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Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:
Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention
Genocide prevention requires a transnational commitment of states willing to collaborate and work together to recognize threats and identify means by which potential conflict can be avoided. In a similar way, reducing the risk of genocide necessitates a consistent sharing of ideas so that methods for prevention can be continually improved. One manner in which this dedication and cooperation is demonstrated is the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide, co-organized by the governments of Argentina, Cambodia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. The Forum, which was first held in Argentina in 2008, has continued to meet annually since 2010 and brings together scholars, diplomats, and activists to discuss emerging ideas in the realm of genocide prevention. In addition, the journal Politorbis issued a 2009 publication on genocide prevention that addresses many of the topics covered in the Forums.
The 2013 Regional Forum took place in Phnom Penh on February 28 and March 1, 2013, and included over 20 distinguished speakers from around the world. The discussion was opened by Mr. Federico Villegas Beltrán, Director General for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Worship in Argentina; Ambassador Dr. Christoph Burgener of Switzerland; Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, His Excellency Dr. Sok An. Dr. An began by reminding the audience of the importance of genocide prevention in his own country, stating that “for Cambodia, the issue is not an abstract or theoretical one, but one that brutally and directly affected us, and still does today.” Dr. An also cited the importance of seeking justice for and remembering the victims, “to make sure such a tragedy will never recur,” emphasizing that “we regard remembrance of the past and of the victims as an essential prerequisite to non-recurrence.”
The Forum itself was comprised of five separate panels, the first of which was titled “What is genocide and how to prevent it?” During this segment, panelists discussed the definition of genocide and offered ideas on how to improve capacities to respond to early warning signs of violence. In particular, His Excellency Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, mentioned that “the narrow or shallow perception of genocide may lead to failure in preventing genocide from its budding stage,” referring to the oversimplified belief that genocide only entails the killing of individuals, when in fact the Genocide Convention enumerates five criteria for the commission of the crime. Borith also stated that there are “still a lot of controversies and difficulties in quantifying the scope of violence to be labeled as genocide,” and cited the need for greater preventive capacity, particularly at the national level in regards to education, and social and religious institutions.
This panel also featured Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. Dieng reiterated the importance of understanding the “root causes and dynamics” of genocide, and highlighted the important role that civil society has begun to play in making prevention and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stronger. Bellamy also outlined six specific points that would assist East Asia in its efforts to prevent genocide, including the development of what he calls an “atrocity prevention lens,” which “focuses on injecting atrocity prevention considerations into existing policies, programs, and capabilities and, when necessary, convening or coordinating these assets for prevention purposes,” as well as the creation of regional capacity for early warning and assessment through a collaborative effort between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, and other relevant organizations.
The second panel, “Asian Experience and Visions for the Future,” included His Excellency Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and The Honorable Gareth Evans, Chancellor of Australian National University and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Sudary emphasized the importance of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in seeking justice for the victims of the genocide. He also underscored the role of education, particularly in regards to learning about the Khmer Rouge, noting that “young people need to grasp the value of human rights and learn to use them effectively in order to prevent genocide in the future.”
Evans, who was a primary contributor in the creation of R2P at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, discussed the development of a Brazilian proposal called Responsibility While Protecting (RWP). This supplemental protocol to R2P is comprised of “two key elements: a set of agreed criteria to be taken into account before the UNSC mandates any use of force…and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that the scope and limits of such mandates continue to be debated by the Council during the implementation phase.” Evans also reiterated the imperativeness of developing “effective capability to initiate action and mobilize political will,” by creating “focal points” that have “direct access to high-level decision makers,” as well as enhancing “broad-based civilian response capabilities” and “[ensuring] that effective military capability is available to meet needs as they arise.”
Later in the evening, the third panel, titled “Africa, Latin America and Europe – Experiences, Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” was held. Nathan Byamukama, Program Officer of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke first. He discussed some of the responsibilities of the ICGLR, including collecting and analyzing information to identify situations that might develop into genocide, recommending measures to safeguard victims, monitoring Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs, and cooperating with civil society. Byamukama also cited several challenges that the ICGLR faces, like the politicization of the Committee and a funding deficit, but noted that it will continue to garner support from member states so as to strengthen its initiatives.
Byamukama was followed by Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. First, Feierstein turned the concept of prevention on its head, stating, “I would suggest to change the perspective from what the super-powers should do to prevent genocide (the interventionist approach) to what they should not do: how to establish a system of controls to prevent such powers from acting in ways that increase the possibility of genocidal events through direct intervention, arms trade, support for destabilization or coups d’état, and so on.” Secondly, he noted the important role of regional mechanisms in preventing genocide, providing the example of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is comprised of 12 Latin American nations and is charged with helping countries in the region mitigate conflicts. Since its inception in 2008, UNASUR has assisted in Bolivia, Honduras, and Ecuador, as well as in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.
The second day of the conference opened with the fourth panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of State and International Actors and Ways Forward,” which featured David Scheffer, UN Secretary General Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Scheffer emphasized the role of the ECCC as a deterrence mechanism, noting that it “is critical to breaking the cycles of impunity and putting down at least a caution sign for political and military leaders who might contemplate human rights abuses or atrocity crimes to achieve political and strategic aims.”
In the fifth and final panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors and Ways Forward,” Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), discussed the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide. He explained the work of DC-Cam, which seeks “to establish a permanent presence and to play a leading role in this transformative effort” of policy change in post-conflict states. Chhang also stated that DC-Cam “has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia,” an initiative that centers on the belief that “genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity.” To increase genocide awareness, as well as the scope of the institution’s work, DC-Cam will also “promote memory and justice” by “[digitizing its] extensive archives and [making] them available to viewers at home and overseas.”
Given the variety of topics covered, as well as the global character of the dozens of panelists and speakers that offered remarks during the conference, the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide exemplifies a collaborative approach to educating on the past so as to avoid the commission of mass atrocities in the future. By meeting on an annual basis, the four member states that comprise the Forum also reaffirm their commitment to what many speakers emphasized in their presentations – that is, the desire to create “a culture of remembrance and non-recurrence” that recognizes the importance of preventing genocide everywhere.
Part 6 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.
Asian human rights mechanisms
The workings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
Founded in 1967, ASEAN is currently comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Timor Leste has observer status. The purpose of ASEAN is to boost economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and promote regional peace and stability through respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. In 2007, ASEAN adopted its own charter.
Decision-making within ASEAN
|Secretariat||Implements policy decisions; draws up ‘plans of action’ in collaboration with Senior Officials|
|Ministerial meetings||Amend and endorse plans of action drawn up by the Secretariat|
|ASEAN Summit||The highest decision-making body: gives final approval to plans of action|
In terms of rights, ASEAN Vision 2020 seeks to create an ASEAN Community by 2020 where “all people enjoy equitable access regardless of gender, race, religion, language or social and cultural background; where civil society is empowered and gives special attention to the disadvantaged, disabled and marginalized; where social justice and the rule of law reign.”
The ASEAN Community is composed of three pillars of cooperation:
- ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC)
- ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)
- ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)
Asia-Pacific does not have a regional system of treaties, courts, commissions or other institutions to protect and promote human rights. As such, the organization has recently established the following three relevant mechanisms:
- ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
- Though it does not explicitly mention minorities, principle 2.2 of the AICHR’s Terms of Reference underlines respect for non-discrimination.
- ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC)
- Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of Migrant Workers (ACMW)
ASEAN has also adopted its own declarations relating to women:
- Declaration on the Advancement of Women in ASEAN (1988)
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region (2004)
- ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children (2004)
Established in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)’s main goal is to jointly promote social and economic development in Asia. Its current member countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.
Created in January 2004, the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children is concerned with issues such as the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region; increasing women’s participation in politics; and women’s health and education. SAARC adopted a regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002.
Established in 2004, the SAARC Social Charter “incorporates a broad range of goals in areas such as poverty eradication, population stabilization, women’s empowerment, promotion of health and nutrition, and child protection. It also requires member states to formulate a National Plan of Action, or modify any existing one, to implement the provisions of the Charter. It calls on states to enact any plan through a transparent and broad-based participatory process.”
The SAARC Charter does not list promotion of human rights as a goal. SAARC has not adopted any human rights convention or charter. It has not agreed to create any regional institution or mechanism to monitor adherence to, and implementation of, the various UN human rights conventions already signed by its member countries.
On November 3 the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, at Columbia University in New York, hosted a roundtable discussion called “Peace and Justice in Burma: Serious International Crimes Continue Despite Talk of ‘Change.’ ”
The discussion featured a presentation by Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, outlining the current situation in Burma, specifically in Kachin State.
Stothard began with a brief history of the conflict in Kachin State. In 1994, after decades of fighting, the Burmese government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Despite the ceasefire, the Kachin people did not see their pleas for a representative government realized. In 2009 the Burmese government demanded that all opposition forces, the KIA included, incorporate themselves into the Border Guard Forces of the Burma Army. In light of the KIA’s refusal, the Burmese government launched an offensive against the KIA in Kachin State and Northern Shan State in June 2011. This war has caused large-scale displacement and a dramatic increase in human rights violations committed by the Burmese army in conjunction with its “four cuts strategy.”
According to an October 7 report by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), these human rights violations include extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and rape (often gang rape), the use of child soldiers, enslavement and forced labor, and torture. The report says these violations are a direct policy of the Burmese government, both regularly and widely perpetrated impunity, which suggests they could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The conflict in Kachin State has created hundreds of thousands of refugees who are currently housed in six makeshift refugee camps, five of them on the China–Burma border. The Burmese government has blocked aid to these refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis that Stothard says is not being addressed by the international community because of a lack of political will.
KWAT is one of many organizations calling for a UN inquiry and a subsequent referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Burmese organizations cannot request a referral to the ICC themselves, since Burma is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.)
Stothard told the audience that a referral to the Security Council was being blocked by Russia, a major arms dealer to the Burmese government, and China, which has multiple financial interests in Burma, including oil. So far there are 16 countries in favor of a UN inquiry into human rights violations in Burma, but Stothard says the initiative is also opposed by ASEAN, for fear of light being shed on human rights violations in most of its member states.
Burma’s government this week continued its campaign against ethnic-based forces, with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claiming its headquarters in Shan State had fallen. The KIA commander in Shan State said Burmese government forces took control of the base on September 27, but that Kachin operations remained in other parts of the state.
Burma News International reported that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Shan State, numbering some 20,000, were thought to be hiding in civilian homes that may be subject to government investigation. It quoted the KIA as claiming that there were over 5,000 villages and 250,000 civilians living in northern Shan State, which became a war zone on September 24 when the Burmese government launched its current offensive.
Unlike refugees in Kachin State in northeastern Burma, who are receiving support from churches, NGOs, and Kachin communities abroad, the people in northern Shan have received no outside assistance. On September 27 the Irrawaddy quoted the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a relief agency on the border between the two states, as claiming, “Since 1997, the Burmese regime has destroyed more than 3,000 villages and displaced over half-a-million civilians in eastern Burma.”
Numerous resolutions by the UN General Assembly, including Resolution 16/24 in April, have called on the Burmese government to improve its human rights record. Organizations and governments—including Human Rights Watch, Burma Campaign UK, the United States, and Canada—support the establishment of a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.
Despite recent developments, the International Crisis Group, in a briefing last week, argued that the reform process championed by the newly elected president, Thein Sein, was making progress, noting: “Military legislators have . . . supported an opposition motion in the lower house calling on the president to grant a general amnesty for political prisoners.” And Voice of America published an article in May saying that ASEAN was convinced enough of the country’s new direction that it is considering giving Burma the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014.