The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Mitigating Small Arms Flows: A Reflection on the Newtown Shooting

By STAND Advocacy Coordinator Daniel Soloman

Last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, CT, has sparked a recognizable groundswell of public support for renewed gun violence prevention efforts. This process should be familiar to atrocity prevention advocates who, in the aftermath of mass violence in Rwanda, Syria, or Sudan, look to the mantra of “never again” as a source of moral urgency. In Sandy Hook’s wake, both gun safety, historically a priority for the National Rifle Association and affiliated “pro-gun” groups, and gun control have returned to the fore of the public agenda. As Sarah Kendzior has observed, calls for a “national conversation” about gun violence, cultures of violence, and mental health abound.

Since Sandy Hook, gun control advocates have informed the national gun control conversation through comparative perspective: the United States possesses more firearms than any other country in our income bracket, and more firearms per capita than the rest of the world, including a smattering of active war zones. Austria and Australia‘s violence prevention case studies have circulated widely, as advocates assess the institutional, legal, and social prerequisites for mitigating gun violence. These case studies are theoretically useful–comparable levels of economic development, institutional strength, and criminal violence should yield comparable conclusions on gun violence prevention. Beyond the two case studies, however, empirical indicators of gun violence reduction are surprisingly scant.

In the context of our comparative lens, the national conversation on gun violence is asking the wrong questions. Rather than viewing U.S. firearms policy through the narrow lens of gun control and access, U.S. commentators should frame gun violence as a question of domestic and transnational small arms flows. The Second Amendment and its cultural importance reframe the public conversation: nowhere else, and particularly not in post-conflict environments, is small arms proliferation considered a preferable social outcome. Small arms flows precipitate varied forms of mass violence, often in environments where social, economic, and political grievances already exist. Far from the exception, the United States conforms to the rule: a recent study of criminal violence on the U.S.-Mexico border found that lax gun regulations in U.S. border states exacerbated violence in conflict-affected regions of Mexico, which I’ve previously discussed as an under-emphasized mass atrocity case study. As cross-border violence makes clear, our domestic policy failures reverberate abroad, often in destructive ways.

Within this “small arms flows” perspective, counterproliferation efforts offer a couple of broad, thematic lessons for domestic gun violence conversations:

Institutions matter: With heavy focus on international small arms technology, it’s easy to lose sight of a key component of counterproliferation efforts: the regulatory institutions that guide them. Post-conflict small arms proliferation creates a vicious cycle, in which the availability of small arms erodes the rule of law, a necessary prerequisite for counterproliferation. Legal institutions are one part of the equation; training and expertise, key characteristics of an effective regulatory body, are the other.

It’s not just about the guns: Ammunition represents a technologically trickier, if equally critical component of the small arms question. International regulations have identified illicit ammunition trafficking as a key target, as small arms ammunition stockpiles often enable opportunities for resurgent violence. International donors have emphasizedstockpile destruction as a primary mechanism for ammunition reduction, focusing anti-personnel mine and man-portable air-defense systems (MANPAD) ammunition, in particular.

International cooperation makes a difference: The UN arms trade treaty isn’t just about regulating and mitigating the international flow of small arms. Like all international agreements, the arms trade treaty will develop an institutionalized regime, which would facilitate a community of practice on small arms counterproliferation. Despite our endemic gun violence, the United States has competently addressed the flow of illicit arms within our borders; most arms purchases are legal, if poorly regulated transactions. International counterproliferation efforts have relied heavily on regional cooperation, especially, and the U.S. is well-poised to contribute to a renewed international conversation on arms trafficking.

As Sudan Revolts, Building a New Future for Darfur

Throughout the past two weeks, an emerging, dynamic protest movement has spread across Sudan, challenging the National Congress Party’s (NCP) waning grip on political authority. In addition to #SudanRevolts’ domestic uprising, Khartoum confronts internal schisms and a three-front military conflict–violence in Darfur, Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and with South Sudan threatens civilian security and livelihoods. As the NCP’s hold loosens, Sudan’s future looks increasingly uncertain; the Sudanese regime’s structure, character, and identity are in flux, and Khartoum’s relationship with marginalized communities in Darfur, the border states, and eastern Sudan remains unresolved.

Mass atrocities have continued in Darfur, despite the gradual de-escalation of the NCP’s counterinsurgency campaign: Khartoum restricts essential humanitarian access to the region, while indiscriminate bombings and government-backed militia attacks against civilian population centers persist. Most internally displaced populations have not returned home, and have struggled to construct new communities in exile. And yet, in areas of relative stability, the foundations of reconstruction have begun to emerge. As Jeffrey Gettleman indicated in February, and groups on the ground have confirmed, refugees have trickled back to Darfur, slowly developing a basis for resilient, sustainable renewal.

El-Malam, outside the Darfuri city of Nyala, is the life-blood of Darfur’s reconstruction. Before the war, el-Malam functioned as a regional center for cultural, economic, and commercial prosperity. At the nexus of Nyala and el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, el-Malam operated a vibrant market, an impressive network of primary schools, and a sustained base of health services. Unfortunately for el-Malam’s residents, the town also emerged as a strategic hub; as the Darfur’s civil war escalated, and Darfuri rebel forces consolidated their hold over the town, el-Malam quickly became a target of successive, destructive attacks by government-sponsored militias.

As Darfur’s regional conflict ebbed, giving way to localized, intercommunal conflict, opportunities for reconciliation began to emerge. Last November, the Institute for Sustainable Peace (ISP), a U.S.-based conflict resolution program, organized a multi-week reconciliation workshop, seeking to build common ground between formerly-embattled Fur and Bin Masour leaders, as well as members of el-Malam’s displaced community. The el-Malam project crafted an immediate forum for peacebuilding, as well as a long-term framework for sustained reconciliation; ISP’s workshop participants developed a list of community priorities for reconstruction, including the restoration of el-Malam’s vibrant market culture, youth education and empowerment, and irrigation infrastructure.

In the months since the ISP workshop, the el-Malam community has been hard at work, transforming the reconstruction plan into a tangible reality. In many ways, the el-Malam project represents a vision for a restored, inclusive Sudan: local and regional officials, displaced communities, and an emergent civil society each play an integral role in planning el-Malam’s development projects and ensuring continued security. Two months ago, I dropped by a BBQ with a couple of project participants in the Sudanese-American community. The group is a diverse assortment of diaspora members from Darfur, South Sudan, Khartoum, and across the Middle East–truly, a microcosm of John Garang’s "new Sudan" in practice.

As a national popular protest movement re-emerges, there’s a new wave of fresh good-news stories developing in Sudan. In Darfur, the el-Malam project is building one more.

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post on July 2, 2012.

VIDEO: Happy Holidays (War in Sudan Isn’t Over)

Sudan Now, a leading coalition of Sudan advocacy organizations, has launched a new video campaign surrounding civilian protection in Sudan, calling on the U.S. to lead the international response to mass atrocities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The central government in Khartoum has initiated a destructive counterinsurgency campaign against the SPLM-North, targeting civilian population centers throughout the conflict-ridden border areas:

Hundreds of STAND students throughout the last several months have mobilized and organized their local constituencies to advocate for mass atrocities prevention in Sudan, calling on the international community to recognize Khartoum’s responsibility to protect civilians within its borders. Working with our partners at Sudan Now, STAND has pressed high-level officials to adopt a comprehensive approach towards protecting civilians in crisis situations:

1. Give urgent priority to protecting civilian populations by appropriate means.

2. Continue to urgently press for full and unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations to South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Given the absence of consent by the Sudanese government, the United States and international partners immediately prepare alternative means of distributing emergency assistance to civilians in any such area where denial of aid is being used as a weapon of war.

3. Adopt a strategy that addresses the conflicts in each of Sudan’s regions in a comprehensive manner that recognizes the Government of Sudan as the root cause of these conflicts.  As part of this comprehensive approach the United States should support the peaceful aspirations of the Sudanese people focusing on capacity-building support to civil society organizations and political parties promoting democratic reform.

4. Impose robust financial sanctions, and seek international financial sanctions, against persons (and their associated businesses) responsible for attacks against civilians.

5. Increase efforts to establish an international commission of inquiry, expand international coordination around apprehension of ICC suspects and increase international support for further ICC cases targeting those responsible for crimes against civilians in Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

6. Immediately send an assessment team to Ethiopia and South Sudan to obtain information from refugees and displaced persons about the situation in Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Join Sudan advocates across the country in pressing for change, call 1-800-GENOCIDE to urge President Obama to remain vigilant in ensuring civilian protection in Sudan.

P.S. Curious about STAND’s conversations with Sudan policymakers? Check out my reflections from last week’s Sudan advocacy meeting with Special Envoy Princeton Lyman.


Amidst Congressional Debate on Libya, Commentators Defend Persistent Relevance of Intervention

In recent weeks, Congress has engaged in a robust legal debate over the War Powers Resolution and the Obama administration’s civilian protection operation in Libya. In a recent piece for Foreign Policy magazine, Middle East scholar Marc Lynch chides the Obama administration for not defending the (legitimate) international intervention in Libya before Congress:

Beyond the political jockeying, however, the sudden burst of attention to Libya should be an opportunity for the public to take a fresh look at what is actually happening in Libya. This is a good time to realize that the war in Libya was very much worth fighting and that it is moving in a positive direction.  A massacre was averted, all the trends favor the rebels, the emerging National Transitional Council is an unusually impressive government in waiting, and a positive endgame is in sight.  This is a war of which the administration should be proud, not one to be hidden away from public or Congressional view.

Similarly, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), along with a number of Senate Republicans, have challenged their party’s growing distaste for the Obama administration’s response to the Libya crisis:

Appearing on ABC’s "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declined an opportunity to criticize Boehner, but spoke out strongly against the comments from GOP presidential candidates.

"I was more concerned about what the candidates said in New Hampshire," McCain said. "This is isolationism … If we had not intervened, Gaddafi was at the gates of Benghazi … our interests are our values, and our values are that we don’t want people needlessly slaughtered."

"I will be no part of an effort to defund Libya," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on NBC’s "Meet The Press" program Sunday. 

Abyei Crisis Sparks Prospect of Further Violence in Sudan, Quick International Response

Last Thursday, following scuffles in Sudan’s Abyei border region, southern Sudanese forces ambushed a UN peacekeeping convoy escorting northern forces out of Abyei town. The ambush ignited a destabilizing military confrontation between North and South Sudan, culminating in the occupation of Abyei by northern forces on Sunday. Shortly after their occupation of Abyei, the Khartoum regime deployed a tank unit to the contested region, and commenced with heavy shelling of the town. According to local Abyei administrators, the brief military encounter has sparked a wave of mass displacement, with thousands fleeing their homes. Mass unrest has continued as Khartoum entrenches its occupation of Abyei town.

Abyei town has long been a flashpoint for conflict between North and South Sudan, due to the strategic value of the town’s water resources, the ambiguities of citizenship definition between the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities, and the politicization of ethnic identities in the aftermath of conflict. A variety of international policy mechanisms, including territorial arbitration, have attempted to diffuse the crisis, to no avail. Citizenship disputes prevented an Abyei referendum, which has been postponed indefinitely. With the Khartoum regime defying international calls for restraint and civilian protection, and the South Sudanese government sending mixed messages on its response to the crisis, a variety of commentators have warned of the resurgence of civil war between North and South Sudan, less than a month before the South is due to declare its independence.

The international community responded swiftly to the Abyei crisis, and the United States was quick to notify the Khartoum government of the consequences of back-sliding on their commitment to a smooth, peaceful, and stable post-referendum process. In response to the Abyei crisis, a coalition of human rights groups, including Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, called for a comprehensive, consequences-based Sudan policy:

As a matter of urgency, the United States should immediately suspend progress toward normalization with Sudan, including the review of its status as a state sponsor of terror, as well as any steps towards review of debt relief or the lifting of sanctions. The U.S. should convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and propose the rapid establishment of a targeted sanctions regime for anyone responsible for violence against civilians in Sudan, and immediately impose unilateral U.S. sanctions on individuals implicated in violence on both sides of the border…The U.N. Mission in Sudan should accelerate planning for emergency steps to protect civilians from violence, and the U.S. government should begin planning for contingency scenarios for civilian protection in Sudan.

Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition is holding a policy call on Thursday, May 26, to discuss the implications of the Abyei crisis for the post-referendum peace process, as well as the consequences-based policy framework for accountability and stability in Sudan. Join in:

What: National Call on the Situation in Abyei

When: Thursday, May 26, at 2:00 pm EST

Phone Number: (712) 432-0900; Passcode: 154845#


Reflecting on the Present Libya Crisis: Mapping a Future for #GenPrev and R2P

 STAND’s Pledge2Protect 2011 conference, a remarkable gathering of hundreds of anti-genocide activists, hosted an exceptional advocacy panel on the current U.S. intervention in Libya, the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, and the impact of the international community’s response on the future of the anti-genocide constituency. The panel comprised a variety of perspectives on the anti-genocide movement’s involvement in advocating for civilian protection and mass atrocities prevention in Libya: Sam Bell, the executive director of the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition; Naomi Kikoler, from the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect; and Nate Wright, one of STAND’s co-founders (alongside Martha Bixby, who moderated the panel).

The panel addressed a number of difficult questions on the Libya crisis, regarding the metrics for success in the intervention, the identity of the Libyan opposition movement, the effectiveness of multilateral military force in other conflicts, and, importantly, the question of consistency in the "responsibility to protect" doctrine’s application. However, the most poignant comment came from Naomi Kikoler, speaking on the importance of genocide and mass atrocities prevention. As Naomi noted in her presentation, the international community needs to get better at prevention. Military intervention in Libya was a last resort–the UN Security Council approved the use of force for civilian protection because the international community’s prior economic and political initiatives were not effective in restricting the Qaddafi regime’s targeting of Libya’s civilian population. But before military intervention, before the international community even considered the prospect of a no-fly zone, there were risk indicators in Libya. These political and military factors hinted at the prospect of mass atrocity.

The international community can utilize a full spectrum of policy tools to de-escalate nascent conflicts, as well as prevent the occurrence of genocide and mass atrocities. An effective early warning system, interagency policy coordination, and preventive diplomatic efforts can contribute to the mitigation of civilian harm in conflict. As the P2P 2011 panelists observed, limited military force, while a useful tool of genocide and mass atrocities prevention and response, needn’t be the course of action. When the next crisis appears, the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the international community, can be prepared, so as to avert the protection of civilians through military means.


AdvoCo: Why You Should Be STAND’s Next Advocacy Coordinator

I’ve been a member of the STAND Managing Committee since December 2009. My work with the organization, both national and local, began during the summer of that same year, when I served as STAND’s National Burma Education Coordinator. My education work on Burma was fascinating–entering the position with little knowledge of the conflict in the country’s ethnic minority regions, I soon became proficient in the complex political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the country’s present instability.
While my work on the Education Task Force piqued my interest, I had few, if any opportunities to translate my knowledge into coherent policy solutions. When, in the winter of 2009, I applied for the National Advocacy Coordinator position, I expected to enter the realm of policy discourse, to study STAND’s conflicts of concern with greater emphasis on the process of resolving these conflicts, rather than simply understanding their origins (admittedly, a not-so-simple task).
Throughout my year-and-a-half as National Advocacy Coordinator, I can firmly say that I’ve achieved this initial expectation. My advocacy work with STAND has allowed me to make constructive contributions to the anti-genocide movement’s policy approaches to emerging and persistent international conflicts. I have participated in productive policy discussions with staff members at GI-NET/SDC. My work with the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a partnership between STAND and the Enough Project, has allowed me to contribute to STAND’s development as a multi-conflict-focused organization, and to grapple with the complex policy dilemmas that this development entails.
My time on the Managing Committee has also enhanced my abilities as an organizer and movement leader. The exceptional network of STAND alums is entirely accessible to the Managing Committee–our partners at the New Organizing Institute and Organizing for America have dedicated an exceptional quantity of time and energy to ensuring that the legacy of organizing expertise lives on in successive Managing Committees.
If you’re interested in strengthening your organizing skills, in engaging in high-level discussions on human rights, conflict prevention, and conflict resolution policy, or, frankly, just having a good time (for a solid 25-30 hours/week), I’d encourage you to apply for the Advocacy Coordinator position. Please feel free to contact me at with any questions about the position. And look forward to the next generation of student anti-genocide leadership! I know I do.


Take Action Now: U.S. Dragging Its Feet in Libya Crisis Response

The U.S. government response to the present crisis has been little more than weak-kneed. In an interview yesterday, State Department spokesperson described the Qaddafi regime’s targeted killings of civilian protesters as a matter of internal concern:

"This is ultimately and fundamentally an issue between the Libyan government, its leader and the Libyan people," [Crowley] told reporters. "We have grave concerns about the Libyan response to these protesters. We continue to be guided by our fundamental principles: we don’t want to see any further violence."

The U.S. government is dragging its feet in response to the present crisis in Libya. Call the U.S. State Department now to urge Secretary Clinton to support the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, seek justice for Col. Qaddafi’s crimes at the International Criminal Court, and take steps to further isolate Col. Qaddafi from the international community. Take action now: call Secretary Clinton at 202-647-5291, and let her hear the voice of the movement for justice and peace in Libya.


GI-NET/SDC Call for U.S., International Action on Libyan Crisis

In a recent press release, the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, STAND’s parent organization, called for concerted international action to mitigate the crisis in Libya: 

The United States, the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union must endorse and – where able – undertake decisive action to stop what could constitute crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Qaddafi regime.  If world leaders do not impose swift, severe consequences on the Qaddafi government other leaders might be tempted to employ the ‘Libya option.’

The UN General Assembly, including all the world’s governments, affirmed the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in 2005. A commitment to that doctrine should compel the international community to stop what could constitute crimes against humanity taking place in Libya. Specifically, the UN Security Council should authorize the following actions:

Freezing assets of top Libyan officials and the Qaddafi family;

Referral of the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;

Creation of a mandatory Libya Recovery Fund into which all revenues from Libyan oil exports would be paid; 

Establishment of a no-fly zone by willing countries, with the express aim of preventing continued operation of Libyan military aircraft if attacks against civilians continue.

GI-NET/SDC’s support for a no-fly zone over Libya has encountered ubiquitous approval across the foreign policy blogosphere. On Monday, FP blogger Marc Lynch expressed concern for the Qaddafi regime’s targeting of civilians, and called for NATO to take swift action to prevent further atrocities:

We should not be fooled by Libya’s geographic proximity to Egypt and Tunisia, or guided by the debates over how the United States could best help a peaceful protest movement achieve democratic change. The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.

Andrew Sullivan has compiled a more expansive set of blogosphere responses to the Libyan crisis.

Update: DC STAND chapters, look for advocacy opportunities towards the State Department surrounding the present situation in Libya later this week!

Update II: The U.S. government response to the present crisis has been little more than weak-kneed. In an interview yesterday, State Department spokesperson described the Qaddafi regime’s targeted killings of civilian protesters as a matter of internal concern:

"This is ultimately and fundamentally an issue between the Libyan government, its leader and the Libyan people," [Crowley] told reporters. "We have grave concerns about the Libyan response to these protesters. We continue to be guided by our fundamental principles: we don’t want to see any further violence."

The U.S. government is dragging its feet in response to the present crisis in Libya. Call the U.S. State Department now to urge Secretary Clinton to support the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, seek justice for Col. Qaddafi’s crimes at the International Criminal Court, and take steps to further isolate Col. Qaddafi from the international community. Take action now: call Secretary Clinton at 202-647-5291, and let her hear the voice of the movement for justice and peace in Libya.


Congolese Rebel Leader Submits Himself to UN

Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Bisengimana, a critical member of the leadership of the Forces democratique de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), has defected from the rebel organization. According to UN reports, Lt. Col. Bisengimana submitted himself to the UN’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Repatriation (DDRRR) program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The mission said his defection under the terms of its Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Repatriation (DDRRR) programme dealt a serious blow to the FDLR, which he served as a member of the high command.

Lt-Col. Bisengimana was responsible for mobilizing civilian support for the FDLR and facilitated recruitment, according to MONUSCO.

Before fleeing Rwanda to DRC’s North Kivu province in the wake of the genocide, he was a company commander in the Rwandan army.

His defection follows the extraction from the FDLR of three other fighters with the rank of major last month. Last year, 1,881 FDLR rebels, including 64 officers, opted for voluntary surrender and disarmament under the MONUSCO demobilisation programme.