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South Sudan Watch: Uniting Rival Clans

JUBA, Sudan–“You are the same people,” the southern Sudanese vice president Riek Machar remarked to a conference room full of elites and traditional leaders from the Lou and Jikany clans of the Nuer tribe. “What is the problem?” he asked, seeming to be genuinely perplexed as to the causes of continued conflict between these two groups.

“If it is the land, if is the water, if it is the fish, can we not discuss it?” the vice president, himself a Nuer from a different clan native to the areas west of the Lou and Jikany peoples, continued. “Water has been here all this time. The fish have been here. So why is there conflict now?”

By “now,” Machar meant in relatively recent times. He noted that there have been serious problems between the Lou and Jikany people in the area of the south which they share since 1993, when clashes between the Lou and the Cie Kuek (a section of the Jikany clan) left a lasting impact of displacement along the Sobat River that remains a conflict trigger today.

This particular area of Nuerland–bisected by the Sobat river which runs through the heart of the “Sudd,” Africa’s largest remaining intact wetlands–has suffered from internal insecurity for decades. Cattle raids, revenge killings, problems between local administrators, boundary disputes, displacement…these are just some of the problems caused by the persistent mistrust and enmity between these two clans of the same tribe.

A friend working in this area explained to me that the area which the Lou and Jikany share, called Wanding, is strategically situated along the fertile fishing grounds and swampy areas of the Sobat. Both communities rely on this area because they are primarily pastoralists, which make them reliant upon cattle grazing grounds (known as toic) and the river for fishing. When drought comes to the Wanding area, fishing becomes more difficult and the toic shrinks, which sparks conflict between the Lou and Jikany communities due to the increased competition for limited resources.

Peace conferences between the Lou and Jikany elites and traditional leaders yield resolutions and promises that are often broken when tensions between the two groups spike for one reason or another. The meeting in the southern capital Juba where Machar spoke was a “brainstorming workshop” between these leaders. Although I do not doubt that this meeting served as a useful forum for the two communities to discuss the issues their people are facing, it is hard not to note the irony of the western jargon, which was necessary given that the meeting was sponsored by USAID.

It is easy, however, to be a critic, and harder to understand what exactly could be done to bring an end to the extremely localized tensions between various groups in southern Sudan.

Vice President Machar made the case for why finding the answer to this question is so important for the future of the southern Sudanese, who will likely choose to form their own country in their self-determination referendum in January 2011:

Sustainable peace is connected to development. If people don’t see changes in their lives…If their kids don’t go to school… then [these areas] will continue to have insecurity. But if there are schools, development, people will change their attitudes toward life.

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What Bashir’s Kenya Trip Tells Us About the ICC, US Policy in Sudan, and the Prospects for Justice in Kenya

This is what it looks like when an indicted war criminal thumbs his nose at the international community:

Flouting international demands for his arrest on genocide charges, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan arrived in Kenya on Friday to participate in a ceremony inaugurating the country’s newly minted constitution…News reports said Mr. Bashir was escorted into Uhuru Park in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, by the minister of tourism, Najib Balala, to attend the ceremony marking the adoption of the new constitution, supposed to hasten democratic reform in Kenya, a nation generally depicted as pro-Western.

This is problematic on a few of different levels.

First, it represents a very serious challenge to the ICC itself.  The ICC relies on states to execute arrest warrants. If member states like Kenya simply ignore their obligations to the ICC, the court will become irrelevant –  its warrants barely worth the paper on which they are written.  The precedent was actually set when Bashir visited Chad last month, also an ICC member state.  These are the sorts of actions that could fatally undermine the court–which, after all is very young and still trying to establish its place in the pantheon of international law and international institutions.  If its own member states continue to provide free pass to indicted war criminals, they may weaken the court to the point of irrelevance.  Anyone who wants the court to succeed in its mission of punishing and deterring war crimes ought to regard this kind of challenge as a very serious. 

Second, what does Bashir’s international travel say about the Obama administration? Kenya and the United States have warm relations. As David Bosco notes, had the United States wanted to expend significant diplomatic capital, they likely could have stopped the trip.  But they did not.  Viewed in the context of the ongoing administration debate between those in the administration who want to losen pressure on Khartoum in order to secure itscooperation with South Sudan’s independence referendum, and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who reportedly prefers a more confrontational approach to the Sudanese leadership, it would seem that the engagement crowd is controlling Sudan policy.  (Maybe that is why many activist groups are so eager for the President himself to weigh in, to the point of takign out full page ads in Martha’s Vinyard newspapers?) In the meantime, Bashir  seems to be cracking down on his political opposition and continuing a policy of genocidal destruction in Darfur.

Third, Kenya’s decision to ignore the arrest warrant does not augur well for its own peace and reconcilliation efforts. The ICC actually has an open investigation in Kenya, stemming from the bloody communal riots following a closely disputed election in 2007.  The ICC would probably not have opened this investigation should the Kenyan government followed through with its promise to establish a Special Tribunal. Now, with Kenyan government so openly rejecting their legal obligations to the ICC, one can only suspect that the prosecutor’s office will encounter countless hurdles as its investigations gets off the ground. 

So, all in all, this is a very bad day for the ICC.  

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Leaked UN Report Levels Serious Accusations Against Rwanda

Following a year-long investigation, and just weeks prior to its official release, a 600 page report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) was leaked. The report, which seeks to shed light on war crimes committed between 1993 and 2003 in the the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), suggests that the Rwandan army (RPA) and Congolese AFDL rebels carried out attacks against Hutus in the DRC which “could be classified as crimes of genocide.”

These allegations, if they are kept in the final version of the UN report, have serious political implications for the newly re-elected president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who was heading up the Rwandan army at the time these crimes were committed. That Hutus were massacred in the DRC in the years following the Rwandan genocide has always been suspected; it is the allegation that these massacres could potentially constitute a crime of genocide which is particularly damning.

What are they key questions raised by this allegation? Here is what you need to know about this leaked UN report:

Allegation, not charge

  • Jason Stearns, who blogs for the Christian Science Monitor, notes that “the report was not based on the same high standards of a judicial investigation, it was intended to provide a broad mapping of he most serious human rights abuses between 1993 and 2003.” This is a critical point: only a proper judicial investigation and court proceedings  can lead to this allegation becoming a charge, and produce potential convictions. Until this point is reached, it is important to take note of the exact wording of the report: “The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report, which targeted very large numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death, reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.”
  • That being said, the leaked report has already reached media outlets around the globe, and hundreds of stories have been published noting these serious allegations. Whether a charge is ever brought against perpetrators, the allegation in the leaked report is serious enough to compromise Kagame’s status as an internationally-recognized “visionary leader” and a model for African leadership.

Rwandan government reaction

What next?

  • The question remains as to whether the final report by the UNHCHR will mention the genocide allegation. The UNHCHR or the Secretary-General have declined to comment on the leak, which suggests that political pressures are at play. Analysts are noting that the report may have been leaked prior to its official release for fear that the final, official iteration of the report would exclude the incriminating allegation against the RPA and the AFDL.
  • Nevertheless, whether or not the final report includes this specific sentence will not necessarily affect its validity or relevance. This report is the first comprehensive review of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. Unique in its exhaustiveness, it charts severe abuses and human rights violations suffered by civilians during that period which were committed by different rebel groups and armies from five different countries. The thousand of testimonies and  documents gathered for the investigation are an important step towards punishing the impunity which characterized violence in the region during that period. 
  • It’s unclear at this stage whether the UNHCHR report will lead to eventual charges or a prosecution. As mentioned earlier, only a court can deliver an indisputable verdict on the nature of the crimes that took place in the DRC.

One of the report’s co-authors, Luc Cote, a Canadian war crimes prosecutor who investigated the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and was subsequently in charge of the legal office of the UN International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda from 1995 to 1999, is unequivocal in his views. Speaking to AFP, he noted: “I saw a pattern in the Congo that I’d seen in Rwanda. It was the same thing. There are dozens and dozens of incidents, where you have the same pattern. It was systematically done.”


UPDATE: The Rwandan government released an official statement concerning the leaked report, describing it as “malicious, offensive and ridiculous.” Read the full statement here.

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Flooding, Fires, and Climate Finance: This Week in International Climate Negotiations

The World Resources Institute recently released updated estimates of the “fast-start” climate mitigation and adaption commitments rich nations made to poor countries after the Copenhagen summit. The headline figures are pretty impressive: Developed nations have set aside an estimated $27.9 billion, a combined total that is only $2 billion shy of the amount they promised between now and 2012. Environmental think tank WRI was quick to note that “while this represents a significant step in the right direction, developed countries still have much to do in meeting their Copenhagen fast-start pledge.” With unprecedented costs of combating climate-related disasters in Pakistan and Russia, one must ask, is this pledge a big enough step?

Fast-start money matters

First a bit of background: The fast-start pledge was only intended to help fund poorer, more vulnerable countries’ climate efforts from now through 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol is due to expire. The negotiators who cobbled together the non-binding Copenhagen Accord at the eleventh hour of the last big climate summit hoped to have a successor treaty with larger, binding climate finance figures in place before then. The Accord established a goal of ramping up mitigation and adaption funding to $100 billion by 2020.

Unfortunately, the diverging negotiating positions of rich and poor countries that have emerged since the Copenhagen summit make it less likely that a binding treaty will be agreed upon and ratified by 2012. This dreaded “Kyoto gap”–as the expected space between the end of the current greenhouse gas regulatory regime and whatever comes next is now being referred to–has developing countries clamoring for assurances that rich nations are still committed to cooperatively addressing the threat of climate change.

One simple way for the developed world to reaffirm its resolve is by meeting the existing fast-start pledge made in Copenhagen. The importance of this point was made explicit before the Bonn climate talks by the environmental ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India, and China–an influential collection of emerging economies that have coalesced into the “BASIC” negotiating block. In a joint press release, the BASIC ministers warned that “fast-start finance will be the key for an effective result in the climate change negotiations in Cancun.”

Tallying the pledges

Although the Bonn talks failed to establish firmer climate finance figures, WRI’s estimates suggest that the developed world has still made progress in fulfilling the commitment it made in Copenhagen. In March 2010, WRI found that developed countries had only allocated some $23.2 billion. The fast-start financing picture has improved considerably since then. By mid-August, rich countries had collectively exceeded their 2010 pledge by a quarter of a billion dollars and were less than that amount away from reaching the $10 billion promised in 2011. The biggest shortfall is in 2012 but–given that some major countries like the US have not yet begun budget negotiations for that year–that nearly $3 billion gap seems less daunting.

The analysis accompanying WRI’s new figures warns of two likely sticking points: additionality and delivery. In other words, are countries’ fast-start promises additional to existing development aid and will they actually pony up the cash? On both points, there are reasons for developing countries–and anyone holding out hopes that rich and poor countries can agree on a Kyoto successor treaty–to be wary.

Neither the Copenhagen summit nor the Bonn talks succeeded in establishing what exactly “additionality” means. “As a result,” WRI notes, “countries have proposed a variety of methods for defining the additionality of their fast-start finance.” With literally billions of dollars in immediate question, this is a huge stumbling block that could continue to drag down the progress of ongoing climate negotiations.

Another worry for international negotiators is whether or not these funds will every make it to the vulnerable developing countries that need them. “Though the commitments are clear, their delivery is uncertain,” WRI warns. Like the US aid in 2012, WRI points out that “some of the funds have yet to go through national budget appropriations processes.” (How effectively the funds are spent when they make it there is more of a concern for the international institutions disbursing the aid, the national politicians trying to get their hands on it, and the citizens whose futures depend on it.)

Problematic precedents

Further complicating the fast-start finance picture are the recent bills racked up by Pakistan and Russia in disasters that many are attributing to climate change. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain told Reuters rebuilding his country may cost “more than $10 to $15 billion” over five years, while the cost of wildfires to Russia’s economy has been estimated in the $15 billion range. These disasters have made painfully clear that $10 billion a year spread across the entire developing world will not go very far to address the very real cost living with a changing climate.

Poor country negotiators pointed out the inadequacy of the fast-start figures at the Bonn talks. This enraged developed nation’s who thought they’d settled on agreeable climate finance figures in Copenhagen. The US negotiator Jonathan Pershing complained that some countries were asking for “staggering sums out of line with reality.” He and other developed nation negotiators are likely downplaying the bridge funding the fast-start dollars represent and focusing on drafting a new treaty that will codify the hundreds of billions promised annually beginning in 2020.

What Pershing was referring to at Bonn was not scientific or economic reality, but rather the increasingly bleak political reality of the international climate negotiations. The success developed nations have had in reaching their fast-start commitments in spite of the fraught domestic and international politics of climate change is a rare glimmer of hope. Whether it will be overshadowed by lingering, legitimate concerns about the additionality, delivery, or adequacy of the aid remains to be seen.

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UPDATE: Mass Rape In DRC Topic Of Emergency Security Council Session

Between July 30 and August 3rd, two militia groups in eastern DRC went on a rampage and gang-raped at least 179 women in a community of villages. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo has a base about 30 kilometers from the site of the attack–but apparently was unaware of the attacks as they were happening.

How and why the peacekeeping mission failed to respond to the attack is the topic of discussion at an emergency Security Council meeting this morning.  Ambassador Rice tweets that she will brief the press after the council adjourns this morning. You can watch that briefing here, so stay tuned. In the meantime,  Hillary Clinton, who visited rape victims in the DRC last year and chaired a Security Council about rape as a tactic of war, released a statement:

The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the mass rape of women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – an armed, illegal rebel group that has terrorized eastern Congo for over a decade – and elements of the Mai Mai, community-based militia groups in eastern Congo. This horrific attack is yet another example of how sexual violence undermines efforts to achieve and maintain stability in areas torn by conflict but striving for peace.

The United States has repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world, and we will continue to speak out on this issue for those who cannot speak for themselves. Less than a year ago, I presided over the UN Security Council session where Resolution 1888 (2009) was unanimously adopted, underscoring the importance of preventing and responding to sexual violence as a tactic of war against civilians. Now the international community must build on this action with specific steps to protect local populations against sexual and gender-based violence and bring to justice those who commit such atrocities.

Sexual violence harms more than its immediate victims. It denies and destroys our common dignity, it shreds the fabric that weaves us together as humans, it endangers families and communities, it erodes social and political stability, and it undermines economic progress. These travesties, committed with impunity against innocent civilians who play no role in armed conflict, hold us all back.

When I visited the DRC last year, I learned an old proverb — “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.” In the depths of this dark night of suffering and pain, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. The United States will do everything we can to work with the UN and the DRC government to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable, and to create a safe environment for women, girls, and all civilians living in the eastern Congo.

UPDATE: The Security Council session concluded and council President Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN Ambassador, read out a “press statement” agreed upon by the council. The statement “demanded that all parties…cease all forms of sexual violence.” It called upon the government of the DRC to investigate the attacks. 

In terms of anything more substantial, it seems that we will have to wait until the council is briefed by two other UN officials dispatched to the region.  The second in command at UN Peacekeeping, Atul Khare and the newly appointed Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom, are leading an investigation into why a UN peacekeeping force nearby did not intervene.  The initial reactions from Churkin and Ambassador Rice was unequivocal that something went deeply wrong.  Ambassador Churkin said “clearly, not everything worked as it should.” Ambassador Rice echoed this sentiment, saying “things did not occur as they should have.”

It seems we will have to wait for the Wallstrom and Khare briefing for answers. 

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South Sudan Watch: Gerrymandering, Sudan-Style

JUBA, Sudan—Sudan’s national elections in April highlighted the fact that elections are a process, not a one-day event that happens only on polling day (or during polling period, since Sudan had five days of polling). This is significant because a process can be manipulated more easily and more subtly than a one-day or five-day event. Some thoughts on this note…

An analyst friend of mine has examined “lessons learned” from the elections with an aim of providing recommendations for the conduct of the referendum (I’ll highlight his paper on this blog when it is published). He argues that the conventional wisdom on the relationship between Sudan’s April elections and the looming southern self-determination vote is wrong. According to my friend, who has worked on elections in several contexts, the idea that the two events are markedly different and should be treated so runs contrary to the fact that the referendum and elections are in fact quite similar from a technical stand point. So if there’s anything to be learned from the April polls, it’s that what happens in the run-up to the polls—for example, during voter registration—can and will likely have a big impact on the fairness and credibility of the south’s independence vote on January 9, 2011.

Today I had the chance to interview the deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, and the head of the commission’s southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut. The interview didn’t yield any stories for the AP wire, but I wanted to share his insights. Justice Chan is the deputy chief justice of the Supreme Court of Southern Sudan, has been serving on the bench in Sudan since 1979, and has a degree in legal anthropology from Harvard.  Ithoroughly enjoyed hearing his perspectives on referendum-related issues. Here’s part of the transcript from the interview:

Under the elections law, the secretary-general had a lot of power and he was able to manipulate things. And even the state high committees in the southern were all answerable to Khartoum. Now the high committees report to the southern bureau which is here [in Juba]. So we have a chance of correcting things…

There are attempts currently being made by the [southern] Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to transport people living in the north to the south. I don’t know how soon they are going to do that. But certainly there will be [some southerners] there who will hang around. They have been there for 20 years, through the war. They will have difficulties coming down here. They don’t have houses here anymore and their children are in school [in the north]. So we certainly consider some of them will stay there and that they will register there. But voting in northern Sudan is our greatest area of fear. Because there are talks in the media that there are two million southerners in the north which is not true because during the census Khartoum went on record saying there were 500,000 there so how did it jump like that? So you can see that kind of mentality, it is an indication that this issue could be manipulated.

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