce political disputes to matters of technique, to abstract away from value-laden disputes and do “what works.”

  Continue reading “American Exceptionalism: Shifting Views of Intervention and Conflict”

KONY 2012 – who are the real cynics here?

 

Joseph Kony, Lords Resistance Army
© Joram Jojo/Flickr  Global/IRIN

“On 30 September [2011], the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the LRA has carried out 240 attacks so far this year, resulting in 130 deaths and 327 abductions, including 113 children in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. An estimated 440,000 civilians continue to be displaced or living as refugees in the affected areas.”

Before last week, the above report did not inspire 100 million people from around the world to collectively consider what they could do to end this violence. In the past week, if you have been living under a technological rock and haven’t seen it, there has been a flurry of such engagement through Twitter hash tags, Facebook links and Youtube alerts for KONY 2012.  Created by US-based charity, Invisible Children, the 27 minute video argues (essentially) three things:

1)       Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), operates a guerilla style war in Northern Uganda, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.  He has escaped arrest for 25 years.   The LRA, originally a secessionist movement, has become a messianic cult devoted to keeping Kony in power and avoiding arrest by Ugandan authorities.  There is no political agenda to the LRA’s continued existence.

2)       Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – in fact he was the first individual to face indictment by the ICC – for crimes against humanity and war crimes.  It is believed Kony has kidnapped, over the course of the conflict, between 25 000-60 000 children. Young children are murdered to frighten other children into becoming child soldiers in Kony’s LRA; others are forced to commit heinous crimes such as killing their parents and siblings; and thousands of girls have been forced into sexual slavery for the LRA soldiers.

3)       The United States government, under President Obama’s administration, agreed in late October 2011 to send 100 special operations ‘combat-ready’ troops to assist the Ugandan military to find and arrest Kony.  The Invisible Children KONY 2012 campaign is directed at alerting people to this mission, ensuring that the Obama administration knows that the world supports this mission, and make Kony an ‘infamous’ figure to ensure that by the end of 2012 as many people as possible know who he is, what crimes he has committed and why every possible means should be engaged to ensure his capture.

It is easy to view this campaign with skepticism.  To argue, as others have done, that Invisible Children exaggerates the cause, the campaign is misleading and construes the situation to further the advocacy agenda of Invisible Children.  Others propose that supporting the Ugandan military is support for a military that should face serious questions about its own conduct.  Moreover, it has been argued that the removal of Kony will not see the end of the LRA, the end of abject poverty in the region where he resides, nor will it remove the guerilla warfare tactics that has plagued the Great Lakes region for too long.

Much of the dissention plays on the notion that Invisible Children is a cynical operation that serves its own interests above anyone else.  Perhaps most misleading of all though is the notion that such cynics of KONY 2012 are basing their critique on ‘real fact’ while Invisible Children deploys phony numbers and arguments.  There is no doubt Invisible Children goes for a simple message and a simple solution.  But does this mean we shouldn’t support the objective of KONY 2012 – to capture Kony? I consider some flaws in the cynics’ argument below. Continue reading “KONY 2012 – who are the real cynics here?”

Amidst the Carnage, Hope.

A billboard promoting peace in Kotido District in Uganda
© Khristopher Carlson/IRIN

Amidst the Carnage, Hope.

“Scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history” was how one of the judges on the international criminal tribunal set up to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during Yugoslavia’s wars of dissolution described the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica. Over 7,500 unarmed men and boys were slaughtered there.  A year earlier “scenes from hell” were written right across the small African country ofRwanda, where around 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days: a rate of killing higher than the Holocaust, achieved with Kalashnikovs, machetes and improvised methods of brutality. Shortly after the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region erupted in 2003, characterised by mass killing, widespread and systematic rape and ethnic cleansing, the then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, sharply criticised the world’s inaction.  “We have learned nothing fromRwanda” he complained.  More recently, the brief hope that the solidarity and determination exhibited by the UN Security Council when Gaddafi’s forces in Libya threatened to overrun the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and root out the ‘cockroaches’ (incidentally, the term used by Rwanda’s Hutu extremists to incite genocidal violence against the Tutsis in 1994) signalled a change of thinking about how the world should respond to acts of unconscionable and systematic inhumanity has quickly been replaced by cynicism as a result of the Council’s inability to reach a consensus on Syria.

It is easy to look at the carnage being unleashed on the civilians in the Baba Amr district of Homs, the children indiscriminately killed in their homes, the fate of thirteen year old Hamza Ali al’Khateeb who was tortured to death by the security forces, and come to the conclusion that we have indeed learned nothing.  Learned nothing and changed nothing. According to this logic, regimes that can, will use extreme violence to preserve their privileges and the rest of the world will stand aside and accept it unless powerful outsiders have other interests at stake. From this cynical vantage point, it would be easy to criticise the efforts of those who champion the UN and its principles of human rights and the responsibility to protect as naïve idealists or, worse, as vain glory-seekers spouting fashionable hot air that signifies nothing. It would be easy to think like this, but wrong.

Wrong not just because the cynical belief that humanity can do no better breeds the very sort of behaviour it purports to condemn. If no good can be done, the logic goes, better not to try; the perfect rules out pursuit of the good. The cynical view holds that it is better to stand and watch from the moral high ground than to get dirty hands trying to make things better.

This kind of thinking is also wrong empirically. Although it may not seem it at times, things have actually improved in the past few decades and international institutions, primarily the UN, have played a significant role in that. The simple fact of the matter is that there are fewer wars; when wars do happen they are shorter and fewer people tend to die; and fewer, not more, civilians are dying as a result of mass atrocities.  None of this happened by chance. Continue reading “Amidst the Carnage, Hope.”

Welcome to Protection Gateway. The blog site for Human Protection Hub.

“Human protection is a subset of the more encompassing concept of human security. The latter reminds us that the security of “we the peoples” matters every bit as much as the security of states. Human protection addresses more immediate threats to the survival of individuals and groups.

The task of human protection is neither simple nor easy. We don’t always succeed. But we must keep trying to make a difference. That is our individual and collective responsibility.”

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Cyril Foster Lecture, 2011

The Human Protection Hub (HPH) is a research and policy unit situated in the Griffith Asia Institute. The Hub aims to provide governments, international organizations, civil society groups and the research community with new knowledge to inform policy concerning the prevention of human protection crises and protection of vulnerable populations. This includes human protection in the face of humanitarian emergencies, including man-made and natural disasters.

In this blog we will be providing updates and information that relates to our projects.  We will also be discussing current issues about human protection matters, relevant readings, reports and events.

Sign up to the site to keep informed about our work and discussions. Don’t hesitate to email us for further information or if you wish to participate in the Protection Gateway.

Very best, Alex.