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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Ekkehard Strauss, who has published extensively on protection of minorities, prevention of human rights violations, post-conflict peacebuilding, and human rights responses to mass atrocities. Strauss has been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, and was a member of the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, which earlier this month released a report assessing Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of genocide and other mass atrocities.
Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. In late 2011 the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities established the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, to look at Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of mass killings and genocide. They released a report a few weeks ago, which lists four core problems for the capacity to prevent, including issues with coordination and policymaking, and six recommendations to strengthen capabilities, like improving cooperation with other actors and applying a prevention mindset to trade and development policies.
Speaking with me today is a member of that task force, Dr. Ekkehard Strauss. He has worked with the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina, served under the UN High Commissioner, and established himself as a mainstay in the development of peacebuilding, Responsibility to Protect, and atrocity prevention practices. He is currently working as a consultant and researcher in Rabat, Morocco. Hello, Dr. Strauss. Thank you for being here today.
Thank you very much.
Could you start by telling us about the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities: where the idea came from, what its purpose is, who is on it, and how they arrived at their list of recommendations?
The idea of reviewing mass atrocity prevention capacities of the European Union really came at the time when the U.S. task force started to review the U.S. capacities. And there were different individuals and organizations who tried to convince them to actually undertake a similar exercise. People like David Hamburg, for instance, who was chairing the UN secretary-general’s advisory board on genocide prevention; the Budapest Centre, which was an initiative at that time; the Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide; and other people. Unfortunately, none of us succeeded in convincing the European Union. So we basically took this initiative forward as a citizen initiative and initiated a process where we invited 12 people with very different experiences, from different European countries, to form a task force and to review these capacities using a methodology which was mixed. First, by a desk review of what is out there on reviews of EU capacity to react to conflict, violence and crisis. And the content you find in the report is basically an analysis of this task force, of the interviews, plus our own experience in crisis situations, and with different European institutions, and what is the state of play in the discussions on genocide prevention today.
How did you personally get involved in atrocity prevention? Can you tell us a little bit about your start in this?
I think one very important part for me was, while I was still undertaking my law studies, to start the basis of an internship with the UN and there being exposed to what it really means to be a victim of systematic violence and state-sponsored, large-scale violence. For me, this was a different dimension to the work on human rights violations due to individuals, due to exceptional situations, and so on. This is serious as well, it’s important to work on it from a human rights perspective, but for me, this other dimension, that states really systematically get after their own people, was like a new encounter. So I wrote a doctorate thesis on prevention of human rights violations, looking at legal standards and trying to look at how they are not reflected in the different institutions we were in the process of creating in the early ’90s, the international ad hoc tribunals and so on. We were basically hoping that some of them would have a preventive effect. And then I had the great opportunity of somehow field-testing many of the things I had worked on in Bosnia immediately after the war, and I moved on to Kosovo and Serbia while the crisis was unfolding there. Then in 2004 I had the great chance to work with Juan Méndez and support him in establishing the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. And this was somehow the coming full-round from my different theoretical and field experience to do something that I still find very fulfilling.
And how did you become involved with the Auschwitz Institute?
The Auschwitz Institute, actually Fred Schwartz came to see Juan Méndez, I think back in 2004 or 2005. And he presented his idea of having trainings in Auschwitz. And I think we were — at the beginning, after the first meeting — I think we were a little bit skeptical among ourselves whether this is something that would work and whether people wouldn’t just go home with a lot of overwhelming impressions about the Holocaust, an almost perfect system of destroying people that you are confronted with when you visit Auschwitz. Then when this idea evolved, and we got also our own experience with training of government officials, I think we got more and more fascinated by the idea. And I think it’s a fascinating experience. I think the concept has proven that our skepticism was unfounded. I think it’s a very good concept to actually have people making the transition from looking at the Holocaust, experiencing Auschwitz, experiencing being there and being exposed to this, and going through an experience where you think, “This is exceptional and it cannot happen anywhere else,” to then slowly making the experience of “No, it could happen somewhere else. No, these are average people who committed it. Yes, there was a lot of preparation, ideology, and anti-Semitism and so on that existed,” but I think that for me, this experience from an observer, and then from a teacher’s point of view, was fascinating how it worked for the people who participated.
Do you find yourself optimistic, based upon your experiences doing that and based upon your experiences in assessing the United Nations to stop genocide and mass atrocities, do you find yourself optimistic for the future?
I do. I mean, I’m very optimistic. But I have to say that I’m not optimistic that there will be a world free of genocide. From working on this for quite some time and having visited many of the countries which experience genocide, I think each time and each century has its own genocides, and we might witness genocides while we speak and we will only find out in a couple of years based on legal findings and so on, and say, “Okay, Darfur was a genocide,” and so on. So I’m not optimistic that we will prevent all of them, but I think we can be much better in detecting signs very early and taking them seriously, and intervening at a point where we still do not have these exceptional numbers of victims. I don’t think that long-term prevention will really work in all of the cases. We can educate and train and establish institutions and so on, and this will hopefully do a lot of good with regard to human rights. It might make it more difficult to convince people to participate in systematic killings of particular groups, but for each of those you find historic examples where they had the same and they had a genocide nevertheless. But I think by making mass atrocities something that is possible, something that is a plausible conclusion to developments on the ground, I think we will contribute to preventing, hopefully, more of these cases. But still I think there are genocides in the making that we don’t even know about. There are situations that we will not capture with our early warning methodology, but nevertheless we should continue and learn, and I’m very optimistic that we get better every day and every month.
Well, I hope the recommendations that you and the task force have given will be a shot in the arm toward that improvement. Thank you very much for talking to me.
Thank you very much—and I’m so glad it finally worked out.
The Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities has put forth an Initiative for the Improvement of European Union Capabilities to Prevent Genocide and Mass Atrocities. The rationale behind it is the importance of distinguishing between preventing conflict and preventing mass atrocities. The aim of the initiative is
“raising the awareness of the need to respond more effectively to the threats of genocide and mass atrocities by establishing a dedicated Task Force of European academics, experts and practitioners that will launch a series of consultations at the European level. This round of consultations and research will result in the elaboration of a Report assessing the current EU capabilities in the realm to prevent mass atrocities, which will be submitted to EU institutions and Member States.”
The Report has three main goals–to review and evaluate the EU’s existing tools for preventing mass atrocities, to develop practical policy recommendations to enhance responses to emerging threats of mass atrocities, and to highlight genocide prevention as a mainstream EU priority. It is slated to be released in December 2012 and will consist of five core chapters:
- Warning/Current Intelligence: warning about and verification of atrocities;
- Pre-Crisis Engagement: promoting security and human rights in countries under stress;
- Preventive Diplomacy: halting and reversing escalation toward mass violence;
- Intervention: intervening to stop ongoing atrocities;
- International Cooperation: creating synergies between the EU and the wider international community,
each of which will “consider the extent to which the EU’s current capabilities are adequate vis-à-vis the ideal requirements of an integrated genocide prevention strategy.” The 70-page Report will also include conclusions and recommendations.
In advance of a workshop on Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect: Building Trust and Capacities for the Third Pillar Approach, to be held April 26 at the Global Governance Institute in Belgium, the organizers put out a call for papers in January. The papers will address two areas: enhancing the legitimacy and consistency of the third pillar* approach, and improving the effectiveness of R2P’s civilian and military tools.
Per the policy brief, “The workshop is not concerned with the conceptual nature of the pillar itself, but rather on the range of peaceful and military measures and tools—such as economic sanctions, preventive diplomacy and mediation, fact-finding missions and, as a last resort, military interventions such as the implementation of no-fly zones and civilian missions—used for implementation.” Policy recommendations discussed at/born of the workshop will be contributed to the United Nations General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the third pillar of R2P this summer.
NATO’s UN-approved mission in Libya has raised a number of concerns in regards to the actual carrying out of R2P. As noted above, intervention wasn’t solely intended to be of a military nature. The Libyan case therefore brings up questions of timeliness, legitimacy, proportionality, and effectiveness of this particular brand of action. Moreover, a greater emphasis on prevention would mitigate the need for intervention. Instead of reliance on the international community and the United Nations, regional actors such as the European Union and the African Union, should play bigger roles in responding to all stages of crises that would ultimately necessitate the invocation of R2P. Other elements of the principle to be discussed at both the workshop and the UNGA dialogue include trust-building, consensus-building, collaboration, transparency, capacity-building, early-warning systems, training, and a long-term holistic approach to crisis situations.
* The third pillar of R2P focuses on the international community’s responsibility to take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in those instances where a State is unable or unwilling to protect its own populations.
On May 12 and 13 in Brussels, the Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation and the Folke Bernadotte Academy held a conference on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. The event consisted of 80 participants sharing experiences, lessons learned, and best practices on how to narrow the gap between early warning and timely action on genocide prevention, as well as ways to increase cooperation within the international community. The May workshop was part of a continuum of events focused on atrocities prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
At the workshop’s conclusion, a final report was issued with the following recommendations to bolster the European Union’s role in preventing genocide and mass atrocities:
- Coordinate Early Action on Genocide Prevention and R2P
- Support the “National Focal Points Initiative”
- Enhance Greater Early Warning Coherence in the EU
- Support an International Network on Genocide Prevention
Karoly Gruber, Hungary’s Ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, gave the workshop’s opening remarks, centering on the work of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU and how Hungary has prioritized the prevention of violent conflicts. Richard Wright, Director for Conflict Prevention and Security Policy at the European External Action Service (EEAS), then spoke about how the EU is undertaking efforts to operationalize R2P and working closely with the UN system. He also discussed integrating conflict prevention into the EEAS before the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward C. Luck, discussed R2P and its application in Libya, as well as the crises in Kenya, Guinea, southern Sudan, and Kyrgyzstan. He praised and encouraged the work of the EU and its member states in the areas of genocide prevention and R2P, and stressed the importance of political dialogue.
The first panel, “The Latest Developments and Challenges in the Prevention of Genocide,” consisted of remarks by James Smith, CEO of Aegis Trust; Simona Cruciani, UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Thordis Ingadottir, Associate Professor at the University of Reykjavik; and Gyorgy Tatar, at the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. The discussion concluded that international courts act as a deterrent to committing atrocities, because they hold individuals responsible, rather than entities. Even so, international and national courts need to work together to achieve maximum efficiency.
The second panel, “Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles to Preventive Action: From Early Warning to Policy Options to Response,” was headed by Jan Jarab, Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Veronique Arnault, Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the EEAS; Jonathan Prentice, Senior Policy Adviser at the International Crisis Group; and Luis Peral, Research Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies. The panel discussed 1) how the 2011 “Arab Spring” underscored the root causes of problems in countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia—authoritarianism, high unemployment, entrenched elites, corruption, and economic inequalities—and 2) how to strike a balance between respecting the rights of civilians and the proportionality of international military interventions. It was also explained that broader preventive approaches yield weaker responses.
The third panel, “Enhancement of International Cooperation: The Role of the EU,” heard comments from Catherine Woollard, Director of the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office; Michael Sahlin, Sweden’s Special Envoy to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement/Sudan; Olivia Swaak-Goldman, International Cooperation Adviser for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; and Sapna Chhatpar, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. The participants discussed the lack of a numerical definition for genocide and how that impacts the actions, or lack thereof, of the international community. This further stresses the need for prevention at the early stages of potential mass atrocities. Like the first panel, this group also talked about the impact of statements put out by the ICC, which are widely circulated to governments and officials. The ICC is developing a methodology to measure the impact of their statements. Other topics touched upon included the role of multinational corporations in preventing/contributing to genocide and mass atrocities, since they are not states and therefore not governed by the Rome Statute, and the need for consistency in making R2P a recognized and accepted norm.
Lastly, there was a “Dialogue Forum,” in which Andrea Bartoli, Director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, and Mo Bleeker, Head of the Task Force on Prevention of Mass Atrocities at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talked about envisioning the end of genocide and how dealing with past instances of mass atrocities is essential in moving forward. Participants were asked for suggestions on what they would like to see the EU do to further prevent genocide and mass atrocities in 2015. Answers included a closer look at how gender relates to these crimes, the EU having a focal point on R2P to increase cooperation and effectiveness with the UN, and the need to further develop the EU’s early warning capacities.
The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is proud to announce that on April 29, 2011, AIPR Executive Director Tibi Galis and Deputy Consul General of the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations Oliver Schnakenberg signed an agreement in which the German Federal Government pledged to provide funding for AIPR’s 2011 Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. Germany’s support for genocide prevention will provide four government officials the opportunity to participate in the upcoming seminar. AIPR would like to express its thanks to the German Mission and Federal Government for helping to spread the mission of genocide prevention and aiding to make the goal of “Never Again” a reality.
In other genocide prevention news, the Madariaga College of Europe Foundation (MCF) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), with the support of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union and the cooperation of the European External Action Service and the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, are organizing a workshop called Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, May 12 and 13 in Brussels. Representatives from many international organizations, the European institutions, NGOs and experts in the field will gather next week to discuss the topic of genocide prevention. This event, part of a larger MCF-FBA program called “Building coherence, skills and synergies in conflict prevention,” is aimed at promoting deeper interaction among “international representatives” in order to create a stronger forum for dialogue on conflict prevention, as well as a space for reflection on the challenges facing policymakers in the realm of preventing genocide and mass atrocities.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that Libya’s aerial bombing of civilians and use of heavy weapons on city streets must be investigated as possible crimes against humanity, Reuters reported. Pillay confirmed that “she had received accounts of executions, rapes and disappearances in the north African country.”
French president Nicolas Sarkozy told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes against Libya may soon be justified, the Guardian reported. “The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr. Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters,” Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya “because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs.” David Cameron, the British prime minister, further commented at the EU summit: “I think it is the moment for Europe to understand we should show real ambition about recognising that what’s happening in north Africa is a democratic awakening and we should be encouraging these countries down a democratic path.”
Charles Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, made his concluding statements in Taylor’s trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Griffiths stated that the trial of the once-powerful Liberian leader was “politically motivated’’ to ensure he does not return to power in Liberia and he branded the war crimes case “neocolonialism’’ built on circumstantial evidence, calling on the judges at the trial yesterday to acquit his client on all counts, Boston.com reported. Verdicts in the case are expected later this year.
To celebrate International Woman’s Day on March 8, CNN published an article titled “To empower African women, turn words into action.” The article states that “urgent work is needed to address the ills of gender inequality, marginalization and social injustice currently endured by women in places like the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence against women is rife and rape has become a weapon of war.”
Photo: Foreign Policy Magazine