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April, for many reasons (including Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur), is Genocide Prevention Month. April 24 is the date Armenians have chosen to commemorate their genocide at the hands of the Turkish state in 1915, and each year on this date the U.S. president makes a statement. But none of them yet has used the word genocide to describe the events. U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R, CA) and Frank Pallone (D, NJ) sent a letter to President Obama urging him this year to be the first. Although as a senator Obama spoke openly of the genocide, and of the Turks’ denial of it, he has declined to do so since entering the White House. This year was no different, although in a subtle shift, Obama did use the Armenian term for the genocide, Meds Yeghern (or Mec Yeġeṙn), which means “the Great Crime.”

The first U.S. trial charging a person with genocide is slated to open tomorrow in Wichita, KS, the Wichita Eagle reports. Prosecutors claim that 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya, a native of Rwanda, not only lied to obtain U.S. citizenship, but personally ordered the deaths of hundreds of individuals during the 1994 genocide in his homeland. According to the Guardian, “The U.S. government’s strategy in the case mirrors its prosecution of suspected Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, who settled in Ohio after the second world war. Demjanjuk was not charged with committing a violent crime, but rather with concealing his activities from U.S. immigration officials.” The website claims that Human Rights Watch, citing First Amendment protection, is resisting a subpoena to turn over information related to the case. The Rwandan government says it welcomes the trial.

Photo: Associated Press

Last week saw the release of an invaluable guide for state policymakers involved in prevention of genocide.

Compilation of Risk Factors and Legal Norms for the Prevention of Genocide” was produced by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, at the request of UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng, with the goal of “encourag[ing] States to fulfill their genocide prevention obligations.”

The Blaustein report takes as its starting point the framework of analysis developed by Francis Deng and his staff at the UN.

As the report notes: “Under the Genocide Convention and international human rights law, states are required to take measures to prohibit acts that could result in genocide. For the effective achievement of such measures, it is important to understand and be aware of the signs and circumstances that could be indicative of possible genocide. This document identifies the major risk factors that could lead to the perpetration of genocide, together with the special circumstances that could facilitate this. Further, it sets forth the legal norms and standards that correspond to each risk factor and that can be invoked to strengthen the basis for taking preventive action.” [emphasis added]

The hope is that having a comprehensive guide will make for more consistent analysis of events by states, the UN, NGOs, and other interested parties (“stakeholders”), which in turn will help identify what steps should be taken in each situation to stop the loss of human life.

Download the report here.

Photo: deannabeth

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found two Croatian generals guilty (Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač) and acquitted one (Ivan Čermak) of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for acts committed by Croatian forces during Operation Storm between July and September 1995. The three officers were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively. The court found the crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer.

Rwandan Ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo, speaking to students and faculty of California Baptist University as part of the 17th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, called for genocide denial to be fought internationally, reported. “Denial is the last stage of genocide and it could be the beginning of another cycle of genocide, if left unchecked or stopped,” Kimonyo told the audience.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a compromise bill (H.R.1473) to fund the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Save Darfur reported that, unfortunately, the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the United States to more effectively respond to situations where mass atrocities are occurring or likely to occur, was reduced by 20 percent compared to last year’s level. The Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which runs programs to mitigate conflict, was also reduced, by more than 70 percent. Funding allocated to the Civilian Stabilization Initiative serves to prevent violent conflict in areas critical to U.S. interests, inlcuding Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


The Third Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide took place April 4-6 in Bern, Switzerland, co-organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) with the foreign ministries of Argentina and Tanzania.

FDFA Secretary of State Peter Maurer, in his statement opening the forum, asserted “how important it is to ensure regional ownership in order to prevent the threats of genocide and mass atrocities.”

As he pointed out, “The special advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide and for the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Francis Deng and Mr. Edward Luck, have repeatedly called for the creation of regional mechanisms to adapt and implement the policies developed at the multilateral level.”

On the topic of how governments can incorporate genocide prevention into their work, Maurer highlighted the fact that policy discussions “are now increasingly centered on how to set up effective prevention architectures.”

Policy areas Maurer gave special attention to were transitional justice and early warning.

Noting “the relation between prevention and the struggle against impunity,” Maurer emphasized: “When atrocities have been committed, violators need to be judged, and the societies need to be rehabilitated in order to ensure the guarantee of no repetition. Effective transitional justice strategies are crucial to preventing recurrence of such tragedies.”

In conclusion Maurer stated: “In order to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies we need to work on strengthening the already existing early warning systems. We need to link them with the appropriate decision-making structures to ensure that risks are taken into account early on by decision makers, and that proper decisions are made on time.”

Photo: All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Jeff Benvenuto, Ph.D. student, Division of Global Affairs

Being that I came to Rutgers for the express purpose of studying genocide, a subject in which I’ve been critically engaged over the past six years, I relished the opportunity to take this pioneering class. Through all of my studies, I’d never approached genocide from the preventive angle. As I expected, our class has sharpened my critical stance.

While I consider myself a participant in the anti-genocide project, I am very critical of the notion of genocide prevention. This is not to say that I think that it’s unpreventable in some cases, or that the whole campaign is not a worthy one. But I am skeptical of our community’s implicit aspirations of eradicating this “odious scourge.” Underpinning this naïveté is a deep faith in social progress, that our positivist advances in knowledge will improve the human condition. This is a fine intention, for sure, but it is also a myopic vision that fails to see how genocide is an inherent byproduct of our civilization.

First of all, the hope that genocide is curable presupposes that our conception of it is objective and deterministic. Concepts, however, are neither fixed nor static representations of reality. They are rather simplified versions of that reality which are filtered through our subjective perceptions. As such, what we call “genocide” is actually an amorphous and indeterminate phenomenon, highly contingent to local circumstances, and variable across space and time. Hence, the never-ending debates over definitions. In short, genocide cannot be prevented in every case because we will never be able to positively predict its occurrence.

Secondly, because our anti-genocide project is ultimately a product of the Western Enlightenment, there is a common misperception that it is something that happens “out there,” not as something that originates close to home. However, there is presently a wave of critical reflection infusing our field that is revealing the deep and complex relationships between genocide and modernity. (My mentor, Alex Hinton, is at the forefront of this critical turn.) According to such a perspective, the positivist faith that underpins much of our anti-genocide project is hardly the antidote—it is more likely part of the problem. Indeed, utopian visions have not only led to advances in social welfare but also to mass destruction. Genocide is the dark side of progress. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror, and begin to dispel the paradigm of progress that undergirds our civilization, then our anti-genocide project is doomed to failure.

A former bourgmestre (mayor) of Kabarondo Commune in Rwanda, Tito Barahira, has been arrested in France on six indictments, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide, reports. “We definitely commend this arrest, especially as we are going into the difficult days of commemorating our dear ones that were killed in cold blood during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” John Bosco Siboyintore, the acting head of the Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit, said.

Auschwitz Institute instructor Sheri Rosenberg published an article in the Gulf Times of Qatar titled “The responsibility to protect: Libya and beyond.” Rosenberg, who is director of Cardozo Law School’s Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies and also its Human Rights and Genocide Clinic, writes that “it is unquestionably positive that the world powers have reacted to protect innocent lives, as the reality and threat of massacres in Libya was apparent to all,” but she is careful to emphasize that “the use of military force is a last resort and not the poster child of the evolving international policy doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect.”

Nicholas Kristof, writing about the Libyan intervention in the New York Times, argued that the world must not forget that “Mr. Obama and other world leaders did something truly extraordinary, wonderful and rare: they ordered a humanitarian intervention that saved thousands of lives and that even Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s closest aides seem to think will lead to his ouster.” Kristof writes that it has been rare for major powers to intervene militarily for predominantly humanitarian reasons, but he hopes the Libya intervention will give more teeth to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

A humanitarian crisis is still looming in the Ivory Coast, the BBC reports. Continued fighting has resulted in necessary supplies decreasing for many civilians. Reuters Africa reported that after France’s intervention last week, Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down as president despite having lost elections last year, has continued to negotiate his possible departure.


This week’s Guest Preventer on the AIPR blog is Elizabeth Dovell:

Power Lectures on “Obama, Human Rights, and the Lessons of the New Diplomacy”

Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning study “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, lectured at Columbia University last Monday on President Obama’s human rights agenda and the establishment of a “new diplomacy.”

Power, who currently serves as Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs on the National Security Council, has become one of Obama’s key advisers on genocide and human rights issues. Along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Power was one of three women instrumental in the United States’ decision to take part in the intervention in Libya, an act that some consider the most proactive implementation yet of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

In her Monday address, Power recalled the world of crises Obama inherited that required major international cooperation: global economic recession, instability of the Iraqi regime, and a growing threat of terrorism all stood out as issues that demanded a renewed multilateral approach of “burden-sharing.”

By “clearing the brush” around U.S. response to genocide and mass atrocity, Power said, Obama is seeking to establish a framework that will shape U.S. involvement in global human rights concerns in years to come.

Although Power didn’t say so (perhaps in deference to U.S. conservatives’ distaste for the idea?), the establishment of this new framework, rooted in diplomacy and multilateralism, clearly reflects the Obama administration’s acceptance of R2P as the guiding concept in responding to mass atrocities (see p. 48 of the May 2010 National Security Strategy).

Still, despite UN General Assembly approval in 2005, most states have been hesitant to invoke the norms laid out in the R2P framework. As Power pointed out, it is one thing to agree on a moral imperative, another to agree on swift and decisive action in the face of the four atrocities outlined in R2P: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. (Here, it is important to note that the Responsibility to Protect falls first to states, then to regions, and only then to the international community.)

Striking a note of optimism on the UN itself, Power noted that the Human Rights Council, often viewed as controversial for the disproportionate attention it pays to some human rights abuses at the expense of others, has taken several unprecedented actions recently—suspending Libya from the council, creating a Commission of Inquiry in both Libya and the overshadowed Ivory Coast, and authorizing a special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in Iran.

Elizabeth Dovell formerly served as Communications and Social Networks Intern at AIPR and Research Assistant at the World Policy Institute. She will graduate from SUNY New Paltz in May with a bachelor’s degree in international relations.

The intervention in Libya shows a shift in thinking about mass atrocities, Michael Abramowitz writes in the Washington Post. Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, argues that the decision to act in Libya followed reflection in the international community about the failures to prevent genocide in the 1990s in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Over the past 20 years, new policies and mechanisms by civil society and governments that strengthen our collective capacity to prevent and respond to genocide include the creation of an office of genocide prevention.”

Rwanda applauded the life sentence given to former senior government official Jean-Baptiste Gatete for his involvement in mass killings during the 1994 genocide, Agence France-Presse reported. “He got a deserved sentence. Gatete is the symbol of death and destruction in this country. In eastern Rwanda he is known as the Butcher of Murambi,” Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugaram said.

Amnesty International has warned of a “human rights catastrophe” in Côte d’Ivoire. “Côte d’Ivoire is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population,” said Salvatore Saguès. “The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.” Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara reached the commercial capital of Abidjan raising the alarm.

Photo: Amnesty International

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