Yesterday, a doctor working in Sri Lanka’s war zone reported that at least 378 people were killed by shelling over the weekend. The doctor said that 1,122 others had been injured and that the firing appeared to have come from the government side. Gordon Weiss, the U.N. spokesman in Sri Lanka, said:
“We’ve been consistently warning against a bloodbath, and the large-scale killing of civilians including more than 100 children this weekend appears to show that the bloodbath has become a reality.”
Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a civil war for about 26 years between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers, who seek an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. Both sides have been responsible for massive human rights abuses during the conflict. Since a 2002 ceasefire broke down in mid-2006, the government’s offensive has reconquered most of the territory once controlled by the Tigers. The Tigers are now confined to a small coastal strip in northeastern Sri Lanka, surrounded by the Sri Lankan army. With the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians who are being held by the Tigers as human shields and prevented from fleeing the area.
The Sri Lankan government today said that the Tigers were responsible for the shelling that killed the civilians. The government also claimed that the doctor reporting from the war zone was in no position to give an independent account “as he is virtually another captive of the Tigers.” Since independent observers, including journalists, are barred from the war zone, it is difficult to verify reports from the war zone.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to have an informal session about Sri Lanka today. The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary claimed that the Tigers were using the latest charge of civilian casualties in an attempt to influence the discussions at the Security Council.
Ahead of today’s meeting on Sri Lanka at the Security Council, Amnesty International and three other international organizations (Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect) issued a joint letter to the Japanese Prime Minister, urging Japan, as a member of the Security Council, to support formal action on Sri Lanka at the Council. The Security Council has only considered Sri Lanka in informal settings so far; it would reportedly need to elevate discussion on Sri Lanka to a formal level before the Council could take action.
We can’t wait for the discussions at the Security Council, formal or informal. Thousands more civilians may be dead long before the discussions ever result in any action. Please write to the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government now; we need maximum international pressure on both sides to stop the bloodbath immediately.
In a letter posted today to newly dispatched Middle East Envoy, AIUSA made the following recommendations:
Amnesty International urges the US to support the establishment of a comprehensive independent international inquiry set up by the UN and preferably by the Security Council into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups participating in the conflict. An international fact-finding team of qualified experts should carry out its investigations on the basis of the highest international standards. It must have powers to gain access to all relevant documents, other evidence and persons, and its report and findings must be public so that follow-action can be taken. The US must not fail to respond to domestic and worldwide expressions of concern that international humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld in Gaza, that accountability for violations be established and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
In other news, President Barack Obama gave his first televised interview since entering office with the Dubai based TV station Al Arabiya. In his interview, he spoke directly to citizens of Muslim majority countries, and highlighted the importance of resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. For a complete transcript of his interview, please see here
In the next few weeks, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to hand down its decision about indicting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Organizations such as the African Union and the Arab League are lobbying the UN Security Council to implement Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which would suspend any deliberations on the case against Bashir for a year with the possibility of an annual renewal.
We need to be wary of using the possibility of International Criminal Court indictments as a carrot and stick in seeking to end the conflict in Darfur. Deferring the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir sets up a catastrophic precedent whereby politics dictates the course of justice. Amnesty International has advocated against such interference in the ICC from the court’s inception.
More importantly, we must not forget what Darfuris directly affected by nearly six years of state-sponsored terror want – justice. Tens of thousands of Darfuris have signed petitions asking that the case against Bashir not be deferred. We must listen to them.
According to a UN Panel of Expert’s report released last Friday, government security forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are providing arms and ammunition to the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) in violation of the UN arms embargo on DRC. In addition, the DRC government continues to be a major source of weapons for other armed groups in the DRC.
Congolese refugees at the DRC/Uganda border in Ishasha
Mainly a Rwandan Hutu armed insurgent group that contains remnants of forces allegedly responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, FDLR has been responsible for mass atrocities, including the unlawful killings of civilians, abductions, and rape, and continues to fuel devastation in the DRC. The DRC government, FDLR, and mayi-mayi militias are fighting against the rebel armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which has also committed grave human rights violations.
The UN Security Council is set to review the Panel’s report tomorrow, which includes additional evidence of the Rwandan government providing military support to the CNDP, including the provision of child soldiers. The report also shows that the U.S. government has failed to notify the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DRC (MONUC) of its efforts to train DRC government forces as required by paragraph 5 of UN Resolution 1807 (2008).
In March 2008, Amnesty appealed to the UN Security Council not to ease the arms embargo on supplies to non-integrated DRC government army brigades anywhere in the DRC and brigades going through integration in the east of the country. However, the Council eased this part of the embargo among other import restrictions. The consequences of the relaxation of the embargo have been very damaging.
Tomorrow, the UN Security Council has an opportunity to remedy this past decision. As such, in order to prevent diversion from official DRC holdings, all transfers to DRC government units deployed in eastern DRC should be made by prior arrangement under MONUC supervision among several other critical factors that the UN Security Council should adopt.
Amnesty International activists urge the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. White House, November 23 (c) Msia Clark
Rallying in front of the White House on November 23, I joined over 100 activists in expressing our concern for Congolese civilians, as armed groups turn their homes into a battlefield. Three messages continue to stand out in my mind: Protect the People! Stop Violence against Women! and No Child Soldiers!
Amnesty International USA organized this event in response to the humanitarian and human rights emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on the United States to follow through with their support of a new UN Security Council Resolution by delivering the needed troops and equipment. The resolution passed unanimously, showing all nations understand how crucial the success of the UN peacekeeping mission is to bringing the killings, rape and abduction of children to a halt. Now, these countries must follow through with their commitment by providing troops and equipment.
Days before the resolution, 44 Congolese NGOs wrote a letter requesting the UN Security Council and international leaders immediately supply troop reinforcements. The message that was consistent throughout their letter was that words of concern are not enough. They exclaimed, “Diplomacy always takes time, and we understand this, but unfortunately we do not have time. The population of North Kivu is at risk now; with each day that passes, more and more people die”.
The desperation is clear on the faces captured in the photos taken by reporters in the crisis region. If the troops are not on the ground and properly equipped, the UN’s resolution will be meaningless.
Laurent Nkunda considers himself a man of diplomacy and politics. Unfortunately, whether we agree or not has become academic. This war criminal has a following that is growing and will continue to: aside from his Tutsi advocates there is suspicion that he is allied with ethnic Tutsi Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President), and furthermore it has been speculated that he has the support of the Christian American right. This is a powerful foundation from which to wage a war of unthinkable proportions. Surely the question to ask at this stage is:
What does Nkunda want?
We know the UN Security Council has approved 3,100 additional peace keepers. Hopefully this will be enough. As Ugandan Eddie Kwizera notes, “there is no peace to keep”. The DRC is the size of Western Europe, yet MONUC (Mission des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) the biggest peace keeping mission in the world, still only has 17,000 troops there. Neighbouring state Angola acknowledges that: “the direct and indirect interference by third parties will only worsen the conflict”.
The World Health Organization as of last Tuesday has named cholera a ‘serious risk’ in the region. This is perhaps the most concerning of all the developments in the region since August. Cholera stands to be as powerful a killer as the men with guns. It can be passed on with just a handshake.
It is a handshake that needs to be considered. We have seen genocide just one generation ago in Rwanda. In the 1960’s we saw another failed peace-keeping mission in the area (UNOC). Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General UN, has said the UN forces suffer from a “lack of adequate equipment or a clear chain of command”. Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.
It may seem insufferable to the Gordon Browns and Bernard Kouchners to think of Nkunda as a leader, but a leader he is. Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) is a growing army with a following. It is hypocritical and embarrassing to be preaching peace only to discover that MONUC finds itself lending its sympathies to the Congolese army. It publicly admonishes the CNDP for abuses that the Congolese army are equally guilty of. How can we expect the CNDP to behave rationally if MONUC itself is taking sides?
As it is the Western idea of partition that was imposed on this region (the Belgian colonizers deciding the Tutsis were a superior race and so creating divisions), the Western idea of peace talks must be followed through with. Finding out what Nkunda wants, and genuinely engaging with and understanding the desires and divisions is the only way forward. If Kabila continues to ignore requests for direct negotiations, Nkunda could be well on his way to fulfilling his promise of toppling his government.
Of course there is an inherent problem, the Congo is mineral rich. Perhaps now would be a good time to stop exploiting Africa’s abundant natural resources. With the current state of the world maybe we should be more concerned with growing our own carrots.
I was asked today about Amnesty International’s increasing calls for the UN Security Council to act to reinforce the peacekeeping force currently in DRC (acronym MONUC…it’s French and I can’t find the circumflex character to spell it out). Given the awful situiation in the East of the country, calling on the Security Council to, in his words, “put more guns” in the Kivus was “not going to help in the long run,” he offered. After quickly noting that Amnesty’s call is to strengthen the ability of MONUC to protect civilians…which include more police and armed personnel, but also trucks, aircraft, training to help victims of sexual violence, and a whole slew of logistical support, I gave it a little thought.
Like Amnesty’s support for the UN Mission in Darfur, the calls for increasing support for MONUC—already the largest (most expensive) peacekeeping mission in the world—may seem a desperate recommendation to some. But aside from the obvious and pressing needs of the most vulnerable of people in Eastern DRC—the war affected, the starving, and the displaced—there is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis itself is a policy problem. While Amnesty’s call is surely motivated primarily by the need to address human suffering, there is longer term wisdom to that call.
The roots of the current crisis in DRC can be traced back to the broader “Great Lakes” refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide. We can trace the general instability of the Kivus and eastern DRC more broadly to the displacement of millions at the borders of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. That is, we can trace the current political and security situation in DRC back to the displacement and human insecurity of nearly 15 years ago and years since.
Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994
This displacement destroys communities, shreds political fabric, militarizes local commerce, invites predation, increases incentives to take up arms, and destabilizes displacement-receiving communities and countries. The number of people displaced from the Kivus in the past couple months is about equal to the total number of Darfuris who’ve fled to neighboring Chad over the past 5 years. MONUC must be strengthened because civilians will suffer even further if it is not. But the wisdom of strengthening the UN’s thus-far ineffectual presence in the Kivus extends to a generational metric. If the spiraling human security situation in the Kivus isn’t soon slowed, we’ll be citing the international community’s failure to act in 2008 as a key cause of another yet-avoidable catastrophe years down the road.
Yes, securing vulnerable people now is just and necessary (see Mr. Koettl’s post from earlier today). But it has the added advantage of allowing future generations a chance to live in relative peace.