The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

MC Seniors: “Let STAND Be Your Start”

By Matthew Heck, Online Communications Coordinator

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts by some of the outgoing seniors on our Managing Committee, reflecting on their experience with STAND. Applications for the 2013-2014 Managing Committee are due May 1.

Sometimes I play a game with myself in which I try to trace back events and choices in my life to a root cause. Though I realize this game is pretty silly, a common thread unites almost everything meaningful over the past seven years: STAND.

I first became involved with STAND during my sophomore year of high school. It was 2006 and I had just turned 16. A close friend convinced me to join the campaign he was spearheading to divest the Kansas public retirement fund from companies doing irresponsible business in Sudan. Despite considerable initial opposition, the measure passed and was signed into law in May of 2007.

The STAND ball was rolling.

A year later, I took on my own project, organizing a fundraising run from my hometown of Wichita, Kansas to Washington, DC. Raising over $30,000 for civilian protection and spanning 1,300 miles (all ran by nine student-athletes), the relay catapulted me onto STAND’s national outreach team, then a summer long excursion to the Thai-Burma border, and finally to my current role as STAND’s Online Communications Coordinator.

Though I can credit STAND for many direct contributions to my life, like professional training in social media, website development, community organizing, and a whole slew of diverse topics, the most important contributions were indirect. I can say with complete certainty that, had it not been for STAND, I would neither have applied to Swarthmore College nor been accepted. I would likely be majoring in computer science instead of political science. My spare time would not be spent designing websites, running competitively, or reading Nietzsche for fun.

Most importantly, though, I would never have met some of the most amazing people and made some of the most amazing friends. One friend, Emily, is now helping empower Indian women to compete in the global market place, but still watched me run a track meet in Boston. Sam has led impressive organizations, but lent me a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis for three years. Some, like Ashley, Kelly, Katie, and Mike randomly check in with me, just to see how I’m doing. And countless others will answer a text, email, or phone call within a matter of minutes—pouring out essays full of advice.

STAND is a truly unique institution, not because of what it has accomplished, the trainings it provides, or the structure of its management, but because of its malleability. In short, STAND is what every student makes of it; and, right now, we need you to join us byapplying for a leadership position on STAND’s Managing Committee.

But, if filling the shoes of Emily, Sam, Ashley, Kelly, or any other seems daunting, just remember that they got their start somewhere.

Let STAND be your start.

Stateless People: The Hmong of Laos

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting cases of statelessness throughout the world. Click here for more information about the series.

Already displaced from their native home in southern China, the Hmong people have drifted through various Southeast Asian countries for the past two centuries. Though they have met hostility in practically every country they have entered—including China, Thailand, and Vietnam, they have faced the most problems in Laos.

Given their unique location in Laos, lack of ties to local or national governments, and general poverty, the United States found the Hmong living in Laos to be a useful ally in the struggle against communism. During the Vietnam War, the C.I.A. recruited and trained Hmong to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a vital supply line running through Laos that linked communist North Vietnam to sympathetic Viet Cong in US-backed South Vietnam. Though this resulted in the death of approximately 100,000 Hmong men, the United States kept their involvement in Laos secret. This did not help the remaining Hmong.

In 1975, just two years after the United States left Vietnam, Laos fell to a communist regime. Fully aware of the Hmong’s involvement in the Vietnam War and buoyed by the North Vietnamese, the new government retaliated against the Hmong. Fearful for their lives, many fled into neighboring Thailand, overwhelming United Nations refugee camps. However, some Hmong remained in Laos. Of those, many died during their stay in “reeducation camps” sponsored by the government. Others escaped to mountain villages where today they are barely able to eek out a living. There, the Laos government constantly harasses them–people are randomly arrested, bribes are extorted, and villagers live in constant fear of raids.

In the summer of 2011, I visited one of those villages during a brief visit to Laos after working on the Thai-Burma border. As one of many locations in a tourist package, the village was oddly out of place with the other stops that focused primarily on the scenery and natural beauty of Laos. Instead, the Hmong village was something more similar to a zoo. As my guide walked me and the other tourists through the village, it became clear that tourists were the sole source of income for these villagers—and this is the case in most of their villages.

Though the Laos government stopped persecuting the Hmong in 2011 after the death of Vang Pao, the general who led the Hmong forces during the Vietnam war, the Hmong have not faced better treatment. Still discriminated against by indigenous Laotians and relegated to impoverished communities after decades of legal harassment, the Hmong in Laos are a displaced people with nowhere left to go. Though many have sought refuge in the United States, there is little hope that the Hmong will ever be a unified people again. For them, there is no hope of a state.

Weekly News Brief 11/15/12

Democratic Republic of Congo

Colonel Albert Kahasha and 35 fighters from other rebel groups including the Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura armed groups surrendered in Bukavu on Monday. Through a series of 6 investigations the UN has determined that these groups have been “behind [the] ethnically motivated tit-for-tat massacres between April and September which left at least 264 dead.” With the heavy focus by the international community on the emergence of activities of the M23 armed group, a security vacuum emerged allowing for smaller armed groups to conduct ethnically motivated massacres in the region. Kahasha is described as a “big fish” leader in these massacres, and his act of surrender alongside other top commanders of these smaller armed groups is a great step forward for the communities living in the South Kivu province.

On Monday, the UN added Sultani Makenga, an M23 leader, to its sanction list.  In accordance, the United States has imposed sanctions against Makenga as well. The UN sanctions committee on DR Congo released a statement saying that "Sultani Makenga has committed and is responsible for serious violations of international law involving the targeting of women and children in situations of armed conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, and forced displacement.”  Under the sanctions, Makenga will be subject to a travel ban and assets freeze.

On Tuesday, Uganda closed its south-western border with the DRC due to reports that M23 rebels were collecting taxes from those crossing into Congo. In other regional news, religious leaders in Rwanda have petitioned the United Nations to “distance itself” from the recent report claiming that Rwanda is aiding the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo.  The religious leaders questioned the integrity of the experts involved in compiling the report and expressed disappointment “at the unfair attempts to undermine and derail Rwanda’s modest progress towards economic and social transformation.”

Burma

At least 26 are dead and 10 missing following a 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck 70 miles north of Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, last week. Many buildings and a bridge were destroyed, and relief has been slow to reach the afflicted area.

US President Obama will visit Burma on November 19 and become the first sitting US president to do so. He will meet with Myanmar President Thein Sein as well as Nobel Peace Prize winner, now MP, Aung San Suu Kyi. The visit signifies greater US interest following recent transition from a military dictatorship and democratic reforms in Burma. However, the visit has been highly scrutinized by human rights groups. Additionally, government officials announced Thursday, November 15 that 452 prisoners will be released prior to Obama’s arrival, just as some were prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma in November, 2011. However, it is believed none of them will be prisoners of conscience. (To read STAND’s response to the announcement of President Obama’s trip to Burma, click here)

Last week, a ship carrying 110 Rohingya, fleeing conflict in Rakhine State to Malaysia, sunk in the Bay of Bengal. Around 85 people are missing and feared to be dead. Other boats carrying Rohingya looking for refuge in Bangladesh have been turned back by Bangladeshi authorities, despite repeated demands from the UN urging Bangladesh to open its borders to aid those fleeing the ongoing violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in India on Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others as part of a five-day trip aimed to establish closer ties between India and Myanmar.

Syria

On November 6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected from the regime last August. Hijab told Lavrov that dialogue with Syrian president Al-Assad or other Syrian officials with blood on their hands is not possible. Lavrov allegedly said that Moscow’s official position was to remain uninvolved in the conflict, while Hijab allegedly responded that he was in the office when Syria received a batch of weapons from Russia at no charge. Hijab turned down an offer to continue discussions with the Russian government, saying he will not visit Moscow until Russia changes its policy on Syria. North Korea is also suspected of sending arms into Syria. Reports are surfacing from an incident in May when South Korea seized a ship carrying graphite cylinders used to create rockets.

Sheikh Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib is the new leader of the Syrian National Coalition, a newly formed unity group to topple al-Assad. Khatib is an Imam, author, and activist, and was an early supporter of opposition forces. 20 days into anti-regime protests, he spoke at the funeral of an anti-government protester killed by security forces. “We speak up for the freedom of every human in this country; for every Sunni, Alawite, Ismaili, Christian, for every Arab and every Kurd,” he said. He has been arrested several times for his involvement in the movement, most recently in April 2012. Fadi Salem, a Syrian researcher in Dubai, describes Khatib as a “moderate Islamist” with a lot of support from conservative urban Sunnis, and believes he could be the right person to fight the rise of extremism in the country. The Gulf Co-operation Council has decided to recognize the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Turkey has also issued a statement supporting the Coalition.

At the Arab League headquarters in Cairo this weekend, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, addressed European and Arab foreign ministers, warning of an overspill of violence into the region if the conflict continues. Her warning came as rebels took over a military post on the northeast border with Turkey, after killing 18 government soldiers.

Weekly News Brief 10/25/12

Democratic Republic of Congo

Igihe, a Rwandan news source, reports that on Saturday, M23 renamed itself the “Congolese Revolutionary Army.” The M23 is looking to take over more Congolese land, claiming that it would "bring change to the country, change the system that has made DR Congo what it is today, a system that impoverishes our population."

Human rights groups are criticizing Britain for giving the Rwandan government $26 million in aid despite of allegations of supporting the M23 rebellion. “Britain should not stand apart and make unilateral decisions from the international community.  We should send a united strong message to the government of Rwanda: we are serious, no more interference in DRC, otherwise there will be consequences," said opposition lawmaker Ivan Lewis. Voice of America notes that Britain is Rwanda’s biggest bilateral donor, allocating $130 million this year.  Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Rwanda as proof that the ‘cycle of poverty’ can be broken. President Obama renewed US sanctions for officials in DRC earlier this week.

Uganda said on Monday it would stop mediating in the conflict between the Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels if the UN Security Council endorsed accusations that Uganda was supporting the rebels. Junior foreign affairs minister Asuman Kiyingi said Uganda would stop its mediation role even if the United Nations did not endorse the accusations but still imposed sanctions on M23 leaders. "We cannot try to bring two parties to the table to talk when one is under sanctions and the other is not," he said. This demand seems unlikely to be met, as the UN has already pledged to impose sanctions on those accused of violating the arms embargo to the M23.

On the conflict mineral front, in August the SEC began requiring companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals in the DRC. General Electric has developed a different approach to the SEC rule, releasing a report stating that the company is working with companies, NGOs, investors and government agencies “to foster a system that supports cutting out conflict minerals from the supply chain and improves reporting.” Yesterday marked the beginning of the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, which you can read more about here.

The Ebola outbreak in northeastern DRC seems to be subsiding, according to WHO, as there have been no recorded deaths this week due to the disease.

In regional news, nine gunmen, reportedly of a new group called the Murundi People’s Front, in Burundi were shot dead in clashes with security forces. Since the 2010 boycott of the general elections by Burundi’s opposition, several acts of violence claimed by a number of rebel groups have occurred in Burundi. AFP notes that observers have feared that Burundi could slide back into full-blown civil conflict, which ended in a 2006 ceasefire agreement after 13 years of civil war.

Syria

Locations of Recently Reported Cluster Bomb Strikes across SyriaSyria has said its military command is still studying a proposal for an Eid al-Adha ceasefire with rebels, contradicting international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi’s announcement that Damascus had agreed to a truce. The final decision should be announced today before the beginning of the four-day religious holiday on Friday. Assad has, according to Syrian state TV, issued an amnesty for all crimes committed in Syria "up until today" – with the notable exclusion of "terrorist crimes". For the English translation of the  first three amnesty bylaws, see Al Jazeera’s translation here. On Monday, a top UN official said that the UN has made plans to assemble a peacekeeping force for Syria if a ceasefire proposed by a special envoy takes hold.

Yesterday alone, 25 people were killed in Douma outside of Damascus, yet it is unclear which side is responsible. A further 6 people were killed by a car bomb in southern Damascus. Bombing raids were carried out in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan by government forces–a town that has fallen to the rebels. Five people, including a woman and a child, were reported dead from that attack. This is indicative of the increasing amount of cluster bombs being employed by Syrian government forces, which Human Rights Watch has condemned and recorded here. A twenty year old refugee in a Turkish camp told reporters, "We used to have one or two rockets a day, now for the past 10 days it has become constant, we run from one shelter to another. They drop a few bombs and it’s like a massacre." Activists say that 75 people were executed in Deir Ezzor on Friday evening. Al Jazeera reports that the videos uploaded were too disturbing to post.

Armed groups in Aleppo are reportedly attacking and kidnapping businessmen who refuse to buy them weapons. Many have fled the country to safer locations, yet the question remains as to how the country will rebuild economically after the civil war. Amidst the violence, however, impromptu markets are springing up, selling groceries, cooking oil, and fresh meat. This is a subtle but important reminder of the resilience of people in times of war and hardship.

A leader in the Syrian National Council has said that they will not keep members of the Baath party from participating in a post-Assad regime. "I think you can learn from the mistakes that have been made in Iraq and in other countries…. We are not saying this party should be eradicated." said SNC Chairman Abdulbaset Sieda. Rebel fighters have also been issued their first paychecks since the beginning of the war, thought to be paid for by backers in Turkey.

Of particular geopolitical concern is the spillover of the Syria conflict into neighboring Lebanon. A car bombing and ensuing clashes brought the civil war in Syria into the heart of Lebanon and triggered a political crisis, with the opposition demanding the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet. Sunni Muslims and Alawites are reported to have clashed in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, killing at least four people, including Lebanese security chief Wissam al Hassan. The US is hoping that the political shift will bring change to the Cabinet, which has been powered by Hezbollah for years. Hezbollah has, however, condemned the attack. "This must be a Lebanese process. But the Lebanese people deserve so much better: they deserve to live in peace and they deserve to have a government that reflects their aspirations not acts as proxies and agents for outside forces," Hillary Clinton said.

Burma

On Thursday, October 18, talks concluded between a senior US envoy and high level Myanmar officials on the country’s current human rights record. The Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner led the delegation and said the talks were “refreshing” because, according to The Washington Post, Myanmar officials appeared willing, even open, to engaging in dialogue.

During his first ever press conference last Sunday, Myanmar President Thein Sein overcame his fear of speaking to journalists and touted to the press his administration’s successes. He also described his plan to bring about peace in Kachin State through talks, negotiations, and eventually a solution reached in parliament. However, many groups fighting Myanmar forces refuse to agree to any decision reached in the parliament created by the former military dictatorship. Additional, President Sein said that the government is willing to accept international assistance for the conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

New clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state erupted earlier this week. According to reports, several people have died and thousands more displaced due to continued and spreading violence within the region. New dusk-till-dawn curfews have now been enacted by authorities in two Rakhine townships.

Also, contrary to last week’s post, it is now known that the US has invited Myanmar to observe a joint military exercise in the region, signaling the possible beginning of US-Myanmar military ties.

Sudan & South Sudan 101 Tonight

A little rusty on your knowledge about Sudan and South Sudan? Want to make sure what you talk about reflects the reality of what’s happening on the ground? We’ve got you covered.

Join us tonight at 8:00 PM EST for STAND’s the first of multiple webinars in the Sudan: Where Are We Now? campaign.

This webinar is designed for those who have little background knowledge of the current conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan. We will present a basic history of the conflicts and the historical, socio-economic, environmental, and political factors that have led to violence in various parts of the two countries. We will be focusing on the conflicts in Darfur, the Nuba mountains, the Sudan and South Sudan border states, as well as conflicts between groups in some of South Sudan’s states.

It’s not too late to register. Just click here and we’ll email you all of the information you need.

Can’t make the webinar? Never fear! We will be recording the session and putting it online later this week.

STAND Camp Day 5: Ms. Jowell Goes To Washington

By Grassroots Organizer Ashley Jowell

After four enlightening, informative, and fun days at STAND camp, 17 STAND students hopped on a bus Monday afternoon that took them down to Washington DC to lobby their Representatives. After prepping for the meetings (and exploring DC!) on Monday evening, the students awoke bright and early on Tuesday morning, ready to head down to Capitol Hill.  The group contained both experienced and new lobbyists, and it was time to put the lobbying skills that they had learned at STAND camp to use.

The students asked their Representatives two take two actions: first, to cosponsor the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act (HR 4169), which expands the sanctions that previously applied only to Darfur to mass atrocities occurring anywhere in Sudan; and second, to support full funding of the president’s budget request for three accounts (the Complex Crises Fund, Conflict Stabilization Operations, and Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities) that support the government’s ability to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.

Although many students were nervous before the meeting, it was overall a huge success. The staffers who met with the students were for the most part friendly and receptive of the students’ asks, and overall very impressed to see students lobbying at their office. As described by first-time lobbyist Leslie, “it was a really enlightening experience that was nowhere near as intimidating as I expected it to be.” Furthermore, Leslie noted that the experience helped her to realize “how important it it to have one’s voice heard.” Fellow lobbyist Adriana said that she was most surprised by how “friendly, helpful, and encouraging Representative Wilson’s staffers were.” When asked what she would tell a first-time lobbyist like herself, Adriana encouraged all students to “get out and do it! It’s a great feeling to be able to go out yourself and make a difference!” The Tuesday lobby day was a phenomenal way to wrap up STAND camp, and although all students were sad to leave DC, they were excited to bring back the tools they had learned both at STAND camp and during the lobby day home to their communities.

If you’re interested in lobbying, you don’t need to visit Capitol Hill. Every Senator and Representative maintains one or more offices in their home state. We encourage you to schedule an in-district lobbying meeting in your community and continue building relationships with your elected officials. If you have any questions concerning lobbying, please do not hesitate to contact your Regional Organizer, or Advocacy Coordinator Daniel Solomon at advocacy@standnow.org. 

STAND Camp Day 4: The Day We Drenched Michael Jackson

By Midwest Regional Organizer Jack Spicer (Yes, that’s me with the antennas)

Monday of STAND Camp marked the last day at Pearlstone Retreat for STAND Campers. To some, this meant it was the last day to spend with the new friends they made before parting ways, and to others it meant a trek to DC for the night to prepare for Lobby Day.

The day began with breakfast and cluttered luggage, instilling a bittersweet feeling that lasted throughout the remainder of the day. STAND Campers checked out of their rooms early and brought everything they had along with them to the day’s sessions. The constant presence of everyone’s luggage was a sure reminder of an end to new friendships as we had known them and the beginning of the curious paths these friendships would take in the near future.  

For the first session on Monday, STAND campers were able to bond over skits of bad lobbying and impressions of Harry Potter characters. Small groups had to create and perform a skit that’s only requirements were to include demonstrations of bad lobbying practices and Harry Potter. The group with the best skit was awarded the chance to throw water balloons at the MC member of their choice—they chose Michael (better known as Mickey) Jackson, our Student Director.

After a good laugh, we moved our attention to a run-through of the not-yet-up but coming STAND website given by Matthew Heck, STAND’s Online Strategies Coordinator.  After seeing the website in its development stage, small groups were formed to brainstorm ideas of what they would like the website to include and look like.

Soon after, Mickey presented and took feedback on the campaigns that STAND will be initiating Fall Semester. The first was an educational campaign with the objective of educating STAND members on the current situation in Sudan so they can accurately speak about and educate others on the complex situation. The second was a campaign focused around the upcoming presidential elections aimed at protecting the foreign aid budget. The last campaign Mickey presented was an essay contest to encourage thought leadership on human rights and mass atrocities.

After the upcoming campaigns were discussed, Matthew and Daniel presented STAND’s theory of change, while sharing their own stories of how they became involved with the organization. Afterwards, STAND campers made their ways outside to spend the remaining time at Pearlstone Retreat throwing Frisbee and socializing. As the shuttles arrived and pictures were being taken, STAND campers posed for a group picture and suddenly unleashed a sneak water balloon attack on Mickey, bringing STAND Camp 2012 at Pearlstone Retreat to an awesome conclusion.

Back to the White House – Join us!

On Monday, Mickey Jackson, STAND’s Student Director, and I will join President Obama’s top foreign policy advisors to discuss the administration’s strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa and the role that human rights advocates can play moving forward. We will discuss how, together, we can craft a more responsible, innovative, and progressive foreign policy in the region.

In early June, the Obama administration released its U.S. policy strategy for sub-Saharan Africa. The strategy document outlines potential avenues for U.S. support for democratization, security, economic development, and counterterrorism in sub-Saharan Africa. While policy contradictions persist, the administration’s effort represents a valuable opportunity for human rights advocates to engage in the policy strategy’s future development.

Join us this weekend as we take your questions, concerns, and ideas. We will be closely monitoring our Twitter feed and Facebook page for questions from you. Just tweet us @standnow, use the hashtag #USAfricaPolicy, or post on our wall, and we’ll be sure to include your ideas in the roundtable discussion!

We look forward to reading your questions and representing the STAND community at this meeting.

Ending Genocide Symposium, Part 4: Poll Results & Analysis

This is the fourth in a series of four posts recapping Imagining the Unimaginable: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century, a symposium held yesterday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The event featured a keynote address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, two panels, and a presentation of the results of a poll on public perceptions of mass atrocity prevention. This post summarizes Mark Penn’s presentation of the poll findings.

During this morning’s Holocaust Museum event, Mark Penn, Bill Clinton’s lead pollster, presented recent findings on U.S. popular perceptions of genocide. The polling, which resulted from a Holocaust Museum/PBS partnership, assessed a broad base of political considerations related to genocide and mass atrocities, preventive priorities, genocide education, and military intervention. The headline, for Penn and Mike Abramowitz, the director of the Museum’s atrocities prevention program, is straightforward: Americans overwhelmingly prioritize genocide and mass atrocities within a national security framework, and view the U.S. government as a lead driver of preventive response and crisis mitigation. Americans, especially the youth (55 percent), have a relatively strong handle on the concept of genocide, viewing state-sponsored mass killing as a primary threat to global civilian populations (63 percent). A hefty majority (78 percent), notably, view military intervention as a feasible, worthy, or responsible policy approach toward genocide.

Of course, that’s only half the headline–the substance, as a recent, related YouGov poll by Benjamin Valentino indicates, offers a more complicated perspective. When asked to consider their perspectives on mass atrocities in Syria, 42 percent of Americans would not support military intervention to stop the crisis, regardless of its human consequences for the U.S. military. And, revealingly: if you downgrade "genocide" to "mass killings," popular support for U.S. military intervention–either multilateral or unilateral–appears to decrease by 18 percent. Still a sizeable majority, to be sure, but enough to indicate that, in spite of increasingly widespread comprehension of "genocide," popular discourse has yet to catch up to academic and policy debates on the utility of the term, its political impact, and its moral consequences.

From the Holocaust Museum’s findings, we might conclude that popular U.S. consensus favors an urgent, consistent, and decisive response to mass atrocities. Or, on the other hand, we might not. More than three-fourths of Americans are unfamiliar with the "responsibility to protect" doctrine; we talk a big game about broad, international unanimity surrounding Francis Deng’s "sovereignty as responsibility" framework, but the concept remains abstract for most, with the possible exception of last-resort, external military intervention. However, heightened comprehension among younger American communities may create an avenue for future progress, in a sustained generation of committed, informed constituencies for atrocities prevention.

Ending Genocide Symposium, Part 3: Innovative Solutions

This is the third in a series of four posts recapping Imagining the Unimaginable: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century, a symposium held yesterday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The event featured a keynote address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, two panels, and a presentation of the results of a poll on public perceptions of mass atrocity prevention. This post summarizes the second panel, Innovative Solutions in Responding to Future Challenges.

The number of silences, rounds of applause, and frantically tweeting fingers during the second panel was unparalleled in any of the other sessions. Leading a diverse group of speakers, Wolf Blitzer moderated the discussion much like he runs the Situation Room.

Off the bat, he brought up the question of how social media informs and shapes mass atrocities while they’re occurring. Fresh from reporting in Beirut, Arwa Damon, a fellow CNN reporter, jumped on the question, describing social media as the “lifeblood of the opposition.” Strive Masiyiwa, the Founder of EcoNet Wireless, seconded Damon’s positive view of social media by suggesting that the telecommunications revolution in Africa was a key recent event and questioning whether the genocide in Rwanda would have occurred with modern day social media. Sarah Sewall, Public Policy Lecturer at Harvard University, cautioned against overstating the importance of social media. Interestingly, while Masiyiwa and Damon were particularly interested in the role of social media as an organizing tool, Sewall focused more on how it informs activists elsewhere.

Much of the remainder of the panel after these initial questions was dominated by Richard Williamson, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution. Specifically fixated on Syria and Sudan, Williamson supported toppling Bashir’s regime with a “coalition of the willing.” Referring continually to Assad and Bashir as “bad guys,” he tended toward a view of mass atrocity prevention as an “us against them” battle while dismissing other explanatory factors such as history, economics, or ecological crises.

After being prompted by Blitzer, the panel briefly discussed the possibility of assassinating the perpetrators of mass atrocities. Williamson was in favor of such an action while Sewall and Masiyiwa focused instead on the importance of international law and process. Sewall specifically emphasized the importance of a trial and “rule of law” to the victims of such atrocities, while Masiyiwa focused more on the need to retain moral high ground when dealing with aggressors.

Overall, the panel was indicative of the broad divergence of views about how best to respond to mass atrocities. Ranging from disagreements over social media, to assassinations, to even the question of where the anti-atrocities movement is now, the takeaway is that the movement is far from achieving consensus on, well, anything.