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This past February, the Auschwitz Institute awarded the Raphael Lemkin prize to Dr. Barbara Harff, to recognize her contributions to the field of genocide prevention. Dr. Harff agreed to discuss via print correspondence some of her thoughts and positions on subjects related to the state of genocide prevention today, her past and current work, involvement with the Institute, and thoughts toward the future.
 
Dr. Harff is Professor of Political Science Emerita at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and has twice been a distinguished visiting professor at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is a prolific author, whose work has been important for the crafting of genocide prevention policy, as well as academics. She co-coined the useful term ‘politicide,’ and her early warning framework for genocide prevention has been a critical component of many projects and programs.

Much of your work has focused on ethnic aspects of conflicts, genocides and politicides… do you feel the role of this sort of lens has changed since you started out in the field? Do you see or foresee any potential challenges or problems in the way of this approach?

I co-authored a book on ethnic conflict and suggested that these types of conflicts have the potential to escalate into genocide (as in Rwanda), but so do other conflicts such as revolutions (see Cambodia) and adverse regime change (such as in Chile, which turned into a politicide). During the late 70’s and early 80’s, most genocide scholars (meaning all approx. 10 of us) thought that any combinations or a single  factor such as ethnicity, race, or religion were a necessary condition in most genocidal situations, given the wording of the Convention.  However, when I began collecting information on the 46 cases that eventually became the data set used by State Failure (now Political Instability Task Force), it became apparent that victims sometimes were members of mixed ethnic groups and that perpetrators targeted them because they belonged to political opposition groups. Cambodia was a classic example, where most victims and perpetrators were ethnic Khmers — only a minority of victims belonged to different ethnicities, such as the Chams, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Cambodia was a reason that I coined the term politicide, which suggests that victims not only could be members of multiple identity groups but were primarily targeted because of their political affiliation. Of the 46 cases that I identified post WWII, many are mixed cases. For example, the Kurds in Iraq and indigenous Maya that supported  the left in Guatemala.

Your work has been seminal, influencing an indeterminably wide swath of policy and scholarship… have you been particularly disappointed with any of the frameworks, policies, or concepts that have been built upon your ideas?

There are other scholars who have contributed more. I am especially thinking of my friend and mentor Helen Fein, the late Leo KuperFrank Chalk, and others. We have listened to each other, critiqued, cited, and supported one another’s efforts. We have built a discipline and it is now possible to get jobs in good universities, which was not a necessary truth in the 1980’s. As a Northwestern PhD, (according to my professors) I should have been at a major research university but the most frequently asked question at the time during interviews was, “What is that stuff you are doing?”.

How could I be disappointed? Systematic analysis is flourishing in Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—the Albright/Cohen report mentions my risk assessment and early warning efforts as something that needs doing and risk assessment is done routinely not just by me but in the US government and others. The UN (I had provided them with a framework and regular risk assessments) is a bit behind despite their talented personnel. That probably has much to do with antiquated opinions about quantitative analysis, as well as politically motivated leadership in related UN offices. When Juan Mendez became Adviser to the UN, he and his two associates visited me at my home in Annapolis to see how we could work together. I am not just a number cruncher but also a case study person and a specialist on the Middle East. Moreover, having been born into a leftist German family, I am also quite familiar about European affairs. A genocide scholar is/should not be bounded by either discipline or approach. My dissertation focused on prevention using legal philosophical arguments, but grounded in international law, and it also included an empirical exercise in which I tested empathy in different societies using fictional scenarios that had a historical base.

My/our work has caught on beyond expectations. Genocide is a household word — we have seen action in many situations and the recognition that systematic risk assessment and early warning are ever more needed is apparent. Aside from an African initiative, other governments have proceeded to establish their own centers. Why not indeed emulate the hard sciences instead of dabbling in case study-based analysis of specific situations? We do it globally based on accepted wisdom regarding dozens of cases. It is not too hard to generate good data, develop hypotheses based on theory, and then test assumptions. We/I have tested dozens of variables (including economic and environmental variables) that purport to support escalation to genocide. In addition, I developed a complex early warning model that used dynamic factors to track that evolution. For example, we tracked hate propaganda, small arms deliveries, etc. on a daily basis.

Your term and idea of politicide has not caught on as much as it perhaps could have in the international community. Are policymakers and scholars hamstringing themselves from potentially greater efficacy by not considering the targeting of political groups as a more important factor? Where would you like to see this focus brought to bear in today’s climate of conflict?

Why is there not more international action? Because, to use my old mantra, we do not know what remedies that tap state capacity and interest work in what situations at what time. What worked in Macedonia does not work in Syria. I made that argument many times and have developed response scenarios based on my early warning analysis, but much work remains. Just think of Burma—in the past, it was one of the worst case scenarios. I had argued for lifting sanctions to incorporate that country into the international community of states. There was a huge black market, and sanctions did not work—they more often make it harder for the already poor—and the West had zero influence but ASEAN, China, and Japan did—things are getting better.

Are you optimistic that the genocidal trends you’ve studied for three decades are diminishing? Can you realistically envision a world where we have early warning systems adequate to the task of completely circumventing mass atrocities?

For the time being, the occurrence of genocides are diminishing. But over the long run, I am pessimistic.  The West may have a learned a few more lessons after Bosnia but Africans will be challenged by Muslim radicals—see Mali, Northern Nigeria, the 10th century maps of Islamic expansion. I am deeply disturbed by the emergence of right-wing movements in Europe that occasionally spout anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, there are indigenous peoples still under threat of annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and extreme discrimination, such as the indigenous peoples of West Papua.

What role do area experts have to play?

Experts need to both show compassion and distance themselves from quick judgment. Most of us are driven by a belief and desire that it is possible to build a better world, based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, given the unequal  distribution of resources, lack of access to education, and re-emerging  medieval  ideas about how women should be treated, I am a profound pessimist. Especially disturbing for me is re-emerging anti-semitism in its most primitive form (blood libel, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, etc).  Are we regressing to superstitions and the caveman mentality that drove Nazis? I see a dangerous trend evolving in the Muslim world—tribalism, sectarianism, radical forms of Islam (Salafis), indoctrination of their unemployed and undereducated youth. Where will it lead?

Regarding Syria, is there an onus on Western actors to intervene, or otherwise impact the conflict? What sorts of missteps are we in danger of making?

It made my list of extremely high-risk cases before the outbreak of violence. The UN was informed—we had pictures of mines on the border with Turkey—their aim was to maim refugees. But the West is tired and sees the Middle East as a cauldron of  ever re-emerging conflicts. There is a real lack of enlightened leadership. You cannot build democracies by relying on networks of families, clans, tribes, sectarian and/or religious loyalties. We have always underestimated the strength of these ties. Countries running out of energy, water, having extended droughts and exploding birthrates are endangered to descend into chaos. Of the few that have functional educational systems, meaning they educate their young in the sciences, there are no opportunities. Maybe these countries have to go through these convulsions to find their way into the modern world. It is possible that Yemen, the poorest and most vulnerable (running out of water), has a chance of success through inter-tribal dialogue that includes women to build a stable autocracy or semi-democracy. Syria as of now may divide into Sunni, Alawite, and Kurdish regions under the influence of Iran/Russia/Saudi Arabia, and/or aligned with Salafis in Egypt. Of course, this is speculation.

How did you come to be involved with the Auschwitz Institute? Has your time as an instructor impacted any aspects of your scholarship or views?

What AIPR does is laudable, to put it mildly. As to my two lectures and one interview, the interview went well but the Jagiellonian University’s information system had too few subscribers. One lecture went well; the other, nowhere.  I expected the participants to read and they did not. Well, a lesson learned—start on a more basic level. My suggestion is to be bold—challenge re-emerging anti-semitism wherever you find it. Some of our young hosts (Jewish students from Poland)  told me that they keep a low profile—it deeply upset me. And then there is Auschwitz—as a German born non-Jewish scholar, it provides all the answers about why I am doing this kind of work—but this place is hell on earth and am I bothered that some visitors show a lack of respect when they walk over one of the largest cemeteries on earth.

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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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