information and news on accountability.

36. How Voluntary National Reviews Are Propelling Us Towards our Goals

The United Nations High-Level Political Forum met on July 18, 2018, to reaffirm its commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as to assess the progress that has been made towards achieving its goals thus far.

In an address to the Forum, Secretary-General António Guterres urged that “we need to embed the essence of the 2030 Agenda into everything we do.” This, he explained, will be vital to meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Statements like this have, to some extent, fallen on deaf ears in past years, as some countries failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

Voluntary National Reviews: Achieving Transparency and Accountability

In the past, the issues of accountability and transparency have been a focal point for the United Nations and the High-Level Political Forum. Most of the actions that the United Nations and its member states agreed to undertake are voluntary and SDGs are not an exception. For this reason, it is difficult to identify what exactly each country’s “end of the bargain” is. The institution and increased use of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), however, are addressing this issue.

Voluntary National Reviews have played a fundamental role in facilitating transparency in regards to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. VNRs are state-led analyses of each nation’s contributions to aforementioned Goals. The Reviews are conducted in collaboration with most, if not all, sectors of a nation’s government, making for a wholesome and accurate source of information to be shared and discussed at the High-Level Political Forum, as well as in other assemblies.

Voluntary National Reviews role and responsibility

VNRs allow member states to take note of and critique the ways in which other members of the global community are addressing important issues like poverty, education, environment, and more. The Reviews are not statistical analyses but rather collaborative policy and plan analyses which aim to ensure that each nation is working hard and efficiently to contribute in the best way possible to the goals of the Agenda. Conclusions about levels of commitment and strategies to embed the goals in the framework of each member state can be found in the annual VNR Synthesis Report.

Forty-six countries presented their VNRs at the High-Level Political Forum, adding to the 65 that have already presented in 2018. Participatory numbers have more than doubled each year since 2016, showing that member states are even more committed to upholding their individual goals in order to achieve the United Nation’s ultimate goals.

The virtue of VNRs today has been a vice for the United Nations throughout its history. Their voluntary nature allows them to act as an affirmation of a member’s commitment to the SDGs as well as to fighting poverty, opening access to education and addressing the global issues that have yet to be fully addressed. VNRs are proving and will continue to prove to be powerful catalysts for change and progress towards the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

10 MCC Transparency MeasuresCreated by the U.S. Congress in 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency. The agency has strong bipartisan support and helped revolutionize how the U.S. delivers foreign assistance.

MCC works by giving out time-limited grants to partnering countries, which broadly go toward “promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and strengthening institutions.” But for each of its compacts and programs, MCC specifically reports what is being spent where, by whom and with what results. In other words, MCC is dedicated to transparency.

10 Ways MCC Maintains Transparency

  1. Maintaining an easy-to-use and up-to-date website: An easy-to-use website makes it easier for the public or other agencies to navigate the site. An up-to-date website ensures that people are accessing and consuming new and relevant data.
  2. Expanding the Evaluation Catalogue: The Evaluation Catalogue shares studies, evaluations and data sets in a searchable database that is open for public consumption. MCC is working to increase the efficiency of the accompanying approval process and release information to the catalogue more quickly.
  3. Releasing Principles into Practice: Principles into Practice is a long-running series of reports in which MCC discusses in detail how it implements its core model and operation policies. These reports include frank discussions of failures and lessons MCC has learned. The agency also has an edition dedicated to MCC transparency.
  4. Using sub-national data and geo-coding: Gathering more detailed and location-specific data provides a better picture of MCC’s spending and results. Location-specific data can also help MCC compare data from different areas and increase its efficiency.
  5. Upgrading information management systems: Updated information management systems help MCC improve the accessibility and usability of its data internally and in partner countries. MCC also funds an analytics team to standardize and deliver data to staff for internal analysis.
  6. Having a Data Governance Board: MCC recently created its Data Governance Board, an independent group made up of representatives from throughout the agency. The Board’s purpose is to streamline MCC’s data management approach and promote data-driven decision making across the agency’s investment portfolio.
  7. Ensuring data consistency: MCC pulls all of its data sets from the same base data, ensuring consistency across data sets. Consistency allows MCC and anyone else to compare data sets without having to control for differences in collection or calculation.
  8. Adding new data and information fields: MCC has expanded its data fields relating to results, and the agency gets higher marks from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) for performance data than any other agency. MCC has also expanded its information to include conditions associated with MCC funds. MCC is very invested in data collection and uses it to inform program development processes, such as pricing data.
  9. Working with implementing organizations to compile data: Like most U.S. aid agencies, MCC’s programs provide funds for projects that are implemented on the ground by partner organizations. MCC works directly with those implementing its projects to collect and publish data.
  10. Reporting directly to IATI: Like other U.S. aid agencies, MCC used to report its data through the Department of State. Now, MCC reports directly to IATI, giving MCC greater control over what, how and when they publish.

ATI and MCC Transparency

Transparent aid is especially important to donor and recipient governments. For example, MCC transparency ensures that it and other donors avoid duplicating efforts in some areas and under-funding in others. Recipient governments also need to know what aid is invested in their countries to coordinate their own budgets with incoming aid and make the most effective use of their limited money.

MCC began participating in the Aid Transparency Index (ATI) in 2013 and was actually ranked the most transparent agency in the world its first year. Rankings consistently change between years, and while MCC has not remained number one, the agency is consistently among the top five transparent agencies in the world.

MCC was once again ranked as the most transparent agency in the U.S. Government for 2018. Ranked fifth overall in the world, MCC is one of only seven agencies in the top “Very Good” category. Transparency is essential for aid effectiveness and accountability, and MCC’s ranking shows that the agency is committed to disclosing detailed material about its activities.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

More Bang for Your Buck: Making Foreign Aid More Effective
A highly contentious issue, the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid has long been the subject of debate among congressmen and concerned citizens alike. From how much money is allocated to recipient nations to the impact that aid actually has on issues such as poverty and civil war, advocates and critics of foreign aid point to various criteria to evaluate the merits, or lack thereof, of continued U.S. aid.

The Case for Aid

Proponents of foreign aid insist programs are instrumental in fostering socioeconomic growth, reducing poverty and improving the overall quality of life. There are certainly examples that support this notion. USAID-funded programs have significantly reduced maternal and child mortality, helping at least 4.6 million children and 200,000 mothers, according to agency officials. As of 2015, more than 7.6 million people had received improved access to drinking water and more than 4.3 million people had improved sanitation. Furthermore, 41.6 million children saw improved reading instruction and safer learning environments between 2011 and 2015.

Foreign Aid Skepticism

Yet critics of aid remain steadfast in their opposition, pointing to fraud and corruption, lack of transparency, foreign aid dependency and general ineffectiveness as indicators. Around $1.17 billion in aid that was given to Malawi in 2012 was exploited by corrupt politicians and businessmen. At least $30 million was taken from the treasury and robbed from the 17 million poor and AIDS-ravaged inhabitants. In fact, these sentiments are so strong that, according to ABC News-Washington Post polls, “the only possible federal spending cut a majority favored was for foreign aid.”

Clearly, there are two sides to the story when it comes to foreign aid. When allocated and distributed properly, it can work wonders for the world’s poor and developing countries. However, corruption and misuse still stand in the way of much of its potential. These issues can be addressed by exploring various ways of making foreign aid more effective.

Making Foreign Aid More Effective

There are three important ways that countries around the globe can make foreign aid more effective.

  1. Improving Aid Quality: By dividing foreign aid into smaller projects, donor countries can control the volatility and lack of predictability of aid, thus significantly decreasing the deadweight loss of development assistance. In 2008 alone, deadweight losses from official aid amounted to $7 billion. Smaller projects, according to Brookings, can lead to further innovation and scaling up, thus offsetting deadweight losses.
  2. Linkage: In order for foreign aid to maximize its impacts in a developing country, it must be linked to other important development policies, namely trade, investment and migration. For example, in Haiti and Pakistan, countries in which the U.S. has a significant economic stake, trade restrictions on textile and garment imports prevent further growth.
  3. Mobilizing the Private Sector: It is generally accepted that in order to foster economic growth and development, countries must turn to the private sector. Unfortunately, foreign aid has yet to reflect that sentiment. In fact, much of it is still directed toward the public sector. Cities harbor the most economic growth yet receive only $1 to $2 billion in aid a year. Approximately one billion slum dwellers reside in the city centers of developing countries and represent the key to mobilizing economic growth.

At the end of the day, foreign aid aims to foster social and economic growth in developing countries by enfranchising governments, health care systems, education institutions and infrastructure. Consequently, growth in these developing nations helps developed nations by opening up new markets and increasing stability. When confronted with corruption or misuse or any of the other criticisms of foreign aid, governments should not slash foreign aid budgets, but rather should apply these three crucial ways of making foreign aid more effective.

– McAfee Sheehan
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid TransparencyThe success of foreign aid is often shadowed by misconceptions and myths ranging from effectiveness to large overestimates of how much money is spent on aid every year. In an effort to combat some of these myths, foreign aid transparency has become a central issue both globally and domestically. Understanding where funds are being spent is important to donors and citizens as will be explained below. Keep reading for a few facts about foreign aid transparency and where you can find more information on how your nation’s dollars are being used to provide aid to the developing world.

Why Transparency Matters

Transparency includes knowing how much money is spent, where it is spent, who spends it and the overall impact and results. Global foreign aid transparency matters because as nations try to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, this measure will act as the foundation for aid effectiveness and accountability. Aid transparency is important to donor and recipient governments as well as civil society. As citizens who pay taxes, it is reassuring to know exactly where foreign aid funds are being spent and this transparency encourages greater support for foreign aid.

In order to coordinate aid efforts and prevent donors from spending more funds in certain areas and less in others, transparency is key. When donor countries and nonprofits share what they have already spent or are planning to spend, other donors can coordinate their funding off of these numbers and reduce overlap. It is important for donors to research and discuss their funding plans with other nations to achieve greater impact with their limited resources.

Recipients of aid benefit from transparency as well because it is often difficult to know how much aid is given and where it is spent in their own countries. This, in turn, makes it more challenging for governments to decide how much of their own budget to spend on certain problems. Additionally, when aid recipients are not able to show foreign aid money in their budgets or plans for the country, it is much more challenging for citizens and parliaments to hold leaders accountable and corruption can become an issue.

Increasing Accountability with the Aid Transparency Index

One way transparency has improved in recent years is through Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index. This organization uses research and advocacy to improve transparency mainly through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). The IATI commits donors to publish all foreign aid data under a common standard that can be compared and accessed easily.

The 2018 Aid Transparency Index was recently launched on June 20. It is the only independent measure of aid transparency among major development agencies and governments making it a valuable tool for foreign aid. This year’s index evaluates 45 countries on a scale from very good to very poor transparency.

This organization uses a relatively complex and detailed methodology for monitoring transparency and scoring agencies. For the most recent Index, 35 indicators were selected that drew upon IATI standards and whether they were upheld. These indicators were then weighted and split into five categories. Organization planning and commitments to transparency are 15 percent of the score, finance and budgets are 25 percent, project attributes, development data and performance are equally split into 20 percent of the score as well. The website also includes a comparison chart on how agencies have improved or declined and extensive reports explaining the Index’s findings.

How to Evaluate a Country’s Transparency

The Index is one very detailed way citizens of major donor countries can easily check their country’s score and whether or not their aid agencies are being transparent. One must simply click on the agency they are interested in to view scores in each category, how they have changed in recent years and recommendations for years to come.

Besides the Index, for individuals in the U.S., there are currently two separate dashboards for USAID and the State Department to share where aid dollars are spent. These can be found at ForeingAssistance.gov and Foreign Aid Explorer. This year, the U.S. was included in the “good” category on the Aid Transparency Index meaning there is still room for improvement.

In 2016, Congress passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA) that established requirements for these agencies to publish foreign assistance data. One final provision suggested that USAID and the State Department combine their data into one dashboard by the end of the fiscal year 2018. It is yet to be seen whether this will happen or not but it could be one way of boosting U.S. foreign aid into the very good category for next year’s index.

These are some of the ways that aid transparency has improved in recent years and why it is such a crucial issue for donors, recipients and civil society.

– Alexandra Eppenauer
Photo: Flickr

Police Accountability in Rwanda
Police accountability promotes stability in nations and increases safety in security. Directly related to reducing poverty, police accountability mechanisms assist community members, specifically the poor and disempowered, to politically mobilize and exercise agency over the future.

In the context of Rwanda, corruption and brutality have been historically prevalent; however, massive improvements have been made in safety and security. Today, Rwanda has one of the highest ratings of citizens’ evaluation of safety, corrupt police officers have been largely eradicated and a strong partnership has been established between the citizens and their protectors. Police accountability in Rwanda is consistently improving and measures have been taken to reduce corruption.

History of the Rwandan Genocide

In order to understand the context of police accountability in Rwanda, a brief background of the genocide that occurred in the 1990s is necessary. Before the genocide, Rwanda’s ethnic makeup was dichotomized: a large majority (around 85 percent) identified as Hutu, and the minority remaining were Tutsi. When Belgium colonized Rwanda, they put the faction of Tutsis in positions of power to rule over the Hutu.

Tensions continued to be exacerbated, even before the colonial rule ended. A Hutu revolution occurred in 1959 that caused over 300,000 Tutsis to flee and eventually resulted in Rwandan independence. Racialized violence continued for years until extremist Hutu leaders began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting of mainly Tutsi refugees, responded with reciprocal violence, which continued until finally a coalition government was formed.

During the genocide, an estimated 800,000 were murdered, a majority of which were Tutsi. Much of the violence of the genocide was gender-specific, and it is reported that in the course of 100 days over half a million people were sexually assaulted. The aim of this violence was to tear apart communities, and it succeeded in that.

After-Effects of the Genocide

After the genocide, Gacaca courts were established in an effort to promote truth-telling and create a unified state. Gacaca courts, in the short term, disrupted women’s efforts to reestablish normal social relations in local communities, and in the long term delivered justice for some and established at least a partial truth about what happened, but many Rwandan women and men felt they were denied justice.  

These courts were flawed in their process of acknowledgment and straddled the line between restorative and punitive justice in many communities. The Rwandan government aimed to keep down mass incarceration levels after the genocide, and the Gacaca courts seemed like a good solution.

There were many shortcomings of the Gacaca tribunals. Several recent accounts of the courts’ performances reveal an egregious lack of due process protections, damaging the fairness of punishment as well as the prospects of reconciliation, according to leading scholars. Many judges of these courts, usually village elders, received minimal training and no lawyers were involved in the trials. Reports of false testimony were common and sentences neither followed a system nor were consistent.

Many Rwandans, nevertheless, served time in prison due to the determinations of these judges. Some have even said that these courts are an example of when a society so strongly yearns for reconciliation, citizens put justice before truth.

The legacy of these tribunals, and the tension that still exists for many Rwandans, led to the corruption and brutality that was perpetrated by the police in the early 2000s. Extrajudicial executions, meaning killing prisoners without legal process or judicial proceedings, were common and frequently made the news.   

Improved Police Accountability in Rwanda

Much has changed since then. Reform and a focus on security and accountability have been successful, and in Transparency International’s latest survey in 2017, Rwanda was ranked sub-Saharan Africa’s third least corrupt country. 200 police officers who were implicit in extrajudicial executions and implicated in corruption were dismissed from duty and the government has been hailed as one with no tolerance for corruption.

Police accountability in Rwanda has been condemned by leaders, and Rwanda police spokesperson Theos Badege said there would be “no mercy” upon corrupt officers in the police. “It is a national policy to ensure zero tolerance to graft,” Badege said, adding that accountability and integrity are among the core values expected of police officers while on duty. The past does not define this nation; instead, it helps shape the nation’s brighter future.

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Flickr

How Improving Governance Helps Growth in Developing Countries
It’s all too true that in most developing or vulnerable countries, local or national governments are tyrannical and corrupt. These governments have a propensity to abuse power, favor the rich and ignore the oppressed. However, by improving governance in the developing world, there is hope that unethical practices will be removed and replaced with unprejudiced laws that will fairly benefit everyone.

Problems Surrounding Corrupt Government

Numerous problems surrounding nefarious practices in underdeveloped countries stem from a lack of morality, discriminatory systems and misuse of power. The World Bank reports that in vulnerable countries, a disparate sharing of authority is a common problem that causes countries to stay in a state of impoverishment rather than move toward more progressive procedures that would allow for quicker growth and sustainability.

Unfortunately, it’s easier for the already-powerful leaders to resist change rather than consider the development of new policies for improving governance to benefit the whole society, regardless of economic class.

Additionally, there are many other factors that contribute to shady practices in the governments of developing countries. One of these practices is patrimonialism, which is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a “political organization in which authority is based primarily on the personal power exercised by a ruler, either directly or indirectly.” This means that too much power can easily be granted to one person or group of persons (oligarchy), rather than having different governmental branches to limit what can and cannot be done.

What Steps Can be Taken Towards Improving Governance?

In a patrimonialistic society, the land or state is “owned” by a leader, granting that person the freedom to do as he, she, or they please. This power structure contributes to the cycle of poverty — wealthy land is distributed to the other wealthy people, allowing those choice few to access the best schools, homes and healthcare; on the other hand, the slums are given to the lower class, eliminating chances to thrive in a fair economy. Ultimately, this system halts economic growth for all the citizens.

The OECD Observer gives two good examples of a patrimonialistic society; the first being Morocco, where admittance to bureaucracy protects access to economic benefits, and the next being in the Philippines, where political sovereignty can be bought and sold.

Citizen-Based Elections

A great way to combat corruption, poverty and improve economic growth is by initializing citizen-based elections. According to USAID, more than half of the world’s populace live under only partly free governments, which limits their civil liberties, causing the inability to freely engage in politics. In democratic elections, the people are granted a voice in choosing who they wish to run their government.

USAID easily lays out the course for democratic elections. The steps include freedom of speech, association and assembly; elections as an essential tool to bolster political openings and cooperation; assembling advocates and describing different political platforms to the public and encouraging political debate.

Education

Another step toward improving governance is creating equal educational opportunities for all people. A large problem in the political sphere of third-world countries is the lack of education that causes many citizens who live in poverty to not fully understand politics; in turn they lack the skills to actively participate in events such as elections or assemblies.

Not only will education improve political understandings, but it will create jobs and give students the skills needed to be seen as valuable by future employers, improving economic growth and sustainability. With higher education comes higher knowledge and realization, skills that permit citizens to see and understand what areas in their countries need change.

Public Policy and Building Democracy

One of the best ways to promote better government is through improving public policy and actively working on building a democracy. In the developing world, the people and citizens are often ignored, and their opinions are thought to be arbitrary and unimportant to those high on the political spectrum.

However, in a democratic society, the people get to vote in elections for issues such as industrial projects and new laws. To help aid in understanding public policy and democracy, The World Bank created the Governance Global Practice, which aims to initiate trust between the government and the people.

Despite all of the concerns facing governments in third-world countries, these nation-states are not hopeless. Many countries work towards improving governance and government practices. In fact, organizations such as The World Bank, USAID and the United Nations provide hope for those searching for a better quality of life, and thereby foster countries to work towards a brighter future.  

– Rebecca Lee
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in the Democratic Republic of CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the second largest country in Africa. With approximately 70 percent of its population living in rural areas, the large and mineral-rich land has shown immense potential for sustainable agriculture in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The development of agriculture and other sectors in the DRC have been hindered by the simple fact that the country has been healing from more than 15 years of war. This has unfortunately created serious infrastructure and systematic issues that have tested the nation’s business environment.

The agricultural sector contributes 18 percent of the DRC’s GDP and accounts for about 60 percent of labor, yet it still fails to establish food security and create enough revenue and sustainable jobs. Nearly half of Congolese people live below the poverty line, and the nation must import more than 70 percent of the food it eats.

Malnutrition still remains one of the leading causes of death among the population, with iron-deficiency being the second most common cause of disability. Infant mortality exists at 3.3 percent and life expectancy remains low, with more than half of the country’s inhabitants being under the age of 20.

Recently, the World Bank authorized additional credit of $75 million to Congo for the Agriculture Rehabilitation and Recovery Support Project. This funding is expected to increase agricultural production and improve crop promotion and animal products for many agricultural households.

The Congolese government backs this project with the hope that it will lower rural poverty by 2020 through establishing and streamlining systems used for agricultural production, progressing nutrition and food security and mobilizing backing from both public and private sectors. The additional funds will also hopefully be able to increase activities that acknowledge issues such as nutrition-sensitive activities, climate smart agriculture and job generation.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has also developed numerous projects to strengthen the capacity for food security and nutrition and to develop sustainable agriculture in the Democratic Republic of Congo, such as:

  • Supporting the development of an irrigation system tied to a priority investment program, which will contribute to the use of water for agriculture, livestock and fisheries.
  • Endorsing the creation of the national seeds policy, in order to support the government in developing a system for the manufacturing, preservation and control and distribution of high-quality seeds.
  • Putting into action the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in the area of cultivation and forestry, a project proposal to be submitted to the Green Climate Fund, which is expected to contribute to the reduction of emission and increase forest carbon stocks.

With so much fertile land at its disposal, this country has the potential to feed the whole of Africa. But in order for sustainable agriculture in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be achieved, farmers must have access to ample financial services and strong infrastructure.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

How US Sanctions Can Effect Accountability for Human Rights Violations Abroad
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who was imprisoned in Moscow. He was convicted of aiding tax evasion in 2008 and died in custody in 2009. Surprisingly, though, his legal troubles did not end there. In a trial in 2013, a Russian court further convicted Magnitsky of tax fraud–four years after his death.

Magnitsky’s death was more than just an untimely demise of a 39-year-old lawyer. While he is said to have died of acute heart failure and toxic shock caused by untreated pancreatitis, Magnitsky had been severely beaten while imprisoned. In fact, his colleagues even insisted that the convictions against him were falsified in order to obstruct Magnitsky’s own accusations of massive tax fraud by Russian officials.

An investigation into the lawyer’s death was opened in November 2009, only to be dropped in March 2013 with the conclusion that Magnitsky had been legally arrested and detained, as well as denying claims that he had been tortured and had been denied access to medical attention.

The United States passed a law in 2012 in Magnitsky’s name that imposed sanctions against Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for serious human rights violations. The law froze any U.S. assets held by these officials and went so far as to ban them from entering the United States.

In 2016, Congress took an important step in addressing global accountability for human rights violations by expanding the earlier Magnitsky law to the Global Magnitsky Act. The new act allows the executive branch of United States government to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for human rights violations or corruption, as well as those officials who abetted or were complacent with such violations.

The Global Magnitsky Act acts as a deterrent, warning foreign officials that unlawful violence could result in serious repercussions from the United States government. Additionally, the act offers incentives to foreign governments for improving mechanisms to increase accountability for human rights violations. By working with the U.S. on human rights violation and corruption investigations, leaders from other countries can voice their contempt for human rights abusers in their own countries.

The effectiveness of these sanctions can be seen in Russia’s response to their imposition. As a result of the global embarrassment inflicted on the country following the enactment of the law, the act has become a fixation for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The act continues to endorse accountability for human rights violations in various cases around the world on the recommendations of senators as well as a group of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

Richa Biplane

Photo: Flickr

Rwandan GenocideThe Borgen Project sat down with Brian Endless, a political science professor at Loyola University Chicago and an academic expert on the Rwandan genocide. Since 2007, Endless worked closely with Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda,” to raise awareness about misconceptions surrounding the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

How and why did you initially become interested in the Rwandan genocide?

“[My interest] started around the time I started grad school. I had always focused on the Security Council, and I had a lot of experience with it. I was immersed in the genocide from the beginning from an international perspective. I knew what was happening and saw it as a huge failure of the U.N. I saw everything from the perspective of the outside world.

I didn’t really know how little I knew about Rwanda until 2007, when I met Paul Rusesabagina, who had become an international spokesperson for Rwanda. I had no idea about the history of the civil war and internal conflicts that led up to the genocide. From 2007 on, I went on a pretty steep learning curve, picking up everything that I could about what was happening inside of Rwanda.”

Can you summarize your experience learning about and advocating for awareness of the genocide after 2007?

“From extensive talks with Paul and members of the Rwandan expatriate community, I learned that while the international public saw the situation as Hutus killing Tutsis, what was actually happening was the latest in a series of civil wars. I was surprised by the fact that an enormous number of Hutus died during the genocide, and that a Tutsi dictatorship had replaced a Hutu dictatorship, and that a small percentage of Tutsis was ruling and committing substantial human rights violations.

I did an enormous amount of academic reading and I followed a lot of court cases as things came into the public press. I started actively working with Paul and writing speeches for him and things to be published and publicly disseminated. The Hotel Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina Foundation was first campaigning to inform the public that there were still problems. The situation was really just, ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ with a population that was being discriminated against. Rwanda was also a very friendly government to the United States, so it was difficult getting information out and advocating for truth and reconciliation in Rwanda.”

What were the biggest driving factors behind the genocide?

“It’s a story that dates back to pre-colonial times. By 1990, a Hutu government was in charge but didn’t have enormous control over the country. Tutsi groups in Uganda started a civil war to take back the country. Tutsis were largely winning the war in 1993, and there was a peace plan. By early 1994, the peace plan was breaking down. Hutu extremists started to bring out negative views against the Tutsis. In part, it was a plan to try to stop the Tutsi invasion by encouraging Hutus to demonize Tutsis. They focused especially on internally-displaced youth who were pushed out of their homes as the Tutsis invaded.

That’s effectively where the genocide started. The genocide officially started when the plane carrying the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi was shot down in early April 1994. That triggered the genocide, and Hutu Power radio began to say, ‘It’s time to chop down the tall weeds,’ which was code to kill the Tutsis.”

How did the international community fail to become involved in the Rwandan genocide?

“We had just come out of Somalia, where 18 U.S. army rangers had been killed. The Clinton Administration used this as an excuse to pull us out. What happened was the U.S. public became more against using forces in places they didn’t understand or that weren’t strategic. Rwanda was a place where nobody had close ties. There were really no great natural resources, thus we let it happen and let it go on. People in the U.S. and in Europe didn’t realize it until we saw it on CNN, and our politicians had no interest in getting us involved in another war that could end up like Somalia.”

What do you think should have been done?

“Really the question is: If we’re going to say ‘never again’ after a genocide, we have to decide if we mean it or not. So far, we haven’t meant it. We’re not willing to put resources on the ground even when we know what’s happening, and in the case of Rwanda, we absolutely knew that genocide was happening.”

What do you think can be done to prevent future genocides around the globe?

“I think in the future, a piece of it is: how can we make the American people more interested and more knowledgeable about what happens in other parts of the world? If the press chose to highlight these things, they would become more important. Advocacy groups need to convince both press and politicians that these are issues of interest to Americans. People need to understand that we have some culpability because we have our fingers pretty much everyplace in the world. People too often think, ‘Oh, that’s not our problem,’ or, ‘Oh, they should solve their own problems.’ A big piece of our own problem is that we don’t look at things from a humanitarian perspective.”

Endless continues to advocate for the elimination of genocide by working with Paul Rusesabagina’s foundation and teaching classes at Loyola University Chicago. Endless’ insights into the Rwandan genocide offer a path to an international community that can genuinely say “never again” to genocide.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

SUN Movement
Malnutrition accounts for nearly half of all deaths among children under five. While the majority of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia, the loss of human life due to hunger and malnutrition is a global burden. Malnourished children are more likely to get sick, suffer from abnormally severe symptoms of common illnesses and die from otherwise preventable illnesses. Thankfully, organizations such as the SUN Movement work to reduce this hunger-related child mortality rate.

Malnutrition and Infection

The link between malnutrition and infection can create a cycle wherein poorly nourished children have a weaker immune system, which in turn deteriorates their nutritional status. Malnutrition can also stunt a child’s growth, predisposing them to cognitive disabilities.

Hunger and malnutrition take a particularly severe toll on the developing world, where one out of six children (about 100 million) are underweight, one in three children are stunted and 66 million children go to school hungry.

The SUN Movement

Scaling Up Nutrition, or SUN Movement, is a worldwide campaign to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. SUN aims to unite governments, the United Nations, civil society, researchers, donors and business into a cohesive movement to improve global nutrition.

Focusing on the goals established at the 2012 World Health Assembly, SUN movement identifies four strategic processes as the major institutional changes needed for scaling up nutrition worldwide:

  1. Endorsement of National Nutrition Policies that Incorporate Best Practices. Newly enacted laws and policies should reflect proven interventions while paying special attention to women and their role in society.
  2. Sustained Political Commitment and Establishment of Functioning Multi-stakeholder Platforms. Improving nutrition requires a political environment grounded in multi-stakeholder platforms. The dialogue around hunger and nutrition should be open, for different groups to share the responsibility of scaling up nutrition throughout the entire world.
  3. Alignment of Actions Across Sectors and among Stakeholders. Country plans to improve nutrition should reflect frameworks of mutual responsibility and accountability among stakeholders.
  4. Increased Resources for Nutrition and Demonstration of Results. Multiple sectors and stakeholders should increase financial resources for the implementation of plans to improve nutrition.

Each participating country is required to state specific goals and objectives for scaling up nutrition before they can partake in SUN Movement events, like the Annual Global Gathering. This event is where government leaders and multi-stakeholder groups meet to collaborate, share progress, learn from each other and offer new practices for improving nutrition.

SUN Movement has several mechanisms for maintaining oversight and staying on track to achieve its goals. The SUN Networks align resources and foster collaboration, the lead group provides strategic oversight and enforces accountability and the executive committee represents SUN Movement at the international political level. There is also a secretariat and multi-partnered trust fund.

SUN Movement acts like the United Nations for Hunger and Nutrition, with clear guiding principles to achieve goals through cooperation and collaboration. The multifaceted structure of SUN Movement accurately confronts the varied nature of hunger and malnutrition, making the organization an important player in the fight to improve nutrition worldwide.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr