Tag: humanitarian affairs

War Crimes and the Arab Spring. Again.

The direct targeting of actors protected under the laws of war has been one of the most disturbing trends arising out of the Arab Spring. For example, the targeting of medical workers and ambulance drivers was well documented and reported on last year. Additionally, here at the Duck we’ve been following the issue. In recent months Dan Nexon wrote about the targeting of doctors who treated protesters in Bahrain and I’ve bloged about the growing concern of the ICRC who have seen themselves and their workers targeted. Unfortunately, this trend has continued into 2012. In January, the vice-president of the Syrian Red Crescent Abdulrazak Jbeiro was shot and killed in circumstances described as “unclear” – an act that was widely condemned by the the ICRC and officials world wide.

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik are an example of another neutral actor in wartime that has frequently been targeted – the press. Accredited journalists are protected under the laws of war, specifically the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. If they are wounded, sick (GCI 13(4)) or shipwrecked (GCII 13(4)) they are given protections. If they are captured, accredited correspondents are to be given POW status. (GCIII 4A(4)). Additional Protocol I devotes an section to the protection of journalists:

Art 79. Measures or protection for journalists
1. Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1.
2. They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians, and without prejudice to the right of war correspondents accredited to the armed forces to the status provided for in Article 4 (A) (4) of the Third Convention.
3. They may obtain an identity card similar to the model in Annex II of this Protocol. This card, which shall be issued by the government of the State of which the Journalist is a national or in whose territory he resides or in which the news medium employing him is located, shall attest to his status as a journalist.

(A good and longer summary of the rules may be found here.

It is true that these rules in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and API are for international (and not internal) armed conflict. But as non-combatants the direct targeting of these individuals would also be illegal under any legal framework. Further, it can be argued that directly targeting aid workers and journalists is a clear violation of customary international law for both international and non-international armed conflict.

This is, of course, on top of the relentless shelling, bombing and targeting of civilians by Syrian forces. While the deaths of these journalists once again highlight what is going on, we should not lose sight of the fact that it would seem, at best, thousands of civilians have died in the conflict since last year. The methods employed by the Syrian armed forces come nowhere near the standards by which we measure the conduct of hostilities.
Worse, it is clear that civilians are suffering great deprivations as a result of the uprising and crackdown. This has lead the ICRC to specifically request access to the civilian population in order to deliver food, water, medicine and fuel.

Last year the ICRC launched a campaign about that which impedes the delivery of assistance and aid in areas of hostilities and armed conflict. Certainly, a consequence of the Arab spring has been to highlight how fragile many of these international norms are. I am not going to pretend that I have any amazing solutions to the crisis in Syria – everything seems like a pretty terrible option. But there can be no doubt that we should be standing up for the laws of war and demanding that Syria’s ‘allies’ (Russia and China) place pressure on Syria to respect international law. At a minimum this is the very least we – and they – can do. The right to deliver humanitarian assistance and the protection of aid workers has long been established in international law. And significantly, this includes UN Security Council Resolution 1502 which (having been adopted unanimously) both Russia and China voted for in 2003.

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Congo Rape Study: Systematic or Simplistic?

I have not yet read the new report on rape in the Congo, but judging from the news coverage of its reported findings, I have three thoughts:

1) I am not as concerned as some critics about the methods used (a population sample of household interviews) or the staggering results: 400,000 women assaulted in a single year. I am concerned about the comparisons to the US (or other countries) since unless the same methods are replicated in the US (or other countries) there is no way to compare rape rates or to accurately call Congo the “rape capital of the world.”

2) Though the emphasis is on the number of rapes committed by soldiers, the report also shows that nearly a quarter of the rapes recorded were perpetrated by the women’s husbands or domestic partners. This is consistent with earlier Oxfam data that demonstrated the majority of rapes in the Congo between 2004 and 2008 were perpetrated by civilians, not soldiers.

3) Since patterns of sexual violence against men in the Congo are better documented than in many other conflicts, it is particularly surprising that this study focuses only on women, and only on women “of reproductive age.” This promotes a troubling stereotype about rape and rape victimization.

Jason Stearns, who has been writing and blogging up a storm about Congo this past week, is the first to point out that the social construction of the rape angle has been as much about selling the Congo story to Western grassroots constituencies as about reporting the conflict accurately.

It’s hard to know from his various op-eds and articles where Stearns actually stands on this. At Foreign Policy, he argues that it was only when John Prendergast‘s Enough Project stopped trying to explain the conflict and started focusing on “rape and conflict minerals” that they were able to get Western publics interested in putting pressure on their elected officials. But at CSM, he points out “Congo is More Than Rape and Minerals” proposes a point by point list of pitfalls journalists should avoid in writing about the Congo, not least is simplistic protrayals of rape:

Some Congolese are unscrupulous and vicious, but they usually have reasons for what they do. If we can understand why officials rape (and it’s not always just as a “weapon of war”) and why they steal money (it’s not just because they are greedy) we might get a bit better at calibrating solutions. Of course, it’s much harder to interview a rapist or a gun-runner than their victims. But don’t just shock us; make us understand. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame when we react to a rape epidemic by just building hospitals and not trying to get at the root causes.

So it sounds like the most important report on rape in the Congo is one that hasn’t been written yet: in which perpetrators themselves are systematically interviewed. Actually, political scientists have already blazed a trail here: in this study, authors Maria Erikkson Baaz and Maria Stern find among other things that Congolese soldiers see ethical distinctions between different types of rapes.

That kind of insight might not be so useful for advocacy purposes in the West, but it might help aid workers, peace-keepers and protection specialists in the Congo in their prevention efforts – at least vis a vis military perpetrators. (As Laura Seay details, advocacy attention to a problem doesn’t by itself ensure the policy outcome you want – for that, you need to understand the situational context.)

But ultimately Stearns would like to see a wider repertoire of stories about the Congo in the Western press

Who are the Chinese companies working in the Congo and what have their experiences been? Did you know that Congo was one of the first countries to experiment with mobile cash-transfers to pay for demobilized soldiers? Have you checked out the famous artist studios in Kinshasa of Cheri Samba or Roger Botembe? The country’s tax revenues have doubled over the past several years – how does that square with its corrupt reputation? What are Dan Gertler’s financial relations with the Israeli right-wing? The Kivus apparently produce 40 percent of the world supply of quinine – might be a story there.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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Presidential Reading List: (After you probably get through the ones with ‘Bacevich’ on the cover)

Dan Drezner has issued a call to arms!… or to your library card:

“I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions — if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?”

I have a gut feeling that all of the answers are going to be grand strategy, grand strategy and some war on terror/Afghanistan. (Although, maybe I’m not being generous enough… but looking at the comments on Drezner’s post, I don’t think so.) So I’m going to suggest three books that touch on issues presented by ethical and political leadership as well as the war on terror, with a little bit of history thrown in on the side. Oh yeah – they’re all very good reads – Senators are going to be reading these things on planes, right?

(And for comparison, with an American IPE guy, Kindred Winecoff’s take is here.)

1. Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

I think this book actually deserves its own post, let alone a mention here. It won (and very much deserved) the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010. Basically Demick interviews North Korean defectors who now live in South Korea about their experiences north of the 38th Parallel. But it’s not just a book about North Korea – most of the individuals in the book lived through the famine that struck the country in the 1990s. And gradually, as the story of the expats unfold, you learn what it is like to live through a famine – bonuses slowly disappear, soon the shelves aren’t stocked, and people begin to sell off their possessions to buy food on a dangerous black market. It gets worse – seeing increasing numbers of abandoned children at the train station, walking overtop of people literally starving to death – but in such a way that you’ve become numb to the suffering, so as to not be overwhelmed buy it. And eventually to see your family and friends die.

“From the outside, Chongjin looked unchanged. The same gray facades of the Stalinist office buildings stared out at empty strtches of asphalt… But Mrs. Song knew better. It was a topsy-turvy world in which she was living. Up was down, wrong was right. The women had the money instead of the men. The markets were bursting with food, more food than most North Koreans had seen in their lifetime [in the black markets], and yet people were still dying from hunger. Worker’s Party members had starved to death; those who never gave a damn about the fartherland were making money.” (p. 157)

It’s a powerful book and a brilliant insight into a country which we know little about. In short, learn about North Korea, but also what it is like to live through starvation and suffering and how people cope and survive. And I’m sure there’s a lesson in there for dealing with North Korea for the aspiring policy maker.

2. Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010

This is a book by one of the UK’s foremost historians of the Cold War. Effectively, it is about how governments counter threats – whether it is through intelligence agencies or nuclear deterrence. It is on this later topic, nuclear weapons and nuclear politics where Hennessy’s book is really chilling. How would a society cope with the ultimate worst case scenario – nuclear war? How can governments plan for the unthinkable? One of the most unsettling chapters is about Exercise INVALUABLE – a simulation for UK government officials in 1968 of a weeklong countdown to WWIII. According to the exercise at 1200 hour ZULU:

“Today’s newspapers give particular prominence to Soviet advances into West Germany and of the fighting in Northern Norway and on the Jugoslav/Italian border. Radio programs were interrupted this morning to report the amphibious attack against the Danish Islands. In leading articles, the ‘Times’ and the ‘Guardian’ urge that the West should not initiate a tactical nuclear exchange.”

Beyond this, it is a useful look back at how government looked at ‘subversive’ organizations, managed intelligence and threats to the nation. It’s a useful reminder of where we’ve been with regards to national threats that provides good insight as to where we might be going.

3. Conor Folely, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

An excellent book by a former (recovering?) humanitarian. In short. Folely looks at the real consequences of good humanitarian intentions. How, for example, the international community’s intervention in East Timor completely distorted their economy – raising prices in local communities; and how the Timorese saw little of the billions of dollars spent on the peacekeeping mission there.

“A sudden, large influx of resources will invariably distort the local economy and the arrival of an international mission will have a destabilizing effect. However well-intentioned, the intervening participants will almost always be inadequately informed regarding specific local politics and culture. Even the worst-paid international aid workers are likely to earn several times more than the average local salary. …” (p. 143) 

Or while the intervention in Kosovo helped to protect the Kosovar Albanians, it failed to preent a reverse population expulsion as the Serbs were forced to leave Kosovo. It’s a very good critique – and a useful reminder that every humanitarian action seems to have an equal and opposite reaction. Additionally, it’s a useful examination of what happens when bodies established to alleviate human suffering and put an end to war end up making a case for just that.

So there you are – three books that have done well in the UK which may have some lessons for US policy makers (and none with Bacevich on the cover!)

Cheeky honourable mention: I realize that I have no IPE on this list. Not my area – but I like the writings of Michael Lewis. I’ve just started The Big Short and I’m looking forward to Boomerang.

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The Case Against the Case Against Blast Weapons

A (way) while back Charli posted a link to a report by Landmine Action. The short version is that it is calling for a ban on so-called ‘blast-weapons’ as a method of warfare.

From the outset I’m going to admit that it’s simply not easy to defend things that can blow innocent civilians to smithereens. And I don’t intent to defend the weapons themselves as some kind of fabulous invention. I do, however, wish to take on some of the thinking and insertions in the report as I think that 1) the report is problematic; 2) that there may actually be a case for not banning such weapons – possibly even humanitarian ones. Instead, states AND humanitarians should look to regulation as a more effective alternative.

My response ended up being longer than what I thought so I’m going to attempt to do this over the course of a few posts. I feel that this is important because next year (2011) marks the next round of discussions on the Convention on Conventional Weapons where it is likely that proposals to ban such weapons will be discussed. At recent CCW meetings the inability of ‘militarily significant states’ and restriction-inclined states to agree on bans of certain categories of weapons have lead to separate treaty regimes – famously the 1997 Ottawa Landmines Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Treaty. While the CCW does not get a lot of love or recognition, it will be important for government lawyers and humanitarians to think through these issues now.

In the executive summary of the report it is argued that:

Explosive weapons have a high capacity to damage the social and economic infrastructure on which civilian populations rely. The destruction of housing, power supplies, water and sanitation systems, health facilities, schools, markets, roads and transport links, and energy infrastructure present direct humanitarian problems, deplete local and national capacity for production and growth, and necessitate high levels of reconstruction expenditure, diverting scarce resources from investments necessary to achieving developmental targets

Basically – when bombs land, stuff gets blown up. Sometimes it’s hard to rebuild. This is a major thrust of the report – but it’s hardly rocket science. Blowing something up in war has (or should have) that very purpose – to deplete the capacity of the enemy to resist your will. In doing so, a state is likely to target those things which give the enemy the capacity to resist – which may mean blowing things up which may be hard to rebuild.

So while I don’t object to anything specifically in the above paragraph, I think it is somewhat missing the point. Such actions are usually legal. This doesn’t, of course, make them nice or particularly friendly to populations which will have to rebuild. However, so long as such actions are proportional and militarily necessary, no violation of the law of war is committed.

But there are some very strange passages in the report in which I do strongly disagree. For example:

At the same time, the use of explosive violence by non-state actors is increasing. This report notes that trend and argues that the state-asserted monopoly on explosive weapons is not being maintained in practice. Furthermore the unacceptability of non-state use of explosive weapons is diminished by the failure of states to enact appropriate categorical controls on the use of these weapons in populated areas, or to attend to the relationships of diminished local accountability that such use articulates.

The argument here is that non-state use is effectively legitimized by state use of weapons. To back up this statement, the Report only cites the man who endorses the report in the introduction. (FYI: That’s John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.)

From an international legal standpoint this argument is flatly and categorically wrong. First, there is the rather obvious point that the legitimacy of your actions depends on who you are as much as what you do in warfare. International law has always made a distinction between state and non-state actors – the former (at least in theory) subject to accountability proceedings, military codes of conduct and, if it all goes wrong, potentially severe penalties. The latter has no means for following/implementing the laws of war, nor any mechanisms for training or enforcement within their ranks. And this is a huge difference that the Executive Summary ignores. The report is effectively comparing an indiscriminate suicide bomb carried out in a market to a weapon used, albeit harshly, that was nevertheless likely subject to legal advice and due diligence.

Secondly, this quote seems to somehow be suggesting that one wrong rights another. It’s clear that the author is speaking on a moral level here – but this is again very much untrue in the laws of war and its a misleading statement at best.

There are other similar and even more globalzationish statements throughout the executive summary. For example, globalisation means that we have to now change the way we think we use weapons (without ever explaining exactly why this is):

A context of globalisation and increased transnational interdependence between peoples and states argues for stronger requirements of local accountability for potential users of explosive weapons, and for increasing the burden of justification, and threshold of acceptability, for explosive weapon use;

Why, exactly? Because more people are watching? Because we can now chat on the internet? Because I can “like” the rebel group that I support on Facebook? There has always been transnational links when it comes to weapons, soldiers mercenaries, etc. This is hardly a new thing and not exactly a powerful argument.

Another paragraph in the executive summary also caught my eye:

There is no doubt that weapon technologies developed over the last 200 years have exponentially increased the capacity of humankind to kill and injure itself. Whilst technology cannot be ‘un-thought’, the same period has also provided some grounds for optimism that identified categories of weapon technology can be rendered less acceptable, and hence less likely to be used, by changes in the social and economic context.

Yes – the invention of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (not to mention MOABs, napalm, etc) have created the potential for many deaths and significant levels of destruction. However, technology has also rendered precision guidance systems that could not have been imagined even thirty years ago. Whereas in the First Gulf war only 10% of munitions were precision guided, 90% of bombs in the Second Gulf war were PGMs.

By no means does this allow for or guarantee a “clean” war – such as what the Landmine Action advocates seem to be seeking. But to suggest that the progress of weaponry has been in an entirely anti-humanitarian manner is incorrect.

I think this may reflect an overall problem with the kind of thinking in the report – namely that it overlooks (or at least fails to acknowledge) that there are obligations on defenders as well as attackers. Defenders have an obligation to conduct their hostilities away from certain objects – centres of religious worship, hospitals, schools, etc. Their presence legitimately renders an immune target vulnerable. Of course, this is what they want – to cause attackers to hit things which essentially “look bad” and to cause international outrage.
After all, this is what has been at the heart of so much criticism of US bombing campaigns in recent years. (Although this cannot excuse casualties in cases of negligence.)

There are also several related issues to this point that one could highlight. First, “dual use” targets – those things which have both a civilian and military use such as a water tower, railways, some factories, etc. In his account of the war in Kosovo, General Wesley Clark made it clear that this was a major hurdle for the allies to get over. Europeans tend to take a much narrower view as to what constitutes a military target when something may be used for both civilian and military purposes while Americans take a much broader approach.

Second, just how much damage may be done? It usually comes down to the inexact science of ‘proportionality’ of which there are two components. First, there is the proportionality in the jus ad bellum criteria. Is our response proportionate to the overall threat? Second, the proportionality of a specific attack to the necessity of what you are trying to accomplish in a particular strike. There is, quite simply, no objective criterion for making a determination on either front. We might be able to recognize a violation of the principle when it occurs (a daisy cutter in response to a dump truck with an AK-47 would be a slightly absurd example) but even then it would probably have to be argued about in the court of international (and quite possibly domestic) opinion.The report seems to be suggesting that long-term damage is disproportionate, but without any context upon which we can measure proportionality, I would argue that from a legal standpoint this is impossible to know and judge without context.

I’m going to leave it here for now, but will shortly be returning to issues of ‘stigmatizing’ weapons and banning on the basis of intent or effects. Thereafter a post on the problems with weapons bans and the approach taken by some humanitarian organizations.

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The ICC Review Conference : The Belgium Amendment


For those of you who are international law junkies (– and really, who isn’t?) ASIL has a very interesting blog on the ICC Review Conference that took place over the last two weeks in Kampala, Uganda. David Scheffer, a notable scholar on both the ICC and international criminal justice, has a really interesting post summarizing most of the decisions that were made.

Of course one of the most interesting developments is, of course, the crime of aggression. However, what I find to be more interesting is the expansion of the prohibition of weapons banned in international armed conflict (including expanding bullets) in non-international armed conflicts, or NIAC – the so-called “Belgium amendment”.

This may seem relatively straightforward – the law of armed conflict has had regulation of bullets since 1868. As Scheffer himself writes:

These weapons already are included in Article 8(2)(b) for international armed conflicts, without anyone raising any real fuss, and this amendment is a logical extension of such weapons to non-international armed conflicts. So they are barely considered “new” weapons; rather they are long-standing weapons in the Rome Statute now introduced into an additional scenario of armed conflicts.

Yet, in areas of conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan – where whether one is fighting an international or non-international armed conflict seems to change daily, this could have very serious consequences. It might affect sniper and counter-terrorism operations not only in these areas, but also within states, where the need to have one-shot/one-kill is important for security.

Additionally, incorporating the development of weapons law into the ICC Statute is an interesting new tactic for humanitarian groups. While the Belgium Amendment was formally supported by Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mexico, Romania, Samoa, Slovenia and Switzerland, there also has been clear support and lobbying from humanitarian organizations, particularly the ICRC.

This development also confirms the trend whereby humanitarians, unable to affect the kind of change they want to see through the ICRC Customary Law Study or the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Review Process (of which there will be a conference next year), are increasingly turning to alternative international fora. These fora have real binding powers and operate largely two-thirds majority voting system, like the voting proceedure in the General Assembly. This was the general approach of the process that lead to the Ottawa Treaty and Cluster Munitions Treaty. Western countries and militarily affected states have, by and large, favoured consensus approaches over this later system for rather obvious reasons.

It has been my understanding that the US is to issue a statement of understanding on the ICC soon (I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been out already – but perhaps they were waiting for the outcome of the Conference?) However, I have to believe that these kinds of approaches are not helping to bring the US any closer to ratifying – but perhaps the state-parties to the ICC are simply no longer inclined to care or bother trying.

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On the Israeli Convoy Raid – briefly

I wanted to write/post something about the Israeli-Turkish ship incident but this post here on Information Dissemination pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say: the attack was legal… but this doesn’t mean it was in any way intelligent or a clever thing to do. (Hat tip to LGM’s Robert Farley’s Twitter for pointing out the post.)

Drezner also has a post on this last point (ie: that it wasn’t really clever) at FP and brings up the the North Korean angle:

Indeed, the parallels between Israel and — gulp — North Korea are becoming pretty eerie. True, Israel’s economy is thriving and North Korea’s is not. That said, both countries are diplomatically isolated except for their ties to a great power benefactor. Both countries are pursuing autarkic policies that immiserate millions of people. The majority of the populaion in both countries seem blithely unaware of what the rest of the world thinks. Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.
He’s taking some flack in the comments section for comparing the two countries, (not that I really put a lot of stock into the FP comment section) but I think he’s correct. North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about the incident (and not only because they both invovled boats). The US’s initial response – a call for more information – was exactly the same as China’s. More importantly, can the US garner support for condemning one without condemning the other?
Regardless of the comparison, Obama now has to find a balance between two important US allies (Turkey and Israel) – right at the same time it is trying to improve relations with the Netanyahu Government after several unfortunate incidents (such as announcing new settlements at the same time Biden was in the country) AND trying to sort out new sanctions on Iran. Methinks life just got a lot harder for Susan Rice at the UN.
UPDATE: Drezner responds to criticism of his comparison to North Korea and Israel. Again, I pretty much agree….
UPDATE 2: The Israeli Foreign Ministry actually tweeted me a response to this. (Really?!!) They sent this link of a shaky video cam on a MFA International Law expert talking about the whole thing. Watch it if you want their take on the legality. (Although, as I pointed out above, I have no problems with the legality…)
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Things I Learned Doing My First Bloggingheads Diavlog

1) A small puppy, if walked real hard first, will sit quietly outside long enough for a decent taping with no unseemly background noise. (I had worried about that.)

2) It’s important to spell out your acronyms on the first use in speech just like in writing.

3) I say “um” a lot more than I ever thought.

Anyway, check it out. UN Dispatch’s Mark Leon Goldberg and I talk about pirate economics, the Somalia aid scandal, gender politics, and the coming Cylon takeover how popular culture figures in UN public relations strategies.

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