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The video opens with a man—now known to be Commander Al-Werfalli of the elite Libyan Special Forces team al Saiqa—throwing a quick glance over his shoulder as a black SUV rolls off camera. Cradling a gun, he saunters towards three men kneeling on a sidewalk, hands bound behind their backs, faces turned toward the wall. He raises the gun in his left hand. Without pausing, he walks methodically down the row, a bullet punctuating every other step. The men slump forward as they fall. Werfalli's first hint of emotion is visible only when he unloads multiple bullets into the final body.
In its August 2018 report on violence against Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, the Fact Finding Mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that “the role of social media [was] significant” in fueling the atrocities. Over the course of more than four hundred pages, the report documented how Facebook was used to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incitement to violence in the lead-up to and during the violence in Myanmar. Concluding that there were reasonable grounds to believe that genocide was perpetrated against the Rohingya, the report indicated that “the Mission has no doubt that the prevalence of hate speech,” both offline and online, “contributed to increased tension and a climate in which individuals and groups may become more receptive to incitement.” The experience in Myanmar demonstrates the increasing role that social media plays in the commission of atrocities, prompting suggestions that social media companies should operate according to a human rights framework.
Journalists have traditionally played a crucial role in building public pressure on government officials to uphold their legal obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. But over the past twenty years there has been radical change in the media landscape: foreign bureaus have been shuttered, young freelance journalists have taken over some of the work traditionally done by experienced foreign correspondents, and, more recently, the advent of social media has enabled people in conflict-affected areas to tell their own stories to the world. This essay assesses the impact of these changes on atrocity prevention across the different stages of the policy process. It concludes that the new media landscape is comparatively poorly equipped to raise an early warning alarm in a way that will spur preventive action, but that it is well-positioned to sustain attention to ongoing atrocities. Unfortunately, such later stages of a crisis generally provide the most limited policy options for civilian protection.
When a Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) dismissed the court's very first case before trial, it made headlines worldwide. The Trial Chamber dismissed the case because the prosecutor repeatedly failed to disclose exculpatory evidence. He did so because he had obtained the evidence from the UN and NGOs pursuant to confidentiality agreements that prevented disclosure without permission, which the UN and NGOs had not granted. The prosecutor, stuck between two competing obligations—the disclosure obligation that he owed the accused and the confidentiality obligation that he owed the UN—adhered to the latter, a decision that the Trial Chamber deemed to “rupture” the trial process to such a degree that a fair trial was impossible.
The doctrine of “responsibility to protect” obliges all states to protect populations from “atrocity crimes”—namely, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing—under three “pillars” of protection. Pillar One requires a state to protect its own population from atrocity crimes. Pillar Two obliges the international community to help states to exercise this responsibility through diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means. When both of these approaches fail, states must pursue a “Pillar Three” strategy: the UN Security Council must “take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner.”