Written by SmithSTAND
Omékongo Dibinga performed on February 26, 2011 at Smith College. Omékongo is a slam poet/hip-hop artist. There was a large audience consisting of mainly students. This performance was the last event in SmithSTAND’s Congo Week to inform Smith students, faculty, and staff about the conflict-free campus initiative. Omékongo started his performance with a poem about the portrayal of Africa as one country consumed by poverty, HIV/AIDS and underdevelopment which is not the case for all of Africa.
Immediately, with this poem, the audience could feel the immense energy and passion behind his words. There was also this collaboration between Omékongo and the audience that helped to create the intense atmosphere strengthening his poetry. One poem after another Omékongo kept touching on our emotions and inspired the audience to want to take action. Like he said at one point during the event, his performance wasn’t meant to depress people and make them feel hopeless about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His performance was to inspire hope for change and show that everybody can do something to help.
After his performance, Omékongo opened the event up for questions. There were great questions about how someone can help, what resources are available, what organizations to trust, and Omékongo’s personal connection to the Congo. The audience left the auditorium feeling inspired rather than heartbroken. There was a great deal of interest in what SmithSTAND is working on and what we do as an organization. It was a great event that brought awareness of many prominent issues in the Congo and how we can help stop them.
To learn more about what you can do for the Congo, check out STAND’s Conflict Free Mineral’s Campaign.
Posted on MTV’s website!
Stephanie Figgins is a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University. After learning about the atrocities happening in Darfur, she started a STAND chapter at her high school with a few friends, and went on to serve for two years as its Washington, D.C., college outreach coordinator. She continues to advocate and lobby for genocide prevention, most recently from her phone.
Last week, I picked up a call from an unknown number; to my surprise, it was my newly elected congressman from Arizona’s Fifth District, David Schweikert.
The day before, I had called Schweikert’s office via 1-800-GENOCIDE, a hotline developed to make lobbying your elected officials on Sudan and genocide prevention a less intimidating experience. I left a message about my opposition to across-the-board cuts to the foreign aid budget (already less than 1 percent of our national budget)–including slashes to funding for disaster assistance, migration and refugee assistance, and crises. I hadn’t expected a call back.
I told him I understood the need to scale back the budget, but that attacking foreign aid funding was not the way to do it. Schweikert said that while he was not on the committee that proposed the cuts, he was researching them, and really appreciated my call. He later sent a handwritten note to thank me for our conversation.
I hope David Schweikert heeds the call that I (and many others) are making to maintain funding for the international affairs budget, especially because drastic cuts would harm Sudan at a critical time. In a January 2011 referendum, the historically marginalized people of southern Sudan voted for independence from the north; it’s a great step forward, but preparations for the July 9 split are behind schedule, and civilians are at risk of escalating violence and war. The two sides must still agree on the border and divide Sudan’s oil wealth, while nearly 3 million civilians are living in camps in Darfur, facing violence, rape and resource shortages and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges.
What I love about the hotline is that you don’t have to be a super-activist in order to make a huge difference in terms of influencing our elected officials–you just need a phone and a couple of minutes.
Written by Brad Calloway
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has fallen upon tough times for the past several hundred years. The influence of a string of oppressive rulers, coupled with its location at the heart of the largest African conflict in history, form what many observers see as the major raison d’être for the country’s current state. While “sexual violence” and “rebel groups” continue to be inseparable from the DRC in international headlines, one cannot ignore the recent events which have been showing signs of progress for the country.
One of the most publicized events in the DRC has been the groundbreaking trial of nine Congolese soldiers accused of raping 62 women in Fizi on New Years Day. Despite the outcome of the trial – which fell short of the widely expected death penalty for the accused – it marked the first time in DRC history that a Lieutenant Colonel has been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
The mobile court attributes its success not only to the funding by several NGOs, but also to the UN-funded City of Joy, a centre for rape victims. The newly opened centre, based in the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu, allowed for 49 victims of the New Years mass rape to gather and come forward as witnesses for the trial.
While this case proved to be monumental in domestic Congolese law, the International Criminal Court (ICC) made strides in the international arena by holding five court cases involving key rebel leaders from the DRC.
Outside the court room, central rebel leader Samuel Bisengimana of the FDLR recently peacefully surrendered to the UN mission in the Congo. His surrender is expected to bring an increase in resignations and a decrease in morale within one of the largest rebel groups plaguing the eastern DRC.
Economically speaking, the Paris Club, a group of 16 industrialized countries, recently decided to alleviate and reschedule half of the $6 billion debt owed to the group by the DRC. As a result of the debt write-off, coupled with increased investment in the country’s mining industry, the Congolese government was able to acquire a $77 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With a $300 million investment from China for a hydroelectric power plant, and Zimbabwe now importing electricity from the DRC, it is of little surprise that the Congolese economy is expected to increase by 6.6% by the end of 2011. Although this series of fortunate events have not alleviated the DRC of its many problems, consecutive signs of progress should not be taken for granted.
Written by Brad Calloway
Headlines have recently focused on the topic of extradition, ranging from France’s expulsion of Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana to Germany’s excellent record on prosecuting Nazi war criminals. While many European Union (EU) countries have stepped up war criminal extradition, many reports suggest that the United Kingdom has lagged behind. The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) reported that Great Britain has become a haven for suspects of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and acts of genocide. Out of the 495 suspects against which the UKBA has recommended action in the past five years, 383 remain living unpunished within the borders of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom, along with all Member States of the EU, is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Upon request of extradition, the United Kingdom is required by the Rome Statute to return suspects to their country of origin or to the ICC. Otherwise, it is up to British laws to investigate and prosecute suspects of such crimes. Jack Straw, a Member of Parliament from the center-left Labour Party, recently passed an act through the House of Commons allowing for the prosecution of British nationals accused of international war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide dating back to 1991. The previous law had only permitted British courts to place suspects on trial for such crimes dating back to 2001. Despite Straw’s efforts, not a single investigation into war criminal suspects has taken place since the law was enacted in 2010.
“The biggest problem,” Member of Parliament Michael McCann states, “is the lack of resources dedicated to investigating these serious cases, and that we often don’t know where these individuals are. It means that if an arrest warrant is issued there is little likelihood it can be served.” The United Kingdom has only seen two successful trials on war crimes since the end of the World War II.
Could Predator Drones help prevent the next genocide? Wired Magazine reports that some Pentagon officials are considering the use of Predator Drones and other overhead-surveillance technologies to develop an early warning system able to identify mass atrocities as they develop. A tool once used by the military to deliver destruction on the battle field, such technology could be re-purposed to save lives.
The idea of Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations (MAPRO) has gathered momentum in the Pentagon, largely through the work of Rosa Brooks, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for rule of law and international humanitarian policy. The core of the MAPRO initiative is about saving lives without putting U.S. troops in the middle of foreign quagmires. According to Brooks, as atrocities take place around the world, America is left with two options: do nothing and rely on diplomacy, or send 30,000 troops. MAPRO would afford policy actors more options: detection, deterrence, and possibly limited intervention. The ability to document atrocities provides a “power deterrent,” Brooks suggest. A drone snapping pictures of trucks of militia heading to a besieged village may leave a Dictator thinking twice if one day that footage could be entered into evidence in a genocide trial.
Brook’s team suggests other techniques the military could use to deter massacres, including radio jamming (think jamming Rwanda radio airwaves prior to the April 1994 genocide), leveraging crowd-sourced date, and mining social networks. “We want to be able to say, ‘Mr. President, DOD can offer a much wider range of options beyond sending in the Marines,” Brooks says. “Potentially every [military] asset has some atrocity prevention and response value, if you get creative about it.”
Find Wired’s original story written by Spencer Ackerman here: “Pentagon: Drones Can Stop the Next Darfur”
For related stories, see:
Having El Fadel Arbab come speak at our school was an amazing experience, and undoubtedly the best thing our STAND chapter has done this year thus far. I became aware of El Fadel, a Darfur genocide survivor, after a message that STAND sent out listing guest speakers. After emailing him I found out that he would be available to speak the day before our February break- perfect because many teachers did not have a new lesson planned. He was already in New Haven at the time, so our chapter didn’t have to do any fundraising to have him speak.
The next step was alerting teachers that he would be coming. My adviser, Mr. Cehovksy, and I sent out a mass email to all faculty detailing when El Fadel would come, what periods he would be available, his bio and his past speaking experiences. Around eight classes over the span of two class periods (forty minutes each) signed up to attend.
I also got in contact with our local paper, the Fairfield Minuteman. They expressed interest in El Fadel speaking and arranged a phone interview with me. A reporter also came the day of the event to conduct an interview with El Fadel himself. The piece is compellingly written and can be found here: http://www.minutemannewscenter.com/articles/2011/02/23/fairfield/news/doc4d6535f28f08f619770458.txt
When the day of the event came, I had major butterflies. I was afraid I would get lost picking El Fadel up, classes wouldn’t show up to see him, or the projector wouldn’t work. Of course, all of this was out of my hands. In the end, I had nothing to worry about. Aside from some minor technical difficulty, everything went perfectly. Some parents and faculty even came to listen. El Fadel spoke emotionally while providing a wealth of information, and even put in some extremely kind words for STAND. By the end of the presentations our chapter had two new, dedicated members.
Our goal for having a guest speaker was to inform people about the genocide in Darfur. Many, before hearing El Fadel, had no idea it was still going on. The attendees were genuinely interested, many staying after to have their personal questions answered. El Fadel sparked an interest in people to follow genocide worldwide more avidly that day. In turn, he helped further STAND’s mission to eradicate genocide.
Written by Jillian Richardson, Fairfield STAND President
What began as peaceful protests demanding that human rights lawyer Fathi Turbel be released from prison on February 15 is now a full-fledged revolution. While a ban on foreign journalists in Libya makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the events on the ground, one thing is certain: the Libyan government is using violence to control protestors and shows no fear of continuing to do so. Human rights organizations estimate that 600-2000 people have been killed, including civilians attacked by government air strikes, since the protests began. Gaddafi maintains control of the capital Tripoli in the west, but protestors have essentially claimed the eastern half of the country, including the large city Benghazi. Numerous high-level Libyan officials and significant portions of the army have defected, reportedly because of Gaddafi’s commands to attack civilians.
Learn how to take action here: http://standnow.org/blog/Libya
Take a look at these articles to learn more about the situation on the ground in Libya:
These articles elaborate on the actions that the international community must take because of its Responsibility to Protect the Libyan people.
Written by Queens College STAND member, Tiffany.
On February 18, 2011, four member of Queens College STAND; Jenn, Xavier, Kaseem and myself (Tiffany) had a meeting with Queens College President Muyskens about using conflict- free technology .At first, I was really nervous because I had no idea what to say since I still have more to learn about conflict free technology. The second thing was that I have never met the President before, and I didn’t know how he would be like. It also didn’t help that a certain someone (Jenn) said that he was “alarmingly tall”.
President Muyskens was actually really nice, and he was really tall. The office was really impressive. When we entered the office, we introduced ourselves to President Muyskens and got right to business. Xavier asked President Muyskens how much he knew about the DRC and informed him of what was going on in the Congo, Kaseem informed the President about the stats and the options that were available, I asked him for advice on how to make QC’s technology conflict- free, and Jenn had a lot to say. For something that was serious, everyone ended up laughing and having a good time. President Muyskens was attentive and eager to help. Even though he said that he would like to help, QC’s technology is purchased by City University of New York (CUNY), so President Muyskens gave us an outline on how to go about making the change towards conflict free technology. Now all we have to do is wait for President Muyskens’ statement, raise awareness about conflict free technology on the campus among students, meet the person in charge of the technology department at QC and make sure that with the right amount of poking CUNY can become conflict free.
So in a word the meeting with President Muyskens was a HUGE success!! I was really happy because this was the first time that I have ever done something like this, and I’m sure Xavier and Kaseem were really proud of themselves too. Jenn was happiest of us all. She practically went nuts on the elevator—that is until we got to the ninth floor and other people got on. I suggested that Jenn contain herself; she did somewhat.
This was a great experience. I keep thinking to myself, if I haven’t stopped by the quad on my first week at QC to ask about the tents, I don’t think I would have ever gotten to meet President Muyskens or any of the awesome people again.
More info about conflict free technology can be found at these sites
25 Years of Genocide Prevention in the United States
Twenty-five years ago today, the U.S. Senate ratified the United Nation’s International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention recognizes genocide as an international crime and affirms the United States’ commitment to stop genocide.
The U.S. ratification of the Convention on on February 19, 1986, came 38 years after it was approved the UN General Assembly, 35 years after it officially entered into force, and 17 years after Senator William Proxmire (WI) vowed to deliver a speech on the Senate floor every day until the Convention was ratified (a promise that he fulfilled by delivering a total of 3,211 speeches). It took nearly two more years until President Ronald Reagan signed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, also known as the Proxmire Act, binding the U.S. to the requirements outlined in the UN convention. Despite the delayed response, the ratification of the Genocide Convention marked an important step in the United States’ commitment to making “Never Again” a reality.
A total of 140 states have now ratified the Convention; however, it does not legally bind them to respond to genocide. As history shows, these states have not fulfilled their promise to act to prevent or stop mass atrocities. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur while the international community did little or nothing to intervene. For many reasons – geopolitical maneuvering, lack of domestic support, and the definition of the term genocide itself, among many others – states have often avoided taking action.
But the future looks optimistic. The past decade has seen an increase in U.S. anti-genocide activities. Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to the Darfur crisis as genocide in 2005, and called for U.S. intervention. In 2008, the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, released the report, “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers”, which contained 34 policy recommendations to enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to respond to genocide and mass atrocities. Just two months ago, in December 2010, the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 (S.Con.Res.71), reaffirming the U.S. commitment to genocide prevention and calling for specific steps to adopt some of the recommendations of the GPTF.
The Obama administration has expressed its commitment to conflict prevention in the National Security Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Despite these efforts, the budget extensions for fiscal year 2011 proposed by the House Appropriations Committee challenge the future of U.S. conflict prevention strategies. The proposed allocations cut the U.S. foreign-operations budget by 21 percent from the previous year. The appropriations bill drastically reduces the funds dedicated to development and humanitarian aid, and threatens the capacity of the U.S. government to prevent and respond to conflict. The bill cuts funds for Food for Peace by 36 percent, Migration and Refugee Assistance by 41 percent , and The Civilian Stabilization Initiative by 74 percent. The bill completely eliminates the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the U.S. to respond to situations at risk for mass atrocities. These cuts cripple the U.S. ability to engage in conflict prevention, and pose a serious risk for the lives of civilians in countries such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Immediate action is needed to prevent these life-threatening cuts.
Call 1-800-GENOCIDE to urge your Representative to vote NO on the appropriations bill unless these programs are restored, and go to STAND’s to learn more about the 25 Years and Counting initiative. Use your voice to encourage the U.S. government to take further steps to increase the country’s ability to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.
Written by Rosslyn Steinmetz