The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Remember the Tohono O’odham

The border is not just a barren desert. A wall there would not be harmless. It would disrupt wildlife and destroy the environment, while also disrupting the lives of the people who live there. For this reason, when our elected officials continue to consider border policy, they must remember the Tohono O’odham people.

As descendants of the Hohokam, who settled along the Salt, Gila, and Santa Cruz Rivers, the Tohono O’odham have lived in the Sonoran Desert region far before the establishment of the United States and Mexican nations. Yet, since the 18th century, their land has been occupied by foreign entities. In 1853, soon after Mexico gained independence, the United States and Mexico agreed upon the Gadsden Purchase, dividing the ancestral land of the O’odham. Though the purchase guaranteed rights to the O’odham people, settlement driven by mining and railroads stripped them of much of their land. Today, the Tohono O’odham National Reserve is the second largest in the United States. Even so, this does not encompass all of the O’odham nation’s land, as the rest is located in modern-day Mexico. The O’odham nation remains home for 34,000 people, 2,000 of whom live in Mexico. If completed, a wall on the United States’ southern border would separate this nation and, consequently, its people.

The O’odham people have been connected to their land for centuries. They frequently pass through the US-Mexico border to visit family, participate in religious ceremonies, and seek medical attention. During the sacred Vikita ceremony, which takes place in Mexico, for example, the O’odham pray for the earth and everything on it. Those living in the U.S. traditionally walked for a day, across the border, to attend—but the traditional passage has been closed. Moreover, tribe members who need medical attention have to go to the hospital in the capital of the national, Sells, which is in the United States. O’odham people cross the border regularly, and this effort is already burdensome enough: to travel freely on their own land they are required provide passports and identification cards, and are even sometimes deported when practicing essential migratory traditions. In the mid-2000s, the Tohono O’odham compromised with the United States to allow vehicle barriers to help secure the border—while still allowing pedestrian and animal crossings—despite resistance from many tribe members. The tribe has spent $3 million of their own money to secure the border. Again, in 2006, the Secure Fence Act put barbed wire on their land, funneling travel to a few gates. Many see the prospect of the proposed  wall as an even greater transgression.

Notably, since this area is a recognized reserve, an act of Congress should be required to take the land for the wall. Yet this is not a guarantee. If a wall is built on this 62-mile stretch, it could force O’odham people to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest point of entry in order to access their own land. The previous division of lands split the tribe into four recognized and one unrecognized tribe. The wall could bring even more catastrophic damages.

We can not sit idly by while the O’odham people and their freedoms are in danger. Their precarious existence should serve as a reminder of those who inhabited the land before us and who continue to work to ensure that the earth and its occupants are treated with equal respect and dignity. No matter your affiliation, when considering the effects of border security and the proposed wall, we must remember the Tohono O’odham.  


ZachZachary Gossett is a rising junior at Butler University in Indiana and a field organizer at STAND.

US in Yemen: Setting a Dangerous Precedent

No one is safe in Yemen. Indiscriminate bombings wreak havoc on the citizens of this war-torn country, the latest of which resulted in the death of 51 people, including 40 children. This attack targeted a busy market place and struck a school bus of children on a trip for a Quran memorization program. The influx of victims overwhelmed the nation’s already crippled medical system. While the Saudi-led coalition asserts that this bombing was a “legitimate military operation,” many members of the international community condemn it as yet another horrible consequence that the war in Yemen has had on the lives of its citizens, especially children. This air-strike, however, was only the most recent in a long and disturbing lineage of similar abuses by the Saudi-led coalition. The United States, which is supporting the coalition, is not only condoning the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” as the Secretary-General of the UN says, but also playing a role in its execution. When it was reported that the bomb used to kill 40 schoolchildren was US-supplied, it became impossible to deny US participation. The United States is thereby setting a dangerous precedent for its involvement in intranational conflict resolution.


The conflict in Yemen began in September of 2014 when the Houthi rebels, a Shiite group, quietly took over the capital, Sana’a. With the support of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh—who was compelled to resign due to increasing separatist movements—and troops loyal to him, the Houthi undermined the internationally recognized transitional government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. After failing to enact a constitution that hoped to split powers, the Houthi attempted to arrest Hadi but he fled to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia then led a coalition of Gulf states to preserve the recognized government and prevent the Iranian supported Houthi from gaining power via Yemen’s civil war.


Airstrikes have been the coalition’s primary means of combating the rebels in Yemen. The bombing has hit a disturbing number of non-military areas with at least 87 unlawful attacks. In Saada, there have been three times more strikes on non-military locations than military. Even if people are safe from the seemingly arbitrary bombing, they cannot avoid the disastrous effects of the Saudi coalition’s economic warfare. The Saudi-led coalition irregularly enforces a blockade on the rebel area, thus cutting off supplies of food. The airstrikes also have devastated infrastructure and businesses, exacerbating mass unemployment. Food is very limited and, even when available, many cannot afford it. The coalition regularly targets ports, airports, and even marketplaces: in Marib, one market has been hit 24 times alone. Yemen usually imports 80 percent of its food, but with the siege of Hodeidah, the rebel territory would be largely cut off from the outside world. As a result, the region would experience even more starvation and destruction from this coalition’s efforts.


Currently, the United States actively supports this coalition. It continues to share intelligence, complete mid-air refueling of jets, and supply weapons. Instead of using the United States’ unique position of influence with Saudi Arabia to tailor the nation’s involvement in Yemen, it allows the horrible humanitarian crisis to progress. Both countries cite Iranian influence as a means to justify their involvement. Yet, the United States’ continued support suggests the setting of a frightening precedent; regardless of a nation’s record of abuses of its own people, the United States will support a nation as it commits mass atrocities and perpetuates famine. Additionally, Saudi Arabia seemingly cut deals with al-Qaeda in order to more effectively combat the Houthis. The deal included recruiting members to join the coalition and retreat from key towns, which simulated a disappearing threat. As a result, the United States is not simply combating terrorism or ceasing Iranian influence in Yemen: it is supplying and supporting a regime that is empowering terrorism and perpetuating mass atrocities. To prevent this precedent from being set, American citizens must push their legislators to stop the supply of the Saudi-led coalition.


Ending the Youngest Nation’s Oldest Conflict

Violence has engulfed the world’s youngest nation for a significant part of history, even before it officially separated from Sudan. South Sudan, which became a nation in 2011, broke out into civil war in 2013, after its President, Salva Kiir, fired Vice President Riek Machar. Though the origins of the conflict are political, ethnicity has increasingly been used by political elites to hold onto power with the Dinka aligning themselves with Kiir and the Nuer with Machar. Since the conflict began, a myriad of peace talks have gone awry, several ceasefires have been ignored, and countless innocent civilians have suffered. Due to destructive tactics such as ethnic targeting and mass starvation, the United States placed an arms embargo on South Sudan in early February. While this action on its own will have little direct impact on the conflict, the embargo sends an important message and attempts to inspire other nations who could more significantly affect the issue.

The United States’ arms ban on South Sudan comes as the result of cumulating frustration over the factions’ failure to negotiate peace, to maintain ceasefires, and to protect the lives of their citizens. The United States began taking action against the political elites of South Sudan in 2014, when President Obama sanctioned six military leaders because of their involvement with the atrocities taking place. During the Trump administration, these sanctions have broadened to include three close associates to Kiir, who are charged with personally profiting from the violence. Additionally, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has pushed for more comprehensive action, leading to the implementation of the U.S. arms embargo. This campaign initially began with an ultimatum given to Kiir during a visit to the nation on October 25, 2017, where she also met with suffering civilians. The ultimatum essentially informed Kiir that he may lose American support if the violence and perpetration of atrocities by his military continues. When Kiir failed to respond, Haley began advocating for the end of the United States’ support of Kiir and the implementation of an arms embargo. While the US State Department has officially declared an arms ban on South Sudan, it is an almost entirely symbolic move given that the U.S. has not dealt weapons to South Sudan.

Though symbolic, the move can also be seen as a call to action for other nations with the potential to have a deeper and stronger impact on the conflict. A State Department statement in February stated “We urge all countries, including South Sudan’s neighbors, to promote peace and save innocent lives.” The ban comes at a time of growing consciousness about the conflict and a desire for further action from other nations and organizations relevant to South Sudan’s civil war. For example, the African Union has expressed its willingness to implement sanctions to end the conflict. Due to this rise in support for action, including some regional acknowledgment of the problem, it is a prime time for the United Nations Security Council to take action by placing an arms embargo on South Sudan so it can capitalize on the commonality of multiple nations’ view on the issue.

While the growing agreement is encouraging, the United States, the United Nations, and South Sudan’s neighbors need to take further action to ensure that they are not enabling the conflict. A UN embargo does not look entirely likely because of the veto power of Russia and China. Notably, China has oil ties to South Sudan and is thus unlikely to take direct action. Although the U.S. move is a welcome one, peace will not come to South Sudan unless there is additional action. South Sudan’s neighbors must actively work towards ending this civil war by implementing sanctions, arms embargoes, providing humanitarian aid, and possibly through direct intervention. Furthermore, while the US has taken positive action to end the conflict, it must act further if it does not want to be complicit in the violence. Such action could include ceasing to supply arms to Uganda, who sells weapons to South Sudan. Options have not yet run out, and until the nation’s neighbors and the UN are willing to act, the war will continue.

All of these steps are vital to ending the conflict, which has killed more than 50,000 people and displaced approximately four million. Priti Patel, the British International Development Secretary, has gone so far as to call the situation in South Sudan genocide, due to the ethnic divisions and destructive tactics used by both sides. Even if one does not consider the conflict to be genocide, one cannot ignore its potential to cause further mass systematic slaughter. The conflict has also placed even more lives at risk by causing a man-made famine that has left an estimated 1.25 million people on the brink of starvation — an amount expected to rise over the coming months. The war in South Sudan is preventing people from farming and aid from reaching large portions of the population, generating an abundance of hungry men, women, and children. To save these innocent lives, this war must end, and while the United States arms ban is a step in the right direction, it is only one move of many that must come to support stability in this young nation.  


zachary gossett

Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first-year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.  

Chemical Warfare in Syria

All too frequently, Syrian civilians are required to search for medical assistance for neurotoxic symptoms as a result of exposure to chemical weapons. On  January 22, 2018, civilians in eastern Douma, a suburb of Damascus, were attacked with chlorine gas. The Syrian government denies responsibility for the attack, despite the fact that the regime is known to use this type of attack and the area has been the target of constant bombings by the Assad regime over the last few months. Following the attack, the United States placed blame on Russia, a key ally of the Assad regime, for allowing the Assad regime to violate a multitude of international human rights laws. Although many nations are taking steps to address these abuses, such as by implementing sanctions or using diplomatic pressure to reduce the use of chemical weapons, the Assad regime continues to use them on civilians. This chemical attack, along with many others, illustrates that Russia has little concern for the lives lost or precedent set by continued employment of poisonous gases against the Syrian people. The abuse of human rights and the acceptance of said abuses, promoted by Russia’s negligence and Assad’s willingness to terrorize his own people, illustrate a dire need for further UN intervention to relieve the conflict and punish those who commit these horrid atrocities.  

The first use of chemical warfare in the Syrian conflict was documented in March 2013, when a district in Aleppo was attacked by sarin nerve gas, yet no one was proven responsible.  Following that attack, the Assad regime deployed sarin gas in August of that year, killing more than 1,400 people. A U.S. assessment of the attack reported on the egregious symptoms of sarin attacks, such as “unconsciousness, foaming at the nose and mouth, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing.”  Despite a U.S. attempt at intervention by President Obama’s announcement of chemical weapons use as a “red line,” a deal with Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has failed miserably. Since chlorine is used for many industrial processes, it was not included in the deal, and has since been regularly used as a weapon in Syria. In fact, the Syrian American Medical Society, an organization providing healthcare in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan to Syrians affected by the conflict, has recorded 194 chemical attacks across Syria since 2012, most involving chlorine-like substances, which displays a clear and persistent abuse of this material. Nine months ago, the Syrian government’s abuses were brought under even more scrutiny when they used sarin gas again in their assault on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun. This attack caused a much stronger reaction from the international community. 83 civilians were killed, which led the Trump administration to launch an airstrike against the Syria airbase from which the bomber began its mission.

Many members of the international community blame Russia for the reoccurrence of chemical warfare in Syria due to Russia’s tendency to veto any action that would investigate or combat the use of such weapons. Most recently, Russia vetoed a resolution to create a Joint Investigative Mechanism in November. This initiative was designed to investigate and name those involved in the chemical attacks in Syria. When they vetoed this resolution, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that Russia “sent a dangerous message to the world” by deeming it acceptable to use chemical warfare against one’s own people. Additionally, since there is definitive reasoning that the Assad regime is guilty of human rights abuses, Russia’s efforts to stop international intervention could violate UN Security Council Resolution 2118, which constitutes that the use of chemical weapons anywhere represents a threat to international peace and security. The resolution specifically prohibits Syria from “using, developing, producing, otherwise acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other States or non-State actors.” Syria must comply with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and allow UN or OPCW representatives to have access to chemical weapons sites.

Launched on January 23, 2018, the international community formed the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons to take a definitive stance against Russia and Syria’s atrocities in the region. This 29-nation coalition includes France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and is dedicated to preventing and punishing nations for chemical weapon use. Additionally, France has independently placed sanctions on businesses that were “supply networks for the Syrian Research and Study Centre (CERS),” which it describes as the “main laboratory in charge of chemical programmes” for the Syrian government.” France falls short of placing sanctions on individuals who are directly involved, however, citing possible political repercussions.

While the initial international responses to Russia and Syria’s actions are a good place to start, they are not nearly strong enough to have any substantial effect. This coalition needs to take bold, strong moves against Syria and Russia in order to ensure no more Syrian civilians fall victim to chemical weapons. The war in Syria has gone on for far too long, with far too many innocent people losing their lives at the hands of a regime willing to use weapons of mass-destruction against their own population. Check out the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)’s Save East Ghouta action page here for inspiration and to take action. It is time to take a STAND.

zachary gossett


Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first-year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.  


What Happened in East Timor?

East Timor, or Timor-Leste, is a small nation on the island of Timor, sharing land with Pulau Timor, a portion of Indonesia. Timor is one of the larger islands in Southeast Asia, and the last major island of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain. The nation became independent from Indonesia and the 191st member of the United Nations in 2002. Yet, many people, especially Americans, are unaware of the nation’s existence and their history of oppression, persecution, and atrocities at the hands of Indonesia. This can be partially attributed to both the self-preservation of western nations and their business interests, and genocidaires’ continued possession of power in countries with a history of human rights abuses.

Portugal occupied East Timor from the 1600s to 1975. Months after Portugal left the island, Indonesia invaded, citing the fight against communism as a reason for invading the country. This justification was widely accepted because of concerns of the spread of communismetimor in Southeast Asia after the surrender of South Vietnam to communist North Vietnam in April of that same year.  As a result of the invasion, approximately 200,000 or more East Timor citizens – about one third of East Timor’s population at the time – perished from starvation, encircling and annihilation campaigns, and more. The initial invasion began on December 7, 1975 with naval bombardment of the East Timor’s capital, Dili, and then the use of troops through beach landing and paratroopers. Three days later, Indonesia  attacked Baucau, the second largest city. The direct conflict caused approximately 100,000 deaths. Though the United Nations condemned the significant human rights transgressions, the genocide took place without much attention from western media.

Before the invasion began, media platforms in the United States published a myriad of stories on Portugal’s departure from East Timor and concern over communism’s influence in the nation. The concerns of East Timor falling to communism are what prompted the invasion. Major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post failed to cover the issue once Indonesia got involved, which fed into the lack of knowledge on the human rights transgressions.

The conflict and occupation did not get much attention until November 12, 1981, when the Santa Cruz Massacre took place at a cemetery during the ceremony of a deceased independence leader, where at least 271 people died. Though this sparked media coverage, it covered the issue as if those fighting for independence were insurrectionists of a separatist movement, rather than as fighting for liberation against an oppressor.

This neglect and invasion was accepted because of Indonesia’s economic importance to the U.S. and the additional resources Indonesia could gain from occupying East Timor. This case provides another example of the indifference to genocide, especially when a nation sees it as beneficial to itself. While the United States was not actively killing mass quantities of people, they implicitly supported Indonesian invasion into East Timor and were contributing to rampant oppression through monetary assistance and weapon supply to Indonesia. During a meeting with Indonesian President Hajji Suharto the day before the invasion, U.S. President Gerald Ford stated, “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.” In this regard, the United States is guilty because of their failure to act, as well as their explicit support for the genocidal regime and invasion.

This failure shows that people must work to stay involved in the political process. American citizens must fight to ensure that they elect responsible officials that will not use tax dollars to fund genocide and other mass atrocities. Though this work is difficult, with a large amount of active and informed citizens backing it, we can ensure that our country works to combat genocide and advocate for civilians around the world.

zachary gossett


Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.

The Dangers of Statelessness

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that while there are 65.6 million displaced people in the world, ten million of them are stateless people. According to UNHRC, a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law,” and thus without a legally bound home. The United Nations in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality,” but many are denied this right. For the average citizen of a well-developed country, this problem seems unrealistic. Citizens of well-developed countries take this right for granted because it is never questioned. Yet, there are stateless people all over the world, and due to the problems that come with statelessness, millions of people suffer every day and are vulnerable to the abuses of unchecked nations.

Statelessness can occur for a myriad of reasons. The United States State Department addresses that some statelessness is caused by naturalization laws, such as laws denying people the ability to obtain citizenship, laws denying a mother the ability to extend her nationality to her child, and laws denying citizenship for children born out of wedlock. Additionally, statelessness can be a result of paperwork mistakes, such as a hospital failing to register a birth or the loss or destruction of documents. While each case is a troubling scenario, the worst is when people are stripped of their citizenship by their nation for belonging to a certain racial or ethnic group. This action destroys the promised protection of individuals, thereby making them vulnerable to atrocities.

When citizen groups – most often minorities – are stripped of their rights and nationality, they become easy targets for persecution. Arguably the most famous case of this action was during the rule of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum asserts that when the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, the Jewish population in Germany lost all of their basic rights. These laws were an early, yet catastrophic, sign of the coming Holocaust, and the abuses Germany’s Jewish population experienced escalated sizably thereafter. Now, in Burma, 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are considered stateless after the government rescinded their citizenship in 1982. The international community has called the Rohingya “the most persecuted minority in the world,” and a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The aspect of being stateless makes their persecution much easier.

If nations around the world recognized and acted on the problems stateless individuals are forced to deal with, cases like the Holocaust and the persecution of the Rohingya could be minimized or even stopped earlier. Stateless people are not offered the protections of average citizens. As a result, attacking these minorities is relatively easy. For this reason, the United Nations has launched a campaign to end statelessness in ten years. Ultimately, the most difficult aspects of ending statelessness are that it must be a priority of each individual country, and that the true number of stateless people is difficult to ascertain because they are often not included in censuses or they prefer not to report that they are stateless because of the harm that could come from it. Whether the desired conclusion is probable or not, it is definitely a positive movement to combat the genocide and mass atrocities that can result from the denial of citizenship.

zachary gossett


Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first-year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.