Archive | October, 2012

Why We Need Dissension in the Anti-Genocide Movement

29 Oct

The people that make up the anti-genocide constituency are a diverse group with a wide array of opinions on the best ways to prevent mass atrocities.  While this amazing wealth of knowledge could be used to create new, innovative strategies, dogmatic, top-down policy making blunts its potential.  While approaches differ from organization to organization, the anti-genocide movement as a whole generally doesn’t value dissent as a form of self-improvement and it is both a huge loss for the movement and for those that stand to benefit from robust anti-genocide policies.  As a member of STAND that has always been outside of the official leadership structure but still interested in policy, I have been frustrated with the lack of formal opportunities to engage with policy, and hope that we can do better together in the future.

While top-down policy making models are more efficient in quickly developing a coherent policy, it leaves the organizations members uninvolved and uniformed.  Especially for student groups, the opportunity to participate in policy making is crucial.  As it stands, however, non-MC members (I can’t speak for the MC) spend very little time at conferences actually discussing policy options, and it even feels awkward to bring up certain topics.  STAND has the smartest and most dedicated members I know, and they need a space to critically engage with the issues.  (However, STAND is still better at including members in policy discussions than many other similar organizations.)  If STAND, or anti-genocide groups as a whole, does not provide members with this space, members lose interest in policy and approach the issues from a more uninformed perspective.

I have a personal example of the problems that result from a lack of policy discussions.  I’m quite skeptical that CFCI is the right way to approach the DRC because I see the country’s problems as having their roots in poor governance, weak civil society, and a lack of institutions.  Resource exploitation is certainly a part of the conflict, but from my understanding, illegal extraction and exportation is a symptom, not a cause.  However, in the two years I have been in STAND, I have not had the opportunity to participate in a formal, honest discussion on CFCI’s pros and cons, nor have I heard a single voice promoted by STAND that is critical of the approach.  This deficiency of debate has prevented me from gaining a better understanding of CFCI, and it is an issue I still do not fully understand.

Dissent is a critical part of any decision making process.  Without opposing opinions, individuals and groups are not forced to improve their ideas to overcome conflicting arguments.  Advocacy organization, unfortunately, often forget this.  Human rights organization in particular are fond of advocacy toolkits, in which a small set of items supposedly provides individuals with everything they need to help a certain region of the world.  This top-down model, in which regular members have no chance to participate, fails to take advantage of the array of knowledge of the group’s constituency.  This, inevitably, leads to bad policy.  Anti-genocide organizations have a history of short-sighted, bad policy, partially due to the relative youth of the movement.  Containing policy decisions to a small group of experts or leaders, no matter their ability, will not create good policy.  We need to put our trust in our bright and numerous members, who have the ability to engage and debate these issues if they are given the chance.  Undoubtedly more debate will lead to a smaller capacity to react quickly to changes on the ground, but since working toward mass atrocities prevention is a long-term struggle, we have to adopt a model that expands and improves our organizations.

The top-down policy making that both STAND and other anti-genocide organizations are guilty of leads to a destructive cycle.  Members have no space to engage, lose interest in policy, bad policy is created, and members have no way to change the policy, bringing it full circle.  For the health of anti-genocide advocacy as a movement, we must improve our inclusion of members in policy making decisions.  Otherwise, we will keep making the same mistakes and create a smaller pool of future leaders.


At a Conference This Weekend

27 Oct

This weekend, I’m in D.C. for the Women and Genocide in the 21st Century conference (I’m also doing some live-tweeting for both STAND and my own personal account) which focuses on women’s roles in the genocide in Darfur.  The conference seeks to highlight women’s roles not as passive victims, but as powerful actors who have the ability to help end the conflict.  Hopefully, I’ll find inspiration for a piece from the conference, but even if I don’t, there will at least be a piece on dissent within the anti-genocide movement coming up on Monday.

Mentioning “Genocide” is a Political Strategy in This Country

23 Oct

*While my blog will generally consist of organized, thought-out articles, my anger at the appearance of genocide in the debate tonight prompted this post.

The only mention of “genocide” in tonight’s “foreign policy” debate was Mitt Romney saying that he would charge Ahmadinejad with genocide if he were elected President.  In what court, Governor Romney, do you think you could do this?  The ICC perhaps?  Guess not, because your party blocked the US from signing onto the Rome Statute.  And Mittens, do have any idea how the UN defines genocide?  Pretty sure it doesn’t include “genocide by citation” or whatever your BS phrase was.   You used the word “genocide” as a way to score political points by showing just how tough you are on Iran.  In the process you made a mockery of the United States’ role in genocide prevention.

If Mitt Romney’s bastardization of genocide is the only time it comes up in the ninety minutes of the campaign supposedly solely devoted to America’s foreign policy, what does that say about genocide prevention’s role in American politics?  Despite the 777 letters delivered to Bob Schieffer, we didn’t get a question on genocide, or even a moderator with enough resolve to challenge Mittens’ ridiculous assertion.  Bob Schieffer, as a representative of the American political system, failed miserably in this moment.  Genocide is not a word that we can bat around to support war-mongering policies: it is the epitome of human suffering and hatred.  If such an egregious error and insult is not corrected in the most public of political forums, it appears that our society doesn’t care much for stopping and preventing genocide.  We as anti-genocide activists need to work harder to make sure that this attitude does not continue to poison American politics.

The Responsibility to Protect (the State?) in Mali

17 Oct

Ever since Tuareg rebels defeated Malian forces to create the de-facto independent Republic of Azawad in Northern Mali, foreign military intervention has been on the table.  Though it has not happened yet, the UN Security Council laid the groundwork for intervention a few days ago.  While most policy makers have stuck to stressing the need to fight extremism, commentators have also highlighted human rights violations by Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM).  Due to these human rights violations, R2P has also entered the picture (it may well not be cited if an intervention happens, but due to the possibility, its applicability should be analyzed).  However, despite numerous executions, destroyed cultural sites, and refugees, the situation in Mali has not reached the level of genocide or a mass atrocity, forcing us to either reinterpret Responsibility to Protect’s (R2P) mandate or discard it as an analytic framework.

The second pillar of R2P states that the international community has the duty to help states protect their citizens.  But in Mali, which state does the second pillar refer to?  Bamako has no control over Azawad, but the international community does not recognize the legitimacy of the Tuareg state.  So who does the international community have a duty to assist when in comes to protecting civilians in northern Mali?  By sanctioning an intervention under the guise of R2P, the international community would assert Bamako’s claim to Azawad, and that the Malian government alone can protect civilians in what used to be its territory.  An intervention would unwittingly reinterpret the doctrine as not only a mandate for civilian protection, but also one for territorial integrity.

This interpretation, however, has its priorities in the wrong place.  It implies that only “legitimate” governments (i.e. recognized) have the the ability to protect civilians.  This is not realistic in Mali’s case.  It is not as if a small rebel group temporarily seized a few towns; Bamako has fully lost control of northern Mali, and is no longer the governing power there.  While seeing Bamako as the government in Northern Mali doesn’t match up with realities on the ground, there are still other problematic implications with this view.  The perception that Ansar Dine is inherently dangerous to civilian populations falls back on the idea of the Islamist bogeyman, where Islamists are universally opposed to democracy and human rights.  To be sure, Ansar Dine is a brutal organization that has committed egregious human rights violations, but its presence in northern Mali does not equate to a genocide waiting to happen.  Secondly, the idea that a military intervention (also known as a war) is necessary to reestablish the control of a government (in which the leader of a recent military coup still holds power) over a territory it lost so that it can reclaim its role as the legitimate protector of civilians is so ludicrous it doesn’t merit further examination.

If R2P mandates an intervention to retake northern Mali, then that implies that not only does the the international community have a duty to help states eliminate a group within their borders that are committing mass atrocities, but that it also has a duty to regain territory held by a group that might commit mass atrocities in the future.  This precedent would lend “legitimate” governments, which includes a lot of brutal dictators, justification for crushing separatist forces, as they might kill civilians in the future.  Given the current debate over R2P vs. RwP at the UN, the doctrine doesn’t need any more problems that will hamper its ability to protect civilians.

Applying R2P to Mali implies that governments must control their territory so that they can protect their own civilians, and that if they lose territory, the international community has the responsibility to help governments regain it whether or not mass atrocities have been committed.  This interpretation does exactly what R2P isn’t supposed to: it uses R2P as a justification for military actions without an intent to protect civilians.  It’s better for the future of R2P if we call the intervention in Mali what it is: an intervention to remove Islamists as part of the global war on terror.

Negotiation vs. Justice: Strategies on Legally Combating Gang Violence and Mass Atrocities (Part II)

6 Oct

*This is the second post in a two part series that examines how we can conceptualize gang violence in the United States through the framework of civilian protection, mass atrocities, and political violence.  I will continue to call the city I worked in Joplin to protect the identity of the people I mention. 


Combating gang violence in Joplin is a widely discussed and contentious issue.  Everyone has an opinion and no one agrees.  Strategies range from police crackdowns to church outreach to mentoring programs, but none of these have a monopoly on gang response.  The same challenges exist in international justice.  There are many strategies for dealing with war criminals, each one with its own consequences.

In Joplin, the central strategic divide is justice versus mediation.  Those connected to the city government tend to favor the former, with the idea that the only way to stop gang violence is to “take the drug dealers off the streets”.  Strategies focused on locking up violent youths aren’t monolithic, but they repeatedly fall back on increasingly authoritarian strategies due to the inability to fully stop violence through arrests alone.  The mediation approaches mostly exist outside of government, and focus on using community centers and mentoring programs to reach drug dealers on a personal level.  As a community member told me, “A lot of these kids don’t want to deal drugs, but they don’t know how to get out.”  Despite the promising nature of mediation, it is yet to receive any real institutional support in Joplin, and so it is left to already over-burdened individuals who are working on other community projects.

The justice versus mediation divide also exists in the pursuit of international justice.  While the creation of the ICC has theoretically made the meting out of justice less flexible, reality is more complicated.  Without the ability to immediately bring war criminals to justice, these indictments have potentially adverse effects on achieving peace.  While Bashir has been able to partially avoid his ICC-imposed isolation, his indictment has affected power dynamics in negotiations on ending violence in Sudan.  This unequal balance of power means that leaders like Bashir have very little incentive to negotiate their way out of power if they know a jail cell awaits them.  An indictment pushes war criminals’ backs up against a wall, leaving them nothing to lose.  This arrangement is not conducive to peace.  However, we have to also consider that relative impunity has long-term negative consequences too.  Still, it is questionable to what extent the ICC and other judicial bodies are effective in deterring potential war criminals.  Therefore, we need to examine each case individually, and determine whether the potential of increased violence in the short-term is worth long-term justice.

A central problem with the ICC and police crackdowns on gang violence is that they fail to fully recognize the organic political power of war criminals or gangs.  It is easy to indict Joseph Kony, who has very few friends and isn’t embedded in a political process, but an individual like Bashir holds an immense of power.  He has the ability to kill thousands or keep Sudan peaceful.  Gangs often have the same proportional power.  They are community institutions, and they cannot simply be crushed in order to return to a previous imagined status quo.  Advocates of justice must recognize that no matter how unsavory, war criminals and gangs can provide valuable partners in conflict resolution and transformation.  In the New York Times, Paul Thomas Chamberlin writes, “As Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams and Menachem Begin have shown, yesterday’s “terrorists” have a tendency to turn into tomorrow’s peacemakers. We should be careful not to let our fears of terrorists continue to blind us to opportunities when diplomatic openings present themselves.”  We must resist the impulse that crimes, no matter the political context, must be dealt with completely standardized justice mechanisms.

Dealing with gangs as political actors is not an untested idea.  In El Salvador, a Catholic bishop was able to broker a truce and initiate a peace process between two of San Salvador’s most dangerous gangs.  Gangs do not solely exist to terrorize citizens, but also because of poverty, access to guns, etc.   If these conditions can be reversed and gang members are provided with a way to productively re-integrate into society, a lasting peace that no police crackdown can provide is possible.  This approach can even be used in response to terrorism.  Every group, no matter how brutal, has fissures and objectives that can be exploited through negotiation.  Even the LRA, a group widely condemned as solely a terrorist organization without a political agenda, is vulnerable to attempts to convince child soldiers to desert.

During my last few weeks in Joplin, I met Jason (not his real name), a self-described community activist and founder of Men in the Community (not a real name either), a group of Joplin men, most of whom are former drug dealers who have turned their lives around.  While Men in the Community does various mentoring and nonviolent peacekeeping work, Jason also maintains contact with numerous gang members throughout the city.  While he tries to talk kids out of joining or staying in gangs, he is also able to glean the most recent and accurate information on crimes, making him an invaluable resource in the community.  An initiative from the mayor’s office, the Community Taskforce, is supposed to perform the same role, but it is largely ineffective.   This impotency is due to the Taskforce’s direct connection with the police and city government, which is generally more interested in making arrests than negotiating with gangs.  This destroys all credibility in the eyes of gang members.  Jason, on the other hand, is careful to avoid associating himself with authority, thereby maintaining his unique information-gathering abilities.

This is a model that can be applied to combating political violence and mass atrocities.  Attempts at informal negotiations with unattached mediators should always be the first response to violence.  Negotiations give the chance to de-escalate the situation, improving trust and communication among opposing sides.  The use of the ICC or other judicial processes may still be necessary, but negotiations provide a constructive route to conflict resolution.