GJO Closing July 1 2017-June 30 2018
By Mollie Zapata, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
The Early Warning Project asked, “Between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018, will an armed group from [Country] engage in a campaign that systematically kills 1,000 or more civilians in [Country]?” for 17 countries we determined to be at high risk for onset of mass killing.
To resolve our questions, we draw on multiple sources, depending on what information is available and most relevant for the country in question. We first look at any publicly available datasets, including global datasets like the Armed Conflict Location Dataset (ACLED), and country-specific datasets like Iraq Body Count and the CFR Nigeria Conflict Tracker. Because these datasets rely on media sources for information about specific incidents, we assume they tend to undercount fatalities when and where access is significantly curtailed and/or media are limited or unfree. These datasets also don’t cover every country. We therefore also look at the reporting and analysis of groups, including the United Nations, US government, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and others, which sometimes include estimated fatalities from an episode of violence or series of attacks, not solely individual incidents. When there is a “close call” or the fatality totals vary widely between sources, we may also call upon experts to assist in our decisions.
As noted in the question description, armed groups include both state forces and non-state groups like rebel armies and militias. Campaigns that systematically kill civilians include, but are not limited to, policies which intentionally kill civilians en masse (e.g., military strategies that intentionally target civilians, mass execution of a specific group) and policies that knowingly result in widespread death (e.g., mass starvation, confiscation of health care supplies, forced relocation). In general, unrelated executions of individuals or the accidental killing of civilians in war (“collateral damage”) will not be considered a campaign to systematically kill civilians. If an armed group is engaged in multiple campaigns that systematically kill civilians (e.g., in different geographic areas, or targeted against separate civilian groups) those fatalities will be counted separately and the question will only resolve as yes if 1,000 civilian fatalities occur in one or more campaigns. See Early Warning Project for examples. See here for GJ’s FAQ on forecasting questions like this.
Note that we may revise judgments as additional information about the time period in question becomes available. Forecasters are encouraged to provide commentary as they participate in the challenge as we will take any data or citations into consideration.
Explanations for Close Calls that Resolved as “Yes”
Myanmar/Burma — Yes
In November 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) conducted six health surveys in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, where most of the Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar/Burma are refugees, to assess the extent of the emergency. From this research they estimated that at least 9,400 people lost their lives in Myanmar/Burma between 25 August and 24 September, of whom at least 6,700 died due to violence perpetrated by Myanmar security forces against the Rohingya population, including at least 730 children under the age of five. Nearly 70% of violent deaths were caused by gunshot. Approximately 9% of violent deaths resulted from Rohingya being burned inside of their homes. Fatal violence against other ethnic groups in Myanmar is not included in these numbers.
Philippines — Yes
According to ACLED, anti-drug vigilantes killed 220 civilians, military forces killed 303 civilians, and police forces killed 509 civilians in the given time period. As discussed in this post, there is sufficient evidence that all three perpetrators are working in coordination as part of a government-led campaign, so we sum the numbers to 1032 civilian fatalities total. Additionally, 146 civilians have been killed by unidentified armed groups. We do not count the 146 in the total, but do take it as indication that there may in reality be more fatalities than currently counted by ACLED. Considering that the fatalities perpetrated by the government-led campaign total above 1000, along with recent statements by President Duterte that the “drug war” will persist at pace and continue to be both “relentless and chilling,” we determine that this question resolves as “yes.”
Explanations for Close Calls that Resolved as “No”
Afghanistan — No
Determining total civilian fatalities in Afghanistan is particularly challenging due to the nature of the conflict and reporting on it. ACLED counts 1222 civilian fatalities as a result of armed forces in Afghanistan from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Of these fatalities, 620 were perpetrated by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and 373 were perpetrated by the Taliban, with an overlap of 36 deaths caused by both. Unidentified armed groups were responsible for 172 civilian deaths. Since there is not sufficient evidence that any one perpetrator was responsible for 1000 or more civilian fatalities, this question resolves as “no.” (See more discussion of Afghanistan in our previous resolutions.)
Democratic Republic of the Congo — No
While multiple sources indicate that the total number of civilian fatalities throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo is high (e.g., ACLED reports 1062 civilian fatalities in the time period in question), there is a large number and diversity of perpetrators. The Lendu Ethnic Militia killed 110 civilians, and the Allied Democratic Forces killed 103. Kivu Security Tracker counts 1061 civilian deaths, 299 caused by unknown actors. Both sources show that no single armed group was responsible for more than 1000 civilian deaths during this time period. In recent months, atrocities have worsened in the Kasai region in particular, prompting the UN torture investigator to warn of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and potential genocide. However, since no single group perpetrated 1000 killings of civilians, this question resolves as “no.”
Nigeria — No
Within the 3140 civilian deaths recorded by ACLED in Nigeria in this timeframe, Boko Haram was responsible for 857 civilian deaths while 561 fatalities resulted from unidentified armed groups and militias. BBC cited 967 people (civilians and non-civilians) killed by Boko Haram in 2017, which includes violence outside of Nigeria. Amnesty International’s 2017 annual report cites 411 civilian fatalities perpetrated by Boko Haram. Because there is not sufficient evidence of more than 1000 civilian fatalities perpetrated by one armed group from July 2017-June 2018, this question resolves as a “no.”
The question of whether violence perpetrated by Fulani militia qualifies as a “yes” arose in the last round of resolutions. According to ACLED, “Fulani Ethnic Militia” killed 1401 civilians across many events, including the attack on Berom farmers from June 23-25 2018, which killed approximately 200 civilians. Acknowledging the difference between violence perpetrated by people of a common ethnicity and a coordinated campaign of ethnic violence, we consulted multiple Nigeria experts, who agreed that much of the violence entails micro-level conflicts between herders and farmers within and between communities. Violence across the Middle Belt is being perpetrated by many groups with a variety of motivations for various purposes (for example, land disputes, banditry, ethnic grievances, etc.) and though many of these groups target civilians, we do not see evidence that they are working in coordination as part of a campaign against civilians. Additionally, the geographic distribution of attacks reported by ACLED serves as further evidence that no one armed group was responsible for 1000 or more civilian fatalities. Though many perpetrators share an ethnicity, we thus far have not seen evidence of large-scale coordination of an ethnic-based campaign. (See previous discussion here.)
South Sudan — No
Though ongoing violence in South Sudan has caused massive displacement, currently reported numbers of civilian fatalities for the time period in question are below the 1000 threshold. ACLED records 657 civilians killed, with military and police forces responsible for 153 deaths, and unidentified armed groups and communal militia responsible for 248. With few to no journalists or NGOs able to operate in South Sudan, the paucity of information makes this determination particularly difficult. Human Rights Watch reported attacks in April 2017 (outside this question’s timeframe). Similarly the United Nations Human Rights Council’s “Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan” (A/HRC/37/71) describes a number of violent incidents in early 2017 and reinforces throughout the report that the “actual number of fatalities and injuries was likely to be much higher.” With the information currently available, it is impossible to tell whether the highest levels of violence against civilians have come to a close — likely in part because so many civilians have fled the country — or whether fatalities continue at pace and have simply not yet been recorded. As always we welcome additional information forecasters might provide, and will revisit the determination if additional information becomes available.
Questions that resolved as “no”
- Central African Republic