Tag Archives: civil war

Facilitating Genocide

More than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered during a three-month killing spree by Hutu extremists after a plane carrying the president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down.  The three groups – Sherpa, CPCR (Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda) and Ibuka France – said their suit accused BNP Paribas of complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They said a UN arms embargo on Rwanda was in effect at the time of the transfer.

The statement from the NGOs said Hutu colonel Théoneste Bagosora agreed the purchase of 80 tonnes of arms with a dealer on June 17, 1994 and these were delivered to Gisenyi in Rwanda via Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN Security Council put an arms embargo in place the previous month.  Bagosora (70) is serving a 35-year sentence for crimes against humanity in connection with the Rwandan genocide.

The NGOs said BNP’s predecessor, Banque Nationale de Paris, which merged with Paribas in 2000 to create BNP Paribas, knowingly accepted the transfer of $1.3 million from its client, the Rwandan central bank, to the arms dealer’s Swiss account.

Excerpts from NGOs file suit alleging BNP Paribas complicity in Rwanda genocide, Reuters, June 30, 2017

The Thugs Won’t Go Home: South Sudan

Salva kiir Mayardit. President of Sudan. His trademark hat was given to him by President Bush.

“There is no evidence to suggest that more weapons are required in South Sudan for the government to achieve a stable security environment,” the UN monitors said. “Rather, the continued influx of weapons … contributes to spreading instability and the continuation of the conflict.”

They said while Sudan had provided small arms, bullets and logistical support to opposition troops, they “found no evidence to date that Sudan – or any other neighbouring country – has provided heavy weapons … which has limited the opposition’s ability to mount large-scale operations.”

Two truckloads of ammunition were transferred to the capital Juba from Uganda in June 2016, while in 2015 South Sudanese army chief Paul Malong asked a Lebanese company to begin developing a small ‘arms ammunition manufacturing facility in Juba, the monitors said.

A UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) has been in South Sudan since the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.The UN monitors said that in rhetoric and action, government-affiliated forces “have actively threatened the operations and personnel of UNMISS and other UN agencies, and both parties have continued to target humanitarian workers.”

During the violence in July 2016, between 80 and 100 uniformed soldiers overran Juba’s Hotel Terrain compound, home to the staff of international organizations, and in four hours killed an ethnic Nuer journalist and raped at least five foreign aid workers and other staff working at the compound, the monitors said.The monitors said given the number of soldiers involved, the number of items stolen and the systematic damage inflicted, “this attack was well co-ordinated and cannot be considered as an opportunistic act of violence and robbery.”,,,

A political rivalry between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and opposition leader Riek Machar, a Nuer, sparked the civil war. The pair signed a shaky peace deal a year ago, but fighting has continued. Machar fled the country after the violence between their troops erupted in July 2016

Excerpts South Sudan buying arms as economy collapses – UN panel, Reuters, Sept, 9 2016

Alarm Signals are Flashing Red (yet again): Burundi

burundi

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned on January 15, 2016 that deeply worrying new trends are emerging in Burundi, including cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases. He also called for an urgent investigation into the events that took place in Bujumbura on 11-12 December,2015  including the reported existence of at least nine mass graves.

“We have documented 13 cases of sexual violence against women, which began during the search and arrest operations that took place after the December events in the neighbourhoods perceived as supportive of the opposition. The pattern was similar in all cases:  security forces allegedly entered the victims’ houses, separated the women from their families, and raped – in some cases gang-raped – them,” Zeid said…

“Despite these allegations of large-scale arrests, my Office is finding that only a small proportion of them appear to be in official places of detention,” said the High Commissioner. “The increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves is extremely alarming,” he said……In addition, he said, witnesses had reported the existence of at least nine mass graves in Bujumbura and its surroundings – including one in a military camp –containing more than 100 bodies in total, all of them allegedly killed on 11 December 2015. …“My Office is analysing satellite images in an effort to shed more light on these extremely serious allegations,” Zeid said. “All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red,” he added.

According to information gathered from inhabitants of various neighbourhoods, some of the victims of human rights violations during the search operations that followed the 11 December, 2015 events were targeted because they were Tutsis.

Excerpts from Press Release, Alarming new patterns of violations emerging in Burundi – Zeid , Jan. 15, 2016

Darfur: All the Girls Get Raped Here

Darfur_IDPs_1_camp. image from wikipedia

Asha Ibrahim was searching for firewood when the attackers struck. She had set off with three other women from the makeshift camp where she has lived since conflict broke out in Sudan’s Darfur region a decade ago.”Several men grabbed and raped us,” the mother of four said, standing on the dusty square of the Shangil Tobaya camp for displaced people in the north of a region the size of Spain. “All the girls get raped here.”

The camp is only a few km from a large base of UNAMID, a joint mission between the African Union and the United Nations and the world’s second largest international peacekeeping force. UNAMID has an annual budget of $1.35 billion and almost 20,000 troops mainly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But it has struggled to protect civilians since it set out in 2008. Attacks, often by Arab “Janjaweed” militiamen, continue according to UNAMID and aid groups. The conflict, which started as a row between African pastoralists and Arab nomads over land, has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced two million.  Amsallam Adam, another woman who lives in the camp, said life beyond the perimeter was dangerous. “Even our men don’t dare leave.”

UNAMID has a mandate to use force to “protect its personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its own personnel and humanitarian workers.” But it is penned in by both rebel fighters and the government, which has armed Arab militias, according to the U.N. resolutions setting out UNAMID’s mission. Around 50 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed.  “It’s kind of open season on UNAMID,” said Dane Smith, former U.S. special adviser for Darfur. Sudanese authorities make no effort to arrest culprits, he said. Khartoum denies this.  Critics say UNAMID should be more aggressive. UNAMID officials respond that they need to work with the government or risk getting kicked out.  Even if it wanted to be more aggressive, the force lacks transport, equipment and experienced soldiers. Sudan has rejected the deployment of more robust troops from NATO.

UNAMID has a unified command but in practice all troops report to their individual governments. This makes it a nightmare to respond to emergencies.  When diplomats ask UNAMID commanders why its patrols can’t better protect women, they are told that the mission’s shift system does not fit in with that of the women searching for wood. One patrol goes in the afternoon, a rather unproductive time, soldiers say, because people stay indoors to escape the heat. The women like looking for wood late at night when it’s cooler. But the patrols don’t venture too far at night for security reasons.

UNAMID head Mohamed Ibn Chambas said his forces have limited resources. UNAMID stresses that it makes the camps safer and provides basic services such as clean water and hospitals. But women like Ibrahim have given up hope a long time ago. “We have no security, food rations are not enough and no hospitals,” she said. “Life is very bad here.”

In Darfur, the limits of peacekeeping, Reuters, Oct. 10, 2013

Why UN is Failing Congo? the purpose of Rwanda covert action

monusco

The United Nations said it had launched a comprehensive review of its Congo peacekeeping mission, which suffered a severe blow to its image last month after it stood aside and let rebels seize control of a major eastern city.  But U.N. Security Council diplomats and officials said any changes in the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would matter little if authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not improve their own army, and neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda continued to finance, equip and train rebel groups in mineral-rich eastern Congo.  U.N. officials have defended the U.N. Congo force, MONUSCO, for not preventing the well-equipped M23 rebels from taking the eastern city of Goma last month.  They said any attempt to have done so would have put Goma’s civilian population at risk. But they are painfully aware of the damage to the image of the mission, which U.N. officials say has been quite effective over the years, in Congo and across Africa.  “MONUSCO’s reputation has been severely damaged in the DRC and the region,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The U.N. is looking closely at MONUSCO now to consider whether there can be changes.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the United Nations was launching a comprehensive assessment of MONUSCO, and diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the results to the Security Council early next year…

One idea U.N. officials are considering is the creation of an “enforcement wing” of MONUSCO, that would take a more robust approach to dealing with insurgents in eastern Congo, U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.  “The idea would be to create a wing of MONUSCO that would do more than simply support the FARDC (Congolese army) but could take on more difficult battlefield tasks,” an envoy said.   Details are sketchy, since the review has just begun. But the idea is that the enforcement wing and the international neutral force could deploy along the Rwandan border, possibly with a separate, beefed-up mandate from the rest of MONUSCO, though they would all be part of the same overall mission.  Diplomats said the idea would have to be approved by troop-contributing countries and the Security Council.

A U.N. panel of experts has said M23 rebels are getting money, sophisticated equipment, training and reinforcements from Rwanda, as well as some additional support from Uganda. Analysts, diplomats and U.N. officials say Rwanda and Uganda have been interfering in eastern Congo for many years.  Rwanda and Uganda deny the charges….

It is not the first time Goma residents have felt let down by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. In 2008, the Security Council increased the size the peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops to help Congo’s weak army confront Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.  At that time, angry displaced people and residents rioted and hurled stones at the peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to protect them from raping and pillaging Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  Despite recent setbacks sparked by the M23 rebellion and political instability in Congo, U.N. officials and diplomats say MONUSCO has done much good in Congo, which has seen five different peacekeeping forces over the last five decades…One problem in eastern Congo is that the army itself is in shambles. Not only is it widely seen as incapable of providing security in the region, it routinely faces accusations of rape and other atrocities.  Another problem is the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, which has virtually no control over eastern Congo, an area the size of France. U.N. officials have spoken of Rwanda’s de facto annexation of Congo’s eastern provinces.

By Louis Charbonneau, U.N. launches review of Congo force with battered reputation, Reuters, Dec 13 2012

Predicting War and the Way to Win it: the science of warfare

Guerrilla warfare, however, is harder to model than open battle, and the civil insurrection that often precedes it is harder still. Which, from the generals’ point of view, is a pity, because such conflict is the dominant form of strife these days. The reason for the difficulty is that the fuel of popular uprisings is not hardware, but social factors of a type that computer programmers find it difficult to capture in their algorithms. Analysing the emotional temperature of postings on Facebook and Twitter, or the telephone traffic between groups of villages, is always going to be a harder task than analysing physics-based data like a tank’s firing range or an army’s stocks of ammunition and fuel.

Harder, but not impossible. For in the war-games rooms and think-tanks of the rich world’s military powers, bright minds are working on the problem of how to model insurrection and irregular warfare. Slowly but surely they are succeeding, and in the process they are helping politicians and armies to a better understanding of the nature of rebellion.

One of the best-known projects in this field is SCARE, the Spatio-Cultural Abductive Reasoning Engine, developed at the United States Military Academy at West Point by a team led by Major Paulo Shakarian, a computer-scientist-turned-soldier….Major Shakarian and his team have analysed the behaviour of guerrillas in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and think they understand it well enough to build reliable models.  Their crucial insight is the local nature of conflict in these countries. In particular, bombs directed at occupying forces are generally planted close to the place where they were made, and on the territory of the bombmaker’s tribal kin or co-religionists. That is not a surprise, of course. Kin and co-religionists are the most reliable allies in wars where different guerrilla groups may not always see eye to eye about objectives, beyond the immediate one of driving out foreign troops. But it does give Major Shakarian and his team a convenient way in. Using the co-ordinates of previously bombed sites, data from topographical and street maps, and information on an area’s ethnic, linguistic and confessional “human terrain”, SCARE is able to predict where guerrillas’ munition dumps will be to within about 700 metres…..Moreover, SCARE’s focus should soon become more precise. Major Shakarian’s latest trick is to include data on phone-traffic patterns in the calculations. An upgraded version of the program, employing this trick, will be created next month.

All of which is useful for dealing with a conflict once it has started. But it is better, if possible, to see what may happen before things get going. And for that, America’s navy has a project called RiftLand (pdf).  RiftLand is being developed on the navy’s behalf by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, a professor of computational social science at George Mason University in Virginia. It is specific to the part of East Africa around the Great Rift Valley (hence the name). That this area includes Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, each of which has been the scene of present or recent civil strife, is no coincidence. But the ideas involved could be generalised to other parts of the world, with due alteration for local conditions.  Broadly, RiftLand works by chewing its way through a range of data collected by charities, academics and government agencies, and uses these to predict where groups of people will go and with whom they may clash in times of drought or armed conflict. Dr Cioffi-Revilla gives the example (though he will not name names specifically) of a tribe of nomadic herders known for sharing its notions of veterinary medicine with others. This tribe, the model predicts, will reckon it safer to cross the lands of groups who also rely on keeping their animals healthy. Another point is that tribes who own a radio or mobile phone will steer clear of roads after news reports of government atrocities against their kin. A third is that much of the movement of herdsmen can be predicted from satellite data on the condition of pasture lands, modified by knowledge of what Dr Cioffi-Revilla calls “the complex network of IOUs” between tribes: which are currently hostile to one another, and who owes whom favours.mm The sort of conflict dealt with by RiftLand—a war of all against all in countries where central government is light or non-existent—has been particularly characteristic of this part of Africa in recent years.

Further north, where states are stronger, urban insurrection of the sort seen at the beginning of the Arab spring is a more common threat. Politicians faced with such uprisings may thus be interested in yet another piece of software, known as Condor, which has been developed by Peter Gloor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Gloor is certainly not in the business of saving the jobs of Middle-Eastern dictators. He is actually a consultant to the Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s largest political party. But all politicians in power, whether democrats or dictators, share a distaste for demonstrations and protests on the streets.  Condor works by sifting through data from Twitter, Facebook and other social media, and using them to predict how a public protest will evolve. It does so by performing what Dr Gloor calls “sentiment analysis” on the data.  Sentiment analysis first classifies protesters by their clout. An influential Twitter user, for instance, is one who has many followers but follows few people himself. His tweets are typically upbeat (containing words or phrases such as “great”, “fun”, “funny”, “good time”, “hilarious movie”, “you’ll love” and so forth), are rapidly retweeted, and appear to sway others. In a nod to the methods developed by Google, Dr Gloor refers to this process as “PageRanking for people”.   Having thus ranked protesters, Condor then follows those at the top of the list to see how their output changes. Dr Gloor has found that, in Western countries at least, non-violent protest movements begin to burn out when the upbeat tweets turn negative, with “not”, “never”, “lame”, “I hate”, “idiot” and so on becoming more frequent. Abundant complaints about idiots in the government or in an ideologically opposed group are a good signal of a movement’s decline. Complaints about idiots in one’s own movement or such infelicities as the theft of beer by a fellow demonstrator suggest the whole thing is almost over.  Condor, then, is good at forecasting the course of existing protests. Even better, from the politicians’ point of view, would be to predict such protests before they occur. Not surprisingly, several groups of researchers are trying to do this too.

Aptima, a firm based in Woburn, Massachusetts, is one. Its program, called E-MEME (Epidemiological Modelling of the Evolution of MEssages) uses sentiment analysis to see how opinions and states of mind flow across entire populations, not just activists. It employs data from online news sources, blogs and Twitter, and attempts to rank the “susceptibility” of certain parts of the populace to specific ideas. According to Robert McCormack, the project’s chief technologist, E-MEME can determine things as different as which places in Egypt contain people who will care a lot about a border incident with Israel, and which parts of a country most need water in times of drought.

The Worldwide Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (W-ICEWS) project, led by Lockheed Martin, a large American defence contractor, goes even further. According to Lieutenant-Colonel Melinda Morgan of the office of the secretary of defence, in Washington, who is the government’s liaison officer for the project, it can crunch great quantities of data from digital news media, blogs and other websites, and also intelligence and diplomatic reports. It then uses all this to forecast—months in advance—riots, rebellions, coups, economic crises, government crackdowns and international wars. Colonel Morgan calls this process “social radar”.

Conflict forecasters are even joining the open-source bandwagon, in an attempt to improve their software. Last August IARPA, an American-government technology-development agency for the intelligence services, started the Open Source Indicators programme (pdf). This finances developers of software that can “beat the news”: forecasting political crises and mass violence in a reliable way. The programme’s manager, Jason Matheny, is now considering the proposals that have come in so far. These range from tracking Wikipedia edits to monitoring traffic with roadside cameras. The only proposals Mr Matheny will not consider are those designed to forecast conflict in America itself (the CIA is not supposed to spy on people in the United States), and those that rely on monitoring particular individuals, whether in America or elsewhere.

Rather than just foretelling the future, however, the best technology should concentrate on shaping it. W-ICEWS offers a bit of that. It has a “what if” capability, which allows users to change the inputs and see how things might develop differently given different events in the real world. But Venkatramana Subrahmanian of the University of Maryland proposes something more specific. The Temporal-Probabilistic Rule System, a program his team has developed using $600,000 of American-army money, looks at 770 social and political indicators and uses them to predict attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a guerrilla group based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. If it works, this process might be applied, using a different set of indicators, to other groups of rebels.  The crucial point about Dr Subrahmanian’s model is that it not only predicts attacks, it also suggests how they might be countered. Dr Subrahmanian is understandably cagey about the details, but he does give one example: if an attack requires complex co-ordination between group members, the software might recommend “stoking paranoia” by forging false communications between them.

On April 2nd President Barack Obama announced a $10m bounty on Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leader, Hafiz Saeed. It would indeed mark the coming of age of civil-strife software if that bounty, or another like it, were one day claimed on behalf of a group of programmers half a world away.

Excerpts, The science of civil war: What makes heroic strife, Economist, April, 21, at 93

The NATO and Anti-Qadhafi Forces War Violations, UN Human Rights Council Report

Here is the summary of the report.  (Full document 220 pages)

“The Commission concluded that the thuwar (anti-Qadhafi forces) committed serious violations, including war crimes and breaches of international human rights law, the latter continuing at the time of the present report. The Commission found these violations to include unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, indiscriminate attacks, and pillage. It found in particular that the thuwar are targeting the Tawergha and other communities.

The Commission concluded that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties. On limited occasions, the Commission confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence of military utility. The Commission was unable to draw conclusions in such instances on the basis of the information provided by NATO and recommends further investigations.

The Commission conducted its investigations applying the international legal regimes dictated by the situation. It concluded that international crimes, specifically crimes against humanity and war crimes, were committed by Qadhafi forces in Libya. Acts of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture were perpetrated within the context of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. The Commission found additional violations including unlawful killing, individual acts of torture and ill-treatment, attacks on civilians, and rape.

The interim Government faces many challenges in overcoming a legacy of more than 40 years of serious human rights violations and deterioration of the legislative framework, judicial and national institutions. It has nevertheless expressed a commitment to human rights and has taken positive steps to establish mechanisms for accountability. The government is gradually restoring the judiciary by reopening courts and recalling judges, and there has been some progress in the transfer of detainees to central government control.

The Commission is nevertheless concerned by the failure to hold accountable thuwar committing serious violations. Libyan authorities can break with the Qadhafi legacy by enforcing the law equally, investigating all abuses – irrespective of the perpetrator – and ensuring that amnesty processes comport with Libya’s obligations under international law.

To give effect to its commitment to improve the human rights situation in Libya, the interim Government will need considerable support from the United Nations and the international community.