Discussion Paper #5 published by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme is “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Dr. Edward Kissi of the University of South Florida. The paper looks back at atrocities perpetrated against the Jews during the Holocaust to draw lessons from them for the prevention of future mass atrocities, especially in Africa.
Looking at the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, Kissi concludes that a state seeking to commit mass atrocities will generally succeed in doing so, and that society’s responses to the killings tend to be tepid. The key to preventing future genocides, he believes, is to get bystanders to do more than just stand on the sidelines and watch. And the three areas Kissi focuses on in this paper are early warning, regional and local initiatives, and education.
One way to do this is to closely monitor volatile situations that have the potential to devolve into genocide. Civil and ethnic conflicts—as well as related phenomena such as hate speech, demonization of target groups, and massive migrations of particular groups—are valuable warnings of future mass killings, since perpetrators of mass atrocities often use war or domestic power struggle as cover for their actions. Leaders who plan mass atrocities often look at past genocides and emulate their rhetoric and tactics, believing they will go unchallenged because past perpetrators of mass killings were not stopped. Kissi points out that hatred and prejudice sparking violence, while often targeted at ethnic or religious groups, may also be directed at groups defined in other ways, such as sexual orientation.
Kissi goes on to discuss the importance of the Responsibility to Protect and the practical means of achieving it. He notes that outside actors, such as the United States or the United Nations, have not had much success in preventing or intervening in genocides, especially in Africa, and that smaller initiatives led by neighboring countries and subregional organizations have a better track record in implementing rescue missions and civilian protection. Empowering civil society, especially local and community leaders, to speak out and exercise their traditional authority against hate speech and other warning signs of genocide may also help to build a local culture that does not condone mass killings.
While international actors can play a role in helping to develop these capacities, Kissi argues that local and regional initiatives, rather than international intervention, may be better suited to implementing the Responsibility to Protect. At the same time this may prevent perpetrators of mass violence from hiding behind criticisms of neocolonialism and accusations of meddling by foreign powers.
Another important component of building capacity to prevent future genocides in Africa is educational programs grounded in examining past atrocities like the Holocaust. The point is to teach children about respect and toleration so it is more difficult for them to accept prejudice against and dehumanization of other groups later on, encouraging them to be more than just bystanders if mass atrocities break out again.
Photo: The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme