Welcome to our blog, where we share our latest stories, analysis, and information from conflicts around the world.
This piece by Sahr MuhammedAlly originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
A sniper's bullet paralyzed 12-year old Misar from the waist down in her village in Idlib. Misar's mother told me, "She already had difficulty speaking after her father was killed... and now Assad has destroyed her life forever." Another girl, 8-year-old Amani, from Aleppo told me, from her hospital bed, "I want to go back to school. I like to write." But Amani's writing arm was shorn off by a rocket attack while she was standing in line to buy food with her parents. Misar will likely never walk and Amani will never use her right arm.
While nations are focused on the specter of chemical weapons in Syria, the lives of Misar and Amani will be forever marked by war. Over 80,000 people have been killed since peaceful protests against the rule of Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. The bombardment of cities, firing on civilians, shelling, sniping in civilian areas, and use of cluster munitions to kill, maim, and terrorize civilians have spared no one including the elderly and children.
When I visited villages under opposition control in Idlib governorate this April, I saw people trying to rebuild after their homes and shops were destroyed and burnt by government forces and the Shabeeah -- a pro-government militia. However, even their efforts to return to normalcy were brutally interrupted. Three days before I visited the village of Hazano, regime fighter jets released rockets with cluster munitions. One of the rockets landed in a tree-lined field where children were playing. I talked to the family of 15-year-old Batool who was killed.
This piece by Sahr MuhammedAlly originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
A decade after weaponized drones were first used in counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen the US Senate Judiciary Committee had its first hearing on April 23 questioning the legality of the targeting killing program including who is being killed and where. Senator Durbin also asked, "What moral and legal responsibility does the US have to acknowledge its role in targeted killing and make amends for inadvertent destruction and loss of life particularly when missiles kill or injure innocent people?" This is an important question that needs answers from the administration.
Helping civilians harmed during hostilities is not unprecedented. The United States military investigates civilian harm in Afghanistan--just across the border from Pakistan--and has offered explanations, apologies, and monetary payments to those suffering losses. That practice goes back to combat operations in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, but it doesn't exist when it comes to the covert use of drones in counterterrorism operations. Recognition of harm, an explanation of what happened, and assistance to victims and families does not compensate for the loss of a loved one, but it can help rebuild a lost home, pay for medical care, or simply show that an apology is sincere. Explanations answer unanswered questions, dignify losses and, in cases where the explanation is public, can remove local suspicion that civilians unintentionally harmed in a strike were militants.
Michael Shaikh, director of country operations for Center for Civilians in Conflict, and Sam Hendricks, a consultant for the Center, were in Mali this month speaking with civilians about the current conflict and the challenges they face. In this post we hear from Hamidou, a schoolteacher in Mali’s Mopti region, who shared his experience of the crisis.
“The fall of Konna to the rebels was like a joke to us. We couldn’t believe such a thing could happen here.”
These are the words of Hamidou, who recently spoke to a Center team in nearby Sévaré, in the region of Mopti, about 400 miles from the Malian capital of Bamako.
“Everything started with the MNLA and Azawad,” he says, referring to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the territory of northern Mali claimed as an independent state by separatist rebels.
After an alliance of MNLA and Islamist fighters overran the towns of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao in March 2012, many residents in nearby Konna left, fearing they would be next. Konna became the first line of defense against the rebels’ further incursion to the south and the Malian government deployed two army units to protect the town.
Michael Shaikh, director of country operations for Center for Civilians in Conflict, and Sam Hendricks, a consultant for the Center, are currently in Mali speaking with civilians about the current conflict and the challenges they face.
“Before the rebels came, life was good,” said Ahmed, a schoolteacher in Mali who sat down with Center for Civilians in Conflict last week to tell us his story. “We had rice, meat, money, and medicine. All of the basics were met. A French company was also building a new road, which employed a lot of local people. But as soon as the Jihadists came, that all stopped.”
Ahmed and his wife are from the Timbuktu province and were forced to flee and leave everything behind when hardline Islamist rebels arrived and heavy fighting broke out between them and the Malian army. He and his wife, who was seven months pregnant at the time, fled at night to avoid being caught by the rebels: “If the Islamists caught you they would punish you. They didn’t want anyone to leave – leaving meant failure for their cause. They also wanted to use us as hostages so the army wouldn’t attack them.”
From the Huffington Post
President Obama is quite literally writing his legacy on the use of force during his second term. According to media reports, the administration is codifying the hows and whys of its drone policy in a handbook. The assumption is that the United States will put into doctrine what it has already created in practice: new rules for a new global reality with a newish technology.
Leave aside for a minute the fact that there already exists a rulebook governing drone use, called international law. If the new rulebook clarifies some of the outstanding questions surrounding U.S. drone use, if its elements show an adherence to international laws (both in practice and in spirit), and if the whole of the rulebook considers the precedent it will set for the rest of the world, then this is an effort that should be welcomed, because the explanations about covert drone use coming from top officials have so far been less than explanatory (Jeh Johnson's recent remarksbeing the exception, though they're still short on detail).
The modern-day creation of the drone -- an unmanned airplane supported by a massive network of remote operators -- is not the problem. It was only a matter of time before a sophisticated military found a way to take itself off the battlefield yet keep the ability to strike where and when it wishes. Used in specific military circumstances -- in a full-scale combat theater like Afghanistan, for example, and with solid intelligence feeding into precise targeting -- drones have the potential to minimize collateral damage.
Nicolette Boehland, currently in Libya as a Center fellow, blogs for the Boston Globe on the use of weapons in Libya. She is part of a team from Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic that authored Explosive Situation: Qaddafi's Abandoned Weapons and the Threat to Civilians in partnership with Center for Civilians in Conflict and Center for American Progress. Read her blog for the Boston Globe here!