Tag Archives: Colombia

How Civilians Protect Themselves Nonviolently During Mass Killings

16 Jul

*This post summarizes my undergraduate thesis.

International interventions in mass killing episodes often fail to adequately protect civilians.

The UNMISS peacekeeping operation in South Sudan is a case in point. Bureaucratic, political, and financial constraints consistently inhibit the deployment of well-staffed interventions, and often prohibit them outright.

Therefore, many civilians must survive without external assistance, but we know surprisingly little about how this occurs.

No scholar has produced a work combining empirical examples of civilian self-protection with a theory of the mechanisms that allow it to function during mass killing or even conflict more broadly. The lack of focus on civilian self-protection is symptomatic of a larger issue of how scholars envision violent conflict.

Check out the rest of the article at the Monkey Cage. You can read the entire thesis here.

A Blueprint for Local, Nonviolent Responses to Mass Atrocities (Part II)

18 Aug

*This post originally appeared on the Sentinel Project blog.

Separating mass atrocities into categories risks oversimplification, but different response strategies apply to different types of violence.  Therefore, modern-day mass atrocities can broadly be separated into two categories: counterinsurgency (COIN) and communal.  While this division risks empirical oversimplification and many scenarios have elements of both, delineating the two allows for a more concise construction of the logic behind civilian self-protection.

During counterinsurgencies, the flow of information is the central cause of mass atrocities.  Combatants use civilians to gather information about enemy troop movements and the identity of civilian supporters of the opposition.  Because armed actors need this information, but are often unable to verify it independently, civilians have quite a bit of power in determining the strategic use of violence.  This power is often abused.  Kalvyas and Kaplan have both extensively documented how civilians partner with armed actors not because of ideologies, but to settle personal scores.  Fear is also a powerful explanation for civilian cooperation.  Kalyvas argues that physical control by armed groups is a highly influential factor in explaining civilian cooperation, especially as the conflict progresses.  Finally, when armed actors lack information to determine who’s working with the enemy and who’s not, they may resort to indiscriminate violence to intimidate would-be enemy collaborators.  This strategy, however, is not very effective, and so combatants will likely only pursue this strategy when there is a lack of resources to devote to information-gathering.

To counter these issues, there are a few basic measures civilians can take.  Collectively, these measures are most coherently contained within the concept of “Zones of Peace” (ZoP’s).  ZoP’s have been established in varying forms and with varying levels of success around the world.  They rest on the basic principle of civilian non-participation in COIN.  In his study of ZoPs in Colombia, Kaplan lists a few generalizable strategies communities can use: Creating a culture of peace, implementing conflict resolution processes, creating internal investigative bodies that have the trust of armed actors, and naming and shaming.  The first two help prevent civilians from using armed actors to settle disputes, while the second solves the information problem for armed actors.  If combatants on are confident that a certain community is not aiding any armed group, then they are much less likely to target the community.  Finally, the last strategy allows civilians to shame certain armed actors that have committed abuses.  If the guilty parties need to maintain good relations with NGOs, foreign governments, and local civilians, they may refrain from committing atrocities in the future.  One final strategy is for civilians to confront armed groups en masse and demand an end to atrocities.  While confrontation carries a high element of risk, if an armed group is hesitant to kill large numbers of civilians at the same time, it can be effective.

Responding to communal conflict differs from COIN mass atrocity mitigation, but the difference is not as clear as one might think.  In both situations, civilians become the intentional targets of violence as part of a process in which other goals necessitate the use of violence directed against civilians.  One commonly advocated strategy to address communal violence, particularly among studies examining the Holocaust, is to identify societies with deep social cleavages and cultures conducive to mass killing, and then attempt to positively change those elements through public messaging.  However, since explanations focused on pre-existing societal rifts seem to poorly explain why mass atrocities emerge and these rifts are widespread and deeply-rooted in many societies, addressing such issues directly would require huge resources (human, financial, and institutional).  Instead, addressing “hot spots” (as mass atrocities are often committed and directed by a very small group) with contact programs or education aimed at violence-reduction could be effective.  Perpetrators beyond central leaders often have fairly apolitical motives for participating in mass atrocities, with group dynamics being a more important cause.  Therefore, creating an atmosphere in which potential perpetrators feel increased social pressure to not participate mass atrocities could have a positive mitigating effect.  Similarly, the public challenging of perpetrator leaders early in the process of mass atrocities can also reduce violence by creating the political will to withdraw the public complicity necessary to commit large-scale violence.  Communal violence is also often driven by misinformation.  This misinformation helps to create the social myths necessary to justify the killing of others, but it also can create erroneous beliefs about the opponent’s actions or motives.  Initiatives such as the Sentinel Project’s proposed text messaging service in the Tana Delta that would verify the truthfulness of rumors can help stop the spread of false information that leads to violence.

Two other locally-focused strategies that hold promise for mass atrocities violence mitigation are locally-led advanced mobile aid (LLAMA) and localized conflict early warning systems (LCEWS). LLAMA provides, quick, mobile humanitarian aid to communities at risk that are beyond the political, geographic, or temporal reach of traditional aid agencies.  It can also be adapted forcivilian protection in conflict situations.  It can improve information flow to isolated, at-risk communities and provide them with the information and the means to move to lower-risk areas when physical escape is the best option.  LCEWS are another important strategy.  Currently, early warning systems mostly exist at the level of national or international organizations, which according to Barrs, creates the problem that “alerts, bulletins, and reports are sent around the world in real time. Yet they rarely touch ground where the killing happens. They fly through cyberspace, high over the victims’ heads. People at risk on the ground might never learn that the ‘demarches’ we write on their behalf even exist.”  Therefore, localized early warning, especially ones with advanced vertical integration, could greatly improve the flow of information to at-risk communities, allowing them to better assess their options.

Ultimately, there are plenty of strategies out there for nonviolent, local mass atrocities mitigation, but the growing abundance of such studies has been largely ignored by policy makers.  So while policy makers would do well to accept less bureaucratic, nonviolent, and local methods for preventing and responding to mass atrocities, scholars also need to expand this idea theoretically, rather than the conceptually and geographically limited studies that populate the majority of the relevant literature.  A key question still remains: how do perpetrators and victims actually interact?  The dearth of scholarship that addresses this question on the theoretical level is a real shame, and better analysis could seriously improve our understanding of how civilians can protect themselves during mass atrocities.  It’s a question I’d love to see answered as work in this field progresses.

A Blueprint for Local, Nonviolent Responses to Mass Atrocities (Part I)

8 Aug

*This post originally appeared on the Sentinel Project blog.

The task of preventing and responding to mass atrocities mostly falls to international organizations.  While the UN and other regional organizations often develop approaches to mass atrocities and political violence, bureaucracy and competing political interests inhibit timely and effective mitigation efforts.  In light of this response gap, the persistently common occurrence of intrastate wars, and a peacebuilding culture that disproportionately focuses on the national level, prevention and response strategies must further examine how communities can protect themselves from the specter of mass killing.

To understand how nonviolent, local responses to mass atrocities can be effective, a brief typology of mass atrocities is helpful.  According to Harff (2003) and Valentino (2004), mass atrocities almost always occur during war.  In these moments of upheaval, extremists have a better chance of seizing power and the pursuing their radical goals.  While such agendas certainly do not always lead to mass killing, if perpetrators do not see another way to achieve their goal mass atrocities often result.  However, since perpetrator groups aren’t unitary, strategic choice theories that focus on groups on the whole aren’t fully explanatory.  Other conditions that have been demonstrated to be conducive to mass atrocities are: authoritarian regimes, group-based inequality, political polarization, and the existence of two main ethnic groups in which one is much smaller than the other.  Many scholars have emphasized the importance of political polarization and ethnic cleavages in predicting mass atrocities but, as Valentino writes, these are actually ineffective indicators.  As Kalyvas (2006) writes, wars may in fact be the main bases for ideologies and not vice versa.  So while ethnic cleavages are certainly a cause of mass atrocities, they themselves are largely shaped by conflict.

While scholars such as Daniel Goldhagen have argued that mass atrocities occur because of widespread hate and complicity among the perpetrator group, the reality is more complex.  Valentino argues that for mass atrocities to occur, it really only takes a small group of perpetrators in power and the complicity of society, which is uncomfortably often quite forthcoming.  Even in historical mass atrocities such as Rwanda, a relatively small number of individuals actually participated in the killing.  Killers are almost always part of military or paramilitary organizations, though civilians do play a large role in obtaining information and giving denunciations to armed actors.  In that sense are mass atrocities often quite personal.  As Kalyvas points out, these micro-level interactions help explain the often vast variation in violence levels by area in civil wars.

Responding nonviolently to mass atrocities on the local level is often a necessity as communities rarely have the military might to take on armed actors (though vigilante groups in Mexico and village defense forces in Colombia and Liberia are examples).  These strategies are surely not comprehensive for atrocity prevention on the whole as some scenarios make civilian actions futile.  Therefore, more comprehensive strategies must focus on vertical integration of prevention strategies.  However, scholarship on atrocity prevention and response has historically neglected the role that civilians play in their own defense (that fact was a main motivator for conducting this research).  Scholars frequently and erroneously charge that once violence in a mass atrocity situation has begun, there is little civilians can do to stop it.  This statement relies on two false assumptions.  First, it sees violence as dichotomous: either there is a mass atrocity or there isn’t.  Mass atrocities are a process in which violence builds and self-reinforces.  Certainly it becomes harder for civilians to intervene further along in the process, but that does not mean there is a point at which they immediately lose all effectiveness.  Second, it ignores the role civilians play in encouraging or slowing violence.  Numerous historical examples, from Colombia to Greece to the Philippines (Kaplan, Kalyvas, and Hancock and Mitchell respectively) demonstrate how civilians are able to decrease violence through strategic interactions with armed forces.  Finally, an emerging theme in conflict scholarship (Autesserre, Kalyvas, Kaplan) is attempting to understand the micro-dynamics of violence.  While more scholarship is certainly needed on the subject, the influence of individual civilians and communities on the course of armed conflict is likely larger than scholars previously believed.

The Gaping Hole in Genocide Scholarship

19 Jul

My thesis topic, nonviolent responses to mass atrocities and genocide, is not the most straight forward.  Few scholars have written about it in depth, and, if I do say so myself, it’s very conceptually difficult.   The idea does pop up frequently in related literature, but it’s almost always dismissed within a paragraph.  Luckily for me, these claims don’t hold much water.

When authors do address nonviolence in response to genocide (as opposed to mass atrocities or civil war violence, which gets more nuanced attention), the standard line is that nonviolence is powerless against an enemy committed to killing a certain group.  In the face of this type of single-minded hate, violence is the only defense.  At first glance, these conclusions make sense, but authors often contradict themselves later in the works where they make these claims.  Two examples here are political scientist Oliver Kaplan’s dissertation on civilian autonomy in Colombia and Chirot and McCauley’s Why Not Kill Them All?  I pick on these two works not because they’re problematic; both works, and Kaplan’s in particular, are great works of scholarship, but they both make the mistake of dismissing nonviolence as a response to genocide.

Kaplan cites Valentino on why civilian resistance to genocide is futile.  He contradicts this, however, by proposing that creating community processes for conflict resolution reduces the chances residents will use armed actors to settle local grudges.  This happened, for example, during the Armenian genocide, when Kurdish tribes allied themselves with the Ottoman Empire to eliminate Armenians.  The same thing happened with Banyamulenge, the Rwandan army, and Congolese Hutu.  Community conflict resolutions processes aren’t a silver bullet for stopping genocide, but they could potentially contribute to a decrease in violence by eliminating community divisions that can be exploited by armed groups with genocidal intentions.  Perhaps an even better example is in Why Not Kill Them All?, where Chirot and McCauley make a similar argument as Valentino.  They examine how “contact programs” and a strong civil society can provide a bulwark against the rise of genocidal ideologies and a fear of the “other” that lead to mass killing.  Both works outline nonviolent strategies that can prevent or mitigate genocide despite their claims to the contrary.

There are two central causes for this inconsistency in works on genocide.  The first is an overly simplistic conception of what stopping genocide entails.  Doing that is a long process that doesn’t commence in the middle of atrocities.  Basically, the authors have forgotten about genocide prevention, most of which is done nonviolently.  Secondly, these dismissals are based on a mistaken interpretation of nonviolence.  Nonviolence in response to genocide is so much more than unarmed civilians physically confronting their would be murderers, because we all agree that wouldn’t be very effective.  Conflict resolution programs, anti-hate education, finding employment for young men, the dissemination of truthful news, and humanizing portrayals of a potential victim group can all be used to prevent genocide (and it’s important to remember that all these strategies can be used after violence has started, because genocide develops gradually, meaning there is no point before which it’s “prevention” and after which it’s “response”).

So yes, it’s very much possible to prevent and respond nonviolently to civil war violence, mass atrocities, and even genocide.  Genocide is not a unique phenomenon, as compared to other types of violence, that only responds to force and not to “reason”.  It’s time modern scholarship accepted that.

Challenges of Studying Nonviolence and Conflict

12 Jun

I started my internship with the Sentinel Project Monday.  This means two things: 1) I’ve started doing research for my thesis which will also produce a set of policy recommendations for SP and 2) I have more time to blog regularly.  I knew my thesis topic, which will attempt to address the question “Is it possible to respond nonviolently to mass atrocities, and if so, how?”, would be challenging, simply because there is so little written on the topic.  And when I say “so little”, I mean basically nothing.  Therefore, I’ve quickly realized that much of my thesis will be aggregation and synthesis, rather than critiquing existing works on the subject and proposing slightly different theories (read some great, tangentially related, articles though).  Of course there’s plenty of work on nonviolence, civil wars, mass atrocities, and political conflict, but, perhaps because peace studies is a new field of study, few academic works link nonviolence, civilian protection, and political violence.  Most nonviolence literature deals with civilian attempts to overthrow governments, but fails to see civilians as active actors unless they participate in a social movement with a specific, macropolitical goal.  In his article on civilian nonviolent self-protection in Colombia, political scientist Oliver Kaplan underlines this problem nicely:

“Despite anecdotes of effectiveness and the buoyancy of activists, this literature on civilian movements remains under-theorized, without specifying causal mechanisms, or processes by which organized civilian resistance might affect substantively interesting outcomes. The causal ‘force’ of civilians has not been made falsifiable or comparatively evaluated against the positivist, macropolitical explanations of violence. As a result we have been unable to discern whether the effects of civilian social cohesion and organization in wartime are epiphenomenal to – derivative of – armed groups’ interests (as Kalyvas suggests they are). It is for good reason then that in Kalyvas’s (2006: 110) passing discussion of local committees in conflict zones he observes, ‘We know little about how they actually operate.’” ”

This theoretical gap means that the next step in nonviolence literature should be to understand how civilians interact with armed actors during conflict to protect themselves, but unfortunately, a theoretical study isn’t out there yet (or at least I haven’t found it).  Oliver Kaplan’s article (linked to above) is a good start, but even then, his work focuses on civil wars, where civilians are not the primary target.  In the community he studied in Colombia, civilians experienced violence when they participate, or are believed to have participated, on one side or the other of the civil war.  While even that distinction did little to protect civilians before a community association was formed, that thin buffer does not exist in situations where civilians are the target of large-scale violence.  Understanding how individuals can nonviolently protect themselves in these situations is the gap I need to fill with my thesis.

*If any readers have any suggestions on reading or approaches I could take, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Adding Nuance to the Peace vs. Justice Debate

29 Apr

The peace versus justice debate is unavoidable when it comes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The conversation goes something like: Team Peace argues that the immediate cessation of violent conflict has to take precedence over everything else, while Team Justice argues that ending impunity for human rights violations is crucial for deterrence against human rights violations in the future.  While this summary totally simplifies a complicated and multipolar conversation, these two camps shape the basic nature of the debate.  Though both have solid points, a messy, subjective truth lies somewhere in the middle and the effects of justice are heavily dependent on the specific situation.

While the division between peace and justice is not rock-solid, there are indeed real problems with pursuing justice over peace (a theme I’ve written about before).  A perfect example is Sudan.  The ICC’s arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir increases his need to stay in a position of power (though he says he will step down in 2015 this is probably more of a result of internal NCP politics and he certainly has no intention of handing himself over to the ICC), and has decreased his ability to participate in negotiations.  This fact decreases the possible avenues of engagement for the international community (to varying degrees depending on the actor) to bargain with Bashir, ultimately hampering the opportunities for an international tempering influence, which his is especially unfortunate given Bashir’s current position of weakness.

Another example of unintended ICC consequences is in Kenya, where ICC-charged duo Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were essentially brought together as a political unit because of their respective warrants that date back to the election violence in 2007-2008.  Ruto and Kenyatta were able to use their confrontation with the ICC as a symbol of their resistance against foreign influence, consequently gaining them votes.  Their ticket eventually won the Kenyan elections (though there seems to also be evidence that the ICC helped convince Kenyatta and Ruto to call for calm before and after the election), and Kenyatta is now the second head of state to have been summoned by the ICC.  Unlike Bashir however, Kenyatta has cooperated with The Hague thus far.

So while there are real downsides to justice over peace, there are also plenty of benefits from a justice-centered approach.  As Erik Voeten points out in his Monkey Cage post, the ICC is very effective in deterring human rights abuses in countries where “mid-level” human rights abuses take place.  Also, the ICC is quite good at influencing mid-level individuals.  While Bashir, as Sudan’s leader, is out of the ICC’s reach, mid-level individuals in security forces and rebel groups worldwide are much more expendable, and they know that if a higher-up decides they’re a liability because of the atrocities they’ve committed, they’ll be on the next plane to The Hague.  The threat of ICC prosecution, for example, had a positive effect in Colombia, and the institution is quite effective at deterring torture.

Unfortunately though, the existence of the ICC does little to deter the most egregious human rights violations.  Individuals like Assad, Bashir, and Gaddafi have never been cowed by threats of eventual justice.  Keeping power outweighs any potential risks.  Conversely though, the existence of the ICC does not encourage human rights violations as James Fearson argued.  While it is supposed to, the ICC does not really close off all escape routes (they’ve never been in short supply anyway) for human rights violators, but these escape routes, in the end, have little effect on the level of human rights violations committed.  It is not as if Assad is being encouraged to kill as many people as possible before escaping to the ICC; leaders like Assad and Gaddafi never had any intention of pulling the escape cord when it looked like they have a credible chance of losing.  While the ICC can do little to prevent leaders bent on maintaining power through any means necessary from doing so, it can at least provide a just conclusion to some of these cases (Bosco Ntaganda is a good example), an outcome which shouldn’t be trivialized.

Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive phenomena, and while one can sometimes endanger the other, the specific context of each situation must always be taken into account before making a policy recommendation.  Ultimately, this is a debate that the ICC will have to enter to an increasing degree in coming years.  While it has made some progress, it must to do more to address the problems that come with an inflexible, justice-centered approach.  Luckily, it does have the tools to do that.  Article 53 of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC, allows for the Chief Prosecutor to offer amnesty to a perpetrator in the interests of the victims.  This precedent should not be applied in every situation, but does potentially allow the ICC to take a more critical approach to its activities.  The ICC has certainly been a milestone achievement in the fight to end international impunity for large-scale human rights violations, but it is not without its problems.