Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

How privatised immigration firms get away with murder in Australia

My investigation in New Matilda:

Despite a mountain of transgressions – including spying on a federal senator – Transfield somehow got a new contract. Antony Loewenstein takes up the story.

Barely a day goes by without new allegations of sexual assault, self-harm, violence or dysfunction at Australia’s privatised, immigration centres.

Whether on the mainland, Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, detention contractors Serco and Transfield are seemingly immune from censure. No controversy, failure or aggression by their staff is enough to lose the billion-dollar deals with Australia.

They’re bullet proof, protected by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and a political culture that refuses to apologise or care if human rights are breached.

The recent news that Transfield was named “preferred bidder” by the then Abbott government, for another five years running the offshore facilities, was therefore unsurprising. The decision goes to the heart of a broken relationship between failing accountability and refugees who are deemed unpeople, those not worthy of appropriate support.

They’re often brown, Muslim and poor, easily dismissed and silenced in an age of mass migration and incarceration. If the litany of revelations and secrecy from this year’s Senate inquiries, including details of alleged water-boarding, weren’t enough to kill Transfield’s chances of having its contract renewed, then there must be something else at play.

I’ve spoken exclusively to a person involved in a bid for Australia’s immigration detention contract. He agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity and I didn’t view his statements as being solely based on self-interest. I’ll call him Greg.

From my discussion with him I understand there were up to nine bids for the contract including Transfield/Wilson Security, Serco, Spotless, Agility Logistics and five other large and small entities from Australia and PNG.

Many of the bidding companies are experienced in the profitable business of detention. Transfield is the incumbent offshore service provider while Serco has the on-shore contract. Other bidders have previously undertaken large-scale projects for the Commonwealth Government including building offshore processing facilities and providing logistics services.

Greg was shocked that Transfield was announced as the “preferred bidder”. He told me that when bids were submitted in April, he thought Transfield had a good chance of retaining the contract because it appeared to have done a “reasonable job” and hadn’t been accused of abuse and mismanagement like G4S, a previous service provider on Manus Island.

Then came the Senate enquiry and everything changed.

“I thought they couldn’t possibly retain the contract after these allegations”, Greg said. “There are over 100 serious allegations made against the company and they were totally unprofessional in their responses to questions from the Senators.

“They took even the simplest of questions on notice and behaved in an arrogant way towards them. They were caught out manipulating the truth and withholding critical pieces of information. Not to mention they spied on a member of the Australian Parliament during her visit to Nauru.”

Since the Senate enquiry there have been more allegations of sexual abuse including a rape allegation. The three accused Wilson Security employees were quickly evacuated from PNG and returned to Australia before PNG police could interview them. Transfield and Wilson had, until recently, been reluctant to assist the PNG police with enquiries.

I asked Greg why he thought Transfield had obtained the contract and he pointed out the close connections between the company and the Liberal Party. The company’s Chair is Diane Smith-Gander, a well-connected business woman who is President of the Chief Executive Women, a group of 300 senior women.

After the recent elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Ministership, she was quoted as calling on the government to more clearly focus on women. The former Chairman of Transfield, Tony Shepherd, is now the head of the Commission of Audit established by former PM Tony Abbott.

“The decision to reward Transfield was probably a captain’s call given the closeness of Transfield’s current and former chairpersons to the Liberal Party”, Greg argued.

Greg confirmed that rumours of Transfield’s demise had been circulating for weeks before the announcement at the end of August that they were the preferred tenderer.

“When the announcement was made there was stunned silence in our office”, he said. “The Government wants us to believe that the bid from the company with hundreds of allegations of mismanagement, human rights abuse, child sexual abuse and employee complaints was still a better option than any other bid.”

With no feedback on the failing bids, Greg told me that this was clearly a political decision, outside the scope and consideration of the tender.

“Sort of makes government tendering a pointless exercise,” he said. The decision to reward Transfield, he argued, “puts Australia in the same league as undeveloped countries in terms of corruption.”

Privately managed offshore processing centres are set to continue for the foreseeable future. “If offshore processing has to occur then surely it’s better to be done by a team that treats the people properly”, Greg explained.

Sadly this isn’t a new phenomenon and has been occurring in Australia for years. For more than two decades, Canberra has been sending its refugees to corporations with no financial incentive to treat people with respect. Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to Australia. Both Britain and the United States outsource some of their immigrant facilities to companies, such as Serco and CCA, with a history of mismanagement and abuse.

Public outrage, if it occurs at all, is small and mostly politically impotent. A rare and notable exception is the growing divestment campaign in Australia against Transfield, hitting the company where it counts, the bottom line.

Even Transfield head Diane Smith-Gander missed out on heading Tourism Australia because the government feared her association with Transfield would focus attention on the toxic immigration issue.

There is current debate in Washington about immigration and prison reform, to lower massive incarceration rates, but virtually nobody is talking about the profit motive as a key factor in perpetuating the skyrocketing number of people behind bars. However, Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is pushing for an end to privatised prisons.

In August, Transfield chief executive Graeme Hunt defended his company from an onslaught of criticism and claimed that his firm was just “executing the services we’re contracted to.”

He then explained the nub of the privatised immigration issue by arguing that off-shore detention had “been issued and implemented by two successive governments of different political persuasions, remains supported by both major parties and, so far as I can tell, the vast majority of the Australian people”.

A bipartisan commitment to cruelty against refugees is a global scourge from Europe to Australia. Until desperate people are treated with dignity and respect, and not numbers to be processed, jailed and outsourced to multinationals with woeful human rights records, the detention industrial complex will continue to thrive.

* Antony Loewenstein is one of Australia’s most prominent freelance journalists, and the author of a new book, Disaster Capitalism, available here.

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How the US continues to manipulate Haiti

My investigation in Alternet:

The industrial park in Caracol, northern Haiti, never receives tourists. It’s a collection of factories producing clothes for some of America’s leading retailers including Walmart and Target. The opening of the facility in 2012 saw then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, actors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller, and fashion designer Donna Karan attend and celebrate the establishment of a center that was advertised as producing 65,000 jobs. “We had learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti,” Hillary Clinton said, “meant more than providing aid.”

Today, it’s clear the promises were empty. “People unfamiliar with the area [Caracol] may see the people standing in front of the park looking for jobs and think the Caracol Industrial Park was a great idea,” Castin Milostène told me recently. He’s a coordinator of AREDE, a campaign group of Haitian grassroots organizations working with vulnerable Haitians to influence aid accountability after the devastating 2010 earthquake. ActionAid is the convener. “You may see the need and think we should have many more parks,” he continued. “But the people standing at the doors of the park looking for work have nothing, they don’t even earn on average 58 gourdes (US$1) a day — they are living in extreme poverty.”

I visited Caracol in 2012 and found few signs of employment. Many poor Haitians loitered outside the main gates looking for work and complaining about low wages. Prime agricultural land was taken with farmers left landlessand given little compensation. The US$300 million investment in the South Korean-run factory has quickly become yet another failed attempt to boost Haiti’s economy. The Financial Times headlined a story about the situation this year, “Haiti’s economy held together by polo shirts and blue jeans.”

This tragically captured the precarious nature of America’s close neighbor, a situation exacerbated by Washington’s 100-year meddling in a country that it doesn’t believe should be allowed to chart its own, independent path. Many Haitians know that United States Marines landed in Haiti in 1915 and occupied the nation for 19 years. The commercial interests that contributed to President Woodrow Wilson sending a military force have changed little in a century. One of the architects of the occupation, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, infamously admitted in 1935, “I helped make Haiti…a decent place for the National City Bank Boys.”

Haiti is undergoing profound political trauma. Recent elections were flawedwith millions of citizens feeling disempowered from the process of government. More than five years after the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left the capital Port-au-Prince like a war zone, the nation is wracked with an administration that is incompetent and corrupt and a government installed by the Obama administration in 2011. Only 11 elected officials remain in Haiti and President Michel Martelly is one of them.

The country is facing huge challenges. Cholera continues to ravage the population (and the United Nations, which brought the disease to the country, refuses to take responsibility for it), neighboring Dominican Republic seems determined to expel its Haitian immigrants back to an economically volatile state and billions of dollars in foreign aid has either disappeared or been stolen by foreign contractors or local officials. The American Red Cross stands accused of incompetence and dishonesty over the money it raised after the 2010 earthquake.

“Haitians often use the proverb, Lave men, swiye ate[wash your hands, dry them in the dirt] to describe the often contradictory US policies towards Haiti, and the proverb applies more than ever to the Obama administration,” explained Brian Concannon Jr., executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti based in the United States.

Timothy Schwartz, an American anthropologist and author with decades of experience in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, speaks scathingly of American complicity in Haiti’s malaise. He argues that Washington simply doesn’t try to understand that throwing more unaccountable and privatized aid at the problem isn’t going to solve the structural issues. He targets Cheryl Mills, a trusted appointee of Hillary Clinton, who was intimately involved in working with the former Secretary of State.

“She [Mills] tried to force programs on Haiti that didn’t fit,” Schwartz told me. “One example is that rather than repairing damaged houses after the earthquake, she disregarded advice from USAID and those on the ground in Haiti and tried to build massive new housing complexes, something that failed over and over because of the primacy of the informal land tenure system — there essentially are no ‘legal’ titles and hence the projects would collapse under legal scrutiny – and the egregiously corrupt construction companies that operate in the arena of international concessions…To this day that housing disaster that Mills created goes on with homes being built that should have cost 3 to 5 thousand dollars running into the 30s and 40s of thousands.”

It’s the same mindset when building more industrial parks. Local Haitians are barely consulted. During my two trips to Haiti over the last years, a constant refrain from locals was how many of them were ignored when they had warned to anybody who would listen about the economic and environmental destructions caused by clothing factories. In place of a sustainable policy that would create long-term jobs with fair pay, Haitian politicians and their American masters advocate policies to benefit foreign corporations.

According to research undertaken by the Solidary Center, an American non-profit organization aligned with the labor movement, Haiti’s garment industry is beset with low wages, arbitrary firings and poor conditions. Although there are over at least 32,000 clothing workers registered nation-wide (and around 5000 employees at Caracol), employers constantly set unrealistic quotas and low prices per piece assembled, making it impossible for workers to earn the production minimum wage in a standard eight-hour day.

The Center’s Haiti co-ordinator gave me examples of workers being discriminated against in Caracol and elsewhere: “One union reported that its members must show up to the factory on Saturdays and wait in line for hours to receive their earnings. For instances in which the employer does not have exact change, the workers are shorted what they are owed.” Workers can barely afford to pay for lunch and transportation to and from the factory.

Viewing Haiti as a repository of cheap labor defines Washington’s relationship with Port-au-Prince. Padilla Peralta, author of the bookUndocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, and lecturer in humanities at Columbia University to previously incarcerated adults, told me that he completely rejected the uneven dynamic between the two nations. “Why should Haitian bodies have to be subordinated to the imperatives of global capital?”

He urged the Obama administration to reverse a century of domination. “The US should commit itself to providing as much efficaciously disbursed humanitarian aid as possible — and resist the temptation to tip the scales in favor of specific candidates most likely to be pliable to American geopolitical-corporate interest (but I know better than to hope that it will).”

The proposed presidential election in October is not guaranteed to take place. Political uncertainty surrounds the entire process. This could be a unique opportunity for Washington  to change its relationship with its neighbor if only there was the will.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian columnist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe. He tweets @antloewenstein

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The Lahore Times reviews “Disaster Capitalism”

The following review of my newly released book is written by Robert J. Burrowes and appears in The Lahore Times:

In his just-released book, ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe‘, Antony Loewenstein offers us a superb description of the diminishing power of national governments and international organisations to exercise power in the modern world as multinational corporations consolidate their control over the political and economic life of the planet.

While ostensibly a book about how national governments increasingly abrogate their duty to provide ‘public’ services to their domestic constituencies by paying corporations to provide a privatized version of the same service – which is invariably inferior and exploitative, and often explicitly violent as well – the book’s subtext is easy to read: in order to maximize corporate profits, major corporations are engaged in a struggle to wrest all power from ordinary people and those institutions that supposedly represent them. And the cost to ordinary people (including their own corporate employees) and the environment is irrelevant, from the corporate perspective.

Loewenstein spent five years researching this book so that he could report ‘the ways in which our world is being sold to the highest bidder without public consent’. In my view, he does this job admirably.

Taking as his starting point the observation of famed future studies and limits to growth expert Professor Jørgen Randers that ‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’, Loewenstein set out to describe precisely how this is happening. He went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to explore the world of ‘private military companies’, Greece to listen to refugees imprisoned in ‘brutal’ privatized detention centres, Haiti to investigate its ‘occupation’ by the United Nations and ‘aid’ organizations following the earthquake in 2010, and Bougainville to understand the dilemma faced by those who want progress without the price of further corporate environmental vandalism (for which they have paid heavily already).

Loewenstein also checked out the ‘outsourced incarceration’ that now ensures that the US rate of imprisonment far exceeds that in all other countries, the privatized asylum seeker detention centres in the UK which are the end product of ‘a system that demonizes the vulnerable’, and the equivalent centres in Australia which ‘warehouse’ many asylum seekers in appalling privatized detention centres, including those located on offshore islands.

It is easy and appropriate to be outraged by some of the details Loewenstein provides, like the ‘three strike’ laws in the United States ‘that put people behind bars for life for stealing a chocolate bar’, but it is obviously important to comprehend the nature of the systemic crisis in which we are being enveloped by ‘disaster capitalism’ if we are to have any chance of resisting it effectively. So what are it’s key features?

In essence, predatory corporations (which usually keep a low profile) are financed by government money (that is, your taxes), supported by tax concessions and insulated from genuine accountability, political criticism and media scrutiny while being given enormous power to provide the infrastructure and labor to conduct a function, domestically or internationally, which has previously been performed by a government or international organization. If this happens at the expense of a nation truly exercising its independence, then too bad.

Moreover, because the corporate function is being performed ‘solely to benefit international shareholders’ which means that maximum profit is the primary aim, both the people who are supposedly being served by the corporation (citizens, refugees, prisoners…) and the corporation’s own employees are invariably subjected to far greater levels of abuse, exploitation, violence and/or corruption than they would have experienced under a public service equivalent.

Loewenstein provides the evidence to demonstrate this fact in one case after another. The ones that I found most interesting are the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan which provided further evidence that US policy, and even its military strategy and tactics ‘on the ground’, is being progressively taken over by corporations, and the ‘occupation’ of Haiti, post-earthquake in 2010, by the UN and NGO ‘aid’ agencies which forced locals into the perpetual victimhood of corporate-skewed ‘development’.

The use of private military companies (jargon for government-contracted companies that hire and deploy mercenary soldiers, ‘intelligence’ personnel, private security staff, construction teams, training personnel and provide base services such as food, laundry and maintenance) in Afghanistan has meant that there are far more US contractors than US soldiers in Afghanistan and ‘troop withdrawal’ means just that: troops not contractors. The occupation is far from over, Loewenstein notes.

Moreover, he asserts, the US mission in Afghanistan is ‘intimately tied to these unaccountable forces’. As many of us have been observing for considerable time, with control of US government policy now largely in the hands of the US elite (a select group compared with the military-industrial complex of which departing president Eisenhower warned us in 1961), its controlling tentacles reach ever more deeply into US actions at all levels. This is reflected in the way that military tactics are often designed in response to the development of weapons (such as drones) rather than, as should be the case, policy and strategy determining the nature of the tactics and weapons (if any) designed and used. It’s not so much that the corporate ‘tail’ is now wagging the government ‘dog’: the ‘tail’ is now bigger and more powerful than the ‘dog’ itself. In essence, the ‘US government interest’ means the ‘US corporate interest’.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan is not the only ‘horror story’ in Loewenstein’s book. I was particularly pained by his account of the multi-faceted violence that has been inflicted on Haiti since the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010 that affected three million Haitians, killing more than 300,000. On 1 February 2010, US Ambassador Kenneth Merton headlined his cable ‘The Gold Rush Is On’ and went on to explain his excitement: ‘As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services.’ Merton’s lack of compassion for those killed, injured or left homeless by the earthquake is breathtaking.

Tragically, it isn’t just corporate exploitation of Haitians that exacerbated the adverse impact of the earthquake. The United Nations was horrific too. The evidence clearly pointed to its responsibility for a cholera epidemic shortly after the earthquake, which affected more than 700,000 people, killing 9,000. And given the responsibility of UN troops, allegedly present to enhance safety, for previous violence against Haitians, most Haitians simply regarded the presence of UN troops as ‘another occupation’ following the French colonization, which they overthrew in 1794, and the US occupation which led to the Duvalier dictatorships, that were resisted until their defeat in 1986.

But whatever damage the UN has done, it is the governments of the US, France and Canada, whose aid dollars via many corporations never reach those in need, NGOs like the Clinton Foundation, and the predatory corporations that truly know how to exploit a country. This is why the civil infrastructure in Port-au-Prince remains unrepaired nearly six years after the earthquake and the average city resident still lives in ‘rubbish, filth, and squalor’. Somehow, the corporations that were given the aid money to rebuild Haiti or provide other services were able to absorb billions of dollars without doing much at all. Although, it should be noted, company profits have been healthy. Are they held accountable? Of course not. Disaster capitalism at its best.

So can we predict the outcome for Nepal following its earthquakes earlier this year? We certainly can. The corrupt diversion of aid funds to corporate bank accounts. And ordinary Nepalese will continue to suffer.

I could go on but you will be better off checking out the book yourself. Loewenstein writes well and he has fascinating material with which to hold your interest. By the way, his personal website if you want to keep track of his journalism is here. He has recently been doing research in South Sudan.

So is there anything I didn’t like? Well, given my own passion for analysis and strategy, I would have liked to read more about Loewenstein’s thoughts on why, precisely, this all happens and how we can get out of this mess. He is an astute observer of reality and hopefully, in future, he will be more forthcoming in making suggestions.

In the meantime, if you are interested in understanding why many individuals have a dysfunctional compulsion to make profits at the expense of human and environmental needs, my own analysis is briefly outlined in this article: ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War‘. But there is much more detail explaining the psychological origins of violent and exploitative behaviours in ‘Why Violence?

And if you are someone who does not outsource your own responsibility to play a role in ending the elite-driven violence and exploitation in our world, you might like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘. The Nonviolence Charter references other documents for action if you are so inclined.

Anyway, apart from this observation, the main reason why I think this is such a good book is because it gave me much new and carefully researched information that got me thinking, more deeply, about issues that I often ponder. There is a good chance that it will enlighten you too.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

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Ongoing failures to hold South Sudanese war criminals to account

My article in Foreign Policy:

In the middle of a hot, clear day on Aug. 21, roughly 2,000 people packed around the John Garang Mausoleum in downtown Juba to shout down the latest deal to end South Sudan’s nearly two-year-long war. Organized by the government, it was an event for true believers, those somehow insulated from the economic ravages of the war: young boys and girls in school uniform, men in suits, and women in colorful dresses. As a DJ sang over pre-recorded music blaring on massive speakers, praising South Sudan and its president, Salva Kiir, participants held large signs written in English declaring “one army, not two” and “no regime change through violence.”

For regime loyalists in the crowd, the nation’s success or failure was connected inextricably to Kiir, seen by them as the liberating hero who brought independence to South Sudan. On Aug. 19, a letter was distributed on the letterhead of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling party, calling on the government not to sign any peace agreement with the opposition. It opposed the “recolonization” of South Sudan by foreign powers, Sudan, the U.N., or the African Union — a fear expressed by many locals.

It did not come as a surprise then that the cease-fire penned in the last days of August has failed, and did so almost as soon as it began. Despite both government and rebel forces agreeing to stop fighting from midnight on Aug. 29, days after Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel leader Riek Machar to stop the 20-month conflict in the country, little has changed on the ground. Clashes in Unity State are ongoing with the government and opposition both accusing the other of breaking the peace. In late August, a town in Payinjiar County was allegedly shelled by government troops trying to wrestle it back from the rebels.

Both Kiir and Machar have maintained that they are still committed to the deal — Kiir is set to present the agreement to the national legislature for ratification on Tuesday, and Machar has promised approval on a similar timeline — blaming the other for breaking the peace. But there is ample reason to doubt their commitment: If the deal fully falls apart, it will be at least the seventh to collapse just after being signed. And the West, so far, has appeared powerless to stop the carnage. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council met to discuss an arms embargo and sanctions against leaders who have thwarted the latest attempt at peace.

One of the most daunting impediments to a sustainable peace in the country is the people who run it — for the moment, the elites only stand to lose, both financially and politically, from a settlement. And the international community has struggled to address that ugly fact. Though the U.N. has threatened new sanctions, few would change the country’s dysfunctional patronage system. There has yet to be a concerted attempt to focus on vested interests, including asset freezes in outside countries. Although NGOs, such as the Enough Project’s recently launched endeavor The Sentry, have begun to target the financing of Africa’s worst conflicts, state efforts have lagged behind.

Even as he signed the latest cease-fire agreement, President Kiir made it clear that he was deeply suspicious of the deal pushed by African nations, the United Nations, and United States. “The current peace we are signing today has so many things we have to reject,” he said. “Such reservations, if ignored, would not be in the interests of just and lasting peace.” During the signing of the peace agreement, Kiir even attached a list of amendments, rejected by the Obama administration, outlining his concerns.

Components of the deal include demilitarizing the capital Juba, cessation of hostilities, reinstalling Machar as vice president, sharing oil fields, and improving humanitarian access for civilians. It also calls for a transitional government to take power in 90 days.

Arguably, Kiir only signed because Washington and the U.N. threatened an arms embargo and new sanctions designations against senior military and government figures; it’s a stalling tactic he has used before. On Sept. 1, the United States reiterated that threat: State Department spokesman Mark Toner reminded the warring parties that “anyone acting to spoil the peace agreement implementation will face consequences.” The State Department declined to comment further on the chances of the United States imposing sanctions if the conflict persisted.

South Sudan won its independence from Sudan in 2011, but the country collapsed into war in December 2013 as Kiir and Machar, his former deputy, fought over power sharing and access to copious oil reserves. Although reliable figures are hard to find, the International Crisis Group has publicly stated that the death toll could be at least 100,000. Hundreds of thousands of children are living without education, and 2.2 million — more than one-sixth of the country’s population — have been forced from their homes, with almost 200,000 taking shelter at U.N. bases. At least 40 percent of the population is severely hungry, and levels of brutality are extreme.

So what can the West do?

Humanitarian leaders have called for action that better targets the elites perpetuating the war. After the recent signing of the peace agreement, international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Enough Project, and Oxfam, continued advocating for tough measures against leaders and military heads who willfully caused civilian suffering. They also called for effective mechanisms to implement justice for victims and perpetrators. There is still no road map toward establishing a robust court capable of hearing cases of war crimes or genocide; a proposal in the peace agreement calls for a court with South Sudanese and Africans overseeing violations of international law. Meaningful sanctions with bite remain an option for America if war continues, though Washington’s engagement is likely to be minimal as the Obama administration is consumed with troubles in the Middle East.

Alex de Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation, recently wrote, “Political survival [in South Sudan] is determined by the iron laws of the marketplace: The politician needs a political budget sufficient to secure the loyalty of subordinates and to compete with rivals.” Kiir’s hesitation to agree to peace, de Waal explains, was “because he has a limited and shrinking political budget, the price of loyalty has not decreased, and the number of claimants on those funds is increasing. In the current political marketplace system, he cannot make peace without more money.” More pointedly, fighting will continue as long as the current patronage system for dividing wealth survives. Sanctions can’t fix it, but targeting assets is an important first step toward ultimately replacing the corrupt political system.

The U.N. and the United States, however, have so far been unable or unwilling to do so. Justine Fleischner, the Sudan and South Sudan policy analyst with the Enough Project, told me that her organization wants a court to “prosecute economic and atrocity crimes, including pillaging and grand corruption.” The U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, she said, “is another tool that may be deployed to support efforts to prosecute economic crimes,” but the political will to pursue those committing the crimes is absent.

An arms embargo, which was reportedly discussed at the U.N. on Friday, is “notoriously difficult to implement, and any effective arms embargo on South Sudan would have to be regionally and globally enforced,” she said. Weapons are coming from countries such as Uganda, China, Israel, and Sudan. Even with the peace agreement signed and the most serious sanctions taken off the table, Fleischner believes that the difficulties of enforcement aren’t a reason to avoid an arms embargo. “It would allow the U.N. Panel of Experts to more closely monitor arms flows. It would also provide a basis for secondary sanctions and public exposure directed at any state or entity facilitating arms deals.”

It’s a position shared by Human Rights Watch. Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, told me, “No matter what happens with this peace deal, we think the U.N. should be taking steps to impose an arms embargo, widen and implement sanctions [on] individuals responsible for serious crimes against civilians, and take concrete steps to plan a justice mechanism.”

While the U.N. contemplates updating the remit of its peacekeepers to help implement an already faltering peace agreement, the people of South Sudan are no closer to experiencing a peaceful present and future. Rhetorical battles over peace deals mean nothing for the millions of civilians caught in the crossfire. If the U.N. and Washington are serious about ending the endemic violence and corruption in South Sudan, a radical new strategy must be adopted, targeting the key players behind the violence. Unless this happens soon, the already bad situation can only get worse.

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