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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Mickey Jackson, Student Director of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities. Jackson has been part of the movement since 2008, when he served as a high school outreach coordinator.
Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. With me today is Mickey Jackson, director of a student-led movement called STAND, which uses advocacy, lobbying, and other strategies to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities. Hello, Mickey. Good to have you here with us.
Good to be here.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about what STAND does and why it’s entirely student-led?
Sure. I mean what you just said in your introduction pretty much captures it. Basically, STAND is a student-run organization that seeks to build permanent anti-genocide constituencies on campus and in communities around the country. What we’re most interested in is really empowering students to take ownership of their advocacy, because we feel that by doing that we not only give students something to do while they’re in high school or while they’re in college, but we help develop them into lifelong leaders.
So we see ourselves not only as participating in anti-genocide advocacy efforts in the here and now, but we also see ourselves as developing the next generation of human rights policymakers, human rights organizers, thought leaders, and so forth. That’s why we consider it to be so important that we are student-led. Because obviously the best way of developing into a leader is to be a leader. So we feel that by giving students ownership of anti-genocide advocacy — not only at the local level, but at the national level as well — we’re helping to create that new generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates.
Are you optimistic from that, that there is a possibility maybe one day, maybe one day soon, that a really significant measure of U.S. national security interests can be shifted toward international human security interests instead?
I am optimistic, because I think over the last couple years we’ve seen that happening. We’ve seen the Obama administration explicitly identify atrocities prevention as a core national security interest of the United States, and I think that language is very important: that it’s not just a core moral imperative or a core humanitarian imperative — it’s the notion that it is actually a core national security interest of the United States. And that’s very important because I think we would all agree that while moral considerations are nice and humanitarian considerations are nice, when it comes to foreign policy governments ultimately act on the basis of perceived national security interests. So that to me is a reason to be optimistic. One of the challenges that I think will arise is making sure that that continues after this administration leaves.
I think that’s a very pragmatic and grounded approach to it. There’s been some serious criticism recently of the American anti-atrocity movements over the past few years, such as former activist Rebecca Hamilton’s critique of Save Darfur. How do you measure success in the light of these sorts of reactions?
Two things to that. One of the things that I’ve always found admirable in the students who are involved in STAND’s constituency is that they are very open to criticism, and in fact often they’re the ones doing the criticizing, and holding not only STAND as a national organization, but also I would argue holding STAND and the movement accountable. And I think what you see in STAND’s constituency is a willingness to question past approaches, a willingness to think critically about how successful we have been as a movement. So I think there’s very much the attitude that we shouldn’t get defensive in the face of criticism. We should listen to it, and we should try to amend our approach accordingly.
In terms of how we measure success, in one sense you can measure success very mechanistically in terms of the policy changes that the movement brings about. I think you could make the argument that the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board represents a discrete success of the movement. The progression over the past 10 years of the creation of a constituency that actually cares about atrocities prevention, and the recognition among policymakers that that constituency exists. We try to take a longer view as well, and recognize that in many ways our impact, at least if we do our jobs right, we hope that our impact will ultimately be in the leaders that we develop. Our impact, ideally, 20 years down the line, will be the creation of this next generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates and policymakers.
Do you think that — based on some of these criticisms, where the American anti-atrocity movements fall short — do you think that’s more due to a problem with public conviction, or do you see it more as a problem with the state’s ability to exert influence globally, like has been suggested?
You know, I think the obvious answer is that it’s some combination of both. I do think over the past couple years — between the fact that the financial crisis led to more of a focus on domestic issues, as well as the belief that our interventions, so to speak, in Iraq and Afghanistan largely failed, or at least can’t really be seen as unambiguous successes — I do think that sort of led to a skepticism among the broader public about this notion of atrocities prevention, and about the notion that the United States can or should exercise leverage to end mass atrocities, so I do think that’s part of it.
And I also think that the inability of the United States, and its Western allies in particular, to exert influence in certain conflict situations certainly plays a role in that as well. But there are things that the United States can do. The fact that we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do something. And our attitude is, where there do exist opportunities for the United States to exercise a positive influence in ongoing mass atrocity situations, that there needs to be a constituency that’s pressuring our elected officials to take those steps.
Is it possible for movements like this, like yours, to ever be counterproductive? The Kony 2012, for example, anti-atrocity movement resulted in negative outcries, even in Uganda and east Africa. Is that an isolated incident, or is this something you need to be mindful of and concerned about?
It’s absolutely something that we need to be concerned about. I mean that’s — if we talk about responsible advocacy, and if we talk about wanting our advocacy to be effective — obviously it’s extremely important to be self-critical in that way, and to really think about whether what we’re asking for could ultimately end up having negative ramifications. I think Kony 2012 is sort of the go-to example for that, and I think Kony 2012 certainly raised — not only in STAND, but in human rights movements — I think it contributed to raising the consciousness among human rights organizers and activists about the need to be self-reflective in that way. So I absolutely do think it’s possible, and I think it’s something that we would always need to be careful of.
What message does STAND want to send to students who aren’t involved, who maybe don’t think that they have time, or don’t see how what happens on the other side of the world can affect their lives?
As far as the second question, about how it affects their lives, I mean, the simple answer to that is, in a lot of cases it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening in the eastern DRC or what’s happening in Syria has much of a direct impact on the life of a typical American college student. But I would also say that ours is a generation that recognizes that it’s becoming a smaller world, and that recognizes that in the past the international community has failed to respond appropriately to morally atrocious situations. And among the students that I talk to — even those who don’t think that it affects their lives, or even those who don’t feel that they necessarily have a whole lot of time to devote to anti-genocide advocacy — it’s not a difficult argument to convince students that the pattern of failed responses to mass atrocities should not be continued.
If you think that it’s a problem that 800,000 people died in Rwanda without any kind of international response, then you should be interested in our movement, even if it doesn’t directly affect your life. No matter how much time you have to give, there’s some way for you to plug into a movement, even if it’s just picking up the phone and calling your congressional office. Those things seem small, but when they’re multiplied together they can lead to the types of policy changes that we want to see. And it can ultimately lead to at least progress toward that ideal of making “never again” a reality.
Some impactful words for the youth coming up today. Thank you so much, Mickey, for joining me today, and sharing what you’re all about.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Photo: STAND website.
Monday marked the launch of the Obama administration’s eagerly awaited Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). Live webcasts of the President’s remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by an afternoon’s worth of panel discussions at the White House, moderated by Samantha Power, chair of the new Board, excited the genprev community.
Following is a sample of reactions and responses:
Francis Deng and Edward Luck, UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, said today in a press release: “[We] commend the growing series of partnerships established by Member States under a Responsibility to Protect framework. These include the network of focal points proposed by Costa Rica, Denmark, Ghana and Australia; the regional conferences on genocide prevention organized by Argentina, Switzerland and Tanzania; the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the [Auschwitz Institute’s] Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention; and other regional and sub-regional arrangements for the prevention of atrocity crimes.” The Special Advisers indicated their plan to continue serving as liaisons between the UN and such initiatives designed to maximize regional and cross-regional dialogue.
Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor of Oxfam America, said Monday in a press release: “The test for the APB is whether, over the long-run, we’re better able to mobilize those tools and whether it is able to quickly and effectively focus the attention of high-level decision-makers on countries that threaten to descend into mass atrocities in the future.”
Winny Chen, Senior Associate of Human Rights First, said today via e-mail: “The creation of the APB represents an important milestone in U.S. efforts to make ‘never again’ a reality. Though there are still many questions lingering about the structure and function of the APB, I’m heartened to see that the Board is already making strides in expanding the USG’s tools, such as developing new financial levers, for responding to threatening atrocity situations.”
Daniel Solomon, National Student Director of STAND, wrote a blog post yesterday, reflecting on his own participation in the day’s events. He discussed the Board’s composition, arguing that its true significance will not be to stop atrocities, but to “encourage the training of diplomats, development practitioners, military officials, and intelligence officers in atrocities prevention strategies; facilitate cross-national trainings of foreign militaries, law enforcement, and peacebuilding authorities; and, where relevant, provide greater support to the distribution and identification of early warning and atrocities risk.” Solomon also praised USAID’s innovation grants partnership with Humanity United.
Mary Stata, coordinator of the Prevention and Protection Working Group at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, wrote that the new Board brings U.S. policy one step closer to preventing mass violence by peaceful means. She reiterated the intent of the FCNL and others to continue lobbying for the implementation of recommendations made to the Obama administration last fall.
Eric Roston of BusinessWeek suggested the APB should be renamed “Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities” in the interest of simplicity: “A presidential body dedicated to the eradication of the methodical mass murder of innocents deserves more than to be lost in the stultifying jargon of government bureaucracy, where the APB will take its place in small, gray type next to its cousins, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the Joint Board For The Enrollment Of Actuaries.”
Less insightfully, as Time magazine noted, the Christian Science Monitor wondered what effect the APB would have on Libya, while The Atlantic worried about the propriety of and risks involved in more global intervention on the part of the U.S.
* Burma’s ruling military junta seems to be inching towards democratic reform. The contentious Myitsone dam project has been called off and the government recently released more than 6,000 political prisoners. One of them, chief opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has registered her National League for Democracy party to run in the upcoming elections. The party supports a constitutional amendment that would allow prisoners to vote. Additionally, bans on public protests and union strikes have been lifted.
But these positive developments are still far outweighed by the country’s persistent human rights violations. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana (pictured above), recently discussed the Burmese military’s use of children and forced labor, as well as discrimination against ethnic minorities. A National Human Rights Commission has been set up but lacks independence, and border conflicts remain unresolved. Lastly, despite the dam project not coming to fruition, exploitation of Burma’s natural resources, and the resultant displacement of people, continues to be an issue.
* Last Friday, 29 United States senators, Democrat and Republican alike, sent a letter to President Obama to express their “support for developing the necessary tools to successfully avert mass atrocities and prevent conditions that can lead to violence against innocent civilians.” The letter recapped the terms of Senate Concurrent Resolution 71, while also expressing appreciation for recent steps taken by the Obama administration to develop a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to genocide and mass atrocities prevention, such as the Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10), a National Security Staff Director focused on the prevention of war crimes and atrocities, the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, and the mandate for an interagency study to inform the board’s work.
On October 13-15, the Stanley Foundation convened U.S. government officials and mass atrocities specialists for a discussion called “Structuring the US Government to Prevent Atrocities: Considerations for an Atrocities Prevention Board,” as part of its 52nd annual Strategy for Peace Conference. Two months prior, the Obama administration mandated the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), per the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force.
The participants concluded that the cases with which the APB would be faced would fall into one of two categories: “situations of high, imminent or ongoing risk that have already mobilized internal focus and high-level attention vs. slow burn or “over the horizon” crises that have yet to trigger high-level concern and a cohesive policy approach.” Accordingly, the APB’s role would differ depending on which type of crisis they were responding to; the group went on to identify other potential roles for the APB outside of crisis-specific engagement. Another focal point of the discussion was implementing the APB concurrently with the Department of State and USAID’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in order to foster mutual reinforcement.
Also this month, the Stanley Foundation’s Rachel Gerber wrote an op-ed titled “Prevention: Core to the Responsibility to Protect,” in which she explains that the R2P principle is comprised of three pillars: 1) the primary responsibility of the state to protect its populations from four circumscribed mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes); 2) the concurrent responsibility of the international community to assist states in their efforts to do so; and 3) the responsibility of the international community to take collective action should national authorities fail to protect their populations from imminent or unfolding atrocities. R2P was formulated with the intention of preventing, and not solely responding to, mass atrocities. Gerber asserts that doing so requires a framework to be utilized throughout all phases of potential crisis—before crises emerge, as crises appear on the horizon, and following atrocities. While such a broad array of actions may not realistically fit into a single policy doctrine, it is imperative that R2P inform policy approaches across the crisis spectrum.
A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations gives a useful analysis of the potential benefits and inevitable problems that will accompany the Obama administration’s Aug. 4 presidential directive to establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.
Taking a look at the country’s past, Andrew Miller and Paul Stares cite previous failures by the United States to prevent mass atrocities. Numerous administrations have been hamstrung by the lack of a truly comprehensive prevention framework. Miller and Stares contend that these past failures were not necessarily due to lack of will, but rather that high-level policymakers were not receiving information about small incidents that were indicative of a potential escalation in conflicts. Rwanda and Darfur, they say, serve as two stark examples in which high-level policymakers were unaware of the situations until the killing started and the only viable options were “sending in the Marines or doing nothing.”
Miller and Stares highlight the new plan’s potential for effective prevention in three key ways: 1) guaranteeing political and material support from the military and civil society, 2) establishing an early warning system, and 3) providing policymakers a structure that is capable of decisive action.
First and foremost, by framing the prevention of mass atrocities as “a core national security interest,” the Obama administration has given both the military and civil society “mandates” to prepare for prevention. As Miller and Stares point out, this gives agencies extra incentive to build their budgets in such a way that they can carry out this mission.
Next, the intelligence community must improve its early warning system. This system will be an interagency endeavor, allowing the government to develop adequate, timely responses—which Miller and Stares believe will include the use of economic, diplomatic, and legal tools.
Still, this information is useless unless relayed to the upper echelons of the policymaking community. The Atrocities Prevention Board is meant to do just that: It gives the intelligence community access to influential policymakers whose sole duty is to prevent mass atrocities, providing a much-needed link that was missing in the past.
The second section of the report examines pitfalls facing the system. Miller and Stares ask a few questions, the first being whether “the new atrocity-prevention structures and processes [will] become ‘mainstreamed’ within the national security apparatus?” This is critical, given how many other well-intentioned initiatives have been pushed to the wayside, including the Interagency Management System (now defunct) and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), both created by George W. Bush but since relegated to the periphery.
The report also raises the issue of whether or not subsequent presidents will support the Atrocities Prevention Board at all, given that each new administration tends to dismantle the initiatives of its predecessor.
Finally they ask whether or not in a time of financial crisis and an increasingly unpopular intervention in Libya, the American public will support the allocation of resources to finance future interventions worldwide.
Despite much initial praise from a number of organizations and governments worldwide, it stands to be seen whether Obama’s directive will yield a lasting and effective system for the prevention of mass atrocities. The Presidential directive ordered an “interagency review” to prepare relevant agencies for additional duties that would be required of them before the Atrocities Prevention Board would be up and running. According to the timeline set by the directive, the Board should be fully functioning by the beginning of December.
To the applause of genocide prevention organizations nationwide, President Barack Obama today issued a study directive for the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, whose sole duty will be the development of policy aimed at preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities.
This is a milestone achievement, as until now the United States has lacked effective interagency protocols for prevention and response.
Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation executive director Tibi Galis praised the Obama administration for recognizing the need for a “whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively.’ ”
The directive, rather than spelling out details, offers an outline of the new body’s duties. Stressing the need for an overarching, “whole of government” approach, the president ordered the development of an interagency protocol identifying the government agencies that will contribute to the board’s work.
Many of the directive’s provisions are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government. The 2008 report issued by the GPTF argued that genocide and mass atrocities “threaten core U.S. national interests.” President Obama, in his directive today, used similar language, positing prevention as a “core national security interest.”
The GPTF report called for early warning systems, attempts to prevent escalation of violence once begun or imminent, and long-term prevention initiatives. While Obama’s directive remained mainly in the realm of broad intentions, its framework seemed to echo the suggestions of the GPTF report.
The presidential initiative received an avalanche of praise from U.S. organizations working to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes.
“Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said.
Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, cochairs of the GPTF, said the project “if fully implemented should eventually save countless lives.”
The United States Institute for Peace, a co-convener of the GPTF (along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), said it “welcome[d] the announcement” as a “needed step forward.”
The study directive gives the National Security Advisor 120 days to “develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.”