The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

STAND Statement on the Israel / Gaza Conflict

STAND Statement on the Israel/Gaza Conflict

Like many other members of the international community, we are writing today to stand in solidarity with all civilians under attack in the unfolding Israel-Gaza conflict. The escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas has in recent weeks resulted in widespread civilian deaths and injuries through indiscriminate attacks.  We stand with organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in condemning either indiscriminate or willful targeting of civilian areas by both the Israeli military and the military wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.

We join other members of the international community in supporting a United Nations Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into any and all potential violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties to this conflict. In doing so, we support UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s assertion that “[it] is imperative that Israel, Hamas and all Palestinian armed groups strictly abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This entails applying the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives; proportionality; and precautions in attack . . . Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

We at STAND want to emphasize our commitment to civilian protection in the face of armed conflict and solidarity with the civilian victims of these violent attacks. We encourage the STAND community to engage in the larger discussion of this complex and developing conflict. How does the Israel-Gaza conflict relate to the future of mass atrocity prevention and our movement as a whole? During August, STAND will be hosting an open blog series on the conflict. Please consider offering your informed opinion for submission by sending a short proposal to

We LOVE our MC Seniors and Student Director!

It’s that time of year again: graduation time! It’s the time when we at STAND have to say good-bye to some of our strongest and most influential student leaders. This year, six of STAND’s Managing Committee members are graduating, and our Student Director is also leaving her post.

Hannah, Danny, Sean, Katy, Sonia, Jack, and Jake: we can’t imagine STAND without you. You have all left your mark on STAND and have shaped our organization’s direction. We have no doubt that you will all continue to be influential change-makers, but most importantly, we’re just lucky to call you our friends. From STAND students across the country and from the entire genocide prevention movement, thank you!

Hannah Finnie, Student Director

What can I say about Hannah? Something about puffins is probably a good start. She loves puffins… and she is hands-down one of my favorite people in the world! She is also the youngest Student Director in STAND’s nine-year history, and she has met every challenge (and there have been many, many, MANY challenges) with capability and confidence. She has been the glue holding STAND and the MC together this year, making sure that everyone laughs, feels included, and works together around our mission. Hannah is someone who you’ll remember- probably at first because she’s hilarious, but then because she is remarkably humble, reflective, and insightful. She is an empowering leader and a mediator- Hannah has brought people together, encouraged them to keep going, and made everyone laugh along the way. This movement is lucky for her leadership and contributions- Hannah is one of the people who “just get it” like no other. More than that, we’re all so freaking lucky to call you a friend. I know that I couldn’t have gotten through this year without you (but fo real), and there is no one else that I would rather have 3 hour HAT calls with. Love you, #HAT4ever (Stanford?), and c u in DC!

– Kat Fallon, Senior Manager

Words cannot describe how much I love, respect, admire, and adore Hannah. First of all, she is hands-down the most amazing Student Director that STAND could ever imagine. Hannah would always work as hard as she possibly could, to the best of her ability, to make sure that STAND was operating smoothly. From doing an incredible job leading our team, to running MC calls, leading workshops, to being an outright hilarious person, working with her is always a joy. Her passion and dedication to STAND is inspirational; however, what is equally inspirational is her kindness to all of those in STAND. Hannah never failed to put others first, make sure the entire MC was in a happy / strong emotional state, and just be an incredible friend. I cannot begin to describe how lucky and fortunate I am to have gotten to work with her, gotten to know her, and to call her my friend. I love you Hannah, and thank you for a wonderful year! #YGG

– Ashley Jowell, Southwest Regional Organizer

Danny Hirschel-Burns, Policy Coordinator

I can never forget the first time I met Danny — it was three years ago now at STAND Camp, and I remember being blown away by how brilliant he was. His insightful comments, opinions, and thoughts on all that we were discussing at STAND immediately struck me… little did I know that I would be fortunate enough to continue to engage with him for many more years. Danny has always been an incredible part of my STAND experience – he is one of the most hardworking, passionate, and dedicated individuals that I know, and never fails to put his absolute best effort (which is always outstanding!) into all that he does. He has transformed and shaped our policy and understanding of all of the conflicts at STAND, and always makes sure to present multiple perspectives. Further, Danny is a wonderful friend – I have so enjoyed getting to know him over the past few years, and STAND Conferences, retreats, and camps would never have been the same without him (whether it was due to mass atrocity prevention discussions, bonding over being injured #datcastlife, or just having a wonderful friend to talk to). Thank you Danny for all that you have done for STAND, and for being such a magnificent person. I will miss you so much next year!

– Ashley Jowell, Southwest Regional Organizer

When I first met Danny, I was struck by how friendly and easy going he was. Pretty soon, I realized that this guy really knew his stuff. Danny has such a vast knowledge and understanding about mass atrocities and an incredibly comprehensive, thought-out approach to social and international issues. He has undertaken so much work and research around atrocities, and has such strong beliefs in nonviolent responses. Danny takes a scholarly and progressive approach to STAND’s conflicts, and is always analytical and enthusiastic. Most importantly, I greatly admire Danny’s eagerness and willingness to keep on learning about and debating these issues. Danny’s intelligence is matched by his friendliness, and he’s been an invaluable part of STAND this year! You have a perspective and intelligence that is going to take you places- I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know you, and can’t wait to see you in DC!

– Kat Fallon, Senior Manager

Sean Langberg, Education Coordinator

I’ve probably erased and rewrote the intro to this paragraph about five times now. Because there are no words (or enough) to describe what Sean brings to the table. He is critical. He is intelligent. He is humble. He is goofy and so wonderfully strange. He is thoughtful. He is self-critical. He is a leader, but he is a follower when he needs to be. Those fortunate enough to know him, are consistently challenged by his resistance to the status quo, motivated by his commitment to change in and outside of the atrocity prevention movement, and inspired by his belief in the power of student voices and ideas. As a friend, he has made me a better thinker, a better advocate, and a better version of myself. How did STAND get so lucky as to have someone like Sean? Someone that constantly strives to make it better, to reimagine it, to recreate it? And how did I get so lucky to have a friend like Sean? Someone with who I can laugh endlessly, learn endlessly and…drink endlessly? Are we even allowed to say that on the STAND blog? Well I just did, and on that note, cheers to my buddy Sean!

– Shomya Tripathy, former Community Manager

Sean has a perspective that I deeply trust and admire. During his years with STAND, he has been one of our most proactive, insightful, and humble leaders. Sean has found the perfect balance between speaking up in ways that further conversations and build strong ideas, and reflecting in order to empower his peers. His opinions and thoughts on social justice issues are always forward-looking and on point, and he consistently shows sensitivity, awareness, and an acute cross-cultural understanding. I feel so lucky to have met and worked with Sean this year- his ideas have challenged all of us, helped make STAND a stronger organization, and helped make dialogue around mass atrocity prevention more progressive, inclusive, and powerful. He’s also just an incredibly kind and witty person who has brought a great energy to the STAND team! Sean, you’re gonna do big things!

– Kat Fallon, Senior Manager

Katy Lindquist, Northeast Regional Organizer

I met Katy at the summer retreat. I immediately was impressed by her breadth of knowledge about recent conflicts. Not only is she well-versed in genocide prevention, she is also amazingly sweet and hard-working. She would always keep me up-to-date if I was unable to make our weekly call. I am so glad to have met her, and I wish her the best of luck!

– Siri Machiraju, Northwest Regional Organizer

I have adored Katy since I began working with her in 2012. Katy had an incredible interview for the position of Conflict Education Coordinator for Central Africa on the Education Task Force–so good, in fact, that I hired her right on the spot! She was, and is, incredibly intelligent, perceptive, kind, and fun. While I was sad to see her go for the second semester, I was also so so happy that she was studying abroad in Rwanda, a country I hold close to my heart. Since then, I have watched her rock the MC, working closely with her to mobilize the northeast for the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. I know that she’s going to continue to observe, question, and travel the world… I just hope she’ll let me tag along!

– Mac Hamilton, Campaign & Youth Outreach Coordinator

Sonia Sen, Communications Coordinator

If I had to describe Sonia in one word, it would be…well, I guess you can’t really describe her in one word. When I met Sonia at last year’s summer MC retreat, we kind of hit it off immediately, like she seems to do with everyone. Her quirky sense of humor and fun-loving personality are just some of the things that make her SOOOO awesome. I’m ultra jealous of her super cool dog named Teddy and wish my dog was cool enough to have its own Facebook profile, or even be social media famous. Props to Sonia for raising her dog to be a star. But aside from her pets, Sonia showcases her talents through STAND’s webpage (which looks amazing) and social media accounts, and is incredibly dedicated to the organization and her passion for genocide prevention. Her consistent hard work will no doubt lead her to more amazing opportunities in the future and I’m excited to see where she ends up. As DSol says, YGG.

– Ashley Legg, Central Regional Organizer

We’ve all encountered those people that just have a quality that makes you want to be best friends with them within five minutes of meeting them. Sonia is that person. At least, I not-so-secretly want to be best friends with her. She carries a positivity, light-heartedness, and confidence with her that is hard to dismiss and especially valued in a field like this. Not only is the subject of our work difficult and tragic, but our wins are rare, and our mission is lofty. But folks like Sonia remind us that while being committed advocates, we can still laugh and be young in the midst of it all. And, man, is she committed. Homegirl has given eight years of her life – pretty much her entire youth – to this cause, and done so with laughter (and probably some tears) and passion. Sonia, thank you not only for your infectious happiness, but thank you for sticking with STAND and this movement when it was often hard to. No matter how much you love STAND, I promise it loves you more.

– Shomya Tripathy, former Community Manager

Jack Spicer, Campaigns Coordinator

I met Jack two years ago at STAND Camp in Washington DC. I first got to know him by way of email communication since he served as the Regional Organizer for my state, and I was impressed by how willing he was to reach out and help his chapters. I definitely admire Jack and his passion for STAND and other campaigns he takes part in on his campus. He’s driven and motivated to do whatever it takes to reach his goals and is always searching for new ways to improve his community and the world around him. I have no doubt that he will excel in law school and go on to continue to help people and better his community. And if you’re ever in need of a lawyer…well, you’ll know who to call.

– Ashley Legg, Central Regional Organizer

Jackattack!! I had the distinct pleasure of serving on the MC with Mr. Spicer in 2012-2013 and feel very #blessed to know such a thoughtful, passionate, and radical activist. Jack is always looking beyond himself and into the world around him to see what he can do to make both small and large scale change. He’s also our appointed heartthrob. As DSol so eloquently put it, “is that Jack, or Ryan Gosling?” Jack, thank you for making me think and feel more deeply. I look forward to seeing you tear it up in the courtroom!

– Mac Hamilton, Campaign & Youth Outreach Coordinator

Jake Sprang, Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer

I also met Jake at the summer retreat. Though he was a newcomer like me, I was impressed by how quickly he became a defining force on our team. He is always on top of emailing all of us before our regional organizer calls and was quick to answer any questions I had. I am so glad to have had a chance to meet him this year!

– Siri Machiraju, Northwest Regional Organizer

Jake has been a remarkable Regional Organizer over the past year, but perhaps what I value most about him (aside from his awesome one liners and the Screamin’ Eagle- his PT Cruiser with an Amurrica eagle decal) is his consistent and insightful thought leadership. From policy discussions to strategic planning sessions, Jake has always brought intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a global understanding to the table. From the time he has spent in South Africa, to the amount of intensive research and energy he has put into the complex issues that face eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he takes initiative around his passions. He has also been one of the kindest, warmest, and most hilarious members of our MC- retreats would not have been the same without ya! Jake, we’ve been SO lucky to have you as a part of STAND this past year, and can’t wait to see what you do next!

– Kat Fallon, Senior Manager

On World Press Freedom Day

This post was written by Christina Howerton and originally appeared on the Syrian American Council’s blog.

Today is World Press Freedom Day, and the situation for journalists in Syria is devestating.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 19 journalists have been killed in 2013, while 174 are in prison. Fifty eight netizens and citizen journalists have been killed since the revolution began in March 2011. Additionally, Syria is one of the worst countries in the world for press freedom and it ranks among the top enemies of the Internet.

Freedom House ranks Syria as the ninth worst place to be a journalist.

Ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers is a theme for this year’s WPFD. Public awareness about the importance of the media, especially as a government watchdog in times of conflict and transition, must be developed to ensure that press freedom is widely cherished and that attacks on journalists will not be tolerated.

A media activist named Trad from Qusayr, Syria highlighted why independent, safe journalism is so important in Al Jazeera Witness documentary, “The Revolution is Being Televised.”

“I haven’t got a gun, I have a camera. My camera is my weapon,” he said as he crouched behind a wall to film regime shelling of his town. “Bashar fears the camera more than any heavy artillery. More than any tank or jet fighter. The camera is bringing the truth to the outside world.”

The Undying Spirit of Syria

By STAND Senior Manager Kathleen Fallon

“Tomorrow will be more beautiful.”

This is the rough translation of “Bokra ahla,” an Arabic message scrolled onto the remains of a sandy-colored brick building in Aleppo.  Like many, many buildings in Aleppo, it is now no more than rubble on the ground.

It is a message of hope, in a country where hopelessness could easily become overwhelming.  Next to the graffiti is a picture of a goofy Spongebob Squarepants waving his arms.  Humor, just like hope, will not be killed.

This spirit of Syria is undying.  From the spray-paint that lined the wall of a school in Dara’a back in March 2011, igniting the revolution, to this graffiti, drawn onto debris: it’s in the voices of peaceful protesters and community leaders, who so rarely receive global attention, but are the backbone of the revolution.

A friend of mine is one of these unsung heroes.  He was studying journalism at the University of Damascus, and graduated as the revolution in Syria was just gaining momentum.  Right after graduating, he was offered a position at the national Syrian television channel, but turned it down because of their skewed reporting.  When I lived in Damascus, he was the one who first taught me phrases in Iraqi colloquial Arabic, to help me seem “cooler.”  He was the epitome of hope for Syria, participating in peaceful protests since they began and risking his life to create facebook groups to coordinate the movement.
A week ago, on February 4th, he sent me an email:

“i dont want to leave my country during this hard time, but after the last attack on my Village it became too dangerous because the checkpoints start arresting people who belong to that village and some of them got killed and others disappeared.
i was threaten by the regime once and i paid some money to solve that and right now i have the same problem again i am wanted for them… i dont wanna be armed because i am against killing for any reason but i wanna do something to support the people now living under fire i wanna tell the world what’s going on here. i mean, i am not running away.”

The day after he sent that email, he was arrested by the Assad regime’s security forces.

It often feels hopeless to sit thousand of miles away, looking at youtube videos of bombings and a twitter feed of stats.  For so many of us, from Syrian activists to American students, it is almost as hard to watch what is happening in Syria as it is to not watch.

But at the end of the day, we cannot give up on solidarity.  We cannot give up on raising money to assist refugee camps, and pressing our government for a policy that prioritizes humanitarian action.  We cannot give up on advocacy and action.

No matter how many shellings, or political prisoners, the spirit of the revolution will not die.  No matter how many children are killed on the streets, no matter how many women are brutally raped and stigmatized, no matter how many communities are ripped apart, no matter how many winding alleyways crumble.    No matter how few jasmine flowers bloom in Damascus, the “city of jasmine,” this spring, the spirit that sparked the revolution will not die.

So amidst the ever-changing policy question marks, let’s not give up on the spirit of hope in Syria.  It lives on in people all over Syria, in the victims and the heroes, who are more often than not one and the same.

From Numbers to Names

Sometimes we get lost in numbers. 5.4 million dead in eastern Congo since 1996. 4 million displaced throughout Darfur. More than 70,000 children abducted by the LRA since 1987. These numbers are staggering, horrifying, and also important: statistics can spur authorities to action and lend credibility and gravity to reports on mass atrocities. But we cannot forget discrete acts of aggression toward individuals, within the scope of mass atrocity, if we plan to prevent it.

On November 9th, I saw a panel discussion with Enough Project founder John Prendergast and Father Patrick Desbois, President of Yahad-In Unum, an organization that documents and archives mass extermination sites of the victims of the Nazis in eastern Europe, moderated by NBC journalist Ann Curry. These three activists talked about their experiences in the movement to prevent and end mass atrocities, and an essential takeaway for me was bridging on-the-ground record-keeping, like Father Desbois does, with satellite imaging, like Prendergast’s Satellite Sentinel Project. But perhaps the most important theme of the talk was the inextricable link between historical and contemporary genocides and mass atrocities. Aid and Prevention is the name of STAND’s latest campaign, but after this eye-opening discussion, I would suggest that Remembrance and Prevention are terms just as closely tied.

The road to ending impunity for crimes against humanity will be inlaid with so many cooperative political moves and efforts, and as a relative newcomer to this movement, I am still just learning the basic techniques to create the necessary political will to achieve this goal. Prendergast himself explained that each case of mass atrocity is unfortunately unique; posited “formulas” for genocide, although helpful in initial identification, can just as easily mar the complexity of a specific conflict.

Yet it seems clear that a requisite step in ending impunity lies in giving the victim a name, as Father Desbois eloquently pointed out in the discussion.

It’s hard enough for anyone to comprehend what the perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocity are capable of. Stories about individuals are not only important to make tragedy comprehensible to those who are marginally involved in our movement, but they also have a function per se. In telling the story of a victim, in calling him or her by name, and in showing, as Father Desbois and John Prendergast both do, that we will go looking for those whom at first are forgotten, we send a message that ending impunity is both a moral and a political endeavor.

Father Desbois’ experience with recording and archiving stories from the Holocaust complemented Curry and Prendergast’s efforts to document contemporary mass atrocity, and Prendergast mentioned that the context for his work lies in Father Desbois’s. In this way, response and prevention will never exist without education and remembrance—and not just concerning vague historical context or a specific ethnic, political, or religious dynamic within a given region, but also the human. The mother, the uncle, the neighbor.

The perpetrators of mass atrocity focus on the group, fueled by generalizations about “the other.” To counter dehumanization, we must be concerned with the individual, constantly reminding ourselves that at the heart of this movement is a commitment to any single human life.

By Ann Sarnak, Princeton High School STAND

Atrocities Prevention: In the National Interest?

By Daniel Solomon, STAND Advocacy Coordinator

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Syria discussion on Monday night, amidst a thorough discussion of horses and bayonets, raised an important question: what is the strategic impact of mass atrocities prevention, and how can we conceive of the United States’ role in atrocities prevention policy? Two summers ago, in his presidential directive on mass atrocities, President Obama described mass atrocities prevention as a “core national security interest” for the United States. The President’s declaration was, in some sense, momentous: towards the end of his second administration, President Clinton initiated a similar, if smaller-scale early warning effort; Obama’s presidential directive, however, marked the first public, official recognition of the causal interaction between mass atrocities and threats to U.S. national security.

Human rights organizations, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, and the Genocide Prevention Task Force have previously identified the national security/mass atrocities link; but, when the commander-in-chief describes atrocities prevention as a U.S. national security interest, it’s a bit easier to take him at his word. Except, of course, when it’s not. The link between mass atrocities events and U.S. national security is, at best, tangential, and certainly not causal. In previous discussions of the interaction, human rights advocates have identified outbreaks of terrorism, regional instability, and transnational trafficking operations as mass atrocities events’ malicious step-twins. Sudan, where Osama bin Laden staged Al Qaeda’s nascent operations between 1992 and 1996, is an oft-cited example, as is Somalia, where statelessness has fostered contagious extremism, regional spillovers, and an intractable humanitarian crisis.

Where mass atrocities occur, the logic goes, U.S. policymakers should anticipate the gradual, expedited, or contemporary emergence of palpable threats to U.S. foreign interests. For advocates of the national security/mass atrocities link, preventing, mitigating, and halting atrocities–through preventive diplomacy, as in Kenya, or military intervention, as in Libya–will enhance the United States’ strategic posture in key crisis arenas and, over the long-term, strengthen U.S. soft power in conflict-affected regions.

Unfortunately, the argumentative logic of a national security-infused atrocities prevention agenda lacks analytic rigor. Mass atrocities may occur as direct consequences of political instability, but, as James Fearon implies, the strategic logic of discriminate violence against civilians differs widely from that of political insurgency, conventional conflict, and organized crime. Mass atrocities may occur alongside terrorism events, but they are neither the cause nor the consequence of state failure, insurgency growth, or transnational crime. They are, first and foremost, a unique political technology, which merit distinct attention from the varied forms of political violence that captivate national security practitioners.

In spite of the non-linkage between mass atrocities and U.S. national security threats, foreign policy analysts have described atrocities prevention as a third-tier “national interest.” If the first tier characterizes direct threats to U.S. safety, security, and collective livelihoods, and the second tier describes extended threats to U.S. foreign interests, the third tier might incorporate a broader perspective on U.S. foreign policy priorities, including strategic collaboration and cooperation with foreign allies, soft-power priorities, and the credible promotion of U.S. normative, commercial, and economic interests abroad. The third tier encapsulates a set of policy priorities that, over the long-term, maintain U.S. leadership, security, and normative credibility. Atrocities prevention, as a mechanism for soft-power promotion, as well as a moral responsibility for U.S. policymaking, clearly fits the bill.

In parsing the role of atrocities prevention in a broader framework for U.S. national interests abroad, it’s worth remembering that, while members of the defense, intelligence, and diplomatic communities play a key role in preserving the first and second tiers of U.S. national interests, a relatively limited subset of U.S. local, regional, and federal agencies, institutions, and organizations strengthen a broader base of U.S. national interests, whether through norm diffusion, commercial activity, or institutional support. Foreign aid initiatives, in some respects, represents an essential component of this latter community of political actors. As Charles Kenny has demonstrated, foreign aid programs operate most effectively when geared towards “tangible results,” rather than idyllic, practically unachievable normative priorities. Atrocities prevention programs, including localized mediation, preventive diplomacy, and peacebuilding initiatives, are well-poised to play this role. As advocates continue to press for varied interventions in atrocities events, this is worth bearing in mind: atrocities prevention is worthwhile not because of its national security implications, but because, in Kenya, South Sudan, and Kyrgyzstan, it works.

777 Letters!

These two posts are written by Jasmin Kaur and Brian Browne, from George Washington University STAND. Jasmin and Brian were two of the students who helped hand deliver 777 letters to Bob Schieffer’s office, pressing him to ask the presidential candidates how they will prioritize mass atrocity prevention during tonight’s foreign policy debate.

It was another Sunday night STAND E-board meeting at GW. As much as I love all the meetings, this particular one really sparked my interest. The chapter’s STAND President, Ryan Brenner, introduced the National Day of Action initiative. She made it a competition amongst us E-board members to see who could get the most letters, tweets, retweets, etc. to Bob Schieffer. We would be asking the moderator of the Foreign Policy Debate to ask the candidates, “How will you strengthen the United States’ atrocity prevention efforts as president?” Besides the competition, what really got me excited about this campaign was what I, as an individual, could immediately start doing in order to strengthen the country’s response to genocide and other mass atrocities.

I recently read part of Samantha Power’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. It discussed America’s responses to previous mass atrocities. As an American, I have always had a positive bias towards America as being the human rights champion of the world. However, this book made it obvious just how pathetic America’s response has been to mass atrocities in the past. It was heartbreaking to read that America’s response to genocide has been consistently absent of action. This is especially disheartening in the case of the Rwandan and Darfur genocides. Even with the labeling by the Bush administration of the situation in Darfur as being a genocide, the action stopped there.

However, it was also while reading this book that I became optimistic. President Obama has recently created an Atrocities Prevention Board. This was the best action taken so far by a U.S. President on atrocity prevention. I knew that it was in the hands of the public to make this Atrocities Prevention Board a staple of the White House and U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government ‘s strength lies in its reliance on the will of the people. However, it is this will that many in the government cite as being a reason for the U.S. to not actively engage in atrocity prevention.

STAND’s National Day of Action Campaign allowed me to start taking an active role in getting atrocity prevention on the national agenda. Tweeting and letter writing are such easy things to do, but they can also be some of the most effective tools. Everyone knows just how much of an impact twitter and other forms of social media can have on spreading a movement. Whatever the outcome of today’s debate and of the election, there will have to be a constant push on the U.S. government by its people to strengthen atrocity prevention initiatives, and moreover, to take an active role once a mass atrocity does start. As a global leader, the U.S. holds a lot of power. It’s time for the U.S. to start using that power as leverage to help stop some of the greatest tragedies in human history.

By Jasmin Kaur, Conflict-Free Campus Initiative Co-Coordinator, GW STAND

On Friday I walked to the United to End Genocide office in downtown DC from the George Washington University campus to meet with several other STAND members who are also from the DC area. I had just finished writing a letter to Bob Schieffer that I would be personally delivering to his office, located just a few blocks away. Along with hundreds of other students who submitted letters like mine, I was asking him to raise the issue of genocide prevention at the upcoming presidential debate.

This wasn’t the first time I’d taken part in activism for STAND. I joined STAND as a junior in high school and remember making calls to the State Department, writing letters to my congressmen, and raising funds for aid in Darfur. I remember once feeling victorious after watching Senator Menendez mention the meaningful role of New Jersey students in spreading awareness when he met with the Special Envoy for Darfur. As a senior I became the president of the chapter, and learned much more about STAND and other global conflicts. I realized the significance of creating a permanent anti-genocide community, and prioritized teaching my school and my community about the crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma along with Darfur. We held walks, sold custom tee-shirts, collected pledges, and circulated petitions for these causes, always hoping that we could somehow make a difference.

I continued to be apart of the anti-genocide community when I joined STAND in college at GW and took part in several rallies, walks, and other over the past few years. I attended panel discussions with experts on Sudan, Burma, and the DRC, and have done academic research on these conflicts for school. I even had one of my papers posted on a popular South Sudanese blog a friend of mine runs. With my education rising, so was my level of activism, but it was still important to me to stick with the basics. So this Friday, I knew I had a powerful role to play in the effort to bring the topic of genocide prevention to the debate moderator’s desk by delivering the letters.

As the moderator of the foreign policy debate, Bob Schieffer can ask the candidates how they would, as president, strengthen the U.S. government’s capacity to prevent mass atrocities around the world. This is important, first because it highlights the unique position that the United States government has in standing up for peace wherever conflict arises. We, as a global leader, can help people in the Sudans, Burma, the DRC, Syria, and elsewhere who are struggling for basic needs and security. The global community watches our actions, and looks to us for guidance. We can prevent antagonizers from committing atrocities, and we can encourage others to help protect against those that do. Second, the debate is a great opportunity to show millions of viewers where atrocities are currently happening, and what we should expect our government to do about it. Third, by allowing the general public to hear how each candidate plans to prepare for and react to foreign conflicts, we can make a better judgment about who we should vote for. This also shows the candidates that we, as citizens, care about this issue and will hold them accountable to their words.

So as I walked to Bob Schieffer’s office, it was my hope that by delivering the pile of letters, my message would be magnified when presented to him. I thought that our collective voice would stand out and be heard among the countless other letters, calls, and emails his office receives. When we arrived at his office, we handed the pile of letters to the person at the front desk. With an anticlimactic end to a short trip, I still knew that we played a powerful role in the effort to put genocide prevention on the center stage at the next debate. We got our message to stand out, and even if the candidates aren’t asked about genocide prevention, our continued work as student activists in creating a permanent anti-genocide community is strengthened nonetheless. But if we are lucky, millions of voters along with the global community will see how the candidates prioritize genocide prevention and the candidates will know how dedicated its supporters remain.

By Brian Browne, Press Officer, GW STAND, and former President of the Vineland High School STAND Chapter

The Responsibility to Protect (the State?) in Mali

This piece, written by Danny Hirschel-Burns, from Swarthmore College STAND, originally appeared on his blog The Widening Lens.

Ever since Tuareg rebels defeated Malian forces to create the de-facto independent Republic of Azawad in Northern Mali, foreign military intervention has been on the table. Though it has not happened yet, the UN Security Council laid the groundwork for intervention a few days ago. While most policy makers have stuck to stressing the need to fight extremism, commentators have also highlighted human rights violations by Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Due to these human rights violations, R2P has also entered the picture (it may well not be cited if an intervention happens, but due to the possibility, its applicability should be analyzed). However, despite numerous executions, destroyed cultural sites, and refugees, the situation in Mali has not reached the level of genocide or a mass atrocity, forcing us to either reinterpret Responsibility to Protect’s (R2P) mandate or discard it as an analytic framework.

The second pillar of R2P states that the international community has the duty to help states protect their citizens. But in Mali, which state does the second pillar refer to? Bamako has no control over Azawad, but the international community does not recognize the legitimacy of the Tuareg state. So who does the international community have a duty to assist when in comes to protecting civilians in northern Mali? By sanctioning an intervention under the guise of R2P, the international community would assert Bamako’s claim to Azawad, and that the Malian government alone can protect civilians in what used to be its territory. An intervention would unwittingly reinterpret the doctrine as not only a mandate for civilian protection, but also one for territorial integrity.

This interpretation, however, has its priorities in the wrong place. It implies that only “legitimate” governments (i.e. recognized) have the the ability to protect civilians. This is not realistic in Mali’s case. It is not as if a small rebel group temporarily seized a few towns; Bamako has fully lost control of northern Mali, and is no longer the governing power there. While seeing Bamako as the government in Northern Mali doesn’t match up with realities on the ground, there are still other problematic implications with this view. The perception that Ansar Dine is inherently dangerous to civilian populations falls back on the idea of the Islamist bogeyman, where Islamists are universally opposed to democracy and human rights. To be sure, Ansar Dine is a brutal organization that has committed egregious human rights violations, but its presence in northern Mali does not equate to a genocide waiting to happen. Secondly, the idea that a military intervention (also known as a war) is necessary to reestablish the control of a government (in which the leader of a recent military coup still holds power) over a territory it lost so that it can reclaim its role as the legitimate protector of civilians is so ludicrous it doesn’t merit further examination.

If R2P mandates an intervention to retake northern Mali, then that implies that not only does the the international community have a duty to help states eliminate a group within their borders that are committing mass atrocities, but that it also has a duty to regain territory held by a group that might commit mass atrocities in the future. This precedent would lend “legitimate” governments, which includes a lot of brutal dictators, justification for crushing separatist forces, as they might kill civilians in the future. Given the current debate over R2P vs. RwP at the UN, the doctrine doesn’t need any more problems that will hamper its ability to protect civilians.

Applying R2P to Mali implies that governments must control their territory so that they can protect their own civilians, and that if they lose territory, the international community has the responsibility to help governments regain it whether or not mass atrocities have been committed. This interpretation does exactly what R2P isn’t supposed to: it uses R2P as a justification for military actions without an intent to protect civilians. It’s better for the future of R2P if we call the intervention in Mali what it is: an intervention to remove Islamists as part of the global war on terror.

Who is Left to Hold “Half the Sky” in Congo?

This piece, written by Nita Evele, originally appeared on United to End Genocide’s blog.

Last weekend, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was once again in the spotlight, but this time, the story was more upbeat and a little unusual for a place that is globally known as the “rape capital of the world”. The French-speaking part of the world gathered for the 14th Francophone in the capital city of Kinshasa. In preparation for the meeting, the capital saw drastic transformation, undergoing a significant beautification program that was way overdue. Its downtown roads were repainted to the colors of the event and many crumbling buildings were refurbished to impress the dozen or so of heads of states and government officials who visited.

Despite all its shortcomings regarding good governance, democracy, and security, the Congolese government showed the world what Kinshasa once was and what is still possible, reminding all of its beauty during the 60s and 70s when it was known as ‘Kinshasa la Belle” (Beautiful Kinshasa).

If you were looking at the photos of all the Laurent Perrier champagne that was served at the head of states reception, you wouldn’t know that for the past 16 years, the DRC has been the arena of one of the most unspeakable humanitarian crises and that millions of people have lost their lives during numerous invasions by neighboring countries, foreign militias, and local fighters. Even today, more than 1.7 million people remain displaced and thousands die of preventable diseases every month.

But it is Congolese women, who represent half of the population, that have been fighting this war with their bodies and souls.

And it was one heroic women’s group that refocused the beauty of the summit on the unspeakable horrors in the DRC today. The Congolese Women’s Caucus made sure that the guests and heads of states wouldn’t forget about the suffering of the Congolese people. Wearing black and holding signs, these women showed up at the National Assembly to demand accountability and clear actions from the Congolese government and international community to bring an end to the conflict and restore normalcy in the lives of the people. Despite the great risk to their safety, women at the National Assembly stood up and confronted the world for their broken promises and crocodile tears regarding women– the victims of sexual violence.

Perhaps it might come as a shock to some people that Congolese women are capable of standing against their government and the world.

All too often in Western media, Congolese women are perpetually represented as victims or bystanders, unable to participate in peace and state building processes.

On the contrary, women in the DRC have always been part of the struggle and have provided solutions to the many cyclical crises that have occurred in the DR Congo from the colonial period to today. Congolese women have always been active players and solidly held up their “half of the sky.”

Since Congolese independence over fifty years ago, women have been the bread winners, the community organizers, the entrepreneurs and job creators that have provided hope for a return to stability. It is in part because of their roles within the community that women have been directly targeted by different armed groups, in their effort to bring the DRC down.

Though there are those who dismiss the DRC as simply a failed state, the people– particularly the Congolese women– have proven to be resilient in such a hostile environment. After tending to their wounds, they lift themselves up to go back out there and start all over again, trying even harder to hold their half of Congo for a better tomorrow.

Nita Evele is a Congolese activist and the Vice-Chair of Congo Global Action, a grassroots alliance that advocates with the Congolese people to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous Democratic Republic of Congo. She works tirelessly to bring the voices of the Congolese, especially women and children, to the American people and policymakers, to try to end the suffering and the war that still devastating DRC.

Weekly News Brief 10/18


A confidential report was leaked to Reuters on Wednesday, saying that Rwanda’s defence minister, General James Kabarebe, is effectively commanding the M23 rebellion in the DRC. The report says Kigali has supplied the M23 with heavy weapons and is helping with recruitment for the group. The report goes to to say that Uganda is also backing the M23 rebels in eastern Congo by providing direct troop reinforcements, weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations. The Chicago Tribune says that the rebellion is also being funded by traders in Rwanda who profit from smuggling tin, tungsten, and tantalum across the border. Both Rwanda and Uganda are strongly denying these allegations.

The M23 rebellion began in April. Since then, nearly half a million people have been displaced by fighting between the M23 and the national army. This would seem to be nothing new: for the past two decades, Rwanda has backed armed groups in eastern Congo to fight Hutu rebels who fled there after the 1994 genocide as well as gain access to natural resources in Congo. The DRC government is hoping that sanctions will be imposed on all of those named in the report.

Excerpts from Report, as noted in the Chicago Tribune:

The RDF (Rwandan army) recruitment for M23 within Rwanda has increased in the past four months," it said. "The main targets for recruitment are Rwandan demobilized soldiers and civilians, as well as Congolese refugees." The use and recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups, notably by M23, has increased," the report said, adding that over 250 children had been recruited. "Furthermore, certain M23 commanders have ordered the extrajudicial executions of dozens of recruits and prisoners of war." M23 uses boys on the frontlines as cover for advancing units, often after a week of training," the experts said. "Others act as porters, intelligence operatives and bodyguards. The rebels use young girls as cooks and as commanders’ wives."

Despite these allegations, Rwanda was voted onto the UN Security Council today.  It was unopposed in its bid for the African seat on the council, and will take the seat currently held by South Africa on January 1, 2013. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo stated that her government will be able to offer a unique perspective on matters of war and peace at the Security Council.  The last time Rwanda held a seat on the UNSC was in 1994, when they were able to use their influence to deny genocide allegations.

The DRC is hoping to increase taxes under its mining code in order to boost revenue. The mines ministry says it wants to increase the government’s stake in mining projects from 5 percent and get higher royalty payments from companies. Congo copper output reached 520,000 tons last year, which the mining industry hopes to triple by 2016. Investors in the area say this is a short-term solution to Congo’s problems and thinks it will undermine investment opportunities in Congo. In 2010, the US began requiring companies to disclose use of minerals from Congo, those profiting from the trade have easily adapted to the drop in price for some resources by shifting their focus to gold mining in Congo.


On Monday, Mohamed al-Beel Issa Zayyed, deputy head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) announced that JEM clashed with government forces in South Kordofan. According to Zayyed, “dozens of government forces were killed, including the force commander.” He added that the rebels destroyed three army vehicles and seized two another two that were carrying large quantities ammunition and weapons.

Darfur peace partners have said they are willing to settle divergences over security arrangements. The Joint Commission of the DDPD (Doha Document for Peace in Darfur) is set to break the deadlock between the Sudanese government and the former rebel Liberation and Justice Movement over the integration of LJM combatants in the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. Issues related to the implementation of security arrangements will be discussed and, partners hope, will be settled within a month.


The Safe Demilitarized Buffer Zone (SDBZ) agreement between Sudan and South Sudan has caused widespread misunderstandings among the Dinka Aweil people of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. A large crowd of civil right activists and residents of the state staged a peaceful procession in Juba on Monday, demanding the “immediate removal” of the 14 mile area from the Zone. Inhabitants of the state see it as an encroachment upon their land.


UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called for a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins next Thursday. He has just arrived in Amman, Jordan, after visits to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Syria’s state-run newspaper said on Wednesday that the biggest obstacle to a holiday ceasefire is the lack of an authority to sign for the rebels, who have no unified leadership. Yesterday, France hosted a meeting of Syrian revolutionary groups and diplomats to support civilian groups managing rebel-held areas. Diplomats from 20 countries were expected to participate.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that on Monday, at least 16 soldiers were killed in fighting near Aleppo, including the driver of a vehicle carrying three tons of explosives. On the Iraqi border, shelling by rebels killed three children, aged six, seven, and 12–these children were among at least 48 people killed nationwide. Rebels have forced Syrian troops from Maarat Al Numan, calling the victory a “major breakthrough.”

The World Health Organization states that fighting has significantly affected health facilities throughout the country, leaving 29% out of service, and damaging 271 out of 520 ambulances, leaving 177 out of service. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme notes that prices for basic provisions in the country have nearly doubled since fighting began last March. Though they are feeding 1.4 million Syrians across the country, more remain out of reach because of ongoing violence. The EU has pushed fresh sanctions against the Assad regime, agreeing on an assets freeze and travel ban for 28 Syrians and two firms. This is the 19th round of sanctions, bringing the total blacklisted number of people to 181 and number of companies to 54.

In Turkey, the number of refugees has topped 100,000. Though previously, Turkey stated that they would only take up to 100,000 refugees, they have changed their position, saying that the country will not close its doors to refugees. However, Turkey-Syria relations remain tense. While Jordan has also announced that it will open a second camp, which will allow as many as 250,000 to enter their country, Iraq has begun limiting the number of refugees, saying it lacks the security and resources to hold them.


A new proposal to Myanmar’s parliament has called for each of Burma’s states’ greater autonomy. It is being proposed by an alliance of 10 political parties, five of which are those representing some of Burma many ethnic nationalities.

Also, with the recent easing of sanctions towards Burma, the US has said it will not engage in military ties with newly reformed country until its human rights issues are addressed.

On Wednesday, October 17, over 200 hundred lawyers held a demonstration in Burma’s largest city, Yangon. They were protesting the proposed sale of one of the city’s old colonial buildings to Chinese businessmen. Yangon has some of the world’s best preserved colonial architecture for nothing else has been built in their place due to the country’s stagnant economy for much of the past 50 years. The protest is the second major protest in the city this month.