For at least the last two decades, there have been calls within the United Nations to develop robust, accurate, and effective early warning systems for conflict prevention. Indeed, as recently as September 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council reiterated this need in their report “Preventative Diplomacy: Delivering Results.” The president of the Security Council at the time stated that a “key component…of a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy include[s] early warning [mechanisms].” The need for comprehensive early warning systems to analyze and disseminate data on sociopolitical and armed conflict dynamics within the UN system is well established.
Yet one of the main operational challenges to early warning is clear: how to aggregate incoming information and data to derive actionable intelligence on an emerging situation. Often (but not always), incoming data is highly qualitative, which can place strains on the limited capacity of international organizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, quantitative data is often not collected in a way that can easily be fed into a larger system. Organizations can find it too resource-intensive to clean, process, and analyze the data, thus limiting the type and volume of data being looked at.
One way to overcome these resource constraints is to create tools that can automate the processing and analysis of quantitative data. Machine learning and data science seems a natural fit to improve this process. Data science is a multidisciplinary field that applies a mix of mathematics, statistics, computer science, data modeling and visualization, graphic design and hacking, as well as specific subject area expertise. Machine learning is a branch of computer science that leverages algorithms, or a set of step-by-step computer procedures, to perform actions without explicitly being programmed to. Machine learning has been used by a wide variety of private sector organizations for things like targeting user recommendations, detecting fraud and identity theft, and ad optimization.
Automated early warning systems can help NGOs and IOs in a number of ways. They can help organizations develop an evidence base to create the political will to do preventative work to intervene or mitigate negative effects of large-scale conflict as tensions ramp up. In the case of predicting conflict, organizations can use early warning risk assessments for better planning and try to target non-conflict interventions that have conflict-mitigating knock-on effects in high-risk areas.
During a short but intensive stay in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, I had the opportunity to elicit views and first-hand accounts from a variety of actors—government officials, international humanitarian and development actors, civil society organizations, and academics and experts—on the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, and, more specifically, on what opportunities they saw for greater regional cooperation to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and beyond.
Most of the people I spoke with were rather pessimistic at this time. In fact, one major takeaway from the multiple interviews was an overwhelming sense that, rather than having a sobering effect bringing regional players together, the Syrian conflict and its spillover in neighboring states is deepening antagonisms and exacerbating regional power politics.
Yet, narrow areas of converging interests could be identified that, if properly exploited, could enhance regional cooperation in partly addressing the human impact of the civil war.
The direct humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis—especially massive refugee flows—risk further destabilizing an already volatile region while introducing demographic changes that might have long-term regional implications.
Despite the regional nature of the crisis—or maybe because of it—there is little room for concerted regional action to address the growing humanitarian crisis. At this point in time, Middle Eastern states seem indeed mostly driven by self-interest and real or perceived “existential” threats.
Limited areas of convergence and mutual interest can be found among refugee-hosting countries regarding access to funding and the “existential” threat posed by refugees, who might change for good the existing demographic balance.
These shared concerns should be duly taken into account to devise a concerted and regionally driven response that would both address immediate refugee needs and facilitate their eventual return to Syria when conditions will allow. A coherent joined-up approach might in turn facilitate access to funding.
It has become a truism to say that the Syrian conflict is a regional crisis. Figures speak for themselves: 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon; 550,000 in Jordan; 520,000 in Turkey; 200,000 in Iraq; and 130,000 in Egypt. Altogether, more than 2.2 million refugees—one tenth of the Syrian population—have been registered or are in process of being registered in these five countries.
And this staggering number represents only the tip of the iceberg since it doesn’t take into account scores of Syrians not registered by the UN refugee agency. Reportedly, a popular estimate heard on the streets of Beirut is about 2 million Syrians in this tiny country of 4 million. Even if this number is highly inflated (more reasonable estimates report 1.2 to 1.4 million), it is quite telling that the perception of the Lebanese is that their country is literally flooded with refugees. In Jordan, officials reported that, to the 550,000 registered Syrian refugees in the country, one should add approximately 150,000 unregistered refugees and up to 600,000 Syrian migrants who left Syria either before the conflict or for reasons not directly related to it.
At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.
Peace & Security
December 2-8: African Leaders Summit, Paris Over 40 African representatives will meet in Paris this week to discuss security in the continent’s most unstable regions, according to the AFP. The French-led summit comes at a critical moment for the crisis in CAR; an additional special session will be held on Saturday to address the issue. Other topics to be covered are France’s role in African security, and how to successfully transfer military responsibilities from the former colonial power to AU-based operations. Additionally, a new economic partnership drafted by French Foreign Minister Pierre Moscovici will be unveiled. On the sidelines of the summit, more than 500 French and African businessmen are expected to hold discussions on trade agreements, as well as conservation of threatened species and climate change.
December 4: Deadline for Egyptian Constitution, Egypt The two-month drafting process of Egypt's constitution will close amid continued unrest between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The 50-member committee is revising the Morsi-era constitution, but the new document will likely not resemble its predecessor much. While citizens will likely be afforded some new rights—the state may be required to protect women from violence, for example—there is concern that Islamist communities won’t be represented in the new charter. Probably the most contentious provisions being considered would significantly expand military power, including the ability to try citizens in military courts. In addition to Islamists, secular groups also joined protests—for the first time in months—to dispute this development. A referendum will take place in January 2014.
December 8: Nile Basin Countries Complete Talks on Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan are due to meet in Khartoum to reach an agreement on the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam. A recent discussion took place on the sidelines of an Afro-Arab Summit in mid-November between Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, where further Egyptian attempts at negotiating a reduction in the size of the dam’s structure were largely unsuccessful. With 30 percent of the hydropower plant complete, it remains unclear whether an agreement will be reached. The political tug of war between Egypt and Ethiopia–each guided by a different interpretation of how the dam will affect their water security–continues to be the center of the deadlock among the Nile Basin countries.
Religious tensions have crept further into the increasingly brutal incidents of violence in the Central African Republic, where villager testimonials in this sub-Saharan country relate horrific murders, rapes, and the pillaging of their communities by young men, said Philippe Bolopion, United Nations Director for Human Rights Watch, who returned from the country just a few weeks ago.
"This is the time for the UN to send peacekeepers to the Central African Republic," he said in this interview with the Global Observatory.
"We believe that a few of them [peacekeepers] in a few places like Bossangoa, along the main roads in some of these ‘ghost’ villages would go a long way in terms of providing security for people to come back [to their villages]," he said. Thousands of people have fled the violence, leaving entire villages empty.
While in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mr. Bolopion heard first-hand accounts of grisly violence from villagers, and concluded the perpetrators would be no match for a peacekeeping force. "The Seleka fighters in Bossangoa are a bunch of nineteen-year-olds with old Kalashnikovs and flip flops. The anti-balaka are poor villagers with machetes and spears. So, this is not a situation like eastern DRC where you have a UN intervention brigade facing a well-organized rebellion supported by a powerful neighbor. The military threat is not great."
The country has slid towards chaos after President François Bozizé was ousted in March 2013 by a loose coalition of armed groups comprised mostly of Muslims known as Seleka; its leader, Michel Djotodia, has since declared himself president of the country. In response, groups known as the "anti-balaka" comprised mostly of Christians are now targeting Muslim communities.
"What we discovered is that in many cases, these [anti-balaka] groups have resorted to the same brutal tactics as the Seleka, attacking entire Muslim communities for the simple reason that there were Muslims, killing women and children, looting, killing the cattle, destroying entire communities. And so that showed us that the country has already entered in a cycle of atrocities and counter-atrocities that are conducted by two armed groups which do not very often face each other, but attack civilian communities they perceive being from the other side. And this, of course, is extremely dangerous."
He said, "There is no question that the people are using religious tensions to justify the horrendous abuses they commit against civilians, but within the country, the tension between communities is palpable as well."
"When we were on the ground, there is no question that feelings are very raw in both communities: Christians, who are the overwhelming majority of the population, as well as the Muslim minority."
He said when he arrived in CAR, he knew he would find the situation to be bad. "But we were not quite prepared for the kind of testimonies we got when we hit the ground."
He said that UN peacekeepers would have "a huge impact in a country that's on the verge of catastrophe."
Mr. Bolopion said the soldiers in the African Union mission there (known by its acronym MISCA), "are not equipped enough or professional enough, frankly, to provide security for civilians."
Jérémie Labbé: I am here with Philippe Bolopion, United Nations Director for Human Rights Watch, who recently came back from a mission in the Central African Republic, a country that is steadily sliding into chaos following the overthrow in March 2013 of François Bozizé by a coalition of armed groups known as Seleka. Philippe, thanks for being with us in the Global Observatory today.
Following your trip in the country, what are your main observations in relation to the humanitarian situation and reported human rights violations?
Philippe Bolopion: We came back very alarmed from the mission we conducted in the country only a couple of weeks ago. We knew arriving that the situation would be bad. We produced a report we released at the UN in early September describing massive crimes committed mostly by Seleka fighters who have been killing civilians in large numbers, including women and children, who have been looting, raping, setting entire villages on fire.
So, we knew it would be bad. But we were not quite prepared for the kind of testimonies we got when we hit the ground. I was particularly shocked by the violence of some of the abuse by the recently reactivated anti-balaka groups. We knew the Seleka was extremely abusive. Reading from news accounts, we thought that the anti-balaka, which are mostly Christian groups that were created in reaction to months of Seleka abuses, or, rather, reactivated, because they already somehow existed.
We thought that they were a bunch of villagers taking up a few weapons to protect their villages against Seleka attacks. What we discovered is that in many cases, these groups have resorted to the same brutal tactics as the Seleka, attacking entire Muslim communities for the simple reason that there were Muslims, killing women and children, looting, killing the cattle, destroying entire communities, and so that showed us that the country has already entered in a cycle of atrocities and counter-atrocities that are conducted by two armed groups which do not very often face each other, but attack civilian communities they perceive being from the other side. And this, of course, is extremely dangerous.
Creating family-friendly policies in the Irish Defense Forces is the challenge of its new gender advisor Commandant Jayne Lawlor. Ms. Lawlor is looking “to try to make the defense forces more attractive for people to stay in, particularly women to stay in,” she said.
Ms. Lawlor said these policies wouldn't be just for women, “it would be for primary caregivers, and it would be probably only available at a certain period in your life and you could maybe only avail it a certain number of times.”
She said it would help retain more women, “instead of women reaching a certain point in their career and deciding that the home life-work balance was too much of a conflict,” she said.
While only 4.8 percent of the Irish Defense Forces serving overseas are women, addressing the numbers issue is complex. “If we're trying to increase that number—the 4.8 percent of those serving overseas—what's going to happen is we're going to put increased pressure on the women who are serving to go overseas.”
She said if that is done, “what we're actually doing is we're not taking into consideration the fact that there are periods in a woman's life when she is not going to be available to go overseas. So, we have to factor this in. If a woman is having children, we have to allow for approximately two years, three years for a pregnancy and a baby before she is then ready to go back overseas again.”
Ms. Lawlor said education on genders issues is crucial to making this work. She said one way is by training on gender perspective and gender awareness when men and women are first inducted, and then also each time they progress in rank. “What we're trying to do is to keep it progressive in nature, but also to ensure that as people move through their careers, it's something that's been regularly brought to their attention, and that its been utilized on career courses,” she said.
Bringing this type of gender perspective is something Ms. Lawlor said needs to be communicated to both genders. “It should be men getting the gender perspective into our operations. It's not just women who can do this. It must be done by both men and women if it's going to succeed.”
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: Today I’m speaking with Commandant Jayne Lawlor, gender advisor of the Irish Defense Forces. Jayne joined the defense forces in 1997, and has served in several UN peacekeeping missions, including in Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
Jayne, you serve as the Gender Equality and Diversity Officer of the Irish Defense Forces. What does that job entail?
Jayne Lawlor: Basically, the Irish Defense Forces had a major reorganization approximately twelve months ago, and out of that, one of the new appointments that was created was that of the gender officer. Previously, we had an equality officer in place, but they decided that, due to the importance of 1325, they would actually amalgamate and make a specific job for gender within the organization.
Since I've taken up the job, what I've tried to do is come up with basically a plan and a way of implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 into the defense forces at all levels. So, be it into our policy, into our operations, and into our training.
When genocide and mass atrocities strike, the first imperative is to stop the violence. When the violence stops, protection increases. With outright victory for the perpetrators of these crimes less likely than it once was and outright defeat still relatively uncommon, an increasingly significant number of episodes of genocide and mass atrocity are terminated or mitigated by agreements negotiated with some of the perpetrators. Thus, atrocities in Darfur, South Sudan, Kenya, the DRC, former Yugoslavia, and East Timor were ended or significantly reduced by negotiation. Meanwhile, one of the few international points of consensus on the current situation in Syria is the need for a negotiated political settlement involving all the relevant parties.
Sometimes, diplomatic imperatives collide head-on with protection concerns. Moral or legal considerations grounded in the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) sometimes make it more difficult to negotiate an end to violence with political leaders responsible for atrocity crimes. This is primarily because these principles reduce the capacity of negotiators to offer incentives and compromises to those responsible for atrocity crimes.
The termination of genocide and mass atrocities often requires negotiation with the perpetrators of these crimes, but commitments to RtoP and international criminal justice can complicate and hinder these negotiations.
Sometimes diplomats need to make difficult judgments about what to prioritize, especially when what is required to negotiate an agreement runs contrary to the apparent demands of protection.
Simple rules of thumb such as prioritizing protection, aligning means and ends, taking a pragmatic approach to language, sequencing policies and muddling through might help diplomats navigate this difficult terrain.
This is not a new problem. In 2006, the UN’s chief humanitarian, Jan Egeland tried to negotiate with LRA leader Joseph Kony shortly after his indictment by the ICC. Kony demanded that the indictment be lifted as a prerequisite for peace–something Egeland could not deliver. The talks collapsed and the violence continued. More recently, the ICC’s indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has presented all sorts of diplomatic difficulties. On the one hand, the president is indicted for grave crimes by an international tribunal backed by the UN. On the other, Bashir remains indispensible to the achievement of peace in Darfur and the smooth running of the UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping mission there (UNAMID). So fraught has the situation become that some UN officials were advised that, should they need to pose for photographs with the Sudanese president, they ought not smile.
This week, African countries who support the International Criminal Court (ICC) have an opportunity to engage their fellow ICC parties on the issues raised over the past months which have led to escalating tensions between African leaders and the Court, as the 12th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute (which led to the establishment of the ICC) is being held from November 20-28 in The Hague, Netherlands.
For years, the African Union (AU) has called on the United Nations Security Council to defer the investigation and prosecution against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC. These tensions have now crystallized around the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy Vice President William Ruto, who are being prosecuted by the ICC for their alleged role in the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, which caused the deaths of over a thousand people and forced the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others.
The AU has put its full weight behind the Kenyan leaders. However, following attempts to renege on the principle of non-immunity of senior officials for international crimes, and the recent rejection of an African-backed resolution to defer the trials of the Kenyan leaders initially for one year, the AU and its members supporting the ICC need to reflect and work towards a more constructive strategy for engaging the Court.
Accusatory statements against the ICC over the past months; the AU Assembly’s decision in October to oppose the prosecution of serving heads of state or government by any international court or tribunal; and the recent AU attempt to have the Security Council defer the trials of Kenya’s president and his deputy for one year have not proved useful in formulating African leaders’ concerns about the ICC constructively.
The annual session of the ASP, where initiatives have been taken, including by African countries to address these concerns, is the appropriate forum for the AU and African leaders to help improve the court system.
While a lot of criticisms have been heard against the ICC with regard to Africa, more African countries supporting the Court must come out in its defense.
Since the indictment of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur in 2009, the AU began to publicly reprove the ICC and requested the UN Security Council to defer the proceedings initiated against the Sudanese leader, invoking the consequence of the indictment on the ongoing peace efforts in Darfur. With the election of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto in March 2013, African criticisms against the ICC intensified. They were formalized in the AU Assembly decision in May–opposed only by Botswana–asking the Court to refer its investigations and prosecutions against the Kenyan leaders to the national courts reformed after the 2010 constitution in line with the principle of complementarity, and tasking a regional body to reflect on the international criminal justice system and the impact/actions of the ICC in Africa.
Although the June 2012 Geneva I conference was sponsored by both Russia and the United States, the run-up to the Geneva II conference now planned for mid-December has seen Russia emerging as the sole credible go-between, and this does not bode well for the future.
The fact that hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough in Syria rely almost exclusively on Russian influence results from the lack of alternative sources of pressure on Bashar al-Assad. At the domestic level, the military balance has recently evolved in favor of loyalist forces. Even though talks of a forthcoming regime victory are far too premature, these developments have made the authorities of Damascus less eager than ever to compromise with the opposition. At best, Assad hopes that the international community may assent to his view of the peace process as a means to impose formal surrender upon a weak and divided opposition. At worst, the Syrian president has both the willingness and the means to wage a very long war. Over the last year, the receding of the prospect of a rebel victory has also marginalized soft-liners within the regime, as illustrated last July by the exclusion of vice-president Faruq al-Shara from the Regional Command of the Ba‘th Party.
Abroad, there is little, if anything, to expect from both the allies and enemies of the Syrian regime. Iran, whose expanding war effort in Syria has proven key to Assad’s survival, has aligned itself with Damascus’ rejection of the main provision of the Geneva I, that is, the establishment of a transitional government with full executives powers-that solution would ipso facto deprive the president from its prerogatives. The United States’ hands-off approach to the conflict has left them with little leverage over either contender, hence Washington’s pressures upon the oppositional Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to accept holding informal preliminary talks with the Russian government in Moscow. Being largely unable to shape the outcome of the current discussions, the Obama administration is essentially interested in the process itself, which it sees as a way to prevent direct American involvement in the Syrian war. As for Gulf states and Turkey, the only alternative to their current policy of support for the insurgency would be to curtail arms deliveries to the rebels, thereby offering loyalist forces total victory and making negotiations even more superfluous for Assad.
The International Peace Institute is an independent, international not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.
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