Tag Archives: Prevention

What Will the Future of Atrocity Prevention and Response Hold?

13 Feb

*I started writing my thesis last week.  Because that’s taking up a lot of time, I just wanted to post the lightly-edited last section of the first draft of my first chapter.  If you have any thoughts on what I could do better, please feel free to share them.

The next twenty years will be an exciting time for the concept of early warning.  I believe the same applies to atrocity prevention and mitigation.  The idea of early warning, and certainly quantitative early warning, is in its infancy.  There is a good chance that the next two decades will see the institutionalization of early warning systems (EWS) within IGO’s, regional organizations, and national governments.  On the prevention and mitigation front, R2P is less than a decade old.  Unlike any norm before it, it provides a moral, legal, and operational backing for the prevention and mitigation of mass atrocities, which in turn deters potential perpetrators.

There are plenty of other reasons to find hope in efforts to close the response gap.  First, EWS’s are improving.  They are becoming more accurate, they are reaching out to include previously untouched constituencies, and their proliferation across Africa demonstrates that they are now accepted as a necessary component for any effective anti-atrocity policy.  Another positive sign is an emergent vein of scholarship that looks at how to direct early warnings to civilians on the ground rather than policymakers operating in metaphorical ivory towers.  Along these lines, there are signs that the UN and regional organizations are improving their early warning capacities.

While evaluation of the effects of early warning is difficult and practically nonexistent, it does seem that the international community is getting better at it.  Kenya offers a good case study.  In 2008, post-election violence killed thousands of people.  Accordingly, prior to the 2013 elections, many analysts predicted a similar outcome.  Fortunately, the elections went off with very little violence.  Why?  Well, combining analysis before and after the elections provides a picture of a thorough and multifaceted prevention effort.  Writing in 2012, Babaud and Ndung’u argue that while there were serious flaws, Kenya is one of the few places where locally-led conflict prevention and early warning have happened.  They also note the importance of the emergence of crowd-sourced prevention initiatives like Ushahidi, which provide quickly-available and accurate information on conflict dynamics.  Unlike many early warning systems, Kenya’s had a clear and systematic flow of information, represented by this diagram:

Writing after the elections, Jay Ulfelder surveys a number of experts on Kenya and concludes that there were four main preventive efforts that had an effect: (1) a conscious effort by the Kenyan media to limit inflammatory reporting spurred by a combination of international pressure and memories of 2008, (2) a government SMS service that blocked hate speech, (3) investment in Kenyan infrastructure between 2008 and 2013, and (4) the restraining of major political actors through their links to Western money.  He notes that these findings may not be generalizable to all prevention efforts primarily because the violence in Kenya would have been election-related.  Regardless, it shows that not only can the international community work together to promote prevention, but that an array of fairly simple programs can have a real impact on the reduction of violence.

In 1999, then-UNSG Kofi Annan wrote, “Today no one disputes that prevention is better, and cheaper, than reacting to crises after the fact.  Yet out political and organizational cultures and practices remain oriented far more towards reaction than prevention.”  Seven years later, in a report to the UNGA, he wrote, “In its resolution 57/337, annex, paragraph 35, the General Assembly recognized the need to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations for early warning, collection of information and analysis. I regret to report that no significant progress has been made in this area. In fact, unlike some regional organizations, the United Nations still lacks the capability to analyse [sic] and integrate data from different parts of the system into comprehensive early warning reports and strategies on conflict prevention.”

Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2014, little more progress has been made.  Despite early warning’s long history within the UN, it is still barely an institutionalized concept.  If there are some reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for closing the response gap, there are just as many or more to be pessimistic.  As it stands, the existence of any system that combines an intelligence gathering mechanism, an early warning component, and results in capable prevention or mitigation strategies is a fiction and will be continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The same institutional and psychological barriers that prevent successful atrocity early warning, prevention, and response will persevere.  Ominously, a recent spike in both state collapses and global social unrest has likely contributed to a recent increase in mass killings, and this trend does not show an obvious sign of abating.

One estimate is that less than ten percent of civilians that survive natural disasters do so because of outside aid.  This figure is likely even higher for civilian victims of violent conflict and mass atrocities considering the more advanced nature of disaster EWS’s and the relative lack of political complications caused by disaster aid.  Even if there is major progress in closing the atrocity response gap in the next twenty years, the vast majority of civilians will have to survive on their own.  Therefore, when we talk about outside prevention and intervention, we must remember that the efforts of the international community are ultimately peripheral to the conflict experiences of most individuals.  Intervention is not, and will never be, a sustainable solution for preventing and mitigating mass atrocities around the world.  Survival is almost always the burden of the persecuted.

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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.

Analysis, Activism, and My Experiences with the Two

8 Jul

A couple of weeks ago, Daniel Solomon wrote this in an email to me, “…I see myself as an analyst, an institutionalist, and an advocate; never as an activist, in the sense that my “theory of change” is intra-hegemonic (within the institutions of power), rather than counter-hegemonic. So, I approach my work on mass atrocities through that lens–morally problematic, perhaps, but as I see it, much more effective in achieving what I see as foundational goals. We can go rounds on this, but suffice it to say that when de Waal chides human rights activists for their proximity to power, I disagree, at least partially.”  While Daniel’s thoughts on a theory of change for atrocities prevention deserves its own blog post, these lines did get me thinking about how I identify personally as an activist or an analyst.  This post then is a rumination on that topic.

I first got involved with what can be classified as atrocities prevention in high school (though the phrase probably would have been lost on me then), though I had always been interested in international affairs (which, at an earlier age, was embodied in soccer) and human rights.  I participated in Amnesty International and this experience was important in influencing future decisions, but at that point, my understanding of the issues was minimal.  In college, I got involved in STAND, which ended up being the experience that really drew me into the atrocities prevention field.  I quickly became interested in involving myself further with STAND, but it wasn’t immediately clear in what way.  At first, I conceived of STAND in an activist context, but I never really found a role positioning myself as an activist in the broader anti-genocide movement.

There was a strong activist culture at Swarthmore and I shared a lot of the same values, but I didn’t really fit because I was interested in international rather than domestic issues.  I also didn’t have much experience with or enthusiasm for organizing work (and when I did try, I learned I wasn’t very good at it).  I found myself, for example, more interested in the politics and logic of nonviolent struggle rather than its actual execution.  I thought about starting a conflict minerals campaign at Swarthmore, but soon after that, I saw the David Aronson article that challenged the core tenets of the conflict mineral approach.  I’m not sure if it was solely this incident, but that article was certainly an important moment in making rethink my previous approach to genocide prevention activism which pretty much boiled down to this: learn that people are dying, and look up strategies to help without doing too much organizing, spending more than a few weeks on the project, or leaving Swarthmore’s campus.  This theory of change obviously has its limitations, and so the more I realized that, and the more I got involved in Swarthmore’s intellectual culture, the more I moved away from a purely activist mindset (not a pejorative, but just a descriptive term for lack of a better word).

Though many friends at Swarthmore like myself are interested in working with oppressed communities to help improve lives, international issues, and mass atrocities in particular present a special challenge.  The advocacy entry points are limited by borders, bureaucracy, apathy, language, and money in a way domestic issues aren’t.  Making changes then, simply becomes much harder.  Bec Hamilton’s Fighting for Darfur made me deeply skeptical of the ability of mass movements to affect positive change on atrocity prevention and demonstrates that an intention to do good is not nearly good enough when it comes to genocide and mass atrocities.  The barriers I mentioned mean that more time and expertise is required to influence and create atrocity policy in comparison to domestic policy (though I am no expert on domestic activism so I welcome any challenges to this conclusion).  This realization swept over me gradually, and so I began to change the way I looked at atrocities prevention.  Reading about the issues took up more of my time, and actually engaging academically with current events became important.  And so over time, perceived effectiveness influenced my personal preferences (I have a genuine intellectual interest in studying violence and international politics that goes beyond any specific goal) and vice versa to push me in more analytic direction.

Returning to Daniel’s quote: while I’ve thought a lot about how different approaches to atrocities prevention work influences outcomes, the dichotomy between activism and analysis is not entirely defined.  Personally, I came to atrocities prevention work in an activist mindset influenced by my then-theory of change and other influences, such as my grandfather’s history as a Holocaust survivor.  And while I seriously changed the way in which I think I can create change, my goal, to prevent atrocities, remains the same.  That goal is inherently activist as it seeks to change current societal conditions.  However, changing mass atrocities prevention and response largely involves getting involved with national and international institutions or creating other organizations that can work directly with communities at risk.  To do this, speaking the language of international politics scholarship is a must.  Therefore the methods to reach the goal of preventing atrocities are beyond the scope of what’s traditionally considered activists’ realm.

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.

Reimagining Violence: Civilian Peacekeeping in Atrocities Response Policy

29 Sep

*This post originally appeared on Securing Rights.

While military responses to mass atrocities remain an emerging tool, various forms of military intervention—including unilateral, multilateral, and covert military activity—have become increasingly popular in public discourse. As Micah Zenko has observed, militant perspectives on atrocities response have become widespread, among civilian policymakers and public commentators alike. Often, support for military interventions relies on short-term, limited criteria: that is, whether or not the intervention successfully roots out the violence.

In order for a military intervention to be truly successful, however, it would have to not only mitigate violence against civilians, but also build the target nation’s capacity to prevent further violence from occurring. As the United States’ nation-building exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, however, military forces have little ability to establish resilient institutions and build a strong civil society. While military interventions may eliminate some of the forces responsible for violence against civilians, Dursen Peksen has demonstrated that foreign interventions may increase the level of human rights abuses committed by the target government. While the notion of a “neutral” force deployment has gained currency in contemporary discussions of atrocities response in Syria, the notion of a neutral intervention is a fantasy; as Richard Betts has argued, any active military forces takes a side when engaging hostile forces. The glaring ineffectiveness, as well as the inevitable non-neutrality of external interventions, should take military intervention off the table as a future response to mass atrocities.

In spite of the negative long-term effects of military intervention, many human rights advocates and hawkish policymakers reason military force as a moral imperative. Diplomacy, a crucial, if undervalued mechanism for atrocities prevention and response, is often demonized, due to the perceived moral hazard of negotiating with unsavory regimes, non-state actors, and multinational institutions. Mass atrocities are messy, and even if negotiated settlements are imperfect, they can have a positive impact on the trajectory of violence in civil conflict.

Civilian peacekeeping (CP) remains an under-utilized approach. Civilian peacekeeping has its roots in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence: he imagined a nonviolent army of civilian peacekeepers, but was unable to complete his vision before his 1948 assassination. His vision was partially realized in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Shanti Sena, a nonviolent peacekeeping force, intervened in three separate riots in India, with varying, but generally positive levels of success. Other organizations, like Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), Peace Brigades International (PBI), Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), and Michigan Peace Team (MPT) have more recently emerged as forms of civilian nonviolent intervention in conflict areas worldwide. Civilian peacekeeping, based on the theory of third-party nonviolent intervention, relies on a diversity of tactics: interposition, observation and documentation, protective accompaniment, and modeling nonviolent behavior. NP, the largest organization of the four, maintains hundreds of professional peacekeepers from around the world. NP has successfully deployed peacekeepers on a long-term and short-term basis. NP maintained peacekeepers in Sri Lanka for almost ten years during the civil war, and has responded quickly to outbreaks of violence in Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, and South Sudan.

CP has some important advantages over traditional forms of peacekeeping. Since peacekeepers are civilians, they do not represent entire governments, nor are they burdened with the military mindset that contradicts civilian protection strategies. Civilian peacekeepers may maintain their neutrality, as they seek to prevent violence on all sides, whereas humanitarian military interventions pick a side when they engage an opponent. Civilian peacekeepers’ mediation is both more constant and non-hostile, so peacekeepers may establish a rapport with multiple conflict parties, making broad-based participation more likely. CP, as a form of non-state intervention, avoids the burden-sharing dilemmas frequently associated with military interventions. In addition to its structural benefits, CP’s emphasis on civil society participation is its greatest value-added. A strong civil society is crucial to preventing mass atrocities and a component of any well-functioning, participatory society. The presence of civilian peacekeepers is a constructive process, as peacekeepers work with the community to create sustainable domestic institutions. With their focus on constructive, rather than destructive civilian protection, CP operations should play a more prominent role in international atrocities prevention and response policy.