Tough Times for the ICC

What just happened? And does it confirm that the ICC has it out for African leaders?

One reason is that every indictment issued by the ICC has been in Africa. The court’s jurisdiction is somewhat hobbled by the non-participation or non-cooperation of many countries, most notably the United States. But the fact remains that Africa has been the focus of a court based in Europe, and given that memories of colonialism are in some places still fresh and very raw, that raises hackles.

via the

Or, more likely, does this reveal “a fundamental flaw” in the institution, namely that universal jurisdiction doesn’t exist–making it impossible to have individual enforcement–as noted by Nesrine Malik in The Guardian.

The ICC has hit a wall as South Africa appears to have allowed Omar al-Bashir leave the country, avoiding arrest. This international institution “will only be as relevant as the international community allows it to be,” according to Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard and former ICC prosecutor–quoted by Somini Sengupta in the NYT.

See Omar al-Bashir Case Shows International Criminal Court’s Limitations – The New York Times.


Quantifying Conflict

Can data-triven analyses give us better forecasting of genocide? Somini Sengupta explains:

Australian researchers say they have developed a mathematical model to predict genocide. A Swiss sociologist has sifted through a century of news articles to predict when war will break out — both between and within countries. A Duke University lab builds software that it says can be used to forecast insurgencies. A team assembled by the Holocaust Museum is mining hate speech on Twitter as a way to anticipate outbreaks of political violence: It will be rolled out next year for the elections in Nigeria, which have frequently been marred by violence.

What makes these efforts so striking is that they rely on computing techniques — and sometimes huge amounts of computing power — to mash up all kinds of data, ranging from a country’s defense budget and infant mortality rate to the kinds of words used in news articles and Twitter posts.

via Spreadsheets and Global Mayhem –

A Westerner Inside Cambodia’s Dark Era

Did you hear about the French anthropologist who was released as a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge? This isn’t a joke but rather is a true story. Unfortunately, according to Belinda Cooper’s NYT review, we learn little in François Bizot’s book, Facing the Torturer about the nature of evil   Instead, we get a unique look inside Pol Pot’s league of terror–including a fresh take on the psychological price paid by Cambodians.

The central and oft-repeated message is that Duch was not a monster, but a sometimes sensitive human being who believed violence to be necessary in the service of higher ideals. Bizot attributes his release to the empathetic connection that developed between the two men: “My face became his own, and that forbade him from killing me,” he writes. But here, as elsewhere in the book, it is difficult to judge whether his assessments of Duch’s emotions are accurate, or merely the coping strategies of a powerless prisoner. An appended essay, written by Duch after reading Bizot’s earlier book, is noteworthy in itself: it suggests that Bizot’s release had as much to do with Pol Pot’s interest in French good will as with Duch’s feelings for his prisoner.

That even the worst criminals are nevertheless human is hardly an original insight, and Bizot provides little that would add to our understanding of the torturer or his context. Nor do his attempts to link his own violence and Duch’s to a larger statement about humanity — essentially, that we are all capable of evil — rise above cliché.

Understanding Evil – The Chronicle Review

What is it like to be the perpetrator of genocide or war crimes? A new book by James Dawes, Evil Men, gets at the heart of darkness.

I am visiting with him now because I have spent too many years interviewing survivors of war crimes and human-rights workers and wondering: What kind of person could have committed those heinous acts? I want to know. So I am internally preparing myself, during the smiling pleasantries of our introduction, to ask.

When we start talking about his war crimes, we might as well be talking about a figure from a history textbook, for all the emotion we show. If we were on a television program and you were watching us with the mute button pressed, you would imagine I was asking about his grandchildren. Instead I am asking about how he murdered other people’s grandchildren.

via Understanding Evil – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Prosecutors Describe Khmer Rouge Leaders’ ‘Organized and Systematic’ Atrocities –

A glimpse inside the nature of Khmer Rouge evil:

In an almost daylong presentation, Ms. Chea Leang, the co-prosecutor, asserted several times that the atrocities she described were part of an “organized and systematic” bureaucracy with a “high level of integration” that kept the defendants constantly informed of the actions of their subordinates at all levels.

“These crimes were committed in accordance with the Communist Party center,” she said. “The accused participated in the giving of these orders or were fully aware of the crimes. They failed to act in their capacity as superiors to prevent the crimes or to punish the perpetrators.”

via Prosecutors Describe Khmer Rouge Leaders’ ‘Organized and Systematic’ Atrocities –

Failure to Report: Why Leadership is Rare and Groupthink is Real

The nature of evil sounds weighty.  So let’s talk about the “failure to protect”–not in the sense of the absence of collective action on major conflicts or wars–but in the case of abuse.  We have witnessed an unfolding tragedy that has villains (Penn State’s outgoing assistant coach) and heroes (the brave victims who spoke out).  But why don’t more people stand up for what is clearly the right thing to do?

David Brooks probes the psychology of collective inaction in his Tuesday column.  True to form, he finds the problem in something that is part of our own thinking–a type of bias–that keeps us from doing the ‘right’ thing that we all think we would do in the moment:

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.

via Let’s All Feel Superior –

But even with large-scale atrocities such as the Holocaust, its not clear that “just following orders” or groupthink can explain away individual responsibility.  An upcoming tv program makes the case:

The program aggressively challenges the “just following orders” defense and the notion that “ordinary” Germans were not at fault in the Holocaust.

“After the Jews were sent off, people moved into their homes, took over their businesses,” says Michael Berenbaum of American Jewish University. “So on some level the local populations understood these people were not coming back.”

The program also conveys that the effort to exterminate Jews was an evolving phenomenon that required people — not all of them Nazis — to design and build the infrastructure of trains, gas chambers and ovens to do the deed. The Nazis and their enablers tackled the Holocaust with a problem-solving ethos not unlike what we associate with the Manhattan Project or the lunar landing.

“There are those who believe that the Holocaust was born whole,” Dr. Berenbaum says. “I’m not of that school. I see an awful lot of improvisation. I see an awful lot of experimentation.”

via ‘Engineering Evil’ on History Channel – Review –