Hey Folks. Quick site announcement. I’m very pleased to introduce to the site Alanna Shaikh. (<—- That’s Alanna!) Regular readers may recogognize Alanna from her participation in our New Agenda for Women and Girls roundtable. Deeper still, mavens of the blogosphere know Alanna for her excellent work on Change.org’s Global Health site and her own Blood and Milk blog. Alanna’s an American living in Dushanbe, Tajikstan who has had a fascinating career working with a number of health-related development organizations in Central Asia and the Middle East. Welcome aboard!
The estimable Eve Ensler has been doing yeo(wo)man’s work in calling attention to the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war in eastern DR Congo. Yesterday she wrote a forceful op-ed in The Washington Post on the subject, criticizing the UN for not doing more to implement a historic resolution passed by the Security Council last year that officially designates rape a war crime.
A few points: first, the passing of Resolution 1820 last year was itself an impressive accomplishment. That said, it was also embarrassingly belated. Rape has been a favored tactic of war criminals throughout history, and, morally at least, it has stood as a crime throughout.
Ensler is also right to bemoan the extent to which the promise of the resolution — an end to impunity for rapists, the widespread stigmatization of rape as a crime of the highest order, an eventual eradication of the practice — has been achieved in reality over the past year, particularly in Congo. Here, too, though, some perspective is in order. If it took the Security Council 60 years to classify rape as a war crime, it will prove even more difficult to enshrine this conclusion as a norm on the ground. This is not to excuse any delay in eliminating the climate of rampant rape that exists in places like Congo; but the reality is, in a world in which slavery, impressment of child soldiers, and genocide are still sadly prevalent, human rights norms can take a while to be realized on the ground. This is only more so the case in eastern Congo, where the world’s most appalling levels of rape make it arguably the most difficult test case imaginable for such an ambitious resolution.
Ensler is rightly incensed that a firm system of accountability is not in place to punish perpetrators of rape:
Rapes continue to be committed with near complete impunity. While the number of criminal prosecutions has risen marginally, only low-ranking soldiers are being prosecuted. Not a single commander or officer above the rank of major has been held responsible in all of Congo. Rapes by the national army are increasing, too.
I couldn’t agree more that more perpetrators, especially those in the higher ranks, need to be prosecuted. But to suggest, as Ensler does, that the UN should be doing the prosecuting misunderstands the confines within which the organization works. It is not mandated to conduct trials of Congolese citizens. That is the responsibility of a Congolese government that has, unfortunately, far too often turned a blind eye to rape conducted by its own soldiers and by the rebels it is combating.
Both the UN and other countries’ governments should be doing more to press the Congolese state to treat the crime of rape more severely. Resolution 1820 was a milestone. More important, as Ensler so passionately argues, is making sure that its potential is realized on the ground, in some of the worst places in the world to be a woman or girl.
(image from flickr user Julien Harneis under a Creative Commons license)
Judging by the relative silence in western media, nary a peep does it make. But there are some striking similarities between the unfolding situations in Honduras and Niger. To wit:
Country A) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term. Country B) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term.
Country A) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution Country B) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution
Country A) Supreme Court decides this is not legal. Country B) Supreme Court decides this is not legal.
Here, however, is where the similarities seem to end.
Country A) The military, backed by opposition leaders, ousts the president.
Country B) The president declares a state of emergency, dissolves the supreme court and arrests the main opposition leader.
A, is of course, Honduras. B is Niger, where aformentioned opposition leader accused President Mamadou Tandja of carrying out the equivalent of a coup. And, it would appear, President Tandja is coming under fire from both the European Union and Economic Community of West African States, both of which have cautioned Tandja over his proposed term-extension. The African Union may also pile on when it meets in Libya for a summit today.
In Niger, the military has so far stayed neutral. But is this the sort of case where the military can act as an check on the power of the president and as a guarantor of the constitution? As usual, Paul Collier has some smart views on this sort of thing.
The only force that leaders truly fear is their own military. After all, a leader is far more likely to lose power as a result of a coup than in an election. Coups are now regarded by liberal opinion as an anachronism: soldiers should stay in barracks. While this is obviously right as an ultimate goal, it is too sweeping in the short term. Introducing elections before checks on power induces an incumbent to uproot the limited checks that might already be in place. This, essentially, was what happened in Zimbabwe, as Mugabe uprooted the tender shoots of the rule of law in order to steal elections with impunity. Ruling out any political role for the military may exclude the only force that might be effective against tyranny.
Despite being unfashionable, coups are undoubtedly treated by incumbents as a serious threat. But they have been an unguided missile, indiscriminately displacing both corrupt and decent regimes. To improve electoral accountability, we need to provide coups with a guidance system. For many years the EU and other international bodies have monitored the conduct of elections, declaring whether they were “free and fair.” However, these judgements have not been linked to any significant consequences. I want to introduce a red and green card system for coups according to the monitoring rules. A verdict of “free and fair” would lead to a red card: a statement that the international community would use its best efforts to put down a coup against this legitimate government…A judgement of “not free or fair”… would mean is that if the military launched a coup, the government would not be protected. Of course, a green card would constitute a signal: the international community would be inviting the military to take action.
Obviously, the situations in Honduras and Niger are different from Collier’s ideal-type of coup. But something to keep in mind.
A clip of Honduras President Manuel Zelaya at the United Nations yesterday afternoon. He is due in Washington, D.C. today.
As if being indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity was just a lukewarm bath…But prosecutors are going to go for the full boil — a charge of genocide — again, as the ICC will re-hear evidence for the crime that it declined back in its original March ruling.
The court, set up in 2002 by international statute, could change its decision if the prosecution could gather additional evidence, the ICC said in March.
My friend Kevin Jon Heller has much more on this, but I didn’t think this was (or at least should be) about gathering additional evidence. Any overturning of the rejection of the genocide charge would seem to require an acceptance that the Sudanese government demonstrated intent to target a specific ethnic or racial group; and I’m not sure how additional evidence would prove this intent beyond the extent to which it’s already been demonstrated. I’ve read plenty of accounts, for example, of the prevalence of racial epithets during Janjaweed attacks, some of which was conducted by the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry.
So while I think a genocide finding would be legally correct, I have to assume that it was a political decision (albeit a kind of bizarre one) not to indict Bashir with the g-word, and I thus don’t hold out too much hope of the ICC changing its mind.
…but the UN is staying. Almost 500 international personnel (and again that many Iraqis) work for the UN in Iraq, maintaining a key presence in cities like Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. And as pretty much everyone acknowledges, what’s most important for the country in the coming months is national dialogue, political reconciliation, and regional cooperation — the very areas where the neutral brokers wearing the blue berets are taking the lead.
Somewhat ominously, though, the reasons why the UN is going to be so important in Iraq are also the reasons why its job might become even more difficult — and dangerous. I know that today, June 30, is more symbolic than anything else, but with the gradual drawdown of U.S. forces, UN officers are losing their primary source of security. August 2003 showed us what can happen when UN outposts are not sufficiently protected, and, unfortunately, insurgents are not likely to shy away from targeting UN blue. With the departure of the most prominent targets — U.S. military — I worry that, in addition to terrorizing civilians, spoilers may increase their attacks on UN personnel.
Here’s what the UN’s outgoing Special Representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, had to say about today’s Day of National Sovereignty:
While the Iraqi people and government is today celebrating the withdrawal of the MNF-I forces from Iraqi cities, towns and villages the SRSG said that “what has been achieved is a real source for congratulation. I know that the Government is fully aware of what remains to be done in providing better services to the people, greater inclusiveness at many levels, and improved security for all. But significant progress has been achieved on many fronts. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq has worked hard to contribute to this progress in a number of areas, and my colleagues who will remain behind in the country are totally dedicated to continuing these efforts.”
(image of Fijian members of UNAMI, from UN Photo)
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.