Tag: United Nations

Who killed these people?

I received this note this morning from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade:

Approximately 1,400 civilians were killed in the area of responsibility of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1999. The mortal remains of a number of victims were discovered in mass graves in Serbia. The present Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković, was the Commander of the Brigade at this time. Neither he nor any members of his unit have been held accountable for these crimes.

The evidence showing the presence and the role of the Yugoslav Army in the mass killings of civilians in Izbica, Čirez, Savarine, Rezala and other villages in the Drenica region is presented in the film titled “Ljubiša Diković and the 37th Brigade in Kosovo”, made by the Humanitarian Law Center. This evidence has already been presented in the “Ljubiša Diković” and “Rudnica” Dossiers.

A number of TV services in Serbia, including the public broadcasters Radio and Television of Serbia and Radio and Television of Vojvodina, have refused or have not responded to the request that they screen the film.

So here is the film, which apart from the spooky music seems to me worthy of the attention of anyone concerned with justice in the Balkans:

I hasten to add that there are of course Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others about whom the same question could be asked. It is to the credit of the Humanitarian Law Center that it has been concerned about all the individuals killed in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Injustice does not justify injustice. The failure to assign responsibility in one case does not excuse the failure to assign responsibility in others. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had limited capacities and is now closed to new cases. The governments of the region owe it to each other and to themselves to assign responsibility, even to their highest officials if that is where the evidence points.

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Assad may stay, but his abuses shouldn’t

RAND colleagues have again updated their proposal for de-escalation and decentralization in Syria. This time there is no pretense that Assad would cooperate, only an assertion that he is unlikely to do better given his weakening military forces. The proposition now is for a Russian/American/Turkish  and maybe /Iranian agreement imposed on him and the opposition, once Raqqa is taken by the Kurdish and allied Arab forces now investing it.

Raqqa would be put under international (UN or US/Russian) administration, the opposition would remain in control of a slice of the south, Idlib would likely fall to the regime, the “Manbij pocket” would remain in Turkish or surrogate Turkoman hands, and Kurds would rule the rest of the north. Assad would control “useful Syria” in the populous western “spine” and might eventually get his hands on Deir Azzour and its oil resources in the east, where regime forces have held on through more than six years of revolution and war.

The premise behind this proposal is that we are near if not at a mutually hurting stalemate, in which the warring parties conclude that they have no prospect of gaining much from continued fighting. What Jim Dobbins, Phil Gordon, and Jeffrey Martini are proposing is what is known in the negotiating trade as a “way out.” They don’t claim that what they propose is fair or just, only that ending the fighting and refocusing the military effort against the extremists of Jabhat Fateh al Sham and the Islamic State is what serves US interests best. While they don’t say it, I suppose Donald Trump could claim that an internationally administered Raqqa province is the “safe zone” that he has repeatedly promised. This is a faute de mieux proposal based on the emerging situation, not an optimal one.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the proposal is the Kurdish-led attack on Raqqa, followed by a withdrawal in favor of an international administration. Some would like to see Turkish-backed Arab forces engaged there, perhaps in parallel if not jointly with the Kurdish-led Arabs. The rest amounts mainly to acceptance of the status quo, or the presumed status to be.

I understand why Americans focus on who takes Raqqa–it is the “capital” and last real stronghold of the Islamic State in Syria. Its conquest will affect the geopolitics of the region for a long time to come. But I also think it is what Alfred North Whitehead called a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” For me, the main issue is how the two-thirds of Syrians under Assad control in the western spine of the country will live, what will happen with the 6.6 million displaced people, and whether the 4.8 million Syrian refugees will be welcomed back to the country. It is a mistake to focus on Raqqa without considering these issues.

While the Trump administration may have different ideas, it was hard to imagine until January 20 that the United States would help the Assad regime with anything but the massive humanitarian aid it has provided throughout the fighting, much of which has gone to regime-controlled areas.

Reconstruction assistance is another matter. The Russians and Iranians have already told Assad they have given during the war and cannot be relied upon once it is over. Iran has recently cut its subsidized oil shipments. If the fighting ends with a negotiated agreement along the lines RAND proposes, the Americans and Europeans will be expected to ante up, if not directly at least by allowing IMF and World Bank assistance.

What conditions should govern American and European support for reconstruction?

Here is where the West has a chance to win the peace, even if the opposition has lost the war. It will need to use prospective assistance as leverage to get Assad to drop his authoritarian brutality, illustrated recently by Amnesty International’s graphic report on the executions at Saydnaya prison. The US should lay out clearly and in advance the conditions under which it would consider more than humanitarian assistance to Syria’s civilians under regime control. Something like these might be considered:

  • Release of all political prisoners and an accounting for all those executed or still held.
  • Amnesty for non-violent demonstrators.
  • Reform of the security and judicial services, with accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Withdrawal of all foreign forces, including Lebanese Hizbollah as well as Iraqi and Afghan Shia militias, as well as demobilization and dissolution of all sectarian forces.
  • An inclusive process for revising the Syrian constitution and deciding when free and fair elections will be held.
  • Creation of an independent electoral commission.
  • Elimination of excessive constraints on media and political activity.
  • Freedom to return without reprisals for all refugees and displaced people.
  • An end to the crony capitalism that was a driving force of the revolution.

A vigorous and capable UN mission or something of the sort would be required to get fulfillment of such conditions and monitor implementation.

Assad is nowhere near accepting such conditions today. He continues with bold-faced denials, not only of the executions at Saydnaya but even the well-documented use of barrel bombs against civilians and attacks on hospitals and schools. If he persists in that vein, America and Europe should keep their wallets in their pockets and let come what may. Worrying about how Raqqa will be governed is far less important than making sure the abuses come to an end in the areas Assad controls.

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More own goals

Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:

  1. He announced the building of the border wall shortly before the planned visit of Mexican President Peña Nieto. This has put the visit in doubt and makes it nigh on impossible for Peña Nieto to cooperate with the effort in any way, least of all by paying a dime for the unnecessary and expensive project. Trump continues to claim the Mexicans will pay, but he doesn’t say how and admits it may be complicated. More likely done with smoke and mirrors, not a clear and verifiable transfer of resources.
  2. Trump continues to say that the US should have “taken” Iraq’s oil, has returned to claiming that torture works, and is considering an executive order reviving the “black sites” abroad in which much of it was done. Torture of course does work in the sense that it gets most people to talk, but the information they provide is mostly useless. The draft executive order on “black sites” reportedly denies access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is required by the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda will welcome all three of these points, as they help with extremist recruitment and put Americans serving abroad (military and civilian) at heightened risk.
  3. He has revived the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the US. This will benefit Canada but put excessive amounts of crude into an already oversupplied US market. My bet is that it won’t be built, even if the permits are forthcoming, both because of environmental opposition in Canada and because the economics just don’t work at current oil prices in the mid-$50 range.
  4. He intends to block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely as well as refugees from several other countries temporarily. Blocking carefully vetted Syrians when Europe is taking in many more will strain relations with the European Union, especially as he paired this announcement with repeat of his pledge to create a safe zone in Syria for which there are currently no clear plans. The other countries to be blocked temporarily from sending refugees (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have produced few terrorists operating in the US, so this will be seen in those countries as arbitrary discrimination. Countries that have produced more terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, are unaffected, presumably because their governments are friendly to the US.
  5. The Administration is preparing to cut UN funding dramatically. Press reports . say the overall cut will be 40%, which would save at most $2.8 billion, or much less than 1% of the defense budget. Such a cut will reduce US influence in the world organization and its specialized agencies, which are a relatively efficient way of dealing with issues the US does not want to handle on its own. The UN currently has over 117,000 troops in 16 peacekeeping operations, for which the US pays 22% of the total costs.
  6. Trump has pledged an investigation of fraudulent voting in the US. He is citing as evidence for his claim that millions voted illegally a story he says was told him by a non-citizen [sic] who stood in line to vote with people he doubted were citizens. He has also emphasized his concern with people who are registered to vote in two states. Both Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are reported to fall in this category. Trump has failed to object to laws and practices intended to suppress voting, mostly by people unlikely to vote for him.

Anyone expecting Trump to moderate once in power should by now be admitting that this is a radical administration that intends to pursue all the bad ideas it campaigned on. There will be no maturation until he is blocked, and even then he is less likely to mature than simply retreat in order to fight another day. He is governing to please his supporters, whose adulation he craves. The rest of us are consigned to opposition. The next big anti-Trump demonstrations will be April 15. I think this time I’ll plan to be in the US.

 

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What Syrian civil society wants now

Baytna Syria sent this message early today, representing the views of an important segment of opposition-oriented Syrian civil society:

The Syrian civil society organizations followed closely the recent developments and discussions regarding the ceasefire agreement signed by opposition armed groups and the Syrian regime mediated by Russia and Turkey as endorsed by UN Security Council resolution 2336.

The signatories welcome any serious and credible ceasefire agreement as it will spare our people further blood, killing, and destruction. Such an agreement should be a prelude to a credible political process that will lead to the realization of the Syrian people’s aspirations in freedom, justice, and dignity.

For such an agreement to acquire the necessary seriousness and credibility, it shall:

  •  include a publicly published monitoring, verification and accountability process. The signatories declare their readiness to participate in any monitoring role required, each according to its mandate and principles.
  •  specify a single wording for the agreement signed by parties to the conflict and the guarantors, and carbon translated to Arabic, Russian, English, and Turkish. The details of the agreement should be made public.
  •  include a published and clear description of the role of the guarantors (Russian Federation and Turkey) and means to verify and sanction any violation.
  •  declare the UN Security Council resolutions as the unique political reference to the negotiation process, especially UNSCR 2118 and UNSCR 2254.

The signatories see in the Higher Negotiations Committee the sole representative of the Syrian revolution and opposition in the negotiations. The Syrian regime should appoint its delegation and negotiations should be between two parties only.

The continued shelling of the Barada valley in Damascus suburbs, Atareb in Aleppo suburbs and other areas in Syria proves yet again the lack of seriousness of the regime to positively engage in any ceasefire process, its insistence on its security/military solution to crush any opposition, and its non-credibility when declaring adopting a political solution to the conflict.

Russian maneuvering with different versions of the agreement and its attempt to impose a new UN Security Council resolution that would give it a role in defining the Syrian opposition team worries us a lot, especially regarding its role as a guarantor to the agreement. This pushes us to ask Turkey, the other guarantor, and countries of the Friends of Syria group, to follow matters closely and to block any understandings or agreements that do not meet the criteria above.

At the end, we would like to stress that the continuous and unhindered delivery of humanitarian and medical aid to all Syrian territories and primarily to the besieged areas remain the real test on the willingness of the regime and its allies to abide by UNSC resolutions, including the latest one 2336 and to engage in a serious and credible political process that leads to the desired political transition in Syria.

Signatories:
Baytna Syria
The Day After
RM Team
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Maram Foundation
Space of Hope
LACU
Afaq Academy
SNVM
Violations Documentation Center in Syria
Bihar Relief Organization
LDSPS
Emissa

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The Security Council speaks, at last

After decades of opposing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Washington yesterday finally did something about it: it abstained on a UN Security Council resolution fully consistent with US policy. This is being interpreted by some as a “kick in the teeth” to Israel and a sign that President Obama is anti-Semitic.

Give me a break. Obama has provided ample military, economic, political and diplomatic support for Israel, whose Prime Minister Netanyahu has returned the favor with efforts to undermine the President at every turn, including blatant support to his Congressional opposition and to candidate Trump, who is promising that things will be different at the UN after January 20. The fact is US abstentions and vetoes of UNSC resolutions critical of Israel have been much more common under previous presidents than under Obama:

The operational part of UN Security Council resolution 2334 includes this on settlements:

The Security Council…

1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;

4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-State solution….

This is blunt language by diplomatic standards, but it is not unfair. What it essentially does is to try to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution by preventing unilateral Israeli occupation of territory that is vital to the formation of a Palestinian state. A UNSC resolution of this sort has substantial support among Americans, especially but not only Democrats:

The resolution also includes this, clearly directed for the most part at the Palestinians:

6. Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism;

The “stabbing” intifada is not acceptable, in other words.

The Council seems to me to have understood Donald Trump perfectly well: while he promised to be fair to the Palestinians early in his campaign, he has shown no sign since the election of anything but willingness to accommodate the most radical Israeli views, both on Jerusalem and settlements.

This resolution is an attempt to send a strong message to him and to those Israelis who want to ditch the idea of a Palestinian state. Their thinly disguised subterfuge of settlement expansion is being called out for what it is: opposition to the two-solution and imposition by one state of unequal protection of rights for Palestinians.

The immediate impact is unlikely to be salutary. Trump, who got the Egyptians to withdraw the resolution two days ago only to see it reintroduced by others and passed on Friday, will want to do something to show he is Israel’s great white hope. Netanyahu will no doubt tell Trump that the resolution is one more reason to signal strong support for Israel by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

I’m not sure that will trigger a third intifada or other dire consequences, as some predict. Arabs have a lot of other things on their minds these days. But it is still the wrong thing to do, as the issue of which capitals are where has always been regarded as a “final status” issue subject to negotiations. That is not true of settlements, which have long been regarded, including by the US, as a violation of international humanitarian law that prejudices the outcome of negotiations.

No end of the Israel/Palestine conflict is on the horizon. But this Security Council resolution is a useful reiteration of norms that Israel is violating. When the time comes for final status negotiations, it will make a difference that the Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem, are illegal. They will have to be abandoned or legalized, with proper compensation. Anything less would be unjust and unsustainable.

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Peace picks, November 14 – 18

  1. For 130 Million People, A Need for Longer-Term Relief | Monday, October 14th | 9.30am – 11am | US Institute of Peace | click HERE to register

Many violent conflicts have become chronic. In order to build sustainable peace, humanitarian relief must also contribute to or complement long-term development goals.  While discussions at the World Humanitarian Summit raised meaningful questions about how humanitarian and development sectors are responding to protracted conflict, institutions are still trying to improve the response even as the needs grow more urgent.

This Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum event will look at how the short-term needs of vulnerable communities, particularly the victims of war, can be met in ways that contribute to longer-term peacebuilding, development and rebuilding.

Participants Include:

Carla Koppell – Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U.S. Institute of Peace

Matt McGuire – U.S. Executive Director, World Bank

Michael Talhami – Senior Water and Shelter (WATHAB) advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (Jordan)

Colin Bruce – Director, Africa Regional Integration, World Bank

Jeff Helsing – Associate Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U. S. Institute of Peace

  1. Governing Uncertainty: Governance in Tunisia Following Authoritarian Breakdown| Monday, November 14th | 12.30pm – 2pm | Johns Hopkins SAIS | click HERE to register

The immediate period between the ousting of authoritarian president Ben Ali and the first post-uprising elections in Tunisia in 2011 raises many questions. Who was really calling the shots, and what was the impact of their decisions? This presentation will address some of these questions based on research carried out in Tunisia between 2013-2015.

The discussion will be given by Ms. Sabina Henneberg, PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Sabina’s doctoral dissertation is on the current political transformations in North Africa. She is the author of several articles and papers on Tunisia.

  1. Troubling the Political: Women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement | Monday, November 14th | 12.30pm – 2pm | Georgetown University | click HERE to register

The Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement (DWLM) played a central role in the Jordanian Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Sha’bi al-Urduni), commonly referred to as the Hirak, from 2011 to the end of 2012. The large number of women who were active and took on leading roles in the DWLM contrasts with the absence women’s organizations in other aspects of the Hirak. Drawing on extensive research in Jordan, Professor Sara Ababneh argues that the DWLM was able to attract so many women because it developed a discourse and flexible structure that understood women to be embedded within communities and prioritized their economic needs. By studying this discourse and structure, it is possible to learn important lessons about gender inclusive political and institutional reform.

Dr. Sara Ababneh is an Assistant Professor for the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. She is currently a visiting fellow at Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

  1. A Conversation With UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson | Monday, November 14th | 5pm – 6pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | click HERE to register

Join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for a conversation with UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson on the future of the United Nations and multilateralism in a changing global landscape. As he prepares to step down from a forty year long career in diplomacy and the UN, DSG Eliasson will reflect on the challenges facing the international community and the opportunities for global cooperation. Carnegie President William J. Burns will introduce and moderate the conversation.

  1. What Does the World Expect of President-elect Donald Trump? | Tuesday, November 15th | 11am – 12.30pm | Wilson Center | click HERE to register

The next U.S. Administration faces a complicated, volatile world. Join us for spirited conversation about the foreign policy expectations and challenges confronting the next President of the United States with distinguished Wilson Center experts on Russia, China, the Middle East, Latin America and more.

 Participants include:

Jane Harman – Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center

Cynthia J. Arnson – Director, Latin American Program

Robert S. Litwak – Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies

Aaron David Miller – Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar

Matthew Rojansky – Director, Kennan Institute

Duncan Wood – Director, Mexico Institute

  1. The Battle for Pakistan: The Fight Against Terrorism and Militancy | Tuesday, November 15th | 11.30am | Atlantic Council | click HERE to register

Please join the Atlantic Council for an assessment of Pakistan’s National Action Plan by a Distinguished Fellow of the South Asia Center, Mr. Shuja Nawaz. Mr. Nawaz’s assessment is based on a nine-month study for the United States Institute of Peace. A degree of cautious optimism about Pakistan’s future is warranted, but greater efforts are needed to fundamentally change the landscape that nurtures terrorism and militancy in Pakistan today. In this discussion, Mr. Nawaz will suggest ways in which the National Action Plan can be improved and reviewed by the government and parliament of Pakistan such as setting clear benchmarks and improving coordination among the provinces. Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President of the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace; and Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies at National Defense University, will discuss the current state of Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism and militancy. The event will be moderated by Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. The event is co-hosted with the United States Institute of Peace.

A conversation with:

Mr. Shuja NawazDistinguished Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

Dr. Moeed YusufAssociate Vice President of Asia Center, United States Institute of Peace

Dr. Thomas F. Lynch IIIDistinguished Research Fellow, Institute of National Strategic Studies, National Defense University

  1. 70th Annual Middle East Institute Conference | Wednesday, November 16th | 9am – 5pm| Middle East Institute | click HERE to register

Please join MEI as we celebrate 70 years of history at our 70th Annual Conference which will convene prominent Middle Eastern and American experts and foreign policy practitioners for four panel conversations covering the prevailing challenges facing the new U.S. administration as it sets its Middle East agenda.

  1. Morocco’s Fight With Violent Extremism | Wednesday, November 16th | 12pm – 1.20pm| Hudson Institute | click HERE to register

The Kingdom of Morocco is undertaking a comprehensive effort to tackle violent Islamism by combining traditional security measures with development initiatives, governance reform, and education. One of the leaders in this fight is Dr. Ahmed Abbadi, the president of the League of Mohammedan Scholars. The League is a body of religious scholars charged by King Mohammed VI with countering and dismantling the ideology of Islamic State and other radical movements. On November 16, Dr. Abbadi will speak at Hudson Institute about Morocco’s experiences in the fight against Islamist extremism, including the importance of ideology, youth outreach, and education.

  1. A Debate on Pakistan: What Future Role for America? | Wednesday, November 16th | 1.30pm – 3pm| United States Institute of Peace | click HERE to register

The United States’ assistance has helped Pakistan address critical domestic challenges, notably in energy, infrastructure, and counter-terrorism. Still some scholars argue this aid has been counterproductive. U.S. legislators effectively blocked a loan to help Pakistan buy F-16 fighter jets this year, saying Pakistani authorities are not doing enough to curtail Afghan insurgents from using Pakistan as a safe haven.

As relations have deteriorated, some scholars increasingly have raised questions on the utility and viability of assistance to Pakistan. The November 16 USIP debate will examine that question, as well as challenges for the next U.S. president in addressing the countries’ relationship, and Pakistan’s future as a U.S. partner. Speakers will include longtime South Asia scholar and policy analyst Lisa Curtis; former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani; former Pakistan central bank governor Ishrat Husain; and Ambassador Robin Raphel, who served as the United States’ first assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia and U.S. Coordinator for Non-Military Assistance to Pakistan.

  1. The United States, the Next President, and the Middle East: A View From Israel | Wednesday, November 16th | 4pm – 5pm| Wilson Center | click HERE to register

Please join us as former Deputy Minister of Defense Ephraim Sneh shares his perspective on a range of issues related to Israel’s national security, the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the nuclear agreement with Iran. As a long-time observer and participant in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Mr. Sneh will also offer his analysis of the U.S. Presidential elections and the challenges that will face the new administration.

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