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Rape has not yet ended in DR Congo

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)

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Coup in Honduras

It's mainly being looked at through a Hugo Chavez-centric lens, but yesterday, the Honduran military arrested the country's president, Manuel Zelaya, in Latin America's first post-Cold War coup. Zelaya was an ally of the Venezuelan leader, and Chavez is already blaming the CIA for having a hand in Zelaya's ouster.

The reality seems to be that this was more of an internal Honduran political affair. The Huffington Post, in fact, is reporting that the Obama Administration had been trying "for weeks" to avert a coup. So both Chavez and the United States (as well as other bedfellows like Fidel Castro and the Organization for American States) are calling on the military to restore Zelaya to power.

It's tough to say what is less democratic here, since the immediate cause of the coup was a rather Chavez-like attempt on the part of Zelaya to negate his term limits, but the U.S. State Department is playing the safe card of, you know, opposing military coups and not looking like they’re trying to topple governments in Latin America. Given U.S. history in the region, that's probably the safe bet.

Here's a video from China's CCTV. I was on the lookout for bias, but the most I found was some apparent indignation that Zelaya was "detained while still in his pajamas!"

UPDATE: Brookings' Kevin Casas-Zamora argues (in The Argument, of course) that, even though he started this whole thing, Manuel Zelaya needs to be reinstated.

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Another reason to worry about the Swat Valley refugee crisis

This Guardian editorial makes a smart point about the war in Afghanistan "AfPak":

It is true that the Pakistanis have finally woken up to the dangers of their equivocal relationship with fundamentalist groups, and have taken serious military action against the Taliban. But they have done this in a way that has caused both civilian casualties and dislocation on a scale that may eventually rebound against them.

Great. So not only is there a gargantuan humanitarian emergency in Pakistan's Swat Valley, but the after-effects of this mass human displacement could, quite naturally, eventually blow back in the faces of both Pakistan and the United States. I'm sure most, if not all, of the displaced Pakistanis are glad to see the Taliban finally booted out, but they also can't be too happy about being forced to leave their homes because of the government's rather heavy-handed military operation. And this is something to be very careful about.

The other point of not here is that, while critics are busy chastising the Obama Administration for not showing strong enough "solidarity" with Iranian protesters, this is a case in which some choice words about protecting civilians, given to an ostensible U.S. ally, could actually make a difference. I'm not saying that a wave of Barack Obama's magic wand could ameliorate the displacement crisis caused by the Pakistani military operation (the U.S.'s own hasn't done so great in the civilian protection department next door in Afghanistan), but this is certainly an example where the U.S. has some amount of real influence on the lives of human beings, as opposed to in Iran, where political posturing is the only thing that's really at issue.

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Natsios spins the g-word

If Andrew Natsios, the former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan who now makes a hobby of criticizing current policy toward the country, had some actual policy recommendations, I'd have an easier time taking him seriously. As it is, his most substantive gripe is that people keep using the "g-word."

As Mark argued before, what's important is not what we call the situation in Darfur. We should have moved beyond that debate long ago. Instead, partially due to activist groups, yes, but equally to those critics like Natsios who furiously -- and wrongheadedly -- contend that because not that many people are dying, it can't be "genocide," the conversation remains stuck on the level of classification. This "g-word" politics only ties the hand of actual policy and, from both sides, makes it more difficult to address the issues that everyone acknowledges are important: chiefly, securing a peace accord and ensuring that the fragile North-South deal does not collapse.

Calling what happened in Darfur by its rightful name, "genocide," does not impede our ability to talk with Khartoum. Conversely, vehemently insisting that the word not be used does not give us an upper hand in negotiations. It's not easy to formulate a Darfur policy, but there has to be one that transcends this stale debate of how to employ a word fraught with political and moral overtones.

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Tragic irony in Somalia

Excuse me if I find some irony in Ethiopia declining the Somali government's request to send troops, when all indicators point to the likelihood that Ethiopia already sent some of its troops "reconnaissance missions" over the border weeks ago. (Not to mention the irony of Somalia inviting back the very military presence that its citizens railed against for over two years.)

But really -- it's hard not to understand Ethiopia's reluctance. Ditto that of every other neighboring country to which the Somali government's request was made: Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen. There's a reason that the only troops in the 4,300-strong African Union force in Somalia are from Uganda and Burundi, which share the important characteristic of not bordering Somalia.  I don't think others will be joining them too soon.

Somalia's leaders are right in that their country is being attacked by "foreign terrorists" -- though the latter part of that label, referring to domestic groups like al-Shaban, is much more true than the former, even as the risk of Somalia turning into a global terrorist haven grows. But what makes this an issue that no one wants to touch is that it is also a political one: combating the terrorists also amounts to protecting the government, and, as well-intentioned as the attempt to stabilize the country's shaky state institutions may be, that amounts to taking a side in a messy internal political dynamic.

So the irony is painfully evident when Ethiopia cites as its reason not to (officially) involve itself militarily in Somalia the lack of an "international mandate." The reason the UN would be so ill-advised to issue its stamp of approval on a renewed Ethiopian intervention, or on creating a new peacekeeping mission, is exactly the reason that its neighbors don't want to risk getting involved: rather than halting the flood of violence, Ethiopian or blue helmet presence would only provide targets for extremists, as well as a lodestar for generating grassroots support. This explication, of course, will provide little consolation for Somalia's beleaguered government, which simply needs somebody to do something, and quickly.

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Where is the White House on Darfur (II)?

I noted yesterday that the President's Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration seemed to speak off a different set of talking points than UN Ambassador Susan Rice when it came to addressing the "genocide" question. Well, John Norris notes that this was not the only miscue from Gration during his first press availability.
The second linguistic thicket into which Gration wandered was the expulsion of humanitarian aid groups. Gration noted that we have “three new aid groups returning to Sudan” – something of an oxymoron. Are they new aid groups, or are they returning aid groups? As has always been clear, Khartoum was willing to let three of the 13 groups return to work if they were rehatted under new names, a charade the international community apparently was willing to accept. Now Khartoum is expecting credit for its willingness to partially address a humanitarian crisis which it manufactured itself. Gration also insisted that aid capacity in Darfur was back up to nearly 100 percent of what it had been before Khartoum put so many lives at risk through its callous decision to expel aid groups. Lots of analysts, including the humanitarian chief at the U.N., have suggested that we are still well short of restoring previous aid capacity, and most aid groups still face a maze of restrictions that allow Khartoum to turn aid on and off at will.
For more on how the message on Darfur is being hashed out in the inter-agency process, see Colum Lynch in today's Washington Post. He reports what I speculated yesterday: the National Security Council has yet to reach a consensus decision on what to do about Darfur.
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More than two possible outcomes in Iran

Dan Drezner has some sharp analysis of the impact that the incipient Iranian revolution electoral unrest in Iran is having on the region, particularly Russia. But I think he's a little too limiting in his read on the likely endgame of this very fascinating mess.
As the previous paragraphs suggest, I'm pretty sure a Rubicon has been crossed in Iran that can't be uncrossed. This isn't 1999 and 2003 -- too many days have passed with the Khamenei regime on the defensive. The regime as it existed for the past twenty years -- hemmed-in democracy combined with clerical rule -- is not going to be able to continue. With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways: the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend.
He may be right, and a Rubicon may indeed have been crossed, with no going back to "the way things were" in Iran. That certainly seems to be the consensus. But I also wonder if it might be a bit of wishful thinking. There's a tendency to imbue events as-they're-happening as more important than they may turn out to be. To take just the color revolutions to which it has been so trendy to compare the situation in Iran: Ukraine's "Orange" and Georgia's "Rose" (not to mention Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip") were certainly major events, but the hype that they generated at the time far surpasses the attention that those countries, modestly different though their governments might be, attract today. I think more useful comparisons would be Tianenmen or, better, the monks' uprising in Burma in late 2007. What these examples -- or even, as I suggested before, those of Kenya or Zimbabwe -- show us is the possibility of an outcome distinct from Drezner's either-or (or both) model. At the time, many thought that Burma's junta couldn't possibly survive such a brutal onslaught against the country's most venerable institution. But...it survived. In Iran, the possibilities are simply too many to predict: Khamenei may retrench, and allow Ahmadinejad to take the fall; or, the two of them may make some sort of minor concession to the protestors; or again, they could simply wait until the crowds peter out. Revolution is not inevitable. In such an interesting situation, nothing is. (image from flickr user Hamed Saber under a Creative Commons license)
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Scenes from Abyei

The World Food Program posts a video with some powerful images from Abyei, which is an oil-rich border region between South Sudan, Darfur and Sudan proper. Despite a peace accord between Souther Sudanese rebels and the central Government four years ago, Abyei remains a persistent flash point. The Enough Project call's the region "Sudan's Kashmir" and has published some important work highlighting the centrality of peace in Abyei to peace throughout Sudan.