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The grave site of 31 members of a family killed by the Taliban in a January 2001 massacre in Bamiyan province, Afghanistan. Photo credit: Una Moore

The Perils of Mapping Afghanistan’s Conflict

Five years ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) produced a conflict mapping report of crimes committed by all armed factions in Afghanistan between April 27, 1978 and December 22, 2001.

The report is not available on any UN website.

Some members of the international community claim it was briefly available on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) website, but was taken down following diplomatic alarm and immediate complaints that naming Afghan government officials in connection with serious international crimes would hurt the UN’s political mission. Others say it was never intended to be publicly released. Whatever the case, the report has been passed around on flash drives among a select group of Afghan and international activists and lurked unread and virtually hidden in out-of-the-way corners of the web for years.

It will reach a wider audience now that Thomas Ruttig and Sari Kuovo of the Afghanistan Analysts Network have linked to a leaked pdf version of it in their recent blog post about the good that the Nobel Committee could have achieved had it awarded this year’s Peace Prize to Afghan human rights pioneer Dr. Sima Samar.

The executive summary of the mapping report states:

No document can fully describe what the Afghans have lived through. Every Afghan has a story to tell, or many stories, of suffering and loss, and also of those responsible: the armies, militias, commanders, and gunmen—some Afghan, some foreign—who fought each other for ideals, political power, money, and revenge. Some victims became perpetrators, and some perpetrators became victims in a cycle of violence that has slowed but not yet ended.

Seven things you should know about the leaked report:

1. It’s based mostly on open-source materials.

Unlike the leaked UN conflict mapping report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Afghanistan report is composed mostly of information that is available elsewhere; in old newspaper articles, in Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports, and in scholarly articles and books. (A small but significant percentage of the information in the report comes from unpublished papers and interviews unavailable elsewhere.)

What makes this point important is the fact that the UN used these sources, and deemed their accounts credible enough to include in its own document. The mapping report is a narrative of Afghan history between 1978 and 2001 as the UN understands it. It is the backstory top officials carry into meetings with Afghan politicians and foreign diplomats.

2. It’s gruesome.

Compiled from human rights reports, interviews with refugees and former humanitarian workers, and journalistic accounts from Afghanistan’s war, the report is a nearly 300-page catalog of the most gruesome acts human beings are capable of: mass executions, mass rapes, conscription of child soldiers, humanitarian blockades, and the international community’s indifference to the mass suffering of Afghans across three decades. It’s the kind of text one shouldn’t read before sleeping, or without a bottle of hard liquor close at hand. The mental images of inhumanity one is left with after reading are the indelible, conscience-shocking kind. Prisoners bound together, doused in gasoline, and burned alive during the Afghan-Soviet war. Crowds of civilians running through the streets of Mazar Sharif in 1998, fleeing the bullets the victorious Taliban rained into the bazaars from truck-mounted machine guns. The skinning of a teenage boy during a village massacre in 2001.

3. It covers all sides.

No fighting force comes away looking good in the report, including the U.S. military and its Afghan allies. The last few sections detail the U.S.’s use of cluster weapons in civilian areas, denial of due process to prisoners, and involvement in enforced disappearances.

The chapters on the Northern Alliance’s crimes describe how Pashtun communities in northern Afghanistan were targeted for displacement, looting, rape and murder by non-Pashtun militias during the late fall and winter of 2001, and how Taliban prisoners of war were summarily executed.

4. It’s incomplete.

Nine years is a big chunk of 31 and change, and the mapping report doesn’t cover anything after December 2001. Since then, thousands more civilians have been killed, most at the hands of the Taliban, but many also by pro-government warlords who never had reason to worry they would be held accountable and by actions of international forces, particularly airstrikes and house raids.

5. It’s politically dangerous.

It’s disheartening, though not surprising, that the UN mapping report was considered too dangerous to publish.

In 2005, Human Rights Watch published its most controversial Afghanistan report to date, ‘Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity.’ Testimonies included in the HRW report implicated former militia commanders, many of them senior political figures, in the killing, torture and disappearance of tens of thousands of Afghans during factional battles in Kabul between 1993 and 1994.

The report rocked Afghan politics, but not in the way HRW and other human rights advocates had intended. In 2007, members of the Afghan parliament with ties to former armed factions passed legislation that granted blanket amnesty to former combatants.

International outcry followed, and President Hamid Karzai refused to sign the legislation. In late December 2009, it was quietly published in the official gazette and brought into force anyway. Justice advocates were dismayed, and furious. But, by then, transitional justice was a toxic topic in diplomatic circles and guaranteed to earn Afghan activists death threats in the field.

6. It was meant to be a call for action.

The mapping report was written around the same time as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) report ‘A Call for Justice.’ It’s obvious the two reports were intended to strengthen each other; the UNHCHR report described a history of crimes against civilians and the AIHRC report provided hard evidence of broad public support for transitional justice. The mapping report even states that it “hopes to establish a baseline for further documentation.”

Moreover, the atrocities described in the report include the most serious crimes under humanitarian law, and states are obligated to prosecute them. The Crimes of War Project explains:

While it is hard to say categorically that there is a general prohibition against amnesties in international law, international treaty law –including some of the conventions to which Afghanistan is a state party such as the Geneva Conventions, the Torture Convention, the Genocide Convention– obliges states to prosecute or extradite in relation to certain crimes. Afghanistan is also a party to the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutes of Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (1983), which specifically bars State Parties from enacting legislation that provides for statutory or other limitations to the prosecution and punishment for crimes against humanity and war crimes and requires them to abolish any such measures which have been put in place (Article IV). The amnesty law appears to breach all of these obligations.

7. It upsets the media narrative of the ‘nine-year war.’

You’ll read many articles with phrases like “nine years into the war,” phrases that belie the fact that Afghanistan hasn’t been at war for nine years –it’s been at war for nearly 32 years, with the intensity of violence and perpetrators of mass crimes changing over time, but no periods of real peace.

A 40 year old Afghan woman alive today likely remembers peace only from her parents’ stories of it. Her children have never known anything but wartime, and her grandchildren have been born into the fourth decade of conflict. In 2001, NATO didn’t start a war in Afghanistan; it intervened in one that had been going for over 22 years and was already one of the world’s worst and longest-running humanitarian disasters.

Any proposed solution to the conflict should take into account that war has now defined life for four generations of Afghans. Likewise, would-be deal-makers should keep in mind who has suffered, who has inflicted suffering, and who is most –and least– likely to break the cycle of violence.

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SG travels from Morocco to France, Security Council debates the Middle East, Bachelet addresses Member States on UN Women, and more from UN Dispatch

SG Travels: after spending the weekend in Morocco, the SG is expected to arrive in France this evening to address the Council of Europe and European Parliament in Strasbourg.  While in Morocco, the SG addressed the opening of the World Policy Conference in Marrakesh, highlighting the need to help the poor and most vulnerable, fight climate change and work together on “new-generation challenges” (such as organized crime, terrorism, the vulnerability of migrants and biotechnology).

Open debate on the Middle East: Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, ASG for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning, warning that six weeks after direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began, we are at an impasse as the parties have not met since September 15th.  He noted that the SG has publicly expressed his disappointment that the moratorium on settlements was not renewed, and reaffirmed that settlement activity is illegal under international law and goes against the Roadmap.  Fernandez-Taranco said that the Quartet envoys have been in regular contact and Principals are discussing a proposal to meet soon to review developments.  The SG continues to believe that, if the door to peace closes, it will be very hard to reopen.  Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Ambassador Brooke Anderson underlined U.S. efforts to continue direct negotiations, expressing disappointment with the “announcement of new tenders in East Jerusalem on October 14, which was contrary to our efforts to resume negotiations”.  She also commented on the situation in Gaza, the need for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, the SG’s panel on the investigations by Israel and Turkey on the flotilla incident and the need for the efforts of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to “go forward without interference”.

Security Council adoptions &  consultations: late last week, the Security Council held a number of meetings which touched on a wide range of regional security issues from Haiti to Sudan, the SC Mission to Africa and the DRC.  On Haiti, the Council unanimously adopted Res 1944, extending the mandate of MINUSTAH for one year at current force levels (military component of up to 8,940 troops and a police component of up to 4,391 officers), encouraging the Mission to provide support to the Government for the upcoming elections and requesting the SG provide a comprehensive assessment of the threats to security in Haiti, specifically relating to women and children, after the election and transfer of power in 2011.  In her remarks, Ambassador Rice stated that the U.S. has committed $5 million to the election fund administered by UNDP, in addition to another $8 million for the National Democratic Institute and International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

On Sudan, the Council extended the mandate (14-0-1) of the Sudan Panel of Experts that monitors the targeted arms embargo and sanctions.  China abstained from the vote, as it doubted the objectivity of the report of the Panel.

On the DRC, SRSG Wallström briefed on her recent trip there stating, “where sexual violence is planned and orchestrated as a tactic of war, it must be viewed as preventable”, and calling on the Security Council and wider international community to find and charge the perpetrators.  The recent arrests of FDLR leaders, later charged in Paris under an ICC warrant, should “serve as a warning to perpetrators everywhere”.  In a series of recommendations to the Council, Wallström called on the DRC to conduct investigations, urged the deployment of police in Walikale, North Kivu and requested that MONUSCO continue monitoring and reporting on activities in the DRC.  During Friday’s briefing on MONUSCO, head of Mission and SRSG Roger Meece said the mass rapes in eastern DRC and assault on a MONUSCO base had prompted a “major internal review” on civilian protection activities.  In response, a more visible and active MONUSCO presence has been established and “Operation Shop Window” – to put pressure on armed groups – was carried out throughout most of September.  Other initiatives underway include increasing communications and outreach.  Overall, Meece estimated 15,000 rapes were committed last year in DRC.  Looking forward, Meece said, MONUSCO needs a broader strategy that goes beyond the military and encompasses a wider range of issues including security sector reform.  Mission recently launched a six-month training program for 500 recently-integrated Congolese national police.  Impunity and illegal extraction of minerals remain huge problems.

Briefing the Council on its Mission to Sudan earlier this Month, Ambassador Rice said the purpose was to demonstrate the Council’s solidarity of support for the upcoming referenda.  She also spoke of South Sudan President Kiir’s proposal for a UN-administered buffer zone between the North and the South, later expressing her skepticism when speaking to the press, but adding that alternative models which focus on vulnerable border areas could be feasible.

Sudan: speaking to the press today in Khartoum, SRSG for Sudan Haile Menkerios touched on the recent press attention regarding the possibility of additional UN troops, stating that the UN is addressing needs and will continue consultations with the parties to determine the best way to provide assistance.  No decision has yet been made by the Council.

UN Women in Third Committee: last week the Third Committee took up its agenda item on the Advancement of Women, where Michele Bachelet addressed Member States for the first time in her capacity as Executive Director of UN Women.  In her remarks, she outlined the three primary changes in establishing UN Women; namely, elevating leadership to USG level, working towards greater coherence (and bridging the operational and normative aspects of the UN’s work) and achieving a financial investment commensurate with the vision for change.  Over the next three months, Bachelet will focus on making UN Women operational by January 1, 2011, strengthening collaboration with UN entities to achieve greater coherence on gender equality, re-engaging constituencies that advocated on behalf of the establishment of UN Women and reaching out to States to build innovative partnerships to secure the $500 million proposed for UN Women’s start-up phase.  In a related NGO event last week, Moez Doraid, Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM. indicated that the 41-member Executive Board would be elected in October and four seats would go to the highest donors (two from donor countries and two from developing countries).  In addition to UN Women amalgamating existing functions of the UN system, it will also incorporate research/analytical work, coordination of UN system strategies for gender mainstreaming, strengthening the UN’s accountability and reporting on compliance with mandates on gender balance.

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How Big is the Market for Sex Trafficking?

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (signed in Palermo, Sicily of all places). Ahead of a meeting in Vienna, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual “Threat Assessment” of Transnational Organized Crime.  Not surprisingly, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation remains a top criminal enterprise.

So how big is the market?  From UNODC:

National survey data suggest the percentage of men who have purchased sexual services in their lifetimes varies considerably between countries and over time. According to the Kinsey surveys in the 1940s, 70% of adult males reported having paid for sex at least once in their lives, but this was at a time when non-compensated extramarital sex was far less common than today. More recent surveys suggest the figure today is closer to 19%. Recent surveys in other countries suggest a similar figure in Sweden (13%), the Netherlands (14%), Australia (15%) and Switzerland (19%). Spain (39%) is an outlier in Europe, as is Puerto Rico (61%) in North America. The comparable figure is even higher in Thailand (73%).

Extrapolating from International Labor Organization data, UNODC estimates that one in seven sex workers in Europe are trafficking victims. These victims are exploited for, on average, two years.  This means that 70,000 women must be trafficked annually to meet market demands.   Using other survey data, UNODC deduces:

If there were indeed 140,000 trafficking victims in Europe, they could produce perhaps 50 million sexual services annually. At €50 per client, this would constitute a market worth €2.5 billion (equivalent to some US$ 3 billion) annually.

To sum it up: in Europe about 19% of men purchase sexual services from sex workers. About 1 in 7 of these sex workers are victims of trafficking by organized criminal groups. These groups, in turn, gross about $3 billion annually.   Each of these cases are individual tragedies.  But taken together this data shows how public policy is failing to protect hundreds of thousands of women from exploitation and abuse.

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David Frum Blames America for Canada’s Failed Security Council Bid

David Frum rather amazingly blames America for Canada’s failure to win a seat on the Security Council.

The story of Canada’s disappointment at losing the Security Council seat took a new turn Thursday: “U. S. State Department insiders say that U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice not only didn’t campaign for Canada’s election but instructed American diplomats to not get involved in the weeks leading up to the heated contest. With no public American support, Canada lost its bid to serve.”

So reported Richard Grenell, a former press officer with the U.S. mission to the UN.

Grenell is right that Susan Rice was AWOL during the Security Council elections. She was travelling in Africa, which does seem a strange thing for an UN ambassador to do at such a crucial moment. [Emphasis mine]

First things first.  Rice was indeed, “travelling in Africa.” But it is not like she was on a safari.  She lead a group of Security Council permanent representatives to South Sudan, Darfur, and Khartoum, among other places.  And indeed this trip does come at a ‘crucial moment’ if you care about preventing a conflict that could lead to mass atrocity or genocide.

But more to the point: Having Canada on the Security Council is no more or less a “victory” for American foreign policy than having Portugal as a member. It is not as if Portugal is more wobbly a partner on the Security Council than Canada. When there are tough votes at the Security Council, both countries will reliably vote with the Americans. Still, Frum speculates that the United States actually engineered this outcome by not pushing Portugal out of the race earlier because of a secret deal between Brazil, Columbia and the United States.

I think the answer is much simpler: The United States did not intervene:  1) because the Obama administration believes that holding competitive elections for open Security Council seats is an example that western democracies ought to set for the rest of the world; 2) Because a race between Portugal and Canada is not something in which the United States has much to gain or loose either way.

To be sure, it is a shame that Frum’s homeland (and the homeland of my own forefathers) is taking this so hard. But the fact is, Canada is not the international boyscout it once was. Prime minister Stephen Harper’s decision to align himself with Frum’s former boss on issues like climate change and  human rights is coming home to roost. The rest of the world took notice, and when given a choice between Canada and Portugal, apparently decided that Lisbon was alright with them.

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from website of Chile's USA Embassy

What the Chilean Miners Tell Us about the Limits of Compassion

By Harold Pollack

The other morning, I woke to two National Public Radio stories which exemplify both the exhilaration and the challenge facing anyone concerned with global development.

The first depicted the gripping rescue of Chilean miners who had been trapped underground since early August. This fantastic story included the cheers of emotional onlookers, including many wives, girlfriends, and children of the 33 men.

The elemental human drama was inescapable—as was the courage and ingenuity of the rescue. NPR’s normally-staid website captured the mood of the moment, including profiles, pictures, and videos of each of the 33 miners. Victor Zamora, the 14th miner to be rescued, worked at the mine for five years. He sent poems to his pregnant wife, and he is the father of a 4-year-old boy. A short video shows Raúl Bustos kissing his beautiful wife moments after he was brought up to the surface. Pedro Cortez, the next to be rescued, is shown hugging a beautiful little girl. On it went.  This was an amazing story, watched by a reported one billion people around the world.

The second excellent story, by Jason Beaubien described Haiti’s efforts to recover and rebuild nine months after its devastating earthquake wrecked the economy and government, leaving 1.5 million people homeless. Beaubien does his best to describe the human impact of the disaster, even as he accurately describes the policy challenges Haiti faces in mounting a successful recovery effort. Despite Beaubien’s evident craftsmanship, many listeners surely heard  “it’s still a mind-numbing problem,” as the main point.

The contrast between these stories highlights the challenge facing anyone working in development or public health. It’s easy to get people to pay attention and to help 33 identified people who require a single dramatic rescue. It’s much harder to get the same level of attention and action when millions of people face larger, complicated, and chronic challenges after a mass disaster.

It’s not that there are no human faces to the Haitian crisis. It’s that there are too many: too many people, too many varieties of intense suffering, too many issues to address. No single dramatic act will rescue Haiti. What’s needed is a huge, sustained effort that is as boring to watch as the construction of a new flood levee or a new public housing project, but quite important.

These two stories highlight aspects of human psychology, which consistently distort public policies. Researchers such as Paul Slovic and George Loewenstein have documented these biases, often through ingenious but depressing psychology experiments which explore people’s willingness to help needy others under varying circumstances. Nicholas Kristof has brought this work to public attention, among other places in a sardonic column titled “Save the Darfur Puppy.”

One aspect of the problem is that people are so much more willing to act on behalf of specific identified people than they are to act on behalf of even much larger numbers of unknown or as-yet unidentified people, even these latter human beings face precisely the same risks. (Before the accident, what could be more boring than discussing the finer points of safety regulations in an obscure coal mine or whether some backyard well has the proper childproof barriers?) These biases pose special problems for public health prevention. It’s always a whole lot easier to get public funding for an advanced lung cancer treatment than it is to secure these same funds for tobacco control efforts that would prevent many more, equally agonizing lung cancer deaths.

The same research indicates something even more depressing: How quickly people succumb to compassion fatigue and fatalism when confronted with the full scale of a problem such as Haiti’s. Problems that huge are literally mind-numbing. It’s just so easy to believe that there is nothing we can do. It’s also easy to believe that to really address these problems would require correspondingly huge actions on our part, beyond what we can realistically be expected to do. Thus, in the public mind, events like the Haitian earthquake travel a predictable pathway from crisis to problem to condition. In the end, we do much less than we can very little, comforted by the lazy belief that our efforts wouldn’t help much anyway.

In one of several lab studies cited by Slovic, Swedish students were given the chance to donate to Save the Children to help a needy 7-year-old child named Rokia. A second group was offered the same opportunity for another child named Moussa. A third group was given the same information as the first two groups, and was told that any donation would help both Rokia and Moussa. The third group gave less money than the first two. As Nicholas Kristof notes: “Time and again, we’ve seen that the human conscience just isn’t pricked by mass suffering, while an individual child (or puppy) in distress causes our hearts to flutter.”

Such biases are pretty stupid, but they are also deeply human. Kristof tries to address them in his own writing by showing real human faces of people affected by genocide, mistreatment of women, and other maladies. That’s essential.

It is also essential to resist the pessimism by focusing on humanitarian and development efforts that are actually working. The Chilean rescue is inspiring, in part, because it is an obvious achievement with a picture-perfect happy ending. We can’t solve global health and development problems with a single victory as they could in Chile. Yet we can offer specific and credible strategies that markedly relieve famines, reduce maternal and infant mortality, bring girls into school, curb HIV, river blindness, and other diseases.

Over the past decade, the quality of development aid has greatly improved, and such efforts are much more rigorously evaluated than they used to be. Organizations such as MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab have produced prize-winning evaluations of well-designed, well-implemented interventions.

Advocates for global health and development often mobilize public support in wealthy countries by highlighting the sheer magnitude of human suffering that must be addressed, and the urgency of doing more. These news stories provide a timely reminder that we must balance sobering messages with more optimistic and empowering ones that energize people in difference ways.  In many areas, global humanitarian and development assistance is more effective and more successful than ever before. There is so much more to do, and hundreds of millions of people desperately need help. And life rarely resembles a TV movie.

In a better and smarter world, arguments for global aid would speak for themselves. In this world, giving donors more stories to smile about on an individual human scale seems essential to secure the needed help.

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration, and Faculty Chair of the Center for Health Administration Studies at the University of Chicago.

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A Cow Sacrificed, A Rod Honored—Will Southern Sudan’s Reconciliation Efforts Bear Fruit?

JUBA, Sudan—Southern Sudan’s ruling party is continuing its overtures to southern military and political forces whom it angered before and during the disputed April elections process, pursuing a simple but clever strategy that the party badly needs to succeed.

By attempting to shore up all potential political and military rivals before the southern referendum vote in January, the ruling SPLM is hoping to reduce the chances that the Khartoum government will adopt its tried-and-true “divide and conquer” strategy. Khartoum’s tactics are well known for their brutal effectiveness in Darfur, but they were also used during the most recent north-south civil war.

During that war, a divided south proved to be a great advantage to the north, who exploited internal rivalries and indirectly prolong the conflict by backing various militia leaders who split from the main branch of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army, the guerilla rebel movement who eventually morphed into today’s SPLM, which is the ruling party in the Government of Southern Sudan.

With the referendum fast approaching, the idea that the north stands to lose a lot from southern secession is not lost on anyone, from Khartoum’s finance minister to the U.S. Secretary of State. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that the National Congress Party may attempt to tamper—likely indirectly—with the referendum and its aftermath in multiple ways.

Enter the SPLM’s strategy: offer olive branches to dangerous former militia leaders, grant amnesty to senior southern army commanders who rebelled after the April elections, make promises to opposition politicians—all in the hopes of keeping the south united during the “final walk to freedom,” aka an on-time and peaceful self-determination vote on January 9.

One of these northern aligned southern militia leaders is Gabriel Tanginye, who traveled from Khartoum to Juba last Thursday to participate in talks with the SPLM and to consider the option of rejoining the southern army. Yesterday in Juba, at a traditional ceremony at Southern Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar’s house, Tanginye joined Machar in holding a sacred rod representing unity and strength among the Nuer tribe (see photo above—far left, northern Sudanese army major general Mabor Bhol, who accompanied Tanginye to Juba for reconciliation talks with the southern government, and far right, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the southern government’s representative in Washington).

… Stay tuned for more on two other dissident southern military figures—Lt. Gen George Athor of Jonglei state and Gatluak Gai of Unity— who launched post-elections rebellions against the south but who are now expressing interest in rejoining the army.

This post was cross-posted on Maggie Fick’s website. Photo credit: a friend in Juba who wished to remain anonymous.

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