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October 17th, 2014

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

By Kristen Pue, Advocacy Director

Today, on October 17, 2014 – the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – we should reflect on the link between genocide and poverty. While the goals of creating a world without genocide and eliminating poverty may seem distinct, they are in fact interconnected. This is because poverty is a catalyst for conflict; conflict creates poverty; and conflict disproportionately affects the poor.

I. Poverty is a Catalyst for Conflict: are countries poor because they are violent or violent because they are poor? Probably, causation runs in both directions. Poverty can exacerbate existing identity tensions – particularly during severe crises, as is currently the case for South Sudan, which is at risk of famine. Although poverty is typically not the primary cause of violence, it can be a critical catalyst. For example, although many other factors were at play, poverty was a contributing factor to the Rwandan genocide. Declining incomes and contracting economic opportunities for the poor characterized the years leading up to the outbreak of violence, leading some to conclude that violence was due to famine and rising economic difficulties in combination with property imbalances along ethnic lines.

II. Conflict Creates Poverty: while many development experts speak about the “poverty trap”, others have begun to note a “violence trap”, in which conflict keeps countries poor. In addition to the destruction caused by ongoing conflict in terms of loss of life, loss of property, and displacement, conflict suppresses the development of financial systems and deters international investment. The World Bank estimates that 71 per cent of the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lives below the poverty line, a situation which is largely attributed to the ongoing conflict there.

III. Conflict Disproportionately Affects the Poor: as in most disaster conflicts, the poorest and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected both by the immediate consequences of conflict and its secondary economic effects. The poor are least able to flee impending violence, are most dependent on underfunded and overcrowded refugee camps, and feel the effects of famine most acutely.

On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, it is important to remember the link between genocide and poverty. STAND envisions a world without genocide, and this means working to eradicate global poverty.

Posted in The Scholar by sfenwick
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October 6th, 2014

Armed Groups Losing Ground in DRC

With its enormous size and almost unparalleled bounty of natural resources, you might expect the Democratic Republic of Congo to be one of the most developed countries in Africa. However, history has been unkind to this rich and fertile country. Decades of brutal rule by Belgian colonialists have been followed by years of dictatorship and endless civil war. Since the fall of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, the DRC has been subject to the most deadly armed conflict since WWII (known as “Africa’s World War”) in which more than 5 million citizens have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13283212). As a result, the DRC, in spite of its potential wealth, consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index (http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/table-1-human-development-index-and-its-components).

While the country is still hampered by poverty, poor infrastructure, lack of government capacity and the continuing presence of armed groups in its eastern provinces, recent developments have led some to believe that a lasting peace for this war-torn region may be in sight. The last year has been a time of almost unprecedented optimism in the DRC, with diplomatic pressure and military interventions leading to significant improvements in regional stability and security.

In late 2013 the Rwanda-backed rebel group M23 – responsible for numerous human rights abuses since its formation in 2012 – was defeated thanks to a joint offensive by U.N. and Congolese Army (FARDC) forces. Since then, DRC officials and members of the international community have focused their attention on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu-led rebel group known for its ties to the 1994 Rwandan genocide (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/05/us-tells-armed-group-drc-surrender-military-option).

As the largest remaining rebel group in eastern DRC, and a major destabilizing factor in DRC-Rwanda relations, the disarmament of the FDLR would represent a significant step forward in the peace process.

In April of this year, the DRC government and the South African Development Community began programs to encourage FDLR fighters to hand over their weapons in exchange for potential amnesty and resettlement. As a result, more than 200 fighters have since surrendered to authorities, although as many as 1,500 may still remain in hiding (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13283212).

These improvements have been brought about by several factors. Particularly important has been the creation of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) which for the first time has been allowed to directly confront armed groups as ‘peacemakers’ rather than as passive ‘peacekeepers’ (http://www.newsrecord.co/the-u-n-s-new-force-redefines-intervention/). Political pressure from outside the DRC has also proven effective, with the withdrawal of U.S. military aid to Rwanda in 2013 playing a crucial role in the defeat of M23 rebels (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24802888).

There is certainly still a long way to go in achieving peace in the DRC, with as many as 10 rebel groups still operating in the region. However, the last 12 months have shown that concerted pressure from the international community and national governments can be an effective force for good, even in complex and lengthy conflicts such as this. Rather than a cause for complacency, however, these developments should serve as a rallying cry for governments and concerned citizens around to globe to bring more pressure to bear and, hopefully, to create a better future for the long suffering citizens of the Congo.

Posted in Uncategorized by sfenwick
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September 26th, 2014

The Legacy of Genocide in Rwanda

We often think of genocide in simple terms as a self-contained, incredibly destructive, conflict between two ethnic groups. However, the causes and outcomes of such violence are often much more complex. In fact, the large-scale destruction, displacement and mutual resentment that results from genocide often creates unintended consequences that reverberate through time and across national borders, laying the groundwork for future conflicts. This has certainly been the case with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu-nationalist militias.

In Rwanda, the killings left a scar on the nation’s psyche which has proven difficult to remove. Despite ongoing efforts by the Rwandan government to play down divisions between Hutus and Tutsis, ethnic tensions remain just beneath the surface in many areas of Rwandan society. This is true even at the nation’s universities, where young Rwandans split themselves up into “Francophone” or “Anglophone” groups, with these terms serving as code words for Hutu or Tutsi ancestry (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/17/world/africa/17rwanda.html?_r=0).

Some of the government’s reconciliation efforts, while positive in theory, have also had a chilling effect on Rwanda’s political culture. Laws against the spreading of “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” intended to reduce ethnic hatred have frequently been used by the government of President Paul Kagame as a pretext to arrest student leaders, intellectuals, and political opponents (http://www.voanews.com/content/legacy-of-genocide-fuels-political-repression-in-rwanda-101895988/124908.html).

On an individual level, many are still haunted by memories of the events of 1994. These psychological wounds are particularly deep for the women of Rwanda, many of whom were left with unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases due to the wave of sexual violence that accompanied the genocide. Often, their suffering is compounded by social isolation, as neighbours, family members and former friends frequently turn their back on those women who were unlucky enough to become pregnant as a result of these attacks (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3668387/Rwanda-Legacy-of-genocide.html).

Perhaps the most destructive after effect of the Rwandan genocide, however, has been its contribution to ongoing warfare and political instability in central Africa. Following the rise to power of Rwanda’s new Tutsi-led government in 1994, leaders of the Interhamwe (the genocidal militia responsible for much of the killing in Rwanda) fled across the border into the DRC. After reforming as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), they then staged cross-border attacks against the Rwandan military, who responded with campaigns of their own. Tensions between the two countries eventually devolved into a state of unofficial warfare, in which the governments of Rwanda, DRC and other neighbouring countries have lent support to rival rebel groups (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/nov/04/congo.qanda). This has resulted in millions of deaths and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, while also increasing tensions between Hutu and Tutsi populations in the area.

Though conditions in the eastern DRC have improved somewhat in recent months, the tragic legacy of the Rwandan genocide continues to present obstacles to lasting peace and stability within Rwanda and the African Great Lakes region as a whole. We can only hope that the next time the spectre of genocide rears its ugly head, we, and the policymakers who represent us, will be more aware of the terrible costs of inaction.

 

Posted in Uncategorized by sfenwick
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September 23rd, 2014

MPs Vote on the Conflict Minerals Act this Wednesday

This Wednesday at about 5:30pm Eastern time, our Members of Parliament will vote on Paul Dewar’s Conflict Minerals Act. If you haven’t already, please sign our online petition telling Canada’s MPs to support the bill.

If you can spare the time, please also email your local MP today to support the bill. In situations like these, it’s more important to email your MP than the Prime Minister’s Office. You can find your MP online using your postal code. If you need help for what to say, we have a suggested text on the STAND Canada website.

Once you’re finished, tune-in! The vote will be carried live at CPAC.ca. Let your friends the world know that you’re watching by taking to Facebook and Twitter. When using Twitter, use the hashtags #cdnpoli and #turnoffconflict.

Scott Fenwick
Executive Director, STAND Canada

Posted in Action Alert, The Politician by sfenwick
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September 22nd, 2014

Dodd-Frank vs. the Conflict Minerals Act

By Anna Ou, Policy Researcher

As Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act (CMA), comes to a vote today, Canadian consumers may soon have the opportunity to be more knowledgeable of where their products come from and make moral decisions on purchases based on this information. Following the footsteps of its American counterpart in 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the bill looks to ensure that Canadian natural resources companies in the Great Lakes region of Africa are doing their due diligence to not engage in transactions that may benefit armed rebel groups and spur human rights violations.

Similar to Dodd-Frank, Bill C-486 calls for companies to disclose their financial activities, including supply chains, in respect to the extraction, process, and trade of minerals such as gold, tin, tungsten, and others, in the Great Lakes region. However, one noticeable difference between the two is that the Canadian bill refers to the Great Lakes region as a whole, with no particular countries singled out, while Dodd-Frank primarily focuses on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with neighbouring countries as additions. As Canadian mining companies make up the highest concentration of foreign enterprises in the DRC, and the country remains the source of extreme violence and great human rights abuses in Africa, it seems odd that there were no indicators in the bill to mark its significance in the issue. But as the civil war violence in the DRC saturates most, if not all, of its neighbouring countries, it makes sense to include them all under one title to ensure maximum coverage.

What really separates Dodd-Frank and Bill C-486 is that the former seems to take on a more consumer-based approach in combating the issue of conflict minerals, in which government regulations are put in place to bring greater transparency for domestic choices. For Bill C-486, a greater importance is placed on the foreign welfare of the people of the African region, with its preamble clearly stating Canada’s responsibility on the international stage in promoting the trade of conflict-free natural resources. As the bill looks to follow much of OECD’s guidelines on due diligence, which are recognized by 34 member countries, Canada will play a leadership role in tackling this issue once the bill is passed.

Nevertheless, while Dodd-Frank and Bill C-486 both intend to bring greater transparency to consumers by getting companies to show their blueprints in how they obtain minerals, US companies have been experiencing difficulties in interpreting and complying with the Dodd-Frank Act. In a survey conducted by PwC in February 2014, more than 25 percent of the US companies that participated are still in the early stages of compliance and many were not sure if the rules applied to them.1 Should the CMA come into force in Canada, would Canadian companies also encounter similar confusions, or will lawmakers take this into account and produce a clearer interpretation of the Act? For now, we can only anxiously await the upcoming vote in the hopes that our MPs will make the choice to help curb the violence surrounding conflict minerals.

1 “2014 Conflict Minerals Survey,” PwC, last modified April 8 2014, http://www.pwc.com/us/en/audit-assurance-services/publications/assets/pwc-conflict-minerals-compliance-survey-2014.pdf

Posted in The Politician by Alison Chan
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