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Category: Civilian Protection

Yemen and World Law: Building from Current Experience

The indiscriminate bombing of cities in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition highlights the need for renewal of the way that humanitarian law is observed in times of armed conflict, especially in three areas:

  1. the protection of women
  2. the prohibition of starving civilian populations as a method of warfare , and
  3. the protection of cultural heritage.

Protection for women is enshrined in international humanitarian law, which, as world law, should be binding on both States and armed opposition groups. This body of world law includes the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 written in light of the consequences of the Second World War and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 written due to the experiences of the war in Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia.

In addition, the human rights standards as developed within the United Nations prohibit torture, unlawful killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and slavery. Women should also be kept safe from the use of prohibited weapons such as chemical and cluster weapons.

Is South Sudan Sliding Into Chaos?

South Sudan soldiers ride on a truck in Bor, about 100 miles outside the capital.(Photo:James Akena/Reuters /Landov)

Violence has re-escalated in South Sudan as a new wave of attacks this month have included a UN base, places of worship, and other sites typically treated as neutral ground in conflicts. With the conflict taking on an increasingly ethnic and retaliatory tinge, we now must worry about how we might prevent these setbacks from spiraling into something far worse.

The last few months of conflict in South Sudan originate from a political falling out between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, when Kiir dismissed Machar and the entire cabinet in July 2013. After months of recriminations, a rebel movement began attacks in December 2013. Machar took responsibility for this movement and its continued operations just two weeks after a public ceasefire agreement between Kiir’s government and rebel groups in January.

That ceasefire has been broken repeatedly in the months since, and is all but dead in the wake of this recent wave of attacks.

Global 911: It's Time for a UN Emergency Peace Force

PHOTO: U.N. peacekeeper walks with children/Wikipedia

Genocide, mass atrocities, violent oppression; these acts, these words, invoke fear, disgust, anger and beg the question why? Human history is littered with examples of these heinous crimes against humanity and yet it took one of the darkest moments in world history to garner a response.

That event? The Holocaust.

An estimated eleven million people died as a direct result of the Holocaust. Of that eleven million, nearly six million Jews were systematically eliminated in what was called the Final Solution.

In the wake of the terror of World War II the world said it had enough. For the first time in history countries came together to lay framework of cooperation, peace, and most importantly, prevention. The United Nations was founded in the wake of the horrors of WWII, a means to protect the human family.

The UN has evolved since its foundation and so has the means by which the UN meets its goals. One of the primary tools of the UN is its peacekeeping function.

Peacekeeping in itself has evolved over time, from observer missions to peacekeeping to building and enforcing. All with two primary goals in mind; prevent a third world war and eliminate the threat of genocide.

While the former has been prevented to date, the latter is far from. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Central African Republic, ravaged by ethnic cleansing and threats of genocide. In these cases the slow response of peacekeeping operations has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of life.

Remembering Rwanda

Photographer Pieter Hugo documented the forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of Rwanda's genocide.

One hundred days and nearly 1 million men, women, and children alike killed; killed only because of their ethnic backgrounds. Neighbors, friends, coworkers, and in extreme cases spouses, fell victim to what the United Nations has declared “one of the darkest chapters in human history.” Twenty years later Rwandans are moving forward in inspiring ways.

Throughout the African country, villages are emerging; villages in which perpetrators and victims live as neighbors, some even as friends. Known as Reconciliation Villages, these are places where forgiveness is becoming the norm and where life is moving on.

New York Times photographer Pieter Hugo has chronicled several of these reconciliations in a piece titled “Portraits of Reconciliation.” These powerful images capture the work of AMI, a non-profit working with national efforts for reconciliation. These Reconciliation Villages are part of a grassroots effort to address the thousands of accused who have yet to face trial.

In an attempt to reduce the overwhelming number of accused waiting for trial, the national reconciliation efforts re-established community tribunals. This effort allows these communities to try their accused and, as is often the case, reach reconciliation as a means of justice. The Gacaca court system ran from 2005 to 2012, trying more than 1.2 million cases country wide.

3 Fundamentals for a More Humane World

Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz at the Nuremberg Trial

Ben Ferencz is an inspiration to many members and supporters of, world federalists and human rights advocates worldwide.  For those unfamiliar with Ben, he was the youngest member of the Nuremberg legal team in 1945 which prosecuted the Nazi leadership.

Like many young men and women in the U.S. armed forces today, he had enlisted as a soldier and served in Europe where he witnessed terrible atrocities being carried out as part of the Holocaust. As the Allies realized the scope of the horrors being committed, a war crimes team was set up. With his law studies background, Ben was assigned to this team, visiting the concentration camps afte their liberation, interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence of war crimes. Following his discharge from the U.S. Army, he was recruited to join the team at Nuremberg and was assigned as the chief prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen trial, the ninth of the twelve Nuremberg cases carried out by the Allies. 

U.N. Security Council Needs to Act Immediately to Prevent Ethnic Cleansing in Central African Republic

Reports of atrocities by militias in CAR are increasing daily (Photo: AFP)

With the situation in Central African Republic looking direr by the day, the U.N. Security Council needs to speed up its timetable for expanding operations. With mass murder already underway and major institutions collapsed, ethnic cleansing may already be under way and famine is an imminent threat.

Central African Republic was never well-managed after it gained its independence from France in 1960, but the 2005 government of General Francois Bozizé held some hope for stability and security. Those hopes never came to fruition, and Bozizé was run out of office by a group of rebels calling themselves the Seleka in March of 2013. These rebels, led by Muslim Michel Djotodia claimed to be concerned primarily with government corruption and economic opportunity. As their reign floundered, they killed hundreds of the majority-Christian citizens throughout Bangui, the capital, and around C.A.R. As the Seleka government failed, the U.N. Security Council issued a series of resolutions establishing both civilian and military aid to secure the situation (2121, 2127, 2134). At present, there is a total of around 6,600 troops assisting C.A.R., including over 5,000 African Union troops, 1,600 French troops, and ad hoc forces of neighboring states, with additional French and E.U. forces promised.

Genocide: A World Away

The world is again facing the threat of genocide. Much like Rwanda twenty years ago, sectarian violence is ravaging a small, largely unheard of country, The Central African Republic (CAR). Over two days in December, Amnesty International estimated that approximately 1,000 people were killed in the capital city of Bangui. Additionally, estimates indicate that more than 2,000 people have killed; victims are being raped, lynched, cannibalized, and hacked to death in the village streets and millions have fled their homes.

According to BBC News and UN reports, the violence is now largely retaliatory attacks between two religious rebel groups. Seleka (meaning “union”), a predominantly Muslim group, and the Anti-balaka (meaning “anti-sword”), a Christian faction, have the country on a downward spiraling toward genocide.

#NotaMartyr: Resisting a Return to Violence in Lebanon on Social Media

not a martry travel insurance lebanon

Though the month of February is barely a week old, for the people of Lebanon it has already seen two separate bombings in the capital of Beirut. The back-to-back attacks follow a January characterized by car and suicide bombings, culminating in a “declaration of war” by Al-Qaeda against Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah.

In a country still plagued by memories of the 1975-1990 Civil War between Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’ites, many fear that the violence in neighboring Syria may stir up sectarian tensions once more. Hezbollah has been fighting to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for almost a year, while the majority of Lebanon’s Sunnis support varying factions within the rebel movement. Lebanon’s Christians, who make up almost 40% of the country’s population, have not been uniformly partial to either party.

As Sunni and Shi’ite combatants continue to trade retaliatory attacks that cost innocent lives, there are worrying signs that more and more civilians are being drawn in to the budding conflict. In a disturbing video provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a newborn infant is seen being dressed in military fatigues and a Hezbollah beret, “a potential resistance fighter from the first few hours of his life.”

Geneva II: A Modest Beginning On Which We Can Build

"Modest beginning to Geneva II negotiations," says envoy

The United Nations-League of Arab States Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has announced a break in the Geneva II negotiations until 10 February 2014, noting they have been "a modest beginning on which we can build."  It was expected that Geneva II would be long and difficult.  Geneva I had been relatively easy since only the Russians and Americans were engaged and both had the "Yemen model" in mind: the president goes into a safe exile, a slightly broader transition government is formed, but no reforms though life is a bit better than before.

Geneva II was predicted to be more difficult as Syrians would participate in the discussion - including the government and some opposition factions. Over forty states attended the start, some because they were directly concerned, others to give encouragement. The official Syrian delegations met in the UN Palais des Nations but not always together. Other interested parties - uninvited opposition groups, Kurds, Lebanese - met in quiet restaurants and hotel rooms. Some Iranian diplomats left with their President to attend Davos, while others stayed to observe. 

What is now possible to build on the modest beginning?  What role can outside governments and non-governmental conflict-resolution organizations play?  The distance among Syrians and the intensity of negative feelings was symbolized by rival Syrian groups demonstrating in the square just beyond the UN property.  The "Place des Nations" belongs to the city of Geneva.  While one needs a police permit to demonstrate legally, the permits are normally granted. There are often groups with signs and fliers.  The police watch, but usually have little to do.  There are rarely groups holding conflicting views at the same time as was seen during the Syrian negotiations.  The police prevented violence, but they had to do more than just watch. 

Are Syria's Cries Not Loud Enough?

UNCHR / M. Hofer

It’s days like these that I am dismayed at what the American public chooses to focus its attention on. The buzz on Capitol Hill seems to be on anything but the worst humanitarian crisis in recent years that is taking place in Syria. The multitude of humanitarian issues resulting from the civil war there will be the discussed during peace talks next Wednesday (January 22), and the United States' role in addressing them is being carried largely by Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Mr. Kerry and his team have their hands full, maybe overflowing. A few of the most pressing issues the State Department is handling include: preparing the stage for Syrian peace talks; maintaining promising relations with Iran; continuing efforts in Israeli-Palestinian peace; and working with Russia, which is perfectly opposed to U.S. interests on each matter. What’s more is that these complex concerns are intricately intertwined. Secretary Kerry's capabilites will be put to the test, but I feel secure he is up to the challenge; the coming months will either result in historic diplomatic achievements or a humanitarian and regional security disaster. The scale of importance is huge – absence of progress would likely demoralize all other diplomatic efforts in the region.

Leading up to the Syrian peace talks, John Kerry ought to focus on laying the ground work for said negotiations in Switzerland. To emphasize the importance of success in Geneva I’ll recount some specifics of the humanitarian crisis.