The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Why Education Matters in Building a World Without Genocide

By Meera Nathan

When you’re removed from conflict, it’s easy to think that you don’t make a difference. It’s hard to stay passionate about a cause when you are not there to witness the situation and the impact of your efforts firsthand. However, I urge you not to get discouraged. As a student-led movement, education is at STAND’s core and the greatest tool we have to fight genocide.

I was reminded of the importance of education a couple of weeks ago when the University of Damascus was hit by mortars. Many of us take for granted the ability to go to school day after day. I’ll be the first to admit that there have been days when all I want to do is skip class and instead, stay in bed, turn on a trashy MTV show, and eat peanut butter out of the jar. But can you imagine not going to school, not because you don’t feel like it, but because there physically isn’t a school to go to anymore?

With this said, we must take advantage of our ability to receive an education and use it to put a stop to mass atrocities. It is our duty to teach our fellow students and our communities about past genocides and the need to respect and tolerate others. By educating and spreading awareness, we can inspire others to also take a stand against genocide.

French Troops Are Not the Answer: Mali, Intervention, and Political Engagement

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

Following France’s intervention in northern Mali four days ago, the prospects for a rebel advance to Bamako look bleak.  Despite a brief resurgence of the rebel advance following initial French airstrikes, it looks as if French firepower will halt further rebel movements southward.  Though the French intervention has changed the military dynamics for the immediate future, it has done next to nothing to address the root causes of the conflict, and furthermore, regional stability.  The Mali crisis, which has now become the Sahel crisis, is too complicated for a purely military solution, and so the UN and regional actors must get serious about their diplomatic efforts.

France’s intervention, according to some critics from the far left, is simply a neo-colonial enterprise undertaken by a power-hungry former colonial power.  This reading, however, is simplistic.  The intervention came at the behest of the acting government (concerns regarding the government’s legitimacy aside), and France’s actions are widely supported south of rebel/Islamist lines.  The intervention stopped the very real threat of an Islamist advance on Bamako, a fate that no one, non-interventionists included, want.  Despite these mitigating caveats, there are still many factors that problematize a French-led military solution.  First, there are no reports on the feelings of northern Malians regarding French intervention, partly because news coming out of Islamist areas is limited, but also because even if there individual voices reaching the outside world, they would received little attention.  There is an air of arrogance surrounding France’s actions.  This is a military operation, and the opinions (or fates) of civilians are secondary.  A French officer who appeared on the BBC World Service said, “France wants peace, but the rebels want war, and so France has no choice…We intend to crush our enemies” (The quote is not exact; I am paraphrasing from memory).  Finally, France has vowed that this will not be another Afghanistan: the operation will last just a few weeks.
France’s mission, to prevent Bamako from falling to the Islamists, is a generally worthy objective, even if the means are debatable, so that’s not the problem.  The issue here is that those directing the French forces see the mission as a purely military operation, and were willing to speed up the time table, even if soldiers had to miss out on little things like human rights and civilian protection classes.  France’s generals are simply not interested in dissecting the endlessly complex dynamics of the conflict, and are much more comfortable seeing AQIM, Ansar Dine, MUJAO, and the MNLA as a monolithic terrorist mass that pose a threat to global security.  This intervention then, is based in thinking similar to the neoconservative ideology that produced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (following these abysmal failures, international norms have shifted in favor of shorter, smaller interventions).  France does not care to look at Mali’s long-term future, or think about how intervention will alter the chances of a political solution.  France wants to go in, get the bad guys, and get out before public opinion turns against the operation.  While nation-building is certainly a difficult and exceptionally risky undertaking, the rhetoric surrounding these first four days has said nothing about what, if anything, France intends to do after its intervention is over.  France has unilaterally decided to act without the support of foreign partners, an approach that is dangerous, even from a realist perspective.  The lack of a political/diplomatic front to the intervention speaks volumes to France’s attempt to achieve a “solution”.
So far, the international community response to events in Mali, like Syria, have been placed in a false framework.  The conflict is historiopolitical rather than militaristic in nature, and neither an intervention or the lack on an intervention gets at these roots causes.  Ultimately, the real choice for the international community is diplomacy or a lack of diplomacy.  So far, there can be little doubt where international actors stand.  Ban Ki-Moon named Romano Prodi, a former Italian Prime Minister, as the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel crisis, even though he is heavily underqualified for the post.  As for ECOWAS, negotiator-in-chief Burkinabe President Blaise Campaore is similarly unqualified.  Currently, the proposed solution to the crisis in Mali consists of troops numbering less than 5,000 retaking a desert region the size of Texas and reinstating Bamako’s rule while generally ignoring diplomatic options on the table.  The lack of realism is glaring.  If international actors do not get serious about parsing out Mali’s complex politics and engaging directly with all players, Mali, and the Sahel as a whole, is at serious risk.

Blogging Bootcamp: Despite US Recognition, Somalia’s Silent Rape Epidemic Continues

By Carly Fabian

Carly Fabian is a participant in STAND’s Guide to Navigating the Blogosphere. Interested in getting lessons on best practices for blogging and writing on conflict and mass atrocities prevention issues? Join the program! The program is intended to train students to effectively express their own views on international human rights issues; consequently, the views expressed in Blogging Bootcamp posts are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect official STAND policy stances.

Trigger Warning: this content discusses violent sexual assault.

Last Thursday, the United States recognized the government of Somalia after twenty years of violent anarchy. A new Somali administration took over last year, marking the transition from a temporary government to a government that is supposed to be both stable and permanent. The African Union, allied with government, Ethiopian soldiers, and contracted soldiers, has been slowly taking back land and important towns from the terrorist group, al Shabab, that has ravaged the country in recent years. Hillary Clinton, after speaking to the Somali president, said that this was a “milestone.” But despite the Somali government’s advances, it has failed to appropriately respond to the serious problem of sexual violence against women in it’s war-torn regions. The government cannot command the loyalty and respect of it’s people if it does not fully protect half of its population, particularly from its own military. The state has a responsibility to protect its citizens, particularly those in war zones, from endemic violence. If the new Somali government is to be viewed as the legitimate representative of its people it must fulfill this responsibility.

Years of fighting have left most women as the sole caretakers of their families, leaving them without protection in IDP camps that are often controlled by Shabab militants. Women who venture out, either on a journey to another IDP camp or just to the bathroom, are vulnerable to attack. And the Shabab, lacking money and supplies, have been paying soldiers with “temporary wives,” abducted young girls who are given to the soldiers for several weeks in the place of payment. The girls are often as young as twelve, and if they refuse, they are given two options: death by bullet or death by stoning.

Only days after the US recognized the Somali government, a new rape case involving the government made international headlines. A rape-victim contacted an Al Jazeera reporter and told the reporter that a group of men in government uniforms had gang-raped her. This is not a rare case in the fact that the woman was attacked or in the fact that it was by men affiliated with the government, but rather in the way of the government’s response. Rather than investigating her claim, the government placed a Somali journalist connected with the story in jail, and began a campaign of harassment aimed at the rape victim as well as anyone who was thought to be aiding her.

Sister Somalia, a sexual violence crisis center, is now fearing not only intimidation by the government, but also that this incident will make victims of sexual violence more afraid than ever to come forward. Sister Somalia has worked for years to encourage women, who already harbored rational fears of retribution, rejection, and violence for speaking out, into treatment and rehabilitation. But they fear that their progress might be set back by renewed government intimidation.

The next few months will determine the seriousness of the new American involvement in Somalia. The US should remember that despite Somalia’s advancements, its treatment of women should be a reason why aid cannot be given free of requirements, but instead must be given in return for greater advancement and protection of women and young girls. By ignoring and even attempting to silence the plight of women and young girls within its borders, the new Somali government will lose legitimacy both internationally and internally. While US recognition offers great financial assistance to the governments and economies of struggling countries, the US should also use its leverage as a major donor nation to ensure that the new Somali government fulfills its obligation to control its armed forces and protect IDP camp residents from harm.

Emory University Stands in Solidarity with Syrian Students

By Lizzie Howell, Emory University STAND

My first week back at Emory University this semester was filled with excitement as I reunited with friends and marveled at the opportunities that the coming months would undoubtedly bring. At the same time, I couldn’t help but question the decisions I had made in college so far. Did I choose the right major? Was I involved in meaningful extracurricular activities? Was I on track to have a successful career?

Even though I am only a sophomore, it has already become evident that the decisions I’ve made will impact the rest of my college career and beyond. I just kept wishing I had a little more time.

Time. Time to explore every academic discipline that attracts my interest. Time to gain experiences that would prepare me for many career paths. Time to form meaningful relationships with each of the incredible people I’m lucky enough to call classmates or professors.

Time that the students at Aleppo University did not have.

I’ll admit, when one of my fellow STAND members brought the bombing of Aleppo University to my attention, I didn’t spend much time reflecting on the implications of such a tragedy. Of course I was sympathetic, but I was also somewhat desensitized to such events because of their frequent appearances in the media.

It was not until I attended a vigil for the students of Aleppo University on Friday, Jan. 18 that it became clear just how trivial my personal worries were.

The sun had just begun to set as I gathered with about 20 other members of the Emory community. There weren’t a lot of us; most attendees were from STAND or Amnesty International, the organizations who co-sponsored the event. Others were simply friends with members of those groups.

We stood reverently in a circle around tea light candles in the shape of a peace sign on the ground. One student read an interfaith prayer asking for compassion and understanding between seemingly different groups of people.

Each of us also held a tea light candle in our hands, which we placed within the peace sign one by one as the same student read of the names of the victims of the bombing.

Five Syrians, some of whom had formerly studied at Aleppo University were also present at the vigil. At its conclusion they shared heartfelt words of gratitude and prayed for strength for those affected by the tragedy.

It didn’t take long—only about 25 minutes—but all of us present had taken time out of our day to remember the students who had died in the bombing. Students who really weren’t that different from us.

I cannot fathom the pain that those affected by the bombing must feel, nor can I comprehend the destruction it has caused to those connected to Aleppo University. I think of my own friends who all work incredibly hard and have such bright futures ahead of them. I try to imagine what it would to do my University’s community, if we were the victims of a similar tragedy, but I will never understand such consequences.

We are no less deserving to study in a safe environment than were the students at Aleppo University, yet we are here while they are gone.

At the end of the vigil one of my friends turned to me and broke the silence by saying, “It just makes you thankful.” And that it does.

Ethnic Violence and Weapons Proliferation in South Sudan

By Danny Hirschel-Burns, STAND Policy Analyst

In South Sudan’s Jonglei state, ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities is a constant characteristic of South Sudan’s internal instability. Along with many structural factors, weapons proliferation is a central cause of increasing conflict. The presence of numerous armed men have increased the casualty rates of cattle raids and undermined more cautious leadership. The South Sudanese government has consistently either failed to address the root causes of the problem, done so ineptly, or lacked the required institutional capacity. It has also aggravated the conflict by relying on ethnic militias to provide short-term security, without a plan to eventually disarm these militias. There are some issues at play beyond the reach of the South Sudanese government, but even in the areas it can control, it has so far failed as a productive actor in decreasing inter-tribal violence.

To understand the role of small arms in facilitating Jonglei’s inter-communal conflict, a brief analysis of causal factors is necessary. This violence, largely between the Lou Nuer and the Murle tribes, is based around cattle raiding, a practice that has existed for generations. Recently, however, these cattle raids have ceased to be solely economic, and as a result of many factors, raiders have begun to attack individuals from the rival tribe, and not just those that physically prevent them from stealing cattle. In the past three years, individual attacks have caused up to one thousand deaths. While climate change has had some effect on increasing competition over land, population displacement, changes in farming practices and the disruption of trade routes have exacerbated the Lou Nuer-Murle conflict. The end of the north-south war has also worsened the conflict, though themilitarization of the Lou Nuer and the Murle has been ongoing for more than a decade. The return of armed men undermined tribal leadership structures, which had established relatively peaceful coexistence with other tribes. Both tribes, but particularly the Murle, are politically marginalized within South Sudan, and thus generally distrustful of the South Sudanese government. Therefore, they are less willing to cooperate with government-led violence reduction initiatives. Local politicians also exploit tribal rivalries for personal gain, and though evidence is scant, they may well be involved in actually inciting raids.

The proliferation of small arms is one of the main drivers of the conflict in Jonglei. Following the end of the north-south war, soldiers returning to civilian life brought their weapons with them. Both tribes used this new supply of guns to raid cattle, which has led to higher death rates. Another factor in the abundance of small arms is the presence of anti-government rebels. Former members of the SPLA’s loose coalition of minority militias, including the late George Athor and David Yau Yau, have exploited the availability of small arms for political gain. Though the war has ended, the SPLA continuously fails to prevent its soldiers from returning to civilian life with their weapons, and ammunition is a form of currency in some Lou Nuer areas. Finally, the SPLA has armed both the Murle and the Lou Nuer to fight against Athor and Yau Yau, respectively.

Arms flow to the Murle and the Lou Nuer has risen and fallen over time, and the sources for these arms had also changed. However, the SPLA has consistently failed to effectively disarm its populace. Though South Sudanese authorities undertook disarmament in 2005 and 2006, the effort was incomplete, and the seized weapons were re-seized by ethnic militias due to poorly guarded warehouses. Other SPLA disarmament strategies have failed because they often target individuals who keep weapons solely for self-defense, and fail to target ethnic militias, mostly due to a lack of capacity. The SPLA has repeatedly sexually assaulted and beaten civilians in disarmament efforts, increasing anger toward the state and decreasing confidence in government-led violence reduction initiatives.

In response to ethnic violence in Jonglei, the South Sudanese government must cease arming ethnic militias and attempt to establish a better relationship with Lou Nuer and Murle communities. While the latter task is easier said than done, distrust between a target community and a government severely hampers disarmament efforts, exemplified by the only partially successful attempts at DDR in Burundi. Though the South Sudanese government lacks the capability to fully disarm citizens in Jonglei, it has the ability to facilitate this process. Unfortunately, its current policies are negatively affecting the possibilities of disarmament and violence reduction. If the government of South Sudan truly wishes to end ethnic violence in Jonglei, it must discontinue attempts to achieve peace through further militarization, increase its presence in Jonglei through political inclusion, and focus on community-led negotiations and solutions.

All It Takes Is One Bone

By Rebecca Ljungren, American University STAND

You may think that a bone is just a part of the human anatomy, but for students at American University last week, it became so much more. On November 28th, the American University chapter of STAND held an all day One Million Bones Marathon. Through this event we are changing the way students learn about genocide.

What is One Million Bones? OMB is a practice that combines education and art to not only raise awareness of genocides today, but help in the prevention as well. Founder Naomi Natale believes that the symbol of the bone represents our common humanity and offers a reminder that we belong to each other. Also, each bone registered with Students Rebuild will generate a $1 donation, up to $500,000 from the Bezos Family Foundation to CARE, who works with communities in Somalia and the DRC.

With the STAND community at AU working on education and activism in the same areas as OMB, it was an obvious match! Through the integration of STAND knowledge during events, such as the viewing of documentaries pertaining to the situation in Burma, along with hands-on bone-making, we hope to reach out to a broader base of students. These students are those who may not want to sit through panel discussions or seminars on the subject, but who do have time to make a bone.

These bones represent every single one of us; inside we really aren’t so different after all. So though it may be just one, your voice DOES count. 112 bones were made at American University, and so 112 voices spoke- so far. Will you make your voice heard? All it takes is one bone- one in a million.

History of a Stateless Population: Sri Lankan Tamils

By Mirusha Yogarajah, UT Austin ‘15

The Sri Lankan Tamils are considered a stateless population. Neill Wright from the UNHCR writes, “Persons without citizenship are denied some of the most basic rights and entitlements: they cannot open a bank account, own property or work for the government; they cannot obtain an identity card, a birth certificate, a marriage certificate or a passport; if they leave the country they cannot return. For almost 200 years, this has been the predicament of a great many Tamils of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.”

The Tamils are a predominantly Hindu group, some of whom have lived in Sri Lanka since 2nd century BCE, and many of whom immigrated in the early 19th century to work on estates. Tamils, a minority in the country, have been subjugated by the Sinhalese government since the independence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) in 1947. There were virtually two nations within Sri Lanka, Tamilians who lived in the North and the East, and the Sinhala in the South. The Sinhalese wanted to accrue power, which meant subduing the minority population.

First starting out as a militant group composed of youths, in 1976, the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was created as a retaliatory response to government oppression, finally admitting defeat on May 19, 2009. According the United Nations there have been a reported 100,000 deaths. The Sinhalese controlled the government for over 30 years and made four changes which led to the development of revolutionary groups:

  • In 1956, Sinhala was made the official language
  • Discriminatory state policies in regard to jobs, politics and education, which created discrepancies in incomes and and developments. Before independence, Tamils had received preferential treatment with colonial jobs.
  • Dismissal of safeguards in the new republican constitution of 1972
  • The 1958 pogram against Tamils, contributing to the deaths of 70 to 300 people

Sri Lankan Tamils’ only form of representation in civil society was the LTTE, a group that put both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese civilians at risk. There were cases where the LTTE used Tamils as human shields to deter the Sinhalese military from targeting the LTTE and they assassinated political leaders. After the tsunami of 2006, they increased recruitment of child soldiers, training orphans to fight for them. The LTTE are reportedly the first group to use suicide bomber vests. They were deemed a terrorist organization by India in 1992, the United States in 1997, and then the Sri Lankan government in 1998. However, they were fighting for a separate state for Tamilians, in order to escape the oppression that the Sinhalese was inflicting and to impose their own ideologies, which included Marxism and secularism.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reported, “For its part, the Government reportedly used heavy artillery on the densely populated conflict zone, despite assurances that it would take precautions to protect civilians [and they are] reported [to have] shelled a hospital clinic on several occasions.” The UN Human Rights Council argued that Sri Lanka should look into the human rights abuses themselves, a recommendation that would have served to perpetuate the violence. In response, the Sinhalese government created “welfare centers” for Tamils hoping to flee the war-stricken country. These welfare centers were effectively detention camps, where women and girls were sexually abused, and people were exposed to diseases, starvation, and direct violence. Tens of thousands of individuals were internally displaced. There has been a transition into normalcy for Sri Lanka Tamils, due to the increase of participation of citizens in elections and the emergency deregulation.

In 2003, an estimated 300,000 Tamils were not identified with a state. The Ceylon Workers Congress, working to solve this issue, helped to pass a bill in October 2003 granting 168,141 Tamils citizenship in a 10 day joint initiative with the UNHCR to help Tamils apply for citizenship.

While this is an excellent first step, there are still post-war tensions in Sri Lanka. Recently, at Jaffna University, approximately 20 students were injured by state police during a commemoration ceremony of rebels. Ideology of the LTTE has been strictly banned and the military maintains tight control over the North, where most of the infighting occurred. The UNHCR has also urged Sri Lanka to investigate alleged abuses during the final phase of war with Tamil rebels. The government has been identified as a perpetrator of war crimes due to their use of drones in “safe zone” areas. While Sri Lanka has improved the conditions of the minority population and is slowly progressing into more fair and equal state, these issues must also be addressed.

Stateless People: The Ethnic Vietnamese of Cambodia

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

Cambodia’s main ethnic groups consist of the majority Khmer, as well as the minority Chinese, Cham, Vietnamese, and many other minority groups, including indigenous people.

It is estimated that the ethnic Vietnamese make up approximately 5% of Cambodia’s total population today. Apparently stateless and a small group, members face daily civil and human rights abuses by local Khmer authorities.

There is insufficient documentation that allows us to pinpoint exactly how far back in history ethnic Vietnamese ancestry in Cambodia goes. However, in ongoing research with people of the ethnic Vietnamese group in the Kampong Chhnang province, many claimed that their families had been living in Cambodia for decades; various people in their 40s to 70s claimed that they were sure that their great grandparents lived on this land.

In addition to their possible stateless status,1 throughout modern history, the ethnic Vietnamese has been discriminated by every government that has ruled Cambodia. Discrimination existed under the post-French colonization, Sihanouk era, and increased significantly under Lon Nol’s government.

Once the Khmer Rouge overthrew Lon Nol and took over government, the ethnic Vietnamese was nearly wiped out as a consequence of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal purges against the population. The Khmer Rouge dismissed the fact that the ethnic Vietnamese saw themselves as Cambodian people (due to the fact that they had lived in the region for decades) and accused them of being Vietnam’s spies and internal enemies who were going to help Vietnam’s takeover of Cambodia from the inside. Such discrimination would further lead Khmer Rouge killers to accuse non-Vietnamese victims of having “Khmer bodies, but Vietnamese minds.”

Since the Khmer Rouge regime fell, outright massacres of the ethnic Vietnamese have ceased. However, ongoing civil and human rights abuses against the group continue.

Based on what available research can tell us so far, the ethnic Vietnamese population appears stateless.2 They are not registered citizens in either Cambodia or Vietnam.3 It appears that Cambodia does not recognize the group as Cambodian citizens due to historical discrimination, as well as the persistent political belief that they are Vietnamese citizens who are spies and are infiltrating Cambodia from within – the rest of Cambodia’s population disregard that members of the group have ancestry that spans decades and that their loyalty in fact stays with Cambodia. On the other hand, Vietnam does not recognize the group as being native Vietnamese citizens, presumably because the group’s members were not born in or had lived for an extended period of time in Vietnam.

The consequences of the ethnic Vietnamese’s seeming statelessness results in severe limitations to the group’s political, economic, and social rights. Specifically, statelessness status of the group means that members:

  • Cannot own land or property;
  • Cannot be formally employment (particularly in cities);
  • Cannot partake in banking activities (e.g. opening an account or obtaining loans);
  • Cannot vote;
  • Cannot access the judicial system (e.g. lawsuits);
  • Cannot access social services (e.g. health care and education); and
  • Cannot register marriages, births, or deaths; and
  • Cannot travel freely (in-country, across borders, or overseas).

Thus, though the most difficult period to date for the many members of the ethnic Vietnamese minority group – the Khmer Rouge’s genocide of its people – is over, they still face civil and human rights challenges due to their lack of citizenship.

Notes:

1. More research is needed before we make a claim that the ethnic Vietnamese as a collective group is stateless; as of now, we can only claim statelessness on an individual, case-by-case basis.

2. On account of researchers being unable to prove any previous acquisition of nationality under Cambodian laws.

3. Again, research on this group is limited, so we cannot assume that all ethnic Vietnamese lack citizenship; it is therefore difficult to make a claim that the collective group, as a whole, is stateless.