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Last month, the Global Action to Prevent War network sponsored an event at the United Nations, Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Within this context, they prepared a draft Background Concept Note on gender and RtoP to be utilized at policymaking workshops. In recent years, the UN has sought to address the problem of sexual violence committed against civilians in conflict zones but women are not a protected group under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. And while the term gendercide has gained more widespread use since its introduction in 1985, the fact remains that rape and sexual violence targeting females have long been tools of war and are often components of genocide itself. Though women can certainly be considered potential victims of mass violence, they also play an integral role in effecting stability and change. As such, the crux of the Background Concept Note lies in the following proposal:

1. At the international level, UN Member States should do more to highlight roles that women are already playing in the prevention of mass atrocities, and also do more to increase women’s direct participation in a wide range of peace and security initiatives, as set out in SCR 1325.

2. At the national level, RtoP strategic discussions relating to the general implementation of the norm should highlight the significance of women’s contributions (as leaders in conflict prevention, as aids to survivors and ex-combatants, as national focal points for RtoP discussion and strategic planning, etc) in such implementation strategies.

3. Member States should be encouraged to include RtoP language in the development of their National Action Plans (NAPs) on 1325 to help highlight the roles that women can and are already playing in calling attention and responding to the threat of mass atrocities.

This framework complements the Women Under Siege project, which was also launched in February 2012. Per its mission statement, the project has two main components:

1. A public education plan to demonstrate that rape is a tool of war (not only a crime of war, but also a strategic tool). This plan includes testimony from and partnership with survivors of modern wars from Bosnia to Darfur.

2. An action plan to push for the creation of legal, diplomatic, and public interventions to ensure the United Nations, international tribunals, and other agencies with power will understand the gender-based threats as a tool of genocide and will design protocols to intervene and halt gender-based genocide.

As of late, Women Under Siege has been particularly focused on systematic sexualized violence in Guatemala and Burma, especially as perpetrated by military members in both countries.

Image: letyourvoicebeheard-tb.blogspot.com

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Scott Straus, Winnick Fellow at the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently wrote a working paper entitled, “Identifying Genocide and Related Forms of Mass Atrocity.” The central issue addressed by the paper is how members of the atrocity prevention community (his terminology) label crisis situations and identify emergent patterns of violence. Straus says conceptual analysis matters because:

  1. The atrocity prevention community must have a working definition of what class of events is in its domain of response.
  2. It is objectively difficult to know in the midst of the crisis whether or not it will escalate to a level that would trigger a response, that is, to genocide or mass atrocity.
  3. Conceptual analysis can help outside observers to identify and categorize different types of situations of atrocity and to recommend policy responses on the basis of those distinctions.
  4. Conceptual analysis and rigor will help organizations use language that over time will maintain or enhance their credibility.

Straus first endeavors to define/conceptualize the term “genocide.” He writes that the core consensus is that “genocide refers to violence that is extensive (deliberate, large scale, organized, systematic, sustained, widespread), group-selective (targeted at groups), and group-destructive (designed to destroy groups in particular territories under perpetrators’ control). Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944 to mean the “destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” and as the “destruction of human groups.” The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.” Five methods of genocide are then specified:

  1. killing members of the group;
  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
  5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The next part of the paper focuses on indicators and questions of genocide. In addressing group-selective patterns of violence, Straus poses four questions to help determine if genocide is taking place or about to occur: Does evidence exist of isolating and separating out specific identifiable social groups, whether those groups are ethnic, racial, religious, political, economic, or even regional? In the course of violence, does evidence indicate that perpetrators are identifying individuals for the commission of violence on the basis of those individuals’ ostensible membership in groups? Are civilians being deliberately targeted? Does evidence indicate that the violence is conforming to a logic of attacking groups, that is, are symbols or stereotypes of specific groups being targeted?

Straus goes on to say that in addition to groupness, genocide is extensive violence. To assess extent, “outside observers can look at deliberateness, at scale (are substantial numbers being targeted?), at systematicity (organization, coordination, patterned regularity), at time (repetition and sustainment, which are implied by systematicity), at geography (widespread breadth), and at capacity (ability to inflict violence, involvement in violence-specialized institutions). Lastly, another method of evaluating whether or not genocide is taking place is to ask if the pattern of violence is consistent with a logic of group destruction: Do the patterns of violence in genocide include acts that are consistent with group destruction? Does the violence target not only those members of a social group who pose an immediate threat (according to the perpetrator), but also those who are essential to a group’s reproduction, notably children and women clearly not engaged in combat? Is the language used to justify the violemce consistent with a logic of group destruction? Genocide exhibits a logic of “final solutions.”

Straus uses Darfur and Kenya as case examples, then discusses sources of conceptual disagreement. These include whether or not genocide should be the gold standard for intervention, determining how much group destruction needs to occur to cross the threshold to “genocide,” and whether the Holocaust should be the model for genocide. Observers also have conflicting objectives in when and how they use the term. There is a moral or ethical objective, the fact that genocide is also a legal concept, and a more empirical usage as a concept that identifies a specific type of violence.

Because of both the limits and ambiguities of the term “genocide,” more general umbrella concepts are gaining popularity, namely mass atrocity, crimes against humanity, and mass killing. Writes Straus,

The most common emerging general concept in the atrocity prevention community is mass atrocity. Mass atrocity has no formal, legal definition, but in most usages the concept aggregates other legal (or commonly employed) concepts, in particular genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing… Ethnic cleansing has no formal legal definition, but in general ethnic cleansing might be thought of as a set of actions designed to remove forcibly specific civilian groups from a territory… War crimes are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute. Although many different kinds of cases are covered under war crimes, in general, war crimes refer to significant violence against civilians in wartime. War crimes include killing, torture, hostage-taking, depriving prisoners of war rights, destroying shelter, and generally attacking civilians deliberately in war.

Three other important umbrella concepts are mass killing, mass violence, and democide (the murder of any person or people by a government). Then there are the parallel concepts of politicide, classicide, and gendercide. Politicide refers to the destruction of political groups in the way that genocide in the Convention refers to the destruction of ethnic, racial, national, and religious groups. Classicide refers to the intended mass killing of social classes, and gendercide refers to systematic destruction of gender.

To conclude, Straus recommends

that those in the atrocity prevention community should choose a standard that is reasoned, transparent, and, if response is the goal, of a high threshold. The standard should also be flexible enough to allow for ambiguities as events unfold. The net sum of the conceptual analysis in this paper is effectively a choice between two standards. One derives strictly from an analysis if terms that are broader than genocide… The second standard hews more closely to genocide but is broader and tries to avoid some of the problems with the way genocide has been incorporated into international law… drawing from the scholarly literature that emphasizes groups beyond those protected in the Convention, the conceptual standard does not limit itself to ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups. The standard applies to any social group that the perpetrator targets. The standard does not focus on intent per se, but rather reorients attention to issues of extent and scale, in particular the proportion of the target group that is affected by the violence.

Photo: krieger.jhu.edu

As part of our mission of identifying and educating the women and men who will become tomorrow’s leaders in preventing genocide, the Auschwitz Institute, in conjunction with Professor Alex Hinton of Rutgers University in Newark, has developed an undergraduate course in genocide prevention. This semester Prof. Hinton is teaching the course for the first time, and AIPR has invited the students to share about it on our blog.

So today we present our first Guest Preventer from Rutgers–Newark:

My name is Konrad Ratzmann, and I am an anthropology major at Rutgers–Newark looking to graduate in 2012. The topic of genocide has intrigued me for several years, although mostly in a nonacademic sense. I had long wondered how humans could possess the capacity to inflict such vast amounts of suffering and death on the basis of identity alone. Coming to Rutgers and studying war, colonialism, violence, and genocide in various courses and disciplines provided me with some insights toward the systematic processes and psychological aspects that make such atrocities possible, but none of them seemed to discuss what could be done to prevent such horrors in the future. This always irritated me. After all, what good was studying such things if nothing was being done to stop them? Purely academic studies can provide meaningful insights to the fields in which they are performed, but I feel that there should be, at the very least, an attempt toward an academic activism of sorts. When I had to register for classes and I saw Genocide Prevention, I knew that I had found a class that could provide me with the experience I was looking for.

Of course some traditional academic concepts and theories were addressed at the beginning of the semester, such as the varying definitions of genocide and the conflicts that arise due to disparities between definitions. This frustrated me, to some degree, because I felt that genocide is an atrocity that is far too horrid to ever be defined to complete satisfaction—the academic quibbling about the semantics of genocide seemed to miss the importance of the issue and fall into self-centered patterns that hinder progress. After all, what is the use of debating whether or not something is “technically” genocide when the death tolls continue to rise? However, my outlook was soon changed as the course progressed. As noted by Adam Jones, who addressed the class on February 15, such discussions are important because they signify an increase and continuous interest in the field of genocide studies, and thus allow for more minds to focus on working toward prevention in a multitude of manners.

The opportunity to interact with the minds behind genocide study and prevention makes this course unlike any other I have taken before. It is in such meetings that the true beauty of this course exists. Being exposed to new approaches toward genocide studies and prevention efforts every week is not only enlightening and informing, but also inspiring. In actually meeting the minds behind conflicting definitions and approaches to genocide, I see the importance of the academic conflicts—different conceptions of what constitutes genocide allow for different approaches toward prevention; disagreements inspire greater focus on issues of contention. In this sense, such discussions allow for genocide prevention efforts to be more encompassing. If nobody was concerned with whether or not gendercide or politicide could be considered as aspects of genocide, then perhaps efforts to combat such sufferings would be overlooked. A lack of academic consensus does not hinder progress, as I had previously felt; instead, it is one of the most valuable tools at our disposal in ensuring that our efforts to reduce suffering and genocidal violence are as encompassing as possible.

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