United to End Genocide Blog

South Sudan’s Oil Shake-Up

By David Kienzler

In what’s being described as the largest shake-up of South Sudan’s oil concessions since the country became independent in July 2011, the massive Block B — which had largely been held by French oil company Total — will be split into three. Total will keep one block while U.S.-based ExxonMobil and Kuwaiti oil company Kufpec will reportedly get the other two.

Since 1980, Total had owned rights to the Block B oil concession through a deal they had struck with the government of Sudan. Operations were suspended in 1985 due to the deteriorating security situation as civil war raged between the North and South Sudan. However, Total retained rights to the block through an annual $1 million renewal fee.

The company began to get pressure to resume operations following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war. In recent years, the government of South Sudan increasingly expressed impatience with the lack of development in Block B. Total said recommencement of exploration was dependent on preconditions including security guarantees for operations on the ground. Jonglei state, where Total’s concession is located, has experienced a high level of inter-tribal violence and insecurity since 2009.

The announcement that South Sudan will split the concession is important for several reasons:

  • It’s the culmination of years of tension between South Sudan and Total over the company’s refusal to resume exploration due to insecurity. Total had fought against efforts to divide the concession, but it remains to be seen if there is any legal ground for the company to challenge the split.
  • To break up the concession, South Sudan had to break the agreement Total had made with the government of Sudan. Despite pre-independence assurances by South Sudan that it would honor existing oil contracts, the country has been pressuring oil companies to redraw agreements. This is the strongest assertion yet by South Sudan of its right to renegotiate deals made under the old regime.
  • The biggest news is the possibility of ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil corporation, moving into South Sudan. In 2011, the U.S. government amended its sanctions to allow oil-related investment in South Sudan, despite the fact that all oil exports still need to be transported through Sudan’s oil infrastructure. ExxonMobil would be the first American oil producer to operate in Sudan or South Sudan since Marathon Oil Corporation withdrew following the imposition of U.S. sanctions in 1997.

Tensions over oil continue between Sudan and South Sudan despite a recently signed provisional deal. If carried out, the agreement, among other things, would end the standoff where the government of Sudan was accused of stealing the South’s oil resulting in South Sudan shutting down all oil production in January 2012. Given the reliance on oil revenue, the shutdown now threatens to destabilize the economies of both countries. The deal and the breaking up of block B suggests South Sudan is looking past the current impasse toward its long-term oil future.

Read More

The Presidential Election and Ending Genocide and Mass Atrocities

By Daniel Sullivan

Credit: Flickr/JoshBerglund19

It is official. With the Republican and Democratic conventions over, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are their party’s respective candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Now the final stretch of the campaign season kicks into high gear with debates, town halls and other events throughout the United States.

For the community of activists committed to ending genocide and mass atrocities, this moment also marks increasing opportunities to ask the candidates questions about their positions on important issues, including how the candidates plan to address the current crises in places like Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Syria.

Upcoming events include a town hall-style debate covering both domestic and foreign policy on October 16, and a debate dedicated to foreign policy on October 22. These debates will provide an opportunity for us to ask questions like:

  • Will you pledge to make ending and preventing genocide and mass atrocities a national priority?
  • How will you ensure that U.S. investment in Burma will help support democratic transformation and respect for human rights, and prevent those responsible for undermining rights from profiting?
  • How will you work to strengthen the rule of law and security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
  • What will you do to end the bombing of civilian areas and the blockade of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation in Sudan?
  • What will you do to protect civilians in Syria where a staggering death toll continues to mount because of the brutal attacks by President Bashar al-Assad?

Attention to genocide and mass atrocities prevention in the presidential campaign will rely on pressure from those who care about these issues. Before they merged to form United to End Genocide, both the Genocide Intervention Network and the Save Darfur Coalition had success in putting key issues into the campaign spotlight. In the last election, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton all provided a joint statement and video pledges to fight for the people of Darfur.

But, we didn’t do this alone. Our large and powerful grassroots network raised its collective voice, demanding answers from the campaign trail.

United to End Genocide has already sent letters to both the Obama and Romney campaigns asking for a pledge to treat genocide and mass atrocities prevention as a national priority. Over the next several weeks with your help, we’ll ramp up the pressure on the candidates once again. With the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk across the planet, we must know what actions the next president is going to take on these life or death issues.

Read More

Ambassador Chris Stevens: In Memoriam

By Bama Athreya

The U.S. government’s support for NATO and United Nations Security Council actions in Libya in March 2011 most likely saved many thousands of innocent lives in Libya. It is tragic that one of the diplomats at the forefront of these decisive actions has lost his own life in the city he did so much to save.

The next few days will likely see many long testimonials to the life and service of Ambassador Chris Stevens. I had the great pleasure of knowing Chris as a fellow junior foreign service officer in the early 1990s when he was just getting his start as a diplomat.  He worked hard and played hard, and brought everyone into his circle of friends with his enthusiasm and openness of spirit. I left the Foreign Service to dedicate my career to human rights advocacy; Chris went on to become the kind of diplomat that represents the absolute best of our country.

Chris Stevens took on a role in service to our country that few of us would have had the courage to fill. He understood the importance of that role to the citizens of other countries in which he served, and displayed the best possible embodiment of that role in Libya. He served the United States by promoting our country’s interest in stopping mass atrocities, protecting human rights, and defending Libya’s tentative steps toward a representative government. Few of us ever achieve so much.

Many of us will mourn Chris. I hope many more, who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him, will now remember Chris, and will find inspiration in his courage and achievements.

Read More

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Visit: Progress and Remaining Challenges in Burma

By Allyson Neville-Morgan

Aung San Suu Kyi — Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate — will make her first visit to the United States in more than two decades beginning on September 16. During her visit she’ll receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian.

While her trip is a tangible reminder that some progress has been made in Burma, it’s also important to bear in mind all the challenges that remain. Suu Kyi is free, but political prisoners remain behind bars. Suu Kyi was allowed to run for a parliamentary seat in the April election, but the constitution still guarantees the military control of the legislature. Parts of Burma have become more open, but human rights violations are still rampant in ethnic minority areas, including Kachin and Arakan States.

In light of the ongoing challenges it is unfortunate that the U.S. government chose to reward the regime prematurely when it relaxed nearly all sanctions earlier this year, including a ban on U.S. investment. With limited remaining leverage to support continued progress toward democracy and respect for human rights, it’s imperative that the United States maintain a watchful eye on Burma, and be prepared to re-impose sanctions should progress falter.

Most urgently, now that the investment ban has been lifted, the U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that U.S. companies looking to enter the Burmese market have the updated information they need to make responsible decisions. The Treasury Department maintains a list of problematic actors, known as the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, but the list specific to Burma has not received a significant update in over five years.

We’re calling on President Obama to make sure the SDN list is updated immediately. Otherwise, U.S. companies seeking investment opportunities risk doing business with the same people who are responsible for committing atrocities or undermining democracy.

Investors are already rushing into Burma. In July, Chevron, Exxon Mobile and Conoco Phillips were part of a delegation of 40 firms looking to invest in Burma’s oil and gas sector. Every day, more U.S. companies are lining up to get access to Burma’s lucrative natural resources.

Join us by taking action right now. Tell President Obama to support democratic reforms and human rights in Burma by updating the Specially Designated Nationals List today.

As we welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to the U.S., let’s support her and advocates like her with the tools to make sure human rights abusers in Burma do not profit from new investments.

Read More

People Empowering People: Building a Strategy to End the Multiple Crises in Sudan

By Niemat Ahmadi

Niemat Ahmadi addresses event attendees. (Credit: Destri Andorf)

“This is the only way that we can bring the promise of never again into reality — by working together, people to people, to take steps that match words with deeds.” In late August, I had the privilege of addressing over 250 people, including various national and regional leaders from across Sudan and South Sudan (representing Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Darfur, eastern Sudan, Equatoria, Bar el Gazal and Upper Nile) in Iowa to protest the killings in Sudan by President al-Bashir.

We were joined by non-Sudanese activists interested in challenging the ineffective approach of the international community and supporting the Sudanese people.

These members of Sudanese Diaspora gathered to bring much needed attention to the long-standing suffering of their friends, family and countrymen at the hand of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and the inaction from the international community. For nearly a decade the world has witnessed the killing and the destruction of livelihoods in Darfur. The Darfur conflict began just as over 20 years of war between North and South Sudan was ending. Altogether, it is estimated that around 2.5 million people have lost their lives in Sudan as a result of various conflicts.

The government of Sudan is now launching a military campaign that has seen the extensive targeting of civilians in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Sudanese military is now fighting on three major fronts (Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile) as popular dissent continues to rise with protests occurring in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere.

The international community has failed in its moral obligation toward the people of Sudan by not holding the Sudanese government accountable. Bashir and others wanted by the International Criminal Court remain at large.

Despite all of Sudan’s broken promises, the international community continues to allow the government to renegotiate the terms of agreements and treaties that it has never upheld. Sadly, this only serves to re-victimize those impacted by the violence and prolong the suffering of the Sudanese people.

Those at the gathering recognized that protesting against Bashir isn’t enough.   At the event, the creation of the United Sudanese and Southern Sudanese Community Association was announced. The organization will seek to unite the voices of the Sudanese people and was born with the support of activists like Rabbi David Kaufman, Mark Finkelstein, Peggy Harris and Kristen Anderson.

I was truly amazed by the event and the dedication of the all the activists across the country who have taken stand against the unfolding crises that are devastating lives in Sudan.

With this kind of solidarity and empowerment, the people of Sudan and South Sudan can work together to bring lasting peace to their countries. If a group of committed individuals can launch a robust effort to unite Sudanese people from Iowa, imagine what a government or a group of governments can do with their power if they are willing?

As expressed by my fellow Sudanese at the gathering, I believe that world leaders still have the chance to help bring a lasting peace to the people of Sudan. History will judge us by our action! I hope that the Obama administration and other world leaders will wisely choose where they want to be in the history book.

Read More

Sudan’s Abandoned Human Rights Council Bid

By Daniel Sullivan

As ridiculous as it seems, last week Sudan was actually on track for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). The Sudanese government, led Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other crimes, continues to commit atrocities against civilians in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile States as well as the Darfur region.

Fortunately, the outcry from activists and members of the international community seems to have provided the necessary pressure to encourage Sudan to withdraw its bid.

First, Kenya indicated that it would join the running for one of the five seats on the HRC reserved for the Africa group, which had previously been uncontested. (The other candidates are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.) Then, as reported last week, Sudan informed the African Union that it “is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available.”

However, the victory may not be complete. The question remains as to what Sudan may have received in return for the decision to withdraw its candidacy. HRC watchers believe that Sudan may have run for the seat in order to negotiate support for a weakened mandate for the special rapporteur — a position appointed by the UN HRC to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Sudan. The last gathering of the HRC resulted in a mandate changes, which allowed the Sudanese government to place restrictions on the rapporteur’s travel and the people with whom he could speak.

The United States and other countries have indicated their intention to insist on a stronger mandate for the rapporteur that includes access to all regions of the country and for interviews beyond those pre-selected by government officials. That battle will play out over the next three weeks as the HRC begins its next session on Monday, September 10 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The egregious specter of a genocidal regime sitting on the UN Human Rights Council has been averted, but the damage to the pursuit of human rights in Sudan from this saga may not be done.

Read More

“We stand with the people of Syria”

By Allyson Neville-Morgan

On September 2, 2012, United to End Genocide joined in solidarity with the people of Syria by co-sponsoring a march and rally in front of the White House. President and CEO Tom Andrews offered his remarks, demanding that the violence must end.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqMBs99yoEA&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

The event was hosted by Syrian American organizations, including the Syrian American Council, Syrian Emergency Task Force and Syrian Expatriates Organization. It was also supported by Amnesty International USA.

Several thousand people were in attendance at the event, which included prominent speakers from the Syrian American community, along with compelling slam poetry and rap performances. Photos of the event can be found here.

Read More

Interview with Peace Activist Rudwan Dawod

By Daniel Sullivan

In early July, Rudwan Dawod — Project Director for Sudan Sunrise and a U.S. resident — was arrested by the Sudanese government for participating in a peaceful protest. In late August, he was finally released.

Less than 24 hours after his safe return to the United States, I sat down with Rudwan to speak about his arrest, detention and torture at the hands of the Sudanese government.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4pXIV9kBQM&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

We’d like to say a special thank you to everyone who joined our campaign with Sudan Sunrise to demand Rudwan’s release. We’re so grateful that he has finally been able to return home.

Read More

Nine Crises We’re Watching: Part III

By Fabrice Musoni

In the final installment of a three part series, we share with you three more countries that we are watching where there is a significant potential for widespread and systematic violence against civilians.

Stay tuned to the blog for more as we continue to track these crises and others. In case you missed it, don’t forget to check out part I and part II of the series.

Nigeria

A militant insurgency, known as Boko Haram, has been operating to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish an Islamic state ruled by sharia law. Boko Haram has targeted public and religious institutions with a notable attack on the United Nations (UN) compound in the capital of Abuja in August 2011. The group’s recent attacks have single out Christians and they have broadened their targets to include public schools. According to Human Rights Watch, the extremist group’s campaign of terror has claimed more than 1,400 lives since 2010.

In mid-June, it is estimated that over 100 people were killed when several churches were attacked by Boko Haram in Kaduna State. The incident prompted the UN human rights office to warn that such attacks against civilians perpetrated could amount to crimes against humanity.

The atrocities committed by Boko Haram are part of a pattern of attacks and reprisals that manifest themselves along ethnic and religious lines. Moreover, tactics employed by government security agencies against Boko Haram have been consistently brutal and counterproductive. The government’s reliance on extrajudicial execution sustains and fuels the group’s terror campaign. Experts argue that the militarized response by the Nigeria government to address the prevalence of ethnic militias in the Niger Delta region has resulted in gross human rights violations.

Tajikistan

In July, fighting erupted in the town of Khorog near the border with Afghanistan. The fighting broke out in what is known as the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province following the killing of the regional head of the State Committee for National Security. The government retaliated with a military action against local opposition strongman . It is reported that 200 people were killed as the national army clashed with rebels. The dead included more than 100 military personnel and about 100 civilians.

The potential for continued violence is real since relations between the central government and residents of the mountainous region of Badakhshan, locally known as Pamir, have been strained Since residents in Pamir supported the opposition during Tajikistan’s five-year civil war between 1992 and 1997.

Zimbabwe

There is a real concern for increased violence against civilians as Zimbabwe heads toward elections. Tensions are already rising as long-time president Robert Mugabe wants a vote held this year, while the political opposition seeks to postpone until March 2013.

For the past decade, elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by political violence pitting supporters of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and those of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The situation escalated in 2008 when Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential election to Tsvangirai. Subsequently, in the period leading up to the June presidential runoff in the same year, security forces loyal to Mugabe were accused of perpetrating a violent campaign against opposition activists. 100 were killed and thousands tortured.

The potential for renewed electoral violence is significant. According to the Zimbabwe Peace Project — which monitors politically motivated human rights violations, including murder, torture, forced disappearance —incidents of violence are on the rise across the country. There were 409 recorded cases in May and 521 incidences witnessed in April. These numbers are likely to increase at the election gets closer.

We’d like to hear from you. What crises are you most concerned about in terms of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?

Read More

World Silence is Killing Syria: March and Rally This Sunday

By Guest Blog

By Christy Delafield

Last week, Syria witnessed the bloodiest massacre so far in the Assad forces’ brutal crackdown on the Syrian opposition with more than 400 civilians killed in the town of Daraya.

The Syrian Revolution began on March 15, 2012 as a peaceful multi-ethnic, multi-religious movement calling for a free and democratic nation, and the overthrow of the oppressive Assad regime.

In response to the calls of freedom by the Syrian people, the Assad regime attempted to brutally suppress the revolution and punish the civilians through systematic murder, rape, detainment, torture and destruction. It is estimated that more than 20,000 have been killed in less than 18 months. The defections of military professionals led to the formation of the Free Syrian Army, which has grown into a network of organized brigades protecting the Syrian civilian population from the onslaught of the Assad forces.

While the media reporting on Syria has increasingly focused on the violent conflict of Syria’s “civil war” — a term that hardly begins to describe a conflict characterized by massacres of civilians and vastly outmatched rebels — the peaceful mass demonstrations have not ceased. The Syrian people, Christian, Alawite, Muslim, Druze and Kurd, continue to come together to call for basic liberties in the most honest of ways: peaceful demonstration.

This Sunday, September 2, we ask you to join them for a march and rally in Washington, D.C. Together with United to End Genocide and Amnesty International, Syrian-Americans will march from the Washington Convention Center and gather at Lafayette Square to call for an end to the violence in Syria.

Join us. Make your voice be heard.

Christy Delafield is the Program Director of the Syrian Expatriates Organization.

Read More