Posts by: Bridget Conley

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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For Burundi today, however, the question is, how to engage to defuse the violence and help Burundians forge a stronger path out of crisis than the one that led them into it. Without doubt, this will require a unified and resolute international mediation, and subsequent commitment to evaluating how longer-term commitments can participate in Burundian efforts to build resilience.

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I would like to introduce you to Sylvain Mbiye (Mushiba) Saluseke. He is the husband of a friend of mine, and a Congolese civil society activist. I introduce you to him because he has been detained without charges by Congolese security services in Kinshasa since March 17. His plight is both personal and historic. It is, of course, deeply painful for his family and loved ones, and it is also a small thread in the unraveling political story in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The longer he is detained, the worse is the fate of the country’s future. This is true not because of anything that Saluseke himself might have done or might yet do; rather, it is true because his continued detention serves as warning of how the government will act as the elections of 2016 approach.

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Whether one engages with the goal of regime change for reasons of civilian protection or anti-authoritarianism, or a goal of maintaining the state in the name of respect for sovereignty and anti-terrorism, or some other form of rationalization, the effect is the same. The regime in Syria is despicable; ISIS is despicable–but there is a difference between removing the state and conceding ground to nihilist insurgents. The choice is not between friends and enemies, but the choice to de-escalate violence and shift opposition to a political (rather than military) plane, or to increase violence. And whatever the goal, it is important to ask at what point does continuing to feed the dynamic of violence become the worst option?

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World Peace Foundation would like to express its support for the project, Naming the Ones We Lost–South Sudan Conflict. The power of memorializing acts of mass violence does not reside in the creation of narratives that are later deployed to justify new paradigms, policies or institutions– memory does not provide service to future agendas. The […]

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