The CSS Blog Network

Christmas at War

British and German troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce. Photo: IWM Collections

Happy Christmas, war is over. The song has been played to death on the radio, but with Washington’s declaration that the Iraq war is now officially over, John Lennon’s lyrics will likely bring a tear to the eyes of many American mothers. With Christmas being a time when families travel sometimes thousands of miles to reunite, the separation between those on the front lines and those worrying at home becomes all the more pronounced.

Perhaps the most famous – and undoubtedly the most touching – account of Christmas at war stems from the early 20th century. In 1914, only months into WWI, a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires took place along the Western Front. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, German and British soldiers (and to a lesser degree some French) independently ventured into ‘no man’s land’ and exchanged greetings and souvenirs, and even played a friendly game of soccer. The last survivor of the Christmas truce gave a haunting account of how he witnessed this spontaneous act of humanity:

“The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: ‘Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht’. After the last note a lone German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. ‘Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.’”

The Christmas truce of 1914 was deemed “one human episode amid all the atrocities,” but there is evidence that small-scale Christmas truces between opposing forces continued throughout WWI. » More

ICC and Ivory Coast: A Step in the Right Direction – If More Are to Follow

Laurent Koudou Gbagbo in Courtroom I of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands, Monday 5 December 2011. © ICC-CPI/AP Photo/Peter Dejong

I wonder how Laurent Gbagbo, sitting in his cell in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) prison in Scheveningen, has reacted to the announcement of the result of Ivory Coast’s legislative elections on 15 December. Alassane Ouattara’s ruling coalition won an overwhelming majority in the national assembly – nearly 220 out of a total of 254 seats. These elections followed a period of violent upheaval in response to the disputed presidential elections of October 2010. They were, however, marked by low voter turnout (36.6%) and a boycott by the opposition.

But while Gbagbo may be satisfied with the effectiveness of the electoral boycott, he nevertheless ceases to have any direct influence within the political system of Ivory Coast. Instead, he can call himself the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC. Gbagbo’s arrest warrant lists four charges of crimes against humanity, alleged to have occurred between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011.

The new chief prosecutor confirmed that the ICC became active in this case upon the request of the Ouattara government. Prior to the legislative elections Gbagbo was moved from house
arrest in the Ivory Coast to The Hague. The move reflects Gbagbo’s convictions that as long as he was still in the country, Ouattara would not be able to govern. Thus, said one of his defense lawyers in an interview, Gbagbo considered the indictment as politically motivated. » More

Justice in Bangladesh: What to Expect

Photo: Vashkar Abedin/flickr

Bangladesh appears to be powering ahead with its war crimes tribunal, established to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army in committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On Nov. 20th, its first suspect, Delwar Hossain Sayedee wascharged. I wrote here about the historical context in which the tribunal was established. The Bengali government has also now upped its ante by demanding a formal apology from Pakistan, although it is not clear whether this is forthcoming.

The tribunal has been welcomed by many as a late but useful tool to “set the record straight”, so to speak. Nevertheless, though many were killed or suffered in other ways that year, the fact still remains that the tribunal is thought to be a kangaroo court.

A major criticism relates to case selection. Although the tribunal claims comprehensive jurisdiction to “try and punish any individual or group of individuals, or any member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces, irrespective of his nationality, it is not prosecuting Pakistani soldiers or members of the Bangladesh military. It is chasing only easy targets, members of the opposition parties comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami – indeed all seven defendants who are currently under investigation are elderly members of the opposition, some of whom were clearly against the creation of Bangladesh, but membership in itself does not, of course, make one necessarily guilty. » More

Business, Conflict – and Peace?

Participants at the workshop. Photo: Jennifer Giroux

On November 14, 2011 a workshop on the role of business in conflict zones took place at the Europainstitut in Basel. Jointly organized by the ETH’s Center for Security Studies (CSS), swisspeace and Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF/HSFK), various invited speakers examined the business-peacebuilding nexus from differing angles: Some discussed service industries, others legal concerns, conflict resolution, or human rights. The conference showcased the diversity of research being undertaken in the field of ‘business in conflict zones’ – and also highlighted that this is a relatively new, exciting and understudied subject with practical relevance to development and growth. » More

Inequality, Grievances and Civil War Workshop

Looking out across the bay at some of the most expensive land in the world. Photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

The workshop Inequality, Grievances and Civil War took place on the 11th and 12th of November 2011 and was hosted by the Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) of the ETH and the University of Zurich. Bringing together some of the leading researchers on group equalities and civil war, the aim of the workshop was to present new research on the role of inequality, geography, mobilization and institutions in explaining conflict onset and termination. Highly anticipated amongst participants, however, was the unveiling of the new GROWup(Geographic Research on War: Unified Platform) data portal.

Friday’s first session addressed ‘Horizontal Inequalities’ and was kicked off by Dr. Frances Stewart of the University of Oxford, presenting her paper “Horizontal inequalities at a global level: the case of Muslims versus the rest”. By placing horizontal inequalities as inequalities in economic and political resources between culturally defined groups, Stewart argued that global horizontal inequalities have similar implications to national ones. Stewart stressed that existing inequalities are a source of insecurity and can raise the risk of conflict globally. Hence, horizontal inequalities, whether they are cultural, political or economic, need to be addressed both on the national and the international level. » More

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