Recommended Reading: Peaceland

I’m hereby joining the chorus of people telling you to add Séverine Autesserre’s Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention to your summer reading list.

In Peaceland, Autesserre takes the substance of countless rants-over-drinks about wrongheaded international interventions and turns it into a serious and persuasive theoretical argument. She argues that the “everyday dimensions” of international peace-building efforts have huge impacts on their success (or lack thereof). As she explains in a recent Monkey Cage post:

Everyday dimensions refer to mundane elements, such as the expatriates’ social habits, standard security procedures, and habitual approaches to collecting information on violence. For instance, it matters whom interveners have a drink with after work, whether it is with other expatriates or with local counterparts. It matters how they talk to, look at, refer to, and interact with ordinary people. It matters where they go to collect data, whom they speak with, how, when, and for which purpose. It matters what kind of houses they live in (a compound that looks like a bunker or a normal house). And it matters whether they constantly advertise their actions or keep a low profile. All of this should go without saying, but most of the time on-the-ground interveners and their higher-ups dismiss these kinds of everyday elements as too prosaic to be important.

Autesserre’s approach is ethnographic, and weaves together a staggering amount of interview data and personal observations in support of her contention that peacebuilders constitute a distinct subculture whose common habits, practices, and narratives have profound unintended consequences. And, if you enjoy criticisms of ill-informed advocacy movements (I know I do!), there’s a whole section on how these dynamics played out in the construction of the “Congo: All Rape and Minerals, All the Time” discourse.

Check it out!

*Full disclosure: I read and gave comments on an earlier draft of the book.

Activist of the Week: Alaa Abd Al-Fattah

Happy Martin Luther King week! (Yes, it’s a week. I make the rules ’round these parts. Shush your face.)

Rather than focus on King himself, though, it seems more relevant for this blog to honor his legacy by recognizing the sacrifices being made by activists around the world today. Like King, they have suffered physical danger, imprisonment, and separation from their families in service of their goal. Unlike him, however, they are still struggling, still in danger, and still in a position to benefit from our support and attention.

So, this post is the first in an ongoing series highlighting the work and sacrifices of individual activists. (And not in a “I sacrificed my summer vacation to work with poor brown children” kind of way – whites in shining armor need not apply.) Enjoy.

This week’s activist is Egypt’s Alaa Abd El Fattah.
Photo of Alaa Using His Laptop
Congratulations, Alaa! I would send you some Lucky Charms or a certificate suitable for framing, but we’re pretty sure that it would be confiscated by your jailers.

Nature of Activism: Support for political freedom and civil rights in Egypt.

Activism Highlights: Contributed to freedom of expression in Egypt by founding the Omraneya blog aggregator. Participated in protests against all Egyptian governments that have been in power during his lifetime: the Mubarak regime, (most notably during the climactic Tahrir protests in February 2011), the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (“SCAF”) which replaced Mubarak, the elected Muslim Brotherhood-led government which succeeded SCAF, and the current military regime which took power last summer.

Notable Sacrifices: He has been arrested and imprisoned three times: by Mubarak in 2006, (45 days in jail); by SCAF in 2011 (56 days in jail, during which he missed the birth of his son), and by the current military government (55 days and counting, he is still in prison).

Degree of Success Thus Far: Mixed. On the one hand, the Mubarak regime was overthrown, and eventually replaced by a democratically-elected government. On the other hand, that elected government proved somewhat less than awesome, and was itself overthrown by a popular uprising. The military-led government that replaced it has not exactly embraced democratic ideals.

Alaa’s friends on his work, and its value:

From Jillian York:

“I’ve said it to reporters so many times that it’s almost lost its meaning, but I’ll say it again: Alaa is in prison not because he committed a crime, not because he said too much, but because his very existence poses a threat to the state. Those who are bold, those who do not relent, will always threaten the terrified and ultimately weak state which must, to survive, squash its opponents like flies. But Alaa will not allow himself to be crushed like that, I know.

There is little more I can say that hasn’t been or wouldn’t be better said by Egyptians, those who fought these battles on the street while I merely watched, an observer with a few good friends on the ground. But the one thing I know is that we must not give up. Alaa hasn’t, and we cannot.”

From Alia Mossalam:

“Alaa is in jail because he openly speaks against injustice. He is as open in his opposition to the failures of the Muslim Brotherhood as he was of the crimes of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, as he is with the new regime. As a result he has been tried by every regime, from Mubarak to the current military state.

[…]

There is no bigger threat to despotism than hope. And Alaa inspires hope wherever he goes, because he believes justice is an achievable reality, and because he believes in the rule of law, despite those who oppress us in its name. Alaa is dangerous because his ideas and enthusiasm are contagious. Where would we be if we all had hope? How could a system that breads futility, survive us?

In an article he wrote months ago, Alaa described the excessive arming of civilians (in popular committees) as well as security forces as “khan’ misahit hub al-hayah” (a stifling of the capacity to love life). The term has stuck with me since, because somehow, in the ugliness of battle, we tend to forget that the root of this struggle is the love of life.
If I were to articulate why it is that Alaa would risk so much, what it is he is resisting with all his might, it would be exactly that — he is resisting the stifling of our scope to love and to live.”

More thoughts on Alaa from his friends can be found here, here, and here – all are well worth a read.

Grading Aid with AidGrade

You know what sucks? When you arrive somewhere for a month-long stay and discover that your blog is blocked there.

But I’m back in New York and on unrestricted internet just in time for the holiday blogging season. (That’s a thing, right?)

It’s also the holiday charitable giving season, and before I return to your regularly scheduled atrocity humor, I’d like to put in a quick plug for a not-for-profit organization that can help you figure out how to get the most bang for your donated buck: AidGrade.

AidGrade is dedicated to identifying development projects that actually work. They do this by aggregating impact evaluations of hundreds of individual interventions, and performing rigorous statistical meta-analyses of the data. The results show where aid is effective, and where it isn’t. Neat, huh?

For the development nerds among us, AidGrade also offers the opportunity to get hands-on with the data. Using their nifty app, you can run your very own meta-analysis. Want to focus on a specific set of countries or exclude a study whose authors you hate? Soon you’ll be able to do that too. (And in the meantime, you can download all of AidGrade’s data and do whatever you want with it.)

If you’re interested in supporting AidGrade’s work, there’s an Indiegogo campaign currently running. A matching donor will match your contribution between now and December 17th. Check it out:

*Note: I am a member of AidGrade’s Board of Directors.

To My Great Surprise, I Kind of Love This Charity Ad

When a tipster sent me this ad for the charity Water is Life, I had every expectation that I would hate it.

The gimmick sounded kind of gross: because 1 in 5 Kenyan children don’t reach their 5th birthdays, the ad takes a 4-year-old boy named Nkaitole and helps him complete his “bucket list.” I was prepared for lots of pathos and heartstring-tugging victimhood, but instead what I got was this:

After some reflection, I think that there are a few good things about this video that are worth highlighting.

  1. It focuses on potential, not victimhood. “Save a child” charity ads usually to try to prompt action by provoking the viewer to feel grief for dying children, and guilt for not saving them. By contrast, Nkaitole’s bucket list (which he refers to as “an adventure”), turns out to be a lovely illustration of the way that the whole world loses out when a child dies young. Nkaitole dreams of beating Kenya’s fastest man in a race, and of playing soccer in the national stadium, which subtly reminds the viewer that preventable child deaths might also prevent historic athletic achievements, or the emergence of beloved sports stars.
  2. The items on Nkaitole’s bucket list show that he is sophisticated and aware of the outside world, even though he’s never left his village before. In addition to his dreams of success at soccer and running, Nkaitole wants to ride a speedboat, fly a plane, drive a go-cart and a front-end loader, see the ocean, go ice skating, and ride a hot-air balloon. That’s not a westerner’s idea of what a remote, exoticized “African” would want to do. Rather, those are the dreams of any child, anywhere in the world. (If you add “become a ballerina with magical powers,” that’s pretty much my bucket list from age 4, especially the front-end loader part.)
  3. It makes Kenya look like an awesome place worth living for, not a sad place where children die. By showing that all that is waiting for Nkaitole when he leaves his village, it also tells the viewer that Kenya is a place full of exciting opportunities that are worth surviving for. Again, this goes back to potential, rather than victimhood. (Also, it really does seem great. I half-expected this video to be sponsored by the Kenyan tourist board. “Kenya: come for the beaches, stay for the ice rinks!”)
  4. No “whites in shining armor.” Did you notice that there are no NGO workers in this video? Seriously, none: no Water is Life volunteers pouring clean water for grateful children. No villagers doing a traditional dance of gratitude for their white saviors. No Water is Life SUV driving down a bumpy dirt road. Not even, it should be noted, any sign of Water is Life staff paying for or accompanying Nkaitole on his “adventure,” even though I presume that was the case. Once again, that puts the emphasis on how awesome Nkaitole is, not how awesome the viewer is for deigning to help him, which I appreciated.

I have no idea whether Water is Life is actually doing effective work or not. (They appear to be focused on distributing filtration straws at the moment, which is the kind of development trinket that tends to arouse my skepticism, but they claim to be working on longer-term solutions as well.) However, their ad’s respectful attitude towards the people they’re trying to help suggests that they’re doing something right.

Melinda’s Book is Out Today! Kirkus Says It’s “A Perfect Blend of the Intimate and the Epic.”

We interrupt our normally scheduled atrocity coverage to bring you the message that my sister, the talented Melinda Taub, has a novel out today!

It’s called “Still Star Crossed,” it’s a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, it’s available on Amazon and in book stores near you, it’s awesome, and you should buy it.

I’m obviously biased, but there’s no need to take my word for this. Here’s what Kirkus said in its (ahem, starred) review:

Love and violence intertwine in this spectacular sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

[...]

Taub splits her focus between the personal and the political, sending the narrative shuttling among Rosaline, Benvolio, Rosaline’s spirited sister, Livia, and desperate Prince Escalus without losing the thread. Rosaline and Benvolio’s tale is equal parts historical fiction, detective story and high adventure, relayed in accurate but not overwhelming period language, informed by Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s other works but offering an expanded and original perspective.

A perfect blend of the intimate and the epic, the story both honors its origin and works in its own right. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Now excuse me while I go wander the city, bragging about my little sister, the novelist.

A Good Day For Equality

It’s late, and it has been a long day, but I don’t want to let it end without a post to mark the amazing thing that happened this morning: the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and California’s Prop 8.*

My feelings on the subject are pretty much summed up by this quote, from Goodridge v. Massachusetts Dept. of Health, the opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003:

“Marriage bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

This country is a better place now that more people are able to undertake that “momentous act of self-definition.” May it bring them the happiness that marriage has brought me. (Which is a lot! Hooray marriage!)

And, most importantly, now Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd can get married. Which I’m sure is the thing that pushed Justice Kennedy over to the side of the angels in the first place.


* Well, technically, it relied on a standing issue to allow the CA district court’s decision, (which struck down Prop 8 on the grounds that was unconstitutional), to stand. But you know what? I’ll take it.

[Footnote edited to correct an error - I originally said that the CA Supreme Court's decision was upheld, but in fact it is the district court decision that stands, because SCOTUS found that the petitioners had no standing to appeal its decision. The CA Supreme had the standing issue on certification, but that's not what got upheld here.]

Data! Beautiful Data!

Jumping on the international justice blogger bandwagon, I concur with Mark and KJH that you should all go read Daniel McLaughlin’s new report for the Leitner Center: “International Criminal Tribunals: A Visual Overview.”

If you’ve ever wondered “how much money in reparations has been paid out to atrocity victims worldwide” or “how many ICTR indictees are still at large” or “can the Special Tribunal for Lebanon conduct trials in absentia,” then this is the resource for you.

It’s also the resource for me, combining my love of brightly colored charts and international criminal law. For instance:

Seriously, go check it out.

Today in “Totally Nailing It”

Via Africa Is a Country, an appeal for Africans to send their spare radiators to warm freezing children in Norway:

A project of the The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, Radi-Aid asks us all to “[i]magine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway.”

Way to show, not tell, guys!

Book Review: All the Missing Souls

I recently read David Scheffer’s All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals. It’s a fascinating memoir of life as the U.S.’s first ever Ambassador for War Crimes Issues. I highly recommend it if you’re into either detailed negotiating histories of international institutions or snarky observations about UN bureaucrats and French people.

Scheffer’s discussion of the Rwandan genocide and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is particularly eye-opening, especially when compared to other former policymakers’ accounts of the same events. (Looking at you, Madeleine “it was complicated” Albright.) I suspect most readers will be drawn to the story of how the US and the UN bogged down in endless discussions of the meaning of the word “genocide” rather than reacting to the mass slaughter, but, being me, I found the blow-by-blow of the bargaining process between the new Rwandan regime and the international community over issues like the temporal jurisdiction of the ICTR and the possibility of the death penalty equally interesting. Not just because I love me some jurisdictional issues, but because when we talk about the impact of the tribunals, we’re generally comparing to the counterfactual of no accountability mechanism. Scheffer’s accounts of setting up the ad hoc tribunals, the hybrids, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) let us think about the courts we might have had instead.

Descending further into law-nerdery, in the section on the ICC, Scheffer advances a surprising interpretation of the applicability of the Rome Statute to nationals of non-party states. This is an issue Amanda and I touched on a couple of months ago with regard to the potential for an ICC investigation into recent attacks on civilians in Sudan, a non-party state. Scheffer suggests that Art. 11(2) and Art. 24 of the statute together preclude the jurisdiction over nationals of non-parties (except in the case of a Security Council referral) entirely.

For those who aren’t following along at home with a well-thumbed copy of the Rome Statute: Art. 11(2) says that if states join the court after the entry into force of the Rome Statute (on July 1, 2002), the court’s jurisdiction only reaches back to the date the state joined, and Art. 24 says that no person can be held responsible for crimes committed before the Statute’s entry into force. Reading these in combination, Scheffer argues that a blanket extension of the court’s jurisdiction to non-party nationals would pre-empt the effect of possible future ratifications. He explains that:

“[A] nonparty country … would have to accept the proposition that a future ratification of the Rome Statute would be meaningless because their nationals have been covered by the statute since July 1, 2002.”

Because this result would be absurd (although I actually think the more likely absurd result would be that a non-party state that commits an atrocity in 2012 would self-protectively ratify in 2013), Scheffer concludes that non-party state nationals must only be covered by the statute in cases where the state consents (under the Art. 12(3) special declaration procedure) or the Security Council refers the situation to the ICC.

I’m not sold on this interpretation. As Scheffer acknowledges, Art. 12 is clear that the court has jurisdiction over crimes when either the national state of the alleged perpetrators or the state where the alleged crimes occurred is a party to the Rome Statute. Scheffer’s reading would knock out the ability of a state party to request the ICC’s involvement in a case where a non-party state’s nationals commit atrocities on the state party’s territory, against their civilians. So, if Freedonia (a non-party state) sends raiding parties into neighboring Sylvania (a state party), and while there, Freedonia’s nationals commit mass rape against Sylvanian villagers, Sylvania couldn’t refer the case to the ICC. While I agree that this would make the court less controversial, especially for those non-party states that have widely deployed military forces (ahem, U.S.), it seems to me to be clearly against the intent of the statute, of which Art. 12 is an unambiguous expression.

Climbing back out of the law-nerdery pit, there’s also quite an interesting domestic politics angle here. The bits on the negotiation of the Rome Statute underscore both what a difficult job war crimes ambassadoring is, and how complicated the development of foreign policy can be in a democracy. Scheffer’s negotiating position at the talks was developed through coordination between the Departments of State, Justice, and Defense, each of which had different interests and concerns relating to the creation of an international court. Set against the backdrop of the Lewinsky scandal, with Jesse Helms in Congress vowing to torpedo the whole thing, the process of representing the Clinton administration’s position at Rome reads as a colossally discouraging experience.

On the every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining side of things, after several years in one of the world’s most frustrating jobs, minor irritations like this review by John Yoo probably barely register. But for those of us who make a career out of being annoyed, the scare quotes around “impunity” and “atrocity crimes,” coming from the man who gave us “Torture Memos” as a defined term, are not to be missed…

Welcome to the New Regime

New Year, New Blog… New World?  Check us out, we’ve gotten so fancy!

(And by “fancy,” we mean “we have a WordPress blog hosted on a real URL, like normal people.”)

Feeds should have transferred automatically, but please update your links elsewhere.  We think we’ve ironed out most of the kinks in the transition, but appreciate your patience as we address the problems that we’ve almost certainly overlooked.

Happy New Year!