Monday, October 27, 2008

Of Candidates and Conflict

With the economy in a tail-spin and a dire global security situation, America's voters have plenty to consider as they vote for their next President. In the face of such immediate concerns, it's naive to think that the candidates' stance on genocide prevention and ethnic conflict will be an issue of any significance to the outcome on November 4. But it's not immaterial, either, even to those voters who don't consider themselves part of the "anti-genocide constituency." The candidates' views on Darfur and other conflict-ridden areas sheds light not only on issues of conscience, but also on the orientation of foreign policy.

Genocide and ethnic conflict is stoked by instability, which the US government has also recognized fosters terrorism. By recognizing that the same socio-political instability that leads to genocide threatens US national security generally, Presidential candidates display a nuanced understanding of foreign policy. It's a welcome sign, then, that Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain all signed a May 2008 letter pledging their "unstinting resolve" to ensure "peace and security for the people of Sudan." Senators Obama and McCain, the eventual major-party candidates for the Presidency, also both expressed a willingness to intervene to stop genocide in their second debate.

Nevertheless, one candidate is clearly better poised to address the instability that threatens both future genocides and future threats to US national security: Barack Obama. Senator Obama's chief qualification in this regard is that he would immediately bring much higher political capital to the global stage. In a Bush-weary world, Mr. Obama would represent welcome change to European and African governments, all crucial allies in the fight against extremism in all its forms. Of course, popularity will not sustain a robust foreign policy. But throughout the campaign, Senator Obama and his advisers have repeatedly stressed the importance of the non-military ("non-kinetic") dimensions of national security, suggesting that such dimensions will assume prominence in an Obama foreign policy. The non-profit Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), moreover, notes that Obama has recieved an "A" for his work on Darfur in the Senate, while McCain has been slapped with a "C." "Senator Barack Obama," concludes CGS, "has a firmer grip on the conditions of the Sudanese people and action desperately needed to make the end of genocide in Darfur a reality."

Whatever the election's outcome, though, the next president can take a number of steps to reduce the threats posed by socio-economic instability. The next administration should instruct the Pentagon's new Africa Command to serve as a model for military-civil cooperation in intelligence, economic development, and civil society enhancement. The possibility of a United Nations-sponsored "rapid deployment force," designed to enable UN-sanctioned humanitarian interventions, should be explored. Most of all, the next administration should take the opportunity to reintroduce itself to the world as guarantor of global stability, security, and prosperity. America's conscience, and it's long-term interest, do not permit it to be otherwise- something that the past eight years have proven at such cost.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Africom- A new take on US military involvement in Africa

This past week, the US Department of Defense announced the creation of Africa Command, a new Unified Combatant Command with responsibility for US military forces operating across Africa. The creation of Africom, as it is known, is significant for two reasons. It is the first time that America has created a military command for Africa- previously, operations on the continent had been directed by the European Command in Germany. Africa-watchers can take some heart from this development that Africa will fall more routinely on the radars of senior US defense and security officials. Even more significantly, Africom appears to represent a new direction for civil-military partnerships. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted by The New York Times as saying that Africom will focus on supporting State Department and US Agency for International Development efforts, including by involving military personnel in community health and development activities.

Some, including Kenneth Bacon, President of Refugees International, have criticized the military's move into areas traditionally dominated by civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations. But like it or not, the military has the money and the political clout to do things that such instititions only dream of. Civil-military partnerships have great potential for ameliorating the conditions that lead to ethnic violence, as well as for stopping conflicts once they begin. A robust civil-military presence could do much to enhance stability in some of Africa's weak states, thereby decreasing the potential for unrest to occur.

But it will take an adept commander to turn this potential into reality. Army General William Ward, who has been named to head Africom, should begin by enhancing support to the African Union mission in Darfur. Conscience dictates that the world's most recent genocide be the first and chief beneficiary of the US military's enhanced interest in Africa. Beyond that, the European Union mission in Congo, as well as fragile national forces in Africa's North-central and Horn regions, are sorely in need of US military logistics, communications, and intelligence support.

With the creation of Africom, the Pentagon has taken a laudable if overdue step towards recognizing that poverty, underdevelopment and instability threatens US security. The next step is to make Africom an active and effective agent of stability throughout the continent. Now to you, General Ward. We're anxious to see what you do with your new command.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The new muscle of international justice

While newspapers around the world have been recording images of Russia's resurgent military might, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been flexing new muscle of a very different, multilateral kind. In May, former Congolese strongman Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested on ICC charges of crimes against humanity. Last month, the Court for the first time indicated a sitting head of state, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. And most recently, Radovan Karadzic, the infamous genocidaire of the Balkan Wars, was turned over to the ICTY to stand charges.

Not since the days of Nuremberg have so many of the world's most prolific murderer-tyrants been called to justice by the international community. It heralds a promising trend, not least because the United States, ever suspicious of international justice, has not stood in the way: it elected not to block Bashir's indictment before the Security Council. Moreover, the recent show of force by international judicial institutions sends a powerful signal that murderous regimes can no longer hide nor escape judgment for their crimes.

If it lasts, that is. Bashir remains ensconced in power, and the kind of theatrics that deprived Slobodan Milosevic's victims of justice may yet derail the trials of Bemba and Karadzic. To prevent that, the world's governments, America's in particular, need to encourage the pursuit of justice. The world's international courts are to be congratulated for their new-found resolve. We can only hope that its governments will follow suit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bashir: Indicted, for Better or Worse

Yesterday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its first indictment of a sitting head of state. Fittingly, its object was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose government has overseen a persistent campaign of genocide and persecution in the country's western Darfur region. While Darfur advocates around the world will no doubt welcome what many see as well-deserved punishment, there is cause for concern that Bashir's indictment will slow an already faltering peace process. The Sudanese government has pledged to retaliate for the indictment, and Western aid workers and officials may well be the first casualties. While they are unlikely to be physically harmed, Khartoum has proved to be both willing and able to disrupting international aid efforts to Sudan's conflict-ridden western and southern regions.

More importantly, however, the participation of the Sudanese government is crucial to formulating a lasting peace in Sudan. President Bashir richly deserves to be judged for crimes against humanity, as the ICC indictment charges. But the indictment is nonetheless a serious affront to the Sudanese government, and delicate diplomacy will be necessary to ensure that it does not stall progress on future peace agreements. We can only hope that peace and justice, so often complimentary, are not in this case antagonists.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Check this out! It's from New Tactics, an online human rights community that I absolutely love! I really recommend it as a forum for learning new ways to fight for human rights.

New Tactics, an online human rights community and project of the Center for Victims of Torture, will be launching an online tactical discussion on the topic of "The Power of Place: How Sites of Conscience Inspire Civic Engagement" on October 24th. We would welcome your personal or organizational participation and perspective in this discussion with people from all over the globe.

The New Tactics in Human Rights project is excited to announce our new
community-based website.

Join New Tactics, a community committed to Human Rights.
At you will be able to:

* Connect with human rights advocates from around the world
* Meet and interact with activists, educators, students, and
other practitioners
* Share ideas and seek feedback
* Join on-going discussions or start new ones
* Collaborate with colleagues
* Find new resources and all your favorite New Tactics materials
and tools

Join today and participate in: The Power of Place: How Sites of Conscience
Inspire Civic Engagement featuring practitioners from the International
Coalition of Historical Sites of Conscience including Sarwar Ali, Trustee
from Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh; and Ereshnee Naidu, Director of
Programs for Africa and Asia at the International Coalition office in New
York and former Project Manager for Memorialization at the Centre for the
Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa. Save the dates,
October 24 to 30.

Join Now! Visit

New Tactics website is a project of the Center for Victims of Torture (Headquartered in Minneapolis, MN).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Devil Came on Horseback

Last night I saw the new film The Devil Came on Horseback, a documentary chronicling Brian Steidle's work as a photographer in Darfur in 2004-2005. This was the best documentary about Darfur that I have seen; it was the most cohesive, probably because it had a central focus, but through his photography it brought together testimonies of refugees, the work of other Darfur activists, and emphasized the inhumanity and impunity of the Janjaweed. The Devil Came on Horseback is the most difficult film I've seen in a long time; it was not just the grusome, gut-wrenching photos of violence, rape, and destruction that made the film difficult. There was something so raw and so human in Brian Steidle's story that it made it impossible to turn away even from the most horrifying pictures of children who had been burned alive. I plan on recommending The Devil Came on Horseback to everyone I know because once you see it, you'll take action.

Here are some links about the film:
-Interview with Annie Sundberg, one of the directors
-Movie Review (New York Times)
-"The Reluctant Hero of Darfur, the Movie" (New York Times)
-Official website

I'd love to know what others think of the film, so if you've seen it, post a comment on this blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Barack: NYC hears about Darfur

So, I just went to the Barack Obama rally in New York City. A huge mass of people of all shapes and sizes gathered in Washington Square park, and while Obama talked about changing America's education system and providing health care for every American, he also talked about our serious need to reform foreign policy. In particular, he mentioned focusing our energy on areas of need around the world in which the United States could have a hopeful impact. He said, "we need to end the genocide in Darfur."

He might have been surprised by the huge roar of support that rang out from the crowd, but he shouldn't be too shocked: students at NYU have been putting Darfur on the top of their activism agendas, and Washington Square park was represented with student activists from around the city tonight.

It's encouraging to see that presidential hopefuls are discussing this issue on the campaign trail: a sign that it is a widening concern that has gained enough momentum to affect presidential campaigns.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mali's Magic Weed

Normally we think of weeds as those pesky, unwanted plants stealing the nutrients from our carefully tended vegetables or roses. But what if a weed could help stop global warming and alleviate poverty?

This magic weed is called jatropha. It grows around the world, in Latin America, Asia, Africa. Farmers in Mali, West Africa have discovered that cultivating this weed may prove profitable. Why? It is used as biofuel. Already, jatropha is used in Mali to power generators for electricity. Oil companies like BP have begun investing millions into growing it.

Jatropha grows in a variety of climates, and does well in Mali's dry, Saharan farmland. It can grow beside food crops and its yield is much higher than that of other biofuel crops, like corn. Additionally, it helps prevent erosion and does not endanger other habitats the way a crop like palm oil, which takes land away from the rainforest, does.

But, will jatropha prove to be such a lucrative crop that farmers sacrifice land on which they currently grow food crops in its favor, thus leading to food shortages in Mali? And will it actually increase poverty by concentrating power in the hands of a few growers?

Read the New York Times article, "Mali's Farmers Discover a Weed's Potential Power."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Arab to Arab Violence Increases Sharply

Today's New York Times took note of a sharp increase in violence in Darfur, saying "Darfur’s violence has often been characterized as government-backed Arab tribes slaughtering non-Arab tribes, but there is a new Arab-versus-Arab dimension that seems to be a sign of the evolving complexity of the crisis. What started out four years ago in western Sudan as a rebellion and brutal counterinsurgency has cracked wide open into a fluid, chaotic, confusing free-for-all with dozens of armed groups."

Above are maps indicating the areas most affected by the spreading violence.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's Great In Theory

The rebel troops in Darfur have finally agreed to meet with Sudanese government officials. This is mostly probably due to the actual threat of UN and AU troops being allowed into the area. But will this end the problem? It's not like militias are known to keep their word. While I believe that it is about time troops were allowed in, it might only rectify the problem for a short time. We should not lose our focus on this issue because it is far from over. We need to keep an eye on Darfur for years to come. It is a very real possibility that the killing could start again once the UN and AU troops have pulled out. This is not the time to lose momentum. So, let's not.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Getting Comfy With Genocide

Read this immediately.

Ron Rosenbaum writes that we should be asking substantive questions of our presidential candidates:

"What would you do if you saw another Rwanda developing? In other words, a genocide that has little to do with previous U.S. intervention and is not our fault in any direct way, but one we could prevent - at a cost: U.S. troops, U.S. lives. President Clinton has apologized for his failure to intervene in Rwanda. Do you agree that the United States should commit itself to preventing genocide anywhere it threatens to occur?"

My follow-up question: when asking questions like the one above, are we simplifying genocide prevention by only investigating military options? What about long term policy? Or despite the post-genocide blame and restrospective declarations, are we ignoring the fact that U.S. military action is necessary to stop genocide?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

House vote a victory for Liberian refugees

Last night House members in Washington passed bill H.R. 3123, allowing Liberian refugees to stay in the US until September 30, 2008. They would have lost their refugee status on October 1 of this year without this legislation. One of the bill's supporters was my own representative Keith Ellison (D-MN). Other supporters include Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and its sponsor Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). The Senate will vote on similar legislation this week and we can expect Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman to vote in favor of it.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, about 3,600 Liberian refugees live in the US, mostly in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, Providence, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Liberia was created in the 19th century by freed slaves from the US. Liberians have been living in the US for the past two decades because of a civil war. In 2005, democratic elections were held but the Liberian economy, Keith Ellison points out, is not yet ready for an influx of refugees and the country is not yet entirely stable.

Liberian activist Charles Dennis says that while the Liberian refugees ultimately want permanent residency in the US, the one-year extension is a victory. "The way things are going with immigration and post-9/11, you have to take what you can get. If it comes in chunks, that's wonderful. Just to buy some time to show that we are not illegal immigrants but part and parcel of the US historically. We do not deserve better treatment than someone who just came across the border."

*I am trying to return to blogging about West Africa, my chosen region for this blog. This seemed like a good place to start since I live in the Twin Cities and have worked with Liberian activists before.

Holding our breath, yet again

A unanimous vote today in the United Nations Security Council authorized Resolution 1769, calling for 26,000 troops and police to be sent to Darfur in a joint UN-AU mission. The resolution calls for finalized state force contributions in the next 30 days, asserts that the Mission headquarters are to be set up by October of this year, and claims that the Mission will take over command from AU peacekeeping forces in Darfur on December 31, 2007.

While the resolution invokes chapter 7 of the UN charter on the use of force (meaning peacekeepers can use force to protect themselves from harm and civilians who are under attack), it does not allow force to be used for "seizing and destroying" weapons.

Three years after Congress declared genocide and almost one year since the passage of Resolution 1706, a resolution calling for UN forces that the international community allowed the Sudanese government to repeatedly reject, some activists welcome the renewed rhetoric coming from the UN. The rest of us are having a difficult time overcoming events (or lack thereof) in the last year which lead us to invest little faith that these 30 day/October/December deadlines will be implemented. So, for those who were ready to kick back and praise the efforts of those who got Resolution 1769 passed, I hope we can all realize that this is just the beginning.

This time, we're going to have to be loud enough for world leaders to implement the resolution. This is no time to rest, trust, and talk. This is a time to demand proof. Hold leaders accountable for actions, not resolutions. Measure results on the ground, rather than just on paper.

It's go-time. If we don't get something done now, we run the risk of teaching future generations that big rhetoric followed by empty promises is acceptable.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lately I've begun to notice a lot of articles coming out of the communist, anarchist and otherwise radical communities attacking the Save Darfur Movement.

An admission before I go on: as an activist who has worked to end the all-too-real Darfur Genocide for about 4 years, it is both painful and shocking to suddenly see my peers and fellow activists claiming that I have, unbeknownst to me, been part of a government conspiracy to commit corrupt and unjust acts. I have great respect for the radical community; I have worked alongside them on issues of global justice, and I hope to continue to do so.

So I must disclose, for the sake of full journalistic disclosure, that this feels like a betrayal--not by any individual, but by radical ideals that I had a lot of hope and faith invested in.

Yet the more I've seen this conspiracy theory in zines, newsletters and blogs, the more I've realized that I need to write my thoughts--and, most importantly, the facts-- in plain English, and in the public (blogo)sphere, as an act of faith that my peers have the ability to discern propaganda from principle on both sides of this new, emerging debate, and determine the truth on Darfur for themselves.

So here it goes.

To paraphrase, the articles I've read claim that the crisis in Darfur is a lot more complex and a lot less black-and-white than the Western media portrays, in its typically anti-Arab propaganda. The radical media says the Darfur Conflict is not necessarily a genocide; it is a complex clash between diverse groups who do not need to be "saved" at all.

Furthermore,radicals point out (correctly) that the largest Darfur advocacy group, the Save Darfur Coalition, is not donating directly to Darfur, and that it has on its board of directors former diplomats, who have worked for the US government--which has proven many times that their interest in gaining control of an oil-rich Arab state comes before their respect for human rights. Radicals believe the Save Darfur Coalition is advocating military intervention for the corrupt purpose of gaining Arab oil and overthrowing another Islamic regime. Most notably, they believe the movement to "save" Darfur is actually a government conspiracy to justify another act of US military intervention in an Arab-Islamic state. They use the fact that President Bush has even shown unprecedented support for the Darfur movement to drive the point home: If Bush supports the Save Darfur Movement, how could it possibly be anything more than a scheme to steal oil, money, and power from the Arab world?

That’s basically the argument I’ve read a lot these past few weeks.
Here is my response
, as one Darfur activist, who can’t claim to speak for the entire movement, but has a lot to say.

(After clicking the link, scroll a bit.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Jihad on Horseback"

I stumbled across a documentary about Darfur called Jihad on Horseback. It is by a filmmaker named Nabil Kassem, who works for Al Arabiya, and was meant to be released on Arab television but never made it that far. It is only about 40 minutes long but captures the suffering of civilians, mostly women, whose lives have been devastated by the conflict. The film also contains interviews with Janjaweed leaders, including Mousa Hilal, and African leaders from Darfur, which I think is valuable for understanding the conflict. The film is from 2004 so some of the information may have changed but I thought it was useful and shocking regardless. Below is the description of the film.

"Two years ago, Al Arabiya producer Nabil Kassem was asked to put together a documentary film on Darfur. What he witnessed there, and recorded in this film, were scenes of unspeakable brutality and untold suffering, scenes he thought would surely wake up an Arab public all too willing to let Darfur pass by. But 'Jihad n Horseback' never made it across the airwaves."

Click here to watch the documentary.

Click here to go to the blog Mideast Youth--Thinking Ahead, where I found the film.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Water- a new wellspring of hope for Darfur

Many analysts have long said that resource competition helps to fuel the violence in Darfur. Competition for scarce resources, especially water, is held by many to be responsible for much of the animosity between Arab nomads and black African farmers in the region. The recent announcement that a huge underground lake, as large as America's Lake Erie, has been discovered is therefore cause for rejoicing. Although claims that the discovery will end the violence are almost certainly exaggerated, it is a huge source of hope. Driving wells to tap this new water resource is certain to improve the region's development prospects, and hence provide a stable basis for peace. Nonetheless, it's clear that international efforts will be crucial to achieving any kind of lasting security.

One other notable aspect of this story is the role of science in resolving complex global issues- the underground lake was discovered by a team at Boston University using remote sensing (satellite) technology. This brings to mind the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's partnership with Google to use GoogleEarth to highlight attacks against villages in Darfur. The applications of science and technology to help solve problems like Darfur are barely exploited, and we should all keep our minds open to new roles for them to play.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Stop Genocide Now, a grassroots organization focusing on awareness and education, has been sending citizen-reporters to Darfur for some time now to document the effects of the violence there. Check out their daily videos from refugee camps in the region around Darfur. Links provided to advoacy websites.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Flight Revisited

On July 9, I blogged about an editorial by Julie Flint that was published last week in the New
York Times. The editorial said that enforcing a no-fly zone over Darfur would endanger humanitarian operations in Darfur. Flint also wrote that the Sudanese government was not bombing the region often, although they had in the past. Since I posted that article, however, I have done some more research and found that yes, Khartoum is still bombing civilians, according to an article from Reuters. The article, published July 13, says that while bombing did cease from February to April this year, it has resumed, especially in West and North Darfur.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Three's a Crowd?

Dr. Gerard Prunier tells Jerry Fowler that, while conflict rages in Darfur, an ineffective North-South peace agreeement looms. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan's North and Sudan in 2005 calls for an election in 2011, at which time Southerners made vote whether or not to secede from the country. Meanwhile, a provisional Southern government is working to create an effective structure for its government and army, but suffers from a lack of resources.

Prunier, who has just returned from a recent trip to South Sudan, believes that an overwhelming majority of Southerners plan to vote for secession in 2011.

Meanwhile, international attention is focused on Darfur as its own entity rather than in the context of its country. While we push to protect the people of Darfur, Southern Sudan is operating under what many deem an ineffective peace agreement, with insufficient resources, in preparation for war.

Diplomats and government officials should be prepared for the anticipated messiness of 2011. Should activists make room in the equation for Darfur and Southern Sudan in the coming years?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Further thoughts on flying

Until recently I have generally thought that establishing a no-fly zone over Darfur would help stop the violence. I was still under the impression that the government of Sudan was supporting the Janjaweed from the air. The New York Times published an op-ed by Julie Flint on July 6, a Darfur expert, entitled "In Sudan, Help Comes From Above." In the article she argues that enforcing a no-fly zone over Darfur is illogical and even inhumane considering that humanitarian aid is delivered to Darfur via airplane. She writes:

A no-fly zone would do little or nothing to address the reality that the greatest threat to civilians in Darfur today comes on the ground--not the air.

The article also serves to remind us that we must pay attention to presidential candidates' Darfur policies. Specifically, Flint cites Senator Clinton as an advocate for a no-fly zone over Darfur but I know I will be researching all candidates' Darfur policies before the coming election.