Keeping Perspective

This work always has a strange rhythm: sometimes you’re flat out on a story on one topic, intensely focused with blinder vision; then you’re in multi-task mode booking flights, writing to-do lists, making last-minute phone calls, trying to stay abreast of the news even as you organize logistics. In either mode there’s always a sense, for me at least, of not going deep enough.  Anyway, a few thoughts for the day before I go back to Bosnia prep:

I did a story about U.S. policy on Somalia last week. One aspect of the crisis I didn’t delve into enough is ongoing human rights abuses.  Amnesty International has a new report out this week:

 Routinely Targeted: Attacks on Civilians in Somalia.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured; looting is widespread and entire neighbourhoods are being destroyed,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

Witnesses told Amnesty International of an increasing incidence of what it locally termed as “slaughtering” or “killing like goats” by Ethiopian troops, referring to killing by slitting the throat. The victims of these killings are often left lying in pools of blood in the streets until armed fighters, including snipers, move out of the area and relatives can collect their bodies.

“The testimony we received strongly suggests that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Somalia – and no one is being held accountable,” said Michelle Kagari.


And for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about war and atrocities, this relatively optimistic piece by Fareed Zakaria in the latest Newsweek is a welcome tonic.  This tidbit of a much larger argument caught my eye:

A team of scholars at the University of Maryland has been tracking deaths caused by organized violence. Their data show that wars of all kinds have been declining since the mid-1980s and that we are now at the lowest levels of global violence since the 1950s. Deaths from terrorism are reported to have risen in recent years. But on closer examination, 80 percent of those casualties come from Afghanistan and Iraq, which are really war zones with ongoing insurgencies—and the overall numbers remain small. Looking at the evidence, Harvard’s polymath professor Steven Pinker has ventured to speculate that we are probably living “in the most peaceful time of our species’ existence.”

It reminds me of an interview I did in November 2006 with Jan Egeland, then the Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the U.N.  He said empirical evidence suggested the world was becoming a less violent place, a better place. But he qualified his statement with the following:

“The problem is that in some conflicts still the civilians are being the target of hostilities, and we now have this Responsibility to Protect and we now have the tools to assist, and we now have better media who cover the world better so the image many people have is that the world has not improved. But it has improved. But it is far from good enough. And of course in a generation from now, we will look back to this time and age, I hope, and say this medieval period 2006, Thank God we’re out of that and we’re now able to protect everybody, everywhere. Like we now feel it is really permanently quiet in Europe, in North American, in nearly all of Latin America, in three quarters of Asia and one half of Africa. So it’s not that much remaining. But the Darfurs, parts of eastern Congo, now Sri Lanka, there are certain areas that have intolerable levels of violence.”

Speaking of Darfur, I try to keep an eye on what’s happening there, and in the rest of Sudan, even when I’m not actively writing about it. Donors are pledging billions at a meeting in Oslo today to shore up Sudan’s north-south peace deal. Meanwhile the conflict in Darfur shows no signs of ending.   The Sudanese government bombed a school in North Darfur over the weekend. Reuters reported yesterday that a teacher at the school said 12 people where killed, 6 of them children. As of yesterday, an estimated 30 wounded had not yet received medical help.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s