Tag Archives: Libya

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.

Conflicts to Watch in 2013 (Part II)

3 Jan

Here goes part two of conflicts to watch for civilian protection advocates in 2013.

Kenya

It’s deja vu all over again.  Another round of elections that comes with the potential of violence.  The elections in 2007 caused 1,500 deaths due to a disputed election split along ethnic lines.  Unfortunately, a very similar result is possible this time around.  The two main contenders are Raila Odingo, a Luo, and Uhuru Kenyetta, a Kikuyu, and both these candidates were accused of personally encouraging and directing violence in 2007.  Like last time, this an election mostly based on ethnicity, considering the similar nature of the candidates’ platforms.  Worryingly, according to some observes, ethnic tensions are even worse than they were five years ago.  Weapons proliferation means that attacks that were mostly conducted with machetes and bows and arrows in 2007 now may be undertaken with handguns and small arms.  Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, but the warning signs are there.

Syria

The new year looks exceedingly bleak in Syria.  A recent casualty estimate by UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay  puts the total at 60,000, which is 15,000 more than even Syrian opposition groups have been reporting.  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this sort of carnage will end before Assad falls, but even then, there are no guarantees for Syria’s civilian population.  While some have argued that Assad will not fall until he runs out of money (which likely wouldn’t be this year),  the situation in Syria is more complicated than in Libya, where literally the only thing keeping Gaddafi in power was his money.  Assad will almost certainly fall this year, and that’s what the world must prepare for.  I’ve written before on the real dangers of talking about Syria in the framework of intervention while ignoring that the conflict between the FSA and Assad is not the potentially defining moment for the international community.  Post-conflict Syria will not be a paradise: there is a real danger of a genocide directed against the Alawite minority.  While the Syrian National Coalition was quick to condemn attacks against civilians (and contains a more diverse set of Syrians than its identically acronymed predecessor), the FSA’s actions have not stayed consistent with these lofty statements.  Alternatively, a post-conflict power struggle between Islamists and secularists (even if those divides are simplistic) is not out of the question.  2013 is likely to be a very bloody year as both sides increasingly resort to military solutions to political problems.  Instead of focusing on toppling Assad, the international community needs to take a more civilian-orientated approach and come up with strong, concrete proposals to stop the violence as soon as possible.

Central Asia

Central Asia is the only region to not appear on both Foreign Policy’s and the Council of Foreign Relations’ list, which isn’t entirely surprising, considering its under-representation in world media and the lack of an immediate and obvious threat.  Despite the lack of a clear, easily-definable threat in any of the four countries discussed below, poor governance and unresolved conflicts threaten regional stability and the health of each individual state.  Uzbekistan is one of the world’s most repressive countries, and there is no succession plan for 74-year-old dictator Islam Karimov.  In Tajikistan regional tensions between Gorno-Badakhshan and the central government in Dushanbe remained unresolved following a clash in July.  For Kyrgyzstan, the problem isn’t necessarily what happened in 2012, but what might happen in 2013.  While ethnic relations in Osh, the site of attempted ethnic cleansing in 2010, have improved, there has been little international engagement on prevention in the past two years.  Lastly, Kazakhstan has problems on two fronts.  Firstly, a small Islamic jihad group called Jund al-Khalifah has launched sporadic attacks.  While there are debates about how homegrown the movement is, its presence does seem to point to at least some limited organic support for the group.  Secondly, in December 2011, Kazakh police fired on striking oil workers in Zhanaozen, killing several.  Again, there are debates on how representative Zhanaozen is of social relations in Kazakhstan, and while narratives that use the Arab Spring framework to categorize Kazakhstan are simplistic, there are serious problems at the core of Kazakh state and society.

Not If But When: Planning for the Inevitable Syrian Rebel Victory

23 Nov

Debates in the UN have, for months, have focused on whether or not military intervention should happen on Syria.  These debates have dragged on and on with little movement in any direction, and have also simultaneously ignored that the conflict is no longer a stalemate: the rebels are winning.  Not only are they winning, but there is increasing evidence that Assad has lost his ability to eventually prevail.  It’s unclear when the Syrian rebels will win, but a post-Assad Syria is now a near certainty.  Therefore, the focus for international actors needs to shift from dilly-dallying on intervention to serious planning on how to safeguard human rights once the Assad regime is toppled.

Unlike in Libya, the decision on the behalf of Western powers whether or not to intervene will not be the defining moment of the conflict.  At this point in the conflict, the effects of intervention will not be military, but rather political.  How will intervention affect the involvement and credibility of western governments in building a new regime?  In Libya, NATO members have taken a relatively hands off approach, and while there are still many problems, the country has held free elections and is relatively stable.  The west has far from a perfect record on state-building, but there are some things, such as aid money, technical expertise, and bureaucratic capacity that the international community could provide without trying to handpick Syria’s new leaders.

The sectarianization of the conflict does not bode well for the eventual losers in Syria. In Libya, the sides were definitely partially drawn along ethnic lines, but the contours were not nearly as clear as they are in Syria.  Assad has armed Christians, Alawites, and Druze, and these groups have sided with almost exclusively sided with the government.  This ethnic dynamic has caused numerous sectarian killings over the course of the war, and the hateful rhetoric is only growing louder.  Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect writes, “Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element.”  While the Syrian National Coalition is certainly more representative than the Syrian National Council, the structural factors do not seem positive for Alawites, Christians, and Druze.  If the international community wants to have a lasting legacy in Syria, civilian protection and human rights promotion has to be the central focus.  Unfortunately, the prospects for international involvement in these areas looks grim.  There has been very little international condemnation, if any, of the sectarian killings carried out by the FSA.  Similarly, the west’s record in preventing minority persecution in Libya is dismal.  A serious change in orientation is needed to protect minority groups from likely being at the mercy of Sunni militias once Assad is defeated.

Another big question that has been largely ignored is what post-conflict justice will look like in Syria.  The ethnic dimension only amplifies the dangers of a harsh, victor’s justice.  Therefore, this is the second key area in which western governments can participate.  There are numerous routes that this effort could take, from the ICC to a truth and reconciliation commission.  Whatever method is chosen, it must apply equally to all participants in the conflict and allow the Syrian people to move one with the sense that justice has been done.  For Western governments, it is not enough to simply hasten the downfall of Assad.  In order to play a constructive role, foreign nation must begin working with Syrian partners to assure fair representation, respect for human rights, and a comprehensive justice mechanism in an inevitable post-Assad Syria.