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Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:

Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention

Exterior of S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Exterior of S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

Genocide prevention requires a transnational commitment of states willing to collaborate and work together to recognize threats and identify means by which potential conflict can be avoided. In a similar way, reducing the risk of genocide necessitates a consistent sharing of ideas so that methods for prevention can be continually improved. One manner in which this dedication and cooperation is demonstrated is the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide, co-organized by the governments of Argentina, Cambodia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. The Forum, which was first held in Argentina in 2008, has continued to meet annually since 2010 and brings together scholars, diplomats, and activists to discuss emerging ideas in the realm of genocide prevention. In addition, the journal Politorbis issued a 2009 publication on genocide prevention that addresses many of the topics covered in the Forums.

The 2013 Regional Forum took place in Phnom Penh on February 28 and March 1, 2013, and included over 20 distinguished speakers from around the world. The discussion was opened by Mr. Federico Villegas Beltrán, Director General for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Worship in Argentina; Ambassador Dr. Christoph Burgener of Switzerland; Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, His Excellency Dr. Sok An. Dr. An began by reminding the audience of the importance of genocide prevention in his own country, stating that “for Cambodia, the issue is not an abstract or theoretical one, but one that brutally and directly affected us, and still does today.” Dr. An also cited the importance of seeking justice for and remembering the victims, “to make sure such a tragedy will never recur,” emphasizing that “we regard remembrance of the past and of the victims as an essential prerequisite to non-recurrence.”

The Forum itself was comprised of five separate panels, the first of which was titled “What is genocide and how to prevent it?” During this segment, panelists discussed the definition of genocide and offered ideas on how to improve capacities to respond to early warning signs of violence. In particular, His Excellency Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, mentioned that “the narrow or shallow perception of genocide may lead to failure in preventing genocide from its budding stage,” referring to the oversimplified belief that genocide only entails the killing of individuals, when in fact the Genocide Convention enumerates five criteria for the commission of the crime. Borith also stated that there are “still a lot of controversies and difficulties in quantifying the scope of violence to be labeled as genocide,” and cited the need for greater preventive capacity, particularly at the national level in regards to education, and social and religious institutions.

This panel also featured Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. Dieng reiterated the importance of understanding the “root causes and dynamics” of genocide, and highlighted the important role that civil society has begun to play in making prevention and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stronger.  Bellamy also outlined six specific points that would assist East Asia in its efforts to prevent genocide, including the development of what he calls an “atrocity prevention lens,” which “focuses on injecting atrocity prevention considerations into existing policies, programs, and capabilities and, when necessary, convening or coordinating these assets for prevention purposes,” as well as the creation of regional capacity for early warning and assessment through a collaborative effort between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, and other relevant organizations.

The second panel, “Asian Experience and Visions for the Future,” included His Excellency Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and The Honorable Gareth Evans, Chancellor of Australian National University and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Sudary emphasized the importance of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in seeking justice for the victims of the genocide. He also underscored the role of education, particularly in regards to learning about the Khmer Rouge, noting that “young people need to grasp the value of human rights and learn to use them effectively in order to prevent genocide in the future.”

Evans, who was a primary contributor in the creation of R2P at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, discussed the development of a Brazilian proposal called Responsibility While Protecting (RWP). This supplemental protocol to R2P is comprised of “two key elements: a set of agreed criteria to be taken into account before the UNSC mandates any use of force…and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that the scope and limits of such mandates continue to be debated by the Council during the implementation phase.” Evans also reiterated the imperativeness of developing “effective capability to initiate action and mobilize political will,” by creating “focal points” that have “direct access to high-level decision makers,” as well as enhancing “broad-based civilian response capabilities” and “[ensuring] that effective military capability is available to meet needs as they arise.”

Later in the evening, the third panel, titled “Africa, Latin America and Europe – Experiences, Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” was held. Nathan Byamukama, Program Officer of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke first.  He discussed some of the responsibilities of the ICGLR, including collecting and analyzing information to identify situations that might develop into genocide, recommending measures to safeguard victims, monitoring Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs, and cooperating with civil society. Byamukama also cited several challenges that the ICGLR faces, like the politicization of the Committee and a funding deficit, but noted that it will continue to garner support from member states so as to strengthen its initiatives.

Byamukama was followed by Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. First, Feierstein turned the concept of prevention on its head, stating, “I would suggest to change the perspective from what the super-powers should do to prevent genocide (the interventionist approach) to what they should not do: how to establish a system of controls to prevent such powers from acting in ways that increase the possibility of genocidal events through direct intervention, arms trade, support for destabilization or coups d’état, and so on.” Secondly, he noted the important role of regional mechanisms in preventing genocide, providing the example of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is comprised of 12 Latin American nations and is charged with helping countries in the region mitigate conflicts.  Since its inception in 2008, UNASUR has assisted in Bolivia, Honduras, and Ecuador, as well as in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.

The second day of the conference opened with the fourth panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of State and International Actors and Ways Forward,” which featured David Scheffer, UN Secretary General Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Scheffer emphasized the role of the ECCC as a deterrence mechanism, noting that it “is critical to breaking the cycles of impunity and putting down at least a caution sign for political and military leaders who might contemplate human rights abuses or atrocity crimes to achieve political and strategic aims.”

In the fifth and final panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors and Ways Forward,” Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), discussed the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide. He explained the work of DC-Cam, which seeks “to establish a permanent presence and to play a leading role in this transformative effort” of policy change in post-conflict states. Chhang also stated that DC-Cam “has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia,” an initiative that centers on the belief that “genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity.” To increase genocide awareness, as well as the scope of the institution’s work, DC-Cam will also “promote memory and justice” by “[digitizing its] extensive archives and [making] them available to viewers at home and overseas.”

Given the variety of topics covered, as well as the global character of the dozens of panelists and speakers that offered remarks during the conference, the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide exemplifies a collaborative approach to educating on the past so as to avoid the commission of mass atrocities in the future. By meeting on an annual basis, the four member states that comprise the Forum also reaffirm their commitment to what many speakers emphasized in their presentations – that is, the desire to create “a culture of remembrance and non-recurrence” that recognizes the importance of preventing genocide everywhere.

Photo: tuolsleng.com

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