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August 21st, 2014

Two Pronged Assault: South Sudan State Harasses Journalists in the Name of Fighting Rebels

Two Pronged Assault: South Sudan State Harasses Journalists in the Name of Fighting Rebels

South Sudan is currently being racked by fighting between various rebel groups and government forces. The conflict is fueled by the ethno-political tensions following the December 2013 power struggle between President Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar, with Kirr accusing Machar of orchestrating a coup. The Kiir vs. Machar debacle led to elements of the South Sudanese army to rebel and follow Machar. This political conflict has also propagated communal violence along ethnic lines, with the Dinka primarily supporting the government and most Nuer supporting the rebels. This ethnic division broadly reflects the tribal loyalties of the Kiir and Machar, and in turn leads to sporadic and decentralized acts of reciprocal communal violence by ragtag militias. These pressures on the government have, consequently, led to increasingly heavy-handed measures by the government to maintain control over the conflict’s narrative. Juba is using its security forces to harass news outlets, journalists, and activists who report on rebel activity and/or critique the government’s handling of the internal conflict, as well as human rights, and corruption.

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October 28th, 2013

Media Censorship in Sudan | By Allison Grandish

We generally take free press for granted. Here in Canada, we may complain about bias or criticize newspapers for favouring one perspective at the expense of another. In the case of certain sources that fawn over politicians or refrain from critically analyzing certain facets of an issue, these criticisms are justified. Overall, though, things aren’t that bad. I can read vicious invectives against every political figure in Canada. I can look at satirical concerns that depict our prime minister as a fumbling buffoon, and afterward I can breeze through editorials claiming that Justin Trudeau’s entry into politics harbingers nothing short of Armageddon. Most importantly, I can learn about what the government is doing and criticize it if I am dissatisfied. When organizations like Human Rights Watch are allowed to produce reports about human rights issues in Canada or Amnesty International is able to keep tabs on what our government institutions our doing, I am able to access that information and use to participate in the democratic process. I may as well just repeat the old cliché here: we need free press if we want to influence what the government is up to. The people of the Republic Of The Sudan are not so fortunate to have it.

Sudanese newspapers, online forums, and other sources of media tend to be shut down if they express views that aren’t supported by the ruling government. This tendency has been intermittent but its goals seem consistent: to hinder people from understanding the scope of violence the government is committing. The government of the Republic Of The Sudan has achieved this goal through what scholars consider “a framework of bureaucratic regulations” and intimidation of journalists (Chalk). The National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP) polices newspaper content through licensing of media outlets and government oversight of what’s printed. To start a newspaper, people have to apply for a licence through this body. Applying for a permit may not seem that big of a deal, but the process is political and pro-government groups are favoured when it comes to being allowed to print materials. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) branch of the government also carries out media censorship. It imposes punitive measures for newspapers that write insufficiently favourable articles about sensitive subjects like armed conflict with rebels or al-Bashir’s indictment by the ICC. The NISS may phone the business offices of newspapers to tell them not to cover certain issues, harass journalists and threaten them with violence, or simply shut newspapers down. I don’t think I need to say that this can definitely put a damper on what stories newspapers choose to write about!

The 2005 Interim National Constitution, which was adopted in the Republic Of The Sudan as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was supposed to guarantee free speech. Journalists were supposed to have more freedom in their reporting and newspapers were supposed to be subject to less pre-printing censorship. However, like other facets of the CPA, this ideal has not yet come to fruition. First, the restrictive Press and Printed Press Materials Law – which enabled newspapers to be arbitrarily shut down and allowed the NISS to approve articles before they were published –  stayed in place until 2009, suggesting that following the obligations of the CPA was not a priority when it came to respecting the importance of free speech. It was replaced by a new law, but the replacement “allows for restrictions on the press in the interests of national security and public order”. In other words, anything subjectively considered to potentially incite violence – i.e. any criticism, really, of what rebel groups or government proxies are doing – is grounds for censoring.

We can look at some examples of media censorship to get an idea of how these policies play out. Commencing April 3, independent daily newspapers al-Ayyam and al-Sahafa have to clear their content with the NISS before they print. Newspapers al-Khartoum and al-Youm al-Tali staff, meanwhile, are regularly harassed by government representatives. In January 2004, the government of the Republic Of The Sudan shut down Al-Jazeera’s offices for “promoting false reports about Sudan” and in April 2004 an employees was sentenced to a month in prison for spreading propaganda (Chalk). A particularly notable example of stifling free speech occurred in the build-up to the 2011 secession of South Sudan, when journalists were harassed, detained, threatened with arrest, and tortured. During that same year, foreign journalists were also targeted: BBC employees were detained and questioned, while more unlucky Al-Jazeera correspondents were assaulted by Sudanese security forces. There’s also this perversely humorous incident: May 15 of this year, Vice President Ali Osman Taha issued a directive to “lift pre-publication censorship on newspapers”. He issued these orders on a Wednesday, stating that they were effective immediately. The NISS banned newspapers from publishing those remarks.
Censuring journalists is a way to avoid sensitive things from being covered. Journalists are forbidden from writing about the conflict in Darfur and the border region, which means that people don’t have access to information that will allow them to understand the situation and formulate their own opinions. Additionally, this lack of public record makes it difficult for people to be aware of the scale and scope of the violence being carried out by the government and its proxies. In response to international reports that referred to the conflict in Darfur as “genocide,” for example, the media in the Republic Of The Sudan referred to such claims as “propaganda” (Chalk). “Vigorously” reacting to international media reports and substituting an alternate reality is only necessary if those media claims posed some sort of danger to the regime – although the Darfur situation has not been resolved, naming the crimes and detailing atrocities may galvanize opposition from those within and outside of the Republic of Sudan. That potential for free press access applies to the Nuba Mountains, too. In 2011, the New York Times published a letter from a Sudanese activist, analyst, and journalist who requested contact with skilled media professionals to help “inform and activate all the very good Sudanese who […] would be horrified by what their government is doing but have no idea what is actually happening”. And the barring of foreign journalists from the Nuba Mountains is so commonly known that it need not be stated. In an era when people are interconnected, when civil society groups can gather and pressure a foreign government to respond to human rights concerns, and when citizens can mobilize to pressure their own governments to respond to the human rights violations of other states, journalism can be a threat. Why would it be done, if not to prevent people from understanding the situation and demanding action to remedy it? As one researcher notes, keeping journalists from doing their jobs is how governments carry out their crimes with impunity. If nobody is looking, why stop? And so journalists must look while governments try to blind them.


Sources Cited

Chalk, Frank and Danielle Kelton. “Mass-Atrocity Crimes in Darfur and the Response of Government of Sudan Media to International Pressure,” in The World and Darfur, 2nd Edition, ed. Amanda E. Grzyb (Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), 112


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March 27th, 2013

A Huge Step Forward for Canada

Yesterday marked a huge step forward for Canada, as MP Paul Dewar of the NDP tabled a federal bill on conflict minerals, asking companies for transparency and accountability when sourcing minerals from the Great Lakes Region & Congo!

The Conflict Minerals Act (Bill C-486) was introduced to the Canadian House of Commons at a press release yesterday. The bill seeks to implement the guidelines developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to end the trade of conflict minerals into Canadian law. These guidelines at the Canadian level would require companies using minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa to publicize their supply chain and due diligence practices and ensure the minerals they use in their products have not financed illegal armed groups engaged in the Congo’s war. Not only would this mark one step in improving transparency and accountability within Canadian mining industry abroad, but it would also be the first country to incorporate the OECD guidelines into legislation.

In tandem, Mr. Dewar has also launched the Just Minerals Campaign—a project that runs in partnership with STAND Canada’s Conflict Free Canada Initiative. The campaign will work to raise public awareness and petition the Government of Canada to cut Canada’s ties to Conflict Minerals.

The campaign is similar to the efforts more than a decade ago that led to controls on the spread of blood diamonds, which were used to finance rebels in West Africa. It has been done before and can most definitely, with your help, be done again for conflict minerals.

Help Canada become a world leader in demanding transparency for our minerals. Sign and share our petition today to make Canada Conflict- Free.


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March 13th, 2013

TOMORROW: CFCI Campaign Launch – Confronting The Blood in Our Mobiles

Meet fellow concerned citizens, students, local MPs including The Honourable Olivia Chow, NDP MP and find out what the Conflict-Free Canada Initiative (CFCI) is doing to help Canada sever its ties with one of the world’s deadliest conflicts!

On March 14, 2013 at 7 pm, at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, STAND Canada will be hosting a launch event and film screening for its newest campaign: The Conflict-Free Canada Initiative, with support from the Enough Project and Raise Hope for Congo.

STAND Canada will be announcing and launching its Conflict-Free Canada Initiative’s activities with a view to bringing the issue of conflict minerals to Canada and Mr. Kiavash Najafi, member of NDP MP Paul Dewar’s team, will presenting our new partnership with their office’s “Just Minerals” campaign in parliament!

The evening will entail a complimentary reception with food, coffee/tea & cash bar, a 75-minute unique documentary screening of “Blood in the Mobile,” and a concluding discussion and Q&A with keynote presenters.

Admission is free. We would love to have you!

Check out the event on Facebook for more information >>

Curious to learn more?

Read about the campaign
Sign the petition
Like the CFCI campaign on Facebook

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December 2nd, 2012

What is genocide?, Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the history of the word genocide and the definition of genocide used in the United Nations Genocide Convention (UNGC). For a refresher, here it is again:

 ……genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As you read this definition, the critical thinking wheels in your head are churning, and you probably have questions. That’s a good thing, because there are big questions and ambiguities surrounding Article II that haven’t been resolved. So, here we go. In order for an individual or group to be charged with the crime of genocide, specific criteria of the definition must be met.

The first criterion is the intent clause, which states that genocidal acts must be committed “with intent to destroy in whole or in part”. This mens rea (to use a fancy legal term that just means the necessary elements of a crime) is, in the words of Payam Akhavan, one of my absolute favorite genocide legal thinkers, both qualitative and confused (44). Akhavan notes the difference between the scope of intent, which requires that one intend to destroy a group as such, and the scale of intent, which makes reference to the hierarchy of mental states such as dolus eventualis (indirect intent), dolus generalis (general intent), and dolus specialis (special intent). It is the last of these – dolus specialis – which is necessary for a conviction of genocide to occur. As such, there is an understood difference between intended destruction, and intention towards other acts that may result in destruction (Akhavan 44). However necessary the intent clause may be to upholding a fair legal structure, it is difficult to prove the intention to destroy. Kurt Johannson notes three factors that make intent difficult to prove in a court or law (20). First, written materials may not exist, or may be destroyed before they are archived (20). Second, perpetrators may have elaborate means of hiding the truth, regulating access to information, and the ability to spread carefully contrived disinformation (20). Third, as explains why most genocide until the mid-20th century were not reported, “there appears to have existed a sort of conspiracy of collective denial whereby the disappearance of a people did not seem to require comment or even mention” (20). There is also the question of what counts as destruction – must it be physical, or can it be social or cultural as well?

The second criterion, is that the crimes be committed against one of the specific categories of groups listed in Article II. The United Nations Genocide Convention applies only to four groups, those that are a national, ethnical, racial or religious. As such, many other groups – including political and economic groups – are excluded. To use a familiar case study, from 1975 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million – 2.5 million Cambodians out of a population of roughly 7 million total (Sadat xxi). While the phrase “Cambodian genocide” in widespread in common parlance, it is difficult to make a legal case for what happened in Cambodia as being a genocide, because people were targeted for being members of social, political, or economic classes (Sadat xxi). While many scholars have advanced arguments that the mass torture, starvation, and killings that took place in Cambodia during this time was indeed a genocide, there are many legal scholars who hold that the specific requirements of genocide were unmet (Sadat xxi). Gareth Evans writes that for all its compelling general moral authority, the UNGC held no legal application to the Cambodian situation. He says: “Because those doing the killing and beating and expelling were of exactly the same nationality, ethnicity, race and religion as those they were victimizing – and their motives were political, ideological and class-based…the necessary elements of specific intent required for [the Genocide Convention’s] application were not there” (Sadat xxi).

These issues with the UNGC have led many members of the academic community to formulate their own definitions of genocide.

Horowitz wrote, “Genocide is defined as a structural and systematic destruction of innocent people by a state bureaucratic apparatus”.

Fein wrote, “Genocide is the sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victims.”

Charny wrote, “Genocide in the generic sense means that mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness of the victims.”

But there is something that must remain at the forefront of our minds: prosecution of the crime of genocide is based on genocide as defined in Article II (well, the Article II text was put in the Rome Statue, which is what the ICC uses). Do you think that we need to reevaluate and possibly change the accepted legal definition of genocide to make it more inclusive? What do you think?

Leave your responses in the comments!



Akhavan, Payam. Reducing Genocide to Law. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2012.

———– “The Universal Repression of Crimes Against Humanity before National Jurisdictions : The Need for a Treaty-Based Obligation to Prosecute”. Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity. Ed. Leila Nadya Sadat. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2011. 8-27. Print.

“Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” United Nations Treaty Collection. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.

Johannson, Kurt. “What is Genocide?”. Ed. Helen Fein. New Haven: Yale U Press, 1992. 17-26. Print.

Sadat, Leila Nadya. “Preface and Acknowledgments”. Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity. Ed. Leila Nadya Sadat. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2011. xix-xxviii. Print.

———- “A Comprehensive History of the Crimes Against Humanity Conventio”. Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity. Ed. Leila Nadya Sadat. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2011. 455-531. Print.


Neekoo Collett is a political science student from the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on “factors of restraint” and the situation of Baha’is in Iran, as well as the politics of genocide language and the proposed Crimes Against Humanity Convention. You can find her eating cake, applying for graduate programmes, and watching documentaries about the Amish when she should be studying. 

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What is Genocide? by Neekoo Collett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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