The CSS Blog Network

Libya Set to Try Saif? Not So Fast

Newspaper report on Saif's arrest last November. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It was fitting that news and commentary on justice in Libya was thoroughly confusing today. The conflict in Libya and the post-Gaddafi era have been rife with contradictory storylines: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was captured. Wait, he’s touring Tripoli! Abdullah al-Senussi has been detained in the south of the country, but we haven’t heard or seen from him since (he is almost certainly not in Libya). International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says Libya can try Saif and Senussi but the Pre-Trial Chamber says ‘hold your horses!’

In short, the narratives emerging from Libya as they pertain to the ICC have been anything but coherent. Even for the most keen observers and commentators, it has been tough to keep track of and distinguish between what was information and what was mis-information. » More

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Political Economy of Terrorism

Photo: Magharebia/flickr

In reaction to the November 2011 kidnapping and killings of EU nationals in Northern Mali, Catherine Ashton, the High-Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the EU, stated that: ‘These incidents show the need to continue and intensify the efforts against insecurity in the Sahel. Through its Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel, the EU is committed to help the Sahel countries in this endeavor.” Nevertheless, the complexity of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region, and its connection to transnational criminal activities, makes me wonder whether the EU counter-terrorism strategy for the Sahel region is fit to confront this challenge.

The terrorist threat in the Sahel region is mainly posed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM has its origins in the Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédiction et le Combat (GSPC). Largely as a result of the effectiveness of the Algerian army’s counter-terrorism strategy, GSPC was forced to move its headquarters to northern Mali, where it associated itself with al-Qaeda in 2007. The GSPC — rebranded as AQIM — targets the foreign presence in the region, mainly kidnapping European tourists in order to destabilize the Algerian government and convince Western governments to withdraw their troops. » More

SSR Lessons from the DRC

A model unit for the future of the Congolese military. Photo: US Army Africa/flickr

A series of regime changes following violent conflict in the past year will make security sector reform (SSR) a top priority on the peace and security agenda in 2012. In places like the Ivory Coast or Libya, a key question will be how to reconcile a fragmented society with the creation of national army and police services as inclusive and neutral institutions. To illustrate some challenges and ways forward in addressing those issues, I will present a few SSR insights based on two years of field experience in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The following ethnicity-linked security dilemma was omnipresent during my assignment in the Kivus in 2009 and 2010: the law enforcement agencies were not perceived as truly national and neutral by the communities. As a consequence, ethnic groups trusted their own militias more to look after their security. Accordingly, armed groups in the Kivus legitimized their existence inter alia based on the need to protect their own ethnic community, often against the perceived threats of other ethnic groups and militias in the vicinity. As a result, armed groups were only willing to integrate into the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) if they could remain in their habitual area. Similarly, those which had previously integrated in the army refused to deploy outside of the area in which their community lived. The security institutions could either refuse to exercise this option (with the consequence that the armed groups would stay out of the army) or sign up for a process that inherently leads to ethnic segregation within their forces.

One such example is the Yakutumba armed group. Yakutumba deserted from the FARDC in 2006 during the ongoing integration process because he was unwilling to redeploy outside of the area inhabited by his ethnic community. His stance had not changed when I worked in the area years later. However the FRF armed group finally integrated into the FARDC in 2011. This move was conditional upon the group receiving control of the military command of the area where its ethnic group is based and the promise that its men would not be redeployed outside of this area for five years.

Another key issue is the re-distribution of command positions in an integrated army. The integration into the FARDC of the Congrès National pour la Défense du People (CNDP) armed group in 2009 resulted in an apparent de-facto sharing of command positions between integrated CNDP officers and long-standing regular FARDC officers. Smaller armed groups regularly complained about this perceived preferential treatment of the CNDP. They felt that they were marginalized, their concerns not taken seriously and that they were denied high ranking posts. The danger here is that perceived unequal treatment can produce enough resentment to potentially derail the process. I also remember heated discussions regarding how many – or how few – commanders ethnic groups had in the armed forces. The dilemma between creating an ethnically balanced army and making competence and experience the first appointment criteria is particularly difficult to resolve. One example for favoring the former approach is the FRF leader who was appointed as a high ranking commander in the FARDC – yet is not able to read.

What lessons can be drawn from the DR Congo experience? First and foremost, a minimum level of trust by the people in the armed forces is imperative. This requires a certain display of professionalism and disciplinary measures taken by the army if the former is violated. Impunity for soldiers who commit human rights abuses animates them to commit more crimes in the future, and encourages local communities to seek protection by local militias. During my assignment, I experienced the value of confidence building activities that bring together different representatives from local communities and from the law enforcement agencies. These meetings included, but were not limited to human rights sensitization and open debates.

Obtaining high level posts in the army is a goal of any armed group in the process of integration. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this came with the side effect of forced recruitment of children by rebels in order to boost numbers and gain leverage vis-à-vis the FARDC. The latter chose a strict approach and carried out military operations to crack down on the groups which refused to integrate or disarm. In principle, such a carrot and stick approach — combining opportunities for the rebels with military pressure — makes sense, as the rebels can no longer tie their integration to exorbitant demands. Unfortunately though, the DRC’s military operations often violated international humanitarian law. The government also opted for delaying tactics, by creating additional military structures in order to be able to give command positions to newly integrated armed groups. From a long term perspective, this does not appear to be a sustainable approach and the challenge of cutting down the number of high ranking officer posts in the army will resurface at a later stage. Given the country’s history, it seems negligent to hope that time will solve the problem.



Isabelle Peter has worked with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) in political affairs and with the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in war crimes investigations. Her interests cover various aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, such as armed groups, SSR, international humanitarian law, international criminal justice and mediation.

JiC’s 2011 International Criminal Justice Awards

2011 JiC International Criminal Justice Awards. Image: JiC/dreamstime

Over the course of the past few months, we have regularly featured posts from our friends at Justice in Conflict (JiC). Mark Kersten and Patrick Wegner, the authors of the blog, write about the competing conceptions and ideas of justice and the challenges of pursuing justice in conflict. Expectations and demands for international justice have risen dramatically since the end of the Cold War, but perhaps with the exception of 1945-46 there has never been the same level of interest and scrutiny to the work of international criminal justice as in 2011. As Mark writes, “We will almost surely still be talking about 2011 in 2031.”

To reflect these developments, JiC has inaugurated the ‘International Criminal Justice Awards.’ The 2011 awards, listed below, represent the best and the worst in international justice from the last year. You can read the full version of Mark’s blog article here.


Biggest Catch: It was a close call, but the prize for the biggest catch in international criminal justice in 2011 goes to Laurent Gbagbo, narrowly edging out Ratko Mladic. Gbagbo is the first former head of state to be in the custody of the ICC, marking a significant political coup for the Court and (hopefully) justice in Ivory Coast. Quite simply, in terms of victories for international criminal justice, Gbagbo is a head (of state) above the rest. » More

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

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