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“Goals and Dreams”:
Honoring Rwanda’s Memory and Looking to the Future
When a community gathers to commemorate a horrific occurrence like genocide, it does so not only to remember the victims, both living and deceased, but also to demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that others might never be made to endure similar atrocities in the future. In this way, such events are particularly powerful because they underscore the belief that “never again” also means to “never forget.”
April marks the 19th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were savagely murdered by their Hutu extremist neighbors, who believed that a person’s ethnicity determined his or her right to life. Nearly two decades later, the legacy of these victims and their descendants is continually remembered throughout the world, as the darkness of those 100 days of slaughter has left an impermeable mark on humanity, along with a resolve to do better the next time we are faced with similar situations. In an effort to uphold this commitment, on April 14, Jacqueline Murekatete, a Rwandan genocide survivor and founder of MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, organized “A Special Program Commemorating the 19th Anniversary of the Genocide Against the Tutsis in Rwanda,” at New York University Law School, co-sponsored by the Latino Law Students Association. Featured guests at the event were Auschwitz Institute executive director Tibi Galis and CBS 60 Minutes assistant producer Jonathan Schienberg.
Murekatete opened the program by reminding those in attendance that it is important to raise awareness and support for genocide survivors in Rwanda, as well as to remember those “whose lives were brutally and unjustly taken away.” She then offered a moment of silence for the victims in Rwanda as well, before turning the microphone over to Khalid Elachi of MCW, who explained that the organization’s goal is “to empower young people to become agents of change,” citing the building of a community center in Rwanda and the establishment of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner as examples of how MCW carries out its mission.
These remarks were followed by a short film entitled Jacqueline’s Journey, produced by Schienberg and shown publicly for the first time. In the video, Murekatete discusses her personal survival during the Rwandan genocide, despite losing her entire immediate family and many aunts and uncles, as well as how she eventually arrived in the United States and became inspired to start telling her own story. She emphasized the importance of enabling survivors to achieve their goals and dreams, and to “live a life that our families could be proud of, if they were here.”
The keynote address was then given by Galis, who began by discussing his personal journey to working in mass atrocity prevention. Growing up in Romania, he said, “We were taught in school that all the tragic moments of humanity . . . were behind us,” admitting that in light of contemporary crises such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, “this hope is a bit baseless in today’s world.” As he explained, the prevalence of atrocities persuaded him and others of the need to move away from the idea that such catastrophes are accidents or anomalies, and instead to “try to understand where these mass atrocities come from.”
The Auschwitz Institute, Galis explained, was established to pursue this systematic approach to understanding genocide. In particular, he noted the historic dearth of governmental involvement in prevention, and identified this as the impetus behind AIPR founder and president Fred Schwartz’s motivation to establish the organization in 2005. The need to better understand the complexities and roots of such violence is exemplified in the Auschwitz Institute’s educational program for government officials, the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, which centers on the process of genocide and an “inventory of what has been tried in recent times” to prevent such crimes. In this way, Galis explained, the goal has shifted from “[stopping] the worst from happening at the very last possible moment,” to developing the “restructuring of societies in a way that we see the signals of the bad to come, and we try to do something about that” right away.
The Auschwitz Institute further empowers its participants by offering “resources that they need to start their own” prevention programs domestically, as the organization firmly believes in assisting governments in any way possible to do their duty – “that being to protect and not to harm its citizens. We feel it cannot be more basic than this.” Currently, Galis stated that alumni of the Auschwitz Institute’s programs number more than 200 individuals from 60 different states. He concluded by noting the role that civil society plays in prevention, explaining that “most of the time, we prevent mass atrocities and genocide without even realizing it,” through education and our daily interactions with those in our communities.”
After giving his presentation, Galis was joined by Murekatete and Schienberg for a discussion moderated by Roberta Richin, a member of the Board of Directors Emeritus at MCW. Richin posed the initial round of questions, beginning with Galis and asking about challenges facing international organizations. Galis’s response included the need to educate the leadership of institutions on what an institution is expected to deliver and implement, as well as communication problems between organizations. He also stated that organizations like the Auschwitz Institute are “the beginning of the answer,” but that good intention requires money as well as words.
Richin’s question for Murekatete focused on the connection between the “small stuff,” such as schoolyard bullying, and the “big stuff,” specifically the genocide in Rwanda. Murekatete agreed that it is sometimes difficult for individuals to recognize the long-term process that culminates in genocide, and discussed in particular how what occurred in Rwanda was a result of years of escalating hostility, propaganda, and dehumanization.
Richin then opened the floor for questions from the audience. The first focused on seeking perpetrator justice years after atrocities have been committed, to which Murekatete stated simply: “There is no deadline to the suffering . . . the horrors . . . that [victims] endured,” and that efforts to find and hold killers accountable for their actions should reflect this limitlessness. The next was addressed to Schienberg, and asked him to talk about the hardest part of making Jacqueline’s Journey. Schienberg stated that he sought to depict “what [survivors] would want me to represent,” while at the same time respecting that “it’s a very personal thing that people experience,” and that we must be careful of not generalizing too much from story to story.
Another question, to which Schienberg also responded, centered on the role of the media. He discussed how media attention can be big, but that this doesn’t necessarily stop atrocities. In addition, he stated that “media still has an obligation, obviously . . . and [journalists] need to be persistent in trying to expose . . . the happenings in those countries where atrocities are being committed.” As the moderator Richin summarized at the discussion’s conclusion, “words have power; words have consequences” – and so does a lack of words.
Jeanne d’Arc Byaje, deputy permanent representative of Rwanda to the United Nations, spoke after the panelists, and offered a view of the progress Rwanda has made since the genocide. In particular, she noted the improvements the country has achieved in its justice sector reformation. She was followed by student Jessica Gatoni, who read two poems written in honor of Rwanda: one from the perspective of a survivor trying to guard the memory of those she had lost; the other about youth empowerment and the concept of agaciro, which means “dignity” in Kinyarwanda.
Murekatete closed the event with words she had echoed throughout the afternoon: “goals and dreams.” Indeed, it is this potential that was lost during the genocide, and it is this same potential that Murekatete and others hope to help cultivate in the descendants of survivors, as well as in all individuals in the generations to come. This cultivation, however, cannot be done from the sidelines. It must occur through the work of those actively committed to preventing opportunities for individuals, who would otherwise attempt to steal or destroy these dreams, from becoming a prominent voice in their society. As Galis eloquently stated earlier, “When we see a problem and look away, we are to a certain extent supporting the roots of evil.”
Photo: Alex Zucker
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.
Today we present another guest preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:
Jade Adebo, Class of 2012, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Anthropology
When I heard about a class being offered on genocide prevention, I was skeptical. In my experience, classes on the subject of genocide usually focused almost entirely on the violence, devastation, and reconciliation efforts. If ever there was any talk of preventative measures, it was presented in a cynical way, as if every other option had been exhausted. The ever-present discussions and debates over definitions and autonomy of nations left me cynical and burned out. Why was it so necessary to argue about phrasing or over protected groups? Taking the Genocide Prevention class with Dr. Hinton, which was developed in association with AIPR, helped me to fully comprehend the differing dynamics and issues that need to be addressed if proper and effective intervention, and eventually prevention of genocide, can occur.
With all my prior knowledge in genocide studies through the broader scope of human rights, I always supported a change in the study of intervention, based on analyzing and understanding different dynamics within the culture and history of a given country or region. I disagreed with the Genocide Convention’s attempt to create a blanket definition that would dictate how preventative measures would be achieved. From the broader study of human rights, which is still newly accepted as a widespread right, the convention, in its rigid structure and language, assumes that human rights is an international basic human right. This was a discourse brought into many a discussion, and was addressed very well by Fred Schwartz, who referred not to the universality of human rights, but the universality of self-interest. This approach can be easily applied to mandates such as the Responsibility to Protect, or the early warning model.
As the course concluded, I was left with a better sense of direction as to what I personally could do in the area of genocide prevention, which had been the primary interest for my attempted major. The various speakers we had left me inspired and optimistic, particularly Sheri Rosenberg, Gregory Stanton, and Tibi Galis, all of whom were either political scientists or lawyers. Through them, I was able to see how much the legal aspect of genocide prevention ties in with the grassroots work and activism, giving me creative insights as to how my future pursuit of a legal career could still influence intervention, and ultimately prevention.
Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:
Yannek Smith, Class of 2011, Political Science major
Professor Hinton’s genocide prevention course is the culmination of my undergraduate studies. I knew as soon as I heard about it that this was not something to pass up. Here was a unique opportunity to take a class sponsored by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, taught by Alex Hinton, one of the world’s top genocide scholars. It includes weekly visits by prominent actors in the field of genocide prevention who come to teach the class about their work and share their views on this expanding field. This is something special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
When most people hear the word genocide, it evokes certain images: the Jewish Holocaust, the Hutus’ massacre of the Tutsis, perhaps Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and (increasingly) the genocide of the Armenians. These are the most infamous cases of genocide in the 20th century, the ones that stick out the most in our recent historical memory. What the course does a wonderful job illustrating is that these atrocities are not isolated cases. Genocide is far more common than most people imagine; it cuts across class, culture, and ideology. The targets include a wide a range of groups, real and imagined, albeit several that are not included in the 1948 Genocide Convention’s narrow definition. More important than academic debates over what constitutes genocide is adopting a utilitarian approach and looking at the roots of this phenomenon and what can be done to stop genocidal behavior in its early stages.
In class, we are learning to see genocide on a spectrum, as a series of steps or stages that can be identified and addressed. We demystify the concept and look at it through a sober lens. This requires accepting many difficult truths: genocide is a huge part of human history (the United States and the greater “New World,” for instance, were founded on genocide), genocidaires are rational actors (there is always some kind of logic to genocide), and it can happen anywhere. Fred Schwartz, the founder of AIPR, would add that genocide, like rape or murder, will never cease to exist. Humans have always done it, and will continue it, and the challenge therefore is to detect it and defeat it in its early stages, or if it is too late, minimize the damage.
The human rights movement is essentially a fight to improve the human condition; to protect people on a global scale from abusive governments, torture, the torments of abject poverty, and—the gravest crime against our humanity—the crime of genocide. Prof. Hinton and our weekly speakers teach us about the shifting paradigms in genocide prevention, the different legal instruments that are out there, and the challenges and barriers of our current international order and the United Nations system. Things are changing fast, and many questions linger: What is the future of Responsibility to Protect? Why is the world sitting and watching as Libyan and Ivoirian people are deprived of basic human rights? How should we address the delicate issue of sovereignty?
The students in our class are in a privileged position: we are intellectually equipped to address these important questions. I hope that this educational initiative will not end with our class, so that in the future a broader range of students can become active participants in the fight against genocide.
Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:
Kaefer Garcia, Senior, Class of 2011. Political Science major, History and Anthropology minors.
I am taking this class because I founded an organization that helps refugee youth through education and soccer to help them progress and learn life lessons. By taking the course, I feel I can learn things that can help me relate to the stories the youth tell and better understand where they are coming from.
I have learned many things while taking the class, but so far two things have caught my attention. Fred Schwartz, of the Auschwitz Institute, opened his lecture in front of the class with a truth that never dawned on me. Genocide is not abnormal behavior, but something that has become a normal occurrence throughout our history. I think this acceptance and acknowledgment is key to preventing genocide, for to see this crime in this light makes it easier to try and understand and prevent it.
Moreover, the fact that when you look around the room in our class and see people from different walks of life, ethnicities, and ideas together to discuss such an important issue in society globally, it is hard not to feel the palpable hope that exists. It sheds light into the dark room of genocide. It speaks volumes of the future generation and its concern and willingness to be aware. This aspect is complimented by the fact that leading scholars in the field are coming to speak to us, which is remarkable to say the least.
So far the class has been very enjoyable and is a great way to highlight my last semester at Rutgers–Newark.