Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, emphasized — above all other parallel risks — the potential for mass killing or genocide in South Sudan. His analysis came as part of the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Blair discussed the definition, triggers, strategies, and recent cases of mass killing:
The mass killing of civilians — defined as the deliberate killing of at least 1,000 unarmed civilians of a particular political identity by state or state-sponsored actors in a single event or over a sustained period — is a persistent feature of the global landscape. Within the past three years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan all suffered mass killing episodes through violence, starvation, or deaths in prison camps. Sri Lanka may also have experienced a mass killing last spring: roughly 7,000 civilians were killed during Colombo’s military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to UN estimates.
The risk for mass killing is driven by the presence of ongoing internal conflict or regime crises, combined with relatively poor socioeconomic conditions, international isolation, recent protest activity, discriminatory policies, or frequent leadership turnover. In such contexts, mass killings are typically deliberate strategies by new or threatened elites to assert state or rebel authority, to clear territory of insurgents, or to deter populations from supporting rebel or antigovernment movements.
Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing. All of the countries at significant risk have or are at high risk for experiencing internal conflicts or regime crises and exhibit one or more of the additional factors for mass killing. Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.
Blair’s statement fulfilled a recommendation presented in the final report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, which the Museum convened with the U.S. Institute of Peace and The American Academy of Diplomacy. The report offered a blueprint for improving U.S. government response to threats of genocide and mass atrocities and included the following recommendation: “The director of national intelligence should initiate the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate on worldwide risk of genocide and mass atrocities.”
Blair’s focus on the risk for mass killing or genocide in southern Sudan reflects growing international concern for Sudan as the nation approaches presidential elections in April and the 2011 referendum for southern independence.
Blair also emphasized to the Senate Committee the principal challenges to stability in the Balkans and highlighted several worrying signs in Bosnia:
I remain concerned about Bosnia’s future stability. While neither widespread violence nor a formal break-up of the state appears imminent, ethnic agendas still dominate the political process and reforms have stalled because of wrangling among the three main ethnic groups. The sides failed to agree on legal changes proposed jointly by the EU and the US at the end of 2009, undercutting efforts to strengthen the central government so that it is capable of taking the country into NATO and the EU. Bosnian Serb leaders seek to reverse some reforms, warn of legal challenges to the authority of the international community, and assert their right to eventually hold a referendum on secession, all of which is contributing to growing interethnic tensions. This dynamic appears likely to continue, as Bosnia’s leaders will harden their positions to appeal to their nationalist constituents ahead of elections this fall.