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Photo of the Week: State and USAID Visit WFP Distribution Center in Jordan

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visit a World Food Programme Distribution Center in Amman, Jordan, where refugees living in host communities receive vouchers on January 27, 2013. They can use these vouchers to shop for their families in local supermarkets. Photos from  State Department.

President Obama Announces Additional Humanitarian Aid for the Syrian People

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Americans and people all over the world have been moved by the images of courageous Syrians standing up to a brutal regime, even as they suffer the consequences of the violence waged against them by the Assad government. Right now, humanitarian conditions in Syria are deteriorating in the face of a massive, man-made humanitarian emergency. People have been forced from their homes; schools, clinics and bakeries continue to be targeted; and food prices are on the rise as winter takes hold.

The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.5 million people are displaced inside of Syria, and over 678,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. Their stories touch us all, and the American people will continue to stand with them. That is why President Obama announced today that he has approved a new round of humanitarian assistance, an additional $155 million to provide for the urgent and pressing needs of civilians in Syria and refugees forced to flee the violence of the Assad regime. This brings America’s contribution to date to $365 million, making the United States the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

Our assistance is being delivered all across Syria and is providing food, clean water, medicines and medical treatment for hundreds of thousands of people. It will expand the delivery of vaccines for children and clothing and winter supplies for millions of people facing both the regime’s brutality and the hardships of winter. It will supply flour to bakeries in Aleppo to provide daily bread, and allow families to feed their children; it will finance field hospitals to care for those who are wounded; and it will provide care and services for the growing number of victims of sexual violence. Our assistance also supports a growing number of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Humanitarian assistance sometimes means the difference between life and death, and that is why courageous men and women have been working day and night to ensure that these supplies are reaching those who need it most. The dangers of operating in Syria mean that many Syrians may not know that the medical care, supplies, and food that  they are receiving is being provided by the people and government of the United States. It is a cruel fact that humanitarian aid providers and recipients are being deliberately targeted in Syria. Our priority is to get American aid to those in need without endangering them or our humanitarian partners, which is why much of our aid is provided quietly and without fanfare and acknowledgement.

The good news is that we are able to work with a wide range of dedicated and courageous international partners and Syrian humanitarian organizations whose commitment to reaching those in need is unwavering, and that we are also able to work with the Syrian Opposition Coalition to identify and locate those in need. Also among the many unsung heroes of the humanitarian response in Syria are Syrian-American individuals and organizations, with whom we are working to meet urgent needs now and help lay the ground for a more peaceful future.

The Assad regime is using a destructive and, sadly, not unfamiliar tactic as it attempts to destroy the livelihoods of the Syrian people. But as President Obama said in his video remarks, “We’re under no illusions.  The days ahead will continue to be very difficult. But what’s clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory. The opposition continues to grow stronger. More Syrians are standing up for their dignity. The Assad regime will come to an end. The Syrian people will have their chance to forge their own future. And they will continue to find a partner in the United States of America.”

Read the President’s message in Arabic (pdf). You can also watch the video with Arabic subtitles.

 

Videos of the Week: U.S. Delegation Visits Syrian Refugees at Camp Islahiye, Turkey

These videos originally appeared on U.S. Department of State’s Dipnote.

On January 24, 2013, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard, and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visited Syrian refugees in Turkey. While at the camp, the delegation had the opportunity to speak with those affected by the violence, to listen to their concerns, and to witness first-hand the ongoing humanitarian assistance efforts.

On January 29, 2013, President Obama announced additional humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

Can Transitional Justice Prevent Conflicts?

Cyanne Loyle is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at West Virginia University. Photo credit: West Virginia University

On August 4, 2011, President Obama launched the Presidential Studies Directive on Mass Atrocities, or PSD-10, a ground-breaking call for all major U.S. government agencies to engage on the issue of preventing mass atrocities and genocide worldwide. Through this initiative the White House called for action “early, proactively and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large scale civilian atrocities.”

USAID’s plan to implement of PSD-10 includes launching the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – a contest to identify new ideas for applying innovations and technology to atrocity prevention efforts; leading listening sessions – an effort to capture the individual voices and perspectives of those who have firsthand experience with atrocity prevention and response in the field; and developing a toolkit describing programming approaches, available resources and operational guidance for strengthening prevention efforts, as well as expanding training options for personnel deploying to high-risk mission countries.

The ideas behind PSD-10 are echoed in what the academic community has researched about mass violence. We know that these activities occur while other forms of violence are ongoing.  For example, the genocide in Rwanda took place under the guise of a civil war between the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Rwandan government, and the current insurgency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a cover for countless human rights violations on a massive scale. We also know that mass atrocities are much more likely in countries that have experienced violence in the past. This phenomenon has come up so often, academics have given it a name: the “conflict trap.”

The questions now are: What tools do we have available to accomplish the goals of PSD-10? What can we do to prevent mass violence in the future?

Transitional Justice

One option, which has been shown to be effective, is the use of transitional justice.  Transitional justice is defined as any institution put in place following armed conflict to address the grievances and wrongdoings of the past. In practice, this has meant a wide variety of different processes: tribunals, truth commissions, reparations programs and lustration processes as well as less formal approaches such as memorialization efforts. The specific process used in each case has to be appropriate to the cultural and political realities, but the overall goal behind the transitional justice approach is to address grievances that have developed through the conflict among both the general population and former combatants. Governments that implement these processes, as well as the international organizations which support them, use transitional justice as a means of reducing the causes of conflict decreasing the likelihood that violence will occur again.

The use of transitional justice is already prevalent. The Post-Conflict Justice Dataset, which records transitional justice put in place following armed conflict, found 272 processes related to 173 different conflicts between 1946 and 2006. Fifty-three percent of post-conflict countries implemented at least one transitional justice process and 22 percent implemented two or more processes. Transitional justice is increasingly commonplace as a means of reducing the motives for future violence.

New research on transitional justice has turned our attention to the possibility of using transitional justice while conflict is ongoing in an attempt to resolve disputes and grievances sooner, thus bringing the conflict to an end more quickly. Other efforts have focused on the relationship between transitional justice and conflict to isolate the direct effects of transitional justice in order to design more useful strategies to prevent conflict reoccurrence.

We’re still unclear on the long-term effect of transitional justice, whether attempted during the conflict or after violence has ended. However, transitional justice can be a powerful tool for achieving the ends sought in PSD-10. No one claims transitional justice is the only or best approach, but it is one tool that should not be neglected when considering how best to respond to mass violence.

For more information about the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention at USAID, visit our website. Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #genprevtech.

FrontLines Year in Review: Beyond Port-au-Prince

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines March/April 2012 issue.

The United States and Haitian Governments aim to develop areas outside the country’s overcrowded capital, catalyzing growth in the north.

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – group crowds around an instructor for an urban gardening lesson in this northern city in Haiti. They laugh as the man perches a plastic bucket on his head and demonstrates how to use drip irrigation technology to grow tomatoes.

Workshop participant Manola Lamy was excited to try growing vegetables on her roof, but also enjoyed the camaraderie. “Before, I hadn’t experienced a union among Haitians,” she said. “Through the workshop, I experienced a union among others trying to make a better life here.”

Students are expected to share their knowledge, and instructors empowered them to take charge of their own food security. Such sustainability is the aim of USAID’s work in Haiti.

Vendors sell their wares March 24, 2011, at a market in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer, USAID.

“Cap-Haïtien is one of the most important cities in the Government of Haiti’s plan to increase access to services outside of the overcrowded capital,” said USAID/Haiti Mission Director Carleene H. Dei.

After the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake, about 100,000 displaced Haitians sought refuge around Cap-Haïtien. The city is now one of three geographic corridors that the U.S. Government is targeting to catalyze economic growth outside of the overcrowded capital of Port-au-Prince.

Consistent with the Government of Haiti’s action plan, the United States is focusing its investments in infrastructure and energy; economic and food security; health and other basic services; and governance, rule of law, and security.

USAID’s dozens of wide-ranging projects in the north, most implemented by the Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives, include supporting an NGO that develops nutritional peanut butter to fight malnutrition; rehabilitating roads and the Sans Souci Palace, a World Heritage site; assisting families who host those displaced by the quake; leading human rights trainings with community-based organizations; and rehabilitating community centers and health clinics.

In an ambitious project announced by former President Bill Clinton, the United States is also collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti to develop the 617-acre Caracol Industrial Park in the North—future home to the Korean textile giant Sae-A’s new garment-making operation. The park has the potential to support 65,000 permanent jobs in a country that has an estimated 40 percent unemployment rate.

USAID is funding the construction of an associated power plant, which will supply electricity to the park and surrounding communities. The Agency is also supporting housing for 5,000 households (25,000 beneficiaries) close to the park as well as infrastructure improvements in neighboring communities and Haitian cooperatives to jump-start training for industrial sewing…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Communication is Aid: Old and New Technologies Make Aid More Effective

Communication can and should be seen as aid. People rely on communication to find out what’s happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help. Research and projects, such as infoasaid, give evidence that communication is crucial to survival and recovery. In fact, the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network positions two-way communication with affected people at the heart of resilience-building, preparedness and response.

If communication is aid, what does that mean in practice? And how do we get better at doing it? These are some of the questions that participants of the ‘Communication is Aid: Humanitarian, Media and Technology Collaboration’ event*, held in Nairobi on December 6, tried to answer.

In her opening remarks, Gabriella Waaijman, Officer in Charge of UNOCHA Eastern Africa, explained, “Gone are the days when humanitarian agencies can provide assistance without asking what the needs are in the communities where they are working.” There is no doubt in my mind that we need to listen to communities because they are the only ones who know what’s happening on the ground and can suggest what would improve their day-to-day lives. We need to empower them with the tools to communicate their needs to us, and we need to effectively respond. Modern development requires two-way communication and listening.

Are we there yet? That’s for debate, but we are certainly getting closer. Adeso is implementing a USAID project in northern Kenya, working with pastoral and transitional communities to reduce hunger and poverty, increase social stability, and build strong foundations for economic growth and environmental resilience, and we are looking at ways to use communication to enhance these objectivesUSAID also helped jumpstart SokoShambani, a free SMS platform that allows small-scale potato farmers in Kenya to connect directly with buyers. “It takes the farmer to the market, and the market to the farm,” as Stephen Kimiri of ZEVAN explains.

Shujaaz.FM main character DJ Boyie pirates airtime to talk about what’s important to Kenyan youth. Photo credit: Riccardo Gangale/USAID.

Other examples include the Praekelt Foundation’s development of the Young Africa Live mobile platform that provides young people in Africa with information about HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues. Since 2009, the platform has been used by more than a million people in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The Danish Refugee Council has for its part adapted the Ushahidi platform – a free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping that was first used following Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections to collect eyewitness reports of violence and place them on a Google Maps – to monitor humanitarian aid in Somalia. Through this system, DRC’s beneficiaries can use their mobile phone to provide feedback on the aid they received from DRC, and make complaints.

So, how do we use the right technologies in the right context? As Rob Burnet from Well Told Story underlined, “Push won’t work – it must be pull.” We need to understand our audience and really listen to what they want. For example, USAID invested in Well Told Story’s innovative Shujaaz.FM multi-media project aimed to engage Kenya’s youth in promoting peace for the March 2013 elections. The project includes fictional Kenyan youth who grapple with real social and political challenges in a monthly comic book and through daily radio spots. The project gained popularity and 20,000 Kenyan youth now interact with the characters on Facebook.

Humanitarian and development players can learn a lot from private sector entities who are developing new technological solutions to address some the challenges faced when delivering aid. At the same time, we must keep in mind that while technology is part of the solution, it is not the solution in and of itself. It needs to be used in the right context, by the right people and for the right audience. Improving how we communicate will therefore require resources, training and commitment. My hope is that we continue to seek modern communication methods to provide more opportunities for learning, exchange and future collaborations for all audiences around the globe.

*Adeso and UNOCHA Eastern Africa jointly organized this one-day event, in partnership with the CDAC Network and Internews, and with financial support from BBC Media Action and Microsoft. Presentations and video from the event will be available on the Adeso website in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, have a look at this Storify.

FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Aid Effectiveness and USAID’s New Resilience Policy

This originally appeared on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition blog.

As policymakers discuss how to avoid the fiscal cliff, including sequestration, U.S. development agencies are continuing to take steps to make development and humanitarian assistance more effective. In the wake of the famine in the Horn of Africa, a typhoon in the Philippines, and even Hurricane Sandy at home, USAID’s new policy (PDF) – one that actually isn’t an acronym – “Resilience” is about using existing development dollars more effectively in disaster prone regions, so that less humanitarian assistance is needed in the future.

Almost half our funding consistently goes to countries classified as “long term recipients” of U.S. humanitarian aid, with 75% of USAID’s humanitarian aid going to 10 countries over the last decade. Making it easy to predict “where and who” is likely to be affected: Sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, this region has experienced more than “1,000 disasters“ over the past four decades. These fairly cyclical humanitarian crises disproportionately impact areas defined by chronic poverty and conflict.  Such despair can strip humans of their dignity and create conditions that extremists exploit – something that rings all too true in the Horn of Africa.

USAID/OFDA, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, also provided hygiene kits, water containers, sleeping mats, and water purification tablets to families in a village on the outskirts of New Bataan city which bore the brunt of the storm. Photo credit: Lisa Gabriel, USAID/OFDA

The cycle, however, also includes America’s response – the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor – complete with public awareness campaigns (e.g., “FWD Campaign”, USAID’s multimedia response to the 2011 drought).  The American public’s generosity is extraordinary, as is the dedication of those working on the frontlines of humanitarian disasters. But this new policy is about getting at the root causes of the circumstances that can lead to the need for humanitarian interventions and then, deploying new technologies and forging new partnerships to break this cycle.

And as we saw in Ethiopia, it is possible. In 2005, Ethiopia began a resilience program, Productive Safety Nets Programme. As a result, when the worst drought in 60 years hit Ethiopia and its neighbors and plunged over 13 million people in East Africa into crisis, the resilience program paid off.  This collaborative initiative between the Ethiopian government and international donors – including USAID – resulted in noticeable improvements to the program’s targeted areas during the 2011 drought and a more cost-effective response of $53 per person.  This compares with $169 per person during the United Nations and NGO-managed response to the crisis – in spite of earlier warnings (PDF) of the impending disaster.

But what’s the ultimate goal? USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says success will be measured by whether USAID is able “to put ourselves out of business” by reducing the number, volume, and length of time of the “infusions of humanitarian assistance needed in the future.” Translating it down to the local level, as His Excellency Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, told the audience at the policy’s launch event, a key indicator will be whether the next drought to strike the Horn of Africa – and you can count on one – leads to smaller numbers of displaced persons crossing the border into his country.

As America strives to get our own fiscal house in order, the fact of the matter is that we’re also nearing a critical mass for relief and development funding.  Meaning, “doing more of the same,” to quote Administrator Shah, is no longer an option.  Nor should it be.

Video of the Week: Administrator Shah Discusses Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

On the heels of his return from a refugee camp in Turkey, Dr. Shah did a live interview on Friday, December 7th with Al Jazeera English about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Dr. Shah stressed the importance of international support for those affected by the crisis, which is why the U.S. has committed more than $200 million for displace people inside and outside of Syria.  He also noted that humanitarian efforts are reaching about 1.5 million people with food, 400,000 families with winterization materials, 22,000 people with surgeries.

Seeking Justice: Investigating and Prosecuting Gender-Based Violence

Susana SáCouto (right) is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law. Chanté Lasco (left) is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator. Photo Credit: WCRO.

This blog post coincides with USAID’s blog series on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). GBV is a human rights and public health issue that limits individual and societal development with high human and economic costs.  For more information about how USAID is combatting GBV, please visit our website.

This year has seen the continued prevalence of widespread and devastating gender-based attacks on women and girls around the world, from new outbreaks of sexual violence at the hands of a new militia entering the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the shooting of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, targeted for seeking educational opportunities for herself and other girls.

Such tragedies are examples of how far we have to go as a global community to ensure the safety and well-being of those vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, the past 20 years have also seen remarkable progress in holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable on the international level.

Such violence is now recognized as conduct that can constitute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Indeed, the statutes governing international and internationalized criminal courts, including the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), have all recognized that sexual and gender-based crimes are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The ICC, in particular, has included the broadest number of sexual and gender based crimes within its jurisdiction, including not only rape but also sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization, while also including a residual “sexual violence” clause intended to apply to serious sexual assaults that are of comparable gravity to those explicitly included.

These tools represent significant milestones in addressing SGBV but they are just that—tools. Without prosecutors and judges applying these tools to hold perpetrators accountable, and without pressure from activists to push the ICC and other institutions to continue making progress, too many sexual and gender-based attacks will continue to be under-investigated and inadequately prosecuted.

For instance, the sexual and gender-based crimes that SCSL prosecutors could have charged members of the Civilian Defence Force, a security force in Sierra Leone that fought against rebel groups during the conflict in Sierra Leone from 1996 to 1999, resulting in widespread atrocities committed against civilians, were not included in the indictment against the accused. The result was the exclusion of evidence of widespread rapes and sexual slavery from the trial and the silencing of victims present and willing to testify to the full range of harms they suffered.

Similarly at the ICC, the Prosecutor failed to add similar charges against Thomas Dyilo Lubanga, former Commander-in-Chief of a rebel group’s military wing who was convicted by the ICC of conscripting children under 15 years in armed conflict that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2002 to 2003. Despite evidence that members of Mr. Lubanga’s militia were responsible for acts of sexual violence against abducted girls, female child soldiers and other civilians, such acts were not included in the Prosecution’s charging document against the accused.  In its final judgment, the Trial Chamber held that the Prosecution’s failure to include SGBV charges meant the Chamber could not make any findings of fact on the issue of sexual violence.

These are but two examples, out of many, in which the hard-won advances have become missed opportunities. Until the international community demonstrates that we care about these crimes and we expect accountability, SGBV victims will not have access to the level of justice they deserve.

For more information about the War Crimes Research Office, please visit our website.

Susana SáCouto is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law (WCL), which promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law.

Chanté Lasco is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator, managing the Gender Jurisprudence Collections, a unique research database tracking the treatment of SGBV in international criminal jurisprudence.

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