Archive | March, 2013

International Media and the Arms Trade Treaty

22 Mar

The final round of the arms trade treaty negotiations (18-28 March 2013) has been attracting global attention, expressed by numerous press outlets worldwide, mainstream as well as alternative, signaling a growing and strengthening awareness process throughout the world and revealing a justified sense of urgency. An awareness of the illicit arms trade’s mortal consequences has manifested itself as a comprehensive matter of conscience, a situation that is as a result calling for global provisions now. It also shows the willingness to publicly negotiate and back a legal framework that has the strength and capability to regulate a global, $70 billion business. An idea that was initiated by a group of Nobel peace prize laureates in the mid-1990’s seems to have come to fruition.

The level of awareness demonstrates political will that affects the everyday citizen, who might not be part of a politicized environment via an organization or institution, but has the option to vote, donate, and maybe down the line, organize in a political fashion. Just as diverse in national interest and approach as are member states and civil society, so are media outlets that position themselves as voices in the process.

The Financial Times granted a forum to the foreign ministers of Denmark, Germany, Mexico, The Netherlands, UK, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Finland to call for an effective arms trade treaty, defining the negotiations an “historic opportunity” and appealing to the aspect of “common responsibility.” One paragraph explicitly addresses the fact that the treaty has no intention to “obstruct the legitimate trade in arms.” Furthermore it points out that the treaty is meant to “fully recognize every state’s right to legitimate self-defense.” Additionally, “Neither does the treaty set rules for domestic arms regulation nor laws on the possession of arms; this is categorically a matter for national authorities to determine.”

Despite national sovereignty on domestic arms regulation, the US based National Rifle Association (NRA), which promotes the rights of citizens to bear arms, made it a tradition to claim that the UN is trying to end private gun ownership in the US. This strategy is primarily geared towards fundraising from NRA constituents. Not only has fear proven to be a hot seller, the US Constitution’s second amendment is an extremely sensitive and emotionally charged topic.

UK journalist Karen McVeigh focuses on NRA rhetoric in her story “NRA accused of stirring ‘anti-UN panic’ in campaign against Arms Trade Treaty,” from 17 March 2013in The Guardian. “For years, the NRA has painted the UN as a bogeyman figure, claiming in its literature and fundraising drives that there is an international conspiracy to ‘grab your guns’. Last July, when negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty broke down – in part because of US resistance to global regulations on gun sales – the gun lobby group claimed victory for ‘killing the UN ATT’.” Rick Gladstone from the New York Times states in the context of an ATT and the NRA, that in February of this year, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights published a report describing that the ATT, as currently drafted, “did not exceed the scope of American trade statutes that already regulate the import and export of weapons.” Gladstone points out that the study clearly outlines, “U.S. ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” In the Huffington Post, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane pointed out, “This absurd but often-repeated claim requires a strong rebuttal.”

The German media outlets Deutsche Welle and die tageszeitung focus on the fact that the current ATT text from July last year would undercut not only European, and particularly existing German regulations, as they relate to the arms trade and therefore describe the need of stronger language.

This year’s ATT host country, Australia’s media outlets have been vocally promoting the process back home, at times lending media platforms to civil society. National Director of Amnesty Australia, Claire Mallinson,took the stage with an op-ed piece for The Australian on 18 March. Here she describes the ongoing illegal arms transfers from Russia to the Assad regime in Syria and the failure of the UNSC to impose an arms embargo. Mallinson continues, “This strong evidence and the indiscriminate nature of conflict shows that even with the best of intentions, as it currently stands, Australian organizations and individuals that sell weapons and defense technology have no way of controlling where these devices end up.” Meanwhile Dr. Helen Szoke of Oxfam Australia is urging her government on ABC TV to “help close off any loopholes” in the existing draft.

The African news network AllAfrica named, in the article “Africa: Curbing the Arms Trade?” from 19 March, a few grave obstacles to a “strong treaty without major loopholes.” Firstly there is, “The fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are among the largest exporters of conventional arms,” which impacts decision making and ultimately the strength of a treaty framework. Secondly, the concern that, “In the United States, the powerful National Rifle Association is campaigning against the treaty.” It is a legitimate concern, since the author is referring to a non-profit that, according to the Washington Post, was able to spend $32 million in 2012, lobbying their one and only objective.

Obviously, press coverage often reflects or opposes national interests of individual member states, and therefore might individually pursue/back different levels of regulation or at times lack diversified, technical policy details at all. However, the nearly unanimous, international media echo in favor of a treaty does not only once more put the UN on the map as a global hub for political decision making, but reflects a strong, global concern that reaches far beyond a plea for arms business as usual.

 

—Lia Petridis Maiello

 

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Profile of Activist Luz Mendez: Legal Case on Sexual Enslavement of Indigenous Women in Guatemala

15 Mar

Women’s rights activist from Guatemala Luz Mendez has been presenting her legal case on the sexual enslavement of women during Guatemala’s civil war at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this month.

Luz Mendez was 15 years of age when she decided to become involved in her home country’s political course of action. Guatemala had been torn by a civil war for nine years at the time Mendez decided to no longer simply accept the status quo. “The numerous years of political oppression and the lack of liberties were the call to action for me”, Mendez explains retrospectively.

Mendez became the President of her High School’s Student Association creating “a small democracy within my school”, Mendez states. It was the year 1969 when the world was shook up by a politicized, international youth that was not willing to accept military dictatorships, questionable wars and the ongoing, and further growing, already vast economic imbalance between nations and entire continents.

Her position in high school put her in touch with many more student leaders from other schools. “That really opened my eyes and I understood how much power we have, when we organize for a good cause and start advocating for our rights.” She moved on to become a noteworthy activist, soon to establish international recognition, by participating in the peace negotiations as the only female member of the delegation of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRC), contributing to the incorporation of unprecedented commitments for gender-equity in the accords. In 1996, she was the only woman representative signing the peace agreements for socioeconomic development and democratization in Guatemala.

Mendez joined this year’s CSW in order to present comprehensive details about the legal case she is trying to establish for indigenous Guatemalan women who have been victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s civil war. It would also be the first trial of this kind brought to a national court.

The extraordinarily bloody civil war in Guatemala lasted thirty six years total, from 1960 to 1996. All this time the government was fighting left-leaning rebel groups that were supported by Mayan indigenous people. About 50,000 Guatemalans disappeared and up to 200,000 were killed or went missing. According to a UN report released in 1999, called “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”, 83 percent of those Guatemalans killed were Mayan. The Guatemalan government to this day is hesitant to acknowledge the commitment of genocide, although it has been internationally condemned in the past. According to UN resolution 260A, genocide is defined as follows: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life

calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

A truth commission that had been installed in Guatemala after the civil war and was supported by the United Nations stated that “over 80 percent of the atrocities were committed by the army”. Current Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, to the contrary of his predecessor Álvaro Colom, has also promoted the view that genocide did not take place in Guatemala. Only in 2009 the former Military Commissioner Felipe Cusanero was sentenced to receive a 150-year jail term, for the disappearance of six farmers in the years of 1982 until 1984. “This was hailed as a landmark prison sentence in Guatemala,” Reuters wrote back then.

In February this year, the news that former General and Guatemalan Head of State Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be on trial at home for the crime of genocide, found great international support and positive acknowledgement. It is the first time in history that a domestic court is sentencing a former chief-of-state for genocide. “The Rios Montt trial also marks an important development in an evolving arena of international human rights,” comments News Network Al Jazeera.

Although several international courts established in the past 20 years have prosecuted individuals involved in genocide, the events in Guatemala are exceptional because the trial has been brought “home” and also because no ranking officer of the former totalitarian Guatemalan government has been held responsible thus far. The first public hearing will be held on 19 March.

Furthermore, the brutal victimization of indigenous women in Guatemala has not been rectified in any noteworthy manner as of now. Activist Luz Mendez wants to change that. In September of last year, fifteen Guatemalan women from the indigenous q’eqchí people testified before the High Risk Court in Guatemala City, with their testimony establishing the first criminal trial for sexual slavery and rape during an armed conflict in front of a domestic court. Moreover, as it applies to indigenous women, this testimony is ultimately helping thousands of women victims all over the world.

Mendez describes in her article, “I don’t want to die without seeing justice’: Sexual Slavery During Guatemala’s Armed Conflict,” the atrocities committed against indigenous women during the civil war:

“The history of Dominga Coc made a profound impression on the enslaved women in Sepur Zarco. Dominga, a twenty year-old woman went to the military camp with her two little daughters, Anita and Hermelinda, in search of her husband who had been captured by members of the army in 1982. After arriving at the base, she was captured and raped repeatedly by soldiers in front of her husband and her daughters. After several weeks of being brutally raped, she and her daughters were forcibly disappeared. Her body was found, in early 2012, on the edge of the river and exhumed. Dominga’s husband survived. He presented the testimony in the court. The story of Dominga Coc resonated for years among the women enslaved in Sepur Zarco and became a permanent warning of what could happen to any one of them at any time.”

According to the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, a “general pattern” exists that holds for indigenous women worldwide—that they have a particular “vulnerability to sexual violence.” In areas of conflict, indigenous women have often fallen victims to abuse by members of the military and are often subject to sexual enslavement, forced pregnancy, gang-rapes, sexual mutilation and killings. The International Indigenous Women’s Forum points out that “Historically, violence against women was used as a weapon in colonial conquests of indigenous lands, but as recently as the 1980s and 1990s, 1,400 indigenous Samburu women of Kenya were raped by British soldiers on their lands. In the 1980s, indigenous women were targeted for rape as a weapon of war in Guatemala.” In the 1990s, indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico were subject to compulsory servitude in paramilitary camps. In times of crises, indigenous women are often forced to leave their communities and search for shelters and jobs elsewhere, which results in cultural and spiritual isolation as well as their exposure to sexual trafficking and prostitution as well as exploitation as domestic workers.

Nevertheless, Mendez is optimistic about her case. “We have any reason to be,” she explains. She is naming several groups of Guatemalan society that have been teaming up and are actively supporting the process. “Not only are the survivors strong women who have been waiting for public recognition for more than a decade, but women lawyers, psychologists and last, but not least, my group the Advisers’ Council of the National Union of Guatemala Women (UNAMG) have been closely working together to try and achieve justice for Guatemala’s indigenous women.” Mendez also points out that Guatemala has undergone a shift in dealing with its own history. “The fact that Rios Montt is now standing trial is giving me a lot of hope to also achieve public recognition and justice for indigenous women in Guatemala.”

 

–Lia Petridis Maiello

Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention

12 Mar

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Program in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies, presented a conference entitled Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention.

The agenda of the conference was situated around atrocity, conflict, and genocide prevention, protection of civilians, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), transitional justice and the application of crisis mapping and technology to the field and agenda of prevention. In addition, another objective of the conference was to theorize and examine the assumptions and aims of the field of prevention, while also defining and rationalizing the parameters and the relationship that prevention has with other disciplines and agendas.

The topics discussed in this conference remain relevant in finding a means to prevent genocide and mass atrocity around the world. Specifically, the thematics and ideology behind Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention runs parallel to the mission of Global Action to Prevent War.

This conference has reinforced the need for furthering the discussion on genocide prevention, as it is clear that while the technology is evolving within the field, there is still need for structural and cultural changes, among the major and most powerful players. While it seems that the academic and civil society actors are most active in the push towards improving the use of technology in early warning indicators and the development of groundbreaking mechanisms, it would be in the best interest of the entire global community to work towards strengthening this evolving and pertinent leg of the prevention field.

The event began with an address from the keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, followed by the first panel discussion entitled, “The United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: An Evolving Institution.” The panelists included Ambassador Francis Deng, Edward Luck and Juan Mendez.

In keeping with the agenda of the conference, the session started with exploring the link between R2P and state sovereignty, the three-pillar approach, developing mechanisms and early warning indicators both regionally and sub-regionally, and the role of institutions in indicating to governments when it is time to act.

Ambassador Deng, former Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide as an extreme form of identity conflict, where some are marginalized and others are given the sense of belonging. This may be characterized through regional identities or religious differences. Ambassador Deng also made reference to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century.

It was noted that sub-regional actors are very important in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, as they are usually able to assist in identifying early warning signs. It was noted that with an emphasis on regional engagement, the involvement of civil society actors, and other institutions, the prevention of mass atrocities is possible. However, this regional engagement would need to involve structural and cultural change across the international community, civil society, member states, the private sector, media outlets and academia.  It was also stated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed that prevention is an ongoing responsibility, before, during and after a mass atrocity.

The crisis-mapping portion of the conference served as the most modern and applicable tool of genocide prevention. The three speakers outlined the different means by which GIS technology, mapping and other applications may be used in the field both as a means of prevention as well as a system for tracking progress. Professor Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Professor from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, demonstrated the use of the Ushahidi application in monitoring the election in Kenya. Zach Romanow of Palantir Technologies demonstrated the use of time series mapping in some of the most remote regions in the world, while Professor Jennifer Leaning from Harvard University presented some of her own findings from the application of technology to crisis mapping and early warning in humanitarian settings.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli had the following to say about crisis mapping as it pertains to the prevention of mass atrocities, specific to the application of Ushahidi technology:

“Those among us engaged in crisis mapping must be consistently vigilant as we assess how to translate innovations in technology to prevent mass atrocities while accepting the ethical responsibility to protect those mapping for peace. The focus of our communitarian efforts in the early 21st century is on the urgency to reject the experience of the complicit bystander. The evolution is one of a transnational commitment to map for human security on platforms such as Ushahidi to monitor recent historic elections in Kenya, for example, http://blog.ushahidi.com/ Our community is an emerging “transnational advocacy network,” in the usage defined by Keck and Sikkink. The experiences in network over time with each mapping deployment underscore that our shared humanity is at risk in those areas where “predisposing factors,” in Hamburg’s words, leading to genocide exist. Crisis mapping is a technique as well as a methodology to develop in the prevention toolbox, which places the accent on sovereignty as responsibility. Its contributions over time may highlight the view expressed by the Canadian Senator, General  Roméo Dallaire, that early prevention is preferable to late intervention. Mapping is a way to enhance the awareness of those outside areas in need where local community leaders are taking destiny in hand. These leaders are the linchpin of a pioneering crisis mapping system in which locals are responsible to rewrite grassroots narratives from the ground up. Their story is one of a break with history, a staccato narrative, to cite Zerubavel’s term, after decades of top down impunity in the face of injustices committed by states against their own peoples. Our vocation in crisis mapping is one in which we look beyond the killing fields to the social reality we construct on behalf of a prevention culture, which serves to recall Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide.”

Additional resources:

wiki.ushahidi.com

forums.ushahidi.com

community.ushahidi.com

 

 

–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.

 

International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

11 Mar

From 4-5 March, the government of Norway hosted an International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo. Representatives of 127 member states were present as well as UN secretariat officials, civil society, and other humanitarian response technical experts detailing the environmental, health, and developmental impact of nuclear weapon explosions. It was noted throughout that member states must continue to seize opportunities to act responsibly to prevent any accidental or intentional use of these weapons, a goal guaranteed only by virtue of their abolition. The Foreign Minister of Norway, Espen Barth Eide, offered a Chair’s Summary at the conclusion of the conference that, although it did not offer any concrete recommendations for future movement, did note clearly that, “It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected.”

While the ‘official’ Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) chose not to attend the conference as a collective group (although India and Pakistan sent delegations), there was a clear sense that the status quo of nuclear disarmament discourse can be neither tolerated nor sustained any longer. The argument by the NWS (also the Permanent 5 [P5] members of the Security Council) was that the conference served as a “distraction” from current disarmament efforts. As Ambassador Laura Kennedy of the United States noted to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, “We [the US] are focusing our efforts and energy on practical steps we and others are taking to reduce nuclear weapon arsenals while strengthening nuclear security and the nonproliferation regime.” Likewise, the government of the UK stated that it was pursuing disarmament through “existing mechanisms” such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the CD. In response to this argument, Foreign Minister Eide noted in his opening statement that this conference was not intended to serve as a substitute for any existing process, but also noted that the established fora for nuclear weapons deliberations are all “under serious pressure.” Furthermore, as has been rightly noted by colleagues from Reaching Critical Will, the Nuclear Security Summit process is one example of an “alternative process” that has been enthusiastically embraced by the NWS and thereby clearly illustrates the inherent weakness (if not hypocrisy) of the NWS absence from Oslo. Furthermore, the “step by step” and “practical” approach to nuclear disarmament has clearly not been effective and has remained predicated on an inflexible agenda since the 1960s thereby making it all the more appropriate for governments to supplement existing efforts with new fora and political dynamics.

The technical discussion referenced within the conference programme were indeed rich and involved delegations, representatives of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Development Programme Bureau for Crisis Prevention (UNDP BCPR), the UN World Food Programme, and representatives of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) among others. Both the immediate impacts and longer-term consequences of nuclear detonations were explored by researchers, medical professionals, emergency relief experts, and national officials dealing with nuclear radiation preparedness. Experts stated that global famine, catastrophic climate change, and massive loss of life would be among the long-term ramifications of a nuclear detonation, affecting not just those in the immediate area of the bomb’s “ground zero,” but the whole of the global community. The programme featured several panels of humanitarian response experts detailing how and if governments, international organizations, and other actors could, or rather could not, adequately respond to a nuclear detonation. Dr. Ira Helfand of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear (IPPNW) presented the economic costs of a nuclear detonation, which could be upwards of $ 1 trillion over the long-term, and conjectured that due to climate changes from the explosion potentially one billion people could die of starvation alone. Other experts offered scenarios of nuclear detonation in cities such as Oslo as well as national examples of nuclear radiation emergencies in Romania and Norway. Still other presenters reflected on past examples of dangerous nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, the long-term effects of the Chernobyl accident, and the catastrophic fallout from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many delegations as well as civil society representatives also cited the examples of landmines and cluster munitions as weapons that have been banned by international law for humanitarian reasons, noting that it was time to do the same for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, ICAN noted in its first intervention that blinding weapons, certain conventional explosive weapons, incendiary weapons, the use of poison, and chemical and biological weapons have all been outlawed, all of which have consequences similar to those from a nuclear detonation.

Quite plainly, the overall conclusion drawn by presenters was that there is no way to adequately prepare for or respond to the impacts of a nuclear detonation. As noted by the Director of UNOCHA Geneva, Mr. Rashid Khalikov, in his presentation on humanitarian preparedness and response, “We should, as the international humanitarian community, continue to consider the extent to which we can respond to a weapon detonation in any meaningful way. Ultimately though, the reality remains that the only sensible course of action is to ensure these weapons are never used.”

While the technical conversation was useful, perhaps more importantly, the tone that has been set for the future of nuclear disarmament efforts has clearly and rightly shifted. The consensus among participants was that the global humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons must be the starting point for discussion of disarmament and a ban on nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Eide noted in his opening statement that, “For decades political leaders and experts have debated the challenges posed by the continued existence and further proliferation of nuclear weapons. This conference, however, takes a different starting point.” Moreover, as the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) noted in its final intervention, nuclear weapons represent “the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time” and the delegation of Austria called this challenge a “litmus test” for how the international community is able to resolve challenges to humanity’s survival. It is the contribution of a reinvigorated commitment to a humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament that will have the greatest impact on finally bringing an end to these weapons and the threat to humanity posed by them.

Although the Oslo approach (adopting a humanitarian starting point) has been associated with the drive to end nuclear weapons for quite some time, the renewed energy and commitment by states to this approach is noteworthy. In discussions about proportionality of response, there have been legal and humanitarian elements and international criminal and military law have long acknowledged the principle of proportionality that the response should ‘fit’ the threat and that damage to innocents bears the presumption of impermissibility. Nuclear weapons use can stand up to neither test, in fact not even close.

Particularly in light of the stalemate found across the various parts of the UN disarmament machinery from the CD to the UNDC, this conference offered various stakeholders, including the vast majority of UN member states, the chance to converge around the common goal of nuclear disarmament and abolition with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Moreover, with the announcement of an important follow-up meeting to be hosted by the Government of Mexico, there is genuine commitment that this recalibrated approach to nuclear disarmament will enable more robust steps towards nuclear abolition to be taken and sustained.

 

–Katherine Prizeman