Currently viewing the category: "Ending Mass Atrocities"

Joshua Oppenheimer’s film, The Look of Silence, seems to argue that the kind of speech capable of social change shares much with silence. The film provides a companion reflection to how post-conflict or transitional justice is often conceived of as official speech. In transitional justice, the power of change is envisioned as working its […]

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What is the history of nonviolent political change in Sudan–under what conditions and with what complications were civil society actors able to challenge the state structures? Read what happens when two expert Sudanese scholars debate the finer points of Sudan’s lesser-known history of popular protest. Alex de Waal reviews W. J. Berridge’s book, Civil […]

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Economic and financial sanctions rarely work: their best record is when they are short-term, have specific asks, and are targeted at friendly countries. Long-term, broad sanctions punishing hostile countries tend to compound the harm. Depriving a government of any legal way of getting the finance it needs to function, means it works criminal networks instead. Sudan is a case in point: a raft of U.S. financial and economic sanctions has contributed to the dominance of an entrenched security-commercial cartel at the top of government, whose members are personally enriched by this system. When a state is captured by such a network, regime change becomes extraordinarily difficult. There’s no way out of this trap without normalizing state finance—and that means transforming the sanctions regime.

The final and most fundamental point is that we cannot escape this problem with the same tools and the same frameworks that got us collectively into it in the first place.

This agenda for change is neither charity nor coercive intervention, because the problem is ours as well. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, international interventions have made a bad situation worse. We share the same international financial and security systems: we all suffer the consequences, and all need to fix them. In western, developed countries, we experience the concentration of wealth into a tiny fraction of extremely rich people, alongside policies that have cut into the middle class, and limited the future of the next generation. We have a closed security establishment that considers itself above the rules that govern society as a whole, and permitted to crooks in the name of protecting the public. Their worldview subordinates public interest to greed and fear, and their prescriptions for global problems don’t challenge this formula.

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Twenty years ago today the policy of the “safe havens” in Bosnia’s war collapsed, not in the hills of eastern Bosnia, but in a meeting in London.While it is more important to mark the anniversary of genocide at Srebrenica, today should not be forgotten. Nor should the shift be simplified into a redemption story for […]

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The real dilemma concerns what must be excised from international genocide and mass atrocities agendas in order to produce the kind of lessons learned that are palatable to powerful international actors. When truth telling aligns with the interests of power, it invariably softens its demands. If you bring together people from key international decision-making institutions to discuss a historical event that can only be deemed a colossal failure, the lessons will inevitably be focused on how the different actors did not coordinate their efforts behind a single, guiding ethos or policy. This is invariably true and it evenly distributes blame. It is also invariably true of many international failures, mistakes and faux-pas: it may even describe the “international community” rather than a problem within it.

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But in the circumstance of deaths at sea, too often the “perpetrator” is able to masquerade as natural phenomenon–it is storms, waves and rocks that cause death. Mass atrocities, we assume, require intent, focused violence, and usually a gun. When the seas become mass graves, the trail back to a source of violence or outrageous inequity is frequently an abstraction. “Traffickers” or “immigration policies” are to blame–a “perpetrator” as nameless as its victims.

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