The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

The Unfolding Crisis in Burundi

On July 22, the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hosted a hearing entitled “The Unfolding Crisis in Burundi.” The session was led by Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), featuring panelists Mr. Michael Jobbins of Search For Common Ground, Dr. Elavie Ndura of George Mason University, Ms. Alissa Williams of the American Friends Service Committee, and Mr. Steve McDonald of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) was also in attendance.

Burundi erupted into protest following President Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term on April 28. He was appointed as a candidate by the ruling party, CNDD-FDD, in April and in the following month, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunziza was allowed to stand for a third term–a decision which resulted in massive protests and an attempted government coup. Most argue that the decision by the court was coerced and that it conflicts with the Arusha Accords that ended the twelve-year civil war. Protests left around 100 dead and more than 100,000 displaced. On July 21st, Nkurunziza was elected to his third term as president with 69 percent of the vote.

As a Burundian, the recent controversy and possible ethnic violence in Dr. Elavie Ndura’s home country is personal. She expressed, “When I talk about ethnicity, it is real. I have focused my entire professional career on education.” She outlined the long history of ethnicity in Burundi. From 1962-1992, divisions set by the Belgian colonial authority remained, leaving the minority Tutsi population in power. In 1993, the country hosted its first multiparty election. The first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was elected by the civilian population only to be overthrown and assassinated three months later, resulting in a civil war that lasted until the 2005 Arusha Accords.

In order to ensure that interethnic violence doesn’t erupt, Ndura argued that the Arusha Accords must be upheld, a concerted effort must be taken to decrease the gap between the elite and the community, political leaders must have the interests of the community at heart rather than their self-interest, and education must be used to reintegrate the concept of ubuntu or “human kindness” into the society.

Mike Jobbins, Director of Global Affairs for Search for Common Ground, outlined three observations on the conflict in Burundi. To begin with, Jobbins noted the importance of unyielding poverty in Burundi and significant food scarcity, which is not expected to improve dramatically by 2050. Under these circumstances, he believes it unreasonable to suggest that Burundi can exist without political conflict in the near future. First, regional actors must help find an agreeable solution to the conflict, which the US can support by working with the newly appointed special envoy to the Lakes Region, Tom Perriello. In the long-term, a Truth and Reconciliation Committee must be established to address recent political violence, and the country must commit to increasing food security.  

Ms. Alissa Wilson, Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator for Africa for the American Friends Service Committee, expressed that the success of AFSC in Burundi was encouraged by communities engaging in dialogue and by AFSC engaging religious leaders to work for peacebuilding.

Wilson argued that the U.S. should revitalize the peace process by working with Tom Perriello to re-engage civil society groups to promote reconciliation and allocating more funds to conflict prevention rather than committing funds after violence has erupted. According to the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, “investing early to prevent conflicts from escalating into violent crises is, on average, 60 times more cost effective than intervening after violence erupts.”

Like many of his peers, Steve McDonald of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars stressed the importance of working with civil society groups to stem the violence and promote reconciliation in order to prevent a possible genocide prompted by inter-ethnic violence. In addition, accountability must be upheld with the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Nkurunziza should be informed by regional actors that he has violated international agreements. All the while, the United States should ensure democratic elections in 2020.

Many of the speakers insisted on the importance of upholding the Arusha Accords and utilizing local NGOs and civil society groups to promote establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some were surprised that despite the country’s history of ethnic violence, the country did not fracture along those lines. In order to find a sustainable peace in Burundi, we must carefully consider both short-term and long-term solutions to the conflict.

Buddhist monk promotes venomous anti-Muslim hate speech

Meet Ashin Wirathu, your everyday Buddhist monk who just so happens to be propagating anti-Muslim hate speech in Burma. Looks can be deceiving. Just like every run of the mill monk, he is draped in saffron robes and boasts a shaved head. However, with relatively little digging on the web, or with the opening of his mouth, you will soon be enlightened. This is not the kind of enlightenment that the Buddha found under the bodhi tree, but rather one of utmost surprise as the sharp rhetoric against the Rohingya population in Burma spills out of his mouth with a cooing tone.

The monk boasts over 68,000 followers on Facebook and his following stretches across Burma. He was released early from prison in 2010 after being dealt a twenty-five year sentence for propagating anti-Muslim hate speech–a symptom of the opening free expression in the country. But things can get worse. In late June, a collective of Thai monks agreed to help spread the message of this hardened Burmese monk by setting up a radio, according to French 24 News. This is eerily reminiscent of the 1994 Rwandan genocide when the RTLM Radio broadcasted hate speech against the minority Tutsi population, calling for their extermination. Failure to examine the case of one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya, would be appalling.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group largely inhabiting Burma’s northwestern Rakhine state. Their population of about 1.3 million makes up nearly a third of Rakhine state. The Rohingya’s origin in Burma traces back to the 15th century Arakan Kingdom. Unfortunately, the Burmese government recognizes them only as Bengali migrants, denying them citizenship rights largely due to the singular Burmese Buddhist identity propagated following colonial rule. However, the etymological root of their name with “Rohang” meaning “Arakan” and “gya” meaning “from” show evidence of their long time presence in Burma.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch stated, “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.” Some 140,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to leave their homes due to organized coordinated attacks in Rakhine state. 120,000 more have fled the country by boat since 2012, according to United to End Genocide. Grievances faced by the Rohingya were recently brought to light when thousands of Rohingya migrants were stranded in the Andaman Sea off of the coast of Thailand.

Many Rohingya are now living in quasi “concentration camps” with little access to foreign aid due to government impediment. Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights stressed, “Aid is still being obstructed by the authorities in a variety of ways, and this appears to be symptomatic of the shared feeling among government officials at all levels that the Rohingya don’t belong in Rakhine state.”

Though the government has a role to play, violence against the Rohingya would not have escalated to this extent if not for men like Wirathu stoking the flames of the fire. The monk leads a monastery of 2,500 and, ironically, calls himself the “Burmese Bin Laden.” Vile words drip from his mouth, reducing the Rohingya to no more than animals: “Muslims are like African catfish. They breed rapidly.” Furthermore, Wirathu is able to spread this hate with no fear of reprisal. As his virulent rhetoric leaves Mandalay and stretches across the country, the threat against Rohingya increases.

According to United to End Genocide, in order for justice and equality to be attained in Burma, certain forward steps need to be taken by the Burmese government and the international community. To begin with, the government must recognize the existence of the Rohingya and grant them equal citizenship. The international community must help establish an international commission to investigate the continuous violence committed against the Rohingya population. Then, set benchmarks should be established contingent upon the behavior of the state and its members. The “Specially Designated Nationals” list that should also be updated.

Additionally, local-level reconciliation and social cohesion programs should not be overlooked. For example, the youth-led #MyFriend selfie campaign, which encourages youth to look beyond religion and ethnicity, should serve as a way to mend relations between diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, and create a future free of ethnic and religious hatred.

The United States must do its part in preventing a genocide in Burma. If we simply sit by while the Rohingya suffer, we may as well have our own broadcast on the new hate radio.  


South Sudan’s Leadership Should Not Celebrate on #SouthSudanat4

Today, the streets of South Sudan won’t be emanating the call of ululating women but rather the sound of laborers hastily preparing for the country’s 4th anniversary of independence. Yes, Salva Kiir has pulled out all of the stops to create a facade of peace and coexistence in his country–one that has been mired in conflict for more than 18 months.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather he spent more time at the negotiating table so that at the end of the day the country actually has something to celebrate. His actions closely resemble what my school does every spring prior to Admitted Students Day where fresh flowers are planted in the still frozen ground. It’s a lie. Everyone knows that it still snows in Boston in what season is allegedly known as “spring.” However the administration still hopes to uphold this falsehood to make the school look pretty. While this approach may work for a university, the beautification campaign Kiir is purporting does little to support the ailing country embroiled in civil war and devoured by its own economy. Everyone knows that South Sudan is at war with itself, yet Kiir continues to try to cover it up.

In December 2013, Riek Machar, the ex-vice president of South Sudan orchestrated an attempted coup d’etat of Kiir’s government. The coup was abetted by Kiir’s decision to depose his entire cabinet on July 23, 2013 when Machar announced his plans to challenge the President’s power during the next election. Following the attempted coup, the country descended into a war largely fractured along ethnic lines. Supporters of Kiir’s government are largely from the Dinka ethnic group whereas supporters of Machar are largely from the Nuer ethnic group. However, the world’s newest state also struggles with attacks from militia groups allied with neighboring Sudan, and developmental and economic challenges.

The leaders of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/A) and its opposition are doing everything to remain in or attain power with little regard to the growing death toll or the 1.9 million displaced. After failures at peace talks and ceasefires, the two warring men are offering ultimatums. Machar warned that as long as Kiir remained in power, a sustainable peace could never be reached. The rebel leader expressed, “Should President Kiir remain adamant and refuse to hand over power back to the people, then the citizens have every right to rise up and overthrow his regime.” This comes after parliament decided in March to extend Kiir’s office by three more years, overriding initial plans for elections this summer.

* Trigger warning: sexual violence, graphic violence *

This all comes to light following the release of a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report last month outlining the horrific violence committed against children. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake expressed, “Survivors report that boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death. Girls as young as 8 have been gang raped and murdered. Children have been tied together before their attackers slit their throats…Others have been thrown into burning buildings.” 129 children were killed in the Unity State in three weeks of May alone. The report sparked international outcry.

All the while, South Sudan’s economy is on the brink of utter collapse. Some Western officials are claiming that in order to sustain the economy the South Sudanese government is printing currency at an irresponsible rate and relying on a loan from a Middle Eastern country. As if that is not enough, South Sudan relies most significantly on the export of oil to sustain its economy, according to the World Bank. In May, rebel forces attacked an oil field in attempt to seize control of it. The strained relationship with the Sudanese government has already made it challenging enough to sustain the oil economy. Now, it is suspected that the government is only earning $10 per barrel.

While Kiir and Machar are busy purchasing fancy cars and allocating resources to celebrate the independence of a broken country, South Sudan is on the brink of collapse. Violence has become the norm and infrastructure is very weak. South Sudan will never be able to flourish or even survive if the country remains so fraught with corruption and self-interest. At the end of the day, we should stop attempting to plant tulips in permafrost. By “spring,” all of the tulips will be dead. In his independence day speech, President Salva Kiir proclaimed, “May this day mark a new beginning of tolerance, unity and love for one another. Let our cultural and ethnic diversity be a source of pride and strength, not parochialism and conflict.” Sad, isn’t it?

*cake credit: Robin Garabedian and Mac Hamilton

Jessica Goldstein is a rising junior at Brandeis University. 

STAND Summer Film List

Looking for an interesting genocide movie to watch this summer? Don’t worry, STAND has got you covered! We reached out to STAND members and alumni to figure out the best recommendations out there. This blog post doesn’t have all of the film recommendations, but these should tide you over for the next couple of months! Similar blog posts with more books, films, blogs and twitter accounts will be out soon.

Schindler’s List (1993)- 

STAND members really like Schindler’s List. STAND Policy Intern and chapter leader Timmy Hirschel-Burns says “Schindler’s List powerfully examines acts of heroism among the horrors of the Holocaust. Although the Holocaust demonstrates the massive negative potential humans have, Schindler’s List also demonstrates the bravery of those who resisted it.” Last year’s West Regional Organizer, Heather Klain, and Jessica Goldstein, STAND Communications Intern and chapter leader also recommend this film. Bri’Anne Parkin, a Lemkin Summit attendee, and Julia Zukin, a rising senior at Emory University both recommend this film as well.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)-

Jessica Goldstein, STAND Communications Intern and chapter leader says, “Hotel Rwanda tells the story of one man–Paul Rusesabagina–to save his country (or at least a few people) from a genocide that is engulfing it. As far as genocide movies go, this one is a classic, a must-watch.” Heather Klain, last year’s West Regional Organizer, Bri’Anne Parkin, and Julia Zukin, a rising senior at Emory University also recommend this film as well.

The Act of Killing (2013)-

Former STAND Policy Coordinator, Danny Hirschel-Burns describes it as “the best film in existence about how perpetrators think, what drives them, and how they manage to commit unimaginable violence.” Justin Schmierer, a former regional organizer expressed: “The Act of Killing was really a great documentary in my opinion. Just saying, if people haven’t seen it.” Recent graduate of Ohio University and former co-president of the Ohio University STAND chapter Neti Gupta also recommends the film.

Watchers of the Sky (2014)-

Southeast Regional Organizer Bethany Vance, a rising sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill stated, “‘Watchers of the Sky’ is a documentary based on the work of Raphael Lemkin ( who invented the term “genocide”) while also taking a look at the contributions of others to the fight against genocide and mass atrocities. Lemkin lost his entire family during World War 2 and devoted the better part of his life to inventing a term for the deliberate killing of a large group of people in order to make it easier to prosecute those who commit acts of genocide.” Heather Klain, a former Western Regional Organizer also recommends this film.

Hannah Arendt (2012)-

Former Education Coordinator Sean Langberg expressed, “The movie explores Arendt’s contributions to the narrative of the Holocaust (and thus genocide rhetoric more broadly) that developed following the trial of Eichmann. I enjoyed learning more about how she refused to accept the bad apples’ story that was being told at the time.”

War Dance (2007)-

War Dance tells the story of three Ugandan children living in Potango refugee camp who have the opportunity to participate in a nationwide music and dance competition. Bri’Anne, a Lemkin Summit attended concludes that “War Dance is a pretty powerful film. It’s one of my favorites.”

Worse than War (2009)-

Jessica Goldstein, STAND Communications Intern and chapter leader says, “This film is for anyone who wants to understand the concept of genocide. Daniel Goldhagen’s interview with a genocidaire is unforgettable.”

Concerning Violence (2014)-

Recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill Danielle Allyn, a former STAND Education Task Force member says, “This documentary, based on the life and writings of Frantz Fanon, displays the everyday violence of colonial regimes in Africa and analyzes methods of resistance. Not a feel-good film but necessary all the same.”

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) –

Former STAND Policy Coordinator, Danny Hirschel-Burns says, “it’s the best film I’ve ever seen about how violent politics work. The characters are multi-faceted and they’re struggling with dilemmas many people in conflict zones experience: how much power to cede to outsiders, the effectiveness of armed struggle, and the implications of sectarianism.”

The Good Lie (2014)-

STAND Student Director, Francesca Freeman, says; “The Good Lie is a film that documents the experience of Sudanese refugees from the attack on their village to their life in the United States. Many of the actors in the movie are Sudanese and either lived through or are related to people who lived through different conflicts in the region. Additionally, the Enough Project played a large part in the making of the film, and therefore it is historically accurate and effectively portrays the experience of the Lost Boys of Sudan.”

Virunga (2014)-

STAND Communications Intern and chapter leader Jessica Goldstein says, “I’ve been obsessed with this movie even before I saw it. I remember watching and rewatching the preview of this film until I finally got to see it. This film deserves all the hype it is getting. It shares the story of conservationists who understand that the park’s success is inextricably bound to Congo’s survival.”’

Look out for more comprehensive lists to come! Thanks to all of the STAND members who contributed to this list! Contact Francesca Freeman at if you have any questions or contributions.