WTF Friday, 7/10/2015

I’m headed out the door on a 2 week vacation, but before I go, here’s what’s up:

Russia predictably vetoed a Security Council resolution recognizing as genocide the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. It did so as a favor to its Serb allies, who felt that the resolution might make them look bad.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has lost its fourth international investigating judge in five years. It’s almost like it’s hard to prosecute international crimes in the face of persistent obstruction by the national government.

The media is trying to make “Grexit” happen. Ugh.

WTF Friday, 4/4/2014

From the (apparently not a prank) April Fools Day edition of The Washington Times: “‘The problem from hell’ is only solved when God-fearing men with steel backbones and muscular arms stand between the evildoers and their victims.

I can’t believe how much time and money has been wasted studying the root causes and dynamics of mass atrocity, when all along the answer was biceps!

Greetings from Guatemala!

Hola from the Land of Eternal Spring/Land of Eternal Shenanigans in Genocide Trials. That’s right – I’m in Guatemala.

Yesterday morning I went to observe the Rios Montt/Rodriguez Sanchez genocide trial. (Why, what do you do on your vacation?)

The highlights:

  • Rios Montt’s entrance. He shuffled into the room, looked around, and then walked over to the prosecution table and shook hands with each lawyer, one by one, before waving and blowing them a kiss. It was so bizarre that I still can’t quite believe I saw it, but I’m reasonably certain that I did. I was too far away to hear their conversation, but Xeni Jardin was closer, and she said that it was “mostly small talk.”
  • My successful achievement of a nearly 1/1 correlation between “hours spent on an airplane” to “minutes of trial observed.” After Judge Barrios called the hearing to order, she explained that Rios Montt’s attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, had called her this morning to complain that he was suffering from “problemas de salud,” (health problems) and would therefore not be attending the hearing. Without him, it could not proceed. (The judge’s decision to temporarily eject Garcia Gudiel at the beginning of the trial has proven to be a problem for the tribunal. So, unsurprisingly, she seemed unwilling to take any risks, even though the lawyer’s sudden “illness” is highly suspect.) I think the whole thing took about six minutes, from “all rise” to the dismissal for the day.
  • The dress code: jeans and linen for the human rights lawyers. Suits for prosecutors and defense lawyers, and a couple of nervous-looking students in the audience. (I wore my usual NYC work clothes, which led to me being mistaken for one of the aforementioned nervous students. Oh well.) Spectacular traditional dress for the Ixil women, but button-downs and slacks for the Ixil men. And one extremely snappy red skirt suit for Judge Barrios.

Say What, Mittens?

In last night’s foreign policy (where “foreign policy” now includes wrangling about U.S. standardized test scores) debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said something weird about Iran.

Actually, he said a number of weird things about Iran, including claiming (and not for the first time!) that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.” But for my money, the strangest thing he said was:

“I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.”

He’s said this one before as well, and I’ve wondered what he could possible mean by it. Well, last night, TPM asked Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to clarify, and my confusion only increased.

Apparently, the Romney campaign is under the impression that the “World Court” could arrest Ahmadinejad for allegedly saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” Here are some problems with that plan:

  1. The “World Court” is the International Court of Justice. It has no criminal jurisdiction, and therefore cannot indict or arrest anyone.
  2. The Genocide Convention is a treaty among states (including the U.S. and Iran) that says that the parties to the treaty must prevent and punish genocide crimes. It does establish that incitement to genocide is a crime under international law, but it is not a criminal statute under which individuals can be indicted.
  3. If Romney and his advisors perhaps meant to invoke the International Criminal Court, rather than the ICJ, well, that’s a problem too. Although incitement to genocide IS a crime under the Rome Statute, the U.S. isn’t a party to the ICC, which means it can’t refer cases to the Prosecutor. 
  4. Romney is advised on foreign policy by John Bolton, who famously described the U.S.’s decision to pull out of the ICC as “[t]he happiest moment of [his] government service”, so it seems unlikely that a Romney administration would mean an about-face for U.S. policy on the ICC.
  5. Even if the U.S. did join, the ICC can only prosecute cases in which either the crime is committed on the territory of a state party, or the perpetrator is a national of a state party. (Unless the Security Council gets involved, but that’s not a possibility here.) Iran has not joined the ICC.
So I’m still stumped. The only (barely) legally plausible option here is to bring a case against Iran in the ICJ for violating its treaty obligations under the Genocide Convention. But the persistent use of the word “indictment” by both Romney and his surrogates suggests that isn’t what he’s got in mind. Anyone understand what’s going on here?



WTF Friday, 6/29/2012

If you’re ever in need of some good, hot WTF action, here’s a pro tip: Head on over to Kickstarter, and type the name of any African country into the search bar. We tried “Congo” yesterday, and uncovered these gems:

  • The crew over at 1 Million Bones raised more than $25,000 to create “a 2-minute time-lapse video shout-out to the entire country to tell them about One Million Bones.” They promised that supporters who pledged $15 or more would be entitled to “have a bone made in your name.”

    We don’t even know which way to joke about this. On the one hand, the reality of this is so strange that it almost transcends humor: Is the idea that these supporters are being pre-memorialized now in case they are genocided at a later date? Is it a way to get an authentic “victim of mass murder” experience without having to go to the trouble and expense of being brutally killed first? A statement that the memory of a genocide victim should carry roughly the same weight as that of an individual who donated approximately two Chipotle burritos’ worth of money?

    But on the other hand, there is a whole range of “I’ve got a big bone with your name on it” jokes available to us here, and we’re reluctant to just let them go.

  • These modern-day Dr. Livingstones raised nearly $29,000 to go exploring in the Republic of Congo to see if they could find living dinosaurs. They helpfully point out that “the The Congo Basin is a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.” (We assume they are using the standard “photographed and posted to Facebook by white people” definition of “explored.”) Their rewards were pricier than 1 Million Bones,’ but how could anyone resist “a handcarved Spear made by the Baka Pygmy people along with a picture of the person who carved it holding YOUR spear” for the low, low price of $100? Or corporate naming rights to one of the many new species the group plans to discover, for only $1500? (First 5 pledgers also receive free Pygmy crossbow!)

    For an extra dose of WTF, please refer to this Huffington Post article on the project, which refers to the research destination as “the African Congo.” Look, we know the search for a modifier with which to identify which Congo you’re talking about is time-consuming and tedious for all of us. Congo-K, Congo-B; Heart-of-Darkness-Congo, Heart-of-Darkness-Adjacent Congo; etc. Why don’t we all just agree to call them “Rape Congo” and “Dinosaur Congo” from here on out? Sound good to everybody?

And, some late-breaking WTF news from Peter Doerrie’s always-interesting Twitter feed: Apparently, Zimbabwe suspended all weddings this April in order to “curb fraud.” Marriage officers have been warned that if they perform marriages in spite of the ban, “jail is waiting for you.” According to The Scotsman, “The authorities complain foreigners, mostly from Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are paying Zimbabwean women to enter into marriages of convenience so that they can obtain residence permits. In a case that recently came to light, a desperate local street vendor agreed to marry a Nigerian man for just £6 in 2006.”

Weird Stuff: Today in Genocide

Hey Internets, long time no see. On the list of things I’m going to try to be better about in 2011 is “occasionally showing up to my own blog.”

Meanwhile, a collection of improbable genocide and war crimes related news stories for your end-of-the-year enjoyment:

  1. Alleged war criminal Goran Hadzic may be attempting to finance his life on the run through the sale of a Modigliani oil painting said by Serbian authorities to be worth millions of euros.
  2. Guardian columnist declares Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir misunderstood, not such a jerk after all (h/t: Atlantic Wire).
  3. Academy Award winner / Carrier Pigeon of Peace George Clooney launches genocide prevention satellite surveillance service.

And in less improbable genocide-related news, Côte d’Ivoire’s new ambassador to the United Nations, Youssofou Bamba, has warned the international community that his country is “on the brink of genocide” following no-longer-the-President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to hand over power to actually-the-President Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28th runoff election. For an excellent overview of why we should take his statement seriously, see Jina Moore’s new post on the situation.

WTF Friday, 11/12/10

The Enough homepage asks us today, “If you could prevent another Darfur, what would you do?” I’m gonna go ahead and say I’d and prevent it. Yea. Definitely prevent it.

Nicholas Sarkozy ahead of his meeting with Hu Jintao: “It’s not by reproaching people for things that you make progress.” Somehow both frustratingly vague and painfully transparent. Really what I look for in a quote. Nicely done.

I guess I normally focus on stuff outside of the U.S., but this seemed appropriate to highlight. “These girls are the lucky ones?” Did they win a high school diploma in a game of Roulette? Also nice to see some homegrown disaster porn.

While I Was Out: UN Mapping Report Edition

So, I went on vacation (I know, what was I thinking?) and while I was gone a hurricane-force Congo news cycle hit the interwebs. A hurricane-force hurricane also hit my vacation, but that was less of an issue.

Setting aside for now the mass rapes in Walikale and subsequent uproar about MONUSCO’s civilian protection capacity, let’s talk about the UN Mapping Report. The big news is that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that abuses committed by Rwandan forces in the Eastern DRC between 1994 and 2003 may constitute crimes against humanity or even genocide. Needless to say, Rwanda is none too pleased.

If you haven’t yet read Howard French’s analysis in the New York Times, I suggest that you do so. (I also suggest that we all chip in for some sort of plaque commemorating his heroic restraint in avoiding use of the phrase “I told you so” anywhere in the article.) TexasinAfrica provides some helpful additional commentary here. She also points out that the discussion of justice and accountability has gotten a bit confused and could maybe use a bit of lawyering.

I agree. And, given that I am a licensed law-talking-guy, I’ma take a shot at sorting this out. To review, the question on the table is: If these acts constitute crimes against humanity or genocide, where can the perpetrators be tried?

A few potential venues have been mentioned, including two existing bodies: the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Let’s consider:

Option 1: The International Criminal Court (ICC)

  • Who can be tried there? Nationals of State Parties to the Rome Statute (which Rwanda isn’t) OR others if the conduct (1) occurs on the territory of a State Party or (2) is part of a situation referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the UN Security Council.
  • For what crimes? Genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.
  • Committed during what time period? After July 1, 2002.
  • Committed where? On the territory of a state party OR elsewhere if the accused person is a national of a state party.

Option 2: The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

  • Who can be tried there? Rwandans and those who committed applicable crimes on Rwandan territory.
  • For what crimes? Genocide and other “serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
  • Committed during what time period? Between January 1 and December 31, 1994.
  • Committed where? In Rwanda OR in neighboring states if the perpetrators were Rwandan citizens.

Clearly, neither of these venues is a great choice since neither has jurisdiction over more than a year of the implicated time period.

Another possibility would be a new international tribunal to address crimes in the DRC. This is not very likely. There’s a reason the Security Council hasn’t created a new international tribunal in almost 20 years, and that reason rhymes with shmella shmexpensive. The more recently created international justice mechanisms (in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, etc.) have been hybrid tribunals – bodies that are situated within a domestic judicial system but that apply international law and are staffed by a mix of international and local personnel.

Hybrid tribunals are an attractive option because they (1) are cheaper to set up and run than international criminal tribunals, (2) may be more accessible to victim populations, and (3) may help to build the capacity of a damaged or developing justice system. (Although incipient-social-scientist-Kate would like to interrupt lawyer-Kate here to point out that there isn’t actually much evidence supporting this last claim.) Unsurprisingly, this is the approach endorsed by the authors of the Mapping Report.

Bear in mind that there are other possible avenues toward accountability here. Individual perpetrators could be tried by the DRC’s domestic courts or by Rwanda’s military courts. However, given the scale of the atrocities, and their occurrence during a security crisis that has been the subject of sustained (or at least, intermittent) international concern, we should expect substantial international involvement in the accountability process. Odds are on a hybrid tribunal, place your bets.

WTF Friday, 8/27/10 and 9/3/10

I purposely withheld last week’s WTF Friday just to hit you guys with a double whammy this week.

Omar al-Bashir made a surprise appearance at the celebration for Kenya’s new constitution. The ICC has reported Kenya to the UN Security Council, but in the words of Kenya’s foreign affairs minister, “He is a state guest. You do not harm or embarrass your guest. That is not African.” Well thank you, Miss Manners.

Africa: Land of Rape and UN Condemnation of Rape

In non-African rape news, the rape of a transgender woman in the Vietnamese province of Quang Binh may not be prosecuted. The judicial authorities in Quang Bin province are apparently under the impression that rape law in Vietnam only covers the rape of women by men, and “the victim had not reclassified her legal gender from male to female.” According to the chief judge of the provincial People’s Court, “Even if the group raped her ten times, we would not be able to sentence them.” I sure hope the perpetrators haven’t seen that quote! (Vietnamese law actually says nothing about the gender of rape victims or perpetrators.)

Double secret reverse genocide in the DRC? Say it ain’t so, Pauly K.! (via FP Passport).

I don’t think it’s premature to name this photo the “Cutest/Saddest of the Pakistan Flood.” Disaster porn at its finest.

I find it kind of unfortunate that the Football Association elections in Sudan seem to have been run more fairly than the actual elections. And that the Sudanese government seems to take FIFA more seriously than the ICC. Just saying.

So Wyclef seems to be taking his disqualification from the Haitian Presidential Election well: “‘Do you intend to continue supporting people who have no respect for Haiti’s Constitution?’ read the message on his Twitter account, which was later translated into English. ‘Do you continue to support people violating the right of the person who [do] not believe in the value of mankind, that every man is a man, and everybody has to live decently?'” And of course, he’s dropped a protest song and video in record time. This whole thing is starting to make more sense to me now that I realized Wyclef is dropping a new album on December 4 (less than a week after the election) featuring two songs with “Haiti” or “Haitian” in the title, another called “Political Correctness,” and I believe an album cover in which the Haitian flag is wrapped around his head. In fact, and I am definitely delving into conspiracy theory here, his last 3 albums seem to be quite a bit more Haiti-centric than his earlier offerings. Has he been planning this since 2004? I think I need to find a new internship/use for my brain.

Lastly, Fidel Castro has issued an apology and taken responsibility for the discrimination faced by homosexuals during his time as President. He claims to have been too busy with food, medicine, the CIA, traitors, etc, to worry about homosexuality, which wasn’t decriminalized until 1979. You gotta make time to worry about rights and stuff, dude. I take like a whole 45 minutes out of my schedule every week!