Alex de Waal on Radio & Tactical Conflict Early Warning

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) researcher Alex de Waal recently posted this excellent blog entry on “How Genocides End.” De Waal recounts his first human rights assignments in the Nuba Mountains. Together with BBC’s Julie Flint, de Waal traveled to the heart of the Nuba Mountains to film a documentary on the horrors of the 1992 Jihad campaign and military offensives which was one of the largest onslaughts of the war.

Their efforts to document the extreme violence and immense suffering unfolding before their eyes paid off:

We caught the government entirely by surprise. The combination of film footage and documentary evidence was compelling. […]. Our report of widespread rape was denied by the government—but our human rights monitors reported that it had a rapid effect in reducing sexual violence by government soldiers. By intercepting radio communications we set up an effective early-warning system for army operations, which allowed villagers to evacuate ahead of government columns, and while it didn’t stop the burning, did hugely reduce the level of fatalities. We were proud of this achievement.

This is yet another successful example of technology-facilitated tactical conflict early warning and response.


2 responses to “Alex de Waal on Radio & Tactical Conflict Early Warning

  1. Similar to Alex de Waal’s example of early warning in the Nuba mountains, the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET) is taking on a project to protect civilians in the mountains of eastern Burma. As our website notes:

    “In areas of eastern Burma populated by ethnic minorities and deemed to be ‘free-fire areas’ by the government, official policy allows the army to shoot any civilian on sight without provocation. Since 1962, villages in these areas have been subject to routine and repeated attacks by the army…Over 3,200 villages have been destroyed in the last 10 years…

    Frequently, intercepted radio transmissions or local observations provide warning of government attacks, but due to lack of transport and communications, these warnings may not reach villagers in time for them to escape attack. GI-NET is working with a local implementing partner and community-based organizations inside Burma to build a civilian radio network that will enable civilians to receive and send warning information and distress calls. This will greatly extend the warning time they have to protect themselves by evading their attackers and packing or hiding their assets.”

    Radio-based early warning network aren’t needed everywhere. But in ethnic minority areas of eastern Burma, as was the case in the Nuba mountains in the 1990’s, there is little else to communicate with – no cell phones, no landlines, no internet. This method is also extremely cost-effective: One radio with a solar charger and other equipment, plus associated project costs (overhead, training, satellite phones to enlarge the network) provides a village with a high likelihood of being warned well before an attack and amounts to only $680.

    Check out our website and annual fundraiser for more information (or to make a contribution!)

  2. Excellent, many thanks for this, Chad.

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