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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.

* In a meeting with the Defense Writers Group on September 14, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said he had no problem with African states buying weapons and aircraft from China because he didn’t “see that as a military competition between [the U.S.] and China.” As Human Rights First pointed out, however, Chinese arms have enabled violence against civilian populations in Libya and Zimbabwe and contribute to ongoing atrocities throughout the continent, including in the Congo and Sudan. This is primarily the result of Chinese export laws that are neither strict nor strictly enforced by the government, coupled with Chinese companies’ lack of discretion.

* University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Sikkink argues in today’s New York Times that countries that prosecute human rights offenders have a better chance of ending repression than those that do not. In research comparing these two types of countries, she found that, contrary to what some contend, prosecutions of atrocity crimes tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy, or lead to violence. Writes Sikkink: “Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.”

* Cornell law student Nicholas Kaasik today lays out the argument for why the United States should ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court. The purpose of the ICC is to end impunity and hold leaders accountable for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Were the United States to join the 117 current States Parties, Kaasik says the relationship between the United States and the ICC would be mutually beneficial, strengthening each other’s legitimacy.

Photo: frbiz.com

Sri Lanka: New documentary reignites debate

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (watch it here; viewer discretion advised), a British documentary that details the last days of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war, has reignited discussions about the prosecution of war crimes possibly committed at the end of the conflict. Sri Lanka’s government has long maintained that it perpetrated no crimes in its 2009 offensive into territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Despite a post-conflict UN investigation that found credible evidence of war crimes on both sides, neither the UN nor Sri Lanka itself has shown any interest in acting on the investigation’s findings, and Security Council members Russia and China supported the Sri Lankan government’s claim that it took justified and necessary measures to end a stubborn resistance.

The documentary, which aired yesterday on the UK’s Channel 4, depicts evidence of crimes including indiscriminate bombardments, extrajudicial executions, and rape and murder.

NGOs and governments alike have released statements calling for further investigation. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that he can only call for an investigation if the Sri Lankan government consents.

Photo: TamilCanadian.com

Syria: Draft Resolution in Security Council

On Wednesday, France, Britain, Portugal, and Germany submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council condemning the actions by the Syrian government against civilian protesters. Explicitly referring to the Syrian authorities’ responsibility to protect its civilian population and suggesting that the violent measures may constitute crimes against humanity, the draft resolution called for an end to the violence, the enactment of political reforms and an investigation of the situation in full cooperation with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution also urged other states stop and prevent sales of arms and related supplies to Syria. Discussion on the draft resolution is to begin on Thursday with a vote taking place in several days. While the draft resolution has the support of as many as 11 of the 15 members of the Security Council including the United States, Russia and China have expressed strong reservations against it, leaving open the possibility of a veto.

The draft resolution follows last Thursday’s warning from Special Advisers of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, and Human Rights Watch’s report regarding the situation in Syria. Deng and Luck expressed alarm at the attack on the civilians, called for “an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” and urged the Syrian government to cooperate with the inquiry and “to refrain from further attacks against the civilian population.” The Human Rights Watch report, in addition to detailing what it considered to be “crimes against humanity,” went further, recommending that the UN Security Council not only condemn the human rights violations, but also refer the violations to the International Criminal Court and adopting sanctions against Syrian officials if necessary.

Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each issued new reports on the Kyrgyz government’s investigation into last year’s ethnic violence. As a result of the violence between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks, nearly 500, mostly Uzbeks, were killed, and 400,000 fled their homes. The Amnesty International report, which alleges that some of the atrocities against the Uzbeks may have constituted crimes against humanity, argued that the government did not fully investigate the violence perpetrated by the ethnic Kyrgyz and possibly even the security forces against the ethnic Uzbeks. Human Rights Watch detailed allegations of torture, as well as ethnic bias against Uzbeks during the trials following the investigation. Furthermore, the organizations expressed concerns that the government’s inadequate investigations may lead to future unrest between the two ethnic groups.

Bangladesh: War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh has been instituting a war crimes tribunal relating to its 1971 independence war against Pakistan. One to three million, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 300,000 women were raped. The tribunal, which is investigating the participation of Bengalis in the atrocities, is significant as it raises questions on whether accused war criminals should be tried in an international court or in a domestic tribunal, and whether countries without advanced legal systems have the capacity to properly deliver justice. The tribunal, charged with prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity, is also important because it will be considering sexual violence as evidence in its decision-making. The court’s independence and fairness has been a point of contention, with Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, and the International Centre for Transitional Justice all expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed legal proceedings. It remains to be seen whether the tribunal can proceed free from political pressure and according to international judicial standards.

Photo: Guardian

The number of Chinese people immigrating to Tibet is increasing and the Dalai Lama has deemed the population shift a type of cultural genocide. The Tibet Post reported that Tibetan marginalization by mass migration will render the Tibetan people an “insignificant minority” that will be overlooked or ignored for the Han Chinese and/or authorities of the communist regime.

25 years ago, in February 1986, the U.S. Congress ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, The Hill’s Congress Blog stated. The blog post highlighted the achievement of Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, for delivering a total of 3,211 speeches in order to push the Senate to ratify the convention. However, “two and a half decades later, the U.S. and international community still lack the ability to effectively fulfill the promise of ‘never again’ embodied in the Convention.”

The genocide survivors organization Ibuka has released a list of 265 Hutu individuals in recognition of their role in protecting Tutsi victims during the 1994 genocide. These righteous people, referred to as Indakemwa in Kinyarwanda, “did not agree with the genocide neither did they participate in the killings. They did everything they could to save Tutsis, at the risk of their lives,” Ibuka indicated as reported by Hirondelle News Agency.

Three Khmer Rouge leaders currently on trial will remain in detention whilst they await their atrocity crimes trial in Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Voice of America has reported. “Trial Chamber judge Nil Nonn said in the decision the three would continue to be held “to ensure the presence of the accused persons at the trial.”

Photo: RFI English

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