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Category: genocide prevention

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. 

An Unfulfilled Promise

Militia members in northern Central African Republic (Photo: Wikipedia)

War has been declared, but is it enough?

It has been less than a week since Central African Republic (CAR) President Catherine Samba-Panza stated that she will “go to war” with the anti-Balaka, the Christian militia on what is widely seen as an ethnic cleansing mission against Muslim citizens.  Now the UN OHCHR has advised that “authorities be will be held personally accountable for the serious human rights violations committed in the country,” according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

With reports of growing violence outside of the capital city of Bangui, the CAR is on the verge of spiraling into complete chaos. According to Ms. Pillay, Ex-Seleka members are now regrouping in the north which has sparked renewed violence including “scorched earth tactics” which include destroying villages and killing civilians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is set to brief the Security Council on the developing situation in the CAR, giving the international community a chance to act. A chance to take action and just provide political rhetoric and commentary while pledging money in hopes the problem will be resolved.

To ensure hundreds of thousands of innocent people won’t have died in vein, it is time to fulfill our promise, "never again”.


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.

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. 

Violence Rages on in Central African Republic

The ongoing surges of deadly conflict in Central African Republic demand action from the United Nations. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is applicable to this situation, and human rights groups are calling for the strengthening of peacekeeping forces in CAR to protect the population from further war crimes.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited the capital city Bangui on Thursday for talks with CAR President Michel Djotodia. Power called for urgent action to end the "vicious violence" and told victims: "We have come here to hear how you, the people of Central African Republic, are doing and how we can help."

After Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia went door to door in Bangui murdering about 60 Muslims, former Séléka Coalition rebels, primarily Muslims, retaliated by attacking and killing almost 1,000. The violence has not stopped. The death toll, according to early U.N. estimates, reached about 600, with 200,000 displaced. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch now say the numbers are much higher, with Amnesty claiming its research "left no room for doubt that crimes against humanity have taken place, including extra-judicial executions and mutilation of bodies.”

Amnesty also claimed that civilians are being hacked to death and villages razed to the ground on a daily basis, even after French and African Union forces stepped in. About 1,600 French soldiers have been dispatched to the former colony, working with about 6,000 African Union force members. They are making efforts to disarm militia groups to stop the atrocities, establish security for the local populations, and enable humanitarian organizations to work.

The Disappearing State of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic and neighbors

In November 2013, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned the UN Security Council that communal violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) was spiralling out of control. He backed the possibility of an armed UN peacekeeping force to complement the civilian UN staff, the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).

The UN faces a double task in the CAR.  There is the immediate problem of violence among tribal-based militias in the absence of a national army or central government security forces.  The militias basically pit the north of the country against the south. In addition, militias from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and segments of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army use the CAR as a "safe haven" and live off the land by looting villages.

In the absence of a standing UN peacekeeping force, UN peacekeepers would have to be redeployed from the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area also torn by fighting.  Moving UN troops away from the Congo however risks the recent progress that they have made on the security situation in recent months.  

The longer range task of peacebuilding and creating a national administration which provides services beyond the capital city, Bangui, is the aim of the BINUCA, but its work is largely impossible in the light of the ongoing violence.

The area covered by the current state had no pre-colonial common history and no "state-building" occurred during the French colonial period. Oubangui-Chari, as CAR was then known, was the poor cousin of French Equatorial Africa (AEF).  It was used as an "exile post" for African civil servants considered "trouble makers." Schools were few, and secondary school students were sent away to Brazzaville, the administrative center of AEF.

Turmoil in the Central African Republic

The current situation in the Central African Republic is beyond terrible. Following the rebel overthrow of President Francois Bozize in March of this year, thousands have been displaced and are facing starvation and malnutrition. Almost 70,000 refugees have fled the country, putting strain on unstable and poor neighboring countries like Chad. The countryside is almost completely lawless with armed gangs attacking civilians and villages. It is almost impossible for humanitarian aid to reach those suffering and two UN officials have been attacked.

Two groups are responsible for the majority of the violence and terrorism, the Seleka rebels and self defense militias known as anti-Balaka. People affiliated with the groups terrorize the civilian populace, conducting nighttime raids and attacks on houses and even entire villages. 18 women and children were massacred in late October by Seleka fighters. The clashes between the rebels and the militias have deepened cleavages along sectarian and ethnic lines in the population.

Last week the UN Security Council approved a 250-strong 'Protection Force' to provide security for humanitarian aid workers and UN officials in the country. This force could be increased to 560 soldiers if necessary. The UNSC has condemned what is going on in the CAR, but beyond the Protection Force, not much has been done.

The CAR needs a full scale peacekeeping force like the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mali. The UN has also called for an increase in humanitarian aid, but if that aid cannot reach those suffering, it will not be very useful. The situation in CAR is not in the headlines either; many people do not know about the humanitarian crisis or the atrocities being committed.