Early Warning Project Question Resolutions: April 1, 2018-March 31, 2019

By Rachel Samuels, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide 

The Early Warning Project asked, “Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, 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 and Event 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.

See determinations for previous time periods. 

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.

Philippines - Yes

According to ACLED, between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, 1168 civilians were killed in the Philippines. Police forces, military forces, and collaborating anti-drug vigilantes were responsible for 888 of these fatalities, while 201 civilians were killed by unidentified armed groups. We determine that, based on the nature of the violence and our previous analysis, it is reasonable to assume that the estimates are on the conservative side and that unidentified armed groups are participating in the state-led campaign. The Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency reports that security forces have killed 5,050 people in drug-related incidents between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018. Rights groups have reported between 12,000 and 27,000 civilians, mostly urban poor, have been killed in the drug war in the same time period.

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 587 civilian fatalities from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. 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 slightly from GJO resolutions). A recent study determined that there were approximately 400,000 excess fatalities in South Sudan from December 2013 through April 2018, including more than 3000 in April 2018 alone. Although we do not have data for civilian fatalities from May 2018 to March 2019, the 3095 estimate for a single month is beyond a close call. 

Explanations for Close Calls that Resolved as “No”

Afghanistan - No

According to ACLED, between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, 1367 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. Of these fatalities, 326 were killed by the Islamic State in Afghanistan; 223 were killed by the Taliban, 498 were killed by unidentified armed groups, and the remaining 320 civilian fatalities were spread across a number of other smaller perpetrator groups. In its report on events from 2018, Human Rights Watch describes an escalation of violence perpetrated by the Islamic State, as well as election-related violence by both the Islamic State and the Taliban. According to the HRW report, the Taliban killed 400 civilians during the election on October 20-21. Neither HRW nor the ACLED fatality numbers support a “yes” resolution to this question. (See more discussion of Afghanistan in our previous resolutions.)

Democratic Republic of Congo - No

According to ACLED, between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, 1186 civilians were killed by security forces and a large number of militant groups. The Allied Democratic Forces killed 222 civilians, and ACLED reports that a Batende ethnic militia killed 355 civilians in mid-December. A UN investigation into the events of December 16-18 found that at least 535 people were killed in what might amount to crimes against humanity in Yumbi (western DRC). A UN spokeswoman noted “reports that many others may have been killed and their bodies may have been dumped in the Congo River or they may have been burned to death.” One article suggests that these fatalities were 90% Banunu, targeted mostly by men in the Batende community. Because we do not have enough evidence to corroborate these claims, or documentation of intentional noncombatant civilian fatalities over 1000, we are maintaining a “no” resolution, but we are monitoring the news and asking experts for further information.

Mali - No

According to ACLED, between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, 1156 civilians were killed in Mali. A variety of militia groups and military forces were responsible for the majority of these fatalities. Dan Na Ambassagou, a Dogon self-defense group, killed the most civilians, totaling 266 people. Other Dogon militias were responsible for 174 civilian deaths. In March, an attack that killed 157 Fulani herders has been attributed to Dogon hunters. The UN has condemned the attack and begun an investigation into the violence.

Nigeria - No

ACLED counts 3073 civilian fatalities from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2018. Among these 3073 civilians, according to ACLED, 1287 were killed by “Fulani Ethnic Militia.” Boko Haram killed 434 civilians in this time period; the Zamfara Communal Militia killed 337, and unidentified armed groups killed 527. The remaining 448 fatalities were spread across a number of other perpetrator groups. The question of whether “Fulani Ethnic Militia” qualifies as “an armed group...engage[d] in a campaign” 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.“ (See our last determination here and a discussion with forecasters here.) 

Other Situations to Watch:

Yemen - No

Most of the civilian casualties in Yemen have been caused by a foreign-led military campaign. Because our question asks only about armed groups from the country, excluding foreign-led attacks, we have resolved this question as “no.” According to ACLED, Houthi forces (which they code as state actors since 2015), were responsible for a maximum of 724 intentional civilian fatalities from April 2018 to March 2019. Please see our past discussion on Yemen, and our definition of mass killings.

Other Resolutions

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