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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a scholar and activist on the topic of gender and gender-based violence in the context of genocide and mass atrocities. Last year she published an article titled “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention” in the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and in addition to having been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, she will be contributing to a forthcoming volume on the prevention of mass atrocities, edited by the Auschwitz Institute.
Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Today we’re looking at an often overlooked and under-discussed aspect of mass atrocities: gender. Joining me is Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a prolific speaker on the subject and author of an article last year called “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention.” Hello, Elisa. Great to have you with us.
Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Why do we need to consider gender and gender-based violence as factors in the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities?
Well, there’s several ways to answer that. I think the primary reason it’s important that we look at gender-based violence when we’re thinking about the prevention of mass atrocities is that it is a very early warning signal when a conflict is underway. There are specific types of gender-based violence that I believe have a high correlation with genocide down the road, and when we see them used by a certain perpetrating group — whether it’s a state, or a political party, or a cadre within an armed force — when we see them using these specific forms of gender-based torture and patterns of killing, and sexual violence in particular, we can predict with some accuracy the spread of this sort of violence to greater and greater numbers of people down the road, if it’s left unchecked. And that is if there isn’t any diplomatic, political, economic, or, as a last resort, military intervention.
It isn’t talked about very much, rape and violence against women, or at least they aren’t much focused on. What do you think that says about our concerns?
There seems to be an intellectual block, in a sense, in the study of genocide to considering rape as an integral part of genocide. Of course there are many scholars who do. But in policymaking circles, frequently the widespread presence of rape or mass rape in a conflict, when it’s not attended also by co-ed massacre sites, is seen to be a special category that we call mass atrocity but not genocide. So in other words, you have several cases where the existence of gender-selective massacres of men, alongside the mass rape of women who were allowed by and large to continue living, you see that pattern used as a way to argue that genocide had not taken place, but rather war crimes, or crimes against humanity, or this much less specific term, “mass atrocity.”
What roles do you think that culture and religion play in these occurrences? Do you think there’s anything to arguments for cultural relativity, cultural sensitivity, or are we dealing with human rights that transcend those borders?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, and I think it’s an important one. I see these as universals, simply because they occur in similar formats throughout most of the cases of genocide that I’ve looked at, and then also cases that aren’t commonly considered to be genocide that I would include within an understanding of genocidal processes, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, or the current conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. So there is a kind of a universal dimension to these, in that genocide expresses itself very similarly across cases. Where I think cultural sensitivity is really important, and where it becomes very interesting, is, you know, the differences in patterns. Why in certain places one kind of atrocity is more pronounced than another, for example. And what cultural factors lead to that, and whether or not those cultural factors then themselves have contributed to this genocidal process, or are they just being drawn on or implicated in the genocidal process because they exist. So those sorts of questions are very important.
I think genocide is a universal crime and that it is universally frowned upon, and should be, and so we can be safe to say that if there’s a culture that’s caught up in a genocidal logic over a long period of time that humanity needs to respond, that there needs to be some response to that. Where I think cultural relativism becomes problematic is when it treats different cultures in a kind of ossified and rigid way that actually shares some characteristics with genocidal thinking by imposing strict trenches between different groups that can’t be bridged through human conversation or dialogue. And I think that oftentimes one will find people retreating to that type of cultural relativism, when it appears, when the persons promoting the prevention of genocide are not investigating genocidal dynamics in their own societies. Where I’ve gotten questions related to cultural relativism is often in situations where it’s felt that Americans are always going around the world telling people to be aware of genocide and how to prevent genocide, without sufficient awareness of our own history of genocide and lingering patterns within our society that emerge from that history, as well as red flags that we have in this country. So to avoid that I think it’s very important that whenever we’re talking about genocide prevention, and in all of our studies of genocide, that we seek to be truly universal in the cases that we look at, right, and universal in the societies that we target for long-term prevention of genocide. And those should and have to include Western countries, including the United States.
In cases where we can identify those cultural causes that contribute toward genocide or can lead to that, do you think that it may be necessary, or do you think it may be justifiable, for the international community or for international actors to take a stand against those practices, against those factors?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting and sensitive question, and I’m glad you asked it. This question was very relevant of course to the debate about and the struggle against female genital cutting, right, or what’s often called female genital mutilation. And it was actually very harmful when there appeared to be a unidirectional command from on high that certain societies stop this practice. What was much more effective was when local NGOs — often aided by training or funding or dialogue with international bodies — but when local NGOs began initiatives to speak with the practitioners of this, to speak with parents, to speak with young people and leaders within communities to try and change the way that this practice was seen, and replace it with other practices that could ritually or culturally attain the same goals without actually harming young girls.
So I think that when we’re looking at long-term factors that contribute to genocide, one of the most important things we can do is be in dialogue with local human rights groups, local civics groups, local intellectuals, obviously — in a truly dialogic and equal fashion, where everybody’s laying out a set of ideas about what can lead to genocide. And so that you have, internally within a society, a genocide watchdog that is going to be much more sensitive and much more aware of the meaning of certain cultural practices and their potential dangers down the road than any outsider could ever be, unless of course they spent a great deal of time there and speak the language.
You’ve been talking a lot about Syria lately. There’s been a lot of concern in the international community about the possibility of genocide of the Alawites. Do you think that horse is already out of the stable?
Yes. I do. But it depends on how you look at it and how you’re defining things. Since we all agree, I think, that genocide is a process, I think we’re in the genocidal process. But perhaps we need to make a distinction between the process of genocide and the fact of genocide after the end of hostilities. It’s only of course in retrospect that we can be absolutely sure, right, or close to 100 percent sure, that something we would call a genocide happened. The Rwandan genocide looked very different at the beginning of the hundred days than it did at the end. And this was one of the problems with garnering international support for some kind of effective intervention there. And so it’s similar in Syria. However, what we do see in Syria is focused attacks on children. So not just killing by shelling, not that kind of impersonal killing, but very personalized, ritualized, torturous killing of children, both in front of their parents at the site of massacres, but also in detention, then I think that says something about the intent of the regime, or certain groups within the regime.
Can you tell us a little about your contribution to Deconstructing Prevention? Are there pertinent situations or issues you think we need to focus on that have cropped up since your 2012 article?
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think the rise of the use of the term “mass atrocity” is a very interesting thing, and it comes out of the despair that many felt during the genocide in Darfur, where it felt that a lot of the tension was taken away from the horror going on in Darfur and instead devoted to a very useless and highly politicized debate about whether or not this conflict conformed to the UN legal definition of genocide. So “mass atrocities” grew out of that sense of frustration. Who cares if it’s genocide, let’s just call it mass atrocities. But I think one of the reasons that could happen, that we needed to replace this powerful term “genocide” with “mass atrocity,” is that Darfur followed a very gender-selective pattern of genocide. And so you have men routinely massacred, whereas women were raped and allowed to continue living. And it was the fact of their continued existence that often was the reason that people were unwilling to call what was going on in Darfur genocide and instead wanted to call it ethnic cleansing, or civil war, or counterinsurgency. And so it’s out of a very gendered idea of what genocide is that this term “mass atrocity” has been created. So I think that we need to interrogate that. We need to look at why it is that we needed to create a term like “mass atrocity,” whether or not it’s effective to have an even more vague and debatable term, in a sense.
Gender and genocide was a long-term interest of mine. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but I’d always been interested in women’s Holocaust testimonies and the ways that the National Socialists sought to destroy women as women, and use children against them to do so, which is a common theme in testimonials and memoirs from the Holocaust. So I brought those two together and was doing work on gender and genocide, and then it was only through a fluke, in a sense, that Adam Jones, whose work I find to be wonderful and has been very influential on my own work, suggested me to the Auschwitz Institute to get involved in these genocide prevention — the Raphael Lemkin workshops and seminars that you guys hold. And so it was through that path, and it was really the Auschwitz Institute that got me thinking about how I can utilize my research on gender and genocide for genocide prevention.
Well, I hope you’ll continue to push our definitional outlooks on genocide and mass atrocities, and keep gender a part of the conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you very much.
Photo: Courtesy Elisa von Joeden-Forgey
This post marks the Auschwitz Institute’s inaugural podcast. Jared Knoll, based in Saskatoon, Canada, speaks to Samuel Totten, a pioneer of genocide studies in the United States, a co-founding editor of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and, in 2004, an investigator with the U.S. State Department’s Atrocities Documentation Project, interviewing refugees along the Chad–Sudan border to ascertain whether genocide had been perpetrated in Darfur.
Good day, I’m Jared Knoll, with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Joining me is Dr. Samuel Totten, genocide scholar and professor at the University of Arkansas. Last year he and 54 other experts in genocide prevention petitioned the United States government to take action in Sudan’s Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where they beheld a humanitarian catastrophe. Last week Dr. Totten returned home from an on-the-ground fact-finding excursion to this affected area.
Thank you, Sam, for taking the time to share with us today.
Thank you for the opportunity to do so. I greatly appreciate it.
I’d like to just jump right in and ask you: What are the biggest threats facing the people there on the ground right now?
There are basically three. One: Antonov bombers are being flown overhead every single day by the government of Sudan. Those bombers frequently end up bombing areas where people congregate, such as souks (the open-air markets), schools, and other areas such as that. And a lot of people are being severely injured and killed as a result of those bombings. Secondly, there is constant fighting in the area. Right now it’s concentrated around Kadugli, the capital of the state of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located.
So people are at risk of being killed by the ongoing fighting between the rebels and the government of Sudan as well. Third, there is the problem with food in the area. That is, there’s a lack of food. People have been unable to work their farms out of sheer fear of being killed by the bombs from the Antonovs. Also, the rainy season was shorter than usual this year, so the people did not end up producing as many crops as they usually do and so their food stores are down dramatically. So those are the three main concerns and problems facing the Nuba Mountains people today.
Is there any of those that you feel is the most urgent factor for the international community to address, or is a multifaceted approach what is needed here?
Actually all three issues are major, but I think that, one, if the international community could halt the Antonovs, that would be a real boon for the people of the Nuba Mountains. Also, right now, experts are projecting that this coming rainy season, which starts in late April/early May, could be disastrous if the international community does not get food up to the Nuba Mountains right now, while they can still traverse the roads. Once the rainy season sets in, it’s virtually impossible for any type of vehicle to get up there, and the government of Sudan has established a no-flight zone in South Kordofan, so no planes, either now or in the rainy season, will be able to fly in. So this is the time to get stores of food up there, so that the people do have food. There are individuals who are claiming that if such food is not transported up in large quantities, and I’m talking thousands of tons, there could be widespread starvation this time around.
Do you still believe that the Sudanese regime is attempting to take out those that the government suspects of supporting the liberation movement?
Oh, there’s no doubt about it, yes, they’re definitely focused on that. Now where I differ from a lot of people is this: There are a lot of individuals—scholars, activists, and others—who are calling this a case of genocide. After being on the ground and talking with people, going from village to village, speaking with rebel groups, rebel commanders, it’s not a case of genocide at this point in time. It’s a civil war between the rebel groups and the government of Sudan.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the government of Sudan is perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Nuba Mountains people, particularly in its indiscriminate bombings of them. But at the same time it’s a situation that could quickly morph into at least genocide by attrition if the food is not gotten up there. Because there’s no doubt in my mind, as well, that the government of Sudan’s bombings are preventing the people from producing the food that they need, and at the same time preventing humanitarian groups from entering the Nuba Mountains to provide aid to the people in need.
Do you still support the recommendations that you and others gave to the US government last summer? Has your last trip made you reconsider anything, or made you want to change or advocate different policies?
No, actually I pretty much stand on what we wrote last summer and what we sent to the U.S. State Department, to Princeton Lyman, who at the time was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, and to the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board. Everything that we addressed still stands as far as I’m concerned. I guess the only thing that I would emphasize is that there is a greater urgency to get tons of food up there, otherwise the situation, as I said, could prove disastrous.
Do you have anymore that you’d like to add, to say to the people listening, what they should do?
Yes, I do, thank you. Frequently we read about situations where bombings are taking place, but I must say that, once on the ground, one’s awareness of what that means changes radically. So number one I would say that anybody interested in the fate of the Nuba Mountains people really need to voice their concern and interest about the fate of the people as these bombings continue daily, because it is a form of terrorism, there’s no doubt about it. I saw people who absolutely refused to leave the caves of the Nuba Mountains because they feared that they were going to be killed. I heard regularly stories about children and adults who had been hit by the shrapnel and had legs sheared off, arms sheared off, even heads sheared off, and those who were not killed, many ended up bleeding to death. So it’s a horrific situation that’s happening there every single day that these people are living with.
Second, I would say it truly baffles me why during the early part of the crisis in Darfur—and I’m talking 2004, ’05, ’06—both students in this country, university students in particular, as well as activist groups forming coalitions, were so active, so vocal about what was happening in Darfur and are so silent today about what’s happening in the Nuba Mountains. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I really do not want to believe that people gave of their time, showed avid interest in the fate of the people in the Sudan for a number of years, and then decided Well, we’ll move onto something else.
People need to realize that the crisis in Darfur continues, but this new crisis in the Nuba Mountains is something altogether different when it comes to the issue of food. People really need to step up and they need to reflect on why they were active, say, a few years ago and not today, and I would hope that a new generation of students, who maybe were in high school during the Darfur years, would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors at their particular universities and become active today and speak up on the behalf of these beleaguered people who are leading very, very difficult existences in the Nuba Mountains.
Well, Sam, I hope that your experience and the experiences of other scholars doing the same sort of work, and the sharing of that, can help all people to raise their own awareness and have some sort of positive impact on the situation.
Today, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the fourth issue of their bimonthly bulletin, R2P Monitor. This issue features Syria, Sudan, and DR Congo, all in “Current Crisis,” and Libya, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa, with situations of “Serious Concern.” Current crises are those where mass atrocity crimes are occurring and urgent action is needed; serious concern indicates that there is a significant risk of occurrence, or recurrence, of mass atrocity crimes within the foreseeable future if effective action is not taken.
In analyzing the violence in Syria, the Centre touches upon mounting sectarian divisions (which we wrote about here back in February), as well as divisions within the United Nations Security Council. While they call on the Syrian government to “immediately cease attacks on civilians and adhere to [Kofi Annan’s] six-point plan,” collective action must also be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, and the whole of the international community.
Similar necessary action is laid out for Sudan, where the government “should allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur should be thoroughly investigated by a credible and independent body authorized by the UN.” The Security Council is also urged to take steps beyond an investigation in order to better secure a long-term conflict resolution.
In the case of Congo, the brunt of the responsibility for addressing the threat of terrorist factions and militias falls on the government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Other parties charged with acting in this instance are international donors and countries with whom DRC shares borders.
As one would anticipate given the name and nature of the Centre and its publication, the key recommendations appear to be structured parallel to the pillars of R2P:
1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
On January 18, 2012, the Stanley Foundation held a conference entitled, R2P: The Next Decade. The morning panels discussed R2P in practice; more specifically, panelists spoke about policy approaches since 2005 in the countries of Guinea, South Sudan/Darfur, Somalia, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Libya.
Ambassador Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Executive Director of Security Council Report, considers Darfur and South Sudan to be the worst cases, due to the “moral abnegation” of international players within and outside of the Security Council. While the case of Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court, there was no follow-up and member states’ non-cooperation has not been condemned. Guinea is seen as the best case, due to the fact that it had the lowest threshold of violence and said violence was episodic, not systematic. Syria is an open case, as it was an “unintended victim of the success and excess” of the Libyan intervention, and an “expected victim” of geography. Last, Somalia is “debatable” as it transcends R2P and is a failed state by definition. He asserts that effective prevention action is crucial at the earliest stages of a conflict and that what’s most important is translating principle into practice.
The next speaker was Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He stated that 70% of UN Peacekeepers are deployed in Africa and protection is the responsibility of individual states. UN Peacekeepers and organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) are tasked with creating, consolidating, and keeping peace. As such, he wants to see: multilateralism in future interventions under the UN flag; a strengthened Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediation unit; Security Council support for ECOWAS and a regional approach; effective legal, political, and military sanctions against warlords and UN panels to name and shame world leaders fueling conflict; and the R2P principle incorporated into the doctrines of African bodies. He also believes that the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom) need to focus on collective, rather than selective, security.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Arnold Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, says that what ties the cases of the aforementioned countries together is the presence or absence of political strategy. Moving forward, there is a central need for viable political strategies. Though he considers Guinea to have been a predictable crisis, there was no willingness to do anything on the part of the international community. He is hesitant to use the term ‘genocide’ to describe Sudan, since he says that words have baggage, and ‘genocide’ has “enormous baggage.” He also contends that force is just a political tool but that the expectation on what it can achieve needs to be raised. He concluded by saying that Somalia and Syria illustrate the dangers of multiple agendas.
Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that the focus has shifted and R2P is becoming victim-centered. Preventive activities and human rights promotion are imperative, as is monitoring and reporting in potential conflict areas, which proved to be successful in Cote d’Ivoire. He drew comparisons between Guinea and Syria, in the nature of violations, droves of peaceful demonstrators, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry. However, they differ because Guinea was a clear situation of full Security Council support with strong backing by ECOWAS while Syria was a fragile consensus, which limits the capacity of regional mechanism to act decisively. Moreover, the major difference is the attitudes of the governments themselves.
Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and Jordan noted that in Egypt and Tunisia, the role of the military facilitated the ouster of President Hosni El Sayed Mubarak and President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, respectively. Unfortunately, such was not the case in Libya. Knut Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), posed the following questions:
-What is the best way to respond to a crisis?
-Who bears the international responsibility to protect?
-What are the limits of prevention?
In considering the answers, he discussed the case of Kyrgyzstan, where intercommunal violence broke out in 2010 after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown. Hundreds of people, especially Uzbeks and other minorities, died, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Additionally, arson, rape, and other atrocities were committed. Vollebaek encourages prevention through diplomacy, as well as a “formal early warning indicating that the situation has gone beyond a level” that the High Commissioner can contain, one where there is a “prima facie risk of potential conflict,” which has thus far happened twice—in Kyrgyzstan, and in Macedonia in 1999. Among the OSCE member states, early warning should be followed by early action. But the most fundamental aspect of prevention is an “emphasis on building capacity of states to fulfill their basic responsibilities.” He went on to say that prevention in practice is long-term and unrewarding, thus it finds resistance among domestic actors and the international community who are more interested in immediate dividends.
At the panel, R2P as a Tool — Identifying Past and Potential Added Value, Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy in Australia, pointed out the value of consensus, referring to the global consensus that underpins R2P. He describes R2P as being “disarmingly simple and straightforward in its demand and very clear about its meaning and scope.” Bellamy said R2P further finds value in changing habits and mindsets, mainstreaming the atrocity prevention lens by setting standards, and providing a common vision and shared goal.
Edward C. Luck, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, contributed that R2P protects populations by preventing, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement. Additionally, a narrow but deep approach is correct and the three pillars of R2P are parallel—there must be political preparation or response capacities in place (local, regional or global); all three pillars must be worked on simultaneously, not one after the other. Luck also emphasized, “It is false division to talk about prevention on one hand and response on the other, they tend to merge when you come around to the actuality of making policy. They are interdependent and interactive, neither will have much credibility without the other.”
Keynote speaker United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the sentiments of the aforementioned speakers. After his introductory thanks and remarks, he quickly pointed out, “[…] delivering on the Responsibility to Protect requires partnership and common purpose. We get the best results when global and regional institutions push in the same direction. In 2011, we stood firm for democracy in Côte d’Ivoire. Yet, we could not have succeeded without the leadership and partnership of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.” On the flip side, however, “We learned lessons about our own limitations, as well. Consider the recent violence in South Sudan. We saw it coming weeks before. Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources.”
Secretary-General Ki-moon declared 2012 the Year of Prevention: “Prevention does not mean looking the other way in times of crisis, vainly hoping that things will get better…Nor can it be just a brief pause while Chapter VII “enforcement measures” are being prepared. Prevention means proactive, decisive and early action to stop violence before it begins…the key to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity lies within each society. These crimes occur far less often in places where civil society is robust, where tolerance is practiced, and where diversity is celebrated. Political figures cannot incite mass violence for their own ends where the rights of minorities and the rule of law are respected.”
He concluded by speaking about Syria, and his repeated condemnation of President Assad’s violence. The problem lies in the fact that the Security Council is divided on this particular case and efforts by regional actors such as the Arab League have proved fruitless thus far. Though he could not say what would happen next, he did remind the audience, “Such is the nature of the Responsibility to Protect. It can be a minefield of nuance, political calculation and competing national interests. The result too often is hesitation or inaction. This we cannot afford.”
The Affiliation of Christian Engineers has embarked on a new drive to obtain signatures on a petition against mass atrocities in Darfur. The ACE, a faith-based grassroots organization that is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, has been circulating a petition for over a year calling on the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and other engineering professional societies worldwide “to take actions necessary to: 1) stop the mass atrocities in Darfur and create a sustainable peace in the region, 2) protect civilians in Darfur as this happens, and 3) bring justice and accountability those most responsible for the mass atrocities in Darfur.” The ACE bases its petition on the engineering profession’s Code of Ethics, which stresses the responsibility towards “safety, health and welfare of the public.”
Citing the importance of oil in the political and security dynamics of Sudan, and the role that engineers play in locating, extracting, transporting, and refining Sudanese oil, the petition says “we will openly work to persuade all Engineers and Engineering societies around the world to influence those Engineers now working in Sudan to play a positive role in persuading the all parties to adopt the above objectives” and calls on members of the WFEO to use “their skills to help the people of Darfur, such as providing services to the refugee camps, medical professions, and those who are working to bring peace to the region.”
Bosnia: 16th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre
July 11, 2011, marked the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys following the fall of the town of Srebrenica marked one of the darkest moments of the 1992–95 Bosnian War. The town was supposed to be protected and disarmed by UN peacekeepers after being declared a safe haven in 1993, but Bosnian Serb troops captured the town and rounded up the refugees who had sought UN protection before systematically killing the men and boys and raping the women.
This week, Bosnians from all over the world gathered to commemorate the massacre, marching along the escape route and praying at mass graves along the way. An important part of each year’s commemoration is the burial of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA testing. This year, 613 victims, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, were newly identified, bringing the total number of named victims to 6,481. This year’s commemoration was also attended by the president of Croatia and the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidency.
This year’s anniversary falls amid the capture of Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Bosnian Serb forces that committed the massacre, and a Dutch court’s ruling holding the Dutch government responsible for the Dutch peacekeeping force’s expulsion of Srebrenica refugees from the UN compound under pressure by Bosnian Serb forces. Mladic is currently on trial at the ICTY, while the Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to compensate the plaintiffs.
In related news, the “Mapping Genocide” project became public last Friday. The 17 maps in the interactive online project track events before, during, and after the fall of Srebrenica, giving viewers access to documents, profiles, reports, and videos related to the massacre. The project, produced by the Sarajevo-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was put together based on material provided by the UN and the Bosnian Serb government as well as the ICTY’s rulings.
Image: Engineers Petition for Darfur
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.
April, for many reasons (including Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur), is Genocide Prevention Month. April 24 is the date Armenians have chosen to commemorate their genocide at the hands of the Turkish state in 1915, and each year on this date the U.S. president makes a statement. But none of them yet has used the word genocide to describe the events. U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R, CA) and Frank Pallone (D, NJ) sent a letter to President Obama urging him this year to be the first. Although as a senator Obama spoke openly of the genocide, and of the Turks’ denial of it, he has declined to do so since entering the White House. This year was no different, although in a subtle shift, Obama did use the Armenian term for the genocide, Meds Yeghern (or Mec Yeġeṙn), which means “the Great Crime.”
The first U.S. trial charging a person with genocide is slated to open tomorrow in Wichita, KS, the Wichita Eagle reports. Prosecutors claim that 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya, a native of Rwanda, not only lied to obtain U.S. citizenship, but personally ordered the deaths of hundreds of individuals during the 1994 genocide in his homeland. According to the Guardian, “The U.S. government’s strategy in the case mirrors its prosecution of suspected Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, who settled in Ohio after the second world war. Demjanjuk was not charged with committing a violent crime, but rather with concealing his activities from U.S. immigration officials.” The website Rwandinfo.com claims that Human Rights Watch, citing First Amendment protection, is resisting a subpoena to turn over information related to the case. The Rwandan government says it welcomes the trial.
Photo: Associated Press
This week’s Guest Preventer on the AIPR blog is Daniel J. Gerstle:
Inspired by my experience as a former humanitarian aid worker and rights advocate, I now produce creative humanitarian media about how people survive war, disaster, and other extreme adversity. Part of my work is documenting the story of local and traditional violence prevention initiatives in war zones, which are often ignored by the press and left out of peace negotiations.
There are tremendous fears that the vastly different claims on where Sudan’s north–south border might lie, along with the threat of more violence in Darfur and growing rebellion in the Nile valley, will continue to threaten peace in central Africa and lead to more violence for years to come. What can a regular person living around the world do to stop it?
As founder and editor of HELO Magazine, a new organization that produces creative humanitarian media by, for, and about aid workers, rights advocates, refugees, and musicians who support them, I’ve gathered a team ready to answer this question.
Darfuri reconciliation expert Suliman Giddo, filmmaker Lucas Gath (Sins of My Father, ShootingPoverty.org), photographers Brendan Bannon, Michael Marquand, and Ala Kheir, motion graphics artist Ruslan Shukurov, musician alSarah, students at Ahfad University for Women in Khartoum, and many more are staged to help HELO create a visually stunning, interactive, virtual Sudan in which we will place short films that document local violence prevention initiatives along the frontlines. Each short film found within the virtual Sudan will offer a menu of options that viewers can take to act on what they saw: debate, donate, sign a petition, plan a trip, and potentially correspond with the people involved in the initiative.
We’re in the fundraising stage for traveling to Sudan to complete filming right now. The formal online fundraising campaign begins in the next weeks, but in the meantime we would love for people to help us cover the costs of travel and production by checking out our new Sudan Mosaic Video Teaser and reading the instructions below it which explain how to support our cause. You can also check out the other literary journalism, opinions, culture, and music stories we offer on other countries at HELO Magazine.
Much of Sudan has great potential for peace and prosperity. Many Sudanese who live on the frontlines have incredible ideas about how local and national disputes can be resolved. But for some reason, the international community, diplomatic envoys, and governments tend primarily to invite those with guns to negotiation tables. Wouldn’t peace talks be more successful if they were dominated by local violence prevention innovators instead? At the very least, Sudanese violence prevention innovators could use more press.
Daniel J. Gerstle is founder and editor of HeloMagazine.org; executive producer at Sudan Mosaic Interactive Media Project; and an independent consultant on humanitarian aid, human rights, and media.
Holocaust memorial day is commemorated annually on January 27. The day follows General Assembly Resolution 60/7 adopted on November 1, 2005. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German and Polish Presidents urged global vigilance to prevent crimes against humanity. At Germany’s official Holocaust remembrance day ceremony the first Roma guest of honour also noted how his people face new threats, including discrimination and exclusion.
On January 25, it was reported that Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana, who is accused of committing war crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo, will be extradited from France to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face such charges. Mr Mbarushimana was arrested in Paris in October 2010 following a request from the ICC, as the BBC reports.
On January 23, the UN published a report on the worsening situation in Darfur as reported by Reuters Africa. The report noted the “worrisome increase” in fighting between rebel and government forces in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The Associated Press further reported on January 27 that the US is calling for peacekeepers in Darfur to be more “aggressive.”