Archive for the ‘Peace or appeasement?’ Category
[Helena] Cobban argues that criminal prosecutions are a “strait-jacket” solution imposed from outside Rwanda. But the Rwandan government itself initially requested the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (though it later opposed it) and decided on national trials for the more than 100,000 jailed in Rwanda on charges of genocide…
Cobban’s analysis is most troubling when she resorts to medical metaphor. She acknowledges the planning and organization of the genocide by state authorities, detailing how killers coolly and regularly slaughtered Tutsis as daily “work.” Yet in her view, these were not horrible crimes but a “social psychosis,” not acts of volition but a “collective frenzy”; the architects of the genocide are not more culpable than ordinary killers but “sicker.”
Cobban’s analysis resembles that of the perpetrators themselves. They argued that the slaughter was “spontaneous,” committed by people driven mad out of fear and anger. Rwandan killers have indeed been traumatized but their ailment resulted from their conduct rather than causing it.
Mob psychology cannot explain choices made during the genocide: why some individuals killed for reward or pleasure, or from fear of punishment, while others did not. To judge the killers as merely “sick” devalues the courage and decency of the millions who resisted this inhumanity, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
Cobban’s medical metaphor allows no place for individual responsibility. A person plagued by cancer is a victim of unfortunate circumstance, but is not at fault. Murderers, let alone orchestrators of genocide, are different. When they corral victims into churches and stadiums and systematically slaughter them with guns and machetes, the killers are not the latest hapless victims of the genocidal flu. They are deliberate, immoral actors. Treating them as no more culpable than children who refuse to wear coats and catch cold is both wrong and dangerous. Wrong because it does a deep disservice to the victims, as if their deaths were a natural accident, not a deliberate choice. Dangerous because it signals to other would-be mass murderers that they risk not punishment but, at most, communal therapy sessions.
The BBC reports that more than 400 people have been killed in the last few days, after Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army stepped up its war on civilians in the North-Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The article cites the Catholic aid NGO Caritas as its source for the casualty figures – but fails to mention that the same organisation was earlier this year implicated in supplying food and medicine to the LRA, amid the misguided hope that this would help persuade them to sign a peace deal. In fact, this material support gave the group a vital lifeline, allowing it to sustain its fighters while it reorganised and rearmed under the cover of the ongoing peace negotiations.
As long ago as October 2007, the International Criminal Court had warned that the LRA was selling surplus food aid in order to buy weapons. But the Catholic Church appears to have taken no notice, with Caritas continuing to supply aid until at least April 2008 – six months after the ICC had publicly raised its concerns.
UN report sheds light on the credulity of international donors as regional governments finally lose patience with Uganda’s LRA rebels
From The Times
An intelligence document compiled by the United Nations mission to Congo, known as Monuc, spells out the scale of the threat. It says that the LRA cynically used the peace talks to organise itself into a regional fighting force. The 670-strong band of fighters now has more than 150 satellite telephones, many bought with cash meant to aid communications during the talks. “Simply put, Kony now has the ability to divide his forces into very simple groups and to reassemble them at will,” the report says. “When put together with his proven mastery of bush warfare, this gives him new potency within his area of operations.”
They were given tonnes of food by a charity, Caritas Uganda, to discourage the looting of villages, and fistfuls of dollars by southern Sudan’s new leaders, whom they once fought.
General Kony is stronger than ever, the report concludes: “Recent abduction patterns suggest that he is now in the process of perfecting the new skill of recruiting and controlling an international force of his own.”
From the Institute of War and Peace Reporting
After announcing that he would sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government on Saturday, November 29, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony again drew a crowd to the jungle camp of Nabanga on the border between South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.
As Kony has done in the past, he balked, leaving a host of his Acholi tribal and cultural leaders waiting and wanting, along with the United Nations special envoy Joachim Chissano, the talk’s chief mediatory, South Sudan vice- president Riek Machar and a flock of international observers.
While the signing of the agreement would certainly have been a milestone in the history of Uganda, it remains a meaningless document despite the vast amount of time and money spent by international community on the talks, including the provision of food and other supplies to the rebels, over the past couple of years…
Kony has been able to manipulate the international community with his repeated peace overtures. He has devised the perfect ploy: talk peace, and do the opposite.
What’s clear is that Kony will be around for a long time, doing what he wants, when he wants, in part due to the painful indulgence of the international community.
Sadly, the innocent and the defenceless suffer. Maybe now, finally, the international community will wake up.
UN Congo chief William Swing withheld
evidence of DRC government atrocities
From Human Rights Watch
The United Nations and a number of bilateral donors invested significant financial and political capital in the  Congolese elections, one of the largest electoral support programs in the UN’s history. But with the polls finished, they have failed to invest comparable resources and attention in assuring that the new government implements its international human rights obligations. For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability…
Donor governments said they would devote considerable financial and technical resources to security sector reform programs, but have yet to insist that such programs include adequate vetting to rid the military and law enforcement services of individuals in senior positions who have been implicated in serious human rights violations…
Following the killings in Bas Congo in February 2007, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force in Congo] sent a multi-disciplinary team to investigate. Its report was not published for five months as it was deemed “too sensitive.” UN officials did not want to criticize the new government before securing its agreement on the role of MONUC in the post-electoral period. Similarly MONUC delayed publication of its report on the March 2007 events for fear of upsetting relations with Kabila.
Both reports were blocked by the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Swing, who deflected repeated requests from the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and from the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, for the reports to be made public.
If the reports had been promptly published, they could have contributed to wider awareness of the serious violations committed and might have led to additional diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to halt the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. The March 2007 investigation report was eventually published in French on January 4, 2008, after a copy was leaked to the press; no English version has been made public.
Criticizing Burundi’s “forgiving”
President (r) can land you in jail
I met Pierre Nkurunziza in London in the autumn of 2004, a few months after I’d started writing Titanic Express. At the time, CNDD-FDD was still a rebel movement, and Nkurunziza had just been appointed Burundi’s “Minister for Good Governance”. This particular choice of post seemed cruelly ironic, even then, to many of those who had lost loved ones in CNDD-FDD attacks. Given Nkurunziza’s subsequent track record as President it seems even more so now.
Nkurunziza was elected by a landslide in the summer of 2005, amid high hopes that the predominantly Hutu CNDD-FDD rebel group had succeeded in transforming itself into a genuinely multi-ethnic political party, committed to a peaceful and democratic future for Burundi. As I wrote in December of the following year, these hopes were quickly dashed. Nkurunziza’s time in office has been characterised by corruption, political intransigence, and increasingly brutal attacks on the political opposition.
Matters have been complicated by Nkurunziza’s success in portraying himself as the model of the “forgiving” Christian post-conflict African President, with all the positive associations that this carries internationally. Conflict Resolution NGOs and some international donors have repeatedly hailed Burundi as a success story, even though corruption has been rife and violence ongoing, with still no conclusion to the seemingly endless “peace process”.
When the popular independent journalist Alexis Sinduhije last year launched a new political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy – with a multi-ethnic leadership and, unusually for a Burundian political movement, no armed wing – the government refused to allow it to register, and has been increasingly hostile as the months passed.
In September, the journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and accused of “defaming” Pierre Nkurunziza after reporting on his personal expenditure at the Beijing Olympics. Today, the BBC reports that Alexis Sinduhije has been jailed on similar charges over his activities as an opposition leader, following his arrest last week. The Movement for Security and Democracy report that their activists across the country are being rounded up and detained. Clearly Nkurunziza’s “forgiving” approach doesn’t apply to those who question his conduct in office. Many Burundians I know are pessimistic that the upcoming 2010 elections will be anything remotely approaching “free and fair”.
A lot of this was quite predictable. I have Burundian friends who did, in fact, predict broadly this state of affairs as soon as it became clear that CNDD-FDD was on course to take power. Nkurunziza’s supposed commitment to democracy and a genuinely multi-ethnic approach was nothing more than window dressing, I was told. The international community was kidding itself if it thought that an armed group with such a track record of brutality and extortion would even be capable of changing its ways once it had its hands on the levers of power, especially when its many crimes had gone unpunished (a 2003 deal granted CNDD-FDD fighters “provisional immunity” from prosecution. Five years on, this supposedly temporary measure still stands).
I knew all this, and yet I wanted to believe. When I met Nkurunziza in London he seemed cordial enough. My friend Desiré took him and his entourage shopping after the meeting. How could a man who goes to buy toys for his kids on Oxford Street be such a bad dude? Next to the psychotic excesses of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL, the CNDD-FDD Hutu rebels looked positively moderate.
But they weren’t, and they never had been. The qualities that it takes to become a successful warlord are very different from those needed to be an effective and successful statesman. Recent history is littered with examples of those who failed to make the transition. Brutal civil wars tend to breed a certain kind of mentality, and armed groups like CNDD-FDD attract a certain sort of person – the kind of person who’s comfortable taking and giving orders, and is prepared to engage in acts of extreme violence in order to get their job done.
When CNDD-FDD signed a peace deal, many such people gained lucrative positions in the government and the security forces, safe in the knowledge that they were effectively immune from prosecution for the abuses they’d previously committed – and would be for as long as they could hold onto power. It shouldn’t really have been a great surprise that Burundi’s new elite continued to behave as ruthlessly as they had whilst fighting in the bush – or that they are proving reluctant to cede power peacefully now that their popular support has begun to dwindle. It shouldn’t really have been such a surprise, in short, that Nkurunziza’s Burundi would start to look more like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe than Mandela’s South Africa. When we set aside the hopeful rhetoric, the cold reality is that ex-warlords generally tend to lean more towards despotism than democracy.
So why did we fall for it? I suspect that a certain kind of insidious relativism can set in when we’re looking at a situation as extreme as Burundi. Politicians such as Pierre Buyoya, whose style is more to orchestrate targeted assassinations of his opponents and rivals than to actively incite genocide, come to seem like “moderates”. Rebel groups like CNDD-FDD, who at least talk about the need to turn their back on ethnic divisionism and embrace a multi-ethnic membership, seem reasonable and democratic, even as their leaders continue to bully the general population and line their own pockets.
But one further factor that I think deserves much more scrutiny than it has hitherto been given is the extent to which – both in Burundi and elsewhere – international mediators often have a clear agenda of their own, which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the people they are ostensibly trying to help. “Peace” is now something of a lucrative business – from the NGOs raking in millions to Do Conflict Resolution in troubled regions of the world, to the career diplomats and politicians looking to declare “mission accomplished” and buff their resumé with plaudits for “bringing peace to [fill in country of choice here]”.
When, in 2003, Nkurunziza came out of the bush and declared his commitment to peace, democracy, and “forgiveness” there were a lot of people with a vested interest in promoting the idea that it was genuine. The fact that the terms of the peace deal sowed the seeds for future abuse and instability was not something that most NGOs (with the notable exceptions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), “security analysts” or international mediators seemed to want to talk about.
Doubtless a part of it was simple, honest-to-goodness, wishful thinking. But the fact that so much money, and – perhaps even more importantly – so many personal reputations, were at stake in Burundi’s peace process could only have made things more complicated.
Burundi had seen so much horror that it’s perhaps understandable that people would get carried away with the euphoria when things finally seemed to be improving. It should also be said that many things do seem to have improved; the level of violence has gone down and the economy was beginning to recover – but the question is for how long.
Since the violence that exploded after independence in the 1960s, the bloodshed has come in cycles, punctuated by periods of relative stability. Successive generations of politicians have been willing to manipulate tensions, and incite ethnic massacres when faced with pressure to relinquish power. Burundi’s new CNDD-FDD ruling elite have already shown that they are prepared to kill, torture and arbitrarily detain their critics in order to protect their political interests. We can only hope that they pull back from the brink before the situation becomes any more unstable.