By Rachel Samuels, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
The Early Warning Project asked, “Between 1 October 2017 and 30 September 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 Resolved as “Yes”
South Sudan – Yes
Determining total civilian fatalities in South Sudan is particularly challenging due to the nature of the conflict and reporting on it. ACLED counts 497 civilian fatalities from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Multiple sources suggest that specific groups of civilians are being targeted as part of the conflict, and the Early Warning Project, as part of its annual State of the World report, considers two mass killings to be ongoing in South Sudan since 2013 (note that the criteria for ongoing mass killing differs from the criteria for that report to GJO resolutions). A recent study, however, determined that nearly 400,000 people have been killed in South Sudan from December 2013 through April 2018. For the period between October 2017 and September 2018, this study counts 23,922 fatalities. Even if a fraction of the recorded violence fits our definition of a mass killing, this is beyond a close call. Note that the publication of this study presents information that was previously unavailable for South Sudan. Consistent with our policy of revising judgments as information becomes available, we are now revising our previous determinations on South Sudan.
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 1709 civilian deaths from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Of these fatalities, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Afghanistan killed 581 people, and the Taliban killed 414. Unidentified armed groups killed 486 civilians. Since there is insufficient 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.) We are keeping an eye on civilian fatalities amidst increased violence related to the October 2018 election.
Myanmar/Burma – No
In the months following the September 2017 widespread attacks on Rohingya civilians in Rakhine state, there appears to have been a steep decline in violence, likely because many Rohingya fled outside of state borders. ACLED counts 81 civilian fatalities from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018, though due to issues of inaccessibility, estimates may be low. In September 2018, the UN released a comprehensive fact-finding mission report detailing the human rights violations in Myanmar, the majority of which have been perpetrated by the Myanmar military, since 2011. Also, this report from the US Department of State documents atrocities in northern Rakhine State. Neither report, however, presents evidence of more than 1000 civilian fatalities in the time period in question.
Democratic Republic of the Congo – No
Given the nature of this conflict, reporting is challenging. ACLED counts 746 civilian deaths caused by a number of different militia groups from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Kivu Security Tracker counts 959 civilian deaths, 433 caused by unknown actors. Both sources indicate 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 even in Kasai no single group perpetrated more than 1000 killings of civilians, this question resolves as “no.”
Nigeria – No
ACLED counts 3261 civilian fatalities from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Among these 3261 civilians, according to ACLED, 1653 were killed by “Fulani Ethnic Militia.” Boko Haram has killed 631 civilians in this time period; unidentified armed groups have killed 433; and unidentified communal militia have killed 173 people. The question of whether violence perpetrated by “Fulani Ethnic Militia” qualifies as a mass killing arose in the last round of resolutions as well. Although ACLED uses “Fulani Ethnic Militia” as a single actor for its data coding, a recent ACLED report notes, “Fulani militias are not a centralized armed group, operating under a specific agenda.“ We consulted multiple Nigeria experts to assess further whether violence by Fulani militia should be considered a coordinated campaign. They agreed that much of the violence stems from micro-level conflicts between herders and farmers within and between communities and that the wide variety of militia groups are not conducting a coordinated campaign of violence against civilians. Violence across the Middle Belt is being perpetrated by many groups with a variety of motivations (for example, land disputes, banditry, ethnic grievances, etc.) and though many of these groups target civilians and some share an ethnicity, we see insufficient evidence that they are working in coordination as part of a campaign against civilians. (See previous discussion here.) To cross-check ACLED’s data, we also reviewed data from the Nigeria Security Tracker, which counted 395 total civilian deaths in the given time period, before disaggregating by perpetrator group.
Philippines – No
ACLED reports 957 civilian deaths in the Philippines from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Of these deaths, 556 have been perpetrated by police forces; 141 by “Anti-Drug Vigilantes;” and 6 by private security forces (156 deaths were caused by unidentified armed perpetrators, and the rest were spread out across other groups). We have discussed in the past that we find sufficient evidence that these groups are working together in a government-led campaign that President Duterte touted in July 2018 as both “relentless and chilling.” If we include the civilian deaths caused by unidentified armed groups, it is possible that around about 850 total deaths have been caused by a coordinated campaign. This number is close, but does not pass the threshold for 1000 deaths over the 1-year time period.
Other Situations to Watch
Bangladesh – No
From October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018 there have been fewer than 100 civilian fatalities in Bangladesh, according to ACLED. We are tracking violence in the weeks leading up to the December 2018 election, which our 2017 report identified as a potential trigger for mass killing.
Yemen – No
Most of the civilian casualties in Yemen have been caused by Operation Restoring Hope, a foreign-led operation that has resulted in the deaths of 1785 civilians in the given time period, according to ACLED. Because our analysis does not include foreign-led attacks, we have resolved this question as “no.” The perpetrator group within Yemen responsible for the highest number of civilian fatalities is the military forces of Yemen, which ACLED deems responsible for 508 deaths of civilians from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. Please see our past discussion on Yemen, and our definition of mass killings.
Other Questions that Resolved as “No”
- Central African Republic