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Corporate Social Responsibility

By SARAH EFRONSON and TIFERET UNTERMAN[1]

Around the globe, corporations are fulfilling what have traditionally been government functions. For example, in some countries they provide infrastructure and utilities, and in all countries they influence government’s international policy agendas. In fact, 51 of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations and 80 percent of world industrial output is produced by only 1,000 corporations. Because of their ever-increasing global power, corporations have become central players in international affairs and necessary partners in efforts to prevent genocide. As such, governments should implement policies that further motivate corporations in this arena.

One way to focus corporations on prevention efforts is through the lens of corporate social responsibility. Broadly, corporate social responsibility means that corporations should manage their businesses in a way that not only maximizes profits but also contributes to the resolution of environmental and social problems. Increasingly, corporations are recognizing a responsibility not just to shareholders, but also to other stakeholders such as customers, investors, governments, and local communities.

Many are familiar with the application of corporate social responsibility to the extraction or procurement of “conflict resources,” or to the protection of the environment in the midst of oil pipeline construction. Less explored is the application of corporate social responsibility to the specific task of genocide prevention.

The goal is for corporations to apply a genocide prevention lens to business practices. They can begin by recognizing that genocide is a process, not an event, with identifiable transitions from the point of societal stability to the point when atrocities occur. Genocide scholars Barbara Harff and Gregory Stanton offer the most widely accepted risk assessment and stages model that outline what the genocidal process often looks like. These approaches provide indicators of a potential genocide, or a genocide that is in its very early stages. Harff recognizes the following risk factors for genocide: prior genocide in the same polity, autocracy, ethnic minority rule, political upheaval during war or revolution, exclusionary ideology, closure of borders to international trade, and discrimination. Stanton establishes the following stages of genocide: classification of the targeted group, symbolization, dehumanization, preparation, polarization, organization, extermination, and denial. In addition to these risk factors, resource scarcity and conflict are also recognized as common precursors to genocide.

Corporate social responsibility has a role to play both in genocide intervention (after violence has started to occur) and prevention (prior to the outbreak of violence), the latter being preferable and most effective. To accomplish this task, corporations must aim to reverse the factors that can lead to genocide by:

  • expanding the openness of markets,
  • involving a multiplicity of stakeholders in the target country,
  • increasing power-sharing among a diversity of political and social groups,
  • helping to unify, rather than disenfranchise, different social groups,
  • encouraging a more inclusive ideology through marketing and drawing on a diverse subcontractor base, and
  • working to limit monopolies while encouraging increased international trade.

Governments can assist corporations by adopting policies and laws that encourage, if not compel, them to act in accordance with the above. This may be accomplished through combining a voluntary/incentive-based approach with a regulation-based approach.

The key to the voluntary/ incentive approach is to promote genocide prevention as a profitable venture for corporations. This approach has been successfully implemented with respect to environmental protection. In the movement to “go green,” corporations profited through brand differentiation by selling their product as environmentally-friendly and having more efficient operations while complying with environmental concerns. The focus on environmental protection has also brought smaller businesses and subcontractors worldwide into better compliance with the environmental goals and policies of their larger corporate purchasers. Similarly, governments should encourage corporations to use their genocide prevention activities as a brand differentiator and promote research and education into how corporations will profit from said efforts.

Regulations should also be adopted to foster corporate involvement in preventive measures. One approach is to mandate that companies participate in corporate social responsibility. Such a regulation has been adopted under Article 5 of the Chinese Company Law, which requires companies to “undertake social responsibility” in the course of business. Another approach is to require companies to give funds to corporate social responsibility. In India, there is a proposal under consideration that would require large corporations to allot a percentage of their profits toward socially responsible initiatives. A third approach is a disclosure regulation such as the United States Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which requires companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo or an adjoining country. As a result, companies like Intel and Apple have created auditing programs and aid projects to help Congo develop a clean minerals trade and tracing projects to identify problems in their supply chains.

Government regulations could include mandatory auditing and disclosure of company activities that directly contribute to known factors that could lead to genocide, such as whether a corporation’s activities are involved with closing a country’s borders to international trade. Although an international scheme to regulate corporate activities would be best, individual national legislation often leads to international cooperation.

A successful example that demonstrates the combined use of the voluntary/ incentive approach and the regulation approach is the 1986 United States Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, designed to undermine the apartheid regime then existent in South Africa while simultaneously bolstering interracial development. The Act prohibited future investments and trade in South Africa, leading to austere economic measures. At the same time, it encouraged procurement of goods from businesses that had more than 50 percent beneficial ownership by non-white South Africans and exempted the Export-Import Bank from a certification requirement to encourage it to export or import from such businesses. This law provided procurement incentives and stopped harmful corporate investments in apartheid. Furthermore, this Act also addressed ethnic minority rule — one of the aforementioned genocide risk factors.

Applying the corporate social responsibility concept to genocide prevention is a new idea. With very little written on the subject and very little data to understand trends, it is still a nascent concept. There are therefore many challenges to overcome, and questions that remain:

  • Oversight lapse: Self-reporting and voluntary fulfillment can lead to false claims and allows for corporations to appeal to consumers through branding as being socially responsible without meaningfully implementing genocide preventive measures.
  • Lack of education about genocide prevention: Corporate social responsibility as it relates to genocide prevention is a new concept and many corporations are unaware of its benefits. They may even foster genocidal conditions if they deem it to be economically beneficial.
  • No standard models to apply to genocide prevention efforts: Companies are more willing to adopt environmental and social policies and programs, since they have been previously modeled and can be replicated. But the novelty of corporate involvement in genocide prevention efforts means that new policies and programs need to be developed into replicable models.

In the international arena, states are no longer the only actor. Corporations have growing influence and are necessary partners with states in genocide prevention efforts. Corporate social responsibility has been successfully implemented in other fields and should be applied to genocide prevention as well. Governments have a vital role in incentivizing corporations to contribute to genocide prevention and should work to educate, regulate, and partner with corporations in genocide prevention efforts. Both governments and corporations should seize on this window of opportunity and cultivate positive steps to not just end genocide, but to stop it before the loss of life.

Image: industryplayer.com


[1] Sarah Efronson and Tiferet Unterman are law students participating in the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. In this capacity, they were invited to present their research on corporate social responsibility and genocide prevention at the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation’s Raphael Lempkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention in Auschwitz, Poland in November 2012.

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Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013

By ALEX ZUCKER

Birkenau barbed wire

On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.

More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.

Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.

The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.

Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.

In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.

Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.

Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.

Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.

The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.

So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.

Photo: Alex Zucker

Why the Whole World Should Be Watching Argentina

By ALEX ZUCKER 

Argentina Nunca MasOn Dec. 19, 2012, a federal court in Argentina sentenced 16 men to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1976–83 military dictatorship.

These crimes—kidnapping, torture, murder, and sexual violence—were planned and carried out, by military and civilian officials alike, against activists who opposed the right-wing regime. The number of victims is estimated at 30,000 children, women, and men.

And the judges declared it a genocide. This is why the world should be watching.

On Dec. 9, 1948, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly—even before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sharp-eyed observers will notice, however, that the Genocide Convention offers protection only to national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Political, gender, and sexual identity groups, among others, do not qualify.

This makes it difficult to punish the crime, as the Argentinian scholar Daniel Feierstein explains, “given that nearly all modern genocides are, to some degree, politically motivated.”

In order to resolve this dilemma, Feierstein and his Argentinian colleagues argue that the concept of “partial destruction of a national group” may be interpreted to apply to groups not currently protected under the Genocide Convention.

In Argentina, for example, when the state kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and raped people who opposed the military regime, it was in fact destroying part of a national group: Argentinians—in this case defined by their political stance.

Based on this argument, the judges in Federal Oral Criminal Court No. 1 of La Plata declared that although the men they sentenced on Wednesday were guilty of crimes against humanity, their actions had been aimed at the extermination of a national group and therefore amounted to genocide.

While on the whole the world may be getting less violent, as Steven Pinker claims, it still depends who you are. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples; gays and lesbians; women—all remain at risk of being targeted by governments for violence, even outright physical destruction, because of their identity, because of who they are.

Last month’s verdict in La Plata offers a breakthrough approach to punishing those who seek to destroy human identity. Punishment is not enough, of course. The Genocide Convention is also about prevention. But Argentina has taken a step in a new direction. Down the road, it may save lives.

Photo: pulsamerica.co.uk

In fall 2011, the Auschwitz Institute launched the pilot run of a Genocide Prevention Monitoring Internship, operated in partnership with the Office of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG). The purpose was to offer interns

practical experience in assessing the risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes within a single country, while providing the OSAPG with information the Special Adviser can use in his mission to “act as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.”

Interns received training on how to assess risk using the OSAPG’s Analysis Framework and submitted reports to the Auschwitz Institute on a monthly basis from (roughly) October 2011 through March 2012. Four countries were selected for monitoring: Bahrain, Indonesia, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. Initially, the plan was to have one intern for each country, but owing to the degree of interest and qualifications on the part of our applicants, for some countries we assigned two monitors.

Now, having concluded the internship’s pilot run, we are evaluating the usefulness of the project, to the interns, to our own work, and to the OSAPG. To that end, we asked each of the interns to write a blog post about their experience, answering two questions: 1) What did you learn about genocide prevention? 2) What did you learn about the risk(s) of genocide in the country you were monitoring?

This week we present the post by Jeremy Garsha, a graduate student in history at San Francisco State University. Jeremy monitored Zimbabwe—not for genocide, but for the broader category of crimes against humanity.

As a monitoring intern for the Auschwitz Institute, the most important lesson I learned was that genocide is not an event, but a process. Being a graduate student of comparative genocide, this is a notion I have been taught, but one I quickly forget. By training I am a historian. I investigate past genocides, where all of the pieces have already played out. It is easy to forget that each moment of human rights violations, left unchecked, has the potential to spiral into the systematic killing of individuals based on their identity. When examining historical episodes of genocide from a present point of view, each event often seems inevitable and intentional. Yet, as scholars and citizens of an international community, we must always remember that genocide can and must be prevented at the very inception of exclusionary ideology and basic human rights violations. If genocide is a process, then it can be prevented at many moments, so long as we have the vigilance and courage to act.

I was privileged enough to work with the Auschwitz Institute, an organization dedicated to preventing conflicts before they escalate into atrocities and genocide. Under their guidance, I had the opportunity to monitor Zimbabwe, a country more at risk for crimes against humanity than genocide. By broadening our search to include not only the legal definition of “genocide” as defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), but also all of the illegal acts listed in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), my research partner, Yasmin Andrews, and I were able to investigate and monitor a myriad of sources and antecedents that had the potential to become systematic criminal acts. Zimbabwe provided me with a real-world example of why it is important not to become blinded when looking specifically for genocide threats, as many human rights violations do not fit within the parameters of the “national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups” found within the Genocide Convention. When using a broader definition of “crimes against humanity,” however, it became clear that prevention monitoring of Zimbabwe is of prime importance.

Zimbabwe has a history of genocide: 20,000 Matabele citizens were mass murdered by the exclusively Shona Fifth Brigade in 1983–84, in what was called the Gukurahundi (a Shona term meaning “the early rain that washes away the husk before the spring rains”). Zimbabwe also has a recent history of political violence following the disputed election results of 2008, which set up a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The past episodes of violence, as well Zimbabwe’s decimated economy, has also caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring southern African nations. Lacking effective judicial oversight, Zimbabwean government and state security forces operate in a system of impunity. There exists the threat of renewed violence following next year’s scheduled elections, as well as the failing health of 88-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power for over 30 years. The above factors, to name but a few, underscore the necessity of proper and effective monitoring efforts.

A genocide prevention monitor working out of his home in San Francisco is not a replacement for United Nations–backed monitors on the ground. It is, however, a useful and safe alternative when it is not possible to place UN-trained observers in every country that is at risk of genocide. In a globalized world, independent news sources provide an amazing amount of information, and it is remarkable how much can be gleaned by having an individual tasked with gathering and filtering these streams of media. As monitoring interns, our task was to collect, not analyze data. Reading reports on Zimbabwe from across the globe left me with one final realization during my six-month internship, our shared connection of humanity.

I have always had an academic interest in Zimbabwe and southern African history, but working as a genocide prevention monitor reminded me that there is no shortage of information in the digital age. Anyone with an Internet connection can instantaneously plug into world events. With this connection comes the responsibility to take action when human rights anywhere are threatened. In Zimbabwe there is the concept of unhu, a variation of the Zulu term ubuntu, popular in southern Africa, which refers to the notion that one’s humanity is created and nurtured because of its shared connection to others. Crimes against humanity are just that, crimes that violate our shared understanding and connection to humanity. Genocide in one particular region affects us all, and we are all tasked with the responsibility to prevent future human rights violations from escalating into mass atrocities.

How can media coverage tell us when a genocide is happening? This is the subject of a fascinating article published Tuesday on ForeignPolicy.com.

“What Did We Know — and When Did We Know It?” (by Michael Dobbs, who is following the Mladic trial for the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) looks closely at about 1 minute of video footage shot by a Serbian journalist on July 13, 1995, during the genocide of Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica.

The first part of the video (repeated subsequently in slow motion) shows prisoners gathered in a field, guarded by soldiers in uniform. The second part was taken by Petrovic as he drove back toward Srebrenica through the village of Kravica while the massacre was underway. You hear shots ring out, mingled with the throbbing beat of music from the car radio. In addition to the crumpled bodies (more visible in the slow motion part of the video that begins at 0:50), you see the bullet-spattered façade of the warehouse and empty white buses (used to transport the prisoners).

This footage aired the next day on the Belgrade TV station Studio B, with the murdered Bosnian Serbs described as “dead Muslim soldiers.” One journalist—Robert Block, Belgrade correspondent for the Independent in London—saw the footage and immediately suspected a massacre. He went to the television station and asked to see the footage in slow motion. The next day he published a story titled “Bodies pile up in horror of Srebrenica.”

As Dobbs points out:

If a lone reporter was able to reach such conclusions on the basis of examining a few seconds of video footage, think what a powerful intelligence agency would have been able to do had it been explicitly tasked to gather evidence of war crimes. We now know that the CIA had additional imagery of the Kravica events that was captured in real time, but not analyzed for many weeks.

Given that massacres in the area continued for another week after the footage was broadcast, if intelligence analysts had been paying attention, many lives might have been saved.

From a prevention point of view, what’s important is for intelligence agencies—and journalists—to be on the lookout for signs of atrocity crimes, especially when there is violent conflict going on.

Dobbs will be writing more articles about the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, which you can follow here.

On November 28 the UN officially declared that the Syrian government has committed crimes against humanity. But within that complex situation there is also a hidden risk of atrocities against a minority religious group called the Alawites.

We know from the past that reprisals against a regime that has committed genocide may themselves often lead to a new genocide. In Syria’s case there has not been a genocide, but a report issued last month by the International Crisis Group makes it clear that because of “the Alawites’ conspicuous role in putting down protests, disseminating propaganda and staging pro-regime demonstrations,” there is now a high risk of violence targeting the Alawites as a group. [See pages 2, 3, 4, and 8.]

In a section of the conclusion titled “Protection,” the report says:

“Ironically, and however difficult it may be to admit, the Alawite community ultimately might need the kind of protection the protest movement long has strived to obtain for itself. As seen, risks of massacres in the early stages of a transition are very real; should they occur, chances of success could be fatally imperilled. It is not too soon for the opposition to address these fears head on; it might consider possible mechanisms – for example coordinating the swift dispatch, once the regime falls, of observers from local and perhaps international human rights organisations – to minimise this risk.”

In other words, if Syria is viewed only as a state committing violence against its citizens, it obscures the additional risk of genocide or mass atrocities against supporters of the regime itself. If the situation is viewed through a genocide-prevention lens, the risk becomes clear and there is a possibility of taking steps to address it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

* Protests next month in the United States and Sweden will draw attention to alleged crimes against humanity in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Protesters seek to persuade the United States, the largest donor to Ethiopia, to force Addis Ababa to open the region to independent organizations so they can monitor, assess, and alleviate what protesters claim is an escalating and dire situation. The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia details human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian security forces and government-sponsored militias. This year, four refugees from Ogaden have been killed in Kenya, including the assassination of a community leader at the IFO refugee camp, operated by CARE.

* Sudan agreed to let UN relief agencies into South Kordofan. A Western diplomat said the gesture was a “smokescreen,” observing that Khartoum still won’t allow an independent inquiry into accusations its troops have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

* In Libya, with the advancement of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) into Tripoli, the international community has grown weary of the threat of revenge attacks or reprisals on supporters of Moammar Qaddafi. Since the start of the conflict, the anti-Qaddafi movement’s human rights abuses have raised serious concerns. The NTC responded to these concerns today, as an NTC spokesman called for calm. The rebel council has also taken promising steps to ensure a civil transition process by releasing some political prisoners. However, it is still uncertain how the NTC proposes to prevent reprisals on a large scale in the future.

* The Philippines is on the brink of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would make the Philippines only the third ASEAN nation to become a party to the ICC. Although the Philippines played an active role in the drafting of the treaty in 1998, and signed the treaty in 2000, it was not brought to the legislature for ratification until now. By ratifying the treaty, the Philippines commits to aid in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a proponent of ratification, stated that among other reasons for ratifying, the Rome Statute allows for the prosecution of individuals, rather than the ICJ’s approach of prosecuting state actors only.

Images (from top): ndsu.edu, Wikimedia Commons

Mary Stata returns to the AIPR blog as guest preventer this week:

While the debt ceiling debate continues to dominate headlines, Congress will soon begin deciding on annual legislation that sets policies and funding for tools to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities. The Friends Committee on National Legislation continues to lobby for greater investment in civilian tools that help avert crises that can result in mass killings of civilians.

Lobbying for these small yet vital accounts can be a tough sell in this budget climate. However, we’re not alone. FCNL coordinates the Prevention and Protection Working Group (PPWG), a coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian, and peace organizations dedicated to preventing deadly conflict and protecting civilians. PPWG recently sent a letter to members of Congress who determine the funding levels for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. The letter argues that working with international partners and investing in prevention accounts like the Complex Crises Fund and Civilian Response Corps, will save the United States lives and treasure in the coming years.

On July 20, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to mark up the 2012 Foreign Affairs Authorization bill, which guides U.S. foreign policy and authorizes funding levels for the State Department, USAID, and contributions to international organizations like the United Nations. Then, on July 27, the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up the annual spending bill for diplomacy, development, and international cooperation. The Prevention and Protection Working Group believes that strong investments in these tools better equips the U.S. government to help prevent genocide and other mass atrocities.

Earlier this year, we succeeded in protecting the Complex Crises Fund from being eliminated in the fiscal year 2011 budget. However, it’s clear that we still have our work cut out for the next budget cycle. You can take action and support genocide prevention accounts by contacting your member of Congress. In the coming months, we’ll keep you updated on our progress and continue to lobby for strong prevention funding. Will you join us?

Mary Stata is the Prevention and Protection Working Group Coordinator with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC.

This week’s Guest Preventers on the AIPR blog are Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman, codirectors of the 2010 award-winning film The Last Survivor, which follows the lives of survivors of four different genocides—the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo—as they struggle to make sense of tragedy by inspiring tolerance in a new generation. 

From very early on, our goal was to make a film about genocide that left the audience with a feeling of hopefulness and optimism—that there was something they could do to end this tragedy. Now we are working with a coalition of groups to bring The Last Survivor to communities around the globe, spark dialogue about how to prevent genocide in the future, and bring much needed support and attention to the most vulnerable communities of survivors and refugees around the world.

As filmmakers, we believe the most effective way to raise awareness and, ultimately, to prevent genocide is by listening to and supporting the people directly affected by it. Too often, refugee and survivor communities are neglected by the genocide prevention movement, so, as part of our film’s grassroots campaign, we are working to bridge this divide by connecting refugees with anti-genocide activists in the United States. We hope this will help foster personal relationships and provide opportunities for activists to get to know the people they are advocating for, who are living in their own communities. If we learn from each other’s experiences, we can become a stronger force speaking and acting out against genocide.

We hope that you will consider joining us in this effort by bringing the film to your community so your friends and neighbors can learn about these atrocities and hopefully get inspired, like we did, to do something about it.

Everyone has personal reasons for getting involved in the movement to prevent genocide. These are ours.

Michael Pertnoy, founder and executive director, Righteous Pictures

When I was 18, I had the opportunity to journey to the concentration camps in Poland on a program called the March of the Living. Up until that point I had learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and in many ways it was overwhelming—thinking about the statistics, seeing the horrific pictures and graphic film footage, I felt helpless. But as I walked arm in arm with the Holocaust survivors from my home community, marching through the death camps into the gas chambers, the focus was no longer on the millions of lives lost, but the power of those who had survived; those who had passed through the worst that the world has to offer and emerged with something to give to the world—a renewed sense of purpose, an obligation to provide a firsthand account of one of history’s darkest times, and to share their story so future genocides could be prevented.

On that trip in 2002 I made a promise to the survivors that I would carry on their legacy to my generation and beyond. In 2006 I returned to the camps. By then, the genocide in Darfur had been raging for more than three years. Over 300,000 people had been killed and millions displaced. And I wasn’t even aware yet of the violence in Congo and the other nations around it. It was after this trip back to the camps, as a recent college graduate, that I decided to get involved with the growing anti-genocide cause that was mobilizing across the United States. It was the confluence of these experiences that birthed The Last Survivor, and the rest was history.

Michael Kleiman, cofounder and creative director, Righteous Pictures

My grandmother on my father’s side and her three sisters fled Belgium to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. I remember hearing stories about how the four of them were hidden in the back of a pickup truck and smuggled out of the country to the south of France, where they hid in a barn for six months before escaping to Portugal and then the United States. I grew up with these stories.

When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine told me in passing about the genocide in Darfur, which had been going on for three years at that point. I was taken aback, not only by the horror but by the fact that I’d never heard anything about it. I considered myself politically aware at that time—mindful of the world around me. So I did what any film student would do: I picked up my camera and made what I now consider to be a terrible short film about the genocide in Darfur and its absence from the news. I always wanted to do more, so when Michael came to me with the idea for a film about genocide survivors, I jumped at the opportunity.

The International Criminal Court said it would investigate possible crimes against humanity in the upheavals that followed last year’s presidential election in Ivory Coast. ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said reasonable suspicion exists that serious crimes were committed in the West African state. Associated Press reported that rights groups believe both sides in the conflict may have committed crimes.

Tharcisse Karugarama, Rwanda’s justice minister, said the country’s gacaca grassroots courts, which have judged the bulk of people suspected of taking part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, will officially close in December, Agence France-Presse reported. “Through gacaca we have been able to judge and resolve up to 1.4 million dossiers,” Karugarama said. “A great achievement that would have been impossible otherwise.”

Georgia’s parliament voted on Friday to recognize the 19th-century killings of ethnic Circassians by czarist Russia as genocide. The New York Times reported that the move was “likely to inflame tensions between the two countries,” as Moscow is extraordinarily sensitive to any anti-Russian movements in the North Caucasus. The vote has been hailed as historic, given that no other country has recognized the killing of Circassians as genocide. The statement passed on a vote of 95 to 0, with only one lawmaker speaking against it in debate.

Photo: Reuters

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